#writing #music: Mark Mothersbaugh


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.

Who won?

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 for?”


(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.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

38 thoughts on “#writing #music: Mark Mothersbaugh

    • I was bummed I couldn’t read this one for you. Sorry! 😦 But thanks. Your words have got me thinking about when I started looking at music that way. Honestly? I think it may have been the Warner Brothers. cartoons–Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyot and the Roadrunner, etc. Individual instruments were often utilized in tandem with a certain facial expression or emotion…oh man, I should TOTALLY do a study of this!

      Liked by 2 people

  1. ‘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’. Then the boy done good, Ms Lee

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I loved this sound-track! (The film was pretty fun too, as long as you’re not looking for dark, serious super heroes. Which I’m not!) Hang in there with your little ones- it’s so SO hard to watch them grow and struggle when the struggles are things we can’t fix. I’ll take a bruised knee or a sick night any time, over their heartaches and struggles and the things they do that just flabbergast me. God knows where these paths will take them, and they’ve got an amazing mama (and dad too πŸ™‚ ) to love and support them along the way. xxxxxxxx

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ah, thanks, Friend. It’s such a struggle some days just to drop them off. But there’s no denying they love school, and that they are growing, in their own way, in the first place where they are separate individuals rather than just a unit of “boys.” And for that, I need to be thankful. πŸ™‚
      Yeah, I’ll maybe watch the movie sometime. I’m soooooooooo behind on the Marvel Universe, I think the last one I watched was the FIRST Thor movie… πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 2 people

  3. If there’s one thing Avengers gets right, it’s the music (actually, despite the repetitiveness of the genre, I love me my Avengers movies). I loved this soundtrack when I saw the movie and now, of course, I need it for my writing thanks to you. And I’m with your husband on the Ennio Morricone bandwagon — The Mission is one of my all-time favorite soundtracks. Thanks for yet another great music tip, Jean. Have a bonny day. Pam

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  4. I’m playing the main theme as I’m typing. Thank you, once again, for your unique insights into how the music you listen to speaks particularly to you and helps your creativity, while also giving you a way to analyse and internalise your daily experiences. It’s gold… and so very generous and brave of you to let the rest of us share it with you! I think you’re remarkable.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Yes – you’re right. It is really, really important and I never fail to be humbly grateful that I live in a time when I can have over 5,000 tracks on my computer to play whenever I feel like it… Aren’t we blessed to be alive now?

        Liked by 1 person

      • And yet I miss the good ol’ days of VHS and cassette tapes I knew kids could pull out of the little bag with read-along story books and pop into the player themselves, unlike CDs that skip the second one tiny thumb leaves a print. Gah! πŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

      • You are so right! My children had a brightly coloured tape recorder and as you say – they were able to slot in their own tapes by the time they were 6/7 – but it simply isn’t practical with a CD player…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ooo, good tip! We also keep baby wipes on hand, even though we’ve been successful without pullups since last August. Pretty sure we’ll have baby wipes in this house until we die. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • My life has been revolutionised by glasses wipes… which is probably one of the saddest comments on my existence that I’ve ever typed! Not helped by being true…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey, easy cleaners that you can use without freaking out about chemical burns are awesome! I use baby wipes to clean my house more than any other “normal” household cleaner. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • I haven’t ever tried them in that context – but it makes sense. If they can successfully clean up a small child – your average household stain doesn’t stand a chance…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Some days my #family shares amazing #writing #inspiration. Other days, not so much… #marriage & the #writinglife | Jean Lee's World

  6. I have to say the Marvels Team have absolutely nailed the movies over the last few years. Even actually developing villains and linking story arcs. Feels like what Star Wars should be. The music for this film is stunning. Got the cd. Must say the end fight scene with Led Zeppelin blasting out is almost a out of body experience in the cinema. Hope you get round to getting all your wonderful ideas out. Since Terry Practcett left us, I miss having my annual must buy on the day of release author. You are that good, you could be the new one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well now you got me all blushy and squishy! I bow in thanks to you, my friend. πŸ™‚

      And YES, this is what Star Wars should have been. Considering the wealth of novels and comics from across the years, they already had their pick of great stories with great characters. But then: nnnnnnnnnnnnope! SOCIAL JUSTICE TIME! Ugh.

      Liked by 1 person

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