Luís Zanforlin

Dramatic Scoring 1 FS 241-003 Dec/11/2017


Arrival (2016) Composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson


Themes and Motifs

The movie has no thematic material with the exception of the movie’s main theme which is a licensed string quartet piece by Max Richter called On The Nature of Daylight there. However the score makes use of texture and instrumentation as motifs. The vocal sounds generally appear as the main characters attempt to communicate with the aliens. As the communication improves the sounds become more recognizable as human voices. The brass section is only used when the movie makes reference to militaristic force or character’s militaristic intents. The string section is used when the protagonist sees the future or when time bending becomes evident in the plot. Like the voices, the bowed strings sounds becomes more recognizable as acoustic strings instruments rather then synthetic strings as the protagonist becomes more aware that her “dreams” are visions from the future.


Score Statistics

  1. The score has 25 cues

  2. The movie duration is 1 hour and 58 minutes and the score duration is about 1 hour and 2 minutes representing a little over half the movie.

  3. The instrumentation includes mixed choir, soloists, string orchestra, grass section, Japanese drums, prepared piano, synthetic percussion, synthesizers.

  4. The score is composed of almost exclusively electronic instruments paired with digitally altered vocal performances. The electronic nature of the score fits the science fiction aspect of the film. The vocal performances highlights the movie’s main theme of communication. The way in which the music alternates between identifiable sounds and synthesized instruments mirrors the characters struggle to comprehensively communicate with the strange creatures from another planet.


The Process

In order to score Arrival Jóhann Jóhannsson started working during the movie’s pre- production. He produced various sounds before the film was shot by recording vocal performances and piano on loops on 2” 16 track tape loops. Those sounds were sent to the director Denis Villeneuve who would pick his favorite sounds. Those small recordings later became part of the temporary movie edits avoiding the use of any temp tracks. The score was mostly composed by layering digitally altered bits of music recorded during the movie’s pre-production sessions. During post-production Jóhann Jóhannsson recorded extra layers of choirs, brass sections and a small string orchestra in order to glue the previously assembled bits of music.


What I’ve Learned

Writing this paper really showed me how the process of composing a movie can be completely crafted in order to achieve a desired sound. The way in which Jóhann Jóhannsson uses texture as a motifs gave me a much clearer idea of how synthetic scores can be assembled. This project also taught me the benefits of preparing reusable small pieces of music before the movie is assembled in order to avoid temp tracks, as someone who struggles to work with temp music I’m eager to try this approach if I’m ever in the position of composing a score before the film is assembled. Finally this process illuminates what the general outcome of a feature film score is. I had never paid so much attention to all the cues in a movie and doing so gave me a lot more confidence in craft of film composing.





Based on the behind the scenes of the film,

this is how some of the vocal passages was achieved



Soprano 1

Cue/Time Code:

1M01 0:00:11

Themes:

Movie theme, licensed music. On the Nature of Daylight (Max Richter)

Instrumentation: String Quartet Harmonic Language:

Major key with lots of tensions. The chords move in intervals other then 5ths,.

Tempo/Rhythm:

Quarter note =74 Minimalist repetition of chords and ostinato.

Mood:

Bittersweet mood with moments of hope and sadness.

Sync:

Violins fade in as the protagonist’s daughter comes in frame. Slight diminuendo and ritard as camera cuts to interior hospital. Diminuendo and ritard as scene fades out.


Cue/Time Code:

1M02 0:05:34

Themes:

Non thematic

Instrumentation:

Low frequency synth and whooshing airy low synth.

Harmonic Language:

Single note drone. Tempo/Rhythm: Non rhythmic Mood: Foreboding

Sync:

Fades in as the protagonist finds out through the TV that aliens have arrived


Cue/Time Code:

1M03 0:34:27

Themes:

Non thematic

Instrumentation:

String chamber and String synths

Harmonic Language:

Minor tonality with the introduction to the major 7th

Tempo/Rhythm:

Quarter note = 100 Behaves like a drone with alternating chords.

Mood:

Tense, sad and foreboding

Sync:

Cue fades in as the protagonist stops talking to her mother on the phone and looks at the TV in fear of what’s about to happen. Cue ends in long diminuendo as camera cuts to the exterior of the school.


Cue/Time Code:

1M04 0:17:35

Themes:

Alien theme

Instrumentation:

Low synth, voice synth pronouncing phonemes

Harmonic Language:

Atonal clusters behaving as drones

Tempo/Rhythm:

Quarter note = 75 Polyrhythmic

Mood:

Dark and mysterious

Sync:

Low synth fades in as camera cuts to the exterior of the military base. Voice synth fades in as camera pans to the alien ship. Cue fades out as camera cuts to interior of military base.


Cue/Time Code:

1M05

Themes:

Non thematic

Instrumentation:

Low synths, voice long note synth phonemes, String synth.

Harmonic Language: Drones, and a perfect 5th Tempo/Rhythm:

Non rhythmic

Mood:

Dark mysterious and ominous

Sync:

Low string synth fades in as camera cuts to the alien ship. Voices fade in and out as characters approach the ship. Dynamic increase as characters approach the ship’s entrance.


Cue/Time Code:

1M06 0:28:13

Themes:

Alien motif , non rhythmic

Instrumentation:

Synths, voice synths, swooshes, cello and bass pizzicato

Harmonic Language:

Drones and SFX, synths bending up minor thirds creating diminished arpeggios

Tempo/Rhythm:

Very slow, almost non rhythmic changes to quarter note = 114

Mood:

Ominous, scary, foreboding

Sync:

Low voice synth fades in and out as characters fly through the entrance of the alien ship. As characters start walking towards the main alien hall pizzicato notes in octaves playing a simple rhythm comes in and out.

As camera cuts to the main hall high synth clusters fade in. As the aliens appear on frame celli fades in doing tremolos and is dominated by high synth clusters which comes in and out. Cue ends on cut to interior military base.


Cue/Time Code:

1M07 0:33:50

Themes:

Non thematic

Instrumentation:

Low synth drone and strings, brass synth whooshes

Harmonic Language:

Drones, SFX and whooshes in perfect 5ths

Tempo/Rhythm:

Quarter note = 164 as thumps comes in, mostly unmeasured rhythm

Mood:

Dark, tense, exciting

Sync:

Cue starts with low drone fading in as protagonist hears the recordings from their first session with the aliens. Texture changes to thumpy heart beat with brass synths fading in and out as camera pans to TV showing military action.


Cue/Time Code:

1M08 0:38:10

Themes:

Communication motif, non thematic material

Instrumentation:

Voice syllables, synthetic percussion, low synths, violins and violas

Harmonic Language: Perfect 4ths Tempo/Rhythm:

Quarter note = 116 strings play polyrhythmic ostinato

Mood:

Hopeful and exciting

Sync:

Female voice syllables fades in as aliens project their names on the screen. Strings ostinato’s rhythm increases and harmony gets more hopeful as camera cuts to the alien’s projection. Cue ends on cut to interior military base.


Cue/Time Code:

1M09 0:40:59

Themes: Communication motif Instrumentation:

Low drone, voice synth pads and whale sounding voice syllables

Harmonic Language: Drones and SFX Tempo/Rhythm:

Non rhythmic

Mood:

Mysterious and dark

Sync:

Low drove and a few voice syllables fade in as scientists looks at images of the alien language


Cue/Time Code:

1M10 0:46:00

Themes:

Non thematic

Instrumentation:

High strings, low synths, orchestral synths, synth pads, celli pizzicato

Harmonic Language:

Drones, clusters, major and minor thirds

Tempo/Rhythm: Non rhythmic Mood:

High tension changes to low energy excitement and ends in dark tones.

Sync:

High strings trills fade in and out as protagonist puts her hand on the glass. Music morphs into lower synths as the protagonist starts asking for the alien’s name. Music syncs into orchestral synth pads playing clusters pads as the aliens write their names into the glass. Alien motif playing pitch bend synth thirds syncs with camera cutting into protagonist’s dream, the score also gets a lot darker and lower int tonality. As the camera cuts to a soldier talking on the phone with his worried mother low cello pizzicato plays a simple slow rhythm.


Cue/Time Code:

1M11 0:52:30

Themes:

Communication motif, non thematic

Instrumentation:

Mixed choir pointillist phonemes, synthetic percussion, synth bass, French horns

Harmonic Language: Perfect 5ths, pedal drones Tempo/Rhythm:

Quarter note = 88 with triplet eighth notes

Mood:

Excitement, curious, feeling of progress and development

Sync:

Mixed choir voice speaking phonemes in 5ths starts on cut to the scientist’s explanation of the alien’s language montage. High pads fade in and out as camera cuts to protagonist. Throughout the entire voice over monologue the cue fades in and out avoiding the dialogue. Cue ends on a quick fade out on cut to from exterior ship day to exterior ship night.


Cue/Time Code:

1M12 0:57:40

Themes:

Non thematic

Instrumentation:

Low frequency bass synth, digital timpani, high hat

Harmonic Language: Drones, clusters and SFX Tempo/Rhythm:

Quarter note = 116 Half note single hits on the up beats

Mood:

Threatening, tension

Sync:

Cue starts when camera cuts to war zones on TV and fades out as the scene cuts back to the scientists working on the alien’s language.


Cue/Time Code:

1M13 1:12:41

Themes:

Non thematic

Instrumentation:

Low frequency synth bass Harmonic Language: Pedal drone Tempo/Rhythm:

Non rhythmic Mood: Suspenseful Sync:

Low drone fades in as the protagonist talks to the scientist about her dreams. Cue ends on cut to the protagonist asleep.


Cue/Time Code:

1M14 1:05:13

Themes:

Non thematic

Instrumentation:

String synth, bass synth, synthetic low percussion

Harmonic Language: Pedal note, clusters Tempo/Rhythm: Quarter note = 125 Mood:

Tense, suspenseful

Sync:

Synth pads fade in as camera cuts to the general asking the protagonist to ask the aliens about “the big question.” Cue changes to 8th note synthetic percussion hits as camera cuts to scientists walking into the alien’s spaceship. Cue ends on fade out on cut to the scientists communicating with the aliens.


Cue/Time Code:

1M15 1:09:19

Themes:

Military motif, non thematic

Instrumentation:

Low frequency bass synth, celli, horns and whooshes, synth pizzicato

Harmonic Language:

Drones, clusters, octave pizzicato

Tempo/Rhythm: Quarter note = 104 Mood:

Tense, foreboding high energy

Sync:

Bass drone fades in as camera shows other countries cancel communications with the U.S. and the two decide to reenter the alien room. A cello ostinato starts a simple rhythm on cut to soldier loading bombs inside spaceship. French horns and cellos fades in on cut to close up of the bomb and a loud whoosh fades in as the camera gets closer. Drones fade in on cut to car arriving with the scientists trying to enter the alien room where the bomb lays. Slow rhythmic pizzicato adds to the tension. Music fades out as they arrive inside the chamber

Cue/Time Code:

1M16 1:12:22

Themes:

Movie theme

Instrumentation:

Siren synth, tic-tacks, synthetic water marimba, chamber string orchestra, horn synth pads, voice pads

Harmonic Language: Drones, minor chords Tempo/Rhythm: Varying slow tempo Mood:

Sad, chaotic and high tension

Sync:

Siren synth fades in with low drones as scientists ask for the aliens for the “weapon”. Rhythmic tick tacks fade in and out as the aliens starts gesturing to the bomb. As the camera cuts to the exterior spaceship the siren synth morphs into a pitch bending French horn and the rhythm becomes more prominent. The tempo slows down as the camera cuts to the bomb until it stops completely on cut to protagonist. Water marimba sounds fade in and out as the protagonist tries to communicate with aliens. As the aliens reveal their message to the protagonist in the form of a flash forward dream the music goes back to the movie theme with a chamber string orchestra. As the aliens starts to draw the their message the music morphs into a loud low drone and horn pitch bend pads. As the bomb reaches zero seconds voice phoneme pads fade in. Cue ends on cut to the bomb explosion.


Cue/Time Code:

1M17 1:18:30

Themes:

Non thematic

Instrumentation:

Female voice synth, male voice synth, brass, bass drum, synthetic tic-tacks

Harmonic Language: Drones and major thirds Tempo/Rhythm: Quarter note = 124 Mood:

Hopeful, militaristic

Sync:

Female voice pad fades in with synth pads playing major thirds as the alien ship hovers over the field. The cue becomes rhythmic with ticktocks as the camera cuts to the TV showing the military approach of china. That also introduces a low male voice pad holding long notes. As camera cuts to the navy shots brass pads fade in. The cue ends with a base drum hit.


Cue/Time Code:

1M18 1:21:50

Themes:

Non thematic

Instrumentation:

Ethnic percussion, water synth pads


Harmonic Language:

Drones and pedal note

Tempo/Rhythm: Quarter note = 124 Mood:

High energy

Sync:

Water pads fades in as the scientist starts discovering what the data means. Japanese drums fade in on cut ti board room. Cue ends with fade out.


Cue/Time Code:

1M19 1:24:10

Themes:

Non thematic

Instrumentation:

Voice pads, female voice phonemes, synth drones

Harmonic Language: Drones pedal 5ths Tempo/Rhythm:

Non rhythmic

Mood:

Tense low energy then hopeful

Sync:

Wale like synth sounds fades in and out as camera cuts back into the protagonist’s dream. Strings fade in and out with buzzing synth as camera cuts to the small alien pod lowering in order to let the protagonist in. Music get more stringy and major as the protagonist starts to walk towards the ship. Female voices phonemes fade in as little pod comes down, music gets louder. Cue ends as little capsule closes.


Cue/Time Code:

1M20 1:26:28

Themes:

Communication motif, non thematic

Instrumentation:

Throat singing, Voice synth, string synth, horn pads

Harmonic Language: Pedal note drones Tempo/Rhythm:

Non rhythmic

Mood:

Ominous, exotic, low energy, high tension

Sync:

String synths pads fade in as alien pod takes the protagonist up to the alien ship. Music gets quiet as she is taken inside the main room. Low male voices sounding like throat singing fades in and out as camera moves around the room.


Cue/Time Code:

1M21 1:31:15

Themes:

Communication motif, non thematic

Instrumentation:

Choir, Synth pads, cello pad

Harmonic Language:

Drones and perfect 5ths Tempo/Rhythm: Quarter note = 130 Mood:

Dark, high energy, epiphany

Sync:

Low synth pads quickly fades in and out as the aliens take the protagonist into dream state showing her the future daughter she’ll have. Slow cello sounding pad fades in as the conversation with the aliens ends. Rhythmic consonant sounding synths fades in as camera cuts back into the dream. Mixed voice phonemes fades in inside the protagonists dream. Cue ends with fade out as ship moves higher.


Cue/Time Code:

1M22 1:35:14

Themes:

Military motif, non thematic

Instrumentation:

Synth drum kit, voices, horns, synths

Harmonic Language:

Drones, clusters and pedal tones

Tempo/Rhythm: Quarter note = 120 Mood:

High energy, technology, ethereal

Sync:

Female voice phonemes fade in as the protagonist talks to her daughter on her dream where she tells her daughter. That’s the moment she realizes that she is seeing the future. As the camera cuts to exterior shot of the alien ship flying cellos fade in playing a rhythm with electronic drum kit. On cut to Russia’s ship the cue gets more tense and a flute cluster fades in. As a helicopter flies on a military montage French horns fade in. Cue ends in the end of the montage.


Cue/Time Code:

1M23 1:36:33

Themes:

Communication motif, non thematic

Instrumentation:

Voices, electric bass, string quartet

Harmonic Language: Drones perfect 5ths Tempo/Rhythm: Quarter note = 121 Mood:

Hopeful, higher energy

Sync:

Cellos fade in and out as the protagonist walks through the base looking for a cellphone. Voices comes in and out as she reads through the book she wrote in her dream. A rhythmic electric bass ostinato builds up tension as the camera cuts to the protagonist giving a lecture in her dream. As the protagonist realizes she is able to read the alien’s language the cue morphs into an caustic string held note.


Cue/Time Code:

1M24 1:38:43

Themes:

Non thematic

Instrumentation:

Synth pads, string orchestra, string synths

Harmonic Language:

Consonant intervals, pedal notes and atonal string effects

Tempo/Rhythm:

Quarter note = 130 Triplets against duplets

Mood:

Hopeful, with varying tension.

Sync:

String quartet fades in playing source music which sounds like it’s from the classical period as the protagonists dreams about meeting the Chinese general at a dinner party. As the Chinese official shows her his phone number the source music starts to play a cello pedal note. On cut back to the protagonist inside the base a low horn pedal note whooshes in perfect 5th with the cello. The whoosh gets more dissonant as it fades in and out. A synthetic piano low note fades in with a cello synth note as the camera cuts to a military person looking for his phone which the protagonist has. As she walks to a hidden place a string section starts playing a rhythmic ostinato. The synth piano note fades in as camera cuts back to the soldier. As the protagonists manages to contact the Chinese general the music becomes more hopeful and a string orchestra bisbiliando fades in. As she starts to talk with the Chinese official with the guards threatening her the music gets louder and higher in tension. The cue fads up until the cue and the scene ends


Cue/Time Code:

1M25 1:43:50

Themes:

Movie theme and communication motif

Instrumentation:

String quartet, mixed voice pads and phonemes, bass and high synth pads, horn synths

Harmonic Language: Consonances and pedal tones Tempo/Rhythm:

Quarter note = 60

Mood:

Bittersweet, high energy, sad

Sync:

Cue starts with a string quartet bowed bisbiliando fading in with mixed choir voice pads and horn synths as the alien spaceships dissolve out. On the cut to the scene from the beginning of the film the string quartet piece On The Essence of Daylight starts playing. The cue ends in the end of the film with a cadence chord on cut to the movie title card.