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Raaga Reloaded

It is early morning in Los Angeles and Prasad Upasani is ready for his riyaaz. He takes out his iPhone and sets it on auto-play in a loop of 30 seconds.

A US based software engineer and classical musician comes up with iTanpura—a fascinating technology for Indian classical music

It is early morning in Los Angeles and Prasad Upasani is ready for his riyaaz. He takes out his iPhone and sets it on auto-play in a loop of 30 seconds. Upasani then begins with his favourite raga Bairagi Bhairav. And for the next one hour he practices with his iTanpura,the latest application manufactured by Upasani using digitally recorded,high-fidelity samples of actual tanpura sound. The application is already being downloaded and used across the globe by the users of iPhone and iTouch. “One does not really have to lug around a cumbersome tanpura or hunt for an electrical socket for the electric tanpura every time one sits down for a session of riyaaz or while performing in an actual concert. i-Tanpura is a portable,yet great-sounding solution that can run for upto 10 hours on a single charge,” says Upasani,a software developer and an Indian classical musician,over a telephonic interview from Los Angeles.

The tanpura has always been an essential component for all the Hindustani classical musicians as it provides a basic bass drone to begin a raga. From the time when it took many hours to tune the bulky tanpura with the tumba (the hollow round bottom),the instrument has undergone several modifications,including an electronic avatar even. But the i-Tanpura is undoubtedly among the easiest to use,and it comes packed with a punch: the presence of the Swar Mandal system that creates a concert atmosphere wherein two tanpuras tuned to two sets of different notes is played,is quite remarkable. “There is a built-in 15-string Swar Mandal. One can tune each of the 15 strings to any note,and then strum the strings either manually or set it to auto-play. You don’t need two tanpuras now. Two sets of sounds from two different speakers give the impression of a tanpura jodi like it is used during concerts,” says Upasani,who is now working on a software for electronic tabla.

The cost factor also goes in Upasani’s favour,as downloading the application will cost approximately 750 rupees unlike the traditional tanpura,which can cost on an average about Rs 5000. There is one major disadvantage though. The iTanpura is an Apple application and is available only to the users of the company’s iPhone and iPod. “People like George Brooks,Kala Ramnath and Swapan Chaudhary are already using the iTanpura for their recordings and concerts. The sound is not very mechanical yet it captures the essence. I’ve used Hemraj tanpuras to write the software,which are the best available in the market,” says Upasani who started learning music in Mumbai,and gave his first public performance at the age of 11.

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But will the classicists agree with doing away with the entire romance of sitting down with the real acoustic handcrafted tanpura and tuning its strings before a practice session?

“The sound of an actual tanpura and the process of tuning it,is really intrinsic to music students and senior artistes,so this will never be a substitute for the actual instrument. This is not a challenge to the existing form. It’s just an effort to come up with something easier and almost equally good,” he says.

First published on: 10-11-2009 at 01:38:16 am
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