Diegetic Music, Non-Diegetic Music, and “Source Scoring” — 9 Comments

  1. Another example of “source scoring” might be when a radio is playing a melody in the film, perhaps at the beginning of a relationship, and then the non-diegetic film soundtrack orchestrates that tune from the radio to further suggest a developing relationship. Also, in “Words and Music” we see Dick Rodgers at the piano singing “With a Song in My Heart” and then it is orchestrated non-diegetically to following Dick around Manhattan with his new love, showing them eating ice creams, having fun and falling in love. It develops that idea of the radio, I mentioned in my first comment, only it’s Dick Rodgers singing at the piano with the Fiener girl (first name forgotten) sitting next to him. So, there is a THIRD WAY in film scoring!

  2. Indeed, Sue. In his book, The American Film Musical, Rick Altman refers to this very scene from Words and Music, and describes the phenomenon as an “audio dissolve” (a great term). He goes on to say that the audio dissolve here “passes out of the limited context of a story about Rodgers and Hart and into that mythical realm of the classic song, with its power to jar our memories and remind us of good times past.” The famous scene in Casablanca where Rick hears Sam play “As Time Goes By” and slips into a flashback of Paris is another example of the audio dissolve. It seems to heighten the unreal aspect of whatever is happening on screen and draw us further into the fictional world of the film.

  3. I will buy that book, The American Film Musical!! Thanks for the reference. I, too, think the term “audio dissolve” is a very good one and the idea that, in this particular case, the song “With A Song in My Heart” has wider implications for an audience linking the song itself to memory is an interesting idea. It’s as though the film is ‘commenting upon’ the cultural meaning of the song beyond the time depicted in the film’s narrative about its composition. A very post-modern idea!!!

  4. Seems source scoring happens more with the use of popular songs in films these days, most popular use is playing the song as non-diegetic, then later on the change the sonic quality to suggest that the music comes from a radio etc. But orchestral music can push “source scoring” much further. The first example comes to my mind is Zimmer’s SH:a game of shadow (again..Mark), Mozart’s Don Giovanni is playing in opera house hence it is source music, yet the arrangement of the music is much more dramatic, then Mozart’s music joins with zimmer’s dark progressive score and push it to a climax, great scene.

  5. Yeah excellent thread, really helpful. I wanted to ask in good morning Vietnam, at around 1.27.50 robin Williams introduces the track ‘what a wonderful world’ but it then is just playing depicting the Vietnam war as non-diegetic music, is this source scoring ? and have you got anymore example at all ? many thanks

    • @ Eammon. Yes, the scene you cite in Good Morning Vietnam is a great example of source scoring since it clearly starts as diegetic music (Robin Williams announcing the song on screen), then serves to accompany the montage that follows, which notably has no other sound but the music (in typical montage style).

      Kassabian mentions some other examples, for instance one of the last sequences in Mississippi Masala, where harmonica music is heard, seemingly as non-diegetic music, but then established as source music when we see the harmonica player. Another example she cites is in Moonstruck, where, much like Good Morning Vietnam, Loretta is preparing for an outing to the opera and turns on the radio, which then accompanies several dissolves much like non-diegetic music. Finally, she also cites the final scene of Star Wars, where the medal ceremony is accompanied by the march music, but could be either diegetic or non-diegetic music, or somewhere in between as source scoring.

  6. Another example of this is in the film Children of Men, when Theo (Clive Owen) is riding in his cousin’s Rolls Royce with “The Court of the Crimson King” playing strongly over the top. As the car ride progresses, diegetic sounds start to bleed through the song. Then the car pulls into the garage at the Ark of the Arts and the song is playing over a loudspeaker in the garage. When Theo gets into his cousin’s living space and is looking up at the statue of David, the song is barely audible, playing high over the scene (but it sounds to me like it’s coming from speakers in the scene).

  7. A fine parody of source scoring is in the Mel Brooks film, ‘Blazing Saddles’. A scene set in the desert with the Black sheriff riding towards the town of racists has a jazz score which, after a short while, is revealed as being played out there in the desert by the Count Basie Orchestra.

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