Soundtrack Thursday: Week 2

The “There Will Be Blood” soundtrack was written by Radiohead guitarist-extraordinaire Jonny Greenwood.  He was tapped specifically because Paul Thomas Anderson was a big Radiohead fan and enjoyed his scoring work in the movie “Bodysong.”

The tracklist includes the following works:

  1. “Open Spaces”
  2. “Future Markets”
  3. “Prospectors Arrive”
  4. “Eat Him by His Own Light”
  5. “Henry Plainview”
  6. “There Will Be Blood”
  7. “Oil”
  8. “Proven Lands”
  9. “HW/Hope of New Fields”
  10. “Stranded the Line”
  11. “Prospectors Quartet”
  12. “HW / Hope of New Fields (Orchestral Version)”
  13. “Prospectors Quartet (Orchestral Version)”
  14. “De-Tuned Quartet”

“Open Spaces” – This is a nice track to set the movie up.  It sounds like a string quartet or possibly a string orchestra set to a tune that will immediately call to mind the wild west.  It opens up with a hopeful sounding motif that is morphed throughout the work into something a little more sinister, bit by bit.  By the time the theme has been tonally warped we get some woodwinds coming in to close the piece out.  Really cool!

“Future Markets” – Opens up at a much faster pace with the lower strings.  This piece is a lot more driving yet somewhat quiet until the latter half where violins come in.  This one is reminiscent of parts of North by Northwest or the Friday the 13th soundtrack, kind of a classic movie thriller theme.  At around 2 minutes in the theme shifts to a slower, more foreboding and classical-style string work, somewhat reminiscent of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio,” but that part doesn’t last long.  Overall, this piece is somewhat forgettable, but I’m very interested to see how it gets used in the film.

“Prospectors Arrive” – First work on the soundtrack to focus at all on the piano, which provides the rhythm underneath the brass and woodwinds.  At first it’s a strong mimic to something Gershwin may have written in the 1920’s, early jazz.  “Prospectors Arrive” has its own distinct character, though.  It’s depressing, through and through.  It’s easy to tell that the prospectors’ arrival is not a happy part of the film at all.  There are some brief musical glimmers of hope, but overall this creates a heavy air of sadness.

“Eat Him by His Own Light” – I’m no expert, but this works reminds me of atonal works by the likes of Schoenberg.  It’s just that kind of meandering, goes-nowhere, and sounds-like-not-much kind of music.  I really don’t like it!  Also, it’s interesting how much this movie soundtrack has forsaken the full orchestra so far for smaller chamber works.

“Henry Plainview” – A long, dissonant build swooping into a unison note that discombobulates and becomes dissonance again opens this piece and occupies nearly half the track.  Judging by the comments, “Henry Plainview” opens the movie.  That would be quite striking.  More instruments are added beneath the near-constant swooping sounds of the strings, and we hear at least two different works going on.  The bass portion of the track really seems to be moving toward something pleasant, while the higher strings never stray from the ebbing and flowing of dissonance.  Very striking

“There Will Be Blood” – The first track in the soundtrack that actually seems to be heading somewhere big right from the getgo, with this huge buildup of strings.  You can almost hear somebody comedically monologuing to this, ending with a sarcastic “There WILL be blood” in response to some minor offense.  Perhaps I’m just silly.

“Oil” – More small ensemble work opens this track.  Compared to “Eat Him…” there seems to be a strong theme here.  Lots of different things going on, with the overall idea of these constant clashes and resolutions.  They are much more purposeful resolutions in my mind.  It goes into a different theme at around 1:30 that is decidedly more hopeful-sounding, with some trepidation for moving forward.

“Proven Lands” – The very first shot of percussion (non-piano) we get from the whole soundtrack, and it’s extremely syncopated.  Plucked strings over what sounds like mostly stomps and clacking two sticks together is what we get.  It sounds pointy, not that I expect that to mean much.  It’s a very short and forgettable work, and I’m honestly pretty disappointed that Jonny chose this spot to bring in the percussion for such an inconsequential work.  It could be used for dramatic emphasis.

“HW/Hope of New Fields” – This track opens with another small ensemble of strings, again recalling the style of the wild west, tonally.  Jonny Greenwood clearly developed a strong sense of the time period.  I really, really like these kinds of themes.  Past the halfway mark this track starts to really live up to its title with a beautiful melody before becoming a bit dreary again.  Nothing hopeful lasts forever in this film, apparently.

“Stranded the Line” – The very top of the violin range opens this one.  Very shrill!  Then a heavy texture of atonality takes over, reminding me of “Eat Him by His Own Light.”  This one is another rather inconsequential piece, but I imagine it was designed to add the right atmosphere to a scene and not to be noticed.

“Prospector’s Quartet” – This piece sounds like it was meant to be the signature work of the whole movie, if you ask me.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Jonny Greenwood wrote this and then morphed the ideas into the other works.  Really, though, this one is interesting with some neat ornamentations in the violins.  It maintains that sense of foreboding through the use of bass that we’ve heard so many other times in the soundtrack while giving some light in the main theme carried by the higher strings.  Interesting!

The other works on the soundtrack appear to be rearrangements that I have not been able to procure.  All in all, this is a moody, artistic soundtrack that heavily borrows from music of the period, which is essentially that western Americana sound that I love.  For me, the highlights that I would consider listening to separate from the others are “Open Spaces” and “Prospector’s Quartet.”  I enjoy much of the rest, but it’s not really something I’m going to sit and listen to in my spare time.

Does the soundtrack get you psyched for the movie?  Yes and no.  Really, it makes me more curious to see it.  Using string quartet principally is a ballsy move for a film like this, since it’s so quiet and generally understated, the music has to be finely crafted to really make a mark.

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About Zach

Zach works as a medical writer in Atlanta, GA. In his spare time, he likes to play video games and Dice Masters.
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