Temp Track 2.0 – A Manifesto

By Michael Harris

This site was re-launched amidst the release of Man of Steel, and for my second score review, hopefully to be posted this weekend or early next week, I’ll be reviewing the score for Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, written by the director.  Within these two scores, and films, we have an interesting case study about the current state of Hollywood.  On the one hand you have a big studio effects film designed to draw in large crowds with a score by one of film music’s biggest names, and on the other, you have a nearly no budget, passion project done by one of Hollywood’s biggest directors and writers, but also one of its biggest rebels.  Leaving the subject of big Hollywood and Team Zimmer aside for now (this will hopefully be the topic of The Temp Track’s first podcast next month), let us ponder the case of Team Whedon and what he has done that points the way for what I feel is the future of creativity, the internet, and the new idea economy.  (Warning: This is a much larger discussion then I do not have room for here, so look for these ideas to be expanded upon in future posts.) Continue reading “Temp Track 2.0 – A Manifesto”

FSFT5 – YouTube Musical “Memes”

So people come up to me in the street and ask me, “TempTrack, what do you think of this latest YouTube video?”  To which I usually respond, “huh?”  I’m usually pretty oblivious to many “new” and “cool” things since I am neither cool or hip.  But I do usually find out about things at least a few years after the fact.  For today’s edition of Film Score Friday Top 5 I ask the question of what are some of the best music based internet “memes?”

First, you may ask, “what is a meme?”  Well, according to Wikipedia, it is, “is a unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena.”  Specifically an internet meme is one that is spread via the internet, of which the most well-known musical example is Rickrolling (don’t worry, the video is actually part of the great Rocketboom series “Know Your Meme”):

But what are some other examples?  Well, I might have to stretch the definition of “meme” a bit here, but it is all done for a reason, loyal readers.  But let’s start with an oldie but goodie: Yatta!

This video has been floating around the internets since at least 2004, or at least that’s when I first encountered it.  It is a music video for a Japanese band named Green Leaves and the combination of the Garden of Eden costumes, crazy dance move poses, and what might just be the funniest granny ever on the ‘nets (you’ll know it when you see it) make it a hilarious video.  It’s like a funnier version of the Backstreet Boys.  And the mixture of English and Japanese lyrics just sends it to a higher level.

But no meme is truly complete just with just sharing and distribution, a key component is the remix and adaptation.  This is what allows memes to have longevity.  There are tons of remakes of various ilk of Yatta on YouTube, my favorite is a machinima (using a per-rendered video game engine to do animation) version using Star Wars Galaxies.

But some internet trends aren’t born of a singular video or trend, but rather cultural happenings, such as the advent and proliferation of auto-tune.  “Know Your Meme” did a great episode on this, so I’ll let them explain it first. (Bonus, it stars “Weird” Al Yankovic)

But I think this trend reached its apex with the work of the Gregory Brothers and their series “Auto-Tune the News.”  My favorite is their second episode with Katie Couric’s line “very thin ice,” which is so good that it has appeared in many subsequent episodes.

Now, on a very basic level, what the Gregory Brothers are doing is a mash-up, but instead of taking two songs, they are taking regular speeches with new beats and building a new song out of it.  While at the same time they are also doing the same thing to the video, mashing the existing video with themselves and also cutting together certain pieces and doing split screen effects.  It is a very creative and clever commentary on the news.  I just wish they could produce episodes faster.

And speaking of mash-ups, that is the next category.  While obviously not strictly an internet phenomenon, YouTube has certainly allowed for greater distribution and promotion of mash-up songs and videos.  And in a great post-modern meme moment is the mash-up “Never Gonna Give Up Your Teen Spirit.”

But another favorite of mine is “Toxic Love Shack” which is exactly what is sounds like.

Wow, there are a lot of videos in this post, but I have only a few more, I promise.  The next meme trend is that of the “literal video.”  In these videos, a music video is taken and new lyrics are recorded that are a literal interpretation of the video scenes.  Many classic videos have been subjected to this treatment, but none has been as popular as the video of Bonnie Tyler’s classic “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

Related to the literal video are “phonetic translation” videos in which songs – usually in a foreign language – are subtitled with what the words sound like in English.  Many of these, including the classic “Fart in the Duck” contain some lyrics that are not quite work safe, so I’ll leave that to you on your own time.  In their steed, though , I’ve selected a video with a song that is in English, but you can’t understand the singer so an internet genius has provided subtitles for the hard of understanding.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Mr. Joe Cocker performing “With a Little Help From My Friends.”  Enjoy, and I’ll see you around the webs.

The First Annual Tempi Awards!

And now, the 1st Annual Temp Track Awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (in Film Scores), coming to you live from Ball Room X (the storage closet) at the Ye Olde Off-Ramp Inn in Springfield, USA.

Welcome folks to The Temp Track’s first Year End Awards Spectacular!  I had a musical number all prepared, but Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris both backed out at the last minute.  So let’s just get down to business. 

Disclaimer:  I do not claim to have heard every score and release put out this year, so there are probably scores that I should consider but haven’t because of ignorance.  If there is something that I have overlooked, let me know so I can add it to my listening list.  Also, this is mainly going to be Film Scores, but occasionally I may sneak in a TV or Video Game score.  There will be three or four nominees in the categories and one winner except for Composer of the Year, which only the winner will be named. 

First we have Score Release of the Year.  This category is for a score release, either a new score or re-release of older score.  The basic criterion for this category is the importance of the release to the world of Film Music, be it the music itself or a re-release of an important score either in a new or expanded format. 

The Nominees Are:

Airplane! (Complete Score) – Elmer Bernstein (La La Land Records)

Back to the Future (Complete Score w/Alternate Takes) – Alan Silvestri (Intrada)

Battlestar Galactica: Season 4 – Bear McCreary (La La Land Records)

Freud – Jerry Goldsmith (Varese) 

And the Tempi© Goes To:

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Complete Score) – James Horner 

Our Next Category is for Score of the Year, and this one is pretty self-explanatory: best new film (TV episode or Video Game) score of the year. 

Nominations Go To:

Avatar – James Horner (Lightstorm Entertainment/20th Century Fox)

Battlestar Galactica, “Daybreak” – Bear McCreary (SyFy Channel/Universal Studios)

Star Trek – Michael Giacchino (Bad Robot/Paramount Pictures)

Sherlock Holmes – Hans Zimmer (Silver Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures) 

And the Winner Is:

Moon – Clint Mansell (Liberty Films/Sony Pictures Classics) 

And finally, the first ever Alfred Newman Tempi© Award for Composer of the Year goes to Michael Giacchino.  Mr. Giacchino wrote three great scores for Summer release films (Star Trek, Up, and Land of the Lost) along with his continuing work on TV’s Lost and Fringe, and it is for the continuing high quality of work that his achievements are recognized by The Temp Track.  Keep up the good work.   I will offer this challenge to Mr. Giacchino  should he ever perchase to visit this humble blog, though:  I love what you’ve done in the past, but now that you’re established in film and television, it’s time to stretch and explore new sonic worlds.

Okay, now before we go I’m going to go out on a limb, look like a fool, and make some bold predictions for who will get the Oscar nominations for Best Original Score.  Without further adieu, here we go: Avatar, Moon, Sherlock Holmes, Up, and Alexandre Desplat’s Coco Before Chanel (I haven’t actually heard the score or seen the film for this one except for excerpts on iTunes, but people seem to have liked it and I needed a fifth). 

Well that’s it from the scenic Ye Olde Off-Ramp Inn.  I hope you enjoyed the show, have a good time at the after parties and a safe journey home.

Note:  I still have yet to see Sherlock Holmes so I have yet to post my review.  Hopefully I’ll see it this weekend and have a review up early next week.

Film Scores-giving: Or what I’m thankful for this year (in Film Music)

So I am the kind of person who after going into school during break for the sole purpose of getting work done, comes home only to write more on his blog.  It all for you, loyal readers, because I realized that it’s been over three weeks since my last post of any kind.  So in the spirit of giving that is this season, I give this list of things I’m thankful for (film music related) to you.

iTunes: Yes, iTunes.  Though I lament the death of liner notes that will comes with the digital download revolution, the fact that so many scores are so easily available is just remarkable and makes doing research in film music so much easier than it was even 10 years ago.  And now, the score released of Battlestar Galactica by Bear McCreary are even available.

New Books: In the past year, there have seemingly been more new film score books released than one can keep up with.  From Cooke’s lengthy A History of Film Music to Wierzbicki’s more focused, but detailed, Film Music: A History, to Larsen’s simply titled Film Music, the new contributions to the field are staggering.  It gives this future PhD candidate hope for a job upon graduation.

Screen Archives Entertainment and Film Score Monthly:  Together they make available so much music that otherwise might not be released.  Combing back catalogues of various studios, remastering, and then releasing what could be lost gems of previous years, they have done so much to keep alive the film music of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s.

Music and the Moving Image IV: Being able to go to New York in May and attend this conference was a great experience.  Not only was it my first major conference experience, hearing the papers given and taking stock of research in the field (what is being researched and how it’s being done) helped affirm what I had already been doing, plus helped me to better hone my ideas and techniques.  I’ve just submitted an abstract for next year, and hope to go again regardless of being accepted or not.

The faculty and colleagues at school:  One always worries about being supported by their professors and academic peers, but I’ve had nothing but support and encouragement as I explore film music as the focus of my  study.  Granted, the field is, by now, well established in musicology, but it’s still new enough that I worried when I decided to take up the banner.

Herr Vogler: Fellow film music enthusiast and blogger, he’s helped me through numerous chats with his depth of knowledge about film music, not to mention loaning me scores.  Lately, he’s been of immense help with transcribing a score for the “Main Title” to Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes, my final project for Post-Tonal Analysis.  Look for a blog post on my findings in the coming month.

The return of the great sci-fi film (and score?): As any perpetual reader of this blog will know, my love for science-fiction knows almost no bounds, and part of that love is the fact that I think they consistently have some of the best, or at least most interesting, scores.  This summer had 3 great sci-fi films (1 merely okay) and 2 great (1 pretty good and 1 okay, but shows promise) sci-fi scores.  See my summer score wrap-up post for more.  I just hope this is the beginning of a trend.

Well that’s my list for now…hey, I want to at least pretend to be on Thanksgiving break.  I wish all you readers a happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are.

Music and the Moving Image 2009

AKA 3 Days and 27 Papers Later…

It’s hard summarize a conference, even if it was on the concentrated topic of “Music and the Moving Image.”  So I’ll start in broad terms: it was a good experience for me in many way, I heard many great papers, and listening to other scholars in the field speak has given me confidence in my own research.  And even though my shy nature kept me from asking many questions and talking to everyone there, I was able to force myself to talk to a few and very much enjoyed the brief conversations I did have.  In short, I definitely want to go back next year, and hopefully I can present this time (I did submit for this year, and will do so again for next year).  But even if I’m not presenting, I would still like to go if possible.

Anyway, I’ll discuss briefly two of the 27 papers I heard.  First is Matt Young’s “Who is the Iron Man?: Establishing Identity in Comic Book Films.”  Unfortunately I didn’t take notes on this one, but I remember most of it.  Basically, Mr. Young’s paper dealt with how the identity of the hero is constructed in a superhero film, both in terms of plot and music, but goes on to discuss how the establishment of the heroic identity is frustrated in the recent film Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau (who is so money and doesn’t even know it…sorry, just had to quote Swingers there).

This establishment is three fold: first a music theme is tied to the hero (usual during the opening credits sequence), the hero states their new identity (the “I’m Batman” moment), and that identity is recognized by the media.  Obviously much discussion was made about the music itself, but he did discuss the other two also, but I’ll only discuss the musical aspect here.  The musical establishment function is undermined from the start, not only is there no opening credit sequence, the film immediately opens in the Afghani desert to the sound of wind.  After the establishing shot, we are greeted to AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” which is exactly not the song one would expect to hear (which would have been Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” which had been prominetely featured in the film’s ad campaign).  When, after the lengthy exposition, we finally do have a title card, there is no music, but rather just the sound of metal striking metal, and we hear Jeff Bridge’s character say “Tony Stark,” dialogue bleeding in from the next scene.  Young makes the point that our hearing Stark’s name mentioned over the “Iron Man” title card further weakens the heroic identity, something further achieved by the many denials of the existence of Iron Man by the army and others.

Iron Man himself has no solid musical identity in the film, but rather is accompanied by guitar riffs and other industrial sounds in the soundtrack, while Tony Stark does have a theme (which Young pointed out was taken from the theme song of the old Iron Man cartoon), this theme is even played diegetically as the ring tone on Rhodes mobile phone.  Young further more establishes that all three of the identity establishing motives come at the very end of the film.  First we see the name “Iron Man” printed in the media, then Stark, in the last line of the film, states that “I am Iron Man,” and as the credits begin to roll, we are greeted by our long sought for Black Sabbath song (of which, of course, the opening line is “I am Iron Man,” but Favreau chooses to start the song after that line, and actually edits the snippet we do here so that there are no sung lyrics).  All in all, an interesting reading of the film’s use of music, and one that shows that even when a film’s score isn’t the best, how it functions within it still can be a worthwhile investigation.

The other paper I want to discuss came during a panel that was devoted to sound design in film.  First James Wierzbicki of the University of Michigan discussed design in six early films of Hitchcock (sometimes called the “Thriller” Sextet), and the third paper was from Liz Greene, who actually works in the industry along with teaching, discussed the work of Alan Splet.  But it is Juan Chattah’s paper “Defying Sound Design Convention: A Model for Analysis” that I would like to discuss briefly.

What Chattah has done is lay out a very clear system and terms for talking about sound design, one that I touched on in my post on Diegetic and Non-Diegetic and shifts between them.  But even though people have talked about these shifts and moves in the aural space, what Chattah has done is to lay out a consistent way of speaking about them (and there was discussion afterwards about the very use of terms ‘diegetic’ and ‘non-diegetic,’ which I believe were first applied by Claudia Gorbman in Unheard Melodies, though I’m not sure, but that’s neither here nor there).  In short, Chattah calls the “Diegetic” and “Non-Diegetic” space “Fields” and then within each field you have three separate “planes”: the voice (dialogue), music, and noise.  He then outlined three ways in which sounds can shift or interact between fields and planes.  First is Overlap (in which two elements of the same planes interact between fields, for which he used the final scene of “The Conversation” as an example, a film that came up many times in various papers), second is Replacement (music replaces noise is one example), and then Transference (which can happen as music moves between fields, but also in other ways, noise shifting to music, but a move between fields is necessary…I think).

A very interesting talk, and I’ll have to be on the look out for him publishing the system, it could come in handy down the road.  I also heard two separate papers on the use of Wagner in John Boorman’s Excaliber, sound and music in two films by Michael Hanake, two papers on use of sound and musique concrete in Gus van Sant, and another on Ne0-Surrealism and the MTV aesthetic in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life.

In review, a great conference, and I would recommend if you are at all interested in film and media music to check it out.  The site for the conference is here and you can actually still look at the abstracts for this year’s conference.  Keep a look out on the site, I think the call for papers will go out around September or so.

YouTube, Part II

So, I have some more substantial posts coming up, but I need to get a few more things in mind prior to writing them.  But let me say this, if you are a fan of film/tv scoring and you’re NOT watching Battlestar Galactica, well, then you need to get your butt in gear.  Last night’s episode, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” reminded me again why I seriously want to write a book, if not my dissertation, on the show’s music.  Anyway, that is to come.  Also, I will also be writing a post based on the paper I will be giving at the American Musicological Society, Rocky Mountain Chapter Meeting on 18 April.  It’s on aural structures in Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon.  Anyway, just a preview of the Shape of Things to Come.

Anyway, on to part II of 2 of my YouTube series.  One of the most popular things to post on YouTube are videos of video games.  High scores, fast runs through an entire game (like 10 minutes to beat Super Mario Bros. 3) or performances of songs in Guitar Hero.  But another subset are videos of video game music.  Either fans performing them, remixes, etc.  There are even entire series of videos devoted to game music.  For today’s video based installment of ‘The Temp Track,’ I give you Mega Man III.

I’m choosing this game because of a recent flurry of comments on Facebook between me and an old high school friend where we were debating the merits of Mega Man games, specifically II vs. III.  The theme to MMIII is, in my opinion, one of the best game themes ever written.  Judge for yourself:

I love the slow, kinda jazzy intro that leads into the more rocking main section that will loop for as long as you want, until you eventually start a game.

So from this beginning, let us explore YouTube.  First up is from the series “The Music of Video Games.”  This series is pretty simple: various tracks from the game set against game footage.  From the users page, it looks like there are at least 450 entries in the series.  I must say, as a researcher, it would prove to be a great resource for game music.  Especially since it seems like the poster has done research already on composers.  Mega Man III is entry 34 in the series.

Next up is a video of a rock band playing the music.  For those of you not steeped in geek culture, there are actual bands who perform game music.  Guess it’s part of the 80s retro cool thing, but really, it’s all nostalgia.  As my generation, the Nintendo generation, gets older, we yearn for those things from childhood that remind us that things were not always so complicated.  Ya, nothing new here, but the fact that we’ve latched onto Nintendo music as a reminder is something that I find fascinating.  This is the band “The Advantage” playing at a video game convention.  They actually go on for over 7 minutes…feel free to not watch the whole thing.  Though a few minutes before the end they fade out to almost nothing and then build it all back up.  Kinda cool.

There are also many people who just tape themselves playing music at the piano and what not, so here is a guitar version and piano version:

Next, and finally, are two videos from YouTube user brentalfloss.  This man is some sort of crazed genius of YouTube and video game music.  Check out his videos here sometime.  The first video is a fully orchestrated midi he did…he tells you all about it in the video:

Secondly is part of his “With Lyrics” series where he takes vg music and puts lyrics to it.  This is the extended version of his Mega Man III theme with lyrics.  Warning, the second half of this video is not Work Safe:

Also, in the “With Lyrics” series, check out the Tetris theme version.  Also his Gregorian Chant version of the Mario Bros. theme is interesting, though I don’t think that it is technically chant.

So, I’ve overloaded you with Mega Man III music so I’ll leave you with a video that has other music with it.  This is brentalfloss’s version of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World called, what else, Super Mario World.


YouTube is an amazing thing, Part I

So these next two posts might be light on content, but heavy on the video.

YouTube is an amazing thing, and one of the most remarkable creations of the digital age.  More than anything else, it allows people to just marvel at the creative talent (or lack thereof) of…well…just about anyone.  From the Star Wars Kid to crazy/stupid drunk people doing crazy/stupid drunk things, the width and breadth of content on YouTube is sure to allow for hours of unending amusement.  We’ve all be sucked into a YouTube tornado, in which, like its cousin the Wikipedia Abyss, you start out looking for one thing and before you know it an hour has gone by and you wonder what the hell you have just wasted your time doing.  This just happened to me.

So what does this have to do with Film Music, or its child TV Music, or its young cousin Video Game music?  Well, I’m getting to that.  I stumbled onto this video earlier, a re-edited opening for Star Trek: Voyager set to the theme from Battlestar Galactica:

And in short order I had watched many other alternate openings to Voyager set to many different TV themes:

Stargate: Atlantis

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer


and my personal favorite, Monk

For reference, here is the original opening and theme, with music by the one and only Jerry Goldsmith:

So what is the point of all this?  Besides the creativity of YouTube user Bloempje721, it is how a theme really does set the tone of the show.  All of the above examples, through the use of careful clip selection and video editing effects that closely mirror the originals, give us what would, in theory, be very different shows.  Yet the material, besides the theme, are all drawn from the same show!

Many people may not notice just how much music and a good theme song can set the mood of a show (though I sure none of my loyal blog readers are among those people), but if you doubt it, look no further than these videos.

p.s. – the Word Press spell-checker highlights ‘blog’ as not a real word