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Rahman / Ilayaraja

It is always ironic.

Ilayaraja, we hear, writes his scores in one go. Nasser, speaking at the audio launch of Dhoni (Tamil, 2012), describes Raja composing the famous Thendral Vandhu - the whole act consisting of the maestro writing on several pieces of paper at a feverish pace, effortlessly. In Nasser’s own words: “a poet writing an angry lyric” in his chastised-in-white studio.

Yet, Raja’s music is so segmented, so compartmentalized. The song is not discontinuous but to draw a continuity over the song’s flow would be to miss the spectacular segmentation that he has worked into the song.

He writes at one go but the flow comes in bits and pieces. In phrases and cues. So much that it appears to have been written over disjointed sessions.

* *

A R Rahman, on the other hand, is known to compose in bits, in pieces. The lyricist for Bombay Dreams describes him as playing one tune, refining it, spilling over to another tune stemming from the old one, improvising it, toiling over it so much that, ultimately, he has around him offshoots of every (in)conceivable hue. Ultimately, his routine happens discontinuously. In segments, in phrases. Not at one-go.

But the flow in Rahman’s score is so continuous that, occasionally, you’ll find that two or more tracks from one album (that sound totally different) are actually derivatives of a common theme, of a single parent. Aurally unrelated tunes end up being siblings or first cousins when you extrapolate certain cues. Not motifs. Cues.

He writes in pieces, in elaborate bits but the end product holds such a magnificent flow that it appears to have been written in one session.

* *

I belong to the 90s but that probably is not why my leanings are towards Rahman. It’s this flow that I find solace in.

I listen to Raja’s scores, if not everyday, at least once in two or three days. Some of my favorite songs come with the distinct, inimitable aura of the 70s and 80s. The strong strains of the flute or the veena, the analog string arrangement and the clearly-discernible rhythm are an untouchable hallmark.

But a single, isolated chord from Mannippaaya can move me, emotionally. And the three-second silence after the crescendo-interludes of Moongil Thottam makes me teary-eyed and it’s not just because the song is a motif for a lost relationship, of her; it’s because of that unitary flow.