Mark Kilian / Paul Hepker (Composers: 'Rendition')
'An Arrangement Translated'
Mark Kilian was born in Benoni, South Africa. He studied piano and guitar at school, and then continued his studies at the University of Natal in Durban under Professor Darius Brubeck. After graduating with a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Performance (cum laude and Dean's commendation) in 1990, he continued his studies in Natal working on his thesis, "The relationship between music and sound effects in contemporary popular Hollywood film."
His concert work has included the symphonic Scenes from a Forthcoming Attraction and So Who Was Here First? His African-influenced String Quartet #1 was recorded in Los Angeles and his chamber works include Mismatch This Match and A La-la La-la Long Time We Have Waited, both of which are competition winners.
With his eye set on studying film music composition in America, Mark enrolled into the graduate program Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television at the University of Southern California. After leaving USC, he was recruited by well-known film composer Christopher Young. Mark spent almost 3 years with Chris during which period he worked on many big films such as Species, Copycat, Virtuosity and Hard Rain.
In 1997 Mark scored his first film, Lovergirl starring Sandra Bernhard. Since then he has written music for many features including King Solomon's Mines, Icon, Blind Horizon, Skulls 3, The Animatrix and Raise Your Voice. His TV credits include Jake in Progress (ABC), Kitchen Confidential (Fox), and Boarding House: The Northshore (WB). He has also provided music for the video games The Matrix: Path of Neo and Full Spectrum Warrior.
Zimbabwe-born composer paw?lee (aka Paul Hepker) has toured/recorded with Johnny Clegg, Shirley Bassey, Ice T and a myriad of beautiful and talented South African artists (Vusi Mahlasela, Vicky Sampson, Marcalex, Yvonne Chaka-Chaka and more). In the mid 90's he had a duo called 'zelig' (with dyna-mite vocalist Gabriel) which came awfully close to signing with Palm Pictures.
A classically trained pianist and multi-instrumentalist, paw?lee lived and worked in South Africa as a musical director and composer - doing jingles, musicals and TV shows when not off touring the world.
He 'movied' to Holywood in 1997, where he now writes for film, TV and stage. In 2005, paw?lee co-composed the score for the Oscar®-winning film "Tsotsi" with Mark Kilian. Together they have just composed the original score for 'Rendition' - Gavin Hood's new film - now out in theatres.
Taking it from the top and what were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your compositions today? PAUL - "I started playing piano at a very early age... (three!) I took piano lessons from about age 6 or 7 with a sweet-smelling middle-aged woman called Blanche E. Churchman in what was then Salisbury, Rhodesia. I was examined in the Royal Schools of Music Associated Board exams - and was often taken to perform for visiting concert pianists. One of my earliest memories is playing the Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata at age seven or eight for a visiting Polish pianist called Daniel Chorzempa before watching him perform at the Salisbury City Hall."
"When we moved to South Africa at age 11, I auditioned for an amazing piano teacher by the name of Adolph Hallis who was 82 years old at the time. (Interesting side notes: Hallis was taught by Leschetizky, who in turn was taught by Czerny, Beethoven's star pupil... I also recently found out that Hallis composed the music for two of Alfred Hitchcock's films: "Rich and Strange" (1931) and "Number Seventeen" (1932)) I performed my Final piano exam at age 12 and that was the last of my formal training."
"It was only when I went to high school on a music scholarship that I became aware of any music remotely 'un-Classical'. I went straight from Romantic music to 1980's New Romantic music. And literally skipped out everything in between! Not quite the same - but listening to the music of Duran Duran and Depeche Mode inspired me to start writing music - and looking back, I can see that it was the start of the downfall in terms of playing other people's music. Writing it myself seemed so much more challenging and rewarding."
"While I was at university I played keyboards in a number of cover bands, which were big at the time. Being the keyboardist meant having to emulate all the sounds on all the hit records - a useful talent to acquire in that it developed my ear, and required a technical proficiency in programming the fast-developing synthesizers of the day. Working with computers in the early 90s and on to today's digital workstations has been a seamless and natural progression."
"I then moved on to being a musical director in Musicals ("Rocky Horror", "West Side Story", "Joseph") performed at the National Theatres around South Africa. This was a great classroom for learning to arrange and conduct and work with other musicians. It was also a very hands-on and immediate place to learn the vital and intricate relationship between drama and music. In the mid-90s I toured as the keyboard player for Juluka and Savuka, the two incarnations of Johnny Clegg. We performed at most of the World Music festivals around Europe and in Southern Africa and opened me up to the world music sound."
"Interestingly, I write less and less on piano - as I find that I start composing from the 'hands upward' instead of from the 'head down'. Working on strange, unfamiliar (sometimes ethnic) instruments cuts through the strict Classical training which formed my musical vocabulary for so long. This definitely influences my writing."
MARK - "We always had music around the house. My Mother loved opera and the classics and my Dad was a massive jazz and latin fan. We also listened to popular and classical Indian music on the radio every Saturday morning. I was studying classical piano but was was never very passionate about it. When I was 14 my Mother took me to a lady who taught 'syncopation,' which was basically a light version of jazz piano. However, I immediately took to the more rhythmically sexy jazz piano idiom and never looked back. I was very fond of the pop music of the day, but when I enrolled in music school, it was jazz piano I wanted to learn. I studied a Bachelor of Music with Darius Brubeck (son of the famous jazz pianist Dave Brubeck) but took classes in all manner of world music studies. I studied modern classical music, Sub-Saharan African tribal music, North Indian clssical music, the Beatles and the British punk invation, South Indian carnatic music, Gregorian Chant, South African Jazz and lots of cool stuff in between. Of all classical music I was most enthralled by the modern composers, especially the minimalists like Steve Reich and John Adams. I made my living during my 7 years of study by playing piano, keyboards and harmonica in all sorts of jazz/pop bands in South Africa. This was where I learned my way around music theory. Having to play songs in different keys, different tempos and with different bands every night really teaches one the basics of music composition. During the 90s and beyond I became very interested in the minimalist orientated electronica music scene. The paths where all of these things intersect is where I am my happiest."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying your collaborative work on either 'Tsotsi' or 'The Bird Can't Fly,' which one would you yourself advise them to listen to and why? PAUL & MARK - "Well, "The Bird Can't Fly" hasn't been released... So buy two copies of "Tsotsi" instead! "Bird" is a much more whimsical score. There is far less use of processed sounds - we have fairly 'pure' performances of a wide variety of instruments: harmoniums, ukeleles, sulings, bells, tongue drums, marimba, slide guitar and bass. (Alongside the arsenal of ethnic percussion we have accumulated). Tsotsi is definitely rooted in the music of South Africa... there is a lot of choral work, some processed atmospheres and pads, a fair amount of percussion and the inimitable, soaring voice of Vusi Mahlasela."
"If you played "Tsotsi", "Bird" and "Rendition" back-to-back you'd find that we have developed a fairly specific sound which is somewhat bare and expansive. We are continually trying to find a way of expressing a mood in the simplest way possible."
For your work on the 'Rendition' soundtrack, you once again worked alongside Gavin Hood ('Tsotsi'). Just what is it about Gavin that draws you to his work and how much of an influence was he to the finished soundtrack? PAUL & MARK - "Gavin is the most passionate person we know. As Mark said in a recent interview, "We'd follow him into a black hole if asked us to!" He is the consummate film-maker: he knows how to load a camera, how to choose the lens, rig the lights, gaffe, carpent... you name it! He's also a remarkable writer and a fine actor. Luckily for us, he claims to know nothing about music - although he has flawless dramatic sense. He is also very collaborative and generous. His belief that the music should be 'built-in' and not 'bolted-on' means that he often makes room in the picture for the music to breathe. He has a great sense of space. His instincts often guide us through a scene. He definitely leaves his mark on the finished score."
This new soundtrack for 'Rendition' includes over 50 minutes of original music from you both. But, just how easy (or hard) is it to constantly create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderment's/accomplishments/arrangements that preceded it within the industry? MARK - "Working on a new film is like being a kid in a sandpit!!! The first part of the process is the research and that's where the core of the sound and texture will become formulated. It allows one to experiment a great deal with the huge expanse of musical possibilities you're faced with on every project. For me, this is the most fun part of the process. Anything goes and you're only held back by your imagination. As the score becomes more developed, you may end up retaining only a small collection of everything you've tried and tested and then start building the musical landscape around that musical seed."
"The first (and arguably only) priority of film music is to be in service of the film. No matter how fantastic or new or fresh an idea might be, if it doesn't work with the picture it's on the floor. So in answer to the question, I don't think there are many times when a composer specifically sets out to create something new and fresh for it's own sake. If it turns out to be something that stands out, that's because its what the film invited the music to do for it, and because the composer was willing and able to go there."
PAUL - "I don't think that the greater external concerns (precedent, public demand etc.) factor too much in the momentary creation of the right music for a scene in particular or a movie on the whole. I don't believe every score needs to be fresh for the sake of it. I think the successful composers are the ones who stay true to themselves and their natural creative instincts. If a composer happens to bring something new (and impactful) to the musical playing field it is quickly picked up on and replicated by the industry, thereby losing its freshness."
"Composers continually push the envelope by being in that hyper-creative realm. Often the subject matter of a film drives you down unexplored paths to find the right 'sound'. It's an organic and cyclical process - often involving a number of people: the composer, director, editor, performer... And also there are great accidents that happen when writing a score. Unintentional discoveries. You just have to be ready for them."
Your work features various Middle Eastern instruments. Please explain a few main ones that were used and why other more generic instruments just wouldn't have sufficed? PAUL & MARK - "In order to give the Arabic world the authenticity and integrity it deserved, we both felt it necessary to take a crash course in the North African 'sound'. We were in Morocco during filming and rounded up a number of amazing musicians for a marathon recording session. Communicating with our hands and bodies (since we spoke neither Arabic or French) - we had the musicians performing over various atmospheric pads and rhythms. We listened out for and homed in on elements we thought may be useful when scoring the picture back in Los Angeles. We often had the players experimenting with playing their traditional instruments in unconventional ways. This inspired them to be very present. They were amazingly open to being musically abused by these two foreigners. The intensity in their playing and the smiles on their faces meant they were 'in the zone'. We believe it comes across in their performances. They're invested in the sound they're making, and that energy helps keep the score real and present."
"Some of the instruments used are the violin, the oud (guitar/lute), the ney (end-blown flute), the duduk (armenian double-reed wind instrument) and the qanun (arabic zither). The uniqueness of these instruments, the way in which they are played, and their freshness to the Western ear help create the exotic and exciting atmosphere of the scenes set in North Africa."
You also worked with vocalists MC Rai and Marissa Steingold on this soundtrack. Was this the first time meeting and working with them for you both and how did things go through the recording sessions? PAUL & MARK - "Marissa Steingold had worked before on Mark's Film, TV and commercial work. She is a fantastic musician. She has a great ear and a willingness to follow quite detailed and demanding direction. We had her pretending to be a wind instrument, bending notes, adding intricate ornaments... all of which she did while retaining a gorgeous tone."
"MC Rai was one of those accidental discoveries. We were at the Temple Bar in Los Angeles to see an amazing singer, Sussan Deyhim, whom Richard Horowitz had recommended. MC Rai opened for her, singing and playing dumbek and accompanied by a great oud player. There was something in his voice that reminded us of Demis Roussos's performance in the track "Tales Of The Future" on Vangelis's score for "Bladerunner". We had been interested in using Demis in the score to "Rendition" - much in the same way we had used Vusi Mahlasela in "Tsotsi"."
"We had him come in and sing over a number of scenes. Took advantage of him (as is our wont) and pushed him to the outer limits of his voice to get that 'edge' we needed. He was also very amenable to discovering things about himself. We played him the Demis Roussos/Vangelis track and he got it immediately. He channeled the brittle and relentless energy into his performance and blew us away. Interestingly enough, he could also sing in a falsetto that is very similar to Marissa's sound. People have had trouble identifying the number of singers in the score. And their sex! Mission accomplished!"
Paul, being that you were once part of both Savuka and Juluka (one of my personal favs), I'm wondering if Johnny Clegg & Juluka's music will ever be out on a 'Best of' CD any time soon? PAUL - "There are a number of Johnny Clegg compilation albums out on CD and DVD. See below!"
Mark, having scored music for such TV projects as Jake In Progress, Kitchen Confidential and Boarding House: North Shore, I'm wondering if doing these shows was less stressful than creating a whole album of new material to back a film? MARK - "TV is a grueling schedule. On daybreak I wrote around 35 minutes of music every week. On a film you might write twice that amount, but have months to do it in. It's just wearing a different hat. I don't think one is more or less stressful than the other. Doing TV comedy specifically is definitely not as easy as it seems. At least, I didn't find it that easy. The comedic timing you have to employ in writing the music to make the scene work in a very short amount of time is integral to it's success. And you have to nail the vibe right on the nose. It's like doing commercials in a way: you have to get your idea across in a very short space of time."
Paul, back in 1997 you received your Green Card as an "Alien of Extraordinary Ability" ... er, just what does that mean or do we really not need to know?! PAUL - "Well, firstly we enter through the processing center at Area 51, near Roswell. Secondly, we are able to retain the human form for up to 5 hours at a time. Quite an accomplishment when you are green and spineless. (I've been called worse...)"
"You'd have to ask the INS what it means exactly! All I know is that I qualified! And it's also called the EB-1."
MARK - "Don't believe him. He is definitely an alien ;-)"
Has work begun yet on any new soundtrack projects that you can discuss at this time, perhaps? MARK - "Finishing up an album I've been working on for over 2 years. It's got me going to a place film composing doesn't normally allow you to visit. Writing as an accompaniment to picture, drama, narrative or whatever always dictates at least one reality of the music you write. But doing this solo album has forced me into a naked state as a composer in a sense. I'm enjoying it and finding it very challenging at the same time, but will be happy to start on a film again. I'm up for a few things and Paul and I are up for a couple of things together also. We'll see what bites!!!"
PAUL - "No work yet, but I am looking forward to scoring a movie which is being filmed in India next year. The deal is not sealed, but it would mean traveling to India and adding to my collection of exotic sounds and performances. And, no doubt, my growing collection of ethnic instruments. I need way more room! Gu Zhengs and T'Rungs everywhere!"
Lastly, what classic film score would you love to rearrange today in your own unique style if you were given the chance? PAUL - "Firstly, I think the score for "Omagh" is perfect. It would be hard to beat, and I certainly wouldn't want to try. Pete Travis is genius."
"But seriously - that's a tough question. Schindler's List, perhaps? Could it even be done? That would be a challenge..."
MARK - "Forbidden Planet."
Thanx again for doing this for us today, and we wish you all the best for the future PAUL & MARK - "Thanks for 'having us'!"
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
'Rendition' CD Purchase Link
Back To Archives