Music


(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 😉

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A few weeks ago I had posted how much I was impressed by Bebot, an iPhone app, which gives you so much more for just $2 (albeit running on a $300 device ;-)). I had mentioned that the fact that the entire touch screen is one “continuos” playing surface very much like the Haaken continuum makes it a potential candidate for producing carnatic music gamakas in a way that could surpass most keyboards (even with portamento control).

At that time I had admitted that my initial attempts at producing carnatic music on it were (expectedly) unsuccessful. After all playing any music on a new instrument is a challenge – and that too carnatic music, which I would argue is the ultimate challenge for the player and a continuum like instrument. On top of that, with the iPhone you have an extremely limited playing surface in terms of real estate – a problem that should be largely alleviated by the iPad.

A week or so after that post, I had labored long enough to be able to produce something that could be called to resemble carnatic music ;-), and that is the subject of this entry.. Of course in the spirit of true experimentation, I have mixed a “different background” than the standard tampura drone of Carnatic Music. Hope you like it, and hope you can guess the raga in spite of any mistake(s) (there is certainly one suspicious phrase)

Note: There was post editing and post processing (i.e. to add effects etc. some of which also to change the timbre slightly) was done with GarageBand.

I actually like the way the background brings new hues into the melody – hues that are completely unexpected for this raga but yet strangely compatible. This was a revelation to me, in spite of the fact that this concept is not new at all (e.g. pretty much standard fare in Indian Films , and also is Anil Srinivasan does). By revelation I mean that I did not at all foresee the end result when I was adding the background music to a melody that until then the familiar, standard carnatic (barring flaws ;-)) feel.

The addition of background to me makes the whole piece become multi-layered – it certainly enhances the melody.

Oh by the way, here is a video demo by A.R. Rahman playing a semi-classical piece on the Haken Continuum on the Haken Website:

Playing the Bebot is sort of like that – except you have a very small playing surface 🙂

So someone suggested this iPhone app called Bebot, a $2 bucks synthesizer, which has the same “potential” as the $3000-$5000 Haken continuum!  The thing which intrigued me (and similar carnatic music fans) is that it can generate pitches not boxed in set western keys, but all the intervening pitches, and thus making it potentially amenable to the gamakas of carnatic music. What intrigued me more was that it was only two bucks 🙂 ! It certainly is the best iPhone app I have .

Long story short – no, i could not produce Carnatic music in it – it probably requires very very expert hands, and possibly a larger screen in order to achieve the required fine control  (yes, the poorly named iPad would be one).  It is technically possible to do some simple tunes with gamakas but requires a lot of perseverance and effort.  But it can do, is let you create some really cool and interesting music just goofing around, and can keep young and old occupied.  Mucho, mucho impressive for just 2 freaking bucks!

The touch interface of iPhone (and my iPod Touch) is superbly suited for this kind of a musical instrument.  You move your finger left to right and pitch increases, you move up and down and the timbre changes and thus by just making arbitrary patterns one can create very interesting music.  You can add echo, overdrive effects to. And, I love the fact that you could set up various scales, and of course within an hour I had set up many of the Carnatic based scales – and when played with classic western sounds, one can produce very spacey kind of music.

Here is a sample I generated which uses 5 scales of Carnatic ragas. I have termed it a “roguamalika” – yes rogue form of ragas strewn together 😉 !

Obviously it sounds wild and haphazard, as there was really not much thought into producing it, and is a result of mostly haphazard patterns with my finger on the touch screen!!!! Can you guess the 5 ragas? Select the text below for the answer:

  1. Amrtavarshini (S G3 M2 P N3 S or   C E F# G B ),
  2. mOhanam ( S R2 G P D2 S or   the major pentatonic)
  3. HamsanAdam ( S R2 M2 P N3 S or  C D F# G B )
  4. AbhOgi  ( S R2 G2 M1 D2 S or  C D Eb F A )
  5. (old) udayacandrikA or SrOTaswani ( S G2 M1 P N3 S or C Eb F G B )

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?

I am back. Can’t explain the reason for the hiatus – except of course the old demon laziness. In the big gap since the last post, I went to Chennai, enjoyed the music season, and company of family; came back to a nasty US Midwest winter; a continuing tumultuous economy; an opportunity to learn several wonderful songs.

But I am not going to blog on all that. Instead, I am going to subject the readers (whoever that still remain) to the outcome of yet another mad experiment. This one was sort of painful to carry out.  I could  see that it does not take long to reach the  limits of my “creative” talents  🙂

As before, try to guess the raga that served as the inspiration for the melody of this song.  The first one who gets it right gets a huge cheer from me, because that means that I didn’t mangle it to oblivion! But be forewarned, that this can be viewed a very derivative work of the melodic contour of the raga. Some serious CM enthusiasts may gasp at the blasphemy here – just for the choice of the raga 😉 !

If anyone is interested in the chords used, please let me know. You can play detective work on the title too, but if you can, please do so after you listen to it first please!

PS: Sorry for a lamo post after a while. I promise to post something more substantive in the carnatic arena in a little bit

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