Imagine a museum for music, showcasing not just the past, but a living, breathing space where the sounds from the past and present merge in a very contemporary setting. Where perhaps, as one writer put it, “comes the idea of taking art (museum shows/collections) out of the realm of the ‘institution’ and putting it into the hands of the individual”.
The ambitious Centre for Indian Music Experience (IME) being built at a cost of Rs 40 crore in Bangalore recreates a sound scape of musical history, aesthetics and sounds in a walk-around campus of two acres under the aegis of the Brigade group. Started in 2008, the project was inaugurated this August by tabla maestro Zakir Hussain.
Builders Brigade Millenium who own 20 acres of prime land in the up-scale JP Nagar area, had to dedicate Rs 2 crore to a socially relevant project. A survey was conducted to explore different ideas, and by popular vote it was decided to allocate the space to Indian music.
In many ways, Bangalore’s eclectic musical tastes makes it the right choice for a national museum of such scale. It has been a melting pot of various genres apart being the home of Carnatic and Hindustani music. Director Outreach IME Dr Suma Sudhindra, says “Bangalore is a rich cultural place right now. If you look at India, apart from Mumbai, I think that it’s only in Bangalore that you have an audience for every kind of music and music is appreciated in all its forms. Another plus point is that we have a lot of tourists from abroad and this could become a great tourist destination.”
It was the Chairman and Director of the Brigade Group M R Jayashankar who decided to create a museum on the lines of the Experience Music Project in Seattle after a chance visit during a business trip abroad. Like the Seattle Music Experience Complex, IME blends exhibits, technology, media, and hands-on activities that combine the interpretive aspects of a traditional museum, educational role of a school, and audience-drawing qualities of performance venues and popular attractions.
New York based designers, Gallaghers and Associates provided the Interpretative Master Plan for the museum. They have designed many music museums in the US including the National Blues Museum Interactives, Grammy Museum Mississippi Interactives, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, LA.
They believe the IME will be a “vibrant music epicentre that celebrates India’s unity in spirit, diversity and creative expression. Visitors will be able to rediscover their connections to the living tradition that is Indian music.” G&A worked to define the visitor experience model and its relationship to a conceptual architectural plan.
The Gallaghers design is the greatest attraction of the IME. A very contemporary style, they believe “giving life and meaning to the mission and collections of cultural organizations is the heart of excellent experiential design. Collaboration and innovative design creates engaging and theatrical storytelling. The design of exhibit experiences with strong graphics and interactive components, supported by well-articulated content, creates context and personal connections for each and every visitor,” states Gallaghers.
The architects who worked with Gallaghers were selected through a competition. Suma says, “We have not chopped a single tree in this project. The fluidity of music has inspired the architecture. The non-standard site shape and a desire to weave the building (covering 50,000 square feet) around existing trees without having to cut them also makes it interesting.”
The content for the Centre has been developed by a committee headed by eminent musicologist Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao. Suma says, the idea has been to create an appeal for someone who has no initiation into any kind of music except perhaps Bollywood, “because everyone in India knows Bollywood, which is also represented here. If someone goes through the museum in 45 minutes, we want him to come out with an experience of our rich musical tradition. So basically we are not diving deep into our various traditions, but we are touching upon every aspect of our music from traditional to contemporary.”
“We touch upon most of the salient features. Here the concepts are more about the music and not the musicians. Though we have the stars galary where we will be featuring 100 legends of music across genres – from folk, to regional to classical. Since there is a lot of virtual material, there will be a lot of indepth material for someone who is interested. But if you ask very technical questions, they may not be answered here.
The five music Bharat Ratnas in music – MS Subbulakshmi, Bhimsen Joshi, Bismillah Khan, Lata Mangeshkar and Pandit Ravishankar are featured. Suma Sudhindra says “IME has Bishmillah Khan Sahib’s Shenahi, which was I think a very emotional moment for all of us at IME. Because when his son came to hand over the instruments, he had tears while parting with the instrument. As an instrumentalists we all understand how emotional we get with our instruments. In fact its an intrinsic part of my life. I have hardly cried in my life, but when my veena broke once, I cried uncontrollably.”
All the Carnatic music instruments were given by practicing musicians. Suma asked her performing co-artistes if they could donate their instruments and they did so. “They have been very generous. So much so that we have not bought a single Carnatic instrument and have got excess instruments. It would have been easy to buy the instruments and house them here. But it’s more valuable to have used instruments. Ghatam Manjunath was a famous ghatam artiste of yesteryears. His ghatam was with one young ghatam player Ravikumar and he parted with it. Ravikiran gave a ghotuvadyam,” says Suma Sudhindra.
Manasi Prasad, on the managing committee of IME and a vocalist herself, says when she when she completed her MBA and was turning down a career in Wall Street and coming back to India to pursue a career in music, people thought she was making a sacrifice. “How many people have the opportunity in their 20s to be entrusted with the responsibility of setting up something that is going to be a landmark musical institution not just for this generation but for generations to come? I have lived this passion,” says Manasi.
“The vision of the IME is to increase the understanding and appreciation of the Indian music, from the traditional to the contemporary, through experiences that engage and educate. The idea is, we view this centre, which is to be the first of its kind, as serving two important purposes—one, to inspire, because young Indians today need role models beyond cricket and Bollywood, and see the stories of people like a boy who ran away from home at the age of eleven and toured India for over two years in search of a guru, and went on to become Bhim Sen Joshi, or the boy from a wrestlers’ family who went on to become a celebrated flautist like Hariprasad Chaurasiya… Whoever you are, wherever you come from, these stories can inspire. And that’s what the IME aims to do, through experiential storyboards we’ve created, from talking about these musicians to listening to their music. So that’s one part. The other part is education—how you can covey what the entire gamut of Indian music is about in a space of twenty thousand square feet, which is our gallery space. We do this through a variety of ways, and these are the experiences.”
“The IME consists of thematic galleries, where we’ve looked at various genres of music, things like the history of recording, how music plays a role in political movements like in our songs of struggle gallery. So we’ve taken these themes, and how we create the experiences is we take storyboards, which have images and little stories like how Vande Mataram was not chosen to be the national anthem, but Jana Gana Mana was, or how the microphone changed performance, and how some artists resisted it. There are hundreds of stories throughout the museum through storyboards. Apart from that, what’s more interesting is we have these audio-visual kiosks. We have these iPads, where whatever you see in the museum, you will hear. For example in the Hall of Fame we have one hundred musicians, and you will hear the music of these musicians with little notes saying what’s special in these pieces of music. Then we have interactive installations. So if you’ve always wondered how DJs create these pieces of music that has a little bit of sitar coming, then drums, then the electronic sound, we give you the chance to be DJs and you’ll have your own console, where you can mix pieces of music on an interactive touchscreen. And there are many interactors like this. And then we have many mini theatrical experiences. For example, in Hindustani music there is a concept called Samay chakra, which is about how music and time are so closely interlinked. How much ever you write about that, people may not understand, but imagine yourself in a theatre—you’re seeing the sun rise and set, and the music changes accordingly, and you can hear a little bit of the sounds of thunder and lightning, and the malhaar. The idea is to create the experience of the samay chakra, and not just give it in terms of dry information.”
The whole premise of the IME is ‘catch them young’. “We believe that it’s only when you can influence young minds that you can really make a change. We also subscribe to that philosophy of ‘you don’t need a thousand Tansens, but you need a thousand kaansens’. The audience is the ecosystem that supports the arts. The idea of a centre like this, which we believe can create change, is that your first engagement with culture and the arts should be in a way that’s fun, and exciting, and hands-on. So you come here to a sound garden, and in most places, when you see an instrument they say, “Don’t touch,” but here we say, “Please touch. Please play the instrument. Please hear what it sounds like.” So when you have this hands-on experience, when you can make that personal connect somewhere, we believe that that’s where people are going to be more engaged with the arts. So that’s on one side. There are other ways of answering the question. I do feel that there are problems with audiences. A Carnatic music rasika may not necessarily attend a fusion music concert, or a young rock music enthusiast will want to stay miles away from a Carnatic music concert. The idea of a space like this is when you present different forms of music on the same platform, people realise that ‘Hey, there are so many connections out here.’ For example in our film music section we have a section called diverse influences, where you look at the fact that there is a filmy Sufi song, a filmy Bhajan, a filmy hip-hop, etc., then you realise that there is a link to this tradition, which I will then explain in the folk music gallery, which is thousands of years old. So why are we making these distinctions between different forms of music? Yes, you can have a natural affinity towards one form, but I do feel like a space like this can give people the chance to experience more than one genre.”
The Indian music experience is comprised of three main elements. The first area is the sound garden, where outside the museum, there are installations, musical sculptures that are made out of natural materials like stone, wood, metal. So there are large xylophones, reeds, gongs, railings that produce sound… so the idea of the sound garden is to introduce visitors to the principles of sound, where they themselves can play the instruments and see how sound is produced. The second part of the museum is the exhibit area, which has eight thematic galleries and an instrument gallery. So here, through audio-visual kiosks, through storyboards, etc, the visitors will get to explore and find out a little bit about various genres of music… and also other parts such as the history of recording, political and social movements and their involvement with music, etc. As part of the exhibit area, there is an introductory theatre which will plays a film about the diversity of music. At the concluding theatre, a multi-purpose space live performances, film screenings and temporary exhibits are showcased.
The third part of the museum is the learning centre, with five classrooms, a seminar hall and a library space. Music and dance classes are conducted. IME also does periodic workshops and seminars by reputed international musicians who come and visit.