The Indian-born composer A. R. Rahman may have started his music career in the Tamil film industry in Chennai (Madras), but increasingly he has made a impact in the West. He has contributed to a number of music theater productions including "Bombay Dreams" and "The Lord of the Rings", and collaborated with film composers Michael Danna and Craig Armstrong (on "Water" and Elizabeth: The Golden Age" respectively). In 2009 he scored the comedy "Couples Retreat" but his biggest success to date was his oscar-winning music for "Slumdog Millionaire" for director Danny Boyle. Now the director and composer have come together again on a very different film "127 Hours". Whereas the music in Slumdog is largely remembered for its song material, the score for "127 Hours" is mainly instrumental with a strong focus on guitar-led tracks.
127 Hours is based on the book "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" - the true story of a mountain climber who survived an ordeal when a falling boulder pinned his arm, trapping him in a remote canyon in Utah. Rahman's approach to the score plays to two key aspects of the story. Firstly there is the adventurer who enjoys extreme sports and likes to challenge himself both physically and mentally. Secondly and more importantly there is a meditative quality of the climber alone with his thoughts, as he carries out a mind-boggling plan to free himself and reach safety. There are aspects of the story which might be considered dark and depressing, but both Boyle and Rahman have clearly opted to avoid this and concentrate on the story's positive life-affirming theme.
The first score track "The Canyon" is introduced by a clarinet, playing a hymn-like anthem which is picked up by strings - Americana with a feeling of pure tranquility. "Liberation Begins" is the first of 3 "Liberation" tracks, whose driving rhythm on electric guitar is the equivalent of the film's main theme. This first statement of the main theme is almost a guitar solo though there are some subtle atmospheric backing sounds. The acoustic guitar in "Touch Of The Sun" starts in an almost improvisatory way playing arpeggiated chords, similar to some of Santaolalla's work, until the electric guitar returns with some celeste-like chimes. In "Liberation In A Dream" the guitar theme builds into a more action-oriented rock track with wind-like effects giving way to a traditional drum-kit and a counter-melody on strings.
Rahman's knowledge of Indian music styles comes to the fore in "Acid Darbari". A Darbari is a Hindustani raga played traditionally during the night, and the track has a world-music fusion feel with strummed imstruments, sampled voice material and an ethnic flute. Later chimes mix with oboe, cello, electric guitar and strings to give a meditative quality. "R.I.P." is an atmorpheric track which also leans towards a fusion mix with a solo female voice and ethnic-style drums, building in pace with a string ostinato before closing with a brief use of brass. The main theme returns for a 3rd time in "Liberation" with guitars and strings picking up the momentum, and something like bagpipes towards the end.
The inclusion of songs on film soundtracks is very much a personal thing - some people like them and some people don't - but we will mention two such tracks in particular, because they seem to fit the musical ambience of the film perfectly. The final track is "If I Rise" a song by Rahman and Dido composed especially for the film. The penultimate track is "Festival" by the Icelandic rock group Sigur Rós, whose track "Hoppípolla" is familiar through its use on TV adverts. The first half of "Festival" is ethereal with vocals (again ethnic in style) and simple synth accompaniment is just as transcendental as the score tracks, before it morphs in the second half into a thumping beat with guitars and atmospheric synths and voices which seem to emphasise the film's ultimate triumph.
Unless otherwise stated the tracks are by A. R. Rahman.