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Bollywood’s digital scape

Here’s a question: As the film industry’s music composers increasingly use music-making softwares and digital sound samples, does that mean that genuine acoustic sound is dying?

music Updated: May 12, 2012 14:48 IST
Soumya Vajpayee

Here’s a question: As the film industry’s music composers increasingly use music-making softwares and digital sound samples, does that mean that genuine acoustic sound is dying?

This is a question that few musicians would like to hear, let alone answer, but composer Salim Merchant gives it a try. “To a certain extent electronic sounds have taken over acoustic and traditional instruments,” he says. “But change is constant.”

If you’re a music fan, you would have noticed how the sound of Bollywood has changed over the years. Digital production using the latest music-making software such as Logic, Nuendo and Cubase ensures faster and leaner recordings in the studio, and also allows musicians to explore newer synthesized sounds by means of add-ons such as sound sample libraries.

But every advantage has its disadvantage. Synthesized sounds seem to have replaced the organic appeal of instruments recorded live, especially large brass and string sections (the former comprising trumpets, saxophone and trombones, the latter including violins, cellos, violas). Which means that actual musicians are pretty much out of work.

“There is no work for instrumentalists like us these days because it is cheaper for composers to make music digitally,” says seventy-year old trumpeter Balthazar Fernandes, who used to be a part of orchestras used for live recordings from the 1960s till the 1990s. “My last Bollywood recording was two years ago with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.” Adds flautist Naveen Kumar, who’s been part of composer AR Rahman’s team since 1992,

“Musicians who play the veena, mridangam and sitar have suffered in the digital age. Now, they depend on live concerts or music tuitions for their living.” But the scene is not that bad, says Salim. Though digital sound is easy to make, acoustic sound has its own charm. “We record live instruments every second day, especially the tumbi, bouzouki and banjo,” he says.

Shekhar Ravjiani of the composer duo Vishal-Shekhar reiterates the same sentiment. “Some instruments, like the sarod, have no replacement at all.” Getting synthesized music to sound as though it was created by real instruments is also quite a challenge, says Salim. “You have to make the synthesized bits sound a particular way to get everything right, which is more difficult than just recording an instrument live,” he explains.

Which is why 21-year-old musician Rhys Dsouza is optimistic about his future career. “Even though instrumentalists have suffered, they haven’t gone out of business,” he says. “Technology gives me more opportunities explore new sounds. I can use technology to enhance my music too.”

Live and kicking
* Salim-Sulaiman used a Punjabi folk instrument, the tumbi, in ‘Aiwayi aiwayi’ (Band Baaja Baarat, 2010).
* Vishal-Shekhar recorded a live orchestra of 140 musicians for two songs in Om Shanti Om (2007).
* The songs ‘Tum Mile’ (Tum Mile, 2009) and ‘Ajab Leher Hai’ (Break Ke Baad, 2010) featured live saxophones.