cGennis had always intended for the music for “Buffalo Bushido” to become an extension of the main character’s mind. While writing the script, in his own mind, he assigned both “Buffalo” and “Bushido” a musical theme. “Buffalo” representing “home” and “Bushido” relating to the perception of the “samurai”. It became interesting to think about how to interweave these two themes almost as if they were the flip side of the same coin. From the beginning, McGennis wanted to go in an acoustic direction for both the “Buffalo theme” reflecting American roots music and for the “Bushido theme” incorporating a traditional Eastern string influence. He could imagine the same piece of music played by an American instrument, such as the dobro, and a Japanese string instrument that shared a similar sound quality. Having an innate sense of the story’s intended music helped McGennis during the writing phase and taking on the role of Davis. This is a rare case where the lead actor was not only afforded insight into the script, serving as the writer, but also into the ideas for the music that instinctively helped to guide his choices. 

usic began to take form during the production long before the composer entered the picture. It began with McGennis writing down lyrics and melodies that he thought would suit certain musicians whose music inspired him and he believed would fit the story. Taj Mahal was his main influence and McGennis even met with Taj in New York City to discuss the project. With plenty of ideas in his head, McGennis decided to begin putting together his own music during the production. One of the pieces was the song “No More Waiting” that had come out of the material McGennis had presented to Taj Mahal. Sounding like an old spiritual funeral march from the Dust Bowl migrant era, “No More Waiting” defined “roots music” as McGennis saw it. He called up his friend and skilled dobro player Doug Yeomans to lay the track down. This became the same track that McGennis would present to actor Jesse Martin to provide vocals over when Martin came to film in Buffalo. Martin really liked the tune and he blew the doors down in the studio with his amazing voice while the crew watched in disbelief. A year later, “No More Waiting” would ultimately become the departure for the film’s score and it all came about because McGennis conceived and recorded music early on (all of this while still trying to produce, direct, and act!)

cGennis had some other ideas for supporting his “ Buffalo ” theme. He had been listening to pre-recorded music and thinking about songs that could also add tremendously to the soundtrack. For some reason, McGennis had been instinctively drawn to one particular experimental funk album from the 1970’s that he felt related to the state of mind of the film and many of its flashbacks. The album was Westbound Records’ “Maggot Brain” performed by Funkadelic which is a very raw and emotionally rooted recording with a unique diversity of tracks.  In a similar vein as the unforgettable album cover, the “Maggot Brain” tracks worm-holed their way into McGennis’ mind during the writing phase and carried all the way through the editing process over two years later. While some tracks had to step aside for the original score, it is fascinating to see several of these tracks embedded in this edgy, urban, state-of-mind film. They provide equally strong yet different roots from the score and it is rare to see several songs from one album incorporated into the same film. McGennis also thought it was important to showcase some local music in “Buffalo Bushido” in order to give Buffalo an original voice. Once again, this would not be a case of slapping songs into the film after the fact. Every pre-recorded track was thought about ahead of time and worked into the film as the story evolved.

hen the filming wrapped, McGennis set his sights on finding a composer who he could work with in collaboration to dive further into the “ Buffalo ” and “Bushido” themes. He knew that the “Bushido” theme would have to be unearthed. He didn’t have to look more than a few blocks away to find his old friend David Kane. Kane had worked on McGennis’ first film “In” ( New Orleans , 2005) ( and together they had recorded an entire soundtrack with jazz legend Jimmy Smith right before he passed away. McGennis and Kane had a great working relationship and McGennis felt certain that his composer would invest himself completely in the project and be open to collaboration. It started with a lot of listening to traditional Japanese music. Kane demonstrated that he is as much a student and a historian as he is a composer showing openness to any style or expression of music. In order to conceive the “Buffalo Bushido” score, Kane felt that he needed to have a deeper understanding of traditional Japanese music which varies tremendously from Western music in both tuning and scale. The idea of somehow combining Western and Eastern music, the “Buffalo” and “Bushido”, like the flip side of a coin would be a quite a challenge. However, Kane remained optimistic that the differences would provide a wonderful opportunity for experimentation and would ultimately produce a fantastic, original score.

cGennis gave Kane an open canvass to lay down tracks on the keyboard that Kane felt could later be given a Japanese string translation. The “No More Waiting” track was also used as a point of departure. In the meantime, McGennis looked outside of Buffalo to find someone who could provide the traditional Japanese instrumentation. He wanted the real deal even if that meant setting his sights on Japan . He soon discovered that there was indeed one traditional string Japanese master living in the United States . Her name is Yoko Hiraoka. McGennis began to correspond with Yoko about the opportunity to be involved in the project. Yoko was on the road giving performances at colleges throughout the United States but she became very interested in the project and the opportunity to bring her traditional repertoire of koto, biwa, and shamisen into the film. McGennis also learned about Yoko’s training in vocals which opened the door to a whole other layer of weaving in the two themes. McGennis sensed that there could be opportunities to recreate the “No More Waiting” with both Japanese instrumentation and voice in order to introduce Japanese spoken word and sung poetry into the film as a layer.

t was a couple months before the opportunity presented itself and McGennis told Kane to pack up his bags. They were heading out to Colorado to record with Yoko. Kane prepared all of the tracks on keyboard that he felt Yoko could either play over or give her own interpretation to. Later on, the idea was that Kane’s tracks would be sweetened and filled in by a string section recorded back home. McGennis did his part providing written background for Yoko to understand the story and to know where each track was intended to be placed in the film. Through their e-mail correspondence, he was impressed by Yoko’s investment and her interest in wanting to fully grasp the story. It was her request that when McGennis and Kane arrived in Colorado that they should spend at least a day discussing the story and the music while experimenting and listening to how different instrumentation plays with Kane’s tracks.
he Colorado recording session took place in February of 2008 and it exceeded everyone’s expectations. McGennis and Kane were hosted by Yoko and her husband David at their lovely home where Yoko first provided her own condensed introduction to Japanese music by playing all of the traditional instruments that filled her basement studio. Then they discussed each track that they intended to record the following day at Coupe Studios in Boulder. McGennis was very impressed by Yoko’s efforts to internalize the meaning of each piece. Both he and Kane soon discovered that their strategy for having Yoko provide a Japanese interpretation for everything they had prepared would not be a clear cut procedure for both music and especially for the poems that McGennis had prepared. Yoko first needed to identify the core meaning of everything before giving thought to instrumentation and voice. McGennis watched as Yoko often struggled with the internalization process. Musically, never before had Kane or McGennis heard a single note be able to be played and experienced so many different ways! Like the art of Japanese calligraphy, there is both feeling and stroke order that is applied to each line with particular direction which creates the overall force of a character. Such feeling is all but gone in the Western world where the value of handwriting is waning and is no longer taught as an art form. McGennis was grateful for the deep level of thought and commitment that Yoko brought to the table.
he recording session was nothing short of inspiration. Everyone’s preparation and investment paid dividends. Yoko’s koto playing was exquisite and with this instrument’s broad range (many bridges) she could come very close to making Western music in its diatonic scale structure. For the earthy and raw sounding biwa, Yoko was able to break away from traditional tuning and work out melodic riffs that played well over Kane’s selected tracks. The same held true for shamisen which is another instrument that is not made for chord progressions. Taking in account the void of harmony in Japanese music, Yoko utilized melody and interesting rhythms to build her layers. They could hear it working immediately. She also provided flourishes and straight traditional pieces on biwa in a style taken from the 13th century when samurai folklore and music sprung forth. She also translated the core meaning of “No More Waiting” and provided a traditional samurai influenced interpretation both on biwa and voice. An extinct string instrument, the Kokyu, was also brought out of hiding to provide string accompaniment with the same tuning as the shamisen. Finally, both poetry and spoken word were delivered. Yoko’s heartfelt reading of McGennis’ poem “Nani Mo Nai” (translated “There’s Nothing”) was emotional as McGennis watched as the tears swelled up in Yoko’s eyes. It was a passionate recording session held in the company of new friends and McGennis and Kane left with the music that would become the signature of their score. 
he rest of the music would come together in Buffalo as Kane rounded up his savvy cadre of musicians many of whom played under Kane’s direction on McGennis’ first film “In”. Kane’s “Rusty String Section” along with his vintage Wurlitzer electric piano provided the foundation of the score. Individual tracks were narrowed down based on what McGennis saw working taking in account the pre-recorded songs and the elements of sound design that were being created concurrently in New York City at Sound One. Harmonica, pedal steel, and opera singing became the last additions to the layered score although Kane would continue to add Wurlitzer piano, keyboard, and synth sounds throughout the entire mixing of the score.
n the end, the same strategy that worked for the filming of “Buffalo Bushido” held true for creating its soundtrack. Ideas for music generated early on by McGennis became foundations for Kane later on. By allowing time for Kane to become immersed in Japanese music, a tailor made score was conceived. A score that would then pass through the mind and hands of a Japanese string master, Yoko Hiraoka, who gave it traditional roots, rich texture, and an emotional connection hitting the heart of the “Bushido” theme. Kane then flipped the coin and constructed the “Buffalo” theme that achieved the double-sided, interwoven score that McGennis had envisioned for his psychological portrait. Combining the score with the songs, voices, and all of the interesting synth sounds, “Buffalo Bushido” evolved into a multi-layered sound collage synaptically embedded in the main character’s mind. This was McGennis’ intention from the start. It just took a couple years to spring from seed to flower.