[Reader-list] Sarai Independent Fellowship Presentation Overview

rajesh mehar rajeshmehar at yahoo.com
Sun Aug 6 09:59:34 IST 2006

It's been a wonderful yer somewhat fleeting 8 months
through this Independent Fellowship. I've had some of
the most interesting interviews and conversations of
my musical career, and there have been quite a few
fascinating discoveries along the way.

Here's a brief overview of what I plan to present at
the August-end sessions at Sarai in Delhi. (Apologies
for the lack of formatting in this plain text email.
To view the complete, formatted version, you can go
over to

Warm regards,


Presentation Overview: Understanding Notions of
Creative Ownership Among Contemporary Musicians in

By Rajesh Mehar

Review of Proposal

The proposal for this project outlined a few key
questions to be explored among which, the following
two questions have resulted in the most interesting

(A)	In India, music education is still largely
unregulated, ranging from the individual instructor to
semi-formal institutions that impart arbitrarily
designed 'curriculum-based' training. Certification
(open only to classical musicians) is restricted to
examinations conducted by the various state education
boards. Indian English musicians operate under even
less organised scenarios with no formal education and
no opportunity for certification.

•	How is music education imparted in India? How does
this affect an Indian musician's sense of
assimilating, interpreting and creating music ?

•	What are the implications of using oral traditions
rather than written/textual traditions of imparting
and assimilating musical education?

•	How does the culture of learning by imitation and
copying inform the sense of ownership of creative
material of musicians in India?

(C)	Relatively new concepts of ownership that inform
the contemporary musician in India (through the media)
are largely borrowed from the West, and gaining in
prominence and aggressiveness as the entertainment
industry renews its crusade against piracy. However,
musicians in India are also affected by other
traditions unique to their context.

•	Does the musician in India approach ownership as
merely possession of (and hence exclusion of others
from) a creative work? Can the understanding of
ownership be explained differently, by a relational
proximity of the musician to the musical work?

•	How do Indian musicians relate to their work of art
in terms of ownership?

•	Do musicians in India approach their work from a
purely possessive perspective? If not, what are the
implications of ownership and the exclusion that this
brings with it on this understanding?

One of the planned work-products in the proposal also
took on a life of its own and made it necessary to
devote a much larger chunk of time and effort than
initially planned:

(1) Oral histories – Histories of Indian classical
music are already available readily. From personal
interviews and online resources, I plan to generate
oral histories of English music in India, documenting
the important musical groups/bands/artists that have
shaped and popularised Indian English music, and the
centres in each metro/small town where English music
was available in the grey/black market; access to new
content is a big part of who creates new material and
how this material spreads.

Overview of Main Findings and Presentation Plan

The Musician’s Learning Process

Almost none of the musicians interviewed cited musical
instruction as the main catalyst in their learning
process. The common theme running through what most of
the musicians identified as the most critical part of
their learning curve is an Ekalavyan tradition of
learning by observation and imitation. This
observation spans across the visual and aural realms,
involving ‘watching’ more experienced players perform
and ‘assimilating’ the work of popular musicians of
the West. The process can be likened to reverse
engineering, with the accurate imitation of the
results facilitating an intimate understanding of the
act of composition itself. It then follows that the
music one listens to for the purpose of “
the music
 will obviously reflect in your playing.”

In contrast, there have been landmark cases in the
West involving the construction of the idea that an
act of composition has to be sufficiently dissimilar
to all other acts of composition (even of the musician
in question) to be considered unique. These cases have
also brought into focus the idea that music that a
musician listens to repeatedly makes its way
(consciously or unconsciously) into music that is then
created by that musician.

I will play sound recordings of the interviews of
musicians, which relate to this aspect of the learning
process, and juxtapose them with excerpts from
documents relating to the cases mentioned.

The Early Creative Process

An interesting pattern across different musicians’
interviews emerges with them recalling their first act
of composition as being an act of imitation. As Bruce
Lee Mani, lead guitarist and vocalist for
Bangalore-based band Thermal And A Quarter, describes
his first composition, “
 for me it was interesting
enough, when I was listening to this music, to try and
create something, y’know, similar to it.” However,
there is a clear distinction made with such
‘premature’ imitation and eventual ‘mature’
composition, which relies on ‘growing up’ out of the
mimic phase.

I will play sound recordings of sections of interviews
pertinent to this theme and examine them in the
context of existing theories on the mimetic faculty.

Authorship and the Process of Creation

Most of the musicians interviewed had spent a
considerable part of their musical careers performing
in groups or ensembles. One of the points of focus was
an attempt to understand how the creative process and
the authorship of the material composed differed
between a solo compositional effort and composition
within a band/ensemble structure. Different answers
emerged to questions of how much ownership could one
member claim over a song that was composed together
and how attribution could work in such a setting.

I will play sound recordings of relevant sections of
interviews and contrast them with excerpts from Anne
Baron’s essay titled Copyright Concepts and Musical
Practice: Harmony or Dissonance?

The Source of Creation

When speaking about the creative process, some of the
musicians clearly identified an early phase of
imitative composition and distinguished this with
‘mature’ composition that was not clearly identifiable
as inspired by the music they consumed. This
evaluation of two kinds of creativity, externally
inspired and internal, and the positing of one as
better than the other presents an interesting
dichotomy. While musicians used words such as
“influences”, “assimilating”, “internalizing”, and
“absorbing” when it came to listening to their
favourite music, they also used words such as “find
your own voice”, “not just a copy”, “create from
within”, and “unique” when referring to composition. 

Sound recordings of relevant sections of interviews
will be played and examined in the context of the
emergence of the narrative of creativity as emerging
from within rather than without.

Two Different Worlds

When the musicians interviewed spoke about the
creative process, they frequently explained the act
and the incentives behind it in social and cultural
terms. Aspects ‘nurturing’ of a public knowledge,
channeling some energy that was around them, and
‘expressing’ themselves took on great importance.
Simultaneously, there was a distinct property context
in discussing the finished product of the creative
process, along with the attendant connotations of
exclusion that this context brings with it. This
contrast between the societal and cultural aspects of
creation and the proprietary aspects of the commerce
of music provides an interesting point of discussion.

I will play sound recordings of relevant sections of
interviews to bring out this contrast.


If there was one thing that was unanimously agreed
upon, it was the ‘evilness’ of record companies and
their control of the creative output of musicians.
There was a simultaneous expression of the desire of
the creator to connect with the consumer without the
involvement of ‘middlemen’.

I will play sound recordings of relevant sections of
interviews and examine the alternative forms of
production and distribution emerging around the world.

The HiStories of Rock

In this section, I will lay out a few interesting
highlights of the stories of rock music in India:

•	The experiences of the first beat music (the
preferred term of the time for the music we call
retro-rock now) band in India to release a record back
in 1969.

•	India’s first female lead-guitarist, Farida Vakil, a
guitar-toting diva of her times.
•	India’s pioneering Raga Rock band, The Human
Bondage, playing raga-influenced rock music back in
the 70s.

•	The Junior Statesman, the only chronicler of the
history of rock music in India?

•	The Indus Creed story.

•	Indian rock music’s latest hopes: Pentagram, Thermal
And A Quarter, and Indian Ocean.


Gonna make a lot o'money, gonna quit this crazy scene.

Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam?  Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around 

More information about the reader-list mailing list