Here’s the third instalment of my project to “re-imagine” some of my favourite movie scenes, with my own music instead of the original score. My first two have gotten quite a few very positive and constructive comments, and I’m pleased that people have taken the time to listen and give me such wonderful feedback! Thanks so much!
For my third outing, I decided I wanted to tackle something non-Western, to see how I would fare with some musical idioms that I wasn’t familiar with. It’s a task that’s handed to many a film score composer when the film takes place in an exotic locale. And to do it right, without “patronizing” the music and culture of the destination, is really quite difficult. But where to go? Well, I’ve always loved the sound of the Indonesian Gamelan … the shimmering, wonderfully out of tune quality that they build into the instruments purposefully, the huge wall of sound that 30 people banging on metal bells and gongs produces, and the intimidatingly complex circular playing structure that, as it turns out, is unique to gamelan composition. OK, there was the challenge, now, what movie? Well, in a twist of fate, after doing “Dead Poets Society” for my first film, I started reacquainting myself with my “Peter Weir Collection”, coming to the realization again (as I had years ago) that the talented Australian Filmmaker was (and is), at least as far as I was concerned, somewhere very close the pinnacle of filmmaking genius. His films are sprawling and gorgeous, a visual feast, made all the more luxurious because he has a slow and steady hand on the camera, letting shots linger so little details catch your eye. He’s also a master of the “… and the music swells …” moment that so few directors get right … a wee bit too over the top and it’s ham-handed, but not quite enough and it’s not the emotional bombshell that it could be … Mr. Weir has utterly perfected that balancing act (which, of course, relies just as heavily on the music swelling like it should, as on the deft visuals) – which is probably why after only 3 attempts, I’ve already done 2 Peter Weir films – he knows how to use film music in a very powerful way!
Which brings me to my third film – if you haven’t guessed by now, it’s “The Year of Living Dangerously” starring a ridiculously young Mel Gibson and an as-yet-unknown and gorgeously radiant Sigourney Weaver. The score here was written by Maurice Jarre, himself a legendary force in the world of film music – go big or go home, I always say…! I actually considered abandoning this partway through and looking for a different film, because M. Jarre’s score is so achingly beautiful for this film … but two things pushed me forward. The first was a sense that Jarre’s score seemed more “Chinese” than “Indonesian” to me, and also that I felt the ending of the film didn’t come across as triumphantly as it could have, thanks to the music, which peaks almost orgasmically in a premature way, leaving the film’s final shot, to just sort of fizzle out into the end credits. Mel Gibson’s character (if you haven’t seen the film, I won’t spoil it too much) has literally gone through hell and back to make it across revolution-torn Jakarta to the airport in order to get on the last plane that can take him out of the country and certain death, and into the arms of the woman he has spent the rest of the film falling in love with. After all that, you don’t want something soft…. well I’ll let you be the judge – here’s the original scene with Maurice Jarre’s gorgeous (but strangely premature-ejaculatory – you’ll see what I mean) score:
I went with an odd combination of full orchestra, gamelan ensemble and pipe organ, for my take on this scene. I immersed myself into the study of Indonesian music – an ancient and rich classical music genre that is remarkably unlike Chinese, Japanese or any other Southeast Asian musical tradition. In fact, Indonesian music has it’s own unique pentatonic scale which makes the music sound very distinctive. I made use of it throughout the piece to try and impart the distinctive “Javanese” flavour that I wanted, as well as making the ending more uplifting and maybe even triumphant, as it seemed to me it warranted. You be the judge! Heres’ my version:
Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think!