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Friday, April 3, 2009

Making of a Score

I had literally nothing to do in my life at that time. I use to compose some scratch tunes. I had just bought a Midi to USB connecter, with which I could connect my keyboard to my laptop, and record as I play. I was also listening to a lot of Hollywood scores at that time. The one that I kept humming was the Fellowship fanfare theme from Lord of the Rings. It is such an infectious tune.

A lazy Wednesday morning, I was humming the Lord of the rings Fellowship theme and was trying to play it. As I was playing around with the main melody and trying to hit the right keys and notes, I got stuck with this part (1) of the theme (2). This part became the ending (2A) of Marudhanayagam theme. I thought of composing a new theme around it that is heroic and that can be made into a grand orchestral piece. I already had the starting phrase (3) of the theme (4) with me for a long time. It was a part of another scratch tune I had composed. I thought of connecting these two phrases with something in between, something that can seamlessly connect them. When I think of it now, I don't exactly know how I got the connecting phrase. In a magical way, it all fell in place and the main 'Marudhanayagam' theme was born.

I composed this theme much before I saw the 'Marudhanayagam' trailer. I had started blog to post my own compositions and had already posted two or three pieces. I was looking for something interesting to make next. At that time, I had the chance of watching the muted trailer of Marudhanayagam (Kamal Haasan's dream project which is yet to be completed). The very first time I saw it, I thought that my melody would perfectly fit the video. I didn't know or didn't think even for a second about whether I would be able to pull a score for the complete trailer. I didn't know that I was getting into something really big and serious (considering my limited knowledge in music). I went ahead thinking that even if I couldn't complete, I would at least gain some experience in orchestrating a piece of music. And so it began.

The main theme (4) was ready. But I realized that I can't simply play the melody over and over in the video. It is a movie trailer. Normally, score for a trailer is not done to match with the cuts and shifts in the visuals, as there usually would be so many of them, showing bits and pieces of the movie in random order. It is really very tough to make the piece sound seamless if we get specific and that is one of the reasons why my score for this trailer ended up with rough musical transitions.

Though this is a trailer, I could see that the scenes are in chronological order and that the complete story of the movie is captured in just 3 minutes. So, I decided to make the music that shifts along with shifts and cuts along with the cuts in the visual. Initially I tried to be too specific and ended up disappointing myself. I composed some beats and pieces and tried to put them together with the visuals thinking that it would fit each and every cut in first 14 seconds of the trailer. But it became too clustered and awful sounding. It didn't match with the visuals at all.

Scraped everything and started from scratch again. I decided to do a basic rhythm pattern for the trailer. I tried playing different rhythms on a wooden Table and tried reproducing them with drum kit in FL studio. After much struggle I got one that fitted well with those initial moments of the trailer. I got this rhythm (5). When played in synch with the visuals it sounded so perfect. I was so happy. Believe me; if I had not gotten this rhythm pattern, I would not have proceeded further.

As the rhythm fitted so well, I threw away all the ideas of bringing themes and melodies in those initial moments and just allowed this rhythm to play. I decided to hint the first few bars of the theme on a subdued trombone as it shifts to the card reading 'Hindustan' and to the shot that shows Kamal writing something. But the sound font of trombone that I had, sounded anything but trombone we get to hear in orchestras. So what you hear now is a combination of many instruments like Saxophone, flute, trumpet and trombone on different pitches and volume levels.

The next part of the trailer is where Kamal is getting introduced as a hero, as a rebel. Initially, I allowed the rhythm (5) to flow in this part also, but it didn't sound right. I wanted a build up in the music as camera moved down to show Kamal slowly lifting his face. The idea of build up got transformed as a small phrase of melody (6) played on cascade of strings. I put a layer of strings playing the melody on lower octaves and after repeating twice, another layer of strings joins playing the same melody on the next higher octave and after repeating twice, one more layer of strings joins in playing it in the next higher octave. I added a bell sound (7) that plays a new rhythm pattern which was soon going to become the next big rhythm of the whole piece and along with it added a heavy drum beat (8). There is also a layer of brass section (9) constantly tugging down under on a single note which I used to maintain a dark mood throughout. When I put all of them together, it sounded right and fitted well with the transformations on the screen.

I liked the new rhythm pattern (10) which I thought for the bell and so it became the next big rhythm of the piece and I used it on drums for the shot of Kamal lifting the face. (Much later I found this rhythm sounding so similar to the one Ilaiyaraaja scored for the trailer of 'Sirai Chaalai' or 'Kaala Pani'. That trailer was continuously played on all television channels then and every time I use to sit and listen, astounded by the grandeur of Ilaiyaraaja's music for the trailer.)

The rhythm plays out continuously for the shot of people getting killed in a row and I decided to stop this brass section (9) as the camera is about to reach Kamal. The idea was to suddenly stop something that would have already settled well in the minds of the listener. This blocking creates a sudden restlessness, thereby helping to create a mild tension in that moment.

When I wanted to sound the shock and surprise of the opponents in seeing Kamal’s rebellious nature, cymbals came to my rescue. It is an age old method. I have seen such heavy use of cymbals in the fight sequences of very old historical movies. But I thought it felt right in the context of this scene, where Kamal suddenly grabs one opponent and bites his neck like an animal. A cymbal sound is introduced the moment he gets up and also the first part of the main theme appears rougher, louder and clearer here, declaring that it is indeed the main theme. To make it sound rough, I made Horns play the theme on a lower octave. For the action sequence that follows, I went back to the first rhythm pattern (5) as I wanted to convey a shift, urgency and chaos which aren’t there in the second one (10).

In the very beginning, I decided that the main theme should be played in its entirety for the first time in that slow motion sequence where Kamal escapes by riding a Bull. But in between the action sequence and 'Kamal riding the bull' sequence, there is a small portion where the card 'He fought for dignity' appears. I used a small melody (11) on Strings here as a connector and a prelude to the main theme that is about to start.

There is also a shift in rhythm pattern as he rides the bull. It is just a single beat (12) that constantly thuds heavily from behind. And there it is finally, the full blown main theme arriving when Kamal is shown to have arrived as a hero, as a rebel. I created two versions of the main theme, with different combination of instruments playing it. The version (13) that is heard first with trumpets and trombones is to match up with the heroic undertone of the visual, and the second (14) version has violin, flute and mild strings put together.

And once the episode for which I was waiting to score was done, I became lazy and I left everything in the middle and didn't go back to the score for almost a week. That laziness shows in the very next sequence where Kamal throws big stones on his enemies from the top of a huge waterfall. I just let the rhythm of the previous part to continue here, which I now realize as the one bit that is so asynchronous and odd with the visuals in the whole trailer.

The trailer turned interesting again with shots showing different phases in the life of the hero. I thought of each of this small episode as a chance to play the main theme again and again on various instruments. Before that, there is a small portion to be scored in between. It is the scene in which Kamal is hit by an enemy's arrow and the CG shot of him falling down from the top. I brought in the prelude (11) again here, but this time the melody (15) is played longer, louder and without any accompaniment. The inspiration was a sequence from 7G, Rainbow Colony, where Yuvan used a cascade of swirling strings when Kathir decides to commit suicide by falling off from a bridge. I wanted it to sound something similar to that.

For 'He lost his roots' episode, I initially thought of putting the main theme in Piano, but it didn't sound the ambience and eeriness in that scene. I then decided to go for wood winds. I wanted the sound of a Duduk, but I had no sound font of Duduk. I tried to put in different flute sounds on various pitches to get the feel I wanted but nothing worked. Finally, I chose to use the ordinary flute playing the theme on a lower register (16), accompanied by an Oboe playing the same.

For 'He lost his loved ones' episode, I instantly chose the solo violin as I had a nice violin sound font. But I did contemplate of using a different melody here, one that I made before, titled 'When Tears Cry..' (17). Though Marudhanayagam has his own theme, I felt a lack of sadness in that melody and that the sympathy came mainly from the tone of violin (18). But this new melody wasn't gelling well with the rest of the piece, so I decided to scrap the idea. Again with just the violin it sounded so plain and superficial, so added a layer of subdued chorus lingering on a single note.

For 'Islam alias peace', I decided to go with a solo instrument without any accompaniment. I wanted to use a Rabaab or a Sarod here - the strings I thought had that sound of Islam. But none of the sound fonts I had was sounding close to what I wanted. Finally it is the Spanish guitar (19) that came to my rescue. I felt that the twing-twang of the guitar string without any other accompanying sound fits perfectly for peace.

After repeating the theme enough on different instruments for the journey of Marudhanayagam thus far, I wanted to shift to something completely different. For the training sequence, where Kamal is shown to be learning sword fight, I again came up with a new rhythm pattern (20), to sound the beginning of a new phase in life. Initially I just played this beat for the entire sword fight sequence, but I recognized that there is a change in momentum and rhythm of the visuals in between. There is a moment where the sword fight turns to slow motion showing Marudhanayagam flying in air to hit his opponent. I sensed an opportunity to bring something new here, that would perfectly sound this shot and so came up with this new melody (21).

In the few seconds, there are quicker cuts and transformations to various shots of Marudhanayagam fighting and struggling. After using this new melody for some time, and when the same old untidy face of Marudhanayagam is shown struggling for peace, I chose to return to the main theme, but here the theme is shifted further to the lower octaves on horns and brass to evoke the darkness that has completely engulfed Marudhanayagam.

My head started spinning as I started to think about what to do for the final battle sequence. I was exhausted and totally uninterested in composing anything new. Infact, while the whole score for the trailer took one month, I finished this battle sequence in just one day. I wanted to complete it as soon as possible. May be that is why when I first published it, many felt that music turned less and less interesting towards the end.

The first thing that I got is the rhythm pattern that is used at the start of the battle sequence, when it frequently cuts to shots showing the logical way of starting a battle. I got this beat (22) and I was simply astounded by how well it fitted with the cuts in the visual. I realized how important it is to analyze the pace and rhythm of the cuts in the visuals to come up with a fitting score. Initially, there was no snare roll layer in the rhythm. I accidentally stumbled upon this snare roll sound font. I knew that a snare would definitely sound more authentic and fitting to the battle sequence and so I overlapped the snare roll along with the drum beat and I was so ecstatic by the outcome. It sounded so perfect to me. And then for the card 'Mohammed Yusuf khan', for obvious reasons, I again brought back the main theme.

The horses on both sides start to move forward and the pace of the movement gradually increases and reaches a high as they clash and cross to fight. For this, I composed a small phrase of melody again (23) which could be played conveniently at different speeds. The music starts slowly as the horses warm up and begin to walk, reaches the next higher tempo as they begin to run, and reaches the highest when they approach each other at maximum speed. Initially I employed just the string section, but I thought I could fill in some more to make is sound more bombastic, and so added a trumpet solo that would just play the same melody along with the strings on and off, and had cymbals hitting continuously underneath. But once this new bit (23) seemed exhausted, I brought in just-before-heard (21) melody played on a higher tempo to match with that of the visuals. Finally when the two sides clash, I went for the main theme to play on two layers in its loudest form, with one layer starting the melody, a note after the other.

Thus, Marudhanayagam trailer score was done. I wanted to share and relive those joyous moments of making it and so this long post. This exercise of making the score for the trailer made me all the more aware of zillion thoughts and ideas that a composer must go through while writing a score for a full length feature film and my respect and admiration for all those great film music composers reached a new peak.

Download all the audio files of this post here.


Anonymous said...

simply superb...
make something very big and unleash all your talents...
all the best!!!

KUMAR said...

Suresh ,
You have put in all the efforts , a professional musician would do .
It's really amazing to see an amateur (semi-professional) doing this kind of stuff.I started my own blog after seeing your blog on May 13,2008 .I got to know about the Ada Remix competition ( for the first time I got cheated by A.R.Rahman , he will repent for it) from your blog . I was/am a frequent visitor to your blog since then . I read every post of yours and have the impression of you being a good writer , narrator and reviewer .I like your writing , narration etc and when it comes to Reviewing 99% of the Bloggers are like a ' Anton Ego 'of RATATOUILLE .But you were an exception . Your reviews weren't biased like most of the people in your Blog Roll .Today after listening to your work , I really wanted to appreciate you for your effort not your work , as this was done out of passion by a Hobbyist .
Cheers again for what you have done . Your post is too long , maybe it has more than 5,000 words of top class english but it is nowhere near to the one minute clips you have done . TEXT is meant only to READ , whereas MUSIC keeps sounding even if you don't LISTEN . Keep up the good work and give us more .....

With Love,

KUMAR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Anon - Thank you.

KUMAR - Glad to know that you like my writing. Thank you.

Karthik said...

That was one extensive review on your score. I liked your score which I heard sometime time back from your blog. But your write-up was exhaustive and impressive which goes on to tell your musical intellect. Coming up with a score like this is no child's play. Can see your hardwork. Indirectly, we are learning a lot from you and I think everyone visiting your blog will agree on that. Keep up the good work and good luck!!!!

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Karthik - Thanks a lot.

Ramgopal said...

Hats Off Suresh. Film industry today needs composers like you :)

Unknown said...

Ram - Thanks :-)