Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Incidentally - Music is a pain!

Lots of debate today about the rather vexed subject of incidental music in programming. A good deal has been prompted by a comment by Professor Brian Cox who lamented the fact that the backing music on his programme the Wonders of the Universe is being reduced in volume as a result of complaints that it is too loud and intrusive. In his words he wants the experience to be cinematic. Perhaps Professor Cox wants to be a film star rather than an educator – who knows.

I haven't watched the programme at length so I cant really comment on the specific case beyond saying that I was under the impression that it is a factual programme and as such I would say some of the best factual cinema has very little incidental music and is all the better for it.

I am all for the use of incidental music when it can significantly enhanced the emotion of a fictional piece. The late John Barry was rightly praised for his ability to write music that aurally endorsed and embraced what was being shown on screen or the theme of a piece and so enhance the immersive experience.

Where I struggle with (no I actually object to) it is where it is used in factual or informative and educational pieces. Firstly it indicates an agenda or perspective on the part of the maker where we are being told how to interpret things. This is either coercive or patronising or both and for me is not acceptable. I am sure I am not alone on finding, for example, supposedly news or documentary pieces laden with incidental music that are full of martial music when showing militarism or fey tinkling piano pieces when dealing with “tragedy”. Sadly this is very much part of a mainstream United States sensibility of programming and so has a tendency to spread into a great deal of mainstream TV and film elsewhere.

The other issue for me is that it can simply make it hard to hear what is being said. Perhaps this is a function of my declining hearing, or maybe a general decline in the public desire to use precise language these days.

At the risk of being accused of being a curmudgeon I have a feeling that the use of incidental music in Professor Cox work is for another reason – he isn't actually a very good narrator. I haven't watched all the programmes but the pieces I have, and having heard him speak elsewhere, his delivery and tone leave a great deal to be desired – IMHO.

Now David Attenborough on the other hand..........

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