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.
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.
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.
“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:
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:
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.