Dallas Chamber Symphony Performs Chaplin’s “The Kid” with a new score by Craig Safan

Tuesday at Dallas City Performance Hall, the Dallas Chamber Symphony continued its highly commendable series of silent cinema from the 1920s accompanied by new, live music. This time around, one of the masterpieces of that era, Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, met up with new music specially composed by Craig Safan (whose long list of credits includes Stand and Deliver and The Last Starfighter, to name only two) for an event that was both revelatory and unforgettable.

Working with a small acoustic orchestra of barely more than a dozen players—in contrast to the vast digital and symphonic resources available in Hollywood today—composer Safan creates a sound world to match Chaplin’s epic emotional range. Appropriately, Safan evokes, without slavishly imitating, the rhythms and energy of ragtime and Gershwin-esque, 1920s jazz; obvious but effective appropriations include Chopin’s Funeral March, “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay,” “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds,” and “There’s No Place Like Home.” Still more significant and admirable are Safan’s creation of several broadly emotional melodic motifs, winding their way meaningfully through Chaplin’s plot, as well as his striking use of silence. No swooping violins when child-star Jackie Coogan pleads; masterful Hollywood hand Safan, experienced with intergalactic battles and epic car chases, knows exactly when to let what’s happening on the screen speak for itself.

Musica de Cine Blog Reviews Rough Magic

Read it in Spanish:

I know atonal music is not melodic and not especially liked by film music fans, but it should not always be vilified.  There are many works written in this style that are perfectly listenable and have great orchestral quality.  Take the works of Toru Takemitsu or Gyorgy Ligeti whose compositions have been performed in the most prestigious concert halls and have attained the status of masterpieces.

The concept for the composition of “Rough Magic” came to Craig Safan while visiting the prehistoric caves of the old continent, especially here in Spain.  From this ancestral inspiration Safan wrote an atonal score in which the synthesizer, flute, percussion, and brass approach the sounds of these ancient worlds and those who passed before us.  It does so with a very successful, diverse, and at times mystical language.

In the piece “Make The Sun Dance”, the flute is used along with sharp percussion and other elements, such as the synthesizer, creating an extremely dynamic ambience. Voices take on a highly visible importance as the work progresses, at times dark, fitting perfectly with the other primitive sounds.  Craig develops this “sound palette” throughout the entire composition, at times reminiscent of Horner’s score to the Mel Gibson film “Apocalypto” (2006).

As I said, this music is difficult to listen to for the aficionados who know the more melodic work of this composer, but if they listen attentively they will see that this is a work of exceptional quality which captures the amazing strength and simplicity, at times clothed in a halo of mysticism, of these primitive humans.  I think and believe, as Safan does, that our ancestors had a special connection to all of nature.  They knew how to both listen and communicate with her.  I don’t know if you could call it a gift, but it is certainly something which we have lost through the passage of time.

The disk has been edited by Perseverance Records.  It is 48 minutes long made up of 13 pieces.

I recommend it… You will find another Safan, totally distinct from the one you are accustomed to, but equally interesting.

Fanfare Magazine reviews Rough Magic

Composer Craig Safan, who has a background in film music, here embarks on an ambitious project: to take listeners “back into the distant past, into the minds and visions of early man and his most instinctual evocations of experience and sprirituality”. Taking sounds from caves visited by the composer in France and Spain, plus samples from obscure instruments and selecting liberally from his own library of sonic effects, Safan created Rough Magic, 13 tracks composed in his Southern California studio. Any orchestral instruments are distorted to conceal their essence. Safan sees himself as painting with sound, and it is the more diffuse movements, such as “The Blind Cave of Eternal Night”, that this comes into its own.

The primal, deep rhythms of the fourth movement, “The Crack of Doom” are highly effective; the emptier gestures of the next section “A Spell of Much Power”, seem to belong more to film or even video game music. There is a hypnotic element to some of this music–the strange repetitions of “A Pair of Strange Beasts”, the seventh section for example–that implies shamanic trance (and with it, one must assume, shamanic journeying), something continued in the very next movement, “We Hunt for Death”, wherein tribal voices are introduced.

The sheer expansiveness of “Astonish and Transform”, the thirteenth section, with its percussive effects of what may or may not be struck bone, has an effect that is somewhat akin to a Birtwistle processional minus grinding dissonances. The final movement, like the disc entitled “Rough Magic”, finds Safan using his gamut of techniques to raise excitement. Technically, the disc is impeccable, found sounds dovetailing with electronics and recognizable instruments.

This musical reaction to paintings which may well be some 40,000 years old is impressive on many levels, for while one might readily identify filmic tropes here, the fact is that Safan has maintained the raw (rough) energy of ancient peoples and their spirituality/shamanism. Perhaps the World needs to be reminded of these roots of natural power.

Colin Clarke

Perseverance Records releases Craig Safan’s new album “Rough Magic: Music Inspired by the Paleolithic Cave Paintings of Europe”

Craig Safan’s first “non-filmscore” release.   Music based on his impressions of the cave paintings of Paleolithic Europe.  Here are Safan’s liner notes:

I’ve been fascinated by mythology since I was six years old.  I can remember sitting for hours in the school library looking through books of Greek Myths, entranced.  Summers spent in Laredo, Texas turned into extensive fossil hunting expeditions, chipping rock-hard shells out of the ancient sea bed surrounding the Rio Grande . This led to rock collections, shell collections, and a love of all things old and, in my mind, filled with magic. By the time I was in college I was reading Joseph Campbell and was further drawn into the world of ancient people and how they thought.  I was especially taken by the amazing drawings and paintings of early humans and started visiting Paleolithic cave sites in 1979.  I have never stopped reading about and being fascinated by this sacred art.

For many years I have wanted to take my love of Paleolithic art and ancient myth and translate it into a musical form.   ROUGH MAGIC is the final outcome.

Being a pictorial composer I tend to see music in visual terms… what used to be called “programmatic music”.  Each piece in ROUGH MAGIC is based on a specific scenario and in that way the work is somewhat like a ballet built on thirteen scenes.  The titles allude to these stories but not in an overly detailed a way, leaving much to the listener’s imagination.

I visited many Paleolithic cave sites in France and Spain in preparation of writing this piece.  I traveled with a digital recorder and captured many ambient sounds in the caves.  In fact all the reverbs used were modeled using the echoes I recorded in specific caves.  Voices, footsteps, breaths, rocks, handclaps, whistles, and even stalactites being struck; all were turned into the various instruments I used performing the music.

This piece is in not meant to sound as music did 25,000 year ago.  There’s really no way to know what music sounded like back then.  We know something about the instruments used by early humans, but only about the ones that have survived, mainly bone whistles and flutes (which are reproduced in several of the tracks).  Anything made of wood has disintegrated long ago. Primitive instruments seen in various tribal societies around the world today usually include drums, logs, rocks, sticks, rattles made of seeds, gourds, and insect larva, hand claps, bullroarers, bone whistles, jawbones, and lots of vocal sounds, foot stomps, and chanting.  We also find that many of these instruments were only used by the shamans who would use the sounds as a means to go into a trance and travel to the spirit world.  I tried to incorporate all of this and more into my music.

I hope ROUGH MAGIC is as evocative of a timeless, ancient place and its magic for you as it has been for me.

Craig Safan 2015