Music as Metaphor

Arguably, music is the medium where sound has is greatest effect on our emotions. Think of John Williams’s iconic score for the 1977 movie Jaws. By channeling the main figure of the shark in the movie, Williams found inspiration in the characteristics of predatory terror, using them as a metaphor for the music he composed.

Jon Burlingame, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, discussed Williams’s process in 2012: “First to come — and the only music that Williams demonstrated for [movie director Steven] Spielberg prior to the recording sessions — was the shark motif. He found a signature that not only fit the creature but proved flexible enough to function in as many ways as the shark itself: sounds from deep in the orchestra (low strings, low brass instruments) that were also rhythmic — ‘so simple, insistent and driving, that it seems unstoppable, like the attack of the shark,’ Williams explained.

"The music could be loud and fast if he was attacking, soft and slow if he was lurking, but always menacing in tone.”

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