Mason Daring - Writer

Composer. Nationality: American. Born: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 21 September 1949. Career: Played folk music in New England coffeehouses; worked as video director and editor; began composing for movies on John Sayles' first feature film, Return of the Secaucus Seven ; composer of music for TV series, including Something Wilder (1994).

Films as Composer:


Return of the Secaucus 7 (Sayles)


Lianna (Sayles)


The Brother from Another Planet (Sayles)


Osa (Egorov); Key Exchange (Kellman)


Matewan (Sayles) (+ ro as Picker)


Jenny's Song (Barzyk—for TV); Eight Men Out (Sayles)


Day One (Sargent—for TV)


Murder in Mississippi (Young—for TV); Little Vegas (Lang)


Dogfight (Savoca); City of Hope (Sayles) (+ ro as Peter); Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (Miner)


Passion Fish (Sayles) (+ musician)


Stolen Babies (Laneuville—for TV); Ed and His Dead Mother ( Bon Appetit, Mama ) (Wacks) (+ musician); The Ernest Green Story (Laneuville—for TV)


Getting Out (Korty—for TV); The Last Outlaw (Murphy—for TV); On Promised Land (Tewkesbury—for TV); The Secret of Roan Inish (Sayles); She Lives to Ride (Stone); The Old Curiosity Shop (Connor—mini, for TV)


Letter to My Killer (Meyers—for TV)


Hidden in America (Bell—for TV); Odyssey of Life (Agaton—for TV) (NOVA theme); The Great War (miniseries—for TV); Lone Star (Sayles); Einstein Revealed (Jones—for TV) (NOVA theme)


Cold Around the Heart (Ridley); Men with Guns ( Hombres armados ) (Sayles) (+ musician); The Ripper (Meyer—for TV); Hitchhiking Vietnam: Letters From the Trail (Muller); Prefontaine (James)


The Opposite of Sex (Roos); Evidence of Blood (Mondshein—for TV); From the Earth to the Moon (mini—for TV)


Limbo (Sayles); Music of the Heart (Craven); A Walk on the Moon (Goldwyn)


Private Lies (Horman—for TV); Where the Heart Is (Williams); George Wallace: Settin' the Woods on Fire (McCabe and Stekler)


By DARING: articles—

Daring, Mason, telephone conversations with Philip Kemp, Spring 2000.

On DARING: books—

Sayles, John, Thinking in Pictures , Boston, 1987.

On DARING: articles—

Ellis, Andy, and James Rotondi, "You Oughta Be in Pictures: Soundtrack Savvy from Marc Bonilla and Mason Daring," in Guitar Player , vol. 31, no. 4, April 1997.

* * *

Anyone who knows the films of John Sayles will have heard a lot of Mason Daring's music, though perhaps without realising it. Not because Daring's scores are colourless or undistinguished—quite the reverse, indeed. But as a composer, he displays the chameleon ability to feel his way into a remarkably wide range of musical idioms, adopting their stylistic garb with uncanny fluency. The creator of the lilting Irish folk score of The Secret of Roan Inish also composed the zydeco dances for Passion Fish , the mountain music and Italian popular song of Matewan , the country and western, rhythm and blues, and Mexican folk music of Lone Star. There's never any sense of pastiche in Daring's scores; rather it is a matter of assimilation from within.

Daring may be unique among film composers in having entered the industry as a lawyer, though he studied music at college. "I was in a band signed to Columbia," he explains, "and the deal fell through halfway through making the record. So in a panic I thought, I'll go to law school. Then no sooner had I enrolled than I really started to play music and led a dual life for a few years, playing music live and producing records for people, and studying law and finally being a lawyer." It was through his work as an entertainment lawyer that Daring met John Sayles. "I heard this fellow wanted to make his own movie and was looking for a lawyer. I said, 'Forget it—those people never really make the movie and I never get paid,' They said, 'His name is John Sayles.' Now I'd just read his novel Union Dues —one of the best books I'd ever read. I said, 'Forget what I just said—I'll hold his coat."'

The film was Sayles' first as director, Return of the Secaucus 7. Soon discovering his attorney's other talents, Sayles invited Daring to contribute the film's score. "I'd done music for a number of short films and commercials, so I said sure. And that was pretty much my last job in the law. I wasn't really cut out for it, anyway."

Setting up as a full-time composer, Daring went on to score all Sayles' subsequent features except Baby It's You. His reputation for versatility soon gained him other commissions, including five from Disney: two TV films, a Dickens mini-series, The Old Curiosity Shop , with Tom Courtenay and Peter Ustinov, and two features, Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken and Prefontaine from Jared Leto and Amy Locane, makers of the groundbreaking documentary Hoop Dreams. He also scored a western, The Last Outlaw with Mickey Rourke, for Home Box Office (HBO), "because I wanted to do a film with a bunch of guys on horseback shooting each other. It was great fun, but one's enough."

Much of Daring's work has been for PBS, including themes for the long-running shows Nova and Frontline , and a documentary, George Wallace: Setting the Woods on Fire , about the racist 1968 presidential candidate George Wallace. His longest project to date is the eight-hour KCET/BBC series The Great War (1996). "It was five months out of my life. But it was a challenge, and I thought it was great."

Daring's association with Sayles has now lasted through eleven movies. "John starts with the music much earlier. He and I talk about it even before he shoots. He knows exactly what he wants it to do." Daring wholeheartedly endorses Sayles' comment that "when it works movie music is like a natural voice, like the only sound the picture up there could possibly make." "That's exactly it," he agrees, "the music should arise from the scene. I usually write source music for him, whereas almost everybody else buys the music in. It's not just a budgetary thing, he wants it to have a certain effect."

Daring dismisses the view that film music represents a compromise for the composer. "It's not compromise," he insists, "it's opportunity." He relishes the challenge of finding exactly the right instrument for a given film. For Matewan he unearthed a dobro, a modified guitar from the 1920s with an inset metal plate that makes the notes (as Sayles put it) "bend into a question at the end." Much of the otherworldly flavour of Roan Inish (Daring's own personal favourite among his scores) comes from the yearning wail of the Uilléan pipes, which he learned to play for the occasion. In Limbo the "voice of the film" was provided by an e-bow, an electromagnetic device held over an electric guitar to give "an eerie sound, like whale sounds or gulls' cries."

Limbo , set in Alaska, was less folk-based than Daring's previous scores for Sayles. By contrast, Hombres armados ( Men with Guns ), Sayles's first foreign-language movie, made intense use of folk idioms. The film is set in a fictional Latin American country "like Guatemala but it's not. So my score's intended to be pan-Hispanic music, from all around Central and South America. And almost every instrument is wooden, except for a little trumpet and French horn: Spanish guitar, marimba, wooden percussion. I didn't set out to do that; it just happened that way."

Recently Daring has moved into scoring big-budget mainstream films, starting with Wes Craven's Music of the Heart and Matt Williams' directorial debut Where the Heart Is. He describes both projects as "a pleasure from start to finish," but plans to continue working on smaller independent films as well. At his studio in Marblehead, Massachusetts, near Boston, he produces his own music and acts as producer for a number of other artists, which involves being "a cross between the Wizard of Oz and a den mother." He sees himself as being exceptionally lucky to have become someone "who actually gets paid to write music. It's a wonderful job, but somebody has to do it."

—Philip Kemp

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