Sunday, October 26, 2014

The value of transcription tasks

From Jim Buhler via Twitter:

You know another really good thing about transcription (musical or otherwise): it slows down and focuses attention.
And those benefits accrue even if the transcription is not particularly accurate from a technical standpoint.
It's one reason I have my non-music students transcribe dialogue, identify shots, list sound effects and describe music in a film scene.
For one thing they are forced to notice music in a different way and think about its relation in each shot to the whole.
That task focuses students on details of scene and its construction. That attention makes them consider music's place quite differently.
Silent film requires surprisingly more visual attention than does most sound film.
The same is true for foreign films with subtitles, for related but not precisely the same reasons.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Quick trip through the classical studio era

With time limited because I was out sick one day, I decided to offer the students a quick trip through the classical sound era. I chose a film from the early 1930s, one from the mid-1940s, and one from the end of the 1950s. These were The Black Cat (1934), Mildred Pierce (1945), and North by Northwest (1959). Three decades and three studios (Universal, Warner Bros., and MGM). Music for The Black Cat is a compilation score of classical orchestral and chamber music, including (among others) such familiar pieces as Liszt's Les Preludes, Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture, Schubert's Symphony no. 8 (Unfinished), and Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor—all of them staples of early film live performance practices. The music for Mildred Pierce and North by Northwest is largely, though not entirely, symphonic underscore by Max Steiner and Bernard Herrmann, respectively.

For The Black Cat I used the opening, which offers silent-film-era actor cameos in the establishing sequence, generic sound and effects added to an opening scene shot silent, and limited staging for dialogue due to microphone placement.

Mildred Pierce -- I used DVD chapters 18-20 -- shows prestige-level production values at their best and a remarkably nuanced sound track still consisting almost entirely of dialogue and music (both diegetic and non-diegetic).

North by Northwest, despite its widescreen color format, surprises because the sound track has changed very little -- only the addition of a few more understated effects (the big exception being airplane engine noise with an explosion!) and the underscore composer's emphasis on winds and brasses rather than the more traditional strings. I used the end of the auction scene through the arrival in South Dakota.

Friday, October 17, 2014

schedule adjustments, fall 2014

I am teaching MUS 337: Music and Film Sound this semester and have experimented with adjusting the syllabus to create a design that is closer to the forthcoming second edition of Hearing the Movies. Instead of moving chapter by chapter through Part 1, we read Chapter 1's basic narrative and sound-track introduction, then went to early film and the transition years (chapters 10-11). Then we returned to work our way through the rest of Part 1 (chapters 2-4) before studying the classical studio era (ch. 12). After the film form introduction (ch. 5), the music-in-scenes chapters (6, 7, 9) dovetail nicely with the post-classical and contemporary history chapters (13-15).

Here is the schedule (fall 2014):

UNIT 1: Listening to the Soundtrack; Music and Sound in Early Film
28 Aug Course Organization; Music and the Sound Track: a Brief Overview
Reading: HtM, Preface and general Introduction
2-4 Sept Narrative and the Sound Track
Reading: HtM, Ch. 1
9-11 Sept Music and Sound in Silent Film
Reading: HtM, Ch. 10
16-18 Sept The Transition to Sound Film
Reading: HtM, Ch. 11
23-25 Sept Musicality of the Sound Track
Reading: HtM, Ch. 2 

UNIT 2: Music and Film Form and Style
30 Sept -2 Oct Music, Sound, and the Space of Narrative
Reading: HtM, Ch. 3
7-9 Oct Music, Sound, and Time
Reading: HtM, Ch. 4
14-16 Oct Music and the Sound Track in the Classical Studio Era
Reading: HtM, Ch. 12
21-23 Oct Music in Film Form
Reading: HtM, Ch. 5
Music in Main Title and End-Credit Sequences
Reading: HtM, Ch. 6
28-30 Oct Music in Performance and Montage Scenes
Reading: HtM, Ch. 7

UNIT 3: Music, Sound, and Film History
4 Nov The Stereo Sound Track and the Post-Classical Era    
Reading: HtM, Ch. 13
6 Nov No class meeting
11-13 Nov Film Style and the Sound Track
Reading: HtM, Ch. 8
18-20 Nov Music in Character and Action Scenes
Reading: HtM, Chs. 9
25 Nov continued
2-4 Dec The New Hollywood, Dolby Stereo, and the Emergence of Sound Design
Reading: HtM, Ch. 14
Music and Film Sound Today (and Tomorrow)
Reading: HtM, Ch. 15 and Afterword

Second edition TOC

The second edition of Hearing the Movies is now in production. We sent text and new graphics to the Press in June.

Here is the new table of contents. Part 1 is a condensed version of HtM1, Part 1. Parts 2 & 3 split chronology from early film to the present. The writing exercises ("interludes") in HtM1 have been augmented and promoted to chapters, which are placed at appropriate points in Parts 2 & 3 (chapters 6, 8, and 15).

PART I: The Sound Track and Film Narrative: Basic Terms and Concepts
Introduction to Part I

Chapter 1: The Sound Track and Narrative
Chapter 2: The Musicality of the Sound Track: Concepts and Terminology
Chapter 3: Music, Sound, Space, and Time: Concepts and Terminology
PART II: Music and the Sound Track: From the Beginning to 1970
Introduction to Part II
Chapter 4: From 1895 to 1929: Music and Sound in Early Film
Chapter 5: From 1926 to 1932: The Transition to Sound Film
Chapter 6: The Broadway Melody (1929) and 42nd Street (1933): Analyzing Sound and Image in a Film Scene
Chapter 7: From 1932 to 1950: Music and the Sound Track in the Classical Studio Era
Chapter 8: Mildred Pierce (1945): Writing About Film Sound and Music
Chapter 9: From 1950 to 1975, Part 1: The Stereo Sound Track and the Post-Classical Era
Chapter 10: From 1950 to 1975, Part 2: The Sound Track and Film Form in the Post-Classical Era

PART III: Music and the Sound Track Since 1975
Introduction to Part III
Chapter 11: From 1975 to 2000, Part 1: The New Hollywood, Dolby Stereo and the Emergence of Sound Design
Chapter 12: From 1975 to 2000, Part 2: The Sound Track and Film Form in The New Hollywood
Chapter 13: Music and Film Sound Since 2000, Part 1: Digital Film, Digital Sound
Chapter 14: Music and Film Sound Since 2000, Part 2: The Sound Track and Film Form
Chapter 15: Writing about Music and Film Sound: Interpretation