Sunday, February 7, 2010

Speaking of Scorsese soundtracks....

The New York Times has more about the Shutter Island soundtrack in the middle of an otherwise dull and pre-digested (master approaching old age, DeCaprio muse, use of film noir elements, film preservation, blah blah) article about the movie:

Mr. Robertson, credited as music supervisor on “Shutter Island,” said: “Marty just has this unique gift with regard to music in film. It’s one of those mysteries. You could tell right from the opening scene of ‘Mean Streets,’ with the Ronettes doing ‘Be My Baby.’ It isn’t about the song, or the lyrics, it only has to do with the Wall of Sound, and that’s why it’s so beautiful.”

On “Shutter Island,” Mr. Robertson said, “This was the first time in all these years that he’s ever said to me, ‘God, I don’t know what to do with this material music-wise.’ ” The solution they came up with, weirdly appropriate to the anxious era in which the movie is set, was to use modern classical music in the way that, in previous films, they would deploy brief, timed charges of rock or pop or blues: here the sonic blasts come from composers like Krzysztof Penderecki, John Adams, John Cage, Gyorgy Ligeti and Morton Feldman. And this music, much of it dissonant, stark, hauntingly repetitious or plain spooky, certainly amps up the film’s thick atmosphere of dread. “With something like Penderecki’s ‘Passacaglia,’ ” Mr. Scorsese said, “it’s definitely bold and to me it reflects what’s going on inside Teddy. If you’re with the film, with the character on this strange journey he’s on, that’s the kind of music you hear in your head.”

23 comments:

Generic said...

"The only emotion this music can express is anxiety." Wish I could remember who said that. Marty & Robbie seem to agree.

Tulkinghorn said...

The only emotion some people can feel when listing to the music is anxiety -- not quite the same thing, you'll agree.

Besides, since when is emotional expression the purpose of art? Seems reductive to me...

Generic said...

Music not emotional? To that extent no longer music.

Tulkinghorn said...

A great deal of very great music is by intent, if not effect, largely devoid of emotion.

Most of the non-Church music of Bach, for example... Art of Fugue is a lot of things, but it is extremely abstract, not especially melodic, and appeals far more to the intellect than the emotions.

Generic said...

So they say. I'd be inteested to read a description of how that works for you.

Tulkinghorn said...

No different from any other creative work -- Don't need need an emotional reaction to enjoy, say, Raphael or Vermeer, or Kant, or Euclid, or, for that matter, Kubrick...

Generic said...

Really? That's you're response?

Generic said...

I can imagine certain kinds of music being the aural equivilent of decorative art, gallic or Islamic currliques, which can be quite impressive; if the geometry is complex enough even awe-inspiring. But I can't hear patterns as complex as the ones I can see. And would assume that it would be tough to do so without being able to read a little music, or parse it in some fashion a la Zukerkandel. So while I can grant the notion of a harpsicorde tune playing paisley shapes in the air, this remains an abstraction, for me. A nice idea but not an experience I've ever had.

BTW: Kubrick, being one of the coldest fish in the history of movies, ii not a stone nihilist, may not be the best possible example.

Tulkinghorn said...

An apt comment on this very point from (yet again) Sunday's New York Times:


http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/07/arts/music/07modern.html?ref=music

And when Alan Gilbert led Webern’s Symphony (Op. 21), a 12-tone work from 1928, with the New York Philharmonic in December, he made a case for it by opening his program with Webern’s overtly Romantic “Im Sommerwind” and prefacing the symphony, which runs 10 minutes, with 7 minutes of discussion.

There are things listeners with open ears and minds can do as well. Nothing, for example. I discovered the value of nearly passive listening in the late 1980s, while taking in a program of Milton Babbitt’s piano works performed by Robert Taub. At first I followed the music in the scores, but instead of taking in the stream of sounds and ideas that Mr. Babbitt had set down, I found myself wondering about details of notation — why Mr. Babbitt had written certain rhythms in a particular way — and harmonic analysis. After a couple of works I closed the scores, sat back and let Mr. Taub do the work. And suddenly it all made sense.

When the Philharmonic played Webern’s symphony, Mr. Gilbert recommended that listeners take a similar approach. No doubt many at the Berlin and Vienna concerts surrendered to the music in exactly that way. The results were gratifying. At the Vienna concerts, audience defections were few, and some of the contemporary works won enthusiastic responses, even standing ovations. Soon, perhaps, orchestras will be able to move the marker up to the 1950s.

Generic said...

As all-too often recently, I'm reminded of that great "Peanuts" line: "I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsey, but I changed my mind."

I would also reminde the esteemed musicologist of that always relevent line of Robert Warshow: "A man watches a movie {or listens to music}, and the critic must acknowledge that he is that man."

GoJoe said...

Remember Michael Mann making similar use of Ligeti in HEAT, alongside everyone from Einst├╝rzende Neubauten to B.B. King!

Tulkinghorn said...

Where on-line can you find the actual end credit acknowledgments of individual pieces of music in a soundtrack?

Generic said...

IMDb.

Tulkinghorn said...

Really?

Couldn't find it there myself.

Generic said...

It's a link to this:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113277/soundtrack

Tulkinghorn said...

Mystery solved... Something I often want to check. I hate freeze framing the credits and trying to read the cues and have never been able to find this on imdb before.

The real mystery is how GoJoe -- a married man with a life -- knew that there was a Ligeti cue in Heat...

Generic said...

It's just like playing chess: success depends on how much effort you put into it.

GoJoe said...

Yeah, wish I could say I knew it from the first note the first time I saw HEAT, but no point in pretending. The truth is I'm just a big enough fan of the movie, and Mann's use of music in general, to have researched it once it became available on home video. The Ligeti piece wasn't on the commercially released soundtrack, but was of course easy enough to find. Only then did I make the connection to 2001 and that Mann was no doubt influenced by Kubrick, as if that weren't already obvious. John Cage, on the other hand, I first became aware of just after High School, as he was name-checked in reference to my fave noise of the hour. Penderecki's name I know thanks to David Lynch. Funny how these things work. Depressing to the true enthusiast, I'd imagine.

Tulkinghorn said...

Are you kidding? Real enthusiasm is rare and wonderful....

You may have missed this article about Ligeti's son, who is an avant-gard-y World Music drummer in NYC...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/arts/music/26schw.html

GoJoe said...

Sounds pretty cool, thanks for the heads-up. Lots of neat stuff on Tzadik. Far more than I can afford, so God only knows what I'm missing.

Tulkinghorn said...

Tzadik records completely hit that "collect them all" spot in my soul... So much so that I'm afraid to start buying them.

Tulkinghorn said...

Tzadik records completely hit that "collect them all" spot in my soul... So much so that I'm afraid to start buying them.

GoJoe said...

I tried to keep up with Tzadik in its early days, but the proposition quickly became overwhelming and unaffordable. These days I stick to a few select artists and wonder about the rest...