Friday, September 14, 2018

Use Cimbalom to Signify Light-hearted London Crime Stories in Your Movie Soundtracks

Stumbled on this promo video for a new score from Benjamin Wallfisch for some upcoming movie that is apparently some sort of London-based caper movie.


Now I'm a big fan of Wallfisch's Blade Runner score so this is not a value judgement- but I couldn't help but notice WTF is a Cimbalom doing in that big band.

I mean I like big-band cimbalom playing as much as the next guy but it is truly a bizarre musical association that this instrument has come to signify "light-hearted-London-based-crime-capers."

Well maybe it's not THAT weird. It's perhaps meant to signify something even more specific: the general "violent-yet-devil-may-care-comedy-machismo" of a Guy Ritchie film. In fact we can trace this associative meaning of the Cimbalom directly back to Guy Ritchie's 2009 Sherlock Holmes - music by of course Hans Zimmer. I say "of course" because I don't know if Hans invents these things or not (can one "invent" a clich├ę?) but he certainly has a knack for latching-on and adopting these film-score trends right at the beginning (witness the debate over who invented the low-brass BWAAAAA or the "minor-thirds-on-low-strings-means-spies" clich├ęs- perhaps signifiers worthy of another post- but either way Hans or his disciples are always right on the forefront of these things).


This was picked-up either explicitly or subconsciously for the BBC Sherlock Holmes series (music by David Arnold and Michael Price). Now we had a modern setting of the Cimbalom in London crime stories.


Now let's be clear the Cimbalom has very little historical basis in Victorian London, although Dulcimer instruments are prevalent in various Celtic music traditions from the British Isles. In fact, its primary pre-Sherlock-Holmes association would be to that of various Gypsy-music traditions or other "folk musics," specifically and primarily out of Hungary and Central-Europe. I'm not sure a sophisticated Victorian like Sherlock Holmes would have ever heard the instrument.

I've been trying to find a precursor to the Zimmer use of the Cimbalom in a similar context. Any leads are welcome.

Meantime, watch this: