Peter Howell


My first session back in Leeds for trimester two was with guest speaker Peter Howell from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Peter’s session was titled Sound And Music Awareness, in which, he talked about the composition of applied music; i.e. music for another medium. The medium in this instance was film.

Peter’s talk concentrated on how a composer must relinquish some of their rights to the audience. When writing a piece of concert music you are responsible for 100% of what the audience is there for. However, when you are composing applied music, you have given away some of that percentage. “If you write 100% music and add it to a film, you get 200% confusion”. The challenge for the composer of applied music is to supply something that magically transforms the film and makes it better.

He illustrated this point with the opening title scene from Scorsese’s Raging Bull. Here the music does not respond to the image on screen or tries to reflect what is happening but is juxtaposed with it. Because the music and image don’t appear to match (the music is from an Italian Opera) it calls upon the audience to come to some conclusions of its own. The scene proposes two points; the image and the music. The audience acts as the third point. As in trigonometry, two of the points are delivered, the third has to be worked out i.e. the audience has to make up its own mind about what is happening. This is something the audience enjoys doing, in being involved in its own entertainment. Together, the image and music asks the audience to contribute, to look for answers, and in doing so it remains interested and engaged.