The Exploration of Originality Using Rahman and Raja
From a Yahoo Group Discussion on July, 2004. I am reposting it now because I find it all the more poignant and relevant at this point in time. You see, I had joined an Ilaiyaraja fanclub, and also a Rahman fanclub. As you may have already guessed, I am a passionate fan of both, unable to choose one over the other. I see their differences and their similarities, and I see the genius in them both, and particularly their uniqueness… yet when I went with the intention of expanding views, opening minds, and getting people to see that there is beauty in all things, the IRR group near banned me for even mentioning the word Rahman… and I suppose the Rahman group may have done the same if I had made an attempt to get them to consider IRR. Rereading the discussions now, what amuses me most, and what I had totally forgotten, was how I took a full-throttle socratic approach – asking questions, getting them to see the holes in their own arguements, rather than feeding my own views down their throats… The repost begins with an A.R.Rahman group member named Karthik asking me to share the spicy discussion with the Rahman group…:
> Dear Thilakshan,
> You on going discussion about originality with vel ramanan in IR yahoo group is probably the best discussion I have read for quite a long time. Your language and the control with which you argue, even if provoked is fantastic. I should commend Vel here also for making the discussion a great one. I wished Vijay had not sent that caution mail. I wish to post your discussion about originality in that IR group in our group as it has the reference to ARR’s work also. It will be quite an informative one and I believe that you can carry out that discussion here too.
Thank you for your compliments, and as per your request, I’ve posted the discussion as it has eventuated so far in the IR group:
Two of the great composers of Sound India, one which is Illayaraja – a phenomenon who ruled the industry for 20 years with a completely new sound to the then tamil audience… and then came A.R.Rahman with his western classical and fusion background, are really interesting to study in this topic of originality.
Firstly, let’s take Illayaraja. An interesting event that happened in his career was when he was the first asian to be invited to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra as they played his music for a 3 day festival. As reports have it, he hadn’t written any notes, so on the very day that they were supposed to play, he was busily writing the notes for them off the top of this head. This apparently baffled the musicians present because that was something near impossible to achieve. From what other people, including Rahman, has said about Illayaraja, he composes the whole song, including every detailed nuance in his mind. He’s got the whole thing done without needing to refer to any instrument. And at the height of his career he would release 100 songs a year – most of them breathtaking. There’s a lot of study and praise for Illayaraja’s work, not only in south India but also among international composers. He is also noted for introducing a new ragam to the already known list of ragams that had existed for thousands of years.
But here’s the interesting part: Illayaraja made the comment once that it is not possible to create an original work. All the notes are set. The keys are set. All one can do is mix and match them in ways to create a new sound. He insisted that simplicity was the key. It is far more difficult to make a simple tune that was new, than it is to make a complicated process of different tunes that put together SOUND new, but in reality aren’t new at all – just collaborated to sound that way. Most studio edits are guilty of this.
So, for him, the great challenge was to come up with a melody which in itself was original as well as captivating. The history of how he came to compose certain songs make for interesting reading.
Now, A.R.Rahman made the very same comment in his career – that it is impossible to be original. You can only arrange the notes with the honest intention of breaking new grounds. Of a free-spirited experimentation. His methods of composition are vastly different to Illayaraja. While Illayaraja does the whole thing in his mind, A.R.Rahman takes a different approach. He consistently explains that his gift is a spiritual one – and takes his work in a spiritual eye – he composes mostly during the middle of the night, right after he has been praying or meditating. What he does is allows himself to
fall trance like in the emotion that the song may require – and playing on his keyboard, pushes himself, his limits.
Both these techniques are apparent in the final product. Illayaraja’s music is very clear in showing itself as preconcieved, and A.R.Rahman’s sounds like an exploration. Both are, however, deeply soulful. Heartfelt.
I find that the great compositions always seem to come straight from the heart – so perhaps that’s a clue as to where true originality lies.
There is far more to this discussion than meets the eye, and one would need to understand the restrictions of music before they can truly tell how the restrictions can be trancended. However, I always feel like a composer has a unique talent when the music seems to
freely jump in to the unknown – this is not so much in sound as it is in the feeling it represents.
For instance, I recently heard a tamil song that I went crazy over! I absolutely found the melody to be a mark of genius. A spark of something special. And it kept outdoing itself as the song continued. Later on I find that the song is actually an adaptation of a Marathi film song that was later redone by a group.. the song is “Dagala Lagli.” I actually liked the tamil version better.. but the version is more about the arrangement of the song – not quite the song itself. The Marathi version took on a comedic theme and the tamil version used the same melody in a sensual theme. In the end, it came down to the melody. It didn’t matter who redid it – the originality wasn’t in the adaptation. Of course, it is possible to add one’s own original flair to a precut song, but that’s besides the point. The originality was the moment of conception where some composer – whoever the original composer was – suddenly stumbled upon/concieved/intuited/channeled a breathtaking new tune.
Let’s take this one step further. In tamil classical music there are a certain number of Ragams. I don’t know how many, but there is a definete number of them. Now, the question is, was there always a limited number of Ragams that fit to some divine geometry of musical mathamatics – or is it one of infinite possibility?
I have quoted few of your lines and have given my response for some of your points…
1) “Two of the great composers of Sound India, one which is Illayaraja – a phenomenon who ruled the industry for 20 years with a completely new sound to the then tamil audience… and then came A.R.Rahman with his western classical and fusion background…”
Guess you have reveresed it….raja is a master in western classical and fusion…i am not much exposed to the other composer…so, no comments
2) “A.R.Rahman takes a different approach. He consistently explains that his gift is a spiritual one – and takes his work in a spiritual eye – ..”
As i said, i am able to comment only for raja…he has said “isai enbadhu iraivan naan indha piraviyai kazhikka kodutha varam…isaiyaal iraivanai adaiyum muyarchiyil eedupatullen…saptha swarangalukkul naan moozghi pogum podhu ennai naan marandhu viduven…kaichal adithaal kooda appodhaikku adhu ennai ondrum pannadhu…sila samayangalil, piragu eppodhaavadhu oru kurupitta padalai ketkum bodhu, naama ippadi isai amaithom endru yosithadhundu”
3) “…Illayaraja’s music is very clear in showing itself as preconcieved, and A.R.Rahman’s sounds like an exploration…”
I was not very sure what was intended to be conveyed here…raja says,”once i sit down to compose, the entire song with all the minute details pop up in the mind…and as i start to write down what i hear, the song changes dynamically in my mind…when i do finish writing, it is totally different from what was just conceived in my mind 5 minutes ago…to this date, i dont know if the first version was better or the final version that u all hear is better…is there any machine to record that first version that pops up in my mind.?.”…
Moreover, raja makes corrections/changes then and there, as the orchestra rehearse a piece written by him..so instead of saying his music is “preconcieved”, u could say his music is “soul-felt with very minimal intervention of the mind” …Great works of art and music come out not when the mind is taxed [ at midnight], but when the mind’s interruptions are minimal…..as raja firmly believes,” isai enbadhu yaarum amaikka mudiyaadhu, adhu amaiya vendum” ( as u too have pointed out ,”great compositions always seem to come straight from the heart”)
4) “….limited number of Ragams that fit to some divine geometry of musical mathamatics – or is it one of infinite possibility?…”
Good question….Infinite possibilities…ilaiyaraaja’s musical acheivments are a living testimony for that. By pure mathematical logic, the 72 melakarta ragas can give birth to endless oceans of janya ragas…and with raja’s ability to seamlessly blend western classics in and out of carnatic songs, make it a zillion possibilities. He has not finished yet…oh my, oh my, not yet….lets just tighten our seat belts
Thank you for your very informative reply. I would much appreciate it if people shared more of Illayaraja’s views on how original music is composed.
That being said, the point of my post was to study two completely variant forms of arriving at original masterpieces. As you mentioned soulfulness, I find this same soulfulness in both Illayaraja and Rahman. Yet their techniques are very different, and after reading your post, somewhat similar. Both their music happens in a trancelike state. Both their music changes dynamically as it is being pieces together. And both of them give credit to God and a higher intelligence. They both see music as divine. Perhaps why the soulfulness of their music is so powerful.
Now Illayaraja is reknowned for concieving his music in his head – for the whole dynamic exchange of how it evolves all happening within his mind, even as he dots it to paper. I’ve read many interviews where Illayaraja’s companions have commented on the amazement of this.
And Rahman works very differently. Yet produces work of phenomenal quality. So, this is a great topic to really ponder upon. I have always compared Rahman’s “Oh Vanthalae” from Ootam to Illayaraja’s “Poomalai” from Thanga Magan. This is where their standard of magnificence can really be compared, and I can’t choose one over the other. Both are songs of a battle – a competition between the masculine and the feminine, and both the composers have brought imense originality to it in their own right.
This brings up a very important question. So, if the possibilities are simply in how you can mix and match different ragas, then what exactly is originality?
Another nice question,
Its like this…today, you can start from scratch and invent a language…a very “original” one..whats the point but?…It will be only you who will be able to talk…Ultimately, you want to correspond / communicate something to the world right?
Like-wise, within the existing system and its boundaries, if you have tried to bring out hidden flavours and emotions, thats a fair attempt, according to me…raja has understood the boundaries very well, and instead of attempting the zillions of mathematically valid but unknown idioms and phrases, he has stuck to slowly broadening the horizons of Indian carnatic music, by building in the concept of harmony (which is from the western world)…
No one would have thought raga thilang had a folk flavour. He brought it out in “katula thalaiyaatura” from solla marandha kadhai…Shankarabharanam, a typical western sounding raga, was used so many times for folk songs by him (yerikarai poongaatre from thorral ninnu pochu)…
Not quite. For instance, J.R.Tolkien created his own unique language in Lord of the Rings – the language of the Elves, and it was a massive impact on the detail and intricacy of the book. Originality doesn’t necessarily mean no one will understand – rather it means that everyone will rejoice at the introduction of something completely new – it is an avenue of hope, of inspiration: a statement of sorts that there is a divinity at work, that life exists within the creating of the new.
So, this doesn’t answer the question of HOW to be original. Not if one needs to or not need to. That’s a different issue altogether, and although an interesting one, not quite the one I’m pondering. I’ve always seen music as a divine language. So, to be breathtakingly original has held high regard for me.
“….I’ve always seen music as a divine language. So, to be breathtakingly original has held high regard for me…”
Nice to know that. Same here too. It is just that i would like to add, that personally i find raja’s music to be pure/fresh, often having a divine capability to touch u deep down under. And his tunes, to me, sound very different and original though he may be using the traditional music systems as base…And the reason i think is because there is minimal of “mind play”, the music is natural and he does not care a damn to impress you with unwanted musical decorations, fake sounds, or try to showcase ones musical prowess…For e.g. like J.R.Tolkien created a language for elves, raja could compose a song with just yelling and shouting, for Vikram in movie Pithamagan…It would still be original but the question is, will it be natural ?)..I think raja’s originality stems from his music being “natural”, without the colouring of the mind.
Its a “labour of love” to him, to use the cliche, irrespective of whether the song is going to reach 1 listener or millions of them…According to me, the less the pressure to impress the world with your work, more at ease is your level of “originality”. you tend to be. Impress yourself, and it does not really matter if the crowd is impressed. The more you love it, the more natural your work is, and more original it tends to be…
Granted, whenever the mind is involved, what we end up getting is a preused pattern. Western theorists insist that the world has taken on a postmodern era – where original ideas no longer exist – but are a mix and match of old ideas. Infact, I was reading up on postmodern thought where it was argued that Dracula by Bram Stoker was the final piece of original work known to man. Which is a pretty heavy statement to make, but it was backed by immense substantiation.
There have been many works since that have been “natural”, but does that automatically mean they are original? I am not criticising your comments here, but rather, questioning out loud my own thoughts on originality. I have always found the postmodern arguement to be a good one, and have as yet been unable to counter their insistance that there is no longer any original work. This is also why I am addressing the issue of originality.
Say you hear a song of Illayaraja’s and think it’s original. But what if it’s a mix and match of different songs and tunes from different mediums that have subconsciously affected him? I mean, if you haven’t heard these different tunes, you wouldn’t know for sure, yes?
“…Say you hear a song of Illayaraja’s and think it’s original. But what if it’s a mix and match of different songs and tunes…”
When the mind’s fake/artificial/often egoistic interferences are absent, the work that emerges out is bound to be soulfull, natural and original. Forget subconscious effects, i am not even considering “unconscious” works, where the mind is totally absent, and the higher force takes over [like your automatic writing stuff, like our AAVI AMUDHA] …So no conscious, sub-conscious, unconscious states…I am talking about transcending all these three states…and go beyond, and rest there…
Though i dont have first hand information on whether ilaiyaraja has indeed transcended these three states of mind, but i somehow I think ilaiyaraaja is atleast well aware of such subtle facts and much more …and he says,”Paattunna 5 nimishathila vandhu vizhanum…adhu dhaan music…innaikku ivlo dhaan…idhai rasinga…nalla irukkunnu sollunga…pudikalainnu sollunga…inna ragam’nnu sollunga…compose panradhu mattum dhaan yen velai, adhu nalla irukku, alladhu illainnu solla vaikaradhu aandavan velai…”
See what a detachment to his own works…it is this kind of detachment that brings out the originality in its primal form, in its innocent naturalness and with amazing spontaneity…Like LALGUDI JAYARAMAN, eminent musician said ,” His talent is not the fruit of one single birth’s efforts. This level of achievement is only possible to one who has lived with music for countless births. The speed with which he writes notations have always baffled me..”
You, me and everyone else here too have lived with a particular interest/activity/skill for countless births…If only we could listen to our inner voices, and take it up for a career, then what we end up doing will be “original” and “soulfull” or to again use the cliche – “the labour of love”…Doing anything else will only result in “artificial”, “shortlived”, and “merely commercial” outputs.
At this point, Narrasimman Wrote:
hello Thilakshan how r u? and god bless u
Enna aachu ungalukku Namma raaja oru muzhumaiyaana composser. Rahman oru music mixer or sound mixer or music director avvalavuthaan. avar kooda poi namma raajavai campare pandringa.athuvum ungalukku technical aaga isai pathi therinjum ippadi peasuringa? enakku puriyalai nambavum mudiyalai.eppadinga athu unagalal mudiuthu.Ore comparison rendu pearum CINE field il irukkanga avvalavuthaan.Nenga oru rahman fan aaga kooda irukkalam. athu thappe illai.Aana thayavu seithu ithu maathiri pls dont write. ungalamaathiri music therinja aalunga ezhutha koodathu.
You’ve hit the nail on the head by insisting that Illayaraja and A.R.Rahman are incomparable.
Please try to understands, it merely means that you have preference for one “method” of composition over another. Vel in his last response to me made the comment that truly original compositions do not exist within the rhelms of the mind – but in a higher state, free from the fetters of the mind.
Yet who is to judge HOW one should reach such a state? There are many ways. Millions, perhaps. This is why I chose to compare the masterworks of both Rahman and Raja. Because in doing so, we get a clearer understanding of Originality and aren’t controlled by a fanatic bias towards one or the other. One must always be open minded, don’t you agee?
Anna neenga Rahman oru music mixer edru sonna point enaku romba pidichiruku. Aenandral athulathan intha mulu vishaiamae marainthiruku.
We’re trying to determine the meaning of an original piece, and how one can possibly achieve such a thing. So how can you be certain that the “mixing” Rahman does on the outside, is not also the same kind of “mixing” Raja does on the inside – ie. in his mind. You see? The comparison really begins to clarify many things. In my first post about this I made the comment that both these composers had in common that they both fall into a trancelike state when they compose their music.
Which leads to the other question. Vel was explaining that for true originality, the mind must not be involved. So, does that make Raja simply a vessel? A container into which a higher power implants music every now and then? There is no composing power of his own?
Indeed, for a genius music director, when a spark of music is gifted to his mind, there must be an involvement of sorts on his part – a dynamic engagement to make the song a relationship between the divine and the human. Otherwise, how can we possibly credit him?
(Note: At this point the Administrator of the IR group interjected that we shouldn’t mention AR.Rahman further in our posts because it has nothing to do with IRR. Even after my insistence that this wasn’t a comparison, but rather a study of music. *lol* Well, anyway, so we respected his wishes)
“…Vel was explaining that for true originality, the mind must not be involved. So, does that make Raja simply a vessel? A container into which a higher power implants music every now and then? There is no composing power of his own?….”
Surprising !!! …i thought in your very first (quite impressive) mail to the club, you had asked everyone to take the plunge and drown the individual ego (and something about a water drop mixing with ocean and becoming the ocean itself….Either you started having doubts with what you had said in that mail or you sent the mail without absorbing the deeper meaning that it was trying to convey) ? And thats really a cause to worry for me, because i have spent so much time untill now to talking to you, purely based on some strong belief that you believed in what you had told us all to believe… So what about all that ZEN STORY/DOORSTEPS OF GOD blah blah ellam?…Sir, adhu enna oorrukku ubadhesama….(just for fun…No offense meant yaar)
I would like to counter your statement above in much more detail, but since thalaivar Dr.Vijay has said “curtaines down” for this amusing thread, lets quit here with one small clarification though from my side….see if it makes any sense to you.
Mortal being are ego driven (You, and me and all other lesser souls you know). Using your anology (in your first mail), like a water drop clinging to the leaf…the water drop is ur own primal being, the leaf is the ego and the ocean beneath is the higher power…i am telling you that in ilaiyaraaja’s case, i somehow believe that that water drop may have left the leaf already and may have already merged with the ocean (the higher power)…so it is now the ocean itself (the higher power itself)….Dont then go searching for the drop anymore…
Going by that logic, there is no vessel, no container wherein a higher power arrives now and then to implant music…The outer crust of the vessel/container has simply melted away and it is now the very supreme power itself that is residing there at Plot 38, Murugesan street, T Nagar Chennai – 17.
I was talking about the very ocean itself…but guess you are deeply engrossed in measuring the size and shape of the little droplet… So I guess our priorities are different. Also are our logical premises are entirely contrasting….I guess we will have to agree to disagree then….
Right. So you say Illayaraja is not at all involved in his compositions, but simply is a hand of God. I can see that you’re coming from that angle, but you have completely misunderstood my statement which you quoted and countered. You’ve taken me saying that Man and God could co-work together into a vastly mutated interpretation of “drop and ocean.”, of ego and spirit.
I’m not talking about the drop and the ocean. I’m talking about the ocean and the dirt in which it sits. 😉
The ego is a tool. Let me specify one of the very interesting quotes of Illayaraja you posted for us:
Illayaraja said, “once i sit down to compose, the entire song with all the minute details pop up in the mind…and as i start to write down what i hear, the song changes dynamically in my mind…when i do finish writing, it is totally different from what was just conceived in my mind 5 minutes ago…to this date, i dont know if the first version was better or the final version that u all hear is better…is there any machine to record that first version that pops up in my mind.?.”…
And one of my own statements:
“Granted, whenever the mind is involved, what we end up getting is a preused pattern. Western theorists insist that the world has taken on a postmodern era – where original ideas no longer exist – but are a mix and match of old ideas. Infact, I was reading up on postmodern thought where it was argued that Dracula by Bram Stoker was the final piece of original work known to man. Which is a pretty heavy statement to make, but it was backed by immense substantiation.
There have been many works since that have been “natural”, but does that automatically mean they are original? I have always found the postmodern arguement to be a good one, and have as yet been unable to counter their insistance that there is no longer any original work. This is also why I am addressing the issue of originality.
I am trying to figure out what the criteria for originality is.”
I hope you understand better the point I am making.
The very intriguing aspect for me, I say again, is that actual transition from the FIRST SONG Illayaraja hears to the song that ends up on paper. The first song he hears could very well be a moment of complete surrender.. complete disappearance of ego… where in trance, he is gifted with melody… yet if it is so perfect, why does it change? As it is being written.. as the SPIRITUAL is MATERIALISED.. that is where the true interaction between God and Man takes place. Thats where originality is. Where the Art is.
As he writes, the song keeps changing… exploding and imploding into different ways of falling into paper and still sounding just as good… evolving..
You wish to assume that this whole process is simply a channelled event. Yet if that were true, let me ask you something… why does all of Illayaraja’s music has the FEEL of IRR? Why doesn’t he suddenly channel an enchanting Celtic Linkin’ Park type track that has no Indian influences whatsoever? Why doesn’t he suddenly place onto paper a song Eminem can sing? Everything has an IRR FEEL when he composes. Of course, he has the most amazing ability to be adapatable and the create from a vast resevoir of original melodies – but when you hear an IRR song, you know who’s created it.
Ever thought about why? It is because IRR as a human being, must be involved in the process somehow. It’s quite plausible when you think about it.
That Link between Man and God.. that’s where originality lies.
Dear Thilakshan and Vel,
Your arguments are very interesting, even though one is trying to completely rely on what he and majority of the people here know the best the other is trying to find the best somewhere else also…. Hmmm…. I don’t know about every one here but when I read the entire posting of these messages, some times I feel that I am over killing my self…then suddenly I can here from someone who is always there for all us, for all the time (who else!) sings like this:
“Evanavano Ezhudhiyadha Nee Ezhuthukkoti padichipputuu nee padikka vendiyadha vitupuuta…un padippum avan padippum evan padippum anubavama vandhadhunna…verayappa..vera verayappppa….” from a movie Solla Thudikkudhu Manasu
Thilakshan…have you ever heard that song before you read lot of these stuffs you write that we don’t even know / don’t even want to know like “vampire” and “LOR” stuffs…?
A very true statement. There is a similar one in Zen.
A University professor goes to see a Zen Master to ask him about Zen philosophy. As they have tea together, the Zen Master offers to pour the tea for the professor.. and as the professor holds the cup, the Master fills to the brim, then keeps overfilling.. the tea spilling everywhere..
The Professor screams.. “What are you doing! The Cup is Full! The Cup is Full!”
The Master replied. “In the same way, your mind is full! So, how can I possibly teach you about Zen until you empty your mind?”
I follow this principle myself. This is also why I was learning about originality from a FRESH perspective.
By the way, just so that my posts are not misinterpreted, I’m just going to clear a few things up for everyone.
In no way am I comparing ARR and IRR as who is a BETTER music composer. That is not at all an issue. To me, they are both genius, and in all honestly, I cannot choose one over the other. I love them both deeply and passionately. There is no place for comparison. I hope this is clear to everyone.
The topic I brought up was that of a comparison of HOW they compose original works – or perhaps a better word is juxtapose the two – one does it internally, the other, externally. In studying these opposites we may understand more about what it means to be original.
Because Originality cannot be a subjective thing. If the Universe was subjective then why is it that we only have a CERTAIN number of chords for music? Why is it that I cannot decide tomorrow that there’s going to be 29 different notes, just because I like it that way? No. Originality is a method. A system. The topic is merely to study this.. to achieve insight.. to understand it better through the music of Rahman and Raja as a focal point.
This is pretty much how far the discussion has come. I hope we can continue it here.