Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 09

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 08

Kamal Haasan, who was sitting in the front row, when he quietly walked on to the stage, I thought this is going to be one of those segments in a typical concert where people say things that everyone already know. I must admit that if there is one person whom I don’t mind hearing talk about Ilaiyaraaja it is Kamal Haasan, but here, in this concert, I thought it would disrupt the mood and momentum of the concert. Just when these thoughts were clouding my head, I noticed that Kamal Haasan was dressed exactly like any other musician in the orchestra — the only one dressed differently on stage was Ilaiyaraaja.

Kamal Haasan walked closer to a microphone, and started -- Singing! He rendered “Raghupathi Raaghav Raajaraam” from Hey Ram - the version that plays out in the movie’s opening credits. It finally hit me like a thunderbolt then that this was the only version in which the song that have always been sung like a Hindu Bhajan was set to a melody with a heavy Islamic flavour. Kamal Haasan rendered the tune and the words with perfection, modulation on the word Seetha was bang on. That moment I felt the song wouldn’t have the effect it does if not for the voice of Kamal Haasan, and that is coming from someone who hates Kamal’s singing voice. Sometimes, you need to see the singer perform the song live in front of you to know how much of themselves they pour into the song and realise the extent of inseparability. To fall in love with a song even more, you sometimes need to see the way the nerves on their neck stretch and strain to deliver a melody like the strings triggered inside a Piano by the fingers on the keys outside.

And then a glimpse of grace. Without giving time for audience to react or appreciate Kamal Haasan - the singer, the western choir with Indian choir joined in to sing the moving choir piece from Heyram Opening Credits. I remember that for the pre-release promotions of Heyram, they use to repeatedly play this video of a Hungarian choir group singing in a huge recording hall with Kamal Haasan and Ilaiyaraaja sitting amidst the orchestra and watching the recording. I use to wonder why Ilaiyaraaja is sitting there idle when his music is being recorded. I didn’t know that anybody can conduct a written piece of music. I used to be wide-eyed with wonder and amazement whenever I saw that video, and would ask myself if I would ever get to watch such orchestral music performance live. Here at the concert, I was pinching myself.

I don’t know whether they were doubling the voices live in the mix, but it sounded massive, as if the entire crowd was singing along with the choir group. The choir group of Budapest Symphony, wood winds and strings — it was like a gentle fountain with layers of instruments laid one after the other and rising high and reaching far on all sides. But, I was watching only the Harp, though the Harp is not doing anything in the lead in the piece, I have always been intrigued by the part it plays in an orchestral piece. What exactly does it do? Is it a dispensable part? Would the piece loose something if there was no Harp player available to play the part?

When Preeti Uttam walked in, I thought they were going to perform the symphonic interlude of Pollaadha Madhana Baanam too, but was wondering how they would manage to reproduce the synth layers live. I always wondered if there is some kind of minus-acoustic track — just the synth layers from the original without the acoustic instrumental parts — for instrumental pieces too like minus-one track that singers use for most of their concerts, which is the song minus the voice. However, what followed after the short choir piece is the instrumental prelude of Nee Partha Paarvaikku oru Nandri, without Rani Mukherjee’s bengali poetry though. I like how the tune blossoms in a western flute suddenly out of nowhere when the piece is about to end, and the ensuing strings that brings the prelude of the song to a satisfying closure. And they didn’t sing the song. When it moved on to one of the softest pieces involving just two flutes I realised that this is becoming a well arranged suite of major musical motifs from Heyram score. The two flutes — one innocently looping a phrase and another playing a melody to the cuteness, innocence and lovability of Mythili’s character. Even the placement of Mythili’s theme in the movie is brilliant. When Mythili asks if she can be Kamal’s friend, the piece is first introduced and when she says she has caught Kamal smiling thrice - Hat-trick - it is diligently cued in again.

I was hoping that the suite would include one of my most favourite musical scoring moments in the film. It is when Mythili expresses her love to Kamal in the hospital. The title choir piece is reprised on the orchestra for the first time here. It is an amazing scene, conversation and the score that precisely changes course on right sync points — the strings that whip up a magnetic force that is drawing Saketh emotionally closer and further closer to Mythili when he is in trance while Mythili is kissing him all over his face, and for the first time Nee Paartha Paarvaikku is played for Mythili and Kamal Haasan, now that Mythili has replaced Aparna from Saketh Ram’s life - Saketh even passes on the Aparna’s ring to Mythili as if that is the moment when they are really getting married. The changeovers, the shifting themes in this piece may not work as beautifully and as intensely in a music-only concert as it does when experienced with the visuals.

And finally Preeti Uttam did what she came to do — crooned her alaap that begins the breathtaking instrumental interlude from Pollaadha Madhana Baanam. This piece is heady mix of softer wood winds playing for the sensuous layer, the brass and percussions layers for the violence, and that bang when Vasundhra Das on bed turns into a giant rifle, the ass of which Kamal kisses. There are so many layers in the visuals and so too in the music conveying everything. As we all know that the songs of this movie were composed after they were shot, I wonder what was in the original. I just can’t think of the multi layered cut of this scene working coherently without the accompanying score of Ilaiyaraaja. And the live performance - The sight of entire orchestration swinging into action for this piece - Ah! You just don’t know which part to concentrate on.

To Be Continued...(Next Saturday)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Kochadaiiyaan Background Score - A.R.Rahman

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Melancholic Ecstasy - A.R.Rahman

This is a mix of 52 Piano Cues of A.R.Rahman than runs for 60 minutes. I compiled this for myself, to help me crush the noise in my head in the silence of the midnight and keep me in calm and peace in the moments before I close my inner eyes every night.

I would like to call the mix “Melancholic Ecstasy”.

All Pieces Composed, Arranged and Performed by A.R.Rahman

Tracklist (In the order in the Mix)

Love Theme - Roja
Champions League T20 Theme
A Soul in Steel - Endhiran
Khwaja Mere Khwaja - Jodha-Akbar
1947 Earth
Tu Bin Batayae - Rang De Basanti
Rang De Basanti Theme
Kabir Narayanan and Kamal Bashir
Thames Walk - Jhoota Hi Sahi
Oru Dheivam Thandha Poo - Kannathil Muthamittal
Yuvraaj Theme
Bombay Theme
Chinna Chinna Aasai - Roja
Moments in Kerala - Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya
Kasturi - Indian
Raining Love - Minsara Kanavu
Beatrice’s Past - Kadal
War - Bose
Birth of a Satan - Kadal
Priya in Love - Minsara Kanavu
Rosy Theme - Karuthamma
Dil Se Re Prelude from MTV Unplugged
Jason and Cynthia - Couples Retreat
People Like Us
Himalayas - Connections
Jaage Hain - Guru
Thomas in Love - Minsara Kanavu
100 Moons and Blue Birds - Maryan
Elizabeth’s Fantasy - Lagaan
Jillunu Oru Kaadhal
Jessie’s Land - Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya
Tum Tak - Raanjhanaa
Love Theme - Doli Saja Ke Rakhna
Madhumitha Leaves to India - Jeans
Amit’s Theme - Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Na
Pam Pam Para Para - Jhoota Hi Sahi
Karthik - Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya
Dekho Na - Swades
Kadhalar Dhinam
Kadhal Desam
Flute and Piano - Kisna
Aao Balma
Tango for Taj
Finding Sam - People Like Us

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 08

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 07

Having served us a taste of his instrumentation and orchestration Ilaiyaraaja turned to a cappella; and the most obvious choice in this genre Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu Raaja Vamsaththilae from Maya Bazaar was performed. If not for social network and internet, I wouldn’t have heard many of Ilaiyaraaja’s compositions, but I am convinced that if not for social network and internet, even Ilaiyaraaja wouldn’t have picked a song like Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu for any of his concerts. The song is being sung by singers even in singing reality shows (which has now become the true measure of the popularity or worthiness of a song) on TV.

I wasn’t really blown away by the execution of the song in Ilaiyaraaja’s Canada concert where they stretched the song by 35 seconds, the tempo dropped in the middle, we could see Ilaiyaraaja urging the choir to increase the tempo, singers in the group were looking at each other before proceeding to the next section of the song — all signs of lack of preparation. However, the quality of the composition is such, even a flawed performance that delivers 80% of the original blows your mind when you listen to it performed live. But that day, I wasn’t going to settle for anything lesser than the effect of the original.

These compositions are like our national Anthem, if it is set to run for 56 seconds, then 56 seconds it is and it should be, not a nano second more or less. There was a huge choir section in the stage, with singer spread across the horizon of the curved stage. I was astounded by how the singers were placed on the stage. Male voices are always in the background accompanying the female singers standing in the front singing the lead melody throughout, but instead of placing all the male singers together in one corner of the stage, they were distributed on both sides, the result was live naturally balanced stereophonic sound, and if I remember correctly, they even tried to pan a layer or two just through voices in the male choir group.

Though Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu song is referred to as an a cappella, it isn’t one like the Namachivaaya Vaazhgha section in Polla Vinayaen (from Ilaiyaraaja’s Thiruvasakam in Symphony) where the music is different strands of the choir group singing the same melody in different octaves and starting the melody with a lead or lag to the main vocals. Neither is this an a cappella with melodies cascaded and overlapped as counterpoints. There are parts within the song where some or all of these techniques are used but the song isn’t entirely that. It is a conventional song for the most part with a main melody, but with backing vocals imitating the instrumental accompaniment; you have strings, shakers, tabla, drums, even bass guitar parts performed by voices instead of actual instruments playing those parts, so it is just right that immediately after completing a cappella version of the song, to everyone’s surprise, an instrumental version of the song was played. Ilaiyaraaja demonstrated how he himself did an Alaa Wardi version of his own song decades ago.

Of course, the theatrics and drama of voices laughing melodically is the stuff of musicals and purely meant for the voices and they were repeated as it is in the instrumental version too. The song started with strings bowing the din-digi-din-digi-digi-digi to thunderous applause, and no one explained or spoke in between, what they are trying to do by performing the instrumental version of the song. However, only after listening to the instrumental version, it struck me how carefully every single junk word sung by the choir has been chosen to sonically and musically gel seamlessly within and with the main melody. You cannot swap a bimbak in place of jin-chigu-chigu in this song.

Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu - Maaya Bazaar

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 09

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 07

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 06

Violin Concerto from Raaja Paarvai is a prelude to How To Name It that was going to release five years later. The visual choreography of this piece is one of the rarest of miraculous instances in Tamil Cinema where the orchestra performing on screen is at least shown (they seem to play the precise notes too to my eyes) playing same instruments as the one being heard in the musical piece playing in the background. This is a concert piece in the movie too, a shot of a newspaper advertisement of the concert in the movie shows the concert described as “Grand Music Night — East Meets West”. The template of the piece and the orchestration — classical Indian violin prelude, a substantial section with other instruments in the orchestra repeating the melody played by lead violin, the sudden switch to western guitars and pop beats, and all of these orchestral ideas moving seamlessly from one section to another are techniques we would hear used in best way possible in Ilaiyaraaja’s instrumental albums “How To Name It” and “Nothing but Wind”.

V.Narashiman seated in the centre stage — just for this piece, started playing the violin, with spot light only on him, and the whole stage was dark, and slowly like it happened for the Punnagai Mannan theme, the lighting sequence was arranged perfectly as the spot light on each instrument turned on as and when it enters the piece and whole stage was lit on and was brightest when the piece hits the bang — the bang that was there to sync with heroine’s surprise in seeing Kamal playing the violin.

The screen on either sides of the stage switched to camera’s exactly the way the visuals in the film was edited focusing on the instrument that ought to be highlighted at any given moment in the piece. It was perfect. They even rapidly cut between Violin and Tabla Tarang player — one on each screen. I guess that is how it will look in the final edu of the concert movie.

When the chorus started clapping in sync with the rhythm of the piece — there is section in the piece with clap sound which is for the audience in the movie clapping in rhythm — some in the audience in the concert hall hesitantly started to clap, conductor quickly turned around and waved his baton signalling that the audience too are a part of the orchestra now, and the whole auditorium clapped perfectly in sync — we were part of the orchestra and precisely when clapping had to stop, every one in the auditorium stopped without any signal from the conductor. Precisely when to stop clapping in rhythm in a particular piece of music that even a non-musical layman in the audience could intuitively know - How did it happen? How does one write music like that? Or was it mere coincidence? Or was the shift in the piece too drastic and apparent.

Listening to V.Narashiman effortlessly play the piece, I sighed for how the How To Name it concert would have been if he were the one who performed instead of L.Subramaniam’s son. And when was the last time we saw a real Tanpura being played in a live concert? That was a sight and the initial solo violin with just the tanpura was a divine experience. Tanpura was properly heard, big thanks to people who were mixing the performance live.

At the end, after a brief pause, even before the audience could stop clapping, V.Narashiman remained seated in the centre stage; Accompanied by Hindustani Taal on Tabla, he started playing another similar How-T-Name-It like piece from Idhu Namma Bhoomi. These pieces are a real test for a violinist I guess. A page from study for Violin material that Ilaiyaraaja had wished to write. The momentum of the piece peaks towards the end and when it turns utterly breathless, the last note of the piece shouldn’t be gently bowed but harshly plucked and V.Narashiman did that on beat with utmost precision. Maybe it isn’t so difficult a thing to play for a violinist but the ending note was quite impactful.

The trick of composing a piece that serves two purposes at the same time, you need to project the virtuosity of the instrumentalist on screen and at the same time the music also covers the emotions of the people around, those who are watching him play - Khusboo in this case, Madhavi in Raaja Paarvai, their surprise, their fear, the whole gamut of emotions they go through while listening to the music, everything little changeover is expressed precisely in the music and yet it is a perfect live concert piece that one could listen to enjoy without the aid of any visuals.

Raaja Paarvai - Violin Concerto

Idhu Namma Bhoomi

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 08

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 06

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 05

Live music performance needs a sense of drama, a slow beginning, a mid-tempo middle, a faster end. It has to fit in a tempo graph that could excite and engage an audience, and this graph ought to be maintained both within a piece and in between pieces in the setlist of a concert. This swing in energy keeps the audience awake. I am someone who believes even slowest of Ilaiyaraaja’s compositions has a degree of virility that could keep a listener engaged. But, let us face it, however great the music is, the orchestral music concerts can become little monotonous if slow and soft love and sober themes are played continuously. So, the next piece.

The brass section of the orchestra marched on to a piece comparatively milder in force (than Captain Prabhakaran) but boisterous nonetheless - The Netrikkan title score and father Rajini’s theme. With drums rolling and brass blaring there was a sudden gush of energy in the auditorium when they started playing Netrikann titles. Ilaiyaraaja, in some films, joins a melody of one of the popular songs of the film with one of the main motifs from the background score of the film as one single piece for the opening credits. In the opening credits of Netrikkan, the piece shifts to the melody of Raamanin Mohanam song when the spotlight is on the character of the Son-Rajini. Only when I heard it live I realised how brilliantly gradual the transition from brass to softer strings happen for the shift from Father to Son in the visuals. Those funky 80s guitars, we don’t get to hear those sounds in any form of contemporary music anymore.

Who can forget the jaunty western violin theme of Netrikkan? Ilaiyaraaja alternates between western trumpets, guitars and violins for Father Rajini, who is a womanizer and flute and Veena for ‘Obedient’ son Rajini to sound the contrast between the characters as they and their daily routines are introduced to us in the visuals. The feel of the western melody played on Violin used in the opening credits is same as that of the main theme with a dominant violin solo, and it plays out like one long prelude to the main theme. It even sounds as if the main theme may break out from it anytime. And it did, in the concert, after preluding the title credits music, without any pause, strings started playing that signature riff pam-pa-ba-bam pam-pa-ba-bam and from it sprung up like a lightning the very popular Netrikann theme. The immense zing of a solo violin springing up from silence hitting a quaver as the first note of melody has to be heard live to be believed. Ilaiyaraaja is what he is because he knows precisely when to stop, the piece ended just after two iterations of the theme and left us wanting more.

Netrikann Title Music

Netrikann Theme

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 07