Sunday I had the tremendous pleasure of hearing music I wrote for an animated short nearly three years ago come to life on stage in its first ever live performance to picture. The film, Evenfall, tells the story of a young girl wandering through a forest full of neon creatures that both watch out for her and frighten her. Coming from the mind of the wildly talented animator Carolyn Chrisman, this project was our first collaboration and garnered Ms. Chrisman a place in the regional finals for a Student Academy Award. You can see the original project in the video embedded above.
Sunday’s performance was special for two reasons, one being that it happens to be close where a good chunk of my family resides, which means they were able to share in the performance with me. The other reason is that it was also the debut of groundbreaking new software developed by Minnesota based conductor Scott Winters and his company, Ion Concert Media. In film scoring, music is created using very precise techniques to make sure that it falls exactly where it needs to capture moments in the film. Recordings with musicians are made using click tracks so that the precise tempos used in composition translate to the live players so that all of that meticulous timing transfers accurately to the recording. Often for live concerts involving film, the same click technique is used; if you see the orchestra performing with headphones, that is exactly why: they are playing to a click. Again this makes sure all those musical hits line up precisely with the picture.
The software that Scott has developed turns this process on its head by making the film itself an instrument that can follow the conductor. So, rather than having to take such painstaking measures to conform the music to picture, the picture can actually be conformed to the music. Using an iPad on stage with the rest of the orchestra, Scott can adjust the playback of the movie to follow the baton of the conductor. In eliminating the need for click, you give back the nuance and interpretation that isn’t possible when playing to a predetermined tempo track. It’s truly remarkable technology that I honestly don’t quite understand. But what I do know is that it has the potential to create a whole new platform for filmmaking and composition: films created for the purpose of live musical accompaniment. I’m sure my colleagues will agree that such a prospect is wildly exciting.