Sound and Music In Film A BRIEF History
In 1878, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. The word phonograph was the trade name for Edison's device, which played cylinders rather than discs. The machine had two needles: one for recording and one for playback. When you spoke into the mouthpiece, the sound vibrations of your voice would be indented onto the cylinder by the recording needle. This cylinder phonograph was the first machine that could record and reproduce sound. Replica of the original phonograph
Now that we have sound, how do we get the picture? • Between 1889 and 1892 Scottish-English immigrant William Kennedy Laurie Dickson who joined Edison’s staff in 1883 created the Kinetoscope – which is an early motion picture exhibition device. • It was designed for films to be viewed individually through the window of a cabinet housing its components—the Kinetoscope creates the illusion of movement by conveying a strip of perforated film bearing sequential images over a light source with a high-speed shutter Films released to the public were storyless vignettes, lasting 30 seconds at most, predominantly featuring vaudeville performers athletes, and others who were brought to Edison’s studio
When did they add sound? Sound in film begins with the invention of film itself. At no period in the history of films has it been customary to show them publicly without some sort of sound accompaniment. In other words, the silent film never really existed. “Sound was always present in film projections. Through piano accompaniment, a gramophone record, someone talking to the audience... the early films were surrounded by sounds. But in the early days music was the main source of film sound. The musicians were there to enhance action, create an atmosphere, reinforce drama. Duplicating the presence of the image through sound was a common practice. Film music of the silent days was highly coded: one motif representing water, another trains, yet another explosions and so on. Editors published little scores with these motifs along with melodic lines for different situations: chases, battles, duels, and so on. Thus music was mostly there to make audiences hear the absent sound effects and help them understand the dramatic situations involved.” http://www.filmsound.org by Gustavo Costantini
What about the music? • Film music during this period was seen as secondary to the visual aspects of the film • The compositions that were played were light and popular music to traditional classical and had no relation to the subject of the film! • The first step in using music to evoke or enhance emotion in films came some years later (directors had finally began to realize that unrelated music detracted from the movies in which they were used) and drew on Wagner's leitmotif principle. • These themes were categorized by general names such as "Nature," "Nation and Society," and "Church and State," as well as more specific ones, like "Happy," "Climbing," "Night: threatening mood," and "Impending doom: 'something is going to happen.'" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xh3z89u1NtY – The Kid, Charlie Chaplin 1921
The earliest known film with synchronized sound! http://www.archive.org/details/dicksonfilmtwo Never officially titled, but known as the Dickson Experimental Sound Film, it is the earliest known surviving experiment at creating sound film (see below). The idea was based on its apparent 1889 predecessor: shoot motion picture film while also recording the live sound using another Edison invention, the wax cylinder phonograph. Lasting only 21 seconds, the film depicts two men dancing together as a third — Mr. Dickson — plays violin into the recording horn of the phonograph. Ultimately, the music was identified as being from Les cloches de Corneville, an 1877 operetta by Robert Planquette. It was a huge hit in its day.
Ok, but I still can’t hear what they’re saying! • In 1927, The Jazz Singer- the first movie with talking sequences, ushered in the era of "talkies“ – talking pictures. • By the 1930s, the new development was treated with suspicion by many filmmakers and critics, who worried that a focus on dialogue would undermine the unique aesthetic virtues of the soundless cinema and also the belief that there must be a logical reason for music appearing in a film. • Yet, over the next 20 years, production developments helped producers overcome music and dialogue challenges which enabled films to be produced at a rapid pace. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkyvstNrkHo – The Jazz Singer, 1927
How it all started… • The root of music in film goes back to the Greek melodramas - a cross between a play and opera in which spoken word is accompanied by music. • Melodramas developed into opera, giving rise to types of performances known as number opera (those composed of a collection of closed pieces) and continuous opera (those including nonstop music), divisions that film soundtracks would later echo. • Famous composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813 –1883) supported this new idea of program music (music for a purpose—often, telling a story), as opposed to the absolute music (music for the sake of music) that had previously reigned supreme, which resulted in his invention of leitmotifs -first used in his Ring Cycle, or themes recurring throughout a work that were meant to suggest associations with an idea, character, or place.
First things, first... What is a leitmotif? According to Grove’s Dictionary of Music, leitmotif (leading motif) is “a theme, or other coherent idea, clearly defined so as to retain its identity if modified on subsequent appearances, and whose purpose is to represent or symbolise a person, object, place, idea, state of mind, supernatural force or any other ingredient in a dramatic work, usually operatic but also vocal, choral or instrumental”.
The Leitmotif…the ‘character’ of the music! • A leitmotif is a melody that is associated with a person, place or idea. The composer tells the story through the music using leitmotifs Leitmotifs you may know: Star Wars – Darth Vader http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ys5NWmyS3MA&feature=related The Lord of the Rings – characters Mary Poppins – characters http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jx4hxQrnGiQ James Bond – character http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ii1tc493bZM Jaws – a.k.a here comes the shark. • Video games often make use of leitmotifs as well, especially role-playing games. These games are of epic scale and length, which lends well to the use of recurring themes, and a soundtrack can have several hours of music with hundreds of different pieces, each drawing on the same leitmotifs in different keys or with different (often synthesized) instruments. • Pink Floyd uses leitmotifs throughout several of their albums, including The Wall. The leitmotif is in the melody to their biggest hit song, "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2." The vocal melody of each line of the verses are comprised of the four-note leitmotif, that is a 3-notes-up, 1-note-down melody that repeats itself throughout the verses. Here, look at the notes on a musical staff and sing it to yourself. That 3-up-1-down leitmotif is all over the album. Sometimes it's drawn out longer. Sometimes, the notes are transposed to a different key. Sometimes, it's buried under vocal harmonies or instrumentation. Sometimes, the notes are rearranged slightly. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ub1j5UGl-1s Can you think of any other Leitmotifs from songs/movies/television shows you know?
Wagner’s leitmotifs Wagner’s Ring Cycle: is a cycle of four epic operas. The four operas that constitute the Ring cycle are, in the order of the imagined events they portray: Das Rheingold(The Rhine Gold) Die Walküre(The Valkyrie) Siegfried Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvA54D2Gz3E Wagner’s Ring Cycle Leitmotifs, Explanation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bniQNm0eNeQ&playnext=1&list=PLC1013256CE8520EFAbout Leitmotifs Wagner’s leitmotifs were both a complex form of codification and a way of producing subtle sensations and associations in the listener. It was not mere chance that film music opted so strongly for the Wagnerian approach.
Putting the pieces together…or solving the “Who done it?” One of the first uses of leitmotif was in Fritz Lang’s M (1931). And there, we find an application of leitmotif that opens new possibilities. Leitmotif is presented at the very beginning in the title sequence. While we see a large “M” covering the screen, we listen to a fragment of Edward Grieg’s Peer Gynt. The simple, repetitive and effective rhythmic theme is immediately retained in auditory memory, making it very easy to associate with the mysterious murderer. But it is not the same music which establishes the link: it’s the murderer’s whistling which tells us that this man - whose face is not seen - is M. This example is interesting because - despite its simplicity - it introduces the idea of identifying or labelling a character by means of sound. Lang was aware of it and it was not by chance that he decided to include a blind balloon-seller. M buys a balloon for Elsie - the next victim - and he whistles the leitmotif to indicate (us) the identity of the killer. The blind man is telling us “you don’t have to try to see the face, you have to listen to what I am able to recognise”. The blind man will be the key to catching M, or to put it better, his ears listening to the leitmotif will.
John Williams In recent decades, the composer who most clearly represents the leitmotif tradition is John Williams. In “his” films, he uses a lot of Wagnerian stuff, such as diatonic scales for hero-themes (Indiana Jones, Stars Wars, Superman); chromatic scales or themes for objects, things or negative elements (Jaws, the Empire leitmotif); bright sounds for positive elements; darker, obscure timbres (and located in the extremes of the register) for negative ones. Although John Williams is one of the most successful scoring composers, and one of the most respected, it has to be said that his use of the Wagnerian leitmotif is, in some ways, schematic. His approach is very direct and strong, and no one in the theatre will fail to recognise any link between the themes and the characters associated to them. His extraordinary capacity to reach the audience like a classical composer makes him the perfect choice for films dealing with mythical subject matter, or for a kind of cinema that wants to resemble that of the classical erahttp://www.filmsound.orgby Gustavo Costantini
Lord of the Rings The "Fellowship theme ", a traditional balls-to-the-wall triumphant brass theme as heard over the montage of the Fellowship traveling out of Rivendell towards Caradhras. Later used for the Three Hunters, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. Notable in that, according to the composer Howard Shore, it never quite makes a full reappearance after the events in Moria; at least one note is off, or the rhythm is changed. The "Hobbit theme ", a sort of jaunty flute piece with bassoons and oboes evoking pastoral countryside. Plays over the "Concerning Hobbits" narration. Gets more and more wistful the more the hobbits, especially Frodo, go through- only to be restored to full orchestral glory when everyone bows to the hobbits during Aragorn's coronation. The "Rohan Theme". Wistful when we first hear it on the Norwegian fiddle when the heroes arrive at Edoras, it later appears in full-on brass mode for Helm's Deep. Plays over the charge of the Rohirrim at the Battle of Pelennor Fields, with Norwegian fiddle and brass sections working together. The "Gondor Theme" . Majestic, soaring theme that wouldn't sound entirely out of place in a pirate movie. Heard as Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Minas Tirith and gallop up the city to see Denethor, as well as over the lighting of the beacons. An early version of this theme is played on solo French horn as Boromir speaks at the Council of Elrond. The "Mordor Theme" . Dark and dramatic with lots of brass and ominous chanting when needed. Heard as Gandalf witnesses the arrival of the Nazgul. Used to excellent effect first as a threatening sound when Sauron first appears before the Allied Army, single-handedly stopping their attack with his very presence, and then blasting into angry brass and choir as he sweeps away scores of soldiers with casual swings of his mace. "Gollum's Theme" , appears all the way through the second film whenever Gollum is around, but most notably as a song in the end credits sung by Emiliana Torrini. The "Isengard Theme ," played with heavy brass and percussion in the Caverns of Isengard or when the Uruk-hai are on the move. Unlike other themes, which are in more conventional timing, Isengard's theme is done in 5/4 time, which sounds a little bit off or unnatural (as most music these days is done in 4/4 or 2/4 time), to reflect the twisting of nature and industrial methods of Saruman. "The History of the Ring" , representing the power of the One Ring, especially when it changes hands or when someone tries to take it — plays under the title card of each movie, so easily mistaken for the theme to the trilogy itself — or perhaps it is, in a way.
Now you try! The Leitmotif Challenge: This will be created individually. Step 1: Think of a short story you know with characters you could give a theme to, for instance childhood stories like Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs or any Disney fairytale work well or you can use an existing plot from your favorite book or film. Step 2: Make a list of the characters in the story. You must have a minimum of 3 characters. Step 3: Decide on how you want the characters to be portrayed. (What emotive characteristics do you want your audience to understand about the characters.) You may choose to keep them similar to the film or change them altogether providing a different spin on a familiar story. Step 4: Write your own 2-4 bar leitmotif for each character. Each leitmotif can be a single-line melody in any key, using rhythms you choose. You may also choose to use chords to represent a character instead or in addition to the single-line melody. Similar to Peter and the Wolf. Step 5: Play or sing the leitmotifs for the class while re-telling the familiar story. You may choose to use other classmates to help you perform your leitmotifs or to have them assist you in the re-telling of the story. Have fun with it and be creative!
Leitmotif Challenge: Marking Scheme Due Wednesday February 13th, 2013
Sources History of Music in Film: Analysis of How & Why Film Scores Enhance the Emotional Import of Films: Citizen Kane http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/31632/history_of_music_in_film_analysis_of_pg3.html?cat=7 Film Score http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_score Silent Film http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_film Kinetoscopehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinetoscope The Pre-History of Sound Cinema, Part 1: Thomas Edison and W.K.L. Dicksonhttp://www.spencersundell.com/blog/2006/04/10/the_pre-history_of_sound_cinema_part_1/ Dickson Experimental Sound Filmhttp://www.archive.org/details/dicksonfilmtwo