Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Hard to compose "bad" music?

"I think when you are hungry you relish anything. It's the same with music. Only when you are in the right mood can you appreciate a kriti."
-- Lalgudi Jayaraman, in Hindu Take
I always had this view that composing songs that were bad was a really hard task. Because of the simple fact that we "get used" to the song and start liking it after repeated listenings.

So what exactly do we mean when we say a partticular song/music is good.
It can only be governed by the following function H(t) : The 'happiness' (due to lack of a better word) we
derive from the song/music as a function of time. Four parameters for this function govern the quality of the song. The rate at which the function reaches its maximum value, the maximum value, the rate at which the function decays from the maximum value and finally "hysterisis",the rate of slow trace back(increase of happiness function) of the curve due to long periods of not listening to the song.

Let us look at the parameters individually:

1) Attack : (rate of increase): This , I guess, is dependant on the level of musical expertise of the person.
For example consider the song "Azhagana Ratchasiye.." -- If this song is heard by a person who is familiar with the raaga reetigowla, then the the attack will be higher for that person. The next obvious qustion is why? I think the answer has to deal with psychological reasons which I would reserve for a future post.

2) Decay (rate of decrease): After listening to a song repeatedly, we tend to lose interest in the song. Again I think the reasons for this are psychological. I think this phenomenon may be independent of the musical expertise of the person.

3) Maximum value: How good a song is should depend on the maximum value. But based on my personal experience it is very hard to distingush the maximum values of two good songs/music. (I get the same "kick" from all songs when I am enjoying it the greatest!)

4) Hysterisis: Suppose we hear a song continually for a week. By this time, the H value would have increased to its maximum value and would have started falling say to value 'l' (say) after a week. Then
if we we wait for a year and again hear the song. Now the H value will not be 'l' , but a much higher value beacuse of the trace back in the periods of non-listening.

Now let us explain the reasons for the following using our theory:

i) Common men enjoy film music more than classical music.
Based on two reasons:
a) Musical expertise of common man is low. So often the attack (rate at which H(t) increases) can be low.
b) Common man listens to (is forced to listen) to film songs in the initial stages, (even when the H for that songs has not risen).

ii) The old melodies dont die, the newer songs die a quick death:
This is a fallacy. Again explained using the frequencies of listening and hysterisis. (The old songs are heard at a mush lesser frequency compared to new songs).

iii) Carnatic music is of inherently higher quality than film music
I would have say no and yes to this.
I would say inherently there is no difference in the quality of music. (All the four parameters are probably not much better than film music)
But the reason for carnatic music's speciality is "manodharma" (the creative part, or the improvising part). By having this we have ensured we are not hearing the same (ditto) song/music again and again.
Each time we are hearing an improvisation. That is the reason ragas and krithis dont decay at all.

brilliant da...
i liked the H(t) and the four parameters...How true!!!
Thanks J.Harish.
HAHAHAHA>... forget the entire article!!!!
Thanks "J.harish" sonnaan paaru da.

(wil post my comments on that smashing article soon)
Hi Girish, seems you are having a great time
in ahamedabad! Good luck!
Excellent -- vintage Vijayanand!

Girish: Thanks "J.harish" sonnaan paaru da. :D
Awesome analysis da.. i wanna link up to this on my blog (inbetweengap.blogspot.com) and kinda build on this. in a small way. this could be very interesting..
Hi da,

Hope you are doing fine there...Mail id kudu ..nvijayanand@lycos.com is correct ? Will you be coming home this december ??
Dei sekar,

Yes da , I am fine. nvijayanand at gmail (or lycos) is my email id. Hope work is going smoothly. Mail me...
(yours is sekarj at lycos right? )
srikant,girish: Thanks!
Nice analysis!

I think, humans tend to appreciate complexity. It takes great effort to understand the 'complex' stuff. Once we are through with understanding the complex stuff, we search for newer pastures which are more challenging.

Guess, only songs which have soul and style can sustain for long time. Songs by 'led zep', 'pink floyd', 'dire straits', classical music(western or carnatic or hindustani) always will last long. Reason for classical music to be featured in this 'perennial-favourite' is that they have an enigma associated with them. It is not easily comprehensible and there lies the beauty of the song. So, most of us wont mind to listen to songs of such kind of again-and-again and still not be satisfied with our interpretion of that song. Every time you listen to the song, you will get a different understanding of that song.
Really enjoyed listening to Madurai TN Seshagopalan's rendition of 'kurinji .. nattai kurinji' raga/song. Infact I even enjoyed the song which ran in the 'kill bill 2' final credits, that song was in some Latino language(I guess Spanish) was composed by Robert Rodriguez.


Dennis Ritchie once said,"Unix is a simple Operating System. It needs a genius to understand the simplicity."
Thought this quote by Dennis Ritchie was fantastic!

Viewing it in terms of complexity is interesting!
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hey happened to chance upon your blog...
i had read srikanth's post on carnatic music earlier..
good to see a post abt carnatic music on yours too...

while it may be true that understanding of carnatic music enhances one's appreciation...
i dont think it is in any way necessary to appreciate music...

i have been an avid carnatic listener... and unfortunately my first impulse is to identify a raga after which i get down to appreciate it...
however, i dont hold that an imperative prerequisite to appreciation...
(i am responding in particular to your take on reetigowla..)

the enjoyment i derive is usually based on the surprise value...
how unexpected the singer/musician breaks his/her sequences and surprises me... bhimsen joshi for this reason i have found to be one of the most satisfying... (and yesudas one of the most disappointing)

also i dont agree with you irreconciliable divide
between carnatic and film music...

"Musical expertise of common man is low.
So often the attack (rate at which H(t) increases)
can be low."

if art is not visceral, it might never exist outside of theory...
i can only make a personal point to substantiate that...
i remember i learnt to enjoy sindhubharavi long before i knew its name,
or could tell it from any other...
similarly my reaction to mohanam is usually one of extreme irritation... for i have come to realise i hate the raga for some inexplicable reason...

if poetry can communicate before it is understood,
surely so can music...

lets hope you write more on music...

(sorry abt mahabharata comment, didnt realise it would turn out to be so big!)
Hi Viv,
Thanks for your comments!

I agree to most of what you say.

Infact, what I was advocating vis a vis , carnatic music is similar to what you say: there is no divide between any form of music: that was one of the points I was making.

Musical expertise just makes the listener understand the song quicker. Here by Musical expertise I dont refer to expertise in any particular form of music.

I totally agree that the person does not need to know the name of the raaga to appreciate a song. But the person's brain has an identifier for it!
(Like you liked sindhubhairavi but not mohanam)
thanks for clarifying vijayanad...
yes if your point was that one's appreciation is intensified with a greater understanding...
yes i suppose i wouldnt argue...

(unrelated point... this morning my roommate was listening to a telugu devotional song... one of those nondescript annoyingly loud and boring uniform songs... i was startled when the phrases started to resemble reetigowla... ouch how a lovely raga can be MURDERED by thoughtless exposition...)
perfectly said vijay.......ru from chennai....u a musician.......do u miss music in the us.....neways....thats a pice of justice done to save carnatic music from this film music!
Chanced upon your blog while googling on Reetigowla.To a good extent what one grows up with ends up influencing their tastes...and normal junta is used to hearing film music in tea kadais etc.etc...rather than classical music...so there is more popularity for film music. Also as another person pointed out here, Classical music seems more complex and enigmatic to the uninfluenced...and common man usually stays away from such complex art forms.
In an average south indian family, exposure to both forms of music is expected and from where I come, in spite of having a classical music in the family, my ability to appreciate film music is more simply because of its acceptance amongst the rest of the crowd.

Nice thought analysis write up!
awatts, Thanks. I agree with what you say.
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