Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Electronic Music Technology – How Raja uses it and composes music?

Warning: this is pure guesswork. I have no access to how Raja composes music with his VST tools. I am also not sure about any of the tools he uses.

Raja is known for his terrific speed in writing staff notations from his baroque days. He slowly started factoring in synthesizers and drum machines by either special notes on his notations or adding a bit of improvisation at the time of arranging a song.

These days, he also works off an audio workstation. He has a bank of MIDI inputs and integrates sound like most composers do. Here is my wild guess on how he is dealing with the new changed paradigm in composing music (I will leave out the main melody, teaching singers etc.) digitally:

  • He does his standard score sheet as before
  • He perhaps now adds more sections to take care of electronic tracks – even rhythm now needs to be defined as bass, keys, guitar
  • We did not cover another class of computer software called scorewriters. I have a strong suspicion that he uses them as they allow staff notation to be transcribed to a computer. Alternatively, programs such as SmartScore, or Sibelis allow optical character recognition – OCR, by which a hand written score sheet can be scanned and interpreted by the computer software. He mentioned about this process when he described how he did the background score of Pazhassi Raja (Malayalam 2009).
  • The base score is now ready and is printed out for the keyboardists to play and when the take is acceptable, the MIDI file is transferred to the AWS.
  • The click track for the rhythm and the MIDI inputs are stitched together with other inputs such as rhythm pads. Any special manual instruments (veena, violin etc) are played in appropriate bar lengths and the MIDI capability is used to have them transferred to the AWS for integration.
  • The special techno effects such as reverbs, delays, distortion is included. Any loops for short synth pieces are also included at this stage. The basic karaoke is now ready.
  • The melody is played with the keyboard for any voice over – sometimes you have another artist singing the track which will eventually get replaced by the assigned artist
  • Any choral parts are also assembled using digital technologies to be available as another separate track to the AWS.
  • Once the main artist has their track recorded that is acceptable to the composer, post production work has to take place.
  • Post production in the VST world is a very important activity. This requires not only a good technical sense, but also strong musical sense. It’s all about timing. Though you have several inputs and they can all be arranged as software tracks with software such as Cubase, the time signature and the appropriate alignment of musical bars is very important. The end product will sound very harsh if you do not take care of it. Given his precise timing in his music, it is all the more complicated. It is easy with these software packages to adjust the time signature for short parts to fit the music into the bar, but may not sound good to the ears.
  • Picture all the above when you hear songs such as ‘Aaro Padunna’ or ‘Kunnathe’. Integration of such work touches on every point listed here.
  • Feel free to correct me where I am wrong, if you know folks who are close to Raja’s working methods.
Recently, the Hindi flm Kites (2010), composed by Rajesh Roshan had a track called ‘Fire’ which was a complete techno track. It had all the fades, delays, echos, reverbs and some fast paced synth beats. Why am I talking about RR’s work here? You will never hear such a track from Raja. He will not use the Techno techniques in its native form. He did that with psychedelic, jazz, pop, disco, and rock – he has to add his stamp to it. Nothing goes through the Raja door and emerges in the same way out – there must be some Rajamation (Raja + transformation) to it.

That’s his integration capability that few composers in the world have. It’s about assimilating techniques, applying them with your own flavor and style – there is no pass through filter in the Raja world. He has carefully chosen his tools from the Techno world and applies very nicely to his strengths with Baroque (listen to Rangu Rangu from Prem Kahani – Kannada 2009) , Carnatic (listen to ‘Vasantha Nilavin’ from Sooryan – Mayalayam 2007), folk (listen to Balegaara Balegaara from Bhagyadha Balegara – Kannada 2009), Jazz, Broadway style (listen to Edaya Bagilu from Suryakanti – Kannada 2009), pop (listen to Swalpa Soundu from Suryakanti – Kannada 2009).

Few composers care for such handling of a new genre. It’s easy to go with the flow, but hard to swim upstream. We are lucky to listen to a great musician who just delivers his immense catch of fish to us by his upstream swim, and we are completely transparent to all the genre processing and handling he does in this process. Few generations will be lucky to receive such musical tender love and care.


Ravi R said...

Love you blog. Considering that you have two of my favourite subjects, Electronic music and Ilayaraja. I collect vintage synths and dabble in VST's out of curiosity. But no matter how strange or exotic the sonic palette of todays modern instruments, nothing beats listening to Raaja's music. There is this eloquent quality to the tone and color of his music that just chops through the medium and hits you in the heart.

Looking forward to more from you and boy that KFC analogy in the yahoo groups was a loadful. It actually made me hungry for KFC and i havent been there in ages. Maybe i will today.

That being said, the main reason i wanted to leave a note was for "Rajamation" ! I dont think any other word would do justice in that context.

Shameer Ahammed said...

Can you please provide the details about vst instruments used by ilayaraja?