Internal Music in Film
Updated: Feb 18
Composer and Professor Timothy Blinko met me online to talk about his contribution to the feature film Euphony, written and directed by Sunny Seth. In the film Olivia, a pianist, slowly emerges from the most severe form of PTSD and agoraphobia and she processes her traumas through music.
LL: I understand you wrote music for the upcoming film 'Euphony' based on the internal soundtrack of the main character, Olivia. We often see characters talk to themselves or hear distorted sounds to convey to the audience what the character is thinking or what they hear. But I can’t remember a time the entire soundtrack was based on this internal lens. How did you approach the project where all music the audience hears is inside the main character’s head?
TB: That's right, Euphony is the first feature film where all the music including the beginning and end credits are 'heard' inside the head of the main character, Olivia.
There are several films where there is an occasional scene using this internal diegetic approach, but when I first saw an early cut of Euphony I was struck by the intensely personal nature of the film.
I found it achingly sad yet beautiful the way Olivia has shut herself off from the world in a beautiful and magical room filled with delightful objects, colours and light.
Most importantly there are two pianos, a grand an upright piano in her room and music is her sanctuary. But it was only when I started scoring the film that I realised that all the music could be written from this intense, internal perspective, so all of the music in the film became Olivia's music.
Olivia improvises at the piano as an emotional release, including on the opening and closing credits, which was a gift from the writer and director, Sunny Seth. There was then a process for me to frame every note of music from Olivia's internal viewpoint, so the audience hears what she hears. Fortunately, the director liked this idea a lot as it 'chimed' precisely with his own vision of the film.
LL: Was there anything personal to you that informed the idea of an internal score? Do you find yourself with a soundtrack in your head on a day-to-day basis as well?
TB: That's a very good question and the answer is yes. I have a well of music flowing all the time, both when I'm awake and in my dreams. I dreamed some original harmonies no one has used before when I was 18. I call then interchords, as instead of standard chords based on intervals of thirds, each interval in my interchords augments by a semitone moving up the chord in the 'augmenting interchords' or diminishes by a semitone in the 'diminishing interchords.' I feel lucky, as I am never blocked as a composer. I sit at the piano and musical ideas constantly flow. My younger son Alex has inherited this trait and he improvises a constant flow of beautiful music.
LL: How does this influence other music you compose?
TB: It's very helpful, as I could potentially just continuously create music, but I do like doing other things as well! I have taken to capturing a piece most days on my phone. I just sit at the piano and record it. I feel as though each day is worthwhile when I do this. Sometimes I use pencil and manuscript as well in the time-honoured way, but ideas can get lost with the amount of time this takes.
LL: Have you played the film score to a live audience? What has their response been?
TB: The film has been screened to audiences and this is what director Sunny Seth has said about the role and impact of the music:
'Timothy Blinko's approach in scoring all of the music from an internal diegetic viewpoint chimed exactly with my vision of the film. It is the first film to be scored in this way and this innovative approach has made the music transformatively intimate and personal throughout the narrative arc.
The impact of this together with the synaesthetic elements Tim deploys has had a big impact on audiences so far, moving them to tears and providing a deep sense of engagement.' – Sunny Seth, Director of Euphony.
I was also lucky to be staying in a wonderful five-star hotel in St Petersburg as part of a British Council event I was contributing to in 2019. I spotted a Steinway grand piano in the foyer and just couldn't resist! So I played three of the pieces I'd just sketched for Euphony. The result was unexpected. A very smart St Petersburg lady insisted on my autograph and knowing all about the music and the duty manager said he was going to have to let his current music staff go and upgraded me to an Executive King room in the Executive Suite! So dreams really can come true...
LL: Has working on this film changed how you view film music?
TB: I have scored several short films, but this is the first feature film I have worked on and it required a great deal of music. I loved working on it and felt very inspired. Sunny Seth was a great director to work for as he loves music and is very inspired by it. Working on Euphony made me more addicted than ever to writing film music and a short film I scored last year Happy Families is now on Amazon Prime Video. This has led to an exciting approach from an LA-based director to score his latest film which is in post-production.
Timothy Blinko is Professor of Music at the University of Hertfordshire where he also leads research degree supervision in music. You can hear his music for the feature film Euphony on all major streaming and download sites: Amazon Spotify