Film scores are rarely appreciated unabridged, but they can help you focus in a way that silence simply can’t. Film scores live behind the main focus of a film and, as such, they can occupy the background of your mind while you work, too. Perfect if you're studying our Music & Sound For Film & TV or Sound Design degrees, here we take a look at 7 iconic film scores to help you focus.
Listening to film scores from start to finish may not be a traditional way to consume music, but there’s an understated quality that is unique to film scores that can help you keep focus. Flecked with cinematic sound design, album-length film scores provide a more abstract and shapeless way to listen to excellent music; less inhibited by the structure of an album or EP. Film score producers craft amazing sound to help create a sense of tension, fear, adoration or heartbreak in films, but, often, their work isn’t appreciated in full.
For those who find it hard to focus in complete silence, film scores are written to live in the background. As a result, they’re a great concentration aid, whilst providing far more excitement than any of Spotify’s ‘Chill piano’ playlists. But with so many scores to choose from where do you begin? We asked our community of music composition students and tutors for their recommendations. Here’s what they said...
1. Film Music 1976 - 2020 by Brian Eno
Recommended by Ben Philcox, Music Composition for Film and TV Course Leader
"What I've chosen is actually a compilation album of scores from the legendary Brian Eno, called 'Film Music 1976 – 2020'. Brian Eno has a really interesting take on the composition of film scores. There is a break from tradition, in that he largely writes film music based on key information about the production(s), rather than scoring to them. It's interesting how much the music can convey the right feeling and mood of the picture, from discussions and key production notes about the essence of the story. This album packs quite a punch, helps to improve focus and will maybe even inspire you to try something new."
2. The Imitation Game by Alexandre Desplat
Recommended by Emma Abrams, Music Composition for Film and TV student and Tess Tyler, Music Composition for Film and TV Tutor
Emma said: “The Imitation game soundtrack is on repeat for me when I need to concentrate. The rich harmonies and coverage of frequency ranges are satisfying and not distracting enough to draw my attention away from an essay or from building my motivation to compose. You can't go wrong with orchestral music in my opinion, the familiar sounds of the orchestra are enough to fill me with happiness, and happiness is very important for motivation!”
Tess added: “The composition style often draws upon the minimalist movement, reminiscent of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich in its rhythmic structure and recycling of themes. This in combination with soaring melodies and subtle emotive embellishment absolutely helps to inspire a somewhat meditative state of mind that could help to contribute towards focus and productivity when working.”
3. Finding Nemo by Thomas Newman
Recommended by Adam Taylor, Music Composition for Film and TV Module Leader
“This beautiful score effectively transports the listener to the animated underwater world, providing a calm and tranquil listening experience. The modern film scoring landscape is primarily dominated by dramatic and intense soundtracks, and once again, Thomas Newman provides an understated and delicate score that captures the essence of not only the characters but the relationships between them. Newman’s piano scores have dramatically influenced the modern Library Music industry, as composers draw inspiration from his delicate yet emotionally significant musical pieces.”
4. Homestead from The Good Dinosaur by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna
Recommended by Virginia Leo, Game Audio student
“I choose this score because it's about home and family. I think these are two major themes which are playing a big role during this current global pandemic. We have all experienced what it is like to be stuck at home and I think this has made people think about their values and what is important to them more than ever. Family is important to me and currently, there is a risk of losing what we deem important to us due to this pandemic. I think 'Homestead' is a beautiful musical representation of our emotions when we think about our homes and our families. There is an element of grief and loss but also elements of nostalgia, warmth and comfort.”
5. Blade Runner by Vangelis
Recommended by Jamie Bird, Music Composition for Film and TV alumni and guest lecturer
“If you haven’t heard the soundtrack or seen the film, where have you been…?
There is no shame in this, however, as you are in an envious position to experience Blade Runner for the first time!
Arguably, an era-defining film and soundtrack that inspired both mediums for generations to come. Have you ever seen a Dystopian/Sci-Fi film, post-1982?
It’s most probably been influenced by this film, score, and/or sound design…
Composed by Vangelis, famously utilising the legendary ‘CS-80’ synth from Yamaha, this score can ultimately portray a whole range of emotions for the listener. One can feel empowered by the luscious synth melodies, or feel a great sense of tension within the grandeur, due to the ever-evolving rhythms and eclectic instrumentation.
Listen out for romantic, organic motifs that accent the post-apocalyptic electronic soundscapes, and an innovative approach to operatic vocals soaring over bubbling synthesised arpeggiators - which effectively highlight the overarching themes within the film, of man vs machine…
This soundtrack is a veritable smorgasbord for any avid music appreciators or enthusiasts and should be treated with the respect it deserves. The dynamics and pacing of the score would be the perfect study partner, and I imagine, would greatly assist in executing deadlines… (through fear of not being chased by Rick Deckard)
Keep playing it over and over again, each time you will notice something new and interesting, which is exactly what Vangelis intended, with this stellar, multi-layered composition.”
6. Once Upon a Time in The West by Ennio Morricone
Recommended by Jamie Bird, Music Composition for Film and TV student
“Ennio Morricone is obviously well known for curating the iconic scores for the ‘Spaghetti-Westerns’ starring Clint Eastwood. However, I believe the most impressive score within the Western genre is this.
Released in 1969, Once Upon A Time In The West is a prime example of ‘how to score a scene’. Take a look at the opening introduction at the train station, where the score and sound design coalesce to create the most amazing sense of tension that you will ever see.
Much more than just a western-style soundtrack, Morricone manages to blend drama and beauty with ease, using huge choirs and orchestras in a way that has rarely been matched in recent Hollywood releases. Not only this, but there's an iconic harmonic motif or riff, soaring over an electric guitar chord progression to rival anything Led Zeppelin has written. It is because of this memorable melody and “mood”, that perfectly describes the vengeful intentions of the lead character, that this soundtrack is so important.
And if that isn’t enough, the score just sounds so undeniably awesome, because of the recording methods and microphones used at the time.
Either way, the score instils focus and determination. When listening to this soundtrack, you can’t help but imagine you are in a Mexican standoff for your life, and if you get through it, you are rewarded with sweeping orchestral movements that simulate the vast environment of the final frontier.
This soundtrack makes me want to ‘get it done’ and be my own badass protagonist who doesn’t suffer fools! The perfect attitude for getting on with work and becoming a lockdown hero.”
7. The Revenant by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto
Recommended by Adam Gazla, Music Composition for Film and TV Tutor
“Alva Noto and Ryuchi Sakamoto's score for The Revenant is the perfect accompaniment to the characters, themes and imagery of the film. It's a combination of classical textures and electronic processing that encapsulates the untouched character of the American western frontier and communicates themes about its beauty and the fragility of nature. The subtlety of the score allows the naturalistic soundscape of the uninhabited environment to contribute to the soundtrack's musicality and character. Organic orchestral pads and an extensive palette of natural sound bring this landscape to life, allowing it to take on a key role in the film's narrative, without being distracting.”