Diving Down The Rabbit Hole: Hanan Townshend Talks Malick (Part 2)

[Continued from Part 1]

GT: Now, according to IMDb, there are some classical pieces that you performed for To the Wonder as well, am I correct?

HT: Yeah.

GT: Was that brought out from the process of The Tree of Life or was it completely separate?

HT: There was a Bach piece and a piece by Wagner, to some degree they’re theirs, but they’re also kind of arrangements because I talked with Terry about it and we tried to do something a little different with these pieces. At the time they were very difficult to use and very difficult to get out of. So I worked with some assistants, and the Bach for example is a very short piece of music and it ends very abruptly. What we did was we recorded the strings separately, we recorded the wood winds separately, and we recorded the organ separately. We were able to find ways of bringing the strings down and leaving the organ there so we could create some interesting transitions between the music and the picture.

GT: There’s something about your score that’s got a bit of a fragmented quality, and it might just be the album release, I’m not sure, but there’s this wonderful variance to the material that you’ve released whereas if I put it to what Desplat did with The Tree of Life and what Zimmer did with The Thin Red Line, there’s kind of this overarching thing that ran through it all. Yours is there, but then there are more that are shorter. Is that something that came out of the film and the work or was it something else? Or is it just strictly the album release?

HT: Most of what you hear on the album is used in the film. So, that was a big purpose. I’ve got a lot more material, but I didn’t want to release stuff that wasn’t going to be used in the film. There are a couple pieces that aren’t used that are in there, but I really thought they needed to be there.

It is a very fragmented kind of film score. I didn’t really go into it certain of what we were going to come out with and I kind of felt that, to some degree everyone, was kind of feeling around in the dark trying to find what was out there and these were the things that the picture required. There’s quite a distinction between some of the pieces, there’s a lot of the very drony pieces that never exist in the film in their entire. Like, Peril, which is a seven minute long track that’s just a sort of long, drony, experiential kind of piece and of course that never existed in the film in its entirety, but if you really listen to the score you’ll notice that a lot of the pieces have been cut up and pasted and put here and come out of this so you know they’re all kind of all over the place and jumbled here and there and that’s what I wanted to give to Terry. It was difficult to give a soundtrack that completely captured what Terry did and what the film had, but the fragmentation was just something that the film sort of hearkened to and I think it’s because Terry never has a traditional kind of film score. He’s jumping from Bach to Wagner to Górecki; all these composers who have completely different sounds and completely different orchestrations so therefore it has a real variety to it. I wanted to make sure the soundtrack had that.

GT: The first thing I thought was that it seemed right. It just really seemed to mesh with this new stage in Malick’s work and confidence. He seems to have found what he’s been looking for. I remember when The Tree of Life had come out I think it was Sean Penn who said that if the film had been more of a traditional narrative people would have responded better and I just thought yeah, but why? Why follow what so many people make whereas no one else would make this. I mean, whether or not you dug it, Malick is working into a place that is significantly his to own.

HT: That’s very true.

GT: From the first trailers that were coming out for To the Wonder it just seemed like there was something new happening and when I was going through the record it really felt right with what you had done where there are these pieces that are somewhat longer where I can imagine, like you said, that are cut up and put in different places, but then there are these short pieces that seem to match the fact that you’ve got a ninety minute film out of Terry. Which is significant in and of itself.

Have you seen the film now?

HT: Aha. Yep.

GT: Ok. You’ve done a lot of short films and I think you did one feature before this, is that correct?

HT: Yeah, the one picture, the Patrick Gillies film.

GT: How is it for you once you’ve seen a project? Are you able to let it go or does it linger? And how are you now after having this number of years working with someone like Terry? Compared to where you were before. I know with being in school and things like that life can go any number of ways, but Terry is such a force within our world.

HT: Well, I have a very deep respect for Terry. Firstly, he knows more about music than either you or I or most people. I mean, I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s the way I feel. He knows so much. And he pushes people to really go outside the box of what they’re used to and some people love it and some people can’t stand it. Some people just want to do what they’ve always done. But I really love a challenge and love to experience something new. So working with him has been a real life changing experience. There’s no one who works the way he does and so it’s really given me a little more confidence to try new things. I feel like I’m still finding my voice, I’ve done so few films, but I feel like now I’m starting to find my voice after working with Terry and seeing the way he uses music in films, which is so different, particularly when it comes to the original score. So, you know, the way I work now has changed a lot.

On certain projects there are scenes where I won’t write to picture because I like the way that he has gotten into my psyche a bit and stirred things up. If I hadn’t worked with him I don’t know where I’d be now, but he’s an inspiration to a lot of people in the film community and he’s an inspiration to me as well.

GT: I think, especially nowadays, you can get so jaded in any industry and especially in any creative fashion where you’re balancing these desires of wanting to succeed and wanting to have opportunities that are larger, but also if you’re of a certain ilk wanting to do something that isn’t what everyone else is doing. When you’re able to see someone like Terry who’s found a way of doing projects that no one else would do and yet his films and his force being as large as it is, he’s not a small little indie filmmaker who’s broke and desperately trying to make ends meet, and so, I think that is inspiring to anyone who’s either been privileged to work with him or even just gets to partake in what comes out of it. I love every single bit of what he’s done because no one else would have come up with it. And I think you can honestly feel that.

One of the things I loved about To the Wonder was when I was hearing your score I actually could hear a very different thing going on and that was really exciting because it means that maybe there is a whole lot more that’s coming not only from Terry, but from you, bringing about very interesting work that is inspiring and a privilege to culture. It gives me hope. I don’t know if you have any similar feelings…

HT: Well, I think, there is something to be said about Terry, his process and the way he works is very unique. In many ways what you hear on the soundtrack is improvisation that we did in the studio and the reason I used the improvisational stuff was because it’s how he shoots his movies. So there’s a sense of being in the moment and rather than spend hours and hours and hours getting a piece of music perfect, we would spend hours and hours and hours recording, just recording improvisation and going through it and looking at what was interesting and what was unusual. I tried to imitate the way he shoots because I thought that would maybe complement the work and he was interested in that and I hope we came up with something interesting.

GT: I know in the past he’s used the same keyword with composers, thinking about it like a river, did he have to do that with you? Or were you just pretty well good with going in?

HT: No, he talked a little bit about the river. In To the Wonder as well there are water montages, water plays a pretty big role in his films. I don’t think there was directly a river theme, but I think to some degree it was used.

GT: Now there’s another feature film that you’ve got a score coming out called Loves Her Gun that you’re helping do the rounds with?

HT: Yeah, that premiered at South by Southwest this year. It’s fun, very different.

GT: Was that something you’ve done more recent?

HT: Yeah, that happened after To the Wonder wrapped up, so it’s more of a recent kind of job. I’ve got a few more interesting and fun features coming up.

GT: Oh, like what, if you don’t mind my asking?

HT: Well, I don’t know how much I can say about them. I don’t know whether I’m able to say anything about them.

GT: No worries. That’s just exciting. I’m glad there is more stuff coming out.

HT: I’ve already kind of written a lot of music for it. It’s going to be quite a bit different from anything that I’ve done so far. There’s been a lot of time developing a lot of ideas so I hope it’s going to have a unique sound to it. I can e-mail you when I know a little more about when it’s actually happening. It’s supposed to shoot over the summer so, when it shoots I’ll let you know.

GT: Ok, so, you’ve been in it from early on.

HT: It was one of those projects where it was happening and then it was on hold for a bit and back and forth. So, I’ve been working on it for a while and sending ideas…my parents are dairy farmers back in New Zealand, so I’ve been going and recording things in the unique spaces, getting different sounds. This film has a lot to do with the ocean, it has a very important part in the film, so I’ve been experimenting with different spaces that have a very ocean-like quality, a big wash, just mixing around and doing what it is, the fun stuff, the experimentation—that’s where the fun is.

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