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FILM SCORING SPRING 2010

INTRODUCTION

After thirty years as educator and film/concert-music composer, a quantity of notes


has accumulated and may provide a useful format for a text, loosely constructed
around composition and sound design locked to time and visual representation.
This little text, intended for class use contains a few nuts and bolts of film/video
scoring, but is not focused upon the commercial craft that occupies sonic space in
the vast majority of our films, video, television computer-based games, and internet
program media. Rather, time and visual content are used as another way to
consider compositional form.
I welcome suggestions for making these notes a complete and useable text.
DW

INTRODUCTION
All composition has an obligation to time. Composers develop a sense of time in
order to accompany visual content in style and purpose, or simply to divide time
into special moments that a listener will remember. A composition bound for the
concert stage, whether a composer wishes to consider a particular audience or
not, must engage the listener in a dramatic fashion. A failure to understand the
relationship between listener, musical structure, and the dramatic needs of time,
will lead to a disengaged audience, no matter how informed the audience may be.
Time, divided irregularly between events, binds sounds in sequence. Concert
composition and film scoring function as two sides of the same coin. A song,
whether it takes the form of operatic aria, recitative, or popular idiom, contains an
equivalent clock with the addition of linguistic presentation. The story, dialogue or
expression presented as lyrics, places its demands upon time, and shapes the
perception of time adding a layer of storyalso a linear presentation. As with
visual media, verbal communication reminds us that human perception of time is
not a passive, equally-stepped experience. Some moments are always more
important than others.
Engagement in what we see, hear, and understand might be measured in chunks,
and at the same time a collapsing and elongating series of spaces inbetween. We
are aware of beginnings and endings. More occasionally, we are interested or
aware of the transitions, the state of moving between the ends and the beginnings.
Composers, as well as all those engaged in performance, are obliged to consider
the interaction of these fundamental units in time: the beginnings, the transitions,
the points of principal arrivalsand the winding down or building up to an end.
Visual perception/action, linguistic presentation, and the layering of sound are a
part of this process. Together, they construct the collection of events that form our
perception of moments in time.
Visual
Aural
Linguistic

Events>

Events>

perceived time

(Large forms in Japanese traditional theatre are measured in a three-part series:


JO (presentation of the problem), HA (the scattering), KYU (the rushing to the
end).

An interdependency of these coexisting structures in time becomes the memory of


our experience. Recall of any one element, aural, visual, and/or linguistic, can
certainly reinforce or recall memory. Recalling any of our senses in time can open
the gates to memories of linked experiences.

time

experiences

transitions

repetition of memory items

event memory

Moments in time are perceived as memory of performance

Music contains layers of structural meaning and relationships for composer,


performer, and audience member on a very personal level. The metaphors that
our (world) cultures weave around and through the abstraction art of music itself
contain many of the same keys that the larger events of experience engender as
well. Conscious and unconscious meanings are attached to every element of
musical construction and presentation.
A century of Western concert composers found it fashionable in the 20th century to
deny extra-musical meaning thanks to the often program-based assertions of
generations before them, and around them that specific meanings could be
instantly recognized in a given sequence of notes or series of harmonies.

I consider that music is, by its very nature,


essentially powerless to express anything at all,
whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, or
psychological mood, a phenomenon of
nature,etc.Expression has never been an
inherent property of music. That is by no means
the purpose of its existence.
(Stravinsky, An Autobiography, 1935 reprint
1975, p. 53)

These assertions have been with


the art and craft of music as long
as we have had written
discussions on performance.
There can be little doubt that the
connective tissue of musical
experience is association:
linguistic, experiential, all
impressed through layers of
education. The need for denial of extra-musical meaning by composers as
luminous as Igor Stravinsky (See The Poetics of Music), Arnold Schoenberg, and
others may lie not in the existence of extra-musical metaphors attached to music,

but to the specificity and universality of those metaphors. Can we hear the pots
and pans flying around in the first movement of Richard Strauss Domestic
Symphony or hear the specific pathos that Bach attached to a given key in his
music? Certainly, the sound of a pot flying and clattering can neither be exactly
reproduced nor pictorially engendered by the brass section of an orchestra. There
is, of course, a potential relationship between many sound producing events and
the sonic capability of an orchestra of sound makers. But, short of a percussion
section laden with pots and pans, a symphonic rendition of a domestic argument
remains metaphoric at best.
We may well be able to accept the assertion of programmatic relationships
however, if they are pointed out, and convincing connections are indicated. SaintSaens Carnival of the animals carries with it a series of titles and descriptions that
have delighted audiences for over a century. Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique
provides a rather detailed story that directs the listener to associate melodies and
passages as they progress through the work. Paul Dukas Socerers Apprentice
proceeds from a story by Goethe, but will be forever linked to the construction of a
segment of animation in Walt Disneys Fantasia.
Our culture has constructed conscious and unconscious connections that obviate
the need for verbal discussion of metaphoric content. It is at this point that popular
culture as it is played out in various parts of the world, takes for granted the
existence of specific meanings attached to a given gesture, harmony, or broad
style of music. As the larger culture changes, specific imagery associated with
elements of musical performance changes. Many musical metaphors, however,
remain quite constant, and a generation or many generations within a given culture
accepts these meanings without question. The rasa (flavor) of specific Ragas in
Indian music cultures, or the emotions associated with the body of works in the
Persian Maqam all have centuries of accepted extra-musical content. Melodies
from music dramas in cultures worldwide have been associated with their stories,
and so carry meaning throughout the cultures that have spawned them (and
beyond).
Specific musical works and musicians themselves have developed a metaphoric
content or mythology of their own. Can the works of Beethoven be separated from
the vision his Napoleonic times, or the torture of his deafness? Can Stravinskys
Rite of Spring be separated from the mythology surrounding the first performance?
Similarly, popular songs by well publicized artists or groups carry with them
visualizations of the group and subject itself.
Here Comes the Sun
Come Together
Something
Maxwells Silver Hammer
The End
(there are more!)
--The Beatles, Abbey Road

Let us enter the world of music and image on several levels. Ritual and ceremony,
work, politics, family and social standing connect music to visual setting at every
turn. Artifacts of music are associated with these events as well. The bagpipes
and bugle carry specific association to warfare in Western culture. The chin
carries with it the essence of Confucian thought. Footed West African drums
signify the heritage of kings. The sound of the bull-roarer in Arnhemland, the
Dogon of Mali or the Navaho of the Southwest have been virtually synonymous
with the voices of ancestors. Musical instruments in every culture carry with them
stereotypical associations of character or purpose (oboes quack, horns go with
hunting and the outdoors).
Why are these associations important to mention here?
The composer, every composer can consciously use extra-musical associations in
their score if they choose. All music, whether consciously or unconsciously
constructed to do so, will carry associations whether the composer wishes them to
or not. Recognition of the comparative qualities of musical practice- the timbre,
melodic shape, rhythmic patterning, harmonic construction, constitutes only one
set of relational identities attached to musical practice (or Musicking, as developed
by Christopher Small, in his text of the same name). The language of musical
aesthetics, while not limited to a learned set of principles, is often relegated to a
back seat in comparison to our more dynamic associations of experience.
If there are indeed differences between music written to accompany and
complement visual media and music written for the concert stage, those
differences may be found in two specific areas- that of the larger architectural
independence of a given work, and the immediate association of one meaningful
construction with another in time and synchronicity.
When craft and style are fresh, they constantly and carefully work at the edges of
current popular and artistic expectations. For the fully skilled composer whether
working with multiple visual genres or concert stage, a study of musical forms and
styles from a worldwide palette to the underscoring of a commercial is
indispensable knowledge.
All music is dependent upon the quality of its evocation to capture our imagination
whether tied to moving pictures or moving musicians on stage. Hopefully this
small text will spark the imagination of those interested in all types of sonic
creativity.
To compose, at least by propensity, is to give to do, not to give to hear but to give to write.
(Roland Barthes, Musica Practica, in Image, Music, Text.