Traces of Soundtracks

Commissioned for ABC Classical FM, Australia, 2005
Reconfigured into a series of 'listening lectures' presented at the Australian Film, TV & Radio School in Melbourne & Sydney, each in 2006 & 2007

The relationship between music and cinema is a perplexing and confounding one. The film and recording industries technologically and economically fostered the advent of sound film over 50 years ago. Yet this fundamental merger of the visual and sonic is built on frustrated working ties between producers, directors, composers and sound editors. For example, directors can be ignorant of the role of sound and music in a film, while a composer may fail to realize the nature and purpose of their contribution to the film's story. Communication breakdowns have led to regrettably conservative soundtracks.

Despite this miasma of confused strategies and artistic dilemmas governing so many developments in the production of film sound, an influential and inspiring terrain is perceivable for adventurous composers, musicians and listeners. This has nurtured over the last 30 years a fascinating and vibrant music culture imbued with the sonic qualities of soundtracks and their subsequent ties to experiments in 20th Century composition.

Many primed contemporary listeners are instinctively aware of this cinematic terrain, as they are aesthetically primed in its undercurrents and nuances whenever they surface in a film soundtrack. But for many, a vagueness persists in tracing precise connections between these musical events, their lineage in the cinema, and the legacy inherited from avant garde composers.

My series of broadcasts is designed to explore and celebrate these connections - to render them apparent by tracing the cross-currents which shoot back and forth between atonal cellos, analogue filters, tape splices, low frequency rumbles, bursts of noise, vocal breaths, guitar feedback, reverberation texture and digital editing. By tracing these connections, a wonderful sonic map will be revealed which can expand one's sono-musical sensibilities and excite listeners to comprehensively audit film soundtracks.


  • Bernard Herrmann

    Programme 1

    2005

    Written & presented by Philip Brophy
    Produced by Jason Di Rosso
    Film composer Bernard Herrmann. Neither impressionist nor expressionist. Attracted not to the lyrical or the pastoral, but to the psychological and the humoral. Hermann remains a passionate structuralist whose sense of musical logic, psychoacoustics and dramatic tempering mark him as one of the most modern and most cinematic of film composers in the 20th Century.

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  • Ennio Morricone

    Programme 2

    2005

    Written & presented by Philip Brophy
    Produced by Jason Di Rosso
    Film composer Ennio Morricone. Kitsch and sublime. Earthy and transcendental. Just as opera reinvents the dynamics of the world upon a wonderfully plastic stage, so does Morricone’s music create gilded environments wherein all manner of drama can unfold. And being Italy, it's a celebratory democratic stage, where peasant and king can share a meal. Where spine-tingling string arrangements can blend effortlessly with a wailing fuzz guitar.

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  • Quincy Jones

    Programme 3

    2005

    Written & presented by Philip Brophy
    Produced by Jason Di Rosso
    Film composer Quincy Jones. Lost in history, but still living in the grey zone between defiantly egocentric jazz improvisation and the Eurocentric grandeur of tonal orchestration. Jones’ writing, arranging and orchestration belie an overlooked complexity. With cool verve and bold respect, Jones wrenched the film score from its Wagnerian cave and slammed it down in the midst of cross-town traffic, where horns are sounded by cor anglais and cadiallacs alike.

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  • Toru Takemitsu

    Programme 4

    2005

    Written & presented by Philip Brophy
    Produced by Jason Di Rosso
    Film composer Toru Takemitsu. Not simply a composer of Japanese films, but a musical philosopher skilled in articulating the great East/West divide in his internationalist scores. Promoter of the sonic in the face of musical dogma; painter of the musical in a world surrounded by noise. Creator of violent beauty and gorgeous alienation, he stands as the most radical film composer of the 20th Century – mostly because he audibly acknowledged the era in which he lived.

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