April 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm (Uncategorized)

As I saw with the two soundtracks I investigated, and with the two I created, music is definitely a very effective tool in conveying emotion to the viewer, but I also discovered something that I had not anticipated. It is possible for the filmmaker to make us feel what they want to about a certain character or event through the music used, even if it is in contrast with what we are seeing on the screen. This gives the filmmaker another whole dimension to work with while crafting their work, even if it is not consciously noticed by the audience in most cases.


Permalink Leave a Comment

Self Experimentation

April 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm (Uncategorized)

In order to investigate firsthand just how important music is in conveying emotion in film, I decided to experiment with scoring for a scene myself. However, to keep the scene ‘impartial’ so that it was just the effectiveness of music I looked into, I attempted to score two entirely different moods onto the same assemblage of footage. I also stuck to using simple instrumentation for the two pieces, with a lone piano in each, so that any variances are purely in the musical content.

In the first of the two pieces, I attempted to set a sad tone. Using a slow progression on the piano, I tried to convey a heavyhearted tone, suggesting loss. At one point a happier chord appears briefly, before descending back to the slow stumbling progression. Combined with the footage, this scene now seems to suggest a great sadness of the lone figure travelling alongside the canal, as if they are seeing it for the first time without the one they have lost.

In the second piece, I kept the piano more up-tempo and powering forth in a major key. It suggests an image of the industrial revolution, and perhaps the lone figure is instead this time remembering the great history associated with the canals, triumphantly enjoying the scenery.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Star Wars

April 13, 2010 at 5:34 pm (Uncategorized)

Another prime example of when a soundtrack has contributed greatly to a film (or in this case series of films) becoming embedded within the public consciousness is that of John Williams’ work with George Lucas in the Star Wars saga. Like Psycho, the Star Wars series has held a strong place within popular culture since the release of the first film in 1977. Some examples of its impact would include a disco dance reworking of the score reaching no.1 in the American Billboard charts for 2 weeks the year of the release and, more recently, a Star Wars clothing line being released by Addidas.

Perhaps part of the reason the Star Wars score has stood out is through its implementation of the leitmotiv. Encyclopedia Britannica (2010) describes the leitmotiv as a “recurring musical theme appearing usually in operas but also in symphonic poems. It is used to reinforce the dramatic action, to provide psychological insight into the characters, and to recall or suggest to the listener extramusical ideas relevant to the dramatic event. In a purely musical sense the repetition or transformation of the theme also gives cohesion to large-scale works.” When examining the music of the Star Wars films against this description, its intentions become much more apparent.

Although Williams used many leitmotivs in the films, the best known of these is most likely Darth Vader’s theme, or as it is better known, the Imperial March. The theme does not actually appear until the second film, although as pointed out in ‘Star Wars’ Comes Full Circle (2005), elements of the Imperial Attack piece and the horn flourish heard at Darth Vader’s first appearance in ‘Star Wars’ combine and evolve into the Imperial March that is first heard in “The Empire Strikes Back” Williams himself said about the piece in an interview for Film Score Monthly that “ Darth Vader’s theme seemed to me to need to have, like all of the themes if possible, strong melodic identification, so that when you heard it or part of the theme you would associate it with the character. The melodic elements needed to have a strong imprint. In the case of Darth Vader, brass suggests itself because of his military bearing and his authority and his ominous look. That would translate into a strong melody that’s military, that grabs you right away, that is, probably simplistically, in a minor mode because he’s threatening. You combine these thoughts into this kind of a military, ceremonial march, and we’ve got something that perhaps will answer the requirement here.”

As stated in the Sparknote ‘Star Wars Episodes IV-VI”(2005), the Imperial March is introduces “as the theme music for Vader’s pursuit of Han and Leia. The march’s rhythm is driving and relentless, capturing Vader’s own relentless progress through the story” However, The Imperial March is much more far-reaching than just this element of pursuit in the second film. Just as this piece contained elements from the Imperial Attack and horns found in the first film, it imprints itself within the music of the prequel trilogy, with hints of the theme becoming associated with the character Anakin Skywalker. As this is the character that turns into Darth Vader by the original trilogy, we ultimately already know his fate. As said in Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr’s article ‘John Williams and the Music of Star Wars’ (2005), “Williams’ musical foreshadowing keeps reminding the audience that it will happen — giving you a piece of information by the music alone.”

Bear in mind that this is only one –albeit probably the largest – of the leitmotivs used by Wiliams in the Star Wars music, and that each one of these leitmotivs is providing us with extra emotional information about the character, event, or group that the theme is associated with. The interweaving of these themes also takes place throughout the films, furthering the depth of importation passed to us through the music. As I quoted earlier, the leitmotiv “gives cohesion to large-scale works”. Without a doubt, the Star Wars saga is a large-scale work, and I feel that the ‘cohesion’ provided by the music must be part of what makes the series so enthralling, even if it is not consciously noticed by the average viewer.

Star Wars – Imperial March

Permalink Leave a Comment


April 13, 2010 at 5:31 pm (Uncategorized)

Perhaps one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history is that of the shower murder in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The film has been referenced countless times in popular culture since its release in 1960, with the shower murder forerunning as the most spoofed scene. Synonymous with these spoofs is the ever-present screeching violins originally composed for the scene by Bernard Herrmann. Indeed, the music from this scene may even be its most instantly recognizable facet and has taken on a life of its own – it is often spoofed to convey a sense of terror felt by a character or accompanying a mock stabbing such as in the Mr. Bean episode ‘Mr. Bean in room 426’ (1993)

It is because of this scene’s near mythical status that I have chose to study it first. The scene begins without music, with the character Marion showering and the trickling water the only source of sound. The murderer’s shadow then appears on the shower curtain and approaches slowly before reaching for the shower curtain. Ripping the curtain aside, the frenzied attack begins and the violins begin their screeching. The short shrill strikes of the violin are in keeping with the frenzied stabbing on screen, as is the fast tempo with the quick changes of camera angle. As the murderer exits, the music slows and longer notes play as longer shots are used on-screen with the strings resembling the last breaths and faltering heartbeat of the victim. The hair-raising intensity of this piece of music certainly conveys the panic intended, the shrill tone of the violins almost a sonic knife in itself. In a brief article featured in FRONT magazine(2009), Peter Morris, musicologist at the University of Surrey explains “When violins are used in a sharp, angular style, it bites in a very particular way. The repeated knife sound never resolves – it always ends on an up. Ordinary melodies have points of resolution, but really good horror music doesn’t…Underneath, you very often have irregular harmonies.”

Viewed without the music, the scene feels very different. Although the screams and stabbing sounds convey the terror felt by the victim, the attack seems less frenzied, and the feeling of sheer panic the music induces in the viewer is not present. As a result I feel that the viewer is almost as close to connecting with the cold ruthlessness of the killer as they are to connect with the fear felt by the victim. It is worth noting that Hitchcock had originally planned for this scene to run without music, and seeing as the entirety of the film is based more on the killer than the victim, a music free version of the scene could still have worked well within the film itself. However, it is indisputable that the music has made the shower murder a classic moment in cinema history as well as popular culture.

Permalink Leave a Comment


April 13, 2010 at 5:27 pm (Uncategorized)

In 1926, the world saw its first ever feature film with a fully synchronized soundtrack. It took the form of the Warner Brother’s Don Juan and incorporated the Vitaphone system, whose success lay in using the same motor to power both the 16-inch phonograph records and the film projector, overcoming the problems faced by its predecessors. Don Juan was soon succeeded by another Warner Brothers film, The Jazz Singer. Although at first intended to be another music only film, Al Johnson (who played the lead) famously ad-libbed the line “Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothing yet!” which led to the film becoming the first to feature recorded dialogue as well as music. It also led to the film breaking box office records, and sparking a rush in producing – as well as implementing facilities for – “talkies”. This rush was so great, that by late 1930, Hollywood only produced talkie films, and the silent movie began to fall from grace, now only made for the cheaper translation costs entailing them, or by producers with smaller budgets who could not afford the substantial cost of sound recording.

Although music had been accompanying films since before the talkie revolution, it had previously been provided by an in house organist or orchestra who would play well-known classical or popular pieces that fit the feel of a scene. As such, the Vitaphone and later sound on film systems greatly benefited the consistency of the musical experience offered to moviegoers. In turn, this also led to the quality of the music itself to improve as more classically trained musicians were drawn to Hollywood to get involved with the scoring of film soundtracks.

From these early years of sound tracked films through to the modern day, the techniques and technology used in producing them have continued to evolve. However, I feel that the purpose of film music has remained the same through every development in its implication into films regardless of any stylistic differences. As stated in his essay ‘Asynchronism as a Principle of Sound Film’, V. I. Pudovkin (1985) states “…the first function of sound is to augment the potential expressiveness of the film’s content” I feel that more specifically, film music ‘augments the potential expressiveness’ by communicating to the viewer an emotional message that the on screen images or spoken dialogue cannot.

I plan to investigate just how much importance the music can have in a film by first investigating “classic” scenes and soundtracks to discover what it is about them that works so well. After this I plan to test whether the music in a scene actually holds the most important part in setting an emotional tone by experimenting in setting two separate scores with entirely different feelings to a scene and seeing how it affects the experience of the scene.

Permalink Leave a Comment