‘mandela’ Composer Alex Heffes Reflects On The Experience Of Putting Music To A Legend’s Life

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“We wanted some percussion from the Eastern Cape where Mandela was born and we brought in people who could do correct infractions,” he explains In this respect, it was the people who were more important than the instruments. There were percussion instruments in the score he had never used before. And while a lot of the instruments were recognizable, the way they are played on the score is very different. “Seeing how South African musicians would react to the music and put their own stamp on it was fascinating,” he says. Even throughout this process, however, Heffes was also conscious about making sure the film spoke with “melodic integrity.” It’s one thing to have indigenous flare but another to speak the language of film music, and to tie the two concepts together. Composing involved more than sitting alone in a room writing music and traveling to South Africa to record it, however. It also involved collaborating with the film’s sound artists and film editor. “I first saw a cut in late February 2013,” Heffes says. “It was a first cut and it was very, very powerful. It was longer than the cut is now but was structured pretty much the same way.” The first person on the film Heffes would usually work with was of course director Chadwick, who Heffes describes as “very very open. He hires people that he trusts and he gently steers in the direction he wants it to go. He has an openness and willingness to collaborate and a very clear vision.” Something that was quite unusual as the film was sculpted in post-production is that a few scenes were actually re-cut for music. Typically picture edit is locked by the time a composer comes around to it. When he felt he had a perfect cue that needed some extension, “Justin would literally hear the cue and he’d phone up the editor and ask to add ten seconds,” Heffes says.
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