Many screen composers use this specially constructed room in a luxurious mountain fastness to soothe their minds as they write to the horrors of films like Alien: Covenant. Image: actually a still from that film.
The annual Screen Music awards, arranged between APRA, AMCOSS and the Australian Guild of Screen Composers, was held in Melbourne at the Recital Centre. The room looks like a jumble of IKEA parts sawn up into a huge jigsaw but leaves musicians quivering with joy over the acoustics.
The format guarantees this to be the best awards ceremony of the year. Denise Scott brought her mix of smarts and daffy suburbanisms to running the night on stage, and offered fabulous advice to people who don't win awards. 'As you fall into a pit of despair, self loathig and hopelessness, simply collapse into a fetal crouch and drink wine through a bendy straw.'
Dominating the stage was a small but perfectly performed orchestra played key showcase pieces as arranged and conducted by Jessica Wells. They were cheered at the beginning and the end, they had huge grins for many pieces, and allowed some composers to hear their work played live by an orchestra for the first time in their lives. The courteous pause on the edge of the stage became a transfixing moment for some.
Guy Gross, straight backed and impeccable, born to wear a classy suit, stepped down as President of the AGSC, while Brett Cottle took his leave as the retiring CEO of APRA AMCOS after 27 years. At a time of change and financial pressure, they acknowledged the disparity in gender, as only 15% of the members are women. The AGSC has set up a Gender Equity Committee, composer Caitlin Yeo is on the Screen Australia National Gender Matters Taskforce, and the Guild will run a mentoring program in 2018.
In his parting message, Brett Cottle pointed out that music is now a completely international business and all their work has to be seen in that light.
The list of performers was impressive - Missy Higgins and her brother David sang Torchlight, rapper Briggs, Justin Shave and Caiti Baker belted out the theme song to the Fox League Super Saturday, while Operatic mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Dark and dual Helpmann Award-winning tenor James Egglestone warbled as necessary. Their version of Who Listens to the Radio in a medley of Sports songs was pretty odd, but the homage was heartfelt.
Martin Armiger, the Head of Screen Music at AFTRS for the last fourteen years, received the inaugural Distinguished Services to the Australian Screen Award. Both his parents are musicians, along with several siblings, and he first came to musical prominence with daft, savage Adelaide band Toads Nitely, which also featured actors Tim Robertson and Noni Hazlehurst. Eventually the outfit played as The Toads in Melbourne. From 1978 to 1981 he was a key part of The Sports, playing guitar, writing and singing with Stephen Cummins.
The Sports - Cruisin' In A Citroën @ Memo Music Hall, St Kilda (9th May 2015) from Carbie Warbie on Vimeo.
After the Sports broke up, he moved into composition, first with the gruelling 20 ep weekly pop music drama series, for which the Guild says 'he provided backing vocals, lead guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, drums and lyrics and produced the soundtrack album'. He never looked back, except to remember with a shudder the squalor of the Sports UK tour.
The Guild noted that 'Armiger has composed music for fourteen feature films, a dozen telemovies and yet another dozen TV mini-series, as well as for many documentaries, long running television series and short films. His list of works includes feature films Thank God He Met Lizzie and Young Einstein, television series The Secret Life of Us, mini-series Come In Spinner and Bodysurfers, Police Rescue, and the documentary Cane Toads.
But his real impact has been much wider. Known as a serious thinker about the medium, using the question 'why?' to innocently open up the deeper choices in the musical process, he build the AFTRS course virtually from scratch. He never prescribed, he often provoked and he always encouraged a personal voice and experimentation. His students today are everywhere in the industry, and scattered around the room and the orchestra that evening. He was one of the people who rivetted his part of the production system together and understood that the machine will shake itself to bits if we don't keep working on the metal. He was President of the AGSC for seven years and a determined Board member of Screenrights. He keeps a careful eye on the legals, challenges contracts that erase the composer's right to independent royalties, and will hold his own in court as a witness in tricky legal cases about musical IP.
He whirled slowly onto the stage, his stick held high, triumphant in the room's affection, defying the impact of a lung illness, to lean casually into the microphone with a conversational, yarning speech. It was much more planned than it sounded, though he adjusted bits on the fly. It is easy to see how he kept his students fascinated with casual, pungent phrases.
It is fitting that he is the winner this year, because this award will replace the International Achievement Award. It will go on to 'honour outstanding contributions to the film and television industry, made by producers, directors, philanthropists, educators, music supervisors and event producers that provide promotion, opportunities and education for Australian screen composers.'
Bryony Marks, up for the feature award for her work on Berlin Syndrome and Barracuda for the major TV drama award, had been nominated for a total of seventeen times, but never won once. She broke that drought with Barracuda.
Read our interview with Bryony Marks here.
Antony Partos took the feature award for Jasper Jones, which was a near run thing against 2:22, Berlin Syndrome and Alien: Covenant. Best song went to Missy Higgins supported by her brother David for her work on the tearing feature, Don't Tell.
Jed Kurzel, in contention for Alien: Covenant and Assassin's Creed, won Best Soundtrack Album for Alien: Covenant.
We should mention that the government sent the Minister for Everything, Martin Foley to do an envelope stint, while Margaret Pomeranz was probably the true celebrity in the room.
Distinguished Services to the Australian Screen Award
Feature Film Score of the Year
Jasper Jones - Antony Partos
Best Music for a Television Series or Serial
The Get Down - Elliott Wheeler
Best Music for a Mini-Series or Telemovie
Barracuda - Bryony Marks
Best Original Song Composed for the Screen
Torchlight from Don’t Tell - Missy Higgins
Best Soundtrack Album
Alien: Covenant - Jed Kurzel
Best Music for Children’s Television
Bottersnikes & Gumbles: The Ugly Pageant - Michael Szumowski
Best Music for a Documentary
Whiteley - Ash Gibson Greig
Best Music for a Short Film
Last Tree Standing - Me-Lee Hay
Best Television Theme
Fox League Super Saturday - Briggs, Justin Shave and Charlton Hill
Best Music for an Advertisement
Good Mood Water: The Bad Choice - Lindsay Jehan and Nathan Cavaleri
Most Performed Screen Composer – Australia
Adam Gock and Dinesh Wicks
Most Performed Screen Composer – Overseas