Tag Archives: Annexia Ensemble

“Beefheart’s Bath”© by Chris De Groot

4 May

Here is “Beefheart’s Bath”, composer Chris De Groot’s favourite track from Nakatomi Pictures second feature ‘Esoterica’.  The track appears over the most visceral and terrifying scene in the picture.  ‘Happy’ listening. Click on the link below to hear this very creepy track.

Note – the track begins quietly; your speakers aren’t broken!

The Annexia Ensemble – Beefheart’s Bath

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Nakatomi Profile: Chris De Groot, Composer

27 Apr

Nakatomi Profile is a new section in which we will be interviewing collaborators and artists we have worked with.

Where did you study?

I believe music is a life long study – I’ve been at it for 20 years now! Formally I have studied at the West Australian Academy Of Performing Arts (WAAPA) I’ve become a part of the furniture there; I did my undergraduate degree in jazz composition (2000-2004), then studied my Honours degree in classical jazz fusion (2005), and then a Masters degree in music for film (2008-2010)… and now I lecture there part time! I’ve had many different mentors, but I’m always expanding my knowledge by reading and listening.

Tell us about your creative process, how do you work? How long?

The creative process is one that is really hard to describe. When you’re working well and things are flowing it’s like you’re in a weird trance – hours pass like minutes, when it’s not going so well it can be like getting blood from a stone. In relation to my work for film, I like going beyond just getting “inside the film” by getting inside the filmmaker’s head. By that I mean learning what drew a particular filmmaker to film, what films and directors have influenced their work and move on from there. Our collaboration on Esoterica definitely taught me the value of taking the time to discover each other and get on the same page – and get excited about the project at the same time.

I usually work very long hours quite often at night. I call the time between 9PM and 3AM the “Golden Time” that’s when everything is peaceful and you can really focus. That’s when I do some of my best work – although I also work during the day. I recently worked out that I composed on average 0.9 of a minute of music a day (over a two month period working at least six hours a day) when working on Esoterica. That may seem like a slow pace but it is actually pretty fast. Most directors don’t understand how long it takes to write good music, but the ones who do are rewarded with a much stronger sounding score. I work with software to notate the music (I’m a staunch hater of sampled instruments – using real acoustic instruments is the only way!). I usually use a stopwatch to time various scenes and then work independently of the vision; I’m pretty familiar with the scene by this stage. As I go, I reference the music against the vision from time to time by exporting the score as a sound file. I occasionally make changes to the timing to hit various parts of the action based on this cross-referencing process. I find that this is a good way to work – I feel that you can sometimes get bogged down by the vision and try to hit too much of the action if you write with software that synchronizes the film as you go.

What is the most rewarding part?

The most rewarding part for me is hearing the music being played in the recording session. Standing there in front of 22 musicians and hearing your music being played is pretty amazing. Another very rewarding part is when you’ve worked until 3am and you’ve just finished a cue that you know really works – it’s exciting. It’s usually hard to get to sleep after that!

The Annexia Ensemble

What are the origins of the ‘Annexia Ensemble’?

I originally formed the Annexia Ensemble in 2009 to perform my score for Dimitri Kirsanoff’s masterpiece of French Impressionist silent cinema Ménilmontant – and other works for silent cinema yet to be composed. It was performed live at the Astor Theatre in Mt Lawley in August 2009. The ensemble is made up of my friends and colleagues, who are all amazing musicians. The original line up contained five winds, percussion, guitar, accordion, keys/electronics, and a ten-piece string section. I augmented the line up slightly for Esoterica adding an extra pianist, double bass player, harpist, and an extra two percussionists – I even step down from the podium to play musical saw! I never intended to use the ensemble for independent Australian films (especially ones made in Perth), but then I saw Esoterica.

What are some of the influences on your score for Esoterica?

I think Esoterica pays loving homage to classic Hollywood film noirs and 1970s neo-noirs, the score in many respects does as well. I’m not saying that Esoterica is unoriginal or that it’s a watered down rip off or anything – I mean, when was the last time you saw an Australian film noir!? I think there is a fine line between homage and rip off and that Esoterica is definitely on the right side of that line. As you know, it was discussed and decided that the score for Esoterica would not give away what time period the film was set. So there are influences of 1940’s be-bop, 1970s funk fusion, 20th century noise music as well as classic film noir scores. I think that Michael Small’s score to Klute, Bernard Herrman’s work and that of 20th century classical composer György Ligeti are some of the more obvious influences. In some respects all my musical influences crop up one way or another – I’d like to think that there is a bit of me in there as well though!

What are some of the key creative choices behind the score?

Well as we’ve discussed, one of the ideas was to have a score that does not suggest a specific time period (or perhaps one that suggests many) – but one of the big things for me is that the score has to have a unique texture and mood to it. This is achieved mostly through instrumentation and orchestration and the way in which lines of sound are intertwined. I think that texture in film music is much more important than other aspects of music, such as melody or rhythm. I think the score achieves a unique blend of texture and mood via the interesting inclusion of rhodes electric piano, musical saw and harp, whilst still paying homage to the classics.

Another strong decision was that the music should not “cue” the audience much. By that I mean not letting them know what is going to happen or how they should feel – we let the music add a mood and texture to what was already apparent in the film to strengthen the experience. I hate it when directors say “the music needs to add X” or “this scene is lacking Y – can you make it better?” If it isn’t there to begin with the music can’t make it magically appear – or as Bernard Herrmann puts it “I can dress the corpse, but I can’t bring it back to life!” Pacing and strategic silence was also a great concern for us, we were definitely aware of the need to pace ourselves and not let the music get too big too soon. The musical climax happens when the characters and the audience finally discover what the box is (the music had to be pretty huge at that point) so everything leads up to that event in the film.

What’s your favourite track and why?

I think the piece I’m most proud of is one called Beefheart’s Bath. There were quite a few compositional aspects that I was unsure of and I didn’t entirely know if they would work – the piece is quite ambitious really. It’s basically a textural noise piece that provides the backdrop to the most intense and terrifying scene in the film. The string section plays many glissando effects while the pipe organ holds a slowly rising cluster chord. The whole piece rises to fever pitch as the winds and percussion are steadily incorporated – it’s quite intense really. It is testament to your [Barrett’s] trust in me that this piece even exists. I wasn’t able to really mock up Beefheart’s Bath so you could hear it before we got to the studio to record it.

What is your take on the relationship between cinema and music?

The relationship is crucial – I think music is the essence of modern cinema. Music has been used in film since the beginning, there was a time during the early 1930’s when filmmakers turned away from music but they soon realised music’s importance. Music can extend the boundaries of the screen giving the audience a wider cinematic experience. It can intensify emotions and characters and actually physically affect the audience. Ever felt claustrophobic whilst watching a film? Or feel like you could fly? Music gave you that feeling. It helps greatly in conveying meaning in film.

Give us your top ten scores and why.

These things are always so hard – in no particular order:

1 ) Psycho [1960] (Bernard Herrmann)

Herrmann’s score to Psycho totally revolutionized the way composers wrote for horror films. Before Psycho horror films sported a bombastic mix of brass blasting and percussion rumbling. Herrmann showed that the string section (usually associated with romantic melodies) could be cold and chilling like the character Norman Bates. Herrmann’s genius is reflected in Hitchcock’s assertion that Psycho’s success was largely due to the score.

2 ) The Day The Earth Stood Still [1951] (Bernard Herrmann)

Again Herrmann’s innovation is apparent in this classic sci-fi film. Herrmann was not the first to use the theremin in film but he was the first to use it in a science fiction context – and to use two of them! Again Herrmann displays the fact that it is texture that is a key component of film music by combining two theremins, three trumpets, three trombones, four tubas, six percussionists, two harps, two pianos, two organs, electric guitar, electric violin and electric bass. The sheer alien like sound he creates though his strange chords and textures is truly amazing – screw the remake, checkout the original!

3 ) Crash [1996] (Howard Shore)

This film saw Shore return to a smaller ensemble line up reminiscent of his early more experimental work with Cronenberg. I love it for it for the claustrophobic feel it creates through the use of repetitive melodic patterns, limited tonal range and unusual instrumental combinations – among other instruments Shore uses six electric guitars.

4 ) Klute [1971] (Michael Small)

These days I’m mostly drawn to scores that are minimal and understated but get under your skin. Small’s score definitely does that. His use of quartertone marimba and wordless female vocals is very unique and creates a very creepy atmosphere. His main theme provides a very lonely melancholic backdrop over which the seedy New York street scene is explored.

5 ) Dirty Harry [1971] (Lalo Schifrin)

What can I say – a great mix of 70s funk and weird textural free jazz (I read somewhere that the drums were performed by the one and only Mel Lewis!). Like Klute, Harry’s score was one of the first to feature wordless female vocals, but in this context the gliding voice symbolizes Scorpio’s madness and is not used as an erotic siren call.

6 ) Blue Velvet [1986] (Angelo Badalamenti)

Blue Velvet is a lot more melodic than most of my other choices on this list. I just love the boldness of it and the way he enhances the darkness in Lynch’s depiction of suburbia.

7 ) Fantastic Voyage [1966] (Leonard Rosenmen)

The film may have dated a little bit but the score still sounds amazing. Rosenmen was the first film composer to really embrace atonality and serialism. This score utilises a very big orchestra and again texture is a main focus. His score is created largely by combining many complex musical lines into an expanding and contracting mass. Rosenman’s idea was to hold off on the use of any music until the team of doctors (travelling inside a shrunken submarine) enters the body. Only when the doctors get to experience the wonders of the human body do we the audience get to experience Rosenman’s bizarre score.

8 ) The Exorcist II [1977] (Ennio Morricone)

The best thing about this largely forgettable film is its score. Not to take anything away from Morricone’s music which, even though the film is not very good, is starkly original and poignant. His use of chanting voices, ethnic percussion, strange reed instruments and a largely atonal score is unsettling to say the least, and his haunting Ragen’s Theme is bittersweet and beautiful. I could have put any Morricone film on this list – everything he touches turns to gold!

9 ) Planet Of The Apes [1968] (Jerry Goldsmith)

This is one of Goldsmith’s most avant-garde scores. His use of a vast array of unusual ethnic instruments is very interesting. The stuttering mix of percussion and atonalism perfectly mirrors man’s inability to speak and also provides the score with an otherworldly sound.

10 ) Chinatown [1974] (Jerry Goldsmith)

The fact that this score was composed in just 10 days is an impressive feat in its own right. Throw on top of that the fact that the score works so astoundingly well and you’ve got a recipe for legend. The tension between the dark romanticism of the string accompanied love theme and the crisp, thorny clatter of pianos and percussion is what gives Goldsmith’s spare score its powerfully individual quality.

I have to include an Australian score:

11) Wolf Creek [2005] (Franc Tetaz)

Yeah I know what you’re thinking “Wolf Creek?… I hate that movie… blah, blah, blah”. Put down your poppy slashing devices and listen – I think that Wolf Creek’s score is significant for its use of field recordings (Alan Lambs outback wire recordings), found sounds and acoustic music concrète to create a chilling sonic experience for the audience. Horror is all about sound (the Exorcist no longer becomes scary if you turn the sound off), and Tetaz combines chilling and unusual sounds (not usually associated with music) with acoustic instruments in turn blurring the distinction between music and sound design.

*Chris’ favourite track from Esoterica ‘Beefheart’s Bath’ will be posted later this week, enjoy!

‘Esoterica’ looms closer with completion of score!

23 Apr

Composer, Chris De Groot and The Annexia Ensemble

Composer Chris De Groot has just finished recording the score for Nakatomi Pictures’ sophomore neo noir feature ‘Esoterica’,  performed by The Annexia Ensemble, a very talented group of  22 musicians brought together by the tireless organisation of Mr De Groot.  The brooding, jazz infused score is currently being mixed and is expected to be completed in the next week.