His style of playing bears a stamp of technical brilliance and rare sensitivity. His tonal beauty has elevated several concerts to a different level of aesthetic appeal. No wonder he was so intrigued by the tone of the instrument that he has mastered and pursued extensive research on it.

Mridangam maestro Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman will soon share fascinating insights on the art and science of Mridangam playing, an area he has been researching on for decades. A veteran performer who has been in the field of classical arts for over six decades, accompanying and collaborating with some of the greatest musicians in the field, Mr.Sivaraman has been researching on tonal aspects of the Mridangam for nearly four decades.

“About eight years ago the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) came forward to collaborate with me and now, we have found some very interesting aspects about the Nada of Mridangam, the factors that impact it,” says the musician, who spoke to The Hindu recently.

T. Ramasami, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, who was formerly Director of CLRI, and M.D. Naresh, scientist, CLRI, are among those collaborating with him on the project.

From the treatment of leather and choice of type of wood used to make the Mridangam, to special fingering techniques, a whole range of factors matter when it comes to achieving the tonal variations. The research work aims to achieve a nuanced understanding of such aspects.

“Mridangam playing should be an approximation to music. That is my philosophy. One should be able to hear the sahityam (lyrics) of a composition in the Mridangam playing. Though it is an instrument used as percussion, it is very much a Nada Vadyam,” he says.

The research project looks into a whole range of aspects such as tonal variations, overtones, harmonics, characteristics of the black patch, the difference caused by tanned and un-tanned skin (leather used), the reason behind choosing jack wood and the impact of sound amplification. “It is very fascinating. There is so much to know,” says Mr.Sivaraman, his eyes shining with child-like enthusiasm. “It is known that Sir. C.V.Raman wanted to probe the sound of the Mridangam. In a sense, my pursuit is a tribute to him, for I am deeply interested in the Nada of Mridangam.” The team has earlier made a presentation on its work at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, in a programme dedicated to Sir C.V. Raman.

Queried on his opinion on the need for sound systems in sabhas to compliment the nature of instruments, Mr. Sivaraman says exploring sound engineering as a rigorous academic discipline would enable involvement of trained professionals, who can look into the sound systems in sabhas with more sensitivity. “We could also consider the possibility of mike-less concerts, as is done in concert halls in several western countries,” he adds. Pointing to “light and shade” moments in music, he says sound systems should reflect the different colours and moods rather than merely amplifying the sound.

“Our research work is relevant to all artists in general and percussion artists in particular,” says Mr. Sivaraman, who, along with his collaborators, will make an interactive presentation on the findings of his research at a special programme being organised by the Dr. K.S.Krishnan Memorial Trust and Sri Krishna Gana Sabha here on December 5. Terming this endeavour “his dream”, Mr. Sivaraman says, “The voyage has begun. There is a long way to go.”

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