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Tv Sound Tracks: The Hidden Pearls : Some Hidden Pearls On Tv Sound Tracks

One in an occasional series on film and TV composers.

July 11, 1986|STEVE SMITH

If television's new anthology shows have offered few gems on viewers' screens, their sound tracks may contain some hidden pearls. "Twilight Zone," "Amazing Stories" and "Alfred Hitchcock" have featured scores by such top-line film composers as John Williams, Georges Delerue and Leonard Rosenman, making the 1985--86 season perhaps the best year in TV music since the '50s work of Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith.

Composer Craig Safan has worked on all three of the above programs, but hardly limits his time to the home screen. The composer of scores for "The Last Starfighter," "Remo Williams" and other features, Safan revels in writing music that is both conventional and experimental, and enjoys the challenges of both media.

"As long as you keep your feet wet in both film and TV you're not stereotyped," the 35-year-old Safan said at his Beverly Hills home. "With more and more well-known directors working in TV there's less of a division, although I still think there's still a prejudice among some people."

The main difference between film and TV composing, Safan says, is time. "The TV show is aired eight days after you're hired, so you don't have a lot of time to sit by the ocean or go to the mountains and be pregnant with your ideas. But I enjoy composing for the anthology shows; I feel they're little snapshots.

"When you work on larger projects you need a deeper kind of music, which flows with the movie and shows its different elements. A half-hour program is so short that you have to focus on one idea; you don't worry about covering 20 bases, you cover one or two."

For "Bang Bang You're Dead," a "Hitchcock" episode about a child carrying a loaded gun, "I used all my three-year-old child's toys, recorded them on the synclavier (a complex keyboard instrument that records or synthesizes sounds), and put a little cello section behind it. It was charming and spooky and just off-base enough."

For "The Main Attraction," an "Amazing Stories" tale about a high-school jock who finds he's become magnetic, "I wrote a very typical rah-rah high school march--and as the kid's life starts disintegrating because of his magnetism, the music started breaking apart until it sounded like something by (dissonant American composer) Charles Ives. I took this simple march and started breaking up the rhythms and melody into different keys at the same time, with three different things going on at once."

Safan, a largely self-trained musician, is as interested in basic sound as in music and instrumentation. "At Brandeis University, where I was an art major, I was very interested in electronic music and scored several student films electronically. On one I also did the sound effects, and invented five kinds of bird sounds, different wind noises.

"I'm still fascinated by the interrelationship of music and sound; I like mixing media--orchestra with synthesizers, ethnic instruments, strange brass and percussion. With instruments like the synclavier, sounds can be put onto a keyboard, tuned and mixed with more conventional sounds. For me, that's the future of film music."

Luckily, Safan says, he's usually worked with directors who are willing to try something new. "John Milius, who directed a 'Twilight Zone' called 'Opening Day,' said to me, "Be weird , be crazy !'--so I said, 'You want weird, buddy, you got weird!' I based the whole score on two bars, a bar of 4/4 next to a bar of 7/8. It was very monotonous, going back and forth, but it built up this slow, bucolic mood; the show was like a Fellini-esque dream."

Safan is especially proud of his "Remo Williams" music: "I wanted an orchestral adventure score with a lot of electronics, and also some ethnic Korean instruments for Joel Grey's character. Mixing classical, pop and ethnic and keeping it from sounding like mud was very complicated."

Yet, Safan loves "hummable, melodic stuff. As a composer I ride two horses: I write melodic lines--I was doing records before film music, so I'm very up on pop--but that isn't always the best way to serve a film. A movie may need very avant-garde music--but it may also need a main title hook.

"If you only write one kind of music, you're more likely to be doing records than film scores. I've never been that kind of composer. My mother played classical piano, but my father loved Broadway shows; I grew up in the '60s and loved the Beatles and the Stones; at Brandeis I was really into avant-garde, but my uncle used to live with Paul Whiteman and was Bing Crosby's agent. I learned ragtime before anything else. I love anything--as long as it's good."

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