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Everything posted by Ludwig

  1. In this book, Emilio Audissino has written a chapter titled "John Williams and Contemporary Film Music", which discusses versatility as one of the composer's keys to success over the decades. After mentioning several musical styles with which even 1960s Williams was fluent in his film scores, he cites Stravinsky's famous quote: "lesser artists borrow; great artists steal". I found Audissino's dissection of this pithy comment most insightful: Succinctly put.
  2. I'm coming at it from a teaching perspective. Of all the film classes I've taught, there's only ever about one person in a room of about thirty twenty-somethings who's seen it. Of course older people count, but my point is that the song's impact now isn't nearly what it surely was then. And come on, film buffs are a rare breed these days. Fewer and fewer people care about movies as time goes by (pun intended).
  3. Thanks for clarifying! So what we really need is a new thread called Pre-Existing Source Music Turned into Themes (and Vice Versa)! I get your point on the music having to be composed for the film and agree there is a difference. What I will add is that over time, the kind of "baggage" intended to be brought in by viewers to pre-existing music changes. If there were a Gaga-filled soundtrack the way you mention, it would have massive pop-culture baggage right now, but what about 75 years from now? That's exactly how long it's been since Casablanca was released, and no one really knows "As Time Goes By" anymore except if they're a jazzhead (very rare these days) or if they know that film (also very rare). So it is possible for a pre-existing tune to have much the same effect as one written specifically for a film. Of course, there's still the fact that the musical notes won't have been written for that particular film, but that's another nuance. We can talk about cultural baggage and compositional specificity as different aspects of this kind of technique.
  4. Hey, I was joking! Look at all my exclamation marks! They make it funny! I don't mean much by it - that's just how I interpret it. When the music has nothing to do with what's going on, it seems to me like all they're doing is saying, "Hey, listen to this music! It's the world of Harry Potter! Think of Harry Potter whenever you hear it!" That's all. Maybe it's just meant to be funny, clever, or cute, but especially since it's the pop-culture behemoth that is Harry Potter, that's how I hear it. But that's just me. Back to the fruitcakes for a minute... Do you mean that a composer should have written the diegetic tune for this technique to have meaning? If so, is it because the tune didn't originate with a single person's conception of connecting the diegetic and non-diegetic together? Maybe you mean something else, but if it is the single-person idea, then isn't it usually someone other than the composer who's in charge of diegetic music - the music editor, director, producer? What I mean is, even if a composer wrote a tune that's used diegetically, it usually isn't up to he/she whether it appears as such. In that case, it wouldn't matter who wrote it, would it? To me, what's really interesting is what the composer does, knowing that a tune will appear in the diegesis. That's why I mention Casablanca. Despite Steiner despising the tune, it's striking what he did with it throughout the score. The wonderfully melodramatic version we hear in the train station scene when Rick reads Ilsa's letter is another good example.
  5. Only trying to keep things positive! I guess the ones I don't like are those like HP1 with Hagrid playing the theme. I groan when I hear this one because without a strong narrative connection, it just seems to me like blatant branding and marketing. By contrast, something like the use of the 5-note CE3K motif in Moonraker (which is not quite what you were asking for, but is along similar lines) has nothing but comedic aspriations: And since we're talking about comedic uses of the technique, here's one of the first I know to make such an effort, from Mel Brooks' High Anxiety: Tough bananas! You didn't make that clear in the OP! As Homer Simpson once said, you choose fruit, you live with fruit!
  6. @BloodBoal Don't forget the oldies! A great example of a theme migrating between diegetic and non-diegetic of all time is the use of "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca. There are two times in the movie that it happens, the first being when Rick and Ilsa first see each other again: The second time is when the song spurs Rick's flashback of Paris as the diegetic piano music blends into a swelling non-diegetic orchestral version: And of course the song is used throughout as Rick and Ilsa's non-diegetic love theme. So, you asked if we like this technique? For me, it depends on whether there's a strong reason to use it. In this particular case, it really gets us into the heads of Rick and Ilsa. In the first scene, since the song was "their song" back in Paris, hearing the song move from the diegetic to the non-diegetic realm at the moment they lock eyes communicates so effectively the bond that the song has created for the two of them. In the second scene, the blend from one realm to the other vividly suggests the gradual triggering of his memories associated with the music. There are plenty of examples of the technique in classical Hollywood movies. Usually, it's a main theme that was first heard non-diegetically (in most cases in the main title) that is used later on in a club scene, dance scene, or something similar. Waxman's A Place in the Sun (1951) comes to mind, where we see Montgomery Clift and Liz Taylor dancing to a waltz that has been their love theme. Raksin's Laura (1944) is another, where the famous theme, which is usually non-diegetic, appears diegetically on the radio. As I say, there are many others. But the reason for using the technique can vary. Williams' score for Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973) is perhaps the most unique use of music I've ever encountered in film because the title song constitutes the entirety of the score! This theme is usually heard diegetically (as is typical for this period in film) but makes some appearances non-diegetically as well. Overall, one gets the feeling of something inescapable, which is an appropriate expression of how Marlowe must feel throughout the film, though this being Altman, many more interpretations are certainly possible. But yes, look through the oldies especially and you'll find a wealth of examples!
  7. This is a collection of essays by nearly 20 authors, myself included. It covers a wide range of topics on Williams and I think for that reason will have a pretty broad appeal. I worked for nearly a year researching for my chapter because I studied the structure of his main themes and their associations, which of course required me to actually watch all of his movies that have an original main theme. Many thanks to Emilio for putting this all together and spearheading a much needed body of writings that focuses squarely on Williams' music.
  8. In honor of the upcoming E.T. release, I'll suggest the film's opening chord, a reduction of which shown in the box below. While this is a chord of only four different notes, I'd say it still qualifies as a sophisticated harmony. The top three notes of the box make up a major chord - there's certainly nothing special about that. But that major chord is pitted against a bass of C naturals, which are entirely foreign to the chord. In such a low register, these C naturals demand to be heard as something stable. In other words, even though it totally disagrees with the major chord above it, the fact that it's in the deep bass makes it sound like an eerie tonic, or home base if you will, rather than a dissonance. At the same time, the E.T. motif, which appears overtop the chord in the example, has already sounded once all alone and clearly makes A the tonic. So once the chord enters, we have a tug-of-war between two different tonics - A and C. The C is so unexpected that is sounds like it's literally "from another world" and the conflict brings an immediate sense of tension and mystery to the scene. Interestingly, the original score shows that the chord was to enter simultaneously with the second statement of the E.T. motif, where the melody would have agreed with the major chord. The soundtrack and film, however, have it enter three beats later, on the motif's second bar. What this does is adds even more of a clash in the harmony since the second bar gives us notes that are not part of the A major chord, but are from the A Lydian scale (Lydian scales are often used to depict wonder, magic, and otherworldly qualities in film). The overall effect is this wonderful concoction of innocence, otherworldliness, mystery, fear, and tension that draws us right into the film before we've even laid eyes on the aliens or their ship.
  9. In the article I link to above, Murphy draws on three intrinsic factors that make this progression between major chords a tritone apart (what he calls the "Major Tritone Progression", or MTTP, for short) sound so appropriate for outer-space films: - maximal distance (in fifths or even in semitones - what Sharky mentions above) - ambiguity - we can't tell if there are four or five scale steps between the chord roots (i.e., whether it's I-#IV or I-bV) - unfamiliarity - the difficulty of hearing the progression as tonal due to the #IV/bV ambiguity Of course, he also mentions classical precedents, especially Holst's The Planets, since it is explicitly about outer space, but also mentions just that later-20th-century films are simply recalling staples of 1950s sci-fi scores in a deliberate, nostalgic way. Murphy also seems to distinguish this progression from the minor-chord version. In his chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Film Music Studies, he states that the minor version... which nicely coincides with the Ark in Raiders and the Map in TFA. It has a similar feeling of something strange and eerie, perhaps, but the associations tend to differ.
  10. Scott Murphy has a great (and free!) article on this very progression: http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.06.12.2/mto.06.12.2.murphy.html Bear in mind, he's talking about two major chords a tritone apart (not minor as in the Ark theme and Map motif), but then your examples both have major chords as well. And tritone progressions with minor chords seem to have different associations than those with major chords. As I've noted before, Williams has a penchant for using parallel minor chords for mystery or evil. And maybe it works so well not just because minor chords are "dark" or "sad" or whatever negative thing you want to call them, but also because it's difficult for them to establish a tonal center on their own. They have to do so by a kind of insistence, by staying on the chord or stating it prominently in some way - like the opening of Duel of the Fates, for example. But when a minor chord is simply stated subtly and moved away from into some distantly-related parallel chord, our sense of the tonal center wavers, which conjures up either something that is difficult to understand (mysterious) or that is warped from the ideal (evil). In any case, it makes for a fantastic film music device.
  11. Gotcha - yes, that is a plausible line of thought!
  12. It's entirely possible. I just can't get past the eerieness of the harmony. Parallel minor chords are Williams' go-to for mystery or evil, and those are really opposite to BB8's bubbly personality. The Dune Sea originated with the temp track's placing of Stravinsky's Rite at that point, so I'd sooner think that the justification for it than an association with the droids.
  13. All true. It also depends on what the competition is that year. So I don't mean to imply that if a score lost, it was always because it wasn't nominated for picture or director. But for 2005, I think that is a big part of it. When I did those Oscar prediction posts, I looked through the past 10 years of nominees for Best Original Score, and in almost every single case, there was a nomination for picture and/or director. Maybe there was a feeling in 2005 that he'd won enough. Even so, if he scored a film that was hot with Oscar nominations, that feeling probably wouldn't work against him. And he hasn't really scored any such films I suppose since Schindler, has he?
  14. My thinking is that Williams lost with Geisha because the film was perceived as sub-par by the academy. The four films for which Williams won an Oscar for an original score were all nominated for Best Picture (yes, that means Star Wars was), and all but Jaws were nominated for Best Director as well (and yes, that means Lucas for Star Wars too!). Clearly, the academy liked these films. Geisha, however, wasn't nominated for either Best Picture or Director, whereas Brokeback was nominated for both. So, while Geisha had a great score, it seems the academy has trouble voting for a score associated with a film they don't consider top-notch. I would also say this is why Williams probably had no real shot with TFA either, strong as the score was in many ways. As for the double nomination effect, I used to think this played a role but now I think it's a fallacy. I thought this would have an impact a few years ago, when Desplat was nominated for both Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game, but I was wrong. This assumes that some academy members would have a kind of allegiance to Desplat and would be hard pressed to decide between the two. But I think what is more to the point is the perception of the film by the academy, the (to some degree subjective) strength of the score in the film, and other peripheral factors, like for example knowing that The Hateful Eight was probably Morricone's last chance to win an Oscar he should have won several times in the past. I haven't done my Oscar prediction blog posts for a few years (due to time constraints), but if I were still doing them, I would no longer consider double nominations any kind of strike against a composer.
  15. Yes, I thought about that and it's certainly possible. I suppose I went only with the map as the association because of a few subtleties in the way the motif is used. The opening version we hear is not quite the same motif - it goes up instead of down. One could say that's trivial, but I think up vs. down is an important distinction when recognizing a motif. It's true that this motif is based more on harmony than melody, but there is still a sense of contour that is preserved with its other statements. The other thing is that BB8 may have a couple of other related motifs. The first is one we hear when BB8 is asking to come with Rey, then later when he is about to and actually joins his piece of the map with R2's - this seems to be the very same music for a short stretch. You'll notice that what we're calling the map motif is in these places sandwiched between this other music that may be a motif for BB8. Musically, the characteristic bit is a rising fourth (like the first two notes of the Force theme, for example). This sandwiched map motif makes more sense in the later scene, when the map is about to be shown, but here it seems out of place, which makes me wonder if it was first composed for the later scene then copied to the earlier one. There is also a related and recurring bit of music when Rey refuses to sell BB8 and when she later tells BB8 that Finn is with the Resistance (just after evading the TIE fighters). This also has a rising fourth but is followed by a stepwise falling line instead of a leap down, so it doesn't sound the same, but could perhaps be related. I find it fascinating/strange/frustrating that there are these half-associated, subtly used bits of music in this film and in the prequels (ROTS being the richest in this respect, as the "obscure motifs" thread would seem to prove). It's such a different approach from the OT!
  16. Hi all, I've now completed a blog post analyzing the musical meaning of the themes from The Force Awakens. http://www.filmmusicnotes.com/themes-and-their-musical-meaning-in-star-wars-episode-vii-the-force-awakens/ Enjoy!
  17. You're not the only one - I was out of the loop too until this thread. You have to listen really hard behind the dialogue in the film because it hasn't been released anywhere. Here's the audio from the scene: In its harmony and somewhat its melody, it reminds me of the Grail theme from The Last Crusade, which makes sense - both deal with the notion of an old legend.
  18. I think this belongs in the homage/plagiarism thread since it sounds so much like the 20th-Century Fox fanfare. Williams must have heard it and thought it a perfect "conspiracy" motif.
  19. To all those interested in my blog, Film Music Notes, I've written a short note of explanation as to why I've been away from it the last year and half, and that I now intend to return more regularly: http://www.filmmusicnotes.com/return-of-the-junkie-the-blog-awakens/ Cheers!
  20. I agree that this is a different theme. I call this the Tatooine motif because it is first heard as we see the planet and as the crew mentions its name. It then reappears as the crew is first making its way onto the surface. Yes, it's the same as unknown 1 in Arrival at Tatooine, but all of the other citations I would say are definitely not the same. Most of them are uses of what Sharky has long identified in Williams' writing as the Hungarian minor scale, particularly outlining its most characteristic notes - scale degrees 1, b6, and #4. He uses it all over the place in his scores to denote evil or mystery. Other citations in the list have a similar short-long-long rhythm but are very different in intervals and harmony. You mean Fal's "Discussion and Confrontation motif". Yes, this is the theme that was discussed earlier in the thread that doesn't seem to have a strong association. I call this the "Rebel Victory" theme because it first appears as Han shoots the sarlaac's arm off of Lando, turning the tide there, and reappears near the end of the film as the Death Star explodes, but in a shorter and faster guise. Compare:
  21. I would say that short motifs don't have the same sense of completion, but then that can be exploited as a resource in itself in that short motifs can be strung together to form themes that have a sort of endless quality to them. And to my mind, the master of this type of theme was Bernard Herrmann. His main themes for the trio of Hitchcock films, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho all draw on the short motif to compose a longer theme, and they've become some of the most prominent scores in film history, particularly their main themes. That Herrmann avoided broader melodies was something he was acutely aware of - I love this quote from an interview with him in 1976: Of course he did write broader eight- or sixteen-bar tunes, one of the most celebrated being that for the breakfast montage in Citizen Kane: But on the whole, Herrmann's best-known themes are those composed of strings of short motifs, and I think they serve Hitchcock's goal of creating suspense much better than any long-lined melody could have since, as in the films' narratives themselves, we don't know if or when the continual buildup will be released.
  22. This feeling of inevitability in many of his themes is, to me, one of Williams' greatest qualities as a composer. One thing that he does regularly in his writing of themes that isn't so common in others' is the variation of a short opening idea across the rest of the theme, which gives the theme a sense of a narrative like you mentioned, with a beginning, middle, and end. Not only this, but combined with Williams' inimitable coordination of so many musical parameters, the theme starts to take on a feeling of inevitability. You mentioned the Force Theme - I couldn't have picked a better example. Most long-lined themes break down into two halves, a sort of beginning and end, or statement and response. And these halves (especially the first) usually break down into two shorter ideas something like this: 1st Half | 2nd Half Idea 1 Idea 2 | Idea 3 Idea 4 Like many of Williams' themes, the Force Theme has four short ideas. The first sets the mood of a slow, arduous struggle mixed with a tinge of militarism but also forlornness that suggests the whole struggle is unlikely to succeed. The second idea begins like the first, but moves more quickly through the same first four notes before attempting to reach up higher, only to be cut down a notch and fall back by a note - the struggle, it seems, moves two steps forward and one step backward. This relationship between the ideas, I think, creates an appealing sort of musical narrative, as though we are hearing the same character undergo trials and tribulations. The third idea once again begins with the same four notes as the first, but this time reaches a powerful climax, as though the character has reached a pivotal moment that will decide matters. And the fourth idea, again like many of Williams' themes, gives way to something new, suggesting a kind of conclusion for the character. The theme's two halves also map neatly onto narrative-like parts of introduction + conflict, then climax + conclusion, which is not unique to the Force Theme, but when combined with everything else, tends to give it this gravitas that adds so much depth to its surface meaning of depicting the Force and the Jedi. The constant reshaping of a single idea throughout a theme, though, is something that I believe taps into something deeply emotional and psychological - it seems hard-wired into our systems for understanding meaning, which may partly be why audiences like ourselves can feel that so many of Williams' themes have this inevitable quality. E.T. is another one that has the same structure as the Force Theme of an initial idea, two variations on it, and a different closing idea. And many of us feel just as strongly about that one than we do the Force Theme. Though there are definitely other factors at work as well, I think the constant-development kind of structure is fundamental to both of these themes' meaning, whatever we might interpret that to be.
  23. I like the rising tritones in this one:
  24. These examples move away from the "sublime" that TGP is getting at, but what the hell. They're both whoppers of first-inversion major chords like the others in this thread. Here is what may well be the most explosive first-inversion chord in history - from Beethoven's Ninth (wait for it): And here is certainly the most inconclusive - the final chord of Puccini's Madame Butterfly:
  25. Good call - I agree. It's strange, though, that he calls it Vader's theme when it doesn't occur with his big entrance and when it does occur with him onscreen, it's usually pretty subdued. Perhaps he thought the motif better suited to underscore than big presentations, especially since he seems to associate it with softer, muted sounds as he says in the notes. And that's probably why (in addition to Vader's larger role in the film, as he has said) he felt the need to write Vader a new theme for the sequel - thank goodness!
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