14 September, 2015
From now on, my blog posts are available on www.roomservicemusic.com/blog/
My future blogs will be posted there, and hopefully we can expect some posts from Arjan too, to widen our musical scope. Thanks for reading!
14 September, 2015
People often assume that I like big orchestral ‘Hollywood’ scores, like John Williams’ music or similar. Although he made some great tunes, this is definitely not where I get my inspiration. Here are some examples of, in my opinion, great uses of music in film, in no particular order. I’ve added many clips for reference, though they may not all be great quality. Try to pay attention the how loud the music is compared the other sounds in the films. In most scenes, the music is very obvious and either harsh sounds are used to add dramatic effect, or there is very little sound, to give the music space. While this is not always the best thing for a movie, it really makes the scenes stand out.
BEWARE: MANY SPOILERS!
There Will Be Blood
Jonny Greenwood – Convergence
When the well blows up, H.W. becomes deaf and the sound is cut at moments. This contrast between sound and ‘silence’ adds to the dramatic buildup. We hear the noise of the oil, but when Daniel drags H.W. to safety, the noise fades away and the music starts. The music takes the concept that Steve Reich introduced, phases shifting because of slightly different tempo’s, but uses it in it’s own way. All the percussion starts with its own tempo. In the end they all line up. The music builds and builds, when we cut back to the well, which is on fire by now. By the time it’s dark, the percussion is lined up and keeps going for a while. We now know it’s a pretty stable situation, but we’re not there yet. “What are you looking so miserable about? There’s a whole ocean of oil underneath our feet. No one can get to it except for me.” The music comes to an abrupt ending when the well blows up.
The Royal Tenenbaums
Nico – These Days / Elliott Smith – Needle in the Hay
Notice how the sound fades before the music starts, and the music starts suddenly. It doesn’t try to mask the fact that there is music. This helps to set the right tone immediately. And it’s beautiful.
Another interesting example from the same movie is ‘Needle in the Hay’ by Elliott Smith. The music cuts away when the door is opened, and the continues on the start of the next shot. It’s not subtle at all, and puts a lot of emphasis on the reaction of the family.
Jonny Greenwood – Baton Sparks
Here the music also instantly sets the tone. The movie doesn’t mess around and is very clear: I want your attention. Quickly after that the music fades to something more subtle. Interestingly, the music doesn’t tell you about the time in which the movie is set, or what the main character is thinking or feeling. It creates its own little story, as if you’re watching Freddie from a distance.
Goodfellas has a very clear musical direction, which is interesting, as there was no music supervisor working on the film.
Most music is from the time the movie is set in. In the first half of the film it’s usually pretty old-fashioned music, representing the mafia culture. It’s often borderline diegetic. The fast pace, great editing and acting make sure there’s not a single moment that ‘needs’ the music to work. In many scenes there is soft diegitic music playing, which then fades/cuts to being a non-diegetic soundtrack or the other way around. This is very often used in film, but because the music is so well chosen and fits the time and feeling, it feels effortless.
Then, halfway through the film, Henry Hill makes his own plans and starts selling drugs, without the knowledge of his boss. This is when the tone of the music changes, and Gimme Shelter, from the Rolling Stones fades in. Of course this is at a time when rock and roll stands for rebellious behavior. Occasionally we go back to the ‘old-fashioned’ mobster lifestyle and we go back to the ‘old-fashioned’ music.
So the music tells the part of all the ‘great’ things of being a mobster. A few scenes show us the other side however, like the scene where Henry beats up the neighbor. There’s no music, just the sound of the sprinklers. The sprinklers make the setting feel familiar for the viewers, maybe. We’re in suburbia, the sound it impersonates real life.
Finally, when the mob dream is over, there’s no music anymore, until we get to the credits. Henry is now a ‘normal’ guy, and again we hear the sprinklers.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Aram Khachaturian – “Gayane” Ballet Suite / György Ligeti
Another director who really knows about music. Everyone is familiar with the opening scene, with Also Sprach Zarathustra. Well, not really. The movie actually starts out with Ligeti’s Atmospheres, on a black screen, before it cuts to the famous shot of the planet with Strauss’ music. Later in the film we hear more Ligeti, like Requiem and Lux Aeterna. The story goes that Kubrick used Ligeti’s without him knowing, only for Ligeti to find out while seeing the film for the first time. Not the nicest way to go about it, but Kubrick wasn’t known for being a nice guy.
I picked the next scene, because I love how it takes the time to introduce the space-ship. In fact, all of the music needs, and takes, a lot of time in this movie. The whole pace is slow, which makes a lot of sense, considering the time span it covers and the endlessness of space. Story wise this is a very simple scene, but the way it is told gives it much more depth.
Under the Skin
The music is so weird, so alien. It’s repetitive. Most sounds seem to be real instruments, but in pretty unusual ways or digitally altered. It’s not weird in a ‘we’ve-more-or-less-heard-this-before-and-it-obviously-tries-to-unsettle-us’ kind of way, it’s just really out of the ordinary. The music challenges you, I love that.
Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans
Many thrillers have a constant tension, and this is often created by tense, dissonant music for a very large part. Not always, like in No Country For Old Men, where pretty the opposite is used to make you uncomfortable. In Enemy, much of the music is pretty typical Hollywood: dissonant sounds, low drones and high violin-like sounds, to unsettle us. But as things get stranger, the music ‘zooms in’. It becomes much smaller, meaning just a few instruments are used, and made to sound big. I think the simple repeating bass clarinet motif and the string quartet are very interesting by itself. The music creates a surreal atmosphere, much like the rest of that strange yellow world. So while the use of the music isn’t entirely unique, I just really like the music itself. Here’s a link to the soundtrack I’m talking about.
No Country For Old Men
Carter Burwell / Skip Lievsay
I mention Skip Lievsay here, because in this case the music and sound are almost the same. There is only some very subtle music in maybe 2 or 3 scenes. Once some soft sine-waves (singing bowles and the like, made by Carter Burwell) are fading in through an engine sound and another time from a fridge in the background. But most of the tension in the film actually comes from silence. Silence, especially in a movie, often makes people feel uncomfortable, and very aware of sound. *insert John Cage here*
This scene is all about sound. There is no music at all. Llewelyn knows someone is coming for him. All sounds are very carefully placed. The shifting of something next door, the disconnected phone, his own footsteps, the beeping of the transmitter, and then the unscrewing of a light bulb. It’s all very relevant information, but also makes the scene so much more tense.
Bonus scene of the hum in the fridge:
28 May, 2015
Still from ‘The Parting Glass’, a short film by Alexander McNeill.
Performed by Manja Okkerse (violin & viola) and Gerda Marijs (cello)
Let’s talk about samples. Not the little taste bits in the supermarket, not the things you’d find in a digital audio file. Not even the bits of song used in a different song. But we’re getting closer. I want to talk about sample libraries.
With hard drives getting bigger and computers getting faster, it’s now easier than ever to record almost every note and variation from for example a violin and play all these samples back on the computer, using a MIDI piano keyboard. While the difference between a real and a sampled instrument used to be quite obvious to tell, it is now sounding closer and closer to the real instrument.
Of course, a violin is played very differently from a piano. So you would say it doesn’t make much sense to play it that way. And you’re right, it doesn’t. But it’s fast, and it’s cheap. Sample libraries can be pretty expensive, but in the long run much less so than hiring musicians and getting all the equipment to record them. The more musicians, the cheaper samples become, relatively. Because it’s so much cheaper and quicker, samples are very often used in music for TV series, pop songs, and increasingly so for movies, too. Even for movies with huge budgets. It’s not all about budget, though. It is very impractical to record music while composing it, but the director of a movie might need to get an impression of how the music is going to sound when it’s finished. Samples can do that, at least to a large extent. That’s why samples make for a good music demo.
In some cases these mock-ups end up being used in the final product. Sometimes the samples are combined with real instruments, to create something that’s impossible to achieve with real instruments alone. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to go out and record it all. And why not? If you can hardly hear the difference anyway, let alone less well trained listeners.
But there are limitations to samples. Small ensembles are very hard to recreate, that’s why samples are used most often in big orchestral scores. A real player can give meaning to a piece of music. This is most prominent in the details. A little accent, a slightly different position on the instrument, late timing here, early timing there, evolving vibrato, a little portamento, the sound of keys or breathing. And so on. All these little details make a performance. You might call this the intent or expression of the player.
I feel that samples are becoming a bit problematic. They are now used all too often. I think people do hear the difference between a fake MIDI instrument and a real instrument. You might not be able to tell what the difference is, but you can feel it.
To make things a bit more concrete, here is an excerpt from a piece of music I recently recorded with Manja Okkerse (violin, viola), Gerda Marijs (cello) and Arjan de Wit (production) at our Room Service Music studio and the MIDI version of the same part. The music is for The Parting Glass, a short film by Alexander McNeill. For a good comparison, please listen with headphones or proper speakers.
First the MIDI version:
The real version, with 3 viola’s and 3 celli dubbed:
In the MIDI version there is no control over the bow changes, which in this case works fine. Most notable might be the weird sounding glissandi. This isn’t something you find in those sample libraries, so I had to use pitch-bend for this. This changes the pitch, but also the sound of the instrument itself. It’s as if the instrument becomes bigger when the pitch goes down and smaller when it goes up. These glissandi are also a little too perfect. It’s very hard to make a glissando over such lengths of time, so this is much more organic in the real recording. Real instruments usually have a much larger dynamic range, too. And a note that’s difficult to play can sound difficult as well, which makes it more impressive.
All in all, real instruments give a lot more character and expression to a piece of music. Even if you don’t hear the difference, you will still feel it. While samples can provide a cheap solution for small budget productions, it’s becoming more common to reserve less money on the music, even in bigger productions. To me, artistic value is a lot more important, and I think there’s always a way to record live instruments, even with smaller budgets. If you want to get your production to a higher level, real music can make the difference.
People, and musicians, aren’t perfect. But these imperfections are exactly what you want to hear, these imperfections are intentional and make the music live and breath. They are the emotion in the music, they give you goose bumps.
12 April, 2015
Tussentijd at Go Short got 2nd place in the audience awards and an honourable mention, which also mentioned the music:
“Eervolle vermelding: Tussentijd – Christian van Duuren
De personages in zijn film zijn erg realistisch en vormen een fijn contrast ten opzichte van elkaar. De suspens was goed. We waren echt bij hen in de auto, aan het wachten op de ambulance. Een prachtige film met goede muziek en prachtig camerawerk.”
“Honourable mention: Tussentijd – Christian van Duuren
The characters are very realistic and make for a nice contrast between each other. The suspense was good. We were really with them in the car, waiting for the ambulance. A beautiful film with good music and beautiful camera work.“
Bass clarinet by Jason Alder
Violin by Anna Sophie Torn
Viola by Adriaan Breunis
Cello by Remco Woutersen
Audio engineering and conducting by Arjan de Wit
12 February, 2015
Tussentijd (Meantime) has been selected for the competition in the Go Short festival in Nijmegen!
The music for the project has been quite a tough process. But the film is pretty special. Everything happens in real time. A young man (21 years old) has found a car crashed into a tree, on an empty road. He’s doesn’t know what to do. He calls the emergency phone number. But does he dare to take a look and find out what has happened? What if they’re dead? What if they’re alive?
Here are two stills and a teaser video:
… From one car crash to the other. Beren op de Weg (Bears on the Road) has been selected for the competition of the Holland Animation Film Festival!
In an upcoming edition of the VPRO TV guide, you’ll find a guide to the Holland Animation Film Festival with some more info as well.
One may wonder, after all that vehicle violence, what is he up to now?
With Room Service Music we’ve started working on a studio album from Book of Eli. You might remember that music video we did a while back. Although Book of Eli is often categorized under singer-songwriter, I don’t think it has much to do with it. This music has much more to offer than what I usually associate with the singer-songwriter genre. Go check them out, it’s a very special experience! On top of the choirs, 2 guitars and double bass, I will be arranging for strings and brass and quite possibly any interesting or peculiar instrument we can find. Did I mention piano? Mandolin? Ukelele? We’ll see. More about this and another project later..
20 January, 2015
I might have mentioned Frostbite (by Toni Nordli) a few times on my blog already, mainly because it’s very cool and it played at the short film corner of the Cannes Film Festival 2014. It has been a while and it’s time for an update. So, here’s the soundtrack of the film, including a couple of tracks that haven’t made it into the film and two more bonus tracks. The bonus tracks were made with some previously unused recordings from the first recording session. Played by Erika Bordon.
On top of this coolness, Frostbite has been selected for a prize by the Nord Norsk Film Senter! (if you can’t read Norwegian, tough luck, there’s no English version)
If you’re not done listening after the Frostbite soundtrack, here’s something else for your enjoyment:
2 November, 2014
The musical soundtrack in a movie can completely change the way you perceive it. But you probably already know that. What might be a surprise, is that the opposite can also be true. The movie can totally change the meaning of a piece of music. Of course, you can associate music to a special moment in your life. I’m not talking about that. Recently I saw a very good example of what I mean. Let me explain.
“He (David Fincher, the director) said, ‘Think about the really terrible music you hear in massage parlors,'” says Reznor. “The way that it artificially tries to make you feel like everything’s OK. And then imagine that sound starting to curdle and unravel.”
The flashbacks in the movie start out with a way too soothing piece of music called ‘Sugar Storm‘, as the title rightfully suggests. From that point on this piece of music slowly starts to unravel, with increasingly more ‘glitches’ in it. ‘Perpetual‘ still contains fragments of the slow piano, but otherwise exists of a glitching and repeating synthesizer. The dread becomes more and more prominent. Towards the end of the movie, the situation has totally changed (I won’t tell you how, go see the movie). What is interesting however, is that ‘Suger Storm‘ returns. It’s the same piece of music, but the meaning has completely changed.
This is one of the instances where the music in a film doesn’t change the meaning of the visual aspect, but the other way around. What you’ve seen has totally changed the meaning of the music. In the beginning of the movie, it’s clear that there is something not right. It feels a bit off. But at this point, we know things aren’t right. And that makes the music, and thus the scene, much more creepy. The music doesn’t just tell you what you already know, it assumes that you get the irony of it. It’s a bit like the use of a music box in a horror film, but more subtle.
The soundtrack also uses more ‘settled’ ways of achieving dread. ‘Consummation‘ sounds a lot like the thumping music in some very tense scenes in Breaking Bad (spoiler if you haven’t seen the series yet!). Or perhaps even the notorious ‘BWONG’ (Google that one yourself) from Inception, albeit an electronic variant.
Good directors seem to know exactly what music can achieve in their films, together with the composer(s). They’re usually also very aware of existing music. David Fincher is a good example of this. Others are Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen brothers and of course Stanley Kubrick.
22 August, 2014
Beren op de Weg is a brillant short animation film by Nadia Meezen.
It is about Theo, an average man who lives a happy live and who loves his little yellow car. One morning he is driving down the road when suddenly he sees a bear lying on the road. He tries to evade the bear but by doing so he crashes into a tree. From then on he starts seeing bears everywhere around him, scaring him to even get out of his house..
I wrote the music for this nice short film. I recorded a clarinet, played by Jason Alder, which plays a big role in the piece. Guitar is played by Arjan de Wit. When recording a string trio for Canvas Blanco. I was lucky we had some time left to experiment. I used some semi-improvised pieces of that. The violin is played by Erika Bordon, viola by Anna Sophie Torn and cello by Remco Woutersen. Sound design by Rowan de Geus.
In September it will be shown as part of the student competition at the Dutch Film Festival in Utrecht. These are the dates:
Thursday 25 September 2014 at 15:30 h in program ‘Nieuwe Lichting 2’
Sunday 28 September 2014 at 13:30 h in program ‘Animatie 3’
Monday 29 September 2014 at 21:30 h in program ‘Nieuwe Lichting’
The location is the Louis Hartlooper Complex cinema in Utrecht. Seriously though, go check it out, it’s very cool.
10 August, 2014
Free Among the Dead presents eight pas-de-deuxs. A man or a woman dance with a figure wrapped in black which steps in and out of the dark surroundings.
The eight display screens set in small pillars with sound stand in a circle surrounded by empty space. The slow motion dancing strikes you as almost graphical.
The dancers are looking for balance. To embrace or reject, to fight or surrender. The seconds tick away.
I did some audio editing for this art installation. You can check it out, among other installations from Arent Weevers in the Janskerk in Utrecht, until 31 August. The exposition is called ‘Moving Images’. Free access. Many of the installations contain the music from David Dramm.
Opening hours for the final week:
Saturday 23 August: 12:00 – 16:00h
Sunday 24 August: 13:00 – 16:00h
Tuesday 26 August: 12:00 – 16:00h
Wednesday 27 August: 12:00 – 16:00h, with a tour from the artist at 13:30h
Saturday 30 August: 12:00 – 16:00h
Sunday 31 August: 13:00 – 16:00h
16 July, 2014
On a hot day in the beginning of July, a lot of music and movie professionals came together to create a beautiful live (!) video clip for Canvas Blanco. If you haven’t heard of Canvas Blanco, keep an eye on their Facebook or check out their pre-release EP, A Premature Birth, on Bandcamp. Canvas Blanco is a band of which there are not nearly enough of in the Netherlands. I can only think of one, really. Their songs start to grow on you, as is often the case with really good music, I noticed. It takes a couple of listenings to get familiar with the music and to really appreciate the intricacies of the songs.
The song we recorded is called ‘City of Catharines’ and will be part of the upcoming album ‘Call Me Lucky Fat or Skinny’. We recorded both music and video in the Oranjerie, an old greenhouse on Landgoed Dordwijk (link in Dutch). A stunning location in the middle of Dordrecht, and yet, surrounded by nature. Not too long ago it was abandoned and almost forgotten. Luckily it has been restored. The sun was shining, later in the day a couple of clouds went past, which made for some beautiful white light. Everyone was motivated to make something awesome. Perfect conditions.
Oranjerie from the outside. Photo by Erika Bordon.
Although there are many similar projects where a band is recorded in a live setting, I have not come across one like our project. The concept was created by Arjan de Wit. We did a pilot last year, with Book of Eli – Sturdy Wine (check out the result here), and plan to keep on making video’s like this. We aim to make it feel as if you are walking right through the performance. Each video takes place at a special location and is recorded completely live.
For me, the special thing about this project is the way many different professionals collaborate, people who know what they are doing, which results in something amazing. Not just the clip itself, but also the experience. My part in this whole project was the arrangement of the song. I combined classical instruments (string trio, woodwind duo and Ondes Martenot*) with the band, existing of 2 singers, 2 guitars, drums and bass. The way this combination works together in the song, gives a somewhat alien feel to ‘City’ at some points, and at other points sweep you up and be a comfortable rich sound. Getting these classical and pop musicians, with their different backgrounds in music, play together in a musical way is a lovely thing to work on.
The video was shot by Moeders Mooiste, in collaboration with director Lilian Sijbesma. The audio recordings were done by Room Service Music (that’s Arjan and me) in collaboration with 4uss Productions. Honourable mention for Madelon Brouwer, who did the catering.
Follow Canvas Blanco Music on Facebook to see the video clip as soon as it is launched, next September!
*The Ondes Martenot is an early electronic instrument, related to the Theremin. It was often used by Olivier Messiaen and is nowadays often used by one of my heroes, Jonny Greenwood, in his solo work and in his work with Radiohead. I might just write another blog about this strangely interesting instrument.
25 March, 2014
Canvas Blanco is working on his album ‘Call Me Lucky Fat Or Skinny’. I helped writing or made arrangements on 3 songs: Sticky Stuck, City of Catherines and Rising. Each of the songs is a little piece of art by itself. A lot of talented musicians and artists are stepping out of their comfort zone and try to create something that is utterly unique and expressive.
We’ve had recordings of the strings, woodwinds and piano lately, which means that all of the recordings are now done. The mixing will soon start. In the mean time, check out a demo EP here: http://canvasblanco.bandcamp.com/releases
For more updates and impressions check out Canvas Blanco on Facebook.
Call Me Lucky Fat Or Skinny will be released in October of 2014.
Photo’s by Jozua Dieleman.
6 March, 2014
From 13 to 25 May 2014 is the Film Festival in Cannes ‘Festival de Cannes‘. Frostbitt has been selected to play in the Short Film Corner! Together with the writer/director/actor of the film, Toni Nordli, I will be attending the festival.
Here’s the trailer for the film:
2 January, 2014
The visuals are done, live (!), by the amazing Bas van Oerle & Thomas voor ‘t Hekke from FRONT404.
6 October, 2013
For the third time I worked on the 48 Hour Film Project in Utrecht, this year. There’s a lot of music in the film, even though everything is made within 48 hours.
LocoMotief received awards for:
Runner up best film
Best use of character
It was also nominated for:
6 August, 2013
In 2013, Utrecht was celebrating 300 years of peace, by organizing a big festival with many cultural events throughout the city: Vrede van Utrecht. At the ‘Fortenfeest’, Othello, by Simon Haazen. I composed music for solo trombone, performed by André Kouwenhoven. Here are a few photo’s of the show.
10 July, 2013
Pestweb, for which I wrote the music in 2009, has won a prize! The Nickelodeon Grote Reclame Prijs (or Nickelodeon Big Commercial Prize). It was chosen by children, together with a professional jury. The commercial was directed by David van Woerden.
Check out these articles from NOS and AD (in Dutch):
6 February, 2013
The Pale Blue Dot concert was at 2 Februari 2013. It was a great succes! Together with Arjan de Wit I organised the concert. It’s about a photo, made by NASA’s spacecraft Voyager 1 in 1990, commissioned by Carl Sagan, who also wrote a beautiful piece about it. We asked four more composers to write a piece, so we ended up with six pieces, writen for an ensemble of flute, oboe, (bass)clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, piano, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. Ulrich Pöhl directed the ensemble. They all did a great job.
My piece ‘This Particular Universe’ was performed as the opening piece. It lasts about 15 minutes and was accompanied by great visuals from Front404. They do more terrific stuff, so check ’em out. This Particular Universe describes what science tells us about the biggest and the smallest there is. The creation of the universe: the big bang. To the first stars. And the earth. Until the universe realized itself, as The Pale Blue Dot. It’s incredible to realize that hydrogen atoms, given enough time, can ever form life and even the human brain, just by the laws of physics. We are all stardust. That doesn’t just sound poetic, it’s also literally true.
Listen and buy mine and the other pieces:
Some more photo’s of the evening below the fold. Click to enlarge.
6 February, 2013
Stupid Monkey has been selected by the Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film!
22 January, 2013
A while ago, I wrote some instrumentation for Sturdy Wine, a song by Book of Eli. It’s a great track, so I was really happy to be involved. Today, we recorded the song in the Metaal kathedraal (Metal cathedral..), a great location. Eli herself, a choir, guitar, drums, horn, trombone, violin, viola, cello, double bass where all there to perform it together. It was a great experience. But there’s more. A video clip was recorded. In the coming time I will be part of the editing and mixing. When the video clip is available, obviously I will post it here. In the mean time, here’s a photo of the musicians on location.
6 November, 2012
Stupid Monkey is a short animation film about, well, a Stupid Monkey. The fantastically cruel animation is done by Marlyn Spaaij. Sound design and mixing by Elena Martín Hidalgo. I’m proud to have done the music for this great animation.
Check it out at Klik! Amsterdam Animation Festival!