Collaborative Creative Process in Film Music Editing at the Digital Age: Kenneth Wannberg and John Williams’ Scores for Star Wars Second Trilogy (1999-2005)
The adoption of digital technologies at the end of the 1990s had an major impact on films, seen as works in progress and submitted to countless transformations until release. Through their extreme ease and flexibility of manipulation, digital tools substantially impact the handling of the orchestral score: since the picture is in a perpetual state of incompletion, significant changes must be made to conform the score to the new edits well after the music has been written and recorded. The Star Wars second trilogy (1999-2005) is a particularly significant case.
Since writing and re-recording new cues is time-consuming and expensive, music editor Kenneth Wannberg and his team are tasked with adjusting John Williams’ score to the films. The collaborative dimension of this creative process in contemporary blockbusters remains relatively unexplored (Sadoff 2006). In the case of Star Wars, a few existing publications frequently criticize the final music edits for undermining Williams’ score’s consistency and narrative, reducing it to wallpaper instead of acting as an essential part of the narration (Berthomieu 2011), or displaying a “Frankenstein patchwork” (Takis 2002). These criticisms often stem from a lack of an overall consideration of film music creation and production practices as well as the redefinition of the score status in the digital age.
The aim of this paper is thus to shed light on the collaborative creative process at work in the music editing of the Star Wars second trilogy, by offering a detailed reconstruction of the creative workshop for the scores and highlighting the rise of the music editor, a figure often overlooked in film music literature. It also establishes ways in which the evolution of the nature and function of music editing is closely related to technological changes.
This study provides thorough musical analysis drawing on archival materials, including Williams’ sketches and the orchestrators’ scores as well as personal interviews with orchestrator Conrad Pope and Wannberg. My approach is based on a systematic comparison between the manuscripts and the music as it appears in the final edit, precisely identifying the alterations of each cue and reconstructing the sequences’ musical architecture when possible. By linking the creative and technical processes, the final result and the preparation work, I apply a form of genetic analysis to the soundtrack.
I first establish how the adoption of digital technologies leads Williams to adapt his compositional methods in the Star Wars second trilogy; he uses a reservoir of material disconnected from any specific context which can be used anywhere in the movie, and begins writing the score much earlier than he used to. I then show how the music editor sees his role and responsibilities expand tremendously. Through micro-cutting, splicing, thousands of edits and the reuse of existing material from diverse sources, it becomes possible for Wannberg to create a new musical montage that will adapt to the constant modifications of the image. Finally, I examine how this creative process affects the score and demonstrate that new music edits can add significantly to the drama and narration.
Université de Perpignan Via Domitia, France
Earned her PhD from Universite!Rennes 2 and Universite!de Montre!al, where her dissertation on the music and sound design of the Star Wars saga received the distinction “Outstanding” and the Best Dissertation Award 2018 in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences from the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. She is adapting it into a monograph (Vrin). She devotes her research to the relationship between music, sound and image in contemporary cinema, especially Hollywood production. Her publications include articles about the music of Star Wars, Jurassic Park, E.T., Interstellar, Eyes Wide Shut, The Pianist, The Ninth Gate, The Tudors, as well as French composers Georges Delerue and Bruno Coulais. She currently holds the position of Professor of Art Education at the Conservatoire of Perpignan where she teaches music history and analysis for the Musicology BA of Universite!de Perpignan Via Domitia. She is also editor of OICRM publications.