He lured an entire generation of musicians towards technology.
And now he comes a full circle, trying to get them back on track.
A.R. Rahman’s current passion is to create an authentic Indian orchestra. The first step towards that is establishing KM Music Conservatory as a bridge between music, technology and culture.
The conservatory will help techno-savvy sound-engineers to learn the basics of composing and spend time with instruments hands-on and musicians to learn the importance of technology and the basics of sound recording. And thus, create the unique Indian orchestral sound. Or symphony as Rahman likes to call it.
The reason musicians in the West find themselves financially secure is that even if they play in an orchestra, they do other music related things – they edit music, they freelance and are not dependent on any one source of income, as Rahman points out.
“We want our Hindustani and Carnatic musicians to be able to read Western notations and adapt to playing with other musicians,” says Rahman. “So that they can learn to play with ten other sitar musicians at the same time. That’s the sound we’ve never heard before.”
Symphony is not to be confused with Western Classical Music, he clarifies using his ‘Bombay’ theme to explain. “That was essentially Indian but it played out through a Western sensibility.”
Rahman’s vision is to create an orchestra that not only sounds distinctly Indian but also culminates various aspects of Indian culture and bhakti, which he believes, is at the heart of orchestral symphony. “Devotion is the basic element in all the music. It’s an open thing, so many things can be done,” he says.
Spirituality plays a huge role in his life, so much that he’s chosen to call the conservatory KM as he believes that these initials are “spiritually close” to him and have brought him good luck.
But, necessity is the mother, of course. After frequent trips to Prague and Birmingham to record orchestral sound for his films, Rahman pondered over the need for our own orchestra. “Even Bahrain and Iraq have their own national orchestra,” he laments. “We are a country of 1.4 billion people and we don’t have our own national symphony orchestra. Since then, it’s been a burning desire to have something like that of our own.”
The reason why music directors go abroad to record orchestral music is that what takes two months of effort in India can be completed with foreign orchestras in four days, he says. “There’s so much perfection the way they approach music and translate notes. It used to be there in my Dad’s generation but it’s not there anymore.”
Rahman probably knows he’s responsible for more and more music directors slanting towards technology-based music. But there’s only so much you can do with technology and nothing can match the feel of listening to a live orchestra.
“Our source of entertainment has always been monopolised by films but there’s a different kind of entertainment too: Orchestral music which is on the other side of art. If we educate our people, we could get that into the mainstream,” he explains.
Orchestral sound is probably the future of film music, if we take a cue from original soundtracks from Hollywood and trust Rahman to understand its importance.
As the founder Principal of KM Conservatory, Rahman has pulled all strings and created an advisory panel consisting of a repertoire of veteran musicians, both Indian and Western.
The conservatory received about 250 applications since the announcement on his birthday.
Rahman’s says that he’s not even started calculating the cost of the project. “We’re just putting everything we have. God willing, we will have our own campus in two years. I have a place in mind that is about three to five acres, a quiet kind of environment where there will be music and not car horns,” he says.
Apart from visiting faculty from all around the world and guidance from veteran musicians, the students will have special classes from Rahman himself.
“I am doing just two films a year, so I guess I should have all the time,” he smiles.
Rahman’s pillars of support
As honorary advisor and member of the panel, classical violinist Dr.L.Subramaniam says: “It is a courageous bold brilliant start. It’s going to give a lot of opportunities to groom our own talent and give them adequate exposure to other cultures through a holistic approach to music.”
Also part of the panel of experts is Hindustani classical veteran Ghulam Mustafa Khan who expressed his solidarity saying that Rahman had pulled off what he had only thought about. “I am with him. And will always be,” he said in Hindi.
Srinivas Krishnan, founder of the Global Rhythms ensemble, recalls how it started: “It was way back in 2003 when he spelt out what he had in his heart. I was fortunate that many of my students were at his studio collaborating with him.”
T. Selvakumar, Managing Director of KM Music Conservatory and Apple-certified Audio Media Education, tells us that the first batch will start in June 2008 with an intake of 150 students. The conservatory will have three different kinds of courses: a part-time two-times-a-week preparatory programme that anyone can join, a foundation course for beginners and a diploma course. “All admissions are through auditions only,” says Selvakumar.
For more information and announcements, visit arrahman.com or audiomedia.in.