Thursday, July 1, 2010

A simple introduction to Techno Baroque

As with polyphony and other WCM ideas, we will go from the known to the unknown. We have all heard Raja’s great conventional baroque compositions from the 80s. Let’s look at some his earlier works and also its newer techno baroque versions to understand the difference.


Ananda Ragam from Paneer Pushpangal (1981) – this is a classic Raja composition from the 80s, where he used a whole bank of violins in harmony and created this track which is still difficult to reproduce. Set to Carnatic ragam of Simmendramadhyamam, this has been one of those all time favorite for most Raja fans. 


Let’s hear the original composition…





Let’s hear En Nenjin Ragam from Udhayam (2006) – this carefully avoids use of tabla that was extensively used in the original composition. The prelude uses the violins as in the original composition. However, the violins backing Shreya’s voice through the pallavi are all synthesized ones. The first interlude has synthesizers backing traditional violins everywhere and the flute work remains as in the original composition.  The second interlude is done mostly with synthesizer supporting the original composition (the second and first interlude were done with traditional violins only in the 80s composition). Throughout both the charanams the violins backing the singers are synthesized violins. Raja had used bells extensively in the original composition and this remains the same in the 2006 rebirth. Also, Raja avoids the shehnai (he replaces them with santoor) that was used in the first interlude in the 80s composition.


Let's hear the 21st century version...





Let’s hear Jyotheyale from Geetha (1980) – one of the famous melodies of Raja from the 80s.  This is a nice duet fully written with guitar, violins, bells and flute. The pallavis are fully backed by conventional violins. The first interlude is a great example of harmony of violins and uses vocal humming. There is some synth and bells along with the violins. The track uses drums throughout for rhythm. The second interlude starts off with sliding violins and has some nice bells work and some great violin and flute harmony.


Let’s hear the original composition…







Now, let’s hear Jaane Do Naa from Cheeni Kum (2007). This has the same melody as Jyotheyale and uses keyboards extensively in the piano mode. The rhythm arrangement is with synth pads and is completely different from the Jyotheyale and the tempo is a little faster. The first interlude uses all synthesized violins and keyboard, preserving the harmony elements. The charanams have synth violins backing Shreya’s voice. The second interlude is structured differently from the original and uses synthesized violins throughout. 


Let's hear the 21st century version...





Next, let’s look at the track – Kulzhaloothum Kannanukku from Mella Thiranthadhu Kadhavu (1986).  The prelude is famous for its flute work. The first interlude is a simple one by Raja standards, which has simple orchestration. The charanams are backed by regular violins. The second interlude starts off with a violin/flute counterpoint and has some synth play followed by violins and bells. The rhythm is traditional conga drums for the pallavi and tabla for the charanams.


Let’s hear the original composition…





Baatein Hawa from Cheeni Kum (2007) has the same melody as Kuzhaloothum. Notice the strings are fully replaced by synthesized violins. Also, the congas are replaced by a 4/4 synth pad. The bass guitar does its usual work as in all Raja compositions. The first interlude works off two synth violins in counterpoint, This is followed by a synthesized violins in counter to the synth violins. The charanam is fully backed by synth violins. The charanam also is backed by a 4/4 synthpad rhythm. The second interlude has the rock guitar and synth performing some wonderful harmony, followed by some nice jazz play with the sax. Finally control is transferred to the charanam by some great piano style keyboard play. In the earlier Raja compositions, the piano was always suppressed by his majestic violins – not anymore in the techno baroque world.


Let's hear the 21st century version...






Some of you may be thinking – this is cheating! Here is a Raja fan trying to pass his recycling of old tunes as a new genre!


This is just an introduction and we will see in the next few sections, the workings of this new genre on tracks that have no precedent. No recycling – just new genre! 


In summary, this is what we have seen in our introduction:

 


  1. Raja replaces his rhythm with simple 4/4 synthpad based rhythms
  2. Raja replaces elaborate violin sections with synth violins
  3. He switches to synth flute where appropriate
  4. He maintains strict harmony and does his usual counterpoint work
  5. He throws an occasional new genre into the mix (most of Raja’s Jazz sax work in Cheeni Kum is a good example)
  6. He keeps his bass lines intact
  7. He keeps his bells intact
  8. Some of his usual guitar work is replaced by keyboards
  9. Piano style keyboard work is given more prominence.



17 comments:

Suresh S said...

Nice start Ravi. It is a good starting point for your exposition.

I have one question. I find that while the bass work remains intact, the bass is also played on the synthesizer. Is my reading correct? I find the bass to be synth bass in many places but since I am not an instrumentalists nor do I have much knowledge on the synthesizer, I am just guessing based on what I hear.

I fully agree with one observation of yours, that the keyboard plays a lot of piano!!! This is something he has been doing wonderfully for some years now. Don't want to list examples as I am waiting for you to list out such songs in your series :)

Replacement of rhythm with the 4/4 synth is probably something many of his fans don't like I guess. That would be mainly due to the fact that Raja makes some great patterns using multiple rhythmic instruments and that gets missed out when the synth pad comes in.

Aakarsh said...

Awesome post. I have always admired most of his re-interpretations of his earlier compositions, although the selfish fan inside me wants him to come up with fresh tunes. I mean, i understand that he is not creating carbon copies and is altering many things to make it interesting... still, the wait.. the anticipation generated while hearing a new tune is different.

But otherwise, each of the examples you have cited are worthy compositions (new ones) in their own right. I have to highlight one wonderful aspect that, I am afraid you forgot to point out here. While i agree about all the technical aspects and the variations that he brought about, I must say that the overall mood of the song is kept intact, in each of the above compositions. A Jyotheyalli was a lively melody back then and is still a lively melody as Jaane Do na. So, the variations were only technical but not in the mood.

Howevere, one song where Raaja excelled in keeping the tune intact and still bringing a variation in the 'mood' of the song is "Cheeni Kum hai".The tune is the same. Arrangements are different. And look at the way he transformed a brilliant pathos laden ballad into a sprighty-happy-toned composition. The mood is exactly reversed, without any change in the tune/melody. Thats quite an achievement.

And yes, Your review on Aananda Raagam and its latest version reminded me of this post: http://musicmavericks.blogspot.com/2007/06/de-composing-ir-discoveries-through.html It gives a totally new perspective about that song. (Sorry, I am not advertising my blog here. I really think its a fantastic piece written there. Also, it is written not by me, but by my friend. Hence, I am not guilty of self-marketing).

ravinat said...

Hi Suresh, Aakarsh

Suresh, you will hopefully find answers to your question in my next post on melodies in this series. Raja continues to use regular bass guitar as well as synth bass in his compositions.

I was hearing 'Thira thannil' from 'Bhagyadevatha' and it is not set to 4x4. However, the use of Techno is all over the song. Raja uses rhythms outside the 4x4 selectively. Those who criticize Raja for 4x4 must also recognize that he did several hundred compositions in 6x8 which is a convenient tabla rhythm.

Aakarsh, your views are absolutely complimentary to what I have been trying to argue. I avoided the 'mood' interpretation though it is a very valid point. I wrote a full series on 'Raja's moods' where I demonstrated that he can bring out any mood with any instrument.

I have read your post on 'Shiva 2006' track - simply brilliant one, showcasing the use of violins and bass. You are underplaying it by saying that it is self-marketing.

'Cheeni Kum' does evoke some of my wake-up call days. I started refocusing on Raja seriously after I was not satisfied listening to the 'credits' score in that film at least 20 times! I have never heard any composer's credit score that many times.

Cheers

Ravi Natarajan

Suresh S said...

Ravi,

'adi thirathannil' is a super composition and it is not 4x4 as you mention. Again I don't want to pre-empt you by quoting other examples now itself which are not 4x4. I am sure you will mention them in your future blog posts.

While I agree with Kamal that many wait for Raja's new score and may not be satisfied with his reworking, I have a slightly different point of view. Raja, as we know from various sources, is a MD who gets everything together in one shot, i.e., the tune as well as the orchestration. So for him, to score a new song is probably easier than redoing his old song!!! Because he is not a person who adds things just like that. He wants the unity to be maintained. So breaking your orchestration and composing a new one, which keeping the spirit intact is no mean achievement.

ravinat said...

Suresh

I am glad that we are discussing what Raja is doing today as opposed to what he did 3 decades ago.

What you mentioned also raises another important issue that I have tried to guess in my final post in this series (you have to unfortunately wait for a few more months). With all the electronic techniques, it is not possible to write staff notations on everything that Raja used to do. I have tried to guess his new music composition steps based on my research on similar Western composers. I could be wrong. However, I care less about being wrong about today's Raja than being right about Raja 30 years ago!

Cheers

Ravi Natarajan

Suresh S said...

I should commend you for having started this. This sort of platform is required for the current Raja since even many of his die hard fans refuse to come out of 80s. I personally feel he has always been delivering top notch music and my playlist contains more of his 2000s output. Hopefully we can get more people involved in this debate. Afterall our endeavour is to ensure good music is appreciated by all.

Anonymous said...

Ananda Ragam from Paneer Pushpangal - Has raja scored music for this film - is it not Gangai Amaren?

Ramesh said...

Thank you for the wonderful post. I just have a doubt on the synth violins portion, esp in the 'Baatein Hawa' song. How do you say it is Synth violins? I was of the opinion that they are real violins but with superior recording of today. Why should Raja use synth violins when he has a ready to use orchestra with him and when it is very convenient for him to write notes for the orchestra? What do you mean by Synth violins? Is it the violin/strings tone on a synthesizer keyboard? But the emotions can be conveyed only on a real violin right?

I am not a fan of the kuzhaloodhum song but I absolutely love the Baatein Hawa song. The orchestration was very nice with the strings, the flute, the sax, piano, etc.

ravinat said...

'Panneer Pushpangal' was by Raja and got released in 1981. Raja's professional integrity is well known - he will not use a tune of any other composer, even if it is his own brother. He did have some exchange arrangements with Kalyanji Anandji and they exchanged tunes (Kanavu Kaanum Vaazhkai Yaavum) in the 80s for a few tracks. Even when directors ask him to do a song that they liked from some other composer's music, he will take that and create his own unique interpretation. Popular examples - Inji Iduppazhagi (inspired by SD Burman's E Dil Diwana Hai), Mounamana Neram (inspired by Geeta's song).

BTW, even Kuzhaloodhum was his own tune in a film (Mella thirandhadhu Kadavu) where all other tunes were by MSV.

Lastly, it is fine to leave anonymous comments, but please identify yourself.

Ravi Natarajan

ravinat said...

Hi Ramesh

If you closely hear 10 sec to 29 sec on the clip, the violins lack the depth that is typical of the instrument - it is easy to identify that this is synth violin.

Having said that, it is not always easy. Before we go there, what do we mean by synth violins? We typically think of this sound emerging from a keyboard. This is the 'hardware' angle to the sound. With advances in technology, a cleverly designed ASIC chip can take a base frequency and generate all kinds of sound by way of harmonics and that's what you find with most advanced keyboards today. You can easily tell that this is not from a regular violin (s).

The same applies to flutes too. If you hear the track 'Oda thandil' from Pazhassi Raja, what do you think of the flute being played? It can be produced in two ways : 1) A real flute converted to MIDI and a flutter added at the end by a tracker/VSTi software 2) A synthesized flute played on a keyboard that is captured into a tracker/VSTi software thru the MIDI interface and then a flutter transformer is added. Or, a third way, that I cannot guess.

The point is, there is also a software synthesizer whose functionality is very hard to tell. FLS is different from Logic Studio which is different from Ableton. With a software synthesizer, you can not only take external inputs and alter them, you can also obfuscate them so much that you can no longer identify the original instrument timbre.

If all this appears very technical, please wait for a couple of more posts and I will try and cover many technical aspects of the VST world. As usual, I will try and ensure that the language is kept simple enough for general readers to follow.

In my last post in this series, I have planned to showcase how a Fruit Loop Studio clip sounds and what its components are. Also, as part of this illustration, I will also show how an external string section is integrated.

Cutting the long story short, in this case, it is easy to identify the hardware synth sound. But not always, when you have software filters added by VST software or generated by software.

BTW, the sounds in a VST software are typically REAL sounds from orchestras that are digitally sampled and made available for manipulation of tempo, pitch, and other attributes.

The synth bass question of Suresh is also answered partially, by answering your query.

Thanks

Ravi Natarajan

கே.ரவிஷங்கர் said...

Ravi,

Nice drilled down.Good post. We need to take one important factor here which you have missed.

Panner VS Udhayam2006 alias Shiva(Hindi).In Panner the song has high voltage emotions of sudden eruption of "infatuated love" i.e.the girl smiles at him deeply immediately the song erupts like volcano... so Raja orchestrated it stunningly and accordingly.

Udhayam2006 alias Shiva(Hindi)"sara yeh aalam" is peppy/sexy emotion between grownup adults.விரகதாபம்.Raja orchestrated accordingly and avoided classical toches and given artificial (synth)
"touches"

Anand Raagam is fresh இளநீர். Other is இளநீர் tinned and deep freezed and artificially flavoured one.

ravinat said...

Ravishankar

Thanks for your email. In my view, you are reading too much into the compositions. The Panneer Pushpangal folks were amatuer actors at best. The actors of Shiva were worse. I avoid the disappointment of watching Raja songs on video as much as I can. Execptions like Mudi Mudi (Paa) where PC's bulb shots bring the guitar work to life.

There are several recent melodies where Raja took his proven baroque skills and simply applied modern orchestration techniques (read, Techno) no matter what the situation at hand was. There are of course exceptions. His orchestration of 'Naan KadavuL' was fully driven by the situation at hand.

For example, how do you explain the orchestration difference between 'Sundari KannaL Oru Seidhi' (Dhalapathy 1990) and 'Mandarapoo MooLi' (Vinodha Yaatra 2007) - both are duets, both set to Kalyani.Sundari was the ultimate in manual orchestration skills. Mandarapoo is a very nice melody completely set in the Techno world.

Raja is several notches higher with his understanding of the technology of music making than most of us believe.

Point is, your line of argument fits these two songs well. Not everything else Raja does today. I am yet to see a composer who has such control over mind and machine.

Ravi Natarajan

Suresh S said...

'Ananda Ragam' orchestration was done more keeping with in line with the picturization. If you see, the picturization is of the adolescent protagonists going on the train. The whole orchestration evokes this train journey. You can clearly see how cleverly Raja had orchestrated this piece. As a standalone piece it works big time and as a piece in the movie, it works even better!!!

"I am yet to see a composer who has such control over mind and machine." Very true words indeed.

Ramesh said...

Thank you Ravi for explaining in detail to me. Yes I am aware of software synthesizers. I will also share with you a couple of pieces I had composed with an orchestra VST in a software synthesizer for your feedback. Lot of composers today probably use that. But I was wondering why IR should use when he has an expressive and ready-to-use orchestra with him.

ravinat said...

Hi Ramesh

Nice, I tried to avoid answering why Raja uses a software orchestra while he has the most talented orchestra with him. The reason - I don't know.

My guess is that, he wants to either cater to the demands from new directors, or he wants to move with the times. One thing I know for sure is that, most talented 'conventional instrument' players have switched and are no longer available in the circuit. While he has the stalwarts with him, others are just on call. The 'on call' musicians are from a general pool. The general pool has more keyboardists, synth drum payers available at short notice. That's my theory on the constant spectrum of sounds that you hear during a particular period. Their application can be different, but the types are more or less fixed. During a period of 2 or 3 years, the range sounds from Raja or Rahman or Vidyasagar is no different - they all draw from the same pool. It's their way of use of the sounds available to them that makes the difference. The stalwarts stay with the composer for new directions/experiments and they also help change sounds emerging from the team. Very rarely, new musicians get added to the inner circle, unless you want to bring in an Eigenharp or Continuum for which there is no player and the composer has decided to use it constantly in the foreseeable future.

This is where the software synthesizers are very attractive. You do not have to change your team constantly because of some new electronic instrument. As long as you have a talented sequencer/programmer, you are set. Any advances in the technology can be easily exploited without reorganizing your team.

This is the reason for our perceptions on 80s sound, 90s sound and 21st century sound. Maybe, Raja is trying to tap into the circuit and that's what determines what goes into the compositions. I could be wrong, but can't think of anything else.

Ravi Natarajan

கே.ரவிஷங்கர் said...

Suresh S said...

//If you see, the picturization is of the adolescent protagonists going on the train. The whole orchestration evokes this train journey.//

Boss...Song is not happening in train but in their (hill station) school and around places.

The song started after both girl & boy discovered some kind of chemistry(?) happening between them.

Most of song they are togoether rejoicing/feeling great/ feeling blessed/delightful/floating in the clouds in their heart.Song also is running paralel.Everything around them is looks bright and delightful.

Thanks

Ramesh said...

Thank you Ravi. Your reasoning sounds reasonable.