May 16, 2013
Cliff Martinez Receives BMI Richard Kirk Award
Annual event honors its members' top grossers in film and TV music by Jon Burlingame
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.—Cliff Martinez, the former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer who has become a prominent film composer with such scores as Traffic and Drive, received the annual career achievement award from performing-rights society BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) at an invitation-only, black-tie event last night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Del Bryant, president and CEO, and Doreen Ringer Ross, vice-president for film/TV relations, presented Martinez with the Richard Kirk Award, named for a longtime BMI executive who worked closely with composers in the film and television community. Martinez is the 27th recipient of the honor.
Bryant pronounced Martinez "the face of film music in the 21st century" for his non-traditional approach, often involving ambient or minimalist music. He pointed out that Martinez's career paralleled the rise of the independent film movement during the 1990s and early 2000s and cited the composer's unusual sound palette, ranging from hammered dulcimer in Kafka to the sound-design score of Traffic and the innovative use of the Cristal Baschet (with its hand-rubbed, chromatically tuned glass rods) in Drive.
Martinez said that he had started his career during the punk-rock movement of the late 1970s but that, by the mid-1980s, he began to think that "writing for films was the best job in the world." He expressed gratitude to BMI for supporting his "somewhat reckless career choice" and told the audience of about 600 film and TV composers that "you are the audience I fear and respect the most."
Video tributes to Martinez included comments by collaborators including director Steven Soderbergh, with whom he has done 10 films including sex, lies and videotape, The Limey, Solaris, Traffic and Contagion; Flea, bassist in the Red Hot Chili Peppers; director Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive and the upcoming Only God Forgives); and director Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers).
Soderbergh recalled giving Martinez his first job on sex, lies and videotape, and the fact that there was so little room in Martinez's apartment that he had to "sit on the bed while he worked." Later, he said, he was impressed by the complexity of Martinez's music for Solaris, which "would not have hung together if it weren't for the score"; and discovered on Contagion that having Martinez's music in early cuts "inspires you to start thinking of the movie in a way that you hadn't before."
In an interview conducted earlier in the week, Martinez noted that "It's not easy to make the transition from rock 'n' roll musician to film composer, but it's really nonsensical to go from rock 'n' roll drummer – somebody who doesn't play a pitched instrument – to film composer. It was kind of a force of will that got me into it."
He pointed out that the sole aspect of rock drumming he was able to apply to his new career was that "you are in the role of accompanist... your job is to make the other guy look good, whether it be the singer or the images and the dialogue."
Martinez credited Soderbergh and his "unconventional philosophy about film music" for teaching him about what could work dramatically in film. "He didn't want the audience to feel like they'd been spoonfed or beaten over the head for the desired response. Often he used music for contrast or to imply something different than what was obvious or, as in most cases with music, reinforce what isn't so obvious. He took that to an extreme level where it caused me to develop this very simple and stripped-down style."
And working without melody much of the time, he added, "forced me to be more preoccupied with texture in instruments and sounds." Creating atmosphere and working with colors and textures became more important. As an example, he cited the unique sounds of his prized Cristal Baschet. Director Refn, on Drive, felt that it had "a religious quality" that he liked and it wound up becoming a key (and much talked-about) element in that score.
He also enjoyed working recently with director Robert Redford on The Company You Keep (the result of a music editor adding music from Drive into an early cut of the film). "He came out to [Martinez's home in] Topanga for three consecutive weeks. I enjoy working with fresh, young, up-and-coming directors but it was a real treat to work with a veteran like Robert Redford. He demanded that same subtle, realistic, supportive approach: don't belabor the point with the music, or use it to repeat anything that's already up there [on the screen]."
"I always look at a film like a doctor looking at a patient," Martinez said. "All I want to do is pick out the faults and the weaknesses, what themes don't seem to be gelling, either because of a performance or something that is inherently not believable. What can the music do to prop that up, help you understand the story or help you feel what the characters feel?"
Asked about receiving a career achievement award after fewer than 30 films in 24 years, Martinez said he was "flattered and honored" but that he hoped to continue working in films for another 25 years. "I'm just figuring this out," he said, "but I'm not going to complain about it being premature. You know how the music business is: One day you're rolling in work, and the next day you're standing out by the freeway with a sign saying 'Will score for food.'"
Among other composers on hand to receive film awards were John Williams (for Lincoln), Thomas Newman (Skyfall), Brian Tyler (Iron Man 3, The Expendables 2), Mark Mothersbaugh (Hotel Transylvania), Christopher Lennertz (Identity Thief, Think Like a Man), Theodore Shapiro (The Campaign, Hope Springs), Joe Kraemer (Jack Reacher), Aaron Zigman (Madea's Witness Protection, Escape From Planet Earth), Mark Isham (The Lucky One) and Lyle Workman (American Reunion).
Television composer Mike Post received his 50th BMI award – more than any other composer in BMI history – for his continuing work on Law & Order: SUV. Society of Composers and Lyricists executive director Laura Dunn also received a "special citation of appreciation... for her years of devotion... in the development, outreach and nuturing of film and television composers... [and] immense and enduring contributions, leadership and guidance."
©2013 Jon Burlingame