Monday, 1 February 2016

ILaiyaraaja - The Intuitive and Instinctive Musician

Musical articulation is a fundamental instinct, the earliest sounds being uninhibited expressions of human emotions. For formally trained musicians, the mind is conditioned in terms of raga scales and patterns. However, by simply following instinct, the composer can manifest emotions through spontaneous musical expression that later, would be found to programmed norms.

This was said by a musician very recently during a seminar (as reported in a newspaper). We shall see a little later as to who said this and also delve into the meanings and relevance, but before that, let us see one very important word which appears in the very first line.

Instinct is a very interesting word. To put it simply, instinct is something which is innate in all living things and is a pattern of behaviour in response to certain things. It is something which happens naturally. In philosophical terms, instincts are emotional memories from the past and worries/anxities about the future. We are all guided by our instinct.

Instinct is often confused with the word Intuition and many times both words are used interchangeably though both are different. Intuition is the gut feel and it comes without any logical reason. It has no past or future. It occurs in the ‘present’, in ‘that’ moment. However, it is also said that intuition can be developed with experience.

This is indeed a vast subject and therefore I am stopping here and moving on to the relevance of the two here. For all extraordinary people, Instinct and Intuition are razor sharp. In fact, there is a beautiful balance between the two.

Now, look at this poem:

பாம்புப்பிடாரன் குழலூதுகின்றான்..
குழிலிலே இசை பிறந்ததா? தொளையிலே பிறந்ததா?
பாம்புப்பிடாரன் மூச்சிலே பிறந்ததா?

அவனுள்ளத்திலே பிறந்தது. குழலிலே வெளிப்பட்டது.
உள்ளம் தனியே ஒலிக்காது. குழல் தனியே இசை புரியாது.
உள்ளம் குழலிலே ஒட்டாது. உள்ளம் மூச்சிலே ஒட்டும்.
மூச்சுக் குழலிலே ஒட்டும். குழல் பாடும்.
இது சக்தியின் லீலை. அவள் உள்ளத்திலே பாடுகிறாள்.
அது குழலின் தொளையில் கேட்கிறது. பொருந்தாத பொருள்களைப் பொருத்தி வைத்து அதிலே இசையுண்டாக்குதல் - சக்தி.

‘The snake charmer is playing his flute. Does the music come from the flute or from the holes or from his breath?

It comes from his mind and got expressed through the flute. Mind cannot sound the music independently. Flute cannot understand music. Mind is not related to the flute. Mind is related to the breath. Breath is related to the flute. 
The flute sings.

This is the wish of the Divine. The Divine sings in the mind.And the music is heard through the holes(in the flute). Contrasting elements are combined to produce Music- This is what is called as Divine.

Well, it is a very deep poem with many inner meanings and mine is just a loose translation and I am sure it gives the gist though the philosophical contours and the poetic beauty are at best understood only by people who understand Tamizh (even if one can understand the language, one needs to read it 100 times to get the import).

I have quoted this poem of Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharati because in my opinion,

i. it talks about instinct and intuition.

ii. this was a new form of poetry called as ‘Vachana Kavitai’ and this was a precursor to the most popular ‘Pudhu Kavitai’.

iii. we see the instinct of the Mahakavi in the way he has conceived the poetry and the intuition that this form would dominate the Tamizh Poetry about 60 years from the time this was written.

I feel that when Bharati started writing this kind of poem, all he would have thought was ‘to express some deep philosophical thoughts in very simple language’ and the result was this new form.

Now, read the first paragraph and substitute the words ‘musical articulation’ with ‘poetic articulation’, ’sounds’ with ‘words’, ‘formally trained musicians’ with ‘normal poets’, ‘composer’ with ‘poet’ and ‘musical expression’ with ‘poetic expression’ and see how it applies to Bharati here.

Incidentally, the person who said those words also has ‘Bharati’ as a suffix in his name. In fact, he is the great grandson of the Mahakavi and goes by the name Rajkumar Bharati.He is a great musician cum composer who composes beautiful music for classical dance dramas.

While he made those statements while talking about his own experience as a composer, I felt (while I was reading it yesterday) that it applies to ILaiyaraaja. When asked about the usage of different raagas in his music, ILaiyaraaja’s constant refrain has been ‘I don’t sit and think about any raaga. It just happens’. This ‘it just happens’ is where one sees both instinct and intuition.

Let us see just one example today with a composition. This composition is based on a raga/scale which according to me has not been used by any composer-classical or film music. It is KeeravaNi minus the ‘ri’. I am sure that before composing this song- ‘Yeh Raasaaththi’- for the film ‘En Uyir Thozhan’(1990), he would not have even thought of setting the tune in a rare and unheard of raaga. The moment the situation was explained to him, his fingers would have started playing the harmonium and rather unconsciously avoided the ‘rishabham’. It would have sounded very different and nice and he would have continued to play the tune.

What would have attracted him in this scale first? (I feel) the unmistakable poignancy and melancholy. If one has watched the movie (unfortunately ‘yours truly’ happens to be one), the male character who is singing (lip synching) the song is a scheming person who cheats the woman he ‘loves’. The tune and the interludes clearly reflect this feel. Of course, this does not mean that the song is not melodious. Even cunningness can sound melodious in the hands of a genius composer.

But before I get on with the song, let me share some more details about the raaga/scale. Though it sounds a lot like KeeravaNi, as per the raaga texts, this scale - sa ga2 ma1 pa dha1 ni3 Sa- is a janya of Dhanuka. Note that the variant of the ‘ri’, is the differential factor between KeeravaNi (21st meLa) and Dhenuka(9th meLa). The name of this Raaga as per Sangeeta Swaraprastaara Saagaram  is Bhargavi.

And now for the song..

The prelude itself is very interesting and has only the vocals-except for one instrument which ‘responds’ once. In fact, the structure of the song itself is rather unusual with the vocals appearing between the Pallavi and the first interlude and between the first CharaNam and the second interlude.

We see the harmony in the beginning with the voice (AruNmozhi) being superimposed and singing in different ways (can we call it as ‘sangati’, a terms which we saw yesterday?). After the ‘echo’ effect in the beginning, the voice assumes an almost beseeching tone during the ‘harmony’ section. There is poise; there is gentle flourish too.

There is silence for one cycle of chatushram before the Pallavi and this multiplies our expectations. The Pallavi is rendered with elan by Malaysia Vasudevan with AruNmozhi providing the support. The composer brilliantly uses the mandra stayee (lower octave) swaras ( in the second part of the Pallavi and this, along with the piercing flute sound at the end of each phrase in the third line, adds to the poignant feel.

The silence occurs again after the Pallavi(for one cycle of chatushram) and this is followed by the plain recitation(without any tune but in rhythm) by Malaysia Vasudevan with the chorus responding each time with a different humming which in a way gives some insights into the raaga too.

The flute which appears after this phase plays with passionate charm giving the beautiful shades of the raaga.

The lines in the CharaNam are marked by delicacy and have some nuanced intricacies too. If there is that mandra stayee kaakali nishadam (ni3.) in the first line, there is mandra stayee shuddha dhaivatam(dha1.) in the second line. But what is amazing is the sudden occurrence of the madhyama stayee dha after a series of mandra stayee dha in the second line.The last line is a beauty too with the series of dha occurring in the beginning and the mandra nishadam appearing in the last phrase.

The ‘tanana’ and ‘tanananaa’  of the chorus, after the first line and the second line when the Pallavi is rendered after the CharaNam shows the innovative musicality of the genius.

There is silence for the third time in the composition now.

The ‘recitation’ happens now too but now there are two changes. First, the percussion. In the previous instance, the percussive support was provided by the rhythm guitar and the tabla, but now these are replaced by the Tavil. In fact, the Tavil plays one full aavartanam before the recitation and after the ‘silence’. Second, the chorus which was only humming previously, now sings the first line after it is recited and also hums when the next lines are recited.

Brimming with vim, vigour and vitality, the Shehnais make a maze of swirling movements in the interlude.

Instinctively Intuitively Musical!

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