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Comparing Williams' Style to Today's Modern Composers


ComposerEthan
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Hey, so I'm not sure if this has been up on the site before, but I wanted to start something about comparing Williams' composing style (both concert and film) to other modern composers (Shore, Zimmer and his clones, Elfman, Silvestri, Howard, etc). I want to start this because I started a Film Club at my school, and I have some friends I'm introducing to the glory of film score (and Williams for that matter), and I wanted a good way (both layman and theory oriented) to explain them certain aspects.

I am not trained in theory at all, and I'm just a young, teenage enthusiast of film scores, so I can't really explain the musical complexity (or lack there of) of film composers now a days. In fact, this whole discussion about what is better for film, what is better composing (for that matter) and who is better/has a better style and sound is a big debate amongst me and my musical/film friends.

I just want some discussion and input from film score fans!

The only thing I could come up with by comparing Williams to Zimmer clones is that Zimmer doesn't really develop this themes in his score (appearing in the same form in his soundtrack so that it seems very "tracked") and Zimmer is very liberal with his themes (Like why does The Black Pearl theme play when Will gets whipped? Is there symbolism? Or is it there to just sound cool?)

So discuss and comment away! Anything is very appreciated!

Also, just want to add, at one point I even said "Zimmer just uses repeating strings and low ostinatos behind a theme and repeats it over and over." I now know, that many composers do this, so I'm looking for a better way to word comparisons between Williams and other composers?

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I have some music theory under my belt (music composition minor...so not much), but most of my understanding of music and sound comes from a mathematical and technical background, which is way more hefty. So here's everything explained as simply (sacrificing some level of precision) as I can. Music students can probably correct some of the below with more musical definitions or complex but precise information.

0th what makes John Williams unique in comparison to modern composers is his greater level of entropy (unpredictability, newness to the listener's) and complexity (lots of different elements/bits and pieces).

For the sake of simplicity, we'll wrap all of that into one term: complexity. Nice every day language anyone can get.

1st, perceived complexity and actual complexity aren't necessarily always one and the same. Nor does complexity necessarily mean better. So you can't really go out and argue "John Williams is better because his music is more complex."

Some toast with pepper, salt, citric acid salt, hot sauce, butter, bacon, cheese, ketchup, pineapple, tomatoes, sugar, and orange peels is far more complex than some toast with butter. But one is obviously more delicious than the other. At the same time, there are wonderfully complex gourmet dishes that you may consider superior to basic toast and butter. Different situations call for different techniques. The cool part about John Williams is he can do both. Whereas a lot of modern composers can only serve up toast and butter, not because they have choice, but because they lack the skills to create a complex gourmet meal.

John Williams then can cook up complex gourmet meals, as well as butter and toast.

Keeping all that in mind:

The following are mathematically measurable/quantifiable ways in which Williams' works are generally renowned for being more complex.

Dynamics

John William's music tends to have greater range in "volume." That is, a track of John Williams tends to have a wider range of loudness and quietness than most of the works of modern composers. He can go very quiet and relaxing maybe amp it up a little bit and blow your ears out. And back again, all in one track.

Timbre

The net sound signature of the piece. The texture if you will. Timbre is the reason you can tell the difference between two different instruments playing the same exact same notes. At its core, timbre is the shape of the frequency spectrum of a sound (remember sound is nothing more than waves). Williams' music, by virtue of using a diverse set of instruments, not only in the entire score, but variation in use of these instruments within a single track, has more timbral complexity than his modern counterparts.

Not only does he use a diverse set of instruments, but he has incredible grasp over techniques that can be used with each of these instruments. This allows him to explore a variety of timbral qualities within each individual instrument, expanding his "timbral arsenal."

Rhythm

A track of William's music varies more in rhythm and tempo than modern composers. His music speeds up, slows down, the pattern of rhythms change, all within a minute...or sometimes even seconds. Most tracks of modern composers tend to have constant tempos and unchanging time signatures from beginning to end.

Melody/Harmony

A melody is a succession of notes. We often associate melodies with themes. Harmony is simultaneous notes played together (aka chords). Combine the two and you get a lot of the magic of music. A track of John Williams' music tends to have greater melodic complexity, that is his melodies tend to either have a great number of notes, or may exhibit greater unpredictability. His harmonic language also tends to be more complex, that is he employs more diverse harmonies than the common, fashionable ones employed by a lot of modern composers, and again, his chord progressions tend to exhibit greater unpredictability than his modern counterparts.

And what we mean by unpredictability is usually familiarity or lack there of. While a lot of lower composers tend to rely on fashionable or commonly accepted techniques in their music, that is, when you listen you can predict what will happen next, or the music seems familiar, John Williams tends to explore techniques that may not necessarily be seeing common usage. So his music can seem more unpredictable.

Granted, unpredictability is a function of your familiarity in *some* cases. In others, the amount of variation in all of the above parts of his music tend to make his music also more unpredictable. The more variation there is, the less likely you as a listener will be able to predict what is going to happen, regardless of your familiarity with each individual element, unless of course you become familiar with his patterns (or what we call style).

And then you come to JWFan and bitch about how all his music sounds predictable and boring. ;)

Music theorists, feel free to correct any erroneous information above. And I'm sure others can speak more about the fuzzy touchy feel stuff.

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And then you come to JWFan and bitch about how all his music sounds predictable and boring. ;)

Was that directed at me? I hope I didn't come across as meaning that in the slightest. I absolutely adore John Williams, and he is the best composer that I have ever heard (in my opinion, I enjoy his music more than composers of the Classical, Baroque, etc period, because I find it a bit boring).

Other than that, I agree with everything you said! You worded it better than anything I ever could have. I would also add that Williams' score is very incidental, in that it's very specific to the scene.

For example, when analyzing his songs on the OST, it would be motif, incidental music, incidental music, motif, motif, and so on. Modern Composers (Zimmer especially) set their songs on their OST up for tracking (and just common use for that matter), as their songs are just theme after motif after motif, with no scene specific music (Wheel of Fortune from Dead Man's Chest for example, is basically He's A Pirate and Jack Sparrow over and over again).

Zimmer and his clones' music can be used by fans in their own youtube films, but Williams' score is very hard to use, for, like you said, the varying tempos, time signatures, and complexity shows that it can't be used in its entirety.

Forgive my wording, as I can be very..hard to understand.

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Was that directed at me? I hope I didn't come across as meaning that in the slightest. I absolutely adore John Williams, and he is the best composer that I have ever heard (in my opinion, I enjoy his music more than composers of the Classical, Baroque, etc period, because I find it a bit boring).

No no no! Not at all. It was a joke at the complainy nature of our forums. Myself included.

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Ah, I see. Yeah, I found that on this forum quite a bit. I felt bad for the Maestro. :(

Do you have any info on Goldsmith's style?

I've heard of him and have heard that he is better than Williams (using his films and his Music For Orchestra against Williams).

I wish I could say more, but I'm too young to have seen ANY of Goldsmith's films, and as a result, have not felt a need to listen to him.

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I'm too young to have seen ANY of Goldsmith's films, and as a result, have not felt a need to listen to him.

You were not born in 2002!?

1995 actually, but 2002, I was in 3rd grade? I wasn't exposed to any Goldsmith films in my youth either and have only heard names in passing (like Air Force One, Rambo) and I grew up very sheltered as well. Hell, even my Williams' scores are very limited. I was only introduced to him because my parents are huge Star Wars fans. After that, it all cascaded to today, lol.

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While it could be interesting to analyze Williams' style in and of itself, it wouldn't be much point in comparing it to "modern film music" (sic), which is such a huge category that it includes basically EVERYTHING. You need far more specification. You mention Shore, Silvestri, Elfman, Zimmer, JHN above, but all of those are very different composers with their own unique style, so they can't simply be lumped together as one single entity in a stylistic discussion.

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While it could be interesting to analyze Williams' style in and of itself, it wouldn't be much point in comparing it to "modern film music" (sic), which is such a huge category that it includes basically EVERYTHING. You need far more specification. You mention Shore, Silvestri, Elfman, Zimmer, JHN above, but all of those are very different composers with their own unique style, so they can't simply be lumped together as one single entity in a stylistic discussion.

Yes I agree, but if anyone can also analyze their style as well (not as much as Williams, as he is the focus here), because there are times when I'll be watching a movie (or just listening to a score) by the above composers and my friend would say "Woah! Sounds like John Williams".

But yes, it would be awesome if someone could analyze Williams' style on its own. I vaguely remember that there once used to be a section on that on his Wikipedia article, but it was taken down since it seemed "too much like an essay". Shame.

Its crazy to me to think that someone here was born after Jurassic Park.

Right? I feel special. :D

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I'm too young to have seen ANY of Goldsmith's films, and as a result, have not felt a need to listen to him.

They don't sell Blu-Ray, DVD, or VHS in your neck of the woods?

Wait. With that avatar, I thought we were arguing with indy4. Carry on.

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Just to add to Blumenkohl’s excellent list above…

To me, the best way to describe JW style in contrast to other working composers is JW is more nuanced. What I mean by this is his style shows subtle shades of feeling and tone that demonstrate a master at home in their element. You don’t see this level of skill with anyone else today. That doesn’t mean you don’t sometimes hear great music from others – just it lacks a distinctive refined sensibility that you can guarantee will be in a JW score. The truth is most people don't care if something is of high quality or just louder.

As an example, a typical Zimmer (and clones…) chord progression will be I – VI- III-VII. This will be for pretty much any film produced from that factory. For JW, you’ll get a much richer tapestry of I - v7sus4 – I – flat III – flat IV – Lydian II. I also think the dramatic treatment not only differs vastly from project to project (compare Warhorse to Tintin for a great example of how unique the result is to the project) but also within the arch of the story itself. At the start, JW might use a simple harmonic vocabulary to allow for greater exploration later in the film as the drama escalates. This is much like how a classical composer would explore the harmonic possibilities of a theme in the development section of a sonata. Sort of pushing and pulling at the material until it breaks or emergences transformed. This is sophisticated stuff. I don’t think anyone else does this today.

Another imporant distinction is JW is a very patient, diligent worker in his musical material. I'm certain for any of his scores, he worked to really flush out the possibilities of the material before working on the score. Zimmer, in contrast, just has the feel of being a product...it is rushed and mass produced. It is an idea just not flushed out but already handed off to co-composers and arrangers.

This can be summed up by saying Zimmer and clones have a rather limited "bag of tricks" that gets reused across projects.

Zimmer and clones: Need to escalate the drama? Increase the volume.

Need more drama? Modulate up a half step.

Need more drama? Add 6 more horns to the melody

...and repeat this until the desired intensity level has been achieved.

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It's crazy to me to think that someone here was born after Star Wars.

Indeed. I snuck in just before it myself - May 2nd 1977 ;)

And I was born in November that year!

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I had a weird moment last night when I realized the opening scenes of War Horse (which according to the CD track titles take place in 1912) take place literally 100 years ago

World War I started almost a hundred years ago....

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I had a weird moment last night when I realized the opening scenes of War Horse (which according to the CD track titles take place in 1912) take place literally 100 years ago

World War I started almost a hundred years ago....

Heh...remember when World War II was basically half a century ago for us?

Star Wars will be there in about 15 more years. Just let that soak in for a few seconds. In 15 years we will be talking about Star Wars in the same time context we were talking about World War II when we were in school.

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Williams and Spielberg started working together 40 years ago. That's a lot of time as well, if you think about it. Spielberg was something like 25-26 back then!

EDIT: Well, almost 40. ;)

Karol

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Well it's not that I'm ignorant, I've just never seen Alien, Air Force One, or any films Goldsmith has done (my parents never showed me any, or we never had any around the house) so that's why I've never been drawn to Goldsmith. Williams, however, has been in my household since...forever, so I automatically felt a need to research him and listen more!

Anyone care to describe Goldsmith (and the others out there, besides Zimmer clones) for me?

Also, am I the youngest in the website? It makes me feel a little (forgive me)..nerdy for being here.

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Well it's not that I'm ignorant, I've just never seen Alien, Air Force One, or any films Goldsmith has done (my parents never showed me any, or we never had any around the house) so that's why I've never been drawn to Goldsmith. Williams, however, has been in my household since...forever, so I automatically felt a need to research him and listen more!

Anyone care to describe Goldsmith (and the others out there, besides Zimmer clones) for me?

Also, am I the youngest in the website? It makes me feel a little (forgive me)..nerdy for being here.

Goldsmith is a great composer, no doubt about it. I think he's more experimental (Chinatown, Planet of the Apes, Alien, and Logan’s Run) than JW, but JW tapped into the popular consciousness more and this is probably because he had so many hits - one after another - with Lucas and Spielberg. Goldsmith composed more movies so the inevitable result is the output was uneven (sometimes it feels like he just phoned it in...especially in the late 1980's and 1990's). Since Goldsmith was fond of the cutting edge, he was an early adopter of many techniques that would become influencial but these now seem dated. Think 1980's synthesizers. I find "Not without my daughter" to be atrocious! When he's good, he's damn good. At his best, he really put a lot of thought into the music - he was an intellectual composer. His score to Patton was brilliant because of how well it fit the subtext of the complex character. I would describe him as a mixture of 1960’s avant garde experimentalism, jazz influence, some mixture of Prokofiev (thorny harmonies), plus melodic development – some really wonderful tunes in there. He, like JW, was a craftsman and an intellectual with refined sensibilities. I think he had a lot in common with Herrmann stylistically.

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Yikes, I'm a bit younger than I thought in terms of this community.

Anyone care to describe Goldsmith (and the others out there, besides Zimmer clones) for me?

Not sure if I can really describe his style as he's explored quite multiple stylistic directions in his vast career, but he is definitely an amazing composer. Goldsmith was a great experimentalist. His orchestral epics are stunning, and as the latter part of his career went on, he experimented a lot with synthetics to create some truly unique scores (Legend, Hoosiers, etc.). He also had a tendency to score terrible films in great portion of his career, but he is well known for always elevating those terrible films in quality with his music. I would never really place him above Williams (still think Williams is the better composer) but he is a worthy rival and you must delve into his works if you wish to pursue film scoring. A few of his bigger scores that are good places to start:

- The Wind and the Lion

- The Omen I

- Omen III: Final Conflict

- Lionheart

- Star Trek: The Motion Picture

- Under Fire

- Mulan

- Patton

- Poltergeist

- Legend

- Rudy

- The Ghost and the Darkness

- Rambo scores

- etc.

Also, am I the youngest in the website? It makes me feel a little (forgive me)..nerdy for being here.

I think you are the youngest one here, but that doesn't matter much. I'm pretty young too it seems, compared to others here. :P

But really, collecting film music is an awesome hobby take up as a teenager. So stay and continue.

By the way, I've heard your work that you've posted here. Love it. Keep up the great music Ethan (thats your name, right?). :D

- KK

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Yes, that's my name! How old are you? :P

And thanks! It really means a lot! I'm currently working on a cue similar to the Pursuit of The Falcon and the Basket Game for a scene..that is well..similar to the Pursuit of the Falcon and the Basket Game. LOL.

And I'll definitely check out those scores. I'm a little scared to break out of my Williams bubble though.

How about Silvestri and Newton-Howard?

I enjoy Silvestri, but I think he overuses the "theme" too much (BTTF and G.I Joe).

Newton-Howard (the only score I've heard of him is Atlantis, Green Lantern, and Salt) was okay for me..but it seems his recent scores are..Zimmer-ish? Sorry, I just tend to think that everything that has "repetitive" string ostinati and brass "fanfares" is very Zimmer like.

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Minimalistic? Do explain. Remember spare no expense in elaboration your thoughts on styles, etc.

Not that I'm ignorant, I'm just..very sheltered and have very few un-Williams scores under my belt.

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Newton-Howard (the only score I've heard of him is Atlantis, Green Lantern, and Salt) was okay for me..but it seems his recent scores are..Zimmer-ish? Sorry, I just tend to think that everything that has "repetitive" string ostinati and brass "fanfares" is very Zimmer like.

James Newton Howard has been picking up a lot of Zimmer's tendencies over the last few years. His earlier scores from the 90s and early-ish 2000s (I'd say the cut-off point is probably Water Horse) are more individualistic.

Minimalism is a technique where a composer starts with an idea, and then slowly makes little changes or additions, usually eventually creating something significantly different. The "minimal" refers to how small the individual changes are. Philip Glass is probably the most famous minimalist composer, although he's far from the only one. In fact, John Williams has written several minimalistic cues, especially recently.

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Yes, that's my name! How old are you? :P

Some secrets are best left untold.... :whistle:;)

And thanks! It really means a lot! I'm currently working on a cue similar to the Pursuit of The Falcon and the Basket Game for a scene..that is well..similar to the Pursuit of the Falcon and the Basket Game. LOL.

Don't forget to share your work! By the way, if you're really interested, you should try and join a little event I run called the composers challenge. Here is the blog:

www.composerschallenge.wordpress.com

Its basically a challenge that happens every once in a while where pariticipants are given a clip of film that they are supposed to score to. Their entries are then submitted to a panel of judges that offer critical feedback along with ratings. The clips are then open for public voting and a winner is decided. We've had 5 successful challenges so far. In fact, the 5th challenge is undergoing the judging process at the moment (the clips will be open for public voting on this Friday) so you can't really join this one. But I'll let you know when the 6th one starts, if you're interested. You should join.

And I'll definitely check out those scores. I'm a little scared to break out of my Williams bubble though. How about Silvestri and Newton-Howard? I enjoy Silvestri, but I think he overuses the "theme" too much (BTTF and G.I Joe). Newton-Howard (the only score I've heard of him is Atlantis, Green Lantern, and Salt) was okay for me..but it seems his recent scores are..Zimmer-ish? Sorry, I just tend to think that everything that has "repetitive" string ostinati and brass "fanfares" is very Zimmer like.

James Newton Howard is a very talented young composer who has offered great scores. Its just when he's off the mark, he can really be off (as with scores like Green Lantern, Michael Clayton and Salt). He has some Zimmer-ish sounds, but his style is more of the intimate piano and string melodies although his fantasy sound can be quite expansive. Here are some recommendations:

JNH Fantasy Scores:

- The Last Airbender (a powerhouse of 2010!)

- Lady in the Water (absolutely beautiful)

- Atlantis (I hope you really enjoyed this one, its a great score!)

- Treasure Planet

His drama works are also great. He often collaborates with M. Night Shyamaln and while he produces horrid films (with the exception of the Sixth Sense), the scores that he offers for the director just gets better and better. JNH's scores from the 90s are also quite good. The composer is very diverse in his talents and quite versatile. Now here are some more great JNH scores you should obtain:

- The Village (a suspense score with absolutely gorgeous violin solos)

- Defiance (a score of great depth and gravity with the touch Joshua Bell's violin)

- Blood Diamond (this is pretty MV/RC or Zimmer-ish in ways, but it is a beautiful score for the ethnic elements that elevate this music above the usual MV/RC stuff)

- I Am Legend (truly some heartbreaking melancholic writing)

- Dinosaur (great animation score! one of his best)

- Snow Falling Cedars (one of his most potent dramatic scores and also the score that later provides inspiration for the Village. Don't dismiss it as atmospheric though, you'll be blown away by the epic LOTR-like choir in the track, Tarawa)

- King Kong (although PJ ridiculously kicked Shore out of the job, JNH manages to deliver quite a score in a very short span of time)

Try those for now. You'll understand that he's not just Zimmer-ish. He is quite the composer.

By the way, how much of Zimmer have you listened to? In the last few years, he's largely produced trash for music, but if you go back through his career, you'll come to realize that man has composed some great works (especially in the 90s...most Zimmer fans fail to recognize that he has many different styles to him). Zimmer is a talented composer, he's just grown incredibly lazy recently and fails to root back to his 90s sounds (or the tones of some of his mid 2000 scores).

- KK

Maybe he's getting lazy? :P I see. Any specific Williams cues you know of that I could hear? Thanks for all the info guys, keep it coming! I've learned so much from this thread already. :D

Minimalism isn't necessarily bad and I certainly wouldn't say Williams is getting lazy because he used the technique in some of scores. The minmalism in indy4's examples of AI and Memoirs of a Geisha are extremely effective in context (and rather beautiful in the latter score). There have been some great scores that made use of minimalism.

However, the technique should be used properly...otherwise, its not much.

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Maybe he's getting lazy? :P I see. Any specific Williams cues you know of that I could hear? Thanks for all the info guys, keep it coming! I've learned so much from this thread already. :D

Minimalism isn't necessarily bad and I certainly wouldn't say Williams is getting lazy because he used the technique in some of scores. The minmalism in indy4's examples of AI and Memoirs of a Geisha are extremely effective in context (and rather beautiful in the latter score). There have been some great scores that made use of minimalism.

However, the technique should be used properly...otherwise, its not much.

Sorry! I meant to use a quote there. I mean't to say Howard might be getting lazy! Not Williams. Even if it was so (which I doubt), Williams still produces wonderful pieces.

In reference to Zimmer, I've seen the Lion King (but I haven't rewatched since I got into film score when I was 10..) but I think the music that Zimmer really blowed me away with was his Simpsons movie score. While he does use his trademark string ostinati, I was impressed with the symphonic sound (but then when I realized he had so many other composers work with him on it, I questioned him). To my friends, they thought it was Williams who did the score (ah, layman ears).

I especially love his score to The Prince Of Egypt; it was still vaguely symphonic, before he started to only use instruments that he wanted (like with Inception..three violinists and a huge brass section).

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I'd love to write a whole bunch on this, but I don't have the time. Blume's got you off to an excellent start, though, and everyone seems to be filling in the gaps fairly well. A couple little things off the top of my head:

Re: Alien--I don't know if I'd call it so much minimalistic, although perhaps there are elements of that. It is almost certainly a more avant-garde score than you would be used to, more experimental. Goldsmith makes some incredibly interesting sounds with unique instrumentation (and use of instrumentation), and aside from a drone at the beginning of one cue, it's also acoustically based! I believe you can hear the full score on YouTube, and even if it's a bit much to chew on, you can at least hear the more accessible opening and closing cues.

As to Goldsmith's style, I will say that I find Goldsmith to often have a bit of a harder edge, whereas even in Williams's action scores there's that certain dignified element to it. Goldsmith tends to let himself get dirtier, so to speak. All the same, he's just as capable of lush beauty--see Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Poltergeist, the "Kick the Can" section of Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Rudy to name just a few examples.

Re: Silvestri--do yourself a favor and check out his score for Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I think you're right in that he does tend to reuse themes within a score a lot, but he also does do some solid underscoring, and "Eddie's Theme" is possibly my favorite theme by him. The development you hear in that theme from its beginning ("Downtown L.A." in the complete score, or the heartbreaking "Valiant and Valiant" on the OST) to its presentation in the start of the end credits so satisfyingly reflects the development of the character of Eddie.

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Hi Ethan,

Without getting too much into theory and all that, I'll say that one reason I've always found Williams' music to be special is because he has mastered the art of writing in the styles he's asked to create. He's not the only one who can do this, but he's fantastic at it.

For example, ask Williams to create a "jazzy-sounding number" for your film, and ask him to write in the style of a 1930s big band swing. He'll come up with something that is written the way it would have been written in the 1930s. He doesn't just know enough to sorta, maybe, kinda make it sound about right...he knows the ins-and-outs of the various styles (not just jazz, of course), and actually creates a real work in the style he's asked to provide. For the jazz music, for example, he'll know what instruments to write for, the style, how the chords should progress, the voicings of the chords, how to write the bass line (walking vs. arpeggiated?), down to the way the notes should be articulated. He knows not to voice chords in 4ths, because they didn't voice chords like that in the 1930s. He knows how to voice a saxophone section in closed voicings, and that the bari sax often doubles the lead alto sax an octave lower. He knows how to do those things - and a zillion other little things like that - because he's studied (and performed) them. And you don't learn how to voice chords by playing with computer samples. Same goes with other styles of course, not just jazz. It's the difference between emulating a style, and actually writing in that style.

Another thing he does well is knowing how to write for the actual instruments. I don't mean just that he orchestrates his own music - although that's fantastic, and certainly a wonderful aspect to his music. What I mean is that he knows the instruments of the orchestra well - more than just the ranges and transpositions! He knows how to do double stops and harmonics on the strings, multiple tonguing on the brass (and flutes, etc), tunings on the timpani, and all sorts of techniques about the whole orchestral palate. He knows which register makes the clarinet sound warm and cozy, and which register makes it sound like a shrieking cat. The reason so much of his music can come down to the quiet, up-close-and-personal level is because he can make the rest of the orchestra disappear from a trumpet solo, and it will sound amazing because he wrote a quality trumpet part. Too many composers fail at the art of subtlety because frankly, they just don't know how to write soloistically for the instruments, which limits their abilities.

Too often, other composers will write a line for, let's say, the flutes. Not a melodic line, just a little scale run or a few notes to add some texture. And then they'll cut and paste it into all the oboes, two or three clarinets, and maybe even some violins. They couldn't just leave it in the flutes....no sir, that's a quality line! We should have everybody play it! (haha) When in fact, it was written for the flutes. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. But when you have everybody playing, all the time, you end up with something with about as much depth as a junior high band piece. Sorry for the multitude of miniature examples, I'm just trying to make sure you grasp the depth of what it takes to do what he does.

The last thing I'll mention is texture. Sometimes you need a solo piano; sometimes you need a huge orchestra with everybody playing, and then it gets more complicated. Depending on the music, Williams will sometimes add a million layers of texture, which helps make the music sound so "big." What I mean is: some composers will write a big melody in the horns, big block chords in the low brass/strings/woodwinds, and maybe all the upper strings and woodwinds playing some rhythmic figure over and over. There you have it. Williams, on the other hand, will write his melody in (let's say) the horns, then scale runs in the strings and clarinets, then some fast, short notes in the flutes & oboes, some short, punchy notes in the low brass just to give us a firm "one and three" (or whatever), and some percussion....all at the same time. And then a few measures later he'll add the trumpets in octaves with the horns because, hey, it's getting too high. Now, I'm just generalizing an example here, but those multiple layers of texture are often what makes his music sound so big and lively. (This is more common in things like big chase scenes, etc.).

Add to all that a mastery of different harmonic techniques: aside from simple major and minor, there's octatonic/diminished harmonies, mediant relations, modal writing, jazz harmonies, etc. Each of those has the ability to evoke a certain emotion or sensation when used properly. He also has a knack for picking a certain harmonic "trick" and making it be a defining factor in that score - giving that score a sort of "harmonic identity."

OK, and I'll say it - Williams is certainly not the only one who has several of these techniques mastered. Howard Shore and Michael Giacchino are quite good at many of them, as was Goldsmith. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, like the rest of us.

Hope that's not too much...

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How about try and get theory oriented? :D I'll let you know what parts I don't understand.

But that was a fantastic observation and i can very much tell in Giacchino's scores (Shore and Goldsmith not so much, because I haven't seen most, if not any, of their scores).

That quip about the copy and pasting flute parts..I tend to do that in my music. Perhaps its due to my own laziness (because I painstakingly enter each note into Finale by hand) or by my lack of theory knowledge..or by my lack of keyboard, as I often compose in class without knowing what it sounds like as I'm doing it (because you obviously can't put on earphones and hear the note in the middle of a lecture).

But all in all, fantastic observations!

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The first thing you're doing Ethan, buddy is getting yourself the Lord of the Rings scores (unless you already have them). The music for these epic films ranks amongst the best of film music.

Also, I don't have a midi software either, so when I compose, I have to insert everything note by note too...very painful for action sequences.

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Nope! I don't have them..not a big fan of LOTR (or that type of genre, whether it be literature, film, or video games)..But I have heard its good!

Also, I don't have a midi software either, so when I compose, I have to insert everything note by note too...very painful for action sequences.

Right? It's so..ugh. That's why I tend to be more...Zimmer-ish in my action stuff.

Do you have a link to your compositions? I'd love to hear!

Back to the topic, does any one know (I'm sure they do) if Shore and all the others, have as big an emphasis on motifs and themes as Williams? From my experience, I'm not sure, but i'm the kind of guy who likes associating themes with everything. I'm weird.

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Nope! I don't have them..not a big fan of LOTR (or that type of genre, whether it be literature, film, or video games)..But I have heard its good!

Also, I don't have a midi software either, so when I compose, I have to insert everything note by note too...very painful for action sequences.

Right? It's so..ugh. That's why I tend to be more...Zimmer-ish in my action stuff.

Do you have a link to your compositions? I'd love to hear!

Sure, I'll post up some of my compositions. I'd love hear some criticism from you. Have you thought about the composers challenge yet, btw?

Back to the topic, does any one know (I'm sure they do) if Shore and all the others, have as big an emphasis on motifs and themes as Williams? From my experience, I'm not sure, but i'm the kind of guy who likes associating themes with everything. I'm weird.

Weird? Not at all. That is pretty much the mindset of most film score fans.

If you're a big fan of thematic association and the leitmotivic style of Star Wars, you'll be a huge fan of Howard Shore's magnum opus for the Lord of the Rings. This score is a thematic powerhouse and an intricate tapestry of a multitude of themes and motives weaving in and out of each other in many ways. In terms of thematic connections, I think LOTR even surpasses Star Wars in that regard.

The Lord of the Rings is a score full of epic choral glory and orchestral action. And because the novels and the films are so intricate with its characters, locations and concepts, Shore provides numerous themes for the trilogy that often overlap each other. In fact, the entire trilogy is more like one entire big symphony rather than 3 separate scores.

There are many big, bold themes in Shore's LOTR (if you're a fan of that stuff). Here are some samples that might sell the music for you:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNx8tz4qVeI

Opens up with the exotic Lothlorien theme, and then at 0:41, you're introduced to probably the most important theme in the trilogy, the History of the Ring theme. This prologue music is quite epic and you'll be introduced to many themes and motifs in this single track(ex. 2:19 is the Ringwraiths theme on choir).

At 4:18, you hear a bold statement of one of the major themes of the first film, the theme for the Fellowship.

0:24, you hear a glimpse of one the major new themes of the 2nd film, the Rohan theme.

4:59, one of the major new themes of the 3rd film, the Gondor theme.

And just to show the thematic continuity in the score:

A grand choral statement of the fellowship of the theme (Followed by other themes ending the cue with the ring theme) near the climax of the film.

I could go on about LOTR for days, weeks, maybe more. To list all the themes right now would be ridiculous. But if you're into thematically driven scores, LOTR is the ultimate score for you. The great thing about the scores are that as time goes by, you'll continue to be surprised at the amount of motifs and themes you'll find. Even years after you purchase the score, you might just find some subtle motif that Shore sneaked in and you didn't notice...unless you buy the ultimate cheatsheet, Doug Adams' analysis of the score in his book.

And not a fan of the novels or the films? That must be changed...give it a chance. Both the books and the films rank amongst my favourite in their respective mediums.

Sorry for the long blabbering, you can tell I'm quite a fan :P

- KK

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Not to be non-constructive, but trying to get someone into the Rings scores can be a futile pursuit if they simply do not like the fiction. I've noticed that about LotR, it can be a marmite story for some, but maybe your efforts to introduce this chap Ethan to it might be worth it, I don't know.

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Not to be non-constructive, but trying to get someone into the Rings scores can be a futile pursuit if they simply do not like the fiction. I've noticed that about LotR, it can be a marmite story for some, but maybe your efforts to introduce this chap Ethan to it might be worth it, I don't know.

Really? There are plenty of films based on fiction I don't like or don't know that are still wonderful musical journeys in and of themselves. It's possible to listen to the LOTR scores without conjuring up elves, magic and wizards. At least it is for me.

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And I'll definitely check out those scores. I'm a little scared to break out of my Williams bubble though. How about Silvestri and Newton-Howard? I enjoy Silvestri, but I think he overuses the "theme" too much (BTTF and G.I Joe). Newton-Howard (the only score I've heard of him is Atlantis, Green Lantern, and Salt) was okay for me..but it seems his recent scores are..Zimmer-ish? Sorry, I just tend to think that everything that has "repetitive" string ostinati and brass "fanfares" is very Zimmer like.

James Newton Howard is a very talented young composer who has offered great scores. Its just when he's off the mark, he can really be off (as with scores like Green Lantern, Michael Clayton and Salt). He has some Zimmer-ish sounds, but his style is more of the intimate piano and string melodies although his fantasy sound can be quite expansive. Here are some recommendations:

Restricting your JNH listening to Green Lantern and Salt does not give even remotely the right impression of his style. Atlantis is much better, although it's got more action-specific scoring than some.

He's close friends with Zimmer and it seems to have affected his style in recent years, plus he doesn't seem to have a problem with giving directors anything they ask for - Campbell got a really nice, thematic score for Vertical Limit, and then a decade later, asks for the biggest load of crap I've heard in a while for Green Lantern.

KK mentioned some good recommendations, but really you just have to find the right sort of films.

Everything he's produced for M. Night has been exceptional (well, I'm still not that impressed with Last Airbender, but it could've been far worse), and generally his scores for normal dramas that don't have much action (Water for Elephants, Defiance, The Water Horse) are good.

He's got probably the widest range of film genres under his belt that I've seen in a composer - you absolutely want to explore more of his stuff.

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How about try and get theory oriented? :D I'll let you know what parts I don't understand.

But that was a fantastic observation and i can very much tell in Giacchino's scores (Shore and Goldsmith not so much, because I haven't seen most, if not any, of their scores).

That quip about the copy and pasting flute parts..I tend to do that in my music. Perhaps its due to my own laziness (because I painstakingly enter each note into Finale by hand) or by my lack of theory knowledge..or by my lack of keyboard, as I often compose in class without knowing what it sounds like as I'm doing it (because you obviously can't put on earphones and hear the note in the middle of a lecture).

But all in all, fantastic observations!

Well, to get really hip deep in the theoretical aspects of John Williams' writing would take up an entire thread unto itself. Oh wait, we already did that this past summer! lol I'd suggest go read through this thread, and it would be about the same information that we could use to answer your original post/question:

http://www.jwfan.com...l=&fromsearch=1

Other than that, I'll just say that you should learn about the different types of harmonic styles out there. I listed them earlier, but they include major, minor, modes, octatonic/diminished harmonies, pentatonic and hexatonic, mediant relations (moving in thirds), whole-tone/augmented harmonies, pandiatonicism, quartal and quintal harmonies, compound and mirror harmonies, serial and 12-tone atonality (no, they're not the same thing), aleatoric writing, and many more. Each one has their own specific qualities, traits, and overall sound, and Williams is quite adept at picking the harmonic style that matches the feel of what he's trying to create.

For example: he's a big fan of the octatonic scale and diminished harmonic technique. In this style, the scale is built on alternating whole-steps and half-steps. In this way, each triad of the scale is a diminished chord. You can also form four major chords out of the available pitches. Williams uses this harmonic style very often in battle/chase music - your "assignment" is to go check out "The Battle in the Snow" from The Empire Strikes Back - it makes great use of this technique, and is a great example of how you can create tension through just harmonic language alone. In that style, you can frequently have note "clashes" that don't create the urge to resolve individually, but allow you to create lengthy sections of "static tension."

FInally, I'll say this about entering notes into Finale by hand - you're better off for it, at least for now. Entering the notes like that makes you think about them more as individual entries. One former composition professor made me take a microfilm of Holst's First Suite for Band and copy it out, by hand (no computer!)...every note. Sounds futile, but to this day I can tell you mounds about how Holst voices trombones, splits octaves in a woodwind section, etc. Even if you're just writing a little scale run in the woodwinds or strings, it's important to consider a lot there - what note do you start on? What's the highest note? Do you need just 4 notes or 11 of them to make the flourish sound like an actual flourish instead of a melodic line? A piano keyboard would be great to have, but don't think for a moment that you aren't learning something by having to consider the individual importance of each entry you make. [sorry for the diatribe.]

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If you're a big fan of thematic association and the leitmotivic style of Star Wars, you'll be a huge fan of Howard Shore's magnum opus for the Lord of the Rings.

Wrong. I've been a huge fan of thematic association and the leitmotivic style of Star Wars since... well, since Star Wars was released (1977), and I'm definitely NOT a fan (not to mention a 'huge' fan) of Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings. And I'm certainly no exception.

Sorry for the long blabbering, you can tell I'm quite a fan :P

Just don't assume that everyone else is.

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FInally, I'll say this about entering notes into Finale by hand - you're better off for it, at least for now. Entering the notes like that makes you think about them more as individual entries. One former composition professor made me take a microfilm of Holst's First Suite for Band and copy it out, by hand (no computer!)...every note. Sounds futile, but to this day I can tell you mounds about how Holst voices trombones, splits octaves in a woodwind section, etc. Even if you're just writing a little scale run in the woodwinds or strings, it's important to consider a lot there - what note do you start on? What's the highest note? Do you need just 4 notes or 11 of them to make the flourish sound like an actual flourish instead of a melodic line? A piano keyboard would be great to have, but don't think for a moment that you aren't learning something by having to consider the individual importance of each entry you make. [sorry for the diatribe.]

True, but I just think my thematic ideas would be better if I could just play them and it would record it. Since I have almost no knowledge in theory, and barely any years of piano under my belt, most of my ideas and cues tend to be watered down in its complexity.

your "assignment" is to go check out "The Battle in the Snow" from The Empire Strikes Back - it makes great use of this technique, and is a great example of how you can create tension through just harmonic language alone. In that style, you can frequently have note "clashes" that don't create the urge to resolve individually, but allow you to create lengthy sections of "static tension."

I have the Battle in The Snow, and I must say it is my absolute favourite anything by John Williams. While his "softer" songs are beautiful, I personally prefer his action stuff, because of their complexity. Do you know if anyone has a detailed analysis of "Battle In The Snow"? Theory wise? I once tried to learn it "by ear", and I just failed. Haha.

In response to LOTR, I think its just that i find elves and etc, a little "nerdy". While I am in position to say it, LOTR just doesn't...intrigue me, but I'll get into it just for Shore.

Speaking of Shore, I watched Hugo, and I felt bad because I didn't like the score..I didn't recognize a theme, but maybe that was because I didn't listen to the score before I watched it?

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