Some months ago, SN Variations released his soundtrack for The Have Nots, the new movie by acclaimed German director Florian Hoffmeister. Following listening to it, we had a chat with the author, the brilliant composer Adrian Corker.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Adrian! How are you?
Adrian Corker: Good, thanks, even though it is Sunday and I have been working since before 9!
Chain D.L.K.: Before focusing on your new OST for The Have-Not’s, let’s try to introduce you to our readers… First of all, how did you get closer to movie scores? Any movie or soundtrack you fell in love with that influenced your choice?
Adrian Corker: I grew up with the movie and TV music of the 70s, where for a brief moment there was a fair bit of experimentation in mainstream and non-mainstream cinema. I think some of the language of post-war new music had filtered down. Electronics was creeping in, too. It was the era of sci-fi and dystopian movies, so there were generally some strange sounds coming from these films. Then, the blockbuster thing started with films like Jaws and Star Wars, and there was another shift. I was always fascinated by music, when I didn’t know what a sound or sounds were in it or how they were made. There was a lot of film music that I knew before I had seen the film. For some reason, I had a book of film scores notated for piano when I was learning it, and I was drawn to the theme of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I l learned to play it on piano, which is strange when you think of the original instrumentation. Maybe I had heard the original somewhere. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop was also definitely in my head from an early age, as was the Jerry Goldsmith score to the first Planet of the Apes movie. These days, I don’t really listen to film scores much.
Chain D.L.K.: Some listeners who don’t get closer to this interesting branch of music argue that an OST doesn’t say anything about a composer’s personality… how would you reply to such a controversial point of view?
Adrian Corker: It depends on the composer’s relationship with the director or production. Most of the directors I work with trust you and the process of collaborating with them to do your own thing. There is always a pressure to create a sound/music that works with the visual world of the film, but I don’t think that means you lose your personality in the process. Anyway, many musicians play my music, so I think it the result of many personalities. There is, though, work in film and TV where the process has been derived from advertising. The language of pitching, etc…I think temp music, even though a necessary evil, is also overused in the process of creating the music and also can shut down possibilities. Another aspect of soundtracks that lacks personality maybe comes from some use of generic sounds, often from large sample libraries that are Midi based. When I write, I don’t really even use the time grid on the computer for writing, since it again leads to certain assumptions about meter and time that I don’t like. People are used to hearing limited articulations of players sampled and then triggered via Midi. This definitely feels lacking in something that I look for in music. I don’t mind it if that is the point of the composition. People do amazing stuff with Midi, but I haven’t heard lots of it in film.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the most upsetting aspect of composing a soundtrack?
Adrian Corker: Well, I wouldn’t say it is upsetting, more a reality, but you spend large amounts of time on your own in front of Apple monitors.
Chain D.L.K.: …and what’s the most appealing one?
Adrian Corker: Definitely the collaborative aspect of it, and the ability to go anywhere musically. In my own music, I am interested in exploring a smaller musical area sound wise or harmonically that is hard to always fit into film, but in my film music it can change a lot stylistically. I enjoy working in rooms with players. I have built up close working relationships with a number of musicians who allow me to try out some of my vague early ideas with them. To sit with a really good player and to be able to explore the possibilities of an instrument is very enjoyable and a constant learning process. Much more so than in front of the computer.
Chain D.L.K.: When you write for a movie, what’s your favorite starting point…the plot, the score or the watching of a scene?
Adrian Corker: It depends on the project. Scripts give you ideas of the narrative, but little of the visual language. On the other hand, I think writing to the picture without having a good idea first creates generic music that works just to enforce what is visually already there. I prefer to write at a tangent to the picture. Some of the most interesting pieces come from not writing to the picture, but maybe from an improvisation or a small fragment of sound you have had sitting around for a while. Good directors/ editors, if you give them music early in the process, will also find unusual uses in the picture for your music that you wouldn’t yourself have chosen. John Zorn has two rules for writing film music. He watches the picture once, and never takes meetings. I think I understand what he means.
Chain D.L.K.: You’ve already worked with Florian Hoffmeister before. How did you meet? Have you ever discussed the importance of music for a movie?
Adrian Corker: I was working with the late Antonia Bird on a project called the Hamburg Cell that Florian was DOP for. We meet at an Edinburgh film festival where the film was being shown, and he happened to be making his first feature film, Three Degrees Colder.
He asked me and my then writing partner Paul Conboy if we wanted to write the music, and it went from there. I started writing on my own a number of years ago, and my friendship and collaboration with Florian continued. Musically, the music done on my own feels very different and was the real start of my own music for me. We talked about The Have-Not’s for ten years on and off, but in the end, time and resources create limitations that shape the music very quickly.
Chain D.L.K.: How did your previous collaborations help the work for the OST of The Have-Not’s?
Adrian Corker: I had worked with or knew most of the musicians I worked with, so I had a sense of what they could do. The process, however, was kind of a new one. We notated cells of musical ideas, some of which had come from experimenting with recordings onto acetate and then made into lock grooves. These were then played by a String Quartet of violin, cello, viola da gamba and double bass. I then took the recordings away and heavily edited the material into the score.
Chain D.L.K.: Even though I know the plot, our readers might like to know something more about this movie…can you summarize its theme?
Adrian Corker: It’s from a German novel, The Have-Not’s by Katherina Hacker, and it’s about loss. Three interlocking narratives framed by 9/11 that all deal with different types of loss over different places, times and people.
Chain D.L.K.: Did the director take an active role in the making of the music?
Adrian Corker: He did. He told me what he didn’t like, and we had a few discussions about that! He lives in Berlin, so there was a lot of virtual communication via email or Skype. Whenever he sat in the room with me, things moved quickly and in interesting directions, something I generally find to be the case.
Chain D.L.K.: Some of the performing musicians are long-lasting collaborators of yours…how did you involve them in the project?
Adrian Corker: I would record fairly loosely with Lucy Railton and Aisha Orazbayeva at home. Nothing notated, just trying out different things one to one. Pieces like Flicker came from this. Lucy also played cello in the quartet. I record soloists in my studio at home; for bigger ensembles, I go to other places.
Chain D.L.K.: The introductory words attached to the release say that this score marks a new phase of your explorations of harmonic resonance and material decay…can you tell us more about this aspect?
Adrian Corker: Someone else said that, not me! I guess in a nutshell, the music isn’t always chromatic and uses some extended playing techniques from the instruments. I was interested in the process of moving sound between different materials in the compositional process. So many edited fragments of an acoustic instrument or oscillator were cut onto acetate as lock grooves.
I have a friend, Graeme Durham, who has a cutting lathe in his living room, which allowed me to experiment with the acetates.
These were then recorded one by one back into the computer, but since acetate is softer than manufactured vinyl, you get the erosion of the lock grooves very quickly, and a buildup of unpredictable noise as the sound is carved away by the stylus. I then edited these into arrangements on the computer, which I then recorded more acoustic parts around or notated on paper for pieces that were performed by the string quartet. I like the idea of something starting in a room, then going into a computer, then onto acetate, then into the computer again, then onto paper, then into a room again and then back into the computer and then finally vinyl.
Chain D.L.K.: One of my favorite tunes on the album is “Index”…how did you make it?
Adrian Corker: See above. Lucy Railton played some double-stopped cello drones that were turned into lock grooves, that wore out then were edited into the final arrangement. This track isn’t in the film, it was used on the trailer, but fragments of it appear in other tracks played by the quartet. From what I remember, she also prepared her cello by deadening the strings with a cork.
Chain D.L.K.: The album also includes a beautiful piano track by Laurence Crane and an excellent rework of an older track of yours by Portico’s Jack Wyllie…how did you and Florian integrate these different entries into the soundtrack?
Adrian Corker: Florian wanted something gentle and more lyrical at the center of the film and had played me some piano pieces. I thought this would be better coming from someone else, since I am not interested in writing for or playing the piano at the moment (I am not really a pianist, either), and Lucy Railton suggested Laurence Crane. I tried a few different pieces with the pianist Mark Knoop, including some Scelsi, and we settled on Andrew Renton Becomes An International Art Critic. I went down to his studio, and we recorded it in about 15 minutes. An excerpt of Charged remixed by Circle Trap is in the film, but for the soundtrack, I asked Jack if he would like to remix the remix.
Chain D.L.K.: There are also two tracks featuring the skilled violinist Aisha Orabayeva, which don’t belong to the soundtrack…is there some hidden connection with The Have-Not’s? Why did you include them in this release?
Adrian Corker: Aisha, like Lucy, is a friend. Lucy introduced me to Aisha in the first place. She couldn’t play in the quartet, and I wanted her on the score in some way. We tried some pieces together, but Faustina that she did herself and I recorded was the one that worked for the film. Florian also had the John Cage Experience No 2 piece that he had heard sung by Robert Wyatt as a central musical idea in the film. I knew Aisha sings as well as being a great violinist, and thought it would be interesting if she did it. Something about the song sung by a woman worked in an interesting way with the themes of the film.
Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress?
Adrian Corker: I am in the middle of writing the music for an epic noir/western called Tin Star written by Rowan Joffe, whose father, Roland Joffe, directed the Mission and the Killing Fields. We just had the orchestra session a few days ago, and I m currently finishing these pieces off. On my label SN Variations, there will be another release in March or April, which is a recording of Two4 by John Cage for violin and sho, performed by Aisha again and Naomi Sato. Finally, there will be an album of improvisations for saxophone and oscillators with myself and Jack Wyllie from Portico Quartet.
Visit Adrian Corker on the web at: www.adriancorker.com