Filmy Ripples- Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 5 (Final)

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

In this concluding part on Exotic Instruments in Film Music I wish to share some of my thoughts on our classic numbers in Tamil Film Music from the bygone era, listening to which we get transported back to relive the past!

They make us visualize the mammoth orchestra that went with the recording of many of the classic songs. This in turn trigger our thoughts on those times when these melodies were made. By any count, people mostly agree that these oldies from the world of Indian Film music are indeed a treasure.  The melodies of these songs are as fresh as the morning breeze to us forever. Added to them, the fine lyrics & clear diction of the singers make them so memorable.

This writer has had, during his prime days, the opportunity of witnessing few song recordings, thanks to a peer with connections! Those days were prior to the advent of stereo. The musicians were so cramped in a small recording room. Often the instruments they played on, per se, were hugely cumbersome, whether it is Univox, Double Base, Vibraphone, Piano, Cello, Kettle Drum or Harp. The air-conditioning was mostly absent as they wanted to be free from the noise of room air-conditioners & the central cooling system was not in vogue then. Imagine these very classic melodies, that were made in such less friendly environs, are being crooned out over stereophonic mikes with mixing facilities by today’s participants of TV Reality & stage shows, in the air-conditioned comfort. Whereas those men who played this music in perfect harmony, recorded them so truly sweating them out.

Those were the days, not blessed with digital sound technology. Nor were sound files & bytes known. The recordings were done the hard way. Thanks to the non-advent of track recording, the singers were in full human form & feeling the real music emanating from physically played instruments by a swarm of musicians. This meant a lot of understanding, respect & harmony between the singers & the players. The real human side of the collective music, if you like.

The music so generated also had passion in its roots having been delivered by talented musicians in real time recording situations. These unplugged sounds of the music were pure & original from each instrument, whether wind, brass, string or percussion. These great melodies were captured by “shure” mikes of mono format & made captive in vinyl record discs of those times, in the avatar of LPs & EPs. There were no computer generated beats, no octopus pads & no synthesizers, which today form, at best, poor imitations of the reverberations of the original instruments.

Some of the legends of sixties in the Tamil film music world included doyens like Sabesan (pianist), Raju (mandolin), Henry Daniel (trumpetist), Sudarsanam (flute), Philip (guitarist), Mangalamurthy (accordian), Hanumanthayya (tabla), who were all over the immortal compositions of the duo Viswanathan – Ramamoorthy. These guys were behind each of the old time melodies & many of them have left this world since leaving a huge vacuum!

With limited medium of entertainment (TVs, other recorded devices made advent much later) all ears were glued to those radio sets listening to Radio Ceylon and these musicians lived up to the responsibility of delivering the sole audio entertainment of those days. And they did it with aplomb, in unmatched quality!

Listening to these old melodies bring you nostalgia, laced with a tint of sadness of having lost those days forever in one’s life! A sadness of a like which is as soothing as weeping!!

But, it is unfortunate that these classic film musicians did not directly see themselves in limelight & withered away unacknowledged largely, though Groups like MSV Times bring honor to some of them either live or posthumously.

Now on to discuss the individual musical instruments that played in well known songs.

Dholak is a double sided folk drum, usually played with both hands while positioned on the player’s lap while an iron thumb ring is used to produce a distinctive rim sound as rhythm.

In many old Tamil songs, one used to hear Dholak beats and here is ‘Ullathile uram vendumada’ rendered by A.M.Raja from Vijayapuri Veeran, composed by T.R.Paappa, for your listening pleasure. (1960)

The beautiful duet, ‘Anbu manam kanindha pinne’ (Aalukkoru veedu -1960 Film) too has Dholak percussion through the song.

‘Dafli’, as it is called in Hindi, is a Tambourine, denoting an instrument with a large circular drumhead, on which skin membrane is stretched over the playing area. In Tamil, it is colloquially known as ‘Tape’. In Hindi a full film called ‘Sargam’ was dedicated to it, with Rishi Kapoor as a Dafli player. Here is a popular Tamil song, ‘Ellorum kondaduvom’ by TMS from ‘Pava Mannippu’, composed by MSV-TKR.

The Western Drum Set has also been often used in Indian film music. Here is an instance of its deployment in ‘Kannirendum minna minna’ from ‘Andavan Kattalai’, rendered by P.B.Srinivas & L.R.Easwari. The composers MSV-TKR have used it along with Piano Chords through the song. Mr. Noel Grant was the ace drummer who worked in the orchestra of MSV-TKR.

Snare Drum, which is part of the main Drum Set, is played by striking it with either a drum stick or any other form of beater, including brushes which produce a softer-sounding vibration from the snare wires. Our composers have used Snare Drums in many songs. Here we can hear it in the song ‘Sugam…sugam’ from the film ‘Thangai’  (1967) composed by MSV.

Ghatam is an instrument used in carnatic stream of music & is one of the most ancient percussion instruments of South India. It is a clay pot with a narrow mouth. From where, it slants outwards to form a ridge. Made mainly in Manamadurai (Tamil Nadu) & Devanahalli (Karnataka), of clay with with brass or copper filings along with a small amount of iron filings, it’s a fixed pitched instrument.  It has been made international by the Ghatam Wizard ‘Vikku’ Vinayakaram, who holds even a Grammy Award.

‘Azhagana Ratchasiye’ composed by A.R.Rahmam for the film ‘Muthalvan’ has ample usage of Ghatam. Dr.Karthick has played ghatam for A.R.Rahman in some of his compositions.

Veena is an instrument that relates to historical past, which is used in Carnatic stream. However, artistes like Chittibabu, Parthasarathi & Rajesh Vaidya have done some excellent work, playing for various composers in Tamil films.

We cite here two Tamil film melodies featuring Veena, ‘Sonna sollai nee’ by M.S. Rajeswari, from ‘PeNN’ composed by Sudarsanam & ‘Deviyar iruvar’ from ‘Kalai Koil’ composed by MSV-TKR. The latter film featured copious Veena notes in its songs as well as BGM, as the Hero was shown as a Veena artiste. These were played by the late Veteran Chittibabu, whose disciple is Rajesh Vaidya.

Kalai Koil

Song book of Kalai Koil with the page containing the song DEVIYAR IRUVAR PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

 

Gottu Vadhyam aka Chithra Veena is another traditional string instrument of great antiquity, popular with Carnatic music. This stringed instrument which resembles a Veena, is played by a slide just like a Hawaiian Guitar. Dr. Ravikiran is a well known exponent of the same. There have been few songs using this instrument. The Malayalam song ‘Senthar mizhi’ from ‘Perumazhakalam’, composed by M.Jayachandran features Gottu Vadhyam strains along with Ghatam beats, very creatively.

Piano too has been abundantly used in our films, particularly in South by MSV-TKR. MSV himself was very good at playing Piano. ‘Brindavanamum Nandakumaranum’ (Missiyamma), ‘Pattunro kaetten’ (Pasamalar), ‘Paaduvor padinaal’ (Kannan en kadhalan), Unnai onru ketpen, (Puthiya Paravai) Kannirendum minna minna (Andavan Kattalai), Ellorum nalam vazha (Enga Mama), Enna enna varthaigalo (Vennira Aadai) , Manithan enbavan (Sumai Thangi) , Kannenna Kannenna kalanguthu (Periya idathu peNN).

Vennira adai

Song book of Vennira Aadai with the page containing the song ENNA ENNA VARTHAIGALO  PC: From the archives of TCRC

‘Glockenspiel’ aka ‘bells, as is commonly referred to, is an instrument of German origin, having metal plates or tubes as ‘keys’ and are played by striking upon with hard tippled mallets, thus making it a metallophone. Our South Indian Composers have often used it in their songs, especially MSV-TKR duo. Listen to ‘Muthukkalo kangal’ (Nenjirukkumvarai) or ‘Thookkam kangalai’ (Alayamani) where this instrument makes very delectable notes.

Here is Harry Potter theme played on a Glockenspiel.

Vibraphone is a larger version of a ‘bells’ and has deep resonance of the notes produced which have a tremolo effect. The following video gives an idea of this instruments & its way of playing.

There are plenty of Tamil film songs where they have used this instrument. Here is an instance where Vibraphone has been used, the song being ‘Varathiruppano’ (Pachai Vilakku), rendered by P.Suseela in the composition of MSV-TKR.

 

Pachai Vilakku

Song book of Pachai Vilakku with the page containing the song VARATHIRUPPANO PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

 

 

 

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Filmy Ripples – Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 4

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

In this concluding part on the above caption, we would strive to feature & discuss about some more of the exotic musical instruments used in our film music.

Trumpet is another popular wind instrument to form a part of the Brass Section of an orchestra, which has been in use in Indian films for a long time.

MSV-TKR has used Trumpet bits in many of his compositions, notables of which include ‘Thulluvatho ilamai’, ‘Adho andha paravai pola’ & ‘Unnai onru ketpen’.

Kishore Sodha has been a reputed trumpet player in Bollywood since 1978 and had worked for composers such as R.D Burman, Kalyanji-Anandji, Bappi Lahiri, Anu Malik, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Anand-Milind, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and more.  His first song on trumpet accompaniment was ‘Rote Hue Aate Hain Sab’ (Muqaddar Ka Sikandar).

The Trumpet is also used placing a ‘mute’ in its ‘bell’ portion so that the sound emanates from there in a muted form. If you hear ‘Maan kanda sorgangal’ from ‘47 Naatkal’, composed by MSV, there are notes from a muted trumpet throughout. The following video explains about a muted trumpet.

Saxophone is an amazing wind instrument, grouped again under Brass Section in Western Orchestra. It was invented in 1840 by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax, after whom it is named.

Sax, as it is called in short form, it has been used in many compositions such as ‘Unnai onru ketpen’ (Puthiya Paravai) composed by MSV-TKR, ‘Ammamma keladi thozhi’ (Karuppu panam) by MSV-TKR & ‘Vannam konda vennilave’ (Sigaram) composed & sung by SPB.

Puthiya Paravai

Song book of Puthiya Paravai with the page containing the song UNNAI ONRU KETPEN  PC: From the archives of TCRC

When we talk of Sax in film music, we cannot but mention the late Manohari Singh, a Sax wizard of Nepali  origin, who had played for leading Hindi composers in immortal songs such as ‘Gatha Rahe mera dil’ (Guide) by Sachin Dev Burman & Yeh Duniya usiki (Kashmir ki kali) by O.P.Nayyar.

Another beautiful composition of S.D.Burman featuring Sax was ‘Oh mere jeevan sathi’ from the movie ‘Guide’.

In the film ‘Duet’, A.R.Rahman had the classical sax player, Mr. Kadri Gopalnath, to play through the film. This film, in fact, popularized this instrument.

Trombone is a Brass wind Instrument, the sound of which is produced when the player’s vibrating lips cause the air column vibrate inside the instrument, having a telescoping slide mechanism that varies the length of the instrument to change the pitch.

While Trombone is usually played in Brass bands – accompanying the main theme by giving punching phrases, the potential of this instrument to perform as solo cannot be undermined.

Here is a piece on Trombone playing Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’.

In Indian films’ BGM scores, Trombone is usually played together with other brass instruments. They have had limited scope as a solo in the interludes of movie songs.

In songs such as ‘Ulagathil siranthathu edhu’ (Pattanathil Bhootham), ‘Atho antha paravai pola’ (Ayirathil oruvan) & ‘Kalyana naal parkka’ (Parakkum Pavai) you could hear Trombone bits. Here is the latter song in the composition of MSV-TKR.

Pattanathil Bootham

Song book of Pattanathil Bhootham with the page containing the song ULAGATHIL SIRANTHATHU ETHU PC: From the archives of TCRC

Ilaya Raja’s ‘Ennamma Kannu’ too had Trombone predominantly.

Oud is a short-necked, pear-shaped multi-stringed musical instrument belonging to Lute family, used in Middle Eastern & North African music.

You can rarely hear Oud in Tamil film music.  Ilayaraja’s ‘Matha un kovilil’ from ‘Achani’ (1978) had distinct Oud usage along with Bells in its BGM. Another good usage could be spotted in the A.R.Rahman composed song from ‘Ravanan’

Achani

Song book of Achani with the page containing the song MATHA UN KOVILIL PC: From the archives of TCRC

Maraca is a rhythm instrument of Mexican origin used in Latin American & Rumba music. It is a humble instrument originally made out of gourd shell.

We can spot the rhythmic sounds of Maraca in many film songs if we very carefully listen, but often it gets submerged in the BGM in most of the songs. Here we have selected a Hindi song, ‘Mujhe duniya wale’ by Mohd. Rafi from the film ‘Leader’ (1964) in the music composition of Naushad Ali, where one can make out the ‘chik-chik’ notes raised by Maraca in rhythmic pattern.

Mexican Scratcher is another humble but exotic rhythmic instrument used in Latin American music & Salsa.

R.D.Burman was the pioneering Music Composer to use it in Indian film music when he used it in the poular song ‘Samne wali kidki pe’ from ‘Padosan’. It features very prominently in the song when Keshto Mukherji enacts with a broom, in the early part of the song.

Another exotic but humble instrument called ‘Elathalam’ is a Clash Cymbal used in Temple Music in Kerala. It is a pair of heavy brass cymbals played with one held firmly & the other clashed with it rhythmically.

A.R.Rahman has creatively used it in the song, “Narumugaiye” in the movie ‘Iruvar’. You can hear this bit in the said song when the visual of the hero & heroine appear in the waterfalls sequence.

In our 5th & concluding part of ‘Exotic Instruments in Film music’ next week, we would look at few more of the instruments used in film music.