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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jab Tak Hai Jaan Pre-release

Challa the first song from the most awaited soundtrack of the year Jab Tak Hai Jaan will be heard, discussed, analyzed and tweeted and retweeted about millions of times in few hours. The song’s main melody was revealed already on Guitar in the very first trailer of the film. I already have a certain expectation on what the song is going to sound like. I am expecting that Challa would have a typical Indian film song structure with standard prelude-stanza-interlude structure. The song will have a lot of Guitar (There are many making-of videos of the songs which reveals that Shahrukh Khan is singing the song wandering the streets of London with a guitar in his hand throughout) and acoustic drums and very less Synth. The song though is written in Punjabi, I am guessing that there will not be any Punjabi elements in the music – no Dhols or Thumbi.

None of my predictions may turn out to be true. But, what is there.

Here is an excerpt related to the pre-release of an A.R.Rahman album from my book Memoirs of a Rahmaniac

Earlier, when the musical storm hit us, it hit in its entirety, it hit all of a sudden, one whole song, one whole soundtrack at one go, but nowadays, much before the release of an AR Rahman soundtrack, we already get to listen to samples of the tracks online. It is because of these the immensity, intensity and force with which an AR Rahman hit us, has reduced.

Also, it is a bad idea to listen to snippets of an AR Rahman song before the release, though I have hardly succeeded in restricting myself from doing that. And the online folks, who want to jump into a conclusion instantly, jump into conclusion instantly! These snippets can no way reveal what the whole experience is going to be. AR Rahman‘s music is as unpredictable as it always has been. If AR Rahman‘s songs still take time to grow on you, listening to thirty second samples could only make the process more difficult.

You first have to come out of your own restricted imagination of the flow of the melody to embrace the entire song the way it actually is. "Am I giving the listener a whole new experience?", "Am I taking the listener to a place they have never been to previously?" are the questions AR Rahman seems to ask when he sits to make a song. In the pre-Internet era, when I use to rush to the nearest music shop to buy an AR Rahman album on the first day of its release, ―What new experience is AR Rahman going to take me through his music this time?‖ would be the only question running in my mind. AR Rahman is the most predictably unpredictable composer of our times. Like they always say, the only constant in AR Rahman‘s music is the change. The AR Rahman soundtracks that released in the last three years, while I was on the journey of writing a book on AR Rahman‘s music, have occupied an interesting place in my life. For the first time, in 2011, I heard a full song from a yet-to-be-released AR Rahman album Rockstar, because of a benevolent Twitter friend.

Ayutha Ezhuthu (Yuva) was the first AR Rahman album that released after I started using Internet in college. For the first time, I heard thirty seconds samples of all the songs of an AR Rahman album (Ayutha Ezhuthu) on the Internet, much before the release of the album. I remember that I did not like the way I was preparing myself to embrace a new AR Rahman album. It killed all the excitement I used to have before buying an album, when I would have no clue of what to expect from it.

Times have changed, but the excitement levels on the verge of the release of a new AR Rahman‘s album still remains the same, despite or many a times because of all those short snippets of music that is spilled over on the Internet and the film‘s teasers and trailers. When I heard the haunting Yuvraaj Piano theme on the official movie website, my excitement hit new levels. The complete Oru Koodai Sunlight song, albeit an incomplete version from Sivaji – the Boss, was leaked on the Internet before the release of the album. I still remember the exhilaration I experienced when I heard O Saya from Slumdog Millionaire on the Internet. I wrote in my blog, "I am exhilarated like I was when I first heard Thiruda Thiruda songs".

There is AR Rahman‘s version of the song Omana Penne which, in the film, is sung by Benny Dayal. It is available on the Internet. Madhan Karky released a scratch version of Irumbilae Or Irudhayam from Endhiran, which was given to him to write the lyrics. I remember writing a review and guessing the moods of the scenes in which the cues are used by just listening to the thirty second samples of the cues from Couples Retreat soundtrack. The grandiose Choir motif Un paer sonnadhum perumai sonnadhum from Endhiran was released much before the release of the soundtrack and as always that too stirred more excitement.

The Rockstar website had the yayaya bit from Jo Bhi Mein as the background music. Also, the main riff of Saadda Haq was available on the Internet six months before the release of the album. Ranbir Kapoor fan site had posted a video taken while the shooting of the Hawa Hawa song was on in Prague. You get to hear snippets of AR Rahman‘s song, even the work-in-progress versions, much before the release. And yet, you cannot help but feel astonished when the song finally unfolds in its entirety in its final form. He does it again, again and again, in the way only he can.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Raaja Veenai Answers

I posted a Raaja Veenai Quiz a week ago.

The 17 Veena pieces heard in Raaja Veenai clip are from

1.Sindhu Bhairavi
2.Agni Nakshatram
5.Mouna Raagam
6.Sindhu Bhairavi
7.Jappanil Kalyaana Raaman
8.Raaja Paarvai
9.Unnaal Mudiyum Thambi
10.Vishwa Thulasi
11.Chinna Kounder
12.Sri Rama Rajyam
14.Singara Velan
15.Vishwa Thulasi
16.Mouna Raagam
17.Aan Paavam


drunkenmonk - 4
RK - 3
Sripathy ramesh - 7
@tekvijay - 8
Krishna - 5
Kaarthik - 9
Venkatesh CR - 13
Sankari - 4

Well done everyone!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Listening to People Like Us

I wanted to watch the film “People like us” to know how well A.R.Rahman’s soothing and sublime score – which I have been listening to and cherishing only as standalone music - has been used in the film. I finally watched the film last week. I liked it.

“People like us” is a very unique soundtrack coming from A.R.Rahman. He diligently maintains a consistent tone and mood throughout the film. Rahman risks monotony to stay true to the central emotions and the idea of the film. If you as a listener are patient and attentive, People like us will take you on a pleasant journey through emotions.

The underlying calm and quiet in the soundtrack isn’t something we get to hear much in Rahman’s works in India. A.R.Rahman doesn’t get to be a part of such sweet little family films in India. In People like us, Rahman doesn’t have to be eclectic, experimental, and he doesn’t. The music beautifully blends with the film. The music feels like it isn’t there at all, but is there and is doing its job with utmost precision, clarity and diligence. The score is honest to the film, never moving even slightly away from the central idea and emotions of the scene or mood in focus.

Rahman’s is a typical Hollywood film score with distinct leitmotifs that could be instantly identified and mapped to the different principal characters in the film. There are many recurrences and delectable variations of the main themes cued at apt moments throughout the film. The score is built around three main themes – Be People theme, Family theme, Dad’s theme and Mom’s theme.

Most of the music is buried under the conversations. The music soars only occasionally, when it does, it blends so perfectly with the drama in the moment that it never feels overt. The extensive use of already existing songs for some key montages in the film might initially make it sound like there is very little score in the film, but every single cue on the soundtrack CD has been used in the film.

And surprisingly, there are few more original score cues in the film which weren’t included in the Soundtrack CD probably for its shorter length, which the insiders call Needle drops. There are pieces of music that serve as a comma or period at the end of a scene. One of them is a beautiful vintage Rahman Piano theme (Cue 11 below) which Rahman could have developed a little further and included in the CD.

Other cues (needle drops)

Cue 1

Cue 2

Cue 3

Cue 4

Cue 5

Cue 6

Cue 7

Cue 8

Cue 9

Cue 10

Cue 11

Cue 12

The main theme of the film is heard in its entirety when Sam (Chris Pine) and Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) have a free-wheeling conversation about their lives in Tacos. Rahman hints just the core of the theme in few instances (Listen to Cue 6 & 8) where Sam and Frankie accidentally bump into each other. I liked how Rahman brings in Dad’s theme whenever the focus of the conversation is on how loveless and indifferent their Father was. The sound of the piece brings with it a sense of an eerie nostalgia, one that you don’t want to go back to and yet can’t help doing it.

Most of the moments in the beginning of the film require the score to pop up for not more than few seconds just at the right point of inflection in drama. And the longer musical sections are mostly buried under conversations and ambient sounds. Only when the movie reaches past its midpoint the score gets more space and plays for longer lengths.

The precision with which Rahman’s score underlines the mood changeover in that conversation between Sam and his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) where they finally resolve all their differences and reconcile is brilliant. While you already know that Sam and his mother are going to hug in a while, it happens gradually through the conversation, and every little emotional ascend to that final hug is beautifully underlined by a solo guitar that plays phrases with measured pauses in between and the whatever emotionally their minds go through while they reconcile is traced by the acute musical shift in the piece. And when they hug, everything joins in to gently burst into a soft and soothing musical crescendo.

The cue Family pictures that plays magically over the final revelation scene is a brilliantly done scrambled version of the track Tacos in which the main theme is first heard in its entirety. The signature guitar chords, the guitar prelude, the main thematic melody, and the guitar phrases that keeps the mood afloat when the piece moves ahead of the main theme and the haunting cello sub-theme from Tacos are all there in Family Pictures, but the order of the melodic phrases are totally different here, and phrases that appear as part of lead melody in Tacos become supporting phrases for the main melody in Family pictures. This way of scrambling or jumbling elements in a piece is something I haven’t heard much. You never know what comes next, though on surface it feels like both Tacos and Family Pictures are almost same because of the waltz rhythm. The aching Cello sub-theme from Tacos is finally played on a soothing flute solo in the climax implying precisely how all their pain have been soothed by the final revelation.

Unlike Couples Retreat, soundtrack of which was just a worthy addition to Rahman’s discography, “People like us” is a worthy addition to Rahman’s filmography. This is a very important film for A.R.Rahman. The music for a film, however ingenious it may be as a standalone piece of work, is most often times only as memorable as the film.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Raaja Veenai

Back to Quizzing business.

On the lines of How To Name it quiz for Violin and Nothing but Wind quiz for flute, Raaja Veenai is for Ilaiyaraaja's background score cues with Veena as the lead instrument.

Raaja Veenai Quiz

There are 17 different Veena pieces.

Guess the films from the background score cues and please mention the names of the films in the order in which it appears in the above audio clip.

Please answer only in the comments section of this post. Let everyone have some fun with guessing.

Answers Here

Jab Tak Hai Jaan Trailer Music - A.R.Rahman

From the two trailers we have seen so far of Jab Tak Hai Jaan, music seems to have shaped up just the way I wanted it to be. Obviously, there is going to be a lot of Guitar pieces in this soundtrack. Yash Chopra (also Aditya Chopra) and A.R. Rahman seem to have agreed to hit a middle path in this film's music. It is very evident in the music in the second trailer, which is a nice folksy romantic melody with Guitars, mandolins and soaring strings; all typical Chopra's music elements packed in Rahman style.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan Trailer 1 & 2 Music as single track

Also, a warning:

It is a bad idea to listen to snippets of an AR Rahman song before the release, though I have hardly succeeded in restricting myself from doing that. These snippets can no way reveal what the whole experience is going to be. AR Rahman‘s music is as unpredictable as it always has been. If AR Rahman‘s songs still take time to grow on you, listening to thirty second samples could only make the process more difficult. You first have to come out of your own restricted imagination of the flow of the melody to embrace the entire song the way it actually is.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Barfi Background Score

Pritam, Jim Satya & Prasad Sashte have secured themselves the National Award for Best background score of the year with his Barfi score. It has soul stirring leitmotifs (mostly derived from the melodies of the songs) and breathtaking incidental chase-action cues that seamlessly capture all the shifts and cuts in the action and aptly recurring thematic ideas throughout the film.

For Barfi to work, score should work as much as Ranbir’s performance and it sure does.

Just like the film, the score is heavily inspired by the music of Silent film era and European films. I don’t know when was the last time I saw an Indian film with so many long silent visual montages that rely totally on music. Composers beautifully capture with the music every little mood changeover in all of these long stretches of silent montages.

There is so much more to say about this score. I want to watch the film again. I can’t wait for the DVD. I hope they release the background score separately on CD. That Barfi background score is heavily inspired is quite evident, but I hope the cues and motifs weren't blatantly lifted from some foreign films.

30 Cues from Barfi background score. Runs for almost 45 minutes. I couldn’t post many other cues (at least another 20 minutes) because of the overlapping dialogues; the audio clips might spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it yet.

Picture Shuru

Cue 01

Cue 02

Cue 03

Cue 04

Cue 05

Cue 06

Cue 07

Cue 08

Cue 09

Cue 10

Cue 11

Cue 12

Cue 13

Cue 14

Cue 15

Cue 16

Cue 17

Cue 18

Cue 19

Cue 20

Cue 21

Cue 22

Cue 23

Cue 24

Cue 25

Cue 26

Cue 27

Cue 28

Cue 29

Cue 30

Friday, September 7, 2012

Neethaane En Ponvasantham - Orchestration!

The heart and soul of Ilaiyaraaja’s music for Gautam Vasudev Menon’s Neethaane En Ponvasantham lies in the Orchestration. It is not just the preludes and interludes (as expected, interlude stands on its own as a mini symphony with its own motif and its variations); even the vocal portions are heavily supported by the orchestra with many layers of instruments parading one after and one over the other playing supporting and contrapuntal phrases. The immensity of details that Ilaiyaraaja plants in the orchestration of the song is mind boggling, and these details, even if a listener is not really conscious of its presence cannot escape from experiencing the resultant effect.

I am still wondering why Ilaiyaraaja chose to split the song Yennodu Vaa Vaa into two halves and treated each half differently; Raaja writes a symphonic orchestration for the first half, but strips off all that is acoustic from the second half and leaves it entirely to Synth. If it is to demonstrate the difference between lovers now and then as demanded by the script, it is interesting that Ilaiyaraaja explicitly says something by retaining the melody as it is and changing only the orchestration. Musically, I don’t know if it is a valid case to compare and discuss, because, in the first half, with a live orchestra, Raaja stuffs the song with multiple layers of instruments, but he practices a deliberate restraint when the song switches to Synth mode. The melody is allowed to play on its own with a very minimal Synth backing (just a Synth bass I guess) and a pounding electronic pad. I don’t really miss the symphonic orchestration in the second half, for it gives the melody a breathing space and a chance to flaunt its beauty on its own. Even if the entire song were set to Synth I would have hummed, whistled and played the song on loop in my mind as much as I do now.

However, now that I have heard the songs with all those accompanying acoustic orchestral layers, I cannot play just the melody of the song in my mind. The orchestration feels immensely innate to the main melody that when I try to play the song in my mind, all the orchestral layers almost always accompany the main melody, like that Guitar riff (not the main guitar riff) from Saindhu Saindhu that accompanies the lines en thaaiyai pola oru pennai Thedi or that stirringly subdued, brief rise and fall of a dense strings section when Karthik goes thalli thalli ponaalum unnai enni vazhum oru yezhai endhan nenjathai paaradi (that Oboe piece is jarring though) in Kaatrai Konjam.

The melodies of Mudhal Murai Paartha Nyaabagam and Sattru munbu depend a lot on the backing orchestration to evoke the basic mood and emotion of the respective songs. I am not sure if the melody of the line manadhinil yeno or baaram (from Mudhal Murai) can convey the heaviness of the heart the girl is screaming about without that orchestral backing where a hefty strings section aggressively ascend along with the melody. The mad rush created by the drums and strings in dramatic turn the song takes through veyila mazhaiya vazhiyaa sugamaa yedhu nee to hit the high before it breaks into Neethaane En Ponvasantham hook section - this song wouldn’t be as effective without the live orchestration.

Ilaiyaraaja seems to be cautiously introducing the changes in the orchestration in a regular interval in the songs, so that, even though the orchestration changes relentlessly throughout the song somehow listeners know when to expect the next twist or turn. This helps a great deal in not alienating a listener. The element of surprise is very important in orchestral music that could instantly intrigue a listener. Ilaiyaraaja quite effectively manages to give these orchestral surprises without alienating the listener.

I don’t know if it is to avoid sounding repetitious or to impart a new sound, but Ilaiyaraaja does seem to be deliberately avoiding flute and chooses other instruments of wood winds family in its place in most of the songs. So, in an interlude in Kaatrai Konjam, when a flute slowly emerges amidst other instruments, as if travelling a long distance to find its place in the overall scheme of orchestra, I was expecting it to blossom into a full-fledged piece, but Ilaiyaraaja doesn’t yield to the temptation and chops off the flute before it takes a definite shape and overpowers everything else. Emotionally too, this seems to be a moment of nostalgia that was long lost, that seems to have come back to haunt us again, but we are so busy dealing with the things of the present, before we could get entirely engulfed by it, we just forget and move on. Ilaiyaraaja deliberately creates a mystery, leaves it unresolved and keeps us waiting for something to happen that never comes by. I get immensely intrigued by such drama in the orchestral pieces.

There is a natural flow in the song, a sense of coherence and fluidity though the songs break into varied sections of vocal stanzas and instrumental interludes. All of it feels magically glued as one whole entity because of Ilaiyaraaja’s orchestral ideas.

In Saindhu Saindhu, after the first charanam, Yuvan reprises the pallavi and precisely when he is about to end, a Saxophone emerges playing a pleasing phrase and this leads us to the instrumental interlude. The flow is achieved by beginning the beginning of the next section just before the previous section ends, but the fascinating aspect here is that the connecting piece – like the Saxophone piece here – fits the ending of the end of the previous section with amazing musical precision and also naturally reprises in the following instrumental interlude as if it was born and always belonged here. I thought that Saxophone connector piece did its job well and I bid a goodbye, but it is heard as instrumental filler between the vocal lines in the pallavi when it reprises again towards the end of the song. Surprise! Again! The number of ideas that Ilaiyaraaja executes within what on surface sounds like a minimally orchestrated six-minute song is unbelievable.

The first instrumental interlude in Saindhu Saindhu ends with a new guitar riff (quite different from the main guitar motif of the song), and while we think it is part of interlude, Ilaiyaraaja continues to loop the guitar riff as a supporting instrumental layer in the continuing charanam as well. This way he never abruptly cuts off from one section and jumps to other section of the song, always creates a connector that could do its job both as a lead solo in one section and the supporting melody in the other. All of these techniques sound very simple and natural and quite obvious while listening because we got so accustomed to these techniques by listening to Ilaiyaraaja’s music all these years.

In Vaanam mella, Ilaiyaraaja plays a looping supporting melody on Harp underneath the main melody throughout the main stanza, not just for the first time but also whenever it appears in the course of the song, which, I guess is the key ingredient more than anything else that evokes a sense of sweet nostalgia that the boy and girl are singing about in the song. It is the Harp that adds a sense of movement in the song and makes it livelier. In the final reprise, when the song is about to end, Ilaiyaraaja prepares us by suddenly stopping the Harp layer. We sense, though not consciously, that something we were continuously hearing has ceased to be, and we expect a change in the course of the song, which in this case, happens to be the end.

Also, in Saindhu Saindhu, there is a sense of perfect sonic balance and symmetry in the way Ilaiyaraaja opens and closes musical parentheses in the course of the song. The first interlude begins with a soothing string section playing a simple melody (reminds me of that sublime Pournami theme from Guna) without any other instrumental disturbances, after which the piece expands and moves on to other instruments. And we realize that that was the opening of a musical section only when he closes it quite logically at the end of the second interlude where again just the strings section without any other accompaniments play similar melody.

Even the signature guitar riff with which the song begins is reprised at the very end on strings to bring the song to a comforting closure. The whole main stanza Saindhu Saindhu reprises at the end with a totally new orchestral backing instead of its native guitar riff accompaniment, and while I was wondering if the guitar riff was gone forever, there it reprises again on strings section, when the song was almost about to fade out and die, giving a fitting answer to my question and an exhilarating sense of closure to six minutes of musical joy.

Now, what does that symmetry mean to an average listener? A sense of satisfaction that we inherently feel while listening to a piece of orchestral music could also be because of us intuitively experiencing the innateness, the precision and the clarity in the ideas of the creator that comes through the composition. There are no random music fillers or ambiguous musical ideas. When every single layer of instrument in the given piece of orchestral music feel like it is there for a specific definitive purpose, which it is serving with utmost diligence, you can’t help but fall obsessively in love with the music and the composer.

I have the habit of editing the songs like this with just the instrumental preludes, interludes and postludes of a song and play it in the background when I am at work

I did that for Neethaane En Ponvasantham songs too

Kaatrai Konjam

Mudhal Murai

Pengal Yendral

Pudikkala Maamu

Saindhu Saindhu

Sattru Munbhu

Vaanam mella

Yennodu Vaa Vaa