Carnatic in Western world


This post was not originally aimed as  a “technical” post about a raga like the ones I used to blog about, but I guess it sort of turned out that way.  However, I must confess that this is used as a pretext  to “peddle” the results of my attempts at experimentation with Carnatic Music scales/ragas in a western context.

maṇiraṅgu (maNirangu) is a beautiful, little raga which is one of my favorites. It perhaps has an unenviable position of being “in the middle” of two heavy-weight ragas – madhyamāvati (madyamAvati) and śrīrāga (SrIrAga), and differs from them in a rather subtle way in terms of ārōhaṇa/avarōhaṇa.

madhyamāvati has an ārōhaṇa/avarōhaṇa that is  S R2 M1 P N2 S | S N2 P M1 R2 S. This actually does not tell the whole story because the swaras in madhyamāvati carry a lot of gamakās with them, but that is a different story.

The nominal ārōhaṇa/avarōhaṇa of śrīrāga  is S R2 M1 P N2 S | S N2 P D2 N2 P M1 R2 G2 R2 S. You can see that it has the same ārōhaṇa structure as madhyamāvati but has a more meandering avarōhaṇa. However, in the avarōhaṇa, the part “P D2 N2 P M1” (i.e. pdnpm) is a special but rare phrase, which is to be used quite sparingly like once of twice in a song (the popular endarō mahanubhāvulu actually eschews it completely). Hence, for most purposes, the melody of śrīrāga usually follows:  S R2 M1 P N2 S | S N2 P M1 R2 G2 R2 S, which brings it closer to madhyamāvati (from a structural perspective) but still with a vital difference in avarōhaṇa. Again in actual usage, gamakās vary between it and madhyamāvati (e.g. the ri in śrīrāga, and for that matter maṇiraṅgu is flat, never shaken, while it is not so in madhyamāvati).

Now maṇiraṅgu, again has the same ārōhaṇa as the other two i.e. S R2 M1 P N2 S. The avarōhaṇa is yet another variation of the same base swaras, and is the more straight forward S N2 P M1 G2 R2 S (again from a structural perspective only – not all swaras are to be rendered flat!)  Thus G2, the ga, is completely absent in madhyamāvati,  occurs in a vakra i.e twisted pattern in the avarōhaṇa of śrīrāga, and in a normal descent pattern  in the avarōhaṇa of maṇiraṅgu.

So you have three ragas with pretty much same ascending structure, and slight differences in the descent. In particular, when descending from ma to sa, you can have only m r s in madhyamāvati,  you could have m r s or m r g r s in śrīrāga, but  m g r s can come only in maṇiraṅgu, and it must be so in maṇiraṅgu!  Here is an example that illustrates this (can you guess which portion is which raga?):

Correction: I had originally noted that m r s can come in śrīrāga but as far as I can know, there is only one instance in the varnam where it comes (in one of the swara sections as n , s r p m r s, and so I would qualify it as too rare to include and confuse the issue here.

Anyway, coming back to the topic of discussion, maṇiraṅgu,  in spite of this seemingly slightest of differences with two other rāgās of more repute in the Carnatic wold, I find that maṇiraṅgu can hold its  own ground quite admirably when it comes to pure charm. May be it is me, but I have always loved this raga – perhaps even more than the other two – maybe I think it is an underdog, a David among Goliaths, and who doesn’t like to root for an underdog?

I guess it is due to my attraction to it that I always wanted to experiment with it in the “Carnatic In A Western World” project that I indulge myself with time to time. I had some hesitation because I had already done a tune in śrīrāga a while ago, and hence doubted seriously if I can come up with something that does not resemble that other tune. However, a few months ago, as I was playing with a guitar and humming maṇiraṅgu , and in particular the song jaya jaya padmanābhānujēśa by svāti tirunāḷ, the main melody line that you will hear in the first part of the song below came to me. It sounded so lilting and up-beat that I always felt I had to expand the idea. But then it only took  months to get back to it and finish it 🙂 !

(Note: That melody line in the first part is pretty much a western approximation/inspirarion of the pallavi and anupallavi of jaya jaya padmanābhānujēśa. So yes, it is a “lift” of sorts 😉 ).

The song also has a slower section with a guitar lead that is closer to actual maṇiraṅgu, and here, my inspiration is from the kalpanaswara section of a D.K. Pattammal rendition of ikō namma svāmi by purandaradāsa.  There is a particular gamaka with p m g r ... that the violinist uses , which I use in the song, since to me that alone is quintessential maṇiraṅgu! The phrase is loaded with anuswaras which is one of the million examples as to how Carnatic (or Hindustani) swaras differ from western notes as they appear in the Western world.

Anyway here it is, and I hope you like it. Headphones would work better as there are some stereophonic effects which will be enhanced by that:

(Note: In case it was not clear, this is not a Carnatic song. It is a fusion piece – I hope you can get more than a whiff of maṇiraṅgu from it!)

Now, perhaps to clear our heads, let us get back to the Carnatic world. Here is the kalpanaswara section of ikō namma svāmi by D.K. Pattammal that was an inspiration for the above song. That p m g r  occurs in many places, but the one by the violinist at time index 2:50-2:52 is clearest to me.

(Note: Sorry. I do not know the name of the supporting vocalist, and other accompanying artists).

(What now seems like a) Long time ago, I used to blog about my favorite ragas. In terms of effort taken to write one, it all started small, but soon got big, perhaps too big that I am unfortunately unable to get myself to do another one. However, creating such posts were enjoyable, and none more enjoyable than the one I did on rItigauLa. Per site-stats, it is one of my most popular posts, and that is not surprising because it is a wildly popular raga, be it in carnatic music, or in film music.

Now, if rItigauLa were a girl, she would no doubt be beauty personified. She would perhaps be one of those high-class ladies, the definition of grace, decked in the finest formal attire, glittering jewelry, and with a way about her that tugs, then squeezes your heart into an ache at her every dancing movement. Whenever and wherever she arrives, she would make every head turn and take notice, and she would takes their breath away.

Of course, then a certain (twisted, iconoclastic) mind starts wandering and wonders if she were instead decked in leather, or some bold, western attire, would she carry the same aura? Would she still weave that magic which easily entraps so many and makes them spell bound? Would, could rItigauLa “rock the house”?

Well what do you think?

(Now you know why I was trying to wax poetic in a completely looney way 😉 – It was all just stage-prep)

As with my earlier experiments, the whole thing is synthesized – i.e. not a single “live” note. The lead melody is “played” by a “synthesizer” that I am currently developing and still tinkering with. I can program gamakas into it (in a fairly precise but also painfully laborious way), and it can synthesize them in a way that does not sound “too artificial” (i.e. avoids the “mickey-mouse” effects). It still has ways to go, and it can probably never be the real deal, but for now, it fits some of my needs well.

( Clarification: Not a single “live” note is probably misleading. While the melody (including gamakas) is indeed generated by a computer program, the underlying sound samples are from a real instrument (guitar) rather than them also being synthesized from scratch. This is the reason why it sounds more like a real guitar in spite of it being synthesized. )

Let me know what you think. In any case, be at peace by savoring the real rItigauLa of tyAgarAja and other great composers. If you still like this one, it could be a guilty-pleasure 😉

Another tune. A contrived name, possibly the worst of mine (although as always it hints at the raga in an obscure way if your interpret it like a crossword clue).

The new thing here is that it was created with Garageband but the iPad version. This version is different from the one the mac as it has a lot of controls designed to take advantage of the iPad touch screen. However, it has some limitations which makes it too hard for me to try to play a carnatic melody like I did with Bebot here.  On the other hand, it has some fine guitar sounds which I was able to use as the background score. I also have grown bolder in that the entire melody is played by me. A careful ear can see it was done in bits and pieces, which should tell you all you need to know about my playing abilities! Only when you record something, particularly against a background score, you realize how perfect one should be and how one hard it is to even approach that!

The raga that is the “inspiration”  for the tune is admittedly a bold choice since it is a weighty raga and whose character is dependent on some characteristic gamakas. The tune here though isn’t using those gamakas – just approximations in some places. Thus the  raga character is again going to be perhaps just a faint hint if at all.   The raga is also tough in that it does not have a straightforward scale and that its modern day interpretation has been questioned by some as “too liberal”.. Also, with a westernized tune with the westernized flat notes, it is very easy to give whiffs of other ragas if one isn’t careful. I don’t think my tune escaped that and so it is possible listeners may smell other ragas.

What is perhaps satisfying to me is that there are exactly 3 simple chords for the song – Cmaj, Aminor and Eminor – very standard stuff found in the major scale (i.e. Sankarabharanam). But I found that my adding another (plucking) layer with the other notes in this raga, I could change the character of those chords away from a standard western sound to something more “foreign”?

Here it is. Hope you like it.

Also, here are links to earlier numbers:

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