Sound, imagery inextricably linked

I listen to music cinematically. I think about music and how it would make me feel when it’s put to an image, a moving image, and I love it — Walton Goggins

In the last three or four weeks, I’ve been obsessed with a musical mash-up between Blondie (Heart of Glass) and Philip Glass (Violin Concerto: II) which was created by Daft Beatles a few years ago. Titled Heart of Glass (Crabtree remix), I never knew this was a mash-up I needed in my life and on my writing playlist.

The first time I heard the song was on the July 11 broadcast of CBC’s q with guest host Ali Hassan. Hassan was interviewing Michael Perlmutter, the music supervisor for the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. They were discussing the rise of the music supervisor and how the Emmys finally created a category for outstanding music supervision.

Side note: Perlmutter didn’t make the cut for that category. Bummer.

Second side note: the job of music supervisor or music editor for a film or TV series fascinates me to no end. Soundscapes are just as important as the visuals and when you have a perfect marriage between the two, it is absolutely unforgettable.

The TV series Person of Interest was the first show I became aware of the music they used in their episodes. They used music by artists such as Johnny Cash, Nat King Cole, The Kills and Philip Glass for two or three key scenes in every episode during the five seasons that they ran. It was smart use of sound and visuals to manipulate the viewer into feeling a certain way about a situation or one of the characters. Although the show probably paid a pretty sum to use the music of these artists, the real star, musically-speaking, was music composer Ramin Djawadi who created the score for the series. This is where I discovered his music and have remained an ardent fan of his work. The leitmotifs he created for the series were sublime. Mind you, his work for Game of Thrones is nothing to sneeze at either. Light of the Seven will always be one of my favourite works from Djawadi.

Watching this series made me think about the marriage between sound and imagery. It also made me want to talk to the show’s music supervisor, Djawadi and the show’s producers about their views on music and its role in visual storytelling. I just wanted to pick their brains. It would have been an eye-opening experience.

Anyway, back to Perlmutter and his CBC q interview. Assuming I heard the man correctly, the show submitted its third episode for Emmy consideration which featured the Daft Beatles mash-up. Then they played the song without naming it. Well, I nearly fell over when I heard the piece. I love Blondie. I love Debbie Harry. And I have an ever-growing appreciation for Philip Glass. Holy crap. Who knew these two artists could be mashed up like that and sound so sublime. I didn’t. And had I been PVRing The Handmaid’s Tale I would have discovered this little bit of aural heaven a lot sooner.

Of course, it’s a piece of music that fits perfectly with my current writing playlist. The piece is visually and emotionally evocative. It inspires my characters. It sets the right tone for them in some of the scenes I plan to write. It sets the wheels in motion.

My playlist is forever evolving and being fine-tuned as I work on the second novel. What the playlist looked like at the beginning of the writing process will look almost completely different by the time the first draft of the book is finished. What will remain are the core pieces that represent the characters and their relationships to each other.

Music and the writing process are inextricably linked.

I’m not sure when I started listening to music cinematically. I probably started when I was a teenager. Bits and pieces of images that would pop into my head because the music I was listening to at the time demanded it. I’ve always believed in the power of combining music and imagery, be it still or moving. But not everything I hear is cinematic. The pieces of music my brain registers as cinematic share some sort of intangible quality. I know what some of the commonalities are but it doesn’t completely explain the reason they affect me the way they do.

To be honest, I’m not all that interested in over-analyzing it. I go by gut instinct when it comes to music.

And now, I’m off to obsess over music and story.

Spellbound

Four years ago, when I had burned myself out from preparing for my Grade 8 piano exam, I had no clue if or when I would return to playing the lovely upright beast sitting in the area of my home I loosely refer to as the music room.

I had no idea what, who or how I would drawn be back to the ivories. But it wasn’t something I mulled over at great length.

Turns out I have Philip Glass and film composer Ramin Djawadi to blame for my re-igniting my interest again. I don’t have immediate plans to spend a couple of hours a day tickling the ivories. This is going to be a slow re-introduction between me and the upright beast. I wrote about Glass and his piece Metamorphosis One in last week’s blog so I won’t rehash what I said about him.

I have been a fan of Djawadi’s since his work with the TV show Person of Interest. But his resumé is quite hefty. Among the numerous films he has worked on, he has written music for Iron Man, Clash of the Titans, Pacific Rim, Dracula Untold and Warcraft. In television, aside from Person of Interest, he composed the title themes for Prison Break and Breakout Kings.

I am also aware he is the composer for another TV show — Game of Thrones. Let me say this — I have never watched an episode of GoT. But unlike Breaking Bad (another show I never watched), the chances of me getting around to watching GoT are more likely than watching Breaking Bad. I’ve heard the spoilers from each season and that doesn’t dampen my interest in the show. It has the opposite effect. I’m quite curious about the show. However, I’m not curious enough to binge watch all six seasons. I wouldn’t consider myself a blood-guts-and-gore kind of gal but I think if it’s served up in a way that appeals to my sensibilities, I’ll bite. With recent news that GoT will be around for two more seasons before it says goodbye, I have a funny feeling I won’t binge watch the show until the end of season seven or after the series runs its final episode.

Last week, GoT’s season six finale aired and by all accounts, it was a doozy. Aside from fans of the show discussing what the finale means for the last two seasons of the show, there was lots of buzz and praise over a piece Djawadi wrote for the finale’s opening scene.

The fact that numerous folks needed to discuss the musical score for any show was enough for me to search for the piece and give it a listen. Light of the Seven, which runs just shy of ten minutes, is a hauntingly stunning composition. The leitmotif is beautifully simple. It serves as the foundation for the layers Djawadi builds within the composition. Piano, strings, organ and a chorale element performed by two boys. That was all he needed.

The more I listen to this piece, the more I am spellbound by it. I haven’t watched the finale’s opening scene where this piece is featured. And I’ve also heard it reappears near the end or at the end of the episode. I can’t imagine the power the scene must have brought to the viewers. But I do understand what music can add to a scene. When the pieces fit, everything is amplified. This is where the phrase ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is an appropriate statement. I look forward to watching the season six finale whenever I get around to binge-watching the show.

For now, I’ll just enjoy the music.

A bit of juggling

The only love affair I have ever had was with music — Maurice Ravel

I realize American composer Philip Glass has been around for a long time. A long time. He’s 79 years old and I’m only discovering him now. Always late to the party. That’s me.

I’ve heard his name since I was in my late teens, but nobody I knew listened to his music. I still don’t know anybody who listens to his music now. That’s one of the reasons I never heard any of his compositions until last Tuesday watching the series finale of Person of Interest. Maybe it was just a matter of when I would be ready to listen to Glass’ work.

Personally, I found the finale to be pitch perfect in terms of the way things wrapped up for the main characters. I know there are fans who resent the story arc resulting in the deaths of two much beloved characters, Root and John Reese. While I empathize with their sorrow and anger at the executive producers and writers for having chosen the ‘no happy ending’ route for those two, as a writer, I do understand the storytelling choices that were made.

Anyway, a piece of music played during a scene which I will coin ‘Reese’s last stand.’ There was a quality in the music that spoke volumes to me. Quiet yet determined. Just like Reese. Within fifteen minutes of the show ending, I discovered it was Philip Glass’ Metamorphosis One from his 1989 Solo Piano album.

Naturally, I went to iTunes to download the piece. Turns out I wanted to do more than just listen to it. I wanted to play it. Just for myself and nobody else. The piece, along with the rest of the Metamorphosis suite — there are five pieces altogether — and few other works by Glass had to be special ordered from the local music shop. So, later this week, the sheet music will be in my hot little hands.

The last time a piece of piano music sunk into my bones so deeply was when I heard Michael Nyman’s The Heart Asks Pleasure First from the 1993 film The Piano. Yep, I learned to play that puppy. Granted I haven’t played it in awhile. But it still makes me swoon and lights a fire in my imagination. I hadn’t expected to come across another piece of music that would sink into my bones like that. Looks like Metamorphosis One proved me wrong.

So now, the juggling act between music and writing has become a little trickier. I wasn’t planning on heading back to the piano until much further down the road. Looks like I’ll have to bounce between that and the guitar now. It’s probably a good thing I haven’t completely immersed myself with the guitar yet. I’ll figure out the juggling act once the first draft of the short story is done. I’m still working on it. Pains me to still be working on it. Well, not really. Just ironing out the last few wrinkles. And I can still taste it.

Actually, the taste is getting stronger. I know I’m headed in the right direction.