Australian Feature Film Music in the Sound Era

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Feature Film Music

The field of Australian feature films can be roughly divided into three periods: the silent era (1910-1929); the early sound film period (1930-1969) and the renaissance period (1970-the present). The silent era music was either improvised live or compiled from specialised libraries of scores and parts.

In the early sound film period, the majority of scores were written by Australian (or Australian resident) composers. [NB the following background material is based on analysis of data available from the International Movie Data Base website, the Screen Australia website and other sources such as Verhoeven (1999)], Those composers who wrote three or more scores included Lindley Evans (5), Willy Redstone (3), Hamilton Webber (9, some "compiled", rather than composed), Frank Chapple (4), Sydney John Kay (4), Alf Lawrence (3), Henry Krips (5) and Wilbur Sampson (5); and there were other prominent Australian concert composers who also contributed one-off scores such as Alfred Hill, Robert Hughes, Clive Douglas and Raymond Hanson. In the post-war period, however, all the big Australian theme projects funded by foreign film studios used non-Australian composers. These included British composers John Ireland, John Greenwood, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ronald Whelan, John Addison, Matyas Seiber, Kenneth V. Jones, Benjamin Frankel, and Edwin Astley. Some prominent American composers such as Sol Kaplan, Alfred Newman, Ernest Gold, and Dimitri Tiomkin were contracted as well as French composers Georges Auric, Michel Emer, and Henri Croila. From 1962 the trend to use specially imported composers on Australian feature film projects effectively ended, although there are a few notable exceptions over the next four decades including Maurice Jarre, John Barry, Alan Silvestri, Bill Conti, Michael Nyman, Mikos Theodorakis and Peter Gabriel.

There were 103 feature films made in period 1930 –1969, indicating an average production rate of less than three per year. As only eight Australian composers wrote three or more scores in that period, it was hardly a situation where a composer could develop specialised skills for screen scoring, or a professional profile as a screen composer.

Thus in 1970 when the Australian film industry revived with the production of 15 films in a single year, there was no real tradition of professional film scoring to sustain it. In the lean period of 1960s film production, a number of Australian concert composers (Peter Sculthorpe, Richard Meale, Graham Hair and George Tibbits) had written film scores but when the boom came, the industry turned to composers from the media and entertainment industries, particularly from advertising and television variety shows.

Among composers who wrote scores in the 1970s, Brian May, Sven Libaek, Eric Jupp, Tommy Tycho, Bob Young and Tommy Leonetti all had experience as television show band composers, arrangers and conductors. Peter Best, Graham Bond, Rory O'Donoghue, Bob Young, Mike Perjanik and Bruce Smeaton were all involved in writing and producing music for the advertising industry. Some screen composers like Peter Best, Martin Armiger, Mario Millo, Rory O'Donoghue, Brian Cadd, Roy Ritchie, Michael Carlos and Hans Poulsen had backgrounds in writing, playing and producing rock music, and others like William Motzing, Don Burrows, John Sangster were high-profile jazz composers, performers and musical directors. Versatility seemed to be the key for success as an Australian screen composer, and not just versatility in musical skills such as composing, arranging and conducting. The working conditions for Australian screen composers were quite different from those in Hollywood or London, for example. Composers were regularly required to take on multiples roles in the film production including the roles of music editor, music supervisor, orchestrator, and contractor (Magee, 1996:153-4; Hannan 2003: 21).

The lack of training opportunities for screen composers was also a factor in the ad hoc development of an Australian tradition of screen composition in the film renaissance period. A few of the screen composers who emerged in the 1970s (e.g. Bruce Smeaton, Brian May, William Motzing, Cameron Allen) had received training in Australian tertiary music schools, but the wide range of skills appropriate to film composing (apart from composing skills) had to be gained in Australia through further music or entertainment industry experience. Screen composition was considered to be too lowbrow to be taught in conservatoriums of music and university music departments. The opportunity for composers to undertake specific study of film composition techniques and technologies has only been possible since around 1990 with the appearance of some commercially oriented practical music courses at tertiary level (Atherton 2003). Even so there are still no full-time undergraduate degree courses available that specialise in film composition, although from 2000 the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) has offered a Graduate Diploma in Screen Composition and now has a 15-month full-time Masters degree. The delay in the provision of screen music education is in contrast to many the other areas of film production (including direction, production, cinematography, design, and sound) whose training has been facilitated for several decades via specialist film schools such as AFTRS, VCA, and the Swinburn University of Technology (Atherton 2003).

In the modern era of Australian film scoring there have been a number of composers who have written a substantial number of Australian feature film scores. These include Cameron Allen (11), Martin Armiger (8), Peter Best (24), Guy Gross (13), Paul Grabowsky (13) David Hirschfelder (9), Brian May (23), Williams Motzing (12), Chris Neal (16), Bruce Rowland (12), Cesary Skubiszewski (10) Bruce Smeaton (23), Frank Strangio (16) Graham Tardif (7) Nerida Tyson-Chew (7) Nigel Westlake (7 ) John Clifford White (8), Bob Young (18) and Allan Zavod (11). Several of these composers, notably Brian May, Bruce Smeaton, Paul Grabowsky, Bruce Rowland and Nerida Tyson-Chew have forged international careers.

Although film music and sound design are integral components of film production, they have largely been ignored in film research in favour of the visual and narrative elements. In the research literature of Australian cinema there is little comment on the music and sound elements of films. The major studies of Australian cinema give virtually no coverage of music or sound design. Of these books, Bertrand (1989) includes a number of references to live music performance in the silent era; Collins and Davis (2004) make single-sentence comments on the music of six films; Dermody and Jacka (1987) contains no references to music or sound; Dermody and Jacka (1988a) involves only a two-sentence reference to Cameron Allan's score for Heatwave (Noyce, 1981); Dermody and Jacka (1988b) includes four sentences devoted to music; Hall (1985) reviews 118 films but briefly mentions the music for only 12 of these; Hamilton and Mathews (1986) contains interviews with American critics and Australian film production "talent", but excludes composers and sound designers; Lewis (1987) makes no reference to sound or music in Australian films; McFarlane (1983), discussing nine Australian films adapted from novels, makes six short references to music; Moran and O'Regan (1985) refers only to the pan-pipe music of Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir, 1975); Moran and O'Regan (1989), an anthology of articles and reviews of Australian cinema, contains nine references to music; Murray (1994) has three brief mentions of music; Murray (1995), a critical survey of 343 Australian movies includes mention of the music or sound for 50 of its entries; and in the introductory section of the filmography by Verhoeven (1999) three songs are mentioned.

In the last decade two books dealing with contemporary Australian film scoring have been edited by Rebecca Coyle (1998a, 2005a). These groundbreaking anthologies represent by far the greatest contribution to the field of Australian film music to date. The focus of most of the chapters in these books is on the detailed analysis of specific Australian film scores (Atherton 2005; Coyle 1998b; Coyle 1998c; Coyle 2005b; Coyle 2005c; Evans 1998; Evans 2005; Hannan 2005; Hannan and Magee 1998; Harley 1998; Hayward 2005; Hill 1998; Homan 2005; Iocco and Hickey-Moody 2005; Johnson and Poole 1998; Johnson and Poole 2005; Kibby 2005; Kibby and Neuenfeldt 1998; Magee 2005; Magowan 1998; Miller 1998; Mitchell 2005; O'Shea 2005; Preston 1998; Samartzis 1998; Stratton 2005; Summerhayes and Hillman 2005; Upton 1998; van Leeuwen 1998; Winchester 2005). Only a few other substantial studies of Australian film music and sound have appeared (Clancy 1994; Coyle 2004; Coyle and Hannan 2005a; Coyle and Hannan 2005b; Evans 2004; Mitchell 2005, Hayward 2009).

Most of these articles deal in detail with between one to four film scores although a few (e,g, Kibby and Neuenfeldt 1998; Johnson and Poole 2005) investigate particular musical features over a wider range of films.

Of the approximately 1500 feature films that have been made in Australia since the advent of sound films around 1930, only about 60 film scores have received detailed scholarly attention. There have been no published studies of the complete film score oeuvre of any Australian composer, although several composers have written autobiographies that document some aspects of their film work (e.g. Dreyfus 1984; Tycho 1995)

The situation with film music and film sound studies elsewhere is also undeveloped but the field is growing rapidly, particularly in the United States. Major theoretical studies of film music have emerged (Prendergast1977; Gorbman 1987; Kalinak 1992; Kassabian 2001; Brown 1994; Burt 1994; Smith 1998; Taylor 2002) as well as book-length studies of the works of individual composers (Bruce 1985; Danly 1999). A research journal, The Journal of Film Music was established in 2002. In the area of film sound (incorporating music, dialogue, sound effects and atmospherics) the most influential theorist to emerge is Chion (1990; 1999).

Acknowledgement

The author wishes to acknowledge the Australian Research Council (ARC). This article was produced as an outcome of the ARC Discovery Project grant "Music production and technology in Australian Film: enabling Australian film to embrace innovation." (2007-2010) which the author holds with Rebecca Coyle and Philip Hayward.

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Author

Michael Hannan, 2008

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