Issue 1: Clint Mansell

By Thomas Deneuville

You might know Clint Mansell from the band Pop Will Eat Itself (former lead singer and guitarist), or most likely from the soundtracks to all of Darren Aronofsky’s movies: Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, Black Swan, etc. Mansell performed at Church of St. Paul the Apostle in NYC on April 3 and 4, and at LA’s Orpheum Theatre on April 6. We talked about genre, collaboration, and film scoring.

If there is such a thing as indie classical, back in 2006 you reached its apex when you wrote the soundtrack of Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain for both the Kronos Quartet and the scottish (cult) post-rock band Mogwai. Was this stylistic blend dictated by the multi-layered script or the expression of a personal aesthetic?

My job as a film composer is to bring ideas to the table that will support and help create the universe that the film inhabits. These ideas, undoubtedly, come from the music, films, and books that are influencing me. But, first and foremost, it is the film that has to be served—I can’t shoehorn in my own personal preferences if they are not suitable for the purpose. So it’s a case of channeling one’s influences and ideas alongside an understanding of the requirements of the film.

I come from a rock ‘n’ roll background, for want of a better phrase, and that informs a lot of my music to this day. Having the opportunity to work alongside contemporary artists who, in their own right, are pushing the boundaries of popular culture is a huge honour and an incredible inspiration. If that’s ‘indie classical’… I’m in!

What is your take on the "end of genres"? A welcomed reality or a postmodern drift?

Beware of trends! Do your own thing.

How do you explain your incredibly successful and long-running collaboration with Darren Aronofsky?

I really don’t know. What makes any relationship work? If only I had the answer to that question! He makes films that excite me—this is my bottom line. He doesn’t want the norm from any of his collaborators. This gives a chance to be oneself within the framework of his story. To find something in oneself that relates to the story, the characters, the atmosphere that is being created and then bring that to the project, musically, is an exciting challenge. I don’t really view myself as a composer, or even a musician and I think that’s a good fit for Darren’s work.

What is the most valuable thing that working for major motion pictures brought to you/your music? What was detrimental?

I find scoring a movie far more liberating than writing music for my own enjoyment. Finding the right project to score is key, of course, and if I find a project that speaks to me I grab it with both hands. It might seem strange when I say it’s liberating because there is already a structure in place with a film: I have certain guidelines already—to some degree—but, within that structure, I am free to do what I want as long as it serves the film. I wrote and recorded the score to Pi on one sampler, one keyboard, and running an Atari computer. Sometimes restrictions afford you a greater freedom because the choices are limited only by your imagination. I’m sure that last sentence is copyrighted from either a self-help book or a commercial… but it’s still correct.

I don’t really view myself as a composer, or even a musician and I think that’s a good fit for Darren’s work.

Do you feel limited by your own success in the film/media industry and are you ever tempted to move away from incidental music?

I don't see it as incidental music. I see it as perfectly crafted, delicately honed little moments of my soul! Haha! I can't say I've ever thought “Damn! I'm too successful and it’s limiting my growth!” If I did, I imagine I would do something else.

How do you think new classical music could reach a wider audience?

Trends in music, popular culture come and go. I'm only interested in doing good work. If enough people dig what’s going on, it will spread. I think there’s a huge crossover between music these days. I'm being asked to do remixes for all sorts of different genres of music, which is cool because it would appear that my music (or the films I score) are reaching people who are interested all sorts of styles of expression.

Can you tell us more about the program of your NYC (and LA) concerts?

I perform with a nine piece band: string quartet, piano, bass, drums, guitar, guitar/laptop—neo-classical if you please. We cover a large cross-section of my film scores from Pi, to Stoker, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, Last Night, etc. We’ll hopefully be having a couple of guests performing with us too.

I commissioned new short films/moments for us to perform with, which I hope help take the music to a further place than just being rehashed from the soundtracks. I hope it all works together to create another experience, one that is undoubtedly borne out of the films but one that I hope builds on that and allows us all to take flight.

Can we expect to see you more on stage in the future?

We would love to play more shows. I really enjoy it. The audience, so far, have been incredible! So attentive, so involved. The shows at Largo in Los Angeles were wonderful and it was the audience that made them so. Can’t wait to do more!

Photo of Clint Mansell courtesy of Chris Owyoung. Visit: chrisowyoung.com

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