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Re: Asian instruments

In response to Matthias' question:

Primeiro:  Muito obrigado para as boas perguntas (Desculpe,  I just *had* 
toss in some Portuguese!)

I'll answer your second question first
>Do they [Indian musicians] use any electronics exept for straight
>amplification of their traditional work?

Currently in North Indian classical music I've not seen anyone use
electronics in the sense of changing tone color, extending an instrument's
range, etc.  About the only real use of sound processing is adding
artificial reverb both to live performances and studio recordings to 
the overall sound.  Unfortunately this tends only to make things muddier.
If it's used sparingly it can be a nice effect but more often than not both
the main instrument (or vocalist) as well as the tabla accompanist are
drenched in reverb and this winds up ruining the music (for me at least).

I have recently heard a sample of a young Indian classical musician playing
synthesizer.  You can listen to this at http://www.neelam.com  I always
dreamed about the possibility of synthesizers, midi, etc. within the realm
of ICM (Indian classical music).  It seemed that if someone had good
knowledge of the music that almost anything would be possible in terms of
sound sources.  From the clip I heard, this particular recording seems
rather one-dimensional as far as texture, etc.  The playing is correct and
good, but the "piano" sound seems trite.  To be fair, though, I remember
seeing Sun Ra many times in the early and mid 80's playing entire concerts
using just one setting (and a cheesy ball-park organ sound at that!) on a
synthesizer that was the "multivoice" state-of -the-art at the time, and he
always sounded fantastic.  So it's not just the equipment, it's what the 
sitting behind it does with it.

Another use of electronics which is becoming extremely widespread is the
recent invention of "electronic  tanpura" (also spelled tamboura) replacing
the traditional string drone instrument.  This has really taken off in the
last ten years where almost every performer I've seen recently - vocal or
instrumental - has used one, either alone or in combination with a "real"
tanpura.  To my ears it doesn't sound as nice as a genuine string tanpura,
but I can certainly understand the portability, the comparative sturdiness,
and the wider tuning range.  (A string tanpura only sounds good within a
very limited  range -- for instance C to D, but not above or below).  Yet
another increasingly popular device is the "electronic tabla."  I must 
guiltily to using one of these myself.  It can never replace a live tabla
player, but it's great for practice since you can work with about a dozen
common "taal-s" (rhythm cycles) and vary the tempo as well as the pitch (to
tune to your instrument).  Plus, it doesn't "give attitude" like a real
tabla player, and you can turn it off when it becomes too annoying ;)
(My apologies to tabliyas worldwide!)

>How do you think the indians would receive the looping tools to
>simplyfy/extend their music?

Excellent question!  One common aspect of Indian music and looping is that
ICM is largely repetitive to begin with, but part of the allure of a good
musician is that s/he will take even the most frequently repeated phrase 
slightly alter it each time, making it new and exciting.  But as far as
serious classical performance goes, I couldn't really forsee looping being
widely accepted, except possibly for replacing the tanpura drone, which is
already being done electronically.  However, the Indian sense of tolerance
and absorption from other countries and cultures is legendary.  For
instance, the sitar, sarod, shehnai, and harmonium were all developed from
"foreign" instruments, and today there are many performers playing modified
"slide" guitars and electric mandolins.  So anything is possible!  I'd love
to see it happen.

James Pokorny

Ate logo, Matthias!