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Composer Andrew Bird: Norman at CIFF

October 31, 2010 | By | Add a Comment

Minami Furukawa

Norman by Andrew Bird

Over the past few years, local indie-folk musician Andrew Bird’s place in popular culture has been on an ongoing incalzando. His current schedule is reflective of that, with the artist simultaneously involved in a lengthy world-wide tour, collaborating with a Chicago artist to create an “arboretum of sonic sculptures,” and recording music for Sesame Street. Bird’s contributions to Jonathan Segal (The Last Run)’s indie rom-com Norman were highlighted at its premier in the Chicago International Film Festival on October 16th.

Norman chronicles a high schooler’s struggles amid tragic loss, and the impending responsibility of growing up in conjunction with the emotional strains typical of teenage life. Bird’s iconic whistling opens the film, introducing the protagonist, Norman Long, to the audience in a fitting image of the commonly unconfident student protagonist.

Segal, who was present at the screening after winning the Silver Hugo for New Director at the Festival, described his partiality to Bird’s music, and the profundity that he found in initial pairings of the visual piece to his music. Bird’s 2007 hit “Dark Matter” served as the deciding factor which led Segal and music supervisor Peyman Maskan to approach the musician as charge of Norman’s musical score.

Under a tight schedule between gigs during his tour, Bird recorded his ideas during week/weekend trips home in Chicago. Working with the director and music supervisor in Los Angeles, the resultant product after four or five cross-country sessions together is a compilation of Bird’s music, including a few composed songs specific to the movie, as well as Bird’s picks from various artists. Bird described the intense workload that this project demanded, saying “This is the first legitimate full length film that I did…I had the monitor of the film in the studio and I’m playing. It’s a lot of work. I don’t know if I ever want to do it again.”

Andrew Bird

On the movie’s Facebook page, Maskan described the outcome of Bird’s score in relation to the film as one that is able to “…[speak to] Norman’s feelings of isolation and helplessness, but at the same time allude to a rich and imaginative psychology hidden beneath the surface.” It’s true; Bird’s music does often evoke this kind of emotion, balancing lonely nostalgia with upbeat charm. But in relation to specific moments in the film, the resultant feelings seem rather to suggest disconnection over thoughtfulness, as Bird’s casual whistles and string instruments bridged and fused ‘upbeat’ and ‘melancholy’ into a single unrealized emotion.

Bird says of the movie, “It could do quite well…It’s got a fairly well known cast and it’s really well written and everything. It is more of a drama, it tackles high school drama without being lame.” Norman is currently in post-production, and is in the process of being sold for commercial distribution.

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