The Caped Crusaders Composers: Graeme Revell - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Caped Crusaders Composers: Graeme Revell

Chris Morley takes a trip to Gotham.
We come now to the most recent small-screen retelling of the Bat-myth in Gotham, music courtesy of New Zealander Graeme Revell whose career in scoring for film & television came after an initial interest in music therapy born out of a spell as an orderly at an Australian mental health facility!

During his time working there he founded the band SPK alongside one of the patients.
“It seemed like I was wasting my time in my first grad job, so I thought I’d go and work in a mental asylum instead. At least I could help somebody. At the end of the day if I’d cleaned up their crap for them, they might have a slight smile on their face and I’d achieved something.

There was one little boutique store somewhere in central Melbourne and it was run by a German guy who had all these records. And I go hungry for a week just so I could buy one more slab of vinyl and haul them all back to New Zealand. And that’s how I found out about Can, Neu!, Faust, Harmonia, Cluster... So that was really how I got the inspiration out of nowhere to start off, and it wasn’t until later on that I found out there were a few other groups that were similarly inspired.”

Though his first synthesiser was less than sophisticated by his own recollection!
“It was called an EMS synthesizer and it was the synthesizer that did the very first Doctor Who series. The theme song and so on – it actually looked like an old telegraph set-up, where you’d have pins that you’d set up in a matrix and they’d oscillate, and the various filters and so on.

And they didn’t even have plug-in cords – that was the next breed. But that to me was the most amazing thing – I began to create the most nasty sounds on Earth, and this is what I’d always wanted to do. “

Active in SPK for around eight years between 1981-88, Revell then moved into film scoring on Dead Calm the following year. In a sense he borrowed from his old band here, as his work on Philip Noyce's psychological thriller lifted elements from the SPK single In Flagrante Delicto.

It also saw him upgrade on the synthesiser front too!
“I blagged my way into a record company – I represented myself, I managed to convince Warner Brothers to give me enough money to do the record, which I didn’t spend any money on, and it shows. I bought a Fairlight and a house instead.

The Fairlight was $35,000, which was about a third of what I got from the record company. But then immediately when I got my hand on it, it was amazing.

Finally,I could realize the things in my head that I couldn’t even get close to with the analogue synthesisers. That was just a massive step up: being right there at the change from analogue to digital, basically. And from then on, the things that I found I could do really fit in to the desire I had for soundtracks.”
Gotham being his most recent to date of nine such commissions for TV.

Revell's career has predominantly been in composing for the bigger screen; From Dusk Till Dawn, Spawn, The Craft, Pitch Black, Titan A.E., Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Sin City and ├ćon Flux featuring among his many movie compositions. Given the longevity of his career, it might come as a surprise to learn that he doesn't hold the music for movies in too high a regard!
“Here’s my attitude, and I’m sort of sorry to say this sometimes – but there are people who try and elevate film music - of all kinds – to being the great twentieth century classical music, and my opinion is it just isn’t. It’s very straightforward, major/minor or modal writing.

The only time you get any kind of originality is usually in the timbres and the sounds and the mixture of elements. But to get through a scene it’s either happy, or sad – and it’s either going forward in action or it’s not – and it can be ironic, which means you’ve got to switch from major to minor frequently. But it’s not rocket science.

It’s a lot of skills – a lot of political skills, frankly. It’s being in a room and playing off fifty opinions from studios, producers, directors, sometimes actors – and coming out the end with something that vaguely represents music. And frequently it doesn’t. The minute you try to get original or break the box – unless you’ve got either a very experimental or powerful director, it’s probably not going to happen.”
Nevertheless,it didn't stop Revell from working with David Twohy across the Riddick series & Below, his most frequent collaborator across an extensive run of Nineties/Noughties projects. And yet something in him harbours a certain guilt at not being able to conform to what his educational background was preparing him for, by his own estimation.
“I feel just as much compulsion to be an architect, for example, as I do a musician. And I feel inestimably guilty that I cannot fulfil the vocation for which I was trained - that of an economist specialising in problems of underdevelopment. My sadness stems from the fact that I do not have several lifetimes to lead. 

I guess that old disciplinarian model of education actually has its plusses. If you decide to be something as foolish as a musician or an artist and a writer and you effectively don’t really have a job, then the self-discipline you need to be able to work for about ten years for no remuneration whatsoever comes in handy.”
An eventual BA in political science & economics offering little indication of the path Revell would take, and what he sees as certain personality traits carried over to Hollywood from his homeland not helping either, at least in his eyes.
“We’re not very demonstrative on the whole. When I first came here, I’d be sitting there quietly listening and translating what they were saying, and I was already hearing the music for their film. After about half an hour, they’d be saying, "Hey, are you really into this? You don’t seem remotely interested.

So, there was that one. And I don’t know if it’s personal, or a New Zealand characteristic, but I don’t really suffer fools gladly very well. So I will tend to let that show. Whereas somebody more skilled might not. And they can pick up on my derision quite quickly.

And the third thing – I guess it’s a corollary of not being all that demonstrative – I find a lot of movie scenes to be complete schlock, and when they’re asking for the music to also be that, you’ve just got double schlock at the end of the day.”
Some might say, though, schlock is perfect for Batman after its Sixties beginnings. And Gotham is but an edgier retelling.

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