The Ecstasy of Old
June 4, 2015 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Too many films are blighted by lacklustre music - Ennio Morricone Ennio Morricone, 88, asserts that contemporary soundtracks are ruined by "amateur" composers and "synthesized" sounds. Is this just attention-grabbing comments for his upcoming tour, old-school vs. new wave, grumpy curmudgeon on the porch ranting? Or does the OST for Mad Max: Fury Road suck?

What started me off was the mf Mad Max: Fury Road discussion, where Bangaioh linked to some stuff about the soundtrack. A comment by The Card Cheat reminded me of Morricone's recent comments in The Guardian, and I got to wondering -- is this the deal with so many modern movie scores?
posted by lesChaps (55 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Oh who cares. Life's too short for this petty bullshit.

The last links are GREAT, though.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:24 PM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was kinda disappointed by the OST to Pacific Rim.
posted by mikelieman at 1:26 PM on June 4, 2015

I wonder what Morricone thinks of soundtracks that are electronic as a creative choice, rather than as a cheap recreation of physical instruments.

Still bummed that he had to cancel his LA show last year.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:29 PM on June 4, 2015

These newfangled, pre-recorded, pre-synced movie soundtracks are all garbage. What happened to the good old days, when there was a live organist in every theater?
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:36 PM on June 4, 2015 [14 favorites]

Eh, lots of film scores these days are terrible schlock, and I do mourn the replacement of actual orchestra recordings with sampled instruments because of costs (a detriment to sound quality and to musician's livelihood), but there are still lots of great film scores these days. See There Will Be Blood, The Hours, Tron, Lone Survivor, and so many more. Opinions always be throwing babies out with the bathwater.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:42 PM on June 4, 2015

I simply prefer minimal soundtrack music vs. the usual garbage Hollywood spits out: "This scene is sad!" music. "This scene is redemptive!" music. "This scene is very, very scary!" music.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:42 PM on June 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

I thought Daft Punk's score for Tron Legacy was pretty good. Tangerine Dream, too, in The Keep and Risky Business.
posted by Chuffy at 1:45 PM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I thought the Fury Road score worked with the film perfectly, but I can see where The Cart Cheat is coming from. There's nothing subtle about it.

Side note: I have the theme for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as my ringtone.
posted by brundlefly at 1:45 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Tron:Legacy OST soundtrack love.

Also, I think the Mad Max OST achieved the true goal of an OST. It, in my opinion, blended well enough with everything else, it didn't really stand out to me.
posted by Samizdata at 1:47 PM on June 4, 2015

Other soundtracks I listen(ed) to pretty regularly:

The Crow
The Matrix

Vangelis wasn't terrible.
Georgio Moroder wasn't terrible.

The soundtrack for Oblivion was pretty good. I dunno...I see his point, and yet there were tons of shitty soundtracks around when he was composing amazing work for movies. Broad strokes...
posted by Chuffy at 1:48 PM on June 4, 2015

Wait, is this another Road Fury thread? ALL RIGHT.
posted by maxsparber at 1:52 PM on June 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

It's funny, I generally agree that film soundtracks have been getting pretty bland, but Fury Road's soundtrack stood out to me as the best one I've heard in years. Diegetic Doof Warrior. That is sufficient.

And then add in the orchestral style (pretty standard these days), but then layer it with lovely electronic discord? Yes please.

I was really surprised to see that Junkie XL did the score. Solid stuff.
posted by CrystalDave at 2:00 PM on June 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't even usually like electronic music and I loved the Tron soundtrack. Terrible film but great music.

Listening to the Mad Max:FR soundtrack right now, great stuff.
posted by octothorpe at 2:07 PM on June 4, 2015

Electronic music as film score can be fantastic, but so much of it is background noise and ominous tones.
Whether it's made with organic instrumentation or not, I do prefer narrative music in narrative films.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 2:11 PM on June 4, 2015

Balde Runner had a great score.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:13 PM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ennio is the master and all, but his previous missive on this matter is that Tarantino soundtracks suck so I'd take him with a grain of salt. Also it's not like a ton of movies of yesteryear haven't featured boring, generic soundtracks, even with full orchestra, or that Morricone himself is beyond self parody.
posted by Artw at 2:14 PM on June 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

As for people putting weird noises in soundtracks, Jesus, seriously dude? That's some of the best stuff you've done.
posted by Artw at 2:15 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hey! To be clear, the parts of the score I didn't like were the classical bits (I don't know if they were original or not) during the sandstorm scene and (IIRC) when they were trying to winch the War Rig out of the mud; really overwrought and seemingly going for that "awe-inspiring" vibe when something more tense/badass would have been a better fit.

That said, I generally don't have a strong opinion either way on the subject of modern-day movie scores. The only one I liked so much I went out and bought it was Alexandre Desplat's score for Birth.

Random observation; there's a great war movie score joke in Major Movie Star (no, really).
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:15 PM on June 4, 2015

I dunno, after reading TFA... I have pretty strong opinions regarding the "dumbing down" of a lot of film music into Zimmer-wannabe movie-trailer pounding and two-note motifs and reality-TV dramatic gong scrapes and embarrassingly unimaginative Pachelbel chord progressions. I often do pine for the days where Goldsmith, Williams, Horner, Debney, Poledouris, and yes, Morricone were keeping it real with imagination, fantastically inspired elaborate orchestrations, etc. That's the stuff I grew up with and it's how I learned to orchestrate, and I'm sad to see that "texture" and "BIG BOOMING HITS" have in many cases replaced intricate harmony and counterpoint.

I think people like Michael Giacchino (who started in video games working on synth orchestras, mind you) and even Alan Silvestri are doing a pretty good job of keeping that flame burning, just old-fashioned enough to have great orchestration chops, but new-school enough to embrace synthesizers and library work... but yeah, most film scores are of the "DUN dun DUN dun DUN dun DUN dun" variety, with few exceptions (like Tron, etc) and it would be nice to see that shaken up a bit.

What Mr. Morricone will never convince me of, though, is that virtual instruments and modern sample technology are anything to be dismissed, looked down upon, ashamed of. That's crazy talk.

Accessible synth and library tools have opened up an entire industry for those of us who ARE highly musically trained but not well-connected or experienced enough to summon $100k recording budgets on demand, where in past generations your ONLY HOPE of breaking in was to apprentice under -- and ghost-write for -- some douchewad A-list guy, uncredited, until you'd made a name for yourself. I have ... a bunch of friends who have gone through this, and it's filled with nepotism, misogyny, and politics. It sucks!

Democratized computer music tech has let us circumvent that whole process to an increasing degree. Especially when you're working in the indie world, where a single $20-30k investment in sample libraries and synths can last you a decade, pay for itself ten times over, and feed your dog, having access to these tools is a great thing.

Yeah, it's to our detriment as composers that our work is undervalued and we're often not paid fairly (or at all), and that our access to superior live performers is restrained by shitty budgets or lack of time/personnel. But even for A-listers, using tech consciously doesn't imply a lack of skill or musicianship, and this just seems like the old'n'busted "music made using computers isn't real music, and people who make it aren't real musicians" debate, which I could easily dispel with a single 60-minute webcam stream of me working like a madman in my studio.

It would be upsetting to see someone I respect so much making such weird technophobic, kids-these-days blanket judgments, but I know how crotchety Morricone gets, I love him anyway, and he's earned the right to say whatever he wants. Meanwhile, though, the industry's gonna keep moving forward with or without his approval, and brilliant, historical scores will continue to be made.

I'm EXTREMELY excited for the future of film and game music, a lot of stuff hasn't even been tried yet.
posted by jake at 2:16 PM on June 4, 2015 [18 favorites]

Hey, we can't all be Leutonia's favorite son John Williams.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:23 PM on June 4, 2015

Is this about John Carpenter? I don't want to tell Ennio Morricone how to do his job or anything, because he is fantastic and a legend and all, but it better not be about John Carpenter.
posted by Hoopo at 2:33 PM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

A short video on the making of the score for San Andreas which is relevant to the conversation.
posted by Evstar at 2:40 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've long thought a lot of films would have actually played better without the soundtrack, or, at most, a very minimal soundtrack. Especially horror or suspense films.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:43 PM on June 4, 2015

My favorite movie soundtracks so far are the Interstellar OST and the Lost in Translation soundtrack.
posted by gucci mane at 2:58 PM on June 4, 2015

Favorited for FPP title - well played :)
posted by mosk at 3:00 PM on June 4, 2015

I'm EXTREMELY excited for the future of film and game music, a lot of stuff hasn't even been tried yet.

I still play the opening credit music to GTA IV every now and again.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:09 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is this about John Carpenter? I don't want to tell Ennio Morricone how to do his job or anything, because he is fantastic and a legend and all, but it better not be about John Carpenter.

Well Morricone did the (synthy) score for The Thing. Though JC had him do it JC-style and mixed in some bits of his own, which Morricone may not have been very happy about depending on who you ask. Or is that what you were referring to?

I took the comment about electronics to be more a shot at sample packs and soundtracks done on the cheap, since he also expressed approval of Hans Zimmer. But most of that tech is really pretty awesome for the hypothetical talented young composer with original ideas. It's just that the demand for original ideas on the big studio side is not that high.

And obviously computer music is fantastic for John Carpenter types. Think Shane Carruth and Upstream Color. Of course true low budget horror sort of movies now probably use straight up royalty-free loops but the average throwaway slasher producer/director wasn't John Carpenter back in the day either.
posted by atoxyl at 4:06 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

If Brothers in Arms doesn't make you want to weld spikes to your car, shave your head, and drive at 70mph while looking for guzzoline and redemption , then you might want to check with your doctor as you might be dead.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:07 PM on June 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

Morricone seems to be applying the same critique to electronic music that people are applying to CGI. Not that it's inherently bad, but that it's used as an all purpose replacement for a wider variety of techniques.

I'd also like to see an actual interview with him discussing these ideas not this "He said [statement] 'quote fragment ... quote fragment'" format which makes me think that there's probably quite a few qualifiers and nuances hidden in the gloss and ellipses.

Also, dude scored The Good the Bad and The Ugly. He could argue all modern movie soundtracks should be replaced by chimps farting through kazoos and I'd at least hear him out.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:02 PM on June 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

MetaFilter: chimps farting through kazoos
posted by kokaku at 5:49 PM on June 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Interesting. I was just admiring Ennio's work (and the Hugo Montegro 'Dollar Trilogy' cover albums for RCA) yesterday. (Hugo's remakes of the music were notably more professional in quality and lively ... his GBU-theme cover was a chart-topper, or nearly, in the US, UK and Canada.)

Ennio's stuff was cutting-edge at the time of the Trilogy, and remarkably emotional and popular works. Given that, I can understand him being irked at the cranked-out meat-grinder quality of many filmscores. (I can listen to his work endlessly, but never want to hear the Star Trek theme again!) I'd never consider going on his lawn without permission.
posted by Twang at 5:55 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and when it comes to electronic filmscores, gotta mention that Mark Isham's early stuff (viz Never Cry Wolf, Mrs Soffel) was outa-this-world.

Long ago. Given that everything is 20 times faster these days, and has to be pulse-pounding to pull a crowd, we just need to wait (as we do for overly-compressed tracks) for current fashion to move past dark and/or militaristic cheap thrills.
posted by Twang at 6:05 PM on June 4, 2015

One thought I had was that cutting corners often inspires revolutionary ideas. Say, someone makes a western movie in Italy/Spain on the cheap, hiring local talent that they could not possibly access on a Hollywood scale, even though the foreign guy has goofy ideas about including alternative instrumentation, sound effects -- whistling?! -- in ways that don't follow tradition ...

I also try to imagine Ex Machina with a lush orchestral score, and I just don't hear it working the same. As pointed out elsewhere here, that isn't really what he's saying, but still, for the sake of argument, I will argue.

It is curious that he mentions Zimmer in a positive way, who I think is a leader in taking advantage of synthesis (sampling, really) of the kind that I think Morricone is griping about. Perhaps it is the imitators that annoy him?

The Fury Road connection for me was actually noticing that, while I think the soundtrack is excellent and suited to Miller's Over The Top themes, it still has some Hans Zimmer-ness that feels overused to me, particularly the bombastic orchestral bits. I didn't realize at first that Junkie XL has collaborated so often with Zimmer, so it is probably more like Junkie XL soundtrack sounds a lot like Junkie XL soundtracks. In any case, it might well be that Morricone loves Fury Road and its soundtrack, fully appreciating how much both honor a tradition he helped establish in the first place.

Also because Fury Road kicks ass, which is really my main point.
posted by lesChaps at 6:54 PM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

What Grimgrin says. First, it is probably about the application, not the practice. Second, the article doesn't really establish much of a context for Morricone's comments. Third, chimps farting Morricone through kazoos. Sign. Me. Up.
posted by lesChaps at 7:00 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've gotten to the point where I don't even register a films score anymore, especially when it's an action flick. They're all so disposable. And Fury Road was no different. Pounding drums, power chords, no memorable theme whatsoever. For sure I acknowledged that it sucked as I watched the film, but I had NO expectation that it would've been better than that.
posted by ReeMonster at 7:50 PM on June 4, 2015

It should be noted that the Road Warrior score is not much cop.
posted by Artw at 8:06 PM on June 4, 2015

What happened to the good old days, when there was a live organist in every theater?

When I was very, very little, my next door neighbors were a quite elderly couple, the husband of which had, in his youth, provided the piano accompaniment to films at the theater in my hometown. The further into the twenty first century I get, the cooler I think that is. Just imagine: when I'm 80, in 2064, I'll be able to tell people that I knew someone who played the music for silent films. I hope it'll blow their minds.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:09 PM on June 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Nobody has mentioned It Follows soundtrack? It is terrifying all by itself. And it's very chiptune based which I hope Ennio would respect (but probably not).

Listen free but probably not alone at night...

edit: also very old John Carpenter inspired
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:50 PM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

The American Beauty score, from Thomas Newman, manages to be inventive, compelling and really beautiful. It's my favourite.
posted by Quilford at 1:00 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

And it should have won the Oscar, damnit
posted by Quilford at 1:04 AM on June 5, 2015

Having written for almost every genre of film, from dramas and comedies to historical epics, he is frustrated that some people still associate him with westerns – “even though western films account for just 8% of my production”.

Your most popular and very best shit was for cheesy spaghetti westerns. Deal with it.
posted by dgaicun at 1:07 AM on June 5, 2015

TFA is a cut-and-paste link bait troll-job, though. There are some words from Morricone in there in quotes, but a lot of the contextualisation is by the Guardian. I suspect he's not talking about the scores people are leaping to defend, but rather all the stuff in the middle, where the accusation that sampled strings have replaced real strings makes sense (rather than people like Zimmer using electronics as electronics).

I'm personally less interested in the stuff Morricone wrote from the 80s on, after he got his hands on a full orchestra (the same is true of John Barry, whose early funny stuff I also love). I'd agree that orchestrally rendered generic underscoring is a bit more interesting than electronically rendered generic underscoring, but only in the same way that beige is a bit more colourful than off-white.

FWIW, I love the Fury Road score, and when Dark Knight Rises came out, I listened to the score over and over, as I realised it was the thing I liked about the movie. I have the OST, so I never need to see the movie again.
posted by Grangousier at 1:20 AM on June 5, 2015

I think he's clearly lashing out at composers doing big orchestral scores using pro-tools and a bunch of samples/VSTs as opposed to having a real orchestra which is fair enough, considering the budget movies have these days and how a few orchestras are really struggling for cash. Calling them "amateurs" just because they don't have a full orchestra with binders filled with sheet music, but a computer, some keyboards and a lot of MIDI files is just snotty elitism.
But there's clearly a overuse of pseudo-orchestral scores (not to mention, music creeping in everywhere - over dialog, over silence, etc) as opposed to actually scoring the mood of the scene. I still remember the Casiotone bit from Quiet City, yet, I can't remember the theme/signature track from a lot of movies because after a while, a beaten-up Casio played by two people at once will be more memorable than generic_happy_strings.wav.

Finally, this.

Also, while at least it's different from other blockbuster soundtracks and around an exponential number of times inferior to Wendy Carlos original score, I disliked TRON Legacy because for the most part it doesn't even sound like Daft Punk (proper, French House Daft Punk, not "we can afford to ship everyone into a studio, boring-ass, overpriced merchandise peddling Daft Punk"). Two tunes are alright, but the real highlight comes from the remixed album (it was my ringtone for about... two years). Likewise, as much as I absolutely love M83, both his soundtrack efforts were just... dunno, lackluster, which is weird considering Anthony Gonzalez pulls a fantastic movie-like quality in his records. As 80s, John Hughes schmaltzy as they might be. Same with EITS on Prince Avalanche. Having a "cinematic" sound doesn't mean it will translate well to film.

(Also, can we give Mad Max some rest instead of trying to pin every discussion to it?)
posted by lmfsilva at 4:03 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, some older movies with real orchestras had really shitty soundtracks. Last week I re-viewed Wise Blood, the John Huston film based on Flannery O'Connor's novel. Since it was set in the South, Huston--or some tin-eared music director--decided to have an orchestra blast out some hokey faux-hillbilly crap every fifteen minutes. It's awful. It almost ruined the movie.
posted by kozad at 5:11 AM on June 5, 2015

Same with EITS on Prince Avalanche.

I'd never heard of Explosions In The Sky before but Prince Avalanche is one of my favorite soundtracks of the last few years.
posted by octothorpe at 5:13 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

(and the Hugo Montegro 'Dollar Trilogy' cover albums for RCA)

I read that as RZA and immediately needed to purchase these albums.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:23 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

(Also, can we give Mad Max some rest instead of trying to pin every discussion to it?)

posted by maxsparber at 8:36 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I really have to say that I totally get the backlash against synthesized instrumentation but only when it's merely trying to replicate instruments in the western acoustic orchestral canon. Generally I find film scores and their instrumentation works best when they're being true to themselves and their materials.

Some of my favourite electronic film scores
  • Sinoia Caves' Beyond the Black Rainbow score perfectly compliments the hypnotic soured techno-utopianism of the film.
  • Attack the Block by the Basement Jaxx guys.
  • I can't get over the Chemical Brothers' score for Hanna. I've almost never seen a score that motivated the onscreen action so closely outside of music videos or Disney animated shorts.
  • Cliff Martinez' work on Drive was overshadowed by the fantastic song selection but it's good work--as is Traffic.
  • Under The Skin includes extensive artificial acoustic manipulation for the eeriest Bollywood-keyed music I've heard in a long time.
  • I honestly can't picture Gone Girl without the distinctive Reznor/Ross score.
Sometimes it's also intriguing to play out a sort of modal conflict within the score, the Don Davis - Juno Reactor cue "Mona Lisa Overdrive" from The Matrix Reloaded was the first time I'd ever noticed music that had a 'back and forth' dynamic between styles of music. Of course, later I'd learned Event Horizon had a crazy mashup of Michael Kamen and Orbital.

The kind of electronic music I can't stand in film: The score to The Princess Bride. I guess you can make a case for it attempting to comedically undercut the storytelling melodrama but the 80s synth-strings just absolutely rub me the wrong way.

Although, on the other hand, I love the cue "Nightstalker" from Ghost in the Shell which puts synth string fills behind an actual acoustic guitar. My defence is that it comes off like humanist Blade Runner Vangelis.
posted by whittaker at 8:42 AM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

My rule is that if the initials of the person doing the score are CM then it is going to be a good score.
posted by Dmenet at 10:26 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've long thought a lot of films would have actually played better without the soundtrack, or, at most, a very minimal soundtrack. Especially horror or suspense films.

Oh goodness gracious no, not unless your filmgoing experience is very different from mine. Without the soundtrack, most horror movies are just white people falling down in the woods.
posted by KathrynT at 10:29 AM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

Mica Levi's soundtrack for Under the Skin is amazing.
posted by naju at 11:44 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

(Also, can we give Mad Max some rest instead of trying to pin every discussion to it?)

Spoken like someone whose world isn't fire and blood. *eyeroll*

Also: Best score ever.
posted by brundlefly at 2:31 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

My rule is that if the initials of the person doing the score are CM then it is going to be a good score.

The soundtrack that Clint Mansell did for Moon was fantastic.
posted by no mind at 11:10 PM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Mansell also did a wonderful score for a movie that nobody but me seems to have enjoyed: Sahara.
posted by brundlefly at 3:04 AM on June 6, 2015

Some of my favourite electronic film scores ...

... are now in heavy rotation on my Spotify queue. Thanks, whittaker and others.
posted by lesChaps at 1:56 PM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

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