Indian Composer A.R. Rahman Sweeps Academy Awards for Music

Film Music Magazine • February 24, 2009

Indian composer, record producer and musician A.R. Rahman made a clean sweep of the 81st Academy Awards for music, winning in both the Best Original Score and Best Song categories for his music for the hit film Slumdog Millionaire. His best song award was shared with lyricist Gulzar.

Rahman, 42, has sold over 100 million records of his film scores and soundtracks worldwide, and his legacy of work has earned him a large fan base since his film scoring career began in the early 1990s.

Comments

By Robert Casady on February 24th, 2009 at 9:38 am

While Rahman’s music for ‘Slumdog’ was catchy and modestly interesting, his winning of the award for best score reflects the Academy’s infatuation with World Cinema (i.e., anything “different”). The Academy desperately wants to be perceived as open and progressive, even if it’s at the expense of genuine craftsmanship. It’s a dreadful shame that other, much better scores were bypassed, particularly Thomas Newman’s gorgeous “Wall-E.” Unforgivable, in my opinion.

By Daniel on February 24th, 2009 at 10:22 am

I do not agree with what you are saying. I think that Rahman’s score was awesome, and contained enough complexity, and most importantly served the film in a unique proper way. To say that the win is based on the Acedemy’s infatuation to become more “world” is kind of an insult to Rahman. 99 percent of the UNited States composer history has been mostly “hollywood” “traditional” caucasion”
“european” sounding. The Untied Sates is now more diverse, so we should see this reflected through our cinema and musical scores. Minorities still have a hard time breaking into getting teh top composing jobs, because most studios want what is safe and common. I think that Rahman’s win reflects more of where we are as a country (more diverse) and where we are going. I think that it also opens the doors for more different unique composers to get the bigger jobs. Now perhaps directors will take a look at more diverse composers, and more different styles of music. And by the way, I loved teh Wall-E score as well and that it was amazing, and could have definetly won, but I am happy with Rahman’s win as well.

By Composer on February 24th, 2009 at 10:33 am

Thank you, I could not agree more! I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas Newman and taking the opportunity to let him know how I think he should have won for Shawshank Redemption, at least, and how much I and so many others feel he is highly overdue for the Oscar honor.

With all due respect to the, maybe deserved, phenomenon that is “Slumdog Millionaire’ and its music, imho it’s an over-hyped collection of simple, happy-songs that combine cheesy 80’s electronica and otherwise silly synth meanderings (btw, I am largely an electronica artist myself, NOT a typical trad. composer), some cliche ethnic percussion and the worst examples of super mainstream East Indian music, which is, of course, completely beside the point since the score and song votes were clearly decided by people who first and foremost was enamored with the movie’s message/story regardless of the score. I happen to think that is often the case and also that many of the voters in the Academy’s Music Branch are so out-of-touch with contemporary music that they wouldn’t know a deservedly cool electronic composition if it hit them square in the middle-ear. Because, for me, this is NOT about so-called REAL music vs. so-called SYNTH SCORES since I think people who complain about this are equally moronic and reactionary. No no, this is about GREAT music, in whatever way it was created and recorded, and in that respect it is a GREAT shame that the Academy, once again, overlooked Mr. Newmans amazing work!

By john on February 24th, 2009 at 11:23 am

Last year the academy chose Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova for best song, this year A.R. Rahman, it seems that composers that also sing the title tracks are
on a two year roll. The song Rahman wrote is seemingly contemporary Indian with
a good dance beat, it could be the academy has shifted from our traditional western values to bring in the singer/songwriter/composer as a more approachable subject; possibly redefining the catagory for the film audience.

By Douglas on February 24th, 2009 at 1:00 pm

The Slumdog Soundtrack is good, but it stands as a collection of songs in my opinion, not as a film score. Besides, what kind of message are we sending the rest of the industry by awarding orchestral-replicated synth scores over productions that took the money and time to create quality pieces of music? It saddens me to think that this is just another big reason for productions to continue towards eliminating future orchestral recording sessions. Soon there won’t be a difference between most TV and Film score quality.

Regarding a previous post: Anybody who would describe someone who complains about the comparison of so called SYNTH scores to REAL scores obviously has never had their music recorded with real orchestral instruments or is too passive to understand the importance of advocacy. Of course it’s reactionary, but it’s not moronic by any means. The difference in quality is staggering, and just because one can’t hear that difference (or thinks that saying something after the fact is useless) doesn’t mean they should be going on the offensive towards others who do say something. As a composer, you should be an advocate for the hard work musicians do to help make a score emotional, not accusing SYNTH vs REAL complainers of being reactionary and moronic. You only hurt your own industry by letting things go and not standing up for what you believe in.

By Jesse Hopkins on February 24th, 2009 at 1:09 pm

I think it is very suspect that the best score oscar would be for the film that the Academy was also the most fond of. When will the Academy stop default voting for their favorite films in the score category, or as consolation prizes for their second favorite films.

A genius score for a mediocre B-movie would never be considered. Of course I realize that they have to consider how the score worked in the film and not just the music as pure music, but this can be easily judged within less popular or unique films.

By Maddy on February 24th, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Please check iTunes Essentials page dedicated for A.R.Rahman; you will get a glimpse of what Indian culture has to offer from it’s musical treasure! This collection is just a sample from his wide range of compositions till date.

http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewMix?id=305250456&s=143441&wm=1

As Rahman himself said in the press interview post-oscar that whatever he did in Slumdog is 0.1% of what is available in Indian music and thus he had very low expectations at the Oscars. And to add more – the whole score was completed in just 3 weeks whereas he usually takes 6 to 8 months for any normal Indian movie.

In his mid 40’s Rahman still surprises the whole Indian film fraternity! and I’m sure Rahman will do great in Hollywood as well!

By Composer on February 24th, 2009 at 4:02 pm

No, Douglas, you are completely wrong, or misunderstood me completely. Did you think I was comparing REAL orchestral recordings of music to SYNTH mock-ups or scores using mainly synths and/or samplers with the aim to replace the sound of, or need for, real orchestras or players? That is, of course, not what I mean. Nothing can replace the results obtained using a real orchestra of players, no matter the size of the ensemble, if what you are aiming for is the sound of a real, traditional orchestra, or any individual sounds and textures that any instrument, traditional, ethnic or otherwise makes for that matter. If your aim is the real sound of any instrument, band or orchestra, then using the real thing is obviously always going to yield the best results, at least providing the conditions are favorable towards that end.

But, sometimes they are not. A sampled or synthetic rendition can come very close these days, from the best people, and sometimes this approach is justified if there is no possibility to have the real thing in a good or usable way, but can of course never really replace great or very good, real players playing their instruments in great or very good real bands or orchestras of any size, and there is almost always a way, even on a shoe string budget, to favorably incorporating one or more live players of the instruments that you otherwise would have to ‘fake’ using samples. OK, so far?

No, my complaint of ‘morony’ has to do with those who claim that orchestral film scores, or orchestral music in general, based in the traditional instrumentation of the symphony orchestra, with or without the supplement of ethnic or synthetic solos, details or embellishments, is by nature and per definition supreme to and better, or more real, than the huge variety of electronic, hybrid or other types of film music that exists, regardless. THAT is what I am calling an outdated, reactionary and, yes, moronic opinion, and one that is repeated often on the dusty, old trails the orchestral musicians, composers and many other members of this film scoring community, some of which think Massive Attack is a very, very serious heart attack instead of the ground-breaking musical act (and film scoring outfit) that it indeed is. These people are just programmed by their upbringing and schooling or whatever and are, to me, a real geekfest of unhip, outdated fanatical devotees of the opinion that ONLY the largely classic, main stream history of film composing from Korngold and Steiner to Williams and Silvestri, or anything that more or less closely sticks to tradition, goes in film. I love much of this music too, and value history and tradition, but my tastes run just a little wider, deeper… and leaving the U.S. for a little while might do some people in this town good, open eyes/ears and put things in perspective.

I am voicing my statement as strongly as I do because I am tired of this elitist and exclusionary attitude towards film music in general by certain forces, crowds and people in this town. It is not HOW music is created, it is HOW GOOD it is. There’s a whole world out there of music being created in many different ways, and with many different and ground-breaking instruments and techniques, many of them electronical/digital in nature, many of them ‘performed’ as ‘LIVE’ as the performances of/on more trad. instruments, and much of this music is very much suited to underscore movies, alone or in combination with more traditional orchestral music.

So, in a way, I totally support the Oscar nomination of film scores that are created by different means than the purely, traditional orchestral (with or without non-traditional instruments added to the mix), and think anyone who thinks the only acceptable film scores are the trad. orchestral ones, or their close, ‘modern’ derivatives, are very wrong indeed. But, in this case, I also totally believe that the wrong score won for the wrong reason. Slumdog should have been given the Oscar for the other song they were nominated for and Thomas Newman, or maybe Danny Elfman, should have won the Oscar for best score, since both have been overlooked too many times, esp. Newman of course with 10 noms. I also take to heart Maddy’s comment and realize that A.R. Rahman might have much more impressive work to offer the film music world in the future.

People, please keep an open mind to what constitutes great film music! Continuing traditions is all and well but is not, and should not be, the ONLY game in Hollywood…

Sorry for the longish rant!

By Vissagan G. on February 24th, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Composer is absolutely right!

It’s quite funny how conservative the other comments are. WE HAVE REACHED A NEW AGE, a new era of music. Undoubtedly, orchestrated music possesses its definite pluses against synth, but the days are numbered. With the speedy advancement of technology, synth music will definitely become more common than orchestration. Construe that how you may, but I believe it has nothing to do with the Slumdog Millionaire sountrack.

A.R. Rahman is a musical genius, and he used a mixture of both synth AND real instruments. The whole song “Mausum & Escape” was played by a young Indian sitarist named Asad Khan. A.R. Rahman wrote the music, and Khan played it. And anyways, Rahman’s excellent melodies in this album are great as well, and his rhythm and beat is excellent, as evidenced by O…Saya.

So essentially, I find previous comments unrelated to the topic at hand, because A.R. Rahman used both synth and orchestration. And really, synth is not that bad…

By John on February 24th, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Its really interesting to see the comments.

Let me tell you one thing you guys are talking about Newman’s composition for Wall-E and arguing that he should have won the oscars.

you guys have got it completely wrong, Rahman’s musical career is way beyond comparison. He has been creating some amazing tracks for the last 17 YEARS. He definitely deserves more than Two Oscars. He has single handedly changed the indian music industry and he is the best out there.

Trust me, i would personally rate Rahmans work in slumdog to be average when you compare it with his other top hit records. Check out his other movies and you will know what i am talking about.

By Jesse Hopkins on February 25th, 2009 at 3:16 am

Synthesizer strings just can’t do the same things that real strings can do. Not yet. Just like orchestra can not do what at analogue synth can do. I think we need to be clear here that there is a real concern of synthesizers becoming “good enough” when an orchestral sound is desired by major studios. Here and there, fine, but not on a scale that puts the studio musicians out of work. If that ever happens, we’ll see an overall degradation of the quality of music. Do not underestimate the instruments of the orchestra. They have been refined for far longer than musical synthesis has. Synthesis is in its infancy when it comes to duplicating performance techniques. It can be done, but my hope is that the software developers will continue to count on regular, undiscerning consumers too much to afford the time in develop these features. If history tells us anything, it will happen eventually, but not for some time.

All this said, many composers limit their compositions for what will sound good on the synthesizer and then have it performed by real musicians. The result is less and less orchestral music that really shows how superior an orchestra is to synthetic counterparts of the same instruments. This makes it seem to the layman that synth can easily replace orchestra. The truth is, that synth can easily replace most of today’s composers’ music. Yet, to the masters and close listeners of classic scores, these scores sound very limited on their use of techniques and effects of the orchestra.

By Composer on February 25th, 2009 at 9:52 am

I find it ridiculous that people like Jesse still persists and insists about this ‘not as good as orchestral instruments’ argument!! That’s NOT what this is about, at all! In my long winded posting, for instance, I tried to make it very clear that I wasn’t talking about samples or synths replacing orchestral instruments in scores, that is another debate that I believe has pretty much been settled: The real thing usually sounds best, no question, unless you have a particularly horrible sounding student orchestra, or just any bad recording situation will do to make samples a viable alternative, at least for sweetening.

No, for me, this is about people that are so entrenched and brain washed/educated into thinking that one form of musical expression (the orchestral one, or the pure acoustic one) is superior to any other. No, the music of Rahmans would not sound better or more superior if it was ALL played with orchestral instruments, it would simply be something DIFFERENT that perhaps someone would find preferable, or not. It would also, with some parts, be impossible, since the main point of the invention of the synthesizer and newer digital sound technologies is, after people got over ‘Switched On Bach’ and such, is having the means to create entirely new musical sounds, performances and devices in combinations that are NOT possible using purely acoustic instruments.

Then comes Jesse’s argument ‘they (orchestral instruments) have been refined for far longer than musical synthesis has’. Hmmm, is that why the most desired violins for instance are over 100 years old? I think, in terms of sonic innovation, analog and digital synthesis have leaped beyond the purely acoustic already in the shear number of new technologies and sound production techniques. This not to replace or to take over, but to open a whole new world of sound so far unavailable. Also, do not forget how much brilliantly played acoustic instruments can benefit from being processed with amazing digital algorithms and effects to produce acoustic/electronic/digital hybrid performances that continue to push the boundaries of what is possible.

The main reason a traditional orchestral sound is most often desired by the studios for their big budgeted fare is because they are NOT in the business of experimenting, esp. not these days, with a formula that they think is the only one that draws people to the movies. Lets face it, this is about ‘main stream’, mostly pretty bad, entertainment for the masses and the people who have become dependent on this system for their job security. Yet, in Europe it is clearly possible to be much more experimental in production techniques, and in scores too, since the productions have more arts grants and government support and are not so dependent on always reaching for the widest possible audience. There you will not find the same adversity in between the trad. orchestral community and the electronic/digital/experimental world, or at least the relationship between the two is morphing and evolving much better that on this, clearly much more reactionary scene.

Please, let’s not have ONE more young USC or UCLA educated composer coming out and sounding like a really bad version of Williams or Silvestri or whatever. I have heard enough of that and I am ready for something new. It also bears to remember that most of the, to the U.S. new, really good orchestral composers of late that still works anchored in traditional orchestral music come out of Europe and not the US…and they often also record abroad… Food for thought…

By HMA ABDUL REHMAN on February 25th, 2009 at 10:01 am

Please start a music Academy in Bangalore so that many people/my son can learn there.
Thank You,
HMA Abdul Rehman

By Jesse Hopkins on February 25th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

“I find it ridiculous that people like Jesse still persists and insists about this ‘not as good as orchestral instruments’ argument!! That’s NOT what this is about, at all! In my long winded posting, for instance, I tried to make it very clear that I wasn’t talking about samples or synths replacing orchestral instruments in scores, that is another debate that I believe has pretty much been settled: The real thing usually sounds best”

I am not sure why you thought I was responding to you. I didn’t really read your post, but it is interesting. It seems you agree with my point about the real thing usually sounding the best. As for electronics, yes, they can do great things. I happen to prefer acoustic sounds for most effects, but I use synths in my work both to replace the orchestra and as totally unique sounds. Rahman had acoustic sounds layered with synthesized acoustics and other synths in this score. I am not at the level, professionally, of Rahman, but I would like to think that when I am, there will still commonly be budgets for live orchestral musicians. I think he used synth strings, is that correct? My work is on low budget projects, and I always try to have an orchestra involved if possible. Perhaps the budget was too low for this, who knows. I just would not like to think of synth strings becoming the fallback for major productions.

“Then comes Jesse’s argument ‘they (orchestral instruments) have been refined for far longer than musical synthesis has’. Hmmm, is that why the most desired violins for instance are over 100 years old? I think, in terms of sonic innovation, analog and digital synthesis have leaped beyond the purely acoustic already in the shear number of new technologies and sound production techniques. This not to replace or to take over, but to open a whole new world of sound so far unavailable. ”

My comment was in relation to synths replacing acoustic counterparts, so I think we have established that you agreed with me there already. The “new world of sound” that synthesis has opened… If by new, you mean 30 years old, then ok. People under 30 grew up hearing creative synthesis on a daily basis.

“The main reason a traditional orchestral sound is most often desired by the studios for their big budgeted fare is because they are NOT in the business of experimenting, esp. not these days, with a formula that they think is the only one that draws people to the movies. ”

First of all, I don’t think that a traditional orchestral sound is most often desired by studios anymore. I also think the main reason that traditional underscore is still around is because it is so versatile and inclusive of every instrument, including electronics, and many composers are inspired to compose music where the orchestra is used in a dramatic way. It is very effective, and very individual works are still composed.

“Please, let’s not have ONE more young USC or UCLA educated composer coming out and sounding like a really bad version of Williams or Silvestri or whatever. I have heard enough of that and I am ready for something new. It also bears to remember that most of the, to the U.S. new, really good orchestral composers of late that still works anchored in traditional orchestral music come out of Europe and not the US…and they often also record abroad… Food for thought…”

I am not sure why you take the opportunity here to insult young American composers who have an orchestrally based musical voice. I think lumping it all in to sounding like “Williams or Silvestri or whatever” ignores the history of music and each emerging artists individual voice. I also think that these so called experimental compositions are really not so experimental, as I said, many adults grew up hearing synthesized sounds and fusion from birth. I don’t consider the fusion of popular styles to be very experimental compared to orchestral music. It is all old hat by now, it is just a matter of personal preference, and what has the greatest ability to function dramatically, either to the makers or the audience, depending on the goals.

By rahmani on February 25th, 2009 at 10:18 pm

For several years one has not seen a memorable Hollywood score since the days of Bacharach or Morricone. Rahman’s music maynot be like the giants of Hollwyood or Indian films, yet in the current ranks of Hollywood and Bollywood put together, Rahman is redemption. Music of Slum dog millionaire maybe most unimpressive film music – ever, but Oscar was about right timing for Rahman and is also a nod to the substantial history and intrinsic worth of Indian film music, which can easily compare in richness, immense variety, depth and quantity with the grandness, sublimity and perfection of Hollywood music. Rahman is not Bacharach or Morricone, but wait and see as I think the Oscar’s will inspire him to do wonders for a more sophisticated market, like Hollywood. eg of his music: youtube.com/watch?v=ZKh4lsR5vIo ; youtube.com/watch?v=Ti7M2zGvX8w ; youtube.com/watch?v=_XSstxWel-U ; youtube.com/watch?v=z4CEhATV8Ew ; a MUST checkout of a genius Indian film song youtube.com/watch?v=z4CEhATV8Ew

By FounatinSound on February 26th, 2009 at 3:54 pm

You can’t separate the score from the film to the extent that you’re drawing the line and saying “here is the emotional impact of the visuals and here is the emotional impact of the sound”. Slumdog is a perfect movie because of it’s overwhelming and undeniable emotional impact. Rahman’s score enhanced and embodied the film and didn’t take away or diminish the perfect movie. I would argue that that could be considered a perfect score. Whether it took three weeks or three years. You can’t judge the score by severing it’s relationship to the movie, the overall impact has to be a consideration. This is about feeling not complexity and not intellect or academia.

By Kenshiro Hayashi on March 4th, 2009 at 1:52 pm

(Sigh.) Its funny that in 2009, race STILL is a touchy subject elliciting strong reactions in various elitist circles. That’s ultimately where the fierceness of this debate stems from. I’ve seen people argue over this issue ever since he won.

Had Rahman won an award for music of a genre outside of the Western Classical tradition, there would have been no outcry. It has been percieved for centuries that the only people capable of writing traditional western classical music (and film music-the development from this tradition) have been upper middle class whites, and its fascinating that in the same era as Mozart, there have been black composers writing in the very same idiom.

Nobody hears of men like William Grant Still or Samuel Coleridge Taylor due to the overwhelming reaction and continual need to justify why Slumdog Millionaire deserved the Oscar-and ultimately why people of ethnic minorities cannot ever write music that will be deemed acceptable if it falls within the idiom of Classical music. From Tan Dun, Quincy Jones, Stanley Clarke, Terrence Blanchard, to A.R. Rahman institutionalized racial prejudice has always been a fundamental component of the imperialist engine, and it LIVES ON through the notion of essentialism in music.

Improvisatory styles like jazz and blues, are recognised as ‘black’ music, as more rigid form of classical music is percieved to be ‘white only’- there have been conservative forces which continue to stereotype musicians in this way and to nobodys benefit.

I know for a fact that if Mr. Rahman was white, there would not have been so much debate. It is a rare pleasure for a composer of different ethnic origin to succeed in this field because things are hard enough. Ironically Slumdog Millionaire was rejected by Warner and Rahman’s accolade again was achieved through working on an ‘ethnic’ movie.

The day blacks, whites, asians, latinos and all races around and inbetween are allowed to SUCK EQUALLY- will be the day true equality is upon us. My favourite composers are of all races, and I truly hope Hollywood can see past the colour of one’s skin. We all know of white composers who have written PHENOMENAL scores outside of ‘their’ percieved talents, incorporating jazz, blues, and ethnic influences- Memoirs of a Geisha and The Incredibles, are notable. (Both two of my fav composers) although I have yet to see a number of composers of ethnic minorities score mainstream pictures outside of their PRECONCIEVED ‘specialisms’.

My message to those individuals with the elitist mentality (perhaps covert racists)- Its 2009. We’re in a different era. The baby boomers are dying out. The world inherited by my generation will hopefully be far more open to opportunity, and equality. Eminem is the best rapper in the world. Tiger Woods has been no.1 golfer for a long time. Obama is now our president. Western Classical, jazz, dixieland, rap, hip-hop, rock, blues, country, soul, and FILM MUSIC can be essentialised as much as you want-you are fighting over nothing more than notes on manuscript paper. Raw talent cannot be held down-even by Hollywood (as Slumdog Millionaire proved) Its 2009-

Elitists, get over yourselves!

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