Reconstructing a soundtrack that has been lost is definitely not an easy task nor one that would warrant an expansion for that matter. It takes skill and a great attention to detail, along with a heck of alot of patience on top of that. Writing music or performing it is not as simple as it looks and it takes skilled and talented people to transcribe the great music that we fill our minds and ears with everyday. Composer Leigh Phillips is simply all of that and more. An excellent composer in his own right, Leigh has been apart of some very important restoration projects for the UK based Tadlow Music Company headed by its' founder, the legendary James Fitzpatrick who has put an important emphasis on soundtracks such as "Conan The Barbarian & Destroyer" by the late Basil Poledouris, "Quo Vadis" by Miklos Rosza and "Lawrence of Arabia" by late Oscar Winner Maurice Jarre to name a few in recent years.
"The Salamander" has been a score that ardent fans of the late Jerry Goldsmith have been clamoring to hear and see a soundtrack release over the last couple of decades. An action score for a rather obscure Italian film directed by Oscar winner Peter Zinner, Editor of Michael Cimino's Oscar winning "The Deer Hunter", who's original recording sessions have practically been lost to the ages. It was only fitting that Tadlow would undertake such a unique project such as this one: a very in demand Goldsmith score whose "Main Title" theme alone makes you salavate for more and more. With the guidance of James Fitzpatrick and a few viewings of the film itself, Leigh was able to recapture the Goldsmith touch with great success with an album that has garnered excellent reviews throughout (including one from myself). He was able to share with me via Facebook about the project and how it came to be; along with the difficulties of such a restoration and what scores he would personally love to restore!
How did you get involved in the project?
LP: Just after completing the Quo Vadis recording, James Fitzpatrick asked about the possibility of resurrecting The Salamander score. It was only a tentative inquiry, to begin with, as we needed to see how feasible it would be, as a project, being that the only material available to us was the DVD release.
How did you feel about such an undertaking? Were you nervous? excited?
LP: Admittedly, it was a bit of a daunting prospect. But, the opportunity of reconstructing a Jerry Goldsmith score was just too good to pass up. Once the actual process of reconstructing the score was underway, there wasn't much time for nerves to kick in, as you're concentrating, so much, on the task at hand. It was definitely an exciting project; especially when it came time to hear it being recorded. Nic(Raine, orchestrator/conductor of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus) as always did an incredible job, really taking the orchestra through their paces!!
Nic Raine did an excellent job with your orchestrations. How many times did you have to see the movie before you had a pretty good idea of what you had to do to reconstruct the score?
LP: Only two times, in total. It was during the 'consultation' phase, that I saw it first. I sat down with the cue list and DVD, marking each cue, as they came up, "OK", "A bit cloudy", "60% OK 40% cloudy" etc. By the end of that process, we all felt that it was a 'do-able' project, as there was a fair portion of the music that was pretty clear. After that, the only other time I put it on was to capture the audio track, from which to do the transcription (I'm quite grateful, really. The movie wasn't brilliant lol).
Were you involved with the orchestrations after you did the transcriptions? Can you tell me the difference between the two?
LP: Whenever I do transcriptions, it's always straight to full score; so, the music is being orchestrated as I go. I know some folks may create heavily annotated piano sketches first, then orchestrate from those; but, there's not really enough time to do that on these projects and weirdly, I prefer working the other way.
How long did it take you to get Goldsmith's tempos down and the complete score done?
LP: Figuring out the tempos for each cue wasn't too bad (in this case), as they were pretty consistent for the duration of the, specific, track that was being worked on. However, there were some awkward meter-changes to be navigated. Overall, The Salamander took around two and a half months to complete, then a further two weeks for the additional suites.
Let's talk about the suites themselves (Ransom/Cassandra Crossing) which are rather interesting and is in keeping with "The Salamander" in part because they have a very European flavor to them and were action films that were failures or successes onto themselves. Did you get to choose what those suites would consist of and which of those cues were your favorites from each score?
LP: The choices of cues for the suites were divided between James Fitzpatrick and myself. He was very clear about the music that he wanted included in the suite from Ransom, but was open to suggestion with regards to the sections included in Cassandra Crossing; the one thing that was paramount was that the suites were musically 'balanced'. By the way, you are absolutely correct about the 'reasons' as to why those particular films were chosen; European-style thrillers that somewhat 'match' The Salamander (even if just partially) in terms of musical approach.
How big was the orchestra for the score? Was it the same size that Goldsmith used in his recording of the score?
LP: We had around 80+ players and large mixed choir for the sessions. Due to the fact that there are no written materials pertaining to the original recording available, it's difficult to say if the orchestra that was recorded in Prague was bigger than Goldsmith's. However, if we were to use the 'sound' of the original as a guide, then the new version certainly appears to utilize a greater number (most likely augmented in the strings and horns).
How long did the take to record the score?
LP: The sessions, in total, took only two and a half days, which was hugely impressive, given the extremely complex nature of some of the music in both Salamander and the additional suites. Nic and the orchestra were just fantastic!
Does it make you happy when you're able to restore the well, in this case the lost work of a legendary composer such as Goldsmith?
LP: I always find that there's something to be learned or (at the very least) rediscovered with every single project; an instrumental combination, a technique, a harmonic progression that may catch the ear, or the way in which a certain artist will utilize melodic fragments (motifs) throughout the body of the score. Working on these pieces provides a real insight into those particular composers' creative processes; it's a real privilege to be a part of these projects and for that, I'm hugely grateful to James Fitzpatrick.
What other projects have you worked on restoration wise?
LP: Previous reconstructions that I've been involved with are John Ottman's Public Access (not with Tadlow, but my first reconstruction job), Exodus, Lawrence of Arabia, Conan The Barbarian & Destroyer, Taras Bulba, cues on the Notre Dame de Paris CD, Quo Vadis and The Salamander. However, out of these projects, I have to say that working with the music of Jerry Goldsmith was the biggest thrill, as there is no single composer who has had a greater influence on me than he.
Tell me about the restoration process on the Conan scores which many feel didn't compare to the original raw recording by Basil Poledouris in Italy back in the early 80's.
LP: The restoration of the Conan scores was quite a diverse and interesting process: for Conan the Barbarian, Rebecca Thomas and myself were tasked with sorting through and type-setting a good portion of Grieg McRitchie's original charts (including alternative versions of certain pieces), we also had to proof and make any necessary corrections/ alterations to the cues that were originally prepared for the 'Conan Symphony' (in 2006), and there were several takedowns to be done for the album too. Conan the Destroyer was a little more straight forward, as I was only asked to proof-read/ edit scores that were being type-set and also transcribe a few cues that were missing any written charts.
I was quite shocked at how much the 'Barbarian' album divided the fans (I've since renamed my copy of the album, 'Conan the Controversial'!). I can't really say that I fully understand the concept of 'a soundtrack is only any good if it's the original, or only if the composer is conducting'; music is a 'living' art form, it's susceptible to change and reinterpretation. That's part of what makes it so exciting. As soon as scores and parts (for film music and/or concert pieces) are made generally available, the music ceases to be the exclusive property of the composer's artistic imagination and it's left in the hands of future performers and conductors to explore it in any way that they deem appropriate. I don't think there is actually any 'right or wrong' with re-recordings (whether we're talking Poledouris or Prokofiev), there are only the interpretations - some people may like them, some may not - music is a subjective thing and will always create interesting debate. I guess, one of the little twists in the saga of the first Conan re-recording was that the composer, himself, disliked the original soundtrack (despite conducting it!) due to missing instrumental parts and performance issues; this is something that the Tadlow/Prometheus version, at the very least, tried to rectify.
Is there a score or scores that you would love to personally re-construct ?
LP: There are a few things that would definitely make it onto my 'wishlist':
1. Goldsmith's 'Lionheart'; a staggering score that was maligned by some bad performances.
2. Some of his television music, particularly those from 'Thriller' and 'The Twilight Zone' (trying to replicate the original Novachord sounds etc. would be a lot of fun).
3. Orchestrating one of his (Jerry Goldsmith) synthesised scores.
4. Reconstructing Harry Sukman's terrific music from 'Salem's Lot'.
5. Also, although the manuscript is already completed, I'd love to finally record John Ottman's score from 'Public Access' in it's new 'orchestral' form. It's a wonderfully melodic score and was a very interesting project to undertake but, ten years on, it still hasn't been recorded or performed. I'd conduct the thing for free, if someone were interested in ever producing an album!!
You mentioned that no one has been interested in producing an album for John Ottman's Public Access. Why the lack of interest? Is it that hard to produce an album from your point of view?
LP: I think both answers probably stem from the same source; it all comes down to finance. I don't feel that there's a lack of interest in John's music, quite the contrary, but I suppose the fundamental question is would a record company make money on a score from a, relatively, unknown movie? It takes substantial time for them to recoup costs on big 'event' re-recordings, let alone something not so well known; so, to some degree, I can understand their reticence. That being said, the score is only orchestrated for a modest ensemble, so it wouldn't be as costly to record it. Maybe, there'll be a renewed interest in it when the 'publicity machine' kicks in for his score for the next X-Men picture.
If you were reorchestrate one of Goldsmith's electronic scores, which one would be it be and why?
LP: If I were to choose one to 'experiment' with, it would have to be 'Criminal Law'. The reason being that it's the only score (out of the three) that seems to use very orchestral-orientated patches from the outset, thereby making any potential transition into a 'live' setting a relatively smooth one. Both Runaway and Alien Nation are a little more 'synthetic' in their choice of timbres, but very exciting scores.There's some wonderfully, kinetic, rhythmic work present; particularly in Runaway.
I really would like to thank Leigh for being gracious for his time we've talked on Facebook for granting me this interview over the many weeks during his busy schedule to do so and answering these tough questions. I'm glad you restored one of Jerry Goldsmith's undiscovered action gems. You're the best!
Please head over to the Tadlow Music website for more information on upcoming restoration projects at: http://www.tadlowmusic.com/
The Salamander Soundtrack by Tadlow Music/Prometheus is available at: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/24538/THE-SALAMANDER/