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….