Thursday, January 19, 2006

Of Soundscapes and Melodies

Google defines

melody: specifically, the topmost line or voice

soundscape: an acoustic environment or an environment created by sound

Came across this interesting word called soundscape when reading a review of AR Rehman; the article said his music is influenced by that of Ennio Morricone (of The Good The Bad and The Ugly fame). This single word conveyed how the music of one relates to the other. One of those exquisite occasions when the medium transcends the message.

Listening to the two greats of Tamil music, Ilaiyaraja and ARR, one can immediately sense two different approaches to creating music. For me, Ilaiyaraja is the melody maker and Rehman, the soundscapist.

Both are just segments of a fulfulling musical piece... lyrics and vocalists being other important ones. But seems like the areas of specialisation of both musicians are different. With singers like SPB, Ilaiyaraja revelled in creating soulful tunes and melodies. ARR's focus is on creating a soundscape: choosing the base sounds for the song carefully. Running the risk of sampling bias, here are a few songs:

1) church bells tolling in 'Mukkaala, Mukkabula' - Kathalan

2) the barren effect and sounds in the song describing famine in 'Maari mazhai peyyatho' - Uzahavan.

3) more prominently, the rail tracks in 'Chaiyya chaiyya' - Dil Se

ARR uses brief vocal pieces for opening a song ('Chikku bukku', 'Maargazhi thingal', 'Mettupodu' etc) during which (and for a while after) he does the soundscape before launching into the main vocals.

'Sundari kannal oru' - Thalapathi

'Muthalvanae' - Muthalvan

Both are similarly situated songs of Ilaiyaraja and ARR respectively. Probably it's a misplaced comparison, but the difference between the two is too strong. The first one uses tunes and vocal improvisation of SPB to communicate the full pathos of personal life. In the second, ARR takes it upon himself to build the thick base of sounds to indicate conflict with personal life and leaves the rest of the job to Vairamuthu.

Imagine an artist labouring on a lake, a few trees, shrubs and a distant bird before painting the girl with a pitcher. Thats what ARR does to set the soundscape for a song. But with Ilaiyaraja, the image of the girl with the pitcher is so expressive that you don't have to be told where she stands.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Music & Kites

Listening to songs by ARR and Vairamuthu in a dark room with a good speaker system and letting them slowly fill inside you is an ossum high. One has barely recovered from the lyricist's subtle allusions in Tamil when the musician pushes ahead with his orchestrations. Some of the songs in my list are:
1) Kannodu kanbethellam - Jeans
2) Soukiyamaa - Sangamam
3) Mettupodu Mettupodu - Duet
4) Maargazhi thingal - Sangamam
5) Ithuthaan Kathal - Puthiya Mugam
Warning: Overdose is injurious to your sense of reality

Uttarayan and Lohri as Pongal and Bhogi are called here respectively are on. Today went to Core House to meet Handaji and see the kite flying which is traditional here. From the terrace of the seven floor building I could see a million kites in the sky. Good sun, kite flying lessons, nice jalebis.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Don Quixote

Read an abridged version of Don Quixote and a few critiques on that. Surely a piece of literature that has survived this long and been translated into almost all languages should have something in it. I remember reading the original a few years ago as a tale of a mad knight and his squire and couldnt finish it since only one volume was available. Btw, imagining all the books I must have read without realising the true meaning of is a scary thought.

Don Quixote is this stupid, well meaning, idealistic old gentleman who is drunk with visions of a chivalrous and honor-based society and sets out to be a knight-errant. Was it madness ? or was it another form of wisdom that declares war in defence of one's ideals ?

He fails miserably though and ends up in his deathbed as a chastened person. Even his squire Sancho is not a convert to his idealism. After becoming a reasonable man, he loses all his reasons to live. A critic refers to this as the world's betrayal of an idealist for the sake of materialism. No wonder, when the Cuban revolution ended, the first book printed and distributed by the Government was Don Quixote. They read a communist message in this book !

The question is: Why did Don Quixote end in a tragic failure ? will Quixotic fervor help in solving any problem facing society? Cervantes' greatness as an author lies in the fact that Don Quixote endears himself to the reader without once having to explain his ideals and despite all his foolish antics. This book reads like an appeal to that little bit of idealist in everyone to be Quixotic once a while.