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Zildjian Artist Paul Clarvis

Working Music Magic for "Harry Potter" and Other Film Scores - Meet Paul Clarvis

Zildjian Artist talks about playing the scores to hundreds of films

Harry Potter, a series of seven fantasy novels, which have sold over 450 million copies and have been translated into sixty-seven languages, have made records for the fastest selling books in history – the novels have been brought to life by the movies, here UK Artist Paul Clarvis talks about working in the music industry, specifically on film scores.

"There have been eight "Harry Potter" films and over the years, four different composers on the films: John Williams, Nick Hooper, Patrick Doyle and Alexandre DeSplat. I have played on at least seven of them, maybe all eight.

The music for the last one, was recorded in May/June at Abbey Road Studios, London in Studio One. Alexandre DeSplat likes to book the London Symphony Orchestra and then request in a couple of other players, of which, for the time being, I am one! Abbey Road’s Studio One is the world’s largest purpose-built recording studio, the space can easily accommodate an 110-piece orchestra and 100-piece choir simultaneously. Studio One’s acoustic is as famous as the location, offering a supremely warm and clear sound, perfect for numerous types of recording, from solo piano to large orchestras and film scores. The percussion is recorded separately to the Orchestra so that there is scope to change the level of different musical components when the sound track is being dubbed to picture. Generally, the Orchestra would be recorded in the daytime and I would come in to record the percussion in the evening with the principal percussionist, fellow Zildjian Artist Neil Percy, who has been a friend for the last 30 years!

Usually the music has already been arranged and the percussion tracks already exist in the sample form. I think that my job in this instance is to listen to the tracks and decide (together with engineer/producer; Peter Cobin and co-producer Kirsty Whalley), which sounds could be enhanced by playing them live. Most samples are pretty convincing, but there is an energy to real playing that adds life to the arrangement and instruments recorded in such a wonderful sounding room as EMI 1 have a lovely “space” around the sound which sits well in the music. So, it’s all to do with finding the right sound for the music and then playing it in a convincing manner.

Although I am playing from parts in this instance, my response to the music is always an aural one. A Bass Drum is not just a Bass Drum...there are many different sounds that I can get by varying where I strike it, the beater I select and the volume I play it. The same applies to cymbals, or any instrument that I play. Zildjian have supplied me with some fantastic cymbals from 6“ to 26”, some are dark and warm sounding - that blend with mid-range instruments, such as low brass - and others that have a real top end white noise hiss to them. I use these cymbals in a broad spectrum of work...mainly films, records, and playing jazz.

For the last "Harry Potter" film we did maybe ten sessions, but care was taken all along the way to get the fullest sound from each instrument. When you hear the drums and cymbals on the finished sound track, it’s usually built from at least 2 passes: a soft one to get bottom end and a loud one to get top end and energy.

Generally on a film we get a palette of sounds on the first session which we continue to use throughout the other sessions. For instance, another film soundtrack that I am working on at the moment, "Hugo Cabret," is based around a 1930’s French cafe band where cymbal sounds have been particularly important on this film. Howard Shore, the composer, has favoured some very small, heavy Zildjian Hi Hats that almost sound like a small set of clash cymbals. The other cymbals I am using on this are also small and high pitched, but with a wide frequency range. I have found the new Zildjian Constantinople Renaissance cymbals have this wide frequency range, very much like the like the old Zildjians of the 30/40’s.

I often have a mountain of gear stipulated when I am recording. I balance this when I play jazz by using one cymbal and a Hi Hat, so the cymbal I select needs to be completely versatile. I find that narrowing my sound palette makes me more creative. Many drummers rave about K’s, but for me they can sometimes be too low in pitch and wash. If the frequencies are too low, they can get in the way of piano and guitar, I find that if I have a cymbal with a medium to high pitch it gives me more room to manoeuvre, as it takes up less space in the music.

If I am playing the cymbal with a drumstick I generally use the lightest, smallest stick in the Vic Firth range, as that will emphasize the top end of the cymbal frequencies. This tends to be a rule of thumb in film work, as instruments that are too ‘middley’ in sound tend to obscure speech and sound effects. Many times when I am playing on a record or a film score the drums/percussion are the last things to be recorded, so when I listen to the track I am listening for which sound frequencies are unoccupied. Generally these are at the top and bottom of the music e.g. extreme high and extreme low. By adding sound at these extremes it tends to make the music sound wider or fatter.

I think that attention to detail is the key and in essence, I am a team player, trying to enhance, highlight, and punctuate the music in order to give it shape and clarity. A good session player will present his/her music clearly with attention to the shape of phrase.

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