Thursday, January 27, 2011

I Scored a Movie

My brother made an animated short for BYU Broadcasting, and he asked me to write the music for it. I did, and there are some things I've learned from the process.

1—Writing music is the easiest and breeziest process of making the actual music. I composed the score for the movie in about two hours, but it took SO MUCH LONGER to record and edit the darn thing. A lot of that had to do with me being so inexperienced, but still.

2—Hearing someone else play your music is a downright thrilling experience. After we were about half an hour into the recording session, I was getting really frustrated with my playing, so our producer found this guy last minute. His name is Ty, and he was awesome. It was so cool to watch in real time as somebody else learned and interpreted what I'd written. He didn't play it exactly as I'd imagined, but I was not at all disappointed with his performance. He really got into it, and when he put his own personality into the piece, it was actually rather illuminating. Yeah, I have to say that the most rewarding thing composers could hope for is just to hear their music played by someone else.

3—Working with my brother is awesome. We had an absolute trust and respect for each other's work, and I think the final project shows that. I hope to do a lot more with him in the future. We've already started some preliminary/concept stuff for a new project that promises to be epic and wonderful. Here's a taste of what some of it might feel like:

4—All my hours screwing around on Finale and reading Fux and Schoenberg and taking music lessons seem 100% justified now that it's produced a paycheck. It's not an incredibly large check, and I don't plan on making my living off of composition, but I definitely wouldn't turn away future job offers.

5—I'm grateful for parents who were willing to shuttle me to music lessons, and for all my teachers who were willing to put up with me—especially my high school theory teacher, Mr. Breland. I was a huge jerk in his class, but that is where I learned my foundation for theory. I hope he'll think kindly on those days and forgive me for being a teenager. And then there's Betty Pack, whose you-can-do-it attitude has had an enormous impact on me for the past dozen years.

6—Before I scored "Metro," I had a style that I always wrote in that was really comfortable for me, and I wasn't sure if I could depart from it. But Jake wanted a piece that was kind of French impressionist, so I studied Debussy, Satie, and Fauré's harmonies. At first it was clumsy; my first draft sounded just like a Satie gymnopedie to a fault. It was simple mimicry. But gradually I got comfortable with it, and I feel that I came pretty close to the mark in terms of style. This project has given me some confidence to explore other styles of writing.



I'll post a link to the actual movie once we can legally do that. Right now it's being considered for some festivals, so we can't have it online.

The Positive Initiative

I had a realization yesterday. When people ask "How's it going?" "How are you?" "How's your day been," &c, no one wants to hear how I think I'm so busy. This is probably my busiest semester; I'm taking the maximum credit load, and lots of my classes are pretty hard. But I am the one who signed up for the classes, and people I associate regularly with don't need to hear about it every time I see them.

I usually have an hour break in a five hour slew of classes, but yesterday I didn't because I had to go to a biology lab. At first, I had decided to be furious about it. Then I decided that was stupid. I have to look at stone flies and worms anyway; I might as well have fun with it. So I did.

This is my plan for when people ask me how a particularly busy day was. Instead of kvetching about how busy it was, I'll just talk about all the cool things I got to read/do. I mean, it's not like I don't have any free time. I still managed to watch Scott Pilgrim yesterday just for kicks. (That movie is so fun, by the way.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

TRON Soundtrack

This score is too freaking cool. It is the hip love child of brainy Philip Glass minimalism and a high-octane Hans Zimmer score gone techno. In grade school, it was the score that all the other scores looked at with despair, thinking, I will never be that awesome.

I won't do any in depth analyses of the music because I don't want the soundtrack to think I'm a geek. I'll just point out an influence which they deftly manipulate. The TRON "Overture" pulls heavily from Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," but then Daft Punk adroitly makes it their own.

Yeah, it's awesome.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why I Respect Howard Shore

That man puts some love into his soundtracks. I think most people only see his Lord of the Rings score as catchy or pretty and leave it there. But he gives that thing symphonic development and layering. He doesn't just write according to the mood of the scene; he uses all kinds of thematic development and musical allusion to infuse a poetry into the score.

I was not the first person to notice this, but he gives the tubas a variation of the Medieval "Dies Irae" in the score when the ring wraiths come on the little band of heroes on Weathertop. Composers all through the Western tradition have used the Dies Irae as a universal symbol for death, and it's nice to see Howard Shore continuing that tradition. It shows a level of musical literacy most scores simply don't have. Plus, it just adds an extra terror and tragedy to the whole situation of the nine kings who have become these ghoulish figures.

And the way he develops his own themes is absolutely marvelous. My favorite example of this is in the second movie. Merry and Pippin are being led off to Isengard, but while the orcs take a breather, they start talking about the trees around them. While they're talking, you can hear the hint of what will later become a magnificent theme for the Ents as they attack Isengard and Gandalf comes into the battle of Helm's Deep. I doubt anyone noticed that the first time they watched the movie, but it just shows how much care Shore put into the music. You're rewarded for paying attention and giving it multiple listenings.

Last, I really love his piece "Icarus" in the beginning of his Aviator soundtrack. That is just some great writing for the strings. It's not as layered as Beethoven's symphonic stuff, but it has that same drive as that lightning-fast fugato in the third movement of his 5th symphony.

Anyway, I hope this guy gets more work.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bright Star

A friend asked me to watch and review this movie, so here it goes.

Bright Star is just as much about poetry as it is the poet; it's a movie that loves words. I was surprised at how good the dialogue was because the film instantly invites us to compare it with period pieces like some recent Jane Austen films, but unlike those films, Bright Star didn't have volumes of exceptional dialogue already written for it.

I love the scenes, for example, where Miss Brawne goes to Keats for lessons on poetry. He talks about how we don't jump into the middle of a lake and swim to the shore to get to the shore. The reason we jump in is to do the swimming, not to get to the destination. The same is for poetry. We don't read poetry to get to the end of a poem, or get right to the "meaning." The conversation made me think of Billy Collins' gem, "Introduction to Poetry":

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water-ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

In the modern age, we've lost that enjoyment of poetry. It's nice to watch a movie where men write, critique, and love verse.

I don't care much for a lot of Keats's contemporaries, but he has always stood out to me from that period.  Mr. Brown's character, unlike his poetry, is the most interesting in the film. Paul Schneider does an incredible job. He is so detestable from beginning to end, but he always commands the screen. We Americans will probably recognize him from his role as Mark Brendanawicz in Parks and Recreation, which could not be more different from his role in this film.

This movie loves to dwell on beautifully composed shots. There are at least a dozen that feel as though we're really looking at a painting. Keats is lying on top of a tree, the three are marching after each other through the heath, or the maids are simply looking out the window—some of the shots are truly indelible.

As I was watching the movie, a poem from John Donne kept coming to mind:

I have done one braver thing
  Than all the Worthies did.
And yet a braver thence doth spring,
  Which is, to keep that hid.
But he who loveliness within
  Hath found, all outward loathes,
For he who colour loves, and skin,
  Loves but their oldest clothes.
And if this love, though placed so
  From profane men you hide,
Which will no faith on this bestow,
  Or, if they do, deride:

Then you have done a braver thing
  Than all the Worthies did,
And a braver thence will spring,
  Which is, to keep it hid.

Maybe Keats's poetry is so much better than Brown's because Keats lived and did that "braver thing." He loved Brawne for her essence, which was on a much deeper level of personality than the philandering Brown saw in anyone.

The movie has two faults, editing and the main song. Sometimes the sequence of shots is hard to follow; it doesn't read well at all. In fact, many times I was confused about whether the scene I was watching was a continuation of the previous scene, or if it occurred much later in the chronology. Also, the song at the beginning and end of the film is simply obnoxious.

But other than that, this is a film that is having a love affair with beauty. It loves the power of an image, the mystery of love, and the enchantment of language. I wholly recommend it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cross Country Travels

Every few months I find myself driving across the country. In the past two weeks I drove from Utah to Mississippi and back, and the trip renewed my enthusiasm for some things:

For me, the music makes the trip. The way out east, I was with my sister. I drove most of the way, so we mainly listened to her iPod. That helped me realize that I not only like "my" music, but that I just love music in general. I would never buy a Taylor Swift CD, but it would be dishonest of me to say that I didn't enjoy listening to it for half a day.

The more you study key changes, cadences and the like, there's a danger that music will start to lose some of its magic. So I was thrilled when I stumbled on the music from Les Choristes. There is nothing really technically complex with "Sur l'ocean," but as I was driving through Texas, I couldn't help but be moved by its simple beauty. For me at least, music remains magical.

The same goes for Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down." I'm not really a fan of country, but this song was the perfect complement to the Southwest's landscape. It made the whole scene impossibly thrilling for two and a half minutes.

2—Family and Friends
I went east with my sister and west with my friend. I love old, well-formed relationships. I appreciate the comfort that accompanies silence between siblings and old friends. With newly-formed acquaintances, one must always be in conversation or else there's a strain on the moment. For me, the object of all that chatter is getting to the point where we can sit comfortably in silence. It's what Yann Martel calls "moments of stillness."

I love this big, bold country. I love how sweeping, beautiful, and varied its landscape is. I love the gradual shift in accents you hear as you drive across it. I love its diversity—seeing a "Taste of India" restaurant in a gas station in New Mexico or a mosque in Shreveport. I love that there is still a sense of adventure that comes from traveling across America; there is still the possibility that you could get stranded in a mountain pass or run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. If I may, I'd like to refer to the second verse of "My Country, 'tis of Thee" for a summation of my sentiments:

I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills
Like that above.

Anybody down for another road trip?