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Singin’ in the Rain as an Example of Soundtrack Dissonance

Introduction

Every movie is associated with a specific piece of music in the viewers’ minds. It may play during the pivotal moment in the film, signify a character’s appearance, or warn the spectators that something nefarious is about to occur. A soundtrack is a powerful tool for setting up the atmosphere of the scene, and many viewers rely on it to guess what happens next. However, sometimes a director decides to use this to their advantage and trick the viewers by using a composition that contrasts the on-screen events. The song Singin’ in the Rain in A Clockwork Orange is an example of this technique as its upbeat delivery and lyrics sharply juxtapose the visual component. Schirrmacher (34) points out that the use of the song creates attitudinal ambivalence, evoking conflicting emotions in the viewers. Overall, Singin’ in the Rain in A Clockwork Orange is an example of soundtrack dissonance because of the association with its original use, lyrics, key, tempo, delivery, and the context of the scene for which it is employed.

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Singin’ in the Rain as a Soundtrack Dissonance

Before starting the discussion on the controversial usage of the song in A Clockwork Orange, it is crucial to define soundtrack dissonance. The technique can be described as setting a composition “that greatly contrasts the visual subject or activity” (Babiolakis). Thus, music considered pleasant, upbeat, and optimistic is often employed as background for settings in which horrifying, traumatic, or morally questionable events occur. In Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of Anthony Burgess’ infamous novel, Singin’ in the Rain is performed by the protagonist, Alex, when his teenage gang invades a couple’s home, robs and assaults them (Kubrick). During this scene, the gang also sexually assaults the wife, who later dies, while her husband is disabled (Kubrick). Although there are several violent beatings and sexual assaults depicted in the movie, the home invasion is considered the most disturbing, in part, because of Alex’s spirited cappella performance of Singin’ in the Rain.

The original performance of the song in the musical of the same name enhances the conflict between the composition and events of the scene in Kubrick’s work. Gene Kelly made Singin’ in the Rain extremely popular, and it is associated primarily with his lively performance. The use of the tune creates attitudinal ambivalence as the viewers feel compelled to enjoy the tune they know but are disturbed by the events taking place on the screen (Schirrmacher 34). According to Schirrmacher (34), Alex’s rendition “opens up for a conflict with our auditory memory of the musical.” Furthermore, as the protagonist sings a capella, the instrumentalization is replaced by the sounds of the couple’s struggles and gang’s cheers, adding to the contrast between the original and the movie’s versions (Schirrmacher 34). Thus, the previous knowledge of the song and the upbeat performance of the protagonist adds to a dissonance experienced by the moviegoers.

The key and tempo of Singin’ in the Rain are other contributing factors of the dissonance of the musical piece with the events of the scene. The piece is performed in F major that is primarily associated with positive emotions. According to Isbilen and Krumhansl (158), F major has the following emotional connotations: it is strong, calm, positive, happy, and is considered to be an overall lively key. Listeners are compelled to experience overwhelmingly positive feelings when listening to the song. Those emotions are evoked even in the discussed scene, despite the visual element inducing an adverse emotional reaction. The tempo also contributes to the listeners experiencing positive emotions. At 127 beats per minute, the song has high valance and high arousal, translating into such positive emotions as happiness and amusement, and arouses a generally pleasant feeling ( 12). Thus, Alex’s interpretation of Singin’ in the Rain contributes to the scene evoking conflicting responses from the viewers who enjoy the auditory component but not the visual one.

The composition’s lyrics are another important factor that should be considered when discussing the stark contrast between the home invasion scene’s musical and visual components. The lines Alex performs include “What a glorious feelin’, I’m happy again” and “I’ve a smile on my face” (Kubrick). For audience members, the song’s lyrics are linked to a happy occurrence, setting another contrast with the actions on the screen. The original version encompasses the idea of overcoming difficulties and finding a way to enjoy life. Setting sexual assault to the song with this meaning induces a highly negative emotional response from the audience, even though the verse itself provokes a positive one. Overall, as the piece is performed without accompaniment, the lyrics contribute significantly to the viewers’ conflicting reactions.

Conclusion

The performance of Singin’ in the Rain in the home invasion scene in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is the epitome of soundtrack dissonance. The previous experience of the song and its optimistic lyrics set a stark contrast with on-screen events, with Alex’s energetic performance adding to the conflict. The key and tempo in which the song is performed evoke an overall positive emotional response from the audience while the visual elements of the scene prompt a negative reaction. Further research on the topic can examine the effect of the composition’s form, its dynamics, and its rhythmic makeup on the listeners’ mood.

Works Cited

A Clockwork Orange. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Warner Brothers, 1971.

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Babiolakis, Andreas. “The Power of Soundtrack Dissonance.” Films Fatale, 2019, Web.

Fernández-Sotos, Alicia, et al. “Influence of Tempo and Rhythmic Unit in Musical Emotion Regulation.” Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, vol. 10, 2016, pp. 1-13.

Isbilen, Erin S., and Carol L. Krumhansl. “The color of music: Emotion-mediated associations to Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier.” Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, vol. 26, no. 2, 2016, pp. 149-161.

Schirrmacher, Beate. “The Transmediation of Ambivalence. Violence and Music in Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and Kubrick’s Film Adaptation.” Ekphrasis. Images, Cinema, Theory, Media, vol. 22, no. 2, 2019, pp. 26-40.

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StudyCorgi. "Singin’ in the Rain as an Example of Soundtrack Dissonance." July 26, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/singin-in-the-rain-as-an-example-of-soundtrack-dissonance/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Singin’ in the Rain as an Example of Soundtrack Dissonance." July 26, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/singin-in-the-rain-as-an-example-of-soundtrack-dissonance/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Singin’ in the Rain as an Example of Soundtrack Dissonance'. 26 July.

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