APRA Silver Scrolls / Best Original Music in a Feature Film

Tane Mahuta

I could not be more delighted about this!

For the first time, APRA – who have presented the legendary Silver Scroll in New Zealand for 49 years, along with the more recent Maioha Award for music in Te Reo and the SOUNZ Contemporary Award for contemporary classical music – offered two awards for screen composers, Best Original Music in a Feature Film and Best Original Music in a Series.

It was my great pleasure to be in the company of Dave Long and Peter Van der Fluit as a nominee for the inaugural feature film award. Dave was nominated for his fantastic score for Beyond The Edge (view the trailer here) about Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay’s ascent of Everest. Peter was nominated for the extraordinary Romeo and Juliet – A Love Song – a trash-opera retelling of the Shakespeare classic, set in a caravan park! And I was nominated for Field Punishment No.1.

Tom McLeod won the award for Best Music in a Series, for his great work on Girl vs. Boy – and he was nominated alongside the super Karl Steven (for Harry) and Andrew McDowell for Wiki the Kiwi. 

I’ve spoken many times before of our intimate industry and the various inspirations and challenges that go along with writing music for screen in a country with a small population and generally modest resources. I don’t envy whoever judged our awards last night because they were certainly asked to compare apples, oranges and (this being New Zealand after all) an untold array of other much richer and stranger fruit. I felt I was winning by simply being mentioned in the same sentence as Dave and Peter.

Apart from anything else, it is wonderful for a music awards ceremony to recognise the work of screen composers because our work is so often, by its nature, invisible – it’s designed to be part of a greater whole. So the idea that it might also considered as a free-standing entity, and listened to for all the details we know are there, but which fall, as they must, into a different context when they are mixed with all the other artful sounds of a film, is quite a lovely one.

The awards last night were bloody brilliant and reminded me of exactly what manner of wonder can come from an environment like ours. Luke Buda – himself an award winning screen composer (for Taika Cohen’s film, Boy) and member of the terrific Phoenix Foundation – was the Musical Director of a show that highlighted the mad, glorious, trail-blazing imaginations that exist – in disproportionately large numbers – within our little cultural enclave. There were epic analog synth performances, a white-clad choir whooping and wailing, throat singing, a gamelan orchestra, a giant banjo made out of a kick drum, fields of distorted sound… And everything was beautiful. And everything was about as far away from the shiny, corporatised Top 40 / X-Factor aesthetic as it’s possible to get. Long live originality and rebelliousness. Long live the people who inhabit the edges and the corners and the rocky outcrops and the dangerous places. And please, please can we keep building a culture that treasures and values original thought and fights for the risk-taking and the experiments that drive culture and creativity forwards.

I could not have been more proud to be part of our music industry.

The score for Field Punishment No.1 was brought into being with much love by many people – not least the writers and producers of the film, Donna Malane and Paula Boock at Lippy Pictures, the ever gentlemanly Pete Burger who directed it, Fraser Brown and his dignified and powerful portrayal of Archie Baxter – and on the musical side, my dear husband Ashley Brown who performed the cello, Nigel Gavin who performed the Ukelele, Justine Cormack, Dianna Cochrane, Amalia Hall, Jess Hindin, Catherine Bowie, Sue Wedde and David Garner who performed strings, Ryan Youens who got all the notes onto paper with tireless diligence, Andre Upston who engineered and mixed the score with Nick Buckton at Native Audio and Radio New Zealand, with his customary ear for detail and musical sensibility, and Tom Miskin, at Images and Sound, who incorporated the score so beautifully into the final mix.

Field Punishment No.1 / Screening Date

Running

As part of the approach to the 100th anniversary of ANZAC day, ‘Field Punishment No.1’ has been scheduled to air on April 22nd at 8.30pm on TV One.

To watch the trailer, click HERE.

Wilfred Owen wrote “All a poet can do today is warn.”

Despite their philosophical differences, I think there were many similarities between Wilfred Owen and Archibald Baxter, whose story is told in Field Punishment No.1 – not the least of which was their fierce and public condemnation of war. One of them fought and one of them objected, but both protested as loudly as they could.

Baxter’s story is both harrowing and inspiring. Despite his actions being seemingly at odds with those of the soldiers fighting in the trenches, I don’t think it’s inappropriate for his tale to be told while we celebrate the men who fought. All of these men were fighting for what they believed in. They all had to find, within themselves, superhuman reserves of courage and strength. I’m sure all of them would have ended the war in an instant if they could have. The motivations and machinations of their generals and leaders must have seemed very distant abstractions to them as they lay sick, injured and lice-infested in the trenches.

trenches1

1914 – British and German troops celebrate Christmas together having put their guns down and stepped out of the trenches to share some beer and cigarettes for a day. (Photograph taken from Eyewitness to History)

War commands people to cast aside their humanity at the same time as commanding them to fight for it. It orders people to kill other people’s children to protect their own. But just as I can understand Baxter’s refusal to engage in such a brutal event, how can I not be grateful to the soldiers who endured it in order to defend their freedom and way of life – and mine, 100 years later? The circumstances of war aren’t simple and if there were clear solutions to the problems at the heart of these conflicts, surely they would never begin. I feel that the subject is big enough to allow room for us to embrace more than one view, more than one story, in our attempts to better understand it.

So I am asking myself, in honour of this bittersweet anniversary – what am I doing to defend my freedom and my way of life? And I think that, if I want to honour the memory of the people who fought for those things on my behalf, I need to keep asking myself that question every day.

A hundred years have passed and wars continue to be waged all over the planet – no longer in trenches but now with drones, computers, satellites and, not least, the global media with its capacity to influence, persuade, distract and – horrifyingly – its directive to entertain.

In New Zealand, we live in peace. But here, and in many other parts of the world, issues like racism, widening economic gulfs, the corporate conquest of nature and the environment, and the pursuit of profit without social accountability are things that  compound and conspire to threaten the peace we are so fortunate to have. If we fail to consider how fragile this luxury of peace really is, how vulnerable our civility is in the face of violence, injustice and deprivation – and how high the standards to which we hold our leaders and politicians must be in order to protect our freedom – then I don’t think we are honouring the memory of our soldiers.

Every time we find ourselves distracted by celebrities, by clothing labels, by how we look, by how much we weigh, by how big our cars are, by how much we earn, we should ask ourselves; Why we are being distracted? Who is distracting us? And in whose best interests are we being distracted? I’m not talking about conspiracy theories – I’m talking about the ways in which we’re conditioned to make the meaningless meaningful so that we slowly lose our power, our autonomy, our self-esteem and our perception of value. We should ask ourselves whether we are awake to the ways in which our most basic freedoms are being threatened – quietly, insidiously and on a daily basis. And about how complicit we are in allowing this to happen – how willing we are to give our freedom up.

I don’t think the political forces that create wars appear suddenly, from nowhere. I think they gestate in the deep, discontented corners of ourselves. They reproduce themselves in living rooms, schools, offices and churches…

So when we remember our soldiers and the people who loved them, opposed them, were killed by them or saved by them, we should also think about the tightrope we walk during times of peace – what peace means and why we must never take it for granted.

Baxter survived being sent to the front. Owen was killed in action, exactly a week before the Armistice. Owen was a soldier as much as he was a poet – he wanted to fight, to defend “the language of Keats” as he put it. But he wrote not of patriotism and glory, he wrote about the truth of what he saw – horror and waste – just as Baxter did.

None of us are as different as our shadow selves would have us think. Delegations from New Zealand and Australia will be travelling to Gallipoli this month – to stand together with their former enemies in the place where their ancestors fought and died. In Memorial Cove there is a commemorative wall with these words, written in 1934 by Ataturk, who commanded the Turks military response to our Allied soldiers:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

 

Realiti / Jonathan King

Realiti

As of last week, Field Punishment Number One is finished and delivered – and as of yesterday, the final episode of The Almighty Johnsons (Season 3) is also complete. At times like these, I often find myself floating in something of an abyss… exhausted and awash with residual adrenaline from the rush towards the end. And, it’s fair to say that I’m looking forward to lingering on the sofa with my beautiful children and eventually clearing the pile of unopened mail off my desk.

However, I’m also very excited to say that Jonathan King (Black Sheep, Under The Mountain) has been making his third film – written by Chad Taylor –  a futuristic, psychological drama called Realiti, starring Nathan Meister and Michelle Langstone (whose performance in The Almighty Johnsons this season has been really wonderful) among others. So I’m about to leap into another entirely different musical world.

I’m very excited about this… I love working with Jonathan and this film will be a slightly different approach, given that it’s super-low-budget (in that excellent, ultimate-creative-freedom-to-play-around-and-experiment kind of way). Science fiction and futuristic stories have always been the vehicles of my favourite soundtracks (the original Planet of the Apes, Alien, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet) and while Realiti is not set in space and doesn’t involve aliens or robots or apes or Charlton Heston or any other such things… it’s a gritty, suspenseful mind-twister and I relish the musical opportunities it will present.

Field Punishment No.1 / Recording Sessions

Strings 2

In a furious day of recording, we gathered together an assortment of eight, fine Auckland string players to record music for Field Punishment No.1 – husband and friends among them.

Andre Upston (Radio New Zealand) – who engineered the session – and I have been working together for a very long time (any musical locals reading this will remember the wonderful – and sorely missed – Helen Young Studio on Cook Street, where Andre presided and where so many of us recorded albums and soundtracks and did broadcasts and spent countless sleepless hours getting pissed and scrambling to meet deadlines… those were the days…. sigh!). But it’s been a few years since Andre and I last did a soundtrack together… and of course, he got a gorgeous sound out of the players and the room (Native Audio... a lovely wooden space that has yielded many a happy noise over the years).

Andre Upston

And, what’s the point of living and working in a small country if you can’t engage in a spot of healthy nepotism?… so, here’s my dear husband, Ashley Brown, recording some solo cello. I don’t hire him simply out of favoritism… or for his hotness (though it’s a perfectly good incentive)… or because it’s an excellent opportunity to boss him around. He’s actually quite good.

Ashley Brown

He’s not photographed here, but another brilliant contributor to the score has been Nigel Gavin, who provided gorgeous performances on the guitar – and most importantly, the Ukelele, (which has somehow managed to feature in the score for a film about the desperation of the First World War – and the morality / or lack thereof, of war in general).

Strings 1

Also crucial to the success of the recordings was Ryan Youens, who managed to get the notes out of my disordered sessions and make them legible for the musicians. How I ever lived without him, I simply cannot bear to remember.

We pre-mix tomorrow and deliver on Tuesday. I don’t foresee a great deal of sleep in the next 72 hours…

Field Punishment No.1 / Recording

Wilfred Owen

“… it is the preface, by Wilfred Owen, to a volume of his poems which was to show, to England, and the intolerant world, the foolishness, unnaturalness, horror, inhumanity, and insupportability of war, and to expose, so that all could suffer and see, the heroic lies, the willingness of the old to sacrifice the young, indifference, grief, the soul of soldiers …  he is a poet of all times, all places, and all wars. There is only one war: that of men against men.”
Dylan Thomas

Wilfred Owen – the great English war poet and a namesake of my son, Fred – has been very much in my thoughts as I’ve been writing the music for Field Punishment No.1. Though he fought in Europe, was honoured with the Military Cross for gallantry and died in action (during the act of encouraging his men onwards as they went into battle) in November 1918, he was deeply conflicted about the nature of war and his participation in it. In a letter to his mother, he described himself as “a conscientious objector… with a very seared conscience.”

I suspect Archibald Baxter would not have been an immediate friend of Wilfred Owen’s. Owen took a dim view of Pacifists and, in many ways, sought to earn his right to object to the war using the exact opposite of Baxter’s means of protest – active participation. However, I like to imagine the things these two artists might have found in common, and the mutual respect that could have developed between them, had they met and spent time in each others company. Reading Baxter’s biography and noting his clear language, his quietly fierce conviction, and his utter lack of self-pity and self-indulgence, I think that there are parallels to Owen’s work, his own perspective on the war, and his deeply convicted nature.

The preface by Owen, to which Dylan Thomas was referring in the quote at the top of this post, is as follows:

Owen's Preface copy

“This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.

Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War.

Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.

My subject is War, and the pity of War.

The Poetry is in the pity.

Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.”

(The following websites have a lot of thoughtfully presented information about War Poetry and about the work of Wilfred Owen (and his contemporaries): The First World War Poetry Digital ArchiveThe Wilfred Owen Association, The War Poetry Website. All of the images and quotations in this post were found on these sites.)

We begin recording live instruments for Field Punishment No.1 on Tuesday and finish on Saturday. It will be a very quick turnaround after that and I’ll look forward to posting some of the finished music after the film has been broadcast.

The Almighty Johnsons / Season 3 is imminent…

TAJ Season 3 Photo

Mr Sean Donnelly and I are close to finishing the music for Episode 9 of the new series.  Only 4 more to go. Without an ounce of bias – the new series is a cracker. Here’s the new promo photo.

Field Punishment No.1

FP1 - Image

I’ve just begun composing the music for a film about Archibald Baxter’s experiences as a conscientious objector during the 1st World War – ‘Field Punishment No.1’ – directed by Peter Burger and produced by Lippy Pictures.

It is an incredible story. Baxter’s circumstances are grim, but his dignity, strength of character and conviction is utterly inspiring.

The film has captured something very beautiful about the nature of the New Zealand men of that time and place, their innocence and their quiet courage. I should also add, as a bit of a skyte, that my friend Fraser Brown makes a sterling Archie, too.

Only two weeks before being invited to join this production, quite by coincidence, I had re-visited Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ (one of my most beloved books) and so the aspects of war, to which Baxter was so fiercely opposed, are very fresh and clear in my mind. I’ve always had a very strong reaction to books and films about war, but this is the first time I’ve worked on a production that deals with the subject, so I’m excited to see how the music will evolve.