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Why does the Star Wars music sound so... Spacey?


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I find that it's because John Williams uses the sounds of the instruments and even the substance the instruments are made out of to make the sounds.

Think of the fane fare to star wars... its the brass section.

What is space... cold...

what is metal... cold...

what are space ships made out of... metal

what are brass instruments made out of... metal

Then you have Tatooine... the winds tend to take over... I just imagine that as being the perfect sounds because not only is it quirky like the droids/jawas, it's also how organic in it's breathing...

Think ofROTJ... the Ewoks have a very very organic sound to their music... even the battle music has that organic touch... strings, basoons, drums, wood instruments...

Also, star wars theme is very sharp... which is another way to think of space... hostile, sharp, cold...

THat's how I think about it at least.

Not to mention the temp track was Holst's the Planets... so there's some continuity between that.

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Also, star wars theme is very sharp... which is another way to think of space... hostile, sharp, cold...

...and at the same time, Williams manages to make the audience feel so welcome and comfortable.

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aha, a discusssion about music Aesthetics:). why does star wars sound spacey? or superman heroic? or tatooine deserty? or even now, why harry potter sounds magical?

its called ASSOCIATION. the idea is that we grow up listening to these types of music. by tradition, the celeste has become a magical instrument sound and so when we hear hedwig's theme we immediately associate magical. likewise, we have heard a loud raucous brassy theme over and over in movies, from the days of looney tunes when we were children until our present day, teens/adults/seniors. why do we love tonality? again association.

schoenberg discusses this concept, when he was formulating his idea of the emancipation of dissonance. i believe he said, it could be possible to make the dissonance become a consonance and the consonance become a dissonance. howver i disagree somewhat since tonality does have some linking to the overtone series. but i do agree with him that it is what you listen that cultures you to expect certain things. remember stravinsky? rite of spring was the devil because no one had heard sometihng like that before. even in haydn's day in the surprise symphony, that sudden forte was enough to make people surprised because it wasn't commonly done. nowadays, when we listen to bartok, we expect random loud snap pizzicatos because we've grown accustomed to it. or another example, eastern european music. wow does it annoy my ears. the nasal e sounds they love using, and the strange scales. but eastern europeans love it. or opera (both western and peking) which annoys peopel who dont listen to it.

so back to the initial point, the reason john wiliams music sounds adventurous for indy is because we've come to expect that type of sound since korngold did robin hood. or celeste and harp for magicality when tchaikovsky did the nutcracker.

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Actually, Star Wars is one of the least "spacey" sounding scores of any movie in the Sci-Fi genre. No long extended atmospheric sounds, no cacophonous clusters, no whole tone, no electric or computer generated timbres... just a standard symphony orchestra playing early 20th century style symphonic music. If the Star Wars movies had never been made {shudders}, and Williams released a CD of this music, very few would think it was inspired by outer space (well maybe the part that copies Holst's "Mars").

With that said however, there are some things Williams does from a strictly harmonic standpoint that help give it that sound. One of them is the progression of parallel major chords that jump around by minor 3rd. Example: G major chord, up to a Bb major chord, up to a Db major chord, etc. This parallel movement of major chords gives a very foreign sound, very "out of this world". It's also exrtremely powerful and heightens the battle scenes.

For more atmospheric sounds, Williams might use a major triad with an added augmented 5th (C E G G#). This is the chord that takes place in Episiode IV immediately after the overture. It gives a very ethereal sound. Think, opening of Ravel's "Ondine", but not quite as obvious. (There's a lot of Ravel in JW).

There's a lot more to it than harmony (instrumentation, rhythm etc) but I think its the biggest reason.

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Actually, Star Wars is one of the least "spacey" sounding scores of any movie in the Sci-Fi genre. No long extended atmospheric sounds, no cacophonous clusters, no whole tone, no electric or computer generated timbresMars").  

Only one man can make orchestral brass sound like a literal jump to lightspeed :) . He has a way of making non-associated with sci-fi instruments sound like music for the imagination of space. Take the wonderful strings that accompany the pod escape of R2D2 and C3P0 in ANH. Not a synth or cold singular note in sight, Williams raises the strings to a peak to create the sensation of falling through a vast and beautiful space. A perfect example imo.

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I find that it's because John Williams uses the sounds of the instruments and even the substance the instruments are made out of to make the sounds.

Think of the fane fare to star wars... its the brass section.

What is space... cold...

what is metal... cold...

what are space ships made out of... metal

what are brass instruments made out of... metal

Then you have Tatooine... the winds tend to take over... I just imagine that as being the perfect sounds because not only is it quirky like the droids/jawas, it's also how organic in it's breathing...

Think ofROTJ... the Ewoks have a very very organic sound to their music... even the battle music has that organic touch... strings, basoons, drums, wood instruments...

Also, star wars theme is very sharp... which is another way to think of space... hostile, sharp, cold...

THat's how I think about it at least.

Not to mention the temp track was Holst's the Planets... so there's some continuity between that.

Actually, Star Wars is one of the least "spacey" sounding scores of any movie in the Sci-Fi genre. No long extended atmospheric sounds, no cacophonous clusters, no whole tone, no electric or computer generated timbres... just a standard symphony orchestra playing early 20th century style symphonic music. If the Star Wars movies had never been made {shudders}, and Williams released a CD of this music, very few would think it was inspired by outer space (well maybe the part that copies Holst's "Mars").  

With that said however, there are some things Williams does from a strictly harmonic standpoint that help give it that sound. One of them is the progression of parallel major chords that jump around by minor 3rd. Example: G major chord, up to a Bb major chord, up to a Db major chord, etc. This parallel movement of major chords gives a very foreign sound, very "out of this world". It's also exrtremely powerful and heightens the battle scenes.

For more atmospheric sounds, Williams might use a major triad with an added augmented 5th (C E G G#). This is the chord that takes place in Episiode IV immediately after the overture. It gives a very ethereal sound. Think, opening of Ravel's "Ondine", but not quite as obvious. (There's a lot of Ravel in JW).

There's a lot more to it than harmony (instrumentation, rhythm etc) but I think its the biggest reason.

Hmmmmmmm.....I think I'll go with 'magic'. :) LOL

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What is space... cold...

what is metal... cold...

That's surely why cold metal saxophones have been so often associated with "steamy hot" movies. :)

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Good points, Eric and Goodmusician! Williams' evocative powers do stem from a great understanding of music's relation to reality, or rather, our perception of art, which no matter how abstract, will involve a process of association. And at its deepest, most basic level, it goes far beyond cutural connotations.

If we take "Star Wars", I think perhaps the most archaic image that is conjured up by the music, is that of SPACE itself: The first sound we hear, is a gigantic Bb major chord, with Bb's stated throughout the entire range (space) of the orchestra. The addition of "twinkling" from triangle and tremolo violins, gives a specificity to the image: We have the stars of OUTER SPACE to go with our original connotation. Now, there's more to Williams' imagery than mere (extra-)geography. Once the thematic material's presented, we're being told clearly that we are watching something grand,something epic, something heroic: The broad intervals of Luke's theme, the orchestration, the kinetic thrust and propulsion of the orchestra,the soaring lyricism of the secondary phrase of the theme; These are ( western) musical icons of adventure: We have the hero's quest, the excitement (and possible danger) of the journey ahead, and even a strong presence of masculinity (main fanfare) and femininity (second half of theme).

Williams has the happy habit of always being very specific and very broadly universal at the same time in his musical depictions. A theme of his can be said to truly embody both the qualities of a single character and the broader narrative. Luke's theme is both a great musical incarnation of the character's noble disposition and struggle ahead, and the optimism of the entire saga. Darth Vader's theme is simultaneously a marvellous martial depiction of a sinister conqueror empire, and the tragic fall of one man.

Perhaps 'magic' should suffice...

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Why does the Raiders theme sound like music for a fun but ridiculously lucky hero?

Why does the Superman march sound like music for superhero style rescues?

Why?

I'd add: "Why the Jaws theme sounds like you're about to get horribly attacked and mutilated by a shark?".

Because John Williams can do it. :)

That's what puts him on an level inarrivable for anyone else.

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For more atmospheric sounds, Williams might use a major triad with an added augmented 5th (C E G G#). This is the chord that takes place in Episiode IV immediately after the overture. It gives a very ethereal sound. Think, opening of Ravel's "Ondine", but not quite as obvious. (There's a lot of Ravel in JW).

Here's another Ravel-esque moment in Star Wars. Not the atmospheric type, but the big brassy fanfare. It's very very brief, but you can hear some similarities in orchestration and that emphasis of the augmented 5th.

The return to main theme of Star Wars in Phantom Menace (immediately after Augie's Municipal Band): http://hometown.aol.com/Orlandopiano/star+wars+1.wav

The ending bars of Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand: http://hometown.aol.com/Orlandopiano/ravel+lh+conc.mp3

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Indeed there is. I recommend Bordwell, Uhlmann, and, of course, Deleuze.

And it's every bit as much a social process as it is a "psychological" one.

Ted

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I dont think Star Wars sounds spacey either,but I think Williams has made a distict Star Wars sound compared to his other scores by favouring certain instruments.SW doesnt exactly sound like Indy music or Harry Potter music.Or maybe its the instruments he doesnt use in Star Wars,like the piano,that make it sound Star Wars

To me a spacey score would be Alien or something like that

k.M.

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There's nothing anyway that for me correlate any sound to "spacey". I've never heard anything that sound spacey for me. Especially not a very conservative score that relates to the classical romantism era like Star Wars.

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