Film Music

Traditionally, films as they have come to be structured employ musical pieces, collected as a film score, to accompany and enhance the visual components of the film. This score is traditionally non-diegetic (meaning that it is meant to be outside of the film's reality, rather than a part of it), and it is from this interaction between the elements of mise-en-scene and music that vital cinematic energy can be produced.  



In talking about the origins of musical accompaniment and films, Paul Chihbara notes that, "Movie music was not born in the movie theatres, but in the worlds of opera, musical theater, and vaudeville" (americancomposers).  While the idea of music underscoring and accenting events was lifted from these other performative mediums, film music had a much more essential function in the era of silent film: to provide nearly all of the sound experienced while watching the film.  It also, as Chibara practically observes, "was a necessary mask" for the noisy projectors of the time.  When diegetic film sound became an integral part of cinema, the relationship between film music and the images and sounds of the events on screen allowed for more nuanced and conscious interplay to unfold.



In Jean Cocteau's masterful adaptation of Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bete in its original French), the film's score acts to enhance and complete the already-alluring elements of its mise-en-scene.  




In the scene above, the atmospheric tension is increased by the eerie composition of Georges Auric (also pictured above).  By employing a strange chorus of voices in addition to the musical instrumentation, the music's connection to the film's aesthetic is solidified.  An important element employed by Cocteau in his construction of the magical spaces of The Beast is the humanization of normally inanimate objects (such as candelabra, doors, statues, etc).  We see Belle, who is watched by the busts on each side of the door, exploring the room. However, this experience of being magically observed is deepened by the ethereal and humanistic qualities of the film's music.  The film further complicates this relationship by placing a feral growl in the film's sonic palette, and having Belle seemingly react to it.  Whether is sound is diegetic or non-diegetic is not firmly established- if anything, this interaction between displaced sound and character blurs the lines between the score and the cinematic reality.  This works to deepen the magical, sensational qualities of the space.   Ultimately, The musical voicings explore this space, like Belle, and interact with the otherworldly concept of still objects adopting human qualities.  


Another engaging example of innovative musical score is present in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Instead of employing the traditional film orchestra to provide dramatic backing for his space voyaging, Kubrick instead collects a vivid, distincly classical collection of pieces that lend his film a formal, epic quality.  More unique is the film's very punctuated and limited use of its classically-tinged score; instead of a constant backdrop of music, Kubrick's film is characterized by its long stretches of diegetic sound (or lack thereof in the vacuum of space).  In short, the score, when employed, acts to accentuate the film's established themes of abstraction and reflection.  When Kubrick pairs the Blue Danube with the revolving space station at the film's first traversal of outer space, it helps make apparent the graceful motion of the structure floating through the infinite.  In this was, the film uses the pacing of its orchestral accompaniment to structure the progression of the narrative.


Perhaps the most famous and striking use of music in the film is the pairing of Gyorgy Ligeti's (a modernist composer) moody and atonal compositions with particularly significant moments in the narrative.  When Bowman is traveling through the cerebral light-show of the star-gate, the pulsing mass of voices and tenuous instrumentation of Ligeti's piece travels with him. The layering of tones and sounds within the piece immediately reflect the infinite, nebulous quality of the space (and, of course, outer space). In this instance, the film synthesizes an intensely visual moment with an intense aural one, and the two together produce one of the more affecting moments in the work.





Works Cited

"American Composers Orchestra - From Scene to Shining Screen." American Composers Orchestra Homepage. 07 Oct. 2009

"Beauty and the Beast." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 08 Oct. 2009