DIF­FER­ENT DRUM­MER

The rhythm of An­to­nio Sanchez’s life as a per­former has changed in the wake of his un­usual, award-win­ning sound­track for Bird­man, writes Iain Shed­den

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile -

An­to­nio Sanchez is slightly non­plussed about all the awards that have come his way in the past year or so. “I wasn’t do­ing any­thing dif­fer­ent to what I nor­mally do,” says the 44-year-old Mex­i­can, “just play­ing my drums.”

Ad­mit­tedly he’s an ex­cel­lent drum­mer, much in de­mand for his so­phis­ti­cated jazz chops, as he has been for most of his ca­reer, but it’s only since the release of the fea­ture film Bird­man or (The Un­ex­pected Virtue of Ig­no­rance), di­rec­tor Ale­jan­dro G. Inar­ritu’s highly orig­i­nal tale of an ac­tor con­fronted by his past, star­ring Michael Keaton, that Sanchez has had to find room on his man­tel­piece for tro­phies, in­clud­ing a BAFTA and, in Oc­to­ber, one for best film score from the World Sound­track Awards.

“It’s not like I was really do­ing any­thing out of my com­fort zone and awards was the last thing I was think­ing about when we started on the project,” he says. “That’s not on your radar. So when the movie started gath­er­ing steam ... the amount of awards they give out is al­most funny.”

One that didn’t come his way was an Os­car. Sanchez’s score was deemed in­el­i­gi­ble for the Acad­emy Awards be­cause it con­tained other mu­si­cal el­e­ments, in­clud­ing seg­ments by Mahler and Tchaikovsky. Sanchez says he was dis­ap­pointed at the judges’ de­ci­sion, but isn’t sure it would have won in any case.

“Of course ev­ery­body was an­gry when it first hap­pened,” he says. “I thought it was un­fair, but the sil­ver lin­ing was that the score got so much public­ity be­cause of the elim­i­na­tion that more peo­ple talked about it that way than if it had got nom­i­nated and not won. I doubt it would have won. A first-timer? A jazz mu­si­cian? I really doubt that it would have won, but maybe it could have.”

Sanchez, more at­tuned to be­ing the per­cus­sive back­bone to mod­ern jazz play­ers such as Pat Metheny and Chick Corea, or to per­form­ing with his own ensem­ble, took a sharp left turn when his friend Inar­ritu asked him to come up with a score for his movie us­ing only the in­stru­ment he uses ev­ery day of his life, his drum set.

Since the film’s release late last year, Bird­man has gar­nered broad crit­i­cal ac­claim and awards in non-mu­si­cal cat­e­gories, too. So suc­cess­ful have the film and it’s un­usual, cru­cial mu­sic com­po­nent been that Sanchez is en­joy­ing a sec­ond wind as a con­se­quence, per­form­ing the score in con­cert along­side the movie at se­lect venues around the world. It’s in that mode the drum­mer will ar­rive in Aus­tralia next month, to per­form Bird­man at MONA FOMA in Ho­bart and at Sydney Fes­ti­val.

The live sound­track is an ex­pe­ri­ence where there is an op­tion to switch from watch­ing the film to watch­ing the ac­com­pa­ny­ing mu­si­cian at work. That’s why Sanchez po­si­tions him­self un­der dim light­ing to the side of the screen for most of the per­for­mance.

“I don’t like tak­ing up too much vis­ual field,” he says. “I want the movie to be the fo­cus. That’s what’s so cool about it. Peo­ple have the choice to look at me or the film. I like be­ing off to the side and un­der dimmed light. Then at the end, when the cred­its are rolling, the light switches to me and I’ll play a crazy long solo.”

So far Sanchez has done that in Los An­ge­les, at a con­cert where Keaton in­tro­duced him, and in New York. There are plans to take the Bird­man drum­ming ex­pe­ri­ence to Europe next year. The drum­mer im­pro­vises each time, just as he did when first asked to come up with a drum score to the script, so no two per­for­mances are the same. He ad­mits, how­ever, that the di­rec­tor wasn’t happy with what he was do­ing when the project got un­der way.

“He sent me the script and I read through it and started send­ing him some demos based on that,” says Sanchez, “but he wasn’t really lik­ing

Bird­man what I was send­ing him. He wanted some­thing that was a lot more or­ganic and less or­gan­ised — and what I was send­ing him was very or­gan­ised.”

The thes­pian and mu­si­cal dis­ci­plines locked to­gether only af­ter the di­rec­tor used those early drum tracks to in­struct his ac­tors, to give the film an un­usual rhythm in move­ment and di­a­logue.

“We were in the stu­dio while they were still shoot­ing the film,” says Sanchez, “and we worked with the script, pretty much do­ing ev­ery scene which he en­vis­aged with drums.

“They used those demos on the set while they were work­ing with the ac­tors, so they would de­velop a rhythm of what the whole thing was go­ing to be like.”

Sanchez later recorded the drum parts again “to make them sound more raw”.

THE JOB OF A MU­SI­CIAN IS TO KEEP REINVENTING YOUR­SELF

AN­TO­NIO SANCHEZ

Mex­i­can drum­mer An­to­nio Sanchez and, left, Michael Keat­ing in

Con­tin­ued on Page 4

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