When Mahesh Venkateswaran decided to hang up his boots he was hoping to have enough and more time to enjoy his passion – music.
What he found, however, was that enjoying his favourite music was not that easy. “I had a lot of time to attend concerts and I realised that the sound quality and ambience, barring a few big auditoriums, were always found wanting.
I thought if I could change these two parameters the overall experience to the audience would be different,” he says. With cutting edge technology, these concerts can be better enjoyed through sophisticated virtual reality gadgets and emerging binaural and ambisonic audio technologies under a 360-degree camera set up.
Mahesh then launched Madrasana, a young start-up that brings artistes, art form and the audience together in an intimate setting. “It is just for the love of music,” says Mahesh.
Adding one more sabha unless it can give something unique did not make sense and Mahesh was looking for a `different experience’. To start with, he organised garden concerts in the backyard of his house. Set under natural surroundings with parakeets joining the audience, the ambience was different and the audience had a better connect with the art form.
Mahesh removed the monitor speakers that allow artistes to hear their own voices. “Amplification will be only for the audience and there would be nothing for the artistes. They have to sing as though they sing in their homes.”
It was challenging to start with. For the first 10 minutes, there is an auto volume correction. Once the correction happens, the audience feels the magic.
“Actually, it was like going back to the good old days when kutcheris used to happen in parks without amplification. That is the kind of feel both the audience and the artiste would get. We started as an experiment. But slowly it became popular and people started coming,” he says.
Soon a bigger stage was required and Mahesh started hunting for places where kutcheris typically don’t happen. “We picked a venue that is generally occupied by the younger generation and Alliance Francaise was a good option.
We did thematic concerts also and there were a lot of first timers,” he beams. It was different from the usual concert format. This was an invited audience. “We have a registration process so that we know who our audience is. And we do an analysis of audience profile,” he says.
The next stop was a YouTube channel. “I decided to release one video every week with one artiste. Only the artiste, the voice or the instrument with no accompaniment except the Tambura. The focus is more on the art form than anything that comes with it. So far we have covered more than 60 artistes,” he says.
Mahesh tasted tremendous success as one of his videos on konnakol (the art of verbally expressing percussion music) attracted audience worldwide with more than a million views. “Japan Broadcasting Corporation and Austrian Radio wanted to feature our music,” he says.
Having arrived on the big stage, Mahesh wanted to make his mark in the December music season too. “There are more than 2,000 concerts during the season and we don’t want to add another. We thought to present it in a location where others have not gone. We approached Sathyam theatres and they immediately agreed,” he says.
The concert is scheduled between December 23 and 27 in a small theatre that can accommodate 200 to 300 people. The kutcheris start by 9 am and end by 12 pm. Madrasana has tied up with Datri, a charity organisation working in the field of cancer and those wanting to attend the concert can give their donations starting from Rs 500 to the organisation and collect free entry passes, says Mahesh.
Five shows will be organised this year with Vignesh Ishwar, Cherthala KN Ranganatha Sharma, Jayanthi Kumaresh, Bombay Jayashri and Abhishek Raghuram set to perform. Three of the five shows are already full.
Now, Mahesh is also developing Carnatic music for workouts. “Last year, after the festival one person came to us and wanted to develop Carnatic music for workouts in gyms. A lot of artistes liked the idea,” he says.
He gave them the playlist of things they should attempt in a certain format. The duration of the concert would be two hours and 15 minutes divided into three sets of 45 minutes each. Each set will have slow, medium and fast paced songs. The intent is at some point the listeners will have the liberty to mix and match and create his or her own play list.
Then Mahesh decided to remove speakers for the audience too. So he created an environment where the artiste would be sitting at the centre and the audience would be around the artiste.
Each of the audience would be given a headphone. In each of the 45-minute segment we provided them with different types of audio. He mix-matched songs based on audience response. “Sound is spatial in nature. You can spot the sound and the distance from where the instrument is placed,” he says.
Next on his list is streaming live concerts and creating virtual galleries where all the possible boundaries are shattered. With VR glasses on and joining the gallery you will become the part of the world audience.
With a microphone and internet connection you can literally interact with the person next to you in virtual gallery. If you don’t like the person you can change seats also.
Interested music aficionados have to register through www.madrasana.com
News Research Department