Saturday, March 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.

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Ravi Natarajan

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…

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 9/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Saami Kitta Solli Vachu – (Aavaarampoo - Tamil - 1992)

Let me first write a few obvious lines about this song. A beautiful flowing melody sang by SPB and Janaki with some parts using the Kaapi ragam. Raja has perhaps done a few hundred such tunes.

Now let’s see how this traditional Indian melody meets western harmony – another walk in the park. There are some parts, I felt Raja has done the impossible in this song, only a genius can think of.

Harmony passage 1 (1:00 to 1:09 ) : This starts off as a full harmony between the violins, flute and the bass guitar. You have to observe the bass lines descending when the violins ascend. Within this passage, there is also the flute responding to the initial violin/flute harmony. This is usual Raja harmony.

Harmony passage 2 (1:10 to 1:24 ) : This is one of those crazy harmonies written with a synthesizer, pizzicato violins playing a high note (to take care of the S and A) and the flute to take care of the Tenor. The whole melody is repeated twice.

Between passage 1 and passage 2, you have come a long way away from the traditional Indian melody. I can bet $1000 that any other composer would have withdrawn this great idea and gone back to something that works easily. What he does after is what separates Raja, the genius from the boys.

Harmony passage 3 (1:24 to 1:29 ) : This is the bridge harmony that only he can think of. All done with violins. How on earth can he think of such a connection to the charanam?  Take a bow, Raja!

Harmony passage 4 (2:46 to 3:10 ) : This passage is even more tricky than passage 2. He starts off with pizzicato strings alone and as I have always come to expect, does not leave that to bore the listener. He now adds the solo 
violin to play counter to it. As though that is not enough adds violins to take care of the third part in the harmony with the cellos and bass talking care of the fourth part. This part can go on forever. 24 seconds of harmony with counter melodies and no bragging about this beautiful arrangement. This is where any composer can get trapped in his own creation. How to get out of this to the Indian melody in the second charanam ?

I consider this akin to your golf ball getting deeper into the sand. It is harder than the first one as it just hit the sand. The skill with which Raja pulls the ball off the sand into the green and lands on the hole is amazing!

Harmony passage 5 (2:46 to 3:10 ) : This is the second bridge harmony and it is different from passage 3. Raja not only knows how to get out of his passage 4 but do it in style. He could have easily repeated harmony passage 3 and no one will notice. He arranges a 
violin harmony and uses bells (synthesizer) in a call and response mode to the violins to transition into the 2nd charanam smoothly and effortlessly.

We live in times, when simple innovation in music is screamed at you in TV shows as though this is the best thing since slice bread. Here is a composer who silently innovates and does not even talk about it. I have heard this song several times and my mind kept going to the melody and not to the beautiful harmony that he has weaved. I heard this song 8 times today after my mind latched on to his pizzicato strings and that’s when I realized, what a beautiful piece of harmony he has weaved to a song that is not so obscure. So sad, that we  really live in times, where the ‘fine’ aspect in art is missing.

The only 'fine' art in 
film music lies with this composer in songs that we have just scratched the surface. The harmony arrangement in this song and its transition from and to the Indian melody is worth teaching in music schools.

Let’s hear Saami Kitta Solli Vachu..

Ponnil Vaanam Poothathu (Villu Paatukaaran - Tamil - 1992)

Another Carnatic favorite of mine that is harmony laden is 'Ponnil Vaanam Poothathu' from Villu Paatukaaran (Tamil 1992). According to Vel, this song is set to Khamas. Harmony within Khamas, that's Raja.

Harmony passage1 1:08 to 1:15 - Done beautifully with violins in pizzicatto mode, lead violins, synthesizer and flute - it has the Raja harmony written all over it.

Harmony passage2 1:28 to 1:32 - Synthesizer, guitar and a 
bass guitar playing the harmony parts just for 4 secs - another small walk in the park.

Harmony passage3 2:15 to 2:27 - Passage 3 is a further development of passage 2. Synthesizer, guitar, bass guitar and now a flute added to the mix. If you observe closely, there are three melodies in play at the same time for these 12 seconds, the first one is the singing bass guitar (80s fans must now be happy), the synthesizer plays its own melody and the third melody is played by the flute. It is very easy to screw this up (ends up as cacophony, instead of polyphony), but not to worry when it is in the master's hands. Few composers can write this.

Harmony passage4 2:28 to 2:38 - This is a repeat of harmony passage 1.

Harmony passage5 2:39 to 2:45 - These six seconds have 3 harmony calls responded by simple flute melody. Each of these 3 harmony passages is about 1 second, but even this is carefully arranged.

Carnatic, Western harmony coexisting so beautifully - this is possible only in Raja's compositions. I have not heard anybody who can do this better before his time and now.

Let’s hear Ponnil Vaanam…

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 8/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Neethana Neethana  Nenje Neethana (Thaalaatu Paadava - Tamil - 1990)

Despite being very careful , Raja's volume does throw an occasional challenge where a song that I have escapes analysis. I realized that this song features it and it did escape my PolyCaRe scrutiny thanks to Raja's volume of work with any technique. This song does qualify as an obscure one sang by Arunmozhi and Janaki in 1990 and deserves a mention in this category.

Though this song has a few harmonies, I will touch on only two harmony parts that got my attention.

Harmony passage 1 (0:19 to 0:30 secs) : This is a very unusual arrangement with two synthesizer tones closely arranged as a A and T with the bass taking care of the B. Simple harmony but the choice of instruments deserves special mention. Again, given Raja's track record, no special kudos for him for this.

Harmony passage 2 (2:48 to 3:00) : You will hear the violins in the beginning that move from the foreground to the background and they keep playing the same melody for the entire 12 seconds. The idea is to take up A within the four part harmony and bring the melodies in counter as the S and T (above and below) . You will next notice that Raja uses another set of violins that take up the 
S part.  Now the synthesizer takes up the T part. When all of them play together, you get harmony. When one of the part plays one melody and the other part plays another melody, you get polyphony. The technique Raja employs is polyphony, but he uses a staple Indian technique on top of Western polyphony. The violins that play the S part and the synthesizer that plays the T  part now are arranged as call and response. You can hear the synthesizer responding to the call from the violins. This is perfect PolyCaRe, as I have decided to call such orchestral sophistication.

Another walk in the park for an obscure film song...

Let’s hear Neethaana Neethaana…

Mandhiram Idhu, (Avarampoo - Tamil - 1992)

When Raja does his highly acclaimed Carnatic compositions, he throws in some western harmonies into it and I latch on to such songs as it sort of proves my pet theory that he is first a WC musician. You can hear that in Poo Maalai vaangi vandhaan in Sindhu Bhairavi (Tamil 1986).

Here is another song that was not so known film Avarampoo (Tamil 1992), Mandhiram Idhu - this film's BGM is a fine one as well as its several songs.

Hear this 
Carnatic raga driven song  and focus on a few minutes of beautiful harmonies with just strings - my guess is at least there are 3 parts to this harmony. Focus on 3:48 to 4:23 and see the harmonies arranged in a dialog with tabla. Raja ensures that the lead violin plays carnatic even in this harmony so that it does not screw up the overall composition. This is a special walk in the park that only he is capable of.  CCM and WCM coexist in total peace and an average listener will never notice!

Let’s hear Mandhiram Idhu

Friday, November 2, 2018

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 7/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Jiske Sahare (Kamagni – Hindi - 1989)

Kamagni (Hindi 1989) should have been a disaster of a movie for sure. However, it had some great songs and fantastic arrangements. Not sure how HFM world did not latch on to such great harmonies of Raja, after hearing some of his work in this movie.  Let’s explore the song Jiske Sahare, in this post.

Harmony passage 1: 0:01 to 0:08 Starts off like a WCM concert with violins in counterpoint. Why only 8 seconds?

Harmony passage 2 : 0:09 to 0:20 - The clarinet, the double bases and the violins provide a full treat - something special here that is reserved for my next research topic.

Harmony passage 3 : 0:21 to 0:25 - this is a canon. All the violins play the exact same note with the pitch constantly going up. Raja has used canons in many of his compositions.

The backup strings throughout this song is something all composers of today must learn how to arrange. One word - brilliant!

Let’s hear Jiske Sahare

Marangal Tharum Malargal  (Dhruva Natchathiram  - Tamil - 1990)

This is a true work of a maestro that deserves the highest accolades. Whenever I hear this track, I always recollect the description of John Williams's score of Raiders of the Lost Ark by Steven Spielberg. Unfortunately, there is no Spielberg to describe Raja's work and hence we need to do that :-)

There are only two harmony passages in this composition. The second passage is long and perhaps between 25 and 30 bars. However, to highlight the score, I will split the second passage into multiple passages, as it is convenient to explain the work of Raja.

Harmony passage 01: 0:58 to 1:10 secs: The first few seconds is just a synthesizer tone playing a bass part.1:03 to 1:07 is a thunder of violins playing all the 4 parts when the children continue to sing. You have to hear this patiently, as you can hear a wave of violins gushing and playing the A and the other bank of violins support it with the T part. The horns now join briefly for 2 seconds between 1:08 and 1:09 giving you a precursor to what will happen later on.

Harmony passage 02 (1) : 1:41 to 1:54 secs: For the first 6 seconds, it is violins in full cry playing harmony in all parts. You simply do not get to hear anything like this in Indian films. At 1:48, the horns join the full cry of the violins playing their harmony part till 1:54. You can hear the harmony divided clearly into two parts - the ones with the violins in high pitch playing their part throughout this 6 seconds and the horns playing with another bank of violins intermittently. This gives the heightened tension to the viewer of events that are unfolding on the screen. This is film music at its finest.

Harmony passage 02 (2) :1:55 to 2:02 secs: This passage is organized as two sets of harmonies playing a Call and Response with the horns being part of the response.

Harmony passage 02 (3) : 2:03 to 2:10 secs: This passage is also organized as two sets of harmonies playing a Call and Response with horns doing their 'response' part - however, this is done on a different time and the focus is on the sustained notes to drive home some 'result' or 'decision' type of scenario. This is very common in lengthy action sequences in Western movies, where after a bunch of rapid sequences, when one of the characters gets an upper hand, the slowing of time is used as a technique.

Harmony passage 02 (4) :2:15 to 2:25 secs: This is a repeat of the passages 02(1) and 02(2), where the pace is picked up again.

Harmony passage 02 (5) : 2:26 to 2:35 secs: This is a repeat of 02(3) where the horns return

This is the fitting work of a maestro and you can never get to hear such music in any Indian language film music. The film situation is about blind children about to get poisoned and the hero learns about the situation and has to react quickly. I rate this as one of the finest harmony by Raja in the last 40 years. Salute the maestro.

Let’s hear Marangal Tharum Malagal…

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 6/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Aaraaro (Anand - Tamil - 1987)

Raja had very good introductory songs for both Ashaji and Lataji. His first song for Lataji was 'Aaraaro' from Anand (Tamil 1987), which had a below average performance.

This post is about one of the most soothing harmonies written by Raja for the song Aaraaro from Anand.

Please do the following to listen to this song and enjoying it: 1) Listen to it uninterrupted once and I am sure you'll enjoy the melody and the flow of the arrangement without the detail. 2) The second time around, please stop at the places I have listed below and listen - you'll appreciate the genius better.

Listen to the prelude.

Harmony passage 01 : 0:09 to 0:30 secs - The whole passage has a simple Alto part in a synthesizer which is common for all the 21 seconds. The other parts - bass lines, flute, synthesizer, violin lines come and go. You can just play this 21 seconds in a loop and when they say in English, 'Peace and harmony', you'll understand why.

Harmony passage 02: 1:08 to 1:22 secs - Two harmony parts are played by the violins between 1:08 and 1:14 in preparation for the countermelody that follows. Violins play another melody on the other two parts with the two harmony parts continuing as before. Very melodious, simple and beautiful counter melody that is typical of Raja. There is no bragging here that he knows these techniques and the flow of this harmony passages is the highlight of this song. Right match to the queen of melody.

Harmony passage 03: 1:23 to 1:31 secs - The two foreground harmony parts are adjusted to become the background melody and the synthesizer now plays the foreground melody. You can simply call this as harmony and walk away and one is not mistaken. However, the switch of the violin parts between passage 02 to passage 03 defines the master from the boys.

Harmony passage 04: 2:34 to 2:50 secs - the synthesizer plays a simple repetitive melody covering one part of the harmony and the flute joins the fray with its own counter melody. This is arranged as a three part (the bass lines obviously take one part). The flute melody is such a soothing one that you almost forget it is playing counter to the synthesizer. Raja does this in many of his compositions. Give one of the instruments the dominant part.

Let’s hear Aaraaro

Ore murai un dharisanam  (En Jeevan Paaduthu - Tamil 1988)

This song is one of the fine soothing melodies of 
Janaki for Raja. Most of the commentary I have seen about this song is about the melody and Janaki's rendering. Nothing to take that away. However, if you observe closely, the orchestration is subtle and dense at the same time.  The greatest victory of orchestration is it should disappear within the fabric of the song and not stand out as a separate entity. Even Raja does not succeed often in this aspect. This is one such gem that needs to be described as the voice and the melody camouflage orchestration so well.

Thanks to Kadar Majee for a quality upload.


0:00 to 0:24 seconds - Starts off with a beautiful harmony of violins arranged in two parts and synthesizer playing the third part (till 7 secs).Two sets of voices are arranged in harmony between 8 and 18 seconds for the final play by the synthesizer to the pallavi. These are back to back harmonies with instrument and voices.

Interlude 1

1:03 to 1:09 - this is a beautiful C&R between the flute and the synthesizer
1:10 to 1:19 - this is another C&R between Janaki's humming and the flute
That's two back to back C&R arrangements.
1:20 to 1:32 - This is such a sweet but complex arrangement that only Raja can do. It is a unique PolyCare arrangement. The constant background part is that of the 
cellos. The foreground call melody is from the sitar. The response is from the flute.  In between these two C&R phrases, Raja stops the background cellos and introduces the guitar as well. Put simply, it is something like this: PolyCaRe +guitar+PolyCare+guitar. These 10 seconds are worth in gold!

Interlude 2

2:37 to 2:42 - this is a simple C&R between the sitar and the flute
2:56 to 3:04 - harmony passage with, synthesizer and flute
3:05 to 3:13 - harmony arranged with voices and violins

Such beautiful arrangements with sitar have become a thing of the past. There is no reason for overuse of the synthesizer and 
electronic instruments as it is hard to arrange them in a camouflaged manner.  Another great walk in the part that will remain in memory for a while.

Let’s hear Ore Murai Un Dharisanam…