Saturday, 15 April 2017

ILaiyaraaja - The Intrepid Musician

Being fearless is an art.

It may be one of the traits or qualities of some people but the fact remains that it is an art for the simple reason that when people show no fear, there is that aesthetic element which is hidden and unseen..

However, this element is so obviously seen if the fearless person happens to be an artiste or a poet. Let me hasten to add that I am talking about the positive fearlessness and not about the negative fearlessness which leads to all kinds of crimes.
So, what happens when an artiste or a poet is fearless? Put in simple words, their works become immortal.

Take AruNagirinaathar for example. After having indulged in many acts (not necessarily positive), he became a completely transformed man when his attempt to commit suicide was thwarted by the Divine Force. He chose to chart a new path in composing verses. ‘Chandam’(loosely translated as the rhythm and rhyme) formed the fulcrum of his verses and rather than using the taaLaas in vogue as per the classical texts, he used his own taaLaas which had some unusual number of syllables.

The Thiruppugazh thus attained a form of its own- Eight lines, different chanda taaLaas, liberal use of words, adapting and incorporating many Sanskrit words..
The eight lines did not have any standard length (unlike the Ashtapadis) and varied from Thiruppugazh to Thiruppugazh. There are long Thiruppugazhs and short Thiruppugazhs though the eight-line standard was stuck to. The ‘liberal use of words’ described in detail about even things which not many Bhakti poets dared to talk about(‘Naaliyara Divya Prabhandam’ too has the erotic element but that is totally different. Probably, I shall explain the difference in one of the forthcoming posts).

Apart from the ‘Thiruppugazh’, AruNagiri composed many other works like ‘Kandar Anubhooti’, ‘Kandar Alankaaram’, ‘Kandar Andhadhi’(I have quoted verses from each one of these in my posts), but my favourite remains the ‘Mayil Viruththam’ which describes the aggression of peacock in a unique way. Here, words dance literally to the rhythm of the song and I enjoy reading these verses aloud because not only is it aesthetically and musically beautiful, but it also drives away one’s fear.

See this verse:

தீரப் பயோததி திக்கும் ஆகாயமும்
செகதலமும் நின்று சுழலத்

திகழ்கின்ற முடி மவுலி சிதறி விழ வெம் சிகைத்
தீக்கொப்புளிக்க வெருளும்

பாரப் பணாமுடி அநந்தன் முதல் அரவெலாம்
பதைபதைத்தே நடுங்கப்

படர் சக்ரவாளகிரி துகள் பட வையாளி வரு
பச்சை ப்ரவாள மயிலாம்

ஆர ப்ரதாப புளகித மதன பாடீர
அமிர்த கலசக் கொங்கையாள்

ஆடு மயில் நிகர் வல்லி அபிராம வல்லி பர
மாநந்த வல்லி சிறுவன்

கோர த்ரிசூல த்ரியம்பக ஜடாதார
குரு தரு திருத்தணி கைவேள்

கொடிய நிசிசரர் உதரம் எரி புகுத விபுதர் பதி
குடி புகுத நடவு மயிலே.

Ironically enough, this verse describes as to how the entire Universe trembles with fear when the peacock (vaahana of Lord Muruga) dances:

Seas and Oceans, Eight directions (Dishas), the sky, and the earth (bhoo loka) rotate with force; Thousand locks fall from the heavy, fire-spewing hot hoods of the fear stuck Adisesha and the other serpents as they tremble with fear; The huge ChakravaaLa mountain breaks into pieces; All these happen when the peacock-with the green and coral hued feathers- takes its beautiful flight and dances.

Only poets who are fearless can even imagine composing such verses.

Like AruNagiri, ILaiyaraaja is fearless. That he broke new grounds in orchestration and arrangement with courage of conviction, is known to many and does not need more elaboration at least now. But what I find more interesting and intriguing is the way he has used the ragas.

In film music, one has the liberty of breaking the rules of grammar, as mentioned by me time and again. All great composers in Indian Film Music have done this time and again. However, it is one thing to break the rules just to make it sound ‘light’; it is quite another to do it as an experiment to enhance the quality of the song. Most importantly, here classicism does not take a back seat. On the other hand, it sounds more classical.

Let me explain. The uniqueness of the Indian classical system is its ragas. As some of you know, each raga has a set of ascending and descending notes which when rendered correctly, gives the shade(s) of the respective raga(s). The raga changes its colour even if one note is changed.

It is not uncommon to add alien notes in a film music composition(this is done in some of the classical forms too, tumri in Hindustani music being a classic example). ILaiyaraaja has done this too. But changing the variant of one particular note in the midst of a composition, requires a lot of guts, gumption and most importantly, knowledge.

The song I am taking up today is one such composition.

The beautiful aspect in ‘Maanin iru kaNgaL koNda maane maane’  from ‘MaappiLai’ (1989) is not that it is based on a classical raga called MayamalavagowLa but in the way a variant of one of the swaras is changed to give a different raga. But the most beautiful aspect is that unless people listen with utmost concentration, the transition cannot be made out.

MayamalavagowLa is a unique raga and the basic lessons in carnatic music are taught in this raga. The swaras used in this raga are the shuddha rishabham(ri1),  antara gandharam(ga3), shuddha madhyamam(ma1), shuddha dhaivatam(dha1) and kaakali nishadam(ni3) apart from the shadjam(sa) and the panchamam(pa). Now, if one changes one of the variants of any swara, it leads to a different raga. This is what happens in ‘Maanin iru kaNgaL’. The variant of ‘ri’ is changed from ‘shuddha’(ri1) to ‘chatushruti’(ri2) in the CharaNams and it transforms to Sarasangi.

Let us see the composition fully to understand this better.

The song starts with a flourish with the higher octave violins moving with a sense of purpose rather ebulliently. A closer observation suggests that these play the chatushram syllables-ta ka dhi mi- in mel kaalam 16 times in the first cycle with the drums sounding just a couple of times. After having reached a crescendo, these give way to the bass guitar, which again sounds the chatushram beats in mel kaalam with the drums backing it. The chorus starts the different humming with a touch of tenderness even as the bass guitar and the drums continue to play. The strings and the flute appear briefly and alternately adding to the momentum. There are at least 3 sets of percussion and this makes the prelude robust.

There is serenity too when the chorus and the instruments pause three times. Isn’t silence very beautiful when observed at the right time?

The Pallavi has the Raaja Muththirai with the first line being rendered almost without percussion. The structure is innovative with the upper Sa being sandwiched between the mid octave swaras and the swaras descending towards the end. If this is the structure in the first and the second line, the lines that follow have some interesting prayogas like ‘dha ma ma dha’ and ‘ma ma ma ri ri ma ga’.

The voices of SPB and Janaki  add to the special aroma. So does the keys sound which appears towards the end of the Pallavi.

The enticing bass guitar sounds resonantly in the beginning of the first interlude to signal what is in store. An instrument sounding like the clarinet (or is it clarinet itself?) gives the resplendent shades of MayamalagowLa with the chorus humming different sets of notes simultaneously. How can harmony be complete without the flute? The flute appears now and then and plays with unique limpidness.

The harmony continues in the next segment with two sets of strings playing different sets of notes simultaneously- with one set playing the melody played by the clarinet in the previous segment and the other set playing the humming notes of the chorus.
Dynamically aesthetic!

The dynamism continues with the bass guitar entering briefly and leading to the first CharaNam.

That the CharaNams have attractive phrases is not the only highlight here. For most part of the first line, only two swaras ‘ni’ and ‘Sa’ are used. Just towards the end of the line, the O’Henry Raaja gives us a twist. As already mentioned before, the swaraRi2(chatushruti rishabham) appears just once and the raga transforms to Sarasangi.
The swara appears again just once in the second line, which too has just two swaras –pa and dha- for most part with the ni  and Sa appearing later. The CharaNam continues in Sarasangi till the 6th line. The following line does not have the rishabham and yet one starts feeling MayamalavagowLa here. The last line has the shuddha rishabham(ri1) just once.

 This is what is called as the Composer’s Brilliance and this proves yet again that it is not the swara alone which determines the raga.

The second interlude-as usual- sounds different and is marked by the percussion underpinnings. The percussion sounds ‘ta - dhi - /- - dhi mi’ giving kaarvai. The chorus hums in a folksy style without deviating from the raga and one does not fail to see the Arabic shades of the raga here. The strings swirl with elan and then go on to romance with the keys which sound with sweet exuberance. It is intense and at the same time sedate.
Isn’t fearlessness an art?
Let us ask the peacock of AruNagirinathar!

Check this out on Chirbit


Monday, 10 April 2017

ILaiyaraaja - The Aesthetically Imaginative Musician

While praying to Kamadeva to unite her with the Lord, the great poetess AandaaL does something beautiful, which can be called as poetic creativity at its best. In fact, all her 143 verses in ‘Naachiyaar Thirumozhi’ and the 30Thirpuppavais’, brim with beauty and  exude creativity, and are without a trace of doubt, ‘poems with excellence’.  In the past, I have quoted her poems in this thread and the verse I am referring to now, is just a sample.

வெள்ளைநுண் மணற்கொண்டு தெருவணிந்து
வெள்வரைப்பதன்முன்னம் துறைபடிந்து
முள்ளுமில்லாச் சுள்ளி எரிமடுத்து
முயன்றுன்னை நோற்கின்றேன் காமதேவா
கள்ளவிழ் பூங்கணை தொடுத்துக்கொண்டு
கடல்வண்ணன் என்பதோர் பேரெழுதி
புள்ளினை வாய்பிளந்தானென்பதோர் இலக்கினில்
புகவென்னை ய்கிற்றியே.

Oh Kamadeva! Ardently do I penance and beseech you,
Bathing in water courses in early dawn,
Decorate beautifully the streets with fine sand-white,
And also offer twigs-sans thorns, in the kindling fire,
Oh Cupid! Throw me unto Him
By your flowery arrows with odorous pollens
With nectarine driblets, inscribing Lord’s name,
Who in hue like bluish sea
Tore the beak of ‘Baka’ the demon!
What I find the most beautiful in this poem is the fact the she is considering herself as an arrow to be ‘thrown’ along with the Manmada’s usual flowery arrows.

Ingenious innovation or artistry?
Probably both!

Needless to say all geniuses share such traits. I have been discussing and analysing nuances and intricacies in ILaiyaraaja’s compositions to show as to how enterprising and ingenious he is. No two compositions are alike and even in cases where the tune remains the same, there would be some subtle changes or variations. Most importantly, he thinks out of the box and comes up with unique designs.

Now, take ‘Poo Pookkum Maasam Thai Maasam’ from ‘Varusham 16’(1989). It is a romantic setting with the girl accepting the proposal of her lover. To start with, the composer set it in Keeravani, a deep classical raga. In a way, there is nothing surprising about this, given the fact that this raga as a scale is the harmonic minor in western classical music and therefore is widely used in film music. ILaiyaraaja himself has used this raga ubiquitously.

But as I have said before, it is the usage that matters more than the raga. All said and done, KeeravaNi has the shadja, chatushruti rishabha, saadharaNa gandhara, suddha madhyama, panchama, suddha dhaivata and kaakali nishadha –as per Indian Classical or C, D, D#, F, G, G# and B - as per Western Classical- and anybody with some background in either of these forms can combine the notes and compose (nowadays, one doesn’t need even this as there are gadgets which will take care of everything).

How does he play with these 7 notes?

Let us see that. We shall also see as to how innovatively he has used the taaLa/percussion in keeping with the situation.

Probably, we shall see the second one first. The composition is set to chatushra eka taaLa- the 4-beat cycle. He breaks this into 16 micro-beats per cycle as
ta ki ta/ ta ki ta/ ta ka (twice).

The composition starts without an instrumental prelude. In fact, it has the vocals. Suseela renders ‘Pongalu Pongalu Vaikka..’ and the chorus follows suit.

Now, ‘Pongalu Pongalu Vaikka’ is one ta ki ta/ta ki ta/ta ka. Same is the case with ‘ManjaLu ManjaLu Edu’ and ‘Thangachchi Thangachchi Thangachchi’. We feel the deep seated rhythmic impulses as the resonant percussion sounds only the first syllable and the last two syllables, backing the vocals. As the first line ends, the percussion rounds off playing in mel kaalam(faster mode).

The following line also follows the same pattern in terms of the micro- beats(ta ki ta/ ta ki ta/ta ka) but there is a difference in terms of the percussion. The percussion instruments play all the syllables. As an additional bonus, the bass guitar too joins the party.

Creatively innovative!

The Pallavi in ‘anaagata eduppu’ -starting after the ½  beat- also has a surprise in store with some unusual prayogas. It starts with ‘pa ri ga’ and touches the lower octave ‘ni’. Most importantly, it totally skips ‘ma’ and yet gives the colour of Keeravani.

The flute and the strings which appear as an interjection between the lines is as mesmeric as ever.

If this is just the introduction, how will the main piece be?

Of course with more ingenuity and artistry- says the first interlude.
With power-packed vitality, three different sets of strings play different melodies vivifying the various shades of the raga. After 2 cycles, a single violin takes over and plays with unobtrusive continuity. The group of violins join this now and then subtly and majestically. It is tantalisingly beautiful.

What follows after 6 cycles is yet another magic. The sitar along with the tabla tarang, sounds

 ta ka ta  ki  ta/ta ka ta  ki  ta/ ta ta ta ta ta ta (5/5/6) .

To a discerning ear, it sounds like a veda mantra.

The sitar and the flute are then involved in a dialogue and this musical dialogue shows the grandeur of Keeravani.

The tenderly structured CharaNams have a plenitude of graceful movements and here too, the very sparing use of ‘ma’ cannot be missed. In fact, it is almost like a pentatonic raga with even the ‘ni’ making a rare appearance. Yet, it has the KeeravaNi flavour.

The bewitchingly beautiful flute in the second interlude plays the raga with repose, beautifully aided by the tabla. It is gentle; it is delicate; it sways. The chorus renders the humming with sedateness and the strings play the minor scale like a flash with élan.

Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvellous’, said somebody.

Here, music pierces us with flowery arrows with the nectar dribbling as droplets.

Isn’t this what is called as Artistic Excellence?