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Film Music and Digital Media (MIT Communications Forum)

04/02/2009 5:00 PM Bartos theater
Martin Marks, Senior Lecturer, Department of Music, MIT; Paul Chihara, Chair of Visual Media and Professor of Music, UCLA; Dan Carlin, Chair, Film Scoring Department, Berklee School of Music

Description: In a panel that at times resembles a late"night bull session, three film music professionals discuss changes in their industry, with some no"holds"barred dishing and kvetching.

Martin Marks sets the scene historically, starting with the revolutionary introduction of sound to film. He plays a clip from the original 1933 film King Kong, which he describes as both a technological and aesthetic landmark of soundtrack production. Paul Chihara continues the story, explaining that the score's creator, Max Steiner, was part of the first wave of film composers, classically trained musicians, fleeing Hitler's Germany. Steiner drew on the music he knew best, the kind performed by the Vienna Staatsoper, for his King Kong score, so we get a movie that's "wall to wall music, filled with leitmotifs," played by a giant orchestra.

Cut to 2005, and the Peter Jackson remake of King Kong. In what he describes as "an electro"acoustic seminar on how digitally sound is enhanced," Chihara plays several clips of the same scene that demonstrate the evolutionary leap in soundtrack scoring since 1933. The process involves the demo track, a score with digital sampling and no acoustic instruments intended to help the filmmaker imagine how music will work with the film; next an acoustic score; and the final dub version, where acoustic and digital music sources combine, and the rest of the sound elements are added in post production (dialogue and sound effects).

The new scoring process can prove dangerous to composers, as Dan Carlin reveals. "We have a term called 'demo love,' describing how the director gets attached to the very first track offered by the composer." This is a digitally sampled score often drawn from other composers' work. The editor and director become accustomed to it, and test audiences watch films with demo tracks. "So the composer comes in with a new approach, and often gets fired at this point." This has led to composers fearful of originality. Carlin says starting in the '90s, generic romantic and action scores began to emerge: "Everything starts to sound alike." . He also describes how composer Georges Delerue went to see Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple, and heard one of his own themes, which had started as a temporary music cue but then was essentially plagiarized. This led to a very lucrative law suit. Marks notes that "one of America's film music geniuses," Elmer Bernstein, essentially dropped out of the business because of the insistence on demo tracks over original music.

Panelists also bemoan the demise of orchestral recording sessions at production studios, as digital audio tools put the composer's work in the hands of directors and editors, who play with increasingly authentic sounding software"based instruments. Companies are buying up the rights to the sounds of famous symphony orchestras, down to the staccato and legato notes of strings and horns in different keys and pitches. The craft involved in composing music, then conducting an orchestra through a movie scene, has become obsolete. Chihara concludes sadly, "It's an unnecessary art."

About the Speaker(s): Martin Marks received a Ph.D. in musicology from Harvard University. A music historian, Marks has lectured and written extensively on film music, including the book, Music and the Silent Film (1997, Oxford University Press). He also performs and records piano accompaniments for many silent films. His work in this capacity is featured on the award"winning DVD collection Treasures from American Film Archives: 50 Preserved Films (2001), as well as on the follow"up collection, More Treasures from American Film Archives, 1894"1931 (2004).

At MIT he also teaches classes relating to early music, opera, and musicals, as well as film studies classes. Paul Chihara received his doctorate degree (D.M.A.) from Cornell University in 1965. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, Ernst Pepping in Berlin, and with Gunther Schuller at Tanglewood. With Toru Takemitsu, Chihara was composer"in"residence at the Marlboro Music Festival in 1971, and also the first composer"in"residence of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Neville Marriner, Conductor. More recently, he has served as the composer"in"residence with the Mancini Institute in Los Angeles.

In addition to his many concert works, Chihara has composed scores for more than 90 motion pictures and television series. He has worked with directors Sidney Lumet, Louis Malle, Michael Ritchie, and Arthur Penn. His movie credits include Prince of the City, The Morning After, Crossing Delancey, and John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes. His works for television include China Beach, Noble House, Brave New World, and 100 Centre Street. Chihara also served as music supervisor at Buena Vista Pictures (Walt Disney Co.). Also active in the New York musical theatre world, Chihara served as musical consultant and arranger for Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies, and was the composer for James Clavell's Shogun, the Musical. Dan Carlin is an Emmy Award"winning music editor. From 2003 to 2005, he served as Chair for the Recording Academy (the GRAMMY organization), and more recently was the executive director of the Mancini Institute of Los Angeles. He was CEO of Segue Music, the industry's largest provider of music supervision. He has worked on such movies as An Officer and a Gentleman, Sister Act, Steel Magnolias, Days of Heaven, The Black Stallion, The Bodyguard, Quest for Camelot, Bruce Almighty, and What's Love Got to Do With It.

Carlin received his B.A. from San Jose State University, and his M.A. from the University of Connecticut.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Communications Forum

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December 16, 2011 12:35
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