Scoring from an artist's work
Though it has been quite a bit of time since introducing this section of my website, I could think of no better way to revive it than to talk about an exciting project I had the chance to work on recently. This Spring I had the pleasure to compose the music for a short film biography of the extraordinary young artist Panteha Abareshi. Produced by The Front and directed by sisters Kelsey and Rémy Bennett, this amazing short film depicts the artist's inspiration and story told by Panteha herself, while throughout the film recreating live action interpretations of her artwork. Panteha's art blends her own intense physical distress from living with sickle cell disease with images of empowered women of color. There are overtones of mysticism and myth that touch corners of her personal life while acting as a conduit for expression. Her work reaches so far beyond that of anyone her age, which few people at 17 can say they have already had a featured solo exhibit in New York City. As a composer, I was very fortunate to have been able to be a part of telling her story in this beautifully crafted film.
I was introduced to Panteha's artwork when Kelsey approached me about doing the music for the film. Usually, when I begin composing for a film or any visual media project, there is often a rough cut of footage to work from. I would take the cut and jot down major transitional cuts or moments that needed some score element to coincide. With "Girl Who Loves Roses" however, we used the mirror image of this workflow. The film would be cut to a sonic template that I set, which inevitably created a much broader sense of freedom during the initial writing phase.
Using this method was an amazing learning experience for me, as I realized how much I normally write from visual cues. The source that I was given was Panteha's artwork, which while not in a video timeline just yet, provided a powerful starting place for me. It was a very liberating process to think about a piece of music as it relates to an artist's work more than how it fits in a discrete timeline. This made the moment I first got a chance to see the first cut of footage with the music all the more rewarding!
Kelsey, Rémy and Panteha worked together to create meticulously crafted set pieces and costume design that perfectly capture the nature of Panteha's work. At the time of my first draft, Kelsey described their film shoots as combining sterile hospital imagery with mysticism and religion. The hospital is an important element in her art and in the film, as it ended up acting as the "studio" where much of Panteha's work was created while being treated for her illness. In order to convey the more mystical aspects of Panteha's work the sonic base for my piece needed to be ambient in nature, but also had to involve elements of distress and uncertainty. I was excited when Kelsey mentioned the transposing moods of Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti as a reference, as I and virtually any electronic composer has been influenced in some way by his iconic scores. The guitar line is a light gesture towards the intro theme music of Twin Peaks.
To create the more dissonant counterparts that would evoke the atmosphere of distress and hospital-like drones, I wanted to employ a more vintage inspired synth sound source than overly literal hospital sounds. I decided to source my sound design from my painstakingly recreated Reaktor version of the legendary EMS Synthi A. It is a massive project I've been working on in Reaktor for months that aims to give the same functionality (and hopefully sound) of the iconic synthesizer. Known for its ability to create complex textures and effects, the Synthi A proved to be a very effective tool in this piece for creating the noise drones and almost alarm like modulations speckled throughout the piece. Stay tuned for more info about this Reaktor project, as I will be sharing it to any Reaktor users out there very soon!
The theme of imposing religiosity was also an important part of the score as it relates to Panteha's work. While keeping the dark, off-kilter textures throughout, I included a secondary section that modulates around a church-like choral. My aim was to evoke the harmonic quality of a church organ composition with strange vocal elements shifting away from the traditional and into something more individual.
It would be an understatement to say that this was a great project for me to have been a part of. Not only did I get the opportunity to learn about a new artist, I also had the opportunity to write a piece of music from a very different source medium all together. As a potential exercise for future compositions, I will definitely try using this technique again, as I feel that I've gained so much from the process.
Here's the score by itself on Sound cloud, and definitely check out the whole film here.
Kelsey Bennett and I have also collaborated on prior music projects together including a series of tracks that sampled our favorite horror films like Poltergeist and Rosemary's Baby. She later combined this with her work as a photographer, producing the Poltergeist themed series "They're Here!" You can check out a short behind the scenes video she made with our track here.