Monday, April 3, 2017

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Film Music

This month I’d like to revisit a fun, modern topic in musicology: music and cinema. 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.

This month, we’ll look at everything from classical music references in a 90s sitcom to composer cameos in film but today, let’s begin by looking at several impressive musical terms often used when referring to film music - 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 thisAs 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, the scene begins with George Peppard at the typewriter. The music begins and it’s not initially clear whether or not he can actually hear the music. When he walks to the window and looks out, noticing Audrey Hepburn singing, it’s then clear that this is a diegetic example. Henry Mancini wrote the music to “Moon River” from the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. We will learn more about him later this month.

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 this found in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). Here, the music enhances the plot for the viewer during the final duel scene. The characters, however, cannot hear it themselves. Ennio Morricone wrote the score to this film. We’ll look at more of his work in a few weeks.


Can you think of any examples of diegetic or non-diegetic music from your favorite films?

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