Does the digital music age augur the end of the Gharana? Snigdhadeb Sengupta writes in Part 3 of his article on Origins of Classical Music


Does the digital music age augur the end of the Gharana?

Snigdhadeb Sengupta

The ‘Proximity-Radar’ in Music-transfer

We were talking about people travelling to new lands, carrying their music with them, adopting new traits, assimilating them with the old ones and passing them on to the next generations from geographers’ perspectives.  We discussed how a farmer starts passing on the information to his/her fellow-farmers when s/he innovates an agricultural tool, or hears about one. People who are in geographical proximity to him/her are more likely to receive the information than those who are far off. The limit of this area of information reach was termed “mean communication field” by Hagerstrand. This, it is surmised, led to the formation of a hearth that cradles the culture. Traits of the culture are not as prominently observed beyond the hearth. It applies to music as well.

The Personal network in Music-transfer

While this may be generally applied too, things may not be all that simple. Chapman’s (1979) criticism of Hagerstrand elucidates:

“Each of us stands at the centre of a personal communication field. …This makes it difficult to formulate a model of general applicability. …Hagerstrand suggested that it was possible to think in terms of a mean information field that defined the effect of distance upon the contact patterns of the ‘average’” people.                            

 “An individual is more likely to communicate his experience of a new piece of machinery to a friend or relative located some distance away than to a neighbour with whom he is not on speaking terms. …this involves thinking of the mean information field as existing within social rather than physical space.”  

Strangely, these comments were made in relevance to a study involving farmers. But, as Chapman said, “this proposition… extends far beyond the specific problem with which Hagerstrand was concerned” and covers musical traditions very well.

I was astonished to find how the kinship factor that quintessentially relates to the Gharana system was also treated by Chapman (1979).

“Another study… sought to identify the principal communication networks, such as kinship ties and marketing activities, through which information relevant to …change may be subjected to pass (Mayfield and Yapa, 1974)”

The study that the author refers to here, was based in rural India, and was definitely relevant to Indian Music, even if the original researchers did not intend it to be so.


What happens to Music-transfer in the digital age that defies geography?  

In the current context, if we look at a digital platform like musiana and all other platforms on music available on the web, it would be intriguing to note, how the influences of current musical practices around the globe may travel across geographical space while in many ways defying geography.

Not just that, it will also raise some critical questions for geographers:

  • Is the music on web truly transferred to people across geographical space or is there a pattern emerging vis-à-vis access on the basis of internet connectivity and bandwidth, ethnic groups, current practices of listening and performing specific kinds of music and so on?
  • How is it that markets and music makers of the East (including India, Bangladesh, Srilanka and the Asia-Pacific region) are much more subsumed by music of the West (USA and UK particularly) than vice-versa (You do not get to hear a composition resembling a Kirtan or a Qawali in a mall in the US, while your ears are flooded with songs composed in four-four western beats and chord progressions sung in the local language in malls, cars, markets, cafes and Beauty salons in India)
  • What does that do to the ‘mean communication field’?
  • How do new ‘Gharanas’ emerge if kinship ties and marketing activities do not play a role any more in transferring music of one region to another?
  • Does this age augur the end of the ‘Gharana system?’
  • Is proximity and kinship no more necessary to transfer, create and connect through music or are sub-cultures of Gharana still being created beyond the realms of dominant culture? Where does geography play a role in this hugely complex dynamics?

These are questions one needs to explore and find answers to with much deeper focus on   socio-economic theory of music.

Anybody listening? Anybody interested?


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