Writing for Keaton is unique. In my 20 years of writing orchestral scores for silent film, somehow what comes out in my writing for him is both personal and potentially chaotic. And in Sherlock Jr., Keaton’s display of genius and acrobatic melancholy provided no exception.
As this is my fourth Keaton film I have composed for, I have learned a couple things. For instance one must understate the situation in a big way. As much as a composer wants to be funny too, he cannot, for it simply kills the image in the classic case of ‘too many cooks’. Instead, the music should have, at least on the surface, the appearance of simplicity with the occasional outburst of complexity and force. Certainly the latter comes to the forefront in the motor-bike chase sequence, as the tempo hastens to a pace of nearly un-playable proportions.
Cleverness is not enough when writing for Keaton, one also must know how to simply laugh, really hard. However, with one sequence in particular, I could not shake my incessant giggles spewing forth each time I viewed it. Only after dozens of passes was I able to pull myself together enough in order to write for it objectively. It takes a clear head to write for comedy, a head I clearly do not always want to have, instead sometimes just wanting to enjoy myself in the spectacle. This was certainly the case for another silent film composer, Dmitri Shostakovich, who, as a cinema pianist in 1926, was found laughing so uncontrollably during a Chaplin film, that he simply stopped playing and was fired by the theatre manager.
Mind you, there is not much of this score that is not intricately, and delicately worked out, in both its structure and timing. Despite the forces of nearly 50 musicians, I wanted the score to be streamline and fluid, featuring many of the great individual players of LACO, for whom the score was written. For my part as a conductor, I have once again painted myself into a tightly synchronised corner. In order for the score to be at its most effective I have a ¼ second margin of flexibility in synchronization, and in some scenes, less. This being our tenth concert together, I like to think that the orchestra and I have gained a musical rapport, as they are a joy to work with, and to write for. The score is dedicated to The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, to whom I am honoured by their request to write it.