Category Archives: Interviews

TALKING TO JOHN YAP.

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If you were around a few years ago when labels such as Silva Screen and THATS ENTERTAINMENT RECORDS started to become more and more visible in shops, then you would certainly recall the name of John Yap, its thanks to people such as John that we can be thankful that a number of scores from movies and shows were released at first onto LP record and then onto Compact Disc. I always recall seeing the TER releases, many being film scores that had been issued in the States on Varese Sarabande and TER ensuring that collectors in the UK and Europe did not miss out. 

I caught up with John recently, who also runs Jay records and he was gracious enough to answer my questions. 

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JOHN YAP.

I can remember TER starting up, I think the first soundtracks I added to my collection on the label were COMPANY OF WOLVES and 84 CHARRING CROSS ROAD both by George Fenton. The label however was more devoted to theatre and show recordings, was it your own interest in these that led you to establish the label?

 

 

 

YES. MY PASSIONS ARE THEATRE AND MUSIC. IT STARTED WITH MUSICALS AND GRADUATED TO OPERA. HOWEVER, I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED AND APPRECIATED THE MUSIC SCORES IN THE MOVIES. BEING A COLLECTOR (STAMPS, DC COMICS, BOOKS, LPS etc.) I NATURALLY COLLECTED AND AMASSED A LARGE COLLECTION OF FILMS AND SHOWS LPS. WHEN MY INTERESTS IN OPERA BEGAN TO GROW, I STARTED TO COLLECT OPERA LPS. THAT SOON GREW TO BEYOND WHAT SPACE MY FLAT COULD ACCOMMODATE. SINCE I WAS ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY LISTENING TO THE OPERA RECORDINGS, MY FILM AND SHOWS COLLECTION BECAME ALMOST REDUNDANT. I DECIDED TO SELL MY FILMS AND SHOWS COLLECTION. KNOWING THAT THERE IS AN INTERNATIONAL COLLECTORS MARKET OUT THERE, RATHER THAN SELLING THEM (THOUSANDS) TO A SECOND HAND DEALER FOR PITTANCE, I ADVERTISED MY COLLECTION FOR SALE IN A COUPLE OF SMALL ADS IN “FILMS AND FILMING” AND THE GRAMOPHONE MAGAZINE.

 

 

THE RESPONSE FROM COLLECTORS ALL OVER THE WORLD WAS PHENOMENAL, IN SPITE OF MY ASKING HIGH PREMIUM PRICES FOR THE RARE TITLES. THERE WERE SOME TITLES THAT I COULD NOT SUPPLY BUT I KEPT A RECORD OF THE COLLECTORS’ DETAILS IN MY “WANTS LIST”. THE REASON IS THAT SOME OTHER COLLECTORS WHO COULD NOT AFFORD MY ASKING PRICES FOR THE RARE TITLES, WOULD OFFER SEVERAL OTHER TITLES PLUS CASH SUPPLEMENTS IN EXCHANGE FOR THEM. I NOTICED THAT IF I TOOK THOSE OFFERS, I WOULD BE ABLE TO OFFER THEM TO THE COLLECTORS IN THE “WANTS LIST” AND IN EFFECT, I WOULD BE GETTING A MUCH HIGHER AMOUNT FOR THE ORIGINAL TITLE. I STARTED TO GO TO SECONDHAND RECORDS SHOPS AND BUY UP WHAT I KNEW TO BE SOUGHT AFTER TITLES. WHAT STARTED OFF AS A “SELLING OFF” OF MY COLLECTION FROM A COUPLE OF SMALL ADS RAPIDLY TURNED INTO A MAIL ORDER BUSINESS. I HAVE A BSC DEGREE IN GRAPHIC DESIGN (WHICH PROVED TO BE TREMENDOUSLY HANDY) AND I WAS WORKING IN AN ADVERTISING AND DESIGN AGENCY AT THE TIME. I HAD JUST SECURED A MAJOR BRITISH AIRWAYS INTERNATIONAL ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN WITH MY DESIGN AND CONCEPT FOR THE AGENCY. I WAS THEIR RISING STAR. I WAS MAKING A GOOD LIVING AS A GRAPHIC DESIGNER, BUT I NOTICED THAT I WAS EARNING MUCH MORE FROM REPLYING A FEW LETTERS IN THE EVENING THAN MY DAYTIME JOB. IN SPITE OF MY RISING STATUS IN THE DESIGN AND ADVERTISING AGENCY, I TOOK THE PLUNGE AND GAVE UP THE JOB AND CONCENTRATED ON THE MAIL ORDER. THIS GAVE ME MORE TIME TO SCOUR SECOND-HAND RECORDS SHOPS OUTSIDE LONDON AND AROUND THE COUNTRY TO FIND MORE COLLECTORS TITLES. THE MAIL ORDER OPERATION TOOK OFF.

WHEN IT GREW TO A SIZE BEYOND WHAT MY FLAT COULD ACCOMMODATE (OVER-FLOWING WITH SECOND HAND LPS) I DECIDED TO OPEN A SPECIALIST FILM AND SHOWS RECORDS SHOP, IN DRURY LANE. MINE WAS THE FIRST SUCH SHOP ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. BOLSTERED BY MY LARGE MAIL ORDER CUSTOMERS LIST, MY SHOP WAS AN INSTANT SUCCESS, WE WERE IN PROFIT FROM DAY ONE. THE SUCCESS WAS DUE IN PART TO MY PERSONAL INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER COLLECTORS/CUSTOMERS WITH OUR SHARED KNOWLEDGE AND INTERESTS. IT WAS NO ORDINARY SHOP. I SERVED COFFEE AND WINE WHILST CONVERSING WITH THE CUSTOMERS WHO WOULD INEVITABLY ENDED UP LEAVING THE SHOP WITH A HANDFUL OF LPS, HAPPY AND SATISFIED. WHEN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE COVENT GARDEN MARKET INVITED APPLICATIONS FOR THE 49 UNITS FROM INTERESTING SHOPS/BUSINESSES, THERE WERE OVER 10,000 APPLICATIONS AND WE WERE ONE OF THE SUCCESSFUL ONES. WHEN WE MOVED INTO THE PREMISES IN THE COVENT GARDEN MARKET, THE PASSING TRADE (IN ADDITION TO THE COLLECTORS) GAVE US A TEN-FOLD INCREASE IN OUR BUSINESS. AS WITH EVERY BUSINESSES, AFTER A CERTAIN GROWTH, INSTEAD OF OPENING ANOTHER BRANCH OF THE SHOP, I DECIDED TO START A LABEL SPECIALISING IN FILMS AND SHOWS. THAT’S HOW TER/JAY RECORDS WAS BORN.

 

 

Some of the film scores you released were from major movies at the time, RAMBO, DON’T LOOK NOW etc, were you careful in what film music you selected to release, and did you gauge it via the composers reputation or by how well the film was doing?

 

 

I WAS FORTUNATE IN THAT WHEN I DECIDED TO START RELEASING FILM SOUNDTRACKS, THE MAJOR RECORD LABELS WERE NOT ACTIVELY RELEASING FILM SOUNDTRACKS. THE MAJOR FILM STUDIOS NEEDED SOUNDTRACK ALBUMS TO HELP PROMOTE THEIR MOVIES AND SO THEY WERE HAPPY TO JUST GIVE THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUMS TO REPUTABLE LABELS TO RELEASE WITHOUT HEFTY FEES. MY COMPANY JOINED FORCES WITH VARESE SARABANDE TO PICK UP SOUNDTRACKS FROM BOTH THE UK AND THE USA. AT THE TIME, I WAS VERY FORTUNATE IN THAT I BECAME CLOSE FRIENDS WITH THE MAN WHO WAS IN CHARGE OF THE TOWER RECORDS SHOP THAT FACED PICCADILLY CIRCUS.

THAT FRIENDSHIP GAVE ME THE USE OF ONE OF THE TWO LARGE FRONT WINDOWS OF THE SHOP FOR PROMOTION OF ANY OF MY RELEASES WHENEVER I WANTED, WITHOUT HAVING TO PAY THEM THOUSANDS OF RENTAL FEES. THIS WAS A GREAT ATTRACTION FOR THE FILM COMPANIES IN THE PROMOTION OF THEIR FILMS. THEY WERE VERY KEEN FOR ME TO RELEASE THE SOUNDTRACKS OF THEIR FILMS. I USED TO ARRANGE WITH THE FILM COMPANIES FOR TOWER RECORDS TO HAVE SPECIAL EXCLUSIVE PREVIEWS OF THE FILMS (USUALLY IN THE ODEON LEICESTER SQUARE) FOR THEIR CUSTOMERS WHO PURCHASED THE RELEVANT SOUNDTRACKS DURING EACH CAMPAIGN. THIS WAS A WIN, WIN SITUATION FOR THE FILM COMPANIES, TOWER RECORDS AND US.

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TOWER RECORDS WOULD PROMOTE THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUMS AND THE FILMS WITH MAJOR DISPLAYS IN THE SHOP AND RACKED THE ALBUMS AROUND THE SHOP. WE LITERALLY SOLD THOUSANDS OF THOSE SOUNDTRACK ALBUMS THERE. AT THE SAME TIME, I ALSO BECAME GREAT FRIENDS WITH THE MANAGER OF THE FILMS AND SHOWS DEPARTMENT OF THE HMV FLAGSHIP SHOP ON OXFORD STREET. I WAS GIVEN MORE OR LESS THE SAME PRIVILEGES FOR ONE OF THEIR WINDOWS AND IN STORE PROMOTIONS.

 

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WITH HMV, I CONCENTRATED ON THE ORIGINAL CAST MUSICAL ALBUMS. IT WAS A FABULOUS TIME FOR ME AND MY COMPANY. WITH REGARDS TO WHAT I DECIDED TO RELEASE, THERE WAS NO FAST RULES. SOMETIMES ITS THE COMPOSERS, SOMETIMES ITS THE GENRE AND SOMETIMES ITS THE ACTORS. I REMEMBER SITTING ALL BY MYSELF, ALONE IN A PREVIEW CINEMA WATCHING “MAD MAX 2” THAT WARNER BROS. LAID ON FOR ME. THIS WAS BEFORE ANYONE HAD ANY IDEA OF THE FILM. I WAS VERY EXCITED BY THE IMAGES OF A YOUNG MEL GIBSON IN THE MAD MAX LEATHER SUIT. I DECIDED TO RELEASE THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM EVEN THOUGH THE ALBUM CONSISTED MOSTLY OF SOUND EFFECTS. I MADE SURE THAT THE COVER OF THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM HAD THE IMAGE OF MEL GIBSON IN HIS MAD MAX LEATHER SUIT. I WAS PROVEN RIGHT IN THAT WE SOLD THOUSANDS OF THAT ALBUM.

 

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“WITNESS” WAS ANOTHER SOUNDTRACK ALBUM THAT SOLD THOUSANDS BY THE COVER IMAGE (AND HELPED BY MAURICE JARRE’S WONDERFUL SYNTHESISED SCORE OF COURSE). I WAS CONFIDENT THAT HARRISON FORD’S PERFORMANCE AND FACE WERE SO COMPELLING IN THE MOVIE, THAT I JUST HAD HIS FACE ON THE FRONT COVER. NO TITLE AND NO COMPOSER. AND IT WORKED. I BELIEVE THAT SOME PEOPLE FRAMED THE LP SLEEVE BECAUSE THOSE EMPTY SLEEVES KEPT BEING STOLEN FROM THE STORES. THOSE HALCYON DAYS CAME TO AN END WHEN THE MOVIES STARTED USING POP SONGS FOR THEIR SOUNDTRACKS AND I REMEMBER VIRGIN RECORDS STARTED TO OFFER HUGH ADVANCES OF THOUSANDS OF POUNDS FOR THEIR SOUNDTRACKS. WHEN THE FILM COMPANIES STARTED TO ASK FOR HEFTY ADVANCES FOR THE SOUNDTRACK RIGHTS, I DECIDED THAT IT WAS NOT WORTH THE RISKS AND STOPPED RELEASING FILM SOUNDTRACKS GENERALLY.

 

What was the quantity run on a soundtrack compared to a popular show that was doing well in the west end?

 

ONCE UPON A TIME WE WOULD CONFIDENTLY PRESS 5,000 UNITS, NOW WE ARE HAPPY TO SELL MORE THAN 500. WHEN WE LICENSED OUR RECORDINGS TO POLYDOR, SONY OR BMG FOR THE USA MARKET, THEY WOULD SHIP OUT 60,000 TO 100,000 UNITS ON EACH RELEASE. THAT USED TO BE WHEN THERE WERE RECORD SHOPS EVERYWHERE. NOW IT IS MOSTLY STREAMING AND DOWNLOADS. HAVING SAID THAT WE HAVE RETAINED A CORE OF LOYAL COLLECTORS WHO ARE ARDENT SUPPORTERS OF OUR PHYSICAL RELEASES. SOUNDTRACKS VS ORIGINAL CASTS? IN OUR CASE, WE CONTINUE TO SELL OUR ORIGINAL CASTS MUSICAL CDS IN MORE MEANINGFUL NUMBERS.

 

Did you distribute your own releases or was this handled by another company?

 

WE USED TO HAVE DISTRIBUTORS IN VARIOUS PARTS OF THE WORLD. AS THE DEMISE OF THE BRICKS AND MORTAR SHOPS STARTED, WE DISPENSED WITH THE DISTRIBUTORS EXCEPTING FOR OUR AMERICAN DISTRIBUTOR, ALLEGRO CORP. HOWEVER, ABOUT THREE YEARS AGO, WE TOOK LEGAL ACTIONS TO BANKRUPT THEM TO PREVENT THEM FROM THEIR ATTEMPTED ILLEGAL SEIZURE OF THE PROPERTIES BELONGING TO ALL THEIR DISTRIBUTED LABELS. THEY THOUGHT THAT THEY COULD JUST SEIZE OUR STOCK ON A FALSE NARRATIVE AND LIQUIDATE THEM CHEAPLY FOR THEIR SOLE BENEFITS. WE SUCCEEDED IN OUR PETITION TO BANKRUPT THEM AND WE ALL RETRIEVED OUR PROPERTY. NOW WE SELL MAINLY ON AMAZON, DIRECTLY THROUGH OUR OWN WEBSITE AND DOWNLOADS ON ITUNES. WE HAVE CREATED SHORTER (HIGHLIGHTS) VERSIONS OF OUR MAIN ALBUMS SPECIFICALLY FOR STREAMING. SO, ANYONE WANTING TO LISTEN TO THE FULL ALBUMS WILL STILL HAVE TO PAY FOR THEM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of COVID 19, live shows have ground to a halt, and they are saying they won’t return until 2021, Have sales slumped for you or have you found people are buying more because they cannot go to the theatre?

 

 

INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, WE HAVE SOLD MORE CDS THAN EVER SINCE THE LOCKDOWN BEGAN. SO, WE ARE VERY HAPPY.

 

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JAY RECORDS LOGO.

 

What release have you found to be continuingly popular and has sold steadily over the years?

 

THE BEAUTY AND ADVANTAGE WITH THE MUSICAL THEATRE CATALOGUE IS THAT THE SHOWS THEMSELVES ARE PERENNIALS. THEY ARE CONSTANTLY REVIVED AROUND THE WORLD AND SO THERE IS ALWAYS DEMAND FOR OUR RECORDINGS ACROSS THE ENTIRE CATALOGUE. OUR MOST SUCCESSFUL RECORDING, ONE THAT RECOUPED BEFORE WE EVEN RELEASED IT OFFICIALLY, IS “WEST SIDE STORY”. WE HAD A DEAL WITH A MAGAZINE PUBLISHING COMPANY TO PROVIDE 75 RECORDINGS OF MUSICALS (12 TRACKS EACH) FOR THEIR PARTWORKS PUBLICATION. “WEST SIDE STORY” WAS THE FIRST RELEASE AND IT SOLD 1.8 MILLION COPIES. WE WERE ON A FEE AND ROYALTY DEAL.

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If a show is doing well and is becoming popular, how do you go about releasing an album, who do you contact, the composer, theatre company or a mix of both and how does the process work from the initial contact to the release of the recording?

 

IF A SHOW IS RUNNING ON BROADWAY OR THE WEST END, THE FIRST PORT OF CALL IS WITH THE PRODUCERS. THEY WOULD THEN OBTAIN THE RIGHTS FROM THE AUTHORS. THEN THEY OR WE WOULD ENGAGE THE CAST AND MUSICIANS VIA EQUITY. AFTER THAT THE ONUS IS ON US TO TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING, STUDIOS, MANUFACTURING, PROMOTION AND DISTRIBUTION.

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Where did your love of theatre and musicals come from and is your collection of music mainly from shows?

 

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WHEN I WAS A CHILD GROWING UP IN KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA MY MOTHER WOULD TAKE ME TO SEE ALL THOSE WONDERFUL MGM MUSICAL FILMS. I CAN REMEMBER SEEING “PAGAN LOVE SONG” AND “KISMET” THAT’S WHERE MY LOVE FOR MUSICALS WAS BORN. AS FOR MY LP COLLECTION, THE MAJORITY OF THE COLLECTION WAS MUSICAL CAST AND SOUNDTRACK RECORDINGS, BUT I HAD A SIZEABLE COLLECTION OF NON-MUSICAL FILM SOUNDTRACKS AS WELL AS PERSONALITIES OF THE STAGE AND SCREEN.

 

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The soundtrack market is a small one, and seems to be becoming more and more specialist, would you consider releasing soundtracks from newer movies or do you think that the market is too specialist now?

 

OUR DAYS OF RELEASING FILM SOUNDTRACKS ARE MORE OR LESS OVER. THERE ARE MORE SUITABLE AND EXPERIENCED COMPANIES RELEASING THEM NOWADAYS.

 

Is there more online purchasing nowadays, and do you find that most people prefer to download or stream recordings?

THERE ARE THREE DIFFERENT TYPES OF MARKETS INVOLVED HERE. ONE: THE COLLECTORS, THEY WILL BUY THE PHYSICAL CDS. TWO: THE MUSIC LOVERS, THEY WILL DOWNLOAD TO KEEP, FOR CONVENIENCE SAKE. THREE: THE CASUAL LISTENERS, THEY STREAM. BECAUSE STREAMING IS FREE, IT IS THE MOST POPULAR. FOR US, DOWNLOAD IS STILL THE MOST PROFITABLE.

 

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Staying with buying online or streaming, do you think that this has somewhat taken the fun out of collecting, because back in the 70’s and 80’s one had to go out and find the recordings, now it’s a case of click and next day delivery?

 

DEFINITELY. THE FUN AND EXCITEMENT OF FLICKING THROUGH RECORDS IN THE SHOPS CANNOT BE MEASURED OR EXPLAINED. THE SHEER ECSTASY OF COMING ACROSS A LONG SOUGHT-AFTER LP IS BEYOND DESCRIPTION.

 

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There is a real interest in buying records once again, do you buy LP records for your collection, and are you producing LPS of recordings on your labels?

 

 

NO AND NO.

Knowing what you know now, would you do it all again the same as you did or maybe a little different?

 

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YES, BUT NOT UNDER THE PRESENT CONDITION AND SITUATION. I WAS VERY LUCKY AND BLESSED TO BE ABLE TO JUST START A RECORD LABEL AND PROSPER FROM DAY ONE WITHOUT MUCH FINANCIAL INJECTION AND RISKS, AT THE TIME WHEN I DID.

TALKING TO DIRECTOR,WRITER, COMPOSER THOMAS CLAY.

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Director Thomas Clay with Actor Freddie Fox.

 

Recently here on MMI we reviewed FANNY LYE DELIVER’D. which contains a brilliant score by the films director Thomas Clay. The movie evoked many memories of movies that are referred to as Folk or rural movies, I personally compared the film to A FIELD IN ENGLAND and also examples such as WITCHFINDER GENERAL, BLOOD ON SATANS CLAW and to a degree films such as CAPTAIN CLEGG. My thanks to the director for taking time to answer my questions. JM. 

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What do you consider to be the purpose of music in film?
Whilst music can support the story and the emotions of a scene, I feel it should be much more than that. The music should be integral to the film’s fabric, a key part of its identity. Ideally, the performances, the mis-en-scene and the music should all be in balance. I’m not so keen on the idea of underscore, of the music hiding away and not drawing attention to itself, just as I’m not so keen on the idea that the camera should be invisible. These are two sides of the same coin it seems to me. Which is not to say a televisual style can’t work – I’m as big a fan of Mad Men or Breaking Bad as anyone – but, you know, other brands are available.

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Normally when writing music for a movie a composer spots the film with the director. Is it easier when you write music for your own movies?
I spotted it in the sense of adding temp cues to the rough cut. There was a lot of Riz Ortolani’s Addio Zio Tom, and Luis Bacalov’s Quién sabe? which freaked people out to say the least! Since I was performing both roles, feedback from producers and execs became crucial.

 

 

I did get some push back over spotting music into dialogue scenes, which is considered in extremely poor taste these days, and yet you can’t achieve an authentic retro feel without it. At one point it was even suggested to drop the score altogether and replace it with atmospheres and sound design… To be fair though, this did push me to do better, and as we got closer to the recording sessions, everyone really started to get behind it. I did also carry on cutting and editing both the film and the music after recording, trimming it back further. I think we found about the right balance in the end.

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MAXINE PEAKE.

In terms of internal process, it was quite interesting to discover the conflicts that sometimes arise between the director’s agenda and the composer’s. In my case, the director always wins, of course, without the need for a fight! But this did then make things tougher for Anthony (Weeden, conductor), Geoff Foster,(engineer) and the musicians – I’m thinking particularly of the click tracks. Morricone talks in his book about conflicts with Leone on Once Upon a Time in America, Leone insisting the cues hit a variety of precise sync points. And all of our clicks tracks were of this nature, constantly shifting tempo. Geoff said – with humour, of course! – that, in over 250 scores, it was the worst click track he’d ever seen…

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Freddie Fox on set.

What size orchestra excluding soloists did you have for Fanny Lye?

We had a 40-piece string orchestra that plays on most of the cues, and our choir I Fagiolini were 40 in number as well, they appear on 7 tracks of the CD. Then there was a background grouping of approximately 20 historical musicians, sackbuts, dulcian, anaconda, serpent, natural trumpets, etc, who appear in various configurations, with the lead musicians sometimes soloing and sometimes supporting each other as well. For example, Jakob Lindberg has more ornate lute passages in tracks like Dressing Up and A Story – that’s a cue that’s only in the film – but he is also playing a Theorbo ground on a number of other tracks.

To make sure the recording had a live feel, engineer Geoff Foster gave everyone their own seat within the hall, however we did then track many of the historical instruments separately or in small groups. This was unavoidable, given the dynamic ranges and tuning challenges presented by some of these instruments. The largest grouping on the CD is Old Soldiers. That was recorded with everyone together in the room, the strings, the choir, the percussionists and Jörgen van Rijen braving it out on his sackbut, so 85 players in total including conductor Anthony Weeden and choirmaster Robert Hollingworth. It caused some headaches in the mix to be honest, but it has an energy to it that hopefully compensates.

 

How long did it take you to write the score and when shooting the film do you play music on set?
I was fortunate to have quite a free reign with regards to the schedule. It took me about a year to compose the entire score. I was learning as I was going along, and also being very fussy about the DAW mock-ups – the latter being the reason I originally gave up writing and producing music 20 years ago. I just can’t help tweaking every note ad infinitum.  We played music on set for my last two films, but not on this one oddly.

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What composers and filmmakers would you say have influenced you?

 

I would say I’ve been inspired by Riz Ortolani, Vangelis, Morricone, Luis Bacalov, Philip Glass, also by Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler, Wagner, Bartok, Ligeti, Stockhausen. In your review, you mention John Barry. I wouldn’t necessarily have made the connection, but as a 12-year-old I was quite obsessed with Dances with Wolves, so that’s quite possibly a formative inspiration. Around the same time, in the early 90s, I discovered Vangelis and early Hans Zimmer – I remember borrowing his K2 score from the library and becoming quite obsessed with that too.

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My love of the Italian maestros came a few years later.  Some filmic inspirations for Fanny Lye would be Once Upon a Time in the West, Heaven’s Gate, Days of Heaven, Ride in the Whirlwind, McCabe & Mrs Miller, The Searchers, Man of the West, Barry Lyndon, Satantango and Andrei Rublev.

 

In the movie and also within the score there are references to Morricone with a nod to his spaghetti western sound. Do you collect or buy soundtracks? If so what are your favourite scores to listen to?
The first CD I bought, when I was ten, was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I go through phases of collecting soundtracks, although I guess not so often in recent years as there are fewer modern scores that have really caught my ear. Favourite scores would be The Mission, Once Upon a Time in the West, Once Upon a Time in America, Addio Zio Tom, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, The Thin Red Line (the full version), Alien, Aliens and Alien 3 as well. And musicals: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Meet Me In St. Louis.

 

 

Your music for Fanny Lye is very thematic. What is your opinion of the use of drone or soundscape sounds within scores for movies now. And do you think that actual themes are now a thing of the past in big movies?

 

Not every film requires a prominent score. My favourite filmmaker is Michelangelo Antonioni, whose use of music was extremely pared back. That said, it’s striking to me how many of my favourite and formative films are defined by their music, from Leone’s work to Kubrick to Coppola’s use of The Doors in Apocalypse Now, or indeed hearing the Indiana Jones theme for the first time when I was seven years old. So I do feel it’s a shame that music so often takes a back seat and that themes are less in demand. The way the musicians tell it, it is producers and directors driving this because they don’t want the music to be ‘distracting’.
That said, there have been some good musicals lately – Moana and The Greatest Showman are family favourites that get frequent play in our car! In terms of actual scores, I thought Cliff Martinez’s music for The Neon Demon was pretty excellent. And Ludwig Göransson has been doing interesting things with Black Panther and The Mandalorian. Perhaps he will encourage the theme to make a comeback – one can hope.

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TANYA REYNOLDS and FREDDIE FOX.

Is all of the music from the movie included on the CD release?

 

There’s about half an hour of music that didn’t make it onto the CD – and a couple of cues that didn’t make it into the film either. I feel the CD needs to work as its own thing, you don’t want it to be too repetitive, and it’s not necessary to be strictly chronological. On the other hand, you mustn’t be too stingy and end up with something like the original release of The Thin Red Line. Hopefully the balance is about right.

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Freddie Fox in Fanny Lye Deliver’d

You must have researched the instruments that you used in the score. Was it difficult finding the specialist soloists who perform on the soundtrack?

 

Certainly, there are fewer musicians playing those instruments, especially up to the standard we required. Casting the soloists was a little like casting the film, with each lead instrument representing a character in the movie. Anthony Weeden, our bookers Isobel Griffiths and Susie Gillis and myself put our heads together and ended up bringing in performers not just from around the UK but from Europe as well. Jörgen van Rijen flew in from Holland, Miguel Henry from France. Their interpretations are fantastic. And then there was cornett player Andrea Inghisciano, from Italy, who is really special. The cornett is a fiendish thing, somewhat like a trumpet but much harder to master, and he brings to it this swooning romantic lyricism. I actually don’t think there’s another cornett player alive who could have pulled off the most challenging passages – the ostinatos in Fanny’s Choice and The Ceremony and some of the atonal phrases in Retribution – the trumpet players often had their mouths open. That incredibly long note in Retribution is Andrea circular breathing, it hasn’t been edited.

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The renaissance cittern however was the monster. During the original recording sessions, we just couldn’t find a renaissance cittern player able to take it on. The part must have passed through 20 hands, most just saying it was impossible. One guy did muster the courage to come in and give it a bash, but we had to give up after about half an hour. We ended up coming back to Air eight months later and splitting the part between two musicians. Miguel Henry is generally regarded as the world’s best renaissance cittern player. We found a gap in his schedule, booked him onto a Eurostar and he took on the quasi-improvisatory passages in The Ceremony and Medlars with aplomb. However, there were still the ‘three finger’ sections to deal with, in March to Joy and Medlars, requiring the instrument to be played in a folk style, like a banjo. In the end, we dry hired a renaissance cittern and gave it to banjo player John Dowling, who learned to play the instrument in 6 months. A sixth and final day with John, Miguel and Geoff and the job was done! Though we did have to restrain John to prevent him from burning the cittern afterwards. 

What is next for you?

 

I really have no idea. Each time I get a film made it feels like a minor miracle. One hopes another will follow, but who knows. I have a TV series about the slave trade in 18th century West Africa that I’d love to get made, and another about the Apache-Mexican-American wars in 1830s New Mexico. We have full pilot scripts for both of those, but they’re not cheap. I’d also love to make a musical, something the children can watch.

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Many thanks to Thomas Clay for his time and patience.

 

 

 

TALKING TO COMPOSER, MAXIMILIEN MATHEVON.

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What would you say were your earliest memories of any kind of music and were your family musically inclined?

One of my strongest memory is of an audio tape my parents used to listen in the car. It was a music sampler including Apache by the Shadows, Good vibrations by The Beach boys and an excerpt from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Belles (an album I would rediscover many years later and still adore now). I just loved to listen to these songs. My parents like music, they listen to Jazz and French pop but that’s about it. There is no known musician in the family.

 

 

A lot of your music is realized via syhnths etc, but the sound you achieve sounds like it is being performed by conventional instruments with live performances, what software etc do you use, and what percentage of the scores are performed by live players?

I have not had the opportunity to work with live players yet on documentaries projects. I use synths and sound samples libraries: Vienna libraries, Native Instruments, East West softwares, Cine-samples softwares… I use a lot of these, and some are really wonderful.

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You wrote the score for a documentary on Hammer films, did you do a great deal of research before starting work on the score?

I didn’t need to do much research: I was already familiar with the works of James Bernard, Harry Robinson etc… I particularly love Twins of Evil by Robinson (wonderful main title!). I also had seen many of those movies and knew the kind of sound they used.

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I loved the score for PEPLUM, the sound you managed to create was in many ways so much like the original scores for many of these movies, were you familiar with the genre and its music before you were asked to write the score?

Oh yes, I had seen a lot of Peplum’s and loved their scores (Alfred Newman’s The Robe is one of my favourites, as well as many Rozsa…) and of course I knew the more recent of them (Gladiator, Troy…)
The classic peplum genre has such a distinctive sound, brassy, masculine and thematic. I love it. And at the same time, PEPLUM was an opportunity to give it a synthy spin, mating it with 70’s and 80’s electronica – A shared taste with director and long time collaborator and friend Jérôme Korkikian.

 

When you are asked to write the music for a project, what is your starting point, do you look at a script or do you spot the film with the director and then decide what musical route you will follow?

The starting point is always to discuss the film with the director, to get as much information as possible about his point of view, his needs and how he sees the film.
Often, at this stage, the film is not edited at all and I get to see some rushes to have a first feel of the story. Then I compose while the film is being edited, working on ideas and specific scenes the director mentioned. After that, when some sequences are edited, I get to work on them more specifically. But the bulk of the work is done during the editing.

 

You did a series of documentary films about NAPOLEON, great music, how did you become involved on these scores?

Director and producer Jean-Louis Molho contacted me after having heard and liked some of my work. I did some demo and easily got the job – a dream job: Napoleon’s life gave me the opportunity to score exciting elements: battles, romance, more battles, victory… and defeats! The score blends traditional orchestral elements, world music and electronics. It was a real pleasure as I love to work with these elements!

 

What musical education did you receive?

 

I’m musically self-taught: I learned slowly but always with pleasure. A great deal of my musical education consisted in listening to music, all kind of music, but more importantly soundtracks. I’m a big collector of soundtracks and, as they are themselves linked to all kinds of musical genres, it made me discover many kinds of music.

Do you think that it is still important for a film score to have thematic direction and a central theme that the audience can identify with?

 

Yes, I love thematic scoring. It represents and help identify and empathize with characters or situations. But all scores don’t have to be necessarily thematic, depending on the movie or the intent of the director. A main theme is the identity of the film and, when done well, it summarize the intents of the film, its heart. It’s an anchor for the audience.


On average how long does it take to work on a score and record it, maybe use PEPLUM as an example?

 

It varies, as I work in parallel with the editing. If they have some time to edit, I have the same time to compose. Of course, at this point I rarely have all the elements of the film, and sometime must wait to have the sequences to score them. I must keep a global feeling of the film while working on it in disorder. For Peplum, I think the all process took one month.
The rare times were I had all the film already edited and completed (for the documentaries AU NOM DU FILS and BEN LADEN, LES RATES D’UNE TRAQUE), it took me two weeks to do the score.

Working on documentaries, I would imagine requires that you write a lot of music, probably a lot more than a feature film, do you get much input from producers or directors, or maybe requests that you compose something that sounds like Morricone, Goldsmith or Williams?

 

You are right, I compose sometimes way more music than is needed in the film. It’s because of the process of working during editing: first you submit many tracks to the director, and some of them are not used. Then, as the sequences get re edited, you have to re-score or adapt your material. And end up with many versions of the same music.  Sometimes, the director gives me references of music he wants the score to sound like. It’s merely indication and is often useful to find the right tone he desires. Temp tracking happens, for certain sequences, but not that often as I work during editing.

You released a series of recordings which contained some wonderful music entitled THE SILENT MOVIE COLLECTION, could you tell us what this is?

In 2003, I was asked to rescore silent movies as part of a collection for French DVD reissue. Once more a very exciting project. Yet I had very few time to score them: one week for the 60 – 70 minutes ones (THE SHOCK, SHADOWS, BLIND HUSBANDS), two weeks for the 100 minutes WAY DOWN EAST and, thankfully, four weeks for my favourite: 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS. This one I recall more fondly as I had a very great time scoring it.

Do you score a movie in any set way, as in main titles through to end credits, or is every project different?

Every project is different. In the rare occasion when the film is already entirely completed, I like to work from beginning to end: it helps the music to grow and develop as the story goes.
But when working while editing, I usually begin with main themes for the different aspects of the story. Then the sequences and ideas the director needs first. It’s impossible in these conditions to work chronologically.

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What artists or composers have been your inspiration?

 

There are obviously movie music composers: James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, Christopher Young, Basil Poledouris, Alan Silvestri, John Carpenter, Hans Zimmer, Graeme Revell, James Bernard, Miklos Rozsa, to quote but a few….Outside of the soundtrack genre, I am inspired by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Shultz, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Mike Oldfield… amongst others!!

 

What for you is the purpose of music in film?

Film music should enhance the movie, tell the audience what the others mediums don’t: the emotions, the feelings, the unsaid thoughts of the characters. It can also be a commentary on the film, the thoughts and ideas of the filmmakers.

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What is next for you?

I just finished the score for a feature length film, HAPPY NIGHT, directed by Mustapha Ozgun that should be released in 2021. It’s a crime story and a drama that demanded a synthetic score. I really enjoyed scoring it!  I am now working on a historical documentary for French TV about the Vicking Rollo, directed by Alban Vian. An extremely exciting project, once more!

 

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COMPOSER/PRODUCER ED HARTMAN TALKS ABOUT, AS THE EARTH TURNS.

I would like to thank Ed for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions, jm. 

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You are what I would call a multi-talented composer, performer and musician, when did you begin to take an interest in music, and was it something that ran in the family and as a child was there a lot of music played at home?

 
I appreciate the compliment. I believe most of my success is simply “hanging in there” and outlasting others! I have been at music for a long time. My mother was a psychologist, but also loved to play the violin. I did try the violin in 1st grade but was the only boy and gave up. My dad worked for the government, but he loved to play trombone. Therefore, I tried trumpet. That lasted for one lesson. Somehow, after that I found percussion. I did stay with the same teacher for seven years. That taught me persistence.

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My family went to concerts a lot, especially the Chicago Symphony (Solti!) and Lyric Opera. Those were eye-opening experiences, for sure. We had a pretty good record collection, including a lot of musicals. Going to a big movie was a treat, and that is where I found movie scores. My high school in Evanston, had an extraordinary music department. One teacher, Don Owens, an amazing composer, and educator, started an electronic music department and an avant-guard ensemble (“Weird Group”) there. My definition of music broadened quite a bit. I also started my jazz experience at that time.

 

You studied music at Indiana University, whilst doing your studies did you focus upon one instrument or a specific area of music?

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I received a Bachelor of Music in Percussion at IU. That school was off the charts in faculty at the time. Nearly every teacher was a famous musician. My training was focused on performance (typically classical/orchestral), and they did an interesting job of combining theory and history together. My percussion teacher, Richard Johnson, was African-American, and his story was compelling, as he wasn’t able to work in a symphony because of discrimination. He was a “Yoda” type of teacher. My exposure to classical music was seriously enhanced by his instruction. He put me in charge of the percussion section when the orchestra performed Berlioz’s Requiem.
It required 10 timpani. Learning about the composer’s understanding of orchestration was mind-boggling. I did also continue electronic music. The department had the first “Moog” synthesizer (the size of a wall!). We also did early computer music using punch cards and huge reel to reel tapes! It took a day to get anything. I never took composition in college, but I did compose. For both my junior and senior recitals I performed original pieces. The percussion department wasn’t crazy about it, and had a major faculty composer on my jury. One of the pieces was cut from 20 to 7 minutes! Eek. That was the first of many cuts and edits to my music!

After college, I moved to Seattle. I had access to a harpsichord and developed an intense understanding of counterpoint on it. I started a composer’s series, Opus 1 that ran for a number of years. It featured six composers a month. Eventually, we had major composers (I premiered music by Alan Hovhaness!) along with faculty composers, students, jazz musicians, and nearly anyone on a truly open program in a nice theatre. I eventually wrote a 90-minute piece for orchestra that was premiered there. I had no budget, so it was rough, and got panned in the press! I did learn a lot about orchestration, though.

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Your music has been heard in movies such as THE BLIND SIDE, THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY and the TV series LUCIFER, were these movies that you composed cues specifically for, or was the music that was utilised within these productions written beforehand and the production used it?

I wish I had done the scores for those films. Most of the tracks that I have had in major films and TV were from previously composed music for music libraries. A lot of that music is “diabetic” like music from a radio as part of the soundscape. “The Blind Side” features a marching band track, that was also used in other films. I am actually teaching music licensing, which is all about this process. Licensing came to me via a Christmas recording from 1992, “Marimbells of Christmas”. It is a tremendous recording, featuring all percussion instruments. (marimba, vibes, bells, etc.) Through a publisher, I landed a very nice deal with “Surviving Christmas” for the trailer and the film. I was inspired, and as recording became easier with digital devices, I started to compose a lot of music. It was licensing that got me back in the composing around 2001. I get requests from libraries for specific styles and genres, and occasionally some of those tracks get placements, although a lot of the time they don’t get the initial placement.

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It does increase my catalogue, which has many hundreds of pieces. I do custom work more and more, and that can be synced music for an existing scene. About a year ago, I created a “Carmina Burana” style track for a web-series that the action was synced to. I was able to recreate it electronically in about two hours. BTW: I am on my 7th year of writing “Adventures in Music Licensing” if anyone wants to read about how to get your music in TV and film.

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AS THE EARTH TURNS, is one of your more recent scores, it’s the 1930’s silent movie which you have scored. How did you become involved on the project?

“As the Earth Turns” is a 1938 silent sci-fi film that was never released (There is another “As the Earth Turns” from 1934, which is a talkie, and not related). This is a wild story of serendipity gone crazy. I have been teaching percussion for decades. One of my former student’s mom, contacted me in 2018 to take lessons, herself. She saw a track of mine on You-tube. I had created a Danny Elfman style track for licensing, and put it against a public domain Buster Keaton film,
(“College”-https://youtu.be/osBEEpcCVHU). The mom, Kim Lyford Bishop, asked me if I would like to score a film by her great uncle, Richard Lyford who was twenty-years old when he made it in 1938. It had never been released, as it was an “amateur” film. (Lyford went on to work for Disney, and eventually direct and Academy-Award winning documentary.) She had recently taken over the film-estate of the director. I agreed to do it. It took about a month. We found additional footage, and I edited it back into the film. My role was expanding quickly. It came out pretty well, and we had it mixed at Clatter & Din in Seattle a leading post-production studio. It came out even better. We started to enter the film into festivals. I became producer, and my life was dramatically changed. The film has been in 121 festivals and won 135 awards/nominations, including 34 for best score. I have been to several festivals (you get to go if you are a “producer”!). I organized a 7-day Oscar-qualifying run in LA last fall, did a media blitz, and entered the film into the Oscars (to get more eyes on it). I can say that Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Scorsese should have copies of the film. I can only hope they watch it! I negotiated a premiere on Turner Classic Movies, and the film is in distribution with Indie Rights. It is on Amazon and other platforms. From this experience, I have learned a lot about my film clients, and what they have to do to get their projects out.
I have also taken over the film-estate of the director, myself, and have created a documentary and am working on a screenplay for a biopic about the director. This all came from teaching a student. Astounding!

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Would you say that it is less difficult scoring a silent movie, or maybe it is more involved as the music has to purvey so many emotions and is normally running constantly behind the images?
When you score a modern film with dialogue, you are constantly dodging the dialogue, Foley, sound-effects, etc. A lot of your score really becomes subliminal and atmospheric. It also means that thematic development is pretty limited. There maybe no time in a scene to develop themes, especially with heavy dialogue. Epic action films tend to allow more (“Star Wars’ etc.). In a sense, those sequences can be similar to silent films. For my film, the entire soundtrack is the dialogue, atmosphere, emotion, sound-effects (I only used instruments for that to make it more “musical”), etc. There is also wall-to-wall music. This is pretty challenging. The composer can’t really let too much silence creep in. Silence is a tremendous part of music (as I learned studying Cage, in High School!) In a silent film, there is no sound whatsoever, including nature or city sounds. Dead silence is deadly in film. The audience can get very concerned, something has happened to the film! With digital, you don’t even have the click of the film through the projector to create ambience.

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For this film, I was able to develop themes from the beginning. Because the director is deceased (died in 1985), I really didn’t know what he liked, although about half way into scoring, I found out that Richard Lyford had experimented in adding dual turntables synchronized to a 16mm projector! No one had ever done this before. (It’s why Disney was interested in him). He was in his teens, too. I did become concerned about my direction. As it turned out, after interviews with Lyford’s son, Chris (I have done a number of them), my choices were actually pretty right on. Lyford loved Stravinsky, Dvorak, Beethoven etc. All he could do was add existing classical music to the films. He did add Foley (live) and even some dialogue to some other films, although none of this has survived.

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Because my executive producer Kim, has been so wonderful to work with, I was given a free hand to compose. It was an intense but very enjoyable experience. It was more like composing a symphony, or maybe a cantata. There were 23 cues, from 30 to 5 minutes in length. Most of the music is classical with some jazz. All of it was meant to be appropriate for the era.

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I love experimental music, but for this film, I really wanted to make it something the director would have chosen himself. Working with a director can be challenging, of course. You never really know if you are close to their vision. I’ve scored the same scene for film many times. I’ve been replaced as composer (pretty typical out there!). The music has to service the image, in the end. The director and producer always have the last say on it. This is a great reason to be your own producer! 🙂

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You basically have two music careers one as a performer and the composing side of things, do these run separately or do you combine them and bring in elements of each into the film scoring part?

I haven’t been performing in the last few years because of my focus on composing. With the pandemic, this has actually worked out well for me. I do believe that all of the years of performing, especially jazz, world and improvised music, has taught me how to quickly create music. I am pretty good at improvising music (Early in my career I did a lot of work with an improv dance company) I work typically on keyboards, and then orchestrate it. It creates a pretty “organic” sound to it and is very “synced” to the action. Modern DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) have made the process a lot easier. I can work fast, and sync as I go. As a percussionist, I can perform complicated rhythmic music myself, when necessary. In one of the cues from the film, there is a 4:3 rhythm in the orchestra. That was satisfying that as complex as it is, it sounds quite natural. My mallet playing (vibes, marimba, xylophone) added a lot of “vintage” musical elements to the score, too.
Most composers do have a “specialty” and that is what usually becomes their sound or brand. For me, I seem to be good at creating a variety of styles, but I have always been drawn to classical music, especially baroque influences. I have performed Bach on mallet instruments for years and composed quite a bit of music in that genre as well. It influences me to this day, especially regarding counterpoint.

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The soundtrack recording of AS THE EARTH TURNS has been released, did you have a hand in selecting the music for this release?

Being the producer on this film, I am totally in charge of everything related to it! I not only picked the music, but edited the tracks (combined cues), did the artwork, and created distribution. I am pretty satisfied with it. Because the film is 45 minutes long, I’ve included the entire soundtrack in it, with some order changes. I hope the soundtrack works as a piece unto itself. If it does, that would confirm that my thematic writing has worked.

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When you first look at a potential project, how do you approach it, do you watch it over many times before deciding where music should go or maybe should not in some cases, or do you look at it just a couple of times before you begin to figure out where music should be placed?

I generally dig in pretty fast. Shorts are easier to watch more. If I am working with a director, it is ideal to have a “spotting session” and go through the film in detail. Usually the director has an idea of where the music should be. Sometimes, “temp tracks” are put in to give the composer a sense of what the director wants. This can be good and bad. There is a real chance of “tempitus”, where the director falls in love with the temp track! Music seems to “bind” with image very quickly. It can be difficult to create something that is not too close to the temp. As a composer, you want to bring out your own sound and concepts, too. A film composer does need to wear very thick mental armour, because the music can be easily rejected. You have to be careful not to spend too much time working on a scene, until you know it is on the right music for it. I have created very complicated music, only to have it rejected. I have a sign in my studio I got from Goodwill. “You can. End of story.” I live by it!
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What percentage of the score for AS THE EARTH TURNS is performed by live instruments as opposed to syhnths and samples?

(If you haven’t seen the film, please don’t read this!). 

I have had many people ask me what orchestra recorded the score. It has been humbling and reaffirming to my craft. I have to admit, though the only real instruments are percussion. Everything else is samples done in my DAW. I believe one of the tricks to making an electronic score work, is not to try to make everything sound real, as much as thinking in a “impressionistic” mode. You have to work with the sounds and have them come together as organically as possible. Having the music mixed professionally did also help quite a bit. In the end, recorded music is the same whether it is coming from real or virtual instruments. It is simply a wave form. The more you realize that, the easier it is. I will say that all of my performance and composition with strings, especially, helped orchestrate the music. For example, I know what an open string is on a violin and know that it can’t have vibrato. That can be vital in reproducing it electronically. I would love to record the score with a real orchestra in the future, of course. That requires re-orchestrating it for live players.

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What would you say is the job of music in film?

Music tends to add emotion, atmosphere, and overall support the dialogue in film. Film can be 50% visual and 50% aural for the audience. Music can create a deep and everlasting memory for a film. Even if a piece was not created for a film, it can forever be attached to it, like “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from 2001 by Strauss. It can in fact, be the most lasting element of a film, after you watch it. “Koyaanisqatsi” was a film that combined music and cinematography equally starting from the same place (music by Phillip Glass). It’s experimental but demonstrates a pure marriage of visuals and music. I create my own videos where the visuals support the music, a la a “music video”. That can be deeply satisfying for a composer.

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What composers or performers have inspired or influenced you?

My favourite question. Film composers: Herrmann, Williams, Mancini, Goldsmith, Barry, Ernest Gold (“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”) Classical: Bach, Beethoven, Bernstein, Strauss (both), Cage and my personal favourite, Hector Berlioz! Jazz/World/Latin/Pop: Gershwin, Paul Winter, Buddy Rich, Gary Burton, Chuck Mangione, The Beatles, Elton John (just watched the movie!), Cal Tjader, and most of all my greatest respect for Frank Zappa ( who started out scoring films!). I have always had a very eclectic taste. Usually what I especially love are musicians that are truly skilled as performers and composers.

TALKING TO COMPOSER MICHAEL J. LEWIS.

For any lover of thematic and melodic music the name of Michael J Lewis is one that will be familiar, his film scores and television works are for me personally some of the greatest scores ever written. I am so grateful to have discovered his eloquent and affecting music when I did which was back in the early 1970’s. I am also thankful that the composer took time out from a busy working schedule to answer my questions. 

 

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MJL. Hello John. Thank you so much for allowing me the pleasure of talking about my music.

 

MMI. I know that you are involved in more than just film music these days, but when you began your career was it film music that you wanted to write mainly?

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All I wanted to do, from the day I was born, was compose – and that’s all I have ever done – except buy land. I was a choir boy at 6, school pianist at 9 and church organist at 10. Naturally, my early compositions were choral. After my enlightenment at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, I taught at two blackboard jungle schools in Tottenham, North London for just two years. I had zero hope of introducing the natives to Bach or eighth species counterpoint, so I let them take me over and educate me in the ways of John, George, Paul and Ringo. A whole new world of melody opened up. I was re-educated by the kids. At about the same time I became a fan of the Bond films. The scores and sounds were mesmerizing. I was hooked. I walked out of teaching and lived in a garret, being fed by Welsh girls who learnt the benefits of being good cooks. Then ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’ came along. Suddenly I had orchestras filled with the best of the best, playing my music to the images of Katherine Hepburn, Charlton Heston, Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins etc. Dreams do come true. 100s of tracks for commercials followed, then Broadway, an exploration of my Welsh music heritage, more choral music and now gospel in the Deep South.

 

You released a lot of your soundtracks as promo discs, a while ago, why were these scores not given a release by record labels, as they certainly warrant it, because they are superb all of them?
Simple answer. Not one single company regarded them as worthy of release!! The only reason that ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’ was released as an album was that I knocked on the wrong door. During the 1969 Warner Bros Jamboree in the Bahamas (The Wild Bunch, The Damned, The Rain People, Madwoman of Chaillot premieres) I had a date with a gorgeous Swedish blonde. She gave me her room # but I screwed it up and knocked on the wrong door. A guy answered. He asked me who I was. I said “Michael J Lewis, composer.” He threw his arms around me and said that I was a master. Naturally, I asked him who he was. He introduced himself as, “Kenneth Hyman. Head of Warner Bros.” He invited me in for a drink. He told me my music for ‘Chaillot’ was terrific and that he would like to talk to me for longer, but he was expecting Visconti at any moment.

He asked me if he could do anything for me. I told him that Warner’s didn’t want to release ‘Chaillot’ as an album – which they didn’t. Visconti knocked on the door; Ken Hyman shook my hand, told me to go find the blonde and that when I got back to London to call Warner Records and tell them to give me the money for the album. The score won me an Ivor Novello Award for my first picture. It wasn’t until I recorded and produced my Double CD in 1994, in Berlin and Los Angeles, that my music had any widespread distribution. Thankfully the reviews were exceptional.

 

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Do you think that film music has evolved for the better or maybe has lost some of its appeal to collectors or cinema audiences because of the lack of themes in scores these days, do you think that the use of the soundscape or drone effects as opposed to actual thematic content has maybe cheapened the art of film scoring?

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Now John, you are stirring the pot. To anyone who reads what I have to say, please understand that I am giving my opinion and that it is in no way critical of others. Film music has certainly changed over the last 30 years. Many things have changed in the digital age. Pro-Tools is amazing. Altiverb is amazing. Sampled sounds are amazing. I enjoy them all. However, I think the great turning point came, mid 70’s ish, when producers realized that they could demand to hear a ‘virtual’ score before it was recorded and consequently for the first time had real control over music. Up until this time, composers were highly trained musicians with their feet firmly planted in the European Romantic tradition. The first time a score was heard was at the session. Suddenly anyone could record a score in their suburban back bedroom and present it to a non-musician producer who had no knowledge of the past, and who was primarily concerned with imitating the rock guys with whom he identified. Changes could be made, scores diluted. It was all the action of the moment and to hell with subtlety. As for emotional melody – that belonged in the unenlightened Dark Ages populated by those over 39. Icons like Spielberg upheld traditional scoring but the majority has not. I truly believe that many who hold the purse strings today wouldn’t know a great tune if they heard one. I devote most of Christmas and New Year to reviewing the past years ‘product’ up for Academy consideration. I wait, in vain, to hear someone come up with a great ‘movie theme’. Some of what I hear is ‘clever’ but in no way memorable. A lot of what I hear is simply – baffling.

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Three years ago, there was an outstanding movie that should have won Best Picture. If it had had an epic score, I’ve no doubt that it would have. To me the score for that great film was incomprehensible – and the price was paid. Please don’t ask me to name names. As I said, this is just my own, humble, unadulterated opinion! However, occasionally a film song appears (a song is not a score) that blows me away. This year’s ‘Stand Up’ from ‘Harriet’ thrilled me. Everything, just everything, about it was outstanding. The writing, the performance, the arrangement, the mixing – fabulous. We live in hope of more real music to come.

Can I ask you about two scores of yours, THEATRE OF BLOOD and also JULIUS CAESAR. The latter is a triumph of a soundtrack, and it just adds so much to the movie, what size orchestra did you have for this particular assignment, and were you given any specific instructions by the director of the movie as to what type of music was required and why is there no full soundtrack released of this score on promo or commercial release? To, THEATRE OF BLOOD this is such a beautiful score, the central theme is so haunting, we all know that it is essentially a horror film, so why did you choose to score it with a romantic and rather lovely melody, of course the film is a little tongue in cheek, but the music being so poignant I think makes the black comedy work even better, was this also your thinking behind scoring in this way?

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Many great questions herein. First, Julius Caesar. I had met the producers on ‘Chaillot’ and had an excellent relationship with them. They trusted me. The director was a theatre man with very little experience in film. Consequently, there were a few problems. I was thrilled to be doing an historical epic. I had been in awe of the great epics of my youth. Exodus, (what a tune), Gone with the Wind, (melodic perfection) and later Lawrence of Arabia and Zhivago – master scores. I wanted JC to have a great theme. I persuaded the producers to have an overture like Lawrence. I recorded a demo (high quality demos always pay off if they are high quality!) and played it to the director. He was horrified. It sounded like a cinema epic. The producers loved it and off we went to CTS in Bayswater. Orchestra was about 78. The ‘Overture’ and ‘Caesar’s Entry into Rome’ remain some of my all-time favourite tracks. Big, melodic, vibrant, cinematic. Scoring and mixing finished I went for some R&R in Italy (where else?) A few weeks after my return, JC opened in Leicester Square in 70mm stereo.
I sat through the Overture and was thrilled. And then, reel by reel, horror transpired. They had re-cut the film after scoring and the scenes I was looking at did not relate to the score. I have never seen the film since.
When I relocated from UK to US in 1984, some of my recordings never completed the trip. ‘Julius Caesar’ was one of them and ‘The Legacy’ was another. Thank God, most made it.

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Theatre of Blood was another great experience. The late, great Douglas Hickox was the perfect director to work with. He was a commercials director essentially and knew his craft. He also had a great sense of humour – what an asset. We spent hours at my house near Ally Pally in North London with that great hunk called a Moviola. (If you’ve never lived with a Moviola, you have never lived.)
We ran different tracks of mine against the film until we found the right feel. After that, Dougie trusted me and left me alone to do as I saw (heard) fit. My approach was to avoid horror/black comedy clichés. I wanted the score to work as a counterpoint to the film. When Arthur Lowe was having his head sawed off, the strings soared romantically like one of the TV medical series of the time. The opening needed a tune. All movies need a tune, good ones grab the emotion, hook the audience. The film was Shakespearian, so it called out for harpsichords and recorders and a poignant theme which would recur throughout the movie, organically, as a leit motif. That’s how movie scores are meant to be written – organically, not fragmented. The trampoline sequence was a hoot to write as a fugato. My years at the Guildhall paid off.

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The ‘Variety’ review thought the score displayed “major talent.” Those who want to know more should pick up John Llewellyn Probert’s splendid book ‘Theatre of Blood’ which is devoted to the film. It has a fairly comprehensive ten page Q & A regarding the score, to which I contributed

 

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The sound on your scores is always wonderfully clear and balanced, did you record at one studio or maybe did you have the same recording engineer for all of them?

 

My sound was born at the original CTS Studios in Bayswater, London – an old theatre. I had first visited CTS in about 1967 at the invitation of John Barry who was scoring Bryan Forbes’s ‘The Whisperers.’ I trembled at what I heard. The sound was utterly enthralling, magical, captivating. Lot of reverb, close mics, awesome musicians, great score. All John Barry’s scores are text book examples of what film music should be. All his English works were scored at CTS, as were Henry Mancini’s – who I met at that session – when he was in London. Jane Birkin was at the same session – what a beauty. A year or so later when I landed ‘Chaillot,’ I did not hesitate to record at CTS. The engineer was John Richards and he did an outstanding job. The score still sounds great. I adopted the CTS sound and have taken it with me wherever I have recorded. It’s all in the reverb, guys. Originally it was plates, now it’s (for me) Altiverb. I know an outstanding recording facility in the USA Deep South, where I currently hang, that has the latest Neve, a fine room for 60/70 and they have no idea what to do with reverb. I stay clear. I love recording. I love recording studios. I love mixing. It is all magic and has been since I first visited CTS way back in 1967.

 

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You divide your time these days between the UK and the US, where you produce, record and also continue to compose, what are you working on currently?

 

Juicy question. In December last I read of an 8-part TV show going into production that interested me greatly, due to its subject matter. I recorded a demo and wrote to the UK and US producers on the Friday before Christmas. No reply, not even a thank you, or a goodbye. So, I thought to myself, “Screw you.” The subject is historical and hence public domain. I pondered how I might involve myself in the same period but with a whole different approach, and with a contemporary connection, for the cinema. Now five months later it has developed into an all involving project that demands every hour of every day – with the exception of this very enjoyable Sunday afternoon answering your Q and A in divine Mississippi – the birthplace of America’s music. So far so good. I am writing the script and the score simultaneously. The score is totally organic. It’s part of the story. One of the characters. A highly melodic character. Stay tuned.

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