Saturday, December 16, 2017
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'Birdman' composer Antonio Sanchez brings movie's drum soundtrack to Tampa

Nobody left theaters in 2014 humming the Birdman theme.

You could tap it on hard surfaces or hiss it through your teeth. Whatever it took to imitate the only instrument Antonio Sanchez used to compose the Academy Award-winning movie's score: a jazz drum kit.

Sanchez's improvised percussion was the heartbeat of Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), a meta show biz character study. The movie won four Oscars including best picture and director.

Despite earning a Golden Globe and Grammy, Sanchez's Birdman score was deemed ineligible for an Oscar, citing the film's use of pre-recorded classical music.

That's okay. Nobody's playing The Grand Budapest Hotel's winning score on a concert tour, as Sanchez is with Birdman, on a break from his steady gig with the Pat Metheny Group.

Next stop, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, where Iñárritu's movie will be shown Thursday night with Sanchez accompanying on drums.

Sanchez, 44, recently spoke with the Times about working with Iñárritu, and how his one-man show operates. Here are excerpts.

I'm guessing that you pack an impressive drum kit on tour.

It's not actually that big. It's all based on a jazz drum kit, traditionally four pieces: snare drum, bass and a couple of tom toms. I expanded a little bit with another floor tom, a really deep one, and one more snare drum. I just have maybe four or five cymbals.

Some of the sounds that were very prominent in Birdman are a couple of stacks, when you put one cymbal on top of another, so it vibrates in a weird way. It sounds choked, a drier sound more than a wet sound, but a long sound, as you would expect from a cymbal.

In some of those scenes where it was very chaotic and the feeling we wanted to portray was anxiousness, those were the cymbals I would go to. It made these really biting, incisive percussive sounds. Alejandro loved those.

Are you watching the movie on a video monitor?

Yes, on a monitor in front of me, with a timecode. If I don't have a timecode it would be really hard to coordinate, especially the beginning credits and end credits … when the letters start appearing with each drum hit.

It's easy to imagine a orchestral composer like John Williams working with Spielberg in post-production. How different was it for you and Alejandro?

It's a very visceral instrument. The way he was communicating to me was in very rudimentary sounds: "I want some blam right here, and some shwsh shwsh there." I would have to interpret those as, okay, he wants something bashy here or quieter there. The cool thing about it was he let me do my thing. He gave me direction but he just let me go. He wasn't nitpicking and micro-managing everything. He wanted spontaneity in my performance, which he thought would fit the best in the movie.

Alejandro is famous for being incredibly detail oriented, verging on difficult sometimes. But I have to say in my experience it was very easy, very relaxed, a lot of fun. The whole thing took us two days, basically.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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