Movie Music International, John Mansell: I think I am right when I say DRAGON HEART THE BATTLE FOR THE HEART LIGHT contains a score that is maybe 80 percent electronic, was this something that you were asked to do when scoring the movie?
Composer Mark McKenzie: First thank you for your interest in my music John. The old adage, necessity is the mother of invention is often the case in film making. There was creativity at every level of making this film and my hat is off to Raffaella De Laurentiis, Patti Jackson all the film makers for their inventiveness. I hopefully did my part as well.
JM: Do you approach a project differently when working with electronics?
MM: Preparation is essential. I always spend a great deal of time studying potential electronic sounds looking for sonics that seem expressive or that intrigue. Then there is the boring part of reading manuals to learn how to manipulate the sounds into something closer to what I’m actually looking for. In this film there are multiple childhood flashbacks which unfold gradually. These flashbacks are filled with melancholy, hurt, frustration, grief, anger and yet great love. To underscore them subtly, I wanted something that sounded very simple, pure, yet warm. I manipulated a crystal glass sample and then combined it with a soft sensuous boys choir and a rich analogue synth. To my ears it lifts the heart and soulful memories and plays easily under dialogue. Director Patrik Syversen and Producer Rafaella De Laurentiis encouraged me to aim for simplicity so I did exactly that. In a moment of inspiration I was unconsciously drawn to an old French baroque musical form called Chaconne which includes variations over harmonies and a repeating bass line. When I played it for director Patrik Syversen and the producers we all immediately were on the same page. I use this Chaconne repeatedly in the soundtrack. Track #19 “Truth and Love Bring Healing” is one example. It’s a very simple, meditative track that I find myself drawn to.
JM: You have scored three DRAGONHEART movies, each score has included the Randy Edelman theme from the original score, was this something that you decided to include?
MM: Randy’s theme is one of the great iconic movie themes. It is moving, uplifting, powerful and is part of the joy of watching the Dragonheart films. The director and producer and I all conferred on each film where the theme should and shouldn’t play. We use it sparingly for moments when hope and chivalry come alive through the great dragon. The Dragonheart theme, to my thinking, is a textbook example of the commercial value a strong melodic theme can give to a film franchise. It is integral to the Dragonheart films and certainly part of the reason we even have these sequels. Incidentally I first met this man I love and admire, composer Randy Edelman, orchestrating his TV pilot called The Adventures of Brisco County. One of the cues Randy composed and I orchestrated for that TV pilot, later became the Olympics theme we all know and love.
JM: DRAGONHEART: THE BATTLE FOR THE HEART FIRE, has a score that is certainly filled with emotion and has a romantic but melancholy sound to it. Is it more difficult to create this atmosphere using electronics as opposed to utilizing the conventional instruments of the orchestra?
MM: Maybe just different I think. Musical color, harmony, form, themes, rhythm and rubato, still apply to electronics but you have to recreate an orchestra of your own making and not rely on the orchestra and performances that you have studied for a lifetime. The glorious beauty of the orchestra is sorely missed but I do my best with the current technology to approximate it when needed. With electronics you never think about intonation issues and you have complete control of everything. In some ways it is easier to just perform the music yourself as you want it rather than trying to explain to others how it should go. There is much to love about electronics.
JM: How much time did you have to write the score and record it?
MM: I had 6 weeks to compose, record and produce and I used every minute of the day as wisely as I could because there were no assistants or recording engineers or music editors. There were however, two people who never get credit who were essential: Mark Nagata and Ryan Ouchida at Vision Daw. When the electronics and computers fail or crash, they are the smart people working like Sherlock Holmes to figure out why and get me back up and running.
JM: Did the director have a hands-on approach when it came to placing the music?
MM: Director Patrik Syversen was a pleasure and I found brilliant. He had a great sense musically and learned to trust his instincts. He was very exacting philosophically about what he was looking for and where he wanted music and how long it should last. Happily, he was completely open to my creativity on how to approach and accomplish the goals. We worked very closely. I’d play him each cue and we’d discuss it. He had lived with the film for a year and so he was often aware of details, character motivations, inner thoughts and feelings that were helpful to me as a composer.
JM: How much music did you write for the movie and is most of the score included within the recording and do you have an input into what tracks go onto the recording?
MM: I wrote over 60 minutes of music and was given complete artistic control over the soundtrack thanks to Jake Voulgarides and Nikki Walsh at Universal’s Back Lot Music. There are a few pieces the director and I would like to have included but I just ultimately felt insecure about them and opted to leave them off. One example; I was going to omit the first track but I have a tribute to JS Bach in that track and left it in, in part, just for that reason. Patrik wanted chimes in the opening of the movie so I thought…OK…I’ll use them and have them play 4 times…just enough to subtly quote Bach’s 4 note theme to the great c# minor triple fugue in the Well Tempered Clavier. That is one of my favorite pieces of music. As you know, I orchestrated Jerry Goldsmith’s final 6 films and helped him compose on a couple films and he would say: “If I compose 1 good minute of music in a year, I think I’m doing great.” I feel the same way. A close friend of mine said last week: “You are really hard on yourself”…she was right. Probably most artists are.
JM: The cello performances are stunning, they are so poignant and heartrending. When you write pieces such as this do you have a soloist in mind?
MM: Thank you. Yes, but in this case it is electronic. These days I’m more excited than ever about electronic music in part because of the growing quality in sampling. Right before I started Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire, I ran into Danny Elfman, who I orchestrated 17 films for, at an Academy Screening of his electronic film score to “The Girl on the Train.” He was excited about electronics and after hearing his thoughts, like often is the case for me with Danny, I was inspired. When I finished, a couple months later, I ran into him again. We compared notes and both still are very excited about the possibilities in electronics. To combine them with a huge orchestral score in Los Angeles or at Abby Road is a vision I have. By the way, Sony Classical plans on releasing my latest epic orchestral score MAX AND ME recorded at Abbey Road Studios with choir orchestra and concert violinist Joshua Bell. It is a work of great love and I’m hoping it will be released this year.