Just Enjoy: Why I Have Tried to Stop Theorizing About My Favorite Media

By Michael W. Harris

Sad Matt Smith is Sad

It was around the time when Matt Smith was leaving the TARDIS in the epic three-part “The [blank] of the Doctor” episodes that I began to realize that it was sort of pointless to endlessly theorize. In those episodes, there were so many aspects and moving parts that Steven Moffat had to pay off, not to mention the longstanding issue of how many regenerations Time Lords had, plus the epic reveal of the “War Doctor,” that the creeping sensation of inevitable let down began to sink in. In the months in between “The Name…” and “The Day…” my friends and I had numerous conversations about what we thought was going on and where it was going to lead. For my own part, I injested classic episodes of Doctor Who in order to track down the sources of Whovian lore that Moffat was pulling on. And for all of the hints that he laid out in “The Name,” and for all of the awesome fan service found in “The Day,” the final installment, “The Time of the Doctor,” just sort of limped along and barely paid any of it off. A problem that was compounded by the Peter Capaldi era and its hints of some awesome meta story of how Capaldi had appeared in early parts of the Who franchise. And as I sat in the theatre watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it hit me: I need to relearn how to just enjoy my favorite media properties. This isn’t to say I will stop writing about and analyzing what has already come, not by a long shot. It means that I will try to stop speculating about what might come next. Continue reading “Just Enjoy: Why I Have Tried to Stop Theorizing About My Favorite Media”

Musical Spock

By Jessica Getman

Note: This post is part of The Music of Star Trek Blogathon hosted by Film Music Central and comes to the The Temp Track courtesy of guest blogger Jessica Getman.

“Being split in two halves is no theory with me, Doctor. I have a human half, you see, as well as an alien half, submerged, constantly at war with each other. Personal experience, Doctor: I survive it because my intelligence wins out over both, makes them live together.”
Spock (Leonard Nimoy), “The Enemy Within”

Spock makes this profound statement in “The Enemy Within.” It succinctly and powerfully illustrates the tension at the heart of the Spock character: he is neither human nor Vulcan, but somewhere in between.1This quote bears a striking resemblance to W.E.B. DuBois’ description of double consciousness: “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903), 3. His struggle as a biracial character is part of what makes him such a compelling character. The fact that he lives in an unresolved space between human and non-human made him a particularly rich locus of creativity for the franchise’s founders, a fact made audible in his relationship to music–both the music that underscores him and the music he makes on screen. Continue reading “Musical Spock”

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. This quote bears a striking resemblance to W.E.B. DuBois’ description of double consciousness: “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903), 3.

From Kurosawa to Evangelion: Ma –or– Leaving Space for Thought

By Michael W. Harris

Author’s Note: This is probably, by far, the longest post I have written for this blog. There is a lot to discuss so please, just stick with me. It will be worth it, I promise! For those who make it through, there is a special treat waiting for you at the end. Also, see the end of the post for a disclaimer about the videos (or lack thereof in one case) in this post

Part I: By Way of Beginnings

It has been a while since I turned my critical lens on Japanese cinema and culture in this humble blog space, so let’s dive back into the realm that constituted so much of my dissertation research.

At the recent 2016 edition of Music and the Moving Image, I was chatting with a good friend about future projects we might collaborate on. As is want to happen when two Japanese film music scholars talk, the subject of Kurosawa’s use of sound bubbled to the surface and I remembered two scenes from his early post-war films (No Regrets for our Youth and One Wonderful Sunday) that had always intrigued me. While these films are not all that highly regarded in the Kurosawa oeuvre, I do find many aspects of their treatment of music and sound (both on- and off-screen) interesting, and I mentioned these two specific scenes to my friend as ones that she might want to take a look at.

Fast forward a few days and a notion pops into my head: not only is Kurosawa probably playing with the Japanese aesthetic principle of ma (literally meaning “space” or “the space between”), but also by looking at these Kurosawa scenes through the lens of ma we might give ourselves a new way of looking at two rather infamous scenes from the 1995-96 anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. Scenes that are infamous for their lack of movement and are usually pointed to as examples of the production’s rather constrained animation budget.

So with that in mind, let’s dissect the concept of ma, watch some Kurosawa, and then talk some Evangelion. Continue reading “From Kurosawa to Evangelion: Ma –or– Leaving Space for Thought”

Tis the Season for “Star Wars”

First, I’m sorry for not posting more in the past few months, this semester has been crazy with exams and teaching.  I’m still hopeful for posting few more entries here in the waning days of 2010, starting with my review of Alexandre Desplat’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I score.  But for the time being I would like to veer slightly off the “film music” course again, though considering the level of much of the music in the films to be discussed below, I think I’m on safe ground for blogging. 

Dear reader, it’s almost Thanksgiving, so that can only mean one thing: Star Wars.  “What,” you ask?  You see, fearless reader, it was at this time of year that the darkest day in Star Wars history came to pass: November 17, 1978.  On that day, lo those many years ago, the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special aired on CBS stations nationwide.  And it is for this reason that every Thanksgiving-tide, it is the duty of all Star Wars fans to remember the day with a celebration of all that is good with the saga…in the hope that one day the black stain of the Special shall be removed – though, in all honesty, if you watch the Special with RiffTrax commentary, it is almost bearable…almost.  

To this end, I have been working over the past year to assemble the ULTIMATE Star Wars marathon.  Beginning with the question of what material is available on DVD that a fan can watch to completely immerse one’s self in Lucas-verse, I have scoured the internet and Amazon.com to cull all relevant materials together into one uber-listing.  Obviously, one can select to watch various materials as they wish, and one can even mess with the ordering itself.  One interesting variant I’ve read about is to watch Episodes IV and V and then hop back to watch I through III, in this way the big reveal of Vader as Luke’s father is not foreshadowed, and the events leading to Anakin’s fall is played as a flashback of sorts.

But if you are a purist and want to view everything in chronological order based on events in the films themselves, then I have assembled a list achieving just that.  Included, for your amusement/enjoyment/torture are: all six main theatrical films, all materials related to the Clone Wars (two animated series and one film), the DVD releases of material from the Droids and Ewoks animated series from the 1980s, the two live-action Ewok films (Caravan of Courage and The Battle for Endor) also from the 1980s, and in the name of being complete…the infamous Holiday Special.  I have also indicated future material where it has been speculated, just leave room for future growth.  So without further adieu, the ULTIMATE Star Wars Marathon (with my own “chapter” titles):  

A Saga Begins:
            Episode I: The Phantom Menace
            Episode II: Attack of the Clones
 
The Clone Wars:
            Clone Wars (2003) – Volume 1
            Clone Wars (2003) – Volume 2, Chapter 21
            The Clone Wars (2008) – Film and Television Series (see below)
            Clone Wars (2003) – Volume 2, Chapters 22-25
 
A Faustian Bargain is Struck and a Hero Falls:
            Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
 
A New Empire and Rebellion Begins:
            Droids animated series films (see PDF below)
            The Untitled Live Action Series, hopefully to begin in 2012
 
The Rebellion:
            Episode IV: A New Hope
            Star Wars Holiday Special
            Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
 
The Ewok Adventures:
           Ewoks animated series films (see PDF below)
           Caravan of Courage
           The Battle for Endor
           
An Empire Overthrown and a Hero Redeemed
            Episode VI: Return of the Jedi 

It’s a lot of material, I know.  At last count, with the continuing Clone Wars series, it is pushing over 40 hours.  Let that sink in…over Forty Hours.  And once both The Clone Wars and the untitled live-action series are done with, there will be well over 100 additional hours of material to watch (that’s if the live action series ever materializes).  

The hardest part about this marathon, though, is navigating the Clone Wars materials.  There are two different Cartoon Network series to work through, and the current series likes to jump around in time so that new episodes sometimes take place before prior episodes and one has to remember earlier material to put them in the proper context.  And while the Clone Wars film that was released in 2008 is basically taken as the zero point for the series, there have been two episodes that take place just prior to it.  To assist in any chronological viewing of the Clone Wars materials, I have assembled rough chronological listing of the episodes, one that adheres to the airing order as closely as possible, but also putting later episodes in order should they come before earlier ones.  But I will freely admit, I am guessing at some of the ordering, but it should at least demonstrate some logical coherence.  Though if anyone can help refine parts by pointing out little details, I gladly welcome it.

In the PDF linked below, I have divided the episodes into story arcs (the names are my own), and you’ll notice there are a few single episodes that are part of a larger grouping (the Pantora and Senate Intrigue arcs).  I have also grouped together two second season episodes that are homages to films by Akira Kurosawa, a major influence on George Lucas.  These are mainly stand alone episodes that are part of a larger trend in season two towards episodes that reference genre films and styles (noir, western, monster movie, and submarine films).  This is also why I titled the final arc of season two as “Once Upon a Time in Space.”  The story is of young Boba Fett’s quest for revenge against Mace Windu, and the score has a theme that is a call out to Harmonica’s theme from Once Upon a Time in the West

Finally, if you need a break from heavy drama or lame 80s cartoons, you can watch one of a number of Star Wars related media.  There is the Empire of Dreams documentary (available in the first box set release of the original trilogy in 2004) or the recently released film Fanboys, which makes one nostalgic for the optimism surrounding Episode I prior to its release.  There are also the numerous episodes of either Family Guy or Robot Chicken that spoof/parody the Saga.  Think of these as a way of stepping back from the abyss and gaining perspective during what is undoubtedly a major undertaking. 

Below you’ll find links to PDF files listing all that films and TV episodes that I’ve talked about.  Note: The Clone Wars episodes are current up through November 19, 2010, though I’ve speculated on how the latest and the following episode are to fit in based on information found on StarWars.com. 

Good luck, and may the Force be with…always.

Ultimate Star Wars Marathon

Clone Wars Ordering

P.S. – For those curious, the two Kurosawa homages, “Lightsaber Lost” is taken from Stray Dog and “Bounty Hunters” from Seven Samurai.

N.B. – The episode numbers in the PDF film are in the standard 3 digit number format where the first number is the season and the second two and the episode number in the season sequence.

The Film Musicologist’s Bookshelf

About a month ago, friend of the Temp Track and fellow blogger Herr Vogler posted this over at his cyberdomain in which he details what books he feels a film composer should have on his/her shelf.  In this post I intend to do the same but for the aspiring film music scholar.

The term “film musicology” or “film musicologist” has been tossed around for about ten years to describe what it is I and others like me do, and while “film” might seem to limit the scope to just that, it is a useful catch-all term (I prefer the term “media scoring” to describe the object of my study, personally, but to each their own).  I have just recently encountered an article by William H. Rosar in the Journal of Film Music (which has an annoyingly irregular publishing history) entitled “Film Studies in Musicology: Disciplinarity vs. Interdisciplinarity” which traces some of the history and trends of the field.  I have yet to finish the article, but in what I have read he really strives to get to a core problem of the field and how it relats to this term, “film musicology:” many of the people working within the field are not trained “musicologists.”

Now, I feel that this should in no way hinder people working in the field, Herr Vogler is a trained composer and theorist but is a very intelligent and insightful scholar who has helped me greatly as I’ve delved into the field.  What Rosar is talking about is how the field developed and the “interdisciplinary” nature that the field has.  At any given Music and the Moving Image conference you’ll have scholars from musicology, music theory, film studies, literary studies, and any other field that might have a tangential connection to film or music.  What this has done, though, has made it hard to find a consistent way in which scholars approach the subject.  Since the field developed in an era already familiar with post-modern critical theory and interdisciplinary approaches, it was a sort of academic Wild West.  To that end, I would recommend looking at the Rosar’s article (found in JFM Vol. 2, No. 2-4, 2009, p. 99-125) for a sort of overview of how the current field developed in the 1980s up to the present, and hopefully some ideas for new directions (I’ll let you know how it all turns out once I finish reading the article).

But for the new scholar trying to get a feel for the field, or good reference materials to have handy, I would recommend some of the following titles.

“The Core” – Books that I would recommend for everybody:

Mervyn Cooke – A History of Film Music and James Wierzbicki – Film Music: A History: These two books were released around the same time and I really do view them as complementary titles that one should at least flip through and know the basics of.  The Cooke is a “great composers, great scores” chronological approach that is a very traditional way of doing history while Weirzbicki takes a cultural/technological viewpoint to telling the history.  Both volumes are easily available in paperback from Amazon and are a great starting point for the bookshelf.

Rick Altman – Silent Film Sound: Silent film music was always a problem in earlier studies (see Predergast – Film Music: A Neglected Art and other earlier works), but what Altman achieved in his study is a more complete understanding of how music interacted with early films and developed into the form that would give way to sound films.  It is an exhaustive study that I still haven’t read every word of, but while Cooke and Wierzbicki treat the subject at some length, Altman focuses exclusively on it.  To really understand the complete history of film music and sound, Altman has to be included in the discussion.

Michel Chion – Audio Vision: Translated from the French by Claudia Gorbman, Chion lays out a model for talking about sound in relation to film and really helps to add to the overall terminology  and approach to audio-visual studies.  As a bonus, it is relatively short, though it can be a be a bit obtuse at time.  That could be a by-product of translation, though.

A Book on Semiotics and Music – I can’t really recommend one book here because there are many different approaches to musical semiotics.  You might want to begin by obtaining a basic book that covers many different approaches to semiotics in general and from there find the method that makes the most sense to you.  I personally go by Nattiez’s Music and Discourse but I know that it does not work for everyone.  But is a basic understanding of semiotics strictly necessary?  Maybe not, but it does help to have a basic model under which to analyze the relationship between music and image.

Other Books that provide models and ideas:

Royal S. Brown – Overtones and Undertones: Brown covers a lot of film theoretical ground here, but his prose can be a bit dense.  What is really great about this book are the interviews with composers at the end.

Claudia Gorbman – Unheard Melodies: Most scholars point to Gorbman as the starting point of the field in the 1980s, and reading Rosar it is easy to understand why.  The book is out of print and expensive to get a hold of, but it is worth tracking down through your local library via Interlibrary Loan.  She lays out a good theoretical model for talking about narrative film music that still largely holds today, though some have challenged it.

Scholars whose work you should search out:

Not everybody has published a book or even a book that is easy to get a hold of, but if you have access to a good library with ILL services and subscriptions to databases such as JSTOR or RILM, then you can find a wealth of articles to read.  Names to look for, besides those already mentioned, include: Kevin J. Donnelly (or K.J.), Robynn Stilwell, Caryl Flinn, David Neumeyer, James Buhler, Kathryn Kalinak, Gillian B. Anderson…and that’s just what some call the “first generation” of film music scholars.  Another good resource is the on-line journal Music and the Moving Image which is edited by the same people who run the yearly conference of the same name at New York University (Anderson and Ron Sadoff) along with the above mentioned Journal of Film Music.

There are some other books that are about specific composers and scores (such as those listed on Herr Vogler’s list), and I would at least checkout the Scarecrow Film Score Guides series.  I’ve only looked through the ones for Batman and Forbidden Planet, but they both seemed like good ways to approach film music from a musicological perspective.  One that is as concerned with the music itself as it is the history of the composer, film, and the  circumstances surrounding the project.

As with any academic discipline, there is a balance to be struck between global knowledge about a field and more specific knowledge related to your defined niche.  That is why I have the “core” books which provide a global view (and do it very well), and have left out more specific books related to composers, periods, etc.  And since “film musicology” is still a new field that is interdisciplinary by its very nature one will also need books on film theory, music theory, and many other possible fields depending on the film subject.

I hope this has been of help to you, my readers.  Your humble blogger has yet to publish anything outside of this web space, but stay tuned as my dissertation begins to take shape – over the coming years…

FSFT5 – Scores for Animated TV Shows*

*And to further limit this, I’m only going to consider “narrative” animated programming.  And by narrative I mean cartoon shows that are a full half-hour program with only one story and not a collection of animated shorts, such as the classic Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons.  It also helps if the series as a whole has a larger structure, but that is not a requirement.

So now with those disclaimers out of the way, let’s chat.  I already mentioned how after seeing The Last Airbender over the Fourth of July weekend I decided to seek out the original cartoon series and was wowed by the score.  That got me thinking about animated shows as a whole and their scores.  I have written in other places on this blog about animated shows and their music – such as Shirley Walker’s score for Batman: The Animated Series or the music for Cowboy Bebop – but I figured now would be the time for a formal declaration of what I think are excellent examples of scoring for animated television shows.  Before we get to the list, I will provide one final caveat:  I can only talk about what I’ve seen and know, obviously.  This has been implied in all my earlier lists, but given my even more limited knowledge of a lot of cartoons, especially ones made post-2000, I figured it would be prudent to restate this fact.  As is my “new” custom here, I’ll present these in chronological order.

Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) – Shirley Walker, et al: For me, this is the cartoon series that really changed how I view the medium, it also helped that this was realesed just as I was entering adolescence.  The series was dark, moody, and didn’t really shy away from dealing with topics seriously.  It didn’t “talk down” to kids which is why those of my generation who grew up with the show still hold it in high regard and enjoy it to this day.  And just as the series itself doesn’t fall into children’s cartoon cliches, so does the score.  Building on the tone of Danny Elfman’s Batman film score (he also did the show’s theme), Shirley Walker and a team of composers wrote orchestral music that set the standard for how I judge music for animated shows.  La-La Land records released a two-disc set with music from a collection of episodes back in 2008, but it quickly sold out due to fans like myself snatching up all of the 2,500 copies.  Just shows that even after almost twenty years, this show continues to have an impact.

Cowboy Bebop (1998-99) – Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts: The first of two Japanese anime shows on this list, Cowboy Bebop has a stunning score that pulls from just about every musical style there is, though, as the title indicates, it focuses mostly on jazz traditions. I didn’t discover this series until the penultimate year of my collegiate education (sometime around late 2002), but the first episode I saw, entitled “The Ballad of Fallen Angels,” was a great entrance into the show.  Featuring an opera scene that takes its cues from the opera sequence in The Godfather, Part III, and a pop-song sequence, along with more conventional non-diegetic scoring, the episode encapsulated just how closely music is tied to the overall aesthetic of the show.  And what is so great about Bebop and the other anime on the the list (see below) is that they are both 26-episode long shows that were planned as such.  This means two things: first, relatively cheap complete DVD sets (around $50 each, and usually available at your local Best Buy), and second, there is a continual story arc from the first episode to the last which makes for a great viewing experience.

Samurai Champloo (2004-05) – DJ Tsutchie, Force of Nature, et al: This is the other anime show on the list, and whereas Bebop is a jazz influenced show, Samurai Champloo, despite its 19th Century setting, features a soundtrack of hip-hop, rap, and R&B.  And while you might think this anacronism might clash or be distracting, it works so well because the characters themselves are anachronistic in some ways.  Their attitudes are more contemporary, one character, Jin, sports John Lennon-esque glasses, which, while not uncommon in the era, certainly separates him out.  While personally I don’t like this score nearly as much as Bebop – if it’s for pure listening pleasure I will go for Bebop before Champloo – I find that I think it works quite well in context and the sheer variety of tracks and styles set it apart from the everyday fare of animated programming.  For comparison, the only other anime series I really enjoy, The Big-O (giant robot anime and such but with a noir-ish twist), while having some nice score pieces that help set the noir tone of much of the series, they are too few and are overused.  What, for me, helps set a television score apart is how often they will “go to the well” and reuse music.  If a composer is given enough freedom and time and can write enough new music for each episode and lessen the use of preexisting tracks, it helps raises the overall quality in my opinion.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-08) – Jeremy Zuckerman: Zuckerman is one-half of The Track Team who do both music and sound, with Zuckerman obviously doing musical chores.  As I mentioned in my review of James Newton Howard’s Last Airbender score, the music for this series uses a lot of traditional Asian instruments such as the duduk, shamisen, pipa (or biwa), and koto (or qin) – it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between some of the Japanese and Chinese instruments by sound alone.  It took most of the first season for the score to really find its voice, but one it did the sound of the series really opened up.  The series started out fairly conventionally, both  in terms of tone and plot as well as the score, but once it found a solid footing in a larger story mythology, the stories started to go deeper into the emotion and background of the characters.  Like Batman: The Animated Series, this is a cartoon that will be long appreciated by kids, teens, and adults alike, and a musical score that is as challenging in tone as this one is goes a long ways.  How many other cartoons feature a duduk?  Seriously!  Well, at least one other…

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-Present) – Kevin Kiner: The score for the television Clone Wars series (not to be confused with the earlier series) follows much in the style of the CGI film, in fact the film itself was really just a multi-part episode re-edited for the theatre.  Kiner’s score for both the film and series follows in the tradition of Avatar in that he uses a lot of instruments not before heard in an animated show…well at least until Avatar itself (though some of the Asian instruments, such as duduks and taiko drums, had been used perviously in Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica score).  According to an interview for the film’s special features he strives to create a new sound for each world featured in the show, and he succeeds in large part.  I’m slightly confused that on IMDB Kiner is only credited for 17 episodes on the series, but no other composers are listed under the series credits.  I’m guessing that someone has been slacking off in the cataloguing department because each episode features mostly new music and new themes as characters are introduced to the series.  In a three-part story arc ending season 2, the young Boba Fett, a well-known character from the original film trilogy, is introduced and has teamed up with a group of Bounty Hunters (many seen at other times in season 2) in order to seek revenge on the jedi who killed his father.  For this, Boba is accompanied by a theme that is strongly reminiscent of Harmonica’s theme from Once Upon a Time in the West, which is fitting since Harmonica was seeking revenge for the death of his brother in that classic film.  Oh, and the score also features the big orchestral sounds that one would expect of a Star Wars related score…so it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

Well love it or hate it, those are my five.  Next week, in recognition of the upcoming release of Christopher Nolan’s Inception (music by Hans Zimmer), FSFT5 will take on Sci-Fi scores of the last five years.  Will Zimmer’s efforts make the list?  I don’t know since the score isn’t released until 7/13.  Regardless, I’ll hopefully have a full review up sometime over the weekend of the 16th.  And, finally, Bear McCreary has at long last gotten some love from the Emmy committee!  His theme from Human Target has been nominated in the category of “Outstanding Main Title Theme Music.”  Congratulations, Bear!

FSFT5 – Musical Moments on TV of the Past 10 Years

It’s been awhile since I did a proper Film Score Friday Top 5, between classes and the difficulty of coming up with a topic each week, I’ve been a bad blogger.  So once again I’ll throw it to you, fair readers, if you have either a topic you want me to tackle or a list yourself, let me know – part of what makes the internets so great is the interactivity of it all.

Anyway, for today’s installment, I have decided to do what I consider the best musical moments on TV (narrative shows, not live concerts, award shows, etc) of the last ten years.  Why ten years, you ask?  Because that is what I know best, and if I try to go further back I do not feel that I’m on as solid of ground.  My criteria for inclusion is memorabililty, re-watchability, and if the music actually served to further the narrative of the show and wasn’t just for cheap plugging or ratings.  I considered both diegetic and non-diegetic music, and the list I came up with actually includes many examples of the blurring of the line between the two.  Lastly, I wanted specific instances, not just so-and-so’s music for x show, and to that end I decided to limit myself to only one instance from either Lost or Battlestar Galactica, though I could have easily done top five lists for either shows and have done so in the past.

Well with all that out of the way, let’s go to the list.  I shall present them in chronological order.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Once More With Feeling” (Season 6, Episode 7; November 6, 2001): Also known as the Buffy musical, this episode, though not the first instance of a “musical episode” within a television show, is certainly one of the most well-known.  Creator/Writer/Producer/Director Joss Whedon also wrote all the song and music for this episode, showing the world that he really is master of all he surveys.  What strikes me most about this episode is how integral it is to the story arc of the entire season, and while one can watch the episode on its own and enjoy the music, without the context of what has come before it, many of the subtleties of the song lyrics are lost – especially in the show’s penultimate number in which the Scooby Gang (look it up) finally confronts the villian…the villian which is actually the cause of the entire town of Sunnydale breaking into song.  And this is what I also find so brilliant, instead of the traditional musical caveat of the characters not commenting on the songs, they are fully aware of their singing and find it quite strange.  This is also the only entry in this list in which it is not a specific moment but rather the episode itself, though musical highlights include Xander and Anya’s  throwback number “I’ll Never Tell.”  Also great are the little moments like “They Got the Mustard Out” or the woman singing to the traffic cop to not give her a ticket heard only in passing as the main characters walk down a street.  It is an amazing episode that set the stage for Whedon & Co.’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.  And if you haven’t see that…well you really need to.

Life on Mars (BBC Version) – Episode 1 (January 9, 2006): Let me first just say this, if you’ve only seen the American version of this show (from the 2008-09 t.v. season) or if you haven’t seen either, do yourself a favor and get ahold of this show.  They’ve released it on DVD in the US and you might also be able to find it via torrents (that’s how I first saw it prior to its domestic DVD release).  The basic premise of the show is that a modern-day cop is somehow transported back to the 1970s (the how is left open until the end – is he in a coma, did he actually travel through time, is he dead and this is the afterlife?) after being hit by a car.  And it is this sequence, as his is hit by the car and then wakes up in 1973, that I am highlighting here.  As this happens, the David Bowe song “Life on Mars?” off his album Hunky Dory is playing on his iPod in his car, and the song plays through the traveling sequence and continues to play as he wakes up and is now playing on an 8-track.  The song moves into and out of the diegesis and is links the two time periods together and they even used the sound of telephones (heard at the very end of the album track) as the song fades into the police department, and indeed the sound of a ringing phone becomes very important throughout the show.  I am speaking specifically of the BBC version here because this sequence as rendered in the US version does not even hold a candle, and everything that is brilliant about the BBC version is not present in the US remake.  Unfortunatly, this clip cuts off right before the phones come in.  But listen to the song itself and you’ll hear it.

Battlestar Galactica – “Crossroads, Pt. 2” (Season 3, Episode 20; March 25, 2007):  Of course, for all you Galactica fans out there, you know where I’m going here – the use of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” at the end of Season 3.  For a few episodes prior, four characters had been hearing faint snippets of music and eventually towards the end of this season finale, they come together and realize they’ve all been hearing the same song, unbeknownst to them as “Watchtower” (though in a new arrangement by composer Bear McCreary, and the actual melody heard by them is entirely unique to McCreary’s version).  The handling of the sequence musically leading up the four gathering and the subsequent use of the song itself in the new arrangement during the final sequence of the episode is one of the few good examples, in my opinion, of the use of a “pop” song during an ending montage (I’m looking at you Scrubs and The O.C. for gratuitous overuse and bad examples) because it serves purpose other than “setting a tone” in that it truly serves a narrative function.  Note: I am forgoing posting a video of this sequence here in order to save parties that have not seen the show from spoilers.

Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Ring” (Season 2, Episode 22; April 27, 2009):  I’ve written about this sequence, Jeffster’s performance of Styx’s “Mr. Roboto,” in an earlier post, “Domo Arigato, Mr. Bartowski,” so I’ll let you read that instead of recapping it here.  It’s ironic that I put down The O.C. in the previous selection when both it and Chuck were created by the same person, and The O.C. always had a good selection of music, but Chuck, in my opinion, does a much better job of using it.

Lost – “The End” (Season 6, Episode 18; May 23, 2010):   The final musical sequence of Lost is one of the most satisfying musical endings to any television show, I believe.  Where Battlestar has many musically satisfying conclusions, they are separate instances for the most part.  What Michael Giacchino does in the final sequence for “The End” is take at least three major themes from throughout the series and builds them all up into a conclusion (as mentioned earlier, I’m planning a more in-depth analysis later on, once I can transcribe the actual music).  And where some may see at least one, if not more, of the themes as character specific, I see this ending as affirming that many of the major music motifs are not character based, but rather based on themes of the show.  What I find satisfying about it is that it brings to a conclusion these musical themes while underlying many of the similarities between them…the “fundamental interconnectedness” of them, which, in many ways, a major theme of the show…we either live together or die alone. Note: I’m also not linking of video of this sequence either for obvious reasons.

Well, that’s all for now, think I missed any?

Addendum – Full Transcription…Updated

So I had so much fun (no sarcasm) doing transcriptions for yesterday’s post that I went ahead and did a full orchestral version of “There’s No Place Like Home.”  The link below will take you to a .pdf of the score.  Just in case you’re wondering, it’s track 15 on the season 4 soundtrack album. Enjoy.

There’s No Place Like Home – Full Orch

Update!!!  I’ve finished a transcription of “Parting Words” (the raft launch scene). 

Parting Words – Full Orch

I might also tackle the music for the last scene of the series, but I have some other posts planned before I take on that project.

‘Lost’ and Michael Giacchino’s Cell Construction

So you won’t read this until Saturday at the earliest, but this is a pseudo Film Score Friday Top 5 in that it covers five of my favorite Lost moments.  While I might not have talked as much about Michael Giacchino’s magnificent work on the just ended series as, say, Bear McCreary and BSG, my love for it is no less.  Today, I am going to discuss a bit about how Giacchino constructed some of what I consider the show’s best musical moments.  And in a Temp Track first, I’m going to give you musical examples!  It’s going to be legen…wait for it…dary!  Let’s see how this goes.

WARNING —- WARNING —- WARNING!!!!  SPOILERS AHEAD!!!  So if you haven’t seen ANY of Lost, then you might not want to read any further.

Okay, still with me?  Great.  So I’ve mentioned in some earlier posts that Giacchino constructs many of his cues from small musical cells, starting with a very sparse texture (many times just piano and maybe a cello) and building up from there.  He’ll repeat the same material, adding countermelodies and other things, but the core harmonic and melodic cell remains.  The first one I want to talk about is one of the most heard themes in the entire show, simply titled “Life and Death.”  As many of you might know, even if you’re not fans of the show, Lost was by no means shy about killing main characters, or even secondary, hell even minor characters.  Let’s face it, people dropped like flies on that wacky island.

In the twentieth episode of the first season, we had the first major death, Boone.  But what was so great about it was that it was paired with the birth of Claire’s baby, Aaron.  Hence life AND death.  The cue proper that I’m discussing begins about forty seconds into this clip.

As you can hear, he starts with the bare harmonic outline then bringing in the actual melody and slowly building in some strings.  Though unlike most of the cues I’ll discuss later, it never truly builds into an overpowering force.  Hey, someone’s died here, we can’t get too optimistic, right?  Anyway, the basic theme is like so (Note: I don’t have the best ear for transcribing music, so please forgive any in my transcriptions):

The first chord of the last bar does change occasionally, so I’ve gone with what is heard in the first full statement.  As I said, this theme is reused many times whenever a major character dies.  One of the most heartbreaking of all deaths on the show was the end of season three when Charlie dies, and without fail, the theme is brought back out, but with a new (counter)melody.

 But let’s move to something a bit more uplifting.  Other than the death of Charlie, just shown, one of the most refered to moments of the show is the end of the episode “Walkabout” (season 1, episode 4), and I must admit that this was the scene that got me hooked.  I had never heard such music for a television show (I had yet to watch BSG), and I knew I had to go out and buy the season 1 DVDs.  It really is a simple two-part, four measure phrase with a slowly ascending melody and an eighth-note ostinato.  In this clip you’ll hear it slowly build up (the dialogue buries the beginning of the cue) as we see Locke slowly realize that he has feeling again in his legs and stands for the first time in years.  It was a powerful moment, especially because before this episode we had no idea that Locke had been in a wheelchair prior to the crash.

The basic part is as follows (this one was a hard one to crack, especially because I was having to work straight from the video as this cue specific was not on the soundtrack album):

Again, what standout in my mind is how Giacchino builds something so powerful out of such simplicity.  As I said, tiny cells of music built up, and, of course, the addition to the trombones just drives the whole cue home.

The penultimate episode of season 1 provides a great moment in the pantheon of Lost, the launching of a raft that the castaways hope can find help to get them home.  It is a another moment, like all the ones discussed today, in which the producers gave the sequence over to Giacchino’s music, trusting him to take the visual and send it into a mythic realm with his scoring.  And without fail, he succeeded.  This cue, “Parting Words,” is made up of three small cells that are mixed and matched:

They all have the same harmonic foundation of alternating Db major and G minor chords and are arranged as A-B-A-A-B-A-A-AC-AC-AB-AC-AB-AC-AB (where the letters are together, it indicates the cells being played at the same time).  In the scene below, also notice how in the first five iterations that there is a measure of pause inserted lengthening each cell to eight measures.

And like all these themes, they appear again and again.  When, in season 2, the people who were on the raft finally make it back to the beach, we hear this theme once again with a few new twists.

The last cue I want to consider is one of my favorite from the series, and also one of the last major themes to be introduced.  It is the first music we hear as the erstwhile Oceanic 6, who have escaped the island, land in Hawaii in the second to last episode of season four.  The cue is called “There is No Place Like Home,” and features a theme that became more important as the show progressed towards its final episode and was then heard many times in the finale.  In this transcription, I have also included the full theme with countermelody(Note: the first two chords are cut off in the below clip):

As you can hear, it is constructed just as the previous cues, starting with a simple piano version before adding strings and a countermelody to the proceedings, and then fading back away.  In many ways, this cue is related to the earlier “Life and Death,” especially in that instead of continually building, such as with Locke’s cue or “Parting Words,” it fades back out.  Also note how the first two chords for both “Home” and “Life and Death,” arguably the heart of the both cues, are related by a third – DM to F#m and BbM to Dm respectively.  Further, you may notice that the countermelody is a sequenced and altered version of the eighth-note ostinato heard in the above Locke theme.  In fact, many of these themes do bear a resemblance, if not explicitly musical, at least “spiritually.”  This is all brought home in the final scene of the series in which “There’s No Place Like Home,” “Life and Death,” and “Parting Words” all make an appearance.  I’ll forgo posting a clip of that just in case.  While the above clips are indeed spoilers, they would not really ruin ones enjoyment, the last scene of the series, on the other hand, would be a bit to much for a Lost virgin.

I hope that this modest post has provided a glimpse into how Michael Giacchino constructed some of the best musical cues of the series, and indeed, for any television show ever aired.

Update 6/13: I’ve gone back and fixed a few things in the voicings in the “Parting Words” transcription.