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Monday, December 30, 2013

Film Score Live to Projection

When I was just beginning to discover Hollywood Film Scores and composers, I would go by bus, all the way from Thiruvanmiyur to Spencer Plaza Music World and Land Mark just to hang around the “Soundtrack” shelf that had hundreds of Hollywood Film score CDs. I would read reviews of the film scores online and then would go there to check if it was available in the store. For almost an year, I was just looking. After a lot of research online, I decided to buy one compilation CD pack. John Williams’s Greatest Hits 1969 - 1999 is the first Hollywood Score CD I bought. I had’t seen any of the films, the score of which I was listening to, but every single piece of music in that CD gave me an experience I never had before. I was awestruck by the sheer power and sound of the symphony orchestra, and of course John Williams’ robust orchestration and instantly catchy and hummable motifs.

In one of those visits, I stumbled upon 20th Anniversary edition of John Williams’ E.T Film score on CD, and when I read about it online I learnt that the score in 20th Anniversary edition is the one recorded live when it was performed and conducted by John Williams, to the movie that was simultaneously being projected on a big screen. I didn’t know that it was possible. That was my introduction to the concept of performing the film score live to the projection of the film in a front of an audience.

Much later, I got to know from Satyajit Ray’s article on Background scores that even in the silent era, musicians were hired locally to perform music to the projection of the film. Concept of background score was in, even before Sound came to be in films.

Then came Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Howard Shore’s score for the trilogy. I was closely following anything and everything related to Lord of the Rings, and again heard that they have started performing the LOTR score live to Projection all over the world. I have seen hundreds of user videos on YouTube of these live performances and ever since it has been my dream to watch a film with its score performed live.

My dream is about to come true on 31st December 2013, and what makes it even more special is that, the film I am going to watch with the live film score is a silent film. The Artist (Score Composed by Ludovic Bource), which recently won Best Picture and Best Film Score Oscars, is the film I will be watching with the live score. I am going to experience a movie exactly the way people experienced movies almost a century ago. Excited beyond words!

However, I really can’t predict what the experience is going to be like. How can I concentrate simultaneously on the visuals and the performance of the orchestra? Or should I just not watch the orchestra’s performance? But, I am a fanatic of watching an orchestra, with violinists in the different layers of string section moving their bows in all different directions and yet collectively the music sounding perfectly in harmony. Maybe, I should just watch the film, and just experience the live sound of the music. At least if it is a film with dialogues and sound that can roughly guide me through the narrative, I can watch more of the live performance of the music and less of the visuals of the film. But, it is a Silent film.

I have heard Artist score before. It is a classic Hollywood film orchestral score operatic with lush strings, Xylophones, blended with smooth velvety Jazz strains. I don’t remember the score much though. Should I listen to the score at least once before going to the concert hall? Or is it best if I don’t, and give myself the gift of surprise? Or maybe I should watch the movie once? No, don’t. Maybe, the music will come rushing back to my memory once I begin to watch the film. With a film like LOTR, I know exactly what cue plays where, and I guess that is a totally different experience, which, watching Artist with live score is not going to be, but this could be an equally rewarding experience in a different way. And I am curious to see how the conductor knows when to start a cue when the movie is playing.

I always wondered how they would balanced different layers of sounds (the ambient sound, dialogues and orchestral score) in a movie live in such concerts - I cannot know in this concert. For that I have to wait till May, when Michael Giacchino’s score for new Star Trek is performed live to Projection again at Royal Albert Hall. Anyways, I am all set to watch my experience my first film score live to projection.

Now, which Indian film you would want to watch like this, with the score performed live to projection? Is that even possible? You need a Symphony orchestra, a rock band, a Jazz band, a folk ensemble and a wholesome ensemble of Indian instrumentalists all in one stage. Isn’t it?

Happy New Year!

And yeah, backgroundscore.com just crossed a Million Views. Yay!

Finally, my wish came true. Watched a movie with the live performance of the background score. London Symphony Orchestra and the sound design was so perfect that few minutes into the film, I forgot that the score was being performed live. Also, with only the sheet music stand lights kept ON, the orchestra was also relatively invisible on stage. After the end of the end credits of the movie, Orchestra played the brassy rock and roll end credits music again, and the effect of brass section in the orchestra live has to be heard to be believed. Incredible experience!

There is Pixar in Concert next month where they perform musical cues from all Pixar movies, I couldn't book the tickets online, looks like they are sold out already. I have to check with box-office again. How an earth can I miss Pixar concert! Scores of animation films are most musical of all movie scores now.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Background Score in a Song

A film director gives a composer all the information that he could about the situation in the film where he needs a song to convey or heighten the emotion and help the narrative. But, before making the film, or shooting the song, he could only have a vague idea of how exactly he is planning to shoot the song. He wouldn’t have finalised what exactly is going to be in the song - the scenarios, the location, the shots, the costume, visual style etc., you only have an emotion, or an action that has to happen in the song that takes the film’s narrative forward. A composer has to compose a melody that evokes the needed emotion, but in an Indian film song, there are these abstract instrumental sections called interludes that connects different stanzas. Now, how and why the interludes came to be in an Indian film song’s structure is a totally another topic worthy of elaborate discussion. Now how does a composer decide what should happen musically in these interludes? In Indian films most film directors have little to no idea of what to do with the interludes and what to ask for. It is there because it has to be there.

Maniratnam tells Ilaiyaraaja that he wants a song (Sundari Kannal Oru Sedhi from Thalapathi) on Love and War, about a king who goes to War and his wife longing for the King’s homecoming. While the stanzas take care of love and longing part of the premise, Ilaiyaraaja wrote intricately layered symphonic piece for Choir and Orchestra that has precision of that of a background score of a grand Hollywood battle scene. It is as if Ilaiyaraaja had a visual in front of him to write the score. Looking at battle sequence that plays over the interludes of the song, it is evident that Ilaiyaraaja had nothing in front of him. Staging and producing a battle sequence that matches the power and chaotic clarity of Ilaiyaraaja’s orchestral work in this song is impossible even today with the monies that is flowing in Indian film industry.

From various musicians’ interviews I have heard how the song was recorded in Bombay, and it was clearly much before the movie was shot.

Now, again, with A.R.Rahman coming into the scene, music world turned flat. I am sure, if Thomas L.Friedman had known about Tamil film music, he would have included a chapter about A.R.Rahman in his book “The World is Flat”. There was nothing rigid, nothing concrete. So, for the song Uyire in Bombay, A.R.Rahman gave the song without any interludes, it just had a bar count to help Maniratnam plan his shots.

Maniratnam in Baradwaj Rangan’s “Conversation with Maniratnam” says,

“Infact, when we shot the song, we didn’t even have the interludes. We just had a bar count. We had to tell our story within that and get it to flow, and Rahman scored the interludes based on this flow”

Now that is really interesting. This after-approach makes a composer’s job easier, he knows exactly what is required now, and this being a song, composer can take the emotion to any heights with his music. It is not like the background score of a scene, where you are not allowed to go beyond a threshold of emotional decibels, where it easily gets excessively manipulative. If Maniratnam hadn’t revealed it, I am not sure if any of us would have wondered about such a possibility. With the song in entirety being so wholesome and perfect, you never really sit and think about individual parts and about what came first.

The ache in the Saarangi, the longing in the cooing flute, the Tabla rhythm that underlines the turbulence in the wind chasing the lady and acceleration in the rhythm to underline the anxiety, the alaap of the voices adding further to the oozing emotion - the instrumental interludes of Uyire song are perfect scored to the Picture. Maybe, A.R.Rahman would still have done something interesting if he had been asked to deliver the complete song with interludes before the shoot, but why bother if you can be more precise and get something as magical.

I always felt a connection between the interludes of Uyire song from Bombay and that of Kappaleri Poyachu from Indian. Similar instrumentation, the precision of the sync between the music and the visuals is equally astonishing in Kappaleri Poyachu. Ah! Rahman’s “la la la la laa lala la” when Kamal and Suganya find each other - unbelievable! I think Rahman composed this interlude also after the song was shot. What say?