Saturday, October 4, 2008

Thaalagathi Vendum (you need the right beat pattern)

We cannot imagine any film music without a rhythm pattern. The rhythm pattern in film music is set using Indian percussion instruments such as tabla, mridangam, ghatam (example, Nitham Nitham Nellu Soru from Mullum Malarum - 1978), dholak or western instruments such as drums – there are several variations to this – cymbal, bongos (70s and earlier) or congo drums (remember RD Burman’s tunes?), and more recently with synthetic drums (example Ennai Thaalata Varuvalo from Kadhalukku Mariyadhai – 1997). In order to set the pace of the song, it is important to set the rhythm pattern or thaalagathi as it is known in film circles.

CCM has several thaalam definitions and film music has been selectively following these as some suit film music more than the others. Roopaka Thaalam which follows a 6/8 beat pattern is very popular. Also popular is the Adhi Taalam which follows an 8 beat pattern. Most film music can be easily categorized into these two beat patterns.

How do the film musicians measure beats? – they use a device called a metronome which generates a clock tick like sound. This device is used to ensure that precise timing is in place when the percussionist is playing and the instrumentalists and singers coordinate the bars of music being played. Raja is creative and uses the metronome itself as his beat in some songs – observe the pallavi, and the charanam’s of the song Malare Malare Ullasam from Un Kannil Neer Vazhinthaal (1985) – the entire song has no percussion when Janaki sings. It is just backed by the metronome!

Waltz is a dance rhythm pattern from the 17th century Europe used in princely dances. This is a 3-beat rhythm and is used rarely by (also known as Teesram) Indian music composers. Raja has used the Waltz rhythm in several compositions. Vandhal Vandhal Rajakumari from Oru Oorile Oru Raajakumari (1995) is a great example of the Waltz rhythm adopted so well for Indian film music. Hear the track which is done beautifully with the chorus...




Pootukkal Pottalum from Chatriyan (1990) is another great usage of the waltz rhythm. Devan Koil Deepam Onru from Naan Paadum Padal (1984) is also set to this rhythm.

In CCM, Kanda Chapu is a 5-beat rhythm and is rarely used even in CCM. Raja has done several songs with this rare 5-beat cycle. Pon Vaanam Paneer Thoovuthu from Indru Nee Naalai Naan (1983) is another example for the usage of this rhythm pattern. If you closely observe the second interlude, the 5 beat cycle is almost demonstrated with the strings completely cut out. Hear the track...



CCM has other patterns such as Misra Chapu which follows an unusual 7 beat cycle. Most common MDs stay away from such experiments. Manasu Mayangum from Sippikkul Muthu (1985) is set to this 7-beat rhythm. Aayiram Malarkale from Niram Maratha Pookal (1979) also uses this rhythm (although it uses it only for the Pallavi). Another example is Meedum Meendum Vaa from Vikram (1986). Kaathirunthen Thaniye from Rasa Magan (1994) has the complete song in Misra Chapu.With the exception of a few seconds, the entire song follows this pattern. Hear the track...



There are several songs of Raja that have been set to unusual 12-beat cycles and some even higher. Everything is synchronized to a musical bar and Raja keeps improvising the nadai as part of his arrangement of songs. If you notice the postlude of the song Megham Kottatum from Enakkul Oruvan (1984) the way the drums are being synchronized with mridangam is amazing and is an extremely complex beat cycle. (I am yet to figure this one).


Another percussion experiment, I enjoyed is the song Ila Nenje Vaa from Vanna Vanna Pookal (1991). With the exception of a few guitar strings, both the interludes are carried out only by drums and tabla – no string section or brass. The dialog between the tabla and the drums in the interlude is so captivating. What appears like a 6-8 rhythm is hard to time and measure. Hear the track...



It must be mentioned that Raja has some excellent percussion support – his assistant for 3 decades, Purushothaman is an expert percussionist and Prasad has the reputation of being one of the finest tabla players in the film music world in India.

6 comments:

Ramesh said...

Nice post. I think pon vaanam thaneer is 7/8 and so is Ila Nenje Vaa.

In 5/8 you have azhagu malar aada, kalyana maalai, mazhai varudhu, paartha vizhi paartha padi, etc.

ravinat said...

Ramesh

My view is not that 'Pon Vaanam' is fully a Kanda Chapu. My view is exactly yours. However, my note is to get the attention of readers when Raja cuts out all strings to just demonstrate Kanda Chapu. That's the lesson from the genius that attracted me!

Ravi

Ramesh said...

Thanks, but I still cannot figure out where IR demonstrates kanda chapu in the pon vaanam audio clip that you have embedded. Can you let me know the time at which you noticed that?

On a different note, can you let me know how you use odeo to upload files and embed them? I have an odeo account but cannot figure out how and where to upload.

Anonymous said...

Nice post Ravi. Muthusami. S

Anonymous said...

I still believe entire "ayirum malarge malarugal" is set to 7/8 (123-1234) and not just the pallavi alone

Anonymous said...

7Do you think Vanakuyile from Priyanka is waltz. It was classified elsewhere as Reggae. Sorry to ask this question after 4 years but just happened to notice your site.