In October of last year the English band 65daysofstatic were approached by the Glasgow Film Festival to rescore a film of their choosing. Such was the success of the performance that the band proceeded to tour the country with the film and play various festivals. Fans of the band will know why Silent Running was, for 65, an apt choice. For a band openly conflicted about touring the world given the amount of fuel they need to go such distances, a film about a few men on a space station arguing over the fate of what’s left of earth’s remaining naturally growing vegetation was appropriate.
Whilst there is certainly no clear correlation between global warming and the alleged increased number of natural disasters that have befallen the USA alone, it’s also worth noting that the artwork for the studio recording of 65’s Silent Running score was created during this year’s Hurricane Irene. Irene hit the east coast of the US, and took a swing at New York the weekend of August 28th, the same weekend I’d finally plucked up the courage to work on some designs.
Imagine then, if you will, listening to the track Burial Scene as a gale-force wind rattles your windows and makes all the trees in your street dance. Turn out the lights, turn up the music and lie on the floor and you’re almost in space. The floor rumbles beneath you. The tree branches dart in front of the street lights outside forming a maelstrom of light slivers that flash all over the ceiling. The music lifts you slowly off the floor and closing your eyes simply amplifies all of this.
The more I listened to the score the more I realized the visuals had to somehow be about colour, fire and light; and that I wanted to go for a feeling that Joseph Mallord William Turner had gone for so incredibly in his paintings in the 1800s. That isn’t to say I came close to such a endeavour, but it felt at the time like a worthwhile thing to aim for, particularly when looking at such works as The Slave Ship and The Burning of the Houses of Parliament.
The brief from the band was pretty simple. They’d received the blessing of the film’s director Douglas Trumbull (the man responsible for the effects work on 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner) and could do anything they wanted musically. However they were not allowed to use any imagery from the film. This was for legal reasons relating to the studio, of course. This also meant that I in one sense had carte blanche to do what I wanted, but also therefore faced the conceptual dilemma of representing anything that wasn’t in some fashion a visual replica or nod to the original film.
The deadline was already very close, but this was a big problem and so I spent a week thinking about it. Whether it be working on other things, walking back and forth from my studio each day or getting out occasionally to walk around the city at night listening to the soundtrack, my mind was always chewing away at the issue. I was in part on edge because this project was a big deal for the band – they were funding and releasing the record themselves, and this was their biggest foray into the world of film soundtracks to date – a foray that I, for one, wanted to make count as I’d always felt scoring films was a logical next step for them, as profoundly cinematic as their music already was. However, I also knew that I wanted to push myself too. Much like the band I wanted to do something I’d never done before with this. So I continued to pace back and forth and tear out clumps of my hair and such.
The crux of the matter was this – I was charged with doing a new visual for a new soundtrack for a film that already has a soundtrack and a visual, neither of which we are at liberty to use or reference.
The obvious choice was to veer more and more into the abstract and make something entirely non-committal to Silent Running’s themes and that sorta says ‘space’ and ‘beautiful’ and ‘moving’. However my gut reaction to that direction was two-fold -
1. I’d already taken a similar approach with Big Black Delta and as stated, wanted to push myself in a different direction this time.
2. I think it’s too predictable a direction in terms of what people are expecting for this particular project and doesn’t show enough guts – guts which the Silent Running rescore in its very conception, let alone execution, was already exhibiting in many ways.
So what was the answer? Hoping there was a logical way to reason things out, I looked to other similar examples that had existed in other formats.
Let’s say Silent Running was a book like Dune once, and not just a film. Dune came out in the 60s and had a cover made for it then that doubtless the author, Frank Herbert, scrutinized over for a while. In the 70s David Lynch made a film about the book that had visuals nothing like the book cover, and yet Herbert was on set during the making of that film and doubtless scrutinized that too.
For my part I finally saw Lynch’s film in the early 90s on the recommendation of a friend who’d read the books. I then avidly read the books, which had recently had another set of covers done for them in a different style, and as the old idiom suggests, it was likely that these covers would have the most impact on how I pictured the story. However Lynch’s film was so strong and scarring in some ways, that I most certainly read the book with elements of that in mind. So there was an immediate conflict – or perhaps better – a melange (Dune joke) of styles to wrestle with – particularly as the Gerry Grace illustrated covers from the 90s had been cleverly created so that they combined to form a huge panorama across the back of all of them, a gesture which had impressed me a great deal at the time.
Now, back to Silent Running. 65 rescored it. This is something that is a little illogical in the larger scheme of things, much in the same way that creating multiple styles of book covers is too. Particularly when the author is dead. However it’s something people like to indulge in conceptually and that certain parties find very exciting – though I’ll never forget my father casually dismissing Georgio Moroder’s electronic re-scoring of Metropolis many years ago. Whichever way you look at it though, it’s a leap of faith based on the idea that what 65 can bring to the table musically might offer an exciting alternative take on the film we all already know and love.
So, in the same way, why not do a cover for the soundtrack that behaves much like the 90s Gerry Grace covers for Dune? Considering that Frank Herbert had personally overseen multiple visualizations of his work both in book covers and in film, those great Grace covers still stood tall in my mind and I’m sure the minds of many others. I agree of course that this is a film and that if nothing else, the visual is very set. However the soundtrack is also at least 50% of the film (I know a film editor who would argue that it’s even more) and had 65 not just changed that too?
After much contemplation I realized that the bravest, coolest and most exciting thing for us to do here was to produce something that felt like a classic, vintage sci-fi book cover or perhaps a piece of concept art inspired and / or produced in relation to the film; a tangent universe or a reimagining, if you will.
This decision meant that we could then offer something more than a pretty, abstract shot of deep space (or something more hip to today’s aesthetics that involved type, colours and shapes), and consequently delve into a semi-narrative place, should people want to go there. A place where the music and the cover could be all the listener needs when sitting down to enjoy the album. This way it can be two things at once. On the one-hand it’s a 65daysofstatic album in and of itself when it wants to be, but it’s also something you can cross reference with the film, should you choose to.
So a week passed, the hurricane was about to hit and I knew where I had to go with this. I chose not to run the idea by the band, mostly as I simply had no idea whether I could successfully pull it off any way. I’d never really drawn spaceships before and whilst I had an inkling of how I was going to do it, I truly expected a messy failure of some description to result from it. Sitting down at my machine as people along the Brooklyn waterfront were taping big Xs in their windows like hundreds of Fox Mulders with too many unanswered questions, I began to piece things together. All of the while I couldn’t stop repeating over and over what Sara Goldfarb says at the beginning of the film Requiem For A Dream, as her son is stealing her television to pay for drugs -
“This isn’t happening. And if it should be happening, it would be all right. So don’t worry, Seymour. It’ll all work out. You’ll see already. In the end it’s all nice.”
By which I think my brain was saying that sometimes you have to trust there’s a reason for your motivations, because sometimes your subconscious is simply way ahead of you.
Here is the cover.
Sure enough when I handed it over to the band they, whilst loving the work, echoed similar concerns about how specific the imagery was. We discussed the situation at length and only then, in emails back and forth, did I have reason to write down the thoughts I’d had on the matter. We then all agreed that a second cover should be produced that would be a failsafe in case the first cover continued to not sit well with some of them.
The second cover took another week, but moments after I sent it off the band told me they wanted to go with the first. The second cover mostly exists only in fragments now as it was used in part on the vinyl labels, but you can see a sneak peak of it here.
The vinyl release was produced as a limited run piece and sold out immediately. I’d like to think that the right people got copies and that some of those people are those that may in future employ the band to score their films. It’s very important the band’s fans get to hear this release, but it’s also important that the world wake up to the fact that these 4 musicians have something huge to offer to the world of cinema.
The score itself was created in a small, undoubtedly chilly studio in Sheffield, England and, as is their way, the band created custom music equipment for the task – equipment which they then recreated and sold in limited numbers to those interested. Using a setup similar to Kickstarter here in the US, they rather incredibly raised over three times the amount they’d originally figured they could and, aside from selling out of pretty much everything they had to offer, this afforded them extra little luxuries. For my part it afforded us the chance to use silver metallic ink for the typography on the record sleeves.
It’s the little things.
Speaking of little things, you can still grab mp3s of the score here. For vinyl copies, you’ll sadly have to trawl eBay and craigslist in the years to come. Either way, it is always a great honour to be entrusted with the responsibility for providing visuals to music of this standard.