Too Rich for the Room?

Dave Business, Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Music/Audio Leave a Comment

One of the things that I remember from Hummie Mann‘s scoring program was his phrase:

Oooo, I think that’s a bit too rich for the room…”

I hadn’t heard the expression before, but I kind of got what it meant and I immediately liked it.

We were looking at one of my cues in the program and I’d used some chords that he was thinking might be a bit too out-of-place in the piece.  I can’t remember what they were, but in essence, they were either too “jazzy” or dissonant with respect to the rest of the music and the subject matter on screen.

The phrase stuck with me and I keep it in mind whenever I’m coming up with ideas, arranging, orchestrating, mixing, etc…  needless to say it’s come up in my mind a few times while doing this project.

Essentially, it’s kind of a philosophy that I like to keep in my thoughts when writing music – make sure that all the musical elements are being kept within a context that will make sense.

Walking that Line

Writing a bunch of music for a production involves a lot of balancing – keeping things consistent is quite important.

Having a consistent orchestra and “sound” plays a big part.  Using the same instruments, settings, signal chain goes a long way in gluing the cues together in a cohesive score.

In addition to that, keeping a consistent harmonic “language” helps too.  Unless it’s specifically called for in terms of source music or other special dramatic instances, I don’t feel that the listener should be subjected to drastic changes in style or genre in a score.

For this score, I’ve gone, somewhat, harmonically simple… at least in the more run-of-the-mill scenes.  I stick to mostly triadic chords, and use modal interchange and mode scales to provide different flavours.

For instance, I’ll use flat 7ths and flat 6th chords in a major scale (i.e. Bb major and Ab major in the key of C) or use a mode like Dorian to provide a bit of unease in melodic lines.  The most complex chords I’ve ventured using is an add9 (i.e. C Major triad with a “D”) or I’ll use sus2 and sus4 chords (i.e. C, D, G or C, F, G).

I’ve also used ostinato bass lines (keeping the bass note constant while changing chords) or harmony lines (keeping chords constant while changing the bass/melody) – still keeping with more triadic harmony – just using the technique to add an element of tension.

That’s as “rich” as I thought would be appropriate to this score.  I’ve tried to stay away from overt “jazz” sounding chords.

Breaking my “Rules”

The only times I’ve ventured out of the … harmonic lexicon (ahem) I’ve created are in scenes where there’s tension or suspense.

For those kinds of cues, I tried to look for more of a subtle dissonant soundscape over a suggested harmonic structure – think the string clusters and effects from LOST, but less overt and over a kind of chord structure…

For dissonance, I’ve been steering away from your stereotypical diminished, augmented and wholetone chords and trying to find ones that play off of straddling that edge between consonance and dissonance – for instance slowly oscillating between a Gsus2 and a Gsus2#5.

To add a bit more tension, there are places where I’m putting things in an odd time signature such as 5/4 – adding a bit more imbalance and “something’s-not-quite-right-here” feeling.

In the end, the tension parts are not quite stepping out of the “simple” harmonies direction as the dissonance isn’t completely in-your-face unsettling.  Rather, the dissonance is created by altering relatively simple chords to places that don’t sound quite right.  The “sus” chord in itself creates a bit of tension in that it suggests a resolution, but by not resolving he second to the 3rd, it has an interesting “consonant dissonance” – to the listener, it’s a bit unsettled, but also familiar.  …Then screwing that up slightly kind of pushes it further away from where the listener wants to go…  Definitely kind of fun.

Alright, I’ll stop being the theory-geek-philosopher for today…

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