‘Mr. Distinguished Researcher of the Year,’ for computer music
By Priyanka Mehra
Ajay Kapur, a 24-year old Indian born in the United States, was awarded
the ‘Mr. Distinguished Researcher of the Year’ award in the field of
Computer Music in 2004. Presented at the International Conference of
Computer Music in Miami, FL, this international award is given to
researchers who have advanced the field of combining music and
Ajay Kapur. (Photo: Courtesy, Ajay Kapur)
Kapur and his team won the award for their work on ‘Digitizing North Indian Performance,’ a press release said.
Kapur is currently a Ph.D. student at University of Victoria –– an
institute for advanced study on a Pacific island in British Columbia,
Canada, off the coast of Vancouver and Seattle. He completed a
bachelor’s of science and engineering in computer science at Princeton
University, while studying music theory from all over the world. At
Princeton, he met his mentor and guru, Professor Perry R. Cook, who
enlightened him with his own computer music inventions such as a
sensor-based coffee mug that triggers physical models of any instrument
(shakers, trumpet, sitar, etc.) off his laptop. This introduced Kapur
to the field of his dreams. In 2000, Kapur began building his first
instrument, the Electronic Tabla Controller (ETabla).
Using microcontroller technology (the same devices used in cell phones
and digital cameras), he began to embed a computer within the
traditional north Indian tabla, a pair of drums used for accompaniment
in Hindustani classical music. “I am trying to capture the movement of
the human hand during tabla performance and use the information to
synthesize sounds and visual feedback on my laptop,” said Kapur.
“This is similar to a digital keyboard, which allows a piano player to
perform with any sound they desire, except my invention is for tabla
players, extending the possibilities of sound production,” he said.
When beginning his research in designing the ETabla, Kapur e-mailed
tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain, asking him where he should learn to
play and study the traditional tabla.
Hussain pointed Kapur to his school he set up in memory of his father,
the Ustad Allah Rakha Institute of Music in Mumbai. Kapur thus bought
his ticket to India and began studying at the Institute with Pandit
Rakesh Kumar Parihast, one of Hussain’s top students, and the one
responsible for teaching all the students at the Institute all year
long. Kapur continues to visit India to study with his guru in order to
learn as much as possible for his research.
(Compiled from a press release)