Palette

August 10, 2019

I'll admit that I'm a movie music nerd and a fan of the usual suspects (Williams, Horner, Howard, Zimmer, etc.). Some others on the less beaten path are Harry Gregson Williams, Alexandre Desplatt, and Thomas Newman.

 

Getting to the point - one of the many things that these composers are all really good at is choosing an instrumental color palette for a film. The latter 3 in the list above are all really good at that. But Hans Zimmer has developed a knack as well. The music from the Sherlock Holmes films, for example, is almost instantly recognizable because of the instruments Zimmer chose to feature, almost as a distinct character in the film. The other day, a new track popped up in my streaming service, but I instantly recognized it as music from Interstellar not because of the thematic material but because of the prevalence of pipe organ in Zimmer's texture.

 

This caused me to type a single word in an email reminder to write a blog post - palette.

I've written some about color and instrumentation here. But I wanted to more clearly illustrate a point about the deliberate decision to choose instrumental combinations and the related sound possibilities inherent in those combinations.

Choosing to write for brass, generally, is one such decision. But that decision alone is like deciding that you are going to paint a landscape using only primary colors without any thought about how you could mix them together. Many arrangers fall into this category; they orchestrate and arrange using brass only having made the decision to...use brass, without deliberate consideration of how to mix those colors into something more interesting. It's a very SATB approach to arranging. And it works to some extent because brass instruments sound really great together (usually) even without the skill and intent behind a more thoughtful orchestration.

 

This is a false positive, and it is also the thing that separates the wheat from the chaff.

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