Counterpoint For Dummies

I had the dilemma of calling this post "10 Seconds = 2 light years"; But it sure does sound off tangent! Then I thought "Andha Oru Nimidam" would be a catchy title (Which means "That eventful minute").. But that was already taken !! (besides a minute feels like a millennium in front of the time scale that I am going to talk..) Finally I settled for a rather unimaginative title, inline with the spirit of my previous post!!

Recently there was a request from fellow musician/ friend, Kumar about the counterpoints involved in one of Raaja's songs.. It was a female solo by S Janaki that goes "Uyire.. Uravil". The title of the movie in which this song is wasted is called 'Mella Pesungal', which means 'Talk Softly'. Unfortunately the audiences of this movie took the name of its title little too seriously I guess.. The movie was never talked about.. and like many other beauties this song too languishes in the oblivion like a ghost seeking salvation!

Whats worse, the portion of the song in question is a bit lasting all of just 10 seconds in the 1st interlude of the song.

You will hear 3 main instruments in this 10 seconds.. These three tracks each of Flute, Guitar and Piano does sound as if they are following the same melody and rhythmic pattern. Poor recording of the early 80s is not helping our cause either. Even then when I first set about the task of decoding this bit, I had no idea what was coming. After all, this is just 10 seconds..

I never understood the concept of this 'light year' in cosmos.. I used to wonder at times, how can there be such vast distances that makes even our Sun, virtually a speck of dust (or even insignificant than that!!)..

Not any more.. Now I know that such unfathomable mismatches do exist in unit of measurements.. Because this 10 seconds took me some light years to understand.. (I do personally recommend you to watch that video in case you missed it in the previous sentence)

For naked ears it feels that during this 10 seconds all the 3 instruments are towing the same line.. If you have a damn good pair of ears, you would know right away that, Flute and Guitar are playing different melodies.. But if you are not Ilaiyaraaja, the only way to decode the ultimate truth is by adopting the patented technique (of how to place your ears on the speaker/ head phone) that I explained in my previous post. :-))

Here is that part again which measured 10 seconds in Raaja's time scale and 2 hours in mine..

This is a counterpoint involving 3 tracks.. What I have done is to unravel each of them separately as midi files as well as to notate them in sheet music, so that we are dealing with the same parameters as the composer and performing artists.

(I was told that, there is some problem that the Yahoo Media Player not being able to play the midis.. I believe you need to have additional plugins in your browser to make this happen. So in any case I am also providing the additional direct link of the midi files. You can download them to your machine and listen to them in your usual music player (such as Windows Media Player). If you still face any problems, please give me a shout...)

1. Here is the First track. This is the main theme played by Flute

Alternatively you can listen to this flute track here.

Flute Theme.png

2. This is the Second track, where a guitar is actually found playing the second fiddle.. :)

You can also listen to this guitar track here.


3. And here is a parallel galaxy to this 10 second milky way. This is Piano going off tangent to the rest..

You can also listen to this Piano track here

Piano Counterpoint.png

4. Finally the String ensemble, played in two tracks to finish off the deal.

You can listen to this String ensemble track here.


And this is how they all sound together..

You may also play them together by clicking here.

(For your review, this was the original again)

From an established western classical stand point, the guitar track is more of a derivative to the main melody and can be quite simply harmonically derived. Such score writing is a given in many classical compositions. So its not such a big deal. But holistically speaking, even a seasoned classical buff must admit the intricacy and the intellectual genius behind this bit.. Especially in the context of below given points..

Look at the platform on which such wizardry is displayed - Some unknown movie in which there is some unknown song, and even worse - it's a sad song which usually doesn't captivate the listener's grip as much as a hero intro song or a love duet or a "kuthu paattu".. But for Raaja where ever he sees the scope for such high quality stuff in any song, he simply goes about applying his intelligence.

Even though the guitar track is regular harmony, the piano track is a sheer genius and out of the box thinking. Such casual application of counterpoints sandwiched between a native melody and tabla rhythm is truly original. As I always say, this is not fusion. This is pre-conceived original genre in which he saw no difference between Sadjamam and the note F (the Key signature of this song) instead he saw them as one. Its like when Raaja is looking at this note, he sees them as green alphabets falling vertically in columns and laughs "The Matrix has you!!"

For such a small period of time, the amount of Workmanship is supreme by any yard stick.. Three soloists (One flutist, guitarist and pianist each) playing in tandem and a string ensemble on stand by to provide the finishing touch with at least few 10s of violinists (who are in turn split into 2 tracks).. So totally 5 tracks for a bit of 10 seconds..

Regardless of the duration, he still finds scope for advanced ornamentation techniques such as Trills for the Piano.

And look at the wholesome aesthetics of this bit.. in spite of what could become a clutter with such overload of instruments, not even a single note is out of place. How is this possible for him..? The answer is here:

(For the benefit of non-Tamil readers, what he is saying here is: "When you get a main idea, you need to again compliment it afresh by writing accompaniment for a different instrument, then again rewrite it for another instrument 2, and then again rewrite, and then again rewrite.. etc. This is called "Full Score Writing", not many people here are aware of this"..)

And below you will find the "Full Score Writing" of this 10 seconds. And again to recap with the score, this is how they all sound together..

(Please remember, this is 10 seconds out of a 4 minute song.. i.e., what you see below is just 4% of sheet music of this song that he wrote.. The score for whole song with an 80 piece orchestra would run for quite some pages I guess. And extrapolate it to significant number of 4500 odd songs that he has composed so far and you will realize what kind of genius we are talking about here..)

Uyire Full Score.png

Often you will find that Raaja interviews/ stage speeches are on a Spiritual or emotional plane, that lands him in trouble. He is simply put, a very bad orator. And rarely he talks about absolute intellectual stuff regarding music. (If you ask him about music, his responses are usually philosophical). The fact is, he does posses intellectual mind like no other. As his fans or even critics we spare no stone to pick on his "spiritual-talk" blunders. On the other hand, we don't pay as much attention to his real useful intellectual talk. Probably because we prefer the safe route of just "talking" about how he composes "layers of music".. Peeling the onion is hard work and burns the eye, you see..!

Through such "Seconds to Light years" exercise, I wish to clarify one point.. Such ideas didn't go to paper from his head via a computer.. There was no software that filled in the blanks for him. There was no infrastructure whereby he could "process" the idea through zillions of pre-programmed musical techniques that could change the dynamics and texture.. There was no cherry picking on which instrument to choose from precompiled list of exuberant tone banks..

There is only one "thinking" entity in all of the music that he produces.. It commanded him to Write this 10 seconds of notes for flute, and then rewrite another 10 seconds for Guitar and then write 10 more seconds of counterpoint for Piano and then rewrite another 10 seconds for String Ensemble..

And that entity is his intellect..

Unfortunately such entities are suffering a fate similar to WWF's list of species threatened due to man made causes..

With Love

- You can download all the notations used in this post as PDFs here.
- You can download all the Midis used in this post here.

- Credits to Sharankay whose youtube video I have used in this post.

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