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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume I Taking the Red Pill: An Analysis of Don Davis' Score for The Matrix Volume II Dracula: A Ballet in Two Acts

  • Author(s): Heckman, Christopher James
  • Advisor(s): Krouse, Ian
  • et al.

Many of today’s film composers are either oblivious or indifferent to the styles and techniques of concert music throughout much of the twentieth century. Composers throughout the Romantic era aspired to express feelings and emotions in music, giving rise to program music and storytelling through music, all of which translated directly into the early film scores of the 1930s. Throughout the twentieth century, music in the concert world was moving in a vastly different direction, away from the expression of emotion or storytelling. But those film composers who came from the concert world recognized that all music, even the most experimental and dissonant, can have emotional effect, particularly when paired with visual imagery. Don Davis’ score for The Matrix is, to date, the ultimate example of this - a mixture of multiple twentieth-century styles and techniques used for emotional intent and storytelling.

The purpose of Volume I is to thoroughly catalogue and analyze every compositional element that Davis uses in his score, and to briefly describe the origins of these elements including how Davis utilizes them to accompany the film. This analysis will present an in-depth explanation of Davis’ use of leitmotifs, harmony, tonal sets, bitonality, rhythm, orchestration, unusual percussion, extended techniques for piano, electronic instrumentation including synthesizers and samplers, musique concr�te, “fantasy” exoticism, and textures that utilize minimalism, aleatory, and twelve-tone technique. I hope that film composers who read this dissertation monograph will be inspired by Davis’ example to investigate concert music of the twentieth century and beyond, so that they too may find creative ways to utilize new styles and techniques to convey feelings and tell stories in their own film scores, further bridging the gap between film music and concert music.

Volume II features an original ballet score somewhat in the spirit of Davis’ ideas in The Matrix, often using techniques from twentieth-century concert music. Supplementary materials include a video performance of the ballet, performed by the Winston Salem Festival Ballet in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

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