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Inception: plot point or arcana?

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This is kinda neat. One of the main musical gestures in the score of Inception is derived from an actual plot point in the film.

Neat! Cool! I love it!

But is it hearable? I mean, now that it’s been pointed out and delivered via the viral web you can hear it, and SOMEONE must have heard it to first point it out, but would anyone hear it on a first, third, or twentieth listen? And if it’s not hearable, does it even matter as a theatrical gesture?

That could be asked of a many musical ideas. While it might require some amount of indoctrination to follow musical relationships in Mozart or Beethoven, there’s no doubt that those relationships are observable and create some sort of meaning. Can any amount of training make the intricate and technical transformations and relationships of serial music hearable without following along in a heavily marked up score? What about the little games that composers would sometimes play, spelling out names with pitches? There’s no way anyone could hear that.

It seems that there are two flavors of transformation, the transformation that is purely part of the compositional process, part of the mental game the composer plays to create a satisfying piece. It may have meaning to the composer, but it requires some extra-musical information or very careful analysis to be observed. Then there is the transformation that is designed to be followed and tracked by the astute listener, to give meaning and structure to a piece.

In Zimmer’s case with Inception, there may be parts of the score that encourage the listener to hear this relationship between the doom gesture and the Piaf tune, all it would take is one passage that presents one the themes speeding up or slowing down into the other and all would become clear. But without that breadcrumb somewhere in the score, I suspect that under normal listening that relationship would remain unobserved and, therefore, meaningless.

2 Responses to Inception: plot point or arcana?

  1. joe says:

    um.. have you seen the movie? the use of this cue is specifically *about* the slowing down of the edith piaf music. the sound itself is what cues the characters to prepare themselves to awake form the dream state. hardly arcana.

  2. Brian Rosen says:

    Oh ya! I know! It’s really clever in the way it hooks up with the plot point. The arcana question come from whether or not the source of the musical reference in the score is detectable. I know I didn’t catch it the first time, and I doubt I would have caught it a third or fourth time. If it’s not ‘hearable’, than it becomes fodder for a trivia question, hence, arcana.

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Music vs. Film (Music wins. Not even close.)

Imagine a company that dubs old super 8 films onto VHS.  If you like, they’ll even dub a nice soundtrack of classical music in the background for your listening pleasure. Well, looks like they didn’t always listen to the entire album before dubbing it.  And what we have here is a great example of theContinue Reading

One Response to Music vs. Film (Music wins. Not even close.)

  1. gerald rosen says:

    Alfred Hitchcock would be proud.

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