The only way to experience the grandeur of Ilaiyaraaja’s music is through DTS six-channel music and hi-fi stereo audio, says A. Muthusamy. He has manually enhanced 5,500 of the maestro’s songs in these formats, writes K. Jeshi
Music maestro Ilaiyaraaja’s ‘pattu poovey mettu paadu’ from the film Chembaruthi plays in full volume in DTS 5.1 six-channel audio and all those listening have goose bumps. There are six audio speakers — left, centre vocal, right, left surround, right surround, and subwoofer that capture the nuances — and the music leaves you stunned. You can thank A.Muthusamy of Honeybee Studio in Coimbatore for the experience. “More than 300 music artists contribute to a song in a live recording. When you listen to it in six-channels, you appreciate every individual effort. DTS gives a 360-degree experience which you can enjoy with your eyes closed. The market is flooded with digital surround players that compress the six channels only into two. What we experience is a mere digital surround effect,” he rues.
Muthusamy does this by a manual enhancing process, where he picks Ilaiyaraaja’s songs from old films, separates the six channels, and enhances every channel in quality and strength to suit the latest audio format, without tampering with the original composition.
So far, he has completed 5,500 songs from 100 films, all released between 1976 and 1981. They are from films such as Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri, 16 Vayadhiniley, Annakili, Ilamai Oonjalaadukirathu, Aval Appadithaan, Bhadrakaali and Paalooti Valartha Kili
“His music genius is unparalleled. No one can replicate it. My wish is that maestro’s music should reach the public in original DTS six-channel format and in Hi-Fi stereo,” he says.
Manual enhancing is a painstaking process which takes up to 25 hours for a single song, where he divides the frequencies as LCR (Left, Centre, and Right), LS (Left Surround), RS (Right Surround) and Sub Woofer. “I keep rolling the mouse for over 20 hours to separate the channels manually without any software,” explains Muthusamy, and adds “ulakkaila idichi idichi arisi edukurathu mathiri…”
Through the process, one can build a crystal clear archive of old songs, and offer an original music experience.
“Please tell ayya (maestro) if you like it,” says Muthusamy as he hands over a CD at his nondescript studio. “You are also free to complain if you didn’t like it,” he says, but with an air of confidence.
He has distributed a select number of CDs in Madurai and Coimbatore to get a feedback from the public.
As we listen to ‘Ilamai idho idho’ from Sakalakala Vallavan, Muthusamy says, “Hi-fi stereo is God’s gift to music. It is an audio format that is created in tune with the human body. Stereo music (in two tracks) is the most natural music as we have a left ear (treble) and a right ear (bass) and the central channel (mind) which brings the balance. The golden period of stereophonic recording lasted till 2000. Then, 5.7 Dolby Digital Surround used in home theatre took over and that marked the death of DTS.”
An electronics service engineer from Coimbatore, Muthusamy has worked in various companies including Solitaire, Dyanora, and National Panasonic for over 30 years, till he took it upon himself to create awareness about DTS.
“Original sound brings clarity and depth to a composition. Mouna Guru was one of the last films in theatres that gave a 360-degree experience on a 70 mm screen in original sound. Audio companies and producers who have the rights to a film’s music failed to create awareness on original music.”
For over five years, Muthusamy has been campaigning for awareness on DTS. He released a number of print advertisements, and even secured a license to build customised Analog DTS players. “I went to China to learn the technology and customise the player. Though I lost over Rs.2 crores in the process, I sold 5,000 players in Tamil Nadu and the number translates to awareness,” he says with pride.
Muthusamy has sourced the original master tracks of 600 films of Ilaiyaraaja’s compositions from audio companies in India, U.K., the U.S., and Canada. He also has original audio wrappers of all the films.
Now, he has begun working on Maestro’s tracks of the next batch of films, from 1982 onwards. “I want Ayya to take it to the public. I have listened to every single song of Ilaiyaraaja over 1000 times inch by inch while enhancing the channels. The music arrangement he brings to every composition is unmatched.”
According to this sound wizard, Ilaiyaraaja’s mind is the best music instrument. Every piece of his music is a perfect creation. We listen to music through instruments. For him, it plays out beautifully in his mind. And, that’s what makes him a maestro,” he says and closes his eyes as Ilaiyaraaja’s ‘Idhayam Oru Koil’ washes over us.
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Muthusamy remembers meeting Ilaiyaraaja. It was in January 2012 at Prasad Studios in Chennai. “I checked the tape recorder, the alignment of the speakers and played ‘Poomalaye Thol Sera Vaa’ from Pagal Nilavu… The next minute, he spoke to me. “Idha Pannunga”, he said, and gave me the tape of ‘Ananda Raagam’ from Paneer Pushpangal. I completed it the same day. He then asked me to continue with the other songs.” Muthusamy wants to enhance all of Ilaiyaraaja’s Tamil songs in DTS and hi-fi stereo, and exhibit them at the London Museum.
Advocate Muthu Krishnan, a guiding force to Muthusamy, says: “Once songs cross 25 years, anyone is free to enhance it. However, audio companies can object if they fear ‘reputation injury’ or when the songs are used for commercial purposes.”
Uncompressed music CDs are compatible with the latest home theatre players, Blue ray, 3D players and car stereos that are hi-fi enabled. The file size of each song a single song in such an uncompressed format runs up to 60 MB. More than 40 websites that offer free download of Ilaiyaraaja’s songs, but they are compressed 3 MB files, which kills the effect. “When youngsters listen to DTS six tracks and hi-fi stereo audio, they know what they have missed. Then they won’t accept any form of compressed music that is available on pen drives, FM radio, MP3 and iPods,” says Muthusamy.