I recently saw a bit of the 1992 Rob Reiner film “A Few Good Men” the other night on cable. While the writing still seemed to hold and the acting was believable, especially Jack Nicholson, the music score by Marc Shaiman was very dated. What must have sounded very hip and current at the time, now sounds “so yesterday.”

What makes this score sound out-of-date? Choices. Mainly choices in instrumentation but also harmony, melody, texture. The “latest” synth sounds and electronic drum machines may make you seems so current when you release it, it’s also what’s going to relegate you to the 99 cents bin at the video store within a few years.

So how does one walk this fine line? Just being conscious is a huge part of it. Musician/composers Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays spend a lot of time thinking about this for their Pat Metheny Group releases. Whilst using the latest synths and sampling technologies, their music retains a kind of “timelessness.” Listening to symphonic orchestral pieces from over a hundred years ago by Sibelius, Beethoven, Dvorak, Rimsky-Korsakov, one is astounded by how current they still seem. Perhaps this is due to the cultural common vocabulary of the symphony orchestra. It’s been part of western culture for hundreds of years and is now a standard “vocabulary.”

Have a quick listen:
Marc Shaiman’s 1992 Code Red/Semper Fidelis
and
here’s Jean Sibelius in the summer of 1899 with “Finlandia” .
Is it just me or do I detect a strong inspirational force for Howard Shore’s “Lord of the Rings,” parts of it at least.

All this talk of aging well got me thinking about wines. We opened a bottle of a 1992 Pauillac recently and it was just like…eh! Something happened to the bottle – it wasn’t exactly bad but not great. But that’s the story for another blog.

If you were around in the 1970’s did you remember Orson Welles reduced to selling Gallo wine? Poor Orson – what a fantastic director…

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