Michael has contributed to U2's famous album The Joshua Tree in the form of his invention - the infinite guitar and was also nominated for Grammy Awards in 1996 for his production work and as co-artist on Pakistani singer Nusrat fateh Ali Khan's album, Night Song. Apart from these, he has also contributed for the album Rock Paper Scissors. While for Hollywood, Michael has done a number of film sound tracks including the music for Albino Alligator, Mission Impossible 2, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and Sean Penn's critically acclaimed, Into The Wild. This correspondent spoke to Michael to find out more about his compositions and of course his experience of working in Bollywood.
The first question on everyone's mind is, how did Bollywood happen to you?
I had some connection with the producers from the past, and I believe that Dev Benegal, the director was aware of my music.
What made you sign Road, Movie?
A combination of the beauty and emotional resonance of the film and Dev's deep musical knowledge and creative ideas was enough cause and reason for me to say yes and sign the film.
What according to you is unique about its background music?
I'd say that the dominant aspect of the music is that it is quite distinctly non-Indian and strongly influenced by African music. This was Dev's concept to try and create an exotic but non-specific atmosphere. So in a way yes this is some unique kind of music.
From making music for popular bands, creating breakthroughs like inventing the Infinite Guitar, to making music for Hollywood big wigs to Bollywood now, how has the journey been?
Pretty good really. I'm extremely lucky to be able to do what I love to do and to earn a living. It's a very privileged position and I appreciate it. Also having a 2 1/2 year old son is an equally rewarding experience.
Tell us about your experience of Bollywood now that you have had a first hand taste of it?
I'm not sure that I really experienced Bollywood as all of the work was done in my studio at home and we didn't have the big dance and singing production numbers. Maybe my cliched view of Bollywood is outdated. I have however played a concert in Chennai with Mandolin U. Srinivas and we did rehearse in some of the film studios, which was a very cool experience.
How different is Bollywood from its western counterpart?
My, again possibly not quite valid, impression is that Bollywood filmmaking is much more spontaneous and improvisatory than Hollywood. But I gather that Indian films are getting larger and more structured in their productions and that some film e.g. District 9, are being made more through an improvisatory process.
What was the biggest challenge while doing the music for an Indian film?
A big challenge was in trying to be other worldly without being unfocussed emotionally with the score.
Was the language a barrier?
The challenging part was that I don't have the same cultural history as Dev, or probably most Indians, and so some aspects of the film had a different resonance for him e.g. Scherazade.
You have also worked with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, how did that come about?
I was asked by Peter Gabriel to work with Nusrat, probably based on what Peter heard in my first solo record Hybrid. When I was in Pakistan, about 12 years ago, I saw some really great singers at a concert, but I really don't have much awareness of what is going on there now.
So what are your future plans about Bollywood, does it look promising and would you like to do more work here?
I don't have plans, but certainly would love to do more projects with Bollywood.
Do you think there is now more interaction between the Asian and American / European markets than before or is it just the 'Slumdog effect"?
I think that there has been a gradual increase in awareness of the richness and depth of Indian culture over the last 40 years. Slumdog gave a kind of turbo boost to that process and I hope that it continues.
You've composed scores for Mission Impossible 2 & Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth too. Can you share some special moments from these experiences?
These two films are probably at opposite ends of the spectrum of my experiences. Both were good. On MI2, I was part of a very large team assembled by Hans Zimmer. It was great to work with so many people and I really enjoyed the kind of community of musicians and composers that I was part of. AIT was a much more delicate and solitary process, a great deal of which was trying to figure out where music should go. It turned out that we couldn't really have music when AL Gore was lecturing as it made it seem propogandish. So there is only music when he is talking about his life or events outside the lecture.
Having invented something like the Infinite Guitar, you must have a thing for instruments. What's your favourite Indian instrument?
My two favourite Indian instruments are the Shenai, particularly when played by Bismallah Khan, and the Veena.
Which one (Indian instrument) have you used the most in Road, Movie?
We didn't use Indian instruments.
The background score is one of the most important characters of any film. Which film's background score has impressed you the most till date?
Recently I've come to appreciate the work of David Newman in his many scores, Wall-E, American Beauty, Cliff Martinez, Solaris, and of course the early work of the great Ennio Morricone. More recently, I thought that the score to Sherlock Holmes was really good
You must have been one of the first people to see Road, Movie - what was your reaction?
My first impression was of stunningly beautiful imagery and rich, intriguing characters.
Did Abhay Deol impress you as much as Tom Cruise?
Which other Indian artist (Music or Films) have you been introduced to and like hearing or watching?
I have been enjoying The Bombay Connection Volumes 1 and 2, collections of music from Bollywood films of the 60s and 70s.
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