After a few years of being out of touch, my friend Phil M. and I recontacted each other a few months ago, and I discovered that he’d been very busy in the intervening years, turning himself into a rock star, and putting his band Stardust for Jennifer on the map globally (an impressive number of albums sold, somewhere north of 1 million, I understand!) I’ve loved his music for years, and own all the albums (some of whose covers are shown above), and was so happy to hear that he was making his wonderful, ambient/electronic sound available to the world, and that the world was taking notice!
And then, to my complete surprise, he asked me to join the band! And of course, I said yes. I think, actually, he had gotten about as far as “Steve, I was wondering…” when I said “Yes, of course!!!” 🙂 So, I’m now officially a member of Stardust for Jennifer, and have been working with Phil and the other band members (whom I hope to actually meet in person soon, as they’re scattered around between Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie) on the new album, which apparently I’m not supposed to talk about, so I won’t, except to say that it’s so fucking amazing it’s going to make people’s brains melt in their heads. …and it’s called “Ghost”.
I may have said too much. But I’m really super excited about the prospect of making music with such an incredibly creative and talented band. They feel a bit like family and I haven’t even met them yet! Look for the new album sometime soon!
Here’s the third instalment of my project to “re-imagine” some of my favourite movie scenes, with my own music instead of the original score. My first two have gotten quite a few very positive and constructive comments, and I’m pleased that people have taken the time to listen and give me such wonderful feedback! Thanks so much!
For my third outing, I decided I wanted to tackle something non-Western, to see how I would fare with some musical idioms that I wasn’t familiar with. It’s a task that’s handed to many a film score composer when the film takes place in an exotic locale. And to do it right, without “patronizing” the music and culture of the destination, is really quite difficult. But where to go? Well, I’ve always loved the sound of the Indonesian Gamelan … the shimmering, wonderfully out of tune quality that they build into the instruments purposefully, the huge wall of sound that 30 people banging on metal bells and gongs produces, and the intimidatingly complex circular playing structure that, as it turns out, is unique to gamelan composition. OK, there was the challenge, now, what movie? Well, in a twist of fate, after doing “Dead Poets Society” for my first film, I started reacquainting myself with my “Peter Weir Collection”, coming to the realization again (as I had years ago) that the talented Australian Filmmaker was (and is), at least as far as I was concerned, somewhere very close the pinnacle of filmmaking genius. His films are sprawling and gorgeous, a visual feast, made all the more luxurious because he has a slow and steady hand on the camera, letting shots linger so little details catch your eye. He’s also a master of the “… and the music swells …” moment that so few directors get right … a wee bit too over the top and it’s ham-handed, but not quite enough and it’s not the emotional bombshell that it could be … Mr. Weir has utterly perfected that balancing act (which, of course, relies just as heavily on the music swelling like it should, as on the deft visuals) – which is probably why after only 3 attempts, I’ve already done 2 Peter Weir films – he knows how to use film music in a very powerful way!
Continuing on with the ReSCORE project, I thought for my second time out, I would tackle something that is (a) a little more recent, and (b) is scored by one of my heroes, Hans Zimmer. Zimmer has written a truly staggering number of film scores, and while he receives a bit of flak for reusing ideas between projects, I’ve found that when he’s presented with an interesting challenge, he invariably comes up with highly original music that adds a great deal to the film. One such challenge was the score for “Sherlock Holmes” – after writing a jangly, highly recognizable theme for the first Guy Ritchie film, and populating that score with wild fiddle playing and broken pianos, he was presented with the unenviable task of creating something new, but sort-of the same, for the second film, “Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows”.
So, at the urging of a film director friend of mine, I’ve started a personal project that I’m calling “ReSCORE” … the purpose of the project is to take some of my favourite movie scenes, particularly ones where I thought music was particularly effectively used, and compose my own music for the scene. It is my hope that my “rescored” version will be at least as good as the original. I’ll leave that judgement call up to you, of course! Given that I’m just breaking into the film scoring business, my director friend feels that this effort will act as a sort of “demo reel” of the kind of work I’m capable of. I just think it’s a really cool way to hone my craft! I’ll be doing a number of these scenes over time, and will post them here as I complete them.
I’m really jazzed about this first one – the film is Peter Weir’s wonderful “Dead Poets Society”, the film where the world learned that Robin Williams wasn’t just a zany comedian, but could really act, as well.
The Trinidadian Steelpan is one of my favourite instruments, and I try to compose with it in the orchestra as often as I can. Recently, I was given the opportunity to do an actual 50-person steelpan orchestra arrangement of a song by New York’s “St Lucia”. Writing the steelpan parts and recording the results was an incredible learning experience, and convinced me that I want to do a lot more with this gorgeous instrument!
So, while talking with friends about the concert that I’ve been working on with Dynasty Electric, and how I’ve come to think of it as a way to bring orchestral music into contact with a younger audience, someone brought up the subject of ballet, and what an effort to bring classical ballet to a younger and larger audience might look like, we struck upon the idea of combining classical ballet and wuxia. The wuxia genre finds its most well-known expression in film, represented by the venerable category of the “martial arts film” or more specifically in Chinese culture, the “kung fu film.” Spanning generations, from the original Hong Kong low-budget Shaw Bros. films of the 60’s and 70’s, which have been lovingly referenced more recently by such directors as Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2) and the Wachowskis (The Matrix Trilogy), through the Ang Lee – directed serious arthouse film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” at the beginning of the 21st century, Wuxia films represent a substantial percentage of the output of China’s film industry, to this day. Kung Fu films have long been a guilty pleasure of mine, so the idea of writing a ballet with such a story line resonated with me greatly. The result, after a few months of work, is “A Faraway Place”.
The excellent Ottawa choir “Pleinchant” performed two of my pieces in their recent Christmas 2014 concert at the Orléans United Church in Orléans. Watch the video after the cut!