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(Soundbite of music from "Brokeback Mountain")

LIANE HANSEN, host:

I'm not a psychic, but I bet I know what you're thinking. They're playing film music again. It must be that time of year. Well, you're right. It is Oscar season once more. The jury has spoken. And from a wide array of films released last year, five have been selected as being worthy of the Academy Award. In just three weeks, the speculation will end and one of those five will take home the coveted statuette.

Before then, we're going to give you a chance to hear each of the nominees for best original score. Right now, we're listening to last year's winner, music by Gustavo Santaolalla for "Brokeback Mountain."

(Soundbite of music from "Brokeback Mountain")

HANSEN: Here again to take us through this year's nominees is the person we call on when the subject is film music, Andy Trudeau.

Andy, it's so nice to see you again.

ANDY TRUDEAU: It's great to be here, Liane.

HANSEN: You know, we've been doing this together long enough that you can tell me. What's your overall take on this year's crop of scores?

TRUDEAU: I have to say that in past years a few of the five have left me sort of pretty limp.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TRUDEAU: But this year, I got to say I enjoyed them all. This is becoming a real international fest. Think of it. This year we have an Argentinean, a Frenchman, a Spaniard and two Americans. Only two I've heard before, so there was a lot of surprises here, and I have to say, most of them were pleasant ones.

HANSEN: So here's the list, alphabetically by film. The nominations this year for best original score are "Babel" by Gustavo Santaolalla; "The Good German" by Thomas Newman; "Notes on a Scandal" by Philip Glass; "Pan's Labyrinth" by Javier Navarette; and "The Queen" by Alexandre Desplat. We'll audition two scores today, two next week, and one with a recap on Oscar day. So Andy, your mike's open.

TRUDEAU: I want to begin by assuring everyone that the next few cues that we hear are indeed music created by Gustavo Santaolalla for the film "Babel." Here's a cue that I think makes that clear.

(Soundbite of music from "Babel")

TRUDEAU: Got it? Good. It's the last time you're going to hear anything that sounds like "Brokeback Mountain." This is a score that really makes one think what is it that constitutes a soundtrack. The director of this film, Alejandro González Iñárritu, brings what he calls a personal soundtrack to the film-making process. He absorbs a wide variety of musics from different cultures that are part of the story he's telling and then the composer really has to fit into that vision, that sound vision, if you will.

The result is a soundtrack that ignores a lot of the benchmarks that I traditionally use to judge a soundtrack. There's no themes that are developed, there's no consistency of style. Overall, there's a feeling of improvisation, like the composer's making it up on the spot. You're going to hear selections that sound just like pure world pop, but they're Gustavo Santaolalla creations. Here's one he's called "Tribal."

(Soundbite of music from "Babel")

TRUDEAU: I like the hand percussion that's coming up.

(Soundbite of music from "Babel")

TRUDEAU: This is one of those rare times when the composer and director are almost literally joined at the hip. In the album notes, the director explains how he creates that personal sense of sound by drawing from a lot of regional musics. He plays it for the actors for the scenes they're doing, then he locks himself and the composer in a room, and they play it all through again, and at this point the composer goes out and figures out how he's going to fit into this mosaic that the director's already created.

Some of the cues, he has to create something that creates a sense of atmosphere, but then he's going to also bring in a little bit of local color. Here's a cue that exists for really no other reason than pure atmosphere.

(Soundbite of music from "Babel")

TRUDEAU: That's a sound of a Persian ood(ph), which is a string instrument. The composer bought one, learned how to play it and is featured on this recording.

HANSEN: Really?

(Soundbite of music from "Babel")

TRUDEAU: I don't envy the Oscar balloters because this is a very hard score to get any reference to. Really, you take each cue on its own basis, and you either like it or you don't. Here's one I like because partly it reminds me a little of Steve Reich music from the 1960s. Listen to the way the rhythmic patterns overlap.

(Soundbite of music from "Babel")

TRUDEAU: They start to shift the rhythms now.

(Soundbite of music from "Babel")

TRUDEAU: Unlike a minimalist piece, this will end in a fairly consonant amen sort of sound.

(Soundbite of music from "Babel")

HANSEN: Wow, outstanding. Really global, that score. Andy Trudeau is here, and he's guiding us through some of the music nominated this year for the best original score Oscar, and we've been listening to selections written for "Babel" by Gustavo Santaolalla.

Also in the running is the soundtrack for "The Queen," the story of the English royal family's response to the death of Princess Diana. Alexandre Desplat composed the music for the Stephen Frears picture. Andy, what's your take on it?

TRUDEAU: Well, with the royal family involved and a title and a subject like that, I was expecting a lot of pomp and circumstance, and I got it - sort of.

(Soundbite of music from "The Queen")

TRUDEAU: Well, that's as festive as it gets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TRUDEAU: There's a lot of restraint in this film. Call it a cold reserve, if you will. It's very traditional, too, in how he uses themes. He has apportioned out themes for the major characterizations. Now, Desplat is a French-based composer who's enjoyed success with films such as "Girl With a Pearl Earring" and more recently "Firewall." These were his scores.

It's an orchestral soundtrack, textures very lean; and again, he has created a few character themes, if you will. For Elizabeth II, he wrote a somber, brooding theme, if you will, that's heard here played by the flute.

(Soundbite of music from "The Queen")

TRUDEAU: Simple string background.

(Soundbite of music from "The Queen")

TRUDEAU: This theme weaves its way throughout the movie, and we'll hear it in another cue we're going to be listening to. Desplat uses themes to help him really define differences in the characters. Besides the queen, the other big player in this story is the British prime minister, Tony Blair. He gets some breezy music.

(Soundbite of music from "The Queen")

TRUDEAU: It's a simple score, simple themes. Now, the tragic events that lie at the heart of this story forced these two different personalities to try to find some common ground. Desplat likens that process to a slow dance, and in this case a waltz.

(Soundbite of music from "The Queen")

TRUDEAU: I like the clarity of the score. You can hear all the pieces.

(Soundbite of music from "The Queen")

TRUDEAU: Now we'll hear the queen theme.

(Soundbite of music from "The Queen")

TRUDEAU: That's Tony and Elizabeth, their dance if you will. Perhaps not surprisingly, the music with the most energy is that that's used to reference the Princess Diana. Here, he creates some lively passages, and this section seems to me at times to suggest a little bit of Philip Glass.

(Soundbite of music from "The Queen")

TRUDEAU: Listen to the way he'll pick up the rhythm. It's a very nice effect coming up.

(Soundbite of music from "The Queen")

TRUDEAU: And we'll have the queen again.

(Soundbite of music from "The Queen")

HANSEN: It's so interesting how he's created the three main personalities of this movie and almost a tension between them, how they come together, how they fall apart. Soundtrack excerpts from "The Queen" by Alexandre Desplat, and I'm talking with Andy Trudeau about some of the music nominated for this year's original music Oscar. And before we heard "Babel" by Gustavo Santaolalla. So next week who's on?

TRUDEAU: We'll have fantasy music from Spain by Javier Navarette and some old-fashioned Hollywood music from the always new-sounding Thomas Newman.

HANSEN: Andy Trudeau is with us every year at Oscar time to talk about film music; and Andy, pleasure to see you. Thanks a lot.

TRUDEAU: Same here, Liane.

(Soundbite of music from "The Queen")

HANSEN: To hear selections from "Babel" and "The Queen," visit npr.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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