Why music moves us by Janette Bicknell

August 22, 2015

A good read; however, two western music oriented.

Two differences stood out especially for me. One is the importance given to instrumental music over vocal in western tradition while in Carnatic for example, it is the vocal music that is given primacy; instruments such as Veena are hailed because they sound as close to human voice as possible. The second is the idea of sublime; the “awe-inspiring” or sublime music (the equivalent of “bhayankara”) is not the primary concern for many rasikas of Carnatic music (I think!).

The one time I got high listening to music was a concert by T V Sankaranarayanan in Odukaththur mutt in Bangalore and the piece that induced the altered mental state (which lasted for about a couple of hours) was Thiruvadi charanam in Kambhoji; especially, the nerval of the lines “Aduththu vantha ennai thallal aagaadhu; hara hara endru sonnalum podhaadho”; I believe that the deep immersion that happened to me primarily happened because of the meaning of those lines and the emotions that TVS brought while singing them.

Another singer who produced similar effects for me is MS: she has a way of emphasising some words by changing the thickness/thinness of voice for some words — for example, when she sings “Naalu puram nokki, nani naan” she will make the word “nani” sound a bit thin compared to other words which produces a wonderful effect.

Similarly, when Mansur sings Akka kelavva he somehow emphasises on the urgence of the singer to make the other person listen to her experience; in his way of singing the description of the experience itself does not get much emphasis; Mansur does this by repeating akka kelavva several times in what I can only describe as “requesting tone” and the tone is the most important part of the effect.

Of course, it is quite possible that in the way I immerse myself in classical music is through words and language and for others words are not that important. However, some of the the traditional ways of appreciating music — for example, the long exposition of  Sri Subrahmanyaya Namaste by Kanchi Chandrashekharendra Saraswati  and his explaining the word “Vaggeyakkara” by its emphsis on the linguistic aspects — makes me think that this is one of the accepted, traditional ways of making meaning out of classical music. And that is in contrast with most of what Janette Bicknell discusses.

Having said all that, I still think it is a good book and worth reading once — at least for the kind of questions it raises and the kind of issues it addresses. I only wish that somebody familiar with Indian classical tried a similar study.

Mary Douglas: A very personal method — Anthropological writings drawn from life

August 10, 2015

A very good read — most of it (though I had to plod through some of the essays).

Here are a couple of samples of the writing.

On Levi-Strauss:

He thus claims to have answered the sphinx, unscrewed the inscrutable and effed the ineffable.

On her grandmother:

Sometimes I see her, unexpectedly in a crowded street. I turn a corner and there is someone coming towards me, someone very familiar, someone I am glad to see. I smile, and she smiles back — it is my grandmother! A split second later I realize it is my own reflection in the polished glass of a shop window.

A good one!

Battle with bottle…

August 9, 2015

And history of drinking in Tamil society — starting from Sangam times: A R Venkatachalapathy’s piece is a must-read:

Europeans have their first drinks in public and when tipsy move into the confines of their homes; Tamils, on the other hand, drink under cover and once drunk are out on the streets rolling in the gutter with scarcely a vestment on them, or so C.N Annadurai once observed with characteristic insight. Historically, societies across the world have consumed alcohol. But, following Annadurai, we can draw the conclusion that societies handle drink in their own way. As the groundswell of anti-liquor sentiment gains support across Tamil Nadu, we need to understand the history of drinking in Tamil society if we are to succeed in the battle with the bottle.

Here is the bottmline:

Yet, the call for total prohibition is misplaced. Its champions little realise that the social and economic costs might actually be higher. Banning liquor in the cultural context of a globalising India is not an option. The moral argument against drinking simply doesn’t work. Its killjoy attitude recalls what Macaulay said about the Puritan objection to animal-baiting: they objected not because it caused pain to the animals but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.

The state, in consultation with civil society, needs to work out a plan to contain the genie that is out of the bottle. Regulation, overseen by civil society, should be accompanied by a campaign of education. The anti-tobacco campaign and the polio-eradication programme can teach us much. As demanded by some peasant groups, the state ought to seriously consider legalising toddy tapping.

Machine learning and materials design

July 5, 2015

Doug has a nice post at Nanoscale Views.

Another great concert

June 6, 2015

This time, it was Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande. Enjoyed a lot! She sang from about 10:45 pm or so till about 12:15 am. Reminded me of all those Gururao Desphande All Night Music Mehfils (minus the bajji and chai at the gymkhana cafe) at IISc.

Heaven on earth

June 4, 2015

It is the week of musical extravaganza at IIT Bombay with the Spic Macay Third International Convention. Yesterday, I heard Prof. T N Krishnan on violin followed by Pt. Venkatesh Kumar. Majestic is the word to describe Pt. Venkatesh Kumar’s music; it was so calm and unhurried and yet packed so much of energy — a remarkable and memorable experience.

Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal

May 30, 2015

In Mahabharata, in Yakha Prashna episode, to the question as to the most surprising thing, Yudhisthtra answers that it is people living as though they are immortal even when they see death everyday. And, there is a Thamizh poem from Thirumoolar which also echoes the same sentiment: “The entire village — got together and wept loud; stopped using the name and referred to “dead body”, took the body to the burial ground and  burnt it there; took a dip in the water and forgot it”.

Atul Gawande’s meditation on being mortal is equally profound and deeply philosophical and at the core an attempt to address some questions of medical ethics. It asks hard questions about the way modern medicine is being practised — specifically, whether we can prolong life without worrying about the quality of life or without paying heed to the wishes of patients themselves. For a book that discusses death and pain on almost every page, it is a surprisingly affirmative and positive book. With his wonderful prose and great writing, Gawande joins Sacks and Ramachandran as one among the must-read medical writers and Being Mortal is a must-read book. Strongly recommended.

On solving real world problems

May 23, 2015

Most of the details in this post can be better understood only by those who work in cryptography, probably. However, there are some general lessons in the post and in the comments that are worth paying attention to about the role of theory and practice in solving real world engineering problems.

Gripping and disconcerting

May 16, 2015

Read Yanagihara’s The people in the trees. Here are some of the reviews: NYTimes; Guardian and Independent. Here is an interview with Yanagihara about writing the book. I am looking forward to reading her next, “A little life“, which unfortunately not available on Kindle till mid-August.

Economist son of a metallurgist father

May 6, 2015

When called upon to comment on the world we live in, I had no alternative but to fall back on the Marxist tradition which had shaped my thinking ever since my metallurgist father impressed upon me, when I was still a child, the effect of technological innovation on the historical process. How, for instance, the passage from the bronze age to the iron age sped up history; how the discovery of steel greatly accelerated historical time; and how silicon-based IT technologies are fast-tracking socioeconomic and historical discontinuities.

From here; link via Swarup.


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