I confess I always experience bouts of nervousness ahead of a concert, even if I look unfazed and calm. But what I found strange was my nervousness as I watched the spectacular opening ceremony of the troubled Commonwealth Games (CWG) on television. As the fanfare and extravaganza unfurled, I found myself anxious, hoping that cobras, dogs, collapsing ceilings or exhausted performers fainting for lack of food and rest would not bring further ignominy to India. Phew! It was a big relief that the ceremony was a success.
There must have been many like me who were so relieved that they forgot to take note of the fact that most of the music one heard during the opening ceremony was, in fact, a recorded track with the performers just “acting” as if they were performing. In musicians’ jargon and also among event managers, these are called “plus one” or “plus” tracks which are used to ensure good sound and cut down on the expense, effort and infrastructure involved in engaging a large number of musicians to play live. Now mind you, this is no “Breaking News” revelation. It is, in fact, standard practice at most events of this magnitude. In some ways it is practical too, because if you had hundreds or thousands of drummers and musicians playing live, it could take a few days to get them all tuned up, soundchecked, and playing as per plan. Who knows, the heat generated by so much artificial lighting could even make the hide and skin stretched over acoustic drums crack open, or lead to strings of wooden instruments snapping and breaking. So, to avoid further confusion and mishap, maybe it was best that the entire soundtrack, barring the speeches and the announcements, was recorded beforehand in the sanitized environment of a studio, probably in Mumbai.
But it is also necessary to point out that the hordes of been players who swayed as they played after the national anthem, didn’t have to huff and puff into their mouthpieces quite as hard as they normally would have to. Neither did the drummers have to beat a rhythm for real, although they danced and whirled and raised their arms and sticks as energetically as they would in a live concert. The only difference being that the sound of the drums was generated probably by a state of-the-art programming machine or workstation in a Mumbai studio, either from one of the many “ethnic” sound cards available in the market, or perhaps with a single percussionist adding a bit of the “live” feel to it. Of the several drumming styles showcased at the opening ceremony, the Manipuri and Kerala drummers seemed to have possibly recorded separate segments to which they then synced their actions, but in other segments there were occasional mismatches in sound, and lack of synchronization. Even ace performers A.R. Rahman and Hariharan turned actors as they performed to a “plus” track, and appeared to be crooning, mike in hand. Maybe, just maybe, Rahman actually performed the very last line of his act live.
I join the nation in declaring that the “cutie pie of the CWG” award be bestowed on little Keshav, but didn’t anyone notice that the little tyke didn’t have a mike as he sat and mimed with the tabla? Had he played the tabla live in the stadium without a mike, he would have been fortunate if the sound were even as loud as a pair of knitting needles clicking together. He looked adorable and cuddly, and his confidence and poise was amazing, but did anyone hear any tabla in that segment with heavy, intense drumming? And if not, did we need to use a child as lovely as him as a prop? Now please don’t you go calling me India’s answer to Simon Cowell or “anti-national”.
What could have been done, though, is to acknowledge and document, in some way, the names of all the artistes who have actually played for the soundtrack, as well as those who acted as if they played on the opening night. If this has been done already, I will accept in advance that I am unaware of it. But if not, then for a historic event such as the opening ceremony, I would like to research and publish a monograph documenting an unofficial version of what went into the making of the soundtrack, who recorded what, and who mimed what. It will make for an interesting read.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org