By Terry walstrom
07 December 2003
What is the point of slippage? Slippage is a theory of how things are actually "created". Nothing is ever truly original. But, by increments an old way of doing things, or thinking things becomes entirely novel and fresh. This is easily done with musical tunes.
Take the tune GIVE ME THE SIMPLE LIFE and vary the last phrase and Presto! You have the theme to Candid Camera. But, let us go deeper. What if you take action music, for example, and apply slippage. What are the rewards? Onscreen there are frantic images and tense situations, lots of ambient sound, noise, effects, etc. The expectation is music that mimics that activity. For the composer that means writing a lot of notes. For the orchestra: playing fast. For the sound mixer: one more group of sounds to be blended. For the audience? Maybe just too much of everything. All that work the composer went through and the details are blurred into a soup.
What if the composer applies slippage? Instead of hundreds of fast notes he slips in just a few slow notes? What if the tempo is broad and brackets the beginning and end rather than changing lanes like a racecar? What if there is an actual melody instead of riffs and ostinati? After all, how many mood changes can be provoked in an audience? How many emotions SHOULD they be experiencing to move the plot along? Is the purpose of the action an emotionally significant one? Can that be stated in a word? Can the music not stick to that emotional tone and be successful?
Take any recent action movie with music behind it and you'll hear a mammoth wall of sonic assault. In effect, it is bursts of noise played by instruments. The visceral effect is not unlike a large group of people stomping their feet. Raw Energy is what it amounts to. But, is it emotionally informative?
I've stated all the above to make the following statement. Perhaps film composers by using slippage make a huge and important discovery about film music: Simple is better than complex in action music. A broad theme is something the audience can hang on to and stay with EMOTIONALLY. An exhilaration can stem from happiness or anger or awe but it is one emotion. Why duplicate what is onscreen?
Let us take an example: John Barry had many many opportunities to explore the effect of action music in the Bond films. Bond films had in the music a serious tone. My opinion is that the serious tone made the cartoonish action onscreen work much better. With the advent of Dolby sound recording the amount of sonic information delivered to the audience's ears doubled, then tripled over time. A film composer finds his music being drowned out. Melodic composers best efforts were, in effect, destroyed. But, the declamatory composers' efforts were not affected at all.
Not the only problem. With the advent of digital recording and editing the LOCKED DOWN print was a thing of the past for a composer. The scene could be changed and changed and changed again by the editor almost up until the week of release. A carefully timed score based on melody and synchronized action moments would be immediately rendered ineffective when edited. Not so a score with mere short cells of rhythm and chords.
Consequently, the truly gifted melodic composers began vanishing from action films. Enter SLIPPAGE and innovation. John Barry figured out a way. Loooooong, slooooow melody lines so broad it would fit over the entire scene no matter what the quick cut changes because the general definitive mood was in place. The music would "make sense" because it was now a COMPLETE thought as melodies are. It was no longer a salad but a meal. Our ears are accustomed to the usual approach, to be sure. But, I for one like the melodic approach very much.
The greatest tribute to Barry's method is in Dances with Wolves. The melodies are very strong. There is energy and there is content emotionally. The music tells you something as in a complete thought or sentence with the melody as the subject and the tempo as the verb and the emotional result the direct object. Slippage works.
Look at the flight scene in OUT OF AFRICA. The music is very slow and broad. There is no sense of matching the editing tempo to the music. However, the enormity of the exhilaration in realizing the beauty of Africa comes almost entirely from what the music accomplishes. Busy busy busy music simply could never deliver such a wallop.
Producers who are too scared of not being conventional with their music score are missing out on a great deal by not trusting John Barry's journeyman instincts. But, the biggest loss is on the part of the audience. We find it more and more difficult to FEEL something no matter how terrific the special effects onscreen.
I ask you to compare any action scene in a recent James Bond movie scored with wall to wall sonic assault by David Arnold with John Barry's efforts a decade or so earlier. Which is more emotionally satisfying? There is no ONE TRUE answer to this question. After all, like so many things in life it is a matter of taste. But, I'd rather slip out the current method and slip in the emotionally true one.
Long live SLIPPAGE.
By Terry Walstrom
2 December 2003
If you were seated in a room opposite two people having an argument in Chinese you are likely to remember what they did and the tone of their conflict. But, the particulars would certainly be absent; i.e. the why and the wherefore. The general grievances might have substance and merit on both sides, of course, but you'd never know--would you?
Now, change the Chinese couple to people who speak your own language. You could follow the nuances of the argument and fit the dialogue to the general tenor of anger, resentment and rebuttal in a more meaningful way. I submit that action music is analogous. How so?
In John Barry's action music, as we all know so well, there are "words" and "phrases" selected out of the melodic main theme which are always intelligible as such even when "spoken" fast or slow or this instrument and that one.
Take Goldfinger, for an instance of this. In the PRE-title sequence we will hear the "gold-fing-er" phrase in many guises. We will find it parallel with the semi-tone rising and falling James Bond motif too. These occurrences of readily identifiable phrases are like bookmarks that enable our perhaps non-musically educated minds to keep pace with the action onscreen in a discernible way. In effect, we are reading several texts simultaneously (like having three books open in front of us) and skipping from one to the other without losing THE SENSE of any of them in the process. The visual, the general ambient sound or dialogue and the music can fit together and integrate a conglomerate thought which might otherwise be too complex or inexplicable to cohere comprehensively.
From Russia with Love gave me personally the best glimpse into how Barry achieves the cohesion of his style with the film. There are many separate melodic themes that circulate throughout the film. The general genius of fitting them together and overlaying one atop the other is the real prize. The melody to the song From Russia with Love, though it be composed by Lionel Bart, is so elegantly taken apart and reassembled over and over again by John Barry that no matter what new guise it appears in we recognize it as a part of some previous whole.
Take GUITAR LAMENT as an example of this. The melody to Guitar Lament is From Russia with Love refashioned. Five note phrase....two notes...two notes....
From Rush Uh with Love I fly to you.......
behind which is a refashioned James Bond rising and falling figure.
MAN OVERBOARD...Smersh in Action gives us yet another incarnation of FRWL theme in 3/4 time transformed. This too has the James Bond rising falling figure. Now Guitar Lament isn't action music per se. But, it is a gentle way of demonstrating the technique in use.
The real action music is the 007 theme unique on all the Bond films. Barry has a theory about the lurching rhythm of 007 that I always refer to as 3-3-2. (Clusters of eighth notes with the duration of three eighth notes followed by three more and then two for a total of eight to the bar.) Barry believes by breaking up the rhythm into unconventional beats there is a sense of forward movement which is more dynamic than straight accents on 2 and 4 or 1 and 3 which is natural to pop music. Barry lays his very simple theme for horns and brass on top the lurching rhythm and it is all very easy to follow. The in-between accents in the snare drums and instrument groups certainly lend excitement without over-complicating what the mind easily follows.
Without overdoing my explanation I'll just point one thing out. There is a lot going on for the ear to follow individually in 007. However, it isn't difficult at all to comprehend because Barry's logic and layout are exceedingly well chosen. It is actually a surprisngly elegant variation on the old OOM-PAH band technique.
What is the OOM-PAH band technique? In German bands, for example, the tuba player hits the keynote with a loud OOM and the brass plays the "answering" PAH. The tuba lays down the bass with a first and fifth note alternating and the brass echoes the chord with their PAH. What Barry does is substitute the kettledrum or low bass for the Tuba and change the duration to the 3-3-2. The "answering" PAH fits in the spaces. OOM pah pah OOM pah pah OOM pah OOM pah pah OOM pah pah OOM pah. Clever and effective.
Goldsmith, on the other hand has many changes in rhythm per track alternating unexpectedly to keep your sense of expectation off-balance. He might have 4/4 followed by 5/4 and 7/8 or 12/8 without telegraphing in advance which way he is going. He varies his instrument groups and interlaces them with electronic "stings" or supplemental colors constantly. Now you see it--now you don't is the order of the day. I very much enjoy Goldsmith's action music without having instant comprehension of what the music is "saying" internally.
It is a Chinese argument.
For me, raised on songs and singing and lyrical melodicism I am drawn to a song-like leading line in music. Barry really beautifies his action music lyrically. Sometimes it has a disturbing beauty to it. Barry's music for the Diamonds are Forever laser weapon in space is gorgeous and stately---but, lyrical. In The Man with The Golden Gun his action music practically sings the song to you while the orchestra decorates the rhythmic background wittily.
The closest Goldsmith comes to a Barry type score is his OUR MAN FLINT/IN LIKE FLINT films. His theme returns again and again in so many variations and guises it is burned into your subconscious indelibly. Naturally it is obvious he is mining the Bond-like similarities of the films while remaining true to his own muse.
The greatest thrilling action music of Goldsmith, for me, is in films like Papillon and The Wind and the Lion where moments of great lyricism penetrate the kaleidoscopic variants raging in the orchestra in flurries of mathematical complexity.
These two men have invented their own particularities. Of the two you would expect the easier man to imitate is John Barry. You would be wrong! There are more composers imitating Goldsmith than have ever come close to John Barry. Take just two. David Arnold and George S. Clinton. Arnold only appears to complement Barry's style. But, he cheats. He simply traces certain figures familiar to Bond fans and injects them like gravy into a Turkey's innards for flavoring. 75% of Arnold's meandering is furious competing voices in overblown orchestral settings set to thundering drumtracks. George S. Clinton tries to ape the general ambience of a Bond film in Austin Powers films. However, the imitation is so colorless and bland the energy and the humor dissipate rapidly into mere Punch and Judy.
John Barry remains unique among action film composers because his personality is everywhere in the music; that of a master in control of vast forces summoned to do his bidding. The result is so intelligible that the emotional veracity hits the audience with a double whammy and the spellbinding pleasure of total immersion into the shadowy world of film is made into a magical experience.
By Terry walstrom
12 November 2003
In the history of dramatic presentation, the spoken word has reigned supreme until fairly recent times. With the advent of miraculous technology for throwing images up on a large panoramic screen and the infusion of vast surrounds of ambient atmospherics a gradual shift in emphasis has evolved.
Music and pure visual action has all but replaced the spoken word and even in some respects the plot! At first music was the "verb" that connected the visual subject to the object of desire.
Activity onscreen was synonymous with activity in the orchestra pit. So potent and moving was this device that more and more sonic layers have been added over the years in multifarious incarnations. Clever composers developed an approach which seemed a best fit for the marrying of onscreen activity with their musical creations.
Roughly these schemes and strategies fall into the following categories:
In the old days a guy like Tiomkin would use the entire orchestra in a fugue with parts carefully timed to ape (or Mickey Mouse) the action with a sound to match each action flourish.
Bernard Herrmann would repeat a small phrase modulating downscale with large or small choirs of instrumental colors. Or, he'd expostulate brazenly with large percussion canons and flourishing brass stings.
Elmer Bernstein would take 9/8 triplet-like rhythms and break them up in the lower section and let the horns and brass wail on top while the piano gave colorful obbligato decorations in the middle.
John Barry would divide eighth notes into 3-3-2 and alternate chromatic chords atop in a lurching rhythm while a definite memorable melodic phrase floated above.
Lalo Schifrin would take a West Coast Jazz instrument group and add ad lib Tabla drums, stream of consciousness flute and afro-cuban melody fragments.
Jerry Goldsmith would divide the rhythms into cells of uneven groups of beats, blend short motives of melody with electronic amplifications and batteries of percussion colors interspersed with huge blocks of heavy brass, glissandos and varied woodwind combinations.
Henry Mancini would take bass flute, low woodwinds, divided strings and agitato celli up a slow chromatic scale in half-tones with increasing dynamics.
Miklos Rozsa would build grand architectural choirs of instrument groups in a statement of theme and antiphonal "answer" of theme around vigorous brass configurations as counterpoints and obbligatos colored the dynamics.
Contemporary composers appeared. A new kind of action music was born. Melody vanished. Themes were banal or mere accidental motives tossed up by chord changes. Augmentation of acoustic orchestra with heavy batteries of keyboard synths mirrored onscreen action and "punched up" whatever appeared.
Slow builds of walls of sonic amplification became a muscular wallpaper as stings of sampled sounds slashed through the heavy soup with chalk-on-the-blackboard psychology.
You could transplant this "action" music from film to film and hardly recognize any switch had taken place.
Ah, Brave new world.
By Terry walstrom
08 June 2003
If we regard a film such as King Kong as an exception because it was shot while he was scoring it, we find he has a preferred approach. He likes to read the script FIRST before accepting an assignment. Why? It might be a strong tip-off that crap is on the way!
Barry likes to know what the decision-maker on the film wants for the background score. Why? He has been chainsawed from disagreements between a director and producer before (i.e. Born Free).
Barry likes to have - at least - a rough cut of the film to work from. Why? He is stimulated in the right direction by the Je ne sais quoi that emanates from the screen which no script can divulge in advance. Barry is attracted to the emotional core of a film. Is love, passion, revenge, loss, pathos the pivot point? If so, Barry can identify with that and his muse awakens.
Sometimes he is merely attracted by a genre or a director or a writer attached to a film's ethos. The Bruce Lee film Game Of Death lured him because of the worldwide magic of Lee's cult following. The Tamarind Seed had Blake Edwards at the helm and two fine actors at the center of the spy genre which was different in every way from his previous Bond forays into that oeuvre. Dances With Wolves was scenic, panoramic but personal--with one man at the center of the drama. All these considerations aside.... John Barry watches the key scenes over and over on his little viewing screen Moviola. He sits at his piano and plays chords while watching the flow of the images. The chords, the mood, the marriage of image and sound trigger that primal wellspring of dramatic affinity within his musical soul.
When an idea catches fire he fleshes it out. No electronic keyboards and software for this veteran gentleman! The sharpened pencil and staff paper are his companions as he, as Beethoven and Prokofiev before him, dots in the bass notes, the harmonic progression and the all-important topline of melody - glorious melody! In a jazz oriented score such as The Knack, Barry primarily uses the core idea of a strong melody which can sustain variation upon variation as the unifying element around which the score is built.
John Barry has an extraordinary gift for arranging. What instruments will play, in what combinations and how they will nip and tuck together and separately are the lifeblood of his special "sound". From his unique experience as a musician who has played ensemble with a group in front of a live audience Barry has one phenomenal advantage over conservatory trained composers. Barry knows that the flesh and blood lips and fingers of the person blowing, plucking and strumming are the center of gravity, the science and the magic of what the audience will hear and, especially - FEEL when the music is heard at last.
How much freedom will JB pencil in for the musicians? It goes like this. Barry has the central terra firma on paper; the chord progressions, the harmony, the punctuations of rhythm and cadence and the skeleton of form and function. But, he knows personally that there must be room for an improvising musician to let loose and *feel* their way through a moment in time. On The Knack, for example, Alan Haven is improvising his way through 99% of the score which imparts a looseness which would otherwise be missing. Often the muted trumpet part is ad lib. A coda to a piece can suddenly erupt with improvisation and madcap mayhem lending a New Orleans smoky cafe atmosphere to an otherwise conventional play through. The essential concept stitching together the various parts is the byplay and movement of the musical activity between groups and individuals. No stiffness allowed!
Do musicians enjoy working under his baton? The man is a legend! He knows his stuff. He understands his own music as a musician first and as a listener. There is little that is "old school" in his approach. He has played gigs as a trumpeter and bandleader. Fun, but no nonsense - that's our man. In the recording studio with the film running on the big screen at a session Barry often finds a last minute remedy for a scene that isn't working.
At the Goldfinger recording session, for example, he realised something was missing upfront. He had not composed the trumpet fanfare at the outset of Goldfinger, only the chords. Instinctively, on the spot, he wrote the now famous brass intro - and the rest is -well, an amazing moment in musical history.
He can change a line, add a harmony, excise a pattern that isn't working or create a miracle on the spot while the musicians warm their chairs. No mean feat - but, one of the major reasons he lasted so long in an industry that sweeps up yesterday’s heroes and dumps them in the dustbin with nary a blink of an eye.
The above is a loose accounting of the manner and method of a man alone. Once the contract is signed and millions of dollars invested in a fragile medium that can sink into oblivion if the audience is indifferent - Barry goes to work much as a surgeon with dying patient's heart in his hand. It is all up to him! His success and our collective enthusiasm testify to his expertise as a miracle worker par excellence!
Vive la Barry!
These things are entirely subjective, naturally, but -- I've always had a very special place in my heart for Barry's melody to the Alice's Adventures tune to THE ME I NEVER KNEW in its instrumental form not to mention the Matt Monro vocal.
The construction of the thematic material has some unexpected turns which never fail to elicit a strong response from me. Normally in a song we would have the first line repeated in the second line identically or pivoted up an interval of a fourth. But, Barry -- the second time the phrase "The me I never knew" appears--works a bit of magic and injects a poignant twist to the direction of the theme. It goes up instead of down at an odd interval and--as if that were not enough--elevates the entire mood in a transcendent manner when the phrase "without a word of warning" occurs.
Now -- I'd like to call your attention to what is NORMAL in a song. You introduce a theme or melody line and repeat it. Then you bridge in something of contrast in the middle eight bars. Back to the same original theme with a change in it to top off the feeling of completeness. But -- in THE ME I NEVER KNEW there is no resting place and return until the ENTIRE first and second lines/bridge phrase have spun through to completion. Rather, a transformation process is applied throughout. The emotional core transmutes mood after mood climbing in intensity reframing the "feeling" in greater and greater tensions which cry out for some sort of release. "You smiled and I discovered..." on the word "discovered" a remarkable feeling of interior transformation rushes forward. The discovery is imbedded inside the melody itself. And a wonderful one it is too!
The orchestral version of this song is just a joy. The tension and release is masterful. The conflict is never overpowered by the instrumentation. It is kept personal yet significant. A grandness and nobility is present when the horns and the strings sing full out.
I simply wish there had been an alternate lyric written for this melody which would be more universal; allowing singers an avenue of expression less reflective and more declarative. Nobody sings about interior transformation it seems--unless they are holding a guitar!
The long and the short of it---this may be my favorite Barry melody. Dunno, there are so damned many!!
A study in contrast: Barry's stylistic journey from the 60s to the 90s
John Barry has four distinct styles of music composition. Three of them he has virtually discarded and only one remains. I propose to take a look at these stylistic personas and comment on the whys and the wherefores which have led to his present day one-size-fits-all approach to film-scoring.
In the 50s something unique was happening to popular music in the world at large; particularly in the United States and in England. The 40's war years drew the populations of those countries closer to the technology of radio more than ever before. Big Bands and news broadcasts force-fed a unified style of music on what had previously been very different national sensibilities.
Movie attendance and the escapism of fantasy on screen allowed a pressure release on people stressed to the breaking point with bloody realities of everyday privation and danger. With the World War over and a new decade underway the radio remained an indispensable melting pot of international music exposure which unified populations in their tastes and commonalties. Movies provided the same unifying icons and background scores permeated subconscious vaults with 19th century Romanticism. Television was taking a foothold that would strangle the competing technologies.
If radio and movies were to avoid being relegated to the heap of dinosaur bones in the graveyard of pass‚ artefacts---there would have to be a massive RETHINK to grapple with a workable strategy.
YOUTH culture was the key. Radio and the movies turned to the younger audiences and tapped into the red-blooded vein of youth music. The young are the audience of the future, as a rule. But, parents were giving their kids allowances now and a consumer population was arriving on the scene. Young people had jobs and responsibilities and cash to spend.
The music world was poised on the brink of something big which was about to happen.
John Barry's SEVEN were panning for gold in the old streams and rivers where others had made their fortunes. But, the leftovers were not enough to sustain a career. The bulk of the fortunes had vanished. Barry struggled to find a template into which he could pour his talents for music-making. Doing "covers" of Stateside hits for English audiences was stale now - yet, it was a learning mode for record production and important business contacts.
Big Bands were taxed into disintegration. A club owner could ill-afford large bands with many hands out for dough. The only solution was the "single" act. Preferably singer-songwriters who could do it all. Thus the folksinger era replaced the Big Band era. And the folksinger was the grandparent of the Rock n Roller of the near to arrive future.
Barry straddled all venues like a modern day Colossus. He wrote, arranged, produced and played in first one and then another genres. None, however, was innovative in a way that would ignite popular enthusiasms and generate a career. He was relegated to a producing role for others eventually, leaving the JB7 to fend for themselves in a dying genre. There were only two choices: find a "star" to produce for and earn a living as a man behind the man; or--emerge as a composer in his own right. The odds against the latter were astronomical. With the "discovery" of Adam Faith Barry was suitably nested in a temporarily secure niche which allowed him to meet the "right" people and become a mover and shaker.
Had movies not come along to tempt him away--surely Barry would have remained a producer of first one group and then another along the lines of a Berry Gordy of MOTOWN.
With the opportunity of scoring BEAT GIRL suddenly Barry's stylistic persona was glimpsed in the raw. We will call this STYLE ONE. The Beat Girl score could have been done by an old school gentleman aping a popular style little understood and mostly scorned. Or it could have been injected with needle-dropping opportunities utilising hit songs of the era. Instead--a very youthful composer, arranger, conductor producer and maven of ALL STYLES had a go at it. Beat Girl is nothing if not original. It sounds--even today--original.
The components of the music are familiar. Guitars are played and a big-bandish backing chimes in. Percussion is not sedate--yet not overtly Rock. What sets Barry's composition apart is the identifying use of a rhythmic device he has never abandoned. It is a choppy beguine-like rhythm that enforces the dotted quarter notes (two of them) and gives us 2 chopping beats and 1 remaining lesser one. This 3 beats to the measure is definitely NOT a waltz but a catchy jerking motion that allows the next device--the ostinato--to fit into the gaps left by the sparse rhythm. These are like puzzle pieces-hand in glove. There is a sense of movement and an inexorable forward motion and incessant and insistent activity. Atop these two devices floats the hooky melodic line. It is not complicated. It is brief and readily identifiable. This simple recipe comes across very easily to the ears. It is closer to Stan Kenton than to Max Steiner--but not derivative of either. It has a 50s Rock 'n' Roll snarl to the instrumentation but it is not Rock. It definitely owes more to Jazz than anything else--yet, it is not merely Streetcar Named Desire ala North (one of Barry's heroes.) No--we have a full-fledged mosaic of stylisms pressed into a new service, a new voice and a new youthful vigour. It is Scarlett O'Hara turning the drapes from Tara into a lovely dress to impress Rhett Butler! Barry is the seamstress and designer rolled into one. He has CUSTOM-FITTED what the quires using anything that will fit. This style will return again and again. Barry visits the junkyard of previous eras and idioms and grabs a piece of this and a part of that and - Presto! - Picasso-like welds them into artistic sculpture than is no longer junk but a work of art. BEAT GIRL is a new kind of junk---fabulous artistic junk!
With the success of Beat Girl as a scoring assignment Barry became "hot" and was impressed into service to fix another project in music need. James Bond needed a musical fix to make him relevant. Barry was handed more junk and he went into his laboratory and started hammering, welding and filing away. The result was something astonishingly NEW! Yet--Tailor-like--it was a perfect fit. Bond had a Saville Row suit and the music was as tailored as that to his persona. The James Bond Theme is an amalgam. It has Dizzy Gillespie scat choruses, Les Paul/Duane Eddy guitar idioms, it has Minnie the Moocher razzmatazz brass writing and a harking back to the Big Band Era with expostulations that punctuate the segues from the middle eight back to the main theme. It is tailoring of the highest order. It is arranging genius. It is fresh and endlessly interesting. Barry has invented something new out of something pre-existing. This is what an artist does best. Suddenly Barry's career as a movie composer is assured. The usual fate of one such as he is to do variations on James Bond until the offers stop coming. Yet--two things happened to side-step this fate. Barry was offered arthouse melodramas by Bryan Forbes at the same time he was covering the spy genre.
For Bryan Forbes, Barry would cism. Using small combinations of evocative instruments Barry would achieve atmospheres as delicate as miniature impressionist paintings. These chamber music effects were not actually chamber music. Once again they would be amalgams; puzzle fittings of first this and then that. Jazz flavoured flutes and bass lines would be overlaid with harpsichord tinklings or violin obbligatos. The end result being more tailor-made backdrops highly evocative of the right mood and the right emotion. SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON is all mood and is achieved using very few instruments. The melody wants to find a key but is ill-fitted to tonality--yet, there is a melody lurking there.
The main character is a fraud psychic who fools even herself at times and longs to be recognised as an important person. The music and the character are one and the same.
Barry evolves a Romanticism that is sturdy and muscular rather than cloying and fey. His strings are always pure and in easy registers. The countermelodies are harmonically simple but gorgeously beautiful. The Horns infuse the emotional content with full-blooded vigour and strength of purpose. The melodies are usually cast as straight ahead "song" tunes which you end up whistling in your sleep. Yet--his chord changes can suddenly startle you with unexpected twists and turns that chromatically complicate the underlying feeling of inevitability. In fact--you can count on the fact that Barry will create a superstructure of unusual chords that will take you outside the usual pathways into exotic territories. Midnight Cowboy has a simple theme. Yet--those chord changes are not customary.
Midnight Cowboy is a good example for us to examine. Barry creates a clockwork mechanism of inevitability in the opening falling melodic background of four notes followed by four notes --over and over again. Many of Barry's arrangements will do something similar. He lulls your sense of expectancy into a regularity of singsong familiarity. Once you are introduced to the "environment" of the piece then the main melody is injected. It works in contrast to that background and fits perfectly like a Russian Kachina doll nested within another doll within yet another.
In THE IPCRESS FILE we have a jaunty rhythmic line of punctuated flutes and vibraphone that is overlaid with the Cimbalom melody. It is all very jagged and textured but is catchy as hell! QUILLER MEMORANDUM has hurdy gurdy rhythmic line over which the flexitone melody is laid to startling effect. Here is a lovely songleider melody set to a weird background of exoticism and intrigue. So in each instance the idea is to put simplicity to work by overlaying it with yet another simplicity dressed up in an exotic garb of orchestration. Barry's orchestration SOUND complex--yet you never lose your way. It is rather more like watching a juggler add yet another ball to those already in the air! Bach-like effects are achieved without the audience having to resort to internal intellectualities to sort the parts from one another. This is an enormous achievement and singular to Barry himself. Nobody else comes close to doing this.
We'll call this simply JAZZ. Barry has his own brand of Jazz. It is not like anybody else in its entirety--yet, it never grabs you with a feeling of innovation for innovations sake.
" again the way a mechanic does. He fits them in. The background may "feel" like a jazz improvisation in the piano and the sax may sound like an improvisation in the melody---but--there is a fixed architecture of melody in the strings and horns that is flat-out Dance band slow-dance. Barry has sleek and sensuous Jazz pieces in his repertoire. They can be big and audacious such as the quintessential MR. KISS KISS BANG BANG or they can be subtle and lush such as FUN CITY. Yet they are never ordinary. The difference between a regular jazz band performance and what Barry achieves lies in the fact that the improvisations are merely colorations and commentary. They are not THE raison d'etre of the composition. They owe more to Gershwin's Porgy and Bess than to Paul Whiteman or Duke Ellington. Barry's jazz are masterpieces of journeyman compositional/arranging skills.
Many of Barry's best Bond scores rely on this Jazz flavouring couple with his Romanticism and occasional eclecticism. His bag of tricks in the 60's was very large and often surprising.
Yet--in the 90's he has discarded most of his stylistic innovations and inventions. His approach has become one of pure music for music's sake. It is more of a religious philosophy. Barry's music is now ZEN. It is HAIKU. It is discipline and feeling and the tailoring is out of the same bolt of cloth again and again.
Those who only know Barry from Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves think this is all Barry can do or will ever do. "They all sound the same" is the mantra of the neophyte listener who is just discovering what Barry has to offer. I feel that John Barry is a person who has used his musical gifts to vicariously express the deepest possible feelings in his stiff-upper lip English soul. He has done a massive Freudian bit of therapy on himself along the way. By mining the depths of heartbreak, sexuality, fear and heroics his music has served two purposes; one for the moviegoer and one for Barry himself. At some point along the way the demon was exorcised and Barry became at peace with himself. Whatever muse/demon was tormenting his creative soul became exorcised and only once facet of his nature remains to be plumbed for treasure. That is the Romantic side. Again and again Barry tours the gentle and heroic in himself and demonstrates it romantically. He is relaxed about life. He accepts it. His music is-- gentle it is accepting. He eschews the action adventure vehicle. Been there/done that. There is nothing more for him to say about those emotions. The beauty of life and joy of feeling Life is what remains. While those of us who have accompanied John Barry on his musical journey may long for the wondrous times of innovations and exoticism of the past-- we have learned to savour the multifarious flavours of his vineyard of today. John Barry still vints a heady brew!
1. I am a Michel Legrand fan
2. I am a James Bond/John Barry fan.
I was very excited at the prospect of Sean Connery portraying James Bond again way back in 1983. Roger Ebert himself called it a "minor movie miracle". How much fun could he have with the role again after being absent so long?
When it became clear that Barry would refuse to take part due to misplaced (in my opinion misplaced in view of how he has been treated since) loyalty to the producers of the original series - I wondered like everybody else - WHO could fill his shoes. Cut to the chase. Michel Legrand was chosen. That really didn't bother me. Barry has a style of jazz that is personal to him and so does Michel Legrand. Both are masters at arrangements of all kinds of orchestral instrumentation. Both have music that is exciting and melodic. What's to fear?
Fast forward. I attended the World Premiere of the film Never Say Never Again which was also attended by Connery, Carrera, Caine, Rhonda Fleming and a host of other luminaries. I was high on life. I even got to pee with Caine and Connery. (That is another story for another time.) In the audience during the film Caine and Connery sat three rows behind me. A weird thing happened. Nothing. No audience reaction! Even to the funny parts. It was a vacuum. Strangest thing I've ever been a part of while in a packed house with lots of excitement in the air. What was going on? Years later I can guess.
1.With Connery in the role - I for one - and others - expected the originator of the role to kick Roger Moore's butt with a scintillating movie that showed the other guys how it is done. It didn't happen.
2. The ‘FORM’ wasn't observed. The original series has a form to it - a kind of dogma that has been engrained in the fans and we've come to expect it. Didn't happen. It was more of a pale imitation of form. (More about this later.)
3.The ‘plot’ wasn't allowed to stray far enough from Thunderball (as an officially allowed remake) to be very compelling. Instead - it wasn't even as interesting as Thunderball.
4. The music was, WAY, WAY different!
Now I professed at the beginning of this post to be a Legrand fan. I am and I was. I thought his score was just dandy for Never Say Never Again - but, not as JAMES BOND music! In fact - it was alienating in the same way that, years later, another composer would alienate fans by being sooooo different. Legrand wasn't copying Barry. I praise him for that. Legrand has integrity and talent - no need to enter into stylistic plagiarism. David Arnold did a bang up imitation recently - but, it deeply troubles me (on another level which is irrelevant) that he cannot successfully do his ‘own’ thing and make it work without stepping into Barry's skin. (That's a different can of worms which we'll ignore for now).
So Michel Legrand did his take on Bond and it didn't work. Why why why? I think it is only partly Legrand's fault. 50% of the problem is mysterious fandom. And - ready for this? I think it ties in to recent arguments about ORIGINAL vs. Re-recorded scores. When you cannot divorce your mind and your emotions from the original you just cannot accept anything new or different! So - as Bond fans and as Barry fans -we had a level of NON-acceptance which Legrand could not hurdle. Can anybody? David Arnold found a way to gain acceptance. But - not on his own terms. At least as far as originality is concerned.
Barry has written some silly songs for the James Bond movies. But - the style and bravura arrangements and performances WORK dammit! NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN is no more/less ludicrous than MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. But - one works and the other doesn't. I purposely picked the worst Barry song I could. Lulu is herself doing a kind of Shirley Bassey put-on in her performance. The lyric is not the best of the series. The arrangement is not the purest Barry/Bond. However, there is an absurd stylistic bravura that SELLS the song - I'll call it pure audacity! It is a sure-footed second rate song that has great charisma and drive – and - most importantly to fans - it sounds James Bondish. NEVER SAY NEVER doesn't have an edge. It doesn't have a powerhouse performance. It doesn't have a wicked Bondian spirit. It fails. End of story.
What James Bond needs and what John Barry gave the series is a kind of playful, yet deadly seriousness. His scores have an ingenuity about them as well. His Bond scores are like crossword puzzles. The Main Theme is spelled out here and there; horizontally and vertically in the most oddball modalities. He takes a piece here and a piece there - and weaves it into a whole made up of easily recognisable parts. Barry constantly self-references the Bond Theme and the Main Title. You know where you stand. The instruments are familiar. The rhythms are familiar. The C minor7th/9th chords comes along right on schedule. Yet - the score is new and fresh.
Michel Legrand scored the film as though it were a European spoof of a spy movie made in the late 60s. There is never the feeling that anything is serious. It is tongue-in-cheek always. Where Barry would be ‘serious’ - Legrand would be hip. Where Barry would be outrageously sinister - Legrand would be fey. You see - the personality and temperament are quite different. I think the secret of John Barry's personality is that he – HE IS James Bond! Look at his lifestyle. He has the best of everything. He has the best looking women, the best clothes, the best cars - the international globe-hopping and YET-he is strangely anonymous. In the movies James Bond is well known by reputation - but, he is a Secret Agent. Odd! How many people on this planet really know who John Barry is?
Since Barry is Bond and Michel Legrand is not - how could it ever work? Soooooo, we end up hating Michel Legrand's score. Undeservedly in many ways. Deservedly in others. A fan cannot change his love-affair with authenticity. A good copy is still a copy. Bond is an original. Barry is an original. Legrand is a European romantic and not a cool super sleuth. I rest my case.