A new trend has been witnessed in recent times when it comes to Indian classical artistes performing in North America — no longer are some accompanied by a tanpura player and that bulky instrument is missing from the stage for some concerts.
The reason for that is the availability of the iTanpura app for Apple's IoS platform that closely approximates the sound of the actual instrument. This is among the ecology of apps that have surfaced recently that are enhancing the genre of classical music, both Hindustani and Carnatic.
Earlier this year, the Cambridge, Massachussets-based Indian Raga launched its app, RagaQuest. Its co-founder Sriram Emani, a student at MIT Sloan, points out the genesis of the app: "RagaQuest was born out of my own personal struggle as I sat in concerts and marvelled at how those around me could instantly identify ragas. I wished I had an easier way to practice or develop the skill and thought why not build an app that makes it simple and fun " In essence, the app allows the user to listen to 30 second snippets from compositions and attempt to identify them through a "Hangman-style game", referring to a popular guessing game.
While the app's basic version is free to download, in-app purchases of 99 cents can be made to access full tracks and other premium features. Future upgrades will include educational modules.
While RagaQuest is an innovative learning and discovery tool, there's the informative and eponymous app from the Atlanta-based SwarGanga Music Foundation. The SwarGanga app allows users, who can purchase it for $2.99, to access "over 400 ragas, 2000 bandishes, various taals, artists, instruments, gharanas, articles."
The app, available on the Apple and Android platforms, draws from the database of the foundation, which is the "single largest resource" in its category on the Internet, according to its founder Adwait Joshi, who works in data analytics.
"The app is helping us penetrate the Western audience, reach the younger generation," he said. The idea for the app came from the shift away from computers to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, and the need felt to take the information warehoused by SwarGanga to another platform.
Then, of course, there's the developer of the iTanpura, as well as the iTabla Pro (an app that includes the tabla and tanpura), Southern California-based Prasad Upasani. Like Emani and Joshi, Upasani is also a trained classical artist, with experience in the information technology sector. "It started out as a practice project, something I can use on a day-to-day basis," Upasani said of the ITanpura. "I put it on the app store. To my surprise, it just took off."
"The tanpura is just mechanical," Upasani pointed out, making it replicable on a digital platform. The tabla, though, is far more complex, and is unlikely to vanish from live performances any time in the foreseeable future and the second app is more useful for practice. While the iTanpura can be downloaded for $ 15, the ITabla Pro is priced at $ 25.
"There have always been electronic tanpuras, but they're pretty expensive," Upasani explained. "This replaces those boxes at a fraction of the cost. You get the app and connect to any good speaker."
As these apps shows, ancient traditions in music are also benefiting from 21st century tech.