The Matrix Goes Live

See Neo doing his bullet-time thing in front of a live orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall...

It may not feature Keanu Reeves dodging bullets in slo-mo live on stage, but Matrix Live still promises to be one of this year’s hot sci-fi tickets. Featuring the entire original Matrix movie (you know, the good one) and a full, live orchestra playing Don Davis’s score in front of the sound effects and pictures, it’s a new way of watching a classic movie – and a good opportunity to see first hand the work that goes into scoring a film. After a sell out performance in Hanover, Germany, back in May, the show is coming to the Royal Albert Hall for one night in October. We spoke to Beate Warkentien, managing director of the European Film Philharmonic, to find out what to expect when Matrix Live hits London…

There are loads of films out there you could have given the “live” treatment. Why did you pick The Matrix ?
Our main business is silent movie projects that have great scores to accompany them, and we have done Metropolis and Chaplin and so on. Now we wanted to go a step further to look closer to home, to recent film history, films that are spectacular on the film side and especially for the music. We approach every project from the music point of view and look at the films which have such great music that it would be worth listening to at a concert. We had another concert where we presented the Matrix Symphony – we did the world premiere for all three parts in Hamburg five years ago – and then from that point we started to think that this music is so great that it would be good if we could produce this as one, with the whole film and music together.

The Matrix score isn’t an obvious choice: it doesn’t have many catchy hooks and Don Davis isn’t really a household name…
That’s a big part of it, because it was not just a normal Hollywood-style score – it’s a bit different, and I think the film at that time 10 years ago was revolutionary with the special effects, and even the score fits so perfectly to the style of film. It’s minimal music, avant-garde and contemporary, but also in a special way harmonic, and we thought it would be great if we could show the audience other kinds of composition existing in Hollywood films.

You certainly couldn’t hum it…
No. There is only one melody, from the love scene at the end, but there’s nothing you can sing, and I think many people were astonished we chose The Matrix because they couldn’t remember the music. If you’re watching the DVD, the music is absolutely underneath the sound effects, and now we turn around the ratio of music and sound effects – now the music is what you listen to with the effects are behind.

Has Don Davis been involved with the project?
Don Davis was very cooperative and very, very kind. He gave us the score and we produced it, we had to engrave the music new, because orchestra players need their parts all printed now, and his score at that time was handwritten.

Are you faithful to what was recorded for the film?
Absolutely. At some points the handwritten score wasn’t at what was recorded in the recording session, and we had guys who listened closely to the recording and said this is different to the score, so then we stick to how it was in the recording. The only thing is that there are three pianos in the score and we have two pianos on the stage – the third one should be a prepared piano [a piano whose sound has been altered by objects resting on or between the strings], but we asked Don if it was okay to have a keyboard there with samples of the sound. Otherwise, though, it’s like the original.

Some of the most famous bits of music in The Matrix aren’t score at all, but bits of dance/rock tracks from the likes of Propellorheads and Rob D. What do you do in those moments? The music which Don Davis hasn’t composed for the soundrack we left in the soundtrack. Especially for these very hard scenes [like Neo and Trinity’s assault on Agent Smith’s skyscraper], I’m finding it good that we don’t play it live because it would violate the scene.

It must be an exhilarating experience for the musicians: they can’t play around with the timing or take a break…
Absolutely, they really love this project and Frank Strobel, the conductor, has a perfect mind to conduct the orchestra really on this point. The orchestra has to be very confident in the style of the conductor, because they have to always react and be in time.

With Metropolis , Star Wars , The Lord Of The Rings and now The Matrix all getting the orchestra treatment, the door has been opened for this kind of live performance. Do you think we’re going to see more?
Yes, absolutely, especially with the success of Metropolis last year – it was really well received all over the world that it’s very spectacular to watch a film with the orchestra underneath. I think what is really important now is that people get good film music to listen to. You have such quality now in the presentation of the film that it’s absolutely contemporary art – every minute composers are creating new music, and maybe next year there will be another great film with great music, and then in five year’s we’ll have it in a concert hall.

Matrix Live comes to the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday 23 October. For more information, or to book tickets, visit www.royalalberthall.com or call 020 7589 8212