Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Counterpoint with guitar

Raja was a guitarist and an organ player before he became a composer. No prizes for guessing who has done some of the best guitar work in Indian cinema – he got his music qualification in Western Classical guitar. The unique feature of Raja's guitar work is its simplicity. I do not think anyone in Indian cinema has used the regular acoustic, electric and bass guitar the way Raja has used it. I will start with Manadhil Enna Ninaivugalo from Poonthalir (1979) – please hear the prelude, first and the second interludes and see the play of guitar (electric, rhythm, bass), flutes and saxaphone in counterpoint/call and response mode – vintage Raja. Pay attention to the following segments on counterpoint technique: a) 0:01 to 0:15 secs - guitar in counterpoint with sax b) 0:16 to 0:33 secs - guitar in counterpoint at times with another guitar and also with a flute c) 1:20 to 1:35 secs - brilliant guitar-guitar counterpoint. Hear the track...



I chose this track first as this demonstrates the mastery Raja has over the Western idiom. If you notice closely, the lead guitar plays three roles: 1) plays along with the melody at times 2) plays a different melody at times (counterpoint) and 3) plays a coversation with the other instruments (also called call and response technique).

Then Poove Poove Vaa from Anbulla Rajinikanth (1984) – pay attention to the second interlude and see the guitar play with the keyboard in counterpoint mode. It is the regular hollow guitar (or Hawaiian guitar) that plays for a few seconds with the bells in a different melody. Pay attention to the following counterpoint segments in the track below: a) 0:03 to 0:13 secs - Guitar in counterpoint with flute b) 0:25 to 0:34 secs - again, guitar in counterpoint with flute, but the melodies are completely different c) 0:35 to 0:52 secs - guitar in counterpoint with the synthesizer and at times with the flute d) 1:09 to 1:29 secs -  again, guitar in counterpoint with flute, but the melodies are completely different from the earlier two examples! Hear the track...




Singara Cheemaiyile from Ninaivu Chinnam (1989) - the first interlude is a masterpiece using a guitar in counterpoint with a western flute – another masterpiece. It is very easy not to pay attention to this wonderful piece of work. Sometimes, Raja places some of his great work on orchestration in some obscure song that you need to unearth. This is truly a gem in my view. Pay attention to 0:01 to 0:17 seconds. Hear the track...



In Ilaiya Nila from Payanangal Mudivathillai – (1982) the second interlude has an acoustic guitar playing in counterpoint to the electric guitar. Not to mention the flute doing the same with the electric guitar. However, this track is more popular for the jazz style guitar usage by Raja very early in his career.

All that I mentioned about Ilaiya Nila applies equally to Nalam Vazha Ennalum from Marupadiyum (1993) – on top of it, note the violin counterpoints in the song’s interlude – this is another masterpiece of Raja. This film has some excellent tracks in general and one of the finest scores by Raja for Balu Mahendra. The simplicity and the elegance of the guitar usage somehow reveals how close this instrument is to the composer's heart! I will cover more on this track later as the original Hindi film ('Arth') tried to convey melancholy through the usage of ghazals - Raja did better with his guitar in counterpoint with the violins. Pay attention to two fantastic guitar-guitar counterpoints in this clip, the first one between 0:09 to 0:23 secs and the second one between 1:06 and 1:16 secs - notice the melodies are not repeated. Raja also throws in a violin-violin counterpoint in the same track between 0:47 to 0:53 secs as a bonus! Hear the track...




How can we forget Pani Vizhum Malarvanam from Ninaivellam Nithya (1982) ?– the string section is one of Raja’s best not to mention the counterpoint rich interludes with guitar and violin. The usage of solo violin is special in this track and I will discuss more on this in the section – moods of Raja.

If you observe Ithu Oru Pon Maalai Pozhuthu (from Nizhalgal – 1980) second interlude the guitar plays counterpoint to the keyboard.

Similarly if you observe Pattu Poove Mettu Podu from Chembaruthi, (1992) the interludes are very vibrant with the great counterpoint play of guitar with violin and keyboard – I rate this one of the vibrant guitar play of Raja. Observe the orchestration in this song - once the guitar and the violin counterpooint play is over, the saxaphone is used as a brilliant bridge between the guitar and the high powered violin play to keep the vibrant mood of the composition. The track is an example of how great things can be achieved in less than 2 minutes! Pay attention to the following segments: a) 0:01 to 0:15 secs and again 1:36 to 1:51 secs - guitar in counterpoint with sax b) 0:19 to 0:39 secs - violins in counterpoint with violins c) 0:52 to 1:02 secs - guitar in counterpoint with violins d) 1:55 to 2:15 secs - guitar in counterpoint with violins e) 1:09 to 1:18 secs - synthesizer in counterpoint with violins. Hear the track..




You cannot discuss Raja's guitar and not include Senthoora Poove from 16 vayathinile (1977) – the guitar and violin play counterpoint throughout both the interludes and has been lauded as one of the earliest display of Raja's Western music abilities. Pay attention to the following segments int he clip below: a) 0:01 to 0:09 - guitar in counterpoint with violins b) 0:29 to 0:40 secs - violins in counterpoint with violins and c) 0:58 to 1:17 secs - violins, flute and shehnai in counterpoint. Hear the track...



Guitar playing a different melody with flute and chorus is all over Pani Vizhum Iravu from Mouna Raagam (1989). Hear at the relaxed pace of the electric guitar when the violins try to play the counterpoint at a different pace. Another display of mastery over the counterpoint technique by Raja. Pay attention to the counterpoint segments 0:01 to 0:15 secs and 0:25 to 0:32 secs. Hear the track...



Similarly, violin and guitar counterpoint play in the interludes of Seer Kondu Vaa from Naan Padum Paadal (1984) is another pleasing one.

Observe the second interlude of Raja Raja Chozhan Naan from Rettai Vaal Kuruvi (1987) and you can see the play of guitar, solo violin and flute in counterpoint.

Another great guitar and guitar counterpoint that is unforgettable is the second interlude of Poonthalir Aada from Paneer Pushpangal (1981). With the chorus Raja will transport you out of this world – this is one of the best interlude scores of Raja, in my view. There is also a view that this score uses Invertible Counterpoints- supposed to be the highest level of sophistication in western orchestration that you can ever get to. While I am not knowledgeable enough to add to this view, it must be mentioned that I have never heard of any Indian music composer even talk about it other than Raja. If there is a guitar track to die for, it is this! The first 16 seconds of the clip below is simply the best guitar to guitar counterpoint in Indian film music! There are other bonuses too: a) 0:17 to 0:36 secs - brilliant arrangement of the bass guitar and voices b) 1:17 to 1:28 secs - another brilliant arrangement of the bass guitar and voices, set to a different melody c) 1:50 to 2:01 secs - a violin-violin counterpoint thrown in as another bonus. No wonder, Raja elevates the art of interlude composition to the highest level on the planet. Hear the track...




Another song that uses the invertible counterpoint technique by Raja is the song 'Gangai Aatril Nindru Kondu' from Aayiram Nilave Vaa (Tamil 1983). The clip below is the second interlude of this song. Listen to the 16 seconds onward and you can hear the two guitars in invertible counterpoint mode, with one climbing in notes as the other descends. Hear this brilliant work in this track...


 


Some others that are worth mentioning from a guitar counterpoint perspective – Vaan Engum and En Iniya Pon Nilave from Moodupani (1980), Ithu Oru Nila Kalam from Tik Tik Tik (1981) – I will cover more on this song in the chorus discussion etc. Poove Sempoove from Solla Thudikuthu Manasu (1988) is another great guitar and flute play in counterpoint. The list is endless and shows not only the talent of Raja as a composer but also his lead guitarist Sadanandam. There was a time I used to wonder about RD Burman’s use of guitar – looks insignificant before Raja’s work.






17 comments:

Suresh S said...

An excellent writeup. You are doing a great job highlighting all these intricacies in Raja's music.

Reg his guitar usage, some of his 'unreleased' songs and songs which did not become all that famous, also had some amazing guitar usage. There is a thread is 'dhool.com' which lists lot of such Raja's rare songs. The ones I like include, 'Ilam Pani', 'Vanam Enge', 'Margazhi Parvai'. It is also great to hear how the base guitar plays in the Malayalam song 'Minnaram Manathu' in Guru. Amazing stuff.

Keep up the good work.

sampat said...

Sir The first song you have selected from Aayiram pookal malarattum is composed by V S Narasimhan, and not Ilayaraja. Kindly confirm

Aakarsh said...

Excellent Post. you have higjlighted some of the wonderful compositions, to demonstrate his mastery.

I need some time to cover remaining posts.

Wonderful blog.

Prasanna said...

I think this is one of the finest forum of Maestro's work explained very technically. Its just amazing to go thru this blog. Maestro's work has been indeed beautifully composed all along the way. As a Classical Guitarist who practice Fux's Contrapunctus (Gradus Ad Parnassum) every day, i enjoy most of the Great Raja's Great counterpoints composition on Guitar works. I happen to get lots of insight on CCM and the way Maestro weaved both CCM and WCM together so intricately. I strongly believe that His music is just enough till one's life time for those any one who seek to know all those 'tastes' existing as an infinte combination among his music.
The only think i would like to add on is that in HTNI, Maetro was composing "And we had a talk". A great counterpoint composition and of course variations over Yohaan Bach's Partita III (Prelude in E Major) so beautifully overlapped with CCM. He just simulated as if two great giants (Bach and Thyagaraja) were having a divine conversation on the heavens.
Well, Great work you have done to show the legendary Maestro's work whose music will be carried over centuries and centuries for ever.
Thanks!

Veng@ said...

Amazing write up ! Its a Himalayan task to bring out the intricacies in Raja sir's music. Though not technically knowledgeable in the elements of classical music, my favorite past time is to identify and enjoy the counterpoints that elevates Raja sir's interludes and stands out as a signature against composition by others. The only song which I would love to add to this wonderful list is "Poo Maalaiye Thool Serava" from Pagal Nilavu (1985) It has some little voice over voice counterpoints between Janaki and Raja sir and to top it all, in the second interlude there is a beautiful Guitar to Guitar counterpoint, followed by the enchanting violin orchestration.

ravinat said...

Hi Veng@


Thanks for your kind words. I did cover 'Pooomalaye Thol Serava' under violins. This songs counterpoint work is hard to classify, You do injustice if you cover it under voices, or violins. This is true with several Raja compositions. Music just flows for him and you cannot box his work in any way. You will end up finding somewhere that he does not fit into yours (or anyone's) box.

A few days ago, I was hearing the background score of 'Vanna Vanna Pookal' and noticed that he has done it as a flute sonata (inspired by Bach) and this piece is a counter melody between the flute and the guitar.

Some day, I have to embellish each of my posts with his background scores.

I love to hear feedback from readers as no one person can fully do justice to Raja's wide and deep body of work.

irfan said...

Hi Ravinat,

Great write up...what a coincidence was just listening to VV Pookkal BGM this evening while driving back from work...some how bumped into your blog. Did u get a chance to attend any of Maestro's concert ( Toronto or NJ) recently. I have some good collection of his BGMs want to share with people who want to explain the details like you. One of the awesome BGM scores ( in entirety, from beginning till end) a personal favorite of mine is "Moonram Pirai". Let me know how I can share.

RC Sekar said...

Hi Ravinat,

Excellent write up and narrations on Raja's classics. Like you, I am a die hard fan of Raja. Hope you also love his song " Mayile Mayile un thohai ingae" from Kadavul Amaitha Medai. I love this song above anything in the world. I have learnt many counter point tunes from your posting now. Of course, all these days I knew that only the song "En kanmani un kadhali" from Chittukuruvi" is the only counter point song. Now you have enlightened me broader. Thanks to you. LONG LIVE RAJA SIR AND YOU.

RC SEKAR, CHENNAI, rcsekar98@gmail.com

RSBAAB Ravi said...

Great work in highlighting excellent guitar pieces in Ilayaraja's compositions. I recently posted an article on his orchestration. You can also listen to 12 of his finest songs with brilliant arrangements. More than the techniques, I am especially wonderstruck by his ability to create 'effects' like the wavy effects in Thalattude vanam from Kaadal Meengal. I find that he focuses on creating effects without any regard for 'orthodox fit' of instruments to situations. This ability to be unorthodox creates great effects. Example : Vaadatha rosapoo from Gramathu Athayayam uses guitars extensively in a 'sad' situation. Similarly, in the recent Sri Ramarajyam, he uses guitar and other modern instruments in a sad song - the effect is of course, mesmerizing. See the post and listen to the songs at http://rsbaab.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

OMG, it requires a lot of keen attention to detail to even notice this and blog. Amazing what music, and especially people like Raja can make us to be!
Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Why u missed ilayanila first interlude and final masterpiece epilude

Murali said...

Fantastic analysis. I often use to think what's the uniqueness of Raja songs when compared with other music directors. I got the answer today. One of the greatest strength of Raja's songs rather asset is this intermediate music. He is the only best in any conventional or contemporary musicians. But this he wouldn't have planned while writing notes for these songs.

Iyer venkat said...

a interview with guitarist himself


https://youtu.be/Ixt3qcN1-jI

Iyer venkat said...

https://youtu.be/Ixt3qcN1-jI

check on you tube interview with senior guitarist s sadanandam muzik lounge

Desikamani Kannan said...

Poomalaiye From Pagalnilavu got Wonderful Flute Experiance!!! & Azhlagaga Sirithadhu and Nilavu from December Pookal has Guitar

Baskar Krish said...

Excellent compilation. I think Ilayaraja should go through this compilation...

Elo said...

Hi,
Awesome, bro.
Good naration with the audio clippings. V nice.
Thx.