Writer’s Music: Daniel Pemberton

When I listen to the music flowing beneath a film, I search for tributaries. Could this music tell more than one story, or is its course reinforced with concrete, impossible to divert?  Some scores are simply too entrenched to draw elsewhere, such as John Williams’ work for Superman and Jaws. Other scores tell the narrative their own way with music, and in that narrative arc flow many streams of story. One need only pick the flow to follow.

John Powell is one such composer, whom I’ve written of before, as well as Daft Punk. I still remember the excitement in me when I heard they were composing for Tron: Legacy, and knew that, if nothing else, the music would be amazing.

But the less said about that film, the better. No, I wanted to touch on Daft Punk because this year I felt that same excitement in discovering a composer previously unknown to me, one whose work I’m most assuredly going to dig through in the coming months:

Daniel Pemberton.

So I’m a sucker for a good fantasy film. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has its flaws with pacing and use of characters for plot propulsion, but there’s amazing aural storytelling to be found in this “175m music video.”*

In the first moments, you already feel a knowledge of old brilliance:

That lone violin pays homage to another master composer, Ennio Morricone, and his use of a music box to elicit feelings of love lost and revenge throughout the film For a Few Dollars More.

That connection sparked in my first viewing, and brought a smile to my face. I knew I was about to listen to someone who knew the power music has in cinematic narrative.

And I was right.

This theme blends period strings and electric guitar with such a gutteral heaviness that you can feel the weight of chains upon you. You’re being marched into a bleak land of little hope. Had Pemberton amped up the pacing here, he’d have something rather steampunky (rather like Hans Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes, I’d say), but he didn’t, and I’m glad. The rhythm of trudgery emphasizes the setting into which Arthur is born and raised.

“Gutteral” is a term I use as a compliment because it’s so bloody perfect with Arthur’s character. Guy Ritchie’s film has Arthur orphaned and raised by prostitutes in a brothel. He’s a boy of the streets, doing anything and everything to make a little money and protect those who didn’t have to raise him, but did.  Just listen to how the bows scrape along the strings to create almost-notes. The plucking and drums evoke a sense of dim lights, warm beer, and sly talk.

The human body itself is even an instrument in Pemberton’s score.

Breathing plays a role in a number of tracks, and for good reason: Arthur is a fighter, then literally on the run for his life. The breathing carries a determination to survive, but a desperation, too. He hasn’t the magical knowledge of the sage (the less said about her, the better), nor has he the confidence of his father’s knights. Pulling Excalibur out of the stone pulled him out of his own element, and he’s constantly catching up to understand just what the hell is going on. And as “Run Londinium” climaxes, Pemberton shows that all that frustration, desperation, and confusion is going to explode in the height of the fight to survive.

Okay, last one, I promise. I just had to show how, like Morricone, Pemberton uses the lone violin in the climax to bring this story full circle: from murder to vengeance. From child to hero.

Give Pemberton a listen. Watch your characters toddle, play, saunter, run. Fight. Survive. Thrive.

Live.

Click here for more on Pemberton’s Score. 

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*A reference in Daniel Pemberton’s Twitter feed that made me laugh.

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Writer’s Music: Gabriel Yared II

cover-560x555Simple moments matter. We don’t appreciate tension, action, horror, or whatever else without the quiet times to balance the story out.

But a danger lingers with quiet moments: pacing. Too short, and the quiet moment will come off as rushed, needless, or both. Too long, and readers will be bored. Plot doesn’t move steadily through quiet moments, so a metronome must be in place. One of the many reasons I require background music while I write is to be a metronome, timer, call it what you will. If a scene reads longer than the song that’s playing, it’s gone too long.

Certain composers fulfill the need of a metronome very well for quiet moments. Some I’ve written about already, such as Danna or Karaindrou. I would like to note Gabriel Yared again, as his compositions for piano in Cold Mountain are worth notice.

“Ada Plays” does not have the, I’ll call it “epic,” tone held by other selections of the Cold Mountain score. Only piano plays for the first minute and a half, in a waltz-like rhythm, with one constant note underlying the chords that sway up and down the keys. Piano fades to a harp and orchestra, which keep the rhythm and harmonies, only now through the different instruments the simple chords are broken into melodies that flow into each other as streams join to form a river. The music is layered, intricate, and always moving forward. The swells are muted, and the music ebbs away, leaving the harp to mark the end.

Perhaps you just need a quiet moment for your characters. They deserve one, at least. And readers cannot relate, TRULY relate, to characters who are always fighting, cowering, deducing. Give your characters a chance to simply “be.”

Click here for more on COLD MOUNTAIN.

Click here for more on Gabriel Yared.

Writer’s Music: Gabriel Yared

220px-breakingandenteringostMusic helps guide me through emotional arcs, scenes of conflict, and horrific battles. And then there are those times where, well, not much is going on. Exposition has to come sometime, be it in dialogue or somewhere else. Silence may help some writers in their plots’ quiet moments, but I still need something. Breaking and Entering by Gabriel Yared and Underworld provides this. The score itself is a unique mix of layered synthesized sounds and strings, but I would like to fixate on the opening track, before Underworld’s influence.

(This is not to say Yared’s only good for filler. Far from it: the tracks of solo piano for Cold Mountain are elegant, timeless, and totally worth a separate entry.)

“A Thing Happens” is a song for realization. It moves slowly, but does not drag. The harmonies are sweet, but also a touch off—a fine fit for protagonists as they learn something from new characters. Everyone, fictional and real, needs a moment to absorb what they’ve learned, be it painful or important or both. As writers, it can be quite tempting to brush through our characters’ thought processes. Who wants to read about someone thinking? That’s almost as bad as watching someone on television watch television. Nothing’s happening. Why bother?

Because our characters, human or not, must still have carry some degree of human traits in order for readers to relate. We are rarely quick with our comprehensions, especially when the world as we know it has been turned inside out. Allow your characters a chance to breathe before the chaos you’ve prepared to unleash upon them. Give them a moment in stillness. Yared will help you find it.

Click here for more information on Gabriel Yared.

Click here for more information on BREAKING AND ENTERING.