Film music is meant to punctuate the moving image, but in Sudden Nature music has a articularly prominent role. This approach is somewhat unorthodox in mainstream film, and many would consider it experimental. I edited the moving images and the spoken word in a way that left a lot of room for the music to do a major part of the storytelling. Combining elements of Asian music with elements of European music was at the core of the initial musical concept. My intention was to create something that expresses a new sensibility and a new experience, and not to just copy or recreate the traditional music forms. This is not a new approach, as cultural fusion has been around for centuries.
Each of the two characters required unique and easily recognizable musical voices. Early on I settled on the er hu for representing the raw emotion of Nature and for highlighting the Asian roots of the project. The er hu is an ancient two-string bowed instrument with an interesting history. It is today considered a classical Chinese musical instrument although it is believed to have originated in Central Asia and was initially considered a barbarian instrument. To deepen and enrich the texture of the sound I also envisioned a few European string instruments such as violins, cellos and guitars, plus Indonesian gamelan percussions and Japanese taiko drums. Man would be represented by the sound of reed flutes, both agile and fragile, examples of which are found in cultures throughout the world.
Composer Sergio Moure, my artistic collaborator in this project, was intrigued by the mix of instruments and styles that I had in mind and was open to developing the concept. After some discussion and early tests he suggested to use the sakuhachi and bansuri wind instruments for Man, and adding the harp to Nature’s musical voice. Sergio also suggested complementing the ensemble with a few instruments: a psaltery, a stringed instrument dating back to Biblical times; the celesta, a keyboard-operated percussion instrument from the late 19th century; and the didgeridoo wooden flute indigenous to northern Australia.
We collaborated on one scene at a time starting with the beginning. I started by editing the visual material with a metric that would lend itself to a layer of constant music. Special attention was paid to the rhythm and beat of the moving image cuts to facilitate the work of the composer. We exchanged by email my rough edits with detailed notes and time code, and a sound track with the basic themes and simple instrumentation.
In Market, for example, I wanted a clear Asian flavor as the action takes place in a local outdoor market. Nature’s lingering er hu musical theme is introduced in this section. For Measuring I envisioned a sound reminiscent of a music box, with a fast and happy tempo to contrast the slightly absurd comicality of the action. In Dance I wanted to convey both the romance and the distance between Man and Nature with a traditional waltz in triple meter, major and minor tones and the er hu. A few of my colleagues commented at the time that it made no sense to have Asian actors and the er hu sound in the context of 19th century European dance music. However I reminded myself that one of my artistic goals is to create new content that emanates from previous traditions. The music composer ran with the waltz-erhu concept and came up with a fabulous melody and musical instrumentations that create the desired torn romantic atmosphere.
The Suspicion section posed a unique challenge as it presents an introspective mood with slow action. I wanted to complement the intimacy of sharing drinks and the drama of spilling tea with a tango, a music genre with hybrid origins that crystallized in Argentina and Uruguay. The dramatic incidents in Destruction were timed so that the music could naturally evolve into different themes and moods as the relationship breaks down. This section presents lots of percussion and strings to anticipate and punctuate the dense and tragic action. In Picnic we return to some of the positive and lyrical themes from the beginning of the movie: sweetness and melancholy.