Composer Glover Gill

Apr 1, 2002 12:00 PM, By Sarah Benzuly

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Glover Gill doesn't use Sonic Foundry's Acid or Coda Music Technology's Finale when he sits down (or stands, as sometimes is the case) to compose; in fact, he doesn't even own a computer. Instead, he sits at one of his two Steinway grand pianos and uses lots of paper and pencils, a ruler, a French curve, and compositions strewn about. Gill is strictly a nuts-and-bolts man, a self-proclaimed computer-phobe, but there is a method to this madness.

Gill recently scored Richard Linklater's highly acclaimed Waking Life, an arty animated film that attempts to clarify the blurred line between humanity's dreams and reality. Gill met Linklater a few years ago when the director was working on The Newton Boys, for which Gill wrote a mere 20-second piece. Intrigued by the tango/salsa style of many of Gill's compositions, Linklater started “lurking around my local gigs [in Austin, Texas],” Gill says. “He introduced himself again and said he thought he'd like to use my music for his upcoming film [Waking Life]. So I said, ‘Sure, whatever dude.’”

And that's how you got involved with the movie?

Yeah. And then it just started to happen. It was the kind of situation where I couldn't say no, because I liked the idea and I liked all the people. I saw bits of the film before they got to the animated parts. So, when [Linklater] approached me, he was so nice, I liked the idea.

What was it that you liked?

It was intangible at that point. I don't know — I just liked it. He was shooting from the hip. The script of the film only covers about 60 or 70 percent of the dialog, and the rest is improvised. Of course, he coached everybody, but there are many scenes that are completely improvised. Our rehearsal scene was actually a real rehearsal. That was intriguing. The whole concept was impossible to turn down.

So he approached you with a script. Were you writing directly to the script?

No. That film was filmed so quickly, because it was all done with digital handheld cameras — no lights, virtually no lights. Absolutely no makeup. So, what would normally take a full day to shoot took him 30 minutes. He had that film completely shot probably a year-and-a-half ago. Then, it took a year for the animators to animate it. So I had all the images ready. In a typical film-composer's world, you've got a completed film, and you've got a month, or less, to come up with the music and get it recorded and get it plugged in. Well, I had a year, so it made life a lot easier. There was no stress involved, no giant deadlines. There were some small deadlines, which are nice.

I assume that Richard was involved in deciding what themes you were going to tackle?

He was involved, and Sandra [Adair], the film editor, was also involved. The three of us sat down and watched the film a few times and discussed options. And, fortunately, we were able to plug in some pre-existing music from my CDs, although they had to be manipulated or edited, or occasionally he re-recorded some things. Then, looking at cue sheets, we just started filling in the holes. There were a few places where we needed some short segments, and I rearranged a couple of pieces. They're mixed way down in the film, and they don't appear on the soundtrack [on the Nonesuch label], because they're just little snippets, but they are themes from some of the recurring songs, but they're reduced for string quartet, and the harmony is bastardized to make it creepier and more dissonant. We recorded those in my brother's [Allan Gill] home studio [also in Austin]. His home is actually a church. It's a beautiful-sounding room, and he's got great gear over there, and we didn't need a piano.

So we used his studio for those sequences, and my string quartet, which is the core of the Tango Tosca orchestra.

You also work out of your own home, correct?

As far as recording in my home studio, Austin has some wonderful recording studios with really good rooms and good equipment, but there's not a good piano anywhere.

You must have really high requirements for a good piano.

Yeah, I just want a piano that sounds good, or that the engineer can make sound good on tape. And they just don't exist here. So, I happen to have two very fine antique Steinway grands in my living room [a 1907 Model O and a 1925 Model M]. One of them has been rebuilt, and it's just a really beautiful piano. But my living room is only about 500 square feet, and we have eight people in the orchestra. So, it's kind of tough recording here. The scene [in Waking Life] in which the group is rehearsing — that's my living room. And that night, we had eight musicians, three cameramen, the star of the film, and about five interns and a couple of boom operators, all in my living room. It was a little tight. One of the cameramen was actually outside, filming through my front windows.

My brother has very nice microphones. As far as recording equipment, I just go to a local joint and rent the stuff he tells me to rent. And then he comes in with his assistant and hooks it up. And there's cables everywhere and 15 microphones. It drives my wife crazy. You just can't get around, because there's cables taped to the floor everywhere. We record at night, because if we record by day, there's a lot of car traffic — these microphones are very sensitive. I live about a mile from railroad tracks, so if a train comes and it's a good recording, well then the train's on the recording. And if it's summertime, it gets pretty hot here. We have to turn the air conditioning off while recording, and it gets very hot. In between takes, we turn it back on. It's not a real recording studio, but this is where the nice piano is.

Are you involved in placing the mics on the instruments?

That's more my brother's deal. Although, once we get something started and we listen to playback, I do make suggestions about, “Do you think this microphone might be better off in a different place? Or farther or closer to a certain instrument.” And we also use several ambient mics in the other room — in the kitchen — to catch ambient sound from the floor. Of course, we're recording everything live; there's no overdubbing. If one person goofs up, then the whole thing is washed, because we don't have separation. But I like that. I like the old-fashioned way. It's a warmer, more living sound.

What was the relationship like between you and Richard?

Our relationship was very easygoing. But he does have opinions, and he's always right. However, whenever Tom [Hammond, sound designer] and I would get together to talk world domination behind Rick's back, and he came in to check our work, he usually agreed with us. Occasionally he didn't, and there was no problem with that, because I always had other options available.

Were you part of the mixing process?

Yes. My brother and I would do that here, on the rented gear, and then I would take all the stuff over to the mastering studio [Terra Nova], where they do the post-post-production. The engineer's name is Jerry Tubb — I've been working with him for several years. Whatever medium I have recorded onto, whether it's tape, disk or anything, he loads that into his big computer. Then we just take everything apart and clean everything up. Then, Tom also has similar capabilities on his computer. He's got pretty much the same gear, so he would do the same things when we would be plugging it into the film.

Were you involved with the final mix with Richard — seeing how your music, at least the pieces that you had to come up with, flowed together with the picture?

Tom and I worked very long and hard on that kind of thing. Of course, you don't want to step on any of the dialog. I was very careful about that: “Tom, don't you think we should bring that music down there, because there's a lot of dialog and it's getting too busy and we're not going to hear the dialog?”

What's next for you?

I have been toying with the idea of composing an entire requiem mass, consisting of six or seven of these pieces, in Latin. I'm not a big Christian or anything; I just love choral music. So, I hope to do a full requiem and get it recorded, someday. That's in the back of my mind.

I'm doing a little bit of playing with my new tango orchestra, which is this little quartet for piano, bass, clarinet and I'm the accordionist. I'm transcribing and arranging these old, old tangos for this group. And I'm also composing some in that style.

I'm also trying to learn a new instrument, a bandoleon, which is an accordion-like instrument, which is used in old tango. At the age of 43, I must be out of my mind. I'm also practicing piano in preparation for this concert in February, and I'm doing a lot of transcribing, and I'm writing. I don't have any big projects in the future. I don't want to become a full-time film scorer when I grow up, but this was a very good experience, and if the right project came along, I certainly would take it.


Sarah Benzuly is associate editor of Mix.






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