The Morning News

Watching Video Digest: February 22, 2008

Occasionally we invite guests to edit the weekly Digests. This week, we’re happy to be visited by Jad Abumrad, host and producer of perhaps the most innovative show on radio these days, Radio Lab on WNYC.

Radio Lab is the winner of the 2007 National Academy of Sciences Communications Award and was selected by iTunes as one of the Best Podcasts of 2007. In addition to the Lab, Jad hosted and produced “The Ring & I,” a thrilling documentary that investigates the passion and delirium Wagner’s Ring Cycle inspires, and hosted WNYC’s live coverage of Bjork’s sold-out concert at the United Palace in May, 2007. Season Four of Radio Lab debuts today, February 22, and is available for on-demand listening and pocasting and at

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Jad here, from Radio Lab.

I’m totally addicted to movie music. Everything from ‘60s B-movie sci-fi to dreamy modern electro-ambient. ‘Cause a good movie soundtrack is like crack for the emotional mind. Once upon a time, I used to write music for films. Didn’t quite work out. Now I do radio. But I hope some of that movie-ness comes through in Radio Lab. Maybe? In any case, since the Oscars are upon us, I’d like to use this Video Digest to stick some movie music in your earholes.

If the promise of movies is to be swept away, to see 30-foot-tall celluloid giants experiencing the very same emotions we hold in our tiny little breasts, then Bernard Hermann is the Zeus of film music!

This “rooftop prelude” puts me in a dream state instantly.

No one I know has seen this movie, but damn, the first scene is one of the greatest movie moments ever!

The movie begins with an extended Tarkosvy-esque shot of a jogger running through snowy Central Park at dusk. He run run runs, then stops, kneels over, and dies.

I sometimes listen to this music while running and imagine The End.

We of course ruthlessly stole this music for our Radio Lab promos. But then that HBO show about Mormons stole it too…thieves!

The original music is by Alexandre Desplat, who was previously nominated for his soundtrack for The Queen).

If you ever want an illustration of how music can take a so-so movie and make it sublime, check out this scene from the Steven Soderberg 2002 remake of Solaris. Sleep Senor Jorge, Sleep.

John Zorn
If Bernard Hermann is Zeus, John Zorn is Ares, God of War. Vain, cruel, brilliant. I particularly like Zorn’s film music for Japanese porn and S&M films. Some of the tracks have catchy titles like “elegant spanking,” and he uses lots of pitched percussion, like vibes and woodblock. Always a plus in my book. More porn composers should utilize the woodblock.

Modesty prevents me from sending the YouTube I really have in mind, so here’s another: A noise-improvisation between Zorn, Mike Patton, and Ikue Mori, called “Hemophiliac” (set to video).

Adolph Deutsch
All the emotions are so on the surface. Happiness. Rage. Melancholy. Joy! Intrigue. One after the other, rapid-fire. Not unlike how emotions happen in your head—one second, you’re walking down the street, thinking “Ahh, what a beautiful day!” and the next, someone cuts you off and you think “Kill! Blood!”

Now, speaking of blood…

Johnny Greenwood
There Will Be Blood. In the first scene, the camera lingers on forbidding desert hills while the dissonant strings screech away in the background. It’s like the hills already know there will be blood. I saw the movie when I had a bad sinus cold and the strings were downright painful. (Check out Greenwood in concert, hosted by yours truly.)

For further listening
Check out Bernard Hermann’s Psycho, Alexandre Desplat’s Syriana, John Zorn’s Film Works series (any volume, though Vol. II is particularly good), Gustavo Santaolalla’s Amoros Perros and Motorcycle Diaries, and Amy Domingue’s The Weather Underground.


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