The transient composer: rearrangement of pre-existing music in the film score

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McGlynn, James Denis
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University College Cork
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This thesis addresses a prominent gap in existing film music scholarship by examining rearrangement as a recurrent and important practice in contemporary screen scoring. While the use of pre-existing music in the soundtrack is a vibrant area of inquiry (see Ashby 2013; Godsall 2019; McQuiston 2013; Powrie and Stilwell 2006; Smith 1998), no individual scholarly study has ever attempted to account for rearrangement’s recurrence, diverse functionality and complex aesthetic concerns in the context of recent screen scoring practices. This oversight is notable, especially given the pervasiveness of musical borrowing in the history of film music, the increased prevalence of rearrangement in contemporary scores and the rich narrative possibilities that the practice is so often seen to unlock. By introducing the ‘transient composer’ as a central heuristic, this thesis mounts a diverse theoretical and textual exploration of musical rearrangement as a potent and recurrent trend in contemporary film and television scores. Broadly construed as a form of ‘musical remaking’, rearrangement is framed as a characteristically intertextual phenomenon that occupies an ambiguous liminal space between newly-composed and pre-existing music, raising challenging questions concerning the application of both. The transient composer heuristic is therefore employed in an appropriately malleable way throughout the project, attempting to account for (i) the range of ramifications rearrangement can entail, (ii) the multitude of individuals involved, (iii) the many forms it can take, and (iv) the increased prevalence of the idiom. The thesis comprises three central case studies on The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, 2013), Watchmen (Damon Lindelof, 2019) and Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve 2017). While each of these examples incorporates rearrangement in nuanced, textually complex ways, even the most innocuous uses of rearrangement in recent films and television series reinforce my central postulation that, in recent years, filmmakers have frequently turned to rearrangement with the intention of harnessing the many narrative, affective, structural, musical and stylistic effects it has the potential to elicit.
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Rearrangement , The Great Gatsby , Blade Runner , Watchmen , Intertextuality , Adaptation , Remake , Film music , Pre-existing music
McGlynn, J. D. 2020. The transient composer: rearrangement of pre-existing music in the film score. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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