Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Superhero Theme Project: Revived and Retconned

Earlier this year, I reported that her interest seemed to be on the wane for the Superhero Theme Project, and at the time, this was true. She was requesting to listen to the playlist with less and less frequency.  It would not be unusual, however, for me to catch her humming The Great Gate of Kiev when she was playing by herself. It seemed like something was rolling around in there.  Then about a month ago, for whatever reason, her interest returned. She began requesting Aquaman in the car, so I would start with The Great Gate of Kiev and just let the playlist play on shuffle. She often wanted to sit in the car and listen to music in the driveway after we had finished our commute home. One day, she asked if we could listen to superheroes in the house, so I pulled up several good quality orchestral videos on YouTube and we watched them together. This whetted her appetite even further.

Then a complication arose. She was looking at my phone while listening to Hawkgirl, (AKA the Game of Thrones theme), and began trying to spell out the name of the song. Clearly, Hawkgirl doesn’t start with a “G” sound, so she was justifiably confused.  Did I mention she just turned 3?

While I was more than happy that our work with the alphabet was starting to pay off, she was going to catch on to me very quickly.  I took some time to reformat all the files,  renaming them and editing the tags so that the character’s names would appear as the various compositions played (although I kept the composer’s names intact). Additionally, and this is the kicker, I reassigned album art to each track so that a picture of the superhero would display as the track played. Also, in true comic book fashion, I did my first, and probably only, retcon of a character.

Ever since last year, I have regretted adopting Main Title/Trinity Infinity from The Matrix to represent the Martian Manhunter. After nine months, she could still not identify it when it played. It just didn’t have enough melodic material as a standalone composition to stick, and it stuck out in the playlist because of this shortcoming.

When I revamped the list with graphics, I reassigned the Martian Manhunter’s theme with my original first instinct: Dream is Collapsing from the Inception soundtrack. I had initially dismissed this track because I envisioned the superhero playlist to be purely orchestral, and the prominent electric guitar in the introduction went against this conception. I continued listening to the Inception soundtrack on my own, however, and never gave the Matrix soundtrack a second look.

My justification for appropriating music from The Matrix was that shimmering chord progression that I playfully called “the Matrix Sound.” More than anything else, I thought that musical sound effect carried an ethereal otherworldliness that summed up J’onn J’onzz. That sound effect by itself, however, was never used in an independent musical fashion anywhere on any of the Matrix soundtracks. It always lined up with the action of the film, and without the film’s narrative to provide some structure there was just not enough for her to hold on to.

There is also, however, an “Inception Sound” to be found, although it is identified less by shimmering string chords and more by thunderous, blasting brass and percussion. While this incredible, physics-defying sound is also inextricably wound up in the narrative of the movie, Zimmer also quite brilliantly places it within musical structures that can stand on their own.

In my mind, Inception sits between The Dark Knight and Man of Steel, the middle entry in a trilogy of Zimmer’s soundtracks that have captured my interest in the past few years. While it inhabits the same dark, foreboding tone of its predecessor, it also has the startling dynamic impact that defines Man of Steel. No matter how low the volume level is on Inception, it creates the sense that it is rattling the very edges of universe, threatening to overwhelm and consume all sounds in its path.

Considering my increasing interest in Hans Zimmer’s work, it seemed appropriate for him to be represented on the playlist, and I would not have a more suitable chance than with The Martian Manhunter. I wasn’t so sure that the Little One would buy it, though. The last time I tried to pull a fast one on her, she called me out.  It was clear, though, that she was not connecting with the Matrix track. I felt pretty sure that with the picture of J’onn J’onzz on the display, she would not question the change too much.

I was right. She totally bought it. In fact, I think she likes is a lot better, especially when “The Inception Sound” begins to appear at the end of Dream is Collapsing (1:34 in the clip above), and we both start chanting “J’ONN J’OOOONZ……J’ONN J’OOOONZ” at the top of our lungs.


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