Break

I’ve grown old
The things that used to bother me
Still does
But does not do enough
To throw me off balance

I am a rock
I am an island
As the famous songwriter said

It takes a lot of hammering
To shape molten metal
And forge it into
An immovable incorruptible mass.

It takes a lot of time.
It takes a lot of patience.

Then
Sooner or later
There comes a time
When the hammer breaks
To everyone’s surprise.

I am a rock
I am an island
My ocean will sink your ship
My strength will crush your soul

Beware of what you touch
What you want to corrupt
The fire you want to play with
The sword that you wield

Sooner or later
There will come a time
When you’ll be outmatched

The time will come
When you least expect it.

Write me a love letter that day.
Not before.

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left-right-difference-parity-violation-symmetry

The difference between left and right

The concept of right and left is innate

It is impossible to teach anyone the concept of right and left. Yet all of us manage to learn it as kids.

Why do I say it is impossible to teach the concept of right and left? Well, how would you teach it? You’d perhaps take a few 2D pictures, draw a line through the middle and tell the kid “this side is left” and “that side is right” while pointing to the relevant sides of the pictures. After a few such demonstrations, the kid is able to identify “left” and “right” for pictures that he has not seen before. At the end of the experiment, you conclude that the child has learnt the difference between left and right because of the demonstrations.

I think this conclusion is wrong.. As a result of this demonstration, he merely learnt the words for a concept he already knew. If this was not the case, the kid would have never figured out why seemingly different parts of different pictures are being described by the same word “left”. You have to know the similarity already in some form in order to identify it.

This logic can be used for almost any example that you can use to teach a kid ‘right’ and ‘left’. All such examples merely provide the kid with the required words.

If you can come up with an example where this logic fails , then please post the example in the comment section below.

How distinguishable is left and right from birth?

If we accept the argument in the last Section,  then ‘left’ and ‘right’ are concepts that we are born with.  But the question remains: how well can we distinguish these two concepts when we are toddlers? There are two possibilities.

  1. We can distinguish them perfectly from birth. Left and right are like two cups that look completely different from the get go. One is round and another one is cylindrical, for example.
  2. We can distinguish them from birth, but the difference is very subtle. Left  and right are then, in analogy,  two cups that are made from the same cast, both being round perhaps. Initially they are indistinguishable except for the fact that they occupy different spatial regions. Later we add different decorations to the outer surface of the cup and then they become more distinguishable. Decorations here refer to our experiences in the real world which is inherently left right asymmetric (your right hand is perhaps stronger than your left or vice versa). This asymmetry helps us in distinguishing strongly two concepts which were almost indistinguishable to begin with.

Judging from my childhood experience, I think the second possibility is in fact the case. What do you think?

This is experimentally verifiable too. If a kid can learn the difference between “left” and “right” from a set of left-right symmetric picture (in the example mentioned in the last section) quickly, then 1 is true. If not, and if we need asymmetric pictures to help a child learn the difference quickly, then 2 is true. This can be verified by performing the relevant experiments with toddlers.

Left right asymmetry of the human body and the physical world

Assuming that the distinction between left and right is weak at birth, we need asymmetries in ourselves and the world around us to make the distinction stronger.

Fortunately, the world is riddled with such asymmetries.

The human body is left right asymmetric. This is one the major asymmetries that helps us in consistently distinguishing right from left.

  1. The human heart is typically offset towards the left.
  2. The right hand and the left hand usually differ in strength. In my case, my right hand is stronger.
  3. The right lung is bigger that the left lung.
  4. The left side of the brain tends to control many aspects of language and logic, while the right side tends to handle spatial information and visual comprehension.

The physical world is full of such asymmetries too. The houses on the right side of the street don’t look like that on the left side.

This ever present asymmetry in our daily existence and experience color our concepts of right and left and make them more distinguishable.

What would happen if the human body was symmetric?

If the human body was symmetric, perhaps we would not be born with the ability to distinguish left from right. However we cannot predict this with any certainty.

What would happen if the human body was asymmetric but the external world was symmetric?

The houses on a street are accidental asymmetries. They could have been symmetric for all we know. If they were indeed symmetric, could we distinguish between left and right consistently?

The answer seems to be “weakly” from the discussion in the first two sections. However Physics has a completely different answer to give.

The physical world is not “accidentally” symmetric, it is asymmetric by design

Here is where things get interesting. According to a landmark experiment performed in 1956 by a team headed by Madame Wu, nature was shown to differentiate between right and left strongly.

We aren’t talking about man made houses or asymmetries on the earth surface here. We are talking of the laws that govern elementary particles at the highest energy scales (smallest length scales) known to man. Nature was shown to distinguish between left and right at this fundamental level. This is commonly called Parity Violation in high energy Physics. You might have heard about it.

I wanted to dedicate an entire blog post to this revolutionary experiment. The link will appear here shortly. Meanwhile, you can look here for details on the experiment.

Conclusion

Right and left is distinguishable. The difference between left and right is not accidental. It is present in Nature by design.

  • Human kids can perhaps weakly distinguish between left and right as soon as they are born.
  • This distinction is made stronger by linking the concepts with accidental asymmetries in the physical world.
  • Not all asymmetries in the physical world are accidental. Nature distinguishes between left and right at the smallest length scales. In other words, it is possible to distinguish right from left by simply performing  certain Physics experiments on otherwise symmetric systems.
conscious subconscious experience logic hormones

Experience over logic

I loved debating as a kid and believed that logic and argumentation can solve all the problems in the world. Religion, love, morals, science…I considered nothing sacred. My father was one of my sparring partners and I loved pissing him off with my solid GK and watertight arguments.

Sometimes when cornered by my arguments, my father would say exasperated: ” Remember that you are talking to a 50 year old man. I have seen some things you can’t even begin to imagine. Don’t act like a know-it-all. You haven’t seen shit!”.

I laughed him away. “Age and experience, who needs them?”, I’d say, “Logic reigns supreme over everything else”.

I had a lot of confidence in logic, but since, I have repeatedly run into situations where logic fell short of delivering the right solution. Came as quite a shock to me.

In time, I accepted the fact that logic doesn’t reign supreme, and maybe, just maybe, my dad has a point.

There are two kinds of problems : impersonal and personal. While logic can handle the first kind fine, it needs the help of age and experience to solve the second.

Let me give an example: When a friend comes to me with a moral dilemma, I can use consequential logic. I’d be right most of the time too. But when I am struggling with a moral dilemma myself, suddenly all logic flies out of the window. My subconscious and my hormones won’t let me think straight. This is not just true for moral dilemmas, but for any problem where we have a vested interest in the outcome.

We typically use two independent components to solve such problems. One component is the rational self which uses logic. The second component is our hormones and our subconscious. Science has, so far, been very unsuccessful at figuring out how this second component works. This is where ‘age and experience’ comes in.

When we start out as an adult, our second component is on autopilot. The rational part is under control and helpful (assuming you are smart) but the other component is acting on its own. We don’t know how it works and it does not feel obliged to tell us. Very often, it leads to unwanted if not disastrous outcomes. Our rational part observes quietly. It observes for a few times and starts detecting patterns. Once it starts detecting patterns (these patterns are what you call experience) the rational part can now start to control the second component to a degree. The more it observes, the more it learns, the clearer the patterns and the stronger the control.

This is the real power of experience.

Experience knows things about you that science or logic doesn’t. You can use this knowledge to gain control over situations. Next time the shit gets real, consider analyzing your experiences in similar situations in the past to find out what this says about yourself. When you have a firm grasp of your ‘crazy’ side and your ‘logical’ side, that is when you will emerge victorious from personal problems.

What is politics?

What is politics? Is it five angry men hurling abuses at each other on Television? Is it a hundred men and women walking on the street with banners and shouting slogans? Is it the empty roads on the day of a strike? Is it that guy who keeps saying insensitive things at every chance he gets? Is it the invisible force that holds our city, our villages and our country together? Is it the reason countries go to war or choose to stay away from it?

dim

I am 24 years old, and like Calvin, I never understood politics. I am not dumb though. I know that we as a nation, as a huge group of individuals, as a society, have many problems. I have very strong opinions about many of these problems. If I think hard enough, I think I may even solve a few. If I get help from my friends, we can probably solve a dozen. If they let me that is. Those five angry politicians. They are so old fashioned, those five. So angry! If I get a chance to appear on TV with them, I will probably run away. Half the time, I don’t even understand what they are fighting about!

The other day, I asked my friend why they don’t allow kissing in public in India. We talked for hours at length. We are both for it. We have our reasons. I know there are millions out there in India who think the same way. Similarly, there are million others who think the other way. Maybe if I could visit their homes and talk to them, I would understand their point of view. Maybe not. But I can’t understand why they don’t like it without talking to them, can I?

I would also like to meet those million people who are for it. They are like me. But currently, the only people I have the option of listening to are those five angry men. It sucks. The women who occasionally come to TV are relatively better. At least they shout less. I know shouting makes for a good show, but I somehow hate it.

I would like to clean my neighborhood. I would like to improve the public toilets. I would like to plant some trees. I would like to test the water supply in my apartment complex, I think it’s damaging my hair. I feel so alone. No one else talks about this. I am afraid to show up at everyone’s doorstep asking for help. I wait for that invisible entity called politics to do the work for me. But politics never comes to take my opinions. Me and politics, we both sleep peacefully. None of this ever gets done. It’s too difficult, I tell myself.

Does it have to be this way? Especially when all of us are thinking these thoughts?

The modern world needs a new politics. A politics that is young, cheerful and friendly. A politics that will connect you and me, so that together, we can have fun while we change the world.

changetheworld

How to equalize your music player for that perfect sound

Equalization can turn dull and lifeless sound into powerful and delicious music. All it takes is the right knowledge. 

Equalization is the process of adjusting the balance between frequency components of music (or any electronic signal). Almost all music players come with a built in graphic equalizer where you can play with sliders, raising and lowering the level of separate frequency bands that make up the musical spectrum. Additionally, almost all speakers or headphones have different responses to these frequency bands. This means every speaker requires a custom setting to get that perfect OMG sound. Otherwise, no matter how great your speakers are, the music that comes out will sound dull, clouded and confused.

A 10 band equalizer

A 10 band equalizer

Setting up the right EQ for a speaker or headphone can be a very difficult job and requires a very good ear. But with a little time and effort, it is well within anyone’s reach.

Don’t play with the sliders randomly, chances are that you will never reach that beautiful sound which your speaker is capable of. There are some tricks and hacks that can set things up pretty fast.

First, you need to know what perfect sound means. If you know this, the effort it takes to get the right sound is automatically halved.

I know, I know. Perfect sound can be a confusing and subjective term. But don’t worry. Personally, I don’t bother with this subjectivity, because there’s a perfectly nice working definition. You should use this definition when in confusion. Here it is:

When the EQ is set just right, the following should also happen

  • You should be able to hear all the instruments involved separately in the mix without trying very hard. This means the kick drums, the bass, the snare, vocals, guitar and keyboard (atmospheric and solo), hi hats and crash. 
  • The bass section should sound powerful and should be driving the rest of the music. If this does not happen, you will hear remarkable volume fluctuations within the music. This is because the mids and the treble usually have holes which the bass section fills up. If the bass is low, you should be able to notice those holes/gaps when the overall volume fluctuates. This happens most often when a song goes from verse to chorus.
  • The sound should not hurt your ears even when you’re listening to loud metal music. The squealing guitars should not give you headaches and the bass and kick drums should not give you heart attacks.

I have found that when the above conditions are met, any speaker sounds near perfect to anybody. The sound is typically powerful, deep, cool, warm and bright all at the same time. It may sound like a contradiction, but this is what happens when you get it just right. 

On the other hand, if any one of them is not met, it means that there’s scope for improvement.

Typically, there are around 10 sliders/bands to play with, starting with low frequencies ( 20 Hz ) to very high frequencies (16 KHz). Each of these bands control different aspects of the sound. So setting them separately is no good. You have to adjust them simultaneously to get the mix to sound great. While doing this, it helps if you know what aspects of the mix these bands individually control.

Here’s a breakdown. Keep this in mind while adjusting. This way you will know what changing quality of the sound to look for when setting individual sliders.

< 100 Hz : This region controls the sound of the kick drums and the low ambient part of the bass section. 

  • Controls the kick and drive of a song. Essential for the groove. These are the frequencies that makes you want to dance or headbang.
  • Too much will interfere with everything else, especially the upper base register.
  • Too little will make the sound powerless and lacking drive. Look out for volume fluctuations when this happens.

100 – 200 Hz : This region controls the sound of the bass guitar. 

  • Controls the punch in a song. This is what adds tightness to the mix.
  • Too much will sound boomy and will make the mid frequencies carrying vocals, guitars and keyboard difficult to make out distinctly. Will also interfere with ambient tones.
  • Too little will make the music trebly, floating and thin.

200 Hz – 1 KHz : This region controls many instruments and vocals, most notably acoustic/electric guitars and keyboards. 

  • Controls the heart and mind of the song. Responsible for the major content of the song.
  • Too much will make the sound floating, thin, atmospheric and coarse. 
  • Too little will make the sound lifeless, dull and bassy.

1 – 8 KHz: This region controls the bite of solo tones. It also controls the high end of the drums, especially snare drums.

  • Controls aggression and snap in a song.
  • Too much will make the sound harsh, coarse and painful to the ear.
  • Too little will make solos sound muted and soulless.

8 – 16 KHz: This region controls the hi hats and crash. 

  • Controls the space, air and sparkle within the song. If set correctly, it can make songs releasing. 
  •  Too much will sound fizzy and artificial. You will literally hear the clamoring of utensils if this is the case.
  • Too little will make the sound stifling and lacking brightness.

Little adjustments can make a huge difference in the sound, so it is advisable to change things by little bits and hear the difference. In my experience, perfect EQs are variations on flat EQ where all sliders are set up at equal levels. For example, the image below is a representative of how perfect EQs usually look like. This setting was perfect for my Sony 6.1 sound system.

The perfect EQ on my SONY 6.1 sound system

The perfect EQ on my SONY 6.1 sound system

I hope this will enable you to get the right sound for your speakers. Even though this is a tiring and frustrating process, the end results are simply magical. You will thank yourself for taking the trouble. The joy of hearing that perfect sound is simply indescribable!

\m/  Cheers \m/

Out of rock music?

Are you feeling restricted or bored with the music you have on your devices? Want to listen to new music and discover new bands? Tired of the junk that plays on the countless FM and internet radio stations? Frustrated with services like Grooveshark with their automated ‘similar artist radio’ and trying to figure out how the shit that’s playing is remotely similar to the search?

Time to wake up. Spread the word fellow rockers : seems like our prayers have been answered!

Log on to rockradio.com or download the mobile apps for iPhone or Android or Windows. Select the genre of your liking – there are 40 sub genres of rock and metal music on offer. Dig in and I assure you – you won’t forget the experience. 

Here are a few screenshots of how it looks like on the my phone:

Image

Image

Is this radio different from the others? Surprisingly yes!

1. Quality of songs beats any other station out there. 

2. Stations are curated by a channel director who is an expert in a rock sub genre. No algorithms involved – so no weird or irrelevant song in the stream.

3. Non stop airplay

4. Presence of old classics and all time favorites as well as relatively obscure but kickass modern numbers in almost every genre (Of course this isnt the case for time-specific genres like 70s Rock or 80s Rock, which won’t have modern bands for obvious reasons). The genres are dealt extremely well, both in terms of variety and standard of music. You won’t hear any wannabe or crappy band at all.

5. Only rock and metal – almost no interference from other genres unless they are implicitly involved eg. Progressive Rock (Rock with Classical, Jazz, Funk and Electronic influences) or Rap Rock ( Rap influenced rock).

6. Dedicated stations for 40 comprehensive sub-genres spanning the whole spectrum of rock and metal. If you love it, they’ll most probably have it.

7. Some great technical stuff in the app like option to select audio quality of the stream (to save bandwidth) and sleep timer ( to prevent you from draining your data plan while sleeping).

8. You can’t skip songs. Its like the old radio of our childhood without ads and the RJ. The quality of music is so amazing, you won’t even feel like skipping. 

I have been listening to this radio for the last few days. I already have more than 48 hours on my belt. I had lost my faith in modern day radio but thanks to this one, I am getting it back. Feels like I am back in the 60s and 70s and living in a world with great bands and awesome music. I have already found around 30 new bands from around the world that I am digging. Thank you Rockradio, developers and the curators. You are simply amazing! Please keep up the good work!

Feels like I’ve hit jackpot! And you should too. Totally! Dig in to music streams of incredible awesomeness. And don’t forget to spread the word if you love it -and I am quite sure you will.

\m/ ROCK ON \m/

Modes and Moods

A composition in A minor

A composition in A
minor

What do we perceive as happy or sad in music? Is it the notes, chords, pattern of notes, pattern of chords, tempo, rhythm, arrangement or all of it taken together?

As a keyboardist, the first answer that comes to my mind is musical mode or scale. Everyone thinks that Major mode=Happy and Minor mode=Sad. No tempo, rhythm or arrangement has such a consistent interpretation.

It would be great if we could equate other Western modes or scales to an emotion/mood too. However, even though the happiness of the Major mode and the tragedy of the Minor mode is almost universally agreed upon, I don’t think the same would work for all the remaining modes. For instance, I know many happy and sad songs in the Blues scale – a scale which allows for a lot of diversity.

In spite of this confusion, people have attempted such a classification. Here is an impressive blog post with a nearly exhaustive list of scales/modes and their emotional content. I must say that such a list is extremely useful for an ameteur composer.

While such classifications are good, they leave a more basic and interesting question unanswered : What aspects of a mode gives rise to its characteristic mood? What is it that your brain interprets as happy or sad?

I will try to answer this question from a musical point of view.

The most popular explanation for the influence of modes on moods is : It’s the collection of notes that color a composition. The collection of notes in a mode, by virtue of their musical intervals, are of course happy or sad in their own right. If the ingredients are happy, as in the case of the Major mode, then any structure or pattern made out of those happy elements will turn out to be happy.

The wonderful simplicity of this logic fooled me (and many of my friends) for a long time. Anyone would agree that Collection of Notes=Mood is quite the elegant solution. In fact, I believed and advocated this idea until very recently.

Unfortunately this pretty piece of logic is wrong. I am sorry to say that the truth (which they say is stranger than fiction) seems to be the opposite.

Notes in a scale do not have any emotional content.

Let me draw your attention to four facts which conclusively prove this.

1. Seven distinct Western modes/scales can be played on the same
set of notes

2. The definition of scale is widely misunderstood. Scales work
because of cadences, chord domination and few other rules and not
because they have a cerain set of notes in them

3. There are examples of distinct Eastern modes which have the same
set of notes and the same tonic!

4. Atonal music, which lacks a tone center, sounds like nothing you
have heard before!

Some of these facts are quite astonishing. It will do us good to discuss in detail and find out what these four facts really mean. I hope that at the end of it, you will appreciate that notes are quite irrelevant to the emotional content of a musical piece and find out what it is that (what aspect of scales) invokes emotion in music.

Seven distinct Western modes can be played on the same set of notes:

There are seven commonly known modes in Western music.

Ionian (Major)
Dorian
Phrygian
Lydian
Mixolydian
Aeolian (Minor)
Locrian

Most popular compositions are based on the Aeolian and the Ionian modes because they support harmony best. The rest of the Modes are not so commonly used. It is well known that each of these modes have their own individual flavor and basic mood. The Ionian for example is usually happy and the Aeolian sad.

The most well known scale in music (partly because of how music is taught) is the C Ionian or Major mode which has the notes {CDEFGAB}.

C Ionian mode

C Ionian mode

The surprising (and much less known because it requires knowledge of Modes) fact is that the ingredients of D Dorian is also {CDEFGAB}. E Phrygian consists of (yes! you guessed it!) {CDEFGAB} too! And this pattern goes on till B Locrian. Of course, each mode has its own characteristic mood. Same notes make up different modes and give rise to different moods. Turning the argument around : all seven moods corresponding to the seven modes can be played on the same set of notes {CDEFGAB}. A pianist would recognize that these are the white keys of the piano.

You might ask: What about C Dorian (C Dorian for example has the notes {CDEbFBABb}) or C Phrygian? Shouldn’t we consider them? What moods do they convey?

The answer is no, you don’t need to consider them separately. Moodwise, C Dorian is the same as D dorian. As long as you are using the same mode, the absolute frequency does not matter. It can be freely transposed. This freedom is extensively used in Indian classical music where modal compositions are not set in any root such as C or D or E. The vocalist sounds the root note as per his convenience and the stringed accompaniemnts (usually only one or two instruments) set their frequencies relatively starting from the root.

2. What makes modes (scales) work :

If all the modes can be played by using the same notes, then how does a composer convey what mode (and hence what root or tonal center) he is using? Not by the notes that he plays as we discovered in the previous section. It turns out that in the Western system this is done via two well known rules :

Sections end with a cadence : A cadence is a series of two or more chords which ends at the root chord of the scale. This is most commonly implemented via a V-I chord progression. IV-I or VII-I are some of the alternate cadences that are used in practice. Thus if you are primarily using notes of the scale {CDEFGAB} and your cadence consists of a G Major chord to a C Major chord, then you can be said to have established the C Ionian or Major mode which sounds happy. If instead your cadence consists of a E minor going to a A minor chord, then you have effectively established the A Aeolian or Minor mode which sounds sad. For more on cadences, check out this YouTube video.

Which chords dominate? : In each of the seven modes, different chords (I am not talking about chord degrees here but the absolute chord name) will dominate. For example, C Major, G Major and F Major will dominate a composition in C major. Eminor, D minor and A minor will dominate in the A minor scale. These three sets of chords are the first, fourth and fifth relative to the root or tonic C and A of the scales C Major and A minor respectively. Is it always the first, fourth and fifth that dominate? No, because in the B Locrian mode, for instance, the first degree is B diminished, which is a highly unstable chord. Only a foolish classical composer will let a diminished chord dominate his composition. In fact it turns out that modal composition in Locrian is almost impossible for this reason.

Cadence and chord domination are techniques employed by the composer to give the audience a feeling of being in scale. Compositions derive their scales not from the notes of the composition, but on these techniques. Hence it is not stupid to expect that the mood of the composition is colored not by the notes themselves in their own right, but on how those techniques embed notes within the composition..

Are these rules complete? I don’t think so. Many known classical compositions take quite a long time to come to the cadence or explicitly show chord domination, probably with an intent to fool the listener. Listeners with an acute musical ear sadly cannot be fooled this way. It turns out that they can easily tell you the scale before the cadence finally arrives unless there is a significant mood change after the prediction. This raises the questions: What unwritten rules are the listeners using? What unwritten rules did the composers use subconsciously which gave them away? These are unanswered questions as far as Western music is concerned. The same is not true for the Indian Classical system, where the rules are stricter. It will do us good if we digress for a moment and examine the rules that are laid out for modal compositions in the Oriental system of classical music.

Modes or Ragas in Indian Classical music:

Indian classical music performance

Indian classical music (here is a typical performance on the flute) is a melody driven way of music where harmony takes a dusty back seat. In fact the only harmony that you will find in a Oriental classical music performance is an ever present and unchanging drone on a stringed instrument called the Tanpura which sounds a few major notes (usually the tonic and the fifth) of the scale. The maestro performs over this drone with the accompaniment of a percussion instrument.

Lack of harmony in Indian classical music

The lack of harmony in Indian classical music is not due to the limitation of knowledge. It is because the emphasis on melody has been taken Indian music in such a direction that harmony is not even possible in most cases. This can be understood by a comparison with the Locrian mode in the western system which does not support harmony because the tonic chord is a diminished and hence unstable. Loosely speaking, Indians have 200 modes while there are only 7 commonly known (but not all are commonly used) modes in Western music. No wonder Indians cannot harmonise their melodic music!

Fusion music

In modern days, many groups have tried to fuse Western and Indian music (this is a great example from Coke Studio) to make new music. The funny thing is most of these compositions are still based on the Aeolian or Ionian modes. It is fusion music because they follow the other Oriental modal rules (which we will come to in a moment) in their composition. But theoretically, this is not new music, because the mode is still Western or an Indian equivalent of a Western mode.

Rules in Indian modal compositions

The closest equivalent of a mode in the Indian classical system is called Ragas on which compositions are based. Each Raga, like a mode, consists of seven notes (swaras) derived from a tonic or root. So far this sounds exactly similar to the Western system. However the sequence of notes does not make up the mode by themselves. There are additional compositional rules and recommendations which are absent in the Western system. These rules are:

Ascent in the Raga (Arohona): While ascending upward the notes are to be used in a specific sequence ONLY. These rules sometimes call for retrograde motion, jumps or complete omission of notes while ascending.

Descent in the Raga (Avorohana): While descending downward the notes are to be used in a specific sequence (which may not be derived from the rules for ascending). These rules sometimes call for retrograde motion, jumps or complete omission of notes while descending.

An example will make this clearer. For example the Raga Jaunpuri with the tonic at C has the notes {CDEbFGAbBb} which seems to be the C minor scale. However the ascent and descent in this Raga are strictly:

Ascent: CDFGAbFGAbBbC’

Descent: C’BbAbGAbFGEbDC

which gives it a flavor of its own.

In addition to specifying strict rules for ascending and descending on the scale, the Oriental system also specifies the notes that are to be emphasized in a composition in terms of “king” (Vadi), “queen” (Samavadi) and “other” (anuvadi) notes. For example in Raga Jaunpuri , the Vadi note is Ab and the Samavadi note is Eb. Weird because you would have expected the tonic C to be important!

Finally there is something called a Pakad or Raga Roopa, which conceptwise, is similar to theme in Western music. It is a very short section of music that sets the mood of that Raga. Every Raga has its own (but not always unique) Pakad(s). For example in Jaunpuri, the Pakad can be as simple as

Pakad in Jaunpuri: FG BbAbG Ab FGEb DFG

This completes the description of rules in the Indian system and this is what I meant by saying that the Indians have gone a long way in classifying music and moods than its Western brother has.

3. Same notes, same tonic, but different Ragas and different moods:

Remember how we constructed the different Modes out of the same set of notes {CDEFGAB} in the Western system? We did this by establishing a tonal center or a tonic. When C was used as the tonic, we got the C Major scale and when A was used as the tonic, we got the A minor scale. Once the tonic is established, this sets up the intervals of the musical scale. For example, in terms of semitone intervals, C major is the ORDERED set WWHWWWH while A minor is the ordered set WHWWHWW. We say that the musical intervals wrt the tonic is different for the major and minor modes.

Indian Classical music offers a very interesting example in which the Ragas are considered different even though the musical interval with respect to the tonic is the same! One of these Ragas is Jaunpuri (video here) , the one you met in the last section. The other one is Darbari Kanada (video here) whose notes, ascent, descent, Vadi notes, Samavadi notes and Pakad is given next to distinguish it from Jaunpuri.

Notes: {CDEbFGAbBb}

Ascent: BbC, DEbDC, FG, Ab Bb C’

Descent: C’ Ab Bb G FG EbFDC

Vadi note: D

Samavadi note: G

Pakad: Eb D C Ab BbC DC

This example is a jewel because it is our first encounter with a system that distinguishes music performed in the same mode based on the way the music is played.

4. Atonal music, the Western jewel:

While the Indian classical system has mostly been an embodiment of discipline encouraging students to keep theoretical experimentation to a minimum, the Western classical system has given way to change more easily. This is not unexpected as there were only two written down rules to begin with. This means there already was a lot of freedom around in the Classical and Romantic eras. This freedom failed to satisfy the likes of Arnold Schoenberg who decided that tonality or the presence of a tone center is not “natural” but “historically imposed” and should be done away with. This gave birth to truly new music which came to be called Atonal, which means lack of tone center. One of the styles of atonal music, called Dodecaphony, for example, is based on the concept that all twelve notes of the chromatic scale {CDbDEbFF#GAbABbB} should get equal importance and presence in a composition.

Atonal music is a wonderfully daring and original concept. Unfortunately it sounds terrible to the uninitiated listener which is why it never gained popularity in the mainstream. The Wikipedia page on atonal music, in a bid to remain neutral, gives us an extremely subtle warning about this fact.

Wikipedia page on Atonal music

Wikipedia page on Atonal music

If you are curious about how Atonal music sounds, take a listen to this Schoenberg symphony. It is indeed surprising to note how abolishing a few rules and giving way to the rules might completely change the nature of music and its emotional content.

There are some excellent material available on the web on Atonal music. This YouTube video on Dodecaphony or 12 tones is one of the most delightful YouTube videos that I have seen in recent times.

When I was introduced to Atonal music for the first time, the first thing that came to my mind is “Oh my God! I have heard this before in Tom and Jerry!”. I later confirmed that the background score of Tom and Jerry indeed employed Atonal music extensively. Take a look at this this website and this episode from Tom and Jerry (starting at 4.00 mins to 5.20 mins) for an example. This means we were all exposed to this little known 20th century musical revolution when we were kids. Isnt that amusing?

This short introduction on Atonal music wraps up our discussion on the four facts that were mentioned at the outset. I understand that after such a long read it is possible that you have lost track of the main theme and the thread of argument. So I will briefly summarize.

1. Seven different modes with different moods can be played on the same set of notes. So the notes themselves cannot be said to be responsible for setting up a mood and having an emotional content independent of performance.

2. Scale of a musical piece are established by the composer with the use of cadences and selective preference to chords. In the Indian Classical system, rules are stricter and includes in addition to the interval specification, instructions on ascending and descending on the scale, relative importance of notes and a theme. This seems to mean that the mood of a musical piece is more a result of musical performance than the basic raw materials which are notes.

3. The same interval gives different modes in the Indian Classical system when the instructions on how to play them changes. This can be considered as the ultimate proof that it is the performance/rules followed in the performance that is responsible for moods.

4. If the tone center is done away with, music takes a new form known as Atonal music which sounds very different from conventional music. This strongly supports point 2 which claimed that establishing a tonal center was key in setting up the mood.

I hope you will agree that these four examples taken together imply only one thing: notes do not decide moods, how the notes are used within a composition decide it.

What fascinates me even further is the second part of point 2 which concerns the Indian Classical system. It seems to be telling us much more than the conclusion I was aiming for. It seems that the Indians have written down finitely many rules that completely specifies the mood of hour long compositions. In fact, any one familiar with Indian Classical music knows that it is an improvisational performing art and performances last several hours. However, no matter how much the performer improvises on a given Raga, the basic mood always remains the one that was established in the Pakad. It seems the nucleus of all melodic music can be summarized in a few written down rules!

In fact, if you are mathematically inclined and you know Markov chains, you might notice that ascending and descending on a scale in a certain manner only means a very restricted transition matrix of successive notes. This again raises the questions: Are moods mathematically expressable in this form? Why hasn’t anyone studied for presence of such correlations in Western music? Maybe when a composer writes music, he implements such correlations subconsciously to drive at a certain mood which he is trying to express?

I hope these interesting questions get answered very soon!

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic far beyond all we do here!”
-Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

mood