Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Blog trivia

If you are visiting this site for the first time, it is important to read this post. The intention of this blog is to present arguments in a pre-determined sequence. OLDER posts are actually NEWER posts within a month. As I keep adding new posts I change the time stamp to an earlier time so that you can read the posts in sequence. If you notice, all the posts within a month have the same date. Only the time stamp varies. Newer posts have earlier time to help you read in sequence.

If this site interests you and you want to read the earlier months (I would recommend starting from month 1 before reading month 2) start from the earliest month. I have ensured that within a month the posts are sequenced properly.

Tech Notes

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YT Notes

The Raja team is taking down YouTube sites on copyright infringement grounds. Some of the YT videos may not be viewable as a result. Let's wait for the dust to settle down.

For those who read this blog regularly, please treat this as a little nuisance and continue reading.


Ravi Natarajan

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 18/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Unnai Patri Sonnaal (Mathiya Chennai – Tamil - 2009)

There should be no debate about 'Mathiya Chennai’ (Tamil 2009) being an obscure film and there was one brilliant song by Rita that goes 'Unnai Patri Sonnal'. While the song is great, the harmonies in this song's interlude is so freaking modern, that I do not understand why people have difficulty in accepting Raja's modernity. When Raja does something really good and modern, it is dismissed as 'synth', even by Raja fans.

The interludes will stand any harmony test.

Listen to the harmony passage from 1:10  to 1:34. Three synthesizer tones play the SATB in this - a 
bass tone on the synth, a normal piano and sharp bells. I love the recording of this song as you can hear the hi-hats so clearly from the drummer. Harmony does not get any more modern.-

Next listen to the harmony passage between 3:08 and 3:20 is not very impressive as it is a repetitive melody without much ornamentation.

The passage between 3:20 and 3:30 is 10 seconds of outstanding harmony done with bass , flutes, guitar and bells. Cut this out and make it your ring tone and you can see the quality of this harmony.

Another walk in the park...

Let’s hear Unnai Patri Sonaal

Kanukkulle background score (Tamil – 2009)

Kanukkulle (Tamil 2009) was a story of a violinist which went nowhere. There were some fantastic songs by Raja in this film.

The first 38 seconds of the title score of this film is a violin harmony treat. What follows is a melodious violin based tune with percussion and bass. My focus is the first 38 seconds of this good title score:

Nandri Solla Vendum  (Chithiraiyil Nila Choru - Tamil - 2013)

Only Raja fans know about this film and its tracks. The film stands out as among the top 10 most boring films with Raja's music :-) I could not even stand this film in fast forward!

Let's discuss this song and some fantastic 
harmony parts that Raja has written for this undeserving film track.

Play the song at a high volume to enjoy some of the specific parts, which appears straight out of any Western classical concert.

Harmony passage 1
(2:42 to 2:50): It starts off with the flute and the violins sharing two of the parts (A and T). Three seconds into the part, Raja throws in the cello in the B part.  The master stroke is not that. Following this, he gets the Cello to play a melody that is very pronounced. Not many composers do this. The bass part is just an enhancer for others.

Harmony passage 2 (2:50 to 2:57): From 2:50 onward, it is another harmony arranged back to back, between the piano and the guitar now taking the flute and 
violin parts (A and T). Like the previous harmony passage, Raja throws in the cello melody on the B part.

You need to play these two back to back melodies a few times to get a sense of what Raja is doing to these two harmonies. Only the cello is the constant connection between the two.

Harmony passage 3 (2:57 to 3:08): This is a completely different arrangement. The melody lines are identical between the violins and solo violin and the piano playing three parts and the melody is repeated 4 times - sort of simple cannon

Another walk in the park for another obscure film and song.

Let’s hear Nandri Solla Vendum..

Monday, September 2, 2019

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 17/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Thoorigai Indri (Ajanthaa -Tamil/Telugu/Malayalam - 2007)

Though I covered Ajanthaa (Tamil/Telugu/Malayalam 2007) in this topic, one of the finest harmonies written by Raja in the 21st century is in the song 'Thoorigai Indri' from Ajanthaa, that obviously went unnoticed.

This is absolutely a modern harmony - nothing gets more modern than this. He uses synthesizers, traditional violins, flute, synthesized flute and literally freaks out.

Harmony Passage 1: Prelude between 0:01 to 0:21 - Starts off with a piano roll and is joined by the violins, cellos, double bases, synthesized flute and regular flute to knock any WCM listener's socks out. Observe the last few seconds of the prelude - though not a tremolo arrangement, intricate is an understatement. You do not hear these 20 seconds from any Indian composer - period! Worth every second as a ring tone.

Harmony passage 2 : 2:55 to 3:22  - This is one of the earliest set of interludes that made me realize the genius of this man. 2:55 to 3:00 - this is almost like a Carnatic avarohanam on the violins with the piano and the cellos taking care of the other harmony parts - I have heard these parts at least a thousand times. 3:01 to 3:10 - it is more of a Carnatic play (experts tell me what ragam this is) on top of the harmony parts played by the piano, cellos, and violins. 3:11 to 3:22 is a beautiful C&R between the violins and flute. This sometimes reminds me of the second interlude of 'Enulle Engum'.

For those who dismiss Raja's modern work as 'synth' must hear this before typing the first letter on any forum...

I would take this synth any day for Raja's 80s. The 80s fan argue about his abilities to interplay with ICM and WCM - this track is a great modern showcase of this interplay. Try replicating this and retain the beauty of it - guaranteed to fall flat.

Let’s hear Thoorigai Indri…

Sooryan background score (Malayalam 2007)

In the WCM Raja world, 2007 was a great year - Ajanthaa and Cheeni Kum made a huge difference. He also did his Carnatic based Malayalam film, of which Sooryan is an important one. This film had an average run and the songs did not get very popular.

We will focus on the title score of Sooryan (Malayalam 2007).

The title score is half Western and half ICM. We will discuss the harmony parts of the title score only here..

Harmony passage 1: 0:01 to 0:10 secs - The synthesizer plays the A part and the sustained violin note takes care of the S - you'll notice that the other two parts are filled by the bass and the synthesized violins. A nice introductory play for what follows.

Harmony passage 2: 0:11 to  0:35 secs  -  this is pure harmony with just violins and the bass parts being played on a synthesizer. 29 seconds of WCM bliss. Raja separates the WCM and the ICM that follows by a single bell note on the synthesizer.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 16/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Yaarkku Yaarendru  (Ajanthaa - Tamil/Telugu/Malayalam - 2007)

Nothing can get more obscure than the song I will discuss in this post.

The tune is average, but the harmonies are done so brilliantly. This is the song - Yaarkku Yaarendru from Ajanthaa (Tamil/Telugu/Malayalam 2007). 

For whatever reasons, Ajanthaa did not deserve such intricate harmonies. But, how do you argue with a guy who says, it's not a big deal Let's get back to the song.

Listen to the prelude - a combination of violins with keys and flute. Nicely done.

Next, hear the first interlude from 1:20 to 1:30 - the violins play the melody that imitates the flow of water on a slope and an ascent. The flute does the final ascent playing its part. This is a regular harmony theme of Raja and he has done in many songs and I would like to use this track to highlight this technique of him. It's all about the gushing violins and 
cellos and double basses  taking care of the initial ebbs and troughs and the finishing is normally done by the flute. That's top bread.

Between 1:31 and 1:40 on the same interlude, this is harmony arranged with the flutes and only pizzicato violins.  This is the meat in the sandwich.

The bottom bread is the 1:41 to 1:44 done with the same ebbs and troughs with the flutes and gushing violins. One hellua harmony sandwich :-)

Let’s listen to Yaarukku Yaarendru…

Rokkam Irukkura (Kaasi - Tamil - 2001)

A number of songs in Kaasi were hits and it will be unfair to call it obscure. However, this movie musically is known for two things - folk and a full Hari album for Raja.

Percussion and singing take the top spots in this film's songs and not harmony.

However, Raja cannot keep harmony away even under these circumstances.

Hear the segment between 3:16 and 3:42

This is a clean 4-part harmony with violins (S and A) and flute (T) and the double basses and the cellos take care of the B part. If you listen to only this segment, you cannot tell it is a song from Kaasi.

Another walk in the park…

Let’s listen to Rokkam Irukkura..

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 15/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Bharathi Background Score (Tamil 2001)

If I say 'Bharathi' (Tamil 2001) is an obscure film, I run the risk of being shot at. But 'Bharathi' and harmony, you must be kidding! The film had some of Raja's very fine Carnatic work that brought him close to a National award that eluded him.

Yes, Bharathi, harmony and Raja - that's the obscure combination that I will discuss here.

If you listen to the BGM, where Bharathi learns and speaks fluently in English, for the Tamil, audience, Bharathi's words are faded and you can hear Raja's violin harmony take over. Hear from 6:18 to 6:54 in the clip below (courtesy Navin):

If that obscure WCM part was not good enough, you need to hear this masterpiece - Bharatha Samudhayam Vazhgave by Yesudas. The song has only one interlude and Raja hits the ball out of several parks. This is the unappreciated but one of the grandest harmony parts he has written in films.  Between 1:24 and 1:50, hear the harmony that the maestro (I do not use this word lightly) delivers. I missed it initially till one of my friends told me. Has Raja ever spoken about this score? 

That's another walk in the park...

Mugam background score (Tamil 1999)

According to Wikipedia, 'Mugam' is a film released in 1999 in Tamil and Telugu. I have no idea about this film and I am sure many others are in the same boat. Obscure for sure.

Thanks to Kamesh for posting the title score in soundcloud. I was listening to this score today and it is a short one of about 2 minutes laden with harmony.

Between 1:14 and 1:45, harmony does not get any better. The bass is played with cellos and double bases and the the violins play the other parts - this is a 
string quartet. Very few composers can even write something like this.  VSN has been doing great work in this area as part of his MSQ. A solo violin does the S part of the harmony - this is no different from hearing a classical Western concert that goes back to the baroque days. Between 1:46 and 1:55, the composer changes the harmony completely and returns back to the original baroque style harmony back from 1:56 all the way to 2:18. He repeats it again between 3:15 and 3:35.

Here is a comparable video that shows you how a 
string quartet works...

The point of sharing VSNs video along with Raja's obscure movie work of 'Mugam' is that, it comes easy for these artists. Harmony is not something they have to sweat it out like other Indian composers who brag about it. It also proves my pet theory that Raja is first a WC musician and everything else after that. For a useless movie like 'Mugam', if he has to write a title score, he would like to do something where he does not have to sweat it out. Harmony is in his DNA and there is nothing that he needs to do to write a small 3 minute score!

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 14/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Kaadhal Kavidhai background score (Tamil 1998)

It is embarrassing to figure out why Raja would ever do such a fantastic set of harmonies for such an undeserving  movie.  I saw this movie because of this score and it was unbearable. Incoherence, amateur histrionics, you name it  - you have everything in this movie. I do not want anybody who has not watched the film to suffer. Just experience Raja's work. The only thing I can think of is that when ideas flow through him, he has no way to stop it and reserve it to another decent film.

As two scores from the background music of this film are fitting for a maestro, I will do two posts. The theme we will cover is a score called 'Exhilaration' from the obscure film - 'Kaadhal Kavidhai’ (Tamil 1998). It is one of my standard ring tones and it is the work of a true maestro. The folks who think that Synthesizer based themes of Raja are bad have to hear this. I rate this as one of the finest mix of synthesizer, violins, and flutes .

Harmony passage 01: From 01 to 06 seconds - it is a nice synthesizer melody played with the bass. This is in prep for the harmonies that follow. You can hear the ascending melody throughout these 6 seconds and it is nicely arranged with the guitar chords.

Harmony passage 02: From 07 to 11 seconds - the violins play their own melody counter to the synthesizer. The synthesizer based exhilaration theme continues.

Harmony passage 03:From 12 to 18 seconds - the exhilaration theme (rapid ascension of a melody) is now played equally by the violins and the synthesizer. Note that the chords are played by violins and not the guitar anymore. Masterstroke. Passage 3 is hardly different from passage 2, but switching of instrumentation makes a HUGE difference. Only a master arranger can think of such a fantastic score.

Harmony passage 04: from 18 seconds to 30 seconds - Raja takes the whole score to another level by adding flutes into the theme. The driver of this passage is both the flutes and the violins with the guitar providing the support. Raja cuts out the synthesizer for this passage and the melody has a new color due to the change of the instrumentation. Worth a million bucks.

I would take a bow before the maestro for just these 30 seconds.

I rate this as one of the finest by the maestro for an undeserving and obscure film. As I could not find a good source, I posted it on sound cloud.

Kadal Kaatin (Friends – Malayalam – 1999)

I am relaxing the criteria to include the song of this post, as the film was hardly obscure. Friends (Malayalam 1999) was a popular film and the songs in the film were a big hit. However, the song I will discuss in this post does not make rounds even among Raja fans. The harmonies weaved by Raja in this song are very special.

While emotional, melodramatic scenes are quite common in Indian films, harmonies do not pack such emotions normally. Most Indian composers use it for its traditional intent - melody, beauty, aesthetics etc. They are just very pleasant to hear and at best make you appreciate the beauty of the composer’s work. This song has some arrangement that are very Indian, though the composition is very western. It is hard to draw a parallel from the 
Western world, though I will try to compare it with one of the very emotional scores of John Williams.

The track we will discuss today is Kadal Kaattin from Friends (Malayalam 1999). There is a Yesudas version and also a Sujatha version. The interludes are identical.

Harmony passage 01: 06 to 24 secs. (prelude) All the four parts are beautifully arranged with repetition as a tool to drive home the emotion – The violins always take the S part and play its melody with the basslines taking care of the B and the guitar and cellos taking care of the remaining parts. The use of cellos and double bases in this song is very special. With the right audio (I will post the instrument clip alone) you can easily feel swept away by the arrangement.

Harmony passage 02: 1:19 to 1:29 secs. (interlude 1) The violins play initially only a single part along with the bass. The strumming of the guitar along with the violins is almost like an artist painting a scene – this technique alone drives tension and remorse more than anything else. This is an outstanding arrangement with just two parts where it almost gives you an impression of an opposing emotion of love and hatred simultaneously.

Harmony passage 03: 1:30 to 1:40 secs (interlude 1). The violins play their part with a different melody, but the strumming takes a completely different meaning now along with the bass lines as it now almost takes all the opposing emotion out of the composition and drives the listener to the days of togetherness or harmony (pun intended). Same instrumentation, but a different effect – this is what a master does with harmony.

Harmony passage 04: 1:50 to 2:00 secs (interlude 1). Raja uses the synthesizer along with the violins to now  to portray almost a little walk back into the past – this is typically the arrangement that western composers like JW use for broad landscape shoots. Raja has a very simple melody that keeps repeating with the violins but beautifully punctuated by the synthesizers with single notes. Imagine this part of the score without those synthesizer single tones – it will be quite boring. Two simple things together make the whole harmony so exotic.

Harmony passage 05: 3:00 to 3:15 secs (interlude 2). How to arrange melancholy with harmony? Use a nice melodic line with both the flute and a violin playing together and use the synthesizer to punctuate it along with the bass lines. If these parts do not move a listener, then I am not sure, what else will.

Harmony passage 06: 3:15 to 3:29 secs (interlude 2). The melody is different from passage 05, but Raja does something very unusual, he uses slapping bass to accentuate his rhythm. Now, a slapping bass is used to the best of my knowledge only with happy songs with a very fast time to let the listeners go crazy. He uses this technique in this emotional song and does not throw away any of the mood that he built, but uses it to enhance the mood. This has always been my conclusion when you analyze Raja’s instrumentation. It negates all common perceptions about any arrangement. He can bend anything to fit his need.

Harmony passage 07
: 3:30 to 3:39 secs (interlude 2). Like the prelude, what is striking about this part of the use of the double bass with the violin melody as it turns over to the charanam. You can hear it very clearly between 3:35 and 3:36. The harmony is punctuated by synthesizer throughout these 9 seconds.

Raja single handedly dramatizes the song with his harmonies that is hard to ignore. I have not heard such an emotional harmony arrangement, even with other Raja songs. The Tamil equivalent Poongatre Konjam by Hari has much simpler orchestration than its Malayalam counterpart.

This is harmony that moves you. Salute the maestro.

Let’s hear Kadal Kaatin

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 13/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Thai Maavin Thanalil (Oru Yaatra Mozhi - Malayalam  - 1997)

This song is very popular in Kerala but few Tamils or Telugus know about it. I would like to categorize this as still obscure.

'Thai Maavin Thanalil' from Oru Yaatra Mozhi (Malayalam 1997). The song's prelude and the pallavi are decorated with plucked strings, known as pizzicato in WCM.  There are several other songs where Raja has used Pizzicato strings (example, Maalayil Yaaro's interludes).

Hear the second interlude alone in this song to see some brilliant harmony of Raja from 2:41 to 2:58. Granted, that the picturization takes your mind off the violins, 
cellos, double basses and the violas. This is Raja at his best and you do not get to hear this type of harmony in Indian films from anyone else. This stands as tall as the work by JW, JG, HZ or EM or any other great composers of the West.

Let’s hear Thai Maavin Thanalil

Vinodayatra Background score (Malayalam - 1997)

Though not strictly an obscure movie, Vinodayatra (Malayalam 1997) never somehow makes it to the top of Raja's good work. His guitar chords on Kaiyatha needs no introduction to Raja fans. It is a usual 'feel good' film of Sathyan and the background score in this movie has some simple harmonies (on the surface) that makes you wonder about the intricacies of the 'walk in the park' - something I hope all budding composers must listen and internalize. The melodies are purely Indian and the piano and the guitar arrangements take care of the other S,A,T,B parts. Again, something, nobody would care to do, as you already have a bunch of good melodies that you can beat it to death in an Indian movie. After hearing this score, you need to go back to the songs in the movie and you will quickly realize that the melody is reused (sometimes on a different time) but the harmonies are rewritten...

Let’s hear the background score of Vinodayatra background score…