Film & Theatre

Here is some music that I’ve written in the past few years for the theatre. You may freely listen to it and enjoy it. I’m obliged to add, however, that I retain the commercial rights to it.

Unless otherwise noted, all of these recordings are MP3s, LAME VBR, 44khz, stereo. (If you’re not of a technical bent, that means they’re fairly good (but not CD) quality.) They were all recorded on my home PC - the music being written first using Cakewalk Pro Audio, then subsequently recorded into digital waveforms with Sonic Foundry Sound Forge. In some cases, various sound FX were then added, using Sonic Foundry Vegas.

Of course, these aren’t perfect, and sometimes it seems like my ears can only hear the flaws. But other days, like a proud papa, I love them dearly and they make me inordinately proud.

Macbeth

by William Shakespeare

Circus Theatricals at the Odyssey Theatre, Los Angeles

March and April, 2004

The following tracks (c)(p) 2004 Paul Taylor Robertson.

All Rights Reserved.

  1. Opening of Act 1 (darkness, battle, aftermath) / Music & FX / 2:25 / 2.16MB
  2. Where Hast Thou Been, Sister? / Music & FX / 0:20 / 312KB
  3. Ross and the Old Man / Music / 0:34 / 440KB
  4. Opening of Act 2 (fanfare) / Music & FX / 0:40 / 634KB
  5. Throne Room to Bedroom / Music & FX / 0:59 / 948KB
  6. The Witches Dance / Music & FX / 1:17 / 1.04MB
  7. Burnham, Battle, Beheading, End / Music & FX / 5:39 / 4:83MB

I think Macbeth is possibly the most beautiful and awesome play Shakespeare ever wrote. I would love to have acted in this production, but ultimately I had to face the fact that I simply didn’t have the time. In retrospect it’s just as well. Macbeth turned out to be a taxing score to create; I don’t know if I could have done it justice if I’d been in it, too.

The “Opening of Act I” battle is something I’m fairly proud of. That’s partly because it’s just plain fun to make this much noise; but it’s also because the specter of Richard III’s final battle-cue was hanging over my head, and it was nice to lay it to rest. That cue - two minutes of medieval warfare that reached a roaring climax - was my previous ”greatest hit” at the Odyssey; it became a highlight of our production back in 2002 and everyone who saw the show remembered it. Now Casey was asking if I could top it.

This cue is the result, and I’m pleased to inform you that it’s every bit as cataclysmic as the one from Richard. The first day I played it for Casey and Jack, in fact, they were both grinning like schoolboys. Yet this cue is, if I may say so, more than just noise: this was the opening of the show and as such it had to establish a whole tone for what was to follow. I’m proud, then, that it tells the story of a battle in a distinctively Macbeth-like way: violent and dark, mournful and spooky.

And heck: it was one bang-up way to start a show.

(By the way, that haunting song you hear being sung by the monks was written by Nickella Dee Schlanger, who played one of the witches and is a very talented songwriter and composer in her own right.)

Shakespeare’s plays are full of scene changes, and a lot of my job is to cover these with something interesting while the actors tussle furniture into place. “Where Hast Thou Been, Sister?” is a transition from Duncan’s camp on the battlefield to a scene with the witches. Why the pig sounds? Because the first witch says, “Where has thou been sister?” and the second witch answers, “Killing swine.” It was creepy, so we kept it.

Ross and the Old Man” is another short transition. Improbably, I created it in about one minute flat yet it’s one of my favorite cues. Every time I hear it it grabs me; it’s something about the low drone and the high voice. Very ominous and otherworldly.

When they told me that the “Opening of Act II” was going to be a fanfare I think we all quavered a little. I’ve done enough Shakespearean plays by now to know I’m good at some things and rotten at others. And one of the things I totally suck at are fanfares. I just don’t seem to have those festive trumpets anywhere in my musical genes. Poor Casey - he’s had to listen to some real doozies by me in the past. But finally, finally, I think I’ve done one that’s listenable.

Throne Room to Bedroom” is another dark transition - from the main hall of Inverness Castle to the master bedchamber, where Macbeth, now Scotland’s uneasy king, tells his wife that he’s beginning to suspect treachery everywhere. Outside it’s raining; inside, the rot is spreading.

The Witches Dance” comes at the end of a long sequence where Macbeth, desperate to know the future, seeks out the witches and has them conjure up various visions - with awful result. Although I did a lot of sound for that part of the play the sequence was very long and slow-moving and depended on the actors to be effective; so instead, here is this sound, which comes at the very end. It’s the witches mockingly dancing for Macbeth to ‘make him feel better.’

And finally, “Burnham, Battle, Beheading, End” is a condensed piece that represents the final 10-15 minutes of the play. Plot-wise what you’re hearing is:

  • Macbeth is in his castle (low notes) with enemy armies approaching (growing drum sounds);
  • Battle is joined, with Macduff searching for Macbeth (brief battle sounds);
  • Macbeth, on another part of the battlefield, confronts and kills young Seward (drums recede, choir notes & bell sounds);
  • MacDuff appears again, still searching (more battle sounds);
  • Macbeth enters, at first alone; then MacDuff enters and confronts him (shift from drone to rumble & weird sounds);
  • Macduff tells Macbeth that he was “from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d” (horse cry);
  • They fight (big drums return, music and fx);
  • Macduff beheads Macbeth (big kaboom);
  • The battle is over, and Malcolm is hailed as Scotland’s new king (battle sounds recede, distant church bell);
  • And, finally, Macbeth’s head swings from Macduff’s hand while, in tableau, we hear “When shall we three meet again.” On the explosion, blackout.

I have to hand it to Casey and Jack: when I first brought these monster-cues in to rehearsal they didn’t balk - but instead got excited and set out with relish to make them work. How can you not love working with people like that?


As You Like It

by William Shakespeare

Circus Theatricals at the Lex Theatre, Los Angeles

February to March, 2003

The following tracks (c)(p) 2003 Paul Taylor Robertson.

All Rights Reserved.

  1. Intro to Act 1 / Music / 2:49 / 2.37MB
  2. We’re Off! / Music & FX / 0:43 / 600KB
  3. The Evil Duke / Music / 0:27 / 357KB
  4. Orlando’s In Love / Music & FX / 0:38 / 539KB
  5. Intro to Act 2 / Music & FX / 1:11 / 1.00MB
  6. Curtain Call / Music / 3:11 / 2.70MB

Jack Stehlin directed this show, and we both wanted the sound for As You Like It to be whimsical, fun, and romantic. Then, as rehearsals progressed, a new idea was added: that the show would be something like a circus sideshow, with the actors dressed as roustabouts or clowns, and the music in the same vein. Ultimately the actors didn’t go quite so far with the clown idea, but I had a lot of fun taking the music in this direction.

Basically, all I did here was cook up sounds that were a little more expressive than usual for me (a swirling harp for a character in love, tinkling bells for the magical forest) and use a lot of pipe-organ in the music. The result quickly took on a life of its own.

The “Intro to Act 1” and the “Curtain Call” are basically the same song, arranged differently. This tune was actually written for the big celebration dance which occurs at the end of the play (a cue not included here because it’s rather short), and it captures (I think) rather well the circus-hootenanny flavor of this show.

We’re Off!”, “The Evil Duke” and “Orlando’s In Love” are all set-change cues - that is, 20 seconds or so of music and effects which take bridge from one scene to another while the set is being rearranged. (Shows like Richard and As You Like It have lots of these.) I like them all, but perhaps my favorite is “Orlando,” since it ends with that goofy harp.

I liked that harp so much, in fact, that I added it to the “Act 2 Intro” music. This cue plays to launch Act 2 of this production (roughly Shakespeare’s Act III scene iv), and is probably my over-all favorite cue from this show. What I was picturing with this little one-minute reggae tune was whole forest - trees, chipmunks, birds, deer - all dancing together on an enchanted May afternoon. If you notice, the sheep baahs are in time to the music. So is the owl (roughly). It makes me smile. :-)


 

The Cherry Orchard

by Anton Chekhov

Directed by Jack Stehlin

Circus Theatricals at the Odyssey Theatre, Los Angeles

May to July, 2002

The following tracks (c)(p) 2002 Paul Taylor Robertson. All Rights Reserved.

  1. Dance: Act 1 to Act 2 Set Change / Music and FX / 1’44” / 1.59MB
  2. The Jewish Orchestra / Music / 1’26” / 1.23MB
  3. The “Christina Burck” Waltz / Music / 3’46” / 3.46MB
  4. Background Dance Music / Music / 2:13 / 1.90MB
  5. Dunyasha is Dreaming / Music / 2’09” / 1.98MB
  6. Lopakhin’s Theme and Set Change / Music & FX / 4’20” / 2.64MB
  7. Curtain Call / Music / 3’04” / 2.63MB

With “The Cherry Orchard” I was trying to recreate the feeling of what Russians were listening to at the time the play takes place (that is, approximately ten years before the beginning of the First World War). Original music was used instead of authentic period pieces because (a) it was fun to write it, and (b) I didn’t want the audience going “Ah, there’s the good old ‘Blue Danube,’” but instead staying focused on the story.

Fortunately when I was a teenager among my favorite music was Russian ballets from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This unwitting research stood me in good stead here.

Dance (covering the set change from Act 1 to Act 2) in particular sounds to me like a peasant-dance sequence from some old forgotten ballet by, say, Rimsky-Korsakoff. Since the turn of the last century was, in fact, a time when many of the world’s great composers were writing for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe (including Rimsky-Korsakoff, Stravinsky, and others) it’s a coincidence I’m happy to have.

The Jewish Orchestra is music to be heard in the distance while Lyubov, Gayev and Lopakhin are sitting and talking in the forest. In actual performances it was played very softly with tons of reverb, and it sounded quite pretty.

The Act III party began with The Christina Burck Waltz, named in honor of our terrific stage manager ... Christina Burck. The house lights remained up until the cello joined in, and then began a slow fade. By the time of the last verse or two, the house was dark, the stage was lit, and behind a scrim ‘wall’ you could see dancers turning to the music. It was lovely and even got applause a few nights.

Background Dance Music is my quickie name for more party music. Sometimes I had to write something to go behind speaking actors; in those cases I would mostly leave out the flute (too piercing) and stick to string arpeggios. This one is pleasant, with a sweet melody. I chose waltzes, by the way, for much of Act III because this was the era of the Viennese waltz, and Russia as much as the rest of Europe was in the spell of the Strausses and others.

Having said that, Dunyasha is Dreaming isn’t a waltz, but a plaintive little theme I wrote for the sequence where Dunyasha is trying to ward off Yepikhodov. I think it’s almost my favorite piece.

Lopakhin’s Theme carried us out of the end of Act III (the party scene, with Anya comforting Lyubov) through the set change and into the top of Act IV (packing the house, with the sound of axes outside). For some reason I quite like the fluttering birds in this cue; I have no rational reason why I put them there other than they were pretty to my ear.

And finally, Curtain Call is a reprise of “The Christina Burck Waltz” but at a faster tempo, played while the cast took their bows. I quite like this version.

I was enduring terrible computer difficulties during the recording of this music, so I didn’t get to always orchestrate things the way I wanted. Also there are sometimes ‘hesitations’ in these recordings - due to RAM overload during the actual recording process. Alas, until I can upgrade my computer and re-record these tracks, they will have to stay that way.


Richard III

by William Shakespeare

Directed by Casey Biggs

Circus Theatricals at the Odyssey Theatre, Los Angeles

January to May, 2002

The following tracks (c)(p) 2002 Paul Taylor Robertson. All Rights Reserved.

  1. Curtain Call (Alternate) / Music / 2’49” / 2.59MB
  2. Clarence’s Nightmare in the Tower / FX / 1’10” / 1.08MB
  3. The Ghosts / FX and Music / 3’08” / 2.89MB
  4. Curtain Call / Music / 2’40” / 2.45MB

“Richard III” was a huge score to write - loud, tumultuous, exhausting, and very rewarding.

Casey’s concept was that most of the play would transition with sound, and this sound would be expressionistic and nonmusical. Although what is listed here is occasionally tuneful, please imagine that most of the play’s 50+ sound cues resembled “Clarence’s Nightmare” more than the “Curtain Call.” Honestly, I never imagined one could spend so much time recording variations on rumbles, hisses, shrieks, gasps, screams, drums, and horses. (My neighbors must have thought I was editing a horror film in my apartment.) And the battle of Bosworth Field - which I’m amazed didn’t get me evicted - is probably the loudest prolonged piece of organized noise I’ve ever concocted in my life.

Yet it’s thrilling to listen to even now, long after the play is over. And whenever I hear it I can only think of Casey with immense gratitude, because he lovingly drove me outside of my imaginative box and well beyond my usual barriers.

Curtain Call” - a mournful, spiritual, but also (I hope) rousing theme - has become with time one of my favorite all-time compositions (as dictated to me, of course, by the Big Composer in the Sky, as all these things are). It’s a conscious homage to Carl Davis’s beautiful music for Thames (UK) TV’s “The World At War” series, which first aired back in the seventies. The other pieces here - “Clarence’s Nightmare,” “Ghosts” and “Curtain Call (Alternate)” also please me very much. As I say, this was a magical score to write. It was so risky, yet it turned out so well.


Three Sisters

by Anton Chekhov

Directed by Casey Biggs

Circus Theatricals at the Odyssey Theatre, Los Angeles

September to December, 2001

The following tracks (c)(p) 2001 Paul Taylor Robertson. All Rights Reserved.

 

  1. Act 1 - Opening of Act 1 / Music and FX / 2’11” / 2.02MB
  2. Act 1 - Andre is Practicing his Violin / Music / 0’46” / 728KB
  3. Act 4 - The Buskers Play / Music / 0’38” / 599KB
  4. Act 4 - A March Heard in the Distance / Music / 2’22” / 2.17MB
  5. Act 4 - Curtain Call / Music and FX / 3’35” / 3.28MB

If I could afford a better recording studio, and if I could spend endless time in it, I might have made the music and sounds for “Three Sisters” sound a bit more authentic to the play and the time period. That is, the “Buskers” would have sounded more raw, the “March” more oom-pah-ish, and “Andre’s Violin” would, of course, be the real McCoy. But you live and you learn. And even so, I like these melodies. And the “Opening” for Act 1 will always be a favorite.

P.S.: I still remember the day I brought the “Opening” music to the theatre for the first time. Casey and I went out to the parking lot and sat in his car and listened to it. He was very complimentary, and I was very grateful, and I thought that was that. But it wasn’t. We went back inside and headed for the Odyssey Theatre lobby, where the cast and company - some twenty-five people - were gathering, waiting for rehearsal to begin. Casey announced that we were all going into Theatre #3 for a minute - which was unusual, since we usually rehearsed in Theatre #1. We duly filed into this smaller space and sat down in the seats. Then Casey came onto the stage and said, “Paul has written something wonderful for the opening of the show and I want everyone to hear it.” I blushed thoroughly - pleased, flattered, embarrassed - and then I could see Christina Burck’s head up in the booth window and, a second later, the music came on. For a brief moment I was terrified that it would sound awful on big speakers in a big room. But instead, it sounded, miraculously, just lovely. And the best part was the faces of the cast. They were entranced. I think that may have been the first time, in fact, that many of them realized just how great the show could really be. And that’s one of the things I love best about doing sound and music. When it thrills the audience it’s great; but when it thrills the cast too it’s a truly wonderful feeling.


The Sea Gull

by Anton Chekhov

Directed by Casey Biggs

Circus Theatricals at the Odyssey Theatre, Los Angeles

Spring, 2001

The following tracks (c)(p) 2001 Paul Taylor Robertson. All Rights Reserved.

 

  1. Kostya is Playing the Piano / Music / 2’31” / 2.31MB
  2. Singing is Heard Across the Lake / Music / 0’33” / 517KB

Two small cues that I created for a workshop production of “The Sea Gull” which we performed back in the Spring of 2001. I like the piano piece, though it wasn’t heard much in the show. The “Singing” across the Lake, on the other hand, was - and to very pretty effect (if I do say so myself!).