Suraj Kumar (sunson) wrote,
Suraj Kumar
sunson

Peak tamil film music

Music is said to be infinite. Atleast in theory, because its all about combining 12 different notes, add a dimension of meter that can further increase the possible perceived unique combinations to produce tunes. The theoretical possible combinations is so huge that its said to be infinite.

But, if there is really an infinity out there, why would a genius like A.R.Rahman take so many hours of work to produce music? I, for one, don't believe Rahman is any less talented than the maestros of the previous two generations. Instead, I think music is finite. Before you call my argument as mere hand-waving, let me pull up some graphs to prove my point.

The following show the number of movies composed for by each of the following music directors in a given year:

M.S.Viswanathan's yearly churn out
M.S.V
Ilayaraja's yearly churn out
Ilayaraja
Rahman's yearly churn out
A.R.Rahman


Notice how Rahman's yearly churn out is hardly anything to talk about. Arguments of Rahman's music being of better quality and hence more time taken by Rahman don't fly in the face of the number of perceived hits per movie in comparison to most Ilayaraja or M.S.V's movies. Infact, I can also argue how the technology that was available to the composers of the yesteryears were far inferior in comparison to the gadgets at Rahman's disposal. Its not about technology.

... and please bear in mind, I'm a fan of Rahman too and am by no means trying to belittle his work. Just that, I think there is a systemic problem / reason to why Rahman isn't able to churn out as many hits as the composers of yore.

Is music really infinite?

To begin with, music is only theoretically infinite. Catchy tunes have certain characteristics such as simplicity of meter/notes. Once a simple tune has been made, it can't be made again (unless we're talking about Anu Malik or Deva).

Music can be compared to how Energy is important to today's industrial society. I'm sure I don't have to pull out examples of tonnes of movies that had record records sales but had the most predictable and crappily presented stories of all. This extreme importance brings with it a pressure to churn out more and unfortunately, my friends, tamil film industry peaked music production a long time ago.

Here is the above three legends' yearly churn out stacked together to show the exact phenomenon (summary below):

Tamil film industry cumulative (stacked) yearly scores


Notice how, as each music director starts reaching their all time peak or stays long enough in their peak boring people with their repetetive tunes (isn't that what Ilayaraja did in the 90s, churning out volumes but not as many hits?), the industry, akin to the free market, finds alternative sources of music. Typically, two giants co-exist, one declines while the other grows to their full possible capacity.

The history of the Tamil film industry and the oil industry, side by side
MSV is like the cheap and easy oil of Texas and a first systematic exploitation of (western) music to drive films as opposed to films being enjoyed for the story's sake. MSV peaked in the year 1974 with 30 films being produced in that year alone... It is important to remember that the recording technology that was available mandated a whole session to be recorded in one go, no multi-track mixing and UPS'es, forget synthesizers which were a thing out of reach for a relatively poor tamil film industry of the times! and then the Market found Ilayaraaja, a combination of genius and firm western classical fundamentals.

Ilayaraaja brought about a period of abundance and prosperity, akin to what the Saudi (and middle east in general) did to the world. People talked for a long time about how the senseless thing of writing songs that fit the music will not exist for long. But yet, he prevailed and ruled. He produced 50 films in the years 1985 and 1992 while producing his all time peak of 51 movies in the year 1990. Soon after reaching the Undulating plateau, the Export Land Model kicked in, as Ilayaraja went on to make two best seller private albums (How to Name it? and Nothing but Wind). This explains the dip in the amount of scores that were produced for the tamil film industry from the year 1986 to 1988. However, towards the end of his career, he attempted his best to sustain his yearly production, akin to what Saudi is doing today by injecting sea water into their oil fields... and eventually Rahman was found in a desperate attempt, a genius working away on ad jingles.

Rahman is more like the Tar sands and oil shales. Full of high technology and sheer brilliance that the whole nation celebrated him (while he celebrated the nation). Sure there is a lot of "theoretical volumes of music remaining to be extracted" but it takes a lot of effort and skill... and time. He is the tar sands, the oil shales and the deep water oil. Can't churn out as fast as what happened in the days of glory years. The peak is behind us by this time or so speaks the data.

In short, here is how I'd like to compare MSV, Ilayaraaja and Rahman in terms of our planet's oil history: technical complexity, ease of music availability and volume of output:

M.S.V. - the easy music

Ilayaraja - abundance exploited systematically with technology
A.R.Rahman - humanity's genius put to work in getting everything out possible!
[-]

I can hear you mumbling "But we still make a lot of movies today!".

Welcome to scarcity tamil film industrialism:
  • Most stuff that is made today don't last long in our minds. They're the equivalent of stuff produced in china, to be used and thrown because its more economical to do just that - its not of good quality anyway. Plus there is the inherent pressure and need for Growth! the tamil film industry is addicted to Growth as well! ;)
  • Infact, apart from very skilled producers like Rahman, everything is just recycle and reuse of old stuff (how many remixes from the past can you count?). Heard Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya? I think some songs were very close to an oil spill disaster ;)


Rahman is probably as great as Ilayaraja or MSV was (his accolades speak for the kind of genius he is), but he doesn't have much left to produce. Don't blame him, instead think about the finite nature of something we have been told is available in vast quantities. Its not about the amount of possible tunes available. Its about how much can be produced cheaply and in an economically viable manner.

PS[1]: Thanks to the existence of 600024.com. Its by far the most comprehensive site I found on the internet that contained information of all sorts about Kollywood, india's second largest film industry next only to bollywood (and I guess bollywood's prime source of musical talent and music of today :P). I counted the number of movies by music director. I could have perhaps crawled their site extensively but I guess I've already made the point by taking the statistically significant composers of all time? ;)

PS[2]: This post was inspired by a post of similar nature - The hubbert peak theory of rock
Tags: ilayaraja, kollywood, msviswanathan, music, peak-music, peak-oil, rahman
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