Music as a source of narrative information in HBO's Westworld

Marshall, Kingsley ORCID logoORCID: (2019) Music as a source of narrative information in HBO's Westworld. In: Reading Westworld. Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 97-118. ISBN 978-3-030-14514-9 (In Press)

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Abstract / Summary

Composer Ramin Djawadi’s score for HBO’s 2016 series Westworld made use of both original music and a number of instrumental covers from an array of artists that included Soundgarden, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Amy Winehouse, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure and Radiohead. Each of these musical cues, described by Djawadi as “piano reductions” (in Vineyard, 2016.1), was transcribed onto perforated paper rolls by specialists Gnaw-Vol-ty Music Rolls (Kent Goodman, n.d.; Locke: 2016;
Vineyard, 2016.2) and rendered diegetically by a player piano situated within Sweetwater’s Mariposa Saloon, a central location of Westworld’s theme park.

The player piano serves as a part of Westworld’s title design and has been described by the show’s creators as a “touchstone image” (Vineyard, 2016.2) in that it reflects the core themes of the narrative. The piano serves as metaphor for the shadow of human control over the park’s robotic ‘hosts’, and the desire of the park’s creator for
these robotic inhabitants to break free of their programming in order to reach self-actualisation and sentience.

Each of these musical cues operates on a number of narrative levels – they remind the viewer of the inherent inauthenticity of the theme park itself within the show’s larger world, make intertextual references to each character’s state of mind and provide an extra-textual commentary as to the constructed reality of the hosts. In
certain instances, the cues provide a direct narrative purpose within the fabric of the story itself, evident in the use of Debussy’s ‘Reverie’, which is hard wired into the robots memory and deployed by human characters to calm them (Kornhaber, 2016; Vineyard, 2016.3).

As Sean Collins observes, HBO have deployed musical covers as a narrative device before – in The Wire, The Sopranos, and Generation Kill, where US Marines sang bubblegum pop accapella to one another as they toured Iraq in their Humvee (2016). In Westworld, Djawadi’s involvement from the scripting stage with the show’s creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, allows for a much richer embedding of music within the series as a whole – part of a complex hypertext whose function is to serve as a robust underscore the many other uses of citation in a narrative which draws its references from a deep cultural well of cinema, literature, mythology, theology and fine art (Hoffman, 2016; Winckler, 2017).

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: westworld, nolan, hbo, kilter films, bad robot, artificial intelligence, machine learning, ethics, television, film, music, composer, sound design, music editor, interviews, production culture, production studies
ISBN: 978-3-030-14514-9
Subjects: Social Sciences > Economics
Film & TV
Film & TV > TV > Foreign TV
Film & TV > Film > Hollywood Film
Music > Sound Design
Courses by Department: The School of Film & Television > Film
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Kingsley Marshall
Date Deposited: 21 Dec 2018 16:49
Last Modified: 23 Nov 2023 16:28


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