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No Purpose, No Design
by Jeff Thiessen

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Jeff in LP form

Jeff in LP form
There's this record I own, in fact I'm listening to it as I'm typing, and as far as I'm concerned, it is the best double album ever put out. It's a record put out by Aphex Twin called "Selected Ambient Works II", and when I first bought it years ago, it sounded like a soundtrack for a movie that didn't exist. I didn't really know what to make of that, until I decided to give it a listen to it on headphones. It was then I realized, it's a soundtrack for something, and that something was my life. This album was almost impossibly beautiful, and it was at that moment I realized that it might not be visible to the naked eye or lucid mind, but there truly was an umbilical chord reaching from my being to this digital output.

That is to say, if I were thrown into a vat, and I was melted down into audio form, "Selected Ambient Works II" is EXACTLY how I would sound. Which is all completely boring/irrelevant to any of you reading this, but what I figured out shouldn't be boring to any of you, not at all. See, my pal and I were trying to figure out what makes a good soundtrack to a movie, you know, what makes a soundtrack truly something great, and it's the same thing as my analogy above. Playing the album in an isolated
Judging by their expressions, there was no music on set

Judging by their expressions, there was no music on set
environment should literally sound like the movie has been converted to an alternate form that can now be played on your home stereo. That's really the best way to figure out if we're listening to a perfectly designed score or soundtrack.

When a movie does well, and the soundtrack contains many memorable songs located at key scenes in the movie, the album WILL SELL WELL. Producers/directors aren't stupid, they know this. So now, what we have is films trying to jam songs into every possible goddamn scene, in hopes of having that one 'Tiny Dancer' moment.

It's really starting to piss me off., because now in certain cases, it's like the movie is now just background visuals for whatever sort of Tom Petty/Jeff Buckley type vehicle the soundtrack stands as. To be more specific, the soundtrack is the main attraction, and the movie might as well just be a series of montages that are supposed to come off as reflective and soul-wrenching, but in reality, they're just visual pamphlets so their real audio product can hit Number One at Wal-Mart. You want examples? Here are a few:


Come to think of it, why list any more when that's such a perfect example? ELIZABETHTOWN is a textbook case of a movie
Another example of soundtrack brilliance

Another example of soundtrack brilliance
offering literally nothing at every possible turn, and in some vain, pathetic throwaway attempt, the eclectic songs chosen at very frequent intervals are selected to make us think we're watching something more interesting/profound then what's actually going on. It's sad this strategy has the ability to fool the weak-minded, because the best soundtracks are not forced into the movie. In ideal circumstances, you don't even notice them at the time, because the soundtrack, like anything else within a movie, is a tool to enhance, not to provide something out of nothing.

I consider the REQUIEM FOR A DREAM score to be one of the best, if not the best, ever created, but you can sure bet your ass I didn't come to that conclusion while watching the movie. No, it was only in hindsight, and repeated viewings, that I began to notice just how essential the music actually was. Buying the score and playing it at home only confirmed all this. Playing it did not surpass the movie in any way, nor did listening to it seem like a trivial, petty excursion. Instead it replicated the visual experience the best it can without us actually seeing anything. Other then the album going to Number One at Target, that's really all we can ask from it.

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Anti-Hero: Knowledge that Leads to Everlasting Life
Every other Wednesday

Raging Against the Machine: Film musings from a Canadian who can do a Rubik's cube much faster then you can.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jeff Thiessen:

Wednesday Wishful Thinking

Hell is Chrome

Searching With One Eye Closed

He's a Mighty Good Leader

Paging Dr.Octagon....

All Columns

Jeff Thiessen
Jeff is a columnist who lives in Saskatchewan, and if you can't pronounce that properly, he'd prefer you not read anything he writes.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jeff Thiessen by clicking here.

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