THE UNSEEN THROUGH MUSIC IN THE HORROR GENRE

 

“Terror is the objective in a horror film, and music has a powerful ability to communicate it”,
Charles Bernstein

 “My real job is to do those bits in a movie they can’t tell with words or images
Hans Zimmer

 

 

CONTENTS

  • ABSTRACT                                                                                                             

  • RESEARCH QUESTION                                                                                          

  • RESEARCH                                                                                                         

    • THE CONCEPT AND TECHNIQUES USED IN THE SCORE FOR THE CELL       

    • COMPARISON WITH TRADITIONAL TECHNIQUES

used by other composers to convey unseen implications in the horror genre              

      • HARMONY AND ORCHESTRATION                                                                   

    • THE SCORE FOR THE CELL – Shore and Singh                                                   

 

      • Howard Shore                                                                                                           

      • Tarsem Singh                                                                                                            

 

  • METHODOLOGY                                                                                         

    • THE CELL – Brief synopsis                                                                                        

 

      • Artistic Influences                                                                                                        

    • FUNCTIONS OF THE MUSIC SCORE                                                                    

 

      • What and when does the audience need to know

 the information supplied by the music?                                                                                

    • AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS                                                                                   

 

    • EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE                                                                                                  

    • THEORETICAL EVIDENCE                                                                                             

 

    • ANALYSIS OF A REPRESENTATIVE SCORED SCENE IN THE CELL                 

    • SUMMARY                                                                                                                       

 

  • CONCLUSIONS                                                                                                       

  • FILMOGRAPHY                                                                                                       

  • BIBLIOGRAPHY                                                                                                      

 

 

  1. ABSTRACT

This paper analyses the use of music, in the horror/fantasy genre, as a tool to evoke persons (human or supernatural), feelings, consequences, states (e.g. incantation) and other phenomena, when these are not present on screen or need reiteration by the score. On this subject I will mainly focus on the putative success of unfamiliar musical language - for which purpose the concept behind the score for the film “The Cell” will be compared with traditional techniques.

 

 

 

  1. RESEARCH QUESTION  

 

The potential of Howard’s Shore music language in The Cell to imply characters, emotions or places and elicit certain reactions from the audience relies largely on effectively mimicking (ideally in an innovative manner) the way other composers before him successful achieved this goal – either in film or other art forms, such as radio, theatre, opera and ballet. 

 

  • RESEARCH

 

3.1. THE CONCEPT AND TECHNIQUES USED IN THE SCORE FOR THE CELL

The score for The Cell is not a typical or traditional one. There are no themes, and although we can recognise the repetition of short motifs throughout the film, it relies mostly on explorations of tone colour, melody and rhythm to enhance the emotional content of the story.
But perhaps the most unusual aspect of this score lies in the use of a non-Western technique of writing coupled with a peculiar collection of performers. For this film, Howard Shore gathered an ensemble of musicians from the North of Africa called The Master Musicians Of Jajouka to play alongside the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Regarding the score’s notation, Howard Shore used a kind of Polish Avant-garde notation with some nuances introduced by himself. It is not organized in terms of staves and bars, as most Western music, but in cells or slightly vague time-related instructions. It relies largely on spontaneity and quasi-improvisation from the performers. (see fig 01)

The recording session also featured a rather unusual blend of world instruments (other than the ones brought by the Jajouka). All of which helped in concocting this exotic soundscape. At Air Studios in London, Howard Shore gathered a 90-piece orchestra, a very large percussion section (12 performers) and some unusual instruments like the sarangi – a sort of Indian violin - and the monochord – a single stringed instrument from the days of Pythagoras.


3.2. COMPARISON WITH TRADITIONAL TECHNIQUES used by other composers to convey unseen implications in the horror genre

      • REFERENTIAL

        • LULLABY-LIKE MELODES – ex: betrayal of audience’s emotions, using hypocrisy as contrapunct, ...

        • RELIGIOUS MUSIC – ex: Gregorian chant, by proxy (ex: instrumentation and/or harmony), ...

      • IMPLICIT          

        • TRADITIONAL INSTRUMENT PERFORMANCE DEVICES – ex: tremolandi, trill, sul ponticello, harmonics, ...

        • XXTH CENTURY / AVANT-GARDE TECHNIQUES - ex: playing between bridge and tailpiece, snap pizzicato, etc…

 

I – REFERENCIAL

I.a)       LULLABY-LIKE MELODES
Sometimes irony can achieve the best results. So, it is not unusual to find a sweet melody or a lullaby in many horror film scores, such as Poltergeist (Jerry Goldsmith), Devil’s Advocate  (James Newton Howard) or Rosemary’s Baby (Kristopher Komeda) -track 01. Very likely because they can provide such a huge emotional contrast. They seem to leave us off-guard and yield a false sense of innocence and security, thus making shocking and gory images achieve an even greater impact. Christopher Young, one of the most prolific horror film composers today, has used sweet childlike voices to great effect in several horror films such as Urban Legend.

 Extract from film score “Rosemary’s Baby” by Kristopher Komeda

Composer Charles Bernstein reiterates this suggestion when commenting on one of the horror films he scored: “Nightmare On Elm Street has become a kind of a cult classic. And yet, I’d have to say that there is a lightness to it” This lightness can sometimes be an invaluable counterpoint to the characters or situations on screen – the visuals are supplemented with another layer of information. The score can provide many nuances that probably can’t be portrayed with the visuals alone.
Horror comedies like Scream (Wes Craven) have parodied some of these implications. This is only possible because strong cultural conventions intensely shape the way we read a movie. In Scream, for example, the dichotomy between good and evil is shared by visuals and score. Acting and music represent the two sides of certain schizophrenic characters.

I.b)       RELIGIOUS MUSIC
Soundtracks for horror films or neighbouring genres, such as supernatural or fantasy, have many times preyed on religious music to achieve certain results. Or for subtler composers, on associations – usually through instrumentation - with what the West can usually perceive as religious music (a pipe organ, a choir, a set of tubular bells, Gregorian chant and so on). Sixth Sense, by James Newton Howard (track 02), and The Omen by Jerry Goldsmith (track 03)are great examples of such choices. When Latin text and a tad of dissonance is added to the mix, as with the choir in The Omen, the result is even more spectacular.

 Extract from film score “The Sixth Sense” by James Newton Howard
 Extract from film score “The Omen” by Jerry Goldsmith

Some composers, like Simon Boswell, believe that the reason for this association may lie, to some extent, in the fact that many times the villains in these narratives are a sort of distorted mirror image of extremely devout people. On another level, when the story involves characters like Satan, it’s hard to avoid all the associations or parodies that convention and culture delivers to film composers on a plate.
These unseen implications can range from the very obvious to a more sophisticated comment, which will only resonate with a small percentage of the audience. (see 4.2.1.)

II - IMPLICIT

 

In order to be able to suggest or imply anything or anyone when they are not present on screen, a musical device must first be able to elicit a response from the audience. This is why tried-and-tested strategies are still the weapon of choice for most film composers. Despite the fact that the simple gesture of starting a music cue can imply so much already, traditional orchestral techniques and Avant-garde innovative devices have been absolute salvation to composers scoring horror films.
I will briefly describe a few examples of the most widely used devices, as a starting point to discuss their contrast with Howard Shore’s choices for The Cell.

II.a)      TRADITIONAL INSTRUMENT PERFORMANCE DEVICES
Tremolando – This is a technique where the string player performs short quick up and down bow strokes. Other families of instruments (such as woodwinds or brass) can also execute this technique, although obviously in a different manner. Tremolando has been extensively used to instil unease and foreboding in the audience since the days of Mahler – at the very least. To the present day, a simple sustained note played tremolandi, still has the power to dramatically alter the way we read what is happening on the screen. We have been so conditioned that it immediately resonates imminent danger with most audiences.
Interesting fact that a very nervous (scared?) player attempting to play a flat sustained note or phrase on a bowed string instrument would end up making them sound tremolando.

Glissando – This technique is practically exclusive to non-fretted string instruments, trombones and the human voice. It is accomplished, in string instruments, by sliding the finger on a string from one pitch to another producing a continuous sound.
When the speed of the glissando is different amongst the performers in the ensemble - particularly with a choir  - it creates an astonishing effect. This last nuance is more commonly found in Avant-garde compositions though (György Ligeti is particularly fond of it).

Other common strategies involve the use of trills, harmonics (particularly in strings), col legno, pianosubitos (sforzando with pianosubito is particularly efficient) and so on. Some of these techniques have sprung from a ground where they have already given enough proof of their potential - the concert stage. Operas, ballets and concertos abound with such devices. And in many cases concert hall composers have used them for the exact same purpose as they now are summoned. Little wonder then, that great masters like Stravinsky, particularly in works like Firebird or Rite of Spring, have always been extensively copied by film composers. Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Poltergeist alone contains a few good “homages” to Firebird.

II.b)      XXTH CENTURY / AVANT-GARDE TECHNIQUES

Twentieth century movements such as Impressionism, with Claude Debussy or Maurice Ravel, or Avant-garde with composers like Edgard Varese and Kzystof Penderecky have been a very resourceful inspiration for many film composers. Some of the innovative textures and sounds that these composers feature in their works can be heard in many traditional film scores. Practically all of the Hollywood composers I have mentioned in this paper have emulated, at some stage of their working lives, the great XXth century masters.
Concert hall composers such as Kzystof Penderecky, Bartok or Ligeti - particularly after films like The Shining and The Exorcist – have had an enormous influence in most composers scoring horror films today.
The Shinning, by Stanley Kubrick, makes use for its soundtrack of concert pieces alongside a commissioned score to composer Wendy Carlos. Tone colour and bold refreshing harmony were probably the two dominant contributions they brought to the music palette of contemporary film composers – not very dissimilar to what Shore has achieved (in a very humble way) in The Cell.
The works used in this film, such as “De Natura Sonoris” by Penderecky – which has a similar score notation to The Cell - are so rich and esoteric, that they seem to suggest or imply something throughout the whole length of the piece. When cleverly used – as they were in The Shining – it is easily perceivable how much they have helped the director in adding extra layers of meaning and achieving results beyond what cinematography, mise-en-scene, editing and sound could do.


3.2.1. HARMONY AND ORCHESTRATION
 

Harmony – the use and study of pitch simultaneity an chords in music – can be actual or implied. Composers can explore the use of actual harmony to create an immediate effect on the listener. For example, by having a dissonant chord playing over a scene.
Composers often play with dissonance and clusters (a chord where notes are separated from each other in very small intervals) to express a sense of uneasiness and foreboding.
Nature seems to have a simple explanation for this. A study in December’s 2002 edition of Science magazine (Science 13 December 2002) reported that “the abstract knowledge about the harmonic relationships in music inscribes itself on the human cortex, guiding expectations of how musical notes should relate to one another as they are played”. “By four months of age, babies already prefer the more musical intervals of major and minor thirds to the more dissonant sounds of minor seconds”. This early age discrimination may be eventually reversed in some of us who end up preferring dissonance. But for most people it will remain like this throughout their lives. I believe CD sales figures are a substantial proof of this assumption.
Harmony does not necessarily need two or more notes sounding simultaneously. It can also be implied with only a strong melodic line. This has also been explored in the horror genre by composers. A pandiatonic (not belonging to a single scale) melody can easily imprint a sense of discomfort as opposed to a diatonic (belonging to a single scale) one. The violin melody over piano chords that we hear in Bartok’s Music for strings percussion and celesta that Kubrick used in The Shining features such an example.
Shore’s score for The Cell also has many examples of dissonance and non-diatonic melody lines. The melodies played by the lira (cane flute) are not even pandiatonic, as the instrument’s tuning is not tempered.

Orchestration also plays an important role in communicating the composer-director’s intentions. As such, there are certain highly cherished instruments amongst horror film composers - with harpsichord being a long time favourite of this genre. Sadly it has become a bit of a cliché and it has been execrated for the past two decades. Although great film composers, such as Elliot Goldenthal, can still prove that it should remain on the menu – as it can be witnessed in Neil Jordan’s film Interview With The Vampire.
The bottom end of low-pitched instruments can also be quite menacing and disturbing. Many times, composers (like Danny Elfman in Sleepy Hollow) have gone great lengths to track down performers who play rare instruments that go far beyond the lower limit of their symphony orchestra counterpart - such as the contrabass clarinet (fig. 02) – in order to achieve fresh and disconcerting atmospheres. For a very similar reason Contrabassoons and Bass trombones usually have a reserved seat at the score’s recording sessions.

 

Figure 2 - Contrabass clarinet

Not surprisingly, the very top end of the high-pitched instruments has also been used  – particularly in clusters - with impressive effect. The harmonics I referred to in the paragraph above are a good example. Another is the use of the very top notes on a piano. For the film The Shinning Stanley Kubrick used a section from Bartok’s Music for strings, percussion and celesta that features piano staccato chords played near the top range of the instrument.
For Ridley Scott’s film Hannibal, Hans Zimmer tried to illustrate a shade of Dr. Lecter’s personality beyond what the visuals were showing. In an interview for the film’s DVD release, he admitted that by having Doublebasses and Celli play at the extremes of their ranges he was trying to portray him as someone on the extreme range of what can be humanely conceivable.
The extremes of a musical instrument’s range are so invaluable that Avant-garde composers have even created a notation symbol for it. A black triangle pointing upwards on the stave means play the highest note you can (and the opposite if it’s pointing downwards).
On a quasi-paradoxical note I want to add that Instruments that are not widely known, can sometimes also be used to this end. Maybe because they can aurally tease listeners with an unfamiliar timbre - thus instilling a subtle sense of restlessness in the audience. Great composers like Bernard Herrmann - who used the innovative sound of electric violins back in 1951 - or Miklos Roza with a spooky theremin in Spellbound in 1945, have brought as often as possible to their scores such rare gems. The duduk – a sort of Armenian clarinet – is one of the recent additions, which now risks being featured to exhaustion. Although Klaus Badelt and Brian Tyler have put it to good use in horror flick Constantine – a film that Tarsem Singh was initially appointed to direct. Another case in point is the Ghaita – which features extensively in The Cell – and was used by Christopher Young in Bless The Child (in the same year The Cell was released), alongside extended male and female choir with a bone chilling effect.
Any of the instruments or ensembles mentioned above - when properly used - can, and has been till the present day, yield a sense of uneasiness or foreboding to a character, a place or an object. In a broader sense, they are capable of hinting and suggesting what is not yet present on screen.

 

 

3.4. THE SCORE FOR THE CELL – Shore and Singh

The resulting music score in most films is a combination of, at least, the joint efforts of composer and director. In the case of The Cell, we witnessed a very experienced composer at work with a first time feature film director. Someone with a solid knowledge of music and the role of music in film reshaping the work of an artist with a strong sense of imagery and overall content.

3.4.1. Howard Shore

Howard Shore has composed the scores to more than 60 films. His outstanding film work includes cult classics like: The Silence Of The Lambs and Philadelphia, directed by Jonathan Demme; Ed Wood, directed by Tim Burton; Seven and The Game, directed by David Fincher and After Hours, directed by Martin Scorsese.
Shore's long standing collaboration with David Cronenberg has produced the scores to The Brood (1979), Scanners (1980), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988), Naked Lunch (1990), M. Butterfly (1993), Crash (1996) eXistenZ (1999) and A History Of Violence (2006).
Howard Shore was formally educated at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. He recorded with the group "Lighthouse" from 1969 to 1972, and as one of the original creators of Saturday Night Live, he served as Musical Director from 1975 to1980.
In addition to his film score work, Shore's chamber music has been featured on Arabesque Record's "Reel Life - The Private Music of Film Composers Vol. 1".
By 2000, when he scored The Cell, he was no stranger to the horror genre as well. Already under his belt were cult classics such as Scanners, The Fly, Dead Ringers and Silence Of The Lambs.
His influences are highly eclectic, ranging from experimental to classical music and rock to jazz. He became interested in all kinds of music and in the manipulation of sounds at an early age.” I grew up in the fifties, and it was a period of Hi-Fidelity and stereo. Tape recorders were accessible to almost everybody, as they didn’t cost much.” He recalls. “I had a library near me that had a wonderful collection of classical and popular music […] I started pulling records of Takemitsu and Cage, and David Tudor and Stockhausen and I would tape them”. “I would make my own edited versions of their stuff”. “ […] And then I started to try to emulate them. When I was 12 or 13 I was using a razor blade and a quarter inch tape. So I’d actually built up a real early catalogue of samples and recordings”.
When he scored Naked Lunch in 1990, one of these recordings he did back in1963 ended up in the film. “[…] in movies like The Cell, I’d take a piece of music (as I did for Naked Lunch) and it’s basically an electronic technique – I’d overdub something else onto it”.
Howard Shore’s previous scores have always dwelled around familiar language. No doubt we have heard him take very interesting choices, in such scores as Seven or Crash – with its six electric guitars – but, safe for Naked Lunch, it hasn’t strayed too much from classical grounds. Naked Lunch and, to some extent, his early age experimentation with dubbing seem to have prepared Shore to tackle The Cell in such a creative way.
The decision to use Jazz on Naked Lunch seems to have been a conscious one by Shore and David Cronenberg. “In this score we decided to use Jazz because it just seemed part of the book. It was part of Burrough’s world, and part of the 1950’s world of Bebop” Howard Shore recalls. “So I was looping the [Charlie] Parker tracks, and writing against them, […] and then I remembered a recording that Ornette [Coleman] did in the early 1970s with the Master musicians of Jajouka in the mountains outside of Tangiers, […] I played it for Cronenberg and he thought that was the Interzone national anthem!”

3.4.2. Tarsem Singh

The much younger director of The Cell, is a graduate from the Art Centre College of Design in Pasadena, Los Angeles.
Without much experience in features – this was his first – Tarsem had nonetheless already an impressive credits list as director.
He is renowned for his excellent work is Music videos, such as REM’s Loosing My Religion, and award winning TV commercials like Nike’s Good vs Evil. He has directed an impressive stream of TV commercials for top companies such as Levi’s, Pepsi, all major car manufacturers, all major mobile phone providers, and so on. (clip on CD)

Nike commercial directed by Tarsem Singh

 

 

 

 

Figure 3 - Still from The Cell

 

 

 

It is likely that the way music serves and interacts with the visuals in The Cell was shaped by Tarsem’s extensive background directing TV commercials. As we can see from this Nike advert his productions are very stylish, loaded with bold imagery, strong colours and a tad of histrionics.
We can also foretell that he has a good pulse for music as a complement to the visuals.

 

 

  • METHODOLOGY

 

4.1.      THE CELL (2000) – Brief synopsis

Child psychotherapist Catharine Deane, played by Jennifer Lopez, is part of a revolutionary new treatment which allows her mind to literally enter the mind of her patients. Her experience in this method takes an unexpected turn when FBI agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) comes to ask for a desperate favour. The FBI has tracked down and captured a notorious serial killer, Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio), whose modus operandi involves abducting women and then keeping them in a tank he built in a remote location for about 40 hours until they slowly drown. Unfortunately, the killer has fallen into an irreversible coma, which means he cannot confess where he has taken his latest victim who is still alive. Catherine Deane must race against time exploring the twisted mind of the killer to get the information she needs. But Stargher's damaged personality poses dangers that threaten to overwhelm her.

4.1.1. Artistic Influences

As expected from a director accustomed to convey a message in a short span of time – a TV commercial - his style for The Cell is highly visual. Very strong and stylised imagery, quite often based on the works of other 20th century artists.
For example, the scene in which a horse is split into sections seems to have been inspired by the works of British artist Damien Hirst. An artist for whom Death is a central theme in his creations, and is best known for his Natural History series, in which dead animals (such as a shark, a sheep or a cow) are preserved, sometimes cut-up, in formaldehyde
The film includes scenes inspired on the work of other late 20th century artists, such as Odd Nerdrum. In particular, the scene where Vince Vaughn starts his maiden voyage into the subcounscious of the serial killer shows a strong influence by Nerdrum's painting "Dawn".

 

Figure 4 -Odd Nerdrum's "Dawn"

The Cell reveals an influence from the work of other filmmakers as well - like the Brothers Quay, who have given us fantastic films such as Street Of Crocodiles and also directed music videos. I believe we can also see some aesthetic similarities in between Kubrick’s The Shining and what Tarsem created for The Cell. Particularly the strong colours and the nature of the graphic image, the impressive landscapes, the tempo oif the visuals and the presence of emptiness on screen.
Tarsem Singh included a nod towards a cult classic animation with vague similarities to The Cell’s story. The animated sequence that Catherine watches on television, near the beginning of the film, is from La Planete Sauvage - a French animated feature from 1973 chiefly noted for its surreal imagery, which tells the story of humans enslaved as pets by giant blue-skinned aliens.

4.2.      FUNCTIONS OF THE MUSIC SCORE

4.2.1. What and when does the audience need to know the information supplied by the music?
The director and the composer need to be extremely careful when deciding the amount of information that the music score will feed to the audience. As they both know the outcome of the film and have seen it many times, they can easily lose the fine balance necessary to make the plot interesting, (by hinting or suggesting something but never giving away what you should only find out later).
Suggesting what is not present on screen has traditionally been linked with certain musical devices. One of them, probably the oldest one, is the Leitmotif. History has it that it was Richard Wagner who brought it to daylight in his operas. Although Carl Maria Von Weber was probably the first composer to make extensive use of leitmotifs, back in early 1800s. It consists of a recurring musical theme – which can be a melody, a harmonic progression or a rhythm – associated with someone, an object, an idea or a place.
If this motif is played enough times, the audience may respond to it being played - in a sort of Pavlovian reflex - even when its counterpart is not on screen.
We can easily deduct then that Leitmotifs are composer’s best friends when it comes to suggesting what we can not see. The Cell’s score contains a few musical motifs that serve as aural guideposts throughout the film but nothing so precise.
Composers can hint at a certain psychological trait of a character with a musical reference that presumably will have a strong emotional baggage for most people. A music box lullaby (assuming it is not playing over the image of a baby), for example, will lead audiences in search of a meaning – most probably an immature adult (as Gabriel Yared did in The Talented Mr Ripley for Matt Damon’s character) 
In a more sophisticated way some directors like Scorcese in Raging Bull or Kubrick in 2001 have implied connotations far beyond the action on the screen with pieces of music they chose to underscore certain sequences – respectively Mascagni’s Cavaleria Rusticanna and Strauss’s Also Spracht Zaratrustra. The story of Mascagni’s opera, for example, mirrors that of our protagonist, Jake La Motta, being steeped in passion, betrayal and retribution. And Strauss’s symphonic poem (inspired by Nietzsche’s book with the same name) about the fictitious travels and pedagogy of prophet Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) adds a complementary layer of meaning to the sequence with one of the most famous cuts in the history of film.
The use of pre-recorded music tracks – particularly when they are well known to the public – can be quite controversial as well. This is another aspect of the power music has to convey emotions beyond the story it is playing against. In the film Chocolat (2000), composer Rachel Portman rebelled against the director Lasse Hallstrom’s decision to use a piece from French composer Eric Satie. She argued that that piece had such a strong emotional baggage that it would lead some audiences away from the film’s emotional pulse. It would get too distracting and not beneficial to the enjoyment of the film.


4.3. AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS
 

Charles Bernstein, when talking about his work on Nightmare On Elm Street, described how he sometimes had to lead the audience into thinking they were watching a dream or make them think they were watching reality.
For him, the key decision is taken during the spotting session. He says: “If you bring the music at the beginning of a scene, you are letting the audience know that there is something about that scene that is different from the one that preceded it”. He goes on to suggest that if you hold off and wait for another moment further on, you’ll have greater control over their emotional response.
The boundary between dream and reality is a fine line in only two scenes in The Cell. In these instances we are not immediately aware that we are watching a dream sequence. Howard Shore has nevertheless scored them throughout. So our epiphany comes from obvious visual cues (in the first scene) or from a line of dialogue (when the procedure goes wrong) and not from the score. On the other journeys into the mind, the visuals leave absolutely no doubt that the reality frontier has been crossed, so there is no need for the music to reiterate this.

 

4.4. EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE

Several researchers have proposed models specific to the perception and cognition of music within the cinematic context. Based upon subject responses, the researchers Marshall and Cohen (1988) determined that music directly effects subject ratings on the: potency (strong-weak) and activity (active-passive) dimensions. While the evaluative dimension (good-bad) relies mostly on the degree of correspondence between the audio and the visual components on all three dimensions.
These researchers also acknowledge the important role played by temporal characteristics of the sound and image, stating that:” the assignment of accent to events will affect retention, processing and interpretation


4.5. THEORETICAL EVIDENCE
 

There are basically two models related to the role and function of film music. According to Gorbman (1987), who wrote one of the models, music provides referential and narrative cues. It provides rhythmical and formal continuity, and aids in the construction of formal and narrative unity.
Nicholas Cook (1998), who wrote the other, explains that: “words and pictures deal primarily with the specific, with the objective. While music deals primarily with responses – that is, with values, emotions and attitudes […] the connotative qualities of the music complement the denotative qualities of the words and the pictures”.
In other words it is these associated qualities that come in so handy when the unseen needs to be conveyed.
According to Roy Prendergast, one of the most effective ways in which a musical score can augment the narrative is to express the unspoken thoughts and unseen implications that underlie the drama.
Music can convey character. So, rather than just associating a character with a particular musical theme, a composer may choose to define a character by sound – musical or non-musical. And the most consistently used technique to communicate musically through association is undoubtedly the leitmotif. Richard Wagner once said:” Music speaks out the very thing which word speech in itself can not speak out… that which, looked at from the standpoint of our human intellect, is the unspeakable

Music can also convey messages about where in the frame the audience should focus attention.
A research by M. Boltz in 2001 has shown that music that is assigned a “negative” or ”positive” connotation “significantly biased viewer’s interpretation and subsequent remembering of a film in a mood-congruent fashion. Particularly when music with an assigned connotation was combined with an ambiguous scene, memory of objects in the visual scene is influenced significantly by the music”.
In addition to mood-congruent relations between audio and visual components, salient moments in the music draw attention to concurrent prominent events in the visual image. This has been rather well explored by composers, and has its maximum expression in a technique traditionally known as Mickeymousing and the now unfashionable Stings or Stingers.
The same C. Gorbman (1987) mentioned above also believes that “within a cinematic context, the presence of film music serves to lower the audience’s threshold of belief”. The fact that nondiegetic music is heard in places where we wouldn’t expect diegetic music, allows the audience to more readily become lost in the drama.


4.6. ANALYSIS OF A REPRESENTATIVE SCORED SCENE IN THE CELL

 
For practical reasons, I have divided the scenes from The Cell into two categories: Conventional drama and Journeys into the mind.

Conventional drama involves scenes that take place in the real world. Sequences such as the one when Barry comes in the control room to announce that the little boy’s parents have arrived – about 6 minutes and 20 seconds into the film. Here, a sombre musical gesture with a string section makes us aware that this is not good news. This sort of language is familiar territory to most audiences, as it simply mimics what dozens of composers have done before.
Some of the score for the scenes in this category (particularly the fast paced ones) is reminiscent of the composer’s own work in Seven (1995) - A film that dealt with the story of yet another serial killer- but noting worth mentioning in the context of this paper. Dark atmospheric orchestration and equal temperament are two characteristics that set this category apart from the next.
Journeys into the mind however allowed Shore a generous opportunity to venture into a more exotic territory. Here we hear a clear departure from traditional scoring methods, exploring microtonality and exotic instrumentation.
           

Scene One

The film opens with a shot of a desert landscape, which we will later learn belongs in a little boy’s dream.
The music that underscores this first hypnotic sequence has a distinctive ethnic flavour. Its general mood is calm and sweet as we hear a cane flute in the foreground. More instruments join in and the scene gathers momentum when we see a beautiful woman riding a horse. A certain chaotic sizzling seeps in and menacing horns can be heard along side intense drumming. This sort of emotional turmoil is traditionally achieved in other films with fast figures – usually ostinatos (motif or phrase repeated continuously at the same pitch) – or fugue-like constructions (as can be heard in the extracts from film scores from “The Matrix” (fast) and “Close Encounters” (slow).(tracks 4 and 5 on the CD)

  Extract from film score “The Omen” by Jerry Goldsmith
  Extract from film score “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” by John Williams

These devices are a good illustration of what I referred to previously. They abound in classical music and are continually used in film scores. A good example can be found in Bartok’s Concerto For Orchestra. (tracks 6)

 Extract from Bartok’s Concerto For Orchestra

The scene maintains momentum thanks to the fast phrasing of flute and ghaita above a layer of obsessive drumming.
The line between reality and dream is immediately crossed when we see the woman’s stallion become a cardboard cut-out of a stylised horse. Unfortunately this is accentuated by a rather tacky sound effect.
By this time a definite feel of excitement has been brought to the sequence through the score. If watched without sound, the stillness of the shots conveys a remarkable sense of tranquillity and calm. The deliberate choice of this agitated piece of music, instantly and very likely subliminally, sparks a search for a meaning by most audiences.  The unseen urgency imposed by the score sets up a weighty contrast with the tranquil visuals - In this film not everything is what it appears to be.
From a distance, she spots a little boy with a mirror (which she has given him to use as a signal, should he want to get in touch with her). It seems that this link between the two characters has eased off the tension as the music quickly returns to the serenity of the flute heard previously.
Such contrast between anxiety and tranquillity could have been attempted in another way, perhaps through the editing, but I doubt that it would have been as successful as this.
 
The music underpinning dream sequences usually does little more than reflect the emotions behind the sequence. In eXistenZ, another film scored by Howard Shore the year before, the transition to a somewhat dreamy virtual reality was accompanied by the same sonic elements as the rest of the film. Shore’s use of microtonal colours in The Cell to underscore situations beyond reality is rather fresh and feels exceedingly suitable for this story.
Its daring use of ghaita, drums and chaotic figures during emotionally intense scenes has been influential to other composers as well. For example, Brian Tyler and Klaus Badelt used similar soundscapes in their score for the film Constantine. Although these days we must always consider that their choice might have been slightly hampered by the putative use of The Cell’s score in the temp.
For as much as Howard Shore hates intellectualising about his scores, he has admitted in an interview for website Soundtrack.net that once a certain link has been pointed out to him (as director David Cronenberg did during the recording sessions for his film Crash) the composer acknowledges that subconsciously he might have taken certain decisions for a reason.  Even when he refers to this as gut instinct, decisions such as the one that led him to use the Jajouka ensemble for the dream sequences and a traditional orchestra in the reality scenes can only have been intentional. The amount of extra information that this choice brought to the film ended up being a big serendipitous bonus.
Howard Shore has stated that for this score he wanted to write it in a way that Western instruments related to each other in the same way this happens in African, Indian or Chinese music. In his opinion this has brought to the sonic palette a sense of freedom above anything else.

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 5 - Master Musicians of Jajouka

To this end he managed to enlist the Master Musicians of Jajouka.
The music and secrets of Jajouka have been passed down through generations from father to son, by some accounts, for as long as 4000 years. The musicians are taught from early childhood a complex music that is unique to Jajouka, until they finally become Malims or Masters. They possess baraka, or the blessing of Allah, which gives them the power to heal, and the endurance required to play some of the most intense and complex music around. The music of Jajouka uses a number of traditional instruments, including the ghaita (the Arabic version of the oboe), the lira (a bamboo flute), and the guimbri (a rudimentary three stringed lute), along with double-headed Moroccan drums.

Figure 6 – Ghaita

Their music is composed of several fairly simple parts, which are then intricately woven together in a way foreign to most Western ears, so that the resolution of individual phrases and sections can be difficult for outsiders to discern. The music can be extended indefinitely, and many performances last for days at a time, with some musicians taking breaks and others stepping in to take their place.  Howard Shore says that although their music can sound random and disorganised to Western ears it is quite the contrary. It is very specific and incredibly detailed.
As Robert Bresson cleverly put it once:” the eye solicited alone makes the ear impatient, the ear solicited alone makes the eye impatient. [You should] Use these impatiences”. Some directors and film editors know that by subtracting (maybe by having music point in the a different direction) or merely hinting at certain bits of information relevant to the plot, they can engage the audience in a much more powerful way than if everything is laid out plainly in front of them. We enjoy these impatiences. It is particularly in these instances that music – or sound – can be called upon to achieve something beyond mere storytelling.
Author and composer Mark Russell (Cold Feet) on a BBC radio 2 interview (2002) talked about the implications that Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho brought to the story. Talking about the first twenty minutes of the film where we see Janet Leigh driving through the rain, he recalled what Bernard Herrmann said, “if you watch it with no music, she could just be driving to the supermarket. There is no reason to believe that there is anything going on”. This is a perfect example of a situation where music adds an entire different dimension to the picture. It tells you what is going on in her head, it tells you that she feels there is a sort of clock ticking away in a haze of guilt and obsession.
In that same radio show, Hans Zimmer reiterates the importance of a composer when it comes to conjure notions and feelings not present (enough or at all) on the screen, when he said: “My real job is to do those bits in a movie they can’t tell with words or images”.

 

4.7. SUMMARY

This score caught Howard Shore between “eXistenZ”(1999), a film that shared a few similarities – particularly the fine blurry line between dream and reality – and “Lord of the Rings”(2001) – an epic where he reused most of the unusual instruments chosen for The Cell (like the monochord and the Ghaita). In this score there is also a thread in the composer’s history that takes us as far back as Naked Lunch. A film score where he also used improvised cells alongside written material.
The originality of the material for this score can be questioned by some purists. Particularly as Howard Shore did not write the Jajouka musician’s performances and even the orchestra for good part of the score played notes randomly chosen by each performer (within a boundary established by Shore). Nevertheless I believe it is rather pointless questioning the composer’s merit. A good percentage of avant-garde music is conceived and written exactly like this and no one doubts Penderecky or Ligeti’s astonishing talent.


  • CONCLUSIONS

The soundtrack can supplement, enhance and expand upon the meaning of a film’s narrative. The relationship between the auditory and visual components in cinema is both active and dynamic, affording a multiplicity of multiple relations that can evolve, sometimes dramatically, as the narrative unfolds.
The suggestion of the unseen can be used by the filmmaker and composer with two basic intentions: To lead the audiences into a red herring or to make them aware of certain plot details, in order to better enjoy and understand the film.
This role of implying the unseen or reinforcing a situation hinted with the visuals, which is so often asked from music, is possible mostly because of cultural conventions. Some researches have also demonstrated that we possess an innate tendency to have the way we perceive a film influenced by the simultaneous use of music.
Filmmakers and composers are aware of a universe of musical gestures that can be incredibly helpful in providing the picture with a layer of extra meaning. This layer can be: the Psychological make-up of a character, a special quality of an object, a memory of someone who is absent, etc…
Probably since the dawn of opera, and past a long journey through music in theatre plays, music as a background atmosphere for poetry readings, in radio plays, and in visual media (film television, corporate videos and advertising) that audiences have been conditioned, in a Pavlovian manner, to respond and feel in a certain way according to the music they hear while engaged with other visual or aural stimuli.
Although the score for The Cell features a rather innovative approach and the use of a music language unfamiliar to most audiences, I believe it succeeded when it came to establish a link with more familiar Western music language. We are still emotionally influenced by the sweetness of the melody played by the lira and become excited and restless by the intense turmoil of the Moroccan drums. The tone and texture provided by this score complemented the story in a very successful manner.
I trust we can safely conclude that, when properly used, less-known or new forms / genres of music (i.e. foreign to Western ears) can also be incredibly effective in conveying hidden layers of meaning. Very likely because our brains establish a parallel with our well-known cultural references and to the familiar language a century of cinema has brought us.
Obviously, none of this is flawless, and there is always the possibility that a cue will not achieve the desired result, or even throw some viewers in the opposite direction.
But again, so can Cinematography, Editing, Sound and almost every other slice of this holistic cake called film.
In a year that gave birth to some very inventive scores, such as “Requiem For A Dream” by Clint Mansell, “28 Days” by John Murphy and Tan Dun’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “The Cell” was undoubtedly a breath of fresh air above its peers.

 

 

  • FILMOGRAPHY

In chronological order

Rosemary’s Baby, 1968, directed by Roman Polansky, Paramount Pictures
The Omen, 1976, directed by Richard Donner, 20th Century Fox
The Shining, 1980, directed by Stanley Kubrick, Warner Bros.
Poltergeist, 1982, directed by Tobe Hooper. MGM
A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984 directed by Wes Craven, The Elm street venture
The Fly, 1986, directed by David Cronenberg, 20th Century Fox
Naked Lunch, 1991, directed by David Cronenberg, Film Trustees Ltd
The Silence Of The Lambs, 1991, directed by Jonathan Demme, Orion Pictures Corp
Interview With The Vampire, 1994, directed by Neil Jordan, Geffen pictures
Seven, 1995, directed by David Fincher, New Line Cinema
Scream, 1996 directed by Wes Craven, Dimension Films
Devil’s Advocate, 1997, directed by Taylor Hackford, Kopelson Entertainment
Urban Legend, 1998, directed by Jamie Blanks, Original Film
Sleepy Hollow, 1999, directed by Tim Burton, Paramount Pictures
The Cell, 2000, directed by Tarsem Singh, Avery Pix Co
Bless the Child, 2000, directed by Chuck Russell, Paramount Pictures
Constantine, 2005, directed by Francis Lawrence, Warner Bros.

Nike TV commercial, directed by Tarsem Singh


  • BIBLIOGRAPHY  

  Adler, S. (1989) The Study of Orchestration, second edition, W.W. and Norton Company Inc.
  Boltz, M. (2001), Musical soundtracks as a schematic influence on the cognitive processing of filmed events, Music Perception, 18(4), 427-454.
  Bordwell, D. and Thompson K. (2004), Film Art – an introduction, McGraw-Hill, 7th edition
  Cook, N. (1998), Analysing musical multimedia, Oxford University Press, New York.
  Gorbman, C. (1987), Unheard melodies: Narrative film music, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN.
  Kalinak, K. (1992), Settling the score: music and the classical Hollywood film, The University of Wisconsin Press.
 Karlin, F. Wright, R. (2002) On the track: a contemporary guide to film scoring, Routledge New York, 2nd edition,          
  Koppl, R. (2000) Inside The Cell with composer Howard Shore and director Tarsem Singh, Soundtrack vol. 19/No75, Fall 2000 p.24
 Marshall, S.K. and Cohen, A.J. (1988) Effects of musical soundtracks on attitudes toward animated geometric figures, Music Perception, 6 (1), 95-112.
 Prendergast, R.M. (1992), Film music: a neglected art, W.W. Norton and Co, New York.
 Science 13 December 2002 298: 2167-2170 [DOI: 10.1126/science.1076262 
 Thomas, T. (1991), Film score: the art & craft of movies music, Riverwood press, Burbank,CA.
 Wagner R. (1964) Orchestra’s power of speech: analogy with gesture , Dutton, New York (Original work [The Artwork of the Future] published in1849)

 From WEB PAGES

Boswell, S. From the composer’s website www.simonboswell.com
Shore, H. Interview with Howard Shore for website Soundtrack.net
Whitehall, A. The new Grove music dictionary online (ed. L. Macy) Grove’s dictionaries, New York. www.grovemusic.com

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