Behind the Music in 'Vietnam War'

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Music can help express emotions that aren't so easily put to words, and songs from of the Vietnam War era continue to help people identify with feelings from that time period.

Songs like John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” and the Rolling Stones “Street Fighting Man” helped filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick with “The Vietnam War,” a series which premieres on PBS WVIZ on Sunday.

“There are 120 recordings from the period and they are put in the film in chronological order, so you hear music only after it’s been released,” Novick said. “You can hear the changes in our country as you listen to the music change.”

But the filmmakers didn’t just use period music. They enlisted Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to create new music to depict a range of emotions, including fear, love and loss.

“What’s extraordinary about their music is that it was able to give voice to things that we don’t have a way to put into words,” Novick said.

Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble also created improvisations for the 10-part series from watching clips and listening to selections of Vietnamese music.

“We used the music sometimes in scenes about the Vietnamese experience, but sometimes in scenes about the American experience,” she said. “Sometimes the same piece we transit between the two and sort of unite this human experience of war across these very disparate cultures.”

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