Peter Gabriel: “All music is about dabbling to some degree…”
WITH Birdy, there were some tracks you reworked from early solo albums. Were they the starting point? Well, I’ve always been keen on recycling, ha ha. And of course it saves time. I mean, that was initially the problem for me, with that project: Alan Parker wanted results faster than I thought I could generate them. But there was a lot of completely new material developed for that soundtrack, and the way in which we worked changed because of the demands of the score.
How did you meet Daniel Lanois? David Rhodes, my long-term collaborator, introduced me to Dan. I’d loved his work with Brian Eno, particularly the stuff Eno recorded with trumpeter Jon Hassell, who also appears on Birdy. You can hear echoes of that Eno/Hassell partnership on Birdy tracks like “Sketchpad With Trumpet And Voice”. I don’t believe that Dan had actually worked with U2 at this stage – I think that came after Birdy and before So. Dan was a great source of ideas and inspiration, some of which he acquired from Brian. He had a background in slowing things down and working with ambience, which was an education to me.
When did you start working on The Last Temptation Of Christ? Martin Scorsese had actually approached me not long after I’d finished Birdy, which I think is when he wanted to start making it. He had all the film set up, with actors in place – I think they were planning to start shooting in Israel – and then all the Christian groups turned up and got Paramount to pull the film. So it was only when he got funding that I started work on it in earnest.
Did you watch it being filmed? I spent a bit of time in Morocco while they were filming. There was a wonderful moment watching the rushes and seeing local people respond to Nusrat and Youssou’s vocals. Spine-tingling! Because of the budget cuts, instead of the 19,000 extras that Bertolucci could afford for The Last Emperor, Marty had, you know, 12 guys dressed as Roman soldiers. It was like a 1930s comedy – they had to run around, change costumes and then appear in another position! But it was incredible to see Marty create something this epic out of nothing. And, for me, there were some really powerful, emotional moments. Marty took his religion seriously – he was even going to be a priest at one point. He was determined to portray Christ’s struggle between humanity and divinity, the profane and the sacred. This wasn’t a sanitised Christ. Marty wanted references to the Middle East, but he wanted some hybrid between folk, rock and classical music, which made it a pioneering project. I learned how to compose for sound and atmosphere.
How did you collaborate with Scorsese? As soon as we got some of the early recordings in the can, I decided that I wanted to be where Scorsese was, so I rented a room in the Brill Building where he was editing. It meant we could grab each other when we needed to and get something special through this interaction. We also had Michael Powell, of Powell & Pressburger fame, around, because his wife Thelma was Marty’s long-term editor. He was a lovely presence.
Was there ever a concern about dabbling with music that some might consider sacred? Well, all music is about dabbling to some degree, and some of that ends up as a serious investigation. As long as there is some sympathy with the people and the music involved, I don’t have a problem with that at all. It’s usually the rhythms and the voices that get you hooked, everything else comes from that.
How did you get involved in Rabbit-Proof Fence? It was an indie film that Phillip Noyce was working on and I thought the story was really strong. It was a blank canvas, without huge amounts of dialogue, which meant that there was a lot of room for atmospheric music, so it was attractive to me in many ways.
Your music for Rabbit-Proof Fence uses a lot of ambient sound, just as Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for Once Upon A Time In The West uses wind, dripping taps, creaking doors, and so on… Yes, that was very much the initial idea. When I first met up with Phillip, I suggested that we use the natural sounds that he would have recorded while shooting the film. So the soundtrack would become the sonic journey made by the protagonists along this fence without any man-made noises to distract them. The natural world was generating their soundtrack.
“Martin Scorsese took his religion seriously. He was even going to be a priest at one point” PETER GABRIEL
Peter Gabriel in the early ’90s: “I’ve always been keen on recycling, ha ha”