Tuesday, 14 January 2014

ILaiyaraaja's Music and Emotions- Part II- Sublime

It is dawn.

 Time when darkness shakes hands with the light; Time when the Earth completes one more rotation from west to east and slowly faces the sun. Time when that greatest painter takes out different colours from his palate and pours them on to the sky.

New Day. New Hopes.

The day may mean different things to different people. To the lass from Srivillipuththur, it is time to sing the glory of her Divine Lover. Does she want to do this all by herself? No, She wants her friends to join her too in this Divine trip.

How does she accomplish this?

She looks around, listen to the rather loud chirping of birds. Aren’t the birds conversing with themselves? How can my friends be still confined to the bed despite this musical sound?, wonders she.  She goes and knocks the door of her friend’s home. She then listens to the musical sound from the ornaments of the senior ladies in the household. Why are they making this sound? And don’t I hear one more different sound? Isn’t it the ‘sound of the curd?’. Ok, Ladies churn the curd to extract butter. Don’t I feel the fragrance of their hair too? And still my friend is sleeping?  How can my friend be oblivious to such musical sounds? ‘Come and open the door right now she tells her friend finally.

கீசுகீசு என்று எங்கும் ஆனைச்சாத்தன்கலந்து

பேசின பேச்சரவம் கேட்டிலையோ பேய்ப்பெண்ணே

காசும் பிறப்பும் கலகலப்பக் கைபேர்த்து

வாச நறும்குழல் ஆய்ச்சியர் மத்தினால்

ஓசை படுத்த தயிரரவம் கேட்டிலையோ

நாயகப் பெண்பிள்ளாய் நாராயணன்மூர்த்தி

கேசவனைப் பாடவும் நீ கேட்டே கிடத்தியோ

தேச முடையாய் திறவேலோர் எம்பாவாய்.

Time and again I have spoken about the poetic excellence of AandaaL. She has done wonders with words in simple Tamizh albeit poetically.

 The Thiruppaavai quoted here is just one of the many examples.

‘Oh my dear Demon’, she addresses her friend first. This Demon becomes a noble girl on the 6th line and the one with a divine resplendence in the last line.

Psychology? Perhaps yes, but there are more spiritual contours to this and since it is beyond the scope of this post, I shall not go deeper and agree and accept that ‘Yes, she was a good counsellor spreading positive vibes all around.

But what amazes me is the description of the dawn in a matter of few lines. Musical as well as Poetic.  Sublimity at its best!

 Ponmaalai pozhudhu from NizhalgaL(1980) is sublime too. Based on a very classical ragam Kedaram, the song sketches the beauty of the Dusk in a way possible only by the Maestro. Kedaram is derived from the 29th melakarta Dheera ShankarabharaNam and its ascending notes are ‘sa ma1 ga3 ma1 pa ni3 Sa’. It is plain while descending- Sa ni3 pa ma1 ga3 ri2 sa.  The raga eschews the note ‘dha’ totally while note ‘ri’ is avoided while going up only. As already mentioned, the raga oozes with classicism and in a carnatic concert it is sung  in the slow tempo(viLamba kaalam)..

The idiom of film music is unique and different and no written rule exists for it is the composer who writes the rules and many times re-writes the rule. One of the specialities of ILaiyaraaja is his natural instinct to be different. This coupled with his propensity for classical music and abundant knowledge makes him give things in the ‘right proportion’-though he hardly calculates the proportion. In the case of Ponmaalai pozhudhu he sticks to the grammar of the raga using the right prayogas but breaks the rule in terms of the tempo. But surely not without any reason.

The young man looks at the evening sky. The free bird that he is, he instantly jumps with joy and sings. When somebody wants to break the shackles and sing and dance with gay abandon, can they be expected to sing in ViLamba kaalam?

The composition starts aptly with the chirping of the birds. With a rich and radiant tone, the Guitar pulls the strings of our hearts and Kedaram flies like a free bird  gloriously unveiling the beauty of the evening sky with the backing of the violins-which of course have an unmistakable tinge of western classical music. The percussion sounds ‘Ta – dhi mi’. The  keys ‘bend’ with a touch of tenderness and the Flute almost imitates the bird call with a melodic delicacy.

‘Sa pa ga sa sa pa’ sings SPB though the sounds made are ‘hey aaa umm lalala’. As if waiting for this opportunity, the vibrant flute makes a speedy swirl and gets transformed as the ever happy birds. ‘ga ma pa ni’ is added now (idhu oru) and Kedaram is complete.

Woven on a silken tapestry, the first interlude shows some new colours, shades and dimensions of Kedaram and the sky.. It is in beautiful harmony (with nature) as the violins, violas and cello greet them with glee. The delicious electric guitar takes over fluently and continues the journey in describing the beauty. The ever jubilant keys and the flute which follows indulge in a romantic conversation finally ending with the keys blushing and making the percussion sound ‘ta ka dhi mi/ ta k - -‘ twice. As the vibrant flute shows the beautiful flight of the bird yet again, the percussion sounds it again-in Kedaram finally playing ‘ta ka dhi mi ta -/ta ka dhi mi ta-/ta ka dhi mi’ completing the short theermanam.

The cohesively structured CharaNams have beautiful podi sangatis towards the end of the third line-Sa ni niSaniSaniSa pa- and the brief sangati in the last phrase of the fourth line- niSagaRi….Ri sa sa. The ‘jantai swaras’ at the end of the CharaNams and the flute piece after the first lineare examples of creativity with virtuosity.

The second interlude is marked by felicity of flow with spontaneous sensitivity. To start with the resplendent Santoor sound repetitive phrases even as the birds chirp.. The flute yet again takes a curvy flight and showers pearly sprays. The strings now repeat the act of the santoor. The Bass guitar plays with potency and intensity to the backing of the subtle santoor. Even as this continues, the strings enter the fray yet again and play with verve and elegance. The birds appear in the form of flute saluting the evening sun. The strings take the fleeting trip to the taara stayi. The birds bid-yet again in the form of flute- says goodbye to Dusk with the santoor nodding its head. With great solicitude, the single violin bids adieu.

 Dawn to Dusk – It is Sublime poetry! 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

ILaiyaraaja's Music and Emotions- Part I- Soft

Certain things, or for that matter many things in this world cannot be defined nor can it be quantified. Take softness for example. We say ‘He/she/this/that is very soft’. What that ‘very’ means is up to the other person to guess.  Is this too not subjective?

At the same time, that which gives us a pleasing feeling is considered to be soft. Have a look at this poem:

‘You are my Moon, I am your Sea;

You are my ‘shruti’, I am the sweet tune;

You my eyeball, my nectar;

You are the fragrance, I am the flower;

You are the words, I am the language

Oh, my dear, your beauty can never be described.’ 
வெண்ணிலவு நீ எனக்கு, மேவு கடல் நான் உனக்கு;
பண்ணுசுதி நீ எனக்கு, பாட்டினிமை நான் உனக்கு;
வீசுகமழ் நீ எனக்கு, விரியும் மலர் நான் உனக்கு;
பேசுபொருள் நீ எனக்கு, பேணுமொழி நான் உனக்கு;
எண்ணி எண்ணிப் பார்த்திடிலோர் எண்ணமில்லை நின்சுவைக்கே;
ண்ணின் ணி போன்றளே!கட்டி அமுதே!ண்ணம்மா!’
Written by the Mahakavi, this poem undoubtedly should be considered to be one of the best love poems in world literature.  The words and the meanings these convey, would make even a stone turn soft.

But are all poems soft? The same poet wrote ‘ My heart bleeds when tears flow down from your eyes’. Another dimension to love!  It is so intense that it melts our hearts but it surely does not give a soft feeling.

One is like a gentle breeze that kisses our cheeks and massages our hearts while the other pierces our hearts and make us weep.

Music too is multi dimensional like poetry. There is no feeling in this world which music does not encompass. Starting today, let us have a new series for emotions/feeling in ILaiyaraaja’s music. In this short series, I shall try and cover a range of emotions in his music though it must be understood that it is next to impossible to cover the entire gamut of emotions just like how difficult it is to cover all the nuances in his music. Let it also be not misconstrued that the series will cover all the ‘defined emotions’, say like the navarasa.

 ‘Aaaro paadunna’ from the Malayalam film ‘Katha Parayunnu(2009) based on the raag MaaNd,  is the first song in the series. .  

Raag MaaNd is essentially a Hindustani raga  and has been adapted into the carnatic system since the last century or so. It is said that the raag has its origins from the Rajasthani folk music. Listening to the raag and considering the kind of emotions it evokes, this must be true. Like ‘Pahaadi’ which has its roots in the Hilly region, MaaNd too becomes more beautiful when alien notes are added to it. And of course like the Hilly raag, it is very difficult to define its aro/avaroh structure and confine it. However, as per the Hindustani raag texts, its aroh/avaroh is:

  sa ga3 ma1 pa dha2 ni3 Sa/Sa Sa ni3 dha2 pa dha2 pa ni3 dha2 pa ga3 ma1 ga3 ri2 sa.

We get the flavour of the raag in phrases like ga3 ma1 pa dha2 ni3 Sa/pa ni3 dha2 pa ga3/ga3 ma1 ga3 ri2 sa.

Somehow, the raag gives the carnatic Vasanta feel at times though it has the ‘pa’. Yet another allied raag is the Hindustani ‘Binna shadj’.

As already mentioned, the raag gives a variety of emotions and yet is very soft.

‘Aaro paadunna..’  has a smooth and melodic start with  a very brief humming by the female voice(Chitra) followed by the rendering of the first line without percussion by the male voice(Hariharan). The echo effect is not to be missed. The female humming continues but this time the mellow keys join as well. It is an ethereal experience even as the guitar strums and the synth violins make some gentle movements. The keys pierce our hearts softly.

The composition follows the chatushra eka taLa (4-beat cycle) with the Pallavi in ‘ateeta eduppu’ with samam on ‘ro’. The percussion which is absent in the entire prelude makes its appearance only at the end of the first line. Until then it is the bass guitar and a few subtle melodic instruments that act as percussion. These melodic instruments continue even after the percussion instrument with the guitar soundin ‘ta ki ta ta ki ta ta ka’ and the percussion and subtle bells sounding ta ka dhi mi ta ka dhi mi completing the 16 maatraas.

The ‘ro’ in the first line and the ‘ill’ in the second line are extended for one complete cycle respectively giving a very unique feeling. So does the end of the pallavi where Chitra renders the first line without percussion. Atmosphere of tranquility!

With unbridled enthusiasm, the electric guitar-which follows the pleasant execution of the synth instruments- goes around in the first interlude.  The interlude is further embellished by the different sounding synth instrument with the  resplendent piano keys making the experience more fascinating. The synth violins in the end are soft and powerful.

The first line in the CharaNam is backed only by the subtle bells and the bass guitar. The second part touches the higher octave notes and is musically elegant with the slick and graceful strings echoing this for one full avartanam. The next part is verdant while the final part is a reposeful depiction of the beauty of the raag.

The Piano holds sway in the second interlude. It smiles, it glides. It dances, it romances. It jumps, it dazzles. It also plays subtly towards the end supporting the strings which takes us deep into a valley of emotions. The entire interlude which gives  lessons in WCM is felicitously mellifluous.

In fact, the rendezvous with Piano and WCM continues in the postlude first with the playing of a very popular rhyme followed by a free flowing melody which flows gently embracing the body, the heart and the soul.

Soft song of the soul!!

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