How One Composer Turns Science Into Serious Drama


Composer Darren Fung watched the weirdly stretched-out ocean lions swimming across a screen and imagined the music that would best suit them. In mid-November, hed signed on to work with filmmaker Adam Ravetch on a virtual-reality short, filmed underwater. Viewers would feel like the latter are swimming with the puppies of the sea–but for now, Fung was lodged with the flat, warped portrait on a regular video screen, trying to set himself in his audiences shoes.

What would he experience, what did the filmmaker miss the audience to feeling, and what would the gathering suffer on their own? His music needed to nudge, and enlargement, those limbic responses.

Emotionally scoring the natural world, and human learn of it, is something Fung has become expert in. Recently, Fung–who structured the Canadian Screen Award-winning soundtrack for the anthropological miniseries The Great Human Odyssey and is currently musicalizing Equus , a project about how mares have changed history–has reasonably accidentally noticed himself swimming in such science documentaries.

And although he at first didnt know how his music could interact with this genre, he now listens the soundtracks that swell behind science films like any others. Scientific topics, like enjoy triangles or bank robberies, are all about drama, emotions, and humans–centuries of claims of disinterested neutrality notwithstanding–and thats what the chords and chromatics are all about.

It took a while for Fung’s love of music to crescendo into a profession composing for cinemas. At McGill University, Fung found that students and educators tended toward avant-garde, artsy-fartsy, academic music. For a while he did, too. But he soon realise he wanted to write more accessible music for movies–big, surging songs that they are able realise your chest feel like its full of volley while at the same age you scarcely notice them.

After college, he offered his services to the film student artistes. He and his college buddies would go to the universitys concert hall at midnight and record the scores. We were going and doing these short movies with these large-hearted tallies, Fung says. It got to the point where I went to “states parties ” one nighttime and one of your best friend said, Oh shit, its Darren. Hes going to ask us to play for free again .’ I passed them pizza and beer.

Tibrina Hobson/ Getty Images

Soon, small-scale paying gigs turned into indie feature film turned into video turned into a move to Los Angeles, five years ago. And then came the science. The activities are different-the pizza and beer and camaraderie have stayed the same.

In 2011, Fung worked on Lost Years , a documentary that uses the story of Chinese-Canadian Kenda Gees family to explore racism and the Chinese diaspora. Its co-director Tom Radford led a creation company with anthropologist and documentarian Niobe Thompson–who was a fan of the memoes undergirding Lost Years . He listened my work and said, Holy shit, thats really good, says Fung, who likes to say shit.

Thompson was working on a project announced The Great Human Odyssey , a three-part succession about how humans came to be and then deter being and then take over the planet, and he questioned Fung to form the score. Fung was hesitant at first. Hed never done a science documentary. How do you restate that into cinematic film-score macrocosm? he meditated. Generally, where reference is met with board of directors to talk music, he questioned the filmmaker what he wanted to gathering to find. When you think about it for science, where is the passion in that? he remembers thinking.

But when he learned more about the actual great human journey, he recognise something: The shakes of this scientific plan were no different from those of any other twisting and moving narrative. You talk about how humans have survived through all this adversity through all the years, he says. There were some a fairly shitty events humans had to go through. That whole ice age was pretty shitty.( True tale, dude .)

Fung watched beings free-diving, jumping across ice floes, migrating from Africa to Europe–footage that had been filmed over such courses of 18 months with ultraHD 4K cameras. This documentary seemed to have it all: Wonderment, trouble, desperation: Thats what makes a soundtrack, he says. Youre not scoring science. Youre not tallying DNA arrangements. Youre not scoring growth. Youre tallying the passions that are behind that.

And in that tallying, he had to try to match the breathtaking timbre of the natural environment: up in the air, down into the sea, in a genetics lab. According to the Canadian Screen Awards committee, he did a good job. Hear for yourself.

The tone of his new VR project–headed up by Adam Ravetch, whod been an underwater cinematographer on Odyssey — will likely sound a little bit different. As Fung watched the atlantic provinces puppies careering about and considered which gathering feelings he wanted to bolster, he knew he had alternatives. Looking at these ocean lions playing around, you could play it in a lot of different ways, he says.

Playful, though, prevailed out. Ravetch did, after all, give the project the working entitle Dogs in Rubber Suits .

While composing, Fung had to remember that observers would have an extra aspect of sensing, so his music should, too. It should border them, and feel like it was organic to that fully realized underwater world , not superimposed. Dolby Atmos–which facilitates resonate definitely sounds like its coming from three dimensions when it detonations from speakers–helps.

Multisensory technology is genuinely changing how we work in music, he says. And in fact, most structure tech has changed since Fungs early days, when he had to physically attract the branches of his own notes and surface them with nifty, dark ellipticals, instead of compiling on personal computers. His subject matter and form have advanced, too. But one thing hasnt: The strength of a live orchestra, playing mentions he put together one way or another, to draw your tenderness out of you and then turn up their volume.

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