For a Hindustani classical vocalist, life without a tanpura is unimaginable. Having said that, I must clarify that the tanpura, conventionally a four-stringed, hand-crafted acoustic instrument used to provide a drone, now exists in several avatars.
Four- or five- or six-stringed, flat, sleek, without the toomba (the rounded hollow bottom), electronic, digital, in MP3 or WAV formats on made-for-riyaaz CDs—the tanpura in all or many of its avatars forms an absolutely essential part of a classical musician’s gear. While tanpuras are made in several parts of the country, Miraj in Maharashtra and Kolkata are two places from where most musicians like to acquire tanpuras. These are usually hand-crafted instruments made by families of highly skilled instrument makers who have honed their craft over many generations.
And today, I write about another brand new avatar of the tanpura, one that can be found and acquired only if you are ready to visit the Apps or Applications section of the Apple online store! Naturally, it is called the iTanpura and has been developed for iPhone and iPod Touch users by Prasad Upasani. Upasani, who lives in southern California, describes himself on his website www.upasani.org as “a professional musician, teacher and performer who also happens to be a talented programmer with over 15 years in IT as a Project Manager, Software Developer & Technical Architect”.
Shrunk: But it works really well.
Over a Skype call, Upasani talked about his painstaking efforts to ensure that the iTanpura sounded as close as possible to the beautiful meditative sound of an actual tanpura. Each of the strings of the tanpura was recorded individually by the developer, with meticulous care given to the tone, timbre and resonance.
And Upasani didn’t just use any old instrument to record the samples that went into the making of the iTanpura—he used Hemraj tanpuras known for their superb tonal quality. He has also taken care to record different samples for women’s and men’s tanpuras as he was not satisfied with merely altering the pitch using a computer software. Upasani continues to modify and improve on the application, and iTanpura version 4 comes with an added Swar Mandal, or harp.
I am still not an iPhone user but I would definitely cast my vote in favour of the iTanpura for many reasons—sheer mobility, the fact that it can be customized using controls that permit fine tuning, panning, tempo control make it well worth the $14.99 (around Rs700) it costs to download the application. Of course, I must reiterate that while I cheer for an innovation such as the iTanpura, at no point would I recommend that students of music or musicians do away entirely with the original acoustic hand-crafted beauties that we know our well-loved tanpuras to be.
But as I recall my pre-frequent flyer days a couple of decades ago, when I would reach the railway station toting a tanpura along to find the local Romeos leering as they remarked through paan-stained teeth—“Dekh Raja dekh!!! Mirabai jaye rahee hai”, I can’t help but feel a little smug and pleased about the compact iTanpura.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org