Wednesday, 16 June 2010


I just got to hand it to the makers of The Prisoner ('...a re-imagining of the 60s TV cult classic...'). Compelling / compulsive viewing. Astonishingly to be found on ITV1 in the slot after Britain's Got Talent while potential audience were smoking pot watching BBC4 / Dave / David Lynch DVDs / Youtube.

Totally rocking soundtrack by the bloke who did Bee Movie, some perfect uses of trippy Beach Boys trax and quite the best new version of 'My Funny Valentine' I ever did hear.

Also very amusing spoof website.

Despite all the moaning minnies on the web it's been 6 hours of my time well-spent.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Digital Sound module streaming compression examples

These clips are for my class on streaming and podcasting on Monday.

Here's a test upload of a collection of film clips with a written commentary relating to my research.

The first one is a 26.4 Mb .wmv file, 768 x 576 pixels, 3:17 long, audio: 1860kbps, 16bit sample size, 2 channel stereo, sample rate 48 kHz, video: data rate 958kbps, sample size 24 bit.

** I've removed this clip as it was purely a teaching example which broke lots of copyright regulations.

Here's a more compressed example of the same video. This one is 2.85Mb .wmv file, 348 x 288 pixels, 3:17 long, audio: 126kbps, 16bit sample size, 1 channel mono, sample rate 22kHz, video: data rate 100 kbps, sample size 24 bit.

It only took 2 minutes to encode from the original .mswmm file and only a couple of minutes to upload and process. The first version took around half an hour for encoding and 20 minutes or so to upload and process. The first one is ten times the size of the second.

** I've removed this clip as it was purely a teaching example which broke lots of copyright regulations.

You can see the difference but does it really matter? Discuss.

Friday, 11 December 2009

No Country for Old Men (Coen Brothers, 2007)

When I first saw Coen Bros 'No Country For Old Men', on its release, I was in a nice big cinema on a trip to Glasgow. Great seat, great sound system. This atmospheric chase thriller is based almost word-for-word on Cormac McCarthy's novel. It is set variously in the desert, empty small towns in West Texas and on the Mexican border. As you will know if you have visited these places, they are where silence reigns supremo. Apart from the sounds of nature and the occasional interference of men and machines. The sound design of this movie reflects 'the region', an important aspect of the making of this film. There is no music to be heard apart from the diegetic appearance of a mariachi band when the central character awakes, wounded, in a square in Mexico.

But hark. Listen. There is constant flickering in the sonic world of this movie. As the characters walk through the dust you hear the crunch of their boots. There are various (and many) clicks of catches on guns, silenced or otherwise. Lightbulbs are unscrewed behind doors. Grills are removed from aircon ducts. Men shoot at one another in empty streets, no sirens, no dramatic swells and choruses. Meetings take place in diners with no radio in the background even, but there is hum and there are sonic references. The sound of singing bowls and sine waves fight through (my constant) tinnitus for attention. Is that music? Or my ears, my ears?

Carter Burwell has created the most minimal score for this movie, in league with sound designer Skip Lievsay (he takes care of the sound effects that are not music). I cannot recommend it highly enough. There is sound, there is music (there is always music - if there is a listener). In a world of noise, No Country (and no classical, no rock etc) is a relief. A sensory experiment. And a triumph for music and movies. Claudia Gorbman wrote of 'Unheard Melodies', how the job of film music is not to be heard. Here's an extreme example. Nice one chaps.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Music for Fireworks

I love fireworks displays. Last night we went to Ally Pally (clip above) and their massive explosions in the sky combined pretty well with space movie theme tunes (2001, Star Wars, ET) and of course Holst's Planets Suite. Someone put a lot of work into choreographing the fireworks and matching them with the music.
Unless, of course, I made those matches in my head when I was watching. A lot of the meaning of music and movies is in the head of the viewer. Obviously some of this transmits successfully from the creator (ie I get the connection between the space movies and the fireworks, and the witty lyric about 'falling to earth' from a song I didn't recognise) but whether s/he was matching the beats with the fireworks going off may require further investigation. Anyone know a firework person I can talk to?

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

In A Lonely Place

No, not the tear-swelling New Order song. This Humphrey Bogart vehicle (dir Nicholas Ray, 1950) features a nice diegetic performance by Hadda Brooks. In typical style of the era our hero / anti-hero the murder suspect screenwriter HB sits in a bar at a piano with gorgeous Gloria Graham while Hadda sings and plays 'I Hadn't Anyone Till You', lyrically relevant to this burgeoning and troublesome love affair. Apparently Bogie shouted down a movie mogul who tried to change the way she performed. Bless him.
Throughout the movie a recurrent theme in various arrangements and styles (by composer George Antheil) plays behind Bogie's action. That's Wagnerian leitmotif, that is.

Paul Blart - Mall Cop

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) dir Steve Carr, feat Kevin James as overweight, you guessed it, mall cop.

The music is a throw-away mixture of generic over-the-top Survivor / Bon Jovi / Kiss anthems that mean everything to American viewers, mall rats of a certain age. However there is one standout music cue. Beatles tribute band ELO (and I mean that in a nice way) massive smash 'Mr Blue Sky' accompanies Blart's journey on a 2-wheeled motorised scooter to his mall workplace. Skies are blue, natch, but it's the opening bars that really transport the visuals from the mundane to the ecstatic. The ultra-familiar chugging chords grabbed my short and curlies and I truly got the (intended) message that this loser work-obsessive can dream hisself into a make-believe super reality and achieve those wildest dreams. Which is, of course, what happens in the movie.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

If you're looking for creative music use in movies then dig out George Roy Hill's 1969 Western Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) from the library. Three prime music cues:

1. Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head (Bacharach) plays while Paul Newman rides around on a bike with menage a trois Katherine Ross on the handlebars (just find me something in those lyrics that matches that scene)

2. South American Getaway (wordless rising and falling vocals over footage of Bolivian adventures)

3. Stunning title tune which has haunted me since I first saw this movie in the 1970s sometime as a spotty urchin and reappears throughout in different styles and moods.

Go Burt, go.