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Title: The full Dudley
Author: Graham Vickers
Source: Creative Review
Publish date: May 1998

The full Dudley

Film music is just one string to the bow of Oscar-winner Anne Dudley. A member of The Art of Noise, she has scored many ads and collaborated with the monsters of rock, as Graham Vickers discovered

As Anne Dudley stepped up to receive her 1998 Oscar for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, she was clearly as surprised as she was delighted. On the night, The Full Monty otherwise won nothing. Four days previously in the less glitzy environs of lunchtime Baker Steet, she had confessed that although she was “absolutely delighted to be part of the party” she didn’t think she would win. She was, however, looking forward to taking her family to Disneyland.

Her career spans early 80s pop experimentalists The Art of Noise (shortly to be revived); her own album (Ancient and Modern); a collaboration with Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman; work with popsters as diverse as Elton John and Phil Collins, Boyzone and Spice Girls; and commercials, TV and film music, including scores for Buster and The Crying Game. Despite many credits, Dudley plays down her contribution to commercials: “I don’t do very many,” she says, “although I’ve done quite a few for Tony Kaye. They’re head and shoulders above the rest so it’s worth doing them. And Tony’s such an inspiring person to work for.”

Her music can be heard on Kaye’s ads for Volvo, Vauxhall and Reebok among others. She has also worked on his upcoming film, American History X, and cites a shared outlook towards the learning value of commercials.

“Tony does them because he wants to continue to learn how to communicate. Commercials are the best way to hone that art because you have to say what you want to say in a very compressed period. And that’s exactly what I try to do as a musician.”

She has reservations about commercials work, however. “There never seems to be enough time - there’s a call on Friday saying ‘can you do it Monday?’ And there’s a lot of what I call throwing shit at the wall: because creative teams have lost the ability to brief composers, they just give the film out to ten people and say ‘do something’.”

I ask about the creative differences between scoring films and commercials. “With commercials the music almost always starts at the beginning and ends at the end. But one of the arts of doing film music properly is knowing where the music starts and ends. In a film the mood undergoes a lot of changes, but the most successful commercials are those that catch a single mood.”

The modem trend of conceiving so much movie music with a singles-laden soundtrack album in mind seems to have changed the nature of composing for film. So are the days of memorable film themes over?

“It’s something I think about a lot. I did a TV series, Jeeves & Wooster, that had a memorable theme - at least I hope it had! Memorable rhythm, instrumentation and tune. We just hammered away at this tune for four series of six episodes each. I said to the producer, don’t you think we’re overdoing it? He said no, no, people see Bertie Wooster, they want to hear that theme.

“But, on the general point, I used to have a very strongly held theory that the source music - the singles - should be one thing and the score should be something else and they should never interact. I’ve changed that opinion now. People have an overall sense of what the music for a film is. They haven’t distinguished between source and score but they have an overall sound picture in their mind.”

This was very much the approach for The Full Monty.

“The source music is rooted, quite logically, in the 70s,” she says. “When these guys start to look for music they go back to the music of their youth. Hot Chocolate is exactly the sort of thing they’d have listened to. And that did have an influence on the music I did. For example, there’s a lot of brass. And it does have a theme.”

But are there any movies that would benefit from a strongly thematic score?

“Well, obviously movies with a period setting that don’t have car radios or background music in shops. In that instance the composer has to compose the whole music world. Approaching that sort of movie, it makes good sense to have some strong thematic ideas. Then the music can develop the themes as the movie progresses. I’m a great believer that you shouldn’t he able to plonk the music from reel six into reel one. It should have undergone a transition. There’s no better way of doing that than with themes.”

In anticipation of the Big Night, Dudley checked out some of the competition in her category and found Men In Black a strong contender.

“I thought the score was terrific,” she confesses. “A classic Danny Elfman sort of score that really complements the film.”

In another category she quotes Jerry Goldsmith’s work on L.A. Confidential as a good example of blending modern musical effects into a period piece. “The decisions that had been made about music were very interesting, because it’s a period piece. The music is quite modern, very orchestral and incorporates some wonderful drum effects. It was beautifully done.”

Back on the hits-from-the-movie theme, she says that acquiring the right source music can be problematic.

“Sometimes you can get very excited about including one particular track, maybe basing your score or instrumentation around that track - and then you can’t license it,” she says, adding that the whole area of intellectual rights is fraught with complexity.

“There’s a story about Irving Berlin, who was always very protective,” she recalls. “Someone wanted to license his song Always when Berlin was aged about 99. The answer came back: ‘Mr Berlin has this in mind for a future project’.”

She believes protection of intellectual rights to be very important. “If we didn’t have music publishers battling away, we wouldn’t earn anything. People think music’s there to be had.”

She remains fond of her TV dramatic scores, describing an episode of the first series of Kavanagh QC.

“It was an episode where a swimming race was intercut with a scene in which a woman has to turn off the life support machine of her son who’s been the victim of a hit and run driver. It was a gift to write music for. The scene segued into the end titles and so I changed the end title music slightly to sustain the mood. Of course nobody ever noticed it - nobody ever notices any music on TV. But it was certainly one of the pieces I thought worked all the way through.”

Apart from the Kaye film, she is just finishing a new Art of Noise album, tentatively titled The Seduction of Claude Debussy. “It’s very much an end of the century project. We’ve taken Debussy as a sort of model who was working almost exactly 100 years ago and who had an enormous influence on 20th century music.”

Dudley herself is something of an old-fashioned composer. While many of her peers create music using software, samplers and sequencers, Dudley composes melodies and conceives structures while sitting at a piano, and she writes out her scores by hand.

The receipt of an Oscar may have opened some very interesting doors for her. In anticipation, I ask if she has a dream project. Or doesn’t she think like that?

“It’s unwise to speculate,” she replies. “I like the expression: ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your life’s plan’.”

OK, have there been any nightmare projects?

“Most of the ones I’ve done. No. Only kidding. Really.”