Amásáni

Roughly one month ago I was approached to do a student thesis film. I had previously worked with this director and I’ll be the first to admit that I was not particularly excited to accept their offer. In the past, we had butted heads on the most fundamental of creative levels. And in the end, to be honest, it led to a frustrating experience that had me very hesitant to work with student filmmakers again.

[Now: to be fair this feeling was not the result of that experience itself, which would be absurd, but the amalgamation of many similar experiences over my time as a musician.]

Needless to say I took the job, because work is work. If I’ve learned anything over the last three years, it’s that when an opportunity presents itself just say yes. Just. Say. Yes. With that being said, I’m glad I did. Let me tell you why:

  1. If you read my last blog, about Found and Lost, then you know that I found a few friends in the sound department. This film saw my networking pay off, as I was able to work with one of those very same sound technicians again.
  2. In the short three days that I had to compose for this film I was able to hold my first recording session with a student flutist. (Whom I am so grateful for, especially when considering the fact that they were unpaid and willing to dedicate their skills in the middle of a school week).
  3. Then there was a very new experience for me; compromise. For this film it took the form of having to write and cut music (or even just parts of the music) throughout the entirety of the scoring process. An experience that I would have had trouble with, say a year ago, but was able to embrace with a positive attitude this time around. In fact, I found myself more and more willing to limit the amount of music in the film.

This film is called Amásáni; it is about a young girl whom is suspended from school and has to spend the day with her grandmother, learning from her the disciplined traditions of her ancestors. Immediately I knew that I wanted to focus on the traditional aspect of this film, which plays out a lot more like a documentary then a short film. The director and I talked frequently about how we wanted to keep the music reserved for only the most important parts of the story, when the young girl is playing with her grandmother’s things and when the grandmother consoles her granddaughter in the Hogan. Likewise, my ensemble consisted of solo flute, piano, and a string quartet (which only made it into the end credits).

Somehow I managed to scale down my melodic writing from the exuberant academic to the simple kindergartener. It was a difficult change after having written pieces like I have in my Reveries. Yet, it was a very welcome change, because I was forced to use only the notes that really mattered. These notes formed the C major pentatonic scale and I am pretty confident that nearly all of the flute material is some combination of those five notes. In a similar fashion, I refused to let even the piano reach any form of chromaticism and firmly planted it in the key of C major. Other than the occasional log drum or string quartet this is really all there is to say about the score itself. There is something else though that I would like to talk about!

The music for this film was inherently Native American and to be more specific it was based on the traditional music of the Navajo people. When I turned to the Internet for help in understanding this music I was extremely frustrated to find that there was nothing really TO find. At first it was a musical issue for me, after all how am I suppose to imitate the musical styles of the Navajo people authentically if I couldn’t find any music? Then it turned into a more general frustration towards the Internet itself. All ‘Native American’ music was somehow fused into this indiscernible and frankly unidentifiable identity that was labeled as ‘native,’ ‘Indian,’ or ‘spiritual.’ It bothered me.

After hours of following link after link of suggested videos nominated ‘Navajo music’ I did find a piece or two of music that was authentic enough for me. However, these videos were so hard to find and not nearly as high of a quality as I thought that they deserved to be. That doesn’t sit right with me for some reason.

Maybe it’s best that this portion of North American culture is so seemingly off limits to the digital era. Maybe it means that these people have kept these things for themselves. Or maybe it doesn’t mean much; all I am saying is that it would me nice to see this sort of thing ironed out in the future. I, for one, am sure that these cultures have so much more to give and are equally so important to our country as a whole. I hope that you enjoy the music, have a nice day!

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The Locker Room Mascot Massacre

THE LOCKER ROOM MASCOT MASSACRE 

Back in August I had the opportunity to work alongside a longtime collaborator and fellow student, Joseph Dutra. Whereas, our paths typically met to bring together a PSA for a school project, or brainstorm a theme song for an offbeat comedy. I was surprised when Joseph came to me offering the task of diving headlong into the murky world of grey-tone and cigarettes, otherwise known as film Noir. From the moment that he contacted me asking for my help in writing the score for a school project entitled, “The Locker Room Mascot Massacre,” I knew the exactly how I was going to approach his work on the film. What I did not know at the time was how impactful the music I wrote for the film would be to my life as a musician and screenwriter (*see White Room post*).

Perhaps the most important aspect of beginning a film score is finding the material that will not only inform the structure of the music being written, but also determine its function within the context of the film. Likewise, I make it a habit to consult any possible historical source on the style of the film begin discussed with the hope that this information can enrich the writing process. I do not believe that I could have been handed a better genre to study. As I peeled back the layers of this dramatic and morbidly delightful film trend I came to find two of my favorite things: American history and American composers.

Which led me to the most daunting aspect of writing a Noir film score. Some of the best film composers to exist have poured their lives worth of time and energy into this musical style. I am not, yet, one of those. I am just a student who is mimicking what he has heard to one day become like those that he holds in high esteem.

Now, I did not have to follow in the tradition of the incredible works of Jerry Goldsmith

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Chinatown LP (Goldsmith)

and Bernard Herrmann. Or even have to have seen movies like Psycho or study the soundscapes of Cape Fear, Chinatown, and the more modern L.A. Noir. However, it has always seemed criminal too me to essentially dismiss the works of past artists when they had already established the kinds of worlds that I found entertaining. So, I studied until the language became my own creating some of the best music I have ever written.

For me to say that writing the score for, “The Locker Room Mascot Massacre,” taught me a few things would be an understatement. It was the first full-length score I had ever written, it was the first project where I was paid for my efforts as if I were a professional, and it was the first project I had ever had where all of my commonplace electronic tools had fully abandoned me leaving me to be creative in how I captured the sound of the film. In fact, it took me the better half of a month to write and perform the music as I continuously reworked and even rewrote cues up to hours before the work was due. Forcing me to rethink how I saw music and how I put those ideas to paper and further more onto the keyboard and then into the orchestra. (Except for this time I did not have an orchestra to work with  -_- ).

Interlude:

[Now I have a confession to make. Around the time that I was writing the music for this film I had this really bad case of amnesia when it came to melodies that I already knew. Meaning that over the course of August I was constantly writing music that had already been written by others. I know that this sounds ridiculous, but in terms of musicality it was a hard time for me. College was not adhering to my vision of my future and I had not written original music for a couple of months. So, when I began to write again I was startled to realize that I could write these incredible themes…only to find out that they were actually themes from Star Wars, or Agents of Shield, or Tomorrowland, et cetera, et cetera. (Yeah I know, sounds like a good time). Confession: One of the themes in TLMM was very nearly an exact replica of a theme from Cape Fear by Bernard Herrmann. And I only realized this fact…after the fact. (So, if anyone realizes that, I know what I did. However I cannot say that I regret it because it is beautiful and dangerous and now people my age will know who Bernard Herrmann is and I think that is great).]

Okay, anyway!

When Joseph asked me to write the music he asked for a single theme that would signal evil and distrust. He did not want any of the romance or the romanticizing, though he did want it to be reminiscent and almost mocking. From our discussions, it became apparent that he wanted to accent the things about a Noir film, which make the genre so identifiable, to a comical proportion. And so I had the only solution in hand, just write the music as if I were writing for a typical Noir film, since exaggeration is inherent in the style of film from conception to exhibition. Bringing me to exhibit A:

Ostinatos –

Ostinatos are what drive the plot forward in TLMM as the culprits and the victims are introduced and their situation is laid bare. And because of this, there are three ostinatos that act as siblings, changing as the atmosphere of the film does.

For example The first ostinato, which can be heard in the cues Mascot is Life in all of its endless energy, has all the SUV: Law and Order swagger in stride. Bringing a sense of curiosity and resolve as the plot thickens and the police receive the testimony of the only witness to the crime.

Ostinato 1.png

Then, when the King’s success finally gets on the nerves of fellow mascots, the ostinato changes. Becoming a frenetic, yet rhythmically static pattern that keeps the tension high while ever-changing harmonies rest atop it.

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And when the mascots’ decide to get their revenge on the King, the music is set into a more introspective set of cues of which I named, “Long Live the King.”

Although the ostinato seems to have died at this point in the score, it is resurrected on the last of the three cues replacing the rhythmically static and frenetic second evolution of the ostinato with similar harmonies above, but a bouncing C7 instead of a driving Fm7 arpeggiation.

Ostinato 3.png

Themes –

Remember those themes that I spoke of earlier? Well, other than my Cape Fear rip-off we have only one to look at. These themes are labeled simply as the Murder theme and the Plotting theme, respectively. Their functions are literally just that, one is used for the murder and one is used for the plotting. Leading me to divulge to you what is possibly the most important I have learned thus far: Less is more. The Murder theme is harmonized only by octaves.

Murder:

Murder.png

 

The Plotting theme is harmonized with the ‘devils interval’…a tritone instead.

Plotting:

Plotting.png

Both of which can be heard here:

 

(Other than these highlights, there are only a few motives that are used throughout the film, of which are as straightforward as they come and readily apparent).

This experience has shaped the way that I view music and how I go about writing it. I am beyond appreciative of my experience with the, “Locker Room Mascot Massacre.” You know that you have stumbled upon a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when you come away loving what you do a little more, while also having learned a little something along the way. If you would like to hear the full score feel free to visit my SoundCloud under the Music tab or search my name on the SoundCloud website!