HISTORY & SURVEY OF FILM MUSIC

Synthesized Scores of the 1970’s - 1980’s

With the invention of modular analog synthesizers in the 1960’s, film composers gained new tools for scoring films, especially those that were futuristic or experimental. By the late 60’s, synthesizers were occasionally used in popular music, but were not common in film soundtracks. 

The release of the 1968 album“Switched on Bach” by Wendy Carlos, brought widespread attention to synthesis, and became the first platinum selling classical music album. This led to Carlos being hired to create a score for the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film, “A Clockwork Orange”. Improvements in synthesizer design and the advent of the Synclavier, a digital synthesizer workstation, led to widespread usage of synthesizers in film and television by the 1980’s. 

Wendy Carlos

Wendy Carlos started her career by pursuing music and physics at Brown University, followed by a M.A. in music composition from Columbia University, where she studied at the famous Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. It was there that she gained expertise in the fledgling field of music synthesis, and found commercial success with the 1968 release of “Switched on Bach”, an LP of synthesized music by the baroque composer J.S. Bach. “Switched on Bach” was created using the Moog Synthesizer, and won 3 Grammy Awards for Carlos.


Film scoring opportunities followed, and Carlos contributed synthesized music to Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film, “A Clockwork Orange”.  She also contributed music to the 1980 Kubrik film “The Shining”, as well as the 1982 Disney film “Tron”.

Wendy Carlos Interview on the BBC (1989)

A Clockwork Orange (1971) - Trailer

Tron (1982)

Tron marks the beginning of the new media age, tapping into the dawn of personal computers and video games. As the first film to make extensive usage of digital animation, the film combines traditional animated backgrounds with digital graphics and live action. The film was the first to have a parallel release of a commercial video game. 

The score to Tron combines orchestral and synthesized textures, giving the film a sound environment to match the striking visual appearance.

Tron (1982) - Main Theme

Tron (1982) - Opening Scene

Vangelis

Vangelis is a Greek musician and composer, most famous for his synthesized scores to “Chariot’s of Fire (1981) and Blade Runner (1982). He began his career as a keyboard player for psychedelic and progressive rock bands in the 1970’s.


Chariot’s of Fire won the 1981 Academy award for “Best Original Score”, with the main title track becoming a hit on the Billboard charts. The track became an iconic musical work from the early 1980’s, and has been used countless times in other films evoking that era.

Chariots of Fire (1981) - Opening Title

Blade Runner (1982)

The 1982 Ridley Scott film “Blade Runner” is a dystopian film set in 2019 Los Angeles, where a fugitive group of synthetic humans are hunted down and exterminated. The film had limited success during its initial release, but has since gained cult-like status as a sci-fi classic.

Blade Runner (1982) - Scene

Maurice Jarre

Maurice Jarre (1924 – 2009) was a French film composer and conductor, and the recipient of 3 Academy Awards. Notable films include Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and A Passage to India (1984). As a seasoned symphonic film composer, Jarre’s electronic score to “Witness” (1985) shows a sensitivity to music’s role in film. Despite its highly stylistic synth textures, the score has a less dated feel than other synthesized scores from this era.

Witness (1985) - Theatrical Trailer

Witness (1985) - Building the Barn

Jan Hammer - Miami Vice Theme (TV) (1984)

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