Los Angeles Brass Ensemble

Music Director, Justin Freer
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The Importance of Music In Film

Neve 8068 recording console
Creative Commons License photo credit: rockmixer

It’s been well over one year since the last blog post so I thought a major (and important) topic, and one with tangential relationship to the Los Angeles Brass Ensemble (many of our fine players record in the studios for major motion pictures), would be in order.

I can’t tell you how many people I know both very well and just socially that completely undervalue the importance of music in film. As we are subjected to constant sound bytes almost anywhere we go, from radio to television, iPhones to iPods, bursting movie theater speakers to loud restaurant conversation, our ears become inundated with noise (and desensitized) and thus start to lose a highly evolved perception of sound relative to silence (which is golden). Further, we must give attention to how much more of a role sound design and loud sound effects now play in film.

Often times in a film’s final mix, the score, well crafted or not, is buried behind both a plethora of loud noise and a sound mixer’s ego, making it even more difficult to hear the music.

While well crafted sound design and sound effects are so very necessary in the creation of a film, music touches the emotion, the psyche, the things you cannot see. Sound design and effects don’t do this nearly as efficiently and naturally. Without music it would be much more difficult to follow the emotional ups and downs of a film, much more difficult to experience the fear of the rider as he is chased on his horse riding through the dark.

The importance of music in film for the average film goer (whom films are most often made for) has slowly and steadily dwindled. While the Golden Age of Hollywood brought fantastic scores from such films as Gone With The Wind, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain from Castile and others, the 1970’s gave us such brilliant scores as Jerry Goldsmith’s Patton and Chinatown, John Williams’ Star Wars. And of course there are wonderful scores being written today as well, from Thomas Newman’s score to Wall-E to Michael Giacchino’s elegant romp from Ratatouille. The problem isn’t with the quality of output today but with the perception of importance that the score provides to the film. There are several major factors that are contributing to this trend:

1) The music, simply put, is often buried. How is the audience supposed to feel the music when their ears are trying to navigate through the excruciatingly loud sound design?

2) Music as sound design. Take any number of network television shows or action movies. One of the current musical trends is to compose patches of background sound which is a far cry from the age old practice of using themes and motivic reference to communicate with the audience. Patches of sound desensitizes the ear because it often contains so much of the same frequencies over and over. This desensitization gives the ear an almost white noise sensation as the score competes with the surrounding noise environment.

3) An overall lack of respect for what music can do for a film. If only DVD’s allowed the audience to select ‘play with no music.’ My guess is almost everyone watching (without music) the opening of Star Wars, the hijacking scene from Airforce One or the finale to E.T. would turn the movie off within minutes if not sooner.

Music soothes the soul. If we are, as a society, to hold a higher importance of music in film, we must respect it as both a legitimate and necessary art form while always being aware of the emotional guidance it performs for us.

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