Project “Then, Now & Forever”


Western classical music is perspective – look at the number of people involved in a symphony! Our traditional music is lonely – Ilaiyaraja

Ilayaraja-Wallpaper

(My collection cover image – the image of Maestro Ilaiyaraja. Image source: http://www.tamilkey.com)

As long I could remember, I have been listening to Ilaiyaraja music since I was still young and started to have an appreciation of his style of music – all the way from the 1970s (you are aware that Annakili was not his first movie and that he had to impress the producer Panchu Arunachalam by singing a song that his mother sang and using the table as an music instrument?) to his latest flick in “Neethane En Ponvasantham” – thanks to my Dad who was big fan of Ilaiyaraja (Ilaiyaraja means the “younger” Raja – that is because the Tamil music industry already had another music director named Raja – the famed A.M. Raja).

Back in the 1980s-1990s, I still remember following my Dad to the music store to get Ilaiyaraja latest songs (still remember Alai Osai brand back then?) and the number of cassettes at home started to pile up. Sometimes when he comes back home late and tired, he would ask us to check his pocket and we would find a cassette size package neatly wrapped and immediately we know it would be an Ilaiyaraja cassette. Me and my brother would be key testers – we would play the cassette as my Dad goes off to take his shower (he usually buys it without hearing the content of the soundtrack). After dinner, he would then sit down and listen to the songs without any disturbance and we would be hearing it again for the 2nd round. Now my son is picking up his interest on Ilaiyaraja music as well (as a baby, he often need his Ilaiyaraja music to go to sleep) and he can sing some of the songs really well.

And over the years, Ilaiyaraja has made a good impression on me with his music (especially when I had my Walk-man on and I was doing my revisions) and I have my personal favorites. But out of the many, I went rather crazy on the soundtrack of “Keladi Kanmani” and in particular on SP Bala’s “Mannil Intha”. And I was rather stuck to the same track over and over again for days when I went down with chicken pox and had to be confined to the bedroom. Somehow I felt my recovery was improved by the good music from the great Maestro. At the turn of the new millennium, Ilaiyaraja somehow took a back seat as most of us (including me) started to listen to the emerging new style music coming from South of India – in the form of AR Rahman (but not my Dad – he could not understand AR Rahman to this day). Ilaiyaraja’s style of putting a “break” before the chorus was somewhat tolerable until AR Rahman showed that the music was even better without the break in the middle. The use of CDs instead of cassettes and quality of music recording favored AR Rahman style of composing and thus it becomes the obvious choice when we are at the music store. But in the end Ilaiyaraja had the last laugh when he hit back with a bang in 2012 with Neethane En Ponvasantham and some people could not believe that it is from the same man.

But even with other new music directors (Deva, AR Rahman, Vidyasagar, Vijay Anthony, Harris Jayaraj, Ilaiyaraja’s Yuvan Shankar Raja, etc) dominating the Tamil music scene in the new millennium, we still had space for Ilaiyaraja music (he was humbled enough to join forces with the great MSV to compose for two movies) . Somehow there are situations in a day when an old school tabla sounds better than a loud modern drum. It sounds peaceful too. And of course, some of the older hits are gems – no matter when and where you hear then, it is still a good music to listen especially if you are on a long journey somewhere (it still do even now).

When I started to work after finishing school and had some money to spare, I often head to music store at Lebuh Ampang (which was on the way from work place to the bus station) on the weekends and my target would be old Ilaiyaraja collections – preferably his great works from the 1970s and 1980s. But unfortunately the music store has a dirty trick up their sleeve – they put a couple of good songs at the front but leaving the balance filled up with not-so-good songs (the cassette jacket lists the songs but unless you have heard of it and well aware of the quality, the list would not make any much difference). The idea was to sell more cassettes. As one would say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, I will pick one and ask the shop assistant to “test” the cassette. In other words, I wanted him to play the cassette before I buy it, just to be sure. So when one is “testing” the cassette, you will only hear the good ones and you will think the rest would as good as the first song. You will know that it is not the case after you have paid for the cassette and listen to the complete cassette at home. What to do, I was young and easily trusted people. Number of cassettes mounted at home (some years later, I threw away 2 boxes of cassettes). There was a blessing in disguise though – I managed to consolidate a proper list (from all these cassettes) and got them recorded on a high quality TDK cassette (at the same music store).

(SP Bala in the movie Keladi Kanmani singing off lyrics “found on his food wrapper” without pausing to breath during the chorus – a feat he said he did not do in the actual recording at the studio but managed to do when singing the same song in front of a large crowd during one of Ilaiyaraja ’s concert. The man is simply great!)

At the advent of songs being played on MP3s (and I have a MP3 player in the car and I no longer use CDs), it was time to relook into my collections of songs and in particular one from Ilaiyaraja. I had several collections of Ilaiyaraja – some with overlapping songs and taking up valuable storage space in my HDD (some converted from audio CD into mp3 format for ease of storage). And sometimes I get to listen on the radio some of his better hits but one which is not in my collection. So, I started project “Ilaiyaraja” with 2 objectives.

One: To consolidate all the various collections in my HDD and my old dusty CDs into one proper collection titled “Ilaiyaraja – Then, Now & Forever” (inspired by MSV’s TV show title) with the complete movie name, the song title and the year of movie (couple that with a proper track cover image). For this, I used the mp3 tag editor, mp3tag (freeware) which does the trick rather beautifully. It took some time to do the “research” to get some of the movie names for some of the songs in my collection (some was previously titled as 00001.mp3 which does not give any clue on the details). Obviously there were plenty of duplicates – those had to be taken care, so it was time to delete those and keep only the better sounded ones in the main collection.

Two: To add new and missed songs into the collection. Ilaiyaraja composed almost 4,500 songs and I am sure that I have not heard whole of them especially from those movies that we have not heard of (one was this – Magudam where I found one of the best 1990s song – Chinna Kanna Punnagai Manna). Whenever I head to the music stores to check if they have come up with a proper Ilaiyaraja ‘evergreen’ collection, I was quite disappointed. Most “re-use” the usual famous songs (like Mouna Ragam’s Nilave Vaa). I already had them in my collections years ago. Some of the music store had the next best thing – CDs packed with hundreds MP3 files. This made searching more comprehensive without the need burn a big hole in the pocket. But at the end of the day, it was the Internet that made things easier to do “research” (especially at the various forums) on Ilaiyaraja ’s best songs and the background story behind the said song and then watch the songs on Youtube or listen & download the songs at the various Tamil entertainment websites. This would be an on-going process as I discover more songs that should be in everyone’s collection but one that does not get the right air-time on the radio or TV.

As I am updating my main collection and take the opportunity to listen all of the songs in my old collections (some I have not heard in years) and selecting them to be in the main collection, I realized one thing – Ilaiyaraja’s best songs did not come from the 1970s or 1980s. His best songs actually came in the 1990s and it was not because the older composition itself was bad. It was not – the problem was more on the quality of studio recording. 1970s & 1980s was the age of the analogs – cassettes and vinyl records and it was the same at the recording studios where it was done using magnetic tapes.

The sound quality degenerates even lower as the recording is done and then copied for the masses. One good example was the song Janani Janani from the movie Thai Mookaambigai in 1982. If you listen to the original track, it was bad (you can hardly hear the tabla & venna in the background) and you would discard it after a few seconds listening to them. But the same song was sung by the Maestro at the start of his comeback concerts in 2012, the song simply “melted” me away. It was a beautiful and with the clear sound of venna in the middle (I even thought it was an electric venna), it worth listening to it over and over again. His 2012 concert was also the event that made me to stop and take note that even his 1970s compositions once replayed with the latest instruments sounded better.

But fast forward to the 1990s when most things are done digitally – the quality of recording and to the masses did not see the same level of degeneration. Sounds of the tablas were clearer, vennas were crispier, the playback singers’ voice was soother and you can even hear the “silent” violins in the back. And that has been the focus of my collection of Ilaiyaraja’s songs – well composed songs and one that has been recorded digitally to be my permanent choice for my car on long journeys. His compositions on Neethane En Ponvasantham in 2012 (all done with help from a full orchestra from Budapest) were simply technically brilliant but here’s what I think the Maestro should do as his next big thing. Ilaiyaraja, whilst he still have the energy and the drive (he is 70 years now), should go back to the studio, pick a load-ful of his older 1970s and 1980s songs (all short-listed by his fans, of course) and re-record them in digital with special care given on the individual instruments (as how it was done on Neethane En Ponvasantham and perhaps roping in his famed music director son Yuvan Shankar Raja as his technical consultant). Once done, he should release them as his best works spanning over almost 4 decades. After all, there is no shortage of Ilaiyaraja die-hard fans out there.

Happy holidays and take some time off to enjoy the music during the long break…

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Project: Car (Update 3)


Between update 2 and 3, my car had 4 new spring coils and that made a lot of difference to rear load balancing

(The white stuff rocks! Out of sight but not out of mind – you can really feel the difference at the corners. Image source: Ultra Racing)

Phase 6 – improvement of car handling

My car came with the inscription “tuned by Lotus” and I thought it was great until a couple months later; I hopped over to the local car accessory car shop and saw a front strut bar on display. I have heard about the benefits of having a front strut bar and thought it would be an added improvement to the overall handling of the car (I was not wrong – handling of the car improved like 20 times with the front bar).

Many, many years later and when I decided that improvement of the current car is better than buying a whole new car, I started to look for more ways to improve the handling of the car. One day, my buddy who been looking to improve on his new Toyota Vios talked about “Ultra Racing” and his plans to add front and back strut bars. So, a quick check on the internet on the parts required and without much hesitance (my wife would be very angry on this), I went to one of the authorized seller and bought the rear anti roll bar (I wanted to buy the rear strut bar but worry that it may not fit with my speakers at the back. No point buying something expensive but could not use at the end).

Couple of hours later (blaming it on having too many cars at the workshop), my car was fitted with the rear anti roll bar. Noticeable difference after installing the anti roll bar – the steering feels more stiff (less vibration) and almost nil body roll at high speed at cornering. Ultra racing rear anti roll bar is not cheap (you can buy imitation ones for much cheaper price but you will be taking a big risk) but it comes with a lifetime warranty.

(Anti roll bar in action. I have front strut bar and rear anti roll bar. Next phase would probably be a front anti bar and a rear strut bar. Image source: http://www.ukcar.com)

The only thing I was not happy with this latest “upgrade” was the installation. The so-called authorized dealer had the right stuff with them and have no problem when it comes to unscrewing and screwing the parts (ya, I can do that too) but their welding (something need to be welded to the frame before installation can be done) sucks big time. It was not clean and was not really looked professionally done (they managed to weld enough for the anti roll bar to be installed and they managed not to get the car on fire).

That was the only downside but other than that, the car is performing even better. In fact, it performs over my expectation that I sometimes forget that having a good grip is also crucial at the corners (thank God for my tires still being new and still have threads).

Parts changed and the cost to date:-

Ultra racing rear anti roll bar

Total cost = RM300.00 (including installation)

To be continued…

Project: Car (Update 2)


Just quick update on the status of the project

(The biggest change to date for better safety and improved driving)

Phase 1 – change of worn out front and back suspension components, repair of cabin light (which has been short circuiting my fuses), door lock malfunction and repair of the dents on 2 doors (eye sore for many months).

Parts changed and the cost to date:-

2 rear Monroe shock absorbers
2 tie rod end
2 ball joint cover
Brake shoe rear
Suspension rod bush
Trim pillar
Lower arm bush
Lower arm bush iron
Room lamp
Left side centre lock gun
Repair and respray on 2 doors
Change of cracked interior plastics
Replacement of missing rim centre cover

Total cost = RM1,498.00

Phase 2 – change of seat covers

Parts changed and the cost to date:-

Coolmax seat covers – the old one lasted for a long time but in serious tear and wear condition

Total cost = RM450.00

(200++ and more songs at a breeze! The new detachable MP3 player)

Phase 3 – change to MP3 player

Parts changed and the cost to date:-

Sony MP3 player (CDX-GT670US) with remote control but I used back the same old speakers – I paid too much for it, it will be a waste if I replace it now whilst it is still in good working order

Total cost = RM650.00

Phase 4 – yet to commence (change to new rims)

Phase 5 – upgrade of the braking system to a better one

Parts changed and the cost to date:-

Rear axle with attached brake set
Double brake pump servo
Master brake pump
Rear brake pads
Rear wheel bearing

Total cost = RM1,500.00

To be continued…

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Project: Car

Project: Car (Update 1)

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Project: Car (Update 1)


Just quick update on the status of the project

(Next change in Phase 2 and it is not going to be simple as using polish to clear the headlights – Image source: http://hidefdetail.com/)

Phase 1 – change of worn out front and back suspension components, repair of cabin light (which has been short circuiting my fuses), door lock malfunction and repair of the dents on 2 doors (eye sore for many months).

Parts changed and the cost to date (excluding labour and normal service cost):-

2 rear Monroe shock absorbers
2 tie rod end
2 ball joint cover
Brake shoe rear
Suspension rod bush
Trim pillar
Lower arm bush
Lower arm bush iron
Room lamp
Left side centre lock gun
Repair and respray on 2 doors
Change of cracked interior plastics
Replacement of missing rim centre cover

Phase 2 – yet to commence (change of front light cover and seat covers)

Phase 3 – yet to commence (change to MP3 player and perhaps brand new speakers)

Phase 4 – yet to commence (change to new rims)

Phase 5 – yet to decide (change of drum brakes to disc brakes)

To be continued…

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Project: Car

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Project: Car


(I wish Chip Foose was working on my car – the man does ‘magic’ with his hands. Image source: Autoblog)

Remember I mentioned about doing projects? I have started on some of them – managed to complete one (Project: Garden), started but put on hold (Project: Art and Project: Charity). Certainly it would not be the end of things provided there is time and money in future.

There is one project that I wish to start and very well complete – at least to the specifications that I have been toying in mind for the last 3 years. And that project is the upgrade project for my car.

My car has gotten really old over the years (anything nearing 10 years can be considered very old) and the next rightful step would be to look out for a new car. My 1.3 under-powered, manual geared, no EFi, no ABS, no airbags, rattling sound all over the place, worn out seats, car have become quite obsolete and it really, really shows when the car is very full with occupants and being driven uphill.

Immediately looking over Paul Tan’s site, several options immediately comes to my mind – perhaps the new Kia Forte or the sleek BMW 3 series or to wait for new Ford Focus or scale down and wait for the new “to be released” Proton Persona (just kidding! Proton may have great cars now but one time experience with them is more than enough to last me another lifetime).

But hard cold cash for a new car is hard to get these days, especially when the Government is talking about taking away the petrol subsidy for car with 2,000 cc and above. If there is no cash, one can always take a car loan but why bother getting unnecessary debt when the old car can still get you from A to B.

So, the next option would be to ‘restore’ my existing old car back to showroom condition, at least where power and riding is concerned. The car still has the power to outrun any new cars out there, at least to some extent from the starting line. Paint job still spotless in most part on the car and normal “every 8,000 km” maintenance is dirt cheap.

(The pain in the neck for the last few years – faulty bearing, hub and suspension)

With extra cash saved from another venture and one of cousins having a car workshop (which relates to “no-cheating” mechanics and less careless finishes), it’s time to execute on the upgrade / repair exercise.

The list of things that my cousin and I went through after his mechanics went through my car over the weekend was (in no particular order to fix / upgrade):-

  • To repair the dent and repaint on my 2 doors (it has been sometime since I got this but I have not gotten the time to repair it)
  • To change some parts on my front suspension (most of the rubbers have worn out, not surprisingly)
  • To change the leaking rear shock absorbers
  • To replace some of the interior plastics which has become brittle due to Malaysian heat (duh Proton!)
  • To check and change the cabin light circuits that has been short-circuiting my fuses (discovered by my son when he played with the cabin lights)
  • To change the whole rear axle and replace the drum rear brakes to disc rear brakes (A very big change here but I had enough of faulty hubs and bearings which has been a problem since I first changed the original faulty hub)
  • To change the lock gun for one of my doors (it jams up all the time)
  • To change the small cover on tire rims (one is missing and shops don’t sell just one. So, need to order a set of 4)
  • To change the headlight plastic to high durable glass (to get back the original “clear” look)
  • To change the worn out seat covers (thinking of getting the same type that I been using till now – the synthetic seat cover. It lasted me almost 7 years without much problem)
  • To change the CD player to a MP3 player with USB connection (I might be late on this but since I am changing a lot of things on the car, might as well upgrade the in car entertainment system)

The car is going to feel better after this – performance and safety wise. A short breather before the car gets really, really old for any upgrades – then it will the right time to change the car.

To continued…

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