Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Techno Baroque – a rhythm perspective

Raja has consciously crafted a genre for himself even from the arrangement perspective in the last 9 years or so and more importantly with the rhythm arrangement. He shines in his new armor. He takes the nice and convenient weapons such as drum machines, synthpads, synth flute, synth violins and other pleasant sounds from the Techno world and nicely marries them with his traditional arrangement. The result is a pleasant melody with a very modern arrangement without the jarring 140 bpm techno rhythm.

Enge Nee Sendralum from Kannukkulle (2009 Tamil) is a very nice melody with a lot of solo violin as the theme is around a violinist. The entire track has a nice synth drum pattern that only beautifies the track further. This track is also a new form of Raja percussion – remember melody based rhythm that we discussed when we discussed Raja’s rhythm innovation? This track is an example of where Raja uses synth rhythms on a melody basis. Also, Raja uses extensively real violins, flutes as the theme requires it. The melody is nicely guided by the bass lines. Also notice the use of cellos in this track in the charanams very aptly. The second interlude has a nice call and response between the background violins and the main solo violin – typical of the Baroque Raja.

Let's hear Enge Nee Sendralum interludes  here...

In 2009, Raja almost said goodbye to chorus arrangements. Some exceptions were still there. Swapnangal from Bhagyadevatha (2009 Malayalam) is a traditional Malayalam melody where Raja used his conventional arrangements. Violins, flutes and chorus. However, even in this track, Raja uses synth drums for his pallavi. Extensive use of traditional guitar also enhanced this tune in his 80s style. The entire charanams are a nice mixed rhythm of tabla and synth drums. In the same movie, the track Allipoove Mallipoove is a nice synth based track, where the entire track is guided by guitar, synth keyboard, and the synthpads. The guitar and bass, flute play in this song is a fantastic reminder of the old Raja. However, he throws in a modern layer on top of his traditional composition driving home a clear message. The guitar is pushed to a support role and the synthesizer is given the driver role.

Let's hear Allipoove Mallipoove interludes  here...

Unnai Patri Sonnal from Mathiya Chennai (2009 Tamil) uses simple synth beats (4/4) and uses synthesizer in all typical Raja modes – extensive bells, piano modes. This is a simple tune that is beautifully carved using the bass guitar, which is staple Raja instrument. Only the prominent synth beats and piano modes are new. This song has the vintage Raja melody driving it. All old basics are in place. The female voice is of course new.

Let's hear Unnai Patri Sonnal interludes  here...

Oda Thandil from Pazhassi Raja (2009 Malayalam) is a simple melody which Raja would have traditionally used tabla in the 80s. He seems to have nicely used the ethnic version (patch) of the synthpad which fits the melody so well. Also, the flute played at the end of the pallavi in my view is a synthesized flute. Raja’s bass lines are guiding the melody as usual. The charanam uses the synthpad for its rhythm support, but notice the different mode chosen! The second interlude is complete with different modes of the drum machine along with its brush effect!

Let's hear Oda Thandil interludes  here...

Naan Pirandha Nerama from Kannukkulle (2009 Tamil) is a pathos tune that has a rhythm arrangement that is very atypical of Raja. As ever, the bass lines are so prominent, and so pleasant. The rhythm is fully done with the synth pad, but the composer ensures that the melody and the pathos are not compromised. The solo violin sets the mood and the bass guitar with the piano play on the synth create the background melody for the entire track – another outstanding experiment with the techno/synth tools with the traditional melody complimenting the strengths of the composer.

Let's hear Naan Pirandha Nerama interludes  here...

Kogile Kooguvaa from Prem Kahani (2009 Kannada) is a very innovative melody by Raja. The track is nicely arranged on a nice bass and a great synth drum pattern. The solo violins and the flute backing Bhela make the track so pleasing. Reminds us of Oru Kili Urugudhu from Ananda Kummi (1982). The synth drum pattern in no way spoils the party! The interludes are nicely arranged with solo violins and flute. If you observe the charanam, it sounds like Raja’s traditional tabla arrangement – but nicely arranged with the synthpad still! The second interlude has some of whatI would expect a shehnai to play replaced nicely by a combination of the keyboard and flute. That’s one new replacement for shehnai in my view.

Let's hear Kogile Kooguvaa interludes  here...

Let's hear the first pallavi and charanam of the track next...

What about his traditional strength of folk based tunes? Raja showed the new version of it with Balegaara Balegaara in Bhagyadha Balegara (2009 Kannada). Having discussed this as part of Raja’s mixed rhythm in Kannada, let’s not repeat it here. This track is mentioned here to show that when required, he brings in the tabla into the mix. Even in this track, the western rhythm is played with the synthpad!

Kooda Varuviya from Vaalmiki (2009 Tamil) is a contender for the top hit of 2009 for Raja. This set to a nice poly rhythm (more on this subject later) of the tabla and the synth drums. The track’s melody is nicely supported by the keyboard and the bass guitar. The use of synth flute in this track is truly mesmerizing. As Raja uses real flutes also, it is almost impossible to guess where the real flute ends and where the synth one plays and where both play. This is typical of the techno genre and Raja has used this aspect of this genre so well. The last few lines of the charanam guiding Bela with the bass guitar is vintage Raja. The second interlude is filled with synth rhythm with synth flute. Synthesized music does not get any better.

Let's hear Kooda Varuviya interludes  here...

Prati dinam from Anumanaspandanam (2007 – Telugu) – notice the percussion uses the ethnic Indian mode of drumming with the synthpad. You get the impression that this is a drum/mirudhangam combination. In reality, this is a patch of the drum machine. The entire vocals use this patch. As usual the bass lines are nicely aiding the melody. In the first interlude, observe the use fade out while the synth sitar plays. You will notice this specially with Shreya’s humming in the second interlude. This track is a rehash of the 80s melody Mayanginen Solla Thayanginen from Naane Raja Naane Manthiri.

Let's hear Prati dinam interludes  and charanam 1 here...

Let’s step back a little back: Oru Porkaalam from Kasthurimaan (2006) uses synthetic drums very nicely in this melody. The interludes give more importance to the ethnic synth drums more than ever before. This is atypical of Raja whose melodies do not have drumming in prominence. Notice that the charanams use drumming the conventional way (uses the hi-hat).

Oru Thottavadi from Pachakuthira (2006 Malayalam) is a nice rhythm mix where Raja shows his mastery over several genres. Jazz, Techno, traditional – you name it. The initial prelude is a great play on the synth pads and synthesizer and trumpets. The pallavi is backed by synthpads. The first interlude is set to the synthesized violins, trumpet and with the synthpad for the rhythm. He throws in scat singing into the mix. The second interlude is another nice play of trumpets and here Raja throws in the mix of tabla, claps and shehnai and scat singing. This is one of the busiest interlude I heave heard from Raja in recent times. The mix is different this time – earlier it was full of violins, cellos, flute, traditional chorus, you now know the new mix.

Let's hear Oru Thottavadi interludes  here...

Akki Thokki from Vinodha Yatra (2007 Malayalam) has several Techno elements adapted nicely for an Indian song. The prelude is played on the synth with the trademark bass lines. Observe that Raja uses flanging effects in the initial prelude that is supported fully by the synthpad. Between 32 and 34 seconds, another software effect is overdubbed on the track (can’t tell exactly what this is). Between 50 and 45 seconds, another another software effect is overdubbed on the track twice. The time signature is a traditional 4/4. Between 46 and 57 seconds, however, two synth tracks playing different melodies (traditional baroque) is in play as part of the second interlude.

Let's hear Akki Thokki interludes  here...

Ishtakaari from Sooryan (2007 Malayalam) – This track has a traditional Indian melody and you can never expect a Techno treatment for such a melody. Raja uses extensive techno transformers – fade in fade out. I will try to describe the track as much as I can as there are too many things happening. In the track below, here is my impression of the heavily bass laden 4/4 synthpad driven song. For the first 20 seconds of the track, you have a simple synth melody playing in the foreground. Observe the background software overdubbed techno work – you get the idea of the music getting louder and softer by the second, that’s the fading of the sound by a software transformer. Between 21 and 35 seconds, the foreground melody changes and so does the background techno sound. This time, it does not fade, but plays a complimentary melody (software driven I suppose). My guess is that the foreground melody is played by a keyboardist and the techno effects are then added at the AWS. Between 36 sec and 1:13, there is a different fore/background melody in play. Observe something very unique in this section – between 49 and 53 seconds, there are two synthesizers playing with precise timing that you can figure out. They move to the background from 53 seconds to 1:13 and there is a third foreground melody that is added from 54 seconds onwards. 1:14 to 1:19 is a beautiful changeover from the techno world to the Indian melody world into the charanam. This is one of my favorite techno work of Raja.

Let's hear Ishtakaari  interludes  here...

Hodadavene from Prem Kahani (2009 Kannada) – techno rhythm to the core.
In summary, Raja chooses his rhythm arrangement very carefully. He is conscious about complimenting his baroque and melody strengths. He uses tabla, shehnai and chorus very selectively. A lot more is riding on his melody than ever before. The ride has been pretty good though we have only reviewed some tracks from the last 4 years!


Aakarsh said...

Beautiful examples. Almost all the songs (barring few) actually deserve a full-fledged analysis because they are fundamentally good compositions (like Kooda Varuviya or Unnai Patri Sonnal).But i am usually not inclined to hear a synth sitar in ilaiyaraaja song. I usually feel that real instruments neednt be replicated on synthesizer but synthesizer should be used intelligently to generate sounds that real instruments do not give. Just matter of my personal preference may be. Ishtakkari is one song that i somehow could not get to like, despite repeated listenings.I always felt that Ilaiyaraaja overdid the synth in that song,somehow.
But other examples are phenomenal, especially the kannada songs which you have highlighted. All of them are my favourites.

Good post that demonstrates Ilaiyaraaja synth capabilities, which, like his acoustic ones, are not simple & plain.

Suresh S said...


You have quoted some of the songs which are my favourites as well. Very nice analysis of Raja's synth work.

Personally I got used to his synth style last year. The output was amazing and I would also quote all the songs you have quoted here as outstanding ones. Especially songs like 'Unnai Patri Sonnal', 'kooda varuviya', 'enge nee senralum', 'odathandil' etc. All songs of Prem Kahani were superb as well.

You analysis is good because it gives people an idea of how a composer is thinking and incorporating new technology not because he wants to sound 'cool' but because it is part of his philosophy. So as you say, Raja chooses the technology which enhances and illuminates his philosophy. People should check out the piano playing in the interlude of 'unnai patri sonnal' or even the way the piano follows the charanam.

கே.ரவிஷங்கர் said...

Very nice analysis.In spite of all layers of colours he kept the carnatic raaga in the core of the melody. I hear swarams of brindavana saranga in "Enge Nee Sendralum".


Anonymous said...

You are doing an awesome job!! Keep up the work! You have spelt out the depth of Raja's work so well.

Dheemi, Dheemi from Shiva is another super melody. I don't know under which header you will classify Techno Baroque from a rhythm or melody perspective - synthpads, solo violins, synth violins, there are atleast 2-3 counterpoints thats backing Shreya's voice in the Charanam.

ravinat said...


I like your open views and I respect them though they may be different from mine. Synth sitar - I had a similar problem with Raja's 80s too. I used to dislike some of his shehnai usage. For example, in the song, Kanmaniye Pesu from Kaaki Chattai, I disliked the first prelude with its Shehnai usage. When I got past it, the whole track was fantastic when it came to strings. As I mentioned in one of my earlier comments, it appears that some talented instrument players are not in the film circuit anymore. Raja, recently said in an interview that he is willing to consider any good intrument players. In his recent Nandalala interview, he said that he respected the BSO players for their dedication.

I agree that some of the tracks require extensive analysis. However, I refrain from any particular song/movie reviews in this blog.


The only counter-comment I have is your usage of the term 'synth' - this has so much negative connotation in the Raja world and his 80s fans. I would rather phrase it as EMT, as what he does is more than use of synthesizers. You can even term some of his 80s work as synth - Punnagai Mannan or Agni Natchathiram partly!

Good catch.

Please state your name at the end of your comment even if you do not want to have a blogger account. If three Anonymous guys leave comments, it's hard for me to address them when I respond!

Shiva was in 2006 and some of the tracks definitely qualify to be in the Techno Baroque posts. Though I have taken the last 5 years as my sample population, I have definitely not covered all the tracks. Dheemi Dheemi is indeed a fantastic Techno melody.

Ravi Natarajan

Anonymous said...


That was daft of me, to not have mentioned my name :)

Best wishes,

Pab said...

The genius (divine inspiration) has to exist in the mind before it can be translated through any kind of instrument to be appreciated by mere mortals like us. A very important part (seeking divine guidance and inspiration) in our quest of self-development.