FILM COMPOSER BLOG

First identified by The Patterning:

I like to call this melodic snippet the “Millennial Whoop.” It’s a sequence of notes that alternates between the fifth and third notes of a major scale, typically starting on the fifth. The rhythm is usually straight 8th-notes, but it may start on the downbeat or on the upbeat in different songs. A singer usually belts these notes with an “Oh” phoneme, often in a “Wa-oh-wa-oh” pattern. And it is in so many pop songs it’s criminal.

And enjoy Quartz’s video compendium of Millenial Whoop examples:

Via; Quartz

via: Quartz

Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

Minimalism is natural technique for film scores when you don’t want to have a theme or melody under a scene. Just listen to how much John Adams accomplishes with just a few chords, stretched, stretched, stretched.

What a great piece of music for sci-fi fantasy action (temp or otherwise!) It’s not exactly superhero dark, more like old school 80s thrills. Can’t beat that fanfare at the end.

Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

From Organ Memes:

 

NO Toccata and Fugue in D minor!

 

From Wayne’s World:

And here’s the Toccata and Fugue:

Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

During my first visit to Comic-Con in San Diego I  saw a Video Games Live concert at the outdoor amphitheatre out behind the convention center. It was packed and festive. There was a Guitar Hero contest midway through, and people went nuts when the orchestra performed a suite from Castlevania.

I wrote then that live classical music scene could benefit from loosening up a bit.  Concerts are kind of a formal affair. Some musicians are doing just that:

“A classical music concert can be quite scary where you can’t make much noise, you can’t go to the loo, you can’t have a drink or a laugh,” said Louise Mortimer, a South African-born Londoner who has attended a number of Night Shift concerts over the years. “This, however, is a fun environment.”

It can be better for the musicians, too:

Research showed that, apart from concerns about price and length, audiences were put off by the concerts because of “that feeling that you had to know something in order to be there,” said John Holmes, the director for marketing and development for the orchestra.

“And that lack of interaction between the artists and the audience, like that fourth wall you have in theater: Rarely do you have a conductor or musician address the audience.”

And by the way, the Castlevania suite for orchestra gets real fun when the choir kicks in:

Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

An online composer group is discussing going from Good to Great with our music. And I thought of a Nadia Boulanger documentary (the entire video is on YouTube). Boulanger knew a thing or two about what makes a masterpiece, because she taught many of the leading 20th century composers, including Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Elliott Carter, and Quincy Jones, and arguably had the greatest musical skill of any person alive at the time.

There is a memorable discussion of Stravinsky’s genius, just after we hear a segment from Symphony of Psalms:

Well, I can distinguish music that is well-made and music that isn’t. Yet what distinguishes well-made music and a masterpiece, that I cannot tell….It all comes down to faith. As I accept God, I accept beauty, I accept emotion, I also accept masterpieces. There are conditions without which masterpieces cannot be achieved, but what defines a masterpiece cannot be pinned down.

The exchange starts around 17:36 in the video, but try a little earlier around 16:11 to hear the discussion specific to Stavinsky plus one of the best bits from Symphony of Psalms:

 

Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

This has actually been thoroughly researched with a series of experiments. From PLOS ONE Journal:

In this study, we investigate another subtler, yet powerful factor that contributes to this fear: the ominous background music that often accompanies shark footage in documentaries. Using three experiments, we show that participants rated sharks more negatively and less positively after viewing a 60-second video clip of swimming sharks set to ominous background music, compared to participants who watched the same video clip set to uplifting background music, or silence. This finding was not an artifact of soundtrack alone because attitudes toward sharks did not differ among participants assigned to audio-only control treatments.

It’s easy to make light of this, but experiments like this prove an important point about film music: the soundtrack shapes the audiences’ perception of a scene.

And the better the music, the more powerful the shaping.

Now let’s enjoy a scene from Jaws with and without music, performed live with John Williams conducting.

 

Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

May I share a bit of epic music I produced for The Trials of Apollo book trailers? Somehow I managed to play both recorder and metal guitar on it.

This one has my friend Rachel Mellis on flute, and me on recorder. Who’s the better woodwind player?

 

This one’s got some great sound design:

 

This one’s just mean ;-):

 

On Amazon:

Posted 4 months ago by John Piscitello

Cinema Palettes takes stills from famous movie scenes, then extracts 10 shades to build a color palette. I love the thought and care that goes into the color in these shots.

Next studio I decorate, I’m going with Trainspotting. 😉

 

 

Posted 4 months ago by John Piscitello

Adult Swim broadcasts bizarre 3am comedy one-offs from time to time. This one is worth your time, a parody of late 70s/early 80s era of synth greats Vangelis, Wendy Carlos, and Giorgio Moroder. Somebody really knew their obscure references.

With a save-the-world ending that is a little reminiscent of the Revenge of the Nerds (composed by, yes, *that* Thomas Newman).

Anyway, a fun way to take a dive into classic synth history.

 

Live at the Necropolis: Lords of Synth:

 

Vangelis, 1492:

 

Wendy Carlos, Beauty in the Beast:

 

Giorgio Moroder, Midnight Express:

 

Thomas Newman, Revenge of the Nerds:

Posted 5 months ago by John Piscitello

I had been thinking about Prince this week. I’d heard Let’s Go Crazy on the radio and wanted to write about it. Waking up to the sudden news that Prince passed away, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned from him.

Prince’s The Hits / B-Sides Disc One used to play on my car stereo a *lot*. I liked it because those songs were mostly from outside Prince’s “peak” period, and I didn’t know them until I got the disc.

Two things stand out about these 17 songs. One is, a lot of Prince’s writing is I-IV-V blues: examples are Kiss, 7, U Got the Look, Cream, Sexy, M.F., When You Were Mine, Alphabet Street

And the E. A. B. principle from Vinyl thoroughly applies. Every song has a “new” sound element. It’s never a melange of typical instruments. The best example might be “Kiss” – a I-IV-V blues that could have been written in minutes, with a mix that overflows with ear candy. The elongated gated-reverb kick drum interacts perfectly with the rhythm guitar – or is that a synth? My ears can’t tell, and that’s why I love it.

Then there’s 1980’s “When You Are Mine”, which has the quintessential 1980s guitar sound. It’s that sort of breezy, 50s-ish, California post-punk guitar sound, all attack, with the bottom cut out. It’s like a little piece of bubble gum you want to keep popping over and over.

Listening to Prince’s catalog, it’s all so effortless and confident.

But the masterpiece is “Let’s Go Crazy“, a hail mary pass of a song, filled with one astonishing moment after another.

Nothing was ever more radio-ready for 1984 than his preacher’s sermon intro. The over-vibrato’d organ, bananas synth glissando, and strangely beautiful Afterworld where “you can always see the sun, day….or night”…these stood out, to say the least.

When the actual groove starts, it’s a touch over-enthusiastic, but it works because of the mix. This kind of high energy, joyous groove is nearly impossible to pull off. Too much or too little of anything, and you’ve got a “Walking on Sunshine” on your hands.

Minus the extended intro and ending, the actual *song* part of “Let’s Go Crazy” runs under 3 minutes, and makes an ideal study in sustaining momentum. A lot of famous hooks tire a bit by the 3rd chorus. But Prince elaborates his ideas just enough to keep things falling forward. Listen for the background singers’ echoes and doublings, the keyboard drop propelling a section transition, and how Prince’s performance grows increasingly agitated. Even the guitar solo’s genius final lightning riff is like a nitro injection, raising the stakes.

Like Bach’s C Minor Prelude, the song doesn’t end so much as it explodes. The arena-concert finale takes several unexpected twists – the first cataclysmic ritardando, the sudden guitar break, and Prince’s final shout to God – “Take Me!”.

It’s an ending so inspired, so beyond craft, a composer cannot possibly learn from it. One can only admire, and enjoy it.

 

Posted 5 months ago by John Piscitello