Music Department develop app that aims to understand relationship between music and visual art

By Tommy Pallett

Durham University Music Department, in collaboration with Komodo Digital, has developed a free application for iPads which brings together live performances of classical Indian music with a wealth of information about the music.

The development of the app is part of a wider project within the Department being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) entitled ‘Khyal: Music and Imagination’. The project brings together musicologists which aim to gain a greater understanding of the North Indian raga music, together with artists trying to understand the relationship between the music and visual art.

The app itself provides two live recordings of ragas in full, recorded in a multitrack fashion. The app then enables users to set the levels of each performer individually in an effort to exhibit the importance of every component of the music. In addition, information is provided to the right of the screen about that particular performance, the raga and its different sections and components, the sounds and instruments, and finally about the music style itself – Khyal.

Another unique function of the app is that for each video, the Department has put together a series of ‘Highlighted Clips’ which take the listener to particular moments within the video which define features of the raga. Going to a highlighted clip also summons the relevant educational description from the information bank on the right-hand side.

The team at Komodo Digital, according to the relevant information page on their website, “compressed, pre-bundled and embedded [the two videos] within the app itself […] to keep the size of the app at a reasonable level and remove […] the need to download extra assets from a server, which could slow down performance.”

Moreover, containing the concept – videos, features, and information – to a singular app without add-ons is crucial to reaching a wide audience, and will hopefully boost the number of downloaders who then go on to use the app for its complete purpose.

The app isn’t just a fun addition to the project, or some sort of technological proof-of-concept. Komodo Digital have embedded Google Analytics Tracking into the app, so that the research team can follow the app’s uses and effectiveness, and take metrics on the most popular audio channels for example. Being available on Apple’s App Store also enables the team to read and monitor reviews, providing insight into popularity and ways to improve the functionality of the app.

The team’s research webpage states that it is believed that “the app […] is the first of its kind for this genre of music”. This is hardly surprising considering the origins of Apple being in the United States and how little World Music is publicised within Western musical culture. Classical Indian music is unlike any music form created in the West – now or in the past – but this is reason even more to create apps such as this. So go and download it, and introduce your ears and mind to something completely new. In this case, you’ll even learn something on the way.

To download the app, search ‘khyal: music & imagination’ in the App Store.

To learn more about the ‘Khyal: Music and Imagination’ project including the app download the project brochure from:

Photograph: Tommy Pallett

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