Saturday, March 31, 2012

Re-Telling Someone Else's Story

The ability to summon Asperger-ish focus upon a task is mixed blessing: on the one hand, I always manage to complete a project to satisfaction by deadline; on the other hand, everything else gets sidelined. The closer I come to completing a mammoth project, the more I become a kind of music-studio Gollum: a wretched, washed-out creature that exists to the outside world only in rumour.

Then comes the happy day that I achieve my goal and can rush outside, arms outstretched to welcome the world back within me. Of course, this time, it was more a case of rushing outside only to jump back into a cargo van and heave away on a month-long national tour - hopscotching from one great undertaking to the next. Not that this is a problem. I love touring Japan, if only because truckstop service area food actually resembles food. But then the coffee's never strong enough. Trade-offs!

Anyway, enjoying a brief breather between jaunts, I figured it was high time I unveil what's had me waylaid for the past month: my new solo album, a collection of genre pieces & "re-scores" inspired by indelible scenes from various films I love.

Over the winter holidays, as per usual, I spent a couple-dozen hours on planes with nothing better to do than drink cheap whiskey and watch eight movies back-to-back. I actually quite enjoyed most of the movies I watched (with the notable exception Drive) yet found myself thinking, more often than not, that I could've composed a better film score. Perhaps it was the booze talking, but it seemed a wager worth taking.

Of course, unless I was content to sit around & wait for my first commission, I'd have to work with pre-existing material. The initial plan was to re-score a entire film from start to finish, but I couldn't imagine who'd want to sit through a whole movie, stripped of dialogue & sound-effects, simply to hear several variations on a single theme. Instead, I selected a handful of films that whose visual content offered a reasonable amount of stylistic leeway - films that didn't scream out for another blustering Holst knock-off or the moronic thrum of bad techno. From each of these films, I chose a scene or two whose mood & pace would benefit from musical support and set about giving it to 'em.

I continued watching movies for fun in my free time. Recently, though, I'd been revisiting the ol' poliziotteschi, those gloriously amoral Italian cop movies from the 1970s that apparently all star either Franco Nero or Maurizio Merli. So naturally, a couple of weeks into the writing process, I began churning out generic themes to the best & bloodiest of Italian B-movies, attempting my best impressions of maestros Morricone, Piccioni, Ferrio, Micalizzi and - as seen below - Cipriani.

In the end, three of these genre pieces landed on the album; the other twelve tracks, however, were are written specifically to picture. It'd be silly, of course, to compose soundtracks whose visual component would go unseen, so I've made a YouTube playlist of the songs synced with their respective scenes for all to enjoy. So... enjoy!


davidly said...

Cool stuff and nice list. Here in Berlin it has been en vogue for some time for musicians to score films live, usually old silents like Metropolis, but sometimes modern work with sound.

Though some of my favorite films have music and image I find inseparable from one another, all too often, films seem over-scored. How interesting it would be to relegate the scoring to the sound recording and design - to turn the whole thing over to one studio engineer/producer with a singular "vision" who'd start with on-set boom recording, onto post dubbing, treatments, and finish mixing and editing the whole thing, perhaps even without instrumentation. Sort of ambient vérité, or something.

Seb said...

Very glad you enjoy it! Live-scoring is certainly fun musical exercise, and I wish I had more chances to do it. Not to say it always works out for the best, but hey...

And I agree, a great many films are ridiculously overscored. Many of my favourite soundtracks belong to films with minimal use of music (e.g. films by Lynch, Wenders, and Jarmusch), which of course heightens the music's impact proportionately.

Much of the blame for overscoring is upon the incursion of sound-design into what used to the be the exclusive domain of the score. Sound-design is so sophisticated these days, with control down to the microsecond, it's arguably more vital an expressive tool than the music itself. Music has responded, of course, by becoming more clangorous & insistent, with all kinds of production gimmicks & unorthodox noises to compete with the sound effects. (Not to mention that, quite often, the score never shuts up, like Reznor's work for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.)

I blame Hans Zimmer.

Michael Riddell said...

Isn't it a great feeling when you rush out to greet the world with arms outstretched?