'Asche & Spencer' (Composing Firm)
'The Fine Art of Staying Composed!'
Composing firm Asche & Spencer has scored "Stay" for Twentieth Century Fox, reteaming with "Monster's Ball" director Marc Forster. The thriller, starring Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling and Bob Hoskins, tells the tale of a psychiatrist's desperate attempts to keep a new client from committing suicide, leading him into a nightmarish trip to the place between life and death.
"Stay" marks a return to Forster's darkly intimate, psychologically traumatic, yet impossibly hopeful sensibility Asche & Spencer helped him achieve in "Monster's Ball." Simultaneously epic and personal, the score employs massive strings and lonely piano to create a sense of light struggling to emerge from dark, hope shining through despair.
The close relationship Asche & Spencer enjoy with Marc Forster was born at the Sundance Film Festival when they were introduced by a mutual friend who knew the composing team, known primarily for writing music for high level advertising campaigns, was ready to expand its scope to include features. Impressed by their dedication and results, Forster asked them back to score "Stay."
Based in Minneapolis and Venice, California, Asche & Spencer was founded in 1988 by Mark Asche and Thad Spencer, two business-minded members of a group called the Jayhawks. The two aggressively pursued the commercial world and began to land jobs scoring commercials for Midwest-based agencies. The firm has offices in both cities, and employs many composers from the various bands Thad Spencer has run across during his years as a session musician and a Jayhawks member. They collaborate on ad music for a long list of household names, including Sony, Mercedes Benz, Miller Lite, Levi's, MTV and Nike.
The team's next feature project is Fox Searchlight's untitled "Onion Movie," a feature version of "The Onion," a popular website that features fictional news stories delivered in a sharp and sarcastic tone to shed light on various hypocrisies in American politics and culture.
Chatting recently with some cast and crew of Asche & Spencer, I first wondered if it was director Marc Forster who had come directly to them to score his movie, 'Stay'? "Yes, Marc asked us to score 'STAY'."
What special elements to this score were requested as an outline prior to you guys working your magic? "There are many subtle/dark visual textures working throughout the film that help the audience feel something is not quite right. To support this mood we felt it was important to create a musical direction for the film that was unique. Marc Forster was very helpful during the formulation of that style. He flew us to New York during the preproduction faze of the film and spent a great deal of time showing us his vision for the movie. We sat in on some meetings with actors, talked with the set designer, the cinematographer, and the visual effects supervisor. At the end of this trip we had a very clear idea of what we were going to see on film. One thing Marc said during this trip was that he wanted us to create a score for 'STAY' that was both beautiful, and something he had never heard before. For a composer this is a dream come true."
"The musical direction we chose for this film is a merging of several music styles. We started by creating instruments that would be unique to this score. We spent several weeks programming analog synthesizers, recording and sampling interesting musical instruments, and then shaping these sounds in the computer. The result was a pallet of instruments that we could use in a live setting. The entire score for 'STAY' was recorded live. Each of us worked on our own in the pre-production faze of the score writing pieces that we could bring to the sessions and perform as a group. During these sessions these ideas were brought to life using a very traditional band like method. As a group we worked through the pieces shaping and evolving them so that all of the music had a unified direction and focus. After about three weeks of recording we had over four hours of music to send to the filmmakers."
"Our goal was to compose as much music as possible while Marc was shooting. We wanted the editor, Matt Chesse to have our score while he was getting the film from the shoot. We didnít want any creative dilution caused by a temp score. But more importantly we wanted the film to be an organic merging of our music and the edit. The best way to do this is to give the editor our musical vision for the film as early as possible and let his cut be influenced by that music."
"The last faze of the score was completed after the film was cut. We composed various cues that the pre-score material did not cover and were able to go back in and augment pre-score cues that needed a bit more shaping. The final aspect of the score was to arrange and record the string section that was placed on top of our live recordings."
What "place" do you have to go to to create a score that evokes a 'sense of light struggling to emerge from the dark'? "Good question. The idea of beauty coming from something dark is a very interesting challenge. The instruments we chose to work with had a great deal to do with how we pulled this off. The sound we wanted to create for 'STAY' involved a great deal of subtlety. If the score were to get too heavy handed we felt this would distract from the elegant line we were walking between beauty and tension. So we spent a great deal of time making sure that we were very centered in our approach. If after spending some time developing a piece we felt it was straying from our composing objective we simply left that piece behind and started something new. The trick to working this way is to remain open to new ideas without loosing site of the goal we set for ourselves."
What are the pros and cons of being a 'scoring duo' as opposed to individuals? "We are much more than a duo. There are a total of eight composers working at Asche & Spencer. Our name comes from many years back when the company was two people, Mark Asche and Thad Spencer. As the company grew Mark Asche decided that composing music in a commercial environment was less interesting to him than simply composing for the love of music. After Mark left the company Thad continued to grow the composing collective. Currently Asche & Spencer is a total of thirteen people including composers, engineers, and support staff."
"Our method is different then most film composers. We are open about the fact that we have several people working on a project. The benefit to a director who works with us is great. There are more ideas and influences involved in the music. Therefore we can react to a cue from a variety of ways. We are also available to each other for help and inspiration. Several minds working on one project is hugely positive. Could NASA have gotten to the moon based on the work of one individual?"
"Certainly creating a score for film pails in comparison to the task of building a spacecraft that can land on the moon. But the principals are the same as collaborating is natural to us. We have all been working together for many years. We have an understanding of each otherís strengths and weaknesses. The true art of collaboration is knowing when to step in and when to step out. For each project we work in different ways. The one thing that never changes is that we decide as a group what direction will work best for each project. Once the direction has been established the method to execute that direction is clear to all of us."
"We can honestly site no cons to this method. Working alone pails in comparison to creating music with this amazing group of people."
During your past years of scoring for both the big screen and small screen, what has been your ultimate musical achievement thus far ... and why? "Every project has itís own highs and lows. Sometimes we spend enormous creative energy on something that never sees the light of day. Other projects are very simple and find vast positive exposure. The thing we have learned is to keep our eye on the work, and not worry how that work will be judged by others."
On a side note, and as you've now seen the movie 'Stay,' what did you think of it ... and does the Psychiatrist finally get to keep his new client from committing suicide?! "Marc has created something very real and new. 'STAY' is an interesting and multilayered film. We like the film very much."
Will Marc and Thad's old group The Jayhawks ever record together as a band again?! "Itís possible. Thad is still friends with all of those guys."
Tell us more about your forthcoming score for 'Onion Movie' ... and if extensive research of 'The Onion' website was required to bring forth some musical inspiration?! "We have been huge fans of the Union since itís early days as a student paper at the University of Madison Wisconsin. Writing music for a comedy comes very natural to us do to the vast amount of comedic work we have been involved with in scoring television commercials."
What cheesy '80s song would you love to re-compose if asked?! "Thatís easy, 'Somebodyís Watching Me' by Rockwell!"
Finally, I like Penguins ... do you?! "We go back and forth on our opinion of the Penguin. As a species they are cute and known to be involved and loving parents. These qualities are easy to like in a flightless Aquatic bird. However, the recent collaboration with director Luc Jacquet has put us on shaky ground with our ice loving friends. We have a hard time trusting the motives of a species that feels the need to exploit itself in this manner!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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