Graphic of a two-headed lizard from eXistenZ

Transcript: Naked Lunch: Music

HOWARD SHORE: Things evolve when you work on a film. You have ideas and you kind of follow them. One thing I learned was to follow every idea you had. Track it down and see why you had that dream. Don’t discourage ideas. Develop them.

With Ornette it was just an idea. I remembered a recording – I was working on Naked Lunch and I went through all of Burroughs’s work trying to find musical references in the work. There actually wasn’t very many. I was trying to create – I knew I would want to create the world of Interzone in the film and I remembered a recording that Ornette did. It was from the sixties. It was called Midnight Sunrise and it was a collaboration with Ornette and The Master Musicians of Jajouka. It’s one of the oldest orchestras in the world, over 400 years old. It’s a Moroccan orchestra and they live in the Rif Mountains, the Atlas Mountains, in North Africa. He journeyed there and did a recording, a remote recording – with Robert Palmer, actually. And I thought, “That’s interesting. That’s a great jazz artist.” Like Burroughs recording with a Moroccan orchestra. Because a lot of Naked Lunch refers to North Africa and Tangier. I played that for David and he said, “That’s Interzone. That sound.” It’s a wild sound. It’s an African orchestra. I mean they play rhaitas and ney flutes. It’s a Berber tribe. They play percussion drumming and it’s a very wild, very expressive type of music.

So I thought, “Maybe, I’ll give Ornette a call.” I knew him from Saturday Night Live. I occasionally had the chance to put different artists on the programme and I had booked Ornette Coleman because I was just a fan. So I knew Ornette. I called him, he was in Copenhagen, and he said he was interested. I met him in London and we had more talks about it. Then, I built a little trio with him, with his son Denardo Coleman and a French bassist named Barre Phillips. And we set to work. The piece was written for the London Philharmonic and Ornette.

Well, I wrote the piece as if I was writing a score. I wrote a symphonic score for it and then added Ornette to it. I wrote it for him. I did one technique with him that I thought was interesting in that I had him in the studio with earphones, but he was playing live with the orchestra. Denardo was in a soundproof booth. Some of the music, and actually quite a bit of it, was written in these very slow tangos to evoke the colonial aspect of Morocco and Tangier. It had this slow tempos that the orchestra would play and Denardo would be playing double and triple time on the drums. Very fast. (MIMICS PERCUSSION SOUNDS) I give this to Ornette and he would of course play to Denardo because he would hear his son playing these rhythms. So he’d play this beautiful Charlie Parker-type bebop phrases over the slow moving orchestration. Because he’s a great jazz artist, he would play into the orchestra. He would find sections of the orchestra and he'd play into them, relate to them. Because jazz musicians play against each other, they play with it against each other. There is this constant flow of ideas that are going on. So he would kind of work with the orchestra in that way. It was a very – it was a wonderfully creative session. I was conducting it and Ornette was feeling great playing with a symphony orchestra in that way. So the results I think, as you know, have a lot of freedom to them. I think - I hope that they capture the essence of Burroughs’s world and Naked Lunch.