I’ve previously written music for film, as a collaboration with drummer and percussionist Stu Brown, in our duo Herschel 36. This was a commission from Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema to write music for the 1929 German silent documentary “Wunder Der Schöpfung”. This was a massively challenging and enjoyable project, and the music that resulted can be heard and downloaded here.
“As a composer I’m always looking for something new to take on.”
It became clear to me that if I just sat waiting to be asked to write something to accompany a film, then I might be waiting a long time. I decided I needed to kick something off myself, so I started to search on YouTube, discovering a huge world of silent film. I shortlisted a number of films, all of which were public domain – which basically means the legal rights have lapsed over time – this will make any future performances to film much easier to do. Late in 2020, I did some exploratory composing to a short section of a few of these films, including the 1915 Alice In Wonderland. I liked the possibilities of this story, its weird and fantastic characters, the darkness, magic, surrealism and nonsense. The themes of escapism and absurdity at the heart of the story seem particularly fitting for these times, and the elements of bewilderment, disorientation, and not knowing what’s coming next, are perfect for adventurous improvising musicians to work with.
When I was young, most of my favourite books were fantasy or fantastical in nature. Whilst I avoided Alice in Wonderland initially, perhaps as it was somewhat unfashionable, when I did read it I loved it. Later in life, I read about something called Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, a medical condition more correctly known as dysmetropsia. I then realised I already knew of this – the strange hallucinations and distortions I had experienced on several occasions when feverish as a child.
“Much composition to film is written with no scope for improvisation.”
Whilst new musical scores for existing films are nothing new, there are not many as jazz musicians embracing the possibilities as there are electronic musicians, rock bands, or ‘serious composers’. There is a lot to offer here, as by our nature we jazzers know how to make a wide spectrum of sound and expression from our instruments, and explore a variety of approaches from unusual angles and different starting points. A key aim I have in mind is that the music will stand on its own without the film – yet also complement and elevate it in the way the best scores have throughout history. This music will be a set of contemporary music featuring jazz musicians, which works with the film, but also without. This music won’t be a subservient and over-reverent accompaniment, and certainly not background music.
Stay tuned for a look at the melodic themes and ideas which the music is based around.