Film music

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Chat' started by MoominDave, Jan 4, 2004.


Background film music - is it meaningful without the film?

  1. Aye

  2. Nay

  1. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Super_sop's asking whether any of the LotR music has been arranged for band yet reminded me of a thought I've had quite a few times.

    I don't quite 'get' the point of listening to most film music divorced from the showing of the film. From questioning others and my own experiences, it seems that the enjoyment people get is through thinking about the film as they listen, but in this case - why not simply watch the film? :idea: Most film soundtracks are actually compositionally pretty weak, because they rely on the visual action to make the dramatic points and are only there as 'back-up' - listening to the music without the pictures and dialogue is like buying an ice-cream, but then only eating the cone. To my mind, anyway.

    I just find it weird that so many people devote their 'well-thought-out music listening time' to half an experience; without the films, you can really hear where the scores musically creak.

    Obviously, this doesn't apply quite so much to the music over the credits, which is intended to be the primary focus of the audience's attention.

    Anyway - opinions?

  2. Railybobs

    Railybobs Member

    Go and listen to some of john Williams' stuff and tell me then that you need the film to bring it to life.

    Granted Mr Williams is the great film score composer but people like howard shaw still take some beating.

    Normal Effect music like a steady build up to a lightening strike in the halloween series is week if you just listen to it because the chords just loop and are manually increased in volume at the mixing desk. So you have a point there.

    There is a stark difference between Effect music and Theme music. No offence but maybe if you respond to this by making that point because commenting on the whole of "film music" will just encourage tons of replies like this.

    Good Thread though.

  3. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    I've heard (and played arrangements of) plenty of John Williams' stuff.

    I think my principal objection is that we are doing these composers a disservice by deliberately listening to their stuff under bad conditions (i.e. without the film that constantly imposes constraints on the music).

    Without the film, we cannot see when the action is saying to the composer "No, you may not develop this material any further in the form in which it would make best sense to", and so cannot forgive them the musical defects that these constraints cause.

    Granted, John Williams is the best I can think of at working around these very specific constraints tastefully, but even his stuff is forced into overly episodic forms. Watching the films, these sudden musical U-turns make perfect sense; listening to the soundtracks, they sound trivial and silly - often not unlike (dare I say it!) a naff link in a cheesy brass band medley arrangement .

    I would be interested to know if his non-film work (which I don't know at all, apart from his 'Olympic Fanfare and Theme') reaches a greater profundity, or if he is so used to writing in this way that it too suffers from a lack of overall structure.

  4. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Some of John Williams' other pieces really seem to gain from being freed from the constraints of tailoring music to film action. I particularly like his concertante works, with the bassoon concerto and tuba concerto (also been played on bass trom by Doug Yeo) being very impressive.

    As for whether film music works away from the film, I think it varies a great deal. I have a few of the Chandos Film cds, particularly those by such established composers as Vaughan Williams, George Auric, Malcolm Arnold and Arnold Bax. Their music certainly warrants hearing without the intrusion of film acton and dialogue, although it may have been reworked into a concert suite, to avoid lots of very short cues etc. The same goes for the best of the Korngold and Rozsa scores.

    Whilst the main title may serve to set the atmosphere for a film it is not always representative of the whole score, where music may be used as a leitmotif, serving to underline and supoport the on-screen action and emotions portrayed.
  5. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    If you were to take this argument to its logical conclusion, surely you would also question an Opera lover's desire to listen to recordings of their favourite Opera, on the grounds that the music without the stage action is an incomplete experience?

    I doubt many people would agree. Personally, I get just as much satisfaction from listening to a film score without the film itself. In fact sometimes it's better, because you don't get distracted by all that extraneous noise, explosions, sound effects, inane dialogue, etc........


  6. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    It's not really in the same category - in opera, the composer sets the dramatic pace, and can produce pleasing large-scale structures in his music without the need to bend his music so tightly around the fixed points in the plot as he would have to in a film score. It's certainly true that an opera gains from the action on stage, but the emphasis is reversed from a film - the action supports the music, rather than the other way around, and this allows a performance of the music without the action to be meaningful.

    It is also much easier to find any given film (i.e. on VHS, DVD etc.) than any given opera!

  7. Accidental

    Accidental Supporting Member

    I'm with you on this one Dave. Although there are some notable exeptions I find most film music pretty repetitive and quite boring when it stands alone. Even the supposedly best soundtracks (according to sales - (LOTR, Harry Potter, new Star Wars etc) seem to be just so much filling around two or three "big tunes" that everyone recognises, and I found them disappointing without the movie.

    OPera on the other hand - Sooooo much better without the distraction of overweight 40-somethings prancing around on stage pretending to be young and pretty!
  8. Okiedokie of Oz

    Okiedokie of Oz Active Member

    I did a university assignment a few years back where we analysed the music in movies for a different perspective.

    I chose to look at movies and musical stereotypes, as this is the sort of music that appears sop often in music.

    Everyone knows that the star Wars theme was ripped off from Mars. Everyone knows that Conti made his mint my mass producing and extending long catchy phrases.

    there isn't an origian concept in movie sountracks!

    I can guarantee that in war movies, just prior to the final assault, there'll be percussion, mainly either timps or snares.

    I can guarantee that when somehting bad is going to happen, we use unpleasant chords (Thank Johnnie Williams and Jaws for that).

    I can guarantee that when two lovers finally get to gether, the orchestra will crescendo into a sweeping string section.

    and you wanna tell me this DOESN'T help the story?
  9. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    I can't agree. Historically, there is no evidence to support this. Operas have always been collaborations, and there is nothing to suggest that the composer is in any way more important, or has more input/control over the production than either the librettist or the stage director. There are just as many operatic examples of musical non-sequiters caused by the storyline.

  10. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    There are also numerous instances where music originally written for stage or screen has survived in the repertoire, whereas the plays or films are rarely seen. Examples of this from the stage would include Grieg's "Peer Gynt", Bizet's "L'Arlesienne", or Vaughan Williams' "The Wasps"; from film, there are the Ibert and Honegger scores from now-forgotten silent or early sound films, the Shostakovich scores etc.
  11. Railybobs

    Railybobs Member

    Sorry Moomindave but i have to agree with this geezer.

    what is film apart from an open stage?
  12. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    The difference between a film and a stage presentation is a matter of degree - the composer of the music for an opera (or incidental music for a play for that matter, although I think that that is a more marginal case) isn't usually told by the stage director where certain musical moments must occur to within the second, as is common in films (I believe - do correct me if I'm wrong), and hence is able to allow the music time to breathe and evolve more naturally - yes, there are plenty of quick shifts of musical mood in opera, but they are generally written much more effectively (from the listening-only point of view) than similar moments in film scores. This is, for me, the crucial difference that generally makes one listenable to without the action and the other not.

    <Maths analogy alert! I hope it makes sense to people...>

    One can picture it by imagining how the probability of producing a listenable-to score varies with the degree of timing control exerted over the music by others (i.e. the director of the presentation, I suppose). If we look at the section of the function between the amount of control exerted in an opera and that exerted in a film, I would suggest that the probability of producing a listenable-to score decreases fairly evenly as the amount of control increases. Somewhere in between these two is the point (probably somewhere near the background music for a play examples cited above by Peter) where as many scores are badly constructed as are pleasingly written. At the operatic end, the chances are quite good that the composer will be able to craft something that will stand on its own, whereas, at the film end, the chances are not good. Which is note, not quite the same thing as saying that no film music is any good on its own, but that it is very hard for the composer to make it good, and that few composers do manage it.

    It is also still much easier to view a performance of any given film than to find a visual presentation of any given opera or play. Why listen to just the soundtrack when you can easily have the complete experience?

  13. ukdrummerboy

    ukdrummerboy Member

    What?! (i'll apologise now for being one of John Williams' biggest fans) The Star Wars theme tune is a fanfare (with a melodic bit in the middle) Mars has this dark ostinato rhythm running most of the way through it (not to mention it being in 5/4 and in a minor key) The two piece's dont even use the same rhythm!

    I wouldnt call the Jaws melody a use of "unpleasant chords". Infact, the opening few bars (before the F Horn comes in) doesnt even use a chord at all, just 2 notes a semi-quaver apart) Then after the F Horn solo there is a beautiful flute melody, and all this is being played whilst the shark is battering away at someone!!!

    Anyway, thats my rant and rave over, back on topic...I do belive that film music can be listened to and enjoyed without the film. Granted that when you listen to the original score on CD, some of the piece's may jump about a bit, but as its already been discussed, its because the film dictates the way the music should be shaped (and good film composers try to make the jumps less obvious!). Most film composers (J. Williams, Alan Silvestri, James Horner, Randy Newman, Danny Elfman etc) will produce an "overture" or "suite" (usually played whilst the credits are rolling up at the end) that encorporates (spelling?!) all of the themes used throughout the film into one "listenable" piece like you would expect and orchestra to play at a concert.

    Even so, i still like listening to the original score with "jumpy bits" :D
  14. floral_dance

    floral_dance Member

    I am not going to make an intelligent reply here, all I would like to say is the theme from Schindlers list is among the most moving, deep and soulful music I have heard!! :oops:
  15. BigHorn

    BigHorn Active Member

    Agree and disagree.
    There has been some terrific film music that stands on its own without the film.
    There have even been some cracking brass arrangements from them too. Just a couple off the top of my head.

    Theme from Schidlers List
    Cavatina from the deer hunter

    But I agree that the visual medium of a film and the context it is played in can often bring more poigniency to the music.

    Barber's Adagio for Strings was not written specifically for a film and is a heart rending piece, quite beautiful in its own right . But played in the films Platoon, Elephant man and Lorenzo's Oil against the sad story lines, it can really move you to tears. :cry:

    Music works because it manipulates peoples emotions. If the emotions have already been worked on by the film's story line, then of course, the music will be the cream on top.
    But hey - I like cream on its own too. :p
  16. Okiedokie of Oz

    Okiedokie of Oz Active Member

    I'm a big fan of John's too. But yeah, he was greatly inspired by Mars Bringer of WaR. The theory is all sci-fi sound tracks were. Thie big clue with Star wars is the lead in to where the horns take over the main theme, with the basas/timps doing the ostinato

    dum dum diggety dum dum diggety.......(my apologies to those Kodaly fans)
    *cue brass*
    ba-daaaaaah dump!

    it's a 3/4 rip off of Mars' 5/4 ostinato. Well, not ripoff, bad choice of words, but yeah.
  17. ukdrummerboy

    ukdrummerboy Member

    I certainly agree with that bit, but this is AFTER the main theme has dissipated! And like you said, it isn't "ripped off", its more "inspired" :wink:
  18. Keppler

    Keppler Moderator Staff Member

    I find a closer similarity between Mars and Hans Zimmer's work - the battle themes from "Gladiator" being the most obvious.
  19. Rambo Chick

    Rambo Chick Member

    i think that some film music is better than some other but i have to say John Williams is a master of it.

    and if film music needs a film to make it whole then why are there so many recordings, arrangements and performances of film music only out there?

    Film music rules!

    United co-operatives yorkshire (yorkshire co-op)
  20. Okiedokie of Oz

    Okiedokie of Oz Active Member

    Hell yeah!!! Can't deny that!

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