Changing the Meaning of a Scene Through Music

Last week I saw a fantastic exhibit. I’m talking about SoundFrames, an exploration of the “complex relationship between music and  moving images” organized by The National Museum of Cinema in Turin, Italy.

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The exhibit explored music for film,s not only across an historical timeline, but also through different genres (I particularly loved the section that looked at the evolution of horror film scoring) and specific niches where music is the protagonist (the musical, the music documentary, the video clip).

SoundFrames hosts events as well, ranging from live performances of silent film music to experimental concerts and talks.

I don’t want this post to turn into an advert, but I did really like it. As a film composer, I think it’s always an exciting opportunity when we get chance to reflect on how our beautiful art has evolved over time (that’s why I hate the fact I still haven’t managed to watch Score: A Film Music Documentary).

Part of the exhibit consisted of several interactive rooms. In one of them, the audience was presented with scenes from iconic movies with their original soundtrack and could then replace it with a few other options ranging from other film scores to pop music to 19th century masterpieces.

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I have played this game with the films I score thousands of times and the result is just incredible. The power we have as film composers is unbelievable. We can manipulate the viewer and change the meaning of a scene with just a few notes. 

At the very beginning of my film scoring studies, my teachers tried to show me the power of music in storytelling in many ways but the thing that has really stuck with meis the time a teacher in Rome showed us this commercial without any sound and, while asking whoever had already seen it not to say anything, suggested we try to guess together which sort of music would work.

The suggestions put forward ranged from thunderous tribal percussions to Zimmeresque spiccato strings and everybody was shocked when Haendel’s Sarabande was revealed.

Another classic example is this

To finish off, there’s a lot of talk in our industry (in any industry for that matter) about machines taking over and A.I. killing our jobs as composers, and there is some truth to that (viable, cheap A.I. production music isn’t that far away).

However, as Christian Henson perfectly pointed out in this recent vlog, we are probably safe in this particular endeavour; you probably do need human empathy to be able to profoundly manipulate the way someone experiences a scene. You need this empathy for anything that involves emotions. And hopefully I’m not wrong.