Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Raja's (poly) rhythm innovation stage 15

This requires Indian and Western instruments in a polyrhythmic arrangement

The Indian instrument is invarably the tabla in film music. The western rhythm instrument is invariably the drum kit. Some of the latest techno work makes it impossible to tell where the synthesized groove ends and where the synth rhythm begins.

Maapilaikku Maaman Manasu from Netri Kann (1981) is another example of a very innovative application of the poly rhythm technique. Raja uses a standard 4/4 drum beat as the rhythm and freaks out with voices and mirudhangam. Note that the singer’s jathi is not on the same time as the back beat. On two occasions within this 35 seconds clip, the composer throws also the mirudhangam on a different time. Poly rhythm is a special subject in the Western world after the import of such rhythms through Afro Americans. It is part of the Carnatic tradition for centuries. Raja just demonstrates this with a mix of Western and Carnatic traditions! We need in keep in mind that this was done long before drumming machines were invented – the first decent microprocessor came out around this time!

Let's hear the Netri kann song....

Devan Koil from Naan Padum Padal (1984) - the prelude uses a polyrhythmic arrangement between the Indian tabla and the Western drum. The prelude lasts only 20 seconds and the music transitions into Raja’s 80s style violins and tabla arrangement after the prelude. Even in the prelude, there is extensive use of synthesizer, violin and flute.

Let's hear the Naan Padum Padal song....

The postlude of Megam Kottatum from EnakkuL Oruvan (1984). This is an amazing display of poly rhythm throughout the postlude that lasts about 50 seconds. The first 20 seconds of the clip does not have any poly rhythmic arrangement, just a play between the guitar and the drums. Observe from 20 seconds onwards, you will hear separate rhythm play between the left and the right. The right channel has the drums playing on slow time and the left playing in faster time till the right drummer catches up to the pace of the left drummer. The guitar that plays along stops suddenly and now it is poly rhythm all the way! At 32 seconds in the clip, the left drummer is replaced by a mirudhangam player who plays on his own time as the right drummer continues. At 42 seconds in the clip, the right drummer slows his timing and the mirudhangam player is in full cry as super fast time. There is no need for a better demo in Indian film music than this for poly rhythm! In 1984, when the world was saying welcome to the Apple Macintosh, Raja was busy with polyrhythms!

Let's hear the EnakkuL Oruvan song ....

Puthiya Poovithu from Thendrale Ennai Thodu (1985) – this song uses two sets of poly rhythmic arrangement, one that qualifies it as part of this categorization and another that does not. The pallavi of this song has three things going on in three timing arrangement – the tabla, the click and the cymbals. Not to mention the bass guitar. Everything falls perfectly in its place and you have a great melody on top of it. The charanam replaces the tabla with the conga drums. The rest of the rhythm arrangement in the charanam is similar to the pallavi. I have the full pallavi and part of the charanam in this clip.

Let's hear the Thendrale Ennai Thodu song...

Kavidhai Kelungal from Punnagai Mannan (1986) – if you observe the prelude of this track, the drum and the tabla play their own rhythm pattern, each one of them is clearly heard and together it sounds very pleasant. The base time is maintained by the drumming machine and the tabla rhythm is overlapped thrice in the prelude. There is also synthesized percussion that overlaps the drumming machine’s rhythm. Lastly, the drum kit based rhythm also overlaps the drumming machine’s rhythm. In all, there are five instances of polyrhythm that Raja demonstrates in this song’s prelude that lasts about 20 seconds!

Let's hear the Punnagai Mannan song...

Kathuthadi Raakozhi from Deiva Vaaku (1992) is an excellent poly rhythm between the drums and tabla throughout the track! In fact, this track fits into all categories of polyrhythm by Raja. It has folk, western, Indian style jathi, carnatic style morsing, ghatam – Raja demonstrates his total mastery over rhythm arrangement. The prelude and the pallavi have a similar poly rhythmic arrangement. The western drum plays in slow time and the tabla plays in fast time creating an exciting rhythm pattern. I have included only the second interlude and not the first. The second interlude is special from a rhythm perspective. Raja demonstrates the difference between a call and response and a polyrhythmic arrangement in less than 15 seconds! He starts off with a ‘dhinuku dhinuku’ rhythm pattern and his pattern is responded by the drum and the ghatam. This is followed by his vocals, the drum, and the ghatam playing the rhythm he leads. But, the tabla plays its rhythm on a different time, with poly rhythm in full display.

Finally, let's hear the brilliant Deiva Vaaku song...

In the next months, we will see how Raja works with Western and mixed rhythm instruments. I have particularly traced his polyrhythm work in each post to the beginning to prove his strong bedrock rhythm foundation. It only gets better with automation...


Aakarsh said...

Brilliant post that gives only a peek (yes, only a peek, which is enough to have a general idea about the level of his intellect). I will bookmark this particular post.Amazing examples. Keep exploring and sharing with us.

Ragz said...

Outstanding analysis! Despite being a fan of IR, I haven't experienced his songs, with the polyrythm perspective. Now will have to ruminate over all his tracks again. Thanks you for enlightening us on this amazing aspect of IR

Suresh S said...

Wonderful post Ravi. As Kamal says it is probably the tip of the iceberg. I know you will be exploring more but what you have put up here will give a very good idea to people about Raja's genius. Raja, when it comes to rhythm, is just unbeatable. Would love your take on a song like 'kunnathe' from PazhassiRaja. What a complex rhythm he builds up. Added to it is the fact that in many songs the rhythm seems to be travelling a different route wrt the main song!!! And yet it is so much in sync.

These sort of posts clearly support the title of your page :)

ravinat said...


I agree that this is only a peek. However, I will present two more stages in the next two months demonstrating how Raja adapts with time.

I must admit that these posts on polyrhythms were done after a lot of reluctance as I was never 100% sure till I figured a simple understanding of polyrhythms. Even now, I am not 100% sure. I am glad to see positive response to my analysis.

Thanks for your feedback.

There is a big difference between complex rhythm and polyrhythms. Raja has floored me with so many songs that have very complex rhythms. Two Malayalam examples that come to my mind : Thappu Thakilu Melam from Manjeera Dhwani and Thathaaram from Guru. Try figuring out the time signature in these two tracks and you are the rhythm guru!

When I researched this topic, I was in for many surprises and I am sure the readers would be also surprised. I had a number of misconceptions about Raja's rhythms when I started this journey (I still have) and wrongly interpreted them as polyrhythms. All you need to do is to wear some new glasses to see the experiment that Raja is doing.

I only wish that I have the ability to decipher many of Raja's latest synth rhythms. Maybe, someday, I will and write about it. For example, the track, 'Unnai Thedi Thedi' from Konji Pesalam blows me away even today when you carefully analyze the synth rhythm with the real rhythm. Is this polyrhythm of the 21st century? I do not know yet.

Ravi Natarajan

கே.ரவிஷங்கர் said...

Another superb post Ravi.Practical is always clearer than theory.

In commonsense listening of "Puthiya Poovithu" and "Devan Koil"definitely throws that Raja has done something unique.Now you have researched as "polyrhythm".

In these kind of experiments there is chance of crash landing resulted in everything going haywire.

All examples are good.The last one also is very different.

Expecting more..


Expecting more

Anonymous said...


Superb work as always!

Aasai nooru vagai too seems like using polyrhythm - congo and symbols


ravinat said...

Hi Bala

To qualify as a poly-rhythm there must be two rhythms played on different time signatures at the same time. We are not relaxing that rule. What we are relaxing is the prime number constraints on time signatures.

I do not see 'Aasai Nooru Vagai' as a poly rhythm in the above perspective.

We need to be careful about combing through Raja's work as there are several songs where he has used several rhythms, but not simulataneously. It is important to have the rhythms playing at the same time.

There are hundreds of Raja songs where the pallavi is played with a tabla and the charanam with the drum kit and vice versa. He also has dozens of songs with alternating rhythms where one phrase is played using one instrument and the next with another instrument. Most of these tracks use the same time signature.

Hope that helps.


Ravi Natarajan