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Barnes composes score for movie Euphoria, sees Toccata: Act of War recorded

Lee Boot and Larry BarnesIt has been a busy and rewarding year for Transylvania music professor Larry Barnes, who composed his first movie score and saw another composition of his selected for an international recording and concert tour.

Like most movie fans, Barnes had always enjoyed movie scores and had even given scholarly thought to the purpose of music in a movie. But not until he got the chance to compose an original score did he come to understand and appreciate the subtleties of how movie music works, as well as the creative effort required to compose for the screen.

That opportunity came last summer when he was asked by director Lee Boot to compose a score for his feature-length film, Euphoria, a work in the documentary or information film tradition, but with innovative aesthetic values that make it more a work of art than most films in the genre. Euphoria had already won the Gold Medal at the Houston Film Festival in 2005 without a score, but Boot felt the right music could take the film to another level.

That’s when he got in touch with Barnes.

“Lee had heard me perform my music in Baltimore years ago and called to ask if I would review his film with the possibility of my adding a complete musical score,” Barnes said. “I was elated. I had wanted to compose for film for years.”

Euphoria was created to help people think about ways of achieving natural highs in their lives as opposed to the momentary highs that come from the use of drugs, even though the film never explicitly mentions drug use. That’s part of the aesthetic approach Boot uses, where metaphor and imagery combine with interesting facts from neuroscience, history, ecology, and other subject areas to focus on the positive aspects of a life of natural highs, instead of simply presenting a traditional anti-drug message.

Barnes’ role was to employ the standard goals of a movie score—to carry you through the scene, reinforce the mood of the scene, and give a film an image beyond what the visuals and dialogue can do alone—and apply them to a film that was innovative in its approach of breaking down the barriers of traditional documentary filmmaking.

“Music has more of a connection to a film than most of us realize,” Barnes said. “A composer for film can read between the sounds of dialogue and background sounds and ask, ‘What is it that I need to fill in here to create or enhance that atmosphere?’, so that someone watching the film can use the music as a form of continuity.”

After viewing the film, Barnes met with Boot in Baltimore to discuss scenes he would score. He then spent the summer and early fall of 2006 composing the music using computer technology and sending it to Boot as e-mail attachments. The two met again in October to mix the music into the film.

One lesson he learned, said Barnes, is that the director is in charge of all aspects of a film. “I had to remember that I was not the creator of this project, that I was a member of the team. The director gets the final say as to whether or not the music fits his aesthetic.”

The other project that came to fruition for Barnes this past year was the premiere performance and recording of his composition, Toccata: Act of War, which he had completed in 2002. He had begun the work before the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, but after that event he added “Act of War” to his title and let the mood of that time influence the finished piece.

“I was already writing a piece of music that had an uneasy, nervous, angry tone to it, so the title is in response to the 9/11 attacks, but also in response to the mood the piece was already creating,” Barnes said.

The composition was one of eight chosen from over 100 submissions to be included on an international concert tour and played by pianist Jeri-Mae Astolfi on a CD released earlier this year (www.capstonerecords.com). It also had its world premiere recording on a CD by Transylvania music professor Greg Partain (Click for details).

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