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1918 composition by Gaston Borch

FIG. 2: This 1918 composition by Gaston Borch is typical of incidental mood-music selections produced during the silent-film era. (click imgae for larger view)

At about the same time, music publishers began to offer special incidental mood music specifically written for picture use. By the end of the silent-film era, “photoplay music” was available for almost any situation or setting likely to be encountered on screen (see Fig. 2). Rendered obsolete by sound films, most of this specialized material disappeared into landfills or scrap-paper drives years ago. While I was still a music performance major in college, I unexpectedly came across a stack of silent-movie music in a thrift store. For 25 cents, I bought the entire lot. When I showed the music to my classmates and professors and declared that someday I would like to synchronize music to silent films, they thought I was crazy.

Undaunted, I began to collect anything related to the music used in silent-film theaters. My collection received a significant boost a few years later when a man in Iowa answered an ad I’d placed that asked for old film music. His reply stated that he had a complete library—more than 4,000 orchestral arrangements—that had come from an old theater and asked if I was interested. I couldn’t get the check to him fast enough!

At first I prepared scores and parts for classic films such as Phantom of the Opera and Buster Keaton’s The General. Through my company, Cine-Phonic Music Service, I rented those scores to major symphony orchestras in the United States and Canada for silent-film concerts. In 1996, Shepard called me to do an electronic score for a video release of Douglas Fairbanks’ 1922 smash hit Robin Hood. Before I even finished the project, I realized that I had found my calling.

Although it was longer and more complex than my previous assignments for Shepard, the score for The Indian Tomb followed the same general process as the others. Here’s a brief description of how I created the score.

The Breakdown
Work officially began with the arrival of the film on a videotape workprint striped with SMPTE time code. The tape included a time-code window that allowed me to identify the exact location of any scene or piece of action in terms of hours, minutes, seconds, and frames. After screening the film once so I could become familiar with its plot, characters, and action highlights, I went back and broke down the movie into sequences. The running time for each sequence was then computed in minutes, seconds, and frames.

That information became the first draft of the cue sheet that would eventually serve as the blueprint for the entire soundtrack. The cue sheet, however, was subject to frequent revisions during music selection and editing. Often, I combined several sequences or broke down a long sequence into shorter segments. The final cue sheet consisted of 205 sequences running from a few seconds to several minutes in length.


Reprinted with permission from Magazine, March, 2001
2000, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved

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