Manasi Prasad, director of Bengaluru-based Centre for Indian Music Experience, on India’s first interactive music museum and lack of patronage for the arts.
When and how was the Centre for Indian Music Experience (IME) conceptualised? When did you come on board?
IME is the initiative of the Indian Music Trust and is supported by MR Jaishankar’s Bangalore-based Brigade Group. Back in 2008, a group of residents got together to form the Brigade Millennium Welfare Trust, which conducted a survey and found that the community wanted a music-related space.
I’m a Carnatic classical musician with a degree in management from IIM Bangalore. I was approached by the trust in 2009 and given a blank canvas. The obvious options were that we could set up a music school, or an auditorium or a convention centre. But these were models that already existed. So based on research and Mr Jaishankar’s visit to Seattle’s Experience Music Project, which is founded by Paul Allen, also the founder of Microsoft, this project began. That museum was ostensibly dedicated to the Jimi Hendrix’s memorabilia but has now become much more than a repository. We thought why not design a museum like this in India.
Gallaghar and Associates, the design company that helped create the famed Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, has been roped in for IME. How was the experience of working with them?
They have a lot of experience in designing music museums, which requires a special skill for bringing something so intangible to life. When you speak about music, there is some amount of cultural conditioning that is required. The senior designer who worked on the project from Gallaghar was Sujit Tolat, an Indian who studied at NID before he moved to the US. His background helped.
There are no music museums such as IME in India. In fact, there is hardly any footfall at regular museums. Can IME change that?
Museums across the world are increasingly moving to an experiential model where the museum doesn’t see itself only as an archive but also as an institution that tells stories, asks questions and interprets artefacts for the audience. The museums need to engage with the visitors, and we have focussed on that. Only a section of the museum has opened now.
We have the Sound Garden where there are musical sculptures such as a xylophone table, an installation that consists of gongs that can be struck with mallets, and a humming stone where you can place your head inside a cavity and hear vibrations of the sound. So it is not a ‘don’t touch’ museum. It’s a ‘please touch’ museum — an active and not a passive interaction. Our competition is not music schools or concerts. It is malls and theatres. There are photo ops where you can pose with a brass band, you can record yourself in a studio environment and email the track to yourself or create a cover design for your CD.
How does the museum help in better understanding and appreciation of music?
While it caters to people from all the sections of society, the focus is on young people, to create another generation of music connoisseurs who really care about the music ecosystem. The sheer diversity of music in India is compromised because of the fact that there isn’t a platform where all forms of music are given equal weight. At the museum, we have a large number of audio/visual kiosks and iPads where people can listen to various forms of music, from early 20th century Carnatic music to the latest indie bands and iconic Bollywood music. There are interactives where you can find out your pitch — the fundamental concept in classical music — or how ragas are constructed through notes.
We share stories behind the lyrics and the music. The top floor has a sound lab, where children can jam and get the feeling of singing in a rock concert, or perform like a DJ by using computer-aided interactives. We have made provisions for multiple headphones at each listening station, where a friend or a family member can hear what music you are creating.
What kind of research went into the project? What were some of your big challenges?
I travelled to similar museums in Seattle and Phoenix very early on with the architects. Several museums gave us a behind-the-scenes tour. In India, we visited museums such as the Khalsa museum in Punjab and the Gandhi museum in Delhi.
One of the biggest challenges with this project has been to encapsulate the sheer diversity — in terms of geography, history and genres across India, and how do you fit that into a museum. The information on the internet was confirmed by referring to experts. Image research has been a huge aspect of this project. Many private collectors have shared their collections. A collector in the US, who does not want to named, has shared 4,000 hours of unreleased music of Carnatic music legends. Mary Khan, wife of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, has shared rare recordings.
Several old and contemporary bands have shared their music, high-resolution videos and concert footage. Many government institutions, such as the All India Radio and Centre for Cultural Resources and Training, have shared content. This is how institutions need to collaborate and share their music with the public.
Another huge challenge is funding. It’s extremely difficult to get funding for the arts. It’s not that money does not exist, but somehow arts are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to support.