Devon Goldberg’s band, Morricone Youth, has been performing in and around New York for over a decade. Dedicated to playing music designed with the moving image, Morricone Youth performed live-scores to several films at Nitehawk, including Jean Rollin’s erotic horror film Fascination, David Lynch’s weird opus Eraserhead and F. W. Murnau’s wildly ambitious Sunrise. This weekend Goldberg and his band of talented cineastes are returning to Nitehawk to perform their score of Rene Laloux’s surreal and lovely Fantastic Planet.
Hatched reached out to Goldberg to talk about his relation to the film, how he and the group prepared and how to re-work the score while paying respect to the original.
Hatched: How did you approach scoring Fantastic Planet? Were you familiar with the film before you worked on the score?
Devon Goldberg: This was a bit different from the others we have done in the past. Many in the band were quite familiar with the film and it’s possibly our keyboardist’s favorite film of all time. I personally saw the film in the early 90’s and became obsessed with Alain Goraguer’s original score and have deejay-ed the track “Deshomination I” for many years. You hear it’s influence in bands like Air, Radiohead and Stereolab as well as with the endless hip hop producers who have sampled it. I re-watched the film last summer strangely while considering live scoring it for another venue that asked us to do it.
H: Did you take Fantastic Planet’s existing score into consideration while writing your own version?
DG: I concluded that the original music is too iconic and I didn’t want to do the film any injustices so we decided on something else. When Nitehawk curator John Woods asked us this summer to consider doing it for his birthday weekend, we decided we should do it but instead in a way that pays direct homage to the original score. In other words, we are learning the central orchestrated pieces and themes and reinterpreting them the best we can as a six piece band. Besides the improvised portions which we will derive from the original themes, everything we do will be based on Goraguer’s original score. It is a tough score written in deceptively odd meters and unusual instrumentation. To prepare, we have watched the film endlessly, each taking copious notes, and started playing live to the film on mute in our practice room two weeks ago.
H: What scenes in Fantastic Planet were you looking forward to working on the most?
DG: Truthfully, the intro scene when the mother is being chased is my favorite and pretty challenging with a lot of interesting chords and strange hits/stops. The striptease scene theme music is beautiful as is the waltz towards the end (“Les Fusees”)… and, um… as the guitarist, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was kind of looking forward to the David Gilmour-esque big rock guitar solo on the End Credits theme….
H: Do you find that writing the score for an animated film somehow different or more challenging than writing for a film that’s live action?
DG: Being that we didn’t per se “write” the score for this one, as we normally do, I’m not sure how to answer this question. If we had, I suspect that it would not be much different as there is quite a bit of action in the film regardless of it being animated as well as there being deep underlying socio-political concepts attributed to the plot, in addition to its surrealist imagery.
H: How much of these scores are worked out ahead of time and how much is improvised during the movie?
DG: We approach every live scoring project differently. It all depends on the film, the film’s original score and our relationship to it. We always try to pay homage to the original score in every case by at least quoting, if not, reinterpreting a memorable portion of it. For Fascination, we quoted “La Vaise Crincante,” the waltz music of the women dancing on the bridge in the title sequence and “L’Interieur Des Ecuries,” the music for the first sex scene. Otherwise, we really wanted to write more driving music in the style of some of our favorite 70’s horror film music.
For Eraserhead we HAD to reinterpret “In Heaven” aka “The Lady in the Radiator Song” by Peter Ivers since we actually perform that song live in clubs. Our singer reverse lip-synched it providing the vocals to the muted film which is actually pretty challenging since Laurel Near does not sing the song in perfect time on screen.
For Sunrise, it was Charles Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette,” which… is more widely known as the theme to the “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” television series, [but]… appeared nearly three decades before in Sunrise.
So, the first thing we do is figure out what from the original score we are going to use and then go from there. Sunrise was pretty much completely scored from the beginning to the end (which makes it tough), while Fascination was 75% scored/25% improvised and the opposite with Eraserhead (25% scored/75% improvised).
With Sunrise and Fascination, I brought the film itself into my Protools treating them like I would if I were truly being asked by the director to score the film. So again, it really depends on the film itself and what it involves.
Regardless, any of the improvisation is pretty controlled as far as improvisation is concerned since we really have the film’s sections well mapped out so any improvised part is usually based on a predetermined theme or at least concept or sound but there are always happy accidents, of course, which work their way through it all and make the performances random, exciting and different each night.