Recently, I told myself that I needed a project that would both familiarize myself with my new Digital Audio Workstation and also get my feet wet actually scoring a scene. I didn’t really know where to start, because for someone in my position my options were limited. I kind of wanted to score a scene from a movie in my collection, but that generally requires either finding a scene that the filmmakers decided didn’t need music in the first place or muting the audio entirely, getting rid of sound effects and possibly dialogue. So this was a non-starter for a while.
Then I remembered that No Country for Old Men has almost no score at all. True, this is because scenes like this:
would be absolutely ruined by the inclusion of any music, no matter how minimal or restrained. The sound effects are all that are needed to arrive at the dark tone, hard-hitting realism and (at times) gripping tension. I watched many attempts to re-score this movie, all of which ending up with the expected result.
Then I re-watched the movie and came to the scene were the Sheriff finds Moss dead at a shabby motel. And I realized that even in spite of the tone and the artistic vision of the movie as a whole, there wasn’t enough here to get me emotionally invested in what was going on. Finding Moss’ dead body, his wife’s subsequent reaction…all of it was very sterile, very awkward. It made me go “…okay. I guess that just happened.” Which I suppose might have been the point…but to me “gritty and unsettling” isn’t the same as “awkward and distant.” So just for this one scene, I thought it would be nice to take a break from all of the cold, impartial killing and focus on the wife and her reaction (and on the Sheriff’s despair at his own impotence). I thought maybe just in this one scene, it was ok to get a little emotional.
So I tried it. I worked off of the cue that was already there, which was just a single chord, sustained for a full minute. Actually, it’s not even a full triad. It’s just a C, with a very slight Eb thrown in there to give a hint at a minor interval/chord. But it’s not dynamic at all. It just hangs there and fades away, not shifting at all when Moss is revealed. So I added a soft bass drum hit on Moss’ reveal, and a very small violin solo.
Then I added score for the wife’s subsequent scene with the sheriff. A very soft, very sparse string section comes in with a full minor triad now. Acoustic guitar gives us a melody that has no real thematic meaning…just something delicate and (hopefully) not too distracting. The chords shift as her reaction intensifies.
Then the music fades away as we cut to the morgue, its sterile environment reminding us of the cold, hard nature of the movie.
This was a very educational experience, and I am pleased with how it turned out. I don’t know if it’s better per se. I keep watching the old version and finding things I like about it. And who knows…if the Coen Brothers heard my cue, they may have looked me right in the eye and said “nope. Too sappy, too melodramatic. That’s not what we want.” But this was mainly an experiment, anyway. And it’s not like this isn’t a phenomenal film the way it is. So I offer you both versions in the clip below, and you can decide which is better! Let me know which one you prefer and why in the comments section!