Thursday, June 28, 2007

De-composing IR: Discoveries through Saara yeh aalam - revisited

The following post uses snippets of music through streaming audio. Please be patient after clicking the play button and give the player some time.

Our master reviewer Aakarsh had, a couple of posts ago, reviewed Shiva (2006) album by Maestro IlaiyaRaaja, where he mentioned that the song Saara Yeh Aalam requires a separate post (inspite of his very enthusiastic review of the song/album). This is that post. I think the rest of the songs don't merit such an analysis.

This post will require you to wear your "selective hearing" cap at multiple sections. This will have pieces of music strewn all over and is for people who don't just love music - it is for those who would rather figure out the mind of the composer and revel in that knowledge (because IR is equally a layman's as well as a connoisseur's delight) - like mavericks. Therefore, let's the end... because the beginning cannot be really appreciated until some things are really elucidated at the end. Confusing? Think parity operation (you'll understand!). After that you may judge the level of IR.

So the end:
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The clip above was cut and meddled with so as to make it easy to notice the bass line in juxtaposition with the main tune. To make it even more easier to narrow down, I played the tune and the bass line only on piano and bass. Here is that clip (you may have to reduce the volume a bit - and yes I know it is not perfect):
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If you noticed the bass line, it is:
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Now let us begin here... and ponder. Why does this sound so familar? You dont think so? Listen to this:
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The above piece is the song "Ivvu Ivvu" from Prema (1980s).
But still what's the big deal? Let us just look at this structure. The bass line of Saara Yeh Aalam and the main tune for Ivvu Ivvu are very similar in tune and structure. Only a small parity operation was called for. Also, Ivvu Ivvu is in a different pitch in the original song. I played it in the pitch of Sara Yeh Alam for simplicity. Ok, so they share a structural and tonal simlarity so what? Still don't get it? Are you ready?

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It is the mighty famous Beethoven's 5th. But the connection wont be clear very easily. Just concentrate on the first three notes. And you'll see what I mean.. the pitch of the 5th is different from the pitch of the song. And you might think that they are not similar at all... but they are changed in pitch and changed in time.

Remember the quality and tremulous nature of Beethoven's fifth? Now with that in mind listen to the beginning of Sara Yeh Alam:
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In this little snippet from the beginning of Sara Yeh Alam one thing is clear, the tension is created right at the word go not unlike the famous Fifth. The quality of the tension is maintained the same... so... beginning at the end is a valuable way to understand this song. But is it all we can learn from the beginnning... oops end? The way the bass lines are constructed, many would argue, it is typical IR. But, IR is an ekalavya disciple of a gentleman named Bach. J.S. Bach. Bach's bourree has inspired IR so much that in "How to name it" he used Bourree as a background piece for which he overlayed a tune. But what is so scintillating about the harmony of Bourree and how does it apply to our discussion here? Bourree's first three notes have lines in bass that are inverted. That is, the tune in E starts as E F# G where as the bass lines go G F# E in the lower octave. Bach is a genius in such wondrous symmetrical constructions (for the brave hearted - read Douglas Hofstadter's "Godel, Escher, Bach - the eternal golden braid" for more details). And IR learned well. Here is a small snippet of Bourree - pay particular attention to the bass notes and the main line:
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In Sara Yeh Alam as well the main tune's beginning notes and the bass lines are mirror images with slightly different time values. So we have Bach here. We had Beethoven before (and don't worry he loves Mozart too - remember "Mozart I love you" from Nothing but Wind?). Of course that is not a fair inclusion or comparison. IR is nowhere near the masters but he applies these concepts in a delightfully unconventional style in a pathetic run-of-the-mill movie like Shiva. That's the point. IR has always been about giving great musical ideas in not so good movies. AR Rahman on the other hand judiciously applies them for the right director's movie. Even then, I always wonder, why does the sound of IR fill my senses where as in some pieces ARR's music seems a little empty? It is because IR weaves a fabric of exquisite fineness with equal finesse, because he weaves those innumerable patterns in different instruments around tunes that the whole piece has a seamless quality. It isn't tailored, it is created.

I urge you to listen to the song many more times, each time paying attention to a different instrument behind the main tune. I have grown so used to listening to the bass lines or "color" lines in music that sometimes (read most of the times) I don't pay any attention to the lyrics. And I don't think this song has great lyrics anyway. So why not concentrate on the music?

Aakarsh had already described many of the key ideas for this song in his review in a "feelscape" way (compared to soundscape way). I'm not going to give you a second by second analysis of the song... instead I want you to direct your attention to the following questions - and when you find out the answers (if you haven't already) see how you feel. These are not complete.. but only to point in the direction of selective hearing.

- Where and how do the percussions start in the song?
- between time frame 0.22 to 0.29 behind the violins what high pitched instrument is adding an extra dimension?
- When Shreya Ghoshal starts singing, other than the bass and the percussions what other instrument is playing? How is its construction different from the tune's? Notice how the volume of this instrument is raised and lowered to fill in the gaps of the tune's first lines? and in the whole pallavi? Its role is just unbelievable.
- Notice how layers of violins are added sequentially in non-linear fashion slowly with melodies other than the main tune? Can you think of the number of such layers?

- in the first charanam when the male singer is singing notice how the violins are backing up
- what is the key difference between the first interlude and the second interlude of the song?

- when the male singer is singing "pyasi pyasi" 's beginning what is the bell like instrument doing?
- how are the brass instruments and violins interspersed all through the second charanam? How are they sprayed in the time scale of the song?

If you have patience notice all the above (and more!) and may be apply this kind of listening to other IR songs... and suddenly all those songs with ridiculous lyrics turn into lessons for more musical ponderings.

Happy listening!
The song:
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