The Secret to Westworld’s Success: Music.
HBO’s new hit series, Westworld, has been regarded as one of the best shows to hit the network since Game of Thrones. With its amazing filmography, top-notch acting (Anthony Hopkins anyone?), and intricate storyline, this series can almost do no wrong. However, one of the most remarkable parts of the show is a factor that is often overlooked in a TV Series: The music.
Ramin Dijawadi, the show’s spectacular composer, was able to weave old-timey piano music, contemporary hits, and classical scoring to create a truly outstanding experience for the audience. Teaming up with the screenwriter Jonathan Nolan allowed the duo to use the music for both aesthetic pleasure, as well as provide some very interesting supplementary hints to the show’s plot.
The Player Piano
One of the most immediately striking features of Westworld’s music is its use of the player piano. This concept works with the show on a number of levels. Perhaps most obvious is the player piano’s connection with the robotic concept so prevalent in the show. Dijawadi utilizes the classic Western sound of this old piano, which plays contemporary music by bands like Radiohead, Soundgarden, and the Rolling Stones. This has the fantastic effect of reorienting the audience to the fact that the show indeed takes place in modern/future times, and not the era of old.
While the contemporary music might serve the simple purpose of reminding viewers of the true setting in the show, it also has a secondary intention. Dijawadi and Nolan clearly put some thought into both the content/titles of the songs they used, and use them to relate to the plot of the show. Here are a couple examples of how the player piano music ties directly into the show:
Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden
This is one of the first player piano songs we hear in the show. This song is instantly recognizable to a majority of viewers, which is part of what makes it so striking. The first episode is also when we are introduced to the character known as the “Man in Black” (Ed Harris). This is a clear tie-in to Harris’ character. (This episode also features the songs Paint It Black, and Ain’t no Grave by Johnny Cash, A.K.A. The Man In Black).
Back to Black – Amy Winehouse
Besides also containing the word Black, this song also contains lyrical relevance to one of the show’s main characters – Maeve. With lyrics like “I’ve died a hundred times”, and “Me and my head high/My tears dry”, they play intricately with Maeve’s complicated situation in the show.
Here is a great Pitchfork interview with the Ramin Dijawadi where he talks about the show’s music in more detail.
Connection with Classical Music
“An old friend once told me something that gave me great comfort. Something he read. He said Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin never died. They simply became music.” ~Robert Ford
In Westworld’s music, there are also a number of references to classical composers, which enhances the show. One interesting thing to note is the relationship in melodies of the Sweetwater Theme (the song that always plays when the train enters Westworld) to Mozart’s Confutatis. The significance of this is that the Latin translation of Confutatis contains the lyrics –Doomed to flames of woe. This has a direct connection with the constant suffering the robots occur, which is a theme brought up many times in the series.
One other classical song that gets utilized multiple times in the series is the song Reverie by Debussy. Without giving too much away, this song plays a huge part in how Robert Ford (the creator of the robots) controls his designs. Ford also added in a feature to the robots which make them remember certain aspects of the past, and allows those memories to affect their current behavior. This feature is aptly titled- Reveries.
(For people who want some more info about the Reveries, the can check out this link. SPOILER ALERT!)
Music is Vital to the Show’s Success
As you can plainly see, music is a key element in Westworld, and enhances almost all aspects of the show. Whether it be the incredibly entertaining contemporary hits, reimagined in an old-western style, or the intricate references and easter eggs tied into the show’s plot, credit should be given to Dijawadi and Nolan for creating an audio-visual masterpiece.