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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

The Everyday Musicality of Autumn de Wilde’s Emma

And especially of Johnny Flynn

I really dug the recent(ish) Jane Austen adaptation, Emma (2020), with Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role and Johnny Flynn as (I’m about to risk a 170-year-old spoiler) her belatedly betrothed. What I only realized during the end credits is that’s the same Johnny Flynn who did the great theme song for the great TV series The Detectorists (for which he also co-wrote the score).

Emma itself did right by music, too, start to finish. There’s plenty of pop culture out there, from Riverdale to Downton Abbey, where everyday (“amateur,” horrid* word) musicianship is part of how communities gather around each other, with the roles of performer and audience ever in flux. In Emma, this topic is particularly well handled, how we witness the title character, plus Flynn’s George Knightley (in a duo with Jane Fairfax), performing in front of friends, frenemies, and family. Bonus points for how centuries are bridged with covers by Maddy Prior and June Tabor, and by the Watersons.

And yow, how the playfully genteel score by David Schweitzer and Isobel Waller-Bridge fills each moment that the film’s director, Autumn de Wilde, leaves for them. The music choreographs the internal reactions of characters, to always affectionately comic ends. It’s like emotional ballet.

Coincidentally, I’ve been re-reading a lot of Dennis Potter lately, and it’s no surprise Emma’s director came from pop music (via videos and photography). Like Potter, de Wilde gets (and gets at) how singing other people’s music is form of self-expression.

* “amateur” having become a near-synonym for “dilettante,” both words having lost association with their origins (love and delight, respectfully)

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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