Monday, September 1, 2008

What's the fuss about harmony? - Part 4/4

It is hard to write a beautiful song. It is harder to write several individually beautiful songs that, when sung simultaneously, sound as a more beautiful polyphonic whole. The internal structures that create each of the voices separately must contribute to the emergent structure of the polyphony, which in turn must reinforce and comment on the structures of the individual voices. The way that is accomplished in detail is...'counterpoint'

Time for another example. I am not going to pick some of his songs from the 80s such as Etho Mogum (Kozhi Koovuthu - 1982) or Putham Puthu Kaalai (Alaigal Oiyvathillai - 1981) or En Vaazhvile (Thamibikku Entha Ooru - 1984). I am picking a 2007 composition to showcase that the Raja style is modern and in great shape for ever – Thoorigai Inri from Ajantha (2007). The prelude and interlude compositions use synthesizers and classical WCM string sections supported by a fantastic brass section. If you hear the gush of violins and synthesizers in the prelude, this is a new treatment to the technique that you can hear in several of Raja’s older compositions (such as the prelude of of Maalaiyil Yaaro from Kshathriyan(1992) or Sundari Kannal Oru Seithi from Dhalapathi (1991)). The prelude you hear has at least a string section consisting of (my guess) 4 or 5 cellos, 15 violins and a synthesizer – watch the scale variations and the pattern! Pay closer attention to the 2nd interlude where there is a grand violin and flute conversation and the lead up to that conversation. The notes are adjusted slowly to hit a pitch where it appropriate for the flute (Western) to take over and play a phrase only to leave the phrase back at a scale for the violins to continue and the alternating goes on for a few seconds. Just imagine harmonizing such a grand piece of music!.  Hear the track...

Despite all this technical perfection, one thing you must remember – Raja is a minimalist of a composer. He does not bring in a grand orchestra to prove a point. He does whatever the situation demands within the constraints placed on him. If you observe the song Pottu Vaitha Oru Vatta Nila from Idhayam (1991), he uses almost no orchestra throughout the charanam and pallavi, and so are several of his other songs – Thene Thenpandi meene from Udhaya Geetham (1985), Nitham Nitham Nellu Soru from Mullum Malarum (1978). I have heard several Carnatic numbers with zero instruments such as Yentharo Mahanubhavudu sang by Chitra (from Ethanai Konam Ethanai Paarvai (1983)) for him. I bring this up to appreciate that harmony should not be mistaken as a whole bunch of wailing violins.

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