Indian Classical Music for the Blind and Deaf
Hall Two, Kings Place, London 3 October 2008
Hall Two at the newly opened Kings Place Arts Centre, north of Kings Cross Station, needs further evaluation. Amongst the 100 events of the opening festival a concert of North Indian Classical Music was so total a disaster that we were not prepared to remain for the presentation of South Indian Music to follow.
The hall is a flat-floor flexible space, to accommodate 330 or seat 220... There's the rub, and no worse first experience to test it out could have been conceived than David Murphy's Guided Tour of North and South Indian music.
The introducer, who might have been Mr Murphy, gave background information, with quite a lot of name-dropping of the "greats", Ravi Shankar and his predecessors, that really did not help newcomers to listen, beyond confirming that it is all improvised upon basic patterns, and that we might see people marking the beats.
One reviewer complained that the problem was the audience, which prevented him from seeing anything at all; unsurprising with the musicians sat on the floor of a lowish platform.
With a little imagination applied, it should of course have been given semi-in-the-round, with the musicians on a floor carpet, some seating on the stage for us oldies, and the rest of the space given over to informally standing around, so that individuals could find their own sight lines...
But even worse, by far, was as crass example we've encountered of the blight of 20th-21st C Indian music performance. It was so ludicrously amplified for so small and acoustically clear, well designed a space, that I only survived the 45 minutes by wearing my iPod earphones... Apart from the loudness, there was distortion, especially between the mother and daughter singers. The introducer said the levels were the responsibility of the man at the sound desk; he countered by claiming the reverse was true, assured me that the loudness was well below permissible decibel levels and, by way of coup de grace assured me that the musicians were happy with the sound check.
He assured me that one would not be able to hear a tabla unamplified...
How has such idiocy and that blight spread so that we rarely steel ourselves to attend "live" recitals of music which we have loved ever since the early visits to London of Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan half a century ago. In those days it was still possible to hear the natural sounds of sitar, sarod and voice.
The infection spread and became ubiquitous with the expectations of pop music and the growing popularity of Indian Music, which is often played in the sub-continent to vast audiences.
Once, quite long ago, I succeeded in persuading the powers that were to let us hear a vina in natural sound at Blackheath Halls recital room; it was magical, as so was that of a clavichord in recital a couple of hundred yards away at the Quaker Meeting House last year:
This topic has been aired repeatedly in our columns; for starters see my Why not amplify? and think about enhancement v. amplification...
Will the promoters of the next Indian Classical concerts explore my suggestions? **
Responses , please?*
Peter Grahame Woolf
See also: Kings Place Opening Festival: http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/LiveEvents08/KingsPlaceOpening.html
*Anne Ozorio has drawn my attention to Indian Music on her wide ranging blog - recommended to explore:
** The organisers of South Bank's Darbar festival of Indian music (April 2009) have kindly responded:
We do use amplification. We use our own sound engineer who understands how Indian music should sound (unlike many engineers who think they know how it should sound). We also hire in special mics to ensure that the clarity is superb. This makes a huge difference in the quality of the amplification. I am sure you will be surprised by the sound quality.
We also cater for those who totally hate a PA - its called our Darbar Unplugged concert which is held at Yehudi Menuhin School, Cobham on 7th April 2009 - Purbayan Chatterjee (Sitar) and Pandit Kumar Bose (Tabla).
The debate whether a concert should be amplified is a matter of personal judgement. To me amplification is fine so long as the highest quality mics and pa system is used by a knowledgeable sound engineer. If not then I agree with your article that the sound engineers destroy the concert.