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Williams inspired ex-Police drummer to learn about orchestration (a.k.a. Film music: art or craft?)


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Apparently Stewart Copeland, film composer and former drummer of my all-time favorite band The Police, realized his shortcomings as an orchestrator after listening to a score by my all-time favorite composer:

I've been very blessed by 20 years as a working stiff hack film composer. For all those years, mostly I didn't have time to orchestrate myself; I hired guys and pulled up sounds on my synthesizer. I thought I was orchestrating it. I wrote with my fake oboe and fake violins, and handed it to guys who orchestrated it. I would listen; F***, that doesn't sound much better than my synth. Then I listened to a John Williams score, swaying and heaving: that's what an orchestra is supposed to sound like, not just a row of notes, which is what I'm getting.... As soon as I had time, I figured out how to do it. By then I had already been reading my own scores, studying the masters, seeing the vast range of dynamics they put in.

Another quote from the same article, regarding the 'art' of film music:

Above that is film scoring, which takes you... into every kind of music. Period music, space age, techno, happy, sad, every form of the human condition that needs music, a film composer has to go there and use his skills to figure out how to create that emotional cultural atmosphere, and to order. You need to have skills, know how to use an orchestra, program a synthesizer. It's probably the widest skill set of any musician. But the problem is it's all craft, no art. It's deeply engrossing, I love it, but it's not art. It's in the service of the artist, who's the director. It's his art.

In opera, the composer owns everything, controls everything, makes every artistic decision. Everything is in service of the music. It's the composer who's driving the ship.

Source: The Washington Post - 'Readers and players: Stewart Copeland on classical music

In case you're not familiar with Copeland's filmography:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004841/

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Copeland is cool -- both his music and his persona. I was surprised when I saw him on STORAGE WARS recently, apparently as an expert on drum kits that one of the contestants knew privately.

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But the problem is its all craft, no art. Its deeply engrossing, I love it, but its not art. Its in the service of the artist, whos the director. Its his art.

Heavily disagree with this.

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But the problem is its all craft, no art. Its deeply engrossing, I love it, but its not art. Its in the service of the artist, whos the director. Its his art.

Heavily disagree with this.

Agree with your disagreement. Copeland betrays here a sentiment that is common among classical musicians - that music is in its "highest" form when it is the central focus of a performance of any kind. The idea that music can participate in a multimedia experience, and therefore be subordinated to other elements, is one that people like Copeland find extremely unpalatable, that it somehow "cheapens" the music.

I would counter that the fusion of music with film actually enhances the impact of the music precisely because there are other elements that add, not detract, from its meaning. And I say this as a classical composer of opera myself, like Copeland. Much of the brilliance of Williams, for example, lies in his ability to key into those other elements of the film and translate them into musical terms, which makes the music feel like a natural, often inevitable, fit with the film, even if one is not consciously aware of its presence.

I think it's fair to say that this is what the best film music does, and so it succeeds in its purpose. An opera is more about the music than is a film. They're different media. Copeland makes the mistake of evaluating one kind of music by the standards of another. Not art? Please. Some would say that about many modern operas.

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I don't think film music *has* to be all craft and no art. It certainly is all too often, because it's harder to do "art" within the confines of scoring a film. But the big film composers certainly have made an art out of it. Korngold may have ultimately disliked his Hollywood era, but that didn't stop him from comparing his film scores to operas and reusing them in a concert hall context. The likes of Williams and Goldsmith surely have written scores that qualify as art - I would go so far to say that at least most of their scores have at least a strong "art" component.

Mozart doodled tons of pieces that he probably didn't spend much time on or give a second thought to. Are they on the same level as his masterpieces? Hardly. But they're still quality pieces, and I don't think you can deny them "art" status just because they're not as carefully thought out. By the same standards, film composers for striving to write good music instead of only supporting a film may not have full control over the overall dramatic arc of their scores, but as long as they produce something of quality that is clearly their work (as opposed to generic "underscore" or just a copy of a temp track assembled by a director or one of his assistants) can stand on its own, I'm fully willing to call it art.

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The problem is what definition one would use for art.

Is something art because the artist set out to create it as art? Or can something become art, even when it was just supposed to be craft?

Is writing a score for a film the same as being commissioned and paid to paint a portrait?

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Copeland seems to suggest that the collaborative nature of film music is what denies it a status of art, but some of the most beloved works of musical art have web highly collabotaratove, whether that's Shostakpvichs (unwilling) collaborative process with the soviet government or handels collaborations with te church.

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Is writing a score for a film the same as being commissioned and paid to paint a portrait?

You could make the same craft vs art points about commissioned portrait painting. Again the art aspect would depend on how much expressive freedom the painter gets.

Copeland seems to suggest that the collaborative nature of film music is what denies it a status of art, but some of the most beloved works of musical art have web highly collabotaratove, whether that's Shostakpvichs (unwilling) collaborative process with the soviet government or handels collaborations with te church.

Or what about Michelanglo's artworks - with students involved to various degrees with tons of them.

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I absolutely appreciate where Copeland is coming from and mostly agree with him, but the buck stops at John Debny.

John Williams and his clan (Herrmann, Bernstein, Goldsmith, etc, etc,) are the altruistic artistes; the contradictions - who sometimes turned film craft into (pop) art. The director of said efforts is often left dizzied and enlightened during the process; usually awarded with coveted statuettes and such for their efforts.

Copeland ultimately seems out of his depth.

Great interview, thanks for linking.

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Again the art aspect would depend on how much expressive freedom the painter gets.

That depends. Is a 17th century painter that manages to do an almost photo realistic impression of his subject not merely showing his skill in the craft of painting? Choosing the right techniques, the right colours etc etc.

Is his work less "art" then Van Gogh, Picasso or Dali? which took a subject and made it 100% their own.

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That depends. Is a 17th century painter that manages to do an almost photo realistic impression of his subject not merely showing his skill in the craft of painting? Choosing the right techniques, the right colours etc etc.

Is his work less "art" then Van Gogh, Picasso or Dali? which took a subject and made it 100% their own.

No.

Next!

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I remember going to a talk at the University of Sussex here in the UK a few years ago .

The talk was given by an established film and tv music composer and he made the following point: he didn't consider that inspiration, or whatever you might want to term creativity, was essential to the work.

As he talked about his work, he never really referred to what we might hope to hear talked about: namely, a sense of artistry (aesthetics and ethics are inseparable) or even a 'philosophical' sense of authorship in relation to the work.

Instead, the composer spoke very prosaically and pragmatically about his work as a film music composer; of meeting a very specific requirement but not necessarily of expressing something more 'personal'.

Is the concept of art , then, in the eye of the beholder (the listener, the viewer etc?) given that it is a term that is used as value judgement ?

As I recall, JW has talked of composing music for movies as a journalistic exercise in that one works intensely on what is required by the film (rather than the script...a helpful distinction I think; the film is not the script, after all) and then moves on. There is something fascinating in this craft / art tension, that's for sure.

Here's a very insightful read about the idea of craft and I am sure it can be applied to the creative act of music composition: http://rationalist.org.uk/articles/1733/craft-works-laurie-taylor-interviews-richard-sennett

JC



Just found this interesting looking read about JW's score for Harry Potter...I guess another interesting contribution to issues of authorship, art and expressive work :)

http://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/Morgan_uncg_0154M_10678.pdf

JC

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I prefer Bernard Herrmann's philosophy - that whatever he composed, no matter how brief or buried by sound effects, was written at the highest artistic standards. He was a guy who never 'wrote down.'

Pride in one's work is an admirable quality.

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This has evolved into a very interesting discussion about art versus craft. I believe most art never sets out to be art but rather craft. For example, when da Vinci created the Mona Lisa, it was intended to be a gift from a husband to his new bride, Lisa del Giocondo - as a portrait of her. Similarly, J.S. Bach's late masterpiece "Art of the Fugue" was really to contribute a work as part of enrollment in the Society of Musical Sciences. Jerry Goldsmith stated in an interview everything he did was the best he was able to do...the result might not necessarily have been good or great but that is what he was striving for each and every time. I think the same applies to other master craftsmen like Herrmann and Williams. Regardless if it is for a poor film or concert stage, they give it their all and after some time passes, it is collectively regarded as demonstrating exceptional skill, unique, influential, moving, worth saving for posterity...art.

There is an interesting excerpt from the book, "Talks with Great Composers" where Brahms lists composers of his time that were highly regarded then but mostly forgotten now. In short, they were eclipsed by others such as Brahms himself. Such as Bungert, Nikisch, and others. It's a very interesting book if you want to hear what great artists thought about the creation of art. "Rubinstein was a great pianist; his playing always filled me with the greatest admiration. As a composer, however, he was distinctly second and often third rate. Why? Because he lacked workmanship. he had the gift of melody and his ideas are sometimes really inspired. His major works, however, are loosely thrown together and poorly constructed; he wrote operas, oratorios, concertos, symphonies, but I predict that not one of them will be performed fifty years after his death, because of the inferior craftsmanship." - Johannes Brahms

My point isn't that great creative ideas are less important than craft but rather that masterful art results from the effort placed towards achieving craftsmanship and not great art.

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E.T. is the highest form of craft, yet it's art.

Midway is a very good form of craft, I would not call it art.

My personal belief is all art is craft, but not all craft is art.

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Goldsmith also liked to quote Stravinsky: "The most important thing is the discipline - to get out of bed every morning and start working. It doesn't matter if you write one minute or 10, just the discipline to get you through matters."

Certainly a more pragmatic view that may be the secret of becoming a great craftsman in the first place.

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Didn't Williams say in that USC interview back in 2006 that our best film composers will be our best composers? Or something along those lines. I'm not sure that he is correct with that statement as there seems to be such a division between film composers and concert composers e.g. John Debney and John Adams.

I can't see the likes of Zimmer, Elfman, Desplat or Newton Howard writing "academic" concert hall music. For a start they don't have that sort of background with both Zimmer, Elfman self taught. JNH playing keyboard for Elton John. The style of music they write is an amalgamation of styles with borrowings from many composers of the past. Desplat is great film composer and has very original orchestration but his music still seems wedded to the picture much more than JW. Maybe this has something to do with technology. I recall James Horner saying something like he doesn't look at the film that often when composing ie. He wants to create a dramatic arc for the whole picture. JW does this and so does (surprisingly) Hans Zimmer.

In the film music masters I think it was Alexander Courage who said that Jerry Goldsmith worked 5am to 5pm. That seems like an awfully long day. Then again how else do you crank out hours of music in 3 weeks!

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I recall James Horner saying something like he doesn't look at the film that often when composing ie. He wants to create a dramatic arc for the whole picture. JW does this and so does (surprisingly) Hans Zimmer.

???

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JW's film music is now often played in the concert hall, so it's clear it has outgrown just being film scores. The concerts where they play his music also always sell out

I bet in 100 years that "Star Wars" will be played along some Beethoven pieces with no distinction in the genre

But he's one of the few exceptions in in film music. Most film music by lesser composers will not be remembered at all.

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And some will be rediscovered. Korngold (not just his film scores, his entire output) was all but forgotten even in Austria in the second half of the 20th century, until his works were gradually rediscovered, recorded and more and more frequently performed in concerts.

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Apparently Stewart Copeland, film composer and former drummer of my all-time favorite band The Police, realized his shortcomings as an orchestrator after listening to a score by my all-time favorite composer:

Great minds have great tastes. ;)

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I've been very blessed by 20 years as a working stiff hack film composer. For all those years, mostly I didn't have time to orchestrate myself; I hired guys and pulled up sounds on my synthesizer. I thought I was orchestrating it. I wrote with my fake oboe and fake violins, and handed it to guys who orchestrated it. I would listen; F***, that doesn't sound much better than my synth. Then I listened to a John Williams score, swaying and heaving: that's what an orchestra is supposed to sound like, not just a row of notes, which is what I'm getting.... As soon as I had time, I figured out how to do it. By then I had already been reading my own scores, studying the masters, seeing the vast range of dynamics they put in.

Hans Zimmer's scores make me heave, too.

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"It's all art." - The Koray

Not really. I agree with Joey's statement that all art is craft but not all craft is art. Something like music and film requires a technical skill but more importantly a creative one.

If we're discussing composition, I would say it's pretty much all art. Copeland says film music isn't art because it belongs to the director... well that can't be more untrue. If it was all the director, then he wouldn't need a composer, or an editor, or a cinematographer, etc.

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There are plenty of auteur filmmakers; but I meant specifically crediting someone else's work to the director. A film score may be created under the restrictions or guide of something or someone, but it's still a personal creation.

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Very few directors actually write their own music. Many more interfere with the music written by the composer, often ruining the composer's musical concept. There's certainly much more art about Goldsmith's original Alien score than what ended up in the movie.

And then there is a lot of quality music written by composers with only rough guidance by the directors and producers. Not so much these days - we're pretty much getting into what David Newman lamented at a discussion last year: (paraphrasing in my own context) Hollywood today doesn't allow you to really compose music anymore, instead you have to write more or less generic ambience. But certainly there's enough of the composers' vision in scores like The Sea Hawk, Ben-Hur or CE3K.

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Yeah, I don't quite subscribe to the auteur theory.

It can be a somewhat useful shortcut for critics. as far as finding thematic or aesthetic patterns in the work, but that kind of thing doesn't apply only to directors and it doesn't have anything to do with the creative process itself. Even Godard admitted it was bullshit.

The only possible exceptions I can think of would be animators, a filmmaker like Don Hertzfeldt who produces, directs, writes, acts/narrates, and draws and photographs every frame himself, with apparently limited collaboration in editorial and sound.

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As much as I admire Steward Copeland, it seems he is falling in the old simplistic trap that measures art with the amount of freedom the artist got. This is entirely irrelevant and he should know better. As is the debate between art and craft. One can't produce art without knowing the craft. And then is all craft art? No, but time will tell what was and what wasn't.

If Steward C. still feels to this day that he doesn't express himself artistically in his work for film and that it feels more to him like a craft than an art form, one can only respect his feeling. Incidently it is not impossible that John Williams shares the feeling. It doesn't mean they are right or wrong. It's just how they feel and how they see their place in the history of music. I would say this is rather humble of them.

Is writing music for film an art? You bet it is!

Is writing bad music for film still an art? That is the question!

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Apparently Stewart Copeland, film composer and former drummer of my all-time favorite band The Police, realized his shortcomings as an orchestrator after listening to a score by my all-time favorite composer:

Great minds have great tastes. ;)

Didn't SC do both "Rumblefish", and "Highlander II"? I guess he didn't do that badly, then. They don't call him "the rythmatist" for nothing...

I'd love to hear a Stewart Copeland/Vinnie Colaiuta team-up project.

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"It's all art." - The Koray

Not really. I agree with Joey's statement that all art is craft but not all craft is art. Something like music and film requires a technical skill but more importantly a creative one.

If we're discussing composition, I would say it's pretty much all art. Copeland says film music isn't art because it belongs to the director... well that can't be more untrue. If it was all the director, then he wouldn't need a composer, or an editor, or a cinematographer, etc.

You see it too B&W. Auteurship is about having enough saying, involvement, personal input and influence on each aspect of filmmaking .... it's not about doing everything yourself, which BTW is not even allowed in the US.

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If Steward C. still feels to this day that he doesn't express himself artistically in his work for film and that it feels more to him like a craft than an art form, one can only respect his feeling. Incidently it is not impossible that John Williams shares the feeling. It doesn't mean they are right or wrong. It's just how they feel and how they see their place in the history of music.

Agree 100%. Don't have any links on me, but JW often says things in interviews along the lines of "As film composers we write in service to the film, and we are lucky when ideas that we've written for the screen can find a second life in the concert hall."

Is writing music for film an art? You bet it is!

Agree again. Although, one could maintain that something is "an art" without actually considering it to be "Art," in the way that you might say that, e.g. there's "an art" of negotiating, even if a business deal isn't itself art. :)

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"It's all art." - The Koray

Not really. I agree with Joey's statement that all art is craft but not all craft is art. Something like music and film requires a technical skill but more importantly a creative one.

If we're discussing composition, I would say it's pretty much all art. Copeland says film music isn't art because it belongs to the director... well that can't be more untrue. If it was all the director, then he wouldn't need a composer, or an editor, or a cinematographer, etc.

You see it too B&W. Auteurship is about having enough saying, involvement, personal input and influence on each aspect of filmmaking .... it's not about doing everything yourself, which BTW is not even allowed in the US.

I'm not talking about auteurship here. I'm talking about regarding film music as art and more specifically Copeland's statement that it all is credited to the director.

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