Life Needs A Soundtrack Under It

The Arts

I can’t work without music. I’m writing some severely mad stuff today, and needed to play appropriate sounds. Usually I fall back on soundtracks, of which I have an obscenely vast collection, including many so obscure that even I can’t recall the names of the films they’re from.

Certain composers are good for specific states of mind. Bernard Herrmann, James Bernard and the scores of old horror films are great for writing horror stories (obviously) but John Barry, Michael Nyman, Alexandre Desplat, Ennio Morricone, Howard Shore and Mark Isham are all good at providing a certain moodiness.

But – a late discovery on my part – if you want real big-ass epic scale, forget John Williams and James Horner, go for Murray Gold. Who, you say? Exactly. He writes the increasingly grandiose scores for Doctor Who, which are filled with rambunctious melodies, soaring chorales and end-of-the-universe flights of fancy that threaten to take my speakers out. Gold is one of a group of smart British composers currently turning out terrific work, and lifting the spirits of knackered old hacks at their writing desks.

17 comments on “Life Needs A Soundtrack Under It”

  1. Andy says:

    Waaay ahead of you. Got most every Dr Who track he’s produced (and Torchwood). Wonderfully stirring stuff.

    I too collect (mainly) soundtracks, and you forgot Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman and Alan Silvestri off the list. John Debney gets a look in if I’m in a swashbuckling mood (managed to get his 1996 Dr Who movie soundtrack thanks to my brother). And don’t forget the Japanese either, Joe Hisachi (studio Ghibli, nuff said) and Masamichi Amano, the who producedthe wonderfully over the top scores for Giant Robo and Super Atragon among others.

    Trivia point 1- When composing the music for Aliens, Horner hadn’t been given enough time to do a full job, so he nicked several themes from his just completed Wrath of Khan soundtrack (noticable Star Trek theme at one point) and filled in with the Gayane Ballet Suite by Katchaturian, he used the addagio for the beginning with the Narcissus lifeboat floating through space, mainly because the film 2001 uses it for the Discovery floating through space as well. Saddest piece of music in the world.

    Trivia point 2- One piece of music from Aliens, Resolution, where the dropship makes it’s run from the exploding terraforming plant, was used at the end of Die Hard, where the terrorist comes back to life, grabs a gun and is shot by the twinkie eating cop. They actually employed a fuller version of the score than had been used in Aliens.

    Trivia point 3- I can’t prove it, but part of the John Williams soundtrack for Jurassic Park, specifically the section where the T-rex is fighting the Velociraptors, seems to be a deliberate nod to a section of Stravinski’s The Rite of Spring used in Fantasia, where the Megalosaurus and Stegosaurus are facing off.

  2. admin says:

    I think you’re right about the ‘Rite Of Spring’ nod, Alan. I love this post. There WILL BE MORE on the soundtracks subject!

  3. John Williams takes a lot of cues (shall we say?) from Dvořák, as well. The theme from ET comes from Dvořák’s “Dumky” piano trio. And the score to The Witches of Eastwick is pure Dvořák.

  4. Andy says:

    He might nod to more than just classical composers, my boss was just musing that the score from the beginning of Revenge of the Sith where the starship is beginning it’s fall from orbit shares a lot with Basil Poledouris’ score from Starship Troopers where Rico is wandering around the starship.

    From the subline to the ridiculous, a chase sequence in episode three of My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic is indeed played out to the tuke of Yakety Sax by

  5. Andy says:

    Oops, hit the wrong button. As I was saying…

    …by James Q. “Spider” Rich. Someone was watching too much Benny Hill methinks.

    Yes, yes, My Little Pony. I know. If you’ve not seen the G4 iteration by Lauren (Powerpuff Girls) Faust, then these are not the Ponies you’re looking for.

  6. Stephen Groves says:

    Hi Chris,

    You sort of pity the neighbours, they can’t even sing along.

    all best

  7. Porl says:

    Anyone get that recent viral of the Jurassic Park music massively slowed down? Really hauntingly beautiful stuff… probably on youtube or the like….

  8. J F Norris says:

    I do the same thing. One of my favorites is the movie soundtrack for Death and the Maiden (Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley film based on the play) by a Polish composer whose name I can’t remember — let alone spell. My browser is acting up, else I’d Google it and do a cut and paste.

    This is great mood enhancing music. It’s making type twice as fast as I normally do.

  9. Alan Morgan says:

    I like Adrian Johnston, mostly TV stuff and notably for me his Poliakoff compositions, Shooting The Past especially.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    I wonder how many other occupations require musical backgrounds. Many calligraphers play music that fits their current tasks and that Doctor Who selection would certainly work with anything involving swash capitals and large brushes. The music is one of the things that I really enjoy about the Doctor.

  11. @ Andy – Mind you, it might just be that Poledouris and Williams have taken their inspiration from the same sources: Poledouris is no stranger to Prokofiev, for instance…

  12. mikenicholson says:

    Slightly different angle on this post – I am currently finding the marvellous ‘The Music of the ITC Series’ a lovely background to my drawing and writing. . . ‘Dangerman’, ‘The Saint’, ‘The Prisoner’, ‘The Baron’, ‘Gideon’s Way’, ‘Man In A Suitcase’, ‘The Champions’ – instant time-transportation to the square-eyed days of my 1960s youth. Masses of quirky incidental music, too.
    Let us recall Edwin Astley, Ron Grainer, Albert Elms, Laurie Johnson and – yes – Tony Hatch alongside Mister Barry (‘The Persuaders’ also included here).
    A gem.

  13. mikenicholson says:

    And good to see ‘Who’, that most strangely British of cultural icons, get a rare mention here, on what is a most strangely British cultural blog, by the way.

  14. Steve says:

    I wish I COULD use music as background for tasks. I don’t know if this happens to other composers/multi-instrumentalists, but music will NOT stay in the background for me. It invariably jumps into the foreground, even when I’m watching movies. My wife has been known to smack me for comments like “God, tune that guitar!” or, “What the hell kind of a chord change was THAT??” Not that my comments are always negative, far from it….but I often end up losing track of the story, because I become absorbed in the music for good or ill.
    *Sigh* It’s a curse.

  15. Martin W says:

    Having worked with music on for years I’m coming round to soundtracks: a couple of good ones are with Clint Mansell’s for “Moon” and Nick Cave/Warren Ellis for “The Proposition”.

  16. J. Folgard says:

    I’ve been enjoying Doctor Who since its return in 2005 (already!) and, having watched several episodes three or four times, it’s amazing how Gold’s music sometimes “sells” entire scenes that would be rather clunky without it.

  17. Soundtracks seem to have been as important to my upbringing as pop and rock music, or any other genre. My elder brother and I would buy movie and TV scores and devour them. I agree totally regarding Murray Gold’s music, which is incredibly emotive.

    Also, Mike Nicholson is quite correct – the 60’s themes really have something. Aside from a few examples, Doctor Who among them (mainly because the theme is as iconic as the show itself), most theme tunes seem rather too oblique. While I loved The X-Files, I blame it for taking away the interest for a “proper” theme tune.

    I mean, is The Avengers theme not one of the best pieces of music ever written for TV?

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