Archives for category: FMIP

 

this is a track (can never bring myself to use the word “composition” though that is exactly what this is) i’ve been working on for quite a while .. it’s off an album that i’ve been wanting to release for over 365 days now, i just can’t bring myself to put it up for free download. dignity means more to me than exposure; for the moment at least – it waxes and wanes. (if anyone’s curious about my stance on free downloads- ask me)

the title, “such a thing a home”, comes from something i wrote a few years ago when living in London. Coupled with the fact I’d been working on this track on and off over what i’d class as some of the most transitional and (emo alert) seemingly “home-less” moments of my life – i just thought the name worked. so these were the words, they’ve remained unseen until now. they don’t define me in the way they once did:

___

When i was a boy the universe was mine to roam – everything was new; no boundaries, no phobias, 

just puddles and crayons waiting for me to splash and scribble over the person that I’d be.

 

 Someday I might meet the things in life I’ve feared the most and on that day I’ll say –

“please don’t leave. you’re all I have to make me feel alive now I’ve let everything I once loved just waste away.”

 

 or someday I might go- back to the park behind my house, and on that day I’ll sit on the bench beside the lake

and watch the birds as they land on the water, wondering why I’ve missed this for so many years.

 

 now i’m still a boy- but I don’t want the universe. A little box would do if i could live in it with you-

just listening to the world pass by our window wondering how we could call such a thing a home.. such a thing a “home”…

___

[so i finally got round to recording this on video the other day at a friend’s house.. this was the first time i’d sat at a piano since my last EP “together” was recorded back in April (an occasion on which i had also not played the piano for over 3 months.. worrying trend emerging) . If you think you can hear some muffled swearing at the start of the video that’s because you can – i was getting increasingly annoyed at not being able to remember my own music and subsequently messing up every take. apart from this one]

i recently did the artwork (photography / typography) for Sam Brookes’ single – Glasshouse.. currently available as an exclusive free download via Helium records’ site, it’s a stunning track .. go get it. now :]

saw Ridley Scott’s Prometheus on a Saturday night as part of an archetypal night out with my housemates – film + bowling + pizza .

(To include the fact that i won at bowling would be both self indulgent and irrelevant so i won’t. But say i was to include that fact – i would swiftly counterbalance it with an acknowledgement of that victory being completely down to luck.. Culinary Embodiment of Mediocrity Cabin, wait no – Pizza Hut – was good, dirty cutlery and cheese topped stodge aside.. no no i joke, it was a really nice night out with some lovely people)

have never felt compelled to see any of the Alien films but i just thought it would be worth seeing this_ the trailer did after all look pretty wicked – promises of existential dilemma interspersed with action and terror .. looked great. the actual film was (in my opinion) quite far from that – yeah there was action, and extra terrestrial beef, and it looked great in parts – but none of that could mask the shallow characterisation or thematically hollow script. A toddler with the slightest hint of an awareness of it’s own mortality could have written something more engaging and thought provoking..

la la la la la  (oh and here’s a photo of typo in local publication)

 

For much of the past century, class consciousness has been at the centre of Britain’s film output. Developing the style dubbed by commentators and critics as ‘British Realism’, our filmmakers seem continually preoccupied with class division and its inherent anxieties. But more than ever, realism seems to have very little to do with it, as what began with such kitchen-sink masterpieces as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning has now been reduced to one-dimensional and clichéd depictions of life on ‘the other side of the tracks’  Tom Slater

This essay has stemmed from a frustration at the seemingly relentless on-screen portrayal (within independent British cinema) of Britain as the impoverished grey shithole it isn’t.

My aversion is not to films set in gritty environments or to eye-opening, thought provoking works which deal with and comment on brutal and culturally relevant themes, in other words- social realist cinema (e.g. La Haine)- it is to the trend for British film-makers to tell progressively more pornographically explicit stories of poverty and deprivation for the sole purpose of arousing an audience often fiscally and geographically detached from the circumstances and locations they depict.

Tyrannosaur tells the story of Joseph, an enraged unemployed alcoholic who, when not decapitating pitbulls, throwing bricks through windows or taking his baseball bat on excursions to the local pub finds the time to form a relationship with charity shop volunteer Hannah – herself a victim of domestic violence and marital rape. Sure, other stuff happens, and I did actually quite enjoy the film, but it left a bitter taste which has only soured with time.

It is not that I deny the potential authenticity of such circumstances – (our planet is after all more than capable of creating them) it’s just that I begin to question their credibility when they are portrayed so monopolistically as the only stories capable of emerging from working class communities (See Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, Shane Meadows’ back catalogue [as engaging and insightful as his work is, it is still overwhelmingly bleak in its portrayal of the working class] and Danny Dyer’s CV for just a few further examples). The implication that an entire section of society exists in an impoverished realm of violence and addiction is neither creatively stimulating nor socially constructive; in a post-modern, culturally diverse country is it really acceptable to confine people to such painfully stereotypical caricatures?

On the one hand – one could argue stereotypes, despite being creatively vapid outlets of generalised prejudice, are never completely unfounded. It would be wholly innaccurate to paint a utopian picture of an integrated, fully functional working class Britain where the rise of gang culture and the absence of father figures and male role models are not inextricably linked, where housing estates are bastions of social cohesion and safety, and where unemployment and welfare dependency are not the issues they are. But, conversely – is zooming in obsessively on this one section of the picture really that helpful? Does doing so actually achieve anything more than the objectification and subsequent dehumanising of the people within its frame?

Horror stories have always centered around humanity’s anxieties and fears. The object of that fear would traditionally take on the form of a monster, a physical projection of a particular societal or human insecurity (Dracula, Frankenstien etc) that would usually afford the people it was terrorising an opportunity to group together around a shared fear. At times, the monster evolves and relocates, shedding its alien skin and coming far closer to home – often resembling one of “us” (Psycho, Silence of the Lambs etc). Post war western cinema has slowly come to reflect this transition, bringing the monster nearer and nearer to every day life, effectively turning the camera on itself.

However, in portraying working class Britain in such an unswervingly bleak light, the film-makers who are doing so are inadvertently adhering to archaic and archetypal horror conventions; portraying a depersonalised, homogenised working class- its people and its locations as an exclusively dangerous, alien culture.

Films potentially intended to provide social commentary or domestic insight instead mutate into patronising, middle class tourist postcards of (not-so) foreign lands. From the perspective of entertainment and commerce this fits- it is entertaining to experience something different to our own surroundings. Entertainment equates to money, so I understand completely why this tradition is perpetuated. (Presumably this is why The Jeremy Kyle Show exists too)

But on a social level – if an audience is repeatedly told its neighbours are different, dangerous and to be feared then it follows logically that, even if initially only on a subconscious level, it will begin to distance itself from them. Conversely, if a subject (perhaps “object” would be more fitting) is only ever told it is one thing and is incapable of being anything else then those prophecies spoken over it will eventually begin to fulfil themselves (see the objectification of girls within rap culture over the last three decades). I appreciate this is an extreme extrapolation of current circumstances but what we potentially can end up with is a progressively more fragmented society consisting of individuals who think their neighbours are unapproachable, and isolated communities who think the rest of society wants nothing to do with them. Not a great prospect.

The same could be said of the application of the “chav” label to anyone seen wearing a tracksuit coming out of a tower block. A person’s fashion choices begin to define them and soon every act of anti-social behaviour ever committed by anyone similarly attired or spoken is attributed to them too. Imagine if everyone who adorned a suit and lived in Hampstead was branded an immoral banker and held responsible for the state of the global economy, people would see through the lunacy of such a generalisation straight away. Funny how it not only persists but is actually perpetuated by mainstream media in this context.

Joe Cornish’s film Attack The Block is an insightful social commentary masquerading as a sci-fi horror. In the film a group of teenagers must work together with the woman they recently mugged (alongside other community members) to protect themselves and their Brixton estate from a localised invasion of extra terrestrials.

Cornish initially presents the boys, stereotypically accurate, as an anonymous gang of hooded youths with no apparent identity of their own – yet as the film progresses and the hoods come down we begin to see credible and unique characters develop, gaining profound and subtle insights into the underlying factors that have contributed to their present states; the absence of fathers, the influence of older male gang members and the subsequent lure of drugs and easy money. At no point are these contributing factors either glamorised or didactically spoon-fed to the viewer – they are just presented- without commentary or embellishment. The aliens, themselves brilliant visual metaphors for the plethora of socio-economic/race/class issues that drive communities apart, are eventually defeated by the group coming together and working as a unit. Their sixteen year old leader- the aptly named Moses, in a final act of selflessness, brings about not just the emancipation of his people from their brief subjugation but also the freedom from the oppressors in his own life. Attack The Block points towards a colllective social exodus from the prejudiced mentalities and divisive stereotypes that enslave and in doing so paves the way for other film-makers to tackle culturally relevant issues in ways that illuminate but do not exacerbate the very things they seek to expose. 

My intention was never to write an essay on class –  but the honest truth is that film-making is still a predominantly middle class industry. Subsequently I find it of no coincidence that our films swing violently between upper class fairytales (Notting Hill, Four Weddings) and working class nightmares .. in reality – there is grime and gold in both worlds and I firmly believe that is where the stories lie.

In the significantly more eloquent words of the original Will.I.Am:

.. The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together .. 

Here’s to well told, imaginative stories, regardless of their setting.

 

 

back in April I headed down to London’s south bank with the incredibly talented songwriter Sam Brookes to shoot some pictures for his new album, here are my 2 favourites + a performance of his i was at sometime last year:

this was a nice little interruption to a so far pretty uneventful/boring weekend – being named Beardrock’s band of the week ;]

it’s been months since i’ve been able to find a piano to regularly play / ‘compose’ on and sometimes it gets ridiculously demoralising, music is what i want to do but at times it just feels like it’s too distant a dream.. but then there are little glimmers of hope (like today) – just have to hold on to them and remember their light after the serotonin has dissipated_

here’s a 2 minute short i made recently. it was meant to be an exercise in designing sound for non-narrative film.

 

the footage was intended to look at the interplay / conflict between light and darkness, literally and metaphorically .. the footage was shot in my room and in a local graveyard during the snow at the beginning of February.. i based the structure of the film and it’s content on this quote from John’s gospel_

“the light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it”

the sound was intended to mirror the visuals, i went for a mixture of lighter / organic / minimally processed sounds with some much heavier / digital / distorted / dark noises .. the sounds were created using (not simultaneously) street noise, water, an empty bathtub, an extractor fan, my mouth, a speaker, leaves / branches. oh, and a piano..

here’s a long exposure photo i took of the film playing on a projector screen after it’s production_

Rob Simonsen is an established film composer currently based in Los Angeles. Having produced music for 500 Days of Summer and All Good Things (alongside many other films) i caught up with him a few days ago just as his most recent project – Bennett Miller’s Moneyball – heads to the award shows. We decided, given the distance, to meet on a mutually convenient uncharted island – in the center of the Atlantic, accessible only by private jet and Skype.

Rob and I first met a few months ago on Instagram, a mobile photo-sharing community, and stayed in touch via that. What initially drew me to his music was the varied mixture of influences present in his sound- it wasn’t the cliched over-orchestral stuff the film world often appears to be saturated by, neither was it the inaccesible indie that never seems to make it into mainstream cinema – he seemed to juggle musical worlds, drawing on each of their strengths, to great effect – on occasions his work is elaborately orchestral yet at other times minimal, seemingly simple – with complex and immersive soundscapes.

I was curious, as an aspiring composer myself, to find out more – not just about the inner workings of the industry but also about what motivated Rob to embark on his journey and the origins of his relationship with music. What follows is a heavily abridged transcription of the conversation we had (with my bits cut off. in the linguistic, as opposed to rabbinical, sense).

“i play piano by ear- my grandma was a voice teacher  and all the grandkids got music instruction and she was a big proponent of mine to continue and always made sure that i had keyboards and pianos to play and music education ( – which i mostly, roundly, rejected – i was a horrible student ! )

I just wanted to figure things out for myself and on my own .. i definitely was able to form my own emotional relationship to music; which i think is important .. so that’s kind of how it happened for me – i was just always playing and always noodling. Music was a retreat for me  .. ”  

Speaking about his time after high school (a period where Rob had first begun assisting friends with making films) –

“one of my friends directed a film  and we spent a lot of time talking about the film and what it was gonna be and talking about the music and then – kind of on a whim – i had seen one of my good friends score a film for another friend of mine – i actually played piano on that score – and it just dawned on me – wow.. yeah.. music for movies!  /// and when i was talking to my friend about his film (and this was Westender – this very ambitious medieval film, completely independent, low budget medieval epic which is a weird thing to try and pull off!).. but we did it and i said “I’ll score it- i’ll do the music” and he was like “yeaaah, and you’ll do the music!” and this was when it was gonna be a short … and over three years it ended up turning into a feature – i wrote about an hour and a half of orchestral music!

.. it was kind of perfect and i also liked the challenge – each film presented a new opportunity – a new sonic world! it could be electronic, or it could be orchestral, or it could be a guitar – a single guitar..  i feel like there’s so much to absorb and to learn and experiment with in the entire vernacular of all music that’s around .. and i feel like film is a really great opportunity for me to get my feet wet in a lot of different things; chinese instruments, icelandic folk, all these little musical quests that i get to go on and it’s great!”

A lot of Rob’s cinematic work has been done in collaboration with (and initially – under the mentorship of) composer Mychael Danna – here’s how that came about –

“the first film that i did opened at Seattle international film festival and i met Mychael Danna there – he was a guest speaker – and i absolutely loved what he had to say and he blew me away with his perspective and these clips from films with some of his score.. i was like – fuck, this guy is brilliant and approaches film in a way that i didn’t .. so i befriended him there and then about a year later we had both moved to LA at the same time and then we started working together – 

i started out assisting him on “Being Julia”  .. he called up and said “you wanna start work right now? he started to give me little musical assignments and if he was pleased with what i did he’d give me a little bit more at the next opportunity and he let me work my way up underneath him and years down the road we were sharing head credit – which was incredibly gracious of him and a really amazing thing for me to get the opportunity to write and collaborate on projects which were much much bigger than anything i would be able to get on my own”

Finally, here were Rob’s (reassuringly non-formulaic) thoughts on getting into the industry-

“the simple answer, that’s not really fun to hear, is that there’s no one route, there’s no one way – especially nowadays when mediums are changing so much, the film industry’s changing so much, peoples’ music tastes are changing so much and i think that they’e evolving..

i think that the most important thing is to have the music that you feel is you – that identifies you – and i think that being a film composer – your wheelhouse has to be fairly broad in order to keep working .. i’ve had a lot of opportunities come my way and i’ve said “yes” to a lot of them wherever i can, typically i take it on – i feel now my focus is on zeroing in on what my particular voice and style actually is – and i think that that’s a really important thing and i think that is naturally occurring for younger guys who are creating online presence and getting their music onto playlists that are blogged about and so forth.. 

Scoring student films can lead to some great things – there’s definitely composers around that formed relationships with guys that went on to be very important directors because they’d scored a student film .. and i think it’s important to know what that process is and get familiar with it- i had scored 3 features on my own before i’d ever started working with Mychael ..  Score as many student films as you can- i truly believe that cream rises to the top … so .. if one was to score a short and it’s really great then those people that are involved in that film are gonna talk to their friends – if they’re film makers they typically have friends that are film makers – and word just gets around .. i can’t tell you how valuable that process has been to me – people just talk or that may just recommend me to a friend and that’s led to some really amazing opportunities ..

the other route is assisting people that are already doing this kind of work – it’s like a timeless relationship between apprentice and mentor and i don’t know that it exists as fully as it does in film – at least with me and Mychael – i owe him so much and so much of what i am today has been strengthened and carved out through his mentorship and i’m a thorough believer in that 

so i think those are the 3 main ways- i think it’s probably important to work on all fronts create your own sound, get your music out there, make your own connections with films” 

To check out more of Rob Simonsen’s work head over to his site or just pop into your local cinema sometime soon. Alternatively, you can check out Rob’s impressive photography on Instagram.

today i experienced one of the most eye-opening, disturbing, life-affirming and depressing films i’ve seen..

Ray Kurzweil is a modern day genius/techno-prophet – inventor of many many things technological and proponent of the exponential increase in the integration of human intelligence with artificial intelligence.. basically, what he sees as the inevitable fusion of man and machine.

Barry Ptolemy’s Transcendent Man, a feature length documentary, centers around Kurzweil’s reluctance to accept the inevitability of death and the existential implications of the potential integration of artificial intelligence to the human body he speaks of – to prolong, or ultimately, render obsolete, our own mortality..

The film expands on Ray’s worldview by providing intimate insights into both his technological accomplishments and the adolescent experiences which have undeniably shaped his inventions and thought processes, in particular – the loss of his father to heart disease at a young age. What’s so inspiring and moving about the film is seeing Kurzweil’s zest for life, his commitment to health and wellbeing, his yearning for eternity – the subject matter very quickly transcends technological advancement and cuts into the core of what it means to be human; what it means to live..

Ptolemy does a spectacular job of impartially balancing the scientific with the spiritual and (quite rightly) intertwining the two – Kurzweil’s technoprophecies are criticised, destructively and constructively, by fellow scientists and contemporary thinkers..

Ray’s utopian fantasies are counterbalanced by dystopian nightmares and every now and then a patch of middle ground speaks up and reassures the viewer.. It’s a genuinely fascinating film, the content of which i’d argue every human alive right now should be aware of.

On a personal note – i struggled massively with some of Kurzweil’s ideas. I mean – what he ultimately hints at at is the artificial perfection of our flawed “old software” – our genetic makeup – in doing so – pointing to the deification of the human race – a species capable of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence..  one of his final quotes in the film was – “does God exist? not yet” //

I’m just as up for immortality as the next guy, i do believe that we’re hard-wired to crave it (and it’s source) but i don’t know, i’m just not that up for sharing my soul on some pseudo-celestial facebook and being perpetually reincarnated as a PC,

ok, maybe as a mac.

no.

;]

“he has set eternity in the heart of mankind” Ecclesiastes 3:11

oh.. and here are some photo collages i did after the film ..