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This is something I blogged on a personal blog, but hey, I think it works here too! (Hope that;s okay, LK!)

As I listen to the "Cover Blown" cue from Hanover Street, I'm thinking about how composers like John Barry and Ennio Morricone beat out time as a way of eliciting tension and then play with the listener's perception of time. There's nothing like a regular, 'gets louder but refuses to get fasterding! ding! ding! to really wind up the tension.

The classic Barry example is perhaps the "Count Down" cue from Goldfinger, which accompanies James Bond's entrapment with Goldfinger's atomic bomb. (Sorry, did I spoil the plot? James Bond wins, everybody, okay?)

Morricone, of course, used the device more overtly, like the real clock tick in My Name Is Nobody and the watch chime in For A Few Dollars More. I wanna mention that brilliant cue "Out Of Time" from 5 Man Army, too. That's a crazy cue and it gets me every time.

But let's get back to that "Cover Blown" cue again. I love that bit where Barry paces and then "stops" one's perception of time as Harrison Ford and Christopher Plummer enter Gestapo HQ. (At least in the non-replaced cue.) Now that's film music doing way more than just "being music".

Film music is so like other advanced forms of communication. Existing in what you might call peripheral hearing, the effect is somewhat subliminal. You might even say hypnotic. It builds, maintains and releases emotional states. It anchors them with motifs and fires them off later. With themes and theme fragments, it opens and closes loops. And, with tricks like this, it plays with time.

So film music is just about putting appropriately sounding tunes on a film, huh? Pish!

Cheers

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Comments (9):Log in or register to post your own comments
Steve,
You mention Barry and Morricone as prime examples of using this time motif to rack up the tension in scores but Roy Budd was also a master at this ticking clock motif in his action scores. Just listen to cues in Diamonds, Foxbat and the Boarding Party cue from The Sea Wolves as proof of this.
Can anyone else think of any other examples of composers using this?

In HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, Williams uses it in "Forward to time past". It is notable that -- as the protagonists are traveling back in time -- there is a short string motif that is being played backward at the beginning of the cue. Also, a ticking clock runs through the whole piece, so all expression in it comes from harmony, melody and orchestration, but not from changes in tempo or rhythm (although Williams uses syncopation to express the confusing nature of time travel).

Hi guys,

Cool, yes, bring on the examples. My reference to Barry and Morricone isn't to suggest they're the only ones, I just think of theirs as 'classic' examples!

Cheers




Another classic example of this time bomb ticking clock type of scoring would have to be John Williams "planting the charges" cue from The Towering Inferno. It really does its job in the film by racking up the tension, infact if I remember there is little or no dialogue in this sequence purely driven by music and great editing.......Ah those were the days when music was not buried in the sound mix!!

A piece of music that appears to retain a constant beat but gets progressively louder can be surprisingly difficult to compose and perform. The human brain interprets louder music as having faster tempi. For example, a successful performance of Ravel's Bolero demands the conductor to gradually slow down the beat as the piece rises in volume, so that the listener perceives a constant beat.

Stephen, The one that instantly came to mind was Rozsa's time travel music for Time After Time where he uses a woodblock (along with pizzicato strings at times) to denote the fast, forward moving ticking of time.

The signature sound of John Ottman's Usual Suspects is a ticking sound used throughout the score to set a determined, yet measured pace for the film.

In the "Dennis Steals the Embryo" cue in Jurassic Park, John Williams uses a pervasive ticking sound played by claves I believe to reflect the countdown started by Dennis's program that stops services throughout the park as well as the countdown until the ship leaves the island.

In the "Dennis Steals the Embryo" cue in Jurassic Park, John Williams uses a pervasive ticking sound played by claves I believe to reflect the countdown started by Dennis's program that stops services throughout the park as well as the countdown until the ship leaves the island.

Interesting. I hadn't thought about the cue in that way. I just saw it as a sneaking-around cue.

Miklos Rozsa's 'detonator' cue in 'Green Fire' (FSM music only) has ticking clock FX in the OST and it's an electrifying combination.

I'm always intrigued to find out whether melody, harmonics or rhythm dictates a composer's approach to a scene. You can't usually tell from the finished product but one can arise from another.

Not to continually harp on Miklos Rozsa, but his 'El Cid' Overture is an example. The melody is a mediaeval tune from the Montserrat 'Red Book'. The tune itself dictated the ostinato of the rhythm, and it's then clear that the rhythm dictated the fanfares at either end. Then he must've filled in the middle 8 (though it's considerably more than 8!)

Rhythm is sometimes the key to melody, as in much jazz and rock of course. So if you can't think up a motif, start with a scene's rhythm.

In the "Dennis Steals the Embryo" cue in Jurassic Park, John Williams uses a pervasive ticking sound played by claves I believe to reflect the countdown started by Dennis's program that stops services throughout the park as well as the countdown until the ship leaves the island.

Interesting. I hadn't thought about the cue in that way. I just saw it as a sneaking-around cue.


I think the repeated piano figures give it that sneaking around sound while the percussive tick-tocks reflect the time element involved. Two things working at the same time to convey different elements of the scenes. At least that's how it comes across to me anyway.

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