Jamming out on Electronic Traditional Indian Instruments

Music Technology
Jamming out on Electronic Traditional Indian Instruments

There are plenty of electronic instruments for musicians to play, but the vast majority of them are tuned to Western scales. In traditional Indian music such as Hindustani, Carnatic, Folk, Bhajan, Light Music, Ghazal & Dance, different tunings, often on the microtonal level, are required. I could spend a whole article on how tuning systems are largely socially constructed, but I’ll introduce you to the instruments of Sound Labs instead.

Having found a need for compact, electric instruments that mimic the sounds of traditional Indian instruments such as the Tabla, Tanpura, Lehera, and Shruti, Sound Labs, located in the Kasauli hills of the Himalayas, developed these devices that are not only compact, but capable of alternate tunings, and true to the sound of the original instruments. Many performers use them for performance in addition to practice. Many of the units also pack multiple instruments into one package. Check out the video below to see their Raagini Digital in action.

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8 thoughts on “Jamming out on Electronic Traditional Indian Instruments

  1. Eike Jonas says:

    Please do that article on socially motivated tuning systems. That would be something!

  2. Warren Senders says:

    “Lehera” is not an instrument, but a Hindi word meaning “wave.” The term refers to a single repetitive melody which is played in concert as accompaniment to a tabla or pakhawaj (drum) solo. The lehera machine offers a choice of such tunes appropriate for all the common rhythmic cycles in use in North Indian music, and is commonly used for tabla players who want to practice their solo repertoire.

    “Shruti” isn’t an instrument either, but a word generally meaning “subtle intonation.” Various Indian musical theorists postulate 22, 24, or 72 “shrutis” to an octave — although the commonly used intonational system is a 12-note chromatic with ad hoc adjustments to make the music more expressive. “Shruti box” is a common term for the electronic tamboura sold here as the “raagini.”

    Tabla and tamboura are, of course, the drum and drone respectively. The Raagini electronic tamboura can be tuned up and down the Equally-Tempered scale, with fine-tuning buttons that move it by 1-cent increments.

    These machines are ubiquitous in Indian music performance, practice, and pedagogy.

    1. Michael Colombo says:

      Well I’ve obviously shown my hand in terms of my ignorance of Indian music. Thank you very much for clarifying.

    2. matt smith says:

      thanks for your information about indian music, its awesome….

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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