“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.” — Richard P. Feynman
Maestro Ilaiyaraaja is well regarded for his grasp of different schools of music and his ability to seamlessly weave them together in a unique style. We believe the smallest movement in the maestro’s compositions can be subject to the most meticulous analysis, and would reveal his syncretic genius. The recording and post-production techniques in India in the seventies and eighties rarely did justice to the richly textured work of this musical polymath, often requiring one to listen to a composition multiple times with a high degree of concentration.
In our efforts to help listeners enjoy the maestro’s music at its finest detail, we came across an interesting music visualization technique that contains much of the information in a conventional score, but shows it in a way that can be understood intuitively by anyone.
The prelude of the song “Sangeetha Megam” from the movie Udhaya Geetham is used here to illustrate this. (The original audio has been synced against a near-perfect MIDI recreation for purposes of illustration.)
Each track has a unique colour. Within each track, the melodic and time signatures of each note is visually illustrated as a dot. The traversal of melody is represented through ascending or descending dots, and the time signature of each note is represented by the size of the dot.
The visual representation of both the melodic traversal, as well as its time signature, is relative. That is, if an adjacent note is 5 semitones higer than the previous one, then the vertical step between these two notes is correspondingly higher, and a line leads one note to the other. This line which connects adjacent dots serves as the axis of reference of each track. The vertical step of an adjacent note that is 2 semitones higher than the previous one will be correspondingly small.
A dot representing a note lasting for 4 beats is 4 times the size of a dot that represents a note lasting 1 beat. Sustain for each note is illustrated with a gradual fade-out of the dot along its axis of reference.
All notes played at any given moment of time are simultaneously highlighted. The bigger dots dominate the visuals but observing all simultaneous dots irrespective of their size is key to appreciating the polyphonic nature of Ilaiyaraaja’s compositions.
This prelude snippet has separate tracks for the chords (the turquoise track on top), the bass guitar (light blue at bottom), piano (green), the rhythm section (purple, representing all notes played with the acoustic drum, the triple congo set and the kabbas), trombone (light yellow), and the solo trumpet at the end of the clip (bright yellow).
The key signature of the song is A minor. The prelude starts with an Am (added) 9th chord followed by a drumroll. This is followed by a Dm 7th chord and another drumroll.
Then, piano notes oscillate across octaves: every second note an E one octave lower, every odd note pitter-pattering around the higher E. This creates a feeling of an impending musical rain, as literally signified by the song’s lyrics. The bass guitar follows the melodic line of this track.
The trombone then majestically carries the lead melody even as the complete percussion section kicks into action. The stage for the song is set. Another solo trumpet surfaces and takes over from the trombone, only to pass the baton on to the vocals.
The editors of raaja.com are confident that techniques such as these will help fans appreciate Ilaiyaraaja’s music better.