Incidental Music

Incidental Music: def. (noun)- music used in a film as a background to create or enhance a particular atmosphere, otherwise known as a score

Sunday, December 30, 2012

FInal December Score Reviews and January Scores :)

Hi there! I hope you all have been enjoying a wonderful holiday season with family and friends. I certainly have, which is why I completely forgot to blog last week! Oops. This week's post will be short and sweet because I'm busy preparing to go on an adventure!  I'm going on a 9 day medical brigade to Nicaragua with 34 people I don't know at all, and I'm so excited and nervous. It's going to be wonderful. What does this mean for the blog? Well, three things: First, for those of you wondering about my series on the scoring process, it will be continued next month-probably the 3rd week of January, so look forward to that (read Part One here). Second, I won't be blogging next week, because I'll be in a foreign country with no access to the Internet! Third and tentatively,  I hope to hear some native music while I'm in Nicaragua, so hopefully next time I blog, I'll be able to discuss the cool music I heard while I was there! Today, I just have a couple reviews for you and a list of scores to look out for in January.

Jack Reacher, by Joe Kraemer-6/10
You know, this one surprised me! Joe Kraemer's a newcomer on the major Hollywood composing scene-this is the first "blockbuster" film he's worked on, and I have to say, it's definitely an acceptable debut. I'm rating it 6 out of 10 because nothing really stood out to me as fantastically brilliant, but I definitely liked things about it. I appreciated his use of strings to drive his music forward and to form rich full chords. The main theme is reminiscent of a Hans Zimmer theme, with low brass, timpani, and fast moving strings. My favorite tracks are Main Title, Helen's Story, and Suite From Jack Reacher (which you can listen to on Spotify). Purchasing Suggestion? Buy the tracks you like-99 cents on iTunes!

Silver Linings Playbook, by Danny Elfman-4/10
Eh. I wasn't really impressed with this one at all. I was actually really surprised to learn that Danny Elfman wrote it, since it sounds almost nothing like any of his past work. In the past, he's tended to make more symphonic sounding scores. In this score, the main instruments are piano, xylophone, and guitar. All of the tracks sounded similar to me, with the same three note patterns repeating over and over again, so I'm actually tempted to rate it lower. It seems like just another romantic comedy score, except for one thing-He used a small chorus of voices to sing his main themes. Interesting choice-Not bad or good necessarily, just different. Purchasing suggestion? I personally didn't like it, so I wouldn't say this one is worth your money. Listen to it on Spotify or something while working or studying. It's unobtrusive background music, but nothing extraordinary. It actually makes me want to see the movie because maybe the acting (which I've heard is excellent) brings more life to the music.

And here's the January scores! Some of these scores have been released already, but the films themselves will be widely released in January, so I'll talk about them when I get back from my trip. I can't wait to listen to this music. You know, my favorite thing about this blog so far is that I absolutely HAVE to listen to new music so I get to discover new composers and hear new things from the ones I know and love. For example, Fernando Velázquez has only worked on Spanish films in the past, and The Impossible is his first major film. I'm looking forward to hearing his work. I'm also excited about the new score from Alexandre Desplat, one of my favorite composers of all time! 

Zero Dark Thirty, by Alexandre Desplat
Gangster Squad, by Steve Jablonsky
Promised Land, by Danny Elfman
The Impossible, by Fernando Velázquez

Keep your eye out for these scores and listen to the ones I reviewed-please let me know what you think of them! I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'll see you in two weeks after I get back from my adventure! Have a Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Part One: The Players (Plus a Predicatably Glowing Score Review)

Good evening, Internet!  I'm beginning a series on the actual process of scoring a film. This is Part One: The Players. Who is actually involved in scoring a film? The simplified answer is lots and lots of people! Today, I'll provide a list of the major players-not all of these roles will be needed depending on the scale of the film.

Everyone, I present Peter Jackson with a pipe
The Director: A director's artistic and dramatic vision guides much of the movie making process. He/she has an enormous amount of input on the tone and mood of the score and on the final combination of film and music. 

The Producer: The money that pays the music makers! The director wants it, the producer makes it happen. He/she is often in close communication with the director's desired composer before the director and composer even meet to discuss the film.
Howard Shore, looking somewhat tortured
The Composer: A composer usually (though not always) comes into the movie making process after filming is done. The director and composer meet to discuss the score and the movie, and then the composer gets down to writing music! 

The Orchestrator: Interestingly, the composer is not always the individual who writes the score. The composer comes up with the main themes and melodies. The orchestrator takes those melodies and translates them into a larger group of instruments while trying to keep the artistic vision of the original piece written by the composer. Sometimes, the composer and the orchestrator are the same person-Howard Shore, the December Composer of the Month, both composes and orchestrates all of his work. 

A little bit of a mess
The Music Historian/Researcher:  Depending on the movie, the director might hire this person to research instruments or sounds from a certain time period so that they can help the composer and orchestrator match the score to the time period of the film. This person might also find unique instruments to use in the score if the composer want to have a distinct sound that stands out. This job can also be done by the composer.

The Copyist: This person makes neat copies of the composer or orchestrator's manuscript so it's playable by musicians. Not as easy as it sounds, because the manuscript could look something like this →

The Music Makers: They actually play the music!  For "The Hobbit," this would be the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Orchestra Contractor: Orchestra contractors are the agents and talent scouts of the orchestra world. It's their job to make sure that that musicians are found, hired, and brought into the studio or scoring stage to perform the score. 

The London Philharmonic
The Conductor: The composer and/or orchestrator is usually the conductor too, but not always! Sometimes, another person is brought in to conduct the orchestra for the composer.

The Recording Engineer: Recording engineers are incredibly important. They prepare the studio or sound stage for a recording session, operate the mixing console (the big board with all the switches on it), and maintain the studio equipment and instruments. During the recording process, the recording engineer manipulates each track that's recording and mixes them together while tweaking tone, intensity, and tempo, applying effects, and editing the sound. That's a lot of jobs! (Which is why there are often multiple recording engineers involved) 

The Music Mixer: This person is basically the recording engineer, but working after the recording process. Mixers take the final recordings and listen to them again, adjusting and mixing the different instruments or voices together until the balance is perfect. This is especially important if the instruments or singers recorded at different times. The recording engineer can do this job too, depending on the size and budget of the film and the specific requirements.

Sound engineers hard at work
The Mastering Studio: The final mix of the score is sent off to the mastering studio. When you master a recording, you correct any imbalance that might be left in the final mix by taking all the sound levels and making them even and smooth, so that it sounds lovely coming out of a sound system in a theater or out of the ear buds on your headphones. Again, depending on the size and budget of the movie, the recording engineer might also master the music. 

The Music/Sound Editor: This person takes the final mastered tracks and fits them into the final cut of the movie. They make sure that the score serves to enhance the film rather then detracting from the action, putting music in the right places and adjusting the levels of sound at any given point in the movie.

This is just a brief list of people who could be involved in the scoring process. All of these people could have any number of assistants helping them do their jobs. Basically, scoring a film is a big deal and takes a lot of work from many people! Next week, I'll talk more about orchestrating and what that entails. 

Now for the first December score review! 

"The Hobbit," composed, orchestrated, and conducted by Howard Shore: 9.5/10
After seeing the movie and listening to the score as much as I could for the past two weeks, I'm rating this one high. My gushing praise of Howard Shore's work on Lord of the Rings last week probably made this a predictable outcome, but seriously, this score is wonderful. Why? Because it doesn't exactly copy the Lord of the Rings! Sure, some of the main LOTR themes pop up here and there, but only when recurring characters or ideas from the first three films are mentioned. The rest of it is entirely new for an entirely new set of characters on an entirely new adventure! I'm so glad. It would have been so easy for Shore to completely revive all the old music and use that to drive his score. But he didn't! Instead, he took variations on his old themes and expanded them into new melodies! Yay! 

My favorite new theme is the "Misty Mountains" melody, hands down, no competition. Every time it plays during the movie. I want more. It's grand, mysterious, mournful, and longing. The whole idea of the movie, without giving too much away, is that this group of dwarfs are on a quest to reclaim their conquered homeland, and without their home, they really don't have a place to belong. I get all of that from the "Misty Mountains" theme. It first comes in at the beginning of the film, when the dwarves all start singing it in low, deep voices filled with emotion and determination. It sent chills down my spine. It comes up multiple times throughout the film. In one particular scene, the adventuring group is traveling over these gorgeous mountains and the theme blares out in horns and heavy drums with high strings playing arpeggios behind them. It made the scene incredibly thrilling. 

My favorite tracks on the score? Well, if I have to choose...1)"Misty Mountains" in which the dwarves sing in deep and captivating voices. 2) "The World is Ahead," in which you hear both the Misty Mountains theme and the Bilbo Baggin's theme music that completely encapsulates the quirkiness and endearing nature of his character. 3) "Over Hill," the music that plays on in the moment on the mountains I described above. 4) "My Dear Frodo," in which you hear the Dwarf Lords theme and a lot of the action music that will come up throughout the movie. But, honestly, I don't really have a favorite track. I like them all. 

Purchasing suggestion? Buy it all. In fact, buy the extended edition of the soundtrack like I did, because it has tracks like "Erebor" and "The Dwarf Lords" that are super great.

Side Note: See the movie too. I was originally upset with Peter Jackson for splitting the Hobbit into three movies, but he put SO much detail into this movie that I've forgiven him. In fact, he added things that will actually make the Hobbit movies flow directly into the LOTR movies, which I really like. Also, the acting is spot on and the world of the film, including sets, costumes, and scenery, is just astounding. I don't mind Jackson making money off me if he's going to deliver beautiful films like this! 

That's all I have for you tonight! Comment below with thoughts on the Hobbit score/movie and on the scoring process! Next week, look for a post on orchestration and another score review or two :)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

December Composer of the Month and a Special Treat!

Hi everyone! Our composer of the month for December is Howard Shore! I chose him because he's releasing a new soundtrack this month for "The Hobbit," for which I'm very, very, VERY excited. Also, I think his work on the Lord of the Rings (LOTR for short) series is astonishing. Even if you're not a fan of the movies, I think you must listen to the music. For most movies, there may be two or three main themes that crop up throughout, but because of the scale of LOTR, Shore had to compose dozens of themes. Each character or set of characters in the vast cinematic world of Middle Earth has their own specific melodies, and ALL of them are beautiful. In my opinion, not one is unoriginal or cliched. He also recorded over 10 hours of music with an orchestra and various vocal artists for the three films. To give you a perspective, most composers only give an hour per movie...that means he, with the help of his production team, wrote, scored, and recorded THREE TIMES the normal amount of music for each LOTR film.  He also arranged songs in the original languages that J.R.R. Tolkien invented for his books, which is incredible because writing and arranging songs in normal English can be devilishly hard! I love his work on these films, and so I think he's worth learning about as a composer! 

Howard Shore was born on October 18, 1946 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which is cool for me because I'm Canadian via my Canadian father :) He studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and from 1969 to 1972, he played alto saxophone in a band called Lighthouse, which incorporated sounds from rock, classical, jazz, and swing styles to create their sound. Here's one of their popular songs-One Fine Morning. I like it! It's got a good rhythm :) 

 Shore was the musical director for Saturday Night Live from 1975 to 1980, and fun fact: he's the one who suggested the name "The Blues Brothers" to Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi for their "band" on SNL. His first major film score was for director David Cronenberg's "The Brood" and like the Williams/Spielberg duo,  Shore has since worked on all for Cronenberg's subsequent films except one. In 1991, he scored the Oscar winning film, "The Silence of the Lambs." He received his first set of award nominations for this score, although he did not win any awards-a more light-hearted film, Beauty and the Beast, swept most of the awards that year.

Shore's leap into the film music spotlight came with the Lord of the Rings scores in the early 2000s. He won three Oscars for his work on LOTR: two for Best Original Score-"The Fellowship of the Ring" and "Return of the King" and one for Best Original Song-"Into the West"-Return of the King. This set of scores is so popular that he actually tours and conducts orchestras playing the Lord of the Rings Symphony, like a composer rock star! (John Williams does this too for his music-their music is legendary!! ) Here's a link to various Youtube playlists that contain basically all his music from LOTR. I recommend just hitting play and letting the glorious music wash over you for 10 hours.

Since the success of LOTR, Shore has continued to write many other beautiful scores, which I think get overshadowed by LOTR. He wrote lovely music for "Doubt," starring Meryl Streep, my favorite actress. He also scored "The Aviator," "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," "A Dangerous Method," and "Hugo,"  all of which are lovely in their own right. He definitely has a style that's evident throughout his work. You hear it especially in comparing his work on "The Aviator," "A Dangerous Method" and LOTR. Classical and elegant is the best way to describe it. I think he's wonderful, and I can't wait for his Hobbit score, which brings me to the treat part of today's post...

Treat: We don't have to wait to listen to the "Hobbit" score because we can stream it online right now via Rolling Stone! Yay! Listen to it now! I'm going to wait to review it until next week after I've seen the movie, but I'll tell you that I got chills listening to the first track. Lord of the Rings, along with Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean, introduced to me to the wonder that is movie music, so Shore's LOTR themes hold a very special place in my heart. 

Well, that's all I have for you this week! Next week, look forward to the Hobbit score review as well as some other movie music related topic yet to be determined! Comment below with your thoughts on Shore's music!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Last of the November Score Reviews and December Scores :)

Hello everyone! I took a unanticipated two week break from writing due to Thanksgiving shenanigans and procrastinating on studying for two Organic Chemistry exams. But, I'm back now with score reviews and a list of scores to be on the look-out for in December!

(Side Note-I'm going to start ranking them out of 10. For an idea of my scale, think of the Lincoln score as 10 and um, well, I find it really hard to hate on movie scores a 1 would be nothing but something like this song repeated over and over and over again until the end of the movie)  

Anna Karenina, by Dario Marianelli and Benjamin Wallfisch
9/10-With a tagline like "You Can't Ask Why About Love," I expected this score to be dramaticand romantic. It is. It's full of plaintive violin solos that feel like they're literally pulling on my heart, and on some tracks, a lilting female voice sings something in Russian that sounds so lovely. Almost every track feels like a dance. Some are fast paced and boisterous, while others glide gently along. There's lots of Russian-esque sounds-accordians, woodwinds, violins, with tubas or low strings beating out oom-papas underneath. It's very, very, very dramatic, and it's reminiscent of a Tchaikovsky ballet-The Nutcracker or Romeo and Juliet. If you want to buy one song that sums it up , I suggest the first track, "Overture," which contains most of the main themes. My favorite tracks are that one, in addition to "The Girl and the Birch," "I Understood Something," and "Leaving Home/Coming Home." Purchasing Suggestion: Buy it! But only if you like Tchaikovsky ballets.

Breaking Dawn Part 2, by Carter Burwell
6.5-7/10-I'm scoring this one just above average, but that's because I really love three or four tracks and don't like the rest. The first track is absolutely glorious and contains everything I've loved about all the Twilight movie scores in the past. But that's because it's the "Twilight Overture," and therefore contains music from all of the Twilight movies, especially Alexandre Desplat's lovely "The Meadow" theme. The rest of the score kinda lets me down. Why? Well, this might be just my own personal preference, but Burwell does this thing with screaming electric guitars that I find absolutely horrendous. (See here, here, and here.) It's like he says to himself, "Nope, not putting a voice or a choir in there. Let's make a guitar sing instead. But really badly, so as to increase tension in the scene and make our audience's ears hurt." OK, so that's probably harsh, but the guitar thing really does get on my nerves. This causes me to automatically dislike most of his more fast paced tracks, because he uses that guitar in them. All that said, I do really really like some of the other tracks.  Burwell does best when he sticks to simplicity. Simple piano, simple strings, simple woodwinds."Renesmee's Lullaby" has just piano at the beginning and I really like that one a lot. "At Bedtime A Child Asks About Death" and "Present Time" are similarly pretty, where he rises with the strings and then brings them back down to a different chord, and then moves back to the rising again. I wish he would have make his whole soundtrack like those two tracks, just piano, strings, and woodwinds. Purchasing Suggestion: Buy the tracks you like. Ignore the screaming guitar.

Life of Pi, by Mychael Danna

5.5/10-It's a good little score. Easy to listen to, some cool instruments, and easy to have playing in the background. But also, just average, because none of the tracks really struck me as "must-haves" for my own collection. There are couple reasons for this: First, I didn't really find any of his melodies to be very strong choices. It all sounded a little generic to me, ambient noises. I listened to the entire score a couple times through, and very little pulled at my ear to draw me away from what I was doing. My heart was not captured. Second, although there are some very nice moments in the score, many of the tracks I liked are only 1 minute or less long, so I'm only buying one moment at a time, not many nice moments strung together in a long track.  I do really like like his use of flutes and female vocals crooning above/behind a layer of strings. My favorite tracks are "Pi's Lullaby," "Pondicherry" and "Flying Fish."

Bonus! Rise of the Guardians, by Alexandre Desplat
8.5/10-HOW DID I NOT KNOW THAT DESPLAT WAS RELEASING A NEW SCORE? Seriously guys, this is insane. Desplat is my favorite composer of all time, or, well, tied with John Williams at least. I love every single score he's done. No exceptions at all. So, I am very surprised I did not know he was scoring Rise of the Guardians. His score makes me want to see the movie. It's full of adventure and you can feel the holiday spirit in it as well. You can hear his characteristic use of fast moving strings and a pumping bass line on "Calling the Guardians." "Wind Take Me Home!" must be a track during which Santa's sleigh is flying, because it just feels so right for it- He uses sleigh bells to add to the Christmas-y feeling and high brass to make it feel grand and majestic."Jamie Believes" is so lovely and delicate, moving along-I feel like believing in magic when I hear it. It's a perfect score for a Christmas movie. It's only ranking 8.5 because, alas, not even Desplat escapes the curse of Christmas scores...meaning that they inevitably all sound cliched at some point because they all sound like Christmas :) Which I don't mind because that's the point but I think Desplat could have possibly been more original because I know he's that good! Purchasing Suggestion: Buy the tracks you like because it could technically be considered "just another Christmas movie score." I personally want the whole thing to add to my Desplat collection <3

Wow. That was a lot of reviews! December Score time! December is a weird month this year because there's only a couple blockbuster films being released in theatres everywhere. There are, however, a TON of limited release films because they want to get them out in time for Oscar season. These films will be released in the New Year, so their soundtracks aren't widely available even though the movies are out. This makes my job easier during the holiday season because there's less scores, but also makes me sad, because November was such a great month for new music. So here we go!

December 11th: The Hobbit, by Howard Shore
YES. YES. YES. I love the Lord of the Rings movies and their music so much, and when I heard the score preview, chills ran down my spine. SO ready for this. Anticipate a good score rating from me for this one.

December 18th: Jack Reacher, by Joe Kraemer
This is a weird one for the list, admittedly, but I include it because it's a Tom Cruise movie and therefore a blockbuster hopeful. Also because there's someone new writing this score, and I'm wondering how it'll turn out. Joe Kraemer has only done low budget films and TV shows before this, and I've listened to some of his music on Spotify-it's not bad! So, I'll listen to this score and maybe I'll be surprised with something cool!

December 25th (?): Parental Guidance, by Marc Shaiman
I'm including this one because Shaiman composed the music for Hairspray and co-wrote the lyrics too, and I love that musical. His previous scores include The Bucket List and Sleepless in Seattle. It's a family comedy so I'm thinking this one will be average, but I could be wrong!

(Side Note:Les Miserables will probably not have a score album released, but I suggest you go see the movie and buy the soundtrack. It's a wonderful musical and is sure to have absolutely glorious music playing behind glorious singing voices)

And that's all I have for today! Next week, it'll be time for Composer of the Month!  Thanks so much for reading and please comment below with your own thoughts about the scores I've reviewed. Feel free to suggest any December scores I might have overlooked and ones I should add to my listening list for the month!