Stewart Copeland

Stewart Copeland
Stewart Copeland (b. 1952) ‘The Rhythmatist’

The inspiring ‘Rhythmatist’ Stewart Copeland, drummer with The Police, went on to compose film scores. My preferred ones are the rock masterpiece Rumblefish (1983) and his score for Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio (1988) with its MIDI toccatas. When playing kit, I enjoyed the unorthodox way he’d place the downbeat on the 3rd of the 4/4 instead of on the usual 2nd and 4th. His precision, his quantum, filigree hi-hat work and his polyrhythms made me experiment with rhythm and computers in my own scores. I was lucky enough to meet and talk with Stewart Copeland at St John’s, Smith Square, London in the 1980s at a concert of electroacoustic music. He was dressed in silver boots and a jump suit.

I found the picture above inspiring. It comes from the back of the Rumblefish album. Copeland stands in lab coat as a scientist, in front of an unplayable and therefore musically-symbolic lyre (under what looks like a working vibraphone). The image mixed the freedom of rock, with a (tongue-in-cheek) ‘scientific’ approach to music and the symbolism of the history of music: freedom, symbolism history and science all merged into one picture, decorating a fantastic score that is all-Copeland.

In Rumblefish, Copeland uses sound metaphors in fascinating ways, e.g. heartbeats, pounding industrial pile-drivers, skooter exhausts, car horns, beggar-man solo violin and alarm clocks – his own ballet méchanique accompanied on drum kit! The film opens with the sounds of tiny struck bells over Francis Coppola’s images of sped-up cloud formations: precision + cloud. I loved also the way he used (what sound like) reveresed sounds for the cue Father On the Stairs. – They come across as a fusion of traditional music and floorboards creaking.

No-one plays kit like Stewart Copeland. He treats notes like drums, being more interested in their triggering and rhythmic patterns, than the harmony they produce. It’s as if he’s playing a keyboard with a pair of sticks.

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