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Music and Media: The Art of Movies with Live Soundtrack

May 3rd, 2018

Keitaro’s interview with Fort Worth Symphony bassoonist Cara Owens was published on Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Newsletter. To read the full interview, please click here.

Maestro Harada —
We had the pleasure of working with you last month for our Fantasia concert, and are looking forward to your return to Fort Worth for this month’s Raiders of the Lost Ark performance.

Can you explain the technology involved in putting on a show like Raiders of the Lost Ark?

I will always have a visual monitor above my music stand which has the stopwatch, measure numbers, beats, streamers, punches, etc. In rehearsal I’m able to skip around different measures using an attached iPad. Or there is a staff member in the back of the hall who has the computer technology to cue up the visual to specific measures when I make the request.

Can you explain what streamers and punches are?

I am given a special video file to use for preparation and performance. The video has a counter at the top with measures and beats. There are flutters” (also called “flutter punches”or “references punches”) which are flashes on the screen, indicating a special place in the cue, but certainly not a tight sync point (dead hit). It is only a reference point for the conductor to know if he is ahead or behind.

There is also a streamer. The streamer crosses the screen from left to right, allowing the conductor to prepare for the sync point, and when the streamer reaches the end of the screen, a flash of light occurs at the exact frame where the sync point is placed.

In the past, musicians have used click tracks  — a metronome clicking the speed of the music in earpieces the musicians wear — to make sure the music they are playing lines up with the visuals.  You didn’t have us do that in Fantasia.  Can you tell us why, and how you are able to guarantee the music and movie synch correctly?

The click makes it impossible for me to let the orchestra sing. The click track takes away the ability to have the flexibility and to do the natural rubato. Without the click, the music is much more organic and it provides a freshness missing in the performances using a click track.

The reason I’m able to keep the orchestra in sync with the visual without the click is because of two things. (1) Having an amazing orchestra like Fort Worth Symphony who is able to move and adjust to the conductor very well. This orchestra plays for ballet and opera so it’s extremely fluid and I’m able to guide the ensemble with ease. (2) Gaining the trust from the orchestra in the first few minutes of the rehearsal as someone they are willing to take the journey together with.

Can you explain how you prepare for these performances?  The visual component added to your score preparation is something the greatest conductors in history didn’t have to be concerned about. 

I conduct a fair amount of opera so I’m used to adjusting in the moment to make sure the singer is always able to sing with ease. Breathing with them, anticipating, phrasing, while letting the orchestra comfortably play the music beautifully. The movie concert is like doing an opera with a singer that will do the exact same thing every single night.

I prepare the show by learning the score and watching the counters, streamers, punches on my computer screen. These streamers and punches are not always 100% in sync with what happens in the movie, which is a bit of a nightmare. So I leave notes on my score where to trust or ignore them in the actual performance so that our playing matches exactly what the audience remembers from watching the movie.

There are always moments where I could be absolutely perfect when I practice at home but in real life the acoustic of the hall or the natural tendency of the orchestra fluctuates with what I had practiced. However, that is the beauty of live music and I enjoy the process of understanding how the orchestra plays naturally, and adjusting my gestures to fit the movie.

To read the full interview, please click here.