Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

Native New Yorker: How did I approach composing the music for a silent film?

September 14, 2012

A scene from Native New Yorker (2005)

When I compose music for any film, I try to make an organic connection to what I see and hear on screen. I listen for music that may already be in the film or, perhaps performed by one of the characters using a particular instrument. I then develop my melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic material as well as instrumentation based on this pre-existing music.

 
Because Native New Yorker is a “silent film”, the emphasis was on creating a link between my score and the visuals. Unlike my other film scores, there was no actual “indigenous” music heard on screen that could inform my themes. So, I took another approach based on the many musicians seen in the film yet not heard.

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Native New Yorker won many awards including Best Documentary Short at The Tribeca Film Festival and appeared at over 25 film festivals. The Tribeca Film Institute now distributes Native New Yorker

September 16, 2012 The Moondance International Film Festival at The Tribeca Cinemas gives Native New Yorker a reprise screening. It won Best Documentary Short at Moondance in 2005.

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Native New Yorker: How did I get involved with this project?

September 11, 2012

Native New Yorker (2005) A film by Steve Bilich. Music by William Susman

I went to a shorts screening at Sundance in 2002. They screened a portion of what was to become “Native New Yorker”. For a few minutes, we watched, stunned, a close-up of Coyote while over his shoulder images of the Twin Towers burned in the background accompanied by music from Mozart’s Requiem. It was very startling and moving as well as somewhat surreal because we were watching these images through the lens of a silent film era camera. It was an extraordinary moment I think for everyone who saw those images that day given 9/11 had happened only a few months prior.

I approached Steve after the screening and suggested that if he expanded the film it would benefit from an original score that would add “commentary and context”. We stayed in touch over several years. He completed the film in 2005 and I scored it in about two weeks. He liked my approach and went with it.

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Native New Yorker won many awards including Best Documentary Short at The Tribeca Film Festival and appeared at over 25 film festivals. The Tribeca Film Institute now distributes Native New Yorker

September 16, 2012 The Moondance International Film Festival at The Tribeca Cinemas gives Native New Yorker a reprise screening. It won Best Documentary Short at Moondance in 2005.

Opus One Memphis Interview Part 2

February 24, 2012

First page of Anton Webern's Variations for Piano Op 27 (1937)

You’ve written works for an assortment of instrumental combinations in varying genres! How did your schooling and musical experiences contribute to your compositions? How different is it to write seemingly unrelated genres, like film scores to piano concertos?

Before I arrived at University of Illinois I spent a year and half at Tulane. I had a wonderful piano teacher there named Robert Zemurray Hirsch who introduced me to all the great 20th century composers and I most connected with Webern and his Opus 27. It was truly an epiphany for me to study and play Webern’s music. Since that time, my process has always included ideas of structure, symmetry, cycle, isorhythmhocket and the like. Today, though, my musical language could not be more different than Webern’s. It’s the sheer brilliance and beauty of his constructions, as if he created these immense crystals, that I so admire.

After Tulane, I transferred to Illinois at Champaign-Urbana to completely focus on music. I was 19 and majored in music composition and piano. I used to love to browse through the stacks of scores in the music library and happened across Pithoprakta by Xenakis (coincidentally, also a string orchestra work). I fell in love with his sound world and also that of Ligeti’s. I was deeply attracted to large divisi scores where each member of the orchestra played a different part. Ligeti called it micro-polyphony. I liked large-scale constructions and “clouds” of sound. A few years later at Stanford, I wrote a grand scale divisi orchestral work with almost a 100 solo parts in some sections. It was reminiscent of Ligeti and Xenakis. This was the piece that caught the attention of Earle Brown at the BMI awards.

Listening to my music today you may not be able to tell that I had such a strong interest in the European avant-garde, yet it was that early experimentation for me that helped mold and discipline my process today.  However, it was also not my language and I was lucky to realize this early on. I was mesmerized by their style but the ideas that created their music were not mine. My sound has gradually evolved over many years by trying to imbue each piece with my own ideas. I’ve written everything from piano pieces, string quartets, and wind quintets to vocal, chamber ensemble, choral and orchestral pieces. With each new commission, I feel I am developing my voice. I cannot say that about my pieces from my early 20s yet they somehow helped me get recognition.

The difference between writing a film score and writing a piano concerto is that I am working with a director and serving the needs of the film as opposed to working for myself. I have written many scores for documentary films. When scoring, I always try to give the music an organic connection with the film whether it’s using an instrument or borrowing a folk melody seen or heard in the film. For example, with the silent documentary Native New Yorker (which won the Tribeca Film Festival) I scored it with instruments you see buskers playing. With my recent piano concerto as with other concert works, I can focus solely on the abstraction of sound.

It’s only fair to ask: do you have a musical hero?

Schoenberg without a doubt.

Read the whole interview at Opus One Memphis