Wednesday, August 6, 2008

An introduction to polyphony

In our folk music, we have something called ‘Esapaatu’ where two singers alternate between each other. When one finishes, the other starts and so on. Raja, who is a WCM expert, tries this with his own touch – observe the song – Megam karukkaiyile from Vaidehi KaathirunthaaL (1984). If you pay attention to the chorus in the song, you will realize that the male and female voices not only alternate using the ‘Esapaatu’’ technique, but both use Western and Eastern traditions as designed by Raja. The male voices sing it the proper Western way, the female voices in our traditional folk way. Observe that the male chorus have no ‘gamakam’ in their phrases and the female voices are full of ‘thanananna’ which is traditional. The entire song is fully a scale based song and is not CCM based. However, Raja will embellish it with flute interludes which are fully folk, but harmonized! You will realize that there is a bass guitar pattern throughout the interludes/song that will start revealing to you that this is not from a village folk artist!

I want to go from the known to the unknown - megam karukkaiyile is not polyphony. You need to have more than one melody played simultaneously fitting the same scale to get to polyphony. If the two melodies are entirely different, but together, the end effect sounds very melodic, it is called counterpoint. Westerners make a big fuss about this and you can hear this with every WCM music station in the West making a special mention of it before they play any number that contains this technique. Piece of cake for Raja! Counterpoint is a musical idea first expressed by JS Bach in the seventeenth century. Raja is a big fan of JS Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. His music has their strong influence. JS Bach’s work was primarily on violin, piano and some other seventeenth century instruments (harpsichord) that are not in use anymore (JS Bach). Raja is the world’s greatest living counterpoint specialist. One can write a book on Raja’s counterpoints only. This should not be new to you at all, as you are hearing counterpoints every day without knowing about it! Every other Raja’s song is filled with counterpoints. Even Bach would not have thought of so many counterpoint applications. Time for few examples, as it is impossible to list all gems of Raja.


Anonymous said...

couldnt listen to the audio.. it is not working properly... tried with chrome, ie, firefox, but in vain... amazing blog... thanks a lot!!!

ravinat said...

I checked the post and the audio does work.

Can you check again?

Ravi Natarajan