Monday, November 11, 2013

The Fantastic in the Fine Arts: Hans Zimmer's Inception Soundtrack

Even if you haven't seen the movie Inception, you've most likely heard a key element from its soundtrack in other movie trailers.  The film's recurring, insistent brass blast, as pointed out by Edward Davis over at Indiewire, is the current favorite in other film promos.  Not sure what I'm talking about?  Here's a sample of the soundtrack that should jog your memory:

While I think it's fascinating how different soundtrack clips get passed around (the music from Requiem for a Dream is another great example of this), the thing that really fascinates me about the music from Inception is where it came from.

In the film, a key element is Edith Piaf's song "Non, je ne regrette rien" (which means "No, I regret nothing").  This song serves as a musical trigger to mark characters' movement to another reality.  Here it is:

But, as several observant movie-viewers noticed, and as composer Hans Zimmer himself confirmed, the memorable brass blasts are merely a slowed-down version of Piaf's song.  Listen:

As Zimmer explains, "“Just for the game of it,all the music in the score is subdivisions and multiplications of the tempo of the Edith Piaf track. So I could slip into half-time; I could slip into a third of a time. Anything could go anywhere. At any moment I could drop into a different level of time.”

As a  result, Zimmer sees the movie differently from many viewers.  Rather than thinking about the film as layers of reality, Zimmer sees things in terms of layers of time.  He says, "“Everybody thinks the dream is the important part.  For me, the time was the important part: the idea that, in a peculiar way, Chris had made a time-travel movie that actually worked.”

Not only does this soundtrack create layers of music and layers of meaning within the film, but now, through the way that it has spread to other film trailers, it creates layers of meaning outside of the film as well, encouraging viewers to make the auditory connection to Inception and Zimmer's soundtrack.  The sound has become a musical palimpsest--a manuscript page scraped of its original writing and written on again, while still maintaining ghosts of its original text.  Layers indeed.

By Jen Miller