Hello, hope you all had a great Valentine’s Day.
The film I scored a while ago called ‘Comforting Skin” had a run at Slamdance recently and is now heading out to a variety of other festivals, getting some well-deserved attention.
Here is a short video from the scoring sessions for “Comforting Skin”, conducting a chamber ensemble of very talented players.
You can read more about the film on my website where I have a page dedicated to the film.
The score makes use of many contemporary harmonic and orchestration devices. I am thinking that it could be insightful to share some of these in both score and audio form on “Getting the Score”, if that is something you might be interested in. Let me know in the comment box!
My first musical love affair was with John Williams’ score for “Star Wars”. I remember clearly lying down in my mother’s living room as young lad of 8 or 9, chin in hands, listening to the entire soundtrack on the vinyl I received as a gift.
I read and re-read the liner notes as I listened to the music, a single page containing descriptions of all the tracks and all the themes. Even though I was quite young, I treated that piece of paper like gold and it is still intact in the original record sleeve from 1977, here in my studio.
I was taking piano lessons at the time and asked to play the music from “Star Wars”. I received a photocopy of the music, which I practiced very hard. I drew my own cover for the sheet music, taking great care with it. It was a x-wing being pursued by a tie-fighter with the Death Star in the background.
I can still sing you every single note of the Star Wars score. And now, many yeas later and with a master’s in composition behind me, I can tell you which parts of Star Wars come directly from the Rite of Spring. And you know what…?
I don’t care.
My love for this music is a link to my childhood, and there’s nothing that can change that. And on top of that, now that I know what happens during the composition of a film score (deadlines and temp scores) I can easily forgive a few minor “hommages”.
After my Star Wars score I received the vinyl for Superman. Same story and now I know every note.
After that it was the vinyl for E.T. Same thing.
I had brief affairs with Vangelis, Danny Elfman and Henry Mancini, but they never lasted. I always came back to John Williams.
To say that John Williams is the reason I love orchestral music so deeply is perhaps not a stretch. Our adult lives are shaped by our childhood experiences, and John Williams’ music was a big part of my childhood. In an era before VCRs, his music was a connection to my favourite films and I listened and listened until the scores became the central element.
Now, as I make my way as a professional film composer, his music is a constant reminder of the level of excellence I aim to achieve in my own career. From the indelible melodic writing to the glowing orchestrations, to the perfect dramatic placement of the music and the pacing of the score, John Williams music remains my biggest source of inspiration.
What is the relationship between music and all other sounds on a film’s soundtrack? Should the composer and director consider one when working on the other?
It seems that the answer should be an obvious “yes”, but I was watching one of last summer’s blockbusters and at one point there was a foot chase accompanied by hand percussion.
Aren’t the sounds of running feet and hand percussion almost the same? Yes! And I found it made for a messy and confusing soundtrack.
Location sounds, folley, sound effects are all sounds that can clash with the music if they are not taken into consideration during composition.
The trick is to make the music either complementary or supportive of the other sounds.
For example, the hand percussion in the above example could have been avoided since it clashed with the sound of running footsteps on the street. And in any case, the sound of running footsteps provided a rhythmic drive and an immediate emotional reaction that was very much like the hand percussion, making their inclusion redundant.
Sustaining instruments (strings, winds) would have been a better choice, being more complementary to the footsteps, and would still have been be able to provide the necessary drive and tension the scene required.
To consider sound effects is the job of the composer during his daily work, that is for sure, but it is easy to forget when the work piles up and one gets carried away with the musical idea.
So it would be wise for the director to consider important sound effects during the spotting session, or during morning calls or at the very least when reviewing cue mock-ups.
Music in a film doesn’t exist on its own, it is part of the total sound package. And that is the bottom line; music and the soundtrack are partners to create a complete emotional experience.