Thursday, August 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 4/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Kanavu Ondru Thondruthe (Oru Odai Nadhiyagirathu - Tamil - 1983)

Kanavu Ondru Thondruthe from Oru Odai Nadhiyagirathu (Tamil 1983) is another obscure song that has some great harmony parts.
The second interlude is the harmony journey of Raja. Hear the song from 2:43 to 3:18 and this part does not look anything like the rest of the song.

First harmony passage between 2:43 and 2:55 - Three parts of violins carefully arranged with one of the background violins playing the notes rapidly and the other two sets of violins playing the other two harmony parts in a nice dialog.

Second harmony passage between 3:11 to 3:18 - three synthesizer tones in harmony playing the three parts beautifully and at the end before it turns over to the charanam play the three parts as discrete notes. You need good headphones to see the harmony at play for the synthesizer tones.

Let’s hear Kanavu Ondru Thondruthe

Nilavu Suduvathillai background score (Tamil - 1984)

Nilavu Suduvathillai (Tamil 1984) was never a film that I have heard of, till Navin posted the BGM of this film. If I recall correctly, he had posted the title score of this movie.

The score is horns dominated. There is more electric guitar and horns (trumpets, trombones) int he initial part and is also pretty fast faced. Perhaps the film called for such a score. Our focus is on the harmony that is nicely interlaced with these horns and its fast pace. This is not easy as violins, used improperly just with a classical mindset with slow things down making it into a boring score overall. Raja has a few of those to be fair. However, in this case, the arrangement works very well. The recording quality (no criticism of Navin) is average as the source quality may be suspect.

Hear the arrangement from: 38 to 1:00 in the clip, where the harmony is handed down by the guitar play prior to it. This is a nice harmony with violins, synthesizer and flute not reducing the pace of the score. The horns take over after 1:01. Between 1:44 and the end of the track, (1:53) the harmony takes over the score again. I wish the recording quality is better to showcase such work...

You need a decent headphones to hear the work over the scratches...

Monday, July 2, 2018

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 3/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Raajapaarvai  Background score (Tamil - 1981)

It is famous and obscure at the same time. Raajapaarvai (Tamil 1981), had its great songs and also its famous violin concerto in the Carnatic ragam Panthuvarali.

However, the solo violin play with harmonies intricately weaved with the piano, stands out as part of the background score, which continues to stay obscure even till this date.

It is natural to get carried away by VSN's play of the solo violin - it deserves all kudos. Hear it again, ignoring VSN and you will see the clear harmony weaved with a piano. I will demonstrate in this series, that genius is still intact in 2018.

Let’s hear the background score clip of Rajapaarvai, which is a solo violin/piano harmony treat…

Kanavil Midhakkum (Eera Vizhi Kaaviyangal - Tamil  - 1982)

Unless, you are a die hard Raja fan, there is little chance of knowing 'Kanavil Midhakkum' song from Eera Vizhi Kaaviyangal (Tamil 1982) from the 80s.

This film had great songs, but this song sang by Yesudas has special significance from a harmony and WCM perspective. Personally, this song's second interlude helped me understand modulation of scales that Raja did in his usual 'walk in the park'. Raja's use of Yesudas as a Carnatic singer is nothing great in my view - it is like somebody using Hariharan as a ghazal singer. These singers are trained to perform that well. It is so hard to get Yesudas sing Western phrases and this was the time Raja succeeded in taking the 'Apoorva Ragam' singer and turning him into a Western singing powerhouse. Starting from Uravugal Thodargathai to En Iniya Pon Nilave to Kanavil Midhakkum, it was total transformation for Yesudas under Raja. Little is documented about Raja's role in helping Yesudas navigate through these strange paths - listen to the song Kalkandam chundil and see him glide with Janaki - the training was complete!

Back to Kanavil midhakkum, it is almost a complete lesson on harmony and you can cover all your western harmony lessons with just this song. I will touch on the interludes without running too deep as it can get boring as you get deeper with harmony.

Passage 1 : 1:07 to 1:48: A pretty long passage (21 seconds - around 12 bars) with just violins playing harmony in all 
four parts. The first use of flute is at 1:28 and it lasts only till 1:36 (4 bars). The violins play another harmony between 1:36 and 1:48 (another 6 bars). Marathon effort that nobody can dismiss as a walk int he park. Yet he does,

Passage 2 : From 2:42 to 3:03, it is all piano and violins based harmony passages nicely arranged.

From 3:03 to 3:14, is where the modulation of the scales take place. We already saw the definition of what this is.

We can keep describing these harmony passages in greater detail technically, but can get theoretical. 

Let’s listen to Kanavil Midhakkum

Saturday, June 2, 2018

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.