Category Archives: music

Hans Zimmer, the Maestro

I’m a huge fan of the compositions of Hans Zimmer,  the German musician and composer known for his soundtracks for movies such as Gladiator,  The Thin Red Line,  Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, 12 years a slave and Inception.

Zimmer aims for a minimalist sound with grand production.  4-5 chord motifs explored with great dynamism by orchestral players and innovative arrangements. I’m not alone in my admiration for Zimmer as his critically celebrated works have garnered him four Grammy Awards, three Classical BRIT Awards, two Golden Globes, and an Academy Award.

His creative relationship with Christopher Nolan has proved particularly fertile including his work on the Dark Knight Trilogy.  but not even Nolan gave him the free rein he received from legendary auteur-director Terence Malick who played the music on set during the arduous filming of his war epic, The Thin Red Line.  Malick let Zimmer’s score set the tone for each scene,  instructing.

In my opinion, his most successful score is his development of the themes within the Thin Red Line for the psychological thriller Inception.  The movie simply wouldn’t work so well without Zimmer’s score which moves to each beat of the plot and beautifully punctuates the shifts from action to introspection that take places throughout the movie.  The use of an electronically distorted and slowed version of Piaf’s most celebrated song Non, je ne regret rien is a delicious piece of whimsy.

The standout musical works in Inception, for me,  are The Dream is Collapsing” and the closing piece “Time”.  Nolan’s movie is fantastic in my opinion but I can’t imagine it with another score. I’ve often felt that when reviewers write glowingly about some movie scenes they’re actually paying homage to the music choice, for instance the use of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs in the movie Fearless.

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Raging Bullshit

I think it’s quite funny that Rage Against The Machine’s 1992 swear-fest Killing in the Name is number one in the UK for christmas but the circumstances of it getting there are all a bit juvenile. Maybe that’s the point.

RATM Killinginthename

I’m sure some people will be hugely offended by the content of the song. There’s always someone just waiting to be offended at what they see as the erosion of the moral fabric of society. It’s all bullshit of course. Society is perhaps more moral now than it was, say, 100 years ago but there’s a generation that find open discussions of sexuality, violence, corruption etc. to be unsettling. They’d prefer it all swept under the carpet. However, “Killing in the Name” is not just random anarcho-punk. RATM aren’t Blink 182. It’s a serious song about police racism (particularly membership of the klan) in some states of the USA. It’s also about senseless wars initiated for corporate reasons by corrupt governments. In many respects Killing in the Name is a song about the Republican Party’s close relationship with the industrial-military complex in the US. The famous refrain with it’s 17 expletives is about questioning authority figures in whatever form they take.

It’s not the first protest song to become a Christmas hit. John Lennon’s “Happy XMAS (War is Over)” reached #4 in 1972 and #3 in 1980. I’m pretty sure it’s the first anti-war song to reach number 1 as a protest against the plastic pop of XFactor and other “idol” tv shows. The ShiteFactor crew outdid themselves this Christmas with sweetly plastic Joe McElderry covering a sickly sweet song from US plastic girl Miley Cyrus who pretends to be the super-fake Hannah Montana when told by her bosses as the plastic factory known as Disney. This is the least bio-degradable track of all time. How much frigging inauthenticity can they cram into one friggin song? I’m sure the folks from Guiness World Records were invited to the recording session.

Every time R puts on X-Factor I think of Bill Hicks advertising sketch. Looked at objectively much of these competitions consist of cruel exploitation of delusional/mentally-disturbed people for the purposes of entertainment. Still, we’ve advanced in the morality stakes by not actually feeding them to lions afterwards.

I’m hopeful that when people buy the RATM single they’ll listen to all the lyrics and not just the “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” refrain and realise that in the true spirit of anarchy they can apply this not just to crafty Simon Cowell but also to the government, banks, religions, secular religions (ya know what I mean), the EU and all manufacturers of dairy produce. It’s metaphorical ya see 🙂 It’s a song about standing up to injustice and hypocrites.

If this happens then I frankly couldn’t give a damn how much money Sony make out of this. Although it bothers Brian Boyd in the Irish Times for some reason I’m not entirely clear about even having read this article. Amusingly enough the quaintly insular Irish Times describe RATM as “little known American punk metal band” in today’s paper. They’ve since edited this from the online version so someone must have explained to them that RATM are better known than the Irish Times itself.

Anyway, happy holidays!

Favourite Guitar Solos? + despair for modern music

It’s really weighing on my mind. Was the 70s of the 80s the best decade for the guitar solo? I know, it’s the 64 million dollar question and the future of the world depends on the answer 🙂 I was hacking away at some code today which is always a chance to put iTunes on random and see what pops up. Well, I got no closer to answering the question of this (and no other) moment but I did have the opportunity to sample some of the most jaw droppingly fine playing of all time in two of the greatest guitar tracks.
The first track for nomination is Pat Metheny’s “Are you going with me?”. In particular the oft-vaunted performance at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 2003. In my opinion this is the PMG’s best composition with a gentle tempo and a catchy hook which begs for improvisation. Connoiseurs of the solo will note that Pat plays the entire track with his eyes closed, covers almost every note on the fretboard and has his band members gasping in astonishment. No trifling words are needed when there’s this much refined guitar tone audible in every pick, ping and pinch. It’s so good that if I wasn’t to be humorous about it, I’d cry.
The other track is the prog-funk epic “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic. My brother Evan (rather pretentiously in my opinion :D) refers to this as “a sonic landscape”. Even with my tongue bursting my cheek with irony the best I can do is quotation. This is another soulful whail-fest carefully engineered to allow maximum guitar extravagance. It generally starts slow and builds to a crescendo of sonic lunacy. My favourite version of this tune is the live 1983 version with Eddie Hazel and Michael Hampton. This has got the full gorgonzola with a pan pipe intro (SHIT YOU NOT!) followed by Hazel’s soulful playing. Hampton ups the pace with some blazing shred before a dueling-banjos style finale where their fingers catch fire and the stage explodes. Well not quite but it’s not far off.
Why, with all the reality-tv Star-Idol excrement that we’re served up do we NEVER get to see a virtuoso musician auditioning for these kinds of talent contests? I often wonder would Prince, that small purple god of multi-instrumental virtuosity, break through into the current music scene where we’re inundated with photogenic but bland singers trying to be the next Mariah/Whitney/Person-who-won-X-Idol-last-year… By focusing on singers it becomes about the lowest common denominator when it could be more interesting. How about Prog-Idol or eXtemporise Factor ? 🙂
It might actually be entertaining to take some of the great musicians of the past and get them to judge a multi-instrumental talent content to form a REAL BAND ™ of genuinely talented musicians who gel together. They can even have a singer as long as they’re quirky cool. Extra points if it’s Aimee Mann. OK, it doesn’t HAVE TO BE Aimee Mann. Another interesting twist would be to let a member of the public (me!) be on the judging panel.
(This idea is not covered by a creative commons license. If you want to use it you’ll have to pay me millions!)