Wednesday, 26 July 2017

ILaiyaraaja- The Solicitous Musician

Empathy!

How important is this in an artiste’s or in a poet’s life? Or is this important or is this needed at all?

When a painter sketches something- a real-life character, an incident from mythology/history, picturesque scenery and so on- does he/she empathise with the subject concerned? Or does he/she keep away and stay aloof like a water drop on a lotus leaf?

What impact would these have on the artistic sensibilities of the artiste?
In a similar vein, when a poet describes something, does he/she get involved with the character? Is it possible to compose a poem with the poet acting like a catalyst? And if this happens, can a reader empathise with the subject?

Since I cannot quote –or rather do not want to quote- any work of a painter here, let us look at poetry, which all said and done is another form of art.

The lover is travelling to meet his beloved. It is ages since he saw her and his feelings cannot be described.  How does the poet describe this?

அஞ்சுவது அறியாது அமர் துணை தழீஇய
நெஞ்சு நப் பிரிந்தன்று ஆயினும் எஞ்சிய
கை பிணி நெகிழின் அஃது எவனோ நன்றும்
சேய அம்ம இருவாம் இடையே
மாக்கடல் திரையின் முழங்கி வலன் ஏர்பு
கோள் புலி வழங்கும் சோலை
எனைத்து என்று எண்ணுகோ முயக்கிடை மலைவே.

Not knowing fear, my heart has left me to embrace my beloved.
ALAS! Is it of any use when the arms that can embrace her tight, are here.
The distance between us is huge, and in between there are tigers which roar
Like the dark ocean waves, and roam with venom
In the woods whose numbers I cannot count.
Oh..What do I do now?

This is from KuRunthogai, which is part of the 2500 year old Tamizh Sangam literature. KuRunthogai is part of ‘ettuthogai’ and is a collection of 400 poems written by various tamizh poets. This particular poem was written by ALLoor Nanmullaiyaar.

Put in one line, the gist of the poem- The heart desires, but the physical body is unable to achieve as there are obstacles to be crossed.

Coming to think of it, the subject is not that easy to handle and unless the poet brings out the emotions appropriately and make us sympathise and empathise with the Hero, the poem will not carry any value even if word play is resorted to. And this is possible only if the poet himself empathises with his Hero, feels for him and even cries for him.

Read the poem again and you will know how the poet has communicated the emotions. The differentiation between the heart and the hand and what difference this makes to any human being are not just poetic but also are thought provoking.
And this is the difference between a Master poet and an ordinary poet.

It applies as much to a musician as it does to a poet.

When a situation is explained to ILaiyaraaja, he visualises the same through his mind’s eye, transports himself to that world, converts the images to musical images and then gives out the tune. All these happen in a jiffy.

That is why, we are able to identify with the situation ; that is why, our emotions are kindled; that is why, we are moved.

I do not have to explain the situation of ‘Enna Saththam Indha Neram’ from ‘Punnagai Mannan’(1986) as it is well known to many. Even if one doesn’t know, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what you experience while listening to the song and not what I tell you.

Now, how does he bring out the emotions?

1.By tuning it as soft as possible.

2.By using a very versatile raaga.

3.By using percussion sparingly and softly.

4.By using minimum number of instruments.

5. By using silence.

The versatile raaga is ‘Sindhu Bhairavi’. Though any raaga can be used in any situation, the brilliance of the composer is shown in the way he uses it.

Let us see this aspect and a host of other aspects as well.

The composition starts without a prelude. Just a sustained sound for a few seconds and lo and behold we have the Pallavi.

A simple group of swaras- pa dha1ma1pa ga2 ri1 sa sa- and we have that grand raga called Sindhu Bhairavi sit in front of us with folded hands. The mandra stayee nishadam(lower octave swara ‘ni’) appears in the end (of the first line) and the devotion is complete.

Isn’t this what is called as ‘simple and yet powerful’?

As if to denote the surge in emotions, the higher octave swaras(Sa Ga Ri) appear at the end of the Pallavi as a sangati.

SPB’s voice throbs like a lover in search of his beloved and adding to this throbbing are the rhythm guitar, the bass guitar and the drums. The last mentioned, sound as softly as possible, even stop during the third and the fourth lines and appear again with soft intensity in the end.

Imperceptibly Perceptible!

As the Pallavi ends, there is silence. This continues for a count of two tisrams.
The brass flute makes an impromptu entry and brings a breath of fresh air calming the mind further in the process. It is soft, subtle and refined. The dynamic saxophone enters and twinges the heart. It is delicate and yet strikes like a thunder and sparkles like a lightning. It glides on, finally giving a stamp of distinction and giving an echo effect. Probably, it echoes the feeling in our heart.

The lines in the CharaNam have that aesthetic touch and are full of nuanced niceties.
The sudden jumping of swaras from the dhaivatam(dha) to the upper octave gandharam(Ga) towards the end of the second line, appearance of the upper octave gandharam(Ga) immediately after the mid-octave gandharam(ga) in the beginning of the fifth and the sixth lines and the sudden introduction of the chatushruti rishabham(Ri2)-which is very much allowed in Sindhu Bhairavi- in the second half of the fifth and the sixth lines, show the musicality of the composer. More than the musicality, it is that ‘appropriateness’ which makes him a composer par excellence.

As I said, anybody can use any swara (within the structure of the raaga) at any point, but where one uses, how one uses and why one uses make a huge difference- a difference between a genius and a mortal.

There is silence again between the first CharaNam and the second interlude.

Two different sounds from the keys surround the guitar and play one after the other now with the bass guitar treading its own path. The guitar plays with a vivacious vibrancy while the keys move with uncanny instinct. Beauteous shades of different lights. The brass flute is sublime and is plaintive as well. It seems as though the guitar and the brass flute converse with each other to seek the Truth.

The saxophone pulsates with life. It gnaws. It pokes. It haunts. It touches ecstatic realms of music..and life.

It is like the heart which looks for the arms.


Emotions, Empathy, Music..and ILaiyaraaja- Can these be separated?

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