Jazz is a genre of music beloved for its passion, soul and organic spontaneity. So, when it was announced that Alejandro González Iñárritu was going to break his long collaborative streak with Gustavo Santaolalla to work with 4-time Grammy-winning musician/composer Antonio Sanchez people took notice. Sanchez is a composer and has quite a few instrumental jazz albums under his belt, but he’s never scored for a film before. And in many ways he still hasn’t. Birdman is a unique scoring experiment that totally works.
Iñárritu’s idea to go for an all-drum score here immediately makes the music one thing, and that is a very internalized score. The music serves more as a window inside a character’s mind than it does a way to score movement or emotions. Well, scratch that, in fact it does convey motion, just not emotion. This score had many stages and Sanchez worked on it prior to shooting, during shooting and after shooting. The music was constantly working and evolving. Oh, and it’s all improvised. Sanchez would literally sit in a room with Iñárritu and have him raise his hand when a character would do a certain action, and Sanchez would move the music to accompany the scene. The score is really birthed more from conceptual ideas and certain states of the mind than it is from looking at a scene and writing music to it. But the crazy thing is that there are still motifs, certain rhythms you can pick up for certain characters. And by all means, this score is very incomplete without the picture. While there is a structure to it all, it mostly exists detached from anything. The funny thing too is that even though this score is a one-man performance, it never feels like a performance. It’s hard to describe why, but the music feels as if it’s constantly reacting to situations, to moments, to things being said. In fact, I can see this score working with a totally silent film. You can pick up character nuances with every snap of the drum, and as a filmmaker I could totally take this music and edit a great performance or sequence around it. Which is kind of what happened as well. Since Sanchez was on the film creating tracks off the script, Iñárritu was able to let the music play on set and even influence the cinematography and editing. You’ll find some famous classical pieces on the album as well, so imagining the juxtaposition of this drum score with the music selection is quite exciting.
Leave it to an innovative director like Iñárritu to come up with a totally fresh way of going about the scoring process. One would think an experiment like this would be an unstructured mess, but it isn’t. I found myself pinned into the score hearing every hit. Certain things like emotional arcs that you’d find in a traditional score were missing, but this score’s purpose was not that of a traditional one. You can feel footsteps, you can feel a reaction, you can feel a mind grinding away. You can pick out certain things from all of it, and even if it doesn’t form a cohesive picture, you’re still getting information in a way you never really have before from a film score. Yes, you will need to see it with the film to appreciate how it works, because on its own it’s a bit naked. But this is a definite one to dive right into.
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