'A Tone Of Melancholy': How Jocelyn Pook's Music Captures Pain Jocelyn Pook has written award-winning music for the theater, dance and the concert stage. Her work can be heard right now in cinemas on the score to 'The Wife' and in households in the Netflix series 'The Staircase.'
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'A Tone Of Melancholy': How Jocelyn Pook's Music Captures Pain

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'A Tone Of Melancholy': How Jocelyn Pook's Music Captures Pain

'A Tone Of Melancholy': How Jocelyn Pook's Music Captures Pain

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In the new film "The Wife," Glenn Close plays a woman who has silently stood in the shadow of her husband, a famous author played by Jonathan Pryce. For much of the film, her emotions are only undercurrents and only expressed by the musical score. That music was written by Jocelyn Pook, an English composer who first came to international attention for her music to Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut." Tim Greiving has her story.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: Most of us got to know Jocelyn Pook's music at one of the weirdest parties we ever attended - the masked orgy in Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Good evening, Sir.

TOM CRUISE: (As Dr. William Harford) Good evening.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Password, Sir?

CRUISE: (As Dr. William Harford) Fidelio.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Thank you, Sir.

GREIVING: Jocelyn Pook's weird started back in London, where she made up tunes as a kid.

JOCELYN POOK: My mom was very encouraging. And my first song was called "If A Man Was Dead Alone" (laughter), and I even performed it at my local church.

GREIVING: She went on to play viola in London pop bands and write music for theater and dance. A cassette landed in the hands of an ad agency, and music for a TV commercial led to a record deal. Her first album, "Flood," was released in 1999.


GREIVING: At the same time, choreographer Yolande Snaith was working on the masked ball scene in Kubrick's film and playing Pook's music during rehearsals.

POOK: And that's how he had my music. He walked in at the right time. And I got called. I was on the other line, and I had to put Stanley on hold (laughter). So I go back to the other person and say, I've got to go 'cause it's Stanley Kubrick.

GREIVING: Kubrick was famous for his use of music, but he often preferred to use dead composers.


GREIVING: Christiane Kubrick says that's because her late husband needed to live with a piece of music for a long time before he knew it was right for a scene.

CHRISTIANE KUBRICK: There wasn't the amount of time you want to let somebody write the music and then listen to it and say, no, I hate it; do another one. And so if he had found a piece on the radio or wherever, whether it was classical or modern, he said, well, at least I know this one goes.

GREIVING: But when Kubrick heard a piece Pook had originally written for a dance about homophobia using a backwards sample of a Romanian priest, he knew he'd found the music for his masked cult.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing) Auov uad auon acnurop ias iicinecu ertac iulunmod asiz.

GREIVING: Then he did something he rarely did. He asked Pook to write original music for several scenes.

POOK: And I tried not to freak out, but (laughter) - because it was my first feature film. There was a big worry about giving me the video. And they were talking about somebody sitting in my house every day and taking it back. There was so much secrecy around Kubrick. But in the end, they trusted me, and they left the video with me.

GREIVING: Kubrick trusted her to score a pivotal monologue by Nicole Kidman's character.


NICOLE KIDMAN: (As Alice Harford) That afternoon, Helena went to the movies with her friend, and you and I made love.

GREIVING: When "Eyes Wide Shut" came out in 1999, a bunch of directors took notice of Pook's music.

POOK: But interestingly, more art house films, not Hollywood's kind of movies - yeah, the weirder ones (laughter).

GREIVING: She scored several French films. And in 2004, she was hired by director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade to score a true-life mystery.


GREIVING: "The Staircase" is a serial documentary about the death of a female executive in North Carolina and the murder trial of her husband. Pook says her job was to play the emotional undercurrents of a real-life crime drama.

POOK: It was never about telling the audience what to think, and I generally try and stay away from that. And I think I'm generally not asked to do that. My music usually uses another voice, and it's not usually used to underline what's happening in the scene.

GREIVING: That's exactly what Swedish director Bjorn Runge wanted for "The Wife," a film about the simmering emotions of a brilliant woman who's been muzzled most of her life.

BJORN RUNGE: I think her music is emotional in a very good way, and it's also not written on your nose. It's complex music. It's not about bright music or sad music. I think Jocelyn's music has a little bit of a tone of melancholy.


GREIVING: In a way, the music in all these stories is connected. "The Wife" is about a woman forced to repress her emotions and accomplishments. "The Staircase" is about a successful woman who's now merely a silent corpse at the outset of a man's ordeal. And "Eyes Wide Shut" deals with the objectification and disposal of women. Jocelyn Pook expresses what all these women can't, and she feels their pain, too.

POOK: Yeah. With every project, I had to bleed, you know (laughter)? You have to really feel like you're immersed in it emotionally, yeah.

GREIVING: When she's not channeling the emotions of characters on screen, she's expressing her own in concert music, opera and onstage with her group, the Jocelyn Pook Ensemble. For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving.


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