Ask anyone, what is the single most factor that differentiates Raaja's songs from the rest. The answer is bound to be "Orchestration".. Or in more simple terms the art of making a (fairly big) team of musicians working in unison to produce the desired results. Or in colorful language, Orchestration its the art of writing screenplay to the story called Melody.

One such tool available to write the screenplay is employing the String Ensemble as Tremolo strings. Wikipedia defines Tremolo as "A regular and repetitive variation in amplitude for the duration of a single note". If that sounded too text-bookish, try this.. I would like to define it as a way of employing the String ensemble to sketch a measure with innumerable bow strokes; Or dividing a bar into notes of minimum perceivable time signatures; Or decipherable atomic notes per unit measure; The strokes have to be so fine, that on casual listening it should sound disguised as a normal sustained long note but on careful listening it is actually made of multitudes of strands.. Simple speaking, Think off Haldiram's Soan Papdi :-)

I would like to start off with the song Maalaiyil Yaaro (Chathriyan):
A casual look at the prelude, and you could be excused for thinking its made of full notes
"Pa ga Ma Pa
Pa Ma Ga Sa "
Prelude of 'Maalayil Yaaro'

In reality, each of the notes specified above are made of tiny flakes of same note lasting for abysmall duration each.. Something like:
Papapapapapapa gagagagagagagagag mamamamamamama papapapapapapaapapa

Listen to the above track again.. there you go!!

Note: As far as I know, the Tremolo time signature is spontaneous and is not a strict derivative of 1/4x lasting notes (i.e., not necessarily 1/32 or 1/64th time signature).. basically its asymmetrical within each count but totally put together lasting for the given notated duration.. You can clearly see that pattern in this track and all the tracks to come...

Same phenomenon is observed all over this song.. I am posting this very short beginning of 1st interlude. There are just 2 bars.. Each starting with pizzicato strings (Technique of plucking instead of bowing a String instrument like Violin.. This is worth another blog post..) and finishing in Tremolo strings..
1st interlude of 'Maalayil Yaaro'

Now look at the background of "Nenjame".. The desired effect is achieved solely by Tremolo:
Anu Pallavi of 'Maalayil Yaaro'

Also in the 2nd interlude some beautiful Tremolo well disguised as full notes:
2nd interlude of 'Maalayil Yaaro'

As in the previous clips, The pattern in which Raaja equates Tremolo effect with the pain of prolonged wait in Love symbolizing the return/ arrival of lover is rather unique ('Pirivaatraamai' in Tamil Ilakkiyam (!!??)). The irking wait for the partner is epitomized by one of the most beautiful tremolos of Raaja... The prelude of Sundari..

Maniratnam's picturization of early morning mist (Courtesy: Santosh Sivan..)
Solo Flute (and Solo Lady on screen)..
A landscape resembling Newzealand-ish outdoors of 'Lord of the Rings' with mountains, lush greenary and lakes...
And Tremolo..
Wow.. Wow.. Wow..
Prelude of 'Sundari Kannal'
PS: Actually you can watch this Tremolo in action. There are two occassions. once in Jeya TV's Andrum Indrum Endrum.. Now let me recap the definition of Tremolo.. A regular and repetitive variation in AMPLITUDE. Watch Raaja in this video from seconds 48 to 52. The Amplitude of Tremolo raises and falls as gestured by Raaja.. !!

A much more pronounced Tremolo in action in this song is noticable in "Raaja Raajadhan " Live show in Dubai.. that can be watched here --> Video no: 2 --> Seconds from 22:38 to 23:20. What happened was, clearly the Audio technician sitting in the channel mixer hasn't heard the song before and doesn't have enough knowledge of the song..(this might sound preposterous to you.. but take it from some one who has played 200 stages.. A technician who knows the song upfront is a very very crucial part of the stage show where live music is played by orchestra involving more than 6 channels or so.. stage feedback and mixing are two external factors which can make or break a show irrespective of your team's talent and hard work. The show is worth nothing if your sound mixer technician for the day is a stupid like in this case...) So the technician here, saw a hoard of animated violinists and thought that's the main part of the song and increased that channel's volume least realizing its the Flute and Oboe that was taking the lead there.. The result was a cold blooded murder of a beautiful phrase.. All the hard work of the orchestra goes down the drain.. But I was jumping when I saw that because I could hear the Tremolo uninterruptedly and could understand the transitions more vividly.. A horrible gaffe but it brings a hidden area to forefront even though the result is not pleasing to hear..

There are probably hundreds of songs by Raaja employing Tremolo.. I am copy pasting tracks top of my head..

Prelude of 'Kaatru Poovai'(I Love India)

Prelude of 'Unnai naan' (Kannukkoru Vannakilli)

Last but not the least, The superb Pooerukonum Purantharanum from Thiruvasagam

I would like to close with one remark. Often I get asked by my friends, why am I so biased with Ilaiyaraaja..? Well, I am not averse to other composers.. I definitely am a big fan of quality music where ever that comes from (ARR included, for instance..); but there are reasons why my veneration towards Raaja is unflinching..

Let me again quote Wikipedia: "In music notation tremolo is indicated by strokes through the stems of the notes (in the case of semibreves or whole notes, which lack stems, the bars are drawn above or below the note, where the stem would be if there were one)".

Show me another composer in India/ South Asia who is capable of "indicating these strokes through the stems of the notes" and making a bunch of 40 violinists from Chennai play it..locally right here.. Fully cognizant of the fact that 9 out of 10 who listens these tracks where looking at the hero (probably a Murali or a Ramarajan or a xxx) or the heroine (a Bhanupriya or an Ambika or..) and not noticing the Tremolo..

Well, that's definitely a reason good enough for me to revere for..

With Love

Labels: , ,