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John Williams “B Roll”

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Cody Ortz, Jun 13, 2021.

  1. I have been listening to and looking at a lot of John Williams scores recently, and I’ve become really interested in what I’m calling his “B roll.” His main themes are usually pretty straightforward melodic ideas underlined with basic chord progressions, and they mostly repeat with some harmonic developments. But his “B roll” is fascinating.
    I’m talking about the connective tissue, the transitions, the underscoring, the incidental music…

    How does he come up with these ideas? A lot of the time they seem unrelated to the thematic material and (for lack of a word) kind of random.
  2. Will you share one or more specific examples to discuss?
  3. I think the beginning of this cue is a great example. Basically everything from the beginning to m. 13, except for m. 3-4 in the oboe/clarinet. It's just kind of a harmonic bed and I don't see any relation to motivic material.

    And in this one, the beginning of 5m1 (at about 1:20). Again, just seems like meandering writing without any strong ties to the motivic material.

  4. The Empire Strikes Back example begins with four rising P4ths to introduce the main theme which, of course, opens with a P5 (the inversion of a P4). The half notes in mm. 6-7, while not an exact duplicate of the rising 4ths, clearly relate back to mm. 1-2 (m 7, however, does incorporate a rising P4). The first 3 melodic notes in mm. 6-7 (B-D-C#) echo in the bass line in mm. 6-8. The last 3 notes of mm. 6-7 (D-C#-F#) repeat in m. 8, transposed up a M3 and rhythmically diminished from half notes to quarter notes. Measures 9 & 10 present two descending melodic M7ths (also in m. 11), which could relate back to the main theme’s m7 (F# up to E). [Melodic sequences of descending 7ths always remind me of Elgar’s “Engima Variations.”] The rising A-E-A’ (mm. 10-11) outlines the same gesture as the main theme’s half notes (E-B-E’).

    But I may be over analyzing a bit…

  5. This is why this is interesting to me. I think if you go to this level of depth, you can relate almost anything to something somewhere else. But to me, that's not a clearly audible relationship. I think motivic identity lies within rhythmic and intervallic components lining up. And when you change one of those, the other has to be more identical to the reference, otherwise, it becomes unidentifiable. There are some great examples of that idea in that cue with relation to the Imperial March. When he changes the intervals, he clings to the original rhythm. I don't think these "B Roll" moments fit that bill.

    So I'd love to see how he decides to write these moments. Does he just pick a harmony and then "vamp" on that harmony? A lot of them are very stagnant in terms of motion, but they don't feel like they're treading water. It's interesting...
  6. This is an interesting question. I would like to know the answer too :D

    My guess would be that these are just some kind of contrasting sections, while beeing in the same harmonic vocaublary of the film and telling the drama of the story.
    In your second example the imperial motif from the first movie starts (or is hinted at with the minor triads; at least in my head I can hear some kind of connection here). It comes in when Ben is telling us that stormtroopers did this.
    Would we have heard the motif from the beginning my guess would be that it wouldn't be much of a reveal?

    Or it is all connected and beyond my ability to perceive it.

    In contrast to that Jerry Goldsmith's Score to the Mummy seems to be connected to the themes and motifs all the time. In the first song he presents almost all of the themes of the movie (except the hero motif) and I'm pretty sure everything is based on these themes. For scenes where he needs to do some kind of B-roll transistions, as you call them, he uses the Main Theme. I think in some interview he mentioned that he always needs to have a Main Theme for his scores.
    Have a listen:
    Cody Ortz likes this.

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