Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs

Writing good harmonies takes a lot of hard work and practice. Most decent composers have done harmony work in Indian film music. This starts from Salil Chowdhary to many new composers of the 21st century. However, most composers have reserved their harmonies for a predominantly monophonic Indian music to select few films and top projects. The current generation music composers get by with simple music composed using digital tools that are quite cheap today. Most Bollywood music today lacks depth and commitment to create music that requires a lot of formal education and training.

The primary reason for harmonies taking this special treatment stems from the fact that it takes enormous effort on the part of the composer to write them. As a result, it is a technique that is delegated to the most expensive/prestigious projects only.
Contrast this with Raja, who considers writing harmonies and conducting them as everyday business. At the extreme end of this equation is Raja’s harmonies for completely undeserving films/songs. As this is a walk in the park for him, he writes harmonies wherever he thinks that it is the best tool to elevate a visual. The budget/prestige of the project is immaterial for him.

The goal of this series is to shine the light on some of the brilliant harmonies that Raja has written for films/songs that were disasters as the film got canned or did not do well commercially and was forgotten. These are the hidden gems that deserves research. It also is another facet of the mind of the musical genius. As writing a harmony, or composing a song with a rare Indian raga is just about the same for him.

Before we start diving deep into these compositions, it is worthwhile to go back to the post on harmony – ‘what’s the fuss about harmony?’ I will use terminology that was introduced in this post some ten years ago. Please go through these 4 posts to get a grounding on the basics of harmony.

We will navigate Raja’s obscure harmonies in the chronological order and will cover both songs and background scores. Special thanks to Venkateswaran Ganesan, who created a special topic under his youtube channel to provide video clips for this series of posts. These videos have high quality audio and the silly dancing that go with the film videos will not distract you and the focus will be on music. I have also used some of Navin Mozart (Ramdoss) background score youtube clips of Raja he has created over the years.

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 1/18

Let’s first start with the example from Raja’s early days. We will begin with the song Saamakozhi Koovudhamma from Ponnu Oorukku Pudhusu (Tamil 1979). This song is a good melody and does not offer much scope for writing harmonies in the general sense. However, Raja uses a simple opportunity of the third interlude to write a beautiful counter melody and also beautifully integrates it with the folk song. If you listen to only the third interlude, you will notice that between 3:28 and 3:56, he creates a beautiful counterpoint with the synthesizer and the violins. It is another walk in the park for him.

Let’s hear the Saamakozhi clip…

In the first post of this topic, I mentioned about 'Saamakozhi' and the harmonies Raja added to the song. The film itself was not an obscure one, just the fact that Raja will throw in harmonies into his otherwise folk composition.

This post is about a song that is not strictly not a folk number. However, as a song, there does not seem to be any scope for harmony, similar to Saamakozhi.

Ennathil Etho (KallukkuL Eeram - Tamil -1980) 

We will next cover the song, 'Ennathil Etho' from KallukkuL Eeram (Tamil 1980).

Observe the second interlude and you will notice that this is arranged beautifully as a melodious harmony.

Harmony passage 1: 2:34 to 2:37 The usual Raja prep for a counter melody done with violins.
Harmony passage 2: 2:38 to 2:52 : While the violins continue on the background, the flute melody in the foreground for the next 16 bars or so is arranged in countermelody
Harmony passage 3: 3:00 to 3:07 : With the violins in the background, a synthesizer and a flute take care of harmony parts, What a nice arrangement.

Another walk in the park ..

Let’s hear the Ennathil Etho clip…