Professional drummer Antonio Sanchez performed at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center on Friday, free-form drumming along with the movie “Birdman,” a film whose score was produced solely by him.
“Birdman” is a dark comedy that follows Riggan Thomson, a washed-up star who spends all his resources on a last-ditch effort to remain relevant. Throughout the film Thomson, played by Michael Keaton, has his mental health deteriorate as he chaotically goes through life.
The deterioration of his mental health in the film is best accentuated by the film’s score, with its sporadic nature, serving as a perfect reminder of the volatility that surrounds Riggan’s life and legacy.
Before his performance, Sanchez participated in a 30-minute panel where he told the audience about his personal experiences as a musician as well as the process of producing a score for this critically-acclaimed film.
“If [a film and its score are] well done … it can be incredibly effective and elevate the two [art forms] to the next level,” Sanchez said.
This aforementioned thought is something that has existed since the two mediums first began to collaborate in the era of silent film. Musicians supplemented moving pictures with live music that matched its tone and had a tendency to be unscripted.
Scores from the silent film era mostly consisted of piano melodies, which was the norm for a movie score. Despite this, the director of “Birdman” felt the need to switch things up.
Taking a more unconventional approach, director Alejandro González Iñárritu chose to hire Sanchez for a score that’d be highly improvised and free-form, something the drummer is highly accustomed to.
“[Inarritu is] a genius that picks a person and lets them do their thing,” Sanchez said. “It was incredibly liberating.”
From there Sanchez began making demos of his score, basing the performances off of detailed descriptions the director gave him before the film even had an official script.
The intuitiveness in Sanchez’s demo tapes made it so that Iñárritu could use them as a guiding tool for actors as they went through each scene.
From there the artistic pair worked together to smooth out the edges and as a result won a Grammy for its drum-centric score that stood out like a sore thumb in the film industry. This unconventional score has impacted many viewers and has become a selling point for the film.
“It was so effective and to my knowledge it was the first time that it’s ever been done,” audience member Jim Wong said. “It set the movie apart and created an eerie feeling that was otherworldly.”
The eeriness in Sanchez’s performance was a highlight of his live performance and was highly elevated because of the acoustics in the Carpenter Center.
This shined best in the film’s final scene, a ubiquitous moment that ends with a devastated smile from Emma Stone that’s paired with a flurry of drumming sequences — a manifestation of all her trauma.
“Technique can help tell a story in the best way possible,” Sanchez said. “[It] shows how well you can convey something.”
These same sequences continue through the credits and were expanded upon at Sanchez’s show where he riffed for more than 10-minutes after the movie finished, ending with the event’s most captivating aspect.Despite his Long Beach show having come to a close, Sanchez still has more performances around the United States, with another 13-scheduled for the spring season.