Since its release in 1999, The Matrix—and nearly everything in it—has become an indelible part of pop culture. This weekend, composer Don Davis will conduct the Atlanta Symphony in a performance of his original score for The Matrix during a screening of the film in Symphony Hall. We caught up with Davis to ask a few questions about the challenge of creating the music for a sci-fi classic.
How did you originally get involved with composing the music for The Matrix?
Well, I had already worked with the Wachowski brothers on a movie called Bound. The brothers were extremely loyal when they went from that low-budget picture to a high-budget picture: they brought all the principles along with them.
What was your initial response to the film?
When I read the script I was knocked out immediately. I knew this was something special and unusual. At the time Larry and Andy showed me some of their story boards. It was very impressive. Ordinarily storyboards are very rough, like stick figures. But these storyboards were done by comic book artists, and they looked like fully fleshed out comics. It was meticulous research and development. That got me going.
It's a really unusual story, very futuristic, parts of it are meant to take place inside a computer. Was that aspect challenging for you?
Yeah. It's kind of a learning process. One of the main features of the score is these echoing brass chords. That's what you hear at the beginning of the film. I came up with that when I was working on this initial chase. There's a scene where Trinity leaps across a street from one building to another. It's a very interesting well-done shot. When we spotted it, they said, "Do something big here. Really make that happen." When I did it, I did like they said and made it big. When they heard it, they said "Whoah. We have to hear the sirens" because there are police cars on the street below her. So I had to come up with something that would be unusual and play the scene in a futuristic and exciting way, but still let the sound effects come through. That's when I came up with the idea of having the two brass chords echoing back and forth. There's essentially no movement except for the loudness and softness of these two chords. I was able to make that the signature of the movie.
What does a live symphony orchestra add to a film that, say, just having a really awesome surround sound system wouldn't?
Regardless of how good a conductor can be, a composer always has his own idea of how it's supposed to sound. Especially in a film score when it's supposed to be part of a film: I'm looking at it thinking when Neo does this, music is supposed to go 'Oomph' and it didn't! One thing that's always disappointing for film composers is that there's a huge amount of energy that's generated on the scoring stage: usually the energy can be captured in a recording. But once that recording is mixed in with sound effects and dialogue, there's a big loss. Much of the energy is missing. What's unique about this kind of situation is that the audience can experience that energy again because it's happening live with an orchestra.
40 years of food for thought .... very worth reading.
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