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Johnny Mnemonic: Battle of the Brass

Battle of the Brass Cue #1:
Battle of the Brass Cue #2:

I was working on the score for Johnny Mnemonic and a thought occurred to me.  Often in big action scenes the through line of the music gets cut off by various loud sound efx. Explosions, crashes etc. In watching the scenes I had a thought. What if some of the important phrases were stated on the left and then quickly repeated on the right (or vice versa). The chance that one of them would be heard might be greatly increased and the through line of the score might survive.  This would have to be done as an organic part of the composition and style of the piece or it might come off as gimmicky or distracting.  I didn’t want the audience to really notice what we were doing.  I had done something like this in some of my electronic scores (a panned digital delay kind of has that effect), but this was an orchestral score with some electronic mixed in. I wanted to try this acoustically. Kind of like doing a live stunt instead of relying on CGI.  So here’s what we did.

First of all, I was very lucky to have the wonderful Shirley Walker conducting for me. If anyone could hold the players together on this it would be her. First, we recorded the full orchestra on these special cues including percussion but without the brass. Then we let all those players go home as we reset the studio for two complete brass sections. One on the left and one on the right. We had booked many of the best players in LA to meet this large demand for brass. There was a lot of chuckling and I got a lot of looks like”what the hell!” and “this dude is nuts” as it became clear what we were wanting to do. I started to wonder a bit myself…
We rehearsed the first cue. I was in the booth with engineer Tim Boyle and we were having some problems with the balances. We tried to fix it with levels, but weren’t getting it to our satisfaction. Shirley came in and said that she thought we had to do some reorganizing of the players so they were better matched. Kind of like starting a basketball game with the top pros and asking certain players to change sides. There was a tense moment, but soon everyone was laughing and seeing this as some kind of nutty musical sporting event. I apologized for not having different colored t shirts for the left and right team and we were off and running.
In the end I thought it went very well. Shirley told me after we were finished, that she had had serious doubts about the approach when I had described it to her, but thought it really worked. Here’s a few of the cues, see what you think….

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I spent the majority of my adult life composing original scores for film and television, working on a wide range of projects (The Terminator, Big Easy, The Accused, True Lies), with an amazing assortment of people( James Cameron , Katherine Bigelow , Arthur miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford). I took some time to examine my life and realized that my youthful dream of using my talent and creativity to make a difference in the world was not being fulfilled in Hollywood. I ended up turning that exploration into a one man musical called Borrowed Time.