Music Review: Life of Pi (Sound Track)

Posted on 31/12/2012


LIFE OF PI – Mychael Danna

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton. December 10, 2012

Once in a while a film comes along which seems predestined to be scored by a certain composer; in 2012, that film is Life of Pi and that composer is Mychael Danna. Based on the successful novel by Yann Martel, and directed by Ang Lee

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The film is a masterpiece on multiple levels; it is visually astonishing, bursting with color and life, vivid and memorable imagery laced with symbolism, and containing some of the best 3-D filmmaking I have ever seen. Conceptually, the film is a fascinating examination of truth and perspective, and how the nature of reality can be manipulated by the person through whose perspective you experience it.

And then there’s Mychael Danna’s music. In my opening paragraph I mentioned how certain films come along which seem predestined to be scored by a certain composer, and this is definitely the case with Life of Pi. Although Danna and director Ang Lee have worked together before, on films such as The Ice Storm and Ride With the Devil, it is surely Danna’s personal circumstances and interests that brought he and Lee back together here. A Canadian by birth, Danna is married to an Indian woman, and has spent much of his career researching and exploring the relationship between Western classical music and different Asian musical styles, from Middle Eastern and Indian to the Gamelan music of Indonesia. As such, the film’s recurring theme of cultural cross-pollination is one which clearly spoke to Danna directly, and led him to create one of the best scores of 2012 and one of the standout works of his career.

The score begins with “Pi’s Lullaby”, an original song written by Danna and the popular Indian vocalist Bombay Jayashri, soothingly sung by Jayashri in Tamil. A quiet, intimate piece with a reflective, almost hypnotic sound and a gently exotic instrumental accompaniment, the song perfectly encapsulates the idyll of Pi’s early life, his connection with nature, and his first hesitant explorations of spirituality. It’s absolutely beautiful, and sets up the score perfectly. The lovely instrumental interlude from the lullaby re-appears during “Pondicherry” and “Meeting Krishna”, in which the melody is carried for some time by an unadorned solo vocal, but this verdant theme vanishes from the score almost entirely once Pi and his family leave India – as Pi’s innocence is taken away, so is the theme representing it. It’s only reoccurrences come during “Tiger Training”, where Pi remembers his father’s life lessons from back at the zoo, and during the conclusive “Which Story Do You Prefer?”, tying things up at the end.

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Mychael Danna – Life of Pi Soundtrack (All Tracks)

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The rest of the score blends musical elements from three distinct cultures – North America, France, and India – in an attempt to capture the disparate elements of Pi’s life. Throughout most of the score, thematic repetition plays a lesser role to that of these recurring cultural textures, many of which overlap and blend together to create a magnificent tapestry of true world music. Most prominent, of course, are the Indian elements, which represent Pi’s heritage: breathy bansuri flutes, kanjura tambourines, santoor hammered dulcimers, sarangi cellos, tanpura lutes, mridangam drums, and the ubiquitous sitar feature heavily throughout the score, giving the music a strong and appropriate regional identity. Most often Danna combines these speciality instruments with a large Western orchestra, representing the promise of the new world – Canada – which Pi so desperately wants to reach.

The French elements, which are most noticeable in cues such as “Piscine Molitor Patel” and “Pondicherry”, come via the judicious use of accordions and mandolins; while French music may appear out-of-place in a score such as this, the reasons for its use become clear when you realize that the city of Pondicherry is in the part of India that once came under the control of colonial France, and that Pi was named in honor of his uncle after a swimming pool in Paris – the Piscine Molitor itself. What’s clever, through, is how Danna often blurs the cultural lines further, by having the Indian instruments play a French-style thematic line, or by having the accordions and mandolins play a distinctly Indian motif. Even in the instrumental choices, Danna remains cognizant of the story’s point of view.
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Life of Pi stands as one of 2012’s crowning film music achievements. Throughout his career Mychael Danna has played with the idea of east meeting west, of ideas from other cultures that might sound alien to contemporary North American ears blending together into a single melting pot. This, combined with the extraordinary emotional power of a great deal of the score, makes it a winner, and it would be an enormous miscarriage of justice if Danna did not receive his first Academy Award nomination for Life of Pi next spring.

Rating: ****½

Buy the Life of Pi soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

Pi’s Lullaby (written by Mychael Danna and Bombay Jayashri, performed by Bombay Jayashri (3:42)
Piscine Molitor Patel (3:39)
Pondicherry (1:12)
Meeting Krishna (1:51)
Christ in the Mountains (1:13)
Thank You Vishnu for Introducing Me to Christ (0:55)
Richard Parker (0:54)
Appa’s Lesson (1:06)
Anandi (0:55)
Leaving India (1:20)
The Deepest Spot on Earth (0:48)
Tsimtsum (2:49)
Death of the Zebra (0:33)
First Night, First Day (3:45)
Set Your House in Order (2:10)
Skinny Vegetarian Boy (2:16)
Pi and Richard Parker (2:14)
The Whale (2:02)
Flying Fish (0:49)
Tiger Training (1:22)
Orphans (1:36)
Tiger Vision (4:31)
God Storm (3:42)
I’m Ready Now (3:21)
The Island (1:59)
Back to the World (8:20)
The Second Story (4:02)
Which Story Do You Prefer? (2:05)
Running Time: 65 minutes 30 seconds

Sony Classical 88725477252 (2012)

Music composed by Mychael Danna. Conducted by Mike Nowak. Orchestrations by Mychael Danna, Rob Simonsen, Bruce Fowler, Walter Fowler, Kevin Kaska, Joseph Newlin, Dean Parr, Conrad Pope, Carl Rydlund and Clifford Tasner. Additional music by Rob Simonsen. Featured instrumental soloists Jatinder Jeetu, V. Selvaganesh, Ulhas Bapat, Aruna Kalle, Anwar Khurshid, Courtney Grueschow, Nick Ariondo, George Doering, Glen Holmen, Jeff Danna, Chris Bleth, Rajesh Srinivasan, Robert Thies and the Evergreeb Club Contemporary Gamelan Orchestra. Special vocal performances by Thomas Fetherstonhaugh and the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School ChoirRecorded and mixed by Brad Haehnel. Edited by Erich Stratmann. Album produced by Mychael Danna.”


SOURCE:  The above article is from MovieMusicUK.

Spoiler Alert: Don’t read the full review if you haven’t watched the movie yet!!!

Posted in: Tamil