Artfully designed in two acts by Sundance Institute Film Music Program Director, composer Peter Golub, Manager, Jarom Rowland, and Michelle Satter, Director of the Feature Film Program, the lab is an opportunity for composers, sound designers and directors to collaborate and explore innovative approaches to the sonic life/DNA/drama of a film.
We were in residence at Skywalker Sound, with rooms teeming with sound designers, composers, tech wizards, mixers, engineers, audiophiles, directors, picture editors, producers. Machines whirring, faders rising, microphones converting sound waves, musicians tuning, the building was buzzing with activity.
In the first week, six Composer Fellows score scenes from completed movies, guided by the films’ original composers.
The six composers – myself, Josh Moshier, Katy Jarzebowski, Ryan Cohan, KT Tunstall, and Timo Chen – tackled each scene. The summation was a wonderfully strange theme and variations – short films with multiple scores and approaches, all with astounding validity and a musical smorgasbord for discussion. For instance, consecutively watching (hearing) Morgan Freeman be arrested for kidnapping back to back with six distinct musical approaches brought me closer to the dynamic rhythm of the scene. How one composer underlined a glance, and another, the signaling of a police car entering the frame, this collection of approaches oddly led my ears away from a narrow clasp on a singular musical solution, towards a more thorough survey of drama.
I had the great opportunity to collaborate with Nikole Beckwith on her film Stockholm, Pennsylvania, joined by sound designer Pete Horner. Our collaboration was exhilarating. I have never merged forces so thoroughly and conceptually with a sound designer and director. A scene in a bus inspired a discussion about the tonality of the engine’s hum. Should this thrum play with or against the score? We searched for the answer as the protagonist silently grappled with her own identity. Pete (brilliant sound artist of Youth Without Youth, Hemingway & Gellhorn, and beyond) brought to the table everything from the anxiety of a psychological beehive, to the freedom of a starry night, pairing my strings with his echolocation. Nikole guided us through the nuanced turns of each moment, each backstory, each glimpse, each beat.
I love the internet. I really do. It is an endless portal into things unknown, people to discover, sounds unheard. But when it comes to collaboration, there is something wonderful and sparky that happens in person. At the Lab we had the distinct pleasure of all working in the same physical space. I could run down the hall to Pete’s mix room and mess with the relationship of a musical delay with street noise. We were able to get into the place where music and sound live side by side, interweaving, intermingling, at times purposely grating against each other, at times, one sound nested in the other. Nikole was always present, with ears, mind and words on hand to articulate every turn’s reveal. This kind of meticulous, linked work was stunning.
As the future of filmmaking, we have the opportunity to blow the roof off of sound. I think that in film production, music and sound, dived by the numerous logistical realities, need to creep closer together. The language of film music is inextricably tied to the language of a film’s sound world. As I am ending a phrase, hearing the sonic weight of the footsteps that lead us to the next emotional beat defines how the music works. I call attention to the footsteps by taking out the rhythmic bass and music and sound mesh.