Warning: Minor Spoilers ahead for “Westworld.”
The INSIDER Summary:
• An automated piano plays modern songs on “Westworld.”
• Creator Jonathan Nolan says it’s a parallel to the robotic hosts.
• The music serves as an emotional trigger and reminder we’re in the future.
• Also, he just loves Radiohead.
“Westworld” fans with a keen ear have probably noticed the use of anachronistic music in the late 1800s setting of the show’s theme park. Inside the Marisposa Saloon where Maeve (Thandie Newton) works, a player piano has been heard giving renditions of modern music.
During the “Westworld” panel at New York Comic Con Sunday, co-creator Jonathan Nolan was asked about his use of Radiohead and other bands inside the show’s fictional Wild West universe.
“Well, the album is called Paranoid Android, so it felt natural,” Nolan said as the audience laughed appreciatively.
The album in question is actually called “OK Computer,” but it’s still fitting. “Paranoid Android” is a known single from the album, so we forgive Mr. Nolan’s memory lapse.
“One of the first things Lisa and I talked about when we sat down to write the pilot were the sort of touchstone images that you would come back to,” Nolan continued, gesturing at his wife and co-creator Lisa Joy. “The player piano was — and shout out to Kurt Vonnegat for the idea — sort of the first, primordial version of our hosts: A Rube Goldberg machine that is created to evoke human emotion.”
But aside from the subtle nod to an early version of automated machinery, the piano offers up an opportunity to set new tones and emotions for the audience. Most of the time it plays a piano-only version of the “Westworld” main theme song. The switches to modern songs are meant to trigger new feelings in viewers at home.
“[The player piano] was also just a great excuse to be able to use contemporary music in the show,” Nolan continued. “Obviously it’s a period Western, or as we call it a synthetic Western. But contemporary music is very powerful because everyone comes in with a pre-existing relationship to the song. So it allows you to short-circuit or shorthand an idea or a feeling.”
The quiet melancholy of Radiohead, or build-up of energy from “Paint it Black” are two excellent examples we have of this so far. Future episodes will almost certainly feature new songs, as well.
For anyone who feels the use of modern songs pulls them out of the Western narrative, this is intentional on Nolan and Joy’s behalf.
“It’s also there to remind you that this isn’t a Western, that this isn’t taking place in the 19th century. It’s taking place somewhere else — some time else,” Nolan concluded. “And I just love Radiohead.”
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