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Comments about the soundtrack for Babel (Gustavo Santaolalla/Ryuichi Sakamoto)

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Response to your review
• Posted by: Aidan R
• Date: Sunday, January 28, 2007, at 9:34 p.m.
• IP Address:
• Now Playing: BABEL

Just a response to your frustrating review of BABEL.

I just bought the soundtrack after having seen the movie a few days ago.
I paid the $30 in great anticipation because I was stunned by the spare and intense emotional impact of the music during the film. For once, in this sea of overblown hollywood strings, we get to hear a score that dares to operate on an emotional level that is not guided by “enhancement” of emotions, but rather creates a lifeblood all its own through honest musical improvisation and careful scoring.

What you describe as “completely non-descript score tracks, some of which are offensive in their simplistic source-style monotony”, I would describe as deeply intimate and affecting pieces of music that speak in a very human language, becoming a character as troubled and delicate as the human beings depicted in this wonderful film.

The genre-ambiguous, haunting music of the Oud and synthesizers etc speaks in this score like the weary spirit of human frailty – I think it’s genius, crossing both geological and emotional territory and fusing them together with one ghostly collection of themes – Santaolalla made absolutely the right choices in creating the atmospheric bed for BABEL.

That last piece with the piano and strings has haunted my sleep for several nights.

You chastize this score for its improvised nature, and understated presence – do your ears need more melodic and traditionally dexterous themes to play to your emotions? Why can’t a score take an approach that involves less “enhancement” and more sensitive performance? If every actor in this film performed in the Chartlon Heston template, I think perhaps the emotional truth of the story might have been lost. What do you think?

I think it’s supremely arrogant of you to segregate the listening community into the divisions of “a small group of listeners” and “knowledgable film score fans”. What, I ask you, makes a “knowledgable film score fan”? One that guages all his opinions and reactions on the acrobatics of more “capable” orchestral composers? Or one that simply responds to music as a shared experience, appreciating that subtlety has a place in performance of all kinds, especially in this, the most visceral and emotional form of communication?

The actors did enough work in this movie without the score having to wail and cry, urging us to be “compelled”. I was compelled by the score’s silence - therein lies its simple beauty, and the ultimate appeal of Santaolalla’s music for BABEL – that we are given the chance to experience this story alongside the performers, not merely told how to feel by a gaudy “oscar-winning” hollywood suite.

And since when do you judge the merits of music on what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences thinks?

- Aidan R, Composer, Australia

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