Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt
swashbuckler332

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Dream Is Collapsing

I am not a huge Hans Zimmer fan. The days of my vitriol toward the man are long past, and I have even grudgingly admitted that he has quite a few good scores under his belt. The focus of my ire is not so much on Zimmer himself or his protégés (some of whom, such as Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell, have written perfectly respectable scores in their own right), but instead on a more general frustration at the general state of film sound design and aural aesthetic that has made that Media Ventures/Remote Control sound the default approach to action films these days.

I had avoided most of the advance information on Inception, preferring to view the film with as few preconceived notions as possible. One of the first bit of feedback I got from people who had seen the film was that the score was very intense, and reminded them of my musical accompaniment to the game of Jenga. I wasn't sure exactly how to feel about that, but one thing I knew from how near-universal the reaction was: if so many people are noticing it, it must impossible not to be aware of the music when watching the movie, which meant that Christopher Nolan made Zimmer's score an integral part of how he was telling his story.

When I finally saw the film, I could immediately see where the reaction was coming from. Zimmer's score is extremely prominent in the sound mix, and the movie often leans on it to add to the sense of pace and build momentum. It does this so well that I missed some of the other things that it was doing. glenniebun recommended that I give the soundtrack album (and bonus tracks available for free at the album's official website) a good listen before dismissing the score as purely functional as it had a haunting, hypnotic quality that invites repeated listening. Despite my reservations, I took his advice and in doing so, discovered a whole new set of layers to the score.

The most prominent is that much of the score is built out of elements, slowed down and re-arranged, of the Edith Piaf song used by the film's protagonists to synchronize timing in the dreamscape(s). This breakdown of a song in the diegesis is not only a literal reference, but a representation of the protagonists' methods and an illustration the different levels of time encompassed by the film's narrative. The song itself makes a brief brilliantly integrated guest appearance on the soundtrack album as part of the track "Waiting for a Train."

While this is the main "hook" of the score, I have to admit that some of the soundscapes Zimmer created for many other sequences were subtle but extremely effective. More so, in fact, than I originally had noticed; the album track "Old Souls" brought me right back into the relevant sequence in the film.

This is also a particularly synth-heavy score, even for Zimmer, and one of the things I like about it is how unabashedly 80s it is in many aspects of its realization and performance, with tracks like "Mombasa" having a nifty "Harold Faltermeyer Meets Tangerine Dream" quality to them (one can also draw comparisons to Dreamer Christopher Franke's solo scores for Babylon 5 as well), but the film's genre-mishmash means that we touch on a little bit of John Barry in there as well. The use of minimalism techniques puts one in the mindset of Phillip Glass, but the language is more that of Michael Nyman.

So there you have it. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Zimmer skeptic, and I have (reluctantly) drunk of the Inception soundtrack Kool-Aid. Do I think the score might have been more effective with more developed thematic material? Possibly. Maybe "Time" would be a bit more cathartic if there was something more going on there musically (though I love the way the track, and by extension both the album and film, closes). But despite its reliance on repetition, it would be incorrect to call this score simplistic by any means.

And yes, the album has some choice selections for Jenga.
Tags: babylon 5, christopher franke, film music, hans zimmer, jenga, john barry, michael nyman, science fiction
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