By Harleen Kaur Bagga
Edited by Anandita Malhotra ,Senior editor,The Indian Economist
Whether it’s travelling on long journeys or preparing a meal hopping around the kitchen, browsing through the internet, getting dressed, or nodding disinterestedly at people rambling away at parties, you rarely ever stop listening to those musical notes flowing through in your brain. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the headphones or its your brain humming along your recent favourite, life without music seems hard to imagine.
These incessant symphonies add a much needed buzz to life. Imagine a movie without a soundtrack. It would be highly boring and awkward to sit through almost three long hours of people fighting or romancing on the screen without those occasional doses of notes, symphonies and lyrics. The film score adds life to the action, accentuating feelings and emotional turbulence, establishing motifs to warn you about an important upcoming scene. There is this raw energy that brings to life the people and the scenery on the screen, an energy that wraps around that particular moment and imprints itself in your memories so that the song and that sort of atmosphere become inextricably fused, with one reminding you of the other.
It is commonly believed that the soundtrack doesn’t fulfil its purpose and is a failure if the spectator is able to notice it. The background score is supposed to not divert your attention, instead holistically intertwine with the tableaux on the screen. But of course, it does seep into you sub-consciously. And in some instances, it is so there that you can hardly not pay it its due share of attention. With some movies, it is the actual song which gives the actions a whole new meaning – Lennon’s Imagine in The Killing Fields, The Righteous Brother’s Unchained Melody in Ghost, and Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence in The Graduate, amidst so many more; whereas in some, the background score provides a haunting memory of the story even when it ends – the scores of Schindler’s List, Legends of the Fall, The Cider House Rules, American Beauty, Memoirs of a Geisha, Forrest Gump, Far and Away, The Godfather, Love Story, and The Lord of the Rings (fantasy movies usually have these fascinating other-worldly tunes that transport you to their wondrous realms). And of course, the Harry Potter series cannot be forgotten at all – especially with the way the predominant magical cheerful Hedwig’s theme in the first few movies gives way to the haunting Lily’s theme which takes-up more space towards the end – signifying an evolvement in the music itself along with the plot. The utter poignancy of some of the tracks makes you feel as if you are right there with the characters that you so love, taking part in their battles, crying with them, laughing with them, celebrating and rejoicing with them and sharing their heartaches with them.
Earlier being limited to a performer-audience framework, with only a few people attending musical shows and concerts, to now when music has now become democratized is a grave transition. Through technology, anyone can listen to it, shape it and give it their own flavour. People all over the world experiment with the local music traditions of different cultures, fusing beautiful pieces which transcend fixed boundaries. Music, like all art, is drawn from our very core, from the deepest emotions that are intrinsic to everyone across the globe. Through a harmonious mixing of sounds and silences, it serves as this evocative instrument of recalling the most fragile and personal of human emotions.
Sometimes, like sudden coffee urges, some tunes demand that you go back and listen to them. Some immaterial stimulus triggers a rush of emotions, stirring a craving inside of you. Sometimes, this action of watching and listening in movies also trickles into the reading experience. Once, after reading Segal’s Love Story, I enthusiastically sat down to watch the movie. The adaptation, itself failing to impress, did include one of the most evocative tracks that I’ve ever heard. So, a day later, when I sat down to read Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, Francis Lai’s Love Story rang in my ears throughout, blending ever so perfectly with the sanatorium near Kyoto and sidelining the actual namesake of the book. And now, of course, it becomes pretty difficult to not go back to Watanabe, Reiko, and Naoko whenever I hear the tune again.
However, some people do make a conscious attempt to hunt-out the perfect soundtracks to accompany their reading journey. Goodreads lists and fanfiction-writers’ lists specify the songs that might gel well with the particular piece of writing. Even writers (Will Ferguson’s Spanish Fly) have started accompanying their text with the absolute right original music mix. A few years ago, a company called Booktrack, in a bid to facilitate better engagement for the reader with the text, came out with synchronized soundtracks for e-books. Even though the prospect seems extremely intriguing, I personally feel that despite this sensory overload being a much welcome for some people, the entire exercise of imposing music on literature, an experience highly personal, might oppress the creative imagination of the reader. Books are after all meant to be enjoyed in silence, without any intrusions, with you immersed in the text, conjuring images and sounds on your own.
But, what does music leave us with when it stops? Why must it be such an integral part of our lives? Like paintings or literature or theatre, music purges those latent emotions in your being. By bringing them out, it makes you encounter them. It makes you sigh, helps you travel back in time, experience things that have been forgotten. It brings back those blissful and depressing memories. Best of all, the waves, the breeze, the pitter-patter of rain, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake – all these musical pieces harbour the potential to affect all living-beings.
Harleen is an Art and Literature enthusiast, currently studying English lit at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. She lives in a world of hyperbole and Homeric similes and is irrevocably in love with descriptive words. Quite fond of stationery, the smell of old books, and the Harry Potter fandom, she most unfortunately possesses a traitorous mouth and a natural propensity to fall into embarrassing situations. You can reach her at [email protected].