Network: My Technology - Anne Dudley - Hi-tech in harmony
Oscar-winning musician Anne Dudley explains how she composes film soundtracks
Monday 21 June 1999
I think it is better to describe our work as being open to any sound. We make art from all noise; from industrial sounds, people shouting, doors slamming. I've always thought that this attitude made our name - Art of Noise - perfectly sensible.
Nevertheless, it was a piece of technology that gave us the impetus to start the band. This was the Farelight, in effect, the first piece of sampling technology, which arrived in the early Eighties. It was monstrously expensive, but Trevor Horn had a few hit records and had some money knocking about, so invested in one. In short, it made what was once really hard very easy
Of course, people had experimented with sampling before the technology arrived. It was a rather long-winded process involving cutting up tape and sticking the pieces into a different order. It was very laborious, and you would never have instant results. And you couldn't be wildly musical with a sample done this way.
Even now the technology we use remains something of a mystery to me. My strengths, I think, are elsewhere, probably because I am a trained classical musician. But there is one piece of technology that is absolutely essential to us - the Streamline Scoring System, which was invented by two American music editors in the late Eighties. This computer system reads the time code from a video, and you enter where you want the music to start and end. Each bar of music can be matched up, so the score is absolutely in time with the action of the film.
There is a nice anecdote about the making of the film score to Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon which illustrates how difficult it was before this system was invented. Kubrick was such a stickler for detail that the composer could never get the length of the music exactly right according to his wishes - and it wasn't easy when he was relying on sight alone. It was either too short, too long or about a second and a half out of synchronisation. They got it right eventually, but only after 119 takes.
The only drawback is, this system isfairly expensive. Yet, in my case, I score a lot of comedy, and I always think that with comedy music, the timing is especially important. If it's out by a couple of seconds, you can miss the joke. On the other hand, it can really add to the slickness and pace of the comedy if the music is timed right.
I use a combination of technology and traditional tools in my work. For instance, while we are in the studio there is no hard and fast rule either way - if I was doing a soundtrack with any kind of programmed rhythm I would go through that, and then put the real musicians to the rhythm. The gear I use is always according to the type of score.
As far as composing is concerned, however, it's always done while I am sitting at a piano. Perhaps it's the atmosphere, or because your imagination is not limited to sounds available in the sampler machine. Yet it's more difficult. It's quite easy to get a happening rhythm track, but quite difficult to make it into an interesting piece of music. I hear a lot of music these days, and while some is obviously based on a good idea, I don't think one idea is enough. Music needs at least one idea every 10 seconds.
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