Saving music digitally

In safe hands

It could well be called serendipity... when out on his early-morning walks, Moloy Ghosh would often spot his colony sweepers carrying old music records that had been disposed off from the homes of his upmarket South Delhi colony. “Maybe because I was obsessed with old classical and film music, they would invariably catch my eye,” says the 49-year-old, talking about the vinyls. “Seeing them discarded unceremoniously pained me a great deal,” remembers Ghosh, going back to the early years of this millennium when, with CDs and the internet music having taken over the world of music, record and cassette players were no longer the raging style statements they once had been.

On the right path

What worried him was the fact that these junked music records could be carrying rare recordings that would soon be lost forever. Little did Ghosh know that in a few years’ time he would be working towards restoring some of their music and digitising them for posterity.

“Could it be that the Universe had started conspiring to making me move towards this?” asks the music buff who had started out by studying to be an electrical engineer. Although Ghosh did study music, and has even got a Sangeet Visharad (senior diploma) in Rabindra Sangeet, making a vocation out of it never really crossed his mind. This is despite an operation gone wrong in his early teens that had left him afflicted with dysgraphia (deficiency in the ability to write). “Consequently, I had a tough time in school, and later at MIT (Manipal), I managed to scrape through,” he remembers.

What followed were years of struggle with corporate organisations in which this condition never let him climb the ladder of success. “Despite all my hard work, I would end up being pulled up for lack of performance,” he remembers.

Soon, a Hepatitis-B attack forced Ghosh to quit. “When I was better, I did try my hand at tele-marketing and in an MNC but couldn’t handle the stress of these corporate workplaces.” Mulling over what to do next, he remembers telling a colleague, “Jaayen to jaayen kahan.” And to his surprise, she wondered if he had suddenly become a poet? “She wasn’t aware this is one of Talat Mehmood’s most beloved solo hits.” This conversation is probably what showed him a new direction. Ghosh decided to give lessons from home to youngsters, “teach the music of old, forgotten legends of Bengali music such as Rajni Kanta Sen, Krishna Chatterjee (daughter of Harindranath Chattopadhyay and niece of Sarojini Naidu), among other such stalwarts.” But for that, he needed to start research and educate himself on their genre of music. But, to his surprise, no CDs of Krishna Chatterjee were available.“This is despite the fact that she has been a huge artiste of her time. When I asked at a big music store in Kolkata why no CDs of hers were available, the reason stated was paucity of demand.”

According to a UNESCO report on the need to preserve audiovisual heritage, much of it ‘has already been irrevocably lost through neglect, destruction, decay and the lack of resources, skills, and structures, thus impoverishing the memory of mankind. Much more will be lost if stronger and concerted international action is not taken’.

Ghosh, willy-nilly, started work towards this end. He pulled out his father’s music collection of 78, 45 and 33 RPM records, but to his dismay, found that the family’s old record player had packed up. And none of the stores he contacted could help. “One person in Mumbai was willing to try, but for that I would have had to courier my collection to him, a risk I was not willing to take,” he informs. So, after much surfing on the internet, he managed to find a paid-for software to digitise music from records and cassettes. “I started experimenting with cleaning the audio quality and removing the hissing sounds. I call it remastering and can now claim to remove up to 80% of all such sounds,” says Ghosh.

Finally...

He laughs and recalls how his efforts to get his turn-table repaired finally bore fruit. “A shopkeeper in Chandni Chowk managed to help me out, but not before remarking, ‘Aap 2009 mein yeh 1909 ki cheez repair kara rahe ho’.”

Soon, from teaching music his focus shifted to digitising music from old records and cassettes. And Ghosh knew he was on the right track when one day he had a dream: “In it, my idol, the legendary singer Pankaj Malik, told me that he was proud of me.” And the next morning, Ghosh set about remastering his ‘Piya Milan Ko Jaana’ record and sent the digitised version to all his friends as a gift.

Helping him along is his wife Chandrani, also a music aficionado. “Both of us ensure that while remastering and clearing the hissing sound off the old tracks, we keep the original flavour of the music intact,” adds Ghosh who, besides having worked on RCA Victor Records dating back to the 1940s music of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Jim Reeves, Joan Baez, ABBA and Bengali and Hindi film classics, also has a lot of archival work to his credit.

“Imagine our happiness at a good job done with old Begum Akhtar’s recordings besides those of classical vocalist Ustad Amir Khan, sitar maestro Pt Debu Chaudhary’s guru Mushtaq Ali Khan, among so many others,” he adds. “It makes us happy to be working towards saving our country’s musical heritage.”

Also read: Black is Back 

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