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James Horner vs. Bernard Herrmann
Last post Sat, Mar 03 2018 by William, 101 replies.
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Posted on Thu, Feb 08 2018 01:14
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1005

I'm not suggesting that Constant's theme was bad for the TZ - as a matter of fact it did have that ominous ticking motif that very aptly went with that equally ominous counterclockwise ticking clock that featured in the opening montage, as well as being a subliminal countdown for whatever calamity was to plague the protagonist. I didn't know it was the result of collation though. I have a fantastic (no pun), huge book on horror/fantasy film/TV music called Musique Fantastique (Larson). Maybe the story of the TZ theme is detailed in there, I can't remember.

By the way, all film composers borrow and/or steal of course, but Morricone or Barry for example do that a lot less than say Steiner, Tiomkin, Waxman, Webb, and all that old guard who in all their musical greatness they very much were a poor man's Strauss and Rachmaninov (Wagner really where it all began). Some of them, like Rozsa for instance, do venture a little into "modern" orchestrations and expressionism on occasion, but they are very much rooted on late-romanticism whether the film is a thriller or romance (Herrmann being a great exception, his own voice being too strong and one whose influences were more aesthetically modern). This is not a criticism, just a fact; they wrote great music. Later composers are more varied and eclectic in their musical expressions and so their own disparate styles come through easier (say Mancini, Jarre, Goldsmith, Morricone, Barry, Williams, Delerue, etc.).

Finally yes, all these people were very versed in art music. It would be very hard to compose Casablanca, North by Northwest, Cinema Paradiso, Papillon, Goldfinger, and Star Wars on 'dubstep' and 'gangrene style' principles with arpeggiators and Cine-Ork.

Be that as it may, I have to repeat -reluctantly- that the most original of all must be Hans (again, no pun); Koyaanisqatsi being the closest archetype I can think of (no comparison obviously...)

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, Feb 08 2018 02:52
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

"dubstep' and 'gangrene style' principles with arpeggiators and Cine-Ork.

Be that as it may, I have to repeat -reluctantly- that the most original of all must be Hans (again, no pun); Koyaanisqatsi being the closest archetype I can think of (no comparison obviously...) - Errikos

Errikos, I love Cine-Ork and in fact use it regularly.  

What does that mean about "Hans"?   Run that past me again with a slight decrease of irony though I know that is counter to your most basic nature.

Posted on Fri, Feb 09 2018 01:18
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1005

Hans is absolutely original in that there are no precedents in orchestral music for his symphonic tripe. The reason of course is that nobody writing orchestral music builds a work the way a teenager builds a song on a sequencer: First lay down the beat and bass dude (2nd violins spiccati and low strings) , then some basic harmony (brass pads, choirs), and then some basic melody (characterless meandering 1st violins lines etc.). Even in the works of the pioneers of 'Minimal' music, harmonic movement is intentionally not too sophisticated, however rhythm and orchestration are accomplished. Glass is the least sophisticated of that bunch (hence the reference) but, like I said, no comparison.

Hans is original (and abominable and otherwise unimaginative), but never forget how much help from actual professionals he's got. Every musical ork copying him (because it's retardedly easy) should quit and work at the original KFC instead (see posts above).

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, Feb 09 2018 05:57
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 299

What upsets me is not just Hans's "style"  (which is so well described by Errikos), but the fact that just about every television series or documentary has copied this style. I was watching 'Planet earth II'. While the documentary itself is amazingly well done, the music was a big let down. It was all about taikos and spiccatos, alternatine between tonic and domionant two note repetitions. Any child could write with a sequencer and with no knowledge of harmony.  I hear the same music all around in movies and TV. So banal and trite and stupid.

Anand Kumar
Posted on Fri, Feb 09 2018 10:49
by mh-7635
Joined on Wed, Aug 04 2004, Posts 162

Oh feck, I just know I am putting myself in the firing line here, but whatever - it's all good fun eh chaps!

The Zimmer bashing has the ring of truth about it when it comes to the technical side of his music, but to my ears, he has actually produced some very decent tunes and emotive cues over the years, in fact some great music, perfectly suited to its medium. Errikos has pointed out (and so have I in the past) that he IS an original and that counts for a lot of his success and the incessant aping in every teenage bedroom in the world. Of course, what has also counted in his success is the fact that his style is popular with producers and directors and his CV, bolstered by his track record, is very impressive.

He is not JW or BH as I'm sure he would admit, he is a different paradigm in non-digetic music and one that is (sadly -see I am on your sides!!) more in tune with the present zietgeist - if only  because of the accessibility and ubiquity of the techniques he uses in those damn bedrooms.

I'd rather rail against the internet and how it has devalued music in all senses (monetary, aesthetically and technically) than against HZ...but perhaps that's a digression.

Be gentle.....

Posted on Fri, Feb 09 2018 15:34
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

"he has actually produced some very decent tunes..."  mh-7635

What are those? 

Posted on Fri, Feb 09 2018 20:00
by mh-7635
Joined on Wed, Aug 04 2004, Posts 162

William, you are going to give me  a hiding to nothing and as it is all subjective, I shan't bother.

Suffice to say we shall have to differ about HZ but I am in complete agreement with all here about the period of scoring prior to the present day, becfause I too am old school - it's just that I don't think todays practices are all bad compared to the past. (I'm not suggesting you think like that!). For example, have you seen 'The Arrival'? - a really cool, contemprorary way to score a film in my view.

I still say the internet is responsible for the demise of many, many professions but especially ours, in so many insidious ways - symptoms of which bring forth discussions like this.

Posted on Fri, Feb 09 2018 20:03
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

No actually I wanted to hear decent tunes by Zimmer, seriously.  What are they?  

Posted on Fri, Feb 09 2018 21:29
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 299

mh - 

I am not questioning that he is competent in producing scores for big budget movies. ... obviously he is, or else why would he be so successful. He has enough clout to hire big orchestra to generate his big thump thump sound...and I am sure he works very very hard.

But that doesnt mean his music has quality. The music is very low quality. The public doesnt know and doesnt care. It only listens to what is fed into its ears. If it is JW music in Star wars or ET, they will listen. If it is HZ in Batman they will listen.  But there is a world of difference in these as we know.

Now try to imaging JW scoring Batman, or Gladiator...we can only dream about how it would have sounded. 

And then imagine HZ scoring Star wars or Schindlers list or E.T....I am sure he would have finished the job, but THANK GOD the world didnt go in that direction, but even if it did, the public wouldnt have known what was missed.

Nothing is absolute here but yet we known there is a world of difference.

Anand Kumar
Posted on Fri, Feb 09 2018 23:37
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1005

I heard several cues of The Arrival and I understnd Mike's point. Not all music (and budget) for film has to employ a 120-piece orchestra, who said that? In fact I recall one of the most powerful and apt soundtracks I've ever heard was Joe Lo Duca's to the original Evil Dead. Another is Eyes Wide Shut where a single piano note or two suffice to create/complement a complex emotion and effect (although it is temp music from Ligeti). This Arrival thing did not impress me much as absolute music but it could be perfectly suited to the film, much like Nyman's to Gattaca (meaning the music sounds not too impressive if you have not seen the film). The visuals and music go so well together in Gattaca, that both media gain additional dimensions - that's how the magic happens and that may be the case with this Arrival film.

I know and respect some earlier Hans - say The Last Samurai - but any melodies of note, none I'm aware of (Gladiator has a theme, not a melody, and it is Vangelis' really). Otherwise, if Hans can only score stutters for any and every kind of subject and genre that he is given, that's not a style anymore, but charlatanism instead. As far as the mega sound and whatever quality if any in the music he achieves, he has a lot of help so no credit there either.

Imagine how I feel about the apes...

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, Feb 10 2018 02:56
by JamesPDX
Joined on Fri, May 01 2015, USA, Posts 24

I am a huge Bernard Herrmann fan and I am appalled at how often his music is used but uncredited (The Artist, etc.) especially when it's not a work in public domain. One of my favorites is The Octopus from the soundtrack to Beneath the 12-Mile Reef BMG/RCA Victor 0707-2-RG. Everything he did was stellar.

But even I must admit that even the soundtrack from Vertigo (arguably his best work) could not exist without the legacy of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and Rachmaninoff's Isle of the Dead (1909) and Symphony No. 2 (1906-07), and Ravel's Daphnis Et Chloé  -And that trickles down to every film composer who can now also lean a little on Ligeti and Górecki. I have yet to hear film music that does not have some Classical or Romantic DNA in it. -Unless it's one of those sine wave drone soundtracks. And I find that to be a cop-out.

Just like Fred Steiner so wisely seized upon Ravel's Daphnis Et Chloé: 2. Entrance of Daphnis and Chloe and 11. Invocation to Pan by the Nymphs and the Prayer of Daphnis for his work on Star Trek. Great stuff that worked with the genre.

Basically, John Williams owes debts directly Rachmaninoff, Vaughan Williams, Ravel, and Holst. All sci-fi film composers have been touched by Holst. And all of this debt to Holst would not have been possible without Rachmaninoff's 2-minute Intermezzo from the opera Aleko that was written in 1892; and the absolute gold standard of Dies irae expanded to it's maximum possible effect in Isle of the Dead which was written in 1909.

It's pretty much impossible not to have something sound like something else. I suppose the trick is in not being so blatant or overly-seduved by the sheer beauty of what the greats have left us. This is something I struggle against.

We have all inherited such a treasure of great music and it is my hope that we will draw on the beautiful to write the new.

OP: Thank you for this lively discussion.

James Long
Posted on Sat, Feb 10 2018 10:25
by mh-7635
Joined on Wed, Aug 04 2004, Posts 162

Anand,

I know where you are coming from and that's cool. Don't get me wrong, I too prefer the more traditional approach to scoring, but all you've just written is subjective and therefore nothing else can be said about it - opinions will always differ and there is no right or wrong, yes? That said, allow me to be subjective for a moment too, as you mentioned Batman. The Dark Knight scores are excellent in my view, brooding, portentious and dramatic. That 2 note minor third theme (oh allright then, motif ) is remarkably powerful in situ and is a wonderful psychological portrayal of Bales' brooding character. I feel the same way about the Superman theme (yes, theme this time!) too - another growing, dawning, pent -up feel which works very well for me.

 I can't make some of you erudite gentlemen (no irony, I mean that really - some very impressive soundtrack knowledge on show here), believe that a particular melody or cue by HZ is good and so despite Williams' insistence, I am not going to list all of the scores I deem good. I just don't think HZ deserves such a bad press, his aesthetic paradigm is different, that's all - the music is utility music and it does the job admirably, which neatly brings me on to Errikos' point about absolute music.

It seems to me that absolute music is where the greats mentioned in this thread have an added bonus in their work as  a lot of it does translate into music for musics' sake. Here is a thought on what might be a contributing factor to some film musics successful autonomy.

One of the benefits of not working to a click (like JW) when cueing is that one can think in terms of pure musical flow complete with rubato to enhance the expression and accomodate synch if needed. Working this way comes naturally with traditional training and being a performer on an instrument and is more likely to yield a satisfying feel because the linear flow will breathe more. That's not to say it can't be done as well under a click approach, it's just that the mental process of composing and the formulation of line and cadence is not being aggresively dictated to by a click and as a result the feel can sometimes be emancipated to a certain extent. Perhaps it is this approach to writing that partly contributes to the musics own sense of purpose away from any synch. Does that make sense, or was that a load of bullshit?..it makes sense to me anyways.. 

I'm sure we'd all agree with James' pitch that originality is hard to find and yet HZ did it!!!!!

Mike....the Devils' advocate) Hewer 

Posted on Sat, Feb 10 2018 10:47
by jasensmith
Joined on Tue, Jan 15 2008, Arizona, Posts 1299

When you think of Raiders of the Lost Ark, you think of the Raiders March.

When you think of Star Wars you think of the Imperial March.

When you think of E.T. It's hard not to hear the theme in your head.

When you think of Patton you hear the echoing trumpets.

When you think of Psycho you hear the screeching violins.

When you think of Jaws...etc.

But when you think of Interstellar Ah... I think of ah... irritating drones and loud swaths of sound. 

When you think of Batman Begins.  Ah... Yeah... what is it? Arpeggiated synths with a block chord string progression?

When you think of Inception.  Ah... I think it's a chord progression that just gets louder and louder and now my head hurts.

I believe this all started back in the 90's when documentary filmmaking style was in vogue.  Themes and old school film scoring just doesn't work very well for that gritty, raw, what-you-see-is what-you-get style.  I think that was when the sound designs and bass drones became popular and now they are just used for everything.  Oh, that and beats.  Everything has to have a completely inapropriate dance beat to it now. 

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying everything on screen has to have a theme or melodies.  in fact, some of the aforementioned examples above are not themes or melodies at all.  But think of a movie (not sequels or reboots of older material)  made within the last twenty years that has a discernable music accompaniment and is memorable.  They just don't do that anymore and I think it's a shame.

And Errikos is right you don't need a big orchestra to make a good score.  I would add Carpenter's Halloween to his list.  Nor do you need a score at all, I've mentioned Goodfellas on another thread as an example of a montage of Pop songs.  The film has no original or even incidental music whatsoever it's just Pop songs strung together in a clever way.  

Also, I'm not necessarily bashing Zimmer.  As I mentioned in a previous post I liked the music to Rainman.  In fact when I think of that movie I think of the minimal in-your-own-little-world score Zimmer composed.  I also liked his score to the first Sherlock Holmes movie although it did kind of remind me of Morricone's score to The Untouchables.   


If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it.
- W.C. Fields
Posted on Sat, Feb 10 2018 20:52
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 299

Originally Posted by: jasensmith Go to Quoted Post

And Errikos is right you don't need a big orchestra to make a good score. 

Yeah true, I and I would bet that if John Williams (or Hermann or any of the truly great masters) were just given a piano to score an entire film they would do an amazing job and we wont miss the orchestra. Most of the emotional content of great music is in the tonal "landscape", and orchestration merely colors it.   Ravels piano compositions are a case in point, and his orchestral music simple adds color. This is striking especially considering he was one of the greatest orchestrators. 

And recently Guy Bacos demonstated this so nicely with the piano reduction of his waltz. All the tonal content is already there in the notes! Color comes in later, if at all.

This will be my struggle all my life...how to write effectively for the piano. 

I know there are many ways of composing, but this is the way I would like to do it, not least because almost every classical composer thought this way. (To quote Ravel, compostion and orchestration are two different things....)

Anand Kumar
Posted on Sun, Feb 11 2018 02:17
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

"The Dark Knight scores are excellent in my view, brooding, portentious and dramatic. That 2 note minor third theme (oh allright then, motif ) is remarkably powerful in situ and is a wonderful psychological portrayal of Bales' brooding character. "  - mh7635

 

This film was RUINED by the score of Zimmer.  It is musical idiocy and I cannot believe you are saying it is "brooding portentious" etc.  I can't go to films scored by Zimmer because I know that heavy, sickly, pea-soup-thick crap of layering chords with drums that he does will be poured over every scene to the point of nausea.  

You want to hear brooding and portentious?  Remarkably powerful?  Psychological portrayal?  

Listen to the score by Danny Elfman of the first Batman film.  This score is one of the best in all film music.  It is powerful and intensely expressive and extremely musical. 

An example - the main title:  while slightly influenced by Herrmann's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" motif and orchestration, Elfman then makes it his own with an intense rhythmic development.  No one had done music of that kind at the time.  EVERYONE does now including Zimmer.   Then, the end section:  he takes this motif - 6 notes (transposed to c minor) C-D-Eflat-Aflat-G and transforms it to major using the first four notes of the Batman notif, starting on the third with E-F-G-C. This is played throughout the orchestra at the same time the camera is panning upwards through the dark cityscape to a final image of Batman above everything, looking down upon the darkness he stands above, and the minor key motif recurs C-D-Eflat-A-flat-G.

The music and the image are one,  It is pure genius, the greatest film scoring anyone can do.  I still shudder when thinking of that magnificent scene.  THAT is brooding, portentious, psychological.   

Posted on Sun, Feb 11 2018 08:05
by mh-7635
Joined on Wed, Aug 04 2004, Posts 162

Well that came over as a little brusque William, especially after a bit of gentle humour in my post. I really don't know how to take your post, perhaps an emoticon or too would have helped - is there one for bludgeoning someone elses' opinion with one equally matched and no better?

Never mind, it does highlight how fatuous a subjective discussion like this can be at times, but then again, comparing eggs to apples is always going to be floored and mired as one opinion tries to overcome another.

I actually love Elfmans' score and theme to Batman and also think it is better than HZs'. Musically it plays on a lot of the cliches we expect in the genre, but it also reminds us why some of them took hold - they do work in good hands. I do find it more than a little ironic that he (Elfman) is being hailed here when he also needs an orchestrator. I'm sure HZ has been pilloried and sullied for similar reasons. Ah well no accounting for subjective taste eh, so long as it suits.

 The 2 Batman films  are obviously different films  and for me, the grittier realism of the Dark Knight benefits from a different, perhaps less fantastical approach....now obviously that is only my opinion and I am not trying to force it down anyones gullet, it isn't insulting, too forthright ,nor wrong (or even correct!) - it merely sets up a premise for more debate if anyone feels so inclined.

I might now start a thread entitled "Portentiousness vs Portentiousness (a semantic definition)".....just joking...

Posted on Sun, Feb 11 2018 17:47
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 299

Mike-

I dont think a comparision between HZ and Elfman is all that subjective. One can objectively compare the scores and find that Elfman has more themes that relate to characters thoughtfuly than HZ. True Elfman needed an orchestrator but there is obviously more content in his music that enhances the movie experience much more than HZs batman. 

As I said before we would never know how D Knight would have sounded with Elfman or JW in place of HZ. We only can hear what was made after the fact and it will of course sound OK as millions of $$$ are put into the music production. So we have to compare different films to guess how good it could have been if others scored it,..

Another problem I have with HZ is the minimal variation across different movies. Its the same crap again and again and again, whethere its gladiator or pirates or DK or interstallar...the same ambient sounding music with taiko drums and spiccatos as Errikos describes. The one HZ score I recall which was very different was 'As good as it gets'. The score in this movie was quite effective. But maybe thats 'As good as HZ gets!'

Cheers

Anand Kumar
Posted on Sun, Feb 11 2018 20:22
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

Mike, didn't mean to be brusque just get a little enthusiastic at times.  I guess that is the word.   

Posted on Mon, Feb 12 2018 00:43
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1005

I get both Mike's and Bill's points. However Hans has been a one-trick pony for decades now (at least the films I've seen), and not a great pony at that. I'd say Elfman also has been a one-trick pony himself if it weren't for Good Will Hunting and Big Fish. And though he also has a lot of help according to quite a few high up sources, his style was original AND good enough to influence not merely everybody else for certain kinds of genres, but also John Williams (the Home Alone and Harry Potter soundtracks have their origins in Edward Scissorhands and the like, even if Williams' are superior by far and in every way).

Hans has been offered great opportunities to score films that allowed for a huge palette and range of expression and he offered none or very little - the scores of Inception, TRON II, Superman 5 or 6 or whatever it was are entirely interchangeable (tada-tidi-tada-tidi-tada-tidi-tada-tidi ad infinitum). I'm with Jasen on this, nothing memorable beyond the locomotion. Now obviously one can argue that almost every scene can be scored with almost any kind of music but the moment one claims this, discussion becomes pointless, plus, this one kind of scoring may 'hit the spot' on occasion...

I fail to hear any Daphnis & Chloe in Vertigo, but it's been a few years since I've seen that movie - I can't pick it in the suite I've got with Herrmann conducting. The rest of the influences are spot on. In addition, the influences of Debussy, Stravinsky and Prokofiev cannot be overstated in recent decades (up to 2000), as well as Ligeti's and, most of all, Holst for the fantasy/science fiction genres.

Hyperion released a CD with three movie piano concerti (two adapted from the soundtracks): Steiner, North, and Herrmann (yes, Hangover Square). For the cognoscenti...

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 Mon, Feb 12 2018 01:32
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

JamesPDX that is an erudite list of influences I completely agree with and thanks for your insight on that.  

Holst and Vaughn Williams are huge in their influence upon current film music, even though few composers realize it.  Because they are receiving what these great composers did third or fourth or fifth hand via various influences of film composers who slavishly copied what Holst and VW created.  Especially harmonically and orchestrationally.  just order a copy of Vaughn Williams complete symphonies and you will learn everything and many levels beyond what any film composer ever did.  

The influences in Vertigo, Herrmann's greatest score are deliberate allusions to Wagner's Liebestod.  The reason for this is obvious, and yet Herrmann did not merely cut and paste Wagner, which is what Horner did to many classical composers he thought nobody watching the films would notice.

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