Monthly Archives: June 2010

There is some interesting music happening in New York City in the coming weeks. From the New York Times:

“Besides being a path-breaking modern composer, Xenakis, who died in 2001, was a music theorist and an accomplished architect. Like many of his works, “Persephassa” has a spatial element. He intended the percussionists to be placed far from one another in a hexagonal formation with the audience in the middle. The 30-minute piece has never been performed on a lake, the producers say.”

It’s safe to say most musical pieces have never been performed on a lake. (Except for Green Day performing the Simpsons theme on Springfield lake, see below).

This idea of using spatial elements has been percolating around in modern music. A friend from San Francisco Conservatory, Jon Kulpa, composed a piece “On Expanding Resonances” for 9 string quintets surrounding the audience, put on a performance in San Francisco with the 60-piece Surround Sound String Orchestra this past May. I”m hoping he gets a recording online at some point.

Here is a taste of Persephassa on a lake (stereo only, sadly):


And here is the Simpsons Theme on a lake:

Posted 8 years ago by John Piscitello
How to score a sex scene? I’ve been researching this today, mostly because I need to score one, and this is one place in a film where the sensitive film composer doesn’t want to screw things up. ;-)(a) License some pop song. In this Sarah Michelle Gellar / Selma Blair kiss scene in Cruel Intentions, the problem is that the music doesn’t really reflect the emotions of either character. This can happen when the music is intended to drive soundtrack sales as much as it is to tell the story:

(b) Go noir. Jerry Goldsmith did this to the hilt in Basic Instinct, but you better make sure the movie’s got some murder happening somewhere to go along with the chromatic harmonies (this embed is just a music clip):

(c) Avoid anything resembling Wild Things. It’s a great score by George Clinton (who composed the Austin Powers theme), but it’s been unfortunately imitated by one too many cheesy soft-core films. The sexy tenor sax and Stevie Ray Vaughn-style electric guitar bends have worn down after 12 years. Only use this style if your film is strictly NC-17 or higher:

(d) Go romantic. In the Mood for Love uses a minor-key waltz with violin. This is about a man and a woman who discover their partners are having an affair. As their friendship develops, the relationship moves into unfamiliar territory.  Shigeru Umebayashi’s Gypsy melody unfolds over a mechanical pizzicato rhythm (those pizz strings don’t sound great, and are probably the result of an unduly tight production budget that couldn’t afford a live ensemble recording session). The violin plays in a low range, giving melancholy and longing. As the melody unfolds, there are more dramatic leaps and portamentos. The Gypsy style lends the film an association with endless wandering and travel, well-suited to the couple whose static lives are becoming unrooted:

(e) Go understated. Vibrato electric piano and a very natural snare drum sets the atmosphere in Out of Sight’s big sex scene. The scene is frequently cited by filmmakers I’ve met, as the editing, dialogue, acting, lighting – everything is in full virtuoso mode. Notably, the music ain’t much to listen to on its own. But it’s intimate and quiet, just like everything else in the scene. It’s also very subtle in places – notice how the drum beat drops out as Jennifer Lopez’s character is making the decision in her mind to go bed with george Clooney. Once the scene cuts to the actors embracing, an organish keyboard patch enters that just barely doesn’t hold up to my ears anymore – the music is from 1998, the same year as Wild Things – but if you did it today with a newer keyboard you could get the same effect with a warmer, richer-sounding patch.

So, the perfect sex scene music? Everyone has their favorite, and I’m partial to Secretary. In this opening scene, we see Maggie Gyllenhall doing her work while chained to a bar. She staples papers with her chin, and turns sideways to fit through doorways. The office has an Asian accents in the decor. Angelo Badalamenti, who scored films for David Lynch, knows how to do weird. The opening scene’s music emphasizes percussion, latin guitar, electric bass, and lots of reverb. A little exotic, a little secretive, and a little bit of wry humor. Embedding is disabled, so click over for yourself.

Posted 8 years ago by John Piscitello
I’ve written about David Byrne before. This is a talk he did at TED. the talk starts out showing the club Tootsie’s where the Talking Heads played, and how the sound of the room drove their particular sound (especially the fact you could hear the words).And other halls – like the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA – he didn’t feel as satisfied with the sound. As if it was not a match. He goes deep on this theme on this talk, worth seeing the whole thing:

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Cathedrals with their long reverb tails support choral music that does not modulate; a smaller room with less reverb supported Bach’s modulation without creating dissonances.

The title is slightly deceiving; Byrne’s point goes beyond architecture, but really to all technology – the turntable created hip hop, the iPod today creating the highly-compressed and elaborate details in pop music.

One can add other examples – the keyboard enabled the ease of modulating across closely-related keys, which Bach defined into the basis of Western harmony for 300 years. Pianos got a whole lot bigger, so Shubert sonatas sound a whole lot more bigger than Mozart sonatas. Valves in brass instruments enabled far more adventurous harmonies and more powerful sounds in the orchestra.

Not to mention 5.1 sound in theater systems, which created a whole genre of Extremely Bassy and Boomy movie trailer music that exploits the LFE speakers to the hilt.

Posted 8 years ago by John Piscitello