Confessions of a Liner Notes Writer, Part 2
Forgive me, Father. It’s been two years since my last confession. I have no regrets or sins of the flesh to report (at least not in public). Instead, I’d like to discuss one of the benefits of digging deep into a piece of film music.
As I mentioned in my last confession, writing liner notes is hard work. To do them properly, it usually requires lots of research offline, listening to the music and watching the film over and over with an eye and ear toward analysis and discussion until you’re sick to death of both, and writing and rewriting again and again. You’ll probably rack up more hours than will probably be appreciated by most readers. And for anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 words, those many hours translate into pay that is negligible at best.
But there is one benefit that we liner notes writers have that can translate to the general film music fan. Increased exploration into the backstory of a particular film and score will undoubtedly give you a greater understanding than you had before. The end result is a greater enrichment of your film music experience, and not just for that one particularly score.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been offered assignments to write notes for some scores that probably would not have been on my radar otherwise. For instance, writing the notes for Marco Beltrami’s SCREAM and MIMIC gave me greater insight into the composer’s working methods (interviewing him didn’t hurt either) and now I recognize certain compositional traits that I was unaware of before. I have since gone back and explored more of Beltrami’s work, past and present. Never a bad thing.
When I was assigned Alan Silvestri’s CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR earlier this year, you probably couldn’t have found a score more opposite to my musical sensibilities. This all-synth score from the mid-’80s (and if you know me even slightly, you know how much I loathe that particular period of film and scoring) was attached to one of the biggest bombs of the decade. Yet by reading Jean M. Auel’s bestseller, watching the movie and delving into the score a bit more, I gained more appreciation for what Silvestri was trying to do and even ended up enjoying the music’s “positively prehistoric” sounds. No small feat for me. Does this mean I now want to immerse myself in all-synth scores? Hell no. But it did lift the veil a bit on an era in film music that I had been rigidly and stupidly thumbing my nose at for years.
With my latest notes, Maurice Jarre’s TAI-PAN, there was no trepidation going in. I’ve been a fan of Jarre’s work for decades…but guardedly so. Like every composer, not every Jarre is created equal. But through my work on these notes (and the interviews I did with orchestrator Nic Raine and EVI musician Nyle Steiner), I have gone back and reevaluated Jarre’s output. I’ve tossed out my stupid belief about his “flat” compositional style and concentrated on those sparkling musical colors. I’ve immersed myself in Jarre’s music lately, including his all-synth scores, and have found that my longheld opinions needed to be reevaluated. Out with the old and in with the new.
“Music can only be really alive when there are listeners who are really alive,” wrote Aaron Copland in What to Listen for in Music. Part of being alive is being engaged. You certainly don’t need to write liner notes to be engaged in a film score. (It’s a spotty occupation anyway.) And you probably won’t want to dig deep for every score. Who has the time or the energy? But by investing more into your listening experience, you give more of yourself. And that connection is what it’s all about.