DIES IRAE: THIS SHINING EXAMPLE

My original intent was to have this article finished and released in time for The Lost Signals’ second season of “MOTS-O-Ween,” but time is fleeting and all work and no play makes Chris a dull pedant.

 

Dies Irae” (That Day of Wrath) is a Gregorian Chant which dates back to the 13th century. It is probably one of the oldest and most recognized pieces of early music, and its use throughout the ages has been predominantly for religious music, starting with Catholic and then other Judeo-Christian masses.

The melody of “Dies Irae” later appears--in various forms--in the works of secular pieces by composers from the Classical and Romantic eras up to and including modern day soundtracks.

One such example from the Romantic era--making its appearance starting about 3 minutes in--is the 5th movement, “The Dream of the Witches’ Sabbath,” of Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique.” This symphony is a musical narrative, or program piece, which tells a story of unrequited love. Towards the end of the piece, the protagonist poisons himself and dreams that he has killed his beloved. He is subsequently executed, goes to Hell, and is tortured.

Probably one of my favorite examples in modern film scores is John Williams's use of it in "Star Wars" (1977).  When Luke returns to his family’s farm to find the burning bodies of his aunt and uncle, the theme can be heard here [starting at 1:41] carried by the lower registered brass instruments.

Combining its past use in music and text and its application in modern cinema, I am going to discuss its use in the opening credit sequence to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” This is my interpretation and personal observations of the work in relation to the movie “The Shining.” I have not--beyond refreshing my music history of the piece itself and its text--researched the connection between this movie, the music, and its text.

The version performed by Wendy Carlos in the opening credit sequence to "The Shining" is very reminiscent in orchestration to that of “Symphonie Fantastique,” except it is performed with electronic instruments instead of traditional orchestral.

The camera follows Jack Torrance's car as he makes the long trip up mountain roads to the Overlook Hotel, where he will be interviewed for the hotel’s winter caretaker position. The music foreshadows Jack’s descent as we watch his ascent. Whether or not the Overlook Hotel is ultimately Jack’s Hell or Purgatory is open for interpretation.

Along with the music, the text of “Dies Irae” also foreshadows what will happen to Jack, his wife (Wendy), his son (Danny), and the supernatural entity of the hotel itself.

 

The following translation comes from the “Treasury of Latini Prayers” and I have abridged this translation in order to highlight the relevant parts:

 

THAT day of wrath, that dreadful day,

shall heaven and earth in ashes lay...

 

What horror must invade the mind

when the approaching Judge shall find

and sift the deeds of all mankind...

 

Now death and nature with surprise

behold the trembling sinners rise

to meet the Judge's searching eyes.

 

Then shall with universal dread

the Book of Consciences be read

to judge the lives of all the dead.

 

For now before the Judge severe

all hidden things must plain appear;

no crime can pass unpunished here.

 

While the text refers to the Judeo-Christian God, I am considering the hotel itself to be the judge in this case. The Judge/hotel invades Jack’s mind, twisting and corrupting it. Crimes against the hotel--like crimes against God--cannot pass unpunished. An instance of this is the scene in the bathroom when Grady tells Jack that he needs to “correct” Wendy after she tells Jack that she wants the family to leave the hotel. To punish Wendy, Jack must kill her as Grady did his own family after his daughters tried to burn the hotel down.

The “Book of Consciences” is applicable as Jack is also a writer hoping that a winter of near solitude will allow him to finish writing his novel. When the book finally “be read” by his wife, Wendy,  it is revealed that Jack has simply typed “All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy” over and over again. It is after this point that Wendy starts seeing all the phantoms in the hotel, that “all the hidden things must plain appear.”

The intentions of Stanley Kubrick or Wendy Carlos with regard to the use of “Dies Irae” in the film may differ from my interpretation, but “The Shining” has been the subject of many observations and theories; I have just added my voice to the chorus.

Addressing one conspiracy theory, I want it to be known and clearly understood, that I do know the United States did go to the moon and do not subscribe to the theory surrounding Danny’s rocket sweater.

For more on The Lost Signals’ analysis of “The Shining” you can listen to our podcast from October 2015.

--Chris Morgan

MUSIC AS A SUPPORTING CHARACTER IN STAR TREK BEYOND

***SPOILERS***

In our podcast about "Star Trek Beyond," I argued that Michael Giacchino's score could be considered a supporting character. He teases the main theme throughout the movie, using its buildup [0:00-0:42--theme starts 0:43] and variations to support the progression of the story, as well as character locations, emotions and actions.

For those who haven’t seen “Star Trek Beyond”, or are not familiar with Giacchino’s score, I will give an example of a better known score that supports character actions and locations within a film.

 In Steven Spielberg’s film, “Jaws,” John William's iconic main theme helped to give the audience a sense of where the shark was geographically and the threat it posed at any given time. Starting ominously with the slow pulse of the bass instruments, the tempo and intensity of the music would build as the shark got closer or was in a more threatening position.

In both "Jaws" and "Star Trek Beyond," music provides information about a character that cannot be seen: location, intention, emotional state, etc. Some of the narrative themes in "Star Trek Beyond" are those of internal doubt, external separation and the strength found in unity, and Giacchino’s score helps to punctuate and track all of this.

At the very beginning of the movie we hear a soft version of the main theme to introduce it to the audience during the pre-film title cards. Then as the title cards continue, Giacchino teases us with what is the actual build up to that theme, essentially reversing its order.

In the first act of the movie, Giacchino plays with the main theme, moving it from strings to piano to woodwinds and providing a backdrop as Kirk tours the Enterprise. He is giving his Captain’s Log, discussing his daily life and the lives of the crew in the tedium of deep space travel. This scene also gives the first hints as to Kirk's personal doubts.

After making a brief resupply stop at the star base Yorktown—an enormous spherical station with winding cities, open malls and looping canals with real water—the Enterprise disembarks on a mission to find an alien vessel within a nearby nebula. However, it is a trap. The Enterprise is attacked by the villain, Krall, and his swarm of ships.

The Enterprise is destroyed and the crew abandons the ship, fleeing separately to the nearby planet. Kirk soon finds Chekov, Spock reunites with McCoy, Scotty meets a new ally, Jaylah, while Sulu and Uhura are captured and held with the rest of the surviving crew in Krall's camp.

While all the characters are equally important to the story, the main focus of the narrative and music is centered on Kirk. It has been his emotional journey that we’ve been following throughout. As he and Chekov work to to find the rest of the crew, the main theme is softly teased in melodic variation.

Eventually Kirk and Chekov meet up with Scotty and Jaylah. Jaylah has been working to repair an old crashed Federation ship, the Franklin. Now that they have a means to escape the planet, the reunited crew members work together on a plan to locate and rescue the remaining crew. As they work, the main theme’s introduction is played, softly, before it diminishes as the scene changes.

From here the pattern continues. McCoy and Spock are found and brought into the fold, bringing new information to help rescue the crew from Krall. Once again the introduction is played, this time more intensely, but still not completing its journey to the main theme.

Uhura, Sulu, and the rest of the ship’s crew are rescued, and the seven main characters are reunited aboard the Franklin. Uhura and Sulu share what they have learned of Krall's plans. The main crew--reunited and stronger than ever in the movie--form their final plan for escape and defeat of their enemy. The introduction is played at full volume and intensity, but once again it stops before the main theme as the ship escapes the planet and heads toward the Yorktown.

Throughout the movie the constant teasing of the main theme creates a sense of anticipation, a sense of excitement, the feeling that the movie is building to its climax. It is getting closer but is not quite there.

The Franklin pursues Krall's ships into the Yorktown. Giacchino ramps up the excitement by constantly moving between the chase music, Krall’s theme, a variant of the main theme, back to the chase music and Krall’s theme. Then--without any buildup, introduction, or other musical cues--the main theme swoops in, full intensity and orchestration, as the Franklin rises from one of the canals on the Yorktown to stop Krall’s ships.

This theme has been a long time coming. It has followed the crew throughout the movie while eluding the audience. It has been a source of both excitement and frustrated anticipation. The return of Giacchino’s theme here at the film’s climax provides a visceral sonic release that compliments the visual in celebrating the success of our heroes.

It seems fitting that I write my first article for our monthly newsletter as Star Trek celebrates its 50th anniversary. This particular journey began on February 27th, 2015, the day The Lost Signals recorded our first podcast, and the day Leonard Nimoy died. It is a day I look back on with both joy and sadness.

Star Trek has been an inspiration to me as a musician, a writer, and a person all my life. I am beyond grateful to now have the opportunity to combine all those inspirations in one article.

-Chris Morgan, September 2016