Is Film Music Art or Just Low-Brow Commercial Fluff?

Is any music that is created for a purpose, other than that of it’s own existence, art?  Is film music art, or theatre music, or advert music, or music that appears on a CD-Rom presentation, or accompanying a website promo film, or music on a trailer? Even if the music’s primary purpose is purely commercial – to sell that product or promote another – does that preclude its intrinsic value as art?

Film Music in Context

Why does anyone even care??  Well, I do. It bugs me that anyone would sneer at film music for lacking artistic merit just because of its function.  Film music is both purposeful and artistic, when the music is taken within the context of the film. The music to a film exists as a necessary element of that film, and it must be considered as part of the soundtrack – which includes the dialogue, sound effects and the atmos track. If the film is considered to be art, consider then how the music contributed to this evaluation, as an essential element of the film.

Defining Art

Then there’s the definition of art.  I’d love to know what you think on this one, as, long and hard though I think on it, I come back to the idea that art is art because someone says it is. A person put a frame, physical or metaphorical, around something and labelled it art. And so it is.

Defining Music

Now, it should be easier to define film music, don’t you think?  An intelligent collection of sounds in a linear temporal format. But then the 20th Century changed all that. Silence can be music. A painting can be music. It doesn’t even have to be pleasing or even considered beautiful, despite any dictionary definition.  Perhaps, then, it must at least be challenging or evoke some sort of emotional response. Again! The same problem of pinning down exactly what it is.

Bringing it back into the realm of reality… I will stick my neck out and say that music must be sound-based. All other bets as to what music is… are off! 😉

Art is Opinion

Just because I really despise a particularly popular piece of manufactured racket that gets played on the radio non-stop, it doesn’t stop it being music. The same way one of Bach’s tons of Cantata and Masses is manufactured and made to order, and it’s still music. Anything else is purely opinion – perhaps belonging to the least educated amateur or the most academic intellectual, its still just opinion.

In Conclusion

So here’s my opinion: some film music is definitely art, sometimes standing alone away from the context of the film, some film music is art only within its function as part of the soundscape of its film. Some film music is incredibly functional, though if you listen deep enough there’s usually a hint of something creative, artistic, a flourish of inspiration where you least expect it. Being commercially viable will never preclude artistic value.

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