The Telegraph
| Sunday, January 18, 2015 |


Music on the move

If you're a Carnatic music buff, lots of apps will now help you access raga references or information. Kavitha Shanmugam looks at them

Carnatic classical singer Sandeep Narayan wanted to squeeze in a few afternoon concerts in between his own performances at the recently concluded Carnatic music festival in Chennai. And that was going to be difficult, for 120 music concerts were on simultaneously on any given day at different venues.

But the 30-year-old musician managed, thanks to a free mobile app called kutcheris, which presented him with a detailed festival calendar on his smartphone.

Like him, Aishwarya Krishnamurthy, a 23-year-old Carnatic music enthusiast, used music apps - called music diary and ARTery - to ensure that her grandmother, a mridangam player, could choose the concerts she wanted to attend.

The classical world of Carnatic music is embracing the popular realm of technology - and not many are complaining. Among the apps for Carnatic music lovers are Twaang - the Indian music library, Desi Radio, Karnatik Tyagaraja and Carnatic Radio.

"Carnatic music apps are great for the layman to find concert schedules, bios of artistes, raga references and for musicians to recall a composition on stage or for music students to improvise their rhythms," says flautist and Grammy nominee Shashank Subramanyam.

There are apps that help musicians, too. Vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan was tired of seeing shoddy recordings of his live performances on websites and on YouTube. So he launched a website called Sraavyam to provide viewers with legal and high quality recordings of his concerts or those of other artistes. He also launched an app with the same name to link it to the website.

The apps work especially well for those queuing up for the December music sessions in Chennai. Many of them are ready reckoners of the music festival, with even Google maps attached to help you reach the auditorium. Some are like lessons, guiding the uninitiated listener through ragas.

"People consume a lot of information on the phone today and apps can provide event listings, a database on artistes and be linked to live data on the Web. We need to show that Carnatic music is not archaic and still thriving," says musician Vikram Raghavan, who started the kutcheris app.

Quite a few of these apps have been developed by non-resident Indian engineers. The Carnatic Raga music app, which helps you identify a raga, was developed by Sivakumar Loganathan, a software engineer in the US. Loganathan claims 40,000 people have downloaded his app so far.

Niranjan Sridharan, a software quality consultant in the US, developed the Pancharatna Kritis in 2012. He spent $40 for the app, which has about 10,000 downloads.

Still, a debate rages on how much technology can intrude into the hallowed space of Carnatic music. There has to be a balance, advises vocalist Ranjani of Ranjani-Gayatri fame (who will perform in Calcutta on Republic Day).

"If these music apps provide a base to understand Carnatic music, it is good. But we must also ensure that technology does not dim the yearning to learn from a guru or dig deeper," Ranjani says.

But the apps can work in wooing the young who, artistes rue, are moving away from the classical arts. That's the purpose of ARTery, developed by Ramanathan Iyer, a Carnatic music connoisseur with a telecom engineering background, who runs an arts portal with an enviable collection of Carnatic music. Besides providing information on music concerts, ARTery carries musicians' profiles, sample tracks of top line musicians and links to their portal's webcast concerts.

"Soon, I hope to be able to stream Carnatic concerts live onto the mobile," Iyer says.

Beginners can also make use of learning apps such as Sruthilaya, aimed at those learning vocal music or instruments, and SwaramQuest, a Carnatic music-based quiz game that serves as a tool for ear training.

Most of these apps are free but they do have "in app" purchases with links to websites. K.S. Sudhakar, who runs a music label called Swati Soft Solutions, provides samples of singer Vishakha Hari's renditions of the Harikatha on his app called Harikatha and provides links to his portal on which the songs have to be paid for.

The Karnatik Tyagaraja app is a free app for the lyrics of the first 100 songs of the 18th century composer. Venkat Ramani, co-founder of MelioSystems, a mobile and Web development company, who launched the app in 2012, charges $1 for the lyrics of the next 600 compositions.

Kutcheris started off as a paid app but there is a free version which Raghavan monetises with ads. "It is not a big money spinner and it is sufficient to pay the server fees," he says.

Sudhakar points out that the apps don't usually make money because a large section of aficionados listens to Carnatic music largely through pirated versions. "Unless the pirated content is contained, the music apps business cannot flourish," he says.

Flautist Subramanyam adds that many of the apps do not pay artistes in the name of promoting Carnatic music. "It does contribute to minor publicity but it also dilutes the environment," he says, adding that few musicians use the new media to promote their music.

Vocalist Sanjay Subramanyam did create an app three years ago. It had, among other things, his resume, photos, audio files and concert schedules. "It was not successful because I failed to market it," he says. There are some other apps - in the name of musicians such as M.S. Subbulakshmi, Lalgudi Jayaraman and L. Subramaniam - which focus on their music.

Though there are plenty of apps out there, the quality seems to be suspect. "I deleted the apps I had because they were expensive and not of good quality. Apps need to be updated and made interesting," says Anjana Eshwar, a 22-year-old listener and violinist.

Some senior musicians are sceptical about the power of music apps in attracting newer or younger audiences. "It is just an enabler, a tool to provide information," says musician T.M. Krishna. The downside of such apps is that listeners carry their phones into concerts. People in the audience are often seen searching for ragas and musician profiles, much to the irritation of the performers.

But for many others, a music app is a good way of waking up to music. And what could be better than M.S.'s Suprabhatam?