Hidden People, Episode 2

Here is a link to Chris Burnside’s post about episode 2 (‘The Ant Farm’) and here is where you can hear it.

Much of this one is about discovering more about the relationships between the characters. I agree with Chris that the writing and acting are both very good. For example, I actually found myself feeling slightly embarrassed for Nissa, Alfie and Mackenna, watching through Shaylee’s eyes as Alfie (and, to a lesser extent, Nissa) ‘perform’ for her, trying to win her – and what they perceive as her ‘coolness’ – over.

As a post-production person, I listen to dialogue many, many, many times, so I get to pick up on every nuance, every inflection. And then make our background goings-on start to pulse with it.

Apart from two significant scenes, this has been my job in this episode.  The spaces the characters are in allow for a bit of first-person perspective – for example, filtering the music and chat for a closed bathroom door (at 6:56) allows us to feel we are seeing the cafe with Shaylee, observing the interpersonal dynamics, which prepares us for the next chunk of dialogue. This hopefully invites the audience to step outside of of the friendship and look in a more objective way too. It’s sooooo subtle, this stuff, and may not always have a big impact, but as my friend Maria said, “I had no idea how much you manipulate us”!

With all the time spent in cafes and bars this week, I have had to write no less than five pieces of diegetic music! However, that too has been a useful subtle tool, tailing the dialogue like a private investigator stalking a subject. Where, for example, does the rhythm section go temporarily when Alfie makes a particularly wild joke speculation…?

One last observation on my side of things, the final scene has the background rumble of a night time city ambiance. I really, really enjoyed making the score rise out of the tone of the city, like a demon rising out of the earth, obliterating the city temporarily then subsiding back into it. More opportunities for degrees of reality, as well as emotions, to be reflected in the soundscape.

Hittin’ the Airwaves!

I was on London Arts radio station Resonance FM yesterday, talking to fellow creative Jude Cowan Montague about personal stories, sound and music for audio media, layers of meaning in sound, her graphic novels and the unique function of memory, the Women Composers Collective and more!

It was really interesting to talk to Jude and hear my music played live on air, so I hope you’ll have a listen.

The News Agents, 23/02/19 – Personal Stories in Music

Introvert pose

The Hidden People

Take a listen to the first episode of this audio drama from Dayton Writers Movement!

The Hidden People

I am on the crew as composer and sound designer and have found it to be quite the playground to explore my fascination with all things first-person perspective. The story would, I think, genuinely justify the generally overused description of ‘epic’, as you will find if you stick with it.

As the releases continue, I would like to talk a bit about how aspects of this particular bit of work have been so conducive to developing my practice and my interests.

These include:

  • The nature of the story.
  • The remarkably trusting and permissive directors, letting me knock myself out playing sound games with their cherished and long-developed project, while also directing most helpfully, often pulling me back out of the conceptual sound design rabbit hole and helping me to keep it comprehensible!
  • The very medium of audio drama itself, with its intimacy and particular ability to inhabit that trans-diegetic sound world – the interesting place somewhere between sounds that could be heard by the characters in the story and sounds (usually music or voice-over) that comment or interpret outside of the story .

This first episode dwells a little on what is real and what is not. In a couple of scenes in particular I have had a bit of fun smudging and blurring sounds that are real, or symbolically real, or inside characters’s heads, or representing emotions, or may just be in all or none of these places!

Where does music stop and the dull drone of a car engine start? And does that car engine know what the characters are feeling, as its ebb and flow seems to reflect their thoughts? Is that an eerie hunting call, or was it just that high wind?

Early on, you will hear two pieces of diegetic music that also slightly respond to the story and blur those lines further.

The underscore uses bits of repeated and continually developed thematic material (vaguely in the Leitmotif tradition).  As I need to arc my thoughts over 22 episodes, this has been very useful for helping me develop a coherent strategy.

The other major theme in this episode is a group of characters physically together but mentally very much apart. In this episode you will have musical material introduced to you representing one character’s depressed solitude, another character’s simple grief, the first step into a mystery, and something a bit more sinister………


Women in the field

Slightly reluctantly, I found myself investigating women in sound and music for audio-visual media, as a university assignment.

I say reluctant, as these discussions of low representation – and why it’s low – always make me feel a bit scrutinised and defensive, being a woman myself.

I come up against the ‘boys and girls are just different’ thing again and again whenever the subject is approached, and deep down the (unintended) message registers that having two x chromosomes means I don’t naturally belong in this world.

And although this is surely not what people intend, some small voice in me also wonders whether I will have the natural gifts of my male peers – or perhaps that I’m some kind of freak if I do get into it!  I also have this nagging sense that if I am not instantly amazing at the work, I confirm in people’s minds that it’s not a girl’s game, rather than just thinking “ah well, on with the learning”.

I know, I know, it is ridiculous…!  I’m at liberty to pursue whatever career interests me, even if it is a highly competitive world dominated by the xy types.  But whenever you’re a minority in anything, it is impossible just to be yourself doing the work, no matter what people will say.  Whatever it is that makes you different is also visible.

However, things became a bit more positive as I went on.  I have had some fascinating and – actually – very encouraging interactions as a result of this work, and plan to extend it a little for my own interest.

I enjoyed my communications with Caro Churchill of the Delia Derbyshire Day charity based in Manchester, who has been privately sharing her experiences of teaching electronic music in primary and secondary schools and introduced me to the project Female Pressure.  She firmly believes that visibility is the key, that girls see women working in electronic music and draw their own conclusions.

Caro pointed out that Delia Derbyshire herself said “Women are good at sound and the reason is that they have the ability to interpret what the producer wants, they can read between the lines and get through to them (the producers) as a person. Women are good at abstract stuff, they have sensitivity and good communication. They have the intricacy – for tape cutting, which is a very delicate job you know….”  See here for the interview the quote came from!

I received a very supportive message from the good people of Spitfire Audio.

I have had some really interesting, nuanced answers from Dr Andy Hill, writer, film music scholar, former senior music supervisor for Disney and teacher of some very well-known names, about the culture in the entertainment business and to what extent it holds women back.

I had a fascinating chat with Donna Lynas of Wysing Arts Centre, a thriving ‘arts research’ hub that has a particular focus on being a platform for the less heard voices.

Many people are interested and concerned about this issue, this is quite clear; I think change is eminently possible.

Uni wanted a 13-minute video essay and I was under severe time constraints (both in terms of time allowed for the work and video length).  This meant that I was not able to include the breadth of content I wished to, nor to make the video as slick and professional as I would have liked.

I may yet make a longer version, with more input from other people in the field and maybe with a score by myself and/or other women. I’m still in conversation with quite a few people about that.

It also led to a new Facebook community after I privately shared it with some online peers, ‘Women Composers’ Collective,’ which has been fantastic – bringing together lots of hyper-creative women from all sorts of different areas of sound and music making!

This was a bit of a personal journey too, then, given that I began the process reluctantly!

For the time being, here is what I have produced so far:


Ideas #1



I’m going to write some posts about personal projects.

I’ve been undertaking lots of work lately for other people, or for my master’s degree course, which has been incredibly valuable for learning and establishing working relationships with other creative producers.

Because of this, my own areas of interest, as explored right here in this blog, have been slightly shelved during this time, even if the other projects feed into ideas and technical skills – so I felt it would be helpful to articulate some of what I want to have a go at, to ensure the ideas don’t ‘drift‘.

I have been thinking on about sensory subjectivity and autism, which continues to interest me, as at the heart of it, really, is the same old question ‘what is consciousness?’ (I just started reading this book, which promises to look askance at the same question, from a different perspective, and might fuel some interesting ideas for further work, though I note the reader reviews are pretty mixed.)

I had an online conversation with an autistic adult a few years ago, during which he told me a little of his childhood.  He was saying that his parents used to worry like crazy about what looked to them like a cognitive absence as he was visually ‘stimming’.  He wished to reassure other parents of children with autism that it is OK, the stimming is a useful thing, that autistic children will turn into interesting, capable autistic adults, but that they must be allowed to regulate their sensory processes.  It was a very kind comment.  But it was the description of what stimming looked and felt like that captured me.  He said that if he stared long enough at certain patterns, they took on a kind of iridescent quality that eventually pulled him into a peaceful, beautiful landscape, a place of mental repose for him – and also a source of delight.

One idea for a final major project for the degree is to produce my own animation, a highly-coloured artistic representation of this effect, and an accompanying sound-world that draws in natural sounds and transforms them, to try and replicate the neurological journey.  It would be flanked by two monochrome sections where a parent is trying and failing to engage a child in communication, failing to see that the child is clearly communicating that s/he needs right now to be doing exactly what s/he is doing and that this is no cause for sadness.

I was put in contact by a mutual friend with American artist Angela Weddle, who produced this digital sketch for me, from her own projection of what such a world might ‘feel’ like, drawing partly on her own experience.

Here is a video showing how the image was built:

And here is the finished image:

Spinning Tops A Weddle

As I am keen to be involved in producing the animation as far as my limited visual creative prowess allows, I am doing my best not to anticipate how it will sound too early in the process, tempting though it is!  But I already known the incremental layering of strands seen here must be present in the soundtrack, and that it must use the naturally occurring sound design and Foley with added sounds representing the child’s own internal processes, in order to present the child’s entire neural construct of the world, with all the elements that build it.

I’ll keep you posted on this work!

Charity Films #2

The Charity Film Awards

Following on from this post, I’ve been going through some of these short films and noting any trends.  There is a bit of variety and one or two of them do some more interesting things.  Here’s a few I picked out.

The Shout

I was impressed enough with the use of sound and the choice and editing of music in this one to contact the production company, who have been very friendly and referred me on to the composer and an editor they recommend.  I really like the opening with acousmatic wave sounds against the title on a black bacground, introducing the sense of danger and power in the sea at night and immediately drawing us in.  I think the choice of music works well to get the heartbeat going – even, maybe, simulating heartbeat.  Ben Winters’ article in the journal Music, Sound and the Moving Image, Corporeality, Musical Heartbeats, and Cinematic Emotion explores this phenomenon in a very interesting way. (Winters 2008)

In addition, the way the ‘story’ the interviewees tell is structured and punctuated by the editing of the music.  Sound design and foley also brought us closer to the ‘action’ in our bodies.  It had me imagining what it is like to work as a volunteer in sea rescue and got my pulse raised as a result (while sitting in my cozy living room with a cup of tea…).


Found Something

This is an awareness video for men, who, it is well known, find it harder than women do to discuss physical problems or to visit the doctor, especially if they are of an intimate nature.  The orgnisation use a light, colloquial tone (you know, that ‘laddish’ thing…) and humour as a way to broach the subject of being aware of testicular changes.

No music is used in here – which I think is a good choice, personally; it replicates the casual, ‘down the pub’ kind of mood and keeps the soundtrack clean, neutral and unthreatened by anything remotely resembling ‘suspicious’ subtext.

The two choices they do make are the choice of the narrator – someone who, by his accent and delivery of the matching script,  could be someone we, the audience, know personally – and colourful, slightly comedic sound effects throughout to enhance key moments in the animation, a key part of the identity of the film.


What seems to be the typical model in this genre?

Many of the films’ soundtracks were simply confined to edited interviews or voice-overs with some very generic ‘background’ music behind them.  This music is generally looped figures in a major key, not more than four chords, extremely repetitive, typically featuring piano and perhaps sustained synths or strings behind it, maybe a little light percussion – drum kit or higher-pitched instruments on repeated ostinati.  So it is extremely generic, ‘feel good’, and the definition of wallpaper music.  If a more sombre mood is required, then simple, three-four chord ’emotional piano’ is often used.

Here’s a good example of a bland underscore:

And here is one where pure interview + ’emotional piano’ + strings is used, and in this case I think it is absolutely right for the subject matter.  It actually made me a bit teary, so it did its job.

I think we have to be careful in this genre not to let our egos intervene too much or to look like we’re trying to manipulate anyone.  However, equally, these films are competing for attention on social media.  So I wonder if the soundtracks could be a bit more innovative sometimes.  This is something I would like to look into further.

(1) Winters, B., 2008. Corporeality, Musical Heartbeats, and Cinematic Emotion. Music, Sound, and the Moving Image 2, 3–25.

Practice to Research and Back Again…

What is my methodology?

The question of ‘methodology’ has been exercising me a little since it was discussed in lectures. I often feel that in my work, scoring, or sound-sculpting, the approach is something I invent to meet the needs of the project each time.

For example, currently I am scoring an audio play for Pulp Pourri Theatre called The Bird and the Snake. It is an adaptation of a story set in the Polish community in 1950s Chicago and is in the ‘noir crime’ tradition. The producer specified seedy jazz (it is a dark story involving sexual exploitation) but I wanted to hint at Polish heritage in the scoring too.

I have produced a series of short sketches with a combination of punchy, uneasy big band for the main theme which can be reduced to tense walking bass or small jazz combo for underscoring, and also Polish traditional music to mark the all-seeing mother of the cop who is telling the story, which can be reduced to just accordion as required for quiet underscore. The harmonic structure is written in such a way that all the themes could be linked and combined, so we might have the mother’s music on a fiddle against the Chicago music in the piano, for example.  Here, the final scene, as the son considers his mother’s unique wisdom, segues back into an (even more!) energised version of the theme for the end credits:

I have done all of this in advance of receiving the final audio file from the producer.  I’ve read the script and the producer has approved the main theme already, but I will not find out exactly how to slot in my work, or whether any different material is needed, until I hear the final take from the rest of the team, at which point I will be expected to add my music in a matter of days.

Clearly, this way of working – adaptive, flexible – is very different from how I wrote the choral piece from first principles (discussed here) or how we have been carefully sculpting the sound design for the ‘Intruders’ short film assignment in our studies.

Scoring is by its nature rather a responsive process. There is much creativity involved, but what I love about it is the way it pulls you deep into other people’s visions and lets you discover along with them what the voice of a piece sounds like. There is an element of translation in it, as well as adding to the material. We always end up in our Digital Audio Workstation, pulling together audio files and/or MIDI, but where and how we start building can vary hugely. If conventional music is needed, I find I often have to start at the piano and then transfer over to the DAW for best results. But if it is more experimental, as it is here, working from timbre and texture upwards, then there can be a process of ‘uncovering’ what emerges from sonic play.

Research Practice

Regarding my reading, listening and viewing, I feel I have approached the subject of empathy and world-view in a way that is closer to the ‘sonic experiment’ model: I have cast my net wide, assimilating neurology, sociology and psychology as well as musicology, film studies, more general film music aesthetics and finally honing in on the scholars like Karen Collins, Robynn Stilwell and Ben Winters who are grappling with the issues I wish to explore within the context of soundtrack.
From these multi-disciplinary meanderings a picture begins to emerge of sound as a sense deeply and inextricably entwined with the psyche, emerging from the very beginnings of consciousness (Webb et al 2015), that interacts with and influences the areas of our brain responsible for primal reactions and dreaming, subconscious and intuitive thought (Stilwell 2005), that can produce instant associations with times in our lives (Cizmic 2015) and that the experience of hearing is very, very subjective and influenced by our neurological make-up (DePape et al 2012).

I have begun to explore work that deliberately sets out to portray subjective experienceindoctrinate or influence (dangerous and immoral though it may be) and/or engender empathetic reactions, and noted technical or conceptual devices that may be useful in the future for my own work as I go.

Perhaps the one method of examining the subjects that I can apply to all these paths of discovery is semiotics: it seems to be in my nature to look for meaning in things, and I automatically find myself seeking out the elements than can reveal meaning.

I am looking to where to apply all this constantly in my own work.  I am in the early stages of talking about making a short film for the charity I helped found, Herts Welcomes Syrian Familes, about how the organisation came about, what they achieved and perhaps telling some of the stories of refugees who now live in Herts because of HWSF.  This should be a really exciting project for me, where I can really start to make use of some of what I am observing and pondering.

Webb, A.R., Heller, H.T., Benson, C.B., Lahav, A., 2015. Mother’s voice and heartbeat sounds elicit auditory plasticity in the human brain before full gestation. PNAS 112, 3152–3157. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1414924112

Stilwell, R.J., 2005. Sound and Empathy: Subjectivity, Gender and the Cinematic Soundscape, in: Screen Methods Comparative Readings in Film Studies Ed.Furby, J. and Randell, K. Wallflower Press, London, pp. 48–58.

Cizmic, M., 2015. The Vicissitudes of Listening: Music, Empathy, and Escape in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves. Music, Sound and the Moving Image; Liverpool 9, 1–32,98.

DePape, A.-M.R., Hall, G.B.C., Tillmann, B., Trainor, L.J., 2012. Auditory Processing in High-Functioning Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder. PLOS ONE 7, e44084. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0044084


Soundtrack and Indoctrination

A friend who is passionate about gay rights drew my attention to this cartoon by the American Jehova’s Witnesses:

I think my friend was inviting me to join him in abusing this piece of child indoctrination, and was therefore quite surprised when I came back with “mind if I analyse the soundtrack?”

Through my explorations in this blog, I have become even more fully aware of the potency of sound in an audio-visual context to reach beyond the the conscious, cognitive understanding and manipulate us at a deeper level.

I have not engaged in much musicological discussion yet, as this is an area with which I have been more familiar for longer than sound design and so there would be less in the way of discovery.  However, of course, ‘non-diegetic’ music is a very powerful tool of influence on any audience.  It seemed to work a treat on several people I know in ‘Brexit: the movie.’

Take a look at the first few minutes and listen to the portentous, cinematic music – drawing heavily on musical tropes conventionally aligned with heroism in Hollywood – underscoring the ‘ordinary people’ speaking of overthrowing the ‘undemocratic’ European Union:

  • repeated, rhythmic string ostinati,
  • sustained brass melodies,
  • tonic pedal bass,
  • use of minor mode,
  • regular use of suspension generating tension as well as the illusion of musical propulsion in a tonally static context,
  • emphatic percussion hits, swells and ‘rises’ (I notice a particularly ‘foregrounded’ hit following a big swell at the end of the introduction at 2:29, synced with the animated title text, which interestingly drew my attention to the similarities between the logo, with the arrow emerging from the ‘x’ in Brexit, to the male symbol… what is it about masculinity that we being invited to associate this message with…? but I digress!).

Film composer Robin Hoffmann, who produces an ongoing advice series on various aspects of of the job, has discussed this very topic.  He says:

‘Remember that music has the power to manipulate emotionally and therefore alter the perception and eventually opinion of the audience. Very often this happens even on a subconscious level for the audience. This is why music has and is being used extensively on propaganda movies. So, while this can be a great tool, it also puts a bit of responsibility on the composer’s shoulders. As long as things stay fictional, such manipulation is often wanted and sometimes even necessary to “sell” the exotic locations/worlds sometimes depicted in fictional movies to the audience. But as soon as you’re scratching the surface of scoring real life events, especially on socially critical or political documentaries, you should radically tone down anything emotionally manipulative…’ (Hoffmann 2017)

The full piece, which is an interesting read, can be found here on March 14th 2017.

Anyway, back to the Jehova’s Witnesses.

The first thing we hear is the muted sound of children playing.  We hear it over the titles, giving us the subject of the ‘lesson’.  Then we see the little girl alone in a classroom, looking at the children’s drawings.  The sound of the children is distant and outside and she is inside – our very first message.  There is an outside world; it is separate and apart from the characters in this little story, the ones ‘privileged ‘ to be in ‘Jehova’s Kingdom’.  We never see it.  But inside, the girl is free safely to interrogate ideas presented to her by this other place.

Next we see the picture of the ‘two mummies’.  What do we hear immediately afterwards?  The school bell.  Now we do know that it is a school bell, but the sound is also redolent of an alarm.  There is a subtle hint about what we are supposed to think of the two mummies here.  It is timed to accompany the look of uncertainty and discomfort on the girl’s face.

The next sound is home.  Mum is clearly an artist.  Home is peaceful and industrious; we hear the sound of creativity as the girl arrives home (a fruitful place of creation – or Creation? – which by drawing ‘appropriate’ pictures herself she, the girl, shows she is being trained to belong to).

When the girl says “Kerry drew two mummies,” there is a fraction of a second of silence, the first silence we have heard, drawing our attention to the words.

There is no diegetic sound under this whole dialogue.  Sonically, the space is being cleared for the key point, “But what matters, is how Jehova feels.” (0:44).  And this moment is where the non-diegetic musical score finally begins.  (Is it non-diegetic?  Or is it the music of heaven found with the discussions of the woman and girl?  We shall see!)

The music, the organised, pleasing, regular sound, is clearly deemed to be Jehova‘s.  All the random, unstructured foley sound heard up until this point, happening as a by-product of human activity, is, by contrast, meant to be heard as ‘of this world’.

We have a brief moment of a held G played by strings, then a slight swell, as mum picks up the Bible at 0:43.  The music is anticipating something – and it turns out that this G is the dominant note, resolving into C major as the book is opened and we are transported into ‘Jehova’s’ world.  It underlines the change of visuals too, as the colour turns from grey to warm, sunset colours.

The music is played on flutes and strings: sweet, triadic, a descending sequential chain of suspensions leading to a settled place.  There is a fair bit of alternation between chords I and IV – the ‘amen’ function, if you like, and a movement that keeps the music stable within its key.

Note that the flute melody peaks at 1:01.  This is where the mother says the words “male and female” with some emphasis on those words.  A powerful bit of semiotics in this scoring here, making full use of the psychology of melodic structure; the anticipation and realisation of expectations as the arc of the melody crests provide something that feels like an answer to a question.

The music is very much in what I think of as an ‘American pastoral’ tradition.  In Hollywood soundtrack, this gentle, consonant, orchestral sound is so often heard with panoramic agricultural landscapes featuring warm sunlight and expanses of fertile land, or reminiscence, or stirring messages in the dialogue or voice-over.  We can roughly trace the musical language back to some of Aaron Copland’s most iconic work (Appalachian Spring may be the best known).  In my opinion, the USA has a markedly patriotic culture as a whole, and there is a tendency to associate that which is American with that which is wholesome in their mainstream cultural output.

The foley sound in this section reinforces the pastoral musical hints – we hear birdsong, burbling streams, things associated with that which is natural.  Can we infer an indirect comparison with what is not deemed to be natural here: a family built from a lesbian relationship?  Again, the subtlety of this message bypasses conscious thought potentially and, although the tone of this cartoon at face value might be thought to be measured, the subtext diving straight into the subconscious of the young viewer seems pretty extreme to me.

Now, this sound-design layer of the soundtrack gives us a little foreshadowing of the next part of the message.  While the sweet, pastoral music continues along its bland way into the airport images, the sounds above it turn to less appealing, man-made ones.  Straight away as a viewer I felt less comfortable.

This leads into the next bit of their message.  The things that you want to ‘take onto the plane’ that are ‘not allowed’.  As the man carrying the (red!) bag full of forbidden items steps through the airport scanning machine, the alarm starts (1:19) and the soothing music stops.  The girl’s voice, heard for the first time since mum started her ‘lesson’, says in a high pitch “he can’t go on the trip!” – the change in voice and in tone emphasises this plunging into a new soundworld.  The flashing lights (that lack any realism in a straight analogy with the airport!) are also red, like the bag.  The colour of danger, of fire, of blood.  The jerk of the effect is all the more enhanced for having been preceded by a minute or so of bland c major flute, harp and string underscore.

The ‘Jehova’ music returns almost immediately as we are reassured that Jehova wants us to be his friends and live with him “for ever“.  There is an interesting little bit of sound design in this next sequence (1:33-1:34).  As the camera pulls backwards over the heavenly hills back to the man with the offending red bag, there are two ‘swoosh’ noises to coincide with cresting the hills.  It is a sound of power and could possibly be intended to imply that Jehova (who wants us to make it to his paradise, it has just been stated) is now transporting us back to this gateway.  The gateway is situated this time within the natural, ‘paradise,’ scenes, which lays the analogy bare.  The ‘swoosh’ happens again as the camera zooms in on the errant man, as though Jehova is focusing his attention on him – and we see him, of course, consulting a Bible!

At 1:43 the scene returns to the present reality of home, and mum talking.  Nonetheless, the ‘paradise’ music remains.  Mum is saying “that means anything that Jehova doesn’t approve of.”  She is bringing the heavenly message into our world, the music is saying, with her refusal to accept homosexuality as legitimate.

Then, at 1:46 the man dumps his bag of ‘disapproved of’ things and there is a satisfying foley representation of the bag landing, before a glittering Mark Tree welcomes him to paradise.  These tinkles are magical sound, in Hollywood tradition, and are heard often in the Romance genre when the moment of resolution in the form of a kiss arrives.  The union of God and his children has long been spoken of using a marriage analogy; the Church as the ‘Bride of Christ’ is familar to most Christians.  The ‘magic’ tinkles of the Mark Tree are also commonly heard in Christmas movies when a child’s dreams are made true for us in moving picture form.

Thereafter, we return to the here and now – home.  The girl wants “everyone to get to Paradise” and “so does Jehova”.  Now the underscoring changes to another familiar Hollywood style.  It is gently busy and there is internal emphasis of the rhythm.  The texture in the orchestration is light and playful but still fuller, using pizzicato cellos, glockenspiel and clarinet.  Now we are purposeful: this kind of style is usually used in Romantic Comedy to accompany a narrative moving on, a goal has been established.  Often in Hollywood, we see people at work towards something positive when we hear this sound.

The composer employs harmonies that give a flavour of Mixolydian: 2 bars of dominant chord are followed by two bars repeating the melody sequentially, but springing up to the chord of the flat 7th.  The effect of this progression is friendly, and like moving up steps towards a goal.

What is the goal?  At 1:58 mum ask “what can you say to Kerry?”  The clarinet plays a little melodic sequence, taken up by other wind:

The Tune!

Again, both the structure of this melody, based on the neutral intervals of major 2nds and perfect 4ths and 5ths, and the choice of orchestration, remind me of Copland in nationalistic mode – the wide open perfect intervals like the stretching of the American plains.  They are, more obviously, reaching up towards heaven as the girl makes her plan to tell Kerry that she must reject her home and parents (essentially!).

A cute little tune, a bit like an advertising jingle, concludes the cartoon, as mum says “That’s awesome! Let’s practise!” and we conclude in C major with an added 6th.  The added 6th to me is the most static of the blue notes, as it has no burning desire to resolve to another note.  I attribute this partly to its being a member of the pentatonic family – it sits happily with a major triad as part of that scale of five semitone-free notes that sound consonant (even heavenly!) to human ears.

Major 7ths and 9ths (even though 9ths are also in the pentatonic scale) pull towards the tonic because of their proximity to it; minor 7ths potentially destabilise by pulling down towards the submediant note and even hint at a new tonic base on the existing chord IV; the more exotic or astringent added notes, such as a #11, have even more of a dissonant tendency to imply irresolution.  But the added 6th, while it could flop down to the dominant note, sits complacent and I always think lends a self-satisfied (and distinctly ‘cheesy’) air to any harmonic world!  The ‘JW’ logo appears as it lingers.

So, all in all, there are many messages to be found if you scratch just below the surface of this soundtrack.  I think that for being insidious, this is all the more potent.

I should like to say, though it is not relevant to this discussion, that I am religious myself, but in a very different way from this group.  I should like to find an example of spiritual ideas presented in a more honest, authentic and exploratory manner in audio-visual media as a starting point for open discussion of the ‘bigger picture’ and what gives our lives meaning.  I’ll report back if I find such a thing, and take a look for contrast!

Hoffmann, R. 2017 Daily Film Scoring Bits. [online] March 14th 2017.  Available from: http://www.robin-hoffmann.com/dfsb/daily-film-scoring-bits-archive-jan-jun-2017/.  [Accessed: 26th November 2017]

Two awareness-raising short films


I have found this project by a company called Creative Connection in conjunction with an organisation called The Worldwide Tribe.

They have made two short films with two refugees, each working with the animators to tell their stories.

Changing the narrative is the aim – a problem that is exercising everyone who is in any way involved with the refugee crisis.  I have been to various summits and meetings as a founder of Herts Welcomes Syrian Families (websiteFacebook page) and this is always a topic that preoccupies us: how to help people see it from the refugees’ point of viewwhen the loudest voices in the media are tending to vilify them with insinuations, leaving some people with the impression that the majority of people fleeing war are either opportunists or malignant enemies.

I thought these films were very good indeed.  The animation is lively; it draws and holds the eye.  The stories are concisely told, imparting a lot of information in a few words – and difficult to hear, too.

Also – the most unsettling part – there is heavy use of sound, to put the viewer inside the story being told.  I understand that this is no accident now, that sound by its very nature has a quality that can slip directly under our cognitive radar and operate directly on the dreaming part of our brains.

Some devices I noted in Zeinah

The first of these two little films, for example, uses the same trick of introducing the ringing in the ears (see 0:29 in Zeinah) that Robynn Stilwell examines in her analysis of Closet Land (Stilwell 2005).   This high pitched ringing sound has to be internal, inside Zeinah, triggered by the loud bomb and violent fall.  So immediately we know that it is subjective and that we are in Zeinah’s point of audition, which brings us closer into her world.

Then when the terrible incident of her friend being shot by a sniper as they do something as ordinary as buy food for her family happens, we are already connected empathically to Zeinah, already grateful to her friend for the support she is lending and I certainly felt a pang of shock and sadness when it was described and depicted.

Another device that I thought was effective was the choice to omit  something: the trudging footsteps sound.  At the beginning, we see Zeinah on the road of exile, in the now picture of familiar line of people walking away from Syria.  But we don’t hear the footsteps then – we hear a foreshadowing of her description of what she escaped from.  Then when we see her in an ordinary domestic place, somewhere we ourselves may be, doing the same activities she describes, the incongruity is already highlighted for us: we are already thinking of danger.

The final use of sound I liked was the noises of the refugee camp lingering in our ears at the end – a story without an ending – yet…  As we lose the picture, there is an internalising, a thoughtful quality that emerges, inviting us to dwell on the distress expressed in the last piece of the monologue.  It seems to me that the message we are asked to consider by this device is ‘Why do we assume that a refugee would rather not be at home?  Why do we think that someone would rather be in a foreign land, estranged from everything familiar and comfortable, everything entwined with their own history and experience, without language skills or access to work, education or services?’

Here is the other film, Yaman:

STILLWELL, R.J., 2005. Sound and Empathy: Subjectivity, Gender and the Cinematic Soundscape, in: Screen Methods Comparative Readings. Furby, J. and Randell, K. (eds.) Wallflower Press: London, pp. 48–58.