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The best will live again

Musiri, Ariyakudi, MDR ... a new label is reviving the greatest names in Karnatak music by searching out friends and relatives of the masters, dusting off spools from forgotten shelves, and remastering decades-old recordings

These are names we have heard spoken about with awe, but never had a chance to listen to all these years.

Musiri Subramania Iyer's resonant voice singing Patnam Subramania Iyer's magnificent kriti in Ritigowla, Janani Ninuvina, Ramnad Krishnan essaying a gem of an alapana in Madhyamavathi for Thyagaraja's Rama katha sudha, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar rendering Thyagaraja's Kalyani classic Nidhi chala sukhama...

With Musiri, the complete mastery of a kriti, from alapana to the song to the neraval and swaras, is breathtaking. The build-up is like an architecturally perfect Taj Mahal. Ramnad Krishnan's racy and smooth rendition, with the music coming wave upon wave, is astounding.

And all this isn't just talk that leaves you envious. These singers are now available on Great Masters, a series brought out by the new audio company Media Dreams.

Media Dreams is a wing of the Pentamedia group. The cassettes are priced at Rs 50, while the corresponding CDs are tagged at Rs 150 each.

"Just Rs 150?" you might ask in surprise. This is possible because Pentamedia produces its own CDs at a manufacturing unit in Kelambakkam in Chennai, and doesn't have to outsource them.

But more than the price, the whole effort is laudable for its imaginative conception and efficient execution.

V Chandraekhar, Pentamedia's chairman and managing director, had the idea of presenting the music of yesteryears' great masters to today's audiences. The mission, once planned, took off with the setting up of a team experienced in the music industry. Since many on the team had worked long years for a major music company, they were able to get into the task straightaway.

Lacking the catalogue that audio majors would have, the search for recordings of the masters began. The team went from house to house looking for what they wanted. Some recordings were found in dusty shelves in the homes of the artistes' descendants, others were located in private collections of friends and strangers.

Then came the arduous chore of ascertaining who held the rights to the recordings, and acquiring them.

Only after all this preliminary work was done could technology take over. The recordings, made on Grundig spool tape recorders with a single mike many decades ago, were put on hard discs and digitally cleaned. The technique, called digital remastering, removes noise, hiss and other disturbances from the original tape. The output is a CD master.

For this highly specialised job, the company went to experts like K S Raghunathan and H M Subramanian.

M A Krishnaji, Media Dreams' manager (artistes and repertoire), says the company now proposes to acquire some labels.

Some celebrities already released by Media Dreams are T K Rangachari, M Balamuralikrishna, M L Vasanthakumari, D K Pattammal and Karukurichi P Arunachalam (nagaswaram). To be shortly released are M D Ramanathan, T M Thyagarajan and Voleti Venkateswarulu. The first-ever Karnatak music cassette to be released was Venkateswarulu's, in the '70s.

The company also releases current artistes, and finds that devotionals have a very good market. It has brought out Chitraveena Ravikiran's Songs of the Nine Nights, which, it says, "combines and projects the greatness and contrasting styles of the Navaratri Trinity -- Uthukadu Venkatakavi, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Swathi Tirunal." Another release is a fusion effort with Ganesh and Kumaresh on the violin, Keith Peters on the bass guitar, Sivamani on the percussion, and T H Vinayakaram on the ghatam.

Room for improvement: As for the cassettes, the samples revealed a lot of scope for improvement in sound. There are sudden ups and downs, and the cassette had to be played at full volume for me to catch all the notes. The editing can be better, and finally, the accompanying text on the inlay cards does not do justice to the great masters. Not only should the description be more elaborate, but the writing should be free of spelling errors. These are blemishes that can be removed easily.

Ambujam Anantharaman

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