miðvikudagur, apríl 07, 2010

Dreamland in the Spotlight @ IMX

Dreamland - A Soundtrack for a Frightened Nation

Back in 2006, Andri Snær Magnason’s ”Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation” became the best-selling book in Iceland, winning the Icelandic Literary Award and the Icelandic Bookseller Prize in the same year.
A critique against the decision taken by the Icelandic government to sell off Iceland's natural beauty and rivers to produce energy for aluminium factories, Dreamland was turned into a documentary in 2008 and has gone on to become one of the most watched films in Icelandic history. It’s currently being screened in various places worldwide.
The score for the movie was composed by Bedroom Community founder and Björk collaborator Valgeir Sigurðsson and features appearances from most of the Bedroom Community roster, including Ben Frost, Sam Amidon and Nico Muhly.

On the eve of the soundtrack release, Iceland Music Export (IMX) caught up with both Andri and Valgeir…
How did you come to work together on the Dreamland soundtrack?
Valgeir: I got a call from Hanna Björk, one of the film producers, asking if I'd be interested in meeting with them to discuss. We met, watched a rough cut, talked about some ideas and I got to work after having watched the film and met up with Andri and the others several times.
Andri: We were looking for a good original soundtrack and were very interested in the work of Valgeir and the
Bedroom Community. With the spectrum from classical instruments to electronic programming - that was close to what we wanted for the movie.
Had you worked together before this (in any capacity)?
Valgeir: No, I don't think we had even met properly before this but I've been aware of Andri's work forever and I suppose he'd been aware of mine.
Andri: No we have never worked together – and no, I don’t think we had met before. But I had been following his work and what the Bedroom Community was doing.

Did the directors or producers communicate any specific vision for the soundtrack?
Valgeir: It was important for me to get feedback and comments while I was working on the music, as much as it was to be left alone to come up with the score. There were moments of questioning and doubt along the way, which is understandable when people are at the end of a work that they've been creating for a long time and it's time to commit to something. But it seemed that they all agreed with what I was coming up with and it wasn't really until the final stage of sound mixing that some big shifts were made. I think it was all for the good, but we could have used another week on the film mix.
Andri: We put it in his hands and trusted him. We gave him perhaps a few words but in general we trusted him. Then we got the music and roughly applied it to the film. Then we would sit down and talk about it - more bass here, more silence here, more ambience here etc. I don't really use the right words for music - but we could communicate very well.
Valgeir, what were your first thoughts on being asked to create music for Dreamland?
Valgeir: I had read the book when it came out and thought it was amazing. When I watched the first cut I needed no more convincing, even though it was a rough edit. I thought that this was an important story that needed to be seen and heard, and figured I'd be able to contribute.
Andri, what did you think of the soundtrack the first time you heard it?
Andri: This is the first time I have participated in making a film - and one of the problems is that you can become attached to the reference music you sometimes use before the original score has been made. So it is always strange to switch from the music you got used to, to the new music. But now I don't have to see the film - I can "watch" it through the music, by just listening to it.
Valgeir, you've created a few soundtracks now - is it different every time, for every film or is there a process?
Valgeir: It is always different and I've been involved in different ways, as engineer, producer and composer, so I've had a chance to learn a few things along the way and develop my own ways of working on film scores. There are countless ways of telling a story, and making music for a film is a way to help tell that story. I like to get a sense of the film's entire range of emotional triggers before starting to write anything. In this case I wanted to write music that was very present and sometimes even demanding attention, rather than blending into the background as Draumalandið offered a lot of space for the music. Another thing that I really tried to stay true to in the writing process was to write long cues, and the first one that I started was around 12 minutes, which is quite unusual in films. It's for the scene at the end where we see all the waterfalls that have been flooded and ended up on the album as the Nowhere Land/Helter Smelter suite.
Talking of emotions, the subject matter of the film must be deeply affecting for any Icelander that cares about his/her environment. Valgeir, was this was a more "personal" work for you?
Valgeir: It's affecting you in a different way, connecting with this kind of reality that is being told in Draumalandið as opposed to fictional characters. There was definitely a sense of being a part of something important throughout the work and I've seen that is true from the reaction to the film and even to the album. It makes people think about these issues. But I've been involved in fictional work that sucks you in completely and you almost feel that the characters on the screen are real and you get emotionally involved in the process.
You decided to pull pretty much the entire bedroom community roster - what motivated your decision to make it so open and collaborative, rather than simply working with, say, Daníel, on a score...?
Valgeir: Some of this was down to happy coincidences, some because it's the way I often like to work on any given project, whether producing an artist outside Bedroom Community or making my own music.
It's kind of incredible in a way that the BC roster represent different emotive elements of the movie so well, from Frost's sinister crackles to Muhly's arrangements. Did it feel like a match made in heaven?
Valgeir: Well for me "the Bedroom Community collective" is some sort of a divine thing. And being able to pull from such a pool of ideas and abilities is just a huge luxury. It was down to me, as the composer and producer of the music, to curate the process. Sometimes I would call on them because I felt that I needed that 'sinister crackle' or something else specific from their vocabulary, and then it was more like a practical, time saving thing. As for the arrangements, I had written them more or less up to the point that they were ready to be recorded, Nico turned them into a readable experience for the ensemble and conducted the score. I had also left some open slots where I wanted Nico to come up with parts, using his language. This is most apparent in Past Tundra, where I asked him to write the solo-viola part for me, on top.
Whose idea to match Amidon to the song “Grýlukvæði" - and to use that song in the first place, and what made you use Amidon's vocals as opposed to his banjo playing?
Valgeir: It was Andri's idea to reference this old tune in the film and I suggested getting Sam to sing it. I thought it represented well the 'alien' element, the foreign influence and the corporations. Also, the fact that Sam works with folk music made it seem like this was "his territory" in a way, so it seemed like the natural thing to do.
Andri: Yes It is funny how things come together. There are many years since I thought this old
Grýla song would fit very well what was going on in the east of Iceland. The twisted distorted feeling they gave to it with Amidon’ss voice - something strange, something had happened, like an old song had been body snatched.
Valgeir, you chose to use a small string section rather than a bigger one - was this to avoid indulgence in terms of over-dramatisation / sentimentality?
Valgeir: The plan was never to create a 'big orchestral score', I felt that a chamber orchestra would really be more appropriate, and affordable. I had the feeling that Andri was more interested in the electronic aspect of my work anyway but I got freedom to work with an instrumentation of my choice.
Was there a concern for both of you that the album stands alone as well as make a great filmic accompaniment, or was this not a consideration at the beginning?
Valgeir: This was very important for me, I set out to write music that could exist outside the film. That's why I chose to treat the music as individual pieces, rather than a set of musical cues. I also mixed the music for the album quite differently to the versions that are in the film.
Andri: It was not a consideration for me at the beginning - but as soon as I heard the music I wanted it on a CD.

Valgeir, what has the feedback been like so far for the album?

Valgeir: It's been great, much stronger that I'd dared to hope. It's rewarding for me that so many people who hear the album, but have not seen the film think they get a real sense of the urgency in the story and the message of the film.
Andri, what's the latest with the film and its International / European tour etc?
Andri: The film is touring the world at the moment. It has been touring with Cinema Politica in universities in Canada and it has been on many major film festivals in Europe - going to Toronto soon, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Tel Aviv, Warsaw. I will follow it to a few places.
More info about screenings on www.dreamland.is.
Source: IMX

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