Are you looking for great new music for your study time, work time, or downtime? Well, here is a suggestion: look to the speculative. Speculative fiction has entertained you with books, stories, comics, and movies, and now it can be used for all your music-listening needs. All of the amazing films that you have admired for years and those that have just recently come to the big screen have a soundtrack. Even the movies that have never piqued your interest or given you goosebumps may have something to offer. Some may ask, “What is a soundtrack without its visual counterpart?” Well, as many probably already realize, a film’s soundtrack is part of what makes it iconic. When people think of Harry Potter, it’s very likely that one of the first things that comes to mind is the haunting melody of the theme song—also known as Hedwig’s Theme—by the sensational John Williams. Pieces of music such as this and many other magical movie tunes and ballads have become representative of people’s experiences, life stages, and love for film.
While soundtracks can be intimately connected to their movie origins, they can also have a separate, special existence, appreciated for their own unique beauty and emotion. So go ahead and explore those dystopian, utopian, apocalyptic, and brave new world soundtracks from films old and new, but don’t limit yourself there. Search up the soundtracks for all your favourites, be they sci-fi, fantasy, drama, or documentary films. Are you into all-time classics? Then search up the “best soundtracks and movie themes of all time” and you are guaranteed a phenomenal musical experience, whether it’s the unbearably romantic Titanic tracks written by James Horner and performed by Celine Dion and Sissel (a Norwegian singer chosen for her emotive and powerful vocals); the chilling score of The Godfather composed by the incredible Nino Rota; or other award-winning scores such as those from The Gladiator by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard, or Chariots of Fire by Vangelis. You may just discover a truckload of music you’ve always heard in the background while being occupied by the action happening on screen or while watching the end credits roll, but that you had never really listened to on its own. So why not turn it on at the park bench or while writing a paper at your desk? Who knows—maybe it will be the inspiration for your next masterpiece.
As for speculative films, the soundtracks not only contribute to the unforgettable action but also have the doubly difficult task of creating a completely alternative or futuristic feel for the audience. For non-speculative movie genres, filmmakers and composers can look to ancient or recent geographical, cultural, and historical details while constructing the desirable score. For thriller, horror, and crime movies, composers can employ psychologically and emotionally appropriate musical devices, but the composers for speculative films often have no such luxury. How does one score a world that does not yet exist, that hides under the surface, or that, as many stories try to show, does not really exist at all? While everything must, of course, be reflective of the past, the speculative must also encompass possibility and question the present. These scores must be both foreign and familiar, recognizable yet unique, futuristic but ordinary, both exciting and haunting. Not an easy feat for any composer, and so let’s give credit where credit is due.
Here are some speculative sounds you may already know:
Released in 2012, Cloud Atlas is a German-American film with an all-star cast that follows six different storylines through the perspective of a single reincarnation. It explores the connections between individuals and actions across time and space, starting in the 1800s, continuing through to the present era and even into the distant future. Beauty, violence, rebellion, and love are intertwined in this historic-futuristic narrative about the power of kindness and hope. From clones to cannibals, conspiracy to comedy, and a bright future to the apocalypse, this film is a medley of impressions with something for everyone. The original soundtrack, written by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil, successfully connects the events of several centuries and manages to unify the themes and emotions of each time and place. The main musical theme, “Cloud Atlas Sextet,” is a simple but haunting piano melody with a slightly melancholic and nostalgic sound and a hopeful resolution.
This classic 1982 cyberpunk film, set in the very near future (2019), deals with man’s unending quest to master cloning, and explores the dangers faced by humanity when this ambition goes terribly wrong. Police and clones face off in this complex action thriller, and the epic fight travels from Earth to space and back again. Life and love are overshadowed by moral darkness and the disturbing aspects of advancing technology. The original soundtrack by the masterful Greek composer Vangelis is the perfect complement to this futuristic masterpiece. Electronic, jazzy, and unusual, the tracks incorporate sounds and synthesizer effects to create a strange, foreboding, and eerie listening experience. The tracks “Love Theme” and “Memories of Green” provide a great contrast to the more techno pieces of the film, adding a calmer classical element.
The Hunger Games
Based on the dystopian series by Suzanne Collins, the Hunger Games films (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay: Part One) provide an action-packed representation of a disturbing future in the post-war North American country of Panem where, every year, two children from each of twelve districts are forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of the pampered Capitol folk and the government of Panem. The 2012 score for The Hunger Games was written by James Newton Howard, a composer also known for the great scores of The Dark Knight, Water for Elephants, Blood Diamond, and many more. The film’s music varies beautifully between grandiose choral segments, powerfully orchestrated themes, and catchy, single-instrument tunes, making it a perfect fit for both the action scenes and the heartbreaking emotional scenes. The soundtrack of the movie featured songs from more than fourteen artists including Birdy and Arcade Fire. Fun fact: Rue’s famous four-note whistle in the movie originated from the melody of composer Nino Rota’s “Love Theme,” from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film Romeo and Juliet.
Have any suggestions for life-changing movie scores? Comment away!
-Contributed by Polina Zak