Okay, after almost 17 years of having complicated websites, here’s something simple for now. More to come.
I started reading Daniel J. Levitin’s excellent book “This Is Your Brain On Music.” It is highly recommended for anyone interested in music whether you are a fan, or a performer or whatever. Music affects us all – there’s physics involved here – and you can learn about it in this book. One thing that has struck me already is a story he tells of introducing someone to rock music (see page 51). As I’ve grown up very musically literate, it was fascinating to hear how Levitin came up with a list of 6 songs to capture the essence of rock music.
Here was his list:
1) “Long Tall Sally” Little Richard
2) “Roll Over Beethoven” The Beatles
3) “All Along The Watchtower” Jimi Hendrix
4) “Wonderful Tonight” Eric Clapton
5) “Little Red Corvette” Prince
6) “Anarchy In The UK” Sex Pistols
(This was the mid-90’s)
What was interesting was that the entire conversation turned to “sonic impression.” Timbre is the word that best describes this. Aaron Copland called it the “sonorous image.” This is the defining element of modern music. In the last hundred years, as music has exhausted the possibilities of pitch, chords, harmonies and perhaps even rhythm, timbre, or the unique palette of sounds creating this sonorous image, has become what makes music fresh and new and interesting. Before Little Richard and the Beatles, we didn’t bang on the piano and yell out the words. Before Jimi Hendrix, we didn’t think of feedback as a musical color. Well, John Cage was teaching us to think of everything in the environment as part of the performance, but the masses of society began to tune out from the mental exercises of serious classical composition in the early 20th century.
Music, to most people alive today, is about a sound. Metallica’s treatment of an A chord is literally a different chord than that same chord played by Alicia Keys. It’s all orchestration – coloring – different instrumentation. It’s the reason the producer has become the king in pop music. We’ll save that discussion for another day.
So what does this have to do with music in film?
In my role as a film composer, I need to create music that A) communicates the story B) is congruent with the way the story needs to be told C) provide some kind of uniqueness in “sonorous image” to help brand the film.
The sonorous image for a “early 20th century coming-of-age story” should be very different than a futuristic sci-fi picture. Of course melodic themes and that ethereal concept of the “composers voice” enable one to recognize the film score, but the unique palette and the way it is constructed is a big part of it.
I haven’t seen the film Iron Man yet but I heard a bit of the soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi on XM Radio’s Cinemagic program. It blends a rock band with a full orchestra. Here’s a clip.
As some of you may noticed, my posts to this blog have become quite erratic as work goes up and down. It would also help if you like this blog and want to see more of it, to send an email – encouragement goes a long, long way.
A Christmas movie suitable for all ages. Music by Andrew Ingkavet. Coming December 7, 2007.
Well, I took part in my second RIPFEST where we create something from nothing extremely rapidly with people you’ve just met. It’s an exhilirating experience and highly recommended. Check out the RAW IMPRESSIONS
website for more info.
After they’ve gathered 5 teams worth of film crews including directors, producers, actors, dps, editors and composers, we’re given some rules, locations, permits and a structure to focus on just creating a new short film in 16 days with a screening at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City at the end.
Our theme? Second Chances.
“What I liked about this script was that it didn’t offer an easy, pre-digested answer. There is room for expansion and discussion,” Mr. Ingkavet told The Blade.
Transgression had “a thoughtful script with a powerful message of mindfulness. Being a spiritual person, I am naturally attracted to projects that are not just adding to the mind-pollution media cloud,” he said.
I’ve posted the slides to my presentation here:
I talk about the uses of music to picture, what it can achieve (and not) and how to communicate between Visual and Aural creatives while using examples from my work in feature films, commercials, animations and shorts. The clips can be found elsewhere on the site.
A friend asked me to comment on a proposed curriculum for film school students regarding Post-Production audio. This made me refer to some old Walter Murch articles which still astonish me as to how accurately he describes the film sound experience. (Murch is the original holder of the title sound designer and has won several Academy Awards for sound editing, film editing and sound design.)
“This reassociation of image and sound is the fundamental pillar upon which the creative use of sound rests, and without which it would collapse…
film seems to be “all there” (it isn’t, but it seems to be), and thus the responsibility of filmmakers is to find ways within that completeness to refrain from achieving it. To that end, the metaphoric use of sound is one of the most fruitful, flexible and inexpensive means: by choosing carefully what to eliminate, and then adding back sounds that seem at first hearing to be somewhat at odds with the accompanying image, the filmmaker can open up a perceptual vacuum into which the mind of the audience must inevitably rush…
The rumbling and piercing metallic scream just before Michael Corleone kills Solozzo and McCluskey in a restaurant in “The Godfather” is not linked directly to anything seen on screen, and so the audience is made to wonder at least momentarily, if perhaps only subconsciously, “What is this?” The screech is from an elevated train rounding a sharp turn, so it is presumably coming from somewhere in the neighborhood (the scene takes place in the Bronx).
But precisely because it is so detached from the image, the metallic scream works as a clue to the state of Michael’s mind at the moment — the critical moment before he commits his first murder and his life turns an irrevocable corner. It is all the more effective because Michael’s face appears so calm and the sound is played so abnormally loud. This broadening tension between what we see and what we hear is brought to an abrupt end with the pistol shots that kill Solozzo and McCluskey: the distance between what we see and what we hear is suddenly collapsed at the moment that Michael’s destiny is fixed.”
This “sound-stretching” is the same thing composers do when working on a film. By stretching the distance between what is portrayed on screen and what is heard… the mind of the viewer perceives a vacuum into which they pour their own associations and emotion. The music is the sub-text to the screen action.
Filmmakers today have unprecedented control over what goes into the their films. With HD cameras now costing less than $1000 (Sanyo’s HD1) and MacBooks with FinalCutPro or even iMovie – you can create films with a total kit costing less than $3000!!
With the hands-on, DIY ethic that has emerged, everything that used to be complicated and difficult about filmmaking is now enormously easier. This has also happened with music with Apple’s GarageBand, Sony’s ACID and a ton of music making software that enables the slightly talented to sound genius, or almost.
So what about scoring your film? As an indie filmmaker, you probably were your own Rebel without a Crew staffing the DP, Art Director, Gaffer, Director, Casting and Editor positions of your film. Maybe even Caterer and Location Scout and Morale Support. Why not just write your own music too using these easy to use cheap tools?
And, with the emergence of new software like Sony’s Cinescore, who needs a Composer nowadays anyway? Aren’t they just like last century’s Coopers? Who needs a barrel-maker anymore?
Well, yes, you as a filmmaker can do everything yourself.
Robert Rodriguez actually tries to do it all himself even with big budget Hollywood and the unions…for which I think his films suffer. The beauty of film is a team effort and the exponential magic that happens when great minds contribute to a whole. But that’s for another post.
Now of course, you’re thinking, cut the crap, I’ve got $5 to make this picture – who needs a Composer?
And here’s my argument. Music is a direct line to the heart. It is the “feel” of the movie. People slink down in their seats when the horrific music signals to them that they should. If you have the abilities to create that in addition to creating your film, then go ahead. It is doable. But to do it well is another thing. Try Cinescoring a soundtrack as indelible, evocative and as proprietarily mnemonic as John WIlliams’ Jaws.
And why suffer when for 5 to 10% of your production budget, you can have a dedicated, raving, film-loving music-making pro actually doing this with you?
Now the only hard part is communicating exactly what it is you want/need/desire. We’ll tackle this in a later post. And if you don’t know what you want (not unusual), no one in the world does. (please never say “I’ll know it when I hear it.”)
Here’s an interesting perspective on Sony Cinescore from Mark Northam, founder of Film Music Institute.
There’s an interview with me posted today at music supervision central.
BACKGROUND: Clear Channel, the country’s largest operator of radio stations, is discussing the idea of one-second radio spots with marketers and media buyers. Called “Blinks,” the new format is being promoted as something that could be used between music tracks by, say, McDonald’s to play part of its “I’m lovin’ it” jingle or Intel to play its chime or NBC for its bells between music tracks. Clear Channel VP-Creative Jim Cook says the one-second format is part of an effort “to find new uses of radio for advertisers who are continually asking us to demonstrate that our medium can successfully extend brands, can successfully reach the consumer with touchpoints that are new and surprising.” Critics suggest the format is likely to fit a very small number of advertisers and is too restrictive for meaningful creative. What do you think?
I think it’s a natural evolution. Everything has been moving to smaller, faster, cheaper, better. The human mind/ear can discern and recognize melodic fragments, textures, harmonies in a millisecond. And as the article suggest, it’s probably best suited for marketers who have already had media exposure to their audio mnemonics such as NBC or Intel or McDonalds.
I’d love to work on one of these if anyone wants to try it out. I’ve done some short audio mnenonics for HP in the past that were never sold through. Anyone?
We spent a day sketching, another to orchestrate and then checked it by conducting a piano reduction with a rehearsal pianist
and then the big day with an outstanding 23 piece orchestra. 3 takes and there we were.
Here’s the clip without any music.
Here it is with my take on the score.
(A portion of an early sketch – it changed continuously until 3am the night before the recording!)
And I don’t remember what the original by John Powell sounded like. What was really interesting was seeing other Composers versions of the same scene (we had a choice of 4 scenes.) No one sounded alike and everyone had their own voice/thumbprint.
A great exercise and highly recommended for Composers and anyone interested in Film Music. You can audit the program as well which may be useful for Producers/Directors wanting to know how the whole process works – and having a pick of 18 amazing composers to work with in the same room!
Just spent an exhilirating, exhausting and truly inspiring 2 weeks in the Buddy Baker Film Scoring Workshop co-sponsored by NYU and ASCAP. In it’s sixth year and now in memoriam to Buddy as he passed away a few summers ago.
Buddy was one of the long-time Disney composers (something like 28 years!). Those studio golden days seem to be over – especially in terms of music departments. Even Pixar, the closest thing to the studio setup that Walt had, doesn’t have composers on staff.
In the old days of Disney, animators and composers would talk and meet periodically and then work parallel paths. Animators had a time sheet and script/storyboard which they would work from and composers would take that information and create their cues. The picture and music would get married up only towards the very end. It really is creating something from nothing. Yes there is a story and that’s what holds the two together. Too often in today’s pressurized, commercialized productions the picture is given all the attention and the music is literally slapped on at the end. Now I have no doubt that great music supervisors can find music that fits your picture and adds something you never could have imagined. On the other hand, films like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars…I can’t imagine them having such long-lasting influence and impact with a licensed score. Yes there are times you NEED a song from the popular culture zeitgeist. Scorsese does it all the time. And now he also uses Howard Shore for scoring those other scenes that need underscore. Or you can hire someone to write songs specific to the film – this seems to be out of fashion nowadays.
I call it the Rise of the Editor culture.
When hiphop started to take the film editors approach to assemblage using “found footage”, filmmakers also started to take the same approach towards their music soundtracks. And with anyone who grew up in the age of MTV, fast cuts and cutting to music is the norm.
I’ll share more of the workshop in the next few days.
An excellent article in the NY Times on the boom of jazz venues right here in our ‘hood.
For many first time directors, there is a huge underestimation of the amount of work involved on the part of Composers and I suspect Editors. Though editors usually are sitting with the director for perhaps weeks or months at a time, Composers are given a brief conversation and then left to their own devices for the most part. 4 to 6 to 8 weeks later the score is delivered and if there is not massively clear, constant and open communication between the two, disasters can happen. With so much of the subtext being communicated via music score (depending on the film) it’s astonishing more thought/training is given this area.
At the recent Sundance at BAM brunch, I was impressed by the amount of support the Institute provides from the ground up and in so many more areas than I knew: film, theater, film music, screenwriter’s labs, directors labs. And the cross-communication between the different labs sounds impressive as well. I know I’d like to go – I’ll have to wait until next year as the deadline is April 1. It’s interesting to note the Sundance Film Festival does NOT have a category for Best Music Score.
On the other hand, IFP, the huge NY-based indie filmmakers network aims to support filmmakers similarly. The results are a bit less impressive, especially as regards film music. At a recent IFP Market panel on film music, the majority of the conversation was on licensing tracks from your favorite band. There was so little advice on where directors can meet composers. It’s as if they all were saying you can find a great indie band that has a film composer in it.
And then, there’s the Independent Spirit Awards – where’s the category for best music score?
This is another short that really got my attention at Tribeca. It has that great Kafka-esque quality of not knowing why and how things are happening at the same time being hysterically funny. It’s also amazing as you realize how entertaining it can be with little more than an office as a shoot location. Great writing and wonderful performances. Directed by Christopher Leone.
Here’s a clip.
Saw this great short at the Tribeca Film Festival by Writer/Director Mark Mollenkamp. Very cool and current, Lure has a pretty great surprise ending. In speaking to the director at the bar, he mentioned that he got a meeting with the Weinstein Company out of this. Not bad for an 11 minute short.
You can see a preview.
Saw the Groomsmen the other day at Tribeca Film Fest. It’s the latest film by writer/director/actor Edward Burns. While I always found Edward Burns’ characters to be repulsively smug, I must say I enjoyed this film. Very well written and performances from John Leguizamo (viva Colombia!) and Jay Mohr (who almost steals the show). The inciting incident is the upcoming wedding of the Burns character to his pregnant girlfriend and the week hanging out with his groomsmen before the big day. They’re all kids at 35 and trying to grow up.
The setting is in Long Island – which is where I grew up. It really hits it on the nose – I was cringing with the puffy hairdos, the “strong island” references, the horrible 80’s rock songs and the accent (Ya wanna get sumthin ta eet?). I should have hated this film – but it’s a great story and well done.
I’ll pass on the soundtrack though. What was it with the 80’s?