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Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: score

Rimbaud Scores Ryman

Music by Scanner for radio science fiction drama about the future of gender

As mentioned here back in early February, upon the death of Denise Duval, the electronic musician Scanner is an especially apt choice for scoring radio dramas. Much of his early electronic music involved lending scores to real-life conversations plucked — well, sampled, really — from the ether. Commissioned scores allow him to apply that experience and those techniques to more formalized narratives. That February entry was about Scanner’s take on the Cocteau play La Voix Humaine, the opera of which starred Duval in its first incarnation. More recently, Scanner provided the score to a BBC Radio 4 story by science fiction author Geoff Ryman. The Ryman story, “No Point Talking,” isn’t currently online (, but Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud) has posted nearly 11 minutes of the score, a cooly atmospheric outing, with plenty of echoing synthesizers, though the main thread is a sequence of what sounds like electric guitar. Around the seven-minute mark, unintelligible voices intrude, passing as if by the window of the studio where Scanner is recording. The voices play an interesting third-party role. They are neither speaking parts from Ryman’s story, nor are they score. They are human presence as score, voices as sound design. And after they fade, the guitar proceeds forward, bending until it comes to resemble another voice of sorts: the call of seagulls.

Here’s the BBC’s description of Ryman’s tale:

Award-winning sci-fi writer Geoff Ryman’s new story for the BBC, imagining a future world where California has been split in two, each half with very different political outlooks.

His conservative hero finds himself in a place he doesn’t like or understand, where everything he holds dear is challenged: relations between men and women, and even the very definitions of ‘he’ and ‘her’.

This story was written as Geoff was investigating the portrayal of gender in utopian science fiction, as part of BBC Radio 4’s Utopia season. That documentary which accompanies ‘No Point Talking’ is called ‘Herland’.

Track originally posted at More from Scanner, who is based in London, at

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A Broker Tour of Clint Mansell’s High-Rise Score

One track in advance of the J.G. Ballard adaptation


“The night passed noisily, with constant movement through the corridors, the sounds of shouts and breaking glass in the elevator shafts, the blare of music falling across the dark air.” —J.G. Ballard’s High Rise

Among the many promising aspects of the forthcoming wide-screen adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s classic novel High-Rise is that it’s set as a period piece. The film unfolds in the fabulous, wide-collar, garishly colored 1970s, the same era during which the book, a 1975 publication, was released. That is unlike recent filmed versions of, say, Planet of the Apes, or The Fantastic Four, or Jason Statham’s take on one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels, just to list a few examples, all of which original works were endemic to the era in which they were produced, and then yanked into the future when filmed.

With the new High-Rise, there’s no adjusting to today’s surveillance-media reality, no evocation of how 9/11 rewired America’s brain, no consumer-grade Internet, and no smartphones — all of which could easily lend themselves to Ballard’s urban fable of consumer convenience. The book is a characteristically harrowing Ballardian story in which the violence that humans do to each other, this time in a concrete and steel vertical manifestation of class differences, somehow manages to mask an even darker and deeper potential for violence. The more we play dress up, the more the animal in us, the animal that we are, comes alive.

Clint Mansell (Black Swan, Stoker, Requiem for a Dream) has provided the score to the adaptation, directed by Ben Wheatley and starring Tom Hiddleston, and judging by the first public track, “Cine-Camera Cinema,” it may be a willfully anachronistic act of underscoring — or maybe not. (One of the characters, played here by Luke Evans, is a documentary filmmaker, and “cine-camera” is the term in the novel for his equipment.) The piece is deeply subdued, chanting heard behind an enticing scrim of undulating drones. It has none of the symphonic grandeur of 1970s movie scores, nor the swagger of rock music at the time, though what sound like whistling does bring to mind Ennio Morricone’s westerns. Then again, the post of the track on SoundCloud quotes the Hollywood Reporter’s description: “a lustrous retro-classical score.” So, perhaps the music will be as era-specific as Tom Hiddleston’s lapel. Either way, this excellent first taste of Mansell’s work sets expectations high.

Track originally posted at

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A Taste of The Revenant

Music by Sakamoto, Noto, and Dessner

Certainly, gauging by the initial promotional track, “Killing Hawk,” Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, and Bryce Dessner’s music for The Revenant will be enthralling, just as gravitas-laden and epic as the forthcoming film looks to be. “Killing Hawk” balances an extended, slow-mo orchestral string section with what appears to be a digitally stretched version of the same audio, the backdrop a horizon’s-edge figment of generalized noise. It’s stunning, especially when a kind of ferrite pixie stick scatter appears, perhaps paralleling rampant birds in flight on screen. We won’t know until the film debuts, in about a week (December 25). Sadly, according to, the score won’t be eligible for an Oscar (Sakamoto won for The Last Emperor back in 1987), because three composers are involved.

Track originally posted at

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The “Negative Music” of The Good Wife

A nuanced television show's focus on television, among other media.


This April 5 episode of The Good Wife (“Loser Edit”) opened with a purposefully bland testimonial montage on the good fortune of the title character, Alicia Florrick. The episode prior, Florrick had won a statewide election. “Loser Edit” opened with a recap of her career, which is to say of The Good Wife itself, now well into its sixth season. The camera eventually backed up, revealing that we were watching not a commercial within the show, but a piece of television journalism within the show. It backed up further and we recognized that we were seeing the journalism being constructed, in real time, in a television studio.


The Good Wife often plays with its audience’s expectations. It will return from a commercial break into the middle of a fake TV commercial, or a YouTube-ish “viral” video, or a bit of “native” web advertising, or some other bit of transient media, forcing the viewer to sort out where exactly we are in the story, from whose perspective we’re experiencing the narrative, before yanking us back into the action. The Good Wife puts the “media” in “In medias res.” When the title character occasionally gets a night off, she can be found sitting at home alone watching a parody, titled Darkness at Noon, of the sort of existential anti-hero machismo that gets shows like True Detective and The Shield so much critical attention. The episode the week prior, in which Florrick’s season-long race in a state election was decided, the TV newscaster within the show told the audience — including Florrick herself, seated on a couch in front of a TV — that they would have to wait until after a commercial break before being told the race’s outcome. And then The Good Wife itself took a commercial break.

With its married and divorced middle-aged characters and its presence on CBS, traditionally the grayest of the major American broadcast networks, the show is often misperceived as a rote legal and marital procedural. It is anything but. What it’s especially good at is tracking the use of media, social and otherwise, in the lives and careers of its characters. Sometimes technology takes center stage, as in a running sequence that involved NSA surveillance; this was structured as if a bleak hipster sitcom had been posited within the drama. There have been legal battles on the show involving a search engine and bitcoin, not to mention the illegal editing of email metadata.

The credit due The Good Wife isn’t merely related to the breadth or the frequency or the variety of its stabs at how media mediates life and work. What’s exceptional about The Good Wife is the detail that it brings to its depiction of how technology by both chance and intent influences, often for the worst, life and work and, most specifically, politics.

In “Loser Edit” we watch as the bit of career-recap news is first pitched as a generally favorable overview and then, with the sudden arrival of a slew of damaging emails, as an act of ambush journalism. When the timbre of the still-in-progress story shifts from biography to admonition, the producer of the bit is shown back in the studio with her editor. Earlier in the episode they had left the Florrick character alone in color, against an otherwise black and white photo. Now they switch the emphasis, leaving her alone in black and white, amid a color setting. We watch as, with a simple shift in color coding, they entirely alter the meaning of the photo. The Good Wife is the rare show on television that shows people working on computers in a manner that actually is how people work on computers. We see colors being adjusted and photos being manipulated and text being edited with everyday tools.



And at this moment in “Loser Edit,” the editor dips into a folder of generic background music and switches to a file titled “Negative Music” from one titled “Positive Music.” The sheer, brazen laziness of the action — the sad binary of “positive” and “negative” — speaks volumes of the journalist and her ilk, and though it’s a split-second instant in the overall episode, it also speaks volumes of the intricacy of The Good Wife and the attention of the folks who make it.

“Loser Edit” was directed by Brooke Kennedy, who has also directed episodes of Fringe and My So-Called Life, among other dramas. She has directed many solid entries in The Good Wife, including “Live from Damascus,” back in season 3. That’s the episode in which Will Gardner, the main love interest of the title character (that is, aside from her husband), learned that he was going to be brought up on charges that might lead to his disbarment. At that moment in the episode there is a subtle shift in the background music. A party is going on elsewhere in the law offices, and it is ominously muted, going from joyful to foreboding, as Gardner is faced with the imminent legal action. I was so struck by the moment at the time, that I tracked down Kennedy and interviewed her about it. I was especially interested in speaking with her because of her work on Fringe, which also made great regular use of sound as part of the narrative.

Kennedy spoke to me by telephone about how different television directors manage sound differently: “Just in general,” she said, “when it comes to television, there are certain directors who go in with sound design and have at least some sense of it, and there are others who go in with nothing and put it in at the end. The way you can tell the two, truly, is somebody who shoots more insert work. People who shoot insert I find tend to hear sounds and they want to incorporate that into storytelling. A spoon hitting a glass — it’s that moment; they want to take a moment. Others who don’t do any of that, you find that they don’t think in terms of sound.”

She helpfully walked back through the sequence in the “Live from Damascus” episode: “That entire scene is constructed as things that are happening off stage, so in the center of the offices there’s the party and music is changing constantly. I think we use almost three to four songs and the idea that the party gets more raucous as it goes on, and then every time the sound changes where the proximity of Will is to the party. Then you have to add into that his emotional weight that happens at the end. You want to nurture that. We’re playing with sound through glass. That in itself is rather complicated. They walk down the hall, the door opens, he comes in and closes that door and then we pretty much changed the volume. There are maybe one or two tones in the end in there just to make sure we’re going out on an emotional beat.”

In the course of our conversation, Kennedy touched on an example of how The Good Wife distinguishes itself from other shows: “Most television would have picked a piece of source music for that scene and basically at the end raised the source music so you’re given what to think by the vocals of the song. We actually went the opposite way and wanted to hear the ringing-in his-head kind of thing.”

In other words, the attention to sound that is a hallmark of The Good Wife is very much the opposite of the work characterized by the news segment at the center of the “Loser Edit” episode. The title of the episode refers both to the shift in tone in the segment and to the fate of its news-production team, but it might also be read to refer to a less ambitious, if widely practiced, realm of audio-visual storytelling.

Alone, the “Negative Music” moment in “Loser Edit” is simply a smile-inducing instance for those who happen to catch it. But in the broader scope of Kennedy’s work and of The Good Wife in general, it’s a testament to the shortcuts that the show itself does not take, the way it engages with its own topicality, and the attention it pays to — and shares with — its audience.


All screenshots from the episode “Loser Edit.” Thanks to Lauren Franklin for assistance with transcription of the Kennedy interview.

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This Week in Sound: SoundCloud, Replicants, Comedy, Surveillance

An occasional, lightly annotated clipping service

One-Track Mind: SoundCloud recently added a “repeat single track” function to its web player. This means that if you’re listening to something on SoundCloud you can click a button to have it repeat when it ends, rather than have the service automatically move on to another track. This is a very welcome turn of events. When it comes to audio streaming, we often don’t really hear something the first time we hear it, and often get lost in the continuity. The ability to repeat a single track in some ways having a chance to really pay attention through repetition.

Replicant Soundscape: Speaking of listening on repeat, this following track has been online since August, but I only just learned of it via an post about a related subject. The account of “crysknife007” on YouTube is filled with great “ambient geek sleep aids” such as the sound of the Starship Enterprise’s engines running for 24 hours straight. What follows is the sound of Rick Deckard’s apartment in Blade Runner playing for half a day, so you can imagine you’re a cyberpunk gumshoe when you’re really just sitting at home paying some bills. Though YouTube comments are rightly avoided, a useful follow-up to the track did note that this same sound was later used in Alien for the Nostromo’s medical bay.

Ambient Comedy: The BBC has produced a retrospective of Chris Morris (Blue Jam, Four Lions), the British satirist. I had very much hoped to interview Morris for my recent book on the Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works Volume II because he used music from the album in his radio and television sketches to especially haunting effect, but sadly he wasn’t available. The BBC retrospective is three hours long and, according to the BBC webpage, will be online for another four weeks:

New Heights in Eavesdropping: A thorough overview of the U.S. government’s system “Automatic Speech recognition in Reverberant Environments,” aka ASpIRE, an advance speech-recognition tool.

This first appeared in the December 2, 2014, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter:

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