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The Death of Film Music
Last post Tue, Aug 04 2009 by imusic, 64 replies.
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Posted on Tue, Jul 14 2009 01:16
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5626

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__________________ end of  quote

This blurb set me off, sorry for my hysterical ranting on the previous version.   But this is disturbing because the whole art of film music is in a composer developing his themes and ideas to express all the moods of the film.  And these guys are arguing against that, saying they've replaced that with something better!  Also, the Dark Knight was good not because of the forgettable score, but because of the film itself.  Compare that score to the first Batman by Danny Elfman - an individual composer with his own style who created a beautiful  piece of work. 

Posted on Tue, Jul 14 2009 12:54
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1075

Why worry or anathematize? No composer worth his salt - especially those you mentioned (sadly - or better for us - all dead) would participate in something like this. For the record, I was not in the least surprised about how BAD the "Dark Knight" soundtrack was, those two grotesquely well paid composers have never impressed me in the past, and proved on their own how 0+0 still makes 0!

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Tue, Jul 14 2009 14:32
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5626

 Yes, you're right.  I should not worry over these things.  It is just that there seems to be a universal movement to erase individuality and replace it with corporate-controlled, homogenized drek everywhere..

Posted on Tue, Jul 14 2009 15:43
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49

William, I completely agree with your sentiment here but I'd be wary of citing Elfman's Batman work as how good a single composer sounds. Not going to go into details but at the very least Steve Bartek and Shirley Walker had a significant input on that score.

James
Posted on Tue, Jul 14 2009 17:31
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5626

 Yes, you may be right there.  I should actually have used the example of Bernard Herrmann first of all, as well as Erich Wolfgang Korngold, two composers who stand as the most individualistic artists in film music.  Herrmann of course did his own orchestrations as well as his own style of non-leitmotif development, which were radical innovations compared to any other composer at the time.  And Korngold viewed his film scores as "operas without words" using as careful and serious a treatment as concert pieces he wrote in developing many different nuances for the films he scored.  Adventures of Robin Hood just came out on Bluray, and it is good to be able to see the beautiful Technicolor so clearly while hearing that great music.  But the point is that the real art of film music is doing precisely the opposite of what this company is trumpeting as its great new development.

Posted on Tue, Jul 14 2009 19:47
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49

 Ah, definitely!

Jerry Goldsmith is another. I believe his orchestrator said that his job was to copy the notes from the white paper to the yellow paper (or vice versa, I forget).

James
Posted on Wed, Jul 15 2009 19:04
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1075
bluejay wrote:

William, I completely agree with your sentiment here but I'd be wary of citing Elfman's Batman work as how good a single composer sounds. Not going to go into details but at the very least Steve Bartek and Shirley Walker had a significant input on that score.

I second the motion about how good the Danny Elfman Batman score was. I am wary instead of all these ongoing for 20 years rumours about how much help Elfman has behind the scenes (as opposed to almost everyone else?..), I heard it first hand myself when an oscar nominated well known composer told me so in a private conversation in between masterclasses. Frankly, for all the crap(?) that's going around, and since Beetlejuice, I have been impressed - not overwhelmed - by Elfman's work, so much so that with the gradual passing of the "great" ones, he is certainly top five on my list. If for all these decades he has come up with such different and interesting scores (Beetlejuice, Batman, Good Will Hunting, Big Fish, etc.) with so much help, why don't these incredible helpers make something of themselves? What are they waiting for? Another 20 years?...

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Wed, Jul 15 2009 21:02
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5626

 Yeah that is a good point and  probably true.  He probably has gotten help with orchestration, but the style he has is very recognizable and good.  He was the first newer American film composer after John Williams became so famous to sound really original and recognizable to me, not a carbon-copy of Williams.  I am aware of how he is influenced by Herrmann (like the opening of Batman which is similar to Journey to the Center of the Earth) but it still becomes part of his style and is not just stealing like Horner. 

Posted on Wed, Jul 15 2009 21:55
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1075

As far as Horner is concerned, I don't care much for his work (except "Aliens" which I find just exemplary, masterfully capturing Cameron's metallic aesthetic, as well as the terror), but even him, with all his 'copy-paste' modus operandi, I still find more interesting than Hans, James-Newton, Thomas (how many movies can you score with the same strings-patterns?? Captured the stasis, changelessness and repetitive life in Shawshank prison, didn't realize that was his one style), all current Davids (except Newman - listen to "Throw Mama from the Train" among others), etc. Why? Because Horner (unsuccessfully? You be the judge) served (attempted to serve if you prefer) a different soundtrack aesthetic than almost everyone else today. An aesthetic that stemmed from pioneers such as Herrmann, Rozsa, Rota, Goldsmith, Morriconne, Williams, Barry, Jarre, and many others who wished to have more original music percentage-wise in every score (of course they used their signature-tricks as well), than just exactly the same SYMPHOBIA orchestral-rush for every suspense scene for every movie for every kind of shot etc. And - have you noticed? - they all could write a damn good melody when required... on manuscript paper too of all places... And I mean MELODY, not 4-5 notes put together like Hans' or Howard's. These guys' "melodic" material compares to that of the 3rd raters of the 70s and 80s.

Don't get me wrong, I know that guys like Beltrami and Desplat have probably had excellent conservatoire training; it is the soundtrack aesthetic of the last say 14-15 years I personally detest (there always are exceptions of course, especially from the old guard). However, if that is what the new generation of directors want, who am I to decide what to do with their millions every year?... 

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Thu, Jul 16 2009 08:53
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49

 Errikos, first I want to say that the scores Danny Elfman wrote back in the day were very good. I particularly love Batman and Edward Scissorhands. Having said all that, there's absolutely no doubt as to the influence of his collaborators.

Take a listen to Marc Shaiman's score for The Addams Family and see how much it sounds like Elfman ... and again was orchestrated by Steve Bartek.

Shirley Walker (now sadly no longer with us) went on to score several films (like the Final Destination series) and some tv stuff (including the Batman cartoon).

There's no doubt that Elfman has really grown into a good composer (although I've found his later scores to be less interesting as he increasingly sounds like Zimmer) but it's well known that he had a lot of help on Batman (with Steven Scott Smalley being one of the uncredited orchestrators). Given that William's original point was against scores by collaboration I felt this was particularly germane.

Of course if you want to argue against a point I wasn't making then go ahead. I'll be the first to admit that if I ever get to move from scoring independent movies to the mainstream then I'll be using a pro orchestrator.

James
Posted on Thu, Jul 16 2009 14:25
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5626

 "if I ever get to move from scoring independent movies to the mainstream then I'll be using a pro orchestrator." - bluejay

If you get to that point you will be writing music just like Zimmer.  You need to realize - you are lucky to be scoring independent movies.   Yes, you may make no money,  but what is  your goal in music?  To make money or to  create good music?  To me, writing music for a serious dramatic independent film is the best work a film composer could ever find.  Writing music for a Hollywood film is the worst, because it is the total destruction of everything that the art of music stands for.  If you want to make money,  then you will write like Zimmer or they won't hire you.  Because everything in commercial films is homogenized pablum.  There is no artistry _  the only art of film music any more is to be found in independent filmmaking. 

Except for  a few older composers who are really good and allowed to do what they do, especially in Europe like Preisner and a few others, but any new, non-established composer today is in big trouble if he is uncompromising, like all the great composers who are admired from the past.  And today, uncompromising means just doing something slightly good.  Not uncompromising like Herrmann, who was an absolute tyrant in control of every single note heard in the score and if anyone tampered with them he was gone from the project in a fit of screaming rage.  But you cannot have that kind of artistic integrity and work today in commercial films.   You can in independent filmmaking. 

Posted on Thu, Jul 16 2009 17:12
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1075
bluejay wrote:

 Errikos, first I want to say that the
scores Danny Elfman wrote back in the day were very good. I
particularly love Batman and Edward Scissorhands. Having said all that, there's absolutely no doubt as to the influence of his collaborators.

Take a listen to Marc Shaiman's score etc..

James, let me agree with you that if I ever join you in Hollywood when you go I will also use a pro orchestrator, due to the cut-throat deadlines to begin with. However, I will be using one in the same vein that Williams does or Goldsmith did; not because I don't know a piccolo from a tuba.

Be that as it may, let's remember that Herbert Spencer, Arthur Morton and even Alexandre Courage did not and I'm sure never dreamed of having similar careers to the aforementioned. Correspondingly, Elfman - and this is my opinion, not a universal constant - is incalculably superior to Bartek, Walker, Smalley and the like put together (at least by comparing the scores you suggest with his). I won't argue that the orchestrations are not the product of such collaborators, but I believe in his case that the musical ideas were his own. In any case, the difference is 'personality'. A gifted composer possesses one while others do not. Elfman of course is an exception in this whole discussion since, from what I understand, he has no musical training to speak of orchestrally. My guess is that he must be such a powerful verbal communicator as to what he wants from his arrangers, as he is a musical one; lest we forget with his advent how many Elfman clones sprouted around, not least because the directors demanded it. Now I don't know of any other hack in this business to have provoked such a reaction... I agree with you that it has been some time since he has offered something special. Let me say that I would not have brought him up myself as an example, merely that I agree that his Batman score was the superior one.

From the specific to the general:

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Fri, Jul 17 2009 10:57
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49

 Not really sure I get your point here Errikos.

Firstly, it's nice to see that you, like me, know how to orchestrate but recognise the various reasons for using pro-orchestrators.

After that, you seem to contradict yourself, on one side defending Elfman whilst admitting that the orchestration may not be all his own work and then, on the other side, attacking  modern composers for using other people's orchestration.

I know that at least some of the orchestration on Batman had to be reworked (it's one of the assignments and examples in the Scott Smalley course) to improve the tone and voice leading in the strings.

The worst of all this is that I'm sure you and I actually have the same aesthetic towards film music and are just arguing semantics at this point. As I've said all along, I love the early Elfman scores however I feel that the sound he created at the time was heavily influenced by his collaborators.

As for another 'hack' who has demanded imitation ... well it depends on how you define hack. I'm sure many people consider Zimmer to be one and he is imitated by a lot of people these days ... including Elfman.

In response to your 'manifesto' I can only say that this is getting noticed. Nearly every major film I've been to see of late I've walked out to hear people in the audience complaining about the weak score.

Oh and thank you William! It's nice to see someone who values scoring independent movies. My only problem is that too many indie directors (in the UK at least) want to sound like Hollywood! At least when I'm not getting paid a lot I can argue my case more strongly.

James
Posted on Fri, Jul 17 2009 15:20
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5626

 yes, a lot of independent movies are simply independent because the director - who desperately wants to become just like his idol Steven Spielberg - has not been able yet to surrender all artistic values and become mainstream.  But he will as soon as the dollars  show up.

I was not talking about that, but rather the ideal situation that I fantasize about - the rarest of situations probably:  Preisner just happening to have  pal who is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time named Kieslowski, or in a slightly more commercial but still attractive situation Elfman having a pal named Burton.  To me a true independent filmmaker is not a guy who wants a deal with Hollywood and so is making an "Indy" but someone like John Sayles who continues doing so for his whole life because his only interest is in the art of film.   

Posted on Fri, Jul 17 2009 19:03
by mverta
Joined on Thu, Dec 18 2003, Posts 171

I might recommend slightly less broad brushes, here, guys.  There are good directors/producers, even in Hollywood.  Rare, but not extinct.  Personally, I can and do orchestrate my own work, but there are gigs where I literally don't have time to do it all by myself, so I use one or more orchestrators.  But I provide them with such detailed notes it's basically copying/transcoding.  I can't imagine leaving general notes like, "woodwinds/brass" or something.  If an orchestrator takes any licenses with something I catch it immediately at the session.  To me the composing and orchestrating process are inseparably linked.

In any case, if you don't have the skills to compose appropriate music for both the action sequences and the love sequences in the film you're hired for, you're not a qualified film composer.  Period.

_MIke

Posted on Fri, Jul 17 2009 20:24
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1075
bluejay wrote:

 Not really sure I get your point here Errikos.

Firstly, it's nice to see that you, like me, know how to orchestrate but recognise the various reasons for using pro-orchestrators etc.

Firstly, thank you for going through my post, I am sure you are quite a busy man. Secondly, I consider myself to be a very highly intelligent man - to say the least, and my dialectical abilities to be impeccable. So if it seems I am contradicting myself it must be due to your own reasoning faculties, the speed with which you read the post, or my bad presentation... So,

I mentioned in my post the names of Williams and Goldsmith's long time orchestrators; did I say Williams and Goldsmith were bad film composers? No. I have no problem with the use of orchestrators or I would only be listening to Mancini, Morricone and Shore. What I said was that despite the apparently enormous help that Elfman has in that regard, he still possesses his own voice (missing from most today), and after Will Hunting and Big Fish he showed that his voice was not mono-dimensional (Beetlejuice, Scissorhands, Nightmare before Christmas etc.). The fact that his sound comes clearly through after so many people allegedly (and maybe that's the way it was) put so much of their own craft into these scores, proves my point. I also said that Elfman was an exception as an example, one that I would not have picked myself as a generically to prove the thread's contentions with which I agree, save to say that his Batman was better than anyone else's.

I also think that it is great that we probably share the same aesthetics towards film music, I only wish it was the case with the current generation of directors.

Additionally I agree with your example of Zimmer being considered a hack by many people and having imitators, but I don't think Elfman is a hack, merely an untrained talent. In other words, I believe that he is a better composer than most of the classically trained "talent" out there, because he has his own personality. I am of course using my own standards of what is important and I never said that he was great; just better than what is usually available today.

I envy you the fact that the independent directors you work with want a Hollywood sound, that is something at least... Most of the indies I know are happy with an acoustic guitar song (it doesn't matter how awful it is so long as the lyrics reflect the sentiment and the undercurrents of the film), or a trite stereotypical "urban" sound for the supposed (in)existential - but really hackneyed - issues and suicidally boring characters they explore...

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Fri, Jul 17 2009 23:49
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5626

" ...a trite stereotypical "urban" sound for the supposed (in)existential - but really hackneyed - issues and suicidally boring characters they explore..."  errikos

Oh, so that is all independent movies? Thanks for clarifying that for me.  And get back to me when you score your first mainstream film  - I assume it will be exploring the existential anguish of a large CGI robot.

Posted on Sat, Jul 18 2009 00:12
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5626

 " if you don't have the skills to compose appropriate music for both the action sequences and the love sequences in the film you're hired for, you're not a qualified film composer. " mverta

That is certainly true and a good point.  In fact it is the whole purpose of a film composer.  To develop one theme into many different variations that fit the nuances of the film is what makes a score truly symphonic or operatic.  But don't tell that to the producers hiring Zimmer.  BTW I was thinking today about what he and the "composers" like him are really doing - they are abusing a fact about music in films:  a great piece of music with magnificent thematic development, excellent counterpoint and voice-leading, brilliant original harmony and wonderful lyrical melody may possibly be TERRIBLE for the film.  Because you can also compose a block chord piece slightly above the ability of a musical chimp and it may actually work for the scenes in question. 

And so this fundamental complexity of film music - that often mindlessly simple things can be used in a score and be more effective - allows hacks like Zimmer to abuse the entire art form and make a fortune in the process.  That is what he has discovered - "Hey! I don't even have to write real music for this movie gig!  All right!"   Many others will take his cue and continue with this film-wrecking garbage.  But sometime another Herrmann will come along and absolutely obliterate their miserable hackwork with one stroke of his pen.  Herrmann was once out of favor, when every idiot in Hollywood simply had to have a Mancini-style score for his film.  But while the shallow trends of the day come and go, the reality of actual artistic accomplishment will never truly die.

Posted on Sat, Jul 18 2009 01:07
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1075
William wrote:

" ...a trite stereotypical "urban" sound for the supposed (in)existential - but really hackneyed - issues and suicidally boring characters they explore..."  errikos

Oh, so that is all independent movies? Thanks for clarifying that for me.  And get back to me when you score your first mainstream film  - I assume it will be exploring the existential anguish of a large CGI robot.

[sigh!] Misunderstanding again... I was referring to the directors that I had the misfortune of meeting. Be that as it may, it would be very far from me to assume or bestow artistry, philosophy, and vision to a producer or a director simply because they do Independent Film... There are incredibly huge amount of arty-farty people in the Independent industry surrounding the gifted and the visionary, always pooh-poohing Hollywood for its "commercialism", while they themselves tell the same stories again and again, use every cliched, and contribute nothing at all; i.e the exact counterparts of the CGI robot scenario. At least if I ever did the music for that I'd be rich!

Let's face it, as bad and worse as Hollywood is getting to be, there aren't exactly too many Viscontis, Fellinis, Truffauts, or Hitchcocks working in Europe today for every composer... I know you'll say these are big names and would be categorized as European Cinema directors, not Independent, but (I could very well be mistaken) I don't see too much insightful cinema today. The political messages are In Your Face, there is unbearable catechism in the dialogues addressing an apparently uneducated audience, exclusively late20th-early21st century sensibilities even in period pieces(!!), etc. But, I have to agree that it is in Independent Cinema that a lot of creative chances are taken, and that is great for us. I was just wishing for directors with some considerable musical horizons. In that vein, I am happy for all of you who are working with such great visionaries who also understand good music, because I insist on what I said about the musical requirements I have come across (urban crap for crap plebeian characters, or the obligatory acoustic group "sad song", preferably with sultry teenage-early20s female vocalist).

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Sat, Jul 18 2009 08:09
by bluejay
Joined on Fri, Jul 07 2006, UK, Posts 49
Errikos wrote:

[sigh!] Misunderstanding again... I was referring to the directors that I had the misfortune of meeting. Be that as it may, it would be very far from me to assume or bestow artistry, philosophy, and vision to a producer or a director simply because they do Independent Film... There are incredibly huge amount of arty-farty people in the Independent industry surrounding the gifted and the visionary, always pooh-poohing Hollywood for its "commercialism", while they themselves tell the same stories again and again, use every cliched, and contribute nothing at all; i.e the exact counterparts of the CGI robot scenario. At least if I ever did the music for that I'd be rich!

Let's face it, as bad and worse as Hollywood is getting to be, there aren't exactly too many Viscontis, Fellinis, Truffauts, or Hitchcocks working in Europe today for every composer... I know you'll say these are big names and would be categorized as European Cinema directors, not Independent, but (I could very well be mistaken) I don't see too much insightful cinema today. The political messages are In Your Face, there is unbearable catechism in the dialogues addressing an apparently uneducated audience, exclusively late20th-early21st century sensibilities even in period pieces(!!), etc. But, I have to agree that it is in Independent Cinema that a lot of creative chances are taken, and that is great for us. I was just wishing for directors with some considerable musical horizons. In that vein, I am happy for all of you who are working with such great visionaries who also understand good music, because I insist on what I said about the musical requirements I have come across (urban crap for crap plebeian characters, or the obligatory acoustic group "sad song", preferably with sultry teenage-early20s female vocalist).

 

 Yeah, this pretty much sums it up. I was going to write something similar last night to be honest. A lot of younger directors tend to think of music in films as a music video and want songs. I know this is a sweeping statement but from my experience it's very popular at the moment. Thankfully I'm not having to do that too much in the current movie (one song and a couple of pieces of source music).

James
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