Task 6. Percussion

Influences on my percussion score for American Beauty.

The first of my influences for my percussion only score is the piece Shimmy She Wobble by Othar Turner and The Rising Star Fife & Drum Band. Taken from the 2002 film Gangs Of New York (dir. M, Scorsese), the piece is entirely structured around a marching style snare drum beat with a solo woodwind accompaniment. Because this sequence from American Beauty begins with a marching band playing On Broadway, I wanted to tie in with that feel by orchestrating a snare drum beat around this piece to begin with and then progress to be an improvised percussive element in the main section of the score during the provocative dance scene. Turner’s repetative use of rhythmic snare drumming is one of the main influences for my score and can be viewed in the video below.

My influence for wanting to blend my own score with the film’s original soundtrack, i.e. between the music backing the cheerleader’s routine and the solo provocative dance sequence, is derived from a similar style of musical blending used by Hans Zimmer in his score for Mission Impossible II (2001. dir. J, Woo). Zimmer’s track Nyah is mixed, almost inaudibly, with the digetic or source music of the flamenco dancers in the scene. This smooth mix of my own soundtrack with the source material in the scene itself, works well because it maintains a theme, for example the prodominence of the snare drum, throughout the transition between the digetic and non-digetic soundtrack much like how Zimmer incorporates the sound and feel of the flamenco dancers in his track before it is reduced to the sound of just the dancers themselves. Below I have posted a player widget containing the mix between Zimmer’s track Nyah and the flamenco dancers.

My soundtrack during the solo dance scene has been heavily influenced by the piece Night Fight by Tan Dun from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000. dir. A, Lee). Although Dun’s piece is much more rhythmically consistent than my own soundtrack, the sparsity of instrumentation in Dun’s piece greatly influenced the amount of instruments which I used in my composition. This piece, although uses a wooden clave-like instrument, also influenced the use of finger clicking in my piece which, when played to meter, has a captivating effect and accentuates the fixation felt by Kevin Spacey at the sight of the young cheerleader. Below is a video post of the track Night Fight which demonstrates Dun’s minimal use of instruments.

A final influence on my score is Thomas Newman’s main titles track Dead Already from the film American Beauty itself (1999. dir. S, Mendes). Newman’s intervals of fourths between the marimba notes in his score directly influence the similar sounding xylophone hits in my own composition. Although my soundtrack is composed mainly from untuned percussion, with the exception of the timpani, I found that this use of a piece of tuned percussion playing simple note structure gave the piece a moderate and quirky melody line that didn’t interfere with the sparsity of instrumentation or overall feel of the piece. Below I have posted a screen shot of the notes used in my soundtrack as well as a small sound clip.

I have also posted a video containing Newman’s track so that the two melodies can be compared.

My percussion only score for American Beauty.

Below is the video clip of my score for Task 6.

Task 6. Percussion from James Utting on Vimeo.

Report for Task 6: Percussion.

The objective for task 6 was to create a percussion only score for a given sequence. Elements I wished to highlight were the shots of Spacey transfixed by the cheerleader, orchestrated by tam-tam scrapes, and the repeating shot of the cheerleader turning to face Spacey during her provocative dance. Composer’s techniques I choose to adopt were Hans Zimmer’s style of blending the soundtrack with the digetic sound in the scene, found in his track Nyah (Mission Impossible: II. 2000) and the minimal approach to instrumentation found in Tan Dun’s Night Fight. An audio-sequencing technique I used was to utilize the hyper editor in Logic 9 to create realistic snare drum rolls. A musical technique I have learned is the use of intervals of fourths played on tuned percussion to create a melodic backdrop which suited percussion only score, influenced by Thomas Newman’s Dead Already (American Beauty. 1999). This task is practice as research because I have researched percussion scoring techniques and explored their use in an original piece. This includes with a minimalist, instrumental approach, much like that heard in Night Fight (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 2000). I would give my composition a mark of 60% because it incorporates techniques such as blending the soundtrack with digetic sound and scoring intervals of fourths in order to meet the objective. My piece shows evidence of this by demonstrating that I have structured my research in an original composition which shows an accurate expression of what I feel the task criteria requires.

word count: 249


  • American Beauty (1999) [DVD] dir. S, Mendes. USA: DreamWorks Pictures.
  • Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) [DVD] dir. A, Lee. Hong Kong: EDKO Film.
  • Davis, R. (1999) The Complete Guide To Film Scoring, Boston: Berklee Press.
  • Drifters, The (1963) On Broadway on On Broadway (Vinyl). US: Atlantic.
  • Karlin, F. (2004) On The Track: A Guide To Contemporary Film Scoring. Great Britain: Routledge.
  • Gangs Of New York (2002) [DVD] dir. M, Scorsese. USA: Intermedia Films.
  • Mission Impossible II (2000) [VHS] dir. J, Woo. USA: Los Angeles Center Studios.

Web references.


~ by J.E.R.U. on March 11, 2011.

3 Responses to “Task 6. Percussion”

  1. hey dude, I am loving your percussion piece! The band part at the start is so realistic! The second part is also awesome love the finger clicks and the snare rolls, great atmosphere! Have watched it several times now! 😀

    Hope all is well your end 🙂

    • Cheers mate, glad you like it. Ditto, by the way, lovin’ the fact you actually recorded your samples! Well authentic.
      Keep it goin’ buddy.

  2. great work, really James, I love your sparse approach to the trance section with the sexy dance, I also appreciate the buildup back into reality. Well done !!! and what Jamrog said ! 🙂

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