Hear My Eyes: Good Time
A film’s score has the unique ability to reveal what remains hidden, blurred and obscured. With its sensorial focus, a score invites us to bear witness to the inner thoughts and lives of others. It bridges the gap between the real and the unreal. It draws imaginary worlds into being.
For Haydn Green (film programmer and curator), cinema is the place where sight and sound collide. His love of music came first. His love of film quickly followed. Since 2015, Green has been at the helm of Hear My Eyes, a Melbourne-based creative project that commissions contemporary musicians to write new scores for pre-existing works of cinema. Over the years, Green and his team have produced dozens of live performances across the country, regularly partnering with some of Australia’s largest festivals and venues to realise boundary-pushing events.
When to Be Magazine caught up with Green on a Tuesday afternoon in late May, he was preparing for his upcoming event with Big Yawn and Teether. This time around, Hear My Eyes partnered with RISING and Melbourne Recital Centre to re-score the Safdie Brothers’ neo-realist 2017 crime classic Good Time.
Jasmine Penman: Hi Haydn, how are you?
Haydn Green: I’m good, how are you?
JP: I’m doing well. What have you been up to?
HG: My friend and I recently built a sauna in the backyard. I’ve been feeling a little more relaxed over the last couple of weeks; I’ve been ending my days with an hour-long session in the heat.
JP: Luxe living.
HG: It’s only a small one, but yeah, it’s been good for my mental health because there’s a lot going on. We’re in the leadup to our two shows at the Melbourne Recital Centre.
JP: I know, I’m really excited to see the show next week. But before we get into that, I wanted to ask you about the concept of Hear My Eyes. Where did it all start?
HG: It was an evolution of different things I’d seen over the years. I’ve been to numerous live score events over the years, but then when I was living in Berlin, I went to an event that was quite impactful. It was a screening of Metropolis, a German silent film from the 1920s directed by Fritz Lang. It goes for about three hours. It’s an incredible film. Like all silent films though, it’s quite dated and jarring. It’s definitely beautiful and unique in its own way, but personally, I don’t relate to silent films that much. Anyway, at the event, they had two screenings back-to-back. The first one was accompanied by a live score performed by a classical pianist and it cost €100. The second screening was a late-night session that had a DJ playing the score and it was only €10. I was in my early twenties and didn’t have much money, so I bought tickets to the second screening. And it just really opened up my eyes to the idea of recontextualising cinema.
Obviously the instrument that the DJ was using and the style of music that he was playing hadn’t been invented until decades after the film was produced, but the textures and tones really connected with the film. Especially since Metropolis was very much about industrial-era Germany. A lot of it was shot in factories with lots of machinery in the background. This harsh, industrial German techno music worked with the film. It was a seminal experience for me.
I don’t think I came up with the idea for Hear My Eyes very spontaneously. I had multiple ideas mounting in my head. But when I moved back to Melbourne, I realised that I wasn’t seeing many live score performances that were being created by contemporary musicians and touring artists. That’s when I saw an opportunity for Hear My Eyes.
JP: What came first, your love of film or your love of music?
HG: Music. I grew up in a house full of music. My parents are musicians. Dad was a drummer and mum was a singer in a kind of Fleetwood Mac-esque style band during the 1970s. I’ve got two older brothers, so we were all playing the piano and the drums and singing. I was also a DJ for a number of years in my early twenties.
I’ve always enjoyed movies, but my upbringing in cinema was kind of non-existent. My parents aren’t cinephiles at all. It was during my late teens and during university (when I studied cinema studies) that I became completely addicted to film. For many, many years I was watching a film or two a day–across different genres, different eras and different styles.
JP: When you were first starting out, was it difficult to convince filmmakers to participate in these events? I would imagine that some filmmakers would feel quite protective over their original scores, at least at first.
HG: Absolutely. It’s a divided camp. I’ve had every kind of reaction. There are some people who almost feel insulted by the request. Some people think that these projects are unnecessary and offensive to the original works. I mean, I always try to plead my case and help people understand that I’m doing this as a love letter to their works, and because I want to bring films (especially old ones) to new audiences. And they always come around once they understand my intentions. I’ve never had a bad experience with anyone and I’ve never had anyone leave on bad terms. But you know, there are still plenty of people who have said ‘no’.
On the other hand, there are plenty of other filmmakers who get really excited about the idea of offering their works up for interpretation. The Safdie Brothers, for example, were on board immediately. Benny Safdie said that they contemplated many different approaches to the score for Good Time. They eventually landed on one, but they were excited about the opportunity to present the work in a different direction.
JP: I personally love the concept of recontextualising films for new audiences. I think that cinema, like every other art form, should be open to innovation. Do you think that the medium of film lends itself well to reinterpretation and reinvention?
HG: Film is quite static. It’s the most industrial art form out there. You know, in blockbusters, you’re dealing with thousands of people working on a film. And once it’s finished, it’s not reinterpreted or recontextualised very often. It’s just too hard to do. There are just so many elements and so many moving parts that are really set in place once you reach the final edit. I know that people are doing lots of interesting visual work in the art space, especially in galleries. That’s where cinema gets recontextualised more often–on a renegade level. But for an official project, it’s pretty hard to do stuff with film. It’s very hard to tweak or change an element of film on a technical level.
JP: Have you found that to be the case with your previous projects?
HG: Yeah, when we did Pan’s Labyrinth, that was quite hard. In production, they used a lot of analogue equipment so we had to dig out the original reels from the Warner Brothers’ archives in LA. Same with Two Hands. We had to go to the National Film & Sound Archive to get the original analogue reels. They actually digitised these for us for the first time so that we could do the project.
JP: Okay, let’s talk about your upcoming event at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 9 June. Big Yawn and Teether will be re-scoring the Safdie Brothers’ very chaotic crime film, Good Time. Tell me about how this project came into fruition.
HG: I’m a huge fan of the Safdie Brothers. I’ve watched all of their films a number of times. A lot of people are familiar with Uncut Gems because of how accessible it is through Netflix, but Good Time has always been my favourite. The delivery from the actors is just so nuanced and accurate and raw. There are so many subtle critiques on living in the post-Trump world of materialism and capitalism and excess. It’s about living in a society that stands on the throats of the working class and the people who can’t rise above the economic divide that’s been set up for them. It’s such a powerful work. And on top of all of that, it’s also really entertaining. There’s so much momentum. The first twenty minutes of that film just fly by. It almost feels like you’re watching one scene the entire time. I was introduced to Benny Safdie via email through a colleague, and I was able to pitch the idea to him directly.
JP: That’s pretty amazing.
HG: Yeah, well he wrote back and said that he was really excited and would love to be involved in the project. From there, Benny very much left us to our own devices. They’re both incredibly busy. They’re very supportive, but they don’t have the time to be actively involved in this production. I’ll definitely send the audio over to them after the event to see what they think.
JP: How did you pitch this project to them?
HG: The pitch was to create a score that was centred around a drum kit, organic rhythms and textures. I really love Big Yawn [Melbourne-based electronic quartet]. They’re an incredible act. You have Kinlay Denning on the drum kit and he’s a powerhouse. He has an amazing ability to create these syncopated beats and rhythms that are just very unusual but incredibly tight. It’s like you’re listening to drum and electronic bass samples.
JP: I also love the idea of incorporating rap into the score.
HG: When I had Sampa the Great re-score Girlhood, that was very exciting, but it was also a bit of an experiment. I wasn’t sure if having spoken-word lyrics and rap in a live film score would work. I didn’t know if it was going to be too distracting or if it would clash with the film, but I found it to be a huge success. I found it to be incredibly effective to have a rapper on stage. It creates a really exciting presence. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to work with another lyricist. I’ve been listening to Teether a lot over the last couple of years. He’s such an amazing musician, so he was a great choice for this project. Big Yawn and Teether hadn’t met before so it’s really exciting that we were able to collaborate. I remember Kinlay saying that they all felt like kindred spirits.
JP: Having followed both Big Yawn and Teether for a while now, I was really excited to see that they were going to be involved in this project. The pairing feels so right. How do you go about finding the right musicians for your projects? Can you talk me through the process?
HG: The process starts with the film. I choose a movie that I think is appropriate to recontextualise and then I ask myself why I want to recontextualise it and what direction I’d like to take it in. For Good Time, it was about pushing the score towards a drum kit and organic rhythms, as well as a lyricist. Once I land on a direction, I just work from there.
In terms of how I actually select the musicians, I guess that’s the fun part. It’s really whatever I’ve been listening to and whatever’s been catching my attention. Since I’m so involved in the creative development of these events, I don’t think that I would ever curate an event with an artist that I’m not really excited to work with. Hear My Eyes is doing well but I could easily take the concept further if I chose more mainstream films and more mainstream musicians. But I’m not doing this to get really big or to make lots of money; I’m doing it because I want to make legitimate art that I’m proud of. I guess it’s always going to be centred around the people who I think are really pushing the boundaries creatively. I want to work with musicians who have their finger on the pulse.
JP: To what extent are these performances improvised? I read that Gareth Liddiard and Mick Harvey hadn’t written anything five days out from their Hear My Eyes performance for Andrew Dominik’s Chopper.
HG: Yeah, that’s right. I would say that it depends on the project. There are usually some elements of improvisation. I mean, when working with acts like Mick Turner from Dirty Three and Tropical Fuck Storm there was definitely room for improvisation. That being said, we’re always improvising within a framework. The style of the songs, the tempo, the emotional tone is all set in stone. The improvisation happens through the rhythms and the entry/exit points. And the energy. But, I would say that overall, these events aren’t improvised. There’s space to improvise, but a full improvisation would end up being messy.
JP: I think that having the freedom to improvise, though, really differentiates Hear My Eyes events from other live score performances. Like orchestral performances, for example.
HG: Oh, absolutely. Improvisation is a skill that many classical musicians haven’t had to acquire. So yeah, you’re absolutely right, the energy is different. Hear My Eyes events are closer to a gig. They ride more on energy and collaboration rather than sheet music or pre-written music.
JP: You work with a large team to develop and execute these events. There are, of course, the filmmakers, but then there are all the musicians and producers and sound engineers who also play really significant roles in these projects. What does creative collaboration mean to you?
HG: It sounds kind of boring but I feel like it’s about respect and being able to listen to people. If you know how to read the room and you’re empathetic and you’re able to connect with other people socially, then you’re going to be able to work with others creatively.
JP: Finally, I want to hear about your vision for Hear My Eyes. What are your hopes for this project moving forwards?
HG: Yeah, it’s an interesting one, isn’t it? I never really know. I’ve been doing this for eight years now. I mean, I’ve always said that I’ve just wanted to be able to work with any filmmaker I want and any musician I want. It sounds crazy, but that would be the dream, right? To have access to the films that you love the most and to be able to work with incredible musicians. And if you’re able to do that and you’re able to bring in international acts, then you’d be able to do shows in different cities around the world. That would be cool. I don’t know if the idea resonates with enough people, though. These shows are still quite niche. But yeah, I’d love to be able to work with some idol musicians and films that are a bit more guarded. That being said, I’d also be very happy to continue putting on off-beat, unique events around Australia.
See Hear My Eyes perform at Melbourne Recital Centre Friday 9 June. Tickets available here
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