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Music met film

The Music Meets Film programme, running in its eight year included three significant and intense days in three different locations in and around Tallinn. Starting off in Tallinn’s Nordic Hotel Forum, the second day with its intense time schedule was spent at the Arvo Pärt Centre in Laulasmaa and the third at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. Each day offered a different approach to film music and film music composers. The conference, although probably less known to the general public, offers exciting audio presentations to those who are involved in the creation of film music as well as those interested in music and film and the role of sound in films. The conference is held within the framework of the Black Nights Film Festival (Pimedate Ööde Filmifestival or PÖFF) and was curated for the third time by producer and Music Editor Michael Pärt whose broad vision ensured interesting guest speakers and comprehensive lectures. Guests included renowned figures from different areas and generations, such as film composers Richard Harvey from England, Michael J McEvoy from the US, and Estonian Mihkel Zilmer who has recently gathered attention mainly thanks to the music for the film ‘Truth and Justice’, shortlisted for best international feature at this year’s Oscars.

Richard Harvey and Ardo Ran Varres. PHOTO VIVIAN AVENT

Richard Harvey and Ardo Ran Varres. PHOTO VIVIAN AVENT

The conference, which will celebrate its ninth year of activity in 2020, seems to be an important think tank for young students who are interested in film music – a place where they pick up ideas and inspiration, gather knowledge and experience as well as find an entrypoint for the valuable networking world withing music and film. Unique information could be gained from the lively discussion between the Internationally-renowned British forensic musicologist and copyright infringement specialist Peter Oxendale and British trailer composer Tom Player, who gave an overview of the problems occurring in their area. Oxendale, also a producer, arranger, musician, conductor, artistic manager and member of numerous organisations handling copyrights (the Performing Artists’ Media Rights Association, the Performing Rights Society, the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) has first-hand experience with the legal practice of copyright issues. He pointed out that the creation of music today inevitably entails copyright issues and gave recommendations as to how and on what conditions contracts should be concluded with musicians in order to avoid misunderstandings and unexpected financial claims from musicians who have, for instance, been asked to improvise by the composer at a recording of film music. It also occurs quite often that a film composer is not engaged at an early enough stage in the film production. The director and the editor work with the placed temporary score and then ask the composer to match it – often too closely. This in turn infringes copyright. Oxendale discussed in great detail how court cases often assess the essential original part of music. That may not necessarily be extensive, even a small characteristic phrase is sufficient. In the course of settling claims, the so-called test of originality is carried out. Oxendale pointed out that it can be said that all the elements of music (melody shapes, chord sequences) already exist and have been written and that may give rise to the question of how today anything new can be created at all. He said that in court composers do not have to prove that they are able to create something utterly new, but they do have to prove that they have actually done creative work with the music and arranged familiar musical elements into a new and authentic combination. Oxendale made a distinction between intentional and subconscious imitation and described interesting and unique cases where original creation may seem so utterly ideal even to the author that it seems unbelievable that no one has written it before. One of the most interesting examples was from a Los Angeles law-case. In order to make it easier for the judge to ascertain whether a music sample in question is the original or a copy, both samples were lifted to the same key. To illustrate the discussion, participants were given the opportunity to listen to the samples and guess whether they were listening to a copy or the original. This proved to be not so straight-forward, as in several cases the participants were unable to guess the right answer. The discussion also touched upon claim amounts and who decides the size of the amounts. In conclusion, Oxendale acknowledged that we live in a terrible time where extensive numbers of legal claims are filed, a lot of them groundless. He said that the music industry and copyright law is working hand in hand, which only reiterates the need to conclude contracts to protect ones’ original creative works.

Another element of this year’s Music Meets Film initiative was a film showing related to sound: the Estonian premiere of Midge Costin’s fascinating documentary ‘Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound’ (2019) provided a historical overview of the importance of sound in film, from the live music used as background for silent films and sound effects created behind the movie screen to the use of mono, stereo and today’s surround sound. The film included exciting historical scenes of microphones in bushes and sound artists who marked the necessary moments in a studio with unbelievably simple tools. Costin had managed to interview a notably long list of sound design innovators (Walter Murchi, Ben Burtt, Dane Davies, Gary Rydstrom), and a number of directors – Ang Lee, George Lucas, Sofia Coppola and many others – talked about their ideas on using sound. The film was dramatically structured and illustrated with examples from well-known films where sound designers had applied their inventive mind, including ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Matrix’. For musicians, the film opens a new exciting angle for reviewing famous films they have already seen. The hall of the Arvo Pärt Centre can very well be recommended for film screening, as the Centre is constantly upgrading the hall into a multifunctional media centre. The sound for this year’s Music Meets Film was provided by courtesy of Estelon, a high-end Estonian speaker manufacturer, exhibiting their flagship model Estelon Extreme.

The conference offered detailed insights into the creative realms of Richard Harvey’s and Michael J McEvoy’s film music and career paths. Richard Harvey had brought along various instruments and encouraged young composers to search for exciting timbres. Mihkel Zilmer layed-out his methodology on his composition workflow on the basis of his work related to ‘Truth and Justice’. He emphasised the importance of preparative work and cooperation with the director and other important individuals involved in the making of a film.

While the second day of the conference focused on topics essential from the legal perspective as well as discussions on the identity of film composers and the role of cinematic sound, the third day of the conference offered in-depth masterclasses held by three distinctive and proficient composers – Michael J McEvoy, Tom Player and Mihkel Zilmer.

The intensive output by Music Meets Film made us wonder with excitement which programme visionary Michael Pärt will include for the next Music Meets Film in autumn 2020, and whether the thoroughly discussed topics will find their way into the study curriculums of Estonian universities and thus establishing a broader platform of institutional colaboration. It is certain that during these three days, not only established and young film and film-music professionals, but also students in the areas of film production and composition gained a lot of inspiration, knowledge and new contacts.

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