This video actually contains a detailed analysis of writing a fugue, but I find it gets a little academic and hard to follow…but the fugue itself (starts about 2/3rds of the way through) is actually kind of nice, I’d like to hear it performed on a large organ, though:
If you attend a talk by an experienced Hollywood composer sometime, you might hear an opinion that film scoring is currently in a “cool” period.
In film after film, the basic rule seems to be that composers avoid displaying any trace of enthusiasm in their music. A certain detachment from the material is essential.
Take a 70s TV scene, such as Fonzie jumping the shark, and you hear the difference right away (notice, by the way, the cute homage to John William’s famous 2-note motive from “Jaws”, in the lower brass):
Audiences today have been so overexposed to media that they’re hyper-sensitized to storytelling conventions. So if you make the mistake of saying too much in the music, you’re insulting them, so they just think you’re corny.
That’s not a bad thing by any means…I myself feel distracted by hyperactivity in old film scores, even ones where the music is clearly a masterpiece.
(Ironically, the music from Jaws, also from the 70s, doesn’t sound the least bit dated at all…)
“The Geometry of Circles” is an old Phillip Glass-scored Sesame Street cartoon that folks seem to have loved as kids. It spooks the heck out of me (as minimalist music always seems to) . If I’d seen it at the age of 3 I would have had nightmares.Still, it’s brilliant, check out the first 30 seconds, especially the 2-note repetitions, to get the idea:
Watching Transformers, the Decepticons music reminded me of it. Getting past the movie’s booming percussion, dark tones and gigantic reverb, it
shares the same minimalist techniques – repetitive rhythms and stark arpeggios. And in particular, a 2-note motive.
I sort of wondered – maybe this choice was the composer’s way of keeping the story kid-like? Transformers are toys, after all, and I related to it like one of my childhood fantasies. Why not use minimalism to suggest the absolute clarity of good guys vs. bad guys?
Can you hear the similarity? Listen to the vocals starting about 1:30 into this remix:
So is this theory right? Here’s what the composer Steve Jablonsky has to say about it:
The Decepticon theme was an experiment. I had no idea if it would work, but as soon as I heard the choir sing the first few bars, I was happy. It’s not really a theme that you can whistle. It’s more of an evil chant. I wanted it to feel somewhat ancient, and I had a lot of fun with it.
OK, Sesame Street isn’t much of a source of ancient evil chants. So there goes that theory.
Film composers rely on a lot of sample libraries, with good reason. But you can’t really create the sound of a real piano with samples (it gets about as close as Diet Coke gets to Coke).
Then there’s the piano itself, and many will say there is no comparison to a Steinway.The Steinway company has had some ups and downs lately. Despite the cute stock symbol, there have been some union strikes, and they’re competing against cheaper overseas products. Most of all it’s just plain hard to find a growth market in $100,000 pianos. Steinway sales are down 7% this year, and they’re just barely making up the shortfall with their cheaper Essex pianos.
Maybe this “Making of Steinway L1037” documentary will turn things around. I’ve always heard that Steinway has an amazing, complicated production process, this film documents it.
While I’m sure it will show up on the Discovery Channel someday, if you live in New York you can catch it November 20th.
Ron Jones seems to have avoided typecasting – he was well-known to Trek fans during the glory days of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when he scored the Best of Both Worlds cliffhanger where Picard was turned into a Borg. Damn that was good stuff.
Now he’s sharing composing duties on Family Guy. From the New York Times:
Since its debut in 1999 “Family Guy” has developed a comedic voice as recognizable for its rapid-fire references to pop-culture detritus as for Mr. Murphy’s and Mr. Jones’s lavish arrangements of satirical show tunes. For the premiere of the series’s second season Mr. Jones composed an elaborate parody of “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” from the musical “Annie” for a scene in which the protagonist Peter Griffin learns that he’s inherited a mansion from a dead relative. The song (whose vaguely obscene title cannot be printed here) was nominated for an Emmy in 2000.
Animation seems to have the best music on TV these days – The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy all feature orchestral arrangements, plus their fair share of schmaltzy musical numbers.
The music for the comedies always plays it straight. The more authentic the music, the better the setup for the jokes (especially the dirty ones).
Many composers lament the timidity and low budgets of TV scores these days. But there are diamonds in the rough, especially that unnamed musical number mentioned above, which was called “This House is Freaking Sweet”. (By the way, how is that too dirty to print? Who’s the editor of that column anyway?)
This song is freakin’ sweet – brings me right back to playing string bass in the orchestra pit of many a Cole Porter musical:
A review of 3 books on the subject in The New Republic laments at length. Here’s an excerpt:
The discourse supporting classical music so reeks of historical blindness and sanctimonious self-regard as to render the object of its ministrations practically indefensible. Belief in its indispensability, or in its cultural superiority, is by now unrecoverable, and those who mount such arguments on its behalf morally indict themselves. Which is not to say that classical music, or any music, is morally reprehensible. Only people, not music, can be that. What is reprehensible is to see its cause as right against some wrong.
The article is an energetic analysis of classical music’s position in American culture in the 20th century. The upshot seems to be is that classical music’s defenders see any attempt to cater to the audience as dumbing-down, and therefore bad. This attitude alienates potential new fans.
It’s too bad. But it’s easy to see why audiences aren’t attracted to the classical music product.
Visiting the web site of an NYP, BSO, or SFS, you’ll find white bow ties, wine-tasting events, and invitations to “experience the lush, romantic virtuosity of Rachmaninoff”. It’s all so very, very… refined.
Compare this to the raucous delight of the audience at Video Games Live, an upstart series of concerts featuring video game music:
Sure, a big part of the fun is the pop-culture irony. But these concerts also feature music from more recent games that takes itself quite seriously. And the audience does as well.
The attraction is obvious. It’s the gentle childhood memories of Frogger and Donkey Kong. Or the immersive fantasy worlds of Halo and Zelda. People have spent a lot of time with this music and internalized it with fond memories.
It’s much harder for the audience to develop a connection to that lush, romantic virtuosity of Rachmaninoff.
If this trend plays out like blogging vs. the MSM, we might see upstart orchestras like VGL compete rather seriously against the “MSS” (mainstream symphonies). Not only stealing away the audience, but also the performers. Now that could get rather interesting.
John Williams has been doing some concerts around the country, conducting orchestras playing a suite of his film music. He did an interview for a Columbus Ohio arts paper (“The Other Paper“) and the interview has some interesting nuggets.
On being introduced to George Lucas:
How did your partnership with Steven Spielberg begin?
I’d been working at Universal Studios for about six or seven years in the television department. An executive rang me up and said, “I’d like you to have lunch with this kid. We think he’s very talented. He’s got a picture called The Sugarland Express that he did with Goldie Hawn, and we think it’s brilliant—brilliantly edited, in particular. Would you like to meet him?”
So I met him. He was really a youngster at that time, only about 23 years old. But he invited me to do that film, which I did, and we’ve been together 35 years now.
After The Sugarland Express, did he say that he wanted you to be his composer for life? When did that arrangement become clear to the both of you?
It still hasn’t. (Laughs.)
Many successful film composers basically rose together with successful directors. Young directors should be on the lookout for a composer to become part of the “team”, a big part of the success is the ability the work together and trust each other.
For more about what movies John Williams likes, and progress on the new Indiana Jones score,