Bad Channels Interview

In 1992, BÖC and Buck Dharma got the opportunity to contribute to a film soundtrack. BÖC provided two new songs, and Buck Dharma provided the score "cues". We interviewed Buck about his participation in the soundtrack shortly after its release:

How did you get involved with Full Moon and Bad Channels?

“The VP in charge of Music with Full Moon was with CBS in the ’80s and has known the band for a long time. The film company was looking for involvement with musical talent such as BÖC to provide score music as well as creating name sales potential for the soundtrack CD. Given the music emphasis of the movie Bad Channels, we were contracted to furnish songs and underscoring for the picture. Film score work is something that I have been actively seeking and the band as well welcomes the opportunity to do this kind of music. Of course the band would like to see its music used in films as much as possible, but I don’t think there is any way to campaign for that unless we had an aggressive publishing company with Hollywood connections. The songs used in the Bad Channels movie were not written with any filmic content in mind. In fact, the producers asked for a lyrical rewrite on “Horsemen Arrive” because they intended it for the final credit roll, but wound up using another tune anyway, and the Horsemen Lyric was restored. The alternate version of Horsemen will be an obscure collectable, because we have no intention of letting anyone hear it! The rewritten words are far inferior.

Both BÖC songs on the Bad Channels soundtrack are credited to yourself, Eric and John Shirley. Who is John Shirley, and how did BÖC come to work with his lyrics?

“John is a published Science Fiction and Horror novelist, and had been a fan of the band for some time. We first saw his lyrics in 1990. When it came time for creating what would become the material for the movie and the new recordings that would get us a new record deal, John’s lyrics became the key to my renewed collaboration with Eric Bloom. I think John’s lyrics will provide in the ’90s much of the conceptual grist for the band, in the same way Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer’s lyrics did in the ’70s.

How did you get the job as scorer?

“I wound up doing the underscoring for Bad Channels for several reasons. First, I really wanted to do it, and was willing to take responsibility for its creation and completion. Second, I am the only current band member with enough experience and facility with computer-based composition and instruments to do the job in the short time required. The other members wanted to contribute and undoubtedly will in future projects. Third, the nature of this kind of music discourages committee or consensus composition. The underscore benefits from a stylistic consistency. With the exception of Hawkwind (and I don’t know how that music was done), I can’t think of score writing that involves more than two people. It’s just easier this way.

Did you find it difficult to score a film?

“It is hard work writing music for film and it requires a different mentality than writing for a rock band. Besides the instrumental nature of underscore, you are writing to support a specific action on the screen. In a band, if you write a tune about a certain emotion or topic and you end up not liking it, you don’t use it. In this work, you keep going until you’ve successfully scored the emotional or topical idea, because the film calls for it. The other main difference compared to songwriting is having to please several different people involved with the production of the film, who may or may not know anything about the production of music, or agree with each other, but they know what they like (sometimes). I have no problem trying to give people what they want but the process can be convoluted and frustrating.

What techniques and tools did you use to create the score?

“The Bad Channels score was written on Macintosh computers, using Opcode Vision Sequencing software. I did a couple of weeks work at my home studio using a VHS copy of the movie with SMPTE time code striped on one of the channels of audio. The VCR could then drive my sequencer so I could sync the music to the picture. The sound modules used were from Korg, Roland, E-mu, Yamaha and Oberheim. When we moved to San Rafael [California] to finish the writing and recording (the Movie and demo songs were finished during this time also), I switched to a 3/4” U-Matic video machine with a jog wheel for shuttling and made for heavy duty use. I used the engineer’s Mac and rented gear. When the tracks were laid to tape, we drove the sequencer with timecode from the 2” machine, then, synched the 2” on playback from the video recorder to check the finished product. However, when the soundtrack was put to film in Hollywood, The sync was done manually and there are several places in the movie where the cues don’t line up the way I intended.

Can you describe how film scoring is done?

“The general method of composing a cue for a specific section of a film is to view the section repeatedly until the natural rhythms of the scene become apparent. In certain cues in this movie, I found places where I could plug in or adapt music that I had written previously to ‘practice’ cue writing. The orchestral cue when the door to the radio station blows at the end of the movie was adapted from a theme I’d previously composed. The second step is to map the tempo, and start and finish points for the cue, and to make sure that any ‘hit points’ in the action are punctuated with musically significant moments. It was a learning process for me, and I think I became better at it at the finish than I started out. If I’d had more time, I’d have gone back and looked at some of the stuff again.

How do you choose which segments to orchestrate and did you have to follow certain set parameters for the music, or were you free to express yourself?

“I saw a work print of the film in LA in a screening room, and then the Director, the Music Supervisor and I went over it again reel by reel on a movieola editing desk. I took notes on where they wanted music and made some suggestions for music also. Then I created a cue sheet to organize the music. This movie has much more music than most films, with the songs and underscore. There are long segments with sparse dialog, and action scenes that needed punching up. I have heard it said by a veteran film composer that any more than 1/2 hour of music in a typical feature is too much, and indicates a deficiency in the film itself if more music is needed to make the picture work. The director, Ted Nicolaou, criticized some of the stuff that I initially thought was good. I learned that the filmmaker generally does not want you to emphasize actual cut points, that the music helps mask editing and smooth visual transitions as well as adding tension and energy to the onscreen action. Also, while much of film music is sparse and moodily legato, over half of it is percussive and jangly. There is not much call for standard pop music structures outside of deliberately inserted “production music” cues.

“I had a great deal of freedom composing cues, but they were always subject to the thumbs up or down by the filmakers. That lack of freedom comes with the job, since you ultimately have to please the filmmakers. I look forward to doing more of this work, because I am a fan of film and enjoy doing instrumental composition.

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