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Setting the Score with Source

August 8th, 2014 by Jonathan Katz

A character flies down the street in a brand new hot rod.  He makes a turn at breakneck speed, burning some rubber.  All the while, we hear rock music turned up to eleven as he careens down the road.

But when he parks the car, that loud music is now much softer, and sounds like it’s coming out of the car radio!  How did this happen?  What’s the difference?

When music appears in a film, it falls into one of two categories: source and score.

If the music is coming from headphones, a radio, a speaker, even a human being’s mouth, it’s source music.  The characters can hear it, the audience can hear it, and its origination point is clear – it’s coming from somewhere within the world of the film.  Think of a character singing “Happy Birthday” or a couple dancing to music at a party.

If the music is not coming from an identifiable source, it’s score.  The characters can’t turn it on, nor turn it off, and they certainly can’t hear it.  The music is there to heighten the scene, highlight the story, or even help to connect a montage together.

“A Hard Day’s Night” begins with the Beatles comically avoiding screaming crowds of fans as they make their way to the train station.  It’s all set to the title song, but it’s being used as score.

How do we know?  The Beatles are running around without their instruments, and Paul isn’t even with them!  He’s busy hiding behind a newspaper.

The music isn’t coming from anywhere on screen.  It’s only there to entertain us, highlight the craziness, and introduce us to the film.

Not too much later, on the train, the Fab Four take a much-needed break from their capers and settle in for a card game.  It isn’t too long before instruments appear out of nowhere, and we get the second song of the film, “I Should Have Known Better.”

This time, we see the Beatles perform, and the music is clearly coming from their instruments and their voices.  Here, the music is source.  As further proof, there is a small audience of girls listening to them.  Since other people within the film can hear them, the music is source.

However, what makes “A Hard Day’s Night” so brilliant is that it blurs the lines between source and score.  Are the Beatles really playing that song on the train right now?  Those instruments did, after all, appear out of nowhere.  Yes, we can see John Lennon singing, but the scene feels more like a music video than a character breaking into song and dance.

In fact, it was this film that pioneered so many of the music video techniques that we’ve become used to.  Imagine that – the Beatles innovating things that were ahead of their time.  Who knew?

Check out the film and decide for yourself what is source and what is score.  No matter what you decide, the timeless tunes of the Beatles continue to inspire and entertain us all.

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to view A Hard Day’s Night and learn more about Soundtrack, Score, and Sound Design. 

Last comment: Aug 21st 2014 1 Comment

Hulu Summer Film School Week 4: Soundtrack, Score, and Sound Design

August 8th, 2014 by Kelly Lin

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Dear Students,
It’s hard to believe but we’re already halfway through the Hulu Summer Film School semester. This week, we’re exploring the role of the Soundtrack, Score, and Sound Design in the development of the film.
The job of the composer, music supervisor, or foley artist is to use sound to breathe life into the story. Through tinkering with the sounds of the film, they can make the hairs on our neck stand up at the surprise arrival of a villain or our hearts swell over a first kiss. When these auditory artists are able to pair the right song with the right scene, it’s a moment of pure movie magic.
Enjoy the following selections and if you have any suggestions on specific content you’d love to see us feature, shoot us a comment below. Happy Learning!
– The Hulu Summer Film School team

Required Viewing:

1) A Hard Day’s Night

Setting the Score with Source by Jonathan Katz (an analysis of the use of sound in A Hard Day’s Night)

2) Black Orpheus

Composers: Antônio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá
Recently featured in the music video for Arcade Fire’s “Afterlife,” Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus celebrates the carnaval atmosphere of Brazil and radiates energy and visual spectacle through every frame. Composers Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa score this Grecian tragedy with the music of their homeland, inspiring a generation of music lovers across the world to fall in love with the infectious beats and rhythmic guitar stylings of the bossa nova genre. Of special note is the movie’s closing scene in which a young boy serenades the rising sun with Orpheus’ signature tune “Samba de Orfeu” while a little girl dances beside him. By revisiting this song in the final scene, the composers encourage a nostalgia towards the start of the movie and create one of the purest exclamations on the cycle of life in cinematic history.
Extra Credit: Watch Black Orpheus and That Bossa Nova Soundan 18 minute feature from the Criterion Collection exploring the history of bossa nova and the film’s influence on the genre.

3) M

Sound Designer/Director: Fritz Lang
Released at the dawn of film’s conversion from silent to sound, Fritz Lang’s M is a master class on using sound to reflect a character’s internal state. In this case the character whose mind we’re entering is Hans Beckert, a child killer who whistles “In the Hall of the Mountain King” whenever he’s hunting for his next victim. In one memorable scene, the sounds of a bustling city street encompass the soundscape as Beckert prowls the neighborhood. Suddenly all goes silent as our villain notices a child from the reflection of the shop window and is overcome with desire. It’s as if the sight of prey has caused his whole world to come to a standstill. When the child begins to wander off, the sound is abruptly un-muted and we are sonically tossed back into the honking horns and footsteps of the city. Although M is a sound film, it’s these pockets of silence in which it draws its strength.

4) Eraserhead 

Location Sound and Re-Recording: Alan R. Splet
Sound Editing: Alan R. Splet
Sound Effects: David Lynch and Alan R. Splet
Lady in the Radiator Song Composed and Sung by: Peter Ivers
David Lynch’s obsessive attentiveness to sound is apparent in all of his work, and that’s especially true of his debut feature film, Eraserhead. To Lynch, a film’s sounds are as important as its images. Sounds include everything from music to diegetic noises to surreal embellishments and canvases of abstract soundscapes. Eraserhead’s sounds paint a portrait of its vaguely dystopic world. Henry’s jaunts across a barren exterior landscape are supplemented by wind and groans that suggest an alien industrial wasteland. As Henry unravels psychologically, Lynch’s sound design builds to an unsettling crescendo, a technique often used in subsequent films (see: Laura Palmer’s descent in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me or the final sequence of Mulholland Drive). Eraserhead also introduces the seamless integration of song with narrative as a psychologically-illuminating device. When the Lady in the Radiator sings “In Heaven,” it’s a great, cathartic musical number whose strange beauty seems to bridge the surreal visuals of the film with its very real emotional states.

Supplemental Viewing:

5) Waste Land 

Composer: Moby

6) Gimme Shelter 

Composers: The Rolling Stones

7) The Pianist 

Composer: Wojciech Kilar

8) The Coal Miner’s Daughter 

Composer: Loretta Lynn

Extracurricular Links:

1) The Soundworks Collection – This video series profiles the composers and foley artists behind some of Hollywood’s most popular hits. Be sure to watch the episodes about The Sound of Wall-E and the spotlight on Gary Hecker, foley artist behind iconic films such as the Star Wars and Spiderman trilogy.

2) How to Compose a Killer Film Score by Michael Giacchino – The composer behind beloved features such as Up, Star Trek, and Lost walks us through his filmmography and explains his creative choices and where he finds inspiration for his scores.

3) How Wes Anderson Soundtracks his Movies – Wes Anderson’s music supervisor Randall Poster talks about working with Wes and his process selecting and licensing songs.

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to view A Hard Day’s Night and learn more about Lighting and Color Theory.