Orchestral Color

Last week I read yet another discussion on how film music today isn’t “thematic” anymore and how everything is down to “sound”.

I have my own views on the topic and maybe that’s a good idea for another post but the discussion made me think about sound and what that means in film scoring.

There are sounds we can’t help but associate with a situation (nothing says “military” like a French horn or a snare drum) or culture (think of a fiddle or an ehru).

The traditional symphonic orchestra offers a world of possibilities and film composers have stretched its capabilities since the very beginning of cinema. The jolting string “stabs” in the shower scene of Psycho were so characteristic that they have almost become a parody and there are countless other examples.

My favorite contemporary example is probably the pipe organ in Interstellar, I think Hans Zimmer was a genius in using it in that way.

But here’s a vintage one: the soundtrack for Brainstorm by James Horner.

Now, do me a favor, watch this film and tell me if the use of the mixed choir isn’t fantastic here, against the backdrop of a sci-fi theme.

What’s your favorite use of orchestration in film music?

Please feel free to comment below.