2012 has been pretty busy right from the get-go.
We started off by airing PABF03 “Politically Inept with Homer Simpson” on January 8. We actually finished dubbing this episode back on December 13, so it was really nice to be so far ahead of the airdate. That luxury will be rapidly evaporating as we get deeper into 2012 and more episodes start airing back-to-back.
My reflections on “Politically Inept”
- No matter your stance on Ted Nugent and his politics – I thought he was a very good sport for letting the writers spoof his persona so boldly. You can hear it in his
voice-acting. He didn’t hold back and embraced the humor of it all.
- I was not involved in the recording of his two singing performances at the end of the episode. He recorded them some months ago and the tracks were delivered to me for editing and polishing. Nugent fans probably recognized that the End Credits song was a parody of his “Cat Scratch Fever” with Simpsonized lyrics by the episode’s writer, John Frink.
- This was another episode that was a bit light on the music, mainly because
Dan Castellaneta’s performance as Homer in his new role of political pundit was hilarious and masterly.
- Alf did get to stretch his wings a little with his various “Americana” motifs.
- How much did Marge, Bart & Lisa have to spend to rent the actors for Homer’s nightmare?
- The stirring, emotional cue that plays as Homer rides the beverage cart on the plane, then again as his internet video goes viral is Alf’s take on the cue that
Patrick Doyle wrote for the “St. Crispin’s Day Speech” in Kenneth Branagh’s version of “Henry V” back in 1989 (the movie was released just 39 days before the first episode of THE SIMPSONS aired).
Just before the break for the holidays, we spotted PABF04 “The D’oh-cial Network”.
Matt Groening aptly called this “the show that just keeps on giving!” An extended couch gag with David Letterman making a guest appearance, the “Social Network” parody, the bonus “Show’s Too Short Story”, and The Tiger Lillies performing the End Credits music.
The Simpsons “Show’s Too Short” Story has an interesting little musical story of its own. Every now again producers and directors succumb to what we in the music biz call “temp love”. For the “Dark Stanley” story line in JABF09 “Yokel Chords” the scenes used a piece of music composed by Ástor Piazzolla entitled “Introduccion” from his “Suite Punta del Este” (which was also used in the movie “12 Monkeys”) as the temp music. Al Jean liked the music but did not want to license the original. Alf Clausen was asked to compose his own original score in the style of “Introduccion”. Fast forward to PABF04 “The D’oh-cial Network” and the “Show’s Too Short” Story used as temp music Alf’s cue from “Yokel Chords”. So Alf was called on to write a cue in the style of himself, in the style of “Introduccion”. An old saying (most often attributed to Oscar Wilde) goes: “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.” I guess Alf stole from himself this time.
The art work for the “Story’s Too Short” Story is an homage to the drawing style of
Edward Gorey, an author and illustrator known for his dark humor and also for his animated opening to the PBS series, “Mystery”.
At music spotting for “The D’oh-cial Network” we got into discussions right away about how to score the couch gag. Al wanted something hustly-bustly that represented New York City. Thoughts immediately turned to the music of George Gershwin. Woody Allen had used “Rhapsody in Blue” to great effect in “Manhattan” and probably connected forever in people’s minds the black & white images of New York with the melodies of that piece. But, it was deemed too expensive to license, so Alf was asked to compose something evocative of that classic (a very tall order indeed). But a couple of days later, Al dropped us an email saying that the money could be found elsewhere and that he thought it would be the perfect piece to use for the couch gag. At that point, the music student in me kicked into gear.
One of the difficulties we encounter most often when recording symphonic/classical works is that we record with a 35-piece orchestra. Most symphony orchestras number 80, 90 or 100+. They often have as many violin players as we have in our entire orchestra. It’s a two-pronged problem because the music has to be totally restructured so that all (or at least as many as possible) of the various parts are covered by the players we have available, then when it’s recorded, it has to sound like it was played by a much larger orchestra than we actually have. That is the task of our recording mixer Rick Riccio and he always does a nothing-less-than-brilliant job of making 35 sound like 95. But for “Rhapsody in Blue” I knew about an alternative that required hardly any re-working or recording magic.
Most people have probably only heard “Rhapsody in Blue” being performed by a large orchestra, but I knew that the piece was composed in 1924 for The Paul Whiteman Orchestra which was really an expanded jazz band – think Duke Ellington’s or Glenn Miller’s band with violins, banjo, and tuba added – which only had 24 players. The symphony orchestra version didn’t appear on the scene until 1942. I told Alf if we could find a copy of the 1924 version, we could record that one, he wouldn’t have to rebuild the score for our needs and we would be true to the original spirit of the piece. As it turns out, we were able to find – with the assistance of the always helpful JoAnn Kane Music Service – a PDF scan of the original manuscript that had been donated to the Library of Congress by the original orchestrator, Ferde Grofé. Woo-Hoo!
Next, using the score and a 1920s recording I found at Google Music of The Paul Whiteman Orchestra performing the piece, I edited together what I thought was a good representation of the piece, using the famous clarinet opening, then jumping ahead to a fast, frenetic section featuring the brass. This glorious 17-minute masterpiece would have to be distilled down to its essence in 37 seconds. I sent the edit off to Alf & Al for their approval. They liked it and that’s the way we recorded it.
As exciting and fun as all this was, there was a greater experience with “Rhapsody in Blue” yet to come for me. If you read my earlier post on my early career ambition to be a conductor, then you’ll really appreciate what comes next. If you haven’t, take a moment to read it because it will make what you read next much more meaningful. Go ahead … I’ll wait right here.
During the week leading up to the scoring session, I got up the nerve (my wife says I seem to have a lot of that) to call Alf and ask for a favor. He knows about my conducting background. I asked if he would allow me to conduct the orchestra when we recorded “Rhapsody in Blue” for the episode. He really liked the idea, but hesitated because there are various union concerns (I’m in the editors’ union, not the musicians’ union) and he didn’t want to be in violation of any rules, so he had to reluctantly decline. Then a little while later he called me back, said he thought about it and said that I could take a “rehearsal pass” at it after we recorded the cue for the episode. I was giddy at the thought.
After we got the take we wanted, Alf walked out to the orchestra, told the players what he was up to, I ascended the podium, explained to the musicians briefly about my desire early in my career to conduct and my hope that I would return to conducting in the near future, raised my baton, and got to experience this:
What an exhilarating moment to direct a group of such accomplished musicians! One of the most memorable emotions I experienced while conducting was a sense of calm. Yes, I was excited and very happy, but I wasn’t nervous or afraid. I felt very at home on the podium.
Many thanks to Alf for the opportunity and to the orchestra for letting me play, for just a moment or two, in their sandbox.
On Friday, January 6, 2012 we spotted episode PABF05 “Moe Goes From Rags to Riches”, written by Tim Long. This will be episode #498 (we’re almost there!), airing on FOX on Sunday, January 29, 2012. The episode tells the story of Moe’s favorite bar rag and its lofty origins during the medieval period, tracing its travels and adventures over hundreds of years until it arrives at Moe’s Tavern in Springfield, USA.
There is a LOT of music planned for this episode: 38 cues in all (not counting Main Title or End Credits or Logos) playing many styles through the many of years of history covered by the story. The “B” story touches on the current health (or lack thereof) of Bart & Milhouse’s friendship.
Finally, here’s an update on my request for help in reaching certain blog goals by
February 19: I have surpassed 15,000 total page views since the start of the blog. As of this writing, I have 250 Twitter followers, exactly HALF of my goal of 500. My busiest day for blog traffic so far was just two days ago on January 15 when 319 page views occurred (still aiming for 500 views in a single day). I think I got a nice bump from the viewers of Sunday’s episode. Thanks to the NFL, we had over 15 million viewers this past Sunday.
Thanks again to everyone who’s reading, commenting on, and enjoying the blog. I’ll be back soon with more updates.