Star Trek – Live in Concert at The Royal Albert Hall

Star Trek at the Royal Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall in London is one of the world’s iconic music venues and recently they have been screening films in front of an orchestra.

Last week they screened Gladiator (2000) with Lisa Gerrard providing live vocals, and in the following days they showed J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), with the 21st Century Orchestra.

As the lights dimmed Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the current iteration of the long running sci-fi franchise, walked on stage and the crowd went suitably wild.

It wasn’t just sci-fi geeks wearing Star Trek tops getting excited, but a more mixed crowd that saw film fans of all ages. (Although the conductor came out for the second half of the concert wearing a yellow James T. Kirk top!)

This perhaps being a reflection of how Abrams’ latest films have refreshed the long running saga for a mainstream audience whilst honouring the traditions set down by Gene Rodenberry’s TV in the 1960s and the subsequent spin-offs.

Although these kind of musical events have been done before, they seem to be part of a new kind of theatrical experience which is seeks to get people back into cinemas in different ways.

I had never experienced a ‘live-to-score’ screening before and it was quite something to behold: wonderful sound, a huge screen and an iconic venue all made for an absorbing night.

It helped that the venue was sold out (and not just by Star Trek fans) and there was a good atmosphere, but it was also interesting to observe the musicians from the 21st Century Orchestra playing their instruments in-sync with the movie.

At times, it was difficult to decide what to watch: the film unfolding on screen or the musicians playing beneath them.

Ultimately, a mixture of the two was probably what I ended up doing, but it was a tribute to the musicianship of the orchestra that it was perfectly in sync, as there was no margin for error.

There was the added treat of introduction from Simon Pegg (Scotty), Michael Giacchino (composer) and J.J. Abrams (director), the latter getting a particularly large round of applause as he had just come from the set of his latest film (which also has the word ‘Star’ in the title).

Perhaps J.J. might be back sometime for a live to screening of that, but in the meantime I’d love to see Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), whose climax famously takes place at the Albert Hall.

How cool would that be?

> Royal Albert Hall and YouTube channel
> Star Trek (2009) at Wikipedia

Inspirational Movie Music

What is the secret of inspirational movie music?

By inspirational, I mean the kind of music traditionally used to salute artists who have inspired audiences and other artists.

Watching the Oscars last night, this struck me during the In Memoriam sequence and the ‘what-do-movies-mean-to-you’ segments.

Part of the reason cinema has traditionally been a superior medium to television is the immersive experience in an auditorium.

It accentuates not only the sound design of the film but also the musical choices of the director.

Although the effect is reduced at home in front of your TV (or computer) the same principles are at work.

But how do they work?

Composer Hans Zimmer briefly touches upon the subject in this interview about his early career, when he discusses the rise of MTV, how he got his break in Hollywood [interview starts about 0:30]:

When we listen to music our brains instantly detect a mood, which makes it appear effortless or easy.

But is actually precisely the opposite, as the composer or director are always skating on very thin ice as they risk the danger of sentimental cliche at any moment.

Such a moment can ruin a sequence, which is especially apparent in a film when the final audio and visual mix blends so many key elements together.

I’ve written before about frequently used trailer cues and, though they often get overused, there is a reason they were popular in the first place.

What’s interesting is that these pieces of music don’t necessarily have to be in great movies.

Last night I saw this tweet about music that was playing during one of the Oscar montages:

Although I saw Hoffa (1992) when it came out, for some reason it rarely gets played on UK television.

I remember it as an interesting, rather than a great movie, but listening to David Newman‘s score again I realised that there was something about it that fits neatly into a tribute segment.

His brother Thomas Newman is also a noted film composer and he too had a piece of music used in a montage last night.

It was from Meet Joe Black (1998) – a passion project for director Martin Brest that is now remembered as a costly 3-hour indulgence.

But although it is by no means a masterpiece, Thomas Newman’s score is magical, hitting emotional buttons all over the place.

Likewise, I’ve heard cues from Newman’s scores for Road to Perdition (2002) and Finding Nemo (2003) crop up on television, often in factual programming that needs a bit of a musical lift, which have his signature blend of melodies and instrumentation.

Similarly Carter Burwell’s main theme for Miller’s Crossing (1990) is another piece of music that provokes an instant mood, which is probably why it was used on the trailer for The Shawshank Redemption (1994).

Although it didn’t do that film’s theatrical prospects much good – it was only later that it became a hit on VHS and TV – you can see the marketing folk at Castle Rock chose it.

Then there are pieces of film music that live in through influence.

One of the most indelible scores of the last twenty years is Hans Zimmer’s work for Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998).

The track ‘Journey to the Line’ somehow manages to capture the epic dread, excitement and adrenaline rush of men about to kill each other.

But like a lot of music used in Malick movies, somehow goes beyond that to a state of ecstasy that is hard to pin down.

Not only have I heard it pop up on television occasionally, but Harry Escott’s opening musical theme to Shame (2011) appears to be heavily influenced by it. (It also features in the trailer).

Zimmer repeated the soaring strings – albeit with a heavy does of electronic elements – for his remarkable score to Inception (2010).

You can see why Nolan – a huge Malick fan – went to the same man who composed that poetic war movie.

The combination of strings, brass and slow-burn build up pays off brilliantly.

Which brings us back to last night’s Oscars ceremony as another piece of music used in the montage ‘what-makes-movies-great’ segments was Mychael Danna’s score to Moneyball (2011).

Not only was this my personal favourite of last year, I suspect that it is going to become a fixture with TV companies looking to add inspiration to their coverage of the forthcoming Olympics or various other supporting events.

Not only does it sound like a cross between Philip Glass and the aforementioned Thomas Newman, but it doesn’t fall into the trap of overkill.

As a commenter on YouTube puts it:

“the progression and growing intensity in this piece rouse feelings of tremendous achievement, glorious victory, energized accomplishment…”

Which is ironic because Moneyball reflects the bitter-sweet nature of Billy Beane‘s career – whilst his ideas conquered Major League Baseball, his team did not.

In fact, his turning down the chance to manage the Boston Red Sox in 2002 – on the brink of their fairytale redemption in the 2004 World Series – gives the film a fascinating ‘if only’ quality.

But then that is arguably a strength of the film is that it focuses on the power of ideas (specifically on-base percentage) rather than luck or phoney sports movie clichés.

The score reflects this by always holding back on a big flourish – some of the pieces are under 2 minutes – so maybe that’s partly what’s so effective about it.

In his fascinating book Music and the Mind, Anthony Storr says:

“Absence of external association makes music unique among the arts”

Whilst this is true of music generally, it does not apply to film music as it is precisely about the external association of sounds with the image we see on screen.

There are differences between music specifically scored for a film and use of pre-existing pieces (maybe the subject of another post) but it the question still remains as to why it affects our emotions in this way.

It is hard to write down or even talk about the precise effect film music has on us, so I asked Twitter users earlier what music they found ‘inspirational’ (not a perfect word, but it is indicative of a certain mood) and they suggested the following.

Kelli Marshall suggested the opening theme to Chariots of Fire (1981) – note the mix of 80s synths, classical piano and the serious amount of smoking in the video.

Another user suggested:

‘most of Sergio Leone’s films’

Can you imagine the climax from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) without Ennio Morricone’s iconic score?

[Spoiler alert, obviously]

It is worth noting that this is Quentin Tarantino’s favourite movie scene of all time, which is interesting that such a master of dialogue should fall for a wordless sequence – but then maybe that’s what he admires about it.

What would be you inspirational music of choice?

>; Film Music at Wikipedia
>; Frequently Used Trailer Cues
>; Buy Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr from Amazon UK

84th Academy Awards: Original Score

This category is notable for seeing the double nomination of John Williams  – although an Academy favourite it is very unusual to have two projects compete in the same year.

THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN (John Williams)

John Williams has two scores in the race this year and his score for Tin Tin is was his first new film material since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

You can also listen to samples of the score over at Paramount’s official awards site.

THE ARTIST (Ludovic Bource)

The film’s score was composed by Ludovic Bource and recorded by Brussels Philharmonic and conducted by Ernst Van Tiel.

Here is a 30 minute interview Bource did with David Poland:

Only one song (with lyrics) used in the soundtrack, “Pennies from Heaven”, sung by Rose “Chi-Chi” Murphy.

The Weinstein Company are streaming the score here at their official awards site.

HUGO (Howard Shore)

This is the sixth collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Howard Shore. Like the film, Shore’s score is a love letter both to French culture of the 1930s and to the pioneers of early cinema.

Shore’s music is composed for two ensembles, inside a full symphony orchestra resides a smaller ensemble, a sort of nimble French dance band that includes the ondes Martenot, musette, cimbalom, tack piano, gypsy guitar, upright bass, a 1930s trap-kit, and alto saxophone. “I wanted to match the depth of the sound to the depth of the image” says Shore.

Paramount are streaming samples of the score at their awards site and you can buy it from Amazon or iTunes.

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Alberto Iglesias)

Although probably best known for his work with Pedro Almodovar, Iglesias was recruited by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson for this John Le Carre adaptation.

Focus Features are streaming samples of the score at their official awards site.

WAR HORSE (John Williams)

The second score Williams has in the running this year, is for his other Spielberg movie, an adaptation of the Michael Morpurgo children’s book.

The Wall Street Journal have a short video feature on Williams.

Official Oscar site
Explore past winners of Best Original Score at Wikipedia

84th Academy Awards: Original Song

There’s only two contenders up for original song this year, and both are from family movies.

MAN OR MUPPET from THE MUPPETS (Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie)

This song was used as the official music video for the film and was performed by Jason Segel and Walter the muppet.

The Muppets Original Soundtrack available on Walt Disney Records and more information is on their official site.

You can also download the sheet music and read an Observer profile on Jason Segel here.

REAL IN RIO from RIO (Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown / Lyric by Siedah Garrett)

In the film, this song is divided in two parts: the first is played in the opening sequence and the second is sung in the penultimate  scene of the film. (On the soundtrack, the song is complete).

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have made the full track officially available, so I’ve included the promotional 2 minute clip that the studio released on YouTube back in the Spring.

The official website for Rio is here and you can download the score from the iTunes store here.

Official Oscar site
> Explore past winners of Best Original Song at Wikipedia