By Simon de Bruyn
Australian musician and film composer Benjamin Speed has won a slot working alongside acclaimed singer, poet and screenwriter Nick Cave for the new short film from South Australian production company The People’s Republic of Animation.
Speed, who recently scored the PRA’s award winning short Sweet & Sour, as well as Tropfest finalist Glass, has regularly worked with the Adelaide animation studio since he did the score for Errorism: A Comedy of Terrors in 2005.
PRA co-founder Eddie White explains that Cave came on board to narrate the five minute film noir, called The Cat Piano, which White wrote in “Jack Kerouac style beat poetry” about a city of singing cats. Jessica Brentnall of Magic Films in Sydney is producing.
White says Cave was his first choice to narrate the short, and that this side of the project was completed late last year while Cave was on tour with Grinderman.
“He came into the studio and did five reads of the poem. It was amazing and very flattering that he’d agreed to read something I’d written,” he says.
Speed is currently working on the score for the short film. He says while he is relishing the rare opportunity to compose alongside Cave’s voice, he is trying to find his own jazz sound that fits the noir feel.
“I’ve listened to Nick Cave since I was a teenager, so there would have to be some subconscious funnellings of his music into this film. But I’m not actively looking for influences. The poem resonates with Cave’s ideals and that’s why he agreed to do it and there’s the good baggage that’s attached to that,” he explains.
“I’m the type of person that likes all different genres of music but then only the best of that genre. I don’t discriminate, and don’t hate country music or polka or Top 40 even; I just like whatever is the best. The film is at a pretty early stage right now but the influence is that noir, jazz, old crusty dark vibe.”
White says the idea behind The Cat Piano came when he was shown a picture of a bizarre instrument invented in the 17th century by inventor Athanasius Kircher to lift the spirits of an Italian prince.
“Every key played would link up to a cat, with a different pitched voice. Then when the keys were played, the cats would be triggered to cry out, creating this strange music. It was horrific and terrible but appealed to my dark and twisted side. So I fashioned it into the base of a story that was set in a city of singing cats; cats start getting kidnapped and one starts to investigate,” he explains.
Speed explains he was hooked from the moment he heard the initial idea, and was looking forward to experimenting with sounds as well as music.
“I remember the very first picture before Eddie even wrote the script and it was just of these cats strung up in a piano and they were all screaming because they had nails going into the back of their tails, and then there was a person playing it. It was crazy. So I was basically on board when he sent me that first picture,” he says.
“The most interesting thing for me is going to be the sound of the cat piano and the interplay between the sound designer and the music. I have already started recording all these cat sounds and making the different pitches and finding weird screeches or meows and composing a piece to that. I downloaded dog woofs playing a symphony and it was great; that’s my kind of my idea but in a dark crazy way.”
Speed was formerly in Adelaide hip hop act The New Pollutants, and last year released a debut album through Creative Vibes under the moniker Mister Speed. He’s currently studying music composition at AFTRS in Sydney.
For more on Sound + Music, check out the new issue of Inside Film #108.