Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sax unusual conversations

Raja’s use of sax in his songs has been covered in a number of topics in this blog and C&R arrangements with Sax is not so common within Raja’s work. However, I will cover some top of mind examples of sax use by him in a C&R mode.

Here is a single clip with two segments that cover his sax C&R work:

  1. The first segment is less than 15 seconds and is from the song ‘Ponmeni Uruguthe’ from Moondram Pirai (Tamil 1982). The long calls from the sax are answered in short by the guitar
  2. The second segment is for about 15 seconds and is from the interlude of the song ‘Vaanile Thenila’ from Kaaki Sattai (Tamil 1985). The long call is by the violins and the short response this time is from the sax, the opposite of the previous segment

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s unusual sax conversations of Raja set to a C&R arrangement ...

The Cheeni Kum background score had some very interesting sax arrangements.  Readers can contribute more to this topic from the long list of Raja compositions...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mirudhangam Unusual conversations

Raja had a great mirudhangam player with Madurai Sreenivasan. He exploited Seenu’s talent throughout his compositions. While it is hard to detail every single mirudhangam based conversations, we will call out some top of mind examples.

Let’s explore Raja’s use of mirudhangam in C&R mode in this post. The clip has several segments drawn from several songs.

  1. The first 30 seconds are from the prelude of the song Manjolai Kilithano from Kizhakke Pogum Rayil (Tamil 1979). This is a percussion ensemble with the mirudhangam and the tabla in the C&R mode throughout the 30 seconds
  2. The second segment is a shorter 10 second mirudhangam based conversation from the song ‘Thogai Ilamayil’ from Payanangal Mudivathillai (Tamil 1981). The mirudhangam’s call is responded in short by the veena. It is rare to hear such conversations in today’s music
  3. The third segment is a slightly longer segment for about 18 seconds and the mirudhangam based conversation is the opposite of the previous example. For a long call from the veena, the mirudhangam response is short. This clip is from the song, ‘Poovil Vandu’ from Kadhal Oviyam (Tamil 1982).
  4. The fourth segment is for about 10 seconds and is from the song, Ther kondu from Ennakkul Oruvan (Tamil 1984). This is an equal call and response arrangement from a time perspective and is between the mirudhangam and the flute
  5. The fifth segment is from the song, ‘Megam Kottattum’ from from Ennakkul Oruvan (Tamil 1984). This is part of the postlude of the song and is a brilliant conversation in part between the drums and the mirudhangam. I did cover this part as a polyrhythm arrangement as the time signature between both these instruments are different.

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s unusual mirudhangam based conversations …

I am sure there are other examples that readers can point out.

Percussion unusual conversations

We covered some of Raja’s unusual C&R arrangements with mirudhangam. Raja’s percussion usage is huge in variety, from drum kits, synth pads to many other special percussion instruments. In this post, we will explore some of the unusual conversations around percussion instruments.

Let’s analyze this percussion based unusual conversations in two parts or clips. The first clip has several segments drawn from several songs.

  1. The first segment is a melodious 15 seconds from the song ‘Mandarapoo Mooli’ from Vinodha Yatra (Malayalam 2007). The call is from a bass drum and the initial responses are from a synthesized flute. The call is again repeated by the bass drum and now the response is from a regular flute. This is a beautiful arrangement in the age of the synthesized music. Please note that the synthesized flute continues to play along with the regular flute
  2. The second segment, shy of 30s econds,  is the first interlude of ‘Ila Nenje Vaa’ from the film Vanna Vanna Pookal (Tamil 1995). This is a complete percussion ensemble that is typical of Raja, tabla, drum kit, synthpads, mirudhangam – the works.
  3. The third segment is almost a minute and is the second interlude of ‘Ila Nenje Vaa’ from the film Vanna Vanna Pookal (Tamil 1995). There are several percussion C&R arrangements within this one minute. First, it starts off as a dialog between the synthpad and the tabla, this is followed by another dialog between the tabla and the mirudhangam, finally a dialog between two synthpads. Brilliant!
  4. The fourth segment is from the classical song, ‘Sangathamizh Kaviye’ from Manadhil Uridhi Vendum (Tamil 1987).  This is a short 10 second segment that shows the conversation between the tabla and the mirughangam. You can notice the difference in arrangement between this one and the ‘Ila Nenje’ song , though the instruments are exactly the same
  5. The fifth segment is a short 12 second clip from the prelude of the song ‘Oora Vittu’ from Karagattakaaran (Tamil 1989).  The call is by the Thavil and the response is by the drum kit
  6. The fifth segment is a 22 second clip from the prelude of the song ‘Therke Veesum’ from the film Kolangal (Tamil 1995). This is a dialog between two mirudhangam (or two synthesized tones)

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s unusual percussion ensembles set to a C&R arrangement...


Next, let’s analyze some of Raja’s percussion and violin based conversations. These are a Raja specialty and deserve a separate clip.

  1. The first 11 second segment is from the interlude of the song, ‘Ilancholai Poothathaa’ from the film Unakkaagave Vaazhgiren (Tamil 1986) and is a melodious conversation between the violins and the mirudhangam. The call by the violins is long and the response from the mirudhangam is short
  2. The second segment is almost 32 seconds long and is from the song, ‘Mandhiram Idhu’ from Aavaarampoo (Tamil 1992). The arrangement is something that only Raja can think of. Harmonized Indian classical violins  make the call and they get a short response from the tabla. These conversations eventually merge with a violin ensemble.
  3. The third segment is from the song, ‘Nadha Vinodhangal’ from the film, ‘Salangai Oli’ (Tamil/Telugu 1983). The long call is by the thundering violins and the short response is from the mirudhangam

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s unusual percussion/violin ensembles set to a C&R arrangement...


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jathi - Unusual conversations

Raja had the opportunity to set to music several songs that had a dance background. Jathis are part of the dance tradition and Raja has considered it as another musical instrument, in my view. He has used them as part of his interludes, charanams and sometimes as part of his pallavis too.

Let’s explore Raja using jathi in C&R mode in this post. The segments are from the song Ther Kondu from Ennakkul Oruvan (Tamil 1984).

  1. In the first 5 seconds, the call is by the jathi voice and the response is by the mirudhangam. Very routine in the dance circuit
  2. Between 15 and 20 seconds, the call is by the flute and the response is by the jathi voice. Now, Raja takes standard practice from the dance circuit and replaces it with his own creativity
  3. In the third segment after 27 seconds, Raja further embellishes this with the call from the violin and the response is by the jathi voice.

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s unusual jathi based conversations ...

Chorus Unusual conversations

Raja uses chorus extensively in his interludes and we have analyzed it in a series of posts on how he has exploited voices in his compositions. We will see how he has exploited chorus and instruments such as flutes, guitars or violins in a C&R mode. First, let’s take a look at a sample of Raja’s unusual conversations between chorus and flutes.

  1. There are two segments in this illustration. The first segment is from the song Madurai Marikozhundhu Vasam from Enga Ooru Paatukkaran (Tamil 1987). In this segment, you will hear rapid C&R interaction between the chorus and the flute – both the call and the response is short and is repeated three times
  2. The second segment is from the song Malligaiye Malligaiye from Periya Veetu Panakkaran ( Tamil 1990). Here the chorus’s call is quite lengthy and the response from the flute is equally lengthy

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s unusual Chorus-flute conversations...

Let’s next move on to chorus conversations with guitar.
  1. The first segment is from the song Marakudaiyal from Manasinakkare (Malayalam 2003). The call is from the chorus played with the distortion guitar in the background. The response is a short one from an electric guitar (could be a synthesizer) and the C&R is repeated 4 times
  2. The second segment is from the song Puzhaiorathil  from the film Adharvam (Malayalam 1989). There is a reversal of role here. The call is by the electric guitar and the response is a lengthy one from the chorus.

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s unusual chorus-guitar conversations...

Let’s next move on to chorus conversations with violins.
  1. The first segment is from the song Ponmane Kovan Eno from Oru Kaidhiyin Diary (Tamil 1983). The call is from the chorus set in scat mode and the response is from the violins
  2. The second segment is from the song Poonkatre Theendhathe from the film Kunkuma Chimizh (Tamil 1985). The call again is from the chorus and the response is from the violins.  The chorus is set to Indian melody this time.

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s unusual chorus-violin conversations...

These are top of mind examples. If one does deeper research, a number of other examples will surface.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Bass Guitar Unusual conversations

Raja’s use of bass guitar is famous and we did cover this briefly in some of the earlier posts – ‘Basically Raja’. While there are so many examples on how Raja has used the bass guitar as part of his C&R arrangements in his interludes, I will call out two top of mind examples. The clip below has two segments separated by a few seconds of silence.

  1. The first segment is from the song Thogai Ilamayil from Payanangal Mudivathillai (Tamil 1982). The first 5 seconds is a fantastic conversation between a bass guitar and a flute
  2. The second segment is from the song Laali Laali from Swathi Mudhyam (Telugu 1985). Between 10 and 15 seconds you can hear a beautiful conversation between a bass guitar and a veena. Beyond that, the conversation gets into a counter melody which is outside the rules of this section. You may notice that between 15 and 25 seconds, a flute joins the melody and plays a different melody; between 25 and 30 seconds, the flute is replaced with violins

These are very unusual arrangements that only a gifted composer can think of. I am sure there are other such clips I may have overlooked. Readers may throw in their comments.

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s bass guitar unusual conversations…


Bells Unusual conversations

Raja uses bells extensively in his interludes and he has used bells with other instruments in a very melodious way that has been an identity for his music throughout the first three decades. Synthesizers started appearing in the 80s and he exploited them very intelligently in his compositions.

We will first take a look at his Bells-Flute unusual C&R’s:

  1. The first segment is from the song Sindhiya Venmani from Poonthota Kavalkaran (Tamil 1988) and is a short 5 seconds of conversation between the bells and flute. The call from the flute is long and the response from the bells is short
  2. The second segment is from the song Un Paarvaiyil from Amman Kovil Kizhakaala (Tamil 1986) – again a short 3 second conversation between the bells and flute
  3. The third segment is also from the song Un Paarvaiyil from Amman Kovil Kizhakaala (Tamil 1986) – again a 7 second conversation between the bells and flute and is from the second interlude of the song
  4. The fourth segment is from the song Raasave Unnai Naan from Thani Kaatu Raja (Tamil 1982) – this is from the prelude of this song and runs for about 13 seconds and the conversation is long for the bells that meet with a short flute response
  5. The fifth segment is from the song Shenbagame Shenbagame – Sunanda version from Enga Ooru Paatukaran ( Tamil 1987) where the flute response is very short to the long call by the bells

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s Bells-flute conversations…

Let’s look at some of Raja’s Bells-guitar conversations next.

  1. The first segment is from the song Roja Ondru Mutham Ketkum Neram from Komberi Mookan (Tamil 1984) – the call is from the bells and the guitar responds to the call
  2. The second segment is from the song Shenbagame Shenbagame from Enga Ooru Paatukaran ( Tamil 1987) – the call is from the guitar and the bells respond to the call

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s bells- guitar conversations…

Let’s next analyze some of Raja’s Bells-violins conversations.

  1. The first segment is from the song Ennullil Engo Engum from Rosapoo Ravikaikaari (Tamil 1979) The call is by the violins and the bells respond to the call
  2. The second segment is from the song Oh Vasantha Raja from Neengal Kettavai (Tamil 1984). The call is a very short one by the bells and response is relatively a long one by the violins. In this segment, you can hear the C&R arranged 8 times over with minor variations to keep the interest of the listener
  3. The third segment is fromt h song Thaalaatum Poongatru from the film Gopura Vasalile (Tamil 1990) where the call is a very lengthy call from the violins for which the bells respond very briefly. It is almost the opposite of segment 2, but the melodic arrangement makes this whole orchestration interesting
  4. The fourth segment is from the song Unnaithaane from the film Nallavanukku Nallavan (Tamil 1984).  The call is a lengthy one by the violins and the response is almost of equal length by the bells.

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s bells- violins conversations…

Let’s next hear some of Raja’s conversations with Bells and other instruments. This will be a medley of instruments working with bells.

  1. The first segment is from the song Punchai Undu Nanjai Undu (Unnal Mudiyum Thambi Tamil 1989 or Rudraveena Telugu 1989). The call is by percussion and the response is by bells.  In this particular arrangement, both the call and the response are very short
  2. The second segment is from the song Shenbagame Shenbagame – Sunanda version, from Enga Ooru Paatukaran ( Tamil 1987). The call is a lengthy one by the shehnai and the response by the bells is short
  3. The third segment is from the song Sindhiya Venmani from Poonthota Kaavalkaran (Tamil 1988). The call is by the synthesizer for which the response is from bells (this is technically also from the synthesizer)
  4. The fourth segment is from the song Oru Thanga Rathathil from Dharma Yudham (Tamil 1979). The call is a lengthy one by the bells and the response is a short one from the veena

Let’s hear the sample of Raja’s bells- and other instrument conversations…

These are top of mind examples of the C&R arrangement that Raja has done with Bells. With these segments on bells, it must be obvious that the innovation Raja did with the limited power of the 70s/80s synthesizers is remarkable.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Unusual conversations – an introduction

At times, we enjoy conversations and at others, we do not. Some conversations become quotations that we tend to enjoy repeating. In the world of music, conversations happen between human voices and at other times between musical instruments. Sometimes, it can be between human voices and musical instruments too. In the Indian film music tradition, there are rarely films, that do not have duets, sang typically by a male and a female singer. There are duets featuring same gender voices too. Almost all duets are dialogs or conversations between two participating voices.

In this analysis, we will focus more on conversations between musical instruments. This is universal and has no language barriers such as a human duet song. In the Indian music tradition, jugalbandhis are musical instrument conversations. One instrument makes a call and the other responds.

Here is an example of a fantastic conversation between Zakir Hussain (tabla) and Hari Prasad Chaurasia (flute) in a Jugalbandhi:


Several Carnatic kutcheris have instrument ensembles which tend to have conversations between a mirudhangam and a violin or a kanjira , a violin etc. Such musical conversations have inadvertently seeped into Indian musical sensibilities that it has become part of our musical taste regardless of classical or popular film music.

Here is an example of a Kutcheri by Embar Kannan (he plays violin for Raja) and between 12:06 and 14:25 in this you tube video, you can see several rounds of conversations between mirudhangam, kanjira and ghatam.

In the Western music world, some choirs tend to have conversations between voices.  This is also very common in the pop and jazz world.

Here is a simple demonstration from the jazz world:

Even with Electronic Music Technology (EMT) and new software tools, producers have been fast to adopt this to the new world of computer software and tools.


Conversations in general are exchange of ideas between two persons.  In the world of music, it is exchange of notes between two instruments that we will focus on. These conversations tend to be in a call and response (C&R) format. When the first instrument makes a call, the second one, responds back. It is like the way birds make sounds.

When arranged and written properly, C&R can be very seductive and pleasant to the ears. Almost every film music composer in India uses the C&R as one of their staple technique. Raja is no exception. In fact, some accuse him of overuse of this technique. As with several other myths, this is also untrue. His C&R is so exhaustive and he chooses to use them very seductively in his interludes, it has almost become a sub-conscious aspect to most of his listeners to expect this technique, even if most of them  cannot identify it.

Raja has the unique ability to bring in any mood with any instrument. We saw that in our detailed discussions on ‘Moods of Raja’. Similarly, what sets him apart from other composers is the fact that he has used several instruments in the C&R mode.  These C&R arrangements are unthinkable for most composers as Raja’s unique choice of instruments stands out with every form of arrangement he does. 

So, how do we go about doing this analysis? Firstly, we need to define what usual conversations are. Only when we understand the usual ones, we can go after the unusual conversations.

Unusual conversations – rules of analysis

 We need to have some general rules on what is not considered a conversation within our analysis:

  • Musical phrases that alternate between two voices, which is part of the main song. As an example Poomalaiye Thol Seravaa from Pagal Nilavu (Tamil 1985) uses the male and female voices in C&R mode throughout the pallavi of the song

    • Musical phrases, where the instrument responds to the phrases in the pallavi or charanam. In other words, as part of this analysis, you will not hear such wonderful arrangements such as ‘Sorgathin Vasarpadi’ from Unnai Solli Kutramillai (Tamil 1990) where the instrumental music responds 16 times to the musical phrases in the pallavi

      • A chorus responding to the main singer’s pallavi or charanam phrases. Example, Etho Mogam (Kozhi Koovudhu Tamil 1979)

        • One chorus making a call and another responding to the call (this has been already covered under the choir analysis)

        One can technically argue that the above phenomenon is also ‘Call & Response’. However, keeping these items out will shift the focus to unusual conversations that Raja has done. The phenomenon #4 will be avoided to ensure that there is no repletion between the analysis on choir and this analysis.

        In other words, we will only consider instrument conversations or conversations that involve one musical instrument at the minimum. For example, we can consider a voice making a call and an instrument responding to it is fine.

        Technically, we need to define the methodology of identifying a musical conversation or C&R.  Here is the method that we will use, though there is no theoretical or technical compulsion to do so:

        1. The call must be made by a single instrument with a small melody
        2. The response must be made by a single instrument with a small melody
        3. The call must be repeated at least twice
        4. The response must be repeated at least twice
        5. Neither the call nor the response should be part of any harmony arrangement (multiple voices)
        6. Point 3 or point 4 must be valid. Sometimes, the response for the second time may be with a slightly modified melody compared to the first response
        The above methodology has been chosen to avoid any ambiguity in identifying C&R segments within instrument music.

        Even with all the above rules, one is likely to end up several hundred conversations and this blog has to be converted into an hourly blog which is never the intent. More importantly, with several repetitive segments, it can get boring quickly and it defeats the purpose of this blog - showcasing the genius of Raja.  How do we get to show something unique about Raja’s work in this area?

        By filtering out usual instrument conversations.

        Most Raja detractors have claimed that he uses a lot of these three instruments in his interludes:
        1. Violins
        2. Guitar
        3. Flute
        So, conversations involving these three instruments can be treated as ‘usual conversations’, even if they satisfy all the rules of C&R arrangement. Conversations such as these (you will hear this for the last time in this section of analysis):
        • Violins - Violins conversation. Example - Kanna Unai Thedugiraen - Manadhil Urudhi Vendum (Tamil 1987)

        • Violin - Guitar conversation. Example - Raja Raja Chozhan - Rettai Vaal Kuruvi (Tamil 1987)

        • Violin - Flute conversation.  Example - Poo Mudithu - En Purushan Thaan Enakku Mattum Thaan (Tamil 1989)

        • Guitar - Guitar conversation.  Example - Poo Maalai Oru Paavai - Thanga Magan (Tamil 1983)

        • Guitar - Flute conversation. Example - Idhazhil Kadhai Ezhudum - Unnal Mudiyum Thambi (Tamil 1989)

        • Flute - Flute conversation. Example - Vana Kuyilae  - Priyanka (Tamil 1994)
        If we take out these six type of major conversations, we can uncover the ‘unusual conversations’ that Raja has arranged. The analysis also gets to a manageable size and it showcases the composer’s ability to handle ‘unusual instrument conversations’.  We will still have a deluge to deal with, but quite manageable. The ground rules of C&R will fully apply.
        How do we approach the analysis of unusual conversations? We will base it on a lead instrument that is neither Violin, or guitar or flute and cover conversations of this instrument with all other instruments. Here are the categories:
        1. Bass Guitar unusual conversations. We will cover some of the unusual conversations that Raja has arranged with Veena or Flute and the bass guitar
        2. Bells unusual conversations. Bells are a special use of a synthesizer (in bell mode) and Raja has used bells extensively in his compositions. We will cover the unusual conversations  with Flute, guitar, percussion, Shehnai, Synthesizer, Violins
        3. Chorus unusual conversations. We will cover some of the unusual conversations that Raja has arranged with Flute, Guitar, violins and chorus
        4. Jathi unusual conversations. This is drawn from the traditional bharathanatyam tradition and we will cover some of the unusual conversations that Raja has arranged with flute, violins, mirudhangam and jathi
        5. Mirudhangam unusual conversations. We will cover some of the unusual conversations that Raja has arranged with flute, table, veena and the mirudhangam
        6. Percussion unusual conversations. We will cover some of the unusual conversations that Raja has arranged with flute, percussion, violins, synthesizers, violins and percussion (you read it right, both sides can be percussion)
        7. Sax/Trumpet unusual conversations. We will cover some of the unusual conversations that Raja has arranged with flute, guitar, violins, chorus and the Sax/Trumpet
        8. Shehnai unusual conversations. We will cover some of the unusual conversations that Raja has arranged with Bells, Flute, Guitar, Violins, Synthesizer and the Shehnai
        9. Sitar unusual conversations. We will cover some of the unusual conversations that Raja has arranged with flute, guitar, synthesizer, violins and the sitar
        10. Synthesizer unusual conversations. We will cover some of the unusual conversations that Raja has arranged with chorus, drums, flute, guitar, mirudhangam, Other percussion, Sax, Solo Violin, Synth, Veena, Violins, Voice and the Synthesizer (you read it right again, synth to synth conversations are very common in Raja’s music). There is no composer who has used the synthesizer in conversation with so many other instruments as Raja
        11. Tabla unusual conversations. We will cover some of the unusual conversations that Raja has arranged with flute, mirudhangam, synthesizer and the tabla
        12. Veena unusual conversations. We will cover some of the unusual conversations that Raja has arranged with flute, guitar, percussion, synthesizer, trumpets, violins, voice and the veena. No other composer has created so many veena conversation pieces as Raja.
        13. Voice unusual conversations. We will cover some of the unusual conversations that Raja has arranged with flute, guitar, percussion, synth, trumpet, voice, viiolins and voice. ‘Voice’ here does not mean chorus or choir, typically humming in interludes. No other composer has created such unusual conversations with instruments and voice.
        14. Other unusual conversations.  As usual, this is a catch all bucket. We will cover unusual conversations such as percussion and water sounds, bird chirps that are part of interludes arranged as conversations, harmonium and guitar etc.
        Even taking out the categories that have been alleged as overuse instruments, we can see that there are 14 categories of unusual conversations that have been part of Raja’s long 4 decade career. No other Indian film music composer has such breadth and depth in orchestration.  We are just talking about one technique…
        While presenting each category, we will try and combine all conversations between two named instruments into a single clip to avoid too many clips being presented.
        As with all analysis, there may be oversight in not including a few clips that belong to the category being discussed. Readers are encouraged to comment on tracks I may have missed.

        Unusual conversations – analysis methodology

        I have presented the results of various analysis throughout this blog without going into any details about the analysis methodology. However, this time, (with no intentions of bragging) I will elaborate the analysis method as we will try to drive some analysis conclusions at the end of this section. Knowing how the analysis was performed will be a useful context to relate to the results presented at the end.
        1. Though Raja’s compositions run to over 4,500, a database of 1.600 songs were considered for this analysis (a 35% sample of the population). The sample set has all the languages set to music by Raja other than Marathi
        2. The 1,600 songs covered in this analysis span all the 5 decades – 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s.
        3. A scan of the 1,600 interludes is done to isolate ‘usual’ and ‘unusual’ conversations
        4. The focus is more on the ‘unusual’ conversations. Every ‘unusual conversation’ is checked for the rules of C&R, and a segment is isolated and recorded in a spreadsheet. A single interlude can have more than one C&R segment
        5. For every identified segment, the two instruments involved in the conversation is recorded in the spreadsheet, along with the name of the film and the release year
        6. The lead column in the spreadsheet is ensured not to be violin, guitar or flute
        7. A pivot analysis is done on the lead instrument to get a list of unique combinations and those become the 14 categories I plan to present. A sorted list based on the lead instrument is kept for reference in creating the clips
        8. The collection of data was done over 6 months and the assumption is that the sample database is a close representation of Raja’s output and is good enough for predicting/analyzing trends related to this technique
        9. Based on the result set, clips are isolated from the songs and assembled for presentation with the appropriate naming convention for easy cataloging
        10. Analysis conclusions are derived from the analysis spreadsheet to have data support to the conclusions

        I hope the analysis helps reset some perspectives about Raja and his use of C&R technique in his music, such as:
        1. Not everything he has done with this technique revolves around the violin, guitar or flute
        2. The breadth and depth of use of this technique can be matched by no other composer, even if we consider his ‘unusual’ conversations
        3. Some of the instrument combinations are ‘unthinkable’ before his time, and few composers have tried these even after he has demonstrated them in his interludes

        Saturday, June 1, 2013

        Summarizing again - why is he a genius

        We have covered several topics on Raja's music so far in the past 100-odd posts. It is time to take a deep breathe, summarize what we have covered so far before moving further.

        We covered in some depth, his ability to weave beautiful interludes in his music, when other composers consider composing an interlude as a burden, a filler activity. Part of his unique ability is to weave multiple simultaneous melodies in the form of counter melodies with various musical instruments. We also examined his various moods with interludes examining some of his lead instruments. Perhaps, Raja is the best interlude composer ever.

        We examined how his creates his rhythms - mono and polyrhythms, both following traditions and deviating from them as well. Some of his rhythm arrangements have been copied and others remain unique to just him.  What stays unique is his ability to coalesce rhythms from different genres - a song such as 'Sandhu Pottu' (Devar Magan Tamil 1993) or Vanamellam Shenbagapoo (Nadodi Parukkaran Tamil 1999x) are some top of mind examples where folk, Carnatic and Western arrangements effortlessly coexist and mingle.

        We examined his unique style of creating folk music for films called 'Cleverfolk'. Deviating from traditional South Indian folk music, we demonstrated how Raja's folk arrangements heavily borrow from both the Carnatic and Western idioms. In fact, even most common music listeners will easily identify a Raja folk arrangement from any other form of folk arrangement. While he has managed to drive the message of his Cleverfolk to even the most ordinary listener, his other faculties have not had such a reach.

        We took a deep dive into his modern techno arrangements and showed how he continues to search for WCM even within that paradigm. Most composers can do one or the other. Raja tries to tame the beast of electronic music and bring a melodic meaning and life to EMT. Most electronic music have short shelf life and Raja has used his deep understanding of WCM, Jazz and has tried to create ever lasting melodies even in the world of electronic music. In his world of electronic music, melody takes the front seat and the whole composition relies heavily on the song's melody. Apart from a few exceptions, most of his electronic music is simple, driven by the low budget requirements of some films which cannot afford an elaborate orchestra. However, the melodies (example, Mandarapoo Mooli from Vinodayatra or Swashathin Thalam from Achivinte Amma) carry the song through and make them unforgettable.

        We also took a very detailed look at his choir arrangements and showed how folk, harmony, Carnatic can all be used in different proportions in different tracks and sometimes in just one track to create a fantastic tune. Whether it is Ther Kondu (Raja rishi Tamil 198x) or Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu (Maya Bazaar Tamil 1995) or Keladhe Nima Geega (Geetha Kannada 1980) or Eriyile Elandha Maram (Karaiyellam Shenbagapoo Tamil 1980), one can easily see the mastery over this type of arrangement from all genres.

        Now, comes the key question - what is Raja's legacy? There is no doubt that he will be remembered for his extraordinary compositions for hundreds of years. However, what makes him such a unique composer? 

          Let's approach it in another way. Will you stop listening to Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Chopin, Vivaldi and other WCM gurus because we found a Raja - in other words, does he rank in their order of WCM gurus - definitely not.

          Will you stop listening to Thiagaraja, Dikshatar, Purandaradasa because you have now started listening to Raja? This may sound a bit ridiculous, but definitely not. He does not rank anywhere close to these gurus of CCM.

         Or, will we stop listening to Jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsalis, Miles Davis and others because we heard Raja. Again, the answer is perhaps not.

        What is that Raja has done that these masters have not? What makes him the unique genius of the 20-21st century in music?

        All those listed here just stuck to their favorite genre other than an occasional try with something even within their area. Example, Wynton has done tributes to Bach though he is a great trumpet player.

        Raja not only easily plays with so many such genres but lets them do two things: a) allow them to co-exist without anybody realizing it and b) Coalesces them in such a way that you start wondering how such things can inter-mingle. He is a master blender.  

        Time for some examples.

        Will gold and glass stick to each other? Common sense tells us that it is not possible. Toss your ring into a glass jar and it does not stick to it in any way. However, the microchip industry has shown us that glass (silica) and gold (connectors of microchip inside the hermetic seal) can be made to stick each other and is one of the fundamental reason for microchips to work. Or else, the wizardry of electronics engineers will never be made useful to the real world. We go about every day life thinking that gold and glass cannot be stuck together.

        Why all this talk about microchips? I consider Raja, the music-chip guy. In other words, the 'gold and glass guy'. Consider gold as one genre and glass as another. He will not only make them stick together, but will ensure that you never realize it! There are those glass guys (John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith etc) and the gold guys (Carnatic gurus, folk legends) but few can blend them without the listener realizing what's going on.

        Here is a song of Raja, that exhibits the 'gold and glass' phenomenon.

         One of the songs that struck me as a very unusual arrangement was a song that goes, 'IniMael NaaLum' from December Pookal. If you listen to the charanam of this song, there are no violins, no flutes, no instruments other than the rhythm, but female voices. After I heard this song, I make it a point to go behind the voices of a Raja charanam. While voices backing a Raja charanam, is his unique composition style, I came across another song that simply blew me away recently.

        The song goes 'Krishna Nuvvu' from Shiv Shankar (Telugu). What's different in this track? This is a routine melody and Raja would have composed a few thousand such. Try listening to the charanam a few times, and to my surprise, I realized, that an electric guitar is on rock mode behind the singers. You must be nuts to take an Indian melody and back it up with rock guitar! Raja does not go about bragging about such innovation. You do not feel the rock guitar out of place in any way and does not screw up the melody. Rock and traditional Indian melody working together beautifully - at least, this is the first time, I realized such things can coexist without anybody realizing it. That's the glass and gold guy!

        The training that Raja went through is perhaps the standard one that most composers today go through. However, few have the audacity to experiment between genres like him. What we will consider next is about taking the best practice from one and applying it to another. This is risky business as often times it turns out to be a lemon. Several composers today are so scared of doing such things, I do not see such lemons any more.

        Let's talk about some of these experiments - Raja would initially stay completely by the rulebook and create a native track. Example, the initial slokam used in 'Kadhal Oviyam' in Alaigal Oiyvathillai or 'Pattu cholli' from Azhagi. Unlike a normal composer, it's now time to deviate from the tradition. Hear the beginning of the song 'Kootu Kuyilai' from Manam Virumbudhe Unnai. Raja applies the rules of Western harmony for a traditional slokam. This time, the experiment works and it sounds truly harmonious. I am sure he has tried this in a few tracks where it may not have worked.

        One of the songs where he has applied both Carnatic as well as Western harmony is the track 'Eriyile Elandha Maram' from Karaiyellam Shenbagapoo. This song is a masterpiece of sorts and only the mind of a genius can write a song of this type. The opposite is true when you listen to the song 'Veetukku Veetukku Vasapadi' from Kizhakku Vasal. When you hear the violins at the end of his performance in his Italy show, it is clearly an experiment of WCM in folk.

        His experimentation between Carnatic and WCM is all over the 'How to Name it' album and a few hundred interludes.

        I consider him a musical genius, not because of his abilities in any ONE genre but for being the first ever who could blend many in a single composition effortlessly. Sometimes, it is so effortless, that the listener never notices. There has never been anyone before and after him who is such a master blender. When I say this, it is not just in the IFM business. Most of his work is so well blended, it will take decades to separate the pineapples, the oranges and the strawberries from his recipe. At best, we are all folks who simply can call out a few traces of orange tinges in the final blend and claim that we have figured something and worked backwards (rightly or wrongly) to his recipe. It will be a case of hit and miss for anybody who does this (me included) and must be prepared to be proved wrong at some stage.

        The blend that he does is much more complex than the fruit analogy. He literally makes pineapple taste like strawberries and vice versa.

        He is beyond just being a specialist in any one genre. Future generations of composers will realize such an effortless composer lived during our times who could not be challenged by any musical genre, but navigated between them with his blender that no one noticed.

        My view is that it will take centuries to get such a master blender anywhere - not just in IFM.

        Saturday, March 2, 2013

        Raja's fl(choral) world - Catch all category

        It is impossible to analyze Raja’s work, when you try to box his work even into 25 different meticulously chosen categories. This is the catch all category which defies all earlier 25 definitions of choir arrangement. It is hard to put a finger on some of the tracks that I came across while performing this research. While there are several such tracks, these are my top of mind ones that I came across when I did work for this analysis.

        Aadum Neram from Soorasamharam (Tamil 1988). The pallavi has some parts executed with the chorus singers. The charanam 1 and charanam 2 has some lines by the chorus – these are not humming lines, but proper lyrics. Not sure if this can be classified as traditional chorus as the singers are provided with full lyrics. 

        Let's hear Aadum Neram...

        Thatharam from Guru (Malayalam 1997)– brilliant choir. The way Raja integrates violins and chorus in the charanams is very special. The pallavi has some parts repeated by the female chorus. There are also male chorus parts in phase shift mode. It’s hard to say if this is conventional Indian chorus arrangement, or if it can be considered a harmony. Raja’s violins confuse you further. It’s a mixed arrangement of violins, Indian folk, male/female, conventional and western harmony. Somebody should beat that confusing definition! This track is a Raja curve ball that will escape any definition. We have just covered only the pallavi!

        The charanam is beautifully executed. For a phrase, there is a female chorus response followed by another phrase where the male chorus responds. Some parts of the charanam’s chorus arrangement is hard to describe. It must be heard to enjoy. The second charanam is executed more traditionally with the female chorus with some parts  repeating the main singer’s lines. The third charanam is set to a slightly different tune, with the chorus – both male and female given completely different treatment. Some parts of the charanam appear like conventional Indian chorus, but when you start observing the male voices in bass, you realize that Raja has effortlessly harmonized the folk choir along with western voices in bass. Brilliant!

        Hear the track to experience Raja freaking out on choir in all possible formats! The rhythm arrangement of this song by itself requires another detailed analysis.

        The way the guitar is used in tandem in the song Marakudaiyaal  in Manasinakkare  (Malayalam 2003) with the male chorus.  It is hard to categorize the chorus use in this song under any category - is that western, Carnatic, folk or anything else?

          Please hear the second half of the song and Raja's rhythm hid his own other innovation from sight (or hearing) all this while. 

        1.  Between 2:32 and 2:42, the male chorus repeats MGS's last few words. A technique as old as Indian film music. Nothing spectacular here.
        2.  Between 2:54 and 3:04, the Raja curve ball blew me away - guitar strumming with male folk chorus - how does he think of such things?
        3.  Between 3:44 and 3:49, the male chorus that backs MGS switches to Carnatic mode 4.  Between 4:02 to 4:07, the male chorus backs MGS with perfect discrete notes as though they were played out of a synthesizer. Brilliant!
        5.  Between 4:13 and 4:15, the male chorus now has discrete notes spaced far apart than the earlier arrangement
        6.  Between 4:17 to 4:25, the female chorus backs MGS in a typical folk form
        The song has every element of chorus arrangement you can think of. Traditional male choir repeating the lines, female choir singing traditional folk choir and also male choir in scat mode.

        In the song Chandrabimbathin from Sneha Veedu (Malayalam 2011) – observe the usage of female choir during the pallavi – Raja uses the female choir instead of the bass lines. Innovative!  It is hard to tell if he converted the bass lines he had written to the choir or if it was by design.

        Let's hear Chandrabimbhathin...

        Observe the song Kadhal Mayakkam from Pudhumai Penn (Tamil 1984) – In interlude 1, Raja uses the female choir in counter melody to a synthesizer with a guitar playing chords in the background! Please focus on the clip between 0:52 seconds to 1:10 secs. 

        Let's hear Kadhal Mayakkam...

        Naan Poranthu from Maaya Bazaar (Tamil 1985) – We discussed this under Raja’s rhythm innovation stage 14. This track is a capella arrangement where Raja has used only voices in harmony throughout the song. There is absolutely no other musical instrument in this track other than human voices.

        Concluding notes on Raja’s Fl(choral) world

        Over the past two years or so, we went through some analysis of Raja’s work in the area of choral arrangement. Raja has used every form of human voice to enhance his compositions. There is no composer before or after him who has done so much work on choir, Western or Indian. What is unique about him is the ease with which such complex arrangements are made possible. He has a talented group of choir singers who are trained both with Indian and Western singing. While he has his preferences, it is hard to argue if he did not touch an area of choral arrangement. 

        As with everything in his orchestration, mixing genres, transitioning from one to the other, all come easy to the genius. There are several categories, where he has experimented for the first time in Indian film music. These are not confusing fusion arrangements, but carefully designed process that appeals to the listener’s ear at the end. He is like the micro-chip maker. Fusing gold and sand was possible with the microchip – fusing folk, western and Carnatic and scat is possible for this music chip maker! Some day, there may be a composer who may beat him in popularity; I am sure, there will be no one who can educate a several generations with examples on how some hard paths can be traversed in the world of music. 

        Saturday, February 2, 2013

        Usage of choir for transition - Red, Pink, Purple and Yellow tulips

        The transition between the charanam and the pallavi is done using several techniques, and chorus is used very rarely. Raja has done that too. There are several tracks this goes unnoticed. This is a staple Raja technique that he has exploited in several tracks.

        Chinna Kuyil from Poove Poochoodava (Tamil 1985).  The track has the female chorus instead of any strings for the first 3 phrases. Also, the transition between the charanam and the pallavi is orchestrated with the chorus voices (la la la la). Interlude 2 is executed with a chorus in a C&R mode.

        Oru Naalum Unai Maravaatha from Ejamaan  (Tamil 1993). The prelude starts off with lines from the female chorus. The first interlude (between the pallavi and the anu pallavi) is also filled with the female chorus. The second and third interlude has some melodious female chorus parts. The transition between the charanam and the pallavi is done using the female chorus. This is a conventional Indian chorus used for transition between the charanam and pallavi.

        Let's hear Oru Naalum...

        Poo Pookum Maasam thaimasam from Varusham 16 (Tamil 1989) – Raja uses female chorus in several parts of the pallavi, charanam and the interludes. Usage of female chorus in folk mode as part of the transition to the pallavi is the specialty of this track. The pallavi itself is orchestrated with western drums! By now, surprises should be a norm for all Raja listeners! This is Indian folk style transition between the charanam and the pallavi.

        Let's hear Poo Pookum...

        Aadungal Paadungal from Guru (Tamil 1980). The track uses choir based on children for the transition between the charanam and pallavi.

        Let's hear AadungaL PaadungaL...

        Hey I Love you from  Unnai Naan Sandithaen (Tamil 1984) has some very cool arrangement. From each charanam, the transition to the pallavi is done using some very intelligent western mixed choir. The song uses choir arrangement throughout its interludes. The transition between the charanam and the pallavi is done using a Western style scat in a mixed mode.

        Let's hear Hey, I love you...

        There are many more examples. The key idea is the fact that Raja has used every form of choir arrangement even for transition. Under each of the categories (Indian, folk, western, scat, carnatic) you can find a number of examples, if you choose to explore further.

        Wednesday, January 2, 2013

        Usage of choir for harmony singing - Blue and Orange tulips

        It can be male or female. Sometimes, the main singers themselves sing in harmony. This is a pioneering area of Raja. This is a subject that needs to be detailed later on but we will touch the surface briefly. Raja’s work on vocal harmony deserves a special focus. He is a master in this craft with no distant second in the vicinity. Strangely, he uses not just Western harmony in its pure form, but also with Sanskrit slokams. With Sanskrit slokams, his work can be called Rajarmony!

        Priyasakhi from Gopura Vaasalile (Tamil 1991). The pallavi has female chorus backing the main singer. The first interlude has some male chorus parts with the violins backing them. The second interlude has a beautiful combination of male and female choir in perfect vocal harmony. The female choir lines take care of the tenor singing while the male voices are arranged at the bass level. This is not something that most Indian composers carefully arrange. It is a lot of practice and slogging to perfect. Observe how Raja carefully places the violins between the male and the female ranges. That shows his mastery over harmony arrangement! This is why I rate him as the greatest Indian composer with the rock solid foundation in Western harmony! What beats us is Raja will use his violins and get to the landing chord after which it is a pure Indian melody for the charanam. There is no Indian composer who can do this with such ease that I have come across. 

        Let's hear the Priyasaki arrangement...

        Eriyile Elantha Maram from Karayellam Shenbagapoo (Tamil 1981). This track will definitely rank among Raja’s top 10 choir arrangements. In short, a masterpiece. Based on writer Sujatha’s story, the requirement was only for folk tunes. Raja embellishes it with Carnatic and Western choir and creates a masterpiece. There is no such track I have heard in Indian film music. The prelude starts off with the traditional Carnatic swarams (Sa re ga ma pa da ne sa) one set of female voices overlapped with another set of voices singing western choir for a few bars. It changes over to conventional folk choir (than Na Na) by one set of voices. This is joined by exactly the same folk choir by another set of female voices at a different pitch. The first one in Alto and the second one in Soprano. Both the voices are singing folk but in perfect western harmony. You can even call this as true fusion that has never occurred to anyone before Raja.  When Janaki sings ‘Yeriyile’ at least 5 times, observe what the choir does in the background.  For the first two occasions, Janaki is doing the Soprano and the choir is touching almost the bass. The third occasion, the choir shifts to Alto and Janaki remains in Soprano and the choir does not repeat the last two ‘Yeriyile’. Why does Raja do that? As I mentioned before, he is THE EXPERT in vocal harmony and there are reasons for this. In a detailed post on Raja’s vocal harmony, we will explore more. The chorus do the traditional sing along in the pallavi. Let’s take the first interlude next. One set of voices sing ‘laa laa laa’ in soprano and another set of voices sing ‘la la  la’ in sharper notes in alto creating further harmony. The last transition to the charanam uses some innovative choir arrangement – ‘than thana’ is sang in bass by one female choir and the other female choir uses the very high pitch ‘oooyee’ in soprano. This song requires a separate post where every bar is explained. The charanam has lines repeated by the choir in vocal harmony. The last but one bar has some neat western choir by the group backing Janaki.  The second interlude uses phrases such as ‘Dum Dum Dum’, ‘Pee Pee Pee’, ‘thana tham’ all arranged very cleverly in harmony to imitate a nadaswaram and a thavil – the idea is Western, the implementation is pure folk. Take a bow before the genius.

        Kottum Kuzhalvizhi from Kaala Paani (parts have traditional male choir too) (Malayalam 1996). This is one of the top choir arrangements of Raja. Being his first collaboration with BSO, he has used the talent of both the overseas as well as local artists brilliantly. Observe the first pallavi closely – there is no use of any choir techniques anywhere. However, Raja uses a placeholder synthesizer bell note which will be used later on with a brilliant replacement in the later pallavis. Towards the end of the pallavi, the Western female choir and the rushing violins raise the song to a crescendo that is typical of WCM. Control is truned over to the male choir who have lyrics to sing. The first interlude has one of the finest choir in Indian film music with some outstanding violin work only that can come from Raja. In the charanam, Raja uses the conventional male chorus backing Chitra and the female chorus backing Sree. The second pallavi again is worked with placeholder synth work instead of the chorus. The second interlude is a great match for the first one for the Western female choir – only Raja can beat the Raja! The final pallavi is another masterpiece – he replaces all those placeholders with Chitra singing in an opera style 4 notes. The single note is replaced with 4 notes, with the 3 additional notes overlapping with Sree.  I cannot think of any song that can be compared with this in Indian film music.

        Konji Pesu Kannamma from Kadhal Kavidhai (1998 Tamil) – the male choir arrangement is very unlike any other popular film song. The entire male choir operates at a baritone level (bass) humming in the background throughout the song. The pallavi, interludes all have this male choir supporting the main singers. The bass lines are intelligently written to confuse the listener very nicely. Raja takes his own harmony trip to the next level and clearly leaves us with invaluable lessons.

        The clip below has the prelude, the pallavi, some initial harmony parts of the first interlude and the last pallavi where Raja shows us the harmony fundamentals again. The song is a duet sang by him with Sujatha and is a rare one. 

        1. Listen to the first parts of the clip (the first 10 seconds) where Raja establishes his tenor singing and the male choir in bass. He shows them separately and they join him in harmony. Between 10 and 23 secs, Raja shows the male bass singing integrated with the synthesizer. Please notice that there is a bass guitar playing and Raja painfully separates the bass singing from the guitar throughout the song. You will hear the bass guitar very clearly, when Raja sings and there is no harmony singers accompanying him. When he sings ‘Nizhalappola Nizhalapola’, you can clearly observe everything falling into place, the bass guitar, the synthesizer, Raja’s voice and also the male bass voices. Only a master of the craft can do this!
        2. Between 1:07 and 1:25, I could not help wonder at how he extends the idea of bringing in a synthesizer, an electric guitar to play the Alto and the bass is taken care of by the male choir. 
        3. Between 1:25 and 2:00, Raja brings everything together again and separates them – Sujatha in Alto with the bass voices, followed by Sujatha in Alto, Raja in tenor and the male choir in bass. Finally, the male choir sing ‘Kanamma Ho’ in bass. 

        All new composers must take a lesson from the master composer! Harmony does not get any better!

        Let's hear Konji Pesu Kanamma...

        Chinnathambi Chinnathambi from Pooncholai (Tamil 1997). This is a rare song of Raja where nobody expects any western male choir by a long shot. After the pallavi, there is a long humming followed by some nice male choir. In the charanam, the chorus sings the last two bars conventional way. The second and third pallavi has some neat vocal harmony followed by western male choir. 

        Devanin Kovil Moodiya Neram from Aruvadai Naal (Tamil 1986) This song’s prelude is executed very similar to the ‘Dhaas Dhaas’ track from Kadalora Kavidhaigal (Tamil 1984), with the male choir and Raja.  Both are executed in perfect harmony. ‘Kootu Kuyilai’ from Manam Virumbudhe Unnai (Tamil 1999) is another song where Raja uses Sanskrit slokams in harmony with fellow male singers. Being a master of harmony, you can see that all the three songs that I am highlighting are sang by him. Walking the talk…

        Here is a mix of all three…

        I am sure there are several other examples. Readers can add their views on additional tracks.  I wanted to highlight some of his spectacular harmony arrangements, in its pure form as well as Raja's Sanskritized versions!