Counterpoint in Film A Definition of Contrapuntal Music in Film

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Counterpoint in Film: A Definition of Contrapuntal Music in Film

While we frequently think of film as being an entirely visual art. In which the majority of the focus is on what we see and less of what we hear. The reality is both sound and visuals are equally important to the storytelling process of a film. In this counterpoint film definition we look at how contrapuntal music in film is used as a contrasting medium. In which there is no connection between the sound and the events occurring within the scene. 

But why do filmmakers use counterpoint music in film?

What is Counterpoint in Film?

In a film, whenever there is a disconnect between what’s occurring on the screen and the sound that is taking place. But there is no dominant feature in either the sound or the visual depictions you’re seeing an example of counterpoint. 

In Film, a definition of counterpoint would likely include reference to any of the following examples of video and sound paired in a film:

  • Gladiator during the scene where Maximus is having visions of a field of wheat as he is dying. And wishes to be near his family in the after-life.
  • Constantine in which there are periods of mixed interpretation between religion and superstition.

What is Counterpoint Music?

Counterpoint music, also referred to as contrapuntal music, is a technique in which a series of independent musical and film parts are pieced together in a harmonious manner. Such that it produces a deeper narrative meaning quite similar to a montage. 

You can characterize contrapuntal music, or counterpoint music, by incorporating completely different sounds and images. For example, independent parts of music that are of equal value. And in which no part is more dominant than another, would be considered counterpoint. 

Counterpoint music can be experienced when two or more entirely different harmonies or melodies are arranged in a montage of sorts.

Parallel and Contrapuntal Sound

Counterpoint in film, by definition, is essentially the opposite of what one might expect to see/hear in a film. Where we generally connect sound to the visuals that we see on the screen. Because the music is working parallel to what we are seeing, the opposite is true of counterpoint. 

Counterpoint by definition is going to result in music that does not directly associate with the visuals on the screen. 

As an example, think of any film in which the visuals are violent or otherwise horrific to watch and think of the music that accompanies the images. Most of the time the music would be dark and sinister. 

However, counterpoint in film would have the music being happy or upbeat when paired with these horrific scenes, such as was seen in A Clockwork Orange and Goodfellas. So, counterpoint in film by definition is the use of contrapuntal sound that works against what we see on the screen.