Andrew T. MacKay (‘Life of Pi’ composer) on making music in the rehearsal room to ‘get an instant reaction’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

“I really felt like theater was a family,” reveals Andrew T. MacKay. The composer has worked extensively on film, but his contributions to “Life of Pi” mark his first foray into composing for the theater. With no prior experience in the medium, the artist created his own unique process for creating a theatrical score. The end result is an astounding hour and a half of original music which helps bring the cinematic story of Pi to life. Watch the exclusive video interview above.

MacKay was unaware of what the standard process was for scoring a play, so he invented his own. “I decided to set my studio up in the rehearsal space and let those rehearsals unfold in front of me,” he explains. With his headphones on, he toiled away, conjuring music based on the scenes that were played out live before him. Then MacKay would broadcast his newly created score into the space, to “get an instant reaction” from the actors and creators. “Most of the comments I got were that it helped them create their character, or build on a character,” he notes. It’s a far cry from the “solitude” of film scoring, where the composer spends most of the process alone and removed from the action.

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“Life of Pi” is perhaps the perfect fit for MacKay’s particular brand of music. Having spent years living and working in India, he knew exactly what types of sounds would ring true for this story, and how to make them fit a Westerner’s ear. “As a composer, you’ve got to have a niche,” he explains, describing his own brand as “Indian orchestral electronica.”

The composer divided the music of the play into three thematic sections. In the first section, the play stays on land and explores Indian culture. So, MacKay centered the music around an Indian flute, a bansuri, in order to give “a feeling of a sense of place.” The second section features the cataclysmic ship sinking sequence. So the musician used a big orchestra sound, complete with epic strings clashing against industrial noises. The third section features Pi adrift on a small boat and dives into his mind. MacKay describes the score here as “more ambient,” using synths and other soundscapes to “give a more spiritual side of things.” He approaches the score almost like a painter, searching for various color palettes. Only in his case, he deals in palettes of sound. “For something so vast, you need to have a lot of variety,” explains MacKay, “because there are times where there’s no dialogue and its all music and action, almost like a ballet”

After inventing a new, dynamic method of creating music, MacKay is itching to make on-stage work a staple of his life. “I would love to do more theater, there’s no doubt. I’ve been hooked and pulled in!” he exclaims. “I hope this is the beginning of a long theater career.”

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