As an art form of moving images, cinema is long being considered as inseparable from visual language. However, with the first introduction of sounds in 1895 by Lumiere family, where a live piano was played alongside their screening, it is no longer comprehensive for describing cinema as an art of what’s being seen, but it is also largely shaped by the sounds and music accompanied with it.
Like Mark Brownrigg, a lecturer in Film and Media, mentioned in his published article, “film genres have their own distinctive music paradigms that exist in tension with one another. This is built on a deceptively simple assumption: a Western sounds like a Western, a War film sounds like a War film and so on.” And recalling to our own viewing experiences, the relationship between film and music genre is so notable that regular patterns can even be drawn upon them. Imaging you are watching a war film, it would not be surprised if you are thinking it with a march played on brass and percussion. But what if an elegant piano notion is underscored? Will you still connect it to the same war film? Or it reminds you a melodrama instead?
Sometimes music even functions as a substitute of language which enables the delivery of unspoken words. This can be frequently seen in films that have an original soundtrack, also known as OST. The last scene in Past Lives (2023, Celine Song) when protagonists are departing, for instance, there has no direct conversations between characters, but the emotion of separation indicating this might be the last time for them to see each other is conveyed to the audience through the rhythm and lyric of music named If You Leave Something Behind. For scenarios like this, music is no longer considered as an extra element in addition to the visual images, but more importantly, it stands as a carrier of narration that expands the development of story and appeals to emotions that can’t be described by words.
In order to further explore the ability of music in narrating and/or foreshadowing the plot, a simple experiment was carried out between my friends and I. Inspired by Kuleshove Effect, four videos are presented to the participants, where the same footage about a child running towards the camera in a filed is showed, while different background music is underscored in each video. At the same time, a sheet with various plot descriptions is given, and participants are asked to choose the one they think assimilate the most to the footage each time. Though the experiment is realised casually with six friends at home, I am still surprised by the power of music in screen from the highly uniform answers I’ve gathered. The first video, for example, it is accompanied with a light and fluid pop music, and four out of six participants think the child is living in a happy family and having a great time for playing outside. However, in the video where a slow flow and sound effect mimics raindrops is played, the answers varied but are all related to a more negative expression of emotions overall. They either consider the footage as a memory of a passed person or believe there is an uneasy fate waiting ahead for this child.
Whether you’ve noticed or not, various assumptions are made within the public when living under the same social structure, includes the expected feelings toward a specific music piece. The evoke of certain emotions can be realised through the manipulation of music, and with this power of sound in mind, it can be widely applied as a technique beyond screen. Different scenarios are encountered in everyday life where a particular emotion or atmosphere is intended to approach. At times like this, besides the visual decorations and verbal communications, why not to add music into the list for a sparkling inspiration! It might brings you a new world.