Soundtracks- Alma Boykin

Soundtracks- Alma Boykin

So, a week or so ago the usual crowd got to batting ideas back and forth (before they ended up under the deep-freeze, as usual. The ideas, that is) and started talking about movie soundtracks as a gateway to classical music for the younger generation, much as certain films and books can be on-ramps to sci-fi and fantasy. Growing up steeped in classical, Boroque, and folk music, and Bugs Bunny, I tend to take for granted people meeting symphonic music from an early age, but apparently I’m an Odd. Which got me thinking about the history of soundtracks, and what works or doesn’t.

You can blame opera and the Romantics for the first soundtracks. The Romantic movement played up the idea of instrumental music setting a mood or invoking mental images and stirring certain emotions. At the same time in the late 1700s, composers began experimenting with the idea of using a certain pattern of notes or tones as a musical cue for the audience. Karl-Maria von Weber did it for his opera Der Freischutz, although Wagner took the idea and ran with it. He is often credited for what is now called the leitmotif, the motives linked to various characters that recur when the characters do. Other composers picked up on this with varying degrees of skill.

  1. Erich Korngold, the great swashbuckling-movie composer, introduced leitmotivs into symphonic sound tracks. Recall that in the beginning, movies had no set sound track. Often, the printed material accompanying the film canister included vague instructions to the movie-house pianist or organist as to what sort of music would work where in the film as she played along, but no one sent out a set of sheet music cued to the movie. A few college music departments still occasionally have “silent movie nights” where they revive the tradition, and it’s interesting to hear what the conductor picks for his “soundtrack.” But once sound came along, now movie producers could have music custom-written and played for the films. With the Errol Flynn Robin Hood, Erich Korngold assigned Robin, and a few other characters, musical tags. By the way, you can still find many of Korngold’s pieces on compilation albums. He did a bunch of the historical films like Robin Hood, Captain Blood, and others. The music made no pretense at being period correct, and 40 years later, when criticized for the score he wrote for LadyHawke, Alan Parsons shrugged and said that if he’d done a Korngold score like the critics seemed to want, he’d have only been 700 years out of date instead of 750. (But if you can track down the full soundtrack to LadyHawke, you will hear a bunch of “period music.” But listeners tend to recall the electric guitars more than the mandolins, lutes and chant. The liner notes and two versions of “The Chase, the Fall, and the Transformation” are fascinating insights into how movie scores are developed and sometimes changed at the last minute.)

After Korngold came Henry Mancini, who shifted from classical-sounding compositions to jazz. Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hatari, Peter Gunn, made saxophones and clarinets acceptable in major movie scores. But the idea was still to support the film, not overpower it. If people forgot the movie but whistled the soundtrack, the composer failed at his job. And so it was until 1977.

And then the Heavens opened forth and behold, a nice guy with slipping hair and a penchant for brass playing in perfect fifths appeared, and it was Very Good. Yes, John Williams, the man string players love to hate, who made other composers toss their pencils into the garbage and say “That’s it, then. I’m going back to selling encyclopedias.” Williams managed to make the score both support the movie and memorable in its own right. In the beginning there was Jaws, and a repeating pattern that still makes people give the sea nervous glances. Who can see Darth Vader appearing out of the smoke for the first time without hearing “dum dum dum dumdadum dum da dum” in their mental radio? Yup. Or see Luke and Obi Wan walking into a dim, dusty bar without the cantina band starting up? And he did it again with E.T., and Indiana Jones.

The next generation gave us Hans Zimmer and Howard Shore. I’d argue that Shore’s music leans more closely to classical and Romantic (in the music history sense) than does J.W.’s but they are scoring different things: space opera and high fantasy. Their tracks fit the movies and both contain the enormous feelings of the Star Wars epic, and the world of Middle Earth.

In the process they inadvertently, along with people like Alan Hovannes (The Mysterious Mountain is a good place to start), redefined classical to mean symphonic music in general, including contemporary composers, rather than music from the period between roughly 1780-1850. So John Williams, and Howard Shore, and Hovannes, are all good teasers to use to lure new listeners and players into a very rich musical world. And Williams, Shore, and Zimmer all have a certain “sound” that makes their compositions easy to recognize: Williams and the brass with their perfect 5ths (even though every time you write a perfect 5th, Bach’s ghost kills a kitten), Zimmer uses waltz figures (“The Black Pearl Theme” for example), and Shore’s sweeps of sound cut to a single theme, often played by woodwinds, before filling in again.

But what about the soundtrack? It is still supposed to support the film, TV show, video game, or commercial, to stir proper audience emotions, to give watchers and listeners cues about what’s going on (or about to go on) without overwhelming the action on screen. Some scores are so entwined with the film that you almost can’t have one without the other (Return of the King and How to Tame Your Dragon come to mind.) Others flop.

And then along came “Epic Music,” bits of soundtrack for movies that have not been made yet. Or trailer music, which is how Two Steps from Hell got started, before people kept asking where they could buy the singles of the trailers. One of the complaints I read is that the snippets on epic music recordings are too short – they are usually between two and four minutes long, like commercials and trailers. This is also changing, and it will be interesting to see how epic music develops, if we start having more symphonic recordings of soundtracks that never had a movie. Which takes us back full circle to the Romantics, and their sea symphonies and orchestral poems, operas without words.


143 responses to “Soundtracks- Alma Boykin

  1. Williams also tends to write in the key of C.

  2. masgramondou

    But what about the soundtrack? It is still supposed to support the film, TV show, video game, or commercial, to stir proper audience emotions, to give watchers and listeners cues about what’s going on (or about to go on) without overwhelming the action on screen. Some scores are so entwined with the film that you almost can’t have one without the other (Return of the King and How to Tame Your Dragon come to mind.)

    The sound track seems to me to be far more important fr animated films. A classic example would be Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し) though I can think of many others. I can’t imagine that movie with a different sound track and I can’t help but replay the scenes of the movie when I hard the sound track….

    • Just watched ‘Girls und Panzers’ and the soundtrack fit like a glove. Most Japanese sound tracks do invoke emotions, I think.
      On another note, my wife liked to watch television, my hearing is funny, poor but also effected by the sinus passages. I hated to have to listen to the soundtracks. There was this regular beat in the background, she probably never heard but it never varied. Somebody dieing violently, dum-dum-dum, kissing- dum-dum-dum. No variation in rhythm at all. No wonder television is boring.

    • Here’s a playlist from just about everything BUT “Spirited Away”

      These are image album tracks made to get the impressions of the music before committing it to a full orchestra.

  3. Somewhere in there is the music of Ennio Morricone, whose soundscapes for the Man With No Name films made them even weirder, if that is possible.

    And then there’s the matter of the music that is used for trailers, which often has nothing to do with the music that is used in the film. For some reason there was a time in the 1990’s when if an action film trailer didn’t feature the “attack of the Viking hoards” section of Orff’s Carmina Burana it would lean heavily on the driving drums of Peter Gabriel’s Rhythm Of The Heat.

    Aside; Does it strike anyone else as outstandingly weird that Orff’s composition that is supposedly about a sort of German Naturist Picnic cum Orgy is famous for a segment that sounds like the background for charging horsemen? It says something about Orff’s ideas about Orgies or Germans, but I’m not sure exactly what.

    There’s another aspect of film history I’d love to see somebody qualified tackle; the way film has drive the development of both dance and fight choreography, and how they have interacted. They almost have to have, don’t they?

    • Excellent point about Morricone. I didn’t.don’t watch many Westerns, and that slid right past me.

      Eh, don’t get me started on Orff. “O Fortuna” has been borrowed from, abused, tweaked, and cut/pasted more than almost anything I can think of, except maaaybe Bach’s Toccata in D minor. Or Holst. I have a collection of the Carminae that better matches the tunes to the text and you don’t have to know Latin, Provençal, or low German to get the gist. Ahem.

      • The Man With No Name films aren’t Westerns in the classic sense. They are Spaghetti Westerns, a sub-genera that has rules all its own and frankly comes off as Westerns on Acid a lot of the time. The Sergio Leone films (The Three MWNN films, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, and DUCK YOU SUCKER (aka FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE) are actually the Spaghetti Westerns that make the MOST sense. The rest get even WEIRDER.

        And if you want a brilliant satire on the whole thing, there’s MY NAME IS NOBODY.

      • ““O Fortuna” has been borrowed from, abused, tweaked, and cut/pasted more than almost anything I can think of, except maaaybe Bach’s Toccata in D minor.”

        Pachabel’s Canon.

      • The Other Sean

        Holst’s Planets does some to have been drawn from rather heavily. I think Williams made good use of the Mars movement heavily for Star Wars, and whoever composed the theme for the anime “Crest of the Stars” seems to have drawn from the Uranus movement. And who can forget the Reeses Peanut Butter Cup commercial using the Jupiter movement.

        • And the orgy scene from the original “Conan” film . . . Jupiter again.

          • The Other Sean

            The subtitle for the Jupiter movement is “Bringer of Jollity” so I suppose that would be appropriate for an orgy.

        • Re movie soundtrack inspirations, remember that the director often cobbles together representative pieces of music to run under a working cut of the movie to give their composer an idea of what sort of music he’s looking for in a given scene. You can pretty easily tell what Lucas (or whoever was helping him out at that point – possibly Marcia Lucas, possibly Spielberg or Coppola) picked to run behind particular sections of the 1977 Star Wars film by working backwards from the end product WIlliams came up with.

        • Hans Zimmer quote the Mars movement heavily in the score top Gladiator.

        • There’s a segment of the Jupiter theme that just screams “national anthem” to me. I’m surprised that I haven’t seen that stolen for a filk anthem for Ganymede or Europa.

        • Patrick Chester

          You mean the opening theme for Crest of the Stars or the battle music for some of the battles?

          “Transmission from flagship: ‘Trample them.’ Message ends.”

    • Morricone definitely deserves credit here for popularizing symphonic music. And let’s not leave out one of his inspirations, Jack Nitzsche, whose Lonely Surfer remains one of the most moving popular songs of all time.

    • Morricone’s soundtrack for The Mission was wonderful – and then he did a sublime arrangement – a concert suite of the music which is wonderful. And then there is Maurice Jarre, who also did wonderful movie music for a variety of different film genres.

  4. /ramblemodeengaged

    I remember a conversation I had with my dad. We were sitting in a restaurant and waiting for our food, and he and Mom were talking. I took out my walkman and popped in one of the earphone speakers into an ear, and started making notes for a ‘fic I was writing then. Dad asked me what I was up to, and he started to chuckle about my having a soundtrack while writing. I told him that one of the consistent positive feedback I’d gotten was how cinematic my writing was to my readers at the time, and how they enjoyed being able to imagine the scenes in their heads, like watching an episode or a movie.

    About twenty years on, I find myself often losing DAYS just bouncing around Youtube for music to listen to. There’s so much good stuff out there (and YAY TWO STEPS FROM HELL – I am so glad that they started selling their stuff for people and apparently they did a soundtrack for someone’s book!) but I remember the days when this crossed from not just movies, but video games, which was when I started really paying attention. Blame Final Fantasy IV, but that’s when emotive theme music really started catching my attention. That opened up a whole new world of soundtrack music for me, and I discovered that the Japanese sold CDs of their game tracks. My mother enjoyed piano themes, and one of the gifts we got her was a CD full of piano music from Tokimeki Memorial, a game we didn’t even play, because the anime store we were visiting in Paris was playing the music in the background. We bought Rurouni Kenshin soundtracks and Ghost in the Shell and more, and made mix tapes (hahaha oh the days…) to fit the mood and frankly so we’d have nicer music to listen to than the crap that was on the radio at the time. (This saved my sanity when they went into the ‘play My Heart Will Go On every. Five. Freaking. Minutes.’ thing. everywhere I went. Thanks to that I still cannot. CANNOT watch Titanic.)

    And looking back, there are times when we’ll run across an old theme we loved and enjoyed and have a fun little nostalgia trip. My mom’s doing that right now with Kenshin. Some days I’ll sink into the music and the work, and resurface wondering where time went, several hours later.

    One day though, we’ll figure out how the guys at my house are meant to catch my attention though when I’m sunk into either drawing or writing with the music immersing me, without scaring the HELL out of me.

    • CombatMissionary

      Conversation I had with a friend after I saw Titanic in the theater:
      FRIEND: Does Leonardo DiCaprio die at the end?
      ME: Yes.
      FRIEND: Good. Now I don’t have to waste eight bucks and a couple hours of my life watching that movie.

      • I was working in a SUNCOAST store when TITANIC was playing in theaters. Every. SINGLE. DAY! we would get little bubbleheads in asking if we had TITANIC on VHS. EVERY! DAY! When it was playing in the theatre on the other ends of the mall!

        I had to move before dratted thing came out on tape. Pity; I had gotten my sorely tried boss’s permission to bend the dress code to the extent of wearing a shirt that said “The boat sank. Get over it.” on release day.

      • Birthday girl

        I’m with friend. I had a friend who raved about that movie and she asked why I wasn’t interested. I said “I know how it ends and it’s all bad, so why would I want to watch a movie of it?” And her reply: “but it’s so romantic!”

        This is the state of popular culture: mass death is romantic. *shakes head*

        • I like disaster movies. If it had been just that part, the boat sinks and we have a few protagonists who survive, and we follow them as they figure out how, maybe save a kid or somebody else sympathetic on the way, see the reasons why it happens and the way it happens, all the usual stuff… it looked good, that part, in the existing movie (and yes, I don’t care much that it was a real disaster, it happened so long ago that most of the survivors have been dead for a rather long time too. Fair game for shallow actioners as far as I’m concerned).

          But I did nearly fall asleep during the romance parts. Not QUITE as bad as Pearl Harbor the movie, where there also was a reasonably decent (again if you are okay with versions which pay more attention to ‘cool!’ than to ‘real/realistic’) short war movie in there, but damn it took forever to get there, and the forever was mostly boring as hell. Way too much time wasted on the road there to my taste, in both movies. But then I prefer romances as the subplot, and with both of those movies, the sinking of the Titanic and the attack on Pearl Harbor seemed to the subplots, and the romances and other stuff the main stories.


          • I used to own the dual VHS set and would watch just the second one—the one with the ship sinking. I probably wasn’t the only one.

        • CombatMissionary

          Yes, apparently it’s romantic to get married, raise a family, and become a grandmother, only to reveal that you’ve been pining away the whole time for a homeless dude you got jiggy with when you were rebelling as a teenager. Oh, and look! Pictures!

          That’s ROMANCE right there.

          • Of course, if you do get married, raise a family, and become a grandmother, there’s the little question of what is necessarily romantic about it. Fiction thrives on the moment where your interior thoughts must force a decision that is different than you would have made without them. Imagine trying to write a play about the love of Juliet and Paris.

            • CombatMissionary

              Romance thrives on following FEELS versus realizing that true love can’t exist without knowing someone pretty well and having mutual commitment. In other words, romance = risky and potentially self-destructive. 😉

              What the heck, it worked for Twilight.

              • CombatMissionary

                Holy crap, I’ve become my father!

                • Just noticing? (~_^)
                  My dad says as we both got older and more like each other, we got along far better. (I’m betting it was his leaving a job that was driving him buggy)

                  • CombatMissionary

                    Yeah, the first time I noticed it was when I had only two offspring. i was chaperoning a boy scout camp-out for a night, and ended up telling two boys (poor mother’s husband bailed on her and the kids) that they could either half-ass everything in life, or they could bust their asses and get ahead (I edited my language for it being a church-run boy scout troop). One of the boys replied, “I’m lucky you’re not MY dad.” Another parent that was there replied flat-out, “THAT remains to be seen.”

                    I called my dad to thank him for keeping his boot up my butt my whole childhood as soon as I got home.

                    • “When I was 17 I was convinced that my father was an idiot. When I was 24, I was amazed at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” -Mark Twain

                      IOW, thanks Dad… for everything.

        • Death has always been romantic. What more ultimate sacrifice can you make for love?

    • Blame Final Fantasy IV, but that’s when emotive theme music really started catching my attention.

      Same here. FFIV and Chrono Trigger. I don’t play many videogames anymore these days, but I’ve strip-mined youtube for their soundtracks, because some of that stuff practically demands story. Nobuo Uematsu is awesome.

    • On a related note, Ringo often publishes a “soundtrack” list that was part of his writing/mood related to the story.

      I pretty much have his entire “Graveyard Sky” list as a spotify playlist

      • If I did that people would run screaming. However, for the darkship series the ONLY thing that works is Buddy Holly. No, seriously.

        • Not sure what you mean by “would run screaming” but then it may be a case of “don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to.”

          FWIW – for anyone with a spotify account, free or otherwise –

          It’s missing a couple tracks not available in spotify (E nominee if I recall) but I built it by going through the list at the back of Graveyard Sky.

          • After seeing Ringo’s playlists I learned who Within Temptation was and liked them, and one day I’m watching a cool video of Real Road Racing:

            And digging the music.
            I almost never listen to commercial stations. So one day I am and a song comes on and I keep thinking … I know that from somewhere. It was some new group call Imagine Dragons … but I know that song from somewhere … Oh, did they cover WT? nope vice versa.
            Both versions are great, but I prefer WT’s but likely because I heard it first.

        • CombatMissionary

          When I start thinking about the book in my head, I picture a soundtrack by Marty Stuart.

      • *chuckle* that might be something to do later on, as an idea.

        • One of the best things about the Russian original version of the book Night Watch by Sergey Lukyanenko was the soundtrack, which was intrinsic to the book. (Much like that one Georgia fantasy series, the protagonist got Warnings from the music that came from putting his mp3 player on shuffle. So you got a nice overview of Russian classic rock from the Seventies and Eighties, with some Queen tracks as well.) There was a legal mp3 site in Russia that actually provided the playlist of the book soundtrack as a pseudo-album, which was very handy.

          In the English version, there’s only a couple bits of lyrics, and the translator didn’t try to rhyme, which was sad because it was pretty easy to fit the Russian rhyme scheme to English words.

          (To be fair, the translator apparently was told to cut out lots of era-of-writing stuff and fannish stuff. Which made me sad, because I liked the fannish stuff.)

          • It’s interesting on how these new ebooks are moving, but… I wonder.


            I know that there are people on youtube you can hire for music as well, for affordable prices. (like, say, a book trailer)

            There are artists (better than I) who also charge affordable rates per cover, and it’s just a matter of finding them (on Deviantart, or other sites.) I think we’re in for interesting times as indie writers as other indie fields becomes more reach-able for us to access. Rather exciting, really!

            • James Young has had music composed and performed for one of his primary novel series (the one that starts with “Ride of the Late Rain” and _Unproven Concept_ [aka “Who in their ever luvin’ mind names anything the Titanic??”]).

    • I hate My Heart Will Go On. Everybody and their kitten wanted to hear it. And we play what our audience wants, right? Over and over and over again. The only thing that song has going for it is the lyrics. Take the lyrics away and it rivals the Canon for boring (‘cellist, in case you didn’t know).
      This is why I love John Williams. Luke, Darth, Indiana Jones, the two Jurassic Park songs . . . people love them and they have music to them. And little kids still squeal out the movie when you play those tunes. Oh, and Harry Potter. Those are playable. They make people feel things–happy, mainly, which is odd when you consider what they invoke (dinosaurs eating people, Darth Vader). And a musician can play them fifty times in a week without going insane, or at least I can without going more insane than you guys already know I am.

    • Actually, music solved a plot issue for me. I knew I wanted a particular type of climactic moment, but I couldn’t figure out how to go about it. I even started writing the book before I’d figured it out, which is not quite my style of doing things. (I like a lot about improv, but I want to have *some* structure to hang it on.) And then I had my character sing a particular folk song that I’d decided was relevant… and the climax of the song made me think, ‘Oh yes. Of course.’

      The book is not based on fairytales, but certain parts definitely rhyme with them, so having the climax involve a folk song ending worked out just fine.

  5. CombatMissionary

    I envy you guys your knowledge of music. Maybe when I get out of the Army in a few years I’ll take up an instrument, take a few classes…
    Right now I have that line in my head from “Honest Movie Trailers: Top Gun” about using “Highway to the Danger Zone” FIVE TIMES in ONE MOVIE.

    • I have a good ear and clumsy hands. BAD combination; I can’t stand being in the same room with me when I practice, so I don’t play an imstrument.

    • Wait, it’s “Highway to the Danger Zone?” I always misheard it was “I went to the Danger Zone.”
      This changes everything.

      • CombatMissionary

        I also heard a vicious rumor that some people think that “Inna Gotta Davida” is actually called “In the garden of Eden.” 😉

        • I have heard that was the actual intention, but the guys were, uhm, a leeeeeetle beeeeeet too into chemistry that day, IYKWIM. The gargle-bargled lyrics stuck.

          But whether or not that story is true, the Simpsons bit on the subject is sheer brilliance.

          • It is the story the band tells.

          • CombatMissionary

            I always think of the Simpsons now when I hear that song. “From God’s brain to your mouths!”

          • When I was in college radio, one of the DJ’s told the story of bringing in two copies of the album, and crossfading them into each other so it ran 45 minutes. Stoners were on the phone wondering where he got the extended version.

            • Apropos (very slightly) of this comment – when I was DJing the mid-night rock show on a local AFRTS outlet, I used to have a contest with myself – how few cuts could I play in an hour? And Innagoddadavida was

            • Lovely! When I was tasked with being the midnight R&R deejay on a certain AFRTS outlet, I would play a game with myself – how few cuts could I play during an hour – without going to Iron Butterfly’s Innagaddadavida, which was kind cheating. I had it down to four, if I had the title cut from Frankie Goes to Hollywood, plus a couple of concert takes from Dire Straits … which reminds me … Mark Knopfler’s music for Local Hero was also amazing.

              Know why deejays love the long cuts – ’cause you can run out and use the facilities and get back in time to announce the next selection…

              • Exactly! I used to hang a lampshade on it with “The Long Song at One.” (1:00 am actually). Of course, I did a New Age/Experimental/Electronic show, which had plenty of lengthy fodder (this was before New Age got totally yuppified, and there was actually some really cool stuff out there that I can’t find anywhere now). Mike Oldfield was great for this.

              • So basically it was The Yes Hour. =D

                Other good cuts: Kansas, “Song for America” (10:05)
                Pink Floyd, “Echoes,” “Shine on Crazy Diamond”
                Chicago, “Liberation” (14 + minutes), “Ballet for a Girl in Buchanan” (the source of the singles Make Me Smile and Colour My World, nearly 13 minutes total)
                Lots of early Genesis
                Rush, “2112” (21 minutes or so)

                I’m almost as much of a sap for long plays as I am for soundtracks!

  6. I bought the CD with the soundtrack for BSG’s second season long ago. McCreary’s music really gave that show an extra dimension. You did notice it, but it didn’t take away from the show, just added to it.

    • Bear McCreary is one of the best epic composers working today. He does songs for various shows, and he’s pretty good at matching style to content.

      Murray Gold is another one of my favorites—he’s the Doctor Who composer. Here is a segment featuring a counter-tenor—a fairly rare voice type. And I’m still surprised that Song of Freedom didn’t make it into the Olympics; it just sounds like it belongs there, and Britain had the Olympics, and it was a local composer…

      • Modern counter-tenors have a particular skill rather than a particular voice type — you trick your vocal chords into the first harmonic, which gives a very pure tone. A castrato had an actual unusual voice type. When I was in the Duke Chapel Choir I got to know the guy who sang the alto colos; his natural voice was a first bass.

        • Nice. I didn’t know that. I actually got to sing tenor once in a production*, though I’m told my voice doesn’t actually sound like a tenor’s, though it does sound masculine if I’m trying for that. Playing with timbre is fun.

          *Ruddigore, one of the ghosts. Most awesome time I’ve had on stage, and odd for me in that I was actually the shortest for once, which meant totally different stage behavior than I am accustomed to.

    • It was Greg Edmonson’s music for Firefly for me:

      I was going to write, “I do not know why he’s not done more music since then” but it seems he’s written for some of the Uncharted games. (I still don’t know why he wasn’t hired for Serenity; the incidental music to the movie is nowhere near as effective or beautiful as Edmonson’s score to the show.)

      • Statist Josh

        Funny thing is that if it wasn’t for DVD ‘s this soulful peace of music would never have seen the light of of day.

        I’m a man that can hold a grudge to this day I have refused to watch any shows on Fox Tv and that was over 12 years ago.

  7. One of my favorite movies is The Man From Snowy River. The way they use the music to go with the horse chases is incredible. The music is even set to the differences in the type of ground the chase goes thru. From the forest to the fields to the horses running thru the snow the music is constantly evolving. I haven’t watched the movie in a few years but can still here the score in my head and as I do the exact parts of the movie are running thru my head.

  8. So glad the Epic Music thing has caught on. I need stirring music without voices to write to (any human voice in any language bumps me) and it was hard to find. I especially appreciate Epic Adventures (I think that’s the name) which has two versions of each track on their albums–one with voices, one without.

  9. Birthday girl

    I was a music nerd in high school, playing in every band flavor the school had. Performing individually and competing locally on piano. I even played with the adult city symphony, such as it was. All standard accessible symphonic music. Star Wars came out the week after I graduated. Being so immersed in that kind of music, yet never experiencing it outside my little nerd world, that movie was a revelation for me. I bought the soundtrack and listened to it over and over in my dorm room at college that Fall. It was Big Music and really fits the overblown Big Space Opera theme of the movie. I also like Big Wine with Big Steak, if that’s relevant.

  10. Videogame music has been consistently awesome, IMO. I don’t know how you could fit those soundtracks into a movie though – the music is slightly too overwrought for dialogue.

    The Lunar 2 soundtrack is especially good:
    The (un) holy city:

    Hiro’s fight:

    Exciting journey:


    • Nevermind, these got all mixed up when posting. In any case, you can look up the soundtrack if you want. It’s among the better video-game soundtracks that I know of.

  11. Anime music is often quite awesome as well:

    To Aru Kagaku no Railgun (a sort of dark supehero type setting) is pretty good.

    • Cowboy Beebop!

    • Macross Plus!

        • Patrick Chester

          Macross 7?

          (Okay, I haven’t actually watched that series. Never got over to the US. Saw the first episode at an anime club back in the 90s. My suspension of disbelief works for a lot of things, but a transformable mecha operated by an electric guitar breaks that.)

    • Index and Railgun are decent. The opening to Last Exile , Cloud Age Symphony, works for me as well. Cowboy Bebop has to be the main show that mixed music and on-screen action the best, although Samurai Champloo gives it a close run.

      (I have a soft spot for Card Captor Sakura’s “Catch You Catch Me” but I think it’s of a different vein than the rest discussed. And God help you if I’m writing to the Asylum Street Spankers when you drop by…)

  12. I hear sound track and I hear Queen’s Flash Gordon:

  13. Patrick Chester

    Ghost in the Shell is pretty good.

    (This thread is going to be mostly YouTube links, I predict.) 😉

    Video games? Halo is the one I remember first as having a very good soundtrack. Mass Effect is also one that has an excellent soundtrack.

    (This one plays at the beginning of the last level. I find myself putting the game in pause and letting this keep looping sometimes.)

    • The mahic word here is Yoko Kanno, who is probably the most prolific composer, with the widest stylistic range, working today.

      • Patrick Chester

        Very much.

      • Yoko Kanno and Yuki Kajiura; huge names in the industry, and too busy being awesome to worry about the social justice whiners whimpering about how there aren’t enough women in (insert industry here).

        Really, it’s kinda funny how, despite how sexist a society Japan supposedly has, I see more examples of there being male and female (insert job title here) – especially if they’re famous outside of Japan, and half the time you don’t even know about the person’s gender until you look them up, since one is too busy enjoying the work. Composer? Check. Mangaka? Check. Artist? Check. Singers? Check. Writers? Check. Voice actors/actresses? And so on.

    • “Be Human” actually makes me cry a single, manly tear. Gorgeous song. “Living Inside the Shell” is also tremendous. I believe the lyricist is Tim Jensen, with whom she has regularly worked. (Or that’s the singer’s name and I’m blanking on the lyricist, which would make me sad.)

      I sometimes work the scoreboard for our rec hockey league, and will play songs from this and other of Kanno’s works as bumps during breaks. “Get 9,” “Run Rabbit Junk,” “Yakitori,” “Too Good Too Bad,” “Live in Baghdad,” “Pushing the Sky,” “Bad Dog No Biscuit,” “Rise,” etc. etc. It beats “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Thunderstruck” for the 88,219th consarned time.

  14. No discussion of anime soundtracks can go without Bebop:

  15. Then Joe Hisashi always turns a great soundtrack even when he isn’t doing a Miyazaki movie:

  16. Love the summary – though oddly, while I love Zimmer (good lord the soundtrack to interstellar is perfect for that movie), I actually prefer Klaus Bedelts soundtrack for the first Pirates movie to the Zimmer one.

    And who can forget Danny Elfman?

  17. While the 2003 version of Peter Pan has some great music, some searching turned up this on the Internet Archive: The music to J. M. Barrie’s successful play, Peter Pan, or The boy who wouldn’t grow up written by John Crook (what a name! apparently the composer for the Duke of York’s Theatre) for the original stage production. I cannot find that anyone has ever recorded this, but I’m resetting the score in Lilypond and getting MIDI files to listen to.

    (From what I’ve got so far, it’s of historical interest, not Great Music.)

    • Oh, interesting. That’s not the musical music that I’m familiar with–what was it, 2002? 2001?–no, I was married, must have been ’02–that I played in it. I think the lighting guy (aka Tinker Bell) had the most fun of the cast, but the gals who played Peter and Tiger Lily came in close.
      I don’t know what you mean by the 2003 version either, I ought to look them all up. Pit orchestras are a blast–before I messed up my wrist that was my career plan, or one of ’em, anyway. I may be the only teen girl in all history who saw Donny Osmond in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and got the ‘cellist’s autograph instead of his.

      • This music predates the earliest musical version by decades: this is the score to the original 1904 stage play. (Music published in 1905, composer died in 1922, so it’s safely in the public domain.)

        And I was referring to the 2003 movie with Jeremy Sumpter as Pan, and some great music by James Newton Howard.

      • I saw Donny Osmond in Joseph in a reunion tour, by which point he was decidedly middle-aged. (Really, people?) The Joseph I’ve seen that I liked best was an ectomorph guy who seemed to have Middle Eastern heritage of some kind (I’m from California, the lines are really blurred here.) It wasn’t his heritage but his slightly frenetic acting that made me believe this really was some kid out of his depth and dealing with true dreams.

        Incidentally, that show is too long. It feels as though it were expanded from a one-act. Get rid of all the mandatory reprises, the outdated jokes (Elvis as the King has worn badly, for some reason, while the cowboy song has not) and the frame story. And don’t start the show with the show-stopping number, that’s a bad idea by design. Pair it with something fascinating like a stage version of Kabaret Everyman from the OSF Green Show (love love love that CD). It would be awesome.

        • The thing about Joseph is that it was written for a kids’ school. So of course it doesn’t feel like a Broadway show. I’d love to see the theater camp here put it on–they do a two week day camp with two performances (sold out, usually) at the end and they’re pretty darn good at it.
          Whatever the faults of my town, it has an addiction to the arts that’s a lot of fun.

  18. Christopher M. Chupik

    I have the mental equivalent of an iPod. Once I’ve heard a song enough, I can replay it in my head. Which useful when That Annoying Song starts playing on the radio at work.

  19. BobtheRegisterredFool

    In addition to some of the others mentioned, I like the soundtracks and remixes of same for a game series called super robot wars.

  20. Christopher M. Chupik

    I have Ringo to blame for several artists I now listen to. Also, I have to credit Kevin J. Anderson for getting me interested in the music of Rush.

  21. Oddly, when I’m watching something I usually don’t notice the music. OTOH, just reading the post, I could pause briefly over all the movies mentioned and hear a key musical phrase from each.

    I actually have a good memory for music, and almost no memory at all for who played it or the title. And I get spontaneously earwormed by things all the time. I had one that would surface periodically for three decades, when I finally found the album (Steve Hackett: Voyage of the Acolyte). There’s still a haunting guitar solo from the same era that I need to track down.

    Now if you have the same trouble I do, these next two videos will become valuable resources.

  22. I’ve got an Eroica channel on Pandora: here’s some of the seeds

    Steve Jablonsky
    Taylor Davis
    John Williams (Composer)
    James Newton Howard
    Martin O’Donnell & Michael Salvatori
    Hans Zimmer / Lisa Gerrard
    Klaus Badelt
    James Horner
    Howard Shore
    Karl Jenkins
    Michele McLaughlin
    Basil Poledouris
    Aisha (Score)
    Epic Soundtracks
    Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
    Two Steps From Hell
    E.S. Posthumus

    You *should* be able to find it with this oink:

  23. People may know about this, but I want to throw it out there;

    A short documentary series on why Western music has dominated all other cultures’ music. The first two floored me; EQUAL TEMPERAMENT (which is episode 2) and NOTATION. I had NO idea that no other culture had developed an abstract way of writing down music. None!

  24. I’ve been following Jeremy Soule’s work since Total Annihilation, and he’s done work for that, Supreme Commander, all the various flavors of Guild Wars, etc., but it was this track that caught my ear.

  25. I’d like to add the name Hoyt Curtain to the discussion. He was the composer for Hanna Barbara Animation Studios in the 60’s and 70’s, and his dramatic music stings for the original “Johnny Quest” series became the swiss army knife of music for all of their action/superhero cartoons, which in turn became the soundtrack of my formative years.

    • Of course I would spell his name wrong in my not-so-youthful enthusiasm.
      That should be Hoyt “Curtin”

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