Monday, March 28, 2011

Bye Bye Birdie... Hello, Sanity

Thankfully, the middle school production of Bye Bye Birdie ended Sunday, netting me an extra 400 dollars. AND A ROSE!

Happiness not included

Nah, I feel like I come down too hard on musicals. As much as I rag on it every year, it is a legitimately fun experience. The band's usually quite adept, and more often than not the kids are hysterical. Dumbing down musicals to be appropriate for middle school often results in some incredibly stupid, incredibly funny substitutions. Like "orgy" being pronounced "oar-ghee". Or Coke (the drink, not the drug) being substituted for beer. Exciting.

It went off without a hitch. There were a few mishaps here and there, the most egregious one being an accidental curtain open during a scene in front of the curtain. The main characters are all interacting in front of the curtain while stage crew sets up the next scene behind it. But whoever was manning the curtain accidentally opened it after the scene was set, BEFORE the scene in front of it was finished. Trying to get 50+ middle schoolers to stay still for at least 3 minutes, if not more, is a terrifying prospect. Though I must say, they handled it pretty well.

I wish I could've taken my own pictures, but the whole dealing with underage kids and consent forms and such didn't allow me to. It's much easier to grab pictures from local publications as opposed to taking my own, and God forbid having a touchy Clarkstown parent wind up on this blog somehow and get me in serious trouble. Clarkstown (my town) is very big on the whole child safety thing, often to the detriment of those who just want some photo evidence for our blogs.

But I digress. Thanks to New City Patch, I can post pictures!

The 2 leads. I wish I knew their real life names, but both were actually very good at what they did. The girl in particular had quite a good voice for being in middle school, and they played off of each other well.

The namesake of the musical, Conrad Birdie and his harem of jailbait. Which gets alluded to in the script. Hysterical. His clothing never ceased to produce laughter.

The "twin" sisters of the family in the musical, the Macafees. Only on performance night did I realize they weren't actually twins in real life.

More of Birdie and his number one fan, Ursula. Who, I have to say, nearly blew out my eardrums. When you have 50 middle school girls on stage, screaming like they're at a Justin Bieber concert, and you're only 5 feet away from them, it's fucking painful.

Bows. Oh, the bows. We ran the bows music for the first time ever opening night. My God. That was a feat in and of itself, especially considering we had to continually loop it since there were so many kids who needed to get on stage. Second night we played a completely different song for the bows, and the final performance we made changes yet again. I don't think we ever really settled on the right choice, but it worked regardless.

And so ends another round of musical. Next up this week: MORE musical. Kelly Izzo's, that is. I should have a new arrangement up for you all at some point in the coming days.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Merry Christmas Eve

Sadly, it's not ACTUALLY Christmas Eve. If it was, I wouldn't be able to type because every part of my body would be stuffed with delicious, delicious food and cookies. No, Merry Christmas Eve is actually the title of a brand new movie I was tasked to score.

Written and directed by SUNY Purchase film major Alyssa Codamon, Merry Christmas Eve tells the story of three young post-college adults, living together in the same house and doing what recent college graduates do best: dicking around. Though I haven't gotten a rough cut of the film yet, Alyssa was kind enough to show me a couple of scenes to get a feel for what I'd be scoring, and it's definitely something that's worth watching. It's a rather poignant piece, but not without its fair share of laughter. It's very... human, shall we say.

As for scoring approach? I hate to bring it up again, but Reznor/Ross and The Social Network are the main influences I'm drawing from throughout this process. It's the atmosphere, man. Alyssa wanted something that undercut the dialogue and boosted the emotions of the scenes while moving them along, and that score is one of the best examples of recent scoring that does such a thing. I'm also thinking I finally get to use a guitar in a score that's NOT for a Caleb Foss film. By which I mean, some sort of actual enhancement value as opposed to awful heavy metal while actors vomit on each other.

Hopefully I'll have a cut of Alyssa's film post spring break, upon which I'll lock myself in my room and not see the sun for a good month or so. Film majors have a habit of giving me everything all at once, at the same time, with only a maximum of 2 weeks to do everything. Stressful to the max, yes, but I've found I work much better under pressure. Forcing scores out, oddly enough, makes them better.

For now, watch the trailer. It's PRETTY. And bright. Good for me and my colorblindness.

"Merry Christmas, Eve" Trailer from Alyssa Codamon on Vimeo.

As for my spring break? Work, work, work. I'm currently playing guitar for a middle school production of Bye Bye Birdie. Let me tell you, watching a hundred middle schoolers put on a production of ANY musical is a terrifying experience. It pays well, though, and the changes they have to make in order for it to be appropriate for a middle school are really funny. I'm bringing my camera tonight for the first performance, so I'll have pictures of that tomorrow.

That's done on Sunday, upon which I have to continue orchestrating Alice Unraveled, since I won't have time after break because of the sheer volume of movies that will be thrust upon me.

I'll sleep when I'm dead, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Alice, Slowly Unraveling

I told y'all I'd be back this week.

Before I get into my blog post, though, have you witnessed "Friday" by Rebecca Black yet? I'm sure it's been beaten to death in the past 5 or so days, but in case you didn't know, the video's a production of the Ark Music Factory, which as far as I can tell is solely designed to separate extremely rich parents from their money in the hopes that their young daughter will become a pop star.

Good. Fucking. Luck.

Now, onto music that really matters.

In my previous post, I detailed an arrangement of Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" that Kelly Izzo and I did recently, and I thought I'd share it with you all. It's... an interesting treatment, to say the least. Thankfully Kelly liked it, and was even keen on the idea of translating the color palette used in the arrangement to her upcoming musical I'm orchestrating, Alice Unraveled.

Love For Sale Arrangement by Michael Hart

But in ADDITION to that, she gave me the OK to post a scratch arrangement of the opening song I did. The song's called "Space And Time", and admittedly, this was the throwaway arrangement. Our independent study teacher who's working closely with us on the project asked me to create two arrangements for the song. The first I worked my heart out on, crafting a guitar driven arrangement with string quartet (actually, more like string orchestra... I love my big string patches, ok?), tubular bells, distorted drums, the whole nine yards. It was big, it was bombastic, I thought it worked really well as an opener to a musical.

The day before I have to present the arrangement comes, and I realize that I still had the entire other one to do. I had spent much more time crafting the first arrangement, I completely forgot about the second! In my haste, I decided to go an entirely different route. Removing the guitars entirely, I decided to make the piece spacious, with a small palette of instruments. Held synth chords, a lead reminiscent of a clarinet, glockenspiel, and eventually bass synth, drums and an extra synth pad painted a picture DRASTICALLY different than my first arrangement.

Of course, my teacher and Kelly liked the second one better. And after listening through again, I'm inclined to agree. It's still very much a work in progress; the glockenspiel gets painful and piercing at points, and the wedge form of the arrangement clashed with Kelly's original interpretation of the song. She thinks the ending is still too big. Personally, I like it, but I agree in the context of the musical it's entirely wrong. We're going back to the drawing board relatively soon to finish this up and dig into the rest of the musical, so I'll have updates as they come.

Space And Time by Michael Hart

I also have details about a new movie I've been tasked to score. At least, I think I have. More on that in the coming weeks.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Music I've Been Listening to Recently: A Study in Eclecticism

I'm sorry that it's been over a week since I've posted here. I wanted to have an enormous post with tons and tons of pictures and video and everything from my recital, but none of my visual people have gotten anything to me yet. In time, dear readers, in time. I'm going to hound them all this week. As for everyone who came to watch it... from the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much. It went off incredibly well, you were all dancing like it was keeping you alive, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences thus far that I've done. You guys (and gals) fucking rock.

As for this past week and a half? There's been a few releases kicking around that I've been enjoying, the main one being Protest The Hero's new album, Scurrilous.

Yes, it sounds like the unholy bastard child that would be created if Queen, Yngwie Malmsteen and a prog-metal demon could somehow procreate with each other all at once, but fuck if it doesn't SHRED. The album's entirely over the top in delivery and composition, and there's roughly zero subtlety to be found here. It never seems self-indulgent though. Pretentious, maybe, if you don't get the band's sense of humor. For me, at least, it sounds like a band displaying a big middle finger to everyone who's ever had anything negative to say about their sound, which is essentially what they did on this album; they took all the elements that people said they didn't like and did them tenfold. Nary a second goes by without some lead line noodling around in the left ear, time changes and off-kilter riffs abound, and the vocal delivery is the epitome of balls out, cock flapping in the breeze bombastic-ness; and yet, it all comes together in a cohesive, entirely enjoyable package. Detractors of this band decry this album because there's almost no screaming on it; fuck them. This album doesn't need it. For standout tracks, check out "Hair-Trigger", "Tandem", "Tapestry" and for the hilarity of it all, "Sex Tapes", which includes one of my new favorite lyrical lines: "The Jonas generation's got rings wrapped round their dicks". Nobody said they didn't have a sense of humor.

Exhibit A: Sense of humor.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Avril Lavigne's new album Goodbye Lullaby released on March 2nd and immediately started fights between those who miss her woe-is-me so called "introspective, healing" songwriting and those who, yknow, AREN'T stuck in the early 2000s when it was ok to wear a tie over scene clothing.

Ok, maybe it's the grumpy music major in me, or the brainwashing our program does to make us think that Ke$ha is a legitimate artist, but Avril's lead single "What The Hell" is fucking great. I mean, sure, it's a little bit asinine in terms of lyrical content and it's as subtle as that scene from Inception where a train comes barreling down the road from nowhere (non-subtle seems to be a theme of this post). However, the hooks are catchy as all hell, the backing track is impossible to NOT bop your head along to and it arcs and flows like every other pop song, but still works. It's refreshing to hear a pop tune that's not done entirely out of a synthesizer for once.

Then there's the rest of the album. Our old friend I-V-vi-IV shows up in OVER HALF of the compositions (for those of you who don't speak composer, these lads do a good job of describing it) and there's generally nothing that sticks out as a good song. "Smile" perhaps has a bit of saving grace, but that could be more in part of Max Martin's writing contribution than anything else. Actually, scratch that, "Smile" is awesome. The rest? Nothing sticks out at all. "Push" tries too hard to be Alanis Morissette and once we get past "I Love You" (again saved somewhat by Martin) the album blends together with that damn chord progression and arrangements that don't do enough to distinguish one tune from another. Avril dropped the ball again, it seems. Damn shame. If the rest of the album was like "What The Hell" we could've had a more angsty Kelly Clarkson on our hands, which is never a bad thing.

Finally, Sunday night saw Deerhoof playing at SUNY Purchase, which was actually the first show Purchase put on I was able to attend that I was actually excited about (still pissed I missed Caspian), save for perhaps seeing Des Ark the previous Sunday. Deerhoof was fun, if incredibly inconsistent with songs that they played, but their support band was phenomenal.

They're called Buke And Gass, and they blew me away. With only 2 members and a whole lot of octave pedals, they crafted a wonderful set that, while still steeped in indie traditions, broke the mold a bit and actually had some interesting compositions to be heard. I'm currently making my way through my first listen of their debut album, Riposte, and it's great. Definitely pick it up. I was very happy that they turned out to be a great live time, after Thursday's disappointment with the Dropkick Murphys.

Not that I don't still enjoy them, they put on a great live show... but maybe 3 times in 3 years is enough for a while.

Since I've been silent for too long, I promise to post at least once more this week, probably on Wednesday. Perhaps twice if I have enough to say and get my recital footage and pictures. I'll have more new compositions for you too! Kelly Izzo and I were tasked to do a version of Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" that I'm sure you'll all be interested in hearing. I'll put it this way: we weren't allowed to listen to it, and she sent me just a vocal melody. No chords, no harmonic information, not even to click. It's coming out incredibly weird... imagine Cole Porter reimagined as Shadows Of The Sun era Ulver.

Happy reading.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ladies, Gentleman... Welcome To The End Of The World

It's really happening today.

Waking up from an awful dream about your recital going wrong THE DAY of your recital isn't the best way to start the day. That, and the fact I woke up an hour before I slated my alarm to go off. And went to bed quite late. I'm running on pure adrenaline right now... I don't think I've been this wired in my entire life.

It's weird to see something you've been planning nonstop since the beginning of the semester finally come to fruition. I couldn't have done it without a ton of help from many people. My neighbors, for painting me an awesome abstract mural, Rachel for the posters, people helped me book tech, book rooms, get INTO rehearsal rooms, move gear...

You never really know how much work goes into one of these until you take a step back and really take a look at the scope of the project. This must be why acceptance speeches always leave out crucial people. There's so many who are important.

Like right now. Most importantly, I left out my ensemble, who've put up with me for the past month trying to schedule rehearsals and delivering music late and changing times to rehearse 3 or 4 times before they happen. Through it all, they just keep on playing, and keep on dancing. It makes me proud to not only call them wonderful musicians, but great friends as well. Thank you guys so much.

As for me? I'm going to sit here and freak out for a while until I can go get a sandwich.

See you all at 8.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Posters and Oscars

I haven't felt this good in months. It's incredible what circumstances can do to change your mood. It's as simple as seeing the sun after a weekend of rain, or getting one of the most awesome posters I've ever seen from the immensely talented Rachel Edelman. I told her to go free with this one, and had no idea what I was going to get. I had even less of an idea when I opened her email with the first draft of the poster, and received only this message inside:

"It's made out of INTESTINES."

Lo and fucking behold, it is.

But enough about my exploits. THE OSCARS JUST OCCURRED.

Sunday's ceremony was rife with boring banter between co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco, some truly bizarre presenters and the first ever dropping of the F-bomb in Oscar history (from a PURCHASE alum, no less. Represent). For me, the most intriguing award of the night has always been the "Best Original Score" award; while still bogged down in Academy bureaucracy bullshit, the category gives composers who worked their hearts out on less than stellar movies a chance at recognition. Last year's award went to composer Michael Giacchino for "Up", which, in my humble opinion, was one of the only things the Academy's gotten right in the past 5 years. Giacchino's score plays with rousing, uplifting themes orchestrated throughout various ensembles, maintaining a sense of childlike whimsey and wonder while still portraying a depth of character and being incredibly mature at the same time.

This year's winner? Nine Inch Nails and his producer.

Surprised? I'll admit, I was too. At the same time, though, it seemed entirely expected. "The Social Network" really only had competition from "Inception" this year. Alexandre Desplat's score for "The King's Speech" was too tame, too safe, much too much like his soundtrack for "The Queen", a former Oscar contender. "127 Hours" I have admittedly not heard, but it seemed like the movie was thrown on the ballot simply for the sake of having another movie nominated for Best Picture. Nobody expected it to win anything. As for John Powell's "How To Train Your Dragon"? Dreamworks movie. If it isn't Pixar, the Academy usually doesn't care.

Which really left the score battle between an absolute heavyweight and a couple of newbies to scoring movies. Hans Zimmer left us with one of the most iconic scores of last year with his work on "Inception"; you couldn't walk anywhere without hearing people shout BRAAAAAHHHHHMMMMMM in imitation of the film's french horn blasts. He created a rousing score that served to make Christopher Nolan's high concept and higher budget as intense as it could possibly become and redefined what the term "bombastic" could mean. Hell, it even has its own button.

Then we have "The Social Network", a score that couldn't be more different than "Inception" if it was recorded entirely on ukulele. Trent Reznor and producer Atticus Ross composed what amounts to a whole lot of electronic mood music. Without the context of the movie, the music is somewhat banal and repetitive, following a very familiar ebb-flow pattern and employing the same couple of approaches to each track: lets drench everybody in reverb and throw in some distorted synths for TENSION. And piano for RELEASE. And oh, we have these brooding dark synths for... well, BROODING MOMENTS. Honestly, did you expect anything else from a man who was responsible for, "I want to fuck you like an animal"?

But put the score in the context of "The Social Network"... ah. NOW I understand it. In the movie's portrayal of betrayal, greed, fame and misfortune, the score ceases to become melodramatic and boring; instead, it becomes gripping, evocative, and ultimately the only thing that could've worked in the context of the movie. Reznor and Ross's score succeeds in the way that it is TRULY movie music, composed with the exact vibe of the picture in question. Ultimately, that's why "The Social Network" deserved to win. As music... whatever. As FILM music: nearly flawless.

In closing, as for the original songs? FUCK Randy Newman. You Got A Friend In Me was great... FIFTEEN YEARS AGO. Talk about over the hill songwriters.