Vet composers try their hand at something different this year

Craig Armstrong has collaborated with musicians such as U2 and Madonna, and filmmakers like Baz Luhrmann and Phillip Noyce, but working on the score for “Love Actually” presented one of the biggest challenges.

For one thing, “Love Actually,” Richard Curtis’ directorial debut, is the first laffer Armstrong has scored. “It’s really quite difficult,” he says laughing.

“Working with comedy is actually very technical. One moment the audience is laughing; the next you’re trying to move them emotionally.”

He’s not the only one trying something new this year. Paris-based composer Alexandre Desplat scored his first studio pic, “The Girl With the Pearl Earring.”

Working with tyro director Peter Webber, Desplat opted for a sinuous, contemporary score combining the stately minimalism of Steve Reich, the jaunty melodies of French composers such as Georges Delerue and the lurking moodiness of Bernard Herrmann.

He says his music treats sound the way the artist Vermeer used paint: “to bring tone, color and light” to the images.

“The movie recreates Vermeer’s time and place so beautifully, that for the music also to do it would have been too much,” Desplat says explaining why he avoided the sounds of 17th century Holland.

Going in the other direction, the sounds of Italy are very much present in “Under the Tuscan Sun.”

Christophe Beck, who shifted to composing for film after several years of working in television, says, “Italy is never really far away from the score.”

Pic about a San Francisco woman who moves to Tuscany after a divorce, needed to have contempo and old Europe sounds.

Although echoes of the scores Nino Rota composed for Fellini films can be heard, Beck says he was after music that sounded “beautiful, fragmented, very textured,” in which mandolins and other solo instruments give a hint of the locale.

“Under the Tuscan Sun” is the second pic Beck has scored for director Audrey Wells. His familiarity with Wells made the project both easier and more difficult.

The hard part is that working with someone a second time brings a “pressure to top yourself, which is a good pressure,” Beck says. The expectation is “you’ll do something that much better than before, so you have to work a little harder to wow the person you’re working with.”

On the other hand, Beck and Wells developed a kind of creative shorthand.

“It takes a lot of guesswork out,” he says. “There’s a really nice feeling of not having to second-guess yourself. We both knew what kinds of sounds we both really like.”

Armstrong is confident the “Love Actually” score works because even now, after he’s seen the pic a couple of hundred times, certain scenes “still crack me up.”

This despite the ex plot involving each pair of lovers with their own theme.

“Right from the beginning” the 45-year-old Armstrong knew “the job of the score was to connect things,” which meant the themes had to be “very disparate dramatic devices,” but at the end of the picture “they had to play together.”

Plus, he had to include Beatles tunes and the Troggs’ “Love Is All Around.” He compared the process of coming up with music that fit these criteria to “taking a fugue apart.”

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