Some artists make huge career changes in the middle of their lives and become even more successful for it. Clint Mansell was a frontman for my favorite band, Pop Will Eat Itself, until their dissolution in 1996. Their music started as pop punk, then quickly incorporated rapping and sampling, and straddled the gulf between techno, industrial and rap at a time when few artists dared to blend such disparate styles. The lyrics were frequently anti-racist and peppered with geeky pop culture references from Akira, the Twilight Zone, Alan Moore, etc.
Nearly 20 years on, Clint is now known as a soundtrack composer with stark, embryonic melodies that are memorable and full of emotion. His collaborations with director Darren Aronofsky began with Pi and continued through Requiem For A Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, and Black Swan; he’s also been part of Doom, Sahara, Moon, and several others. His style revolves around a 2 or 3 note refrain- the quartet stabs from Requiem For a Dream’s “Lux Aeterna”, the theme from Moon- mixed with a humming drone. Simple elements that strike hard and don’t dance around a melody the way, say, Hans Zimmer does in the recent Batman trilogy.
If the PWEI phase of Clint’s life was a means of self expression, the soundtrack phase is about supporting the visuals of a film and guiding the listener’s emotion. Sound is something I have noticed gets overlooked in a lot of films, and it takes a great soundtrack artist like Clint or sound designer like Ben Burtt to get people to sit up and notice it’s even there. If I’m listening to music as I create, nothing screams out a darkly soulful vibe like Clint’s soundtracks.
In my “Scream Queens” gallery show, I wanted to evoke a feeling of old horror and sci-fi films, and in my head the soundtracks- involving organs and theremin- were as equally evocative as the visuals of shadowy threats against nubile women. I used Garageband on the iPad to create specifically vintage sounding organs and a theremin, and created a few tracks that I considered themes from my fictional “Scream Queens” films. They used descending chords but also some out-of-tune notes, not dissimilar from “cat walking on the piano keys.” Then I watched a few youtube clips from the Universal horror classics with the sound turned down, and tried “live scoring” on garageband. At the end I had about 20 minutes of music which could be looped during the show opening. Being my first “real” solo show, it was critical to me that it be more than just photos on a wall.
In a stroke of serendipity, I get to see Clint play his soundtrack work live in LA the day after “Scream Queens” opens. As I move into creating video art, and hopefully a film over the next few years, sound is going to be of equal importance to visuals.