Last night we went to the NYU Skirball Center to see a performance of Trailer Music Live. For those not familiar with this, basically there are a bunch of groups and companies that make music for film trailers. Think of every trailer you’ve seen with some form of epic music – a choir chanting, huge drums and bombastic noise. That’s all made by a handful of organizations. Now imagine that one of those groups performed some of their music live. That’s what we saw.
Or at least, that was the expectation of what we were going to see. What we actually saw was a valiant attempt at such, but one that more or less fell flat.
I’ll state this upfront: the performance of the music was very good. The NYU Symphony Orchestra played the pieces very well, and the NYC Master Chorale did a really spectacular job with what was basically two straight hours of chanting. From my uninformed viewpoint, they pulled off all the songs – some that I’m quite familiar with – and they were pretty close to the official recordings. They even pulled off a semi-ad libbed version of a song really well, which I’ll get to in a bit.
But the rest of the production suffered quite a bit. The first person I blame is the sound engineer. I don’t know what s/he was doing, but the whole event needed to be remixed. The drums were way, way too loud, and all of the strings and female vocals were largely drowned out. After the first half they seemed to have corrected the sound issues, but three songs in it went back to sounding terrible. The other person that gets blamed is John Graham, the conductor. A lot of the songs were disorganized and messy. During Preliator, easily their most well-known track, the three sections got slightly off cue, and for a good twenty seconds the entire thing was a jumble of noise. Each section was fine on its own, but somehow when they all came together it just didn’t work.
Other production issues included technical difficulties at the beginning (so no video was shown for two songs), odd lighting (particularly during the videos) and extremely awkward dialogue from the emcee. I’m blanking on his name now, but they said he was a blogger for HuffPo. Perhaps he should stick to writing for a website, because his banter just did not work. Coming back after two songs and saying, “Wasn’t that amazing?” (or some such) and having a decent chunk of the audience snicker is really not good. They also had a section where they showed a trailer without music, played three pieces, and asked the audience to vote on which one fit the best. The answer they were looking for was #3, but the audience went with #1. But when the emcee responded, he seemed to put #3 as the audience’s pick, and people grumbled in response.
There’s been a movement in the past few years to do multimedia performances like this. I’ve seen my share of them, but I’ll use Video Games Live as the archetype. Basically during that show, they play a medley from a video game and have video to accompany it; it’s usually clips of in-game video and such. Well, they tried to do that here as well – using clips from trailers – and it worked most of the time. The combination of watching part of an action trailer and hearing action-themed music really did work, and those songs were really enjoyable. But when it didn’t work, it really failed. The first two songs were supposed to have accompanying video, but for whatever reason they didn’t show. At the beginning of the second half, they actually commented on it and replayed both songs with the video, which were actually much better. During the last song of the night, the video was a trailer recap to sort of round things off. Let’s say the trailer was four minutes long. Around 3:30 into it, the song ended – but the trailer was still going. So Yoav Goren, the composer, yells out, “Once more – 1, 2, 3, 4!” and the orchestra and choir went into another few iterations of the main part of the song. By then the video had already ended, so it was really just them playing longer – an awkward thing to witness overall.
I understand that this was the second performance of Trailer Music Live ever, and that there were bound to be mistakes. I guess compared to the polish and gloss of Video Games Live – which is performed by a touring group that is constantly on the road – the show fell flat. It was pretty awesome to hear a bunch of epic music performed live, but there were some serious issues in the production itself that really detracted from the experience. The biggest disappointment was that there was such potential for this to be a really awesome performance: badass source material, capable musicians, and a pretty good venue – and yet somehow it just didn’t work out. Here’s hoping they get it right the third time.