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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Maestro's Malleable Motifs

Maestro’s Malleable Motifs

Version 1 – With a melody on flute fluttering its way over a tense layer of strings, the theme breezily emerges on soft yet dense strings. No accompaniments or counter melodies. Ilaiyaraaja hints the love theme just for the literal mention of the word “Love”. But, don’t we Tamil film watchers know from the very beginning what the two would end up being?

Version 2 – A relaxed evening at a Sea shore, Love theme on Saxophone

Version 3 – Love theme on piano - the one with most romantic sound of all instruments

Version 4 – The romantic twang of a Guitar supported beautifully by tender tinkles on bells

Version 5 – Love theme on Strings, again, but with additional supporting layers this one is quite different from Version 1

Version 6 – Love theme on Strings, but with deeply emotional chords this one is again totally different from Version 1 and Version 5

Version 7 – The love theme is modified just to an adequate extent to make us sense the hideousness just like how their love is kept hidden from the lovers themselves in the film.

Version 8 – Tickling the romance on tinkling bells.

Version 9 – Just the first few bars of the theme stated on strings

Version 10 – Love is in the air. Theme on Slow strings. The theme is played in a tempo much slower than that of Version 1 and Version 5, and sound far breezier than the other two versions.

Version 11 – Contemplative version on Piano where every key is hit with deliberate hesitance

Version 12 – The theme gets an exhilarating prelude, and soothing beats join in with velvety strings to create the most enchanting version of the theme.

Version 13 – A playful version with theme playing taking on a totally shape and form on a Saxophone

Version 14 – The hyper energetic and ecstatic melody running on piano and soaring strings race to quickly hit and hint at just the opening bars of the main theme

Version 15 – Phrases of the main theme played with longer pauses in between. Love is stuck.

Version 16 - How can a film with Ilaiyaraaja’s background score be complete, without the theme getting its moment on a Solo violin?

Version 17 – A flute joins in like a healer to the pain evoked by the Solo violin in this version.

Version 18 – Love theme in its entirety on somber strings

Version 19 - Love is in danger, Ilaiyaraaja uses just the first four notes of the theme to suggest that

Version 20 – The love theme on breezy strings again, and they lived happily ever after.

Version 21? – I could sense traces of the main theme in this piece, but I am not sure. This piece appears as the background longue music played in the restaurant in the beginning of the film. Is this piece a Jazz version of the main love theme?

I have written different theories to defend the composers who choose the melodies of the songs of the film to create background score cues.

Theory 1: Songs - at least those that are composed by composers, who put film maker’s vision above everything else - are now an integral part of the film’s narrative. The composer completes half of the film’s background score when he completes composing the songs for the film. These are songs made specific to the given situation of a given film and they cannot be used in any other situation of any other film. Composer need not break his head to compose new themes while writing the background score.

Theory 2: In Indian films, during the background music scoring stage, a composer would already have written all the songs of the film and would exactly know where each song is placed in the film. He would now have a clearer idea about the context and function of all the songs in the film. One of the most common scoring methods is using the melodies of the songs in the background score for scenes before, or for the scenes that immediately follow the actual song. There is no harm in this technique, as the song itself was conceived and composed for that specific situation in the film.

Composers may sometimes decide to write totally new musical themes without using melodies from any of the songs that were already composed for the film. Composer would write distinct themes for principal characters, for recurring situations, place, action and emotion. These themes would undergo a lot of variations in its form and shape along with its subject, throughout the film.

A composer composes the songs for the film even before the film is made. Though the songs are composed based on the characters and the situations in the film, with the strict 6-songs model in place, there is not always enough room in a film to create and use songs for all the principal characters and pivotal situations. For example, villains get no songs in Indian films. If a composer wants to trace the emotions and characteristics of a villain, there is no song’s melody to fall back on instantly. The composer must create a new theme for the villain character, which he could hint, develop or modify along with the way the antagonist’s character progresses in the story of the film.

However, I was always bewildered by Ilaiyaraaja’s penchant for writing new themes when he already has songs that he composed for the characters and their emotions. Last week, I was listening to Ilaiyaraaja’s exquisitely romantic background score for a mediocre film that has at least twenty different versions of the main love theme, and it suddenly struck me. I think I know why for some films Ilaiyaraaja chooses melody of the songs of the film for the background score, and for some, writes entirely new music material.

He creates a new motif for the background score because the melodies of the song that Ilaiyaraaja composed for the film may not be malleable enough to create varied orchestral versions to use them throughout the film. Most of these new musical themes that Ilaiyaraaja writes are made of short phrases which could be shrunk, stretched, transposed between octaves, played at different speeds and easily played on wide variety of instruments. But, can’t any given melody be tampered with in any which way a composer wants, especially when the composer is Ilaiyaraaja? I am not sure. Ilaiyaraaja picks the melody of a song from the film when it in itself has this malleability; otherwise, he creates a fresh malleable motif that he could comfortably play with for the background of the film. Keeping the phrases short could also be because of the length of the shots on which these themes must be played throughout the film. The theme should be short enough to be hinted at in a shot running just for five seconds, and also have the scope to be extended or developed when the shots are longer. Even if the melody as a whole is longer, the first few bars should have the ability to reveal the theme’s identity and the key emotion. It cannot go on and on to reach its inflection point. It should be short, crisp and make its point quick. To me these decisions seem to be made more for the mathematical precision than the emotion, though the emotion is always taken care of.

Hence in Mouna Raagam, Ilaiyaraaja, instead of using melody of the songs “Nilaavae Vaa” or “Mandram Vandha” for all those moments between Mohan and Revathi, goes for a new musical theme. Also, the songs are composed for a specific mood of the moment, but the theme in the background score has to accompany the journey the characters embark on while their relationship evolves from Point A and reaches Point Z. The theme should be able to evoke all the varied emotions they go through in the midpoints of the journey. I don’t think the melodies of “Nilaavae Vaa” or “Mandram Vandha” is capable of doing that. Whereas in Kaadhalukku Mariyaadhai, which is a straight forward love story, where the relationship between the two in love remains the same throughout, Ilaiyaraaja sticks to the main melody of the key romantic song of the film. But, the love theme of Ninaivellam Nithya which too is a straight forward love story contradicts my theory about Kaadhalukku Mariyaadhai. Ilaiyaraaja composes three astounding melodies “Neethaanae enthan pon vasantham”, “Rojaavai”, “Pani Vizhum” and yet composes a totally new love theme for background score of the film. I guess, in Ninaivellam Nithya, Ilaiyaraaja wanted to differentiate the love story from other love stories by creating a theme emphasizing on the backdrop of the love story – the mountain village. The tribal folk rhythm creates a unique identity to the film and the love story though the story itself is terribly cliched. Like I always say, all of these are just my theories; the real reasons could be entirely different.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Aravaan Trailer Music

Rarely we get to watch Movie trailers that is scored with the main motifs from the original background score of the film. As far as I remember, the trailers of Aaranya Kandam, Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai, Nandhalala had themes from its original score. It seems Aravaan trailer too is scored with themes from the original background score of the film. I already love the main flute theme. The background music in the trailer is precisely scored for cuts and mood changeovers. A single Mohan Veena strain for the shot of the classical dancer, whirling strings for shots of action, haunting flute piece (which I guess is the main theme, because it reprises again at the end on a tender female voice) plays like a love theme when Bharath and Anjali are introduced, and there is a constant percussive rhythm thudding underneath to make the transition from one mood to the other sound seamless,. Can't wait to watch the film, especially to listen to what Karthik has done as a film score composer. The Songs soundtrack of the film that I have been listening to repeatedly is anyway spectacular.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ilaiyaraaja and the Synth Myth

For past one week, I have been reading gushing reviews on Ilaiyaraaja’s Dhoni soundtrack, and most of them quote “live recording” as one of the main reasons for the refreshing quality of the music in Dhoni. I love Dhoni soundtrack (musically a sequel to Nandhalala in my opinion), but I don’t think that is because of live recording. By making this distinction, by attributing the quality of Dhoni Music to live recording, I don’t know if people (even some hard core Ilaiyaraaja fans) realize the immensity of disrespect they shower on all of Ilaiyaraaja’s music that has layers of Synth in it.

Ram Hey Ram (Heyram), Edhilum Ingu Iruppaan (Bharathi), Ilangaththu Veesudhae (Pithamagan), Endhukamma Prema Prema (Gamyam 2), Kombula Poovai Chutthi (Virumandi), Kai Veesi Nadakkura Kaatrae (Nandhalala), Ninaitha Varam Kaettu (Kaadhal Rojavae), Thak thom (Kadhal Kavidhai), Chandrabimbaththin (Sneha Veedu), Aaro padunnu (Kadha Thodarunnu), Sapath (Shiva 2006), Kannil Paarvai (Naan Kadavul), Neeral Udal Kazhuvi (Thandavakone) are some of the songs (I go back to at least once every month) that were not recorded live in the way that many believe is how Dhoni songs were recorded. And moreover, all the above mentioned songs have layers of Synth. Synth is least of all problems that I could have with any Ilaiyaraaja song. There is not one Ilaiyaraaja song with Synth layers, which I don’t like now and which I would have liked if it had no Synth.

Melody. Melody is all. It is not just the main melody of the song that I am talking about; it is also melody of every single layer of instrument supporting the main melody and the ludes that lead and trail the vocal parts in the song. When I say, I don’t connect with an Ilaiyaraaja song, I mean, I don’t connect with the main melody and the melody played by the accompanying instruments or synthesizers. Ilaiyaraaja used in the song Sapath (Shiva 2006) a rhythm loop that A.R.Rahman used in Hawa Sun Hawa (Ada), Yuvan Shankar Raja used in Chinna Chinadhaai (Mounam Pesiyadhey), Vidhyasagar used in Kaadhal Vandhaal Solli Anuppu (Iyarkai), and that Synth rhythm loop may not have added anything to the song, but it sure didn’t stop me from getting emotionally moved by the song. On the other side, no live orchestration or live recording could have made me like the song “Kodi Kotti Koduththaalum” from Ponnar Sankar or that ridiculous song “Unmaya naan ungalukku” from Ayyan about which I wrote in my review “It is a kind of song the melody of which even Ilaiyaraaja would have forgotten a day after recording it”.

And what is all this fuss about “Live recording”? Is it just because that smart marketing man Prakash Raj says so in every interview while promoting the music and the film? Ilaiyaraaja said only that there will be no overdubbing done onto the track that was being recorded on that day. That is, the percussions are real; there will be no rhythm loops or Synth layers added to the song later. The instruments used are not the ones programmed into the song through sound fonts on computer software or through an electronic keyboard, they are real. The Harp piece in the prelude of Maalayil Yaaro (Chatriyan) was not played on a real Harp; it was played on an electronic Keyboard. Great many layers of instruments in the entire Thalapathi background score were played on an Electronic keyboard. There, I said it. Now, go ahead and denounce and complain about the lack of emotions in the Maalayil Yaaro prelude and in Thalapathi background score.

Synth is no sin; Sin or sane, depends on how a composer uses it in the piece of music. Ilaiyaraaja, when he decides to use an Oboe in a piece of music, he would write the melody in the piece depending on with what he is going to record the Oboe part. He wouldn’t write a Gabriel’s Oboe or Nandhalala Journey theme when he knows that he has to record the sound of Oboe with an electronic keyboard, which he knows cannot reproduce everything that a musician could produce with a real Oboe. How does a live recording really matter if the sound is going to be recorded anyway with an electronic keyboard? I am not saying that the effect of the acoustic instruments is exaggerated; I am just saying that the Synth or electronic sounds are not as bad as it is made out to be, especially not in Ilaiyaraaja songs. Moreover, live recording is not really as live as it used to be. Even Karthik, for Aravaan songs, recorded each and every instrument live, but he didn’t record all of them together at one go like Ilaiyaraaja. And Aravaan songs have no Synth.

With multi track recording consoles and mixers, each and every instrument can be put on to a separate track and the volume and other properties can be adjusted at whim. With the availability of such recording consoles, it doesn’t really matter whether everything was recorded at one go (like Ilaiyaraaja did for Dhoni) or each layer of the instrument was recorded separately (like Karthik did for Aravaan). If you want to listen to a live recording, you have to be present in the studio when it is played live. What we hear in the audio CD is not what it sounded when the orchestra played it live. A lot of musical ideas that a composer writes into an orchestral piece that is going to be performed live in front of an audience are based on the inherent volume, tone and timbre of each instrument and practicality of the performance. A composer cannot write a delicate melody for woodwinds when in parallel he has brass section playing a bombastic fanfare, but that is possible when recording in the studio. You can never have the sound of a double bass layer soaring over the entire orchestra in a live performance, in the way it does in Rahman’s Jaage Hain song from Guru.

Has Prakash Raj brought the sound of 80s Ilaiyaraaja back with Dhoni? I doubt. In the 80s, the song with all its instrumental layers was perfectly balanced on paper, even before it was performed, recorded or mixed. Even if they again record this song “Anjali Anjali” (performed during Ilaiyaraaja’s Nothing but Wind Concert) live with all acoustic instruments in Prasad studio now, it wouldn’t have the same sound or impact as the Original has. Moreover, the 5.1 technology spreads the dense layers far and wide loosening the impact of the orchestra further. What Ilaiyaraaja needs now, like, right now, is a good Sound Engineer who could bring back that dense sound in the song as if it were recorded live (in my opinion, Cheeni Kum, Mumbai Xpress, Paa are some of the best sound-mixed Ilaiyaraaja albums in the recent times). And that we would get 80s Ilaiyaraaja back if Ilaiyaraaja records the songs live with live instruments again is something I don’t believe in. Do I need to explain further why Chinna Kannilae (from Dhoni) is no Anjali Anjali, despite the “Live Recording”? It is not the Synth. It could be the Sound recording. It definitely is the Melody. Melody is all!

P.S: And, why does the very sound of Dhoni songs irritates my roommate though he could repeatedly listen to Aravaan songs, is something I am yet to understand.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

#Top50TamilFilmBGM2011 #replug

A sweet surprise from @immancomposer Sweet Memories


Harp in action for best choreographed Action sequence of 2011

@Raja_Yuvan is capable of this! Who would’ve thunk

Love Blossoms in no time, as usual

Nothing but Wind, but, by Yuvan Shankar raja

The Most mobile-ringtone-friendly theme of the year

Love the strings in this one. A Sundar C.Babu minus Mysskin

Dear filmmaker, want ur audience to sympathize with character u just introduced?


The classicism of an Accordion

Nithya Menon. Drool! Listen to this piece and drool even more

Padhinaru vayadhinilae meets Paruthiveeran @Raja_Yuvan

A breezy violence @Raja_Yuvan

This could be in (or from) any Hollywood heist film

Passion for photography

What’s with Bala, unreleased songs and Kunal Ganjawala

What an epic offkeyness to suggest a cheating namboodiri

A chirpy lute for a harmless con woman @MGhibran

JK - A soloist

Gustavo Santaolalla won Oscar for composing a piece like this but far less memorable than this

A Selvaraghavan Love Theme

Where Ilaiyaraaja used a Maa Ganga, Sharreth plays this

This one follows the visuals to T, and has a nice thematic melody too

This is how you Kick-ass!

Journey of a song in a score Ana Avanna @MGhibran

A tale of a family that could have lived happily ever after

Plagiarism? I give the benefit of doubt to @Raja_Yuvan in this case

Celtic chase by @Raja_Yuvan

A Trumpet blows between two tablas

An eerie cello for a silent victim. What an engrossing film!

What if Ilaiyaraaja scored music for a Vikraman film? Listen to this

A thematic music developed even for an insignificant episode in the film

The build up to the final moment.. Aah!, listen..

Typical strings for a tense scene in a Tamil Film

Mahesh Muthuswamy disappears in a blinding white light

A middle eastern tinge in a revenge saga

Hideous lute that is there just to add more colour to the score as a whole

Love Birds. I have heard this in a @Raja_Yuvan song before, can’t recollect

I suspect @raajakarthik hand in this, who happily assisted his bro

Bala must go to a composer for songs after making the entire film

Spy in Raajazz

Goat Chasing Velu.. Orchestration! @MGhibran

A tale of an omnipresent Evil

1st long piece of music in a film, the opening credits of which scrolls in silence

Scottish bagpipes replaces Nadhaswaram @Raja_Yuvan

Madhi meets Amelie

Flamenco fight

This is truly a recurring recursive motif

Orchestral version of Best Song of the year 2011 @MGhibran