Westworld’s Must-Know Music References – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on Music in Westworld. The deeper meaning and philosophy of Westworld isn’t just limited to its dialogue, it’s layered throughout its masterful use of music. We’ll see how Westworld uses classical compositions and modern pop to create its own dreamworld.
Written by: Alec Opperman
Directed by: Robert Tiemstra and Jared Bauer
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com/)
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Jacob Salamon
Westworld’s Must-Know Music References – Wisecrack Edition
Hey Wisecrack, Jared here and we’re back to talk about television’s favorite orgy-fueled themepark: Westworld. Westworld is admittedly obsessed with subtleties. And one of the most rewarding subtleties that keeps US coming back is the show’s masterful use of music. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on music in Westworld. And of course- Spoilers ahead. The player piano is one of Westworld’s central symbols – a sort of precursor to the computer, punch-cards and all, that replaces a “real” musical performance with mechanized art. Hosts struggle with the ambiguity of whether or not their destiny is predetermined, like the notes on the player piano, or up to their own free will.
It also represents this struggle between art and artifice, seen all over the show. Ford is locked in a struggle between art and commerce with his corporate overlords. The Man in Black searches for the real artistic meaning beneath the facade of the park’s sex and violence. Ford thinks Lee Sizemore is a hack, calling his new narrative a bunch of “cheap parlour tricks.” The camera often pans across the mechanical workings of the piano to emphasize the automated nature of the park’s loops. Often these shots precede a routine – Teddy getting off a train, Maeve beginning her day, Hector strolling into town, and so on. Or when Maeve slams the piano shut before questioning her programmed dialogue with Clementine, it signals a break from her automated life. The piano also establishes the relevance of the show’s music —
Music often provides additional depth to a scene, a piece of dialogue, or even philosophical questions – especially the use of a specific piece by Claude Debussy.
A recurring theme in Westworld is dreams and everything associated with them: sleep, waking, unreality, hallucinations. Throughout the season we’re constantly asking ourselves: what’s real, and what’s fake? Ford’s update that enables host memories is called “reveries,” another word for daydreaming. Westworld, in other words, is as much a dream world as it is a theme park – and a place for people to live out their fantasies. This is reflected in Ford’s favorite piece of music that recurs throughout the show: Claude Debussy’s “Reverie L. 68,” Debussy was a pioneer of creating mood-evoking, atmospheric music. The piece isn’t called reverie for shits and giggles: it evokes the sensation of dreaming. Debussy, in his personal letters, even wrote: “The music I desire must be supple enough to adapt itself to… the fantasy of dreams.”
Melodies can often represent characters, places, or even ideas. And, like more traditional musical themes, we can draw meaning from the way Reverie is presented in the show. The first time we hear the piece, Ford assures Bernard that the hosts are not “real.” Here the show is painting Ford as a dream-weaving artist, like Debussy, a fact reiterated when we see Ford playing another dreamy Debussy piece, “Clair de Lune.” In other scenes, Reverie plays to evoke a dream-like feeling, especially in flashbacks. In one, Bernard wakes from a slumber and reads Alice in Wonderland to Charlie – a book about another kind of dreamworld, while Reverie plays on harp in the background. When we flashback to Dolores being created by Arnold, Reverie plays while a voiceover of Dolores says: “I am in a dream, I do not know when it began or whose dream it was. I only know that I slept a long time and then one day I awoke.”
Reverie also signals to the viewer what is “real” and “unreal.” When Teddy remembers Wyatt’s massacre, we hear Reverie again. But when he remembers “correctly,” the music cuts out entirely for a moment to convey the reality of the situation, as opposed to the dream-like falsehood of his previous flashbacks. When Dolores “finds the center of the maze,” Reverie is heard again and plays with our previous association to imply that this new reality is just as strange and disorienting as the dream she woke up from. This leads us to the the most ambiguous, and interesting, use of Reverie. It’s revealed to be a favorite of Charlie, who often fell asleep to it. Here, “dreams” and “sleep” take on another context: death. Arnold plays the piece before committing suicide, and Ford plays it before his own death. Are the show creators trying to draw a parallel between the unreality of Westworld and death? Or, like Dolores are Ford and Arnold having their own realities crumble around them? Others have speculated that the inclusion of Reverie in Ford’s death scene implies that the scene is a fake: some false memory or plot.
Another interesting musical reference is one of Chopin’s Nocturnes, proto-impressionistic, dream-like pieces evocative of “night.” Night, in literature, music, and pretty much everything else, is a frequent symbol for the big slumber – death. It plays while Charlotte Hale asks for Ford’s resignation. Additionally, Ford’s new narrative is called “Journey into Night.” This all serves as clever foreshadowing: because Ford is about to go HAM. Westworld composer Ramin Djawadi loves to use Radiohead covers, both on the player piano and instrumentally. Like the rest of the show, these songs get more rewarding the deeper you dig. In episode 2, the piano plays Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” a song that is arguably about being disillusioned with your shitty job, shitty authority figures We hear the song later in the episode- this time out of tune to indicate Maeve’s malfunction and new aggressive programming.
As Maeve explores the Delos labs, the Radiohead song “Motion Picture Soundtrack” plays – a song which conveys a longing for a lost love,and disillusionment. Not only does the song convey an extreme sense of sadness, the title of the song is also apt: Maeve realizes her world is just a piece of entertainment. When Ford gives his speech in the season finale, Radiohead’s “Exit Music for a Film” plays, another fitting title to set up Ford’s exit. The song, in the spirit of the show’s Shakespeare obsession is about Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet is a story about fate – the two are “star-crossed lovers,” which many have interpreted to mean the cosmos are out to fuck them over, much like the Gods of Westworld have set the fate of the hosts. Furthermore, the original song hits on some of the same themes of the show, sleep, death, and escape.
There’s also the Radiohead song “Fake Plastic Trees,” about the artificiality of modern life. The song plays after Maeve confirms that something is deeply wrong with her world. “Fake Plastic Trees” expresses a feeling of exhaustion from living in a fraudulent world, just like Maeve. And a few other nods: Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun plays in the brothel during one scene, a song that writer Chris Cornell described as a sort of “surreal dreamscape”, and its music video is an LSD-fueled nightmare. In another scene, Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” plays, which contains the lyrics “I died a hundred times,” a fitting slogan for Maeve.
There may not be a more deliberately crafted show out there than Westworld, a show that gets more rewarding every time you watch it. After two videos, we’re still only barely scratching the surface. So if you want more, let us know in the comments. Thanks for watching. Peace!