Ass1: Blog 2 – Overpowering Music in Film and the Takeover of Electronic Composition

Film scores include a variety of styles of music, depending on the style of the films they accompany. Most scores utilise orchestral arrangements, however many scores in the recent years of digital development are influenced by electronic elements. The main role of music within a film is to trigger the audience into feeling certain emotions at certain times through the journey of the film. “The simplest examples of this are found in thriller and horror films, which employ dissonant, screeching sounds we unconsciously associate with animals in distress.” (Helen Stewart, 2013).

There is a current debate where some actors/actresses believe that in some scenarios, the music, regardless of it being created electronically or recorded using a real instrument, may overpower their acting abilities. Famous actress Bette Davis was openly worried that the music in the film Dark Victory would outshine her acting skills. But I would argue that the music in some scenes will almost enhance the abilities of the actor/actress. Say if Bette Davis was acting a sad scene where she is crying, I think the right kind of music will make her acting look even more sincere to the audience. “Our response to certain kinds of noise is something so profound in us that we can’t switch it off, film composers know that and use it to shortcut the logical part of our brain and get straight to the emotional centres.” (Philip Ball. 2011).

There is another current issue where certain composers believe that synthesisers are taking over music scores and killing the natural sound of a real instrument. Well established British film composers Carl Davis and Christopher Gunning believe that TV is suffering because electronic music is increasingly replacing the quality of sound performed by a real live instrument. I can understand how from the perspective of a musician, it may seem a shame to replace bands and solo musicians with a single producer to create the musical pieces to a film. In an interview last year, revered composer Ennio Morricone slams the ever growing trend of replacing live instruments with synthesised sounds in the motion picture. Morricone believes that “You just do not get the effect of a real live musician playing real phrases. It’s quite extraordinary how a live musician can inflect a certain note with emotion.” (Ennio Morricone. 2015.)

I believe that electronic music in film has always been a factor and can be traced back over a century. A good example of that, is the movie ‘Spellbound’, Where a theremin and the Ondes Martinot which are two of the youngest electronic instruments, were used to emulate a high wavering pitch. At the time, the introduction of these instruments may have been quite exciting to both the audience and musical composers, however the fear of the electronic aspect of music production taking over has become more and more of an issue for live musicians hoping to get involved in score writing, as well as classical music composers. This is due to the fast development of various DAW’s (digital audio workstation) that are now capable of creating endless varieties of sounds.

Overall I think it comes down to opinion, the use of electronic music in film will have different effects on people. There are numerous ways of achieving extremely detailed electronic sounds that resemble a live instrument within modern DAW’s and those who are comfortable and have been brought up to listen to electronic music, may have a different opinion than those who were brought up in an era where most musical pieces were performed and recorded by live instruments.


Ennio Morricone. (2015). FROM PRODUCER TO SCORING FILMS: ELECTRONIC MUSIC & THE BIG SCREEN. Available: Last accessed 23/11/16.

Helen Stewart. (2013). How do film-makers manipulate our emotions with music? Available: Last accessed 19/11/16.

Philip Ball (2011). The Music Instinct: Vintage




2 thoughts on “Ass1: Blog 2 – Overpowering Music in Film and the Takeover of Electronic Composition

  1. This is quite a unique way to look at music in film – how some are against the use of certain music rather than how the two are used together.

    It seems technology is the main arguing point behind this – electronic music is replacing film scores by an orchestra (or at least threatening to). This is fairly in line with the rest of the industry – technology tends to dictate how the music industries work. It may be worth speculating on what the future holds for this debate using previous examples in music where new technology threatens the established order. A prudent example could be the major label’s initial issues with digital music retailing and p2p networks – they obviously eventually adopted the technology and haven’t looked back, with streaming being at the forefront of the industry. Could a similar trajectory be in the future for electronic music-based film scores? Could we see composers adopting the use of synths alongside a full orchestra?

  2. I found this a fascinating article on a really interesting subject. Morricone’s use of music in film became a signature part of each ones make up, arguably adding as much as any leading cast member or visual director. Hans Zimmer soundtracks also have their composer and curator’s distinct flavour. T-Bone Burnett’s work as curator and composer of certain films has also been a key element in their success. Your article got me thinking about Ludovico Einaudi’s music and how the same piece that was used in Shane Meadows’ ‘This Is England’ to accompany a violent scene whereby the main character hammers her abusive father to death is also used in Masterchef and on other programmes to signify sad or contemplative moments. Morricone’s argument that electronic and digital music is taking the place of real musicians and the emotion and intonations they bring to a composers work is indeed a debate rife in the wider music industries, and I for one cannot help but agree with him, but fundamentally is all down to personal choice. Mainly, that of the director, who uses different musical pieces with which to shape and enhance the narrative.

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