Wednesday, June 8, 2016

On Film Scores

I like to listen to film scores while I write. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. They're dramatic and usually instrumental so they inspire dramatic thoughts without a lot of distraction from lyrics. I mean, I love lots of music and lots of artists, including Adele and Josh Groban and Pentatonix and Rend Collective, but there's a time and a place for those. (Adele: Sad love stories. Josh Groban: Angsty love stories. Pentatonic: Fun. Rend: Spiritual thoughts. You get the idea?) Film scores are good general writing music to block out the silence of home or whatever annoying stuff they're playing at Starbucks.

I usually stream music from Amazon because I have Prime so it's free and I've never bothered to learn to use Pandora or Spotify or even iTunes, shocking I know but it's true. I listen to several different scores "stations" and playlists from Amazon and I find myself playing a silly game in my head when it comes to music I don't recognize. It's called "guess the composer" and it's silly because it's remarkably easy, even for someone like me who doesn't have a music degree. I like music and I'm married to someone with a music degree so I guess that's why I play the game in the first place. So here's how it works: First, there are the top three to choose from. John Williams, James Horner, and Hans Zimmer. They're the easiest because they've composed so many well known scores and they all have some signature sound that gives them away. But they haven't composed everything, I mean there are other people out there writing music and they're pretty good too. So if it's not one of them, the next step is to decide what other film score it sounds like and see if it's the same person. Why is this so easy? Well, if you spend any time listening to scores for the music, not the movie, and if you know anything about music history at all, you know that composers are identified as writing certain styles of music for a reason. Not quite that it all sounds the same...it's like an author's "voice." One reason why we like particular authors and not others is because we like (or don't like) how they tell their stories. Not just the words and the writing style but the voice you can hear in your head when you read it. Some authors spend years and lots of money on classes to find their voice, and some just sort of naturally have it. Well, in my very musically uneducated way, I'm going to say that it's very similar composers. Do they "borrow" from their own work? Oh sure, all the time. You just have to listen to Star Wars, Superman, and Indiana Jones (John Williams) in close succession to realize that. James Horner has a particular horn riff that gives him away. Titanic and Braveheart sound very similar, and not just because of the bagpipes. Hans Zimmer, well I suppose there's a reason he keeps saying he's not going to score any more superhero films and then he does anyway. Because he's really, really good at it.

So today I was listening to another random list of film scores that included a selection from Epic, an animated film which I've never seen. I thought, hmm, this has got to be the same person who wrote the score for the first Batman film, the one with Michael Keaton. So I looked it up and yep, Danny Elfman. So I guess I win again. I also enjoy it when I hear something that sounds so original that I can't guess who wrote it. Since I'm only competing with myself I don't keep track of my points but it's fun anyway. And I keep collecting music for my writing playlist, which is another win.

How about you? Have you ever played guess the composer? Do you have favorite film soundtracks I can add to my collection?

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