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First Thread! An alternate perspective on The Force Awakens music:

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1 hour ago, Chen G. said:

I would give the score that much: with the film that we got, it's surprising that the score is as based on original material as it is, and not pushing our nostalgia buttons as often.

 

It had every chance of being an 'Unexpected Journey' type mess of existing quotations, with Disney pushing all the nostalgia buttons.

 

Surprisingly both films under their banner have been restrained in that sense. Even Giacchino relied far more heavily on new material than existing themes for Rogue One.

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You're comparing apples with kumquats and oranges. The Williams' way is to create individual but connected scores. The Howard Shore way is to create scores that function as parts of a greater whole. As a result, their ethics of using existing thematic material in later scores differs. I mean, I see the emotional manipulation that the score to An Unexpected Journey (in the finished film) is going for, but it's really not that bad.

 

And Giachinno didn't have a cause to use much of Williams' existing catalogue, so that's another wholly different can of worms in and of itself.

 

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It's alright. What really makes it stand out is the phenomenal recording. The dry punchy sound really suits it. It helps that the orchestra plays the hell out of the thing. That stunning X-Wing scherzo, March of the Resistance (an ominous theme befitting the bad guys or liberal news media), Conti/Goldsmith-esque chase motif and, well, just about everything sounds great aside from that moment during Rey's theme in the end credits that seems to employ Horner-esque synth vocals, but it's just buried in the mix and sounds awkward. I don't really consider it on the level of the other ones, but it's absolutely worthy. A nice helping of that good old Williams drug soup, as one user described it prior to release. Indeed.

 

Take a seat, TFA. You are granted the rank of good Williams score.

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2 hours ago, The Doctor said:

just about everything sounds great aside from that moment during Rey's theme in the end credits that seems to employ Horner-esque synth vocals,

I wonder if that was an intentional choice.  I also hear some Horner-esque gestures in "I Can Fly Anything".  

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8 hours ago, bollemanneke said:

I like a lot of things about it, but the recording isn't one of them. Way too shrill. Give me Lockhart's re-recording any time (I like woodwinds in the march).

 

Lockhart's version of March of the Resistance (and actually, all the Williams conducted versions post-TFA) are vastly superior the OST version. It's become an instant skip for me, just cannot stand the way they recorded the brass in that track.

 

As written, the woodwinds give so much relief to the fugue section but are buried in the mix. Not sure if this is more Dudamel's interpretation of the cue or the mix itself.

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25 minutes ago, SafeUnderHill said:

Many audience members walked away thinking there were no new themes because the key moments tended to be scored by these original film callbacks.

 

That has to do with the fact that the main new idea, Rey's theme, is this delicate lilting idea, compared to the more bold themes that Williams' used to stress out in the past. As a result, the film-mix doesn't do it any favors, and it goes virtually unnoticed by the average moviegoer. Since the score centers around that motif almost as an idea-fixee, makes this demerit true of most of the music. Kylo Ren's main theme, being typically scored for brass, is more high-key in that regard, but its brevity makes it hard for someone who is not preconditioned to notice music to latch unto it.

 

And upon rewatching the film and listening to the score again, those nostaglic moments aren't terribly frequent: a couple of quotes of Leia, a couple of Leia and Han and of Luke's theme. The "Unknown" chords (the so-called map motif) are used quite frequently, but that's just a staple of Williams' writing style more so than it is part of the motivic narrative of the music. It also wasn't used terribly often in the previous scores so it gets a pass.

 

My main issue in that regard is with the Rebel Fanfare. The way its used in the film makes it feel like its there almost as a "Star Wars is back" theme. But other than that, it really isn't as nostalgic as one might imagine going in.

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I only saw the movie once and I found the music was mixed fairly low in my theater. There was some debate a while back, with some claiming the music was louder when they saw it. Frankly, it didn't have much impact for me. There were very few moments where the score stood out, sadly.

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I wasn't made conciously aware of any new melody after my first viewing, or the second one, at that. I was only really registering to existing themes.

 

The music needed to be more "epic" to really punch through the mix. But with this small freelance orchestra, you can't really reach the same sound as you can with the London Symphony Orchestra, although something is telling me that this issue has just as much to do with Williams' style of writing in these past few years. Which is unfortunate because it may mean that we will be left with this much more restrained sound going forward, too.

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26 minutes ago, Chen G. said:

I wasn't made conciously aware of any new melody after my first viewing, or the second one, at that. I was only really registering to existing themes.

 

The music needed to be more "epic" to really punch through the mix. But with this small freelance orchestra, you can't really reach the same sound as you can with the London Symphony Orchestra, .

Just to be clear, are you suggesting that if the LSO had recorded the same exact score, and the score was mixed at the same exact level, the score would have been epic?  

 

Your qualification after the quote seems to indicate this is not your point at all.  I am confused.  I am of the mindset that the "effect" of the music would not have been altered in the slightest with the LSO under the conditions mentioned above.  

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I think that had it been written with the London Symphony Orchestra in mind, it might have been somewhat different.

 

And again, I do think that a lot of it stems from Williams' preferences rather than the choice of orchestra, although a better (and bigger) orchestra surely wouldn't have hurt it.

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I'd say the lack of mickey-mousing is more because of JJ's approach to the whole post-production process where he kept changing stuff. If TLJ's early finishing date is any indication, we should have more mickey-mousing in this new entry, if you're into that sort of thing.

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They just weren't a good collaboration. Williams isn't suited to the Abrams style of films. With Lucas and Spielberg up until the 2010s when Spielberg's films became too boring, it's usually a perfect marriage of music and film, the biggest reason being those guys prefer Johnny's scores to have a big presence and probably because they're better filmmakers. A ridiculous scene such as the Millennium Falcon escaping the desert planet in TFA, as I recall, is a lot of yelling by the actors, a really poorly crafted series of effects shots creating absolutely no tension or excitement and Williams' music just sort of meanders as a result, using the same rhythm introduced in Follow Me over and over again. It's just sort of there. Compare to something like The Asteroid Field, where it's as though they created the scene with the music in mind. Or, they delivered a series of images of the crew of the spaceship navigating space rocks and told Williams to go full Williams. Whatever the case, he was clearly more inspired.

 

The last 45 minutes of Revenge of the Sith is like a great symphony and better than a lot of stuff he delivered in the 70s, 80s and early 90s or what many consider his golden age. That was the last time Williams really hit the notes until this new Star Wars, so we know he still had it in him at his advanced age. TFA is a fun distraction with some good cues and a really punchy badass recording/mix. But it's not a great score. This court stands adjourned.

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19 hours ago, bollemanneke said:

I like a lot of things about it, but the recording isn't one of them. Way too shrill. Give me Lockhart's re-recording any time (I like woodwinds in the march).

 

10 hours ago, crumbs said:

Lockhart's version of March of the Resistance (and actually, all the Williams conducted versions post-TFA) are vastly superior the OST version. It's become an instant skip for me, just cannot stand the way they recorded the brass in that track.

 

As written, the woodwinds give so much relief to the fugue section but are buried in the mix. Not sure if this is more Dudamel's interpretation of the cue or the mix itself.

 

Yeah, agree, the Lockhart recording of "March of the Resistance" is definitely an improvement for me. Just feels a little more high energy to me with the faster tempo and the added interest of bringing out more of the orchestral colors. I love how this bit sounds with the flutes sounding like military fifes which you didn't really get before, and those awesome, punchy low brass accents stick out to me a lot more here than the OST.

 

 

Also really like how with the last statement of the main theme at 1:53, the first note is held longer than the OST version. Gives it a little more swagger.

 

33 minutes ago, Chen G. said:

Abrams is of this contemporary discipline that one should not be made aware of music in film, which is nonesense.

 

I don't think this is really the issue so much as his filmmaking just doesn't have the same flair or dare-I-say poetry to really make those moments sing like those of his idols. I think it's pretty obvious that he's always reaching for it, he's caught nice moments here and there but doesn't seem to quite overwhelm. 

 

At the same time, though, Williams has worked with plenty of films and filmmakers in his career worse (or at least not much better) than TFA and Abrams and still arguably delivered more powerful moments than the best of what TFA has to offer. So there is always that to consider. A younger Williams, even 10 years younger, may have done a better score in some ways. Then again, maybe not!

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In addition to much of what's been said here, I think Williams went for a very lean approach to be able to keep up with the near nonstop sprint throughout the whole movie. We know rhythm and pacing are paramount concerns for him, and he might've felt that too much density in his writing would get in the way.

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First of all, I absolutely love TFA's score and I listen a lot to it still, but I will say that the way it was recorded hurts its status somewhat. If you listen closely, the orchestration isn't really much more sparse than your average JW score. The real problem is that lots of elements get buried in the mix, creating the illusion that there's not as much going on, and also that the orchestra is not as big. It's especially the woodwinds that get completely lost when stuff gets loud, and so there isn't much resonance and a feeling of 'space' to the orchestra. 

 

There are noticeable differences compared to the LSO, to my ears mostly in the brass playing culture, but this is still an exceptional orchestra and most of the complaints regarding that should be aimed at Shawn Murphy's mix IMO. The fact that the main titles are re-recorded for TLJ gives me hope he decided it's been a failed expiriment and they will go for a wetter recording this time around...

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They can't be immune to the fact that widespread opinion, rightly or wrongly, thought the opening note of the Main Title sounded off/modulated, or that the score itself didn't have much presence in the film. It fits like a glove, yes, but it doesn't get many chances to punch through the mix.

 

Which seems weird because I'd have thought the punchy, dry mix was designed to help the score's audibility in the mix but it gets treated like an afterthought. It's not like Williams didn't put up with low mixing in the prequels, so maybe this was a reactionary approach to help his cause.

 

Then you listen to how Rogue One got mixed and you clench your fists...

 

Anyway, hopefully he returns to a wetter sound for TLJ and the mix is kinder. I'd have thought a wetter mix would allow them to increase the volume of the score without it overwhelming dialogue, as opposed to a dry mix.

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8 hours ago, Chen G. said:

I think that had it been written with the London Symphony Orchestra in mind, it might have been somewhat different.

 

And again, I do think that a lot of it stems from Williams' preferences rather than the choice of orchestra, although a better (and bigger) orchestra surely wouldn't have hurt it.

Ah, that makes sense.  I tend to agree with the sentiment that Williams could have whatever sized orchestra he wanted.  Perhaps his less than ideal health played a role in a smaller orchestra.  I suppose once we have TLJ to compare it to, we will have a better idea of such things. 

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I remember cringing hearing it in cinemas for the first time. I was like, uh, do you need to turn the volume up? Just had no gut-punch the way the prequels did.

 

Yet it's so hard to actually work out exactly why it sounds off. Is it just the film mix? Murphy's score mix? The actual brass players or their instruments being different models to the LSO's? The digital recording vs the prequels being analogue? The recording stage itself?

 

Anyway, they saw fit to re-record it so it should be fixed in TLJ.

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6 hours ago, Remco said:

First of all, I absolutely love TFA's score and I listen a lot to it still, but I will say that the way it was recorded hurts its status somewhat. If you listen closely, the orchestration isn't really much more sparse than your average JW score. The real problem is that lots of elements get buried in the mix, creating the illusion that there's not as much going on, and also that the orchestra is not as big. It's especially the woodwinds that get completely lost when stuff gets loud, and so there isn't much resonance and a feeling of 'space' to the orchestra. 

 

There are noticeable differences compared to the LSO, to my ears mostly in the brass playing culture, but this is still an exceptional orchestra and most of the complaints regarding that should be aimed at Shawn Murphy's mix IMO. The fact that the main titles are re-recorded for TLJ gives me hope he decided it's been a failed expiriment and they will go for a wetter recording this time around...

 

Woodwinds always get lost when things get loud, that's how an orchestra works unless you have quadruple winds screaming out in strong registers.  TFA is probably the most "natural" sounding Star Wars score, with what sounds like an uncluttered mic setup.  If you're used to classic film score recording techniques, it's jarring to hear the woodwinds in more or less untouched balance and perspective.  

 

I believe that's the reason why the opening chord sounds off to people.  

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2 hours ago, TheGreyPilgrim said:

 

Woodwinds always get lost when things get loud, that's how an orchestra works unless you have quadruple winds screaming out in strong registers.  TFA is probably the most "natural" sounding Star Wars score, with what sounds like an uncluttered mic setup.  If you're used to classic film score recording techniques, it's jarring to hear the woodwinds in more or less untouched balance and perspective.  

 

I believe that's the reason why the opening chord sounds off to people.  

 

But what orchestra sounds as if every instrument is playing directly in your face, as TFA does? Yes, woodwinds of course disappear when things get loud, but what the TFA recording lacks is a sense of space in the orchestra. 

 

I suppose the Sony scoring stage is very dry and in that sense it is a more natural recording, but when you see people saying this sounds like a small orchestra, I think something has gone wrong. In any case I think something like the BFG (same orchestra and recording stage) sounds much more natural to me, even while that one is not a super wet recording, it sounds more like an orchestra would sound in a live setting (concert hall).

 

Anyway, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with TFA's recording, because sometimes I really do appreciate that everything is so clear, but I just don't think it always works. :)

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My appreciation of the dry recording is very dependent on my mood. Sometimes I love listening to TFA, other times it just grates (especially March of the Resistance). I often require moods for certain scores, depending on whether they're saccharine or brooding.

 

But yeah, he's recorded lots of other scores on that stage with wildly different mixes, so it was a very deliberate stylistic decision he made with Murphy and Abrams.

 

 

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For the opening chord, I believe it's things like the the high trumpet Bb and the cymbal crash that sound so close and overpowering that it drowns out the rest of the orchestra, thus suggesting that it is 'small'. If you'd get the sense that the cymbal crash actually comes somewhat from the back of the orchestra, and the trumpets a little further away to the right or left where they actually play, I believe it would actually have a more full sound. 

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I really don't mind the TFA mix—I think it fits the scaled-down instrumentation. It's the performances that bring that score down for me. MotR is just too slow (Lockhart's is much peppier). And Scherzo for X-Wings is incredibly uneven. Maybe it was the way different takes were edited, or it was necessary to fit the picture at the time, but the tempo shifts are so jarring. It's not just that it's slow, it gets slower and slower as it goes on.

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6 hours ago, Remco said:

 

But what orchestra sounds as if every instrument is playing directly in your face, as TFA does? Yes, woodwinds of course disappear when things get loud, but what the TFA recording lacks is a sense of space in the orchestra. 

 

I suppose the Sony scoring stage is very dry and in that sense it is a more natural recording, but when you see people saying this sounds like a small orchestra, I think something has gone wrong. In any case I think something like the BFG (same orchestra and recording stage) sounds much more natural to me, even while that one is not a super wet recording, it sounds more like an orchestra would sound in a live setting (concert hall).

 

Anyway, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with TFA's recording, because sometimes I really do appreciate that everything is so clear, but I just don't think it always works. :)

 

Sony is relatively dry and also quite shallow.  There isn't as much depth possible as in other spaces, and that lack of depth adds to the intimate feeling.  And, it's a very wide space despite not being deep, which emphasizes "in your face" even more.  

 

Obviously, recording and engineering techniques can make scores recorded there sound very different, but TFA to me sounds like it has bare bones mixing going on and is pretty faithful to the conductor's perspective - wide, with the winds a little buried, and the brass rather strident and upfront.  

 

But my ears aren't what they used to be. 

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20 hours ago, crumbs said:

I think JW realised the slow tempo really doesn't work for the piece, hence the radically faster performances ever since.

 

aviazn is right, and I think I've mentioned this in another thread - Scherzo for X-Wings gets slower from the beginning to end. That's not about tempo choices, it's just an uneven and not a very good performance. But when he conducts to the picture, it's still fine.

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