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Grappling With Tone & Weight Of History

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Wednesday November 21, 2018

From Deadline

Composer Terence Blanchard Grapples With Tone & Weight Of History On ‘BlacKkKlansman’
By: Matt Grobar

Spike Lee’s go-to composer since Mo’ Better Blues hit theaters 28 years ago, Terence Blanchard knows the realities of longtime creative partnerships—the way in which the challenges that present themselves on projects change over time. It’s been a long time since Blanchard has had to have so much as an extended conversation with the director, and when BlacKkKlansman came around, the challenge became one of managing tone. Based on a 2014 memoir by Ron Stallworth—the first African-American police officer in the Colorado Springs bureau—the comedic drama watches as its hero infiltrates the KKK, in a plot so bizarre, the composer thought, early on, that he was reading a piece of fiction. Working on a ‘70s-set production, Blanchard didn’t think about period indications when it came to his music. “One of the things with Spike’s movies is that the music takes on a narrative role, and I don’t have to worry so much about those types of things,” he explains. Instead, Blanchard would contemplate a tricky balance of musical color, demonstrating respect for Stallworth and his experiences, and seeking genuine emotion, without going over the top.

Do you think of this score as working in different modes? It seems to gravitate to different areas at different times, including sweeping orchestral pieces, jazz, blues and funk.

It’s funny, man. I’m at a point now where I don’t look at them as being separate; I look at them as being just another color. The key to it all, in my estimation, is to not get any of those things to try to do something that they’re not strong at. I’m not going to try to get the orchestra to swing, and I’m not going to try to get the electric band to play the way an orchestra would play, but understand both things and use them for their strengths. That comes with experience. I feel like I’m getting to a point in my career where I’ve done so many different types of things, where I could bring all these elements in and recognize a situation and say, “Oh man, you know what? I could really use that pulsating rhythm here for this, and then use the orchestra around it, and shade it in such a way. Then, when we come out of it, I’ll let the band pause, and have some transitional things, and let the guitarist play over it, and then we’ll sweep right into an orchestrated thing for the rest of the scene.” That’s how my mind works, when working on some of these things. With a lot of it, it’s the transitions that become more important, how you get in and out of those things.

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