The case of “Chariots of Fire” is a curious one, as period films rarely – even to this day – feature modern-sounding, electronic instruments. Vangelis’ award-winning score not only broke the mould of traditional scoring by combining acoustic and electronic instrumentation, but also managed to transcend the film itself; becoming a cultural staple that most people can probably hum without knowing what it originally came from.

Musical genres have their own distinctive groups of musical conventions; particularly, ideas of orchestration, melody, harmony and deployment, which is why they make such effective furnishing for films looking for an appropriate sound. As such, music used in a film from a particular genre is done so in order to signal a sense of “belonging” to that particular genre or having certain elements in common with other, similar films.

This is where music selection becomes pivotal. Filmic conventions, developed over decades since the arrival of sound in movies, play a huge role in the ways visual content is perceived – whether it be classical strings and piano to underscore a romantic scene, or ambient electronic textures to convey the vastness of outer space in a sci-fi movie.  

Another factor to consider is the diegetic quality of sound. Derived from the Greek word for “recounted story”, sounds and music described as diegetic are those whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film. This can constitute a powerful tool when used effectively – think of how (any) kind of world music can mentally transport you to a number of locations and enhance your visual experience, or how essential dance music can be to livening up a scene in a nightclub.

Going back to Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire”, with the sheer influence and success the widespread use of the track has granted it, many of its individual elements (the iconic electronic claps, the distinctive and euphoric piano) have become sonic cues in their own right. Running the gamut from inspirational messages to humorous parody, the familiarity of the theme itself (and, to a lesser extent, the genre), is the mechanism with which your selection and placement of music enhances your film.