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1. Scoring Experiments & Live Film Score Strategy for 'Word Factory' - Live Performance Film Score.

So this is our very first blog post on the company site. I thought it would be cool to use this writing medium to describe the process of whats happening in my brain when scoring big or little projects with or without live musicians, and explain the way I see creative exploration.

At Mind Exchange Music LLC - We’re hugely interested in recognizing creative & theoretical processes that help us maximize visual/subconscious psychologies, to improve performance interpretation and also are based out of educational experimentation for the sake of learning and improving the quality of our work as it relates to the project purpose - we desire to portray that strategy into the reality of performance issues, etc.

Always of course, the purpose is to find greater meaning and purpose in that which we create.

One of the most noticeable experiments run on this project was trying to find the nuance of the whimsy light hearted nature of the film. Silly vs. serious? Loving vs. hating? Cute and quirky vs. trendy and timeless? Conventional or out of the ordinary?

The film itself ‘Word Factory’ is a romantic comedy about communication, told using sign language as the method. Naturally this created some interesting ideals of potential motif usage & stylistic applications for theory as relating to performance assumptions.

The aim was to make the score like the film - a portrayal of an ever changing upsy-downsy relationship.

Fun, Silly, nervous, bitter, in love, angry, upset, disappointed, scared, loving, serene & focused on nuance of the people - not the general mood for the scene. Its so much more than that. Unfortunately, as listeners we have grown away from this type of composition to swap out ideas of nuance & identity and grown accustomed to large hollywood type production scores - which for me sound ambiguous and often only identify the number of instruments used and the sheer size of those instrument collections in relation to the mood. Often, its actually hard to find the melody in these hollywood films, which is neither good or bad - it just simply is.

When creating the score for a film like this, its easy to go for an overarching ‘mood’ or ‘feel’ that can be timed out to fit over the whole scene. Since the conversational aspects of the content are so up and down i wanted to do my best attempting to do that justice.

The tricky thing however was actually assembling the time structure and form of it (not really but I’m goin got pretend it was). Precision or Ease? Long term or moment to moment? Our score ended up having tons of meter change, lots of tempo changes, etc. Generally, as film becomes more and more free and edits easier, the timings sometimes change and are cut in ways that for sheer precision require tempo strategies outside of the norm to accurately hit SMPTE frames if micro nuance of and the buddhist identity of ‘in the moment’ is the aim rather than a big piece of music that just be slapped on top of the scene categorized by ‘moods’ that define the composition. Not EVERYTHING has to be in 4/4. Doesn’t have to be crazy hard either but there are opportunities for each.

The experiment with the timing & form of this one was a simple one. After the score was done and parts edited, after the click was ready to go: to chop out a few frames after the downbeat and move EVERYTHING (measure numbers & click) forward to compensate for tech & musician/conductor delay. With this production, being our 5th live film scoring production, I’ve perpetually noticed the actual music performed is delivered to the audience approximately 1/4 of a second late. Consistently. Maybe its the tech? Maybe its a delay in the space? Maybe its the instruments physically speaking late, perhaps its the extra time readying the button combined with the time it takes for light to refract in the musicians eyes/brain - synaptic travel. Etc. Shit….maybe people are just mentally exhausted.

So with that said and considering this all, I went for frame precision (in the moment) with my score and ultimately knew that there were some tendencies to compensate for. Thus moving everything forward worked wonders for the ideals of buddhist sense of HERE & NOW and emotional contention to those arrival points rather than a longer cue.

This isn’t to say that that musicians dragged or didn't perform in time, or that the tech wasn’t on point. 1/4 of a second is un-noticeable to the average person but for a composer who treats ‘Chronos’ as god of all things living and dead, microscopic delays on delivery are like emotional ticks - they screw up the way the public perceives those moments, especially after spending all that time writing the music. Honestly, 1/4 of a second, if perpetually late affects EVERYTHING, and to a person like me its a big difference.

I Was proud to say that this aspect was truly much improved. Moving the entire click (with rehearsal & measure numbers pre-recorded in) sent to the performers & conductor ahead of where those cues & timing were supposed to arrive really did a great job compensating for the delay - even if wrong notes managed to slip in. The nuance was improved and timing absolutely more on point. Yay.

Now a quick post on style.

Experiment #2. Being an ego driven composer I assumed that all the scores on the performance were going to be darker, moody, more dissonance oriented. Some were, some weren’t and to be absolutely honest I loved everyone’s work, even felt there were many scores on the show were much better than mine (especially being granted ‘featured composer’ credit). The matter of the fact is that they’re all just different.

Anyways, The stylistic intention was to offer the audience something un-like what i assumed the rest of the show would be. Assumptions and arrogant yes but honestly it was more about the CHALLENGE of it. The film was silly, cute & light hearted, so naturally I thought this score was to be good mix of jazz & pop, classical & chamber styles but trying to fit that agenda into a classically chamber instrumentation with perpetually changing time meter is tricky and not as intuitive as one might believe.

Long term narratives become tricky to incorporate as motifs change & assumptions about what the performers will or won’t do take form based off past production experience, where they might or might not have mistakes, if they might get lost. Regardless there was certainly like a hmmm… kind of feel from the audience, naturally a good response but the film itself was markedly different than the others. It was a pleasant film and not so ‘art school or dark’ so I think by the time it was performed, it was my assumption that the crowd wasn't entirely ready for a perkier type production or something whose aim was to sound less thick and a bit lighter on its feet. This effect is always achieved by minimizing the process - less is always more and usually better for nuance - especially if seeking client approval.

Just because scores and music go big doesn’t mean its always appropriate, and loudness is always a matter of interpretation - your forte and mine (being a bass trombonist by training) are entirely different, thus without some direction its tricky to get into the mindset of whats happening in the moment emotionally & visually and not just reading those notes on the page.

Anyways, thanks for reading if you made it this far. Much love.

Donny Walker

Live Performance Film Score - From Access Contemporary Chicago's Live Film Scoring Festival 'Sound of Silent Film'
Film Score (timing, instrumentation), etc.
Violinist & Cellist during performance.
Flute and Clarinet