Friday, June 22, 2012

Mask of the Phantasm "Latin" Chorus

Remember Batman: Mask of the Phantasm?  The 1993 animated film that built on the success of the brilliant animated TV series?

Do you remember the cool Latin chanting at the beginning?  Did you spend hours (or perhaps days... weeks... months!) trying to decipher what the words were, in the hopes of looking them up to see what extra meaning was infused in the melody?

Well, such pursuits would have been in vain. The lyrics, as it turns out, were the names of the chorus that was singing them spelled backwards.  Composer Shirley Walker tells the story.

"As you know, the music team is rushing to the finish line as a film is in its final dub phase. Even the known orchestrators are not always given the credit they so justly deserve for insuring the timely execution (so to speak) of the score. I've become tired of fighting for credits for the support team that helps pull me through the final throes of recording and mixing my scores.

"The choir for 'Mask' gave me the opportunity to rectify this terrible situation. I made a chart by number of syllables of every music persons name backwards to use in creating the language you hear. 'Oh Nahlim Mot!', the phrase the score begins with, is Tom Milano, the music editor of most of my features, whom I originally worked with doing the Flash TV series.

"You get the idea. It was working so well, I realized that I would need to include some of the film producers and executives at Warner Bros. After all, they were paying for my little inside joke. People do like to be included in these sorts of things. I had to lie to the Warner Bros. legal department person who called to ask me what the language was and what was being said. They certainly didn't want to be a party to me saying 'screw Warner Brothers' in Danish. I told them it was an obscure nonsensical choral language that existed only in out of print orchestration books.

"I think I actually spent more time on my plot than I did on the score during the week I was preparing the choral cues. It was quite fun to see the looks on peoples faces, as they realized what they were hearing. Only two people had deciphered the puzzle by the time we recorded the choir. It was very difficult for the singers to sing the strange words. I'm sure they would have had more fun doing it, had I been able to include them in the joke too.

"While I was mixing the score, I had Bobby Fernandez (Zed-nahn-fur E-Bob) record the choir accappella onto a seperate DAT, ostensibly for my sample reel. The look on Tom's face as he began to suspect what I had done was well worth the whole deception. He finally turned to me and said "You didn't do what I think you've done, did you?".

"The rest is history. Everyone on the music team has a tape of the singing of their names (we transferred to 1/4" tape and played it backwards; the old 'back-masking' trick)."

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