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MUSICA OBSCURA: The Taming of Fire by Andrei Petrov

January 10th, 2012 (12:00 am)

The Space Race... A noble competition between the United States and the Soviet Union where no money, equipment or personnel was spared to reach the insane goals. The competition started out a bit one sided when the Soviets launched the Sputnik-1 in 1957, then promptly sent up Laika the Dog, the first life form into space. The first leg practically ended when Yuri Gagarin was launched into orbit on 12 April 1961, marking the first occasion when a man survived outer space. The final outcome of the race changed drastically per the promise of President Kennedy: the Americans put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade (1969 to be exact).

The Taming of the Fire (for those who read Cyrillic: Укрощение огня)  was the Soviets' way of celebrating "the defeat", reminding their own people about the great achievements they had already made in the past. Think of it as the Socialist version of The Right Stuff, characterized by all the oddball features that made film making in the Eastern Bloc so thrilling. The final result is a mixture of fictionalized biography, a good deal of tech talk, stock footage of previous rocket launches as well as a thin narrative that's meant to inspire the working class.

The story concerns the space-obsessed Andrei Bashkirtsev (Kirill Lavrov), who always dreamed about touching the stars. In the first episode of the two-part tale, Bashkirtsev fights the Nazis and although he gets captured, this doesn't bring him from designing space rockets in prison - just like a true hero of the Soviet Union. Once he gets out, the scientist does the most logical thing and requests to be in the front-line again. The second episode has a bit more space research as Bashkirtsev designs the rocket that takes the Sputnik into orbit. His next major achievement in Baykonur involves the launching of Yuri Gagarin, who is soon followed by other fine Soviet cosmonauts. Unfortunately Bashkirtsev is a bit too passionate about space and his constant battle with politicians lead to a heart attack - but fear not, his work will be continued by other fine young men (casually introduced in the last few minutes).

If The Taming of Fire sounds like an odd movie, it has every right to be. Designed as an ambitious show-off project, the film was eventually
ruined by the same political atmosphere that claimed the life of the main protagonist Andrei Bashkirtsev...

Read what happened to the film and hear a suite of the score!Collapse )

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TV GENERATION: Decorating the Meerkat's Manor

January 9th, 2012 (12:00 am)

While I'm conducting new interviews, please enjoy the best chats of the past. The following interview with composer Brollyman was originally posted in May 2009 - it was, to the best of my knowledge, the first major interview the composer has ever given. As such, he had a lot to say about a show I still enjoy seeing on Animal Planet - and I would have never guessed that so much work was put into the music of the show, it just flows so effortlessly.

If you're anything like me (and my girlfriend), you love meerkats. In case you don't, let me ask how you can resist the adorable little critters, their huge eyes and their constantly wet nose? No need to answer. If you like meerkats, you're probably already familiar with Meerkat Manor, the long-running documentary / reality narrated by Bill Nighly (or Sean Astin / Stockard Channing if you live in the US). The shows' stars like Flower, Mozart or Zaphod are so "famous" that they have their own imdb pages with enraged fans posting on Flower's message board about the need for a more detailed biography or at least putting in Flower's date of death on her resumé. Today you can read an interview with Brollyman, who gives his first interview here about doing Meerkat Manor in addition to some other animal reality programs such as Lemur Island and Lemur Street.

Could you tell a bit about your background? Who is Brollyman?

Brollyman in my imagination is a cross between James Bond and Beetelgeuse, scruffy as Hell but cool as F%*k!! I am basically a self taught heavy metal guitarist who over time got tired of metalling and gigging. I spent two years in the Welsh College of Music and Drama as a mature student studying music technology and exposing myself to all sorts of new music- mainly orchestral – classical - no Motörhead here! I was twenty eight when I went to college so I'm a late starter.


Read the entire interview here!Collapse )

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COLUMN: How to write an "academic-minded essay"

January 7th, 2012 (12:00 am)
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On my usual daily route along my favorite film scoring forums, I came across this thread today which in fact linked to this article published in Mute Magazine and now available online as well. The thread was very careful in its wording, Lukas Kendall named it an "academic-minded essay". I'm not sure if he has any of his own private meanings for these words, but I use this tem whenever I want to poke fun at something that wants to sound academic only through high words, but not content.

Now if you've rummaged through my bookshelf, you know I'm not afraid of some hard reading material, but more often than not, I keep coming across an increasing number of faux-scientific ramblings about film music written by people who leave several clues about their ignorance on the subject. Even big word fetishists like Royal S. Brown sooner or later make a point and write articles that can be quoted without looking like a fool. But then there are the type of articles which try to discuss minute details of the film music business with a huge biased paintbrush.

However, since I'm an author myself, I do not wish to criticize anyone in particular - for they may have their own theories and reasons. Instead, I just write up a checklist which you'll have to follow in case you want to write your own academic paper on film music.



Click hear to read my ten top secret advices!Collapse )


blofeldscat [userpic]

BOOKSHELF: The Emerging Film Composer

January 6th, 2012 (12:00 am)
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In his introduction to The Emerging Film Composer, composer Richard Bellis (It, Doublecrossed) identifies his target audience as the titular newbies, music students who would be interested in getting started in the film scoring business. The book is one of the few volumes that do not go into the aesthetics of film scoring, instead it serves as a helpful manual in getting a one foot hold in Hollywood. While this subject might seem like something designed for very narrow interest group, Bellis writes in a way that it makes the technical and diplomatic aspects of job sound more interesting than they actually are. I myself was always curious about this aspects of "doing business" and the stories proposed in Bellis’ book should be revelatory to those who don’t fully comprehend the additional baggage of writing for film.

The book is divided into nine chapters. The first three contain important knowledge on what you should do before getting your first deal. The covered subjects include what kind of education one should get and highlight why an assistant or orchestrator position can be very helpful in a future career. Pricing is perhaps the most wicked part of the deal and requires a good deal of negotiating skills – if you don’t have that, better consider an agent. Only be the third chapter do we get to the point that the emerging composer can actually score a movie.


Read more of my review!Collapse )


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LINER NOTES: The Chapman Report by Leonard Rosenman

January 5th, 2012 (12:00 am)

At first glance, the liner notes to the 1962 Warner Bros. picture The Chapman Report are so bland that they could easily be used to demonstrate the kind of cookie-cutter essay writing that was so dominant in the early 60s. But the text proposes an interesting challenge: the anonymous author has to overcome the major obstacle of writing about a risky subject, a popular book and a film that nobody saw.

The film was a thinly fictionalized account of the notorious researches carried out by noted sexologist Alfred Kinsey, who reported his finding in a pair of books entitled The Kinsey Report. Irwin Wallace took a cue of these findings and based a book around the taboo idea of discussing the sexuality of women. The novel was optioned by producer Daryl Zanuck even before it got published in 1960, but
the film took a bit longer to get made...

Since Zanuck had his own personal problems with 20th Century Fox and Cleopatra, the project was passed on to Jack Warner and his studio - Richard Zanuck (Daryl's son) acted as a producer. The film was directed by the legendary George Cukor, who cast four talented actresses in the key roles - Shelley Winters as an adulteress, Claire Bloom as a nymphomaniac, Glynis Johns as a free-spirited artist and a young Jane Fonda as a sexually repressed widow.

Read the liner notes, see promo pictures and a rare clip of the film!Collapse )

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SEQUENCING: Contagion by Cliff Martinez

January 4th, 2012 (12:00 am)

In the middle of flu season, Steven Soderbergh's Contagion was a pleasant surprise with another take on the subgenre of "deadly virus films". The story manages to incorporate a couple of hot topic issues - including globalization and a final twist with an environmentally conscious message. Spanning an all star cast à la old-timey disaster flicks, the plot's biggest fault may be that it simply forgets about some of its characters: Elliot Gould's researcher character practically disappears with no explanation and Marion Cotillard is also promptly forgotten for the most part of the film. This nitpick aside, the plot itself gives you a great sense of globalization once you see how the virus actually starts and spreads across the globe.

The music by Cliff Martinez may be the strongest electronic score of 2011, benefiting from memorable riffs, an easily recognizable sound palette and the careful precision of music placement. The cues have a raw power and are actually very engaging in their own right - not the least because most of them are used for montages where the music is pushed into the foreground. The official soundtrack is available as a download from amazon.com, but can be ordered as on-demand CD-R as well. Below I re-sequenced the soundtrack because I feel that the internal logic of the score may improve the listening experience a bit. As you'll see the album is in mostly chronological order already, but most of the music covering the Chinese plot has been moved forward to add some exciting ethnic flavor to the beginning of the program.

Click here to read the chronological sequencing!Collapse )

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RESTORATION: Frenzy by Henry Mancini

January 3rd, 2012 (10:00 am)

The most recent issue of the Hitchcock Annual contains my article on Henry Mancini's Frenzy - a complete discussion of the unused score, including a cue-by-cue analysis and some academic-minded speculation of why the music was rejected in the first place. Considering that this was Mancini's only major rejection, I found it surprising how little had actually been written about the music before my article - even some of the more reliable sources couldn't decide if it was recorded at all or not. Well, it WAS recorded and its curious background just adds to the mystique.

To compliment this research with a bit of visual aid, I've created a video reconstruction of how the film would look (and sound) with Mancini's original main title theme put over the striking aerial shot of London. The main title is actually quite misleading because it gives us a false impression of what the music actually sounds like. While the opening has a sweeping Gothic sound, the rest of the score has nothing to do with this material (this theme, in fact, is quoted in only one other cue). What the rest sounds like can be found out from my Hitchcock Annual article.

Please note that the music used in the clip is NOT the original recording (which can be briefly heard towards the end of the The Storz of Frenzy documentary included on the DVD). This is a re-recording Mancini conducted for the 1990 compilation Mancini in Surround - a record that contains excerpts from other great unreleased scores. The cue was originally recorded with an organ-based intro that I guess was written to accompany the Universal logo - the original opening wasn't recreated for the compilation album. Even if it is a new recording created almost 20 years after the original take, I managed to synch it up to the picture pretty well, even finding some good hit points which were later specified by the director.


If you're interested in the score's full back story, please consider buying the latest issue of the Hitchcock Annual - it has many other great articles, including discussions of some under appreciated Hitchcock films such as Waltzes from Vienna or Stage Fright.

See the video here!Collapse )

blofeldscat [userpic]

SPOTLIGHT: Paul Leonard-Morgan

January 2nd, 2012 (12:00 am)
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While I'm conducting new interviews, please enjoy the best chats of the past. The following interview with composer Paul Leonard-Morgan was originally posted in November 2009 - this was actually one of my most linked articles, naturally because of the cross-over to the Spooks fan-base. Since the publication of this discussion, Paul had the chance to move up the ladders in Hollywood by scoring the Bradley Cooper psych-tour Limitless in 2011 (of course I'm not suggesting that the two events are related).

I first became aware of the work of Paul Leonard-Morgan through his excellent music for BBC's A History of Scotland. The best thing about it that it wasn't typical "Hollywood-Scottish" music which abuses certain instruments to death. No, it was a colourful, energetic representation of the Scottish people's trials and tribulations, put into a musical format. A History of Scotland collected great reviewes, but as I was about to find out, Paul's career has several more aspects: he is also the resident composer of Spooks, he is working with countless recording artists and he has a concert coming up on 29th November in the Usher Hall which will be broadcast live by BBC Radio Scotland.

How did your interest in music and particularly in film music begin?

My mother is a music teacher, so I was always surrounded by music. Particularly flute and piano music as that's what she plays. The first film music that I remember was the classic Ennio Morricone scores to the Spaghetti Westerns, and also the Mancini scores to the Pink Panther. But perhaps the score that I remember most inspiring me to become a composer was Morricone's The Mission. The gorgeous simplicity of the oboe solos, the lush building strings - still one of my favourites.


Read the entire interview here!Collapse )


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