Chip beats

The new computer-aided tabla (an Indian percussion instrument) may not give the human gurus a run for their money, but it is linking hi-tech with performing arts. The device offers-connoisseurs a hassle-free opportunity to pick up the art

Published: Thursday 15 February 1996

-- TABLA enthusiasts, desirous of learning the art, now have a choice of guru. They could avail of the opportunity of learning from a non-human teacher who, in addition to having the immense patience needed to coach any amateur can give the student more personalised attention and time. Called the 'tabla blaster', this is a computer-aided tabla that may eventually help eliminate the tedium of teaching (Electronic Products Finder, Vol 11, No 1).

Kiran Vyas, who has been teaching music for several years at his institute, Vyas Sangeet Vidyamandir in Bombay, has come out with an editor (a usable programme) that enables students to learn at their own pace, all by themselves. In his endeavour, Vyas was deeply influenced by David Courtney of the University of Cincinnati, USA, who has recently created digitised sounds for drums on personal computers (PC).

The package consists of a stereophonic sound card (a 16-bit sound blaster) installed on a 386 IBM PC which can convert ordinary instrumental and vocal music into digital sound. The beats which are frequently used could be recorded in the computer's memory. The editor performs the function of regulating various parameters, such as tone and tempo, thereby enacting the role of a teacher. Various other accessories, such as a double speed CD-Rom drive, stereo speakers, microphones and various multimedia titles can be attached.

But the minimum system requirements, according to Vyas, are an IBM 3861486, EGA (enhanced graphics adaptor) or VGA (video graphics array), 7.5 mega bytes (MB) of hard disk space for audio-card software, and Windows 3. 1. The features of the tabla blaster include digital voice playback technology which enables the easy reproduction of real sound samples of music, speech and special effects for multimedia presentations, education and entertainment. The system provides the facility for altering the frequency of sound for any particular tala (a tala consists of several beats and establishes the structure of the music in a rhythmic cycle), apart from incorporating a built-in mixer to mix six audio sources.

Even though any solo performance on the tabla incorporates a great variety of beats, the 39 basic bols (symbolic words explaining the different talas) peculiar to the Indian classical music, have been recorded in the system in the required permutations and combinations. Intervals between two bols we decided and the phrases arranged in such a manner that the required composition, characterised by a tala, is derived.

The longest existing composition based on this system comes in 106 computer pages. Certain alphabetical characters have been developed for the computer but the themes have to be worked out so that each of the 39 bols can be entered with separate keys. There are also 12 different tones and each individual tone can be used for a particular string or a wind instrument.

Vyas believes that with the help of the 'tabla blaster', the student can engage himself in long hours of riyaz (practise). Also, the tabla blaster, in terms of tonal quality, is much closer to the original than the electronic tabla, which is already available in the market. The same editor can also be used for other Indian percussion instruments like mridangam and pakhawaj.

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