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Bengaluru’s sound garden

Vijayalakshmi Sridhar | Updated on September 20, 2019 Published on September 20, 2019

Play on: Over 100 rare instruments from different parts of the world are on display at the music museum   -  special arrangement

Indian Music Experience, Bengaluru’s interactive museum, is a one-stop hub across genres

At the entrance is a sound garden; a gentle touch and musical notes spring from the 10 structures made of stone, wood and metal. The humming stone — a rough, unpolished piece of granite with a deep hole — resonates rather musically when one hums into it. A drum with steel springs vibrating in a metal enclosure produces the elemental sounds of a storm.

The Indian Music Experience (IME), an interactive and experiential museum in Bengaluru, is an ode to music across genres — from indie and jazz to rock, hip-hop, folk and instrumental. Inspired by the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle (US), the IME has quickly become one of Bengaluru’s sought-after music hubs since its opening in July.

The galleries have an element of quirk that effortlessly draws in the curious visitor. For instance, seated inside a mini-theatre that’s designed like an autorickshaw, one can watch films on indie bands. The playful and the sombre are to be found in equal measure. A shimmery outfit belonging to pop musician Daler Mehndi finds a place here as does Ustad Bismillah Khan’s shehnai. The tanpura used for many of Carnatic great MS Subbulakshmi’s concerts and the concert attire of the legendary Hindustani vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi are on display as well.

Designed by the US-based Gallagher and Associates, the museum has nine interactive galleries, mini-theatres, storyboards that inform visitors about the genesis, history and evolution of different genres of music, audio and video stations where one can listen to recordings and watch performances and documentary films.

“The idea is to give the visitor a multi-sensory experience and evolve their perception of art forms,” says Manasi Prasad, museum director. Many of the ideas executed here are unique, she says, drawing attention to the ‘samay chakra’ — a colourful planetarium where an overhead screen displays the progression of the day and the Hindustani raga corresponding to that hour is played.

The curated immersive displays allow visitors to learn about a particular kind of music while listening to samples of it. They can also mix tracks, play a percussion instrument or record their own voice at a studio. A section is dedicated to the music of dance forms such as Bharatanatyam and Kathak, and dance theatre forms such as Koodiyattam and Ankia Naat. Storytelling traditions that are accompanied by music, such as the Sohar songs from the Bhojpuri belt, Hurkiya Baul agricultural songs from Uttarakhand, and Alha-Udal tales of heroes from Bundelkhand, are also documented.

The IME also has a collection of vintage musical instruments. Over 100 rare instruments from different parts of the world are on display, including the peacock-shaped mayura veena, a string instrument popular in Punjab in the 17th and 18th centuries. A leg harmonium of old which is played with a foot pedal, a gramophone and a phonograph are exhibited, too. In a gallery labelled ‘Stories through Song’, there are listening stations for landmark music from Bollywood. ‘Songs of Struggle’, another gallery, highlights the role of music in India’s freedom struggle.

“The museum brings out the diversity and history of music practised and promoted by communities,” says MR Jaishankar, the founder of IME, and the chairman and managing director of Brigade Group, a property development brand based in Bengaluru. The IME is an initiative of the Indian Music Experience Trust, a non-profit supported by the business group. The trust had conducted surveys in the JP Nagar neighbourhood and found the demand for a music-related space to be high among its residents. After a visit to the Museum of Pop Culture, Jaishankar thought of setting up a similar project in Bengaluru. The Bangalore Development Authority allotted the two-acre plot on which the ₹42-crore museum has been built.

Ever since its opening, the IME has had a steady stream of visitors. Music director AR Rahman dropped by, as did Mehndi. Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain and composer Louiz Banks performed at the inaugural.

The seamless juxtaposition of musical artefacts from the past and the present has been appreciated by visitors. Amulya S, craft designer and faculty at the design institute at Jain University, Bengaluru, was delighted to spot the kavaad box — the traditional storytelling box from Rajasthan that opens out in layers as the artiste narrates the story. “I have visited the village in Udaipur where the artisans who make it and the artists who perform it live. To see it here was heart-warming,” she says.

The museum serves as a much-needed platform for upcoming musicians. Musician Vishnu Ramprasad, for instance, who has created a ‘Navtar’, an innovative variation of the guitar with a deep baseline range, demonstrated its unique music at the IME. “The goal is to inspire interest in music and make IME accessible and affordable to all,” says Suma Sudhindra, director, outreach.

The museum is set to host a range of high-profile events, beginning with an exhibition on the centenary of Bharatanatyam legend Balasaraswati in November. A curated exhibition on sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar’s birth centenary will follow next year. The exhibition, conducted in collaboration with the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, will also travel to Mumbai and Delhi and display Shankar’s sitar, concert costumes, letters, album covers and posters.

As the music plays on, Jaishankar says there could have been no better place than Bengaluru for the museum. “The city is a confluence of different cultures, and has a dynamic classical, local, film, tribal and immigrant music scene. The museum has found a cosy, long-standing home in this city.”

(Entry fee: Adults ₹250; children aged 5-12 and senior citizens ₹150. Open from Tuesday to Sunday)

Vijayalakshmi Sridhar is a Bengaluru-based writer

Published on September 20, 2019
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