Simplicity, Sincerity and Structure

There is no way to teach a composer to write highly evocative music. Some have the ability, some do not. I have had the ability since childhood. For as long as I can remember, I have expressed the emotions inside of me in both difficult times and exuberant times through my music. My brain is just naturally wired to express itself emotionally through natural musical language, and the results of my expression have been appreciated by others. Although, inducing empathetic emotion has been natural and enjoyable, I cannot plummet the depths of my subconscious to understand “how” all of the music comes to be. There is no way for my conscious reasoning mind to reach those depths. All I know is that the music comes, flows out of me, and induces in listeners the very emotions which inspired me to write. All those who have heard my music have been succeptible to empathetic emotions—even my competitors in school. There is no formula for my ability. I simply accept the music which comes to mind without questioning the source. Not knowing or consciously maintaining the source may seem frightening, for if I do not know how to maintain the source, perhaps negligence or ignorant actions may inadvertently extinguish it. I have faith, however, that the source is self-sustaining and inexhaustible because it is a natural gift. Yet, despite my lack of conscious understanding about the development or mechanism of my musical emotion-evoking abilities, I have noticed a few things—ground rules, if you will—which consistently appear in my most evocative pieces. These are: simplicity, sincerity and structure.

Musical simplicity is a freedom from conscious logical complexity. Simple music engages the subconscious mind, whereas overly complicated music tends to engage the conscious mind. Music has the potential to reach and influence our closely-guarded emotions. However, if the music awakens the conscious mind’s reasoning mechanisms through its complexity, the potential for the subconscious mind to analyze and “feel” the emotions of the music is blocked.

The conscious mind deems simple-sounding music unworthy of analytical effort and does not attempt to analyze it. Once the conscious mind has decided not to analyze the music, the subconscious is free to receive and interpret it. Simple music, in contrast with complex music, has the potential to be an evocative “Trojan horse”; the simple guise is deceiving. This is the trick: to write music which appears simple on the surface, but in substance conveys powerful and deep emotions. Complex music will not get past the walls of Troy or the Trojan army because complex music mounts a head-on-in-broad-daylight attack against the conscious mind, inciting the conscious mind’s reasoning defenses. In most people, the conscious mind uses reasoning to defend the self against emotional affectedness, which in turn makes a person vulnerable. A head-on battle with the conscious for access to the subconscious is a battle the music will very likely lose. Further, music which engages the conscious mind distracts from the onscreen action. Simple music, on the other hand, tricks the conscious mind, allowing this seemingly harmless music to slip past the conscious mind’s defenses unscathed. Once inside, my music can influence the subconscious mind and move it to a specific emotional response.

Emotional complexity is different from logical complexity. The former is the concurrent presence of multiple, and sometimes conflicting, simple emotions. I am able to express the full range of emotions, whether simple or compound, as necessary. In contrast to those who compose emotionally complex music, there are those who have written and continue to write logically complex music. Arnold Schönberg and his followers, for instance, wrote their music utilizing a logical system. The result of their music, while technically brilliant from a logical perspective, is bereft of emotional meaning except to express the emotion of “chaos.” The sound of such logically-based composition has been described as “mechanical,” “brutal,” “edgy” and “rigid.” But for music to communicate its emotional message, it must not be constrained by mechanically logical rules. Rather, it should flow easily and be immediately comprehensible to the listener. Simplicity means easy comprehensibility, and while the emotions which I am conveying in my music may be sinuous and complex, my writing communicates those emotions with clarity, precision and directness.

Logic increases its power by increasing its complexity, while music increases its power by being more simple and universal. In fact, virtually every well-known song is simple enough to remember and sing without effort. That is why those songs are well-known and successful. Those melodies were written so that they are easy to remember and so that they burrow themselves into the mind. Simplicity equals power in music, the power to be memorable. Simplicity is also important when you are thinking about soundtrack sales. Simple melodies, and thereby memorable melodies, sell soundtracks by the truckload because simplicity is a strong attractor for the music-buying public. Overly-complicated music simply does not sell, because it does not communicate emotions effectively.

Simplicity also means expressing a reasonable amount of emotions in a reason-able amount of time. Changing emotions too quickly and too often is jolting and erratic; it smacks of insincerity. Therefore, it is important to figure out what governs a scene emotionally and then to write for that governing emotion. The audience will naturally feel the little moment-to-moment changes in emotion from what is happening on-screen. The score’s task is to support a scene by evoking the most significant emotion of a scene strongly.

Sincerity is the second tenet of successful evocation. Sincerity is the most difficult to maintain of the three principles of simplicity, sincerity and structure because it involves a personal sacrifice. There is no surrogate for sincere emotion; no amount of writing skill or performance technique can replace sincere emotion in a work of expression. People have the innate ability to sense the difference between sincere and skillful performance. Real emotion cannot be created unless someone sincerely feels it. This means that in order to convincingly express to people sincere emotion, I must feel it myself first. There is no easy way out. Unfortunately, feeling emotion is mentally taxing, and the strain can be unbearable at times. Still, the reward is the result of the feeling: an emotionally indelible and unforgettable work of expression. As a composer, I am willing to put myself into the eye of the storm of feeling so that the music which comes out of me can inspire the communication and sharing of emotions.

Sincerity is the expressor’s part of the communication of emotion, but what happens when the sincerity reaches the audience? How does it make them feel? Feeling inherently involves risk. Although audiences do not have profit and fame to inspire a difficult venture into sincere emotion, all people do have as part of their natural social nature a need to share emotions with others. This need is why the audience can be willing to feel. But how does one get beyond the fear and risk and gain access to fulfilling this social need? Sincerity is the path. Sincerity inspires the audience to overcome the risk and facilitates the sharing of feelings by: a) setting an emotional example for the audience, b) being vulnerable so as to create a non-threatening environment and c) facilitating sympathetic feeling—the foundation for true empathy. In these ways, sincere expression inspires sincere feeling in the audience.

Structure is the final statute of successful evocation. Structure in musicalogical terminology is called “form.” There are accepted forms in music of all types, and music listeners, though not consciously aware of the forms, learn them subconsciously by rote. These musical forms have developed out of the necessity that musical communication requires consensus between listener and composer/performer. To illustrate the point, consider a hypothetical song that has two or three choruses. Each chorus would have to be repeated enough so as to establish the fact that it is indeed a chorus. But this repetition would necessitate lengthening the song considerably. So, now we have a song that has two or three choruses and goes on for ten to twelve minutes. Hold on. Ten to twelve minutes? Songs are not usually longer than five minutes; here is another unspoken rule of songs: the length is limited to about five minutes. We all know these rules, yet we do not speak of them. They are accepted guidelines which regulate and limit music’s structure. There are many other forms than the “pop song” form, and each is subconsciously known by music listeners.

These structural forms are the result of centuries of musical development. They represent the listener’s deeply ingrained expectations which have been acculturated into common musical ear. I utilize these forms when I write music because doing so facilitates listener comprehension. Sometimes breaking the rules of form is beneficial to expression; however, to insist on breaking certain fundamental formal guidelines simply for the sake of being different alienates the listener. When you hire me, you are hiring someone who knows the expectations listeners have and knows how to play off of those expectations. I know when to give the audience what they expect and when to give them something different. Furthermore, I integrate the forms I use into the film’s own rhythms and formal structures when I write a film score.

Music and images can work together to create a resonance of expression by synchronizing their expository structures in cues longer than two minutes. There is a narrative in the editing and pacing of a scene which comes out of the rhythm of cutting. Good scenes are built with great attention to the relative time spent on each shot and to the order of the shots. The skill with which this time structure is built greatly influences the expository power of and the message communicated by a scene. As I work, I combine my vocabulary of musical forms and my knowledge of their expressive tendencies with an intimate under-standing of the intricate timing and event-order structure of a scene in order to deter-mine which musical form will work best. Then, I fuse my character/motif-based musical theme material with that form to create a music cue. This cue works with the scene in such a way that it is difficult to tell whether the film was cut to the music or whether the music was written to the film. When the music and editing work together in this fashion the audience experiences a much stronger physiological reaction than they would from film or music alone. The viewers leave the world we call “real” and become a part of the excited, bigger-than-life fantasy which is the movie experience. This is what they pay to receive, and when we give it to them you can be certain they will be coming back for more.

It is by working with simplicity, sincerity and structure that I compose a score which is distinctly powerful and evocative in today’s often monotonous score market. These three precepts are far from formulaic, however; they are merely a place to start. Still, most composers are ignorant of the power of these three axioms. It would seem easy enough to implement simplicity, sincerity and structure as outlined above into music, but the ease lies only on the surface. Although successfully implementing these rules is often exacting and painful, the ability to write in this manner is my innate and unrivaled gift. I can create a score whose beauty, evocative force and emotional depth is beyond that of any other film composer working today. Again, my ability works for your production to hit a grand-slam at the box office. With my masterfully designed score you have command of the emotions of the audience members and the power to move the them in any way you desire.