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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why this Kolaveri on "di"?

Few seconds into listening to Moondru soundtrack – by debutante composer Anirudh Ravichander, I felt irritated, because in the first song of the soundtrack Idhazhin Oru Oram, the word “Naadiyai” is sung as “Naadeeyai” (Naadeeyai Silirkka Vaiththaai). It irritates me to no end, when in a song a word is mispronounced to make it fit into a preset melody. Music in a song is not just the melody; the inherent musicality of the language in which verses of the song are written is also a vital part of it. One may not consciously listen to the sound of the words sung or even understand the meaning of words, but the vowels and consonants of the language bring with them their innate rhythm, timbre, tone, and contour. If the musicality of the language in the song doesn’t seamlessly blend in with the music in the melody, it ends up being a highly jarring dissonance, at least for me. The short vowel sound in the word “Di” must be placed on a musical note of appropriate duration that doesn’t disturb the length of the vowel, for, stretching it a little beyond its original length would change the meaning of word completely or make the word meaningless; in this case, we have a meaningless word “Naadeeyai”. (A.R.Rahman’s ridiculous Kaadhal yendraal kaayam dhaan in Kannukkul Kannai song from Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa was the last time I got irritated as much with the way the lyrics was skewed into a song template)

I have heard Anirudh Ravichander play Piano in A.R.Rahman’s Band Hunt show “Ooh la la la”. He was part of the band called Zinx and their song Comp 6 even made it to the final “Ooh la la la” album. But, nothing much can be judged about the caliber of Anirudh as a composer from Comp 6 for it was a band song meant for live performances with sections for each instrumentalist and vocalist to flaunt their musicianship in front of a live audience. When Kolaveri di became a rage that it was, there was huge skepticism on his abilities to deliver tender and breezy romantic melodies, for 3 is a love story. Suchitra Karthik Kumar on twitter said, “Anirudh Ravichander is a Piano Prodigy. Kolaveri di is his most normal work”. But, I am quite underwhelmed by his melodies. They are sweet, yes, but shallow; when the melody begins with a sweet, nice phrase, you expect it to turn sweeter and nicer and take you on a journey to hit its sweetest route, but mostly those sweeter turns never come by and sweetest spots are never hit and it hangs around and meanders just as a sweet simple melody. The melody doesn’t make you fall in love with the romance. What Anirudh does get right is the hook line of the song. Hook is the keyword. In contemporary Hindi film music, almost every song is written with a hook line, which gets repeated throughout the song. Even in the soundtrack CD’s back cover, the songs are titled, not with the line with which the song begins, but which the song wanders and meanders all the way to hit - the punch line, the hook. Fortunately, this isn’t a trend in Tamil Film music yet. Such songs have meandering and middling melodies that takes path leading to that one Hook line. It is the hook line that is important, and if that is hooky enough, you can just put anything else around it and pass it on as a song. It would be unfair to say these romantic songs are amateur compositions, but definitely there is a scope for refinement in there and it just doesn’t hit the right emotional chords.

Anirudh fares far better when it comes to songs like Kolveri di. Come on girls is such unadulterated fun. The spontaneity is written all over the composition; the arrangements sound adequately fresh. The instrumental pieces are too short to tell us anything about his orchestration skills, though the life full of Love violin theme sounds interesting with orchestral layers and counter melodies that sound genuinely sprang along with the main melody in the composer’s mind. Po Nee Po remix included in the CD is not exactly a remix. It is a totally different version and far better and interesting one than the original, for the increase in tempo blurs the blandness of the melody in the middle section of the original song. They should have named it Po Nee Po – Hard Rock Version. Satya Prakash – the Airtel super singer runner up, makes his debut as playback singer with this song and he embellishes the tune with an inimitable classical tinge. And to whoever has sung (Harish Swaminathan) that exquisite “Janani” scream where he pours love, passion, angst, desperation and despair all into one – Well done. This blink-you-miss non musical moment is the most heart-felt expression of romance in the whole soundtrack.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Are you a background score composer?

Today, for the fifth time since the inception of this blog, I received a mail from a short-film maker asking if I would be interested in composing background score for their short film. If I say no, they immediately ask me to recommend someone else. I know that there are many aspiring composers out there who are looking for such opportunities. If you are a composer, interested in writing background score for independent films and short films, please mail your sample compositions, and online links to videos with your background score, to backgroundscore@gmail.com. Next time when someone asks me to compose background score, I would happily refer your works to them. I don’t know when I would again get one such mail, or if I would get one ever again, so, I cannot guarantee anything.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Vaagai Sooda Vaa Music Review

Gone are those days when I use to write so-called Music reviews for movie soundtracks. I wrote one for "Vaagai Sooda Vaa" soundtrack last year. I didn't post it then, because I took too much time to write it - two months since the release of the soundtrack. I don't know why I am posting it now.

A Cello Counters

With the quick staccato steps that the phrases take in the melody and with the backing of chirpy pizzicato strings, the supposedly Tamil folk song sung by a girl in love in 1960 - “Sara Sara Saarakaaththu” comes with a tinge of classical western music. This isn’t something new, Ilaiyaraaja has successfully executed such experiments decades before (remember, Yendha Poovilum Vaasam Undu from Ullasa Paravaigal) in Tamil film music. However, it is refreshing to see a composer making such an effort in his debut film. The song is easily one of the most addictive songs of year. Who else but Vairamuthu could think of such delightful parade of words for a song that a girl sings expressing what happens within when she meets and speaks with her ‘Sir’? In one line, Vairamuthu could capture the ambience – the gentle breeze, the characters – the information that the girl calls her Man ‘Sir’ and their feelings – the hiss in her heart the girl could sense when she speaks to her “Sir”. Not to forget the exquisite singing by Chinmayi with heaps of husk and silkiness in her voice. The recurring Violin motif, the Mandolin piece in the first interlude which surprisingly is also set to words by Vairamuthu and plays as a coda to the song at the end – M.Ghibran sprinkles such sweet little musical nuggets throughout the song. Yet, the one that really bowled me over while listening to the song is the Solo Cello that plays a deeply affecting counter melody to the main melody line throughout the second stanza (from when Chinmayi goes “Pullu kattu Vaasamaa”). The song would be popular even without that layer of Cello but the composer doesn’t stop with just what is necessary to make a mere hit song, instead he embellishes the song with intricate orchestral layers that add an emotional heft to the apparent fluff on the surface. M.Ghibran – Take a bow! (This Cello layer can be heard clearly in the Karaoke version of the track included in the Audio CD).

Erhu and Shenga

Sound - The New Sound is something every new Tamil film composer is working hard to bring in their music. A song can’t have a new sound anymore, by merely using a commercially available loop or sample, before others do. Those days are gone. Now the search is on for new tones and instruments that could make their songs sound distinct. Especially, there has been a growing interest in using Chinese musical instruments even since A.R.Rahman’s ‘Warriors of Heaven and Earth’ happened. However, most of the composers fail to localize the sound of the instrument enough to make it sound in sync with ethos of place and the period represented in the film. When they use a foreign instrument, they play the genre of music that the instrument naturally belongs to and there is nothing special about that. M.Ghibran does not seem to be one such composer and the instruments used in the song “Thanjavooru Maadhaththi” are a proof. Gab Gubi used in the song isn’t a Tamil folk instrument, it originates from West Bengal but there is nothing new in using Gab Gubi, we have heard its sound many times before in Tamil film music (the one that instantly flashes in my mind is Ore Oru Oorilae from Abhiyum Naanum). None would have imagined that a Chinese string instrument could sound totally in place in a Tamil folk song. The Erhu piece in the prelude of the song is a wonder. The earthiness of the melody played on the instruments totally sucks the Chinese sound out of the instrument and injects the spirit of Tamil folk milieu in it. That is how you bring in a new sound into a song, by using a new instrument but playing a native melody on it. Even in the other song “Poraanae Poraanae”, the prelude piece is not played with flute, it is on a traditional Chinese wind instrument Shenga. Did anyone found it sounding odd or alien?

Lyrical Music

In his “Aayiram Paadalgal” book release function, Vairamuthu told that out of thousand songs in the book, only for five songs the lyrics was written before the tune was composed. That is the common practice. Yes, it is true that lyricists are forced to write verses that fit into a melody, but the composers do take efforts to ornament the beauty of the lines with their orchestration. With the current music making process, where nothing is final or rigid, this lyric-ornamentation is possible. The way A.R.Rahman adds a layer of flute that doubles the main melody in the line “Yennai yaendha koodaadhena Kaiyyodu solladhu Pullangulal” written by Vaali for Roja Roja song from Kadhar Dhinam is an example of lyric-ornamentation. But, in “Poraanae Poraanae” song, M.Ghibran goes a step further in ornamenting the lyric by re-shaping the main melody to suit the literal meaning of the words penned by the lyricists (Karthik Netha – A pat on the back for the line “Seempaalu vaasam pola un sirippu”). When Neha Basin goes “Yeara yeranga paarkum”, the notes on the words “yeranga paarkum” beautifully descends down the pitch lane to sound perfectly in sync with the meaning of the words. M.Ghibran must have done it intentionally and that intention is all the more evident when in the second charanam, for the equivalent part Neha Basin goes “Adakaakkum kozhi pola”, the melody doesn’t take the path tread by “Year yeranga paarkum”. “Poraane Poraane” was originally composed by M.Ghibran 10 years ago for his band. Sargunam liked this melody and wanted to use this song in the film. It would be interesting to listen to that original song and check if the tune of “Yaera yeranga paarkkum” was there already in the original.

Debutante’s Symphony No.1

Is M.Ghibran the first ever composer in Tamil Film Music to get a symphony orchestra to records his songs in his debut film? That shows the level of confidence the producers of the film had in him. But, all the songs aren’t symphonic in style. I am not sure if these songs really demand a symphony orchestra. In most of the songs, only the Strings section is recorded with the symphony orchestra. Ilaiyaraaja has recorded far more complex orchestral stuff with his own musicians in Chennai. The song of revolution “Aana Avanna” (recorded with Lisbon Symphony Orchestra) is the only song that uses the grandeur and richness of the symphonic sound to the maximum. Generally, composers tend to become over excited and enthusiastic when they get access to such orchestras and that does impact the output. Listen to Yuvan Shankar Raja’s orchestral pieces in Pudupettai Soundtrack CD; you will know what I mean. M.Ghibran surprisingly shows total restraint and he seems to know exactly what he is doing. The song to sound anthemic, it isn’t enough if you write for an 80-piece orchestra, the anthem is in the melody and M.Ghibran has got that right with the main theme sung by a kid in the beginning of the song. But, these symphonic orchestrations of other composers ‘sound’ vastly different from that of Ilaiyaraaja’s, I don’t know why. It could be because of that the tonal balance and dynamics in the orchestration or just sound mixing.

Best Song of the Year 2011

That in which all the parts come together and fall perfectly in place to create a whole that is so poignant, moving and beautiful as the song “Senga Soola Kaara”, you do not even think of any of the elements of music – orchestration, choice of instruments, the melody, chords, interludes, preludes - in isolation. This is one of those rarest of songs which you cannot dissect to its basic elements and describe in words how satisfying the experience of listening to the song is. The song that talks about the travails in the lives of sand brick makers is atypically conceived without any melodrama or pleads of sympathy both in melody and lyrics. Anitha’s robust vocals and brilliant rendition with right expressions and emphasis on the words leaves an indelible impact on the listeners. Listen to the boldness, force and anger in her voice when she sings “Soranaketta Saamy (Senseless God)”. And what can one say about Vairamuthu’s lyrics? Phenomenal and Breathtaking! I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins his next National Award for this song. The line “Viththa Viththa Kallu Yennachu, Vinna Vinna thottu ninnachchu, Mannu Kuzhi pola namma parambarai pallam aagi pochchu” – What more can one write to convey the sufferings of suppressed society. Senga Soolai Kaara will be the best song of the year 2011 for me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rigidly Rahmantic

Wedding Night

A.R.Rahman plucks the Harp strings intermittently, for the pinch of dilemma, hesitance, doubt and tension in Jalaluddin when he enters the room with a curious face, and shrunk eye brows. Jalaluddin is unable to guess Jodhaa’s mood. Jodhaa presses her toes against the bed, displaying an initial sign of rigidity and resistance. Without noticing it, Jalal removes his crown, keeps it aside and with some help from strings that play a soothing prelude sits on the bed. The sweet prelude paves way to a gorgeous melody that sweeps in its entirety on strings and eases Jalal. The bass registers of Cello section kicks in a staccato for Jalal’s dilemma to, or, not to, touch her.

When he does touch her hand, flourishing strings glorify the sense of first touch, but Jodhaa’s hand recedes. Mistaking her resistance for shyness, Jalal and Rahman proceed further. While Jalal attempts another touch, Rahman uses a mellifluous flute. Jodhaa recedes again. Ignoring the sign, Jalal takes his next step and leans forward to touch Jodhaa’s shoulders and so does Rahman, who culminates the layers of flute, strings and Harp into a lush, orchestral music. Just when Jalaluddin moves his hand closer to her shoulder, he realizes and so does Rahman, that Jodhaa is not interested. Jalal halts his action and Rahman stops his music.

All the flamboyance and sweetness sprinkled in the air by the music, vapours down to a monotonic bass line, lingering just to sustain the tension in the moment.

Love at First Sight

An exquisite cry of devotion is distantly heard when Adam Khan, Saadar Adaasi and others in the court are questioning Jalaluddin’s marriage with a Hindu Rajput Princess. Jalaluddin, hypnotized by the devotion and passion in the voice, follows the voice, and that leads him to Jodhaa’s Pooja room. Jalaluddin has not seen Jodhaa’s face yet. Jodhaa is sitting before the Idol of a Hindu deity and singing a Bhajan. Jodhaa’s face is still not visible from the direction in which Jalal enters the room. Mesmerized by her singing and devotion, Jalal walks around her and looks down. Rahman pauses for this one-in-a-million moment of magic on celluloid, when Jodhaa’s and Jalal’s eyes meet and lock for the first time. Those few seconds of silence is a real master stroke. The instant awe and speechlessness of Jalal in the moment of seeing his wife’s beauty for the first time could not have been conveyed any better. The pause allows the beauty of Jodhaa to sink-in in Jalal’s mind.

Rahman plays a stirring string section after the pause, speaking for staggered Jalal, whose inexpressible feelings are imploding within. The strings slowly fade into the main love theme. Plucks of Harp sound in sync with mind flaps of Jalal, who is standing there, without being able to understand what he feels inside; “Is this love?” - He seems to be asking himself. The strings begin to play the main melody of the theme when Jodhaa gets up and shows him the Pooja Aarti plate, and cello staccatos are perfectly in sync with the slight humour in the way Jalal stands curiously clueless of what he should do, in spite of Jodhaa gesturing him towards the plate with her eyes. Jodhaa takes the plate closer and asks him to apply Vermillion mark on her forehead for which Rahman plucks the staccatos again.

Jodhaa says ‘Sindhoor’ and the pleasing flute accompanies to Jalal’s relief as he now knows what to do and the lush, orchestral music closes in for the completeness of the moment, when Jalal applies Sindhoor on Jodhaa’s forehead. This is one of those scenes, in which every single note of music used by the composer reciprocates every frame conceived and captured by the filmmaker, elevating the emotions and eternally etching the moment in the minds of the audience.


In yet another private moment of Jodhaa and Akbar, which leads them to the ultimatum of In Lamhon ki song, Jodhaa wants to show something to Jalal; she has been learning calligraphy and she has written something to show her husband. Not so surprisingly, Rahman brings in the love theme in the very beginning of this episode. Jalal asks Jodhaa herself to read whatever she has written, and precisely when she says that a wife cannot spell out a husband’s name, a stirring string section – the one that was used when Jalal first saw Jodhaa eye-to-eye, begins to play here again. Repeating that strings piece is perfect here, because, then, it was the first time Jodhaa opened up her face for Jalal to see, and now, for the first time Jodhaa is opening up her heart to Jalal. The strings and Jodhaa’s love moist Akbar’s eyes, and when Jodhaa begins to spell the name “Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar”, the love theme appears in its full glory for one last time in the film.

I initially wanted to post “Rigidly Rahmantic” and “Maestro’s Malleable Motifs” as a single post with “Ilaiyaraaja Vs A.R.Rahman” as title, but decided not to in the last moment, for obvious reasons.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

backgroundscore Facebook Page

Backgroundscore.com now has a Facebook Page. You know what to do. I would be frequently posting links to articles, audio clips, videos and Quick thoughts (that I don't post in this blog) on film scores there.