1 February 2012

Is the sound of music on TV getting more and worse?

Many outstanding movies have been greatly enhanced by outstanding music. Famous film scores by composers like John Willams, Enno Morrikone and John Barry have deservedly won a much wider audiences among listeners around the world.

And, as I've noted before, even political speeches can occasionally be enhanced by suitable background music (e.g. HERE).

But what do we hear from our television screens these days? Is there more music than there used to be? Is it louder, less appropriate and more poorly chosen than it used to be?

The recent BBC drama serialisation of Birdsong has already prompted me to complain (again) about 'the open-mouthed school of acting' (HERE). But just as irritating (to me at least) were the repetitive few bars of plinky-plonk piano music in the background (which you can sampleHERE for a few more days).

Music in factual and documentary films?
It got me wondering whether I'm alone in finding background music an annoying and unnecessary distraction to whatever it is we're trying to watch?

Nor is not just to be heard in dramas, as it now seems to be infecting more and more BBC factual programmes.

For example, viewers of Countryfile on BBC1 have to put up with it week after week, as in the following examples from a discussion of proposed badger-culling. :

Frozen Planet
And, as if viewers of the Frozen Planet might otherwise have objected to David Attenborough's commentary on the brilliant film footage, the producers apparently thought it necessary to impose the continual distraction of irrelevant and more or less continuous backgound music - as in this sequence on polar bear mating behaviour:

Or do the makers of these programmes really believe that irrelevant music adds significantly to our enjoyment and appreciation of the films?

If so, I'd very much like to know why and to see what evidence (if any) they have to support their case...

P.S. Aurorora borealis au musak
I'm very grateful to Keenan Malilk (@kenanmalik) for posting a link to this video on Twitter earlier today, along with a comment - "..annoying music but astounding video all the same" - that suggests I may not be alone in my dislike of pointless musical backgrounds to otherwise impressive film-footage:


Richard I. Garber said...


You’re not alone in being irritated. A decade ago the animated Family Guy comedy had an episode in which Peter used the first of three wishes from a genie to get his own theme music: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_Guy_Viewer_Mail_1

That music so incensed a bus rider that he threatened to break every bone in Peter’s body. See the video clip here: http://www.flicklife.com/eac7b87d49a13c683497/

Speaking of bad ideas, Dave Kellett’s web comic strip Sheldon currently has a talking soft toy called Prime Minister Winston Cuddles: http://www.sheldoncomics.com/archive/120131.html


Richard I. Garber said...


I skipped part of the URL for the Family Guy video clip about theme music.


Roger said...

I remember first noting this trend in a documentary about the Dambusters a few years ago with an absurdly loud heavy metal guitar soundtrack and have turned off multiple new BBC documentaries in disgust due to awful music ever since - even the otherwise superb Auschwitz series that was just repeated had far too much classical music which being overly familiar (Mozart's Requiem for God's sake) was far more intrusive than say the original soundtrack Carl Davis wrote all those years ago for World at War.

Why do they do it? - they've been brought up in a multimedia world where every second has to be filled with both visuals and noise or they're afraid the audience will switch off.

Roger said...

And don't even get me started on Doctor Who and the overpowering background music that is clearly intended to help rush you past all the obvious absurdities in the scripts.

Roger said...

Catching up with some docs on Iplayer I have noticed that new programmes made specifically for BBC4 seem to be much more restrained in their use of music than those made for the popular BBC channels.

I do wonder if this has more to do with BBC4 budget limitations and the extraordinary complications using copyrighted music involves than with aesthetics.