“The menacing melody, by Daft Punk, can also be heard in Super 8, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Battlefield Los Angeles, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and a bunch of other movies.”
- Warren Kinsella
Yes, it’s an attack ad, fear mongering and base politics, but the thing that fascinates me most is the response elicited by the soundtrack.
We haven’t been told whether the NCC has license to use the background tune. That’s probably okay, though, as nobody seems sure just where it comes from. It’s been attributed to Hans Zimmer from either Batman Begins, Dark Knight or Inception; Zimmer protégé Steve Jablonsky’s Transformers films; Johann Johannsson’s Battlefield: Los Angeles score and several others. With all the uncertainty regarding origin, those wily NCC folk will probably get away with skipping the accreditation.
But why the confusion? Why is the Daft Punk score to Disney’s Tron: Legacy (Track 4, “Recognizer”) being mistaken for so many other pieces of music? The Tron: Legacy soundtrack is electronica with orchestral thrown in (and is a brilliant soundtrack, making up for a mediocre film). While there are non-orchestral components in the other scores, there are distinct differences to the ear in terms of general tone, primary instrument usage and thematic quality.
That’s not to say there aren’t similarities; in fact, the commonalities are at the heart of the incorrect accreditation.
In each of these soundtracks, there are a few notes, or bars, or a general tone that borrows heavily from the musical genius of Hans Zimmer. This comes as no surprise – Zimmer’s emotional, powerful work sets the soundtrack bar today just as John Williams set the bar over much of the 80s and 90s with themes like Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Superman. Within his own repertoire, Zimmer repeats himself. There are bits from Gladiator that mirror refrains from The Dark Knight which are equally present in The Last Samurai.
Why the cross-pollination, the repetition within an individual composer’s repertoire and across the medium? Two key reasons:
One – communicating a specific emotional resonance using music ain’t easy – not for the director trying to communicate the feeling he wants to his composer, not for the composer whose job it is to turn that concept into a piece of music. It’s fascinating listening to Hans Zimmer talk about what informs his work.
Two – composing isn’t just about sharing a concept or a feeling – it’s about creation. Artists of all types, whether their medium is music, the written word or canvass all face that daunting task of filling the blank slate. They have an advantage, though – nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever does. Artists, then, are like engineers, or policy developers. They all borrow, reuse and, at their best, build something new based on what came before or what others out there are doing.
Creation, in society as in biology, involves the recombination of existing materials to make something new that is, ultimately, better adapted to the needs or tastes of the audience of the day. Kids do it every time the mimic the words or actions of parents or peers, adding their own inflection; that’s how they try on phrases and behaviours to find what works for them. Paul Simons did it when he adapted the indigenous Andean tune El Condor Pasa into a hit American song. Sampling has been around a lot longer than hip-hop.
When it comes to music, adaptive creation is expected and appreciated – that’s how musical genres progress. We, as an audience, tend to demand only two things – respect for source material and originality (sorry, James Horner). The same holds true for cinema; we like the odd reference to the classics – that grounds us in the familiar. If you’re going to do a note-for-note reprise, though, you won’t hold our interest – we might as well watch the original.
The same rule holds true for political theatre.
These expectations explain both the introduction and public outburst against PIPA and SOPA. The raw intent behind anti-piracy law is a good one – help ensure innovators get some credit for their work, both in terms of respect and remuneration. Creation is hard, but theft is easy; if originators can’t sustain themselves in creating the new, then they can’t create; the result is stagnation.
Taken too far, though, respect and caution is exacerbated into fear. Fear, an instinctual emotion, triggers a flight-or-fight response. It puts up barriers, attacks potential threats and, in the process of doing so, restricts access and the opportunity for recombination (this concept of restriction is more commonly referred to as censorship).
Reducing access to new material is harmful. Just as genetic inbreeding is proven to be long-term detrimental (you want to diversify your gene pool to be adapted to changing parasitic threats), censoring new ideas/opinion or stifling access to diverse ideas/opinions leads to social stagnation. Stagnation is the opposite of progress. Freedom of speech, the ability to share information, then, is a progressive tool.
Policies fit the same model as music, or genetics – they must adapt to the times to be successful. For adaptation to occur, musicians and policy makers alike need exposure to new ideas and best practices. When this does not happen, the end result is predictable – history provides us with multiple examples of how firewalls internalize the burn and ultimately, collapse.
Yes, governments have the need to keep their populations safe. Yes, there are troubles lapping at distant shores. Yes, there are economic and social challenges. Too many of our leaders have lost the thread, though. The syncopation of our social structures is out of tune with the realities of today; the musicians sound a bit discordant to our ears.
Stagnation doesn’t provide us with an answer – it provides us with inevitable defeat. The way forward is through progress, adaptation. Adaptation requires new and varied input, the kind that comes from diversity. This is Canada’s greatest strength, the reason why we have adapted better than other countries through the present, global economic challenges – Canadian multiculturalism gives us the raw material from which to develop the solutions and opportunities we need to succeed.
The way forward, then, isn’t to hide behind firewalls, but through working together. Or, as Stephen Harper would probably put it, we get by with a little help from our friends.
UPDATE: It's amazing how universal some themes are, but when you think about why that is, it's not surprising.