Friday, June 30, 2017

A.R.Rahman's MOM

Rahman truly believes, in music, there is assonance in dissonance, symmetry in asymmetry, rhythm in randomness and that consistent uncertainty could also be comforting inevitability. The lack of imitability in music can be counteracted with intrigue.

In the soundtrack of “Mom”, the songs are strung together with musical phrases set on a journey without a destination and the concern is only on what is happening at the moment, and it doesn’t care whether it seamlessly entails the last phrase or for that matter leads to the next phrase. There are no cyclical and metrical comforts here. If these pieces were mathematical equations, they are the ones in which the left hand side never tally with the right hand side. There is always something off balance, unsettling, unfinished, and inconvenient in the song. It expands and flows in entropic measure like the ever evolving universe that never stops to look back. There are of course motifs but there is no telling the moment of its recurrence in the time span of the piece. It occurs and recurs when it does. Music has to move you emotionally, yes, but, wonderment and excitement are emotions too. Rahman plays to that.

There is nothing here that Rahman hasn’t done before, but he takes everything a notch higher, a step further. In Andhimandhaarai (1996), Rahman goes extempore on Piano while Unnikrishnan is crooning a classical Carnatic song; Set to a foot-tapping rhythm and synth layers, it felt like Rahman lit up a dull Carnatic Katcheri stage with a flood of modern neon lights. Yet, it has a definitive form, structure and a comforting flow. Now, in “Be Nazaara”, an improvisatory classical piece of music, vocals hit infinitesimal frequencies in between notes and with multiple variations of it in each iteration of the thematic verse, and Rahman builds around it an enigmatic soundscape where any e-sound goes. You can’t help but be hypnotized by the amalgamation of the two breathlessly flowing layers of randomness. It sucks you into its intergalactic musical warm hole and traps you till the end.

You could go on and on about the oddities and experiments, but Rahman does deliver a few standard easy tracks to play to the gallery (O Sona Tere Liye). Every theory you form in your mind while listening to a piece of Rahman’s music, Rahman fiercely confounds in the immediate next song in the soundtrack, and sometimes in the very next section in the song itself. For all the meandering qualities of the exquisite “Chal Kahin Door”, there is that earthy flute section in the interlude, which is as affable a piece of music can get. A.R.Rahman’s music contains both its yin and yang within itself.

At this juncture, Rahman is not playing God creating anything at whim, he is rather a kid playing with his toys and having fun for his own amusement. A. R. Rahman, in the 25th year of his career as a composer, screams loud and clear “Mera yeh freaking freaking freaking music” through this spectacularly quirky, experimental and zany soundtrack. MOM – WOW!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Saarattu Vandiyila - Kaatru Veliyidai

Saarattu Vandiyila - Melody is easy, rhythm is zingy, percussive arrangement is crisp, mood is festive, the whole song is conventional, comforting and an instant ear-worm. The song is Rahman’s take on the most popular tamil folk riff “Thanna na naa dhinam, Thanna na naa dhinam, Thanna na naa dhinam, Thandhaanae”. Vairamuthu pours into the one-trick melody lots of beautiful words and phrases filled with playful imagery and innuendos. Sample this, “Avan kaigalil udayattum kanni kannadi” — the image of bride’s virginity as a brittle glass that would be broken in the hands of the groom on the wedding night. Vairamuthu’s earthy Tamil syllables have always had problems sitting comfortably on Rahman’s polished musical phrases and sophisticated production (example, purusan in Yaaro Yaarodi), but in Saarattu vandiyila marriage between the two sounds almost perfect. That final crescendo, where all the best riffs of the song come stacked in many layers, blossoming together like petals of varied colours in one flower, it makes you go “Pudhu Ponnae, Adhu dhaandi Rahmanin baani”. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Vaan Varuvaan - Kaatru Veliyidai

Vaan Varuvaan - Here comes again, flying from above, the sound, that Rahman Sound! The sound defined not by contrapuntal layers of melodies, but by endless layers of sparkling e-sounds enmeshed together to be a carrier and a cushion for the voice, the melody and the mood. After the opening Piano chords, any hint of acoustic instrumentation in the layers underneath the melody is avoided fearing they might hurt the serenity of the central melody. Even the omnipresent flute and choir do not play or sing any definitive melody; maybe they do, but they are not allowed to be heard in its original form; a whiff of the sound, just a whiff of it, picked at a moment precisely before the basic sound dissolves into silence is used to fill the sonic canvas. Despite the seductive soundscape and Saasha’s sensuous rendition, it took a while for me to embrace Vaan Varuvaan. The first few times I heard the song, the long opening line of the melody, with  multiple “Vaan” words in succession, remained elusive. Melody sounded constrained by the monotonic words in the poetry (which isn’t a problem in the equally wonderful Telugu version “Mairmarupaa”). But, that was, only in the warm-up phase. Suddenly, when you are totally unaware, the contour of the melody reveals itself, and in that moment of Rahmanealization, Vaan Varuvaan does what every magical Rahman song does — finds a sweet little spot in our memory, digs a tiny hole, locks itself up to stay in there, forever.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Azhagiyae - Kaatru Veliyidai

Azhagiyae - Fresh as the first dew at dawn; Warm as a tight hug; Sweet as a gentle kiss on the forehead; Cute as a cream swirl-topped Cupcake; Light as a snow flake; Breezy as the ride along the coast; Beautiful as a just blossomed flower; Frothy as the tide crawling to the shore; Romantic as the twilight at dusk. 

It has been twenty five years since Roja, Maniratnam and A.R.Rahman get younger by the day and continue to churn charming, irresistible tunes. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Mohenjo Daro Music - A.R.Rahman

Why is it becoming increasingly difficult to instantly embrace Rahman’s songs? Thalli Pogadhey (Achcham Enbadhu Madamaiyada), Omana Penne (Vinnathaandi Varuvaaya), To Koi Aur Hai (Tamasha), Mahi Ve (Highway), Phir Se Udd Chala (Rockstar), Oscar Sangamam, Theera Ula (OK Kanmani), Prelude of Parade De La Bastille (Tamasha), recital parts in Sindhu Ma (Mohenjo Daro), Whisper Themes (Mohenjo Daro) — all of these have something in common, they didn’t make any sense to me on first few hearings. Though, I have embraced all of these songs a while later, they needed a warming up phase. 

From our past listening experiences, all of us who have an opinion on music, have an instinct of how a melody that starts in a certain way would flow to reach a point of inflection before arriving at a smooth resolution at the end, and even if it meanders for a while, we know that it would follow a certain comforting path to come back to the main melody. You could always sense, even if not very consciously, a mathematical precision in such melodies, but in some of Rahman’s melodies, there is no evidence of comfort, convention and an effort to balance the left and right side of the mathematic equation in music. The melody doesn’t present a problem, and even if does, there is no resolution provided. The melodies don’t seem to take their destined, innate paths on its course. Rahman doesn’t do film music as we know it anymore in these experimental songs. Melodies take a twisted and convoluted path; they feel like some scattered, disjointed, short, independent phrases strung together. 

Rahman would still not completely avoid including instantly pleasing songs. He would ensure a Sarsarsariya follows an oddly structured Sindhu Ma or a Avaalum Naanum is placed soon after a Thalli Pogadhey in a soundtrack, the kind of songs that sticks to the grammar of a film song as we know it. I wondered if the strange flow in the melody is the effect of Rahman trying to set a lyricist’s new age non-metric poetry to tune. Even that doesn’t seem to be the cause. I was shocked when lyricist Thamarai revealed in her Facebook page that she was given the complete tune of Thalli Pogadhey in Rahman’s voice, and that she thought it was a weird tune to write lyrics for. Not a thing in the tune was changed to fit her lyrics.

When I listen to a Sindhu Ma (or the incredible Whisper themes) I wonder if that is how a melody would naturally take shape, if it were to flow intuitively from the mind of a composer at that absolute, elusive moment of creation. It felt so random, unintuitive and unnatural. But, who decides what the natural flow in a melody is or should be?

Do you remember the prelude of the song Take is easy from Kaadhalan (Humse hai Muqabala)? The Marhabba prelude from Take it easy song is the key to understand Rahman’s current journey in music. The way Rahman croons Marhabba with a spiritual fervour is not something a composer would sit and compose on a Piano. You just close your eyes and let you voice wander in a void, and at some point, randomly out of nowhere there is a big bang and Marhabba happens. And that I believe is what Rahman’s doing for many of his songs these days.

What if an entire song is made with Rahman singing Marhabba like an Azan sung as a call to prayer in the place of worship? The DNA of the structure and form of many of his recent melodies, perceived as meandering, fragmented, random and unnatural, are derived from the musical idioms of his faith. Rahman doesn’t go for the most obvious melismatic phrases in all of these experimental pieces, but I could sense a lot else come from there — the pauses, the non-linearity, magical possibilities in non-metric, irreproducible improvisations. I don’t know if Rahman is consciously attempting all of these. To Rahman, the form of music he used in the Marhabba prelude in Take it easy song is as natural a flow in melody, as it is in any of melodies based on Carnatic or Hindustani or Western classical music. Rahman just hums or chants away melodies for hours in gibberish and picks and chooses the best bits to form a song, and unifies everything with his orchestration and a seductive soundscape. 

What Rahman served as a pickle for eclecticism in Take it easy, he is serving as a full meal is some of his songs now, and not everyone has a stomach to digest it. It is disorienting and confusing initially. Rahman doesn’t use these unusual idioms just in quirky situations in films; he uses them in any kind of song and in most conventional of situations where we use songs in Indian films. 

Whispers of the Mind and Whispers of the Heart - Two themes which sound like a solo vocalist meandering a jungle of random phrases, have a very well defined melodic structure (all flautists out there, enough of Bombay theme, cover this one, like right now) and transcendental possibilities, for those who have the will to find the path and closely follow it through to the end. I still don’t know if I have that unwavering will, but I keep going back to these two tracks of all the songs in the soundtrack. They are immersive, mystic, hypnotic and other worldly. Sindhu Ma - a song sung apparently in a temple, has an intriguing structure. She is praying to Sindhu River and he is praying to her reciting lines like a sloka in a pooja ritual and the song moves on to become a filmy romantic ballad. I like how the phrases in the  stanza get shorter after each line as the two get closer. Sarsarsariya is simple and a charming beauty that saves the soundtrack from being entirely weird.

Mohenjo Daro soundtrack is experimental and a successful one, even if not phenomenal. There is a consistent musical texture and soundscape through all the celebratory folk tunes, tribal chants and romantic ballads. It is a crazy mishmash of elegantly stacked layers of instruments, exotic sounds, haunting hymns and exuberant choir chants. What the soundtrack probably needed more is fresher and weirder sounds like the one in the main theme in which Rahman is gargling while singing the tune. Rahman prefers weirder melodic structures to weirder new sounds these days, and that is the new Rahman sound. He probably feels a combination of weird sound and a weirder melody might be a little too alienating and complicated for the listeners. A time might come, when we would hear that too from him. That would probably be Rahman 3.0 phase. For now, I am thoroughly enjoying Mohenjo Daro music.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Art of Compilation

Compiling the selected pieces of music from a composer's illustrious body of work could be an immensely satisfying exercise. Here is five and half hours of selected music pieces from A.R.Rahman's repertoire strung together in a way you wouldn't have heard before

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Tamasha - A.R.Rahman, Irshad Kamil, Imtiaz Ali

I like it when a song’s end is punctuated with a bold musical period, instead of a series of dots diminishing in its size, for, arriving to a definite musical period requires a song to make its organic way to its end, which provides a musically satisfying closure, whereas, the fading dots — a musical riff gradually fading into silence, hints at an easy or rather lazy shortcut to touch the finishing line. Every song in A.R.Rahman’s latest movie soundtrack Tamasha has that perfect end, and that is a naive way of mine in gauging the completeness of an album. Matarghasti has that perfect end not only at the end but also at the end of each section of the song leading to the next; the flow is endearing and comforting. However, without harming the innate flow, Rahman throws in a surprise in the third act, where the song breaks away from its infectious jauntiness to a tender melody with a nostalgic tinge of the songs of yore. With an irresistible hook, Mohit Chauhan’s swagger in the voice, sprightly plucked strings of all variety that is out there — this song is a bundle of joy that delivers on its promise in every second of its length. This is a song that makes me want to gently pinch the cheeks of it and smile at it as if it were a cute baby continuously starring at me with a sparkle in its eyes and innocence in its smile. Matargashti is a spin-off of Masakkali, but one that easily cuts its umbilical cord off from its source and finds its own identity quite soon.

However, it must be said, finding new by lanes in already travelled paths while making melodies is turning out to be a daunting task. The effort is very evident when Rahman turns to the signature bhangra motif in the interludes of Heer Toh Badi Sad Hai, where the melody goes zig-zag in its path to find something cleverly new on its way. I love it. I don’t know what Mika Singh brings to the song, which no other singer would have, except for his blocked nose. There are some refreshing instrument choices in the arrangements, like the boldly mixed bass guitar and god-knows-what-instrument sounds with bhangra beats, and the frentic percussive crescendo at the end is sheer madness that screams the songs out of its monotony.

Speaking of refreshing arrangements, the heavenly opening of Tum Saath Ho teaches a thing or two on how its done without doing much. I would like to call that looping phrase or riff the piano drops. Preceded by an affecting piano melody and accompanied by immense silence, the piano drops is sheer serenity. Reminded me of the short flute riff that carried on its shoulders the entire Dheemi Dheemi song in 1947: Earth. As for the song itself, it is the one haunting melody of pain every love story longs for. More often than not, in our film songs, the technique of doubling the voice in two varied octaves has mostly been used as an additional ornamentation, but in here, it is part of the emotional fabric of the song. Arijith Singh’s vocal timbre in different pitches — besides the exquisitely tuneful melody and Irshad Kamil’s poetry — brings a whiff of fresh air to the way the emotive premise of a song of this genre is often delivered. Besides, the mixing is just right, the neither of the vocal layers sound too close or too far from us or from each other.

Arijith Singh (along with Sashwat Singh) gets to lighten up in the addictive Wat Wat Wat, a slight and mid-tempo bhangra, a genre for which A.R.Rahman still manages to find a refreshing rhythm pattern. Song doesn’t get complacent with it's captivating rhythm pattern, instead it soars when it takes a soft and sweet melodic turn in the middle. There is nothing more comforting in movie music than hearing a conventional melody sitting tight and right in a foot-tapping rhythm, and in the respect, Wat Wat Wat is one of the most comforting listening experiences in recent times.

This being an A.R.Rahman album, how can everything be so easy, comforting, and instantly accessible, it has to go far and beyond, and Rahman needs his space to indulge after having given you what you want and he creates that space with the second half of the soundtrack.

With theatrical Chali Kahani, Rahman returns to one of his favourite swinging games (Thee Thee, In Lamhon Ki Daaman Mein, Solli Vidu Solli Vidu, Naanae Varugiraen, Pal Pal Bahari, Idhyam Nazhuvi) where he gets to jump between storm and slumber. Sukhwinder Singh is perfect here; he whips up the storm in the way he sings the staccato lines with a biting teeth and force, and equally effective in contrast is Haricharan and Haripriya’s quiet singing of a heartening melody. The classical-orchestral instrumental sections aren’t musically complex harmonies but are a unison where all the sections of the orchestra and chorus perform same melody in the same or adjacent together, but because the melodies are exquisite, layering aesthetic, and the production values crisp, it is effectively grandiose. It just takes a drag and drop of a virtual box in a software to choose a specific instrument for a specific section in a song, and that brings with it a million possibilities and I don’t think the refreshing choice of an Accordion on the fore against a full-throttled orchestra in the final crescendo of Chali Kahani could be one such drag-and-drop happenstance.

Neither are the array of instruments playing variety of short tunes one each for an instrument (including the irresistible Naa-Naa-Na hook from Matargashti) seamlessly woven together in the sprightly Parade De La Bastille. The opening of the track comes from a totally different dreamy space with Rahman crooning a short melodic riff with middle-eastern inflections and with so many instruments clamouring around and trying to imitate what the voice is singing. That is a soundscape still only Rahman can paint.

And sometimes he can use his soundscapes to stall things and do nothing for reasons I cannot fathom, like he does in the only interlude in Safarnama. There is nothing much happening in here musically, a lot of voices circling around murmuring the motif of the song, a guitar going totally extempore after having started with a defined theme. But, the song itself is a melodic trip albeit short. The long stretched phrases in each melodic line kept me thinking; does every song about a journey or about a philosophical search have that? Feels like a musical technique (along with right accompaniments like in this song) that helps to immediately sing the premise of the song’s narrative. It works and how well it does I got to know only at the end of last song, and of the album - Tu Koi Aur Hai, in which after wandering for far too long amidst muddled chorus and directionless strings orchestra, the song returns to Safarnama, defining the song the home of Tamasha.

The direction Rahman takes in Tu Koi Aur Hai seems to be his latest favourite, where he lets the melody take a shape while phrasing around each word in the lyrics and its expression, with no respect to any musical rhythm or meter. The song lingers on each word before moving on to the next and is in no hurry to shape its final melody, or rather there is none to be shaped. There is just stillness, and we move from one moment of stillness to the other and you never know what will happen next, and through the journey Rahman touches some affecting emotional nodes but somehow Tu Koi Aur hai feels a notch below Dil Gira Daftan or Rehna Tu or even Moonlight in its overall impact.

A.R.Rahman always has a simmering urge to rebel with conventional song structures and arrangements, but when Raunaq released he mentioned that it is important to have classic, conventional songs in ones repertoire and that explains the whole range of songs (Kahaan Hoon Mein, Saans Mein Teri, Dil Beqasoor, Kismet Se Tum, Innum Konjam Neram, Malargal Kaetten, Nazar Laayae, Unmai Orunaal Vellum, Chinna Chinna Nakshathiram) he made in recent times with conventional melodies and modest orchestration with no quirk in its overall design. There is still a lot of beauty to be found in these musical terrains where many of Rahman’s predecessors and contemporaries have been and done that. In Tamasha, Rahman strikes a fine balance, while mostly sticking to simple and comforting templates in the melody, goes all out for freshness, vibrancy and extravagance with lush and seductive sound palettes (like he did in “I”) in the arrangements, and am I complaining. Having seen what Imtiaz Ali did with Rahman’s quiet and modest Highway music, I can’t wait to see Tamasha. And I hope Rahman’s journey with Imtiaz Ali continues for long.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

OK Kanmani - A.R.Rahman

Parandhu Sella Vaa. It could have been another Hai Rama Yeh Kya Hua - with its restless rhythms and raaga based melody that sounds like a song Rahman conjured for the visuals of the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho coming to life to make love. It could have been a Maja Maja Maaja (Jillunu Oru Kaadhal) or a Thazhuvudhu (Anbe Aaruyirae) loaded with tribal rhythms and many musical moments filled with incessant moaning that goes with the idea of making love as a mere carnal pleasure with no bigger emotional heft whatsoever attached to the experience. Or it could have been all about the breezy romance, the fun and froth in the moments when a couple in love live together for the first time - Kaadhal Sadugudu (Alaipayuthey). Or it could have been something that ambles between the quiet slumber and passionate crescendo like In Lamhon Ki Daaman men (Jodha Akbar). In OK Kanmani, Rahman thinks of something refreshing for the situation in question and gives us the song of the soundtrack - Parandhu Sella Vaa. He sets the experience of intense physical intimacy to the ecstasy of a bird freed of a cage after years of imprisonment and its never ending flight after that higher and higher above the clouds. Bits and pieces of musical elements from all the other aforementioned songs are in here too — a softly thudding tribal rhythm, the musical moaning, mischievous mix of voices and sounds in the backing orchestration etc, But, they come together to paint a kaleidoscopic soundscape that entirely belongs to this song and this song alone.

Song has an interesting structure. It starts off with a gentle and cheerful foreplay section, a shaker, a peck-on-the-cheek sound loop, and a melody that keeps repeating, he does something and she does the same, no one knows where all of it is leading to, but soon a gentle rhythm kicks in and sets a groove to the action implying that they have taken a step further ahead. And she takes the lead and starts moaning melodically and it is so beautiful and classical that he might reach his peak without another touch. He moans along too but his is restrained and just enough to calm and bring her a new notches down from up above. Everything takes flight to a higher emotional plane sooner when he goes Nanaindhu kollavaa Mazhai Illamalae, and to an even higher and stronger emotional plane when a deep cello section joins as she goes Midhandhu pogavaa megha thundu pol. And that is where it stays afloat on Parandhu Sella vaa, Parandhu Sella Vaa. After a phase of passionate action, they jump to a frothy, playful phase for a short while when the song shifts to the most ecstatic musical moment of the whole soundtrack. Saasha’s scat singing backed by a cute and chirpy pizzicato strings in this section gives me an indescribable high every single time I listen to the song. With Kadandhu Pogavaa Boodham Aindhayum and a grand choir backing the lines, the song shifts to the emotional plane again, and then it doesn’t end, it just stays there. Nobody is in a rush to hit the climactic orgasm. They want to fly and fly and stay afloat savouring every micro second of the experience without having to reach any pointed destination. I just like that.

Rahman’s in OK Kanmani is light music. Lightness is the overarching mood and feel and this aura of light is sometimes easily mistaken as superficial. And the lightest of all that is light in the album is Aye Sinamika. With relentlessly strummed guitars and acoustic drums, a variety of e-nstruments and the cheerful chorus interludes, the song creates an infectious positive vibe and is a bundle of joy. That everything in the song keeps circling far too long around so small a musical pivot is my only gripe, could have had a little more meat. Kara Aatakkaara also has similar problem, meanders a bit and though has many interesting parts doesn’t come together well. I can’t deny feeling disappointed when the song quickly turned to Tamil rap, because I was so hooked to the Kaara Aatakkaara section when the first teaser of the movie broke out with it, and I have been eagerly waiting to hear what comes after that.

Rahman is always after a sense of musical and conceptual balance within a song, within songs in an album and within songs of similar genre in his overall repertoire. It is in Prabhu Deva’s movies you will hear the slowest of Rahman melodies. There would always be a Mellisayae to switch from Romeo Aattam, or a Naalai Ulagam Illaiyendral to go to after No Problem, or a Ennavalae after Errani Kurradhaani. There would mostly be a carnatic section laid on club beats in most of his jaunty dance music. Thirikita Dhaana motif in Pappu Can’t Dance was to balance the crass loudness expected in a party song. The classical sargams in Yaakai Thiri was to give a musical heft to the harmless fluff in a party song. And maybe the overt carnatic flavour in OK Kanmani music is for the same reason. And in OK Kanmani too, Rahman is after a musical balance within the songs and between the songs and he is able to achieve that without it being detrimental to the core mood and musical premise of the song. Maybe I am stretching the theory too far, maybe all of its comes from what the film needs but maybe not.

There Ulaa is an interesting exercise in Rahman’s penchant for balance. The song’s structure is dangerously fragile with scattered fragments of musical phrases and long stretches of pauses in between. A listener doesn’t get anything to hold on to easily, apart from the addictive techno beat that is deliberately played on a tempo higher than that of the melody. Each and every phrase should be able to stand on its own to make the song feel tighter. And also all of it should form a sweetly melodic and sensible musical structure when the listener is able to clearly map the whole journey of these fragments of musical phrases in their mind. Rahman pulls it off like he does every time. That female solo in the middle of the song is such a beautiful carnatic crux to build the song around.

Mental Menadhail is the only straight forward peppy techno track in the album that is not bothered about being all out fluff though Rahman tries to give a softer melodic bend to all the straight edges in the melody in its female version. First time I heard the female version, felt it sounded better, but have gone back to Rahman’s version now. Somehow the female version has subdued the fun and sound inhibited compared to the freak-out Rahman’s version.

I can’t pin point to a specific aspect but there is something totally magical about Naane Varugiraen besides the obviously sweet, strong, raaga-based melody and the exquisite classical inflections in the way the syllables of the sung words are split, swirled, stretched and squeezed inside Saasha Tripathi’s seductive vocal cord. Is it the element of electronica in the backing orchestration? But that is standard ornamentation considering Rahman’s standards. Or is it the constant chase and catch drama that plays out between the melody and the percussion? And while I question all these questions on the experience of the song, Rahman points me to its telugu version Yedho Adaganaa Yedhainaa Adaganaa, and listen to it yourself to know what inherent musicality of a language does to a melody. Sundara Telugu! And so is music of A.R.Ameen’s Arabic in the calming Maula Wa Salim. Can I get a karaoke version with just the chorus to use for my meditation?

But, the question that remains after listening to each new Rahman album - Where is the surprise? Where is that never-heard-before moment? Most unexpectedly I found the answer for these two questions in Malargal Kaettaen - a very deceptively simple and conventional sounding song in the album. Listen to the path Chitra takes when she sings Unaiyae Tharuvaai the first time, it is not the route a melody usually takes when it is presenting itself for the first time, it is an improvised version, a route it takes after having gone through a conventional path for many times, but that is what we get the first time and only in the second time Unaiyae tharuvaai takes its most obvious melodic route. And the never-heard-before moment arrives when Rahman joins Chitra, and again I can’t explain why, but Rahman’s voice and the way he sings does something that nothing else could have done to the song. And only when Rahman joined that I truly understood the beauty of the melody in its entirety.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 10

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 09

Mysskin coined the term “Munnani Isai” (foreground music) for Ilaiyaraaja’s score for Onayum Aatukuttiyum. Mysskin claims that Ilaiyaraaja’s music by itself can narrate the story, and there is no need for the visuals. I am not sure if I agree with that assessment. Ilaiyaraaja did demand us to make our own movie in our mind with his experimental instrumental album The Music Messiah, where you don’t have any visuals to help you decipher the narrative arc. You paint your own image in your mind from the music, deriving from your past experience of watching movies and listening — consciously or unconsciously — to a film score. The Music Messiah is the score of a film that never got made. I know that themes from the Malayalam film Guru has been used, but I haven’t seen Guru. And I could hear cues from Pithamagan too. However, I don’t think Ilaiyaraaja wants us to relive those movies while listening to this album. You could say that listening to Onayum Aatukuttiyum score or any score before watching the movie is like listening to The Music Messiah album. 

I don’t think Ilaiyaraaja believes that his music is enough to experience a movie. If he does, why would he add all those sound effects — the first cry of a just-born baby, noise of people clamouring in a battle field, temple bells, birds’ tweet and chirp, etc., Ilaiyaraaja knows that the background score is applied music, it is applied on a narrative, on a set of images in motion, on the rhythm and emotions of the visuals. He knows that a stand-alone narrative music needs the sonic equivalent of a visual to help a listener understand the situation the music is set for, and only when all these elements come together in perfect synch and synergy the musical narration is complete.

If you listen to the Onayum Aatukuttiyum score without watching the film, I am not sure if you could experience that lump in your throat, when in the score, string section crawling on its knees to complete its thematic melody we have been familiarised throughout the film is chopped off abruptly as the character the theme represents falls to death in the climactic moment in the film. In this particular scene, the experience is complete only when you watch and hear everything that is happening in the moment. You have to be in the world the film maker has visually created for it to impact you in a way it intends to, and in this case when the music chokes to silence precisely when Mysskin drops himself on the floor breathing his last — you have to witness to appreciate the what is possible when there is a perfect marriage of the motion in the visual narration and the music.

Perhaps, Mysskin means to say that you have to watch the film with the music once and just once. The next time when you want to travel through the arc of emotions you went through on first viewing, it is enough if you listen to the cues from the score in the order in which it is played in the film, you can paint the visuals of the film in your mind. And that I agree with. I do that regularly with so many films scored by Ilaiyaraaja. The way the next piece was presented and performed in the concert vindicates my theory of the music with motion picture having a much greater impact than what the piece of music did on its own thus far.

Few months ago, when the concert was first announced, a short film contest was also announced, where budding filmmakers were asked to visualise a piece of music (Track 2 - Paradise) from Ilaiyaraaja’s instrumental album The Music Messiah. The best movie would be screened in the concert with the music performed live to the projection of the film. They chose a piece which is more abstract, which doesn’t have any sound effects to directly imply the mood or the situation the music is set for. I have never heard anything like this before. I have heard people editing scenes according to the music (John Williams’ Flying Theme in E.T), but making a whole movie for the music, and it is not a music video of a pop song, it is purely instrumental music.

A cute 2-D animation film on the world of ants was screened with the orchestra performing the piece live to the projection of the film. The movie is about how a group of ants carry a small piece of food, crosses various obstacles on its way and reaches home. There is dancing on the beat. There is comedy. There is lot of action with living and non-living things that stops the ants from reaching their destination and they are in sync with the percussions and brass parts of the piece. There is a lot of flying that goes with the whirring strings and flappy flute layers in the piece. There is a key layer in the piece that keeps a sense of motion intact throughout and that fits well with the walk of the ants that relentlessly walks on its path in sync with this layer to reach their destiny. The movie was colourful, entertaining and water-tight just like the music it was made for. The most musical of scores are now being written only for animation films. I am not surprised that they choose an animation movie, but surprised somebody thought of making an animation for the music instead of some abstract live action montage with footage of natural greeneries and I am sure there were many such submissions. Marriage of the visuals and score was perfect that it felt like Ilaiyaraaja wrote the piece Paradise for the movie that was screened in the concert.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I - A.R.Rahman

It has been few years since A.R.Rahman stopped caring about new sounds in his music. Rahman’s arrangements have become straight, quite, calm and restrained. He has been concentrating on constructing quirky and unique melodic structures that he can call his own, than concocting never-heard-before sounds and instruments in the arrangements which he did quite a lot in early days of his career, and which he figured anybody is able to do these days. He is even open to making an all conventional song in all aspects and exploring if there is anything definitive that he could create in that space. I absolutely love this phase of A.R.Rahman, in which, the general opinion is that Rahman’s music isn’t exciting anymore. However, I also love that playful A.R.Rahman who spins a fine yarn with strands and threads of extremely varied musical fabrics. He does that in the breath taking Aila. A melody that seamlessly swings between Jazzy, operatic and conventionally filmy, beats that is techno which out of nowhere jumps to Punjabi somewhere in the middle, there is a serene Hindustani choir piece seamlessly seeping in an interlude — you just can’t predict what happens next in this song. A.R.Rahman at his freaking experimental best.

There is a flip side to this experimental streak when it is pushed to an extreme, out of which is born a song like Ladio. I get where this is coming from but I wish it had turned out like “Hey Hey Yenna Aachchu Unakku” instead of a “Bailamore”. I still like the Kasada Thapara hook and its variations throughout the song. The overt techno sound apart, I don’t like what I think is the main melody line of the song. When I first heard the samples of song before the audio release, I thought they mixed Radio Mirchi theme song with I song samples by mistake. I admit I hated Merasalaayittaen song when I heard it the first time, which I like now, but I don’t see that happening with Ladio ever.

With Merasalaayittaen, Rahman is playing straight to the gallery, and he badly goes after a simple, hit song, and he gets one. Due to that conventional synth hook, I thought Rahman’s being lazy and is taking an easy root, but he isn’t. Give the word Merasalaayittaen to any composer in the world, no one would have thought of musical phrase that Rahman has come up to fit the word in. The song is upbeat, but it has a neat flow of melody which wasn’t apparent to me in my first few hearings of the song. I was so worried about the simplistic, crowd pleasing arrangements, and the processed voices, that I looked away from the melody. Even the remix version is fine, where some musical layers in the original song are fleshed out and brought to fore.

Chinmayi’s Ennodu Nee Irundhaal is yin to yang that is Sid Sriram’s Ennodu Nee Irundhal. One is a straight, conventionally presented tamil film romantic duet, while other is a spectacular orchestral-rock version of the song with a grand choir following the lead voice (I like the way the chorus is mixed in the songs throughout the soundtrack) and dramatic orchestral twists and turns all the way. And just how charming is the melody of the charanam that goes Unmai Kaadhal! Vintage A.R.Rahman melody that is. And pallavi sounds like what came out of Shankar asking Rahman to retain all different melodies he tuned for the verse “Ennodu Nee Irundhal” in the song. It could have easily become monotonous, but it doesn’t, beautifully flows like one whole seamless melody.

Pookkalae Satru Oivedungal is that simple semi-classical romantic melody of every Shankar-Rahman soundtrack, using which Shankar travels to exotic locations with his lead pair and make them dance in front of most beautiful and picturesque places in the world. That Guitar motif that accompanies the main melody sounded so distracting initially, but have gotten used to it now, and gives an instant signature to the song. Both Haricharan and Shreya Ghosal exquisitely ooze the romance out of what sounds like a raaga based melody. Sweetest song of the soundtrack, and some call this song’s genre as 90s Rahman.

A.R.Rahman’s “I”- Ladio is the ugly truth, rest of I is Beauty.