American Beauty: Three Levels of Representation in

Thomas Newman’s Score

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Contents .............................................................................................................................................. 2

Introduction ...................................................................................................................................... 3

Representing reality ....................................................................................................................... 4

Representing the surreal .............................................................................................................. 9

…And a world in between ..................................................................................................................... 14

Conclusion ...................................................................................................................................... 19

Notes and References .................................................................................................................. 22


Sources............................................................................................................................................. 27

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I will highlight Newman’s borrowings from the techniques of minimalism that help define a plausible and realistic Americana landscape. The first level we encounter defines the film’s locale in the narration of the characters’ lives: in this context. I will analyse the way these compositional elements are used in relation to three different levels in the representation of the visual. I will address the relationship between the use of repetitive patterns and some aspects of capitalist society. A third representational space can be found in scenes where a sense of concrete reality is present. As Karlyn pointed out. the film is an insight on life in suburban America at the end of the last century. theatre director Sam Mendes made his debut in cinematography with the film ‘American Beauty’. This reading of ‘American Beauty’ can not only shed some light on the reasons behind Newman’s choice of certain compositional tools over others but also helps us understand the aesthetics of such a successful score. the main characteristics of Newman’s score are his use of elements of minimalism. which one year later went on to win 5 Academy Awards and 6 BAFTA awards. While some scholars have dealt with the psychological connotations of this film1 and others have considered the relationship between its source music and its characters2. In this essay.INTRODUCTION In 1999. As a second layer of representation. a thorough investigation on Thomas Newman’s compositional choices for its soundtrack has not yet been addressed. including the one for best film.5 3 . These compositional and production choices are used as a means of evoking a sort of distorted reality where the main character’s sexual fantasies unfold. Based on a play by Alan Ball. I will analyse the musical devices Newman4 uses during the dreamlike scenes. musical and narrative sub-texts. electronics and modal harmonies 3 . yet some features in the musical and visual discourses suggest that something more is happening beyond what is immediately observable. Furthermore. such as the use of repetitions in advertisement.

we can hear more instruments being progressively layered over the initial marimba ostinato (mainly percussion and stringed instruments): 4 . Newman’s choice of using mainly mallet instruments followed a precise request by director Mendes9. whose main concern was in fact to make use of a percussive. The means by which this film succeeds in representing life in American suburbs can be found in some compositional choices in Newman’s score. along with an overview of the neighbourhood and the posthumous narrating voice of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey).10 As ‘Dead Already’ evolves. rhythmic music to ‘propel the story forward’.REPRESENTING REALITY Mendes’ film is at the same time a realistic insight on American suburbia6 and a caricature of its inhabitants. as soon as the title cue ‘Dead Already’7 breaks in (at 00:01:09)8. mallet instruments and electronics. Musically speaking. we can easily identify some of its main characteristics: the use of repetition.

He also adds ‘No minimalist piece makes use of all these. but I could hardly imagine calling a piece minimalist that did not use at least a few of them’. although this term should be used 5 .The additional process. an additive process. one can easily label Newman’s score for ‘American Beauty’ as minimalist.12 Thus. repetition. 11 In his article ‘Thankless Attempt at a Definition of Minimalism’. a steady beat and linear transformation. the focus on mallet sounds and the repetition of patterns can all be effectively linked to some of the main aspects of minimalist pieces. the use of minimal motivic material. Kyle Gann attempts to define the main characteristics of minimalism in music and lists twelve peculiarities in minimalist composition. which include the use of static harmony. not all being conditions sine qua non.

15 It is also important to notice that this ‘minimalism of means’ does not strive to convey a sense of Lester’s feelings about his life16 (his monologue being a decadent act of self-awareness rather than selfcommiseration) and that his nihilist description clearly points out his disengagement towards his life. rather than using the term ‘minimalist’ in its strict sense. While blackmailing his employer. The first is linked to minimalist practices because it is what Mertens finds at the foundations of American repetitive music and what differentiates it from the European tradition. In this respect. which is interrupted by electronically generated sounds that start on b.e. he describes himself as ‘just an ordinary man.cautiously. i. Therefore. to parallel the structure of Lester’s monologue and to allow for the diegetic sounds in the scenes involved (for example. which are a consistent characteristic of this compositional style even when used in film music14. Here his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) is pruning her roses and his daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is in her bedroom. or the dramatic thing to turn a corner. with 6 . Lester’s voice is contrapuntally interwoven with the first pattern. the second break in the music is in sync with Lester’s clock alarm). and I don’t do anything? (…) and put a 4-beat pause in the music? So that rather than turning the corner in a compositional sense you are allowing the visual to turn a corner.13 The use of silence breaks the continuous repetitions at the core of minimalist music. 4 of the first cue. Newman stated: ‘What if I leave it [the scene] alone. Two important aspects in localising this score are the use of a non-teleological musical construction and the use of non-developmental thematic material. While sarcastically introducing his family. Here. the breaks in the continuous ostinatos serve two main functions. the way in which Newman juxtaposes pauses to break the repetition of the initial ostinato (for example at 00:01:18 and 00:01:31) prevents the cue from being ‘fully minimalist’. and you are catching it on the other side’. The first is for filmic needs. I will refer to the score’s main compositional tool as ‘minimalism of means’. The second function of these breaks is to enhance the visual and narrative aspects in the scene by using silence. On the importance of using silence in his scores. The synergy between the music and Lester’s monologue can also be noticed in the ‘introduction’ to the Burnhams: the camera floats on the streets and then focuses on Lester’s house.

implying that what he has constructed in his life (i. is nonetheless apparent in Newman’s choice of repetition over harmonic complexity: ‘I guess my thought is on the nature of how you repeat a phrase. almost impersonal style of this soundtrack. 7 . The ‘minimalism of means’ thus permeates this score even on a thematic level. and what repeating a phrase does in terms of the ear's ability to listen to other things. the non-teleological construction of the music in the movie sets it apart from classical Hollywood procedures in film scoring. Oftentimes by using sampled instruments the main motoric drive starts to disappear and begins to allow the ear to listen out. This in a way justifies the use of an emotionally uncharged. (…) There have to be ways of letting harmony do less so that you listen more sonically’19 In Ex. we can observe how the piano theme is constructed from a simple interval of a major third20 that is varied in a very simple manner.18 in contrast with the transparent. repetitive music during Lester’s nihilistic acts of self-analysis. although not explicitly acknowledged by the composer. The cue starts after Lester blackmails his employer (00:44:11). where Newman juxtaposes thematic material over repetition of patterns. his marriage) is insignificant to him at that point.nothing to lose’. 1.e. This rejection.2. which were heavily influenced by European post-romanticism17 and were also used to yield a sense of human-ness to the cinematic medium. Additionally. his career.

‘American Beauty’ is contructed in a way that makes viewers empathise with its characters and their humdrum daily life. a question may arise on how the use of repetition also enables the score to suggest a temporal and geographical localisation. Jane worries that her body is not as likable as she wants it to be and she is considering a breast implant that should help her appearance fit the canons of beauty imposed on teenagers by the media: this is yet another instance of the way this ‘culture of repetition’ can operate even on physical subjectivity. just as they would in an advertisement.22 This can be clearly heard throughout the score. surrounded by dozens of identical cubicle workspaces. Carolyn carefully nurtures her roses.26 The ‘culture of repetition’ thus saturates modern capitalist society. and therefore experience its repetitiveness. Finally. Many of the characters in this film experience the ‘culture of repetition’ in some form or another: Lester is the most explicit case. In his work on minimalism and repetitive music ‘Repeating Ourselves’. so that they all look perfectly (and unnaturally) alike27. they Burnhams all live in one of those ‘tract houses based on stereotyped designs’28 that populate the suburban landscapes.Another important aspect to consider is Newman’s composing process. equalisation and panning is used as an active part of the composition itself23 in line with modern.29 8 . Robert Fink claims that the ‘culture of repetition’ is at the foundations of capitalist modernity and is also experienced as an active constituent of subjectivity by consumers. with the term ‘modern’ hinting at temporal localisation and the term ‘capitalism’ clearly referring to the American capitalist model. therefore implying a socio-economic geographical localisation. where the abundant use of reverberation. Moreover. which gave their active contribution to what is heard on the final score.24 While it has been argued that non-teleological and non-developmental means of musical construction help establishing locale in ‘American Beauty’ by separating it from the past European traditions of film music25. working for an advertisement company where he sits all day long in his boxed desk.21 He also stressed the importance of mixing as a key stage of his compositional process. productionbased methods of film scoring. He described it as partially relying on studio improvisation and experimentation with small ensembles.

during the garage scene with colonel Fitts. 34 Additionally.31 While minimalism employs repetition on an extended timescale to enstablish its way of recombining teleology and consequently fulfill the listener’s ‘creation of desire’. states that his ‘marriage is just for show. but it also serves to join both characters and viewers in a state of hypnotic listlessness 33 : viewers hear Lester’s derisive and emotionless monologue on how he feels ‘dead already’ while Newman’s repetitive ostinatos lure them into a similar state of torpidity.The film is also closely related to the mechanics of promoting ourselves as in an advertisement. a statement that has the ring of self-advertisement. Hall have acknowledged the influence from painterly construction in shooting this film. they deliberately use the term ‘surrealism’ when describing the way they played around with proportion. For example. It is somewhat ironic that advertisement music has widely imitated several features of this soundtrack since its release in 1999. with silences. with Hall mentioning Magritte’s ‘startling images in frames that should not be that size’. repetition is a structural characteristic of advertisement. one must project an image of success at all times’. frames and setting. REPRESENTING THE SURREAL Mendes and director of photography Conrad L. A commercial. especially in the dreamlike sequences.30 As Fink argues.35 9 . Carolyn’s lover Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher) also describes his beliefs with these words: ‘it is my philosophy that in order to be successful. more importantly. for how normal we are when we are anything but’.32 Newman’s score uses repetition interspersed with slight variations in the ostinatos and. This is certainly dictated by the movie’s narrative needs. Lester Burnham. and mentioned the work of painter René Magritte as one of their main influences.

10 .e. As director Mendes stated.37 Nevertheless. for example a pedal steel guitar. Newman makes abundant use of electronically generated drones. the visual and musical subtexts floating in a sort of liminal space between the two.40 There are several dreamlike scenes in the film. ‘[He and Hall] tried to blur the real into the surreal’. it would make little sense to go in search of a definition of a term that is all encompassing’. filtered percussion sounds and sounds with an undefined pitch localisation.39 Similarly. I will refer to the term ‘surreal’ and ‘surrealism’ outside their original meaning. in the cheerleading scene (starting at 00:14:34). a sort of twilight zone in which reality (i. as Richardson argued in his book ‘An Eye For Music’. microtonal inflections. mostly dealing with Lester’s sexual fantasies about his teenager daughter’s friend Angela. Newman emphasizes these moments with the use of ostinatos. In this cue. For example. percussion sounds and glissandi along with detuning techniques. Electronically generated glissando sounds are also used alongside with their instrumental counterparts. real and surreal elements are often interwoven. in ‘American Beauty’. This use of a liminal space between pitches can be seen as a parallel to the mechanisms of daydream. It is important to notice however that there is not a single instance of night dream 41 in these scenes: Lester is always awake when fantasizing about Angela. identifiable pitches) blurs with the undefined (glissandi).The term ‘surrealism’ refers to a European visual arts movement that emerged in the mid 1920s and whose main tenets were the importance of the inner mechanisms of the mind. relying instead on René Magritte’s broader notion of using the surrealistic representation of familiar objects placed in unusual contexts to unlock new experiences.38 In my discussion. an appreciation of dream as an act of revelation36 and a broad interest in politics. an arrangement of the diegetic tune ‘On Broadway’ morphs into the non-diegetic cue ‘Spartanette’ while the camera closes up on Lester’s eyes staring blankly at Angela dancing. ‘Because surrealism is an idea conceived with reference to competing discursive formations.

which accompanies Lester’s fantasy about Angela bathing in roses in a steamy ambiance (starting at 00:40:46). Newman uses detuned mandolin ostinatos with a sliding bass line underneath: 11 .In the cue ‘Choking the Bishop’.

these treatments of sounds can challenge our sense of the visual and acoustic space we are being exposed to. The piece contains many electronically generated sounds that slide through pitches avoiding tonal stability. our ‘listening reality’. 12-tone temperament44: one could easily consider it as the conventional framework encompassing our listening experience as a Western audience. Newman’s use of detuning and glissandi can be considered a means of bending reality: in fact. scriptwriter Alan Ball stated that ‘the movie is about how we have preconceived notions about things and then there is usually a lot more going on’. shifting or detuned sounds. This is the scene where Lester imagines kissing Angela in front of his fridge. and a point of arrival in the characters’ lives. Furthermore. the glissando figure in the bass seems to be joining the pitch of that drone. In other words. the surreal experience of daydream is experienced through the blurring of any clear boundary between what is familiar (i.e. The listener’s ear in that moment is thus induced to hold on to that pitch as a center. except for a drone that resonates throughout. Therefore. the chromatic organization of sounds) and what is not. but the bass figuration does not remain on that 12 .43 The most used musical system in twentieth Century European music tradition is certainly the equal. the eradication of preconceived notions of reality is also one of the main messages of the film. In this respect. At 00:35:35. i. the clear localisation of sounds through the ‘constrained’ boundaries of the equal tempered scale.e.46 Similarly to the representational mechanisms in Magritte’s art. we can think of such a listening experience as part of the ‘reflective agenda’ that Richardson considers one of the main features in surrealist films and that exhorts us to link such an audio-visual experience to the perception of our daily lives. 45 Newman’s music challenges the ordinary Western listening experience when we hear those uncertain.47 An example of these techniques can be found in the ‘Root Beer’ cue (starting at 00:35:01). this music effectively complements the surrealistic visual aspect in these scenes because it shakes our perception of what is common and ordinary.Similarly to what happens in Magritte’s paintings such as ‘Le Joueur Secret’ or ‘La Reproduction Interdue’42.

Visually. and corresponding. As Richardson puts it. not at all. plausible’. apparently random sounds and visual elements that helps the viewers realise that they are about to experience one of Lester’s fantasies. As American psychologist William A. and also from the fact that after kissing Angela. scientifically speaking. ‘the audio-viewer is provided with clues that everything is not right or. but also a larger amount of glissandi and weird sounds. It is the combination of unreal. Here the music acts as a beacon of the surreal world we are about to enter: of course. White argued in his treatise ‘Dream Mechanisms’. but what really makes us aware that we are entering his fantasies is the way the visual and sound elements work together. we could expect another instance of surrealism. conversely it starts to slide upwards and downwards. Lester expels a rose petal from his mouth. coming and going without apparent reason. imparting a sense of instability and non-resolution.48 Musically. we can tell it is an imagined situation from the fact that Lester and Angela appear completely isolated from the rest of the people in the room. ‘the thinking in which ideas follow one another without selection. with any relation between the individual and reality [is the kind of thinking that takes place] either during the dream of 13 . the cue is remindful of ‘Spartanette’: it contains the same drone and a similar approach to the percussion parts. as opposed to conscious thinking. having already witnessed examples of Lester’s sexual fantasies earlier into the film.sound.

In other words. 51 Newman scored this passage quite differently in some respects: he made use of modality and shifting meters as a means of representing a timeless scene. but phantasies’49. 3. which is totally unfamiliar’. and this is why it suits the oneiric representation well. During the scene. Furthermore. in his interview with Adrian Maben. when Lester dies and reconsiders his past life. Moreover. there is no additive process in the orchestration 52 during the recurrences of the ‘American Beauty’ theme. the association between a mundane object like a shopping bag and the revelation about the higher concept it hints at can again be linked to the aesthetics of Magritte’s paintings: in fact. as can be seen from Ex.sleep. which he filmed on his camera. The overlying concept of beauty behind all things is a central theme in this film and it returns as a final statement at the end. but still do bring about a strong sense of the ‘surreal’.50 …AND A WORLD IN BETWEEN A slightly different approach can be observed in scenes that are not located in a daydream. This is a clear instance of how ‘the dreamlike logic alters the normal codes of behaviour and the forms of representation that govern the interior world of the film and its characters’. he suddenly realised that ‘there is so much beauty in the world [that he] felt [he] cannot take it’. One of such scenes is when Ricky shows Jane footage of a bag floating in the air. the association between images of roses coming out of Lester’s mouth and the uncertainty of those sounds and of their resolution does not correspond to our experience of audio-visual reality. Ricky states that after looking at it. the painter stated that in his work ‘everyday things can enable one to discover a kind of poetry.1 (the cue starts at 00:59:25): 14 . or during day dreaming. (…) and the thoughts which come at such times we no longer call thoughts.

the composer plays with the liminal space between reality and the surreal on two levels: with modal harmony and changing meters.53 The alternation between the C minor and F major chords also redefines the functions of these chords within the tonal scheme plus the way they gravitate around each other. their role of primary and secondary54 chords functions in the parallel yet different world of modality.Here. we have the feeling that something more is going 15 . In other words. The presence of chords built on C dorian modality on one hand. directing the ear of the listener towards a different rapport of gravitation around the centre of the key. and the use of parallel fifths on the other. twist the mechanisms of tonality and destroy the teleology of tonal progressions. As an audience. they do not function within the ‘rules’ of the minor tonality (there is no tritone to govern their attraction): on the contrary.

a crucial aesthetic decision in much of Newman’s scoring process. This can be seen as another way of using an ordinary object (a diatonic scale) and by changing its inner mechanisms. Furthermore. Additionally. at the end of the film. strengthen the sense of a timeless music that parallels the random movements of the bag. 3. what Kramer calls ‘vertical time’. we can see how a simple contrapuntal line is used to thin out the harmony while understating the scene’s drama. 56 As Joanna Demers pointed out on drone music.2. all notes are clearly identifiable as belonging to the equal tempered scale. even if they likely result from synchronisation matters. In this respect.57 In this case. lead the viewer to reconsider his experience of the music in the scene. Differently from the ‘surreal’ cues. similarly to the borrowing of repetition techniques from minimalism.on: we experience this music in a familiar framework (the tempered scale) but at the same time we distinguish a different set of relationships among the ‘rules of this parallel world’. this compositional tool brings about a different approach to the way this music is constructed and the soundscapes that it helps create. Newman relies on gentle electronic sounds used as both lightly sliding and fixed drones.58 16 . the shifting meters. ‘listeners and scholars hear in these works an alternative sense of time. Newman uses drones on a timescale that is obviously limited by narrative and filmic urges. Thus we can consider his use of drones as sonic elements rather than as a structuring compositional asset. In the first section of Ex. 55 Again. They allow the ear to go to a different spatial place as opposed to a harmonic place’. Another interesting use of modality can be found in the scene when Angela is having her sexual encounter with Lester. drones as a compositional tool are just another way of avoiding development and teleology and another form of repetition. Newman does not use sliding pitches here: as already mentioned. though one that acts on a single tone or on a set of tones. a timelessness in which the work could continue indefinitely without start or finish’. Newman stated: ‘drones interest me so much. In the cue ‘Angela Undress’.

6-8) or a tone that is left in midair and then slightly bent over (bb. although it contains the main thematic material. pouring outside the Burnhams’ house.In this scene the relationships among the different elements in the visual and acoustic material points to some interesting connections.it is just there as a background noise and in fact its function in the overall soundscape is similar to that of a 17 . We could easily think of these diegetic sounds as a different kind of drones: the sound of the rain is a constant. 1-3). and Angela’s anxious breathing. Newman’s light piano texture is only one part of the acoustic soundscape. almost grainy sound object that does not change much . The composer makes also use of either static drones that resonate on one pitch throughout (bb. 4-5). The cue starts at 01:41:39. when Lester gently undresses Angela lying on the couch. He also uses a drone with a rhythmic connotation (bb. The acoustic space also comprises the diegetic sounds of rain.

drone. The shift to acoustic sounds is made even clearer if we consider the pedal point in the lower voice of the piano part (b. the use of drones decreases. Here the throbbing drone we encountered in bb. the harmonic discourse is very simple and it relies on three simple triads in which two (the ones built on the root A) do not contain the third. Angela’s breathing becomes a pulsating drone: although varying in frequency and amplitude. coming from outside the window. the focus now being on the piano melody at the top of the texture: This contrasting section makes use of mainly acoustic instruments such as the string section and a slightly denser harmony. The visual aspect is also very important. 4 and 5 in the previous example is imitated in the left hand. In the second theme. 1 in the second theme). as it is in the whole film59: the room is dark except for a blue light reverberating through the ambiance. This constant blue light reflects on all the surfaces and it is the main light source in the frame. this sound is present throughout the scene and is a predominant feature. These shifts in instrumentation define a sound world where the visual elements on one side and the sonic components on 18 . Again. It reverberates throughout the frame like a ‘visual drone’. on the contrary.

e. his paedophilic fantasies vanish and his process of ‘awakening’. this is the moment when Lester accomplishes his final transformation: his idea of Angela as a sexual object. during this sexual encounter between an adult and a teenager. In the first place. CONCLUSION In this essay I have gone over a few concepts in an attempt to explain why Newman’s work suits the various themes that this film takes on. purely sexual encounter. which has been the main trigger to his detachment from his past life during the whole film. the viewer’s response is also questioned on a moral level. They all work together to give the impression of a suspended scene. the use of repetition has been interpreted as having a twofold aim: the first is suggesting locale. suburban America. his preconceived notion about Angela as a sexual ‘target’) is eradicated. a misconception of what is real. by elevating the scene to a surreal status and hinting that more is happening than the viewers can see. In fact. the timelessness evoked by the music lends a sense of transcendence to what is essentially a dismal. i. which will eventually lead to his violent yet peaceful death. Similarly to what happens to our perception of reality. Only when Angela confesses that in fact she is still a virgin. so entrenched within consumerist society that we all 19 . the music disappears and so does the sense of a timeless experience.the other melt into one another. because it represents the main trait that links this score to some features of American minimalism. In this case.e. As soon as Lester’s glaring miscalculation of what he thinks is ‘real’ (i. is completed. disappears and suggests that his preconceived notions were in fact a figment of his imagination. the second is that it is the core of mass production and communication in the present day. giving a sense of unity. The boundaries of what is ethically acceptable are distorted by what the music and the images portray as a tender scene.

the idea of a mutual influence between the visual and musical elements that I assessed in the second chapter underpins an interesting framework of the relationship between sounds and images. While this argument appears acceptable.e. rhythm and timbres. so that when new elements are added. made. sold and consumed in an engineered cycle of repetitive frenzy. In response to the distorted reality of daydream. the composer is forced to rethink the nature of the ‘ordinary’ resources at his disposal. I personally think that repetition is the summa of life in the modern age: we all relate to products that are desired. On a similar basis. As a consequence. this work calls for a film score where the composer is still a central figure. but his tools provide a far more prominent contribution to shaping the overall soundscape than in the past. the introduction of tiny alterations over several reiterations of the same material) but it has an effective validity in stimulating our attention on a microscopic level while it induces a state of hypnosis that alters our entire experience of the filmic discourse. thus leading to different solutions to the challenges of scoring. This music exists in a sound world that does not strive to push the narration forward with harmonic movement: it is experienced instead as a soundscape to contemplate. with an approach more akin to production-based music. Additionally. considers it as a useful means of grabbing the viewer’s attention on sounds that are introduced through an additive process layered over repetition. relying on the electronic treatment of sounds. rather than as an active musical asset. One could argue that repetition is used mainly during monologues in order to prevent the audience being distracted from the story. the more we focus on the visual aspect. repetition works within a continuous feedback loop with the images: the less change we experience in the music. repetition is just another approach to film music teleology: it works with minimal resources (i. In effect. but also the reinterpretation of the visual experience on a sonic basis. 20 . it must be reckoned that Newman himself. we experience them sonically rather than by the usual mechanisms of harmonic tension and relaxation60. which at times could run the risk of being clichéd.experience it on our skin. Those assets are not only the combination of pitches. on the contrary.

What is more. It is the musical counterpart of the film’s main message of questioning our preconceived notions. without being too descriptive. this film raises questions about our eagerness to discover beauty behind the seemingly mundane in our everyday experience of life. In those cues. ‘American Beauty’ does so admirably. this reading of reality can also happen in a more metaphorical way: a realistic scene can be scored with music that suggests that something more is actually happening. since it draws upon a humourous yet grotesquely decadent script that entertains us and at the same time forces us to reconsider our preconceptions about life. I think that the relevance of a film resides in its aptitude for stimulating the viewers' awareness of themselves and others. sexuality and consumerism in the modern age. 21 .As I have pointed out in Chapter 3. Newman’s score parallels this approach by using ordinary tools at the composer’s disposal that morph according to the degree of naturalism in the scene. the use of modality and drones has been considered as a main asset in giving a different perspective to the viewer’s experience of the scene.

and he had a whole concept of tuned percussion instruments that he wanted to propel the story forward’. 2000 and they sound a half-step lower than the ones appearing on the DVD. 8 Timecodes are taken from ‘American Beauty’ DVD. 9 ‘He knew he wanted kind of percussive.<http://awards. awards. Vol. ‘Results Page – Academy Awards Database – AMPAS’. Allmusic.grammy.NOTES AND REFERENCES 1 Joyce King Heyraud.org/award/2000/film/anthony-asquith-award-forachievement-in-film-music> (last visited: 12/05/2013). pp.com/2000/music/news/spotlight-thomas-newman-1117761178/> (date last accessed: 23 April 2015). 233. p.com/nominees/search?artist=thomas+newman&field_nominee_work_v alue=&year=All&genre=All> (last visited : 03/05/2015).com. Thomas Newman had to Learn how to Trust His Instincts’.144-148 and Karlyn. Awarded with a Best Score Soundtrack Album For A Motion Picture in 2000. Stylus Magazine.com <http://www.129 (2000). John Burlingame. Newman recalls in Kevin Cassidy.bafta. DSL1205 Dreamworks. <http://www.oscars. imdb. Nominated for the Best Musical Score award at the 2000 Academy Awards. ‘Bafta Awards’. 6 Robert S.org. Issue 1. Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought’.bafta. pp. 7 the examples have been transcribed by the author from Thomas Newman. Kathleen Rowe.com. This was made for easiness of transcription. e5 Global Media. ‘The Maestro: Born into Film Music Royalty. ‘A Kiss After Supper American Beauty’. ‘Too Close for Comfort: American Beauty and the Incest Motif’ Cinema Journal. Variety http://variety. 8. Vol. ‘American Beauty’. so I started working on various ideas that involved xylophones and marimbas’. (2004).org/ampas_awards/DisplayMain. 40:1 (2000).allmusic. 416 (2010). and also for the mixing of ‘American Beauty . 4 It is important to mention the contribution of mixing engineer Dennis Sands to the production of this score. Geffen 450 233-2. (New York: Routledge. 270.imdb. 22 . ‘Spotlight: Thomas Newman (20 January 2000).com/name/nm0762304> (last visited : 08/05/2015). ‘American Beauty Original Motion Picture Score’. <http://www. 373. <http://awardsdatabase. Hollywood Reporter. awardsdatabase. ‘Winners’. rhythmic music. ‘American beauty.oscars. He is credited as music scoring mixer here: ‘Dennis S. 2 Drew Miller. 10 As Newman recalls in an interview: ‘He [Mendes] was interested in percussion and mallet instruments. 5 Winner of the Anthony Asquith Award for Original Film Music in 2000. 93. 2006.Original soundtrack’ (1999) and as engineer for ‘American Beauty – Original Motion Picture Score’ (2000) in ‘Dennis Sands|Credits’. Farmingdale: Society for Advancement of Education. 2004). Sands’. Rothenberg. Grammy. On The Track.com/artist/dennis-sands-mn0000203129/credits> (last visited : 08/05/2015).org. Volume 44. 2nd ed. Directed by Sam Mendes. (20/07/2004). 3 Frank Karlin and Rayburn Wright.jsp?curTime=143139018137 2> (last visited: 12/05/2013).

pp. 20 this interval will be reduced to a minor third in the other two main themes of this score. 19 Adams. these sounds are an acoustic complement to the rose petals coming down from the ceiling on Lester’s bed while he fantasizes about Angela. Film Music. the panning and filtering work in the triangle and high percussion sounds clearly signify more than a mere rhythmical work. In fact. p. 15 Wim Mertens.. and Eaton. p. with their harmonics overemphasized through equalization. 23 In this respect Newman was certainly aided by mixing engineer Dennis Sands. 13 Karlin. 15. ‘Basic Concepts of Minimal Music’. Joseph Kosinski. Ibidem. 8. 10ff. p. see Daniel Goldmark. UMI Dissertations Publishing (2008). (New York. (Princeton. 12 Kyle Gann. Designing Simplicity. (London: Springer-Verlag. p. 24 Similar approaches to production-based scoring procedures can be seen in recent films. UMI Dissertations Publishing (2009). and Kristin Alicia Force. 1992). the latter on two minor thirds (E-G and B-D) 21 Cassidy. 2007).50. London: Bloomsbury Academic. 17 Roy M. p. 302. the ones in the ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Angela Undress’ cues: they are both constructed over minor thirds.1 (Jan 2004). London: Bloomsbury Academic. London : W. Rebecca Marie Doran Eaton. Doug ‘Finding Newman: An Interview with the Overdubbing Prince of Hollywood Film Scoring’. A Neglected Art. 2008). 16 Mertens also argues that ‘repetitive music (…) is non-representational and is no longer the medium for the expression of subjective feelings’. Minimalism. p. For example in ‘The Social Network’ (2010) and ‘Gone Girl’ (2014) (dir. p. ProQuest. Nostalgia. Just as the petals are imaginary. and Hollywood Film Music. ‘Thankless Attempts at a Definition of Minimalism’. (New York. 307. i. the first on G – Bb. 153 14 For example. 309. Also in ‘Arose’. For a creative use of long reverberating tails that can be clearly heard during the breaks of the repetitions. music by Daft Punk) 25 See endnote 18 23 . p. ProQuest.. 11 Hartmut Obendorf. p. p. Audio Culture. 18 Caryl Flinn.39ff. p. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. For a detailed analysis of Glass’s music for these scores. (Berkeley: University of California Press. ‘From "Koyaanisqatsi" (1982) to "Undertow" (2004): A systematic musicological examination of Philip Glass's film scores’. (New York. ‘Unheard Minimalisms: The Functions of the Minimalist Technique in Film Scores’. see the marimba parts in ‘Dead Already’. et al.e. 15. 23-24. 2004). 2004). 101-109. W. Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema. so do the high pitched percussions sound unnatural. Norton & Company. 2009). pp. Strains of Utopia: Gender. 42. Pendergast. David Fincher. Film Score Monthly 9. music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) or Tron Legacy (2010) (dir. p. Audio Culture. composer Philip Glass uses longer sections of straight repetition throughout his scores for ‘Koyaanisquatsi’ and ‘The Hours’. 48-65. 22 Adams.

Nevertheless. p. Strachan (London : Eyre Methuen. 144 28 This is from a quote of Jacques Attali’s work ‘Noise’. as well as in the fields of ethnography and political philosophy’. New York: Oxford University Press. 2012). psychoanalytical. DSL1205 Dreamworks. trans. Psychological Perspectives. 10 32 Fink. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1974). It's the use of mallets more than anything. 2012). Directed by Sam Mendes’. In this work. 15 the interviewer claims that “There are still commercials all over doing the American Beauty type of sound. hitherto neglected. aesthetic. 77-78. This is a clear reference to Lester’s revelation about the inconsistency of his life coming from a dream-like experience. especially on the mind of consumers and TV audiences. (Los Angeles. p.” 31 Fink argues that in post-World War II. José Pierre. p. see Fink. Robert Fink. making the society dependent on a systematic mass production of desire for objects. even on the kind of houses we live in. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. 2006. p. advertisement campaigns shifted their interests to the creation of desire in customers. André Breton. 2006. Cf Richardson. 26 Robert Fink. 35 Ibidem. Eburne. DSL1205 Dreamworks. Eds. from J. I've heard that. London: University of California Press. as actor Spacey puts it in ‘American Beauty’ DVD Look Closer: Bonus Material. 37 Additionally. ‘Surrealist poets and artists likewise participated in contemporary thinking about gender and subjectivity. p. 7. pp. J. 24 . (last visited: 25/04/2015). 30 The use of mallet sounds particularly has been imitated in the years after its release in many commercials. p. ‘American Beauty. 2005). 38 John Richardson. 36 In 1924. P. (Oxford. 34 ‘American Beauty’ DVD Look Closer: Bonus Material – Storyboard presentation. replacing individuality with homogeneity and repetition. 4 27 Joyce Heyraud. This was conveyed through the use of repetition in advertisement. An Eye for Music. pp. 149. 39 ss. Credo Reference. He addresses the semiotic. ontological and institutional aspects of surrealist practices.1 (2000). W. Roland Green et al. 40. in his seminal writing ‘Surrealist Manifesto’ maintained that ‘surrealism is founded on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of association. in the importance of dreams. hope and fight for’. In Adams. he cites various sources in order to attempt to give such a definition on various levels. Repeating Ourselves: American Minimal Music as Cultural Practice. 29 it is a ‘story about what we all dream. Percussion mallets. p.” And Newman answers “Yeah. A Dictionary of Surrealism. p. ‘Surrealism’.31 33 regarding the hypnotic effects of repetition. Fink. the undirected play of thought’. Attali maintains that mass production signifies the repetition of all consumption. 36.

weight and action are jolted by such manipulation of traditional objects’ and regarding ‘La Reproduction Interdue’ he adds ‘The reality of the viewer himself is placed in doubt’. 75. ‘Hamburg and Rome. the first time he encounters a reality outside himself. p. There are dreams very different from the ones we have while sleeping.119 50 Richardson. It is important though to make a distinction between what Richardson calls ‘neosurrealism’ and the aesthetics of ‘American Beauty’: this film is not a surrealist nor a neosurrealist film. p. Magritte stated: ‘I want to breathe new life into the way we look at the ordinary things around us. 2006. ‘Alternative Tunings. Credo Reference. In this section I am referring to such aspects of doubtful reality and traditional ideas being questioned as a link between Magritte’s idea of surrealism and the dreamlike scenes in ‘American Beauty’.youtube. 1978). but such experimentation is labeled as ‘alternative’ and not as common practice. DSL1205 Dreamworks.1 (2003). 3-14. The Burlington Magazine Publications. RM Productions.470 the author writes ‘In this work (‘Le Joueur Secret’) our traditional ideas of space. White. 39 In Adrian Maben.’ 40 ‘American Beauty’ DVD Look Closer: Bonus Material – Storyboard presentation. 48 Richardson. there has been a great deal of experimentation and innovation on this subject in the XX Century. 45 Of course. 2003). 25 . perspective. 44 ‘Temperament’. 1916). 43 ‘American Beauty’ DVD Look Closer: Bonus Material. ‘Monsieur René Magritte’ (Antenne-2.’ Contemporary Music Review 22.com/watch?v=KNHNWTqiE8I> (last visited: 11/05/2015). But how should one look? Like a child. <https://www. (Last visited 05/05/2015). Dream Mechanisms. 36 49 William A. 42 In Klaus Herding. Eds. Quote taken from Adrian Maben. For a more detailed analysis see for example Daniel James Wolf. on the contrary these dreams are of a voluntary nature’. Here the surrealistic elements in the audio-visual experience are used in very circumscribed sections only. by both composers and musicologists. Westdeutscher Rundfunk. Newman’s music questions our recognition of reality through the use of uncertain pitch localisation and electronically manipulated sounds. ‘Monsieur René Magritte’. p. one must also acknowledge the differences between the two approaches: while Magritte put familiar objects in unfamiliar juxtapositions and non-plausible proportions. Vol. Alternative Tonalities. 46 Richardson. (New York: MacMillan Co. 2006 41 This aspect can be linked to Magritte’s concept of ‘the dream’ in his work: ‘The word ‘dream’ is often misapplied when people talk about my paintings. Don Michael Randel (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 35 51 Adrian Maben. 124 (1982). p. 47 At the same time. similarly to Lester’s self-induced states of sexual hallucination. The Harvard Dictionary of Music. René Magritte and Surrealism’. p. ‘Monsieur René Magritte’. pp. DSL1205 Dreamworks.

trans. Roland Green et al. Demers analyses drones as appearing in genres of electronic music that span over a large timescale. 2010. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. FINK. and Noise: Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music. p. New York : W. title: Twentieth Century Harmony). the major sixth) is considered as being secondary and can be considered as a sort of dominant chord. Fabio Jegher. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. 15 SOURCES Books DEMERS. Dub Techno. DSL1205 Dreamworks. and Noise. p. 53 Regarding the relationships among primary and secondary functions of chords in modality. Armonia del Ventesimo Secolo (orig.’ From Adams.com/artist/thomas-pasatieri-mn0001736069/credits> (last visited: 08/05/2015). In this work.e. 2010). Oxford: Oxford University Press.allmusic. Maximal Objects in Drone Music. Eds. ‘Finding Newman: An Interview with the Overdubbing Prince of Hollywood Film Scoring’. Dub Techno. Norton Company. p. p. EBURNE. whereas in Newman’s soundtrack drones appear and fade out in shorter periods of time. 2012). Luca Cerchiari. over which you're doing a very breathy alto flute in a low register. Doug. 57 Ibidem.28ff. Persichetti. Allmusic. ‘American Beauty’ DVD Look Closer: Bonus Material. J.P. 29-30. performance or sonic landscape. 59 Mendes in this respect maintained: ‘There is a distinctive visual style that I am trying to give the film in tandem with Conrad Hall. pp. 2004. USA: Vineyard Haven LLC. (Milano : Guerini Reprint. see Vincent Persichetti. 177.com. cf. Credo Reference. the cinematographer’. Repeating Ourselves: American Minimal Music as Cultural Practice. 56 Joanna Demers. 2005. 54 The chord that contains the characteristic note of this modality (i. 58 Karlin. 1993 original ed. 55 Adams. London: University of California Press. 15. 99. 2006. p. 1965). you'll tend to be able to hear that breathy sound much more than you would if the harmonies were constantly changing. Los Angeles. (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Newman maintained: ‘Everything is demanding whether it is harmony. Maximal Objects in Drone Music. Robert. 26 . due to filmic needs. Joanna. 52 credited to Thomas Pasatieri in ‘Thomas Pasatieri | Credits’. <http://www. 60 On his preference for harmonic simplicity. (last visited: 25/04/2015). 9 Vol. I think you have to choose what remains simple. ‘Surrealism’. W. If you have two chords that repeat.

‘From "Koyaanisqatsi" (1982) to "Undertow" (2004): A systematic musicological examination of Philip Glass's film scores’. D. Eds. (Last visited: 05/05/2015). 2009. The Harvard Dictionary of Music. R. K. FLINN. Vincent. Norton & Company. Norton Company. Strachan. Christoph Cox & Daniel Warner. New York. Princeton. 2004. Daniel et al. An Eye for Music: Popular Music and the Audiovisual Surreal. Don Michael Randel. New York: Oxford University Press. Film Score Monthly. UMI Dissertations Publishing (2008). e5 Global Media. Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema. ‘Temperament’. 27 . William A. W. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. New York. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 416 (2010). 2013. 8-9. A Dictionary of Surrealism. Oxford. Strains of Utopia: Gender. trans. London : Bloomsbury Academic. On The Track: a Guide to Contemporary Scoring. ‘Unheard Minimalisms: The Functions of the Minimalist Technique in Film Scores’. 2008. 1916. Caryl. GANN. ‘Hamburg and Rome. title: Twentieth Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice). pp. Audio Culture. Credo Reference. Film Music. UMI Dissertations Publishing (2009). Designing Simplicity. A Neglected Art. 1993 orig. Wim. José. CASSIDY. ProQuest. Armonia del Ventesimo Secolo (orig. Articles ADAMS. Dream Mechanisms. trans. 1992. ‘Basic Concepts of Minimal Music’. ed. and Hollywood Film Music. WHITE. 14-17. John. Vol. Berkeley: University of California Press. Christoph Cox et al. 2003. René Magritte and Surrealism’. Minimalism. New York: MacMillan Co. 1965. 469-471. pp. London: Springer-Verlag. New York : W. London : Eyre Methuen. 2012. PERSICHETTI. New York: Routledge. KARLIN. Thomas Newman Had to Learn How to Trust His Instincts’. Roy M. Milano : Guerini Reprint. OBENDORF. ‘The Maestro: Born into Film Music Royalty. Frank. PIERRE. ‘Minimal Music. 2007. Vol. 9. GOLDMARK. 124 (1982). Fabio Jegher et al. ed. K. PENDERGAST. London: Bloomsbury Academic.. Hollywood Reporter. FORCE. HERDING. pp. A. Nostalgia. RICHARDSON. The Burlington Magazine Publications. M. W. Kyle. ProQuest.1 (2004). 1974. MERTENS. ed. D. and Rayburn Wright. ‘Finding Newman: An Interview with the Overdubbing Prince of Hollywood Film Scoring’. New York. Hartmut. London : W. K. 2004. Maximal Impact’. J. EATON. W. Audio Culture.

K. <http://awardsdatabase. ‘American beauty. pp.jsp?curTime=14313901813 72> (last visited: 12/05/2013).com/2000/music/news/spotlight-thomas-newman-1117761178/> (date last accessed: 23 April 2015). ‘Dennis S.org/ampas_awards/DisplayMain.. ROTHENBERG. ‘A Kiss After Supper: American Beauty’. Alternative Tonalities. R.htm> (last visited: 11/05/2015).allmusic. ‘Alternative Tunings. Cinema Journal. ‘Thomas Pasatieri | Credits’. 144-148. Farmingdale: Society for Advancement of Education. ‘Winners’. D. <http://www. Geffen 450 233-2. BURLINGAME. ‘Spotlight: Thomas Newman (20 January 2000). Issue 1 (2004). Vol.com http://www.com/artist/thomas-pasatierimn0001736069/credits> (last visited: 08/05/2015).allmusic. imdb. Drew. John.org. ‘Results Page – Academy Awards Database – AMPAS’.bafta. ‘American Beauty Original Motion Picture Score’.129 (2000).bafta. 69-93. Allmusic.com/name/nm0762304> (last visited : 08/05/2015) MILLER. Recordings Thomas Newman. WOLF. K. <http://www. pp. S. Volume 44. pp.com. 2000 Videos 28 . HEYRAUD. awards.’ Contemporary Music Review 22. J. Variety http://variety. <http://www. p. Directed by Sam Mendes’. ‘Dennis Sands|Credits’.com. (20/07/2004). ‘Too Close for Comfort: American Beauty and the Incest Motif’.oscars. <http://stylusmagazine. 40:1 (2000).1 (2003). Stylus Magazine. awardsdatabase.oscars. Allmusic.org/award/2000/film/anthony-asquithaward-for-achievement-in-film-music> (last visited: 12/05/2013).imdb. ‘American Beauty’. Grammy.<http://awards. 80.grammy.com.com/articles/a_kiss_after_supper/american-beauty.com/artist/dennis-sandsmn0000203129/credits> (last visited : 08/05/2015).org. Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought. ROWE. J.com/nominees/search?artist=thomas+newman&field_nominee_work_val ue=&year=All&genre=All (last visited : 03/05/2015). Sands’. 3-14 Web Resources ‘Bafta Awards’.

1978). ‘Monsieur René Magritte’ (Antenne-2.com/watch?v=KNHNWTqiE8I> (last visited: 11/05/2015). Adrian Maben. 29 . Westdeutscher Rundfunk. ‘American Beauty’ DVD.youtube. 2006. RM Productions. DSL1205 Dreamworks. <https://www.