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.