Posts Tagged ‘TV series’

Breaking Bad

01/06/2015

Television series have arguably become more sophisticated in terms of character portrayal and complex story telling than many Hollywood “blockbuster” feature films.

Does the use of music and sound design in TV series demonstrate an equally innovative approach? The title music in particular is crucial to create a strong audio-visual identity for a TV series. The title and end sequence have become spaces for experimentation.

Breaking Bad (2008-13) is one of the most watched and highest rated TV series ever. It demonstrates a contemporary use of music, i.e. a strong integration of music into the film drama. Instead of using clichéd and prescriptive musical pastiche of 19th Century orchestral music – a common practice in Hollywood still today – the composer Dave Porter and the producer of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan use music very sparingly and in differentiated ways. Dave Porter title music, just 16 seconds long, re-interprets a famous film tune, or more precisely, the sound of Ry Cooder’s slide guitar music for Wim Wender’s Paris Texas (1984). Cooder himself referred back to the Blues musician Blind Willie Johnson. This film music tradition treats music as organised sound in the sense that it instantly evokes a sense of place (the American South) and identity (Black exploitation, social outcast) thus highly integrating it into the location sound of the drama. The sound of the title music is part of the drama’s sonic world, even though the main protagonists are white. This is further re-enforced in the endtitle, where the slide guitar motif is combined with different soundscapes integrating a crucial sound, Murray Schafer would call it a sound mark, from an episode.

A strong title tune creates an identity for the whole series in terms of place and social milieu. Detailed emotional commenting is relegated to underscoring sound design, in particular when it comes to the dark and morally questionable Walter White, the main character of the series.

The fact that the title tune appears only 3-4 min into the drama suggests that

  1. the realism of the drama is more important than the suspension of disbelief. Before any title credits appear a whole scene has been played out.
  2. music is only one of many elements in the film. Music is fully integrated into the fabric of the film and doesn’t announce in a fanfare the start of the film
  3. when music is used it is a powerful shortcut to provide a sense of place and social milieu
  4. musical underscoring is replaced by sound design

Existing popular music is used by characters in situations of the film drama as diegetic music.

Other famous TV series and their title music

  • The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008): contemp electronic music with action weaved in
  • The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007): song
  • Mad Men (2007 – ): Electronic music with a falling motif corresponding with the stylised animated film (downward spiral).
  • Borgen (Danish, 2010 – ): traditional fake orchestral, with a pop beat
  • Spiral (France 2005 – ): short scenes with music sounds (not proper music); each new scene introduced by a woosh effect

Quotes:

“But the title sequence has more to achieve. After all, it is a matter of the movie’s beginning. The title sequence has to lead into what follows, has to set the course in this respect, capture the genre, and the specific “mood” of what is to come, so that one is initiated into the cinematic narrative, the diegesis.” (Stanitzek 2009: 49)

“…even the most conventional of Hollywood movies entails, in this space [title sequence], a miniature experimental film” (Stanitzek 2009: 50).

References

Davison, Annette. ‘The End Is Nigh. Music Postfaces and End-Credit Sequences in Contemporary Television Serials.’ Music & the Moving Image 8.2 (2014).

Davison, Annette. ‘The Show Starts Here: Viewers’ Interactions with Recent Television Serials’ Main Title Sequences.’ SoundEffects 3.1-2 (2013).

Stanitzek, Georg ‘Reading the Title Sequence (Vorspann, Générique).’ Cinema Journal 48.4 (2009).