As a music supervisor working closely with filmmakers, I have witnessed how important music is to their processes and how passionate they are when it comes to placing the right piece of music in their films. While filmmakers are often asked and eagerly speak about their process using music, it’s not too often we hear from musicians about their thoughts on music in film, and how their own music is being used in film. I sat down with Animal Collective to get their perspective on quintessential soundtracks, filmmakers who they feel excel at using music in film, and how films inspire their own work.
Since Animal Collective’s earliest incarnations they have explored using visual components with their music, whether it be in their live performances, which often feature original video content and elaborate set design and lighting, or in their videos for which they have had filmmakers such as Gasper Noe direct (for the video “Applesauce”). In 2010 they released ODDSAC, a feature film in collaboration with filmmaker Danny Perez, which features the band and all original music.
Currently on tour for their eleventh full length LP, Painting With, Animal Collective continue on their innovative path of creating unshakable melody with shimmery electronics while combining a visual treat in their live performance that their fans have come to expect. —Tiffany Anders
What are some of your favorite soundtracks?
Dave Portner: It’s hard to say a favorite soundtrack, maybe because it had the biggest affect on me, I’d say The Shining. I think across the board, Stanley Kubrick is one of the best users of music in film, Clockwork Orange, 2001, etc.
Brian Weitz:Even “We’ll Meet Again” at the end of Dr. Strangelove, it’s that 1940’s World War II love song.
Kubrick used Wendy Carlos a lot, The Shining and Clockwork Orange were composed by her.
Dave Portner: In The Shining, there’s a Bartok piece in there, on the actual soundtrack when you buy it some of the stuff that’s in the movie isn’t on the record, like the Penderecki piece [“Polymorphia”], I don’t think is on the record.
Brian Weitz:Yeah, and I found out later that Kubrick in the film combined Penderecki with other stuff and musique concrete stuff that I don’t think they got the rights to be on the soundtrack like in the way he mixed the sound together. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I read it somewhere.
Noah Lennox:The Star Wars music is pretty powerful…and Blade Runner.
Dave Portner: I like Eyes Wide Shut too, Ligeti [Gyorgy Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata was used in the film Eyes Wide Shut].
Can you think of a song’s use that’s affected you, like if you think of Harold and Maude or The Graduate, how they used songs.
Noah Lennox:I like both of those that you mentioned. I like the Jungle Book songs.
Brian Weitz:I kinda discovered Sam Cooke, although I had heard “Cupid,” watching Malcolm X in middle school. Right before he gets shot, they have this scene of Denzel Washington in his car and he’s on the street, and he’s still but the cars are moving by him and they play “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. I remember being in 7th grade or 8th grade and seeing it in the theater and that had a really big impact on me—to find out what that song was.
Music Placement and Licensing
I wanted to ask you guys about your music, and how’s it been placed, if there’s anything that you’ve seen where the use of your music was surprising in any way?
Noah Lennox:The first one, the orgy scene. That was a surprise.
[Animal Collective’s song “Winter’s Love” was used over an orgy scene in the film Shortbus]
Brian Weitz:But I remember we kinda knew what that movie was going to be about.
Dave Portner: The scene was described to us.
Noah Lennox:They weren’t misleading or anything, they didn’t trick us, but it…
Brian Weitz:It was a surprising choice.
Dave Portner: I remember one time, I’m not sure of the movie, but we were sent a scene of a guy getting really amped and drunk listening to “Reverend Green” and he had it on in the back ground and it was getting him really pumped. I remember thinking that was a cool way of using the song.
Brian Weitz:There was an HBO show about psychiatry [In Treatment] where we were a plot point, where Gabriel Byrne is cooking breakfast and listening to “Fireworks” and his kid is like “Dad you’re such a dork”, but then he takes his kid to see us later that night, he takes him to a concert but we weren’t in it or anything, I don’t know if they even faked us, but that one was kinda surprising, to be used as a plot point. But I agree with Dave, it’s kinda cool the music was worked in to express something about the plot, not just soundtrack.
Yeah I could imagine if it’s used for something that’s angry, which you wouldn’t think of your music in that context, that it might be weird to see it helping that story or emotion along.
Brian Weitz:Yeah that’s the flipside of it because we can talk about that with imagery, like sometimes someone might just attach imagery to a song, that’s not at all what we see, and do you just allow it to be that? Like allow it to be whatever it wants to somebody, or do you have more control over it, like I don’t want people thinking this when they hear our stuff.
Noah Lennox:Sometimes it works and it brings another dimension to the song though.
Well, this was one of the reasons I was interested in interviewing you guys about this is because filmmakers use music so much to get emotion across and add dimension to scenes.
Brian Weitz:Yeah, that story about Halloween not even being scary until the music was added…
Dave Portner: And he [John Carpenter] made that music without even watching the movie! I asked him, so did you have anything to synch it up with—“Nah I just jammed on the piano came up with the part.”
Film as Inspiration
Often times screenwriters and filmmakers will write to music, or work with music, so they have a whole soundtrack already helping them create the film. I’m wondering if the opposite might be true for you. Are there any films or images that you use for inspiration?
Noah Lennox:Skate boarding videos for me.
Dave Portner:Horror films, but not all of our music some of it I’d say…
Brian Weitz:We watched a lot of surf movies during the Merriweather era.
Dave Portner:Surf movies for sure, Crystal Voyager, Morning of the Earth, Free and Easy.
Brian Weitz:We projected stuff on the walls during the making of this record, like dinosaur movies and stuff. Abby [Portner] made us loops of dinosaur movies and Dr. Who episodes and stuff and we’d have them running the whole time.
Dave Portner:Other small kinda visual films like Kenneth Anger, those are ones that I sometimes put on without sound on.
Do you guys get approached for scoring stuff very often?
Dave Portner:No. I wish.
Are there any dream films that you would like to score, or would have liked to score? Old films, new films?
Dave Portner:…I just think some modern movies could have some cooler stuff happening for the kinda movies they are and they often resort to the string section, like the James Cameron movie, Avatar. I mean you want to enter this world, but big Hollywood movies they tend to rely on clichés. At least more independent movies are doing the cooler stuff, like the Michachu thing [Mica Levi composer on the film Under The Skin]. A lot of horror movies are not going so orchestral which is good.
Brian Weitz:Like Rene Laloux, the guy who did Time Masters and Fantastic Planet, like all those soundtracks are amazing.
Dave Portner:Yeah because they have these really quiet empty moments.
I wanted to ask you about Danny Perez’s film ODDSAC. How much were you involved in the process of that? How much was original music versus songs?
Dave Portner:It was all original stuff.
Brian Weitz:It was suppose to be a back and forth process. He would send us the cuts and we would write a little bit to the cuts, sometimes we would really score to the cut and other times it would be a song and he would cut to the song.
Dave Portner:And some of the visual ideas we talked about too, like the spinning flames, I definitely wanted to do a scene where there were these fire spinners, and then other stuff Danny would come up with.
How long was that process?
Dave Portner:Danny came on tour with us so we would talk in the van. He was suppose to be on tour with us to shoot us live and then we started talking about all these other visual ideas we could have and then it turned into this movie.