Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Raja's (poly) rhythm innovation stage 16

This requires Indian and folk instruments arranged in a poly-rhythmic arrangement

While most music composers have exploited Indian and folk instruments very well in film music, we will showcase tracks where the idea is to play these instruments on different time signatures. While most technological advances have made poly rhythm with Western instruments quite easy, this is done in the old fashioned manual way, displaying the strong fundamentals of the composer.

A good example of polyrhythm innovation is the song Kasturi Maane from Pudhumai Penn (1983). Observe the prelude in the song where Raja demonstrates his mastery over the idea. He uses human claps and mirudangam on different time signature almost as a poly rhythm demo! Observe the claps start off on slow time, turns into a adhi taalam (8 beat cycle) and the mirudhangam joins playing at its time as the claps continue at its adhi pace. This is a very creative use of poly rhythm technique.

Let's hear the Pudhumai Penn song...

The SPB solo version of Maanguyile Poonguyile from Karakaatakaran (1989) – observe the percussion pattern throughout the song – observe the pattern of the main instrument (thavil) and the alternative instrument (udukku) – this is folk style arrangement that is poly rhythmic. The thavil starts off with the udukku on different times and throughout the 65 second clip, you will observe that both the rhythm instruments play at their own time along with the nadaswaram to create a nice tune.  For those not used to nadaswaram, it is a pretty loud instrument similar to the trumpets in Jazz music.

Let's hear the Karakaatakaran song's poly rhythmic arrangement...

The great Telugu hit track of Raja, Abbani tiyani debba from Jagadekaveerudu Athilokasundari (1992) uses claps throughout the track with the tabla. The claps and the tabla are set to different times and create an attractive poly rhythm. As mentioned before, this was copied in Bollywood in the film Beta in the 90s.

Let's hear the poly rhythmic arrangement of Jagadekaveerudu Athilokasundari song...

Adada Ahangara from Pithamagan (2004) – the interludes of this song are great experiments with poly rhythm. The first interlude has the udukku starting off loud and it keeps playing in its time. Intervening the rhythm is the fast rhythm of the bongos (most likely played with a synth pad). There is a synth bit for a few seconds following which the urimi comes back to life. This time around, Raja uses a duffle played at a slower pace, but faster than the udukku to create another poly rhythm. 

The second interlude of this song makes you think that Raja was not fully satisfied with his experiment. The urimi now plays without any break and within its cycle, the fast bongos are thrown in along with the conch. The fast violins add to the tempo of the drumming. This song’s rhythm arrangement is a masterpiece of sorts.

Let's hear the Pithamagan song...

Kili Thattu Kili Thatu from Athu Oru Kana Kaalam (2005) uses the native drums and the tabla on two different times very innovatively. To start with, the composer lets the native drum play. It is joined on a relaxed time at 5 seconds. To this play, the composer also throws in the manual bell which plays on its own time. The pallavi is played on a standard 6/8 tabla rhythm. Raja always has his experiments in songs where you never expect it!

Let's next hear the Athu Oru Kana Kaalam song ...

I am not sure into which category would Om Sivoham from Naan Kadavul (2009) would belong as its orchestration is a marvel in itself. This is a song that leaves you in a trance and some sections of the orchestration to be singled out as just poly rhythmic is a gross understatement. I have a 42 second clip from the track that is an unusual display of poly rhythm in very native Indian style. When you pay attention to it, there is a lot of Western instruments in place. The first 8 seconds of the clip has several rhythms playing in their own time. The lead instrument is the udukku, a traditional folk instrument. You have crash cymbals and bells and drums playing in their own time too. For the next 7 seconds or so, you can hear a super fast play on the rhythm pad with the chanting in the background and the udukku playing in its own slow time. For the next 10 seconds (15 to 25), you hear the rhythm pad continuing at its fast time and the crash cymbals catching up in tempo. It is hard to call this section as just Indian. For the next 20 seconds, you hear the heavy kickdrum playing with the sitar (played on the synth) and the udukku, the manual bells, the crash cymbals all join the fray with their own time. Four words – Mind blowing poly rhythm! Unless you are a super rhythm guru, it is impossible to arrange something like this. When you hear it casually, the composer simply lets you focus on the mood – the chants, the Indian folk percussion. When you step back and listen more closely, you can clearly hear the genius behind the arrangement.

Let's finally hear the Naan Kadavul song...


Aakarsh said...

Wonderful post. I never looked at these songs from a polyrhythm perspective! very good examples. even "Kaadhal Mayakkam" from Pudhumai Penn is a fantastic example for Polyrhythms i suppose?

Suresh S said...

Lovely as usual Ravi. I concur with Kamal. Many of these songs we don't look at from the polyrhythm perspective at all. So thanks for bringing these up. And kudos to your effort for culling out the relevant interludes and putting them up. Needs a lot of effort and dedication.

This brings me back to my usual sentence that we can never exhaust Raja!!! Cut him whichever way and something new comes to life.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ravi, for throwing light on this. Suddenly, I'm able to see the why in so many songs!!

Isyail Thodangudhamma - Dholak, Tabla, some percussion thats shaken (sounds like Tamborines cymbals), tabla and chendai(?) - what is your take here? The prelude and 2nd interlude in particular.

Thanks again and keep writing,

ravinat said...


Thanks for your comments. 'Kaadhal Mayakkam' in my view, is not poly rhythmic as it follows a single time in its rhythm arrangement. At least I could not hear two instruments playing on different times.


Glad that you like the songs that I presented. There are many that are borderline cases where it is hard to sense the multiple time signatures. These are ones where I was sure. The list starts off at 15 songs, but 10 in the list gets eliminated, when I am not convinced.


After you mentioned, I heard 'Isaiyil Thodanguthamma' again. The dholak, tabla, cymbals are being used, no doubt. However, all of them are playing to the same time signature. Go back to the Manguyile clip that I posted and you can clearly hear the different times of the thavil and the udukku. In other words, it is not a polyrhythmic arrangement in my view.


Ravi Natarajan

கே.ரவிஷங்கர் said...

Excellent Ravi.It is well researched and scanned.Raja is not exposing this in any of his public speech or interviews.Why?

Is this different time signature can be captured in an electonic instrument indicator?

Expecting more,

Vivek said...

Thanks a lot for your great work sir. My love for him has increased manifold after studying his music.