in BeoMag - The Bang & Olufsen Magazine - Winter 2003,
Film music could be any style, any genre, any period. But
for most, it is something like Star Wars. To those who religiously
praise the film, John Williams' score is majestic, heroic,
glorious. To those interested in moving beyond Richard Wagner's
powerful 19th Century operatic models, Star Wars has unfortunately
become an impediment to the forward momentum of original
The big budget aura of a symphony orchestra certainly satiates
a mass audience concerned in gaining value for their cinema
dollar. But to serious lovers of music, the Star Wars effect
in film music has determined an unfortunate sameness in
Hollywood's bombastic symphonic kitsch.
Hollywood gives people what they want - but that does not
translate to something for everyone. Rarefied tastes, niche
markets and marginal interests can be just as successfully
catered to without 'dumbing down' musical creativity. Two
New York based composers who have battled in this musical
scenario are Howard Shore and Carter Burwell.
Howard Shore has worked predominantly with director David
Cronenberg. Maybe Cronenberg's work is not to everyone's
taste, but Shore's close collaboration with the director
has nurtured a distinctively modern voice in their joint
work. From the brooding use of six electric guitars and
three harps to create the shimmering riffs of Crash, to
the heady sensual orchestrations which wrap around the Ornette
Coleman trio in Naked Lunch, Shore's scores lean toward
an erotic abstraction.
his scores to Videdrome, Ed Wood and Copland, Shore's search
for a sonic 'shock of the new' is insatiable. As he declared
when performing Crash live in Melbourne in 1998, "I find
myself listening mostly to new contemporary music. I want
to know what people are creating now."
Burwell may appear more melodic in comparison to Shore,
but no less inventive. Burwell has enjoyed a close working
relationship with Joel and Ethan Cohen, having provided
a rich harmonic fabric to Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink
and Fargo among other Coen films. "My music draws an audience
into situations they would otherwise want to avoid" said
Burwell when here in Australia just after Fargo was released.
"Due to the Coens being such technical masters of filmmaking,
musical 'warmth' can get you past that."
monumental score for Fargo is his best case in point. The
film's mix of humour and tragedy hinges on Burwell's ironic
yet empathetic use of majestic melodies which intensify
the spiralling fate which befalls its characters.
and Shore's work stems from the premise that these are irrevocably
modern times in which we live. We might want our entertainment
to be retro space operas like Star Wars, but our emotions,
dramatics and psychological schisms are far more demanding
in their portrayal. Both composers have openly declared
the influence they bear from earlier composers committed
to musically excavating the human psyche: Bernard Herrmann,
Toru Takemitsu and Ennio Morricone.
we removed all of Bernard Herrmann's scores and just left
him with one - Alfred Hitchock's Psycho - he would still
be a formidable figure in film music. Herrmann composed
music for seven Hitchcock films, including The Wrong Man,
North By North West and Vertigo. For Hitchcock he conducted
a seductive dance with sex and psychosis - all before the
60s kicks in. As Herrmann has infamously claimed, "Hitchock
only finishes a picture 60%. I have to finish it for him."
was one of the first composers to alter microphone placement
in the recording sessions (similar to what Sergei Prokofiev
initiated in Russian cinema of the late 30s). This allowed
him to create new tonal colours for his orchestration, based
on the idea of 'zooming in' on an instrument's identity.
This can be heard in Herrmann's scores for Journey to the
Centre of the Earth, Jason & the Argonauts and The Day the
Earth Stood Still.
been a composer/orchestrator for Orson Welles, Herrmann
was notorious for his heated and uncompromising views while
working within the Hollywood system. A later generation
of filmmakers greatly valued Herrmann's contribution to
film music. In his late career, he worked with Francois
Truffaut (Farenheit 451), Brian DePalma (Obsession) and
Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver).
Takemitsu has composed 'serious' modern works for orchestra
as well as providing equally uncompromising music for the
cinema. His landmark scores include Akira Kurosawa's epic
Ran -- the ultimate in vainglorious symphonics - and Masaki
Kobayashi's ghost story Kaidan - possibly the most modern
score in the history of the cinema.
is capable of generating deep beauty and abject terror -
often simultaneously as befit Japanese aesthetics. His rigour
in acknowledging his avant garde predecessors from Igor
Stravinsky to Karlheinz Stockhausen marks his music as compelling
and sophisticated. In a documentary filmed prior to his
death in 1996, he stated his approach eloquently: "I deal
Morricone is possibly the most renowned of all modern film
composers today. He has scored 375 feature films (unbelievable
yet true) and has been a major force in modernising movie
music. Ever since an electric fuzz guitar twanged boldly
in his score for Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars in
1964, film music has had occasion to welcome the electric,
the noisy, the dissonant, the wild.
dismissed back then as gross, inappropriate and artificial,
Morricone's music has gone on to strengthen these supposedly
negative qualities. Citing Stravinsky as a key figure whose
approach to orchestration rather then composition alone
created new 'sound colours', Morricone consistently finds
unique combinations of instruments. He also heavily directed
the recording process, making him as much a music producer
as a film composer.
Which Morricone films to listen to from the 375? Going backwards
from today, try Mission To Mars, Cinema Paradiso, Frantic,
The Mission, Order of Death, Rampage, The Thing, Days of
Heaven, Exorcist II, Moses, Once Upon a Time in the West.
Each is entirely different from the other, yet absolutely
Like a spaghetti western show-down, the battle still rages
in film music today. There is film music entrenched in the
romantic tradition of pastoral evocation, lush description
and narrative accompaniment; music that is often 'beautiful'
but just as often aimless as and unmotivated. Then there
is film music that aims to actively debate and dialogue
with the screen images; music that generates tension and
counterpoint with what the images are already stating.
latter concerns have been embraced by many lateral creators
in modern film music around the world. Interestingly, they
tend to come not from classically trained environs, but
from the worlds of rock, world music, folk, electronica,
Glass imported his operatic minimalism with verve in Koyaanistqatsi,
Mishima and The Candyman. Overwhelming to some, his compositional
style is deliberately so, imbuing his scores with a deep
fatalism and cosmological breadth. Elliot Goldenthal's score
to Michael Mann's Heat is executed by a wall of electric
guitars fused with the Kronos Quartet. Its massive sound
adds to the film's epic quality while still retaining a
hard electric edge.
Cooder's work on films like Paris Texas and Trespass are
distinctively rootsy and evocative. Both are recorded live
without multi-tracking, and Trespass particularly extols
a tantalising spatialization. Peter Gabriel's work on films
like The Last Temptation of Christ and Rabbit Proof Fence
fuse World Music traits and aspects with Gabriel's own distinctive
atmospherics and electronic ambience.
Badalamenti's music for David Lynch from Blue Velvet to
Twin Peaks to Lost Highway to The Straight Story is highly
melodic and equally postmodern. Recouping the syrupy sound
of 60s easy listening and 50s mournful echoic ballads, Badalamenti
reveals a dark under bed to their supposedly saccharine
Brion's scores for P.T. Anderson's Magnolia and Punch-Drunk
Love suggest a new 'sono-musical' terrain for the film score.
From the richly oppressive palpitations of strings which
drive Magnolia to the schizophrenic switches between drum
kit improvisations and lush symphonic waltzes - both recorded
in surround mixes - for Punch-Drunk Love, Brion's scores
have nothing to do with 'film music' but everything to do
with how wonderfully complicated all music has become.
there's Henry Mancini, John Barry, Lalo Shiffrin, Quincy
Jones, Jack Nitzsche, David Shire, John Carpenter, Tangerine
Dream, Michael Danna, Simon Fisher-Turner, Bill Lee, Ryuchi
Sakamoto, Stewart Copeland, Danny Elfman, Zping Zhao, Joe
Hisaishi, Kenji Kawai, Michael Nyman, Jocelyn Pook, David
Holmes. Film music certainly is a rich field.
film music is being appreciated as something more than mere
scores for movies. The amount of contemporary recording
artists who have subsumed an ambient, diffused and 'cinematic
effect' into their music production grows each year.
lovers are also finding hidden listening treasure in the
bountiful re-issues of film music around the world. Quality
CD re-mastering now brings the cinematic experience into
one's personal quality listening space. Film music - freed
of song formatting, vocals and other 'pop' conventions -
opens up new fields of listening pleasure. A million show
rooms are still blasting excerpts from Star Wars to sell
their home theatre equipment. You can find a more distinctive
kind of experience waiting for you when try out some of
the near-50 scores mentioned here on your own speakers.