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Chennai music academy goes digital

The ‘Music Academy TAG Digital Listening Archives’, a digital library of its kind is a “dream come true” for the 80-year-old institution, reports MR Venkatesh.

music Updated: Dec 15, 2008 19:12 IST
MR Venkatesh

Many people may not know that the first recorded piece of classical ‘Carnatic’ Music by a great maestro Mahavaidyanathan at the Mysore Maharaja’s Palace during 1899-1900 was done by an archaic needle moving on wax cylinders.

The ‘wax plates’ had then to be sent for “pressing” all the way to Germany those days before it came back to India to be heard by ‘raskias’. The history of recorded music has had to contend with many such quirky twists and turns in sound engineering.

Such vignettes from musical history along with the finest renderings of ‘Carnatic music’ by a range of veteran singers of yore to the present day, has for the first time been put together in one place and can be accessed at the press of a button, thanks to the first ‘Digital Listening Archives’ set up in the famous Music Academy in Chennai.

Called the ‘Music Academy TAG Digital Listening Archives’, a digital library of its kind is a “dream come true” for the 80-year-old institution, in the vanguard of fostering Indian classical music and dance, says Mr V Sriram, noted music historian and author.

The facility inaugurated here two days back by the senior-most ‘Carnatic’ musician, S. Rajam, has, to start with, digitalised and put together of over 6000 hours of classic music renderings from private collections and concerts given in the Music Academy.

A well done up listening room is at the heart of the digital library with ten touch screens linked to a server that can take up to 15,000 hours of recorded music, said Mr RT Chari, an electrical engineer who started the ‘TAG Corporation’ in Chennai and has helped the Academy put up this facility. The firm has been making electrical transmission hardware since 1970.

Apart from donating his entire personal collection of recorded ‘Caratic music’ over the years, Mr Chari has spent up to Rs 15 lakhs for the equipment alone, while the Academy has given space to house the library. Ergonomically designed seating has been provided near each touch screen for music lovers to relax and listen.

While the software for the digital library has been designed by another Chennai-based company, ‘Giri Trading’, the music can be accessed concert-wise or artiste-wise and then one could go and listen to any particular composition one chose, Sriram said.

As the famous month-long classical music festival season begins in Chennai from mid-December, “we want people now to experiment with it before we formally frame the rules for the use of the digital library,” said Music Academy’s President, Mr N Murali.

From February 2009, it will be fully thrown open to the public.

The whole idea “is to make classical music useful and relevant for posterity and people can only listen here but not download the music,” Murali added. The Academy is also keen to add to the facilities by installing ten more ‘touch screens’ in near future.

Next time, you want to listen to the chat the doyen of Carnatic Music, Semmangudi Srinivasa Aiyar once had with the great MS Subbulakshmi at a practice session in his house, feel the ambience of the first conference of the Music Academy in 1927 or for that matter the last words spoken in a concert by the inimitable classical vocalist, late Maharajapuram Santhanam, just drop in at this unique Archives in Chennai.

“This is an invaluable musical heritage, not only for India, but for the whole world,” remarked Mr. Fredrick Kaplan, Acting Consul General in Chennai.

mr.venkatesh@hindustantimes.com