Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Ragascape of Hindustani Music - VII

The idea of the Ragascape has been discussed in the earlier part of this study.  The testing continues now, though from a different angle, of the hypothesis that the contemporary Ragascape is dominated by a finite number of Raga-s, and that the number could be in the region of 50.

The Ragascape manifests itself in a wide variety of personal and impersonal encounters between musicians and their audiences. Amongst personal interfaces, annual music festivals held in different parts of the country – and now also in London – are significant.

Music festivals are, typically, events lasting anywhere between 3 and 13 consecutive days, in which the organizers attempt to feature musicians of national stature, along with distinguished local musicians of the region, and sometimes also promising local talent. As such, they attract the attendance of the entire local music community, ranging from professional musicians and connoisseurs, to lay music lovers. The major festivals also tend to be reviewed in the local media. Most music festivals in India are held during the winter and spring (December to February), when the weather is clement, and open-air seating arrangements can be made to accommodate large audiences, which are known to range from a few thousand to 10,000. These factors make annual music festivals a potent source of insight into the musical culture.

Does this source lend itself to intelligent observation and interpretation? How does a researcher observe and interpret the content of music that has been performed over several decades at different locations – not only in India, but now also abroad? An approach made for historical data to two of the better organized festival hosts found them either unable or unwilling to help. This phenomenon is endemic to the ecosystem that manages Hindustani music events in India, and is rooted in the history of the major festivals, one of which has been organized annually for over a 140 years.

The background

The organization of annual music festivals started in the late 19th/ early 20th centuries when feudal patronage of classical music was fading. By this time, the radio and commercial records had begun to cultivate a large “public” audience for classical music. However, neither radio sets nor commercial records were cheap, and the direct/live experience of classical music was still beyond the reach of the average music lover. At that stage, mercantile patrons stepped in with funds, domain knowledge and organizational competence to bring face-to-face musical encounters to the general public through annual festivals.

The growing popularity of music festivals in the host cities resulted in a growing need for funds and organizational competence. Over a period, individual philanthropists either promoted, or were replaced by, non-profit/ charitable trusts, with funding solicited from a multiplicity of donors. This transition did not, however, professionalize event management activity for three main reasons: (a) The basic orientation remained philanthropic/ non-profit with audiences either not paying at all, or the box office contributing only in small part to the total cost of the event. (b) The primary objective of the events has remained to service the local music community of the city with a live musical experience. (c ) A purely seasonal activity could not justify a full-time establishment to pursue emerging artistic, technological, and economic trends and opportunities.  

The recording of festival music arrived perhaps in the 1960s, when quality tape-recorders became accessible on a wide scale at a reasonable cost. It was about then that organizers began to make audio recording of festival music. Much of this asset remained the private property of the organizers and circulated invisibly in the grey market. Some organizers established tie-ups with music companies to duplicate festival recordings, and market them on a commercial scale. Thus began the era of festival music (a) being delivered through impersonal storage media as a product and (b) reaching audiences living beyond the confines of the host cities. The financial implications of this commercialization for the event organizers are opaque, while also being irrelevant because very few festival hosts could contract such arrangements. 


The filming of festival performances was very rare until the video-tape era arrived. In the early stages of videography, filming was discouraged by costs of production as well play-back and an unexplored   market for copies. The costs of videography and related storage-media became interesting only with the arrival of the video CD at the turn of the century. But, hardly any major festival organizer began marketing video CDs of festival music. Upon the arrival of the Internet, and specifically of YouTube, the incentive for the video-preservation of festival music took on a more interesting turn.  

YouTube permits the monetization of uploaded assets. In addition, a higher level of visibility for the event organizers through “Publish Yourself” media could stimulate the sourcing of sponsorship funds to support the festival activity. For festivals which rely even partially on box office collections, a higher visibility in the social media offered the possibility of attracting larger audiences for future events. With the arrival of amateur videography equipment, musicians featured at the music festivals found it possible to upload their own performances on the social media to enhance their visibility in the concert market.

These attractions, working collectively after the dawn of the 2nd millennium, have brought a substantial part of festival music online through YouTube. However, the basic culture of most major festival organizers remains stuck in the conventional mode, focused on live music delivered to a local music community. The information needs of a global audience accessing music through a remote medium do not appear to be of concern to them. As a result, a comprehensive, and professionally catalogued archive of festival performances is difficult to find on YouTube.

With all its imperfections, the archive presently available on YouTube holds some promise as an indicator of the Ragascape of music festivals, providing a different perspective on our search for an understanding of the musical culture. In this belief, I surveyed YouTube uploads of the following music festivals, and have attempted to extract some meaning from the results of the survey.  

The survey is not a census. It is not based on a sample of any kind – whether systematic or unsystematic. It utilizes whatever was available on YouTube, and could be identified as eligible for inclusion.

The coverage of festivals

The Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan covered in this survey is the oldest, having been held consecutively for 146 years, while the Choudhry House Festival held in Kolkata is the youngest, having commenced as an organized public event in 2012. Wherever the event organizer is more than 20 years old, and the year of the performance is available, I have chosen to log only performances of Raga-s performed since the year 2000.

No particular criterion has been applied to the selection of festivals for this survey. The selection was guided by the availability of a sizeable inventory of eligible observations on YouTube. An attempt was made to select significant festivals reflecting the musical cultures of different parts of the country. The Darbar Festival in London was added because it represents a significant presence of Hindustani music in the largest foreign home of the Indian/ South Asian community.

      The method of survey is simple. Identify YouTube videos displayed as being of a performance recorded at any of the surveyed music festivals, ensure that the performance is less than 20 years old in August 2020, and list the Raga performed. No distinction is made between vocal and instrumental performances, nor on the basis of the age of the musician performing a Raga. These refinements would be interesting. But, the quality of the data-source may not have supported them. Therefore, the only feature of relevance considered is the Raga performed.

The operative measure of a particular Raga’s significance -- in this study --  is the number of times it occurs in all festivals collectively across the surveyed recordings. Considering the limitations of the data source, no greater refinement seemed inviting. I regard the data as more suited for qualitative, than quantitative, interpretation. Some numeracy, however, helps highlight the phenomenon we seek to understand.  

Results of the survey

The survey covers 7 music festivals. The results are based on an audit of 591 performances, spread over a period of 20 years, in which a total of 132 Raga-s are encountered. The analysis of the frequency with which each raga occurs in the survey reveals a median of 3 occurrences, a modal value of 1, and a mean of 4.8 occurrences with a standard deviation of 4.5. The distribution of occurrences is highly skewed (see graph). 

This pattern obliges us to keep the argument simple. To obtain a meaningful isolation of the extremeties, I have divided the 132 Raga-s into three groups.

 Group 1: Raga-s occurring five times or more in the survey i.e mean or higher, 

Group 2: Raga-s occurring above the mode, but below the mean i.e. 2 to 4 times

Group 3: Raga-s occurring at the mode, i.e. only once. See Tables of Group 1,2, and 3 at the end of this report.

This approach divides the Raga-s into three approximately equal groups of +/- 40 each.

Group 1 Raga-s

Group 1 (Raga-s occurring five times or more) consists of 44 melodic entities, which appear to be the “standard contemporary repertoire” of Hindustani music in the context of music festivals. The most frequently performed Raga in this group (Bihag) occurs as many as 23 times in the survey.

It is useful to consider how this group of 44 Raga-s dominating the festival circuit compares with the Top-44 Raga-s identified by us through the measurement of an Audience Engagement Indicator from YouTube viewership data in the earlier study. Only 28 Raga-s were found to be present in both the Top-44 groups. The analysis of the common 28 Raga-s yields a Correlation Co-efficient of 0.4. (see Graph below). The Table showing the comparison is given at the end of this report.

There are two facets to the interpretation of this correlation. Firstly, the dominant repertoire tends to partially anticipate the comfort levels of audiences. Secondly, the specific context of a music festival encourages certain choices which cause festival repertoire to diverge from the assumed “comfort zone” of audiences. Both these facets are reflected in this analysis, despite the far-from-ideal quality of the data source.  

In interpreting this analysis, we need to remember that the YouTube Audience Rating reflects a remote global audience, while the festival repertoire of musicians addresses a physically present local audience. To this extent, the two data series may not, strictly, be comparable. The geographical component of the comparison cannot be isolated. The comparison does, however, highlight the specific context of a music festival in some respects.

 A contextual/ thematic classification of the two Top-44 lists is interesting. (see table below).

The classification of the Top-44 Raga-s from the two studies shows a broadly similar pattern, except in three cases. Early morning Raga-s appear to engage YouTube audiences more than musicians appear to offer them at music festivals. The most likely explanation for this divergence is the time-specific prescription related to the performance of Raga-s. All festivals do not host morning sessions – though some do -- and therefore the opportunities for performing appropriate Raga-s for that time of the day at festivals are scarcer. The higher occurrence of sunset Raga-s at the festivals also reflects the same reality. 

A similar logic may explain the plentitude of night Raga-s at music festivals compared to their popularity among YouTube audiences. Music festivals in India often stretch late into the night, and sometimes into the early morning, providing a wider canvas for night raga-s to be performed. Another facet of this phenomenon is that “star musicians” at music festivals are generally featured at the end of the evening session, with no time-limit set on their performance. This convention can automatically enhance the presence of night Raga-s.

 While the patterns at the top end of the scale is largely predictable, the pattern at the bottom end is interesting for its enigmatic quality.

Group 3 Raga-s (Single occurrence)

As many as 15 of the 42 Raga-s occurring only once in our festivals survey are undocumented. For determining their status, I rely on Raga Nidhi, by B Subbarao (Music Academy, Madras), which has documented the largest number of Hindustani and Carnatic Raga-s. Remaining undocumented implies that they are either extremely rare Raga-s, or modern/ contemporary creations awaiting documentation. The occurrence of such Raga-s at the bottom of the scale reflects the scope musicians have, in the music festival context, to pursue novelty, while risking audience discomfort. 

It is interesting that the bottom end of the scale does not feature a single “Thumree Raga”. This category is over-represented at the upper end of the scale.  Interestingly also, the bottom end (42) shows a higher presence of seasonal Raga-s (5) than the Top-44. On closer scrutiny, this group is found to include compound Raga-s, like Paraj-Basant, and Miya-ki-Sarang, which are rare anyway. Of course, the group also includes the widely performed and heard Gaud Malhar and Basant-Bahar, whose presence at the bottom end cannot be explained except as an infirmity of the data-source.  

 The YouTube Rating 97 and the Festival 139

 Based on the top-44 Raga-s emerging from the two studies, we are allowed to believe that the partial convergence, and substantial divergence between the two lists of dominant Raga-s. The divergence also appears to have some logical explanations related to the context and methodology of the two studies.

A different view emerges if we consider the two lists in their entirety. We have 97 Raga-s in the Youtube Audience Rating study, and 139 Raga-s emerging from the Festivals study. It is found that the two lists have 75 Raga-s in common. A graphic plot of the correlation between the 75 common Raga-s is shown below:


The Correlation Coefficient of 0.61 is considerably stronger than the Top-44 coefficient. Here, we can witness a more comprehensive reflection of the cultural process. This further supports the hypothesis that the Raga-s populating  the Ragascape of the era, creates the semblance of an “unstated agenda” between musicians and their audiences. The precise number of Raga-s in this unwritten contract is not important. What is important is that the number could be finite, and a small fraction of the total of 1200+ documented Raga-s.


The earlier study of Audience Engagement Indicators on YouTube gave us a list of 30 Raga-s which could be considered the “core” of the Ragascape we are attempting to map. This study, based on an analysis of music festival repertoire, gives us 44 Raga-s which appear to constitute the “standard festival repertoire” on the contemporary Hindustani music scene. There is, expectedly, considerable duplication between the two lists. However, this study has also permitted us a broader view of the cultural process that brings the identified Raga-s into dominance. Having considered these two approaches to the mapping, we have come a little closer to achieving the objective of this study. Further approaches can be considered for a more categorical mapping of the Ragascape. 

(c) Deepak S. Raja, August 2020

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Ragascape of Hindustani Music: VI

Methodology and the data source

Research design for this study had first to determine the set of Raga-s to be considered.  The list of “Candidate” Raga-s was compiled by merging the under-graduate and post-graduate syllabi of the major teaching universities and examining bodies granting certifications/ degrees/ diplomas in Hindustani music. This list was submitted for suggestions/ approval to a panel of musicians known for their vast Raga repertoire and academic orientation. Through this two-tier process, a list of 97 Raga-s was finalized, for which audience engagement measures were to be computed.

For compiling the data, the YouTube platform was searched for each Raga. The coverage of “significant” musicians performing each raga was attempted as a census (100% coverage), and not as a sample.  The assessment of “significance” utilized my own knowledge of musicianship over the last century on the national as well as regional levels. Considering the global scope of the enquiry and the diversity of material, my judgement of “significance” could have been less than 100% defensible. Care was taken to include significant musicians representing (i) vocal music and all significant instruments (ii) Dhrupad, Khayal, and Thumree genres (iii) contemporary/ fusion genres where recordings explicitly claimed and performed Raga-based music (iv) musicianship originating in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan performing Raga-based music (v) musicianship originating in the US, Europe with credible performing attainments (vi) musicianship originating from the Carnatic tradition but performing Hindustani/ shared Raga-s in Hindustani style.

Media researchers have found that YouTube on-screen data is singularly unhelpful for systematic research. This would seem intentional because unambiguous data can be used for competitive purposes (can help some musicians at the cost of others). This can jeopardize YouTube’s impartial status as a media owner/ platform provider, and damage its commercial interests. Having conducted a major study in 2015 based on YouTube data, (Refer Chapters 15 through 20, in The Musician and His Art – Essays on Hindustani music: DK Printworld, New Delhi 2019) I had developed a method of usable data acquisition from YouTube. This method obliged me to personally create every one of the 8100 records for analysis. Despite utmost diligence in database creation, I am unable to vouch 100% for the soundness of my results. YouTube’s evasive purpose is fulfilled.  

A notional limit of 100 data-points was envisaged for each Raga. The data-base compilation was completed in the last week of March 2020 and the first week of April 2020.

The Audience Engagement Indicator has been computed as follows:

 Limitations of YouTube data

YouTube as data source is far from ideal for systematic research, and that I am using it in full awareness of its limitations. Despite this, it is now being used by researchers even in the more advanced research environments. Presumably because it has usable value, its use will not stop; and because of its known limitations, the controversy over its value will not end.

The perception of limitations will obviously be guided by the researcher’s objectives – what he is looking for, and what he may instead be measuring. My concerns are focused on the following infirmities.

YouTube reports “views” for each upload. The basic question is: what is a view? What minimum duration of exposure qualifies a “visit” as a “view”? The information displayed on the screen does not distinguish between a 10% viewing of a video and a 40% viewing of it. The difference matters to me.

The duration aspect of viewership is also connected to a change in YouTube policy some years ago. There was once a duration limit on uploads. This affected Hindustani music very significantly, as most performances exceeded the limit, and had to be split into 2, 3, and sometimes 4 parts for upload. After the duration limit was lifted, mostly complete performances were uploaded. Looking at that data today, we implicitly equate the engagement measure of a concert split into 3 parts with that of a complete performance. This seems unreasonable.  

YouTube viewership data is cumulative from the date of uploading. By using that data, I am implicitly accepting one view of 2010 on par with one view of 2018.  Intuitively, we know the assumption is flawed. During this period, YouTube content has changed substantially, viewership has grown exponentially, and audience profile for every kind of content has almost certainly changed radically. No correction factor can help.

Another problem with cumulative data is that it effectively equates 20,000 views accumulated over 20 months with 40,000 views accumulated over 40 months. Intuitively, this equation does not look reasonable. If the propensity of a recording to accumulate viewers is important, 40,000 over 4 years is more valuable. And, if the speed of audience accumulation is considered important, 20,000 over 20 months is more valuable. YouTube data is unhelpful in this respect.

The YouTube audience is global, and so is the audience for Hindustani music. But, we have no data on the geographical spread. By implication, we are accepting that foreign audiences of Hindustani music and foreign musicians —across all nationalities and cultures -- have the same relationship with the music, as Indians have. This is unrealistic. The opacity of the geographical spread can easily mislead us – as it has the possibility of doing in this study.

YouTube viewership – by whatever criterion registered – is a partially manipulated expression of audience engagement. This is because a sophisticated program guides the viewer into “viewing” content beyond his purpose, and spending much more time on YouTube than was necessary or planned. As a result, the numbers we see include “incidental” viewership. A separate reporting of the primary (search word) and incidental viewership would be very helpful.   

Although YouTube is a video medium, the nature of the content is itself not uniform. In fact, even the notion of “viewership” may be irrelevant to a lot of the content. Do 100 people listening to an audio recording with just a photograph of the musician on the screen represent the same level of audience engagement as 100 people watching him or another musician in action on film? If not, how much can we depend on a standard measure of audience engagement across different content formats?

With specific reference to Hindustani music, YouTube neither offers a uniform media experience to its audience, nor publicly provides a rigorous measurement of audience engagement. What, then, does YouTube data provide? It cannot be said to provided “statistics”, but can suggest “orders of magnitude”. Inferences can be drawn judiciously from its analysis, with every inference reflecting the analyst’s awareness of data limitations.

YouTube has invested heavily in generating analytics for user management and advertising value assessment. At some stage, it will have to start understanding itself as a cultural force. It will then benefit by cultivating communities of media researchers through a more transparent stance with respect to its data assets.

Until this happens, the Indian musicologist should be content with indicative inferences. Is this better than the “Delphi method” of polling 10 veteran connoisseurs and observers of the music scene? I believe so because, firstly, surveying this population globally is an almost impossible task, and secondly, present-day oracles – whether of Delphi or anywhere else -- are susceptible to "personal" preferences, biases and prejudices; impersonally generated numbers are not.


The Ragascape of Hindustani Music: V

Whose music engages on YouTube?

We started with the hypothesis that the Ragascape is a dynamic cultural force constantly shaping, and being shaped by, the world of performance. Imperceptible changes take place every day, and   accumulate perhaps over a generation or two to become visible periodically as paradigm shifts. YouTube holds the music of perhaps four generations of musicians and has two generations of (adult) listeners having access to it. All the music is probably not engaging all the living generations of listeners. The data at our disposal allows us to examine the interplay of generations, though superficially.

I draw upon Jose Ortega Y Gasset’s landmark work “Man and Crisis” (George, Allen & Unwin, London, 1959) for his perspective on history as a product of inter-generational interactions.

Extracts from “Man and Crisis”

 “Community of date and space are the primary attributes of a generation. Together, they signify the sharing of an essential destiny. The keyboard of environment on which coevals play the Sonata Apassionata of their lives is in its fundamental structure one and the same. This identity of destiny produces in coevals certain secondary coincidences which are summed up in the unity of their style. A generation is an integrated manner of existence or, if you prefer, a fashion of living, which fixes itself indelibly on the individual…

“In the “today”, in every “today”, various generations co-exist and the relations which are established between them according to the different conditions of their ages, represent the dynamic system of attractions and repulsions, of agreement and controversy, which at any given moment makes up the reality of historic life. The concept of generations, converted into a method of historic investigation consists in nothing more than projecting the structure upon the past.

“A generation is the aggregate of men who are the same age. …. The concept of age is not (however) the stuff of mathematics, but of life. Age, then, is not a date but a zone of dates.”

For understanding the historical process as an interaction between various co-existing generations, he proposes the following analysis of generations:

According to Ortega, lives can be divided into five phases of approximately fifteen years each. (1) Childhood: 0-15, (2) Youth: 15-30, (3) Initiation: 30-45, (4) Dominance: 45-60, (5) Old age: 60+. In some ways, Ortega suggests, the face of the world changes every 15 years. However, he classifies the third and fourth stages, representing the 30-year period from age 30 to 60 as the historically significant phases of an individual’s/ generation’s life.

In his 30’s man acquaints himself with the world into which he has fallen, and in which he must live. Between 30 and 45, he begins to react on his own account against the world that he has encountered, starts to reshape his world, and learns to defend it against the generations that rule it. Between 45 and 60, he devotes himself fully to the development of the inspirations he has received between 30 and 45. The period of 30-45 is his period of gestation, creation and conflict, while the period between 45 and 60 is his stage for achieving dominance and command over his world.

Following Ortega’s argument, I divided all the musicians covered by this 97-Raga study into three broad categories.

(a)  Contemporary: This category consists of currently active musicians, typically between the ages of 30 and 65.
(b)  Modern: This category consists of musicians whose most influential period spanned the last quarter of the 20th century (1975-2000). Many of them are alive, above 65, and still have a following.
(c)   Vintage: This category consists of musicians whose prime performing period ended in, or before, 1975.

I regard 1975 as a defensible borderline between “Modern” and “Pre-Modern” (Vintage) Hindustani music. The significance of the year is notional and symbolic more than historic. Ameer Khan’s demise that year all but ended the era of classicism. Starting around then, the romanticists captured Khayal vocalism, to dominate the stage for two generations. This was also around the time when the first generation of post-independence musicians began surfacing on the concert platform. Incidentally, by this time, concert length recordings on Long Playing and Audio-Cassette media had commercialized Hindustani music, and stimulated an international market for it.

I isolated the “Modern” segment from the “Contemporary” on the criterion that, beyond the age of 65, even a living and active musician is past his influence period. The theoretical basis for this proposition, following the argument of Jose Ortega Y Gasett (Man & Crisis), is discussed above.  

Birth dates were not available for all the musicians covered by this study. The computations may, therefore, lack chronological precision. A different or more refined approach to this query is possible, and may lead to different conclusions. I am sharing my results fully aware of the limitations.

The aggregate rating (views/month) for all uploads across 97 Raga-s is 526. A sub-set of the data, music of the Contemporary generation, shows a rating of 721 points, while the Modern and Vintage generation ratings report 449 and 223 points respectively. From contemporary to Modern music, we observe a 30% drop in audience engagement levels. From the Modern to the Vintage, we observe another 50% drop. Thus, from contemporary music to vintage music, we observe a 70% drop.

Aesthetic Obsolescence

In a broad sense, this pattern supports the idea I have explored in my earlier writings -- that there is no such thing as “timeless music”, that aesthetic obsolescence is a reality. (Refer: Chapter 1.5: in Hindustani Music – a tradition in transition. DK Printworld. 2005)

The proposition is that Hindustani music, as performed, is an interactive product created by musicians along with their audiences. Every musician is a product of his generation, and tends to communicate most effectively with audiences of his own generation. Allied to this is the idea that audiences relate best to music that they grew up with, and develop a form of aesthetic sclerosis after a certain age. As a result, the greater the distance of time between a listener and the music, the lesser would be his ability to relate to it. Declining engagement across aging segments is therefore expected, but also supported by a demographic reality. The audience that relates well to the music of the older musicians is itself old, and steadily dwindling in numbers.

The proposition is simply elucidated by relating the generations mentioned here notionally to approximate periods. Contemporary musicians: Born: 1960 +, Modern musicians: Born:  between 1930-1960, Vintage musicians: Born: between 1900-1930. The patterns evident in the graph here are effectively telling us that the world has changed totally since the “Grandfather” generation was setting the rules. None of the influences operating in the Grandfather’s times are operating any longer. The “Grandson” generation is now in command. It is natural that his music would neither be similar to that of the Grandfather generation, nor meet the Grandfather’s approval.  

Aesthetic obsolescence may not, however, totally explain the loss of audience engagement we notice. There is also an element of technological/ acoustic obsolescence hidden behind these numbers. A lot of Hindustani music is in monochrome video, or audio of varying/ indifferent acoustic quality. These weaknesses may be more prominent in modern and vintage segments than in the contemporary segment. Technological factors may depress the engagement of audiences. On the other hand, the scarcity / vintage / nostalgia value of some Modern and Vintage uploads may elevate their ratings. We have no way of knowing how the two forces balance out.  

The combined effect of aesthetic and technological obsolescence could be assessed by running a linear correlation between the three ratings series. The coefficient of correlation between the Contemporary and Modern series is 0.33; the coefficient between the Modern and the Vintage is 0.29, and the coefficient between Contemporary and Vintage is 0.22. This is possibly as sharp a “generation gap” as could have been measured from so unlikely a database.

The drop in audience engagement levels across generational divides is, by and large, expected. This line of enquiry permits us to go a bit farther – to map three different Ragascapes, one for each generation. Though the data-base does not permit authoritative conclusions, some indications are available. Table 3 shows the “Top-30” Raga-s on the audience engagement rating under (i) contemporary (ii) modern and (iii) vintage categories.

Continuity and Change

We observe that 25 of the top-30 Raga-s are common to the three lists. This suggests a considerably stable Ragascape in terms of visibility on the horizon. The low correlations between the three series highlight how differently today’s audiences relate to the same Raga-s performed by different generations of musicians.  The divergences surface sharply in the following detail.

The “Contemporary top-30” list has five Raga-s that are not amongst the top-30 of the other two groups. (i) Jaunpuri (ii) Madhuvanti (iii) Multani (iv) Nat Bhairav and (v) Shuddha Sarang. Based on our results, these five Raga-s may be considered distinctly/ prominently “Contemporary” in their appeal. In the “Modern” generation top-30, three Raga-s are exclusive to this list. They are (i) Jaijaiwanti (ii) Madhmad Sarang (iii) Sohini. The “Vintage” list has only two Raga-s exclusive to its top-30 table: (i) Pahadi and (ii) Shree.
These are, once again, analytical outputs suggestive of the present-day reality. We have no evidence here to explain how and why each of these “star” Raga-s of each generation acquire their special status.

By unselectively hosting the music of three or more generations of musicians, YouTube has become a pivotal player in the cultural processes of Hindustani music. Its role is most potent as a platform for contemporary music and musicians. Contemporary musicians feed it with content because platform is engaging relevant audiences who seek/need a connection with contemporary music. Musicians use it for accessing the faceless global audience, for monitoring the music and activities of their rivals, and for circumventing the hold of intermediaries over the concert market. Because of its broad-based usefulness, the volume of music in the Contemporary segment is likely to be growing the fastest, bringing with it a growing usefulness.

Despite technological and aesthetic obsolescence, the Modern and Vintage inventories on YouTube are valuable for their cultural significance. They service the musical needs of the older generations of listeners, who may not relate to contemporary music. Modern and Vintage recordings also provide the reference point against which contemporary music establishes its conformity and registers its dissent. All contemporary music will, some day, cease to be “contemporary” and become Modern, and ultimately Vintage. Besides “internal” accretions, YouTube also receives modern and vintage uploads from individual and institutional collectors. As a result, YouTube is becoming an increasingly valuable cultural resource, the kind of which would be beyond the capacity of any individual or institutional collector to assemble, maintain, and offer online.  

The pedagogical value of this asset is limited only by the imagination of our educators. Almost every facet of Hindustani music can be taught more efficiently with the aid of landmark recordings than an exclusive reliance on personal tutoring or books. Of the three processes in music making – ideation, individuation, and ritualization – it is ideation that distinguishes the great musician from the merely good. And, there cannot be a more effective ideational guide than an archive so generously endowed.  

The contemporary Hindustani music inventory on YouTube is aiding the creation of an “efficient market” for classical music talent, while the modern and vintage repositories are shaping the YouTube into a valuable archive. YouTube policies, terms of use and commercial practices are global, and designed to generate profits for YouTube. In the process of pursuing profits globally, YouTube has created a valuable cultural asset for Hindustani music. The continued success of YouTube policies worldwide will decide how secure and useful India’s cultural asset remains in its hands, and for how long.

... Continued in Part VI

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Ragascape of Hindustani Music: IV

Instrumental music and the Ragascape

In the post-independence era, the re-engineering of older instruments, the entry of newer instruments, developments in sound engineering and outstanding musicianship are believed to have helped instrumental music challenge vocalism in terms of popularity, if not also stature. Dr. Ashok Ranade, the eminent musicologist, believed that the major instruments have, by now, developed their own distinctive languages for communicating the Raga experience, and no longer require vocal music as a reference point for the validation of their idiom. The results of this study would advocate a cautious stance on this matter.

Audience Engagement Indicators are reported separately (Table 1 in Part I) for vocal music and instrumental music, along with the composite rating for two modes of presentation for each of the 97 Raga-s. A correlation run on the two series establishes that the vocal music rating (Coefficient: 0.94) is a more categorical determinant of the composite rating than the instrumental music rating (Coefficient: 0.85). This pattern does not suggest the ascendency of instrumental music over vocal music in the musical culture.

The gross numbers do, indeed, exhibit a bias in favor of instrumental music. But, this bias is easily explained by the large constituency Hindustani music has cultivated abroad since the mid-1960s. Although this constituency does have some interest in vocalism through the Dhrupad genre, it is primarily attuned to instrumental music. This difference can, sometimes, show up dramatically in YouTube numbers and distort our perceptions of the reality.

Graph 2 plots the Views  /month for instrumental music and vocal music for each of the 97 Raga-s in descending order of the composite rating score. The plot shows moderate correlation (Coefficient of correlation: 0.66) between the two data series. The distorting instrumental music data-points (outliers) can be seen at the higher end of the audience engagement continuum.

Is the foreign constituency of Hindustani music large enough to misinform our interpretation of YouTube viewership?  We do not have figures from YouTube. But, as indicative data, I have country-wise statistics of readership generated over 12 years for my blog The blog has registered a total of 800,000 page views from the date of inception to the present (May 15, 2020). Of these, 400,000 page views originated from USA, and only 200,000 page views originated in India. It is significant that 75% of my page views have originated outside India, and that USA accounts for as much as 50% of the page views on my blog.

Though YouTube and my blog are not comparable, the logic of the numbers remains. Indian audiences being outnumbered by foreign audiences (including overseas Indian citizens) seems understandable in the present context. Internet penetration in the US is much higher than in India, and Hindustani music enthusiasts outside India would need to depend much more on online sources for their needs than Indian audiences would. This reality can possibly explain some of the counter-intuitive indications emerging from this study.

... Continued in Part V

The Ragascape of Hindustani Music: III

A contextual perspective on ratings

Musicians select their repertoire for concerts based on certain contextual considerations.  It therefore makes sense to view the results of this study in that perspective. The classification attempts to follow contemporary practice (more than any theoretical construct), and is admittedly debatable.

The rating scores reported here are aggregates for each of the groups. The classified ratings of the 97 Raga-s are reported in Table 3.

The early morning group shows a substantially lower instrumental music score than the vocal music score. This is interesting, as early morning Raga-s are mostly associated with the devotional sentiment. The human voice may understandably be perceived in the culture as a more appropriate expression of this sentiment than an acoustic machine.

The instrumental/vocal music ratio rises steadily after the early morning segment to reach its peak with the late night group of Raga-s. The pattern is interesting, though not sufficiently strong to be considered a phenomenon.

The Thumree group, shown to lead this table, is so called because the Raga-s in that group are encountered largely, though not exclusively, in the romanticist genres – Thumree, Dadra, Hori, Tappa etc. Membership of this group includes Raga-s like Bhairavi, Khamaj, Kafi, Gara, Piloo, Pahadi. These Raga-s are versatile because of their malleable grammar and melodic lyricism. This group is rated generously because it covers three components – actual Thumrees performed by vocalists, instrumental renditions of Thumrees and allied genres, and classicist presentation of “Thumree” Raga-s by vocalists and instrumentalists.  The emergence of this group at the top may suggest, that the present-day musical culture relates more readily to the vivacious flavors of Hindustani music than to its other moods.

Raga groups at the bottom of the ranking – Early morning and Sunset Raga-s – appear to be telling the same story, though in a different way. Early morning Raga-s are mainly of the Bhairav and Todi families, while the Sunset Raga-s are mainly of the Puriya/ Purvi group. Both periods are earmarked by tradition for religious/ devotional activity, and the prescribed Raga-s possess melodic features suggestive of piety. Our study pushes them to the bottom to suggest that the present-day musical culture has little interest in solemnity.

The moderate-to-high rating in the late evening and night groups are as expected. A vast majority of concerts are held during these periods, thus making for a wider spectrum of familiarity amongst audiences. The choice of Raga-s for performance during these periods is also vast, thus creating an equitable distribution of audience involvement within the category.

Predictably, the comfort level with Carnatic Raga-s in their Hindustani manifestations is uneven. The classification of Raga-s within this group relied on the authority of Raga Nidhi (B. Subbarao, Music Academy, Madras). Hansadhwani (1782 rating points), Keerwani (874 rating points) and Charukeshi (448 rating points) appear to have, by now, evolved a convincing interpretation in Hindustani music. Others, imported more recently, may either take longer to achieve this, or fade away.  

... Continued in Part IV

The Ragascape of Hindustani Music: II

Patterns in Audience Engagement

Table 1 presents the list of the 97 considered Raga-s in descending order of views per month (the audience engagement indicator). The indicators were also computed separately for vocal music and instrumental/ orchestral music.

The composite Audience Engagement Indicator across 97 Raga-s is 526 views per month, incorporating a vocal music score of 462 and an instrumental/orchestral music score of 645 views per month. The composite scores range from 13 views per month (Raga Jaitashree) at the lower end to 3475 views per month (Raga Bhairavi) at the upper end.

The higher aggregate rating for instrumental music can be misleading because the figures are distorted by a few extreme outliers related to events abroad.  A more realistic picture is obtained through a correlation run on the two series. It is clear that vocal music supports the composite rating of individual Raga-s more categorically than instrumental music. (The vocal music rating has a 0.94 coefficient of correlation with the composite rating, while the instrumental music rating has a correlation of 0.85.)

Composite Rating of Raga-s
 Audience Engagement Indicators for the 97 Raga-s yield a median value of 272 views per month, against an aggregate score of 526. Graph 1 displays the frequency distribution of the 97 scores, presented at intervals of 200 points.

 This is a highly skewed distribution. Interpreting such distributions can get quite complicated.  To keep things simple, we may use popular measures such as mean (490) and standard deviation (608). One simplistic (and scientifically questionable) interpretation would be a cut-off point at 1098 (Mean + Standard Deviation). This cut-off point would leave us with 11 “Prasiddha” Raga-s out of 97 Raga-s. A different, but “common sense”, view can permit a cut-off point at the mean (490). This point would give us with 28 Raga-s with “above-average” audience engagement indicators, and bring us closer to the Bhatkhande ratio.  

This “cut-off point” approach is, of course, unfaithful to the reality. In the real world, Raga-s have no appeal independently of the musician. Musicians shape Raga-s as much as Raga-s shape music. Time and again, it is proven that the comfort zone boundaries of audiences cannot resist the power of musicianship. Why, then, do we mention such a simplistic notion? We do so because musicians find its simplicity more appealing than the calibrated approaches of academics, and because it does not weaken our basic argument.  
This “above average” 28-Raga “Blue Chip” list would also fit neatly into a conventional analytical concept – “Share of views” (unadjusted for the duration since upload). Table 2 compares the duration adjusted views (views per month) for each Raga with the percentage share of gross views as accumulated up to the date of audit for the top 28 Raga-s reporting an above-average audience engagement indicator. The Table shows the two columns of ranking, representing two different approaches to the measurement of audience engagement, running almost parallel in terms of relative values. The cumulative share column in Table 2 suggests that these 28 Raga-s together account for over 70% of all views logged for the 97 Raga-s.

These results can be broadly interpreted as saying that 30% of the Raga-s account for 70% of audience engagement, while the remaining 70% of the Raga-s collectively account for only 30% of audience engagement.

The five Raga-s at the top of the rating have been widely heard in popular, semi-classical, and film music for as long as any living person can remember. This is a useful reminder that Raga-s are not the exclusive property of classical music. The dividing line we often draw between different categories of music (classical/ popular/ devotional/ martial etc.) is an academic construct. Raga-s reside in the racial memory, and are accessible to anyone seeking them. The Ragascape is shaped by all categories of music and, in turn, shapes all categories of music, though in different ways.

On close scrutiny, the 28 Raga-s in Table 2 reads like a sensible prescription of “standard repertoire” for a professional musician. The selection is well distributed across the various segments – Early morning (2), Late morning/ afternoon (7), Sunset group (2), Late evening group (7), Night group (2),  Thumree Raga-s group (4), Seasonal group (2) and Carnatic group (2).

The Raga-s at the bottom of the heap (Table 1. Rank 77 through 97) also reveal a fairly even distribution across categories. Early morning (4), Late morning/ afternoon (3), Sunset Raga-s (2), Late evening (4), Night Raga-s (1), Thumree Raga-s (2), Seasonal Raga-s (2) and Carnatic Raga-s (2).

It is natural for any curious mind to ask – what factors determine the rank each of these 97 Raga-s hold in the present output? The study is not designed to answer this question. What we have here is an audience engagement indicator as derived at the time of the study.  The resultant ranking is useful today and, perhaps in the immediate future. We know it is volatile; but we do not know how volatile.  

A Shrinking Ragascape?
These results tend to confirm the belief that the contemporary Ragascape is fairly narrow, with perhaps just about 50 Raga-s accounting for almost all performances, across all media.  It also supports the suspicion that enviable careers can be built relying on a repertoire of 12/15 Raga-s.  

One can argue that a narrow Ragascape enables musicians to aim for progressively greater depth in the exploration of a few Raga-s, in preference to achieving only a superficial treatment of a wider repertoire. This sounds reasonable if we are referring to a single musician’s career strategy/ choice. But, the argument loses traction if it tries defending a collective phenomenon – such as we have identified here. If audiences are being fed constantly on re-packaged doses of the familiar, they will tend to become indifferent – if not actually averse – to novelty/ variety. When this happens, musicians lose interest in enlarging their artistic resources. The natural consequence is the atrophy of imaginative capabilities. An imagination deficit is the surest path to artistic sterility. More fundamentally, then, who needs classical music?

We cannot ascertain whether the Ragascapes of the past were wider than they are today, or narrower. On reasonable reckoning, a shrinkage began in the 1960s, when All India Radio began to withdraw from its role as the dominant purveyor of   Hindustani music, leaving the recording companies free to fill the vacuum. The Long Playing record and subsequent storage media innovations – providing concert length recordings -- made this usurpation easy. Volume-driven strategies of the recording companies lead them to concentrate their resources on star musicians. Fewer musicians on the market meant fewer Raga-s in circulation. As a result, five decades later, we have two generations of audiences (and also musicians?) whose comfort zone may not exceed 30-40 Raga-s.

YouTube and other online repositories may alter this picture in the future because they appear to attract a growing diversity of content to achieve their commercial goals. But, we cannot be sure.  The evolution of these platforms is being guided by sophisticated Machine Learning applications designed for maximizing profitability globally. Even the designers of these AI systems cannot foresee how their systems will shape music across cultural boundaries.

The Top 28 ranked Raga-s.

... Continued in Part III