READING HISTORY THROUGH MUSIC

– Part A

Any musician in the Indian legacy system would agree that their first introduction to the realm of fake history has been that very first day when s/he was introduced to the ‘theory’ and the ‘history’ of evolution of music. The theory would insist on Naada, and the history on Vishnu sleeping in the ocean of Naada, Naada Sagara, both ultimately leading to the same unicorn. It will tell you about the energy in any simple harmonic motion, and the Anahata Naada, and a host of mystic explanations of that energy. I don’t precisely remember exactly when I was introduced to these fairy tales and by whom. Most likely, it was my first Guru, my mother, who read out such gibberish from an old, printed book. I don’t remember which book that was, and it doesn’t matter, for at the end of the day, all traditional knowledge would lead to this, printed and packaged by whatever name.

Much later, being substantially exposed to science, logic, scepticism and political philosophy, when I tried to revisit the system along with skill acquired in 30 long years of Riyaz, certain impossibilities and self-contradictions began haunting me, and finally drew me in. It’s then when I realized that Ragasangit is a misnomer, the Raga is not there where the Sangit is, and that the Sangit can peacefully exist without even bothering about the Raga as phonographs, sequential digital signals stored magnetically or optically etc. Raga is something that resides in our head as a class of synthesised proteins and their unique chains, and that our fellow scientists, namely the neurologists have no idea yet about how exactly it works. Yet, a melody can be empirically identified, but a Raga cannot.

This was the idea that became the first spark towards a critical and materialistic analysis of the phenomenon called Raga Sangit. What we hear, or produce is actually a physical phenomenon governed by the rules of the Natural Sciences, of Physics, of Chemistry, of Mathematics, and of course of human anatomy — the cardiothoracic and aural systems installed in place. Music, however divine or not, can never go beyond the specific limits of both the singer/player and the audience. All our music is limited within a very narrow bandwidth of frequencies, of volume, of duration of sustained sound and so on. Naturally, the physiological differences between two singers remarkably affect their singing styles, accentuation – in fact the total aura around and flavour if the music they would produce. A Bhimsen Joshi and a Kumar Gandharv are primarily different by their lung capacities. A Gangubai Hangal or Kesarbai Kerkar is different from an Abdul Karim Khan or D V Paluskar because of their differently stiff/supple pharynges. Problem happens, when musicians tend to ignore this simple and very basic fact, and an Usha Uthup class singer forces herself to imitate a Lata Mangeshkar or Geeta Dutt. Trust me, such things  happen far too often in the realm of classical music, when disciples mistake their mentors’ voice timbre for a part of style, and ruin any prospect they had had they given themselves a chance to be themselves. For example, take the third generation Agra school singers who have listened to the doyen Fayyaz Khan Sahib only through recordings. Same goes with the followers of Amir Khan Sahib’s Indore clan who rarely chanced upon the old live recordings of the maestro.

What was recorded then was the sound that physically existed, not the rigorous philosophical toils, deliberation, and contemplation behind it. It also recorded the defects, (un)avoidable mistakes, but yet — the melody was palpably present, the emotion was successfully conveyed to the men of understanding even a century later. And that is the precise point here. The Raga, literally meaning the colour and passion, does not reside in or confined within the physical phenomenon called melody, for instance. Raga is somewhere else. So we are actually entitled to and duty-bound towards dissecting the physical melody first. We will come back to this dissection methodology later, but before that let’s consider the following.

The formal elements of the melody are evolving always; even the proponents of fake history too would admit that. Such evolution sometimes follows its own internal logic, which is also necessitated physiologically; some other times, they evolve through fusion. If the logic of fusion can be decoded, then each stage of a given element can be precisely traced back in history. Fusion happens real-time; at the most a generation, which is 30 years, go between the actual societal interaction and birth of a fused musical form.

Before we can proceed any further towards a reading of history through music, it’s now imperative to get into the fundamentals of the technique, both of music and of informed criticism. We know that when we learn a language, or when the babies acquire a language, we learn a few words first, then their usage in real life communication, then come a few connecting words along with a concept of context, then we learn to spell, to write, the grammar rules etc. Grammar in its full glory is actually passed on to us via ridicules and patronizing at the third stage while we learn the usage, but the rules are revealed much later, at a time when despite noticing a few discrepancies and anomalies, we are so conditioned in the convention (and the associated power structure), that we can’t break away from that — or if we do, we run the risk of being labelled beyond normal. Please refer to Chomsky for further reading. Music being the non-semantic equivalent of speech follows an exactly similar pattern. Well, I have some reservations about this ‘non-semantic’ thing. The musical words ARE charged with semantic relationship with the world, is poised with historical possibilities, but the mapping is still different from speech. But that doesn’t make it particularly non-semantic.

Now this has a particularly bearing on our understanding of history. Since the semantic equivalents of the musical words are next to impossible to decipher, it is even more difficult to mess with or tamper the history that is already encoded in it. In other words, the flow of information from music to language is one-way, the reverse flow is not possible until and unless the planted information is actualised by the existing state of music; they just stand out. Tampered music always sounds artificial and weird to the trained and conditioned ears. While archaeological evidences are static and therefore open to interpretation, even wrong interpretation at times, the linguistic, genetic, and musical evidences are not really open to such tampering. And basically that is why it becomes absolutely necessary to obfuscate the laws of Natural Language, deny the genetic evidences and replace the true history of music with a fiction that fascinates. In other words, there is nothing mystic or even mysterious in the traces of evolution of music, it’s way too obvious to the point of discomfort of those who’d want to stress on this or that model of racial supremacy.

Coming back to our axiomatic discussion, we have already said that the physical phenomenon of a melody in the space-time continuum where sound is recognized belongs to a three-dimensional control space, what I call the FAT space. Three properties of a musical sound are orthonormal, namely, Frequency (F), Amplitude (A), and Time (T) within the domain of definition. All these are bounded variables, but can be controlled independently of each other. Point is, a musician can control only these three and nothing else under the sun. All his abracadabra, and voodoo, and Nada Brahma are confined within these FAT space bounds, however esoteric and sacrosanct he might pose to be.

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