Discussion on the soundtrack of the film “Inception”

Inception brings the trend for slow music to the big screen

Composer Hans Zimmer’s ultra-slow manipulation of an Edith Piaf song displays the beauty in bringing the BPM right down

Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Photograph: Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros

The malevolent, booming horns that sound throughout Inception are one of the film’s finest features. Their power lies not just in volume and repetition, but also in rebuilding part of the film’s architecture, just as Ellen Page and Leonardo DiCaprio’s characters rebuild the architecture in their dreams.

Without giving away the plot, Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien plays a crucial role in linking Inception’s real and dream worlds. Now it’s emerged that Hans Zimmer, who composed the music, extrapolated his entire score from the Piaf song. In keeping with the atmosphere of blurred consciousness, Zimmer slows down the brass sounds to a somnambulant trudge.

What was once human, defiant and romantic is now lurching, formidable and unstable. Zimmer does something that numerous artists have also recently realised – that slowing music down dissolves and recasts it.

Games, the duo featuring Joel Ford and Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin, have been releasing mixtapes of slowed-down 80s hits over the past year. For Lopatin, who has railed against the often limited sonic palette of underground music, these tapes are proof that slowing down music dismissed as cheesy reveals its weirdness, beauty and potential.
Chopped and screwed is a form of hip-hop from Houston that slows tracks down to a crawl. Perhaps the sweltering heat of Texas encourages this lethargy? The muggy clarity of the weed and cough-syrup highs sought on the scene also heighten the music’s sensuality. As Scott Wright noted on this blog, chopped and screwed has been influential on “drag” artists, while mainstream rappers often use a few bars of a screwed, ultra-deep vocal to push their masculinity into the red, a fast-track to thuggishness. Meanwhile Ciara’s recent return to the sound is canny; set against the uptempo European house beats of chart rap, her slowness thrills.

As much as I love Zimmer’s music for Inception, I wondered what Philip Jeck, the master of the musical subconscious, would have done with it. Jeck resurrects battered vinyl classics, slowing down and looping the likes of Aaron Copeland to create fragments of songs echoing across time and sleep.

In a hyperactive digital world, slowed-down music pushes you back into your chair and demands you sit still; it forces you to consider the structures built and choices made. As with Inception, it casts light on a potential world where music sounds different and life runs in an unfamiliar gear.