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Interviews

Billy Childs: Lyric

By Published: November 7, 2005

AAJ: Yeah, I'd assume if you were going to try and do that it'd take a lot of time out of your life.

BC: I'll put it this way: If I had the choice between doing two commissions a year, or two films a year, and they both paid me the same amount of money, I would do the commissions. Because on a commission the person says, "OK. Write this piece. See ya later, at the end," ya know? With film, technology has made it so that the director can interact with you in ways they never could before and be not only hands on but hands in. I mean, because of Protools and sequencing and sampling they can just come in and say, "Well, you know, change this and give me weekly updates of the music so that I can judge if it's good or bad."

AAJ: "Dailies" from the composer.

BC: Right, yeah. (Laughs) So, there's that. The challenge for film music is more psychological. Can you handle having your music thought of as a malleable commodity to be shaped by someone else's vision?

AAJ: I'd assume it's a pretty rare situation where a film composer gets to do music pretty much on his own and then bring it in and have it be done.

BC: Yeah. Like John Williams or something.

AAJ: Or Thomas Newman... People don't mess with those guys. That's cool. There's one tune, I think, on Lyric that's not yours. That Paul Simon tune ["Scarborough Faire"].

BC: It's not really a Paul Simon tune either. It's a Gregorian Chant I believe. A madrigal or traditional or something like that.

AAJ: Oh, I didn't know that. What made you want to do the one cover? Did you just really love that melody?

BC: I do. I like it. I like the modality of it and I can arpeggiate it. I kind of heard it on The Graduate (the classic Mike Nichols film), you know? Those guitar patterns really inspired me to come up with my own patterns. A real arpeggiated way of dealing with that modal melody, which I thought would fit well with the harp and guitar and piano. So that's kind of what inspired me. It's really open...I really am attracted to melodies and harmonies that are non-commital in their direction. It could be minor or major, 4ths or 5ths or something you know? And "Scarborough Faire" is one of those Gregorian Chants that doesn't commit to a specific key. It's more modal. It's a mode.

AAJ: It's real open sounding.

BC: Yeah.

AAJ: The combination of the piano, harp, and the nylon string guitar is really kind of rich. Real big sounding. Harp in particular was the thing that was most different sounding to me on the record. I can't think of a whole lot of harp playing in jazz contexts that I've heard at all (besides Alice Coltrane), or many that I've liked. you know, I've heard a few things that I personally didn't really like, but this thing totally worked. And actually that tune ("Scarborough Faire") is the tune where she takes the solo on it, right? And she really is blowing on it.

BC: I know!

AAJ: It's a really nice solo. It's very cool. I hadn't heard much of that kind of stuff.

BC: She's amazing with that kind of stuff. But, yeah. The harp...well, there's Dorothy Ashby who was the great harpist back in the 1960s. And actually Carol studied with her. She moved to L.A. to do a lot of session work. She was, I think, originally from New Jersey or something. But, yeah. I've heard a few albums where they use the harp. A few current jazz albums where they use the harp. But I don't think the harp is woven into their very conception. But I love the harp. I love the sonic possibilities that it affords you. It was a logical choice for me.

AAJ: The orchestration thing...knowing different instruments, the sounds, how to write for them, all that kind of stuff. It's obvious you've put a lot of work into studying and working with that. Besides the harp, are there some other instruments you've become particularly fond of?

BC: The acoustic guitar. To me, it's harder to write for the acoustic guitar than it is for the harp. The harp is something I understand. It's more similar to the piano in how you make the notes. You're using both hands to play chords, you know? You just have to negotiate this dance with the pedals. But acoustic guitar is something...I even bought an acoustic guitar to try and learn and it's just hard for me to conceptualize it. You have to figure out the notes.

Like for instance, on "Scarborough Faire," there's a pattern in E minor which was easy on piano and I thought would sound really guitar-like where you could hear the open...it's this pattern right here, I'll play it (Plays piano over the phone). I can't even play it anymore (Laughs. Continues playing). That pattern right there.

AAJ: That kind of arpeggiated thing up on top.

BC: Yeah. I thought that would be a natural guitar type of run and then I showed it to Larry and he just laughed (Laughs). Because you have to finger every note. He had to work really hard to make it smooth. Because when he first saw it, it was like (sings relatively awkward/stiff sounding), you know. It was really, like, fingered. Then it sounded like a run rather than an arpeggio. So guitar is another challenge. And a string quartet. String quartet is natural, easy for me to conceive of.



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