An Excerpt from an interview with Wendy Carlos

Title: A Clockwork Composer - interview by Jeff Bond

From: Film Score Monthly - March 1999


JB: How did you get involved with A Clockwork Orange originally?

WC: Well, we [Carlos and longtime producer Rachel Elkind] were Kubrick fans all along, and we had been invited by two different Hollywood people to score some science-fiction movies right after Switched-on Bach came out. One of them was Marooned, the Gregory Peck film, which ended up with no soundtrack. The producers and director decided that maybe they were wrong to put any music in, and so they told us that they'd changed their minds: while they loved what we were doing, they went with a strictly sound-effects score.

JB: That's funny because Marooned has sort of fallen into the public domain and it's been repackaged with at least one different title, something like Space Travelers. In order to cover that up, there's a different title sequence that uses electronic music.

WC: That's very strange. We had been disappointed in that project and we had gotten jazzed up to do a couple of these, and we finally wound up talking with someone who had a close connection to Stanley Kubrick's lawyer. We suddenly got an invitation to fly to London and quite a few people behind the scenes helped pull it together.

JB: How was Kubrick to work with?

WC: I got to know him quite well; don't forget I also met him again when I was involved with The Shining, although that didn't produce much of a film score.

I like Stanley He's just a very likable person to me; he's a former New Yorker and I like New York - that's why I'm situated here. I'm somewhat of an intellectual snob; I hate to be, but I like people who make me laugh and give me things that make me think deeply and who take ideas that I have and twist them around and come up with other variations. I kind of get off on that; I'm a puzzle solver, and he's a puzzle person, and he's very open. You can ask him anything, and I asked him a whole ton of questions about the cinematography because I'm sort of a frustrated cinematographer myself, and he talked about everything.

We got along very well; it's just that unfortunately he works alone in London without a lot of feedback; he doesn't have a lot of people who are willing to say no to him, and I think that's not been the healthiest environment for him. I would say that about any artist, and I've told him this to his face. I think that's why The Shining was a less productive venture for us. However, it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the time with him; we had many long phone chats when he was just getting up and I was just going to bed; it was a pleasurable venture in many ways.

I just now had the pleasure of going back and getting some of the master tapes, and I found a few cues that that had never been out that we put on the restored Clockwork Orange CD. You couldn't have asked me about Kubrick's film at a better time because it's very much in my memory now.

JB: Are these cues that were in the film or unused cues?

WC: One of these is the "Orange Minuet," which we had written for the scene in which the woman who has her breasts showing appears on-stage in what looks like a school auditorium. Originally that scene just had a few temp tracks in it, and one of them was done by the people who did "I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper," in slightly English, folk music kind of tradition.

We suggested that probably a real minuet in a real minuet style might be a fortuitous thing to put there, and of course I cheated and put 5/8 into the 6/8 meters in the minuet we were writing, but managed to come up with nice tune. Kubrick's business manager and several of the other people he was working with fell in love with this minuet and they wanted to put it into the film. Well at that time they had had so many months of listening to the temp track, and you know what happens: they got locked in. It's very hard not to have that happen to you. He couldn't bear to part with the music that he had heard ever since they first started editing, so in the end the minuet wouldn't work in any other scene.

They wanted to put it out as a single but they made their apologies and were very sincere. So it was one of those sad things where we wished it had gone into the film but it couldn't, and there was no room for it on the Warner Bros. album or the CBS release, so the thing sat in a semi-mixed-down state for 22 years.

There was a cue that was done for another scene which had the same exact thing happen to it. It's the scene in the prison library: Alex's fantasies in there were scored with Scheherezade, and we did something much more in the spirit of the thing with parody. When he's whipping Christ carrying the cross, we used a very Romanesque, kind of Miklos Rozsa thing to the tune of "I Love a Parade," and then when he starts having the girls by him it was, "I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad," but done in the style of Scheherezade. I don't know if Stanley even got the joke; he just told us it didn't sound right to him, that the other things were more fitting of the scene. We tried and he gave us the chance, and in the end still wanted to stay with his temp score - he does that all the time.

So those are two tracks that I wanted to have out for years, and in restoring all the other tracks it was fun to pull those out. I think the thing sounds awfully good; some of those masters were done in four-channel surround sound back when we thought the movie was going to be in stereo, and they sound good because they're master mixes and the tapes are in good shape. It was done before they started using tape that turns to glue, and there was no need to bake it or anything; they sound fine. So I just rebuilt the four-track, had a few tech people come in and help me, and did a careful alignment and it went right into 20-bit converters and sounds very good. Even the bad-sounding tracks aren't very bad; they're a whole lot better than anything people have heard until now. So I'm getting a big kick out of this.

JB: Did you run into Kubrick's temp-track fetish in any other places?

WC: Oh, yeah. We heard it with a lot of things. When we did Clockwork, though, we were able to suggest that we could do alternate versions of the beloved temp track pieces. So the Purcell that he had, which was a very stodgy British performance that was authentic, but fairly routine and dull, turned into this whole title music sequence because he loved all of the sounds that we did. As long as we could satisfy some element like the William Tell, which was my speeded-up silly trick, he was happy. He still had the original thing that he was secure with, but he also had these neat new sounds, so he was getting his cake and eating it too.

It was only when we had to change the musical themes like the two cues that were dropped that these things didn't get used. And of course I've heard the legendary story of the 2001 score that Alex North did, and Alex North is a fine composer and of course that's been released now on Jerry Goldsmith's performance; it would have made it a very different picture.

JB: It would have made it a great science fiction movie, but I think he was making more of a postmodern thing.

WC: In a funny way not having the music makes the picture cut loose and float free as its own thing, but if we had been used to it, I don't think we would have been disturbed by it (North's score), because it was clearly not anything hackneyed - it was not your usual sci-fi cliches. In fact he cobbled together some of his material later on when he did Dragonslayer, and some of it is very effective there. If you played the two CDs side by side you can hear the theme is the same.

JB: Why don't you do more movies?

WC: Well I've scarcely made my livelihood in film things; I almost never pursue film. I have friends who are always trying to get me on another film and saying this thing or that thing would work great in a film, and I'm saying okay, I like the process, it's another discipline, but if you'll excuse the pretentiousness of this comment, I'm a little more like Aaron Copland. I make my own art music and it is whatever it is. It can be aimed in directions, like the "Clockwork Black" was definitely influenced by other people's comments, but usually I don't do films until people approach me and that's what's always happened: other people act as connectors to get me on film scores.

I just finished this film that was done with people we knew who were doing a small film, and they were frightened I'd be insulted if they asked me about it - and I said no, as a matter of fact. The last two projects I worked on were for some European people whose films never saw the light of day and the projects folded.

People don't know that I've worked on other film scores, but I was itchy to do it again. There's something nice about the formality. It's discipline; you have a structure to work with, and I guess it's Igor Stravinsky's comment, "I like exact specifications." He said that when somebody asked him why he writes so many ballets and doesn't he find it restrictive? And the answer is no.

I guess there are crazies out there who think, "Oh, no, my creativity must be unbounded," but that's not how it works in the real world. I like collaborating with people, I always have, and I welcome any chance to do it. Usually it doesn't happen so I do my own projects with my own people like the Tales of Heaven and Hell. But I would love to see that used in some kind of film project, and I've been told already that some people are interested in it for another film project. I can see where it would work.

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