Art, Music Faculty Settle a (Film) Score

Violinist Michael Shih, left, and cellist Leda Dawn Larson work on a film score at Studio 360 on May 2. (Photo by James Dunning/COLA)
Violinist Michael Shih, left, and cellist Leda Dawn Larson work on a film score at Studio 301 on May 2. (Photo by James Dunning/COLA)

For the fourth time, two College of Liberal Arts faculty members are collaborating on an original project.

Senior Lecturer Micah Hayes (Music) recently finished writing and recording a music score for a new short film by Assistant Professor Ya’Ke Smith (Art & Art History). Since 2010, the two have worked together on music for four of Smith’s films, including two short films, a documentary and a critically acclaimed feature, “WOLF.”

Hayes, who is the area coordinator for the music industry program, said his approach to writing compositions for films includes courting feedback from the director.

“When you’re writing music for film or TV, you’re working for someone else,” he said. “You are contributing to the director’s vision. … With Ya’Ke, I would offer a few ideas, he tells me what he likes or doesn’t like, and then I have something to work with.”

The latest collaboration is for “dawn.,” a short film Smith said will be ready for screening in early June. The film, he said, focuses on a woman recently released from prison who struggles to adjust to life on the outside. Smith said sound mixing and color correction will be completed in Austin.

Earlier this month, the duo worked with two members of the Wyeth String Quartet of Fort Worth. Violinist Michael Shih and cellist Leda Dawn Larson recorded their parts in Studio 301 in the Fine Arts Building. Hayes said the film score included haunting melodies, sustained notes and string noise – sounds not typically associated with violin and cello because Smith wanted “more of an abstract, atmospheric sound.”

“The music [in the film] is juxtaposed to the environment and world the character is living in,” Smith said. “She feels like she doesn’t fit in. The music helps the audience get inside of her head and feel that isolation.”

Smith, the Morgan Woodward Distinguished Professor of Film, has been developing several projects, including a second feature, “Heaven.” In March, he was one of 10 screenwriters from across the country invited to participate in the Sundance Writer’s Intensive in Los Angeles. He said the experience enabled him to better approach the characters he had in mind and the overall tone of “Heaven.” As he continues to work on that project, Smith said “dawn.” will enable him and his production team to stay visible for investors and strengthen relationships built with national film festivals.

Hayes has spent most of his career engineering and composing for film and TV. He has enjoyed his collaborations with Smith and feels his contributions have enhanced each project.

“A sign of a good filmmaker is when they’re very careful where they use music,” he said. “Music can be a crutch, especially when a scene isn’t coming together the right way. A good movie will benefit from music. But a lot of times, it’s more about what you don’t write that works.”

Assistant Professor Ya’Ke Smith (Art & Art History), right, and Senior Lecturer Micah Hayes (Music) discuss the film score for Smith's new short film at Studio 360 on May 2. (Photo by James Dunning/COLA)
Assistant Professor Ya’Ke Smith (Art & Art History), right, and Senior Lecturer Micah Hayes (Music) discuss the film score for Smith’s new short film at Studio 301 on May 2. (Photo by James Dunning/COLA)

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(Story by James Dunning/COLA)

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