Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dear Readers:

I have listed another piece of music on this site. It is something I have written for a composition class. The piece is written for the piano, with each hand playing in different keys. The left hand, which performs an Alberti bass, is in G-sharp minor, and the right hand is in d minor. The piece is designed as a slow, waltz-like dirge.

I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Big Rip, Part One: Musical Influence and Imitation in Film Scores

Type into any search engine the words “John Williams” and “plagiarism”, and you'll end up with dozens of pages. They mostly consist of rants against the composer for taking this and that. The odd court case or two may show up in the search. Pick another major film composer and substitute their name with Williams'. Chances are you'll get similar results.

YouTube offers a few videos comparing various bits of “classical” music to selections from Williams' career. Music from Stravinsky, Debussy, Hanson, Holst and Tchaikovsky are nestled in between parts of Star Wars, E.T., Jaws and Home Alone. Most of these are posted to smear John Williams' name, to label him permanently as a plagiarist. Many of these comparisons are done in a very negative way.

The point of any discussion should be to arrive at a singular truth, in a fair and courteous manner. The truth this particular essay is after is whether or not John Williams or other film score composers are plagiarists. I would like to examine a few thing while doing so, namely, the nature of plagiarism, the concept of influence and the art form that is cinema.

The Webster dictionary defines plagiarism as “an act of plagiarizing”. To “plagiarize”, according to the good dictionary, is “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own: use (another's production) without crediting the source”. If I, for example, had not listed the Webster dictionary as the source of the definitions, I could be guilty of plagiarism.

There is another possibility. An example would be this; I read the Webster's definition put it into my own words. To plagiarize is to steal something created by another person and take credit for it. This definition could not reasonably be described as being plagiarized, even if they do share certain similarities. It is clear the two definitions are different.

I could write another definition; “to steal and claim credit for another person's ideas and/ or creations”. This particular definition is much closer to the Webster's version. Even with more similarities, this definition is still different from Webster's, and should not raise any red flags in the legal department.

With the third version, “to steal and pass off (the ideas and/ or creations of another) as one's work: to use said work without crediting the source”, Webster would have a stronger case for plagiarism. Only one or two words have been modified; the bulk of the definition is the same.

Musical plagiarism follows the same idea. One famous case is that of the “performances” of Joyce Hatto. After releasing hundreds or recordings, it was eventually revealed that many of her later recordings were digitally altered performances by other artists. Her widower eventually admitted to perpetrating the con.

The Hatto case is an unusually clear example of musical plagiarism. Most often, the examples are more ambiguous than this. This is due, in part, because of the complexity of music. Music encompasses a wide field of differing practices which coexist and are dependent on each other; theory, composition, and performance are but three examples. Because of this, music has a larger gray area between inspiration and plagiarism than with our simple dictionary example.

Perhaps it would help to mention three examples, much like our previous dictionary dilemma. We will focus on composition rather than performance.

(End of Part One. Next time...Part Two)

Monday, September 21, 2009

New post coming soon

A big production coming soon...this Friday, a heavy topic regarding film music (of course). It is so big, I may have to split it into two weeks. More to come this Friday. Stay tuned...

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Morricone Article from Zenit

I found this article quite by accident. It is an article about Ennio Morricone. I thought it might be of interest.

I will post later...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Erich Kunzel (1935-2009)

Erich KunzelErich Kunzel via

Early in my childhood, I discovered that I liked music. This was long before I could afford a record collection of my own. With that in mind, I ventured to the local library for all the free music I could rent. The library had a large selection of soiled and scratched CDs and tapes. As used as they were, they were very much valuable to me.

I explored the world of music at that library; trying different genres, new composers and musical styles.

One summer evening, I found a music compilation. I read what remained of the disc's packaging. It was entitled Round-Up, a western oriented CD with a mix of classical and film music. I had heard of some of the film titles on the disc, but I was unfamiliar with the Cincinnati Pops and their conductor, Erich Kunzel. Despite my uncertainties, I decided to check out the album.

I took the disc home and put it into my brother's stereo, as I had no unit of my own. The Cincinnati Pops under Erich Kunzel's adept baton resounded from the speakers.

I was particularly enthralled by their performance of "How the West Was Won". It changed my perception of vintage film music. I went out and rented not only "How the West Was Won", but other scores from classic films. I explored more of Kunzel's albums, which lead me to more classic scores, and my palette for film music has never been the same.

Erich Kunzel's numerous works did much to further my interest in music. Although he is no longer with us, I will not soon forget his extraordinary talent.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

My Goldsmith Moment

Jerry Goldsmith was the first composer I really noticed. It happened when my older brother had purchased one of Goldsmith's Star Trek scores. While he listened to it in his room, he asked me if I wanted to see a picture of Goldsmith from the disc's package. I agreed, expecting to see a man in his thirties. I never expected to see what I thought was an old man. His music seemed to energetic, so youthful.

Years passed. I begin purchasing my own CDs, collecting quite a number of Goldsmith's works. As great as it was to hear his music on a disc, I very much wanted to hear his music live.

The Henry Mancini Institute announced a series of summer concerts. I requested a couple of tickets for one of their concerts devoted to film music, having never attended a film music concert before. It would be an even greater treat since Jerry Goldsmith would himself be conducting the event.

It was a beautiful summer afternoon in the city of Los Angeles. The sun was setting into the sea. The occasional cloud drifted lazily in the sky. The campus of UCLA seemed far from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

UCLA is a large place. Having never been there before, I got horribly turned around, ending up in some empty loading/ unloading area. I decided to ask the very next person for directions. As I turned around, a black Mercedes pulled up and parked a few feet from my position. I assumed that meant the person in the car worked at the university and could therefore give me directions. I would ask this person for some assistance.

As the elderly man stepped out of his vehicle, my heart raced. I could not believe that Jerry Goldsmith himself was just a few feet away.

I tread nervously toward him. I had no idea what to say. I could have pleaded for his autograph, or told him I worshiped him as a god, or uttered a thousand other things about his career or the honor it was to be in his presence.

Instead, I cleared my throat and asked, “Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to the Royce Hall box office?”

He politely pointed the way. “Go down that hall and turn right. The office should be there.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

I walked away, having met one of the finest composers of all time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Some Music from the Editor Of ReelMusicOnline

Amateur composers often post their compositions online. I figured I might as well give it a shot.

The first piece, Venture into the Unknown, is an attempt at serious music.

I wrote the second piece of music as a ring tone for a relative's cell phone. I then attached it to a series of short films made for my numerous nieces and nephews.

I used Finale PrintMusic for both pieces of music.

Feel free to comment on them. There will be a regular post on Friday as usual. Thank you for your time.

-Martin Dougherty

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Disappearing Composer

Nicholas Hooper is gone.

After scoring the two most recent films in the “Harry Potter” franchise (Order of The Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince), the British-born composer has announced he will not return to score the last two pictures.

It is nearly certain maestro John Williams will return to complete the series, after having expressed interest in doing so. While Williams' work will most certainly please both Potter's and Williams' fans, nonetheless it is regrettable to hear of Hooper's departure.

One question comes to mind: What will become of Hooper after “Harry”?

The forked road takes two paths: one towards fame, the other to obscurity. The former is a hard road, traveled successfully by only a handful of people. The latter road is the final destination of many a talented artist. It is the fate of the disappearing composer.

The disappearing composer can be defined as one who scores a popular film or series of movies, then fades away shortly thereafter. This composer may continue to score films, but these later works do not generate the same amount of public interest.

Take Composer X, for example. This composer (the name has been changed to protect the innocent) scored a series of revolutionary science fiction films earlier this decade. The score themselves were revolutionary; packed with postmodern, orchestral atonality and fast-paced electronica, capped by a set of bold, energetic themes. Composer X became the talk of the town. A few years after the series concluded, Composer X's name disappeared off the cinematic radar. One can only hope he will return to score again.

Nicholas Hooper 's notoriety is due mainly to the Potter franchise, and as Professor Gilderoy Lockhart told Harry in “the Chamber of Secrets”, “Fame is a fickle friend”. Just as Composer X lost the limelight, Hooper, too, could find himself out in the dark.

The path to obscurity beckons.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sampling a New Musical Cuisine

Having talent does not guarantee fame. Hundreds of composers go about with little recognition from film score fans. Having fame means having exposure. Fame evades many composers, and therefore they remain in the shadows.

Listening to music from an unfamiliar composer can be like sampling a new cuisine. There are many who would rather not venture out into the unknown, and decide to stick with more familiar territory. For those who do tempt fate, there are so many items on the menu, it is difficult to choose where to begin. It helps to bring a friend along, preferrably one with some knowledge on the subject. The selection is much easier with such help.

The internet can both provide composers with exposure and a fan base, as to give musical diners an idea of what is on the menu.

Here are a few examples:

Back in 2000, PBS aired a documentary titled “Lost Liners”. The documentary focused on such infamous nautical disasters as the Titanic and the Lusitania. It was a well-made presentation with an equally fine music score. Michael Whalen utilized a small ensemble and blended it with an array of sampled instruments. Memorable tracks abound, such as “An Age Gone By” and “Sailing Into History (The Lusitania Theme)”.

The score received a score release at that time. It is still available online. Try pairing this one with a fine book and a glass of wine.

When it was released in 2002, the independent film, “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing”, garnered much praise from critics and won some awards at film festivals. Being an independent film, it played in no more than a dozen or so theaters. It is a shame the film did not attract a wider audience, since composer Alex Wurman provided a fantastic musical commentary.

Wurman delivered an intense and intimate score for small ensemble. The piano and harps dance about the main theme, a playful, off-kilter piece. The reeds add another dimension to the sonic landscape, and provide a greater sense of depth to the score.

Wurman's music did not receive a commercial score release. It was issued as a promotional CD, and may be found in specialty stores.

These two scores are only a fraction of the full course that awaits. Consider these as appetizers to whet the palette for more diverse fare. Bon appetit!

Friday, August 7, 2009

ReelMusic Returns

Greetings. You have found my little site, ReelMusicOnline. Thank you for stopping by.

There exist many great sites covering the art of film music. I figured there was room for another. But first, an explanation is in order.

ReelMusic began as a magazine several years ago. We made contacts, held interviews with some big names in the industry and has a good time doing so. We could have continued if the market could have supported it, but as Egon Spengler said in "Ghostbusters", "Print is dead". Our magazine could not hope to survive.

The internet has taken over what used to be the domain of the printers. Several other film score magazines have since ceased publication. The internet has proven its dominance.

I often look back at the good old days, when I used to look forward to getting the mail. I would search for the latest issue of FilmScoreMonthly among the bills and various junk mail. The magazine kept me busy for the entire day. There was much to see and read in each issue. I expanded my knowledge of the industry, absorbing every little fragment from the numerous articles and reviews.

Although those days are long gone, I sincerely hope that they can continue in some form or forum. The internet is such a forum, where people can get together and discuss this wonderful world of film scores.

To this worldwide forum, I now add my own voice, my thoughts and my experiences.

And so ReelMusic returns.