The "death" of melody
Recently, I’ve participated in an interesting discussion on VI-Control.net entitled “The death of melody”. The discussion was motivated by the YouTube video of the same name. Its author is contemplating a phenomena that is present in modern music for quite a while now: the lack of recognizable and memorable melodies. Although he is mentioning music genres geared toward the masses at the ones struck the most by this trend, the author also touches the more serious ones, such as film music.
Some of the participants in the mentioned discussion didn’t agree with the conclusions stated in the said video, but it is undeniable that there is a lot of truth to it. It is a fact that most of the modern music sounds “alike”, specifically due to the ever increasing absence of the key element that makes each musical piece unique and recognizable: the melody. As I’ve wrote at VI-Control. net, personally I’m considering coming up with an original, simple, singable and even somewhat “naive” melodies as the pinnacle of musical creation. In this day and age, this is more difficult than ever before just because of the burden imposed by the enormous legacy of the music from the past, led by an idea of melody as the alpha and omega of every good composition. But the frequent “absence of melody” in modern music is equally often related to certain modern trends.
As a composer of instrumental music “for the sake of music itself” rather than being an applicable art like film music and other forms of media music, I believe that melody is “the thing” that can actually reach the listener. Music without words that evoke the emotion in most people must rely on a simple musical themes in order to have the same effect. This is one of the reasons why instrumental music (unfairly) always has a more difficult path to popularity and acceptance.
The film music is undoubtedly the most popular form of instrumental music these days. The film and the film industry has always had an immense influence on the masses, almost as much as the popular forms of music. Because of that, it is especially interesting to observe the “absence of melody” phenomena in this particular field. The author of the mentioned YouTube video has directly mentioned Hans Zimmer, one of the most respected film composers today, as an obvious example of this. This had resulted in a heated debate in the said topic as Zimmer is also a composer of music for films such as “Rain Man”, “Thelma & Louise”, “True Romance”, “Broken Arrow”, “Gladiator” and many more that are full of characteristic melodies. But there is no doubt that after the millenium, Zimmer had also embraced certain uniform recipe for modern film music, which is from then on almost blindly followed by most of the film and other composers of instrumental music. This particular style is often dubbed as “epic” and it is characterized by huge orchestrations, choral arrangements, the mass of special effects and thunderous percussion. This is not universally devoid of melodies, but those are simply not as memorable and instantly recognizable as, for example, the Star Wars theme by John Williams.
So what had caused this trend in general? I believe that the main culprits are decreasing interest of an average listener for a true immersion while listening to music, as well as the modern media, driven by the omnipresent consumerism. Most people these days are in a constant rush due to some job or another and other obligations and they simply do not find enough “time” or will for more serious indulging in activities such as music, films, reading and art in general. All this had sadly become just a background distraction. The music is being “listened” on a cell phone, the movies being “watched” on YouTube and there are less and less of those who’re actually reading, visiting museums and art galleries etc. All this considered, it is no big surprise that the media as well as the film and music industries are enticing and promoting the music in which the pretty melody is not a necessary element anymore. From my own perspective, I salute to everyone, creators and the audience alike, who’re refusing to go with the trends and today’s expectations.