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Metropolis: music score for the film directed by Fritz Lang

Ahn, Soo H. (2017) Metropolis: music score for the film directed by Fritz Lang. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

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This commentary documents the compositional process of writing film music for the classic expressionist silent film Metropolis (Lang, 1927), using MIDI-based orchestral sound
resources. Metropolis was chosen from within other possibilities, such as Battleship Potemkin or Nosferatu, not only due to the belief that the film’s surreal eerie mood and machine-like characters could be represented well by the Second Viennese School’s musical style that I intended to adopt, but also due to a judgment that leitmotivic transformation and use of themes as character links fit into a work so rich with characters’ showing subtle psychological states.

I set out to compose an original orchestral score for Metropolis with the idea in mind, that film music should contribute to the audience’s integration with the drama and reinforcement of dramatic tensions by strategically supporting the film’s plot and narrative, and that an agreeable conceptual blending between film and music would be crucial to a successful composition. For this task, a thorough review of the leitmotif and related literature about music semiotics and meanings, together with a brief discussion of the MIDI sampler orchestra, proved to be necessary. Metropolis, a pioneering masterpiece of sci-fi, which contains a gloomy portrait of the futuristic world, encouraged me to experiment with the diverse possibilities not only of the leitmotif, but also of kaleidoscopic sound originating from various combinations of virtual instruments of the MIDI sampler orchestra and ultimately to show my musical process.

The document traces the leitmotif as a primary compositional device for thematic manoeuvre in both film composers’ scores and major scholars’ discussions; it also incorporates current scholarly research about music semiotics and meanings, which has guided choices in each stage of my compositional process. I have revealed how I applied such lessons as Ennio Morricone’s microcell technique, Danny Elfman’s transformation approaches to thematic material, Howard Shore’s reflection of meaning onto music, and Ilan Eshkeri’s use of themes as character links to my Metropolis. I organized the main character’s associate themes using microcell and transformation techniques and contextualised them as character links. For instance, I produced tunes for cold-hearted characters, such as Rotwang, robot Maria, and high buildings, with the twelve-tone technique, poignant dissonances through interval-classes 1 and 6, recursive rhythmic patterns, or their combinations; I also adopted two distinct types of an octatonic scale to describe contrasting personalities of the two characters and a chord based on 2nd intervals to express the moment when Rotwang’s evil reaches its zenith. Metropolis serves not only as an artistic repository for numerous symbols, but also as a web of leitmotifs towards musical and filmic unity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Schools: School of Music, Humanities and Media
Depositing User: Sally Hughes
Date Deposited: 09 Mar 2017 13:35
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 16:11


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