The revered composer and Go-Between speaks about working across mediums, the people that inspire her, and what it means to be a woman in the film industry.
Amanda Brown was a member of the seminal Australian band The Go-Betweens. She is also a prolific screen composer who has won several awards across Australian film and television, most notably for her Babyteeth score.
You were a member of arguably one of the most iconic Australian bands ever, The Go-Betweens. Your work on 16 Lovers Lane remains some of the most cherished Australian music ever. You still work from time to time with Lindy Morrison and have performed with actor Toni Collette. You are also releasing your first solo album this year. Can you tell us a little about shaping the ‘Australian Sound’?
“That’s quite an epic question to begin with! I’m not sure that I’m so significant in the grand scheme of things but one thing worth mentioning is that Lindy and I always worked hard to be the best instrumentalists we could be and support the integrity of the song in terms of the arrangement. There weren’t many women playing instruments in bands at that time and some in the industry saw us as curiosities, liabilities and even a kind of malign feminine influence that would break up the band in the manner of Yoko Ono! Those prejudices not withstanding, we both brought originality and our own distinctive influences on the sound of The Go-Betweens and I’ll always be grateful for that opportunity. It was a great way to spend my early twenties and Grant McLellan and Robert Forster’s song writing was wonderful.
“Regarding my album Eight Guitars, I find it incredibly difficult to view it objectively. Where it ends up sitting in the pantheon of Australian music remains to be seen. The listening audience will be the judge. I hope people find something in it, because it was a joy to make.”
You are a multi-award-winning composer. Not only did your work on Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth win an AACTA award, it was also acknowledged at Venice. When it comes to scoring a film or documentary (such as Brazen Hussies or The Family), how do you integrate the filmmaker’s vision into your work?
“Every production is different, and every composer will approach it in a different way. And every director is different – some allow complete creative free rein and others are very precise regarding instrumentation, structure and style. Ultimately, it’s collaboration. You end up writing music you might never have written otherwise. It sounds a little flaky to say, but I believe the film tells you what it needs – the rhythm of the edits, the colour palette, the actors’ performances and the narrative arc are all indicators. The director or show runners provide the clues. It’s a mystical creative synergy, and when it’s all working together it’s a beautiful thing.”
There is a huge gap in gender equality in filmmaking, especially behind the camera. So few women are given the opportunity to score a film, and an Oscar has only been won by three women in its 87-year history – Anne Dudley, Rachel Portman and Hildur Guðnadóttir. Do you come across hurdles that are gender based?
“I graduated from AFTRS in 2000, but I’ve really only had consistent work for about the last five or six years. It took a LONG time to get established and I think other women composers would concur. I can only theorise about the reasons for this. There was scant visibility of female screen composers in the industry. Historically, women composers existed but were excised from classical music history and the canon of ‘great’ composers. That can be hugely disheartening for women considering careers in music composition.
“Financially, there’s risk involved in filmmaking. It’s an expensive undertaking and production companies want to hire someone with a track record – it can be a hard cycle to break into. And like music production, the working hours are not family friendly. I am often working 12 to 14 hour days, seven days a week. The one good thing about taking so long to establish a reputation as a screen composer was that by the time it happened, my son was grown up! I should mention too that the film industry in this country has really been proactive in recent years in its support for female crew. They were ahead of the music industry in recognising that female centric stories rightfully deserved to be given a platform. There are some fabulous champions for women heading up our funding bodies and production companies. But returning to your original question, the numbers are still pretty grim. There are no women score composers nominated for an Oscar this year.”
You have worked across a broad range of mediums; from television, films, documentaries, as well as creating music for live immersive events. Do have a particular approach to working across mediums? Is there one that you are most comfortable with?
“Each medium has its own requirements but at the end of the day, the common factor is that the music has to support the story being told. I like working across all mediums and the great thing about our relatively small industry is that you don’t get ‘typecast’ into doing one niche thing. We have to be versatile and adaptable to continue working in this country.”
Can you tell us a little about your solo album?
“My debut solo album of songs, Eight Guitars has been a long time in the making. ‘Freedom Song’ was written for a film called Floodhouse twenty years ago. Other songs have scored theatre productions, or in one instance a podcast. And some songs were written purely for the sake of keeping creative and productive. When the pandemic happened, I thought I’d be unemployed for the foreseeable future, so I decided to compile and re-record this collection of songs that had been on the backburner for years, into an album. I had no label, nobody to answer to and nothing to lose – except my pride. I decided to celebrate the guitar as a unifying device with a different guest guitarist featuring on every song. Tony Buchen, who remixed one of my film cues years ago for the Son of A Lion soundtrack, produced the album. He took it in such an unexpected direction, I knew he’d bring a creative perspective to my songs.”
Who are some of the most inspiring women you have worked with and why?
“I loved working with Shannon Murphy on Babyteeth and On the Ropes. She’s very inclusive as a director and uses music in an unusual way. She doesn’t like score to dictate emotion and eschews cliché. My long-time friend Marcelle Lunam is a true Renaissance woman who can design, direct and has impeccable taste – she will direct her first feature Addition this year. I’ve collaborated with Jodi Phillis from The Clouds on a few theatre projects, and we work together effortlessly, so it’s always a pleasure. I have enormous respect for Claire Edwardes from Ensemble Offspring. A world-class percussionist, she tirelessly engages with composers in a collaborative and supportive way. I’ve been working with comedy legends/show runners Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney for the last year on a series called Deadloch and they have made a unique, hilarious show. They’ve driven me crazy but they’re super smart and talented. There are MANY others I’ve been lucky to work with and don’t have space to sing their praises here, but I should include The Go-Betweens drummer Lindy Morrison – a larger than life personality who is incredibly generous in her enthusiasm for gifted musicians of all descriptions and a legitimate trailblazer in many respects.”
If you could magic into existence a dream project, what would it be?
“I would love to work internationally and experience film or television scoring in an environment where music HAS ITS OWN DEPARTMENT! I dream of having a team and that is usually synonymous with bigger budgets. I’ve experienced stadium touring with R.E.M. and I’d like to do the equivalent with film music, even if it’s only once. One day.”
Eight Guitars is released on March 3, 2023
Photo by Lisa Businovski
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