Today is a special treat for me, because I get to introduce you to my friend and collaborator Kent Smith. I met Kent through Continuum Arts and we’ve been itching to work together on a film ever since.
Kent’s passion for film and musical sensibilities are the perfect combination of ninja and secret agent. When Rachel Taylor pitched Avarice to me, I knew it was the perfect project for Kent to score. Don’t believe me? I asked him some probing questions below, read on and see for yourself:
How did you get started scoring film?
Ever since I started playing music, I have had people tell me that I should do music for films. I was the frontman in a band for several years, and owned and operated a local recording studio. I saw the writing on the wall regarding recording engineering and mixing. I realized that sooner than later every person and their brother would have a recording setup in their bedroom. The era of the professional project recording studio was coming to an end.
That was about 10 years ago. I pulled out of recording other artists, quit the band, and went to grad school for MIS (Management of Information Systems.) After about a year, despite a 4.0 GPA and a successful internship, I realized that this was simply not a world I wanted to resign myself to. I picked up and moved out to Los Angeles to study Film Scoring.
If you could go back in time and score any film, which would it be?
My, that is a difficult question. Most of my favorite films have scores that I consider to be quintessential to the films themselves. Part of what makes auteurs like Hitchcock, Felinni, Kubrick, Aronofsky, Malick, Mann, Coppola, Soderbergh, and even Fincher so impressive is the totality of their vision. Their choice of collaborators in score, is no exception. So, while I would have loved to have worked on anything from these directors, I cannot imagine replacing what was already done.
That being said, I know that one of my favorite movies growing up was Richard Donner’s Ladyhawke. I know, don’t judge me. I remember how much the medieval fantasy captured my imagination as a kid. I cannot say how much it would hold up to scrutiny now. I do remember that the last time I saw it I was struck by how atrocious the score was. It is drenched in cheesy 80’s synth. It is so dated, but it is made worse by its completely anachronistic nature. Scoring a period piece with anachronistic instrumentation is a creative choice that should only be entered into after careful deliberation, if at all. So, it would be awfully fun to revisit Ladyhawke with a better score. (But I’d really need to see it again first to make sure it is not actually a terrible movie.)
Do you think electronic film scores, like what Reznor (The Social Network) is doing, will stand the test of time?
There are certainly many examples of electronic scores in the past that simply don’t hold up (see previous answer). That being said, others really have survived despite their dated quality. It is a pretty subjective thing, but I would say that some of Vangelis’ work still holds up quite well: Blade Runner in particular. I could certainly understand an argument to the contrary, however.
I think about the score of another Ridley Scott picture, Legend by Tangeringe Dream. The film was re-released later with an orchestral score that Scott had originally commissioned for the film. The comparison is very interesting because Tangerine Dream’s electronic score still works nicely. It is also, nevertheless, instantly dated in its sound. I feel that the orchestral score, ultimately feels much more timeless, and is, therefore, the better choice.
There is a difference now, however. I feel that music is in a different place now than in the past. In short, electronica has pushed the envelope about as far as it can sonically. We are in a post IDM, era. Where do we go after Autechre, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Amon Tobin, and Richard Devine? I am not saying that there will be no more innovation, but ultimately, music has begun to look backward for fresh sounds rather than forward. Sure we have guys like BT who are exploring things like metric convolution, but the sonic results are subtle enough that the untrained ear won’t necessarily even recognize the amazing innovation.
The point is that, nowadays, innovation is subtle and fractional. I believe that, as a result, modern electronically derived music is less in danger of sounding dated in the future. This is dependent entirely on the composer, of course. If one listens to NIN’s The Fragile which was released in 1999, it sounds more advanced, and sonically challenging than just about anything being done today. This is because Reznor manipulates real-world, analog instruments and recorded sounds with electronic tools. Rather than making music that is one-hundred-percent artificially derived, he melds the organic with the electronic.
I think a further proof is to listen to the music of Depeche Mode. Listen to Violator from 1990 and you will likely say that it sounds kind of 80’s-ish. Listen to Ultra, however, from 1997 and you would be hard pressed to tell whether it was released fifteen years ago or last week. Their most recent album, along with The Editors’ most recent album are both actually immensely more 80’s sounding than their earlier releases because of the retrospection I mentioned earlier.
Do you think there’s any unexplored territory left in film scores?
It seems that when I begin to think this way, someone always surprises me. I hope that this never stops. That being said, I think that we need to re-evaluate the idea that new is always better. In the end, that ultimately leads to the destruction of the medium. Look at aleatoricism, for example. I do think that film music presents the most freedom in the musical world. It blurs the genre lines. Any combination of any style and instrumentation is accepted as long as it supports the film. I wish that the classical world would take some cues from it. Guys like Steve Reich and Glenn Branca are still the exception rather than the rule in that world.
How do you keep your scores from getting in the way of the film?
Less is more, Less is more, Less is more. When in doubt, err on the side of silence. There has never been a well shot, well acted, well written scene in a film that was utterly ruined by not having musical accompaniment. The opposite, sadly, is certainly not true.
Want to hear some of Kent’s work? Skip over to his website, http://kentsmith.net, and do some clicking, or check out this trailer for Memphis film Daylight Fades: