“Rube” 3’30” - Dramatic Film excerpt
(A pastiche on the music from “Halloween” by John Carpenter)
This essay aims to explain the soundtrack that I composed for the short film called "Rube". As it is stated in the brief, this assignment is a pastiche on the opening theme of Halloween by John Carpenter. This project gave me an opportunity to practice a detailed analysis of this particular music soundtrack and compose a variation of it for "Rube" without violating the copyright issue.
Before beginning to compose, it was a good idea to watch the relative parts of the film over and over and analyze the soundtrack simultaneously. I believe this simple but extremely effective "Halloween" theme works very well with the silent mask of the murderer, Michael Myers. The haunting character of the repeated piano theme provides a great suspense to the film.
While doing the musical analysis of the motif, the goal was to reveal what makes this music so distinctive and recognizable. While rendering its melodic and harmonic structure I noticed that there was no cadence within the theme. In its arrangement, the repetition without a cadence plays a critical role to supply the suspense and continuity. The chromatic step-down semi-tonal progression and ostinato parts are so distinctive and drive the music forward.
The motif below is based on root, fifth and sixth (F#, C# and D) tones in F#minor. Although the third tone, A, is missing from the chord it can still be described as a minor chord with added sixth. After some experiments I did with these notes on the piano, I soon discovered that adding the third tone alters the mood radically. Therefore I decided to focus on the minor sixth chord avoiding the third tone. Additionally, alternative use of rising notes of C# and D- semi-tonal intervals - functions to create a dissonant harmony which suits the drama well. Finally, the uneven time signature 5/4 is an indispensable musical element of this driving piece. As Conrich and Woods indicate in their book Cinema Of Carpenter:
The interesting feature about the score for Halloween, however, is that the time signature is deliberately chosen to disorientate the listener... The musical structure must also take advantage of the potential rhythmic possibilities. Carpenter achieves this by using unpredictable and uneven phrase lengths. (2005:59)
It is certainly true that the music consists of uneven phrase lengths that may disorientate the audience. However, Carpenter's opening theme was influenced by the earlier score of Mike Oldfield's tune for the film, The Exorcist (1973). Indeed, this is not surprising because both films were made when the horror genre was quite popular.
As in the original motif, using uneven time signature was almost inevitable for me, in order to achieve a pastiche of the music from "Halloween". The time signature of the Rube's is in 11/4 which can be divided into 6/4 and 5/4. But to keep the score simple and the whole motif in one bar, the score is written in 11/4 time. As seen below I used the octave of F# and the accented C# and D notes to be able to create a similar texture to the original motif. Harmonically, the opening chords are derived from the main motive.
When the main motif starts, it sets the mood immediately as an overview statement of the film. Throughout the film, this single motif dominates the drama and suspense. Karlin expressed the single dramatic theme in films e.g.:
If the musical concept evolves from the dramatic theme of the film, it becomes an overview an overview statement; it stands back and reflects the overall attitude and thrust of the film (2004:73)
Using piano as an instrument certainly helped to achieve the right timbre. The continuously repeated motif was texturally developed to improve continuity and emphases the suspense. The Celesta and software instruments were used for this purpose. The mystic chords on the EVP88 - with delay and chorus - is there to match some of the scenes of the psycho watching his random victims. Like the original "Halloween" theme, the pastiche includes a series of chromatic transpositions.
At 01:26:14, when the camera zooms into the psycho's face the music accompanies the scene with dark ostinato strings on the lower register and tremolo strings on the higher. At this point, the director highlights the psychopath, who is about to go beyond just watching. With the sound of percussion, the music indicates, for the first time, the real danger he represents.
As the killer follows his victim the main motif returns varied. I also introduced a left-hand accompaniment which will be used in the final section on pizzicato strings. Accompanied by the soprano part, the music here characterizes tragedy and death. Slowly building tension with semi-tonal up transposition the music fades to silence and the victims lights his cigarette. I thought this silent part was good in order to effectively highlight the upcoming scene - violence and murder. A series of percussion hits is followed by a big explosion of the new theme. The psycho pulls out a piece of broken glass to kill his victim and the new theme emphasizes this dramatic moment. I stopped the music at this point to highlight this violent act.
After the violent killing scene, chromatic glissando on sopranos and strings dramatizes the dying victim. A dissonant feeling of death slowly resolves into the final section and leaves a feeling of sadness and mystery in the audience's memory. In the final section, the boy soloist sings a sad theme to emphasise the tragic death of the young man.
I had a difficult time deciding how to develop the music in parallel with the narrative. The structure of the score might conflict with the director's opinion. There might be a possible disagreement with mixing and the choice of orchestration. Carpenter's score is based on synthesizers and the main motif quantized heavily with the sequencer. The final mix sounds upfront and little polished. With my score for the "Rube", I have used a lot of reverb in the mix. Finally, as a composer, it is difficult to judge how much the music is similar to the original "Halloween" theme.
Conrich, I, & Woods, D, (2005) Cinema Of John Carpenter: The technique Of Terror, UK: Wallflower Press
Karlin, F (2004) On The Track (Great Britain: Routledge Press)
1- Like the original score, the tonality of the music is also in F# minor to create similar tone colour.
2- I introduced a left-hand accompaniment on the piano which also used in the final section.
3- This section is derived the music occurs at 01:26:14 - when the camera zooms into psycho's face. I developed the music and added a new theme. I believe this is a good compositional technique to create a sense of unity to the score.
4- Harmonically, this section is also driven and varied by the main theme.