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Sound Advice

Scoring From Film: The Essential Tools by Mychael Danna

The equipment I use for basic scoring is a VHS stereo tape deck with audio timecode on one side and a stereo VCR. I turn it into MIDI timecode on an Atari computer running Cubase coupled with a Fostex G16S multitrack recorder. I simply plug the output from the timecode track directly into the Fostex, and it turns it into SMPTE timecode. A MIDI cable runs from the recorder into the computer. One audio cord and one MIDI cord and you have your keyboard setup also MIDIed right into your computer! I’ve scored films without any kind of locking at all – it is possible to do. You get good at using the pause and play on the VCR; you then stack on keyboards and samplers.

I use a 24-channel Mackie 8 Bus console and it’s a beautiful thing. I like old keyboards, and old grungy low-fi and crunchy effects. I have an old Lexicon Primetime and it’s a dirty piece of gear. I also have a Quantec reverb, very warm and thick, which is fairly hard to find. I have lots of high-end equipment too, like my Roland S750 sampler, so I can get bright and shiny when I need it. I have old modular keyboards and I have a few newer digital ones. I use Genelec 1031 self-powered speakers and the amp is matched for the speakers. They’re beautiful. A big pretentious leather chair is a must, as is a portable DAT, because I love to travel and collect bizarre sounds from strange countries and temples. The Casio DAR100 is very small and the microphone I use is small and lovly – the Audio-Technica AT822 is good for hiding when walking into temples when you’re not supposed to be recording!

Anyone can score film and television. Start by finding a student filmmaker and get him or her to provide you with footage on VHS and away you go. You can only learn by doing it.

Mychael Danna, film and television scorer, credits include Atom Egoyan’s Family Viewing and the award-winning Exotica. His current project is North of Niagara, an album that highlights the environmental sounds of the Bruce Trail.

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