Every year at this time for the last 19 years or so, I wake up pinching myself and marveling at the fact that THE SIMPSONS is on the air for another year. Another year of laughs, great music, food, clothing, and shelter. What a life.
The music team returned to work this year on August 10, 2012 and we got right down to business and spotted PABF21 “Moonshine River”, written by Tim Long. After realizing that he just can’t keep a girlfriend interested in him, Bart revisits a handful of his old flames and realizes that Mary Spuckler is “the one”, but she’s moved to New York to chase her own dreams. So the Simpson family embarks on a road trip to the Big Apple so Bart can reconnect with Mary (guest-voiced by Zooey Deschanel).
There’s quite a bit of music in the episode – 27 cues totaling just over 7 minutes of playing time. We’ve got a special couch gag to open the new season, a wide variety of music styles (pop, rock, tribute to Mancini, cool jazz, Elizabethan) and a love song written and performed by Zooey Deschanel in her character as Mary. A fun behind-the-scenes note has to do with the drum circle in Central Park. When we recorded the cue, we recorded eight different types of percussion all playing together (“together” being the operative word here). When Matt Groening heard the cue on the dubbing stage he proclaimed the drum circle to be “..too good! No drum circle I’ve ever heard plays that well together.” So, since each of the percussion instruments were recorded on separate tracks, I bumped one of them a little earlier, then another a little later, then another a bit later than that, and so on until it sounded pretty out-of-whack. Matt laughed out loud at the result. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
As with 98% of the original songs in our show, Zooey recorded her guitar track and vocal about eight months ago and I just had to wait for the final animation to arrive so I could polish the sync for the final version. As a little detail, animation added her two short notes and chord strum before the song – these notes and strum were NOT in her original performance. So on the scoring date, we just asked the guitar player to get a guitar sound that matched hers, play the two notes & strum and I added it to the final track. A small detail that added to the realism of the moment, performed by a different musician many months after the original.
This show may hold the record for the most guest voices in a single episode – Marcia Wallace, Zooey Deschanel, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Silverman, Ken Burns, Al Roker, Don Pardo, Maurice LaMarche and Kevin Michael Richardson.
Finally, a little insight into how the placement (starting point) of a cue can make a difference in a scene. At the end of the scene with Milhouse and Lisa dancing we cut to a shot under Bart’s bed. There is dance music playing during the dance scene, and we spotted a sad Bart cue to start on the cut under his bed. Matt Groening didn’t like this placement because he said there was nothing “sad” about the underside of Bart’s bed, so he felt we were telegraphing the emotion to the audience. I disagreed with him saying that Bart was clearly upset during the dance and that we weren’t “telegraphing” the emotion, we were “continuing” the emotion we set up during the dance scene. We experimented with moving the cue as late as Bart’s POV (Point-of-View) of the contents of the shoebox but that was too long without music or dialogue and we also felt the music was playing the contents of the box rather than Bart’s melancholy. Ultimately we did delay the start of the cue to the cut just after under the bed. In the end, I felt this was a good move for a different reason altogether – as we first spotted, the dance music cuts out in progress on the cut to under the bed and it smashed right up against the start of the sad cue. By delaying the start about one second, the sad cue start is in the clear and makes a more prominent statement. It really is quite fascinating to me, even after all these years, how such a small shift in timing can really give a scene a different feel and possibly make it better than originally planned.
OK, I hope you enjoyed the Season 24 premier. PABF17 “Tree House of Horror XXIII” will air next Sunday, October 7, 2012 and is already in the can. Work has already begun on PABF18 “Adventures in Baby-Getting”, and this Friday we start in on PABF16 “Gone Abie Gone”. More about those episodes next time.