I WISH I’D DONE THAT: MICHIEL MARSMAN
There is music that stays deep beneath its story. And music that stories ride on. Often that is music for our most primal emotion, fear. Marsman’s job is to make music thrill for agencies, brands and listeners. But what he wishes he’d made the most is the gold standard for inspiring a different emotion, not delight – but horror and dread.
Here is the work that Michiel Marsman, executive creative director at Sizzer, wishes he’d done.
What I wish I’d made most is an iconic example of the power of music to drive drama in film. This piece taught me a lot about music and creativity – in my work in the ad industry and beyond.
It’s György Ligeti’s Musica ricercata, second cycle in the score from Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick in 1999.
When I first saw the scene and heard the music, I was blown away. I thought, “Oh my god, this is what I want.” What I love about this piece is its boldness – it’s so extreme, minimal, yet dark and powerful. It shows how much you can do with just a few single notes. Every one of them lands just right. That takes true mastery. It’s this totally monotone melody – it’s barely a melody at all… It’s almost non-music. You couldn’t sing along to this joyfully.
I don’t know if it’s true, but I heard that this piece by Ligeti was originally composed as a protest against Stalin. So, it has something dangerous and bold in its DNA. Perhaps that’s why Kubrick used a lot of Ligeti’s stuff in his other films, The Shining and 2001. But this one is special. For me, it really sounds like a serial killer or even Frankenstein’s monster sitting behind the piano. It has that unhinged quality, which is what makes it so unique.
As someone who creates music for film, I can say this is an excellent example of combining picture and music. It’s a perfect case of 1+1=3.
You could have used a more traditionally tense score and it would be a decent scene, but this music gives it such an edge: so much danger. You feel there’s so much more behind the scene than all you’re seeing. It’s very strong.
Of course, when I’m writing music for ads it doesn’t usually sound quite like this…
But it always really inspires me to make bold choices. And not to be afraid.
As a director, Kubrick – like most of the best directors – was very bold in his decisions. Of course, the downside of that was that he was kind of an asshole, like in 2001 when the original composer turned up to the première to see his score had been entirely replaced.
But, still, it’s important to dare – and to keep it very raw and powerful. No compromise.
This track began as something totally unconventional. But since then, it has become the gold standard for horror music. You also hear this kind of technique in trailers a lot now – this high ‘ping’ for tension. People are stealing it all the time. As Stravinsky says, you can steal, but don’t imitate.
It all goes to show that originality wins out, even when an idea might seem deranged. For example, in the ad music world, it’s better to create something new than to try to change a cool piece into something else.
Let’s say you made a loud rock track, but your client’s feedback is that they don’t like guitars (for whatever reason). Don’t just replace the guitars with other instruments – rock is rock, after all. In these cases, it’s much better to go back to the drawing board instead of ending up with a little Frankenstein. What’s key is to be bold, rather than to be safe – otherwise you end up with a real monster, and a much less gripping one than the madman behind Ligeti’s piano.