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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Appreciation of a Score

There is always some confusion about how to appreciate a film score. Should a film score be strongly thematic, high on melody and easily listenable even out of the film? Or is it just enough if it is ambient, a yawn to listen to it as standalone music and shirt-sits perfectly on the visual arm-sleeves of the film? A film score’s primary aim is to functionally work within a film but most often that doesn’t seem to make a film score get its due. The fact is that the criteria differs from one film and score to another.

‘Couples Retreat’ score was unanimously rejected by people in India or elsewhere, not because of quality of music but because Rahman chose to do music for a typical Hollywood rom-com after Oscars and Globes. As for me, I am really happy that Rahman did this score. It still is a very melodic and enjoyable musical ride I take on at least once in a week. Though I haven’t seen the film I like what I hear. In this case, I don’t really care much about how extensively, how loudly or how well it is used in the film. It gave Rahman to write some full length orchestral music pieces and instrumental tracks which we hardly get to listen to in his Indian film soundtracks.

On a more psychological level, the opinions depend on whether one wants to like the score or not. In this case, there are hundred reasons one can list down for not liking the music and of course most of them would be about everything else but the actual music. Will we ever judge music just by it? If one doesn’t like a particular score, does that make the score bad? Or if one likes the score does that make the score great? A score is just what it is.

Filmtracks.com lists Rahman’s Couples Retreat score in third spot next only to James Horner’s ‘Avatar’ in its “Top Scores of the Year 2009” list. ‘Jason and Cynthia Suite’ and ‘Animal Spirits’ are mentioned in the best film cues list. These sensibilities of people behind such Hollywood film score websites are more inclined towards music content than the music’s visual connect.

Here is a high praise ‘Couples Retreat’ soundtrack review by an American.

In Soundtracks.com podcast, a film score critic says that ‘Couples Retreat’ score deserved an Oscar nomination more than ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ did.

And this is the first post on http://www.backgroundscore.com


Giridharan said...

Always there is confusion about the role of BGM in movies. Does it augment the scenes or elobarate the emotions or supplement the characters' roles?

Judging a score based on the underlying movie theme or judging the score without any assumptions?

Ravi Krishna said...

I'd say it depends on what the listener's taste is like. For example, I know people who like more subtle, technically-based scores (by composers like Thomas Newman or Dario Marianelli) and some people who like the loudly mixed, bombastic Hollywood-esque scores (like Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, etc). I think I belong to a category somewhere in between (more inclined towards the second one). While the primary purpose of the score is indeed to serve as a precise emotion-enhancing underscore, I'm of the opinion that a score which is coherent both in the film and on CD is superior to one which works well only with the visuals. Just my opinion, of course.

Harish S Ram said...

widening the point of discussion: am intrigued how we decide songs are good are not... i have myself disliked some tracks which are music-grammatically correct and also very true to the film's requirement. what does it take to like a song?? and coming to the review aspect should we as you rightly said stick just to talk about the music and leave the situation it might cater to outside? should music be discussed based on how it has used the grammer or how it pleases the audience??? am searching for the answers ... by any chance do u know?

Unknown said...

Giridharan - Satyajit Ray in his article on background scores said that a perfect film doesn't need a background music at all. So the role of background score initially was definitely to engage the audience by enhancing or rather exaggerating the drama in visuals. But slowly it turned more and more ambient. There are diff schools of thought about the role of a BGM. I would say that every single school of thought is right, if the type of score that call as right is in the right film. It all depends on the film, its visual content.

Unknown said...

Ravikrishna - I am exactly in the same bucket as you are. For me a classic score is one that works well within the film and also works well as standalone music piece outside the film.

But there are some music tracks which one may not like initially but after watching the film we like the track more because we exactly know why the music is scored the way it is.

Unknown said...

mr.weirdo!! - I feel that one should be sensible enough to say that they don't like a piece of music probably because they don't understand it. If a person genuinely likes a piece of music, one cannot (i repeat) CANNOT question why they like it. Muic works on different levels to different level. Also if someone says, he doesn't like a piece of music, it is perfectly fine but when one says 'Music is Bad', he should know what he is talking about.

But all of this is just about opinions on music not abt music itself. You like a piece of music because you like that piece of music, there is nothing else to it, not because you read that so and so likes it or not because so and says it is good or great.