Why do Rahman’s songs grow on you?


Let me start out by saying I am no expert on music. But the greatness of the man I am about to write about doesn't need the insight of an expert to see it’s grandeur.

Currently I am on a repeat spree of Patakha Guddi from Highway but the first time I listened to the song, it was just ‘meh’.

So why do we love this man? What makes his music tick? What makes his recent music sound so alien and disjointed on the first listening? And what on second and third attempt makes us listen to the same song till our ears bleed and our audio devices run out of battery?

Human mind intuitively detects melody and rhythm. This is why even babies detect and appreciate music. Your mind detects patterns of sounds and predicts what comes next. At some level your music relates to brain’s reward system. When it encounters music, it reacts the same way as when it encounters food or sex. It releases dopamine.

This rush or high of dopamine is felt when we are able to predict what comes next in a piece of music because of the patterns formed and expected. Human mind instinctively appreciates simple melodies and rhythms. Simpler patterns. Patterns easy to predict.

Now Rahman’s older songs .. for example in Roja and Bombay were not completely simple. But they were adhering to the conventional sense of music we grew up with. They were melodious, soothing, exciting and intuitively appealing .. even to a child. It just felt good listening to them even on the first time.

This happened because the dopamine was flowing as we knew and understood the patterns and predicted the good segments coming up.


The later renditions of Rahman on the other hand are the complete antithesis of this. They don’t have an intuitive melody or rhythm. At every moment of song, your predictions of what might come next are shattered, torn and thrown into chaos. Your brain doesn’t know what to make of it. The patterns it has come to recognize over the time are totally useless here. The sound that’s coming in is not following its rules.


This is why on first hearing, the song does nothing to you. No dopamine flowing. But here lies the trick. The brain on first hearing, though it doesn’t already have patterns which it could predict … is now forming new patterns because of what you have heard. And some of those patterns stick. They are deep down somehow similar to the basic patterns, although layered with a lot other things and you like them.

So though you didn’t like the song on first hearing, there are somethings which are appealing and you return to the song. This time the song makes much more musical sense because of the new patterns formed. This time the dopamine is flowing a little. So basically Rahman’s recent songs don’t give you an easy immediate high but are like an extended release.

Once you hear a new song of Rahman your mind is no longer the same. New patterns are formed between your neurons. You are now thinking in ways you have never thought before.

Each repetition makes you like the song even more because you now detect patterns which you couldn't earlier because they simply didn't exist before you heard the song. Brilliant patterns which were never explored before. The magic of Rahman lies in the fact that the the puzzle is never completely solved. Each new hearing leads you down new paths, new patterns, new links.

Like any art form, the recent renditions of Rahman are new, fresh, adventurous, a little blasphemous, experimental , are a form of expression and are most importantly soulful.

So here I am listening to Patakha Guddi, literally changing my mind.

So go ahead and explore new destinies, new sounds and new patterns.

This was actually a post on my blog:
Why does Rahman’s music grow on you?

For some non music related mind bending you can follow my first novel here: VAJRA

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