Sunday, 7 December 2008

Batman The Animated Series - out as a 2-cd limited edition

I'm absolutely over the moon that the music for Batman the Animated Series will soon be officialy available, albeit in a 2CD edition - limited to 3,000 copies.

Like last year's Blade Runner release this is a much anticipated release just in time for Christmas. Featuring the work of Shirley Walker, Lolita Ritmanis and Michael McCuiston, this is a must have CD for all fans of the Ani-Bat.

A quick glance at the track listings on http://buysoundtrax.stores.yahoo.net/baanseorsoby.html, reveals some great cues from the first season of this groundbreaking animated series. In addition to Shirley Walker's stunning interpretation of Danny Elfman's classic theme, you also get Walker's own grandiose alternate Batman theme.

I've placed my order and will be waiting in anticipation for the sound of our postie's footfall on our doorstep.

AN APOLOGY
For regular visitors to this blog, please accept my sincere apologies for a lack of new material recently. This will be remedied very soon when things calm down at work and aren't taken up with travelling and meeting print deadlines (and I stop trying to watch every episode of "24").

So with a thumbed nose to the credit crunch let's all enjoy the great music that's out there.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Rocky - Gonna Fly Now

Released in 1976 , Rocky was directed by John G. Avildsen and starred Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote the screenplay. It told the rags-to-riches American Dream story of Philadephia strong arm debt collector and part time club fighter Rocky Balboa, who gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship when the scheduled contender breaks his hand.

Shot in only 28 days, Rocky made over US$117.2 million, picked up three Oscars and made Stallone a household name. It became a staple during the early 80's in the fledgeling video rental market and spawned five sequels: Rocky II, III, IV, V, and Rocky Balboa.

Rocky has spawned countless pastiches and imitators, from the gruelling training montages culminating in his triumphal ascent of the steps outside Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, to the emotional scenes of bruised, battered but unbowed Rocky Balboa, refusing to go down. This latter image epitomised the America's "never give up" attitude, much more than Rambo, Stallone's other succesful franchise.

Unlike Rambo, who was adapted from David Morrell's novel First Blood, Rocky is entirely Stallone's own invention and as such has more heart. It's a tribute to the power of the movie that a statue has been erected in Philly in his honour. One wonders if future generations will eventually believe that Rocky Balboa really was a boxer.

The music for the Rocky movies can really be epitomised by two tracks: Bill Conti's triumpant Rocky theme, actually called Gonna Fly Now; and Survivor's thumping Eye of the Tiger. It's a song that always seems to inspire men of a certain age to take the dancefloor at social gatherings and adopt a fighting pose and do that menacing marauding dinosaur dance.

Aside from Dan Hartman's eminently danceable Living in America from Rocky IV, the music for most of the Rocky movies is white AOR with a preponderance of fruity synthesisers and loud gated Linn drums. But isn't that always the case with movies of that era? Ultimately the Rocky movies are great feel good movies that still make you believe that you can win, even when the odds are against you. Adrienne!!!!!!

Saturday, 11 October 2008

The Wicker Man

Directed by Robin Hardy and released in 1973, The Wicker Man is arguably the greatest British horror film to emerge from the 1970's. Filmed in Scotland, it features some of the most iconic and scary scenes put on film. It stars Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and Diane Cilento plus horror queen Ingrid Pitt and a decidedly saucy but badly dubbed Britt Eckland.

Edward Woodward plays a devoutly religious Scottish police officer, Sergeant Neil Howie who visits the isolated island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a local girl. Howie soon discovers that the inhabitants of Summerisle are Paganists and as such are at odds with his devoutly Christian beliefs. Eventually Howie encounters the charismatic Lord Summerisle played by Christopher Lee, where amid the sexual shenanigins, Howie discovers more disturbing facts about the island and its beliefs to his own personal cost.

The Wicker Man is no schlocky horror movie with some T&A thrown in for good measure (though there is a bit of that c/o Ms Eckland). It delves deeper into something more primeval and sinister. The film has been analysed to death and I am sure I can add no new insights. Therefore I heartily recommend that you check out the excellent Wicker Man site http://www.wicker-man.com/ to get the lowdown on this great movie.

The soundtrack for The Wicker Man was composed, arranged and recorded by Paul Giovanni and Magnet. It comprises folk songs performed by members of the cast including Christopher Lee and Lesley Mackie who sings the opening song. The overall vibe is slightly disturbing with songs arranged to reflect pre-Christian pagan European culture and the island environment. Amongst the bawdy folk songs nestle many beautiful cues such as the previously mentioned opening song and the sensual Willow's song 'performed' in the movie by Brit Eckland in a scene that over the years has set many an adolescent boy's pulse pounding!

Goodbye Lenin

Goodbye Lenin is Wolfgang Becker's 2003 charming tragi-comedy set in the former East Germany. It concerns a young man's increasingly ingenious attempts to conceal the renunification of East and West Germany from his ailing mother.

The film begins in East Berlin during the Cold War, where Christine Kerner (Katrin Saß), a mother with two children finds herself alone after her husband defects to the West. As a result she becomes a loyal card carrying member of the socialist party. When she sees her son Alex played by Daniel Brühl in an anti-government protest she suffers a major heart attack which puts her in a coma. By the time she emerges from the coma, unknown to her, East and West Germany have reunited. Alex is warned by Christine's doctor that any shock could kill his mother. So to save his beloved mother Alex is forced to devise schemes to convince her that East Germany is very much alive and well.

There are wonderful scenes where Alex and his friends scour shops looking for food stuffs that were popular in the old days but are now no longer available. He even goes as far as to fake TV broadcasts to maintain the illusion where actual scenes of East Germans flooding in to the West is re-interpreted as West Germans seeking refuge in the East.

Yann Tiersen's charming, minimalist score for Goodbye Lenin is a delight. With a nod towards Michael Nyman, Tiersen beautifully conveys the complex emotions in the film without resorting to crass mickey-mousing of the on screen action. The emotionally charged cues stay with you long after the house lights have gone up. Just try to listen to the Summer 78 cue without a tear forming in your eye.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Blade Runner - Inspiring The Future

During the run up to the release of Blade Runner: The Final Cut, Warner Brothers ran a promotion to encourage fans to submit material under the categories of art, fashion, literature, and music. The winner of the music category was Bentley Ousley with his mesmeric composition "Deckard's World"

Composer, Bentley is well known in Blade Runner fan circles and is widely recognised as one of the foremost experts on Vangelis' renowned music from Ridley Scott's ground-breaking cult classic. Though only three minutes and ten seconds in duration, Deckard's World captures the melancholy vibe of the movie and the lonely, rainswept, congested streets of Los Angeles in 2019 with considerable panache.

The track was born among a number of musical sketches for the soundtrack for the "Blade Runner Chronicles" a film work in progress. Commenting on the construction of the track Bentley Ousley explained,"I used the CS-80v from Arturia for the "Blade Runner Blues"-type synth sound. (Vangelis, of course, used the original Yamaha CS-80 synth for this sound). Vangelis generally used slightly mod-ed presets from this synth. The CS-80v comes with all the original presets from the CS-80. So ... with a little bit of experimentation, you can usually find what Vangelis was using to produce his different textures.

"I used a Yamaha CS2x for the electric piano sound. The patch is a slightly altered version of the preset "Transine". I hardly use this hardware synth anymore, but I thought the lo-fi vibe of this e-piano patch was simular to some of the early Vangelis recordings. The rain and thunder come from the SpaceHawk library. The percussion loop was made with sounds from Stylus RMX. The bass is a real bass guitar. The strings are the String Sustain instrument from Seidlecek's Complete Classical Collection."

You too can enjoy the experience of Deckard's World by downloading the track from Bentley's website HERE

Other examples from Bentley's Blade Runner sketchbook are here:
On the strength of these tantalising glimpses into the Future Noir of LA 2019, I for one, hope these recordings received the exposure they deserve.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

L.A. Confidential - very hush-hush and on the QT

L.A. Confidential, is Curtis Hanson's slick 1997 movie adaptation of James Elroy's sprawling novel set in corruption-ridden late 1940's Los Angeles. Despite the plethora of period details, Hanson doesn't let that bog the film down and lets his talented cast live and breath their parts imbuing the film with a naturality that other directors can only dream of.

Hanson initially worried his financiers by casting virtual unknowns and non A-list actors. However, this is the very strength of L.A. Confidential, as each actor gives utterly believable performances. In the case of Kim Basinger, as beautiful Veronica Lake look-alike hooker, Lynn Bracken, it is arguably her career best.
What is even more amazing about L.A Confidential is that three of the principal characters are played by Antipodeans. Russell Crowe in his first Hollywood role dominates the screen as thuggish blunt instrument with a heart, Officer Wendell "Bud" White. Former Aussie soap star Guy Pearce plays squeaky clean bespectacled go-getter, Sergeant Edmund Exley; while James Cromwell, (Farmer Hoggett from Babe) exudes corruption as Police Chief Captain Dudley Smith.

Elsewhere Kevin Spacey shines as Sergeant Jack Vincennes, the cool and charismatic Hollywood cop who moonlights as the technical advisor of Badge of Honor - loosely based on the Dragnet TV show. Vincennes also takes a cut of the action from weasly Sid Hudgeons played with sleazy relish by Danny Devito of Hush-Hush magazine - based on the notorious scandal rag Confidential magazine, itself the subject of a fascinating BBC radio documentary.

The eclectic soundtrack for L.A. Confidential mixes Jerry Goldsmith's dark and mysterious film noir score and a selection of popular hits from the era. Many of the songs perfectly ac-cent-tchu-ate the onscreen action. There is a particularly funny sequence with Lana Turner and her psychotic boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato. Whilst Goldsmith's L.A. Confidential score is not perhaps his best, it bridges the gap between his own Chinatown score and John Barry's Playing By Heart. The score for L.A. Confidential was nominated, but lost out to James Horner's Titanic, for the Golden Globes and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Although other James Elroy novels have been brought to the screen, there are none to date that hold a candle to Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential, a fact confirmed by Elroy himself.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Teen Titans - Let's Go!

Premiered in 2003, Warner Brothers' Teen Titans was an animated TV series about a team of young super heroes, Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Raven. Based on DC Comics characters, the stylishly drawn series was created by Sam Register and Glen Murakami.


Whilst Teen Titans is not technically a spinoff of Warners' other super hero series, Batman, Superman and Justice League, it shares good character-based plots and excellent animation albeit in a more stylized manga style and thus light years away from its noble predecessors.

Given that the show is aimed at a younger audience, it has perhaps not received the widespread attention by animation fans, that it warrants. This is partially true, but the episodes I have caught, have tackled adult themes and the animation is a welcome change from the slightly cliched anime style of some much lauded Japanese cartoons.

The delightfully bonkers theme tune for Teen Titans - which I have something of a soft spot for - is enthusiastically performed by J-Pop lovelies Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura better known as Puffy Amiyumi. While Teen Titans is at the kiddie end of their portfololio Puffy Amiyumi's more recent material, which I strongly advise you check out, features some great pop and rock tunes that remind you of L7, Joan Jett, Shampoo, The Beatles, The Who, Abba, Bow Wow Wow, The Ramones, Polysics and Pizzicato Five. Massive in their home country, Ami and Yumi were appointed goodwill ambassadors to the United States to encourage tourism in Japan and looking at them, it's not hard to see why!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Boy On A Dolphin

Directed by Jean Negulesco and released in 1957, Boy on a Dolphin was a lavish romance set in Greece and sumptuously filmed in Technicolor and CinemaScope. Based on the novel by David Divine, the film starred the vertically challenged Alan Ladd and the statuesque Sophia Loren in her American film debut.

Loren plays Phaedra, a Greek sponge diver who discovers an ancient Greek statue of a boy riding a dolphin at the bottom of the Aegean Sea. Alan Ladd plays an archaeologist attempting to recover the statue for the Greek government, while Clifton Webb plays an unscrupulous treasure hunter who only wants it for his own private collection.

The shimmering fantasy soundtrack for Boy on a Dolphin composed by Hugo Friedhofer and conducted by Lionel Newman was nominated for 1957 Academy Award for the Original Best Score. It mixes traditional Greek themes with more western style music. The sultry theme song often attributed to Julie London (though she did record her own version) is actually sung by Mary Kaye in the movie and is performed over the stunning underwater title sequence.

During the scene when Phaedra discovers the statue, disembodied female vocals are used to great effect and recall the underscores to the original Star Trek series, usually when Kirk gets into a clinch with some Alien totty. Elsewhere you can hear where John Williams perhaps sought inspiration from this score for Star Wars: A New Hope.

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I first became aware of this soundtrack when I heard Amon Tobin's dance track Sordid which sampled, The Dive. The Tobin track was also used as the musical backdrop for Chris Morris' darkly comedic Suicide Journalist on his Blue Jam album. I was fascinated by the eerie mysterious vibe of the sample and was delighted when I finally tracked it down.

There was a time when Boy on A Dolphin was a popular staple of Saturday afternoon telly, which makes it inexplicable why it's not officially available on DVD. Even though it's not the greatest of adventures and the on-screen chemistry of the principals is somewhat lacking, the film looks great and Loren...well we've all see that photo!

For a more in-depth appraisal of Boy On A Dolphin, there's an excellent article on TCM which you can access by clicking Here

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Ready to Groove, Grab Your Gals, it's gonna be A SWINGIN' SUMMER!

Directed by Robert Sparr and released in 1965, A Swingin' Summer was a variation on the typical 60s beach party movie primarily because it took place in a summertime mountain lakeside resort. Apart from that, the film is only really distinguished by its above average soundtrack and the 'acting' debut of a certain twenty five year old Jo Raquel Tejada aka Raquel Welch.

Aping the hugely popular AIP series of Beach B-movies, the rather thin plot of A Swingin' Summer concerns a bunch of squeaky-clean, peachy-keen teens on their summer vacation trying to prevent the closure of the local dance pavilion on Lake Arrowhead in San Bernadino. They enlist the financial assistance of a rich parent to bankroll the venue whilst running it themselves. Despite the dastardly attempts by smoothy local lifeguard Turk to foil their plans, everything turns out fine in the end and everyone has a good old frug to relieve themselves of any unnatural desires to cross-pollinate, pet or partake of the demon reefer.

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The soundtrack for A Swingin' Summer, was released on Hanna Barbera Records and features much of the music featured in the film, including The Righteous Brothers' R&B tinged Justine; The Rip Chords' zippy Red Hot Roadster; Carol Connors' cute A Swingin' Summer; Raquel Welch's enthusiastic I'm Ready To Groove; and let us not forget Donny Brooks' spirited rendition of the curiously titled Penny The Poo. Perhaps Penny the Poo was a precient pre-protest paen to Pacific pollution - or poppycock? The remainder of the soundtrack is made up of instrumentals by The Swingers aka Gary Lewis and The Playboys - the best of which is Out To Lunch.

A Swingin' Summer is never going to change your life but while there's still a bit of summer left there's nothing stopping you from indulging in the guilty pleasures of doing the Dog or the Pony in the garden. Those readers familar with Cockney rhyming slang should perhaps ignore the last suggestion!

Teenage Rebellion / Mondo Teeno

Teenage Rebellion, aka Mondo Teeno released in 1967, was a cheapo documentary about the "Now" Generation. Written and directed by Norman T. Herman and using footage from The US, Italy, Sweden, France, Japan and England, this (not in the least bit exploitative) expose of crazy teenage global goings-on, lifted the lid on such heady topics as Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll and of course go-go dancing and surfing.

Film director Burt Topper provided the deadly serious narration including such classic lines as "Across the country, every Friday and Saturday night, they gather in the temples to perform ceremonial dances to a rhythm that seems to reach back in time. It's called the beat."

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The soundtrack for the masterpiece that is Teenage Rebellion was composed by California's former lieutenant governor, Mike Curb, the man who not only brought us Burning Bridges from Kelly's Heroes, but also The Osmonds - but let's not dwell on that. Curb was to his credit president of Verve Records where he not only signed Tony Bennett but also worked with such jazz greats as Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz, Chet Baker and Wes Montgomery.

Teenage Rebellion's title track is a great piece of frenetic lightweight psychedelia while the hoedown-style orgy track is bizarrely inappropriate in the extreme. On A Young Girl's Mistake there's some cheesy baroque stone-age synth with a some head-banging pic-tic-a-poc drum machine. But it's the sample friendly extracts featuring Burt Topper's solemly intoned exposes of the world of drugs - (check out the Henry Mancini meets Jean Jacques Perrey cue), prostitution and .....gasp....homosexuality, that are the cream on the cake and an absolute hoot to boot. Remember kids, "Just Say No!"

On the subject of drugs, no responsible household should be without A Child's Garden of Grass. Released in 1971 by Elektra Records, A Child's Garden of Grass parodies those well meaning public information documentaries of yore and informs us with its tongue firmly in its hash brownie stuffed cheek, about the fascinating science, history, and culture of marijuana.

And if that's not enough, there is always King Kandy's delightful Original Notion (sic) Picture soundtrack to Acid Beach Party which combines surfing, psychedelia, garage and beat poetry plus a man called Cleff Brock in one irresistably trippy package. Check out King Kandy's far-out website http://www.kingkandy.co.uk/ where you can find out more about this mind-expanding release and the sound of Chad Valli.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Battle Royale - The Sudden Death Cult Movie

Directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku and released in 2000, Battle Royale is set in an alternate Japan where junior high school students are taken to a remote island and required to fight to the death until only one remains. This controversial movie was based on an equally notorious novel by Japanese author Koushun Takami.

Not only do the students have to dispatch their classmates using a selection of weapons but they also have to contend with explosive collars around their necks which contain tracking and listening devices. Any attempt to tamper with the collars, escape or enter a declared "danger zone", will detonate the collar and kill the student. Furthermore, if no student dies in any 24 hour period, all collars will be detonated simultaneously.

Some fun huh? Well surprisingly it is. There are fifty students to begin with and pretty soon you start to select your favourite and when/if they fall, you select another to cheer for. Ok we are on slightly dodgy ground morally but it begs the question what would you do in their place? It really is a kill or be killed situation.


Surprisingly none of the child actors who took part in the filming bore any emotional scars. Many regarded it as a bit of fun during their holidays while others were prompted to confront the moral issue of whether they could truly kill a friend in order to survive.


To some Battle Royale is just a sadistic gore-fest where a lot of nice kids get killed, which is rather missing the point. It's more of a future vision of the extremes of reality TV and how far a government would be prepared to go to maintain control over wild youth.

The classic soundtrack for Battle Royale, by composer Masamichi Amano seamlessy mixes his own orchestral and choral cues with selected classical pieces by Verdi, Schubert, Bach and Strauss. It's hard to choose the real standout tracks but among my favourites are Teacher which introduces the menacing Kitano; the brooding Slaughter House; the touching Mimuras Determination and the deeply moving Reunion.

Whilst the soundtrack is a great listen, you really have to see the film in all its blood splattered gory glory where the cues take on a greater poignancy. Unlike the DVD of the film which is readily available in most video stores, the soundtrack is a bit elusive, but well worth the search once you've tracked it down. This one is Super lucky!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence

Directed by Japanese auteur Nagisa Oshima and released in 1983 , Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, also known as Furyo, was a Second World War Drama set in a Japanese POW camp. Written by Oshima and Paul Mayersberg, the film was based on Laurens van der Post's novels The Seed and the Sower and The Night of the New Moon.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence stars superstar musicians David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto playing captive Jack Celliers and captor Captain Yonoi respectively. There's some fine support from Tom Conti as the titular Lawrence and the multi-talented actor/writer/director/musician "Beat" Takeshi Kitano as Sergeant Hara - who also played the menacing Kitano in the awesome Battle Royale.

The film eschews the usual POW movie cliches and concentrates on the relationships between the four main characters. The taboo subject of homosexuality rears its head throughout the story with Captain Yonoi falling for Celliers. While bleached blonde Bowie looks suitably stunning which may account for Yonoi's feelings, how none of the commandant's colleagues fail to notice that he sports more makeup than the average Geisha is beyond me. Bowie also pushes the bounds of credibility when he has to play a schoolboy version of his adult self during a bizarre flashback sequence.

Bowie has made no secret of his thespian tendencies, though as a life long fan of the man, I've always felt that Bowie should stick to singing. That said, he puts in a pretty convincing performance in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, that is only eclipsed by his superior star turn in The Man Who Fell to Earth.

As well as playing the decidedly camp commandant, multi-instrumentalist and former Yellow Magic Orchestra frontman, Ryuichi Sakamoto contributes a moving and memorable electronic score to Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. The well known title theme available in instrumental form and as a vocal version (Forbidden Colours) warbled by former Japan frontman David Sylvian, regularly turns up on cheesy Chillout compliations.

Elsewhere, there are some haunting cues such as Germination and Last Regrets that are only let down by the rather twee Ride, Ride, Ride which accompanies a mawkishly sentimental sequence featuring Cellier's younger brother but that's what the 'skip' button is for. To my ears you can hear Sakamoto's influence in the works of fellow Nipponese musician Joe Hisaishi, though I'll leave you to form your own conclusions on this interesting little soundtrack, that at times is as delicate as a lotus blossom and sharp as a samurai sword, so give it a spin.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

RON JONES INTERVIEW

Following my DuckTales piece last week, composer Ron Jones graciously agreed to discuss his early days, his work methods, the much-loved DuckTales score and more.

My eternal thanks go to Ron for taking the time to answer my geeky fan boy questions.

BACKGROUND

Ron Jones has worked as a composer for over 35 years. His classic underscores for Star Trek TNG have won him fans and awards the world over. His score CV includes coutless Hanna Barbera cues, the 1988 Superman cartoon series and latterly Family Guy and American Dad. His theme for the Fairly Odd Parents was awarded the BMI TV & Film award 3 years running for being the most performed theme in broadcasting worldwide.

After graduating from the Dick Grove School of Music and working with Lalo Schifrin, Ron got his initial break at Hanna-Barbera working with Hoyt Curtin scoring many animation projects. He later moved to Disney scoring the studio’s first syndicated cartoon series DuckTales.

In addition to regular scoring assignments, Ron has formed the Influence Jazz Orchestra comprised of many of the top session and recording musicians from both the scoring and jazz worlds of Los Angeles.

Ron is currently building a new website which will be up this Autumn. Ron’s new jazz band site, http://www.influencejazz.com/ is already up and running.

EARLY DAYS


Reel Cool: Were you from a musical family or did you develop your skills playing in bands before you enrolled at the Dick Grove School of Music?

Ron Jones: I gravitated towards arranging and composing from when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I joined a local Drum and Bugle Corps in Bellevue Washington and played in a large brass section. Because Drum and Bugle Corps have no published scores to play, they always have arrangers doing their music. I just was so impressed by these guys that would come in with freshly arranged charts and teach them to us. With well over 30 brass and 20 or so percussion we could make amazing sounds. We were outside school systems. Really rebels, like a rock band, but we would play parades and contests on football stadiums. The music was always set to visual movement like ballet. Not like marching band, much more intensive and deeply hard core. I would get some friends together from the Corps and experiment with things. Eventually this grew and I was leading my own corps and composing and arranging professionally for all sorts of groups while still in High School.

Reel Cool: What was your primary instrument?

Ron Jones: I guess, French Horn. I only played that so I could set in the middle of the orchestra and hear everything from that position. Composing has always been my main thing. Second might be conducting.

Reel Cool: You were a protégé of Lalo Schifrin, how did that come about and what was it like working with him?

Ron Jones: He needed someone to copy a concerto for Guitar and orchestra and instead of paying bucks he taught me orchestration and conducting. What started out as a temporary thing turned into two-three years of very deep study with a master. I applied everything I learned on the very busy scoring assignments I had during that period. Really amazing.

Reel Cool: Assuming Lalo Schifrin was an influence do you have any other musical influences?

Ron Jones: I have many. I am a student of all aspects and styles of western and world musics. I know it all. Early influences were Aaron Copland, Don Ellis, Stravinsky, Bartok, Legiti and all that. I have dwelled with great affection and appreciation for the craft and inventiveness of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann, as have many. I have lots of experience in Pop, Jazz, Classical, early music styles, music for Theater, Opera. I have written more Rap and Hip Hop than Jay-Z spanning over 25 years of that stuff. I know of and can write in the bag of all contemporary composers like John Adams, Steve Riech and all those post-minimalists cats. I lead an elite Jazz orchestra here in LA called Influence. It is made up of the very best session and jazz players on earth. We have sold out every concert and jazz gig. That has been very fun and interesting to explore.

Reel Cool: After graduation, you moved to Hanna Barbera, what was the environment like at HB?

Ron Jones: Strange. I and everyone else who scored all those shows during Hanna-Barbera's golden era, worked directly for Hoyt Curtin. He was great fun and a musical genius. I learned so many wonderful and deep lessons during that time and scored hundreds of shows, thousands of cues. People will never understand or be able to replicate that experience. Amazing.

Reel Cool: Were you given a level of creative freedom or was it ‘scores on demand’ and on a tight budget?

Ron Jones: Yes, it was super demanding in all senses of the expression. It always is demanding. It is not only the gig, the time, the money, it is ultimately, an inner challenge. I always, every single time, every single stroke of my pencil try to create the very best I can. I never say, crap this sucks, let me grind out some shit here. Never do I think that or do that. I write to please first myself. I have high standards. Second, I always regard the intelligence and inborn musicality of the human receptors which will view and listen to what is playing there. I believe that even a 2 or 3 year old knows what is right, what is good and interesting. I never patronize an audience. Never. So regardless of time, money, producers, studios, and all other limitations, I give it my all.

Reel Cool: What was/is your compositional approach, do you have a tune or a mood in your head or do you play with chords and runs until something comes?

Ron Jones: Most people have a very unrealistic notion of what a composer goes through. Misinformation and romantic notions mixed together. I think more like architecture. I build with music blocks. First you need to learn and gather information about the show the story the characters. Then you create musical materials (Themes, Motifs, that stuff). When it has been decided where music will go in the show, then you do all you can to support and subjugate the music to help that scene dramatically. You need experience, craft and good old-fashioned problem solving skills and a big imagination/creativity. Then, you must do this all by Tuesday. Easy right?

DUCK TALES
Reel Cool: You were selected to score Duck Tales – was that a direct commission from Disney or as result of an open casting?

Ron Jones: Chris Montan, a very intuitive guy who heads up Disney music had sat in a few sessions that we where doing for H-B. I did not know at all who he was. He heard some of my cues and said he thought they where pretty good. I told him how I regard the audience and its intelligence. When Duck Tales started out the composers took a low approach, talking down and being very patronizing with the score. Really too stupid and overtly "Cute". So Chris called and said, “Please come down to Disney and let's have you do this series.”

When I went down we met with the head of TV-Animation. He asked me what my approach would be. I said I would treat these Ducks like real people on real adventures. I would not play the score like a kid’s show at all. I said if they went on an adventure I would play it serious like Raiders of the Lost Ark. I guess they saw my point and gave me the job.

Reel Cool: Duck Tales debuted in 1987 – given the lead-time for cartoons at what point were you brought into the production schedule?

Ron Jones: In guess a few months before that.

Reel Cool: Were you shown footage of Duck Tales prior to composing?

Ron Jones: I scored to picture frame by frame of course.

Reel Cool: Did you have the chance to discuss the scenarios you would be scoring with the producers or were you just given broad based themes like ‘action sequence’, ‘dream sequence’, ‘mystery’ etc?

Ron Jones: Not really. They gave me a very wide creative area to operate in. That always allows for good things to happen. Here Ron, do something cool. That is all I need. Most producers micro manage and suppress the scores, it’s really a very sad situation and counter-intuitive.

Reel Cool: Assuming you created the initial demo scores on synths, did you write the final orchestral arrangements?

Ron Jones: There where no demos. I did everything, compose, orchestrate, arrange and conduct.

Reel Cool: Initially you oversaw the sequences you were scoring. As time went on were you involved in applying your cues to later episodes?

Ron Jones: I only scored a few shows. I designed the cues to not only score specific scenes but to be trackable. They tracked the vast majority of the episodes due to the effectiveness of this design. One of the best ever, I believe.

Reel Cool: Duck Tales ran for 100 episodes – many of your cues were reused throughout the seasons (this is why so many are so familiar and beloved by fans), how many cues did you actually compose?

Ron Jones: I composed it as a library. I had Adventure themes, Bad guy themes, chases, heart-felt cues, the gamut. My years at Hanna-Barbera came in very handy.

Reel Cool: How many sessions were there, what was the typical recording set up and size of the orchestra you used for the scoring sessions?

Ron Jones: I think about there were about 14 sessions. I packaged all the sessions. I had nearly 40 players for much of it. I had some sessions with contemporary rhythm section guys, and some synth with a small group of live players. We covered a lot of ground. Duckburg was a big freakin' place!

Reel Cool: There are many varied styles of music evident on DuckTales, were you given creative freedom on this project?

Ron Jones: Yes. I did whatever I chose to do.

Reel Cool: Do you have any specific or lasting memories of this project?

Ron Jones: After I scored the first episode (Armstrong) the music editor called me up and was very excited. He said , "Drop everything and come over, I want to show you something." When I got there, in a little editing room he played back the first few cues with pictures on an old movieola. It was magical. Everything worked so well. My approach of playing things real helped elevate the show, gave it a wonderment. Everyone could tell we had something very special. I just did my thing and it worked out nicely.

DUCK TALES AND BEYOND

Reel Cool: I’ll keep this brief as I guess you’ve probably answered this a zillion times! Getting the Star Trek TNG gig must have been equally daunting and thrilling, how did it feel to be in the same elite group as composers like Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner?

Ron Jones: Yes, it was. I had always in my own mind, pretended every show was great. In the case of ST:TNG, it really was cool. So I did not have to imagine as much. They laid it out - I scored it. I treated each episode like a feature, in every way possible.

Reel Cool: Were you ever tempted to emulate Goldsmith or determined to carve your own niche with your TNG scores?

Ron Jones: Well, we had to in a way. The studio (Paramount) was worried at first. They wanted the music at least, to bridge from the original series to the shockingly different ST:TNG. Sure, there was that element, but my music is still mine. Close your eyes sometime and really listen. You can hear it.

Reel Cool: Seth MacFarlane has made no secret of his love of Big Band Jazz - was it fun scoring Family Guy?

Ron Jones: Yes, we have enjoyed FG and it's fun, crazy dimensions for 10 years now. We are just starting the 6th season. Seth supports the music so deeply. If it where not for him, it would have been screwed down, like most of the crappy scores on broadcast today. He creates a zone where music can live. He knows and values what music does to a film or TV show. It is a vital element on may levels and he uses that to make the shows better. I guess that is why it is a billion dollar franchise world-wide. There are typically like, 20 styles in each show. It really makes you stretch. I love that. I love the challenge.

Reel Cool: The Fairly Odd Parents theme harks back to Swing Band Jazz and the classic 60’s Hanna Barbera themes – was that your idea or Butch Hartman’s?

Ron Jones: Seth recommended me to his close friend, Butch. Butch is a great person. He just trusted me to come up with something, and I did. He sent me a fax with some hand-written lyrics. i messed with them a bit and composed two different themes and sent them over for him to listen to. He took them home and played them for his young daughters. They loved the one that is used in the show. Yes, I brought into the theme the notion of a big Hoyt Curtin type thing. Of course it was fun.

FUTURE PROJECTS

Reel Cool: What new scores are you working on?

Ron Jones: Family Guy, American Dad and I think I will be doing part of the new Cleveland series. I am composing a lot of new things outside TV, like for my Jazz Orchestra-influence and for symphony orchestras. I just composed a new work called, The Ascent. I will premier it with the Las Vegas Philharmonic this weekend. Also, I am doing some free-form improvisational performance with Brad Dutz (my main Percussionist and dear friend) in the more artzy clubs around LA. I want to expand myself, and get out of the groove of just doing sessions in closed studios. I want to share with real people, live. This has been going very well.

Reel Cool: You’ve branched into film with your documentary with the musical group "Obliteration" and you series of shows Cookin' Carribean, - is that where your future lies or is scoring still your bread and butter?

Ron Jones: Look, Hollywood is about many things. In features it's about box office. The studios select composers, primarily because the last film they did made money. It is a factory. I still hold out great hope and possibility in scoring for features, even though many have dismissed me and all that. I feel that I have learned and experienced so much. I know my craft very well. Eventually Seth or someone else will look around and see what is available and choose to give me the creative opportunity. My life is so full of joy and thought and humanity that I really don't worry about it. I just do my best at all times. I let all that other stuff come or not. If I am given a great film to score, I know I will create something on a high level with meaning.

Reel Cool: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me

Ron Jones: Thank you for asking.

You can find out more about Ron Jones on his current website www.ronjonesproductions.com

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Blatherin' Blatherskite it's DuckTales - (Whoo, Hoo)!

Disney's DuckTales, ran from 1987 to 1990 for one hundred episodes and became not only the House of Mouse's first cartoon series produced for syndication, but also one of its most popular.

DuckTales followed the exploits of quadzillionaire businessman Scrooge McDuck and his great nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie who with Webbigale Vanderquack found themselves in exotic Indiana Jones style adventures that included trips on sea, on land, around the world, in outer space and occasionally through time.

This charming and genuinely enjoyable cartoon series was based on a popular comic strip by Carl Barks and unusually for a 'movie' adaptation, included many of Bark's characters and plots. Of the regular cast of characters there was absent-minded inventor Gyro Gearloose, accident prone pilot Launchpad McQuack, Scrooge's butler Duckworth, his loyal housekeeper Mrs Beakley and last but not least Fenton Crackshell, who in times of trouble utters the words "Blatherin' Blatherskite!" and became super hero Gizmo Duck. Regular villains included Magica De Spell, Flintheart Glomgold and the Beagle Boys - check out the boys' prison numbers.

Apart from excellent animation and imaginative plots, DuckTales the TV series boasted an extremely catchy theme tune composed by Mark Mueller and sung by Jeff Pescetto. The memorable orchestral score for the TV series was composed by Star Trek supremo Ron Jones. Alas Jones' score is not available officially though a short suite of cues has surfaced on the web. A feature film called DuckTales Treasure of the Lost Lamp followed in 1990 scored by David Newman. Good though Newman's score may be, it sticks to a rather predictable "John Williams in action adventure mode" mixed with Carl Stalling's Looney Tunes sound. Jones on the other hand mixes his musical styles utilising strings, keyboards and guitars as necessary. Of course his cues were re-used for many different scenarios throughout the series and had to be flexible. It does however display a definite deftness of touch that when heard after all these years still sounds fresh.

I got into DuckTales while my daughter was growing up and like a dutiful dad I sat and watched it with her and very soon became hooked. Like The Simpsons you had a regular cast of characters with their own back stories. The plots were well written with some clever and knowing touches. With so many less sophisticated cartoons dominating the airwaves and the digital domain, DuckTales seems from a time gone by. Now that Disney has begun releasing the series on DVD, there is an opportunity to enjoy them again. If you grew up in the 80's, have a party and watch DuckTales all night with your pals. If you haven't got kids, borrow one and use that as excuse to watch the series.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The Harder They Come - dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail in shanty town

Produced, directed and co-written by advertising director Perry Henzel, The Harder They Come was Jamaica's first and finest feature film. Released in 1972 it starred Jamaica's first reggae superstar, Jimmy Cliff.

As relevant now as it was then, The Harder They Come is based on a true story and tells the tale of Ivanhoe Martin (Cliff) a poor Jamaican country boy who comes to Kingston in search of a job. Despite a promising start as a singer, Ivan gets ripped off and soon descends into crime and violence and ultimately pays the price for his guns and ganja lifestyle.

Jimmy Cliff is not only a great singer and songwriter but is also a convincing actor in his role as Ivan the anti-hero of The Harder They Come. While the film pulls no punches in its bleak and tough depiction of life in the shanty towns of Kingston Jamaica, it is also a testament to the strength of its inhabitants.
There are some great scenes notably the palpable joy when Ivan gets his bid for fame in a studio and performs The Harder They Come with the cream of reggae session men.

To those unfamiliar with the dense Jamaican patois spoken in the movie, some of the dialogue may be hard to follow, but the film is so visual that it doesn't take a classical linguist to understand this modern day parable of corrupted youth. The image of pistol toting Ivan in his rude boy threads has been perhaps taken at face value and come to represent a call to arms for the Gangtsa culture, which is at odds with Perry Henzell's more measured and moralistic message.

The soundtrack for The Harder They Come is a goldmine of late 60's / early 70's classic reggae which no music fan should be without. It includes Jimmy Cliff's optimistic Stax soul influenced You Can Get It If You Really Want, the defiant title track The Harder They Come and the soulful, hymnal Many Rivers to Cross. Elsewhere you get Rude Boy anthems like Desmond Dekker's 007 and The Slickers' Johnny Too Bad plus The Melodians' Rivers of Babylon in its pure original form before Boney-M's butchery. Karaoke fans can also enjoy singing along to a second version of You Can Get It If you Really Want with the verses faded out!

The film is a classic and its central character Ivan is immortalised in a million wall posters not to mention the Clash's Guns of Brixton. Latterly it has become a stage musical currently doing the rounds in London's West End. Whilst I've not seen the musical in full, I saw a decidedly dazzling excerpt last week and was bowled over by it.

If you like films like City of God, you cannot afford to miss The Harder They Come.