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3 Percent: A Look at the Theory Behind the Film Score

Synopsis

“3 Percent” is a story that chronicles the main character’s reconciliation with his past and future when given a grim 3-month prognosis from his doctor. He sets out on an amazing journey and makes bold decisions that lead him to evaluate the importance of his life.

 

Act I

Scene 1

After the introductory scene and main titles, the audience is introduced to an old man. This character appears sad and lonely but seems to have great purpose. To represent this musically, I composed a cue that primarily utilizes the aeolian mode. This sad-sounding mode, mixed with the subtle pulsing and swelling of the music underscores both the visual mood and underlying drama of the scene. Almost immediately listeners are presented with a hint of the main musical theme, which is played on a piano in a high register. The main theme is presented with a major tonality to foreshadow the triumphant ending, yet quickly turns minor.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-ThemeOnPiano.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Hint of Main Theme”]

3Percent-Doctor

 

In the doctor’s office, a middle-aged man sits anxiously as he hears his hopeless prognosis. The music slowly fades into a sad and contemplative musical theme. An abundant use of fourth voicings create an open sonority. As open string chords are sustained, the bass notes and melody change to affect the harmony. The use of suspended dominant chords and ionian melodies represent brief moments of hopefulness.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-Doctors.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Bad News”]

 

As the doctor begins offering a very slight glimmer of hope to the patient, the music morphs into shimmering chords, which are accomplished through interesting orchestration. A combination of violin harmonics, wide trills between fourths, viola tremolos, a minimal cello melody, and the lack of a low bass voice create an open, airy, and hopeful sound.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-Hopeful.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Hopefulness”]

 

This eventually explodes into an aggressive passage as the main character drives off. The music during the anger scene underscores the action. The anger music is mostly composed intervallically without regard to specific chords or tonalities. Tension and anger are controlled by using more dissonant or consonant intervals. Low string spiccato, abundant percussion, and synthesizers create the desired sonority.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-Angry.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Anger and Rage”]

 

 

Scene 2

As the main character enters his house, his emotional state shifts from anger to utter hopelessness. The music matches this shift as he parks his car and a hanging tennis ball taps his windshield. The visual cue of the tennis ball3Percent-Gun on the windshield sets the actual tempo of the proceeding musical cue. The original sad and lonely piano music from the beginning takes a slightly more ominous tone through the use of droning bass notes, which act to alter the harmony, and viola and cello chords that elicit a feeling of longing. At his desk it becomes clear that his intention is to kill himself. The music takes on a more uneasy and unsettled feel through the use of a synthetic scale.

The scale during this brief moment is built with a major tetrachord and a phrygian tetrachord connected by a whole step [E, F#, G#, A, B, C, D, E]. It can also be thought of as a mixolydian scale with a flat-6, or a minor scale with a natural-3. Supporting that scale is an A-minor chord in first inversion with the third on top alternating between ninth and third.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-GlobeScene.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Uneasy Feeling”]

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A more cautious yet uplifting musical section is cued by the introduction of low brass chords as the main character contemplates the globe on his desk. Soft and colorful jazz-inspired chords with a chromatic melody help to enforce and foreshadow the complex thought-reversal that is beginning to take place within the mind of the main character.

 

 

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-Jazzy.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Cautiously Uplifting”]

 

Scene 3

The movie now leaps forward several days in time. The audience learns that he did not kill himself and seems to have a renewed sense of purpose. After opening his mail for the day, the music helps reinforce the dramatic inner struggle of the main character as he decides whether or not to live out his last days in a foreign land. The suspense theme is scored with the a spiccato ostinato on cellos under sustained chords. Moments of visual and dramatic impact are accented with timpani and minor spread voicings in low brass.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-ImpactMoment.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Moment of Impact”]

 

The suspense scene culminates with a major moment of climax, a big reveal, which features a dramatic reinterpretation of the main musical theme with an ethnic flare, including authentic 3Percent-Mailethnic singing and instrumentation. The following scenes take place in Marrakech, Morocco and feature various modes of the melodic minor scale. Moroccan percussion instruments, such as the ceramic darbuka and ethnic shakers and tambourines help set the mood of the frenzied open-markets of Marrakech.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-BigReveal.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – The Big Reveal”]

 

Act II

Scene 1

After the main character faints from the hookah and wakes up in a taxicab, the visuals feature majestic mountains. A descending phrygian melody in cellos, basses, and french horns scored under lydian string chords, woodwind flourishes, and brass spread voicings creates a feel of majesty without sounding overly bright and happy.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-Majestic.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Majestic Desert”]

 

The desert scenes are scored in a similarly poly-modal manner, but more subdued. The descending melody from the majestic theme is drawn out and doubles as a bass line, which constantly shifts the harmony around a central pedal point in the violas. The result is perceived harmonic movement and implied melodies even though the harmony remains static for nearly 32 measures.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-RoamingDesert.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Roaming the Desert”]

3Percent-StayBehind

Scene 2

Eventually, the main character is overcome with loneliness. This emotional change is scored with a reprise of the opening sad theme. The loneliness soon turns into despair as the main character orchestrates his plan to commit suicide in the desert. The desperation theme features a lyrical melody in the aeolian mode while the underlying chords move by thirds to allow for easy transitions to and from major and minor tonalities. However, large portions of the sad theme are based on the ionian mode, which seems to contradict its innate pathos. However through orchestration and detailed expressive treatment of the melody and accompaniment, a sad melancholy prevails despite the use of the otherwise happy-sounding mode.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-Sad.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Sad, Lonesome Theme”]

 

As the main character weakens, the music takes on a heavier and more trudging feel. Much of the uneasiness stems from another synthetic scale consisting of two harmonic tetrachords connected by a whole note [E, F, G#, A, B, C, D#]. This synthetic scale is most prominently heard on piano, where its many half-steps seem to evade all resolution.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-Falling.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Weakening”]

 

 

Scene 3

Open voicings and lean orchestration of various major and minor chords give the feeling of waking up after having thought he had died.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-Awakening.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Weakening”]

An uplifting theme is finally presented 3Percent2through the use of strictly lydian chords and melodies, which offer a purely happy and optimistic feel. Finally, the main musical theme is presented in one last dramatic flare before vamping a contemplative reprise of previous material during the end credits.

Listen

[audio:”http://www.kevinstahlmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/3Percent-FinalTheme.mp3″ title:”3 Percent – Final Theme”]

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