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Freedom in limits

Title: Re: The power of limits - reply to Max
Steve wrote:
I completely agree.  There seems to be a part of my brain that is consumed by the idea of new gear, new options, new toys -- and this is legitimate, and fun.  But I always have to bring it back to simplicity -- I'm so inspired by Indian classical music, the idea of two or three people playing for hours, exploring the ramifications of a simple idea (melody and rhythm). 
I agree.  One of the great paradoxes in Indian classical music is the sense of freedom within very narrowly defined limits.  For example, the melodic material in any raga consists of its notes, which are "written in stone" and cannot be changed, added to, or removed; its melodic contour, which must be followed rigorously in both non-metrical sections as well as compositions (including the myriad improvisations played within the compositions); and also a "pakar" ("catch") or characteristic phrase that immediately identifies the raga (so as to distinguish it from other ragas using the same scale).  In addition, this all occurs over a nonchanging tonic drone, and the raga never modulates into any other key or tonal center.  To a non-Indian musician all this seems extremely hidebound and stultifying, but in Indian musical tradition it becomes a challenge for the musician to be as creative as possible *within* these limitations.
One of the best analogies I ever heard in this regard went as follows:  Imagine a pie chart, which consists of the entire available range of musical notes, phrases, interval combinations, etc.  Now make two lines to form a very thin slice within the circle.  These are the "rules" that govern a raga, so that there is an extremely limited amount of material available.  However, those two lines extend into infinity, so that what initially appeared to be very limited can be greatly expanded, offering a multitude of possibilities within those narrow borders.  When listening to great masters of Indian music this analogy really sinks in.  For example, some of the deepest, most serious ragas within the tradition contain only five notes.  Yet musicians have been playing these ragas for hundreds of years and still making them new and interesting.  It's fascinating to watch a master performer take this "limited" material and keep an audience spellbound for over an hour, just on that single melody.