The Hollywood Reporter: Film & TV Music Special
The August 24-30 (1999) issue of "The Hollywood Reporter" was a film
and television music special issue. There was an article about collaborations
between TV/film producers and composers. Chris Carter and Mark Snow were
CHRIS CARTER AND MARK SNOW
[Black and White photos of each man]
He's been living in LA for some time, but Mark Snow's unassuming attitude
and immediate accessibility on the telephone read Brooklyn all the way.
He studied music at Manhattan's High School of Music and Art, and later
at the Julliard School. After graduating from the fabled conservatory
in 1968, Mark Snow formed the New York Rock 'n' Roll Ensemble with former
classmate Michael Kamen. Today he's a ten-time Emmy nominee whose work
on The X-Files has been compared with some of the most enduring
TV music in history, and he recently released an album, The Snow Files,
through the Sonic Images label, which features a diverse cross-section
of his TV music.
Any airs surrounding this theme or its creation are dismissed by the composer.
"It took me five times to come up with that theme. I wrote four themes
prior to the one that was used, and they were all more or less what you'd
typically expect: creepy stuff, darker writing that tried to mirror the
show directly; rhythmic material meant to disturb. It was all OK - nothing
Mark Snow says that musically illiterative creatives have been his greatest
mentors. "I've learned more from the collaboration with non-musical people
than I have from all the musical mentors I've had. I truly mean that.
How? Many times, just when I thought I'd done something that was extremely
proper and correct, someone who doesn't know music but has a deep connection
to the film or show we're working on will say something like 'Take out
the bottom,' or 'Take out two notes somewhere.'"
"To be honest, my first reaction is generally to be protective of my own
work and say to myself, 'What a jerk. They don't know what they're doing.'
But I'm open to all suggestions, and I've learned to go with what people
are feeling and at least try to do what they've asked. As a result, I've
often found myself saying, 'Oh my god, holy mackerel, this is better,
this is right!' When they then respond enthusiastically, it feels like
a great connection has been made. I've learned so much from these people.
The biggest rule for me is to stay open to what a writer, director or
producer is actually saying, and also what they're trying to say, without
feeling I have to defend what I've done up to that point."
"I'd never worked with Chris before The X-Files. He sent over a
pile of CDs for me to listen to, just to get a sense of where his tastes
were musically. I was really impressed with the breadth of his interest:
There was everything from alternative music, rock and even a CD by the
contemporary composer Philip Glass. He had notes pointing out the bits
that he liked from each of these recordings."
Chris Carter's yearning for more impressed Mark Snow. He also knew instinctively
when it was time to stop listening to the writer and trust that he had
internalized Chris Carter's creative impulse. "Finally, I asked him to
just let me try something on my own. By this time I knew that Chris didn't
like lots of chord changes and favored ambient 'sound designy' music with
little melodic complexity."
Mark Snow's home studio includes an arsenal of synthesizers and samples,
and sometimes the sounds themselves can be the star. "I wrote a minor
key theme that had a few basic chord changes and a melody that I thought
was dull but worth pursuing with my sound modules, so I spent about a
half an hour clocking through lots of sounds while the computer played
back the melody I had entered into it. When I got to a preset on my Proteus
2000, my wife came in from the other room and told me how much she liked
it, and so I finished the arrangement."
When he played the demo for Chris Carter, Mark Snow realized that by absorbing
his tastes and emotional sense of what music could do for the project,
he had been able to satisfy Chris Carter's needs while holding on to his
own compositional profile. "Chris was very positive and set up a meeting
for us at Fox. Something very funny happened. Chris had to leave the meeting
before we discussed the music, and there I was left to play the track
for seven guys in suits. When the music stopped, nobody said anything!
Everyone's neck was turning left and right to see what the other's reactions
were. Finally someone said 'Oh that's interesting,' or something similarly
noncommital, and I left. I had no idea if the music would ever be noticed,
or even kept."
"Mark Snow is special," Chris Carter says. "He has an extraordinary ability
to interpret a dramatic scene and bring it to life musically. You always
struggle with language because musicians must interpret your musically
imprecise meaning and then proceed to limn your work through gesture."
Should a composer follow the contour of a show literally, or provide an
emotional counterpoint that unfolds on its own? "His job is both to paint
the moment and color the larger. A very good composer like Mark knows
most importantly what to leave out. The empty space is occupied by the
tension between the cues. Silence is the key - a composer must appreciate
silence," says Chris Carter.
"Music written for television and film is different from that which is
composed for the stage, where music comes first. In our business, music
comes later and must play a supporting role. This does not make music
a lesser partner, it's simply a different approach."
Source: The Hollywood Reporter August 24-30, 1999.
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