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Hans Zimmer and AR Rahman. Ubiquitous names when it comes to music. Each a maestro in his own industry. Each one looked up to with the same fervent adoration hitherto reserved only for demigods and Sachin Tendulkar. Each one, a pioneer when he first burst on to the scene. A sole, different voice in a sea of uniformity. But alas, each also probably stuck in a rut which, in the case of at least one of them, is beginning to hurt his credibility.
To understand this opinion piece, one must delve slightly into our own nostalgic look back into the music of the early 90s. Both of them burst on to the mass scene at more or less the same time. Zimmer did so in Hollywood, Rahman did it in Bollywood. At the time, Bollywood had just lost the legendary junior Burman. Bappi-da and Baba Sehgal were somehow popular. And, Bollywood soundtracks had begun their slow march into the pap that we have peddled around right now under the guise of “music”. In all this tone deaf mayhem, came the soothing, and very hatke sound of Roja. The instrumentation was counter to the norm. The construction was simple, hummable. The music just floated under and lifted the lyrics of the songs. And yet, each song had its own distinct melody. Each one captured the innocence of a bygone era, filtered through the sensibilities of modern day music production.
Across seven seas, Zimmer was doing much the same with his action movie scoring. Those who were savvy about such things immediately latched onto the subtle shift in scoring Zimmer seemed to be championing. The shift to a more staccato, urgent sound. Heightened suspense and excitement through the use of percussion. Whilst each composer (at least those who cared, and weren’t just phoning the score in) lay emphasis on notes, Zimmer seemed to be laying emphasis on beats. His score for Crimson Tide is still considered a landmark. It finally ushered us into the era of the modern action movie score.
However, after the original breathtaking originality, both of these maestros seem to have gotten stuck in a rut. Their latest offerings seem to be merely peddling those same tropes they mastered two decades ago. Both have tried getting out of their comfort zones, and both seemed to have failed to a degree. Rahman tried a more “pop” sound but ended up ripping off Backstreet’s Back. Zimmer went big with his orchestration, and just ended up losing the heart and soul so needed for a good movie score. In my opinion, the scores for each of the three Nolan Batman movies seem to mirror Zimmer’s descent into the rut. Batman Begins had plenty of heart and mournful, emotional scoring (the notes for which, in all probability, were provided by Zimmer’s scoring partner on the project, James Newton Howard). The Dark Knight lost much of the heart, but dared to experiment (with its Joker theme). The Dark Knight Rises was merely a bloated mess, devoid of any heart.
By failing to evolve into a sound which makes you say (without even having to look at the credits), “oh hey, that’s a Rahman score,” or “oh hey, that’s a Zimmer score,” both these men seem to be doing their legacy a great disservice. Don’t get me wrong. Having a sound which is uniquely yours isn’t a bad thing. The most celebrated composers—from Beethoven, to John Williams—al have their own distinct sound. But, it becomes a problem when your “distinct” sound is easily ape-able, and any attempts at “evolution” are laughable (case in point: Zimmer’s Electro theme from The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which was such a bad “rap” track that it should never have made it into the final film). In this respect, I think, Zimmer is more guilty.
I can’t believe I’m actually saying this (after all, I used to be a die-hard Zimmer fan), but while both seem to be stuck in a rut, at least Rahman’s rut sounds pleasing to the ears. Don’t you agree?
©Rachit Agarwal for PosterGully.com