Musical Framing And Shading

I am old enough to remember that the gap between cinema release and a film reaching VHS used to be substantially longer than it is now. The only way to keep the intense connection that certain films have made was to listen the film's original score as a kind of stop gap until you had your own copy to keep forever. For me, there is no finer example of this than the rousing Elfman score from Batman and I have owned multiple copies of it as they tended to get worn out. Elfman's signature use of strings and choral sections made Burton's Gothic vision of the shadowy world that Batman occupies even more striking. That is the power of music and, in particular, film soundtracking. But a film's soundtrack is so much more than the framing of a Director's vision. It also adds shading and colour to what you see. Without the intimate work that a composer undertakes with the music that is created a film suffers from a lack of clarity and can lose some of it's impact with an audience.

You remember the classic 'chest bursting' sequence from Alien? Surely one of the most horrific and shockingly iconic scenes in cinematic history. Jerry Goldsmith's score for the film plays on the paranoia and suspense that Ridley Scott brilliantly builds and yet the temptation to over score this pivotal scene is easy to understand. Yet there is no music at all. Goldsmith understood the power of music and even more importantly the power of silence. As a result, the absence of music accentuates Kane's death and frames the crew's horror at what they witness. Change the music and you change the atmosphere, so much so, that even this well known scene becomes a completely different experience.

1. The original scene from Alien as released.

2. My version with a classical music composition.

My idea behind this musical piece was to highlight the communion of a shared meal. The music is very religious in its quality and illicits a kind of 'togetherness' or camaraderie that the Nostromo crew share. As Kane starts to convulse the music tonally shifts but not, as you would expect, to one of horror or suspense but to a much more celebratory style. The strings and piano are almost regal in their treatment of a very upbeat and lively section. Whether the black and white grading on the scene implies a memory or flashback the tone of the music is not one of sadness but of joy. This is a celebration of new life.

As an audience or an individual your feelings when watching this scene may be wildly different to mine. For me, that is the beauty of art, of film and of music. As the composer I had a very clear idea on what I wanted my music to convey but that doesn't make your feelings redundant or wrong. If my work brings forth any sort of emotional response then I have achieved what I set out to do. Film music is about connection, connection to the film it frames but it must intensify, strengthen that connection. To that end the shading that music provides is essential and must also match the vision of the Director. Kane's death at the hands of the murderous Alien is violent and shocking but it is also a harbinger of what is to come. As a Film Composer, I work very closely with Director's to ensure that their vision is framed perfectly and that the musical grading brings out what they wish to convey.