My autumn calendar had already been shaping up to be a busy one. Finishing the Low City EP, chamber music performances, sitting in with Arcade Fire, and even writing some jazz for a stop motion short film shot with Google Glass. Then James Murphy came over.
We’d been texting a bit over the summer, and it began with him asking about playing piano on a Bowie remix (I didn’t end up doing it, but wow!) Then the conversation morphed into James saying “so I’m doing the music for this Mike Nichols play…Betrayal”. He’d been hired to write interstitial music for the brilliantly painful play by Harold Pinter, which was opening on Broadway the following month. The play had an exceptional three person cast comprised of Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Rafe Spall, and James asked if I would be interested in working on it with him. I said yes.
Twenty-four hours later I found myself up at Lincoln Center to watch an early run-through of the play. The actors were not in costume, temporary sets had been erected, and scripts were scattered across the floor. It was rough and raw, but absolutely thrilling. Like witnessing the birth of a song destined to become a classic. After rehearsal we had a meeting with Mike Nichols and Scott Rudin to discuss the musical direction, and then headed down to DFA to get started.
One of the great things about working with James, aside from being a talented musician with incredible ears, is that he’s truly old school. In the best sense of the word. In recent years I’ve grown accustomed to using sample libraries and plugins not only as composition tools, but often to create unique sounds with speed and ease. It’s a great way to hear a mock up of what things might end up sounding like. When I told James about this he said, “I just can’t do it. It breaks my heart.” His idea was that we would sit in a room together, go over some of his sketches, and then just play. No samples, no plugins. When it came time to record, we performed in the same room at the same time. James on a little wonky upright piano, me on my cello.
We were both juggling Betrayal with various other projects and the process ended up taking much longer than either of us thought it probably would. There were stops and starts, B sides, taco breaks, and lost weekends in the studio. But the end result was something that provided great satisfaction to both of us, creating and playing music together, and taking the time to make it real. It added a human and emotional element to the play’s music that no computer ever could, and I was thankful for it.
Oh yeah, and getting to work with Mike Nichols? Humbled and honored are the only words that come to mind.