Category Archives: On Intention

ON INTENTION – Part II

I have recently scored a soundtrack for a short movie that inspired me very much for its genuine content and powerful simplicity.

I found the story so compelling and beautiful that at first I thought of writing something that could be defined minimal and very polite, with the intention of leaving enough space to the characters without overshadowing them and let the story evolve without too much distraction.

After a few days of work I realized what I was doing was ok, but was not exploiting the full potential of the beautiful message that the director was trying to convey. In other words, everything was fine to my eyes and ears, but my work wasn’t adding much to the movie. It felt detached. Why was that? How could that happen, since I felt so attached in the first place to the story and the characters?

The answer came to me the day after, when I asked myself (I often talk to myself): what is this movie really about? What is the sparkle that triggers all the events in this movie? What’s the primal dynamic? My answer was: intention. That was the only thread to follow in the story, the one element that I needed to translate into music. I kept ‘intention’ as my only reference and as soon as I started writing new music everything fell into place, magically.

This wasn’t anymore an issue of priority, space or importance of the music vs the story; this time everything was simply about intention. This newly-acquired notion made my music grow with and within the story. It was all unfolding under my eyes and I was happy to realize that I had very little to do with it. It feels good when that happens. It feels like natural magic because while we make music this way we become what we often forget we are: sophisticated human emotions translators.

I laid down a piano part and focused on the intention of my playing rather than worrying about quantizing or fixing dynamics, I gave priority to spontaneity rather than perfectionism. Then I wrote an orchestration for double bass, 2 cellos, 2 violas and 4 violins supporting the piano part and used the same method, when arranging.  Then I decided to trade themes from the piano to the oboe and hired an oboist to come in and record.

The player showed up the day of the session and we started recording. It was not what I expected. Sometimes it happens, guys. The musician was very young and things weren’t exactly going smoothly. Although he was a very good reader, he wasn’t emotionally aligned with the intention of the music and the result was a big sense of detachment in the delivery. Perfect performance, but no intention! Not enough real love. After about 30 long minutes, I suggested we took a break.

I explained what I meant and asked if this time he could please play while following the movie on the screen and forget about the music chart. He started playing again and this time it glued flawlessly with the other instruments: not a perfectly read performance, but a perfectly emotionally one!

This time he played his part with everything that was really needed: a lot of honest intention. When the kid was playing I felt his hesitation, his hope, his fear, his decisiveness, his bravery. I thought at some point he felt he was the main character of the movie. After two takes we were done, no punch, no edits. I kept everything in. The director loved the soundtrack and I did too because this time I felt extremely connected to the story.

The purpose of the music synced to moving images should be of serving the story, not to create another one. There’s always a different balance to be found between music and the images and it changes according to each story. Every story is different: different characters, different synergies, different settings. But at the core, there will be only one thread and it’s up to the composer to find it and translate it into music.

In my mind, the image of a good soundtrack is that one of two solid rails and I picture the storytelling as a train. The train must get to its destination, the rails must support it and guide it so that the message will be delivered.

Balance is everything.

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ON INTENTION

Music has instantaneous powers.

It’s a snapshot, a moving frame in a slow motion timeline, that is our life.

When the content of music is genuine, it reaches us with the strongest impact: we feel that those lyrics were written for us, that the melody was composed exactly the way we wanted it to be. We awake and feel comforted.

A true artist has the ability to speak out his mind through music reaching anybody, instantly. The most beautiful thing to me is that when this message is genuine, it freezes a moment in someone’s life and makes that instant eternal.

For example, when Bob Dylan wrote ‘Blowin’ in the wind’, his message had a planetary impact. It affected millions of people and transformed Dylan’s thought – the thought of one man – into the most precious personal belonging of whoever took his message in. Everybody in the 60s felt that shot, instantly. Isn’t that the closest thing to a divine happening? Instantaneous transformation. No politician, spoke-person or religious leader can achieve that, in an instant.

The reason why we become so attached to a specific song in time, it’s because when we are receptive, especially at a young age, we take that moment in, fully – without any doubts or hesitations – and we make it ours. It becomes our moment, forever. It’s frozen in time and we lock it away as our most precious belonging, it instantly becomes part of our cherished memories.

This explains in part everybody’s favorite complaining line: ‘In my times music was much better, the lyrics were more genuine, the singers were more real, more this, more that…’ – That is very interesting because people will always say that: in the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s and it will be said about music that hasn’t been written yet.

It simply means that different songs have different meaning for different people.

Someone’s most precious song can be from 1952, from 1973, from 1985, from last week, from next week. Who cares when the magic happens..? This only confirms the fact that music is still one of the most powerful ways of communications, no matter its commercial value.

It’s an instant shot in someone’s life and it reflects a specific moment in our short terrestrial life: a song is just another milestone that we decide to set in our path to make our staying on this planet more enjoyable or heart-wrenching, up to us.

That’s why I think that the true value of an artist lies in the ability of delivering a message that always maintains its purest intention at the time of its conception. Time will do the rest.