Film Music rant#1

‘Film Music’ – what a generic term! Please excuse me, i’ve been out in the sun too much lately & after six intense weeks in a loud dark room filled with vampires I feel like my senses have been reborn, or at least defragmented & newly focused…
One of the joys of final mixing a film, for me, is finally getting to hear the score. I always aim to collaborate as much as possible with the composer on each film, but there inevitably comes a point in the final preperation for the mix where we each have to just conform, do the final pass on our respective elements & go into the final mix with our faith in the the ability of the director & the mixers to find the perfect balance….
and god bless them, they always do!
But what really intrigues me with respect to the score for a film is, despite knowing the film intimately (having sweated over every single frame in its entire duration & considered & provided input on every element of sound, ambience, foley, sound effects & design) I suddenly get to see/hear how the composer has interpreted & contributed to the film, scene by scene. While sound (as in ambeince/foley/sound effects/design) contributes (or is at least available) for every frame of the film, the score choose its moments… And it is a disease of ‘modern’ film making where music also fills every second of the film soundtrack – it is constantly there, informing us how to react & feel, as though we are idiots, unable to interpret a narrative on our own. I am not going to point the finger at anyone (directors or films) but suffice for me to say film is not television – in a cinema the audience is a captive audience, they arent about to switch channels just because theres a quiet moment or because they got bored. Quite the contrary, I believe those quiet moments are crucial for an audience to fully engage…

So it begs the question, what drives a composer to provide ‘some’ (& not all) of the films soundtrack? Where do they start & where do they end the multitude of music cues that go into the final mix? To help consider this incredibly deep philosophical question I am going to quote from a recent interview with music editor Ken Karman; “Music should start for a specific reason, play a point of view or an emotion, and then get the hell out, not drawing the audience’s attention.” Amen to that sentiment, brother!
Its true of designing complex sound effects too, that it is valuable to think about the soundtrack relative to the envelope of generating a sound on an analogue synth – ADSR where A=Attack, D=Decay, S=Sustain, R=Release
A moment happens, and in sync, pre-emptive or delayed the sound starts = its attack, instant liek a gun shot or slow, like a wave breaking… the initial moment resonates (decay) & then sustains, until it slowly dissolves (releases) back into the ongoing paradigm of the soundtrack… ADSR!
Now moment by moment I fully appeciate the ADSR approach with sound, but how does it apply to the score? Well I sure dont have any universal answers but I am a permanent student of such things & as a starting point would like to suggest you read this excellent article:
In defense of Mickey Mousing

Not coincidentally the list he provides of composers who tend to underscore (rather than ‘Mickey Mouse’) pretty much equates to a list of my favourite film composers… but then the ‘right’ score for any film is that which best suits the film & most effectively helps tell the story, so damn the idea of trying to answer a very broad question with a specific answer… its all good if it works!
& God bless that little rat… by the way i laughed out loud at the Mickey Mouse/Disney jokes in the recent The Simpsons movie – did you see it? did you get the injokes? Bart in the train was funny/obvious (i’m a mascot of an evil empire!) but the score for the moment in the cabin when Homer & Marge get it on, witnessed by the local animals was hilarious!!!!

2 thoughts on “Film Music rant#1

  1. Christian Biegai

    Hi Tim,
    just stumbled upon your blog. Nice to read a film music entry. I totally agree. I come out of films, feeling like being to a rock concert. Too much!!!!

    With you being in Tokyo. Check out: Tony Takitani by Jun Ichikawa, with a great score by Sakamoto.

    Greetings from Zagreb!


  2. tim

    I was lucky enought to see Tony Takitani on film at the NZ Film festival last year & also now own the DVD – a beautiful film & I totally agree; a seriously beautiful score!!!
    note to self, I must check out other films by Jun Ichikawa
    the direction, pacing & cinematography in Tony Takitani are exquisite

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