When I wrote the last draft of Somersault I listened
to a lot of music. Old Elvis love songs and Björk mostly. Sometimes
Johnny Cash and PJ Harvey. It seemed that hearing Björk’s
sharp intake of breath, or her feet crunching through snow, made Heidi,
the 16-year-old girl in my film, real. I started to imagine a very specific
sound accompanying the film.
We shot Somersault over five and a half weeks in a small ski
resort town at the foot of the Australian Alps. The editor, Scott Gray,
was cutting in Sydney six hours away. One night in the rushes he included
a CD from the band Decoder Ring. A mate of his working in a record store
had suggested we have a listen. I sat with my producer in his hotel
room, with the snow falling outside, watching mute rushes listening
to this band I’d never heard of. I was kind of stressed because
we didn’t have much money or time. Some days it felt that all
the beauty and truth we had dreamt of was being squashed under the weight
of the schedule. Listening to Decoder Ring and watching Abbie Cornish’s
Heidi made us see that some of that beauty was still there.
We started working with Decoder Ring while cutting. They’d never
scored a film before. As Scott and I edited, the band would often comment
on the narrative and what they thought worked—what made sense
to them and what they thought sucked. At one stage we cut Heidi’s
scrapbook out of the film. Pete, the guitarist, sat for a while not
saying anything and then grumbled, “You have to put the scrapbook
back in the movie or Heidi will seem like a real slut.” The scrapbook
went back into the movie.
When we started working on the sound and music full-time the band invited
me to come and stay down the coast at Tom the drummer’s farm.
We drove from the train station along winding country roads edged with
walls built by convicts and the greenest fields I’d ever seen.
It was like something out of a Jane Austen novel. The rambling farmhouse
was surrounded by gardens and ponds. I slept in an old boat shed covered
in a pink climbing rose. In the mornings, swimming in the lake, I could
hear them making music in the old dining room. They would work 16 hours
a day and every couple of hours invite me in to listen. We’d talk
and muck around with the music and then it would all start again. This
was in between swimming, smoking, great food and long dinners. It was
all barefoot and incredibly low-tech. When we wanted to hear the music
with image, we played the film on the TV in the sitting room, and someone
would press play in the studio and turn the music up really loud so
we could hear it from the other room.
My idea with the music was always to create something out of found things—old
music boxes and wind up toys—to mirror Heidi’s obsession
with stuff that other people throw away. All the stuff she uses to make
sense of the world around her. To use chimes and glockenspiel and make
music that is reminiscent of dusty nursery rooms in weird industrial
German towns. Or old Disney films. Or kids with glasses banging away
on xylophones at school concerts.
The producer Anthony Anderson and executive producer Jan Chapman arrived
after a few days. We played them what Decoder Ring had composed. There
was a brief summer shower in the late afternoon. We were sitting inside
when the room was flooded with the most incredible lime green light.
We walked outside and stood around laughing like we were tripping. I’m
not a religious person but it was like someone out there was happy with
what we’d done and was saying, “You can stop now, you’ve
created something okay.” I remember that night after dinner Jan
saying that this was one of the best days of her life. I think we all