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Section Header
Composed and Co-Produced by:
Gustavo Santaolalla

Additional Music Composed by:
Ryuichi Sakamoto

Co-Produced by:
Alejando González Iñárritu

Concord Records

Release Date:
November 21st, 2006

Also See:
21 Grams
Brokeback Mountain

Audio Clips:
CD1: 4. Deportation/Iguazu (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

CD1: 17. The Blinding Sun (0:29):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

CD2: 3. Two Worlds, One Heart (0:32):
WMA (213K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

CD2: 8. Into the Wild (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Regular U.S. release. The price of the set is slightly higher ($2, on average) than normal due to the second CD.

  Winner of an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award. Nominated for a Golden Globe and a Grammy Award.

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Sales Rank: 1635

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Buy it... if you seek parts of the creative, cross-cultural collection of songs heard in the film, or if you specifically noticed and enjoyed its sparse, source-like underscore.

Avoid it... if you're only interested in the score because of its hype, or if you found Gustavo Santaolalla's previous scores to be unsatisfyingly simplistic and underachieving.

Babel: (Gustavo Santaolalla/Ryuichi Sakamoto) In his trilogy of fragmented puzzles on screen, Alejando González Iñárritu has seemingly struck gold with Babel, providing a complex cross-cultural message of suffering and acceptance more readily accessible than Amores Perros or 21 Grams. Collaborating once again with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, Iñárritu uses complicated storytelling, engrossing cinematography, and stark, in-your-face character tragedy to extend the famous biblical concept into an analogy for the modern age. The film, as per the usual equation, shows several concurrent lines of juxtaposed parts of the story that will only expose their true relationships at the end. From personal alienation within a family to the disjointed diplomatic relations between governments, Babel uses a single chance gunshot to make commentary about how every corner of the globe handles adversity both differently and perhaps the same. While critical reviews for Babel have been all over the map, many elements of the film have been almost immediately showered with praise from awards organizations. Nobody will tell you that Babel is a pleasant film, for it definitely isn't. But it's the type of deeply thoughful journey that seems to hypnotize arthouse regulars and hardened viewers desperately grasping for something unique or different. With this popular wind blowing in its sails, it's no surprise that the soundtrack is surfing the same waves. To understand the Babel soundtrack to any degree whatsoever, you have to grasp (or at least recognize, whether you like it not) Iñárritu's process of developing the music for this particular film. His regular collaborating composer, Gustavo Santaolalla, traveled to each of the locations in the film during production to experience the same cultures as the rest of the crew. Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto would contribute several cues on the fly for the third of the film appropriate to his culture. The resulting approach to the score was heavily improvised depending on emotional reactions to each location. Along that road to creating the underscore, the heavily involved Iñárritu would combine a series of songs that he had enjoyed previous to the start of the production with those he heard on location during his own travels for this film. The resulting soundtrack is truly a "flow of consciousness" experience that demands an appreciation of the film to understand.

The collection of songs is primarily of Mexican origin, to no surprise, with a few select pieces of Japanese influence thrown in for the third of the story taking place there. These aren't the kinds of songs you've probably heard before; there may be individual ones recognized by the cultures from which they come, but the average American will hear a fresh tune at each turn. Overall, the songs are non-offensive modern pop from the two cultures; the Mexican songs performed in Spanish are snappy with the expected flamboyance of the region while the fewer Japanese representations are more technically inclined. Only the clubby dance-rooted "Oh My Juliet!" truly deviates from the smooth, romantically inclined rhythms of the collection. Together, the songs play like Iñárritu's personal collection, and he even admits as much. The score, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. Santaolalla's scores for Iñárritu's Amores Perros or 21 Grams are loved by precisely the same crowd that lives and dies for the Iñárritu world of heavy contemplation. As individual listening experiences, however, these scores are utterly terrible. The problem that most film score critics and collectors have with Santaolalla is that he is more of an improvisor rather than a traditional composer. He often arranges his music extemporaneously based on the primordial emotions of a scene instead of standing back from a project and creating a more complex series of connections. The immediate irony of this style, of course, is that Santaolalla's extremely narrow music is the opposite of Iñárritu's convoluted stories. Some listeners believe that Santaolalla's approach is perfect for maintaining the focus on the film rather than detracting in any way from the story's power. Once again, though, the problem with that philosophy is its inherent conservative mentality. Some hardliners would say that Santaolalla isn't capable of writing the kind of complex and interesting music that more established Hollywood composers could write. Others say that the argument is irrelevant because Santaolalla's style works on a basic level. If you believe that a score is an auxiliary element within a film, like sound effects, then Santaolalla's work is probably acceptable. But if you feel that a score should enhance a film, elevate that film beyond its noisy backdrop, then Santaolalla is an unequivocal failure.

As a result, what Santaolalla wrote for Babel is nothing more than source music and sound effects. The film, in this case, is the life-jacket floating the score. Like Brokeback Mountain, a solo plucked instrument is the identity of the score. But unlike that previous heralded score, Babel has no thematic continuity. In fact, it has no overarching structure whatsoever. Only "Deportation/Iguazu," the one really interesting score cue, attempts to develop some kind of identity. It is the ultimate improvisational effort, with each short cue written as a source reflection of the scene at hand. At times in the film, the score reportedly becomes obnoxious in its simplistic rhythms and pounding, ignoring scene changes or the sublties of the cinematography. At other times, it drones with electronic ambivilance, taking a scene like "Walking in Tokyo" and reducing it to a completely lifeless and aimless void. Both of these fatal flaws are normal operating procedure for Santaolalla, who purchased a Persian Oud, one of the older string instruments in the world, to be the centerpiece of the score. Its merging of sounds from a Spanish guitar to a Japanese Koto is intriguing indeed, and Santaolalla's learning of the instrument for the purposes of Babel is to be commended. But it cannot alone provide the film with the necessary emotions through its wandering plucking. Likewise, Ryuichi Sakamoto's synthetic meanderings do an even greater disservice to the score; his "Only Love Can Conquer Hate" cue is as unromantically devoid of character as any synthetically lethargic effect ever conceived. Similar sounds come from failing hard drives, decloaking Star Trek vessels, and improperly balanced major household appliances. In a more Earthly sense, parts of Santaolalla's underscore should be better classified as regional source music, such as the prayers and tribal drum banging. His music put together seems inconsequential compared to the considerable flair contributed by the songs. A 2-CD set of music from Babel is made possible by the small performing ensemble and obscurity of the songs (thus the low re-use fees). Iñárritu personally arranged the CDs, mixing the extremely short score tracks among the songs, some of which appear in the film (while others were simply the director's favorites that he felt offered the right mood inspired by the film). By comparison to the completely non-descript score tracks, some of which are offensive in their simplistic source-style monotony, the songs are seemingly sent from the heavens.

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Unfortunately, the entire package just doesn't work. Even in the realm of the songs, some of them exhibit bizarre cross-cultural leanings. South American vocals with nordic rhythms and instrumentation together are almost laughable, as are French-dixie stylings mingling with swooning Mexican vocals. It's easy to hear on this set that people who view the film and immediately go seeking the soundtrack in stores are going to be hunting for a few of these intriguing (or downright enjoyable) songs. If you like flamenco flavors, then Babel's songs are surprisingly upbeat and free-flowing. It almost seems as though all of the positive culture was placed in the songs while Santaolalla's drab underscore is used like a mop to soak up all the negative, stunned, and disembodied emotions from the film. Even the most avid score collector will be skipping the score cues to get to the next song... It's a rare case when this happens for the score-loving community, but Babel will do that for you. The presentation on album, with its mixture of oddities, culture-clashes, and random shifts in tone, is largely unlistenable without some programming. It's clear that Iñárritu has this music all echoing in his head to such an extent that, along with the direction of his own intentions, this album must make sense for him. As for Santaolalla, his understated style seems to work for a small group of listeners, but knowledgable film score fans will correctly recognize that any number of other, more accomplished composers could have taken a similarly small ensemble and done wonders for Babel. The size isn't important. Nor is the instrumentation. Nor the presence of songs. The content of Babel's story begs for compelling music, not simplistic sound effects. The awards recognition that Santaolalla receives for this project will be tied even more closely to the fate of the film than Brokeback Mountain, for the score for Babel has infinitely fewer admirable attributes (and that's saying something, given that the Brokeback Mountain score was marginal to average at best). If this score achieves an Oscar nomination, then it will have done so on the back of the film and its songs. And if that's the case, then AMPAS will have done a huge injustice to Babel's polar opposite in a lyrical sense: Moulin Rouge from 2001. As such, there is absolutely no reason, in quality or quantity, for Santaolalla's work on Babel to even be eligible for an Oscar. As Genesis says about the Tower of Babel, "Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." Apparently, the same must have applied to the underscore. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Songs: ***
    Score: FRISBEE
    Album Presentation: *
    Overall: *

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 1.58 Stars
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 130:35

CD1: (63:36)

• 1. Tazarine* (1:46)
• 2. Tu Me Acostumbraste - performed by Chavela Vargas (2:42)
• 3. September/The Joker (ATFC's Aces High Remix) - performed by Earth Wind & Fire/Fatboy Slim - Shinichi Osawa Remix (6:29)
• 4. Deportation/Iguazu* (4:49)
• 5. World Citizen - I Won't Be Disappointed/Looped Piano - performed by David Sylvian, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Amadeo Pace, Keigo Oyamada, Sketch Show (5:48)
• 6. Cumbia Sobre el Rio - performed by Blanquito Man, Control Machete, Celso Pena y Su Ronda Bogota (4:42)
• 7. Hiding It* (2:07)
• 8. Masterpiece - performed by Rip Slyme (4:19)
• 9. Desert Bus Ride* (1:55)
• 10. Bibo No Aozora/Endless Flight*/Babel* - 'Bibo No Aozora' performed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jaques Morelenbaum, Everton Nelson (11:25)
• 11. Tribal* (2:29)
• 12. Para Que Regreses - performed by El Chapo (3:17)
• 13. Babel - performed by Nortec Collective (3:20)
• 14. Amelia Desert Morning* (1:22)
• 15. Jugo a la Vida - performed by Los Tucanes de Tijuana (3:50)
• 16. Breathing Soul* (1:19)
• 17. The Blinding Sun* (1:57)

CD2: (66:59)

• 1. Only Love Can Conquer Hate - performed by Ryuichi Sakamoto (9:43)
• 2. El Panchangon - performed by Los Incomparables (4:05)
• 3. Two Worlds, One Heart* (2:11)
• 4. The Phone Call* (0:24)
• 5. Gekkoh - performed by Susumu Yokota (4:52)
• 6. The Catch* (0:54)
• 7. Mujer Hermosa - performed by Los Incomparables (3:36)
• 8. Into the Wild* (2:55)
• 9. Look Inside* (0:47)
• 10. The Master* (6:13)
• 11. Oh My Juliet! - performed by Takashi Fujii (4:35)
• 12. Prayer* (0:54)
• 13. El Besito Cachicurris - performed by Daniel Luna (3:38)
• 14. Walking in Tokyo* (1:31)
• 15. The Visitors - performed by Hamza El Din (4:58)
• 16. Morning Pray* (2:05)
• 17. Mi Adoracion - performed by Agua Caliente (3:33)
• 18. The Skin of the Earth* (2:50)
• 19. Bibo No Aozora/04 - performed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jaques Morelenbaum, Yuichiro Gotoh (7:15)

* Score by Gustavo Santaolalla

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes detailed information from the director about the score and album.

  All artwork and sound clips from Babel are Copyright © 2006, Concord Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 12/22/06 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2006-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.