Feb 26, 2009


Last year, I had a debate with the director of a theater group about the usage of popular music in original work - she made the statement that when creating an original work you should also exclusively use original music, or it's like cheating. I disagreed. I am a huge believer in utilizing other sources - sonic or otherwise - as points of departure, and pop music has been incredibly idea generating for me. All the plays I have staged have featured pop music in key ways. Think about it: Where would Wes Anderson or Sofia Coppola be without their soundtracks? Both of these directors use mostly pre-existing songs and they do it well, although both have also commissioned new (largely instrumental, although not exclusively) music as well, something I hope to one day have the luxury of doing.

I attended an early showing of some friends' theater piece last night, and their usage of a particular pop song made me think about this issue. The song in question is both incredibly popular and itself uses a pre-existing riff from another popular band, making it doubly referential. The song has already been used in film and TV soundtracks. Plus, it's a dance song, and its usage in this piece was almost transitional, therefore diminishing the "set piece" potential of such a good track. I think it's important to make really informed choices when you are borrowing, per se - know the history, the past usage, the cultural reverberations. Because any preexisting connotations are going to be conjured for an audience, thereby associating those other sources with your work and potentially distracting from where you are going with it. In this instance, I felt distracted, and it made me doubt the deliberateness of the particular musical choice, thinking maybe they had been simply seduced by the song itself. It is an interesting issue, though...

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