The sounds of music

It is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness (to someone whom The Man from Madras Musings has forgotten) the nearest Chennai ever gets to winter, unless something drastic happens with global warming. It is also the season of music and MMM begins to hum along, except when under the watchful eye of the Chief and the gimlet gaze of She Who Must Be Obeyed who, in mufti, is otherwise MMM’s good lady.

Having been to several sabhas and done several things over several years, MMM can be considered an authority on acoustics, or rather what they ought not to be, and, based on his experience, he has classified the audio systems in the various locales under different heads and these he presents to you today. In local parlance, the audio system is usually referred to as the sound system and in this case sound is to be taken as a synonym for noise. The sound system, in 90 per cent of the cases, is also not sound in its general state of well-being.

But now to get on with it.

THE DOG – This is invariably in sabhas that are rough-and- ready locations. The budgets are small, the paying audience even smaller and the venue is a convert from a derelict kalyana mandapam or old school hall. The best sound system that can be afforded is usually a left-over from political meetings. It is usually a vast assemblage of several speakers, positioned one over the other and all of them with cracked diaphragms. The ‘soundman’ usually sets the volume to the maximum and then vanishes to the nearest tavern or Tasmac and emerges only when the concert is over. The sound system, therefore, transmits a series of woofing and barking noises right through the concert.

THE SIREN – This is the sabha where space is a constraint. The artistes are all positioned thigh-by-knee and yet each of them demands a separate microphone to satisfy his/her ego. These venues are usually located close to a main road with lots of buses plying and so the demand for a separate mike is not entirely unreasonable. But what happens is that each mike detests the others (rather like the members of the arts fraternity) and lets out a deafening wail every five minutes. There is usually a desperate search for the soundman who, if you remember, is at Tasmac.

THE MUFFLER – MMM has never managed to fathom this one, but there are venues where no matter what be the setting, the best the audience can manage with is a sensation of swimming underwater with someone else trying actively to communicate. Whales could take their sonar lessons from these sabhas. You know when you are at such a location when, as soon as the curtain goes up, each member of the performing troupe begins looking at side wings and signalling that the volume of his/her respective microphone be increased. It also implies that the volumes of other microphones be set at zero. But looking at the side wings is a futile exercise, for the soundman is awol, but not at the Tasmac but at the sabha canteen. The muffler is usually at respectable venues where the soundman would not dream of a tipple while on duty. But tiffin is another matter.

THE ECHO – This is experienced at the ultra-respectable Meccas of music, the kinds that were originally inaugurated by titled nobility and had at least one Maharajah on the founding (but, sadly, not the sounding) board. They specialise in echoes especially during percussion interludes. MMM has often had the sensation that he is attending two concerts simultaneously, one for’ard and the other aft. These are invariably attributed to structural defects and, no matter what the soundman does (and he does his bit), nothing ever changes.

PLAGUED-BY-EXPERTISE – This is where the soundman fancies himself an expert. And you are left wishing that he would occasionally take off and visit the nearest Tasmac, leaving you to hear the rest of the concert at peace. Such soundmen are minor celebrities in their own way. Artistes fawn on them, all in the hope that the soundman would leave the settings alone. But that is never to be. Right through the concert, the volume levels will keep changing; now a mere whisper, now a deafening shout, now complete silence, now breaking the noise barrier. But MMM has to admit that there is never a dull moment.

Rain Quixote

The Man from Madras Musings has in the past had occasion to speak of the prediction abilities of our weathermen and he is thankful to them that they are ever keeping him supplied with material for this column. The latest was a couple of weeks ago when it was predicted about wet weather. Nothing wrong about that, but the addendum took the cake. It was predicted that it would rain everyday between 11 pm and 3 am. What of the rest of the time and do the clouds follow a time clock? Apparently they do and also apparently, like the garbage disposal men in our city, the clouds are averse to night duty. It never rained and after a week we had an announcement that Chennai was in for a dry spell. Surprise! surprise!

MMM strongly suspects that the lack of rain is due to collusion between Met officials and Corporation/PWD. The latter, no doubt, apprehensive that the city’s infrastructure cannot cope with any more rain, must have appealed to the former for ideas. The Met-men then announced rain at night, whereupon the clouds shied away and that was that.

But what of next year is what MMM wonders about. Will it be back to water in tankers and the sight of the ubiquitous plastic kudam? What with the power situation, the mounting garbage, the traffic chaos and, now, water scarcity, Chennai is no longer the paradise it once was. But MMM must admit that we have all worked very hard to get it to this state.

Season’s greetings

If it is the season of mist (we did go into that a short while ago, did we not?) and it is also the season of goodwill to all. The Man from Madras Musings alludes to Christmas. While MMM and, he is sure, all of you have your own ways of celebrating it, the politicians have decided that this is the season to put out posters greeting what they consider yet another vote bank and, therefore, deserves to be kept happy. Consequently several posters have been pasted on walls all around the city. It is a moot point if the owners of those walls feel the same goodwill. But MMM did when he saw one that hailed the mater dei of the State as ‘The Celebrity of Minorities’.

On that happy note, have a great 2013.