Wednesday, 15 July 2015

ILaiyaraaja- The Bewitching Musician

What determines the aesthetic sense of an individual?

First of all, what is aesthetics? Anything concerning beauty and its appreciation?
What is beauty then? Without getting into that old cliché about ‘beauty’ and the ‘beholder’, let me ask myself if the concept of beauty is subjective. Or should it be like the case of the goose and the gander?

Despite the danger of being branded as ‘subjective’, I feel there are certain things considered to be pleasing and beautiful and the more refined one is, the more he/she is able to appreciate it. That ‘refinement’ is what is called as ‘developing good tastes’.
Now the question asked in the beginning can be interpreted in two different ways-

1. How does one have aesthetic sense?
2. How do we know the person has that aesthetic sense?

Answer to (1.) is ‘a lot of factors’ and this includes genetics, upbringing, environment, exposure..

(2. ) can be answered in many ways too. ‘when the expression of a person genuinely suggests he/she is appreciative of the music being played/the artwork displayed/the poem read out..’ the person has aesthetic sense. In fact, even the way a person leads the life suggests a lot about the person’s aesthetics.

It then goes without saying that an artiste or a poet has that sense of aesthetics. Or  does it?

Since this is a slightly debatable issue, let us move on and see one very important aspect which is relevant to this post.

Though all artistes/poets are believed to be endowed with the sense of aesthetics, only in some cases do we see that sense permeate common men/women like us. So much so that even people without that ‘a’ word are able to appreciate their works. This also ends up in making the unaesthetic, aesthetic. Of course, the lucky ones who already have the aesthetic sense because of the factors mentioned in the answer to (1.), fine tune their sense while experiencing the works of such geniuses.

Without a doubt, Kamban was one such genius.

I keep quoting his verses time and again because I am enamoured of his poetic sensibilities and brilliance. In my write-up on ‘Devathai oru Devathai’ posted on the 22nd of March, 2015 here, I quoted a verse which talks about the women of Mythila being enthralled at the sight of Rama as he goes around the city, post- the breaking of Shiva Dhanush. The verse I am quoting today is also from the same chapter but is different in the sense that it describes the condition of a particular lady (not Sita, by the way) while the previous one described about the state of women in general.

A woman with a dense and wavy hair walks like a beautiful creeper with her jewellery on the waist and the ankle bells making a musical sound. Alas! She had to be carried away by her friends.


Let us first look at the original:

அலம்பு பாரக் குழலி ஒர் ஆயிழை
சிலம்பும் மேகலையும் ஒலி செய்திட
நலம் பெய் கொம்பின் நடந்து வந்து எய்தினாள்
புலம்பு சேடியர் கைமிசைப் போயினாள்.

The first three lines are devoted to describing the beauty of the lady. She walks with an uncontrollable excitement. The ‘sound’ from her ornaments shows this to us. But the moment she looks at Rama, she is spellbound. Unable to bear His beauty and unable to come to terms with her emotions, she faints and is carried by her friends.

Note the subtle and obvious contrasts. ‘எய்தினாள்’/ போயினாள்’(reached/went away).
Dense and heavy in the first line; was carried away lightly in the last line. Made noise in the second line; went without a trace in the last line.

Aesthetics combined with Brilliance.

Kamban- Sollin Selvan.

I am sure by now some of you have guessed where I am coming to. If Kamban was Sollin Selvan, ILaiyaraaja is Isiayin Selvan. His sense of aesthetics is apparent in the way the orchestration is done while his brilliance is seen in the way he uses a raga and a taaLa.
As I keep repeating, the greatness of a composer does not lie just in the use of a particular raga or a taaLa but in the way these are used.

Todays song for discussion is a classic example.

Maan KaNden Maan KaNden from Raja Rishi(1985) is based on Vasanta and follows the Tisram pattern. But anybody with some knowledge in classical music can do this. Are Vasanta and Tisram alone enough to make the composition sound nice?
 How to use the swaras of the raga, where to give the essence of the raga, where to bring in akaaram, how to make instruments sound great, how to use tisram, where to use the percussion, how to divide the maatras and how to make the percussion sound the syllables

All these determine how good the song will be and here is where that a sense which I described in the beginning comes into picture.

Let us look into the composition and try and see how he has answered all those how s.
The beginning itself presents and image of profundity with the chorus singing the akaaram beguilingly backed by the piano keys and the guitar. Two different sets of swaras and yet the same ragam. In fact, in a split second, one sees the clear sketch of Vasanta on the canvas. The sharp flute continues the embellishment of Vasanta with the bass guitar moving along with it. The percussion joins only as the flute enters and plays in tisram. The frisky keys take us to the Pallavi even as the flute welcomes it.

The Pallavi - in the honey-soaked voices of Yesudass and VaNi Jayaram- is a classical flow of expression with the upper Sa dominating the first two lines and the ma and ga- swaras that give the raga its life- appearing in the last two lines. But what makes it more aesthetic is the taaLa pattern. As mentioned earlier, the composition follows the 3-beat cycle tisram. This 3 is subdivided into 6 syllables-ta ka dhi mi ta ka- and the percussion sounds the first 5 syllables -with a kaarvai  for the last syllable- for every alternate tisram. This pattern does add a beautiful shade to the entire composition though it appears only whenever the pallavi is rendered.

There are different patterns in the interlude too which we shall see as we move on.

The first interlude starts with the violin playing with an expression of spontaneity. We feel the compassion too as the group of violins respond to the solo violin. The percussion joins only after 8 tisrams. Now, the percussion sounds ta while the rhythm guitar-which acts as percussion- sounds ka dhi mi ta ka as the violin moves intricately with intense emotional luxuriousness drawing four lines in Vasanta. The lilting flute responds after the first and the third lines. The guitar and the keys take over briefly and playing with poise without the percussion, lead us to the first charaNam.

The CharaNams show how creative inspiration can get translated into expression.
The first part of the two lines sees the repetition of the swara ma while the following two lines have the podi sangatis.  If the transition from the sa(mid-octave) to Sa(upper octave) in the beginning of the last two lines and the akaaram at the end descending from the upper Ma to the Sa covering the Ga and Ri in between, show us the beautiful mind, the arohaNam(sa ma ga ma dha ni Sa) appearing after the avarohaNam(sa ni dha ma ga ri) in the akaaram, show the musical mind.

And what can one say about the chorus backing the vocals in the first two lines with the akaaram, the flute playing briefly after the next two lines and the keys backing the last two lines?

This is what is called as aesthetically brilliant!

The second interlude starts with the akaaram in the male voice with only the rhythm guitar as the percussion. Bubbling with emotional ripples, the piano keys responds to this akaaram charting its own melody in Vasanta. After 16 tisrams, the guitar and the keys take over and move with great solicitude. What follows is a plenitude of graceful sanchaaras with chorus singing a tillana with the keys joining in the last four phrases with infectious passion.

Enthralled by the beauty, we too fall like the lady in Mithila, but into the hands of musical angels..