Monday, May 10, 2021

Blog trivia

If you are visiting this site for the first time, it is important to read this post. The intention of this blog is to present arguments in a pre-determined sequence. OLDER posts are actually NEWER posts within a month. As I keep adding new posts I change the time stamp to an earlier time so that you can read the posts in sequence. If you notice, all the posts within a month have the same date. Only the time stamp varies. Newer posts have earlier time to help you read in sequence.

If this site interests you and you want to read the earlier months (I would recommend starting from month 1 before reading month 2) start from the earliest month. I have ensured that within a month the posts are sequenced properly.

YT Notes

The Raja team is taking down YouTube sites on copyright infringement grounds. Some of the YT videos may not be viewable as a result. Let's wait for the dust to settle down.

For those who read this blog regularly, please treat this as a little nuisance and continue reading.


Ravi Natarajan

Nearest Neighbor – Mirudhangam and tabla

Most popular Indian music of today avoid both these instruments. Mirudhangam occasionally features in songs that are based on Carnatic classical ragam. Electronic rhythm pads have almost eliminated the tabla and even if tabla is used, it gets drowned in the loud folk songs of today in films.  Raja, not only used these two instruments a lot, he has also used them in very unusual situations.  The focus here is not in the usage of these instruments separately, but how these close cousins are used in a single composition.  In this nearest neighbor, Raja, surprisingly uses just one technique, call and response.

The first 8 seconds of the clip is a call and response between the tabla and the mirudhangam in the song, 'Sanga Thamizh Kaviye' from Manadhil Urudhi Vendum (Tamil 1988). The second part of the clip is from the song, ‘Manjolai Kili thaano’ from Kizhakke Pogum Rayil (1978 Tamil). In this song too, the call is from the tabla and the response is from the mirudhangam.

Let’s hear these Nearest Neighbors – Mirudhangam and tabla ...


Nearest Neighbor – Guitar and Synthesizer

Today, most guitar sounds in popular music are actually played on the synthesizer. However, there are some songs, where Raja has chosen tones that are close to a guitar and placed them next to an actual guitar. This requires an out-of-the-box thinking that can potentially backfire. While some may have, this post will include a few examples, where the experiment worked very well. As with all other nearest neighbor examples, there is no one technique that he follows. I will describe them along with the clips. 

The first 18 seconds of this clip is the song ‘Thene Thenpandi Meene’ from Udhaya Geetham (Tamil 1984). The guitar and the synthesizer play the same notes and still you can clearly hear them separately too. Thought he composer places them this way, it is not out of place at all. The second part is from the song, ‘Ponnil Vaanam Poothathu Kolangale’ from Villu Paatu Kaaraen (Tamil 1992). The composer chooses to have the guitar and the synthesizer as a parallel counterpoint, enhancing the beautiful composition. The last part of the clip is from the song ‘Vasantha Nilave’ from Sooryan (Malayalam 2007). In this clip, the composer arranges a call from the synthesizer for which the guitar responds.

 Let’s hear these Nearest Neighbors – Guitar and Synthesizer

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Nearest Neighbor – Guitar and Veena

Like the previous example, veena is the south Indian cousin of the sitar and is considered not so wise to place it next to the guitar in most compositions. In some Carnatic instrumental concerts that now have guitar as one of the instruments, they make it a point to avoid bringing veena into such adventures! Raja has done so much work with these two instruments as neighbors, I had a hard time, trying to narrow the clip as it can get very long if all examples are included. I will mention the tracks which made it to this shortlist, but could not be included in the clip you will hear in this post. Like the sitar counsin, the veena has been deployed by Raja with his slew of western classical techniques. 

The first 12 seconds of the audio clip is the interlude of the song ‘Kamalam Paada Kamalam’ from Moga Mull (1995) and these neighbors are on a call and response relationship as designed by the composer and it is such a pleasant combo. Between 15 and 30 seconds, the call is made by the Veena for which the guitar responds beautifully in the interlude of the song, ‘Velli Nilave’ from Nandavana Theru (1995). Between 32 and 48 seconds, is the first interlude of the famous Carnatic song, ‘Alai Payudhe Kanna’ from the film Ethanai Konam Ethanai Paarvai (1983), where the guitar and the veena participate in a traditional Carnatic format, where some of the swaras are played by one instrument and continued by the next. Between 51 and 1:12 seconds, it is the beautiful counterpoint being played by these strange neighbors in the interlude of the song, ‘Oru Chiri Kandaal’, from Ponmudi Puzhayorathu (Malayalam 2005). Only Raja can think of a counterpoint between these two instruments! Between 1:15 and 1:43 (end of the clip), is the title score of the film Aavarampoo (1989). This is a full-fledged counter melody that goes on for 28 seconds and Raja chose to use it as a title score for a film! He perhaps wanted us to take notice that such neighbors can take on the title of a film! 

Let’s hear these Nearest Neighbors – Guitar and Veena …. 

Here are some tracks that use the Nearest neighbors – Guitar and Veena, that I could not accommodate in the clip: 
  1. Poomalaye (Pagal Nilavu (1985) 
  2. Vasantha Niave (Sooryan, Malayalam, 2007) 
  3.  Nanna Jeeva Nenu (Geetha, Kannada, 1980) 
  4. Unnai Kaanum Neram (Unnai Naan Sandhithaen (1984)

Nearest Neighbor – Guitar and Sitar


Guitar and sitar are both string instruments and they are rarely placed next to each other in Indian music. Doing a counterpoint with these nearly close sounding cousins is generally ruled out. However, none of these things seem to deter a composer such as Raja. Both the examples in this post are examples of how well he handles the sounds of these two instruments, not just placing them one after the other, but also composing counter melodies that play simultaneously. 

The first 14 seconds of this audio clip is the famous prelude of the song ‘Nilaave Vaa’ from Mouna Ragam (1987), where the guitar and the sitar play their melody simultaneously and most of us can hum along! The second example is the second interlude of the song, ‘Poove Semboove’ from 'Solla Thudikkudhu Manasu (1988). Between 17 and 26 seconds, it is a guitar that repeatedly plays the melody. From 27 seconds onwards, the sitar joins the arrangement and starts its own melody, with the guitar playing its repetitive melody. For the 5 seconds between 27 and 32, there are three things in play apart from the percussion. The background guitar melody continues, with the foreground now shared between a calling sitar and a responding second guitar. This is PolyCare, which is typical of Raja’s work. It’s almost like placing two unwilling neighbors next to the third.  Such things cannot be imagined by composers before and after him, let alone execute it.

Let’s hear these Nearest Neighbors – Guitar and Sitar  …

Thanks to Usha Sankar, for showcasing a few more tracks where these neighbors feature:

  1. Sutha Samba Pacha Nellu from Annakili (Tamil 1976)
  2. Sugamo Aayiram from ThunairuppaaL Meenakshi (Tamil 1977)

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Nearest Neighbor - an introduction

We will stay musical and not get into deep statistics. Nearest neighbor in the world of statistics is about the point in a given data set that is closest (or most similar) to a given point. Unlike statisticians, most musicians and specially composers avoid nearest neighbors when they compose popular music. In other words, it is considered risky business to bring two instruments of very close tonality next to each other. Easy neighbors are very tonally different. Example, violins and flute or guitar and saxophone. 

Readers of this blog, should have by now got accustomed to Raja, who defies conventional wisdom in anything he touches. The nearest neighbor phenomenon is something you find in several of Raja’s compositions and he has no problem with these instruments of close tonality being next to each other. One of the major exception to this analysis will be Raja’s percussion. Tonal nearest neighbors in percussion is such a long list that almost every other Raja song has them. A dholak and a tabla, or a ghatam and khanjira next to each other is something every Indian classical music lover has heard in many concerts. I will only cover some freaky nearest neighbor combos in percussion such as a western drum and a tabla, Mirudhangam and tabla, or mirudhangam and drums

When others shy away from such experimentation, how is it so easy for Raja to do such bold adventures? In my view, his training in WCM helps him to seek out such adventures as he has such a mastery over melodic structures. If your melodic line is identical and you use two very close sounding instruments, your experiment is bound to fail. However, when you have the ability to arrange different melodies is such a way that even the tonally close neighbors can sound very pleasant when placed next to each other, or even played simultaneously, you have a winner. It is about how you craft the melodies adjacent or overlapping each other. That requires an enormous grasp over the theory and practice of musical systems (he does it in all types of music).  In all these nearest neighbor constructs, there is no one technique that Raja follows. It is a mixed bag of techniques that are dependent on the composition itself. These nearest neighbors could be part of a polyphonic, CaRe, PolyCaRe, and even be part of a polyrhythm experiment.

It must be pointed out that some tonal neighbors are widely accepted in film music that I will not touch upon. Examples, are, Flute and flute, Synthesizer and synthesizer, guitar and guitar. 

Here is how these Nearest Neighbor (NN) posts will be structured:

  1. NN – Guitar and sitar: Tonally very close, this post will showcase the guitar and sitar being next to each other and perfectly delivering quality music
  2. NN – Guitar and veena: Again, tonally close, these are seldom used next to each other till Raja started experimenting with these instruments being placed next to each other
  3. NN – Guitar and Synthesizer – While the synthesizer’s tone can be close to several instruments depending on the pitch  and the various built-in tones you chose, today, several compositions (including some of Raja) are played on the keyboard. While it gets a bit harder to tell the difference, there are compositions, where you can. Placing them by design next to each other has been deliberate by the composer
  4. NN – Mirudhangam and tabla – while these have been used in Jugalbandhis, they are rarely used in film music, until Raja
  5. NN – Tabla and bass guitar – tonally very close, they are rarely placed next to each other
  6. NN - Tabla and drums – While the sound of these two percussion instruments is different, many composers have used these percussion instruments (includes Raja) for one part of the song and moved to the other instrument for the second part. However, rarely these two instruments are placed next to each other.
  7. NN – Female solo and flute – female tonal range of some singers is very close to a flute and Raja has used them in his music
  8. NN – Female voice and electric guitar – Some electric guitar tomes mimic the female voice range and placing them next to each other is risky as the listener may mistake one for the other. However, by constructing creative melody lines, Raja has some songs where he keeps them together and still makes them distinct
  9. NN – Female voice and santoor – Santoor is an instrument with a distinct sound. Placing a female voice that has a tone close to it is something only Raja has experimented
  10. NN – Female choir and flute – tonally matching a female choir and flute is very hard and risky and Raja does this too
  11. NN – Male choir and distortion guitar – tonally very close, few can think of placing them next to each other
  12. NN – Shehnai and Trumpet – tonally very close, from two parts of the world, Raja has used them as neighbors successfully in some of his interludes
  13. NN – Sax and Trumpet- this is almost counterintuitive. Even these unlikely neighbors are placed next to each other.
  14. NN - Bass guitar and Cello –Both these instruments have a very low tone and generally is delegated to a support role. There are some songs where Raja has placed these two very similar sounding instruments next to each other with interesting melodies for each of them
  15. NN – Flute and Synthesizer – While the synthesizer’s tone can be close to several instruments depending on the pitch and the various built-in tones you chose, today, several compositions (including some of Raja) are played on the keyboard. While it gets a bit harder to tell the difference, there are compositions, where you can. Placing them by design next to each other has been deliberate by the composer
  16. NN – Sitar and bass guitar – This is a very strange bedfellow as bass guitar, a staple Raja instrument stays behind most instruments elevating it then come to the forefront and be next to another foreground instrument. Even such experiments have been possible for Raja
  17. NN -Pizzicato strings and Bass guitar – Another strange set of bedfellows as plucked strings at lower tones can sound very similar to bass guitar. Placing these two instruments next to each other requires very distinct melodies that not only makes it pleasant but also easy to hear
  18. NN – Veena and synthesizer – Raja does some compositions where he chooses tones on a synthesizer that are very close to a veena and places them next to each other
  19. NN - Veena and sitar – Veea and sitar have tones that are different to the most discerning ear. However, Raja has created fantastic melodies and placed them next to each other that makes such close cousins distinct
  20. NN - Trumpet and electric guitar –  There are several 80s and 70s track where Raja used the tones of an electric guitar that is close to a wind instrument such as trumpet and also dared to place them next to each other

All the categories are strange bedfellows that can never be seen together, with the exception of Raja’s music. In the posts that follow, I will provide detailed examples of such nearest neighbors.  If you dig through other composer’s work, you may land on a few near neighbors, but definitely not 20 such nearest neighbors. Many such neighbors have multiple compositions as well.  Feel free to add your additional observations as Raja’s body of work is very huge.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 18/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Unnai Patri Sonnaal (Mathiya Chennai – Tamil - 2009)

There should be no debate about 'Mathiya Chennai’ (Tamil 2009) being an obscure film and there was one brilliant song by Rita that goes 'Unnai Patri Sonnal'. While the song is great, the harmonies in this song's interlude is so freaking modern, that I do not understand why people have difficulty in accepting Raja's modernity. When Raja does something really good and modern, it is dismissed as 'synth', even by Raja fans.

The interludes will stand any harmony test.

Listen to the harmony passage from 1:10  to 1:34. Three synthesizer tones play the SATB in this - a 
bass tone on the synth, a normal piano and sharp bells. I love the recording of this song as you can hear the hi-hats so clearly from the drummer. Harmony does not get any more modern.-

Next listen to the harmony passage between 3:08 and 3:20 is not very impressive as it is a repetitive melody without much ornamentation.

The passage between 3:20 and 3:30 is 10 seconds of outstanding harmony done with bass , flutes, guitar and bells. Cut this out and make it your ring tone and you can see the quality of this harmony.

Another walk in the park...

Let’s hear Unnai Patri Sonaal

Kanukkulle background score (Tamil – 2009)

Kanukkulle (Tamil 2009) was a story of a violinist which went nowhere. There were some fantastic songs by Raja in this film.

The first 38 seconds of the title score of this film is a violin harmony treat. What follows is a melodious violin based tune with percussion and bass. My focus is the first 38 seconds of this good title score:

Nandri Solla Vendum  (Chithiraiyil Nila Choru - Tamil - 2013)

Only Raja fans know about this film and its tracks. The film stands out as among the top 10 most boring films with Raja's music :-) I could not even stand this film in fast forward!

Let's discuss this song and some fantastic 
harmony parts that Raja has written for this undeserving film track.

Play the song at a high volume to enjoy some of the specific parts, which appears straight out of any Western classical concert.

Harmony passage 1
(2:42 to 2:50): It starts off with the flute and the violins sharing two of the parts (A and T). Three seconds into the part, Raja throws in the cello in the B part.  The master stroke is not that. Following this, he gets the Cello to play a melody that is very pronounced. Not many composers do this. The bass part is just an enhancer for others.

Harmony passage 2 (2:50 to 2:57): From 2:50 onward, it is another harmony arranged back to back, between the piano and the guitar now taking the flute and 
violin parts (A and T). Like the previous harmony passage, Raja throws in the cello melody on the B part.

You need to play these two back to back melodies a few times to get a sense of what Raja is doing to these two harmonies. Only the cello is the constant connection between the two.

Harmony passage 3 (2:57 to 3:08): This is a completely different arrangement. The melody lines are identical between the violins and solo violin and the piano playing three parts and the melody is repeated 4 times - sort of simple cannon

Another walk in the park for another obscure film and song.

Let’s hear Nandri Solla Vendum..