Saturday, June 2, 2018

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.

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Ravi Natarajan

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 2/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Oh Nenjame Idhu Un Raagame (Enakkaaga Kaathiru - Tamil - 1981)

Oh Nenjame Idhu Un Raagame from Enakkaaga Kaathiru (Tamil 1981) is from a forgettable film obscure enough to qualify to be in this topic. Not just a great tune, the harmonies in this song are equally good.

In the first interlude between 1:49 to 1: 55 - starts off as a pure violin harmony and effortlessly switches the violins to synthesizers. Following this is the typical 80s C&R between the flute and synthesizer.

Between 2:06 and 2:30, it is some outstanding harmony work that definitely deserves elaboration. The play between the synthesizer and the flute with one ascending and another descending is just bewitching. Initially the violin takes the place of the flute every 4 bars once. It then is arranged every other bar till it is time for a simple bunch of C & Rs based transition to the charanam. 24 seconds of beautiful harmony.

In the second interlude, my favorite is between 3:51 and 4:08. As expected, the simple violin strokes start off and a few seconds later all other harmony parts are added with violins, 
cellos and double basses.

This is one of my favorite harmony arrangements by Raja, which he has rarely repeated in the last 40 years. This is a rare walk in the park. 

Let’s hear O Nenjame

Kanavarisu (Shikari - Kannada - 1981)

Kanavarisu from Shikari (Kannada 1981) is a fantastic duet by Balu and Janaki. However, very few Raja fans know this song. In my view, this song is the ver 1.0 of the Chinna Veedu song Ada Macham Ulla. Raja did a number of his initial orchestration experiments in Kannada in the early 80s. This is a faced paced duet and the song was a super hit in Kannada and not however known outside Karnataka. This song is known for its beautiful bass lines.

Listen to the second interlude where harmony is thrown in without impacting the pace of this song.  Between 2:22 and 2:32, the harmony between the violins, cellos, double basses and the flute is done with utmost finesse. Between 2:51 and 2:55, the harmony with violins returns back turning this over to the horns after that which land it right to the charanam.

Let’s hear Kaavarisu

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs

Writing good harmonies takes a lot of hard work and practice. Most decent composers have done harmony work in Indian film music. This starts from Salil Chowdhary to many new composers of the 21st century. However, most composers have reserved their harmonies for a predominantly monophonic Indian music to select few films and top projects. The current generation music composers get by with simple music composed using digital tools that are quite cheap today. Most Bollywood music today lacks depth and commitment to create music that requires a lot of formal education and training.

The primary reason for harmonies taking this special treatment stems from the fact that it takes enormous effort on the part of the composer to write them. As a result, it is a technique that is delegated to the most expensive/prestigious projects only.
Contrast this with Raja, who considers writing harmonies and conducting them as everyday business. At the extreme end of this equation is Raja’s harmonies for completely undeserving films/songs. As this is a walk in the park for him, he writes harmonies wherever he thinks that it is the best tool to elevate a visual. The budget/prestige of the project is immaterial for him.

The goal of this series is to shine the light on some of the brilliant harmonies that Raja has written for films/songs that were disasters as the film got canned or did not do well commercially and was forgotten. These are the hidden gems that deserves research. It also is another facet of the mind of the musical genius. As writing a harmony, or composing a song with a rare Indian raga is just about the same for him.

Before we start diving deep into these compositions, it is worthwhile to go back to the post on harmony – ‘what’s the fuss about harmony?’ I will use terminology that was introduced in this post some ten years ago. Please go through these 4 posts to get a grounding on the basics of harmony.

We will navigate Raja’s obscure harmonies in the chronological order and will cover both songs and background scores. Special thanks to Venkateswaran Ganesan, who created a special topic under his youtube channel to provide video clips for this series of posts. These videos have high quality audio and the silly dancing that go with the film videos will not distract you and the focus will be on music. I have also used some of Navin Mozart (Ramdoss) background score youtube clips of Raja he has created over the years.

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 1/18

Let’s first start with the example from Raja’s early days. We will begin with the song Saamakozhi Koovudhamma from Ponnu Oorukku Pudhusu (Tamil 1979). This song is a good melody and does not offer much scope for writing harmonies in the general sense. However, Raja uses a simple opportunity of the third interlude to write a beautiful counter melody and also beautifully integrates it with the folk song. If you listen to only the third interlude, you will notice that between 3:28 and 3:56, he creates a beautiful counterpoint with the synthesizer and the violins. It is another walk in the park for him.

Let’s hear the Saamakozhi clip…

In the first post of this topic, I mentioned about 'Saamakozhi' and the harmonies Raja added to the song. The film itself was not an obscure one, just the fact that Raja will throw in harmonies into his otherwise folk composition.

This post is about a song that is not strictly not a folk number. However, as a song, there does not seem to be any scope for harmony, similar to Saamakozhi.

Ennathil Etho (KallukkuL Eeram - Tamil -1980) 

We will next cover the song, 'Ennathil Etho' from KallukkuL Eeram (Tamil 1980).

Observe the second interlude and you will notice that this is arranged beautifully as a melodious harmony.

Harmony passage 1: 2:34 to 2:37 The usual Raja prep for a counter melody done with violins.
Harmony passage 2: 2:38 to 2:52 : While the violins continue on the background, the flute melody in the foreground for the next 16 bars or so is arranged in countermelody
Harmony passage 3: 3:00 to 3:07 : With the violins in the background, a synthesizer and a flute take care of harmony parts, What a nice arrangement.

Another walk in the park ..

Let’s hear the Ennathil Etho clip…

Monday, April 2, 2018

PolyCaRe – Concluding notes

In the past year or so, we enjoyed analyzing the PolyCaRe arrangements of Raja over 24 posts, not counting the introductory posts. This research took about a year looking for such arrangements over an extensive set of songs and background scores. Polyphony is hard and it is not easy to master. 

Many composers have used simple harmony to get through their careers as simple western harmony is rich enough.  While Call and Response is a staple Indian musical technique , very few Indian popular music composers are using this today.  Polyphony is something that very few Indian popular music composers have a solid understanding on.

To not just compose polyphonic music but to go beyond that is not something you get to experience every day. You need to have such a solid grounding on musical techniques, for you to venture into such unsafe territory. Fortunately, the level of complexity of a PolyCaRe composition does not challenge Raja at all. We saw close to 80 such compositions by Raja considering his songs and background scores.  This requires a level of sophistication with orchestration that few composers around the world can match.

The posts on symmetry showcased Raja’s ability to effortlessly compose CaRe based music. The detailed posts on counterpoints, fugue showcased his mastery over polyphony. PolyCaRe is where the former meets the later and they coexist. These 24 posts and about 80 compositions show that he is not just a master of the components but also a very savvy integrator of two sophisticated techniques.

While a number of listeners do celebrate his music due to its emotional connect to their lives, there is also a technical dimension to celebrate his work. While there can be more popular musicians than him in the near future, I have no doubt that there will be none of his level of musical technical sophistication, which goes unnoticed due to the simplicity that overlays  the sophistication.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Voices based PolyCaRe arrangements in 198x – interludes

We will continue the journey on PolyCaRe arrangements of Raja, with his compositions based on voices as the background melody instrument. In this post, we will particularly focus on his interlude compositions in the 198x. As we made it very clear in the definition, the PolyCaRe arrangement not only requires a background voice melody, it also requires two call and response melodies in the foreground played according to our rules of CaRe arrangements.

Let’s analyze the interlude of the famous 1980s song, Oh Priya Priya from Idhayathai Thirudhathe (Tamil 1989) or Geethanjali (Telugu 1989).  This segment, which is part of the second interlude  of the song which uses voices as its background instrument. Here is how the segment is structured:

Background instrument
CaRe - Instrument1
CaRe - Instrument2
Oh priya priya

  1. The first 2 seconds of the clip has the violins and the synthesizers in CaRe mode and the voices join in the background from 3 seconds onwards
  2. Between 3 and 23 seconds, with the voices going on in the background, the foreground CaRe arrangement between the violins and synthesizer is repeated 7 times
In other words, 14 foreground melodies are riding on the background voice based melody, which also have variations in their phrases

A unique PolyCaRe experiment by Raja.

Let’s hear the unique PolyCaRe arrangement of Oh Priya Priya…

Friday, February 2, 2018

Sax based PolyCaRe arrangements in 198x – background scores

This is one of the unique Raja experiments that deserves a separate post. A very unusual PolyCaRe arrangement for a background score that involves a sax in the background (typically the foreground instrument) with the guitar and the synthesizer doing the Call and Response foreground part.

Let’s analyze a short clip from the background score of the 1989 Tamil film Varusham 16. This is a short clip of slightly over a minute. This segment, which is part of the background score,  which uses sax as its background instrument. Here is how the segment is structured:

BGM Film
Background instrument
CaRe - Instrument1
CaRe - Instrument2
Varusham 16

  1. The first 10 seconds introduces the listener to the instrument choices of the composer for this clip. The background instrument, sax, is introduced first, followed by the guitar and the synthesizer. They play separately and not in a PolyCaRe arrangement in this segment
  2. Between 11 and 26 second, the sax plays its melody 4 times in the background, with the Guitar and synthesizer doing their CaRe 4 times and the repetition does not bore you as this is not just innovative use of the instruments, but also created to elevate a comic scene in the movie
  3. Between 27 and 34 seconds, the sax plays a different melody 2 times in the background, with the Guitar and synthesizer doing their CaRe 2 times
  4. Between 25 and 42 seconds, the configuration is changed by the composer. He now introduces the CaRe arrangement first followed by the background Sax. This is the opposite of #1
  5. Between 42 and 65 seconds, the sax plays its melody 6 times in the background, with the Guitar and synthesizer doing their CaRe 6 times. The last two plays have a slightly changed melody for the sax

The foreground melodies can stand on their own feet as simple CaRe arrangement. The background violin melody makes them polyphonic and hence PolyCaRe. There are 12 foreground melodies playing on top of the constant background CaRe melody play between the guitar and the synthesizer  in these 65 seconds.  Just the PolyCaRe arrangement alone in these 65 seconds involves 36 small melodies.

Let’s hear the PolyCaRe  arrangement in the BGM of the film Varusham 16 …