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Saturday, November 6, 2010

127 Hours Score Review

A solo woodwind rises to announce the entry of a sole soul into the endless beauty of the vast and bare Grand Canyon. The soul is awestruck by the sight. Music plays for the sense of awe whereas the breath taking pauses in between play for the soul that is being struck by it. The melody passes on to a string section for the eyes that open wider, the widest it has ever opened in its life, in an attempt to capture all of the beauty at once. It can not. The eyes realise. The woodwind takes the lead again and together with the accompanying strings, the melody of “If I Rise” rises. A subtle, deep bass beat is hit to hint the reality that is starting to sink in. The strings proceed further for the soul that is wandering to find a serene spot to sit and stare. He finds a place to sit and stare, and the orchestra now comfortably plays the melody with which it started the piece. The loop becomes recursive. The piece with its music and no music can be listened to for a whole day in a loop. Thus, begins the experience of listening to A.R.Rahman’s soundtrack for Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours”.

The main motif of the film begins in “Liberation begins”. The nature that revealed its utmost beauty just a while ago reveals its dark side now by tying his arms down between a rock and a rock. Fate and nature are friends. The arrested body, with the power of its soul has to fight both fate and nature to liberate itself. The melody played on the acoustic guitar is constantly trying to move away and part itself from the bass line that plays the role of nature here. The bass keeps pulling the melody of the acoustic guitar down to play in sync with it. The bass line is too powerful, so much so that all the efforts of acoustic guitar go in vain.

In the “Liberation in a Dream” and final “Liberation”, the battle with fate and nature intensify. The levels of desperation, the force within and the determination to win are far higher this time. He has to liberate himself. The madly rushing strings, roughening electric guitar riffs, roiling percussions add to the theme of liberation which cut itself short after briefly announcing its existence in the track “Liberation begins”. The excruciating pain that he much go through is underlined by the harsh guitar layers. The sympathy that one must have as an audience for him is underlined by layers of soft strings. Each instrument layer is growing in its intensity, force and energy. The synergy of the varied music layers adds to the music as a whole. The piece is exponentially growing dense and tight in every next bar. This Is How You Build Up To A Crescendo. And Ah! When the moment arrives, when he liberates himself, at the peak of the Crescendo, I felt a divine current running from head to toe in my body.

After a deadly cold night, when first rays of sun touch his body, he, for the first time, realises the warmth of his father’s embrace. He becomes nostalgic. The all-guitar melody in “Touch of the Sun” has ample amount of silences thrown in between each of its phrases. When there are so many pauses, it is not easy to determine, where the full stop or a comma is. If Cinema is a sentence in a language, its conjunctions are split between the visuals and the music. A visual may take a “but” of the sentence and leave a “because” for the music to fill in and deliver its complete meaning, which is why it is totally idiotic to try to absorb completely, understand and appreciate a piece of background score before watching the visuals. In “Touch of the Sun”, the music and visuals seem to have exchanged such conjunctions in quick succession. However, it does leave a listener with one emotion, which is the warmth of pure love.

The short phrases of Guitar melody, rises an octave higher, to indicate the shift the camera makes from the tight close-up shots of him and his father to the wider shot of both sitting together on the edge of a rock and staring at the setting Sun. A deep pause follows. The memories of moments he spent with his family are rushing back to him. He is engulfed by Nostlagia. Now that, he is with his family in his memories, the lone Guitar melody reprises with rich musical accompaniments until the eeriness of the e-sounds and the harshness of the place he is stuck in, cuts through his memories.

It is extremely tough to tie A.R.Rahman down to one instrument for entire soundtrack of a film. Guitar works wonderfully for the intimacy that the film maker wants to build between the audience and the lone victim. However, Rahman breaks free, liberates himself and composes a piece titled “Acid Darbari” in a genre that I prefer to call “Rahmanica”. Wonder what it is? Rahmanica is Rahman’s unique way of blending acoustics and electronica. No one does it like him.

Acid Darbari is a psychotherapeutic track. It is transcendental. It is in times of utmost adversity one feels closer to oneself and realises the endless limits of their spirit. I guess this track plays in one such moment of realization in the film. The very sound of the Fingerboard Continuum and the bass that gravitates the whole piece, set a serene, soothing aura. The bells, an aching cello, a distant alaap, an Oboe and strings sneak in and out of the song, without ever intruding the main meditative mood of the track. “Acid Darbari” is bliss at its blissful best.

Harshdeep Kaur’s sympathetic humming begins R.I.P on a gloomy note. There is a sense of despair in the aura. He has tried everything that he could. There is no hope. He is convinced that he is going to die a painful death. No. Wait. Ethnic percussions join in with the alaap to indicate a germ of a thought. He senses a way out. He contemplates the thought. The percussion aggravates with a rhythm. A thought soon becomes a decision. A deep pause with eerie electronic sounds, and then it begins. The lower registers of strings are dramatically bowed in a rush. It is bowed to create a hard, harsh and sharp sound of a thick saw cutting him from his fate. It leads to puke inducing turn in the stomach when we listen to the ultimatum he puts himself through for liberation.

The moment the bass line kicks in and begins to loop, we are hooked to “If I Rise”. The words might boast of optimism, but to me, the song as a whole puts a listener through a passage of nothingness. The song fills the soul with a divine calm. With A.R.Rahman and Dido crooning the lines on the softest of their vocal registers, the eclectic sound scape created by the omnipresent bass loop, the soft thudding beats, the confluence of worldly sounds and instruments in the third act of the song, the track as a whole takes us on a spiritual ride into an ethereal sound scape.

Some of the cues from the film’s background score are missing in the compilation. Energetic rock guitars play when he challenges himself to bike fast and reach a place, which usually takes 4.5 hours to reach, in 45 minutes. This piece is not there. The drums begin with singular strokes and gain a rhythm gradually, when after getting stuck he is shown to be picking out things from his bag, and placing it on the rock. Also, the Liberation theme, when it plays in the rain scene, has a slightly different layering of Strings.

“127 Hours” score is a stunning follow up to Slumdog Millionaire.


arun said...

Great review, Suresh. It seems the music of '127 hours' has really entered your system, in a positive kind of way. You've paid attention to every bit of sound.

One question, how do you come up with the situations for each music piece? I mean the movie is not released yet, we've seen only trailers so far.

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Arun - Thank you.

I haven't seen the film completely, but have seen most of the scenes that I have described here. Videos (legal) are available in these links



Grand Canyon scene is in most of the trailers

Anonymous said...

I dont want to sound rude, but many of the lines in this write-up are too painful to read, littered with grammatical errors and incorrect word usage.
My two cents: Stick to writing what comes to your mind (you do that quite well, by the way) and do not think in Tamil while writing in English. The harder you try the more error-prone your writing is bound to be.


P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

V - I will keep that advice in mind. But can you be little elaborate about the grammatical errors and incorrect word usage, I would be happy to learn. Maybe, you can send me mail.

Anonymous said...


This is very well thought out review that captures each score's soul. Anyone that thinks otherwise is clueless or just jealous. Well done sir.


Manish said...

Hi Suresh....i thought it was just me who is getting mad about the music of 127 Hours....you won't believe i'm listening to the music day and night....it's something out of this world...It's an experience...no words to define...and i really liked the techical details mentioned by you...i'm sure it will give me more pleasure to listen to the score.....wow what a music...i'm proud of Rehman...

tifosikrishna said...


Watched the movie in a DVD. Music was awesome. Liberation/Liberation in a dream was improvised, not exactly the same as it was in OST. And it was superb. Liked the placement of If I Rise too. Will you post your review after watching the movie? Eager to hear your views.

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

tifosiKrishna - Yes. I will.

Anonymous said...

Hi suresh,

Thanks for your elaborate review but all i am eager to know is will our Rehman will get the OSCAR this time too?


Mohan Catering Services said...

how to download BGM scores in your bolg tell me or send d link pls..


DS,BGL said...

Listening to the canyon/if i rise ... N enjoying

FYI..a relevant article: