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Sometimes I wish John were more...innovative....

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I can never figure what it is that makes some composers so daring and willing to experiment with new ideas, and why someone like Williams sticks to musical ideas that have been tried...and tried...and tried and true. It's really hard to point to something John has written and say..ah...there...there is a technique that I've never heard before in the last 400 years of Western music!

At the end of the day it makes for some lovely music that I love listening to...but does it really expand and contribute to the world of music as much?

There is a sense that he isn't challenging himself as much as he could be. He isn't really finding ways of breaking away from his traditional comfort zone. Everywhere he seems to have gone, a few others have already been.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Prove me wrong, and cite examples!

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I can never figure what it is that makes some composers so daring and willing to experiment with new ideas, and why someone like Williams sticks to musical ideas that have been tried...and tried...and tried and true. It's really hard to point to something John has written and say..ah...there...there is a technique that I've never heard before in the last 400 years of Western music!

I've felt like this on a superficial level, and I don't have the musical literacy to either confirm or deny it.

But to be honest I have a hard time listening to any music at all and not think the same again (this is probably my own problem. In fact I tend to think this sounds like that, this sounds like that and deconstruct entire pieces as derivatives.) But at the same time, it seems that the idea that there isn't anything else to be done in music is wrong.

(I think the greatest musical advance could be done not in our repetitive creation of music, but in modifying ourserlves to be drastically more capable, so we can think of music and comprehend music that's beyond us right now, or that we wouldn't be able to enjoy right now. I'm convinced that innovations in any field, from science to music, are dependant on us, and we aren't definitive beings. Thus, any advancement must depend on our own changes and diversification as humans.)

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I remember reading a post of someone (obviously) way more music-literate than myself which said John's approach to 20th Century avant garde techniques is quite distinctly his. In a sense it doesn't really copy anyone else's approach.

Karol

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Yep. I think his conservatism has to do with being so successful and staying in the same business for so long. I get the sense that his life is very orderly and repetitive. Don't get me wrong, he's the consummate musician and worker, but I think this is just something that tends to happen when someone lives a very fortunate life. Williams is wealthy, well liked, well connected, and generally just in a great place. The only tragedy in his life that seems to set him apart was the early death of his first wife, Barbara Ruick. But it's been many years since then. Williams today - well, I don't think it's that he's spoiled, exactly, as he worked very hard to get to where he is, but I think he's complacent. I don't think he worries about the future, or about the hardships of the world. Not too often, at least - but I did get a sense of it with A.I. That score makes me feel like Williams knows something profound, like he understands the ephemeral nature of life. It's been ten years since his music made me feel that way. What he writes now is technically excellent, but not thoughtful. It's simply a continuation of a tradition.

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I always thought his scores for Temple of Doom and The Lost World were quite different for him. Temple of Doom for his use of choral elements with darkness (sure, he would have similar use in scores like Phantom Menace, but at it's time I don't think this use of choir was used as much in films at least, except for maybe Goldsmith's Omen scores). The Lost World still to this day feels like a very creative use of percussion in a score, ESPECIALLY for a John Williams score.

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I think Williams' entire oevre is extremely versatile, but I love his convential, familiair approach as well. It's 2012, the man is over 80 and is semi-retired. I think it's a bit late to bitch about Williams' 'lack of innovation'.

Williams is Williams. The man has created some of the most memorable scores in history. He is what he is.

Perhaps it's only fair to look at what is there instead of what isn't.

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Innovation definitely isn't Williams' strong suit. But his best music takes the various existing idioms and tonalities and synthesizes them in a way that is certainly unique, blending accessibility with technical chops, all with a verve for making the music memorable and well-suited to the picture. In other words, Williams has excelled at taking the existing puzzle pieces and putting them together in a way that somehow feels wholly...Williams.

Of course, most of us agree that his music has become somewhat less bold and diverse, and there can often be a sense of been-there-done-that with his later scores. I was reminded of this when I saw Lincoln last night - the score is pleasant, professional, and appropriate, but it never really steps outside the boundaries of what Williams has done before, nor does it ever really soar into the heights of excellence that Williams' best music does. Fortunately, I find that listening to a given score repeatedly can lessen these feelings, at least to a certain degree, so perhaps that'll happen with Lincoln.

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Although I think many will bash me for this opinion of mine, I will say it:

A composer, or any artist, is innovative in his 20s, 30s, well 40s at most..

When you reach a certain age, you just do whatever you know to do well.

I myself don't know any artist who was innovative in his 80s.

Does anyone have any example?

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Innovation definitely isn't Williams' strong suit. But his best music takes the various existing idioms and tonalities and synthesizes them in a way that is certainly unique, blending accessibility with technical chops, all with a verve for making the music memorable and well-suited to the picture. In other words, Williams has excelled at taking the existing puzzle pieces and putting them together in a way that somehow feels wholly...Williams.

I don't know if it's innovative or not but there are some specific scores of his that sound like a collection of his own ideas and show what it's an unmistakable Williams sound.

For me, one of these would clearly be Jurassic Park. Is anyone else going to craft that score in its specific ways? No! Only Williams. The scores of his that are like that are more unique than we usually think, but we're so used to it that we forget. Several of his scores have this quality, sometimes totally, sometimes partially.

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I'm also wondering, what could be innovative today?

haven't all been done?

The only innovative thing I can think of is someone coughing or sneezing based on a specific sheet music piece, but maybe that has been done too.

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The thread seems to be taking a turn for discussion of Williams work in the last decade, but honestly I would say my post applies just as much to his work at the earlier end of his career, middle, and end. And I'd say film music AND concert music.

And Datameister hit upon some truth about Williams' proccess. He very much takes existing pieces and reworks them into something Williams. Steve Jobs did much the same in technology. We call Jobs an innovator, though even that is controversial now. Is Williams then? Or is innovation in music something different from technology?

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I partially agree with the OP. But Mr Williams is very old now, and comfortable where he is.

Then again, I barely listen to any film music these days anyway, so perhaps my evolved musical taste is is the problem, not John's aesthetic.

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Why are conversations like this always focused on his film scores? If he is to be innovative in any way that is not different for the sake of being different (which usually does not have aethestically interesting results), then it would be found in his concert works. I would say that there is at some minor innovation, like his use of the harp in his La Jolla quartet, both in terms of using it at all and in the way that he uses it.

Could it be that you listen to something like the quartet, do not get the response from yourself you wish you had, and blame Williams for not being inventive?

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And Datameister hit upon some truth about Williams' proccess. He very much takes existing pieces and reworks them into something Williams.

Ah, but I think everubody does that. You can't create in a vacuum. Specially since one gets interested in doing it because one was impressed by preexisting material.

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JW brought back orchestral scores with Star Wars, and I think he's just been doing that ever since. A bunch of movies come along with sound design-level scores, then we get a new Spielberg film, with a nice orchestral score.

None of JW's recent scores have struck me as innovative particularly, and I think he's avoided the RCP pressure (which has, for example, decimated JNH's music lately) due to working mainly for Spielberg in the last decade.

BTW, I would define innovation as hearing a technique in a score that I wasn't expecting, or finding that the emotion in a scene is coming from a less traditional use of the orchestra. I think there are composers who do this much more than JW does. He writes very pure orchestral music and does it well (however interesting it may be to non-technical listeners).

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Am I the only one here who loves Williams' music exactly for what it is..?

The man has proven to be extremely diverse. From the rock/electric guitar solo in The Eiger Sanction to the choral writing of Empire Of The Sun. From the jazz pieces of his earlier scores to the ethnic Memoirs Of A Geisha. From the techno-beat sequence in A.I. to the orchestral bombast of Jurassic Park.

Williams has done it all, literally. And yet we 'accuse' him of not straying too far from familiair roads.

I really don't understand...

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And Datameister hit upon some truth about Williams' proccess. He very much takes existing pieces and reworks them into something Williams.

That is how all art and technology works. You stand on the shoulders of giants and see farther than they could. Except the giants are more like a group of older artists/technologists.

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I wish he was more retro-active. With the exception of Potter I feel he has been holding back to make his themes not as grandiose as he used to

I even find War Horse restrained compared to what he used to write. What you get here is 30 second bits of grandiose music (like in Plowing) when he used to extend that for several minutes

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"Innovative" means weird and unlistenable.

That doesn't make sense. All the great innovated.

Indeed, the question is ... has everything already been done? If so, then man already has reached its zenith and decline is inevitable.

tumblr_m08724V8za1qb8x3g.jpg

Damnit, Drax, are you happy now?!

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Agreed Roald. The composer has been pushing the bounds of his range all throughout his illustrious career. He's played with synths, exercised many avant-garde techniques and explored many diverse musical styles (ex. minimalism, atonality, atmospheric stuff, etc). I don't think you'll find another composer who continues to push their boundaries like Williams does.

While i, curiously enough, don't agree much with the OP - whatever Williams writes now is refined and polished in a way that you can only marvel at the subtleties when you forget how shopworn most of it is, musically, and there is no other film composer who possesses this level of complete refinement - my eyes of course water with sad world-weariness when people drag out those lame examples of some dated 30-second electric guitar interlude in some bad 70's movie and act like this is some kind of musical accomplishment.

If innovation is in your very nature, you write something like, say, SPHERE or MEPHISTO WALTZ or even BRAINSTORM (to name some prominent Hollywood examples), it's about having a musical vision and concept and running with it.

As far as i'm concerned, Williams did this twice, most importantly with IMAGES (which to my utter unsurprise is not exactly the most beloved Williams score) and then with CEOTK, but there it's soon substituted by ultra-melodic Strauss jubilee fanfares (splendid as they are). Apart form that, he injected fair amounts of dissonant techniques if the movie called for it - mostly in thriller and suspense sequences where you would rather expect them. But to call these mannered insertions of standard techniques of 20th century music 'innovative' is really stretching it (i think i would rather vote for some of the wild cues found in TEMPLE OF DOOM).

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I agree he is no innovator... That said to say he does the same thing over and over again is plainly wrong. It is however true that he has gone back to his roots as he ages... along with all that post 1997 weird syncopated xylophone piccolo action music.

Here are some innovative pieces; Zam the Assassin and chase through couruscant... I didn't like this piece originally but it is one of my favourites.. there are quartal harmonies all sorts of interesting harmonies and rhythms.

Much of war of the worlds ( again probably not that "listenable" for the average person) Intersection scene, ferry scene, escape from city. Munich is also very good - again not stock Williams, it is very subtle restrained and intense.

One thing JW has not done is score that has very few notes but sets a totally different atmosphere. Inception and Sherlock by Zimmer are great scores in their minimalism. I've never heard JW write so minimalistically - this probably has something to do with writing by hand as opposed to cubase or whatever software Zimmer uses.

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Here are some innovative pieces; Zam the Assassin and chase through couruscant... I didn't like this piece originally but it is one of my favourites.. there are quartal harmonies all sorts of interesting harmonies and rhythms.

Much of war of the worlds ( again probably not that "listenable" for the average person) Intersection scene, ferry scene, escape from city. Munich is also very good - again not stock Williams, it is very subtle restrained and intense.

I never would accuse Williams of being unable to cook up interesting musical solutions for a given piece (or in ZAM's case, just having a but of fun), just that this has got nothing to do with 'innovation' but application of well-established musical devices made fit for a movie like WOTW in the Williams 'idiom'. It's not nearly the same as Goldenthal developing a weird superhero score for BATMAN FOREVER - that's innovative and it's a silly blockbuster. Williams is just not someone you hire for wild stuff like this, not because he would be technically unable it's just not his nature.

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Interesting topic.

In my humble opinion, we could extend this very same reasoning to most, if not all, film music composed for Hollywood movies from the early days until today. Studios, producers and even directors seem to never want film music to be something deeply innovative or experimental. Well, in a sense, early Hollywood film music in 1930s (Steiner, Korngold) could be considered experimental just for the very complicated nature of synchronizing an elaborate piece of symphonic music to a picture with sound. Those pioneers really invented the technical side of this art form almost out of nowhere. Also, they experimented in finding a common aesthetic language that could be applied to every kind of film genre and most of them found a thread in the lexicon of late Romantic symphonic music, i.e. music already "old" by at least 30-40 years. I always think of early film composers like Korngold, Steiner, Newman, Rozsa, Tiomkin, Roy Webb, Hugo Friedhofer as artists who put their craftsmanship at the service of something quite strange and complex. It was a sort of act of blind poetry, if you know what I mean.

Back to Williams, I think he's not an innovator in the strict sense of the word in musical terms. But it's the role of the film composer itself (especially within the Hollywood industry) that is not one of pure innovation. Film music as intended by Hollywood works mostly as an emotional trigger for the audience. It's a guideline that accompanies the narrative and gives support to the film's emotions, themes and ideas at the core. Most of the times it works on a pure "epidermic" level (i.e. to enhance basic emotions already on-screen) while on other occasions it goes much deeper, adding new dimensions and giving more significance to what we're seeing.

Williams always operated in the sign of a tradition that has never been very much in good relationship with the world of avant-garde. He continued on a path which the people before him already went on by, because that's what a composer who writes music for Hollywood movies has to do most of the times. In many ways, film music can be considered "commercial art", hence it's something that's almost at the opposite side of innovation/experimentation. I guess Williams always felt comfortable with it, as this has always been his job and because he probably never had delusions of being a concert-hall composer full time. In 50+ years of career however he was given many occasions to explore a lot of different musical areas and he had the possibility to flex many of his muscles in a variety of genres and approaches. But what he mastered above anything else is the application of the symphonic lexicon to the film narrative. He didn't invent anything that wasn't already done before, but imho he pushed the art of orchestral music applied to film to a whole new level like only a few others did. I think this is quite an accomplishment.

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Interesting.

To me the debate is simply about originality/innovation vs. authenticity.

Two things to keep in mind though:

1. Williams doesn't work on his own when doing film music, he has to follow directions and serve the picture. He can't just go and do something that hasn't been done before just to be "innovative." What he could do, and he did better then most out there, is create a unique voice, an "authentic" voice for himself and his work. To me that's more important.

2. If innovation is what you're looking for, if you want to hear sounds in combinations you've never hear before, there's plenty in the contemporary concert music world to satisfy those needs. But don't be surprised if not much of it is good.

I think originality and authenticity are highly overrated, at least in the music world. It's very easy to write a piece of music unlike anyone has ever done before (especially with what you can get away with in the modern concert music world), but will it be good? I think working within a certain framework, like the traditions of western orchestral music, and still manage to create music that engages and has a defined identity is much harder to do.

You want to hear innovation? A piece of music the likes none of you has ever heard before? That's very easy. I'll write a piece that will involve a big pot made out of copper, a live chicken, boiling water and a metal hammer. On stage I'll fill the pot with water, throw the chicken inside, cover the pot and then bring the water to a boil (while the chicken is alive inside, of course) and I'll hit the pot with the metal hammer. Once the chicken is dead, the piece ends.

I'll call it: "Prelude for Boiling Chicken and Hammer"

There. A completely unheard of, original piece of music. I can guarantee none of you has heard a sound like that ever before. I am an innovator.

But would you really pay to hear that music though?

Exactly.

Originality is overrated. Authenticity is king.

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Original authenticity is better, though.

Absolutely. And innovators like the ones Blumenkohl talks about are out there, but I think expecting that from film music may be a bit on the unrealistic side.

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I believe in the book " the score", David SHire mentions this. Don't quote me on that though. I could be wrong, but another composer does mention that Williams is more versitile than hollywood lets him be most of the time.

Sad fact is, hollywood likes to pigeonhole people. Composers, directors, actors, you name it and once they do that, they hardly let anyone break out from that box they've been put in.

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I can never figure what it is that makes some composers so daring and willing to experiment with new ideas, and why someone like Williams sticks to musical ideas that have been tried...and tried...and tried and true. It's really hard to point to something John has written and say..ah...there...there is a technique that I've never heard before in the last 400 years of Western music!

At the end of the day it makes for some lovely music that I love listening to...but does it really expand and contribute to the world of music as much?

There is a sense that he isn't challenging himself as much as he could be. He isn't really finding ways of breaking away from his traditional comfort zone. Everywhere he seems to have gone, a few others have already been.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Prove me wrong, and cite examples!

Sometimes I wish people wouldn't talk utter crap.

What specifically do you believe is crap, and what evidence do you have for it? Is there a particular technique you feel John Williams utilizes that is something never done before musically?

Or are you just full of shit?

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I listen to Lincoln and I can't imagine anyone going where John goes. Innovation, I don't know, different choices, absolutely.

Do you know what I've really come to love about Lincoln so much?

I hear craftsmanship. It doesn't blow me away like the gorgeous flute solos of War Horse or the great action cues of Tintin, but in all its subtlety, I hear a master at work with Lincoln. And I rarely find that level of craftsmanship in most modern film scores.

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I think there's a limited amount of room for film composers to be "innovative"...they are severely limited by the director's vision, what the studio wants, and what the public expects to hear. And I'm not sure there's much room to experiment when so much is riding on the success of a film.

Certainly, JW has more freedom in this regard, as Spielberg apparently trusts him completely and pretty much lets him do as he wishes. But Williams wisely usually choses to do what he does best. Clearly his style has evolved, and he does do some stylistic tinkering here and there to accommodate the material (I'm thinking right now of HP03, Geisha and 7YIT, for example), but for the most part, he lets his talent speak for itself. I imagine he doesn't push the envelope because he doesn't feel he has to.

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I remember reading a post of someone (obviously) way more music-literate than myself which said John's approach to 20th Century avant garde techniques is quite distinctly his. In a sense it doesn't really copy anyone else's approach.

Was it me? :P

I think Williams has been pretty innovative over his career, from stuff like IMAGES to his merging of analogue synthesisers and orchestra in HEARTBEATS (which had been done before, but not in this way), and his use of MIDI, sampled sounds, with avant garde techniques in his Oliver Stone scores, particularly BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY and JFK - reflecting the collage-like, fragmented quality of Stone's film making. MINORITY REPORT is also quite daring, with the Takemitsu/Corigliano-influenced textural approach to 1m1 The Crime, and the recurring sequenced synth marimba figure heard in 2m4A Containment Center, 2m6A Elevator Confrontation and 6mA The Man in the Window, to name only two examples.

The difference now is that Williams's getting old. Like most ageing composers, from Bela Bartók to Jerry Goldsmith, he now favours simplicity over complexity. Any of the avant-garde passages in his scores now on (judging from LINCOLN) will probably stuff we've already heard from him before.

He's got nothing more to prove.

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