Classical vocalist Vidya Shah had not worked with Gaurav Malekar, one half of the EDM duo BLOT!, before. Nor had she ever collaborated with Aditya Balani, Berklee School of Music graduate, composer, guitarist, singer-songwriter all rolled into one. Yet, starting April 6, music lovers can arrange a jugalbandi between Shah and Malekar or Shah and Balani or mix it all up with nine other artists to find the soundscape her voice is best suited for – all thanks to an interactive online platform called Mix the City-Delhi.
“There are moments when you feel vulnerable about what someone might do with your music,” said Shah. “But you have to allow people to interpret it in their way.”
Mix the City is a website which allows users to arrange pre-recorded music and share their creations on social media. The platform was first launched by The British Council in Tel Aviv, Israel, in April 2013 and has since spread to cover cities like Moscow, Istanbul and Hamburg. Users select a city, hit the record button, click on the musicians of their choice, add a synth effect if they like, and the complex code by UK-based digital companies Flying Object and Roll Studio turns their efforts (on average, users spend 7-8 minutes on the site) into a music video.
“You can feel like a DJ for a few minutes,” said Alan Gemmell, country head for The British Council in India.
The British Council is launching Mix the City-Delhi at Connaught Place on Thursday evening, on the heels of Mix the City-Mumbai which went live on March 31. There are two more Indian cities on the cards – Kolkata and Chennai. These launches come within the larger context of the UK-India Year of Culture 2017 programme, which flagged off on February 27.
Both the sets for Delhi and Mumbai on Mix the City have 24 short pieces (a few seconds, really) by 12 city-based musicians to choose from.
Though this makes the platform really simple, it does have limitations. Each musician or band is given a few seconds to develop their sound. This has the advantage of turning that sound into a malleable building block, of course, but it can often seem abrupt. The effect can be staccato – something which is aggravated by the video, in which the cuts are even more abrupt, as the musicians lift a hand or drop it over and over again if you play the same block for some time.
Another shortcoming is the way in which users access the second sample recorded by the musicians. The only way to reach it is by going through the first sample, which runs its entire course in the recording before you get to the next one. For instance, to use Abhishek Bhatia’s vocal melody in your mix in the Delhi programme, you’ll have to take at least one block of his electronic music on keyboard. A similar problem arises if you want to mute a musician within the track after a few blocks – say you want only the first guitar melody by Aditya Balani from the Delhi set for 30 seconds – to mute his sound after this, you must play his second melody, which lasts only for three seconds or so, but the sound seems incongruous.
That said, the platform is intuitive and allows you to play music arranger. The range of instruments and sounds on offer is interesting. In Delhi, there are choices like the cello, the violin, the sitar, the yayli tambur, been, dholak and electric guitar.
Each musician has recorded their sound against the backdrop of an iconic monument or site in their city. For Delhi, the sites include the 108 foot statue of Hanuman near Jhandewalan, Dadi-Poti ka Ghumbad in Hauz Khas, Agrasen ki Baoli and a street art work in Connaught Place, the India Habitat Centre, India Gate, and amid the strange public art project at the AIIMS Flyover that was installed in the run-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The final arrangement uses clips from the city to create a video of quality, which most people would want to share with friends on social media – real estate on social media is cheap, of course, but it’s still remarkable to create an idea with the potential for traction.
According to Gemmell, Mix the City has already seen nearly 1 million users from 198 countries.
In November, The British Council had launched another interactive platform, Mix the Play, with scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. Gemmell said it made sense to introduce the interactive music platform in Israel and now India since in both countries, there is a culture of innovation and music.
Mix the City is a massive project – although the British Council wouldn’t say what it cost to make – with curators for each city and an overall India curator, Sonya Mazumdar. Gemmell said the idea is to tell a story about the city through its music. We are not sure why the yayli tambur represents the sound of Delhi better than, say, a tabla or flute, but even minus that narrative, the site is fun to play around with.