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 Posted:   Jan 11, 2001 - 6:51 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

For those of you who have followed my postings on this board, you should know my view on film music as an "independent" art form; film music as any other music genre and not simply a film tool. I really don't want to start another thread on that again, though, as that horse was executed a long time ago.

However, based on the above "foundation", I have assembled four criteria as to what I consider "good" [film] music, something I have also touched upon in previous threads, yes, but - as far as I remember - have never devoted an entire thread to. So here goes nothing.

[Film] music is "good" if it appeals to my...:

1) EMOTIONS

Perhaps the most obvious criterion. By triggering the basic moods in my body - happiness, sadness, anxiety etc. - the music tells me something, it does something to me physically. This is essential.

2) MEMORY

No, this does not mean memory as related to the movie, but rather memory of one's own past. There are certain passages in certain scores that may resurrect a sensation or a memory (or both) that you had completely forgotten about. This is where SUBCONSCIOUS IDENTIFICATION with the music comes in.

3) IMAGINATION

It is crucial that the music "paints" in some way or other. This can be "inner films" forming narratives or "inner pictures" that evokes a mood. Or - as I remember from my own teenage years - you imagine yourself standing on the podium performing the music as if it was your own with a crowd consisting of awestruck relatives and friends, making the music "yours" and easier to dissect, which brings me to....

4) INTELLECT

The music must stimulate the right side of the brain - the analytical side - in some way or another. The music must provoke analysis (dissection). This can for example be exploring the music for intricate details and delicate structures and making sense of them all and how they are interrelated.

Note that the four criterias form a scale - from "heart" to "brain".

If you think about it, you will see that these 4 criteria cover a vast amount of territory. You can put many things below these overarching categories.

Nevertheless, I'm certain there are a few criteria I have omitted, and I'm fully aware that the lines between the above-metioned ones are blurred.

In any case, a "good" score satisfy all the criteria, a bad score none. Some scores are linked more closely to one than the other (PLANET OF THE APES is more a number 4 for me, while BEYOND RANGOON fits nicely into 1 and 3).

Most of you will probably label a "good" score as one which WORKS in some way or other for the movie it was written for (and I have to agree with that). But let's say you discard that opinion for the moment. What would YOUR criteria be? What "scale" would you use? How would YOU define what is good [film] music? Is it even possible to form objective criterions for such a subjective experience?

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 11, 2001 - 7:40 AM   
 By:   Luscious Lazlo   (Member)

I was surprised by your MEMORY criterion. But it's certainly true that a lot of people use music as a memonic device. (Which reminds me that Simone Signoret wrote a book called "Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be".) Jonathan Demme once said that he respects music for its ability to resurrect the lost sensation of romantic love. And James Joyce wrote a story called "The Dead", which is about a woman who gets swamped with nostalgia after she hears a tune that she associates with her dead former boyfriend.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 11, 2001 - 8:40 AM   
 By:   Marian Schedenig   (Member)

1) EMOTIONS

Maybe the most "obvious" of the four. "Emotions" can be found in pop music as well, but I'm convinced that no type of music can create such a large canvas of emotions as "classical" music (I use "classical" music for a quite large area of musical types, I'd even consider a synth work "classical" music if it has the character of a real "work" - as opposed to e.g. a song, which is usually a small piece of music).

2) MEMORY

Creates "Emotions" that are NOT inherent in the music itself. I don't consider this a criterium for good music, as it can be the reason for me to actually like what I'd otherwise consider bad music.

Yet, it's a very important criterium for if I ENJOY a piece of music.

3) IMAGINATION

I can't really define this point. It lies somewhere in the middle between #1 and #4, I think.

4) INTELLECT

For me, at least a minimal amount of "intellect" in a piece of music is important. (At least nearly) everbody can take a rhythm, add a bass melody, some chords and a tune (of course, it can be very difficult to come up with a tune, but a tune per se has nothing to do with "intellect"). I can enjoy this music if it has much "emotion" or "memory" (a sufficient amount of "memory" can make me enjoy ANY piece of music), but I usually consider a certain "intelligence" in music very important. It also allows you to find something new everytime you listen to it.

NP: Anton Bruckner: Symphony #9 (Bruckner Orchester Linz, Kurt Eichhorn)

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 11, 2001 - 8:50 AM   
 By:   Wickenstein   (Member)

Numbers One and Four certainly qualify for me, but that's not the only factor. I guess I'm not articulate enough to explain why some Film Music is good and others aren't. If the music feels right, I like it. A part of it has to do with memorization for me. I never like a score unless I can hum along with it. Call me crazy, but unless I know the music, it doesn't sound right. That's why whenever I buy a score it takes several listens to warm up to it(as someone else pointed out on this board, especially Goldsmith).

A good score for me is typically one I can lose myself in. There will eventually come a time where I stop listenning to the music, and I'm just utterly influenced by it subcounsciously.

Themes, tempo, and motifs are always something I look for. For the most part they apeal to the analytical part of my brain. I think the best examples of these would be Star Trek TMP and Alien. Some of the cold and calculating music of that is sheer brilliance. In the case of Alien, the mechanicalness is matched by the animalistic brutality of the later passages. That is good film music that appeals to the brain.

Call my tastes immature, but a certain amount of bombast rather is better to my ears than almost silence. I don't care if its quiet, but for me there must be some kind of musical idea. I can't stand filler music.

Well, I know I probably got way off on a tangent with this post. I'm sure there were some things I left out too, but that's all I can think of right now. Happy Posting.

NP: Return of the Jedi

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 17, 2001 - 7:22 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

Who else want a million dollars?

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 17, 2001 - 7:28 AM   
 By:   Marian Schedenig   (Member)

Don't believe him! I think this is all one big hoax. I for one have not received a million dollars from him yet, and I've been the second to respond to this thread. I doubt any of the others have.

So, unless I post here that I have indeed received the money and Thor means what he says, I advise you not to respond to this thread.

http://www.filmscoremonthly.com/board/tongue.gif">

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 17, 2001 - 8:10 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

You better do as I say and retract that statement, Marian, or I'll send you one of my million dollar spiders rigt NOW! (and to that price, it's NOT small, I tell ya!)

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 17, 2001 - 8:29 AM   
 By:   Romy   (Member)

I think that good film music is gripping. What seperates good from mediocre is what grabs your attention, whether it is just unique and odd, startling, or beautiful. Even the quiet scores grab you. THE SIXTH SENSE comes to mind. At the end where Willis is talking to his wife, Howard's music is so quiet and simple, but it's touching and it's got some feeling in it. Good film music comes from the heart, and not from the hand. While i love many of Hans Zimmer's pieces, I have to admit they are very formulaic. When he tries to go for a more emotional movie; Like Spacehunter said: it doesn't have much of a turnout.
I also love vast orchestration, or simple intruiging notes. Lots of times it gets mixed up in the middle. Randy Edelman made a hit out of a few simple keys in COME SEE THE PARADISE, and I loved james Newton Howard's elaborate violin chords on SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS. I think this is also Hans Zimmer's fall. He hammers out some in-your-face, kick ass themes, but then he loses the momentum, and the kinetic energy, and doesn't know what to do next.
But most important of all, I think good film scores come when composers treat it as a privelage, and not a job. When composers try to connect the film's story to the music, that's when you score big. just think about it.
There are lots of scores we don't like. And I'm pretty confident in saying, that most of the time, the scores don't go well with the movie.(Though it's not the opposite like MISSION TO MARS).
This is a pretty good question!!

ROMY
np:The Good Son

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 17, 2001 - 9:17 AM   
 By:   Marian Schedenig   (Member)

Romy, I have to disagree with your first statement. I think what you described there is what makes you LIKE a piece of music. However, as I pointed above, there's an important difference between GOOD music and music one LIKES. Although in most cases one probably likes good music, there are also a couple of works I don't necessarily consider GOOD, but like, and (more) works I find very good, but don't like to play very often.

NP: The Shadow (Jerry Goldsmith)

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 15, 2001 - 2:51 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

Since I've just completed a course in media criticism here at the university, I thought I'd resurrect this thread - to see if anyone is interested in further discussion.

The reason is simply that I have several new criteria to add.

The four criteria that I mentioned in the initial post have really to do with the SUBJECTIVE interpretation of the product; with the quality we attach to a product out of a simple identification with it. I'm still 100% behind that one and I think they cover a lot of ground.

However, one may also forward several socalled OBJECTIVE criteria; criteria that reviewers (should ideally) use when they're talking about a certain film or film score to assess a legit dichotomy between 'good' and 'bad'.

If one is going to use the same "type" or system of criteria that is applied to literary texts, one can separate between the following:

1) A MORAL/POLITICAL CRITERION

This has to do with the 'attitude' in the text; how 'important' it is in a political or ethical context. I find it hard to relate this to film music, though (although easily to film, of course).

2) A COGNITIVE CRITERION

This has to do with the 'depth' of the text - what the text has to offer intellectually. This one is basically the same as my no. 4) in the first post.

3) A GENETIC CRITERION

This is a criterion first and foremost attached to the text's ORIGINALITY - whether in relation to other historical texts/scores or to the artist's own output. Innovation.

4) AN AESTHETIC CRITERION

This is perhaps the most relevant criterion in a (film) music context. It has to do with the actual artistic expression.

It can be subdivided into three:

a) Complexity

The text/score has to offer more than one level of perception. Several text/score levels, several reader/listener levels, several interpretative levels etc.

b) Integrity

The score has to be 'tied together' in one way or other. Coherence. Unity (see Dan Hobgood's recent FSDaily, although I have several issues with his point-of-departure). The MOTIVATION for certain approaches etc.

c) Intensity

There has to be a "hook" in the text/score, something that can emotionally engage the listener to continue listening. Vivacity. How "new" can a well-known phenomenon be described to attract interest? Attached to this is the theory of "audience expectations".

----------

So,

Which of these criteria are the most important for YOU? What other criteria are there that should be put into consideration when 'deciding' whether a score is good or bad

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 18, 2001 - 1:35 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

No one wants to give it a shot?

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 18, 2001 - 5:21 AM   
 By:   cine-sin   (Member)

quote:
Originally posted by Thor:
MEMORY

No, this does not mean memory as related to the movie, but rather memory of one's own past. There are certain passages in certain scores that may resurrect a sensation or a memory (or both) that you had completely forgotten about. This is where SUBCONSCIOUS IDENTIFICATION with the music comes in.


Memory of a score and of film are not necessarily incompatible positions when speaking of subconscious identification.

In probable fact, and certainly the case with me, seeing a film and then hearing the score later can amplify the recollections from one's past - of innocence lost, yearning desire, compassionate moments, betrayal, and so forth.

Regards,
Rochelle

 
 Posted:   Jun 18, 2001 - 6:16 AM   
 By:   Nicolai P. Zwar   (Member)

Hi there, Thor, just stopped by to say thanks for the 5 000 000 bucks you transfered to my account. Anyway, gotta go do some shopping now. Cheerio.

[This message has been edited by Nicolai P. Zwar (edited 18 June 2001).]

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 18, 2001 - 12:37 AM   
 By:   D.E   (Member)

Good music is that which manages to send a cold shiver down my spine.
It doesn't happen all that often, but when it does,It's magic!

Dean.

 
 Posted:   Nov 9, 2007 - 7:39 PM   
 By:   Agent Norman Newman   (Member)


Hey TJ, I'd love to discuss this further with you, but I'll have to do it in the thread in question. You can paste in your reply in that thread if you want to. If not, that's OK too.

Sorry if this seems bone-headed or whatever, but I prefer to continue the discussion where it left off, so I don't have to repeat myself too much. Thanks! smile


I don't care...though the six year old thread bump is on you :-P


1) A MORAL/POLITICAL CRITERION
...I don't think this really applies to instrumental music..

2) A COGNITIVE CRITERION
...doesn't this also depend on the person and what they're looking for out of the music? Doesn't it depend on your preconceptions and such? Doesn't it also depend on what you LIKE? Many would say there's nothing intellectual about electronic-orchestra power anthems. I think you'd disagree and I would as well but how could you PROVE THAT (and why would you want to?)

3) A GENETIC CRITERION
Why does originality make something better? What if the 'unoriginal' one sounds 'better'...because they worked out some kinks and were able to IMPROVE their previous ideas?

4) AN AESTHETIC CRITERION

OK...this is kind of waht people are saying eariler why does "MORE COMPLEX" = MUSICALLY BETTER? I can go with the coherence, but again, I think thats relative to our own ideas and expectations, and there's no reason why an incoherent enjoyable composition couldn't be "better" than some coherent unenjoyable compositions

As far as the hook goes, I don't think that creates "better" music, I think that creates more POPULAR music, or something that will bring in the cash. Of course, I think we are talking about "artistic value", not business/marketing value, or do you think there is no difference?

 
 
 Posted:   Nov 9, 2007 - 9:36 PM   
 By:   franz_conrad   (Member)

Good thread!

I think in order of priority of functions, this is what good film underscore does:

(i) imposes, or perhaps 'draws out' is a better term, the right dramatic TEMPO in a sequence, and the relationship of that tempo to one or more focal points. This is merely about the pace at which we feel a scene.... and it perhaps explains why merely a drone (e.g THE PRESTIGE) can be an effective film score.

(ii) communicates, using that tempo and those focal points, some kind of emotional sensation either relevant to what the characters are experiencing, or what the audience should be experiencing. (Note: audience and character experience can be equated.) The emotions can be simple and direct - THE PRESTIGE music charges each scene with a maddening fog of mystery through simple harmonic ideas... - or richer in information (the love theme of THE GOOD GERMAN tells us a lot about that couple if we bother to listen).

That (i) comes before (ii) means that to me, getting the timing of the scene - and this is about spotting and dramatic rhythm - is more important even than what the music emotionally communicates.

(iii) I think it's important to this day for underscore to give some indication of how events in the story are to be viewed in relation to others. For example, I watched JESSE JAMES the other night, and one of the only scenes where music comes into a scene (as opposed to the film's many montages set to narration and music), is the scene where Jesse James is assassinated. The end of the film - which depicts another assassination - is another.

Is there anything to be said for how this is done? Well, I think it's interesting that it's extremely rare that an un-unified underscore is written for a film. Even in these days when music for a film can be as variegated as Wong Kar Wai's 2046 (one of the greatest films in recent years to me), underscore tends to be based on the idea of structured repetition within an integrated ensemble, within and across sequences. While I don't think structured repetition or a consistent ensemble is necessary for good film music, it does seem to be important for underscore to this day. Who knows why it is - on one hand Dan Hobgood will give us an extreme view of how this is the only way to tell a story musically, and most attempts at it are compromised.. The unity of the storytelling demands a unified structure on the various parts by this view. (Mind you, there are other views to be had - one of the strongest remarks I've ever heard in favour of a less structured view to underscore - 'This film is so specific in its style and structure... it actually structures the music. Fits each different piece into its storytelling position. The film doesn't need musical unity.)

On the other hand, it's pretty clear that expenditure and time considerations play a role in the ongoing importance of the idea of a unified musical storytelling. Expenditure in the choice of ensemble - because it's cheaper and less logistically involved to be working with one ensemble to perform the whole score. Time considerations in the use of structured repetition - because composers need time to come up with ideas, it makes me more sense to make a score about a couple of very good ideas than about many mediocre ones.

(iv) I think good underscore can find a new way to do an old thing, but doesn't thorougly abandon the existing body of good technique out there. I think it's important to not simply repeat things that worked before, even for yourself. At the same time, I think a confident artist who isn't necessarily starting an aesthetic revolution can find a way to do that while taking advantage of the insights of their forebears. (If you're trying to invent a new way of speaking, would you abandon everything you know about how to talk?)

(v) I think it's good if the music can be interesting on a musical level. It's number 5 on the list, meaning that as far as the film's concerned, this probably isn't as immediately crucial as the others, but isn't it a good thing when a film's music can be interesting dramatically AND musically? In any given era, it has perhaps not happened as often as it might have, but there's always a handfull of works that manage both feats. Interesting by the way can mean a lot of things... you've never quite heard a harmonic setting quite like that before... you've never quite heard a cello do that before... you hear an interesting blend of different musical styles... the orchestration is alive with unusual but appropriate details that hopefully connect well with the image.

(vi) I think it can be great if somehow this musical interest factor can combine with the storytelling function to produce a very interesting idea... that the issues/ideas at the core of the film are somehow there in the composition of the music. A musical metaphor for the film... Things like Goldsmith's PATTON (the many ideas that compete to impress upon us the essence of Patton in the main title, almost jarring in combination, but not quite!), Herrmann's VERTIGO (emotional vertigo = musical vertigo), Desplat's QUEEN (skittish, vaguely Scottish bass line and synth harpsichord with airy violins for Princess Diana) all have it.

If you get to number (vi), you really have written the ultimate underscore, as far as I'm any judge. Well done. Fame and glory be upon you.

 
 Posted:   Nov 10, 2007 - 7:36 AM   
 By:   ScoreDude   (Member)

I'm listening to The Red Pony and the only thing it brings out at least in me is #4 on Thor's list and how incredibly well done it was. Copland is an icon in American music.

 
 
 Posted:   Nov 11, 2007 - 4:14 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

Thanks for the ressurection, TJ! It's been almost seven years since I posted this, but I pretty much stand by most of it. The second set of criteria, however, are not mine and not initally related to film music, but to art in general - and using LITERATURE as the most important point-of-departure.

Also, franz is obviously correct in his assertion that you have to take the film into consideration, but I think my initial motivation for this thread was to ask about film music's MUSICALITY, first and foremost (hence the parenthesized "film" in the headline) and ask to what extent it is possible to have objective criteria about music in the first place (and hence a forerunner to the other thread we had recently).

1) A MORAL/POLITICAL CRITERION
...I don't think this really applies to instrumental music..


Yes, as I also pointed out earlier, I think I agree with you on this point, except that guys like Adorno and Eisler, for example, believe that music is able to be subversive to an existing ideology by simply going AGAINST the norm. As music isn't really a representative artform, though, it's hard to make such a point convincingly.

2) A COGNITIVE CRITERION
...doesn't this also depend on the person and what they're looking for out of the music? Doesn't it depend on your preconceptions and such? Doesn't it also depend on what you LIKE? Many would say there's nothing intellectual about electronic-orchestra power anthems. I think you'd disagree and I would as well but how could you PROVE THAT (and why would you want to?)


Actually, I don't think there's anything inherently intellectual about the power anthems. They play on completely other - but equally valid - strings. You are, of course, right that it depends upon a whole lot of things such as your own intellectual capacity, for one! But if a text has layers of meanings and symbols that aren't apparent and in the day (both those that are intended by the sender and those that are interpreted by the reader - intentional or not), then it would qualify.


3) A GENETIC CRITERION
Why does originality make something better? What if the 'unoriginal' one sounds 'better'...because they worked out some kinks and were able to IMPROVE their previous ideas?


Originality is good because it is progressive and moves the artform further. That is not to say that un-original stuff might WORK fine (most of film music, for example, is dependent upon established conventions and/or clichées with which we can then play).

4) AN AESTHETIC CRITERION

OK...this is kind of waht people are saying eariler why does "MORE COMPLEX" = MUSICALLY BETTER?


It doesn't necessarily, because it all depends on context, but at this point I have to say that a text doesn't have to qualify on ALL these points to be labeled "good" or "bad". It can put all its energy in the "intensity" department, for example, at the cost of complexity, but still equally valid. Or it can be the opposite. Or it can be both or neither (but some OTHER point altogether). This is mainly just an effort to categorize the criteria that we use - some more objective than others, not a "checklist".

As far as the hook goes, I don't think that creates "better" music, I think that creates more POPULAR music, or something that will bring in the cash. Of course, I think we are talking about "artistic value", not business/marketing value, or do you think there is no difference?

Actually, that point doesn't have anything to do with popularity at all (at least not how it was originally intended). Rather, it's about our EMOTIONAL CONNECTION to a given text. Some would say this is the most important criterion and the only one you need, really.

 
 
 Posted:   Nov 11, 2007 - 4:17 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

By the way, those were some interesting points related to film music's FILMIC functions, franz. I love how you go out more "broadly" than - on the one side - classical Hollywood cinema (by way of Gorbman, for example) and counter-theories on the other side (like the previously-mentioned Adorno). I wouldn't necessarily put "tempo" as the first and most important criterion/function, however. I'd rather put semantics first.

 
 
 Posted:   Nov 11, 2007 - 4:24 AM   
 By:   Jesse Hopkins   (Member)

[hollywoodproducer]Good film music is anything that has a layer of techno, or some sort of modern groove over it. It needs to be modern, upbeat and sound like a collaboration between a dance remix artist and an orchestral arranger with limited skills. Even if the scene is a death defying action scene, it needs to make me get up in my seat and GRIND the air! I want to NEED to thrust my pelvis HARD! Forth! Forth! Forth! Boom ChickA Boom Chica Boom LALA!

If it ain't fresh, it's just not worth listening to, man. You know what I mean? FRESH! Like C&C music factory[/hollywoodproducer]

 
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