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Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series
Hailing from Toronto, Canada, guitarist/composer Jamie Bonk has graciously agreed to become a contributing editor to Jamie will be conducting a series of interviews entitled Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series. We look forward to his contributions for they are both insightful and offer a unique artist-to-artist perspective over the typical interview. We hope you enjoy them.
Other Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series:
A Conversation with Grundman, Jan. 2005
A Conversation with Will Ackerman, Dec. 2004
A Conversation with Ottmar Liebert, Dec. 2004
<<-later interviews | earlier interviews->>   <<- all interviews ->>
Jamie Bonk
A Conversation with Mychael Danna
January 2006
It's not often that a film comes along as universally praised as Capote. And no wonder. Every aspect of the film, from Philip Seymour Hoffman's brilliant portrayal of Truman Capote to the understated, elegant direction of Bennett Miller, is engaging. Add to this composer Mychael Danna's score, which perfectly matches the complexities of the film, and you can see why Capote has generated such accolades.

Since Mychael's first filmscore in 1987, he has worked with such acclaimed directors as Atom Egoyan, Scott Hicks, Ang Lee, Gillies MacKinnon, James Mangold, Mira Nair, Billy Ray, Joel Schumacher, and Denzel Washington. Quite an impressive list! Mychael also has written several works for dance including: Dead Souls (Carbone Quatorze Dance Company, directed by Gilles Maheu 1996), and a score for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Gita Govinda (2001) based on the 1000-year-old classical Indian erotic poem, with choreographer Nina Menon.

To learn more about Mychael and his music, please visit

Mychael Danna
"The music for Capote is really music about and from the human interior world..." - Mychael Danna
Jamie: I thought your score for Capote was outstanding -- reflecting the overall "feel" of the film. Was there a specific component of the film that lead you towards the introspective character of the score or were you responding more generally to the entirety of the picture?
Mychael: I think it's a simple guideline for everybody who worked on the film in every department: To be equivalent to Truman Capote's prose and approach. I used that as my study guide, really. His approach is clean and very simple and descriptive; in fact, deceptively simple. It's the perfect word in a perfect place. There are no extra frills and bells and whistles. It's all very clean. That's the model that I tried to be the equivalent of. The music for Capote is really music about and from the human interior world, which is very unlike his exterior world. It's is a very lonely and empty place. So it had to be something that captured that quality.
Jamie: You absolutely did capture that quality. To me, one of the most interesting aspects of your score was your approach to the instrumentation/orchestration. You used the strings in an ambient manner, creating some deep, evolving and, to my ears, fragile textures. In some ways, these are very difficult textures for acoustic musicians -- one misplayed note and the mood is ruined! Was it your intention from the start to use an acoustic sound palette? And secondly, how challenging was the actual recording of the score?
Mychael: You're absolutely right in that the most difficult scores are the ones with the fewest notes and the most difficult recordings are the ones with the fewest musicians. When you have a 60-piece orchestra playing full blast, it just works from the first run through. It all just organically works. Everything covers up everything else. The sound quality is kind of a statement in itself. When it's just a few instruments like this, it is very difficult for the musicians because it's like they're all soloists all the time. There were 14 string players, but the all played much of the time very softly. We used mutes, we used techniques like non-vibrato and colegno, meaning they flipped the bow upside down and actually played the strings with the wood. That gives a very fragile, almost invisible sound. Playing on different parts of the string, so the sound is very tremulous. The effect is to have a score that's more like strings in the air -- especially in the beginning of the film -- as opposed to melodic harmonic statements. "When it's just a few instruments like this, it is very difficult for the musicians because it's like they're all soloists all the time."

- Mychael Danna
Jamie: I was just reading through your interview with Mix (May 2002). Great interview and, if you're still living in the same place, it sounds like we're neighbours -- I'm north of you on Bay in a condo overlooking U of T. In the interview, you talked about mocking up scores before the actual recording dates. Has your approach to mocking up scores changed in the last few years? Still using the same gear in your studio?
Mychael: I would say mocking up really hasn't changed in the last few years, though the expectations of directors are probably getting higher and higher for the quality of the mock-ups. That can present a problem because sometimes one is tempted when writing to make the mock-up sound good as opposed to writing for instruments and knowing how they will sound good. Of course, it depends on the make up of the ensemble that you're writing for. A lot of the times, it's a lot easier to write for the mockup and to make the director happy at that stage. That's an unfortunate tendency that I've noticed composers doing the last few years.
Jamie: In 1987, you scored your first film, Family Viewing by director Atom Egoyan. You've since gong on to score seven more films by Egoyan, with Jamie: That sounds great! Where The Truth Lies (2005) being the most recent release. How has your working relationship with Egoyan developed over the years?
Mychael: It's just become one of the most fun events. It's like a two-year cycle. Atom makes a film every other year and I really look forward to them. The understanding of each other is so profound that it's not even thought about anymore. All the energy and creativity goes into the actual work; breaking new ground and doing things that we haven't done before. Working with someone I haven't worked with before, a great deal of the energy and time goes into understanding and getting to know the other person. We passed that stage a decade ago so it's really rewarding and fun for both of us to rub out hands, dive in and do something new, different and challenging. "The understanding of each other is so profound that it's not even thought about anymore."

- Mychael Danna
Jamie: It's been said that film is the most collaborative art form and, of course, everyone working on a film has their own opinion on just what the "perfect" score should sound like. How much input do you like? How much input is too much?
Mychael: The reality of the job is one can't even ask that question. You deal with the input that you get. That can range from too much to way too much. It's very rare that you get little input because, as you noted, pretty much everybody knows music on some level and has an opinion on it. It's just natural that you're going to get opinions from every single person who hears it and is working on the film. It's just the nature of the job and if you're not comfortable with it, this is not the career for you. It is a collaborative art and that's what's exciting about it. You have to enjoy that part of the process.
Jamie: Many musicians, particularly in the Ambient/New Age genre, have an interest in composing for film. What advice would you give to help them get a head start?
Mychael: The same advice I give to anybody. The first step into this world is the relationships with the directors, the filmmakers themselves. Those are the people you need to know and meet and work with. If you're at the beginning label, I just feel you need to go to people who are at that level. You need to go to film schools and places where people are beginning to direct movies. That's where you need to meet them and form relationships at that level. "The first step into this world is the relationships with the directors, the filmmakers themselves."

- Mychael Danna
Jamie: In each of these artist-to-artist conversations, I like to ask the artist their feelings on the state of the music industry. There have obviously been some gigantic technological changes, such as downloading, over the last few years that have deeply affected the music industry. And those technological changes are now starting to impact the film industry. Any thoughts of insights on where the film industry is headed?
Mychael: No, and I don't think anybody knows. The important fact is that since the invention of paper, writing, recording and technological changes, there has always been music and there has music married with drama. That will continue in one way or another. It's certainly possible that it will have a negative impact as the changeovers occur. The chaos caused by rapid technological change will affect all of us. In the long term, I'm very confident that music and movies will continue.
Jamie: What are you working on now?
Mychael: I just finished a film call Little Miss Sunshine which is a comedy starring Steve Carell and Greg Kinnear. In this film, I worked with a band, so it was a very interesting film gig in that it's this very odd folk rock band called Divochka. It was a very different experience. I'm also about to go on to Billy Ray's film Breach. Billy and I worked together on Shattered Glass so I'm very excited to work with him again.
Jamie: That sounds great! Thanks for taking the time to do this artist-to-artist conversation and best of luck in the future!
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