Clint Mansell: Aronofsky, Reznor and Me, Part Two.

Part two of this in-depth interview with film score genius Clint Mansell delves further into his relationship with Director Darren Aronofsky.
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Okay. So did Darren ask you for specific things when you started work on Requiem?
Well when I got to know him he hadn’t got a film made, so our relationship grew out of just talking about what we were gonna do when we got the chance. We worked on Pi for a year, and we were really happy with the outcome, but when we started Requiem Darren said it would be a very different film - it’s much more of a fable than Pi was, Pi is a very contemporary film, with a contemporary soundtrack and score. He said with this he wanted something that was gonna be a little more timeless, and not really be able to place. Obviously you can sort of tell that it’s kind of nowish, but the fact that it uses 70s slang for the characters, but is shot in a very modern way, it displaces time a little bit. He wanted the music to not be pigeon-holed, as going, 'Okay that’s sort of late 20th/early 21st century'... he wanted to try and spread it a bit. He wasn’t so much saying what he wanted as specifically as what he was trying to achieve with the film, and consequently with the score. And it was a difficult process to nail what was gonna do it, it took quite a time, and a lot of… not so much playing with the themes, ‘cause the themes sort of came quite quickly, but playing with the approach of them and the presentation of them, and the style. But I read a script a year before I actually started working on it, and I went to the shoot and you just immerse yourself in it. I obviously read the book, and just spent a lot of time thinking about it. That doesn’t seem to be the norm in modern movie making, composers come in at the end of the project and whack it out in a month.

Were you coming up with ideas all the time beforehand?
I had ideas from the script, and tried to get feelings, but it’s very difficult till you actually see it, I find. I mean you get ideas and they can work, but you don’t really know until you see it, play something against it. Because you get all these ideas and you work on them, and then you start getting them into the film and then the film takes on its own life and it almost starts to dictate it to you, where you gonna go and what’s working against it, you can see the rhythm of Darren’s cuts, and so you instantly get a feel for the tempo of what the piece is gonna be. Without being inside his mind when he’s shooting, I’m not really gonna know until I see it, and he starts giving me his vision of what’s going on, and I feed off that.

So were all of your ideas suggested by the film?
Not entirely, no. I constantly write things, and they will be recycled and turned up elsewhere and regenerated in some other form. A load of stuff is born out of the film, but it’s also born out of your mindset. That’s probably part of the beauty of it, having a relationship with a director you work with for a long time, because if you have that it’s probably because you’re kind of sympathetic to each other, and things that you do are perhaps in tune with what the other person’s done, even if they haven’t done them yet, and something I’ve done two years ago might prove to be perfectly right for the theme of Darren’s next film. And then again it might not. But things that I’ve worked on and the ideas that I’ve had, and the ways that I’ve got them, might help me to get what’s needed next time.

"I’m not like a traditional composer I suppose, I’m not classically trained. My speciality, if I have one at all, would be the stylistic way I go about what I do."

Do you think it’s going to be a permanent relationship?
I would certainly like it to be while it’s being as productive as it is. There’s perhaps gonna be a time when Darren’s going to say, "I think I need something different this time," and, that’s cool. I can’t really think beyond the next one, and he wants me to do the next one, so…

Has he spoken about it?
He’s told me things, and just really expressed that he’d like me to do it, so that’s great. Who knows what we’ll all be doing in five years time.

He said you sampled punches from Enter The Dragon on this.
Yeah, they keep telling people that, we’re gonna get in trouble. I went through a kung-fu film, perhaps I shouldn’t say which one it is, but I just sampled all the karate chops and kicks and sound effects basically, and then I made them into a rhythm track in that opening piece. I didn’t do that because I saw the script, that was something that I’d worked on prior, and I just made up loads of pieces and themes, and I sent it to Darren when I started, and he told me the things he liked, and I tried things against picture and they crept in. But I’m not like a traditional composer I suppose, I’m not classically trained. My speciality, if I have one at all, would be the stylistic way I go about what I do. I have more relation to the kids who are gonna see movies like this because I’m nearer their age than a fantastic composer of a generation that has his speciality. Mine is probably born out of things that I’ve learned by being in bands, and samplers and cheap keyboards, and then just working them in. It’s all a case about being on the right project, as to how it works.

Did you set out to do something completely new? It doesn't sound like much else out there, not obviously.
I don’t know really, I can’t really be objective about it. I was aware that I liked it and I thought it was good, and I was pretty impressed with the way that it all worked together, and I thought the themes became kind of haunting, and worked really well with the images on the screen. I was pleased with what I did in Pi, but… I just set out to make something that I responded to, and that felt good as I was doing it, I can only really go by my inbuilt need to whether I think it’s any good or not. And I suppose pretty much everybody does that, but then it’s just a case of whether people agree with you or not. But it’s cool with working with somebody like Darren, because it’s kind of like being in a band again, and although you’re not collaborating together on the music, you’re collaborating on the overall project, part of which is the music. Here’s a filmmaker that wants to affect people on every level he can, be it from the music, the sound design, the dialogue, the visual image, so it’s all gotta be interwoven, and it’s an exciting way of working, and an exciting team of people to be involved with. Once you get into it and it’s working and everybody’s feeding off it and tuned into the same thing, which becomes your barometer of what’s good.

"Here’s a filmmaker that wants to affect people on every level he can, be it from the music, the sound design, the dialogue, the visual image, so it’s all gotta be interwoven, and it’s an exciting way of working, and an exciting team of people to be involved with."

Was it your idea to get the strings on it, with The Kronos Quartet?
Well, when I’d written the parts, because I wrote them on a synthesiser with string sounds… some string sounds on a synth really works well, like John Carpenter stuff, which I love, it’s all very synthy strings. But given the film, which is very emotional, and the parts are very emotional, and you just knew that if somebody played them good, you’d pull it out a bit more. And Darren had seen The Kronos Quartet play a couple times, and he went and pitched them on it, and said what the film’s about, what I was attempting to do with the music, and they were really keen on it, and once he showed them the film they really wanted to do it, and they were great, they really brought an extra dimension to my music. As good as I think the music is, it’s the presentation of it, and what they added to it took it to a whole other level. Made it real, I suppose.

Did you hear Björk's Homogenic? That was a beautiful blend of strings and electronica.
Yeah it’s great. I think [producer] Mark Bell’s great, really good. Björk’s voice is fantastic anyway, it’s so unique, as we all know, but the quality of work in that, the production, and the quality of the songs, just really really special, that record. I like Selmasongs, her Dancer In The Dark soundtrack as well. I like what they’ve done with that, using the sounds to create the rhythms… pretty ambitious.

Do you like the film?
I actually haven’t seen it, I’ve never quite been in the frame of mind.

Yeah, you need to take a day off with that one.
Yeah… people say similar things about Requiem, and I’ve not been in the right frame of mind for Dancer In The Dark. I would like to see it. When I’m in the right frame.

Did you hear the music Reznor wrote for Quake?

Again, that can work as a standalone album.
Yeah. But you see the thing is, as time moves on, and kids who sit there playing these computer games all the time, their idea of what’s musical and what isn’t, compared to somebody of the previous generation, is vastly different. And in that way that something like Selmasongs, where they’re using noises to create rhythms, and beats become musical… I don’t suppose it’s particularly new, but people just get moved with the times. With what’s going on around them.

Black Swan is in UK cinemas 21 January. The soundtrack is out now.

Click here to read Clint Mansell: Aronofsky, Reznor and Me, Part One

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