Monday, August 13, 2012

Film as Musical Inspiration

Today's favorite film post comes from award-winning composer and concert pianist Amy Williams.

I have always loved films for many, many reasons (and not usually for the music…)—brilliant acting, smart humor, unnerving plot twists, nail-biting suspense, and sheer cinematic beauty.

Over the past ten years (and finishing up this year), I have been composing a series of chamber music pieces entitled “Cineshape.” The films that were the inspiration for these pieces are, in order: Chunhyang, Time Code, The Lives of Others, Run Lola Run, and Rope. The influence of the films is not programmatic, involving a retelling of the original plot. Rather it is more of a structural approach, in which I translate particular camera techniques (close-up, fade out, zoom in, wide angle) or I model formal designs (montage, climax/denouement, divided screen) or I rework particular motifs from the films.

For example, Cineshape 1, inspired by the stunning Korean film, Chunhyang, models the traditional folk story-telling genre (called pansori) that the film is built around.  In the film, there is a narrator-singer accompanied by a lone drummer.  In the piece, the duo is reconfigured as an alto flutist and percussionist.  Although the narrative arc of the film is modeled, building to a climactic moment near the end, none of the film’s intense storyline becomes musical material. Rather, a more discreet quality of the film—breath and breathlessness—becomes the singular sonic focus of the piece.

Link to performance of Cineshape 2

The trio of characters from The Lives of Others is re-formed in Cineshape 3 with a flutist, cellist and percussionist.  The central theme from the film is consistent: an objective observer (one instrument) causing transformations—sometimes subtle, sometimes monumental—in other characters (musical materials). From Rope, with its famous “single take,” I first wrote a long melodic line that runs through the whole piece and then orchestrated around it.  I also attempted to maintain the tense atmosphere of the film in the piece.

There have been many films that I wanted to use but found their structures too complex to translate into music (Pulp Fiction, Memento, Babel). Perhaps my first opera will be the appropriate medium for one of these….

 Amy Williams is a pianist and composer of contemporary music.  She has appeared at major festivals around the world as a composer and frequently performs and records with the Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo.  She is currently Assistant Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of Pittsburgh and has previously taught at Bennington College and Northwestern University.

Amazon Links to CDs
Stravinsky in Black and White
Edgard Varese: Ameriques; Morton Feldman: Piece for Four Pianos; Five Pianos
Ginastera: Popol Vuh / Cantata Para America Magica [Super Audio Cd - Dsd
Nancarrow: Studies & Solos (transcribed for duo piano)
Nancarrow: As Fast as Possible

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