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  • Akarsh Simha 8:42 pm on September 19, 2009 Permalink  

    Carnatic Music vs Hindustani Music vs Other forms 

    I simply couldn’t resist penning down my views on this subject after reading Smt. Lakshmi Sriram’s article in The Hindu (Chennai):

    I must admit that I am hardly familiar with forms of music other than Carnatic (and maybe to some extent Western Classical). However, I have attended a Hindustani concert or two, and I hope I do make sense when I talk about Hindustani music or other forms. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Of course, this post might be highly biased, but that is natural because it’s a personal opinion – take it or chuck it!

    While not purely so, most forms of music have some aspect that results in ‘intellectual enjoyment’. One must be able to understand the nuances of the music to wholly appreciate it.

    In my opinion, the ingredient of music that requires the least amount of musical training to appreciate is simple rhythm patterns. Somehow, I’m inclined to believe that this is why the likes of Shivamani are extremely popular – because they come up with simple, but yet innovative, rhythm patterns which the common man can understand and appreciate. The other ingredient is Lyrics, preferably in English. I attribute the popularity of those forms of “music” that I would love to derogate by branding them as ‘noise’ to the fact that they are rhythm-intensive or Lyrics-intensive, and thus understandable by most people.

    Then there’s harmony. I found out from my friend that not everyone can actually appreciate harmony. Western music primarily relies on harmony. Western Classical music utilizes ensembles of instruments to produce harmonious tones. Other ingredients like the tonal content or rAga, are harder to pick up unless one is trained in the particular form of music.

    Carnatic music involves not only a lot of rhythmic complexity (eg: Pallavis, or stuff played in a taniyAvartanam) that is hardly understandable to the untrained ear, but also a lot of tonal complexity (heavy bhRgas and gamakams) that requires a really fast ‘Fourier Transform’ in your brain! What is suprising is that training can make the brain capable of ‘parsing’ every single note in a tonally complex phrase of music.

    While Hindustani music might be tonally complex, it is mostly mellifluous and doesn’t involve as much rhythmic complexity (unless I’m mistaken) as Carnatic Music. Carnatic music is sharp, whereas Hindustani is mellifluous; and unless your ‘Fourier Transform’ is fast enough, you can’t appreciate T N Sheshagopalan’s 3rd kAlam swaras in the Alapanai (I still can’t!), which will just sound like drab nonsensical oscillations with no tonal beauty, explaining the popular impression of Carnatic Music. Hindustani Music, especially when rendered popularly, on the other hand, doesn’t require as fast a Fourier Transform – except for some parts of the concert. Thankfully, Hindustani music has these slow phrases which the untrained ear can appreciate, making it more popular.

    So I would conclude that the popularity of non-classical forms of music, and above that, that of Hindustani over Carnatic is mostly because Classical Music, and in particular, Carnatic Music doesn’t pander to the average unacquainted man but offers a steep learning curve and calls for appreciation at various levels – emotional and intellectual.

    • Pavan K 3:07 am on September 20, 2009 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Nice post. /me concurs on most points.
      Some observations:

      1) Taste for music (as personal and random as it is) is subject to culture and upbringing – which in turn breeds preferences and biases thereof.
      For instance, Convent educated, High Society bred people might have a tendency to favor anything western, The typical Tambrahm might prefer Karnatak classical over other things, The typical music enthusiast from the Dharwad belt is likely to favor HindusthAni.

      Within these cultural constraints – Few people tend to have enough openness to appreciate or experiment with their taste for music. Infact the average Indian knows way too little about Indian classical music, HindusthAni or Karnatak (How many people in south india have heard of Tyagaraja or Purandaradasa?) than the average westerner is informed about Western Classical.! They’d prefer more popular Music (Bollywood, otherwood).

      The vast majority of Indians only know of folk forms or Filmi Music.

      That doesn’t mean that there’s a pathological constraint – intellectual or otherwise preventing them from appreciating classical music, but that it’s a culture-gap, preferential bias.

      2) Comparisons on complexities between HindusthAni and Karnatak traditions: Agreed about the technical comparisons. I don’t think everything about Karnatak music is technical (which you seem to hint towards, esp when you talk about FFTs and tone-sequencing). I think everyone is capable of “enjoying” the musical element regardless of the technicalities involved (The musical element of a soulful keertane, say)
      There’s a slight difference here between Hindusthani and Karnatak music though. HindusthAni was always meant to be entertainment + pleasure oriented music. HindUsthAni gained identity with (and thanks to) royal patronage unlike Karnatak Music, which to a large extent never strayed away from it’s Bhakti-oriented roots. Till date, Tansen is the poster boy of Hindusthani music and not his guru Swami Haridas. Compare that with Tyagaraja or Purandaradasa down south. Even composers under royal patronage, like Muttaiah BhAgavata or maisUr vAsudEvAcArya retained identity well beyond their court-vidvAnship.

      No wonder HindUsthAni is aesthetic and appealing out-of-the-box, while Karnatak music (atleast the keerthanes part) is savvy only to the devotional people, language understanding notwithstanding. Unlike musical tones, linguistic phonemes *do* require understanding inorder to make sense. Tune apart, I don’t think it’s possible for a non-kannaDiga to appreciate JagadodhdhArana without understanding the lyrics.

      Lastly, Karnatak Music’s non-bhakti oriented facets (RTPs, tanis) et al are so completely technical that they can’t possibly appeal to anybody who doesn’t understand them. Richness of tradition apart – these displays of musical wizardry are so specific that it’s almost meant for peers and not the public. I don’t think Karnatak Music will ever get as popular or *appealing* as Hindusthani.

      Last point: To continue on the previously mentioned point: One of the reasons why Karnatak Music has very niche following (apart from the fact that it has forced it’s evolution this way), is that it’s exposure outside it’s cultural realm (Typically South Indian Brahms?) is really low. Compare that with Hindusthani of the Beatles and Ravi Shankar Fame. It’s pretty self explanatory.

    • marc lavigne 8:43 am on October 3, 2009 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      first days with program need more time but look good too me

    • Madhav 12:40 pm on February 26, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      The popularity aspect of Carnatic music is a difficult thing to analyze. It partly has to do with the musical aspects (like complexity, lyrics etc) and many non-music aspects – like the fact that it is simply not a trend outside of a certain subculture to invest time into appreciating this music.

      But popularity aside, the original article makes a more important comment about Carnatic music, suggesting that it may not be appealing even to serious and open-minded listeners if they are not from South India because there are some inherent shortcomings in this music. Things like noise levels from the accompaniments, excessive lyrics, lack of a gradual and slow build up and the like. Debatable whether these are really shortcomings or just a different kind of aesthetic but it is good food for thought.

    • Akarsh Simha 4:20 pm on February 28, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Hi Madhav… very nice points.

      As a person who hardly has any formal training in Carnatic Music, and as a person who hardly knows a single tyAgarAja song, I can’t appreciate kRtis for the most of it — but you can still appreciate the neravals and swarams, so I still feel that the excessive lyrics aspect is not really problematic.

    • Pranab Sen 9:32 am on May 25, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I think there is some truth to the fact that you need a shorter time Fourier transform to appreciate the gamakas of Carnatic music, so it presents a steeper appreciation curve. Another issue is the lyrics and the language of Carnatic compositions. There are several languages in use in Carnatic compositions, Telugu, Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil etc. This presents a big barrier to non-Southerners, especially since Carnatic performances are lyrics heavy. In contrast, Hindustani performances are not lyrics heavy at all (some would say the lyrics are quite unimportant in a Khayal performance), and they are almost always in Brajabhaashaa which many more understand, at least to some extent.
      Hindustani singing emphasises the purity of the frequency of a note, which is more visceral to the human psyche. So it appeals more to the heart. For a non-southerner who has not grown up with Carnatic, the gamakas of Carnatic sound like off key singing! And this is not just because they may not have a very short time Fourier transform in their brains. They do viscerally feel that notes should be stable and pure as long as they are held. Intermediate frequencies can only be touched during the slides (meends, touching nyasa swaras). So I feel Hindustani will always be more popular. And there will always be southerners who are attracted to Hindustani, even if they have been exposed to Carnatic from their childhood.
      On the point of Carnatic music staying closer to its Bhakti roots, I would like to point out Dhrupad music in the Hindustani tradition. That is quite close to Bhakti roots too, yet it revels in the purity of the note, much more than Khayal. It also is much more Taala (rhythm) conscious than Khayal (singers routinely keep track of one-fourth of a beat). I am not expert enough to comment on the Taala consciousness of Dhrupad versus Carnatic. Dhrupad has almost no meend and no taans, so it is not as exciting to the public as Khayal. And that is why it is far less popular than Khayal or Carnatic. But it is quite different from Carnatic too. It is hard to say which, Dhrupad or Carnatic, is closer to Bhakti roots. Dhrupad goes back in form to 11th century and its modern performance style was developed in 12th-14th centuries. Purandara Dasa, the doyen of Carnatic music, is from the 15th century. The bifurcation of north and south Indian schools started before Purandara Dasa though, so it is really hard to argue who is closer to Bhakti traditions. They just developed in different ways because of different conditions. Let’s keep it at that. And by the way, Tansen, and also Haridas, were Dhrupad singers!

    • Pranab Sen 9:44 am on May 25, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Oh and by the way, from my perspective of a non-southerner who nevertheless has greatly enjoyed listening to a few Carnatic concerts, there is one thing about Carnatic concerts that I find jarring. It is the Taala-Vaadya-Kacheri where the percussionists try to show off their talents by going in a round-robin fashion. For God’s sake, I have come to listen to the singer, or the instrumentalist. If I wanted to listen to a pure percussionist, I would have gone to Zakir Husein’s solo tablaa performance. This may be one eliminable noise c.f. last paragraph in the original Hindu article

    • athray 11:51 pm on July 17, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      ” While Hindustani music is more than tolerated down South, the warmth is not reciprocated towards Carnatic music.” – This is a fact – Reason is so simple(in my view) – Carnatic has everything including complex taala swara sanchara and simple raga bhava keertanas. Where as hindustani is mellifluous and not as complex as Carnatic. Thus south Carnatic group can easily understand and appreciate the hindustani where as hindustani group can’t do it so easily.

    • Akash Hegde 6:30 pm on July 22, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I think hindustni is better than carnatic because carnatic is only restricted to classical & devotional genre.Whereas hindustani is well suited for all the genre such as classical,romantic,pop,sad,devotional,bhava geeta,ghazal and other genre!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Varun 8:04 pm on October 25, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      This sort of question is too contentious and I find opinions in the article and in the comments which disturb me to various degrees, so I shall not venture to address those points, but I just wanted to point out this one thing: the brain has little role in Fourier-analyzing sound stimuli. The ear already does that, and what the brain receives is the amplitudes of different components. I don’t see what you mean by “fast Fourier transform” in this context. There are the tone-discerning, and there are the tone-deaf. If one can appreciate tonal patterns in a slow sequence, then he can in a fast sequence just as well.

    • Akarsh Simha 10:29 am on October 26, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      You’re right — the Fourier analysis is in the ear. And yeah, my opinions are strong, but those are just opinions…
      Thanks for your points!!

    • anjana 3:00 pm on November 7, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      thank you to all. your views helped me to know more about music . i ll b back soon for further knowledge.

    • Rajan KSS 12:36 pm on November 26, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      kudos to Mr Simha,for his understanding about the comparison of Hindustani and Karnataka systems of Music.
      i have a few observations to offer.
      It is by ignorance or the highly over demonstrated rhythmic patterns of Karnataka music,that undermines the extremely complicated rhythmic structure in Hindustani Music.While the (Present day) karnataka music with earsplitting and over straining tala structures loses the aesthetics of Karnataka Music. The Hindustani music flows with the melody,especially shuddha swaras,with minimum Gamaka employment and not following strictly to a regimental aarohana avarohana system for Ragas,It should be understood that the innate rhythmic structure in Hindustani Music is again aesthetic based.and unlike in Karnataka music,these days the emphsis is more on noisy rendition,vimba kala is almost vanished,Too much interpretation of lyrics,and the so called intellectual process of the rndetion of Ragam Tanam Pallavi.It is slowly becoming Pallavi only.Raga is sang as a formality,and the great form of the Karnataka music ,the TAANA singing is also a part of the RTP>Again the aesthetics,creativity,Manodharma sangeeta which was the hallmark of Karnataka music is unfortunately getting redundant fast.We should be clear that when we say classical music it need not be catering only to the intelligentia,or pseodo intellectual crowd.we go to listen to certain aesthetically rich music.
      In a Music concert,especially Karnataka Music The Raga is the only part which is to an extent sententious and rest are reproduction of rehearsed part.The concept of low profile but with a rich colors of varying sounds are not identifiable in a karnataka concert these days.Over gamakas,so called complicated talas,unnecessary emphasis on Lyrics,are marring what could be an ethereal experience. The concept of quality sound production,clear shddha swaras,(Plain notes)simple anuswaras and most of all the artistic liberty makes the hindustani Music take us to a higher plane.Our concert format is highly dated because instead of following the melodic,aesthetic music,our present Karnataka Music is noisy,un easthetical,less music and very high quantity of words(lyrics)and fete oriented.The Karnataka music system is by itself is great but during the course of passage of time and fall in the standards of qualitative listeners, has turned the musicians to package their music to commercial
      advantage.If we have to retrieve the great Music system of Karnataka music,we need to take a re-look at the present day concert Format. Emphasis on Ragas and manodharma sangeeta,the system needs a bold,and a radical change.Concerts with many Raagas and or a few ragas with different (creative)treatment.The concept of Vilamba kala raga rendition and singing in Mandara shadja(Baritone),must be a definite part of the change we are talking.I am only a rasika but I would appeal to great Musicians,Musicologists,scholars,Music organisations to brainstorm objectively and restore the Glory of Karnataka Music.

    • Rajan KSS 2:48 pm on November 26, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply


    • Hansi 12:33 am on December 8, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Hi I’m a music student from Sr Lanka 🙂 I don’t understand this debate about which tradition of music is ‘better’ than the other. I think you cannot do that because the experience of music is very subjective. One should be able to appreciate and value all types of music and not draw any prejudices.
      I don’t understand Hindi, Tamil or any other language used in Indian music but we learn songs in Hindi as part of our syllabus. (I learn Hindustani music but I’m exposed to a lot of Carnatic music on the TV/radio because we have a Tamil community in SL) I think that enables us, despite translations being widely available, to value music for its tonal value alone.

    • Surya 4:57 am on January 15, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Here goes my 2 cents.

      I mostly listen to carnatic music but have listened some amount of hindusthani music. I’ve not learned carnatic music, so I’m kind of a lay person who naturally got attracted to carnatic music. Since hindusthani kind of sounds similar to carnatic (atleast terms like the swarams and the raga are similar to both). I’ve tried to read a lot about the theory inside carnatic music and what makes it so complex (atleast from a layman’s point of view). I should admit I havent read much about hindusthani music though I have listened to quite a number of concerts.

      Almost all the hindusthani concerts I have listened to make me feel “ah, how peaceful it is”, irrespective of who the artist is. Thats not true with carnatic music, each artist will give you a different feeling. In carnatic music, some people’s concert seem so boring but still people talk about technically sound the concert was, but part of the problem in carnatic music is that you definitely have to please the learned intellectuals (who look out for technically sound concerts) to get some good feedback and reviews. In the process of doing that, the artist may get so technically involved in the music and lose the melody lying there. However, one thing we have to keep in mind is that all the complexities and theory in carnatic music was not developed over night and there’s a reason for so much theory backing up the carnatic music system. Most of the complexities in carnatic music are optional and are not mandatory (though people try to employ a lot of them almost always). Take for example, changing that nadai (different rhythmic tala counts) of a popular pallavi and singing it. This gives a different picture to the pallavi compared what we are used to, and if done right, this will give a refreshingly new picture to the pallavi or the raga itself. The artist is not expected to change the nadai but welcome to do so if that elevates his performance. Same is the case with sruthi bedham, no one asks you to do a sruthi bedham during the alapana (alaap), but you have an option of doing it if you feel that it will sound more pleasing.

      Time and again great artists have proven its possible to exploit those technically sound concepts of carnatic music and bring different shades to a ragam, and hence bring different feel to it. The complexities actually give more freedom to the artist and his manodharmam. If not handled right, it can spoil the musical piece totally. Well accomplished carnatic musicians always stress on this point when talking about how to be technically sound. Dont overuse gamakams, dont do sruthi-bedham just because you can do it, dont show off your complex thalam skills just because you can do it. There’s a place to do all these things which brings more sowkhyam (adds on what feeling you are trying to bring) to the musical piece. So, its possible to give a carnatic music concert without any intellectual usage of any technique, and its also possible to give a concert that much resembles a hindusthani concert, but again you have to please the musically learned intellectuals to get good feedback and reviews. Try listening to the olden day movie songs in tamil, telugu etc. There, they dont employ much intellectually rigorous stuff and the music is just so pleasing. That would give you an idea of how pleasing are the melodies in carnatic music.

      I have not attened too many hinduthani concerts, but all the ones I attened gave me a peacful feeling irrespective of who the artist is and irrespective of what ragam is being sung. They kind of slowly start the alaap and dwell on notes, and try to gradually build it up from there. You will get to enjoy each sangathi (phrase) when sung and even when they sing fast after the initial buildup, the melodious feeling will carry you. I’m able to enjoy them for the first couple of times I listen to. However, when I hear the same raga (raag) being sung by many artists and try listening to it again and again, all of them kind of sound the same and I feel its very repetetive. I feel that “I need a break!” when I listen to the same raag continuously for a long time or hear it rendered by different artists successively. Maybe it has do with my personal preference or the way I’m tuned to. Interestingly, when I listen to the heavy ragams of carnatic music (say, Khambhoji or Kalyani) rendedered for a very long time or listen to it by different artists in succession, I feel the need to listen to more and more, and the more pleasing it is. I used to listen to a long Khambhoji alapana by Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer followed by Khambhoji of GNB followed by Sanjay and keep going. Again, this does not prove anything regarding if carnatic system or hinduthani is better, it just shows my personal preference maybe.

      We get music of all sorts to create different feelings and to suit our different moods. When I want to listen to some peaceful music, I tune to hindusthani artists or some artists like MD Ramanathan or KV Narayanswamy in carnatic music. When I’m brisk, the flashing brighas of TN Seshagopalan or the storm-like rendition of GNB blows me away. When I’m in the mood to enjoy some fast paced music, I tune to Semmangudi for his brisk kalpana swarams. When I just to hear for some pleasant music, I have several other artists in carnatic music that I can tune to. In a similar way, a single song of Dikshitar can sound so soothing and meelifluous, and its instant joy. Same way, when I learn a thing or two about a new ragam, all the technically complex rendition impress me. So, some form of music is suited to only some moods. Same way, listen to a concert of Vijay Siva for a serene performance, and listen to Sanjay or TN Seshagopalan (TNS) for a power-packed high voltage performance. If you’re not in a mood to listen to such power packed performance, you may not like his concert, but if you are looking for such a concert, then attending his concert would be the best thing you did that day. You ask for something and you get it in carnatic music. Sometimes, I try to draw an analogy between music and life. I do want a peaceful life but do like moments that are powr packed, thrilling etc.

    • krishnamoorthy 4:56 pm on February 26, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      people who are discussing about the music does not have a sense of music. if you want to more debate on this topic please go and just listen illayaraj music (south ) and RD Burman music (north) then you come up and write your openioins.

  • Akarsh Simha 6:49 pm on September 19, 2009 Permalink  

    Artifical real-time reverb using sox 

    I had to dig through several pages of tweets to find this command:

    sox -d -d reverb 80

    It basically feeds back from the mic to the speaker with the reverb effect. So if you like a lot of reverb while playing a musical instrument, for instance, but your room doesn’t have the reverb, then you could run this to get the required reverb.

    I’m putting this down here, so that I can search for it the next time I want it 🙂

    There are other methods, like:

    rec -t wav – | play -t wav – reverb 80

    But that requires a lot of processing time, so there’s a significant delay between the input and the output…

  • Akarsh Simha 8:09 am on September 5, 2009 Permalink  

    A python IRC bot for keeping up with arXiv (or any RSS feed) 

    After some internet searching, it wasn’t hard to find enough inputs to write a IRC bot using Python. I hardly know any Python, but the language being so simple, you could write code in it just right away. Needless to say, the best part was that there were libraries for both Feed Parsing (duh!) and for IRC clients. A simple one hour long digging through documentation resulted in the following put-them-together code:


    1. IRC b0t that keeps track of RSS feeds
    2. Licensed under the GNU General Public License v3
    3. Copyright (2009) by Akarsh Simha

    import irclib
    import feedparser
    import os
    import threading
    import time

    channel_list = [] # Put in a list of channels
    feed_list = [ "http://arxiv.org/rss/hep-th", "http://arxiv.org/rss/cs", "http://arxiv.org/rss/math-ph", "http://rss.slashdot.org/Slashdot/slashdot"]
    old_entries_file = os.environ.get("HOME") + "/.b0t/old-feed-entries"

    irc = irclib.IRC()
    server = irc.server()

    server.connect( "irc.freenode.org", 6667, "" ) # TODO: Make this general

    1. server.privmsg( "NickServ", "identify " )

    msgqueue = []

    def feed_refresh():
    FILE = open( old_entries_file, "r" )
    filetext = FILE.read()
    for feed in feed_list:
    NextFeed = False
    d = feedparser.parse( feed )
    for entry in d.entries:
    if entry.title in filetext:
    NextFeed = True
    FILE = open( old_entries_file, "a" )
    FILE.write( entry.title + "\n" )
    msgqueue.append( entry.title + " : " + entry.link )
    if NextFeed:
    t = threading.Timer( 900.0, feed_refresh ) # TODO: make this static

    for channel in channel_list:
    server.join( channel )


    while 1:
    while len(msgqueue) > 0:
    msg = msgqueue.pop()
    for channel in channel_list:
    server.privmsg( channel, msg )
    time.sleep(1) # TODO: Fix bad code
    time.sleep(1) # So that we don't hog the CPU!

    Forgive me for writing ugly code. I’m a newbie pythoner, and this is my first python script that actually does something useful.

    On a side note, I attended a semi-classical concert by Anil Srinivasan (Piano), Unnikrishnan (Vocal), and B S Purushottaman (Kanjira), and it was one awesome experience. The auditorium (the Lady Andal School auditorium, where Margazhi Raagam was shot AFAIK) was simply superb. The ambience, and the stage lighting were amazing too. It was the confluence of the music of all three artistes, the auditorium and the lighting that created the paradise that we experienced.

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