Electric Sitar and a Robotic Tabla!

Let’s start form the basics. Sitar and Tabla are both Indian musical instruments, widely used in Indian Classical Music. So what has Electronicsand Robotics has got to do with it?


Yesterday, I attended a concert by Ajay Kapur. It was a part of the NUS Arts Fest. It was not quite a typical Indian Classical Music concert, though it involved a Sitar and a ‘Tabla‘.

Ajay Kapur, the composer, the performer, the engineer, has wired up his Sitar to make it electric! And to make sure he always has his rhythms to jam along, he created a robotic drummer (Tabla).

Nope, this is not your electric guitar and a copy of Garage Band. His setup was much more complex, though it did involve a Mac. The idea was to have an interactive drummer, which was mechanical/robotic. Basically drum sticks activated by solenoids.

While the setup and the control of the Tabla using the Sitar, was a really interesting part of the concert, especially with my personal dabbling in it, what really caught my attention was the use of electronics and computers with Indian Classical Music. Not that it has not been done before, but his approach to it indicated that it is progressing to newer levels and allowing space for more expression.

Music, I believe is nothing more than a form of expression. Various kinds of music allow musicians to express different things. Newer and novel methods of music composition or performance allow newer forms of expression.

Now, I should really get back to working on my OSC implementation.


2 comments so far

  1. Suvojit Pakrashi on

    The author is not clear about the details of how the instruments are played.
    Is it played using your PC.

  2. NTT on

    Hi Suvojit. You don’t have to be so formal!

    I left most of the details out since I don’t think many people are interested. But here a summary for you.

    The sitar was played as it is normally played. But it had pick-ups like an eletric guitar, and many other sensors to sense other interactive gestures (like chikari and fret-press).

    The pick-ups were fed directly into the Mac, and the sensors were read by a microcontroller (installed on the Sitar), which were then sent out the Mac over MIDI.

    The robotic drummer was controlled by another set of microcontrollers which were connected to the Mac over MIDI.

    So basically the sounds and the sensor-data from the Sitar was processed by some custom application on the Mac (which I totally forgot to ask about) and then used to control the ‘Tabla’.

    If you search on like google scholar, you might find Ajay Kapur’s conference papers on this project. They are a good read.

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