Greetings! ScoreKeeper here in my ceremonial kilt, woolen socks turned down at the knee, sporran, and sgian dubh tucked away neatly in my kilt hose. Ah, don't my ghillie brogues look great? I'm all Scottished out for my interview with veteran composer Patrick Doyle who composed the score for Pixar's BRAVE (2012) earlier this year.
I've generally admired Doyle's work through the decades but nothing has captured my ear quite like his music for BRAVE. It remains one of my favorites of the year so far. I had the opportunity to interview Doyle earlier this year but it was cut short due to an interruption. I thought I might be able to resume our chat but I figure I should probably just go ahead and post our brief talk and hope to converse with him again in the future. There is plenty to talk with him about.
This was the first time I was able to interview Patrick Doyle. It was brief but a genuine pleasure. I hope you enjoy it. The score for BRAVE was released on CD by Walt Disney Records and is also available in digital formats at most online retailers.
Now oan yer bike, ya bawbags!
ScoreKeeper: The music for BRAVE is quite different from what I'm used to hearing from you. You're only the fourth composer to ever tackle a Pixar film. How'd you get to be a part of this exclusive club?
Patrick Doyle: Well the filmmakers, Brenda Chapman and Katherine Sarafian, really like my music a lot. They invited me out to meet with them and at first I really didn’t know what it was for, they just wanted to meet me. At that point, it was still a germ of an idea in terms of where the music was involved and it was all connected with Scotland. The fact that I was Scottish helped a lot. They mentioned it was for a film called THE BEAR AND THE BOW. As soon as I became involved they immediately brought me in to look at drawings. This was about two years before I started the score. The whole scoring process took about three years. I think after meeting me, they felt comfortable for me to come aboard. It's extremely flattering to see my score with this movie. You know all of these are great stories. It was a real honor. There's a term in Scotland called "chuffed…" I was delighted and tickled to be a part of it.
SK: One of the things that really struck me, just from listening to the music, is it sounded like you had a lot of time to craft the music. Can you talk to me more about your luxurious schedule? Normally composers don't have that much time to work on a score.
PD: Well you are absolutely right, man. You’re spot on! I’ve been listening to Celtic music and being able to literally indulge in it all of my life. It’s part of my DNA. I come from a musical family and my father who is still alive, he’s ninety-one, he’s a great singer and my mother sings, she’s eighty-nine, and all of my family sings so I started singing as well. Being brought up listening to Scot songs and living in that country… Boeckel Castle was my playground, this medieval castle that was owned by this family… from basically a woman’s second husband.
So to be part of this world and be asked to create this music that really pulled from all of my experience meant I was a bit on…. Obviously I revisited my first love of music in detail with the film in mind, but with different demands made of my musical experience, and you know I know the islands of... where the stone is, that appeared in the film and I’ve visited that place, so I knew how ancient these stones were. They are two thousand years older than Stonehenge.
So writing it was done over a period of… I think it was August to the following June and they were done in two sections. So that was about two years. I could have time to hone the work and to really, really make the orchestra as intricate and as detailed and make it as elegant as possible. So to have that time, they really had respect for the time things take. In order to get a rich score, you need to be able to make sure it has enough breathing space.
SK: Can you talk to me about your earliest reactions to the film through the drawings and animatics? What were you thinking at that time would be the greatest challenge in scoring this film?
PD: Well, I mean obviously I felt a great pressure because I was going to represent my country and I knew that they would give it incredible love and care in terms of recreating it. I knew I had to give the same level of care and I do that normally anyways, but I suppose being a Pixar film was that great expectation. You know in HARRY POTTER I had this score after John Williams. There was pressure. So I’ve been in similar situations where I’ve had to had the battle handed to me. You can only take it as it comes and they were so friendly and so helpful and accommodating and encouraging, any kind of anxiety can easily be alleviated and dissipates. I knew at least visually what to expect, because they put up all of these pictures of Scotland that they had taken on their field trips, pieces of the landscape and geology and I remember when I walked in I felt incredibly homesick and that was their setup. (Laughs) I thought 'You get me on board!…' They completely got it to the T and I’m not joking, I said to them… They had all of these wonderful photographs and all of those images I saw throughout the whole movie, the mists, the loc, the hills, those incredible lakes and you know the rivers and I thought 'That is exactly what this film should look like,' so right away I thought 'My god, if this is the way that they are going to capture the country, this is going to be fantastic.'"
SK: Even though this music, and the subject matter, is very near and dear to your heart and you grew up listening to this music, was there an ample amount of studying and research involved on your part? What else did you do in order to get yourself prepared to score this movie?
PD: Well ironically I’ve never been asked to do a score set in Scotland in my career. A lot of the filmmakers were very surprised to hear that, so… I mean I have done films in Ireland where it is a similar culture, but I’ve never had to Scotland before. I knew it had to have a specific range. I did double check… So that was a strange thing I thought. Beyond the technicalities you’re restricted by the range I suppose, so I had to be careful as to what keys I was to choose. The tune at the games had jump from the key of B into B flat, but it has this dramatic impact/ It was a great opportunity to deal with it, also to create a thematic change, to raise the level of excitement and fun.
So I used that research to that advantage. The most famous Scottish sounds tend to be in the range of the bagpipes. They have very, very restricted ranges so all of the melodies were usually within the range of an octave.
There was a lot of research about the colored stones… I was familiar with that part of the world, but the “whelging” songs… These were work songs that are sung by… It’s still a part of tourism and that, but everything’s done by machines now, but they used to hand beat the woven tweet and this rhythm was sung in a capella by a group of women. It would be passed around and around while they hit on these boards. These songs would be maybe about a fisherman not coming back or whatever… I used a lot of “whelging” songs just to rekindle the fires.
SK: One of the things I really loved is that you used a traditional Scottish bagpipe. There’s a lot of films out there that deal with Scottish culture, but they always tend to use the Irish pipes, just because it’s a more versatile instrument to use musically. You even use some of the Irish pipes as well; however, you also use a healthy dose of traditional Scottish pipes which are very rare in film music. I thought that really added to the cinematic experience.
PD: Well, it was absolutely vital. I mean, the Irish pipes were used sparingly and used mainly because of the keys of bagpipes. I really needed a pipe sound. I was constrained by having to deal with the studio orchestra and an instrument that has heavy limitations. Sometimes you have to bend the rules. Whenever I could use them, I used Scottish bagpipes.
There is a group called "The Red Hot Chilli Pipers" who did a fantastic job. They are very young, in their twenties. There used to be an elegance to it, which is a generational thing. What they brought was very much informed by current hip-hop music or dance music. They had that so it's in the film as well as this melting pot of their abilities and lifetime experiences. They created a wonderful energy and rhythmic sort of fun to the whole thing.
SK: There are grand sweeping gestures of emotion all throughout your score; however I was especially impressed by the smaller, more subtle moments of the score. One of my favorite musical moments in the film is when Merida is following the wisps up to the witch's cottage. You composed these really light sparse chords in the strings that are just barely there. There's an overall level of delicacy that makes this score unique.
PD: Well I’m glad you say that. I remember I said to Mark Andrews… Very early on I said to Mark 'I really don’t want to overwhelm the gorgeous moving picture with a very dramatic storyline and strong characters… It’s an adventure story, action story… Yes, maybe I can hyperbolize some of it, but whenever I can, I would love just to let the imagery, which is so rich in detail, not be intruded upon.'
I saw what they did and I thought, 'I shouldn’t trump what somebody did already, if that’s even possible, I should just gently lead the audience through this wonderful variety of characterization and color and soundscape.' So we both worked very closely so we wouldn’t be standing on each other’s toes and that particular scene is… I just felt that the audience should just experience the stillness of that world, because I’ve been in those forests. I’ve heard the quietness and the stillness, so it was really based on those two things, but primarily it was to be delicate and to hear that solo violin come through all of this… or maybe it was just a harp and a whistle. I mean I listened to some early medieval Scottish court music and it’s not that dissimilar to English court music, because the two courts had people traveling back and forth and brought music to each of these cultures. To have these lovely Celtic players play that court music, it was a nice marriage of the earthiness of a harp.
SK: I think that’s one of those wonderful examples where your personal experience really shined. You could've given that film to fifty different composers and I don't know that they would have been able to bring that additional layer of personal experience to that scene. I felt the stillness you were referring to and felt like I was there.
PD: Well, I just thought it looked so beautiful on its own that I wanted to try and create the sort of hum of the forest. That’s why I used those chords and I made things out of simple major chords as well as slightly angular chords as well just to give this feel not of uneasiness, but of mystery, but to see this is both beautiful and mysterious, so the odd chord was a minor chord with some added notes to that and it’s slightly different and 'Is that too dangerous? Inventing a world that isn’t known very well?'"
SK: Were you collaborating a lot with the directors or were you on your own?
PD: No. Every single Tuesday night was our time. I got the music over there, but after that, every Tuesday evening for me we talked on what is called a polycom, which is like super duper high definition skype, and I would play my week’s work, they would give me their notes, and it would be, 'Love it, love it, love it. Can we change that?' It was always encouraging, always beautifully encouraging. So Mark would always give a very enthusiastic and clear notes. 'I love that, but can you do something slightly over there? Put that there…' So each week we would have a meeting, It was a very effortless process every single Tuesday night. It was a really healthy collaborative experience. I loved it.
SK: This is an extremely personal film for you. When you saw BRAVE completed for the first time, were those thoughts and feelings unique to other films you have scored? Walk me through your emotions when you finally saw the finished film.
PD: I saw the premiere when it was finally done. The Scottish First Minister was there at the premiere in Scotland. He was there and all the Scotts were in kilts and I’m watching a Pixar movie and here’s a guy who’s first film he ever saw on his own was FANTASIA. I was sitting there watching the end result of this incredible process with people who were so nice and treated me with such great respect and then to actually hear and see this wonderful Scottish story captured brilliantly by these people was very moving. I was extremely overwhelmed by it. I watched it again last night at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. It sounded fantastic. They did a good job and I just thought, 'Oh my God, that’s so fantastic!' I thought they had gone through so much trouble to honor the country and it’s a credit to them. I can’t believe I’ve been a part of it. It’s fantastic!
SK: You have had a really incredible couple years, scoring PLANET OF THE APES (2011), THOR (2011) and then now BRAVE. Is there any talk yet about you being on board for the next PLANET OF THE APES or even the next THOR movie?
PD: Well it’s being discussed at the moment. (Laughs) That’s all I can say. I’m having meetings with the directors, so that’s the hope.
SK: I really appreciate your time. It was a pleasure talking with you. Maybe we will cross paths again in the future.
PD: Thank you so much. Bye.
On behalf of Ain't It Cool News, I'd like to extend my deepest thanks to Patrick Doyle for taking time out of this schedule to speak with me. I'd love to do it again in the near future.