Yet another puzzle from Inception

Studio 360

Like most moviegoers afterInception, I left the theatre with a lot of questions about the movie. Last week, we were presented with yet another.Inception's soundtrackis comprised of two elements: composer Hans Zimmer's largely ambient, stringy score, and "Non, je ne regrette rien' -- the classic chanson sung by Edith Piaf, which Leo and his crew use to communicate with their dreaming teammates. It is just a tiny bit more complicated than that: Zimmer used a sample of the Piaf tune in the making of his score, which heconfirmedlast Wednesday (afterInternet speculation).

The device is a pretty clever manipulation of what film people call 'diegetic music' -- any music the source of which appears on screen, such as a radio playing. (The score itself is "extradiegetic" music.)

Film composers have done this before -- think of Close Encounters of the Third Kind or For a Few Dollars More, in which Morricone eerily incorporated the melody played by an old watch.

Zimmer takes it a step further. He's applied one of the major themes of Inception to his treatment of the Piaf sample. Because time moves more slowly for the Inception dreamers employing 'Non, je ne regrette rien,' Zimmer slowed their cue music to match. The chanson is a quick waltz whose downbeats are accompanied by a trio of light French horns going 'da-dum' -- the pairs of brassy throbs that permeate the score are a sort of slowed-down version of those. Throughout the score, there are lines marked by the kind of distinct artifacts left by music slowed down: slight imperfections in pitch, and a lack of upper overtones recognizable to anybody who has accidentally played a 45 at 33 rpm.

But rather than impressed, some vocal Inception fans feel cheated. Long chains of internet comment have been just a tad more polite than a YouTube user who remarked of Zimmer, "what a fucking thief." Even the MSM are in on the action: The Guardian erred grossly with the headline "Inception soundtrack created entirely from Edith Piaf song.'

Zimmer made a tried-and-true compositional device innovative for the first time in decades. And there's hardly a measure of pop music now that doesn't use sampling. So the outrage seems inexplicable. But no more so, I guess, than a few other things about Inception.