Why You’ll Hear Modern Songs Playing on Westworld

Photo: HBO

When you’re watching Westworld, pay special attention to the player piano in the saloon — at key moments, it could kick in a little Soundgarden, Rolling Stones, or even Radiohead for the paranoid androids and human guests inhabiting its world. It might seem both thrilling and a bit disconcerting when you first hear modern music in the Wild West setting, and that’s the point, according to show composer Ramin Djawadi, who also scores the music on Game of Thrones.

“The show has an anachronistic feel to it,” he explained to Vulture. “It’s a Western theme park, and yet it has robots in it, so why not have modern songs? And that’s a metaphor in itself, wrapped up in the overall theme of the show.”

The player piano itself is a kind of robot, playing songs on demand at preprogrammed moments, presumably controlled by the humans at command central. (Although, in actuality, by Westworld’s showrunner, Jonathan Nolan.) Sometimes, as in the show’s premiere episode, the player piano will repeat the show’s theme, just as the other robotic hosts repeat scripted dialogue on their narrative loops. “It’s like Groundhog Day,” Djawadi said. “You get the great shot of the player spinning up, and then the shot of Teddy in the train starting up again, and you get the theme each time he walks into the saloon.”

But at other times in the loop, the player piano starts to play a reduction of “Black Hole Sun,” or lead into an orchestral version of “Paint It Black,” which underscores the unsettling truth about the saloon and the park — it’s not the Wild West, but a re-creation of it. Even if a guest tries to become immersed in this world, the music will undermine it. “What’s so great about using these pieces instead of the score is that they are known melodies, which enhances the idea that this is all scripted,” Djawadi said. “‘Paint It Black’ happens during a really big action scene, and it has all these great ups and downs — the shooting, the talking — and so I bring it down and then back up a bit, which was a lot of fun to arrange for the orchestra.”

At the moment, Djawadi is continuing to write and arrange the music for the final episodes, but as Westworld’s season progresses, he’ll return to be Vulture’s guide to the music used in the show, following each episode. “Right now, some of the episodes are blurring into each other!” he laughed. “I’m still tweaking them.”

Why You Hear Modern Songs Playing on Westworld