June 2009


A lot of popular ragas and compositions which feature regularly in carnatic music concerts. It is not uncommon to run into elaborate renditions of ragas like tODi, bhairavi, SankarabharaNam, kalyANi, kAmbhOji, kharaharapriya (“the big six”), as well as pantuvarali, pUrvikalyANi, mOhanam, madhyamAvati and many many others of similar stature. Even though some complain about the seeming monotony or repetition of the ragas, most Carnatic music aficionados never tire listening to the ragas and the compositions they are intimately familiar with and love!

However, there is also a special charm when musicians present new concepts. Many musicians of the current as well as previous generations have sought to go against the usual theme, and present rare ragas. For example, you find musicians like T.S. Kalyanaraman handle rare vivAdhi mELas with ease (as well as invent new ragas). In the recent generations, handling of rare ragas are much more common.  Although, there are  certainly exceptions to this, a big majority of these fall into ragas which are usually completely new to us in the sense we may not have heard renditions of them at all.  It does make them special.

However, even more special to me  are the times when a musician does something unique/different/new in a raga that is not exactly of the “completely new and rare” kind. It is most special to me when the raga is something that I like, and I want to hear artists try something elaborative in it, a want that is usually not satisfied. I have a few examples of these in my collection, and I thought I would share them here.

Here is the first one.  Try to guess the raga and the artist. Let me know what you think of this piece.

(Download here)

(Answer below)
(more…)

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All one needs to do is listen to a good kharaharapriya and one is in heaven right on earth.  I am in a trance now. Even thinking of words to describe it disturbs the mood, the serenity, the moment. Enough said.

Upgraded my iMac to Mac OS Leopard yesterday.  Yes, really behind the curve, I know. I had no pressing need so far. Now, I got a good deal on the Mac Box Set with iLife 09 (mainly for GarageBand) and iWork 09.

The upgrade itself was smooth – popped in DVD, and let it do its thing and in about 1 hour it was done.  But … it cannot talk to my wireless router (Belkin Pre-N – a somewhat old router).  I tried fiddling around for an hour late into the night but no cigar.

I am now really ticked off!! This is because Tiger was able to connect to it, and have been using it with Tiger for like 3 years now.  I upgrade, and it doesn’t !$%$$@ work!  Have googled.  No answer – except the same old idiotic answers from mac-heads (to others having similar problems) which fall in the following pattern:

1. It obviously is a problem with the router.  (Yeah sure. And how come I had no problems with the Mac for 2-3 years. In case you dont realize, it never can be a problem with Apple for these folks)

2. You should have bought Airport extreme and you never would have had this problem (Yeah sure. Just avoid the main issue. It worked fine with Tiger. Besides, no one likes being forced to shell out money when they don’t expect to do so).

I point my fingers directly at Leopard – at Apple.  I cannot understand how it became incompatible between Tiger and Leopard. All I can think now is  Grrr…. ! No freaking excuses Apple! Fix your mess! XP to Vista may be like having a heart transplant, but I dont’ want going from Tiger to Leopard be like going to a dentist! Not when your ads (PC vs. Mac) indicate otherwise. Fix your $#@%! mess!

Anyway, unless I can figure this out, I may have to buy a router.  Not that bad really, but since this wasn’t part of the current plan, it really, really, ticks me off.  Like I said, I don’t like being forced to shell out money. It was working fine with Tiger!!

Raga identification i.e. identifying the raga of a piece is a boon as well as a bane when it comes to appreciating carnatic music. For me, it was the main reason behind my interest in carnatic music growing  exponentially in a short time – many many years ago.  Once I found out that I can indeed “match tunes” of the same raga I was thrilled and invigorated. Initially, this was between two songs I knew, and more commonly from a carnatic song to a Tamil film song. Every time, I was able to make a correct correlation, I was on cloud nine! This drove me to hear more and more songs, listen to more and more ragas – just to see if I can correlate it to something I had heard in Tamil film songs before. Or it was to see if I could find a match amongst the “new” (most of them where so) carnatic pieces I had heard a few days/weeks earlier. So my “knowledge base” was growing quickly due to this. All of this of course also made me love the music itself.

Must get the raga before my  friend(s) get it!
For any carnatic rasika, knowing the raga of a piece is very  important – perhaps way more important than it really need be. Again, like me, initially it is a knowledge seeking mission, but soon it morphs into a matter of pride. A carnatic music rasika frequently struts around claiming this music is on a intellectually higher plane (along with a spiritually highest plane), which has the frequent unwanted side effect of narrowing his/her perceptions in terms of acknowledging the depth and brilliance in other forms. But I digress.

Anyway, the most frustrating moments for a rasika is when he/she hears a piece, for which the tune (or raga) sounds  so familiar but it is just out of reach.  The rasika is then literally on pins and needles  – desperate to arrive at the answer. If the rasika is attending a concert with a few friends, then the urgency is even higher, since the ego kicks in. The rasika wants to get the answer before those darned friends – who may be in the same state of feverish mind race to the finish.

During all this time, the rasika is rarely able to enjoy the music  – all he/she can think off is “Darn. It sounds so familiar. What the hell is it. Its right there at the tip of my tongue!! Gosh! My head feels like it is about to EXPLODE. I hope I can get it before the jerk gets  it. AGAIN!!”. So until the rasika is able to identify the raga, he/she cannot enjoy the piece!

(Note: Been there.Done that 😉  )

No hollow/moral victories!
Many times, the rasika is able to correctly determine that the raga is the same as that of another song he/she knows, although he/she cannot name the raga itself.  But he/she is still unsatisfied. Note that at this point, the answer has pretty much been arrived at – the deduction part is over. The only step remaining is the “name of the raga”. What’s in a name anyway? Apparently everything – since the victory is totally hollow until that step is completed.

It never is my failing: At times, the rasika gets it wrong – guesses a raga that is either completely off, or maybe a close cousin of the actual raga being played/sung. Often times, this is due to someone being trigger happy, perhaps wanting to blurt out the answer as a pre-emptive measure before their friends blurt out their answers. And then just like some  software (very talented) programmers have a tendency to  blame the compiler for  the bugs in their code, some rasikas would simply blame the artist: Mukhari? Really? Seemed like Bhairavi at the start. He did not differentiate it enough.  I have heard better. He just seems off today. In those days, aiyangaar-vaal, musiri-vaal used to ….

Now, artists can be off on some days, and when it comes to close ragas there may be occasions where the differentiation is not shown strongly.  But the point here is that the more knowledgeable rasika usually presumes that his/her skills are flawless, and that presumption cannot be proven false.  The fault has to lie elsewhere. In any case, from a customer (i.e. rasika) point of view, it is perhaps most ideal if the raga is shown unambiguously at the start itself – the first phrase, or even the first notes of the first phrase. This allows for the rasika to get over his/her obsessive compulsive tendency w.r.t identifying raga, and really enjoy the music. It is hugely satisying for both parties – but the success factors for this is more dependent on the individual rasika’s cognitive abilities.

But then sometimes artists can play games too 🙂 !

What’s the raga?
As a parting gift, here is an audio sample.It is an interesting piece. I am not sure if it will have many of you on pins and needles but … (!) Please listen to it and identify the raga – please be aware of the time index as you listen as I would like you to tell me when (i.e. time index) you were able to get the raga – i.e. the time index when for the very first time you thought “it must be so-and-so raga”.  However,  please do not reveal the raga name itself in your comment.

The person who gets it quickest gets an award – what award I have not thought of yet 🙂

Also, for those of you who do know about this particular piece, please let the others have fun 😉 !!

Jeez! All hell is about to break loose!  

That is what I thought yesterday around 11 AM when  I looked out of my office where the scenery usually looks like this in early summer:

Normal

Normal

Instead, it looked like this:

Scary

Scary

Scarier

Scarier

(Note: Yes, Crappy photos I know. Besides having to shoot through tinted office building glass windows, as noted earlier, my camera sucks! But I have a new beauty that arrived today. More on that later)

 

Seemingly out of nowhere, dark clouds had gathered, ominously poised over where I was.  It looked pretty awesome and scary. Like I said, I sweared, Jeez, All hell is about to break loose!

And all I immediately thought of this (awesome, awesome) song Stormbringer by Deep Purple (ah! takes me back to my college days), – with its ominous lyrics, and pulsating hard guitar sound:

Watch/Listen to it here:

 
Note: That is a cover band. They have done an awesome, awesome job!

 Stormbringer – Deep Purple
Comin out of nowhere drivin like rain
Stormbringer dance on the thunder again.
Dark cloud gathering breaking the day
No point running cause its coming your way.

Ride the rainbow, crack the sky
Stormbringer coming, Time to die.

(chorus)
Got to keep running.
Stormbringer coming
He’s got nothing you need
He’s gonna make you bleed

Yes indeed Dark Clouds gathering breaking the day. No point running ‘Cause it was coming my way!

Epilogue:
All hell did not break loose – at least not where I was 🙂 ! For all the posturing, Stormbringer decided to take it North and East of us for that one. O’Hare airport got like 3.5 inches of rain or so in a short time due to that storm. We (at home) got nailed by a one later that day.

Oh and btw, this is how storms come about in the midwest – usually during spring. Shock and Awe. Stormbringer dance on the thunder every year, many times.

Even though I am a big fan of Indian classical music (at least one kind), I cannot say the same about western classical music. I do recognize the greatness of the composers thanks to some well-informed colleagues – that they could “imagine” how a full-ensemble would be and sort of experience it “in their minds” while composing pieces on their own is mind boggling. But I hardy listen to any – it does not appeal to me that highly (yet).

However, there is one western classical piece that has always enamored me with the sheer, raw power it has. It gripped me the very first time I heard it – and that was to an very old Old Spice commercial, the one showing a surfer. After a long time, one of my friends told me it was called O Fortuna (Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi) , and was part of Carmina Burana by Carl Orff . I ordered a CD and as soon as I received it, I must have listened to it like a hundred times – and each time the energy of the piece just blew me away. Even though I know that the lyrics do not imply it, the music of the song just only cried war, battle, doom and destruction to me! Of course, I am not alone in that interpretation, as you do see this piece being “mixed” into battle scenes. In general the music in itself is highly suggestive of that imagery.

However my imagery for this song has always been more specific. I have always imagined that an army advancement, particularly in medieval/ancient times, involving cavalry is the perfect situation to match the music of the song (btw, I think horses are the most majestic of all animals – perfect beasts) . This associative of imagery with Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi has been with me for a very lo……ng time.

Fast forward to a few years ago, when I was absolutely exhilarated watching the cavalry charge as part of that Ride of the Rohirrim, the Lord of the Rings (Return of the King). I have watched that scene (by itself) many, many, many times and it always gives me goose bumps. I think this is the greatest battle scene ever! At times, I would imagine being part of that charge in real life, in an earlier life, with Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi somehow being the musical backdrop for it (yes, in real-life). Fantasies upon a fantasy indeed!

Well, having seen many mixes of such kinds on YouTube and being impressed by it (e.g. Sheep by Pink Floyd to the first battlescene of Saving Private Ryan), I decided to do my “dream mix”. I mixed Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi‘s music to the Ride of the Rohirrim, It actually took surprisingly short time – I guess that itself tells that the two were a natural fit. There was some editing out of scenes, but mostly ones where the bad guys landed a few punches. I was happy to remove them !

Here it is. Watch it! I hope you find it as exhilarating as I do. Play the video in full screen mode, and have the sound through (a good) headphones for maximum effect:

Not to toot my horn, but I think every part fits the mood of the song. The preparations for the charge, the fear in Eowyn and Merry’s eyes, the resolve in Theoden‘s eyes, they all seem to perfectly match the mood of the first half of the song. Of and btw, in case you feel it be loud, yes, I purposely made the sound louder – because my next-to-ultimate (i.e. besides actually living it 😉 ) dream is to see it on the biggest screen powered by the biggest, baddest sound system.

For some reason, I love songs with a dominant brass ensemble. They just get my adrenalin shooting through my veins every time I hear. A true picker-upper for me anytime. There are a couple of popular songs I  know that fall into this category. Here is one – the song Vehicle by the Ides of March:

Simply exhilarating to hear (and this case to see as well) every time that brass section makes it mark – Isnt it? What do you think?

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