This year's Bram Stoker Festival features the Irish premiere of the stunning NYsferatu: Symphony of a Century, an animated interpretation of the classic 1922 horror film Nosferatu, with a live score specially commissioned for Bram Stoker Festival by Matthew Nolan.
Nolan writes for Culture about the process of creating a score for film.
Producing an effective and psychologically motivated score requires patience, a keen understanding of the grammar of cinema, and the ability to place the needs of the film above your own creative desires. Patience, well I’m learning! The understanding of film bit is a work in progress and as to the final requirement, let me just say I know my place.
For me, the first phase of drafting a film score involves very little by way of composition or even experimentation with music or sound. A preliminary period where you spend time watching, re-watching, and aligning yourself with every visual, narrative, and psychological nuance is what creates the best platform to start thinking about a score.
This period of familiarisation and even reflection is the best way for me to figure out what the film needs in terms musical accompaniment. This is particularly important when working with silent cinema as there is often a compulsion to produce music for the entire film. This is an easy trap to fall into, but thankfully I internalised this lesson early on. Almost all of the silent film that I have worked with over the last 15 years displays a high degree of graphic sophistication as well as an ability to tell stories in purely visual terms. This lends the movies their own aesthetic integrity. Understanding when not to get in the way not only makes for more compelling cinematic moments but it also means when you do make a musical, or even sonic, gesture it can mean so much more for the audience. This tension between trying to convey meaning and emotion beyond what you see through music is constant.
Almost all of the silent film that I have worked with over the last 15 years displays a high degree of graphic sophistication as well as an ability to tell stories in purely visual terms. This lends the movies their own aesthetic integrity.
Unfortunately there are no strict rules which govern how you approach the creation of a score. However in my experience I have found establishing a series of voices, in terms of instrumentation and orchestration, affords me a provisional structure to start thinking musically within. This musical or even sonic toolkit becomes the means through which you find an alternative set of gestures to support the work of the film itself. At this stage of the creative process it is really important not to lose sight of what the film needs. There have been times where pieces of music that I am really proud of end up getting binned because they are not working well to picture. You start to understand intuitively if something is not working straight away but sometimes your own ego prevents you from making a hard decision. It’s for this reason I find myself drawn to projects which open up a collaborative space. Finding like-minded people with the same regard for cinema and visual culture is crucial here. This minimises the scope for ego getting in the way of serving the film and ultimately makes for a more dynamic and thoughtful score.
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It’s for these reasons that Erik Friedlander, Sean Mac Erlaine, and Jan Bang have been invited in to the fold to work on a new score for Andrea Mastrovito’s astonishing work, NYsferatu. These guys understand the process on a formal and intuitive level. It sets up a creative experience that will be full of surprises for musician and audience alike.
Bram Stoker Festival presents the film NYsferatu: Symphony of a Century on Saturday the 26th of October at 7pm- 9pm and 8pm -10pm at St. Anne’s Church. Find out more here.