Thursday, January 14, 2016

Grahabhedam and Ilaiyaraja - again

Grahabhedam as a musical phenomenon can never cease to amaze. Gayathri's (of Ranjani-Gayathri duo) brilliant, awe-inspiring Music Academy lec-dem on the topic has recently generated a lot of interesting discussion in the Carnatic music circles, and prompted me to write this long-pending post.

But this post is not about Grahabhedam in Carnatic music. It is about Ilaiyaraja. Again. (Here and here are articles I've written on Raja and Grahabhedam in the past.) In my view, just like in Carnatic music, there are good and bad ways of doing Grahabhedam in film music. I'll get to the bad at the end, but here's the good - or rather, the really, really good. The song I have in mind is aasai adhigam vechu from the film Marupadiyum:

Grahabhedam in Sindhubhairavi has been handled exquisitely by stalwarts in Carnatic music - check out this piece by Tanjore S. Kalyanaraman for instance, and then there's of course Lalgudi's legendary swarajathi. But this song - aasai adhigam - is a brilliant case of grahabhedam from Sindhubhairavi in the film music context. It seems like an innocuous song at first glance but on closer listening you see the beast unleashed in the first interlude and go on to wreak havoc till the end. What a masterpiece! Let me say at the outset that this is not a traditional grahabhedam involving two "ragas" per se. The song is predominantly in Sindhubhairavi but what it morphs into via grahabhedam is not really a raga: it's more a scale, or rather parts of a scale - the major scale, roughly speaking.

It starts out in straightforward Sindhubhairavi and continues to be so until half of the first interlude. Then at 1:35 you see it happening. There's a departure from Sindhubhairavi and you hear a more fun and upbeat few seconds there from 1:35 to about 1:42. For a long time I didn't think it was anything special - it just seemed to be a normal change of notes/ modes/ moods. But on closer inspection I found that those notes should really still just sound like Sindhubharivai - 1:35 - 1:43 the notes should be nnnn rr rsss... Why do they sound different? Because there are background chords there that have changed the shruthi! If you listen closely you'll hear a pa-sa bass in the background that makes the nnnn rr rsss sound like rrrr mm mggg. And that's where it starts - taking the Sa of Sindhubhairavi as Ga. And then there's a superbly seamless transition back to Sindhubhairavi around 1:43. And then back to major scale (ish) again in the charanam from 1:53 - 2:09. And then back to Sindhubhairavi at 2:09. What's this man made of?

The charanam beginning ("chinna poNNu naa...") sounds like gpgss... ns rr npp... Why? Again, because he's made us subconsciously move the shadjam. The corresponding Sindhubhairavi notes for that line would be sgsdd... pd nn pgg. But we don't hear it as Sindhubhairavi because of the way Janaki sings it - long, plain notes, and a landing on the da of Sindhubhairavi on the word "naa" making it feel like sa. Here's a short demo I did, singing these lines as in the original, and in a slightly different way if we want to retain Sindhubhairavi. With some very slight modification to the rendering, the feel can be changed back to Sindhubhairavi: with some small gamakas and highlighting the pa. (The singing isn't great - Janaki's shruthi is insanely high for me and the corresponding lower pitch too low.)

So it looks like by simply highlighting the pa and not fixating on da, you get a Sindhubhairavi feel rather than the "fun-n-frolicky" major scale feel. But why remain in plain old Sindhubhairavi when you can come up with genius stuff like this? The second interlude again goes back and forth between major scale (ish) in the instruments and Sindhubhairavi in Janaki's humming. I think for me this song will go down as one of the most incredible grahabhedams done in film music.

There's of course a lot more the song has to boast about: the tune, the singing, and the instruments all brilliantly capture the state of mind of the woman singing it in the movie and the context couldn't have asked for a better song.

That was about the brilliant stuff. And as promised, here's the bad stuff:
Ilaiyaraja fans, please forgive me but I think nanna neenu gellalare - the 80s Kannada song - is a particularly mundane way of doing Grahabhedam: 2nd song here. It could serve well to initiate someone into the very basics of Grahabhedam but beyond that I find it quite shallow and in-your-face. It is too overt and the mood doesn't change along with change of ragas and I find the song to have little musical value. In fact I think the ragas don't change really - all that's happening is that the singers are mouthing different swaras.

Edit: While I think the song is musically flippant objectively speaking, friends have made me realize that it is unfair to evaluate it in a vacuum, stripping it of its context - I acknowledge that the song is set in a particular milieu and reflects the image of the iconic "Dr. Raj" of the 80s. And the context/ film in which this song occurs was probably flippant to begin with. Hat tip to Chaya Rao and Madhusudhan Rao.

Anyway - this was just an e.g. to illustrate a specific point. Needless to say there's simply way too much awesomeness to take from Raja's music - and that's that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ragaland - A Romance of Many Anubhavas

Here's an article I wrote for Sruti magazine:

Monday, September 07, 2015

yaaradhu sollamal nenjalli povadhu

9 years of Octaves! Despite the overwhelming presence and influence of social media, microblogging, and social music sharing platforms like Soundcloud, good old blogging still feels like home. Shame that I haven't been able to devote much time to it lately, but hope to update this space more regularly in the coming months.

Here's a cover song after a while - the evergreen and lilting yaaradhu sollamal composed by Shankar-Ganesh from the 1983 film Nenjamellam Neeye. The original is by none other than the formidable Vani Jayaram and of course, this doesn't come even close. I'd learnt and recorded this over a decade ago for a few friends, and got reminded of it today when Youtube suggested the video for me. Thankfully I couldn't find my old recording (I don't know if I can bear to revisit it now - it was probably one of my silliest renditions) but decided to put myself through the bitter-sweet experience of attempting it again. Part of me kept wondering if I could do any justice at all to Vaniji's impeccable voice and masterly rendition. Anyway, greed got the better of me and here's the result.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Udayaravichandrika/ Shrotaswini with a Nattai twist

(Dear blog, you've been abandoned for too long now :( Hopefully more posts coming soon.)


I'd always found an uncanny similarity between Shuddha Dhanyasi and Nattai. The sadharana gandharam in the former, when rendered in certain ways sounded to me like the shatshruthi rishabham of Nattai. Totally unrelatedly (or so I thought), some 10 years ago I discovered this lovely raga called Shrothaswini, thanks to a film song. I learnt that it was Shuddha Dhanyasi, but with kakali nishadham instead of the kaishiki. And then sometime last year I found this absolute gem: Prof SR Janakiraman explains so wonderfully the connection between Shuddha Dhanyasi, Shrotaswini, and Nattai. (And the way he holds the kakali nishadham - "nishcahlam" - is something to die for.) Shrothaswini is even more similar to Nattai than is Shuddha Dhanyasi coz of the former's kakali nishadham! And I also learnt from this video that Shrotaswini is probably just a fancy, new name for an old raga - Dikshitar's own - Udayaravichandrika. (Prof SRJ does not use the name Shrotaswini at all.) Up until this I'd thought that Udayaravichandrika was the same as Shuddha Dhanyasi. I think this is in fact the popular opinion, which Prof SRJ challenges.

Anyway, I was obsessing about this Udayaravichandrika/ Shrothaswini - Nattai connection over the last few days and couldn't help but record this small piece. Hope you like it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Feature on my guru Lalgudi Rajalakshmi in Sruti magazine

Here's an article I wrote on my guru for Sruti. Many thanks as always to the editor, Mr. Ramnarayan.

Lalgudi Rajalakshmi

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mini concert recording

Here's a short Ragam Thanam Pallavi in Simhendramadhyamam I recorded for Swaralahari.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


After a long hiatus, here's something thanks to my mom: a composition by her. She composed this several years ago but I never got around to learning it until now. It's a ragamalika in Tamil that's musically pretty simple, with focus on the words: what's lyrically interesting and special is that most of the words as you'll see are in alphabetical order.
We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

Composer: Vijayalakshmi Bhakthavatsalam
Ragas: Kapi, Hindolam, Mohanam, Tilang, Ahir Bhairav


anumane anjanai maindane
aNNal raamanin aaruyir anbane
illALai pirindhu idaruRRa eeshanai
udanirundhu kaathu ookkam aLithanai
eththanai idargaL ellaam kadandhanai
Evalpurindhu ERRam peRRanai
aiyyan raamanudan aikkiyam aayinai
oppuvamai illaa Oridam sErndhanai
audadham peranee sylam peyarthanai
akdhinai koNandhu iLavalai kaathanai

kavinoru kaanagaththE kishkinthaiadhanil
keerti peRRa kaviarasan vaali vadham adaya
kurangarasan avan thambi sugreeva rAjan unnai
koovi azhaikka thaavichendru kadal kadanthaai
kedudhikku kEdizhaiththu kamalaikku kai koduththai
kokkariththu kObiththu kottam ellaam muriyadiththaai
kaushikan sangadam sadudhiyil theerthavanai
saamaanyamaanavanaai saadhikka vandhavanai
sindhaiyil poottivaiththu sheelathhtil nee uyarndhaai
siru piLLai paruvaththil sudum enRu aRiyaadhu
sooriya pazham pidikka seeri parandhanai
selvamE, sEdanE
sainiyaththudan Eezhathai veezhthinayE

sokkanE sOrvinai pOkkidum soundarya roopane
nyAlam pORRum nyAniyE
thalaivan thAL paNindhu thinmaikku thee vaiththAi
thunbam thudaiththu thooyOnai kAththittAi
thenilangai kOmAnai thEsu izhakkachedhAi
thaiyyalai kAththu thollayai thOrkacheidhaai
thauvvaithanai naliyavittu nANiyOda cheidhiduvaai
nilam neer engilum nuNugi nee nooru seivaai
nekkurugi nErthi seidhaal naindhurugi nalam tharuvaai
nondhuvandha uLLamadhil nOvinai neekkiduvAi

paraman aruginil paangudan nee irundhaai
piranmanai kavarndhOnai peezhaiyil veezhacheidhaai
pundhiyil sirandhu nindraai poovayai kandu vandhaai
pemmAn rAmanai pEsuvOrai nee chendru
paiyyavE pAliththu pozhivaai ninnaruLai
pOrkaLathil pourushaththaal polindhu nee nindraai
manginaar maandaar maaruthi unaikkandu
migundhilar meendilar munvinai payanaal
moodaravar madhikkettu meimayai kandilarE
mEnmai nee kondaai maiyyal tharum ezhilkondaai
moikkindraar maandhar un mOhana rUpam kandu
mounamai maram kaatti mannavarai malaikkavaiththaai

yaman yaandum thuNivu koLLAn chiranjeevi unaikkoLLa
yukti ilan yoogithilan yOgi unnai edhirkoLLa
youvvana raajan nee vanjagarai vagirndhadhellaam
vaan pugazh vil veeran vegundu unnai vEndiyadharkE
vaiyyam vandha deivamadhai vouvvi neeyum uyarvadaindhaai
vaanaramaai vandha vaayumaindhane pORRi
agaramudhala ezhuththellaam hanumanukkarpaNikka
arivili aasai kondEn aazham ariyaamale
eengeendu iyambivittEn ichchaikondu ivvaNNam
vaayumagan pizhai poruththu vinai theerthu aruLattum

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Thooli Adidudho

"Thooli Adidudho" is a beautiful lullaby for baby Krishna, composed by Vijay. It was in 2009 that we first started work on this. After many a roadblock over 4 long years, I finally decided to publish this here. The orchestration couldn't be finished, nevertheless, just the simple backing track that Vijay Narayanan has created carries the song through so very gracefully. Thanks Vijay, for trusting me with this lovely melody. Hope I've done some justice. Thanks Vijay. N for the track, and thanks Karthik Nagarajan for rendering it with me - you've done a beautiful job as always.

Oh, and Octaves completes 7 years! Thanks people, for visiting. Thanks for keeping this going.

Composer and lyricist: Vijay S. Aiyar
Backing track: Vijay Narayanan
Vocals: Karthik Nagarajan and Sindhuja Bhakthavatsalam


thooLi AdidudhO, kaNNA thookkam dhaan varudhO
lAli pAdidudhO, mannA thAyin thaen manadhO
neela vaNNA, bAla kaNNA, neeyum thoongida thAyum aengida
thooLi AdidudhO...

pArkkum pArvai pARkadal, mazhalai mozhi pullAnkuzhal
kannam rendum kanirasam unthan uthattil vadivadhu madhurasam
ulagin seyalgaL unakku theriyum
uRangum pozhudhilum nadaththa theriyum
mAyavA, manadhu mayangida

nyAniyE nee thoongida thAlAttu geetham pAdinEn
nALaiyE un geethaiyai indha ulagum vizhiththida pAdu nee
nyAniYE nee thoongida thAlAttu geetham pAdum thAi
nALaiyE un geethaiyai indha ulagum vizhiththida pAduvAi
uRangum vizhikkuL ulagam suzhala
yugangaL siladhundhan kanavil malara
thooyavA, thazhaikkum thavamena


Monday, April 15, 2013


Here we go.
Now on iTunes!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Brindavani: a collaboration with Flautist Shri Ravichandra Kulur

It was around this time a year ago that this project took birth. Ravi Kulur ji - whom I'd met and performed with in Pt Ravi Shankar's ensemble in 2009 - was visiting San Diego and got in touch with me. He was going to be performing with Guruji and Anoushka. As I was just planning a casual meeting with him, it occurred to me out of the blue to ask him if he might be interested in recording something for me. Given his schedule and how big an artist he is, I really wasn't expecting him to agree, but thought of asking him anyway since I'd known him to be really nice. Ask I did, and to my absolute surprise and delight, he was more than willing. Amidst rehearsal schedules with Guruji and other artists, he was kind enough to entertain my request. At the time, what I had in mind was a ghazal I had composed - I wanted Kulur ji to play some aalaaps and interludes for it. But then I felt I needed to make more use of this unique opportunity and get him to play more. But everything other than the ghazal I had composed till then was proper Carnatic (especially structurally; and of course I didn't feel any of them was worth taking to Kulur ji). I was wondering how to create a flute-centric piece. I finally decided I had to write something new. I wanted to have a standalone flute piece with grand orchestration and may be add some vocals. With not much time left, I quickly came up a few lines in Brindavani in a thillana-esque style and decided to leave the rest to improvisation.

The day arrived and I had to meet him at the studio. Back then, neither did I have a car, nor did I drive. The studio was in Carlsbad and getting there from La Jolla was a two hour bus ride. It was probably the best bus ride I've had though - an oceanic route, combined with the excitement of my first composition to be performed by a renowned artist made it truly memorable. After the long hitchhike, I reached and Kulur ji who was already there greeted me. We began. What can I say - listening to him breeze away the flute from just a few feet away was exhilarating. We started with the Brindavani piece - his improvisations were transfixing. I felt extremely fortunate. We took about an hour and half and were done with whatever I had in mind. Thanked him, my stars, and most importantly Guruji Pt. Ravi Shankar - for it was because of him that I'd met Kulur ji.

Well, that was part one. Then began the orchestration woes. As I was worrying about whom to approach, Murali Venkataraman introduced me to Eshwar Ravishankar and I really need to thank him for that. Eshwar has worked tremendously for this song and his orchestration has truly elevated it to a level I hadn't imagined. I think his arrangement has added such grandeur to this song that it has come a long, long way from its genesis in what I wrote. Amidst the various challenges of power cuts, unreliable internet, an unstable computer, and exams and other deadlines, he has given his all to this. Through the last one year Eshwar and I have discussed, argued, fought, reconciled, and celebrated, thanks to gchat and whatsapp. It was all a lot of fun and I've learnt many things.

Many thanks to Sanath for playing the mridangam on short notice when he was on a vacation in India. Many thanks also to Armando Cepeda (who's also worked with Guruji) who kindly let us use his studio for Kulur ji's recording. Thanks to Kirthana for her sweet vocals in the interlude, and last but not least, thanks to Abin Pushpakaran for the very dedicated and tireless work with the mixing and mastering. Here's hoping you all like this piece. Coming soon!!

PS: Kulur ji did also record for the ghazal I mentioned. The vocals have also been done by another gorgeous singer. I hope to release that soon as well.