The Sounds of Space (Movies)

The musical frontier of Hollywood’s other-worldly soundtracks.

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In space, no one can hear you scream, or sing, but the cosmos has inspired a universe of cinematic sounds. Ground zero is Gustav Holst’s The Planets, a 1918 suite for orchestra that attempted to conjure the Roman gods that the planets were named after. When John Williams, six decades later, took audiences to “a galaxy far, far away” in Star Wars, he consciously evoked Holst.

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The theremin—an electronic offspring of the violin—became forever associated with space thanks to Bernard Herrmann’s score for 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still and the soundtracks of many sci-fi B movies that followed. In 2018, composer Justin Hurwitz reclaimed the instrument from its cheesier connotations with a weeping theremin in First Man.

At the movies, space has prompted feelings of wonder, dread, heroism, and religious awe, and composers have helped elicit those reactions. So, really, it’s just been another frontier in which to explore the human condition.•

This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of Alta Journal.
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