This is one of those posts that I’ve been intending to post for over a couple of months, but each time I think about this, I don’t happen to be in front of a computer, and even if I do, I don’t feel like writing about it. So here I am – finally blogging this. As I write this, I’m listening to the Ledzep Live Album The Song Remains the Same. This post is about this album, and other related stuff.
As you might have figured out from the title of this post, one thing I’ve noticed about this album is about the approximate Carnatic format that the songs in this take on. It may not be in the strict order that Carnatic music prescribes, but these songs are roughly there. I’m currently listening to Dazed and Confused, and after the first few lines of the Pallavi were sung, Page has now gone off into an extended Aalapana of whichever Raaga this song is set in.
Periodically, they return to the song, and play a few more lines. Now, Plant is doing his bit by improvising with a few lines of his own. Jones and Bonham are dutifully doing their background stuff – Bonham will get his footage later in the album – for Moby Dick features a full-blown Tani Avartanam. It ends the same way Tani Avartanams in Carnatic concerts do – with the main line of the Pallavi being sung at the end of it. I know I might be force-fitting some Carnatic concepts into this album; nevertheless, all these improvements make for extremely interesting listening.
A few days after I had first noticed this, Udupa told me that a large number of concerts in the 70s were like this – the musicians would simply jam on stage in the middle of the songs. Created music on the spot. Spontaneous stuff. Unfortunately, Udupa continued, the trend changed a few years back when less informed audiences started demanding that more songs be crammed into the three hour concert, thus reducing the scope for such improvisations.
The best thing about Carnatic concerts is that each one is unique. You might look at two concerts – played by the same set of musicians and with the same line-up of krithis, but there is a very good chance that the two are markedly different. This is because Indian Classical music, in its concerts, encourages the musician to innovate, to play whatever comes to his mind at that point of time – while adhering to the fairly strict rules. It is this element of innovation that makes each concert special, and an experience in itself.
Western Classical music differs in this regard – especially in the orchestra form – since the large size of the troupe leaves little scope for innovation and the musicians are literally forced to play it by the book. In that context, it seems like it was genres such as rock which brought in the spontaneity and innovation into western music.
Nowadays, bands don’t tour as much as they used to a couple of decades ago, which means that whenever they visit a city (which is once in a few years), the fans in the city will want to hear as many songs as possible. And that kills innovation. It is not the bands’ fault – they are simply responding to the market. And I don’t know what it could be that could get them back to their RTP days.
Here is one of my retirement plans. For each song that I like, describe a Carnatic Raaga into which it can approximately fit into. Tinker around with the stanzas, to create a Pallavi-Anupallavi-Charana format. Try to make the raagas as rigid as possible – Vakra scales will be preferred. And then put RTP. Use some Western instruments too – for example, I definitely want the Bass guitar to be a regular feature in Carnatic concerts. I think the result is likely to be phenomenal.
It’s been a few years since I picked up the violin. I plan to do it sometime. And implement what I’ve described here. Hopefully I’ll do a good job. In the meantime, if there are any bands out there which want to implement this concept, they can feel free and do it – I promise I won’t sue them later for IPR.