When we look back on the music in movies and television of 2016, we'll no doubt remember the evocative player piano of Westworld and the jazzy musical interludes of La La Land. As of today, both soundtracks are available to stream on Spotify and buy on iTunes and other transactional platforms. Warning: mild Westworld spoilers below.
Ramin Djawadi, who composed Westworld's themes and player piano soundtracks, trained under Hans Zimmer before moving on to create some of the most iconic modern compositions, such as the Game of Thrones theme. The newly-released soundtrack includes his recurring original tracks, such as Sweetwater andThis World. It also features Debussy's Reverie, an important musical cue for the story that plays every time a host experiences Ford's contentious "Reverie" programming, which causes the onset of a dreamlike consciousness.
Though classical, the player piano songs seem to have been chosen for the original song's lyrics. Amy Winehouse sings "I died a hundred times / You go back to her / I go back to black" in Back to Black; it's almost as if she had written those lyrics about Dolores and young William.
Radiohead also figures largely in Season 1 of Westworld with four player piano pieces. In Fake Plastic Trees, the lyrics "She looks like the real thing / She tastes like the real thing / My fake plastic love" again calls to mind William's infatuation with Dolores. In No Surprises, the lyrics "A job that slowly kills you...You look so tired, unhappy / Bring down the government / They don't, they don't speak for us / This is my final fit" presage the host uprising. Finally, in Motion Picture Soundtrack, the lyrics "They fed us on little white lies / I think you're crazy, maybe / I will see you in the next life" conjure Maeve's inner life as she slowly recognizes her reality.
"[The player piano] just comes out of nowhere and you don’t expect it at all," Djawadi told Pitchfork. "You see the settings and the way people are dressed and even though you know it’s robots and it’s all made to be modern entertainment, you would think the people in control would make everything authentic...And when it’s not, it’s that subtle reminder that, ‘Wait, there is something not right. This is not real.’ It’s just such a powerful tool that only music can do."
La La Land
Justin Hurwitz is a frequent Damien Chazelle collaborator; the composer worked with the director on his debut film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, and more recently, the Oscar-winning Whiplash. His jazzy La La Land score got us hooked as early as the film's trailer, which featured the catchy track City of Stars.
"One of my biggest challenges with the music," Hurwitz told Pop Matters, "was making sure that I was inspired by older musicals, but at the same time making sure the songs don’t feel like they were actually written in the ‘50s or ‘60s or ‘40s. We take certain approaches that were taken back then. All of the music is orchestral, and there’s nothing electronic outside of the one pop song in the movie. It’s an old approach that brings a warmth to the songs."