Bollywood and a brief dalliance with boy bands in my misspent, angsty teenage years more or less sum up my understanding of music. So when I found myself on a guided tour of the IME in Bengaluru just days after it opened, I felt a bit like a boiled sweet in a Godiva box. My tour guides were Manasi Prasad, a noted Carnatic vocalist and the museum director, and Dr Suma Sudhindra, a well-known veena player and the museum’s director of outreach programmes. Accompanying me on the tour was classical percussionist B.C. Manjunath, renowned in his own right.
The story of Indian music told in a series of experiential multimedia galleries—that’s the IME in a sentence. But like most things in this country, music isn’t a monolith. To curate a comprehensive history with all its complex layers and interconnections is quite impossible. The IME does not claim to be comprehensive. Instead, it encourages visitors to discover and explore the stories behind music, marvel at musical artefacts, and even create melodies through its themed galleries.
One way of going about it is to flit from gallery to gallery. There’s an abundance of information and plenty to make and do, including interactive stations, games and even a functional recording studio to experiment in. The other way is to follow the recommended ‘route’ through the museum, which is what we did.
The first gallery was Contemporary Expressions. The idea, explained Manasi as we found ourselves in a make-believe Bengaluru street, was to form an immediate connection with the visitor. Nothing connects you better to urban India than sitting in an autorickshaw, only this one was a mini-theatre. Next, the Living Traditions gallery, approached through a magnificent pillared hall, touched upon elements of classical music. My musical companions launched into an animated exchange, the details and nuances of which escaped me, but the immersive presentation of Hindustani ragas and their connection to time of day was quite another thing. From the technicalities of classical music, we crossed over to Songs of the People, a gallery dedicated to folk and tribal music. The notable feature was a kaavad, a portable wooden shrine that doubles as a storybook (mostly mythology and folktales). Next to it a larger custom-built mini-theatre, built like a kaavad, looped a short movie about this craft.
The Melting Pot strived to reject the notion that music could or did evolve in isolation. Here, the interconnections and influences between the different kinds of music were explored. In today’s times of exacerbating divisions, it is relevant to be reminded of how cultures give and IMEtake from each other. Then came my favourite—the Instruments Gallery, a two-storey display of over 100 instruments, viewed from a sort of mezzanine balcony and paired with an interactive computer simulation to learn more about the instruments and hear their sounds.
The last four sections were filled with songs, speeches, information and audiovisual footage, and some inspired design. Songs of Struggle, made to look like a ceiling-high archival store, was dedicated to the power of music to create change. Stories through Song retraced the history of Bollywood music up to the present day. The ‘memory boxes’ dedicated to different decades twanged many a nostalgic string. Reaching Out dealt with the history of recorded sound in India, and, finally The Stars paid tribute to the luminaries of Indian music.
Outside, the Sound Garden’s sculptures invited you to play with singings stones, musical railings and chimes. The most intriguing, though, was a storm drum that sang in a deep, reverberating tone thanks to the coils of a steel spring. It was a play of the elements—which is essentially what music is.
Brigade Millennium Avenue, JP Nagar 7th Phase, Bengaluru; IME is open from 10am to 6pm every day except Mondays; wheelchair accessible; tickets: ₹250 for children, ₹150 for seniors.