Unidade 4


Music and Video Part one -- FILM MUSIC

On some level, nearly every type of drama is basically a programmed set of emotions that a writer is hoping to get across to an audience. If the audience becomes successfully involved with those emotions, they will generally find it a satisfying experience, and the work will be considered a success.

At one time or another, every movie director has probably longed for some device that would automatically transmit emotions across to an audience. This device would greatly help in getting the message behind the images across, it could enhance, it could give a sense of irony.

Imagine some kind of mechanical or electronic device that could be directly connected to the moviegoers. If you wanted an audience to feel content, secure, happy, you would send the appropriate message across to them and give them the images on the screen to complement it. If you want to scare an audience, give them a feeling of anxiety, of suspense--you just have the machine send the appropriate message to the audience. If you want them to feel sad, depressed, feel sympathy for the character, you press another button and they will instantly feel it.

It could serve to heighten and extend the feelings the actors are trying to portray. It could support the climax of the film and build excitement when necessary. It could give a sense of irony when a character on the screen is portraying one emotion and the device could send another.

And ideally, this device could do so without the audience realizing that anything was happening. They would just be able to feel and sense the emotions. Getting the emotional program of the story across would be so much easier!

There is such a marvelous "device" that exists and can do everything stated above--it is the film score, often referred to as the "soundtrack".

While the average moviegoer thinks of only going to "see" a movie, it really is a very complex multi-sensory operation and represents a collaboration of many creative artists all under the control of the director. These include the actors, script writer, the costume designer, the lighting designer, the cinematographer, the special effects director, the final editor--and the composer of the film score.

We hear so much music from the radio, the TV, background music in stores, malls, etc. that we have a tendency to tune it out and not concentrate on it. Nevertheless, it affects us and changes our moods, often profoundly. For a film composer, this can be both magnificent and maddening. Magnificent, because like the above fictitious device, a mood can easily and quickly be created without the audience being aware of what is happening. Maddening, because many of a composer's best efforts don't receive the proper recognition they deserve!

The first shots of a movie often will be simply titles over some kind of a setting--with the first music in the background. Many times it only takes a musical phrase or two to set the tone of the whole movie.

This idea of preparatory music actually goes back several centuries. A type of composition called an overture does almost exactly the same thing. One very good example of this is the "Egmont" overture composed by Beethoven to open a play of the same name by Goethe. The music starts off very gloomy and oppressive. It takes on a feeling of a little more "action", and even a little triumphant. Just before the end it suddenly comes to a halt with a few very soft somber chords from the woodwinds. The music suddenly starts to build and ends in a blaze of triumph. The curtain then rises.

In just eight minutes without the audience realizing it, Beethoven has told a story of political oppression, of a courageous character battling evil, of his death, and the eventual victory of his ideas. Beethoven kept the audience's attention with a dynamic piece of music for eight minutes and managed to sneak the outline of the plot across to them.

Many Broadway musicals, operettas, operas, etc. will have some introductory piece of music at the beginning that serves the same function as described above.

Most films do something similar in less time. The title music to the film Star Wars, composed by John Williams, presents a similar summary of the movie with musical themes representing the forces of good and evil, ending in triumph--just as the movie does. The title music to "North by Northwest" composed by Bernard Hermann presents a picture of action, suspense, and perhaps even a little confusion, foreshadowing a plot that contains healthy amounts of all three. You can probably think of many other outstanding examples of title music setting the tone for the whole movie.

In addition to composing much orchestral and chamber music, American composer Aaron Copland scored a number of highly acclaimed film soundtracks. His score for "The Heiress" won an Academy Award for best score. In his book What to Listen for in Music, Copland lists six functions that music fulfills in a movie soundtrack.

I. CREATE AN ATMOSPHERE OF TIME AND PLACE. The title music is often where the creative team first "gets its foot in the door" with the audience. Title music can often suggest a time and place for the action. Is the movie taking place in the past? Perhaps a harpsichord and recorder will be playing a piece of music in the style of the Renaissance. While most audiences wouldn't be able to pinpoint the exact date and time suggested by the music, it has given a fuzzy suggestion of antiquity--and that suggestion was all that was needed.

Was the title music Big Band Music? Early rock and roll? Rap? These could respectively work well to introduce movies from the World War II era, the 1950s, or a 1990s urban setting.

Not all film music is original. Sometimes, as in movies such as "Manhattan", and "2001: A Space Odyssey", very little original music is used. In the above two cited examples, their directors chose to use music composed decades before the setting of the movies--music of Gershwin, Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss, etc. In each case, the music helps to create the appropriate general mood. The images on the screen will use these to perhaps create irony, or link two otherwise disparate thoughts, which the director will then build on.

II. PSYCHOLOGICAL REFINEMENT--CONVEY THE UNSPOKEN THOUGHTS OF A CHARACTER OR THE UNSEEN IMPLICATIONS OF A SITUATION. Sometimes in a film score the composer will present the audience with a musical equivalent of a slap in the face. However, most of the time the process is a little more delicate, a little more subtle.

A common trick that works wonders is when a composer creates music that conveys the emotions of the story a second or so before the actors "feel" them. When used effectively, this can help create a closer bond between the characters in the drama and the audience, certainly an important objective of most writers.

The element of suspense and surprise can very effectively be portrayed though music. In horror movies, a common cliche will be to have a very loud and dissonant chord blast though the speakers when a character finds or experiences something horrible, or the director decides it's time to give a powerful shock to the audience. The more dissonance and the louder the volume, the more fright will be given.

Milder and more subtle, suspense is also relatively easy to convey--soft music in constant motion, in a minor key, and a melody that rises and falls in certain patterns will create a feeling of anxiety in an audience without them realizing it. Alfred Hitchcock made use of some of the best film score composers of all time, creating shock and suspense using the above.

Irony and deceit are also equally easy to accomplish. The character is presenting one mood through the dialog, facial expressions, and physical actions while the music is conveying something completely different. Again, the score will often precede the visual action by a second or so.

Horror and suspense are not the only things that can be conveyed through a subtle psychological sense, although they are some of the most powerful. With very few changes, the above situations can become hysterically funny through the use of music.

There is a delicate balance that needs to be achieved here. If done heavy-handedly, it is possible for the music to detract--but when that happens, the problem can usually be solved by lowering the volume of the score in the mix. As important as when to add music, the composer and director also need to understand when NOT to interfere--at times silence can be more effective than any background music. As the saying goes, sometimes "less is more".

In particularly tense or involved moments, the music works so well in a subliminal manner that many audience members--who have been deeply affected by the scene--aren't even aware they have been hearing music!

III. SERVE AS A NEUTRAL BACKGROUND FILLER. Often a film is tested before preview audiences before its general release. The audience's reactions are very carefully watched and last minute changes are sometimes made if a particular segment loses their attention--something that can be very critical to a film's success if it happens at a key moment.

Background music can help with this, keeping the audience from daydreaming. While it would be ideal to reshoot scenes that seem a little slow, it would represent financial disaster if the cast and crew had already been released, or if there was a very costly location shot.

Perhaps there is no deficiency, but instead there is a scene change necessary to establish a change of locale--background filler music will be able to keep the audience's attention from wandering. Or, perhaps the director is presenting a plot clue that will be very important later.

If there is any controversy involved in creating film music, it would be whether or not the audience is meant to actually hear and concentrate on it. There are certainly times when it is possible to have music that is too good or obtrusive--one wouldn't want it to draw the audience's attention from some critical elements on the screen.

IV. BUILD A SENSE OF CONTINUITY. Many good scripts consist of a number of ideas and subplots that are vital in the telling of a complex story. If a director isn't careful, a complex plot can become a series of unrelated episodes that cause members of the audience to scratch their heads in confusion. Music is very effective at linking ideas together. A composer will often create several musical themes, each representing a situation, character, or emotion in mind. When that situation or character returns, the music returns also. If the character has undergone some kind of development or transformation, the music will sometimes also undergo a similar transformation.

A very excellent example of this is John Williams' music for the Star Wars Trilogy. Williams not only uses the music to link together the various parts of each movie, but there is some music common to all three movies, helping to weave the dramatic thread that connects the very long and involved story.

V. SUPPORT THE THEATRICAL BUILD-UP OF A SCENE, AND ROUND IT OFF WITH A SATISFYING SENSE OF FINALITY. One of the most important places for music in a movie is at the climax of the film. If the film represents a conflict between good and evil, the right music at the right time will help heighten the tension created as the two opposing forces reach their climactic battle, giving some kind of a definite closure to the ideas. Like many other mediums (including absolute music itself), films often are a very carefully controlled program of tensions and relaxations. Tense and relaxed music can powerfully augment what the director is attempting to visually convey.

VI. UTILITARIAN MUSIC. This is the music that the characters "hear" and react to, such as music played at a dance, circus music, cafe music, etc. Unlike other categories of film music, this one needs to be composed before the shooting starts. Many film scores (except for the utilitarian music) are composed after the filming is finished and are added in the final editing and mixing.

I'm going to add one more to Copland's list, a function that has become more and more important in recent years--VII. PUBLICITY AND MARKETING. As the trend of "sending part of the movie home with the viewer" (through marketing, souvenirs, toys, shirts, logos, etc.) has grown to unimagined heights, music has become an important element in many films' successes. Modern soundtracks have become an integral part of the publicity campaign to sell every ticket possible--a necessity when the cost of some films exceeds $50 million. The use of big-name musical stars, along with the carefully coordinated timing of the release of the movie and songs (many of which become hits, helping the movie, which then helps the music, which then helps the movie, etc., etc.) is vital to the success--or failure of the project.

John Williams, James Horner, John Barry, and Jerry Goldsmith are four of the most active composers in Hollywood. Past outstanding composers include Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa (who have both scored many Alfred Hitchcock films), Henry Mancini, Richard Rodgers, Erich Korngold, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin, among many others.

A number of composers known for their "classical" works have tried their hands at the new medium, including Philip Glass and Sergei Prokofiev. Prokofiev's music from the 1938 Eisenstein movie "Alexander Nevsky" eventually became so popular that he arranged a suite for orchestra, chorus, and soloist that is now far more well known than the film.

Before sound was added to film scores, there was nothing BUT music that accompanied the film. These movies, known as "silent movies", sometimes had a written out score that accompanied the film. At other times, a pianist or organist would improvise during the film, suiting the character of the music to the mood of the images being projected at the time.

An experiment that seems to have had limited potential--at least at that time--was the Walt Disney movie, "Fantasia". Taking a number of standard classical compositions, the Disney animators created their own set of images to interpret, or add to, or heighten the experience of the music.

While not really ever repeated, Fantasia is almost a forerunner of music video (more on this below). Music videos represent almost a complete role reversal for the music and images. In these miniature dramas, the music is written first, and then the scenes are shot and edited in to essentially do what music does in a movie.

Music and Video Part Two -- MUSIC VIDEOS AND MTV

Music videos represent the latest in a series of communication/media forms that owe their genesis to the electronic age. They're quickly evolving into a new type of composite art form consisting of the elements of music and visual images. Other artistic elements are also important--those of staging, acting, lighting, makeup, etc. but videos remain different from other mediums--with the music being the primary element (in most cases) and the visual images complementing the music. They represent a complete reversal of the roles found in the traditional relationship between music and the images. Where movie soundtracks complemented the images, the video elements are filmed to function in support of the music. (Reread Aaron Copland's six functions of the movie score and compare them to the function of the visual images the next time you watch a video.)

Although music videos haven't been around for too many years (MTV began its U.S. broadcasting on August 1, 1981), their artistic forerunners go back several decades.

"Soundies" were black and white short features shown along with the main feature in films of the 1940's. They consisted of odd juxtapositions of music and visual images as warmups to the main feature. When television became a viable medium, similar excerpts would appear in the middle of a scene. These were some of the first ties of music and the electronic visual medium (opera is a much earlier union of the NON-electronic visual medium and music).

Early rock and roll movies (with Elvis Presley, etc.) and later movies (such as "Help" and "A Hard Day's Night", both by the Beatles) included popular music in the soundtrack with the visual images not so much resembling a live performance, but distinctly like those of a modern music video with a wide variety of camera shots, edits, and special effects.

Before Bob Pittman convinced Warner Communications and American Express to back and operate the MTV channel, some of what we would call music videos had been shot, but they were played only in a few exclusive rock clubs and on European television--Americans had no outlet until the 1981 birth of MTV.

The MTV format adopted the tried and true radio DJ (VJ or 'video jockey') elements with a little conversation between songs and lots of commercials to support the operations. Although MTV lost $50 million in its first three years (most innovative concepts don't turn a profit initially) it is now a thriving operation with many spinoffs, including a host of local music video shows in many U.S. cities.

Among the effects of MTV and music videos in general have been what some consider to be a complete revitalization of the recording industry. Early bands and performers who produced music videos noticed an increase in record sales. This facet drastically changed record marketing procedures--the performers' public exposure and self promotion were achieved by way of national and world tours. With the exposure given in a music video, some performers are finding it unnecessary to go on tour.

You may not have noticed it because it's been a subtle change, but the average television commercial has taken on a lot of the high-gloss, fast-moving visual imagery of the music video. The selling power of the format cannot be questioned whether its intent is to sell the music of a particular performer or Jordache jeans. Many television programs and even full length movies are praised (or criticized) for taking on the appearance of a long music video.

The average cost of producing a music video is $60,000 with some of them more to produce than whole movies cost a decade or so ago--that's a lot for a five minute musical commercial that gains little or no income on its own. Some of these may even be rejected by MTV (which has a policy of avoiding anything too violent or sexually explicit), so the investment could be a very costly one.

Music videos have become another in a series of dizzying communication changes in the 20th century. They represent what some interpret as an almost alarming decline in attention span (TV commercials have even been shortened to 30 and 15 seconds); they represent an obsession with "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll"--ideas that have caused the music industry to be placed under congressional scrutiny, and an accession to what many feel is a too commercial approach to the music market. Although there are many debates as to the effects of the medium, historical precedent shows us that music and art reflect what is already around its creators and audiences and not quite the driving force of change that its detractors label it. . . on the other hand, if these people are right, this makes a rather disturbing statement about how artists that powerful are looked down on by society. You would expect that anyone that powerful would be treated with a little more favor. At any rate, one must keep an open mind in the process. A very old Chinese proverb states that the only constant in life is change.

In its short existence, the medium has already seen a startling change from one of a simple commercial promotional tool to one that makes use of the highest technology of the medium in a direction that some would call. . . artistic???

Why not? Art has always reflected the inner workings of the creator/audience in a way unique to its time. Videos are making statements as clearly as anything imaginable about life in the 20th century. We are seeing a new medium growing up within our own lifetimes--one that is now a thriving industry on its own. Video companies are marketing selected videos, performers have assembled video albums parallel to their audio albums using some of the finest directors in the entertainment business, and even compact discs are getting into the act. Research has taken place showing that a CD can be encoded with the necessary video signal in addition to a stereo audio signal.

The visual, electronic, even the computerized effects (Mick Jagger's "Hard Woman" video from spring 1986 consists entirely of computer graphics) are all part of the electronic potential of the medium. Marshall McLuhan, a media philosopher, once concluded that the medium was becoming the message itself. We are seeing that happen daily. On occasion twentieth century man has found himself glorifying NOT just in the communications that his new tools bring, but in the sophistication of the MESSENGER--the electronic boxes that bring him all of these. Operating, understanding, and creating with them has become a special artistic endeavor.

Even more to the point, we often don't just sit down and watch a program such as "Miami Vice", "Beverly Hillbillies" or even "Star Trek" as much as we watch television. We don't listen to specific music or performers as much as we listen to the radio or stereo. This is one of the ways that our whole communication experience has changed through the near-universal availability of our media arts. My guess is that someday historians will look back at our obsessions with less than noble motivations, our reduced attention span, our high gloss product and accurately gauge some of what we find important in our current electronic media art. They will also find a lot about us. Even if the art doesn't represent everybody equally well, it tells much about the times that we live in. Being art, it will also tell much more.

We sometimes look back at an older masterpiece and marvel that in addition to accurately representing the time, it also contains universal human ideas and truths. It represents what makes us distinctly human. It sums up our experience (or at least our questions about our experience!). I expect that time will probably sift through the thousands of works and a few of these will rise above the rest. They will tell our story--of 20th century man as well as the story of timeless and universal man.

That is what art is all about.