Friday, June 27, 2008

R.D.Burman lives on...

Had R.D.Burman been alive, he would have turned 69 today. Barely a month ago, i was digging out few songs of R.D.Burman and listening to them carefully. I was astonished to discover some of the phenomenal ideas which he had pioneered back then. Some of the ideas are still in vogue. Either he was too ahead of his times, or some of these current generation composers have not moved beyond such ideas.

There are/were/will be many composers whose music not only impressed me but also inspired and influenced me. If i need to list them, particularily from the Indian Film Music arena, the list would be really huge. Yet, R.D.Burman has a special place. There were better and more legendary composers than R.D.Burman, yet what sets him completely apart, in my perspective atleast, is the kind of eccentricity which drove him to create unusual music. It was an eccentricity which only the people close to whom understood, and that included his team-members. To think of it, he was probably one of the foremost composers to have a regular team of musicians around him. and people from that team were/are famously known as Pt.Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma or even Trilok Gurthu.

If we carefully study the works of all yester-year composers, we notice that every composer had a distinct style. I like R.D.Burman not only for his distinct style, but also his out-of-the-box-thought-process. His roots were his legendary father for sure, but he imbibed several other elements and forms thus creating a different brand of music. I usually give different key-words to different composers. if it is Hindustani Music to Naushad, then it has to be Western Classical + folk + Indian classical to Salil Chaudhary. If it is pure sensitive melody to Madan Mohan, then it is folk + indian classical + bengali music to S.D.Burman. Shankar JaiKishan for classical + commercial music and C.Ramchandra would get vintage melody. In the case of R.D.Burman, i do not have any keywords. RD itself is a keyword.

R.D's one of the biggest contributions to Indian Film Music is giving importance to sound. sound of a song or even an instrument. If today, RD's team-members assemble and play his music, it purely out of their love for the man who let them gain their stature, by emphasizing on the crispness of sound. And if we trace the sound of R.D's music, it has many phases during which it evolved. His early and mid 60s had vintage sound with lot of traditional instruments. the sound changed in early 70s. His innovative self broke open and he went on to create energetic numbers, one after another, amply punctuating them with wonderful classical numbers too. As 80s came, he began freaking with electronic instruments and a far crisper bass guitar (bass notes rock). The traditional instruments did not lose their place in his ensemble. it was only that he just went on adding things to his scheme of work.

Lot of people have a wrong notion about RD, that RD means only cabaret numbers or fast songs. One rarely talks about his classical songs or even the many other genres he experimented in. If his debut composition was in Raag Malkunji, his last composition was in ChaayaNatt and all that he created in between spanned variety of raagas interspersed with some brilliant ideas borrowed from either western music or baul music or even nature. There are some songs which run as long as 8 mins, with only a single lead melody phrase and yet the music keeps me engrossed.

During my recent tryst with his collection, i chanced upon many wonderful songs, Hindi and Bengali, which went unnoticed before...all carrying some brilliant ideas. Some composers today might be still groping for such kind of ideas. Incidentally, every decent composer of today, right from Shankar-Ehsan-Loy to A.R.Rahman to Shantanu Moitra to Vishal Bharadwaj swear by RD's music. Why not, when people still try to use his ideas. I recently read an interview of Vishal Bharadwaj in which he spoke about his Omkara's "Beedi" song. The song starts off with a "Di-Ding daang ding di-ding daang ding..." and Vishal remarked, "See, RD pops up somewhere or the other". How true? He was referring to the similar pattern RD used on guitar, with a flanger effect, in the song "Dhannon Ki Aankhon Mein" from the film "Kitaab". One might say that RD's era has ended. One might even say that RD was not that great compared to other composers. Yet, one cannot rule out the existence of RD in the pysche of any composer willing to experiment. R.D.Burman lives long as composers want to try something different. Because he dared to be different and he was and what kept him so was only his acute passionate attitude towards music. I am still discovering it all, opening album after album. I hope to write more about specific songs sometime soon.
I am eagerly waiting for a documentary, which was made by a film-maker who studied R.D.Burman's music. It is yet to the released.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Uliyin Osai

Music: Maestro Ilaiyaraaja
Uliyin Osai (Sound of a Chisel) is a period film, based on a script written by Karunanidhi. Expectations were quite high among music buffs, because Ilaiyaraaja was scoring music for a period film after a long time. Some of the recent albums by Ilaiyaraaja evoked mixed response, due to repetitiveness at times or excessive usage of technology. While there were occassonal glimmers in many albums, it has been long time since ilaiyaraaja dished out an album in which all the songs bore his style, living up to quality. Uliyin Osai succeeds exactly there, with some fantastic classical songs. Why/How? Here we go:

1. Abinayam Kaatugindra: Bombay Jayasree, Sudha Raghunathan
A classical song which sets off with heavy mridangam and barely in few seconds, it made me think "Is he back to his violins?". Ilaiyaraaja used his trademark violin ensemble, aptly punctuated by veena and his favourite flute in this wonderful Raagavardhini. ilaiyaraaja has his way of using bass-guitar in classical songs, to add weight to the song and he does exactly the same. The rhythm change in the 2nd half to traditional-folk percussions could make us skip the song a bit, although it doesnt take away anything from the quality of the song. Its just that the song becomes little serious in sound, (probably something to do with the picturisation) and the string section maintains the interest.

2. Aganthaiyil Aadu Vandha: SriRam Parthasarathy, Ilaiyaraaja
The song, another classical gem in the album, starts off with a brief tune of the song, after which ilaiyaraaja recites poetry-like stanzas which has the names of few instruments in it. Predictably, he backs it with the sound of same instruments after which the actual songs sets off in Rasikapriya raaga. Mrindangam and violin accompany the singer in the wonderful melody. A short Veena interlude justifies the ambience created in the sound of the song and immediately the raaga changes to Chalanaata (for 4 lines, while bass guitar gives me goosebumps). I am yet to understand his thought-process behind linking Rasikapriya to Chalanaata. Having touched Chalanaata, the raaga soon transforms to Maayamaalavagowla (including change in Rhythm on Mridangam). Keyboard chords support the MMG, in which the charanam completes and then we come back to Rasikapriya again. He then skips the 2nd interlude and jumps directly to 2nd charanam, again changing the raaga, this time to Saveri. Now this where me and Ravi began to look at the bigger picture. The raaga transitions are not as random as they seem. little bit of explorations revealed to us, the genius of Ilaiyaraaja. Sample this:

This song is based in Rasikapriya. Except for a brief venturing into Chalanata, the song moves to MMG in the 1st charanam. Then in 2nd charanam, it moves to Saveri, before coming back to Rasikapriya in the end.

Maayamaalavagowla -----> Shruthi-bhedam (tonal shift of melodic pattern) = Rasikapriya.
Secondly, saveri =Janya Raaga of MMG (with avarohanam being the same for both the raagas).

So, MMG is the epicentre of this song, while Ilaiyaraaja choose to move from one end of it(Rasikapriya) to the other (Saveri). Interesting idea. But why the chalanaata? the mystery remains. Probably the genius himself can reveal it.
3. Kaalaththai Vendra: Bhavatharini, Sriram Parthasarathy
This song bears ilaiyaraaja signature in every sense. String section, chords, unusual bass guitar usage and ofcourse his favourite raaga - Keeravani. The rhythm pattern is quite unusual, time intervals during which a rhythm cycle is established are lengthy, so it would take few moments to get the tala in our head. This song(and one more), however, lack the period-feel, as flt in other songs, although the composition bears the late 80s-early 90s ilaiyaraaja tunes style.The bass usage is groovy and mild piano strains makes this song a must listen during night times. Amidst all classical numbers, this song works like a variety.
4. Kallai Irundhen: SriRam Parthasarathy, Dhaanya
Is it coincidence or did Ilaiyaraaja wantedly try to make this song prophetic for the female singer? In short, this composition is a delight in Suddha Dhanyaasi. In my opinion, all ilaiyaraaja songs in this raaga were delights and this is no exception. Although this song too lacks the period feel, he makes up for it just by dishing out such an endearing melody. The instruments used are modern as well as traditional. Keyboards, veena, flute, guitars, electronic percussions...he does it all, yet the treatment is Ilaiyaraaja. the guitars strumming in the background just keep the pace up while the bass guitar reminds us the man behind the song. 2nd interlude is my favourite, for it looks like a palette of many colours (instruments, both traditional and modern) all taking the shape of a picturesque Suddha Dhanyaasi. I dont care if it doesnt justify the period feel. infact, i dont care anything, as long as Ilaiyaraaja treats his songs in the way he treated in this one. Class.
5. Pularkindra Pozhuthu: Sriram Parthasarathy
Sriram Parthasarathy cannot thank ilaiyaraaja better. He has got stealers in this entire album and he emerges brilliantly in all the songs. This song, in my opinion, is another high-point, not only to the singer but also to the composer. He uses his science again in this classical composition. The song starts off with a dawn-ish raaga and then establishes his identity in Raag Kalyani, backed by mridangam and ghatam. The aalaaps used in the pallavi must have been difficult for the singer, though he managed to sing them with great confidence. Violins and Veena (observation: Most ilaiyaraaja's Kalyanis have Veena) take over the 1st interlude and flute and bass-guitar and flute (standard in any ilaiyaraaja kalyani).

In 1st charanam, the raaga changes to hamsanandi (observation: few kalyani's of ilaiyaraaja have glided into hamsanandi before). The charanam is punctuated by veena while the raaga changes to Dharmavathi and flows back into Kalyani.
2nd interlude is back to Hamsanandi and the charanam changes colour from Hamsanandi to Vasantha or Chaayavathi (yet to ascertain). Now, having understood ilaiyaraaja, there is this natural curiousity to unravel the linkages between these raagas and their usage. Here is the science:

Watch this Symmetry
R2 changes to R1 = stepdown
G3 changes to G2 = stepdown
M2 changes to M1 = stepdown
So if 1st charanam was about transformation into Hamsanandi into Dharmavathi...
2nd charanam was about transforming Hamsanandi into Vasanthaa/Chaayavathi(sister raagas). Ravi felt it was vasantha while i presume it is chaayavathi, given the symmetry used by ilaiyaraaja. we did not have instruments to play and check it out. Whats more interesting is that though there is symmetry, ilaiyaraaja likes to throw a surprise. after changing R2 to R1 and G3 to G2, one can expect a similar step down to Ma. Although it occurs, the change is done not to Kalyani, as expected, but to Hamsanandi. Idea is same, but the object is different. Now thats an intelligent trick. Not to forget, Ilaiyaraaja has experimented in similar way to another illustrious Kalyani of his, "Vaidehi Raaman" , way back in 80s. This song again reminds that his attitude/soul towards Kalyani is still the same. Its just that we need to look within. Undoubtedly one of his best Kalyanis this song is.
Uliyin Osai has another 2 songs which i didnt find much interesting. Neverthless, these 5 songs were enough for me to sit back ponder about the genius. It is not a new experience to me that whenever i begin to tell myself - 'Perhaps i prefer that ilaiyaraaja over this ilaiyaraaja' , he is there smiling with a pleasant surprise, assuring me - 'I am the same'.
Yes sir! You are...the same...Genius!
My Thanks to:
1. Ilaiyaraaja for composing.
2. Mr. Velramanan for giving me initial cues/threads.
3. Ravi for de-composing.