We know Satyajit Ray as a master of many talents. Music was also one of his flairs. In this little known and old interview, watch the master speak how he used music in his films. This Satyajit Ray’s interview has been taken by Pierre- Andre Boutang who is a world renowned documentary maker.
Yes, I have mixed European and Eastern, our Oriental music, because our lifestyle is a mixture anyway. We live in houses which have a European look, full of English books, when we go out to work we wear European dress. It no longer retains its Indian purity. Thanks to the colonial rule or whatever, it’s a mixture now.
So if you use purely classical Indian Music, in films for instance which are contemporary in theme and look urban contemporary it’s wrong, it doesn’t sound right. So I generally combine. I have almost combined western and Indian styles except when I go back in time to earlier periods when life was purer, purer from the visual aspect which is less influenced by the West then, or it is a story about the village , rural India which retains its age old look. There you would use folk idioms Indian instruments, Indian folk instruments which are right.
But the moment you come to a contemporary story or an urban story your music, if you use music. I find that the city films, contemporary films I use less and less and less music. I can do without music. I can use actual sounds creatively to serve the purpose of music.
After all, ideally one should be able to do without music completely. I think because one has an audience in mind and one is afraid that a change in mode will not always be perceptible unless it is underlined by music, you use music.
Ideally a film ought to be able to do without music.
Well you see a film is concerned about a series of events, let us say a story. Now western music doesn’t tell a story but the question of pace and rhythm and all these are very closely related because both music and films exist in time. These are the two art forms that exist in time.
You have to view a film for a hour and a half for hundred minutes, you have to listen to a music maybe half an hour or so and then the form emerges and the structure emerges and you get the full flavour of the thing.
It doesn’t apply to other arts. You can look at a painting for ten minutes or one hour it makes no difference. You can read a book, take it up, read ten pages, put it down, go back to it like that. You don’t have to read the book right through. So music and films are very closely related by the way.
European music, I think the music of let us say when the Sonata form emerged.. Beethoven.. let us say 18th century Europe then Beethoven made music dramatic you see; you have the first theme, the second theme, the masculine, the feminine, the development, the recapitulation, the coda and that already is a dramatic structure. And there is a lot f human element in Beethoven also, very emotional element in Beethoven whereas Bach is much more abstract and more mathematical and this and that.
So I think if you take that 50 or 60 years of music Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, you have a relationship to a story told in terms of a film. You have the relation.
Again the 20th century has broken that structure completely. You no longer follow the masculine feminine theme and development and recapitulation or another. But I think even modulation is something which can apply to a film as well as to music. Our music is filmique, our music is ornamental, it’s an arabesque you see the form is not dramatic, it’s purely ornamental. It’s start and the rhythm is exceedingly simple pace is exceedingly simple it starts slow and ends fast, there is no variation in between. There is a slow beginning then there is a slight speeding up, more speeding up, finally a great crescendo of fast movement, moving music. It’s like the structure of a temple; you have a solid base then the filigree and all the ornamentation going up to an apex absolutely to the top.
I think everywhere the music works the same way, yes I have seen that. Not so much in my very early films where I worked with other composers like Ravi Shankar but they were not film composers really, they were virtuosos. And when I would tell them that I want a music that would last 17 seconds, they would throw up their hand and say “No we will play for 3 minutes you choose what you would like.” So all the work was done in the editing room. And sometimes I would find that I didn’t have the right kind of music or certain episode. The composer hadn’t provided the music. So then I would turn to my records play Schubert backwards like that, Sibelius backwards and nobody would recognize it but it would work.
It has worked I have used in the Music Room (Jalsaghar).
In the Music Room, when the light begins to go out and he says ‘Oh the lights are going the lamps are going’ – there is a music. I have combined it with a music of which the composer gave me but I needed another kind of texture in the music which was not there. That came from Sibelius. The fact that the key didn’t clash it just did the trick, you see. I was doing all kinds of tricks when I was working with other composers and they would be sometimes hurt, sometimes surprised, and often I would reduce their music or lengthen their music or make slow, make half the speed so it takes a longer time and gives the new timber.