Alan Howarth – The 405, 2011

Conducted in September 2011. Read the full article.

From the piece:

Howarth is a man who, despite emphasising his largely improvisational working methods, counts a number of master composers as his influences: he had plenty to say about Gustav Mahler, Morton Subotnik, Krzysztof Penderecki and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Asked about his heroes, he speaks at length, alongside cinema icons like Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams – as well as Carpenter – on the work of Penderecki in particular.

‘Penderecki was a genius in his own time, creating things that were considered avant-garde, too far out. Listening to it really makes you go “woooooow!” You know, just amazing stuff. Penderecki had to find a way of creating these sounds in acoustic music, and even find a way of notating it: if you ever see a Penderecki score written out, it’s just amazing notation. He figures out ways to write this stuff down, and he was creating at a time in parallel with electronic music’s infancy; people like Stockhausen, the pioneers of electronic music. And he did it with an orchestra.’

What’s the relationship, then, between music of the past, and the moving image of today? After all, it’s been said before that nobody thought of ‘The Blue Danube’, a piece of 19th century waltz music, as being the music of space travel, until Kubrick used it for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

‘I’ll agree with that’, Howarth says. ‘You know, there’s a whole family of music that’s written just to be music for concerts, but when you think about it, aren’t all these composers creating this music from some sort of mental image or story? I mean, look at the composers of the 18th century. They were doing religious music: they were creating a soundtrack for a mental movie that was to be seen in the listeners’ mind. In the case of Strauss: yes, he was doing orchestral waltz music, but for Kubrick to come along and say “this works for a space movie”…that was a new image association, beyond what Strauss had intended. That’s why many people enjoy film soundtracks: once you’ve seen the movie, you listen to it and you can re-run the movie in your mind’s eye. That’s very enjoyable. I used to spend hours listening to the radio; mystery theatre and stuff like that. They’d tell stories, and it’d be a purely audio programme of voice music and sound effects, but it was still exciting, and relaxing, and again, you’d close your eyes and listen, creating pictures in your mind.

‘The audio track really does make a difference. I remember Carpenter telling me that he thought of music, or film music – and especially when creating his own – as being ‘the velvet glove’. It was a way to touch the audience without them actually knowing you’re influencing them. It’s a way to kind of coach the audience into going where you need them to go. In fact he told me that when they first screened the original Halloween without music, it wasn’t as effective as once they’d added the score to it. It’s because you’ve got all these quiet moments of emptiness, of dark streets and quiet shadows – but once you’ve got the music added, it leads you sonically to the fact there’s a threat somewhere, off screen, unseen…Michael Myers is somewhere, and we’re giving you music to tell you that. It makes the movie work. I don’t think there’s a horror movie that could work as well without music.’

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