Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Intricate harmonies in obscure films/songs – part 9/18

Our journey on uncovering intricate harmonies from obscurity continues…

Saami Kitta Solli Vachu – (Aavaarampoo - Tamil - 1992)

Let me first write a few obvious lines about this song. A beautiful flowing melody sang by SPB and Janaki with some parts using the Kaapi ragam. Raja has perhaps done a few hundred such tunes.

Now let’s see how this traditional Indian melody meets western harmony – another walk in the park. There are some parts, I felt Raja has done the impossible in this song, only a genius can think of.

Harmony passage 1 (1:00 to 1:09 ) : This starts off as a full harmony between the violins, flute and the bass guitar. You have to observe the bass lines descending when the violins ascend. Within this passage, there is also the flute responding to the initial violin/flute harmony. This is usual Raja harmony.

Harmony passage 2 (1:10 to 1:24 ) : This is one of those crazy harmonies written with a synthesizer, pizzicato violins playing a high note (to take care of the S and A) and the flute to take care of the Tenor. The whole melody is repeated twice.

Between passage 1 and passage 2, you have come a long way away from the traditional Indian melody. I can bet $1000 that any other composer would have withdrawn this great idea and gone back to something that works easily. What he does after is what separates Raja, the genius from the boys.

Harmony passage 3 (1:24 to 1:29 ) : This is the bridge harmony that only he can think of. All done with violins. How on earth can he think of such a connection to the charanam?  Take a bow, Raja!

Harmony passage 4 (2:46 to 3:10 ) : This passage is even more tricky than passage 2. He starts off with pizzicato strings alone and as I have always come to expect, does not leave that to bore the listener. He now adds the solo 
violin to play counter to it. As though that is not enough adds violins to take care of the third part in the harmony with the cellos and bass talking care of the fourth part. This part can go on forever. 24 seconds of harmony with counter melodies and no bragging about this beautiful arrangement. This is where any composer can get trapped in his own creation. How to get out of this to the Indian melody in the second charanam ?

I consider this akin to your golf ball getting deeper into the sand. It is harder than the first one as it just hit the sand. The skill with which Raja pulls the ball off the sand into the green and lands on the hole is amazing!

Harmony passage 5 (2:46 to 3:10 ) : This is the second bridge harmony and it is different from passage 3. Raja not only knows how to get out of his passage 4 but do it in style. He could have easily repeated harmony passage 3 and no one will notice. He arranges a 
violin harmony and uses bells (synthesizer) in a call and response mode to the violins to transition into the 2nd charanam smoothly and effortlessly.

We live in times, when simple innovation in music is screamed at you in TV shows as though this is the best thing since slice bread. Here is a composer who silently innovates and does not even talk about it. I have heard this song several times and my mind kept going to the melody and not to the beautiful harmony that he has weaved. I heard this song 8 times today after my mind latched on to his pizzicato strings and that’s when I realized, what a beautiful piece of harmony he has weaved to a song that is not so obscure. So sad, that we  really live in times, where the ‘fine’ aspect in art is missing.

The only 'fine' art in 
film music lies with this composer in songs that we have just scratched the surface. The harmony arrangement in this song and its transition from and to the Indian melody is worth teaching in music schools.

Let’s hear Saami Kitta Solli Vachu..

Ponnil Vaanam Poothathu (Villu Paatukaaran - Tamil - 1992)

Another Carnatic favorite of mine that is harmony laden is 'Ponnil Vaanam Poothathu' from Villu Paatukaaran (Tamil 1992). According to Vel, this song is set to Khamas. Harmony within Khamas, that's Raja.

Harmony passage1 1:08 to 1:15 - Done beautifully with violins in pizzicatto mode, lead violins, synthesizer and flute - it has the Raja harmony written all over it.

Harmony passage2 1:28 to 1:32 - Synthesizer, guitar and a 
bass guitar playing the harmony parts just for 4 secs - another small walk in the park.

Harmony passage3 2:15 to 2:27 - Passage 3 is a further development of passage 2. Synthesizer, guitar, bass guitar and now a flute added to the mix. If you observe closely, there are three melodies in play at the same time for these 12 seconds, the first one is the singing bass guitar (80s fans must now be happy), the synthesizer plays its own melody and the third melody is played by the flute. It is very easy to screw this up (ends up as cacophony, instead of polyphony), but not to worry when it is in the master's hands. Few composers can write this.

Harmony passage4 2:28 to 2:38 - This is a repeat of harmony passage 1.

Harmony passage5 2:39 to 2:45 - These six seconds have 3 harmony calls responded by simple flute melody. Each of these 3 harmony passages is about 1 second, but even this is carefully arranged.

Carnatic, Western harmony coexisting so beautifully - this is possible only in Raja's compositions. I have not heard anybody who can do this better before his time and now.

Let’s hear Ponnil Vaanam…