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Reality Has No Soundtrack

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Sometimes, a work forgoes a soundtrack, usually for added realism.

Early sound films tended to have no music tracks unless there was an on-scene source (a radio or a stage orchestra). This was partially due to the limitations of early film sound recording technology, as well as a desire for greater realism (and a belief that audiences would be asking where the music was coming from). In the early years of sound cinema, there was a debate over whether film sound should be naturalistic, corresponding only with the on-screen action; or serve as an artistic counterpoint to the images, with music and sound effects providing a kind of commentary on the action. Eventually the solution was to Take a Third Option and strike a happy medium, with dialogue recorded on set complemented with a music score and augmented sound effects.

Almost ubiquitous in fly-on-the-wall and Mockumentary-style works. Can potentially invoke Nothing Is Scarier when used in horror-oriented works.

Sister Trope of Silence Is Golden, Deliberately Monochrome, and Reality Has No Subtitles.

Compare Quieter Than Silence and Silent Credits.

Contrast Left the Background Music On and Music Video Syndrome.


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  • FLCL Alternative: The final scene from episode 5 remarkably doesn't have score to accompany the actions of the scene; in which Pets symbolically decides to break off ties with Kana by taking back her hairpin and returning Kana's.
  • For the most part, the real life sequences in Recovery of an MMO Junkie have no background music aside from joke scenes. This is in comparison with the lively MMO sequences and is used to show how lonely the protagonist's life is.

    Audio Plays 
  • Some BLCDs (Boy's Love CDs) have no BGM so the listener can hear the dialogues and sex scenes better.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Besides Elton John's "Amoreena" playing in the opening sequence, Dog Day Afternoon does not have any music.
  • The Panic in Needle Park, a 1971 film about heroin addicts done in cinema verite style, shot on location, has no soundtrack and no incidental music.
  • In keeping with the genre of Found Footage Films, Cloverfield has no music other than diegetic (until the end credits, which have epic symphonic battle music called "Roar!")
  • The Israeli drama film The Exchange uses absolutely no music, except on one occasion when relevant in-universe, and when the credits roll. Since it takes place in a quiet neighbourhood, the silence can be almost eerie.
  • The Birds uses natural and electronic bird noises in place of a musical score.
  • About Schmidt has no musical soundtrack. In one scene, Schmitt's daughter has the radio on, but it is the only music you'll hear in the movie.
  • The Marx Brothers first film The Cocoanuts is a perfect example of that. The brothers figured that the audience wouldn't care where the music came from, but the executives insisted that film audiences wouldn't suspend their disbelief, so they hired an orchestra to sit on the set in order to justify the musical numbers (even though they were using prerecorded music) — but the director forgot to shoot them and almost all the musical numbers were cut anyway, so the studio wasted that money.
  • Frankenstein (1931) has no music, except for the opening- and end-credits and a brief sequence featuring the village band.
  • The Peter Bogdanovich thriller Targets has no music soundtrack, except for a diegetic tune heard on a car radio. The opening credits are played over music-free footage from one of star Boris Karloff's previous films.
  • Jan Švankmajer's Alice lacks any background music, aside from a piece of music played over the end credits. If anything, the sound effects (such as Alice sucking her finger or scraping knives) are exaggerated and sound quite loud.
  • One of Our Aircraft Is Missing contains no musical score. Director Michael Powell strove for "naturalism" and only used diegetic sounds.
  • Fail Safe was intended to contain a score, but this was left out. This just adds to the ominous nature of the film.
  • The Florida Project is, with the exception of its final scene, entirely scoreless.
  • Forbidden Planet doesn't have a conventional music score, instead using electronic sounds to give an outer worldly atmosphere. At one point a recording of similar sounds is played by the characters and theorized to be music from the extinct race of aliens that once populated the planet.
  • The infamous 25 minute rape scene in I Spit on Your Grave is without any musical score.
  • The movie The Lunchbox, which presents a bittersweet picture of the depressing nature of modern-day life in India, has no background music, and only once or twice any music playing due to onscreen sources. This is particularly notable in contrast to the most common kind of Indian movie the West sees, the Bollywood musical, which naturally uses music a great deal.
  • The Pianist has no music unless the main character is playing a piano or hearing someone else play an instrument.
  • Cast Away has no musical score whatsoever when Chuck Noland is stranded on the island, which really drives home how desert islands are both quieter and louder than a city.
  • A trademark of Michael Haneke. None of his movies feature a score. All music is performed or replayed in-universe.
  • Underground turns this on its head by having the two main characters followed almost everywhere by a live brass band who provide a jaunty tune for their various adventures.
  • The Tribe has no background music, and no diegetic music, to underscore the silence of life in a school for the deaf.
  • Desert Hearts, a film set in 1959, has no background music, although period hits by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash (among others) are heard on radios.
  • Save for the credits, Sully has no soundtrack, which only enhances the Nothing Is Scarier atmosphere after the engines fail.
  • No Country for Old Men, except in the credits and one scene in the movie, uses no background music, which adds to the tension felt throughout the film.
  • Bullitt: The music score fades out as soon as the car chase starts in earnest. The car chase is a symphony of screeching tires, revving motors, bouncing suspensions, and shotgun blasts.
  • The French Connection has no soundtrack for its famous car chase.
  • The Seven-Ups has no music playing during its car chase.
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire has almost no soundtrack to reflect how precious Héloïse finds music in a time period (the late 18th century) where recordings don't exist and concerts are typically a privilege only enjoyed by the rich. As such, the only three instances of music are entirely diegetic and very significant: the scene of Marianne playing a bit of "Summer" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons on the harpsichord for Héloïse, the women singing at the bonfire, and the ending scene, in which Marianne witnesses Héloïse being moved to tears while listening to a full orchestra play "Summer."
  • Naturalistic prison drama Starred Up has so soundtrack.
  • Something of a trademark for The Dardennes, Belgian directing brothers who make gritty Kitchen Sink Dramas about the urban poor. Most of their films, including L'Enfant and Rosetta, lack a musical score, to add to the realism.
  • The China Syndrome: Except for a song by Stephen Bishop ("Somewhere in Between") that plays on a car radio during the opening credits, and the theme music for the news broadcasts, there's no music in the film, which increases the tension.
  • Jurassic Park: The entire T. rex attack on the tour vehicles, from the first cut back to the stalled cars all the way to the rex's final roar, is done with no musical score whatsoever, with the drumming of the rain, cracks of thunder, monstrous footsteps, terrified screams, smashing of glass, scraping of metal and dinosaur roars instead providing the soundscape. The music again cuts out during Nedry's encounter with the Dilophosaurus after he crashes his car, which carries over into much of the next scene as Grant tries to find Tim.

    Live-Action TV 
  • All in the Family had a few isolated incidents of Sentimental Music Cue in the first season (most notably in the scene when Archie comforts Gloria after she miscarries) but this can be chalked up to Early-Installment Weirdness as the series completely lacks any kind of soundtrack (excepting the opening and closing themes) from the second season on, helping to enhance the feeling of watching a videotaped stage play.
  • M*A*S*H started out using musical scores throughout each episode, like most sitcoms of the era, but starting in the second season on it was gradually phased out, reserved for lengthy comedic sequences and before and after commercial breaks. By season eight, the background music was gone entirely. According to Burt Metcalf, it was removed to be "just like the actual Korean War". Likewise, the canned laughter forced by the network was scaled back as the series wore on, ultimately being absent in the finale.
  • The Wire is, perhaps, the definitive example of a TV series which doesn't use background music (except in the End Of Season montages).
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 5 episode "The Body" uniquely lacks music apart from the theme tune during the opening and closing credits.
  • The Sopranos generally avoids non-diegetic music. When it does appear, it's always very noticeable, and the most dramatic scenes tend to be music-free.
  • The Thick of It is a totally straight example. It doesn't even have title music.
  • Getting On (a similar show to The Thick Of It, set in a hospital rather than Westminster) has no background music, but it does have title music.
  • The Office (UK) and The Office (US) have no soundtrack beyond title and closing themes and occasional transitional music, owing to their mockumentary nature.
  • The Kraft Suspense Theatre episode "Their Own Executioners" lacks a musical score, unlike the rest of the series.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): Given its premise, the Found Footage episode "Manifest Destiny" features no music (discounting the opening and closing credits).

    Video Games 
  • For modern consoles at least, it's possible to invoke this trope in a video game by simply turning off the background music. It's especially common for Let's Players to do this in horror-centric games for the sake of Nothing Is Scarier.
  • ANNO: Mutationem: While the game has an artistic soundtrack, certain locations such as the outside entrance of Freeway 42 and Noctis City don't have their own background music, solely accompanied by the ambiance noise of the surrounding areas.
  • Despite having several orchestral scores listed in its soundtrack, Brothers in Arms does not have any background music. All of these themes instead play during either the main menu or during title sequences, but never in the levels themselves.
  • Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, arguably the darkest but certainly the most realistic Story of Seasons title, lacks background music with a few exceptions, notably the record player in your house and occasional guitar music at the local bar. You can also sometimes hear music if you visit Lumina's house while she's playing the piano.
  • The Grand Theft Auto series is rather famous for its lack of background music - up until Grand Theft Auto V, there are very few times throughout the series where there is non-digetic music playing. As mentioned, this stopped with V, which contains a fully-featured background score in addition to licensed radio music.
  • Ghost of Tsushima likewise has a beautiful soundtrack, complete with a suite with various movements, but outside of cutscenes and battle, the game itself is almost completely bereft of music. Some special locations have low-key, atmospheric themes, but they're very rare and you'll probably walk or ride away from the area (or enter combat) before you hear more than a few seconds of them.
  • Iron Storm has no soundtrack to speak of, though sometimes music will be heard on gramophones (and in the Buddha room at the end).
  • Yomawari: Night Alone and its sequel Yomawari: Midnight Shadows lack a score, preferring to utilize the sounds of the wind blowing through the trees, the chirping of crickets, the hammering heartbeat of the protagonists and the moans and groans of spirits to create a tenser atmosphere. The only time music is ever played occurs during the game credits. The third game in the series, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark also has music on the title screen, but this is the only other song on the game's score (other than the credits theme).

    Web Videos 
  • A common trend in the Analog Horror genre is to begin the video with a background score, then have it cut out when things start to get eerie or malevolent. The effect is rather striking when done right.
  • Presented entirely as Found Footage uploaded unedited, Marble Hornets is often entirely silent for long stretches at a time. This is particularly effective during tense scenes, which forgo another common practice; The Scare Chord.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: In "Shh", there is no non-diegetic music in this episode until the final fight scene between Finn and Jake and the Bikini Babes.
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Aside from the occasionally rap tunes, there is almost no soundtrack (with a few exceptions) for nearly every episode.
  • The Goofy short Hockey Homicide has Paul J. Smith credited as its composer, although the only music heard is an electric organ waltz when the ice polisher cleans the ice during the rest period. Otherwise, the short is mainly accompanied by the sounds of the hostile crowd.
  • The individual segments of Rocky and Bullwinkle have no background music outside of their opening and closing sequences. This appears to be more due to low budgets than to artistic reasons, although with its rapid-fire dialogue, a music score seems redundant. The exception is Dudley Do-Right, which has a piano score as part of its spoofing of (ironically) silent film conventions. At least a couple of Aesop & Son shorts, like "The Dog and His Shadow" and "The Sick Lion", did have original scores.
  • The PBS Kids interstitial series Through the Woods has no musical score whatsoever, instead using ambient nature sounds as background noise to the dialogue. This is done purposely, as the series is about enjoying nature.
  • Hazbin Hotel: In "Masquerade", the music is mostly absent in the scene where Valentino horrifically beats up Angel to underscore the realistic terror of the scene at hand.

Alternative Title(s): Diegetic Sound