Archive for the ‘European film sound’ Category

European film sound


European Film Sound? The musical and sonic representation of landscape and climate in the Icelandic series Trapped (2015) as expression of a specific north-European sentiment.

European film sound – what could this mean? Even superficially looking at this concept reveals the difficulty to formulate a compelling definition of the Europeanness in the music and sound design of European films. This has implications for the project , that methodically inquires the Europeanness in film sound and collects case studies. Films produced in the geographic region of Europe frequently play with an idea if European identity, that defines itself as the other, as non-identity. Directors and critics either stress the individual (the idea of the auteur: think of Michael Haneke, Lars von Trier, Jaques Audiard, Pedro Almodóvar, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog) or the national (as in the French film Amélie (2001)). Particularly important seems to be the role as anti-pole to Hollywood: European films explore real social and moral questions and are not exclusively focused on entertainment. They display a hightened realism, the argument goes.

What does this mean for the soundtracks of European films? On the background of the successes of the Scandinavian „Nordic-Noir“ crime series over the last decade (e.g. Wallander, The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge) it is worth listening to the Icelandic TV series Trapped (Island, 2015, R: Baltasar Kormákur). Does the music of Jóhann Jóhannsson express a specific North-European identity? Can one contextualise Jóhannsson’s and Guðnadóttir’s musical aesthetic in the tradition of European art music of the 20th Century: the composition of sound itself (Stockhausen’s Stimmung), working with harmonic spectra, as it is common practice in electroacoustic music, as well as with the so-called „holy minimalists“ Arvo Pärt or John Tavener, who focus on the simplification and reduction of musical means.

Nordic European landscapes and climate seem to have inspired the owner of the ECM label, Manfred Eicher as well. Many of his CDs have images of Nordic landscapes and Jan Garbarek, who is inspired by Norwegian folk music, is one of ECM’s stars.

Speaking about folk music: many tribes across the globe use the musical technique of drones in their ritual practices. The throat singing of the Mongolian group Huun-Huur-Tu from Tuva is rooted in ancient rites that animate natural phenomena through musical sound.

In Trapped and many other films, sound, timbre and harmic spectra have become the main focus of composition. Naturally this bring music and sound design closer together. This aesthetic approach can also be heard in the music of a group of composers subsumed under the misnomer „Neo-Classical scene“: e.g. the German composers Nils Frahm (Victoria, 2015) and Max Richter (Shutter Island (2010), Waltz with Bashir (2008) and Stranger Than Fiction (2006)) compose, produce and perform music and soundtracks that transplant elements of classical music into the sound world of pop and experimental electronics. Audiences and film directors seem to love it.


Trapped (2015), European Identity, Folk music, drone music, harmonic spectra, animism, ascetism, instrumentation, electroacoustic music techniques, soundscape composition, neo-classical music scene