Friday, August 29, 2008

Variety is the essence

The beauty of music is the variety that it generates based on its adaptation. The fundamental notes of music are a mere 12 in number. Interestingly, seldom are all these 12 notes used in a single music composition, the chief reason being, it only produces noise when done so. We then, finally end up using around 5-8 of them at a time. So what is it that produces this astoundingingly different variations that we hear?

I will take the example of 3 ragams from the Carnatic system to illustrate this. Lets take the simple ragams of the audava-audava group - Mohanam, Shivaranjani, and Baasanti.
Mohanam - S R2 G3 P D2 S - S D2 P G3 R2 S is a very common, ebullient ragam highly used by the composers of the yore as well as their modern day contemporaries - film music directors. With its 5 notes - all based on the major scale, the ragam tends to be highly pleasing and joyous to hear.
A small variation by tweaking the ragam, i.e modifying the G3 to G2 produces a orthogonal, higly sober ragam in Shivaranjani. The striking aspect of this small change is the impact it causes to the adjacent notes. Suddenly the Ri, Da seem to be unwelcoming this alien Ga. The difference is noticeable when you sing Mohanam for sometime and you shift to Shivaranjani. The Ga creates an environment that seems pungent to Ri and Da.
Another variation to Mohanam, this time the Dha - from D2 to D1 produces one of the most pleasng but underutilised ragam, Baasanti. The soul of Baasanti, simply put is D1. It gives a touch of melancholy to the ragam which is otherwise assuaging to hear. The sadness is not profound and overall, it manages to easily reach out to your heart that you can't say a NO to it. 'Kurukku Siruthavale' - from the movie Mudhalvan is Baasanti at its best. The interlude though is in Mohanam.

It's interesting to see that a subtle change among these three ragams causes differences of epic proportions. The mood and the effect that these ragams convey are colossally different. There in lies the beauty of these ragams and the variety that music offers.

Rock music, widely popular in the west, more often than not uses the notes of the Ragam Karaharapriya which are S R2 G2 M1 P D2 N2 S. Karaharapriya is the fond ragam of many a music director in the Indian musical style too. The incomparable janya ragams that it gives birth to makesit truly majestic. One such janya ragam is Shudha Dhanyasi - the overused ragam of all time probably in the world of non-carnatic music. I recently happened to hear a song -"Sabbra Ca Dabra" by Metallica - the world's renowned heavy metal band. Now, what's this has got to do with Sudha Dhanyasi, one might wonder. This song oozes with the high octane guitars and drums, beneath which there is Shudhha Dhanyasi! I don't know if that could be called by that name since literally speaking the ragam is called Shudhha Dhanyasi because of the prayogams it has in the world of carnatic music. A true connoisseur of the style would probably call it the A-shudhha Dhanyasi! But the point here to note is that, the same set of swaras when played to different styles, instruments and players paint entirely different pictures. And yet, the foundation is only one!

This is a tribute to all the musicians and composers all round the world of yesteryears and the current generation. The musical discoveries that our forefathers have gifted us is an unparalleled feat, the fruits of which we are able to enjoy and appreciate in our time. There is no better feeling than enjoying a composition that makes you well-up, produces goose-bumps, makes you reminisce and appreciate god's generous gift - Music.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Rasika's Confusion

After dedicating a blog solely to musical experiences, I haven't done justice to the blogging experience. More than 7 months is a looong time of bloggo-dormance. Breaking the vrath, I start off with some recent findings of mine in the carnatic arena.

The song, Innisai ala vedaye from Varalaru is a master-class composition made even more vocally irresistible by Naresh Iyer and Mahati. As with any song that I hear these days, the immediate thoughts that scamper in my mind are the structure of the song, the swara pattern which culminates in the identification of the ragam of that song. What sheer joy it brings to identify the ragam of a song. It exercises your intellectual ability and ripens your artistic creativity.(wow!)

So, on hearing the song, my instinctive, impulsive reaction was Shudhha Dhanyasi, with Sa Ga2 Ma1 Pa Ni2 Sa - Sa Ni2 Pa Ma1 Ga2 Sa. That was easy!. It starts of with Ni Sa Ga Ma Pa, Ga Ma Pa... - clearly, no controversies, or so I thought.

Just then, another opinion came across, from my mother, Ga Ma Da Ni Sa, Da Ni Sa....She was singing Hindolam Sa Ga2 Ma1 Da1 Ni2 Sa - Sa Ni2 Da1 Ma1 Ga2 Sa. It sounded right the same way Shudhha Dhanyasi had sounded right in my head.

I couldn't get it. Two ragams for the same song??

The ensuing discussion offered some interesting insights on the concept of Adhara Shruti. Any song has a fundamental scale associated with it. It can be determined from the thanpura shruti that plays at the background, or any accompanying instrument that delivers the Sa-Pa-Sa notes.
So when Innisai is sung with the scale to which it was originally tuned to, its Hindolam. When on the same scale, you port Ma to Sa, that is make, Sa-Ma as Pa-Sa, the same song can be sung in Sudhha Dhanyasi.

This is a conclusion that I have arrived after having thought through for sometime. Anybody willing to contradict this is most welcome :-)
A brilliant manifestation of the hidden science behind the evergreen art that is carnatic music!

Friday, June 29, 2007

What sets A R Rahman apart?

The question though intriguing to some has some straight forward answers according to me. We all have been a witness to his music over the past decade and a half. Music that brings the feel from the depths of your heart coupled with technical brilliance characterise his compositions. The feel is a matter of subjective opinion whereas his demonstration of the finest technical aspects along with the technological wizardry is something everybody would agree with. Being an ardent music lover and with some fundamental knowledge of Carnatic music, I can't help but heap praises on the man who has changed the complexion of film music ever since Mani Rathnam introduced him in Roja. His music is typically for the urban and semi-urban music loving audience. With emphasis mainly on the tune and the rhythm of the song more than the singers and the lyrics - a criticism that he often draws from his detractors, he excels in exploiting the technicalities of the ragam that he chooses to compose in. The variety in his music just speaks for his greatness. To enjoy a Rahman song superficially is one thing but getting into the depths of his compositions is truly a rewarding musical experience. You can do that using a pair of good earphones or speakers supplemented with a woofer. In doing so, you get to hear and appreciate what you can call his various 'layers of sounds'. Rahman’s compositions are a homogeneous blend of many such layers. Each layer employs a few instruments. They are prioritised according to the mood of the song. The more instruments you use, more complex the task of composing becomes because they need to be toned and set accordingly without sounding cacophonic. The sound layers have to be set in unison. Rahman is a true genius in this aspect. His expertise in manipulating the sounds of the instruments accordingly is a true manifestation of his genius. And this is a scoring point for him over his contemporaries.

The mood and feel that Rahman generates in his melodies is unparalleled. 'Ennuyir Thozhiye' from the movie 'Kangalal Kaidhu Sei’ is one of the classy compositions of his. I have been humming this song for quite sometime of late. I was wonderstruck on hearing the song for the first time. In fact, the complete album is a masterpiece from Rahman. This song is a composition in the ragam Arabhi, a Shankarabharanam janyam. In the song, Rahman begins with a prelude on the piano running close to a minute. The song starts of with Unni Menon singing the pallavi . At the end of the pallavi, Chinmayi does a humming, again accompanied by the piano – an Arabhi delight. If you notice carefully, throughout the pallavi, there is a looping ‘S M1 S P’ chord in the background, which more than anything else enhances the pleasure of hearing. The interlude after Charanam 1 is awesome. The song is backed throughout with chords from the violin - a wonderful example of choosing the proper instrument for backing the vocals. The ending in both the charanams, ".....thool thool thool anathunmai" and ".....po po en aasai theernthathu” - well thought of and executed, showcases the beauty of the ragam. The song ends with Unni Menon humming ‘M1 P D2 P , M1 , G3 R2 , , D2 S ,’ again establishing the fact that it’s the strong Carnatic flavour that beautifies the song. The other song in this ragam that strikes me is “Yeri karayin mele poravale….”- a very old number. I don’t recollect any other film song in this ragam.

Rahman’s melodies exemplify freshness in his approach. They represent a convergence of classical and film music. The percentage of ‘good songs’ among all his compositions is comparatively high than other music composers. Rahman stands apart for this reason too. I only wish this figure of his keeps moving higher.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Swara Rasa - The Beginning

Swara Rasa - my window to share the knowledge of music that I possess to the blogging community. I would be sharing my views, thoughts, experiences, comments and criticisms to the music that I hear. My music interests cover Carnatic Classical, Indian film music and Western. Any music that pleases me is bound to find my favour and support. So ranging from Karaharapriya to Kamboji, MSV to ARR, Burman to Shankar Loy, Metallica to Megadeath - you can find it all in this space.