I've just uploaded my score to Neil Gaiman's Sandman: Volume Two, Tales in the Sand (links at the bottom).
Rather than update a forum post saying "Look what I can do!" every two weeks or four months I thought I'd start a blog talking about observations on the books themselves and some of the difficulties, easy-ies, quirks, and lessons of the admittedly odd task of composing to comics. After all, this is a somewhat behemoth undertaking and will definitely take a while. (something I might have considered when I started, but I'll get to that next week when I retroactively blog on "Sleep of the Just")
First a disclaimer/explanation:
For the benefit of anyone stumbling onto this or subsequent posts for the first time -
Sandman is a series of 75 comics written by Neil Gaiman. There are 10 volume's/collections/story arcs and I am composing original music to them.
Currently I'm uploading them to Soundcloud and youtube upon completion, and then moving them to Last.fm for archival/sustained availablity. As such some soundcloud links may be dead when this is read - if so, check http://shadowsofbirdsmusic.blogspot.com/ for the current location..
If I can find a better means of distribution I'll utilize it, but for now it's the best I can do.
Tales in the Sand, Book One of the Doll's House.
When I did Preludes and Nocturnes I pretty much took it issue by issue. I'd read Sandman before but it had been long enough since that certain things still surprised me. Halfway through I became aware of the larger story arc and there was a sense of "Oh geeze.. I hope I can tie in these musical themes that I've already established in a way that gives things the appropriate weight and meaning." It was a very David Lynch way of working, and thankfully I think I made it work.
Going into The Dolls House I was more aware of the larger story and made it a point to read it through - paying attention to where certain musical ideas might begin and end.
After reading it through I noticed that The Doll's House and Preludes and Nocturnes have very similar structures.
- Both begin with standalone stories that are very much montage-like.
- Both end in the Dreaming - Though Preludes has its epilogue.
- Both foreshadow the villain with single pages at the end of preceding issues.
With Sleep of the Just from Preludes I only really became aware of the music's role in retrospect. With all of the information coming at you from the page, the music needed to step aside, perhaps more than it did, to make room. Tales in the Sand is a much quieter and more lyrical and as such I tried to do more with less.
With Preludes I instinctively wanted to close the volume with similar music to the opening (the bombastic "Eternal Waking") and I could have went that way in Sound and Fury, but it just didn't feel right. Dream was rejecting his vengeful impulses. He chose to understand Dee instead of judging him. Plus - how do you do that to poor Dee! He's so cute! That was a lesson for me - Book-ending something gives it a very distinct sense of closure and sort of poetry - but it isn't strictly necessary. I'm not sure how this will end - I'd kind of like to reprise the music from Tales precisely because it's so different in tone from the rest of the volume.. but we'll see.
In Preludes I did the villain foreshadowing with a motif that ended up becoming Dee's theme. It was a sense of "something dark is coming." And then ended up using that to stomp all over the muzak in 24 hours. I think it worked, but I think that doing that again - having that dark reminder at the end of individual music sections might start to feel comical. Whatever I end up doing I think it may be different.
On the subject of the opening issue in relation to the whole incorporating Nada into the rest of the story may be difficult. To be fair - with Preludes I abandoned the music representing the Daemon King for the rest of the arc. But with that I could explore Dream's Theme further and Nada somehow seems more relivant to e rest of he story than the Daemon King did. Now that the melody for Dream is so familiar, it may be necessary for something else to be featured.. hmm.. just had an idea - which is part of why I'm writing this blog. :D
With Tales my first instinct was to go Australian. A didgeridoo. That's sort of the obvious sound when you see that opening page. But then you always have to take a step back - Do I want obvious? No not really. I want suited. Suited and Obvious are close cousins so that was a starting point. (that ended up becoming the buzzing synth thing half way through "You'll Know it When You Find it") The best way, I've found, to approach separating suited and obvious is to describe the world the characters are in and not the world the viewer sees. The world the viewer sees is "Very old indigenous peoples in a desert landscape." You describe that - well you get didgeridoo (or I do anyway).. but the world the characters are experiencing? HOT. ARID. They're on a journey. Hopefully that gives you a bit more of an original starting point.
BUT - the music does have a practical function too. It needs to help convey the sense of motion, a sense of a story being told, a sense of weight. It needs to accentuate things. And it needs to do that unobtrusively.. with sounds that the viewer won't notice as out of place - so I did do a little bit of research into the music of South African Bushmen.. Probably not as much as I should have, but I did try to utilize the basics.
A slight regret of mine is that I wanted to create a theme for Nada in the issue "A Hope in Hell", and a theme for Rose in 24 Hours. It would have added a nice layer of continuity to it. Unfortunately I got so caught up in the specifics of the issues that I... forgot. >.<
So that was my basic approach to Tales in the Sand.
A couple of notes on the finished product-
With this whole project, syncing the music with the appropriate Plot points is a bit hit or miss. With 24 Hours in particular it was difficult. Especially when you've read a given section for the twentieth time to try and get the emotional beats right - you tend to read it faster than the first. Tales hits the beats more often than any issue I've done thus far.
I was initially thinking that as it's one long story being told in book Tales would benefit from a single long piece, like 24 Hours. But that idea fell by the wayside when I realized Nada Entering Dream's castle constituted a good place for a break - and that emphasis on that point might serve to help jump from listening to Grandpa's story around the campfire to witnessing the events as they happened (sort of like the point in film when the narrator stops talking and the characters start talking for themselves.)
"Desire is Always Cruel" doesn't do a whole lot for me standalone - but when paired with the images - It feels very beautiful. (to me)
And there you have it.
Here's an embed from youtube (it would be nice if you'd like and/or comment on the page though - it helps make it more findable to people who may be interested)
And here's a link to the soundcloud files (all downloadable):
And Preludes and Nocturnes (also freely downloadable):