Interview: G Krishnan

Posted on September 11, 2004

14


CHORDS AND RAAGA

SEPT 11, 2004 – ANDHI MAZHAI POZHIGIRADHU from Rajapaarvai is surely one of Ilayaraja’s most beloved creations, but if fans were asked what they like about the song, most would simply confess, “Um… nice tune.” A few, more acquainted with vocal nuances, may venture that SPB and S Janaki have rendered it beautifully. Even fewer – those more visually oriented – may affectionately recall the picturisation, the images of Kamal and Madhavi romancing under a transparent plastic umbrella. Fewer still, the microscopic minority into lyrics, may appreciate the zeal of the early Vairamuthu in expanding the vocabulary of the Tamil film song, referring to a pearl by the more cryptic nithilam than the more clichéd muthu.

But only G Krishnan would probably express his admiration for the song thus: “It’s rare to find a more excellent use of classical concepts. From the Carnatic standpoint, the full flavour – the lakshanam – of the raaga Vasantha has been extracted. TV Gopalakrishnan’s alaap during the interlude is a Hindustani-style exploration. As regards Western Classical Music, it has the Major 7th chords, which were probably heard for the first time in Tamil film music.”

Krishnan is a Physics graduate with a Management degree, who’s now a Project Manager in the software industry. So if someone were to tell you he’s written a book, you’d expect it to be titled ‘Quasars & Photons’, or maybe ‘Bits & Bytes’ – instead, ‘Chords & Raaga’ is what his not-quite-magnum opus (coming in at a slender 170 pages) is called. It’s a study on the structure of Indian Film Music from the perspective of scales, chords and raaga.

With an uncle who was a disciple of GNB, with a father who was part of a group that organised classical music performances for Ashok Nagar residents, the infant Krishnan’s first wails presumably constituted a Karaharapriya alapana and his first steps probably kept beat with aadi taalam – still, it’s a long leap from korvais to Kodambakkam. How did that come about? He replies, “It was during my college days that I started thinking about the combination of film and classical music, when I was part of a light music troupe, playing the violin.” An interest in Western Classical Music arose after visits to the US, whose public libraries helped him bridge the gap between Thyagaraja and Tchaikovsky.

That’s how Krishnan began to look at movie music from a new angle. He admits, “Had I grown up in the pre-Ilayaraja era, I would have probably seen film songs only from a Carnatic point of view. But Ilayaraja’s use of complicated chord progressions and the sheer depth of his compositions made me appreciate things from a Western viewpoint as well.” (In case you were wondering, Krishnan also singles out some AR Rahman tunes as examples of good use of chords – July Maadham Vandhaal (Pudhiya Mugam) and Anjali Anjali (Duet).)

So what made him want to share this private passion with the public? Krishnan says, “Most musically-inclined people look at melody solely from the viewpoint of raaga. I wanted to tell them that it’s not always so. Some songs are constructed on Western scales, and unless viewed from that context, a change from, say, a Major to a Minor scale could be misinterpreted as a raaga shift. For instance, the main melody in vellai puraa ondru (Pudhukkavidhai) is in Kalyani, and in the charanam, the ma is brought down – but this isn’t a move to Shankarabharanam, merely an intent to move to the Major scale.” Phew – but how nice it is to know that film music isn’t always about two stick figures in black simulating electrocution to the raucous rhythms of manmadha raasa!

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