I’ve recently become aware of an incredible blog entitled Project Keaton on the Kitty Packard Pictorial. This project is a wonderful month-long tribute to Buster Keaton honouring his 116th birthday. Writers, artists, journalists and “everyday Joes and Janes” (Miss Carley’s words!) are invited to submit postings about Buster Keaton throughout the month of October. There are gorgeous photos and fascinating articles on the blog. I’m loving it!
It’s not so easy!
TIFF had given me a dvd of “Sherlock Jr.” to work with. I based all my tempos, transitions and themes on the speed of that dvd. When I came to the TIFF Bell Lightbox for my first rehearsal with the film, I was in for a shock. The film was way slower than the dvd I had been working with! Fortunately, they were able to speed up the film to a frame rate that was really close to the one I was used to! (phew)
My klezmer/jazz sextet performed “Sherlock Jr.” four times (in one day!) Everyone at the Bell Lightbox was fantastic to work with from the sound guys, the production people and the caterers (!!) Each time I walked into the theatre, someone would move my monitor out of the way and put it back in place after I sat down. I could get used to that!!
TIFF recorded all four performances and later gave me a hard drive. Chris Perkins then worked with the hard drive and the dvd to put it together. The timing was extremely challenging because of the frame rate differences between the film I played to and the dvd. Nevertheless, we got it pretty close – at least close enough to really capture a live performance, even though some of the pool balls move before you hear the drum shots…
Enjoy the film!!
How do you compose music for a silent film?
Here’s what I did:
I bought an ipad (16 gig WiFi- why pay more?) for traveling and learnt how to make an mp4 of the film using HandBrake. It’s an awesome program!!
I also bought a new red moleskin notebook in order to write down preliminary ideas and impressions while sitting on a plane to Barcelona.
I allowed myself to listen to the existing sound track (Club Foot Orchestra- fantastic!!!) only a couple of times primarily to note tempi, musical themes and where they changed and how the characters, settings and situations were reflected in the music. I thought about where these musical transitions worked for me, and how I would do it differently.
I called Andrew Downing for advice. Andrew is wonderful silent film composer, bass player and cellist. Andrew gave me some fantastic guidelines:
1. repeat bars are my best friend. That way, if the tempo in performance is a bit quicker than I had planned, it’s very easy to cue repeats and transitions.
2. every character not only has their own theme, but their themes can interact when they’re in scenes together. This is also a fantastic compositional tool.
I began a new manuscript notebook. Here’s what the first page looks like:
TIFF had requested klezmer music, so I had a delicious mandate!
bulgars (for fast chase scenes), chusidls (slow 4 to set up Buster), tangos (for love), doynas (slow improvised- for tragic scenes) … what fun!
I added a rag (with a few uneven bars) for my first chase scene, an early Duke Ellington inspired theme for Buster when he assumes the persona of the great detective, a samba for my final chase scene and left a few parts fairly open for structured free improvisation. After all, I decided to hire musicians who are also brilliant improvisers: Quinsin Nachoff (clarinet and sax), Aleksandar Gajic (violin), Milos Popovic (accordion), Rob Clutton (bass) and Nick Fraser (drums). I led them at the piano.
For the most part, Buster told me what to do. Any time I got stuck, I watched Buster over and over again and asked him what he wanted. He taught me how to compose.
Buster was a genius. That is evident in every frame of this amazing film. I knew that my job was to write music that simply reflected the action, comedy, tragedy, zaniness and romance of the movie without getting in the way.
I feel very grateful to have been given this incredible project. Buster Keaton has enriched my life, and the time that I spent immersed in this film is a time I will always treasure.
Here’s a link to my October newsletter http://ymlp.com/z20ei3