Thursday, February 10, 2011

Musical Considerations

I've been thinking about the soundtrack for the Western short off and on as I work, and my ideas for it have been changing.

Originally, I had imagined doing something very traditional to the silent film format - snappy piano music, with ragtime influences. I was learning to play keyboard in spare moments, and had picked up some very old sheet music (from around the turn of the century! And not the recent one!) out of sheer luck at a library sale.

However, once I got good enough to somewhat noodle around with the pieces, I found that it was wholly unsuited to the entire thing. While it's absolutely accurate to the time, the feel is all wrong. These are far too cheery for what I'm trying to accomplish.

This makes a very good example, all popular songs from 1890 (the setting of the Western) to 1902.

I feel like such sounds would entirely mask the action on screen, even though now, looking at it again, it would lend a sort of charm to it.

I think the reason for the disconnect is the fact that this wasn't the sort of music I've been listening to the whole time for this Western while we were working on it anyway. It's been soundtracks to things like Red Dead Redemption, There Will be Blood, even Hellsing (the original anime,) and lots of hard rock influences - everything from Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer to Johnny Cash, Queens of the Stone Age to Nine Inch Nails to Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top.

Accordingly, I feel like hard rock, some blues and country, and Western/Spanish/Mexican guitar music, as well as general acoustic sounds would be far more fitting. Guitars factor extremely heavily into the sound of this story for me.

But for this animation, it's not at the point of the story where strong, gritty, down-and-dirty music is called for, like I had been listening to. I found some very good questions to ask yourself about composing music for film on this site - here - and promptly asked them of myself. Because some composing is what I'll have to do. I'd like to score this piece myself, but I know I don't currently have the skill, so I'm probably going to have to work with someone who knows better, or record bits and pieces and somehow fit them all together. But, I do know how I'd like it to sound, however I get there.

I want to convey with the music Ruth's emotional state- because although her physical stance tends to be aggressive, inside, she's shaking with nerves. That nervousness should provide the background tone, and Virgil, the outside stimulus in the equation, is accented, given weight and presence from the music. Ruth is a reactionary character, and so the music would reveal his effect on her. In contrast, Ruth's actions are de-emphasized - the music almost dissolving into fuzz or white noise, in the rage and nerves. That's the way her head sounds, and visually, she'd seem to move even more frantically. And in moments of confusion, the music would blank out into silence.

That's the thought, anyway.

So now it's back to the drawing board. I bought a classical guitar (a lucky, cheap find), and have started learning a few tabs, and how to play in general. In the least, I can figure out how I want it to sound, and record the tabs for someone else better to play, if I can't do it all myself. Of course, these musical considerations are merely thoughts for now, but we'll see once the animation itself starts nearing completion.

In the meantime, here's some examples of the kind of sound I'm after - more typical of Western soundtracks, I suppose, but also far more isolated, contemplative, and empty, save for the underlying tension I was talking about. I can only hope to create something as beautiful as these.

If I ever did a trailer for this story (on the whole) focusing on Virgil, this would be the song I'd do it to:

And I JUST found the soundtrack for The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and oh MAN, is it lovely! I'd seen the film, and it was actually fairly inspiring to this piece (almost as much as There Will Be Blood and Red Dead Redemption), so it's only apt the music works too.

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