A sound becomes musical or otherwise to a society according as how it is compatible with the cultural expectations of that society in relation to what musicality means to it, subject to the parameters of music-mindedness and musical behaviour acceptable to it. In other words, how a society represents musicality to itself – the many discursive meaning representations around the practice and institution of music. In our experience of the contemporary sonic spectrum, we cannot fail to notice that the culture-specific referentiality of musical meaning is increasingly dissociated from its cultural context that defined its terms of communication within the continuity of practice systems. Even as this sonic spectrum is largely constitutive of markedly depersonalised forms of applied music and programmed sound codes, like the many fancy-sounding ring tones, jingles, signature tunes and so on, it aspires to the explicit status as it were, of surrogate music. These variegated forms of sound in turn, owe much to an eclectic internationalist language of music in the global context of multiculturalism that we are getting acclimatised to as matter of course. Given the changes in cultural self-image and national identity of post-colonial people vis-a-vis the West, such adoptions of and acclimatization to the “new sound” – the sound that was previously felt to be synthetic, arbitrary and outlandish – are now more overt, self-conscious and less defensive. The inescapable functional rationality of what makes this soundscape ubiquitous, in turn has brought about unprecedented changes in the perception and experience of sound. So much so that it would be naive to think that the psychological aspects of auditory perception and the social aspects of music reception in the context of Indian art music or what is called classical music, are unaffected by these changes.
Prof. R. Nandakumar is an art historian who has a major interest in cultural musicology on which is focused his current research project under the Senior Nehru fellowship. He has taught art history and aesthetics in various Fine Arts colleges. He has been a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His writings address areas of intercultural concern from the perspective of the sociology of culture.