I’ve been asked quite a few times if my score for Silk Boy was available for sale. And by score I mean the written score, not the recorded soundtrack. Well, now it is!
Go ahead and click and this link and take a minute to check out the score samples with audio imbedded courtesy of Issuu, it’s very cool.
Alan Rogers over at Reel Music just posted a very eloquent and insightful review of my “Comforting Skin” soundtrack. I know this soundtrack won’t be for everyone (unless you already love Schnittke, Pendercki and Crumb!) but Alan clearly took the time to listen to the score and really understood it.
One of the stand-out tracks of the album, “The Arrival”, signals the movement of the score away from melody and into dissonance. Scurrying tremolo strings, off-kilter piano chords and other avant garde effects herald the appearance of the tattoo and its true “identity”. It’s a very effective cue that imbues the tattoo with a character of its own and the majority of the remainder of the score wallows in this dissonant soundscape, emphasising just how much of the main character’s world is dominated by the insidious body art.
I invite you to take a minute to read this very smart review.
Randall Larson over at Buysoundtrax.com has written the first review of my score for Comforting Skin. It is very well-written and insightful, a great review.
Mayrand’s score imposes a claustrophobic atmosphere of gloom and despondency, shifting between very poignant melodies and jagged, atonal orchestral colors that reflect the character’s growing sense of despair and self-destruction.
…it’s striking textural depth and interesting orchestration make it a fascinating sonic excursion here on its own.
Read review here.
Buy the Comforting Skin soundtrack over at Screamworks records.
A week ago was the sold-out premiere of Comforting Skin at the Vancouver International Film Festival. After the film was over, during the Q&A with the filmmakers a woman raised her hand and said this:
” I am not part of the film industry, I am jut someone in the audience and I don’t have a question. I just wanted to say that I can still feel the music (as she put her hand to her chest). It was amazing.”
I would like to thank this anonymous woman for this comment. Music in a film is so often overlooked and forgotten, so a comment like this… well… I can still feel it in my chest a week after.
And thanks to director and writer Derek Franson for giving so much room in his film for the music to be a part of the story, allowing it to represent the character’s inner-life and struggle. And for the wonderful actors, especially Victoria Bidwell’s amazingly truthful performance.
No, this is not an Oscar speech, but it is important to bring attention to the fact that not all directors value music as Derek did, and not all films and performances inspire as this one did.
Second post regarding the new VMO commission.
This piece is about 9 minutes long. I’ll tell you right away, this is the longest single movement concert piece I have ever written.
Up until now I have focused on other aspects of composition and did not feel ready for something this long.
Now I was ready for it.
I was discussing our perception of long pieces with a friend and professional musician. And we both admitted that, even though we love music on a very deep level, many long movements can really be… well, boring.
So to prepare for this 9 minute piece, I listened to tons of long pieces and had very deep thoughts 🙂 as I paid attention to my own reactions as a listener.
What interested me? Where did my attention wander? Why? Did I have to work to be interested?When did I get bored and feel like turning it off?
I reached many conclusions and still many more to come. Here are a few:
- Beautiful orchestral colours, the sheer beauty of sound.
- Melodic continuity and clear form.
- Variety, limited but obvious.
- A definable arc.
- Some surprises that still make sense
Yes, these are all obvious, but they are simple yet important concepts that are badly used in general. Too much of the same during a long piece and you get bored, too much variety and the music appears random and disconnected and the audience drops out.
The piece is a journey for the audience, and the melody (or central idea) is the character that leads them through it.
Just like a story! And ever more to the point, just like a film which, like music, are experience temporally.
This is something I have thought about for years, and now I see it makes complete sense and will write some posts on how concert music (especially long pieces) can benefit from an understanding of movie story-telling.
Now back to my piece!
Still composing the VMO orchestral piece. I have some thoughts I want to put down in my blog and I’ll try to do it in short, frequent posts. Here’s the first.
I had many ideas for this piece, and being of longer duration, I had more material prepared to fill the formal plan I had in mind.
However, once things got under way, my themes would transform slightly, suggest different things and lead me somewhere else.
Sometimes I resisted if the direction they wanted to take seemed too obvious to me, and other times I would follow if the new direction made sense and wasn’t obvious. That’s the best place to be, when you write something that wasn’t obvious but makes sense, then you got a winner!
This reminds me of Elmore Leonard and how he described his writing process. First he forms the character, understands him and then he puts him in a situation and lets the character write the story.
This process of following where the melody wants to go reminds of life too. It’s good to have a plan, an itinerary, a goal to shoot for and a place to go. But if you keep your eyes open along the way you might discover little side roads and end up in marvellous places you had not even imagined when you started.
That’s what it’s been like writing this piece.
The core idea for the VMO commissioned piece has been chosen and it’s time to write. Today I am exploring the idea freely, seeing where it takes me instead of going straight to paper. I will not write anything final today.
I am jotting ideas down and recording myself improvising freely. I am exploring the sound world of the melody and harmony, seeing where this “character” will take me. (See previous post.)
Gradually, I am getting a sense of the whole, of the possibilities, of the form, of the arc of the piece, of what I need in terms of contrast and climax.
I am always looking for different avenues beyond what is obvious. I always fear that the obvious will be cliché, and it often is. So I look further and dig deeper. I could not do that if I started writing the final right away, at least not without fear of screwing up!
So for now I play and explore without committing to anything. Tomorrow I will likely start writing if I like what I have and if I can see where I am going. Otherwise I will explore some more.
As I work on this orchestral commission for the Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra, I find I can describe my process like this.
A piece is a world I inhabit.
A theme is like a character I build and get to know. First, I must make sure it’s a character I like, that has the potential to go places and make a great story happen.
Then I play around with the character / theme / idea. I see where it leads, what potential it has and I make sure I explore as many avenues with it as possible.
Then the story starts to build and the world around it. I immerse myself in it so that I drive, wash dishes, take a shower, I am in that sound world, even if just subconsciously. That’s how I get those “a-ha!” moments.
That is why I find it hard, and even counter productive, to work on more than one thing at once. I need to live in the sound world I create so I can fully explore it and reach new places within it.
Read this article about how orchestras all over the world are in trouble. Audiences are fleeing and why?
Today someone told me this story of this true patron of the opera, a lady who has had season tickets to the opera for 20 years and eventually decided to stop going because she said “how many Traviatas can I watch?”
By always relying on the same repertoire, orchestras are not bringing in young concert-goers and now, it appears they are also alienating their faithful audience as well. They orchestra managers and director may think that the standard rep brings in audiences and they need to play it safe, but when you are not creating new audiences and making your regular one bored, you need to change and fast.
I saw Gustavo Dudamel on a big poster at my local Cineplex, advertizing for a simulcast on the big screen of a concert with the LA Phil. The repertoire? Beethoven and Brahms. Give me a f#$%ing break. I am not even remotely interested, and I love this kind of music more than the average person.
I may be biased, but I think that the secret to saving concert music and orchestras is with new music. Not experimental music, but new music that respects the audience, written by composers who realize that being a “smart” composer means understanding the psychology of your listener and that any compositional “system” is ultimately stupid if it doesn’t put that truth first: music is meant to be listened to, and listened to by more than just other musicians.
I can’t help but think of Celine Dion. She doesn’t write her own music, she is simply an interpreter of songs, but she only sings new songs – either she picks them or commissions them, doesn’t matter. The point is she would never have been an international success if she had just done Beatles covers. Nope, she would have just been a lounge act somewhere.
Orchestras have everything they need to succeed now. It is still the most amazing listening experience a human being can have. They just need more new music, better new music, and to promote these new pieces as events!
You know what? I don’t want to live in a world without orchestras…
The traditional way composers work with commissions has not felt right for me for a long time. You get your commission, hole up and months later the musicians get a piece they have never seen and may not like then have to perform it.
That doesn’t work for me and I’ll tell you why: you risk not having the spiritual involvement of the musician(s).
No singer in the world of pop music, country and even metal would perform music they don’t like and don’t believe in.
The process in pop music is different too. Songwriters write songs without being commissioned and submit them without knowing if it will be chosen.
Well, this is fine for a 3 minute song but I would never do that for a 15 minute orchestral piece!
The solution for me has been to approach commissioned work like I approach film scoring.
First I write a ton of ideas. From those I pick a few ideas I like and present them to the musician(s) to see what they connect with, what makes them excited, itching to play and wanting to hear more.
From there the writing of the piece is very much an isolated process, but I send progress reports, questions on technique and also ask for aesthetic opinions whenever I am in doubt.
This is what I did on my latest piece “Battling Boggarts” which was premiered Wednesday April 27th. I emailed ideas (always audio) to soloists Gene Ramsbottom and Tim Phillips and they chose their favourites.
After the performance, Tim told me he had never worked like that with a composer and he completely loved it. It was fun and gave him great insights into the process of composition as well!
I had also done the same thing for my previous piece, “Resisting Euphoria”, where I presented conductor Ken Hsieh with my various ideas. He loved so many of them and was getting excited that he is the one who suggested “write a suite!”
But I’ll be honest here, I don’t do it just for the players, it is for me as well. Knowing that a musician is liking the direction a piece is taking gives me confidence in the music, and that confidence allows my creativity to flow unrestrained.
Because for me, nothing kills creativity faster than wondering if it’s good and if people will like it.
And since my audience is the performer, getting them involved right away solved that issue for me and I’ll never go back to the old ways!