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Friday, December 8, 2017

Rahman-Shankar Orchestral Suite

At the 2.0 audio launch, a symphony orchestra conducted by Matt Dunkley, performed a suite of instrumental themes A. R. Rahman composed for Shankar’s films so far. That they chose to perform instrumental themes instead of songs was a surprise.

These themes, monophonic they maybe, warrant a symphonic orchestra, for the same reason visuals of Shankar’s films’ songs require as many number of extras as they do. It is for the grandiose. The bombast. The boisterous spectacle.

The highpoint was hearing the Gentleman theme; booming large through the robust symphonic orchestra the swag and the power in the tune packed a solid punch (I would love to hear orchestra performing Kochadaiyaan revenge Theme like this). Also, the unsung I theme, one of my favourites, which has the right mix of darkness, dread and fury and even a drop of poisonous chemical in its sound, was extremely effective with the live chorus and orchestra. I like that they played the theme without the percussion section once before closing the suite with a bang.

Jeans theme was less effective, lost in transcription, something was different and many parts of it were brutally chopped out; felt they could have used Jeans as an opportunity to go quiet with just Rahman playing the tune on Piano. It would have brought a right balance in the suite in which most of the themes were loud and bombastic. Mudhalvan theme was just perfect for the orchestra; with the militaristic snare rolls, the brass and strings section played the majestic tune in unison. The original version itself had the grandeur of a live orchestra in its sound. The other Mudhalvan theme, the victory chant, that appears later was bang on, with a slightly increased tempo, the choir and orchestra were incredibly in synergy.

Surprised that they chose Indian End Credits music. I wonder how many in the audience guessed the film, for this theme appears only during the end credits of the film. However, when it was followed by the key motif from Kappaleri Poyaachchu, it would have been obvious. A solo Violin played the melody just about right to remind us the tune, but went down on a slippery slope after the beginning, (or was it an attempt to bridge the melody to the subsequent chorus part?) and it turned slightly better after the orchestra took over. The orchestral version too jarred a little due to some of the new inflections in the melody line. Rahman’s Indian melodies always lose some of its identity when transcribed onto a score sheet for a western orchestra. I wonder who is to be blamed for this. Rahman, though, was endearingly in trance, shaking his head and swaying to the orchestra performing his creations, without any of these concerns.

Sivaji and Endhiran themes were originally created for a symphony orchestra and recorded with one, so no changes or surprises there. There is still something oddly asynchronous in Arima choir piece. I guess it arises mainly from the verses in the chorus, not in the original song and written only for the background score, that doesn’t sit well with the beat of the song.

Despite all the flaws, this orchestral suite performance is a welcome change in the utterly tiresome promotional events these audio launches have become otherwise.

And, whoever you are, adding those clap sounds (I am sure they weren’t as loud where it was performed live) during the post, I would happily watch your fingers severed.

P.S. - Rahman said that he would be releasing a complete soundtrack with the cues from the background score of the film once all the work is done. Hope, it isn’t an empty promise this time, like it was when he promised the same with Kochadaiyaan.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Music of Satyajit Ray - Documentary

Though I haven’t seen much of Ray’s films, I have heard most of his film scores thanks to the compilation The Music of Satyajit Ray, which has 53 musical cues from his scores, and have been a huge fan. His polyphonic arrangements are minimal, elegant and interesting, and motifs simple and precise. The sheer clarity with which he pretty much does everything shines through his music too. Found a documentary made by NFDC in 1984 on Music of Satyajit Ray, which has rare footage of live recording sessions of some of Ray’s music. Ray is instructing the musicians and conducting the orchestra. He is also seen playing his synthesizer at his home, trying different ideas while writing a new melody. 

Also found an interview with Satyajit Ray on his music, by a French documentary film maker Pierre-Andre Boutang, in which he articulates with astonishing clarity his process, reasons, about other composers he used for his films and how he played pieces of Schubert or Sibelius in reverse in one of the scenes in his film The Music Room. This was in 1989. 

Ray talks a lot about fusing Indian and Western classical idioms in his music, a style and approach we find in Ilaiyaraaja’s music. I wonder if Satyajit Ray ever heard Ilaiyaraaja’s music and if he did, would be amazing to know what he thought of it.

Music of Satyajit Ray Documentary

Ray on Music - Interviewed by Pierre-Andre Boutang

Ray on Music - Interviewed by Shyam Benegal

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Virumandi Theme - Ilaiyaraaja

I have always been intrigued by the chilling effect of Virumandi theme, which plays in its entirety in the opening credits of the film. When I watched it the first time, on the first day of the release, music in the opening credits got drowned in the euphoric noise of the Kamal Hassan fans in the cinema hall. I did sense that something strange, unusual, utterly original was playing underneath the imaginative title cards, but couldn’t catch the actual theme. It wasn’t until I watched the film again on Television that I heard the piece properly.

I ripped the music from the bootlegged copy of the film and added it to my Ilaiyaraaja score collection. I have heard the theme many times since then, but didn’t fully comprehend the intricacies in the orchestration that caused the chilling effect, until one day in the recent past.

The theme is orchestrated very precisely to evoke the overall morbid tone of the film, and also to suggest the film’s ambitious Rashomon-like structure. The narrative of the film offers two different perspectives on one incident — the truth narrated by the protagonist and the twisted version of it by the antagonist.

In the theme music, the two versions of the story are underlined by two layers in the instrumentation, in which two different instruments from strings family, play the same motif with a slight and yet acute variation in tone. A violin pronounces the theme with a dash of naiveté in its shrill registers, and underneath, a cello renders the same melody with a cunning intonation in its deep bass registers. Both are mixed in a way as if the cunning cello is snaking around and squeezing the neck of the innocent violin. The two layers are wound so tightly close in the final mix that the gap is ingeniously disguised; it isn’t immediately evident, in the same way the truth isn’t in the two versions of the story while they are being narrated. Later, a tender flute also joins the layers of strings, duplicating the main theme, probably to suggest the plight of Virumandi’s beloved Annalakshmi, the poor victim of the bloody war.


Other layers too are in the theme precisely for reasons pertaining the events and ideas within the film. The eerie chorus and tribal rhythms suggest the barbaric brutality of the violence in the key incident of the film.

Furthermore, all of these layers are magnificently knit together with musical integrity of an absolute piece of music written for its own sake. It would work just as fine and satisfying as a standalone mood piece for a listener, who hasn’t seen the film, or isn’t cognizant of the film’s complex themes and ideas expressed in its orchestration.

Numero Uno, indeed.

Friday, June 30, 2017

A.R.Rahman's MOM

Rahman truly believes, in music, there is assonance in dissonance, symmetry in asymmetry, rhythm in randomness and that consistent uncertainty could also be comforting inevitability. The lack of imitability in music can be counteracted with intrigue.

In the soundtrack of “Mom”, the songs are strung together with musical phrases set on a journey without a destination and the concern is only on what is happening at the moment, and it doesn’t care whether it seamlessly entails the last phrase or for that matter leads to the next phrase. There are no cyclical and metrical comforts here. If these pieces were mathematical equations, they are the ones in which the left hand side never tally with the right hand side. There is always something off balance, unsettling, unfinished, and inconvenient in the song. It expands and flows in entropic measure like the ever evolving universe that never stops to look back. There are of course motifs but there is no telling the moment of its recurrence in the time span of the piece. It occurs and recurs when it does. Music has to move you emotionally, yes, but, wonderment and excitement are emotions too. Rahman plays to that.

There is nothing here that Rahman hasn’t done before, but he takes everything a notch higher, a step further. In Andhimandhaarai (1996), Rahman goes extempore on Piano while Unnikrishnan is crooning a classical Carnatic song; Set to a foot-tapping rhythm and synth layers, it felt like Rahman lit up a dull Carnatic Katcheri stage with a flood of modern neon lights. Yet, it has a definitive form, structure and a comforting flow. Now, in “Be Nazaara”, an improvisatory classical piece of music, vocals hit infinitesimal frequencies in between notes and with multiple variations of it in each iteration of the thematic verse, and Rahman builds around it an enigmatic soundscape where any e-sound goes. You can’t help but be hypnotized by the amalgamation of the two breathlessly flowing layers of randomness. It sucks you into its intergalactic musical warm hole and traps you till the end.

You could go on and on about the oddities and experiments, but Rahman does deliver a few standard easy tracks to play to the gallery (O Sona Tere Liye). Every theory you form in your mind while listening to a piece of Rahman’s music, Rahman fiercely confounds in the immediate next song in the soundtrack, and sometimes in the very next section in the song itself. For all the meandering qualities of the exquisite “Chal Kahin Door”, there is that earthy flute section in the interlude, which is as affable a piece of music can get. A.R.Rahman’s music contains both its yin and yang within itself.

At this juncture, Rahman is not playing God creating anything at whim, he is rather a kid playing with his toys and having fun for his own amusement. A. R. Rahman, in the 25th year of his career as a composer, screams loud and clear “Mera yeh freaking freaking freaking music” through this spectacularly quirky, experimental and zany soundtrack. MOM – WOW!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Saarattu Vandiyila - Kaatru Veliyidai

Saarattu Vandiyila - Melody is easy, rhythm is zingy, percussive arrangement is crisp, mood is festive, the whole song is conventional, comforting and an instant ear-worm. The song is Rahman’s take on the most popular tamil folk riff “Thanna na naa dhinam, Thanna na naa dhinam, Thanna na naa dhinam, Thandhaanae”. Vairamuthu pours into the one-trick melody lots of beautiful words and phrases filled with playful imagery and innuendos. Sample this, “Avan kaigalil udayattum kanni kannadi” — the image of bride’s virginity as a brittle glass that would be broken in the hands of the groom on the wedding night. Vairamuthu’s earthy Tamil syllables have always had problems sitting comfortably on Rahman’s polished musical phrases and sophisticated production (example, purusan in Yaaro Yaarodi), but in Saarattu vandiyila marriage between the two sounds almost perfect. That final crescendo, where all the best riffs of the song come stacked in many layers, blossoming together like petals of varied colours in one flower, it makes you go “Pudhu Ponnae, Adhu dhaandi Rahmanin baani”. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Vaan Varuvaan - Kaatru Veliyidai

Vaan Varuvaan - Here comes again, flying from above, the sound, that Rahman Sound! The sound defined not by contrapuntal layers of melodies, but by endless layers of sparkling e-sounds enmeshed together to be a carrier and a cushion for the voice, the melody and the mood. After the opening Piano chords, any hint of acoustic instrumentation in the layers underneath the melody is avoided fearing they might hurt the serenity of the central melody. Even the omnipresent flute and choir do not play or sing any definitive melody; maybe they do, but they are not allowed to be heard in its original form; a whiff of the sound, just a whiff of it, picked at a moment precisely before the basic sound dissolves into silence is used to fill the sonic canvas. Despite the seductive soundscape and Saasha’s sensuous rendition, it took a while for me to embrace Vaan Varuvaan. The first few times I heard the song, the long opening line of the melody, with  multiple “Vaan” words in succession, remained elusive. Melody sounded constrained by the monotonic words in the poetry (which isn’t a problem in the equally wonderful Telugu version “Mairmarupaa”). But, that was, only in the warm-up phase. Suddenly, when you are totally unaware, the contour of the melody reveals itself, and in that moment of Rahmanealization, Vaan Varuvaan does what every magical Rahman song does — finds a sweet little spot in our memory, digs a tiny hole, locks itself up to stay in there, forever.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Azhagiyae - Kaatru Veliyidai

Azhagiyae - Fresh as the first dew at dawn; Warm as a tight hug; Sweet as a gentle kiss on the forehead; Cute as a cream swirl-topped Cupcake; Light as a snow flake; Breezy as the ride along the coast; Beautiful as a just blossomed flower; Frothy as the tide crawling to the shore; Romantic as the twilight at dusk. 

It has been twenty five years since Roja, Maniratnam and A.R.Rahman get younger by the day and continue to churn charming, irresistible tunes.