Interview

[Interview - Don Davis]

When SoundtrackNet last talked with film composer Don Davis, it was just after he composed music for Jurassic Park III.† Since that time, he's scored a couple of features, including Behind Enemy Lines, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, "The Animatrix" (a series of nine short films),and The Matrix Reloaded, the highly anticipated sequel to The Matrix.† SoundtrackNet had a chance to catch up with Don and discuss his work on these projects.


You recently worked on the score to The Matrix Reloaded, and used similar material from The Matrix.† Tell me a bit about the elements you used to create this score.

Well, the Wachowski Brothers and I wanted to make sure there was a continuity between the three pictures. None of us were interested in abandoning what had been established in the first picture; we wanted to expand on it, just like the Wachowskis expanded on their palette. So I was definitely looking to see how I could take those motifs and post-modern concepts and pursue something bigger and more ambitious.

You had to deal a lot with electronica and some stuff by Paul Oakenfold and Juno Reactor...

Well, I didn't work with Paul directly. In fact, I wish I had. I wasn't aware of what he was doing; had I been, I would have given my MIDI files to him to work with.† I spoke to him after the release, and I thanked him for what he did because I thought his contribution was really very integral with what I had done- he did something that was complimentary to it, and specifically, by way of tempo, match the cue I had written. He said he had trouble matching the tempo that I used, and I said that I would have been happy to give him my MIDI files had I known that he was involved. It was kind of after the fact. I guess Larry and Andy [Wachowski] were trying some different things out and didn't want me to spin my wheels. So, I didn't really work with Paul per se, but we did use his elements.

Larry and Andy were very interested in having us do something that integrated the orchestral elements and electronica elements. They didn't feel that the needle-drop idea was going to benefit the film. You know, because you're talking about a 15 minute freeway chase and the idea of getting a needle-drop that's going to work with that whole thing just wasn't going to happen. Juno Reactor's Ben Watkins spent a lot of time on those tracks, and had I been doing the tracks, I certainly couldn't have spent that kind of time on them and so I think it was really worthwhile bringing in someone who could concentrate on those tracks.† Those kind of guys spend all their time on tracks and they're specialists at that, and there are nuances that if you don't spend all your time concentrating on that sort of thing you can't really know what the details of it are. Likewise, my working with him was valuable because when you spend all your time concentrating on tracks you can't really know the details of orchestral writing. So the meeting of the minds worked out very well, I think.

What is The Matrix Revolutions going to be like, and how might your score differ from Reloaded?

Well, it seems at this point that there is going to be less of the electronica aspect in this movie. There will be some, but percentage wise, quite a bit less than in the previous movies. Also, song placement within the movie should be less. Because much of the movie is the siege, which is an enormous war sequence, I think we're all pretty much in agreement at this point that the orchestra is going to be the main thrust of the score for this picture. It's pretty epic too; I think the main difference between The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions scores is going to be in the epic nature of the latter picture.

What about "The Animatrix", the 9 animated short films? You were involved with that too.

Yeah, I scored all 9 of them. They were all done electronically, with the exception of "Final Flight of the Osiris" which uses sort of a big orchestra, about 50 pieces.

There's also a Matrix video game out, "Enter the Matrix", which has a fully orchestral score. Tell me about that.

Well, unfortunately "Enter the Matrix" came down the pike around the time we just finished spotting The Matrix Reloaded and as such I really couldn't do much in the way of direct participation. So we brought in Erik Lundborg who had orchestrated Behind Enemy Lines and Antitrust for me, and who had also done some orchestration on Reloaded. I gave him all the scores from the first Matrix and I was feeding him stuff as I was working on Reloaded and "The Animatrix", although I don't think there was much for him to work on from "The Animatrix" except for "Final Flight of the Osiris". But he took all that stuff and adapted it for the game and recorded it in Seattle. I think he did a tremendous job. In fact, Larry and Andy mentioned they were very pleased with the integration musically between the movies and the video game. So, Erik was working under my supervision, although I think a better word would be under my "recommendations". I didn't bother him everyday because I knew he had a handle on it and that wasn't necessary.† I was really happy with the way that it turned out - I'm really glad that Erik did it.

So after all of this, do you think you'll be all "Matrixed" out?

You know, its funny, on the first Matrix they wanted me to be as creative as I could be, doing something absolutely new, different, big and huge and all this kind of stuff. Then Reloaded came along and it has to be newer, more different, bigger, and I thought, "Wait a minute, when I did the first one I thought that was as huge as I could get it", so its like, where do you go from there? Constantly reinventing the wheel that way gets pretty exhausting. I would think that by the time Revolutions is over I'll have pretty much reached the boundary of what I could do with this. Which is good because I don't think there will be a fourth one - Larry and Andy are insisting that there won't be, so I'll go with that.

What are some of your film music influences?

The obvious ones are still there, you know, the Goldsmiths and Williams are pretty hard to dismiss. But it will actually be interesting to see what happens when these composers actually do pass. I think it would be interesting checking out exactly what their legacy is going to be when they are gone. I mean, we've really only been able to assess Stravinsky after he died. His legacy certainly still continues, but so will Boulez's and even Williams'. The nature of film scoring is such that trends and fashions have a lot more to do with it then they do with concert music. So, it will be interesting to see, once John Williams is no longer with us, how his legacy will play out. Even now, I think that there is some negativity associated with any attempt to expressly deal his legacy, unless one is scoring Jurassic Park III or doing what Bill Ross did on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It seems that it isn't fruitful for film composers to try and build on that legacy. In fact, building on any sort of legacy, or lineage in film scoring seems to be frowned upon. I'm not really sure why that is, that shouldn't be the case.

Right, because there are some aspiring film composers are seemingly trying to write like John Williams or "be" the next John Williams. I guess that's just not the nature of the industry or of the direction that film music is going.

I'm not so sure that younger composers are trying to be like John Williams because if they are, then they're failing! <Laughs> But I think possibly it has more to do with the infusion of popular music on film scoring - and record type composers aren't really geared towards the "John Williams" type of thought pattern. I think one thing we're seeing now, in spades, is that since the record industry is crumbling fast, due mostly to Napster and the proliferation of on-line piracy, many record / songwriter-type composers are getting out of the record business and they're trying get films to score, and they're getting them. In addition to that, film directors and producers at this point in time have grown up in a rock music culture and orchestral music is becoming more and more foreign to them. So I think for that reason, to try and perpetuate the John Williams legacy is going to become difficult.

In your first interview you did with SoundtrackNet, you talked about the first The Matrix, and you've done more films since then. Tell me about Jurassic Park III,† in which you had to deal a lot with Williams' material. What's it like having to deal with someone else's material and trying to copy it and make it fit with the film?

Well, in that case, it was pretty daunting, because when you casually listen to Johnís themes, they don't sound that complicated or unusual, but they are unusual, unusual in that they are unusually good! He got me all of his sketches from the first two Jurassic Park movies and I just started looking through them and I said to myself, "Jesus, what have I gotten myself into!?" <Laughs> There's such integrity in his music, and it's very subtle integrity, you know, just the integrity of the line. Every line that he has in there is so rich with potential harmonic information. So, I'm going through it and it's like, "Man, I don't know if I can hack this!"

You also came up with your own "family" theme for the movie, which was more of a romantic idea...

Well, I guess more romantic than the other things that [Williams] had written for that show. Romance wasn't explored that much musically in those films because it wasn't explored that much in the action. But, Jurassic Park III, you know, it's kind of a dumb movie, but I thought it was kind of interesting the way they came up with the premise for going to this island again. The deception that the Bill Macy character came up with to get Grant to go back on the island was kind of interesting in that he and his wife were divorced but they're really still in love with each other. And you know, they were motivated to do pretty extraordinary things because they both loved their son, which was a fairly rich premise on which to base a score. So, that was kind of a weird situation, kind of couched in this big popcorn movie that really didn't make too much sense except that we got to see more dinosaurs!

Right, which called for a lot of action music.

Yeah, well, I tried to justify everything I did by comparing it with something Williams did in the first two. I didn't want to go off on some weird tangent that had nothing to do with the other two pictures.

Aside from being a film music composer, you're also a concert composer. What are some of your concert music influences?

That's an interesting question because I used to have fairly clear influences. I saw myself as part of a lineage that seems to be kind of disintegrating. I originally thought of myself as a composer from the mold of Lutoslawski or Berio. But since Lutoslawski's death, I think that there's been a lot less focus on his work than I thought there would have been. I also look up to Boulez a lot and it seems that Boulez's influence is fading quite a bit. It seems that the only times his pieces are performed are when he comes around to conduct them. He's still in big demand as a conductor but when Boulez comes out with a new piece, which is pretty rare actually, it isn't greeted with the kind of anticipation that a premiere of his would have been 20 years ago.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on an opera right now called "RŪo de Sangre". It's a spec project that I've been working on with a librettist, Kate Gale. We actually finished the libretto last summer, just before I got started on The Matrix Reloaded stuff, so Iíve really barely been able to begin writing.

So, it's kind of on the back burner right now?

Well yeah, I've been able to fit it in, a couple of weeks here and a couple of weeks there but that's a fairly uncomfortable way to work. I do have a commission from the Los Angeles Master Chorale to present excerpts from it. I'm going to write these excerpts before I write the actual opera. So, hopefully when I go back to write the opera I can just plug the excerpts back in!


Don Davis's score to The Matrix Reloaded is available as part of the 2-disc soundtrack release from Maverick Records.† Jurassic Park III is available on Decca Records.† The Matrix Revolutions hits theaters in November of this year.

Special thanks to Ray Costa and Dan Goldwasser