August 08, 2016

Horse 2149 - Ten Things I Like: No.7 - I Like Big Orchestral Music

As I am sat sitting on the 06:49 train to the city, I am wearing a pair of Hub brand headphones which I bought from Woolworths for the grand total of $7. The irony isn't lost on me at all as I have just literally heard the theme tune for "A Fistful Of Dollars", then the theme tune for "A Few Dollars More" and am currently listening to the theme tune for "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly".
Elsewhere in this folder are Mason Williams' "Classical Gas", the theme of "The Magnificent Seven", Grieg's "In The Hall Of The Mountain King" and the Imperial March from "Star Wars". They're all big bold, massive pieces of music that are probably all scored in C Major and they all demand that the sound level gets turned up to the threshold of pain.

People who listen to rock music already know that the only proper way to listen to it is to turn the volume up to the point where the windows start to shake and your ears begin to bleed. Douglas Adams wrote in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy (of 5 books) about a about a rock band called Disaster Area who played their instruments remotely from a spaceship and the best way to listen to their music was to listen from an underground bunker on the next planet. All I can say is that that's loud enough; bring it on.
Sheer loudness isn't the same as bigness though. I think that one of the proofs of this will be in the year 2066 when through the great filter of time, the vast majority of dance music which is currently played in nightclubs will have long since been thrown into history's memory hole; never to be heard again. Even a one hit wonder like Pachelbel's Kanon dur D Minor manages to infect music a couple of centuries later.

Movie makers have long known of the power of a good soundtrack; the Academy even awards Oscars for Best Score and Best Soundtrack in films. My personal favourite examples of when music has been used so perfectly in movies actually both come from the same film. It took someone with a mind like Stanley Kubrick to use an otherwise forgotten "And So Spake Zarathustra" and Johann Strauss' "On The Beautiful Blue Danube" and marry them to the vision of spacecraft in flight. It wouldn't have even been possible for Strauss to imagine such a thing and here I am almost fifty years on the other side of the film and I can't imagine it any other way.
It is little wonder that the movie houses like Disney and the Warner Bros employed the use of orchestras for the use in something as frivolous as cartoons. Disney always knew that he was making pictures which would outlive him and let's be honest, Fantasia is still probably the most rewatched movie where there isn't an overarching plot. I can guarantee that almost nobody will know the name of the piece "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" but I bet that virtually everyone in the west who was born between 1930 and 2000 can hum its main theme as a result of watching Warner Bros cartoons.

Of course sport often conscripts big pieces of music for its cause. Both the Olympic Games and the European Champions' League have their own fanfares and they easily rival something that you might hear at the coronation of royalty. Mind you, if your mottos are "Citius, Altius, Fortius" and "Die Besten, Die Mannschaft, Les Grandes Equipés, The Champions", then it's safe to say that you have tickets on yourself and will sell tickets for your event at prices which could be described as equally as impressive.
The people of Australia who have heard the message that "a hard earned thirst needs a big cold beer and the best cold beer is Vic", during those scorching summers where the cricket is on the telly on Channel 9, have probably internalised the theme tunes from "The Magnificent Seven" and 1970's cop drama "Bluey" without being aware of the existence of either.
More mundanely, in a survey which decided the most popular advertisement in Britain of the twentieth century, the winner was an advert for Hovis bread; in which a kid walks his bicycle to the top of a hill in Yorkshire to deliver a loaf of bread and then rides back down again. I don't think that this can be explained by any other factor than the soundtrack was an excerpt from Dvorak's "Symphony For The New World". It's strange to think that what people remember from an eleven minute behemoth of a thing, is a one minute slice.

There's something visceral about playing a massive soundtrack over the mundane things of life. You might get a great deal of happiness from listening to your favourite songs while out in the car but start playing something like Holst's "Mars: The Bringer Of War" and even the smallest of cars suddenly feels like you are driving the starship Enterprise (NCC-1701) and the RMS Queen Mary rolled into one.
Start driving down the motorway with "The Dambusters March" on the car stereo and instead of just an engine with the cubic capacity of less than a bottle Coca-Cola under the command of the right foot, you suddenly have the power of RAF Bomber Command.

There is a far more practical reason why I like big orchestral and instrumental pieces of music in particular and it's the same reason why I can't listen to the radio or television and read at the same time. The part of my brain which is responsible for speech can only deal with one stream of input at a time. I am not cursed with an internal monologue which needs to speak every written all as I read it but nevertheless I still can not cope with both. Music invades a separate part of the brain and that means that I can turn it up loud and proud and not have it interrupt anything as I work or write.
Besides which, if I'm looking at a bunch of people who are milling around and waiting for a train or something, I can change the soundtrack for my own amusement. That might include Rezső Seress' "Suicide Song", Satie's " Gymnopédie No.1" or even more of The Blue Danube, then that's better than listening to that infernal song by Beyoncé that I've heard coming out of someone's headphones that I still can't be bothered to work out what it is. I think it says "All the single lettuce" but I really don't care.

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