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  • Writer's pictureKevin Keller

Turn It Upside Down

Updated: Jun 4, 2018

Whenever I write a musical theme, I always test it out to see if it holds up when played upside down (inverted), and in reverse (retrograde). If the theme passes this test, then I know that it’s an exceptional theme that I can use throughout the score. It also helps to test the theme when transposed to the parallel major or minor key, as well as in half tempo and double time.

The more useful versions of the same theme you can come up with, the more musical colors you have in your palette when you score a film.

In the case of “Blue City”, I had decided that the two main characters would have their own distinct themes and instrumentations. For the glum old man (I called him “Enzo”), the instruments were violin and piano, and his theme was dark and dramatic. For the innocent young boy (I called him “Daniel”), the instruments were guitar and accordion, and his theme was light and upbeat, with a bit of whimsy thrown in.

Daniel’s theme was first worked out at the piano, and then tested out in retrograde, inverted, and transposed. Each version worked well, and I was ready for scoring.

We first hear the main theme right at the top of the film, as Daniel bounces his ball down the deserted streets of the “blue city”. On the cut to Enzo waking up in bed, the theme is inverted and played on a harpsichord. I also engineered the audio so that the music seemed to come from Enzo’s clock radio (an effect that I would also use later on in the film).

The next time we here Daniel’s theme, he continues to bounce his ball as he unknowingly foils the attempt of two car thieves trying to steal Enzo’s car. As Daniel passes by the thieves, the theme is heard in retrograde on the accordion, adding a bit of comedy to the moment.

The third time Daniel’s theme is heard, it is played on piano and violin at half tempo, illustrating how Daniel’s interference in Enzo’s plans have affected Enzo. As Daniel picks up the ball and runs into the street, we hear his theme transposed to a minor key, and the music builds to a climax as the car screeches to a halt, the music left hanging on an unresolved chord.

What will happen next?

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