Dido (Photo: Getty Images)
The sheet music for "If I Rise" from the Oscar-nominated film "127 Hours" contains many words, but not many traditional lyrics.
Dido does sing actual phrases. But she coos soothing sounds in a good portion of the song, her voice providing an eerie sense of calm during perhaps the most pivotal scene in the movie, based on the true story of adventurer Aron Ralston, who cut off his right arm after it became pinned under a boulder in an isolated canyon in Utah.
"I sort of felt like I was in his head; I didn't want to put too many definite words in there. What I did was just sort of close my eyes and (I) thought about the story and thought about what I might feel, and then just sung what came into my head," Dido said in a recent interview.
"It's meant to have this sort of lullaby, calming quality," she said.
"127 Hours," directed by Danny Boyle and starring James Franco, is nominated for six Oscars, including best original song for "If I Rise," which Dido wrote with brother Rollo Armstrong and Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman. Rahman is also nominated for best original score.
Dido, perhaps best known for "Thank You," which was sampled by Eminem for "Stan," said she was stunned by the nomination.
"There's something about it as a musician, there's something really special about it because it's not your normal industry," she said. "When I write songs, I'm always seeing pictures, and when I'm singing songs, I'm seeing pictures, so it's all about the visual to me."
"If I Rise" will be performed by Rahman and Florence Welch of the Grammy-nominated Florence and the Machine at the Oscars ceremony on Sunday at the Kodak Theatre. Dido, who lives in the U.K., is expecting her first child this summer and decided not to travel for the ceremony.
"I think she'll make it her own and it will be brilliant," Dido said of Welch. "I feel like I can almost hear what she's going to do."
Rahman won Oscars for best original song and score in 2009 for "Slumdog Millionaire," also directed by Boyle.
"Two is good for a lifetime, isn't it?" he joked during an interview from his home studio in the Los Angeles area.
"Slumdog Millionaire" explored the struggle of two star-crossed lovers amid stunning visuals in India. It had a large cast, plot twists and time sequences.
In contrast, the main focus is Ralston and a huge rock for most of "127 Hours."
"It frightens you first that there is nothing else in the movie, just the actor and the music. And then by working with Danny, you always find a way to achieve it, because he's got a vision, too," Rahman said.
Rahman was working with Dido on another project when he asked her to collaborate on "If I Rise." He thought the track, on which he also sings, needed a "female element" since there isn't much of one in the movie. And her voice reminded him of Karen Carpenter, his childhood idol.
"Somewhere I relate Dido's voice to that calmness that Karen had," he said. "... I felt for this, it was perfect."
"If I Rise" is played before Ralston is forced to cut off his arm, and afterward, during the credits.
Dido said the visuals in the arm-cutting scene didn't disturb her. "It's more the ears. The sound of it. I honestly thought the visual effect was amazing ... but you did get this real sense that you were cutting your own arm off," she said.
Rahman and Dido said the song is meant to convey the inspiration for Ralston's radical act.
"We just wanted to get across this feeling of 'I'm going to push on through this and get to the other side of this,'" she said.
Ralston said the film - and the song - captured that emotion.
"(Rahman's) score takes a viewer deeper into my experience, especially the improbable beauty of my liberation," Ralston said in an e-mail. "Even as I've seen the film 10 times, Dido's and his song, "If I Rise," brings me to tears every time, evoking my hope beyond the entrapment. There's more to life than this."