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Christopher Gordon has written a number of scores for film and television, but last year's "Mao’s Last Dancer" and "Daybreakers" made him recognizable among film music fans around the globe. For example his score for "Mao’s Last Dancer" was awarded in "Resume 2009" - plebiscite provided by MuzykaFilmowa.pl each year. Gordon himself was in the same poll declared the "Discovery of the Year". Australian composer in 2003 co-composed the score to Peter Weir’s "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World". Gordon writes not only film music but also concerts. He has composed for many of Australia’s major celebrations, including the Opening Ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games 2006 and the Rugby World Cup Sydney 2003. Few weeks ago Christoper Gordon was kind enough to answer my questions. It is my pleasure of invite all readers of MuzykaFilmowa.pl to enjoy an exclusive interview with Christopher Gordon.


Łukasz Waligórski: How did it start? Why did you decide to be a composer? Did you want to score movies from the beginning?

Christopher Gordon: I decided at the age of thirteen to become a composer. I had been a member of the Australian Boys Choir for about three years and found music to be very exciting, all-consuming, in fact. Although I loved movies from a very early age, the notion that I could compose for them only came upon me in my mid-twenties when I became connected to a student film. Before that however I was very interested in theatre.

Your recent scores, "Mao's Last Dancer" and "Daybreakers", really moved this small community of film music fans and critics. Do you feel that these two scores changed something in your life or is it just your another music, that brought unexpected success?

I had a wonderful time scoring both of those films. They each required very different approaches and musical language and it is flattering that so many people in the film music community have enjoyed them. As for being career-changing, I always hope that every piece I compose, whether for the concert hall or for film, moves me forward as an artist. Each project is an opportunity to explore a new world or, perhaps, an old world in a new way.

A few years ago you scored "Master and Commander" starring Russel Crowe. There were three composers working on that movie. How did you do that and what was your role in scoring "Master and Commander"? Is it true that Klaus Badelt was the first to score that movie?

As far as I am aware Klaus Badelt was never attached to "Master and Commander". Richard Tognetti was on set during production teaching Russell Crowe the violin, then Iva Davies and I came on board at the very beginning of post-production. It was Peter Weir's decision to use the team of three composers. We each come from different areas of music, although there is some crossover and that was reflected in the way we handled the score. Iva Davies was responsible for the electronic music and some of the drums, I was responsible for most of the orchestral score and some of the drums and Richard Tognetti was responsible for all the folk and classical music. Having said that, each of us would get involved in the others' work and would offer opinions and ideas.

What's the most important musically for you, when you're scoring the movie? Are you ready to compose music impossible to listen without the movie, if it make it perfect in the movie? Last year Marco Beltrami scored "Hurt Locker"  using weird sounds and just few instruments. Some people couldn't even call it "music" – it was very strange sonic experience. How far would you go with soundscoring in your music and still enjoy it?

I firmly believe that the first and most important duty of a composer is to give the film what it requires. It is an added bonus if we can make a listenable soundtrack album out of that material. I thought Marco's score for "Hurt Locker" was excellent and very appropriate for the film. I would be very happy to go down that road if a film demanded it. It is the beauty of film scoring that your musical skills are stretched in all sorts of unexpected directions.

What inspires you the most when you're scoring the movie? Is it story, actors, talking with director or maybe something else?

I always look for the underlying psychology of the characters and respond to the emotional world that they are in and this can be clarified by any or all of the ways that you mention. Having powerful actors, great directors, gripping stories and visuals are all inspiring.

On "Salem's Lost" you worked together with Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy. Can you describe how it was to work with them?

Patrick Cassidy worked with Lisa Gerrard on one track that is the first on the album and it is heard briefly near the beginning of the picture, otherwise he was not involved and I never worked with him. My collaboration with Lisa was quite different to my collaboration on "Master and Commander" where we were all in it together. On "Salem's Lot" I composed and recorded the whole score in the usual manner, then she came into the studio one morning and added her unique voice to key points in the film. She brought a wonderful eeriness to the music.

After "Salem's Lost", "Daybreakers" is your another horror movie. How did you get to work on "Daybreakers" and how do you recall writing of this score? Did you get some inspiration from other films/scores about vampires, like "Dracula" or "Interview with a vampire" or you had pretty clear idea for it from the beginning?

I tend not look at other films in the same genre because I like to respond intuitively to the story and pictures of the film I am scoring. Actually, from a professional point of view, I never really thought of "Daybreakers" as a vampire film. Instead, I felt it was about mass genocide, brutal slavery, disease, panic in the face of ecological disaster, and drug (blood) addiction and it was those sorts of things that I focussed on when scoring. In a way, it was not particularly relevant to me that these were vampires. "Salem's Lot", however, was about guilt and confronting childhood horrors and abuses. The one thing I did find in common with the two pictures was a deep melancholy.

Some people here in Poland claim that they discovered few inspirations by Wojciech Kilar "Bram Stroker's Dracula" in "Daybreakers". Was it really your inspiration? Did you know that score?

I have not heard Kilar's score nor have I seen the film but it would not surprise me if there is some superficial similarity in musical language given the shared subject matter.

"Mao's Last Dancer" - how much influence had the particular elements of the film (so - ballet, classical music and communist People's Republic of China) on this beautiful score? What inspired you the most while working on it?

It is a very inspiring story, and true! From starving peasant childhood to international artist is a remarkable journey and I could not fail to be inspired by Li Cuixin's experiences. To blend the various pieces of music from the ballet repertoire with the original score required a lot of forethought, but I was very fortunate in being asked by the director, Bruce Beresford, to compose my own ballet sequences, including the revolutionary ballet, and my own "ethnic" Chinese folk music. This meant I was able to find ways to make the musical listening experience cohesive and consistent, rather than a mish-mash of different pieces.

In "Mao's Last Dancer"  you use lots of Chinese traditional instruments… For you as an Australian, is there a difference between Japanese and Chinese music, or is it just Eastern music that has its oriental flavour that can be used in such movies without borders?

Certainly there is a difference between Chinese and Japanese music and, although I was composing mostly for a western audience, I was careful that my musical language felt specifically Chinese rather something more generic. I was very pleased to hear that when they were filming to my Madame's Model Ballet, the Beijing film crew thought they were listening to genuine Chinese ballet music. I used five ethnic Chinese instruments performed by Chinese musicians who live in Sydney. The Erhu player doesn't speak English so one of the other musicians interpreted.

There is Polish composer Cezary Skubiszewski living and composing in Australia. In Poland he is completely unknown, but we heard he's very popular in your country? Is it true? Do you know him and what do you think about his music?

Although we live in different cities Cezary is a friend of mine and an excellent composer who has scored many films. I am surprised he is not more well known in Poland; perhaps his films have not had as high a profile there as in Australia. I think you will find that his albums are available.

Do you know any Polish film composers, beside Skubiszewski?

Personally, no. But I am, of course, familiar with the work of the major Polish film composers, like Kilar, Preisner and Kaczmarek, all of whom have made important contributions to film scoring.

If not a composer, you would be...?

A bird. Otherwise an astronomer, archaeologist (Rome), novelist, dreamer…

Thanks for all answers and your time! Good luck with new projects!

Author: Łukasz Waligórski


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