The Best Improv Show Music PERIOD: An open discussion.

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The Best Improv Show Music PERIOD: An open discussion.

Postby Spaztique » March 15th, 2011, 10:27 pm

After teching the downstairs theater, hearing about OOB 2011, and the impending Long Center Show coming up, I've started refurbishing my old mp3 player that has served me so well in many past shows. As I look for new music to put on it, it got me thinking: What music do you like to use for house/show music? Also, what do you like to hear as an audience member?

As some of you may know, I like to play music that syncs up to the mood of the show, and so do a lot of show directors (Austin Secrets, Kabaam, and Violet Underbelly have their own specific house lists). Of course, no two tech people will agree on what makes for good music, so I'd like to get a consensus about what is best played and why.

To start us off, here's what I commonly use for Maestro (plus, it'll reveal the sources of my obscure music). I have provided links to my most common musical selections in case you'd like to hear them, but you don't have to be this comprehensive when you list your own choices...

House Music

Low Energy Crowds - I use my default "Spaz's House/Transition Music" list for this, but I play peppy songs to get them amped up. Songs include (often in this order)...
The Cars - "Let's Go"
Beck - "E-Pro"
Muse - "Supermassive Black Hole"
Flogging Molly - "Requiem For A Dying Song"
Iggy Pop - "Lust For Life"
The Doors - "Break On Through (To The Other Side)"
OKGO - "Here It Goes Again"
The Doors - "Hello I Love You"
Reasoning behind this list: These are familiar, accessible songs that don't go too far out of the boundaries of many people's comfort zones, yet they have enough energy to psych them back up without being overwhelming. It's the kind of music I think people would probably want to hear while waiting in the stands for a sports game.

Average Crowds - Again, same "Spaz's House/Transition Music", but now I switch to more dancey stuff like...
Steppenwolf - "Magic Carpet Ride (Remix)"
Moby - "Bodyrock"
Crystal Method - "Vapor Trail"
Daft Punk - "One More Time"
Chemical Brothers - "Block-Rockin' Beats"
Reasoning behind this list: The audience is psyched up enough for the show to accept higher-energy music, but nothing excessive. This kind of dance music makes it feel edgy; more like an extreme sport than a mainstream sport.

High Energy Crowds - This is where I often break away from the standard list and play Blue Man Group, such as...
Blue Man Group - "Rods And Cones"
Blue Man Group - "Klein Mandelbrot" (no clip available)
Blue Man Group - "Opening Mandelbrot"
Reasoning behind this list: Surpassing extreme sports, the show now feels like a championship playoff. By this point, I believe audiences will accept the non-mainstream. They're all ready for a big show, so why not bridge their expectations a little more with some intense (but still accessible) music?

Out Of Bounds Maestro - Ohohoho! This is where I break out the BIG GUNS: obscure-but-amazing orchestral music. 2009's playlist included...
Dmitri Shostakovich - "Festive Overture"
Mikhail Glinka - "Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture"
Dmitri Shostakovich - "Symphony No. 10, 2nd Movement"
Igor Stravinsky - "Infernal Dance Of King Kastchei"
Michael Giacchino - "Halftrack Chase"
Christopher Lennertz - "Dogs Of War"
Star Fox Assault (Yoshie Arakawa and Yoshinori Kawamoto) - "Mid-Air Battle"
Nobuo Uematsu - "Super Smash Bros. Brawl Theme"
And then, in 2010, I upped the ante in both obscurity and intensity with THESE...
Morrigan - "Border Of Life"
Verdi - "Reqiuem, Dies Irae"
Joel McNeely - "The Destruction of Xizor's Palace"
Two Steps From Hell - "Sons Of War"
Kitsune's Workshop - "Necrofantasia"
Jeremy Soule - "Warpath"
Nazz-Can - "Youkai Space Travel"
Bill Brown - "In The Field"
Kitsune's Workshop - "Isolated Doll's War"
Reasoning behind this list: By this point, we've transcended the sport simile. The audience is now witnessing the improv gods battling in improv Valhalla. This is the soundtrack to Improv Ragnarok!... But seriously, when you have the best of the best improvisers, mainstream music turns the special occasion into commonplace. Orchestral music like this makes it feel like a special occasion.

You'll notice a pattern I have with audience energies (and often sizes) correlating to musical choices: the higher the energy or size of the audience, the more dramatic the music. It wouldn't be right to play something as powerful as "Dies Irae" for an audience of six, and as I said before, it'd reduce the wallop of a big show to simply play "Let's Go" for an audience of 250. Sure, it's a nice song, but I believe there are better choices when those choices are available.

You'll also notice the word "accessible" in much of my writings on music. Some music may bend an audience's taste, but it must never break it. This is why I will never use 20th Century Serialism, death metal, or anything offensive for house music.

I want to say the only exception to these concepts is Blue Maestro, but it's a double-edged sword: offensive music will get the audience in the mood for an offensive show, but a normal house playlist will increase the contrast between normal music and offensive scenes. Luckily, these shows are too rare to worry about.


Intro/Outro Music

When I first started doing tech, I commonly went with Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life", Beastie Boys' "Sabotage", or Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades": safe, accessible, and high-energy. Occasionally, I'd also use the theme for "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" for bigger shows, since it was more dramatic than typical rock music (and provided an in-joke for Brawl players, along with anyone who understands latin).

For OOB 2009, I chose the jaw-droppingly beautiful "Save This World" by Hideaki Kobayashi as the intended intro (I accidently played Mid-Air Battle by mistake) and outro (which fit perfectly as they hoisted the winner up onto the shoulders of his troupe-mates for a victory photo). Its dramatic build makes it perfect for both an opening and a finish.

I used "Save This World" for a while until OOB 2010, where I found an even better song: Kitsune's Workshop's "Necrofantasia". Everything about it makes it perfect for a show intro and outro: the bombastic opening, the build-up at 1:20 to its chorus for when the players enter, and the recapitulation at 2:40 for the show ending, which ends just as the show does.

Other songs I've used...
Metallica - "Disposable Heroes": This song just kicks into gear the MOMENT it begins with a full assault of guitars and drums. Great when you sync the crashes to light flashes.
Steppenwolf - "Magic Carpet Ride (Remix)": Again, a familiar song with modern beats to spice it up. The drum loop in the beginning building to the song makes it very suspenseful.
Postal Service - "Such Great Heights": I use this for every Austin Secrets show (and every PGraph show I have the honor of teching). It's calm, it's peppy, and it gets more done with a few well-placed beeps than the typical high-energy guitar-filled intro.
Basil Poledouris - "Prologue/Anvil Of Crom": (From 1:07 on) Nothing says adventure like the rhythmic beating of timpanis and brass.
Pendulum - "Slam": The great thing about "Slam" is that you can use the opening of the song for the hosts and the build-up to the main portion to introduce the cast, or you can simply start off with the main portion.
Pendulum - "Showdown": Another fun Pendulum song, but this one is a little more straight-forward. I prefer to use the radio edit of this song due to language.
Pendulum - "Granite": Personally, I prefer instrumental openings, so when I'm not using Slam or Showdown, this makes for an awesome show opener, too. In fact, there are a lot of Pendulum songs that make for great openings: they know how to build suspense at the top of a song.


Opening Fight Scene

If there's one type of scene I don't have consistant music for, it's the slow-motion fight scene. Normally, I lump both free-for-all and one-improviser-vs.-everyone matches into one pile, but after playing similar music for both scenes, directors seem to differentiate between the two.

Before I launch into the songs I like to use, I'd like to have a quick diatribe on songs I do NOT like to use.
Carl Orff - "O Fortuna": "But David," you may be thinking, "how can you not like that as a battle song? It's so EPIC!" Wrong. Only the first few seconds and final minute are epic. A great bulk of it is silent chanting in latin.
John Williams - "Duel Of Fates": "But David," you may be thinking, "isn't this your fallback song for battle scenes?" Sadly, yes, but I'm phasing it out the best I can for one simple reason: like "O Fortuna", it's too damn slow to pick up after the initial excitement, and too damn quick to drop out. I had to learn this the hard way of watching battle scene after battle scene under a low, tense build that never reaches full excitement until the battle is over, and if there's a one-on-one climax, the song quickly cuts out at the height of excitement.

I guess what I'm saying is I want my music to pick up just as soon as the body count starts rising. So, here's my list of songs I want to test for future battles (I will populate it with more songs as I find them)...

Slow Motion Samurai Battle Specific Music:
Naruto Soundtrack - "Strong and Strike": Relentless, great instrumentation for a samurai battle, and it doesn't drop in the action until the time a battle is normally over or by the time there's a one-on-one climax, in which it builds up again. I dare you- No. I DEFY you to find a more appropriate song.

One-Vs.-All Battle Specific Music:
dBu - "Eternal Nocturne": Despite proving successful in a samurai battle, I was told this song would specifically do better in a one-vs.-all battle. The opening gives the one player enough time to charge for the other team, the next few progressions make for great battles, and by the time the fight's over, the song calms down considerably.

Seems to work with both:
Basil Poledouris - "Prologue/Anvil Of Crom": (1:07 on) Again, this is a song that wallows eyeballs-deep in adventure, so it makes for great battle music. It never dips, but it gets more heroic at a few points for high battle moments.
Just about anything from the OOB list.


Dance Music

This one's pretty straightfoward: I like disco and pop when it comes to dance.

A lot of you already know my all-time favorite improv dance song is Lady Gaga's "Summerboy". It's got a good beat, it's not too fast, and the vocals are pleasant (despite the presence of the word "ass" at one point, making it ineligible for family shows).

My fallback after that is "You Should Be Dancing" by The Bee Gees, which is slightly faster, but DAMN does it have a nice beat. After that is Scissor Sisters' "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'".


In-Between Scene Music

For regular Maestros, I fall back on the Fight Club soundtrack by The Dust Brothers. Specifically...
Round 1: "Corporate World"
Round 2: "Who Is Tyler Durden?"
Round 3: "Space Monkeys" (First Half)
Round 4: "Space Monkeys" (Second Half)
Round 5: "Finding The Bomb" (Theoretically. By round 5, it's mostly solo stuff)

For Out Of Bounds Maestro shows, I stick to orchestral marches.
Round 1: Ralph Vaughan Williams - "Seventeen Come Sunday"
Round 2: Often a lightning round, so I skip this.
Round 3: Johann Strauss - "Chinese Gallop"
Round 4: Ralph Vaughan Williams - "Folk Songs From Somerset"


Transition Music

My favorite transition music is the Ren And Stimpy Production Suite, which is sadly no longer available for download unless you really hunt for it, providing a huge, HUGE selection of classic 50s-70s stock music with a wide variety of tones. There's so much of it that I can't list it all, so just look through the Ren And Stimpy folder under Spaz's Music on the Hideout Theater computer.

When I have internet access, I go to Youtube and search for songs that correspond to the scene. For example, if somebody mentions "The Jetsons", I'll do a search on the Jetsons' theme. If I can't get it in time, I'd just look for something spacey.

When I don't have either, I just stick to good ol' rock music.


So, folks, what songs do you like for house/intros/outros/slow-mo/dance/round/transition music? And what do you think of my current selections?
Last edited by Spaztique on March 16th, 2011, 11:37 am, edited 14 times in total.
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Postby beardedlamb » March 15th, 2011, 11:26 pm

its awesome that you think about this so much.
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O O B
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Postby PyroDan » March 16th, 2011, 4:47 am

I generally use my laptop, and ipod depending on the setup, and will play something with a good energy and try to mi it up with popular, but not currently being overplayed current music.

Lately I have really enjoyed using all of Girl Talk's library, as it is high energy and it is perfectly made for a crowd that should be influenced by the music, but not focused on. The mix is consistently the hooks and recognizable chorus of many songs new and old, and I have noticed that occasionally people perk up to something they recognize, but it doesn't stop conversations and the quick cuts seem to keep everyone satiated for a bit of everything.
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Postby Tim Traini » March 16th, 2011, 10:14 am

I'd probably say the two songs I wind up using the most are A Good Idea At The Time and You Can Do What You Want from OK Go just for the fact that the song titles fit impov alone. Sometimes if it's a high energy show I'll close it with It's A Disaster. I'm not really a big fan of them or anything, but when a song works well when teching it's nice to have something that's always going to work.

My fallback when I can't find something appropriate for a show (or when I don't have a pair of headphones to queue up music, which is happening more than I'd like to admit) I pull something from the DJ Hero soundtrack. Mashups of two well-known songs work well with an average audience.

I really need to salvage my hard drives and backup all my mp3s on my laptop so I can just bring in that (or hell, pull up a youtube of the song I need). I'd really like to cater to a show that brings up a certain reference mid-show and while buying songs on my phone has worked in a pinch, it's not very efficient, even if my 3G network is. That's mainly because for some reason Amazon MP3 automatically makes every text on my phone sound off the entirety of whatever song I bought to play for a closer.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » March 16th, 2011, 10:29 am

and this is why i don't do the hard stuff in the booth and remain content to play stage monkey. ;)

for show music, i like film scores...particularly Thomas Newman and Hans Zimmer. and non-iconic John Williams (no easily identifiable Star Wars or Indiana Jones stuff...more Empire of the Sun, AI, Minority Report, etc.). also right there with you on Blue Man Group! not a big fan of music with lyrics during narrative shows, unless it REALLY fits a scene perfectly or can be incorporated diegetically (school dance, "honey, they're playing our song," etc.). my friend Doug in L.A. could find perfect moments to throw a pop song into the story, but it's a fine balance and can lend itself to distraction.

house music, i'm not overly particular on. as a performer, i hardly ever get to hear it. as an audience member, i like something cool but unobtrusive. most important is setting tone...i LOVE the Austin Secrets mix (even if it did lead to the unintentional "clapping" moment during Such Great Heights one night) because it's engaging but subdued. so i dig the "indie" route.

but then i'm also a fan for "broader" shows going to the high energy slightly cheesy classics (particularly for intros)...Queen, AC/DC...heck, i love going even cheesier sometimes. The Final Countdown, anything by Journey, REO Speedwagon, Meatloaf, Pat Benatar...power ballady/anthemic stuff you can't help but shake a fist to. ;)

for similar but less cheesy effect, i dig old school soul, funk and r&b...James Brown, Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson, Parliament. i'd go up into Lionel Richie and old school Michael Jackson (Thriller being the cut off point. :p) as well.

i love Iggy Pop as an intro, and just about anything in that punk/post-punk vein works for me as well (Sex Pistols, Clash, Pogues, Bowie). before every 710 Split show, Jeff and i listen to Ceremony by New Order, and it seems to put us in a good mental place together...so i'm curious about whether some New Wave might work on an audience as well. or maybe i just really want to hear some Joy Division and Cure before a show. i dunno. :p
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Postby SarahMarie » March 16th, 2011, 12:05 pm

This thread makes me SUPER happy.
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Postby kbadr » March 16th, 2011, 12:11 pm

For shows that have a set tone/genre, I like music to sort of set the appropriate mood (like the Austin Secrets music)

For anything else, like Maestro or PGraph organic narratives, I want to come in to some really high energy, driving music. London Calling, Super Bon Bon, AC/DC, Wolfmother, Flogging Molly, whatever. I want music that makes me feel like I am attacking the stage when I enter the theater.

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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » March 16th, 2011, 12:41 pm

kbadr wrote:For shows that have a set tone/genre, I like music to sort of set the appropriate mood (like the Austin Secrets music)

For anything else, like Maestro or PGraph organic narratives, I want to come in to some really high energy, driving music. London Calling, Super Bon Bon, AC/DC, Wolfmother, Flogging Molly, whatever. I want music that makes me feel like I am attacking the stage when I enter the theater.


Alex Gray asked me as we were leaving the Maestro stage once, "do you treat every show like it's a rock concert?" it seemed such a moot question to me. ;)
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Postby Brad Hawkins » March 16th, 2011, 2:04 pm

I haven't done a lot of improv tech, and I have not amassed a large mental library of songs for situations, but I do know that for setting the pace of a silent scene (space work, etc) you can't go wrong with Raymond Scott.

For those unfamiliar:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfDqR4fqIWE
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » March 16th, 2011, 2:09 pm

Brad Hawkins wrote:I haven't done a lot of improv tech, and I have not amassed a large mental library of songs for situations, but I do know that for setting the pace of a silent scene (space work, etc) you can't go wrong with Raymond Scott.

For those unfamiliar:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfDqR4fqIWE


i prefer John Cage for silent scenes...
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Postby trabka » March 16th, 2011, 5:21 pm

I'm of the ColdTowne Lights-Down, Music Up school of thought, so I don't have anything to contribute as far as within show music, but I've got a playlist on my phone (always on airplane mode when connected to the PA) ready to go for pre-\post-show house music as well as stuff in reserve for blackouts:

A lot of stuff that's already been mentioned, such as the Clash and Iggy Pop\Stooges make it into my rotation. Elvis Costello's output from the 70s is also full of great stuff to use. The Sonics, X, Ted Leo and The Replacements also tend to get heavy play from me. All are high energy and music that sounds like it's moving forward. I like to tend towards less recognizable stuff because I want the focus to be on the performers and not on what I've chosen to play in the booth at any given time.

For bringing a group out, I keep the same frame of mind, but tend to focus on songs that have strong, driving intros such as the following:

The Night Marchers - Closed for Inventory
The Hold Steady - The Swish
The Blues Brothers - Gimme Some Lovin'
TV on the Radio - Wolf Like Me
(The latter three go great with a host doing the 1-10 clapping warm up as both of those songs have great builds in energy that coincide with this warm up well)

For blackouts, I like to pick songs that reflect the tone of the show and have bought songs on iTunes mid-set if particular songs have been made, by name, the focal point of a show. This has led to me purchasing such hits as Sussudio (Phil Collins), Don't You Forget About Me (Simple Minds) and The Power of Love (Huey Lewis). I don't do this as often now as in the past because I don't want to distract too much from what a troupe has just done on stage, but when I was first starting with tech I did it a lot. I'm now more about reflecting the tone\content of the show more subtly than playing the "Hey, remember when they talked about this song? I remember when they talked about this song." This may be my own personal issue, but I like to avoid stepping on toes\misdirecting focus.

The one big thing I tell the ColdTowne interns at the beginning of every session is to know your music before you decide to play it. There's nothing worse than hitting a blackout to the spoken word intro to a track that won't start rocking for 20 more seconds. I keep a pair of earbuds with me when I'm in the booth just to ensure this doesn't happen nowadays. I feel naked without the ability to make sure songs are cued appropriately.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » March 16th, 2011, 8:02 pm

oooh, Elvis Costello is a great call!
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Postby jillybee72 » March 22nd, 2011, 12:44 am

I stopped caring about run-up music for Drum Machine because too often it was miscued on the road. There's nothing sadder than soft, late punk.

BUT! When I did bother, it was always this song:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6iKqOMPZTw[/youtube]

And then abruptly, a segment of the Blind Boys of Alabama singing "People Get Ready" would cut in.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbsJds6Tw08[/youtube]

Then it would cut back to the Distillers.

I loved that.
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