The most interesting thing about the Indian Music Experience (IME), a 50,000 sq. ft interactive music museum in south Bengaluru’s JP Nagar, is that you can spend hours there without even stepping indoors. The Sound Garden, an open-air collection of interactive musical sculptures which flanks the museum building, is a fascinating place, with installations that can keep you absorbed for hours. There are several mega-sized floor and wall-mounted xylophones, upright gong installations made of wood and stone and “musical stones"—blocks of granite with special grooves and openings that produce distinct notes when you rub wet hands over them.

Visitors almost always stop to play with the Storm Drum—a huge cylindrical structure with a spring-bell-pull suspended from the ceiling. It is fitted with special membranes—when you wind up the steel spring and release it, the drum’s membranes amplify the low-range frequencies emitted by the uncoiling spring to produce extraordinary storm sounds.

Built in collaboration with Svaram, an Auroville-based musicology project, and Bengaluru designer Michael Foley, the Sound Garden is your gateway to the IME—India’s first interactive music museum. “While inside the museum we are looking at music as art; in the Sound Garden we are looking at music as sound, with a focus on vibrations, frequencies, timbre, resonance…there are no digital interfaces here, and visitors can experience music in the form of natural sounds," says Manasi Prasad, the IME director and a well-known Carnatic vocalist.

This is not a “you can look but don’t touch" kind of museum. In fact, you are positively encouraged to touch, feel and experience, whether it’s by using the mallets provided to play the xylophones in the Sound Garden or engage with the dozen digital interactives in the indoor sections.

Divided into eight thematic galleries, the exhibit area showcases facets of Indian music, and includes an instruments gallery with over 100 musical instruments, three mini theatres, and several interactive digital installations that allow visitors to experience the process of music-making (see box). A short, immersive introductory film leads visitors to the first indoor section, which is dedicated to contemporary music. While giving us the tour, Suma Sudhindra, director, outreach, of the IME and a veena exponent, says the positioning of the contemporary section, with its focus on indie pop and rock, fusion music and kitschy decor, was deliberate. “We want young people to come and experience the space, and we felt starting with a fun, contemporary section would be one way to do it," she explains.

The instruments gallery. Photo courtesy: Indian Music Experience
The instruments gallery. Photo courtesy: Indian Music Experience

Sections on Indian classical music, with immersive content on both the Hindustani and Carnatic traditions, follow. The museum is dotted with listening stations, so that at each point you can both read about and listen to compositions by classical music greats. “The intention was to layer the information in such a way that there’s something for everyone, from the casual visitor with no prior knowledge of music to the trained musician," says Prasad. Gallagher and Associates, an international museum planning and design firm based in Maryland, US (it has also designed the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles which is dedicated to the history and cultural significance of American music), worked with the Bengaluru-based architects, Architecture Paradigm, to design the space.

The directors, along with the museum designers, have made a serious effort to reduce the static content and create more hands-on, immersive experiences—not only with the digital interactives but with modern, Instagram-friendly touches like original artwork, photo booths and short films. One of the films plays on loop at a mini-theatre where the visitor experiences the passage of a whole day in a few minutes, with the aid of ambient lighting, changing graphics, and the classical ragas associated with particular praharas.

Apart from the classical and musical instruments sections, there are galleries dedicated to folk music, songs of protest, colonial influences, and, of course, film music, primarily Bollywood. “Bollywood is a huge part of the Indian musical legacy and we would be foolish to deny that," says Prasad, showing us an interactive booth where you can remix the background score of a scene from an iconic Bollywood film to change its mood.

Funded by a non-profit created by Bengaluru-based builders Brigade Group, the museum is a special project commissioned by M.R. Jaishankar, chairman and managing director of the group, who was influenced by a visit to the Experience Music Project in Seattle, US, to create something similar in Bengaluru. The spending so far is reported to be 42 crore, with a separate budget for regular events and workshops in the museum’s two performance spaces. The IME team hopes locals as well as visitors will make the museum a thriving space. “Our biggest competition is not other museums—it is shopping malls," says Prasad.

A vintage-theme photo booth with an original gramophone in the music-players section of the IME. Photo courtesy: Indian Music Experience
A vintage-theme photo booth with an original gramophone in the music-players section of the IME. Photo courtesy: Indian Music Experience


Sound off

Create your own music with these interactive installations at the IME

Hybrid Sounds: Make a signature music mix by combining sounds of Indian and Western instruments on pre-recorded tracks.

Find your ‘shruti’: Sing into a mike and let the programme identify your shruti, which corresponds to the relative pitch at which you sang the musical syllable. Shruti is an important concept in Indian music—it refers to the smallest interval of pitch that the human ear can detect and a singer or musical instrument can produce. The interactive also gives you famous renditions in this shruti— for instance, my shruti was A# and a famous rendition was Drut Khayal by Parveen Sultana.

Background Score: The interactive explores how background scores influence our reaction to a film. Alter the background score from a famous scene in Sholay, for instance, by changing the mood to comedy, suspense, or tragedy.

Recording Studio: Select a song (out of four popular Hindi film songs), sing, record it and remix it using musical effects from four different Bollywood eras. You can also design the album cover and email it to yourself.

Mix The City: A collaboration with the British Council, this musical installation is a physical manifestation of the council’s digital project of the same name. Mix and download snatches of music representative of six cities/regions —Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, and the North-East.