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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