torsdag den 21. september 2017

"Paris må vente" (Paris Can Wait): Interview med filmkomponist Laura Karpman

Ugens danske biografpremiere på ”Paris må vente” skiller sig ikke kun ud ved debutinstruktørens køn og alder (Eleanor Coppola, 80 år). Lige så usædvanligt skyldes filmens caféloungede lydspor hverken en Hans, Thomas, Clint, Michael eller John.

For komponisten hedder Laura Karpman.

Og selv om hun både har vundet Grammy- og Emmy-priser for andre af hendes værker, er Karpmans navn stadig forholdsvis ukendt i den offentlige filmdiskurs – blandt andet fordi kvinder aldrig får lov til at skrive lydsporet til blockbustere.

Laura Karpman | pressefoto

Sidste år leverede kvinder underlægningsmusik til 3 procent af filmene på den amerikanske top-250, oplyser Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. De kvindelige komponisters manglende synlighed i film- og tv-branchen fik i 2015 Laura Karpman og to af hendes kolleger til at stifte Alliance for Women Film Composers (AWFC). I skrivende stund indeholder AWFCs medlemsdatabase 211 nye og etablerede filmkomponister af hunkøn.

I dagens Politiken FILM (21.09.2017) kan du læse, hvad Laura Karpman og hendes canadiske kollega, Lesley Barber, fortalte mig om deres kamp for ligestilling i faget, da jeg mødte dem på Toronto Film Festival 2016.

Jeg afprøvede ved samme lejlighed mit "Filmkomponisternes spørgeskema" på Laura Karpman. Resultatet kan du læse herunder.

> The Alliance for Women Film Composers
> The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 100, 250, and 500 Films of 2016
> Interview med Lesley Barber (Bries Blog-O-Rama)

Written by Brian Iskov, TIFF 2016

What were the last projects you worked on?
I have two films here at TIFF this year: A documentary called "The Cinema Travellers". I co-scored that with my spouse [Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum]. I also scored "Paris Can Wait" which is Eleanor Coppola's feature debut.

”The Cinema Travellers” is this beautiful film about the death of the travelling cinema in Western India. It follows three men who travel around in trucks with heavy reels and take movies out to these remote places, and people love it. So it's this combination of the joy of cinema with the requiem to the analogue. Finally, they get a digital projector which is smaller than the huge multipound reels.

For that score, they [the directors, Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya] wanted something very simple, elegaic, slow-moving, beautiful, almost sad music. Norah and I kept trying to put in rhythmic stuff and more music that comes from Western India, and we did a lot of research and recording, but ultimately they didn't want that. They wanted this simple Western score with little touches of elements from that region and just something that is kind of a sad ”Cinema Paradiso”.

The Eleanor Coppola film [”Paris Can Wait”] is also a travelling movie, about a woman whose husband is not the most generous and attentive man in the world. They are at the Cannes Film Festival, and she can't go with him to Budapest because she has an ache in her ear. So she winds up driving back to Paris with a colleague of his who decides to take this opportunity to show her every inch of France and every edible morsel between Cannes and Paris. It's this romance with France and with food and kind of between the two of them. It's also a small score but this one draws really from French jazz. Jean-Pierre Rampal, Claude Bolling ... there is something very specific about French jazz, like taking Debussy and bebop and putting it in the mixer and seeing what comes out.

That was a very fun score to do. There is a lot of sampling in it too, a lot of sound effects. We also brought in the great cabaret singer Ute Lemper who sang two of the songs that I arranged. They meld very well in the film. I also composed and produced all the source music, and I wanted to do that because I wanted the source and the score to float in and out of each other and become this kind of fluidity, just part of the journey so you don't really notice when the songs and the [Erik] Satie begins, or the Mozart then becomes a part of the groovy remix later and the hip French café. So it was a pleasure and a really gorgeous film to work on. I loved it.

You don't often see a female director making her feature debut at the age of 80.
Eleanor Coppola is awesome. All her children and her granddaughter are filmmakers, it's the family business. We were working at their postproduction facility at their home in Napa Valley. When you go up there, the food is just off the chain fabulous. They are making 45 pizzas for everybody who is up there. [It's] better than Rome! They are just the best pizzas, and then they go in the garden, and there is rhubarb cobbler ... They are very wonderful people.

How did you get into composing for films?
I've always been a composer. I started writing when I was a young kid, and my dream was to be a professor and teach. I wound up going to Juilliard School where I got a doctorate. I studied there with Milton Babbitt who called me up one day and said, "I have a wonderful opportunity for you. You should go to the Sundance Institute". I thought, "Oh my God, the last thing I want to do is score films." But I went, and as a fellow in the first iteration of the labs, I pretty much flipped. I just thought, this is what I want to do with my life. I came to Los Angeles and started to forge a career.

Why didn't you want to score films?
Because I grew up in L.A. And I always saw myself as an East Coast intellectual. My father, who still practices medicine, had a lot of celebrities in his practice, and I grew up around Hollywood. So I just thought I was uninterested in it. But truly, I always loved films and drama, even when I didn't think I wanted to be a film composer, I was reading plays by Eugene O'Neill, all of Shakespeare's plays, and was really immersing myself in drama. I took a [Ingmar] Bergman course as an undergraduate, I was circling around it without quite knowing that that was what fit for me.

But when I went into Sundance, scoring to pictures, seeing how computers and music worked together and all of that, it really resonated. For me, that moment was also a realization that I was interested in being a practical composer. Although I loved writing new music, and I still do it, there is something that I really love aboout the disposability of scores. That is not to say they aren't important, and that I don't love everything that I do, but there is like a daily practice to it, so it's less precious than if you're writing a symphony or an opera. The amount that you wind up producing, there is something really wonderful and satisfying [about it] and it fits with my personality, so it turned out to be a good match for me.

Do you have a philosophy for scoring films?
Yeah. My philosophy for scoring films, television and documentaries are the same. I think music is an essential part of film, I think it can have more complexity and more rigour than people think. So my philosophy is to have a tremendous amount of musical morality with every project that I approach and just have a great, organic idea and try to create wonderful music that goes with images and not ... be forced into oversimplicity.

At what stage do you usually get involved?
At all stages. On television you often come in when you have a locked picture, and documentaries much earlier. But I am working on a documentary right now that theyre still editing, and it's a great stage to come in because you can have creative conversations. With this particular doc ["The Cinema Travellers"], they want to have a lot of landscapes and open space. I said, "Make sure you clear out the spaces for music, and you have to trust that music will fill them up". So it depends, every project is different. Oftentimes with features I come in during the editing process, sometimes during the script process.

What do you prefer?
I think the earlier the better. Earlier is always good. In some ways it's compositionally easier to just come in when the picture is locked because then you're not chasing cuts, but the earlier you get in and the more you can establish a language with the production, the better it's.

Which is hardest: writing or not writing music?
It's funny. When I was younger and I wasn't writing music, I would alternate more writing time and not writing time. I don't have time to do that anymore, but I think it's really important to try to have time away from composing, because you have to freshen your ideas. I have to say that my life is a jigsaw puzzle. I'm a mother, I'm a spouse, now I'm a Governor of the Motion Picture Academy, I started this organization, The Alliance for Women Film Composers, that is off and running now, and then I have all these composing projects not only in film, television and video games but also concert music. So it's always about putting a jigsaw puzzle together. It's about being light on your feet and figuring out what every day brings and how to get the most out of it, how to squeeze the most life out of every day while having a good time and enjoying life and my family, living, travelling, eating and doing all these wonderful things that we all love to do. Watching “Borgen”! Ha ha!

How do you go about composing music for video games?
It's a different technical process. It's not a different spiritual or compositional process. Good composers, and I consider myself one of those, have a personality that they take to each project, right. But video games are different technically. Generally you have to write a two-minute loop, so you've got certain things you have to do. There are different ways in which video game scores are implemented so they are as interactive as is possible which is like less possible that you would imagine. So there are all these things about, sometimes you have to write layered scores so that you have one layer that is low-tension, low intensity, then you have medium intensity, so literally another layer comes on top of the music. It's oddly more conceptual and you think about the orchestra a little bit differently than you do [on films]. I love writing video game music, it's some of my favourite commercial music that I have ever written. Because you're not dealing with dialogue, you write big themes. And they love it. It's both new-fashioned and oldfashioned simultaneously. And it's really great fun. I don't do that much of it, I'd love to do more. Those worlds tend to be a little bit separate, there are kind of gaming composers, for no good reason other than you have to be up on the technical stuff. But I stumbled my way through quite a bit at this point.

Have big themes gone out of fashion?
Well, they go out of fashion until John Williams sells out the Hollywood Bowl for three straight nights, or [Alexandre] Desplat wins another Oscar. So everybody says it's out of fashion and then again and again, the most feted top composers are writing big themes. So that is a mystery to me. I think everyone is kind of looking for something new all the time, but then people who are trying to make big motion pictures and trying to attach to the tropes of traditional cinema always wind up going back to the composers who are big melodists.

If you were to describe the current period of film music, what would you call it?
Oh, I don't know. (pause) I think we're in a kind of tweener time. We're in the middle of a lot of transitions. There have been a lot of movement towards electronic scores, and these scores by Atticus Ross and Mac Quayle and those guys have gotten a lot of attention. Cliff Martinez was doing it way back ... Then there are the people who are writing the big melodies. You know what? Everyone's doing everything. I don't know if there is really a trend. There are scores that pop up and people wind up temping with them, and so everybody thinks that's a trend, but then next year another score comes along and everybody ends up temping with that. The important thing is just to keep doing your own thing and to be who you are as an artist, and not worry about any of that stuff so much. It all works out. I'm working on a television show right now called "Underground" that I co-score with Raphael Saddiq, the wonderful RnB artist. That is a great opportunity for us because that is a place where I really get to write the music that I want to write. I don't feel restricted, I'm working with really smart filmmakers, Raphael is fantastic, we make a great team. That is a neat opportunity to just bust out and do your own thing. John Legend's the exec music producer, hes tremendously helpful too.

Do you and Raphael sit down and compose together?
It depends on the cue. Sometimes were sitting down composing together, sometimes I'll do cues and hell come and play on top of them, sometimes hell do something in his studio and send it over to me. It kind of depends whose wheelhouse the music is in. It's WGN America, a smaller station, but the show is a hit, and were on our second season now.

What have you stolen from the composers you admire the most?
Oh, I've stolen everything, but it's not from filmmusic, I steal from classical music. Benjamin BrittenLutoslawskiStravinsky, everybody have stolen from the minimalists. I've done that less so because I'm more of a modernist. Leonard BernsteinAaron Copland of course. Everyone has stolen from Copland. Constantly. It's an American sound, it defines symphonic American music. There are others. If you listen to John Williams, you will hear Howard Hanson. You hear more obscure American composers that people don't know as much, like William Schuman or Walter Piston. These are names you've probably never heard. But they are all these mid-century American symphonists and it's just chock-filled with great ideas. So you steal of course, when you're working in film and you have to work so fast, if you need an idea it's good to ... "Aaah, that is good". I have ShostakovichProkofiev, these are people I'm constantly ripping off. Joyfully.

Do you have clichés of your own; stuff that you keep doing perhaps unconsciously?
Consciously. There are a few things that I know will work in various situations. For certain tension stuff, I'll do like a four species string thing in the right hand, (sings), and for moving Americana I'll do tenths ... like C-G-(high) EEEEE, D-A-(high) FFFF, these kinds of rising figures. They are things that when you're moving fast, you're like "Okay". Eleanors film was a film that I did not move that fast through, and it was a very particular thing. That was, I would just literally listen to Rampal, Bolling, French DJs and a lot of the contemporary music that is coming out of France, like St Germain. I would fill my ears up with stuff like that. And Raphael on "Underground" brings me Danger MouseKendrick Lamar, and hell say "Listen to this and this, why don't we do something like this?". So people also bring in influences.

I asked my niece, who is 18, “Is there any, like, children's choir hip-hop?” And she said, "Oh yeah, you gotta hear The Suicide Boys". Oh yeah, that will work. So all the time. Again, it's when you're moving superfast, especially on television projects, it's like [snaps her fingers] "Give me that idea", or "Here come the tenths" or whatever. I do a lot of Stravinsky woodwind filigrees. They're just things that ... you see I'm making motions with my hands? They're things that fall in my fingers, which is why being a pretty good pianist is a really good thing and a really bad thing all simultaneously. I'm not so good that it really screws me up, but I'm good enough where it's like, "Oh yeah, I'll do that." I sing too.

Do you ever feel moved by your own music?
Oh, every day! Are you kidding? Of course! ... Yes! Doesn't everybody? Have you asked that question to other people? Of course I am moved by my own music. I hope other people are too. It's funny when it gets to you too at times. Not always. But often. That is a great question.

Is that the test? If it moves you …
[Then] it can move somebody. But people hear things so differently. Clients, other people. You never know. Sometimes something that I think is so beautiful and positive, someone will come in and say, "Oh, that makes me sad." So there is that. You don't know. That is why it's so important to have a great and open communication with the people you work with. Because it's subjective. What moves me, you might think would be the ugliest thing in the world. There is not one goosebumps button.

I get it with a certain type of harmony, when it hits, I can feel it …
In your body. I did this piece that was a commission from Carnegie Hall that won a Grammy last year called "Ask Your Mama". I think a lot of "Ask Your Mama" is moving, but there is one moment in it that I knew would be it. That it would slay people. I had no doubts about it, and it does. It's a very patriotic American moment where three major American themes come together. It works.

Do you have to watch a film twice to enjoy it, because you're only listening to the music on your first watch?
It depends on what it is. I used to, but now I can kind of get through it being able to watch for story and not worry about music. Then of course when I'm doing my Danish shows I just watch the subtitles, I turn off the sound altogether anyway, so it's fine. He he.

If you had to recommend one of your own compositions, which one would it be?
"Ask Your Mama", my album, the one that won the Grammy would be the one. There are lots of others too. But if you're making me say one, that would be it. I can name more? Well, I like ”Taken” which was a mini-series I did for Steven Spielberg, that is a really great piece of work, I think. The Eleanor Coppola film has really fun music. ”Underground” is fabulous and I hope we get a soundtrack going for that. ”Taken” I wrote for a small orchestra, like 45-piece. I did big sci-fi music and beautiful themes, I did my rising tenths and four species, all my tricks. So youll hear'em.

"Paris må vente" har dansk biografpremiere i dag, 21. september 2017. Filmen distribueres af SF Studios.
Tak til White Bear PR for at arrangere interviewet med Laura Karpman.

> Laura Karpmans officielle hjemmeside
> "Ask Your Mama": Officiel hjemmeside

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