Who can name those geographical tunes?
March 24, 2010 6:36 PM   Subscribe

What are some short tunes that often play onscreen to quickly identify the location of a movie/tv scene?

I'm sure we've all noticed that sometimes in a (usually bad) movie or tv show, that when the scene changes to a foreign location, a tune will sometimes play to identify the location. For example, with a shot of a Mexican village, the soundtrack might play a quick clip of the Mexican Hat Dance. And perhaps with a shot of Japan, there would be a "gong!" sound. In other words, unnecessary audio cues that are intended to give a little help to the geographically helpless.

It's a little annoying, I know, but it also got my wife and I wondering how many other tunes would readily identify various countries.

What would be played to identify Germany? Italy? Australia?

And, we all know that little tune that is invariably played to identify China... what the heck is it called?
posted by newfers to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
From what I've seen most of this seems to be done with style rather than tune. So for Germany you might hear 2/4 oompah music and for Italy you would hear a mandolin or musical stylings remniscent of The Godfather music. As far as the Chinese tune, I know the one you're thinking of (about 9 notes, kind of like Chopsticks), but I don't know what it is.
posted by crapmatic at 6:47 PM on March 24, 2010

accordions for paris/france?

for australia?

for china, probably the sound of an erhu? or do you mean that annoying ba-ba-ba-ba-ban-ban-ban-ban-baaaan sound? (i'm 1/4 chinese so i have a genetic right to be annoyed by it lol. also i fail at 'singing' through the internet.)
posted by raw sugar at 6:48 PM on March 24, 2010

Rhapsody in Blue for New York.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:52 PM on March 24, 2010

Response by poster: Raw sugar, yes, I am referring to the same tune, and I can understand your annoyance at the mere mention of that tune... I still wonder what the heck it is called, though, and how it became the "go to" tune to identify China.
posted by newfers at 6:57 PM on March 24, 2010

Best answer: It's just called the Oriental Riff.
posted by zsazsa at 7:03 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

This article looks right up your alley, and may explain the stereotypical Chinese melody that you and raw sugar are referring to (used at the start of The Vapors - Turning Japanese).

Chinatown, Whose Chinatown? Defining America's Borders with Musical Orientalism

Anyone have a Journal of American Musicological Society membership?
posted by elsietheeel at 7:04 PM on March 24, 2010

For the China example, I don't know what it's called, but it's sampled in "Kung Fu Fighting" (at 0:15 in the link) if people need an example to jog their memories.
posted by amyms at 7:05 PM on March 24, 2010

Here's a thorough article about the history of the Oriental Riff.

As for other signifiers, there's always that spaghetti western hollow whistling sound, although that's used mostly as parody.
posted by lore at 7:06 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, and that Wikipedia article links to The Streets of Cairo, or the Poor Little Country Maid (the "Girls in France" tune) as the equivalent for the Middle East.
posted by zsazsa at 7:06 PM on March 24, 2010

Response by poster: The Oriental Riff! Brilliant!

Anyone know of a tune to identify Germany?
posted by newfers at 7:16 PM on March 24, 2010

How about the sound of a hawk's call, to identify any wilderness area, but most particularly desert scenes? Irritates me every time.
posted by ErikaB at 7:19 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: ErikaB : Good one! I wonder if any of these are listed on the fabulous TVTropes website?
posted by newfers at 7:24 PM on March 24, 2010

Best answer: Regional Riff.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:33 PM on March 24, 2010

When I first visited England, I fully expected to hear Rule, Britannia! when I got off the train.
posted by parkerjackson at 7:35 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Or Standard Snippet.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:35 PM on March 24, 2010

Rhapsody in Blue for New York.

Really? I always think of the opening horn sting from "New York, New York".

Also, seconding "Rule, Britannia".
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:45 PM on March 24, 2010

Germany = tuba "oom pah" music. Something like this, maybe?
posted by TochterAusElysium at 7:57 PM on March 24, 2010

Hibernian flute music for Ireland.
posted by illenion at 8:00 PM on March 24, 2010

Anyone have a Journal of American Musicological Society membership?

Yes. Memail me if you're interested in that article.
posted by nosila at 8:02 PM on March 24, 2010

Hey, the article for the Oriental Riff says it is an example of leitmotif, which is maybe what all these little bits of music can be called collectively.
posted by illenion at 8:05 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Prince of Denmark's March (AKA Trumpet Volunatary) for London (or, more specifically, Buck House).

Anyone know of a tune to identify Germany?

Deutche Uber Alles?
posted by pompomtom at 9:35 PM on March 24, 2010

Blues riffs are pretty common for Chicago.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:43 PM on March 24, 2010

Not quite city/country but "Hail to the Chief" for any view of the White House.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:43 PM on March 24, 2010

Regional riffs, geography tropes, leitmotifs, musical cliches, ethnic musical tropes.

Italy. Southern Italy, O sole mio.

Ireland, hornpipes and jig, amusingly called Off To California.

Scotland, bagpipes.

A YouTube comment re the China musical cliche: "Chinese Lullaby," introduced by Fay Bainter (as Ming Toy) in the Broadway production EAST IS WEST. Music and lyrics by Robert Hood Bowers, copyright 1919. The lyrics are what you would expect from the racially insensitive American stage: "Sing song, sing song, so Hop Toy, Al-lee same like china boy, But he sellee girl with joy:- Pity poor Ming Toy!"

Strauss' Blue Danube for Austria or outer space.
posted by nickyskye at 2:53 AM on March 25, 2010

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