In 1949, there was a famous western movie called “The Red Pony” directed by Lewis Milestone. During previewing, viewers said that the acting was great and the directing was outstanding. However, there was one problem. The audience was laughing! For a film that was based on the suffering of ponies, there was no reason to laugh. So why was the audience laughing? It turned out, that the music being played alongside the film making them laugh. So what did they do? They turned to Aaron Copland, commonly called the “Dean of American” composers and one of the greatest film musicians, to ask him him if he could rewrite the accompaniment to the film. The effect was obvious, as release of the film found audiences not laughing, but focused on the profoundly moving story, reminiscing about the about the legendary old west. So how did Aaron Copland manage to change the reaction of an entire audience, simply by changing the music that went along with the film?
Music theory is a set of laws and rules based on music. This set of laws can be implemented in many different ways. It is a rudimentary basis on which combinations of notation, of key signatures, of time signatures, of rhythmic notation. If used correctly, composers can create the most wonderful and profound pieces of art that can impact the way we humans can perceive our own surroundings when we listen to music. It is why the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Chopin are still renowned to this day, despite being centuries old. When music theory is applied to film, it amplifies the emotional output by certain scenes, characters or locations within the film by a large margin. This is why films like “Jaws”, “Star Wars” and even Disney movies have such an iconic feel to them. Certain songs and places from these films were distinguishable by the emotions felt when watching them. But how do composers like John Williams and even foreign film composers like Yojiro Noda use the theory of music to create unique songs and pieces?
First, I will go into depth about the writing of the music. These will be techniques used, such as leitmotifs and the use of major triad, Next, I will discuss the first composer I chose to analyze, John Williams. I will talk about various things such as his history of composing music pieces for famous films as well as the common techniques he uses in his music writing. I will then analyze his piece “Welcome to Jurassic Park” from the 1993 film, Jurassic Park. I will break it apart and point out key details that are influential to the piece and reactions of the audience. Next, I will introduce Yojiro Noda, the lead singer of J-rock band Radwimps. Since he and John Williams compose different types of music, I will also have to describe his artistic style and musical background. Afterwards, I will introduce his piece of music, a song named “Sparkle” from the movie “Kimi No Na Wa”, a japanese animated movie.
When writing music for film, composers often use harmonic devices in order to develop the “identity” of the pieces. Harmonic devices are intervallic and notes that are played alongside the melody in order to create a harmony. Basically, when two different notes of pitch are sounded together, that is the result. There are different types of harmonic devices used to create harmonies and each one has the power to enrichen the sound of the music and give it tonality, the musical word for emotion. But first, we need to understand what the notes are, as well as what the different scales are. In music theory, notes can be named by letters of alphabet A-G. When put together they make scales going from lowest to highest pitch.
There are multiple types of scales that order these notes differently. Flats and sharps can be added to these notes in order to create expression. A sharp can raise a note while a flat can lower a note. These combinations of notes can be used to create different types of harmonies that convey different emotions.When harmonies are made using only the notes that the song is being written in the key, that is called a Diatonic harmony. If a piece music is in the scale of B major, all the notes will belong to that scale (B, C♯, D♯, E, F♯, G♯, and A♯.)
The opposite of this is called a Chromatic harmony. The notes being are also taken from scales that aren’t being used in the music. Chromatic harmonies usually add color to the music, hence its name chromatic. When it is used, it tends to amplify the emotional output of the music. Harmonies can either be Consonant, or Dissonant. What classifies them as either Consonant or Dissonant is the interval in which the notes are played. For example, the perfect fifth interval is classified as Consonant, while an augmented 4th interval can be classified as Dissonant. A Consonant harmony usually sounds stable and balanced, with its notes working together perfectly. However, a Dissonant harmony can be used to create tension and suspense, because of its ill-sounding nature. Dissonant harmonies can often be found in jazz and similar music, while Consonant harmonies can be found in classical music, such as Shostakovich Fugue in A Major.
With all these different types of harmonies, composers have on tool in which tonality and emotion can be expressed through the music. However, there is also another tool that composers take advantage of, which is musical phrasing. As music can be an expression of emotion, it has to be broken down into “sentences” and “phrases.” Much like physical speech, it is better to go with one idea and pause, before continuing another. In music, this is called “phrasing.” It is used to show how groups of musical notes are played. These musical thoughts can usually be 4 measures long that ends with a cadence. These cadences act as the musical punctuation of phrases. They are formed by two chords at the end and can be strong or weak.
There are 4 types of cadences. The first is the perfect cadence. This cadence is mainly used to end the music. This is structured by a movement from the 5th chord of the scale you are playing in, to the 1st. An example of this would be if you were playing in the scale of F major, it would be the C major chord to the F major chord. Perfect cadences are used commonly in orchestral music, where it would be a repetition of going from the chords of the perfect cadence before ending in a grand conclusion. Next is the plagal cadence. Like the perfect cadence it is used to end a musical phrase. However, instead of moving from chord 5 to 1, it moves from chord 4 to 1. This in turn creates a smoother transition, making a softer conclusion when compared to the perfect cadence.
This cadence is also known as the “amen cadence” because of its common use in church hymns. Next up is the imperfect cadence. If the perfect and plagal cadence are periods, then the imperfect cadence is a comma. While the first two conclude a musical phrase, the imperfect cadence doesn’t quite end the phrase, making the listener know that there is still more music. This caused by moving from any chord on the scale you are playing in, to chord 5. If somebody were to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” but not play that last chord, that would be an imperfect cadence.
Finally, the last cadence is the interrupted cadence. This chord moves from chord 5 to chord 6 and serves to surprise the audience when they are expecting a perfect cadence. Since the perfect cadence is the only cadence to start at chord 5, they expect the chord to be the 1st. However, playing the 6th chord adds an unexpected dimension of color and tone to the music. The unique aspect of the interrupted cadence is that in can be played in two different keys. In can be played in major key where we start from chord 5, a major chord, to chord 6, a minor chord. It can also be played from chord 5, again major, to chord 6, but this time, chord 6 would be a major chord. Changing the key signature on the interrupted cadence can have quite the dramatic effect in different ways. Tonality and harmony are the greatest tools a composer can use when expression emotion through music. When used correctly, music can express a wide variety of emotions and stories.
John WilliamsJohn Williams is an established pianist, conductor and film composer who has composed many famous repertoire for films like the Star Wars films, Indiana Jones Films, Jaws and many more. In film, it has become impossible for scenes to have the emotional effect without the fitting music to go alongside it. Williams is an expert and manipulating texture and tonality of his pieces to fit every single mood or gesture that could be expressed by an actor or setting. In an interview at an Oscar event on the 21st of July, 2014, John Williams was asked to share his thoughts on the idea of “Films being able to connect to the humanity of characters.” To which he replied “It is a magic, and it isn’t a bad idea to quote the words of Alfred Hitchcock, which is ‘In film, music represents the words that cannot be spoken.’ Music unites entire peoples. Music unites entire religions. I don’t think any of us fully understand how that works.” Williams’ approach to creating music involves the universal understanding of music being used as a form of language.
Analysis of “Welcome to Jurassic Park”
During the writing of music for this film, Williams wanted to capture the astonishment at seeing multiple creatures come to life after having been extinct for 65 million years. His scores in this movie were filled with mystery and overpowering enthusiasm. He was inspired by award-winning sound designer, Gary Rydstrom. He was in charge of making the sounds of the dinosaurs. Williams incorporated this into this music, imitating the act by handling the orchestra in a more animated arrangement, with unusual breakaways from standard musical variations, which created a weathered and shrilled effect. What this did was give Williams a happier tone he had not expected.
The song “Welcome to Jurassic Park,” the movie’s theme, focused on two central moods that conflicted with one another: happiness and fear. This leitmotif is the most memorable of the lot from the movie. It is a passive theme that that plays off a delicate and alluring tone that holds a powerful awareness of encountering the dinosaurs in the park, such as the dinosaur we meet in the beginning, the long-necked Brachiosaurus. The song is first heard when the main convoy guests reach this behemoth of a creature. The string section leads the sequence to express the eternal elegance with gentle highs that met the divine presentation of what was being presented on screen.
This song is built on a simple 3-note repetition, Bb to A, then back Bb again. This is also called a neighbor note figure, which creates embellishing tones. This song revolves around the first note of the scale it is in, Bb, making it tonic. This gives the piece a soothing feel of calm, but stuck in place as the song keeps coming back to the Bb. This gives the feeling of being stunned in awe at the sight of something, as reflected in the scene where our main characters are astonished by the sight of the Brachiosaurus. In terms of melodic scale, the song also moves from note to note in seconds, while jumping in thirds from time to time. This creates a feeling that the song is easier to follow, even able to be sung.Rhythmically, the song can be compared to a hymn, as the melodies and the harmonies move in tandem, timing themselves on making notes at the exact same time. This creates a song that isn’t contrapuntal, but harmonic, creating a positive and profound feeling, reminiscent of the reactions of our characters.
Finally, the harmonies of this piece are built on three chords, all major: I, IV, AND V. This is where most of emotional drive of the piece comes from. Certain combinations of chord progressions that create the feelings that Yojiro Noda Yojiro Noda is the leader of the J-rock band, Radwimps. When thinking of a musical composer for a movie, you would think that a rock artist would be the last choice. When asked about his favorite artists and inspirations, he replied “Radiohead, Bjork, Elliot Smith, The Flaming Lips, Hiromi Uehara, John Frusciante, Ringo Sheena and Chara. I tend to be influenced by female singers. I think it’s because it’s something that I cannot be. Also I like neutral, genderless voice and music.” This would mean that his style of composing music seems heavily influenced by jazz and and hip hop.
When compared to John Williams, there would appear two differently contrasting styles of music. While Williams prefers the slow start and stop, thematic and sweeping orchestras, Noda prefers the strumming of the electric guitar and pounding of the drums. Even more so, it would be strange to have rock music appear alongside a dramatic romance of a japanese anime. His music would be more akin to action, fast-paced anime that has a rapidly moving plot with suspense and other themes you wouldn’t find in a drama anime. However, Yojiro Noda had the ability to create a contrasting style of music with what was happening on-screen, and yet still make it work. This is shown to great detail in the 2016 anime “Kimi No Na Wa” or “Your Name.”
The scene could be a scenic train-ride through the Japanese countryside, where someone would be expecting a expansive sounding track, as if to mimic the grandness of Japan’s mountains and sprawling fields. However, Noda implemented his rock style of music, as seen in scenes involving songs like “Zense Zense Zense” in the movie “Your Name” being played alongside mundane actions like cutting a tomato, or a vending machine spitting out a can of coffee, and yet I still felt chills running up my spine, listening to the drum-heavy track while at the same time watching. This is probably because during the making of “Your Name”, the film director Makoto Shinkai and Yojiro Noda worked on the music as well as the animation at the same time. Whatever the music felt like, it was reflected in what was happening on screen. Sharp cuts to different actions and different people, with an almost frantic feeling accompanied by the drums at the exact same moments the cuts were made.
Akin to a music video, Yojiro Noda successfully combined his rock music with the flowing pacing of “Kimi No Na Wa.” Except for one song, that being “Sparkle.” This piece is the most iconic of the song played alongside the film. However, it isn’t rock. But it isn’t contemporary either. This masterpiece has come to be known as Noda’s most diverse works.Summary of Makoto Shinkai’s “Kimi No Na Wa”
Before analyzing the music itself, we need to realize the context of what the song is being played in. “Kimi No Na Wa” is a story about two teenagers who meet in the strangest of ways, by consentingly trading bodies. For whatever reason, there is no answer to why they do. All we as the audience know and soon find out is that they are separated by the rivers of time and space. The girl, Mitsuha, is a country dweller, living in the small community of Itomori in Japan’s Hida region. Taki is a city-boy who enjoys drawing and works at a small cafe. These two have never met each other. One night, a comet appears over the sky of Tokyo, where Taki is a spectator and watches it soar over, towards the mountains. Mitsuha and her village are having a festival, when the comet appears to break off a piece of itself, sending it hurtling towards her village. The scene stops, transitioning to a series of sharp cuts and animation, accompanied by Noda’s “Zense Zense Zense.”
As the song ends, they wake up in their beds, only to find they had switched bodies. Not knowing the person whose body they were in, they developed a friendly relationship over time, communicating through notes left behind after they had switched back. One day, they simply stop switching for no reason. Taki’s perspective is the only perspective we see for an amount of time.