Alec Baldwin, Joel and Ethan Coen, film composer Carter Burwell, and neuroscientist Aniruddh Patel explore the uniquely powerful role of music in shaping the narrative flow and the emotional impact of film. From Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey to the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing and True Grit, this program examines the creative process of scoring feature films and the neuro-scientific insights that reveal how such compositions profoundly shape the audience experience.

A Co-Presentation of World Science Festival and the New York Philharmonic




  • The Composer’s Challenge

    Composer Carter Burwell discusses the challenge of creating a score when the film director becomes used to a temporary score, like the iconic opening piece in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  • The Power of Music on the Brain

    Tufts University neuroscientist, Aniruddh Patel, explains how music is one of the most powerful ways to activate most of the brain...from our emotions to memory, motor control and more.

  • Music with Beat’s Unintended Impact

    Music with rhythm can make your brain think your body is moving, even when you’re sitting still. By comparing the Coen Brother’s 2010 True Grit to the 1969 film with John Wayne, find out how this is possible.

  • Music in Film Creates Unexpected Emotions

    Find out what happens in your brain when you combine the Irish ballad, “Danny Boy” with an endless sea of bullets in a shootout scene in the Coen Brother’s Miller’s Crossing.

  • Music vs. Sound Effects and Silence

    Silence and sound effects can elicit powerful emotional responses. Barton Fink by the Coen Brothers illustrates how silence, sound effects and music can give you deeper, unspoken understanding of a character.

  • Alec Baldwin Asks What’s Your Favorite Film Score

    Alec Baldwin asks filmmakers Joel & Ethan Coen, neuroscientist Aniruddh D. Patel, and film composer Carter Burwell, "What is one of your favorite musical score moments in a movie?"


How Film Music Shapes Narrative

Associate Professor of Psychology at Kalamazoo College and author of Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance, Siu-Lan Tan explains how music in film affects how we perceive characters and scenes.

Sound and Vision: Using Music in Film to Manipulate Emotions

Associate Professor of Music Education and Co-Editor of The Psychology of Music in Multimedia Scott Lipscomb discusses his research interests in movie soundtracks and the use of music in film to manipulate emotional responses.

Notes from the Producer: Film & Book Recommendations

by Caroline Gelb, WSF Producer While researching our recent program The Art of the Score: The Mind, Music and Moving Images, I had the opportunity to re-watch many of the Coen Brothers’ films. Choosing which clips to use as examples of how music impacts our brain proved a monumental task. Each clip and piece of music, so carefully orchestrated, provoked a wide range of emotions.

Photo Gallery

Alec Baldwin, Aniruddh D. Patel, Carter Burwell, and Ethan and Joel Coen discuss the uniquely powerful role of music in shaping the narrative flow and the emotional impact of film.
More »

On stage at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater in New York City.

Host Alec Baldwin and neuroscientist Aniruddh D. Patel.

Composer Carter Burwell and Filmmaker Ethan Coen.

Filmmaker Joel Coen discussing the role of music in film with Carter Burwell and Ethan Coen.

Join the discussion on Twitter Facebook

Get the WSF Newsletter

Get early alerts about future World Science Festival events and exclusive ticket pre-sales.