Tuesday, August 2, 2016

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

Thanks

Ravi Natarajan

PolyCaRe analysis methodology

The analysis is based on the following candidates:

  • 1,600 of the best songs of Raja that I have used as my database (it keeps growing with time) for most analysis purposes. This represents about 35% of his overall number of compositions. These songs are drawn from all the 5 decades from 197x to 201x. It is also from all languages that he has worked on – Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Hindi
  • About 600 interludes collected from Raja compositions over time (this is a subset of the 1,600 songs)
  • About 400 background scores from various sources including Navin


Having got this database of potential candidates, shortlisting  PolyCaRe candidates is a laborious manual process:

  1. Scan the 1,600 songs’ interludes for PolyCaRe arrangements
  2. A subset of this analysis are the 600 interludes which focus only on the instrument based interludes
  3.  Scan the 400 background scores for PolyCaRe arrangements
  4. Once a candidate has been identified, document the track, its year of release, language, decade of the release (Excel)
  5. For the track, identify  the background instrumentCall and Response foreground instruments and document them
  6. For background scores, exactly identify the start and end positions of a PolyCaRe arrangement in a long recording 
  7.  Pivot the data to identify the PolyCaRe arrangement by background instrument, decade of film release and alphabetic sort of the song within this selection
  8. The data is now available for presentation after these 7 steps. All the exact PolyCaRe arrangements have to be manually extracted from the tracks

Here is the definition of decades as it applies to Raja’s work:

Decade
Year range
197x
1976-1979
198x
1980-1989
199x
1990-1999
200x
2000-2009
201x
2010-2016

With this approach, there may be a few songs/BGM scores that qualify more than once as the background instrument is different in two qualifying PolyCaRe arrangements within the same song/BGM scores.


Also, I will present 201x first followed by 200x and so on. This is done deliberately to address detractors who opine that Raja does not do orchestration as well as he used to do in his earlier part of his career. There are several examples from all the decades for many background instruments

PolyCaRe categories

All the posts in this category will be based on the background instrument that is used to create the PolyCaRe arrangement. Within the background instrument, we will explore by decade, one decade at a time, in the reverse chronological order.

1.       Guitar based PolyCaRe arrangements: In this broad category, both song interludes and background scores will be showcased that use guitar as the background instrument. There will further be sub –posts by decade:
a.      Guitar based PolyCaRe arrangements in 201x
b.      Guitar based PolyCaRe arrangements in 199x
c.       Guitar based PolyCaRe arrangements in 198x

2.       Piano based PolyCaRe arrangements: In this broad category, both song interludes and background scores will be showcased that use Piano as the background instrument. There will further be sub –posts by decade:
a.       Piano  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 201x
b.      Piano  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 199x

3.       Synthesizer based PolyCaRe arrangements: In this broad category, both song interludes and background scores will be showcased that use synthesizer as the background instrument. There will further be sub –posts by decade:
a.       Synthesizer  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 201x
b.      Synthesizer based PolyCaRe arrangements in 200x
c.       Synthesizer  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 199x
d.      Synthesizer  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 198x

4.       Veena based PolyCaRe arrangements: In this broad category, both song interludes and background scores will be showcased that use Veena as the background instrument. There will further be sub –posts by decade:
a.       Veena  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 198x

5.       Flute based PolyCaRe arrangements: In this broad category, both song interludes and background scores will be showcased that use Flute as the background instrument. There will further be sub –posts by decade:
a.       Flute  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 201x

6.       Pizzicato Strings based PolyCaRe arrangements: In this broad category, both song interludes and background scores will be showcased that use Pizzicato Strings as the background instrument. There will further be sub –posts by decade:
a.       Pizzicato Strings  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 201x
b.      Pizzicato Strings  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 198x

7.       Violins based PolyCaRe arrangements: In this broad category, both song interludes and background scores will be showcased that use Violins as the background instrument. There will further be sub –posts by decade:
a.       Violins  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 201x
b.      Violins  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 199x
c.       Violins  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 198x

8.       Sax based PolyCaRe arrangements: In this broad category, both song interludes and background scores will be showcased that use Sax as the background instrument. There will further be sub –posts by decade:
a.       Sax  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 198x

9.       Voice  based PolyCaRe arrangements: In this broad category, both song interludes and background scores will be showcased that use human voice as the background instrument. There will further be sub –posts by decade:
a.       Voice  based PolyCaRe arrangements in 198x

I would like to thank Navin for his great work in posting quality background scores of Raja, and some of the posts will use PolyCaRe qualifying clips from his posts.

I strongly encourage readers to provide feedback on what they consider as a good PolyCaRe arrangement, that I may have missed. As the process is quite manually intensive, oversight on some good compositions is possible.  Let us celebrate the greatest level of polyphonic sophistication achieved by a composer such as Raja, who is doing this work during our lifetimes. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Introducing PolyCaRe

Is PolyCaRe something to do with taking care of polyethylene plastics and what the hell is that doing in a blog site about music?

Is PolyCaRe something to do with taking care of polyester fabrics?

Is PolyCaRe something to take care of the ice creams and the tulips at the same time?

Humor aside, first thing is the assurance that you are still in the musical blog on Raja. Second thing is we are about to analyze an exciting new musical idea that Raja has used  over the years but has never been explored.

In the earlier posts on polyphony, we defined what polyphony in music is. You can revisit the simple version of the definition, going back by almost 8 years:

http://geniusraja.blogspot.ca/2008/08/introduction-to-polyphony.html

Before, we even go into polyphony, it is important to understand in simple terms, the difference between harmony and polyphony.

  • Harmony in music involves two or more voices (can be instrument or human) being played simultaneously
  • Polyphony in music involves more than one melody being played simultaneously


We also discussed at length about counterpoints, fugue with various instruments, which is all part of polyphony. Polyphony itself is harmony too as more than one melody involves more than one voice too. However, harmony is not polyphony.

We also discussed for a full year about Raja’s Call and Response arrangements in the ‘unusual’ category. Here is how we defined Call and response type arrangement:

http://geniusraja.blogspot.ca/2013/08/unusual-conversations-introduction.html

Most Call and Response arrangements are like conversations between two instruments or voices. This is a very common Indian musical feature.

What if these two musical ideas come together?

Will that work together, or work against each other?

While it may sound a bit of a stretch and difficult thing to do, it may also be a bit scary to the composers of limited talent.

Fortunately, Raja has frequently used these two musical ideas together and has been delivering great music for the last 5 decades in his interludes and background scores.

Now, ‘Poly’phony + ‘Ca’ll and ‘Re’sponse becomes ‘PolyCaRe’!

It is hard enough to do polyphony. How do you do PolyCaRe? Very hard, unless you are a musical genius where everything comes easy. 

Let’s elaborate a little more about what PolyCaRe involves.
  1. A call and response involves at least two instruments playing the same or different melodies
  2. A counter melody involves two melodies being played simultaneously
  3. So, in a PolyCaRe arrangement, there must be at least three melodies  in the whole arrangement
  4. To be more specific, there must be a background melody that continues throughout the PolyCaRe arrangement and the Call and Response melodies will be foreground melodies that come and go
  5. At any time throughout a PolyCaRe arrangement, there are always two simultaneous melodies. This qualifies the whole arrangement as polyphonic
  6. In other words, in a PolyCaRe arrangement, there are multiple serial counter melodies  that together can constitute a PolyCaRe arrangementthe series of  counter melodies have an inter-relationship among themselves, by way of Call and Response
  7. There must be at least 4 members to the series of counter melodies for a PolyCaRe arrangement. Two CaRe arrangements make it four foreground melodies and the background melody is normally a constant link to the series of four counter melodies.


Hope that provides clarity on the definition of a PolyCaRe arrangement. This is one of the most complex orchestral arrangements one can do combining multiple techniques and it requires a very deep understanding of these component musical ideas. You will not cross a handful number of compositions if you scan any other Indian composer’s work. Fortunately, I ended up with about 80 qualifying compositions in Raja’s work, despite all the constraints I have thrown into this analysis. Hopefully, this analysis posts will throw light on the high level of sophistication in Raja’s work in both his songs and background scores.

In my analysis, I found that not one of these 80 arrangements sound like a childish experiment.  Raja has kept these foreground CaRe arrangements, melodious as usual, that most of us have passed them as simple melodious CaRe arrangements.


A word of caution. Do not start searching for the term PolyCaRe in musicology texts - you'll find none. Most Western music does not treat relationship melodies beyond simultaneity. At best, the definition of fugue tries to add a layer of complexity by defining two different pitches for the two melodies that are original and imitated. Indian music, though uses Call and Response as a staple technique, does not really bother to define it . As I mentioned in the sections on 'Unusual conversations', the requirement to have two calls and two responses to qualify as a CaRe is arbitrary. I have not seen such a definition. I did that for ensuring that there is total clarity in understanding the technique.

Rules to PolyCaRe analysis

New techniques require new approaches in analysis. However, like most other analysis topics, some clearly defined rules apply. Also, caveats need to be defined very clearly.

A big part of Raja’s music includes the singing bass. There are several hundred songs that use Raja’s signature singing bass line. Such singing bass lines will not be considered as the background melody that will define a PolyCaRe arrangement. Though technically a call and response arrangement with a background singing bass qualifies as a PolyCaRe arrangement, there are two difficulties with this: 
  1. Most listeners do not have good stereo equipment to decipher the singing bass and 
  2. there are too many such compositions. 


As a result, singing bass based compositions featuring a call and response do not qualify.


Let’s next discuss the rules of PolyCaRe analysis. We will borrow the same rules of the Call and response arrangement and add the polyphony rules on top of it.


Here is the method that we will use, though there is no theoretical or technical compulsion to do so:
  1. The call must be made by a single instrument with a small melody. When this call is happening, there must be a melody in the background playing in counter to it
  2. The response must be made by a single instrument with a small melody. When this response is happening, there must be a melody in the background playing in counter to it. It must be the exact same background melody that got played when the call was made
  3. The call must be repeated at least twice
  4. The response must be repeated at least twice
  5. Point 3 or point 4 must be valid. Sometimes, the response for the second time may be with a slightly modified melody compared to the first response

We will also avoid C&R arrangements that have too many synthesizer tones that are hard to tell one from the other. Some of the modern compositions of Raja are so densely arranged with synthesizer banks, it is hard to tell the foreground from the background melodies.  The saving grace in this activity is that Raja keeps one of his tunes very simple and writes complex melodies on top of it. The simple melody will navigate the entire PolyCaRe composition. This is the background tune that we need to anchor to ensure that we understand the PolyCaRe composition.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A rapid lesson in polyphony and polyrhythm

Let's first recollect our definition of polyphony...

http://geniusraja.blogspot.ca/2008/08/introduction-to-polyphony.html

Let's next recollect our definition of polyrhythms...

http://geniusraja.blogspot.ca/2011/01/introduction-to-polyrhythms.html

The song, Punnai Vanathu Kuyile from Muthu KaaLai (Tamil 1995) has some amazing experimental work by Raja. Hear the clip below...



This is the second interlude in the composition. Here is what's going on, with the experiment:

1. Between 0:00 and 0:08 - The shehnai is used in its native North Indian format and the synthesizer responds to the call twice. Nothing unusual yet.

2. Between 0:09 and 0:18 - The rhythm joins the shehnai which now switches to 'Raja' mode. There are a couple of bars - Again nothing unusual

3.  Between 0:19 and 0:28 - You have 4 things going on suddenly. The tabla joins on a different time while the earlier rhythm is still going on. Polyrhythm 101. You will also notice that the synthesizer plays counter melody to the shehnai.

  That was the aha moment. Segment 1 and Segment 2 were preparing the listener for Segment 3. Those were just appetizers. 

  Polyphony on top of polyrhythm.  

That's one hellua lesson within 28 seconds.  Please use a good pair of headphones to enjoy the experiment and the quick lesson on polyphony on top of polyrhythm!

Monday, May 2, 2016

The genius of Raja demonstrated

            Not many people fully grasp the genius of this man. Some of them think he is a folk musician and others think that he is a Classical Carnatic musician. While these views are true, his first formal training is in Western Classical Music and to this date, he writes sheet music, and he is the fastest in the world. He communicates with sheet music faster than his native language. Watch the video below and my explanation of what he does. (most people will get lost as they do not fully understand what goes on). Composing background music is the hardest part of film music as a film of 2.5 hours has about at least 1.5 hours of background music.  This is equivalent to 15-20 songs as most Indian film songs are for about 4 minutes.



It may be worthwhile using this example to document what Raja does when he does his background score.

Before we dive into the detail, most composers (and even the best) operate like the 'Pacman' 2-d game that most of us are familiar. They are single threaded and at best use a single processor to determine the next move all the time. Raja's brain works like a modern graphics pipeline attached to a GPU like the NVidia GForce series, which does both shading and lighting management along with the associated physics engine (for lighting) and manages to process at a few teraflops, several gigabytes of data, as the scene advances in any modern video game. Most gamers love these graphics engines as they render (rendering is a complex computing problem) the scenes seamlessly giving them a breezy experience by creating real life like situations in their XBox or PS consoles.

Now. let's see how a typical (single threaded) composer would add music to the scene that we saw:

  1. Pass 1, is to observe the scene with the view of doing what's called as marking - this is to understand the stretch of the scene and also where conversations have to be kept as is and where music needs to be added.
  2. Pass 2, using the markings (there are digital tools available for this), determine the number of bars of music that needs to be composed. The digital tools do both marking and timing - before digital tools, folks used a stop clock and paper, and would play the reel several times.
  3. Pass 3, think about the overall scene's ambiance to select the various instruments and decide on the music that needs to fill the gaps. This step also includes writing the score sheet for the various music pieces. There will be separate scores for the various music pieces, as defined by the time markings. The score is typically divided as sub-parts. For example, if the scene is called 'Scene15' and it has 3 musical pieces, the scores will be written as 'Scene15-1', 'Scene15-2' and 'Scene 15-3'.
  4. Pass 4, work through the score to ensure that the bars of music indeed ties up with the markings done in step 1. 90% of the composers do not get this right as they mostly overshoot or come under - in many films, you can see these professional shortcomings being patched by synthesized fillers.
  5. Pass 5, get an orchestra to practice - normally this is another music conductor who sweats this out to get the right music out of the band
  6. Pass 6, do the final take where the fade-in and fade-out of the background score is managed, so that the viewer does not feel that something got artificially introduced and is able to relate to the scene better than the raw shoot.

These six passes take an enormous amount of time and energy and even the best composers do get challenged with background music as a result.

The scene we saw is for about 2.5 minutes and the scene is about the woman speaking about her ex-boyfriend or husband. The couple stroll through some busy lane filled with several people. However, what the viewer needs to fully appreciate is the message of the woman about her ex-boyfriend (I hope I understood the scene, as I have not watched any other footage from this film).

Raja does this in 3 passes. 

  1. Pass 1, as he watches the film, conventional pass 1,2,3,4 run in parallel in his head. No digital markers, no stop watches, nothing. On top of this, there is a super pass that runs through his brain, which is the emotional content of the scene. This is the music nVidia phase where his music pipeline processes every moment as his eyes watches it and he keeps writing music as though he is just writing down the time details!
  2. Pass 2, he gets involved in ensuring the right bowing is in place for the violins and the right chords for the guitar (he does this for his satisfaction)
  3. Pass 3, final take and the fade-in and fade-outs

You must remember that passes 2,3 and 4 are the most cumbersome and they can involve several sub-passes too. You will notice that Raja does not write music for his sub-scenes at all. He just leaves the gap in his musical score and everything is automatically taken care of! A huge productivity jump that you can watch in this video. You will also notice that the last few seconds of the clip has conversations still going on between the couple, and Raja chooses to fade that out with his violins. As he watches the film, his mind calculates everything in musical bars as his eyes watch the scene and his brain processes the visual by triggering musical notes that flow freely out on his score sheet. I hope I have captured the most modern MPU (Musical Processing Unit) that ever existed - Raja! Though the clip is for about 2.5 minutes, there are several hundred decisions that his mind has already made when those 2.5 minutes was shown to him and he executes those decisions in real time. You will also notice him playing a few keys in his piano to choose the scale that matches with the ambiance and you will hear that in the final take. This is called the tonic note for a western scale.

You should be able to understand why no human has ever written background scores for 55 films in a single year other than Raja. 

Hope that helps you understand a living musical genius.