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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Ravi Natarajan

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…

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 12/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Gaana Kuyile (Pooncholai – Tamil -1997)

Pooncholai (Tamil 1997) perfectly qualifies for being obscure as the film never released.

Gaana Kuyile has multiple versions, one sang by Raja and another by Balu and Bhava.

Hear the second interlude of this song between 2:34 and 2:55 - this is a very modern harmony arrangement done with a mix of traditional and non-traditional instruments.

Between 2:34 and  2:46   : the bass guitar is used as the constant melody line and it goes on a repeat mode (the simple of Raja's counter melodies) and the violins get into a dialog with the 
synthesizers finishing the dialog each time. Somewhere after 2:46, the piano joins the fray and now you have the bass guitar, the piano and the violins playing at the same time their parts. Such a fine arrangement, we think is wasted on an obscure movie song that never got released. He would say, that's a small walk in the park.

Let’s hear Gaana Kuyile…

Rasathi Rasathi (Poovarasan – Tamil 1996)
‘Poovarasan’ was a 199x Tamil movie in the twilight years of Karthik as a hero. Needless to say, the film was an obscure one. There are two songs in the movie that are worth discussing from a harmony perspective.

 ‘Indha Poovukkoru Arasan’ is a duet by Balu and Chithra. Nice melody that Balu carries on his broad shoulders. The youtube video is so bad that I decided not to elaborate the harmony arrangements of this song. I searched all the usual sources and could not find a decent sounding version. If someone can point me to a good audio source, I will update this post and point it to that source.

‘Rasathi Rasathi’ is a nice duet by Balu and Chithra again. I could not find a source at all for this song. However, I have used this song to demonstrate how Raja is traditional and modern at the same time in my Techno baroque series and so I decided to point to my blog’s source instead of giving up on this obscure film.

Harmony passage 1 : 0:01 to 0:10 – A synthesized violin starts off only to be joined by real ones playing a nice harmony for the first 10 seconds.

Harmony passage 2 : 0:11 to 0:27 – The violins continue and two more parts get added – piano (played with a synthesizer) and the bass. Pay attention to the singing bass lines. I get so annoyed with some Raja fans who would quote a 80s song with the singing bass and praise it sky high and dismiss this as ‘synth’. It does not matter which voices fill a harmony; it is still a good one technically, and in this case, melodically too. The entire 16 seconds of harmony that you hear has all the 
four parts ('painstakingly' would be a mistake for the guy who considers everything as a walk in the park) written carefully.

Harmony passage 3: 0:56 to 1:01 – The bass lines are intact, and Raja adds three more flavors to it – tremolo violins (yes, you read it correct), synthesized tone and a real flute. BTW, there are several other compositions where Raja throws short tremolo strings as another walk in the park. Example, Kadha Pola Thonum from Veera Thaalaatu, or Kaatula Kamban kaatula from Raajakumaran.  Show me one composer who would take so much care for 5 seconds of harmony – I will sign up today!

There are other passages within these interludes that are repeatedly used, but I do not want to keep repeating. This was a time that Raja was criticized for not getting his experiments with 
synthesizers right. If only folks paid attention to the harmony passages written with the modern synthesizer in mind, they would not make such fleeting comments. Raja went on to use his ideas more successfully in Malayalam as a result. His work in ‘Oru Yathra Mozhi’ was spectacular that was appreciated in Kerala, unlike his Tamil listeners.

Let’s hear Rasathi Rasathi

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 11/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Thathi Thathi Thaavidum (Periya Kudumbam - Tamil 1995) 

Though I have heard this song several times, I did not pay enough attention to some fantastic orchestration in the interludes. I want to highlight a few wonderful harmony touches in the song, Thathi Thathi Thaavidum from the film Periya Kudumbam (Tamil 1995).

Harmony passage 1 (interlude 1)  1:09 to 1:29   :  Initially the orchestration starts off with a sax and a synthesizer (you need to get a good pair of headphones to hear the synthesizer sharing the harmony part with the sax) adds another harmony part and the violins join the fray till 1:15. The fun has still not begun as Raja has already taken care of two parts to this harmony.  Raja throws a scat (sang by his female chorus singers)  into the mix along with the saxophone from 1:15 to 1:22 or so and the next 7 seconds is a harmony between the scat singers and the flute. And you think that he has covered it all, till you realize the masterstroke is waiting to happen.

Harmony passage 2 (interlude 1) 1:29 to 1:39 : This is harmony in gold. Raja plays with the Flute and saxophone, violins  when the scat singers return – brilliant creative rework of the previous 20 seconds. Show me one composer who can do such an arrangement – salute the maestro! These 10 seconds shows that he is the true master of orchestral brilliance.

Harmony passage 3 (interlude 2): 3:30 to   3:42 : What appears like simple saxophone play for the first 6 seconds changes suddenly to add the other harmony layers rapidly. Raja intersperses his scat singers again to take the harmony parts while the saxophone is on its frenzy.  

Overall, passage 2 is no walk in the park for any composer, though Raja would claim that. Such passages must remind you what the standard of orchestration is. Sadly, the current generation can’t tell a good one from a rotten one. I am sure future generations will wonder why Indians were living under the rock, when they had such an orchestral genius writing such music in 1995.

Let’s hear Thathi Thathi thaavidum

Kottum Melangal (Makkal Aatchi - Tamil  - 1995)

I learned about this song only recently, though it has been part of my Raja discography for long. Not sure how many such hidden gems are lying there. A very nice description of this song was done by Suresh as part of his Raja 90s series:

I will not go into the description of this song that Suresh has already done. We will focus on the beautiful harmonies weaved by Raja in this obscure song.

Harmony passage 01: 1:10 to 1:24 min- This may be a walk in the part for Raja, but requires very careful analysis. This passage has two parts and you can hear these parts nowhere else in the world. The first part, between 1:10 and 1:18  is arranged with violins and cellos in the background (Alto) with the flute taking the tenor and playing typical short western notes. This is typical Western harmony. What happens between 1:19 and 1:24 is the special aspect of this arrangement. Raja keeps the string parts as he kept it before, but switches the flute to ICM. That is one hellua masterstroke! This is pure music research material and this is the where you can understand the mind of the composer. Even, when he does counterpoints, he will keep one of the melodies very simple (it would have got boring had he continued). He could have just continued what he did with part 1, but to switch the melody to ICM is not something for an ordinary mind. This coexistence of different musical systems and the ability to see one within the other is what makes him the musical genius.

Harmony passage 02: 1:25 to 1:30 min- The background harmony with violins and cellos continue, but now the flute short notes are played with a 
bamboo flute to sound like a pan flute (confirmed by Napoleon on FB, who played it). Are these the same notes as the part 1 of passage 1? Not the same, if you pay close attention.

Harmony passage 03: 2:54 to 3:00 min- The harmony arrangement is completely different with the tenor taken up the synthesizer and it plays a beautiful tune and the bass is taken care of by the cellos and the bass guitar. The bass lines have a melody of their own - typical of Raja

Harmony passage 04: 3:01 to 3:24 min- This is a complete 4 part score with the violins now being promoted to the soprano and the female voices take on the Alto. This is why you can hear both very clearly. The  tenor is now left to the cellos and the bass tot he bass guitar. The melody is repeated twice and these type of harmonies is a rare commodity in Indian film music. Without the female voices, it will sound like a typical JW War Horse score. With the chorus, it is now firmly rooted as a Raja score, that few have learned to replicate. This is not easy as you need to keep the female chorus at the right pitch in its execution.

Another walk in the park for Raja, and a great piece of music for us.

Let’s hear Kottum Melangal

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 10/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Idhu Namma Bhoomi background score (Tamil - 1992)

Idhu Namma Bhoomi (Tamil 1992) was definitely an obscure movie and the only relatively known aspect of this movie's music is the KYJ song 'Vaana Mazhai Pole'.

There is a great solo violin score in this obscure movie, which appears initially as a simple 
Carnatic melody. If you hear the first 100 seconds of this clip, you will notice that it is a typical Raja solo violin score. The fun begins at 1:50 and goes on for the next 55 seconds.

The score switches to Western from 
Carnatic and slowly the harmony layers get added (based on the quality of this recording, it is not so obvious if Raja used cellos and double basses, which typically dominate the bass part of a harmony). Three solo violins competing for the listener in counter and also Raja plays with the time if you notice closely - this is tight nylon (rope is too broad) dancing (walking is steady) that a Carnatic trained ear will find it as abaswaram. A western trained ear will tell you that Raja is doing a modulation.

(Here is what modulation in WCM means:

That's the classical Raja on violin...

Oru Kolakili Sonnadhe (Pon Vilangu - Tamil 1993)

I had mentioned about how Raja wites beautiful harmonies for 5 seconds with the same level of commitment as a large score like TIS or OAK. This post will showcase another such few seconds of harmony that few composers write.

Pon Vilangu (Tamil 1993) is another such forgettable film which has a beautiful song 'Oru Kolakili Sonnadhe' by PJ and Sunanda. We will particularly focus on the prelude of this song.

Between 0:00 and 0:10 Raja starts this song as a tremolo strings arrangement and uses 
synthesizers and flute to add an occasional layer to his harmony parts.

Between 0:10 to 0:28, the tremolo strings continue with the flute taking the lead as one of the harmony parts.

28 seconds of pure harmony based melodic bliss to the song, that you can now come to expect of Raja...

Let’s listen to Oru Kolakili Sonnadhe…