Monday, May 2, 2016

The genius of Raja demonstrated

            Not many people fully grasp the genius of this man. Some of them think he is a folk musician and others think that he is a Classical Carnatic musician. While these views are true, his first formal training is in Western Classical Music and to this date, he writes sheet music, and he is the fastest in the world. He communicates with sheet music faster than his native language. Watch the video below and my explanation of what he does. (most people will get lost as they do not fully understand what goes on). Composing background music is the hardest part of film music as a film of 2.5 hours has about at least 1.5 hours of background music.  This is equivalent to 15-20 songs as most Indian film songs are for about 4 minutes.

It may be worthwhile using this example to document what Raja does when he does his background score.

Before we dive into the detail, most composers (and even the best) operate like the 'Pacman' 2-d game that most of us are familiar. They are single threaded and at best use a single processor to determine the next move all the time. Raja's brain works like a modern graphics pipeline attached to a GPU like the NVidia GForce series, which does both shading and lighting management along with the associated physics engine (for lighting) and manages to process at a few teraflops, several gigabytes of data, as the scene advances in any modern video game. Most gamers love these graphics engines as they render (rendering is a complex computing problem) the scenes seamlessly giving them a breezy experience by creating real life like situations in their XBox or PS consoles.

Now. let's see how a typical (single threaded) composer would add music to the scene that we saw:

  1. Pass 1, is to observe the scene with the view of doing what's called as marking - this is to understand the stretch of the scene and also where conversations have to be kept as is and where music needs to be added.
  2. Pass 2, using the markings (there are digital tools available for this), determine the number of bars of music that needs to be composed. The digital tools do both marking and timing - before digital tools, folks used a stop clock and paper, and would play the reel several times.
  3. Pass 3, think about the overall scene's ambiance to select the various instruments and decide on the music that needs to fill the gaps. This step also includes writing the score sheet for the various music pieces. There will be separate scores for the various music pieces, as defined by the time markings. The score is typically divided as sub-parts. For example, if the scene is called 'Scene15' and it has 3 musical pieces, the scores will be written as 'Scene15-1', 'Scene15-2' and 'Scene 15-3'.
  4. Pass 4, work through the score to ensure that the bars of music indeed ties up with the markings done in step 1. 90% of the composers do not get this right as they mostly overshoot or come under - in many films, you can see these professional shortcomings being patched by synthesized fillers.
  5. Pass 5, get an orchestra to practice - normally this is another music conductor who sweats this out to get the right music out of the band
  6. Pass 6, do the final take where the fade-in and fade-out of the background score is managed, so that the viewer does not feel that something got artificially introduced and is able to relate to the scene better than the raw shoot.

These six passes take an enormous amount of time and energy and even the best composers do get challenged with background music as a result.

The scene we saw is for about 2.5 minutes and the scene is about the woman speaking about her ex-boyfriend or husband. The couple stroll through some busy lane filled with several people. However, what the viewer needs to fully appreciate is the message of the woman about her ex-boyfriend (I hope I understood the scene, as I have not watched any other footage from this film).

Raja does this in 3 passes. 

  1. Pass 1, as he watches the film, conventional pass 1,2,3,4 run in parallel in his head. No digital markers, no stop watches, nothing. On top of this, there is a super pass that runs through his brain, which is the emotional content of the scene. This is the music nVidia phase where his music pipeline processes every moment as his eyes watches it and he keeps writing music as though he is just writing down the time details!
  2. Pass 2, he gets involved in ensuring the right bowing is in place for the violins and the right chords for the guitar (he does this for his satisfaction)
  3. Pass 3, final take and the fade-in and fade-outs

You must remember that passes 2,3 and 4 are the most cumbersome and they can involve several sub-passes too. You will notice that Raja does not write music for his sub-scenes at all. He just leaves the gap in his musical score and everything is automatically taken care of! A huge productivity jump that you can watch in this video. You will also notice that the last few seconds of the clip has conversations still going on between the couple, and Raja chooses to fade that out with his violins. As he watches the film, his mind calculates everything in musical bars as his eyes watch the scene and his brain processes the visual by triggering musical notes that flow freely out on his score sheet. I hope I have captured the most modern MPU (Musical Processing Unit) that ever existed - Raja! Though the clip is for about 2.5 minutes, there are several hundred decisions that his mind has already made when those 2.5 minutes was shown to him and he executes those decisions in real time. You will also notice him playing a few keys in his piano to choose the scale that matches with the ambiance and you will hear that in the final take. This is called the tonic note for a western scale.

You should be able to understand why no human has ever written background scores for 55 films in a single year other than Raja. 

Hope that helps you understand a living musical genius.