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Behind The Track with Cliff Martinez


by Jeff Laity

Click here to listen to "Following Daniel" from Wicker Park, written and performed by Cliff Martinez

Film Composer Cliff Martinez in his studio running Emagic Logic and TASCAM GigaStudio

Welcome to the first in a series of interviews about professionals making music with GigaStudio. Cliff Martinez entered the limelight as the drummer for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Captain Beefheart, The Dickies and Lydia Lunch. In 1989, he decided to leave life on the road to pursue the dream of film scoring in Hollywood. From his humble beginnings with a sampling drum machine and keyboard, he has assembled a state-of-the-art studio in his home, and a credit list including "Traffic", "Sex Lies and Videotape", "Solaris", and "Narc."

Cliff sent us a cue from his latest score, "Wicker Park", directed by Paul McGuigan and starring Josh Hartnett. Typical for Cliff's working style, this composition mixes sampled instruments with acoustic performances, which we'll cover in a minute. But first, what's going on in this cue?

"I didn't even think about the fact that it's not released yet," laughs Cliff. "It's called Wicker Park. It stars Josh Hartnett, and it's a Lakeshore Entertainment picture. It's a bit of a romantic mystery in a Hitchcock vein."

"It's a 'Vertigo' idea," explains Cliff, "Josh Hartnett falls in love with a woman that he doesn't know that well, but she disappears mysteriously and he's trying to find her. One of his leads is a boyfriend or ex-boyfriend that he follows around town. This cue follows that -- Josh follows him to a cemetery, he follows him into an apartment building where he leaves a note under the mutual girlfriend's door. That's pretty much what the scene is."

Cliff can start a cue in any number of ways, but this time he had a firm roadmap to start with. "I wish I could claim to be more artistic about it... in this case there was temp music there, and that gave me a good idea of the style, placement, and dramatic intent behind the music. So the brainstorming aspect of it wasn't that hard, but generally the process of writing music starts with seeing the film, having a discussion with the director of course and his ideas about the music."

"For me, it starts with looking at the picture, and it usually doesn't start at the keyboard because I'm not a keyboard player. I don't improvise that much to create things, I just try to come up with something inside my head first. It usually starts very small and then becomes a house of cards, It might be a melody line or a rhythm or simply the idea of a sound or a texture.

Click on the screenshot for a larger photo

You can follow the arrangement by looking at this screenshot from Cliff's Emagic Logic Platinum sequence. However, a few things have changed from this screenshot to the mix you hear in the MP3. "The woodwinds and the strings are real players - I don't want to mislead anyone on that. The flute, clarinet and strings were demoed with MIDI instruments. [But] everything else is sampled stuff, where it says Giga it's Giga."

"The piano and the basses are Giga. I think the demo used a Garritan String library. The [demo] woodwinds were Dan Dean Woodwinds which I like a lot. The piano is Steinway B on GigaStudio. I believe the bass was Larry Seyer standup bass, and drum's I'm not sure. Dan Dean is a favorite for woodwinds and brass, and Garritan strings are a favorite. Steinway B is my favorite Grand Piano."

Cliff plays the Baschet Cristal. "I'm finding that the mixture of using acoustic instruments with electronic is really a terrific sound."

One of the coolest features of his "Following Daniel" cue has to be the live steel drums. "Yeah, I played those. They're in the living room: all the dining room furniture is out in the garage now and the living room is filled with ten steel drums. A set of bass steel drums [are in there], which were used elsewhere in the Wicker Park score, and what you heard are called baritone steel drums."

"It's a wonderful sound. I'm finding that the mixture of using acoustic instruments with electronic is really a terrific sound. A lot of my recent film scores were so low budget that everything was electronic. All of a sudden I discovered microphones and acoustic instruments like it was some new thing. It just sounds great and adds a lot of believability and depth to the sound."

Apparently Cliff isn't one of those composers with painstakingly constructed Logic and GigaStudio autoload projects. "At the end of a film I have that autoload. I keep adding and subtracting to it, so I have it at the end of a project but I don't have it to start with. Usually I just start from scratch and create a new one. Because the libraries are usually so massive, you open a full group of strings and the thing's loaded. So I usually create a new palette from scratch, and about midway through a project it's a consistent palette that has everything in it."

Although Cliff typically uses an engineer to mix and record, "I'm getting a few MIDI couplers tonight to run a long cable into the living room. I'll use an Oxygen 8 to control the transport. I'm actually going to try recording myself tonight, we'll see how that goes."

For this film score, one computer running GigaStudio was enough for Cliff's needs. "I had been using two GigaStudios. I don't know how some of these other guys have six or seven, what they do with them. I've found that I have more than what I needed using two of them. And then for this last picture, Wicker Park, I actually built another small room upstairs and put the GigaStudio up there. So I'm working with one GigaStudio, or did work on Wicker Park with just one GigaStudio. "

Wicker Park, with music by Cliff Martinez, will be released in the US in September 2004.