Three favourite soundtrack composers

I am a big fan of soundtracks. Not just Indian soundtracks, all kinds. I am just awed by the fact that music can be used, in the hands of a skilled composer, to augment the impact of a scene in a film. I love the way music can be used as subtext in a barebones storyline. In fact, half the reason I end up hating a movie is when the accompanying soundtrack is crock. ( Perfect examples: the recent assembly-line productions of Ram Gopal Verma’s The Factory, which rely on over-the-top moodscapes to ruin half-baked storylines) Right now, there are three composers who are my personal Gods, people whose music make my day ( or night) anytime I listen to them.

On top is AR Rahman. Part of the reason why I like him, truth be told, is that I’ve grown up with his music. He was the nineties, for me, every year indelibly marked in my memory by a couple of Rahman albums. There really have not been too many Rahman soundtracks I cannot listen to at any given point of time, and there are few Rahman tunes I cannot recognise in the first seven seconds of the song playing within earshot. But yeah, his background scores are no great shakes – they are essentially reworked versions of his songs in that particular movie, played on a different instrument or in a different style, or a slower/faster tempo than the song itself. Very few Rahman-scored films of recent times had memorable scores, to be honest – the songs might be awesome, but that’s all you remember after you finish the film, the songs, and not the music. And I don’t think I was hallucinating when I heard the same snatch of music at the end of Swades and at a point in Mangal Pandey: The Rising. Of course I am a Rahman fan, you idjit, but faith that refuses to face the facts is not faith at all, as Albert Schweitzer once said and all that.

Second in the list, not because of quality – let me assure you that I am not comparing any of these three composers in any way, other than the fact that they make my earth move – is Ennio Morricone. I have been introduced really late to his music. Believe me, chances are – you haven’t heard Ennio Morricone’s music yet, true Morricone music, that is. Because, in the sixties and the seventies, when Morricone was composing kick-ass stuff, certain unscrupulous hacks in America, like Henry Mancini or Mantovani (that’s right, I know I should not call them such derisive terms, but it’s just their covers stunted my musical education. They have also done some good stuff in their days) did some lame-ass cover versions of his soundtracks, and just to show that people have lousy musical taste, these cover versions sold really well, and I suspect made their way up the Billboard Charts too. The cover versions didn’t sound bad, just watered-down. Insipid music that did not have a tenth of the energy that the original Morricone versions did. What was so unique about Ennio Morricone’s original compositions? I could rave about his quirky use of instruments, or the completely loony themes he came up with. A solitary twanging guitar, a wailing harmonica, the sound of a jew’s harp, shrieking human voices – Morricone did not need the grandeur of a string orchestra to come up with the soundscapes needed for a brutal desert shoot-out or a blood-splattered night. Or for that matter, a tenderly-shot love scene.It’s not like he never used string orchestras either,;he did, and very beautifully too, in later day classics ( Wolf, Once Upon a Time In America, Cinema Paradiso). This man made the most memorable oboe piece in cinematic history – ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’, from The Mission. He’s composed nearly six hundred soundtracks so far, and has managed to repeat himself in only two of them. Pure genius, I say.

Of late, I have stumbled upon ( not by chance, to be honest) Morricone’s scores for Italian Giallo movies – Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails, for example, and Mario Bava’s Danger Diabolik. Awesome, goosepimply scores. I have much to thank Kill Bill for, and rediscovering Ennio Morricone is one of the reasons.

Third in the list is a lady whose music I heard people raving about so freaking much that I nearly went berserk trying to get hold of her stuff. Yoko Kanno is her name, and she’s a Japanese composer who has done music for anime titles like Cowboy Bebop, Macross Plus, Earth Girl Arjuna, and Ghost in the Shell; Standalone Complex. There’s one thing I need to make clear about Ms Kanno – you can never, EVER slot her into a genre, or even in two, or ten, or fifty seven. Absolutely no-no-No. Fine, so you listen to ‘Tank’, the theme music for Cowboy Bebop, and go “Ah, a Jazz-oriented composer, reminds me of brass bands of the forties.”, and then you hear ‘Live in Baghdad’ off the same album, a song that can give Judas Priest a complex, it sounds so eighties hair metal.Right, so the next song happens to be ‘Fantasie Sign’, a song that begins like an Edith Piafish French ballad, leading to a 180 bpm Jungle beat that kicks your teeth out of shape if you have your speakers loud enough. Of course, there is ‘Bindy’, a faux-middle-eastern piece where an alto saxophone tries to sound really hard like a shehnai, and very nearly succeeds; followed by ‘Forever Broke’, which is a slide-guitar piece you might hear Johnny Winter playing on a really, really bluesy day.

Right. So maybe I went overboard trying to describe how hard Yoko Kanno’s music cannnot really be described to anyone, you have to listen to it to figure out how much it rocks. And this is just one album, from out of a possible 7 albums accompanying Cowboy Bebop, with all its music as diverse as the genres from which this anime borrows its themes from. And then you have to listen to the rest of her work, each more audacious than the other. “Audacious without being pretentious” is the term I’ve heard someone use with regards to Yoko Kanno’s body of work, and it strikes me as the perfect term to describe her.

To buy or not to buy?

I am seriously waiting for the music of Rang De Basanti to be released. Music by AR Rahman, of course. It’s due sometime this week, and I really need to hear something more than the single line ( and that infectious banjo loop that plays along with it) on TV. The music of Water ( also by Rahman, and one that he called “the best work he has done so far” in an interview sometime back) has released on all the online radio stations, but I am not listening to it until the CD comes out.

Also tempted to buy Bluffmaster, even though I already have Trickbaby’s album. Two Ranjit Barot albums have also come out – Pooja Bhatt’s Holiday, the songs sound pretty decent, and another one called Brides Wanted that I saw last night in Planet M. But the 145-150 Rs tag on each of these CDs puts me off, I don’t want to buy Hindi movie soundtracks just for a good track or two, and then two months later, find prices slashed to half.

Heard Susheela Raman’s Music For Crocodiles playing at Habitat, and nearly ended up buying it. Saw the 445 Rs price tag and took the easy way out – ran home and listened to Love Trap(her previous album) for three days. That lady has a sexy voice, and she does some awesome music.

Also saw Trilok Gurtu’s latest album Broken Rhythms, it has Huun Huur Tu and Gary Moore guest-starring on some tracks. Temptations, temptations….


22 thoughts on “Three favourite soundtrack composers

  1. Anonymous says:

    temptations, temptations…

    haarazon khawishein asi, ki har khawish pe dam nikle.
    Bhahut nikle mere arman, lekin phir bhi kam nikle…

    –mirza ghalib

    now that i have ya attention,
    reply to mah comment on the 55-words-story entry.


  2. Isn’t the title track of Rang De Basanti by Daler? The snatches sound awesome. But today I heard a new one from the movie which didn’t sound that appealing. But one thing about Rahman’s music is that it grows on you – the more you listen, the better you like it. Come to think of it, even his Bose had some pretty decent ones – I initially didn’t like it that much, but I have the tape now :-). Rahman’s music, even his comparatively ‘bad’ compositions are hugely better than the crappy ‘music’ turned out by majority of the Hindi film industry.

    Holiday sounds good – yet to sample the whole lot though.

    • Re: temptations, temptations…

      Yep, the track’s by Daler, and isn’t that banjo ( well, I thought it was a banjo) riff infectious?

      I don’t really have to say that your comment made me smile my contented fanboy smile, do I?

  3. I’m very stunned..

    .. because I expected you to name Danny Elfman.

    Well, I’m a massive Danfan, and just wanted to read you summarizing his glory in one and a half paragraphs. Woulda enjoyed that. [hint-hint for another adulatory post]

    That said, Morricone is God (of course) and while I flinched instinctively at you calling the man who made the panther pink a hack, I understand the spirit in which that comment was made. Very true.

    I love the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack, but now I need to get a hold of the Kanno chick. Even if I’m inherently against most women with the first name Yoko.

    • Re: I’m very stunned..

      Well, Danny Elfman is indeed high on my adulation list – but not the obsession-level that the three people mentioned above have. Maybe Elfman would come first in the “favourite Hollywood composers” category ( second: Bernard Hermann, and third: Jon Brion)

      Hmm, in hindsight, it feels rather odd to be calling Mancini a hack – there are memorable tunes he’s composed. But….but..how could he water down the TGTBATU theme so badly? What was he thinking?

  4. Ok beatzo. This is something which I trust only you to know. Recently I heard a number by Usha Uthop ( hope I spelled that correctly) called ” Kolkata Kolkata, don’t worry Kolkata”…yeah the same tune as ” Mustafa Mustafa”. My Bengali friend claims that Uthop composed the original tune for Kolkata’s centenary celebration, and Rehman’s number was a rip off of this. I want to know if this is truly so, and if not how can I prove it. Please help me out :)

    • Rahman’s number was definitely borrowed by Usha Uthup. Going by her track record, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone came and claimed that all the disco hits of the eighties were copies of her original compositions. ( Remember ‘Hari Om Hari’ – ‘One Way Ticket’, or even “koi Yahaan” = “video Killed the Radio Star’? Proof would be the consistent way in which she has been plagiarizing other artistes. She admits to it herself, so there. :-)

      Rahman himself, when he performed in Hyderabad, sang the words “Hyderabad Hyderabad, don’t worry Hyderabad”, by the way.

  5. Dunno, never liked Rahman, for some reason. His stuff just seems so…predicta ble. Any recommendations to make me change my mind?

    >has managed to repeat himself in only two of them.

    Yeah, but the Man with no Name trilogy has lots of common hmmm…I suppose I would call them “thematic elements”. With good reason, of course. Morricone’s music helps build that mythos, no less than Leone’s direction. I was watching “For a Few Dollars More” last night. In the build up to El Indio’s first gunfight, in which he shoots the man who betrays him, the music suddenly explodes into a solo organ theme- it sounds like the wrath of god, in the old sense of Dies Irae. This is when I realised: Morricone is telling us how El Indio sees himself in this scene. That was an epiphany for me.

    Yoko Kanno is really diverse, but what I like is that she actually improves on a classical work which I hate- the Carmina Burana– in her music for Escaflowne. I’m definitely looking out for more of her stuff.

    Gods, I am a geek.

    • Dunno, never liked Rahman, for some reason. His stuff just seems so…predicta ble. Any recommendations to make me change my mind?

      Hmm, I dunno. You either like Rahman or don’t. Nothing much you would be missing, anyways.

      Morricone: Of course there are themes shared in the Dollars-trilogy; has to be, I guess, considering that the same director was involved. I was talking about his outright self-plagiarization – like his copying some of the themes from Once Upon a Time in America into Malena.

      You should *really* listen to Yoko Kanno. Everybody should. Listen to her pastiche of Morricone in one of the Cowboy Bebop OSTs. Brilliant!

      • >Everybody should.

        Not only that, everyone can. Case in point: Bhangra Boy No. 1 who hangs out with my flatmate. Totally addicted to Kanno’s battle theme in Escaflowne. Though of course, having just been introduced to [ and been impressed by] the Usual Suspects, he claims that the Escaflowne refrain is really “pissed off Soze”…

  6. This is not *really* a soundtrack kinda recco, but I think you’ll enjoy John Zorn. Actually, I’m not sure why – but I’m pretty sure you will. He’s quirky and can be quite brilliant at times. I’ll dig up some CDs and get them when I come down.

    • This comment was redirected to my spam inbox! Yahoo sucks at times..

      I have heard a bit of John Zorn, was trying to download a gigatorrent sometime back but ran out of seeds. So I wouldn’t mind you getting some CDs. Thanks! :)

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