Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Techno Baroque – a rhythm perspective

Raja has consciously crafted a genre for himself even from the arrangement perspective in the last 9 years or so and more importantly with the rhythm arrangement. He shines in his new armor. He takes the nice and convenient weapons such as drum machines, synthpads, synth flute, synth violins and other pleasant sounds from the Techno world and nicely marries them with his traditional arrangement. The result is a pleasant melody with a very modern arrangement without the jarring 140 bpm techno rhythm.

Enge Nee Sendralum from Kannukkulle (2009 Tamil) is a very nice melody with a lot of solo violin as the theme is around a violinist. The entire track has a nice synth drum pattern that only beautifies the track further. This track is also a new form of Raja percussion – remember melody based rhythm that we discussed when we discussed Raja’s rhythm innovation? This track is an example of where Raja uses synth rhythms on a melody basis. Also, Raja uses extensively real violins, flutes as the theme requires it. The melody is nicely guided by the bass lines. Also notice the use of cellos in this track in the charanams very aptly. The second interlude has a nice call and response between the background violins and the main solo violin – typical of the Baroque Raja.

Let's hear Enge Nee Sendralum interludes  here...

In 2009, Raja almost said goodbye to chorus arrangements. Some exceptions were still there. Swapnangal from Bhagyadevatha (2009 Malayalam) is a traditional Malayalam melody where Raja used his conventional arrangements. Violins, flutes and chorus. However, even in this track, Raja uses synth drums for his pallavi. Extensive use of traditional guitar also enhanced this tune in his 80s style. The entire charanams are a nice mixed rhythm of tabla and synth drums. In the same movie, the track Allipoove Mallipoove is a nice synth based track, where the entire track is guided by guitar, synth keyboard, and the synthpads. The guitar and bass, flute play in this song is a fantastic reminder of the old Raja. However, he throws in a modern layer on top of his traditional composition driving home a clear message. The guitar is pushed to a support role and the synthesizer is given the driver role.

Let's hear Allipoove Mallipoove interludes  here...

Unnai Patri Sonnal from Mathiya Chennai (2009 Tamil) uses simple synth beats (4/4) and uses synthesizer in all typical Raja modes – extensive bells, piano modes. This is a simple tune that is beautifully carved using the bass guitar, which is staple Raja instrument. Only the prominent synth beats and piano modes are new. This song has the vintage Raja melody driving it. All old basics are in place. The female voice is of course new.

Let's hear Unnai Patri Sonnal interludes  here...

Oda Thandil from Pazhassi Raja (2009 Malayalam) is a simple melody which Raja would have traditionally used tabla in the 80s. He seems to have nicely used the ethnic version (patch) of the synthpad which fits the melody so well. Also, the flute played at the end of the pallavi in my view is a synthesized flute. Raja’s bass lines are guiding the melody as usual. The charanam uses the synthpad for its rhythm support, but notice the different mode chosen! The second interlude is complete with different modes of the drum machine along with its brush effect!

Let's hear Oda Thandil interludes  here...

Naan Pirandha Nerama from Kannukkulle (2009 Tamil) is a pathos tune that has a rhythm arrangement that is very atypical of Raja. As ever, the bass lines are so prominent, and so pleasant. The rhythm is fully done with the synth pad, but the composer ensures that the melody and the pathos are not compromised. The solo violin sets the mood and the bass guitar with the piano play on the synth create the background melody for the entire track – another outstanding experiment with the techno/synth tools with the traditional melody complimenting the strengths of the composer.

Let's hear Naan Pirandha Nerama interludes  here...

Kogile Kooguvaa from Prem Kahani (2009 Kannada) is a very innovative melody by Raja. The track is nicely arranged on a nice bass and a great synth drum pattern. The solo violins and the flute backing Bhela make the track so pleasing. Reminds us of Oru Kili Urugudhu from Ananda Kummi (1982). The synth drum pattern in no way spoils the party! The interludes are nicely arranged with solo violins and flute. If you observe the charanam, it sounds like Raja’s traditional tabla arrangement – but nicely arranged with the synthpad still! The second interlude has some of whatI would expect a shehnai to play replaced nicely by a combination of the keyboard and flute. That’s one new replacement for shehnai in my view.

Let's hear Kogile Kooguvaa interludes  here...

Let's hear the first pallavi and charanam of the track next...

What about his traditional strength of folk based tunes? Raja showed the new version of it with Balegaara Balegaara in Bhagyadha Balegara (2009 Kannada). Having discussed this as part of Raja’s mixed rhythm in Kannada, let’s not repeat it here. This track is mentioned here to show that when required, he brings in the tabla into the mix. Even in this track, the western rhythm is played with the synthpad!

Kooda Varuviya from Vaalmiki (2009 Tamil) is a contender for the top hit of 2009 for Raja. This set to a nice poly rhythm (more on this subject later) of the tabla and the synth drums. The track’s melody is nicely supported by the keyboard and the bass guitar. The use of synth flute in this track is truly mesmerizing. As Raja uses real flutes also, it is almost impossible to guess where the real flute ends and where the synth one plays and where both play. This is typical of the techno genre and Raja has used this aspect of this genre so well. The last few lines of the charanam guiding Bela with the bass guitar is vintage Raja. The second interlude is filled with synth rhythm with synth flute. Synthesized music does not get any better.

Let's hear Kooda Varuviya interludes  here...

Prati dinam from Anumanaspandanam (2007 – Telugu) – notice the percussion uses the ethnic Indian mode of drumming with the synthpad. You get the impression that this is a drum/mirudhangam combination. In reality, this is a patch of the drum machine. The entire vocals use this patch. As usual the bass lines are nicely aiding the melody. In the first interlude, observe the use fade out while the synth sitar plays. You will notice this specially with Shreya’s humming in the second interlude. This track is a rehash of the 80s melody Mayanginen Solla Thayanginen from Naane Raja Naane Manthiri.

Let's hear Prati dinam interludes  and charanam 1 here...

Let’s step back a little back: Oru Porkaalam from Kasthurimaan (2006) uses synthetic drums very nicely in this melody. The interludes give more importance to the ethnic synth drums more than ever before. This is atypical of Raja whose melodies do not have drumming in prominence. Notice that the charanams use drumming the conventional way (uses the hi-hat).

Oru Thottavadi from Pachakuthira (2006 Malayalam) is a nice rhythm mix where Raja shows his mastery over several genres. Jazz, Techno, traditional – you name it. The initial prelude is a great play on the synth pads and synthesizer and trumpets. The pallavi is backed by synthpads. The first interlude is set to the synthesized violins, trumpet and with the synthpad for the rhythm. He throws in scat singing into the mix. The second interlude is another nice play of trumpets and here Raja throws in the mix of tabla, claps and shehnai and scat singing. This is one of the busiest interlude I heave heard from Raja in recent times. The mix is different this time – earlier it was full of violins, cellos, flute, traditional chorus, you now know the new mix.

Let's hear Oru Thottavadi interludes  here...

Akki Thokki from Vinodha Yatra (2007 Malayalam) has several Techno elements adapted nicely for an Indian song. The prelude is played on the synth with the trademark bass lines. Observe that Raja uses flanging effects in the initial prelude that is supported fully by the synthpad. Between 32 and 34 seconds, another software effect is overdubbed on the track (can’t tell exactly what this is). Between 50 and 45 seconds, another another software effect is overdubbed on the track twice. The time signature is a traditional 4/4. Between 46 and 57 seconds, however, two synth tracks playing different melodies (traditional baroque) is in play as part of the second interlude.

Let's hear Akki Thokki interludes  here...

Ishtakaari from Sooryan (2007 Malayalam) – This track has a traditional Indian melody and you can never expect a Techno treatment for such a melody. Raja uses extensive techno transformers – fade in fade out. I will try to describe the track as much as I can as there are too many things happening. In the track below, here is my impression of the heavily bass laden 4/4 synthpad driven song. For the first 20 seconds of the track, you have a simple synth melody playing in the foreground. Observe the background software overdubbed techno work – you get the idea of the music getting louder and softer by the second, that’s the fading of the sound by a software transformer. Between 21 and 35 seconds, the foreground melody changes and so does the background techno sound. This time, it does not fade, but plays a complimentary melody (software driven I suppose). My guess is that the foreground melody is played by a keyboardist and the techno effects are then added at the AWS. Between 36 sec and 1:13, there is a different fore/background melody in play. Observe something very unique in this section – between 49 and 53 seconds, there are two synthesizers playing with precise timing that you can figure out. They move to the background from 53 seconds to 1:13 and there is a third foreground melody that is added from 54 seconds onwards. 1:14 to 1:19 is a beautiful changeover from the techno world to the Indian melody world into the charanam. This is one of my favorite techno work of Raja.

Let's hear Ishtakaari  interludes  here...

Hodadavene from Prem Kahani (2009 Kannada) – techno rhythm to the core.
In summary, Raja chooses his rhythm arrangement very carefully. He is conscious about complimenting his baroque and melody strengths. He uses tabla, shehnai and chorus very selectively. A lot more is riding on his melody than ever before. The ride has been pretty good though we have only reviewed some tracks from the last 4 years!

Electronic Music Technology – How Raja uses it and composes music?

Warning: this is pure guesswork. I have no access to how Raja composes music with his VST tools. I am also not sure about any of the tools he uses.

Raja is known for his terrific speed in writing staff notations from his baroque days. He slowly started factoring in synthesizers and drum machines by either special notes on his notations or adding a bit of improvisation at the time of arranging a song.

These days, he also works off an audio workstation. He has a bank of MIDI inputs and integrates sound like most composers do. Here is my wild guess on how he is dealing with the new changed paradigm in composing music (I will leave out the main melody, teaching singers etc.) digitally:

  • He does his standard score sheet as before
  • He perhaps now adds more sections to take care of electronic tracks – even rhythm now needs to be defined as bass, keys, guitar
  • We did not cover another class of computer software called scorewriters. I have a strong suspicion that he uses them as they allow staff notation to be transcribed to a computer. Alternatively, programs such as SmartScore, or Sibelis allow optical character recognition – OCR, by which a hand written score sheet can be scanned and interpreted by the computer software. He mentioned about this process when he described how he did the background score of Pazhassi Raja (Malayalam 2009).
  • The base score is now ready and is printed out for the keyboardists to play and when the take is acceptable, the MIDI file is transferred to the AWS.
  • The click track for the rhythm and the MIDI inputs are stitched together with other inputs such as rhythm pads. Any special manual instruments (veena, violin etc) are played in appropriate bar lengths and the MIDI capability is used to have them transferred to the AWS for integration.
  • The special techno effects such as reverbs, delays, distortion is included. Any loops for short synth pieces are also included at this stage. The basic karaoke is now ready.
  • The melody is played with the keyboard for any voice over – sometimes you have another artist singing the track which will eventually get replaced by the assigned artist
  • Any choral parts are also assembled using digital technologies to be available as another separate track to the AWS.
  • Once the main artist has their track recorded that is acceptable to the composer, post production work has to take place.
  • Post production in the VST world is a very important activity. This requires not only a good technical sense, but also strong musical sense. It’s all about timing. Though you have several inputs and they can all be arranged as software tracks with software such as Cubase, the time signature and the appropriate alignment of musical bars is very important. The end product will sound very harsh if you do not take care of it. Given his precise timing in his music, it is all the more complicated. It is easy with these software packages to adjust the time signature for short parts to fit the music into the bar, but may not sound good to the ears.
  • Picture all the above when you hear songs such as ‘Aaro Padunna’ or ‘Kunnathe’. Integration of such work touches on every point listed here.
  • Feel free to correct me where I am wrong, if you know folks who are close to Raja’s working methods.
Recently, the Hindi flm Kites (2010), composed by Rajesh Roshan had a track called ‘Fire’ which was a complete techno track. It had all the fades, delays, echos, reverbs and some fast paced synth beats. Why am I talking about RR’s work here? You will never hear such a track from Raja. He will not use the Techno techniques in its native form. He did that with psychedelic, jazz, pop, disco, and rock – he has to add his stamp to it. Nothing goes through the Raja door and emerges in the same way out – there must be some Rajamation (Raja + transformation) to it.

That’s his integration capability that few composers in the world have. It’s about assimilating techniques, applying them with your own flavor and style – there is no pass through filter in the Raja world. He has carefully chosen his tools from the Techno world and applies very nicely to his strengths with Baroque (listen to Rangu Rangu from Prem Kahani – Kannada 2009) , Carnatic (listen to ‘Vasantha Nilavin’ from Sooryan – Mayalayam 2007), folk (listen to Balegaara Balegaara from Bhagyadha Balegara – Kannada 2009), Jazz, Broadway style (listen to Edaya Bagilu from Suryakanti – Kannada 2009), pop (listen to Swalpa Soundu from Suryakanti – Kannada 2009).

Few composers care for such handling of a new genre. It’s easy to go with the flow, but hard to swim upstream. We are lucky to listen to a great musician who just delivers his immense catch of fish to us by his upstream swim, and we are completely transparent to all the genre processing and handling he does in this process. Few generations will be lucky to receive such musical tender love and care.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Electronic Music Technology - Deep Dive 5

There are many ways to create techno, but the vast majority will depend upon the use of loop-based step sequencing as a compositional method.  Techno musicians, or producers, rather than employing traditional compositional techniques, may work in an improvisatory fashion, often treating the electronic music studio as one large instrument. The collection of devices found in a typical studio will include units that are capable of producing unique timbres and effects but technical proficiency is required for the technology to be exploited creatively. Studio production equipment is generally synchronized using a hardware- or computer-based MIDI sequencer, enabling the producer to combine, in one arrangement, the sequenced output of many devices. A typical approach to utilizing this type of technology compositionally is to overdub successive layers of material while continuously looping a single measure, or sequence of measures. This process will usually continue until a suitable multi-track arrangement has been produced. There can be as many layers as the composer requires with today’s software such as Fruit Loop Studio.

Once a single loop based arrangement has been generated, a producer may then focus on developing a temporal framework. This is a process of dictating how the summing of the overdubbed parts will unfold in time, and what the final structure of the piece will be. Some producers achieve this by adding or removing layers of material at appropriate points in the mix. Quite often, this is achieved by physically manipulating a mixer, sequencer, effects, dynamic processing, equalization, and filtering while recording to a multi-track device. Other producers achieve similar results by using the automation features of computer-based digital audio workstations. Techno can consist of little more than cleverly programmed rhythmic sequences and looped motifs combined with signal processing of one variety or another, frequency filtering being a commonly used process.

In recent years, as computer technology has become more accessible and music software has advanced, interacting with music production technology is now possible using means that bear no relationship to traditional musical performance practices: for instance, laptop performance (laptronica) and live coding. In the last decade a number of software-based virtual studio environments have emerged, with products such as Propellerhead's Reason andAbleton Live finding popular appeal. These software-based music production tools provide viable and cost-effective alternatives to typical hardware-based production studios, and thanks to advances in microprocessor technology, it is now possible to create high quality music using little more than a single laptop computer. Such advances have democratized music creation, leading to a massive increase in the amount of home-produced music available to the general public via the internet. Artists can now also individuate their sound by creating personalized software synthesizers, effects modules, and various composition environments. Devices that once existed exclusively in the hardware domain can easily have virtual counterparts. Some of the more popular software tools for achieving such ends are commercial releases such as Max/Msp and Reaktor and freeware packages such as Pure Data, SuperCollider, and ChucK.

Let’s elaborate a bit more about some of the techno effects that are quite commonly used in this genre of music:

The term “echo” was used more often in the early days, and is sometimes used today to refer to the distinct and distant repeats of a signal, while “delay” refers to anything from the same, to the short repeats heard as reverb, to the complex, long, manipulated repeats of an intricate digital delay line. Either way, they are both really the same thing, just used differently. All these effects had their origin with guitar add-in hardware that is still in use. The techno world uses software that allows you apply this to any electronic sound that is computer generated.

An example of delay effect:

Digital reverbs, like their sibling delays, offer more power and a greater variety of settings. And in addition to doing some approximations of spring reverb sounds, digital units usually offer more “lifelike” reverberation as heard in anything from an empty room to a large concert hall. Some of Raja’s recent work use digital reverb effects extensively. For example, the track ‘Rangu Rangu’ from Prem Kahani (2009 Kannada) uses reverb extensively with the Irish violins playing the preludes and the interludes.

A very nice example of violin reverb processing:

Here is an example of reverb with guitar: 

Phasers split the signal and shift one path out of phase by from 0 to 360 degrees through the entire range of the frequency spectrum, and blend it back with the dry path so the moving in-phase/out-of-phase relationship can be heard. When the two signals are totally out of phase—at 180 degrees (or, technically, 540 degrees or 900 degrees, etc, because the shift keeps moving)—they cancel each other out, creating what is called a “notch”. But a number of factors interact to give a phaser its characteristic “swooshing” sound. If you recall our example of ‘Shwashathin Thalam’ from Achuvinte Amma (2005 Malayalam), (this song is discussed in the Techno baroque melody post) some of the synth bass is processed using the Phaser effect to achieve the rapid change to the synth bass signal at the end of the charanam (this is my theory).

An example of a guitar based Phaser effect: 

Usually considered the big brother to the phaser, the flanger is indeed related in a sense, but achieves its heavier, some would say more oppressive sonic results by imposing more control over its placement of the notches created by the phase relationship, rather than spacing them evenly as the phaser’s sweep does. 

An example of guitar based flanger effect: 

True vibrato, as distinct from the volume-chopping tremolo effect often mislabeled as such, is an actual wavering of the note above and below pitch to create a sort of harmonious “wobbling” effect.  Digital vibrato tries to create harmonics and filter them out selectively to create a vibrato effect using software.

Fade In, Fade Out are facilities available with most software packages today. These effects make the signal volume rapidly swing from one end to the other creating a volume fading. For example, the track ‘Ishtakkari’ from Sooryan (2007 Malayalam) uses this effect extensively. Though we are discussing electronic music, here is an acoustic fade out, nicely demonstrated:

A piano, cello based acoustic example of brilliant acoustic fade out...

Distortion came from the world of electric guitars where using pedals, guitarists fuzzed up the raw signal. With software filters, it is easy to introduce distortion of one or more channels. This produces a ‘buzz’ like sound which is distinct from the synth bass sound. Distortion effects are quite common with Raja’s recent compositions. All the tracks of Cheeni Kum (2007 Hindi) use digital distortion effects as you will hear a hiss accompanying the keys work.

Here is a good demo of electronic distortion, though the melody is terrible:

There are several more custom effects depending on the software package you consider. Most Indian music for films will have several manual and MIDI inputs that are custom created for the track. 

  1. The techno effects are primarily used to enhance the manual work
  2. Several tracks have percussion, synth bass, synth strings, rhythm added to the track. Interludes get played either on independent keyboard or gets added to the track by way of additional tracks on the AWS itself. 
  3. In my view, Raja continues to have them played separately on synthesizers and the MIDI input is mixed at the AWS. The key result of the techno effects on synthesized or manual instruments is the obfuscation of instrument timbres. 
  4. The overdubbing of synth work over manual instruments was done even in the hardware synthesizer days by Raja. However, the software overdubbing with some additional techno effects leads to further difficulty in identifying instruments as they all become inseparable even with good quality recording. 
  5. When you throw a 100 track (software tracks) to a 24-track studio tape for the final cut, there is already some loss. When things go from a CD to MP3, things get worse.

Courtesy Wikipedia for some technical definitions

Techno Baroque – A technical rhythm digression

In order to explain the techno world a little better, let’s review some of the sample sounds available from manufacturers such as Roland and other sources (such as and get a sense of the sound. While there are so many different type of digital percussion instruments, the most popular one is called the Roland SPD 20 Multipad. This multipad is commonly referred as ‘synthpad’ or ‘rhythm pad’. This can create sounds of about 700 instruments and a max of 14 voices. Available at $600 (in 2009), this instrument has been driving many rock bands, Indian musicians alike for the past decade or so. Like a standard drum kit, one can use just the multi-pad or add a number of accessories such as damper pedals, foot switches, trigger pads, Cymbal pads, etc. to set up a full fledged electronic equivalent of a traditional drum kit. If you observed the ‘Andrum Indrum Endrum’ show of Raja in 2005, Sivamani, the drummer, uses not only two multipads, but a ton of accessories for the concert.

There is another popular Roland drum machine used by most film musicians called TR-808. This machine has been a mainstay rhythm generator for most film musicians given the dependability of this machine. If you look up some of the Amrita TV programs available on youtube – Hrudaya Ragangalude Raja – you will observe clearly the use of TR-808 by Raja. This is very useful for doing a number of things such as bass, snare, low to high tom, claves, low to high conga, handclaps (now you know how so many film songs have perfectly timed claps), moroccos, open, closed hi hats, cymbals make it like a mini professional drummer. With additional effects like flangers, reverbs, you can create several patterns and choose the right time signature for the song very easily. Again, the Amrita TV program illustrates these techniques though not in great detail. Puru, who works for Raja has been a drumming and drum machine expert who has been of great help for Raja.
Reviewing some the standard sounds of this instrument would give us a good introduction to the world of Techno Baroque. I will try and show some Raja examples with each of the sample sound. These are my guesswork and by no means authoritative.

In order to relate some of the sample sounds to music created by Raja and other Indian composers, you can use software to adjust its pitch or tempo of a sample sound that is close to what you hear in Raja's music. Wherever, I have changed a sample, I will also ensure that the original sample is also available for review. The point is, Raja does not use any of these samples as such, but does substantial work (on one or more samples) before using it in his music. This applies to all music composers today, though some composers blatantly use samples in their work. The sounds from the drum machines and rhythm pads are sometimes very unique, with no equivalent from the manual instrument world. For example, when you hear songs such as ‘Siru Siru Siragugalil’ from Konji Pesalam (2003), you hear the sound of a mirudhangam and a western drum in perfect sync. There is no one playing these two instruments. This is a sample sound (it’s called a patch) that is called the Indian patch on the Roland multipad SPD-20.

The best way to get a hang of these electronic rhythm instruments is to see them visually. They have all the power of drumming from all parts of the world. They allow you to do things that were very hard in the manual percussion world. See the sample of two such instruments by Roland – the SPD 20 Multipad and Handsonic 15
Here is the first video featuring the SPD20 and Handsonic 15..

And video 2..

And video 3...

And the last one...

Notice, how the same instrument is used to generate different genres of sound. You saw even the tabla being reproduced in this instrument. Some of the patches that come with the equipment is too enticing not to use! When you start wondering about strange ghatam like sounds along with synth drums, you realize that even the ghatam sound is coming out of these electronic percussion instruments.

 Time to get a little under the covers...We will use the sound samples from to illustrate how these samples are used by composers and what they could do with the sample sounds. These are simple illustrations and I am no expert in this area. This is only to demonstrate how easy it is to manipulate sample sounds with some open source software such as Audacity.

Let’s hear the first sample set to a very fast bpm – about 120 – this is called the Electro sample. The original sample is hard to use as is. When you reduce the pitch of this sample, you get close to one of Raja’s tracks – Akki Thokki from Vinodha Yatra (2007 Malayalam). When you hear the sample, focus on the rhythm pattern and not on the synth that plays along.

Let's listen to the original electro sample....

Now, let's hear the same sample at a slower tempo... 

Let’s hear a synthesized flute sample – Raja uses it very often in his recent compositions. The flute not only is synthesized but also comes out with a hiss. Let’s hear the Flute_tweaked sample first. I have a slower version of this sample Flute_tweaked_slow. This is close to what we hear with the track Oda thandil from Pazhassi Raja (2009).

Let's next hear the same flute sample made slower....

Let's take a slightly different tack to another sample. Instead of slowing it, we will speed it up. We will take an ethnic drum sample from freesound and demonstrate how it will sound when its tempo is speeded up. My impression with such samples is that it needs to be pitch and tempo adjusted to make it compatible with Indian film music use.

Let's next look athe sample speeded up...

These are basic illustrations to give you an idea of how you can manipulate sample sounds. Most composers use several of these samples in their compositions and also use several techniques on their AWS to integrate them with their other inputs.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Electronic Music Technology - Deep Dive 3

EMT has advanced further in the 21st century and most of the significant advances have been in the world of software. Today, all MIDI hardware and sequencing software together is called a digital audio workstation and no composer can afford not to own one. Sequencing software such as Finale , Sibelius , Pro Tools , Logic Pro  or Cubase  are popular software packages. 

Let’s learn some quick terminology of the EMT world.

A music sequencer (or just sequencer) is an application or a device designed to play back musical notation. The original kind of sequencer is now known as a step sequencer to distinguish it from the modern kind, which records a musician playing notes.

Step sequencers

The first sequencers were primitive devices that played rigid patterns of notes using a grid of (usually) 16 buttons, or steps, each step being 1/16th of a measure. These patterns of notes are then chained together to form longer compositions. Step sequencers are monophonic by nature, although some are multi-timbral, meaning they can control several different instruments but only play one note on each of those instruments. Step sequencers are mostly used in drum machines and grooveboxes.

Modern sequencers

With the advent of MIDI and in particular the Atari ST, programmers were able to write software which could record and play back the notes played by a musician. These sequencers didn't play mechanical sounding notes of exactly equal length, but rather recorded and played back expressive performances by real musicians. These were typically used to control external synthesizers, especially rackmounted sound modules as it was no longer necessary for each synthesizer to have its own keyboard. Even in live performances, if you observe closely, the musician selects the sequence by way of pushing a few buttons and moves on to his keyboard to play his part – the sequencer plays the pre-sequenced music that makes the unassuming listener/observer think that he/she is listening to live music amidst all those colorful crazy laser beams!

Tracker is the generic term for a class of music sequencer software which, in its purest form, allow the user to arrange sound samples stepwise on a timeline across several monophonic channels. A tracker's interface is primarily numeric; notes are entered via the alphanumeric keys of the computer keyboard, while parameters, effects and so forth are entered in hexadecimal. A complete song consists of several small multi-channel patterns chained together via a master list.

An effect is a special function applied to a particular note. These effects are then applied during playback through either hardware or software. Common tracker effects include volume, portamento, vibrato, retrigger, and arpeggio.

A track (or channel) is a space where one sample is played back at a time. Whereas the original Amiga trackers only provided four tracks, the hardware limit, modern trackers can mix a virtually unlimited number of channels into one sound stream through software mixing. Tracks have a fixed number of "rows" on which notes and effects can be placed (most trackers lay out tracks in a vertical fashion). Tracks typically contain 64 rows and 16 beats, although the beats and tempo can be increased or decreased to the composer's taste.
A basic drum set could thus be arranged by putting a bass drum at rows 0, 4, 8, 12 etc. of one track and putting some hihat at rows 2, 6, 10, 14 etc. of a second track. Of course, bass and hats could be interleaved on the same track, if the samples are short enough. If not, the previous sample is usually stopped when the next one begins. Some modern trackers simulate polyphony in a single track by setting the "new note action" of each instrument to cut, continue,fade out, or release, opening new mixing channels as necessary.

Tracker music is typically stored in module files where the song data and samples are encapsulated in a single file. Several module file formats are supported by popular music player programs such as Winamp or XMMS. Well-known formats include MOD, MED, S3M, XM and IT

Programming is a form of music production and performance using electronic devices, often sequencers or computer programs, to generate music. Programming is used in nearly all forms of electronic music and in most hip hop music since the 1990s. It is also frequently used in modern pop and rock music from various regions of the world, and sometimes in contemporary jazz and contemporary classical music, recently, programming has been incorporated into various styles of hardcore and metalcore music. Now you know what musicians mean when they say – “I am into programming and work in this studio” and none of these guys know Visual Basic!

Courtesy Wikipedia for some technical definitions

Electronic Music Technology - Deep Dive 4

The latest and greatest in the world of EMT (circa 2010) is the technology of Virtual Studio Technology (VST). Steinberg played a big role in introducing this technology that created a virtual studio by way of software on a computer. Originally designed to integrate MIDI inputs and add sequencing touches, it has now become the mainstay of music composition throughout the world. Cubase, the software from Steinberg was the first one to showcase this technology and today, there are many such packages that arrive with fresher function feature set every year with a number of effects, loops, samples thrown in as a teaser. 

Steinberg's Virtual Studio Technology (VST) is an interface for integrating software audio synthesizer and effect plugins with audio editors and hard-disk recording systems. VST and similar technologies use Digital Signal Processing to simulate traditional recording studio hardware with software. Thousands of plugins exist, both commercial and freeware, and VST is supported by a large number of audio applications. The technology can be licensed from its creator,Steinberg.

VST plugins are generally run within a Digital Audio Workstation, providing the host application with additional functionality. Most VST plugins can be classified as either instruments (VSTi) or effects, although other categories exist. VST plugins generally provide a custom GUI, displaying controls similar to the physical switches and knobs on audio hardware. Some (often older) plugins rely on the host application for their UI.

VST instruments include software simulation/emulations of well-known hardware synthesizer devices and samplers, emulating the look of the original equipment and its sonic characteristics. This enables VSTi users to use virtual versions of devices that may be otherwise difficult to obtain.

VST instruments require notes to be sent via MIDI in order to output audio, while effect plugins process audio data (some effect plugins do require a MIDI input too though, for example they might use MIDI sync to modulate the effect in sync with the tempo). MIDI messages can often also be used to control parameters of both instrument and effect plugins. Most host applications allow the audio output from one VST to be routed to the audio input of another VST (known as chaining). For example, output of a VST synthesizer can be sent to a VST reverb effect for further processing.

VST instruments generate audio. They are generally either virtual synthesizers or samplers. One of the first VST instruments was the Neon VSTi which was included in Steinberg's Cubase. Some, such as Native Instruments' Pro-53, specifically recreate the look and sound of famous synthesizers from years past (in this case, the Prophet-5).

VST effects, such as reverb and phaser effects, process audio input. Other monitoring effects provide visual feedback of the input signal without processing the audio. Most hosts allow multiple effects to be chained.

VST MIDI effects process MIDI messages prior to routing the MIDI data to other VST instruments or hardware devices; for example, to transpose or create arpeggios.

A VST host is a software application or hardware device that allows VST plugins to be loaded and controlled. The host application is responsible for handling the routing of digital audio and MIDI to and from the VST plug-ins.

There are a wide range of VST-compatible hosts available; some of the more popular include Ableton Live, Ardour, Audacity, AV Music Morpher Gold, Cubase, FL Studio, Mixcraft, REAPER, Sonar, and Sony Acid Pro/ Music Studio. Other VST hosts include AudioMulch, Bidule, Max MSP, and Renoise.

There are also stand-alone "dedicated hosts" whose sole purpose is to serve as a host for the VST plug-ins rather than as an extension of their sequencing or audio capabilities. These are usually optimized for live performance use, with features like fast song configuration switching. Examples of popular dedicated VST host software include Cantabile, Brainspawn Forte, Tobybear MiniHost, Deckadance, Chainer, VSTHost, and SAVIHost.

VST plugins can be hosted in incompatible environments using a translation layer, or shim. For example, FL Studio fundamentally supports only its own internal plugin architecture, but a native "wrapper" plugin exists that can, in turn, load VST plugins, among others. As another example, FXpansion offers a VST to RTAS (Real Time AudioSuite) wrapper (allowing VST plugins to be hosted in the popular Pro Tools digital audio workstation), and a VST to Audio Units wrapper (allowing VST plugins to be hosted in Apple Logic Pro Digital Audio Workstation).

The VST plugin standard is the audio plugin standard created by Steinberg to allow any third party developers to create VST plugins for use within VST host applications. VST requires separate installations for Windows/Mac/Linux. The majority of VST plugins are available for Windows due to both Apple's proprietary Audio Unit software for OS X and the lack of information and patent encumbrances that make development difficult for Linux platforms.

SoundFont is a brand name that collectively refers to a file format and associated technology designed to bridge the gap between recorded and synthesized audio, especially for the purposes of computer music composition. SoundFont is also a registered trademark of E-mu Systems, Inc., and the exclusive license for re-formatting and managing historical SoundFont content has been acquired by Digital Sound Factory.

SoundFont technology is akin to software sampling. A SoundFont file, or SoundFont 'bank', contains one or more sampled audio waveforms (or 'samples'), which can be re-synthesized at different pitches and dynamic levels. Each sampled waveform may be associated with one or more ranges of pitches and dynamics. Generally speaking, the quality of a SoundFont bank is a function of the quality of the digital samples and the intelligent association of samples with their appropriate pitch ranges. Quality is also dependent on the number of samples taken for a given range of pitches.

SoundFont banks are tightly integrated with MIDI devices and can be seamlessly used in place of General MIDI (GM) patches in many computer music sequencers. The sound quality of SoundFont banks is generally regarded as superior to standard GM banks, and many SoundFont banks have been created specifically to replace GM banks with samples of each corresponding musical instrument.

That’s one hellua list of technology that musicians have access today. No wonder, you have a number of composers who come and go, experiment and fail with a number of these tools. Suddenly, music programmers are in great demand. The studio folks are spending a lot of time playing with software, digging through manuals and browsing discussion boards on the internet for new samples, loops, ideas!

Next, we will take a deeper look at some of the specific Techno world terminology and techniques.

Courtesy Wikipedia for some technical definitions.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Electronic Music Technology – Deep Dive 1

Disclaimer: This is a high level introduction to Electronic Music Technology and is by no means authoritative. There are several books and other resources available that can give you a better and deeper understanding of EMT. This introduction in 6 parts is provided so that readers can appreciate some techniques from the world of EMT that Raja uses in his music that can be appreciated better.

Music and electronics are so close that music cannot exist without electronics. Without a microphone or an amplifier, there is no music possible that can be widely distributed, not to mention recording technologies. Every violinist has to use the electronic pickup for his/her notes to be heard by a large group of audience. Even the most conventional of classical musicians use an electronic sruthi box. So, what’s the fuss of electronic music technology that you hear loud voices about how much we miss live music today?

While electronic music is as old as the early 80s, attempts have been made even earlier to reproduce musical notes electronically. Surprisingly, most of techno music has its origin with the early Atari computing world in the early 80s. Room sized pianos were the initial target. Though pianos produced great sound, they were bulky and required annual tune up and a lot of TLC. Like wine, the older pianos have a charm. Electronic keyboards tried to mimic the piano is a crude way in the late 80s. They lacked depth and at this time and a critical invention of the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) standard came to the rescue of the digital instrument. While expert musicians play great tunes from sheet music, most others get it right only sometimes. The MIDI allowed a well played song to be transferred as digital signals to a computer or stored in the electronic instrument. Playing the stored MIDI file will reproduce that perfect play of notes that you achieved in one of your many trials. That’s how the world started getting hooked to electronic digital music. After all, you do not have to call piano movers every time, you wanted to go to the next studio! Soon, every electronic instrument had a MIDI interface making it easy to coordinate different instruments.

Raja used to play the combo organ before he became a composer, an early electronic keyboard that produced some sounds that were hard to produce otherwise. These organs gave way to synthesizers which soon became an important part of any film musician’s arsenal. More than the film song, they were a great attraction for background music creation as they gave a wider choice to the composer.  The synthesizers of the 80s were bulky and got more powerful with each successive release. They started off with the ability to play piano tunes – slowly, they morphed to producing sounds of violins, flutes, trumpets, sax and other instruments, though they sounded quite artificial. All keyboards/synthesizers of the 80s had percussion capability, though no one took it seriously. They sounded with almost no bass and musicians quickly dismissed it. Korg, Yamaha and Rolland became the main professional vendors with Casio like companies serving the low end.

Towards the end of the 80s, the synthesizers started taking advantage of the microprocessor technology and soon ASIC became affordable that electronic music instrument companies started researching digital signal processing algorithms and creating their own proprietary version of sounds. The synthesizers not only came with a huge tone bank, they also enabled clever programmability. If you recall ‘Punnagai Mannan’ title track, it is a good example of early programmable digital music. You will notice that the sounds are pretty standard and sounded a bit mechanical compared to what you hear today. 

Electronic Music Technology – Deep Dive 2

The 1990s was the defining decade of the EMT. The musical instruments started taking advantage of not just advances in electronic hardware but also with computer software. It is in this decade that the last bastion of manual music was broken – replacement of the drum kit. The rhythm pad was a great advancement that did the job similar to what the synthesizer did to the piano – replace the bulky drum kit. Multi-track recording technology advanced significantly from the 80s and the standard studio format was 24-track recording. Recording technology advanced further with digital mixers and ability to handle multiple MIDI inputs. 

Both Apple and Microsoft allowed computers to interface digitally with instruments using the MIDI interface (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). However, the software available at this time was early versions, full of bugs. With several MIDI inputs, it became important to understand how to balance them and also sequence them. 

Another major advance was the creation of rack modules taking advantage of improvements in both hardware and software technologies. The synthesizer not only became smaller, it started becoming smarter and more configurable. You can start with a base module and keep adding additional modules. The synthesizers could generate great flute, trumpet, sax, guitar, sitar, trambone and other instrument sounds. In short, a few synthesizers and a rhythm pad could replace an entire orchestra. The string sections did not sound like before, but no one cared. This was fine to create low shelf life music, which most movies demanded. 

From a film music composition perspective, the melody now got played on an electronic keyboard instead of the harmonium which was portable and required no electric power. It was in a way better than the harmonium – once the tune is approved, it can be retrieved from the keyboard’s memory instead of relying on a knowledgeable assistant who took down the notes.

For music composers, it became economical to hire an expert keyboardist, who could play a huge variety of instruments. Studios also started getting smaller and many conventional instrument players lost their lustre. With multi-track digital recording techniques, the keyboardist could record all tracks including the main melody with ‘an’ instrument and have it all sequenced for the main singer to sing over. 

The rhythm pad took care of replacing most percussion instruments, though they could not reproduce the tabla’s intricate patterns. Composers started shying away from tabla too, as a result. It soon became apparent that ability to assemble electronic sound was equally important as knowledge of music compositional techniques. 

We need to also consider the position of a director who approves the tune eventually. While the number of musicians who contributed to the final cut went down drastically, the complexity of assembling ‘sounds’ did not. It became impossible for directors to get a sense of the final output as the electronic embellishment can even change the mood of the song.  There were so many layers of sound effects that got added to the approved melody, that it got extremely hard to figure out the way the song got constructed. As more and more ‘technicans’ started doing music work who were not expert musicians, the situation got worse. They were more driven by the limitations of their electronic gear and very few could rise above the electronic din. Most of the 90s and early 21st century composers rose and fell due to their electronic gear. Most listeners were disturbed by the inappropriate rhythm, dischordant interludes and the general lack of soul in the music that was being produced.

Electronic music technology created new teams and destroyed old ones. The ‘tech savvy’ music teams survived more than the old world team sport of creating manual orchestral music. Even today, we do hear about the lack of team spirit as a result of EMT. 

In the 90s, due to advances in the software world, most synthesizers, sequencers, rhythm pads and other digital instruments became more and more programmable. Vendors started offering a number of ‘sound fonts’ and other facilities such as ‘loops’ and ‘patches’ that could be integrated easily into most digital equipment, thanks to MIDI.  Vendors and third parties also started shipping equipment which had a huge variety of standard sounds, loops and other facilities built in. It became apparaent that ‘integrating sound’ was the key activity around film music studios.

It also became clear that EMT will dominate music production, whether you like it or not. It was time for composers with very strong musical sense to work towards a balance of electronic and manual instruments. Some of EMTs capabilities such as ‘samples’, ‘loops’, ‘patches’ provided by vendors was a good beginning (though some composers used them as is) and the only way you could survive is to embrace them in some form. 

Unlike most composers, Raja seems to have spent quite a bit of time figuring out the mindset behind some of the EMT gear and extension providers. While the culture that is hidden behind the extensions (patches, loops, samples) may not be compatible to Indian music making, he has the mind that allows him to cherry pick the right sounds that go with his style of compositions. Some of his experiments in the 90s were quite early and sounded not compatible with his style. However, in the last 10 years, he seems to have figured out a method better than his competition on making peace with EMT.

Towards the end of this section, I will elaborate some of the standard EMT ideas he has started incorporating into his still ‘soulful’ music. It is one thing to flash these EMT gadgetry when you are a new kid composer versus assimilating the technology and ‘internalizing’ the EMT function/features that augument your style and huge reputation. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Techno Baroque – a melody perspective

Raja has been very successful with melodies in the 21st century as he was in the previous century. Most listeners do not pay enough attention to his very nice synth work. In reality not much has changed from a melody perspective other than usage of fewer instruments due to the trend in the industry. Raja has been using synthesizers for a very long time. Most of the flute and violin ludes from the 80s and 90s were accompanied by their synth cousins. The traditional instruments have become cousins to the synth mainstream. Other than this switch, all is good in the melody world. He has experimented this all along the 90s and now has the right mix that makes his tracks so attractive and hard to replicate. There is an increased emphasis riding on his melody composition abilities. 

Let’s start with some examples. Oru Chiri Kandaal – Ponmudipuzhayorathu (2005 Malayalam) is an outstanding melody. The prelude is based on a synth violins. The rhythm is based on a simple techno 4/4. The pallavi is backed by synth violins. Observe the synth rhythms – it has the typical sustainance that is typical of techno (reverb). Observe the pallavi – apart from the usual Raja bass, there is also synth bass – another technique from the Techno world.

The first interlude – starts off with synth violins in counterpoint with bells. Nice synth violin work follows – the interlude is shorter than a 80s interlude. All regular strings are replaced with synth throughout the charanam. This is not just a mechanical 4/4 – it has all the Raja embellishments and the bass guitar is as prominent as ever. As with the pallavi, the bass guitar now has its synth cousin accompanying it. 

The second interlude starts off with a beautiful guitar and veena in counterpoint mode. Control is given back to the synth violins and flute – again a short interlude. The final transition to the charanam 2 is done beautifully by a synth flute. Raja chooses the real veena as opposed to the synth cousin that we hear constantly these days. The second charanam is orchestrated the same way as the first. This track is as good as any of Raja’s top 80s/90s melody track.

Let's hear this wonderful melody...

Shwashathin Thalam from Achuvinte Amma (2005 - Malayalam) is another outstanding melody.  The prelude is fully written with synthesized music. This would have been typically done with violins by the 80s Raja. The pallavi is backed by keyboard as well as synth violins. 
Observe the pallavi’s synth backing. Think for a moment that these are played by a string section of about 8 violins. You can hear clearly a lead violin and the sort of hiss that accompanies it to generate the feeling of many strings playing together. This is called ‘noise’ filter addition in the techno world. There are several forms of noise filters available with most VST (Virtual Studio Technology) software packages and they have to be used carefully. The techno artists use it to get some crazy funky effects with their heavy drum loops. Raja uses it for his purpose. Nothing goes thru the Raja shop and emerges the same way!

The interlude 1 is very interesting – it starts off with nice flute work in counter with synth violins. Reminds you of the Raja’s 80s. But he embellishes it further with keyboard!  This is followed by his signature synth violins. The track is fully backed by synth pad based rhythm. Pay attention to the synth pad rhythm closely. This is not played the same way as you hear in most TV shows. The rhythm is further enhanced with VST effects that sound like a bubble at the end of the beat cycle. 

The second interlude is starts off with keyboard work followed by a call and response arrangement between synth violins and keyboard. The final handoff to charanam 2 is done the Raja way – brief bursts of synth violins with brief rests. Throughout the track, the synthesizers create a hiss that was there with Cheeni Kum tracks as well. 

The charanams are backed by synth violin and some synth sounds that appear like the old wah wah pedal for the guitar. The synthpad rhythm is accompanied by finger snaps that are machine generated. Pay attention to the last 2 seconds of the charanam to the pallavi transition – this bass line cannot be played with a regular guitar – you get the sense of a note that is literally slipping rapidly down a valley – this is done by playing with delays and filtering – you hear these as funny slip beats in the techno world. Raja uses it for transition between a charanam and a pallavi – very innovative use of a VST technique for Indian music. He leaves his own stamp behind in his usual majestic way. This track was done in 2005. There are several Bollywood songs which are still using techno as such and they sound so foreign! 

Mandarapoo Mooli from Vinodha Yatra (2007 – Malayalam) is another outstanding melody (set to Kalyani) fully set to synth rhythm. The prelude is fully synth play with flute. The bass guitar work in this track is outstanding. Again observe the use of selective noise filters as in the ‘Swashanthin Thaalam’ song in the prelude.

The pallavi is backed by the synth rhythm along with the rhythm pad. Notice, that this is not the standard 4x4 of the techno world. Raja uses the time signature he requires for his Indian melody. 

The handoff from the pallavi to the interlude has the usual Raja stamp written all over it. He uses the synth rhytm to bridge both of them so seamlessly. I cannot think of a better application of the synth rhythm for Indian music – even some of his old tabla based melodies show deliberate transition management. The first interlude is starts off with synth and bells. This is followed by further synth work and followed by guitar. Briefly, you can notice that for about 3 seconds or so, Raja cuts out all synth rhythm to show how the synth pad alone would sound. 

The second interlude starts off with rhythm and flute. This is followed by flute and synth again and ends up with some further work with synth. In the 80s/90s all the synth was done with a whole bank of violins. This track can easily make it to Raja’s top 100 melodies.

Also, please note between 0:08 and 0:20 seconds, in the interlude clip, the flute and the synth playing in good old fugue mode – what else to call it other than Techno baroque?

Let's hear the ludes of Mandarapoo Mooli ...

The charanam is backed by synth fully. Notice the use of synth flanging – another techno trick - when Swetha hums   Notice the last bar when Swetha descends to the pallavi – Raja does not use his old techniques – 1) cut out all strings 2) Use of percussive time management or 3) use choir to back the falling notes. Instead, he uses beautiful synth notes with a big delay to ascend opposite to Swetha’s singing.  Even if this was a patch, it is very innovative application to an Indian melody.    

Let's hear the 1st charanam and second pallavi of Mandarapoo Mooli ...

Mella Oornthu Oornthu from Nandhalala (2010 - Tamil) uses a lot of guitar and keyboard throughout the track. The prelude starts off with some great guitar and keyboard work. The keyboard and guitar are used to back the pallavi also (no violins). Observe the use of a brush and the kick drum in the pallavi and has no synth bass accompaniment. He uses very nice female choir to back the pallavi – this is rare in his 21st century compositions.

Interlude 1 starts off with the keyboard and bass guitar followed by chorus. Notice that the synth cousin is playing along with the real bass guitar. Charanam 1 is backed by synth violins and keyboard. The only thing that is a bit ordinary is the use of synth violins to back Raja in the charanams – it definitely does not make you sit up and take notice.

Interlude 2 has some very nice guitar and keyboard counterpoint to start. This is followed by a short keyboard work before transferring control to the charanam 2.

This track is like the old guitar melodies of Raja such as Alli Thantha Vanam from Nandu (1981) or Poonthalir Aada from Paneer Pushpangal (1981). This time around, he keeps traditional violins out and gives importance to keyboard. This is perhaps the least techno track in this section!

Let's hear the ludes of Mella Oornthu Oornthu...

In the same film (Nandhalala), Raja has created another outstanding melody – Kai Veesi Nadakura. This track starts off with some nice keyboard prelude followed by nice flute work.  The pallavi is fully supported by keyboard. This is a different melody with several singers. Notice that the vocal melody rides on top of the synth melody which plays in a loop. Notice  the last two bars. There is an additional synth melody the composer throws on the left channel while the synth melody continues on the right channel. This is Raja – unlike his competitors who look for the multi-layered electronic music (more on this later) to create a single effect, Raja layers multiple melodies on top of each other to create a multi-effect musical experience. He finds ways within the electronic music world to create his musical imagery and not let the electronic world control him. Once you understand the musical imagery of Raja, you can appreciate any genre he touches – it is a kaleidoscope of ideas drawn from several musical schools, but the imagery is not coming out of a random shake but clearly designed pattern of ideas.

Interlude 1 is interesting. It has synth violins, flute and keyboard in total synth! This is followed by flutes that turn control over to the charanam. 

Interlude 2 is different. It starts off with synth flute. This is followed by the synchronized synth violins, keyboard and flute. The second charanam is orchestrated similar to the first one. 

Let's hear the ludes of Kai Veesi Nadakura...

The entire charanam is backed by the synchronized synth violins, flutes and keyboard. There are at least 4 synthesizers (or rack modules) in action in my guess. The first 4 bars are backed by a combo of synth violins. Flutes, bass and piano. The middle 4 bars have only the synth bass and keyboard. The last 4 bars are supported by two synth keyboards playing on the left and right channels. Notice that the melody played by the two synth keyboards (perhaps two rack modules) are different. Notice the pitch and tempo of both these melodies. Say hello to Bach in the background! Who will think of this, other than Raja? Who said Bach and baroque is forgotten in the Techno world?

Let's hear the first charanam and second pallavi of Kai Veesi Nadakura... Pay particular attention to the last 4 bars...

Thendralum Maruthu from Valmiki (2009 – Tamil) is another nice melody track fully set to synth rhythm. The prelude is a nice synth melody – throughout the track, there is very nice solo violin usage.

The pallavi is nicely backed by keyboard and flute. The bass guitar is in full play. Interlude 1 is interesting – a solo violin plays along with synth violins. A couple of bars is played with two solo violins taking turns so nicely (I call one as foreground and another as background) with the synth violins. Stunning work of real and electronic strings - 17th century and 21st century beautifully coexist!  (24 secs to 52 secs in the clip) The transition to the charanam is brilliant with very nice play of solo violin and the synth keyboard playing exactly the same melody. One of the finest interludes of 2009! The charanam is backed by synth bass and keyboard.

The second interlude starts off with keyboard work and some complex rhythm work. The second charanam is orchestrated the same way as the first.

Let's hear the ludes of Thendralum Maruthu...

Shrungara from Prem Kahani (2009 – Kannada) is another interesting melody. It starts off with some nice keyboard work and supported by synth rhythm. The synth rhythm that Raja uses in this track is becoming more common – there is a keyboard-like sound accompanying every beat on the synthpad. More on this in the next section. There is no need to back the main melody with any other instrument as a result. Did you observe that the first 18 seconds of this track is a wonderful cell phone ring tone, second to none?

The first interlude starts off with a synth followed by some nice synth violins in counterpoint with synth! The second interlude starts off with only the rhythm part followed by some synth work. Finally, the keyboard based veena play is interesting and some nice synth flute work.

Let's hear the ludes of Shrungara...

Let’s analyze the charanam next. With the exception of the bass guitar, no other instrument accompanies the singer which is typical of Raja tracks – no detailed string sections backing the melody. However, the bass guitar sings its own melody, as it with most Raja compositions! Notice the note at which the bass guitar leaves the charanam – does it not remind you of ‘Naan Yerikarai Melirukka’ from Chinna Thai?

Let's hear the first charanam and second pallavi of Shrungara... Pay attention to the transition with the synth bass...

All these demonstrate that Raja’s focus is more on his ability to compose melodies. The interludes are smaller than before and most of it is synthesized computer generated music. All the seven tracks discussed in this section are great melodies, and have heavy use of synthesizers and synthpads. Though interludes are smaller than before, but are still catchy. Baroque is not forgotten. There are several counterpoints, fugue techniques in only the tracks listed. This is not layered studio music created with Fruit Loop Studio. 

Please do not interpret my commentary and conclude that Raja has put away his traditional violins and other strings to the back burner. He is very selective about its usage. Here are two examples from the last 9 years, where he has extensively used real violins and cellos in his compositions: 1) Thoorigai Indri from Ajantha (2007) is a wonderful orchestration treat using real violins with the synthesized ones with cellos and double basses  2) Enge Nee Sendralum from Kannukkulle (2009) uses solo, regular violins, synth violins and cellos.

In essence, Raja sounds pleasantly different! His bass lines, his baroque is all intact (that’s the way the man is wired). His tabla has disappeared and he uses violins, double basses and cellos very selectively. His shehnai, veena, sitar have been replaced with the synthesizer.

In order to appreciate Techno music, it is important to get a good understanding of the world of electronic music technology. We will next take a deep dive to understand the components of electronic music technology. 

After that, we will return to analyzing the Raja’s rhythm shift in the Techno world.