Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Recorded Media, Digital Revolution & Art : From vinyls to playlists.

Imagine a place which has no iPods, no MP3 players, no MTV, no local FM channels. Can you?? Well, we don’t have to visit any new place, just try to imagine life half a century back. If you dig it well, you will with no doubts conclude that the music ‘industry’ is very young, hardly 50-60 old, and the more fascinating thing is that the industry has retired to the next generation with digital revolution changing the backbone of business done with the form of entertainment.

Since ages music has been a form of art, a medium of entertainment. Country folk musicians have been composing and singing the songs of life since ancient times, they did never think about the copyright issues of their songs, in fact, they might have been happy if someone had sung their composed song.

The evolution of music as an industry is directly related to the technological volcano that erupted in the 20th-century world. With the introduction of radio to the general masses, live performance found a new unknown, unseen yet strong audience who would listen to you from home. This was definitely a change in lifestyle, you could listen to your favorite songs from home, and that was really cool.

As human mastered the art of recording voices and sounds, music was ready to be harvested. Initially, an LP (Long Play) was a mechanical disk recording sounds in a low quality as of today’s standards and had a very low storage capacity. Radio shows were still the best was to publicize music as an artist, and if you are hit on the radio, you are eligible to record and produce an LP to your audience.

With the introduction of the audio cassette by music giants Philips in 1964, the concept of albums made a solid base. An album is a collection of songs put together in a recording medium like LP, cassette or CD according to their storage capacity. This was the initial concept, but as this was the best way to make money as a musician and as a music based company, the artists and bands started to compare albums as novels and poetry booklets. The 60s and 70s were an age of ‘concept albums’. In a concept album, all the songs are based on a common theme or collectively tell a long story. Pink Floyd’s “Dark side of the moon” is one of the best concept album of the era.

Soon, musicians had a new extravagant lifestyle, music became an industry of glamour, money and pure fun. New bands and artists started calling themselves ‘professionals’. They were indeed professional musicians and made no stone unturned to make the maximum sales possible for their albums.

The 1990s was a time of murder, secrecy and total chaos in the music industry. But out of this chaos came the showstopper, the MTV. It gave the musicians the ultimate way to fame. A video song was like the cherry on top of a chocolate cake. The best song in an album was picked and a video was filmed on it. The result was overwhelming, fans liked the video song and recorded album sales reached a new height. Micheal Jackson, Metallica, Britney Spears, were the leaders of the money churning industry.

But thirst of making money made the recording companies short sighted for a bit and they started to take feedbacks from the most important persons who are involved in the whole process, the fans, the followers of music who buy the albums. In most of the cases, due to maximize the sales, the albums would make a video of the best song in the lot, publicize it more and more. A typical music lover would buy the whole album and in most cases would be on the losing side as 2 out of 10 songs are good to spend money on.

So, the problem that was overlooked was the singleness of songs. People liked particular songs and bought entire albums for just 1 or 2 songs in particular.

At this point let us say, the music industry had a new baby who would rule the world in the coming days in the form of MP3 introduced in 1991, a type of digital file which could compress the audio songs to a very portable size. It is to be noted that internet was just starting to gain its popularity as a medium of international communication in the early 90s and MP3 was like the gold biscuits which were to be smuggled in the coming days.

In June 1999, a new computer application called Napster hit the internet. It was a simple peer-to-peer connection application in which netizens could share their songs with one another. The idea was revolutionary. This once again gave full power to the users and fans to choose what to listen to and where to spend money on.

As always, the recording companies hit the company hard and sued them for copyright violations. Napster died in less than a year, but this incident changed the way music is sold and distributed forever. The music giants later realized the strength of the internet and started releasing songs on the internet. Arctic Monkeys are the first band to release their single on the net alone.

The new millennium marks the age of information with the digital revolution at its epicenter, and music seems to be the best product of the technological overhaul in our society. Today a person without a playlist is as rare as a book of poetry without a single line scribed on it. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Into the Clouds : A Travelogue on Cherrapunji.

[Guest Post by Anindita Das]

Its 5 am in the morning and its all mist and clouds outside. I pack my bag and am off from the hotel room. As I start my journey I pass through tall buildings, fine houses and roads that are soon to be occupied by the ever busy life of Shillong. In a matter of about a quarter of an hour the packed city scene gives way to a more serene surrounding as the Headquarter of the Air force is passed by. The eye at once catches the magnificent fighter jet standing in all its might and for once my thoughts turn and I start thinking of all those great men who lived not for them but for this land upon which I stand. Just a few moments more and as I turn my eye towards the window I see the semi barren hills and they remind me of the great adventure I am soon to witness.

I can’t remember a single second when I was not caught by the view outside. The journey continues and then just a small bridge and I reach a place unforgettable. All of a sudden as I see the deep gorges below and clusters of cloud playing around with the mountains and the trees I realize I am now within the clouds. The criss-cross roads keep on adding to my awe as I keep on discovering a place I never thought could exist.
After a travel of about 56 kilometres, crossing various enchanting sceneries which comprises of gorges and unending hillocks clothed with pines, I reach where I had set for, Cherrapunjee. As soon as I get down of the car I first get struck by a signboard saying “the wettest place on earth, Cherrapunjee”. I look up the sky; there are clouds hovering and sun smiling through it. I smile to myself and feel lucky to not see rain. I walk up the road to have a look at the local market of the place as I then get a view of the first waterfall of the region. The local inhabitants who are passing me by did not even care to turn and see the waterfall which have left me so spellbound that my feet could not move forward and I thought to myself that was it me who was lucky to see it once or was it them who saw it so much that they don’t see it anymore. I buy a few locally crafted goods and head on to my next stoppage. Within a few minutes I reach the Rama Krishna Mission Ashram, renowned worldwide for its service to mankind. Along with it was the Rama Krishna mission school which had been imparting education for decades. I meet a few Swamiji’s and have a bit of talk regarding its establishment, work and the locals who inhabit the area while walking along the colourful gardens and its serene surrounding. I ask for their blessings and as I am about to start of again I meet a few hostellers, young boys who live and study there. I stop again and after a quick photo session I leave.

Crossing a small forest which the locals preserve as a sacred forest and a small stream of crystal clear water, I reach a gate which opens to some small shops and huts. I get down and a sound of water striking hard on rocks is what I can hear. I follow the sound and what I discover is another breathtaking waterfall, the Nohkalikai. The hard hitting water falling with all its force into a deep green pool below, it is a fascinating sight! I had just started to enjoy its beauty as suddenly a thick cloud covers up the waterfall in it and I say to myself “welcome to cherrapunjee”. Just a few moments hence the whole place gets foggy and misty and soon after it starts to rain. I run fast and take shelter in a small hut where I am heartily welcomed. The warmth from the chullah, a hot cup of tea and the uncut sound of the rain give me a glimpse of the life in this place. When I asked about the meaning of the name of the waterfall, a lady from the house told me a story which is believed to be the reason behind the name. As told, the name was given after a mother named likai who had jumped off the waterfall after knowing of her daughter’s brutal death by her own father who wanted to have meat and also because of her guilt of having the meat in ignorance. A bit shocked by the story I sit near the chullah waiting for the rain to subside. As the fog cleared up a bit I take an adieu and started my journey further.

Crossing the places where I had first reached I take another route towards the south which was to take me through a few more views to behold. The picturesque deep gorges, the small elegant village lead me to a place named Ka kper syiem sohra which has the cremation of the kingship of the place. As I further moved downwards I reach a place maintained by the Meghalaya government named Eco Park. There I get a display of indigenous orchids and is also presented by a spellbound view of the plains of Sylhet of the neighbouring country of Bangladesh. A bit of chit chats with some of the neighbouring people and start of again seeing the clock tick fast. A few kilometres hence and I reach the mawsmai cave. With an excitement to enter the caves I take an entry ticket and climb the stairs in urgency. As I enter the cave I look inside and I stop. The dimly lit cave, the dripping water from the stones and the silence captivate me within a spur of moment. I enter, and struggling through the tricky narrow paths, through the various chambers and passages reach the other end of the cave. Never had I had such an experience in my life!

Towards the south of this village I had been was a series of seven waterfalls falling in synchronism to each other to the deep gorge below. I was caught by the sight of the Mawsmai waterfall. The vibrant colours of the sun at the backdrop made it a nature’s treat to me. As the sun had almost reached the edge I realize that I have to move on. Capturing the moment in my heart I leave and head towards the second last destination of the day, the Thangkharang Park. Managed by the forest department about 8 kms from the cherra village have an exotic orchid exhibited in it. A panoramic view of the plains of Bangladesh with an added bonanza of the imposing Kynrem waterfall cascading down majestically in three stages, set against the backdrop of the Bangladesh plains, which bounded me with the many other over there.

The last visit of the day that I take is the Khoh ramhah, an imposing single rock formation in the shape of a giant cone structure. According to the folklore, it is the fossilised cone shaped basket of a giant evil. As I looked at it for sometime, the belief does seem to be true for a moment!
As the daylight is dimming away I think to myself if the day could be a little longer, I could have had a few more delights. I sighed and turn to start my journey back. But as I am leaving the place a strange thought is telling me that I too belong to this place now and this place to me...