Anton Sanko Talks Scoring "Rabbit Hole" and Getting In Nicole Kidman's Head
Tue, 04 Jan 2011 08:33:10
Anton Sanko made some intriguing choices when it came to composing the score for Rabbit Hole.
Rather than go a standard route, he picked up his guitar and plucked out music that was equally haunting and lilting. Certainly, Sanko sonically explores the film's theme of harrowing loss, but his composition exudes an ethereal quality that's oddly uplifting. Rabbit Hole examines how a seemingly happy couple—Becca [Nicole Kidman] and Howie [Aaron Eckhart]—cope with the death of their son. It would've been easy for Sanko to go maudlin, but his score tastefully deals with the serious subject matter while soaring above the darkness at all the right moments. It all comes from his mastery of the six strings and deep musical empathy.
Anton Sanko sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about his use of classical guitar in Rabbit Hole, getting inside Nicole Kidman's head, and so much more.
Do you feel like Rabbit Hole was more suited to classical guitar than an orchestra?
This film required a delicate touch. I felt like that was a good voice to go with. You can convey a lot with it—if you use it appropriately. I hope it worked right for the film.
This score definitely stands alone without the accompanying visuals.
That's always a goal you hope to achieve, but it's not necessarily always possible. Fortunately, in this movie, John [Cameron Mitchell, director] left a lot of room for the music to say what it needed to say. It's a little bolder and can make some thematic statements that aren't always available when you have a lot of dialogue or action going on. I thank John for giving me the chance to do that.
Typically, do the characters or story dictate the music's direction more?
It unfolds as you go along. In this case, a lot of the score was unintentionally driven by Nicole Kidman's character. She's got a very specific internal dialogue going on that I felt the score could comment on and support. The score became her voice because she's living in this world of optimistic denial. She possesses a desire to move ahead in her life and forward from what's already happened to them. That's what I wanted the score to address and speak about.
Music can convey emotions where words often fall short.
The whole goal of the film was not to speak about the drama, the tragedy, the angst, and all the other dark stuff that was already there. That's a given, and it's a lot to deal with emotionally. The score lets people know that things could be okay in the future, and it's alright to laugh now and then. It possibly provides a perspective of what could be with their lives.
The score is very ethereal and dreamy too.
That is an element of Nicole's character, and I felt like that was something I could latch onto as well. In a way, she and her husband are both in a suspended state of animation. They're addressing it in different ways. "Dreamy" might be one word that's appropriate to describe it. We were very careful not to let the music have any sharp edges or poke out too much. Everything was constrained within a certain frequency range and that contributes to that dreamy quality you're referring to.
Do you feel like guitar can fit over anything?
Yeah, there can be danger in using it incorrectly. For me, electric guitar can go down a dangerous, commercial-sounding path in the wrong hands. It is a great instrument though, and there's a ton of stuff you can do with it. It's like a little orchestra onto itself.
You can embody so many different moods with those six strings.
It's such a beautiful sound. It needs to be heard more. It can be tender, it can be aggressive, it can be poignant, it can be angry. There's a lot there.
There's something very human about exploring those feelings in such a raw manner, and the cue titles certainly fit well.
That's true. It's a fine line. Obviously, we didn't want to go about titling songs things like, "The Incredibly Sad Moment Where Nicole Cries." That's not a good title [Laughs].
Rabbit Hole can catch the viewer off guard at certain points.
That's thanks to David Lindsay-Abaire's incredibly skillful writing, his understanding of the human consciousness, the way people really exist in life, and how they deal with tragedy. It's so beautifully written. I felt like I was trying to rise to the level of everyone else on this particular project. The whole quality of everything was so high. We all knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime project, and it was treated with incredible respect by everyone. It was fantastic.
What guitar players do you always come back to?
When I was growing up, Ralph Towner was my teacher. He was the guitar player in Oregon. He's one of my ultimate heroes. There are a number of guys I like to listen to for harmonic stuff. I love John McLaughlin's sense of harmony and his modal influences. I love Frank Zappa for his rhythmic ideas. Steve Rice wrote some incredible stuff that's extremely interesting to me. I'm into that minimalist writing.
Have you seen Rabbit Hole?