Behind those beats

Ever heard of maths, physics and chemistry in music? Three young Chennai musicians tell you what the connection is.

Updated - December 05, 2021 09:17 am IST

Published - July 25, 2012 04:19 pm IST - Chennai

High Notes: At the Svanubhava Music Festival. Location Courtsey: Minar, The Savera.  Photos: Divya S.

High Notes: At the Svanubhava Music Festival. Location Courtsey: Minar, The Savera. Photos: Divya S.

If you are a Svanubhava regular, you know the drill. Seasoned senior artistes from across the country are invited to give a sample of their craft while an able band of younger artists bustles about among the teeming audience, bearing mikes, smiles and helping hands. This time, the organisers have come up with the unprecedented idea of getting members of their own youth brigade to take the dais.

“Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting,” 17th century physicist and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz once said. Anirudh Athreya, K. Praveen Kumar and Chandrashekhara Sharma will attempt to prove this assertion in an interactive session.

Science of music

As a rule, a large chunk of the audience at Svanubhava is made up of students, especially those whose lives and thoughts revolve around their curriculum. In an earnest attempt to speak the language of these young scholars, the show’s hosts have split the topic under three heads — “Maths”, “Physics” and “Chemistry”. The aim is to present the fundamental elements of rhythm and South Indian classical percussion in a language that students will readily comprehend, with a few interactive games and engaging quizzes thrown in for good measure.

“We all know patterns make music beautiful. Rhythm in Carnatic music is majorly pattern-based and a lot of these patterns are quite complex mathematically,” says Praveen, who learnt the mridangam under Guruvayur Dorai and juggles a fusion band called Sparsh while pursuing his Bachelors in Electronics and Communication Engineering. Any music, the 20-year-old asserts, is about appreciation and enjoyment: “If we can get them to appreciate it, even on an academic level, we will have lit that spark of enjoyment,” he says. Adds 24-year-old kanjira artiste Anirudh Athreya, who has been performing since he was 13, “Then they are sure to explore the subject on their own.”

How will they light this wick? By involving the audience rather than tritely inviting questions after an academic lecture. “We will ask students to come up with mathematically generated patterns and reproduce them on the instruments to let them hear what it sounds like,” says Praveen.

“The idea was mine,” beams Praveen modestly, “But I expected an experienced team of artistes to execute it. But then Anna (T.M. Krishna) said he’d support me and I must do it! So there’s a lot of nervousness; I have never done anything of this sort before.”

The physics segment will shed light on the aural and acoustic properties of instruments as well as performance environs. “The process of tuning the instrument is different for the kanjira, the mridangam and the ghatam,” says 22-year-old Chandrashekhara Sharma, who, inspired by his uncle T.H. Vikku Vinayakram, took to the ghatam after he had learnt vocal for eight years.

A comparison with occidental drum kits, courtesy Praveen’s band-member Krishna Kishor, will help instill a fuller understanding of the universality of rhythm despite the variance in membranes and materials involved. They’ll even let the kids come on stage and have a go at the instruments to get a feel for it. Time permitting, they will go into issues of audio balancing for percussionists, which, they sigh, is a concern often sidelined in concerts.

They reveal that there is little to no preparation among Carnatic musicians before concerts, and you realise the degree of “chemistry” required between the percussionists and vocalist to achieve smoothness and spontaneity on stage. Assisted by young vocalist Ramakrishna Murthy and violinist M. Rajeev, they seek to deliver a glimpse of this rapport in action.


The scope of the topic is clearly vast and requires a lot of time for in-depth coverage. Anirudh says they hope to sensitise students to the various subtleties and dynamics at play. “We don’t want to get too technical and heavy, or the kids will doze off or feel like they’re back at school again!” he chuckles.

Throwing their minds back to their younger days, Anirudh and Chandrashekhara recall how their queries were often apt to be shot down peremptorily by elders with “that’s the way it is done!” In an effort to break this undue deference to conventionality, Anirudh says, any and all questions will be tackled with minimum jargon and an emphasis on demonstrable practical application. “Kids are very sharp, and won’t back down until they’ve got a satisfactory answer,” says Chandrashekhara, with a playful grimace, as though he wishes he had been more stubborn when he was younger.

Smart questions from students can be tackled if you’re articulate and know how their minds work. But how do they expect to field the toughies that stalwarts nestled in the audience are likely to fling their way? And what if the trio is accused of having diluted or dumbed down the classical art with their facile expositions? “Oh, Krishna Anna told us he’ll take care of them!” With “Krishna Anna’s” well-known fiery candour to back them up, the enthusiastic troika seems all set to become the first team of youngsters to get a performing slot on the Svanubhava set list.

When: August 2 @ Kalakshetra

Artistes : K. Praveen Kumar, Anirudh Athreya and Chandrashekhara Sharma

Event : Science and the art of percussion

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