Wednesday, October 1, 2008

John Williams, Analogue Synth Meister?

As a film composer, one cannot understate the influence and importance of John Williams. Like
Steven Spielberg is to directors, he is the only composer most laypersons know by name. And if not
by name, they know his work. I've been a fan, of Williams, as I'm sure most of you have, since
close to birth, as his themes have underscored most of our developing years, if not the collective
conscious of the world. As a film composer, it is often easy to fall into the "Williams Trap," where you
sit down to write a theme and it sounds like something he would do...big, majestic, over the top, fantastic.
Exactly what a big budget filmmaker would hire Williams and not me to do. I often wonder how John Williams
would use synthesizers, samplers, and sequencers if he had access to them. Well, I'm sure he would have access if
he wanted to. The truth is, he does everything longhand, usually after tinkling a theme or two to Steven Spielberg.
Most composers have to do full mock ups with sampled strings, choirs, and everything before a director or producer gives them
the green light. I discovered recently, however, that at one point there is a Williams score that makes use of analogue
synthesizers, but not in the cool, subtle way that Hans Zimmer does it. No, friends, in the cheesy, over-the-top way
that all 80s scores, from Chariots of Fire to Commando are plagued, where it becomes painfully obvious that the
composer has a "Brand new toy that he be itchin' to use." It was for the movie Heartbeeps, a vehicle for the late Andy
and Bernadette Peters, with cameos by Randy Quaid and Christopher Guest.
It's really a strange movie, and grates on considering it's less than 80 minutes. The Williams score is unmemorable at best,
and retains some of his signature style, but it's overpowered by the bombastic synths and 80s Linndrum sounds. My kids ate this
movie up, but I suspect that it's because the robots in the movie reminded them of Wall-E. Here's proof. I can't imagine, though,
working on the "Raiders" theme, and then switching gears and doing Heartbeeps. I'll bet Williams was concerned
with his career about 1982, as I would be. But, then, I didn't score E.T. the next year, and he did.

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