This is the first of several articles about the discussion panels held at the Krakow Film Music Festival 2015. You can find more articles about the Krakow Film Music Festival here.
After some apologies from the host on behalf of some people who couldn’t attend, including Cliff Martinez who was stuck at the airport, we got under way. It was all about ‘Bloody’ scores and the unconventional sounds used within them, and Daniel Licht, a veteran Composer of Film, Television and Video Games for the past twenty-five years, and Atli Örvarsson, a more recent Composer of the last decade and collaborator with Hans Zimmer, were the Composers chosen to speak to us about their work in that field.
We began with Atli telling us about which Score of his comes to mind when talking about strange orchestration, and it was perhaps his most successful Score to date; “I was thinking about Hansel and Gretel, which is a bloody soundtrack, also with unconventional sounds. Screaming, electric guitars, the combinations are interesting.” Atli then played his main title from the film to display his point and you could definitely understand his choice, as the weird and wonderful were fully evident in the piece. You can listen to it here.
Which direction to take
He then went on to talk about how many people, that are involved in a film, have an opinion about the musical choices and which route the Composer should take.
The Director wanted it to sound like Metallica. The Producers were saying ‘no, it should sound like Dubstep.’ And then someone else in the studio was saying it should sound like Bach because of it being Germany in the 1700’s. I was a bit like Kofi Annan at the United Nations; trying to get everyone to agree on something. And this is what we came up with.
The host then asked Daniel Licht about his use of unconventional sounds.
There’s something always creepy about children’s voices in a scary setting. It’s like you don’t know what they’re thinking. It’s fear of the unknown.
Atli echoed the same thoughts about the great use of innocent sounds as scary ones because you don’t expect something so innocent to be so intimidating.
You have to collect sounds
As we moved on, the topic of discussion shifted to instrumentation, such as the use of small or large orchestras. “You can get a lot of character with a single instrument rather than a huge orchestra,” Daniel insisted. “The orchestra has been pretty well explored.” Atli agreed that small ensembles can be very effective:
Out of the last ten Academy Awards for Score, something like seven of them are primarily solo instruments or small ensembles. So it seems to be moving more towards smaller and more intimate sounds.
Speaking of smaller sounds, Daniel Licht told us about his travels to find individual and unique styles and to soak up different ways of making music.
I studied music in Indonesia. When I travel I like to go to exotic countries and hang out in music stores because you get to meet people and learn. Music is a very good introduction to a certain culture. I always try to pick up instruments there.
He then played us his main titles from the video game ‘Dishonoured’ to convey his message of exploration into a whole new musical world, and it was clear to hear as the piece had the hammer dulcimer present, as well as orchestral elements and even a didgeridoo.
Atli Örvarsson then jumped in and described his use of exotic sounds:
I like to go on-location and to find musicians of different countries to play in their own region. I get all sorts of sounds and phrases from different places and bring them back as well, which you can’t really do with an orchestra as creatively because of the already well-known sound of it. I just think we’re trying to find new ways to be creative and to get inspired.
It’s a collaborative process
As the discussion continued to focus on Daniel and Atli’s own personal musical choices and experimental ideas, Atli wanted to make something clear, so as not to make everyone think that scoring a film is just a do-what-you-want process.
At the end of the day, we’re writing music, not for music’s sake, we’re writing music to support the film. And very often the Director will have a strong feeling about what he wants and what he doesn’t want.
My favourite score of mine, because of how much I enjoyed making it, was The Eagle, that I worked on with Director Kevin Macdonald; a Documentary Film-maker who wanted the music to sound correct and from the time, even though we don’t know what the music sounded like in the year AD 140. But he wanted it to feel that way, so I went to Scotland and recorded with guys who dedicate their lives to ancient Scottish music. And that’s what we do as Composers; we convey a feeling. We have to sometimes deliver geography, and the most direct way to do that is to go on-location and mine for sounds, which is so exciting for me.
Daniel Licht had a similar viewpoint, but stressed that he finds it satisfying to shock the Director and perhaps give them something to think about outside of their ordinary vision for the film.
I find that frequently a director had something in mind for a scene before he shot it and it doesn’t always turn out exactly what he had in his mind, but I always try to bring something that, instead of what he imagined, I’d try to do something he never imagined, then the director becomes the audience, not just the film-maker. To me that’s the most successful thing, to find a layer to a scene that he never even saw himself.
Old vs New
Finally, the Composers took questions from the people in attendance, which were mostly about how they personally see their music and the differences between music of decades ago compared to the music of today.
Atli Örvarsson spoke about wanting to write in a more old-fashioned style for Hansel and Gretel for example, because of it taking place hundreds of years ago. “I wanted to go older, but of course, like I said I’m there to serve the film. I think it’s very few films that fit modern music.” Daniel then backed up Atli’s point, “It really depends on what you’re doing. In a movie you can go from very sweet music to completely atonal music in a few minutes, if it’s a horror movie.”
Atli and Daniel finished the subject and thus the panel, with Atli first expressing his love of traditional over contemporary music:
I like to write melodies and to use traditional orchestration. It’s something that comes very easily for me. Sometimes you have to be very inventive, sometimes you’re almost a sound designer, but with melody and orchestra, music comes quite easy to me.
Daniel mirrored those sentiments and gave us all hope for the continuation and life of thematic writing in film, television and video games:
I like working with melody too as well, because in the school of Jerry Goldsmith for example, who wrote all his themes out, if you do that you already have a basis, you already have a minute of music, and all you have to do is orchestrate it. Whereas if it’s mostly just sounds, you have to invent everything. It’s very hard not to have melody to hang things on, when coming up with music.
If you’re interested in the music of Atli Örvarsson and Daniel Licht, or perhaps you simply wish to learn more about them, then you can find all the information you need on Daniel’s website and Atli’s website.