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DIRECTOR'S NOTES, The Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Special Issue, 1990, by Andy Klein|
With many thanks to Dominic Kulcsar.
David explains how he uses music, both on and off the set, to help shape his disturbing vision
No director employs more types of music in as many different ways as David Lynch. Take his 1990 film, "Wild at Heart." The soundtrack includes jazz, both old (Glen Gray's "Smoke Rings") and original ("Cool Cat Walk"), pre existing rock-'n'-roll tracks, from GeneVincent's '50s classic "Be-Bop a Lula" to Them's 60's version of "Baby Please Don't Go" to Powermad's speed metal romp "Slaughterhouse." It also includes the original off-kilter blue tune "Up in Flames," sung by Koko Taylor and written by Lynch and regular collaborator Angelo Badalamenti ; an orchestral selection from the Richard Strauss lied "Im Abendrot"; and relatively conventional instrumental film music." Dark Spanish Symphony" and "Dark Lolita," also by Badalamenti.
Every director has his own way of working with composers, but Lynch's ongoing relationship with Badalamenti is closer and more collaborative than those of such famous teams as Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann, or Stephen Spielberg and John Williams.
Lynch hooked up with Badalamenti when the latter was hired to help Isabella Rossellini with her singing in "Blue Velvet." The two men collaborated on the song "Mysteries of Love" and have worked together on all of Lynch's subsequent film projects, as well as "Twin Peaks" and other TV projects, and the stage work "Industrial Symphony #1." Besides his work for Lynch, Badalamenti has done the music for Paul Schrader's "The Comfort of Strangers," Norman Mailer's "Tough Guys Don't Dance" and Bob Balaban's "Parents."
"There 's a thing in a film where it's too bad, I don't think the composers like it any more than the directors do - usually the composer comes in at the last minute." Lynch says "No matter how you talk to them, they can't go off and write everything perfectly. Sometimes you don't have enough time to rewrite and redo and give and take until it gets to be perfect. You have to do work with what you have"
Among composers of the old school, Lynch particularly admires Herrmann and Franz Waxman. "I think Jacques Tati worked with sound and music better than most anybody I've seen, "says Lynch. "Billy Wilder - I always like his choices of thing. And Stanley Kubrick, of course."
After using some old Fats Waller organ instrumentals on "Eraserhead", Lynch worked in a more conventional way on his first two Hollywood films, teaming with John Morris on "The Elephant Man" and the pop groups Toto on "Dune."
"I think they did a great job, and I loved working with John Morris and Toto, " Lynch says. "But Angelo has become a really good friend of mine, and I talk to him all the time. We've got a lot of projects going. So we can talk up front, and we can create temp things that inspire a lot of shooting. Which is really a great way to work."
Music is important to Lynch's work, even at the script stage. "Sometimes I listen to music to get ideas," he says. "Every film has its own inspiration from music. It helps you write and get ideas. I tell those musical inspirations to Angelo, and he understands the mood and writes an original thing with that mood in mind.
Lynch then uses that music on the set. " I don't play it on the set out loud, " he continues. "I have them pipe it through my headphones so that I'm hearing the dialogue and some music as we're shooting. No one else is hearing it except me.
In the old days they use to have an orchestra on the set, and it would make a mood. Sometimes I have the DP listening to the same music, because when they're panning the camera, I can say 'slow' or 'fast,' and it's all relative. But if they're listening to that music, man, they turn those wheels just perfect. It just gives you that added thing to nail down the correct mood. On 'Wild At Heart' and 'Twin Peaks', we had a lot of music that we were listening to. I'd play it up front to the actors, and they had tapes they could listen to as they were working.
"Now when Angelo and I work, he doesn't score the picture in the normal way (with rigid stop and start marks). He gives me lots of raw material , lots of beautiful music. In the mix I can juggle it around. Lately I have been sitting on the board and have been the music mixer. I've got technical people all around me to make sure it's working. But I can feel it and do it and work with the sound effects and the music. It's just based on feeling and experimenting until you get it right."
While growing up, Lynch played the trumpet for four years. He listened to the usual pop-radio fare, was exposed to classical music at home and had some familiarity with jazz - though "not a lot. " Lynch admits. "When I was little, listening to Dave Brubeck was pretty much it." Not Mingus? "No, I wasn't so cool."
Lynch's eclectic musical tastes are clearly important to him, but "I'm not a
musician," he says "I've been brought into the world of music by Angelo and
by sound effects."
"Actually, I think sound effects are music. You can have a feel for things, and you don't really know where it comes from. And I just have a love for sound effects as music. Now - thanks to Angelo - I'm sort of able to get into the world of music as well,"
On TV projects, Lynch's concern with the audio elements in his work has been a source of frustration because of the poor sound quality of most TV sets. "Unfortunately, you have to take that into account, " he says. "The technician will tell you that the speakers will just rattle. It may sound great [in the studio] but it's not gonna sound great [at home]. Maybe other people do it all the time, be we learned the hard way that you have to mix by playing everything back through the cheapest TV you can get.
"The sound adds so much. Everybody's renting videos, but if they could hear it on the big screen the way it's supposed to be, it's...it's just....the hair on your neck stands up. And it doesn't stand up when you hear it on a little screen. There's no power."
"Sound is almost like a drug. It's so pure that when it goes in you ears, it instantly does something to you. And you can tell if that's working for you. (Building a mix is a process) action and reaction to sounds until you get something that fills the bill. It's action and reaction to this pure power."
"The thing that I'm after is when the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. It's so beautifully abstract. The great thing is that it can't be picked to death and talked abut to death, because it's so fantastically complicated. It's a beautiful realm to experiment in. There's a magical thing that happens that elevates it to another place. And it can't happen until everything is there. It can jump in those last moments and it has to do with sound and picture working together in a certain way. It's such an abstract thing. It's just impossible to guarantee it happening."