BEHIND THE MUSIC
In 2016 a short clay-mation film was released called Trip the Light Fantastic. The short was written, produced, and directed by a close friend and colleague of mine, Hannah Darrah. Its release was the culmination of nearly 2 years of planning, preparation, and creative toil. While I can't speak with perfect knowledge on the finer details of the film's production on Hannah's behalf, I can speak about my experience being asked to produce the musical score for the short, and that process from conception to completion.
The music for TTLF was inspired by early conversations I had with Hannah about specific musical examples which were informing her initial sketches and storyboards at the time. Fancy Free, the Jerome Robbin's ballet (with music by Leonard Bernstein), was a key example of the kind of thing she wanted me to keep in my head as I started sketching. The choreography and the music had to be keenly aware of each other. Stylistically, I had a lot of input from Hannah in terms of the kind of world she was trying to create. Old live videos of Louis Prima, The Mills Brothers, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, etc... were all essential to me getting into that time- and head-space before moving forward. I settled on a very natural, idiomatic instrumentation of piano, upright bass, drums, trumpet, and clarinet (Hannah knew this crucial detail before she created the band members for her film. I sent her a few short sketches so that she could finish the choreography and animation with an approximate awareness of what I would eventually score, but for the most part, I waited until the film was nearly 100% complete to really dive in. What I sent her were vague glimpses of what I was beginning to hear in my head just around the corner of the real compositional process. She used these "coordinates" to orient herself while she produced the bulk of the film itself, and this ultimately resulted in the final product being a cohesive, unified statement of the same fictional world, rather than two separate streams of creative material operating independently of each other.
Once I had my palette and the film was complete, I forged ahead in isolation (from outside musical influence), trying to let the music write itself. The film was so articulate and musical even without any music that it was easy to let my ideas germinate and grow among the characters and sets Hannah built. I also learned a lot about what these particular instruments are capable of when used in combination. One of my favorite colors I found was during the beginning of the dream sequence, when the clarinet enters in its chalumeau (low) register accompanied by bowed bass. This soon fades smoothly into the clarinet moving into higher registers coupled by trumpet, while the bass resorts to long low notes clarifying the harmony. When I hear it, having composed it, I see a swatch of paint, fading naturally from one end to the other as the brush lifts from the page. Little discoveries and victories like these keep me hungry for more as I strive for a more complete command over the infinite capabilities of these and other instrumental combinations.
It was also interesting that the band was not only the source of the music in the club that had everyone tapping their feet, but that they transcended their source environment and were responsible for this kind of eternal "theme music" for their big clay world. I decided to add a toy piano track to the final dance because that particular scene kept reminding me of a music box with a spinning ballerina, and producer Rick Rein just happened to have a toy piano in his studio!
I believe so strongly in the world Hannah Darrah has created here, and I implore you to take 5 minutes out of your day to take it in yourself. It contains some of her finest work, and I can say definitively that it is one of my proudest musical achievements to date. www.hannahdarrah.com