The Marx Brothers

I grew up watching loads of Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy films because of my Dad and I love them so much. I wanted to write something about the Marx Brothers because (if you haven’t seen them before) they have some awesome sketches where they include the music as a comical element of the film. You usually see Harpo playing the Harp (funnily enough) and Chico playing the piano and it is amazing to watch. The classic thing Chico does is to hit the keys near the top of the piano just using his index finger. You have to see it, its awesome! I think this holds relevance for music in film because, although these examples aren’t following the moods and settings for the film, they still depict what effect music can hold on a film, even in a comical format.

I think this scene is from Monkey Business, but don’t hold me to that. I haven’t seen it in about a decade.

This next one is absolutely epic! You can see Chico doing all his crazy hand movements really well in this video and he even plays the piano with an apple!

Now this one is definitely from Monkey Business, the first half is hilarious, but the second half really shows that even though they are messing around, they are still amazing musicians. Mesmerizing stuff.


Busta Rhymes Gone Psycho!

This week we looked at some of Bernard Hermann’s music for Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho (1960). Unbelievably I haven’t seen the whole film before but just bought the box set of Hitchock films where Hermann also composed for. I have seen Rear Window (1954) and The Birds (1963) before and I know they are awesome, so I’ve definitely got high expectations.

When I listened to the theme music for the first time I spotted straight away a part that has been sampled by Busta Rhymes. An absolute classic tune, definitely a favourite, although I guess Im a little bummed that the music isn’t a Busta Rhymes original. Even so, it is still an awesome piece of music. Sorry I couldn’t find a clean version, but here it is anyway.

I put the original theme music for Psycho here so you can see which bit has been used.

Task 2 – Piano Music For Batman – Chase Scene


1).For this task we had to compose a piano score to a chase scene from Batman: The Dark Knight (2008).

2).The visual elements I wanted to highlight was the swaying motorbike, which I used walking basslines to match this effect.The bike rolling over by placing scattered notes from high to low. Also, the lorry that gets tossed up in the air, conveyed with large note gestures. I chose these elements because they are all directional (up and down, left and right), which could easily be mapped musically.

3).I feel that my approach to this task is original because I wasn’t consciously trying to imitate anyone else’s work, I merely played what I felt according to what I saw in front of me.

4).One new audio technique I applied in this task was making use of the Step Input Keyboard. This was helpful because I could determine a specified note duration, then input the notes without worrying about playing along to a tempo.

5).One music technique technique I learned during this task was with the MIDI note tracing class exercise, which helped with pitch perception training.

6).This task is an example of practise as research because I explored the appropriate use of minor chords, dissonance, chromaticism and key signatures to fit the mood. I furthered this by applying what I learnt to my composition.

7).I would give myself 62.5% for this task because I feel that I have fulfilled the outlines of the task resulting in a piece of work that I am very happy with. I have used what I learnt to create the feelings of suspense and excitement to fit the mood in a simple musical language, with an ear catching melody.

Word Count: 261


Batman: The Dark Knight. 2008. [Film] C. Nolan, United States: Warner Bros.

Task 1 – Creating A Theme And Variations

My Theme


Variation One

Variation Two

Variation Three

Variation Four

Variation Five


For this task we had to compose a theme and make five or six variations of it.

I took my inspiration from Danny Elfman’s theme tune for the Simpsons where he uses the lydion mode, which appears to be common practise for Elfman.

This task is an example of practise as research because I thought about how Elfman uses a restricted set of notes and to further my research I decided to create my own pitch set. I chose to use the notes C, E flat, G, B flat and B. By restricting myself to the use of only five notes, it made it far easier to create variations because the notes were in this restricted set of harmonious boundaries. When the notes overlap each other they do so in a complementary fashion because they are attached to this pitch set. I had found that I had created the foundation for what could be my own form of serialism. I could assign values to each notes and set randomisers in whatever pattern I wanted.

During this task we were also shown how to use the score roll in Logic to rearrange the notation, which I found much more helpful than the piano roll due to the clarity of the note representation.

Word Count: 211

Some Extra Research…

Jack Smalley

Beat Strengths – Beats 1 and 3 are the On Beats in this standard Common time signature, which are called the Strong Beats. Beats 2 and 4 are called the Weak Beats.

The Melodic Contour – There are three different shapes of melodic contour given to convey different emotions, which are as follows: Line – Suspense/Potential/Expectation – Performed by repetition of the same note, an ostinato. Circle – Love and Sensuality/Introspection (to look inside yourself) – Performed my close steps with no repetition. Square – Energy/Heroism/Drama – Performed by Intervallic leaps (more than one tone)

Minor Scales – The Harmonic Minor scale has an augmented seventh degree meaning the seventh note of the scale is a half step higher than it would normally occur in that key. The Melodic Minor scale augments the sixth and seventh degrees a half step when the scale is played ascending. Descending the melodic minor is the same as the natural minor.

Some of Danny Elfman’s Works

The Simpsons

This is one of Danny Elfman’s theme tunes where he uses variations of a theme. He uses the Lydion mode, which is a typical Elfman practise. If you listen from 35 seconds in, you can hear one of these variations where the saxophonist is still using the key of C in the lydion mode, but has changed the augmentation and diminution of the notes creating a completely different feel to it.  This is something that would be useful to note when making variations.

Edward Scissorhands – ‘Ice Dance’

Elfman also composed music for many famous movies including Batman, Edward Scissorhands, The Corpse Bride and Beetlejuice. This is a snippet from Edward Scissorhands which is an amazing film, a must see! I spent quite a while listening to this and when I traced the notes out on the MIDI keyboard, I found that Elfman is using the B-Flat Major Scale here (B Flat, C, D, E Flat, F, G, A). I think that in this case, the best first example of the main theme he uses is at 0:45 and it goes as follows: BFlat, C, D, E Flat, F, note: the melodic contour he uses in Jack Smalley’s terms is a Circle, which as I described earlier on my Blog is supposed to convey the feeling of love, sensuality and introspection. This matches exactly to the scene in the movie itself. At 1:30 there is a variation of the theme, which builds up slowly to a crescendo and at 2:13 is the peak of the theme. I think the key change at 0:45 also makes for a very effective change of mood (dark to light – minor to major).


Elfman also did the music for Beetlejuice Heres a link for the music at the End credits

This on the other hand isn’t by Danny Elfman, but its just too good not put up. Such a brilliant film! Must watch!

Film: The Beginning – Camille Saint-Saëns and The Lumière Brothers

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

Camille Saint-Saëns

Saint-Saëns, a French-born composer, was introduced to the piano at the age of two, which is also when he was found to have perfect pitch. His first public appearance was when he played the accompaniment to a Beethoven violin sonata at the age of just five. At the age of 10, he could recite any of Beethoven’s piano sonatas from memory. As time went on, he worked on playing the organ as well, which he played at local churches for a bit of pocket money. This, amongst with entering competitions (and winning) at the Conservatoire de Paris lead to the association with Franz Liszt (pianist-performer/composer/teacher) who, later on would end up being very close friends with. This vital connection made a profound impact on his music and by the age of 16 was writing his own symphonies. Saint-Saëns ended up writing over 300 compositions in his entire lifetime including operas, symphonic poems and (most importantly, in this case) for Cinema.

The Assassination of the Duke of Guise (L’assassinat du duc de Guise) (1908)

L’assassinat du duc de Guise’, originally known as ‘La Mort du duc de Guise‘ was a French-historical film directed by André Calmettes and Charles Le Bargy, which was later adapted by Henri Lavedan. The film was only 18 minutes long, which in those days was considered to be quite a long running time. This is the film that was to be the first known ever to have an original film score. It was Calmette’s idea to accompany the film with a musical score so they hired Saint-Saëns because he was already widely known for being a virtuoso composer along with his previous experience in theatre music. In doing this, Saint-Saëns became famous for being know as the first person to write music for Cinema.

The Lumière Brothers

Auguste Lumière (1862-1954) and Louis Lumière (1864-1948)

The Lumière Brothers were inventors and early pioneers of the art of film-making, starting off working for their father at a photographic firm where Louis trained as a physicist and Auguste was a manager. Amongst some of their prior inventions in the lead up to their film camera was Film Perforations a.k.a ‘perfs’. These are the physical holes on the Celluloid Film that are used to attach the film itself to the rotating stock. There are a few different types of film perforations, which are referred to as (perforations per frame/gauge size). This takes into consideration the shape and size of the perforation. Another factor to take into account is the distance between the ‘perfs‘ and this is called the ‘pitch‘.

Images from a Silent Movie on 16mm Celluloid Film with Perforations

Anyway, most importantly was their invention of the cinematograph (le cinématographe). This was essentially the first film camera/projector that was able to record and project film. This is the camera that they used to give their first motion picture showing in public in 1895, which was of some of the workers leaving the Lumière factory. Funnily enough, the film was called Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon) and it was 46 seconds long. When hand-cranked, 50 seconds was roughly how long the 17 metre long film would last for through the cinematograph. These films didn’t have any audio whatsoever because the cinematograph wasn’t capable of catching audio as well, hence ‘silent films’. However in the post production, these films would usually have had some piano played over the top. Here is the film itself Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (‘Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon’) with the added piano.

The Cinematograph

Film: The Beginning – Eadward Muybridge

Eadward Muybridge 1830-1904

Muybridge, a photographic pioneer, known as the ‘father of the motion picture’, is widely know for proving the point that when a horse gallops it lifts all of its feet off the ground at the same time. He accomplished this with photographic sequencing techniques with the use of his Zoopraxiscope. Muybridge was approached by a man named Leland Stanford (a Californian racehorse owner), who had reputedly laid a wager on this being so, which is what triggered off the idea of rapid motion photography. To perform this, he layed down 50 cameras parallel to the track, which were connected to trip wires. These were then consecutively triggered off when the horse sped by.

Photographic Images from 'The Horse In Motion'

‘The Horse In Motion’ (1882) and The Zoopraxiscope

The Zoopraxiscope

In 1879 Muybridge invented the Zoopraxiscope, which produced the effect of motion film by projecting images at 15 frames per second from rotating glass disks in rapid succession. This is what he used to demonstrate his work ‘The Horse In Motion’, which was first shown to the public in 1882. This is often quoted as the first ever motion picture.

The Phenakistoscope

Post – ‘Horse In Motion’

Muybridge swiftly went on to create a more advanced version of the Zoopraxiscope (the Phenakistoscope) and applied a lot of his energy towards the study of the movement of humans and animals. He published 11 volumes, named Animal Locomotion: An electro-photographic investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movement (1887).