(If You Were) In My Movie
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Strings, FX and a Mighty Score: Bringing the Cinematic to Music
I recently stumbled upon a song…
that possessed some quickened and intense Bernard Herrmann strings. On the track, Psycho by slowthai x Denzel Curry, you get this fiery rush that takes you into this dramatic track. I love the sound of those strings as they sting, scurry and stalk with menacing and nefarious intent. I know there are Experimental and Electronic artists such as Anna Meredith and Hannah Peel that are wonderful composers who can project these immersive songs that are so interesting and layered. I think a lot of modern music relies on tropes and a simple structure. Maybe it more confined to Pop but, even in other genres, there is this lack of expression, originality and the cinematic. I understand not every artist’s music lends itself to something quite big and rousing; that is not to say they are confined. One of the reasons someone like Lana Del Rey resonates is because you have these dreamy strings that takes the mind to the 1950s or a French Riviera romance. Whilst musicians such as Thom Yorke are composing for film and stepping into that realm, I wonder whether modern artists are utilising film as much as possible. It does not even have to be a case of an artist using a sample from a soundtrack. The very essence of a film’s score/soundtrack can be employed to incredible effect. I am listening at what is coming out right now, and there are a few artists marrying film and music – not as many as you’d hope.
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The reason that Psycho track grabbed me is because I am familiar with Bernard Hermann’s score and hearing it juxtaposed against a Hip-Hop/Grime track is a wonderful clash! I think some of the best music ever created has this filmic and cinematic touch. I am thinking about composers like Brian Eno, who creates this wonderfully beautiful scores that summon visions of space, endless vistas and the endless expanse. So much of today’s Pop is flat and repetitive. I tend to find I am forgetting a lot of new music, as it lacks a necessary kick, surprise and vision. Whether we hear more Horror scores making their way into Grime or classical musical soundtracks being spliced into Pop songs, I do feel the worlds of film and music need to be closer bedfellows. So many songs from modern music are used in soundtrack, but what I am talking about is music with a cinematic sound. There are articles that examine the relationship between music and film, but I still think there is a whole world out there for music to explore. I am interested when musicians compose for film, as it allows them a sort of freedom and format that is not necessarily catered for in their regular life. Maybe it comes back to an issue that is going to limit creativity and expression in music: strict copyright laws. Artists can add cinematic touches through original compositions; they can mimic certain genres and composers, but I think having some of those original sounds mixed into the song.
IN THIS PHOTO: Tamar-kali/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I think some of the most spectacular and varied soundscapes are coming from film composition. Whilst the medium has always been considered a white, male-dominated areas, there are women like Tamar-kali (The Mudbound composer) who are shaking things up. This New York Times article explains more:
“Tamar-kali is one of several new voices in a persistently white male milieu. “Mudbound,” directed by Dee Rees, was the Brooklyn artist’s first score, which she followed with the Netflix drama “Come Sunday.” She’s also reteaming with Rees for an adaptation of the Joan Didion novel “The Last Thing He Wanted.” As an Afro-indigenous woman in the New York punk rock scene, she said, she was already used to being “an outlier within the outliers.”
“It just kind of fuels your creativity,” she explained. “The ethos means even more to you, because you’re practicing it every moment — even in the pit, even at shows.”
Like a handful of other female artists, Tamar-kali wasn’t pursuing film composition, but was commissioned after a director heard her work. Mica Levi, a British rocker from the band formerly known as Micachu and the Shapes, was nominated for an Oscar for “Jackie,” which followed her shivering, queasy breakout score for “Under the Skin”.
I think film’s broadness and limitless imagination does allow artists to expand their horizons and explore new ground. In terms of exchange, I do wonder whether more traditional artists should be taking from film’s toy box and add fresh angles and colours.
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I do wonder whether old-school film soundtracks and scores would inject fresh life into Pop; if some sweeping strings would give Rock a new insight. I know artists often think with scenes and mini-films in mind. I think certain genres and too rigid and so many artists seem to be repeating one another. Many modern Rock bands are using compressed drums and have a lifeless feel. One would not expect a complete overhaul, but I am interested to see how film music could integrate with more conventional music; whether it be in the form of samples deployed or trying to replicate a certain film genre in a song. As I said, there are barriers in place regarding sample clearance. I have heard a few songs recently that have used snatches of dialogue from films; there have been others with sound effects from other films and, when you hear that in a song, it breathes new life and possibility. I do think modern music has a lot to offer, and there are some truly original artists helping to shape a progressive and exciting future. There are still so many avenues and genres that seem tired and listless; music that seems to run through the motions and doesn’t stay in the mind. I think film scores and tracks have different tempos, feel and aims to the kind of music you hear on radio. It is interesting comparing them, but I think there is room for overlap.
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I would love to hear something offbeat and quirky thrown into a track – maybe the theme from Catch Me If You Can (or something similar) in a Pop song – or the icy and exhilarating strings that are on the latest slowthai and Denzel Curry song becoming more common; little audio samples or film scores being sprinkled carefully to provoke a magical reaction. There are artists who are working like this and, as I said earlier, we have artists such as Thom Yorke and PJ Harvey who are composing for film, T.V. and the stage. Those already out there who are pushing boundaries with sound and splicing genres should be congratulated. I listen to film music, old scores and the work of the great modern composers and see potential. Songs need not turn into films or have any pretentious edge; rather, they would have an extra-special element and spark. Maybe it is just me, but I think modern music would be even more interesting and forward-thinking if the cinema was brought into the music. Some innovators are already doing this, but I think so many other artists could take music to new heights when they think about…
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THE bigger picture.