Archive for November, 2009

Homeschool Dropouts: The Score

Posted on November 19, 2009 at 9:41 pm, by Ben

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The Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences just recently completed the documentary Homeschool Dropouts: Why the second generation is headed for a spiritual wasteland, for which I was privileged to write the music. You can view the trailer above.

Here are some screenshots I took of Cubase 4 in mid-project. The screenshots couldn’t show everything in my project windows, but it will give you an idea of what the software looks like. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

You can also hear a short medley of some assorted musical cues that found their way into the film.

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One thing I have noticed is that film and documentary music (though subject to the same fundamental principles of design), can be very different in the ways that they’re applied to their respective categories of visual media.

Homeschool Dropouts is a documentary, so most of the music I wrote for it plays under constant dialogue and keeps a very subdued and submissive role– almost exaggeratedly so, as most of the music is little more than ambient or atmospheric. Though I developed a couple different melodic motifs and musical textures that I could weave throughout the film, there was never really a place for a big, developed symphonic approach to melody or movement–most of the music would be pretty uninteresting or boring if you heard it on its own.

In the style and texture department, we were looking for a sound that could effectively represent the “serious” and almost “crisis” flavor of the film. The documentary was shot in dry, barren locations in Texas and New Mexico, so the music had to match that empty, wasteland feel. In addition to this, I was also looking to find a musical sound that would be quick to write, as I only had about 5 days to write most of the 30 minutes of music that appeared in the final version of the film.

Prominent Musical Elements in Homeschool Dropouts:

Low Drones and ambient rumbles
Ethnic flute phrases
Subdued electric guitar
Thunderclaps/Explosions*
Percussive Piano
Muted string sustains

*My secret weapon on this score was the site www.freesound.org, a user-based audio community which offers a very wide of sound effects for free. The sounds on the site are uploaded by its users, so the quality of the files is kinda hit-and-miss, but it is a great resource nonetheless. I wanted a very distinct audio signature that I could use at points of emphasis throughout the film, so I used www.freesound.org to download an assortment of explosions, thunderclaps, metallic clangs, engine noise (even rattling chains), and other sounds that I thought would add that extra punch and grittiness the music was missing.