What makes music epic?
Brass. All those horns just blasting bombastic harmonies.
Strings going to blazes and back.
Percussion pounding the heartbeats of heroes.
And don’t forget the choirs: lots of celestial singing for the unnatural nature of these more-than-mortals.
What makes music cosmic?
This is where the synthetic can weave something new in the orchestral tapestry.
In the soundtrack to Thor: Ragnarok, Mark Mothersbaugh takes the epic aesthetic one associates with the Norse gods and braids it gleefully with the cosmic synth to give us an entirely unique aural perception of a displaced hero fighting his way out of an alien environment.
Of all the tracks, I feel this to the best example of synth and orchestra duking it out for story’s sake:
We begin with a synth arpeggio that quickly swells into percussion, choir, brass, and strings. The hero is showing his mettle, but he is not in his element. At 1:00 there is just, oh, this brilliant fall felt in the battle drums and synth arpeggio. The synth occasionally overwhelms the orchestra: the villain is winning. Then right around 2:30 it feels like the strings are changing sides as they finger-slide amidst new arpeggios, challenging the brass to rise up, strike back. Choir and battle drums silence both in the final moment.
Story-tellers, that’s who.
Music with this narrative power inspires the most uncertain writer to hand off their beers, roll up their sleeves, and tell their characters, “Now this is how you do it.”
I had this very moment with my hero and heroine not too long ago. Running from the villains they knew, I discovered new characters eager to snatch the heroes out of their environment and drag them into a location deep under water. The heroes are cornered in this alien place. Escape is surely impossible. The logical course of action is surrender.
Not gonna happen, Story-teller Me says. Hold my beer, and let me show you how it’s done.
Who the hell can surrender with this music on? Synth joins drums and calls the heroes to fight the undefeatable with the impossible and come out victorious even as the bars of imprisonment clang shut.
But I should be honest: these aren’t the songs that drove me to call Bo in the middle of his workday and tell him I needed him to hit a music store.
“Wait, you want me to buy music?”
(Bo’s CD collection is, admittedly, immense.)
Yes, I said, I need the score to Thor: Ragnarok.
“But you haven’t seen the movie.”
“Then how do you know the music?”
YouTube. But the commercials suck and I need that music.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
(I may have growled for good measure.)
“Okay, okay!” He comes home with the last copy (and a really nice Ennio Morricone collection for himself, but blah blah, that’s for another post).
One of the beautiful problems of imagination is that it’s not often a one-road traveler. It wants to go everywhere, meet everyone, see everything. Even in the most boring of places, our imagination sees more. My son taught me that.
My sons have both been a source of heartache lately. The class bully has decided to target Bash with hurtful friendship. Biff’s teacher and principal have had to speak to me many times about his temper. One wanders friendless around the school yard, talking only to the teachers, while the other’s willing to hurt another child because if he doesn’t, the bully won’t be his friend any more.
I think on this often as I drive Blondie to her school one town over. Would the boys be dealing with these same problems ten years from now? Good God, fifteen-year-olds, so wonderfully smart and creative, but also distant, violent, and too damn eager to please. Would they ever be friends in their own right? What would drive them to work together, as a team?
And a synth arpeggio flowed through my mind as I saw them on the run for their lives. What chases them? What’s waiting for them? Will they change for the better, or worse?
I dug through Tron Legacy, thinking the notes from Daft Punk, but they weren’t. They seemed to be of their own creation, but I knew better. I had to have heard them from somewhere.
Providence: After a round of King Arthur, YouTube mixes things up with Thor: Ragnarok.
There it is: the arpeggio.
And there they are: my sons, fighting, together. Brothers bound in blood, and in soul.
God-willing I’ll have time to write this story in the next few years. These brothers have already run so far through its many lands, met some bloodthirsty and bizarre characters. Like their little selves, they’re eager to sit me down and tell me all about it. I’m so sorry, little loves (for you’ll always be my little loves), that you have to show your patience, and wait for another story to be told first. But I have your fall into adventure. You share it with the heroes born alongside your sister. This music is for you all, and will keep your adventures burning bright inside me until your turn comes to race onto the page.