The songs on my cd Freeing the Waters were written back in the days when I was still working as a film composer. I wrote the title song “Freeing the Waters” first, right after scoring Bloodsport. This song was an experiment in a type of composition called minimalism, where certain musical patterns are repeated over and over with slight shifts/variations occurring slowly over time. The experiment was to see if I could make minimalism interesting, because most of the time I find it boring. I succeeded in interesting myself with this song, though I don’t know for sure if anyone else is interested.
The song “April Fools’ Day” was written the summer after I finished Kickboxer. I was not in a happy place because some business dealings were going very badly for me in the aftermath of Kickboxer. Somehow out of all the negativity that was going on, I wrote this song that is my all-time favorite. I started by writing a repeating ostinato figure that does in fact repeat without change throughout the song, though you only hear it at quiet moments. There’s also a repeating shaker pattern. Then I started playing some chords that I found interesting and added some melody lines. The whole song seemed to come together magically without much thought. That’s the way most of my music works; if I have to think about it, it usually isn’t very good. If it comes out of the non-thinking emotional side of my brain, it’s usually good.
There’s a story that goes with “April Fools’ Day” which explains its name as well as the dedication on my cd. My long-time friend from college, Steve LaRue, really liked the song when he first heard the rough version. At the time, he was, among other ventures, buying wine for Robert Redford’s wine cellar. (I’m not making this up.) One night when Redford was supposed to meet Steve before driving up the California coast with a beautiful actress, Steve left a copy of “April Fools’ Day” for Redford to listen to. He figured that it was so good that Redford might want to put it in a movie. Unfortunately, Redford never showed up that night. So he never got the cassette. But Steve was a good friend who tried to help promote my career whenever he could, and, knowing his birthday was April 1st, I named the song for him. Steve died a couple of years ago, of a heart attack while he was in recovery from a lengthy operation. He died way too soon. My wife and I thought we’d always have Steve nearby to grow old with. So I dedicated the cd to his memory.
The song entitled “A Wicked Plot” was actually a demo that I wrote to try to get hired to score a film. The film would have been called “No Rest for the Wicked,” and I remember it had a rather complicated plot. It started in the Andes Mountains with 3 “people” being thawed out from a glacier. I dimly remember that these people may have been vampires or some such super beings. The rest of the story takes place in a big city and concerns 3 cops who are played by the same actors as portray the vampires. I don’t remember the script much more than that, but it was actually quite interesting with all the psychological complications of these dual personalities being played out. Anyway, the writer/director wanted to hire a composer before beginning production (composers are almost always hired after the film is shot), and so he asked for demos from a whole pile of Hollywood film composers. He liked mine the best (this song “A Wicked Plot”), and he told me I had the job. I felt great for a minute or two, but within weeks the funding for the film had fallen through, and so it was never made. I really like the thematic material in my song, and I would have loved to work it out over the course of the film. But in the film business, wishes aren’t worth much.
Sometimes my songs simply begin with a sound. “Kyoto Forest” is the name of a sound from a synthesizer module called the Proteus/1 that I must have bought in 1990 or thereabouts. I used this sound on the song entitled “Kyoto Forest” on my cd. I also used that sound in the Asian scenes in the film Breathing Fire. I played around with Asian influenced sounds and melodies quite a bit in my film music. Perhaps this sound would have made its way into the scores for Bloodsport and Kickboxer if I had had the Proteus earlier.
It took me about three weeks to write “Kyoto Forest.” Why so long? Well, it’s not easy to create the sound of an ensemble with a single person. I started with a looped drum sequence that I knew I would ultimately replace, simply to provide a meter. Then I added the piano for harmonic content. Then, melody lines: flute and the “Kyoto Forest” sound. Then a bass part. Then replace the basic drum loop with a real drum part, one element at a time: kick, snare, hi-hat, toms, cymbals. And then we have the intro done. After that comes the verse. Start over, same process. I continually went back and forth from one sound to another, trying to avoid sounding mechanical. I might have spent an entire day on the flute solo, trying to get a fresh, musical sounding performance. The piano solo took longer. I worked on it for days. I didn’t want it to sound flashy with too many notes. I wanted it to sound organic. It took awhile, sometimes punching in a phrase here and a single note there. And always I listened to what was already done, making sure it sounded like a group of musicians playing together, not like one lonely guy in a room full of machines. A group could do it faster, but then it would be something else.
The song “Black Pearls” also began with sounds, though this time it was a combination of two synth sounds that got me started. One was the marimba, that dry wooden ostinato sound that repeats throughout the piece. The other is the sample of the sitar, which serves as the solo instrument. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of these two sounds that probably wouldn’t normally be placed together in the same song. The tune always seemed like a combination of Africa and India to me. Incidentally, I had never originally intended to put this composition on my cd, but I rediscovered a demo of it on an old cassette after I had completely forgotten it. Even after recording it, I wasn’t sure I liked it until I found the right snare sound on my new Emulator X computer-based sampler. That snare really pops.
“Love in a Labyrinth” is also inspired by sounds, but this time by the sound of an instrumental group called Oregon, which I discovered when I lived in New York City in the 1970s. They had an odd instrumentation of oboe, acoustic guitar (and sometimes piano played by the guitarist, Ralph Towner), bass, and percussion. I used samples of 12-string guitar, acoustic piano, and oboe here in tribute to the sound of Oregon. Didn’t use any percussion. All the repetitive tinkling sounds take the place of percussion. Although the piano and 12-string guitar are modern samples from the Emulator X, the oboe is a sample from my old and primitive Mirage keyboard. It still works.
Sometimes, the motivation for a song is a relationship. “Walk on Wide Water” is about a relationship that went bad. That’s what the whole ending part is about: the bell is tolling for a doomed affair. Honestly, I don’t know how I wrote that piece. I didn’t write any of it down on music paper, the chords, the melody, anything. It all popped out of my head somehow. The electric piano and flute parts sound as if they were improvised at the same time, but they weren’t. It was one of those flukes of the imagination that I simply can’t explain. Composing is best if you don’t think about it; just feel it.
“Sue Across the Sea” is about a relationship that went well; it’s about my wife. We met in August, 1991, when she was in LA on vacation from Europe. After a short but wondrous two or three weeks, she went back. I wrote this song not knowing if she’d ever return. Well, she did, and we’re still together, to make a long story short.