Sunday, December 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 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…

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