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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