Saturday, April 2, 2011

Raja’s rhythm innovation stage 17

This requires a rhythmic arrangement mixing Western percussion in a polyrhythmic arrangement

This requires the track to use western rhythm instruments (cymbals, bells included) to create a poly rhythm.  This is the technique that is very common among younger composers today in film music. However, Raja started this trend in the late 80s itself.

I recently discovered a track from Raja in (you guessed it) some non-descript movie called Chinnappadas (Tamil 1989). This track is the best tutor on polyrhythm with Western instruments. Raja teaches a number of musical ideas with his sheer work. Once you hear this track, the idea of polyrhythm will be settled for good. The pelude and the pallavi of this song is very important to understand the idea. 

  • He uses a drumming machine on fast time as one of the rhythms.
  •  He starts off on slow time and then switches to fast time. 
  • The drumming machine is used as a reference rhythm.
  •  The synth pad is now used to play another rhythm on a different slow time. 
What’s special is the lyrics – Athu (one rhythm) Ithu (another rhythm) Ethuthaan Vendum (which one do you want).  For non-Tamil readers, the lyrics simply mean, 'This or that, what do you really want'. I cannot find a better illustration for this idea. I take a bow before the master.

Let's hear the Athu Ithu track...

Yenniyello from Shiva (1989 Telugu) uses a combination of fingersnap (electronically generated) and the drum kit on two different times throughout the paalavi and the charanams. In the prelude of the track, the composer starts off with the fingersnap and adds the drumming to it adding a poly rhythm to the composition.

Let's hear the Yenniyello  track...

oongatru Un Paer Solla from Vetri Vizha (1989) has a unique polyrhythm combination that requires some time to decipher. First, there is a drum rhythm on fast time, there is a guitar rhythm being played on another time. There is a third bongo rhythm on its own time (this could be played on a synthpad too). There is also another conga rhythm on its own time. You have four rhythm patterns coexisting throughout the track. Even in the interludes all the four patterns continue. I have included the pelude, pallavi, interlude 1 and some parts of the charanam 1 in the clip. This requires ultimate mastery over rhythm arrangement.

Let's hear the Poongatru Un Paer Solla track...

From the examples, it appears that Raja was very enamored by this idea in the 1989-93 time frame.

Singari Pyaari from Athisaya Piravi (1990) uses the western drumming very innovatively to showcase poly rhythms. The first 10 seconds of the prelude has a fast timed synthpad rhythm. The full drum kit is added on a different time at this point and going forward the drum kit and the synthpad rhythm play at their own time. The pallavi, interludes and the charanam all follow the poly rhythmic arrangement.

Let's hear the Singari Pyaari  track...

Kaatukuyilu from Dhalapathy (1991) is another good example of manual Western rhythm instruments set to polyrhythm. Like most Afro American music, the orchestration appears quite tribal, but is an intelligent application of Western kick drum and the synthpad. The clip I have attached has two parts – the part from the prelude of the track and the second interlude. Observe the first 15 seconds of the clip. It starts off with the kick drum and the synthpad in a call and response arrangement, which quickly coalesces into a polyrhythm as both start playing together in their own time. Between 15 and 30 seconds, there is a lone rhythm instrument that is joined by the synthpad and the instrument continues in its own time. Basically, the clip shows two things – a C&R rhythm becoming a poly rhythm and a solo rhythm becoming a poly rhythm. 

Let's hear the Kaatukuyilu track...

Kalakalakkum Maniosai from Eeramana Rojave (1991) is another track where Raja uses two sets of synthpads to create an exciting poly rhythm. The clip I have included here has a part of the prelude and the first interlude. Note that the two rhythms are playing on different times throughout the clip.

Let's hear the Kalakalakkum Maniosai track...

Vennilavu Kothipathenna from Chinna Mappile (1993) uses another technique of using claves as one rhythm on its time and the drum kit on its own time. Throughout the track and the interludes both these instruments play together but on their times creating a fantastic poly rhythm. The clave sound could be generated from a synthpad as even the sound that is at the beginning of this track appears to come from a synthesizer. (the sound that imitates a morsing).

Let's hear the Vennilavu Kothipathenna track...

The prelude of the track Swalpa Soundu from Suryakanthi (2009 Kannada) uses a synthpad and claps (possibly generated from a drum machines) to create a nice poly rhythm. Throughout the track this combo is used. The second interlude of this track requires special mention. It not only uses three rhythm patterns on their own time, it uses vocals on top of it. Raja takes his journey from the 80s to a new level in rhythm arrangement. The second interlude is set on the Samba style of poly rhythmic arrangement. While I have heard other Indian composers using tapping in their tracks, this is the first one I am hearing that has all the elements of Samba arrangement. 

Let's hear the Swalpa Soundu track...


Anonymous said...

Awesome as usual :)Keep them coming. How about Pottu vaitha kadhal with drums, rhythm pad and cymbals?

Best regards,

Aakarsh said...

What I appreciate about your blog/writing is that the examples you choose span a wider spectrum of his career. You dont limit your examples to just 80s(considered to be his glorious era) or 90s etc. Instead, most of your posts cover examples sampled across decades, including contemporary works. It, in a way, proves people wrong - people who think that his creativity is totally gone today.

I was never a fan of Swalpa Soundu, although I admire Ilaiyaraaja's attempt at doing something radically different. But your example now makes me enjoy that polyrhythm moment more. The other examples are familiar and I have had my thoughts about polyrhythm usage in most of the songs you cited here.

Fantastic post. Keep writing. Life is short. His work is vast. Lots to know and learn.

Suresh S said...


As usual a lovely post with nice examples. And thanks specially for making me listen to 'yenniyallo' after a very long time. Used to be my fav song from that film.

As Kamal rightly points out, it is good that your examples are chosen across decades. As you know, I am one of those who steadfastly believes that Raja's experiments have never stopped. It is just that many stopped listening to him in the 90s.

'Swalpa Sound' has been a song which I love just for the rhythm. A very underrated gem. I am sure there are many songs of Raja which people will take a long time to decipher. This is one such experimental song, both in its rhythm and the way he uses the voice for the rhythm.

I have a feeling that the two top songs of 'Pazhassi Raja', 'aadhi ushas' and 'kunnathe' have polyrhythms. That's what I feel. Would like to know your opinion on them.

ravinat said...


Pottu Vaitha kadhal in Singara Velan is as you said a fantastic rhythm arrangement with drums, rhythm pad and cymbals. Very complex time signature. However, not a poly rhythm. We must make a clear distinction between complex and poly rhythms.


Thanks for your kind words. I am glad that some of the readers see the work Raja has been doing beyond the 80s. Most analysts are still busy taking apart his 80s work. His 90s and 20s work will take a few more decades to comprehend! One thing is for sure - none of us are able to keep pace with a 67 year old musician!


Aadhi Ushas - I heard this song again and am convinced that there is no polyrhythmic arrangement. There are parts where the VST software overdubbing effects makes you think that there is a rhythm on a different time.

Kunnathe - this track uses a very complex time signature. However, it is not polyrhythmic.

Both Suresh and Bala should not worry that I disagree with you. I have disagreed with myself several times in this topic. Here is a partial list of the ones that I went on a similar trip thinking it is a polyrhytmic arrangement and decided carefully to discard them after applying the rules:

a) Vennilavil Malligaiyil - Adhiradipadai
b) Thoongatha vizihal - Agni Natchathram
c) Amman koyil - Aranmanai kili
d) Maalai ilam manathil - Aval oru pachai kulanthai
e) Oliyile - Azhagi
f) Alla un aanai - Chandralekha
g) Oru maina maina - Uzhaipali
h) Varam thandha - Chippikkul muthu
i) En kanmani - Chittu kuruvi
j) Annan ena thambi ena - Dharmadurai
k) Muthamizh - Dharmathin thalaivan
l) Adi raakku muthu - Ejmaan
m) Oh unnale nan – En Aruge Nee Irundhal
n) Maanodum mayiladum - Enga thambi
o) Arumbagi - Ennai petha rasa
p) Atho antha nadhiyoram- Ezhai jaadhi
q) Priyasakhi - Gopura vaasalile
r) Vaa vaa vanchi - Guru sishyan
s) Naan paadum - Idhaya kovil
t) Isai medaiyil - Ilamai kalangal
u) Oru raga devathai - Innisai mazhai
v) Aasayai - Johnny
w) Ennai thalatta - Kaadhalukku mariyadai
x) Vandhathey - Kizhakku vaasal
y) Anandho Brahma – Shiva
z) Prati Dinam - Anumanaspadam


Ravi Natarajan

Unknown said...

Excellent write up that gives a clear understanding on Musical Techniques. If my understanding is clear, then pls correct if the song "Vaa Vaa Anbe Konjam Nillu" should be an example for Polyrhythm ?

ravinat said...

Not sure about this song "Vaa Vaa Anbe Konjam Nillu". Can you let me know which film had this song featured?

If you meant the song "Vaa Vaa Anbe Anbe" from Agni Natchathiram, it is definitely not set to a polyrhthmic arrangement.