Nothing a little synthesizer can’t fix

Sometimes your name is Mark Snow, and you have to compose the soundtrack that will transport viewers to a distant locale. Fortunately, there’s a synthesizer setting for that. Refer to the handy chart below for which button to push when your ethnic villain/victim appears on screen.

Mexico – synth guitar

As seen in: El Mundo Gira

Because you can’t tell the story “Two men, one woman, trouble” without cascading guitar arpeggios.

I wish that I was in your arms, like that Spanish guitar...

I wish that I was in your arms, like that Spanish guitar… 

India – synth rattle

As seen in: Badlaa*

Do they use rattles in Indian music? Maybe it’s an obscure genre native to quadriplegic mystics in wheelie carts.

Shake, rattle and... wait a minute, where the crap does he keep his wheelie cart while hiding in a butt?

Shake, rattle and… wait a minute, where does he keep his wheelie cart while hiding in a butt?

Jewish – synth clarinet

As seen in: Kaddish

To be fair, this will provide a helpful clue for modern audiences, for whom Williamsburg, Brooklyn has different associations these days.

Goddamn hipsters.

Goddamn hipsters.

South America – synth pan pipe

As seen in: Teso Dos Bichos

According to both subway musicians and Encarta ’96, pan pipes are a legitimate South American instrument. I’ll allow it.

As it turns out, the Amaru curses you with subway musicians.

As it turns out, the Amaru curses you with subway musicians.

Africa – synth pan pipe

As seen in: Teliko

Culturally, this seems less defensible. This article — which I can tell is credible because it’s written in Papyrus — indicates that pan flutes can be found in central and eastern Africa, but our knockoff Eugene Tooms in this episode is from Burkina Faso. I would be appalled, were this not just another nail in this episode’s coffin of mediocrity. Instead, I am miffed.



Asia – … synth pan pipe

As seen in: Hell Money, Nisei

While I’m starting to suspect that there’s a big old “FOREIGNERS” sticker over the synth pan pipe setting, there is a Chinese instrument called the paixiao that the soundtrack is trying to bastardize here. On the other hand, neither Wikipedia nor my trusty Papyrus-font website indicate any usage of pan pipes in traditional Japanese music.

BD Wong disapproves.

BD Wong disapproves.

American Indian – synth pan pipe wtf

As seen in: Shapes, The Blessing Way

The usage of synth pan pipes here would be less objectionable were it not juxtaposed with actual Navajo chanting, or were it not used to signal Albert Hosteen’s every entrance on-camera like some kind of racist cowbell.

“Well, my musical idols include Johnny Cash and… oh, okay. Pan pipes, then.”

Let us all take a moment to remember those pre-9/11 days, when almost any culture could be brought to life with the simple touch of a pan pipe emulator. Or maybe I didn’t notice these shortcuts because the Fight the Future soundtrack was so good, even playing it in a crowded Chick-Fil-A makes you think you’re about to get abducted.

Or maybe it was because I had never left the country the first time I saw these episodes, and was thus totally fine with the notion that the rest of the world was drowning in pan pipes.

* Why did you see Badlaa? The only record of it in my mind is the atxf nickname “Butt Genie.”

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