Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Column: Art / Music / Theatre

The soundscape of spectacle

by Imogen , June 12, 2013Leave a comment

It started with Inception. Or, more accurately, it started with Inception’s third trailer. The music, ‘Mind Heist’, by trailer music specialist Zack Hemsey (yes, such a profession exists), was the world’s first glimpse of a sound that has since dominated our aural landscape. It was an inarticulate, spectacular, overblown, deep brass exclamation mark: Bwarrrm.

Though Hemsey’s trailer music was our first exposure to the Inception sound, on the film’s release it quickly became clear that the film’s actual composer, Hans Zimmer, was its true source. Zimmer’s Inception soundtrack was defined by deep brass in a way no other film had been before — the trailer was but the tip of the reverberating iceberg. Bwarrrm.

In a way, this was no surprise: Zimmer has been working for years to refine the system of leitmotif in film music into a tight, masculine package. ‘The whole form language of current cinema music derives from advertising,’ wrote Adorno and Eisler in Composing for the Films in 1947. ‘The motif is the slogan.’ With few exceptions, Adorno and Eisler have been proved correct in their caustic summation of the Hollywood music business; film music is now, more than ever, a kind of brand to be attached to a movie that can be instantly recalled and identified with its corresponding franchise.

Zimmer himself has gone from writing quirky and cheesy tunes for films like Driving Miss Daisy to Hollywood’s kind of brooding, muscular branding for films like Pirates of the Caribbean and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The emergence of digital composing tools has played no small part in this shift. Zimmer now composes, records, and tweaks his film scores almost wholly with the aid of digital software — that orchestra you think you’re hearing is, most often, a series of digital samples and synths. ‘At one point or another, every note that is in the score has been played by me,’ Zimmer said about his Dark Knight Rises score. What this high level of sound manipulation and high-resolution tweaking means is that there is an enormous emphasis on rhythm and texture over melody and harmony in modern film music.

Thus, the sound of modern movies is almost singular. Zimmer’s Dark Knight scores are a case in point — while Danny Elfman’s Batman music of the early 90s were gothically melodic, Zimmer’s central Batman theme is just two notes. It should therefore be no surprise, then, that with Inception he took this approach to its logical extreme — a film that can be identified with just one note, one sound: Bwarrrm.

That’s not to say that there isn’t something deeper going on here. In fact, the Inception score is highly rhythmically complex: as each level of dream in the film’s lengthy climactic sequence plays out, a new level of rhythm opens up. At the top, there’s just quavers. At the bottom, there’s that huge, iconic semibreve — one note to rule them all. And that’s not even mentioning the ties that the Inception sound has to Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’, which plays a role as a pivotal plot point.

But there’s something to the way that this sound has taken hold in popular culture. Inception might have been the beginning, but we now find similar sounds everywhere, from ads, to reality TV, to videogames, to practically every film trailer going around. What is it about this sound?

In the same way that Brad Nguyen proclaimed viral clip Kony 2012 the film of the year here at Killings, I’m tempted to label this sound as the sound of our contemporary age. In many ways, this sound is representative of the most visible trends in popular culture — it is the sound of inarticulate sensory overload. It is the sound of amazement, the sound of shock and awe, the sound of a bodily impact from our media. It is the sound of eyelids widening, of backs stiffening, of fists clenching. This is what the most popular of contemporary entertainment media do: Christopher Nolan films shock with baroque plot and spectacle; dubstep shakes and jars with rhythmic intensity; first-person shooter videogames blow us away with virtuosic performance; the bodies of professional sportspeople collide: Bwarrrm.

That is what this sound is. It is the sound of modern spectacle.

 

Dan Golding is a Killings columnist, freelance writer and academic interested in videogames, film, music, and most other cultural forms. Find him on Twitter.

ACO logo




Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

1397733525000-TheOppositeOfLoneliness-600

Carody Culver

A published afterlife: Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness

Marina Keegan looked set for literary stardom. For an aspiring writer, her credentials were so perfect they could have been lifted straight from fiction. Read more »

warning

SA Jones

‘Weather is never just weather’: Sophie Cunningham’s Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy

We’ve had national disasters in the forty years since Cyclone Tracy, but Tracy’s iconic status in the national consciousness endures. Read more »

The Fictional Woman

Carody Culver

Learning from semi-charmed lives

When famous public figures take a step further and use their personal experience as a literary vehicle for exploring wider social issues, I can happily check my celebrity memoir prejudice at the bookshop door. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Julia Tulloh

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

Douglass books

Julia Tulloh

High fantasy writers who aren’t George RR Martin, and who are also women

‘Tolkien is the greatest burden the modern fantasy author must labour under and eventually escape from if they are to succeed.’ So wrote Australian high fantasy writer, Sara Douglass, a decade and a half ago. Replace Tolkien with George RR Martin, and one might say the same principle applies today. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Happy Christmas

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Joe Swanberg’s Real Women

In Happy Christmas, the female characters are a pleasure to watch, largely because they’re so familiar in life and so rarely depicted on screen. Read more »

Gabrielle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Beyond tics, limps and prosthetics

Think of a disability – mental or physical – and there’s sure to be a film that features it. What about giving big roles to actors who actually live with the disability they’re depicting? Now that would be authentic. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

  At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen, and the loop continues until nobody … Read more »

inbox

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Death to the Inbox

The primary source of our ‘email problem’ seems to lie in our belief that email is a vastly richer and more capable medium than it is. Read more »

5881861191_90de8b5bc9

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Making trolls eat their words

If we’re not conscious of a troll’s desired response, we risk inadvertently encouraging further trolling by allowing ourselves to be played. Read more »

detail

Danielle Binks

Fan-Girling Over Super Heroines

The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics. Read more »

9780143305323

Danielle Binks

Australia Needs Diverse Books

The ‘We Need Diverse Books’ team is made up of authors, editors and publishers from North America, but the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and campaign has reverberated in youth literature communities worldwide. Read more »

tumblr_inline_n6wz16ohb91r8e10g

Danielle Binks

YA is the New Black

Apparently those of us who do read and enjoy youth literature should be ‘embarrassed’. At least that’s what Ruth Graham said in her recent clickbait article for Slate, ‘Against YA’. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

Robin Thicke

Chad Parkhill

Why has Robin Thicke’s Paula flopped?

What, exactly, has caused Paula to sell so poorly that it has already positioned itself as this year’s most memorable flop? Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »