Music as a Source of Narrative in HBO’s Westworld

Reading Westworld, Palgrave Macmillan

Reading Westworld, Palgrave Macmillan

Thrilled to have delivered a chapter  for Reading Westworld, a book on the HBO Series, edited by Antonia Mackay and Alex Goody, published by Palgrave Macmillan  in July 2019. It’s on Google Books, now.

My piece is on the use of music and sound design in the show, and specifically how composer Ramin Djawadi’s score for Westworld made use of both original music and a number of instrumental covers from an array of artists that included Soundgarden, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Amy Winehouse, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure and Radiohead. Each of these musical cues, described by Djawadi as “piano reductions”, was transcribed onto perforated paper rolls by specialists Gnaw-Vol-ty Music Rolls and rendered diegetically by a player piano situated within Sweetwater’s Mariposa Saloon, a central location of Westworld’s theme park.

The player piano serves as a part of Westworld’s title design and has been described by the show’s creators as a “touchstone image”  in thatWestworld-Player-Piano-Soundtrack-Release it reflects the core themes of the narrative. The piano serves as metaphor for the shadow of human control over the park’s robotic ‘hosts’, and the desire of the park’s creator for these robotic inhabitants to break free of their programming in order to reach self-actualisation and sentience. of cinema, literature, mythology, theology and fine art.

For the piece, I’ve interviewed the show’s producer Stephen Semel, music editor Chris Kaller and co-creator/showrunner Jonah Nolan.

About Kingsley Marshall

Dr Kingsley Marshall is a film composer, producer and academic. Head of Film & Television at the CILECT accredited School of Film & Television based within Falmouth University in the UK, the subject area consists of 25 staff working with 500 undergraduates, supplemented by a postgraduate community studying from MA level through to PhD. Kingsley’s research and practice primarily orientates around the use of sound (including music and effects) in cinema and television, and the production of short and micro-budget feature films. He executive produced Wilderness (Director: Justin John Doherty, 2017) which won 13 awards at international film festivals since making its premiere at Cinequest, and Mr Whippy (Director: Rachna Suri, 2019). In 2018 he co-produced with Neil Fox the short literary adaptation Backwoods (Director: Ryan Mackfall, 2019), premiering in Portland, Orgeon and winning the HP Lovecraft award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. More recently, Kingsley recently completed the score as composer on a film project - Hard, Cracked the Wind - with director Mark Jenkin and production company Early Day Films. The film premiered at Encounters Film Festival in September 2019, and has since played festivals across the world including New York Film Festival. For over twenty years he has worked as a journalist, interviewing filmmakers, musicians, and designers for over 30 publications and broadcasters worldwide, written album sleeve notes and biographies for over 100 artists, and contributed to anthologies on hip hop and soul. He can be found on Twitter as @kingsleydc