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The Enchanting Music of Westworld

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It is almost unnecessary to go into how amazing Westworld is, right? Pretty much every person is watching this show right now. Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, Westworld is a drama series on HBO that depicts a theme park for adults that is set in the wild west and made up of insanely real-looking robots.

Westworld is all about weaving unlikely elements together seamlessly. Robots and cowboys, the Wild West and the future, high technology and old-fashioned history.

The music reflects these juxtaposing components beautifully. The show’s composer, Ramin Djawadi, masterfully creates original compositions, as well as arranges classical takes on modern hit songs. Djawadi also composed the show’s opening credits theme song. Oftentimes, Djawadi also uses the Vitamin String Orchestra’s versions of famous songs such as “No Surprises” by Radiohead and “Something I Can Never Have” by Nine Inch Nails.

The Westworld theme park has a brothel that guests can visit, which has a player piano constantly playing. Sometimes it plays ragtime songs as it should, but sometimes it also plays songs from today.

When modern songs are played on this piano, it is typically very symbolic. In one of the first episodes, a major bar brawl was about to go down and “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden was eerily heard on the player piano. It definitely set a tone for destruction.

In a way, just the sheer image of a player piano in this type of robot-world in itself is symbolic, and perhaps even foreshadowing. The piano itself is essentially a robot in its own way…no longer needing any help from humans. It can play anything it wants on its own… songs from 100 years ago, songs from 20 years ago, and even songs that were just released.

Each song in the show is almost like a poem — exposing exactly what is happening in the storyline. The music is very strategically chosen, which only adds to the hauntingly beautiful plot.

A wonderful example of this is when Maeve, Westworld’s brothel owner (played by Thandie Newton), starts to learn that she is not a human. She befriends a human who is a robot tech behind the scenes of Westworld, and he walks her around the lab and shows her how the robots are created/maintained. It is a highly emotional scene as Maeve tries to grasp her own reality. The song playing in the background is Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” performed by the Vitamin String Quartet.

Although the lyrics of the actual song are not sang, anyone who is familiar with this song can see how incredibly powerful it is in this scene. Some of the lyrics include: “help me get where I belong…” and “I think you’re crazy. Maybe…” and possibly the most evocative lyric, “I will see you in the next life…”

Being familiar with the music of Westworld is in no way a requirement for watchers. However, for those who do take the time to pay attention to the music and research lyrics and artists that are being used, they will feel a greater connection to the plot.

In a way, Ramin Djawadi rewards the music lovers who are familiar with the songs because he strategically chooses each song to uncover major characters and plot points. Thank you, Ramin Djawadi for making music a primary character in this amazing series.

Season one of Westworld is currently available to stream on HBO GO.

The Creepy, Addictive Mysteries of Westworld

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1976 was a big year for the United States, and well, really the world. Notably, Steve Jobs founded the fruit, NASA unveiled the first space shuttle, Enterprise, and denim skirt suits were considered fashion forward. The silver screen offered such perennial classics as Rocky and The Omen and a less remembered film written and directed by sci-fi master Michael Crichton called Westworld. Yep, Westworld, the biggest season premiere for HBO since a little show called True Detective, is a reboot from the bygone era of Beta max and the Cod Wars.

Straddling the line of Gen-Xers and Millennials, I had no idea that HBO was retreading old ground. Blessedly my mother is here to drop some knowledge on me. The TV series appears to follow Crichton’s original premise of a wild West themed park, catering to the wealthy and bored, that is populated by humanoid robots, hosts, that go very, very off script. The series cast is jam packed with heavy hitters and ubiquitous actors of our time.

Ed Harris is an unnamed “newcomer” (park-speak for the super wealthy patrons) indulging in every manner of sordid act, though he is apparently bored of the run of the mill rape-the-rancher’s-daughter package and is himself deviating from groomed storylines.

Anthony Hopkins, as co-creator of the park, conjures memories of a “spare no expense” John Hammond, though Hopkins’ character, Dr. Robert Ford, is far less naive and decidedly more aware of the full capabilities of his creations.

Evan Rachel Wood is disturbingly good as an optimistic, milquetoast host named Dolores, who is slowly evolving and losing her programming leash due to outside influences both known and unknown to the audience.

Thandie Newton effortlessly masters her role as a veteran saloon girl overwhelmed by experiences and memories she isn’t built to have — much less understand.

The creepy factor is as high as the tension, though I am forced to suspend my disbelief of the implausible scale of the park and the way in which the staff observe and intercede in the storylines, to fully buy in. Visually, Westworld is a wonder — the stripped down, moodily lit, R&D sets are all glass and metal contrasting the sweeping, dusty and quintessentially Western park sets.

The costuming is what makes people wish they lived in the 19th century, though your infatuation of bustled hoop skirts and three piece suits with a six-shooter in the holster falls to the wayside when you see the incredibly well-acted fear in the lady of the line’s eyes while a newcomer decides whether or not to sexually assault her.

The glitches the hosts experience are unsettling because their realism is emphasized; viewers are lulled into, albeit brief, complacency then jerked out when the programmed creations have emotional breakdowns and Max Headroom-like tics. The behavior in which the newcomers engage swings from one extreme to another. We see families with young children exploring the untarnished beauty of a river cutting through an arroyo, young professionals sating their thirst for hard liquor and easy sex in the saloon, and middle-aged couples thrill seeking as they hunt for bandits with the sheriff and his posse. Your familiarity with, and soon affection for, some of the park’s hosts leads to equally divergent feelings as you watch them suffer the cruel whims of the paying guests.

Unsurprisingly, the 3.3 million people who watched or streamed the season premiere have feelings about Westworld, its creators, and the inhabitants. Fan theories abound, and cognitive dissonance is getting more action than maybe anyone thought possible.

With ten episodes in the can and a growing and enthusiastic audience, it’s safe to assume we’ll get another season to obsess over — and I, for one, can’t wait.

Image Credit: HBO
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