BAFTA GURU: A CONVERSATION WITH JAMES HORNER
"I used to hang out at all the sessions [with Jerry Goldsmith] as well as those for John Williams and Elmer Bernstein. They were Gods."
"I write at a desk. I work out all the maths. It's all conducted in a process where I am watching the screen, the orchestra is facing you."
"To me, the emotion of what film music can do is the most important thing to me. There's always a quality I go at… which is this thing just under the surface."
"You give up certain things being a film composer. You're working for somebody else and it's not my movie, no matter how beautiful I want it to be."
"I've only had to do one thing… it was in this movie (Aliens) actually. I had to get the strings; the violins and violas to do something that they just didn't know how to do. It was a very avant-garde type of texture, and it would have taken me two days to write it, easily… and it was such a simple thing. So, what I did was – they just couldn't get it with a description or simple notes – I gave them all bass parts and I had written the stuff out in the bass clef… and gave it to the violins and violas… and I got the effect I wanted because it was a mess. That really is; they're so good. It's really hard to trick them up."
"My whole ambition for that film was to write something which was very noble, and very simple, and very much from the heart. Almost a hymn-like score… brilliant professionalism and quiet nobility."
"It's like Titanic in a way. My job, like Titanic, is to suspend that knowledge in an audience and keep the movie floating so you don't know how it turns out. You forget… and that is one of the most wonderful things about writing film music. Where I can suspend belief and you don't know quite how it's going to turn out. Maybe Leo and Kate won't both die at the end of Titanic, but what makes Titanic work is that you know that it's Romeo and Juliet on a sinking ship."
"All of that stuff doesn't sound right unless it is conducted organically by me. I'm conducting it and they're playing it, and we're bending time, so to speak. They're following me and I'm following the film… and I'm pushing on stuff and holding back on other stuff. I'm very much part of the performance. I'm conducting the whole thing, like a ballet and I stitch it all back together. It's the most musical way to do it."
"We got rid of the past within 10 minutes, hugged each other and told each other we'd never do it again."
"We liked what we were seeing, but we had no idea that it would be the emotional success that it was."
"It sounds so arrogant of me. Yes, I was pleased that people got it the way I got it emotionally. When I finish a project, if I'm crying when I'm working on it I know that I've nailed it, I'm happy. I've done the best that I could do. The fact that it had an afterlife is lovely, and I'm very proud of that fact. But quite honestly, I'm just as proud of it if it had done a quarter of that number. What I was feeling emotionally when I wrote it and what Jim liked about it: He liked it as much as I did, and I liked his movie as much as he liked it. It's those kinds of things which are very intimate for me that I feel are much stronger than total sales."
"I'd been nominated so many times, I sort of gave up on that stuff. You know, the Oscar business is really about momentum, and the most wonderful films never get that momentum and get overlooked. Some things that should get overlooked do have this momentum around them and it doesn't necessarily reflect pure talent. It's a very political process."
"I wanted to find a sound that reflected the beauty of mathematics and… how do you do that with music? I always sort of find a visual for myself that to me is an analog of the sound that I'm after. I was thinking of what mathematics really sounds like to this person, this character… and it's like looking inside a kaleidoscope to me. You're looking down and you're slowly twisting the thing, and the glass is slowly changing patterns. I wanted to write something that had exactly that quality. I chose to write something for four pianos; a texture primarily for four pianos and orchestra. It's a very mathematical, very precise texture. The harmonic section has a very particular, unique sound to it. That's how I sort of conveyed Russell Crowe's [playing the mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr.] inner-mind, the beauty of what he saw when he smiled on screen, when he's looking around the room. He sees beauty in numbers. That's what I was trying to portray."
"I'm attracted by people that allow me to do… to bring something different to what the movie audience might expect, and Jean-Jacques knows that I'm going to try find some weird combination of colours. You know, Western colours–or exotic colours; or Middle Eastern colours–in the case of this movie. I try and fuse them. I don't like to stick to, you know, the normal colour palette. I'm always trying to find things that narrate events in a more mystical and a more magical way. Jean-Jacques is just one of those guys that allows me to do that."
"I love it when you can… when anybody (non-Western singer or vocalist) says to me that they can't read music. It's like magic to me. I believe so strongly in their musical abilities and their improvisational skills–some of the wonderful artists that I meet–and when you juxtapose that on Western music, it's just stunning; it's just magical. Only in cinema can you kind of get the money to mix these worlds. I can never ask a producer or a record company to make a record with uilleann pipe and trumpet, for instance, but in film I can do that. That's one of the magical things of storytelling in movies."
Well, Mel [Gibson] is brilliant and it makes me feel so dreadful–the stuff you hear in the media. He's this unbelievable director, and some of my best experiences–Mel is just like Jim and all the other guys I talked about tonight–he's passionate about what he does and… he and I have worked on four films together. I think if enough people remember Braveheart and wanted a concert, maybe. It's such a great movie and I have such fond memories of working with Mel on that from being invited to the casting sessions, which is so unusual for a composer to be involved so early–and working on his first movie–and convincing him that his big speech to the army needed music when it had no music on it originally… There's some unbelievable memories that I have working with Mel. I'd love to do it again.My favourite soundtrack… I don't really have any one favourite. I don't listen to movie music and I don't listen to much commercial music. I'm into a lot of world music. I would say, if I had to just grab one soundtrack really randomly… The Mission is very much my aesthetic and it's such a beautiful score put against images that one would not expect to have that… and that again is the magic of what we sometimes get to do. The Mission is an extraordinary score.
Yeah. (Laughter from the audience) I do it a lot. I did it in the sequence we just saw from Black Gold. I did it on the piano. I do it because I can't get intimate enough conducting somebody else… and I have to do it myself. It's not an ego thing, it's just an intimacy thing, the way I bend time in the way I play it. In this particular thing, it's very unusual for me to write a tune in a minor key… And this tune initially is in a minor key, and in this very gentle way it becomes a major key. And it's when Dhafer, the singer, sings this high third of the chord. There's just certain things that I have to do myself. It's just the way that I paint. It's just like painting for me, this process. Conducting is part of it. I can't imagine handing it over, a black and white sketch to somebody, and saying, “You colour it.” It's all part and parcel of how I grew up musically and sometimes you just have to do it yourself.
Um, I'm supposed to do two films. Funnily enough I'm going to do–and it's extremely important to me historically–Mel's next movie. He's going to direct a film and it's hugely important for him. He's so brilliant and I want to be there in that moment in film history because I think Hollywood is so shallow, and what's been done to him is so dreadful, and as a filmmaker he's so brilliant… and it'll only take one film–I just know how this stuff works–all he has to do is make one film and he'll be re-embraced, whether it's about the Maccabees or whatnot… And that's what I'm working on next.
Once more I am writing to thank all of you at JHFM very much, this time for providing the Bafta Royal Albert Hall event which, unfortunately, I could not attend. It is so interesting to hear this amazing musician talking in such a sincere way about his career. I can imagine the night in the Elgar Room – and visualize his talk before the Titanic event, where my seat was right in front of him. I am so thankful for that, even though it would have been the icing on the cake to witness James conducting. Also for your latest piece on the Rose. I very much appreciate the amount of work you are all putting into giving James the most wonderful memorium of his treasured music. I look up JHFM every moment I can, thank you all so much, he must have been so proud of you all – and also his family if they are reading your pieces. Pamela.
I am glad you find enjoyment in visiting our world here. JB and the rest of us regard this as an important part of our lives and so maximum effort is always put into all that we write. Thank you for your kind words, and may you continue to find solace in re-living the remnants of James Horner’s beautiful mind upon your returns here.
I finally got around to listening to the whole interview plus questions by the fans.
A few of my questions were not answered, and for us young musicians I think a lot of us are wondering this: Where can those of us who want to compose start on our journey to become a great composer, that people may or may not look up to one day, like James Horner?
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