The background score of Tare Zameen Par

This is an (old) blog post by Aamir Khan about the process they followed for recording the background score of Tare Zameen Par which I found very interesting:

The work on the TZP background score is going rather well I think. We went surprisingly fast too. And interestingly we ended up recording live! Which hasn’t been done in films for around… what…15 years or more.

Let me explain. When we score for a film we look at a scene/sequence, decide at which point in the scene we want the music to start, were it should end, and were we want any changeovers in between etc. Now once all this is decided, and the creative is clear, the recording begins. Which now days can be quite a technical process. All keyboards are connected to a computer on which the picture is dumped. On that the start point is marked, a grid created, tempo tweaked around to fit the length of the music, etc, basically this means that a lot is done mathematically. All this as a result of the advent of computers. Not a very organic way to work in my opinion but definitely more controlled and practical. This is generally called sequencing/programming. So you sequence/programme a piece and then dump it in sync with the picture.

Going ‘live’ means that the musicians playing the instruments don’t peer and jab at a computer, instead they look at the screen as they play the instrument, with a conductor guiding them for cues and timing and intensity of playing. So they play live in sync with the picture. They don’t follow a grid, they follow the scene and the feel of what the characters are going through. Anything goes wrong you try it again. If the take doesn’t have the right ‘feel’ then you go again. Each take is different. Now this is how background scores used to be recorded 15-20 years ago.

In fact we went one step further, we were working without visual aides of cross marks on the scene to give ‘in’ points and ‘change over’ points. So the ‘in’ point was ‘felt’ rather than pre-marked and counted in. Not only that, the music was not written and never locked in, so when Loy or Ehsan or Shankar or Tubby (one of their musicians) were playing, they often were also improvising from take to take!!! At one point we decided we wanted a harmonica for one of the pieces. Not a synth harmonica sound but a real harmonica. Not a problem if you are in Bombay where a harmonica and a player are a phone call away. But we were in of course were in Panchgani. So Loy sends Sachin (my help) to the Panchgani market to look for a harmonica… which Sachin miraculously finds! Then Loy, who I discovers plays the harmonica rather well, goes on to breath life into that 8inch piece of metal and we’re cruising! Mind you all this is happening in a house not in a studio.

Actually since I’m doing this for the first time for myself (I’ve worked on background recordings when I was an assistant director some 18 years ago) I found this the most natural way to work. But Shankar, Ehsan and Loy were freaked out as they haven’t worked this way for ages, probably never. At first I suspect they thought I was mad, then they began really enjoying themselves jamming away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *