Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Superhero Theme Project Part 4: The Flash

He is not particularly strong, he doesn’t fly, and he’s doesn’t talk to fish, but The Flash is still very easy to describe to a two year old: he’s “fast.” That description implies a lot musically, but I did not think that it would do for his theme to merely have a quick tempo. I had a specific sound in mind, and although there were many pieces with parts that were appropriate, there was not a single one that seemed to fit. The opening of Holst's Jupiter, with its rippling arpeggios and driving pulse, rang pretty loudly in my ears, but as an entire piece, it is too long. I want to save The Planets for when astronomy catches the Little One’s attention, anyhow.

Jupiter, The Bringer Of Jollity by Holst, Gustav - von Karajan - Berlin Philharmonic on Grooveshark

With this vague idea as a starting point, the list of contenders seemed to grow longer and longer, but nothing seemed right. One of the finalists was the Flying Theme from E.T.

Flying Theme from "E.T." by Boston Pops Orchestra on Grooveshark

It is undeniably fleet of foot, and has a memorable melody that I could pull out of context to define the character. Still, it was a bit too soft, and as a definitive John Williams composition, it broke the “musical favoritism” rule.  Additionally, a quick poll revealed that E.T. is still relevant kid’s TV, so she might end up seeing the movie. Finally, the last two themes I had pulled from existing soundtracks, and it was not my intention to co-opt her entire superhero theme repertoire in this way. I wanted to mix in more "serious" literature as well.

The texture I was looking for was minimalist, but most of my go-to composers in this genre capitalize on the meditative qualities of the style. I was looking for something brighter and more driving. After seemingly endless digging, I recalled a work called Short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams. I had not heard this song for many, many years, and even then it was only by relatively superficial exposure in a 20th century music class. Its name alone, however, suggested a revisit, and it immediately caught both my attention and imagination.

This song was driving and intense, and it captured the bright, festive intensity that I saw as essential to The Flash. More importantly, it was a piece that was relatively unfamiliar to me, and I was excited about examining it more closely alongside the Little One. It did break a cardinal rule, however, because the song is not defined by a clear melody. Its musical interest is generated by broad harmonic changes and disorienting rhythmic dissonance. Short Ride in a Fast Machine would, in a sense, be the most programmatic selection I had made, but once I seriously considered it, any other song just did not seem right. I took the risk.

By the time I got the song on the playlist, she had been asking about The Flash for a couple of days. I was not sure exactly what her ear would be drawn towards, so I did not give her much of a cue. I just asked her if she wanted to hear “The Flash,” and she excitedly said she did. Within moments of its first playing, her eyes widened excitedly and she gleefully screamed from the back seat “HE’S RUNNING!”


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