The beat is on

Gopal Krishnan’s new book, Chords & Raaga, is a simple guide for cine buffs to grasp our film music - Bharadwaj Rangan.

Published: 28th June 2009 03:40 PM  |   Last Updated: 15th May 2012 11:08 PM   |  A+A-


In other hands, the contents of Chords & Raaga - two years’ worth of research about how our film music has employed chord progressions and melodic layers - would have been plastered on a web site. But Gopal Krishnan knew it had to be a book - a small one, but a book nonetheless.

“I wanted to reach a wider audience. I thought of a portal, but not all music lovers are tech-savvy.” Chords & Raaga came out in 2004, and for a book of its nature - specialised in subject; seeking out not just listeners of music but lovers, rabid aficionados who subject songs to approximately the same procedures that a corpse undergoes under the pitiless eyes of a coroner - it did exceedingly well, selling over 1,000 copies. “Chords & Raaga is still the only book analysing the harmonic aspects of film music.”

And now, he’s hopped on to an area that’s, if possible, even more esoteric. He’s published Rhythm & Style. The tiny wrinkle that he hails from a city - Chennai, which is quite possibly where 990 of those 1,000 copies were sold, considering the terrifying degrees of music-geekiness here - where even hardened Carnatic concert-goers stage discreet walkouts during the taniyavartanam (the percussion solo) doesn’t ruffle Krishnan. “I don’t think that is a sign of disrespect. I think it is a question of knowledge. A lot of us can identify ragas. But how many can distinguish between, say, a gati and a jati? I felt we needed a simple guide for music lovers to understand rhythms, at least those applied in the context of film music, which is not very complicated.”

Krishnan explains what he was after with the instance of the endlessly fascinating

Avalukkenna from Server Sundaram. “It involves a complicated arrangement of mambo and bossa nova. Like raga and scale changes, there are variations (within a song) in the rhythms too - the switch from 12/8 to shuffle in Rajaraja Chozhan (Rettai Vaal Kuruvi) or the pattern shift from Motown to rock in Dum maaro dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna).”

The idea of documenting these discoveries in a book (which, like Chords & Raaga, Krishnan has published himself) came in late 2006, when Krishnan saw that our composers were heavily influenced by western styles. “I started researching rhythms early that year. I studied western rhythms on the drum set, under Jeoraj (of Musee Musicals, and an exponent in Afro-Cuban rhythms).”

And several percussion players from the film industry - Purushottam, ‘Thumba’ Sekar, K V Balu - provided valuable inputs, sharing their experiences and also pointing out how rhythmic styles have been adapted, over the years, for the purposes of film music. As if to emphasise the eminence of his panel of consultants, Krishnan explains, “Purushottam has been the key percussionist for Ilayaraja for the past 30 years, alongside Sivamani. Well, he now arranges music. Nobody plays on the drum set any more. It has sadly become an antique piece. Western rhythms are all played using sampled loops. ‘Thumba’ Sekar plays on the instrument called the ‘thumba’ and also on the bongos. He has been with M S Viswanathan for the last 40 years. K V Balu plays on the tabla and dholak. In addition to playing for films, he is involved in the band called Earth Sync (with Paul Jacob).”

Krishnan learnt Carnatic on the violin under the Parur M S Anantharaman school of music. He subsequently trained himself in Western music, on the keyboard. “In addition, I did a lot of self-study on the theory part. Sadanand, the lead guitarist in Ilayaraja’s troupe helped me understand the harmonics aspect.” Krishnan even played in a college band. “We started with classical. It was just two of us. I was playing the violin, accompanying the vocalist. Then we switched to light music.” But today he’s content with his occupation in the IT industry. “Analysing music is one thing, while composing and performing is an entirely different animal. Also, being creative under commercial pressure could be trying. I am happy to just appreciate and analyse music without any stress.”

He has, unsurprisingly, analysed today’s music as well, and he observes: “A lot of them are trying to experiment, though melody seems to have taken a backseat.” But he feels that, amongst the post-Rahman generation, Harris Jayaraj and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy “have come up with some very interesting numbers. Again, the trick is to not sound like Raja or Rahman, which is a challenge. It is very difficult to single out a rhythmic style or raga that Raja has not used. But then, he faced a similar challenge as he had to sound different from MSV.”

Krishnan now wants to convey these musings to a larger audience through a tele-serial like Balamuralikrishna’s Swara Raaga Sudha, from the eighties. “It pioneered a concept that, today, every TV channel has latched on to. If we could demonstrate the styles and also play the compositions which apply these styles , that would be great. Just great.”

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