Sunday, 3 September 2017

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: MUSIC AND “THE SIMPSONS”

42. “This is the part where we would make a joke but neither Alf’s work nor the music of The Simpsons is treated as anything but seriously by us.”


03/09/2017




What on earth is going on at “The Simpsons”? It is a show that has been running so long, working as an actor, writer or producer is practically a job for life. Episodes are now well-known enough to have passed into universally shared folklore. It should not have surprised its producers that firing their composer, Alf Clausen, after twenty-seven years, would have produced headlines around the world.

The facts of the story are that Clausen told “Variety” magazine that “Simpsons” producer Richard Sakai had told him the show was seeking “a different kind of music,” and his services were no longer required. The show’s resident orchestra of thirty-five players have also been reported as having been fired. No further reason was given for Clausen’s firing, although there have been previous attempts to cut costs in order to continue the show, including the cutting of voice actors’ pay. The following day, it was confirmed that Clausen would have an “ongoing role” in “The Simpsons,” although the statement provided by the producers did not elaborate on this.

Orchestral scores are now often found in animated shows, and live-action shows often feature this as part of the approach to more filmic production values. However, when “The Simpsons” began in 1989, the severely restricted budget for TV animation, not seen regularly in prime time since “The Flintstones” ended in 1966, could only stretch to plinky-plonky synthesiser jobs or, if real instruments were used, it was either for cues that would be reused many times, often found in Hanna-Barbera cartoons, or found in library music made for other purposes – both the 1960s “Spider-Man” series, and “The Ren and Stimpy Show,” made a virtue out of using library music as part of the offbeat vibe found in their shows.


Meanwhile, Alf Clausen spent the 1980s scoring live-action TV series like the sitcom “ALF,” and the dramatic comedy series “Moonlighting,” which starred Cybill Shepherd and Brice Willis as a screwball comedy in the Katharine Hepburn-Cary Grant mould. Like “The Simpsons,” “Moonlighting” would also make use of fantasy sequences, and postmodern self-conscious references to itself and other shows, so Clausen was able to continue in the same vein as before. Before accepting to score “The Simpsons” from its third season onwards, Matt Groening convinced Alf Clausen that, unlike other animated shows, “The Simpsons” is a drama where the characters happen to be drawn, and the emotion in the characters and stories was what needed to be underscored first, before the action - this avoids the “mickey mousing” that Clausen may have been worried about.

It is currently unknown what “The Simpsons” will sound like when its next season begins. Alf Clausen was not the first composer for the show -  film composers Richard Gibbs and Arthur B. Rubinstein were the composers for the first and second seasons respectively.  As everyone knows, Danny Elfman wrote the theme tune, after Matt Groening wanted a retro theme that was “a big orchestrated, obnoxious, arrogant theme that promised you the best time of your life,” while being inspired by a mixtape, created by Groening, that included the theme for “The Jetsons,” Latin jazz-inspired lounge music by Jean Garcia Esquivel, a Remington electric shaver jingle by Frank Zappa, a teach-your-parrot-to-talk record, and selections from Nino Rota’s score for the 1965 Federico Fellini film “Giulietta degli spiriti” (“Juliet of the Spirits”). Even with Alf Clausen continuing in some capacity, it is clear that a formula for the perfect “Simpsons” soundtrack exists, and the reaction of last week confirms that tampering with it will incur the wrath of the two generations that have grown up with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment