2014年10月16日 星期四

Film Music: The Modern Version of 19th Century Program music


When answering a viewpoint question in the examination, we have to spend enough time to think carefully about the main issue or argument of that question first. The following is the question about film music analysis in the AMusTCL examination. Student's answer seems to show that she does not understand the main issue of the question. As such, I attempt to rework her answer, refocusing on the crux of the argument and expanding its supporting evidences, so as to give a more satisfactory discussion.


AMusTCL Nov 2010 (c):

Film Music Question


Question:  Is film music the modern version of nineteenth-century Programme music? Select and discuss TWO        films from those listed below and refer to any others that are relevant in your consideration of the question.


Student version:


Nineteenth-century programme music evokes the listener a specific experience and conveying emotions, which is written base on non-music idea, images or events. It invites audience invoke the imaginative correlation with the music. Similarly, film music is music that accompanies a film, creating narrative space and gives more body and depth to the story and characters. In this essay, some examples will be discussed.


My editing:


        Nineteenth-century program music is famous for its expressivity to narrate a story, or to recall and evoke the relevant experiences and emotions based on the storyline and the extra-musical ideas that embedded in the programmatic description for the listeners. As such, program music claims its communicative legitimacy through the written text, or program, which, despite the musical sound per se, can offer a larger imaginative space for deeper interpretation. Similarly, the plot, the dialogues, and the moving images of a particular scene in the movie is also likened to such referential “program”, which is capable of offering abundant referential meanings to the corresponding music, creating an even broader narrative space to the audience. From this sense, the on-screen visual “program” of a film becomes an indispensable guidance to the understanding of the supporting music. As such, film music, to a certain extent, can be said to be the modern version of nineteenth-century program music. In this essay, I will explore three examples that support my claim stated above.


Student version:


Firstly, in the scene “Seeking a Lesson” of Crouching Tiger and Hidden Tiger, two narrative spaces are created. On one hand, Master Long is fighting with many swordsmen. The Chinese percussions strikes fast with rhythmic pattern, this highlights the fighting action. It evokes audience the imagination of Chinese “Kung Fu” and intensifies the tension of fighting action. On the other hand, the Chinese piccolo produces a relaxing folk tune music which plays against the fighting scene. The lyrical, slow tempo and dance-like music emits an artistic atmosphere. It synchronizes to the poem reciting and sword waving by Master Long. This elevates a fighting action to the Art of Sword Dance of traditional Chinese art.  Thus, the music in this scene tells more than the music itself and gives more body to the story.


My editing:


       Firstly, in the scene “Seeking a Lesson” of Crouching Tiger and Hidden Tiger, the on-screen visual program, the plot, tells audiences about how Jen skillfully plays her artistic “game of sword dancing”, so as to “discipline” a mob of fierce, trouble-making swordmen in the eatery. If we want to understand why the underlying music is displayed in two layers of sound – one is moving rapidly under the support of the Chinese ethnic percussive ensemble, and the other one is singing in comparatively slower tempo by Chinese piccolo – we have to consider the “programmatic” reference on the screen. Indeed, the on-screen moving images and dialogues, such as Jen's sword fighting and reciting poem, seem to cry out in two narrative voices for these two musical layers. On the one hand, the power and strengthen of the sword fighting skill can be experienced from the fast moving Chinese percussion repeated in constant rhythmic pattern intensify the pace and strength of the fight. On the other hand, Jen 's dexterity and elegant gestures are exhibited through the music of the slow-moving Chinese piccolo folk tune. Such musical effect can likely elicit a sense of relax, effortless spirits in audiences, showing Jen’s mastery of the art of sword fighting. Interestingly, this dance-like tune, accompanying with Jen’s recitation of a traditional 8-line poem, seems to creates an imagined dancing stage, on which only Jen the artistic dancer is swinging freely to and fro like a bird hovering in the sky.


In fact, to many who know Chinese traditional culture, reciting poem is an intellectual activity which is usually found in the social gatherings of ancient literati. These people view sword dancing and poem reciting is a welcoming entertainment. As such, using slow-wind but fast-percussion ensemble of the folk musical style of northwestern China in this scene is a wonderful setting to express how skillful Jen is in sword fighting, and therefore, she can easily give a “lesson” to the swordmen and teaches them what is meant by art of sword fighting.  Although the audiences may think that the music is expressing a fierce fighting on the surface, however, by referencing the visual program reference, their understandings may be greatly adjusted. If no “program” is provided on-screen for reference, we may misunderstand the underlying ideas of the music, even of the scene. From this view, film music as a modern version of program music is undeniable.

The above reworking version (a part of the original essay) is only a suggestion that may help student to understand how to cope with the main issue and how to organize and present the points in a reasoning manner.

David Leung (theorydavid)
2014-10-16    (published)

2014年10月11日 星期六

Analysis of the Music Used in "Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon" -- Reworking on the Summary


The following writing is not a complete article with appropriate argument. It is originally written by a student who attempts to summarize what she has learnt from the film music analysis lessons.

Although the draft contains many grammatical errors and some ideas cannot be clearly explained, the writing direction and ideas are quite good in nature.  It is worth to rework on this incomplete writing, though there is absent of the argument.

In fact, analyzing musical sound and transforming it into words is not that easy as one think. The formal analysis, which involves using many jargon-like symbols and signs, is not sufficient enough for such writing to general readers. The following reworking essay can, perhaps, provide a valuable reference for readers who not only want to write musical analysis, but also want to understand the musical meaning of some particular scenes.



Music used in the film “Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon”
Main focus on fighting scenes:

The scene of “Catching thief” speaks of the first fight occurred between Shu Lien and Jen since Jen has stolen Wudon master Li’s precious sword. In order to intensifying the fighting violence, a pair of Chinese drums is employed to create a series of fast moving percussive sounds. As the level of excitement is raised, the tempo and volume of the drum ostinato increase simultaneously until reaching the climax. At this moment, audience’s emotion is also pushed up to the zenith. Such frenzy is achieved by means of the percussive drum, which is able to create a contrapuntal two-part texture to multiply the hit points of two fighters' actions. In addition, the familiar percussive sonority of Chinese drum, to many audiences, is easily associated with the activities held by traditional Chinese martial art school, such as lion dancing, or free-fighting competition. Tan Dun’s idiosyncratic use of such timbre purports not only to express his wanting to parallel music with the fighting mood of the scene, but also his ambition to exhibit an oriental characteristic of traditional Chinese Kung Fu to the locals as well as the foreigners.

In the scene of “Dark Cloud”, Jen’s comb is robbed by Lo and she is eager to get it back. So she chases Lo and fights with him without noticing that this fight has already ignited her candle of love, which is suppressed in her inner heart for many years. Here, the music is designed in two layers of sound of distinct styles. The first sound layer makes use of the traditional native instrument, yun, to produce a lively, pleasant, and exotic folk dancing tune. The second one is a layer of rhythmic sound played by hand drums and other percussive ensemble as the accompaniment moving in steadily pulsation. To audience, the use of two sound layers is rich in expressive meanings. On the one hand, a rapid detached sound is created by the drums to enhance the power and violence of the fighting, creating many hit points to intensify the fast moving images. On the other hand, a sense of romantic feeling emanates from the dancing tune, which is composed by using the Xian Jiang folk scale to highlight a special feature, the augmented 2nd intervallic flow, in order to soften the vigorous excitement of the fight. In addition, the native plucking instrument, yun, is also capable of producing a quite unfamiliar timbral color, seemingly to inform audience that this love affair between Jen (high social status as aristocracy of mainland) and Lo (low social status as bandit of ethnic minority) is an unequal exotic love. Indeed the minority dance tune consists of the both metrical regularity and spontaneous flexibility, aiming to support certain lively and vividly gestures in the folk dance. Since dancing always reminds audience of a cheerful and happy occasion in many traditional festival activities, such as social gathering for youth to search for lovers or celebration of harvest, of the ethnic minority, the tune used here can fantastically romanticize the scene, transforming covertly the hostile tension to a lovely tender occasion, in which the two lovers can pour out their mutual admirations to each other without using a single word.

In the scene of “Seeking a lesson”, the composer has adopted a traditional folk musical style of Northwest China – music of slow-blowing wind with fast-striking percussions for instrumental ensemble. Jen exhibits her artful sword fighting skill to give a lesson to a large group of provocative swordmen in the restaurant. Here, the meaning of using the traditional folk pattern to accompany the scene is similar to that of the scene discussed above. Two opposite layers of sound produced by the ethnic folk ensemble, again, are able to express a musical pun to the audiences. On the one hand, the striking percussive layer highlights the fighting actions, enlivening audience’s tensions to the moment of frenzy. On the other hand, the comparatively slow-moving Chinese piccolo solo tune displays a glamorous image replete with free, relax, yet artful, gestures. At this very instant, the warrior Jen has seemingly been transformed to both of a graceful dancer and a sagacious poet: bouncing to and fro and flaunting her elegant figure at the one time, reciting lines of a beautiful poem and waving her sword dexterously like a butterfly fluttering and dancing amid the ferocious swordmen at the other. It is definitely an appealing traditional Chinese art of sword dance performance. Here, for this fighting scene, director Li On tends to elucidate a message to audience that Jen’s mastery of sword fighting art is likened to the entertaining subjects in an ancient literati gathering, which always contains poem reciting and sword dancing to enliven the party. To those literati, these intellectual “games” are so easy, so artistic.

The final discussion centers on the scene about Li fighting against Jen in the bamboo bush. Interestingly, the music is designed in sectional form of a ternary like A,  B, and A Sections. While the  ethnic wind instrument bawu playing the theme song melody of “Love Before Time”, which is quite independent of the moving images and moods, the A-melodic music accompaniment in B section  implies certain the Buddha philosophical meaning to the scene. Music of these two sections narrate a voice replete with  meanings. In A section, besides the thematic melody of "Love Before Time" is played by bawu, the supporting wind accompaniment plays some glissandi occasionally in slow tempo, going hand in hand with the moving strings of the repeated notes pattern, the ostinato. The accompaniment seems going non-directionally. Without a clear and specific goal, the music now creates an effect just matching with the two fighters rapidly swinging to and fro on the top of the bamboo trees without putting a foot on the firm ground. This A-melodic setting accompaniment  forms the B section continually after the main theme song finishes it first murmuring of the fate of Li and Jen's encountering. In fact, fighting in the bamboo bush pervades both of the religious and symbolic meanings. Since bamboo tree, according to the “Zen” philosophy, always symbolizes, an “enlightenment”, or “awakening” from the “secular mediocrity” to the “transcendental Buddha”, Li chooses to fight with Jen inside the bamboo bush aims to give her a moral lesson, or in the other word, to “awaken” her from going astray back to the right way through the Way of Sword. Music used here contributes to soften the violence of the fighting, bringing much sublime Buddha philosophical message to audience. In addition, the thematic bawu melody of “Love Before Time” murmurs in A section is used not for supporting the fighting. Instead, it aims to create a musical voice seemingly to narrate a different story to the audience. If the non-directional string glissandi in the B section is voicing the idea of “Zen – Awakening” to audience, the familiar tune of the theme song “Love Before Time” will undeniably speak in the second voice to notice the audience that this “awakening” lesson is doomed to be a failure, since it is not in the right time and the right place. Master Li’s arduous attempts cannot affect the wild, arrogant girl. His showing of love toward Jen as his Wudon disciple is futile.


David Leung (theorydavid)
2014-10-10 (published)