Music Principle

10 min read
20 May 2016
10 min read
1239 words
VMAG talks to Iman Shah, one of the key players in developing the music curriculum for technical and vocational schools

Can you tell us about your early years?

I’m a self-taught musician, and I have picked up a great deal listening to music greats. I had my first encounter with a guitar when I was nine years old, and the love for the instrument has stuck with me. Growing up, studies were always given the utmost prority in my home, and music was considered something you’d take up in your free time. So music never struck me as a viable career option. However, during my stay in the US, I got to analyse and understand the ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ of music. My father wanted me to be an engineer, and I guess I did fulfil his wish by becoming an audio engineer.  

Has the perception of music changed over the years in Nepal?

I meet a lot of parents when they bring their kids to Nepal Music School (NMC), and it seems they mostly do so because it helps with their kid’s application process for studying abroad; apparently the certificates come in very handy during the sit-ins with VISA councillers. During their exam breaks, a lot of students enrol at the school, and while a few of them do stay back and continue the course, close to 80 per cent of them drop out in the first few months. The perception of music hasn’t changed all that much. Music is still considered an extra-curricular activity.

Are you excited about the inclusion of music in the curriuculum?

Actually, music has been in the Nepali curriculum for quite some time. Creative and performance art is a part of social studies and is compulsory until class 5. In 2010, the government made music an optional subject in class 10, but what’s different now is that the State has adopted music as a major subject in technical and vocational schools. This means music will be regarded in the same category as other vocational subjects—Civil Engineering, Computer Science, Electronics Engineering and Agriculture. There are 140 schools spread across the country, and Nepal Music School has been working closely with education stakeholders to create materials for their students. This definitely opens up avenues for fellow musicians and for students, who can earn their SLC and high school diploma by choosing to study music. But the work does not stop here; we still have a long way to go.

My father wanted me to be an engineer, and I guess I did fulfil his wish by becoming an audio engineer
Guitarist, composer, audio engineer, music teacher, and also the principal of NMC—which role would you say is your favourite?

I’m happy in all my roles, as they all involve music. But if I had to choose one, it would have to be that of a record producer. Record producing is a creative process that involves interacting with people from various music backgrounds and creative aptitudes, and that’s really exciting for me as an audio engineer. My favourite place to be is behind the mixing console. That’s where the real magic happens.

What does a sound engineer do?

Sound Engineering is a vast subject, which is continually evolving. You need to know about all the technology used to treat sound signals. Sound engineering is employed by anyone who produces music—from those who produce records to those who help the military bands. You’re basically dealing with energy and working off that. One part of that job is audio engineering, which again has many sub-domain experts, like studio engineers, mastering engineers, sound designers, Foley artists and live engineers, to name a few. Although an audio engineer can do most of the acoustic tinkering, hyper-specialisation is always desirable, and that only comes through years of experience and dedication.

How has it been working for movies?

Back in the US, when I was doing my audio engineering course, I was always interested in background scoring. An inventive aspect of background scoring is the use of non-musical elements to produce something that makes acoustic sense. Oftentimes, the score carries way more tension than the visuals, and this ability to play with emotions is something that I personally enjoy. You need to start a flow of new ideas, and there’s so much you can do in this field.

Zhigrana had horror elements and Jangey is a suspense thriller. How do you conceptualise the sound for such varied themes?

Creating the sound for a character or situation starts with a discussion with the directors. I go about tackling my projects in a Wagnerian style, as in I like to play with motives. Richard Wagner’s leitmotifs produced subtle sensations and associations in the listener. In Zhigrana I played with the situation; for Jangey I created music for every single character, as the movie is based on a handful of characters and their objectives.

What keeps you busy these days?

I’m currently putting the finishing touches to my band Mental Radio’s album. The eight songs will have a new pop sound. I’m partial towards the 80s sound; my wife, who’s also the lead vocalist of the band, relates to the 90s, and then the youngest member our band is in his 20s. So yeah, it is influenced by different generations and styles. The album will be out by the end of May.

I was also recently involved with Nepathya’s new album as a record producer and mixing engineer. We have tried old-school recording style in this compilation, as opposed to track-based recording. This was a one-take recording done with everyone in the same room; when the band members can maintain eye contact during such performances, the energy created by their synergy is on a completely different plane.