Disco Raaga – Taana – Pallavi

This is one of those posts that I’ve been intending to post for over a couple of months, but each time I think about this, I don’t happen to be in front of a computer, and even if I do, I don’t feel like writing about it. So here I am – finally blogging this. As I write this, I’m listening to the Ledzep Live Album The Song Remains the Same. This post is about this album, and other related stuff.

As you might have figured out from the title of this post, one thing I’ve noticed about this album is about the approximate Carnatic format that the songs in this take on. It may not be in the strict order that Carnatic music prescribes, but these songs are roughly there. I’m currently listening to Dazed and Confused, and after the first few lines of the Pallavi were sung, Page has now gone off into an extended Aalapana of whichever Raaga this song is set in.

Periodically, they return to the song, and play a few more lines. Now, Plant is doing his bit by improvising with a few lines of his own. Jones and Bonham are dutifully doing their background stuff – Bonham will get his footage later in the album – for Moby Dick features a full-blown Tani Avartanam. It ends the same way Tani Avartanams in Carnatic concerts do – with the main line of the Pallavi being sung at the end of it. I know I might be force-fitting some Carnatic concepts into this album; nevertheless, all these improvements make for extremely interesting listening.

A few days after I had first noticed this, Udupa told me that a large number of concerts in the 70s were like this – the musicians would simply jam on stage in the middle of the songs. Created music on the spot. Spontaneous stuff. Unfortunately, Udupa continued, the trend changed a few years back when less informed audiences started demanding that more songs be crammed into the three hour concert, thus reducing the scope for such improvisations.

The best thing about Carnatic concerts is that each one is unique. You might look at two concerts – played by the same set of musicians and with the same line-up of krithis, but there is a very good chance that the two are markedly different. This is because Indian Classical music, in its concerts, encourages the musician to innovate, to play whatever comes to his mind at that point of time – while adhering to the fairly strict rules. It is this element of innovation that makes each concert special, and an experience in itself.

Western Classical music differs in this regard – especially in the orchestra form – since the large size of the troupe leaves little scope for innovation and the musicians are literally forced to play it by the book. In that context, it seems like it was genres such as rock which brought in the spontaneity and innovation into western music.

Nowadays, bands don’t tour as much as they used to a couple of decades ago, which means that whenever they visit a city (which is once in a few years), the fans in the city will want to hear as many songs as possible. And that kills innovation. It is not the bands’ fault – they are simply responding to the market. And I don’t know what it could be that could get them back to their RTP days.

Here is one of my retirement plans. For each song that I like, describe a Carnatic Raaga into which it can approximately fit into. Tinker around with the stanzas, to create a Pallavi-Anupallavi-Charana format. Try to make the raagas as rigid as possible – Vakra scales will be preferred. And then put RTP. Use some Western instruments too – for example, I definitely want the Bass guitar to be a regular feature in Carnatic concerts. I think the result is likely to be phenomenal.

It’s been a few years since I picked up the violin. I plan to do it sometime. And implement what I’ve described here. Hopefully I’ll do a good job. In the meantime, if there are any bands out there which want to implement this concept, they can feel free and do it – I promise I won’t sue them later for IPR.

11 thoughts on “Disco Raaga – Taana – Pallavi”

  1. Beg to differ on “western classical offers no scope for improvisation”.
    That’s true for symphonies, but not for concertos.
    Lesser improvisation (than Carnatic) surely, but not no improvisation.

  2. Skimpy, probably the title is slightly offtrack for this one. What you are describing is the main kriti (main song) in the concert. It has the format you described. Pretty bang on.

    RTP is slightly different. The Raagam is first sung. its an aalaapanai of the raagam (the thadarinaa phrases are used usually). then he sings a thaanam – which is also in the same raagam but instead of words he uses thaa, thom, nam etc. And then the pallavi is sung for a few lines in the same raagam. However after that the same lines are taken and sung in DIFFERENT raagams.
    And on creativity on carnatic music – I have heard different viewpoints and there is some reason to believe that a lot of so called creativity is really templatized and methodical. Not qualified to comment on that, So wont venture into it. I leave that to more informed classical music fans.

    1. kupamanduka has replied to your post below. fairly detailed and all that. you might want to check it out.

      and i agree that a lot of creativity in carnatic music is templatized. you typically end up resembling your guru. and i think it’s important to recognize this early and differentiate yourself in some way.

  3. Harish, you are making it sound terrible.

    First let us get the RTP correctly. tAnam is different not because the words used are different ( and that is a very demeaning excision of detail! ) – it is because the tempo is different. Now the difference in tempo wouldn’t have been a big deal, if carnatic music weren’t so focused on gamakams. The point is that for the tempo of the tAnam you don’t have at your disposal a lot of the gamakams that work for rAgams. And san~cAras cannot come in so much of a “burst mode” as for rAgAlApana, yet the identity of the rAga has to be maintained.

    If you aren’t convinced, see this film music review where the reviewer praises Ilaiyaraja for his treatment of rItigauLai, “avoiding the tortuous pattern” ( which will be necessary for tAnams ).

    Secondly, same lines being taken and sung in different rAgams is strictly optional, and is not all that common ( svaras in different rAgams is more common ).

    Creativity : the templatization thing you wrote about is certainly true for “lower rung musicians”. But then what do you expect, even most university professors in India do uncreative and irrelevant research. However the great musicians have certainly been creative – almost all the yesteryears’ masters evolved a style of their own, different from that of their guru. Thus we had a GNB style, MLV style ( though MLV was a disciple of GNB ), SSI style, MMI style, MDR style and so on. Today Seshagopalan has his own style, and Sanjay Subrahmanian and TMK seem creative ( you can argue that they may be having a huge database in their brain and singing from that; the point is they aren’t repetitive unlike Yesudas which would be the case if they didn’t have creativity ).

    Further, carnatic music has drastically changed over the last 150 years or so. There has been an attempt to recreate music as it existed in the late 19th century – using notation from sangIta-sampradAya-pradarshini. TM Krishna has a DVD where he sings songs as notated in SSP. And I have been told by someone that it sounds much plainer than today’s carnatic music. Obviously people have been making the gamakams more and more intricate over time. This is one area where India did NOT stagnate, and continued to produce non-trivial stuff, at least until about the low point during late 1980s or early 1990s.

    If you notice, sk’s article talked only about the format. Lower rung guys being able to get away with mediocre stuff is no case against that.

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