Let the music stream in: embracing a digital Margazhi season

CHENNAI:13-12-2006: For Friday Review: Sanjay Subramaniam Vocal Concert at Mudhra, Infosys Hall Ramakrishna Mission School, on Tuesday. Photo: R_Shivaji Rao

CHENNAI:13-12-2006: For Friday Review: Sanjay Subramaniam Vocal Concert at Mudhra, Infosys Hall Ramakrishna Mission School, on Tuesday. Photo: R_Shivaji Rao

The dawn of another Chennai winter is unmistakably familiar. With rain becoming a regular feature in December, puddles greet rasikas as they walk to the sabha halls. The aroma of filter kaapi inspires lilting flourishes of the same on stage. Concert notes circulate far more rapidly than the pace of the ongoing tani avartanam, and kutcheri schedules are colour-coded for the optimal sabha-hopping experience.

Listeners stream into the auditoriums, a sort of determination etched on their faces as they settle into their seats after the long journey. There’s a tripod perched in the middle. The live-stream link is already active for those tuning in. For others, still slogging away at their cubicles, they return home, open iTunes, and the downloading begins. Soon, their hard drives are bursting with enough music to fill their December days without moving an inch.

It’s this space, floating around in the digital sphere, which keeps artistes innovating. We see them in concert garb, presenting the past year’s work in a matter of two hours. An artiste’s persona evolves from season to season. He unravels his work, thread-by-thread through YouTube clips, Facebook live-streams, and albums — new platforms allow him to build a rapport with his rasikas, both on and off stage. With multiple avenues open to innovation, Margazhi is undergoing a makeover of its own.

Linked through a Live-Stream

“The idea is to take the art to a wider audi ence,” Arkay Ramakrishnan explains. One of the first to use live-streaming in Chennai, he began digitalising concerts taking place at the Arkay Convention Centre as early as 2012.

While almost every concert is streamed across the globe with an accompanying YouTube link where the concert can be viewed at a later time, the hall is often just as crowded. It’s a testament to the art form and its players, he says, hoping to promote young artistes through the online platform.

“It’s the need of the hour, I think, to use technology and reach a wider audience, both in terms of age and geography,” he says. Amidst the hundreds of concerts scheduled to take place in Chennai this Season, Arkay will host around 150. While he doesn’t plan to webcast prime-slot concerts during the course of the season as he enjoys bringing listeners together at the Centre, Ramakrishnan says that the year-round live-streaming is his way of aiding up-and-coming talents in establishing a musical identity.

Mudhra Bhaskar, a mridangam artiste and founder-secretary of Mudhra, is in total agreement. Mudhra’s educational wing, Paalam, celebrates its fifth year of free year-round broadcasting on Paalam TV. Although he does not subscribe to the live-streaming culture, Bhaskar says that Paalam’s selective programming has helped cultivate a society of what he calls ‘serious listeners.’

“The motive is to bring back the culture of serious listening. Revisit the olden days, if you will,” he says, aiming to propagate the live experience of top-quality music each and every moment.

The digital has become a necessity, the organisers say, as they target their live-streams and online content towards a market of senior citizens unable to travel, a foreign audience that misses out on the immersive experience of the music season, and young students, often foregoing the city’s musical downpour in the face of exams.

For Arkay Ramakrishnan, the digital environment has become a mainstay of the arts microcosm. “Online platforms are essential during the season, simply because it is practically impossible for a rasika to hear everybody. This way, there are no barriers to exposure and simple listening, whether active or passive.”

Bhaskar envisions a larger future, calling the organisation’s new ventures as the nascent beginnings of a digital sabha. “Since audience strength is commonly diminishing for live shows simply because of the volume of concerts that are taking place this time of year, I thought I could explore a medium that helps strengthen our audience base worldwide.”

And it won’t stop there. With the launch of the Paalam App last month, facilities such as weekly concert broadcasts and a 24x7 radio are now available to all its members in the Android market.

“It’s all credit to the artistes, really,” Mudhra admits, for his forays into a modern arena reflect technological modernism right from the artiste’s living room.


Online and Unplugged

When VVS Murari sat down to design his December season schedule for the year, an idea pitched by one of his students struck him. His daughters recorded him playing a medley, inlaid it with text details of his concerts, and posted it online to a plethora of positive feedback.

“I’m always looking for new ways to present concepts,” he says. The prospects that come with an online platform, he says, are limitless. And yet, it all goes back to that Margazhi charm.

It’s the same charm that violinist Apoorva Krishna feels as she travels down to Chennai from Bangalore for yet another season of food, fun, performance. Yet, this season is more special than most, celebrating the release of her maiden album, ‘Apoorva Thillanas.’

It’s a tried-and-tested format, with Apoorva taking inspiration from the famous Lalgudi thillana album to create her own with artistes Sriranjani Santhanagopalan (vocal), N.C. Bharadwaj (mridangam) and Chandrasekara Sharma (ghatam).

And yet, she’s speaking a new language, dispersing the album largely through music-streaming resource ‘Twaang’ to audiences globally. “Everything’s online these days, and with so few people buying physical albums, we need to be able to reach people through other avenues. Twaang is doing just that,” she says.

It’s an artiste’s favourite, also being used by violinist Ambi Subramaniam to upload content from his latest solo album, ‘Live at Krishna Gana Sabha.’ “It’s a great platform, especially in a day and age where something like 80 per cent of all music in India is consumed on YouTube and other digital spaces,” he says. Twaang and other music collating applications serve as the perfect bridge, then, hosting full-fledged albums by artistes in order to be able to give the audience what Ambi calls “the holistic picture.”

An App for a Margazhi morning

The concept was an equal draw for Vanipriya Jayaraman when she founded the Zeekh app last year. Founded with the idea of providing depth to one of Chennai’s cultural enterprises, she launched the app last December season, emphasising a unique song-request contest called Rasikadhwani that fostered an intimate interaction between artistes and audience alike.

“From my beginnings as a music student fascinated by the musicians and the ever-growing host of schedules in countless sabhas, I’ve got the chance to create an app that makes following events much easier,” she observes.

It’s fairly recent and yet, it’s already gone through a metamorphosis. A coincidental meeting with Palghat Ramprasad resulted in the formation of Mani Pravaaham, named in memory of Ramprasad’s grandfather, Palghat Mani Iyer.

With the novel feature, a rasika can filter events by organiser, venue, and artiste, all while placing a request for practically any concert during the season. Simultaneously, the participating artiste creates a concert list from the App’s database, taking into account requests they’ve received. In some cases, the artiste might even choose to publish their list prior to the concert, giving rasikas a glimpse as to what to look forward to.

Vanipriya hopes it enriches the vibrancy that the Season holds, calling the digital space the “missing piece” in a creative puzzle that trademarks every season.

“We want to bridge the stage and the sabha hall, getting audiences to enter the electronic universe and create an inter-connected community. If that happens with this season, the opportunities are truly endless.”

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Printable version | May 26, 2022 8:24:34 am |