By the graciousness of the instructor, I was allowed to sit in on a video game music class a few years ago. As neither a musician nor an engineer, it became clear pretty quickly that what I had to offer to my classmates was minimal. Interestingly, though, there was a universal loathing for–when the discussion of video game music composers necessarily expanded to include those who compose for other mediums, as well–Hans Zimmer, specifically his more recent work like the score for Inception. At the time, Interstellar had not yet come out, but I suspect that the class feeling about its score would have been as pronounced as those they had about Inception‘s. Their major gripe was about the “bwah bwah” sound–those very much slowed-down notes from the Edith Pilaf song; the rendering of them into loud, thundering noise.
What would you rather it be? I wondered. Probably something more delicate. Something reproduceable; something you can play without a shit ton of production. (At least, the musicians would have preferred this–technique over technology was a common theme.) But I wonder about the use of noise. Whether or not it’s technically impressive, does it do something for us, as viewers or players, that a more delicate sound does not?
Take the Interstellar soundtrack. You have to fish through a great many different renditions of the main theme to find the one that builds to the right point and then gives way to the noise–versus dropping off into somber silence–but Where We Are Going does it here:
The theater where I first saw the movie was loud. So much so that I thought, sitting, there, that surely the volume was a function of the theater having incorrect sound levels, not that it had been intended by the composer. But I also thought, at the end of each four-note ascension, please keep going, please let this go higher and louder…YES! That splash of warmth. Even when it became painful, and where the fluttering organ became subsumed under the “bwaaaaaah!” Even then.
Because I think there is something of value in the dissolution of melody there. Yes, I know, there is something akin in this to the way bad writers describe the utterly predictable “dissolution of self” at the climax of sex scenes. But that’s not what’s happening here. We don’t cease to be in the racket. We aren’t swept away into the black hole’s horizon. I, for one–as the rocket launches and this theme plays, and Murph thumps to the front porch too late to say goodbye to her dad, and as Michael Cain commands us to rage against the dying of the light–was an utter sniffling mess, very much not dissolved but wishing I was, so as not to risk being seen totally losing it in a theater. So we may remain, and all our pesky emotions along with us, but the theme implodes, overcome by real and deafening noise. And that is welcome. At least for me. To judge by the number of hits and remixes that this soundtrack gets on YouTube, I’m not alone.
Why? Why is that dissolution so grand? Especially to someone with no great fondness for the gratuitous noise-making music genres? (I’m looking at you, thrash metal.) I’m going to read way too much into it here and suggest that, at least if you’re coming at it from a culture steeped in Judeo-Christian mythos, there is something fantastic about the sound linked, in everything from Sister Act to your grandmother’s funeral, to religiosity being destroyed by noise. That fluttering organ tried to articulate the majesty and grandeur of what was occurring in the plot, sure–the fat of the human race is at stake!–but it fails. Those pre-fabricated, constructed notions of life and death and what matters and what doesn’t fall apart, are obliterated, in the face of (spoilers!) human love. He does all this–careens into a black hole, loses almost his experience of his daughter’s whole life, to save her. And she figures out how to save humanity through missing him. Through his trying to tell himself to screw the plan, to stay there with her.
That affection is greater than any snoozy Sunday morning being told who to hate and who to adore, to the accompaniment of a wheezing organ. It is greater than the hero worship attendant upon people who profess to have the power to command that love, be it from a pulpit in a megachurch or a cathedral or a Kool-Aid-stocked bunker somewhere.
It is greater, too, than space. Finally there is something to hold up against the silent roar of that vacuum: that endless funeral; a black expanse lit only by the deaths of stars long gone. Wrapped in a blanket at a party on a dock several weeks ago, our star-savvy host looked up at the Milky Way and commented that stargazing was so much less depressing when done with other people. “You feel so much less alone.”
Yeah. You do. Your heart swells. You get to feel like you could deafen that void and the faltering, orchestrated explanations of its existence, just with the power of your love. Even if only for a moment.