Written for the COMA email newsletter, September 2007
Composing for a 106-minute silent film
How to begin such a long score? During initial viewings of the film, I took notes and outlined musical ideas. This was a good way into the process and allowed me to think about the characters, moods and emotions.
I mainly composed "from left to right", since different scenes needed to either blend or contrast. As I watched I sketched out ideas, worked at the piano, and began putting music into my Sibelius score (on computer, synched with the film). Playback then showed if my sketches sounded appropriate for the scene. If so, I continued at the piano, developing and writing more.
I completed at least 5 minutes of score every week. To a non-composer this may not sound much, but when we include editing the 360-page score, preparing fifteen instrumental parts, and then the further process of rehearsing and revising – not to mention admin and general worrying – then it comes to seven months' work.
I wrote in several sections of improvisation, where the players could create a sound world that was free yet related to the scenes. This also gives the audience a change of sonority.
There were some blocks, but I was lucky that ideas came fairly easily. I was inspired by the film, the acting, light and shadows, and the whole gothic enterprise. It has been a huge score to prepare and I can only hope that the final soundtrack manages to bring a clarity and resonance to an outstanding film and help supply the missing dimension.