So the first thing I saw of Windy Day was Doug Sweetland’s storyboard. It was brilliant, hilarious and insane. I knew the music needed to sprint just to keep up with the story and humor. But what world should it help create, and what should it actually say?
Jon Klassen’s forest and Mark Oftedal’s characters answered the first part of the question; they created the world, I just needed to sound like them. What the music needed to say came from Jan Pinkava’s description of the story: “It’s a beautiful day in this really cool forest. What could possibly go wrong?”
Perfect. Now I just need a great team and some of the best musicians in the world close by.
ABOVE: Session with Evan Price (violin) at Decibelle - jamming through the tornado scene, then building Pepe’s “musical foley.”
No problem. Done and done.
And here, reader, is where life imitates art. Here is where I said to myself, “what could possibly go wrong?”
When composers score to picture, we take for granted that at some point, we’ll know the precise order and timing of events A to Z. The music helps propel us through them and glue them together.
In Windy Day, not every event will necessarily be seen, and any given scene can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes or more.
What? Ow. Cue HAL’s shutdown song as my brain is dismantled in outer space.
Okay. Interactive music isn’t new. In 1962, Ramon Sender’s “Tropical Fish Opera” allowed fish to determine notes on a staff drawn on the sides of an aquarium for an encircling string quartet to perform. 1985‘s Super Mario Bro’s score has an indeterminate length, and changes when Mario moves between the surface and the underground. How hard can this be in 2013?
Yeah, kinda hard. In spite of all this great music I had in the can, by the time it made it onto the device, it worked if you followed the hat, but fell apart once you looked away.
Working closely with Jan and with ATAP’s brilliant programmers and engineers, I created a system of multi-layered sound modules which glue the scenes and propel the story as a score should; react in realtime to on-screen action in the way a Carl Stalling or Scott Bradley score would; and (hopefully) sound just right.
It’s hard to describe in a blog post. I think of it as rows of shark’s teeth, but Pinkava probably said it best when he compared the technique to armadillo scales.
CODA: FAVORITE MUSICAL EASTER EGG
Jan would always find these moments he thought viewers might want to just stop and look around. We should reward that. A classic example is after Pepe is knocked out by the train, he falls through these stars. Jan: “What if we want to just look at these pretty stars?” I thought a twinkly lullaby embodying Pepe’s dreamlike stupor would help. So next time you watch Windy Day, look around for a bit during the fall… enjoy!
ABOVE: Yours truly, nearly staging a fall of my own, whilst making the sound of Jon Klassen’s leaves for Windy Day.
Recipe: The Ambrose
Serves 2. Actually, 1.
Enjoy the perfect pairing of whiskey (Scotch, Irish or Bourbon) and food. Not just the flavors that somehow cut through and yet mellow each other, but the fact that they can be enjoyed on a cushioned chair in front of a roaring fire, which you now mistakenly feel you understand in an historical context.
Hue’s blogpost on Devo, and genius assertion that Notes From Underground was punk, got me thinking.
In his first book The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, young punk philosopher (and admirer of NFU) Friedrich Nietzsche envisions an enantiomorph whose legacy remains with us today: the Apolline versus the Dionysiac. These Hellenic gods never knew they were antagonistically opposed to one another - indeed, as far as I know, they had never given their differences a moment’s thought. But to Nietzsche, great art was inspired and explained best by the opposing forces of dreams (Apolline) and intoxication (Dionysiac). What is truly punk about this theory is that Socrates himself, to whom more than two thousand years of art theory had been indebted, was incapable of either dreaming or intoxication*, and therefore incapable of understanding great art. In fact, according to Nietzsche, Socrates actually fucking killed art, or at least until Wagner.
Punk music itself can similarly be explained by the opposing forces of nihilsm and proselytism, each personified by the two groups most commonly credited with its birth, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones.
The Sex Pistols didn’t give a shit about themselves, anyone, or anything. To the extent that it was sold at all, it was marketed as a swindle, hoodwinking their own fans.
On the other hand, the Ramones did give a shit, and they wanted their fans to as well. The mechanical solidarity of the band’s image and sound culture was geared to overwhelm, to move, to inspire, and to convert. Not to any particular idealogy but simply to them, whatever they or even that one particular song represented. It’s amazing how one bandmember in isolation is unremarkable: Converse, Levi’s, t-shirt, leather jacket, Cleopatra-meets-bowl-cut black hairdo… But turn that into a uniform, and you see a battalion unified by power and purpose. Now add their signature presidential seal, and you’ve got a whole lot of young boys who want to join the army.
And so to the extent that Devo is punk, they, like the Ramones, are of the proselyte order of Punk. Image. Brand. Giving a shit. Purpose. They want to change the way you think. They want you to join them on their crusade. Diametrically opposed to the nihilsm of punk’s co-founders the Sex Pistols, the proselytes of punk believe that (sh)it matters.
* According to Plato, Socrates almost never dreamed and never became drunk.
Above: Blizzard, a musical snippet. A response to Notes From Underground Holiday Card.
Perception of time is everything. Slowed down enough, a sudden attack becomes an endlessly swelling premeditation. ”Blizzard” is a collage of musical attacks (plucked or hammered strings and struck percussion) time-stretched into washed-out waves of alien (alienated?) sound. Hidden is the celesta figure from Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, slowed beyond recognition.
The audio lays back to picture. Hue, send me original audio if you want to see how it all works (or doesn’t) together.
Above: Retaliation, a musical snippet. Response to Notes from underground, first project.
Q: Can the concept of retaliation be expressed in music without the aid of lyrics or any visual or narrative context?
"Retaliation" is reduced to alienation, a deliberate plan, and a terrible act. Stasis, followed by a terrible idea growing, propelling forward, climaxing in an event with disastrous and unintended consequences. Other than the Wagnerian-cum-golden era Hollywood treatment, this musical interpretation is methodical and literal.
Incidentally, Bernard Herrmann approached the very same question in his score to his last film score, Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (i.e., mid-1970’s New York response to NFU).
The resemblance is startling. Is retaliation a musical archetype?
here’s something I scored and sound designed.