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Making Connections: Ray Harryhausen (Part 2)

I’ve been thinking about Ray Harryhausen and the way he created his art, which was highly unusual at the time. Film by nature is a collaborative medium – the idea of creating most of a motion picture in your workshop essentially by yourself just makes no sense – especially in the 1950’s-60’s before computers. On top of that, he wasn’t just creating special FX, he was creating whole worlds and inventing creatures who lived in them. If you read much about him, two things quickly become apparent.

  1. That he worked alone.
  2. That what he created had no corollary in the real world.

This has some obvious parallels to making music today. For the sake of argument, let’s say that there are essentially two ways to make and record music (in reality they often blend together, but not always). The first is that you get a group of musicians in a room and record them. Until the 1980’s, this is how all music was made (notwithstanding a few very rare outliers).

With the advent of computer technology in the late 1980’s, artists began to assemble records by programming, often working alone. This has only become more pronounced as time went on. But these two approaches obviously yield very different results.

Early on, musician/programmers sought to make sequenced music sound like real players (a generalization, but bear with me). The thought was that “real” music was made by humans playing live, together and in real time, in a room somewhere. But I would argue that’s false, and Ray Harryhausen‘s work provides a useful metaphor.

He didn’t attempt to make stop-motion animation look real, it would have been impossible anyway. So instead he simply used it as a tool to create things that never could have existed in reality, adding to their otherworldly power.

I think this is the clue to creating music with computer technology – not to try and recreate reality, rather, to invent a new reality.