At the heart of Indian rhythms and their evolution

An inter­view with James Kippen
Version française

by Antoine Bourgeau

James Kippen is one of the key fig­ures in the study of Hindustani music. His encounter in 1981 with Afaq Hussain, at the time the doyen of one of the great tablā-play­ing lin­eages, was the start­ing point for major research into both the instru­ment and Indian rhythm. From 1990 to 2019 he was the head of eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy at the Faculty of Music in the University of Toronto in Canada. Trained under John Blacking and John Baily, he also acquired over the course of his research a mas­tery of sev­er­al Indo-Persian lan­guages. This abil­i­ty has allowed him to analyse first-hand numer­ous sources (trea­tis­es on music, musi­cians’ own writ­ings, genealo­gies, icono­graph­ic mate­ri­als…) and to under­stand the chang­ing socio­cul­tur­al con­texts in which they were pro­duced (the Indo-Persian courts, the colo­nial British Empire, the rise of Indian Nationalism, and the post-colonial state). His work (see the select list of pub­li­ca­tions at the end of this inter­view) stands out as a major con­tri­bu­tion to the under­stand­ing of the the­o­ry and prac­tice of rhythm and metre in India.

I began cor­re­spond­ing with James Kippen dur­ing my own research on tablā at the end of the 1990s. Always quick to share his knowl­edge and his expe­ri­ence with enthu­si­asm, he gave me a lot of advice and encour­age­ment, and it was a great hon­our to count him among the mem­bers of my the­sis jury dur­ing my defence in 2004. It was with that same will­ing­ness to share that he respond­ed favourably to my pro­pos­al to inter­view him. Carried out remote­ly between July and December 2020, this exchange cov­ers near­ly 40 years of eth­no­mu­si­co­log­i­cal research.

➡ Source = doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.12650.03522
➡ Version française = doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.26071.80804

The path to India and to the tablā

– How did you become inter­est­ed in the musics of India, and in the tablā in particular?

As a child grow­ing up in London, I was fas­ci­nat­ed by the dif­fer­ent lan­guages and cul­tures that were increas­ing­ly being intro­duced by immi­grants to Britain. I was par­tic­u­lar­ly enchant­ed by the lit­tle Indian cor­ner shops brim­ming with exot­ic goods and the Indian restau­rants that emit­ted allur­ing, spicy aro­mas. My father reg­u­lar­ly regaled me with sto­ries of his adven­tures from the sev­en years he spent in India as a young sol­dier, and I devel­oped an entire­ly favourable though admit­ted­ly Orientalist impres­sion of the sub­con­ti­nent. During my music degree at the University of York (1975-78), I was intro­duced by my friend and fel­low stu­dent Francis Silkstone to the sitār. I also had the good for­tune to take an inten­sive course in Hindustani music with lec­tur­er Neil Sorrell, who had stud­ied sāraṅgī with the great Ram Narayan. The avail­able lit­er­a­ture at that time was rel­a­tive­ly sparse, but two texts in par­tic­u­lar were high­ly influ­en­tial: Rebecca Stewart’s Tablā in Perspective (UCLA, 1974), which nur­tured in me a musi­co­log­i­cal inter­est in the vari­eties and com­plex­i­ties of rhythm and drum­ming, and Daniel Neuman’s The Cultural Structure and Social Organization of Musicians in India: the Perspective from Delhi (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1974), which offered social-anthropological insights into both the worlds and the world­views of tra­di­tion­al, hered­i­tary musicians.

Thus, I began learn­ing tablā from Robert Gottlieb’s LP record­ings and book­lets called 42 Lessons for Tabla, and after a few months I had learnt enough basic mate­r­i­al to accom­pa­ny Francis Silkstone in a recital. I lat­er stud­ied in per­son under Manikrao Popatkar, an excel­lent pro­fes­sion­al tablā play­er who had recent­ly immi­grat­ed to Britain. I was hooked. Moreover, the thought that I might enter that socio-musical world of tablā in India and become a participant-observer moti­vat­ed me to look at grad­u­ate pro­grams where I would be able to devel­op the knowl­edge and skills to com­bine the musi­co­log­i­cal and anthro­po­log­i­cal approach­es of Stewart and Neuman. On Neil Sorrell’s advice I wrote to John Blacking about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of study­ing at The Queen’s University of Belfast, and John was most encour­ag­ing, offer­ing me entry direct­ly to the doc­tor­al pro­gram. He also point­ed out that his col­league John Baily had recent­ly writ­ten a text: Krishna Govinda’s Rudiments of Tabla Playing. It seemed I had found the ide­al grad­u­ate pro­gram and the per­fect mentors.

Methodological approaches

– The book How Musical Is Man? by John Blacking is a fun­da­men­tal text that appeared in 1973 that ran counter to the think­ing of the time and refused to recog­nise the bar­ri­ers between musi­col­o­gy and eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy, as well as the fruit­less dif­fer­ences between musi­cal tra­di­tions. Blacking also put for­ward the essen­tial idea that music, even if that word does not exist every­where, is present in all human cul­tures, result­ing in his def­i­n­i­tion of “human­ly organ­ised sound.” Do you know if he knew of Edgar Varèse’s expres­sion “organ­ised sound,” which Varèse put for­ward in 1941 in an attempt to dis­tance him­self from the Western con­cept of “music,” albeit for oth­er reasons?

I have no per­son­al rec­ol­lec­tion of Blacking ever men­tion­ing Varèse or his thoughts on the nature of music. Nonetheless, Blacking was an excel­lent musi­cian and pianist who had doubt­less encoun­tered and stud­ied a great deal of Western Art Music, and so it is pos­si­ble he knew of Varèse’s def­i­n­i­tion. However, where­as Varèse’s phi­los­o­phy was born out of a con­vic­tion that machines and tech­nolo­gies would be capa­ble of organ­is­ing sound, Blacking want­ed to re-centre music as a social fact: an activ­i­ty where the myr­i­ad ways in which human beings organ­ised sound both as per­form­ers and, impor­tant­ly, as lis­ten­ers promised to reveal a great deal about their social structure.

– How did your stud­ies at uni­ver­si­ty guide your research?

I was lucky enough to have not one but two men­tors in John Blacking and John Baily, and they were very dif­fer­ent from one anoth­er. Blacking was full of grand and inspir­ing ideas that chal­lenged and rev­o­lu­tion­ized the way one thinks about music and soci­ety, where­as Baily empha­sized a more method­i­cal and empirically-based approach ground­ed in per­for­mance and the care­ful acqui­si­tion and doc­u­men­ta­tion of data. One should remem­ber that I was young and inex­pe­ri­enced when I under­took field­work, and so Baily’s exam­ple, focussed on doing music and on gath­er­ing data, served as a prac­ti­cal guide in my dai­ly life dur­ing my years in India; yet once I was armed with a huge cor­pus of infor­ma­tion I was able to stand back and, hope­ful­ly like Blacking, see some of the grand pat­terns which that data spelled out. I was struck there­fore by the con­sis­tent nar­ra­tive of cul­tur­al decline linked to a nos­tal­gia for a glo­ri­ous and artistically-abundant past, and the tablā music of Lucknow was one of the last liv­ing links to that lost world. This became one of the key themes in my doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion, and in some of the oth­er work that fol­lowed. As for my career as a teacher, I have tried over the years to com­bine the best qual­i­ties of both my men­tors, always pro­mot­ing the idea that the­o­ry should grow out of sol­id data about music and musi­cal lives so that it does not lose its heuris­tic val­ue by aban­don­ing its dia­logue with ethno­graph­ic reality.

– In Working with the Masters (2008), you describe in detail and with frank­ness (some­thing that is fair­ly rare in the pro­fes­sion!) your field­work expe­ri­ence with Afaq Hussain in the 1980s. This expe­ri­ence, and your account of it, appear to be a mod­el for any research in eth­nol­o­gy and eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy, par­tic­u­lar­ly as it applies to learn­ing music. Thus, you account for the phas­es of approach­ing, meet­ing, being test­ed and, final­ly (and for­tu­nate­ly in your case), accep­tance with­in the research con­text; the trust you were grant­ed allowed you to pur­sue in full your research and music-learning goals. You also tack­le the eth­i­cal and deon­to­log­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions essen­tial to any researcher: one’s rela­tion­ship to oth­ers, con­flicts of loy­al­ty result­ing from pos­si­ble incon­sis­ten­cies between that rela­tion­ship and one’s ethno­graph­ic objec­tives, respon­si­bil­i­ty to the gath­ered knowl­edge, and the place of the researcher-musician with­in the musi­cal real­i­ty of the tra­di­tion stud­ied. Beyond the par­tic­u­lar­i­ties of the musi­cal con­text, are there any spe­cif­ic fea­tures of Indian cul­ture that Western researchers need to bear in mind in order to under­take (and hope­ful­ly suc­ceed with) an eth­no­log­i­cal study in India?

It goes with­out say­ing that South Asian soci­ety has changed enor­mous­ly in the 40 years since I first began con­duct­ing ethno­graph­ic research, but cer­tain prin­ci­ples stead­fast­ly remain that should guide the inves­tiga­tive process, such as a deeply ingrained respect for social and cul­tur­al senior­i­ty. Naturally, access to a com­mu­ni­ty is key, and there is no bet­ter “gate­keep­er” or “spon­sor” (to use the anthro­po­log­i­cal terms) than an author­i­ty fig­ure with­in the sub­cul­ture one is study­ing, since the per­mis­sion one receives trick­les down through the social and famil­ial hier­ar­chy. The dan­ger, in a heav­i­ly patri­ar­chal soci­ety like India’s, is that one ends up with a top-down view of musi­cal life. If I had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to revis­it my field I would pay greater atten­tion to those at dif­fer­ent lev­els with­in that hier­ar­chy, espe­cial­ly to women and to the every­day musi­cal­i­ty of life in the domes­tic sphere. By focussing only on the most refined aspects of cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion, one may miss much that is of val­ue in the for­ma­tion of ideas, of aes­thet­ics, and in the sup­port mech­a­nisms nec­es­sary for an artis­tic tra­di­tion to sur­vive and thrive.

Fig.1: Recording ses­sion with Afaq Hussain at the home of James Kippen. Lucknow, 1982. Photo by James Kippen.

On a more prac­ti­cal note – some­thing that applies I think rather more gen­er­al­ly in the field­work endeav­our – I found that for­mal, record­ed inter­views were rarely very insight­ful because they were felt to be intim­i­dat­ing and were accom­pa­nied by lofty expec­ta­tions. Furthermore, a height­ened sen­si­tiv­i­ty to the polit­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions – micro and macro – of speak­ing one’s mind on record was also often an imped­i­ment to gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion. In truth, the less I asked and the more I lis­tened – off the record and in relaxed cir­cum­stances – the more use­ful and insight­ful the infor­ma­tion I received. The caveat is that to oper­ate in that way one must devel­op a lev­el of patience that would be dif­fi­cult for most Westerners to accept.

– In the 1980s you adopt­ed the “dialec­ti­cal approach” taught by John Blacking and com­bined it with com­put­er sci­ence and an Artificial Intelligence pro­gram. The aim was to analyse the fun­da­men­tals of impro­vi­sa­tion by tablā play­ers. Can you go over the gen­e­sis and evo­lu­tion of this approach?

John Blacking was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in Noam Chomsky’s work on trans­for­ma­tion­al gram­mars. He the­o­rized that one could cre­ate sets of rules for music – a gram­mar – with the top­most lay­er describ­ing how those sur­face sound struc­tures were organ­ised. At deep­er lev­els the lay­ers of rules would address increas­ing­ly more gen­er­al prin­ci­ples of musi­cal organ­i­sa­tion, and at the very deep­est lev­el the gram­mar would for­malise rules gov­ern­ing prin­ci­ples of social organ­i­sa­tion. If an eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gist’s ulti­mate aim is to relate social struc­ture to sound struc­ture, or vice ver­sa, then this was Blacking’s idea of how one might achieve that goal.

In the sum­mer of 1981, I escaped the intense heat of the North Indian plains and head­ed to Mussoorie in the foothills of the Himalayas. I had agreed to meet up again with my friend Francis Silkstone, who at the time was study­ing sitār with Imrat Khan and dhru­pad vocal music with Fahimuddin Dagar in Calcutta. Francis arrived with Fahimuddin and one of Fahim’s American stu­dents named Jim Arnold. Jim was col­lab­o­rat­ing on some exper­i­men­tal work on rāga into­na­tion with Bernard Bel, who at that time was liv­ing in New Delhi. Bernard then arrived in Mussoorie, also to escape the heat, and for about a month we all lived togeth­er in a rich and fer­tile envi­ron­ment of music and ideas. It was there that Bernard and I first dis­cussed Blacking’s notion of socio-musical gram­mars as well as my fas­ci­na­tion with tablā’s theme-and-variations struc­tures known as qāi­da. I was intrigued when Bernard sug­gest­ed that he could design a com­put­er pro­gram capa­ble of mod­el­ling the process of cre­at­ing vari­a­tions from a giv­en theme.

Over the fol­low­ing year, Bernard and I met sev­er­al times: he learnt much more about how tablā works and I learnt much more about math­e­mat­i­cal lin­guis­tics. Together we cre­at­ed sets of rules – trans­for­ma­tion­al gram­mars – that gen­er­at­ed vari­a­tions from a qāi­da theme and processed exist­ing vari­a­tions to deter­mine if our rules could account for them. Yet it was also clear that the knowl­edge being mod­elled was my own and not that of expert musi­cians. Therefore, we devel­oped a strat­e­gy to involve those experts as “co-workers and ana­lysts” (a phrase Blacking often used) in a dialec­ti­cal exchange. After all, an “expert sys­tem” was intend­ed to mod­el expert knowl­edge, and there was no bet­ter expert than Afaq Hussain.

➡ For more infor­ma­tion about these exper­i­ments, vis­it:

– Were you aware of oth­er types of inter­ac­tive approach­es, such as Simha Arom’s “re-recording” devel­oped a few years earlier?

I was aware of Simha Arom’s inter­ac­tive meth­ods of elic­it­ing musi­cians’ own per­spec­tives on what was hap­pen­ing in their music, much as I was aware of work in cog­ni­tive anthro­pol­o­gy aimed at deter­min­ing cog­ni­tive cat­e­gories mean­ing­ful to the peo­ple we stud­ied. Arom’s insis­tence that cul­tur­al data had to be val­i­dat­ed by our inter­locu­tors was cer­tain­ly very influ­en­tial. I did not know of oth­er approach­es. The exi­gen­cies of our par­tic­u­lar exper­i­men­tal sit­u­a­tion forced us to invent our own unique method­ol­o­gy for this human-computer interaction.

– We know of the fear Indian mas­ters have of their knowl­edge being spread beyond their own gharānā, in par­tic­u­lar, cer­tain tech­niques and com­po­si­tions. What was Afaq Hussain’s atti­tude regard­ing this, and what was his involve­ment in this method that updat­ed the soft­ware for exam­in­ing qāi­da structures?

Afaq Hussain was not remote­ly con­cerned about rev­e­la­tions regard­ing qāi­da since the art of play­ing them depend­ed on one’s abil­i­ty to impro­vise. In oth­er words, this was a process-oriented and there­fore ever-changing endeav­our. On the con­trary, play­ing fixed com­po­si­tions, espe­cial­ly those hand­ed down over gen­er­a­tions with­in the fam­i­ly, were product-oriented, and the pieces did not change. Those were con­sid­ered pre­cious assets, and were care­ful­ly guarded.

Fig.2: James Kippen, Afaq Hussain, and his son Ilmas
Hussain. Lucknow, 1982. Photo by James Kippen.

 When I reflect on the exper­i­ments, I mar­vel that Bernard Bel was able to cre­ate such a pow­er­ful gen­er­a­tive gram­mar for a com­put­er (first­ly an Apple II with 64k RAM, then the portable 128k Apple IIc) with such lim­it­ed pro­cess­ing pow­er and space. Afaq Hussain also mar­velled that a machine could “think,” as he put it. We began with a basic gram­mar for a giv­en qāi­da, gen­er­at­ed some vari­a­tions, and I then read those out loud using the syl­lab­ic lan­guage, the bols, for tablā. Many results were pre­dictable, some were unusu­al but nonethe­less accept­able, and oth­ers were deemed to be wrong – tech­ni­cal­ly, aes­thet­i­cal­ly. We then asked Afaq Hussain to offer a few vari­a­tions of his own; these were fed into the com­put­er (I typed using a key-correlation sys­tem for rapid entry) and “analysed” to deter­mine if the rules of our gram­mar could account for them. Simple adjust­ments to the rules were pos­si­ble in situ, but when more com­plex repro­gram­ming was required we would move on to a sec­ond exam­ple and return to the orig­i­nal exam­ple in a lat­er session.

Did this research ever involve oth­er types of com­po­si­tion such as gat or ṭukṛā?

No. The advan­tage of look­ing at a theme-and-variations struc­ture like qāi­da is that each com­po­si­tion is a closed sys­tem where vari­a­tions (vistār) are restrict­ed to the mate­r­i­al pre­sent­ed in the theme. Relā (rapidly-articulated strings of strokes) is anoth­er struc­ture that fol­lows sim­i­lar prin­ci­ples. The aim is there­fore to under­stand the unwrit­ten rules for cre­at­ing vari­a­tions. Fixed com­po­si­tions such as gat, ṭukṛā, paran, etc., com­prise a far wider and more unpre­dictable vari­ety of ele­ments, and would be very hard to mod­el. However, one thing we did exper­i­ment with was the tihāī, the thrice-repeated phrase that acts as a final rhyth­mic cadence. These can be mod­elled math­e­mat­i­cal­ly and applied to a qāi­da (based on frag­ments of its theme or one of its vari­a­tions) or to fixed com­po­si­tions like, say, ṭukṛā as an arith­metic for­mu­la into which one can pour rhyth­mic phrases.

– Did any of the rhyth­mic phras­es gen­er­at­ed by the com­put­er and val­i­dat­ed by Afaq Hussain Khan make it into the reper­toire of the Lucknow gharānā?

That is a hard ques­tion to answer. When we were in the mid­dle of an inten­sive peri­od of exper­i­men­ta­tion with the Bol Processor, there would devel­op a kind of dia­logue where Afaq Hussain would play mate­r­i­al gen­er­at­ed by the com­put­er and then respond with sets of vari­a­tions of his own. So many were gen­er­at­ed and exchanged in this way that it was often hard to tell whether some­thing he played in con­cert orig­i­nat­ed in the com­put­er. Yet, where­as some teach­ers and per­form­ers devel­op a reper­toire of fixed vari­a­tions for a theme, Afaq Hussain rarely did, rely­ing instead on his imag­i­na­tion “in the moment.” This is also the approach he encour­aged in us. Therefore, I doubt computer-generated mate­r­i­al became a per­ma­nent part of the repertoire.

Fig.3: Bhupal Ray Chowdhury (a dis­ci­ple of Wajid Hussain and his son Afaq Hussain) and James Kippen in an exper­i­men­tal ses­sion with the Bol Processor. Calcutta, 1984. Photo by James Kippen.

– Has this spe­cif­ic type of approach using Artificial Intelligence in eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy been pur­sued by others?

The term “Artificial Intelligence” under­went a rad­i­cal change in the years 1980-1990 thanks to the devel­op­ment of the “con­nec­tion­ist” approach (arti­fi­cial neu­rons) and learn­ing tech­niques from exam­ples with the capa­bil­i­ty of pro­cess­ing a large amount of data. With the Bol Processor (BP) we were at the stage of symbolic-numerical mod­el­ling of human deci­sions rep­re­sent­ed by for­mal gram­mars, which required in-depth, although intu­itive, knowl­edge of deci­sion mechanisms.

 For this rea­son, symbolic-numerical approach­es have not to my knowl­edge been tak­en up by oth­er teams. On the oth­er hand, we had also tack­led machine learn­ing (of for­mal gram­mars) using the QAVAID soft­ware writ­ten in Prolog II. We also showed that the machine had to col­lect infor­ma­tion by dia­logu­ing with the musi­cian in order to car­ry out a cor­rect seg­men­ta­tion of musi­cal phras­es and to begin gen­er­al­is­ing by induc­tive infer­ence. But this work was dis­con­tin­ued because the machines were too slow and we did not have a large enough body of data to build a mod­el capa­ble of cov­er­ing a wide vari­ety of impro­vi­sa­tion models.

It is pos­si­ble that Indian researchers will use learn­ing from exam­ples – now called Artificial Intelligence – to process large amounts of data pro­duced by per­cus­sion­ists. This “big data” approach has the draw­back of lack­ing pre­ci­sion in a field where pre­ci­sion is a mark­er of musi­cal exper­tise, and it does not pro­duce under­stand­able algo­rithms which would con­sti­tute a “gen­er­al gram­mar” of impro­vi­sa­tion on a per­cus­sion instru­ment. Our ini­tial ambi­tion was to con­tribute to the con­struc­tion of this gram­mar, but we only proved, using the tech­nol­o­gy avail­able at the time, that it would be feasible.

In lat­er ver­sions, this soft­ware was also able to pro­vide mate­r­i­al and tools for music and dance com­po­si­tion beyond the Indian con­text. We will be cel­e­brat­ing 40 years of this soft­ware next year with a new ver­sion. Who are the artists that have used this software?

Rhythmic com­po­si­tions pro­grammed on BP2 and per­formed on a Roland D50 syn­the­sis­er were used for the chore­o­graph­ic work CRONOS direct­ed by Andréine Bel and pro­duced in 1994 at the NCPA in Bombay. See, for exam­ple,

At the end of the 1990s, the Dutch com­pos­er Harm Visser used BP2 to help devel­op oper­a­tors for ser­i­al music com­po­si­tion. See, for exam­ple,

We have had feed­back (and requests) from European and American aca­d­e­mics who use BP2 as an edu­ca­tion­al tool for teach­ing musi­cal com­po­si­tion. However, we have nev­er car­ried out a large-scale adver­tis­ing cam­paign to enlarge the user com­mu­ni­ty because we are pri­mar­i­ly inter­est­ed in the devel­op­ment of the sys­tem itself and in the musi­co­log­i­cal research asso­ci­at­ed with it.

The main lim­i­ta­tion of BP2 was its exclu­sive oper­a­tion with­in the Macintosh envi­ron­ment. This is why the BP3 ver­sion under devel­op­ment is cross-platform. It will prob­a­bly be imple­ment­ed in a Cloud ver­sion made pos­si­ble by its close inter­ac­tion with Csound soft­ware. This soft­ware makes it pos­si­ble to pro­gram high-performance sound pro­duc­tion algo­rithms and to work with micro­ton­al into­na­tion mod­els that we have devel­oped, both for har­mon­ic music and for Indian rāga. See, for exam­ple,

Studies of notation, metre, rhythm, and their evolution

– Over the course of your work, the ques­tion of musi­cal nota­tion has occu­pied an impor­tant place both in terms of method­ol­o­gy and also in con­sid­er­a­tions of how it is used. Can you speak to this aspect of your work?

All writ­ten nota­tions are incom­plete approx­i­ma­tions, and their con­tri­bu­tion to the trans­mis­sion process is lim­it­ed. Oral rep­re­sen­ta­tions, like the spo­ken strings of syl­la­bles rep­re­sent­ing drum strokes, often con­vey more accu­rate infor­ma­tion about the musi­cal­i­ty inher­ent in pat­terns, such as stress, inflec­tion, phras­ing, and micro-rhythmic vari­abil­i­ty. By the same token, once inter­nalised, those spo­ken strings are indeli­ble. We know that oral sys­tems pro­mote a healthy musi­cal mem­o­ry, which is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant in the con­text of the per­for­mance of music in India where per­form­ers begin with only a very gen­er­al road map but then take all man­ner of unex­pect­ed twists and turns along the way. That being the case, one might ask why write any­thing down at all?

From the 1860s onwards, there was a bur­geon­ing of musi­cal nota­tions in India inspired, I believe, by an aware­ness that Western music pos­sessed an effi­cient nota­tion sys­tem, and prompt­ed too by the steady increase in insti­tu­tion­alised learn­ing and the per­ceived need for ped­a­gog­i­cal texts and asso­ci­at­ed reper­toire. Yet there was nev­er any con­sen­sus on how to notate, and each new sys­tem dif­fered great­ly from the oth­ers. The nota­tion devised in 1903 by Gurudev Patwardhan was arguably the most detailed and pre­cise ever cre­at­ed for drum­ming, yet it was sure­ly too com­pli­cat­ed for stu­dents to read as a score. Therefore, its pur­pose was more as a ref­er­ence work that pre­served reper­toire and pro­vid­ed a syl­labus for struc­tured learning.

We live in a lit­er­ate age, and musi­cians recog­nise that their stu­dents no longer devote their wak­ing hours to prac­tis­ing. Like oth­er teach­ers, Afaq Hussain encour­aged us all to write down the reper­toire he taught so that it would not be for­got­ten. For me, it was espe­cial­ly impor­tant to cap­ture two aspects in my own note­books: rhyth­mic accu­ra­cy and pre­cise fin­ger­ing. Regarding the lat­ter, for exam­ple, when faced with the phrase – keṛe­na­ga tirak­iṭa takata­ka tirak­iṭa – I want­ed to ensure that I notat­ed the cor­rect intend­ed fin­ger­ing from the dozen or so pos­si­ble tech­niques for takata­ka, not to men­tion the vari­eties of keṛe­na­ga, and I would also indi­cate that the two instances of tirak­iṭa were played slight­ly differently.

Afaq Hussain kept his own note­books safe­ly stored in a locked cup­board. He some­times con­sult­ed them. I think he recog­nised that reper­toire does indeed dis­ap­pear in the oral tra­di­tion – after all, there are many hun­dreds, if not thou­sands of pieces of music. His grand­fa­ther, Abid Hussain (1867-1936) was the first pro­fes­sor of tablā at the Bhatkhande Music College in Lucknow. He too notat­ed tablā com­po­si­tions, and I have hun­dreds of pages he wrote that were almost cer­tain­ly intend­ed to be pub­lished as a ped­a­gog­i­cal text. However, he did not indi­cate pre­cise rhythms or fin­ger­ings, and so inter­pret­ing his music is prob­lem­at­ic, even for Afaq Hussain’s son Ilmas Hussain with whom I combed through the mate­r­i­al. A pre­cise nota­tion, then, does have val­ue, but only along­side an oral tra­di­tion that can add the nec­es­sary lay­ers of infor­ma­tion that can bring the music to life.

– In your recent research on numer­ous Indo-Persian texts from the 18th and 19th cen­turies, you high­light the evo­lu­tion of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of musi­cal metre in India. This research illus­trates the impor­tance of the his­tor­i­cal approach and ful­ly demon­strates the mech­a­nisms of the evo­lu­tion of cul­tur­al facts. What con­cepts do you use to describe these phenomena?

An impor­tant facet of our anthro­po­log­i­cal train­ing was learn­ing to func­tion in the lan­guage of those we engaged with in our research, not mere­ly to man­age life on a day-to-day basis but rather to have access to con­cepts that are mean­ing­ful with­in the cul­ture stud­ied. Two terms are sig­nif­i­cant in this regard, one whose impor­tance is, I think, over­stat­ed, the oth­er under­stat­ed. Firstly, gharānā, which from its first appear­ance in the 1860s orig­i­nal­ly meant “fam­i­ly” but which over time has come to encom­pass any­one who believes they share some ele­ments of tech­nique, style, or reper­toire with an api­cal fig­ure of the past. Secondly, sil­si­la, a term com­mon in Sufism which means chain, con­nec­tion, or suc­ces­sion, has spe­cif­ic rel­e­vance to a direct teach­ing lin­eage. It is this more pre­cise sil­si­la that I believe holds the key to the trans­mis­sion of musi­cal cul­ture, and yet the para­dox is that the chain car­ries with­in it an implic­it direc­tive to explore one’s cre­ative indi­vid­u­al­i­ty. That is why, for exam­ple, when one exam­ines, say, the lin­eage of Delhi tablā play­ers from the mid 19th cen­tu­ry onwards, one finds major dif­fer­ences in tech­nique, style, and reper­toire from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. The same is true for my teacher Afaq Hussain, whose play­ing dif­fered great­ly from that of his father and teacher Wajid Hussain. Each indi­vid­ual inher­its some musi­cal essence in the sil­si­la, for sure, but they must engage with and oper­ate in an ever-changing world where artis­tic sur­vival requires adap­ta­tion. It is there­fore vital­ly impor­tant when study­ing any musi­cal era to gath­er as much infor­ma­tion about the socio-cultural milieu as possible.

 As I have shown above, it is imper­a­tive to engage with native con­cepts, and to explain and use them with­out recourse to trans­la­tion. Another prime exam­ple is tāla, which most com­mon­ly gets trans­lat­ed as metre or met­ric cycle. And yet there is a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence. Metre is implic­it: it is a pat­tern that is abstract­ed from the sur­face rhythms of a piece, and con­sists of an under­ly­ing pulse that is orga­nized into a recur­ring hier­ar­chi­cal sequence of strong and weak beats. On the oth­er hand, tāla is explic­it: it is a recur­ring pat­tern of non-hierarchical beats man­i­fest­ed as hand ges­tures con­sist­ing of claps, silent waves, and fin­ger counts, or as a rel­a­tive­ly fixed sequence of drum strokes. To use metre in the Indian con­text is there­fore mis­lead­ing, and I there­fore encour­age the use of tāla with an accom­pa­ny­ing expla­na­tion but with­out translation.

– You are cur­rent­ly work­ing on a book about 18th and 19th cen­tu­ry sources. What is your goal?

My goal is to trace the ori­gins and evo­lu­tion of the tāla sys­tem cur­rent­ly in use in Hindustani music by gath­er­ing as much infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble from con­tem­po­rary sources begin­ning in the late 17th cen­tu­ry through to the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry and the era of record­ed sound. The prob­lem is that the avail­able infor­ma­tion is frag­men­tary and often couched in obscure lan­guage: the task is akin to doing a jig­saw puz­zle where most of the pieces are miss­ing. Moreover, the pieces one does find are not nec­es­sar­i­ly direct­ly con­nect­ed, and so the task might be bet­ter described as work­ing with two or more puz­zles. In brief, through care­ful analy­sis, infer­ence, and some guess­work, I believe that there was a con­ver­gence of rhyth­mic sys­tems in the 18th cen­tu­ry that gave rise to the tāla sys­tem of today.

The musi­cal prac­tices and social con­texts of the com­mu­ni­ties of Kalāwants who sang dhru­pad and Qawwāls who sang khayāl, tarā­na, and qaul, along with the Ḍhāḍhī com­mu­ni­ty that accom­pa­nied all these gen­res, are cru­cial to under­stand­ing how and why music – and rhythm in par­tic­u­lar – evolved the way it did. Yet there are so many oth­er impor­tant aspects to this sto­ry: the role of women instru­men­tal­ists in the pri­vate spaces of Mughal life in the 18th cen­tu­ry, and their grad­ual dis­ap­pear­ance in the 19th cen­tu­ry; colo­nial­ism; the sta­tus and influ­ence of ancient texts; print­ing tech­nol­o­gy and the dis­sem­i­na­tion of new ped­a­gog­i­cal texts in the late 19th cen­tu­ry – to name but a few.

– What are some of the inter­est­ing sources to con­sid­er in order to under­stand the evo­lu­tion of prac­tices and rhyth­mic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Hindustani music?

Northern India has always been open to cul­tur­al exchange, and this was espe­cial­ly true under the Mughals. It is imper­a­tive that we under­stand who trav­elled to the courts, from where, and what they played. It is equal­ly impor­tant to under­stand the writ­ten mate­ri­als avail­able as well as the intel­lec­tu­al dis­cours­es of the time, for knowl­edge of music was cru­cial to Mughal eti­quette. Thus, to know that the high­ly influ­en­tial music trea­tise Kitāb al-adwār, by the 13th cen­tu­ry the­o­rist Safi al-Din al-Urmawi al-Baghdadi was wide­ly avail­able in India both in Arabic and Persian trans­la­tion, and that copies were in the col­lec­tion of Delhi nobles from the 17th cen­tu­ry onwards, helps us to under­stand why Indian rhythm was explained using the prin­ci­ples of Arabic prosody in the late 18th cen­tu­ry. I have argued that, as applied to music, Arabic prosody was a more pow­er­ful tool than the tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of Sanskrit prosody, and thus it was more effec­tive in describ­ing the changes that were occur­ring in rhyth­mic thought and prac­tice in that period.

This ethno-historical research some­times clash­es with the beliefs of cer­tain musi­cians and researchers, espe­cial­ly on ques­tions of the age and “authen­tic­i­ty” of tra­di­tions. Do you think the younger gen­er­a­tions are more inclined to accept the obvi­ous facts of the com­plex nature of musi­cal tra­di­tions made up of mul­ti­ple con­tri­bu­tions and in per­pet­u­al transformation?

Some are, but some are not. There has always been a small num­ber of schol­ars in India who con­duct valu­able, evidence-based research on music. Yet it dis­ap­points me to note there are many more that rely on the regur­gi­ta­tion and prop­a­ga­tion of unfound­ed, unschol­ar­ly opin­ion. What per­haps sur­pris­es me most is the lack of rig­or­ous schol­ar­ly train­ing in Indian music col­leges and the per­sis­tence of dis­proven or dis­cred­it­ed ideas and infor­ma­tion in spite of so much excel­lent pub­lished research to the contrary.

Fig 4: James Kippen, University of Toronto, 2017. Photo by James Kippen.

– Since the 1990s, one notices the strength­en­ing of a Hindu nation­al­ism with­in Indian soci­ety. Have you not­ed a par­tic­u­lar impact on the world of Hindustani music and on research?

This is a com­plex and sen­si­tive top­ic. Hindu nation­al­ism is not new, far from it, and as I demon­strat­ed in my book on Gurudev Patwardhan, it formed a sig­nif­i­cant part of the ratio­nale for the life and work of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. As many schol­ars have point­ed out, it had roots in colo­nial­ism, and devel­oped as an anti-colonial move­ment focussed on Hindu iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics. That nar­ra­tive, based on invent­ed notions of a glo­ri­ous Hindu past, down­played the con­tri­bu­tions of Mughal cul­ture and the great lin­eages of Muslim musi­cians (not to men­tion women), and Indian Muslim iden­ti­ty with­in the sphere of music has suf­fered a decline ever since. Scholars have tak­en note of this dynam­ic and have attempt­ed to trace some of the coun­ternar­ra­tives that have hith­er­to been ignored, such as Max Katz’s excel­lent book Lineage of Loss (Wesleyan University Press, 2017) about an impor­tant fam­i­ly of Muslim scholar-musicians, the so-called Shāhjahānpūr-Lucknow gharānā. I sus­pect that a moti­va­tion­al force in much mod­ern schol­ar­ship on music in India is the desire not to omit impor­tant cul­tur­al nar­ra­tives but to ani­mate them and frame them with­in the grand sweep of South Asia’s history.

– Following on from Rebecca Stewart’s work, you too have high­light­ed the com­plex inter­weav­ing of rhyth­mic and met­ric approach­es in tablā play­ing by show­ing that it results from var­i­ous cul­tur­al con­tri­bu­tions which have fol­lowed one anoth­er over time. With the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of glob­al cul­tur­al exchanges since the end of the 20th cen­tu­ry, have you observed one or more evolv­ing trends in tablā playing?

Since the inclu­sion of tablā in pop music in the 1960s, the excit­ing jazz fusion of John McLaughlin’s group Shakti in the 1970s, and the ubiq­ui­ty of tablā ever since in music of every kind, it seems only nat­ur­al that tablā play­ers the world over should explore and exper­i­ment with its mag­i­cal sounds. Zakir Hussain has led the way in demon­strat­ing the flex­i­bil­i­ty and adapt­abil­i­ty of these drums, and the thrilling, vis­cer­al veloc­i­ty of its rhyth­mic pat­terns. As for tablā with­in the con­text of Hindustani con­cert music, I have noticed that there are many who attempt to inject that same sense of excite­ment, enhanced increas­ing­ly, it seems, by ampli­fi­ca­tion so loud that it dis­torts the sound and beats the audi­ence’s eardrums into sub­mis­sion. I would go so far as to say that this has unfor­tu­nate­ly become the norm.

In this regard, I count myself as some­thing of a purist who longs for a return to a prac­tice where the tablā play­er main­tains a sub­tle, under­stat­ed yet sup­port­ive role, com­ple­ments the mate­r­i­al pre­sent­ed by the soloist, and is mod­est and not over­pow­er­ing when invit­ed to con­tribute a short flour­ish or cameo solo. By the same token, I crave a return to tablā solos that are packed with con­tent rather than “sound effects.” By “con­tent,” I mean tra­di­tion­al, char­ac­ter­ful com­po­si­tions fea­tur­ing spe­cialised tech­niques, whose com­posers are named and thus hon­oured. And yet it is painful­ly obvi­ous that such “con­tent” is not reach­ing many younger play­ers these days.


– As men­tioned, your research high­lights the impor­tance of his­tor­i­cal sources as well as the con­sid­er­a­tion of broad­er phe­nom­e­na such as Orientalism or Nationalism in order to under­stand Indian musi­cal prac­tices in the present. At the same time, you are very atten­tive to the intense cur­rent tran­scul­tur­al phe­nom­e­na and to the need to com­pre­hend them. In the pro­fes­sion, the con­cept of “eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy” does not always achieve con­sen­sus. What is your posi­tion with regard to this name and the sub­ject of this dis­ci­pline at the start of the 21st century?

I have nev­er been par­tic­u­lar­ly com­fort­able with the label “eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy.” As John Blacking used to say, all music is “eth­nic music,” and there­fore there should be no dis­tinc­tion between stud­ies of tablā, game­lan, or hip-hop and those of Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms. We all engage in a “dis­course on music”: in oth­er words, “musi­col­o­gy.” The advan­tage of terms like the “anthro­pol­o­gy” or “soci­ol­o­gy” of music is that they imply a broad­er slate of the­o­ret­i­cal and method­olog­i­cal approach­es that remind us that music is a social fact. Yet we must recog­nise that the purview of eth­no­mu­si­co­log­i­cal stud­ies has evolved, and nowa­days far greater atten­tion is paid to phe­nom­e­na like noise or the mun­dane sounds of every­day life. Therefore – with­out wish­ing to sound too cyn­i­cal – although in some quar­ters the term “sound stud­ies” is treat­ed with a degree of con­tempt, per­haps that very gen­er­al term is the most hon­est and accu­rate def­i­n­i­tion of what we (all of us) do. However, I acknowl­edge that it would be a shame to reject the term “music” alto­geth­er, and so I could imag­ine eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy, musi­col­o­gy, and music the­o­ry com­ing togeth­er under the rubric “music and sound studies.”


– After a short peri­od in Belfast, you taught in Toronto. Can you tell us about your teach­ing experience?

Yes, Toronto is a won­der­ful city, and by most accounts it is the most multi-cultural city on this plan­et. It offers a very rich and stim­u­lat­ing musi­cal environment.

 Miecyzslaw Kolinski taught at the University of Toronto from 1966 until 1978. His eth­no­mu­si­co­log­i­cal inter­ests were shaped by his train­ing under Hornbostel and Sachs, and by the world­view shared by so many of the ear­ly giants of our dis­ci­pline. He pub­lished on the sci­en­tif­ic basis of har­mo­ny and melody, and devel­oped meth­ods for cross-cultural analy­sis – an approach emphat­i­cal­ly reject­ed in my own train­ing with John Blacking who argued vehe­ment­ly for cul­tur­al rel­a­tivism, much as it was at odds with Tim Rice’s train­ing at the University of Washington. Tim was hired in 1974 and left for UCLA in 1987. Like me dur­ing my ear­ly days, Tim strug­gled to per­suade col­leagues of the impor­tance of the eth­no­mu­si­co­log­i­cal approach and the need to treat our dis­ci­pline with the respect it deserved and the resources it required. We both fought hard. Tim intro­duced a pro­gram that came to be known under my watch as the World Music Ensembles, and I acquired a Balinese game­lan in 1993, which was taught by my wife, eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gist Dr Annette Sanger, for­mer­ly a col­league of John Blacking. Moreover, both Tim and I suc­ceed­ed in draw­ing eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy class­es fur­ther into the core of the cur­ricu­lum to ensure that all music stu­dents, what­ev­er their inter­ests, were exposed to our approach and under­stood the val­ue and impor­tance of a socially-grounded view of all music. One ini­tia­tive I cre­at­ed was a year-long intro­duc­to­ry course called Music as Culture which for a few years I co-taught with a musi­col­o­gy col­league: we alter­nat­ed our pre­sen­ta­tions, illus­trat­ing and cross-referencing our mate­r­i­al and obser­va­tions from the Western canon and the vast world of music beyond. Later incar­na­tions of this course includ­ed our flag­ship Introduction to Music & Society. Essentially mod­u­lar in approach, the cho­sen themes shift­ed and adapt­ed over time to reflect more con­tem­po­rary con­cerns, includ­ing music and iden­ti­ty, reli­gious expe­ri­ence, migra­tion, gen­der, heal­ing, and sound studies.

I devised and taught a vari­ety of cours­es dur­ing my time: Hindustani music; Music & Islam; Theory & Method in Ethnomusicology; The Beatles; Anthropology of Music; Fieldwork; Music, Colonialism & Postcolonialism; Rhythm & Metre in Cross-Cultural Perspective; Transcription, Notation & Analysis, etc. I worked with the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty in Toronto to put on con­certs by vocal­ist Pandit Jasraj that drew spon­sor­ship that gen­er­at­ed healthy schol­ar­ships for stu­dents study­ing Hindustani music. I helped insti­tute an Artist-in-Residence pro­gram, invit­ing musi­cians from all over the world to spend a term with us teach­ing and per­form­ing. I helped to over­haul our musicology-oriented grad­u­ate pro­grammes and intro­duced an MA and PhD in eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy. But per­haps the two achieve­ments of which I am most proud are first­ly the many won­der­ful doc­tor­al stu­dents I men­tored, many of whom have them­selves gone on pur­sue to careers in acad­e­mia, and sec­ond­ly my suc­cess in expand­ing our rep­re­sen­ta­tion from a sin­gle fac­ul­ty posi­tion to four full-time posi­tions in ethnomusicology.

– What is your posi­tion with­in the Lucknow gharānā?

I have great­ly enjoyed learn­ing and play­ing tablā in my life, and I con­sid­er myself extreme­ly for­tu­nate to have had such a close and pro­duc­tive asso­ci­a­tion with one of the most remark­able tablā play­ers in his­to­ry: Afaq Hussain. I am blessed with a good mem­o­ry and there­fore still have in my head a vast reper­toire of won­der­ful com­po­si­tions dat­ing all the way back to the ear­ly mem­bers of the Lucknow lin­eage who flour­ished in the late 18th and ear­ly 19th cen­turies. I am par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in tech­nique, and have spent a good deal of time study­ing the mechan­ics of play­ing. However, I am first and fore­most a schol­ar, and in prac­ti­cal mat­ters I have no illu­sions about being any­thing more than a tablā hob­by­ist. Indeed, my inter­est in play­ing has pro­vid­ed me with extra­or­di­nary insights into the instru­ment and its history.

As for my place or role with­in the Lucknow gharānā, I would say two things. Firstly, I con­tin­ue to be part of the exchange of ideas and reper­toire with my peers along­side whom I stud­ied tablā and who now are, like me, senior fig­ures with­in the sil­si­la, the direct teach­ing lin­eage of Afaq Hussain. I am con­sid­ered by them to be knowl­edge­able: an author­i­ty, if you will. On occa­sions I am asked if I remem­ber a rare com­po­si­tion over which there has been some debate, and some­times I intro­duce into our dia­logue infor­ma­tion and ques­tions aris­ing from my research that spark a live­ly inter­est. For exam­ple, Afaq Hussain’s son Ilmas Hussain and I have been work­ing togeth­er to res­ur­rect the note­books of his great-grandfather Abid Hussain, and place them in the con­text not only of his tra­di­tion but also of the ear­ly years of Lucknow’s Bhatkhande College where Abid Hussain served as the first pro­fes­sor of tablā in the late 1920s and ear­ly 1930s. Secondly, I believe that my work has brought greater atten­tion to the Lucknow lin­eage. When I arrived at Afaq Hussain’s doorstep in January 1981 he was frankly at a low ebb in his life – psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly and finan­cial­ly – and much about the future was uncer­tain. Other for­eign stu­dents fol­lowed my lead and joined an ever-growing num­ber of Indian dis­ci­ples who came to learn. My book, The Tabla of Lucknow, as well as oth­er facets of my research helped to bring nation­al and inter­na­tion­al atten­tion to Afaq Hussain, his son Ilmas, and their entire tradition.

When I came to Toronto I made a deci­sion not to teach tablā out­side of my duties at the University of Toronto, since I did not wish to risk depriv­ing local tablā play­ers (of whom there were sev­er­al very good ones) of the oppor­tu­ni­ty to earn income. Within the uni­ver­si­ty itself, I did run occa­sion­al work­shops and cours­es for stu­dents, plus indi­vid­ual lessons, and some of them (par­tic­u­lar­ly per­cus­sion­ists) became quite com­pe­tent players.

List of publications


2006                   Gurudev’s Drumming Legacy: Music, Theory and Nationalism in the Mrdang aur Tabla Vadanpaddhati of Gurudev Patwardhan. Aldershot: Ashgate (SOAS Musicology Series).

2005                   The Tabla of Lucknow: A Cultural Analysis of a Musical Tradition. New Delhi: Manohar (New edi­tion with new preface).

1988                   The Tabla of Lucknow: A Cultural Analysis of a Musical Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology).

Edited books   

2013                   with Frank Kouwenhoven, Music, Dance and the Art of Seduction. Delft: Eburon Academic Publishers.

Edited jour­nals       

1994-1996        Bansuri, vol­umes 11-13 (A year­ly jour­nal devot­ed to the music and dance of India, pub­lished by Raga Mala Performing Arts of Canada).

Articles, chap­ters in books

Forthcoming     “Weighing ‘The Assets of Pleasure’: Interpreting the Theory and Practice of Rhythm and Drumming in the Sarmāya-i ‘Ishrat, a Pivotal 19th Century Text” in Katherine Schofield, ed.: Hindustani Music Between Empires: Alternative Histories, 1748-1887. Publisher TBA.

Forthcoming     “An Extremely Nice, Fine and Unique Drum: A Reading of Late Mughal and Early Colonial Texts and Images on Hindustani Rhythm and Drumming” in Katherine Schofield, Julia Byl et David Lunn, eds: Paracolonial Soundworlds: Music and Colonial Transitions in South and Southeast Asia. Publisher TBA.

2021                   “Ethnomusicology at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.” MUSICultures (Journal of the Canadian Society for Traditional Music): Vol.48.

2020                   “Rhythmic Thought and Practice in the Indian Subcontinent” in Russell Hartenberger & Ryan McClelland, eds: The Cambridge Companion to Rhythm. Cambridge University Press: 241-60.

2019                   “Mapping a Rhythmic Revolution Through Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Sources on Rhythm and Drumming in North India” in Wolf, Richard K., Stephen Blum, & Christopher Hasty, eds: Thought and Play in Musical Rhythm: Asian, African, and Euro-American Perspectives. Oxford University Press: 253-72.

2013                   “Introduction” in Frank Kouwenhoven & James Kippen, eds: Music, Dance and the Art of Seduction. Delft: Eburon Academic Publishers: i-xix.

2010                   “The History of Tabla” in Joep Bor, Françoise ‘Nalini’ Delvoye, Jane Harvey and Emmie te Nijenhuis, eds: Hindustani Music, Thirteenth to Twentieth Centuries. New Delhi: Manohar: 459-78.

2008                   “Working with the Masters” in Gregory Barz and Timothy Cooley, eds:Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology (2nd revised edi­tion). Oxford University Press: 125–40.

2007                   “The Tal Paddhati of 1888: An Early Source for Tabla.” Journal of The Indian Musicological Society, 38: 151–239.

2003                   “Le rythme: Vitalité de l’Inde.” Gloire des princes, louange des dieux: Patrimoine musi­cal de l’Hindoustan du XIVe au XXe siè­cle. Paris: Cité de la musique et Réunion des Musées Nationaux 2003:152–73.

2002                   “Wajid Revisited: A Reassessment of Robert Gottlieb’s Tabla Study, and a new Transcription of the Solo of Wajid Hussain Khan of Lucknow.” Asian Music, 33, 2: 111–74.

2001                   “Folk Grooves and Tabla Tals.” ECHO: a music-centered jour­nal.  III: 1 (Spring 2001).

2000                   “Hindustani Tala.” Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume 5, South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent. New York: Garland Publishing: 110–37.

1997                   “The Musical Evolution of Lucknow” in Violette Graff, dir., Lucknow: Memories of a City. New Delhi: Oxford University Press: 181–95.

1996                   “A la recherche du temps musi­cal.” Temporalistes, 34: 11-22

1994                   “Computers, Composition, and the Challenge of ‘New Music’ in Modern India.” Leonardo Music Journal, 4: 79–84.

1992                   “Tabla Drumming and the Human-Computer Interaction.” The World of Music, 34, 3: 72–98.

1992                   “Music and the Computer: Some Anthropological Considerations.” Interface, 21, 3-4: 257–62.

1992                   “Where Does The End Begin ? Problems in Musico-Cognitive Modelling.” Minds & Machines, 2, 4: 329–44.

1992                   “Identifying Improvisation Schemata with QAVAID” in Walter B. Hewlett & Eleanor Selfridge-Field, eds: Computing in Musicology: An International Directory of Applications, Volume 8. Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities:115–19.

1992                   “Bol Processor Grammars” in M. Balaban, K. Ebcioglu, & O. Laske, eds: Understanding AI with Music, AAAI Press: 367–400.

1992                   with Bernard Bel “Modelling Music with Grammars: Formal Language Representation in the Bol Processor” in A. Marsden & A. Pople, eds: Computer Representations and Models in Music. London, Academic Press: 207–38.

1991                   with Bernard Bel “From Word-Processing to Automatic Knowledge Acquisition: A Pragmatic Application for Computers in Experimental Ethnomusicology” in Ian Lancashire, ed.: Research in Humanities Computing I: Papers from the 1989 ACH-ALLC Conference, Oxford University Press: 238–53.

1990                   “Music and the Computer: Some Anthropological Considerations” in B. Vecchione & B. Bel, eds: Le Fait Musical – Sciences, Technologies, Pratiques, pré­fig­u­ra­tion des actes du col­loque Musique et Assistance Informatique, CRSM-MIM, Marseille, France, 3-6 Octobre: 41–50.

1990                   “In Memoriam: Afaq Husain (1930-1990).” Ethnomusicology 34, 3: 429–30.

1990                   “In Memoriam: John Blacking (1928-1990).” Ethnomusicology 34, 2: 263–6.

1989                   “Changes in the Social Status of Tabla Players.” Journal of the Indian Musicological Society, 20, 1 & 2: 37–46.

1989                   “Can a Computer Help Resolve the Problem of Ethnographic Description?” Anthropological Quarterly, 62, 3: 131–44.

1989                   with Bernard Bel “The Identification and Modelling of a Percussion ‘Language’, and the Emergence of Musical Concepts in a Machine-Learning Experimental Set-Up.” Computers and the Humanities, 23, 3: 199–214.

1988                   with Bernard Bel “Un mod­èle d’inférence gram­mat­i­cale appliquée à l’apprentissage à par­tir d’exemples musi­caux.” Neurosciences et Sciences de l’Ingénieur, 4e Journées CIRM, Luminy, 3–6 Mai 1988. 

1987                   “An Ethnomusicological Approach to the Analysis of Musical Cognition.” Music Perception 5, 2: 173–95.

1987                   with Annette Sanger “Applied Ethnomusicology: the Use of Balinese Gamelan in Recreational and Educational Music Therapy.” British Journal of Music Education 4, 1: 5–16.

1986                   with Annette Sanger “Applied Ethnomusicology: the Use of Balinese Gamelan in Music Therapy.” International Council for Traditional Music (UK Chapter) Bulletin, 15: 25–28.

1986                   “Computational Techniques in Musical Analysis.” Bulletin of Information on Computing and Anthropology (University of Kent at Canterbury), 4: 1–5.

1985                   “The Dialectical Approach: a Methodology for the Analysis of Tabla Music.” International Council for Traditional Music (UK Chapter) Bulletin, 12: 4–12.

1984                   “Linguistic Study of Rhythm: Computer Models of Tabla Language.” International Society for Traditional Arts Research Newsletter, 2: 28–33.

1984                   “Listen Out for the Tabla.” International Society for Traditional Arts Research Newsletter, 1: 13–14.


2012                   Elliott, Robin and Gordon E. Smith, eds: Music Traditions, Cultures and Contexts, Wilfrid Laurier University Press,  in “Letters in Canada 2010”, University of Toronto Quarterly, 81: 3:779–80.

2006                   McNeil, Adrian Inventing the Sarod: A Cultural History. Calcutta: Seagull Press, 2004. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 38: 133–35.

1999                   Myers, Helen, Music of Hindu Trinidad: Songs from the India Diaspora. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Notes: 427–29.

1999                   Marshall, Wolf, The Beatles Bass. Hal Leonard Corporation, 1998. Beatlology, 5.

1997                   Widdess, Richard, The Ragas of Early Indian Music: Music, Modes, Melodies, and Musical Notations from the Gupta Period to c.1250. Oxford Monographs on Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 117, 3: 587.

1994                   Rowell, Lewis, Music and Musical Thought in Early India. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology, edit­ed by Philip V. Bohlman and Bruno Nettl. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 114, 2: 313.

1992                   CD: review “Bengal: chants des ‘fous’”, par Georges Luneau & Bhaskar Bhattacharyya, and “Inde du sud: musiques rit­uelles et théâtre du Kerala”, par Pribislav Pitoëff. Asian Music 23, 2:181–84.

1992                   Witmer, Robert, ed.: “Ethnomusicology in Canada: Proceedings of the First Conference on Ethnomusicology in Canada.” (CanMus Documents, 5) Toronto, Institute for Canadian Music, 1990. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 24: 170–71.

1992                   Neuman, Daniel M. The Life of Music in North India: The Organization of an Artistic Tradition. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1990. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 112, 1: 171.

1988                   Qureshi, Regula Burckhardt. Sufi Music of India and Pakistan: Sound, Context and Meaning in the Qawwali. Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology. Cambridge: CUP, 1986. International Council for Traditional Music (UK Chapter) Bulletin, 20: 40–45.

1986                   Wade, Bonnie C. Khyal: Creativity with­in North India’s Classical Music Tradition. Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology. Cambridge: CUP. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society: 144–46.


1999                   Honouring Pandit Jasraj at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto. 2 CD set. Foundation for the Indian Performing Arts, FIPA002.

1995                   Pandit Jasraj Live at the University of Toronto. 2 CD set. Foundation for the Indian Performing Arts, FIPA001.

Liner notes

2009                   Mohan Shyam Sharma (pakhavaj): Solos in Chautal and Dhammar. India Archive Music CD, New York.

2007                   Anand Badamikar (tabla): Tabla Solo in Tintal. India Archive Music (IAM•CD 1084), New York.

2002                   Pandit Shankar Ghosh: Tabla Solos in Nasruk Tal and Tintal. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1054), New York.

2001                   Shujaat Khan, Sitar: Raga Bilaskhani Todi & Raga Bhairavi. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1046), New York.

1998                   Pandit Bhai Gaitonde: Tabla Solo in Tintal. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1034), New York.

1995                   Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: Rag Bhimpalasi & Rag “Tribute to America”. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1019), New York.

1994                   Ustad Nizamuddin Khan: Tabla Solo in Tintal. CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD1014), New York.

1992                   Rag Bageshri & Rag Zila Kafi, played by Tejendra Narayan Majumdar (sar­od) and Pandit Kumar Bose (tabla). CD, India Archive Recordings (IAM•CD 1008), New York.


1990                   “In Memoriam: Afaq Husain (1930-1990).” Ethnomusicology 34, 3: 429–30.

1990                   “In Memoriam: John Blacking (1928-1990).” Ethnomusicology 34, 2: 263–6.

➡ A new ver­sion of Bol Processor com­pli­ant with var­i­ous sys­tems (MacOS, Windows, Linux…) is under devel­op­ment. We invite soft­ware design­ers to join the team and con­tribute to the devel­op­ment of the core appli­ca­tion and its client appli­ca­tions. Please join the BP open dis­cus­sion forum and/or the BP devel­op­ers list to stay in touch with work progress and dis­cus­sions of relat­ed the­o­ret­i­cal issues.

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