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Friday, September 18, 2009

“The Music of 9” - An Interview With Composer Deborah Lurie

By E. Corrado

I had the opportunity to speak with composer Deborah Lurie about the music for the new animated feature 9 earlier this week. 9 opened in theatres last Wednesday, 9.9.09. Enjoy!

When did you find out that you would be doing the score for 9? I can’t remember quite how long ago, but there was a nice amount of time. It was worked on off and on, over a year ago.

What kind of timeline do you usually have for a movie like this? I’m not sure what the average would be but sometimes it’s as little as 3 weeks, and sometimes it’s as long as 2 1/2 months.

Had you done any animated projects before - do you think there's more time when it’s animated? Not movies, but I had done an animated tv show for Disney. I don’t know about more time, but like with 9, I imagine there’s more back and forth with animated as it goes through various stages.

Had you seen Shane Acker’s award winning short film, before you agreed to do the score for the feature of 9? Yes, I had, and I had to promise myself not to watch it 20 times, or something like that, because the film was going to be different, so I didn’t want to influence myself too much like that.

Have you seen the finished feature film? Yes, I just saw it actually at a screening with my friends. I seem to be getting most of my feedback from the Bay area though. You never know how a film like this is going to be received, and I try not to worry too much about it, but it is nice when it is received well. I’m quite proud of this score, and I’m very excited to see that it is getting good reviews on iTunes.

Now, the credits list Danny Elfman as doing the themes for 9, and you doing the score, can you elaborate a little bit on how that came to be? Well, I worked on 8 or so other films with him, doing additional music. So, I developed a great working relationship with him. Also, for this one, he does a lot of music for Tim Burton, who is one of the producers on this, and one of the other producers Timur Bekmambetov, is the director of Wanted, which was a film I did additional music for Danny Elfman’s score on. So, somewhere along the way, it was decided that Danny would do the themes for the film, and then I would get to take them, elaborate and score the film around them.

I loved the scene where the song “Over the Rainbow” was used. Who’s decision was it to use “Over the Rainbow” in the film? Well, I was there when they decided to do that, but I wasn't part of the decision. It was in London, and the director and producers and everyone started talking, and it seemed like they were discussing something really important. Finally, they told us that they had decided what they wanted to do for that scene, which was to use ‘Over the Rainbow’. It turned out to be a great idea.

How did you make it work with the rest of the score? Well, I just scored the parts before and after, e.g. when the machine emerges again. I think a lot of that artistry is owed to the people who mixed the film. It was their decision where the music would start up again from the song, etc. They actually decided that it was more effective to use the song for longer when the machine was starting to chase, before coming back to the score.

What were the challenges, if any, that felt you faced while working on 9? Well, I think the biggest challenge would be the fact that this was kind of uncharted territory for us all. Now that the film is out, it’s considered a certain genre film, but no one knew what it would become when we started. Also, the music is very different in the feature then from the short, so we had to kind of figure out where we were going with it.

Where exactly was the score for 9 recorded? Well, it was recorded at the Air Studios in London, England. It used to be an old church, and it was an amazing place to do the music. It was always my dream to do something in London. 9 didn’t have endless funding, but recording there was one of the things that the filmmakers really wanted to do. It was an absolute thrill for me to record there, but it was kind of bittersweet at the same time, since I missed the musicians that I regularly record with in LA.

So, when did you know that you wanted to compose music? For me, it was a little bit later than some people. It was kind of a series of events. I was a junior at highschool, and we had a music theory class, which was pretty amazing for a public school. Anyway, the final project was to write a piece of music. I was worrying over the project for a while, but afterward, I knew that this is what I wanted to do.

Where did you study music after highschool? Well, I basically asked my highschool piano teacher where I should go. I started telling him what was exciting me about writing music, and he said that I had to go to USC. So, that’s where I ended up going.

When composing music, do you have favourite instruments to write for? I like to write for so many different ones, but I really like writing a lot for guitars, mandolins, electric guitars, piano, and all kinds of strings. The last score I finished was mostly strings. I also like to do things for brass and winds.

What instruments did you want to focus on for 9, or is that the director’s decision? I feel everyone was kind of on the same page in regards to the music of 9. It has a lot of brass and winds and we ended up getting a really big sound like we had a 100+ piece orchestra, when in reality there were a lot less people in it than that. There was also a lot of discussion about Danny’s themes, and whether or not we were going to have the budget for a choir. It finally ended up that in the very last scene of the film, we have a choir singing. It was a great choir in London, and it was amazing to record with them.

Did you play any of the instruments? I played a lot of the synthesizer parts, which is more of an experimental thing than just keyboarding skills. There are a lot of electronic sounds on this film, since it is about machines and technology, and the power it has over people. I also sometimes sing on some of my scores, but not on this one.

Do you use a computer to test out different sounds? Yes, since it is pretty standard in the industry nowadays. You usually end up making pretty elaborate instrument accurate mockups for the director.

Which programs do you use? I’ve been composing for orchestra with ProTools. A lot of composers start off with other programs, even though it all goes to ProTools at the end especially with ProTools 8.

I’m just kind of curious about this one; when you’re writing a score like 9 for an orchestra, do you lay out what instruments will be playing what, or is that the job of an orchestrator? I make pretty much all of the overall layout decisions. The job of an orchestrator is more to take those ideas, and from them add expression, dynamics, and things like that. Also I will say, for example, that a certain part will be played by strings, but then the orchestrator will say, ok, these notes here will be played by 1st violin, this here viola, here cello, etc.

I also noticed that most movies don’t list the orchestra members in the credits, and only sometimes the actual orchestra... What are your thoughts on this? Well, the question of how attached to the film the actual orchestra members are, is highly debated. It is not so much about the actual credits, as it is about whether the individual people are entitled to royalties for the performances. It’s debated whether they should, or whether they are individual people that were hired exclusively for that day. When working in LA, under union laws, players are forever tied to the productions they work on.

What has been your favorite project to write music for, and why? 9 was definitely up there as one of the most rewarding. Another one that was really great that I just finished, is called Dear John, which is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. It is a romance, so that was a nice change from an action movie with machines.

What was your favorite part of doing the music for 9? I just loved being part of something so unique and new. It was very stressful at times, for those reasons, since it was uncharted territory, but it was fun.

Can you tell us about any other upcoming projects that you are working on? I’m not sure in regards to film projects right now, but I also work as an arranger for bands. So, I have some of those projects. I actually find it rather relaxing and fun. It’s really a different experience from film.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today about the music of 9. Thank you.

One Movie, Five Views thanks Deborah Lurie for taking the time to talk with us. Our reviews of the film can be found here.

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