Read more on The Tin Drum – Charles Hazlewood on The Tin Drum from the Kneehigh Cookbook archive.
The premise of a story about a boy whose drum has the power to challenge, intoxicate, transform, is wildly interesting to any musician. And yet I first came to The Tin Drum in its film version: a seminal and rightly celebrated piece of work, but one which (for me) throws up a fundamental problem. If you read the original book you witness Oskar screaming or drumming, (his two catalysts of choice) and your imagination experiences it as a smorgasbord of death-defying to seductive, cheeky to unearthly, plaintive to rabble rousing: in your minds ear you hear choirs or symphonies or breakbeats or dirty funk, an index of musical outpouring; in the film we tolerate a mildly malevolent child relentlessly bashing a biscuit tin. A dreadful, dead-end din, and way too literal! Who doesnt remember being that child drumming the kitchenware and hearing worlds of excitement and possibility! My mums cake tins were timpani and steel pans and organs and trombones!
“In the film we tolerate a mildly malevolent child relentlessly bashing a biscuit tin. A dreadful, dead-end din, and way too literal!”
I took the decision early on to create the score for The Tin Drum with beautiful old-school analogue synthesisers and attendant drum pad tech. Whirry, fizzy, unpredictable, warm, weird. Arguably these instruments do exactly what my childhood mind did, in massaging, morphing and reinterpreting brittle taps into seismic, sensual waves of harmony and colour. Oskars drum must suggest light and shadow, horror and sweetness. It must be a catalyst. Wendy Carlos or Tomita did similar in reinterpreting Bach or Debussy through the mouthpiece of Moog synthesisers in the seventies. The same, yet different from the originals. A parallel world of the imagination, just like in childhood. (My first album purchases, on my seventh birthday, were Abba and Tomita. Ive never been the same since). I adore the fact that four extraordinary musicians (Ross, Ruth, Alex and Dom I salute you) can massage this gorgeous cornucopia of synths and achieve a palette every bit as multi-coloured as an 80-piece symphony orchestra.
I dont work like a conventional composer, i.e. writing a fully completed score in a room on my own. Its all about the chemistry and opportunity in the rehearsal room. Its probably because I am a conductor, first and foremost: my instrument is the orchestra, and there isnt one of those in my front room. I come to Kneehigh rehearsals with a clear sense of core ingredients, outer architecture, but with the freedom to discover the essence of a musical personality through working the materials with the performer; hopefully what emerges feels authentic and true for each actor and the character they inhabit. They have truly had a major hand in the creation of all their music.
I obsessively love a vast dynamic spectrum, everything from brutally loud to on-the-breath quiet (just like Oskars drum). Yet we live in an age where virtually all theatre is radio micd; to my ear, this drastically limits the sound picture and the perspective an actor might be singing from downstage left, and (s)he could be anywhere. And it takes much of the actors potency away. I find the overall effect colourless, monochrome, a bit like the films Oskar drumming versus the books. My interest is to create a three-dimensional sound world which is both dramatic and subtle, honouring the wildly wide-ranging capabilities of the audiences ear, encompassing the very very loud and the very very quiet; where 10 actors can scream down 10 microphones, but conversely where within a tower of electronic sound we can still hear a single naked, unamplified voice.