Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Journey of a Song in a Score




Songs - at least those that are composed by composers, who put film maker’s vision above everything else - are now an integral part of the film’s narrative. The composer completes half of the film’s background score when he completes composing the songs of the film. These are songs made specific to the given situation of a given film and they cannot be used in any other situation of any other film. Composer need not break his heads to compose new themes while writing the background score. A melody on trumpet that imitates the bleat of a (black) sheep in Arima Arima song is classic evidence of the extent to which the composer was informed about the scenes and situations in the film, even before the film was made. In films with such songs, the line between background score and songs are thin. Pudhiya Manidha in Endhiran is also one such song. The main hook of the song is the melody of the line Pudhiya Manidha Boomikku Vaa, which plays as Chitti’s theme throughout the film.

The song opens with a gentle Synth bass melody, which continues to loop over and over throughout the song. This Synth bass melody is beautifully elaborated on the string section of the orchestra when Dr.Vaseegaran is giving birth to Chitti part by part. The orchestral version of this Synth bass loop appropriately plays for Dr.Vaseegaran’s last minute urgency, curiosity and hyper-activity in bringing his ten long years of work, the Robot to life.

Sana is continuously trying to reach Dr.Vaseegaran, who is busy giving final touches to his machine child and Rahman emphasizes this diversion by introducing a conversation between Strings section and woodwinds section of the orchestra both playing the same melody. It is like how both Chitti and Sana are trying to draw the same amount of attention from Dr.Vaseegaran.

The Pudhiya Manidha theme is then heard on a serene Indian flute, when Dr.Vaseegaran begins to give a lecture to Chitti about the Human emotions. The flute begins with the theme, but soon liberates itself into a totally different melody with a classical tinge. With the Pudhiya Manidha melody withering off all its rigidity and electronic associations and embracing the tenderness of a flute and fragility of Human emotions, the machine slowly and gradually becomes humane. We do not get to hear this melody much after this. Chitti is no more a new born; he has grown enough to feel and act on his own.

What follows is an anarchy that Chitti Version 2.0 unleashes. There is continuous onslaught of evil brass bangs and full throttled action cues in Rahman’s score for Chitti 2.0’s action. There is not a pinch of innocence in Chitti for Rahman to play Pudhiya Manidha anymore. Towards the end of the film, Chitti gets a re-birth. Dr.Vaseegaran resurrects Chitti by replacing Dr.Bhora’s Red chip with Chitti’s own.

Cut to: The Court Room.

The court gives death sentence to Dr.Vaseegaran, for creating a Robot like Chitti, which led to all the chaos in the city. Chitti gets up to produce itself in court as a material evidence defending Dr.Vaseegaran, and it is in here, Rahman plays Pudhiya Manidha boldly on horns again implying with a bang that Chitti is back like the way it was.

Pudhiya Manidha theme continues to play sympathetically on an Oboe in the background when Dr.Vaseegaran asks Chitti to dismantle itself. When Chitti spells out one message after another to Human clan, the melody of the lines Maatram Kondu Vaa is heard. When Chitti says, “I am going to miss you Sana”, for the first time in the film, a female voice hums Irumbilae Or Irudhayam melody. Dot.

No. That’s not the end of it. 2030. A Science museum in 2030.

When the Camera zooms into the museum, Rahman allows S.P.Balasubramaniam to gently croon Vairamuthu’s golden verses Karuvil Pirandha Ellam Marikkum Arivil Pirandhadhu Marippadhae Illai from Pudhiya Manidha song. With those verses playing in the background, Rahman primes us to what happens in the Museum when a curious kid asks her teacher about why Chitti was dismantled. Chitti is alive and kicking. A.R.Rahman plays a scintillating orchestral piece for the kid’s shock and surprise when Chitti replies to her curious question.

The film ends, but Chitti lives on forever. To hint its possible return Rahman cannot play anything other than Pudhiya Manidha in the end credits of the film. The complete Pudhiya Manidha melody booms large in a breathtaking symphonic form in the end credits. Pudhiya Manidha Bhoomikku Vaa.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Background Score - 76




Last week, in our first ever conversation about background scores in last 4 years, my roomie pom-pomed the melody of a background music piece from a film and asked me to guess the film. I could recollect the hero, the scenes and the situations from the film, but I totally forgot the name of the film. Guess the film.




Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nandhalala Score is LOUD



It is for a reason why Ilaiyaraaja is the first name to appear in the opening credits of the film. Mysskin has conceived and realized Nandhalala as a musical, in which the music dances to the tunes of emotions in the visual drama. That background score of a film should only be heard in the background and never draw the attention of an audience onto itself is one school of thought. And, in that, I strongly believe.

What is a background score? In a film, at any given moment, we hear three distinct audio layers – ambient sounds, conversations of the characters and background music. Background music is a piece of music, which works along with the ambient soundtrack and the conversations of the characters, to tell a story. To say that a piece of music is in the background, it has to be behind something. In Nandhalala, there is no other sound layer in the foreground for the music to be in the background.

Nandhalala unfolds like one long montage of key moments of a unique journey of a boy and a boy in a Man. There are very few conversations in the film. The ambient soundtrack is also kept very low in volume, with emphasis only on those sounds that are part of the narrative. For instance, in the scene in which Nasser makes a guest appearance, he is driving a truck, but, there is no sound of truck in the soundtrack. We only hear the crashing sound of the other vehicle that wakes Nasser up and the sound of horn that he presses after. Those two are the sounds that are relevant to the story.

In the opening scene of the film, a boy is standing still in the middle of the frame, and at a distance people are moving, but we hear no sound of the crowd behind. Mysskin, in an interview, said that he is not interested in making realistic cinema. In a realistic cinema, these ambient sounds are a must; the film should be shot in sync sound. However, in all the moments, where there is a prominent atmospheric sound or conversation, Ilaiyaraaja either plays no music or plays what we all call “Background music”.

The volume of the score in the final film is not something that a composer decides. The composer does work on the volume of the individual music pieces that he composes as part of the background score. There are very few sounds that are as divine as that of an Oboe hanging on a single note, while gradually fading in, in the beginning of the music piece that plays in the end credits of the film. The effect of fading in, in that oboe piece, is what a composer marks even while writing the music on the score sheet. A composer can work only to that extent on the volume or loudness of various layers of instruments in the score.

The balancing of the volume of various other sound layers of the film happens in the final mixing stage. It is not the job of a composer. Unlike Hollywood, composers in India are not directly involved in this process.

Moreover, even those films of Mysskin for which Ilaiyaraaja was not a composer, the background score has always been loud. Mysskin’s love for background score is evident right from his first film. Mysskin is the reason why the background score pieces of the films Sithiram Pesudhadi and Anjaathey, were released along with the songs on the soundtrack CD.

In Nandhalala, Mysskin has chosen to use the background score as a narrative tool. Mysskin has tried to narrate an obvious story through visuals and not so obvious layers of the story through music. That is that.

The music, per se, in Nandhalala, is minimalistic in orchestration, though very strong in melody. There is definitive melody in every single piece of music in the film. Ilaiyaraaja never restricts to just creating the overall mood and atmosphere. His music never stays at a distance from the characters in the film. Ilaiyaraaja’s score is the film.

The background score in Nandhalala is not a loud background score for the same reason why “Ilangaththu Veesuthey” in Pithamagan is not a loud background score or why “Vaarthai Thavari Vittai Kannamma” in Sethu is not a loud background score. These songs have vocal parts, whereas the music in Nandhalala that is there to serve the same purpose as that of those songs is purely instrumental. If one can accept the loudness of a song with vocals in a film without any complaints, I do not understand why one must scream about loudness, when the music is purely instrumental.


Listen to Nandhalala background score

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nandhalala Score




Nandhalala Detailed Score Analysis.

Nandhalala Score is LOUD.

I loved Nandhalala. Please watch the film in theatre. It is an experience not to be missed. I don't know when I would be able to consolidate and post my thoughts on Ilaiyaraaja's scintillating background score for the film, but for now, enjoy 25 soul stirring background score pieces from the film. Needless to say, here is why Ilaiyaraaja is God.

Download: Part 1 Part 2

Tracks

1. Agi
2. The Photo
3. Where is your Mother?
4. Escape
5. Cheating
6. And the Journey Begins
7. Mental
8. A Kiss
9. Where are you going?
10. Stranger 1
11. War
12. Journey Continues
13. Never ending Journey
14. Statue of A Mother and a Child
15. Guiding Light
16. Stranger 2
17. Annai Vayal
18. A Plea
19. Journey to Thaaivaasal
20. A Prostitute
21. A Python
22. To Thaaivaasal
23. Where is my Mother?
24. Amma and the Kiss
25. End Credits


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Inaintha Kaigal




This heroic fanfare (Background Score – 75) is from Inaintha Kaigal. Composer – Gyan Varma. Associate Composer – Aabaavaanan. It is heard for the first time in one of the most crucial moment of the film, just before the interval, when Arun Pandian saves Ramki out of a fatal accident. And as the title of the film implies, two heroes join hands. You better watch the video. Words cannot express the awesomeness of that moment.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Background Score - 75




Long before I could spell the name “Ilaiyaraaja” or the words “Background score” I reacted to this piece of music when I heard it in the film. Guess the film.



Monday, November 22, 2010

Keda Kari / Kata Kata




Earlier, I had an opinion that a composer must have been totally uninterested and hasty while scoring, if he did not compose any new musical themes and has used just the instrumental versions of the melodies of the songs, throughout the background score of a film. However, soon I realized that a composer’s decision on whether to compose new melodies or use the melodies of the already composed song for the background score depends on how the film uses the song in its narrative. The usage of Keda Kari / Kata Kata in Raavanan/Raavan is a classic example.

In the opening episode of Raavanan, the Policemen are attacked by different people at different places at the same time. The percussive postlude from the Keda Kari song in its entirety plays as the background score of this episode. Before watching the film, when we heard the song on audio CD, we had assumed Keda Kari to be a song of Celebration and festivities in a typical rural Indian wedding Ceremony. It was slightly incongruous and discomforting to listen to the parts of that song playing loudly in the scenes where there is no trace of Celebration or festivity. The same piece is again heard when Veera and his gang storm into Dev’s camp to steal the arms and create havoc. These are moments with no mood for euphoric rhythms.

However, later, when the song Keda Kari, unfolds in its entirety, we get to see the chaos unleashed by the Policemen in Vennilla’s Marriage Ceremony. The Policemen enter the scene towards the end of the song, precisely when the percussive coda begins to play. All that happens in the opening episode of the film is Veer’s revenge for the chaos created by Policemen in Marriage ceremony and what they eventually did to Vennila - Veera’s sister. The score composer (A.R.Rahman) is linking an action and a reaction, a sequence and its consequence with the same piece of music, though they unfold on screen, in the reverse order.

P.S: Raavanan special Edition CD pack is available in stores now. “Kalingathu Bharani” (The Pain and War), The Lament of the leaves (as I expected, the Theme of lust features in this track), Naan Varuvaen (Easily the song of the year), Restless Mystic (this Oud piece is prominently heard when Ragini tries to escape, just before Yaaro Evalo song) and Yaaro Evalo (Theatrical Version of Kaattu Sirukki) are the 5 additional tracks included in the CD.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Endhiran Score




Cues from Endhiran Score in the order in which they are first heard in the background score of the film. (Endhiran Score Quiz)

Cue 6 – It isn’t Chitti Yet

Cue 4 – Chitti – The Saviour (Superstar Rajini Titles, Action in Train, Fire Accident)

Cue 8 – Simulating Emotions in Chitti

Cue 9 – Child Birth

Cue 2 – Prelude to Sana’s Kiss

Cue 7 – Introducing Chitti 2.0

Cue 3 – Power from Car Battery

Cue 1 – I am an Evidence

Cue 5 – Chitti Returns


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Endhiran Score Quiz




Nine different music cues (voiceless) picked from Endhiran background score are streaming below. Listen to the cues and list them in the order in which they are heard in the background score of the film.

Cue 1

Cue 2

Cue 3

Cue 4

Cue 5

Cue 6

Cue 7

Cue 8

Cue 9

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Aah! Finally




The Liner notes in the booklet that comes with Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya Collector's Edition Pack is written by yours truly (ursmusically P.S.Suresh Kumar). Thanks to Kaushik and others from Sony Music, who gave me this opportunity.























Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In Conversation with Matt Dunkley





It is he who first broke the silence and informed the world, that A.R.Rahman is indeed the composer for Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours”. I am talking about the composer, orchestrator and Conductor Matt Dunkley. Matt Dunkley is the orchestrator for all of A.R.Rahman’s symphonic, orchestral scores. The legend of Bhagat Singh, Warriors of Heaven and Earth, Meenaxi: Tale of three cities, Bose – The Forgotten Hero, Mangal Pandey, Elizabeth: The golden Age, Couples Retreat, 127 Hours and Endhiran – The Robot are the films in which Matt Dunkley worked with A.R.Rahman. In this interview, Matt clarifies all the doubts I had about the working relationship between a composer and an orchestrator. Further, he shares in detail his experience of working with A.R.Rahman.

The first time you worked with A.R.Rahman was for an Indian film called “The Legend of Bhagat Singh” and it has been 8 years since then and you have worked for nearly 8 films with him after that. How did he find you? Tell us, in general, about your experience of working with A.R.Rahman.

That’s right Suresh. We met on “Bhagat Singh” in 2002. Maestro A.R.Rahman was in London (where I live and work) writing his show Bombay Dreams, and he needed to record some background score to the film. I was contacted by the orchestral contractor Isobel Griffiths (who books most of the players for movie recording sessions in London) to orchestrate and conduct the sessions at Abbey Road Studios – studio 2 in fact, where the Beatles recorded all of their albums. We had a medium size string section, some woodwinds and 4 French horns. AR had composed some demos, and I took these and fleshed them out a little for orchestra, and then conducted the sessions. The music was great and I got on very well with AR (though I had heard his name, at that stage, I had no idea what a major force he was in Indian film music). Anyway, I think the whole experience whetted AR’s appetite to record some more with western “classical” orchestras – I remember he was particularly excited by the sound of the horns (he still is!)

What is the role of an Orchestrator? Does the composer (A.R.Rahman) write only the main melody of the piece and leave the rest to the Orchestrator? Or does the composer make a digital mock-up with all orchestral layers and you just notate the score and conduct it? Does he play each layer of music in Piano? How significant a contribution of a composer is in the orchestration of the final piece of music that we get to hear?

I get asked this question a lot! In simple terms an orchestrator’s role is to take whatever the composer has written and to notate it for orchestra in such a way that truly represents the musical intentions of the composer. So with AR for instance, he will give me a computer file from his “Logic” sequencer (a sequencer is the software program that enables a composer to play sample instruments via midi alongside audio and synced to picture). This file will contain the music he has played in via a piano keyboard triggering different sounds – I can see the notes – and an audio mix of this music. So he might have played in some string lines, and some brass and woodwind, and some percussion too. My job is to take all this information and notate it into a “full score” which has all the instruments of the orchestra we are using (see below an excerpt of the printed score sheet of a background score cue “Robo Ball” that Matt notated for the film Endhiran – The Robot).

Now AR might have only used a horn sample in his file, but I will then split this horn writing out over the rest of the brass too (if stylistically this feels right), so I would add trumpets and trombones etc. The same goes for the woodwind and strings and percussion, and I might add a harp or a piano etc. Always my aim is to enhance and support the intentions of the composer.

It’s a big trust thing for the composer, because he or she is handing over their work to another musician, so the trick is to be sympathetic to the style of writing and not for me to impose my own voice onto this. That is why film composers tend to stick with the same orchestrator once they have developed this rapport. I have clients that I have worked with on 15 plus movies.

The amount of musical information in the digital mock-up score varies from job to job and from composer to composer. I have been asked to write a large end of movie cue for full orchestra from only a piano guide, though this is pretty rare these days. More often than not, as is the case with AR, I am given a midi mock-up that will give a good indication of the orchestration required, but will still leave room for me to have an artistic input in further enhancing the orchestral textures and add phrasing and dynamics (volume markings).

We know, through various interviews, that A.R.Rahman does not write the score on a paper score sheet. In today’s time, with so much technology around, is it necessary for a composer to pen down a score to the last detail on a sheet? I understand that very few composers, like John Williams, work with a pencil and paper still for a film score.

I started out scoring on pencil and paper, but as the technology came in I embraced it. I well remember the hassle of trying to courier scores and parts to the U.S. for film sessions – and the anxiety when they got caught up in customs or went missing. Now I can finish a score and email it instantly anywhere in the world. John Williams has been doing this since the 50’s so I think he’s entitled to use whatever he likes! But I’ve seen his scores – they are very detailed 8 stave pencil sketches, but they still need an orchestrator to split them out into a full score, and this is done on a computer. The other thing to remember is that individual orchestral parts need to be made from the orchestrator’s full score by the music copyists. With a pencil and paper score every single note has to be re-input, this takes time, and in the movie business time is always at a premium. With a computer notated score, the data is already there, so it’s more a case of data manipulation. My copyists can print out a 4 minute action cue for full 80 piece orchestra within an hour – with a pencil and paper score and hand copied parts that would take the best part of a day.

Though A.R.Rahman’s eclectic scores for Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours are receiving sky high praises, his typical Hollywood style orchestral score for “Couples Retreat” was not appreciated as much as it should have been, critically? Why do you think this is so? Does the appreciation of a score depend also on the merits of the film?

Couples Retreat was a lovely score; we recorded it in L.A. on the same recording stage that all the great MGM musicals were recorded, so it was a special experience. But yes, in answer to your question, I think quite often good scores are overlooked simply because the movie isn’t very good. I’m not saying Couples Retreat was a bad movie, but I think it’s fair to say that AR’s score was better! If you look at the Oscars over the years, so often best score goes with best picture, which was fabulous for AR last time around, but can lead to other notable scores losing out. Slumdog and 127 Hours are both really well crafted movies and the fact that that also shines a light on AR’s beautiful music is good for us all.

Though you are an Orchestrator, you are also a composer. How do you balance your sensibilities and the composer’s, when you orchestrate a melody of another composer?

I do compose and love doing so, but as I said earlier, an orchestrator’s job is all about fulfilling the composers’ creative vision, so I am very careful not to impose my “voice” onto another’s. I’ve been doing this for a while now and I’m just coming up to my 100th movie so I think I’ve learnt how to represent a composers music using my orchestration techniques without crossing the line. They have created the core material that I work from, so as long as I stay true to that the balance is achieved.

Since what stage do you get to be part of the creative process of making the original score for a film? Do you get to know the complete script of the film, watch the entire film and sit in spotting sessions?

This varies from film to film, but generally I’ll come in right at the end of post production. Usually the composer will have been working on the score for 2 or 3 weeks before we start our discussions about orchestration and recording session schedules. I will hear some early demos and receive a cue list and spotting notes so that I can get an overall picture of how much music there is to record and what type of instrumentation we will need to achieve this. I will then suggest an orchestra size (or sizes) and how many recording sessions we will need. I’ll then liaise with the studio, engineer, orchestral contractor and music copyists to make sure we all agree dates etc. Sometimes I’m sent a script, but more importantly I always like to orchestrate to picture if possible, as there is no point me adding loads of brass and percussion on a particular cue only to find out at the recording session that the music for that scene is all under dialogue! Occasionally I will come in earlier on a production, particularly if there is playback music on set that needs to be pre-recorded before the shoot.

Tell us about the Concert in which you conducted orchestral works of A.R.Rahman in Royal Festival hall. On what basis, the scores were picked for performance. Some of A.R.Rahman’s Indian film songs were also performed with the orchestra. How easy or difficult was it to adapt those film songs for a Symphony orchestra? How well was the concert received by the audience?

This was something AR had wanted to do for a long time. We had tried something similar a few years before with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, but because of time pressures and budget we didn’t really crack it on that occasion. So I sat down with AR and firstly, as this was an orchestral concert with a 76 piece orchestra (London Philharmonic Orchestra) and a 32 voice choir (Metro Voices), we went through all the orchestral material that we had worked on together. He chose the pieces that he liked best from this body of work and then suggested other songs and instrumental pieces that he’d like to adapt for orchestra, as well as pieces from his theatre shows. The first challenge was to make orchestral “suites” out of the film music, so that they flowed as concert works, rather than just being individual film cues. We chose songs that didn’t have too electronic a starting point, so that the substitution of an orchestra for a backing track wouldn’t sound too forced. We also went for songs with simple melodies (without too much ornamentation) so that I could divide up the melody amongst the orchestra without it sounding like a pastiche of the original, but rather a re-interpretation. As the concept for the concert developed and evolved, we managed to include 2 wonderful singers (Alma Ferovic and Michael Rouse), an Indian flautist (Naveen Kumar), a sitar player (Asad Khan), an accordion player (Eddie Hession), as well as Gauri Tripathi and her dancers. It was quite an evening, and the sell out audience of 2500 in the Royal Festival Hall really seemed to enjoy hearing another side of A.R.Rahman’s genius.

How different it is working with A.R.Rahman for the score of an Indian film from that of a Hollywood film?

The main difference is how AR approaches the scoring. In a Hollywood movie the tradition is very much to demo an audio mock-up of every musical moment or “cue” in the film. This “cue by cue” approach is the standard way of scoring a movie in Hollywood. Each demo cue is put to picture (usually with the help of a music editor) and then submitted for approval to the director, producer, film editor and anybody else who have a say in the movie. Often each cue can be sent back a number of times for “tweaks” or even full rewrites. I’ve seen “Version 15” on a cue file!! In an Indian film, as only some of the music is background score (the rest being the songs), AR tends to write longer pieces in different moods that can then be cut into the movie to fit various scenes, so it’s a much freer approach to writing really.

You have also worked with some of the great Hollywood composers. How different or same A.R.Rahman is in comparison with Hollywood composers?

I think, like all great movie composers, AR shares that unique ability of both serving the needs of the movie and writing fabulous music. It sounds such an easy thing to do, but so often one hears effective movie music in the theatre that doesn’t work as stand alone music when the picture is taken away. That’s fine, as the music’s primary function is to serve the picture, but AR and only a handful of other Composers seem to be able to write scores that work in both ways. I remember numerous times recording in London and L.A. and Prague when the orchestra have been really moved by the power and beauty of maestro Rahman’s writing. That’s a unique gift, and one I’ve been privileged to be a part of.

Have you heard A.R.Rahman’s non-orchestral works, like songs, in Indian films? What is your favourite A.R.Rahman Indian film song?

I have indeed heard them. In fact I saw him perform many of them when his recent “Jai Ho” tour came to London. As to a favourite…….that’s a tough one! As I get older I seem to be drawn more to simplicity in music – in classical music I’ve started listening to Bach again, and just love the way he expresses so much with so little. So, if I’ve got to pick one song then I’m going to say “Nahi Samne” from Taal. It’s such a gentle, simple, little tune and yet it never fails to move me. I did an arrangement of it for the RFH/LPO concert and it worked beautifully as a peaceful end to the evening.

Which is your favorite orchestral score of A.R.Rahman? And Why?

Another tough one! Like choosing your favourite child! Ok, well, if I’m sticking to my simplicity theme then I’d say Meenaxi for its beautiful simple melodies. But if I’m choosing for the inventiveness of the writing and the sheer variety of orchestral colors it’s got to be Warriors of Heaven & Earth.

The score for “127 Hours” - Do you think it is a serious contender for Oscars this year? (Even Inception score, for which you have worked, seems to be strongly in contention).

Who knows! I never guess the Oscars correctly. I do know that it’s a lovely subtle score that fits the picture beautifully – I saw it the other night at the London Film Festival, and that final song duet between AR and Dido is perfect. At the other end of the spectrum, Hans Zimmer’s Inception score is pretty amazing too.

Thanks to Matt Dunkley for patiently answering all the questions in such stunning detail.


Download (pdf) High quality Image of the Score sheet

Saturday, November 6, 2010

127 Hours Score Review


A solo woodwind rises to announce the entry of a sole soul into the endless beauty of the vast and bare Grand Canyon. The soul is awestruck by the sight. Music plays for the sense of awe whereas the breath taking pauses in between play for the soul that is being struck by it. The melody passes on to a string section for the eyes that open wider, the widest it has ever opened in its life, in an attempt to capture all of the beauty at once. It can not. The eyes realise. The woodwind takes the lead again and together with the accompanying strings, the melody of “If I Rise” rises. A subtle, deep bass beat is hit to hint the reality that is starting to sink in. The strings proceed further for the soul that is wandering to find a serene spot to sit and stare. He finds a place to sit and stare, and the orchestra now comfortably plays the melody with which it started the piece. The loop becomes recursive. The piece with its music and no music can be listened to for a whole day in a loop. Thus, begins the experience of listening to A.R.Rahman’s soundtrack for Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours”.

The main motif of the film begins in “Liberation begins”. The nature that revealed its utmost beauty just a while ago reveals its dark side now by tying his arms down between a rock and a rock. Fate and nature are friends. The arrested body, with the power of its soul has to fight both fate and nature to liberate itself. The melody played on the acoustic guitar is constantly trying to move away and part itself from the bass line that plays the role of nature here. The bass keeps pulling the melody of the acoustic guitar down to play in sync with it. The bass line is too powerful, so much so that all the efforts of acoustic guitar go in vain.

In the “Liberation in a Dream” and final “Liberation”, the battle with fate and nature intensify. The levels of desperation, the force within and the determination to win are far higher this time. He has to liberate himself. The madly rushing strings, roughening electric guitar riffs, roiling percussions add to the theme of liberation which cut itself short after briefly announcing its existence in the track “Liberation begins”. The excruciating pain that he much go through is underlined by the harsh guitar layers. The sympathy that one must have as an audience for him is underlined by layers of soft strings. Each instrument layer is growing in its intensity, force and energy. The synergy of the varied music layers adds to the music as a whole. The piece is exponentially growing dense and tight in every next bar. This Is How You Build Up To A Crescendo. And Ah! When the moment arrives, when he liberates himself, at the peak of the Crescendo, I felt a divine current running from head to toe in my body.

After a deadly cold night, when first rays of sun touch his body, he, for the first time, realises the warmth of his father’s embrace. He becomes nostalgic. The all-guitar melody in “Touch of the Sun” has ample amount of silences thrown in between each of its phrases. When there are so many pauses, it is not easy to determine, where the full stop or a comma is. If Cinema is a sentence in a language, its conjunctions are split between the visuals and the music. A visual may take a “but” of the sentence and leave a “because” for the music to fill in and deliver its complete meaning, which is why it is totally idiotic to try to absorb completely, understand and appreciate a piece of background score before watching the visuals. In “Touch of the Sun”, the music and visuals seem to have exchanged such conjunctions in quick succession. However, it does leave a listener with one emotion, which is the warmth of pure love.

The short phrases of Guitar melody, rises an octave higher, to indicate the shift the camera makes from the tight close-up shots of him and his father to the wider shot of both sitting together on the edge of a rock and staring at the setting Sun. A deep pause follows. The memories of moments he spent with his family are rushing back to him. He is engulfed by Nostlagia. Now that, he is with his family in his memories, the lone Guitar melody reprises with rich musical accompaniments until the eeriness of the e-sounds and the harshness of the place he is stuck in, cuts through his memories.

It is extremely tough to tie A.R.Rahman down to one instrument for entire soundtrack of a film. Guitar works wonderfully for the intimacy that the film maker wants to build between the audience and the lone victim. However, Rahman breaks free, liberates himself and composes a piece titled “Acid Darbari” in a genre that I prefer to call “Rahmanica”. Wonder what it is? Rahmanica is Rahman’s unique way of blending acoustics and electronica. No one does it like him.

Acid Darbari is a psychotherapeutic track. It is transcendental. It is in times of utmost adversity one feels closer to oneself and realises the endless limits of their spirit. I guess this track plays in one such moment of realization in the film. The very sound of the Fingerboard Continuum and the bass that gravitates the whole piece, set a serene, soothing aura. The bells, an aching cello, a distant alaap, an Oboe and strings sneak in and out of the song, without ever intruding the main meditative mood of the track. “Acid Darbari” is bliss at its blissful best.

Harshdeep Kaur’s sympathetic humming begins R.I.P on a gloomy note. There is a sense of despair in the aura. He has tried everything that he could. There is no hope. He is convinced that he is going to die a painful death. No. Wait. Ethnic percussions join in with the alaap to indicate a germ of a thought. He senses a way out. He contemplates the thought. The percussion aggravates with a rhythm. A thought soon becomes a decision. A deep pause with eerie electronic sounds, and then it begins. The lower registers of strings are dramatically bowed in a rush. It is bowed to create a hard, harsh and sharp sound of a thick saw cutting him from his fate. It leads to puke inducing turn in the stomach when we listen to the ultimatum he puts himself through for liberation.

The moment the bass line kicks in and begins to loop, we are hooked to “If I Rise”. The words might boast of optimism, but to me, the song as a whole puts a listener through a passage of nothingness. The song fills the soul with a divine calm. With A.R.Rahman and Dido crooning the lines on the softest of their vocal registers, the eclectic sound scape created by the omnipresent bass loop, the soft thudding beats, the confluence of worldly sounds and instruments in the third act of the song, the track as a whole takes us on a spiritual ride into an ethereal sound scape.

Some of the cues from the film’s background score are missing in the compilation. Energetic rock guitars play when he challenges himself to bike fast and reach a place, which usually takes 4.5 hours to reach, in 45 minutes. This piece is not there. The drums begin with singular strokes and gain a rhythm gradually, when after getting stuck he is shown to be picking out things from his bag, and placing it on the rock. Also, the Liberation theme, when it plays in the rain scene, has a slightly different layering of Strings.

“127 Hours” score is a stunning follow up to Slumdog Millionaire.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Theme of Lust



The Theme of Lust (Background score – 74) is from Raavanan / Raavan. Composer – A.R.Rahman.

The theme is first introduced, when abducted Ragini is shown to be terrified of witnessing Veera’s brother handing over a gun to Veera to kill Ragini. It could also be simply Ragini’s Theme.

However, the theme plays in its entirety with prominence when Veera tries to give a justification to his brother, for not killing Ragini. He elaborates on an intellectual theory about his inability to kill someone who is fearless. We already know he has already fallen in love with her. In the theme, a Kora plays a repetitive phrase of melody and kindles a subtle, sweet storm in the soul and a deep contemplation out of bewilderment in the mind, and all of these and much more happens in Veera’s when he falls for Ragini’s beauty.

Rahman could have introduced this theme at the moment, when Veera sees Ragini, who just fell fearlessly from atop of a waterfall, lying on a branch of a tree. Even the tree could not bear the weight of Ragini’s beauty. The branch breaks along with Veera’s conviction and Ragini falls into the water in a slow-motion shot. The theme would have worked brilliantly for this moment, and they could have started the “Behne De/Usure Pogudhey” song a few seconds later.

Veera and his gang are stealing the arms and creating havoc in SP’s camp. Veera enters SP’s tent and finds Ragini’s torn dress hanging like an antique piece. Veera walks closer to the hanging dress. Rahman begins to play the other Kora theme with the African voice, but shifts to the theme of lust precisely when Veera moves his hands closer to dress and contemplates a touch. It is in here, the main emotion of the theme, becomes evident. Maybe the intention was to have just a character leitmotif for Ragini, but this is how I felt and understood this piece of music, while watching the film for the first time.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Blogiversary


Backgroundscore.com completes 3 years today. I feel good.

Needle Drops

Tubby-Parik is composing the background score of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Guzaarish”. I wonder why Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who finds it extremely difficult to convey his ideas and emotions to other composers, did not do the film’s background score himself. It is for background score of the film that a film maker needs a lot of patience to put temp music, talk, communicate and help the composer in understanding the characters, emotions and the narrative better, than for the songs of the film. I find the reason given by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, for turning composer, quite ridiculous. The problems in working with some other composer must be of a different nature. Do not get me wrong. I am one of those few who immensely love Guzaarish songs. Tera Zikr hai.. yaaaa!

Here is a delicious interview of A.R.Rahman in which he speaks in detail about the intricacies of scoring music for Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours”. 127 Hours OST is releasing digitally on November 2nd, next week. It has over 31 minutes of A.R.Rahman’s music. I can’t wait.

7 background score cues from the film are getting released in Ashutosh Gowariker’s “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan sey” soundtrack. Wonder why Ashutosh did not get these ideas when he worked with A.R.Rahman and created three consecutive masterpieces with respect to Background score. What a mouth-watering idea it is to release Lagaan Title Music, Swades title music, Aayo Re, Jodhaa Akbar love theme, Akbar theme, Rajputana theme and many more such brilliant cues from Lagaan, Swades and Jodhaa Akbar in CD.



But, finally, some score is getting a legitimate release. A.R.Rahman’s Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya background score is getting released in a Special Edition pack along with the DVD of the best film soundtrack launch I have ever seen in the history of Indian film music. I know. I know. Stones are coming my way. But, that was truly one spectacular event to witness. Wasn’t it? Additional songs from Raavanan are also getting released. Both are releasing on November 4th. It is Diwali time folks!

And recently, Udaan Score got illegally released here.

When asked about the song “Arima”, A.R.Rahman talks more about the background score he composed out of the song.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Udaan Background Score


I saw Udaan recently, and I could not stop thinking about the film and the score ever since. Amit Trivedi’s assured usage of silence is startling. The music, wherever it is, is extremely restrained in its tone and aura. Vikramaditya Motwane or Amit Trivedi - I do not know whom to credit for the way the songs are interwoven in the narrative. Especially, the song Azaadiyaan and the way it is used in the film is a lesson for every film maker and composer. I still get goose bumps when I think of the moment the song hits the exhilarating crescendo "Azaadiyan", precisely when Rohan sets himself free. Amit Trivedi’s background score for Udaan is the best in 2010, so far.

1. Jog

2. Factory Vs Fiction

3. Night out

4. Rohan's Stories

5. Sorry

6. The Last Lap

7. End Credits


Monday, October 25, 2010

" Hey! Hey! Hey!"


Every Rajini film starts with a grand title sequence in which each letter in S-U-P-E-R-S-T-A-R-R-A-J-N-I bombards the screen to stir an Euphoria among Rajini fans. It is a moment when the walls of Cinema halls are put to sonic shock test, what with the high decibels of cheer and uproar created by Rajini fanatics when they see their Thalaivar’s name on the screen. Traditionally, it is the Annamalai Theme (Composed by Deva) that was always played in the background of this title sequence. It isn’t a majestic fanfare like the prelude of “Oruvan Oruvan Mudhalaali”, but what that “ Hey! Hey! Hey!” piece has in abundance is the cool quotient and the attitude that is all Rajini. It actually is played out brilliantly in one of the scenes in Annamalai when Rajni beats his friend Mohan Sharath Babu in the election for Association president.

A.R.Rahman, the rebel that he always is, replaced the popular Annamalai theme and dared to play the peppy choir version of “Adhiradikkaaran” melody, for the film Sivaji. A melody from the most popular song of the film’s soundtrack is an easy choice, and moreover, it is the melody from the song that explored and enhanced every possible Rajini tricks on a massive scale. That quintessential cool quotient and attitude were clearly on Rahman’s mind, and that is why even Rahman couldn’t avoid putting the signature “ Hey! Hey! Hey!”. But, it is merged with "NaNaNa" in a way that musically fits this piece.

In Endhiran, A.R.Rahman goes even further. He doesn’t use the melody of any of the songs of the film. He doesn’t use the Annamalai theme. He doesn’t use the prelude of “Oruvan Oruvan Mudhalaali”. Instead, he dares to use a background score cue that plays in the most heroic moments of Chitti (Action sequence in the Electric Train, Fire Rescue sequence) in the film. It is again an intriguing choice, because there are better choir-orchestral pieces in the film, the trumpet that replicates the sound of Chitti bleating like a Goat, the grandiose choir-orchestral version of “Arima Arima”, but Rahman chooses the music made for good-hearted Chitti over ill-hearted Robot.

The letters bombard the screen in a rhythm, which matches with the rhythm of the racing string section in the piece, and when the letters R-A-J-N-I appear, the trumpets blow the fan fare. Rahman seems to have scored it diligently like scoring a regular film moment. I don’t like this piece, though. It doesn’t have the necessary regal aura that it intends to create.

I still wish Rahman’s “Oruvan Oruvan Mudhalaali” prelude becomes signature tune for introduction of name “Rajini” in the titles of Rajini’s films. Why not work around with the graphics of the formation of the name after composing or deciding on a piece of music?

But, what the heck? No one is going to be able to listen to or even hear the music even in the Cinema halls that have the best available Sound system. I personally don’t prefer Rajni name introduction accompanied by the musical theme of the character that he plays in the film. There may not be another theme that transcends films like Deva’s Annamalai theme, but they could ask a composer to compose something especially for Rajini’s name introduction which could be used in all of his future films.

Annamalai



Sivaji

Monday, September 27, 2010

Nothing But Wind


Nothing But Wind is a compilation of background score cues from following films

Nothing But Wind


1. Paadum Paravaigal - 00:00 - 00:37
2. Idhayaththai Thirudathey - 00:38 - 01:02
3. Pithamagan - 01:03 - 01:48
4. Thalabadhi - 01:49 - 01:54
5. Idhayam - 01:55 - 02:20
6. Agni Nakshatram - 02:21 - 02:48
7. Aan Paavam - 02:49 - 03:31
8. Gopura Vaasalilae - 03:32 - 04:25
9. Guna - 04:26 - 04:42
10. Ninaivellam Nithya - 04:43 - 05:27
11. Vanna Vanna Pookal - 05:26 - 06:01
12. Vetri Vizha - 06:02 - 07:04
13. Ullaasa Paravaigal - 07:05 - 07:31
14. Naadodi Thendral - 07:32 - 08:32
15. Singaara Velan - 08:33 - 09:17
16. Kaadhalukku Mariyaadhai - 09:18 - 09:49
17. Visha Thulasi - 09:50 - 10:45


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Moods of Ilaiyaraaja


The earlier one was “How to Name it”, and now, here, we have

Nothing But Wind

A collection of themes picked from 18 films and yes, you may guess the films. Most of them are hugely popular themes.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why did you use British Actors?


Producer of the film “Keralavarma Pazhassi Raaja" asked Ilaiyaraaja, “Why do we need a symphony orchestra to record background score of a Malayalam film?”. Ilaiyaraaja replied, “Why did you use British actors in the film?”. Ilaiyaraaja remembered this conversation in the press meet he attended after winning the National Award for Best Background Score. Ilaiyaraaja wanted to use symphony orchestra to recreate the British era. I agree, but the film is also set in Kerala.

The background score cues for the War scenes sound too Western. If a cue from one of the war scenes of the film is played to someone who has not seen the film, he/she cannot guess that this is a music cue from a film set in 18th century Kerala. I feel that Ilaiyaraaja has deliberately done this to make the score and thereby the film sound global. For a film set in Kerala and for one that has so much of action, there is very little Kerala Chenda in the film. Again, this could also be a deliberate decision of Ilaiyaraaja, who never succumbs to such written rules.

For this film, I was expecting a score in which the Timpani in the symphony orchestra is replaced by Kerala Chenda and tribal drums, like how Tan Dun replaced Timpani with Taiko drums for "Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon" and “Heroes”. But, that was just my expectation. I cannot say Ilaiyaraaja about what should or should not have done.

On the other hand, listen to this piece. It is the cue played when Manoj and Padmapriya share a pleasant, private moment. The piece is true to the emotion, the romance and breeziness of the moment are perfectly captured, but there is not anything that suggests that Manoj and Padmapriya are Tribal folks. May be, it is not always necessary to stick to the roots. Emotion is the key. Melody is the key for emotions in music. The basic melodies in all background music cues are true to the roots but just that the instruments he uses and the way he orchestrates the pieces are quite western. Ilaiyaraaja himself told that in the press meet.

I am also not being cynical here. I am just having a loud thought and trying to decipher the reason. Maybe I should go back and watch the film again, entirely in one stretch. I saw the film only once on DVD and that too in two parts. First time while I was watching the film, I dozed-off in the middle of the film. I saw the remaining film a few days later.

P.S: Can some audio company do a nation-wide release of “Pazhassi Raja” background score CD with National Award winning background score tag, at least now?


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

National Award for Ilaiyaraaja

The first ever National Award given for “Best Background Score” in a separate category goes to Ilaiyaraaja for his score in "Pazhassi Raaja".

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Doug Adams speaks about the book "Music of LOTR films"


Doug Adams, the author of “Music of the Lord of the Rings Films” speaks to backgroundscore.com about the book.

Your blog (musicoflotr.com) Posts, articles in film score monthly magazine, your interviews with Howard Shore and Complete recordings’ liner notes - I have read almost everything that was written on the music of Lord of the rings films so far. What is new in it (the book) for me?

The materials that you’ve read before, namely the sections on Themes and the Annotated Score have been previously available in a condensed, reduced form. These were originally written in a more complete form for the book, then were altered and transported over for The Complete Recordings. Now that the book is finally being released you’ll see these pieces in their full forms. There are still a handful of themes we’ve never discussed, and the Annotated Score digs into the material much more seriously.

We also open and close the book with large chapters that tell the story of the production – how Howard came to this project, how it and where was recorded. You’ll meet the performers, and see how Shore worked with the filmmakers. So the book is really two stories wrapped together – the story of the production, and Tolkien’s narrative. And of course we also have material that relates to the Rarities Archive, so you’ll see new choral texts, etc. in there. With all the pieces in place, it’s a pretty unique experience!

Did all those other writings of yours on the score make the book-writing easier? What was the toughest part of writing this book?

As I noted, the book actually existed first. When some of that material was selected for use with The Complete Recordings, it was abbreviated and adapted. Then, when the time came to reassemble the material and incorporate it into the full book, we reformed everything and vastly improved it. The book we have now is not the book we would have had back then, and it’s much, much better for that process. It’s was a strangely circuitous path, but it worked for us!

As for the toughest part – well, it’s hard to say. It was a dream project. I got to work with brilliant people on something I felt very passionate about. The constant stream of airplanes, rental cars, hotels, and coffee shops was physically taxing, of course. But it was such a thrill, I never really noticed.

Does this book go beyond just annotating the score? Would we get to read in the book, any new way of approaching a film score?

The book is structured as a ‘narrative analysis.’ In many ways, this book is a storybook – it’s the story of the analysis. Tolkien loved myths and tales, and I wanted to stay true to that spirit, even when dealing with what is essentially analytic subject matter. I think that’s a fairly unique thing … and this is why the book should appeal to both musicians and non-musicians – it’s a dramatic work. The characters are themes, the plot is their development. And if we use a technical term, we simply define it with a footnote. I think people will be shocked how easily this material can be understood, and how moving it can be when contextualized properly.

LOTR music is hugely popular, but not every LOTR fan would be a connoisseur of orchestral film scores to understand the subtleties in it. They would have gone home whistling Fellowship theme, Shire theme, Rohan theme or Ring theme, but they would not have gone deep to the extent of realizing that war at Helm’s deep opens with “Lothlorien theme”. Will the book engage such listeners, who listen to film scores just on the surface? Could you elaborate what is there in the book for them?

If the book is successful it will bring in ‘surface-listeners’ and reveal a whole new level of meaning to them. In fact, I hope it’s a revelation to many people. The book should reveal the music’s true face and show readers what’s really happening in Shore’s carefully crafted music. It’s not just moods, it’s an incredible web-like structure that’s every bit as involved as Tolkien’s Middle-earth. I want this book to enrich listeners’ perspectives.

In the sample chapters of the book, I could see that there are staff notations of the score - both hand written and printed. There are a lot of technical descriptions of the music, but how have you handled the emotional part of the score? Sometimes those staff notations and musical jargons may put-off the starters, who are just beginning to embrace and understand the orchestral film scores?

The music examples are there to further illustrate points to those who can read them, but they exist on their own level. The real analysis, and the real emotion of the ‘narrative,’ is in the text. You should be able to read straight through the book without the ability to read the music examples and still walk away with a profound understanding of Shore’s work.

How significant are the images from the films and the original sketches by John Howe and Alan lee for the book? What gap do you think these sketches would fill in the communication between your words in the book and the readers? If you have an image from the scene in the film or the original sketch included in the book, does it reduce your job of having to explain the whole scene from the scratch?

I think that John and Alan’s incredible sketches – and the film stills, as well – help us to create that storybook feeling. They’re transportive; they take you right into Middle-earth. Tolkien’s stories have inspired so much art: visual, musical, literature, etc. I wanted to represent as much of that as possible in the book. Each art has to have its own integrity, and together they cumulate to create a satisfying whole. I tried and make my writing just as strong as the musical and visual aspects … I don’t pretend to know if I pulled it off, but that was the goal!

Complete Recordings CDs or Movie DVDs of LOTR – which one of these a reader of the book must go to refer or verify while reading the book and why?

The book should be its own experience, I think. The theatrical films, the DVD edits, the original soundtracks, The Complete Recordings – each of these told the story of The Lord of the Rings in its own way. The book should do that too. And just as the films make you want to hear the CDs, and the CDs make you want to see the films, the book should make you want to return to the films and the CDs. They should all work together.

I always felt that there is a necessity of new mediums of communication through which common film goers can understand the nuances of a film score. We have DVDs where there are options to watch the film with audio commentaries of Production designer, Costume designer, screenplay writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, VFX supervisors and even the actors. I always wished for an audio option with just composer (Howard Shore) and a musicologist like you discussing the score in each and every single scene of the film. Is that the next step?

If they want some commentary for a deluxe Blu-ray edition of the films, I’m ready to take their call!

Now that, you have spent a few years of your life into LOTR film scores and have come up with this book, do you feel that there is nothing much left in LOTR music for you to dig into or understand better? I guess you know LOTR film score better than Howard shore himself.

I’ve sat with Howard during the Live to Projection performances, and sometimes he’ll lean over during a certain passage and say, “I think I should re-orchestrate the trombone part there, I don’t like the voicings.” You’re never really done with a big project like this, I suppose. I think that’s true for everyone. There’s always some new observation waiting to be discovered, and I’m sure I’ll think of something that I’ll wish I had mentioned in the book! The scores, like the stories, are endlessly revealing. That said, Howard and I are confident that the book sheds light on all the themes, the developments, and all that makes this score such an important work. We worked a long time to make it a truly comprehensive document.

Howard often tells me I know the scores better than he does, but I take it in the spirit of good humor. He has such a brilliant mind; he’s always a step ahead of everyone else.

The book seems to be a complete package with a rarities CD including 21 alternate score material unheard before. Why is this necessary? What does it add to the book? Is it meant just for the listening experience?

It’s meant as a beautiful listening experience, but it also enhances the part of the book that details the creation of the score. It shows you some of Shore’s early ideas, some of his alternate concepts, and gives you an insight into his creative process in a purely musical way. It’s a wonderful collection, and can be listened to either straight through as an album, or scrutinized as an archive.

We have heard a lot about the clash between the score and sound, in films. Even in liner notes of Complete recordings, I remember reading that some of the musical score cues were replaced with sound effects? Does the book talk about this clash between sound and music in LOTR films and about what went behind in choosing one over the other? It would make a fascinating read.

This is quite typical for a production such as this, so I wouldn’t want to characterize it as a “clash.” Composers often write music for scenes knowing that directors can choose between either music or sound effects alone. There’s rarely any specific reason one is chosen over the other. It’s part of a director’s creative process, and is more instinct than anything else. It’s almost always a case of “It just feels right.”

Now that, the book is on the verge of release, how do you feel about this whole LOTR journey? What is your take away from this experience?

It’s truly been the adventure of a lifetime. I hope we can go back again when The Hobbit comes around.

I am sure Howard Shore was with you throughout the journey of this book. What did Howard Shore say to you when he saw the final print of the book?

As a young musician, Howard was one of my idols. He is now a dear friend. I’m not sure I have enough words to express what that transition has meant to me. Howard called when the book finally came in and simply said, “It’s beautiful, Doug.”

Sometimes the simplest statements are the most meaningful.

Have you heard Indian film music? What do you have to say about it? What did you think of A.R.Rahman's score for Slumdog Millionaire and the subsequent Oscar win?

I actually studied Hindustani classical music a good bit when I was in music school. I think it’s fantastic to see these traditions represented in film. We’re entering a world now where musical borders are becoming increasingly diminished, and that can only be a good thing for the art!

Finally, can I say “Music of the Lord of the Rings Films” is the One Book to Read Them All?

Yes, I think you should say that! 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Harishchandrachi Factory Background Score


If you have not seen the Marathi film “Harishchandrachi Factory” (Director - Paresh Mokashi) yet, please buy a DVD and watch it. Besides the immaculate production design and costumes, the background score (Music Director – Anand Modak and Music Arranger – Narendra Bhide) in “Harishchandrachi Factory” plays a vital role in recreating the aura and feel of 1910s, the period in which the story begins.

I have uploaded all the background score pieces from Harishchandrachi Factory here. Officially, there was no soundtrack release for the film, and I am sure there never will be one.

Track Listing

01. Title Music
02. Phalke runs
03. Phalke in Projector Room
04. Phalke is Obsessed with Cinema
05. Phalke in London – String Quartet
06. Phalke moves to Dadar
07. Camera
08. Film starts to roll
09. Outdoor Shoot
10. Raja Harishchandra Releases
11. End Credits

Composer – Anand Modak
Arranger – Narendra Bhide

Musicians:

Flute – Sandeep Kulkarni
String Quatret – Suresh Lalvani, Jitendra Thakur, Dastaan, Uka Honda
Sitar – Umashankar Shukla
Keyboard – Darshana Nandurkar
Rhythm – Dr.Rajendra Doorkar, Kedar More, Arun
Organ – Rajeev Paranjape
Trumpet – Joseph
Shehnai – Yogesh More
Clarinet – Suresh Yadav

The earliest of Indian films that came after sound came into movies had background score that sounds like what we hear in Harishchandrachi Factory. For composers of those films, harmony is when all instruments of the orchestra play the same melody together. The harmony in music cues of Harishchandrachi Factory is of that kind. The instruments (Shehnai, Gabgubi, Sitar, Organ etc.,) that are authentic to the place and period in the film are used, and they are also mixed together without any digital tweaking. Background music is mostly used for silent, Chaplinesque montages, and such montages are there in plenty throughout the film. Music per se is truly melodious and works on its own after watching the film.

Phalke, in the film, accidentally meets a Harmonium player on the road and asks him to play Harmonium on location, when he shoots the film. Phalke asks one of his actors to listen to the music and feel the emotion while performing. Though the first Indian film “Raja Harishchandra” did not have any background score for the audience to listen to, it had a background score, when the film was shot, for the actors to listen to and get the emotions right. It is Phalke’s yet another way of making the actors - who are all from stage drama troupes and are so used to a musical accompaniment while performing on stage, feel comfortable in this new setup where they perform to no live audience.

Throughout the film, we could hear the Harmonium player playing melodies that are perfectly in sync with the mood of the scene that Phalke is shooting. It is also quite hilarious to hear the Harmonium player playing music even for Phalke’s emotions, when Phalke gets angry during the film-shoot and struggles to make the actors perform. I do not know if Phalke, when he made his first film knew about using background score, but, intuitively he had felt that a musical accompaniment is a must for Cinema, in any which way possible.

Typical of such films, in which a genuine effort is put in writing the background music, the title credits of “Harishchandrachi Factory” begins to roll with the main musical theme of the film, and the end credits scroll with a delicious suite compiled with all main themes from the film in the chronological order. It is the theme that is first heard when Phalke moves to a bungalow in Dadar, after he returns from London. It is in this bungalow, the pre-production, casting and the shooting of the India’s first ever feature film happen. The End credits music is.

I doubted the originality of the String quartet that plays throughout the journey of Phalke in London, but my doubts were cleared when we I noticed that the main motif of the quartet is the first piece of melody that is heard on Strings in the track “Phalke obsessed with films”. Anand Modak just hints at the theme when Phalke gets obsessed with films and tries to understand film making with limited means available in India, but, when Phalke leaves to London, the same melody is elaborated on a string quartet to imply the wider avenues available for Phalke now. With very few extras walking on the streets, tight close-ups and low angle shots in the London episode, it is the western classical string quartet piece that makes us believe that Phalke is really in London.

“Harishchandrachi Factory” was India’s official selection for Oscars in 2009. Given the film’s popularity, I am sure that the film is going to fetch few National Award trophies, and there is a very good chance for Anand Modak to be the winner of first ever “Best Background Score” national award, beating Ilaiyaraaja’s “Paa” and “Pazhassi Raaja”. National Film Awards committee may also give us a jolt by giving it to Salim-Suleiman for one of the Hindi films that they scored in 2009.

Please let me know the films that you saw from other regional languages in 2009 that has an impressive background score.

P.S. Iruvar is also a story set amidst a bygone era of films and film making, but Rahman had a totally different approach in its background score. Rahman did not use any of the background scoring techniques of the films that were made in the era that is under focus in Iruvar. The visual language and the emotional tone of Iruvar and Harishchandrachi Factory are poles apart. I wonder whether a background score like the one in “Harishchandrachi Factory” would work in Iruvar.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

National Award for Background Score


The first ever National Award given for “Best Background Score” in a separate category went to Ilaiyaraaja for his score in a Malayalam film “Keralavarma Pazhassi Raja”. By giving the award to Ilaiyaraaja, whose symphonic score for the film was indeed the best in 2009, Jury had it easier the first time. In the future, if the Jury members are going to take a decision to award anyone else other than Ilaiyaraaja in this category, they have to be extremely careful. There are many questions to be asked and answered before taking a decision on a winner in this category.

Was the score originally written for this film?

Nowadays, we have sound and music libraries like Sonoton, where there are music pieces readily available for all varieties of situations in a film. Indian film fraternity’s integrity is well known. They would never reveal that they bought cues from a music library and used them in the background score of their film. And there is “Plagiarism”. Ram Gopal Varma openly admitted in his blog (rgvzoomin.com) about using favourite music themes from Hollywood films in the background score of his films. There have been many instances in which Indian composers have used popular Hollywood film themes for Indian films, and they continue to do so. Who is going to do all the research and verify if the background score is entirely original? To nominate a non-feature film for National Award, producer must furnish an affidavit with the declaration of Originality for the music score. Likewise, the producers of feature films should also be asked to submit an affidavit with the declaration of Originality for the background music score. In the application form, the National Film Awards regulation puts a note that says, “Please state if the music score is Original, in case of non-feature films”. It can be modified as “in case of both feature and non-feature films”.


Did the jury members listen to the film score?

At least if the original score is separately available on a CD, the music can be heard without the visuals and its quality can be judged, but National Film Awards Jury will not have that luxury. Original Scores of Indian films seldom get a legitimate release in India. The jury members have to observe the background score of a film carefully while watching the film. They can also ask the applicants, who want the jury to consider the film’s score for the award, to submit an exclusive compilation CD of the background score. If the score leaves any impact and if they find it worthy of an award, then there are many further doubts that have to be clarified before they can judge a film’s background score as the best.

How and how much of film’s background score is composed by the composer credited for the film’s background score?

In most of Hindi films, two different composers work independently, one on the songs and the other on the background score. The score composer of the film uses the melodies of the songs composed by the composer of the song in his background score throughout the film. In “Love Aaj Kal”, Salim-Suleiman has used the motif from Yeh Dooriyaan (Composed by Pritam) in the background score throughout the film. In Ishqiya, Hitesh Sonik (background score composer) has used the seducing flute piece from Dil to Bachchaa Hai Ji song (composed by Vishal Bharadwaj) in all those moments where Krishna (Vidya Balan) seduces Babban (Arshad Warsi) and Khalujan (Naseeruddin Shah). In 13B, Tubby-Parik has used the melody of Aasman Odh Kar – composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, in the moment, when Madhavan is relieved to know that his wife will be safe. There is more to a background score than just the melody that is played, but if the impact of the score is because of the melody, who should take credit for it - Composer of the song for composing the melody? Or, background score composer, who used it wisely in the right moment in the film?




What qualifies to be a film background score?

Not all composers who do background score are like Amit Trivedi, who for “Wake up Sid” has not used any of the melodies of the songs composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy for the film, in the background score. Furthermore, Amit Trivedi has added songs as part of the background score, and such song-filled background scores further add to the confusion. Will these songs with vocals and lyrics in it be considered as part of the background score? Amit Trivedi won the National Award for Best Music for his songs in Dev.D, whereas juries of regular Bollywood Awards were not quite sure of which category Dev.D music falls into. Most of them recognized Amit Trivedi’s music in Dev.D as Best Background score in 2009. That raises another fundamental question. If a song is not lip-synched by the characters in the film, is it a background score? How will a jury know whether a song was composed before or after shooting the film? If a composer composes a song with lyrics and voices, for already shot visuals, is it a background score or is it a song?

Ilaiyaraaja does not use commercial loops or samples or already available music pieces in his background score. Ilaiyaraaja always composes background score of all the films he composes the songs for (Except a few in which his son Karthik Raaja did the score and was duly credited for the same). Even if he agrees to do only the background score (Lajja) he will use not the melodies of the songs composed by another composer. I dare not use the words - Ilaiyaraaja and Plagiarism in the same sentence. Awarding Ilaiyaraaja in “Best Background Score” category is the safest, easiest and quickest decision a National Film Award jury can take anytime.


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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Needle Drops

Is Ilaiyaraaja doing the background score for Anubhav Sinha’s “Ra.One”? He definitely is doing one song in the film about which Sukhwinder Singh has given an interview. I don’t think Ilaiyaraaja would agree to do only one song in a film and so there is a good chance of the news about him writing the score, being true. I heard that it is a science fiction film. If Ilaiyaraaja is doing, it is going to be Budapest Symphony Orchestra again and as it is a big budget Shahrukh Khan Film, there is a very good chance of background score getting released in the soundtrack CD. Let us wait and watch.

It is confirmed. A.R.Rahman is doing the background score for Danny Boyle’s next “127 Hours”. Matt Dunkley - the Orchestrator, has posted a message in his webpage that he is orchestrating and conducting A.R.Rahman’s score for 127 Hours in London.

August 2010 - orchestrating and conducting A.R.Rahman's beautiful score to Danny Boyle's new movie "127 Hours", which will close the London Film Festival.


Matt’s response in Facebook about the score -

"It's beautiful as always - with electric guitars mixed in with orchestral strings and samples. No songs as far as I know - it's more subtle under-score fitting the subject matter of the movie, which deals with one man's triumph over adversity and the power of the human spirit"


Now, the trailer is out with A.R.Rahman's name in the credits



I saw “Naan Mahaan Alla” on a cam-rip and therefore cannot comment on Yuvan’s background score as a whole. Even in that dirty, small sized cam-rip I saw, the film is thoroughly engaging. I ripped two themes that I could hum on the very first viewing of the film. Here they are

Naan Mahaan Alla – Villan Theme and Title Music

Naan Mahaan Alla – Love Theme

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Counterpoint



Ganapathy Ram, who has been following this blog for a while, sent me an interesting observation of a background music cue in Thalabhadhi.

It is the scene in which Rajini comes to Arvind Swamy’s house and asks him to leave the city. A heroic trumpet piece, which I would call “Clash theme”, plays in all the scenes of confrontation between Arvind Swamy's group and Mamooty’s group. When Arvind Swamy comes to talk to Rajini, the clash theme proudly pronounces Arvind Swamy’s perception of this meeting – yet another verbal clash. When Arvind Swamy says “Bhayamuruthiriyaa”, Rajini replies “Illai, Kenji Kaetkuraen”, and in between Ilaiyaraaja brings the clash theme from a high-headed trumpet to a subdued Oboe. The real masterstroke is when in parallel strings play “Chinna Thaayaval” melody. While Oboe version of clash theme is to sound how Arvind Swamy perceives this conversation, the “Chinna Thaayaval” is to sound Rajini’s emotions.

Brilliance. Sheer Brilliance.



Also see Maestro's Masterpause

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sholay Background Score


It has been 35 years since “Sholay” – the most popular and celebrated film in the history of India Cinema got released, but I watched it for the first time, only a week before. I saw Sholay without an iota of innocence and with complete ignorance of Hindi Cinema that came before “Sholay” or even after it. I belong to the Lagaan era of Hindi cinema. I have been watching Hindi films, regularly, only since 2000. That explains why the some of the sentences that should have ended with an exclamatory mark ends with a question mark in this article. Everyone has a story behind when, where, why and how they watched Sholay for the first time. Here, is mine.

The urge to watch Sholay came when I saw “Pancham Unmixed: Mujhe Chalte Jaana Hai’, a documentary on R.D.Burman. The interest in the film grew bigger when I read the book “Behind the Curtain: Making Music in Mumbai’s Film Studios”. Both the book and the documentary film have lots of fascinating tidbits of information and anecdotes gathered from the musicians, who played in R.D.Burman’s orchestra, when R.D.Burman was recording the background score of "Sholay". I bought a “Sholay” DVD from Moser Baer, but somehow, I never found time to watch the film. A week ago, I saw someone’s tweet about celebration of 35th anniversary of Sholay, and I wanted to watch the film immediately to see what the fuss is all about and, I saw the film.

I immensely liked R.D.Burman's background score in the film. Ilaiyaraaja, whom I consider the god of film scoring, became a film composer, in 1978. "Sholay" got released in 1975, and its background score has most of the qualities that I admire in Ilaiyaraaja's film scores.

Silence - Though the full-throttled orchestral pieces work so well for the grandeur and energy in all chase and action sequences, the film and therefore the film score’s impact is most felt in the moments of silence. It is surprising that the score has such acutely measured stretch of silence in some parts of the film and it is the same film, which has the most massive of orchestras playing for some of the other parts. Silence and soaring music complement each other in Sholay. Be it the tense, heart-ticking moments or the emotional, heart melting moments, silence works brilliantly in both.

The entire episode, in which Gabbar Singh kills Thakur’s family, is accompanied by just the sound of a swing in the wind and a musical silence that instantly brings a lump in our throat. In the following scene, there is a sudden entry of massive string section rushing in to evoke the intensity of anger with which Thakur hops onto his horse and rides up to kill Gabbar Singh. If were continuously played in the preceding scene, the rush of the string section would not have created a strong impact on us. We would not have felt Thakur's anger as much as we do now.

The “Tera Kya Hohga Kaliya” episode also has ample scope for putting music that matches with every scream, every turn and every action of Gabbar Singh, but the complete episode is filled with an intimidating silence in the soundtrack. It creates a mild fear about Gabbar Singh even in the audience’s minds. The final combat between Jai and Gabbar Singh’s goons is again filled with silence, creating a storming restlessness and anticipation in our minds about what is going to happen. In this episode also, there are ample shots where music could be played, but until Jai gets up, with just one bullet in his pistol, to fight against the goons, there is no music and that made the music, that plays after the long silence, sound extremely heroic.

Gabbar Singh theme is the chilling Cello theme that sounds like a wily Cat's meow (came to know that it is a cello from the book 'Behind the Curtain'). It plays even before we see the face of Gabbar Singh in the film. This theme invariably plays in all the scenes in which Gabbar Singh appears, but what amazes me the most is the timing of introduction of the theme in all of these scenes. We already observed the silence throughout the scene in which all in the Thakur family are killed. However, when the grandson of Thakur, comes running out of the house, Gabbar Singh comes closer to the boy. We still hear a musical silence accompanied by the sound of horse-shoes hitting the ground. Gabbar’s theme starts to play precisely when Gabbar picks his gun and aims to shoot the boy. We do not see what happened to the boy after that, R.D.Burman has said it by playing the theme. R.D.Burman could have easily played the theme right from the shot, when Gabbar Singh begins to ride down the hill. This technique of writing character leitmotifs for principal characters in the film, and using it the way it is used in Sholay were not prevalent in the Hindi film background scores then. Were they?

Love Theme – There must be some music played in all those scenes, in which Jai speaks to Raadhaa through his Harmonica. Was it decided in the scripting stage, that Jai would play the same melody on his Harmonica to woo or rather speak to Raadhaa? Were, scripts written with all these details, then? Instead of playing a random melody in these scenes, R.D.Burman chose to compose a theme that could recur in all of these scenes. If we take out the innate, intimate and the intricate love theme that R.D.Burman fills the calm in the aura with, the Jai-Raadhaa love story would be totally lifeless.

R.D.Burman does not play the Harmonica version of the theme, in the first meeting of Jai and Raadhaa. Jai sees Raadhaa for the first time in Thakur’s house. When Jai sees Raadhaa in the attire of a widow, the first emotion that emerges is sympathy, which is beautifully underlined with a Saarangi that plays the main love theme. While Saarangi speaks of Jai’s sympathy, the main thematic melody is not played in its complete form on Saarangi. The soul stirring inflection in the second phrase of the melody is not there. The Saarangi deliberately avoids playing the inflecting note in the melody, to leave it incomplete, so that Jai can later complete the incompleteness in Raadhaa’s life, by filling the void and playing the inflecting note in the melody with his Harmonica.

A sprightly version of the theme plays on a Saxophone, when Raadhaa sees Jai riding a bull like a horse and making funny sounds. Then, the magical moment arrives. We hear Jai playing the theme on Harmonica, sending musical message to light up the gloomy life of Raadhaa, who is literally putting off the lights in her life.

The real masterstroke comes towards the end of the film. Harmonica plays the theme in its complete form for one last time on Jai’s funeral. When the camera pans to the lone Raadhaa, the Harmonica leaves the theme to the Strings just like how Jai leaves Raadhaa. Cascade of Violins play the theme with deep Cello section playing counter melodies to the main theme and without that sweet note of inflection in the melody, which is just like how Jai adds further to Raadhaa's sufferings and how Jai leaves Raadhaa’s life as an incomplete story yet again. Were, techniques like leitmotifs and development of musical themes along with the characters, common in the background score of Hindi films, then?

Title Music - The instantly catchy Guitar melody loops, and accompanies the journey of two strangers. A Saxophone takes the lead and plays the evocative main melody. With the guitar continuously strumming from behind, the strings, brass section, beats on triple bongos and acoustic drums, form a rich orchestral sound. When the strangers enter the streets of the village, the music shifts to folk melody, earthy percussions and rhythms, and it proves that enough care was taken to sync the music with the atmosphere shown in the visuals. All of these original ideas flourish in the track while still retaining the unmistakable flavor of Ennio Morricone’s that the film makers wanted to have in the music. The title music is specifically composed for the titles. It plays again for a brief while in the end credits. It is not an instrumental version of any of the songs in the film. The title music is not repeated anywhere else in the film. Were there any Hindi films before Sholay that had such exclusive title music?

There are few smaller music cues that work beautifully with the visuals. On seeing an Injured Jai, Raadhaa rushes, runs and descends down the stairs. The strings hustle and bustle to evoke what Raadhaa feels inside. The strings that start a melody on high octave, descends octaves exactly how Raadhaa descends down the stairs and when Raadhaa reaches the ground, strings reach the lowest octave that it could touch. It is no eternal music pieces, but it works, it just works so well, when a piece of music plays precisely in sync with the movements of the subject in focus in the scene and at the same time captures the emotions under focus.

In You Tube, there are thousands of videos of people playing the Title music and Harmonica theme of Sholay. Is there any fan-band of any composer, in India, performing the composers’ background score pieces in live shows? Even today, I guess no one does that. The composers themselves are not playing their background score pieces in their concerts. I have embedded below the video of a band playing the complete Sholay theme live. This live performance tells all about the reach and success of Sholay background music, which no other Indian film background score, has achieved so far.



I do not know if it is something to feel happy for or to be ashamed of, but only, or at least, in the week of the 35th anniversary of Sholay, National Film Awards committee announced that it is going to recognize “Background Score” as a separate category in the yearly National Film Awards from 2009.