Sunday, March 18, 2007


Every so often, in tooling around the Interweb I encounter something that makes my brain nearly shut off in its attempt to wrap itself around the idea that someone may be arguing a certain position. I just had one such moment, over on, where in response to my oft-stated position that "Good film music must be good music first, and good music by definition can stand alone" -- i.e., that hearing a film score in its cinematic context isn't completely necessary to assessing the worth of a score -- a person stated this:

The idea of music isolated from visual experience is STUPID. Why do you think composers wrote for visual elements...and even music qua music has the visuals of orchestra and conductor. Get real...isolated music tracks on CDs are the absolute worst representation of music....MUSIC IS VISUAL.

This is wrongheaded to such a vast degree that it staggers the imagination. It's not uncommon to encounter people who believe that one should only judge a filmscore by how it functions in a film (although how one makes this judgment is less than clear; if a piece of music can be moving when coupled with a film but not moving outside of it, I'd argue that it's the film amplifying the quality of the score, and not the other way around), but I've never met anyone who believes that all music has some essential visual component that renders the act of recording a bad one.

My response on thread was as follows:

So, a blind person attending a concert of the New York Philharmonic performing, say, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony is somehow missing some unimaginably vital part of the performance? For that matter, is a *sighted* person attending that same performance somehow missing something vital from what Beethoven intended, since the hall isn't lit with candles and the performers aren't wearing powdered wigs? How
about the many musicians who often close their eyes while performing? What are they doing wrong?

Another rejoinder that just occurred to me: Two people attend a concert of a Mozart piano concerto and a Mahler symphony. One person is blind, but has full hearing. The other is sighted, but has been deaf since birth. Who do we suppose gets more out of that concert? Transpose these same two people to a room with all the lights turned out, and now put Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band on the CD player. Who gets more out of that experience?

What a weird conversation to find myself in.


Anonymous said...

This one would have qualified for your "Sunday Burst of Weirdness"

Anonymous said...

Off the top of my head, Philip Glass' Koyaanisqatsi is a good example of film music that works even without the film. I went on a several year moratorium from watching it to see if I could engage with this music without the visual "accompaniment." And the answer was yes.

In a similar manner, someday I'll decide if John Williams succeeds as well.

Furthermore, I happen to hear much better when I close my eyes. I also don't tend to watch the conductor at a symphony concert.

SamuraiFrog said...

John Williams is a good example; he makes some alterations to his scores on CD by way of tying two pieces together that don't occur in sequence (see every Star Wars soundtrack) or creating excellent concert pieces. My favorite example of this is "The Forest Battle" on the Return of the Jedi score; if you heard it exactly as it's represented in the movie, it would be broken up into pieces. Williams created a concert arrangement to preserve the integrity of the piece as a stand-alone arrangement, and it's wonderful. More composers should take the time to do that.

Anonymous said...

I recently conducted an experiment of this sort by watching and listening to VH-1. First, I tried watching and listening. Then, listening only, followed by watching only.

Then I tried not listening and not watching. This seemed to produce the most enjoyable result.

BTW - regarding music, who said "if it sounds good, it is good". They were right.