Please listen to this sample (turn up your volume : ) ! ):

What do you think of this piece? What kind of music do you think this fits under? What kind of mood does the piece project? If you chose to comment (and I hope you do), please try to include your first impressions..

Now, if you want to know more about this piece, please read on:

Well first of all that piece was created by me. Now I know you have your brickbats ready – but please reconsider after my defense:

Please note that I am not even an amateur music composer. I am a rank amateur dabbler dabbling in areas beyond his abilities – with curiosity and love for music as his only guides. The above sample is basically as a possible proof of concept – a concept that I explain below.

So peace – ok? Now, please read on.

If you are into western rock music, particularly hard rock, I wonder what your reaction would be to that melody. It probably sounded strange – sounded ‘”eastern”.

Now, if you are into Indian Carnatic music, you probably may recognize the scale/raga behind this song. However, if your musical interests (past and/or present) do not include the strange mix of Carnatic music and Hard rock, then there is a good chance that you closed your ears, and chanted Shiva Shiva ๐Ÿ™‚ !

Reviving a dead horse
In this blog entry, I revive a topic I thought was done-in and left for dead – Carnatic Music in Western World. I had posted a couple of articles wa…y back, but then ran out of gas. I simply could not come up with anything interesting in that area.

However, a few months ago, one of the more intriguing “problems” regarding music tickled my curiosity yet again. Why do Carnatic music and western music always seem like oil and water. Is there a way to mix them effectively? This thought gnawed at my brain long enough that I decided to bold and try my hand at harmonizing a carnatic raga, although based on my knowledge in western music, this was perhaps madness.

I picked simhendramadhyamam as the raga, which is expressed as S R2 G2 M2 P D1 N3 S in Carnatic Music lingo. In terms of semitone intervals, it is 2 1 3 1 1 3 1, which is like the harmonic minor scale, except the fourth is raised by a semitone. I don’t remember consciously weeding out other ragas to zero-in on simhendramadhyamam, and hence it was picked for really no particular reason. I do love the raga, but I can’t put it in the same category as the “my favorite” ragas I had discussed in my other blog entries – it is sort of in a lower category than those others.ย I do however remember wanting to pick a raga that has a tonal structure, and a mood that is completely different from even the less commonly used scales in western music. And simhendramadhyamam is one of the ragas that fits this bill.

So, I dusted off my old guitar, and plucked and strummed for hours trying to see which chords fit the raga. This was perhaps doomed from the start because, first of all, I had no idea how to apply chords to a melody. I also did not know how to come with a chord progression for a scale, and then apply melody etc. All I could do was hum snippets of melodies in simhendramadhyamam, and I could strum chords (atleast there I know simple as well as half-way complex chords). So it was no surprise that I soon hit a wall at everywhere I turned. I remember thinking that my melody sounded so carnatic and those chords sound so western, and they just don’t seem to blend at all. Even the complex chords I tried, while they sounded different and exotic, they did not match the mood of the melodies I was trying. So I gave up after a day or so – with very sore fingertips. In short – Oil and water.

I had shelved this problem a while ago and had forgotten about it, but then, my interest was rekindled. A part of it was krishashok‘s innocuous reference to me as someone who shared his dual (or duelling?) interest in Carnatic and Classic Rock – I felt strangely obligated to demonstrate that interest (BTW, that single word reference helped obliterate all my blog stats record – thanks KA!). Another part is due to philramble‘s recent posts on simhendramadhyamam.

Anyway, this time, to avoid a repeat of the earlier fiasco, I first started googling to find out the deal behind chords and scales. I found some enlightening answers regarding the theory behind how chords are related to a melody. However, as I applied what I learnt to simhendramadhyamam to figure out appropriate chords, I found that the concepts did not apply readily or at least not in a straightforward fashion. Obviously, this is part of a long learning process – there is theory and then there is practice. You can’t create music just from theory – you need application, which grows only from experience.

However, after a couple days filled with several hours of mulling over things, fooling around painfully with my guitar (mentally and physically w.r.t fingertips), I was finally able to piece together the rock guitar solo you heard above. It actually faithfully sticks to the scale of simhendramadhyamam, with the melody pretty much keeping to the order of notes in the scale as done with ragas (as explained by my Ragas and Scales post). And most importantly, it is played to a chord progression! Hooray!

Now, this was not intended to be a “very classical” representation ofย simhendramadhyamam melody with chords. My aim wasย to see if I can fit this “exotic scale” into the hard rock music context. In fact, I wanted to blend it such that it would seem to “fit in”. ย Yet, I did not want the raga to be manipulated too much to fit this context that it was beyond recognition. I still wanted the flavor of the raga to be ย perceptible – the stronger the better. I think looking back at the end result, it does sound more western than Carnatic – but there is enough Carnatic flavor to it (IMO).ย I may be a bit presumptuous here, but I do feel happy (nay thrilled) that it at least shows glimpses ofย simhendramadhyamam’s potential of “bringing the house down” – under the expert hands of right professionals.ย 

A Technical Note for carnaticย aficionados: Regarding why this is not classical simhendramadhyamam –ย beyond the lack of classical gamakas (there are some here and there), there is generally too much emphasis on da, also in certain contexts (like descending) which is probably not kosher for a classical version. In general, da and ga are more emphasized compared to ni and ri.ย  These were sort of a result of the chord progression I picked, which in turn is due to he fact that it was easier to come up with the right chords for da and ga.ย 

Mood of simhendramadhyamam in hard rock:
Now, let me babble a little bit more about the character of that melody – at least as I see it.

Even before I started out, the mood I wanted to bring from simhendramadhyamam was one of anger, particularly one bursting out of desperation following desolation. The torrent of swaras/notes I could envision seemed to remind me the fury of a volcano. Maybe it is me, but I find simhendramadhyamam to be very apt for this mood, particularly when you free it from the confines of Carnatic music, where serious anger etc. are not exactly part of the genre. But, maybe my association of this mood with this raga also comes from my influences as a classic rock fan, where I found special attraction to the anger and melancholy of Pink Floyd among other bands. A hard rocking guitar solo to a dark mood usually gets my attention.

I guess I wanted the guitar solo to be like the one from Don’t Fear the Reaper of Blue Oyster Cult, albeit with more obvious Carnatic overtones.

Now, reader – did I even achieve 1% of what I set out? ย Can I say the following?

Rock on mad (madhyamam) Lion (simhendra) !





PS: The entire piece is computer generated on my Mac, using Garage Band. I did hand construct the melody based on my knowledge of the raga. I also picked the chord progression (surprisingly all simple chords – although I am not 100% if they are used in a sensible way). And no – I did not play the guitar! I wish I could play real guitar like that. At this point, I can only do air guitar to such leads ;-)! I am indeed quite amused and amazed that my computer can play guitar a few thousand times better than I could ever do!