Academy Award-winner, A. R. Rahman: 'Technology is a double-edged sword'

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DOWN-TO-EARTH INTENTIONS

“My aim was never just money and fame. I wanted to enjoy my work and be satisfied at the end of the day. It was out of the norms to be selective about which project one chooses, and doing less but meaningful work. Other composers were doing 30-40 movies a year, while I was doing just two. People might say I was crazy, but I was happy with it that way. It was an imperative step that laid the foundation for quality of my work. I also didn’t expect Hindi-movie audience to like my music and embrace me like they did. It was a great feeling,” explained Rahman.

My aim was never just money and fame. I wanted to enjoy my work and be satis- fied at the end of the day. It was out of the norms to be selective about which project
one chooses, and doing less but meaningful work. Other composers were doing 30-40 movies a year, while I was doing just two. People might say I was crazy, but I was happy with it that way. It was an imperative step that laid the foundation for quality of my work.


Rahman believes in maintaining a work-life balance. “I believe in enjoying life, rather than just slogging. Overworking makes one insensitive and numb, leaving no room for self-introspection,” he said. He is also a family-oriented person. “One great thing is that my house and studio are in the same compound. Yes, it sometimes hampers privacy, but it’s barely a problem because my room is on the top floor. I can see my mom when I want to, I can see my wife and children when I want to; don’t have to worry about missing out on family-time,” said Rahman.

A R Rahman

Rahman live in-concert

TECHNOLOGY TO BACK-UP


When asked about where he places technology in the music eco-system, Rahman explained an analogy, “Technology is a double-edged sword. Some advancements help immensely, while some make one lazy as an artist. Let me give a context to what I’m trying to say. For instance, consider a traditional film camera. One has to be dead-sure before pressing the button. And this is what ensures quality. Take the case of
digital, one is never afraid of taking a shot on impulse, since it can be edited or deleted as per one’s whims.”
Rahman explained that one doesn’t use all the resources and corners of one’s mind in the digital world. It also leads an artist slightly away from originality. He believes it is best to tread with caution when it came to digital technology. “In a conventional tape, it is a pain to go all the way back and correct anything. One has to sort out everything beforehand. This generation has probably never even seen a tape. I think they have missed out on the raw essence of art, and the spontaneity of the mind,” he pointed out.

A. R. Rahman

IN TERMS OF TECHNOLOGY FOR MUSIC, INDIA IS UP THERE! GONE ARE THE DAYS WHEN ONE REQUIRED A MIXER COSTING HALF A MILLION DOLLARS. PEOPLE ARE RECORDING WITH A LAPTOP AND A MIC. AND THIS IS AN ACHIEVEMENT. IT HAS DEMOCRATISED THE ENTIRE SCENE, YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE RICH TO PRODUCE BIG SOUNDS. ANYBODY CAN COMPOSE A SONG WITHIN THE CONFINES OF THEIR BEDROOM.

Rahman gave credit to the advent of the internet, though. “Internet is a gift. We can record and supervise a song anywhere, without worrying about how remote the location is. From Paris, New York, Middle East, just anywhere! Nobody knows where what is happening, just some files and the click of a button, and it’s done,” he said. He recalled his experience whilst composing music for Slumdog Millionaire. “I remember, Mahalakshmi (Iyer) was sending her files from New York, Alka Yagnik was recording in Mumbai, and the composition was happening in Chennai. All studios were bustling with activity and exchange of files. Had it not been for this ease-of-access, I would not have finished the score in time. Even sending instructions is as easy as sending a voice-note over Skype,” he said. This, he said, led to an easy end-to-end process, without having to travel halfway around the world with one’s entourage, in turn reducing associated costs and saving time.


When asked about how he feels about technology’s contribution to musical instruments, Rahman explained, “I  feel the second and third generation of musical instruments are quite responsive. Initially, a sample would be just two sounds; low- velocity and high-velocity. Now, one can choose and record on multiple mics, with layers of dynamics to choose from. If these components are used to their best capacity, one can produce uniquely amazing tracks in a short time period; which traditional recording takes days to achieve. We don’t have to go to Africa to record an authentic rhythm from the country, it is all doable on one’s laptop. One can choose from over a million different sounds as required. Just use your mind and energy to the best possible way, and you can create magic.”

Technology is a double-edged sword. Some advancements help immensely, while some make one lazy as an artist. Let me give a context to what I’m trying to say.
For instance, consider a traditional film camera. One has to be dead-sure before pressing the button. And this is what en- sures quality. Take the case of digital, one is never afraid of taking a shot on impulse, since it can be edited or deleted as per one’s whims.


Rahman also noted that although things have become easier, they have lost the personal touch they once possessed. “Meeting people face-to-face, sharing food, experiencing cultures, that is lost somewhere. It is frivolous now. We don’t come to know who created what, and whom should the credit go to,” he added.
Comparing India’s technology landscape with that of other in international countries, Rahman asserted, “In terms of technology for music, India is up there! Gone are the days when one required a mixer costing half a million dollars. People are recording with a laptop and a mic. And this is an achievement. It has democratised the entire scene, you don’t have to be rich to produce big sounds. Anybody can compose a song within the confines of their bedroom. Sometimes, though, I also feel it leads to clutter and less quality.”

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