Tuesday, 11 March 2008

CONSOLE DAYS AND GUITAR NIGHTS

Life is full of music for Shitalchandra Kulkarni. Well … almost. There are few breaks though for this guitarist and member of the Pune-based band Tungzstn from the instruments, teaching assignments, DAT machine, amplifiers, guitar-synth and the console at his recording studio. And these breaks, “even if for 10 minutes”, are entirely his own; they may come in the form of morning prayers, visiting temples on Thursdays and Saturdays, a drive on his way back home from his studio or gymming with friends on Sunday mornings.

I caught up with this talented musician at his studio recently. The glass panels, drums, piano, keyboards, 24-track console and all other essentials reminded me once again of my days with microphone and console. I told that to Kulkarni. My radio background and fondness for music, perhaps, helped us to click instantly.

The artiste took me for a quick tour of his studio. Beyond the small and cosy reception area, the studio is divided into different sections depending on the instruments that are practised there. So we were at the drums section, keyboards section and the like. It was afternoon and there was not another soul. Without the sound of music, I could almost hear the calmness that the instruments emanated. The elegant polish of the chairs reflected the light of the studio. The LED lights of the console blur my vision; I feel lost in a world that was so familiar once. Kulkarni’s voice brings me back to the present.

We get ourselves seated in front of the console at the recording section and begin chatting. I ask about Kulkarni’s daily schedule. I myself was usually a late riser when I had late evening radio shows that could continue till midnight. I recount that to Kulkarni and he smiles. It’s somewhat similar for the man too; whether it is Sunday or any other day of the week, Kulkarni is a late riser – usually his day begins at 8.30 in the morning. Up next is the gym next door where he gets into the fitness mode for about one-and-half hour. At least four times in a week Kulkarni does his bit to stay fit and “gain strength.” In fact, after music, if anything that he enjoys is his workouts at the gym. It helps him to “stay focussed” despite his “often-erratic schedule.”

Back home, Kulkarni gets ready for the day ahead by 11.30. For the next three hours, the musician keeps his schedule as flexible as he can. He could therefore get busy with recording session or “experimenting with the guitar” or “networking with people” who matter to his commercial ventures. There could even be days when he will not do anything but spend some quality time with his family – that might include getting his niece from her school.

But once the flexi-time is over, Kulkarni ensures that he is at the Institute of Modern Music (which also houses the studio) that his father (noted composer Suhaaschandra Kulkarni) had established in 1965. It is there that students of the Institute learn to play range of musical instruments – guitar to mandolin, drums to piano. The batches of students are “imparted knowledge” on the basis of a “fixed syllabus” and Kulkarni, along with his father “and an assistant,” ensures that “each student is taught separately.” Thus, these classes between 3 in the afternoon till 8 in the evening will not let Kulkarni leave the precinct. And he “enjoys being there” with the enthusiasts of all ages.


Kulkarni tells me briefly about his father. Senior Kulkarni was once associated with All India Radio as a composer. That justifies why the name ‘AIR’ strikes a chord with the junior. Kulkarni asks me about my radio days and music I prefer. I mention a whole range of names – GN’R, Deff Leppard to Lionel Richie. I explain that I love melody with a tinge of sadness. The musician refers to a survey that shows we Indians love sad music the most though we are not always aware about it.

Kulkarni then picks up his guitar and strums few notes that sounds like the ‘intro’ of a GN’R track. He next switches to a softer sound and I recall the Indus Creed track Pretty Child. Kulkarni laughs as I say this to him and promises to “mention this to Mahesh” (Mahesh Tinaikar, one of the founding members of Indus Creed which was once known as Rock Machine). Then for some more time he dabbles smoothly with the guitar. He keeps it down and gets back to telling me about his life.

Besides helping the uneasy hands on the guitar strings or the piano keys, Kulkarni has to look after the administrative side of the Institute. That takes some time after the classes get over. So, it is not until 8.30 or so he can sit behind the wheel, steering his car for a detour before he reaches home. This regular drive is the musician’s way to “isolate” himself “from the rest of the day.” To complete the “spacing out,” Kulkarni won’t drive to those areas where he could meet known faces.

A foodie by his own admission, Kulkarni loves all the preparations. I still ask him about his favourite food. He thinks for a while before admitting, “Chinese and the sizzlers are the best options” for him. But like any other family-person, Kulkarni will make sure that he enjoys the dinner in company of his parents and wife.

A workaholic, Kulkarni often heads for his studio once again after the dinner. Won’t that be little boring, I wonder. Kulkarni doesn’t seem to agree. Surrounded by the instruments and the gadgets, the man is either busy with his guitar riffs or ensuring quality production of some album. Being a rock musician, he also has to find time to compose music for his band. For him, it’s difficult to create music from a passive situation; most of the times, the “idea behind a music comes from some context” that Kulkarni has been thinking of. The post-dinner stint at the studio allows him to work on those ideas before he gets back to other artistes of the band. It’s not until 12.30 am, he is back home to call it a day.

Life goes on a different pace on Saturdays and Sundays when the music classes at the Institute are off. The weekend therefore offers Kulkarni a chance to check out the talents who keep dropping at the studio to get their musical skills tested. These audition or trial sessions provide him the hope about Indian rock music. The “growing interest among the youngsters and better production quality” keeps the man ticking with his guitars. And as he plans for the concerts where he can enthral music lovers with original Tungzstn compositions to Iron Maidenesque sounds, Kulkarni also makes out some time for listening to retro Hindi music on the Worldspace radio or sourcing albums from the music stores in the city.

As he mentions ‘Indian rock music’, I ask him about the commercial success of the Indian groups that sing in English. Kulkarni pauses for a while. He accepts that most of the “youngsters who appreciate Indian bands, will rather not buy the CD of the band” though they can spend on a CD of acts like Arctic Monkeys. Perhaps, the niche audience still has a mindset that music in English is best sung by the native speakers, I tell him. Kulkarni listens to my opinion but doesn’t give his.

He sounds little sad that the corporate sector do not support the Indian rock musicians as much as they are keen to sponsor well-known foreign bands. I mention the role of radio in promoting local talents, as I saw in Calcutta. Kulkarni says he’s not sure whether that will be possible everywhere. But he hopes, with the media’s support, things will brighten up. We part on that positive note.