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Sound Garden, Bengaluru: Urban Design that’s Musically Yours

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on August 28, 2017 at 05:29 PM

‘ Music is an Experience’ – the very concept that drove Jimmy Hendrix fan and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to team up with iconic architect Frank Gehry to create in Seattle a high tech, immersive edifice to music for all to visit and experience,  the Experience Music Project (EMP). Taking the cue from this is a group of our own country’s music aficionados in Bengaluru who, elevating their passion to the next level, have planned a musical gift for their city. Thus, the Indian Music Experience (IME) is a music museum in the making, put together by a non-profit group of the Indian Music Experience Trust, to be housed in a specially designed building on its own premises. As a precursor to this ambitious project, the open land around the proposed museum building has been developed as a ‘Sound Garden’ – an outdoor experiential zone for visitors to create musical sounds from natural elements! The Sound Garden was inaugurated at a day-long event on 21st July 2017 to an overwhelming response from the citizens of Bengaluru.

© Courtesy of IME, internet sources

A city, they say, is made by its people. This adage has been proven again in the inception and execution of the Indian Music Experience museum project in Bengaluru. The Brigade Group conducted a poll at their completed apartment project located on a 20 acre plot in the heart of Bengaluru. They asked residents what use they would like to put the remaining 2 acre open plot mandated by the civic development rules to, resulting in the majority voting to develop it as a facility associated with music. A concurrent visit by the head of the Brigade Group, Mr. Jaishankar, to USA, where he visited the EMP museum at Seattle kicked in the realisation that India, given its abundant wealth of musical heritage, needed to have a similar dedicated and designed music experience zone, Thus was born the Indian Music Experience project, a museum dedicated to the experience of Indian music, to be developed at the said 2 acre plot in J.P. Nagar under the directorship of Ms. Manasi Prasad, herself an innovative experienced classical vocalist .

The design competition for this building and the award for its execution were won by local firm Architecture Paradigm Pvt. Ltd. who are now designing the museum, with interiors including technical aspects of display, experience and performance zones to be designed by California based firm Gallagher and associates. The finance for the IME project is being borne partially by the Brigade Group, the state and central governments and the remaining through fund-raising. 

But, with the clear mandate that most of the 2 acre plot would have to be left open and that not a single tree could be touched, the question remained of the precise nature in which this landscape should be developed in a way that would match with the museum. This set the ball rolling for a Sound Garden – homage to the inextricable relationship between nature and sound, the primordial form of music.

Yes, the people of Bengaluru now have a garden where they don’t just get to connect with the greens to get a breath of fresh air, but actually get to experience one of the most primordial aspects of human culture – to make music from the surrounding nature! The Sound Garden has on display, in its natural ambience, a set of installations made from natural materials like stone, wood and others, on which one can create a variety of sounds, and even pieces of music. 

Tubes of Aluminium alloy suspended on leaf shapes sculpted out of granite produce a different note each in deep, low frequency sounds enabling a visitor to play a complete octave. Other tubes of the same alloy, installed as sound strips to mimic railings along the passage and stairs, are actually an elaborate system of reeds and mallets that can be played to produce a melody of notes strung together. The Humming Stone is a piece of a cliff with a couple of cavities into which a visitor peeps and hums to feel the resulting vibration pass through the entire body. 

To experience the magic of the Singing Stones, one has to wet one’s hands and rub them across the slits in any of the two blocks of granite to hear a beautiful sound produced. Brass plates paired with mallets are suspended in the window of each petal shape sculpted out of granite in the flower gong. Striking each of them produces a different note making a melody when they are struck in combination. The three Sound Tables are veritable xylophones made from plates of different materials, aluminium, brass and wood, to create and appreciate musical sounds of various timbres. 

A spinning chime is an arrangement of large aluminium tubes which, when struck with a mallet, spin around its tilted axis to produce a sonorous sound. The lilting music for the IME café is provided by an electro-mechanical wind-chime of Aluminium tubes suspended from its ceiling. One of the most memorable visitor experiences is the sound of the huge Spiral Bell Drum in which a membrane swings to create an exceptional sound.

All the musical instruments at this fascinating garden have been researched and developed by Auroville based group Svaram, with the final aesthetic forms of the installations and their integration into the flow of the garden being designed by Bengaluru based product designer of Titan fame, Michael Foley of Foley Designs. The Garden is also provided with a space for outdoor performances, which came to life at the inaugural function with many dance and music recitals. As the group from Svaram demonstrated the installations with choreographed performances the method to use each of them, Bengaluru’s citizens responded with overwhelming enthusiasm and excitement at having this tree covered, music filled venue which captured the attention and imagination of young and old alike.

The Garden City’s newest venue engages its citizens in an immersive aural exercise with their natural environment, while we eagerly await the completion of the museum to savour experiences of our great and varied musical heritage. 

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