Gagan Dhuan Dhuan - My Experience (Part 2)
In this blog, am writing about some fun creative choices I made in the music production part. Might be geeky, indulge if you feel like it.
I'm not a big fan of the metronome in all kinds of music. In some styles, the metronome is a great tool and "strict tempo" can have its own allure. In many other cases, it is a burden, but we stick to it like a blind rule. I first tried playing around with the metronome to suit the melodic phrases in Kannil Mazhai; there are 2-3 areas in the song where the tempo changes according to the musical phrase. I definitely felt the song breathing much more this way.
In Gagan, it's a very relaxed track and I wanted the tempo to follow the phrase like how I enjoyed singing it as a tune. If some phrases needed more pause before the next one began, I just gave it. I tweaked the tempo as freely as possible throughout the song, so it flows in a very humane way.
This is the tempo map of Gagan
It was a fun production choice - so when I tracked guitars and the orchestral layers, everyone had this map to follow, including the singer! I would argue that with this map, it feels much better to sing the melody, than without it as it closely follows a "human" interpretation of the melody. However, the instrumentalists did have a mild challenge, but being the pros they are, they just breezed through it.
iPhone recorded Orchestral Ensemble
The orchestral ensemble you hear in Gagan was actually recorded on iPhones and "put together" in a virtual space. I saw that my friend Joaquim Badia was doing it regularly for his quartet pieces and I asked him if he can help me record the orchestral parts.
I had written for 6 strings, 8 woodwinds, 4 horns & 3 trumpets; he got 11 players from around the world to play all the parts - some in Europe, some in South America and some in UK. They all played individually from the comfort of their homes into an iPhone and everything was assimilated in a virtual soundstage and then bounced out as stems. It's a super jugaad process which lead to some interesting results. Of course, this was done because of covid lockdown. Also, booking small orchestral lineups like mine, which is not a traditional line up costs a lot more as you have to book the entire session. So for multiple reasons, this option worked best.
Below is a clip of the oboe player, recording her part for Gagan.
I anyways wanted a dark sound for the orchestra; I rolled off most of the highs later in the mix, so I thought for this particular song, this might just work. Huge shout out to Joaquim for preparing an amazing backing track with appropriate instructions for the orchestral members to play their parts correctly. He also worked on the automations quite a bit to make them emote the dynamics as if they all played it together.
Music imitating / anticipating the lyrics
One decision I made early on was to arrange the music in a way where it closely followed the lyrics throughout. I didn't mind completely taking out the backing guitars from the 3rd line or suddenly introducing piano in the midst of the 2nd verse, etc. as long as it imitates the lyrics. Some examples: I removed the bass completely for "hawa ruke to" to get a feeling of sudden stillness; a little woodwind flutter preceding the line "hawaa", an eerie sounding downward phrase in the whole-tone scale (Raag gopriya) after she sings "fiza jale to", so on and so forth. I had imagined a candlelight fluttering for verse C and the piano does that in between the lines in Verse C.
This style was exciting for me. Needless to say, I knew I was probably trading this off with the "catchiness" of the song by not having more disciplined part-writing. However, if not now, then when? (this line definitely sounds better in tamil)
I guess this should be good enough for a blog read. If ever I get to do a full breakdown, I can probably share more.
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