Although his percussion score for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2014 movie Birdman has been widely acclaimed, winning multiple awards, Antonio Sánchez remains ambivalent about his work. “It was just so rushed, and so hectic,” he explains, reached by phone during a visit to friends and family in Mexico City. “They were trying to finish the movie, so I had just a day and a half. It would be cool to take a little bit more time.
“I’ve seen the movie countless times by now, so I really know what to do,” he adds. “I wish I could go back in the studio and redo it.”
That won’t happen: Iñárritu is already at work on his next project, a television series named The One Percent, and Sánchez has new music to make himself. In addition to leading his own band and touring with guitarist Pat Metheny’s various groups, he’s scoring TV’s Get Shorty, a series based on Elmore Leonard’s gory and comic Las Vegas novel of the same name. But the drummer will get to revisit Birdman on the concert stage, when he performs a revised, expanded, and live version of the soundtrack as part of a screening of the film during this year’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
It’ll be interesting to hear how Sánchez’s choices differ from what he did the first time around. Some sources report that the score was improvised in a single take, but that’s not quite true; Sánchez took two passes at the soundtrack, one before the film was shot, the second synced to the rough footage. Both times, Iñárritu was in the studio to offer guidance, but Sánchez’s contributions were integral to the finished product’s compelling pace.
“First, we worked off of the script,” Sánchez explains. “Alejandro sat in front of me as I was playing, and we would imagine the scenes together. He would raise his hand every time he would see, in his mind, a change in the scene. If somebody was opening a door, he’d open his hands and I’d play an accent or something like that. We did the whole movie like that, basically, and then he took those demos and played them on the set, so that the actors could get a little bit of a feel of what it was going to be like.” After Iñárritu finished a rough cut of the film, Sánchez continues, “I basically redid everything with more detail.…and what ended up in the movie was a combination of both sessions.”
It’s not only the movie world that has gone wild for Sánchez’s intuitive approach to making soundtracks. Since Birdman’s release, he’s collaborated with the Leipzig Ballet on an interactive work for one drummer and 12 dancers, and some of the lessons he learned while working on the film percolated into his latest LP, the politically charged Bad Hombre.
Sánchez’s earlier albums, including 2015’s extraordinary The Meridian Suite, have been germinated from the drummer’s other instrument, piano. (He has a degree in classical performance from Mexico’s National Conservatory.) For Bad Hombre, however, he took the Birdman approach, beginning with “hours and hours of improvisation”.
“And then I started adding layers of electronics,” he notes. “So, yeah, I got inspired by Birdman, obviously, in that I could see how visual the drums could be when they were combined with the movie. So Bad Hombre’s very cinematic, in a way—and I don’t know if it would have existed if Birdman hadn’t existed first.”
The PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Capilano University, and the Vancouver International Film Festival present Birdman: Live at the Vogue Theatre next Thursday (February 1).