Carter Burwell‘s “score” and Skip Lievsay‘s sound effects in No Country for Old Men are comprised of “the occasional barely audible hum and whine of undefinable instruments at moments of tension,” writes Slate‘s Jan Swafford. “As in many film scores there’s a recurring motif: the keening and howling desert wind.
“Its meaning is revealed at the end, when Sheriff Moss delivers a mournful soliloquy accompanied by the wind. The last thing we hear before the credits is the wind and the ticking of a clock. It’s not just about death. It’s the desert that is eternal and doesn’t care about all the human messes played out on its surface, and the wind that will outlast us all.
“You could say the rest of the sound in No Country rises from that wind: the flat tones of the voices, the hum of engines and the whoosh of the road, the barely audible drones of instruments that fade in and out of other sounds, or are terminated by gunshots. As the demon killer throttles his first victim, the sound of a locomotive appears out of nowhere; it tells us this guy is a rampaging machine that cannot be diverted from its track by mere human flesh.
“Sometimes the Coens wield a terrifying silence that does the job of, say, Max Steiner‘s old, stabbing threat-and-suspense chords, and does it better. How all this works can be heard in a scene near the end. Sheriff Bell stands before the door of a motel room, knowing the demon may be on the other side. What we hear is the distant wail of wind, a distant train barely audible, a falling hum of motor somewhere, a low drone of music fading to silence.”
All together, there’s only about 16 minutes worth of “music” in No Country.