The Melody In His Head
Sounds have effects on our brainwaves, our mental framework, our emotional frequencies and our overall being. Musicians are said to have the gift of creating these effects on themselves and the people around through these sounds. Music to most people is part of their daily lives. From train commuters in Mumbai to AC cars at the signals in Hyderabad. There’s a tune playing on their headphones or car stereos and if nothing, probably in their heads. For some music is a soundtrack to their own life; bringing rhythm and sanity in an otherwise chaotic world.
While the West produced exceptionally creative people who invented all kinds of amazing things, closer home and in music land one name that will go down history is AR Rahman. His musical prowess is maddeningly intuitive and border-less. His sense of sound has been appreciated and acknowledged worldwide. And this goes beyond just the music.
Wonder how he interprets sounds like the crash of a window pane, the cry of a child, the voices of people. What he draws from around him, translating it into sound is a talent that is born out of something inherently and deeply moving. Till date, the flute piece from Bombay does not stop short of making our hearts stop. Tamil critics call him Isai Puyal meaning ‘musical storm’. He has won the Grammy’s twice and countless other awards nationally and internationally.
His technological leanings are evident from way back when as a youngster he and a few of his friends including percussionist Sivamani formed a rock band called ‘Nemesis’. Rahman graduated in Western Classical Music form Trinity College which is proof enough of a solid foundation. He learned to play the piano, keyboard, synthesizer, harmonium, guitar and took an immediate interest in the sounds that the synthesizer produced. Electronic music in a new-age contemporary form is found in plenty of his compositions considering he belongs to the digital age. He gave us disco music that got played at clubs and pubs at a time when only the western dance hits were being dished out at. Songs such as ‘Muqabala Muqabala’ and ‘Humma Humma’ were pumping the dance floors. His style that encompassed boundaries always incorporated what was current at the time. His growth as a composer always complemented the technological progress in music. This is not to say that he used the technology to better his music but it means he used it to give his creations the best effect on people. He used it so wisely, we cannot pigeonhole him or categorize him even when it’s a song like ‘Fanaa’ from the film Yuva that is so from this generation.
From sound production to arrangement to composition and even singing, Rahman is involved in and can pretty much do all the jobs. The thought that runs through your head is that he is a multi-tasker and has a yearning for knowledge that will help him grow musically. This extends to his use of technology. He utilizes technology to manipulate the effect the song requires to have. In an interview with Apple Inc. Rahman discusses his use of the software Logic to produce music.
“Normally what happens is I have a rhythm, and it’s probably a loop. Then I do my vocals, and once I have a structure in place, I record with the singers and write lyrics. When I have the vocal recording, I then work in reverse for the music. We record live rhythms sometimes, and then start programming, and everything is complete. Then of course all the editing is done, and we go through the mastering. That’s pretty much it.” – AR Rahman quoted in Joe Cellini, “Scoring ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ With Logic: An Interview With A. R. Rahman,” Apple.com, March 21, 2009, http://www.apple.com/logicstudio/in-action/arrahman/ (accessed March 14, 2010)
When you hear music, your mind picks up the patterns, rhythm and the melodic synchronization. This releases dopamine; the same chemical released when you are eating good food or having sex. Music has the same effect. One theory is that when you hear simple tunes, your brain is able to predict what will come next. This is true of many of AR Rahman’s older work. Like for instance Roja or Bombay is conventional in the way it progresses but it is heavy in terms of the sheer usage of instruments and elements. It is orchestral. His music still remains orchestral. What has however changed is the patterns that we can easily follow. He uses more contemporary forms which take time to grow on you but it sure does grow. This is why it is not a true mark of respect to compare the old and new work. You can analyse to understand how it has evolved over the last decade.
When you try to assess the brain of someone who in your opinion is capable of something miraculous it is hard to imagine what it might contain.
“I am considered to be a great poet but I don’t have any words to describe his genius. AR Rahman is not a normal music director. He has some God given gift in him,” quoting lyricist Vairamuthu who has been a frequent collaborator on Rahman’s tunes. He claims inspiration from Sufism during his initial days as a composer. He is a self-proclaimed Sufi convert. Born as Dileep Kumar, he became Alla Rakha Rahman, not only in name but in religion too. In interviews he openly discusses his compositional approach to music rooted in Sufism. Songs that are in the Sufi vein are also sung by Rahman himself.
Rahman is pure soundscaping. The imagery embedded in his music is profoundly enriching. The emotional reach it has is intense. It can be a trigger to feelings you thought you never had.
His first commercial project Roja had a refreshing quality about it. The songs struck a chord with the audience. The Tamil film industry took notice. Rahman had been composing ad jingles and other small projects at the time. This debut in the film industry broke open a path that only lead to deeper inroads into people’s hearts. He soon became a rage nationally. Rahman’s audience expanded exponentially after Slumdog Millionaire that presented his music to mainstream US audiences.
His influence on the generation after him has been tremendous. The newer crop of music composers are way diverse than what was happening a few decades. The style of the 2000s is a potpourri of different cultures, sounds, feelings; a global language. AR Rahman is the epitome of that global language always staying ahead of the curve.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this POV/BLOG are the personal opinions of the author. PANDOLIN is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this blog. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing on the POV/BLOG do not reflect the views of PANDOLIN and PANDOLIN does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.