Silence and Soundtracks

Ambient Music, The Easy Way

This week, someone took John Williams’ “Theme From Jurassic Park” and made it about 16 times longer using a free audio program called Paulstretch. It went viral with about 400,000 listens over the last four days. Why? Because it sounds like an atmospheric masterpiece. Here, take a listen:

This “song” is getting a lot of attention because it takes such a well-known theme and not only changes it, but transforms it into something specific that people can still identify with. I see a lot of comparisons being made to ambient and post-rock music, particularly Icelandic band Sigur Rós and electronic composer Vangelis… which I guess makes sense, considering these two artists are some of the most recognizable names in what are otherwise very obscure genres.

For those who are unfamiliar with post-rock, it’s a genre of music that uses traditional rock instruments in very untraditional ways. Guitars are played more for texture and color instead of riffs and power chords. Vocals are almost never used at all, except as another instrumental sound. Similarly, ambient music focuses on creating mood and atmosphere through the timbre of its sounds, using extended chords and drones instead of melody and rhythm. So there’s a reason why people are attributing these genres to this song.

It seems like cheating to me, though. Here we have a piece of music with no clear “artist.” Even though it’s almost an hour long, you can still recognize the original theme — which is pretty cool — but you can’t really say that John Williams composed this ambient symphony. The actual manipulation of the song was done automatically with Paulstretch, at the click of a button, so there’s no real creative work there either. It’s a weird, derivative work of art that seems like it never went through any sort of artistic process at all!

What do you think about all of this? Was there any creativity involved here? How do you critique and evaluate this kind of music?

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