This month I’d like to re-explore a fun topic in musicology that we touched on last April: music and cinema. There’s an endless amount of movies to explore so this is a great topic to keep coming back to.
Everyone watches movies and thus, everyone has encountered the soundtrack to a film. While some film directors use pre-existing music to underlie their cinematic project, others will use a film composer to write a new score to fit the images and plot they aim to create.
Before diving into a variety of films and discussing the types of music (new or existing) used as the soundtrack, I wanted to introduce you to several impressive musical terms you can use when discussing movie music with your friends: diegetic and non-diegetic.
Diegetic music is the type of music that is not only heard by the viewer, but also by the on-screen characters in the film. An example would be:
As in this example, typically the viewer can see the source of the music on screen to help determine whether or not it is diegetic. In this case, you can see the ensemble on the side of the dance floor as Al Pacino leads the famous tango from Scent of a Woman (1992). We will reference this film again later this month when we talk about Thomas Newman.
The opposite of diegetic music would be non-diegetic. This type of music serves as a background to the film and can only be heard by the viewer, not the characters on screen. An example would be the following from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:
Here, the music enhances the plot for the viewer as Benjamin and Daisy are reunited. The characters, however, cannot hear it themselves. We will discuss this film’s composer, Alexandre Desplat, later this month.
Can you think of any examples of diegetic or non-diegetic music from your favorite films?