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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.


MumbaiRamki said...

Very very good analysis buddy . Few more points that we add.

1) You are describing 'Synth' from a pure technical point - but what normally relate is the ' feel' of the sound and certain instruments that came later to us.

2) 'Live' recording benefits the musicians more than us . Apart from the story, 'Live - integrated' recording inspires the music director to reach his 'old spots' and that in turn gives a better quality.

Again, very good insights !

MumbaiRamki said...

"In the 80s, the song with all its instrumental layers was perfectly balanced on paper, even before it was performed, recorded or mixed'

I think for illayaraaja , for the ay he writes the score in full, this may not matter . He already has the score with with volume in mind even now and i personally think it is the translation to synth & mixing is where sometimes raaja fails ..

Sunil Malhotra said...

Yes indeed a wonderful analysis. Your last line -

It is not the Synth. It could be the Sound recording. It definitely is the Melody. Melody is all!

- Really gets to the core and definitely sums your write-up.

BTW SEL also used that loop for Lakshya title song and though I'm not sure I think GVP has used that same effect if not loop for Pirai Thedum and the later is one of my most fav songs of 2011. So yes, this further supports the argument of melody being the biggest lifeline of a song/instrumental. The melody has to be concrete from whoever composes it, but that too depends on the listeners taste.

The last tracks from Raaja Saab with complete emotional synth overdose are Neeral Udal Kazhuvi (Sounds like a cousins of Celebration of life from Aayrathil Oruvan) and Thedi Vantha (Ponnar Shankar). These two tracks, have tall pillars in all three categories i.e. Synth, Sound-engineering and melody.


To those, who think Synth arrangements make the refreshing quotient less compared live recording - I just have to say one word "VANGELIS".

Thank You!

Sunil Malhotra

Umesh said...

Love for music expressed in such technical yet simple prose. Lovely !

Vijay said...

Interesting and excellent analysis Suresh. Great work!

I love these lines.

"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."

Aakarsh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aakarsh said...

Beware of a long post here! :-)

Firstly, a very important and nice piece of writing that every fan of raaja should be reading. you have echoed my thoughts, exactly as they are.Good writing Suresh!Some lines that deserve to be underlined in bold:

1. Melody is all.
2. How does a live recording really matter if the sound is going to be recorded anyway with an electronic keyboard?
3. With the availability of such recording consoles, it doesn’t really matter whether everything was recorded at one go or each layer of the instrument was recorded separately.

if the Dhoni score was done on synth elements, nothing much would have changed.Afterall, it was not a Saara Yeh aalam (shiva-2006). still, i see so many people craving with real instruments - when they cannot identify the difference between the sound of real violins and strings pluggins.Infact,many raaja fans will be shocked to know that many recent songs had synth violins pluggins and not real violins.I remember Ravi Natarajan discussing this.

Now, here are my thoughts:

I find it amusing to see opinions of some of the Raaja fans - that Raaja's music is all about real instruments and all other composers' music is all synth. The resultant assumption, crudely formed, is that Raja's music is music and others' music is just sounds (i couldnt help laughing when i read someone writing that Raaja's recording is all about managing music while ARR's recording is all about managing sounds - not surprised, because those raja fans are more passionate about ARR than raja, in a different way :-) ). This argument then becomes as a war of upmanship between fans, each launching their own theories while, in reality, every composer is actually doing everything! if using synth is a sin, then everyone - including ilaiyaraaja,is a sinner and since everyone is,the sin itself ceases to be so.What varies is only the method and magnitude, that too, from film to film.The end result on the product is afterall, a subjective opinion,based on tolerance levels of individuals. If Rahman used real instruments for Bose and Vidyasagar used real instruments for Ilaignan,Raaja used largely synth elements in kannai Padithen in which except for a solo violin and flute, i cannot point out a single real instrument.

People at times,give too much emphasis on the process than on product.You are bang on the example of Maalayil Yaaro. and there are many such examples.people forget that Raaja was a trendsetter in the case of synth,compared to previous composers. and even he used (and still uses)loops, pluggins, sequencers that every composer uses today.

I think all composers today are exposed to same infrastructure and all composers, including raaja, employ the same process, more or less.It is no longer a pure white or black approach in the game.Only the method of usage is different from composer to composer.It is weird that many raja fans do not appreciate his new songs just because of synth elements. He used synth elements way back in Tik Tik Tik also, and those songs achieved cult status now. Only Tools have changed. But core elements remain the same.

I cite the example of photography to people. I enjoy digital photography and also film-photography. The processing done using photo editing tools, were also done in dark room before.It was chemicals back then and it is software now.the process is the same.only the tools changed. Unfortunately, people do not realize that and ramble on how digital killed film.But photography is not about the tool.it is about the photograph, or to highlight the essence,it is about the 'composition' and the perspective underscored.(one word common to both music and photography :-) ).

Today, many people (old raja fans and fans of other composers who like older raja) summarily dismiss raaja's new output,just as how some raaja fans dismiss other composers by citing a very frivolous phrase "he is all sound, no real music". Music, infact, is arrangement of sound and no one explained this better, than Raaja himself.

Koustubh said...

Very good analysis, Suresh. Looking at the entire scenario, it just feels like this 'Live recording' card is played to gain extra mileage for the film. Ultimately it all boils down to Melody, as you've pointed. Substance in the situation and an able director is all it takes to inspire deliver that Melody. Raja might have given great music for some bad films, but he never delivered bad output for a great film.

Having said that, it really annoying see comments like the one above. I really don't see why some people love getting back to ARR-IR comparisons on every platform, irrespective of the topic in discussion. Just like some ARR fans dislike IR with a passion, there are IR fans who loathe ARR's compositions. And then there are those who put IR and ARR on the same pedestal. As simple as that. Doesn't matter which group you belong to, there is no point in ridiculing the other group. Why is it so hard to get that? Unfortunately most of the forums are becoming increasingly pervasive with such discussions. Hope better sense prevails.

Aakarsh said...


Perhaps you got it wrong. I didnt bring IR vs ARR comparision but I only highlighted how other fans compare. I only pointed out the 'Live Music vs. Synth Music' cards (of comparison) that the fans of respective composers play, to out do each other - which, in nut shell, is same what you wrote. And the essence of what I wrote is the same - that every composer uses both Real and Synth elements and therefore, there is no point in ridiculing one another, based on these topics. Thats what I also meant. 20 years have passed since comparisons have started and better sense has not prevailed still :-)

I, for one, admire the 'good compositions' of both these composers.

V said...

I think what needs to be stressed is not the issue of synth vs real instruments but the issue of "simultaneous" vs "staggered" recording.

simultaneous - all instruments, incl. synth (and singers, if it is a song) performing and being recorded at the same time. It was definitely imperative before the multi-track era.

Staggered - I refer to recording different instruments / tracks at different times and then mixing / layering / merging them to get the final product - making use of the multi-track system. Today most songs might be recorded using this system where one singer sins first and another later.

I believe Raaja must have been doing simultaneous recordings upto early 1990s. ARR was said to be using a layering methodology (staggering) to improvise the songs after recording.

I presume - please pardon me for the assumption - post mid-1990s, Raaja might have started using the staggered recording to make use of multi track.

If you see this video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0RLUZ2iXbw - what Raaja says is that he is back to his earlier style of simultaneous recording.

On a personal level, I feel happy because he might have conceived the whole score in its final shape and getting it done simultaneously and playing and listening to it immediately may give him the level of satisfaction quickly and we might get more prolific outputs.

The talk is about "live RECORDING" and not "live INSTRUMENTS" - which is why this whole "synth vs live instruments" debate seems misplaced.

Thanks !

P.S. : Using this for marketing may be Prakash Raj's prerogative - similar to how it was marketed that Harris Jayaraj did BGM with 'live instruments' for 'Sathyam'. Let us ignore that part.

Anonymous said...

is your room mate your imaginary schizophrenic version of you who hates illayaraja's music?

Anonymous said...

what i feel is illayaraja has become very matured in his compositional works.obviously if you take any world class composers their final works are considered as masterpieces.but with illayaraja's most of his so called masterpieces are considred with the 80's and 90's..i personally feel that his masterpieces are his later works post 2000.he needs a good platform to express what he wants express..its time for him to do more works like thiruvasagam rather than doing music for movies and waste his time.what he is trying to do with synth is exactly what he needs to do with a symphonic orchestra.i think he uses too much layering in synth like he wants to use in a symphonic orchestra which sounds remote to the current present generation e.g the so called your room mate.i always considered raja as the greatest western classical indian composer.for e.g his works in pazhassi raja should tell you what he really wants to do?for e.g just listen to the final battle file name bg score.you will know that it sounds better than howards shore's score woth LOTR.hope you get it.hope i conveyed what i want to convey.i think that why he goes on using budapest symphony orchestra in all of his what he feels to be good films where he can use the music that he wants to play..OMG...can omebody or anybody give this musical geniuis with what his hearts long for?i think it is time to do his ymphony no 2 and release his symphony no 1.

Anonymous said...

i think his masterpiece is polla vinayen from thiruvasagam..no other composer has done a 20 min song with so many variations ..for that itself he should have been hailed.but sadly no one recognised what this genius really wants to do?cmon for homy tunes only can he put for the same damn situation that is prevailng in tamil movies.

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Hi all, Lots of interesting comments pouring in. I don't want to reply in a hurry. Must read each comment carefully.

Anonymous said...

if you notice his synth work in all good movies and movies of good production values,it is extraordinary..e.g,nandhalala,naan kadavul,virumandi,pithamagan,mumbai express,kathal kavidhal.but in movies of low production values or to tose new directors who come to him with their only dream of working with raja or struggled to get a movie,he never discourages them,still he accepts doing music because he gives hope to them just the same way panju arunchalam encouraged him.in those ordinary movies woth repetitive situation,he still gives one or two blistering songs e.g en usuru enna vittu from sengathu bhoomiyile,manasoram,enakenna oruthi from ayya and mayilu songs.he still gives kannanuku enna venum from dhanam..sadly these new directors could not even dream of approaching a.r rahman who will only put music for shankar or maniratnam.has rahman ever done any experimental films in tamil. i dont think so.thats why prakashraj comes to illayraja.suseendran comes to raja for ask..how synth sounded in those songs..everyone knows..how synth sounded in pazhassi raja..e.g that muslim song was a cracker of a song.the thing is all great film composers give imporatance to their own movies but only the contemporary composers gives imporatnce to foriegn movies rather than their own land movies.im not saying they should not accept movies with great production movies in other countries but that does not mean they should not leave out the movie that comes from their own land which made them popular.

Anonymous said...

what about the movies thandavakone it has that brilliant " kattu vazhi "..the reason why people have such an attitude towards illayaraja song like your friends who shares the room with you..they feel he has gone obsolete.they already feel that he is finished,his era is over.this is consumeristic approach at its worst.they think by listening to raja's song they will be branded as "old".we all know humans attitude how they want to be youthful and want to retain their young ness in them forever.they wanted to be ion the trend.they cant tolerate how illayaraja surprises them by proving that he is far superior than all of them.they cant digest that raja can still gives song like "thathom thakadimi thathom" from kathall kavidhai or thaavi thaavi from dhoni.they are just narrow minded..just like how the hardcore raja fans dismiss every other composers composition ..others are outrighly complaining about raja's music and discovering all new ways to defame him.synth,usuage of symphony orchestra.whatever he is famous for they are trying to deconstruct by repeatedly saying bull shit things..like raja's re recording doent match the films mood..can any composer compose a piece like how raja did for the final piece for nandhalala how the boy accepts the new mother with a kiss????knowing that his totally lost his mother by birth..kindly listen to the piece again.suresh..as u u said melody is the key..but in raja's music its one of the key..imagine this same man has put music for nearly 40 years..cant people see how he has risen abouve all musical challenges he faced.how his musical style has metamorphized.no one will believe the composer for anna kili and pazhassi raja or the niram pirithu song from time are same...

Anonymous said...

80s raja will be back only when the bass notes are given more importance like it used to be. Bass has to be a separate melody alltogether. It has nothing to do with live recording (or may be a little to do with live recording) and with Synth... Its all about the Bass melody...

Sunil Ganesh

thiyagarajan namasivayam said...

this article seems to be written in a hurry without proper facts.The postscript speaks volumes about the intention of the author.


Anonymous said...

"Melody is All".

This is a complete trivialization.


Naren's said...

Apart from insisting the point that you and the milliblog writer take yourself to be too serious music reviewers, I have 2 points about this article.
1) Going back to live recording was just a fun about visiting a golden glory way of doing things. Things would be back to how they exist today taking into consideration the improvement in sound scenario. As simple as that. When people are happy about live recording you don't have to imagine that people were all despising his synth works earlier on. Infact a true patron of raaja (read alias music) consistently have been with his music (the melody thing which you insist as if every1 else misses it).

2)not denying all shameless marketing a filmmaker can indulge in, here prakash don't want to market a point only he can do when he has Ilayaraaja with him. Again not that everyone cannot do live recording. But every one cannot do the same as raaja as well.

Naren's said...

the 2nd point to be read as Prakash don't want to miss marketing.......

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

MumbaiRamki – “Feel of the sound” – There have been many instances where I have been really moved by a piece and later came to know that many layers in the piece were done on Synth (Track Southampton from Titanic). So, the problem really isn’t the sound of the Synth, it is the knowledge that a particular sound comes from Synth and the prejudice attached with it.

Totally agree with composer hitting “Old spots”. The way a composer’s mind works and gives birth to a song, when the composer knows that the song is going to be recorded at one go is certainly different. But, can’t definitely say if that is the only way in which a composer could create a timeless song or melody.

Sunil Malhotra – Have totally forgotten that Lakshya song. I have some reservations about Thedi Vandha song, though it is an excellent melody. Sampled voices, I guess.

Aakarsh – Wow! Such a long comment; I can understand your angst. I am surprised the level that stoop to denounce a certain composer. There is no point in arguing with such people. It is a total waste of time.

V – Yes. It is about recording all the layers at one go, which is what I exactly pointed out in Ilaiyaraaja’s speech in the Dhoni song making video. You can record everything at one go and still make complete use of the multi-track consoles, which is how most of the Hollywood symphonic scores are being recorded even today.

Anonymous – No.

Sunil Ganesh – Bass – May be. I loved the bass lines of “Unnai enakku thandadhaaru” song from Azhagar Malai.

Vasuthiags – I would be happy to correct the improper facts in the article, if you could let me know.

Astithan – I said, “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.”

Naren’s – People weren’t despising his Synth works?!!! I am happy that you didn’t, but the majority of true Ilaiyaraaja fans I interact online with did despise the Synth.

thiyagarajan namasivayam said...

Thanks for ur reply I think IR used live recording using budhapest orchestra in recent years ,we watched them play in chennai Azhagar samiyin kuthirai BGM.Like the same orchestra used for Pazhassi raja,which was a milestone in BGM making.Are you ready to compare this(Pazhassi Raja) work with Aravaan music directors work(Which is also seems to be a period film),i am dragging Mr.karthik into this because you mentioned him for your convenience.My point is you have taken certain points in your favour and discussed here.Coming to the neeral udal kaluvi song for a tamil siddar song he used afro-arabic classical rhythm no one can imagine this,Always he wanted to taken his music to certain heights. Me a average IR fan with limited knowledge about music,can say Raja Carried his soul through his voice,music which is synth. or live (which can be done within the budget of the film)

Anonymous said...

Suresh,I really loved your analysis.I am sure you worked lot to make this long article.And Mr Vasthuiags said ,you are using the example that suits for your convenience.I have to say,i used to read Mr Suresh blogs post.In one Post he will make IR as God,the very next post he make ARR is Gods of God.I don't know whether you are trained in music or any instruments.And of-course in todays world to comment a particular thing,we don need any particular knowledge!!!.IR using Synths,we(the so called Hard core IR fans!!!)never declining that.But Mr suresh ,with all respect am saying you are commenting to Legend without any mercy.Your GOD ARR also using and used Synths man!!!.Dont think that i am making a war between ARR and IR.Since more than IR ,i love ARR music,and his composing.But i respect lot IR because i feel genuine in his music. And you tried lot to prove that USING SYNTH IS SIN!!!!.So the people who are having small budget for music or any MD who cannot afford Live Orchestra never make music right Mr Suresh!!!.Man Learning and memorizing some technical words in the music not enough to pint out that some thing is wrong.You said that ARR also used Synth,but why you never said that,he was wrong on choosing that type of production.If you are trying to be transparent or un biased write, try to say it out!!!!.

But anyways i love your writings man..I meant some of your posts.Keep on writing,but think unbiased way.And if you are not trained Musician,never ever try to comment on the things like this so hard.Since some times it feel utter nonsense man!!!!.

Anonymous said...

Some of IR's best songs and BGMs of the past have a good dose of Synth used in them and there was a lot of creativity and innovation when he used synth instruments.
But in recent years the synth parts in most of IR's work has become very monotonous, it lacks the innovative use and new sounds that IR used to create back then and his synth sounds have become very predictable and boring.

So I think people might have a point when they blame Synth sounds for IR's lack of form in recent years. Most of IR's best work in recent times are the ones where he used more of live orchestra like the BGM for Pazhassi Raja. This is also the reason why people claim that his music in recent times sounds better or sounds like the IR of the 80's when he uses more live instruments.

Personally, I think the use of live instruments in Dhoni made no difference to the quality of IR's music. I would rate it as an average soundtrack by IR's standards. So I would also say that Synth or no synth does not matter when it comes to the IR's music.

A good sound engineer is not going to help IR.If you think that Yuvan's work has good sound quality then IR's sound engineers are not the guys who should be blamed if some one thinks that there is something lacking in the sound quality in his recent works. In recent years both IR and Yuvan have used a common set of sound engineers and Yuvan has done a lot of recordings at Prasad Studios in the past few years. The audio engineering in Yuvan's soundtracks in one of the best in India, so you cannot blame IR's sound engineers or the recording studio.

I personally think the sound quality in most of IR's recent works is just average.So who is to be blamed for the sound quality in IR's recent albums? Sadly the answer is...Ilayaraja. This is the sound that he wants and sound engineers just record,mix and master to give the sound that he wants.


P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Nishanth - The Sound engineer that I am talking about is not the one who records the songs, but the one who mixes the song.

Madan said...

Well, I knew Sureshkumar would have something to say about the Dhoni score. :)

Interesting write up and I think it went some distance to clarifying what composers DO NOT mean when they say live recording. Yes, the mixing and balancing of a studio recording is going to be different from a live performance. I believe it would have been applicable in the 80s too. The 80s recordings 'felt' 'alive' for various reasons, will try to get to them to the extent they are pertinent to this topic.

So I want to endorse V's comments and I believe this is what Raja and Prakash Raj are talking about as well. There has been a move towards more and more separation since the advent of digital equipment. The trend began in the 80s in the Western world and possibly ARR ushered it into the Indian setup in the 90s. I am not aware of it if somebody else was doing it even earlier (e.g. Raja!).

Basically, there was a push towards a rather artificial idea of perfection. That is, every layer of instrument should be clearly heard and there should be no mistakes. When I say no mistakes, I mean that even the same percussion pattern should sound identical in its repetition. But obviously, musicians do not play something the same way again, so beyond a point, such an approach can get unnatural.

There is now a theory that this leads to a rather dry and sterile feeling to the recordings. The songs themselves might still be emotional and warm because of the melody and the orchestration (in concept) but the production sounds "too perfect". After all, music is all about emotions so technical perfection is desirable only up to a point. To quote the great genius Stevie Wonder, "Just because a record's got a groove don't make in the groove/But you can tell right way at letter A when the people start to move."

There is a feeling now that musicians should retrace their steps back a little bit to the old set up of flawed,imperfect beauty. A British rock musician and producer, Steven Wilson, has also advocated capturing the spirit of the 'classics' after years of separation, correction, autotune, etc.

I have mixed views about the whole thing. I agree that a music recording, unless built entirely out of electronic tones, would benefit from less focus on making it so squeaky clean that it has no soul. I think the Dhoni recordings do benefit for that reason.

But compositions are indeed where the meat is. What about invention....like the chord progressions of Nee Paartha Paarvai (Hey Ram) or the two outstanding Shreya Ghoshal numbers from Julie Ganapathy?

My question is not just to do with Raja but light music as a whole. I hope they move forward while looking back because if they move to retro, lock stock and barrel, they will soon realize that the audience is going to get bored of that as well.

There is no substitute for originality and invention. The abundance of retro today in mainstream art and its enthusiastic reception only points to a dearth of creativity. Dhoni was a good score from the maestro but I don't think, after this, I need to spell out that I would not consider it one of his masterpieces...far from it.

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Madan - Thanks for that Amazing elaboration on what "Live" means in live recording. I totally agree. If there are two versions of a piece of music, one produced using only Synth and one with only live instruments, the live recording would sound more impactful than the Synth. We don't have the luxury of listening to Synth and Live-instrument versions for all the songs to check if Synth is the reason for the song failing to create an emotional impact. In my opinion, if a Ilaiyaraaja song fails to create an emotional impact, in most cases, it is not because of its Synth content. It is the melody, that almost always, that fails. My grouse is that most of them conveniently blame the Synth, when the issue is entirely on the real music - the melody.

Live Recording has its charm, yes, Synth does no harm if your melody is right.

Madan said...

We don't have the luxury of listening to Synth and Live-instrument versions for all the songs to check if Synth is the reason for the song failing to create an emotional impact. - And I doubt very much the impact would be that greatly reduced. I am a firm believer in that a great song will shine through even if the production is bad and the singing is totally off, etc. Good - as in clear and faithful - production that is just too perfect is not as much of a problem as people make it out to be. Alai payuthe has very well separated and highly synthesized sound, didn't stop Snegidhane from making an impact, did it? And....

In my opinion, if a Ilaiyaraaja song fails to create an emotional impact, in most cases, it is not because of its Synth content - Completely agree. It is more likely because he didn't surprise us. We have got pampered by him, expecting wild delights in the interludes or melody and our expectations to an extent hamper our enjoyment of the music, not just with Raja but with a lot of music as such.