Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Music of Lisa Gerrard

One of the most compelling aspects of a Michael Mann film is the use of the soundtrack. Michael Mann appears to have the capacity (and somehow time) to explore a vast range of musical realms, a pallet of musical colours that fills in what would otherwise be just a pencil drawing of a film. More remarkably, he is just at home at the sharp end of the musical age we live in as he is with music of the past. Employing Moby has in my view been just as ingenius as talent spotting Gerrard, and I will come to him in a later post. Music is clearly a passion of Michael Mann and just as he falls in love with the work of certain cinematographers, he has also found the vehicle to express the depths of human emotion and circumstance through the beautifully haunting voice of Lisa Gerrard. Mann creates an alchemy through the juxtaposition of music, cinematography, editing, writing and acting to create in all his movies pinnacles of extreme human "moments". Lisa Gerrard's voice often (though by no means exclusively) takes us to the highest moments of emotional intensity.

One has to read about the deeply spiritual music of Lisa Gerrard to understand how this alchemy works with Mann's other ingredients. They were made for each other. I often feel I "understand" the character of Michael Mann himself more through his choice and implementation of music than sometimes through just his visual tools. Certainly, any conventional interview with Michael Mann is a blind alley if you are trying to see what drives him, what is important to him in his personal life. Mann is famously protective about his personal life, so we don't learn much about him except through his creativity.

We can also learn about Michael Mann through the work of other artists. It was through Michael Mann that I first discovered Lisa Gerrard. Here is an excerpt of an interview about her work on Michael Mann films. She also talks of working with Ridley Scott (notably Gladiator), another brilliant implementer of music into the visual realm. For the full interview and to see a collection of other interviews with her check out the Lisa Gerrard website here.
How did you get involved in film scoring?

By accident, but actually because of Michael Mann. I did some work in Spain years ago for a film doing sound score and many people over the years have used lots of pieces of my music for different films and temp dubs. Michael decided to take the risk of working with Pieter Bourke and I on The Insider, that was really my introduction to major film scoring. I‘d done a Spanish film, El Nino Del La Luna (The Child of the Moon), the original score for Nadro, which was with Ivana Massetti, an Italian director, and also Baraka. I worked with Michael Stearns on this, but on only one or two pieces, and they used a licensed piece, The Host of Seraphim, from a record (The Serpent's Egg by Dead Can Dance) I'd done years before. That was the introduction to the work, that piece of music. In turn they gave us footage for a video for the Yulunga Spirit Dance (Into The Labyrinth by Dead Can Dance), a piece of music that was already released. That was quite an extraordinary gift because this was all filmed in 70mm*.

Why do you think your voice attracts certain directors who want to use you in their films?

It's really interesting because when I worked with Michael Mann somehow he felt that there was a subtext, a story that could be told with a soul fabric type consciousness music in Jeffery Wigand's life. That we saw this very withdrawn character, so he painted a very large subtext in an almost conscious, soulful, inner experience of him, through the music that Pieter and I had written. He used my voice to depict certain emotional qualities, while in Gladiator, Ridley has used the voice as a connection with the familiar, with the family, and with the things that are true and have that value in the characters life. The human voice is an interesting insLinktrument because it can't lie. When we have these inner feelings about our true private inner feelings, we don't lie, we can't lie. They're automatic, the voices automatically unlocks this interior journey of the private. I think that's why Ridley and Michael have found an affinity with this particular interpreter. I had very interesting experiences working with both directors.

See the full interview here

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