Music, and talent with it runs deep in my family. My children have it, like their father has it, and his father has it, and his father had it. Music saturates the backdrop and ambience of my childhood memories. It is also quite important to my sons. My eldest composed one of the most beautiful piano pieces I’ve ever heard. My middle son learns a new instrument whenever he decides to do so. When one of the boys didn’t know how to express his emotions verbally, he conveyed them to me through a song of his favorite artist’s.
Music is an important and powerful celebration for us.
My baby boy will soon be 16, and my first-born will be 20 by years end. I’m thoroughly enjoying venturing deeper with them into topics of interest. Last Christmas, we watched “Ex Machina,” then had a wonderful discussion about the implications of artificial intelligence. What is this (book, song, painting, sculpture etc) intend to convey?
My youngest son dreams of writing books, my middle son writes music and poetry, and my eldest might fight someone for a paid internship with a master woodworker. They are artists at heart. Naturally, I want to feed and nourish them in this arena however I can. This is one way I’ve tried to do so.
The piece in question is from the movie soundtrack for Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” The composer is Hans Zimmer, and the title of the piece is “Time.” I sent the following critique to them in an email. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
Simplistic Complexity and Beauty
The brilliance of this piece is only partially understood by most. Mathematically, acoustically (i.e. scientifically), you can prove which chords and progressions of chords human beings most like to hear. That’s why so many pop songs sound like copies of each other, just with different beats or voices. The fact that the song progresses in an harmoniously pleasing way to the ears is the real limit of what most can appreciate about this piece. And many others.
Not you. You’re capable of so much more, and I’d bet dollars to donuts that you WANT so much more than the same superficial understanding, or connection, or perspective everyone else has. Too boring. Too… limited.
Remember the title of the piece.
Listen to how the piece begins… like a heartbeat, really. Little more. A rhythm is there… two tones, as we still have yet to figure out how to create life with just one…It begins.
The first two chords are minor chords, draped slightly in melancholy. The next two chords are majors, but not overly happy either. Then there’s one more minor chord, followed by that complex Cmaj7 (add 9) chord ringing in the sound of possibility, or hope, or reflection. The final two major chords of the stanza sound happier somehow.
Isn’t that like the passage of time? Our lives see measures of joy and sorrow, and of wonder, possibility, dreaming and potential. In this piece, we hear that breathtaking chord of wonderment in only 1 out of 8 bars, and I don’t think that was a coincidence. The 8-bar stanza is 4 parts happy, 3 parts sad, and one part enigmatic. Seems a lot like how time goes for most of us.
What does the Cmaj7 (add 9) sound like to you? Does it sound like a calling? Perhaps a hint? A reflection? Like possibility without certainty? What did Zimmer intend with it?
A melody emerges, and the sound grows more complex. Sweeping, long notes feed into and round out the march, like the backdrop of what becomes our routine. A lone guitar comes in playing this repetitive riff. Honestly, I was almost annoyed by it. It stays, fixed with the ensemble as though it were always there. A chorus of violins make rungs of the staff, filling out the tone and timbre of the piece. Each new addition contributes to a seeming impatience, despite the tempo and chord progression of the piece never-changing.
Think of that. This tune doesn’t really alter one bit from beginning to end. The rhythm stays constant, and once an element is added, its presence remains. One could argue that is redundant musically, but I think that, too was intentional. So much of our life is redundant (eating, sleeping, peeing, pooping etc), yet these things remain a part of our every day life until we die. They make up our passage of time. From that perspective, I believe the redundancy of certain parts of this tune to be part and parcel to its brilliance.
We’re moving now… fervently, with purpose… There’s an urgency, or so it seems. So it is with time, no?
The Frills, The Abstract, The Backdrop, and Fundamental Elements
To me, the guitar and piano are singularly important aspects of our individual experiences. They could be our professions, or our passions, or our true love… our family. We’ve peaked in our crescendo now. Here come the triumphant horns, announcing of a King’s welcome for the Hero’s Return. It is so full of fanfare, bombast and regalia here that you feel a sense of awe, even if you’re not sure what for.
I’ve always connected emotionally with this climax of the piece like whenever I’ve achieved something noteworthy. You get a sense of having triumphed over near-impossible odds. If life is the time Zimmer is painting for us, here is where we self-actualize… where a long-term and sometimes painful investment pays off, and we’re grateful. We’re humbled, despite having achieved the near-miracle task of bringing our dream into reality. This here is the time of our lives.
All of the sudden, it’s quiet again. There is no more fanfare or bombast. The guitar and piano are silent now, and the rhythm softens. We’ve returned to our fundamental elements of rhythm and harmony. We’re left again with just two tones fading in volume and rhythm, but remaining in harmony. Until there’s no time left.
This was a harmonic masterpiece that stayed true to, and did more than justice by its title.
I would really love to know if what I’ve written enhanced your appreciation of the music in any way. Let me know in a comment below.