In Part I we talked about the tropes involved in writing for characters. Since character themes are — well — themes it makes sense that you would want the music to be more melodic in nature. Maybe not necessarily “hummable” but definitely differentiated from just basic underscore. A nice melody to associate with the character in question isn’t always necessary though. In The Dark Knight Hans Zimmer uses a long distorted droning note with building ostinato underneath it to signify the Joker. It’s very effective due to it’s stripped down and almost primal sound. What Zimmer does is essentially create a mood that ties to the character — it may not be a traditional theme but when has Hans Zimmer ever done anything traditional? Tonally the Joker’s music is pretty different from the rest of the movie as well so it helps to separate the character even further. Every time I watch The Dark Knight I get the impression that Joker is an inch away from breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly. The music assists this imbalance greatly. So tone, it seems, is just as important as melody. We touched on this a little bit in part I but that was more geared towards using tone to assist the melodic intent. You can just as easily use tonal ideas to establish a character’s motivations. Tone is also used to establish the world but we’ll get into that some other time.
Working with thematic material presents several challenges. Do you make a character theme? What are they thinking? How do you state this theme, if needed, at this moment? Good theme writing starts with an understanding of the common tropes associated with various character types. Even if some are stereotypical and “tired” tropes. You have to try to remind yourself that we’re telling a story through sound. We don’t have the visuals to show the hero or the villain or the written word to describe them. Yes, we accompany the visuals of the film but in order to organically (early 2000’s buzzword) work with the picture our musical language needs to be seamless with the story. Today we’re going to talk about theme building ideas and characterization but let’s get some things out of the way. There are tired old descriptors for various themes that just don’t apply much anymore. Terms like “masculine” and “feminine” are incredibly useful and more often than not accurate to the tone of the melody. They work well and really haven’t been associated with one gender or the other for a very long time. Basically, bold themes are deemed masculine and light themes are classified as feminine. Really though it doesn’t mean the theme is male centric or female centric — it’s describing bold/daring vs. light/emotional themes. The terms are common and originated from descriptors in classical literature analysis.
Should we use them? I think we can use them just fine but I’ll refrain simply to get a fresh take on it.