Jazz Australia Interview
Ben Gurton’s brand new album Prelude To A Scene is inspired by film music, minimalism, ECM Records and much more. In his first album featuring all original music, we take time to chat about the process.
JK: How did you first get interested in music and playing the trombone?
BG: I remember being taken to see the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra play a ‘Meet The Orchestra’ concert in about year 3 and since that moment decided that I wanted to play the trombone. I ended up starting in year 5 which involved having some rules bent as student weren’t supposed to start until year 6. That’s changed these days!
JK: Please tell us about some of the early bands you played in and any memorable anecdotes.
BG: While studying at the Conservatorium in Adelaide in the early ‘90s I started playing with an Acid-Jazz band called Crisp. I think our second gig was playing an album launch for a UK band Mother Earth. Word got back to the actual ‘Acid Jazz’ record label in London (who at the time had just released The Brand New Heavies and Jamiroquai’s first album) that we were pretty good. Within a few months of us forming Eddie Piller the head of Acid Jazz Records had flown to Adelaide to sign us and produce our first album. In true 19 year old fashion we told him that our vision was not aligned with his and sent him packing back to London! Crisp went on to become pretty successful in Adelaide playing the first Big Day Out, Triple J’s ‘Live at the Wireless’ and touring Australia. However our singer Sia Furler has gone on to take over the world!
JK: What are your most recent collaborations?
BG: I have always enjoyed working in many styles of music, of trying to be a chameleon in those styles. I strive to be completely selfless to the needs of the music I am playing at that moment. For example if an audience member saw me playing in a ‘latin’ band they hopefully believe that I am solely a ‘latin’ player. In the last year I have toured with New York composer Darcy Argue and Maria Schneider with the Mothership Orchestra through New Zealand and Australia, played for the musical The Lion King, recorded tracks for Guy Sebastian’s latest album Madness, played at the Sydney Opera House with The Heritage Orchestra from the U.K. and also Anthony Warlow and Faith Prince, played in big bands led by Dan Barnett, James Morrison and performed a solo concert playing the role of Tommy Dorsey.
JK: How did your interest in film scores begin?
BG: I first became interested in film music through my idolisation of the session musicians who record the soundtracks in L.A. For me they are some of the greatest musicians in the world. As a result I ended up listening to and falling in love with a lot of film music. However I was always intimidated by the ‘pen, manuscript and piano’ process of composition itself. It was the arrival of computer writing programs that allowed me into the world of composition.
JK: Do have any favourite composers within this genre?
BG: There are many great composers but current favourites would be; Mark Isham, Alberto Iglesias, Carter Burwell and James Newton Howard. And of course John Williams who is an amazing composer, in many more styles than he is usually credited for. Of Australian composers pretty much anything done by Cezary Skubiszewski is superb. Everything he writes is beautiful, even when it’s ugly.
JK: Any favourite films where both the content and the score really strikes a chord?
BG: I thought Phillip Glass’ score for Notes On A Scandal was fantastic as it was inevitably Phillip Glass but it still worked perfectly against the film. He has created such a defined and noticeable style that it must be hard for him to be subservient to the film, in this he does it brilliantly. Trent Reznor’s first ever film score for The Social Network worked perfectly with a style of music that probably no one else would have come up with as the musical solution for this film. Thomas Newman for Revolutionary Road does a fantastic job of creating a soundscape that enhances everything onscreen without giving any of it away or dictating the emotion. It never leads the audience, which is hard to do.
JK: Do you see yourself composing music for feature films in the future?
BG: I would certainly enjoy the opportunity. It is a very tough world though and one going through a lot of change at the moment. New technologies are changing many of the skills required. However I enjoy working collaboratively and find the constraints of writing to film and theatre far more inspiring than the blank page of writing music for myself! I have just finished composing music for a new short film by Sydney film-maker Graeme Robertson called Backspace which is looking and hopefully sounding beautiful.
JK: Can you briefly describe the recording process of Prelude To A Scene (in lay terms)?
BG: I wanted to create the best environment for the musicians to feel comfortable and inspired by the sound in the room. I wanted them to mix the album within the space at the time of recording. This meant not being in separate rooms and not wearing headphones but listening and crafting the sound in the space, then recording that and doing very little to it afterwards in terms of adding reverb or studio trickery. In the classical word this is normal, in the jazz world less so. We placed two microphones in the centre of the room with the musicians surrounding it. The majority of the final sound is from here with close mic’ing of the instrument merely capturing the details. It has always seemed strange to me that microphones are placed within inches of instruments when no one would put their ears in that position. An instrument needs space to develop its sound and are designed to be heard from some distance, thus the dominant sound in my album is from the centre microphones.
JK: How would you describe the end result?
BG: I think it sounds different to certainly many jazz albums. It doesn’t jump out at the listener, it hopefully invites the listener to come to it. If you turn up the volume you realise that all the details in the recording are there but may need discovering. As it has almost no compression the dynamic range is true to real life rather than all the sounds being laid out at the same volume ie. compression. It is my hope to transport the listener to the centre of the room when we played. I have always wanted to play the trombone beautifully and to maybe change some people’s minds about what a trombone can sound like. The album isn’t designed to be a feature of my trombone playing but it’s nice to show it in a light that it is not often seen in.
JK: The album could easily be a soundtrack for a movie – might sound like a wild question, but if you could nominate a movie concept to fit the soundtrack what would it be – or would you have a particular director or genre in mind?
BG: Definitely something European and moody! How about a Terence Malick directed film-noir, set in Norway, possibly with some brooding brunette with bright red lips who is troubled