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Music : December 03, 2000
How loud can "music" be?
"The music will blow your mind to pieces" - said an advertisement recently about a pop music concert. If the mind is blown up, what remains? Nothing, obviously. There is nothing to feel happy or sad. That seemed true at the end of the concert when the young things who attended the performance were seen walking back to their vehicles like robots - mindless machines.
Mohandas V. Badagara/Wilderfile
It was apparent that the very loud sound they heard - it has still to be called "music" for want of a better word - had done its job well. How can music do it? Comes the answer from a research project report in the Sunday Telegraph of February 20, 2000.
"Loud music stimulates a part of the ear connected to the brain's pleasure centre which controls the body's craving for sex and food. People's response to the thumping beat of pop music is controlled by a tiny organ in the inner ear called the sacculus which till now was thought to have nothing to do with any hearing function. The sacculus normally controls a person's sense of balance but is also sensitive to noises above 90 decibels. When the volume of a sound is turned up it generates vibrations that are picked up by the sacculus, according to Dr. Neil Todd, who led the research team. The distribution of frequencies that are typical in rock concerts and at dance clubs almost seem designed to stimulate the sacculus, Dr. Todd told the New Scientist."
Young men and women do get their "mind blown up" in rock concerts, but it must be a pleasant surprise that babies react adversely to the noise called pop music but are happy with Mozart, Bach and Beethoven.
Prof. Colwyn Trevarthan, a professor of psychology at Edinburgh University found that babies have an innate sense of rhythm. The infantile gurgles when set down to musical notation, turn out to have an adgio beat (Sunday Telegraph, August 20, 2000). In his regular column, Dr. James Le Fann further writes:
"Babies can even interpret the emotional contents of a piece of music." "They can recognise happiness, anger and sadness," Prof. Trevarthan is reported as saying. Babies show a preference for light, gentle and joyful sounds. They are not apparently keen on rock music because "it is too passionate and frightens them."
".... For the past decade, an organisation called Fustart, based in Valencia in Spain, has been promoting the benefits of intra-uterine music. From the 28th week of pregnancy, mothers are encouraged to place stereo headphones over their tummies so that the babies can enjoy a few (classical) musical minutes everyday. This apparently 'advances their intellectual and even physical development.' Infants exposed to prenatal classical music performed much better in tests done six months after their birth. They stay seated upright longer and are more aware of the existence of hidden objects."
With this background it is a remarkable experience to realise that exactly opposite effects result from listening to Carnatic music as developed by our own musicians, musicologists and composers. A soothing effect on the mind and slow but sure change-over to nobler thoughts and actions are the more noticeable results. Purandara Dasa, the Karnataka Sangeeta Pitamaha, was the first to fuse the bhava (sahitya), raga and laya into an organic whole from which you cannot separate the ingredients. "And this music must be imbued with love for the Divine." And he stipulates, among others, the existence of a peaceful environment, and music, he says, must increase joy. (Taalabeku, thakka mela beku, Bhairavi) Obviously loud music that stimulates desire for food and flesh has no place here.
Thyagaraja is even more graphic. Musical notes, he says, are "sundarulu" (Sobillu Saptaswara). A whole volume can be written on what this means but can be roughly described as "beautiful and delicate damsels." The musical notes must be sung in such a way as to enhance the beauty of these swara devatas. Singing these delicate notes, graduating from notes (swaras) to ragas and further up, one can attain bliss, with the mind in full play in a state of joy. Not just happiness that is ephemeral, unlike loud music that "destroys the mind."
The loudest that Carnatic music had gone to before the advent of the loudspeakers and electronic gadgets was perhaps band music. The famous Nathamuni band, for example, did play Krithis like "Raghuvamsa" (Kadanakuthoohalam) and "Naa Jeevaadhara" (Bilahari) louder than normal but they still remained delicate. More recent experiments like Kanyakumari's ensembles of 25 violins or 50 violins - playing together not only does not "destroy the mind" but actually produces joy (not just happiness) and has not sacrificed any of the delicate nuances of our music. This is also true of some other orchestras like All India Radio's groups, although instruments like the harmonium and saxophone remain a pain in the neck.
The effect of such delicate classical music can best be described in the words of a Pakistani musician who performed in India a few decades back. "The whole audience listens intently, the people close their eyes and sway their heads in a rhythmical way. I am proud I was able to produce music that creates these effects, especially in South India. I would be proud to play for such an audience any day." Who can forget such scenes in the vocal concerts of masters like Tiger Varadachariar, Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Balamuralikrishna, M.S. Subbulakshmi and D.K. Pattammal, or the violin solo concerts of T.N. Krishnan and Lalgudi Jayaraman, or the flute concerts of Mali (Mahalingam).
Modern Carnatic composers too have preserved this very delicate nature of music, even when they experiment with new ragas. Listening to the most recent compositions of Balamurali, or Lalgudi Jayaraman or Thanjavur Sankara Iyer shows they have sincerely adhered to and preserved the traditional nature of our music.
Can Carnatic songs be sung in pop style?
That would plainly be ludicrous if one remembers that the goals of the two systems are exactly opposite - Carnatic music has its place in the heart and soul of a person while the pop style concentrates on the lower half of the human psyche. One experience may perhaps be worth recording. "Krishna nee begane baaro" is a song that when artistes like Balasaraswathi dance or when one hears it in a concert, produces a joyous response from the audience. However when one pop artiste sang it in his own concert the response of a young man in the audience was: the artiste's murderous assaults on this delineate flower is clearly asuric (demoniacal).
Loud music was not unknown to the ancients. War music was obviously loud and served to increase the determination of the soldiers to fight to win.
One glaring example of loud music being used was in the efforts to wake up Kumbhakarna, Ravana's younger brother. He had earlier, when the Creator appeared before him, mispronounced the plea for "Nirdevathwam" (devoid of Devas) as "Nidrevathwam" (permanent sleep) which the Creator immediately granted, with the result he was always sleeping. He woke up once in six months to eat.
When the fight with Rama was going against him, Ravana ordered that Kumbhakarna be woken up to fight for him. Shorn of exaggerations, the following is from Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Khandam, 60th chapter.
"The men prepared pleasant smelling foods and kept mounds of them near the sleeping Rakshasa. Then they patted him, prodded him with metal rods etc. Then they sang his praises (sloka 38). They played conches. They shouted at the top of their voices (sloka 38). Nothing affected him."
The Rakshas then took out such musical instruments as sankham, bheri, and panavam, and played loudly on them along with loud clapping of their palms. Hearing these sounds and such other sounds as Simhanaadam (Lion's roar) birds flew away in all directions and hid themselves for safety (sloka 40).
Nothing seemed to wake him up. Then the eager Rakshasas surrounded Kumbhakarna. Ten thousand Rakshasas all together then played on their mridangas, panavas, bheris, many conches, (and produced deafening music) (sloka 45). There was no response. Later they made animals like horses and camels hit him even as they continued to play on their instruments. There was still no response (sloka 48). This heavy noise filled the air all over Lanka (sloka 50). The Rakshasas, angry that their efforts failed, increased the volume of their bheris along with loud shouting (sloka 54). "As a result of all these, Kumbhakarna finally woke up and first ate up all the attractive food preparations before him..."
Does this description ring any bells? One thing is sure - many of the modern day loud music makers must surely be reincarnations of these who, in their earlier birth, tried to use their talents to wake up Kumbhakarna. Their music is appropriately Rakshasa music, as opposed to the delicate Sangeetha which we enjoy.
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