Clef Notes
 An interview series with leading Motion Picture & Television Industry Composers 
Film & Television Composers score music to accompany a motion picture for film or television. This could include dramatic underscore as well as popular songwriting. The traditional role of a film composer is to provide the orchestral dramatic underscore, and only more recently has the popular soundtrack begun to stand on its own.
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John Barry: The Gstaad Memorandum

John Barry: The Gstaad Memorandum

John Barry | Composer
  John Barry
A warm, funny man with a deep, resonant voice, John Barry reminded us of a mature Peter Sellers—without the insanity. The following is transcribed from his Cinemusic conference interview in Gstaad, Switzerland, March 7, 1996. Born John Barry Prendergast, he was an English composer and conductor of film music. He composed the scores for 11 of the James Bond films between 1963 and 1987, and also arranged and performed the "James Bond Theme" to the first film in the series, 1962's "Dr. No." He wrote the Grammy and Academy Award-winning scores to the films "Dances with Wolves" and "Out of Africa", as well as the theme for the British television cult series "The Persuaders"!, in a career spanning over 50 years. In 1999, he was appointed OBE at Buckingham Palace for services to music. John Barry is considered as one of the leading composers of film soundtrack music. He sadly passed away January 30, 2011, in New York.
Note: this interview was originally published on Film Score Monthly #75 11/1996
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 Author: Unknown | Interview transcribed by Robert Hoshowsky

Why was this film [Moviola, a documentary on Barry, which was screened moments before] made, and why does it not deal with the diversity and versatility of your music?

quote-leftThere's a very simple answer. This was made by Sony. I'm with Epic Records, and I made an album called "Moviola". That album was a compilation of all the romantic themes, or many of the romantic themes, that I've written. And when you listen to an album, I think it's nice to have a transcendent mood rather than a romantic one. So it had a similar tone throughout. It was made by Sony, then it was picked up by Channel 13 in America, and put on a series they had called "Great Performances". So that is why it is of this nature. I've also done another album for Sony called "Moviola II", which takes care of all the James Bond music, "Zulu", all the action films that I've done.

So for any filmmaker in the audience who wants to make a splendid documentary, there's certainly one to be made about your life and your music.

quote-leftThe BBC is doing one very shortly.

In this documentary, you said you were very much inspired by the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema, and the great film scores of Rózsa, Korngold and Steiner. When you were a young man, growing up in the cinema run by your father, these were movies that you saw. Could you mention a few pictures that had great impact on you?

quote-leftThe great adventure scores, like Korngold's score for "Robin Hood". Max Steiner's scores... "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" was wonderful. All the Bernard Herrmann scores, and all the Alfred Newman scores. Do you realize that in one year, Alfred Newman did 60 movies? Figure that out! Sixty movies—in one year. All those great artists, like Waxman.

Back then, all the studios had their own symphony orchestras on staff. 20th Century Fox, MGM, they all had these orchestras, and therefore, they always used them. And that's why, from that period, you never got movies with small, intimate scores. Very broad. They employed 80 people all the time, so they wanted to hear 80 guys playing.

The house orchestra?

quote-leftThe house orchestra, that's right. So you never got what you do today. I mean, when I started in London, Bryan Forbes made a movie called "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" (1964), and he said, "I want a really unusual score for this piece." So I just went, "Four flutes, four cellos, bass, and percussion." But that's something that never would have happened in that era, and that's why we have all these magnificent scores.

As a young man, at the end of the war, it was a very difficult time in England. Since childhood, you had spent years of sitting in the theatres watching movies, but didn't have access to the scores because they weren't published and made available to musicians. So your study of film scores of that period was entirely by ear...

quote-leftBy ear, instinctive, and just appreciating what was being done—

.... and to acknowledge that the title in the printed program for this panel has to do with "rock 'n' roll," could you say something about that? Your time as a rock musician?

quote-leftWell, that's a rather misleading thing with the press. What happened was, I did have classical training. I studied piano when I was nine years old. I studied harmony and counterpoint with the barrister of music at Yorkminster when I was 14 or 15 years old. Then I was drafted—I didn't volunteer—and I went into the army for a few years, and served in a military band, one year in Egypt and 16 months in Cypress, and then I came out. I played trumpet as well. So when I came out, I wanted to be a professional musician, but I also wanted to be my own boss, since I didn't plan to work for anybody else. So I formed a group in the north of England, in York. And so I took three musicians who I had been in the army with, and three local musicians, and formed this group called The John Barry Seven. It was a means to an end of getting into the business, and it lasted for about four years, and we were pretty successful. We got a recording contract with EMI Records, and then went on to do musical direction with other artists for EMI. And there was one singer by the name of Adam Faith, and I would eventually have several major hits with him, and he had two big hits. I scored "Beat Girl", and the other film was for Peter Sellers called "Never Let Go".

Today, we're almost at the point where we can celebrate 40 years of your film scoring career. You've seen the long-term view of what's happened in film scoring, and what's happened to your own career. There is a retrospective this week in your honor; we're looking at some of your older films, and tonight we're going to see "The Scarlet Letter" and "Cry, the Beloved Country", both recent pictures. How do you feel when you see the old films that you've scored? Do you feel as intense about them as the moment you created them. Do you have the ability to step back and see them differently?

quote-leftTime plays fun and games with films. Take the James Bond movies, for instance. I can see the earlier James Bond movies, and they hold up much stronger than the later James Bond movies. So there's something there that's quite strange. You'd think that the more contemporary the filmmaking was... but this is a very unusual example, because there's never been a series of movies made in that way, you know? And so I've had some strange bearing on style and what have you, but I think the classic Bond movies were the earlier ones, and therefore they are the ones that hold up. The latter ones became more formula, and they're not half as interesting.

You scored 13 out of 17 of those?

quote-leftSomething like that, yes. [Actually 11. -LK]

That's an incredible legacy. Before we talk about "The Scarlet Letter"and "Cry, the Beloved Country", perhaps Thomas has a question?

Yes. The James Bond sound now is a very classic sound...


Could you describe to us how you found that sound, with the blasting trumpets?

quote-leftI would think that the genesis of that piece... I studied two years, a correspondence course with Bill Russo. Bill Russo was Stan Kenton's arranger, composer, and also an early trombonist. And I was a big, big fan of Stan Kenton's, and I wanted to listen to the early Kenton stuff; that brass sound was predominant, both the high brass—they said he had five trumpets, five trombones—and also the low brass sound, a rich low sound. I think the genesis of the Bond sound was most certainly that Kenton-esque sharp attack; extreme ranges, top C's and beyond, and on the low end you'd go right down to the low F's and below, so you'd have a wall of sound. The typical thing, that Bond thing, is very much this brass sound.

And did it have anything to do with the noise on the screen, the sound effects?

quote-leftThat is also a practical problem one has when you have a movie where everybody's killing everybody, with guns and chasing and cars and helicopters. And usually the director says, "We've got to create music that will coincide here." That's not necessarily so. In the early days, we went and we did things that way, and so you had to have a sound within the orchestra that would penetrate to that kind of a problem: high flutes and piccolos and xylophones and heavy percussion, so that has nothing to do with it.

Later on, they would say "Why don't you use sound effects for the first minute? It's a two-minute sequence. Why don't you use sound effects for the first minute, and go with that, and let the sound effects guys have a ball, because they love to do that. And then let them ease-up on the sound effects, and let the music take over."

I find a lot of these action scores today, well, quite, quite dreadful, not because of the lack of selection, but because you can't tell the difference between sound effects and music, especially when the introduction is mainly synthesized scores, and you've got sound effects behind the music, and music behind the sound effects, and synthesized music, and you can't tell the two apart. You have to buy the album to hear the music.

As we heard just now, you have beautiful orchestral scores. Do you have anything against synthesized scores?

quote-leftIt depends very much on how you use the synthesizer. I used a synthesizer very early on, in "Midnight Cowboy", although you wouldn't recognize it. And it was for the Miami Beach sequence, where he has this fantasy where he goes out to Miami, and I had this flute on the melody, and I had this synthesizer playing off to give a sense of humor that the flute didn't have. So I used it that way. And I used a synthesizer, believe it or not, for "A Lion in Winter"; the low end of the main title theme, "Dah dah dah dum, dah dah dah dah dah dum." That was timpanies and synthesizers. And the scene where Anthony Hopkins was going to slaughter all his enemies, and they do that beat, and use the Latin chant. The whole emphasis of that was to use the orchestra and the synthesizer, but the edge came from the synthesizer, which was buried in with the orchestra. I love using it that way.

And can you describe a system when you use a synthesizer, and when you use an orchestra?

quote-left "Jagged Edge" was a totally synthesized score, except for some solo piano and some solo flute, the rest of it was all synthesized. And it worked for that particular subject. I don't think there's anything more expressive than an orchestra. I think there are some wonderful things going on with orchestra people, and with some synthesized people, but there's a lot of terrible stuff going on. But for me, my own personal preference, I don't think you can take a body of 80 or 90 musicians in tune, and in more ways than being in tune, being in spirit; I don't think there's anything as strong as that. A synthesizer can never give you those moments of lift that you get from an orchestra.

So, conducting to you is very important?

quote-leftIt's terribly important. It's trying to make it happen. You spot the music, you compose the music, you orchestrate it, and then you get into that studio and the whole thing takes on its life for the first time, really. That's what the performance works out, although you work, watching that orchestra in the studio, those who make the shift—I mean, I'm not talking of rock, maybe three seconds—maybe you'll hit something, but when you're writing it, you've hidden it for a certain time. You might get a recoil effect. The performance is the real fun. And that's also another problem that's happening today. Many of the young composers are not conducting their own music. I think you have to have composed it, conduct it, and know every phrase and movement, and then you're in the master driving seat, where you make all those subtle changes which will finalize your piece of music. And if you have to explain to somebody, the conductor, it loses a lot.

And you were one of the first composers back in the 60's who installed songs as a title track for a movie. You wrote beautiful song titles, like "Goldfinger." But it seems that in the past few years your songwriting has decreased a little bit. Do you miss it?

quote-leftNo, I don't. It was very much a part of the Bond thing, you know. You had the pre-title sequence, then you had the song that you wrote to the movie, and so it was very repetitive. That "songwriting" came very much out of the Bond tradition. Or frequently, you'd have the song at the end.If it's appropriate, that's fine, but if not, it can ruin it. How many times have you cringed when, at the end of a movie, there's a really wonderful mood created by the score or by the performances, and then a really wonderful song can work—of course it can—but when you get a song that is put there just to appease the record company and Hollywood, so we can have a song written, just write for us the drama at the end of the movie... it shatters the while feeling. That happens more times than not.

Mr. Mancini, however... he was absolutely the master of integrating song into film! I don't think anybody has ever done it in finer fashion. I remember the first time I ever went to New York. I'd seen this line outside Radio City Music Hall, what it is today, to see "Breakfast at Tiffany's". Mancini's sense of focus, and his use of it in terms of the rest of the movie and in terms of the character! And those wonderful lyrics by Johnny Mercer. In "The Days of Wine and Roses"... just fantastic.

Since you are a prolific songwriter, why don't you choose more situations to put in a song?

quote-leftBecause maybe the movies that I've been doing... I mean, how would you like a "Dances with Wolves" song? [laughs] Certainly not "Out of Africa"! I mean, forget it.

But Indecent Proposal?

quote-leftYou have a song in "Indecent Proposal", and I'll tell you a realistic story about this. It was a huge hit in England. I wrote it with Lisa Stansfield, who sang it. The director's wife—whose hair was pink, I believe—I think that was the first week, or maybe the second week, then it went blue. Anyway, the director, Adrian Lynne, thought that his wife had mystic powers over musical choice, okay? So she first selected the soundtrack for Indecent Proposal—send a tape of this to Adrian, please [laughs]. I wrote this, which I thought was a wonderful song with Lisa, and we recorded it. It went on that, just after the movie was over and you were coming out of the toilet, you'd hear it. It was put so far back in the movie it wasn't true. Anyway, in England it went into the Top Ten, and was there for about 15 weeks. So, the placement of the song in the movie is important. It did happen, but it didn't happen, if you know what I mean.

Nowadays, we have a lot of scores that are entirely song-driven, and the underscore is the last thing that anyone pays any attention to whatsoever. A lot of those songs are selected by the director, the producer, the music supervisor, and sometimes with the consent of the composer. So, it's sort of the curse of the last few years—

quote-leftGoing back to Henry's scores and songs, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Days of Wine and Roses". These were the contemporary tales of movie-making of our time. Today, they take records; they don't relate to the movie at all. They buy records. They do record deals. They go to a record company, MCA or RCA. I mean, I know the people who run these companies. They get a phone call from the director or the producer, who will mention the movie so and so, and they just suck it up with songs.

I was offered "Sleepless in Seattle". They sent me the script. They asked me to do it, and I said I would be very interested. But then I heard there was a so-called "musical supervisor," and whenever I hear that I want to run. So then the musical supervisor came into the picture. And then I spoke to a guy who runs Epic Music in Los Angeles. And he said he wanted these songs, and I said "can I have a list? Fax me a list." And there were about 20 songs, and I said, "Well, where am I?" Right then I didn't want to do this movie.

A composer like Marc Shaiman works very well within that framework. He loves that. He thinks of himself as a music director, and he's pleased to work that way.

quote-leftWell, I'm going to give myself a little pat on the back. "Midnight Cowboy" was probably one of the best uses of music, and I did that movie. I wrote the actual underscore. John Schlesinger found the Harry Nilsson song; for the rest of it, all the other songs, we didn't use records, we produced all the music that is in that movie, with singers and songs that we selected, which had much more of a positive, dramatic feeling in the movie. They still show that movie at UCLA today to acting class as the example of the use of popular music in a contemporary movie.

Let's tie this to this concept of the composer as the film doctor. We heard Sydney [Pollack] talking about how he wants a composer to come and fix things once in a while...

quote-leftNo, he was talking about definitions.

With a lot of song-driven scores, it often seems that the song is thrown in there to fix a problem in the scriptwriting in the original concept of the film. It sort of bridges this to that, which would not make any sense otherwise. So what about this concept? Can a composer really come and fix a film that's in big trouble?

quote-leftAbsolutely not. Absolutely not. That's a fallacy. You can help a little. And sometimes you have a wonderful song, and the director will come and say to you, "This scene, I'm not a bit happy with the way I shot it. I have a problem with it, and the original intention was this. Do you think you can help a little with this?" That's good scoring. But this whole song thing, this stylistic thing, this ready-made machine called the record company... When it's done well, I have absolutely no problem with it at all. But the problem is that it's very rarely done well.

Take your score from "Dances with Wolves". It's a very slow tempo, epic movie. I found that your score increased the tempo a little bit. You have a— shall we say—"announcement technique" that makes the audience more curious about the next scene.

quote-leftThat's not necessarily due to tempo. A lot of people think you move a movie along by increasing tempo. This is a fallacy. You can move a movie along by changings, intriguing sounds. Jane Seymour referred to "sound bites" [in "Moviola"] — I don't like that reference. It is something which dramatically takes you into a movie, that puts the audience gently into a certain mood. And then with rhythms; they don't have to be fast, as long as they're interesting, as long as the harmonies are interesting, as long as the melody is interesting. Because with a movie like "Dances with Wolves", the movie is three hours long, and there's an hour and a half's music in that. So the music has to be a part of the entertainment. You can't score one hour and a half's music, and have it not be an entertainment value. It has to serve the scenes, obviously.

But once you've got those elements together in your dramatic mind, then you say, "Right, how do I make that melodic, sad, uplifting, frantic," whatever terms you wish to use. But it's not necessarily tempo. You can actually ruin a scene by pushing tempo. I've had many occasions where a director said, "Can't we move it along?" And I said, "It's not going to work." You can't just drop this on the tempo will-nilly over coffee one morning. You have to ask, "What is the pace? Where does it change?" And I'd say, "Look, I'll play something faster, just to show you." And I would play faster, and they would say, "You're right."You have a pulse. The director has to direct in terms of the mood, camera moves, the pace of delivery of the dialogue, and if you don't blend in with that, you become an annoyance.

Composing film music seems to be like a dance on an edge. On one hand you have to work independently from the director; on the other hand, you have to serve the picture. You have to be entertaining, but not push the movie away by being too strong. How do you achieve this balance?

quote-leftFirst of all, all the conversations you have with the director are very important, choosing what will have music. You discuss the scenes, and if there are any pertinent points that the director brings up, you make side notes on what those relevant remarks are. So I always have that. Anytime during the process of writing, if I have any doubt or a question, I will phone the director and say, "Look, I'm working on this scene or this cue or whatever, and I have a question." And you clear that up, and once you get that cleared, from the director's point of view, you're still very free. People seem to think that the director has this control over his film, but within the music areas you're still unbelievably free. I mean, look at one of the finest dramatic composers of this century, Stravinsky, and all the ballets he wrote—he was working within dramatic confines.

What about projects where the director made it clear that he wanted you to compose every day under his thumb?

quote-leftI would absolutely refuse to work that way. I was asked by Barbra Streisand to do "The Prince of Tides"—I live in New York, she lives in Los Angeles—and I went and met with her, and she showed me some footage, and she said, "Why aren't you moving to Los Angeles?" and I said, "Absolutely not." And she said, "Well, I like to know what's going on"—Barbra's an extreme case, by the way—and I said, "Even if I did move to Los Angeles, I have no desire to meet with you once I know what I'm going to do. I can't work with someone over my shoulder, absolutely no way."

I write various themes; like for "Dances with Wolves", I wrote 20 minutes, which came out of a tune I played. I then brought in a piano, flute and percussion, and went to Los Angeles. He [Kevin Costner] said he liked it: "Okay, I'm interested, you go." I just came up with a movie called "Dura", and I met with the director, Brian Gibson, and told him how I work. I would give him themes, and then I go off and work, and then go to Los Angeles, he's finished shooting, we spot the movie. I did a few things which he really liked a lot, and which Columbia liked. Then he said, "Well, what about the rest of the music?" and I said, "What about the rest of the music?" He said, "I want to hear it." I said, "This is not an audition, Brian. This is your second movie. If there's anything at the end of the day that you don't like, then we have a little session."

I remember in "Out of Africa", there was one scene that Sydney didn't like, and I went back the following week and fixed it to the way he wanted it. And that was the only way it was going to work. You can't work step-by-step with the director; he's chosen his duties from the very beginning. Brian told me, "You're the only person who can score this movie, ha ha." Then they have to trust you to get on with the job. Sure, something may go wrong. It's the same with actors; maybe their performance is not coming through. It's the same need for the screenplay writer.The problem with the music question is that by the time you get to the end of the movie, you're slotted between finishing dates, post-production dates, and the opening of the movie. It's already booked in theatres; they're taking ads. So, you've got this sausage between you.

Which reminds me... the trailer music is most often not the music for the picture.

quote-leftRight. That very often happens because you finish writing the score maybe four weeks before the movie goes into the theatre. There are actually people these days who do "trailer tracks," which is a pretty awful thing to happen.

So people tend to associate the music of the trailer with the film. They come into the theatre, and surprise, it's John Barry.

quote-leftI don't think it has that much impact on the trailer, but it's a pity they put in music they cannot use.

And sometimes it can lead to a misunderstanding of what a movie's like. For example, on Swiss TV they're running trailers for "Toy Story". The original score and the song are by Randy Newman, but what they are doing in the trailer is some synthesizer music, rock 'n' roll, with "The toys are back in town"; and Randy Newman's score, which is an elaborate, refined orchestral score—there's not one tone. And let's talk about "The Scarlet Letter". We've seen the trailer every day, and I'm assuming that's not your music.

quote-leftI haven't seen it. I'm sure it wasn't my music. [laughs] I had four weeks to do "Letter", and that movie was literally into the theatres four weeks after that, so I'm sure it wasn't my music.

And you were the third composer on the project?

quote-leftYes, I was.

So who knows whose music that is on the trailer?

quote-leftYou know, I haven't seen the trailer, so I can't say.

Tell us about "The Scarlet Letter". This film has not done very well in the United States, and it's just opening here in Europe.

quote-leftIn America, of course, it's an American classic. And Roland Joffe and the producers decided—I'm not saying rightly or wrongly, but they decided—to open it that weekend. And Demi Moore also made some comment to the papers saying that she didn't think anybody'd ever read "The Scarlet Letter", which annoyed about half of America. I think it's quite a wonderful movie, I'm very impressed by it. I have not read the original novel, so the ending did not offend me, so I just went ahead and wrote the score for the movie. But the American critics have unduly slaughtered this movie.

And what will we hear in the music?

quote-leftThere's a full symphonic score. We had an 80-piece orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra augmented, and we recorded it at Abbey Road in London.

And "Cry, the Beloved Country"?

quote-leftYes, that's another symphonic score. I love the story. It's the first South African production made after Apartheid finished. They're all very, very proud of it, and I'm very proud of it, too.

You included African music in "Cry, the Beloved Country". What is the point of using ethnic music in a film, and when do you leave it out? For example, in "Out of Africa"you don't find African music.

quote-leftWell, we have Mozart. Typical African [laughs]. Evidently in South Africa at the time, there were these fantastic, rather crude jazz bands, and they were getting records shipped in—early American beebop and Duke Ellington things—and they would copy this music; not playing the same tunes, but trying to do things within the style. We use that in three or four pieces, for those bands which I think are wonderful fellows, and they're not used to excess. They're very well-placed in the movie, to give an atmosphere of the kind of low-down funkiness in those areas where the people were living. And then of course we used that Enya song at the end of "Cry"—which I actually like, it was the director's thought—and I have no objection to that, I think it's fantastic, and when you see the movie, you will see there's an emotional quality to that.

But it's very Irish in fact.

quote-leftSo what? [laughs] Maybe they're next. It has a spirituality about it that I think overcomes the Irishness of it. It's not like an Irish jig. She has a spirituality which I take on a universal level.

But what's the criteria for you to use African music, or, in the case of Out of Africa, leave it out?

quote-leftWhen I first met Sydney on "Out of Africa", he said, "I have temp-tracked the whole movie with African music." I went into his office in Burbank, and he had a couch full of albums of every African score that had ever been written for a movie, and some African music that hadn't been, and he laid them out and said, "It's just sitting there." And I said, "Sydney, it's not about Africa. It takes place in Africa, it's a story about Africa, it is seen through two people who are madly in love with Africa and with each other, and it's their story." And we only used that one piece, with the drum sound, and it's strange how it did not work. The story is a very, very romantic movie.

In your 40 years, what was your worst experience with having to change music, or compose music in a short time?

quote-leftI can't think of a really bad experience. I remember on "Born Free", they wanted me to do it in such a rush, and there were certain mistakes made in the orchestra, which Carl Foreman, the producer, in his infinite wisdom, said, [fakes New York accent], "But 'deres goin' to be lions runnin' all over, de'll never notice!" And I said, "Yeah, but we're going to do an album, Carl." So I actually brought a lawyer in, and said, "But do you agree that John can re-record the whole score for the soundtrack album, that you'd forced him to do this?" and he said, "Yes, okay, fine." So he agreed. So the actual soundtrack album of "Born Free" was totally re-recorded, and Carl was right: you don't hear any of the glitches of the soundtrack on the movie, because it was covered by lions... and tigers and bears, whatever. But that was not a good experience, from that point of view. Sometimes there's a cue in movies where you can fix it on the floor. You can say, "Okay, it's a little too heavy, I can lighten it up; I can take this out, or I can accent," or do whatever. If I see rather quickly what the director's getting at, and I think I can fix it on the floor, then I'll do so. If I see that it can't be fixed, I'll just say, "Let's move on. Let's not waste time."

You can't afford to have bad experiences as such. It just takes up too much time. And if you get into a bad position like that, then something went wrong earlier in the association. Something's fundamentally wrong between the composer and the director if they've found themselves in this terrible hole. And it does happen. Fortunately, for the most part, things have worked out.

Were you offered the score to "GoldenEye"? Have you seen the film, and what do you think of Eric Serra's score?

quote-leftI was offered it, and recently I've had quite a few commitments to quite a few projects, such as "Across the Sea of Time". Barbara Broccoli was "GoldenEye's" producer, and she asked my opinion; she had various composers in mind. And I said, "Well, it's been such a long time since we've had a Bond movie, maybe you should go another way, and take another shot." As for the score, I'm not going to pass any opinions.

Two days ago, we screened "Sun Valley", and spoke to the composer, Zhao Jiping. Were you surprised when you heard the soundtrack?

quote-leftI thought it was wonderful. I thought he did a terrific job. Surprised in what way?

Knowing his music—"Farewell My Concubine, Ju Dou", using traditional instruments—I was very surprised to hear a very Western-style soundtrack.

quote-leftI think it makes it very accessible, and I think it worked well for the movie, and made it accessible to a Western audience, and I'm sure the Chinese planned it that way.

Would you ever go back to playing?

quote-leftAbsolutely not! I'm not comfortable. I don't even like conducting in front of an audience. I like conducting in a studio, conducting concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, concerts in London with the Royal Philharmonic, etc. It's not something that I enjoy. I work better in a studio. I don't play anymore; it doesn't have an attraction for me.

The studio musicians in Los Angeles are absolutely unique in that they play the things you show them. Right away, they get it. And once they see you do the playback, which I always do in Los Angeles, even if I'm not crazy about the tape, I let the orchestra see the movie, and let them hear the tape. And they have this sixth sense, those musicians in Los Angeles, because they've all been doing it for so long, that you don't have to tell them what to do. They understand the mood of a piece, and that's wonderful.

Do you have a favorite place to record, a favorite soundstage?

quote-leftTwo, which are equally on par. The EMI Studio One on Abbey Road, in London, and the old MGM stage in Hollywood.

The fact that the Beatles and George Martin recorded in Abbey Road One—

quote-leftNo, they recorded in number Two. But where I did all my early pop stuff was in Abbey Road Two. They're very close, but the size difference is immense; I mean, you can get 140 musicians into Studio One without any problems whatsoever.

But did that have any effect on your recordings? I've also heard that you're very good friends with George Martin.

quote-leftVery close.

Did that communication have any effect on the technique of recording?

quote-leftNo. That technique of recording that George used with the Beatles, etc., and that whole Studio Two there was geared for that pop level. Studio One was totally geared to a classical level. It's a totally, totally different technique.

But when Paul McCartney recorded "Live and Let Die"—

quote-leftHe may have done it in both. He may have done the rhythm section in one, and put the strings on in another studio.

But it seems that the John Barry sound mingled into that bursting orchestral sound.

quote-leftI don't know how they recorded that. On all the early James Bond movies, we used to record in a place called CTS, which was an old Masonic Hall. Wonderful. It had a natural sound. All the echoes you hear in the Bond movies; most of that was not artificial. The room sounded like that, all that natural reverberation, and that strange, characteristic sound was born out of that room. It would have sounded different in any other room. We did all the early Bond movies at CTS.

[Jeannie Poole] As executive director for the Society for the Preservation of Film Music, I feel compelled to ask you: in what condition are your old scores?

quote-leftProbably in better condition than me! [laughs] A lot of them I have, and sometimes the studios have asked for them. I try to resist that, a contract that says you have to send your scores to the studio. I've resisted that. And sometimes you get the head of music calling you up, and asking you to send them, and I'll say, "Yeah, sure," but I never do it, and then they finally wither away.

Who owns the rights?

quote-leftThe actual scores? They own the copyright, or sometimes I own part of the copyright. But they're a peculiar lot, because sometimes I'll say, "Look, I'll get you photostat copies of all the scores"—some studios will settle for that, but I like to keep all the scores.

About: The archives at Film score Monthly do not extend earlier than 1997. Attempts to discover the interviewer of this piece have been unanswered!
Robert Hoshowsky, who transcribed this interview is a prolific author who's works may be searched at many of the internet book sellers!

The John Barry Website

Republished from FSM #75, November 1996
Film Score Monthly
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