The making of Angamaly Diaries Soundtrack

angamaly-diairies-music-prashant-pillai-songs-and-bgm

Angamaly Diaries is my next (Malayalam) film with my good friend and director Lijo Jose Pellissery. This is my fifth film soundtrack with him after Nayakan, City of God, Amen and Double Barrel.

The film is produced by Vijaybabu and Sandra Thomas​, and is written by Chemban Vinod Jose.

The film is scheduled for a early 2017 release.​

The Making Series

You're reading an exclusive and indepth making process of the music projects I work on. These are films, commercials, documentaries, indie projects and more.

Needless to say, of the project is still in production you will not find sensitive and critical information regarding it. I might have to skip through the meaty parts when required.

Hope you have a good time living through the making process of this project.

Week 1

The unusual narration

Lijo came over to Bangalore and stayed in the lush green bylanes of Indiranagar. The next day we met at my residence where he shared the plot of the film.

lijo-and-prashant-at-the-bangalore-airport

“It’s not a story that you can narrate; it’s more of the life of people of Angamaly. You need to sit through script reading session to understand in depth.”

“It’s not a story that you can narrate; it’s more of the life of people of Angamaly.”

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It was the first time I heard Lijo share a pointer of this kind. The moment I heard I knew that this was going to be an entirely new path Lijo is inventing.

In all of his previous films, Lijo made it a point to share the synopsis with essential detailing for the music scoring sessions. This brief has always helped me conceive the score and open myself to a world of ideas that can be blended into the soundtrack. A concise and crisp briefing has helped me give birth to the songs and score of Nayakan, City of God, Amen and Double Barrel.

But this time around for Lijo's fifth film - things were special right from the start.The film synopsis was just a few lines.

The songs and soundtrack had just a few keywords like - local, earthy, raw, sounds from the soil.

A local setting

Since the story is set in Angamaly and has a very local setting, Lijo wanted to use a native essence of the place - Angamaly's own folk songs.

A few of these folk songs had already been shortlisted by Lijo to be featured in the score, and I had to see how they could be sonically expanded or shrunk to suit the film narrative.

The amazing folk singer

These songs were popularised and sung by a 70-year-old local singer - Francis. More about him later.

We chatted and brainstormed for a few hours, running through different sounds and ideas that could be fused into the soundtrack.

Lijo did mention that for the shoot that’ll begin the first week of October, he'll need not just the songs, but also the little music pieces - "montages" that’ll be used throughout the film.

He needed these music pieces to sync and choreograph the montages that were an integral part of the film.

I love the idea of scoring music to the visuals in your head than to the visuals on screen.

The complexity of the score

We understood the importance of time and the complexity of this score and decided to create a schedule.

It was complex for two reasons

1. It was a folk-based score limited to a tiny region.
2. The main singer had no studio experience.​

The selected folk songs by Lijo was recorded on his phone when Francis - a 70 odd-year-old singer dropped by to share his library of songs.

Lijo told me, Francis is an introvert and was too scared to perform in front of Lijo and friends. It took a lot of pursuing and some money to get him to sing.

The 2 blocks of the score recording

Knowing this, I broke down the first schedule for producing the soundtrack into two blocks.

The first block was to record Francis, and the second was to produce those songs sung by him.

To achieve this Francis had to be recorded in a studio setting. This was with an intention to get him to sing to a particular tempo, which will then help me shape and arrange the track.

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with Shankar Sharma

To get this done, I assigned my assistant and now a music director - Shankar Sharma. Shankar has been the best music programmer, arranger that I’ve worked with till date. He’s been working with me for a little over 4 years now and is known for impeccable musical skills.

I briefed Shankar about this project and like always he was excited to work on yet another project with Lijo1 and me. I asked him to schedule and record Francis in a studio setting at the earliest.

Week 2

Into the Folk 

Francis was informed of the studio recording by Lijo. And with a bit of motivation and pep talk, Francis agreed to drop into a studio in Chalakudy.

Francis and party are used to singing impromptu at functions and gatherings, where he is not the only centre of attention.

This obvious focus on him and a big mic staring at him made his life tough. Shankar did a good job in letting Francis settle and take his time to render the songs.

After spending almost a full day, Shankar managed to record over 12 songs with Francis and his two chorus singers.

He emailed those songs to me, and I was blown away by the simplicity in the melody and rendering of the songs. Two songs from that list caught my attention and that was the defining moment for me in understanding the soundscape of the film.

With limited time left for the shoot to begin I started to lay down ideas 'in my head' to design the songs.

Sreerag, my able music assistant, was also assigned the task of arranging and structuring the songs with ideas based on the brief I shared with him.

Most of the programmed ideas didn't work as expected as we need to blend in live elements into these folk songs.​

Week 3

Kerala Calling

I roped in singer Shreekumar Vakkiyil for this project a few days before I was scheduled to travel to Angamaly for starting the score.

Most of you will know Sreekumar from the song 'Solomonnum Soshannayum' from Amen and his most popular song 'Anuraga Vilochananayi.'​

Now, why would I want Shreekumar part of this project, known that he has a more mellow and soothing voice - that's not the sound of this film.

The Hidden Genius.

Well, let me share Shree's hidden genius.​

Shreekumar is a brilliant percussionist, excellent with vocal rhythms, an up and coming chenda player and a self-taught Cajun player.

I bought Shreekumar on board for this project as a rhythm designer. His job was to bring in ideas from both classical and folk music into the songs we'd locked on.​

I shared the songs we recorded n Francis's voice to Shreekumar and asked him to start thinking of rhythm in the songs.

prashant-pillai-with-shreekumar

With Nirvana Boy - Shreekumar

On our flight to Kochi from Bangalore, I shared the idea of the score and sound for the film with Shreekumar. He shared many ideas and I topped it up with more instinctive ideas that we could try and experiment in the score.

Before leaving for Angamaly, Shankar was asked to block a studio to record Sunil, a maverick percussionist from Thrissur.

Day 1 of Studio Sessions

The recording was scheduled at a studio in Thrissur. Located in one deep end corner of the city, the studio owned by Praveen is just apt for sessions like ours.

On the day of the recording, I met Sunil and introduced him to Shree, and we were set to flavour the tracks with rhythm.

We started off with the folk songs by Francis that were selected by Lijo.

My agenda was simple to get as many instruments, patterns and ideas recorded from Sunil and then freeze on the right sound that'll suit the tone of the film. And this call, Lijo and me had to take collectively.

Once this was clear, I could use that world of instruments and sound to design the songs and soundtrack.

prashant-with-percussionist-sunil-and-singer-shreekumar-in-thrissur-studio

Prashant with percussionist-Sunil and singer Shreekumar in a Thrissur Studio

Shree did a fantabulous job of recording some amazing rhythm patterns and structures, creatively executed by Sunil.

I need to mention about the engineer Praveen who is a superspeed maverick. His fingers fly on the keyboard and is easily one of the fastest recording engineers in the country. His editing precision and mastery over the recording software 'Pro Tools' is out of this world. 

Day 2 of Studio Sessions

Today we holed up in a small studio in Chalakudy, where we could play the things we recorded yesterday at the studio in Thrissur.

We sampled the recordings with Lijo in a studio in Chalakuddy. He picked the sounds that he liked, and shared his vision for soundtrack a bit more at length.

This helped me narrow down the instruments we needed for the film.

prashant-pillai-wih-lijo-pellissery-and-shankar-sharma

Trying out the voice of a local load worker from Chalakddy

This is also when I sampled a few songs from my library of songs to Lijo that I thought will suit the film. Lijo liked two of them. One a Tamil song and the other a Malayalam song, both of which didn't make it to the respective film soundtracks.  

He wanted a copy of those two songs to let the melodies settle in, and decide where and how to use it.

Both Shree and me, also took time out from our recording sessions to sit through an entire narration / reading session of the film.

Filled with slangs and local dialects, I loved the narrative, the humour and could imagine how this film would be exquisitely crafted by Lijo.

Would have loved to share a few anecdotes from the film, but it's too early to share. All I can say is it's going to be another benchmark for the industry, as all of Lijo's previous films.

Day 3 of Studio Sessions

With the percussion template set, Shree went ahead and continued his awesome streak with Sunil.

Both of them sampled and recorded some great sounding rhythmic riffs that got me kicked.

With Lijo Jose Pelliserry and Chemban Vinod Jose

With Lijo Jose Pelliserry and Chemban Vinod Jose

The meeting

I caught up with scriptwriter of the film, actor 'Chemban Vinod Jose' who was super adernalined about this project. We discussed a few more definite ideas about the film and his future projects.

We also sampled Nadaswaram into the songs and the score rhythm  templates ​we were working on. 

Our recording was cut short with a power failure at the studio​, making it a little heat chamber. I decided to wrap up the session and come back with more concrete 

Food, Food and Food

We did find some time to have some very good food, like the table wide roasted fish, the lavish sadya lunch in Thrissur, or the amazing Ella Ada at the legendary Ananda Bhavan in Angamaly. To top that I would never miss an opportunity to sneak into a CCD for a cup of Irish Coffee. 

prashant-pillai-with-ulhas-chemban-jismon-and-shreekumar

WIth Ulhas Chemban, Shreekumar and Jismon Jose Kareedan

With so much packed into five days, our Angamaly sessions and stay was great thanks to great host played by Ulhas - Chemban's younger brother.​ Both Shree and I headed back to Bangalore with an agenda to expand the ideas for the songs and the score. 

Week 4

Killer Tracks

With some rock solid sessions in Kerala, the sound for the film was shaping up well - in my head.

It was time to get to some action.

The melodics

First I got hold of my assistant and asked him to ​program and arrange the melodies that I mailed him. These were melodies that popped from my head during my stay in Kerala the last week.

All of the recording was recorded in Evernote as voice notes. It was then shared with Sreerag, who then downloaded them and starting piecing it together.

The recordings were melodies for both  the horn section and nadaswaram as the lead. 

Sreerag used Logic to knock off these melodies, some of which were sounding goo whilst the others not that great.

I sent these templates over to Lijo via mail for him to check them out. 

Below is the screenshot of the Dropbox folder of how I send the templates to Lijo.

angamaly-diairies-songs-folder

The dropbox folder snapshot with all the files that was sent to Lijo

He liked the sounding of most of them.

The rhythm machine

Now it was my turn to get all the ideas out soon.

I holed myself in my home studio and starting sampling and curating a lot of sounds form my recorded library.

I used Ableton to start structuring a few sounds and then producing music for some scenes that stuck in my head from the script narration session.

6 hours on the trot, I managed to knock off 5 hardcore rhythm based tracks, all of it produced on Ableton and Push 2.

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You can read the complete list of resources I use to produce music and stay organized.

All of these songs were raw, earthy, experimentative and true to the narrative of the film.​ I was immensely happy with the way these songs had shaped up and knew Lijo would love a couple of them, if not all. 

As expected Lijo loved all the tracks and a couple of them even more than the rest.  

Lijo is a very tough taskmaster and a very clear minded director. He knows exactly what he wants. And sometimes it's not the song in entirety, but little micro sounds that gets him hooked. Afters years of working with him, it's only now that I have started understanding his idea of music for each film project that he ventures into. 

So him liking the flavour of the tracks was a big relief.

Week 5 + 6

Procrastination Kicks In

The world that most creative folks love dwelling in procrastination. A world of slopping around the idea of starting to work on something and completing it. That is very generously put off - for reasons too many. 

This couple of weeks ​I've been chilling out with Dassera and Diwali festivities and a super family time that I never miss to make the best of. 

This week also the work for my other film "Solar Eclipse" kickstarted as they had to submit the film to the Berlin International Film Festival by 30th October  2016. So the focus was away from Angamaly Diaries this week. 


More from the making of Angamaly Diaries to come. Signup for my newsletter to stay updated.

About the Author Prashant Pillai

Prashant Pillai is one of the most experimental and distinctive musical producers around today. An unconventional thinker, Prashant is a thought leader on creativity and music and his writings can be followed on the blog here.

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  • Matthew Ben

    What a cool blog Prashanth! I was already a fan of this whole gang (Lijo [vere level :-)], Chemban, yourself Prashanth…. Vijay & Sandra)…. following your blog is such an enthusiastic journey towards Angamaly! Best wishes 🙂

  • Vinod

    Amazing PP… Thanks for letting us know the insights in-depth.

  • Aswin Srinivas

    All the best Sir 🙂

  • Sooraj Manohar

    I know I am late ….but it was like coming out from a recording studio… the very first time a composer gives inch by inch details of shaping a song. It was my dream to see a recording session of yours and I remember I waited outside a studio in Bangalore when you were recording some trailer music Zachariyaude Garbhinikal ( I guess), unfortunately I was not allowed in. After reading this, it was like I was there with you guys from the script narration..now I am waiting for the other tracks.. especially do naina.
    .

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