[Interview - Michael Kamen]
When we last talked with composer Michael Kamen, he was working on Lethal Weapon 4. Since that time, he has worked on What Dreams May Come, Iron Giant, and even recorded a concert with Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra! He is currently at work on his Millenium Symphony, and we had a moment to catch up with Michael, and see how things were going.

When you came on board What Dreams May Come, you had very little time (I heard it was around six weeks!) to actually write, record, and mix the score. Did you find that working under that pressure worked to your advantage?

What Dreams May Come was indeed an accelerated schedule compared to most films, but I have inflicted myself with a reputation for doing things quickly (but never in a hurry)! Robin Hood, for instance, was over 2 hours of music written in roughly 3 weeks, although I had a good period of time (approximately 25 years!!!) to create the various themes. In a way, a film as dense and complicated in story and texture as What Dreams May Come actually benefits from a score that isn't dense and complicated. The "straight lines" that the music draws can make a film easier to comprehend, and the lack of time to question myself and try different approaches resulted in a feeling of "immediacy" and simplicity.

The main theme was taken from a song that I had written in the1970's while in the New York Rock Ensemble. It was co-written with my best friend and fellow band member and oboist now known as Mark Snow. The song was called "Beside You" and my wife suggested using it the first time we viewed the film. As you probably know, the film had a complete score by one of our finest composers that the producers and Vincent Ward decided to replace. Additionally, there were also some lingering doubts about the final edit of the film - but not the release date.

I was deeply affected by the truly unusual nature of the film, dealing as it did with love and death in a surreal, and often very beautiful and moving way. I was at an extremely profound juncture in my own life at that time, and the film produced a powerful and personal response in me. The actual time given to me from first viewing to final mix was not six weeks, but actually a little over three weeks, which meant that the score had to be written and recorded and mixed and delivered in less time than it has taken me to answer your questions about it!! I surely don't recommend that kind of schedule to anyone - but it does guarantee a direct approach! I know, despite the mixed response to the film itself, that I accomplished one of my best and most focused scores, and tried to create some life-affirming magic and energy in the music that explored the mystery of love and death.

You recently completed work on The Iron Giant &endash; which is your first animated feature film. How do you feel about the differences in scoring for live action and for animation? You also recorded the score in Czechoslovakia &endash; what prompted you to take the film there?

The Iron Giant is without a doubt one of the most wonderful films I've ever seen, much less worked on! Brad Bird has created an animated film more like Pinocchio than The Lion King. His temp score, which I did hear, was a collection of Bernard Hermann cues from 50's and 60's sci-fi films that frankly, scared the shit out of me! The sound of those orchestras seemed so appropriate to the feeling of the film that I decided to comb eastern Europe for an "old-fashioned" sounding orchestra and went to beautiful Prague to hear Vladimir Ashkenasy conduct the Czech Philharmonic in Strauss's "Alpine Symphony" &endash; it was unbelievable! I spent a fabulous week conducting in the Rodolphinum (a concert hall built for Dvorak) - there were no clicks, no film, no streamers - no problem! The sound this orchestra produced was the kind of sound that was the reason orchestras were invented! I love my friends in Los Angeles, I love my players in London (the San Francisco Orchestra and Metallica was an incredible experience!) but to record a film score for an animated film without any of the conventional methods we use to sync the music and to be able to rely on the orchestra to play the music as if it were a piece of classical repertoire was a fantastic pleasure.

You ask if there was a difference between composing for animation and live action - not really. Once I had found my melodies and the "language" of the music I had an incentive to pay attention to details in the orchestration and performance because I found that application of human reality was absorbed so well by the animation. The only thing different about making music for this animated film and a live action film was the ability of the music to actually bring the characters to life. Each film is different, and responds to music in a different way.

When we last spoke, you had indicated that a compilation album of the score from all four Lethal Weapon films was in the works. What is the status of that project?

I haven't any idea. Warner Bros. didn't want to do it, so I guess we'll have to satisfy ourselves with having done the work. It's always enough of a gas to work with Clapton and Sanborn (and Donner and Silver and Gibson and Glover and Pesci and Russo) so I won't bother counting my blessings!

How is the Millenium Symphony coming along? Do you have more details about it?

Yes I do! I'm currently finishing a Symphony for the National Symphony Orchestra, which will premiere at the Kennedy Center in Washington on January 13,14, and 15. It is a Millennium commission that will be conducted by Leonard Slatkin (so, I'm a proper dead composer now!). The piece will tell a story reflecting on the Anasazi Indians one thousand years ago when they left their canyons, and spans into one thousand years hence when we will leave the planet. As long as we keep hold of the "melody" (our basic humanity) we'll be the same wherever we go. It is called after an American Indian expression that describes the last stage of the crescent moon that illuminates the darkened face of the new moon to come. A glimpse of the future in the light of the past. It is called "The New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms" and will be released by Decca Records around April 2000.

Michael's score to The Iron Giant is available on Varese Sarabande Records. Look for "The New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms" next Spring. Additionally, the concert with Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra will be released on CD, DVD, VHS, and "every available medium" this November.