I got involved in this project earlier than most: Jason invited me to read the script before he had even cast the show, so I had some time to really get into the story and the characters. I have to say that I fell in love with the project immediately, and was champing at the bit to get started on the music.
At our first meeting, Jason and I discussed directions the score could take. I felt the score should be ‘film music’, in that it addresses and moves with the emotional undercurrent of the scenes, but also sound like the kind of music the young characters might have on their ipods – this would also allow the music to tie in to the many songs that are peppered throughout the series. It made sense to give it a ‘baroque indie rock’ treatment, in the style of composers like Jon Brion and Mark Mothersbaugh. The way I think of this is that the instruments are of the rock n’ roll family, but can also include traditional orchestral instruments. The ensemble behaves more like a classical quartet, but with a sound that might be likened to Stars, or Broken Social Scene. I thought that the harp would make an unusual but beautiful focus for our ensemble, and would represent Rose’s inner life. Jason and I also wanted to the show a certain realism, and thus the score would speak to emotions and not actions – when things where “happening”, there would be musical silence.
When I got to see the first rough cuts, I was amazed at the quality – the whole production, the cinematography, the acting and direction, the pacing and dialogue – everything looked and felt… well, expensive! Talent and hard work just shone through in every frame. It was very inspiring, and even more so when I discovered every composer’s dream in a mid-season episode: an extended, sumptuous, luxurious dialogue and sound effects free scene! I confess, I drooled on my shirt, just a little.
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Before you write a single note, I want to deeply understand the characters, their motivations, read between the lines, know how this scene affects another three episodes later. Who or what is the music talking about, and what is it saying? Having had the luxury of sitting with the script for quite some time, I felt very comfortable and familiar with these elements, and my conversations with Jason during the spotting session cemented my understanding.
“Finding” the score is a delicate balance between the cerebral and the intuitive, being very organized and controlled, and being loose and free, improvisational. The great thing about writing to picture is that it already has a lot of restrictions built-in – you don’t really have a ‘blank slate’. For instance, a well-edited scene will have a rhythm which is quite musical, and that will usually suggest a very specific tempo. Having selected my palette, I’ll either start with a rhythm or motif that I’ve sketched beforehand, or by experimenting and improvising along with the scene, trying to feel it out and move with the rhythms of the dialogue, pacing, editing, and the emotional arcs, underlining or staying out of the way where necessary. It’s a lot like sculpting – you build up layers, you whittle away what isn’t necessary. You have to be aware of space and practice restraint – know when to shut up, know when enough is enough. You are taking raw materials, and refining and distilling to that precise moment where the music says what it needs to say without anything superfluous.
Here we have a demo of a cue from that lovely dialogue and sound effects free scene mentioned before. I wanted it to be a simple, intimate statement of Rose’s experience of that one moment in time – floating in space, a bitter-sweet dreamland. The harp is intended to be pure emotion, just her feelings and reactions. There was a point at which I thought, this could be it, this is enough! I shot the score with solo harp over to Jason for feedback, and he commented that it would be nice to represent the ‘beautiful stranger’, played with such a wonderful sense of gentle mischief by Sarah Joy, and he suggested electric guitar. Nice one, Jason! I agreed, and drafted a new version with guitar and cello subtly supporting the harp, which you now hear.