Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Interstellar Soundtrack Analyzed

Guess who has been minorly obsessed with Hans Zimmer's soundtrack from Interstellar?  That's right, me!

The plot of the actual movie itself left me confused and a little empty, but the soundtrack and visuals are two things that redeemed the movie and made it worth watching.

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Whenever I become obsessed with a specific track, musical, or score I always learn to play a piece or two from said track.

Here are links to some of the soundtrack/score related songs I love to play...I don't have them all here (because sometimes I can't remember them all) and these are only ones that are available digitally.  Others are physical copies that I can't post.  Also, a couple of them I couldn't find links for.  But they do exist somewhere on the net...

The Legend of Zelda Violin duet
Les Miserables Medley for Piano and SATB
The Last Goodbye from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

So naturally when I heard the awesomeness that is the Interstellar soundtrack, I picked up a couple of pieces to learn.

The Interstellar soundtrack is very dramatic with many moments that are simply powerful chords, and other times that are full of intense trills (and yes, even the dreaded 32nd note).

Most of the pieces and arrangements for this particular score are very difficult, and the piano piece I am currently working on from the soundtrack is this incredible arrangement by Kyle Landry on Musescore.  Generally Musescore arrangements are not very professional, but holy cannoli this really close to the original.

Take a listen!

First Step - Interstellar [Kyle Landry][Cover] by Airik Daily

So, what do you think?

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Everyone knows that when you start playing a piece, you automatically start picking up on things you didn't notice before.

Couple the fact that I've been working really hard on this piece with the fact that I've been listening to the soundtrack itself a lot, and there is probably no point in denying the fact that I am currently arranging a medley for string orchestra, and you end up with a lot of time spent around the track and a lot of interesting things cropping up.

I want to try and dissect why I love this soundtrack so much using as much of the music theory knowledge I have--I love music theory, but I've never been formally trained.

Do you like arranging music?  Do you wish you could hear your piece played back instantly so you don't have to wonder if your chord will actually sound good?  Do you like your sheet music to look professional and clean?

Then Flat may be for you!  I used Flat years and years ago when it was just a start up, and it really was not a very good program.  In fact, I used Flat to arrange my very first LOTR medley in fifth grade which is not the best and you can see that the sheet music itself doesn't look very nice.

But I recently went back to work on a hyped up arrangement of my orchestra's favorite song (Dragonhunter, a piece from fifth grade which we are all nostalgic about), and some arrangements for my string quartet, and I noticed that Flat has really gotten a lot better!

It's a free service if you don't get the premium deal, and you can have an unlimited number of scores (though only one can be kept completely private, otherwise there is a fee).

It glitches every once in a while, but that could be from all the intense cello tremolos I throw in...

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Anyway, if you're looking for a good arranging program, I recommend Flat!

Do you want to get started arranging pieces, but you're not sure how?  I think you should spend time around music, obviously.  Seriously though, listening to the different sections of the orchestra playing their harmonies individually can really tune your ear to naturally knowing what will sound good.  Even playing one finger of a piano piece at a time can demonstrate chord progression with little formal teaching.

Yesterday I was attempting to sing some songs in three part harmony with my friends and we were having a...erm...rough time.  They are percussionists in their band, and they claim that they are focused on hearing the beat and don't really pay attention to the harmonies.  This just shows that if you want an ear for arrangements and harmonies, you need to pay attention to each note of the chord in the harmony.

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If you're looking for a more professional and academic format, I recommend Michael New's videos on YouTube.  He goes through music theory in a very interesting and easy-to-understand way, even if you aren't familiar with many instruments.

Some combination of learning formal theory and participating in making music yourself is sure to give you a huge boost when it comes to arranging music.

The story of how the actual soundtrack came into being is interesting in itself.  Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan worked together on films before, like the Dark Knight and Inception.  Christopher Nolan apparently contacted Hans Zimmer very early on in the process of brainstorming for Interstellar and asked him to write a piece that conveyed the emotion one might feel between a child and their parent.

Hans Zimmer spent one night composing a piece for piano and organ, and Christopher Nolan decided to keep it as the central theme for Interstellar.  He then conveyed to Hans Zimmer what he had in mind for the plot and the two worked more on the score details.

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Usually a composer will work on a film long after it is done being made, but Han Zimmer was actually brought onto the project almost two years before filming began.

The soundtrack has a unique aesthetic because the organ plays such a critical role in its sound, and the pipe organ is not heard very often in film scores.

Personally, the organ is one of my favorite instruments.  It's physically beautiful, it is challenging to play, and I love the idea of having the air piped through and making such an authentic sound, that--unlike regular woodwind instruments--is nearly perfect most of the time because of the design.  Have you ever heard an organ actually squeak?  It gets the windy sound without the squeaks.

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There are two times I hear the organ on a regular basis.  The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, and church.  The Phantom of the Opera's organ is very rock-y in my opinion, and with the rest of the orchestration it's not very similar to Interstellar's use of the organ.

The use of the organ gives the scenes of space a somewhat reverent quality, because the organ is so closely related with religion.  When the organ plays whole notes with that gorgeous deep bass pedal, there is a sense of peacefulness and silence even in the music.

The organ is an instrument that is often played when churches are completely silent.  All the people are silent which is rare, and yet the space is still filled with music.  In space it's completely silent just like it would be in an area where people are praying, and so the organ was a good choice to emphasize the general silence of the area.

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With that said, one of my favorite uses of the soundtrack was actually the un-use.  I loved when the score would cut out suddenly for the outside shots of the rockets or shuttles just to point out how silent it really is in space and how alone the characters must have felt.

Nothing but them, and their thoughts.

One thing the organ is well-known for and excels at is playing fugues.  A very famous example of this is Bach's Toccata and Fugue.

The organ in Interstellar also utilizes this technique.  There is a very simple phrase used over and over again, which starts on an F and goes up to an E the octave up.  Then G to E, A to E, B to E, G to E, and F to E again.  This simple phrase is very repetitive, but it is picked up at various different times and other themes are layered on top of it.

Cooper and Murph have a very simple relationship just like the beginning notes of the fugue.  As the movie progresses, their relationship gets intertwined in all this important plot that transcends space and time and the theme of their relationship also changes and morphs.

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This soundtrack actually kind of reminds me of a heart monitor.  Every time there is a beat of your heart, the line jumps up and makes a little sound.  Similarly, this theme continually reverts back to that E about once every three beats (on beat two of the measure).

This consistent repetition is calming to me, but at the same time there is something in the back of my mind just a little on edge because it reminds me of a heart monitor, and generally those are found in hospitals, and if you're in a hospital connected to a heart monitor you're probably not in good shape.

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Sticking with physical things this score reminds me of, you can almost audibly hear the breath of the organ and the people that were used as the characters got deeper and deeper into space.  I read that Han Zimmer actually had the choir he assembled face away from the microphones and toward the four pianos used to record the score so their voice would reverberate off the strings of the piano and hit the microphones.

The Interstellar soundtrack is unique in terms of music scores and uses innovative musician techniques and instruments not often used in film scores.  It conjures memories of the emptiness of space and the realness and fragility of human life.

The soundtrack of Interstellar is truly the best part of the film in my opinion, and it's fascinating to examine.

Image result for interstellar soundtrack

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