Tuesday, October 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 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…

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 5/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Poonkaatinodum kilikalodum (Poomuggapadiyil Nineyum Kaathu - Malayalam - 1986)

One of my all-time basslines favorite is the song 'Poonkaatinodum kilikalodum' from Poomuggapadiyil Nineyum Kaathu (1986 Malayalam) sang brilliantly by Yesudas and Janaki. Basslines is only one part of the story. Listen to the harmony in both the interludes. Harmony so beautifully written can be turned into a music school lesson.


Harmony passage 1 (0:08 to 0:18): This is a nice melody line played by the flute in (A). The guitar plays its melody in (T) and the bass guitar plays its repetitive melody in (B).

Harmony passage 2 (0:18 to 0:33): Between 18 and 23 secs, the violins and cellos play it melody along with the flute in (S). Between 23 and 33 seconds, the violins take over and the whole harmony now goes to another level. The foreground and background violins have a dialog while the cellos the bass guitar and the main guitar continue. What a pleasure to hear this arrangement!

Interlude 1

Harmony passage 3 (1:29 to 1:45): The instrumentation is similar to the prelude, but arranged in another nice melody. The violins take up both the S and A parts and you can hear that clearly with the bass doing its B part. You will notice that the flute take the S part from the violins and the violins in the A part continues and it turns it back to the violins that played the S part before. This type of arrangement requires a solid grounding in harmony and this song demonstrates that.

Interlude 2

Harmony passage 4 (2:43 to 3:00): This interlude is arranged differently from the first one and is also rapid compared to the first. The interesting part is that the harmony parts get filled with time and the composer keeps playing with the parts to deliver the aural delight that is greater than the parts. Initially, you will hear only the violins (A) and the bass (B) playing their melodies with the flute joining the harmony (S) later.

Harmony passage 5 (3:00 to 3:14 ): The composer chooses synthesizers in harmony for this part.  The part begins with the synthesizer playing a simple but constant melody in A. Such a simple melody is a Raja composition means that it is in prep for a polyphony that is about to happen. The bass guitar takes care of the B and the violins play their melody in T. The second synthesizer plays its melody in S to make the harmony complete. However, the composer ensures the aural pleasure by keeping the various parts in dialog. Only the A and B part continue throughout this period. The S and T are alternated to deliver a bewitching melody.

A solid WCM 
music school lesson material.

Let’s hear Poonkaatinodum kilikalodum…

Mandhira Punnagaiyo (Mandhira Punnagai - Tamil - 1986)

Songs such as Mandhira Punnagaiyo from Mandhira Punnagai (Tamil 1986) are the ones Raja fans will brag with each other as 'rare' ones. The obscurity of this song is non-controversial. I heard this song only a couple of years ago, 3 decades after the song got created! This is a free flowing melody that is vintage Raja. However, inside this obscure track, as I have come to accept, Raja weaves harmony as though he is writing a piece of music for a prestigious Western orchestra. To him, writing such harmonies, as I have repeatedly said, is a walk in the park.

While there are several harmonies he has written in this song's instrumental parts, I would like to callout two or three really impressive ones.

Harmony passage 1 (1:21 to 1:45): This starts off as a solo violin part (Alto) and Raja adds Flute, cellos, violins to take care of the other three parts and if you just hear these 24 seconds, it is hard to tell if this is film music. Separate this and you can see how he has found a place for such great WCM work in a B-grade film.

Harmony passage 2 (3:07 to 3:23): The initial parts are written as simple C&R between the flute and the violins. Do not get fooled by it as that is just a precursor. There are 6 C&R arrangements between 3:07 and 3:19. Now there is a part that he does between 3:19 and 3:23 (part 2) and this has the flute playing in harmony with the 
violin. Now, you may think that this is business as usual for Raja. There are a thousand songs that he has done this. If you look at this part in isolation, the argument is true.  Step back and listen to the song between 3:11 and 3:15 (part 1) . The flute melody he plays is exactly the same as the one 3:19 and 3:23. The second part is however contrapuntal. That is a fugue part cleverly hidden inside several simple C&R parts. The part 2 is an imitation of part 1 but it is contrapuntal. 

It is hard to find a composer who would write such fugue parts casually for such B-grade films, unless writing such harmonies is trivia for a genius such as him.

Let’s hear Mandhira Punnagaiyo…

Thursday, August 2, 2018

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.