Sunday, 7 April 2013

An Aversion to Music in Films and Video Games

So have you ever watched a film and wished the music wasn’t so cliché, wasn’t so persistent, wasn’t so in-your-face, and could just give the characters and action some breathing space? I barely watch films at all these days, and am far more interested in watching a film with little if no incidental music, so that I am in no way ‘influenced’ in how I should be feeling about what is happening on screen. It is unfortunate that some directors rely heavily on music to support their scenes, as though they don’t have enough confidence in themselves to film a scene that expresses it’s own emotions without the assistance of music; of course there are some who are very good at using music and that’s cool. One film I really dig for allowing important scenes to exist without music is Haywire by Steven Soderbergh. The following is one of the best fight scenes in the film and not a single shred of music - until, that is, the very end when the fight has ended.

It’s just such a great example of not relying on music as a crutch to enhance a scene, allowing the action to exist on it’s own, and to very much speak for itself. I find the culmination of this scene far more shocking without music, because I am forced into this reflective position of How am I supposed to feel about this?, instead of being told by the music just how I am supposed to feel according to Western Musical conventions. More often than not, the stylish soundtrack in Haywire is used to segue scenes together, as happens prior to this scene when Mallory and her companion set out for the night.
I got over music scores in video games very quickly after having to hear the same generic string section repeating the same themes over and over for 20 hours or more. I think I can trace it back to car racing games when having to hear the same song within a certain time frame over and over just kills it for me and I’d much rather listen to my own, and far more extensive, selection of Hard Rock and Metal songs while I attempted to ram other cars off the road for days on end. Imagine putting over 100 hours into an Open-World RPG while being forced to listen to a 79 minute soundtrack over and over and over... I get that there are people who do just that, but for me this is how music gets killed. It’s also how my experience of a video game gets killed.
I think I reacted negatively to the soundtrack in Bioshock: Infinite within the first or second major fight when I heard a specific percussion thumping that I immediately recognised as ‘the combat music’. I was in the menu screen shutting that off instantaneously! The Halo games really annoy me because the music is on the same track as the dialogue track, but at least the moody music of ODST was a welcome change.
I realise that music is supposed to be part and parcel of the entertainment factor, but to be honest with you, when a game is trying to immerse me in its world, an orchestra playing in some ethereal realm is really off-putting.

This essay/blog is a rewrite of a comment posted as a reply to a reply to a comment that I posted on Carol Pinchefsky’s Forbes article about Bioshock: Infinite’s soundtrack.

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