Supe Trooper Laura Katz talked to composer David Norland about film music scoring and the upcoming film starring Ansel Elgort and Chloe Moretz, November Criminals, on which they worked together.
Supe Troop (ST): Is there a particular score or individual composer’s work that inspired you to be a film composer?
David Norland (DN): Ennio Morricone’s score for Once Upon A Time In America really hit me when I first saw the film, and I kept re-watching it to re-experience both story and music. I was fascinated by how the story of friendship and betrayal against a tough background was given this huge emotional sweep, grandeur, and heart by the music… that the music played against the obvious strokes of the story in some ways and did something profound for it as a result. And I just loved Morricone’s sense of melody and harmony, the simple and effective orchestral arrangements, and the elegance of the score. I was in a band at the time and somehow that felt like a smaller calling after seeing the film.
ST: What’s an example of where you think another composer nailed a project or a particular scene?
DN: The BBC’s recent crime drama Rellik had a score by Chris Clark who records for Warp Records. The storytelling and editing are super contemporary, and Clark’s music was, for me, the perfect score for it… dark, abstract textures, a hymn-like chorale just discernible above the distorted and processed sounds used to voice it, liberal use of reversed and broken things.
ST: What is your scoring process? Do you see a full piece or do you start with one instrument?
DN: It really depends… I like to start a score early by simply writing based on whatever materials I’ve been given, whether that’s simply a script or a rough cut. I like to start playing fully produced ideas to the director as early as possible, if they have the head space to listen. That way we can start the dialogue that the whole thing is based around. Sometimes it’ll be themes, sometimes more a sound, but it’s a starting point. By the time it comes to writing specific cues, I’ll then have a clearer sense of the musical language of the film, and that will determine how I approach each cue. Sometimes the early cues end up in the cut as it’s developing and just stick, and that’s always really helpful.
ST: What do you look for when you are spotting a film?
DN: I guess the basic question is: what does the the story need to really have the full emotional impact it’s aiming for? And then that same question broken down into acts, reels, and individual scenes. It’s all about the story–always–and sometimes only trial and error will finally determine how, and even whether, a scene should have music.
ST: Most directors and producers don’t have a technical background in music and therefore don’t speak the technical terms of musicality. How do you break down that barrier?
DN: Really by just playing and writing lots of music and finding the things that get a response… and then talking about that response. I go to where they are, not the other way round.
ST: What work are you proudest of?
DN: The end of Anvil! still holds up pretty well. The love theme I wrote for Hitchcock that no-one has heard! A choral setting of T. S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday”.
ST: It was great working with you on November Criminals! Is there one cue or one scene from that project that you really enjoyed creating?
DN: The cue over the gurney scene on the way to hospital. It’s a montage of desperate things happening, and I used a bunch of very distorted textures and low end things, and then placed a simple chorale for small string section into it.
ST: What music are you listening to now?
DN: Olafur Arnalds, Applesauce Tears, Arca, Gretchen Yanover, Meredith Monk, Equador, Frederico Mompou, Peteris Vasks, Anne-Sophie Mutter playing Mozart sonatas, some strange experimental music on KXLU that no-one ever back-announces so I have no idea what it is.
ST: What is your favorite soup?
DN: Fennel, leek, and potato made by my wife Lucy on a Sunday evening.
Sounds tasty! You can see November Criminals in theaters starting December 8 and digitally November 22!