Archives for category: Sound

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.

Two of my tracks were used in this just-released short, Stone of the Sun, by Indian film-maker Anurag Dasgupta.

i recorded this EP back in December 2011 in south London .. an American friend inspired me to compose some stuff for snow and that’s what this is – a collection of 3 improvised pieces of music designed to synchronise your ears with the weather you’re currently experiencing (if you live in the UK, or anywhere else that’s snowing)

> FREE download .. PLEASE share if you like it .. and enjoy <

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN/DOWNLOAD

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this is a short film made up of footage i shot the other night- it was foggy, it was doing nice stuff to all the streetlights and made everything seem so still.. it seemed only right to film.. the track is probably the most minimal thing i’ve ever written, it’s available to download as part of  my “Songs From a Distant Summer” EP .. i wanted to experiment more with syncing film to audio so at several (what seemed appropriate) points the visuals and the music were quite tightly choreographed.. [also have a lot more footage from the day after but need to have a think about how to use that]

 

what follows is an essay i’ve just finished writing on one of my favourite films and the interplay between sight and sound within it. i’ve watched the film about six times this last week alone and made meticulous notes on it’s soundtrack but sadly, this being a 1000 word limited essay, i can’t really go into anywhere near the amount of detail i’d like to.. but anyway, here goes

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Tony Takitani was a short story written by Haruki Murakami, first published in The New Yorker in April 2002. Written in Murakami’s signature, almost screenplay-like style, it deals primarily with themes of solitude, loneliness and ultimately – the fine line between the two.

Tony Takitani grows up motherless and to all intents and purposes – via a fractured and distant relationship with Shozaburo – fatherless. At school he is outcasted for his Western name and pursues his love of illustration – an emotionally detached, sterile love of it.

He grows up to become a sought after and wealthy illustrator within the advertising industry. His life is portrayed as solitary and simple, his interactions minimal and his relationships non-existent. Yet this melancholy equilibrium he has accepted as his identity is shattered when he meets and falls in love with a younger woman at his workplace. They eventually marry, his solitude subsides but her fashion addiction ends up killing her and Tony is alone, again- except this time with a haunting awareness of what the warmer alternative is like.

In 2003 Jun Ichikawa adapted Murakami’s story.

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Ichikawa began his career as a director in television advertising. While his immersion in that industry enabled him to skillfully compress narrative into short time spans (something which would prove useful on his transition to cinema) he also expressed frustration at its effect on some of his earlier work in film – he considered his cuts “too short and fast”, with “no room [for the audience] to breathe or relax”.

His visual interpretation of Marukami’s text displays not only a solid and sympathetic understanding of the themes raised in it but an implementation of the slower pacing whose absence he lamented in his earlier work. His use of sound and music – both in their presence and absence, elevates the extent to which his interpretation engages the viewer and encourages interaction.

Sets are kept minimal throughout and share a common absence of clutter. In doing so the director is able to emphasise the emotional detachment and simplicity with which Tony Takitani views and experiences his world. Colour palettes are desaturated and cool – stripped of the warmth one would usually imagine in domestic and social surroundings. The consistency of the desaturated imagery present throughout the film serves to remind us that this is just how Tony Takitani’s life is – there is no overwhelming presence of colour which is snatched away, instead just an omnipresent detachment from it, a perpetual state of solitude – even within the less solitary parts of the film.

Tracking shots slowly moving to the right, fading through black, mimicking the progressive narrative style of a storyboard – something which Ichikawa has presumably drawn from his own background and used to immerse the viewer in Tony Takitani’s world – where one un-cluttered, desaturated interaction with life moves seamlessly on to the next.

In terms of Ichikawa’s photography – the overwhelming majority of shots involving people are limited to long shots and medium close ups. He maintains an emotional distance between us and the characters and between the characters themselves. It is during a brief scene in which Tony is getting to know his future wife that the audience sees the only extreme close up of the film. Ichikawa subtly draws attention to this experience being the most intimate and personal of the protagonist’s life, yet even at this pinnacle of emotional connection the camera still only faces the back (occasionally- the side) of her head –  the scene is subsequently imbued with a sense of distance and foreboding – that, as lovely as this moment is- it, and the companionship it brings, will not last. This is accentuated hugely by Ryuchi Sakamoto’s recurring minimal piano composition, “solitude”, playing throughout this entire scene. Using predominantly minor progressions and solitary notes he mirrors the protagonist’s melancholy and isolated state. A key theme running throughout Marukami’s original story is Tony Takitani’s inability to escape his own solitude; in collaborating with Sakamoto, Jun Ichikawa has skillfully interpreted this sense of inescapability.

After the death of Tony’s wife, Ichikawa cuts the music that the audience has, by this stage, grown used to. In removing the melodies that have accompanied the protagonist’s solitude throughout the film an even greater sense of loss is achieved – that Tony has lost not just his wife but even the identity he had before meeting her.

A shot of Tony lying fetal, back to camera, in the empty room his wife’s clothes once populated, mirrors his father’s physical and emotional posture whilst imprisoned in solitary confinement (prior to Tony’s birth). Through drawing attention to their shared experience of dire circumstances Ichikawa has caused the protagonist and his estranged father to inadvertently (and somewhat metaphysically) achieve a level of proximity and relationship neither were capable of during their time together.

He sympathetically restores order to the characters’ universe before finally pushing Tony into new equilibrium – in a final scene absent from the original story Ichikawa has Tony ring up the woman he hired (briefly) earlier in the film to wear his dead wife’s clothes and perform chores around the house to ease the pain of her absence. Tony hangs up before the former assistant can answer, but the message is clear – for the first time in his life he is uncomfortable with his own solitude. The film ends with a cut to black and the prolonged reintroduction of Sakamoto’s main theme. Regardless of his future, for now – Tony is once again alone.

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Instrumental music, in allowing the listener to contribute their own thought processes and emotions to the composition and not merely dictating a suggested response, can create (and non-invasively serenade) visual landscapes to an extent which lyrical music often cannot. Conversely, film, in it’s purest form- as silent moving image, is capable of conveying narrative at times more effectively than it’s spoken counterpart.

Lyrics and dialogue, as conducive to an audience’s engagement with a story as they can admittedly be, can also be just as obstructive; what is spoken can often diminish (or, at worst- negate) the impact of that which would be best left un-said. Endless as it’s narrative is, life (alongside much of the art inspired by it) doesn’t require perpetual narration. The most engaging and emotive stories are those which allow an audience to contribute their own story to a narrative without weakening or diluting the actual story being told. In his adaptation of Tony Takitani, and through his sensitive inclusion and exclusion of aural and visual information, Ichikawa fully affirms this.

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have felt pretty uninspired so far on my new course – i desperately needed to re-engage with film .. so went out yesterday to the grounds of UEA and just filmed anything i liked the look of for about 2 hours.. i’d almost forgotten how much i love composing shots and pacing them- the only downside is my camera (a Canon IXUS 130) isn’t full HD or really intended to make short films on – but it has a really nice macro mode and even it’s absence of pixels actually worked quite well with this particular piece.. i also forget just how much i enjoy piecing together footage or imagery to create some kind of story/narrative..

i feel a sense of belonging/home whenever i’m slightly removed from concrete and crowds.. nature somehow manages to pause my quest for somewhere, or someone, to belong to and i like it for that (alongside it’s many other attributes) .. so i guess that’s what was retrospectively extracted from the footage in the edit.. the theme and visual content also seemed to coincide well with one of my favourite pieces of instrumental music- Peter Broderick & Machinefabriek’s Homecoming – so decided to turn the film into an unofficial video for the track..

i worry that there isn’t much room for my way of doing things in this industry..

spontaneity/retrospective extraction of subconscious narrative and meticulous pre-planning aren’t exactly destined for a lifetime of happiness together.. I’m happy to compromise to some extent but i don’t ever want to get to the point where i won’t just go out with a camera and shoot without any idea of what i’m going to shoot. serendipity is something i value highly in many aspects of my work and i will fight for it’s freedom to interfere..

just to dispel any misconceptions i might have encouraged to grow here – i’m not at all opposed to planning-

despite being drawn to the improvised film my ideal project would definitely be a merger * of the two. i.e. having a rough or detailed framework that could expand to allow for the possibility of something unplanned and beautiful occurring within it..  

anyway, early days on the course.. we’ll see how this all goes i guess ;]

* it’s worth pointing out that i just had *enormous* difficulty attempting to spell “merger” .. after a good thirty or so seconds the closest i could get was “mergure” but that felt too much like a shakespearian thief’s name to be right.. fortunately, spellcheck saved the day.. alas, following independent investigations Mergure was released uncharged

my new 4track EP, Songs From A Distant Summer, featuring photography by Laura Olivia Baker  is out today priced at £1.

click here to stream/download

it’s basically a collection of semi-improvised songs recorded over the summer on a friend’s piano, a white upright Kawai, beside an old grandfather clock in a sun drenched living room in South London.. the recordings were made around (i.e. before, during + after) the pointlessness that was the London riots with “and this too shall pass” being recorded the morning after the worst night.