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Monday, January 3, 2011

Veena And Acoustics

(Published in The Hindu, issue dated 31/12/2010)

Veena and acoustics
E. Gayathri
Photo : R. Ravindran

E. Gayathri —

The primary aspect of concert acoustics is the microphone. Very often, veena artists are faced with the outcry, “Why do you need a contact mike? It distorts the tone of the veena.” For a veena concert to make an impact, the instrument should have the throw and power of a human voice. Whether in a closed auditorium or in open air, the music should basically reach out. Veena being a soft string instrument, a voice mike would make it sound feeble especially in a large concert hall. Even worse, the nuances that bring out the beauty of the instrument do not reach the audience in totality. This is the reason most veena artists resort to a contact mike.

Choosing the right contact mike can be a difficult task since its technical specifications and placement on the surface of the ‘ kudam' or inside the veena are the key factors that determine its compatibility with the instrument. Compatibility of a mike with the instrument can be defined in terms of the ability of the mike to amplify the true tone. With the advent of digital mike-mixer combinations, it is possible to increase the bass or treble content causing the veena to sound either like a bass guitar or a sitar. It is also possible to introduce distortion, leading to the lo-fi type of jarring electronic sound. These techniques can be used cleverly to alter the veena's tone. The need for conveyance of the true tone of the instrument is more of a personal prerogative and a question of artistic integrity.

While the onus of good acoustics in a concert is on the contact mike, the final amplification provided in the concert hall also bears considerable significance. In the older “valve” type of amplifiers, which only had a volume and tonal control, there was little room for dramatically changing the way the veena ultimately sounded although the amplification was feeble. Now that high performance processors are available, while very solid amplification is possible, the sound engineer might inadvertently tamper with the instrument's tonal quality by setting the wrong controls.

Other contributing factors are the construction of the hall for minimisation of echo, maintenance of optimal temperature and illumination levels. Very often, the temperature in the hall is reduced, increasing the tension and hence, the pitch of the veena strings. In contrast to this, the high intensity lighting loosens the strings. Both of these factors do not cancel out each other but cause vacillating shrutis in the veena, making it possible to produce errant notes every now and then thus demanding extreme concentration.

The choice of the right microphone for the veena brings out the vocal or gayaki style of presentation, in other words, the instrument gains the capacity to equal the power of a voice. In such a case, the popular notion that the accompanying percussionists (such as mridangam artists) need to subdue their performance in order to avoid drowning out the sound of the veena becomes antiquated. The accompanying artists are able to use the same vigour as in vocal concerts due to the enhancement of the tone of the veena with the help of the right type of contact mike.

(E. Gayathri is a noted

veena exponent)

21 comments:

கக்கு - மாணிக்கம் said...

Amazing technical expertise.It is very interesting to know the facts behind a fantastic musical experiences.Thanks for sharing.

Kalyaani said...

Dear Madam,

My New Year Greetings to you and your family for a happy and prosperous year ahead.

Thank you, Mam, for bringing up such a relevant topic explaining the technical intricacies of selecting the appropriate microphone, amplifier, even the auditorium acoustics and lighting design and management aspects. This would be extremely useful for the aspiring talents.

My heartfelt regards to You, an epitome of knowledge in Veena - its musical, spiritual, technical, all the aspects in totality.

Ganga said...

Dear Madam,
Wish you a very happy new year!
Thank you so much for the article on microphone. This is very helpful.

Do you recommend any specific kind of microphone for the veena? Do you also have any suggestions on how to place it in such a way that the original sound of the veena is retained?

I don't live in India. I find the sound of the instrument is altered by using a heater inside the house. Do you have any suggestions to prevent this?

alchemister said...

Dear VG mam,
I find this as a very interesting and important topic. Like the taste of food that we eat is determined to some extent by the quality of ingredients, I believe the nadham of a veena is seriously influenced by the wood and the other accessories. I have a set of questions for you:

Do you find ekanda veenas better that ottu ( 3 piece) veenas?
your veena ( the brownish black one) should be close to your age. Have you found the same quality veenas built in recent days?

Do you see differences in tonality when there is a hole in the center of the kudam (akin to acoustic guitars)

I thought u are against modifying veenas. But i saw you have put guitar pegs on your fav. brownblack veena!

Do you find differences ( in tone, nadham etc) between veenas made in mysore/bobbili/tanjore or trivandrum?

what is your take on the curvature of bridge ( brass plate)


Sorry for the long list of questions!

Happy new year,

kannan

E.Gayathri said...

Happy New Year! Thank you very much,Mr.K.Manikkam and Ms.Kalyaani. Sorry, have been away and couldn't reply promptly.Ms.Ganga, I would recommend you carry your instrument to the microphone dealers and try out various mikes to your satisfaction. In my experience condenser mikes are best suited. I am not aware of heater clashing with microphone (?!), sorry am not able to help you on that!
Mr.Kannan, I certainly don't mind your questions one bit.
You are right about wood playing a vital role in determining the tone of veena. Ekandam is not necessarily better than a ottu veena. I have known a few ottu veenas that sound far superior to Ekandam.My black veena is older than me (75 years roughly).
I am against destruction and dismantling of veena. Addition of guitar pegs do not come in way of the vedic structure and most of all do not distort the prescribed vedic veena. I suppose it is fine. I use guitar pegs because I heard they are supposed to be good in holding the sruthi intact, personally I find them just the same as good old fashioned "biradas".
I am comfortable with Tanjore veenas. I suppose it also depends on the technicians who make them, as well as the wood etc. Generally all veenas are good.
Curvature of brass plate? The brass plate has to be flat and suitably installed in accordance to the height of the veena dandi.
Regards,
Gayathri

Pravina said...

Hello mam. Greetings to you. I live abroad and have just got myself a new veena Can you pls help with the strings gauge and do I use 29 or 26 for the first string?? Pardon me for such a naive question but am playing a veena after 20 years and have lost touch completely.

Ganga said...

Dear Madam,
Thank you so much for taking the time to clarify. I really appreciate your help! Sorry, I was not clear. The heater melts the wax and some notes sound slightly off or are not clear. Its not a problem with the microphone.
Regards
Ganga

E.Gayathri said...

Dear Ms.Praveena,
Kindly use 29 or 30 (the latter is preferable for easier playing and finer tone) for the first string (sarani) and 26 or 27 for the second (panchama) string. All the best!

E.Gayathri said...

Dear Ms.Ganga,I understand. When veena is exposed to heat, the wax melts causing distortion in the 'melam'.Regards, Gayathri

Vasudev V said...

Hi Gayatri garu...

i am Vasudev basically from Mangalagiri, Andra Pradesh , pursuing MBA.
first of all , i realy need to thank U for your videos in Youtube, i really enjoy them...

Today is very big day in my life that i have started learning veena from Guru Ms Veena from banglore.

Its My passion to Play And to Make my mother most Happy in the world.

so, in this regard, there is a small request regarding veena classes videos,

i have seen only one videos of yours regarding basics of veena, if possible can i have some other videos of veena classes

Thank U
Vasudev

E.Gayathri said...

Dear Sri.Vasudev,
Thank you for your kind appreciation! The 2 volumes of my DVD (Learn to play veena) are available in all major showrooms. Or you may contact supertape@yahoo.com for more details. Kindly contact Mr.Navin Daswani, head of Super Recording co. who has produced my DVDs.
Regards!

Vasudev V said...

Thank You Madam

E.Gayathri said...

Dear Sri.V.Vasudev,
Thank you and regards!

Abirami said...

Hi Madam,

My name is Abirami and I'm from Malaysia. I'm learning Veena in Temple of Fine Arts for about 2 months practicing on Sarali Varisai. As a beginner, which Veena is best to purchase, is it ekanda or ottu veena (3 pieces) ?

Thanks

E.Gayathri said...

Dear Abhirami,
All the best in veena! In my experience, tonally I found both veenas equally good and sometimes some ottu veenas even better than ekanda veena. You can go for either of them.
Regards

Priya Govindh said...

Dear mam, I am priyanka from chennai. I learnt veena for 6 and half yrs. Started from my second std. But couldnt continue after 9th cause of my academics. I am in college now and would like to revive. I am passionate about playing veena and I am your die hard fan too. Do u conduct classes mam? will i get an opportunity to learn from you?

E.Gayathri said...

Dear Ms. Priya Govindh,
Nice to know details about you and wish you all the best. I am not teaching as of now, you could contact my mother (Smt. Kamala -9841881847, 24983854)who teaches and is my teacher as well.

Lakshman Prasad said...

Dear Madam,

Namaskaaram.

Recently I found this reference to Ms Kalyaani's query on the curvature of brass plate. It is a reference paper published in 1920s by none other than our Nobel Laureate in Physics Prof. Sir C. V. Raman. It is freely downloadable from the repository of Raman Research Institute. Here is the link

http://dspace.rri.res.in/bitstream/2289/2177/1/1921%20Proc%20Indian%20Assoc%20Cultiv%20Sci%20V7%20p29-33.pdf

Quite possible, that more advancements have taken place since then, but this gives his views at the time. Sir C. V. Raman hails from a family with a strong background in Carnatic Music and his first passion was research on Veena and Mrudungam while he was teaching at Calcutta.

I can email a .pdf version if you some one needs it and provide their email ID. My email ID is lakshmanpra@gmail.com

veena said...

Dear Mam
I am subhashini from Madurai.I am learning Veena to My Guru Anandhi Poornachandran for the past 6 years.Mam we are not getting proper Mike,so Mam where do we get good responsible Mike and which place we can buy Mam.Please give me a detail

E.Gayathri said...

Pl. go for a condenser mike with mixer. Pl. google for audio/video equipment dealers, Chennai and you will find plenty of addresses.

Sangeeta Sivakumar said...

namaskaram madam
i learnt veena in chennai and i am teaching here in hyderabad.Most of the people here are not even aware of this instrument.For the first time i have been asked to give a performance in a nearby temple.Can you please help me with the strings gauge?..I am expected to play on a scale of 5 and half...

Thank you maam