Saturday, July 2, 2016

Introducing PolyCaRe

Is PolyCaRe something to do with taking care of polyethylene plastics and what the hell is that doing in a blog site about music?

Is PolyCaRe something to do with taking care of polyester fabrics?

Is PolyCaRe something to take care of the ice creams and the tulips at the same time?

Humor aside, first thing is the assurance that you are still in the musical blog on Raja. Second thing is we are about to analyze an exciting new musical idea that Raja has used  over the years but has never been explored.

In the earlier posts on polyphony, we defined what polyphony in music is. You can revisit the simple version of the definition, going back by almost 8 years:

Before, we even go into polyphony, it is important to understand in simple terms, the difference between harmony and polyphony.

  • Harmony in music involves two or more voices (can be instrument or human) being played simultaneously
  • Polyphony in music involves more than one melody being played simultaneously

We also discussed at length about counterpoints, fugue with various instruments, which is all part of polyphony. Polyphony itself is harmony too as more than one melody involves more than one voice too. However, harmony is not polyphony.

We also discussed for a full year about Raja’s Call and Response arrangements in the ‘unusual’ category. Here is how we defined Call and response type arrangement:

Most Call and Response arrangements are like conversations between two instruments or voices. This is a very common Indian musical feature.

What if these two musical ideas come together?

Will that work together, or work against each other?

While it may sound a bit of a stretch and difficult thing to do, it may also be a bit scary to the composers of limited talent.

Fortunately, Raja has frequently used these two musical ideas together and has been delivering great music for the last 5 decades in his interludes and background scores.

Now, ‘Poly’phony + ‘Ca’ll and ‘Re’sponse becomes ‘PolyCaRe’!

It is hard enough to do polyphony. How do you do PolyCaRe? Very hard, unless you are a musical genius where everything comes easy. 

Let’s elaborate a little more about what PolyCaRe involves.
  1. A call and response involves at least two instruments playing the same or different melodies
  2. A counter melody involves two melodies being played simultaneously
  3. So, in a PolyCaRe arrangement, there must be at least three melodies  in the whole arrangement
  4. To be more specific, there must be a background melody that continues throughout the PolyCaRe arrangement and the Call and Response melodies will be foreground melodies that come and go
  5. At any time throughout a PolyCaRe arrangement, there are always two simultaneous melodies. This qualifies the whole arrangement as polyphonic
  6. In other words, in a PolyCaRe arrangement, there are multiple serial counter melodies  that together can constitute a PolyCaRe arrangementthe series of  counter melodies have an inter-relationship among themselves, by way of Call and Response
  7. There must be at least 4 members to the series of counter melodies for a PolyCaRe arrangement. Two CaRe arrangements make it four foreground melodies and the background melody is normally a constant link to the series of four counter melodies.

Hope that provides clarity on the definition of a PolyCaRe arrangement. This is one of the most complex orchestral arrangements one can do combining multiple techniques and it requires a very deep understanding of these component musical ideas. You will not cross a handful number of compositions if you scan any other Indian composer’s work. Fortunately, I ended up with about 80 qualifying compositions in Raja’s work, despite all the constraints I have thrown into this analysis. Hopefully, this analysis posts will throw light on the high level of sophistication in Raja’s work in both his songs and background scores.

In my analysis, I found that not one of these 80 arrangements sound like a childish experiment.  Raja has kept these foreground CaRe arrangements, melodious as usual, that most of us have passed them as simple melodious CaRe arrangements.

A word of caution. Do not start searching for the term PolyCaRe in musicology texts - you'll find none. Most Western music does not treat relationship melodies beyond simultaneity. At best, the definition of fugue tries to add a layer of complexity by defining two different pitches for the two melodies that are original and imitated. Indian music, though uses Call and Response as a staple technique, does not really bother to define it . As I mentioned in the sections on 'Unusual conversations', the requirement to have two calls and two responses to qualify as a CaRe is arbitrary. I have not seen such a definition. I did that for ensuring that there is total clarity in understanding the technique.

Rules to PolyCaRe analysis

New techniques require new approaches in analysis. However, like most other analysis topics, some clearly defined rules apply. Also, caveats need to be defined very clearly.

A big part of Raja’s music includes the singing bass. There are several hundred songs that use Raja’s signature singing bass line. Such singing bass lines will not be considered as the background melody that will define a PolyCaRe arrangement. Though technically a call and response arrangement with a background singing bass qualifies as a PolyCaRe arrangement, there are two difficulties with this: 
  1. Most listeners do not have good stereo equipment to decipher the singing bass and 
  2. there are too many such compositions. 

As a result, singing bass based compositions featuring a call and response do not qualify.

Let’s next discuss the rules of PolyCaRe analysis. We will borrow the same rules of the Call and response arrangement and add the polyphony rules on top of it.

Here is the method that we will use, though there is no theoretical or technical compulsion to do so:
  1. The call must be made by a single instrument with a small melody. When this call is happening, there must be a melody in the background playing in counter to it
  2. The response must be made by a single instrument with a small melody. When this response is happening, there must be a melody in the background playing in counter to it. It must be the exact same background melody that got played when the call was made
  3. The call must be repeated at least twice
  4. The response must be repeated at least twice
  5. Point 3 or point 4 must be valid. Sometimes, the response for the second time may be with a slightly modified melody compared to the first response

We will also avoid C&R arrangements that have too many synthesizer tones that are hard to tell one from the other. Some of the modern compositions of Raja are so densely arranged with synthesizer banks, it is hard to tell the foreground from the background melodies.  The saving grace in this activity is that Raja keeps one of his tunes very simple and writes complex melodies on top of it. The simple melody will navigate the entire PolyCaRe composition. This is the background tune that we need to anchor to ensure that we understand the PolyCaRe composition.