Elephant Gait!

!!! IMPORTANT – Read this first !!!

Last update: 23 May, 2020

One of the key characteristics of MDR’s music is the apparent “slowness” of his performance. Many krutis are rendered typically in (very) slow tempo – ati viLamba kAla. For a given kruti, the kAlapramANa (~tempo) of most of his renditions will be relatively slower compared to that of other artists. This does not necessarily mean that he sings all krutis in an ultra slow manner. In every concert, he gives this slow treatment to some krutis and then there are others where he resorts to medium and fast tempo. But, overall, one feels that his concerts are “slow” and filled with “sowkhyam“!

The slow tempo is not only employed in the kruti rendition, but also extends to other parts of the concert; the AlApanas are “slow” and are mostly built phrase by phrase with sufficient gaps between the phrases; the movements within a phrase are mostly unhurried; usage of bhrugas are minimal and many times are again interspersed with slower phrases; swaras are rendered in slow tempo; there are noticeable gaps/pauses between segments of concerts etc. All these factors together give the feeling of “viSranti” in an MDR concert.

Slow singing also brings as set of new challenges. One need to be very careful of the nuances of the rAga as it is easier for a listener to notice when things go slightly off (some of the minor slips may get masked when you sing faster, and may be noticed only by expert ears). Similarly, when singing slow, the placement of words, syllables and silence/breaks become more evident. MDR went ahead and handled these challenges in his own unique style and created his own personalised variant of Carnatic music.

In many ways, MDR’s music can be compared to an elephant’s gait – It is generally slow, can be fast when required, and, is always unique, strong and elegant!!!

kruti renditions

The base kAlapramANa of MDR’s kruti renditions are relatively slower compared to most other artists. Many times, “slow” is equated to “boring” by general public, but, MDR knew how to make a slow rendering interesting to the listeners! The gaps between phrases allowed a listener to follow MDR’s musical ideas and appreciate the nuances, before continuing with the next/phrase. Emphasis and pauses at the right places enabled listener to relate with the key points in sAhitya.

Beauty of slow tempo
  • A rAga like yadukulakAmbOji lends itself very well to slow speed exploration. And one can see that MDR takes care in treating such rAgas appropriately. Here is a slow and classy rendition of “divAkara tanUjam“:

  • When “heavy” krutis are taken up for the unique slow rendering, the experience one gets is completely different from the “standard” one. For example, hear this “subramaNyAya namaste” (kAmboji):

  • Another example of slow and unhurried singing can be experienced in the below “sogasugA mridanga taALamu

  • Very rarely one will see krutis like “mAnasa sancharare” treated in a such a slow and sedate manner, this gives a lot of new possibilities to express the rAga and laya intricacies. Top it up with some nice set of kalapanAswaras, and the effect is amazing!

  • When the overall pace of rendition is slow, the musical movements and the sound effects that are produced also takes a different flavour. Listen to this “hariharaputram“. The first line itself sounds so wonderful! Note also some points like 1:23, 3:47, 7:10 etc. (For the full concert, refer here)

  • Due to the slow character of this recording of “mundu vEnuka“, the listener is able to appreciate those small nuances, which would have otherwise got drowned in the speed and the cacophony created by the accompaniments. This is one of the slowest rendition of this kruti. And, this allows us to pick multiple nuances points in this this rendition.
    • Check how “mundu” sounds in different iterations! Subtle, but beautiful!
    • Similarly, check the “rA rA“s. Especially note around 14:00 and 14:15; and this gets better in some of the further repetitions! Lovely!

Other techniques

The unhurried and detailed manner in which he takes up the krutis also adds to the “slowness” in MDR’s concerts.

  • For example, in the below “neranammitinaYa” (kAnada), he gives a detailed treatment to the varNam: pallavi, anupallavi and muktAyiswara are rendered in two speeds, after the charaNam and chiTTaswaras, few rounds of kalpanAswaras are added before concluding. You get a feeling of “fullness” and “slowness” with such an approach. (For the full concert, refer here)

The un-hurried way of singing can also be seen in many of his medium tempo songs. Many times, there is enough pause/silence inserted between the words such that the overall tempo “appears” to be slow.

  • For example, see how much he is slowing down the line “sAma nigamaja” around 1:04:37. Initially, just only a single word, then the line reveals slowly with gaps, then in a more uniform flow, then with micro adjustments in flow and finally the “regular flow” and towards the end of the anupallavi, some faster paced movements. So lovely! Check the beginning of charaNam as well.

At times, when artists start with an anupallavi or a line in charaNam that climbs up in pitch towards tAra sthAyi, they start the line (sometimes partially) and then hold onto the appropriate tara sthAyi swara for one or two Avartanas exploring the rAga ( termed here as “embedded micro-AlApana” :)). Most do this in a standard format – start with the initial words of the line and quickly reach a suitable vowel and then hold on to the swara for some time, and then finish with some additional rAga phrases. Many times, MDR applies his “slowing down” technique in such cases too. Instead of hurrying into reach the swara/vowel to hold, each of the launching words are given their own time and pause in between and then slowly, he reaches the holding point. During this process, a listener who is familiar with the kruti and this technique experiences an interesting effect of expectation/anticipation; he/she knows what is supposed to come, but MDR delays the words by a small amount, without breaking the overall laya framework, and, slowly, let the things fall into their places. This is very subtle, and the beauty and impact of this technique on a learned rasika is tough to describe in words!

  • A nice example of this can be seen in the below rendition. Check few seconds from around 6:40 – “yAdava….kula….muraLi” (For the full concert, refer here):

  • Another example of a similar buildup (at around 2:09:30) – “kAma janaka….kamanIya….vadana“:

There are other such places when this anticipation and the slight deviation can create such interesting effects for a rasika.

  • In this example, see how MDR is treating the placement of word “koNti” in “dArini telusukoNTi” – the standard rendition expects “koNti” to start just after “telusu“. In the first four iterations, MDR pushes it by a little bit (in the fourth iteration, you can see the standard placement being placed by violinist, while MDR starts a bit later 🙂 The rendition has also some other nice touches

AlApana

Most of MDR’s AlApanas are measured and slow. They are also of smaller duration than similar AlApanas from most other artists. There is typically no torrential outpour of bhrugas during MDR AlApanas. The slower pace of phrases enables the listener to appreciate the nuances of the rAga. The gap between the phrases enables the rasika to absorb the music fully into him. While most other artists use long, fast bhruga-laden passages to “stun” the listeners and extract a wow out of them, MDR leads the rasikas gently into his music and the rasika becomes part of the performance!

  • Here is a very short, but sweet mukhAri AlApana – so beautiful!!!

  • Here is a slow and elegant AlApana of pUrvikalyANi:

  • Here is a moderately paced kalyANi AlApana. He uses bhrugas at different points in the AlApana, but the bhruga laden phrases are short and punctuated with pauses giving an overall feel of “slow AlApana“. (For the full concert, refer here)

Slowing down in segments

During an AlApana, MDR may slow down at different points to give the extra care and emphasis. The duration of this slowing down may be short or long, depending on the intended effect. A common and very obvious practice that he employs many times is to slow down after few quick bhruga-laden phrases. But, similar approaches may be taken at other points too.

  • In this AlApana, towards the end (note especially around 6:25), he slows the AlApana to give some very beautiful ending phrases! (For the full concert, refer here)

Swaras

Slowing down the swara renditions brings out a different face of rAga bhAva compared to the medium/fast tempo renderings and MDR knew how to capture and present this beautifully!

  • Beauty of slow pace!

  • See the feel in the chiTTaswara for this “hariharaputram” when it is done at “MDR” speed 🙂

Fast Fillers

Though one may think of elephant as a huge and slow animal, in reality, an elephant can move very fast! Same applies for MDR too, if he decides, he would sing fast fillers/tukDas. When he does it, it is with 100% involvement & energy as usual, and the listener can see that MDR is enjoying this style too!

  • The below rendition can be considered as an example of a “fast filler”. Even in such fast fillers, he may still be slower than many others and the perceived speed depends also on the accompanists. For example here, the mrudangam also helps to keeps the tempo alive:
  • Generally, due to the low pitch of the voice, rendering fast swaras sometimes appears as little bit of struggle for MDR. Even at such instances, his manOdharma and what he intends actually gets through to the listener and he is able to take people to where he intends. Take this example of “marivEre“:

  • Finally, here is a fast one! And, even here, he found a way to slow it down – check out towards the end of the kruti 🙂