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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 10

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 09

Mysskin coined the term “Munnani Isai” (foreground music) for Ilaiyaraaja’s score for Onayum Aatukuttiyum. Mysskin claims that Ilaiyaraaja’s music by itself can narrate the story, and there is no need for the visuals. I am not sure if I agree with that assessment. Ilaiyaraaja did demand us to make our own movie in our mind with his experimental instrumental album The Music Messiah, where you don’t have any visuals to help you decipher the narrative arc. You paint your own image in your mind from the music, deriving from your past experience of watching movies and listening — consciously or unconsciously — to a film score. The Music Messiah is the score of a film that never got made. I know that themes from the Malayalam film Guru has been used, but I haven’t seen Guru. And I could hear cues from Pithamagan too. However, I don’t think Ilaiyaraaja wants us to relive those movies while listening to this album. You could say that listening to Onayum Aatukuttiyum score or any score before watching the movie is like listening to The Music Messiah album. 

I don’t think Ilaiyaraaja believes that his music is enough to experience a movie. If he does, why would he add all those sound effects — the first cry of a just-born baby, noise of people clamouring in a battle field, temple bells, birds’ tweet and chirp, etc., Ilaiyaraaja knows that the background score is applied music, it is applied on a narrative, on a set of images in motion, on the rhythm and emotions of the visuals. He knows that a stand-alone narrative music needs the sonic equivalent of a visual to help a listener understand the situation the music is set for, and only when all these elements come together in perfect synch and synergy the musical narration is complete.

If you listen to the Onayum Aatukuttiyum score without watching the film, I am not sure if you could experience that lump in your throat, when in the score, string section crawling on its knees to complete its thematic melody we have been familiarised throughout the film is chopped off abruptly as the character the theme represents falls to death in the climactic moment in the film. In this particular scene, the experience is complete only when you watch and hear everything that is happening in the moment. You have to be in the world the film maker has visually created for it to impact you in a way it intends to, and in this case when the music chokes to silence precisely when Mysskin drops himself on the floor breathing his last — you have to witness to appreciate the what is possible when there is a perfect marriage of the motion in the visual narration and the music.

Perhaps, Mysskin means to say that you have to watch the film with the music once and just once. The next time when you want to travel through the arc of emotions you went through on first viewing, it is enough if you listen to the cues from the score in the order in which it is played in the film, you can paint the visuals of the film in your mind. And that I agree with. I do that regularly with so many films scored by Ilaiyaraaja. The way the next piece was presented and performed in the concert vindicates my theory of the music with motion picture having a much greater impact than what the piece of music did on its own thus far.

Few months ago, when the concert was first announced, a short film contest was also announced, where budding filmmakers were asked to visualise a piece of music (Track 2 - Paradise) from Ilaiyaraaja’s instrumental album The Music Messiah. The best movie would be screened in the concert with the music performed live to the projection of the film. They chose a piece which is more abstract, which doesn’t have any sound effects to directly imply the mood or the situation the music is set for. I have never heard anything like this before. I have heard people editing scenes according to the music (John Williams’ Flying Theme in E.T), but making a whole movie for the music, and it is not a music video of a pop song, it is purely instrumental music.

A cute 2-D animation film on the world of ants was screened with the orchestra performing the piece live to the projection of the film. The movie is about how a group of ants carry a small piece of food, crosses various obstacles on its way and reaches home. There is dancing on the beat. There is comedy. There is lot of action with living and non-living things that stops the ants from reaching their destination and they are in sync with the percussions and brass parts of the piece. There is a lot of flying that goes with the whirring strings and flappy flute layers in the piece. There is a key layer in the piece that keeps a sense of motion intact throughout and that fits well with the walk of the ants that relentlessly walks on its path in sync with this layer to reach their destiny. The movie was colourful, entertaining and water-tight just like the music it was made for. The most musical of scores are now being written only for animation films. I am not surprised that they choose an animation movie, but surprised somebody thought of making an animation for the music instead of some abstract live action montage with footage of natural greeneries and I am sure there were many such submissions. Marriage of the visuals and score was perfect that it felt like Ilaiyaraaja wrote the piece Paradise for the movie that was screened in the concert.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I - A.R.Rahman

It has been few years since A.R.Rahman stopped caring about new sounds in his music. Rahman’s arrangements have become straight, quite, calm and restrained. He has been concentrating on constructing quirky and unique melodic structures that he can call his own, than concocting never-heard-before sounds and instruments in the arrangements which he did quite a lot in early days of his career, and which he figured anybody is able to do these days. He is even open to making an all conventional song in all aspects and exploring if there is anything definitive that he could create in that space. I absolutely love this phase of A.R.Rahman, in which, the general opinion is that Rahman’s music isn’t exciting anymore. However, I also love that playful A.R.Rahman who spins a fine yarn with strands and threads of extremely varied musical fabrics. He does that in the breath taking Aila. A melody that seamlessly swings between Jazzy, operatic and conventionally filmy, beats that is techno which out of nowhere jumps to Punjabi somewhere in the middle, there is a serene Hindustani choir piece seamlessly seeping in an interlude — you just can’t predict what happens next in this song. A.R.Rahman at his freaking experimental best.

There is a flip side to this experimental streak when it is pushed to an extreme, out of which is born a song like Ladio. I get where this is coming from but I wish it had turned out like “Hey Hey Yenna Aachchu Unakku” instead of a “Bailamore”. I still like the Kasada Thapara hook and its variations throughout the song. The overt techno sound apart, I don’t like what I think is the main melody line of the song. When I first heard the samples of song before the audio release, I thought they mixed Radio Mirchi theme song with I song samples by mistake. I admit I hated Merasalaayittaen song when I heard it the first time, which I like now, but I don’t see that happening with Ladio ever.

With Merasalaayittaen, Rahman is playing straight to the gallery, and he badly goes after a simple, hit song, and he gets one. Due to that conventional synth hook, I thought Rahman’s being lazy and is taking an easy root, but he isn’t. Give the word Merasalaayittaen to any composer in the world, no one would have thought of musical phrase that Rahman has come up to fit the word in. The song is upbeat, but it has a neat flow of melody which wasn’t apparent to me in my first few hearings of the song. I was so worried about the simplistic, crowd pleasing arrangements, and the processed voices, that I looked away from the melody. Even the remix version is fine, where some musical layers in the original song are fleshed out and brought to fore.

Chinmayi’s Ennodu Nee Irundhaal is yin to yang that is Sid Sriram’s Ennodu Nee Irundhal. One is a straight, conventionally presented tamil film romantic duet, while other is a spectacular orchestral-rock version of the song with a grand choir following the lead voice (I like the way the chorus is mixed in the songs throughout the soundtrack) and dramatic orchestral twists and turns all the way. And just how charming is the melody of the charanam that goes Unmai Kaadhal! Vintage A.R.Rahman melody that is. And pallavi sounds like what came out of Shankar asking Rahman to retain all different melodies he tuned for the verse “Ennodu Nee Irundhal” in the song. It could have easily become monotonous, but it doesn’t, beautifully flows like one whole seamless melody.

Pookkalae Satru Oivedungal is that simple semi-classical romantic melody of every Shankar-Rahman soundtrack, using which Shankar travels to exotic locations with his lead pair and make them dance in front of most beautiful and picturesque places in the world. That Guitar motif that accompanies the main melody sounded so distracting initially, but have gotten used to it now, and gives an instant signature to the song. Both Haricharan and Shreya Ghosal exquisitely ooze the romance out of what sounds like a raaga based melody. Sweetest song of the soundtrack, and some call this song’s genre as 90s Rahman.

A.R.Rahman’s “I”- Ladio is the ugly truth, rest of I is Beauty.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Kaaviya Thalaivan - A.R.Rahman

In the book “Conversations with Maniratnam”, when talking about the music of Iruvar, Maniratnam says that the idea was to do what they would have done if they were making movies and music in that era, and that is the ground rule out of which A.R.Rahman created what he did in Iruvar. There is a boundary within which A.R.Rahman had to play, but there were no thorns waiting outside to bite him if he does step out. Whereas in Kaaviya Thalaivan, I guess Vasantha Balan asked A.R.Rahman to just travel back in time with all his sophisticated recording console, gadgets and pro-tools, hide behind the curtains and record whatever happened then and there as it is.

A.R.Rahman follows the rule ever so diligently, only stepping out of the zone when it is permissible. Hence, the resultant product isn’t as experimental and rebellious as one usually expects from A.R.Rahman, but the music sounds like one that is immensely tied with the film’s narrative and the overall vision of the film maker. It is pointless to talk anything more about the authenticity of the music for the film without knowing the length and depth of the strokes and the colours Vasantha Balan has used to paint the universe of this film.

A.R.Rahman ticks every box in emulating an era of film music dominated by K.V.Mahadevan and M.S.Vishwanathan. Rock and roll – Check, Smooth Jazz – Check, Clarinet – Check, Kanna, Karna and Gaandeebam - Check, Vibraphones, Xylophones, Marimbas, Bongo and Conga drums – Check, check and check. But, of all, the biggest check box to tick is the melody — the free flowing, honey dripping melody that flows smoothly from one section to another in the song without ever throwing any quirks at the listener. There is no space for a Phir Se Udd chala here. There lies the real challenge for Rahman, because when Rahman realised that everyone else has caught up with his ways and means and can do what he does, he took to quirky melody pattern to distinguish his music, but here he can’t use that tool. The melody has to be instantly likeable, hummable and also closely follow the drama in the narrative and the narrative in the drama. People watching a stage musical drama live wouldn’t have heard the song before the performance or carry a cassette or CD with them home after the performance to listen to the songs again, to decipher the layers, quirks and let it grow. There is absolutely no escape this time Mr.Rahman, you cannot knit together in one song various tunes you hummed in your iPhone recorder in your various air trips between London, LA, Bombay, Dubai and Chennai. But, there is not a musical phrase that is not instantly likeable in this soundtrack.

Vaanga Makka Vaanga invites us to a bygone era with a beautiful thogaiyaraa section where a harmonium diligently follows the main vocal melody typical of stage drama music. When I first heard the song I was wondering if Vasantha Balan managed to tame the rebellious beast within A.R.Rahman and made him stick to sounds of that period, but I was relieved when I heard the synthesized sound layer that kick starts the main song, and this layer is the secret key to the energy of the song. Rahman always manages to lay a unique percussive layer in this type of folk song with multiple percussion instruments playing various rhythm patterns on their own and creating an altogether fresh rhythm pattern when laid one over the other. And Thavil and A.R.Rahman are at it again! Rahman always manages to do something uniquely catchy with Thavil. The pattern of strict straight notes in the first line and classical inflections in the following line in each verse in the charanam is that typical A.R.Rahman’s quirky compositional style. But, that quirk makes the folk and classical fusion sound a little forced and not seamless enough in this song.

When the drama artist whose profession is singing and dancing on stage, falls in love with a real life and sings a song for and with his real love in his fantasy, what would that song sound like. Rahman thinks it would sound like a classic M.S.Vishwanathan melody. Hence we got the exquisite Yaarumilla and jazzy-breezy Aye Mr.Minor in the soundtrack.

Yaarumilla’s simple and affecting melody gently melts and glides through and through like chocolate syrup rolling down on a swirl of soft vanilla ice cream. The song hits its pinnacle of beauty at Adhu Oru Egaandha Kaalam and I can’t explain in words what happens within me when I listen to these two lines; and the ensuing lines that descends to “Kaadhal, Kaadhal, Kaadhal, Kaadhal” is sheer perfection in melody making; it couldn’t have taken any other path that is better. Shwetha Mohan is a colossal talent. Her rendition in this song is the proof. Impeccable singing! Rahman seems to have picked the female vocalists (Shwetha Mohan, Saasha Tripathi, Bela Shende and Vani Jayaram) carefully for the delicate tonal quality of their voice — a soprano voice sweet enough to sound like the female singers of that era and yet isn’t too shrill at higher registers.

Tender, jazzy and breezy woodwinds in the prelude lead us gently into the musical universe of M.S.Vishwanathan. Aye Mr.Minor is immaculately arranged by A.R.Rahman that organically brings together every little tone and sound of a M.S.V brand of romantic duet song. The omnipresent Mandolin, the quintessential bongo drums, string section that float beautifully around all nooks and corners of the melody, the ah-ha-has and oh-ho-hos, accordion and the obvious swing in the melody - A.R.Rahman nails it perfectly.

Rahman sets a collection of verses from Thiruppugazh to a serene melody; a melody with beautiful little variations throughout as the song progresses from one verse after the other all filled with words written to fit to a fixed meter that could easily turn a song made out of it musically monotonous. I heard some traditional renditions of the same Thiruppugazh verses and was amazed by the amount of clam and lightness Rahman brings to the idea of devotion, without diluting the intensity of the indulgence and romance that walks hand in hand with it. Vani Jayram’s voice sound pristine and adds to the divine aura, the song with its beautiful Veena motif in the background attempts to create.

Sollividu Sollividu is a fierce call or cry against the idea of war. Mukesh’s singing (who became who he is by singing Ullathil Nalla Ullam in ever stage he has ever been on) is terrific and impactful. Rahman goes for a straight melody not ornamented with any of the clever, complex sangathis that songs like these made in those times were full of. Rahman makes a strong statement here, a statement that Syed made in Super Singer by singing Vidai Kondu Engal Naadae in the final round or Rahman himself made when he chose to sing the way he sang Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo in MTV Unplugged. With Rahman, it is never about how intelligent or complex your composition is. I wish this song were longer by a minute or two.

I don’t know if I would hear a song this year that plays out with as much gay abandon as Sandi Kudhirai (Ok, there is Afreen in Hundred Foot Journey). A.R.Rahman, Haricharan and Pa.Vijay are on full throttle here. Melody relentlessly shifts gears; Retro orchestration goes all crazy and harmonically haywire; Unstoppable flow and play of words, and Haricharan's (a brilliant choice as the voice of Kittappa for all the songs in this Soundtrack) assured delivery of the various dynamics the song requires — the song is a bundle of limitless joy.

I haven’t seen any musical stage drama live in my life, my references are only that of such sequences in films. Paandiyan Naan Irukka from Thillana Mohanambal is an all time favourite, in which, you don’t hear any instrument other than what you see on the stage, but in Alli Arjuna, A.R.Rahman seems to have persuaded Vasantha Balan not to impose this constraint, but he doesn’t step too far out like he did in Pal Pal Bahari in Swades.

Composers of that era, achieved all those varied emotions and transformations in moods required in such drama purely through melody with just a single percussion for rhythm and an accompanying Harmonium closely following the vocal melody, but A.R.Rahman takes comparatively easy route to reach the destination. He gets a real Harp, at least ten different percussion instruments, assorted classical plucked strings, 40-piece string orchestra, a little brass and a bunch of other sounds along with the melody to convey the drama, even though the melody is strong enough to express everything on its own with minimal aid from the accompanying instruments.

Rahman doesn’t do raw. He wants every little corner of his food plate beautifully garnished. It has to sound sexy, vibrant, glittering and colourful. Rahman’s Alli Arjuna is not a street drama staged by a drama troupe with limited means; it is mounted on a magnificent scale. Rahman manages to keep the soul of the song intact amidst all the peripheral sounds, though, on an absolute Rahman scale, this is a very minimally arranged song. This is not lack of confidence in the power of one’s melody in its bare form; instead it is the care a creator takes of his creation to ensure that it reaches as many ears as possible. He is striking a balance between authentic and aesthetic without compromising the core – the emotion. All his predecessors have done it and he is just following the legacy. I heard an unplugged version of Alli Arjuna in my mind, with just a Tabla for rhythm and Harmonium to play supporting melodies played by other instruments around the vocals; believe me, the song still holds it all together.

Alli Arjuna follows the conventions of the format of the episodic stage drama musical narrative. Characters express themselves in extempore musical verses by singing a free flowing melody that doesn’t sit within the confines of a preset rhythm. Then they intermittently jump into a song set in a groove that acts as a recurring motif that each character returns to after musically wandering off the groove with their thoughts. Neatly structured and water tight, Alli Arjuna is a thorough musical triumph and is aided abundantly by Vaalee’s entertaining lyrical narration of the love story of Alli and Arjuna.

Despite following a conventional path, Rahman leaves his stamp wherever possible, like in that Thavil rhythm that kicks off the drama, that pattern screams Rahman, and the way Haricharan sings Nenju porukkudhillayae is typical Rahman, who discovers stress points and points of musical inflections in Tamil words we never knew existed in the word before.

I would be listening to Kaaviya Thalaivan songs for a long time. A.R.Rahman delivers what is required of him with absolute poise and panache.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

ARRophony - 22 Years of A.R.Rahman

A little something I made as a tribute to A.R.Rahman to Celebrate 22 Years of A.R.Rahman. A Collection of 101 pieces with solo Flute, Sax, Clarinet, Oboe and many more different wind instrument from A.R.Rahman's repertoire. The compilation track length is 104 minutes.

Download mp3


Bose: The Forgotten Hero - Netaji Theme
Rang De Basanti
Kannathil Muthamittal
Mangal Pandey
Doli Saja Ke Rakhna
Bombay Dreams - I could live here
Aabhi Ja - Raunaq
Warriors of Heaven and Earth - Monk and Miracle
Pudhiya Mugam
Connections - Silent Invocation 1
Classic Incantations - Cry of a Rose
Lord of the Rings - Song of Hope
Warriors of Heaven and Earth - Escape
Elizabeth The Golden Age - Divinity Theme
Kaadhal Virus
Doli Saja Ke Rakhna
Dil Se / Uyire
Kannathil Muthamittal
Warriors of Heaven and Earth - Monk and Miracle
Jodha Akbar
Connections - Silent Invocation 2
Warriors of Heaven and Earth - Blue Light
Couples Retreat - Meeting Marcel
Bose: The Forgotten Hero - Netaji Theme 2
Bombay Dreams
Fire - Radha and Sita Love Theme
Bose: The Forgotten Hero - Emilie Theme
Minsara Kanavu /Sapnay
Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
Connections - Silent Invocation 3
May Maadham
May Maadham
Bombay Dreams - Closer Than Never
Kochadaiiyaan - Rana’s Dream
Raavanan / Raavan
Dil Se / Uyire
Raavanan / Raavan
Thakshak - Dholna
Warriors of Heaven and Earth - Water
Airtel - Express Yourself
Kandukonden Kandukonden
Vande Mataram - Revival
Jhoota Hi Sahi
Couples Retreat
Dil Se - Uyire
May Maadham
Dil Se / Uyire
Slumdog Millionaire
Toyota Etios
Pray for me brother
Couples Retreat - The Waterfall
Swarnim Gujarat

Friday, August 8, 2014

Hundred Foot Journey Score - A.R.Rahman

A.R.Rahman sounded overtly excited about working with the film maker Lasse Hallstrom in all his interviews. I searched for what Lasse had made earlier and watched Chocolat to understand what a film score means to this film maker. I loved Chocolat and it's richly melodic and thematic score, and considering the genre of Hundred Foot Journey (having seen the trailer), and the Rahman’s media messages about his score in this film, I roughly had a soundscape in my mind for the score of this film (having seen Ratatouille), and it turned out to be much like that and much more, so much more.

Challenges are many for A.R.Rahman in scoring a Hollywood film that comes with tags like India, Indians and Indian culture — how different a score from that of Slumdog Millionaire or Million Dollar Arm can he pull off (he can’t not pluck a Sitar in the score. Can he?), and what new could he bring to this sub-genre of film scores in Hollywood, when there are non-Indian composers like Michael Danna (Water, Life of Pie) and Thomas Newman (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) seem to have convinced, at least the studios and film makers there that they can write a score that adequately serves the necessities of such films. Well, if they haven’t learnt yet from Slumdog Millionaire or Million Dollar Arm score, Rahman serves another delicious dish from his cuisine in Hundred Foot Journey score. Melody, that delicate, affecting, emotional Indian melody, they just can’t nail it the way an Indian composer can.

Million Dollar Arm had lots of energy and vibrance with dominant Punjabi and western rhythms, there were moments of clam and serenity to strike a balance in the score. Rang De Basanti song in Hundred Foot Journey trailer really got me worried. I hoped that Hundred Foot Journey’s not another one of hip-hop with banghra with Sitar score. I guess Rahman heard my mind. In Hundred Foot Journey, Rahman throws Punjabi beats out of the window, expect for the jaunty, infectious Afreen song. Afreen takes off on a different route but reaches the same destination that that insane “We could be kings” from Million Dollar Arm did. Also, that gibberish alaap by Rahman in the middle of the song - Afreen Ho A.R.Rahman! Surprised to hear the sounds of south India in here — mirudhangam, Ghatam, Morsing, Tanpura, even the Indian melodies on solo violins are played with a distinct Carnatic touch.

Melodies and Themes - something this soundtrack is so full of. Rahman mentioned in an interview that he wanted to precisely underline the beginnings, transitions in the story with distinct themes and he does and how. The film’s story and milieu is apt for Rahman to exercise this thematic scoring skills. Indian family, French family, Indian Food, French Food, Culture, Ego, Friendship, Love, Competition, Compassion, Clash - every damn bullet point in the story gets a musical theme and flows in and out of various pieces throughout the score. The tone of the score with a mix of Indian strings like Sitar, Sarod and Santoor, and western wood winds and bouncy strings is light as a feather, quite a pleasant listen.

The score gets a lot of its vibrance, colour, aroma from the seamless arrangement and orchestration of vast palette of instruments and sounds — acoustic and electronic. The pieces sound to have been written extremely close to the cuts in the visuals where a lot is happening all at the same time. Rahman has done this in many Indian films too, but not to the level of complexity that is on display here. Rahman shows his mastery over the art of knitting tail of one theme with the head of the next without making the thread visible to make one seamless musical piece, in many pieces in this soundtrack. You have to hear the six-minute long madness that is “Hassan Learns French Cooking” to believe my words. There are at least six or seven themes in this piece, from which emerges the main theme which then travels throughout the score.

The end credits suite is another gem with all the major themes of the film lined up, with the pieces taking elegant unpredictable turns to glide from one theme to another. Rahman boxes each theme in a whole new, glittering, golden, sexy wrapper much different from how they were presented thus far in the score, and the result is just spectacular. In “Vintage Recipe,” before it jumps to French part represented by the strings section, when the Indian section is about to end, the melody that was playing thus far only on Sitar is followed closely by the string section playing the same melody in Pizzicato. That gives us a sense of gradual movement, a smooth switch over to the other side of the fence within the piece. He could have left Indian part with just the Sitar and jump started the french part suddenly with strings, but that is not seamless, that is not clever and aesthetic cheating.

The theme that played hide and seek with us in Hassan Learns French Cooking plays in its entirety in its full glory on a variety of solo instruments in “New Beginnings”. The theme is all about the lightness, a generic feel-good aura, a whiff of positivity and doesn’t dump down our throat any particular emotion. For emotion, we have other themes, the one that is introduced in “Mr.Kadam” is a vintage affecting Indian melody. The main theme of the film (the love theme I guess) appears half way through the score in “The Gift," which is a clever and beautiful reworking and extension of Rahman’s famous Leo Coffee theme — a piece that gave Rahman all of his life’s gifts. The theme also gets its Hindi version “Tere nina sajna” (in “You complete Me”) with Rahman himself lending his voice to sing the lyrics and in one version he soothingly hums the tune. There are many delightful instrumental versions of the main love theme throughout the soundtrack.

The delicate Piano Theme in “The Village of Saint Antonin” leads us into what could be the quietest place in the universe. If I compile “Melancholic Ecstasy” now, it would be incomplete without this Piano theme. “The Clash” begins all western-classical like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and slowly takes this breathtaking transformation to a Symphonic Rudhra Thandav.

I liked how Rahman experimented with a lot of voices and classical alaaps in Million Dollar Arm, inspite of it being a Hollywood film, we don’t do these anymore even in Indian films (films that matter). Rahman’s idea is to bury the voices and alaaps deep under the instrumental layers; disguise a melody as a mild brush stroke in a vast soundscape, so that you just get to feel the essence of the melody and not hear every note the voice hits to carve that melody out of air. But Rahman goes mostly bold in Hundred Foot Journey with voices and suppresses the sound only when it is a scream that intends to earn sympathy or imply pain (in “Destiny, Fire and War” and last few seconds in “Alone in Paris”).

The French-Hindi song Toi C’est Soleil is a slow, soft romantic melody set to a soft thudding beat. I can’t resist gently swinging my head to Rahman’s Saajna Saajna. Ah! That sense of satisfaction and closure, when the song towards the ends falls into the arms of Tere Bina Sajna - immensely moving.

A La Hassan De Paris is a techno suite of all main themes of the score that you can dance to. I still don’t get the point of this track. Maybe it will make sense with the film.

I love this score. For the first time, my first hearing of a new A.R.Rahman soundtrack happened while riding my bicycle to work. I don’t know how much I absorbed while concentrating on the road riding a bicycle, but my residual thought at the end of the ride was that this is a special score, and after listening to the score for at least twenty times now, I think it is a special A.R.Rahman score for its many melodic themes and organic, seamless orchestration.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 09

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 08

Kamal Haasan, who was sitting in the front row, when he quietly walked on to the stage, I thought this is going to be one of those segments in a typical concert where people say things that everyone already know. I must admit that if there is one person whom I don’t mind hearing talk about Ilaiyaraaja it is Kamal Haasan, but here, in this concert, I thought it would disrupt the mood and momentum of the concert. Just when these thoughts were clouding my head, I noticed that Kamal Haasan was dressed exactly like any other musician in the orchestra — the only one dressed differently on stage was Ilaiyaraaja.

Kamal Haasan walked closer to a microphone, and started -- Singing! He rendered “Raghupathi Raaghav Raajaraam” from Hey Ram - the version that plays out in the movie’s opening credits. It finally hit me like a thunderbolt then that this was the only version in which the song that have always been sung like a Hindu Bhajan was set to a melody with a heavy Islamic flavour. Kamal Haasan rendered the tune and the words with perfection, modulation on the word Seetha was bang on. That moment I felt the song wouldn’t have the effect it does if not for the voice of Kamal Haasan, and that is coming from someone who hates Kamal’s singing voice. Sometimes, you need to see the singer perform the song live in front of you to know how much of themselves they pour into the song and realise the extent of inseparability. To fall in love with a song even more, you sometimes need to see the way the nerves on their neck stretch and strain to deliver a melody like the strings triggered inside a Piano by the fingers on the keys outside.

And then a glimpse of grace. Without giving time for audience to react or appreciate Kamal Haasan - the singer, the western choir with Indian choir joined in to sing the moving choir piece from Heyram Opening Credits. I remember that for the pre-release promotions of Heyram, they use to repeatedly play this video of a Hungarian choir group singing in a huge recording hall with Kamal Haasan and Ilaiyaraaja sitting amidst the orchestra and watching the recording. I use to wonder why Ilaiyaraaja is sitting there idle when his music is being recorded. I didn’t know that anybody can conduct a written piece of music. I used to be wide-eyed with wonder and amazement whenever I saw that video, and would ask myself if I would ever get to watch such orchestral music performance live. Here at the concert, I was pinching myself.

I don’t know whether they were doubling the voices live in the mix, but it sounded massive, as if the entire crowd was singing along with the choir group. The choir group of Budapest Symphony, wood winds and strings — it was like a gentle fountain with layers of instruments laid one after the other and rising high and reaching far on all sides. But, I was watching only the Harp, though the Harp is not doing anything in the lead in the piece, I have always been intrigued by the part it plays in an orchestral piece. What exactly does it do? Is it a dispensable part? Would the piece loose something if there was no Harp player available to play the part?

When Preeti Uttam walked in, I thought they were going to perform the symphonic interlude of Pollaadha Madhana Baanam too, but was wondering how they would manage to reproduce the synth layers live. I always wondered if there is some kind of minus-acoustic track — just the synth layers from the original without the acoustic instrumental parts — for instrumental pieces too like minus-one track that singers use for most of their concerts, which is the song minus the voice. However, what followed after the short choir piece is the instrumental prelude of Nee Partha Paarvaikku oru Nandri, without Rani Mukherjee’s bengali poetry though. I like how the tune blossoms in a western flute suddenly out of nowhere when the piece is about to end, and the ensuing strings that brings the prelude of the song to a satisfying closure. And they didn’t sing the song. When it moved on to one of the softest pieces involving just two flutes I realised that this is becoming a well arranged suite of major musical motifs from Heyram score. The two flutes — one innocently looping a phrase and another playing a melody to the cuteness, innocence and lovability of Mythili’s character. Even the placement of Mythili’s theme in the movie is brilliant. When Mythili asks if she can be Kamal’s friend, the piece is first introduced and when she says she has caught Kamal smiling thrice - Hat-trick - it is diligently cued in again.

I was hoping that the suite would include one of my most favourite musical scoring moments in the film. It is when Mythili expresses her love to Kamal in the hospital. The title choir piece is reprised on the orchestra for the first time here. It is an amazing scene, conversation and the score that precisely changes course on right sync points — the strings that whip up a magnetic force that is drawing Saketh emotionally closer and further closer to Mythili when he is in trance while Mythili is kissing him all over his face, and for the first time Nee Paartha Paarvaikku is played for Mythili and Kamal Haasan, now that Mythili has replaced Aparna from Saketh Ram’s life - Saketh even passes on the Aparna’s ring to Mythili as if that is the moment when they are really getting married. The changeovers, the shifting themes in this piece may not work as beautifully and as intensely in a music-only concert as it does when experienced with the visuals.

And finally Preeti Uttam did what she came to do — crooned her alaap that begins the breathtaking instrumental interlude from Pollaadha Madhana Baanam. This piece is heady mix of softer wood winds playing for the sensuous layer, the brass and percussions layers for the violence, and that bang when Vasundhra Das on bed turns into a giant rifle, the ass of which Kamal kisses. There are so many layers in the visuals and so too in the music conveying everything. As we all know that the songs of this movie were composed after they were shot, I wonder what was in the original. I just can’t think of the multi layered cut of this scene working coherently without the accompanying score of Ilaiyaraaja. And the live performance - The sight of entire orchestration swinging into action for this piece - Ah! You just don’t know which part to concentrate on.

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 10

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Melancholic Ecstasy - A.R.Rahman

This is a mix of 52 Piano Cues of A.R.Rahman than runs for 60 minutes. I compiled this for myself, to help me crush the noise in my head in the silence of the midnight and keep me in calm and peace in the moments before I close my inner eyes every night.

I would like to call the mix “Melancholic Ecstasy”.

All Pieces Composed, Arranged and Performed by A.R.Rahman

Tracklist (In the order in the Mix)

Love Theme - Roja
Champions League T20 Theme
A Soul in Steel - Endhiran
Khwaja Mere Khwaja - Jodha-Akbar
1947 Earth
Tu Bin Batayae - Rang De Basanti
Rang De Basanti Theme
Kabir Narayanan and Kamal Bashir
Thames Walk - Jhoota Hi Sahi
Oru Dheivam Thandha Poo - Kannathil Muthamittal
Yuvraaj Theme
Bombay Theme
Chinna Chinna Aasai - Roja
Moments in Kerala - Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya
Kasturi - Indian
Raining Love - Minsara Kanavu
Beatrice’s Past - Kadal
War - Bose
Birth of a Satan - Kadal
Priya in Love - Minsara Kanavu
Rosy Theme - Karuthamma
Dil Se Re Prelude from MTV Unplugged
Jason and Cynthia - Couples Retreat
People Like Us
Himalayas - Connections
Jaage Hain - Guru
Thomas in Love - Minsara Kanavu
100 Moons and Blue Birds - Maryan
Elizabeth’s Fantasy - Lagaan
Jillunu Oru Kaadhal
Jessie’s Land - Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya
Tum Tak - Raanjhanaa
Love Theme - Doli Saja Ke Rakhna
Madhumitha Leaves to India - Jeans
Amit’s Theme - Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Na
Pam Pam Para Para - Jhoota Hi Sahi
Karthik - Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya
Dekho Na - Swades
Kadhalar Dhinam
Kadhal Desam
Flute and Piano - Kisna
Aao Balma
Tango for Taj
Finding Sam - People Like Us

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 08

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 07

Having served us a taste of his instrumentation and orchestration Ilaiyaraaja turned to a cappella; and the most obvious choice in this genre Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu Raaja Vamsaththilae from Maya Bazaar was performed. If not for social network and internet, I wouldn’t have heard many of Ilaiyaraaja’s compositions, but I am convinced that if not for social network and internet, even Ilaiyaraaja wouldn’t have picked a song like Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu for any of his concerts. The song is being sung by singers even in singing reality shows (which has now become the true measure of the popularity or worthiness of a song) on TV.

I wasn’t really blown away by the execution of the song in Ilaiyaraaja’s Canada concert where they stretched the song by 35 seconds, the tempo dropped in the middle, we could see Ilaiyaraaja urging the choir to increase the tempo, singers in the group were looking at each other before proceeding to the next section of the song — all signs of lack of preparation. However, the quality of the composition is such, even a flawed performance that delivers 80% of the original blows your mind when you listen to it performed live. But that day, I wasn’t going to settle for anything lesser than the effect of the original.

These compositions are like our national Anthem, if it is set to run for 56 seconds, then 56 seconds it is and it should be, not a nano second more or less. There was a huge choir section in the stage, with singer spread across the horizon of the curved stage. I was astounded by how the singers were placed on the stage. Male voices are always in the background accompanying the female singers standing in the front singing the lead melody throughout, but instead of placing all the male singers together in one corner of the stage, they were distributed on both sides, the result was live naturally balanced stereophonic sound, and if I remember correctly, they even tried to pan a layer or two just through voices in the male choir group.

Though Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu song is referred to as an a cappella, it isn’t one like the Namachivaaya Vaazhgha section in Polla Vinayaen (from Ilaiyaraaja’s Thiruvasakam in Symphony) where the music is different strands of the choir group singing the same melody in different octaves and starting the melody with a lead or lag to the main vocals. Neither is this an a cappella with melodies cascaded and overlapped as counterpoints. There are parts within the song where some or all of these techniques are used but the song isn’t entirely that. It is a conventional song for the most part with a main melody, but with backing vocals imitating the instrumental accompaniment; you have strings, shakers, tabla, drums, even bass guitar parts performed by voices instead of actual instruments playing those parts, so it is just right that immediately after completing a cappella version of the song, to everyone’s surprise, an instrumental version of the song was played. Ilaiyaraaja demonstrated how he himself did an Alaa Wardi version of his own song decades ago.

Of course, the theatrics and drama of voices laughing melodically is the stuff of musicals and purely meant for the voices and they were repeated as it is in the instrumental version too. The song started with strings bowing the din-digi-din-digi-digi-digi to thunderous applause, and no one explained or spoke in between, what they are trying to do by performing the instrumental version of the song. However, only after listening to the instrumental version, it struck me how carefully every single junk word sung by the choir has been chosen to sonically and musically gel seamlessly within and with the main melody. You cannot swap a bimbak in place of jin-chigu-chigu in this song.

Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu - Maaya Bazaar

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 09

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 07

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 06

Violin Concerto from Raaja Paarvai is a prelude to How To Name It that was going to release five years later. The visual choreography of this piece is one of the rarest of miraculous instances in Tamil Cinema where the orchestra performing on screen is at least shown (they seem to play the precise notes too to my eyes) playing same instruments as the one being heard in the musical piece playing in the background. This is a concert piece in the movie too, a shot of a newspaper advertisement of the concert in the movie shows the concert described as “Grand Music Night — East Meets West”. The template of the piece and the orchestration — classical Indian violin prelude, a substantial section with other instruments in the orchestra repeating the melody played by lead violin, the sudden switch to western guitars and pop beats, and all of these orchestral ideas moving seamlessly from one section to another are techniques we would hear used in best way possible in Ilaiyaraaja’s instrumental albums “How To Name It” and “Nothing but Wind”.

V.Narashiman seated in the centre stage — just for this piece, started playing the violin, with spot light only on him, and the whole stage was dark, and slowly like it happened for the Punnagai Mannan theme, the lighting sequence was arranged perfectly as the spot light on each instrument turned on as and when it enters the piece and whole stage was lit on and was brightest when the piece hits the bang — the bang that was there to sync with heroine’s surprise in seeing Kamal playing the violin.

The screen on either sides of the stage switched to camera’s exactly the way the visuals in the film was edited focusing on the instrument that ought to be highlighted at any given moment in the piece. It was perfect. They even rapidly cut between Violin and Tabla Tarang player — one on each screen. I guess that is how it will look in the final edu of the concert movie.

When the chorus started clapping in sync with the rhythm of the piece — there is section in the piece with clap sound which is for the audience in the movie clapping in rhythm — some in the audience in the concert hall hesitantly started to clap, conductor quickly turned around and waved his baton signalling that the audience too are a part of the orchestra now, and the whole auditorium clapped perfectly in sync — we were part of the orchestra and precisely when clapping had to stop, every one in the auditorium stopped without any signal from the conductor. Precisely when to stop clapping in rhythm in a particular piece of music that even a non-musical layman in the audience could intuitively know - How did it happen? How does one write music like that? Or was it mere coincidence? Or was the shift in the piece too drastic and apparent.

Listening to V.Narashiman effortlessly play the piece, I sighed for how the How To Name it concert would have been if he were the one who performed instead of L.Subramaniam’s son. And when was the last time we saw a real Tanpura being played in a live concert? That was a sight and the initial solo violin with just the tanpura was a divine experience. Tanpura was properly heard, big thanks to people who were mixing the performance live.

At the end, after a brief pause, even before the audience could stop clapping, V.Narashiman remained seated in the centre stage; Accompanied by Hindustani Taal on Tabla, he started playing another similar How-T-Name-It like piece from Idhu Namma Bhoomi. These pieces are a real test for a violinist I guess. A page from study for Violin material that Ilaiyaraaja had wished to write. The momentum of the piece peaks towards the end and when it turns utterly breathless, the last note of the piece shouldn’t be gently bowed but harshly plucked and V.Narashiman did that on beat with utmost precision. Maybe it isn’t so difficult a thing to play for a violinist but the ending note was quite impactful.

The trick of composing a piece that serves two purposes at the same time, you need to project the virtuosity of the instrumentalist on screen and at the same time the music also covers the emotions of the people around, those who are watching him play - Khusboo in this case, Madhavi in Raaja Paarvai, their surprise, their fear, the whole gamut of emotions they go through while listening to the music, everything little changeover is expressed precisely in the music and yet it is a perfect live concert piece that one could listen to enjoy without the aid of any visuals.

Raaja Paarvai - Violin Concerto

Idhu Namma Bhoomi

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 08

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 06

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 05

Live music performance needs a sense of drama, a slow beginning, a mid-tempo middle, a faster end. It has to fit in a tempo graph that could excite and engage an audience, and this graph ought to be maintained both within a piece and in between pieces in the setlist of a concert. This swing in energy keeps the audience awake. I am someone who believes even slowest of Ilaiyaraaja’s compositions has a degree of virility that could keep a listener engaged. But, let us face it, however great the music is, the orchestral music concerts can become little monotonous if slow and soft love and sober themes are played continuously. So, the next piece.

The brass section of the orchestra marched on to a piece comparatively milder in force (than Captain Prabhakaran) but boisterous nonetheless - The Netrikkan title score and father Rajini’s theme. With drums rolling and brass blaring there was a sudden gush of energy in the auditorium when they started playing Netrikann titles. Ilaiyaraaja, in some films, joins a melody of one of the popular songs of the film with one of the main motifs from the background score of the film as one single piece for the opening credits. In the opening credits of Netrikkan, the piece shifts to the melody of Raamanin Mohanam song when the spotlight is on the character of the Son-Rajini. Only when I heard it live I realised how brilliantly gradual the transition from brass to softer strings happen for the shift from Father to Son in the visuals. Those funky 80s guitars, we don’t get to hear those sounds in any form of contemporary music anymore.

Who can forget the jaunty western violin theme of Netrikkan? Ilaiyaraaja alternates between western trumpets, guitars and violins for Father Rajini, who is a womanizer and flute and Veena for ‘Obedient’ son Rajini to sound the contrast between the characters as they and their daily routines are introduced to us in the visuals. The feel of the western melody played on Violin used in the opening credits is same as that of the main theme with a dominant violin solo, and it plays out like one long prelude to the main theme. It even sounds as if the main theme may break out from it anytime. And it did, in the concert, after preluding the title credits music, without any pause, strings started playing that signature riff pam-pa-ba-bam pam-pa-ba-bam and from it sprung up like a lightning the very popular Netrikann theme. The immense zing of a solo violin springing up from silence hitting a quaver as the first note of melody has to be heard live to be believed. Ilaiyaraaja is what he is because he knows precisely when to stop, the piece ended just after two iterations of the theme and left us wanting more.

Netrikann Title Music

Netrikann Theme

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 07

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kochadaiiyaan - A.R.Rahman

Rahman is after grandeur and largeness with Kochadaiiyaan music, that aims to go with the image of Rajini as Kochadaiiyaan and that of the ambition and milieu of the animation film. Unsurprisingly, A.R.Rahman settles with the usual 100-piece Orchestra, massive choir and percussions to create that sound, and also with usual dose of Synth. All of these elements come together creating the impact, the best it can offer, in Enge Pogudho Vaanam, a song that interestingly alternates between a song a leader sings to his army and a song an army sings to its leader, the army that is marching briskly towards a war, towards victory. With the strings whirring, brass blaring and chorus screaming consistently throughout the song, the song fits its premise to T, and a perfect harmony is achieved between the sound of music and the music of the sound. The arrangement is brilliant in the way it relentlessly changes to sit with the meaning of the lyrics being sung at any given point in the song.

The energy and the power a song like this requires, doesn’t come only by using an orchestra, the melody on its own must have it, which the melody of Enge Pogudho has in abundance, as it is evident in the prelude when just the main melody played on a solo trumpet produce a majestic sound. This is the aspect that is missing in other songs - Maatram Ondrudhaan and Karma Veeranae. Though A.R.Rahman gets hook portions perfectly right — “Un Maarbodu Kaayangal Or Aayiram” in Maatram Ondrudhaan and insanely addictive “Kaatrae Kaatrae Nee Thoonguvadhae Illai" — it is the journey of the song between the hooks that is less interesting, with the melody in these portions constantly at a tug of war with Tamil and lyrics. Even the orchestration is rather underwhelming in both these songs, they deliver the desired mood and impact, but somehow feels like A.R.Rahman took an easy way out here. Especially, on Maatram Ondrudhaan I would go to the extent of saying this - A.R.Rahman might say, “I totally forgot this song” five years from now, when someone sings it in Airtel Super Singer Season 10 (He said that when a contestant sang Athini Siththini song from Thenali). However, we might find the same song interesting and wonder why we didn’t lend a proper ear to this song all this while, like it happened for that Thenali song.

In the emotional roller-coaster Idhayam, A.R.Rahman cleverly averts any risk by choosing not to have any kind of journey between the hooks, the song is a parade of addictive stanzas stacked one after the other. Rahman travels two extremes within one song in a way only he does - Chinmayi exquisitely sings her pain in a fluid semi-classical melody, whereas Srinivas goes all masculine and staccato in expressing his pain. Again, there is nothing new in the orchestration, a mix of stuff from In Lamhon Ki Daaman mien and Hai Rama, but that knowledge doesn’t come in the way of me connecting with the emotion of the song. I complained about the war between music and lyrics in other songs, but, here the same A.R.Rahman shows how it is done; the marriage of melody, lyrics and musical arrangements in that line Nazhuvi Nazhuvi Nagarndhu is sheer beauty.

There is more from Jodha Akbar here in Kochadaiiyaan and some from Rahman’s Chinese Soundtrack Warriors of Heaven and Earth too. The Rudhra Thaandavam song Kochadaiiyaan Engal Kochadaiiyaan is Marhabba oh Marhabba transposed from Mughal to ancient Tamil era. After that Italian version of Anbin Vaasalae in Kadal, here is another instance to prove that it is an utterly technical exercise for a composer — that is making a song out of an abstract melody represent a specific place, clan and culture.

Most interesting of all tracks in Kochadaiiyaan is the Rana’s Dream, which takes the main melody of Enge Pogudho Vaanam and turns it into a motif and the different sections and solo instruments of the orchestra play and plays with it just like that singular thought, wish or dream that plays in a loop again and again in different shapes and forms in Rana’s mind.

Set to a simple rhythm of a lullaby, the melody of Sathiyam is too conventional and straight forward to like instantly, but, once we get past its conventionality, we can see how the simplicity in every aspect of the tune augurs beautifully well with the sincerity in the oath of marriage bride and groom sing to each other. The melody wouldn’t sound out of place in that first night scene in Kandhan Karunai.

Medhuvaagathaan yenai eerkkirai could be a line a Rahman fan sings to A.R.Rahman, but that wouldn’t be because of this song. It is an instant winner in every possible way, despite being a mish-mash of elements of so many of his other songs. Yes, that loop the song beings with is straight out of Maahi Ve from Highway, but what the heck, What a Song, What a melody and What Singing! S.P.B and Sadhana Sargam continue from where they left off in Swasamae. It has been a while since we heard S.P.B singing with a sparkling smile throughout a song, even when he is not injecting a deliberate smile like he does in the line Yenai vella yaarum illai. Dear A.R.Rahman, chuck the new sound, I can take hundred more songs in the same template as Medhuvaagathaan.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 05

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 04

The concert soon returned to the tender zone with Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai theme. In his speech in Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai pre-release press meet Ilaiyaraaja said, “When you hear the title music, you won’t hear the music you have already imagined Ilaiyaraaja would create for a village-based movie titled as Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai. Switch-off your cell phones. Be Silent for ten minutes. Relieve yourself from all your problems and issues in your lives. Keep your mind calm and listen to the title music of Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai, and if you don’t shed a tear on listening to the piece, I will stop making music forever”.

  I don’t know if anyone ever had a chance or time to prepare to the experience Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai title music in a way Ilaiyaraaja expects a listener to, but, the mood and vibe of the audience in the concert hall that day was closer. In a live concert, even a song you heard thousand times before could give an entirely new experience, or a song you liked but you never thought anything more than it being good could give an experience you won’t forget the rest of your life, because when you come in for a concert you have already tuned your antennas to the frequency that best receives everything the composer is going to feed you. You are a willing participant. I can never forget the experience of listening to Naan Thedum Sevvandhi Poovidhu in one of the earliest concerts Ilaiyaraaja did for Jaya TV in 2006. I have always liked the song, but never knew it could soak you in so much joy.

When Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai theme was performed in one of Jaya TV concerts, it was terrible to watch many people in Nehru Indoor Stadium who walked out of the instrumental performance like it was a sort of loo-break; they were talking on phone, texting, talking to people sitting next to them. The utter lack of discipline spoiled the experience of even those few who wanted to concentrate on the music. Fortunately none of that happened in this concert. 

Though the other Hungarian Guitarist was there, I was glad when Sadhanandham stood from his seat with his guitar and was the chosen one to play Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai theme on stage. I didn’t really like that jazzy improvisatory twinge to the theme in the name of dynamics in one of those Jaya TV Ilaiyaraaja Concerts. The so called artistic interpretation of a water tight composition spoiled the piece for me. A musicians’ mind works in improvisatory mode; there is nothing concrete, even after hours of rehearsals, something new might come up on the day of performance, but Ilaiyaraaja’s composition isn’t the field to play that game.

  Most of the live music performances are about the musicians flaunting their virtuosity in playing an instrument, the way they can traverse or jump octaves with utmost ease and without going off anywhere while doing so. If the excitement of a musician isn’t carefully controlled in concerts, the creation, the composition, the emotion takes a hit. Music composed to be performed live usually has significant parts for each instrumentalist playing on stage, so that there could be equal spotlight on all the performers. The question to be asked here is whether a particular composition (melody) inherently requires all these instruments to serve its true purpose. The additional instrumental sections are there because the instrumentalists have to be used some way or the other. Striking a fine balance between the showmanship and the integrity of a composition and yet maintaining tightness of the performance with no tentative or lazy moments is very tough. Needless to mention, Ilaiyaraaja has written pieces that helps a musician exhibit his mastery of the instrument like “How to name it” and “Nothing but wind”; pieces in these albums are absolute delights to perform and also to listen to on recordings or live performances.

Ilaiyaraaja’s songs and compositions performed in concert were never meant for such musician-friendly live performances, though always recorded in the studio with a live orchestra, it has always been about the overall composition. Any instrumental part in an Ilaiyaraaja creation always feel innately born out of the needs of the melody and the mood of the piece, more than the logical needs of composer having to utilise every instrumentalist available to him or for the pressure to give some meaty part for every chief instrumentalist to play. I remember a violinist from Budapest Symphony Orchestra mentioning in the Making of Thiruvasagam DVD, that Ilaiyaraaja’s writing in Thiruvasagam is “Simple Music but divine music”. I can’t agree more. Complexity of a composition is hardly a measure of its greatness or eternity. I like that Mr. Bean performance in London Olympics opening ceremony — thought intended to evoke laughter, that single note which he was pressing on a keyboard throughout the Chariots of Fire piece, which is so integral to the composition and a key layer of the piece; it could be a simple monotonous part to play and a musician doing that may not draw the audience’s attention or any thunderous applause but you can’t imagine Chariots of Fire theme without that loop.

As a musician, you don’t interpret Ilaiyaraaja’s music, you just execute. Yet when musicians play Ilaiyaraaja’s composition, they get a rewarding experience, they get a sense of satisfaction, because though what they played was a simple phrase, it was an important part of the piece as whole, if they don’t play it the way it has to be played, the piece as a whole would suffer. It is like the satisfaction of resolving a complex problem by working as a team, in which each individual got a simple problem to solve, by which the lager complex problem gets resolved by itself. No one person can be singled out as responsible for the victory and yet all are equally responsible for the victory. One such synergic triumph of the orchestra was the performance of Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai theme.  

Backed by intense silence, Sadhanandham played the main theme on his guitar exactly the way it is in the original, no additional touches, not slower or faster, just the way it is and the way it should be. Ilaiyaraaja introduces the main motif in its simplest and purest form on a solo Guitar without any accompaniments. With that short phrase, Ilaiyaraaja makes you switch off your mobile phones, calms your mind, and primes you for a pleasurable ride. The piece takes off with a Guitar Ostinato making an exhilarating entry into the piece flapping its notes in a speed close to that of the wings of a butterfly just freed from a cage. With the guitar ostinato suddenly changes its course, a velvety lute plays the secondary motif, and the piece gets to the pivotal moment where Ilaiyaraaja’s favourite Oboe would take the theme over from Guitar and pronounce the theme in its entirety and reveal the melody’s complete beauty. While an acoustic guitar is playing the secondary melody, a solo flute emerges playing a soul stirring counter melody casually triggering your tear glands on its course. However, in no time flute makes a peaceful pact with the Oboe, and together they reprise the main motif again. The breezy string section that was merely doing a supporting part in the piece until now takes the lead and plays the secondary motif, and the deep Cello section joins the conversation. Oboe rises above everything else again and plays a haunting new melody. The ensuing strings gradually take the piece to a soothing end, but the piece does not end without reprising and reminding us the main theme on a serene Solo guitar.

All of this happened right in front of me in just two and half minutes. I just didn’t know where to look and focus. The questions, the answers, the conversations, the arguments, the agreements between the various instruments in Ilaiyaraaja’s orchestral pieces, the permutation and the combination in the order in which, all of these, some of these or one of these happen in a per-ordained randomness or a sequence create such monstrous complexity and intriguing drama in the orchestral piece that leaves you stunned and even if you don’t care much for these intricacies, there is that emotion that all of it put together leaves behind that stays with a listener for a lifetime.

Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai Theme

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 06

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 04

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 03

Now that the two of the most wanted, mandatory musical pieces of the concert have been performed — that is considering it is a concert of Ilaiyaraaja’s film scores and not songs, I had a sense of relief. Contrary to the general assumption, I think it is a wise to perform the insanely popular pieces, the pieces that the audience come to the concert for, and those that they know would e definitely performed, in the very beginning instead of at the end. Getting it done in the beginning is a relief both for the performer and the audience, it takes the anticipation and anxiety out of everyone’s mind. A listener’s mind and body shouldn't be thinking or reacting anything lowly and earthly during this concert. I shouldn’t be thinking if the next piece would be Mouna Raagam Theme or Punnagai Mannan Theme, instead of paying utmost attention to the piece being performed now. The climactic high should come from the inherent ability of a piece to invoke that high in a listener and not from the very fact that it is being performed finally.

Moving on from the mellow and mellifluous flute, violins, piano and guitars, it was now time to put the power of the brass section of the orchestra to test, and here comes the Captain Prabhakaran theme. Time for Ilaiyaraaja to flaunt the power and punch of his brass writings, and especially in this piece, it is easily up there on par with the bombast of any of John Williams’ epic scores. I always get astounded by the orchestration of the teaser Ilaiyaraaja has written as a build-up to the main theme, cascading layers of strings section — a section of strings whirring the phrase in lowest register the phrase can be taken to, soon another part of the strings section join in whirring the same phrase in a slightly higher octave, and the third and then the fourth, and finally brass joins in steps just the way strings did and all the layers burst out and release the signature bars of the main motif — not the entire motif, not yet — with the bangs of percussions perfectly in tandem with the staccato motif, and surprisingly after that, all the power built so far suddenly subsides when strings begin to play what I call the secondary melody of the main motif and everything comes to a brief unsettling pause. Now begins the pulpy part of the piece, Tan- da-da-dan - Pum-Pum-Pa-Pum-Pum, and the moment I heard it live, I had goosebumps, tears, orgasm, and went through everything that one’s body and mind could go through when it senses its highest pleasure point. Indescribable experience it was. I always wondered the instrument or combination of the instruments that creates a unique sound in that Tan-da-da-dan part of the theme, I couldn’t figure even during the performance of the piece, because I was busy orgasming. Maybe, it was entirely played on electronic Keyboard.

I thought they would chop off the flute solo of the Aattama Therottama song that punctuates the action piece in the middle in the original title music, but they didn’t. That was the first time, audience interrupted and erupted in between the piece, when the piece suddenly shifted to Aattamaa Therottamaa. It was intriguing to witness a flute and Tabla take over and steal the thunder from a full throttling orchestra bursting the action cue from all its seams. For all its greatness, Ilaiyaraaja’s background score can never touch the heights of the popularity of Ilaiyaraaja’s songs. However, I don’t think the applause was just for the Aattama song, it was for the frisson the sudden switch invokes in a listener. I am sure that if they had started the piece directly with the flute version of Aattama Therottama, it wouldn’t have triggered the same response.

Captain Prabhakaran Theme

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 05

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 03

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 02

I was expecting that Ilaiyaraaja would again hint the main melody of the next piece on his Harmonium, but he didn’t. Anil Srinivasan started to play what is unarguably the piece heard most as the ringtone in the mobile phones in Tamilnadu. Every mobile in Tamilnadu, at least once in its life, would have rung playing Mouna Raagam theme. It sounded a little different when heard live on a grand Piano, the tone of the Piano being much heavier than the one in the original recording. I liked the way it started not instantly with the first note of the main melody of the theme, but with a short prelude like it does in the opening credits of the film. Thankfully, Anil Srinivasan didn’t improvise or add any so called dynamics to the piece. Usually such seasoned musicians tend to do that while performing, otherwise what is the fun in it for them.

The funky, livelier version of the theme with that kick-ass bass line, jaunty drums and the main melody played on mute trumpet followed — it still boggles my mind that one could give such extremely varied orchestral colours to the same melody. The theme soon went back to where it belongs though, Anil’s Piano, but this time Strings joined, and after two iterations, when the strings were bowing the last note in a way suggesting a fade out, I thought that was the end of the piece. Just after a breathtakingly measured pause, the strings took over the main theme entirely and played it on a higher tempo, it is the darker version of the theme that is heard in the scene when Karthik is shot in front of the Registrar office.

The pleasure of watching this sad version of the theme live is the sight of the Strings section playing it. I got a seat that is right in the middle of the auditorium in the Grand Tier (and it helped that the Concert Hall’s website had a virtual tour feature which shows you 360 view of the Hall from the Seat you choose to book), neither too close to the stage, nor too far, neither too high nor too low to the level of the stage. It was just the right distance to witness the beauty of the sight of Violinists’ hands moving together in military precision while bowing the strings to play some of the most sublime set of musical phrases written by Maestro Ilaiyaraaja. If you sit too close to the stage, you don’t get to see the whole, only the set of people playing the First Violin section of piece, which isn’t exciting enough. There are many sections in an Ilaiyaraaja piece where the Violinists sitting in the first row play a melody while violinists sitting in the second row play a totally different melody that supports or counters the first violins, and the waves their hand movements whip in air is a beauty to behold.

When playing this version of the theme, the first violins play the main melody in its incomplete form (just the way love story that the theme represents ends incompletely) on a higher register in one layer, and the second set of Violinists go wild playing a repetitive phrase in high tempo for the rush, anxiety and chaos in the moment, and finally, all the layers unite in playing the main theme in extremely slow speed. You get to see live, the harmony that you have always marvelled at. Violinists in the different layers of string section moving their bows in all different directions and yet collectively the music sounding perfectly in harmony, and that audio visual experience is one of its kind.

Anil again took over the theme to his Piano and was looping just the main bars of the theme in a reducing tempo and volume. I was sure that it was going to end. People in some corners of the concert hall even started to clap, but some of them were still not sure of whether the piece is reaching its end, some were hesitantly clapping thinking that they can clap heavier once everyone in the audience joins to clap. However Anil was still playing. When he was on to his fifth or sixth iteration, amidst discrete clap sounds in the auditorium Ilaiyaraaja’s Guitarist Sadhanandham started to played Mohan’s theme on Guitar and Anil Srinivasan was still playing the main theme on Piano mildly like a riff, a contrapuntal melody to the Mohan theme, it was a surprising juxtaposition of two main themes from the film, that Ilaiyaraaja never did even in the film’s original background score. That moment of both themes being played perfectly in sync as counterpoints was enough the (generally criticised as exorbitant by even hard core fans) price I paid for the concert.

Expectedly, Ilaiyaraaja didn’t stretch the idea too far. Anil Srinivasan stopped playing the main theme when Sadhanandham started to repeat the main Mohan theme second time. Though the other Hungarian Guitarist was there, I am glad Sadhanandham played this piece, for I didn’t really like that western tinge — a slide or glide in that last note in the name of dynamics — with which Hungarian guitarist ended the notes in Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai theme in one of the Ilaiyaraaja Concerts organised by Jaya TV. Every damn version of Mohan theme — the flute, Solo Violin with String section, Saxophone, Clarinet and String section, just the String section, just the Cello section, and even Veena version which plays in Kambili-poochchu-oorra-maadhiri-irukku scene was played and all the solo pieces were strung together as one seamless piece. Every soloist made sure they got their share of glory by standing up while playing the lead melody.

It helps the audience to see who is playing, because it was a massive stage with 100+ orchestra and 50+ choir. However, the big screen at the top of the stage was also capturing the performances as it should be, spontaneously switching to the feeds from cameras focussing on the section where the action is at any given point in an instrumental piece. In this case, focus was mostly on instrumentalists performing the lead melody with occasionally sights of the string section and other accompanying instruments. I wasn’t concentrating much on the screen though, but I could see that they were making sure that none of the action is missed.

When the climactic version of Mohan theme, with Strings, Piano and happy drums brought the Mouna Raagam suite to a satisfying closure, it felt like I experienced the whole movie in ten minutes. I wonder if watching a collage of images or muted clips from the movie would make us experience the key emotion of the movie as much as the collection of cues from the background score just did.

Mouna Raagam - Karthik Theme

Mouna Raagam - Mohan Theme

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 04

Friday, February 28, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 02

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 01

A spotlight grew brighter in the centre of the stage; Ilaiyaraaja in his white shirt and dhoti was playing his Harmonium and he was playing the main melody of the Punnagai Mannan Love Theme. The most popular of all the instrumental pieces of Ilaiyaraaja was stripped to its bare bones and performed for us just the way it was probably born.

I thought the orchestra would take over and play the entire Punnagai Mannan Theme, they eventually did, but before that, there was another pleasant surprise. I heard someone banging on a chord on a Grand Piano, and the spotlight on the Piano side of the Stage turned on to reveal Anil Srinivasan the Pianist, who was playing what I call the Prelude to Punnagai Mannan Love Theme. It is a very short piece, but I always loved it just as much as the main love theme. In the movie when this piece plays, Kamal is alone in a dark hall. There is a Grand Piano in the room. The breeze outside makes the hall’s open door to slam rhythmically and Kamal bangs the piano and hits a chord in sync with the slam of the door, and thus begins the Prelude. I always wondered if those deep bass chords were meant for ever brooding Kamal, and the main melody set in a higher register, is for the chirpy, light and spright Revathi. May be, not. It plays for the mood of contemplation, the main melody on treble clef of the sheet circling around that one thought in Kamal’s mind - To fall or not to fall, in Love, again. But then the music also beautifully suits the dreamy romantic ballet Kamal performs with Revathi in his mind.

I love the feel of a chord banged on a Piano reverberating in a Concert Hall. The longer it lingers in the air, the farther you feel transported out of the real world. The sound of the higher keys of a solo Piano in the vast space of the concert hall, sounded incredibly romantic and intimate. I was expecting the piece to end properly, but it ended exactly like it ends in the movie - Abruptly. When Kamal stops playing suddenly, because he doesn’t want to take the thought any further, he pulls the lid to slam on the surface of the rim of the Grand Piano. Of course, the Pianist here didn’t do that, but the bang provided a perfect jump start to the following piece, and the bang became the first thud of Punnagai Mannan Main Theme from where begins the high tempo hi-hat beat of one of the most beloved movie themes in Tamil Cinema.

Unlike the original, where the clap sound was programmed into the rhythm pattern or so I guess, the musicians in the orchestra were clapping on beat. Few micro seconds before the main melody begins, the spotlight on the man on the Keyboard was turned on. The stage was still not fully lit; we could see Anil, Sivamani, Ilaiyaraaja and now A.R.Rahman - the original musician who played and programmed the piece was there on stage playing the main melody on keys. When the melody took off, I was completely out of the worries and hurries of the real world, I was completely transported in a space where there is only one thing - Ilaiyaraaja’s music.

Most of the synth layers that were programmed into the original were performed with acoustic instruments in the performance, hence it sounded a little different, a little imperfect and that made it sound all the more beautiful. The short, snappy and swirly Oboe (or is it clarinet) that ends with a high tick on the bell is one of my favourite orchestral ideas in the piece, and that part sounded so crisp live. Though there was a whole symphony orchestra on stage, I am glad that short Oboe piece was still played on Keyboard as it is in the original which helped retain a little sonic integrity of the original in the performance. The thump of the drums were quite effective and the hit on the cymbals resonated quite longer than it was allowed to in the original.

With a huge cymbal sound the piece hit that sweet pause and the entire auditorium was on the edge of the seat waiting for the orchestra to set the main melody free of its cage. Precisely when the string section began to soar and reprise the main theme, the whole stage was lit up and for the first time we were able to see the entire orchestra. The whole Hungarian symphony orchestra, Indian and Western choir, along with Ilaiyaraaja’s own Indian ensemble troupe was there. It was an amazing sight; more than 100 musicians were on that stage. When the strings soared and all the lights were turned on, I had one of the hundreds of goosebumps I was going to have that evening. The live sound mixing was perfect, sound quality was unbelievable, it was like listening to the performance on CD. Even the smallest of sounds were audible in utmost clarity. As this was the premiere of the concert, and it was being filmed and recorded for Audio CD, DVD and Blu-ray release, and I guess a lot of effort has gone into making everything look and sound perfect. When the piece ended, there was a thunderous applause that lasted for a minute. Ilaiyaraaja stood there smiling and accepting the appreciation and after a point he had to show his hands to stop fans from clapping and whistling. He signalled indicating there is so much more to come and turned towards the Orchestra and asked the Hungarian Conductor to start the next piece.


Punnagai Mannan Love Theme

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 03

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 01

The Concert I had been waiting for all my life was about to begin in few hours. As always, I started to the Concert City a day earlier, for I need to idle well before any music concert. I want to keep my mind void and vacuum, so that when I open it during the concert, it could absorb every little ounce of the elixir that Ilaiyaraaja’s music was going to offer that evening. I wanted each and every molecule disturbed in the air by the music being performed in the Concert Hall to pierce through my body, mind and soul. I wanted to experience music in its entirety to the fullest extent humanly possible.

In the hotel, after an hour in gym and light brunch, played some mild western classical music on laptop speakers — not the bombastic presto and allegro movements of Symphonies but a playlist with calm and soothing string quartets and flute sonatas. I didn’t bother to listen intently; when there is something worthy of listening, it comes knocking my ear drums and wake my brain nerves to pay attention. I like listening to music in half sleep. You are really in a world where there is only music. But, within few minutes into the first piece, I slept. There was no there. There was no snaking around the bed in half sleep. I wasn’t lingering in in-between worlds. It was a deep and sound sleep, the one I badly need before a music concert; especially when the concert is of Instrumental Music. I have dozed off in almost all western classical symphony concerts that I have been to so far. Of course, this was not going to be one of those classical concerts. Ilaiyaraaja’s instrumental pieces are the tightest one could possibly ever hear, one that implodes with energy even at its lowest tempo, but, I needed the rest because I just don’t trust me. With Ilaiyaraaja’s music, where you move from one highlight to another, where lingering and meandering has no meaning, and with so much drama happening within each piece of music, you have no choice but to surrender to the music, you cannot process any thought other than the music being performed, that is if you are there for music.

I woke up at 4:00 PM and through my room’s window I could see a huge crowd that had already gathered outside the Concert Hall. I always book a Hotel very close to the Concert venue, so that I can avoid the fatigue of travel and waiting in the queue. Took a shower and put my best dress on, and reached the Concert Hall in an hour. It was like a carnival at the corridor just outside the main Concert Hall. Fans from different parts of the world had come to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event. I could see variety of T-Shirts with Ilaiyaraaja’s picture on it with hash tag lines like “#Raajada”, ‘WhyRaajaisGod”, “WhyGodisRaaja”, “Mottai Boss”, “Endrendrum Raaja”, and some T-Shirts in Malayalam and Telugu too.

There was also a stall where they were selling Concert Merchandise. Everything was selling well, what with nearly 10,000+ people gathering to witness the event. Everyone was seriously discussing about Raaja’s music, some of them were singing in groups, not the songs, but the themes from film scores. There was a stall that was already selling a “Making Of” DVD and Blu-ray of that of the concert. It was reasonably priced.

I was regularly following the updates that had interesting Making-of Videos with lot of inside information in the official website of the Concert for nearly six months, right from the day when the idea originated, to the final set decoration of the Stage on the concert day, there were rehearsal videos, videos of singers and musicians talking about Ilaiyaraaja’s background scores, film makers, producers, movie celebrities talking about the concert. A small teaser trailer of the DVD was looping in a huge LCD in the stall. I picked one Blu-ray, and with Making-of Blu-ray, they said I would be among the first bunch to get the Concert Blu-ray disk when it releases.

I met some of the Ilaiyaraaja fans with whom I have only communicated through social networking sites. There was a lot of press, some TV channels interviewing fans about how they feel about attending this concert. I too gave a sound bite. There was also a red carpet for VIPs from film music fraternity and some popular actors and directors who have worked with Ilaiyaraaja who were going to attend the show.

Suddenly there was huge noise in one corner, Ilaiyaraaja arrived at the Concert Hall, and he came in walking on the red carpet. He looked cool and calm, as if he was there to watch someone else’s show. He gave few sound bites, posed for photographs; some fans fell on his feet, despite the tight security. I just stood at a distance and was watching everything. The “Making of” documentary crew was very busy capturing all these varied things happening all at the same time. The doors opened and we were allowed into the concert hall. I had a refreshing Coffee while everyone was falling on each other near the door as if the seats were on first come first serve basis. Once the crowd became calmer and nicer, I stood in the line to enter the hall. I could already hear the sounds of instruments because orchestra was now on stage and they were tweaking and tuning their instruments. Each instrumentalist was playing or rather practising for one last time, different phrases from different pieces that was going to be performed that night. All of it together sounded quite cacophonous, but I could guess some of the pieces from those few bars, and so were some in the crowd entering with me.

The show was also being captured on a high definition film camera and with some high technology sound capturing machines. This is to later release the concert as a movie in Cinemas all over the world like P.Jayendra made Margazhi Raagam. So, the electronic devices were strictly not allowed inside the auditorium. There was a counter where we had to surrender all our devices. It was almost like going to a movie set or a recording studio. They are not going to release the concert movie soon, because the show is on a 10-City worldwide tour for next one year. But, the concert was premiering that night and was also being captured live for the movie release. I guess they might record in all places and string together the best bits from all the Cities and make it into a movie.

The whole concert Hall turned dark suddenly, and the murmurs of around 10000 people started to die down to few coughing sounds here and there and with the beginning of the final count down the audience turned absolutely silent — a clear sign of respect for the music and the composer. Curtains were drawn up, but still I couldn’t clearly see much on the stage. The stage looked like massive infinite space — a sort of a visual indicator of the time the music that was going to be performed there in few seconds would live. Stage was totally black and blank but for the tiny but sharp flashes of LED lights, flickering all over the stage like stars twinkling far away in a dark sky. There was a huge widescreen display at the top, and in there, gradually emerged the simplest and most appropriate title of the Concert - Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - with letters typed in some sort of a musical font in which each alphabet is drawn resembling one of the musical instruments or one of those various notations that we see on a sheet music.

The title appeared not all of a sudden, but gradually, and this transition of the title from a thin smoky font to the thick final shape was accompanied by the sound of the unlikeliest of the instruments I thought the show would begin with — the Harmonium, Ilaiyaraaja’s own Harmonium. There was no bombast or banging fanfare that I expected. Along with the title, a spotlight also grew brighter in the centre of the stage; Ilaiyaraaja in his white shirt and dhoti was playing and he was playing the main melody of the Punnagai Mannan Love Theme. The most popular of all the instrumental pieces of Ilaiyaraaja was stripped to its bare bones and performed for us just the way it was probably born. That was just one of the many surprises that was going to follow that evening. But I was also surprised that none in the audience cheered, whistled or made any noise. Ilaiyaraaja didn’t have to do what he did in one of his earlier concerts when audience started to applaud even before flautist Napoleon could lay Poove Sempoove quietly to bed with that serene flute piece that also opens the song. It is as important for us the audience to hear a piece of music in its entirety as it is for the instrumentalist to perform to honour the integrity of the composition, and to appreciate the musical symmetry the composer was after by beginning and closing the song with the same flute piece as if suggesting that all the breathtaking orchestral dance that happened in between was pointless.

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 02

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Background Score - 78

Ilaiyaraaja Background Score Quiz. Guess the films from the background score clip. There are more than one film in some of the clips, and there could be more than one cue from the same film in the quiz. There are 24 clips.

Ilaiyaraaja Background Score Quiz from backgroundscore on 8tracks Radio.

Nagaraja Chozhan M.A, Villain goes Bald, Captain, Time Machine, Power of Thalapathi

Not by Ilaiyaraaja

Time Machine

I want a child

Yerikkaraiyilae Ennio Morricone

Escape from Asylum - Nandalala

People's Power - Pazhassi Raaja

Celtic Sathileelavathi

Meena Introduction

Chinna Veedu

Cascade of clouds floating away to give us a glimpse of Moon

Towards the Devil's Kitchen

Veera is a Singer

Henry Mancini for Hefty Wife

Moi Virundhu

Vishwa Thulasi

Becoming a Woman

Kind Karnan - Verum Panam

Vishwa Thulasi

Prelude to Thoodhu Selvadhaaradi

Shy and hesitant Divya

In the library - Sethu proposing to Abithagujalaambal

Top Tournament

Nayagan, Aan Paavam, Mahanadhi, Vaayum Sirippuma Pidichittaen, Idhayathai Thirudathey