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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Listening 'Couples Retreat'

‘Couples Retreat’ is in a way the true entry of A.R.Rahman into Hollywood. He did some stage musicals, there were some Hollywood movies which used his Indian songs, he was a co-composer in ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ and also it was a movie by an Indian Director, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was never meant to be such a huge success and even A.R.Rahman didn’t believe it was his ‘Ticket to Hollywood’ while working on that movie and moreover it was a movie set in India. But with ‘Couples Retreat’ is none of the above. The world knows who A.R.Rahman is and they expect him to go ‘Jai Ho’ again. Has he?

‘Sajna’ is a breezy romantic ballad done on a template ripped straight out of ‘Dreams on Fire’ (a gem which is yet to get its due) with simple lyrics and a catchy Hindi hook phrase ‘Sajna Re’. Except for that hook, the melody of song sounds simple and too much worked upon as they have tried hard to fit in lyrics for Rahman’s tune. It gets better with vocal harmony countering the main melody and is truly elevated at the end with a soulful string section smoothing the rough edges of the melody. But overall, this song is a very underwhelming start to the soundtrack.

But wait, a full instrumental version of the song comes up in ‘Tour to the Villas’. The melody of the phrase ‘Sajna Re’ is almost the main theme of the movie. The sweeping grandeur of this theme as played on full throttled string section begins the track ‘Tour to the Villas’. I can imagine ‘Tour to the Villa’ being played when the couples enter the ‘Eden Resort’ in an Island and take a tour around the resort checking out what is in store for them. The music just follows them as they move through various sections. The track shifts from the main melody to another beautiful melody played on ‘Erhu’ (a Chinese Spa in the resort or a mediation or Yoga centre??), and to more ambient, soundscape music filled with ethnic percussions and exotic instruments that effectively puts the listeners right in the middle of the mood and space that it wants to create.

There is another main theme in the movie which first appears in the track ‘Jason and Cynitia Suite’. It is a simple, soothing melody oozing romanticism. The melody is introduced in the very beginning on a guitar solo, and then it turns into a guitar concerto with strings joining in and replying to the guitar phrase by phrase. The melody slowly ascends up and turns into a full throttled orchestral piece proving that A.R.Rahman is easily capable of doing a very conventional Hollywood movie score. It moves up, up and up until there is nowhere to go, takes a breath, and turns to the ‘Sajna Re’ theme. A serene Santoor tickles and a pleasing atmospheric melody on velvety flute join the ‘Sajna Re’ melody on soft strings gently dancing in the air. Aah! BLISS.

The ‘Sajna Re’ theme again appears exquisitely in the track ‘The Waterfalls’, which one can easily imagine is for when the couple is watching a beautiful waterfalls and gets into a romantic mood. And for the romance Rahman brings in the ‘Jason and Cynitia Theme’ for a brief moment towards the end.

Having played the theme enough with the orchestra, it is time for ‘Jason and Cynitia Theme’ to travel on solo instruments. To further reveal its yet uncorked beauty, the theme is played on quietening Piano, mellifluous Oboe (sounds divine in this avatar), aching cello and all carried as a one whole by a soft bed of supporting strings in ‘Jason and Cynitia Piano Theme’.

‘Kuru Kuru Kan’ with its zing-swing rhythm is instantly addictive, the shakers keeps our head shaking with the melody and Rahman gently whispers the melody laced over cute and simple Tamizh lyrics. The language isn’t a problem here, as the melody and the ambient orchestration beautifully sprinkles the romance in the air. That whistle melody is the coolest thing I have heard in a while. And when you expect the song to slowly fade over, the mood is further enhanced as Rahman introduces a twist to the song with a layer of soulful strings soaring over the melody.

Clearly ‘Shark’ theme is going to play out when Vince Vaughn is thrown into the sea surrounded by Sharks. It is a very dramatic piece predominantly on strings playing a very Indian melody. A short phrase repeating on strings forming a chaotic harmony for the Sharks approaching, biting and reaching and Vince’s attempt to escape. It comes to a grand halt as it finally bites Vince Vaughn and Rahman’s cry follows sympathising what this guy has just gone through. From those visuals in the trailer, it is easy to imagine how fitting this music would be for that situation.

As you can see in the trailer of the movie, ‘Marcel’ is an Asian, and in one of the shots in the trailer the second item in the Itinerary is titled ‘Dr.Marcel’s Activity’, and I guess ‘Meeting Marcel’ track plays out in the scenes related to that. That explains why the music sounds totally Asian. Filled with deep windy flutes, Indian chants and drums, dramatic strings it is hard to predict what happens on screen, but as a standalone track it is a soothing transcending meditational music. On the same lines, ‘Intervention’ is a serious and a deeply spiritual music with beautifully written harmony of strings.

‘Animal Spirits’ is an eclectic piece and a glittering gem of a track. Strangely, it starts with the same melody and Rahman’s vocals that begins the track ‘Intervention’. The track keeps changing its colour, flavour, genre but all bound together for one purpose – Creating a heavenly aural ambience. Heavenly, is how I felt when the track stops its rhythm and beats and a sitar begins to a relaxing start with ‘Sajna Re’ slowly fading in on soft strings. Another twist ends the track with the most euphoric version of the ‘Sajna Re’ theme.

Now, wait, wasn’t this soundtrack meant for a ‘Romantic Comedy’, but so far we heard mostly serious and romantic music, where is the comedy?

It is obvious that a comedy need not have a comic music always. I guess here the comedy comedy is out of the people who are put in serious situations. For the victims of comedy, it is a serious moment. So, the music should be as serious as the people who are put in the situation so that the people outside can feel them genuinely funny.

Rahman uses staccatos and pizzicatos to its maximum in the track ‘Itinerary’. It is for the scene in which the couples get a list of tasks that they have to complete in this package. The whole track is highly dependent on the visual proceedings but for sure a very interestingly orchestrated piece with varied instruments. Having seen the visuals, ‘Undress’ could be the funniest track of the soundtrack - think of English men reluctantly undressing accompanied by Indian strings (a lingering Tanpura throughout) and percussions (Ghatam in this case). The music slowly builds up as each man undress one after the other and comes to a grinding halt with a blow when it comes to undressing the black man who says he is not wearing the inners.

In ‘Salvadore’, Spanish flamenco meets Indian Taraana and the very thought of such a combination is intriguing and Rahman pulls of it brilliantly with ample support from the talented Kailash Kher. I can’t really imagine where this music would fit it but it could be for that guy (whose name could be Salvadore) who comes to teach ‘Yoga’ to the couples in a hilarious scene. ‘NaNa’ is a true-to-genre hippy-peppy beach party dance song in the soundtrack. The non-stop rapping, the swing in the rhythm, the ever intruding trumpets all nicely put together to make an effective stress buster of a song. ‘Luau’ sprinkled with Spanish guitars is an impressive instrumental track with nice percussion arrangements (composed by John O’Brien).

‘Couples Retreat’ as a whole has something for everyone who comes to hear specific stuff from A.R.Rahman, but no ‘Jai Ho’ here and that is not a complaint. This soundtrack may not be spoken about like how every movie review spoke about ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ score, and it may not win any awards, but that is not the point. The music should fit the movie and some of it should get a life of its own outside and I am sure ‘Couples Retreat’ has got both.

Audio Clips from http://www.couplesretreatsoundtrack.com

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Listening 'Passage'

Shekhar Kapur’s Passage (an A.R.Rahman musical in a way, the only moment there is no music behind is when a character says “the music has stopped”) opens with most unlikely sound for a film set in Venice - A Saarangi. Also in Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”, Rahman used the same instrument for the track “Divinity theme”. So, we don’t know whether it really is Rahman’s choice or Shekhar Kapur’s. The melody that is played on Saarangi could have been easily replaced by a cello, while Saarangi is pitched higher, a cello if pitched lower playing the same melody would have yielded the same effect. With a Cello, it would have easily sounded European grounded in the soil where the story takes place.

We may also need to completely understand the intensity of emotions that are on display here – loss, separation, reconciliation - to understand why the loudness is. How big the loss is? How long they have been separated? What this reunion means to them? Only if all these questions are clearly answered and understood, one can understand the loudness of the emotion put on display with the Saarangi. Only a non-Indian who has never heard the sound of ‘Saarangi’ before can say what it did to him while listening to it with the visuals. So, while I am sure that it is great music as a stand-alone track, I am not sure if it is a great score. But I must admit that this piece is such an important narrative tool for Shekhar Kapur without which it wouldn’t have been possible for him to convey what he wanted to in a short time. With just the sound of Saarangi you get that there was something devastating that “happened in the future” of those 3 little girls merrily playing there on the streets.

The very sound of Saarangi has a feel of longingness in it which is much louder and instantly striking than that of a Cello. But adding a universal touch over this very Indian string piece is a layer of melody on Piano which deepens the emotion further and adds a serene touch and eternality to the piece as a whole. The Saarangi and Piano meet and part, fuse and diffuse perfectly creating a sombre mood. The Piano theme is so haunting that it is sure to bring tears when heard in solitude. The Harp that keeps looping behind aptly fits the rhythm of the visuals and the kaleidoscopic visualization of the emotions and not to forget the thin layer of e-sounds carefully picked and mixed creating a dream-like aural ambience.

The next piece ‘Tango’ is not composed by A.R.Rahman, it is a music played in a dancing bar so it need not be an original composition but it is genre of music which A.R.Rahman also could have done convincingly. When all the three sisters finally get together, ‘Saarangi’ is not to be heard anymore in ‘Atmosphere’. Now that they have met, there is no more deep pain and only traces of it still remains maintained by continuing the Piano melody as the three walk to meet someone (parents??).

The piece that follows, in later of part the track ‘Atmosphere’, is not composed by A.R.Rahman (I did not know this, though I doubted that it can’t be A.R.Rahman’s, the end credits in the movie clarifies that); it is from ‘Requiem in D Minor’ composed by Mozart (the unfinished piece he composed on his death bed). I have cried out of overwhelm many times watching the ultimatum of this breath taking climactic sequence in the movie ‘Amadeus’ where he dictates notes for this requiem to Salieri. The choice of this piece in this movie at this precise moment raises a lot of questions. It plays for a brief time when 3 sisters get into the place where they want Abbey to audition or perform or record her song.

And thus comes the finale, the ‘Aria’ composed by A.R.Rahman and sung by Kavitha Balliga. Unlike the music of western classical masters, this piece has got an easily relatable, identifiable, memorable and a not so complex melody that instantly sticks to your mind and heart. The melody is so expressive and emotional though I don’t understand a word of what is sung. Sung exquisitely by Kavitha, the orchestral accompaniment makes the song more operatic towards the end. There is a sense of redemption, relief and heal that one gets as the piece reaches its end with which the movie also comes to a close. This is the song which Abbey was trying to sing as she cries in the beginning of the movie and it seems she was really frustrated that she lost her voice.

With the closing Waltz piece, A.R.Rahman announces yet again that he is fully ready and equipped to take off his international journey and he can easily write a conventional orchestral Hollywood score, showing no signs of where he is from. Let us hope this ‘Passage’ opens more doors in international arena for A.R.Rahman.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A.R.Rahman's Couples Retreat

Here are the samples of A.R.Rahman's music for 'Couples Retreat', his first mainstream Hollywood Soundtrack post Oscars. Enjoy.

Couples Retreat - Track 1
Couples Retreat - Track 2
Couples Retreat - Track 3
Couples Retreat - Track 4
Couples Retreat - Track 5

Complete Soundtrack is available for listening in http://www.couplesretreatsoundtrack.com

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Background Score - 67 is from

This piece is from Dum Dum Dum. Composer – Karthik Raaja. We already discussed the main Love theme of movie. Now we move on to the theme for other genre to which the movie ‘Dum Dum Dum’ belongs to – Comedy (not a laugh-out-loud comedy though). Aadhi (Madhavan) and Ganga (Jyothika), with mutual consent make plans to stop their marriage. The first half of the movie is about how every single plan of theirs fails. It is a common practice in Hollywood to use staccatos and pizzicatos for comic situations but it is not used so much in Indian films.

When I first saw the movie, the background score and especially this piece sounded totally out of place. It sounded odd for a movie that it is set in a village though this isn’t as village as that of in a Bharathiraaja movie. But on multiple viewings, I realized how big a risk Karthik Raaja is taking by trying what not many have tried before in comedy movies. Now I love this piece and also the way it has been used in the movie. The theme is introduced right up in the opening credits of the movie, and next used in a scene where Aadhi begins to execute his first marriage-breaking plan by asking his going-to-be father-in-law Murali not to give any money as dowry, when Aadhi’s kith and kin come asking for it.

The second part of the BGM that I posted appears when the dowry plan actually fails, where unexpectedly Aadhi’s father is impressed by Murali who was stubborn in not giving dowry. In a way this grand orchestral piece is a prelude to the brilliant ‘Desingu Raaja’ song which carries this grandeur further in its interludes.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

YMP Upgrade

For the sort of write-ups that this blog is filled with, an inline Yahoo Media player is a boon. It helps the readers to listen to the audio and read the description without scrolling the pages. Impressed with its reader friendliness, I decided to upgrade all my score analysis write-ups with Yahoo Media player. Here are some which I have upgraded, others will follow soon

Making of a Score - Marudhanayagam
Kaadhalukku Mariyaathai
Kadhal Konden