Thursday, October 31, 2013

Six Years!!!!!!



Ah! It has been Six Years since it began. I have hardly ever spoken to anyone in person a word about background score. It happened here, only here. It started like a fun quizzing exercise with me posting background score clips and the visitors of the blog guessing the name of the film from the background score clip. I had so much time back then that I worked six months collecting background score clips of Indian films from all over internet to start this blog. I wanted to have the content for at least first three months ready, before I published the blog to public.

Very soon, I got bored of the quiz. I started writing elaborate rambling pieces on background score. That wasn't an entirely original idea. It was at that time I discovered Lord of the Rings, the movie and the score. I became a huge fan of Lord of the Rings Trilogy Score and started searching and reading everything that is there on internet about Howard Shore's score. There were a lot of articles extensively dissecting and analyzing each and every layer in all the cues in the LOTR Soundtrack. I wondered why we don’t have such pieces written on Tamil film scores. I wanted to read such articles on Tamil film scores, and since no one was writing about it, I decided to write what I wanted to read.

I wish I had that natural flair for writing. It takes a lot of time for me to process a thought, achieve clarity and then condensing that clear thought into a piece takes even more time and finally when I post it, I would have already worked on it for a week or a month or sometime even a year.

I don’t think about who would read when typing long indulgent posts on background score. I realized that such write-ups eventually find its readers. I get emails and comments on Posts, years after I wrote them.

Recently I stumbled upon a blog who follows my writings and mention my name in one of his posts,

“Critiquing cinema is a noble profession, an art at that; read Roger Ebert or Raja Sen or Baradwaj Rangan or PS Suresh Kumar. And like those folks helped me see films from a totally different angle, I write for that one kid out there who's head is buzzing with questions on the nature of art, conformity with the masses, tools for objectivity and the auteur's intention behind the making of every shot. True, watching cinema is a solitary experience but discussing it can be an enriching one.”


No. I am certainly not delusional to believe that I am one on par with others in that group of Celebrity Cinema Critics, but I agree with what he said about the purpose of writing on an art.

Thanks to the regular readers and followers of this blog, and all the forums and social networking sites, where a link to a post in this blog triggered some conversation, that taught me a lot about music, background score, and music appreciation.

This space has given me and taught me so much, and the amount of learning and its subsequent effect on the things I do in everyday life are so intertwined that I can’t even begin to explain. If there was no backgroundscore.com, I wonder how I would have spent all those hundreds of hours of my life that I was lost in watching movies, ripping and editing background score clips and writing about them for 442 blog posts and many unpublished drafts.

There is so much more that I want to learn and write about, there are so many scribbled ideas to give a final shape to. There are hundreds of Ilaiyaraaja’s film scores, I want to listen to and explore various musical ideas Ilaiyaraaja executed in them. The site badly needs a more professional look and design. There are lots of audio links in many blog posts that don't work. I hope to fix them up soon.

Thanks everyone for being a part of www.backgroundscore.com

Happy Diwali!

Favourite post in backgroundscore.com – Do you have one or maybe more? Let me know.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

20 Years of Thiruda Thiruda! - A.R.Rahman



Maniratnam on “Thiruda Thiruda” Music – from Baradwaj Rangan’s Book “Conversations with Maniratnam

Even while we were doing the background score for Roja, he’d started composing the music for this film. He’d already worked on the first song— Kannum kannum. We were getting completely out of the Roja zone. This was much wilder, much bigger. Veerapandi kottaiyile went all over the place. The songs were elaborate pieces, and he’d take quite a bit of effort to get each piece done. It was not done in a hurry. It was done to near-perfection. For the Chandralekha song, he wanted to record a piece. He said, ‘If I play it as a tune, it will be nothing.’ We didn’t have any lyrics. We wrote some lyrics, then and there, in English, and we got the singer to sing a one-minute version of the song. That became the composition. Each song was different. In Raasathi, he wanted no instruments, only vocals. The more varied it was, the wilder it was; it started fitting into the film— because there was nothing straight about the film.


It has been 20 years since the world of Indian Film Music was shaken to its roots by A.R.Rahman’s Thiruda Thiruda. It triggered a tremor and it’s after effects are still felt in Indian film music. The freshness, the energy, the lunacy, the innovation and experimentation in Thiruda Thiruda music still remains an unparalleled achievement in Indian film music. Last month, on a weekend trip from Bangalore to Salem, I was listening to Thiruda Thiruda songs on CD in the Car Stereo System for the first time, and after one round of listening, I tweeted - “GREATEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACK EVER. PERIOD” and It is.

When I first heard Thiruda Thiruda songs, I was 9 years old; I didn’t know Michael Jackson’s music, I hadn’t heard Rock Music, and I wasn’t conscious listener of Ilaiyaraaja’s music though it was always in the air everywhere, never heard of Western Classical Music or knew of a genre called a acapella – Thiruda Thiruda music affected me in ways I cannot even begin to explain. Now, I know a little of all those musicians and their music and musical genres and I am still as affected by Thiruda Thiruda Music. What Thiruda Thiruda music was when it first released to any discerning music listener is what it is and what it always would be. It is something that happens once in a lifetime of a composer’s career and it is all the more astonishing that it happened so early in case of A.R.Rahman.

There is no point discussing the technicalities and doing analysis on the Thiruda Thiruda music, experience the music if you haven’t yet - The Playlist.

Then, there is the equally breathtaking background score.

Maniratnam on “Thiruda Thiruda” Music – from Baradwaj Rangan’s Book “Conversations with Maniratnam”

And his background score was outstanding. He really worked on it. It was a big John Williams kind of score. We wanted it mastered in digital, 5.1 and all that, but we were not yet into DTS at that point. That’s when technology was changing. When he started doing Roja, we still used to record on half-inch tape. For this, maybe we used ADAT, a tape format that could record eight tracks of digital audio simultaneously. So with each film, the technology was jumping by leaps and bounds. And each time, he was there, on the ball, ready, ahead of his time, waiting for the technology to land where he wanted it to. He came in at the right time, when his every wish was coming true. And it’s still coming true.

The regular method of following the characters, recurring situations with motifs are all there, but no one of them Sounds like what we had heard before. There are strings, orchestral outbursts but the mix of Synth and Acoustic instruments made it sound grander and unique. When recently Rahman was asked about which score he would record again, now that he has access to all the Symphony Orchestras in the world, he said, “Thiruda Thiruda”. That would sound great, but the uniqueness of the sound of the score in the film as it was comes from heavy Synth dosage in the mix.

The chase theme from Thiruda Thiruda was played in the end credits of the television broadcast of the first ever GIMA – "Global Indian Music Awards", which is primarily an award instituted to recognize the best of Hindi film music every year. Thiruda Thiruda is a Tamil film. It was not even dubbed in Hindi. Only the music was released in Hindi, but I don’t think the theme was included in that Cassette. It is one of those pieces of music, like one of Yanni’s, like Mozart’s 25th, like Beethoven’s 9th - without you knowing who the composer is and when it was composed, it enters into life of every living being that has ever heard any piece of music. Thiruda Thiruda main Chase Theme is that last piece of an Instrumental music a Music Shop guy picks to fill in the left out tape space while recording songs in T-60 or T-90 cassettes, and whoever listens to the cassette would be hooked by the piece even though they don’t know who, what, where or how about the piece.

Never before we have seen a train heist episode in a film, backed by Rock guitars - the ones that actually sounded like rock guitars. The story suddenly shifts from City to Village, the first strain of music we hear is a distant voice (A.R.Rahman’s) singing a sombre tune Rasathi – we usually hear a pleasant flute when a story suddenly cuts to a Village from City.

Thiruda Thiruda is packed full with action and chasing sequences. A.R.Rahman’s orchestral arrangements for the chase sequences, with swelling string section, would conveniently fit in any Hollywood action film that he might compose music for in the near future. How do you score the umpteen numbers of chase sequences in the film differently, without any of it getting monotonous and yet maintaining a thematic integrity? Each chase sequence has a distinct music cue, but the one that stood the test of time is what we now call the “Thiruda Thiruda” theme and it plays when for the first time in the film Kathir (Anand) and Azhaghu (Prasanth) chase others to rescue Rasathi (Heera), instead of them being chased by others, and its reprise is again when they chase the Villain gang to rescue Chandralekha.

Thieves’ theme song (sung by G.V.Prakash Kumar) instantly paints Kathir and Azhaghu as perfectly harmless thieves, and it is played at varied tempo depending the pace of their actions in the many robbery sequences in the film. (Cue_04, Cue_07, Cue_13)

The score for Dishoom-Dishoom action sequences in the Indian films are most repetitive, uninspiring pieces of music you could ever hear – but not in here, Rahman plays fiddle in one (Cue_20) and another is laced with Mirudangam (Cue_36) throughout.

Aathukkula Aira meenu song (Cue_34), which plays when villagers use the wild elephants to lift the Container Lorry out of the river, is a folksy little beauty amid high adrenaline action music. Then there is that freaking collage of samples and sound fonts in the wicked villain theme.

Even that computer access card gets a four-note motif that recurs whenever it passes hands in the course of the film. There is a little love theme (Cue_22) also. There is a piece with counterpoint (Cue_29) too - when Kathir asks Rasathi to marry his brother who is also in love with her, a hint of love theme on Piano is played as a counterpoint to the melody of the song Rasathi (this version sung by Srinivas).

A.R.Rahman pulled all the stops, not just in the songs, but also in the background score of the film. Folk, Rock, Synth, Voice and Sound Samples, Ambient, Orchestral, Filmy and many more that I cannot name – assortment of genres all in one score - Total Madness! Never before I had heard such distinct music cues in the background score of one film. Thiruda Thiruda background score is full on Rahmanathon. I hope someday A.R.Rahman officially releases these cues on a CD in High quality.

From my "Memoirs of a Rahmaniac"
I was attending private home tuition classes at my Class Teacher‘s (Bharathi Miss) house every evening after the regular school hours. They had a high-end music system, the biggest I had seen and best I had heard until then. It is in their house I first heard the Thiruda Thiruda songs. The music system was kept in a room next to the living room, and from where I sat I could clearly listen to the songs when they played them from inside the room. I saw the lyrics booklet (a first time for a Tamil movie soundtrack, I guess) that came with a nicely designed Thiruda Thiruda audio cassette box. I use to hide the lyrics booklet within my text book that I would be pretending to read. I would read the lyrics booklet, whenever I heard a song from Thiruda Thiruda being played in the other room. It was difficult to decipher the lyrics otherwise. I was yet to get used to the dense layers of instruments amidst which AR Rahman drowned his vocals in the songs. Ironically, there is in the same soundtrack an acapella song Raasaaththi – first ever in Tamil film music or probably even Indian film music. However, Veerapandi Kottaiyilae was the song that hit me like a thunderbolt. I could not believe what I was listening to. I could not understand anything, but I was wonderstruck by the energy of the beats and the unending twists and turns in the structure of the song.



Listen to the playlist with 41 Cues from Thiruda Thiruda Background Score

Thiruda Thiruda Score - A.R.Rahman by Suresh Kumar on Grooveshark


Amit Trivedi on A.R.Rahman and Thiruda Thiruda

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wolf's Growl - Onayum Aatukuttiyum - Ilaiyaraaja (3)



Listen to

Wolf’s Growl -

Ilaiyaraaja’s Musical Growl -

A decade ago, when I was discovering Western Classical music, I use to buy those “Best of Western Classical Music” CDs. In one of those CDs, I first heard the piece The Flight of the Bumble bee (Composed by - Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov). I was awestruck. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I didn’t know that this was possible - carving a musical piece out of a natural and not necessarily a musical sound. The rhythm, the flutter, the restlessness – not a note lingers on for more than a Nano second I guess - the dynamics in the piece, the way the strings go low and high in volume like the sound of a buzzing Bee while approaching and furthering from our ears, catching a musical motif from the DNA of the sound and putting all these ideas organically together on paper to create a musical bumbling bee - this is Breathtaking Achievement.

Ilaiyaraaja, who is a great fan of western classical music, adapted the idea behind the Bumble bee piece for the orchestration of the song Kothumbi in Thiruvasakam. But, Ilaiyaraaja does something similar and equally astonishing with the Sound of a Wolf in Onayum Aatukuttiyum score. Though the piece here is not as richly orchestrated, it creates the effect it intends to create in a listener.

You don’t need the name of the track The Growl to tell you that the theme is for Onai – the Wolf, the stomach churning bass register of Cello Section on which the staccato theme is played speaks for itself. Ilaiyaraaja is one of the very few composers who can effectively set darker emotions, sounds of evil and eeriness to melody for the background score of a film. Evil doesn’t always have to be an eerie noise or sound sample. Yes, the eerie electronic sound samples with the limitless possibilities of tweaking on digital machines do sound refreshing sometimes and there is nothing wrong in using them if it fits the character perfectly, but what is the role of composer in this – selecting the right sample from hundreds of them saved in a folder in his PC or a MAC. Between non-musical sound and Music, if the music and filmmaker decides to go for a sound for a character, then I would like it if it were done the way Hans Zimmer did in The Dark Knight, that eerie Cello theme for Joker, which is how you merge the Sound and music and create something totally fresh.

It takes a different kind of effort and musical acumen to create a musical motif that works just as equally as a mere sound, for evil or villain in the film. I was stunned when I heard “The Growl” track the first time. Ilaiyaraaja takes one of the most basic characteristics of a sound of an animal to define a human character whose actions and intentions are metaphorically linked to the animal. He doesn’t choose the high pitched Howl of a Wolf, clearly the villain is a Wolf who is crouching and scheming and doesn’t announce his arrival before the attack. He creates a piece that is in a frequency of that of a Wolf’s Growl, through not any ready-made sound fonts, but with a well defined melodic and rhythmic riff and the dynamics with which it is played with the staccato notes in the melody implying the calculated steps of the Wolf in its approach to attack.

I haven’t seen the movie, and Ilaiyaraaja might surprise me by using it for an entirely different character, mood or a situation. Can’t wait to watch the movie, especially, to hear how this piece of music is used.

Do you know any such pieces from movie scores or even other forms of music, where a Sound, which often we consider a noise, is turned into a musical piece? Please do share here.

P.S – In Yanni’s Nightingale (one of my all time favourites) there is an extremely nuanced piece in the beginning and the end where Flutist musically imitates the cooing of a Nightingale.

Onayum Aatukuttiyum Score - Ilaiyaraaja (1)

Onayum Aatukuttiyum Score - Ilaiyaraaja (2)