it was quite frankly mind blowing. I have just finished (almost a year after its release) the first season of the HBO Sci-Fi drama Westworld. Its ten episodes offered grand symbolism, superb acting and for the sake of this column a ridiculous music score that was like the storyline itself hidden within its core. Ramon Djawadi composed an epic orchestrated score for the haunting peek into our potential shared futures, but what really stood out was its secret score. The songs within the songs if you will. Much of Westworld was layers of confusion on a who’s fooling who and whose driving who and well whose real and whose artificial intelligence. No one really knew for sure. And the music that played along by itself that and only upon repeated viewings or internet searches would reveal the lost secrets of the show and its brilliantly disguised songs.
The shows creators used a Groundhog Day feel to its presentation to develop fuller intrigue and suspicion. As many scenes were replayed over and over to emphasize the drudgery of the robots’ (considered hosts in the show) life, curiosity was raised for viewers who could distinguished the slight changes in the routine. Not the least of which was the music that emanated from a player piano. The notes of sometimes familiar melodies would pulsate from the piano and subliminally enhance the show’s appeal and depth. It was one of the grandest uses of music in a TV or movie yet.
What made the technique remarkable was the lyrics to the songs used were never sang nor identified but underneath them were clues and freaky symbolism of what was to come. In other words, the directors intentionally had a song playing on the player piano that if translated lyrically, added intrigue to the characters’ plight and sometimes hinted at advance plot lines.
This is best explained with an actual example One of the show’s main recurring scenes is in a western saloon where ladies of the night actively pursue business. The reality for the hosts is that their computer programs reset every night so that as day breaks, they have absolutely no recollection of the night before- nights that often resulted in their violent death. When we are first introduced to the repetitiveness of their absurd propositions, we hear the piano playing (notes only mind you) Amy Winehouse’s “Back In The Black.” To the casual observer this appears innocuous enough, but if one were to realize the lyrics “I died a hundred times / You go back to her / I go back to black,” the eeriness sets in even if just subliminally and thus the hidden greatness of this series.
There were many obvious and yet still fascinating uses of songs via the player less keyboards that engaged and enhanced this sterling series. From the gun fight scene that developed over the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” to the pleasing series finale that featured a main character’s jarring speech before all chaos broke loose over Radiohead’s “Exit Music (To a Film).” The last used with such stellar results that to detail any further would require a spoiler alert.
Much to my happiness the series has been given a second season; however, one must wait until 2018. In the meantime, a repeated viewing is in line for the show that often times made me ponder deeper themes about what it means to be human and also what the song playing on the damn piano means as well.