Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I wannabe the movie music dude

I have a confession to make about my ambitions in life. Everyone has a dream job and mine has evolved over time. You know, it's the usual novelist, then rock star to leader of a powerful drug cartel. But to be honest, there was one job that I've always thought would be phenomenal. When I was a kid, before I became obsessed with music I was obsessed with film. One of the first dream jobs I ever thought of was to be the guy who picks the music that is played during films. Not the score composer but the dude who picks the rock song that plays as John Cusack makes out with some random woman drunkenly towards the end of a rom-com and then immediately regrets it because his true love is waiting.

I was reminded of this ambition not too long ago. As a fan of metal, I have a casual relationship with Tool and A Perfect Circle in that I occasionally listen to these bands and enjoy them (Maynard is an exceptional vocalist for this kind of music). I'm not saying they're good (although they are good at what they do), they just fulfill some metal deficiency I often find in my musical diet. Anyhow, as I'm a movie fan too I often watch a lot of trailers on the Apple trailer site - pretty much watching anything that appears whether I'd see it or not. I remember watching this Resident Evil trailer and despite the fact I will never see this film and can never remember hearing the Perfect Circle song before, I thought 'geez that sounds/looks awesome.' It made me actively find the song (The Outsider) and listen to it a bunch of times.

Now, here's the weird thing. Objectively, I think that movie looks like a pile of shit but I think the music makes it seem better and more exciting than if it wasn't there. The other thing is I tracked down the original music video for this song, which is TERRIBLE, and I think if I'd seen that first, I would never have liked the song.

I know I'm being Captain Obvious when I say there is an incredibly complex relationship between images and music but this is a case that genuinely stumps me. In isolation, neither of these things would have particularly excited me but together they make a tasty concoction that tastes nice, smells good and even though it's probably bad for me (like a mars bar: caramel awesomeness + chocolate seduction = heart disease for Jon), I can't deny that I like it.

Music is a powerful medium and often the circumstances in which we listen to it shape our relationship with it. For example, that song that reminds you of that girl/boy you broke up with because you used to listen it together or the song when they played when England got knocked out of the world cup (again). What interests me about popular culture is the way music is used to artificially create that moment that often naturally by virtue of music being part of our lives. However, it can be a tricky thing. A badly chosen song can kill a scene in a movie but the right song can make it memorable and moving in ways that just the raw footage never could.

The other reason I bring this up is I often listen to music and think, that’d be awesome in a movie. After writing about Mogwai the other day, I went on a Moggy bender and so much of their music would slide seamlessly into a movie. Even though that’s a cliché (music for movies that don’t exist yadda yadda), I think it’s a credit to a band that they can make music that endlessly arouses a visual reaction, I’m not sure how to phrase it but some music gets me dreaming about the world in a film like way.

To be honest, I think I’d be pretty good at picking music for movies but I think the underlying desire for doing this is inherently selfish. I probably want this job because I think I have superior music taste to everyone else and I could infect popular culture with excellent songs that I love.* Plus, it's the only job I can think of which utilises all the useless knowledge I have about music.

*As a side note, someone at Channel 10 has this job and has been very sneakily dropping in excellent music into some pretty banal programs. Both the 7pm Project and Sports Tonight have amazing music at times. Who knew?



  1. That job would be awesome. I believe it's called "Music Supervisor". One of my favourite parts of editing is trawling through albums and soundtracks to find the temp tracks to lay into the edit while we're cutting and before the composer has worked their magic.
    Godspeed You! Black Emperor + Explosions in the Sky are immediate go-tos because, like Mogwai, they are so cinematic.
    Also I have used an Olafur Arnalds song not once, not twice but THREE times in different films for The Love-Making Scene.

    It's funny what works on screen compared to what works in real life.

    I want to make a movie just so I can choose the soundtrack. It will be very very expensive but very very cool. And at this stage, will have no story to speak of.
    That could be anything by Sofia Coppola...



  2. Harsh but fair Katie although Sofia is lucky she has good taste in music. I'll happily write you a screenplay if you want - I'm sure I could cough up some indie film ala Coppola in my sleep. Matter of fact, it'll probably be about people sleeping while Mogwai plays in the background.

  3. I think this is a perfectly normal aspiration. Scorsese started it in a popular way, and then Tarantino became the Behemoth of Pop Pastiche, and the world hasn't looked back. Actually, I *was* looking at the Pulp Fiction (that one really broke the concept in a big way) soundtrack page on Wiki, and remembering all the careers it re-launched, or first-laucnhed and shouldna-launched (Urge Overkill). I picked up a liking for Maria McKee through it. And Dick Dale got to do a world tour and rabbit on because of it, people discussed Dusty Springfield on Midday with Kerri-Ann. All because of that one re-combination/recontextualisation of songs with celluloid. That's pure post-modern power, that is.
    So what it all boild down to, all this guff: you want to be Tarantino. How does that make you feel?
    I wonder if it's like wanting to be Trent Reznor. I was listening to some of his Ghosts I-IV tracks, thinking: good ambient, good soundtrack stuff. Also, strangely like some Cinematic Orchestra stuff. Almost, but not quite as good as Original Soundtracks vol 1 by The Eno.
    So you see - it all comes back to the movies.
    BTW - did you see Tool when they came here recently? Did I miss that entry on the blog?

  4. I think I can trace it back to when I saw Beverly Hills Cop because the soundtrack was the first album I ever bought ($8 on tape). But the Tarantino thing was huge although I must confess that I never owned that soundtrack but it seemed all pervasive and playing in every sharehouse I lived in (funny you mention Scorsese because I had the Color of Money s/t as well on tape).

    For a while there, soundtrack albums were really interesting with great non-album tracks (think Radiohead's Talk Show Host on Romeo & Juliet/ some nice tracks on Lost Highway etc...). It got a bit lacklustre after that until every dog and his Norwegian grandmother starting putting indie songs on their soundtracks (Garden State being the most obvious). More recently, I've been digging the soundtracks by Clint Mansell (the Moon s/t being his best) but they're original scores - I can't remember the last compilation soundtrack I purchased.

    Poor old Trent, I think he wants to be either Brian Eno or a member of This Mortal Coil or Swans or something. Unfortunately, he like's a rousing chorus for that to ever happen. I'm on an austerity drive at the moment so not seeing any live music so I missed Tool. I find Tool fans quite a fanatical bunch (like Slayer fans) because they think they're somehow superior for liking that band (even if they do rip bass lines off King Crimson). Sadly, Tool is probably the most literal band name in history.

    And Urge Overkill - Positive Bleeding - still great.

    Katie - the name of the film is Icon. It's about a washed up one hit wonder singer from the 90's living in the innercity struggling to find his place in a world where he is a living/breathing trivia question. Lots of scenes of him of smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee with no dialogue + killer soundtrack. Almost finished the first draft.