Friday, February 23, 2007

Sound And Vision In No Country For Old Men

On his official site, Carter Burwell has discussed the score to the new Coens film, No Country For Old Men, and posted two sample tracks and another still, as seen above. It's all splendid stuff.

Alongside his sample tracks A Jackpot and Blood Trail (End Titles), Burwell had this to say about the soundtrack:

The film is the quietest I've worked on. Often there is no sound but wind and boots on hard caliche or stocking feet on concrete. Then again there are shootouts involving an unknown number of shooters with shotguns and automatic weapons. It was unclear for a while what kind of score could possibly accompany this film without intruding on this raw quiet. I spoke with the Coens about either an all-percussion score or a melange of sustained tones which would blend in with the sound effects. We went the latter route.

The all-percussion score sounds like fun, and I look forward to doing it sometime, but it is such a cliche to have drums accompany "action" that this sound immediately pulled the film back into familiar territory. The sustained tones, however, kept the film unsettled. Skip Lievsay, the sound editor, and I spoke early about these approaches and he sent me some examples of processed sound effects just as I sent him examples of tone compositions, mostly sine and sawtooth waves and singing bowls. When the film is mixed the effect will be that the music comes out of and sinks back into the sound effects in a hopefully subliminal manner.

The end titles of the film raised an interesting question: the entire film takes place without songs or identifiable score, so what could play over five minutes of end titles that wouldn't be self-conscious (like wind or sine waves) or intrusive (like a pop song)? I ended up writing a tune that features the only acoustic instruments in the score, but they take quite a while to appear. The first sounds are percussion but almost sound like sound effects. The next sounds are the sustained tones which are featured in the rest of the score. Only after two minutes of this do truly familiar instruments arrive - guitar and bass - which then play to the end along with the percussion. Hopefully this somehow works with the rest of the film, although we won't really know this until we mix the film, and maybe not until much later.

Burwell's site is really quite incredible and very much worth a visit.

1 comment:

Patrick J. Rodio said...

Burwell's stuff rocks.