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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.

1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

Chapter 4
HOW HARMONY SPEAKS
This chapter deals with modern and traditional techniques of using harmony and chord voicing to extort
specific emotions. The chapter addresses a combination of fairly simple observations regarding how
harmonies speak to create a feeling of mood and feeling, through to more complex and deeper types of
analysis. Central to the study, as always, is the issue of how music communicates meaning and how that
meaning works in the film.
The films and music analysed in this chapter are: Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone - Main Theme
& Diagon Ally (John Williams) The English Patient (Gabriel Yared) Atonement (Dario Marianelli) Catch
me if you can (John Williams) Knowing (Marco Beltrami) Sixth Sense & The Village (James Newton
Howard) Wolf (Ennio Morricone) Panic Room (Howard Shore) The Reaping (John Frizzell) Passengers
(Edward Shearmur)

HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHERS STONE John Williams

Let us first turn to one of the more recent and iconic movie franchises - Harry Potter. The first film was
scored by John Williams and one of the most enduring motifs was Hedwigs Theme which is referenced
numerous times in all the films in the series. The piece contains a heady mixture of childlike innocence and
charm, together with slightly intimidating, frightening and menacing characteristics.
Audio Hedwigs Theme (Harry Potter)

Fig.1
What
unique
characteristics
does this music
contain and how
do they create
exactly the right
emotion within
us?

The first thing I have highlighted in the transcribed score is the 11th and 9th in bar three. Because of the lack
of any contextual harmony between the melody and what is, in effect, the counter melody underneath, the
listener is deprived of the normal chordal filler which guides their listening. But the melody in bar two
contains all the usual harmonic signposts (root, minor 3rd and 5th) which help us rationalise the bar as Em.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

There is, in most circumstances, no such thing as unaccompanied melody; the concept is a myth. When we
listen to solos which are unaccompanied, we simply fill in the harmony according to what the melodic
notes suggest, using intuition, knowledge and intellect. An infant child hearing this tune would probably
listen to it completely without context but anyone whos listened to music for any amount of time builds up
a database of information which guides their listening; thus we listen according to previous listening
experiences. If the harmonies arent there, we subconsciously fill them in. We are usually blissfully
unaware of this process. Therefore bar two gives us the information we want but bar three only contains the
11th and the 9th. Because we heard the bar before we know in what context were hearing the A and the F#
but because theyre not normal intervals this tests our aural cognition, causing brief surprise, which
engages us because of the extent to which it differs from normal music. The notes are not dissonant but
are sufficiently off the beaten track.
The second surprising element, which I have highlighted below are the D# and F natural, which in context
of Em function as maj7 and flattened 9th. This is enough to throw us but if we go a step further and look at
how those two notes might function taken out of this context, we get this:

Root,

Fig.2

The Harry Potter context of the two notes places them


as maj7 and flattened 9th

2nd

A more rational interpretation, on face value would be


root and 2nd of an Eb chord

Of course we are effectively prevented from rationalising the two notes like this due to the accompaniment,
which alludes to the Em presumption. But regardless there is a slight duality of aural perception which is
what offers us the polytonal characteristic. Perhaps the bar which communicates the most in terms of its
mesmeric and enticing appeal is bar seven (the second bar of the abbreviated transcription below) which
features a melody of D (5th of the Gm), Db (b5th of the Gm) and C (5th of the Fm). The absolutely key thing
here is the 2nd inversions of the Gm chord and the Fm chord; building the Gm chord over the D shines a
light on the melodic line, also a D. Inversions always dramatise chords, but when the inversion is copied in
the melody, producing an octave line, it can be more effective. The same happens with the Fm chord
(melody on a C; chord inverted over a C bass).

Fig.3

Put simply, when a chord is inverted the harmonic dynamic is subtly altered. This is like placing an object a
different way up. Its the same object but it looks different and causes a slightly different reaction. In this
case an inversion alters our perception by distorting the harmonic balance. This makes this listening
experience slightly more acute. Try playing the bar over root-positioned chords and again with the
inversions. There is a difference. With John Williams everything is deliberate. Nothing is accidental.
Perhaps more than any other film composer he has the ability to extort any emotion he chooses by the
skilful harnessing and manipulation of the virtually limitless possibilities music offers. He knows which
specific harmonic or textural alterations cause tiny, almost imperceptibly different emotional reactions in
listeners. Turning now to a scene in the film where Harry Potter is taken to Diagon Alley we examine
again how Williams manipulates our perceptions.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

In the films Diagon Alley is reached on foot by passing through The Leaky Cauldron, a pub visible to
Muggles which lies somewhere along Londons Charring Cross Road. Diagon Alley is only accessible by
Wizards and Witches. Therefore when Harry is taken from the real world and into the magical world
which will occupy the rest of the film, the moment represents the start of a whole new life. It is also a major
turning point in the movie. None of the buildings are straight; the dimensions seem a little odd and skewed.
This important part of the film is scored brilliantly by Williams. Below I have transcribed a reduced version
of the piece which displays all the salient harmonies which play such an enormous part in crafting the
musical version of Diagon Alley. Williams skill here is making the musically complex, intricate and
multifarious sound completely plausible, rational and effortless.
Movie, 00.20.54 Cue: Harry, welcome to Diagon Alley

Fig.4

Db

Strings / woodwind / brass

Low strings / woodwind / brass

Db

Eb Db C

If we are looking for harmonic or rhythmic elements which skew a listeners reality then the two opening
bars do just this; once again we have no harmonic context offered no chords. The counterpoint offers two
lines which are a 9th apart.
This is virtually impossible to rationalise because thats precisely the point it should be beyond rational
comprehension. If we rationalise we normalise and then we zone-out. What Williams has written in bars
one and two isnt absolute dissonance but it functions by politely displacing our expectations. If we look
below we can see that there is an abrupt time change from 6/8 to 4/4. This time change might not have
worked as well had the first two bars not been so difficult to rationalise harmonically. Given the lack of
harmony we concentrate instead on the rhythm, which we can rationalise. This piece may sound and look
confusing but the crucial thing is that it isnt cluttered. There is great economy here.
Abrupt time change; no perceived
key centre

Fig.5

Strings / woodwind / brass

Trumpets

Low strings / woodwind / brass

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

Easily the most infectious and mesmerising section of this piece is where it breaks out into what at first
seems like a tune. On closer scrutiny however were aware once again that the piece is skewed
harmonically. If we simply isolate the rhythm of the melody we realise it is perfectly rational. The
harmony, however, features bitonality. The last two beats of bar four and six feature notes which belong
over a C chord but which are actually played over a Db chord. Williams has done what hes done a
thousand times before and always to great effect; hes placed a nice tune in a bizarre harmonic
surrounding. We therefore experience a duality of perception; its a nice tune but somethings wrong. Its
a nice tune but somethings weird

Fig.6

Db

Db

Bi-tonal; notes imply a


chord of C (over Db)

Eb Db C

THE ENGLISH PATIENT Gabriel Yared


Turning now to something wholly more sedate, we examine one of the main themes from the movie The
English Patient, a grand and complex tale of love, loss and tragedy. Set in North Africa and Italy it is an
epic drama of two haunting love stories that unfolds against a background of WWII. Through the prism of
war, love and friendship, themes of adultery, nationality and betrayal are explored.
A track entitled Rupert Bear, by Gabriel Yared is one of the most effective pieces in the film. Given that
this piece is the most popular music cue from the film and has been performed in its own right, what are its
communicative qualities, and how does it reflect the sense of sadness, loss and emotion?

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

Fig.7

Audio Rupert Bear

Lets first start with a simple observation; that the piece is slow and languid; there is room for the
harmonies and subtleties to breathe. One of the main reasons that music is often prevented from reaching
its emotional potential is that often it simply goes to fast or tries to fit too much music into itself. This is
something Thomas Newman has often said. Music which is open, transparent, languid and plodding but
which contains a selection of attractive harmonies and suitable and subtle orchestration can often create
more emotion than music which is fuller, busier or more intense; listeners are given much more of an
opportunity to engage and interpret. They become part of the process, not merely the object of it. Another
basic observation is that the Harp figure penetrates better because it starts on a 3rd (circled) one of the
most descriptive intervals because it immediately colours the chord and determines whether its major or
minor. To start a melody or countermelody on the 3rd will expose it and draw our attention.
A more subtle observation would be that the melody, when it comes, is anticipatory; it arrives early
(highlighted by a rectangular box fig.7). This subtly wrong-foots the listener and faintly confounds what
they might have expected, given that few melody lines do this.
Another observation is that the piece is built on inversions. There are more inverted chords in the piece than
not. However, so far we have discussed inversions in terms of how they displace and redistill the harmonic
weighting.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

Though most of the inversions in this piece do precisely that, there is one inversion used where, although
technically an inversion, the harmonic flavour created does not sound as if it has redistributed the intervals.

Fig.8

The chord in the second bar sounds


like a Bb6; it possesses the warmth
you would normally associate with
the 6th interval. And yet it is not a
Bb6 but a Gm 1st inversion. If it
actually was a Bb6 it would contain
an F note, which would make it
sound slightly more jazzy. The
reason we perceive it to be a Bb6 is
because it is preceded by a Bb
chord; our perception of one chord is
nearly always influenced, guided
and informed by what comes before.
The chord in bar two therefore
sounds like a sophisticated Bb6.

Fig.9
If a Gm 1st inversion is preceded by a Gm root
position chords, the 1st inversion will sound
dramatic and classical. If it is preceded by a
Bb chord it will sound like a subtle Bb6
(without the F note). To the right the piece
does a similar thing; an Eb/Bb chord is
succeeded by a Cm/Bb chord.

Eb
Bb

Cm
Bb

The second chord sounds like a Eb6/Bb with


the C note being the 6th, but again, because the
Eb chord itself has no Bb in it, it is actually a
Cm/Bb.

The point here is not to discuss what chords are called and how one note can alter the name of the chord;
the point is that the success of these sequences is because in both cases the chord in the second bar has a
specific effect; we think were listening to a subtle major 6th chord but what were actually listening to a
chord which is designed to illicit that reaction. It could be said that if we were to describe the chords in bars
two and five of the original transcription phonically they might be called Bb6(no F). That would, after all,
be a literal explanation of what we think we hear. This also underpins the fact that a chord symbol is much
more than simply a name we give a group of notes. In many cases the name is associated with a particular
feel or emotion; when we say the Gm/Bb sounds like a softer Bb6, we are referencing the style and
emotion associated with a chord name.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

ATONEMENT Dario Marianelli

I would like to turn now to the film Atonement, music by Dario Marianelli. Below is a reduced
transcription of the main theme.
Audio - Briony - Movie, 00.00.01

Fig.10
Bb

nc

Bb

Bb

nc

Gb

Gb
Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

nc
Gb

Gb

Bb

Bb

Bb

nc

When we listen to this we are drawn initially to its unusual characteristics; the piece starts with the sound of
a typewriter forming the rhythmic element. Then perhaps we are drawn to monotonous and mesmeric
repeated Bb in the first few bars, followed by the equally captivating quaver triplets which follow in bar 5.
There is a constant unsettling harmonic manoeuvre between the Bb and Gb/Bb chords (boxed) but what
makes that transition work is actually the much-travelled Bb. In the transcription below I have highlighted
the sections in question and have placed the Bb in context of its intervallic meaning, i.e. what the Bb is in
context of the chord that accompanies it or the harmony being implied.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

Fig.11

Gb

Bb nc

st

Gb

Bb nc

Gb

Bbnc

Bb

Bb

3rd

3rd

Gb
Bb

Bb

3rd

3rd
1st

st

1st

The shifting sands of what the Bb represents Intervallically in this chord sequence is actually a major
reason for the mesmerising, skewed feeling it conveys when listening.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN John Williams

Disorientation and the subtle subversion of expectation


I would like to turn briefly to the opening titles music for the film Catch me if you Can, by John Williams.
On a surface level this is a true story of Frank Abagnale, one of the greatest conmen of the 20th century.
Essentially it is a cat-and-mouse chase between forger Abagnale and his FBI Nemesis Carl Hanratty,
played by Tom Hanks. The two rarely share screen time, but their relationship is almost one of mutual
respect and grudging admiration. Like other Spielberg films Catch Me if You Can deals with themes of
broken homes and troubled childhoods. Spielberg creates a film that sympathizes with the crook and his
pursuer equally. John Williams, like James Horner, is just as familiar with jazz as he is with the Concert
Hall and Classical repertoire. In this score, particularly in the opening theme, he creates an effortless
feeling of 60s / 70s sophisticated orchestral jazz. The orchestration leans toward the style of Neil Hefti and
Sammy Nestico, but with harmonic touches of abstraction thrown in. The eye-grabbing opening title
sequence with a cartoon figure of Hanratty in pursuit of Abagnale, set to John Williams jazz score is
perhaps one of the most vivid and effective movie openings in recent years. Spielberg wanted a visual
sequence in the spirit of the 60s era, in the style of Saul Bass (Pyscho, Vertigo), which offers a visual
overture, which was once a staple in Hollywood film-making.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

The question for us is how does the music interact with the visuals? What extra emotion does the music
betray? Lets look at the first few bars of the opening of the film

Fig.12 Audio - Catch me if you can - Movie, 00.00.01

Vibes

w/w

When listening and following the transcription in fig.12 its virtually impossible to feel the piece because
the opening bars have no audible pulse. The point is that youre not supposed to feel it; these are bitesized chunks of harmony and rhythm, delivered melodically fast and loose, ala Bernard Herrmann. Lets
take a closer look at the harmonies, because this is really how and why the piece manages to distort and
challenge our expectations and transport a distinct emotional feel.

Fig.13

Fig.14

Above (fig.13) we have two chords in bar one (Dm and Gm). In bar two I have merged them, which make
for a challenging, but not too dissonant, listening experience. As listeners our primary preoccupation is to
rationalise, to categorise, to classify; to understand. Although on a surface level we enjoy, in order to enjoy
we must attempt to understand, scrutinize and rationalise. Simply put, we have difficulty dealing with a
polychord because it throws up groups of intervals we dont normally have to deal with.
rd

3
1st

1st
5th

On the version to the left (fig.14) we have again merged the two
chords (the Gm over the Dm) but have missed the minor 3rd out of
the Dm, leaving just the A and D, and missed out the 5th of the Gm
(the D note). Whats left is enough of the characteristics of each
chord for the combination to sound strange.

nc
Because weve taken the 3rd out of the Dm, technically its a D, but the combined effect is still fairly odd.
It is this precise version of harmonic distortion that is so successful in the opening credits, specifically bar
nine, two bars into the abbreviated transcription below.

How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

Fig.15

Gm (no 5th)

D (no 3rd)
Over and above the jazz instrumentation, the success of the film intro music can be distilled into one
musical trick which creates the subtle subversion of expectation

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

KNOWING Marco Beltrami

This film contains a blend of the kind of paranoia found in vintage sci-fi movies and new-age spirituality.
Like many science fiction movies, it is a film about the fallibility of humanity and the frailty of the human
condition. The music serves to highlight and heighten these aspects more than it plays the science fiction,
especially during key scenes displaying the introspection, paranoia and suspicion of the main adult
character. The transcription below plays during the intro credit roll.
Movie, 00.07.43 Audio 01.03 Main Title

Fig.16

Strings
Strings /
Brass

The interesting things in this section are the varying levels of emotional intensity and corresponding
harmonic complexity. The piece essentially is split up into four sections, each 4 bars long. Each section
begins with a normal chord and slowly progresses through a progression featuring varying degrees of
weirder chords. In the first two 4-bar sections, the peak is reached in bar 3 before returning to a normal
chord in bar 4 to tie-up the phrase.
The third 4-bar entry features an emotional contour that simply keeps growing whereas the final 4-bar
phrase reaches a peak in bar two and gradually ascends to the absolute normality of a major chord. The
example below contextualizes the emotional contour created by the relative intensity or dissonance of the
harmonies.

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

Fig.17

Gm

Bbm6

Bbm

Eb

Eb7

Gm

Gm

(#13)

(maj7)

(add9)

(b9)

(add9)

Gm

Bm6

Eb

Bbm

Eb7

Dsus4

When attempting to deduce and rationalise human emotional response to any given chord (how it creates a
sense of meaning within us) we must never forget that the type of reaction to a specific chord is created and
achieved partly by the preparation we receive. The first Bbm6 we hear wouldnt have exactly the same
impact if it simply appeared from nowhere without any preamble; the fact that it comes on tha back of a
Gm(add9) chord is partly responsible for how out of the blue it sounds.
One reason the piece works so well is because the harmonic weirdness is dealt with in a slow,
cumbersome, plodding manner with the rising emotional tension of each entry bleeding through slowly and
in most cases dissipating. No one sequence in this piece begins on a strange chord; the sequence graduates
toward it. What comes first therefore is crucial. The strange chords are a reaction; this is why they work so
well. If they were the norm we would acclimatize to them and the effect would be lost. In a piece like this
where the music plays to graphics and not dialogue, ultimately its about delivering a journey which maps
across the introduction with several stop-off points where the emotion created within the listener has
chance to take a breath.
When chords become Polychords
As alluded to numerous times in this book, one of the many compositional methods that differentiates film
composers from normal composers is that they dont always think of complete chord changes; instead
they sometimes think in terms of evolving an existing chord, subverting harmonies and making use of the
subtle interplay between different intervallic tensions.
The first chord in the example below is an F. The second chord adds a maj7. If we think of how we might
evolve this chord further still, perhaps adding some mild dissonance, we might sharpen the 5th. The
changing of this one note fundamentally alters the harmonic perception and complexion of this chord
because it opens up the concept of polyphony.
The chord in bar 3 is still an Fmaj7 but the top 3/5ths of it unilaterally function as an A chord. In fact the top
four notes constitute an inverted A chord. The note that changes everything is the bass note the F. There
is a subtle duality of perception which affects our listening experience. The original F chord has been
altered, not by simply applying absolute chord changes but by adding extensions which give the chord two
personalities.

Fig.18
A chord
(+5)

(+5)

Fmaj7 chord
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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

The section below, again from Marco Beltramis score to Knowing, shows how basic chords can be
subverted, altered and evolved to offer new harmonic colours. The first chord is an F (#5)
Looking at, listening to and focusing on the top three notes, they represent most of an inverted A chord.
The low F note creates a tussle between what harmonic flavour will dominate our perception of the chord.
The voicings are mid/low and the orchestrations feature low dense brass, which adds to the abstraction.

Fig.19

Movie - 00.22.33

00.22.33

Audio 00.21 Numerology

00.22.39

(00.52 Numerology)

00.22.49

00.23.07

00.23.13

The next chord is an E/F, an abstract chord which features most of the notes from one
chord (E) with a dissonant bass note (F).

Inside the bracketed second bar chord of fig.20 is the same


chord as in bar one but spelled enharmonically different.
This reveals that the bottom and third note (going bottom to
top) could be described as the root and minor 3rd of an Fm
chord.

Fig.20

( )

What this analysis seeks to do is shine a light onto the multitude of different harmonic possibilities and
reveal and expose the different and complex harmonic relationships that govern how we listen to music.
If a group of notes can theoretically be given two names this leaks over from theory to practice; arguably it
can have two simultaneous aural identities. This mild confusion is what baffles the listener and creates
anxiety. The vast majority of listeners will be unaware of the chords types and characteristics involved and
how they relate but it doesnt matter because in their own way they are the beneficiaries of the outcome. I
am not even saying that the composer himself looks at the chords used in this way or has the time to
analyse the vastness of harmonic relationships that exist; I am simply stating that, regardless of
compositional methodology or aural perception, these are part of the reason the chords work so well and
part of the reason we respond to them.
Movie, 00.23.24 Audio 1.10 Numerology

Fig.21
Dbm

Eb
Db

The last section in this film that I want to analyse


comes twenty three and a half minutes into the
film, leading on from the last section we analysed.
The two chords (Dbm and Eb/Db) work well
together.
I will momentarily place this sequence in different, easier keys to rationalise in order to better understand
the harmonic dynamics at work. The first two chords of each group of four chords shows a transition
between a minor chord and a major chord a tone above.

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

This dramatic, euphoric chord sequence is used often in film and even song. Bar three and four of each four
bar sequence shows a remake of the same sequence, this time keeping the original pedal note. This is lessemphatic and euphoric but it is dramatic and is much used in films. One of the reasons for the drama this
chord creates and the success of this type of sequence is the changing context of the root note, evolving as
it does from root to 7th whilst remaining the same note. There is also obvious drama when one group of
notes all change but the root note remains. If it was one of the notes in the middle of the chord which had
remained, this wouldnt have been so obvious. The top or bottom note remaining static but changing
context is much more dramatic, exposed and obvious.

The track below is from the movie The Village by James Newton Howard. He makes a virtue out of the
same approach in bars one-four. In bars five-eight the top line stays loyal to the same idea (but in a
different key) whereas the accompanying harmony becomes more abstract and dissonant.

Fig.24

Audio - The Forbidden Line, 00.01


Gm
A
G

Dm

Ebmaj7
Eb

Dm

Dm

Gm

C#m
E

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

PANIC ROOM Howard Shore

This brilliantly claustrophobic film is made by David Fincher, one of the foremost filmmakers at using
digital effects to enhance his stories. Most of the camera movements would not be physically possible
without digital tricks and yet one never you never get the feeling that youre watching CGI. Virtually the
entire film takes place within the walls of one house. Fincher is great at creating dark moods in his films,
something which, in this film, is greatly supported and enhanced by the Howard Shore score.
Shores music builds the tension of the narrative without ever compromising it or unduly italicising it.
Shore never turns drama into melodrama. When you allow bass instruments to take the tune you would
normally orchestrate very carefully around the sound, the register and the notes. There is obviously a very
good reason why most melodic figures are on top of, or immersed in, the accompanying harmonies and not
underneath them; it would cause sonic ambiguity and lumpy voicings. However, composers can often get
great results when placing melody at the bottom. It can add gravity and drama to a piece, as long as you
orchestrate sensitively.
Howard Shore makes even more dramatic use of placing the melody in the lower register because the
opening to Panic Room is more abstract than tuneful. On the top two staves of fig.25 we have a consistent
harmonic approach the Bsus4. Piano/Harp and strings provide a constant, steady harmonic base. The
lower notes cause the precise intervallic complexion of the harmonies to change by virtue a fluctuating bass
and how it impacts on the chord above. The beauty and power of the bass register notes is that they
penetrate much more than a mid-register melody and therefore fundamentally affect the context of how we
hear the passage. Below I have transcribed the opening and have notated the subtle differences in harmonic
context with chord symbols. The differences in harmonic complexion and context are subtle which makes
them all the more effective in this dark, dramatic setting.

Fig.25

Movie, 00.00.18 Audio - Main Title

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

This introduction sequence is visually stunning but dark, threatening and ominous. The music has a
palpable portentous and fateful air to it. This is arguably mainly down to the exquisitely and subtly
changing harmonic context caused by the use of the dark, cumbersome and plodding melody in bass
register.
On the transcription in fig.25 I have also added grey perforated lines which display the rises in harmonic
complexity caused by the evolving bass-register melody re-contextualising the harmonies. This functions as
a kind of emotional contour. Its interesting to note that the chords grow from being simple to complex
before returning again to simple.

PASSENGERS Edward Shearmur

Passengers is a film about a young psychologist who is assigned to deal with the survivors of a jet liner
crash. The film is largely quiet, subdued and pedestrian, but it manages to invite in the subtext, which
relates to how we deal with death; with loss. Some narrative elements of the movie lull you into a kind of
trance state, not entirely unlike the Sixth Sense. The intro music and main theme plays several times
throughout the movie and betrays a heady mixture of feelings; it feels passive and restrained but also
possesses a kind of luminous freshness. As is always the case, the music itself does not possess such
characteristics and qualities; our interpretation of the music is what creates the feelings we enjoy, and the
relative uniformity of our aural cognition and perception manages to create a similar feeling in most
listeners.
Audio, The Wreckage - Movie, 00.00.37

Fig.26

Earlier on in the book we dealt with the sci-fi chord change, which, because of the nature of the change,
can often create feelings of wonderment in the mind of the listener. By way a reminder, in the key of C the
transition was from C to Gm, as below (fig.27).

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

Fig.27

Fig.28

D G C F Bb

F# B E A D

Bm Em Am Dm Gm

D#m G#m C#m F#m

Bm

In the intro to Passengers the sci-fi chord change (fig.28) is from the key centre of E and the change is
therefore between E and Bm. This is one the main reasons the piece has feelings of luminous freshness and
wonderment.
The harmonies are serviced by soft dreamy-textured layered samples and strings with the lead instrument
being quite a bright, sharp almost crystal-like sampled sound. There are some other harmonic issues which
are worth mentioning because the regularity of their use makes them function as harmonic identifiers
something without which the piece would not be as effective. I am principally referring to the 9th (C#) and
the 11th (E) in bars two-seven. Bars eight-eleven also feature the 9th but this time it appears as the F#. These
slight subtleties help the piece communicate a consistent identity.

Fig.29

What also helps is that the F# which begins the phrase on bar two falling on the 5th of the Bm chord becomes the 9th when the phrase changes on bar 8, creating a consistent sound but different intervallic
context. The G# (the all-powerful maj3rd) appearing as the second note of the phrase in bar eight and nine
reinforces the chord change from Bm to E.

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

THE REAPING John Frizzell

In The Reaping actor Hilary Swank plays a former missionary who, having lost her faith after her family
was tragically killed, became a world expert in debunking religious phenomena. But she investigates what
appear to be the Biblical plagues and realizes that science cannot explain what is happening. There are
similarities between this film and Signs in that they both question the notions of science, God and belief.
The score was originally composed by Philip Glass, who went as far as recording. Producers were not
satisfied, however, and decided to give John Frizzell chance to write the music. The intro to the movie
features an extremely atmospheric and distinctive, dark and moody piece performed using a Fender Rhodes
keyboard sample. Transcribed below is a small section of the music which has some key areas of
importance and interest.
Movie, 00.00.03

Fig.30
D

omit3

Bb

omit3

Bb

omit3

Bb

omit3

Bb

The most important aspect of this piece aside from its distinct Fender Rhodes texture lays in the way the
intervals cascade into place. No chord is stated as one but rather they fall in and out of form. This is a
good example of what is often meant by horizontal harmony chords that reveal rather than state.
omit3

The D on the treble clef stave has two contexts; it functions as the root of the first D chord and then
becomes the major 3rd of the Bb/F chord. Looking at the top line and chords if we focus on the D note and
look at the perforated line underneath we can see its evolution from root to 3rd without changing the way it
sounds; it simply changes what it is; what it means.

Fig.31

3
1

3
1

The voicing of the second chord in each bar (Bb/F) is effective too. The spacing of the three notes is earcatching featuring an 11th between the bottom F and the Bb above and a 10th between the Bb and the top D.
The root of the chord is in the middle with the 5th at the bottom and the 3rd at the top. This odd delivery
of notes and what they constitute as intervals goes beyond being of merely theoretical interest; what
interval a note speaks is part of its character. Listeners may be oblivious to how and why music
communicates identity, character and meaning but this doesnt mean it doesnt happen.
omit3

When bar one starts we dont know if the D will suggest or imply minor or major. Because the second
chord (Bb) is more akin to a key centre of Dm and in any case contains the F (which would function as a
minor 3rd in a Dm chord), every subsequent D is heard as a Dm despite containing no 3rd.

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

Ultimately parts of this piece are great examples of music which doesnt necessarily state but suggests,
implies and hints. This is often such an effective way of writing because it involves the listeners
interpretative skills more. The listener is not passive; their interpretation has a higher level of involvement
than is the case in most music.
Finally we have the leaking A: the A note in chord 1 (the 5th of the D chord) stops before the second
chord comes in but its ghost functions as a distant major 7th in the Bb/F chord. This subtle interplay with
harmonies being created by innuendo and suggestion is impressive enough, but managing this with so few
notes and one instrumental texture is especially effective. The music seems to work with the style of credit
roll at the beginning, which is modern, abstract and edgy.

THE SIXTH SENSE James Newton Howard

The Sixth Sense is a landmark movie which has a thoughtful and meaningful narrative. A film of subtlety
and refinement, intricacy and detail, the movie needed an equally sensitive film score. One of the most
important aspects of this score is that Night asked me to start composing music before he started shooting. I
went to Philadelphia and sat with him in his office while he storyboarded the entire movie for me, which is
something I've never done before. So said James Newton Howard, composer of the music for Sixth Sense.
This is an important point and one we will return to again in this book; the notion of the composer sat down
looking at the film and composing to picture is the way we envisage a film score composer working. But
it is only one way of writing film music.
Some composers such as Newton Howard and Zimmer occasionally provide initial material based on their
emotional commentary of the directors concept. In some situations directors then use the pre-score as a
temp-track for the film, which in turn affects the way they make the film. This means music really is an
integral part of the process of the film, not simply something which is added afterwards.
This situation turns the whole composer-director relationship on its head but represents a progressive
evolution of the art of film-making and film composing. Wedded as we are to the notion of music being
something that is added to a film after it is made, we have to acknowledge that the idea of a composer
providing a musical emotional commentary based on an idea or concept from a director or writer, which
then informs the making of the film itself, is an evolution of the art of film scoring and an
acknowledgement of the power of music. This book deals with conceptualisation and the vexed issue of
whether composers think or simply do at various points but certainly directors allowing composers to
think before they see; to compose based merely on a concept and a conversation, can do nothing but
progress the art form of film composing. It suggests the notion that composing for picture is much more
than simply the interpretation of pictures by a composer.
Christopher Nolan asked Hans Zimmer to write the music for Inception without seeing the film itself. For a
film which includes the concept of dreams within dreams it would seem entirely fitting that the composer is
allowed to conceptualise without the hindrance of the actual reality of the pictures.
The personality of the score to Sixth Sense lies in the subtleties of precise instrumentation and key shifts, as
the following examples shows.

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

Fig.32

Audio - Run to the Church - Movie, 00.00.12.53

The rhythmic dissonance and interplay between 6/8 and 7/8 dont sound as difficult or disorientating as
they look on paper. The constant quavers create a slightly mesmeric and captivating feeling. The ascending
quaver line (E, C, G) at the end of each bar offers a feeling of similarity and familiarity which bridges the
differing time signatures well.

Fig.33

E
C
A
F
D

E
C#

G#
E
C#

The two chords on the left (fig.33) represent the chords at


the end of bar nine and the beginning of bar ten. As is
common with JNW the concept of a note trading more on
its intervallic context is always present; the E note
functions firstly as the 9th of the Dm9 chord and secondly
as the m3rd (m10th) of the C#m chord. The addition of the
9th stops the transition between Dm and C#m sounding too
symmetrical.

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

The section below is a continuation of the same piece (on single stave format) and shows once again how
overlapping one note from the bar before helps the music communicate. The C# at the top of bar one (maj
3rd) becomes the 4th at the start of bar two. The overhanging C# also ensures than not all the parts move
down.
Audio, Run to the Church 00.40 - Movie, 00.00.13.34
C# (4th)

C# (3rd)

Fig.34

Consonance
Suspended
Resolution

As we can see from the evolution of the harmony from consonance, through suspension to resolution
(fig.34) the C# hangover from bar one to two helps the piece have a sense of purpose and direction.
JNH uses the same methodology again in the next excerpt from the same film. He mixes the two unrelated
key centres G#m and G via the linking note of B - which in both cases represents the 3rd (minor then
major). The 3rd (whether minor or major) is a defining and exposed interval, as weve establish elsewhere
in the book. Italicizing its use in this way is extremely effective.

Fig.35 Audio - De Profundis 00.17


G#m

G#m

Looking again at this chord manoeuvre we can see that the top melodic line moves from min3 to maj3 (e.g. up),
the note itself is static (B to B) whilst the chord moves from G#m to G (e.g. down).

Fig.36
The chord manoeuvre and melody note therefore offer three perspectives,
contextualised by the example below. This sense of simultaneous static and
contrary movement is at the heart of why the chord sequence doesnt sound
unduly chromatic and square

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

Fig.37
Note
Chord
Intervallic
context of
the B note

The other reason this particular piece works is because it merges two distinctly different areas: firstly we
have the delicate chord maneuvers of G#m to G, softened up by the deft orchestration, but secondly we
have a couple of Blues touches; the C# (b5) and the F (7th). This lends the piece an extra dimension.
The section below plays 54 seconds into the movie over a credit roll and really helps establish the tone and
flavour of the movie.

Fig.37

Audio, Tape of Vincent 02.30 - Movie, 00.00.00.54

9th

5th

#4

Simile strings / ww

Bar two to three contains a C which functions first as a 9th, then a 5th. Bar eight to nine have an F which
functions first as a minor 3rd, then a major 3rd. JNW utilises the slightly hypnotic and entrancing
characteristics to be found when a melodic line of a chord shift stays on the same note but changes from
major 3rd to minor 3rd or vice versa. We feel the context of the note moving although the actual note itself
(the sound) stays static.
Another harmonic identifier which helps lend a sense of wonderment is the famous #4th, which appears
twice. In addition the quaver octave piano part creates an identity which is later used in Run to the Church.

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

WOLF Ennio Morricone

Wolf is a Werewolf movie from director Mike Nichol in which the concept of the Wolf functions as
multiple metaphors for unleashed sexuality and the law of the corporate jungle. John Williams was
originally attached to compose the music for this film but left when the project became delayed. Ennio
Morricone plays the movie wonderfully with a selection of cues which range in style from classic 50s
horror movie genre, through to classical romanticism.
Mostly he plays the story of the betrayal of the main character, Will Randall, by his wife and work
colleague. He plays the love story between Randall and Laura Alden, played by co-star Michelle Pfeiffer.
Morricone plays love better than most composers by providing evocative but simple music that rises and
falls effortlessly through a series of clever chord changes and poignant harmonic statements. His use of
orchestra and Alto sax is entirely typical of his ability to think outside the box. Where others would have
simply used orchestra, Morricone throws something unique into the mix; certainly when one imagines a
Werewolf movie, Alto sax is not the first instrument that comes to mind.

Fig.38

Before examining the romantic theme properly I would like to cast an eye and ear over the chords below,
which form the harmonic basis for the theme. The orchestrated harmonies alone are used earlier in the film,
with the melody being added for scenes toward the end of the movie.

The piece highlights again the use of bass and inversion as writing tools. As I have highlighted in the
transcription, the choice of inversion allows a smooth transition at the foot of the chord which makes the
chord changes seem smoother. The boxed chords show simple examples of how inversions are used
passing chords. Inversions nearly always cause drama but their use is also tactical in allowing for a better
chordal transition. The transcription below now has the Alto sax melody added. The grey perforated lines
represent repetition of motif; not literally but where the same notes are applied to slightly different rhythms
and different harmonic support. Bars four and five feature similar figures and bars nine and ten feature a
similar contour.

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

Fig.39

Fig.40

In the example below, a single stave transcription of the same piece, I have mapped out the intervals being
stated by some of the notes. The manoeuvre that takes the G note at the end of bar 3 from stating a 1st (root)
to a 7th on the first beat of the next bar is interesting; the chord moves up but the note stays the same. But
only the physical note stays the same; the intervallic context goes from 1 to 7 and then back to 1. Therefore
there are three separate movements; the chord, the note and what it represents.

Fig.36

11
5

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How Film & TV Music Communicate Vol.1 Text Brian Morrell 2013

To those who might reasonably venture to suggest that this is over-analysis, or analysis gone mad, I would
say that such abstract observations go to the heart of how and why our minds and respond to music in the
way they do. 99% of listeners will in all probability be blissfully unaware of the existence or significance of
most of the observations in this book. But they will be beneficiaries of the affects caused by most of the
points addressed.
As composers we do not necessarily have to be consciously aware of such things when we actually sit
down and compose, because to be aware at all means such knowledge will seep into your intellect and
become part of your writing. If you understand how and why harmony communicates your writing will be
indelibly affected by such knowledge. Knowledge is not something we can switch on and off. We cant
un-know something; it is part of who we are and what we do. We are products of our genes, our
experiences and, most of all, our knowledge and understanding.
To those who might venture to suggest that too much analysis, knowledge and understanding goes against
the spirit of creating art - that ignorance is bliss - I would say that in most cases ignorance is never bliss; it
is only ever ignorance.

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