Critical overviews through emails

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Email from Dr. Daniel M. Neuman, Professor, Mohindar Brar Sambhi Chair, Interim Director, UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost emeritus, University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), USA. Sent: Saturday, December 21, 2013 9:31 AM  |  To: Professor Sanjoy Bandopadhyay  |  Subject: From Dan Neuman

Dear Sanjoy,
Now that it is all over, and we all have a moment to recuperate, I want to
underline the fact of just how successful this conference was. There are
three things that it made it a truly exceptional conference.
1. Diversity: The fact that you had scholars from very different areas
willing both to try out their own ideas and other scholars willing to listen
and engage with them. This was a truly rare opportunity to enhance the
possibility for collaborative research. Certainly in a large meeting like
this you will find papers of varying quality, but most were very serious and
excellent.
2. Musical excellence: This conference was about music after all and the
concerts of your students were superb. I also thought the L. Subramaniam
concert was one of the best I have heard in ten years!
3. Leadership: Your leadership-and I don’t mean to flatter you-really made a
big difference. You took control when that was necessary and yet provided
the graciousness that defined the tone for the whole meeting. We all ended,
leaving with a feeling that was warm, fraternal and looking for more in the
future.
Just so you know I’m not merely flattering, I would have two recommendations
for the future.
1. Connectivity: I know you know this, but you may not be aware of how
important this is, especially for those of us who did not have smart phones
in India that worked in India. The fact that EcoHub didn’t have connectivity
was a big problem (indeed we saw a group of five businessmen walk out
because of the absence of connectivity; the management  was so embarrassed
that the manager told me he would outfit future guests with USB sticks until
they could get their own connectivity together. (I think the major problem
is that EcoHub is so new, there is no ethernet connection at all to the
building). Otherwise by the way, EcoHub was beautiful and very comfortable,
and I want to thank you for putting us up in such a wonderful place.

2. Drinking water: I know you served water out of big bottles that
presumably were “bottled water” quality, but for older hands and people like
me, I view with great suspicion anything that is just very easy to fill with
tap water. I used to drink everything in India, but now when I come for
short visits, I want to do everything I can to avoid getting ill. Please
have individual bottled water, at least for guests who are sensitive. Better
yet, have it available for sale!

Let me conclude by saying how proud you and your department should be. To be
able to organize something like this and have it run as smoothly as it did
would be an accomplishment anywhere. To have it do so in the challenging
circumstances of Kolkata is even more amazing. For this I cannot thank you
enough, nor are there congratulations enough that could be offered. I do
hope your vice-chancellor really appreciates what you accomplished. I know
your registrar (who btw is a very nice person) does.

I know I joked that you’ll never do this again, but when you do, please
invite me. I look forward to the next big event.

With my warmest and best wishes,
Dan

KaraikudiSEmail from Dr. Karakudi Subramanian, Professor Emeritus, University of Madras and Founder Director, Brhaddhvani, Chennai

From: Karaikudi Subramanian   |  Date: Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 5:36 PM  |  Subject: My impressions  |  To: “sitardivine@gmail.com” <sitardivine@gmail.com>

Dear Prof. Sanjoyji,
I applaud you for your tremendous efforts to make this valuable seminar a gift to all of us. I would have missed all what you had offered to everyone of us. It is commendable indeed. I know it is team work. But to make the team work you were the backbone. May God bless you with all the energy and health to continue your good work in the field of music. I will, much in advance, invite you for our silver jubilee celebrations in the 3rd week of November 2015. May be we can work on a project I have in mind ! I will come back to you, once it is concretised and if you are willing and available.
With great regards,
Karaikudi Subramanian

Sent from my iPhone

Sebastian Dr. Sebastian Klotz, Professor, Systematic Musicology, Leipzig University, Germany

From: sklotz@rz.uni-leipzig.de [mailto:sklotz@rz.uni-leipzig.de]   |  Sent: Friday, December 27, 2013 10:56 PM  |  To: Prof. Sanjioy Bandopadhyay  |  Subject: Re: Meta data generation++

Dear Sanjoy,

these are truly flattering words, plus an exciting invitation to work  on the committee. I would be extremely glad to join it, and would like to thank you again for your effort.

I safely returned home to Switzerland, with two extra days in Kol in the company of Lars and Somjit.  We are in the midst of the Xmas/New Year holidays, and will travel from Switzerland to Berlin tomorrow. A brief sum-up of my impressions of your seminar is given below; I could elaborate on it early in the New Year.

My Observations during the Exit Session:

The Seminar provided my first in-depth analytical exposure to  classical and traditional Indian music, and to the musics of other culture, under the heading of music patterns.

The chosen focus turned out to be highly productive, due to the open policy of the seminar organizers, and due to the open-mindedness of  participants who seized the opportunity to discuss patterns in a variety of cross-disciplinary perspectives.

The seminar discussions were intense, warm-hearted, and committed. The provided a site for rich academic and practical intercourse, something  rarely achieved in purely academic or theoretically focussed conferences. Where else would you find practical demonstrations embedded in analytical discourse across such a range of traditions and musical topics, where else would musicians, teachers, musical activists, academics from various humanities and science branches, interact? The well-informed practical anchoring gave the seminar a very particular and inspiring flavour.

All the contributions I was able to follow were working against an open horizon, i.e. were avoiding normative claims but were interested on productive feed-back. The topic of music pattern, in the way it was addressed during this seminar, was accommodating a wealth of perspectives that merit future elaboration.

Particularly noteworthy was the high turn-out from young students, teachers, artists who listened in and asked qualified questions. Their curiosity for methodology was apparent.

Finally, the overwhelming hospitality and most generous arrangements  (food, accommodation, transport) of the organizers gave all of us a strong sense of being welcome.

In addition to my exit session remarks, I would suggest to offer a seminar on methodologies in music studies (sociology, psychology, social systems theory, cognition studies, aesthetics). It would reach out to Indian students who cannot rely on a *musicological* curriculum as their expertise mainly lies, in my impression, on matters of style, performance practice, organology etc.

The seminar clearly set a new standard also in terms of the professional distribution of the seminar work and proceedings into the international academic community (website!).

Hope this is sufficient input as of now.

Good luck for the follow-up work, and many thanks for inviting me on the committee,

Warmest greetings,

Sebastian

AtishBagchiEmail from Dr. Atish Bagchi, Community College of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [USA]

From: Atish Bagchi [mailto:abagchi.ccp@gmail.com]  |  Sent: Thursday, January 02, 2014 7:54 PM  |  To: Sanjoy Bandopadhyay  |  Cc: Atish Bagchi  |  Subject: Re: Overview

Dear Professor Bandopadhyay,

The overview that you requested is pasted in and also attached.

Sincerely,
Atish Bagchi
________________________________________________________

Overview of International Seminar on Creating and Teaching Musical Patterns

The three-day event is better described by the word conference; the word seminar captures neither the seriousness, nor the scale of the enterprise.

I was born in Nagpur and brought up in Kolkata.

Since I am essentially local, I would rather seem harsh than seem lenient in my criticism and consider it an obligation to point out several issues that future efforts should address.

I am a mathematician by profession and have studied Indian classical music on the violin since childhood. Currently I teach mathematics at the Community College of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, USA. Physics is another subject in which I have some expertise. I made a presentation on mathematical structures underlying Indian classical music, and also chaired a session. My article in the proceedings involves music, mathematics, physics, linguistics, and neuroscience at various levels of sophistication.

What follows will, therefore, exhibit a bias in the direction of formal scientific discourse.

Since many sessions were held in parallel, I could attend only some of the sessions that were of interest to me. I must confess that my choice was strongly influenced by my bias.

Therefore, my overview will be necessarily incomplete.

First and foremost, I must note that I was very impressed by the manner in which the event was conducted, given the enormity of the undertaking. The website is well-designed, well-maintained, and frequently updated. Navigation is easy.

The entire credit goes to the organizers.

Having grown up in Kolkata, I am keenly aware of the difficulties that the organizers must have constantly encountered. There were undoubtedly many minor lapses but I am obliged to say that these lapses seemed utterly trivial, because I was expecting many major problems. The meals were excellent and served in a timely manner. The programme was true to the printed time-schedule to a higher degree than I thought possible.

Again, the entire credit goes to the organizers.

Certain measures would have made matters smoother. The programme could have had times for talks explicitly listed and there could have been clocks on the walls in the rooms. There could have been a formal session on the first day to allow chairs of sessions to meet with the presenters so that all organizational elements could be addressed beforehand. I had to read certain texts while I was on the podium, and the lighting made it very difficult for me to see what I was reading. A very short rehearsal would have helped us avoid this predicament. I was very glad to chair the session though, because a certain fundamental camaraderie that can almost be said to characterize India, governed all interaction. The rooms at Swabhumi follow a standard business setup and had neither blackboards nor whiteboards. This lack is getting more and more common whether in India or abroad. Earlier manners of exposition, in my opinion, operate at a more pleasant human scale and succeed in communicating more; computer presentations have a certain sterile feel to them and introduce an element of superficial perfection that interferes with communication. I hasten to add that preference for computer-assisted presentation is on the rise and that all conferences are gradually succumbing to this pressure. There were several glitches with technology but on the whole things worked.

These are some areas of improvement.

I attended the inauguration and the exit sessions; all plenary sessions; the sessions on ‘Musical Patterns and Human Mind’, ‘Pattern Logic in Music Composition’ I and II, and ‘Musical Patterns viewed through Miscellaneous Approaches’ I, as a participant, and the session on ‘Stylistic Patterns and Development of Musical Identity’ as the chair.

The conference was indeed international, with a large and diverse body of participants representing various musical traditions, neither just from India, nor just from the West. In fact it was quite refreshing to see Western bias forcefully challenged on several occasions. This familiar story of bias needs neither introduction nor elaboration. The antidote generally lies in finding higher levels of appropriate abstraction to provide sound means of comparison, as for example, in the abstract idea of a mammal that provides a sound means of comparing such disparate life-forms as whales and mice. I have rarely encountered this perspective in current practice in the humanities.

Open and forceful criticism of descriptive and conceptual inadequacy will undoubtedly lead to improvements in future discourse; I perceive this as the most important benefit of the conference.

The presentations varied widely in style, content, level, quality, and sophistication, thereby providing other kinds of diversity. Unfortunately, I had occasion to attend only one presentation in Bengali. Bengali, Hindi, and English were official languages for presentation and publication at the conference. Bengali is the language spoken in Kolkata which is in Bengal. Hindi, because of certain historical accidents, is said to be the ‘national’ language of India. English, because of other historical accidents, is said to have acquired ‘global’ currency. The advantage of having a common language of discourse is undeniable. English, for good or ill, happens to be that language at the moment. Unfortunately, academic discourse in other worthy languages is dwindling, and the languages are gradually dying. This situation poses a very serious threat to linguistic diversity. Therefore, conscious support of languages other than English is a very important task. Furthermore, serious attention should be given to developing good technical vocabulary in one language that accurately conveys the meanings of technical terms from other languages. I mention in passing that I came across native speakers of French, German, Marathi, and Tamil at the conference.

That Bengali and Hindi were official languages at the conference provides, to my mind, evidence for the organizers’ foresight.  Such support for languages other than English can and should be extended.

Two possibilities are worthy of mention. The first is to encourage capable speakers to choose some language of presentation other than English and arrange for simultaneous translation into English that members of the audience may access using headphones. For presentations in Indian languages simultaneous translation into English is easy to arrange. For presentations in foreign languages other than English, one can contact consulates and embassies for help with simultaneous translation. The second is to publish versions of articles in multiple languages. Electronic publishing makes this a simple matter.

I consider it worthwhile to create the necessary infrastructure and note that these steps can lead to fruitful interaction and may produce additional benefits.

The conference covered material of enormous diversity from widely divergent perspectives. In an enterprise of such scale, there is always a tension between considerations of quality and openness of acceptance. If the area is of such vast scope, the tension is very difficult to resolve and a policy of openness is less likely to stifle creativity or run into error.

The organizers were very open about acceptance of papers; I find this a positive featureAll sides can gain from such openness because the existence of clashing perspectives generally leads to cross-fertilization.

I had occasion to attend many technical presentations. My own presentation was in a sense technical, and some referees were very suspicious of the material. Although I consider the suspicion both natural and justifiable, because of the weight of tradition, and also because of entrenched manners of thinking, I feel obliged to record my surprise, even shock, at the general lack of familiarity with the pioneering work of Amiyanath Sanyal, since it is practically the only sound approach to rāgas and rāga-classification.

It will be a huge step forward, if more people studied and understood Amiyanath Sanyal’s work.

Several technical presentations were of very high quality. In some, however, I found an unnecessary inclination towards ‘assigning ad hoc numerical estimates in the interest of objectivity’. This is an example of a phenomenon which was noted long ago and that Professor Marvin Minsky aptly named “Physics-envy”. In some others, there was a tendency towards using analytical and computational tools, only because such tools were available, without adequate consideration of whether the tools might be applied, or whether such application was likely to lead to results that could be given a meaningful interpretation.

Perhaps future research will be more careful in these areas.

Despite all these shortcomings, the seminar should be deemed a success and should mark the beginning of a new era in music research.

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