Nature documentary soundtracks

I’ve recently found it jarring how certain animals – marsupials, for example, or anything with a funny beak or peery close-together eyes, will be accompanied by comedy pom-de-pom music on nature documentaries. There is a distinctive jazzy, bumbling sound which we associate with certain species; the producers must choose this music because the animals’ experiences as understood to be as cute and as daft as their funny furry little faces. This is the case even when we are watching the terror of predation, or the strenuous claustrophobic attachment of new parenthood. Some animals are inherently funny – a hamster is funny in a way that a cat will never be funny. The music, played over the specatacle of a miscarrying chihuahua, or of a young weasel devouring newborn birds, makes everything feel kind of adorable.

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When Juliet is found apparently dead in her bed, she lies onstage – an actor pretending to be a young woman pretending to be dead. Her mother is distraught.

 

O me, O me! My child, my only life,

Revive, look up, or I will die with thee!

Help, help! Call help.

 

Juliet’s nurse has a similar but even more histrionic response:

 

O woe! O woful, woful, woful day!

Most lamentable day, most woful day,

That ever, ever, I did yet behold!

O day! O day! O day! O hateful day!

Never was seen so black a day as this:

O woful day, O woful day!

 

Both women indulge in repetition to the point of nonsense, O day O day etc. The words are said over again until they make no sense. Why would you say o day o day o day, what does it mean? It sounds dangerously close to something comic. Given that these overwrought lamentations are responses to a death that the audience knows has been faked, the dead body is not really dead twice over – because Juliet is playing the part of a dead body, while the actor plays the part of Juliet. They are being played for my laughter. I am free to find it funny, and this makes me complicit in the comedy of the other women’s suffering. The dead body doesn’t have to do anything to make fun of its mourners. I wonder what it would do to human individuals if we could play this atmosphere of farce as a soundtrack over our lives, like the bumbling music that accompanies certain animals in nature documentaries – imagine your sexual advances, or a road accident, or the sound of someone being fired, accompanied by the comedy orchestra.

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