August 19, 2016

Ravi Shankar: Sitar [EMI EASD 1502] an LP released in India in 1972

Here is a very nice collection of compositions by the great Ravi Shankar. Some people in the world of Indian Classical Music resent the continued popularity of Raviji. Even almost fours years after his death, his name can summon up tremendous amounts of energy and power. Oh, I could tell tales of how the merest mention of Raviji's name or the name of his Foundation has opened dozens of doors to concert promotors for particular musicians on tour in the U.S. Those tales will have to wait, especially because I am trying to stay incognito with this blog.

Needless to say, those not blessed with monikers such as "senior disciple of Ravi Shankar" or just "student of Raviji" can sometimes hold some inexplicable envy in their minds. I have sadly heard this envy in personal conversations. Also, brilliantly gifted musicians such as the great sitarist Vilayat Khan never (to my knowledge) publicly admitted to being impressed by Raviji's technical skills. However, there is more than just technical skills which can melt a heart or make a friend. There is a depth of emotion and richness of compositions in Raviji's playing which is evident to both newcomers and professionals alike. It is is this depth and richness which will allow him to continue to hold a spell on the world of Indian Classical Music for the remainder of my lifetime.

Here we have a release from EMI dating from 1972 featuring three new Ragas created by Ravi Shankar (admittedly by slightly altering existing Ragas). To me, it is interesting to note the difference in production values between this release and the jugalbandi double LP with Ali Akbar Khan which was released the same year on Apple Records. My inside source say a reissue of that famous double LP [with bonus additional music] is in the works. Otherwise I would definitely transfer that fine production!

Tabla is by the great and much-missed Alla Rakha.

side 1: 
Raga Kameshwari: Alaap - Jod - Gats in Japhtaal.

side 2: 
Raga Gangeshwari: Gat in Rupak Taal
Raga Rangeshwari: Gat in vilambit and drut Teentaal

I would like to note that you can hear a 60 second mp3 sample of what this LP sounded like as a raw transfer here and also an mp3 sample of the finished audio file here. This was certainly the worst sounding raw transfer I have worked with -- ironically with a perfect-looking LP which I believe was purchased as a "new" LP on a well known online LP site. I broke many of my rules of "pure-hearted audiophile transferring" but otherwise I would not have been able to present the transfer. Originally I simply gave up and handed the LP back to my good friend and fellow ICM student Nels. A few weeks later I changed my mind and gave it a try.

My discovery of the rather amazing program entitled ClickRepair, which allows one to listen live to what sound is being eliminated from the recording, has greatly changed my opinion of such programs. It is, as far as I know, the only program which allows one to perform this neat trick of auditing the material being removed and adjusting accordingly. It is available as a free, fully-functioning trial version with a 30-day trial period. I hope I don't sound like a commercial advertisement for the program, but I believe it has the chance to improve the way vinyl is transferred, with more music kept and more noise eliminated in the audio file.

(this is a high resolution audio file suitable for listening on computer or certain portable devices)

(this is a standard-resolution file suitable for burning a CDR)

(this is the highest-quality setting available when compressing audio to this popular portable format)

August 18, 2016

Ali Akbar Khan: Live in Eugene, Oregon. October 1983. [AMMP CS86-8] a cassette released in the United States in 1987

Here we have another in the series of cassettes which AMMP Music Productions (i.e., the AACM) released in the mid 1980s documenting the Ustad's collection of concert recordings. The story I have heard, not independently verified by any of the principals, is that Mary Johnson Khan began discovering boxes of reels of recordings of live concerts by her husband placed in odd locations in their home. Places like under a couch or in closets. She apparently decided to start to archive these recordings with the goal of eventually making them available to the public.

The first step of this was the two similarly-titled series of cassettes released in the 1980s under both the AACM and the AMMP banner.

On the first side of the cassette we have a jovial Ali Akbar Khan explaining what he'll play that evening. I will leave it up to you to hear his charming talk. Then an alap followed by gats in a closely related raga. The sound quality of the original tape seems quite good. Commercially produced cassettes can have the quality of their higher frequencies suffer a bit from the high-speed dubbing which predominiantes their manufacture. I have given the higher frequencies in these two sides a very slight boost (about 2 decibels between 9kHz and 13kHz or so). Nothing too noticeable.

My cassette set up will be detailed in a future post. I just wanted to remind listeners who are archiving their cassettes to read up on "azimuth adjustment" before they transfer the tape. This can make a huge audible difference that you can hear immediately as you change the azimuth.

Tabla is by the great Swapan Chaudhuri

side 1: Raga Hem Behag: alap and jod
side 2: Raga Bihag: gats in teentaal

(high resolution file ideal for listening on computer or certain portable players)

(standard resolution file ideal for burning a CDR)

(highest possible quality compressed file ideal for listening on a portable player)

August 14, 2016

Ali Akbar Khan: Live from Delhi, December 1981 [AMMP CS86-7] released on cassette in 1986 in the US

My final cassette post this weekend is one of a series of cassette tapes which were issued in the 1980s by Alam Madina Music Productions -- basically an in-house label of the Ali Akbar College of Music. This series was entitled "Live Concert Series," the tapes of which were chosen by the Maestro himself from his personal collection. I own five volumes of this series, although with one volume there are two cassettes and my retail source at the time only had one of them. There is a different series of live cassettes produced by the AACM ("Ali Akbar Khan: Live in Concert") which may have only been available to students or in person at the school. I have one volume (vol  XII -- but only in someone else's mp3 transfer), which is available on the internet if one looks hard enough.

In case you are wondering, "Alam" is the name of Ali Akbar Kahn's youngest son, a gifted and underrated sarod player who has only a few CDs to his name. Alam seems reluctant to go on long tours which would help his reputation, but does make short trips to play a single date or two. Alam is quite friendly and humble in person, with a relatively wide range of interests. He concentrates very hard on his instrument while playing in public, to the point where he makes little or no eye contact with the audience. That is fine with me, but I think it is atypical among ICM performers. I own five live recordings of Alam, recorded either by me or a relative of mine, all of which suffer from various setbacks -- so I don't think they will be shared here.

"Madina" is Alam's sister. The family-centered nature of the label is further shown by the names of Ashish Khan (AAK's oldest son) and Mary Johnson Kahn (Alam and Madina's mother) on the outer part of the J-card.

My understanding, from casual conversations with people who might have gotten certain details incorrect, that by January 1981 the great Swapan Choudhury had moved from Calcutta and was living in San Rafael and teaching at AACM. It's not clear why Swapan ji did not accompany Khansahib on this tour; I imagine it was because he had just moved to the US and wanted to devote his time to building the tabla program at AACM. Possibly there were personal issues which made performing in India at the time difficult.

The two pieces on this cassette almost sound like two different concerts (which could be the case). An alternative explanation for the differences in aural character between the two is that adjustments at the mixing desk were made during the show, which can often occur.

The first piece is an alap and jod section of Raga Miyan ki Malhar. This has a slightly dull upper end and some minimal distortion at the dynamic peaks. I would have though it was an issue with azimuth adjustment, but the fact is that the second piece sounds more full and with a crisp upper end in comparison. Because of the way cassettes are made, a cut had to be made in the longer piece so that the sides were about equal in timing. The first section of Raga Desh Malhar is on the same side of the tape as the entire alap and jod of Raga Miyan Ki Malhar, but sounds exactly like the rest of the raga on the other side of the tape. So it was not a case of one side of the tape being played with incorrect azimuth. I stitched together the longer piece in a way that is noticeable but not jarring.

Overall, it is an extremely enjoyable live performance from Ali Akbar Khan and tabla maestro Shankar Ghosh, who unfortunately died in late January of this year.

Ali Akbar Khan: Sarod
Shankar Ghosh: Tabla

Side 1: Raga Miyan Ki Malhar: alap and jod
Side 2: Raga Desh Malhar: gats in vilambit (slow) teentaal and medium jhaptal.

(higher resolution audio file, 
suitable for computer and some portable devices)

(standard CD-quality resolution, 
suitable for burning to CD)

(highest possible quality setting of a compressed file, 
suitable for listening to on portable player)

August 13, 2016

TR Mahalingam: All India Radio [HMV HTC 8129] Radio session recorded for broadcast in 1960 and released as a cassette in 1993

And once again during this "Weekend Celebration of Cassette-based Musical Culture," a cassette from TR "Mali" Mahalingam.

I refer you to two previous posts from this pioneering Carnatic flautist for any biographical information you might be interested in.

This cassette was released as part of a short-lived program initiated by AIR to issue some of its recordings of more well-known musicians in its archives. They have appeared from time to time on EMI/HMV/Saregama/RPG/Whatever, Akashvani Archive, and T-series. These particular sessions were recorded in 1960 and I must say they sound a good ten years older than that. There is an interesting and unwanted low-frequency noise that is intermittently apparent. I can't account for its origins. Is it from tape print-through? Ambient noise in the studio? Deteriorating tape in a warm environment? It can sometimes sound like radio static or LP rumbles. Any ideas from readers are welcomed.

This time we have an excellent listing of krithi, their base ragas, and their talas (not all Adi Taal, interestingly).

These last two Mali cassettes are not exactly audiophile sensations of the highest order. No one subscribing to Stereophile Magazine is going to rank them up there with recordings of steam engine trains and other "audiophile delights," but their musical content is worth sitting through a little bit of tape hiss, mild peak distortion, and occasional strange noises. There are several commercially-released carnatic albums I own with worse sound quality than is on display here.

If sound quality is important to you (and, really, why shouldn't it be one of several aspects of a recording that is relevant?) one superb in-print collection from a Japanese label is still quite easily available. The vinyl edition is starting to get scarce, but the CD edition continues (for now) to be widely distributed. It is also on several streaming apps such as Tidal and Spotify. The collection is a model of how well a reissue of EMI recordings could sound if proper (i.e., Japanese-level) care is taken in finding original masters and properly transferring and tastefully remastering them.

Regardless, on to this quite enjoyable cassette.

(high resolution audio file suitable for playing on computer)

(suitable for burning a CDR)

(suitable for listening to on portable devices)

TR Mahalingam: Carnatic Flute [HMV HTCS 8078] recorded in 1969 and released as a cassette in 1992 in India

We have met TR Mahalingam (nicknamed "Mali") once before in this blog, with one of two live releases on the Stil label out of France.

There are many stories of Mali's difficulties performing live, with concerts cancelled at the last moment, audiences waiting for hours after the official start time until Mali was prepared to perform, etc. They are on the internet for those wishing to pursue that line of history.

My line of musical history focuses on the music -- it goes from Mali's first 78s up until the last recordings.

This was recorded in 1969. I am fairly sure there was an LP release at one point, but I have not seen it nor have I been able to find any traces of it on the internet. I am learning, however, that it is not as easy to discover discographic information on EMI India releases as it is to locate such information on popular music released almost anywhere in the world. This particular release could be a mixture of sessions as well -- HMV started doing this in the 1980s and its corporate successors continue the practice with increasing abandon.

Ideally there would have been credits listing the other musicians. Unfortunately this is not the case.

One characteristic of Mali's playing which is seldom seen in more recent Carnatic performances is his love of silences and his occasional playing of a single note held for up to 30 seconds at a time.

For those who are interested enough to click on the word "Sangeethapriya" and join the group, there are a reported 60 concert recordings by Mali on that website. One nice advantage of the group is that they have an easy to use app for streaming. One very sad aspect is the low bit rate mp3 files which are on offer. Still, you can hear historical concerts as well as what was played on AIR Chennai last week. More audio recordings are beginning to crop up on YouTube as well.

I combined both sides of the cassette into one long track. This goes against accepted practice of most music blogs I follow. Most of the time I will split up the files for LPs on a per-side basis, unless there is a live recording of single piece stretched out over two sides because of technical limitations of mastering vinyl (see my recent post of an Ashish Khan LP). That will usually be my approach for cassettes. For those wishing to split the tracks, I have found the program "Fission" to be the easiest way to accomplish this. Unlike other programs, the only purpose of Fission is to split audio tracks. It does so without introducing a type of audio artifact called Sector Boundary Errors (SBE).


1. Maryada Gadura (based on Raga Sankarabharanam) [Thyagaraja] (10:06)
2. Folk Melody (based on Raga Chenchurutti) (9:46)
3. Meevalla Gunadosha (based on Raga Kapi) [Thyagaraja] (20:35)

Note: I see that the links to my original Mahalingam post have expired. I am interested in doing a new transfer and providing more permanent links -- watch out for this in the coming weeks. There is a companion double-LP live set on Stil Records (not listed on by the way) of a different concert which I might try to transfer at the same time.

Here is part one of a video recording of Mali's last concert, given on December 31, 1985...

...and here is part 2.

(high resolution audio file playable on computers and some portable players)

(standard resolution audio file suitable for burning a CDR)

(highest possible quality compressed audio file, suitable for portable players)

August 11, 2016

Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain: Raga Misra Pahadi [AKSA 14] (LP issued in the US in 1982) (repost with improved transfer)

This is a repost of this interesting album, with a new vinyl transfer and new, more permanent links.

Shivkumar Sharma was born in Jammu, Kashmir on January 13, 1938. He apparently was the first santoor virtuoso to perform Hindustani classical music. He gave his first public performance in 1955

Zakir Hussain needs no introduction here. In a later posting I will have some pertinent thoughts about reasons underlying why he has become such a celebrity on his instrument. The standard reasons ("His father was Alla Rakha and he was able to go on tours with him," and so forth and, "He played with Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart") seem a bit strained and unconvincing to me.

This LP was recorded at a house concert in Chicago in April, 1982.

The vinyl is in near mint condition and little was needed in post production in terms of click removal or equalization. The delightfully full and warm recorded sound on this release was a surprise to me and I hope someday the rest of the concert will be unearthed and released. For now this remains a relatively obscure gem.


(after decoding will be a lossless copy of the recording,
suitable for burning to CD)

(highest possible quality compressed file
suitable for playing on portable devices)

August 5, 2016

N Ravikiran: Vara Raga Laya [ECSD 40543] (LP released in India in 1985)

Here is an early release by Chitravina N. Ravikiran (born February 12, 1967), one of the best known veena performers of his generation. He plays the 20-string nava-chitravia and utilizes a slide (he says it is basically a length of PVC pipe) while doing so. 

Possibly because he appears to have some personal or professional connections to my area, I've had an opportunity to watch him perform in person three times, and have gotten used to hearing veena players being introduced as "a student of Ravikiran."

His early life is somewhat intriguing, with its reports of possessing phenomenal amounts of knowledge about carnatic music at the age of 2 years old. 

If you take the time to read the wikipedia article, it seems like Raviji is a bit smitten with breaking records, such as longest veena concert, or in breaking milestones in speed composing. I'm not really sure what to make of that. I would say that when I have seen him perform he has put a tremendous amount of effort into the performance. He also has spent a lot of time in educating, with frequent lecture demonstrations and writing several books about carnatic music, one of which i have read and found easy to understand and quite useful.

Here is video of an almost 3 hour concert given in the fall of 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

(after extracting, will be suitable for burning CDR)

(highest possible quality compressed audio file meant for portable players 
such as the iPod or a smart phone

August 2, 2016

Jyotish Choudhury and Damodar Lal Kabra: Ragas - Sunrise and Sunset [United Artists UNS 15550] LP originally released in the US in 1968

This LP is one of many which were recorded by the venerable field recordist Deben Bhattacharya and is apparently either a reissue of a Dutch Philips LP or was licensed from Philips. The sound and documentation is much more in the style of a field recording than a typical Hindustani music LP.

The LP front cover announces that we will be listening to "India's finest exponents of the sitar and sarod." It can sometimes seem a bit like Garrison Keillor's fictitious little town Lake Wobegone, Minnesota, where all the children are above average. 

All I know about Damodar Lal Kabra is that he played sarod, was the elder brother of guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra, and was one of sitarist and music festival promoter Manju Mehta's teachers. He apparently also was the first student of Ali Akbar Khan and therefore was a member of the Maihar Gharana. It's a shame that the notes to this LP contain no biographical information and that the internet has so little information about this musician. 

A comment on the transfer of this same album on another, much better blog mentions that he released several LPs and cassettes, but I can find no evidence of this.

Jyotish Choudhury was a sitar player from Benares. As far as I can tell, this is his only recording. 

side 1:

Raga Natabhairava (sarod and tabla)

side 2:

Raga Yaman Kalyan (surbahar)
Raga Bhimpalashri (surashringar)

It is somewhat difficult to make out, but if you look carefully at the top right hand corner of this copy's front cover, you will see that it is stamped as a promotional copy, likely either handed out to a radio station or given out to a magazine or newspaper for review. I discovered Indian classical music through promotional copies of Nimbus CDs sent to the newspaper i worked at as a music writer from 1988-93, but that is for another post. Relevant to this transfer is the widely held belief among so-called audiophiles that promotional copies are generally better sounding than regular copies, because of the theory that they were pressed earlier in the manufacturing run, and therefore while the metal stampers were still in good shape. Maybe that is true. What also might be true is that UA was and is infamous for using grades of vinyl several steps below the best, and for taking short cuts in certain aspects of disk manufacturing. Overall, however, this was a EX- condition record and there were no overwhelming obstacles placed in my way when transferring.

Here is an audio recording of Damodar Lal Kabra and Brij Bhutan Kabra performing Raga Yaman Kalyan (part one)...

...and here is part two.

Here is half an LP of music by Damodar Lal Kabra, also recorded by Deben Bhattacharya.

Equipment used in transfer: 
Preparation: Ultrasonic cleaning for 20 minutes in plain water, followed by a quick vacuum drying with a VPI 16.5 cleaning machine
Turntable:  Audio-technica AT-LP-1240
Cartridge: Shure M97x
Pre-amplification: Vintage refurbished Pioneer SX-780.
Recorder: Sony PCM-M10 at 24bit/44.1kHz resolution

The high resolution file was normalized and slight EQ was applied (to eliminate most of the subsonic rumble from the vinyl) in Audacity. The java-based "ClickRepair" app was utilized to eliminate clicks and static sounds. Real-time auditing of the repair process is possible with this app (in other words one can listen to just the noise being removed while the file is playing) and this was undertaken to ensure that no musical information was lost. Conversion to the lossless compression file type FLAC as well as lossy mp3 took place in xAct.

(high resolution file suitable for listening on computer and some portable players)

(standard resolution file suitable for burning a CDR)

(highest possible quality compressed file for listening on portable devices)