Saturday, November 24, 2012

Basketball, Meri Jaan

"Basketball, Meri Jaan" is a short (~5 min) film/ documentary made by Veena Hampapur of UCLA. It's about how her mother, Yashodhara, who immigrated to the US 30 years ago, rediscovers her lifelong passion for professional sports and builds for herself a strong, special connection with the local sports community.

I'm happy to have played a small role in the project: Veena has used a short clip of the alap in this recording of mine as the background music for a scene in the film.

The film is now doing the rounds at many a festival including the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, San Diego Asian Film Festival, and the Asian Americans in Media Film Festival. I wish Veena and the team the very best. I'll probably share a link to the film once it's done with the festivals and officially released online. In the meanwhile, do "like" them on Facebook if you wish:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Song for documentary on Shri S. Rajam

Today, Chennai saw the release of a DVD production on the life and works of Shri S. Rajam, renowned painter and Carnatic musician. It is directed by Lalitharam and Kaanthan Balakrishna Shastri, the music is composed by Murali Venkatraman, with lyrics by Hari Krishnan. All of their efforts are commendable and I urge you all to buy the DVD from Since Rajam was an unabashed proponent of Vivadi ragas - which back in the day were considered ominous for some reason - Ram requested Murali to compose most of the songs in Vivadi ragas as a tribute to the man. Here is a song that I have sung in the raga Maararnjani.

I had to fight hard with the beastly self critic in me to post this but oh well, here it is anyway, for the record.

The rest of the compositions are wonderful, in ragas including Gamanashrama, Suryakantham, Gangeyabhushani, and a Gruhabhedam from Mohanam to Kamaprabha; and sung by some amazing singers including Adithi Devarajan, Karthik Nagarajan and Murali himself and are all available on youtube. Please do check them out as well.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Happy Birthday to my Guru

Here's my first attempt at proper website design: This had been on my task list for way too long and I finally got down to doing it and showed it to my Guru today, on her birthday. So glad that it made her very happy.
She's a wonderful artist and Guru and an amazing woman. So please spread the word about this new site!

PS: Blogger is awesome. Thanks to Blogger for being SO malleable and giving complete control over the html and css: highly recommend for newbies such as myself. And thanks to Karthik for helping with a couple of key issues and tackling this obstinate monster called Internet Explorer.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Six Years

OCTAVES turned six this month. What a wonderful six years it's been. OCTAVES has become a big part of my identity today. Many of my old posts (with a ton of smilies) make me laugh today - but that's what growing up is, I guess :) Also, through the years it has got quite a few makeovers, thanks to Blogger which keeps getting better and better.
Although guilty of not updating this space regularly these days, I'm hoping to get back to posting more frequently in the coming days... Until then, here's the customary - but very heartfelt - thank you to all the visitors who've kept it going through the hits and misses!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The mind's battle of the Rajas

Yesterday was another of those days - experiencing (note: not merely "listening to") an endless chain of Ilaiyaraja's melodies. My heart leapt with joy, swelled with love and wept with pain; all with the same intensity. My mind faithfully followed every note, every inflection and every syllable that came out of Chitra's voice - it soared with her high notes and swooped down with beauty, as does her magnificent voice. I've never felt a deeper and more surreal connection with another voice.

And then suddenly, Thyagaraja seemed mundane. I couldn't help wondering if he could ever bring out the myriad emotions that Ilaiyaraja can (and I got reminded that growing up I would argue with my dad that I've learnt more Mayamalavagowlai from Ilaiyaraja than from Thyagaraja). Can Rama bhakti make you feel all the *real* emotions that life brings us, that are so beautifully brought out in Ilaiyaraja's music?

I woke up this morning humming Hecharikaga ra ra. I felt beauty. I felt peace. I felt serenity. Thyagaraja is not just about Rama bhakti. There's so much more to take from him.

Humbled and thankful to whatever it is that has made me live in a time and place where I can experience both, judge and obsess over one rather than the other, and then finally realize the smallness of it all. The "cycle of awe" continues...

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Nattaikurinji and Kharaharapriya

I recently performed a thematic concert for my cousin Hari Devanath's music school in the Bay Area, Sri Paduka Academy. The theme was melam-janyam and I tried to explore various melam-janyam relationships. To this end, I picked three melam-janyam pairs: Kalyani-Amritabehag where the janyam has little or no resemblance to the melam; Harikambodhi-Nattaikurinji where the janyam has all seven swaras, yet does not qualify as a melam due to its characteristic vakra usages and despite sharing all the swaras with the melam, has a unique identity of itself; and lastly Kharaharapriya-Sriranjani where the janyam conforms to the very conventional understanding we have of janya ragas: its swaras form a subset of those of the melam and the flavor/ feel of the raga is also very similar to that of the parent raga. For lack of time I couldn't take up the interesting class of bhashanga janya ragas but briefly spoke about it. Many thanks to Hari and Vivek Sundarraman - who also teaches at Paduka - for the opportunity. The energy of the kids was infectious.

Here are the Nattaikurinji and the Kharaharapriya pieces. I can't but add disclaimers: there are shruti lapses (which unfortunately I couldn't notice when I sang), and my obstinate voice refuses to go below the middle Sa - I've a long way to go. But this post is mainly for the accompanists: Divya Mohan on the violin and Gopal Ravindran on the mridangam, both all of 16 years, were great. You'll see how Divya's violin carasses the raga - especially Kharaharapriya, and the gait of Gopal's thani is beautiful. I learnt a ton from these folks!

Last but certainly not least, thanks to my Guru for everything.

Here we go. Needless to say, criticisms welcome!

Last edit: July 23 2012 - included the Nattaikurinji recording.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Vatapi - debut playback song

Happy to share that a song I recorded - Vatapi Ganapatim - for a Telugu movie for Praveen Lakkaraju of New Jersey is now out! I recorded this exactly a year ago and after many anxious and exciting moments, the song has finally seen the light of the day. Also happy that the song features Shankar Tucker on the clarinet. So here goes:

Click here to listen to all the songs in the movie.

And click here for a video of the music director Praveen and lyricist Sreejo talking about their experience with each song in the movie.

Thanks very much to Praveen for the opportunity.

And thank you Octaves - you know how big a role you've had in this.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


I recently performed a concert at Coimbatore in my Guru's presence. It was a blessing that I got such an opportunity but haven't been very pleased with myself about how it turned out. It certainly wasn't one of my best days and I'd been very sick all day. But there's always a next time, isn't it? Here's an excerpt from one of the better pieces. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Naina Neer Bahaye

Naina neer bahaye from Water is a song very, very dear to me - and easily one of Sadhana's very best. I love how Rahman brings in such a calming and ethereal feel to it. Here's my take. I haven't done a particularly great job of creating the karaoke track but this being a vocals heavy song, hopefully that can be excused. Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Song: Naina neer bahaye
Film: Water
Music: A. R. Rahman
Lyrics: Sukhwinder Singh
Original singer: Sadhana Sargam

Monday, January 30, 2012

Reverse engineering a gruhabhedam: the genius of Raja

If there's one piece of music that leaves me transfixed every time I listen to it, it's Composer's Breath from Ilaiyaraja's album Nothing But Wind featuring the flute maestro Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia.

-Art by my amazingly talented sister Sumi.

Where do I begin...I bought Raja's two non-film albums (read "cassettes") - How To Name It and Nothing But Wind back during my undergrad days and for almost a year I would pretty much listen to nothing else. Raja taught me several lessons and each one of those would vie with the others to make me feel it was the sole purpose of my life :) But one lesson stands out till today as the most revealing, the most intriguing, and the most awe inspiring. Unfortunately, it came to me much later - I hadn't quite seen the genius through for until numerous times of involved listening. But come, it did, and to this day it gives me goosebumps.

Amidst trying to get a grip on the treacherous equations and derivations of Electrodynamics and Statistical Mechanics - not to mention, in the dingy IIT hostel room - solving Raja's puzzles in Nothing But Wind was a much more satisfying experience, needless to say. The epiphany under discussion hit me on one such occasion of listening to Composer's Breath. Let me try and explain to my understanding, one of the underlying theoretical ideas behind this piece that the man has so ingeniously woven in - the reason for this post.

Disclaimer: my apologies in case this is all too familiar to you and sounds platitudinous.

First, here's the track:

It starts off with a lovely Hindolam/ Malkauns. Hariprasad Chaurasia's bhava-rich and masterly playing
make it a most pleasurable experience. The main melody (starting at 3:54) is beautiful. It goes, Sa,, ni da ma ga ni da ma gm da# ni# sa,,,,. I'm certainly not an expert on analyzing chords and harmonies but parts like 4:26 that recur throughout just sound heavenly. The drama starts at 6:12 (and there is a lot of build up to it in the chords that just precede) when you start hearing Hamsanandi/ Sohini. What's happening here? Just an ordinary raga change? Absolutely not. A random change in shruti as well as raga? No again. Let's do this piecemeal. First, notice that the shruti is reduced by half a step - or half a note. The new sa is at ni3 of the original shruti. Next, observe that the absolute positions of all the other swaras remain the same. So basically, what starts at 6:12 is Hindolam relative to a new sa; but what's most crucial here is that unlike in a standard gruhabhedam, the new sa is *not* one of the swaras of Hindolam itself: it is a newly introduced swara. So what was a pentatonic raga becomes a hexatonic one due to the additional swara and that turns out to be Hamsanandi. And when you do this, lo and behold, a thrilling coincidence (pun intended) occurs: every swara of Hindolam remains the same, albeit of another variety. ni2 becomes ni3, da1 becomes da2, ma1 becomes ma2, ga2 becomes ga3 (and of course, sa becomes ri1). It is obvious and stunning at the same time. The main melody in Hindolam that I mentioned above now changes to Hamsanandi as follows: Sa,, ni3 da2 ma2 ga3 n3 da2 m2 ga3 r1 sa d2# ni3# sa,,,.

Okay, so far so good. But this made me rack my brains: I had never come across such an unusual way of doing gruhabhedam - such a gruhabhedam would probably not be permitted on a Carnatic stage. I was wondering if there was any way of reconciling it with the standard process. And then, I started thinking about how we might bring about the opposite gruhabhedam: Hamsanandi to Hindolam. Hamsanandi's ri would have to be taken as sa... and... if you do a sa varjya (omit sa), you get Hindolam. And immediately it dawned on me that THIS one was indeed a standard Carnatic gruhabhedam! It is not unusual in Carnatic to do a gruhabhedam transpose from hexa (or heptatonic) ragas to pentatonic ones by omission of sa (and pa)! (And that's because gruhabhedam or no gruhabhedam, one often renders phrases in a raga without sa - and sometimes pa- just to add beauty) In fact, here is a reference that talks about the Carnatic master of all times, T.N. Seshagopalan doing exactly this:
(There is also a youtube video of a breathtaking Hamsanandi alapanai by TNS where he shifts base to Madhyamavati using the same concept)

So WOW - the brilliance of Raja in Composer's Breath lies in that he has actually reverse engineered a (standard) gruhabhedam! Who would've thought of it! If only I could enter his head and see the workings.

The rest of the track goes in and out of many, many ragas - malayamarutham, bhageshri, sindhubhairavi etc which all sit smiling and pretty in Chaurasia's safe custody (and bring poignant flashes of 80s Tamil cinema along with them - probably because they remind me of many of Raja's 80s songs). But the highlight for me is that even after the Hamsanandi episode is over, Raja teases you with some brilliant sparks alternating between the two sa's (thus alternating between the two ragas) within a matter of seconds, like between 6:44 and 7:33 - pure magic! Also at the very end of the track starting at 15:32.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm overly pedantic. Sometimes people say that too much analysis especially in art is not healthy and robs it of its beauty and charm. But the more I think about it; no...I beg to entirely disagree. This situation always reminds me of something a celebrated Astrophysics prof G. Srinivasan told us in a class - a physicist apparently once said that understanding that stars are nothing more than huge blobs of gas and studying the equations governing their behavior doesn't make them seem any less pretty and poetic! :) Unfortunately I don't remember which physicist this was.

As I complete another year of existence on this planet today, I cannot thank Raja the God enough for giving infinitely more meaning to my appreciation of human creativity, godliness in art, and life.