Kolmogorov Complexity of Tabla Performances

I attended Pandit Divyang Vakil’s Tabla performance yesterday. It was a part of Spring Fest 2009. The show was unique in the sense that there were actually four tablas kept on the stage, which were to be played by four different people. I had not seen this happening before. Generally there is either just one person doing a solo or there are two doing a jugalbandi. But four looked exciting. Four different people playing simultaneously is equivalent to one super-human with eight hands playing alone, and this super-human seemed to have a lot of potential. However, when the show started, it wasn’t very clear whether they were really achieving anything by having four different people. Or in other words, would it be possible for less than four people to produce the same effect as them? This kept me occupied for the rest of the show.

The whole performance could be divided into two different modes – one, in which one of them was playing something alone and two, in which more than one people were playing but they were playing the exact same thing, that is, hitting the instrument at the exact same moments at the exact same points. Now the times they were in mode one, could be easily replaced by just one player. I was a little doubtful about mode two. Isn’t four people playing the same thing simultaneously, the same as one person playing it four times louder?

Although it seemed to be true, it did not sound true. I mean, it was very easy to close your eyes and figure out the number of people who were playing simultaneously just from the sound. However, I later realized that it was happening just because of the fact that the sounds coming from two different tablas cannot be the same even though the two players are trying to play the same thing. There has to be some difference, in the exact times at which they are hit, and even in the sound quality. And this difference between the two sounds is what makes four players playing simultaneously different from one player playing alone.

But anyway, that’s not a very big problem. We can still replace such a group of four by just one person if we have some elecronic circuitry at our disposal. All we have to do is receive the sound produced by this one person at one end and then make four copies of it and add some small and random differences in the copies. The result, I think, should sound exactly the same to the audience as yesterday’s show.

So in effect, it seems that three of the tabla players were pretty redundant. A better thing to do for them would be to have the four people playing different things on their respective tablas. That would be something that just cannot be achieved by one player. For example, one single player can never play, let’s say, a Tin and a Na at the exact same moment, even if he makes use of extremely complicated electronic circuitry, because (most probably) both the sounds require the same fingers. But, two different people can do this.

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9 thoughts on “Kolmogorov Complexity of Tabla Performances

  1. Hmm, any experimental data on this from any source? Maybe you’re right, but I’m sure 3 humans playing it would be more richer than 3 copies with slight variations. Probably that is the beauty of orchestras. We should find out from someone who is actually acquainted with such performances.

  2. vinayakpathak says:

    “but I’m sure 3 humans playing it would be more richer than 3 copies with slight variations”

    I am not this sure. Although I do not have any experimental data as of now, I can think of simple experiments to test this. Let’s discuss this after the formal systems class tomorrow.

    In any case, what’s definitely certain is that four tablas is different from one loud tabla. It’s very easy to figure that out without looking at them. Also, my mom called while I was in there and I asked her to guess the number of tablas that were being played and she said four.

  3. Arindam says:

    Is this all you could “think up of” ?

    But then, an important part of any orchestra is harmony, and harmony cannot be acquired by the singular. Be it 4 tablas or 50 violin, the subtle variations(i.e. slight random pertubations in what would otherwise be a one-to-many recording) is what makes it a distinguishing factor.

  4. vinayakpathak says:

    “the subtle variations(i.e. slight random pertubations in what would otherwise be a one-to-many recording) is what makes it a distinguishing factor”

    That’s why I said… one tabla player + some electronic circuitry that produces 4 copies that differ very slightly in the exact times when each note is played = four tabla players playing the same thing on their respective tablas.

  5. Anvesh says:

    I agree with the idea that four players playing differently to produce sound effects which is not possible for a single player to do is better than mode 2. In fact, if I get it correctly, mode 2 is pretty simple. Assuming they are enough experienced, all they have to do individually is to play a specific sequence of taps. And enough music experience is sufficient to do that simultaneously. (Just think of four singers singing the same song – is it difficult?)

  6. “one tabla player + some electronic circuitry that produces 4 copies that differ very slightly in the exact times when each note is played = four tabla players playing the same thing on their respective tablas.”

    Its possible and is already implemented digitally. Google for ‘chorus producer’ or visit http://www.sharewareconnection.com/chorus-producer.htm . Not only you can generate chorus from single voice but you can also change the gender of the voices in final result.

    And yeah there is a difference between a loud tabla and 4 tablas. Actually you hear to a band of frequencies (around individual frequency components of the sound) and slight delayed and overlapped version of the original sound, which when composed carefully is pleasant to our ears.

    “They could have done a lot more with four different people.” – correct, but this was also one of the things they could do which had (probably, I did not attend the event) different and pleasant effect.

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