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