With the release of a new version of Stephen Kings IT due in cinemas I thought I would return to the score for the original which was issued in 1990 and was the work of accomplished composer. conductor and arranger Richard Bellis, I recall having the score on a cassette tape many moons ago, in fact it was sent to me by the composer’s office to listen to and review in the days of the Goldsmith Society and their fanzine LEGEND. Of course, I replaced the very worn out cassette tape with a shiny new Compact disc when the score was re-issued in that format, it would have been re-miss of me not to. The score for IT, is I think one of the composers best works for cinema/TV, it evokes a tense and chilling atmosphere that was present within many of the more vintage movies from the 1960, s and prior to that. Bellis managed to conjure up a mood and a sound that was uncanny, in that it was melodic in a strange kind of way and was in the same instant sinister and unsettling. I must admit that I did not see the movie for some time after listening to the score, so could only imagine the horrors that might be unfolding to the composers pulsating score. The work is a fusion of both symphonic and synthetic, at times sounding not unlike the works of Goldsmith and Williams, but there is also an originality running throughout the work, which is achieved via cleverly done orchestration and utilisation of solo instruments at key points within the soundtrack. The composer makes affective use of solo piano for example, giving the listener at least a few moments respite from the sinister and virulent passages that make up most of the score, this is as one would expect an edgy and jumpy work, and after seeing the movie after hearing the score I must say the music compliments, supports and elevates the scenarios unfolding on screen wonderfully. It is difficult to review a score that many collectors are all acquainted with already, but to say that IT was a landmark score for Bellis is an understatement, and to also say that this is a must have release is also understated. I love the way in which the composer fuses both electronic with conventional instrumentation, the two mediums blending and entwining to create a soundtrack of high quality and a work that is theme laden throughout, yes, it is a score for a horror movie, but the composer also infuses a more melancholy and lighter side into the proceedings, so it’s not all non-stop crash bang wallop.
One of my favourite cues is THE SPIDERS WEB which certainly pulls out all the stops and goes for the full on scare the hell out you approach with no holds barred, but saying this it still remains structured and thematic, again I have to say it reminds me of music from horror movies of many moons ago, as in Hammer or AIP movies from the 1960,s and 70,s. Strings combine with percussion and brass to launch head on and unrelenting into a frenzy of sounds that conjure up all sorts of horrors and scenarios. It is a score that I would recommend to any film music collector, a wonderfully written soundtrack that stands on its own away from the frightening images it was penned for and is also an affective and effecting background to a film that still brings forth foreboding and night mares. The Intrada 2 disc set is a treat for the ears, go order it now.
FEUD-BETTE AND JOAN is set to be shown on the BBC in the UK very soon, it charts the relationship between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as they embark on a film project together for the first time, both hoping that their roles in WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE will maybe somehow rescue their declining careers. The music for this FX television series is by Mac Quayle, who has fashioned a score that is as varied and maybe also as unpredictable as the two Hollywood actress, s, Davis and Crawford. I must state that this is soundtrack that I was immediately taken by, in fact I think I listened to it three times through when I first acquired it. The composer has created a score that is wonderfully appealing and extremely well crafted and orchestrated, it has to it a sound that can be likened to the bygone days of Hollywood, with rich and luxurious sounding passages that are filled with romanticism, with sweeping strings and unashamedly opulent sounding cues that delight and haunt the listener. It is a score that is filled with melody, and various musical styles that seem to fit together with ease, even though they are all very different. Alongside the more serious or dramatic set pieces there are a number of jazz influenced cues, many of which are up-tempo and have to them a sound that is straight out of the 1960,s, I was at some points within the score reminded of the style of John Barry when he employed those somewhat jazz orientated cues that also had within them a melodious and tantalisingly haunting central or core theme, the background being performed by percussion, bass and piano, whilst the main thematic property of the cue was carried by the string section, fusing a contemporary musical foundation with a more pronounced and romantic signature. There are also big band sounds and styles present within the score, the composer employing a lazy muted trumpet solo that plays over brushed percussion and laid-back brass support. This is probably more pronounced or obvious in track number 14, A DAY AT THE BEACH, which is easy going and simple but effecting and affective. There are also a handful of very poignant and emotive moments within the work as in THIS AWFUL SILENCE, which is a piece for a mesmerizingly beautiful and delicate sounding violin solo, which after just seconds is underlined or mirrored by cello, these two heart-rending performances are then joined by harp which punctuates the proceedings adding a sense of fragility and at the same time purveying traces of apprehension to the composition.
The Harp is then given centre stage taking on the solo performance role for just a few seconds before we are treated to an understated but rich performance from the string section, which is filled with melancholy and warmth, again I was reminded of the work of John Barry, but the composer I think very respectively also pays homage to the composing styles of Herrmann, Raksin and to a degree Waxman within the score, without ever going over the top or fully utilising anything that one would recognise. This is a soundtrack that you SHOULD seek out, savour it and appreciate its fine qualities, then add it to your collection, as soon as you can. FEUD-BETTE AND JOAN is a classy and alluring soundtrack, that hooks you right from the main titles and keeps you in tow through to its epilogue, I know you as I did will finish listening and then press that play button again, to repeat the experience. I don’t just like this score, I love it.
Australian-born composer and multi-instrumentalist, trained on piano, saxophone, violin and trombone. The son of a jazz musician, he grew up and was educated in Melbourne. After serving with the Army Medical Corps during the war years, he studied at the University Conservatorium of Music and graduated with a diploma in composition. Banks moved to England in 1950 to continue his training under the Hungarian émigré Matyas Seiber, while supporting himself financially as a sideman in a dance band.
During the 1950’s, he composed a number of concertos and chamber music which attracted critical notice. He won several prestigious awards, including the Sir Arnold Bax Society Medal (1959). One of his works, ‘Four Pieces for Orchestra’ was performed by the London Philharmonic in 1954. Due in part to his father’s legacy, he also remained very much steeped in jazz, both as a player and as arranger. He became more prolific as a jazz composer after cultivating a friendship with Cleo Laine and John Dankworth. The resulting creative partnership spawned a series of works which fused classical music and jazz, including “Settings from Roget” (1966). He later created pieces like ‘Nexus’ (1971), for jazz quartet and symphony orchestra; and ‘Take 8’ (1973) for jazz and string quartet. Furthermore, Banks was at the cutting edge of combining traditional acoustic instruments with electronics, including using some of the first available synthesizers, eventually becoming a founding member of the British Society for Electronic Music.
Primarily for commercial reasons, Don Banks joined Hammer studios in 1962. He wrote several atmospheric scores for thrillers and horror films, working in tandem with musical directors Philip Martell and John Hollingsworth. Best among a body a body of diverse and polished works, are his jazzy, typically 60’s ‘film noir’ score for Hysteria (1965); his eerie, dramatic theme for Nightmare (1964), full of foreboding and hidden terror; and the equally evocative score for The Reptile (1966), with its predominant Indian motifs.
Banks left Hammer after five years to resume, what he regarded as more serious musical pursuits. In 1972, he returned to Australia to take up a position with the Canberra School of Music, followed thereafter by appointments to the music board of the Australian Council for the Arts and as head of composition to the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music. Physically frail and afflicted for the last eight years of his life by leukemia, he died in September 1980, aged 56.
After listening to THE ROPE AND THE GUN,I contacted the composer to congratulate them on the soundtrack, he was very kind and agreed to talk to MMI, about this work, his background and his methods of working on film music projects.
My thanks to the composer for his time, patience and also the quick response to my questions.
Where and when were you born and what would you say are your earliest memories of music of any kind?
I was born in 1988 in a tiny little village in the North of France, in Normandy. I’m the youngest of 4.5 children who all played music taking piano lessons from an old lady who used to hit your fingers or kick her piano when you played a wrong note! My father listened to Opera or to Blues having done a PhD on the relationships between men and women in America through the history of Blues. My mother came from the USA and grew up in working class Irish neighbourhood with little money always jealous of her friends who played any music. She knew that she would have musical children whatever happened. SO my earliest memories of music are probably just hearing my father play some Robert Johnson or my mother blasting Bruce Springsteen in the house!
What musical training or education have you had?
I learned to read and write music with this old lady before I could read and write words. And then, once the basis of music theory was acquired, I learned to play the piano with her. Starting from very simple tunes going on to more difficult and technical pieces of classical music. When I was 11 or 12, I discovered I wanted to play the drums and so took classes at the local music school. Quickly after that, I also took trumpet lessons, but never went very far with them. In middle school or high school, I started taking composition classes and a little more advanced music theory and so learned harmony and structure and so on.
I know you write for shorts and also have been involved in scoring of smaller productions, how did you become involved in writing for film?
The first thing I scored was for a friend of the families who built a website to promote his comic book about kings of Israel. He made a little flash animation and wanted music to accompany it and so I wrote a little piece of music which I clumsily produced on my mother’s work computer. After that, I tried a lot to copy soundtracks of movies I liked and focused on the composition a lot before trying to produce the sounds, you know what I mean? It’s only much later that I focused on the production and how to create the sounds.
THE ROPE AND THE GUN is a soundtrack of sorts, by this I mean that there is no film, it’s a project you undertook because you wanted to write a more grandiose score is that correct?
Yes, in a way. The small films and projects I usually score are much simpler and are fitted better with minimalist music and atmospheres and ambiances. I could wait around until I get a project that warrants a gigantic orchestra and powerful and complex composition, but I don’t have patience and when I want to write something I just go for it. Similarly, I wanted to write an orchestral soundtrack and came up with a simple story for an action filled movie called Operation Moonrise:
How long did it take to write the soundtrack for THE ROPE AND THE GUN?
I started in September 2016 and really took my time. The official release of The Rope & The Gun was August 4th, 2017. I finished composing everything 3-4 months before the released date and then spent the rest of the time mixing everything, rerecording all the live tracks and mastering.
You were obviously inspired by the music of the Italian western when working on this project, what composers or artists would you say have influenced you in the way that you write music or indeed the way in which you approach a project?
When I’m not working on music, I listen all day to soundtracks from modern movies or older ones. I think what interests me most about soundtracks is story. Hearing how a theme evolves from start to finish in a movie. I love everything John WIlliams for example and since he tends to write very long themes going through hundreds of key changes, his range of themes and how they change is just fascinating to me. Of course, I could add Hans ZImmer to my influences because he is, in a way, the direct opposite to John Williams. He focused on the sound, on new sounds on new instruments and different arrangements while using very simple themes.
I usually just start soundtrack radios on Google Play Music and then mark the ones I want to listen to more. Then I usually focus on one composer and listen to everything. For example, this week, I was focused all on Michael Giacchino. A few weeks ago, I was listening to everything Marco Beltrami! I believe that if I listen to these master soundtracks constantly, some of their genius will slip into my mind! But it may just be like a student sleeping on their text books hoping that the knowledge magically comes through!
The score for THE ROPE AND THE GUN was I think mainly an electronic/samples work, but the guitar solo I think was the actual instrument, did you perform on the soundtrack and what percentage of the score was electronic/samples and what parts were performed on instruments?
Anything that is Guitar, Banjo, Mandolin, Harmonica, slide guitar, resonator guitar, electric guitars, 12 string guitar, fiddle (in a small amount), some percussion and so on was recorded by me with my own instruments and my own microphones. The Rope & The Gun, for the most part, is those instruments. I wanted them to be the front row of the music and sounds of this soundtrack. If I had to but a number on it, it would be 60% real recorded instruments. 30% Orchestra Samples and 10% Synths.
Are you planning another recording like THE ROPE AND THE GUN, Maybe a Giallo themed work, or another western?
I’d love to, but I’m trying to broaden my range. Right now, I’m working on a couple of films that people have asked me to score. Very small things. And at the same time, I’m making another fake Soundtrack that’s going to be much more focused on Synths and percussion. There will be a string section and I still have a lot of composition to do to figure out how much I want to use Sampled sounds and how much I want to record live with a String Section. Also, I need to evaluate how much of a budget I have to play with. Orchestras are expensive!
THE ROPE AND THE GUN is available in digital form on SPOTIFY etc, will there be a compact disc release?
There won’t. At the level at which I distribute things, hard copies are just not worth it and distributing digitally is so much simpler and less costly.
Have you worked with an orchestra or a small ensemble of players?
For The Rope & The Gun, no. Anything recorded live was done by me. In the past, yes, I’ve worked with a lot of bands and ensembles composing, recording and arranging a lot. I’m working for the next fake soundtrack to hire an orchestra to record key moments or the whole thing depending on budget and timing.
Are there any genres in film, that you are attracted to or favour and what was the first movie you ever saw?
I must go in with the conviction that I can write any kind of music. Whether it’s true or not is another problem. When I talk to directors and filmmakers, they usually use a lot of temp music for editing and get attached to it. At times, I end up having to copy things without them being too close to the original music to avoid copyrights and so on. But I usually try to make two different tracks so that I can suggest something different and we work from there. I think I’d be really into writing one of those big Pirate movie scores, not really in the style of Pirates of the Caribbean, but you know. Also, I always wanted to write music like John Powell. I think in the end he is the one I admire the most. Scores like How to Train your Dragon are just incredible to me and I really look up to John Powell. I also have a Noire detective movie idea I want to score almost in cliche you know?
But whether I can write any style or not, once I start, I’m really faced with the blank page, the empty staves and no idea what the hell I’m going to do. That’s a drive as much as it is extremely stressful.
When working on a movie project it is probably quite restricting because of the timing and the sequences that you are writing for, with THE ROPE AND THE GUN, did the fact that there were no timings or set durations of sequences make it easier to be able to develop the themes within the soundtrack?
No, on the contrary I think. As much as hitting frames perfectly and dealing with unhappy directors and having precise queues can sound restrictive, frustrating and boring, these are great restrictions that make you find ways and tricks to manage them. The advantage of having a movie to score as opposed to doing a fake soundtrack, is that story really takes over the score. For these Fake Soundtracks I make, I need to write down some elements of plot to force myself to see some pictures and then can score with something happening in each piece!
The restrictions you get on films are helpful to get your inspiration going.
I must be truthful and say I literally just stumbled upon this great soundtrack when I was just looking around the various sites online. This is a superb soundtrack, but I also should be honest with you and say I knew nothing of the movie or even if it was indeed a movie or maybe a game or it’s just an album? Well the latter applies it is a soundtrack to what is called a fake western, so no film sadly, but a soundtrack yes there is and I am so grateful that it has been produced and released. You know me I am a sucker for a western and with a title such as THE ROPE AND THE GUN well I am sold straight away, but this is truly wonderful, there are so many mini salutes musically to composers such as Ennio Morricone, Francesco De Masi, Bruno Nicolai and others such as Stelvio Cipriani, Nico Fidenco, Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, Franco Micalizzi, Carlo Savona and their like, it is a tour de force of musical sounds and colours that hail directly from a bygone age of movie music with the focus being upon the sound and style of the Spaghetti western. However, saying that there is also an originality to the sound and style employed, the composer T.R.JOSSET fusing sounds of the more traditional western as in banjo and fiddles plus atmospheric and grand sounding horns in the style of Copeland with the now stock sounds that we now associate with the Italian or Spaghetti western as in, Harmonica, whistling, guitar and trumpet solos and upbeat and catchy interludes which in this case are straight out of the Morricone/Nicolai text book of music for westerns. So, it’s good guys! There are also a handful of Mexican Hispanic sounding guitar flamenco type passages that add weight and atmosphere to the proceedings. One track in-particular, is cue number three, YOUR PLACE AMONGST THE SWINE, (MAGDALENAS THEME) reminded me of the style employed by Carlo Rustichelli on MAN PRIDE AND VENGEANCE, not a western I know, but it has that kind of vibrancy, that Spanish/South American influence and flavour. Another piece is track number four, ARRIVING TO REDWATER, which is a blend of styles and instrumentation, with percussive elements giving support to banjo, guitar, harmonica and jaws harp, which combined to create an earthy and haunting piece. Then we are treated to TROUBLE BE A HAUNTED PREACHER (PREACHERS THEME) which opens with organ solo, giving the track a kind of irreverent but at the same time Holy sound, this soon fades and is replaced by guitar, backed with subdued percussive elements, that usher in slow but determined sounding strings, which deliver a driving and somewhat unrelenting theme that is noble but at the same time becomes forceful. I suppose the composer has been able to let loose fully with his creative and inventive ideas as he is not restricted by sequences and timings in the ordinary way of scoring a movie, and this certainly shows as he has fully developed some rich and attractive themes and has created a soundtrack that is filled with tension, drama and hints of melancholy.
It is one of those albums that one listens to and as soon as it is finished you return to the beginning and play it again. Well I did anyway. There can be no highlight tracks here because it would be impossible to single out any one, all the music here is good all of it is haunting and riveting. For fans of the Spaghetti western this will be a smorgasbord of sounds and styles, a plethora of musical references that will evoke so many memories. Fuzzy guitars rule alongside soaring trumpets and wailing harmonicas in the superb soundtrack to a film that was never made. Although the score is not symphonic, it certainly sounds it, one would be hard pressed to pick this out as a synthesised work, as it is of the highest quality. Please don’t miss this one, you will be sorry. I look forward to more from T,R, JOSSET.
FILM AND TELEVISION MUSIC FROM AROUND THE WORLD. WITH MOVIE REVIEWS AND NEWS FROM ALL OVER THE GLOBE.