September is a month that I particularly like… for different reasons.
This year I’m adding more to the list, professional ones, related to the movie “Rocks in My Pockets”. After receiving an award at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival and a nomination for the Jerry Goldsmith Film Music Award, the movie is debuting in quite a few venues in the United States (you can browse through past and future screenings at the following link http://www.rocksinmypocketsmovie.com/Screenings.html ).
The reviews are great, and the music was noticed and appreciated unanimously.
Rocks in my Pockets Screenings in Los Angeles and New York
As I’m writing this, it’s just been announced that the movie will represent Latvia in the race for the foreign language Oscars. This means that the soundtrack will as well be nominated in the Best Original Score category, and this is utterly unexpected, what a surprise! (for more information, please visit the following link http://variety.com/2014/film/news/oscars-rocks-in-my-pockets-selected-as-latvian-entry-1201306820/ ).
So in this post I’d like to talk extensively about the soundtrack, since it’s just been published by Movie Score Media http://moviescoremedia.com a young label that has quickly become one of the most important in the industry.
If you want to listen to a preview of the music check this video
How did my collaboration with the filmmaker Signe Baumane start? By chance, as it often happens in our job… I had got in contact with the director Bill Plympton so that he could listen to some of my works, and Signe – Plympton’s friend and collaborator – was looking for a composer for her first animated feature film. After exchanging a few e-mail messages, I prepared some mockups for two scenes of the movie, she liked them… and I immediately started working on it.
It tells the true story of the women from Baumane’s family, including herself, and their battles with madness.
That’s why I wanted to work on this movie right from the start: writing music for a cartoon which deals with such dramatic, real issues was a challenge for me. Not to mention the fact that these events belong to the personal story of the director, meaning the risk of ruining everything was always around the corner.
The whole movie is narrated by Signe’s voice that acts as a counterpoint to the beautiful drawings. This detail was an essential part in the composition and orchestration process, as we together chose and carefully selected the instruments that could better create a musical background to the voice without distracting the viewer from the narration itself.
The basic ensemble is made up of piano, cello, flute, clarinet and double bass, instruments that I tried to use on different frequencies than those of the voice. Such a small set was ideal for this project: it wasn’t a choice dictated by the budget, but mainly the outcome of the search for an intimate, evocative sound.
The kokle, a traditional Latvian string instrument, has been added in some of the tracks. Signe Baumane is a New York-based filmmaker (she has worked and lived in the United States for years now) but has of course Latvian origins, and most of the story of “Rocks In My Pockets” takes place in this country. So, the use of this wonderful instrument became imperative and absolutely challenging for me as a composer.
After some research I got in touch with Sanita Sprūža, a Latvian musician (and renowned teacher) and kokle expert: she recorded her parts in Riga (the capital of Latvia).
Other musicians who, on the other hand, recorded their parts in my studio are Stefano Mora – double bass, Marco Messa – clarinet, Federico Perpich – cello.
I played the parts of piano and flute, and of course programmed the electronic parts. If you listen carefully, you can hear several little “noises” in the background: the sound of the piano pedals, the creaking of the wood of the cello, the breath of the clarinet, the sound of the flute keys and so on. These are the typical “noises” one usually tries to avoid at all costs during a recording session. I like them to be heard, and felt, I’d like our presence to be identified behind the music. It’s precisely for this reason that my studi
o is not completely “aseptic” and perfectly soundproofed: in each of my works you can hear (although imperceptible) the distant sounds of the environment. For example, in some tracks of the score for “Hyde’s Secret Nightmare” (2012) you can feel the sound of the rain or the swallows flying over the studio roof. These sounds make the recordings unique and add something special to the music itself; I love to listen to the songs and, thanks to an unexpected noise, remember the recording session and the time spent composing and working on that particular track.
I tried to follow the advice of Maestro Morricone in developing this soundtrack. I tried to compose songs that could be of service to the narrative and the aesthetics of the film, but that could also be heard outside the context of the movie and still have meaning in themselves. I hope I succeeded in doing so, at least in part.
When I started writing the music, the film was pretty much finished, so that I had the opportunity to get an idea of the exact narrative and emotional development, and to write the music following the chronological order of the various scenes. Here are the individual songs you’ll find in the album, along with some notes about them. I promise I won’t spoil any scene…
How to Not Commit
That is, all the (many) ways not to commit suicide, the title is pretty self-explanatory… each method has its own musical “presence”. The scene was, in part, cut in the film where you can only see one of Signe’s ideas for committing suicide. Originally, there were at least five and one of them was jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge: for this scene I wanted the xylophone to quote the music that Bernard Hermann wrote for the soundtrack of “Vertigo”, before taking a funnier and light-hearted direction.
It’s one of the main themes of the movie, it comes back in on several occasions with variations in tempo, arrangement and orchestration. Here the theme is very playful and carefree, deliberately minimalist (just piano and double bass). It has a slight melancholic mood in the central part, to give a sense of foreboding about the evolution of the story.
Indulis is Anna’s husband. He is an eclectic character, full of life, funny in some way. For him, I wrote a mysterious, grotesque theme. This is the very first piece I composed for the movie, being the demo that allowed me to join the project.
Divorce Latvian Style
The title of the song is named after the famous Italian comedy of the 60s, “Marriage Italian Style”. For this variation of Indulis’ theme, I composed a trio for 3 cellos (which were actually overdubbed) with the addition of a clarinet in Part B.
The Secretary and the Entrepreneur
A fun little tune that grows and develops slowly like Anna and Indulis’ love story. It’s from Anna’s point of view: she is attracted to his employer, a mature man (married, too) who appears as the most charismatic and charming person in the eyes of a young girl who’s entering city life for the first time.
New Wife New Life
Change is not always a good thing… in this slow and almost fragile ¾ I used the melodica for the melody, which has a vibrant, melancholy sound, while the harmony is supported by the kokle. In Part B, more positive, the harmony is up to the accordion, an instrument I’m particularly fond of because my grandfather used to play it. And here I played the very same “Paolo Soprani” accordion he used to own (which dates back to the beginnings of the 20th century).
Variation of Anna’s theme, much more melancholy thanks to the slow tempo, the use of the cello and the repeated Part B (in minor key).
Russian, German, Partisans
A glimpse of the invasion of Latvia by the Russians, the Germans and the Partisans themselves: the track is thoroughly ironic, to highlight the stupidity of all wars. I was inspired by Russian and German popular and military music of the World War II; the partisan theme has instead a folk flavour.
The title says it all, but how can you describe jealousy with music? It is a mixture of sadness and fascination, anguish and melancholia, with a melody that gives the impression to be about to get somewhere but that actually revolves around itself, with suspicion…
10. Helpless Creatures
Piano and kokle arpeggios give the basis for a light melody of only two notes, floating by, a sort of sad lullaby, not very reassuring. The sweet voice is of Agnese, my wife, who always affectionately lends herself to my experiments.
The forest is the most magical place, so in this piece I tried to create a mix of curiosity and mystery, from the point of view of a child who looks out into the woods, fascinated and frightened at the same time. In the second part there is a new variation of Anna’s theme which begins cheerfully and lively but then leaves room for two cellos playing a sad melody, but also warm and captivating.
It’a reprise of the aforementioned “Partisans”, which develops into two other themes, one of which is rhythmically reminiscent of Indulis’ theme. It is essentially a duet for piano and kokle.
It starts gently as a solo cello piece and evolves slowly with the addition of the piano, in a mixture of hope and sadness.
Center of the Universe
The carillon-like intro gradually takes on nuances I’d define almost sacred. The center of the Universe is in this case the woman as a Mother.
Nothing to Hold
After a very bright and hopeful opening, the melody played by the clarinet and the harmony by the kokle give to the piece a very archaic and melancholy solemnity, peculiarly typical the old folk ballads. Piano and cello then enter to bring the sound up to date, meaning that some events in life are universal and belong to the personal sphere of all men and women of all ages.
Signe and Anna
Signe’s theme and the one of her grandmother Anna converge in this piece, where they have the same ¾ pattern but with different meanings. Signe’s theme is more modern, more curious and hopeful about the world and life, while Anna’s theme, that we’ve heard quite a few times by now, keeps having a feeling of underl
ying melancholy even in this version (which doesn’t include Part B, mainly in minor key).
An evolution of Miranda’s theme: in this version it becomes a celebration of the Summer Solstice (the most important festivity in Latvia), of Nature and the Earth. The theme is “born” from the cello and is developed first by a clarinet and then by flutes.
There are several themes in here. The first two belong to Linda’s character and her adventure to be admitted to medical school. Both of them have a certain rhythmic drive and an ironic disposition, almost one of superiority towards everyone and everything. At the end of the track, the brief Irbe’s theme is peaceful and cheerful, to describe a young and talented musician who’s ready for new experiences.
Another theme related to Linda, completely different from the previous one. It’s a slow and eerie dance with madness, performed by a woman who has seen every single dream of love and professional ambition dissolve before her eyes. At the same time the music has a solemn, resolute pace, symbolizing the dignity and the will to bite the bullet and go ahead, in spite of everything.
Like A Clown
The title would seem to hint to a particularly funny piece, but it’s actually a song in constant balance between major and minor keys, giving the music an extremely grotesque direction, especially in combination with the pictures and the story of the film, which I’m not going to reveal…
By far my favorite track on the album, it is basically a trio for cello, viola and piano. It’s so very different from the other little tune I dedicated to her, as it represents the struggle she embraces against her will, against the voices she hears inside her head, driving her towards the abyss. The ¾ tempo, which I used extensively in this soundtrack, somehow expresses the madness, the unconscious (perhaps inevitable) desire to surrender to and be carried away by it, as it were the mysterious and deadly partner of an endless waltz.
I Hear Music
This track contains two different scenes which are musically interconnected because they are, in a way, conclusive. Both of them represent the triumph of self-determination over insanity, or rather the acceptance of depression as one of the possible drifts of life. In the first scene, the bouncy rhythm of Irbe’s theme comes back, while, in the second one, the music is a sort of milonga, melancholy but with an encouraging, optimistic ending.
The opening piano and clarinet notes stand for the hesitant and humble way of those who live their life unnoticed, standing in a corner as if they didn’t belong to it. But the piece eventually changes into a melody that wants to express that they are ready to get hold of their own existence, thanks to a renewed awareness of their family, their heritage and life itself.
24.Rocks in My Pockets – End Titles
I had written a song for the final credits, but then we thought it was too “conventional”, an attempt to finish up the movie as if to say, “That’s all folks, don’t you worry, it’s just a tale of fiction.” Truth is, this story belongs to us all, on different levels, it is a celebration of life, of our inner struggle against our own demons and the social conventions that restrain us. Signe specifically requested to give free rein to the orchestration here, as this is the only piece in the film where the music dominates the scene, without the voiceover. So I chose the main theme, Anna’s theme, which starts very slowly, only played by the clarinet, and then develops for the whole orchestra. The inspiration comes from the music of Nino Rota for Fellini’s movies, it’s playful, joyful, reminds of a circus, and reveals that underlying melancholy of popular music. It’s a hymn to life, an invitation to accept it as it is with all the difficulties and idiosyncrasies, knowing that, even with its ups and downs, it’s unique, special, worth living the best that we can.