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Comments about the soundtrack for Cutthroat Island (John Debney)

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In Review-2 years later-You can't argue this time!
• Posted by: Blair   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Sunday, April 25, 2004, at 1:21 p.m.
• IP Address:
• In Response to: Battle Music-Some Stolen Themes (Blair)

Alright, so I’ve had this score in my position for some 4+ years, and have also spend 2 years of college study as a music major\recording engineering... after re-reading I think it's time to post a more intelligent follow-up.
This score is has been getting more attention with the recent Pirates of the Caribbean score failure (in agreement with Filmtracks) along with Sinbad (and no, excessive limiting and distortion does not make orchestra sound louder or better Abbey Road). Debney's Passion of the Christ score has also sparked interest in his work. After much time not only studying, but still being active in the movie score genre, I still think this is one of the most entertaining, energetic, and huge score Filmtracks and many others clam to be; a hidden treasure. As a percussion principle, I'm dumbfounded with everything involving the percussion section. Balance, playing, energy... There's more crash cymbles in this than a Nirvana song. I agree with the main review posted. You here that Clemmensen!!
With that aside, let’s look at this theme business. All the themes I mentioned I still stand behind, and have even gone to the extreme of lining them up in an audio editor and adjusting pitch to see how similar they are. As for the comment about 3 notes, do me a favor and sing the NBC theme and tell me if you heard that in a score on a vibraphone that there wouldn’t be a lawsuit (or at least controversy). In most college ear training classes or even high school choir, teachers use common known musical tunes to help identify scale degrees. Here Comes the Bride, Love Boat, Jaws are just a few but the most common is the Star Wars theme for a perfect 5th. In addition, in the Cutthroat score uses a solo horn traditionally sounding distant and reverberant at a slower tempo; exactly like Star Wars… same instrument, same sound, same musical idea. Same with the passages I mention and also including any others people find familiar. There’s no argument these themes are prevalent and if a reduction of the scores were made we would find many similarities.

Stolen? Absolutely not. From a realistic perspective Debney, or any ‘celebrity’ professional composer would not arbitrarily copy popular works, let alone out of the film score genre (compared to Bach or something). Although it is a fair assumption he has heard all of these scores and may have been inspired by them. I also realize the concept of “rubbing off” musical ideas from one piece of music to another and that is an OK excuse, although that’s the same as Debney claming his dog ate his score the day before recording. Another possibility I’ve seen written is the short amount of time these composers have to create entire works in a small fraction of time compared to classical (non-film) composers, and hampering the creative process for developing original musical themes.
All this considered why would this not be a John Williams score? Zimmer? Whitacre? Beethoven? Why isn’t this score as popular as If this truly is all plagiarism, then why are new artists coming up with new musical expressions? Mathematically there are a limited, though enormous, set of note combinations, limited even more by keys\modes, chord qualities, part writing combinations, instrumentation, and other theory guidelines. To call all forms of art, music and writing progressive plagiarism, even Without explanation, not only signifies a lack of appreciation for the spiritual value, but makes me want to say Du. This also brings up your misuses of the term against the legal definition, and if these forms were truly plagiarized then everything should be exactly alike (the irony being the 3 forms are our key forms of individual expression). Therefore it not about what someone writes, pants, types but the feeling and the meaning behind those rearranged set of notes, words or colors. Bottom line? No one argues they hear those themes in the score, and instead made up excuses for passing them off as a common trademark for musicians. It’s who, not what you know, right?
I think this is one of my most favorite pieces of music. I could go on and on about each track on the album and still not find the words justice. Highlights for this score include great mixing, use of all instruments/voices to their fullest, attention to tempo-especially the change (#2), and that bounce of a pirate score with the wash of the seas. Stolen themes, copied themes, a hundred edits in a single minuet… it’s still an album I put in the player when I want motivation to do calculus.

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