When he does not decode the complexities of neuroscience for his students, Ramesh Balasubramaniam indulges in demystifying the brain’s response to music at rasikas.org, an online forum for Carnatic music.
Mr. Balasubramaniam, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of California and a Carnatic music enthusiast, joined the forum in 2006, a year after it started, and has contributed over 2,500 posts till today. “I love writing about music and how it affects brain function. For instance, sometime ago, I wrote about how the brain keeps track of talam and also why some people are not very good at maintaining slow rhythm in songs. When you listen to M.D. Ramanathan’s songs, you know that he had an incredible sense of rhythm,” said Mr. Balasubramaniam.
Rasikas.org was started by Ramakrishnan Suryanarayanan, an IT consultant based out of London, in 2005 with just five members. It has now grown to have over 7,000 members and its posts, from elaborately-detailed discussions on ‘swara bedham’ to banter on the current music scene, number around 2.5 lakh.
Mr. Suryanarayanan says he had a compulsion to start this forum at a time when there was no central floor for airing thoughts on Carnatic music. He said, “I monitor to ensure that, in reviews, there is only constructive criticism and no defamatory messages about musicians.”
Uday Shankar, a biomedical design engineer shuttling between Chennai and Pittsburgh who also does research on the structure of musical instruments and created ‘chitravenu’, a slide-flute instrument, said the participation of artistes including chitravina exponent Ravikiran, Neyveli Santhanagopalan and violinist M. Narmadha lended precision to the discussions.
“This forum has highly detailed information on Carnatic music. And it is great when popular musicians throw light on various issues,” he said.
Violinist M. Narmadha, who often joins the discussions, said her involvement in the forum gives her an idea of listeners’ expectations from a musician. “It is absolutely interesting and fascinating to engage with a global audience here. Here, I have the freedom to express myself and also keep away from controversies, if any,” she said.