Wednesday 7 June 2017

Writing the Music Soundtrack to Saint John Bosco Film, Dreams, Soundscapes, Inspiration and Ideas.

Last week, I was gearing up to write the music score for our new production on Saint John Bosco.  This was our biggest challenge in filmmaking in the past 10 years and I was looking forward to trying something new.  We covered several of St. John Bosco's dreams in the film and I was contemplating how I would go about getting the separate dream segments across with the music score.  As the film was in the final stages of editing, I set up the Cubase project and loaded up some samples that I thought I would need.  I turned to Omnisphere because it has some fantastic soundscapes, so many I have not had a chance to really scratch the surface of them.  I loaded up samples such as 'Bowels of Hell', 'Requiem' and some spooky boy choirs.  I knew we had portrayed St. John Bosco's dream on the journey to hell and back so I wanted to be prepared!  I thought the boys choirs would be a good touch if used subtly as it would hint at his working with educating boys and caring for their souls. 


In addition to Omnisphere samples, I used Desert Winds and Forest Kingdoms and Era II by Eduardo Tarilonte.  Whatever samples you get from Eduardo Tarilonte there are always some fantastic soundscapes included.  I loaded up Ancient Spirits and I think Desert Longing.  I decided to make use of the samples that I have so brought the flute, harp, cello, baroque guitar, nylon guitar, strings and symphonic choirs 'mm' samples to the forefront, rather than looking for a new lead instrument.  I also loaded in Altus and Cantus for voices as well as some of the new Vocal Codex samples I have not had for that long.

Screenshot of Opening Titles in Cubase
Over the past couple of months we have been watching The Man in the High Castle and I have been listening to the atmospheric music.  In particular I listened to the more exciting faster-paced scenes, analysing how Dominic Lewis managed to keep the tension building.  I listened to how he had hits on every beat and every other beat and how this made the tension grow.  I also liked how the opening titles had a simple song but gradually in the background a sinister soundscape grew, even though at times it caused a bit of dissonance, it portrayed through the music the tension and background threat.  I noted all these points because of the upcoming St. John Bosco score which I knew was to be a longer production and what is most difficult about these is keeping the interest of the audience.  I have a tendency to lapse into morbid reflection which I find really easy, but sometimes it just needs a bit of gripping tension.  I loaded up some pizz strings with the idea of using them on every other beat taking The Man in the High Castle tension scenes as an example. 

The film was not yet complete but I decided to do something I had never done before and start the music score in advance.  I experimented with harp with pizz strings on every other beat to begin with.  With this sequence started I overlaid some strings and then recorded in a lead tune with cello.  I added guitar and layered this up with Altus phrases and flute.  The result was an atmospheric yet tension-building sequence.  When the film was complete and I dropped it into the project, I was able to continue the tune for the opening titles easily as most of the hard work was done.

Everything was pretty straightforward from then on.  A score gets much easier once the narration starts and it is mostly musical underscore.  When the dreams started, I had all my samples ready and I found that dropping most instruments out and bringing in the Ancient Spirits and soundscapes created an immediate dreamlike atmosphere.  I kept this up and added some ambient drums from StormDrums for depth.  I also added some sound effects of wind and thunder which was great.

The fun part began with the long Hell sequence.  I built up the tension with Bowels of Hell from Omnisphere and it was really quite scary; scary and interesting.  After a while I realised the Hell sequence was longer than I expected.  I felt it needed something else. 

From the Hell Sequence

It was at this point that I remembered Trilian.  I use Trillian simply for bass but it can do so much more.  I loaded up 'Burning Victims' and 'Apocalyptic Message' which sounded apt.  One was a pulse/beat and added just the right touch.  At this point in the film 'words' were popping up on the screen and it just felt right to go in a more modern and experimental musical direction.  I used the beat on and off and when it came into the score it added the perfect attention-keeping element.

I have been reading a lot of Pope Francis' writings recently and they are so inspiring.  I was pleased to be working on such a powerful presentation of the dreams and instructions of St. John Bosco and I wanted the score to be both shocking and moving.  The seriousness of Hell was interspersed with the kind face and caring persona of Don Bosco.  Sacred Art of the Heart of Jesus really inspired me to portray with cello, string and soundscapes how much Our Lord loves us and aches for us to turn to him, turn away from sin.  The whole sequence was extremely gripping and challenging.  The final touch was Ambient Largeness drums with Thunder Clap and Metallic Doors clanging for the Portals of Hell, with the sounds of fire crackling for the wall of Hell when Don Bosco has to touch the walls and awakens from his dream with a burning hand. 
After this the film showed how easy it is to be a saint and touches upon Saint Dominic Savio which was very uplifting and inspirational.

The film left me moved and inspired.  Writing the score was a rare event, having the opportunity to use so many interesting soundscapes and have a lot of freedom with this.  I also found it really easy which is rare too.  The previous score for Jacinta Marto was really difficult for me. 

For the entire score I had been looking for an opportunity to use my new sample from Vocal Codex 'Salve Regina' but I had not been in the right key to make it work.  I put in a phrase of it here and there.  At the end credits I decided to play in the entire thing and lo and behold it fitted perfectly.   This film is now available on DVD worldwide through Amazon and

Saint John Bosco DVD


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