FROM: Tim Evanson (firstname.lastname@example.org)|
SUBJECT: Music in porn
DATE: Mon, 02 Dec 1996 17:02:07 -0500
ORGANIZATION: Tim Evanson's Home Page (coming soon)
I have edited the following interview with porn musician "Rock Hard", a former rock musician of some minor reknown who left the rock world to make soundtracks--and fell into porn. I recognize "Rock Hard" as the man behind some of the best gay porn soundtracks around, but he works extensively in the het field as well. This interview appeared in "Manshots" magazine, October, 1996. When explanatory material is needed, I've added some in brackets [ ]. My own editing ellipses are in brackets as well.
"Music by Rock Hard," interview by Jerry Douglas. "Manshots", October, 1996, pp. 10-15.
MANSHOTS: How did you get into this business?
Rock Hard: Well, it's funny, because I'm a rock musician. That's how I've made my living forever.
Probably when I was about sixteen--as a keyboard player, playing in all kinds of bands. Then I became a band leader and took bands all around the world and everything. And just got tired of it. So I was trying to think of another way to make money. From music. Ironically, someboday sent me an article from "Manshots"--an interview with a guy named Costello Presley.
Who scored many of the William Higgins films.
And I read the interview and I go, "Hey, now there is an idea." 'Cause I always had a dream of scoring films. But naturally, to make a decision like that, you don't go straight to.... Paramount. (Laughs) And I thought, "Well, the adult world--why not start there?"
Had the rock band work involved any composing?
Absolutely, yeah. And you know, when I started playing when I was a child. Little concertos and so on. And then...I ran across another magazine, and in the back of that magazine, it had the addresses of every adult company in the world, page after page after page. About that time, I was living in San Francisco, playing in a band, and I'd gotten all this nice equipment, and I made a little demo tape and just made a million of 'em. I sent them to every single one of those companies.
Just any company that made adult films--gay or straight?
Had you come to terms with your own sexuality at that point?
That's assuming I have now. (Laughs) So I sent out all those tapes, and about three people answered and hired me right away. One straight and two gay. They hired me right away.
Who were they?
Fox [the gay porn studio]--John Coletti--was the first. Jim West [a gay director]. And another company I can't remember right now.
Had you seen a lot of pornography?
What was the first film you scored?
"Buns and Hoses."
For Coletti. Tell us about that experience. He called you?
We did it over the phone, 'cause I was in San Francisco at the time. He said, "Let me send you the videotape, and you can look at it and try to make the music fit the action." Well, back then I knew nothing about frames per second, time code, beats per minute--and I wrote the music and I looked at it, and it didn't fit the picture. He was a little perturbed. So then I found myself calling all these technical people, saying, "How do I make...?" Right there I said, "I've got my work cut out for me. I'm glad I started here." But it was a great experience. John is a great person.
He was patient with you?
Absolutely. We did that picture and a couple more.
Let's talk about how one writes music for sex films.
Well, you know, first you look at it. John Coletti is famous for his body builder types. So you don't want something too soft. Something very strong, strong in beat, something King Kong.
After determining you needed a strong beat, what do you think about next?
Rhythms. Tempos. You know, "Buns and Hoses," I think it's a play on Guns and Roses, so definitely rock and roll. I got a buddy of mine to help me out with it. He's a guitar player--straight, with a family, little girl. But it was totally cool. The attitude I was finding out was: "You know, it's a gig." It's a gig, and it has to be taken seriously. You have to do it like any other gig in order to do it well.
When you are creating the score, does the individual model or the action inspire you?
Well, it was the look of the model and the location. If they were in a bedroom, it would be different than if they were outside. If it was in a bedroom and he's kickin' back on a bed, I would definitely make it a little softer. Or if he's out by some weights, it's definitely a lot stronger.
Tell us about Jim West.
He hired me on a film which was called "Island Heat." Jim knew what he wanted, and now I find out it's the most important thing, before you even start, to find out what the director wants. You gotta learn that right away, before you go and write something and they hate it, and you think, "Well, I should have asked him what he wanted." Jim had this jungle theme, island theme, and I had gotten hold of a sampler.
Explain to our readers who are not musicians what a sampler is.
An electronic digital instrument that takes a digital picture of a sound and then it's played through your keyboard. So I had tropical birds, I had these jungle drums, Polynesian drums, chants--all of these things I was experimenting with.
What kind of things do you want a director to tell you?
I find it usually the best when the director tells me exactly what he wants. I don't want to guess, I don't want to see if I have ESP. It's not my movie, it's their movie, and they know what's best for their film. Of course, I'm going to make suggestions, throw in some ideas, and things like that.
Do you remember anything at all that John or Jim said to you?
Well, of course, Jim wanted the jungle theme, definitely wanted that. And John wanted something to actually fit the picture.
Did he or Jim say, "I want the music to start here and end here"?
How often does a director leave that to your discretion?
[...]RH: Well, you have to realize that at that time, I was just kind of writing music that was painting a picture and not really syncing with the video. I was just kind of setting a mood, and I was pretty happy with the whole thing. [...] Jim West made a phone call, and I'm introduced to Michael Zen. And I had a meeting with him at his house. He's playing me all these orchestral things and telling me how he loves dark music and dark themes.
His films evidence that.
Yeah. And I thought, "I have just run into a very special person." He was working for a company, Caballero--they're all straight. This is right before the recession [of 1990]. He got me hired on as the house composer there.
What was the first picture you did for Michael and Caballero?
[...]RH: I would start the song out big, and Michael would say, "Why are you starting this piece of music out big? They're kissing." And I thought, "Oh, okay." So then I learned, the kissing gets different music than the oral, and the oral gets different music than the fucking. And then, of course, that has to build to what I call the pre-come thing--where everything's building and building--and then, of course, the climax, where all hell has to break loose, musically.
[A] solo film, a homosexual hard-core film, and a heterosexual hard-core film. What's the difference?
There isn't any difference.
[...]RH: I had gotten some special calculators, time code calculators, to help me--'cause I found myself doing so much math. It seems like whenever I write a score, I always think--even if somebody doesn't ask for it--what would Michael think? Is this the right thing to do? What would Michael say?
What did you do when you were faced with still photographs?
Well, Michael had edited it, so of course, he's telling me, well, there were different models and there'd be like, a scene with a certain model and then it would change, and of course, the music would have to change. But I really had a blast with that.
How much time do you have between when somebody hands you a film and when the music is due?
Anywhere between twleve hours and twelve days. (Laughs)
Clearly, you have to do homework. Is that sort of priming the pump for the creative impulse to get going?
Exactly. It's like a painter's palette--I start preparing my colors--my rhythmic colors, my instrument colors--and I lay them all out, have all my devices. I'll improvise something and I'll make a decision on a chord structure and then a melody.
The chord structure comes first? Or does the rhythm come first?
The tempo will have to come first, 'cause the tempo is when we get to look at the picture and see what it is. A fast tempo paints an entirely different picture than a slow tempo. Actually, the first thing you decide on is your instruments, then a tempo, then I improvise a chord structure, and from a chord structure, I'll improvise a solo, and the solo I'll make into a melody.
The melody comes last.
The melody comes last. It has to fit the mathematical thing. If I see the ending's coming in this crazy place, I have to start preparing for the cadence to end appropriately. If I do the melody first, it's gonna start dictating how long the measures are and how many measures in a phrase. Usually things are in groups of four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two. And I'll find myself doing things in thirteen. Because the visual demands it. The trick is making it seem natural. It's tricky, but it's fun.
How many times do you watch a film before you start this?
The process starts with the first viewing. I sit there and I take notes of the entire picture, see how many scenes, what happens. I get a little window at the bottom of the the picture usually--I try to have it--that has the hours, minutes, seconds, and frames. I make my calculations to the frame. Say, I want to go from here to here. I call it a hit list or a spotting session. Then I take thorough notes on what happens between here and here, each duration, and then, basically put the movie away and do all my calculations. Then, when I start actually building the song, I'll refer back to the movie, to play it to make sure I'm going the right time. When I start writing the music, I've already taken the notes: "I want this to sound warm." I'll even have an idea of a key: "Maybe try this in a B-flat minor. That might be appropriate." Then put the movie away and start taking each piece, and then, as I start getting the piece built, start playing it with the picture.
Within a single sex scene, I may have three or four themes. I don't take one theme and beat it to death. I'll just create a whole other theme. When they go from kissing to oral, from oral to missionary or maybe doggie-style or something like that. I'll bring back the theme that was in the beginning and do it there, but add more instruments, make it stronger, start building up on it. What I love to do is just keep it building. The Ravel's "Bolero" approach. Just keep building and building and building. And just keep adding things, bigger and bigger. Which is how sex is.
How do you score an orgasm?
At first, what I used to do was I used to work against it. The pre-come sequence, that's when the music would go crazy. [...] But then, later, I changed it, just made it right when the money shot happens, the music just blew up, fireworks. Using really crazy chord structure, atonal voicings.
Are there any particular instruments one uses for a money shot?
Definitely some sort of percussion. Definitely. Or if it's not percussion, just creating a real rhythmic figure. A very intricate pattern.
[You've] worked for Catalina. I thought the music in "Jawbreaker" was just superb. It's a Western, a prison-escape film.
Well, I worked with Chet Thomas, the editor. He gave me the movie and it's another situation where he trusts me. I never spoke to the director or hardly ever. But at that point, I had already touched a lot of bases on musical styles, believe me. But here, I came to a point where I was really getting into deep-house, techno-rave music--dance music that they play in clubs. It was a new venue for me, and that was kind of where I started with "Jawbreaker." I really had a blast with that, 'cause there was all thise crazy sound. Drum loops and a lot of sampling. I was really approaching it an electronic way. Chet Thomas wants music that sounds like sex. He wants it to sound like a sex club.
Down and dirty music.
You're not seeing a melody. It's massaging-your-mind music. It's putting you into a head space, 'cause the tonality of it is unusual, but still, it's addicting. Those beats. It's part of the experience. Music can be an experience. You're gonna dance to it or you're gonna sit down and listen to it or you're gonna watch a movie and it's part of it, or you could be having sex and listening to music at the same time. And it becomes part of it. Before you have sex, you put on a CD of some sort and make it a part of the experience. It's actually participating. If you were actually in that situation and you had music going, what would it sound like? What would these guys be listening to? It's gotta be hypnotic and hallucenogenic. I'ts gonna help you do what you're gonna do and be uninhibited.
Can music be too intrusive?
Have you ever erred in that direction?
Last time, I had just gotten a film for Penthouse. The director was doing the post-production at a really big post house. I was really excited. This was my big break, I could show this to my father. It was a beautiful movie, and I was so excited. I wrote this piece of music, just brilliant. Out of all the pieces of music, I was really proud of this one. I put everything into it. I got there to the post house, this state of the art audio room, and we're watching, listening to the music with the picture. And the director said, "Can you stop the tape. Mike? I want to ask you something. What do you see on screen right now?" I say, "Well, I see two people in love." He says, "Why do I see cars blowing up? Why do I see people getting killed? Why do I see plane crashes." I had to go home and write it over. The music is not about me. It's about the movie. The music in a film is half; the visual is the other half. You take all the music out of all the films, half the impact is gone. If it's a really good movie, of course, it's hard for the composer to not go, "Oh, my God, that's a beautiful sounding string section," from time to time. But I'm studying film now. It's really hard to look at a film and not break it down. But you know it's a good film when you don't do that.
Have you ever scored any non-sexual films?
Yes, I have. I'm a film student. I went to film school, so I could meet other students, so I could start branching off into other kinds of films. I just got hired to do my first feature film.