Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Music of Other Spheres: Diagonal Time and Metaphysics in Lost

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Music of Other Spheres: Diagonal Time and Metaphysics in Lost

Article excerpt

Every episode of Lost (2004-2010) starts with a 'cold open' into a seemingly unconnected series of events on the island and in the lives of the castaways outside it. These openings disturb the chronology and causality established in former episodes; as the confusion builds to a maximum there is a smash cut to a black screen and the letters 'LOST' zooming diagonally through space, accompanied by an upward glissando violin motif. These few bars of music are a very powerful auditory marker of Lost's theme of alienation caused by geographical and chronological, as well as social and affective, dislocation. So powerful are its workings that it has become the musical signature of the series, employed by its makers throughout every episode whenever the undefined 'other sphere' of the island and its powers are implied. This article investigates the function of the glissando within the diegesis of Lost and its philosophical implications. How can one or two bars of music create such a strong impression of otherworldliness, even of opening a gateway into that other world? And how does the alternate reality in both series relate to that evoked by the music? How can the relationship between this motif and the visuals it accompanies be understood on the levels of ontology and metaphysics that the series explores?

Lost in music

Lost raises many questions and answers but few. With philosophers' names such as John Locke, Desmond David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau appearing as character names, major psychological topoi such as Othering and ethical dilemmas such as torture as recurrent themes, the metaphysics of Lost have been theorised heavily in both academic debate and popular imagination.1 Why is this group of people on the island? Who are the Others and what do they signify? What are those numbers? Is Jacob a version of God (the DVD cover of season three shows a note saying 'Jacob loves you')? What is the smoke monster, and what is Locke's relationship to it? What's with Richard? I don't have the answers, nor do I think that answers are the issue here. Just like Twin Peaks (1990-1991) and The X-Files, Lost revolves around unsolvable mysteries, provoking questions without offering answers (cf. Pearson, 'Introduction' 2). Moreover, just as in those series, the soundtrack to Lost is instrumental to the process of questioning.

The music that Michael Giacchino composed for Lost is to a certain extent rather standard in its functions and design. It characterises emotions and moods, providing an affective comment on plot events; an example is the melancholy piano melody appearing when someone is lonely or when there is romance in the air. Classic 'Mickey Mousing' (musical depiction of on-screen action, as in cartoons) underlines actions, emphasising and increasing narrative excitement through hurried melodies and up-tempo percussion as people run through the jungle. The Lost soundtrack also provides musical indications of genre: the timbre and rhythm of the ever-present Latin, Asian and African percussion are clearly meant to stir exotic connotations and thus to reinforce the fantasy aspect of the series, while gongs, metallic sounds and white noise are musical genre conventions from sf. The most remarkable parts of the soundtrack, however, are unique to Lost: the pervasive use of suspenseful crescendos and alienating glissandos not only make Giacchino's music stand out from other TV scores in the genre but also ensure that the series' main themes hook themselves into the viewer's ear as musical reminders of unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries. In the closing theme many of these aspects of the Lost soundtrack, and thereby the characterisation of the show, come together: the lively drums that build up the rhythmical basis and 'exotic' mood of the track are interspersed with a single meandering string melody, and both gradually dissolve into a very long upward glissando towards the end of the piece.

So what is a glissando? …

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