Friday, January 28, 2011

A. R. Rahman: Best In The Biz | Synthesis

By Rachel Hwang

Under-appreciated artists must have their own patron saint somewhere.

This isn’t self-promotion for once. I’m thinking of men and women who do beautiful work in the public eye, and get shafted in favor of celebrity breakup gossip. So if you don’t know who A. R. Rahman is, listen up.

If you haven’t seen it, 127 Hours is Danny Boyle’s latest claim to fame, and it’s a worthy follow up to Slumdog Millionare. Boyle tells the true story of Aron Ralston, a colorful but reckless mountain climber who winds up trapped by a boulder alone for more than five days. It’s a remarkable story remarkably well executed. But just like with Slumdog, I went home singing praises about not just the direction, but also the soundtrack. It’s not just any film that makes a song as overplayed as M.I.A.’s Paper Planes sound fresh and somehow appropriate in rural India. Danny Boyle uses popular music brilliantly in his films, and the wizard-of-Oz-like (double Academy Award winner, I might add) mystery man behind the magic is A. R. Rahman.

If you’ve ever watched a silent film, you know how easy it is to overlook the effect a good soundtrack has on our experience. What would Darth Vader be without his foreboding theme music? How about Jaws? How about Mulan without “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”?!

The winning formula this time includes Bill Withers, Sigur Ros, Chopin and a slew of original songs from Rahman. Peeking at the tracklist, none of these should work together. There’s tremendous variety here: experimental pop, classical, soul… But oddly enough, this grab bag is anything but random. This Swiss Army knife of very diverse, yet solid stand-alone songs is surprisingly cohesive, even enjoyed sans-movie. I’m not sure how they’ve done it, but the spirit of the film is there somehow.

Highlights include the appropriately cheeky “Never Hear Surf Music Again” and an interesting mix of woodsy acoustic guitar and synth in Rahman’s original track “A Touch of Sun.” Also be sure to check out “If I Rise,” featuring Dido, which is making quite a splash amidst film awards organizations for best original score.

However much critical and popular attention this album gets, it won’t be as much as it deserves. Boyle and Rahman have created gestalts in their film, showing us once again how music and images can work together to strengthen each other. It’s incredible.

How do you film an adventure movie about a man who can’t move? How do you put the survival instinct to music? Quite in the spirit of the film, if there’s a will there’s a way.

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