Sunday, November 1, 2009

Raja's rhythm innovation stage 13

This requires using a complex set of rhythm patterns with both Indian and Western rhythm throughout the track – all components of the track.

This is the stage that is hard to scale, as you must have a complete mastery over rhythm arrangement. In reality, when I heard a couple of tracks where Raja has demonstrated this level of sophistication, I started tracking backwards on a possible journey that Raja might have made to get here. This is dead serious experimentation, where you must have total control over not just writing music but conducting it very well with a talented orchestra. This is a stage of both genius and hard work. I am sure there are a few more tracks that Raja might have done this, but I am aware of two, one each from Tamil and Malayalam. The Tamil one is set on a jazz setting with a folk lyric and the Malayalam one for a dance set to a Hindustani flavored tune.

Thangakili Kaiyil Vacha from Manam Virumbudhe Unnai (1999) – this song is has a folk lyric, but set to a mix of jazz and folk style rhythm arrangement. Let’s dive a bit deeper into this track.
  1. The track starts off with an unassuming prelude with SPB’s voice accompanied by no instruments. You have no idea of the experiment that follows.
  2. The prelude and the pallavi are set to a jazz rhythm in western drums (W1) – the lyric is very folky. Let’s call this particular rhythm pattern as W1.
  3. The interlude 1 is interesting – very modern jazz arrangement complete with trumpets, chorus. The rhythm pattern continues with the W1 arrangement from the pallavi for almost all the 30 seconds, but for the last 4 seconds. The composer has a beautiful transition with only claps as rhythm. Let’s call this W2.
  4. The charanam 1 is a very interesting. The charanam is divided into 8 phrases. The first six phrases are set on a 6/8 Indian tabla arrangement (I3). For the last two phrases, the composer switches to an ultra fast jazz beat complete with the bass drum (W4). The transition between the charanam and pallavi is done by just adjusting the tempo of the jazz beat cycle. I have not heard another Indian film song that uses this jazz technique.
  5. Interlude 2 is equally interesting. It starts off with a 5/8 Indian tabla rhythm arrangement (I5) for about 20 seconds. There is about 10 seconds of no rhythm with just play of synth and flute. The last 5 seconds, the composer switches the arrangement to a 5/8 jazz rhythm (W6) before turning control over to the charanam.
  6. Charanam 2 works on a different meter for the Indian rhythm. Structurally, both the charanams are similar. The composer chooses a faster 6/8 arrangement (I7) for the first 6 phrases. The last two phrases are set to the same rhythm arrangement as charanam 1 (W4).
  7. Pallavi 3 works on the same jazz rhythm arrangement as the other pallavis. However, the composer throws claps into the mix creating another rhythm pattern (W8).
  8. In summary, here is the rhythm flow by the composer: W1-W2-I3-W4-W1-I5-W6-I7-W4-W8. In all, the composer has chosen 5 Western rhythm patterns and 3 Indian in a single track. The flow of the melody is in no way affected by this behind-the-scenes experimentation.
  9. By now, it should be clear, what it takes to set this bar. He just reset his own bar higher by several orders of magnitude. In today’s world of loops and libraries, here is still a composer, who is innovative to the core!
  10. You start wondering if this composition is Jazz or folk. Let's say it the Raja way: How to Name it?
Let's hear the prelude and the pallavi 1 of the track. Points 1 and 2 are applicable...

Let's next hear the interlude 1 full of Jazz, sax play followed by claps. Point 3 is applicable....

Let's next hear charanam 1, where the composer mixes the Indian and Western rhythm arrangement. Point 4 is applicable...

Let's next hear interlude 2, where the composer again throws another innovative mix of Indian and Western rhythm separated by some nice synth based counterpoint. Point 5 is applicable...

Let's next hear charanam 2, where the composer uses a slightly different Indian rhythm arrangement compared to charanam 1. Point 6 is applicable...

Let's next hear the final pallavi 3. The composer throws in some chorus, claps to complete the track. Point 7 is applicable...

Now, is this Rajazz or Jazzolk?

In Malayalam – Ghanashyama Vrindaranyam from Kochu Kochu Sandhoshangal (2001) is a mesmerising dance track. This is a track from the first Sathyan-Raja combination film. It is not clear what Sathyan had in mind when he narrated this song situation to Raja. Both the dance tracks in this film, Shivakara Damaruka and Ghanashayama Vrindaranyam can blow anyone’s mind for its orchestration. Let’s dive deeper into this track…
  1. The prelude is completely done with synthesizer and is about 30 seconds and is backed by a drums rhythm – a slow 6/8 rhythm (W1). You get absolutely no inkling of the Raja experiment that is about to follow.
  2. The pallavi is interesting to say the least. The pallavi has 6 phrases and the rhythm pattern alternates between Indian (I2) and Western (W3) in this fashion: I2-W3-I2-W3-I2-W3. It’s pretty easy not to observe this, as Raja arranges the transitions so smoothly that the melody is intact and unaffected. Note that there is no splitting of words to accommodate the rhythm intervals. That’s the work of a genius arranger and composer!
  3. Interlude 1 is fully backed by the tabla. It uses two patterns, let’s call this I4 and I5. The second pattern I5 is set to a Hindustani flavor, when only the tabla plays.
  4. Charanam 1 is structured with alternating rhythm patterns very similar to the pallavi 1. The charanam has 6 phrases. It alternates as W3-I2-W3-I2-W3-I2. Again, the flow of the melody is completely unaffected.
  5. Pallavi 2 is set fully to Indian rhythm – I2. Please notice the way the transition from the charanam 1 to pallavi 2 is arranged – it flows as a continuous Indian rhythm (I2).
  6. Interlude 2 is completely different from interlude 1. It starts off with a jathi recital by a male voice (Unnikrishnan?) which is backed by the congo drums (I6), followed by a flute and synth play followed by female humming.
  7. Charanam 2 is structured with alternating rhythm patterns very similar to the charanam 1. The charanam has 6 phrases. It alternates as W3-I2-W3-I2-W3-I2.
  8. Pallavi 3 is different from Pallavi 1 or Pallavi 2. The pallavi is repeated twice. The rhythm pattern for the first occurrence of pallavi is backed by mirudhangam (I7). The pallavi is backed by a loud bass drum and thimila (I8) for the second and final rendering of the pallavi.
The orchestration and conducting of this track requires several things: a) very talented orchestra b) extremely tight timing c) very good conductor and arranger and d) a genius composer with tireless energy.

With a melody such as this track, the composer could get away with a simple 6/8 rhythm and still deliver a hit track. This shows Raja’s commitment and an endless enthusiasm to experiment. You need to have imagination to set the bar so high, let alone achieving it.

This track qualifies for many of the stages that I have listed so far. The pallavi’s are arranged differently within the same song. The interludes are arranged differently. Only the charanam’s have a similar pattern.

In summary, here is the rhythm flow of this track: W1-I2-W3-I2-W3-I2-W3-I4-I5- W3-I2-W3-I2-W3-I2-I6- W3-I2-W3-I2-W3-I2-I7-I8. That’s Raja’s genetic code of rhythm arrangement for 4 minutes!

Let's now experience it bit by bit. Let's first hear the unassuming prelude and pallavi 1 with the mixed rhythm arrangement. Points 1 and 2 are applicable...

Let's hear interlude 1. Point 3 is applicable...

  Let's next hear charanam 1 and pallavi 2. Notice that every phrase has a switching rhythm arrangement, very similar to the pallavi. Point 4 and 5 are applicable...

Let's finally hear the interlude 2, charanam 2 and pallavi 3 where the composer throws some more innovation into the mix. Point 6, 7 and 8 are applicable...

In both these tracks, Raja easily shows that he can easily throw 7 or 8 rhythm patterns into a song and create a very pleasing melody, folk, Jazz, dance song with a majority of his listeners not noticing. It’s hard to figure how this man is wired! I am sure that he is not making any extra bucks for this extra effort – he just gifts such gems for us to preserve!