"You're a wizard, Mr. Williams."

This week the popular Harry Potter site Pottermore gave its members the chance to find their Patronus. Being a Harry Potter fan I, of course, needed to find out this vital information. While answering the questions, I felt the urge to play some mood music and quickly launched Spotify and started from the beginning: The Sorcerer’s Stone. And even after I discovered that my Patronus was a white stallion (thank goodness it wasn’t Neville’s toad...although I see the irony), I could not stop listening to the hour and thirteen-minute long album.

John Williams’ score is just amazing!

The soundtrack really is what makes that film stand out so well. The iconic themes, the way he was able to create mood whether it be fear, wonder, happiness, sadness; John Williams' music is invaluable.

It is still a bit of a surprise to me why he never did ALL the films (there were rumors at the time that he would do the seventh and eighth film). But one of my friends made the interesting observation that the music grows up with the character. As Harry Potter and his friends get older the subject matter and themes get more complex. The music has to change to reflect the changes in the story. While I do think that Williams would have been up for this challenge, I do agree it gave the films a different ambiance and helped to bring out these changes.

But I digress. I am writing this to be a John Williams "fan boy"!

The mood in the beginning of the film is captured perfectly. Eerie and mysterious, this theme is presented by the Celeste bells. This instrument will play a vital part throughout the movie. Why vital? It so perfectly captures the feeling of mystery and wonder.

And so it begins.

Here it establishes the mood immediately. A lone figure. On a foggy street holding a contraption that seems to make the street lights go out?! Then a cat who turns into a person. Thank goodness Hagrid comes along! Otherwise, we could have easily been watching the beginning of a horror flick! And it's all because of a bell instrument!

One of my favorite scenes were Williams uses the Celeste is when Harry Potter visits Olivanders to find a wand. The theme, to my knowledge, is never repeated but captures the wonder of the moment.

Music starts around the 2:00 minute mark...but watch the whole scene. John Hurt's acting in this scene is so good!

This is the second time Williams has used the instrument to start a scene and have it lead to the "wonder" moment highlighted by either strings or choir.

It is these "wonder" moments that have always attracted me to Williams’ music (and orchestral music in general). And from a writing angle, they don’t always have to be complex. They often are simple in presentation. It is how that theme is then expanded. Williams does this so well. He will present an idea simply and then begin to fill the background with more harmony and design. He does this so well in the opening track "Prologue" where he takes the Celeste that has presented the theme and has it become part of the harmony or counter-melody. He has done this sort of orchestration in so many of his film soundtracks it has become a part of his sound.

I could go on. But you get the point.

I'm sure the films would have been popular if Williams hadn't composed the music. But I don't think they'd have the same recognition or defining movie moments for fans. 

So while trying to find your Patronus (click here), I suggest listening to some Harry Potter! Link below :)

Harry Potter and the Sourcerer's Stone





The music of Mushi-Shi: how an anime taught me to write with simplicity.

Music composed by Toshio Masuda  / 増田 俊郎

Music composed by Toshio Masuda / 増田 俊郎

One of the things that my wife and I have been trying to do this year is to live simply. We don’t want to live in excess and have tried to only keep material items that we use on a semi-daily basis or that are eco-friendly. As a result, we have been able to accomplish our goals and not cloud our lives with junk.

My music on the other hand…I like bling.

My music sounded so cluttered and “busy”. I would cloud my music with so many instruments, plugin effects, REVERB (boy do I love reverb!), and I was loosing my vision.

Around that time I started watching a anime called Mushi-shi. My music was changed forever.

Mushi-Shi is set in ancient Japan and follows Ginko, a man who has dedicated his life to learning and studying Mushi. Mushi are these supernatural creatures that are found all around Japan. Some of these creatures make life beneficial and some are dangerous (or seen that way). Each story follows Ginko’s happenings with the people that are either dealing with these creatures or studying how the land has been affected by the Mushi.

What I love about each of these stories is they are amazing pieces of art. You aren’t missing some major plot point if you were to watch them out of order or only ever watch one. They are all stand alone stories; paintings that you might view at an art gallery and simply observe. Each one obviously tied together by a theme (Mushi) but all having there own story to tell.

And then there is the music.

Like the animation and storytelling, the music is utterly simple. It doesn’t get in the way. It doesn’t try to overflow your senses. It simply: is.

Composer Toshio Masuda’s writing style perfectly mirrors the show’s philosophy: keep everything stripped down so that the narrative can shine through. The way Masuda writes takes advantage of small moments of silence, simple melodies, and will often double instruments to play the same parts. But what is truly amazing is how the music adds to the artwork. The use of slow movement, color, and minimal animations in the anime are reflected by the music.

But it is those small moments of silence that has forced me change the way I write music. These silences give the listener a chance to digest what was presented. In other words: the listener is more engaged with your music if you give them the chance to hear it. Simply throwing everything and the kitchen sink will not let you tell a story, it only clutters it.

I am not saying that everyone should stop trying to flood the airwaves with pure sound! Rather, it has been my personal challenge to not throw as many ideas and sounds together as possible but spend the time and work to develop the idea and simply present that. Then, develop the idea further.

In addition, by writing simply, I have the ability to finish something and move on to the next project. If I am always trying to add things and make them better and better they are never finished.

I recently read BIG MAGIC by Elisabeth Gilbert where she discusses her views on creativity. While reading I was challenged by a sentence that I both love and hate: “Done is better than good.” For anyone who is in the arts, this can be a really big pill to swallow (she calls it a “shit sandwich”). But I think that these are word to take heart. Do I love my art? Do I really believe in it? Then share it! I can always go back later and “fix it” or add more, but it is so much more important for us to show that we can write/draw/create and do it.

Finally, the music of Mushi-Shi has taught me to listen. Giving music the space to say what it means is important. If it is being crowded by complex rhythm and harmony parts, am I telling the right story? Or am I actually getting away from the original goal of the piece and turning it into something else? This is not necessarily a bad thing but it is important to identify and answer the question: what am I trying to say/do/accomplish? When I have skipped this step, the result are not consistent and often lead me back to the drawing board.

I love Mushi-Shi. LOVE. You can watch it on Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube and I highly recommend you do. They are the best 20 minutes of storytelling you can hope to watch and are truly pieces of art.

Analysis of the anime

An excellent video analysis of the show if you want to learn more.

Music Playlist

Playlist of the whole soundtrack from all two seasons of the anime,