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Inside Bengaluru’s Indian Music Experience and Its Interactive Atmosphere

The museum, which officially launched in July last year, offers a dive deep into the history of Indian music

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Anurag Tagat Mar 13, 2020

An exhibit featuring Indian instruments at the Indian Music Experience museum in Bengaluru. Photo: Courtesy of IME

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A work in progress for nearly a decade, the Indian Music Experience (IME) in Bengaluru’s southern locality of J.P. Nagar hasn’t received as much attention as a museum ought to get. In the last year, museum director Manasi Prasad says they’ve only received about 30,000 visitors. “Given Bangalore’s population, that’s not much.” Director of outreach at IME, Suma Sudhindra points to how museum visiting culture has to improve in India for more numbers to come in.

Launched officially in July last year with a special concert that featured tabla veteran Zakir Hussain and keyboard-composer ace Louiz Banks, the Indian Music Experience has three parts to it – the Learning Center that offers Indian and Western music education, the Sound Garden which is a small but fun space for testing out large scale instruments and the museum, which is heavily technology driven with its immersive video exhibits, iPads for recognizing rhythmic time cycles, identifying raagas and knowing the history of Indian music, from folk traditions to film soundtracks to recording history, classical and contemporary artists.

Interestingly, the museum begins on the third floor and takes visitors down to the ground floor, starting with India’s contemporary music history. Everyone from fusion pioneers Indian Ocean’s Rahul Ram to music festivals such as Independence Rock and Sunburn are featured, alongside footage (screened in stationary, modded-out autorickshaws) of folk-fusion band Swarathma, amongst others. There’s a gamified section to uncover India’s Grammy nominees and winners such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, violinist L. Shankar and L. Subramaniam. The museum director Prasad says that the idea to start the tour with contemporary music is to target younger audiences and “lead them from the familiar to the unfamiliar.”

A section of the Indian Music Experience museum that explores the history of film music. Photo: Courtesy of IME

From thereon, IME explores India’s traditional music that was tied into socio-religious elements, like Bhakti poetry as well as the Trinity of figures in Carnatic music – Tyagaraja, Shyama Shastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar. While topics such as music that originated for dance forms have, by the museum’s own admission, not been a deep dive, there’s plenty on how the British colonial era impacted Indian music and how music was recorded in India in the pre-independence times. All of this can easily make one visit to IME span at least a couple of hours.

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Fully aware that there’s topics they have only covered on the surface level, Sudhindra agrees that there’s more that can be added as they go along. For now, there’s partnerships that will help them host pop-up exhibits. On March 7th, IME opened a new exhibition called Ravi Shankar @100: India’s Global Musician to celebrate the sitar legend, teaming up with their “institutional affiliate,” the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. Prasad adds, “We’re getting all these never before seen artefacts like the sitars and costumes that he wore at iconic concerts, many photographs and letters – we’re putting it together in a display.”

The Ravi Shankar exhibit will stay at IME for three months, followed by a tour around the country. While the sitarist’s influence reaches across age groups, the museum has previously hosted gigs and interview sessions with bands such as Swarathma and rock act Parvaaz to continually draw in younger audiences. Prasad adds, “We like doing work that’s focused on education and young people. We’re certainly focused on international collaborations and we have a couple of them in the pipeline – one with Australia and one with Europe that’s coming up.”

Get more details on the Indian Music Experience here.

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