What I’m Listening To: Jo Blankenburg – Vendetta

Written By Simon Chisholm

Whether we realise it or not, the music accompanying motion picture has a profound influence on the effect towards an audience. The same applies to teaser trailers of films. I find that movie trailers are just as enjoyable, if not more so than the film itself. It’s easy to contribute the suspense, excitement, emotion felt during the viewing of a trailer to the music. Without the music, it would be a quiet, confusing, not altogether exciting experience. Jo Blankenburg’s ‘Vendetta’ is a collection of tracks two to three minutes in length designed for use in trailers.

In movies and their trailers music is used to set the tone. Whether it is suspense, excitement, sadness, or any of thousands of emotions. The music is not only there to fill the gaps between the dialogue, it will take the place of a narrator, render dialogue inappropriate, act in a manner more powerful than any combination of words. All the while, the soundtrack will go unnoticed, in the background like a breeze through the trees behind the subject. Music is emotion. Music is powerful.

It goes almost without saying that composing music is not an easy, simple process. Writing for motion picture is the Holy Grail of composers.

Jo Blankenburg is a skilled composer and has contributed works to independent and major films. Some include: the trailer for ‘How To Train Your Dragon’; throughout TV series ‘Flash Forward’; ‘Wolfman’ trailer; as well as fashion events and independent films (that can be found on his website http://www.joblankenburg.com/)

‘Vendetta’ is another fantastic release from Jo, showcasing his desire to make an audience feel and experience through music. After enjoying his piano works on ‘The Feather Dance’ for many months, it is a thrill to be able to experience his orchestral composing. 

These tracks are big. I use the word ‘big’ referring to the texture, the sound of each instrument, and the sound stage created by the stereo mix. Imagine a large concert hall, fill the stage with an orchestra, the balcony with a choir and put a rock band in front of the unused orchestra pit. It sounds bigger than that.

In using the whole orchestra, it has allowed for a very thick texture, utilising contrasting timbres of strings, brass, woodwind, percussion and voice. In addition, playing into a trend I’ve noticed in motion pictures, Jo has made use of rock band elements in his orchestrations. These elements such as distorted guitar and rock drums add intensity to the sound. By increasing the texture of the composition with contrasting instrumentation the piece becomes a lot ‘bigger’ filling the room. It is epic, so much so that it increases your heartbeat at times.

While the overall effect is mind-blowing, we must also focus out listening and take note of the individual elements. We hear that the strings sound absolutely beautiful, creating a silk bed on which to lay the composition, they are moving, like the swaying of the ocean. On top the strings sit the bass and wind sections, supplying intense and stirring melodies and harmonies.  On top, the choir passages give a human element at times carrying the melody, at others supplying harmonies. The voices are slightly transparent, but with enough body to carve their way through each track.

A structural formula arises, whether based on the progression of a film trailer I know not. We hear first an introduction that sets the tone, and then the full texture enters as if there has been a complication on the story, which builds up and moves through a change then a resolution, with a return to the original theme. Highlighting that fact that a three-minute piece for a trailer can easily tell a story the same as an hour-long film.

I like Jo’s use of theme and variation, as well as the use of countermelodies over the themes. The variations and counter melodies are key in building the signature texture present on this album.

The stand out track for me is ‘Lament For Cherubin’. The elements that make this track stand out for me include the single string parts, the sound of the piano, the moving and stirring chord structure carried by the strings and the way tone is built throughout the piece.

In movie trailers we are drawn in to the story through the music, which instils in us curiosity in the suspense in the unknown. This album of trailer music composed by Jo Blankenberg is a testament to film composers everywhere. Kudos to Mr Blankenburg and best of luck in your career as a composer. Keep it coming!

Released by Position Music in 2011.

Extra Credit: ‘Planet Earth Forever’ from ‘The Feather Dance’

What I’m Listening To: Jo Blankenburg – Vendetta

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