The Voyage by Radhika Iyer : ALBUM WRITEUP

         The Voyage 

(Released June01, 2017 by Narked Records)

                                    https://narked.com/album/the-voyage/

This production is a result of a remote/ online collaboration between Radhika and her co-artists where Radhika takes a non-conformist approach to the musical arrangement; holistically envisioning all the parts, but conceiving and recording the violin lead first with the other instruments being aesthetically carved around the lead. The 6 songs were composed in about 4 weeks and the entire production took about 5 months..

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TITLES

Genesis

Sometimes, compositions happen in intriguing ways. The song was initially named 2 Freakin’ Chords because it was built off of just 2 chords : Emaj and D#maj.  The creative bug bit when the guitar player was out of town. Using a rhythm guitar sample  in Emaj and pitch-dropping it to D#maj at modal points, the lead melody and core riffs were finalized. These two chords continue to be the only 2 chords played by the rhythm guitar.

Musical ideaNested in  just these two basic chords, the lead melody starts in the E-Mixolydian scale flavored with accidentals and settles into D#-Phrygian / Phrygian dominant, moving modally into E-Lydian and eventually grounding itself back in E-Mixolydian  in the turnaround. In this varied melodic landscape, these two chords suddenly seem to not be so freakin’ afterall (to the much relieved and happy guitar player); and seem to become  part of something larger, as if surrendering to a myriad of interposing melodies which form chords in themselves. The guitar riff in 5/4  shifts between the tonics of D# and E to prime the ear for the modal change to D#.

The song is composed in the key of E, 103 bpm, 4/4 time signature

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Abogi

Abogi (pronounced Aabhogi/Aabogi)  is the name of another beautiful pentatonic scale from India. On a key of C, its notes are : C,D,Eb,F,A,C. This composition is like a jazz standard equivalent in South Indian classical music studies and they are termed “Varnam”. Every student has to master many such varnams in many different scales in order to progress to more advanced curriculum. A varnam is often performed as an opening piece in many South Indian classical concerts because of its popularity and also because it is a  great warm-up. I am a huge fan of varnams because they offer limitless possibilities to develop technical mastery over a multitude of scales.

Musical idea : Fusion of extreme genres requires a certain subtlety so that the distinguishing lines between the genres fade into each other and don’t stick out as two mutually exclusive elements. The Indian classical nuances/slides of the Abogi scale have been “toned-down” a bit so that it gives up some of its pure classical signature to make space for the rest of the musical arrangement. The guitar riff,  chords and bass lines embrace the scale Abogi throughout the main section of the song so that the listener stays grounded in the scale. The overdrive and wah on the violin adds a touch of raw grunge while the dynamic Afro-Cuban percussion takes the listener back to primal existence.

The song is composed in the key of C, 110 bpm, 4/4 time signature.

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Durga

Durga is worshipped as the Goddess of power, strength and  the destroyer of evil in India. Musically,  Durga is the name of a pentatonic scale, the fifth mode of the very popular minor pentatonic scale of the West. In India, all the 5 modes of the minor pentatonic are commonly heard in repertoire.

Musical idea : This composition takes a listener on a journey which begins with an invocation of Durga  in authentic Indian classical style and swiftly moves into Western classical arpeggios  and metamorphoses  through all the 5 modes of the scale Durga;  two of which would be the minor pentatonic and the major pentatonic familiar to the western ear. The bluesy guitar licks over the arpeggios sound rooted in the scales but are actually minor pentatonic licks in different keys, in the following order : D,B,G,A,E while the violin plays all the arpeggio runs in the key of D.

The song is composed in the key of D, 130bpm, 4/4 time signature

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Reminiscentia

The brilliant drummer of this album is also a brilliant jazz drummer. And who knows better than jazz players, once addicted to jazz, forever addicted to jazz :). After having ingested doses of progressive rock, metal, afro-cuban flavors in some of the earlier compositions,  the drummer craved for jazz, even asked for it :). I love jazz; jazz always felt good.So with a touch of swing, everyone was asked to take a solo; the drummer going first in line for a change 🙂 . The song became a reminiscence of how much went into the making of this album, so was named  “Reminiscentia” .

Musical idea :  Reethi-gowlai is a very popular South Indian scale and a mode of the Dorian scale.  It is smooth, sensitive and yet yields itself to a nice blend for jazz. The scale has a unique ascent-descent rule which gives it it’s identity in Indian classical tradition. In the key of C, the ascent is :  C,Eb,D,Eb,F,Bb,A,F,Bb,Bb,C / the descent is C,Bb,A,F,Eb,F,G,F,Eb,D,C (note the double Bb before the C in the ascent and the jumbled order of the notes)  The violin melody in the composition will follow this rule in  distinct places while the dorian and the blues scale allow for a nice three-way blend for more creative expression and improvisation.

The song is composed in the key of G, 180 bpm, 4/4 time signature.

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Phrygian Fire

The Phrygian scale makes most guitarists drool, especially if its in E . But wait, there is a small catch. This song is  not just about the Phrygian Scale, its a folk variation of it called Bhairavi (In North India) and Sindhu Bhairavi (In South India). So how is it different ? It has some accidentals which need to be played in a certain phrasing. So if the E-Phrygian scale is : E,F,G,A,B,C,D, the accidentals  are  F#,A#,C# and the less frequently used D#. In classical renditions, this scale (more aptly Raag) tends to make the listener  reflective, meditative or even emotionally stirred.

Musical idea : Take an emotionally sensitive Indian scale, and defy its cavern reputation. This composition remains loyal to the scale boundary of Bhairavi/ Sindhu-Bhairavi without shifting into relative modes of the Phrygian scale. Catch those accidentals in the face melting guitar solo. The symphonic violin melodies keep infusing palpable emotion into the song while the metal crunch of the guitar, the drums and the bass keep shredding it as if trying to break free from the intangible poignancy of the scale. The impressive drum solo in 7/8 seizes the listener for a brief moment before the tussle resumes and resolves  in  a  “we agree to disagree” concurrence.

The song is composed in the key of E, 130bpm, 7/8 time signature.

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Voyage

Musicians sometimes find themselves in what they term as  “in the zone” . It is a mental plane where something beyond them is at work , they know it , feel it, surrender to it and cant be jolted out of it.  They like to come out of it on their own. This composition was a result of one of those moments.

Musical idea : Creative freedom could sometimes lead to a  juxtaposition of rhythms and melodies. But with the right arrangement and balance, a harmonious co-existence is possible without anyone’s creative freedom being subdued. With a “play what you like” approach, the bass line is intertwined into the violin’s melody line as if playing a counter melody and defying normal bass playing rules. Infused with Soca, Mozambique and Latin Funk rhythms, the composition coalesces the Natural and Harmonic minor scales with the Whole tone scale and even includes the classical Indian scale called “Shanmukhapriya” which is the natural minor with a raised fourth.

The song is composed in the key of A, 136 bpm, 4/4 time signature.

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