Beginning with its provocative title, The Spook Who Sat by the Door is perhaps the most powerfully political look at US race relations in the early 1970s to have received a theatrical release. Directed by Ivan Dixon, the film tells a credible tale of a Black CIA agent who rebels against his role as a racial token and uses his training in counterrevolutionary tactics to organize a guerrilla group in Chicago to fight racism. The story proved so controversial that United Artists was content to let The Spook Who Sat by the Door sink out of sight, although it did attract an avid following among scholars and fans of African-American cinema, as did the soundtrack by Herbie Hancock. Hancock’s use of funk and Afrofuturism provide a powerful voice for Black Pride in the film, which has lately been rediscovered to take its place alongside the canon of the 1970s American New Cinema.
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The Spook Who Sat by the Door introduction and post-screening discussion with Haden Guest and Herbie Hancock. Monday February 24, 2014.
February 24, 2014. The Harvard Film Archive screened The Spook Who Sat by the Door. This is the recording of the introduction and Q&A that followed. Participating is Herbie Hancock, who composed the film score, and HFA Director Haden Guest.
Haden Guest 0:18
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Haden Guest. I'm director of the Harvard Film Archive. I'd like to begin first by asking everybody to kindly please turn off any cell phones and electronic devices that you have on you, anything that makes noise or sheds light needs to be turned off. And if you'd also please kindly refrain from taking any photographs, I think that would be greatly appreciated.
Because tonight is a very, very special night. We have with us none other than the great Herbie Hancock. Into this space, we welcome many great filmmakers, but very few musicians, and very few of the stature of Herbie Hancock, who is, of course, one of the towering and pioneering figures of post-war jazz. At the same time, he's also, I'm very happy to say, a Charles Eliot Norton Professor in 2014. And so we are welcoming and celebrating Herbie Hancock's work and legacy, within the context of the Norton Lectures. The third Norton Lecture by Herbie Hancock, “Cultural Diplomacy and the Voice of Freedom,” will be this coming Thursday, at 4 pm. and everyone is welcome to attend. Herbie Hancock has been celebrated, and studied, and recognized as, again, one of the most influential voices in jazz, of the 60s and beyond. Remains extraordinarily active, and yet his work in cinema, I think, is underappreciated, and that's what we've been looking at. We began last night. We screened Blow-Up, the great Antonioni film, for which Herbie Hancock contributed a wonderful score. And tonight, we're going to be seeing a film from 1973, The Spook Who Sat by the Door. It's an important film, for many reasons, not least of which is Herbie Hancock's quite amazing soundtrack. The early 70s were a key period in Hancock's career, and found him experimenting, leading and going into new directions, and embracing and exploring funk. He's one of the first major jazz musicians to bravely embrace funk, and define what was called sort of “jazz-funk fusion,” and something which is showcased in this film.
But the film itself is also really fascinating and quite important. Those of you who saw Nothing Like a Man, the important film that we screened from 1965, earlier—it was last year—starring Ivan Dixon, the actor, who is also a director. He directed for television, principally, but he directed this one courageous and controversial film that we're about to see. It's a film that was suppressed. It was briefly released, and then it was pulled by the studio, United Artists, was considered too dangerous to be seen. The film was almost, in fact, lost, and it it resurfaced not that long ago, on a DVD release. We're going to be screening tonight a very rare original theatrical release print. I should just point out, technically, there’s a slight color fade, but this is an original 35-millimeter film print in excellent condition. It's very rare, and very important that we're able to screen this film in its original format. We're going to have a conversation afterwards with Mr. Hancock, who is now here to offer us a few words. So please join me in welcoming Herbie Hancock.
Herbie Hancock 4:33
Thank you very much for being here. Yesterday, they showed Blow-Up, which was the first film score that I did. Actually, there wasn't very much of what we call scoring in that film. All of the music was called "source music." So source music is when you either put on a record, or maybe you're in a mall, and there's music playing in the background, or you're in a bar, so there's a particular source for it. Scoring is when the music is to enhance a scene, or to actually pull back some of the emotion, if maybe what’s visually happening is stronger than what the director wants. So this film, The Spook Who Sat by the Door—I think it was 1973 when we did this?—in this film, I was using synthesizers for the first time. The band that I was touring with, was—now we call it a “Mwandishi” band. That name “Mwandishi” was actually given to me, and each of the guys in the band had a Swahili name that was associated with them in some way. Mwandishi in Swahili means a “writer,” or a “scribe”. Because this was during the civil rights days, and so we wanted something to kind of associate ourselves with our African roots at that time. Anyway, I did my first—and there isn't very much of it anyway—orchestrating, in this film. And I was very green at that, and you'll hear—there's very little, some things work okay, some things sound a little thin. I had a lot to learn, because I was very new in that area. But after these two films, we done eight more that I did. And, each time, I learn a lot more. But I'm glad you're here. And I haven't seen this film in a long time. So I'm kind of looking forward to my own reaction, because I'm a lot older now than I was when I did this film. And thank you for being here, and we'll talk later! Alright. Thank you.
And now the discussion and Q&A, with Herbie Hancock and Haden Guest.
Haden Guest 7:30
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming back Herbie Hancock!
Haden Guest 7:46
So Herbie, thanks so much for sharing this, being with us tonight, and sharing this film.
Herbie Hancock 7:52
Well some people have things to do, let them...
Haden Guest 7:57
Yeah, well, let’s...
Herbie Hancock 7:58
Give them a few minutes to...
Haden Guest 8:00
Okay, we’ll let people… Let’s have a glass of water, then.
Herbie Hancock 8:03
Yeah, let’s have a glass of water. Thanks.
Haden Guest 8:27
Great. As I was saying, I mean, this is a, quite a powerful film. I mean it, yes, can be critiqued for, at times, there’s a kind of crudeness to the film. And yet, I think this film has the anger, and the sort of energy of the film is incredibly intense. And I think one of the things that that adds this power is your music. I mean, this score that really builds, especially in those climactic action sequences. And I was wondering if you could speak, tell us a little bit about how you came to work on this film, and, and the experience of working with Ivan Dixon, and this team.
Herbie Hancock 9:06
Well first of all, I absolutely was not an expert in writing music for films at that time. So I was still kind of green, and as I was watching it, and listening to the music, I was thinking, I wouldn’t have done that later on, you know? [LAUGHS] But what I did notice is that—and then I’ll answer your question—I used a lot of thematic material from the title tune, which later on I recorded as a song called “Actual Proof,” you know, for some of you who may know my records. But I got a call from Ivan Dixon, who happened to be a big jazz fan, and he was the director of that film. I only knew him as the black actor on Hogan's Heroes. That's all I knew about him. And anyway, he called and he said he was doing a film, and he wanted me to do the music for it. The budget was small. I don't know what the budget was for the film. I know that for the music, it was very small.
You know, so we didn't use a very large orchestra. I think we had two cellos, maybe eight strings. Very, very few instruments. And the other thing I remember is that when it came time– Oh! They didn't give us an advance for recording the music for the film. And so it was primarily my manager then— who was David Rubinson—that kind of put up the money, and I guess I put up some money too. Between the two of us, we put up the money. They never paid us, right? I got paid for doing the score, but we didn't get the money from the film company for doing the recording of the music. And now Warner Brothers has rights to the music for the film. They want to do a compilation record—because I used to be on Warner Brothers record label—and so they have material from about three records that I did with them. And they have The Spook Who Sat by the Door, they have the rights for it. And, uh, I wonder if I'll get paid this time? I don’t know.
Haden Guest 12:12
Well, I don't think anybody made a lot of money from this film, I'm afraid.
Herbie Hancock 12:16
Right, exactly. Nobody made any money from the film. [LAUGHS] It got, well, you said correctly that at that time, there was this kind of heat going on in the Black community. Not with everybody. But I mean, you saw different attitudes. And that was absolutely happening at that time. For those of us who are old enough to remember. And, the world is very different today, in many ways, but in some ways, it's reminiscent, it stems from, what was happening back then. We still have a ways to go before the freedom. It’s not just freedom of Black people, it’s freedom of human beings, you know, for us to have the kind of free world that we actually want to live in, and that we want our children to live in, we have to create that kind of free world. This is one way of doing it. It's not my way of doing it, warfare, you know. I think we really have to do it with our hearts.
Haden Guest 13:28
Now Herbie, I was wondering if you could speak a bit about the sort of musical concepts of that we heard. You know, 1973 is a really interesting time in your career, where you're starting to explore, you know, reach into funk, and really looking for a new direction. You're working with a number of new instruments, and different sounds. And so, I don't know, maybe you could speak a bit about...
Herbie Hancock 13:56
Yeah, at that time—this was before I did a record called Headhunters—and there's synthesizer work in there, but I didn't do any of it, because I didn't know how to play synthesizer. And it was Dr. Patrick Gleason, that I had recently hired, who did an overdub on my last Warner Brothers record. And so I took the same, basically the same group, with Buster Williams on bass, and Bennie Maupin is on saxophone; you hear him in some scenes in the bar. I had a clavinet, because I heard the clavinet in there, with a wah-wah pedal. That I heard. I heard it a lot. [LAUGHS]
Too much, as far as I'm concerned! [LAUGHING] But that was a new instrument. And so, I guess I was wearing it out. I mean, it happens sometimes, you know, you get this “Wow, this is new! I like this new sound! We got to use it.” Right? Everywhere.
But right after the music to this film…. Oh, the drummer that was in my band was Billy Hart, but he's not the drummer in the film. It’s Harvey Mason. And the reason that I chose Harvey Mason is because Harvey Mason was a studio musician in Los Angeles. And he had played many kinds of music. He had that kind of broad-based experience, and he had played drums for movie scores. He was used to that. And I thought that he could be a big help, because I wasn't really used to that. I'd only done one film before, and it was completely different circumstances. This does have scoring, where there's music for different emotions. And so, Harvey was really a big, big help, as he has been. I recently played with Harvey just a few weeks ago. It had been many years since I played with him. At Disney Hall. This was just a couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact.
Haden Guest 16:13
Now, you, of course, continued to score films, and, you know, Death Wish, another amazing, amazing score. And I was wondering if you could just reflect a little bit about what is, what are the challenges, and, I don't know, possibilities, of scoring, of writing for film, as opposed to, I mean, for other mediums. Your're also, you know, equally known as a composer, as well as a performer, so...
Herbie Hancock 16:47
Well, as I said, I've only done about ten movie scores. I haven't done a lot of them. And so I’m by no means an expert in doing movie scores. But, one of the first things I learned early on, is that it's the director's film. It's the director's dream. And as the person who's hired to do the film score, it's your responsibility to help the director to realize his dream. And through that process, you will realize your own dream for the music. Sometimes there are conflicts between what the director may want, and what you may have in mind, but what I've always tried to do is to try to figure out, how can I give the director what he really wants, even if he doesn't express it well? How can I give him what he really wants, or what's underneath what he thinks he wants, and still give him what I feel the film needs? Of course, if I'm working with a really experienced director, I will, of course, bend my opinion toward his, because he knows what he's doing. You know, he's got the experience and I have a tendency to bend toward experience, unless I think the experienced person is being hampered by his experience, because that can happen. You can get caught up in being accustomed to doing things a certain way. An example of that is the director that gets attached to what we call the “temp score.” When a director is actually cutting a film, in order to have some kind of flow—by the way, you should know, watching a film without music, unless it was particularly intended to be without music, the film's unwatchable!
How many people have seen a film without the music? Okay, it was about about three or four. Am I right? Is it almost unwatchable? Totally. Right. Right. I mean, there are some films that really are intended not to have music. But that's a rare director that's able to do that. Antonioni could do that. Yeah.
Haden Guest 19:28
Well can, I’d actually love, I’d love to hear about–
Herbie Hancock 19:31
But I want– Oh, ‘scuse me a second, I just wanted to explain. The reason I brought that up is because the directors use a temporary score. They'll take records or something they’ve heard from some other film, and they will temporarily use it in segments of the film, just to get it to have some kind of flow, and a direction, that they want to achieve. But that's only temporary music. “Temp music” means temporary music. And, of course, the score has to be not that. But sometimes directors get so married to the temp score, that they want that! You know? If they want that, they should just pay the people that made that [LAUGHS] and use that! But they also know better than that, that doesn't really work too well. But sometimes you have to use a bit of diplomacy, to slowly wean the director off of the temp track. I'll be talking about cultural diplomacy on Thursday, but it's not about this particular instance. [LAUGHS]
Haden Guest 20:52
Well, so working with Antonioni, I mean, so you entered cinema with a really extraordinary direction, extraordinary film, which we were able to see yesterday. And I was wondering if you could speak about working with Antonioni, how that began, because this is such an unusual film—I mean, Blow-Up—in so many ways. It's enigmatic, it's... I mean, here we have a film that's got this clear sort of thrust and message. You know, Blow-Up is very, very different...
Herbie Hancock 21:22
Haden Guest 21:23
...in that sense. So I'd love to know, how–
Herbie Hancock 21:26
Well, Antonioni also was a huge jazz fan. His favorite jazz musician was Albert Ayler. There are not too many of you that have heard of him. He died very young, I think he was in his 30s, and he was an avant-garde jazz musician. Very far out guy that played shapes. That's what he said, “I play shapes.” And, anyway, I don't know how he picked me. I was a sideman with Miles Davis at the time. I had maybe two records out? My first one, which had the song “Watermelon Man” on it. And I think I had one more, possibly two more records. But anyway, they got a hold of me, I flew to London. And Antonioni had complete artistic control over the film. And so he showed no one. None of the executives had seen the film until the day I saw it, actually. As I said, I flew to London, and for the screening, I met some of the executives from 20th Century Fox, and all the suits, right? Then Michelangelo Antonioni was there. I met him. I have to say that maybe two weeks before that, I'd never heard of him. So I did some research and found out that I was pretty ignorant not to know who he was. But he was very well known in Europe, particularly in England, but not that many people knew him in the United States, you know. Anyway, seeing the screening, the first one where anybody from the public—in a sense, anybody outside the people who made the film—was seeing the film for the first time, you know, the studio executives and me and, as I'm watching the film, I remember feeling, I have no idea what this film is about!
I’m in deep trouble. [LAUGHS] What am I going to do? And I started to look, you know, feel the vibe in the room. And I knew, the 20th Century Fox executives, they didn't know what it was about either!
So I figured I would just watch them, and however they acted, I would act the same way, you know? And so somehow I pulled it off, and Antonioni never knew that I didn't know about the film. And, I figured, I thought, well, I’ll figure it out later, if I just, you know, keep going with the flow, I'll figure out what it is that I have to do. But one of the most important experiences I had was—and I think I mentioned that in question and answer at one of my lectures—he invited me to his suite for dinner one night. And he had an interpreter there. His English was very, very good. But for details, he wanted to have someone that knew English a lot better than he. And after dinner—between dinner and dessert—he asked me a question. He says, “Herbie, what is Art?” And I'm thinking, Antonioni is asking me what Art is?
[LAUGHING] Talking about a trick question, you know? Anyway, I have no idea what I said. I don't remember, and it's not even important what I said. But I remember what he said. He said, “There's no such thing as Art. There’s only this work, this painting, this piece of music, that sculpture, this other sculpture.” And I knew exactly what he was talking about. Soon as I heard that, it had made so much sense! It's basically, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We've heard that before. It makes so much sense. And it helped me understand the answer that he gave to another question that I asked him. Because with the crew, we were all trying to figure out what the film was about. And, I had about, maybe three or four different versions of explanations of the film, from a lot of different people. So I said, “Michelangelo! You know, there are a lot of people that have different ideas about what your film was about. And, everybody's curious about what you really had in mind for the film. And, I was wondering if any of them might be correct?” And I explained about three or four of these versions. And I said, “Are any of them correct?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Oh, wow! Which one? He said, “All of them.” Like, what? [LAUGHS] And he said, “I just put some events together. And how you interpret what these events mean, is entirely up to you. So they're all correct.” That's why he's a brilliant director. It's amazing, you know? He allows the viewer to be creative. I think there's nothing more exemplary than that.
Haden Guest 28:25
And working together with Antonioni on the music, then, what kind of conversations did you have about, you know, this, this theme? I mean, the music, it’s strategically–
Herbie Hancock 28:34
Well, it’s source music.
Haden Guest 28: 35
Yeah, exactly. But it's so, it again, was there any...
Herbie Hancock 28:40
There weren't a whole lot of conversations, but there were some. But much of it was obvious. And so, it was mainly me suggesting how I might treat the different scenes. There’s a scene with the model Veruschka, who's, you know, writhing on the floor. And David Hemmings, the photographer, he's taking her picture, and it's like a sex scene. A cameraman and his camera, and her. And we both agreed that maybe it should be a kind of sexy blues, you know, something really earthy. And so, I had this instrument called a melodica, which sounds like a harmonica. And it was kind of new at that time. Of course, it's been around for years now. And, so, I use that and just play the blues, basically. And did a few takes, and we decided on the one that would be the best.
Haden Guest 30:09
Let's take some questions, comments from the audience, if you’ll raise your hands. Questions? We have a question in front, a microphone will be brought to you so everybody can hear your question.
Herbie Hancock 30:20
There it is, it’s coming! There it is.
Well, I should preface this by saying that back in the day, I was friends with Sam Greenlee. And I wondered... I know a lot of the backstory.
Haden Guest 30:38
The author of the book, the novel that this, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, was based on, and the screenwriter of this film.
Herbie Hancock 30:44
And he's in his mid to late 90s, in Chicago.
Herbie Hancock 30:49
He's still alive!
Yeah, he's on Facebook.
Herbie Hancock 30:52
Wow, no kidding! Wow.
He's not in very good health right now, but up until fairly recently, still performs, reads poetry, and so on, and so forth.
Herbie Hancock 31:05
But as you said, nobody made any money from this film. And the way it was seized, all the effort that went into [INAUDIBLE]. But that's another story. My question, really, is he was listed as co-producer. And, I know there was friction between him and Ivan Dixon.
Herbie Hancock 31:33
Yeah, I heard. Heard there was.
I wondered if you had a working relationship at all, in terms of input into your musical ideas from Dixon, and if you did have any contact with him, sort of working relationship.
Herbie Hancock 31:51
I haven't heard from Ivan in some time now. Haven't had much of a relationship with him since the film. You know, ‘cause he got busy, and I certainly got busy. And again, this was 1973, and I don't remember all the details about what went into the decision-making process. I did talk to Ivan, each step of the way, about what I had in mind. And I would ask him, you know, what do you think of the idea of using– Well, a synthesizer was a new thing back then, and he liked the idea of not only using orchestral instruments, but using what were new instruments, with new sounds, for this film. Sounds that people had not heard before, certainly in a film, and it was, everything before was with acoustic instruments, primarily. Nothing quite like this that I can remember. I don't remember anybody doing a film where they actually mix synthesizers with orchestral instruments. They weren't exactly mixed together in this film. The next film I did, Death Wish, I did have some scenes where orchestral instruments were mixed with synthesizers, and it was kind of a fresh thing at the time. But Ivan was very open about how the music might be approached. A lot of what I did was simple. It was too busy, at times. I know now I would have thinned things out a lot more. A lot was done with just a chord structure, and improvisation on top, which can make things pretty busy, if you're going to do that. But it's because at that time, I was very much into improvisation without a lot of structure. That was kind of what the Mwandishi band was. It was kind of a space band that was kind of tethered. But this can be untethered. So we had grooves on the bottom. But sometimes the grooves were just one simple baseline, over and over again, and I got tired of hearing the same baseline, you know? [LAUGHS] Or this time I did, you know. Anyway, that's about all I can remember. Not too many specifics about the conversations. I do know that there were some issues with Sam, but I don't remember, really, what they were. What's uppermost in my mind is the film company. You know, I remember the first screening that they saw. They hated this. They didn't want this thing to be shown. They thought this could have been really dangerous, at that time, you know? And maybe it could have been, you know? I mean, you could do this film now. And...
Audience 1 35:55
[INAUDIBLE] blueprint for the Black Panthers [INAUDIBLE]
Herbie Hancock 31:58
Right. Yeah, that’s how they took it. Ivan didn't feel that the film would have that kind of effect. I mean, those things were going on. I don't mean those specific things were going on, but insurrection was already going on in America at that time, if you want to use that word.
Haden Guest 36:27
Other questions, comments. That way, up, right here in the back.
Herbie Hancock 36:38
First row and then the last row, right. Somebody in the first row have the next question, keep this guy running.
I actually have a multi-part question. My first question is, do you feel like you now know what the movie is about?
Haden Guest 36:55
Herbie Hancock 36:56
Oh, Blow-Up. You mean Blow-Up? Or you mean Spook Who Sat by the Door?
Spook Who Sat by the Door.
Herbie Hancock 37:02
Spook Who Sat by the Door? I would say that I have a better handle on it now than I did in the past. But, I mean, I'm not the kind of know-it-all person. That's not the kind of person that I am. I would never profess that I'm going to know exactly what the movie is about. The director, that's his job.
Herbie Hancock 37:30
You know, to really know what it's about. But, I think I have a better understanding of the film than I did before. And I have more of a respect for it right now than I did. Actually, I thought the other thing was going to happen—I haven't seen it in many years—and I thought that I was gonna feel like, well, that’s not a very good film, you know, it's…. Granted, the acting is, you know, some of it, like, well, the guy that played Freeman, he was really, really great. I think Paula Kelly, who was the prostitute. I think she was really, really, really cool. I mean, the principals, I think, really kind of pulled it off. But I think I have a better understanding of the film than I did before.
And I guess my follow-up to that is, as a Buddhist, I was wondering if you could help me with something.
Herbie Hancock 38:37
Herbie Hancock 38:40
Oh, I see. I see.
When I was watching the film, I felt like in the beginning scenes, there was a lot of laughter for a movie that wasn't intended to be a comedy. And what I noticed is, it got to the point where it was distracting for me. And I realized that the most laughter came in scenes when it was white people speaking amongst themselves, and it almost felt like people were interpreting that as, oh, this is a caricature. This doesn't really happen. People don't really say that. And so I was wondering if you, as a practicing Buddhist, could just speak to that perceived mentality.
Herbie Hancock 39:19
Okay. By the way, I wish you had spoken a little louder,
Herbie Hancock 39:24
...because I couldn’t hear everything that you said, but, I mean, I can't answer for everybody.
Audience 39: 34
Right. Of course.
Herbie Hancock 39:35
But I know some of the things that I laughed at, were…. I was thinking about my response to certain things that I’d laugh at, seeing the film now, that I didn't have the same impression back then, because this is now, and that was then, you know? Times have changed.
Herbie Hancock 40:00
And how we perceive changes. How we perceive ourselves, how we perceive the world that we live in. As I said before, I don't believe that taking up arms to fight an external force, as being the cause for my unhappiness, is the key. The key is to build yourself up, and build up your life condition, so that no matter what the circumstances are, that you're subjected to, that they will not destroy you, and not take away the freedom that you already possess within the core of your being. That building up your life condition so that that is indestructible, I think is the goal of every human being whether they realize it or not.
Haden Guest 41:13
Is there a question here in front? Didn’t you have a question? Actually, if you could wait for the... Here comes the microphone.
A few questions back, I was going to ask, you saw the Antonioni screening, and then the next movie you did, you saw the screening for the Spook That Sat by the Door. I was wondering, did you see that screening and say, "Will I ever be able to score a nice little love story that people are going to come to and enjoy?"
Herbie Hancock 41:48
[LAUGHS] I was happy that I was being asked to write music for a film–
[INAUDIBLE] You have to take what you can get!
Herbie Hancock 41:52
–score. You kidding? I was playing in clubs at the time.
Herbie Hancock 41:56
You know, later on, actually, by the time this film came on, I was, I was playing concerts. But, I mean, I never dreamed I'd ever do music for a film! You know, and this was the second one, and this is a film by a Black director?
Herbie Hancock 42:19
I mean, that was so rare! And primarily black actors, you know, for a major film company? I mean, I was shocked that they would get the money to do that! You know, as I said, things are changing.
Haden Guest 42:34
Other questions? We've got another one, here in the front.
Hi. Just kind of building a little bit on the comment you just made, about your perceptions of watching the movie then versus now. One of the things that struck me the most, well, lots of things, but one of the things was, for a movie about freedom fighting, that the only role for a woman was as sort of sexual release, or sexual objects. And I'm just curious if you had a different perception in 1973, versus 40 years later, about that fact.
Herbie Hancock 43:07
In ‘73, I wouldn't have noticed it. I wouldn’t have noticed it. I would have been just like they were, you know. But, I have a totally different perception. And I realize exactly what you're talking about. And it has nothing to do with the fact that I'm married, and I have a daughter that's 44 years old, either. You know, I'm still in the process of evolving, but in that particular regard, I've definitely evolved beyond that kind of thinking. But I'm sure that if Ivan Dixon did even the same film today, it would probably have a very different tone.
Haden Guest 43:58
Other question here, yes. Let's take a couple more, then.
Thank you for coming. It sounds like you really appreciated the opportunity to work in film. But can you talk about your emotions from before you actually knew, maybe some of the details about the movie, versus when–
Herbie Hancock 44:16
Can you put your mouth into the microphone?
Sure, yeah. I said,
Herbie Hancock 44:20
Thank you. See, I have these things I wear. They’re called hearing aids.
Haden Guest 44:23
I couldn't hear him either, so.
Herbie Hancock 44:25
And they work. But I think you were under the scope of the microphone.
Sure, I’ll start over. It sounded like you were extremely happy to be working in film, doing musical score. But I wanted to ask, can you talk about your emotions before you worked on this film specifically, versus what you felt going through the movie, and how it maybe affected the music that you were actually writing and maybe rewriting, thinking about?
Herbie Hancock 44:50
Well, in a way I kind of touched upon it—because I said that the band I had was actually a more avant-garde kind of band, but the band also was involved with different kinds of beats. And some of them were African beats. I mean, the last record that I did for Warner Brothers with the Mwandishi band was called Crossings, and the cover looks like an island, or the coast of somewhere, and they're African sailors in these boats. I mean, this period of time was– In ’73, for me, and for many African-Americans my age, coming from, you know, a city background, and not being born in the South. Not having experienced the kind of racism that my folks did. Adopting the position of support for the civil rights movement, actually it varied quite a bit. There was no stereotypical Black attitude or experience, at that time. I mean, even though we may be talking about one race, these are human beings, and we're all different, right? And so, some were very militant, and very angry. And some suppressed anger. Some were not angry in that same sense. And I've always been a positive person. It’s my nature to look for the brighter side of things, and not dwell on suffering. And I think it's good not to dwell on suffering, because you can be your own worst enemy, and be responsible, in a sense, for bringing yourself down. That can be an additional weight on your shoulders. But I never think about weight on my shoulders, you know. I mean, we have weight because, I mean, I weigh 189, 190 pounds. I mean, that's weight! We all have a different weight, anyway. Right? And so, to add the weight of something that comes from external influences, I don't need that, you know? But I need the strength to build up my core, so that I'm not pulled down by that either. And that's why I practice Buddhism.
Haden Guest 48:36
Let's take one final question, from this gentleman right here, Dan.
Thanks. It could be a yes or no question. But I'd be happy to hear you expound, expand on it either way.
Herbie Hancock 48:51
Expand on what?
It's kind of a yes or no question. But if you want to expand on it, I'd be happy to hear that. I’m thinking specifically about The Spook Who Sat by the Door, and if not, then your film work in general: were you involved in the sound design of the film at all? Because I found that, there's certain things about the sound design of that film, very, very powerful, the way that the voice would be used sometimes, an offscreen voice that would be turned around and shown to be a taped voice. And I really liked the way your music fit into the sound design, and the way it would come out. Sometimes it would be absent for a while, and then suddenly would come out in a way that I felt was very effective to the scene, more than just being a support. So I was wondering if you were involved in sound design.
Herbie Hancock 49:38
Well, somewhat. There were scenes where the track was backwards. The rhythm track was backwards. And this was before digital, you know? Today, you just push a button, and you know, whatever audio clip you have plays backwards. You couldn’t do that then. Then, you had to cut the tape from one place to another, and turn the tape physically around, send it through the playback head of the playback machine. And, well you have to splice the other end of it, if you're going to have what's called a loop. We actually made a physical loop. That's how it was done. I remember the first time I did that. Maybe this was the first. But this was around the first time that I did this. We had a tape that went around the room from say, here, here, [INAUDIBLE] and over there and there [INAUDIBLE] You know. You'd have, you know, a bottle with water in it, with a tape going behind.
Stapler, a metal stapler, you know? And the engineers, they thought it was, like, really weird, and really cool. [LAUGHS] Because people weren't doing that. So that was one of the effects that I used in that film. And you don't know exactly what you're gonna get. So I used some kind of logic to figure what would actually sound like a repeated rhythm, hearing it forward, and then play it backwards. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn't! You know, but I would make adjustments to make it work to my satisfaction.
Haden Guest 51:47
Please join me in thanking Herbie Hancock!
Haden Guest 51:52
Thanks so much!
Herbie Hancock 51:53
That was fun! That was really good.
Herbie Hancock 51:56
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