“And then…all the noise! All the noise, noise, noise, noise! If there’s one thing I hate…all the noise, noise, noise, noise!”
– The Grinch
Okay, so this is going to go to some strange places, but stay with me. Have no fear; I’d never lead you astray…well…not terribly far anyway.
I’ve written before about the way the music can twitch your emotions and take them where it wants to. I was watching a movie last night that I’d seen before, but this time I had plugged in my trusty Bose head set to get all of the details of the sound. The first time an action scene started and the music ramped up with it was a whole different experience (good fun, too) and I started thinking about how much the addition of a score changes how we perceive what we see. It’s actually kind of funny to think about what it must have sounded like when it was filmed with nothing but the ambient sound. Heck, there’s almost no REAL sound in movies; nearly everything is added in post-production by geniuses in the Foley art. The sounds of feet, doors, punches (they don’t really go >smack<), you name it.
So I went and did some exploring. If you have a few minutes, come along for the ride. You might find it interesting. I want you to turn the sound all the way down before you click these first three links and watch the clips. Then turn it up and watch them again. None have dialogue so it’s up to the music to tell you what the “feel” should be.
How to make a weird (and really boring) sunrise into something that blows you out of the back of the theatre, heck it’s just darkness for the first 30 seconds (remember…sound off first…no cheating): https://youtu.be/e-QFj59PON4
No music? Just a guy riding a horse shooting his gun. Add a bit of overture and he’s the Masked Rider of the Plains: https://youtu.be/QCO6smQrjJ8
How to turn a nice-looking Navy recruiting film where a few guys get to fly and a lot of guys wearing earmuffs do a lot of hard work into a thrill ride: https://youtu.be/Zgl4tXO6nQQ
It appears that I’m not the only one who thought about this as there are some very creative folks who explored it really well. First a simple scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean” with a variety of different musical styles underneath it. The effect is really quite amazing: https://youtu.be/rn9V0cN4NWs
And then, my personal favorite. Back in 1984 in the “teen angst movie” era (which was mercifully short-lived) we were given “Footloose”, a fairly silly Kevin Bacon* movie about a town where dancing was outlawed and a rebel moves into town and wants to dance and there’s a fight and he gets the girl, blah blah blah. Despondent and angry (angst, remember) he drives to an abandoned warehouse, smokes a cigarette, cracks a beer and considers how bad things are (more angst, if you please). Then he throws away the nearly-full beer, which qualifies as “alcohol abuse” as far as I’m concerned, and then proceeds to dance like a madman all over the place.
If you strip out the music and add in realistic sounds that someone would make while heaving themselves around like that, the whole thing seems to be a little silly: https://youtu.be/8d7LCO3aSAE
Add the music and it’s actually a pretty cool scene. Two thumbs up to the “stunt dancer”. https://youtu.be/BtTbzsiywwQ
These days it seems hard to find some time when there ISN’T background music. There’s music behind the commercials in between the music on the radio. Every scene transition on the local news has its own little tune. Every store has something playing in the background (and I suspect that the stuff that isn’t Hawaiian has been reviewed by sales gurus and focus groups and market samples until it exists only to scream “BUY STUFF” at you).
So, as someone who MAKES music, I’d like you to try two things. First, crawl out of the din and listen to what the background music is and ask some questions. Why is it there at all? Is it just filling space? Is it supposed to be influencing you in some way? How does it fit in with or intertwine with what’s going on? You may find that you’re both impressed with how sneaky it is as well as how much it adds to an experience.
Second, go find a place with no music at all where you can just sit and let the world settle in a bit (not in your car…you have lots of other things to do in there and crashing is bad). Relax a little and listen to what the background music is inside you. As a singer, there’s a good chance there’s a tune in your head somewhere. It may not be right up front, but it’s there nonetheless. Enjoy the music that isn’t thrown at you, it’s yours. There really is a sound to the silence.
Wait…”Sound of Silence”. Isn’t that a song I heard in the mall?
* Mr. Bacon has been in somewhere around 70 (!) movies…so far. It sometimes seems to be a challenge to find one he’s NOT in. Morgan Freeman is what…100 years old?…and has only been in 10 more. Sheesh, take a vacation, brah.