August 11th, 2011

Screen Sound: The Australasian Journal of Soundtrack Studies

Number 2, 2011 Soundtrack Co/Improvisation

Screen Sound n2, 2011

Individual Articles

  1. Cover
  2. Publishing Information
  3. Contents
  4. Editorial — Soundtrack Co/Improvisation: Interpreting Co/Improvisation
    Rebecca Coyle
    [ Abstract ] [ Keywords]

    Abstract: Screen Sound number 2, 2011, brings together contributors dealing with sound in live performance, feature films (contemporary and ‘silent’ films) and television. Six articles relate to the theme of this issue—Co/Improvisation, or the fluid interface between composition and improvisations—and another four articles offer additional studies relating to songs and performed music in films, and the business of screen composition and synchronisation. This substantial issue demonstrates the broad range and scope of Australasian research projects relevant to screen sound that are currently underway.
    Keywords: Improvisation, film composition, comprovisation, live performance, ‘silent’ cinema

Theme Features: Co/Improvisation

  1. Liveness and the Machine: Improvisation in Live Audio-Visual Performance
    Grayson Cooke
    [ Abstract ] [ Keywords]

    Abstract: Live audio-visual performance is an emerging area of new media arts practice that crosses between, and draws upon, multiple artistic traditions and trajectories. Under a range of nomenclatures – VJing, Live Cinema, Live Media, Expanded Cinema – artists work solo and collaboratively with sounds and images, and significantly, they do this in a performance context. Liveness, then, with its associated notions of improvisation, spontaneity, singularity and ‘the event,’ plays a key role in how live audio-visual performance is understood, valued and marketed. Liveness is a selling point, a mark of difference that separates live performance from the recorded or ‘mediated’, such as music albums, films, television. But how live is live? And, to what degree is the live premised on what is programmed, prepared for, pre-arranged or composed? What assumptions are buried in the celebration of the live, the moment, the real-time? In this paper, with reference to my own practice as a collaborating performer in live audio-visual contexts, I shall discuss the relations between liveness and preparedness in live audio-visual performance.
    Keywords: liveness, live cinema, audio-visual, performance, improvisation, VJ
  2. Beneath Clouds and The Boys: Jazz Artists Making Film Music
    Matthew Hill
    [ Abstract ] [ Keywords]

    Abstract: This article examines the compositional processes of established Australian jazz artists writing for film. Two specific case studies are discussed: the Necks’s score for the film The Boys (Rowan Woods, 1998) and Alistair Spence’s score for Beneath Clouds (Ivan Sen, 2002). Specific music cues from the films are analysed in relation to artists’ observations recorded in interviews. The artists featured in this research have well-established careers as improvising musicians and the application of their music making knowledge to the film scoring process is germane to the final film score. Key questions relevant to the film music concern the extent to which improvisation played a part in the scoring process, the application of improvisatory musical experience to the audiovisual domain, and the nature of the collaboration with the director.
    Keywords: Alister Spence, The Necks, Australian film, composition, jazz film music
  3. Scoring Essington: Composition, Comprovisation, Collaboration
    Michael Hannan
    [ Abstract ] [ Keywords]

    Abstract: New music technologies have increasingly enabled elements of improvised score to be incorporated into screen music tracks, even where a score is devised for performance by orchestral ensembles. This article focuses on the music construction for a film produced for (colour) television in the first decade of the Australian cinema revival period. In 1974 the author collaborated with composers Peter Sculthorpe and David Matthews on the production of the music score for the Australian feature-length drama, Essington (Julian Pringle, 1974). This reflective practice article outlines the creative ideas behind the composition of the Essington score and focuses on comprovisation (composition involving improvisation) as distinct from then-common practice in film scoring of fully notating the underscore. In scoring Essington’s music, comprovised cues, produced mostly using unconventional piano ‘interior’ sounds (where the sounds are produced by direct contact with the strings rather than using the keyboard), were used to sonically contrast with fully notated cues written in a conventional way for the piano. This study analyses a collaborative approach that offers a useful model for contemporary (Australian) film composition practices.
    Keywords: Australian film music, Peter Sculthorpe, improvisation, comprovisation, piano interior
  4. Alternate Soundtracks: Silent Film Music for Contemporary Audiences
    Jan Thorp and Eleanor McPhee
    [ Abstract ] [ Keywords]

    Abstract: The Moving Pictures Show is a contemporary Australian ‘silent’ film company that screens films produced in the period from 1912 to 1929, with a 9-piece orchestral accompaniment. This article explores the ways in which music is chosen for the show both to heighten the audience’s aesthetic experience of the film and to abide by historical practice. It also describes the ways in which improvisation can be accommodated within these boundaries. The Moving Pictures Show uses recognisable music from the non-synchronised sound (or ‘silent’ film) era, including ‘classical’ music that is well known to audiences through previous association with the animations of Disney, Warner Bros and Hanna-Barbera studios; mood music that was purpose-composed for the films of the silent era by composers such as John Stepan Zamecnik; and leitmotifs to alert the audience to repeating themes in the narrative. Around these music components, improvisation provides a degree of flexibility of tempo necessary to fit the music with the film and allows the performers the freedom to musically respond to the onscreen action in a spontaneous manner.
    Keywords: Film music, silent film, improvisation, John Stepan Zamecnik, The Moving Pictures Show

Theme Shorts and Trailers: Co/Improvisation

  1. Crafting the Sounds of Sentiment: Jen Anderson Interviewed about The Sentimental Bloke DVD score
    Jeannette Delamoir and Karl Neuenfeldt
    [ Abstract ] [ Keywords]

    Abstract: Multi-instrumentalist and composer Jen Anderson used her musical, compositional and productions skills to create a folk-rock score for the 1918 silent film, The Sentimental Bloke. After 15 minutes of extra footage were discovered and restored to the film, she expanded and reworked the score. In collaboration with the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Anderson recorded this revised score. In an extended interview, Anderson reflects upon the musical, logistical and technical challenges she encountered, and the aesthetic decisions she made in re- presenting, via original music, an iconic Australian film. She also discusses performing live accompaniment, with two other musicians, for screenings of the film around the world. The process of recording the score allowed her to alter the instrumentation, adding extra session musicians to obtain a fuller sound. However, the trio who had performed on the film’s tours was able to maintain a ‘natural’ sound, similar to a live performance, in part through improvising while recording.
    Keywords: improvisation, Australian silent films, Australian film composers, Jen Anderson, The Sentimental Bloke
  2. Switching Tracks: Improvising Music for the Screen – A Discussion with Mike Cooper
    Philip Hayward
    [ Abstract ] [ Keywords]

    Abstract: The following text is an edited version of a discussion with British musician and composer Mike Cooper that took place in October 2010 prior to his performance of an improvised score for the 1924 film Venus of the South Seas (James R. Sullivan, starring Annette Kellerman) at Griffith University’s Queensland Conservatorium of Music in Brisbane. Cooper is a colourful, iconoclastic performer and composer whose career began in the late 1960s. After establishing a profile as a folk/blues and, later, Hawaiian-styled guitarist, he transitioned into more esoteric areas of sound composition, collaboration and improvisation. He has performed with other notable experimentalists such as Mike Gibbs, David Toop, Lol Coxhill and Mike Abrahams, and released a series of recordings on independent labels and as on- demand, self-released CDs. From his home base in Rome, Cooper is now involved in recordings, performances, tours and writing around music and sound. Part 1 of this article comprises a discussion with the author on aspects of performing live accompaniments to screen media and Part 2 includes questions from other soundtrack researchers, composers and musicians present at the Conservatorium event, together with responses from Cooper.
    Keywords: Mike Cooper, improvisation, silent film score, Tabu, Venus of the South Seas

Additional Features

  1. Sync Agents and Artist Managers: A Scarcity of Attention and an Abundance of Onscreen Distribution
    Guy Morrow
    [ Abstract ] [ Keywords]

    Abstract: This article explores the role of synchronisation agents, and the current music business environment in Australasia more generally, in order to examine the various methods for music and image synchronisation and the extent to which the process of synchronisation can assist artist managers in building and maximizing their clients’ musical careers. ‘Sync agents’ are similar to song publishers. However, while song publishers work to maximise revenue from the exploitation of the performance and mechanical copyright of songs and having the songs in their catalogue synchronised with visual imagery, sync(hronisation) agents just work with the latter. Chris Anderson’s ‘Long Tail’ theory (2006) provides the model for arguing that the exchange value of musical copyrights has decentralised and therefore, as aggregators, sync agents are in the best position to generate revenue from synchronising more songs with a lot more images. This contrasts with artists or artist managers who are poorly positioned to generate revenue via this means. The article reports on a research project involving the International Music Managers Forum that seeks to create new standards in relation to artist management practices in the contemporary dispersed media context.
    Keywords: Screen songs, synchronisation, artist manager, sync agent, ‘long tail’ theory
  2. Ancient Archetypes: The ‘Greek Chorus’ in The Tracker‘s Songs
    Anthony Linden Jones
    [ Abstract ] [ Keywords]

    Abstract: Rolf de Heer’s film The Tracker (2002) is a fictional representation of period, location, characters and events but has strong echoes of historical documentation. It is, essentially, a morality play, much akin to Aesop’s fables. By not revealing character names in the film, de Heer renders the players as ancient archetypes, like the anthropomorphic animals of Aesop. The film is confronting and thought- provoking yet a number of key elements serve to disrupt a realist reading of the film: most particularly, the use of a series of songs that function like the Chorus of ancient Greek drama to compensate for the inability of the characters to interrelate on any kind of emotional level. Performed by Australian Aboriginal singer Archie Roach, the songs were written by (non-indigenous) Rolf de Heer and composer Graham Tardif. Do the songs serve as a bridge between cultures, or as a potential site for antagonism? How does the ‘Greek Chorus’ dramatic device function in the context of a contemporary Australian feature film? In attending to these questions, this paper outlines the history of the use of the device of the ‘Greek Chorus’ in cinema and investigates its application in this film.
    Keywords: The Tracker, Rolf de Heer, indigenous Australian, Greek Chorus, film songs, Archie Roach

Additional Shorts and Trailers

  1. Screen Music Futures: Deriving Income from Screen Composition – An Australian Industry Symposium
    Rebecca Coyle and Natalie Lewandowski
    [ Abstract ] [ Keywords]

    Abstract: A public symposium co-hosted by the Australian Guild of Screen Composers and a Southern Cross University research team was held at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, Sydney, in September 2010. The event was coordinated by Jo Smith, Executive Manager of the AGSC, with session host Rebecca Coyle, and the speakers were composers Guy Gross, Christopher Gordon and Amanda Brown; composer/AFTRS educator Martin Armiger; composer and President of the AGSC, Clive Harrison; and Michelle O’Donnell from the Australasian Performing Rights Association. The article comprises an edited extract of the symposium transcription that focuses on the business aspects of screen music production, and how composers can generate income from their work in the future.
    Keywords: Australian screen music, Australian Guild of Screen Composers, screen music industry, Australasian Performing Rights Association
  2. Directing Music-Based Documentaries: Curtis Levy on The Matilda Candidate and Hephzibah
    Adolfo Cruzado
    [ Abstract ] [ Keywords]

    Abstract: This article features an interview with director Curtis Levy who discusses the creative process in his music-based documentaries and the storytelling challenges inherent in musical characters and music subjects. Levy’s documentary film, The Matilda Candidate (2010), follows the comedic journey taken by the filmmaker as he stands for election to the Australian Senate on the platform that the popular folk song, ‘Waltzing Matilda’, should become the national anthem. The Matilda Candidate is a ‘hybrid’ style documentary incorporating interviews, archival footage, essay reflections, comedy and observational techniques to tell its story. In the second part of this article, Curtis comments on another music-based documentary, his multi-award winning Hephzibah (1998) that investigates the life of the American- Australian concert pianist and human rights activist, Hephzibah Menuhin (1920-1981). Levy indicates how he uses music to enhance the viewer’s response and other layers and forms of storytelling to engage TV audiences.
    Keywords: Curtis Levy, The Matilda Candidate, Hephzibah, music-based documentaries, Australian documentary film
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