Soundtrack of my life: the best movie scores


If you have fallen into the same wormhole as me this week and indulged in some nostalgic sci-fi pulp, you will completely understand my revived obsession for the Netflix series Stranger Things. Having been fairly obsessed with the first season, it is perhaps academically dangerous that the new season has just been released, so in an attempt to get my fix while also working, I have been tuning in to the soundtrack as a background to essay writing. It has been while doing this that I have revitalised my love of movie and TV soundtracks, and in particular, using them to help me focus. They can be incredibly useful for creating the perfect working atmosphere, so this week I thought I would share some of my top recommendations for productive bingeing.

“Who can truly listen to ‘Circle of Life’ or ‘Hakuna Matata’ and not want to channel their inner Simba?”
First up, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s soundtrack for the superb movie The Social Network (2010). The score won a number of awards in its year of release, and for good reason. By combining experimental electronic sounds with a darkness and driving persistence, this soundtrack often has me at my most productive. There is something so chilling but also consistent about this soundtrack that it really hones in on your focus and tends to give me a sudden boost in concentration. In particular the second track, ‘In Motion’, goes fully 80s with a tireless synth beat gradually amping up and up as you keep listening, constantly adding to the layers with grating electric guitar and bizarre sound effects. For me, listening to this evokes an uncomfortable feeling, taking me so out of the comfort zone of my room that writing suddenly becomes a life or death situation.

Similarly, I have a particular soft spot for Bernard Herrmann’s jazz-driven score for the 70s cult classic, Taxi Driver. With a sultry saxophone melody and gritty jazz drum kit driving the pace, this soundtrack is able to both relax and put you on edge at the same time. After all, surely the perfect environment for essay-writing is also the image of yourself on the edge of breakdown, walking the mean and seedy streets of 1970s Los Angeles? Maybe not, but this soundtrack is definitely a great one for perfecting your inner Robert de Niro, ready to battle the corruption imposed on you by picky supervisors!

My next recommendation would definitely fall under the lighter realm of cinematic composition. James Newton Howard’s score for the spellbinding Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) is an utter gold mine for innovative composition and quirky melody. I absolutely adore the way this soundtrack drops you right into the Wizarding World with such a lush and magical sound mainly driven by Howard’s love for string scoring. Tracks such as ‘Tina Takes Newt In / Macusa Headquarters’ and ‘Inside the Case’ never fail to put a smile on my face as they paint an image of magic, New York at Christmas and Eddie Redmayne all at the same time! I mean really, what’s not to love? In the same vein, really any of the Harry Potter scores have a similar effect on me, perhaps tinged largely by an incredible sense of nostalgia from having grown up with the books, the films and the name Hermione! In my opinion, the score that offers the best variety of study music would have to be the fifth instalment, The Order of the Phoenix, composed by the brilliant Nicholas Hooper. The score has so many moments of comic relief and interest that truly bring the characters and situations to life. Probably the best example would be the bombastic and creepily chirpy tune he gives to Professor Umbridge, whom (spoiler!) we all know is an absolutely horrendous human being!

Likewise, a stroll down the Disney back catalogue provides the perfect light entertainment to stick on in the background while you tackle particularly difficult topics. It can transport you to a world where rats can cook, houses can be lifted by balloons and even your toys have a better social life! One of my definite favourites for creating an upbeat vibe would have to be Monsters, Inc., a largely jazz-driven score that will have you dancing rather than focusing on what you are writing! Although, if you were as freaked out by Randall as me, then you will equally find some of the tracks equally as menacing nowadays. So in retrospect, maybe keep this one to treat yourself in the numerous tea breaks I predict you will be taking through procrastination!

In the world of the internet, the musical forager is king
Finally, if you are really at the end of your tether with lack of motivation, look no further than The Lion King. I mean, who can truly listen to ‘Circle of Life’ or ‘Hakuna Matata’ and not want to shake out their mane and channel their inner Simba? When you feel like the queen or king of the jungle, work will no longer be an obstacle and you can waltz into your next lecture feeling like it is your kingdom. My challenge for the week is simply to allow yourself to enjoy studying a little more, turn up the music and transport yourself to another world! You may even find yourself being more creative than ever.



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