Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Raja's rhythm innovation stage 14

This requires using only voices as rhythm for an entire track.

It is next to impossible to keep the listener interested with just voices still honoring all the constraints of a film music composition. You do not even have the freedom of an instrumental interlude. In other words, you need to have voices for rhythm, voices for interludes and the main melody obviously uses voices. It voices all over and yet, you need to still keep it interesting. This is the toughest experiment any composer can engage in. Raja comes out with flying colors with his track Naan Poranthu Vandhadhu from Maya Bazaar (1995). The rhythm backing with voices by Mano* is very impressive. Raja has used choruses in most places and the melody is so pleasing.

Notice the pace of the voice based rhythm backing of the charanams – it is not blindly set at the same interval – Raja has carefully thought through the rhythm lines, written it and carefully orchestrated it. This is an orchestration nightmare – you need the right voices, the right pitch, the right intervals and total coordination between the chorus singers. This is not something where you can mask errors under a heavy bass guitar or strings – there is only one option – perfection! Raja has not compromised in any way because of his use of just voices – the song has its interludes and the interludes are different from each other. In the charanam, the voices back the main melody and the song has a nice prelude and a postlude too. Raja uses even laughter as music! In most the tracks that involve vocal harmony, Raja is invariably involved in the singing in some parts at least (he does it even in Nandhalala (2009) tracks), and he does it with this track also.

Some parts of the prelude are violin lines sang between the female and the male voices. The bass lines are beautifully executed using voices. In the first interlude, after Raja sings his phrases, there is about 5 seconds of outstanding simulation of a lead and bass guitar by just voices – that’s a master stroke. This is repeated in the first 5 seconds of the second interlude too. However, this time around, you have female voices too. The female voice is also used to simulate typically a phrase where Raja would use either a trumpet or shehnai.

Please observe the laughter of a group that Raja uses at the end of the track. The pitch of the laughter keeps swinging – goes a notch below and then a notch high and then a notch below. Those who understand conducting will know that getting these three phrases to perfection is a nightmare.

In my view, this one track is enough to demonstrate the grasp that Raja has with Western harmony when it comes to voices. If I ever have to prove the genius of this man with just one track, I will just go for this one! The track proves the composer’s mastery over rhythm, harmony, melody, arrangement and total commitment to perfection. Now, who can set the bar higher than this?

Let's hear the master stroke from the genius. I have the second interlude, charanam and the third pallavi in the below track. You will also be able to appreciate the sweat that has gone into the conducting of the laughter too. I will leave you with this track, as it speaks more than any words can...

Errata: Mr. Napolean Selvaraj (Arunmozhi) clarified that he and Viji Manuel were the main singers behind the song and not Mano as I have stated here.

Concluding notes on Raja's mono rhythms

The approach that we took to analyzing Raja’s rhythms is by no means all encompassing. There are several rhythm innovations that Raja has demonstrated in his 5000 odd tracks that no ONE method can capture it all.

For instance, our approach does not capture some very complex rhythm experiments that Raja has done with time signatures: example, Thappu Thakilu MeLam from Manjeera Dhwani (1998 Malayalam). Or his heart beat rhythm experiment with the song Om Namaha in Geetanjali (1989 Telugu). Or his lap tapping rhythm of Paruvame in Nenjathai Killathe (1981). Or Thatharam from Guru (1997 Malayalam). Recently I uncovered a devotional film song where Raja has used some amazing rhythm arrangement. I am not touching on usual cinematic stuff such as a moving train’s, or bottle sound being used as rhythm – too many MDs have done it (it’s easier to list ones who haven’t). The point is, if you approach the subject from a different angle, you are bound to uncover a lot more.

We will get back to the topic of rhythms at a later stage covering off some rhythm instruments and Raja’s work on poly rhythms.

Fusion Demystified

I am sure some of you get lost with ‘knowledgeable’ Raja fans bragging about the fusion Raja does between various schools of music. These pundits use a lot of technical terminology of ‘ragams’, ‘scales’ etc, that you are not able to connect with. When they tell you about ‘Ninnukori’ or ‘Thoongatha Vizhigal’ from Agni Natchathiram (1989), you are lost as all you hear is a nice tune with heavy westernized rhythm work. However, you have a keen ear and can at least tell a folk number from a Western number or from a Carnatic number.

Raja has done great service by demonstrating what fusion is so that a lay person can easily comprehend. Here are four examples, where anyone who has a good musical taste (no formal training required) can easily understand how the various musical systems can beautifully co-exist. In other words, what musical fusion is all about...

Suramodhamu from Aditya 369 (Telugu 1991) is an excellent such number. To start with, the song sounds like Carnatic (set to Kalyani ragam) and towards the end, SPB jumps in and the rhythm arrangement switches from mirudhangam to drums. Even in the lyric, it talks about rock-n-roll! How did Kalyani become rock-n-roll? Let’s not worry about it. That’s fusion example 1.

That was easy, wasn't it?

There is a duet version of Vanamellam Shenbagapoo in the film Nadodi Pattukaran (1992). This starts off with a female voice in a Carnatic setting (set to ragam Madhayamavathi) and everything goes with mirudhangam and the works that you are led to believe that you are ready for a Cutcheri. From the second charanam, SPB jumps in with full folk and the rhythm switches to a folk melody based rhythm! When did madhayamavathi switch to folk? Leave it to the master! That’s fusion example 2.

Let's hear Vanamellam Shenbagapoo...

Again, simple stuff, isn't it?

There is an unassuming song by Jayachandran which begins ‘Naadirukkum Nilamaiyile’ in Ullam Kavarntha Kalvan (1987). Raja freaks out showing what fusion is all about – the song starts off as folk, switches to Carnatic (set to ragam Shankarabharanam). Touches on Western phrases (rum bum tu ru etc.) and finally switched back to folk! He liberally uses tabla, mirudhangam, ghatam and also demonstrates various emotions - all in one song. That’s fusion example 3.

Let's hear Naadirukkum Nilamaiyile...

In the hands of the master, everything gets easier. He does not even fuss about it!

Another example where the fusion is very obvious is En Jodi Manja Kuruvi from Vikram (1986). The song starts off with a Western rhythm arrangement and stays that way till it gets to the second charanam. When SPB goes ‘Eru pidikum’, the rhythm arrangement is suddenly the tabla with typical folk type arrangement! It’s easy for anyone to see the difference in arrangement and how Raja fuses two schools of music so flawlessly. That’s fusion example 4.

Let's hear En Jodi Manja Kuruvi...

I am not going to repeat myself anymore. In these 4 examples, Raja shows how easily he can switch between the three systems he is an expert, Carnatic, folk and Western.

We must all thank this genius for taking the mystery out of the fusion business. All the four tracks appear so effortless for this gifted composer.

No more confusion about fusion!