01.06.2009

Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack, A.R. Rahman

Posted by AJ Harbison at 1:10 am

Last week my lovely fiancée and I decided to take a break from wedding planning and go out on an old-fashioned date to dinner and a movie. The movie we saw was Slumdog Millionaire, a film about an 18 year-old orphan named Jamal from the slums of Mumbai who becomes a contestant on India’s version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and is poised to win the grand prize of 20 million rupees. But when the show breaks for the night, he is arrested and interrogated by a police inspector who doesn’t believe a “slumdog” could know so much. Jamal tells the inspector his life story, each new stage in his tale revealing how he knew the answer to one of the questions.

Eleanor and I both enjoyed the film very much. It was a very well-made movie, with terrific cinematography, good writing and good acting–a fun ride. I remarked to her that the story was filled with contrasts pitted against each other: the rich gang lords contrasted with the orphans in the slums; the superficiality and shallowness of the game show contrasted with the gritty, authentic picture of life on the streets; the old slums and trash heaps in Mumbai contrasted with seemingly endless new construction. And this contrast of old and new came out in the music quite a bit, too. The score was written by A.R. Rahman, a composer who apparently has done a lot of Indian movies. I noticed that a lot of the music utilized modern electronics and beats, but featured traditional Indian instruments.

You can hear some samples on the Amazon product page for the soundtrack. “O… Saya,” a collaboration between the composer and artist M.I.A., features a computer-altered voice singing a traditional-sounding melody above fast percussion. An uncredited editorial review on the Amazon page declares the song “a rumbling hybrid of Bollywood and hip-hop.” The soundtrack also juxtaposes more ethnic music like “Ringa Ringa” (track number six) with “Latika’s Theme” (track number eight), an atmospheric treatment of a theme that could fit in a variety of movies and becomes a pop song in “Dreams On Fire,” the penultimate track. And the third track, “Mausam & Escape,” sounds perhaps like the Indian version of “Through The Fire And Flames.”

The Amazon page also quotes Kurt Loder of MTV.com as saying this: “The propulsive score, by Bollywood soundtrack auteur A. R. Rahman, is hip-hop fusion of a very up-to-date kind.” I agree. Artistically, I appreciated how the fusion in the music reflected the fusion in the movie; and as a listener I enjoyed the music for adding another dimension to a very cool film.

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01.03.2009

Some Thoughts On Guitar Hero III

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:09 am

My younger brother received the Nintendo Wii video game Guitar Hero III: Legends Of Rock for Christmas, and he and I have wiled away several hours since then (well, many hours for him) living vicariously as rock legends. It’s a fun game; he’s better than I am, so he beat me in the Face Off mode, but we preferred to rock together in a co-op career. (We actually beat the game in that mode on Christmas night and were slightly disappointed that it wasn’t more difficult. Of course we could always try it again on the “Hard” setting.) We also enjoyed naming our bands: his solo act is Socratic Method (keep in mind that he’s a Torrey student) and our co-op band was called War In Heaven (based on the title of this book he got me for Christmas). Not bad as rock legend names go. But, as always, there was a nagging thought in the back of my mind: “I could do a TLB post on this!”

Most of the music in the game is not exactly my cup of tea, but since they usually have only one or two songs from a particular artist, they have the liberty to choose good ones. There’s even an AFI song I found tolerable. I’m not a big fan of classic rock in general, which (I think) most of these artists could be classified as, but I do enjoy rocking out to classic rock guitar. There’s something about the tone and style of classic rock guitar that just feels right. And how can anyone not enjoy “Cliffs Of Dover”?

As a musician who’s used to reading music, the “notation” used in the game is difficult for me to adjust to. (If you’ve never seen what the game looks like, click here for a YouTube video.) The rhythm seems so imprecise–there are only gridlines every beat and everything not on a beat falls somewhere in between. It’s hard to understand what the rhythms are in a given song until I hear them a few times–if they’re syncopated, it’s very unlikely that I would understand what rhythm they’re trying to convey (much less be able to play it) until I hear it and can associate the actual rhythm with how it looks as the little colored dots rush toward me. Though I guess any sort of notation that’s more detailed would be impractical.

It’s interesting also to get a visual and tactile perspective on the music. Usually music is just listened to, but playing Guitar Hero associates the audio with your eyes and your hands as well. You start to see patterns in the riffs much more quickly and easily when you can use two or three senses to identify them instead of just one.

And just in case anyone is curious: No, playing Guitar Hero is nothing like playing a real guitar.

Just for fun, here’s a video of “Through The Fire And Flames” performed allegedly by a live person, 100% correct on the Expert level. Superhuman.

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