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Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.58]Danny Elfman ([m.44985]The Girl on the Train), [c.234]Gabriel Yared ([m.46781]The Promise), [c.8705]Junkie XL ([m.41976]Justice League), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 30 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2016-6-20]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.43533]Free State of Jones ([c.4631]Nicholas Britell), [m.38200]Independence Day: Resurgence ([c.509]Harald Kloser and [c.1599]Thomas Wander), [m.42368]The Neon Demon ([c.124]Cliff Martinez) and [m.44375]The Shallows ([c.14]Marco Beltrami).
Today the LA Film Festival, produced by Film Independent announced Danny Elfman Project: Rabbit and Rogue, a unique online challenge for filmmakers in partnership with [c.58]Danny Elfman and [url.http://indi.com/]Indi.com.
Elfman is offering free licenses of his latest album, [a.18127]Rabbit & Rogue that can be used by filmmakers as the catalyst and soundtracks to their short films. The films can be live action, animated, narrative, documentary, music video, abstract or experimental. This unique marriage of music and movies will culminate in a competition of short films submitted for selection and screening at next year's LA Film Festival. Filmmakers are encouraged to pick their favorite composition from Rabbit and Rogue and use it as inspiration and soundtrack for their...
When you’re marooned on an ocean-lost island, many things come to mind in the madness of utter isolation. For the increasingly suicidal Hank (Paul Dano), it’s the Greek chorus (by way of Polynesian chant) of American composers Andy Hull and Robert McDowell. Their harmonies are full of tuneful lament and poetic irony, vocalese that turns to self-accusing song, all telling Hank to take The Big Dive. But just before he steps over the edge, Hank’s isolation is interrupted by the appearance of the very Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), whose very dead condition doesn’t mean that this can’t become the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Given his own Wilson in corpulent human form, Hank is not only given a chance for imagined conversations, but more importantly the idea to use Manny’s post-mortem bodily functions as a virtual “Swiss Army Man” to provide a means of long-awaited escape.
Hull and McDowell’s vocals and lyrics chart this oddball relationship with continual invention, not only bringing real emotion out of a seemingly one-sided pair, but also fashioning their voices into a percussive means of escape. Like this absurdist film by video directors Daniel Schienert and Daniel Kwan (aka the “Daniels”), this composing duo have made a strong, first-time cinematic impression that’s quite like anything before it. Where The Swingles Singers gave a wacky sense of A Capella playfulness to such Burt Bacharach scores as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Hull and McDowell take a musical idea that could have made for one-note musical shtick into a true score that sings with emotional beauty. Imagine what Beach Boy Brian Wilson might have thought of to pass the time if he got shipwrecked during his “Pet Sounds” period, and you’ll get an idea of this soulfully unique score whose peculiar raft is strongly constructed out of themes. Now as they make an impressive journey from their membership with the alt. Manchester Orchestra, Hull and McDowell reflect on a singular score of vocal invention that’s as multi-faceted as the “Swiss Army Man.”
Filmmusicmag: Could you talk about your backgrounds, and vocal training, that led to “Swiss Army Man?”
Andy Hull: I have been playing rock shows since I was 15 years old and that eventually led into a career leading the rock band Manchester Orchestra. We produce and perform under several different projects, so the combination of making countless albums and playing thousands of shows was my sort of background for learning how to sing.
Robert McDowell: Neither of us have had any vocal training. Just lots of moments to figure what you can do with your voice, sounds and production. We have always tried to approach each project with a different method in order to learn new techniques and make music that doesn’t sounds like part 1, 2 and 3. That mindset gave us enough tools to start the soundtrack and then experiment our way through.
FMM: How did you come up with the musical premise of “Swiss Army Man?”
AH: The Daniels contacted me and asked if I was interested in writing some songs for their first feature. Movies are probably my biggest passion, even above music, so I was more than thrilled. When they told us that they wanted the score to be made with no instruments and almost all human sounds and voices, we were thrilled at the challenge. As far as the musical premise, the first song I wrote, “A Better Way”, was the basis for the entire score. Once we wrote that song and “Montage”, we realized the chords would work perfectly throughout without seeming overused. We tried to focus on 5 or so different melodies in the same key that could all work together and would sound differently depending on which melodies we paired together.
RM: The Daniels have always had a lot of passion and direction. When they came to us, they already knew they wanted a unique score. We were told we could use sounds that only exist in nature, which left us with vocals and percussion. Over the next year, the premise came into itself. Every few weeks we would find a new sound, emotion or approach that would become one piece of the soundtrack. We tried to let ourselves evolve with each edit or re-write in order to match the premise of the music with the movie.
FMM: “Swiss Army Man” is one of the crazier novelty films since “Weekend At Bernie’s. But was it important to have the score go out of immediately funny territory into becoming an organic part of the movie?
AH: The movie is obviously funny but I never once thought of it like a comedy while we were making it. It doesn’t really read like a comedy from the script. So the score was a reflection of that. I knew the visuals and heart of the movie were going to be beautiful and organic so we tried to capture that on our end as well.
RM: From day one, the Daniels wanted the movie to sound and look beautiful. We had to create a bunch of material prior to them shooting, so the actors could sing along. I believe it helps bring the music into the story. There are a few moments where you see the actors singing the score, which help establish that this music is all happening inside of Hank’s head.
FMM: Given that you’re a composing duo, what kind of energy did that give to working with a directing duo? Do you think their rock video background was an asset when it came to creating such a unique score?
AH: We had worked with the guys before on our music video “Simple Math”, and it was an extremely pleasurable experience and collaboration. In a lot of ways we are very similar to those guys in our hunger to reach further and be better. To be unique and powerful. So when you have guys with a specific thought in mind and we have a specific thought as well, we would work on them over and over until we had uncovered some really beautiful stuff.
RM: Having a pre-existing relationship made working together very smooth and natural. It grew into a group of friends rather than two different teams. As for their background being an asset, I would have to say absolutely. They are very familiar with pairing movies to music, which helped everyone’s vision. This time we were just reversed, with us creating content for their visual.
FMM: It’s been quite a while since we’ve gotten a vocal-based score like “Swiss Army Man.” Did you ever listen back to Burt Bacharach scores like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” or A Capella groups like The Swingles Singers?
AH: We definitely did some research at the beginning, but not with film scores. The Daniels would send over all sorts of videos of tribes from all over the world performing insane vocal compositions. The vulnerability in just letting your voice do crazy and wild stuff is hard to achieve, but once you’re there, the possibilities seem endless. We wanted the score to sound magical and otherworldly, so we tried to be inspired by what we were working and how to reach that sound.
RM: I have not heard either, but I’ll have to go check it out now!
FMM: Did you listen as well to any pop /rock / alt. groups or artists as well for inspiration? There’s definitely a cool Beach Boys / Brian Wilson “Pet Sounds” influence to “Swiss Army Man.”
AH: I guess with indie/alt rock being our day job, that is going to naturally show itself. We do love the Beach Boys. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but when we realized one song in particular has a Brian Wilson thing going on, it was exciting knowing that Paul would be able to pull it off. While we were recording the actors’ vocals in LA, it’s funny to tell him, “I hate to say this, but sing this part like Brian Wilson.”
RM: My dad was a big music fan, so we listened to everything growing up. Those classic records were a big part of my life musically and personally. I can remember moments where I’d listen for the hundredth time and hear a new part. Once your ear starts to hear those hidden, but genius parts, you can become obsessed with trying to create you own. Once we got into the thick of the movie, we had to go back to some of those, but also find inspiration in anything from Frank Zappa to classical arrangements.
FMM: In the same way that Hank fashions Manny into a vehicle for his escape, how did you want to create instruments from your voices?
AH: We had to get very creative to make the album sound dynamic and different. We used a lot of echo, delays and reversed reverb. It took time to put headphones on and just make sounds and hear what could sonically work for the scene. We would usually start with a low octave organ that wasn’t really desirable, other than the note and start slowly adding from there; eventually taking the low organ out and it still sounding full.
RMM: We wanted these songs to sound bigger than a simple choir. When we started, we had no idea what that meant or how to do it. So we started trying things blindly. We tried looping, stacking, sampling voices, hitting delays, etc. and through that, found so many new versions of singing. Once we had the different options, we were able to apply them to the emotion of Manny and Hank.
FMM: There’s a beautifully haunting quality that you don’t expect from your score. How did you want your voices to reflect Hank’s isolation? And In a way, do you think the stripped-down quality of the score is more emotionally effective than had an orchestra been used for it?
AH: I definitely think it’s more emotionally affective because it connects you to the character at an even deeper level. You are listening to his thoughts in music. At times I would have to get into that headspace to sing a certain way. I’d ask, “How is he feeling? Where is he standing? Why would he sing like this?” It was a total blast to sing in character.
It was very tempting to make things polished and beautiful. At times it would be perfect in the studio, but once to picture caused conflicting emotions. The turning point for us was when we carelessly made five or so ideas with a new trick we discovered. It allowed very few voices to fill the entire moment. It managed to match the feeling perfectly – you have one guy alone, in this huge place, struggling but finding hope as he goes.
FMM: Is it particularly tricky to give vocal personality to a dead, expressionless body?
RM: It took some time! It required us to have zero judgment about what was happening in the room. The biggest problem was that what we were making shouldn’t exist by definition. So we once again had to try things and let it evolve into Manny’s voice. Once the first edit came in things began to speed up. Now Manny had a personality and speaking voice outside the script. We were able to use what Danielle Radcliffe did to mold and shape what we were doing.
AH: The Daniels had a pretty clear idea that Manny’s voice was going to be clumsy and low from the start. We worked in that arena for his songs. The incredibly talented Daniel Radcliffe really helped bring that character to life in the songs. He had perfected the voice and can sing really well, so it was relatively easy. Luckily for us, he could also sing very well in the higher octaves, which gave “Montage” an extra kick.
FMM: How did you want to sample voice into the score? Are there any other instruments in the score beyond them?
AH: Robert was really genius in that area. He was inventing new tricks everyday. The first 85 percent of the movie there are no real instruments other than our three voices and some drums. Once the movie starts to progress into a more ordinary world (I don’t want to give anything away!), we were allowed to move into more traditional scoring. We still used mostly voices but having full strings, piano, etc., which helped elevate the final reel of the movie.
FMM: There’s a particularly funny vocalese salute to “Jurassic Park” here. What inspired that?
AH: The script had it mentioned in a pretty pivotal moment of the movie so we just went for it. We thought, “Never in 1000 years is John Williams going to let us do this” and sure enough I got a FaceTime call from Daniel Schienart at midnight and he was jumping up and down going “JOHN WILLIAMS LOVED IT!! WE CAN USE IT AS LONG AS THE MOVIE ISN’T RATED X!!”… It was incredible!
RM: That is a life moment for us now!
FMM: How did you want the score to build with the anxiousness if Hank will finally escape the island?
AH: I think the movie lends itself that way naturally, but as musicians making a large piece of conceptual art, we wanted to make sure it was moving and didn’t ever stall out.
RM: We just tried to follow the story as much as we could. At times, we would get notes saying that it was too anxious or they edited something and need a new feel. We had a really great back and forth with the Daniel’s through those moments. It was very experimental at times, they would have us try some anxious, sad or tense cues and see what fit best.
FMM: How do you think that audiences will react to the film, and your score? And what do you think it shows about the potential of how you can score a comedy that might not have such a crazy premise?
AH: I think people will be surprised at the sweetness and charm of the movie. As a self-proclaimed “movie freak”, I couldn’t imagine working on a cooler and more inventive movie. From the cast to everyone who worked on the film, it was about as special as it could be. I can’t ever worry about what audiences will say about the score. I know I tried as hard as I possibly could to create something really special and unique and I have to leave it at that.
RM: I think it’s an incredibly unique film and everyone should see it. The film forces people to think and react to emotions and some people might not enjoy that. But for me, that’s what art is.
FMM: Do you think that a soundtrack like “Swiss Army Man” is something that only first time composers could come up with? And can we expect anything more conventional from you in the future. Would you even want to be?
AH: I imagine that composers of all sorts could do this sort of thing. I know it wouldn’t sound like ours, but that’s the beauty of it. I do know that our background and history in music played a big part, but we have always wanted to intertwine large orchestral ideas into our rock band; so having to strip it all away and do it with my voice was the best challenge we could ask for. We would love to score more movies if the right movie and opportunity arrives, but our main goal for the next year is to record a new album for Manchester Orchestra.
RM: I don’t think we could create this soundtrack again if we tried. It would have to be something slightly different because so many of these moments came from experimenting. I would love to do another movie but for me the best part is being able to experiment and try new ideas.
“Swiss Army Man” opens in theaters, with Andy Hull and Robert McDowell’s score available from Lakeshore Records HERE
Visit The Manchester Orchestra’s website HERE
Sony Classical will release the [a.18005]Free State of Jones - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack digitally and on CD [da.2016-06-24]June 24, 2016. The album features the film's original score by [c.4631]Nicholas Britell.
Director Gary Ross, editor Juliette Welfling, and Britell worked very closely together to determine the musical approach to each scene. Britell used a string ensemble with added mandolin, trumpet, guitars, banjo, piano, and percussion. "We created a sound palette drawn primarily from instruments of the era; our attempt was to craft a musical landscape which felt almost like an ethereal civil war band. With all the sounds, we produced and recorded them in such a way to form a unique character for the overall musical atmosphere of the film," explained...
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.200]Howard Shore ([m.46719]Denial), [c.8161]Danny Bensi and [c.1781]Saunder Jurriaans ([m.46731]Rosy), [c.135]Giorgio Moroder and [c.4109]Raney Shockne ([m.46489]Tomboy, a Revenger's Tale), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 25 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2016-6-13]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.43480]Central Intelligence ([c.2269]Ludwig Goransson and [c.452]Theodore Shapiro) and [m.35577]Finding Dory ([c.149]Thomas Newman).
Among all new theatrical releases, we are tracking song credits...
The new titles of the concert program of the World Soundtrack Awards Gala on Wednesday October 19th include the music of [t.6795]Doctor Who by [c.1042]Murray Gold, [t.30143]Mad Men by [c.679]David Carbonara, [t.38491]The White Queen by [c.1448]John Lunn, [t.35169]Upstairs Downstairs by [c.1318]Daniel Pemberton. The concert comprises also the world première of the score for the brand new series [t.46244]Roots by [c.1205]Alex Heffes. Also covered is the score for the British miniseries [t.35168]Parade's End, composed by maestro [c.3401]Dirk Brosse who will again conduct the Brussels Philharmonic and the Flemish Radio Choir. As always the music will be accompanied by film clips projected on the big screen.
Previously announced were scores from...
NEWS: New Book 'Scored to Death: Conversations with Some of Horror's Greatest Composers' to be Released
Film music is a magical phenomenon. It can create and enhance the sense of life and emotion and pacing in a film. It can also clue us in on the dark secrets hidden in a character's soul, and suggest what might be awaiting us a few frames later. Music is particularly important to the horror film experience. It can (and often does) put us on the edge of our seats, trick us with red herrings, and propel us on a wild ride from shock to shock to shock. It is an unseen hand, subtly directing our reactions and building our anticipations.
Scored to Death: Conversations with Some of Horror's Greatest Composers is the first book to delve specifically and deeply into the minds of noted horror genre composers--the musicians who make us tremble and jump out of our seats. Scored to...
Varèse Sarabande will release the [a.16618]Ray Donovan Original Television Soundtrack both digitally and on CD on [da.2016-06-24]June 24, 2016. The album features original music from the first two seasons of the hit Showtime series composed by [c.1061]Marcelo Zarvos. The album also includes songs performed by The Chieftains (featuring Bon Iver), Kendra Morris, Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics, and Flash Lightnin.
"The music for the first 2 Seasons of [t.36479]Ray Donovan works on two levels simultaneously. First we have a crime/family drama, with a score that leans towards the emotional and orchestral. And second we have the 'fixer' element of the show which tends to be more propulsive and electronic," said Zarvos. "It was great fun to put on the two different musical hats...
If there’s one thing that composer Cliff Martinez shares in common with Jesse, the nymphet model of “The Neon Demon,” then it’s that both are soft spoken while rocking peoples’ worlds. For Jesse, it’s becoming a sensation that drives LA’s fashionistas wild with desire as The Next Big Thing. For former Chili Peppers drummer Martinez, it was creating a sound of alt. rhythmic minimalism that changed the face of indie scoring with Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” But if Jesse has the misfortune of attracting equally gorgeous, if far more twisted people who want to absorb the blonde essence of her corn-fed enchantment, Martinez’s sonic spell has had the far more fortunate result of attracting creative agent provocateurs – perhaps none more twisted than Nicolas Winding Refn.
A Danish director of machismo run amuck via drug pusher, a one-eyed Viking and the most dangerous prisoner in England, Refn finally hit the streets of LA for 2011’s “Drive,” a brooding salute to the criminal getaway genre that speeded into punishing, psychologically searing realms new to oft-traveled action films. Given a beyond tense protagonist who only spoke when tires, fists, and head-crumpling shoes wouldn’t suffice, Martinez’s score veered from punishing rhythm to the trademarked, glistening hypnotism of his Crystal Baschet. Martinez was no small passenger when it came to putting Refn in Hollywood’s hot seat, not that the filmmaker seemed to care when he reteamed with star Ryan Gosling unleashing the zero multiplex brutality of “Only God Forgives.” Its repellent nihilism served as the contrast to Martinez’s stunningly beautiful, dream like score that could just as easily break into percussive violence.
Now Refn provides his latest canny outrage with “The Neon Demon,” trading the artsy testosterone of his past films for the passive aggressive world of female face value, where beautiful looks are no more savage for its maddening effect on Jesse’s body and soul. It’s also quite a bit more fun (relatively speaking), and just slightly less disturbing than “Only God Forgives,” at least for Refn’s very black satire of a dog-eat-dog fashionista scene. The creepy, beyond-designed vision of “The Neon Demon” also lets Martinez loosen up as it were, making far more extensive use of his scoring to strike a haunting pose. Reaching into an even more entertaining bag of tricks in his makeup case, Martinez goes even further back than “Drive’s” salute to the pulsating synth 80’s action scores. Here it’s a serving of 70’s-style goodness, where rhythms reminiscent of Italian Giallos dancing on the catwalk with disco-ish grooves. LA night winds cast a fairy tale translucent spells, while bizarre samples create heart-beating body horror. It’s a trippy, hip-hop mesmerizing score that’s the definition of beauty as Refn strips away of innocence to the ugly core he knows so transgressively well, making for another notable entry in a beautiful-ugly director-composer relationship like few others.
What was it about your work that put you on Nicolas’ radar?
I was pretty uninformed about Nicolas’ work at the time that I met him. Needless to say that when I did, I was really impressed. I think his knowledge of me came from a promotional video I’d done for “The Lincoln Lawyer” for Brian McNelis at Lakeshore Records. He put me in touch with Adam Siegel who was a producer on “Drive,” who showed Nicolas the video of me playing the Crystal Baschet. That piqued his curiousity. Nicolas came over to my house, where I played the Baschet. We went out for sushi, he showed me “Drive,” and I fell in love with it. I didn’t have a lot of free time when starting “Drive,” but I was very curious about Nicolas’ work, so I watched his “Pusher” movies, “Bronson” and “Valhalla Rising” during that early period.
What inspired your score to “Drive?”
My first inspiration was the five songs Nicolas had in there already, which were homages to 80’s synth-pop. I’d just come off of “Lincoln Lawyer,” which had twenty songs that came from very disparate areas. Usually the songs and the score go their separate, stylistic ways, especially since I couldn’t come up with a score that would compliment hip-hop, r & b, etcetera that they had in “Lincoln Lawyer.” Yet Nicolas’ approach was very unified, especially because there were far less songs in “Drive.” So I said, “I can do an 80’s synth score.” And people have been asking me to repeat the recipe ever since! Ironically, first thing that Adam Siegel asked me on “Drive” was what I thought of the songs. Then I found out that Nicolas was getting beaten up over those musical choices, which were thought to be very “un-commercial” for a film that aspired to be commercial.
“Only God Forgives” was an even more punishing film than “Drive,” without any remotely likeable characters in it. What was it like scoring a movie that was defiantly un-commercial?
I liked “Only God Forgives,” and had a great experience on it. The challenge to me was that the film didn’t make as much “sense” as “Drive,” and I didn’t know if it was my job to make it more accessible. I remember asking Nicolas stuff like “What does that mean when Ryan Gosling sticks his hand into his mother?” And Nicolas responded, “What do you think it means?” I said, “Well, I don’t really know. Maybe you should let me in on it?” Then Nicolas asked me the same question again, so that was my answer! What I took from that was that “Only God Forgives” was a sort of art instillation that you could look at from different angles, and take away from it whatever you wanted to read into it. That’s another tough job for a composer, because I had to leave my music subject to interpretation as well by the audience. That’s a very different function from what film music usually does, which is to specifically create a mood.
You had the opportunity to score the documentary “My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn,” which his wife Liv Corfixen shot behind the scenes to chronicle the turbulent production, and reception of “Only God Forgives.” What was the difference in working with her?
That was a fun and different film, because it was a straightforward love story between a wife, husband and their family. So I thought the score would be “simpler” for that reason, music that could be played with straightforward themes throughout the film. As far as personality goes, Liv was receptive to the music. I think she made a very thoughtful film, and got her camera in places where no one else could have. It was an educational film for me as well, because it showed me a completely different side of Nicolas. It was an insightful film project.
Now we get to “The Neon Demon,” which you could also call an “art installation” as such, and an eerily cold one at that.
Nicolas brought me into the process very early, even before he wrote the script. When I asked Nicolas what the film would be, he told me that the big difference was that “The Neon Demon” would be about women, whereas all of his other films were about men. Nicolas also told me it would be a very commercial film because of its theme of beauty and the obsession, which are universal ideas. I thought, “What would a Nicolas Refn movie about women be like?” And when I saw two women bathing nude in a shower of blood, I said “Oh, of course! I should have seen that coming! That’s the kind of ‘women’s’ movie Nicolas would make!”
“The Neon Demon” is full of sinister, saturate colors that bring to mind horror Giallos like “Suspiria.” In that way, your score certainly captures the Italian vibe of such prog-rock composers like Goblin.
I’m glad you think so. I didn’t spend a lot of time watching Dario Argento films or listening to their scores. But the ones I saw made a big impression on me, and Nicolas. We talked about Goblin and musicians like John Carpenter. I think Nicolas trusts the music department more with each film, and he wanted to rely on my score more for “Neon Demon” than with any other project we’ve done together. Usually with most films I expect the music to be in the background, and to take a backseat to everything. The less intrusive the music is, the more successful it is. But here Nicolas wanted me to rebel against that philosophy, and to be front and center stage most of the time. I think that’s great, because scores like Goblin’s “Suspiria” are really in your face, like a rock band would be. There’s nothing subtle about them, and “The Neon Demon’s” score has many moments like that.
One particularly challenging cue was Jessie’s big coming out during a fashion show.
Yes, it’s a really pivotal moment in the film where her character blossoms into fame. You’d expect that the scene, and its music would look and sound exactly like you’d expect. But it takes a completely left turn, which I thought was a great opportunity for the music to do the same thing.
Usually when you have models strutting their stuff, there’s throbbing, disco-ish music playing. How did you want to skew those expectations as well?
I wanted that style to be part of the score. But as these are very weird fashion shows, they brings in that Goblin / John Carpenter presence. But then, my recipe for originality is to steal from two sources and then combine them into something original!
With the characters so devoid of emotion in Nicolas’ films, was giving a sense of emotion especially important here?
I think so. Yet Nicolas’ musical aesthetic is not to explain everything, and not to be too on the nose about emotion. So I think “Neon Demon” has a lot of ambiguity as to who these characters are and what they’re feeling. I definitely had to respect that, because you don’t want the music to close off the audience’s interpretations of the characters.
For me, “The Neon Demon” is the most darkly satirical of Nicolas’ films. Did you want to capture that subversive Hollywood humor?
I work on a movie in a darkened room with no feedback, or anyone else watching it. So it can be shocking to see what a preview audience finds funny. I’ve watched “The Neon Demon” with an audience, and I think humor was just about the last thing that revealed itself to them. So I’m not so sure how “funny” “Neon Demon” is, and I didn’t try to play it that way. I think you could describe the score as being flamboyant and exuberant. I also wanted to play up the “kitsch” factor, though I hate to use that word. But there is a campy quality to “Neon Demon,” which inspired me as well to use that 70’s approach.
Do you think in terms of your composer-director collaborations that Nicolas has the most common with Steven Soderbergh’
That’s a tough one, but I think so. Both like ambient, textural and atmospheric music – simple music that generally doesn’t say too much. But that changed for Nicolas with “The Neon Demon.” As directors, I think he and Steven couldn’t be more disparate. Their cinematic influences, and they way they’ve evolved as filmmakers, are very different. Steven is very super-realistic, while Nicolas is super-surreal. I think he’s come to rely on less and less dialogue with each film. When it comes to styles, Nicolas likes electronic music. Steven was never a very electronic guy until “Contagion” came along.
Nicolas’ movies come with a lot of outrage, no more so than with “The Neon Demon.” Do you ever find yourself shocked by his work, and do you think that controversy is a big selling point of his movies?
Ever since I watched Ryan Gosling stomp someone’s head in with “Drive,” I’m not shocked by anything in Nicolas’ films. If he isn’t trying to irritate somebody, then I don’t think he’s doing a very good job. I’ve thought the same thing about music. I’ve always enjoyed music that was controversial. I always gravitated towards music that my parents would hate. That was very useful in my collaborations with Nicolas. He’s on that edge, and part of his appeal is that he’s doing something “wrong.” I think that’s probably a good thing.
What do you want people to get from the score of “The Neon Demon,” especially given the score’s expanded presence in it?
I think the ultimate compliment, and Nicolas would likely disagree with this a lot, would be to repeat the “Drive” experience. That felt like the kind of minimalist, ambient and electronic score I’d been doing for years, ever since “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” And for some reason, “Drive” became the most popular soundtrack album I’d ever been a part of. I think a lot of that has to do with the songs. In the end, the whole experience of “The Neon Demon” was truly remarkable. To repeat that in the same way as “Drive” would be fine with me!
“The Neon Demon” opens June 24th, with its soundtrack available on Milan Records
Buy the score to “The Neon Demon” HERE
Buy the score to “Drive” HERE
Buy the score to “Only God Forgives” HERE
Buy the score to “My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn” HERE
Visit Cliff Martinez’s website HERE
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.231]John Williams ([m.44373]Ready Player One), [c.652]Jeff Danna and [c.257]Mychael Danna ([m.43621]Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk), [c.1465]Lorne Balfe ([m.43694]The LEGO Batman Movie), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 29 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2016-6-06]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.40392]The Conjuring 2 ([c.1418]Joseph Bishara), [m.42045]Now You See Me 2 ([c.361]Brian Tyler), and [m.36888]Warcraft ([c.1065]Ramin Djawadi).
Among all new theatrical releases, we are tracking song...
Varèse Sarabande will release the [a.17961]Now You See Me 2 Original Soundtrack digitally on [da.2016-06-10]June 10 and on CD [da.2016-07-01]July 1, 2016. The album features the original music composed by [c.361]Brian Tyler.
"[m.42045]Now You See Me 2 provided a wonderful opportunity to compose a score that is truly eclectic," said Tyler. "The music itself is a magic trick that will surprise and excite in unexpected ways."
"The music feels at times groovy, having an old school throwback big band sound while still having a modern edge," Tyler described. "It also has a magical, wistful quality while still being grounded in real emotions. At times it reflects the music of China, where much of the film takes place, while nodding to the jazz influences of the...
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concludes another spectacular Pops season with a one of a kind evening: [m.]The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the world premiere of "The Hobbit: Four Movements for Symphony Orchestra" with scores from his films: [m.1569]The Aviator, [m.17739]Mrs. Doubtfire, [m.23510]The Silence of the Lambs, [m.31391]Hugo and many more. This is an epic evening filled with amazing music and the composer's own insights.
A unique experience not to be missed!
June 24 at 8:00 pm
June 25 at 8:00 pm
June 26 at 2:30 pm
600 Penn Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Lakeshore Records will release the [a.18216]Swiss Army Man - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack digitally on [da.2016-06-24]June 24 and on CD [da.2016-07-08]July 8, 2016. The album features the film's unique score by [c.17649]Andy Hull and [c.17650]Robert McDowell of Manchester Orchestra. The first single [a.18217]Montage, with vocal performances by the film's stars Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano, was released on [da.2016-06-03]June 3.
The directors challenged Hull and McDowell to write a score using the protagonists "limited resources" as a guide. They were charged with writing a score using only sounds that either existed in the natural environment that Manny and Hank found themselves in, or sounds that a body could make for the bulk of the story. The score is...
World-renowned Italian composer [c.137]Ennio Morricone has signed a major new record deal with Decca Records, celebrating his professional 60-year career and 600 compositions. His new album [a.18221]Morricone 60 will be released on [da.2016-10-07]October 7 just ahead of his 88th birthday, and marks the start of a unique partnership between Decca and the Morricone family.
[a.18221]Morricone 60 is the first album of [c.137]Ennio Morricone's greatest hits conducted, recorded and curated by Morricone himself--and aims to create a legacy for his fans to enjoy. It sees the celebrated Maestro performing some of his greatest film music from [m.10072]The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to his recent Academy Award-winning score for Quentin Tarantino's [m.41731]The Hateful Eight...
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.564]Christophe Beck and [c.18964]Chilly Gonzales ([m.46659]An Ordinary Man), [c.652]Jeff Danna and [c.257]Mychael Danna ([m.43705]Storks), [c.2455]Dominic Lewis ([m.44769]Fist Fight), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 44 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2016-5-30]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.41694]Me Before You ([c.519]Craig Armstrong), [m.45896]Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping ([c.2190]Matthew Compton), and [m.41885]Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows ([c.1018]Steve...
Soundtrack Picks: “10 CLOVERFIELD LANE” is the top soundtrack to own for May, 2016
Also worth picking up THE AWAKENING, CHINATOWN, I AM WRATH, PEE WEE’S BIG HOLIDAY, REVELATION, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMOPTION and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
What is it?: Proof that a masterpiece can be dashed off in ten days’ time, Jerry Goldsmith beat the replacement score clock to create one his most famous scores for Roman Polanski’s 1974 ode to the 40’s film noirs – as based on LA magnate William Mulholland’s water grab of the 1920’s. While I still might not be able to grasp this film’s labyrinthine plot after all of these years, Jerry Goldsmith’s salute to all that is smoky, sexy and fatalistic about the genre continues to stand as the modern-day definition of the detective score, no more so than in the brushed piano strings and the lush, woozy trumpet theme. Yet there are just as many tantalizing musical clues to be found in “Chinatown’s” watery score, which finally gets released in all of its sultry glory by Intrada Records.
Why should you buy it?: Where Roman Polanski was evidently fine with an ok enough score by “Murph the Surf’s” Phillip Lambro (which you can hear via Perseverance Records), credit producer Robert Evans for knowing his film’s soundtrack could do better. Goldsmith certainly had some jazzily fatalistic, hard-broiled scores to his credit like “The Stripper” and “The Detective.” But it was “Chinatown” that really opened up a new world of noir to play with, especially given an impressive recreation of the corruption-drenched, 1930’s era Los Angeles that the composer had grown up in. Goldsmith sends his theme into this dark territory, developing it in a piano-driven, nightmarish way reminiscent of conspiracy maestro Michael Small (“Klute,” “The Parallax View”). Expressionistic, nose-slashing percussion also recalls Goldsmith’s trek through “Planet of the Ape’s” forbidden zone, with mutated piano and shimmering string gestures hinting of water as a bloody currency. Where the film’s title mostly serves as a place of mind until the shocking, but inevitably finale of evil big business triumphing, there’s still a certain Asian quality to the score in Goldsmith’s use of gongs and harps, which play as a sinister answer to Goldsmith’s ventures to the orient in the equally fatalistic “Sand Pebbles.” While there’s little traditional shoot out action here, “Chinatown” offers the kind of staccato piano and militaristic timpani that distinguished the composer’s flair for rhythm. But if the end, it’s the gorgeous horn playing that even non-fans remember about Goldsmith’s Oscar-nominated score, its striking melancholy owed to performer Uan Rasey, who’d embody another of God’s lonely men for Bernard Herrmann’s “Taxi Driver.” It’s soulfully sad playing that makes the film sound positively black and white.
Extra Special: Back in the O.G.LP days, “Chinatown’s” album was a much vaunted collector’s item, fetching major bucks for its short, but effective selections of Goldsmith’s score and period tunes by the likes of Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern. First given a CD release by Varese, Goldsmith’s entire score is now finally uncovered in show order. Douglass Fake and Joe Tarantino’s mastering brings new vibrancy to this classic, which is finally cooled off after years of being heard at too high a volume. Goldsmith dick Jeff Bond does a nice job of sleuthing this iconic score, even if it brings me no closer to understanding what the hell “Chinatown” is about. Forget it.
What Is it?: Neal Acree is of the main musical architects who helped give “The World of Warcraft” games a rich, pan-ethnic sound that made for a virtual United Fantasy Nations of orcs, wizards and warriors, He’d then concentrate on an Asian approach with “The Mists of Pandaria,” creating a world that Po would happily call home. Now along with his game scores to “Imperial Reign” and “Legends of Tibet,” Acree hits the boss level of East meets West fantasy stylings with his rapturous scoring for “Revelation,” a Chinese online game a la “Warcraft” that puts its own distinctly cultural spin on sword and sorcery archetypes with magic-wielding demigods, battling gold and black dragons and buried grails.
Why Should You Buy It?: Proving once again that an epic orchestra can translate a supremely complicated mythos with all the blazingly awesome fury of a magical sword, Acree does a mightily impressive job of world building. The mythically beautiful playing of Seattle’s Northwest Sinfonia creates a sumptuous, theme-filled world of melody, laced together with any number of memorable themes. Acree gives equal importance to “Revelation’s” Chinese identity with a vast array of ancient wind and percussion instruments, breath life into the distinctively Asian characters, among their voices the Erhu, guzheng, shakuhachi and the sensual cello playing of Tina Guo. While mighty brass rides Chinese dragons and smashing drums and shakuhachis frenetically battle a spider queen, “Revelation” is for the most part a tranquil, enveloping work, made all the more spiritual with a full chorus.
Extra Special: An exemplar of how game soundtracks have gone to the achieved big screen nirvana, it’s no wonder that Acree’s debut on the Varese Sarabande marks the label’s second video game soundtrack in over a dozens years. It’s just cause for Chinese fireworks in showing off his ability to conjure an enchanted realm that’s now open to a legion of players, and listeners.
3) THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION: LIMITED EDITION
What is it?: For all of the body parts that Stephen King has torn asunder in his numerous books and film adaptations, it’s ironic that two of the most beloved movies ever about male bonding come from his book “Different Seasons” – a “Body” that spawned the CSI Our Gang of “Stand By Me,” and the prison breakout that lay behind “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” Wisely shortened to the last three titles by writer-filmmaker Frank Darabont, this 1994 classic of an unbreakable man slowly chiseling his way out of a Maine hellhole over the course of decades stands as not only the most soulful film in an understandably macho prison break genre, but also as a film that many rightfully consider to be one of the best movies ever made. For where brutality is ever present, Darabont’s key to unlocking immense feeling from “Shawshank” was to taking an inward, emotional approach about what it’s like to have no seeming way out other than the human spirit itself. Darabont couldn’t have found a more interesting cellmate to convey this moody, ultimately uplifting message in a more understated, or interesting way than Thomas Newman
Why should you buy it?: Thomas Newman had been scoring Hollywood films for about a decade before crafting one of his most memorable scores, previously impressing with the haunting, ethereal tonalities of “Less than Zero,” the playful percussion of “The Man With One Red Shoe,” and the beautifully lush orchestrations of “Scent of a Woman.” All of these styles would come to play inside of Shawshank, a place delicately constructed with a myriad of themes, motifs and eerie atmospheres. Musical steam and metal hiss with the nightmares waiting in a laundry room, the rhythm of a rock hammer sneakily promising the possibility of escape, while a bluegrass harmonica bakes with roof tar (while perhaps not coincidentally bringing to mind sweaty southern memories of “Cool Hand Luke” at that). Americana dignity is invested to the Andre Dufresn, a taciturn, yet noble character given a solemn, symphonic majesty worthy of Aaron Copland. There’s a striving warmth to his friendships with Red as displayed in Newman’s restrained use of strings, melody that’s careful not to become too emotive. But the most valuable instrument here is a piano, leading off a main theme that conveys the awful loneliness of prison. Newman develops his theme with incredible emotional power, while appearing to have little movement at all. But it’s in tune with a painstaking escape, the revelation a masterwork in how to build to a trumpeting, spiritual unshackling from black nothingness. This ever-striving “Shawshank Redemption” cue still one of the most obviously copied, earth shaking pieces of film music in modern scoring history, raging towards the lightning with its bold defiance. As with any prison film, the release of its characters’ repression is given a beautiful sense of nobility and brotherhood, exalting with the uplift of freedom. But then, Thomas Newman is a composer whose family blood runs deep with an ability to musically touch even the most hardened of hearts – making our continued empathy with the inmates Shawshank Prison all the more remarkable.
Extra Special: “The Shawshank Redemption” reveals new, evocative layers to Newman’s work through La La Land Record’s two CD release. The soundtrack itself is expanded to 70 minutes, two highlights of which are tense, percolating courtroom opening, and an extension of the beautifully poignant “Brooks Was Here.” A second album features alternate takes and album versions, with an aria from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” proving itself worthy of getting thrown into solitary for. Constantine Nasr and Tim Grieving’s excellent liner notes provide insight to the “Shawkshank” mystique for a movie and score that will always be doing time as a fan favorite,
4) 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
What is it?: Much like an unexpected Christmas gift from The Twilight Zone, “Cloverfield” movies have a way of dropping in on the multiplex – virtually shot in secret and not offering a clue as to what they’re about. But in an age where trailers tell you everything, it’s refreshing to come in with a genuine sense of surprise, first to a found-footage hipster Godzilla rampage, and now in a (thankfully) conventionally shot bomb shelter. Where the fist “Cloverfield” only offered Michael Giacchino’s spot-on end credits salute to Akira Ifukube, “Ten Cloverfield Lane” is abundantly scored by Bear McCreary, his spectacularly musical work conveying the roaring joy of a TV-centric composer finally being given the studio big screen break he’s long deserved.
Why should you buy it?: “10 Cloverfield Lane” might end up in “War of the Worlds” territory, but McCreary smartly starts its heroine’s road trip to hell far more along the lines of “Vertigo.” Like Bernard Herrmann, McCreary has a sense of richly thematic orchestral music gleaned from mentor Elmer Bernstein. It’s a talent for chilling string suspense that’s far more the domain of such barely-seen McCreary-scored thrillers as “The Boy” and “The Forest” as opposed to the mostly unplugged work for “The Walking Dead.” Working in tandem with the slow, captivating burn of “Lane” director Dan Trachtenberg, McCreary isn’t necessarily eager to go in a sci-fi route, instead creating a pulse-pounding score more befitting of a serial killer escape. The composer’s love of ethnic instruments pays off with the unsettling strings of a Turkish yayli tanbur to embody its heroine. Even better is the return of the guttural sound of The Blaster Beam, Craig Huxley’s instrument so familiar to fans of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and “Dreamscape,” Given that much of the action is driven by dialogue and character, It says something about Trachtenberg’s confidence in McCreary’s musical storytelling ability that the whole opening plays only with score with score, setting up a highly dysfunctional nuclear family, locked in by doomsday. The composer plays a deceptive game with her to get out, with sweet bell percussion always looking for a sharp brass object. It’s near-continual suspense that does a great deal to keep “Lane” on its toes as McCreary gradually introduces more alien-specific instrumentation, rhythmic electronics added on top of the organic players to hit “Cloverfield’s” gotcha revelation for all of its breathlessly frantic worth as his sturdily constructed themes come to a exhilaratingly heroic head.
Extra Special: Much in the same way that Michael Giacchino announced himself as an heir apparent to John Williams (let alone Akira Ifukube), “10 Cloverfield Lane” is almost positively retro in its appreciation of unabashed melody, yet with the synth-sample chops to that a relevant composer can’t do without. Sure McCreary will always have stuff like “SHIELD,” “Black Sails,” “Outlander” and about another zillion TV shows he does a great job with. But if anything, it’s “10 Cloverfield Lane” that confirms McCreary’s true address is the blockbuster multiplex arena, no more so than when his score is creating a world far outside of an bomb shelter, a two year-long escape that he describes in a booklet that’s one of the compelling examples of a composer describing his score’s technical, and personal evolution. Available on iTunes and through Amazon
5) THE TERMINATOR
What is it?: Sure electronics had been used to musically embody killer automatons in movies before, from Bernard Herrmann’s wee-ooo Thermin death ray for Gort in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to Fred Karlin’s chirping synths that gave lethal aim to Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger for “Westworld.” But it would be composer Brad Fiedel who really put the cold, computerized devil into the cinema’s most famous war machine with 1985’s “The Terminator.” Where its iconic main theme played the determination of the mother of the future when it came to facing off against the best that Cyberdyne could throw at her, Fiedel’s score was no more successful than when stripping away any humanity. With “The Terminator,” he’d achieve a coldness akin to Siberia by innovating weird combinations of synthesizers and twisted organic instruments, approximating a relentless, pitiless scoring cybernetic organism – a sound at once 1985 synth and of the electronic future. Fiedel’s “Terminator” score has been back again and again, but never with the impressive sound of Milan’s essentially complete re-issue as it shines light on the score’s steel bones like never before.
Why should you buy it?: Brad Fiedel had played any number of homicidal maniacs, from psycho cop (“Deadly Hero”) to backwoods maniac (“Just Before Dawn”) and a demonic tree witch (“Eyes of Fire”). But it was his dive into the biomechanical menace of “The Terminator” that truly launched his career with James Cameron’s come-from-nowhere smash hit. Now that we’re finally hearing the score at a remastered 69-minute running time, the sturdy, thematic construction of T-800 becomes even more sonically clear. It’s a beast of hard, metallic percussion, relentless in its drive to kill the tender piano motif of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, whose nightmarish visions of Judgment Day become atmospheres of ghost-filled voices. Moving with a steady heartbeat to a fiendish, rhythmic run, Fiedel’s creates a character that ranges from steely-eyed melody to almost berserk keyboard improvisation as he transmutes the idea of metal into music. Giving the score a particular gut-wrenching, howling sound is an electric violin (an instrument he’d use to similarly unsettling effect in “Fright Night”) finally jamming in a virtual assembly factory of samples and piercing synths for the definition of heavy metal that’s lost none of it’s terrifying, grinding impact, or force of relentless personality.
Extra Special: Given a theme that’s as catchy as it is cold, this definitive “Terminator” also finds Fiedel doing an extended version of a clanking melody that literally never gets tired. Here’s hoping that his even more complex, and budgetarily epic score for “Terminator 2” can get a similarly complete, and spit-shined treatment that this iconic score has finally received.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. THE AWAKENING
Arguably the first Egyptian mummy score composed by a Frenchman (and a musician best known as a big band jazz artist behind the score to “Borsalino” at that), “The Awakening’s” pairing might seem like strange sarcophagus fellows at first. But Claude Bolling’s score indeed pays tribute to the rich, dusty line of mummy films with a terrifically romantic, full-blooded score. But then given that one of Bolling’s first film works was for 1960’s international remake of a man possessed by “The Hands of Orlac,” having the composer take on this 1980 thriller which pitted archeologist Charlton Heston against a daughter inhabited by the evil, Queen Kara was a far smarter idea than breaking into a cursed tomb. Given that “The Awakening” is far more in the gruesome “accident” style horror of “The Omen” than a shambling creature feature (despite the film’s mummy-rific poster), Bolling goes for an old-school chills. His score is full of twisting strings passages, wind-howling effects, eerily enchanted percussion and lurking brass that can’t wait to strike. Best of all, Bolling resurrects a sensual woman to die for in a lush, gorgeous theme, with Middle Eastern winds the definition of silky, evil sensuality. When listening to the unapologetically rich melodic “Vienna School” approach that Bolling takes, genre fans can’t help but hear the Hammer ghost of “Dracula” composer James Bernard abounding, especially as this was the umpteenth remake of Bram Stoker’s “The Jewel of the Seven Stars,” which Hammer redid as “Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb.” But then, you could say that Bolling’s approach is a French thing after all, as his fellow composer Philippe Sarde would bring this same, richly evocative approach to “Ghost Story” soon after “The Awakening.” Bolling’s work is just about the equal of that better known horror masterpiece, finally given its full appearance after being part of a Bolling film music compilation. Queen Kara is now a marvel to behold, and listen to, especially given it smart booklet and liner notes by Stephan Lerouge, who has Bolling comment on this unlikely, and grandly rewarding musical dig into Egypt’s past.
. THE BOY AND THE BEAST
An orphaned boy is taken on “Karate Kid” style by an ornery beast, who teaches the youth to stand up for himself in a critter-filled anime world from Mamoru Hasoda, director of the equally fantastical “Summer War” and “Wolf Children.” Given a realm of musical possibility, “Wolf” composer Masakatsu Takagi begins the festivities in a joyous, orchestral way that might make you think you’re hearing John Powell training dragons. But Takagi quickly reveals that he’s got something way more unique, and crazy in store, music that has more in common with avant-garde Yanks like Steve Reich. Playing percussion as if antic wolves had been dropped into the orchestra, or better yet a child’s playroom that’s been jammed to the gills with primitive instruments, Takagi smashes together discordant layers of wildly rhythms to fashion energetic, unhinged sound masses. Yet as opposed to seeming like a mistake, there’s a wonderful energy as to how “Beast’s” music is out of synch, yet crazily in tune with a realm of Asian-accented, animalistic delight. But as wonderfully jumbled as the score gets, there’s an equal amount of spare, lovely intimacy in piano solo themes and delicate strings, conjuring the kind of enchanted, moving melodies that universally bonds a child to their favorite monster. As wildly unusual a toon score as has ever run about on two, or four legs, while capturing humanity, Takagi’s “Beast” has a dazzling, soaring inventiveness that takes a tinkertoy mosh pit sound to new heights.
. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
When Henry Jackman slings his mighty musical shield, everyone must yield. And it’s a stupendous throw indeed for his return to the Marvel universe and the ongoing saga of Bucky-gone-bad. Jackman took almost as much heat as “Batman Vs. Superman” when he brought a dark, non-melodic industrial sound to “The Winter Soldier,” an almost shockingly different approach to the kind of symphonic fun that separated the Marvel movie sound from their distinguished competition. But it made perfect, powerful sense for as much of a shocking conspiracy movie as Marvel could make. Given “Civil War’s” tone that’s simultaneously lighter, and darker, Jackman goes for war more of a melodically symphonic approach, retaining both his powerhouse Cap theme and the metallically-armed, whistling motif for The Winter Soldier. It’s a rousing, straight ahead mix of superhero slugfest music and dramatic concern, trumpets rising as high as an American anthem with Giant Man, or emotionally hushed at the sight of unintended collateral damage to civilian and costumed friend. Jackman excels at pacing action here, from building up Zemo’s conspiracy to a brassily hurtling tunnel chases that contains a cool, subtle ethnic flute motif for The Black Panther. It’s music that slams home the film’s idea of both hero and villain as victims, with incredible thematic power for the final face-off between Cap and Iron Man, slamming home the peril and betrayal of the overwhelming power of an avenger gone mad with revenge. Jackman flexes his all here with a muscularly emotional and thrilling superhero score, one that delivers both repulsor rays and devastating drama with a power that cuts right to the Winter Soldier chase.
Where drama can give a license for all-consuming auteurs like Terence Malick to push their music in an esoteric, entirely unexpected directions, the demands of shoot-‘em up action don’t seem to offer the opportunity to truly push the envelope. But that’s unless you’re talking about Michael Mann, who remains one of the more esoteric directors when it comes to subverting the sound of criminal suspense, from the prog rock of Tangerine Dream’s “Thief” and Michel Rubini’s “Manhunter” to the modern classicism of Elliot Goldenthal’s “Heat.” So it was particularly interesting when a director who prefers to play anything but the obvious took a taxi ride to hell with James Newton Howard, a mainstream composer who certainly showed his eclectic chops with scores like “The Trigger Effect” and “Stir of Echoes.” By the point of the pre-Uber “Collateral,” Mann was all about playing mood as opposed to music that really did anything, resulting in one of Howard’s more intoxicatingly ambient-centric scores. Given Tom Cruise’s utterly assured, lone wolf hitman set lose in an urban desert, Howard employs electric guitar to and simmering, metallic samples to western showdown effect. As he gradually builds on this relentlessly intoxicating tension, Howard also uses strings digging into the humanity of a stone-faced killer. Voices and explosions of percussion raise the hostage situation stakes only late in the game hitting a propulsive stride that could be considered traditional action scoring – breaking Mann’s less is more approach in much the same way that Jamie Foxx’s hapless driver is finally able to make a break for it. With Mann’s typical game of multi-composer musical chairs, a good deal of “Collateral” ended up using the even more ambient guitar work of Antonio Pinto, with Howard’s score taking a back seat to the point where only 15 minutes of his score was used. But given this powerful Intrada release that’s all about Howard’s 50-plus minutes of music, “Collateral” shines with the modulated suspense, with Howard wittily, and honestly relating his hapless, and greatly rewarding task in the ominously sleek booklet.
. THE CURSE OF SLEEPING BEAUTY
Having given a Goldsmithian spell to his striking score for the demon of “Lo,” composer Scott Glasgow once again approaches the genre with abandon as he re-teams with his futuristic “Gene Generation” filmmaker Pearry Reginald Teofor for this contemporary take on a fairy tale legend that’s been awakened many times before. But what sets this true love’s kiss apart is not only the strikingly modern gothic costuming and set design, but a quite gorgeous score that has Glasgow paying how own homage to Christopher Young. Just as the ragingly gorgeous grand guignol of “Hellraiser” put that composer on the horror map, those who hear Glasgow’s beautiful, darkly enchanted score will likely respond with enthusiasm to the multi-layered creativity in its crypt. But if “Hellraiser” brought down the weight of a satanic church with aplomb, Glasgow’s “Sleeping Beauty” is more of an intimate affair, given that its hunky hero is roaming about a demon-filled mansion whilst trying to solve a family bewitchment incurred during The Crusades. Given its achingly played violins and wafting, Baroque melodies that abound amidst the melancholy the score conjures, one might mistake “Sleeping Beauty” for indeed being a Renaissance-set fantasy. The siren-like call of a counter tenor voice is provided by Movie Score Media head Mikael Carlsson before a chorus attacks with Latin vocals, raging. Masses of brass, a mournful “Dies Irae” and any number of interesting instruments that range from a trumpeting Tibetan Kangling (forged from a human femur no less) to an Aztec Death Flute. Yet it’s the more quietly mesmerizing passages of “Sleeping Beauty” that impresses in a poetically strange and distinctly un-Disney way, showing that the genre’s weirder recesses are more interesting to Glasgow when dealing with less artily-intentioned hatchet-wielding killers. It’s music that’s anything but a “Curse” to Glasgow when it comes to reaching inside of the historical depths of twisted fairy tales.
. ESTATE VIOLENTA /LA PRIMA NOTTE DI QUIETE
Best known to Americans for no-holds barred scores to the international camp epics “The Vikings” and “One Million Years B.C.” Mario Nascimbene would produce works of equally striking delicacy on his Italian home turf for director Valerio Zurlini. One of his most poignant, and powerful soundtracks would accompany 1959’s “Violent Summer,” which opens with militaristic stridency to convey the fascism of Il Duce at the beach resort door of Rimini, From this terrifying motif, Nascimbene draws a theme that’s the stuff of tragedy to come – but not before reducing it to a tender, lyrical melody of fate-crossed lovers. A sunbaked guitar sings as well during this respite, chords that are curiously more Spanish than Italian in its effect, while cool jukebox jazz passes time. There’s real, heartbreaking passion to Nascimbene’s score that conveys both an enormous sense of tragedy and intimate heartbreak of a war evader and war widow, music that basks in the lyrical spell of a brief encounter. Quartet Records pairs this exceptional score with1972’s “Indian Summer,” which returned Nascimbene and Zurlini to the seaside resort to once again explore doomed love, this time between Alain Delon’s wastrel poetry teacher and a fetching student. It’s an affair given jazzy panache by legendary American trumpet player Maynard Ferguson, who teams with Italian tenor saxophonist Gianna Basso to giving brassy ennui to Nascimbene’s score, the intoxicating, low key groove going for wild big band set that really lets Ferguson’s solos shine. Though not nearly as well known as Miles Davis’ “Elevator to the Gallows,” “Summer” is just as much an impressive exercise in jazz fatalism that puts an enticing touch on Nascimbene’s poetic way of playing the romantic blues in Rimini.
. JOURNEY TO MECA / A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING
Lakeshore Records goes to Saudi Arabia, a place I’d far rather listen to than visit, especially when given these spellbinding musical ventures. The first composer to make The Hajj is Michael Brook, an exceptional explorer of exotic rhythms in such documentary scores as “Fires of Kuwait” and “India: Kingdom of the Tiger.” With 2009’s Imax short “Journey to Mecca,” Brook followed the dune-swept tracks of Islamic explorer Ibn Battutah, whose round trip to his religious birthplace took 30 years over 44 countries. To hear the sights witnessed by this Arabic Marco Polo, Brook blends the music of numerous cultures, using the guitar he’d later send an American “Into the Wild” with to convey a sense of wonder that draws a seeker of the truth towards the unknown. He’ll come across time-lost wind instruments, holy songs and lyrical landscapes, with the orchestra both foreboding and blissful. In an unforced, lyrical way, It’s an ironically gentle Saudi sound shared by the modern-day set “A Hologram for the King.” Though the Pale 3 composing team has now been reduced to Johnny Klimek and director Tom Tykwer, the hypnotic sound they’d produced with Reinhold Heil for “The Princess and the Warrior,” “Perfume” and “Cloud Atlas” is very much on hand, if stripped down for the desert in which Tom Hanks’ businessmen has his serio-comic voyage of discovery. Beautiful, undulating string work dances with mesmerizing, tuneful percussion, music that flows with trippy minimalism, guitar, percussion and wordless chorus. It’s a score that conveys a tribal culture meeting with an American avatar of the high tech, with rhythm the poetic, lushly shifting thematic sands on which this enticing “Hologram” flows in an alt. way that will please both fans of Tykwer’s spiritually transcendent work and listeners looking for how western composers’ rhythmically interpret a stranger in a strange land.
. 400 DAYS
A Polish composer who does very well in creepy isolation, Wojciech Golczewski moves from the werewolf-infested retirement community of “Late Phases” and “We Are Still Here”’s haunted house to spend a planned “400 Days” inside a simulated spacecraft buried outside a town. But of course that seal’s going to be broken by some unwanted passengers, given that this is a SyFy Channel movie. While not specifically retro as such, the rhythmic spirit of Tangerine Dream is very much a fellow astronaut here, as are the propulsive grooves of “Run Lola Run” and a bit of “Inception’s” sonic booms. With a theme caught somewhere between a ticking clock and a nursery song, Golczewski conveys an atmosphere of hypnotic dread, the feeling of oxygen and sanity slowly being sucked into a pulsating, piercing black hole. Weightless transcendence segues to near-distorted dread as the SyFy experience makes its expected shift into horror territory. Yet while the score might sound like someone fiddling with radio static as they attempt to tune into The Twilight Zone, Golczewski keeps all of “400 Days” consistently interesting, if not transfixing as the score builds to its ultimate rhythmic revelation. And hey, when’s the last time you’ve heard the sound of a dial-up modem being turned into a musical instrument at that? It’s just one of the cool surprises within a densely layered, thematic synth score that flows with a cool beat of dread.
. I AM WRATH
Composer Haim Mazar has a certain set of propulsive skills when unleashing biblical punishment on both the innocent and guilty, as he first proved with his rhythmically unsettling work for Michael Shannon’s “The Iceman.” Now given John Travolta’s mightily pissed dad, and of course, former killer government op, Haim goes into his studio’s closet and unleashes an instrumental arsenal of hurt. Wearing a powerful Kevlar mesh of orchestra and samples, Mazar’s energy makes this more than musical payback business as usual, though with a very dark (if not obvious) sense of humor to a VOD star strutting his stuff. It’s an attitude that rocks with industrial might, or has a hangdog blues guitar jam that captures the attitude of a guy who’s likely getting too old for this shit – or at least getting ready to strum a mean version of Heart’s “Barracuda.” “I am Wrath” has a electrifying, relentless groove, given added emotional depth with the ghostly female voice of a murdered wife, and a gut-crushing piano melody to sink in the kind of loss that must be musically paid back a hundred-fold. That Mazar has a blast doing it gives “I am Wrath” extra firepower.
. THE NIGHT MANAGER
Former British spymaster John le Carré has provided no end of suspenseful inspiration to the composers suspensefully tasked with pursuing moles and enemy agents, from Jerry Goldsmith finding jazzy intrigue within “The Russia House” to Alberto Iglesias hearing the mournful sound of a big pharma raped Africa in “The Constant Gardener” and the low key espionage gamesmanship of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Now fellow Spaniard Victor Reyes enters the British secret service on a particularly dangerous mission for the A&E miniseries “The Night Manager.” More action-packed than most le Carré adaptations, this front desk finds a seemingly unbecoming hotel employee recruited by the spy service, given the chance to seek vengeance against an international arms dealer that murdered his lover in Cairo. For Reyes, a composer behind the claustrophobic suspense of “Buried,” the psychic chicanery of “Red Lights” and the brilliant concert piece as suspense score “Grand Piano,” “The Night Manager” provides an exceptional musical passport to pursue its villain. Reyes evocatively paints the series’ locales with Arabic percussion and even accordion, with an exceptionally strong main theme driving the action. But even with the propulsive orchestra and sampled percussion that make for the topical sound of spy thrillers, “The Night Manager” is no 007 soundtrack. Reyes brings a strongly melodic depth of emotion to his score, a haunted feeling of the inevitable betrayal that must come down from building a level of deceitful trust, even with evil incarnate. Reyes’ writing for the strings is especially evocative, its lush passages conjuring the John Barry of “The Ipcress File” as opposed to “Goldfinger” in its evocation of a tightly controlled pawn of her majesty in way over his head. It’s a spy score with as much lush danger as understandably repressed emotion.
. ORDINARY PEOPLE / SAVE THE TIGER
Marvin Hamlisch was best known for such unabashedly romantic and richly melodic scores as “Ice Castles” and “Sophie’s Choice,” as well as the perky comedy of “Same Time, Next Year” and “Starting Over.” And he if had an excitingly unsung aptitude as well for 007 in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” another stylistic skill that Hamlisch practiced was in capturing the sound of conformist malaise, as can be heard in this haunting double feature from La La Land. Having adapted Scott Joplin to Oscar-winning effect with “The Sting” in 1973, Hamlisch turned from American pop to classical music with his striking use of Johann Pachelbel’s “Cannon in D” chosen long before by director Robert Redford, who remembered it as the “Greek chorus” for a heated political discussion he had in a Big Sur inn. Redford’s use of a classical tune most often given to weddings and graduations proved to be pitch perfect in accenting the elegant, repetitive iciness of a family doing their best to keep up appearances in the aftermath of a son’s drowning. Hamlisch’s arrangement for harpsichord and strings couldn’t be more intimate or ironically delicate, and even haunted when given voice. He also spins the melody into his own distinctive score, replete with a longing spirit, most devastatingly as chimes turn into a ghostly chorus crying out during a traumatic flashback. Complementing this long-awaited release of this mostly unheard score is Hamlisch’s way more fun, and distinctly un-Baroque source tracks for the 1980’s Best Picture winner, which ranges from disco to country funk and Montovani Muzak. Hamlisch was in a boozy, jazz-soaked midlife crisis mood for 1974’s “Save the Tiger,” which won Jack Lemmon a Best Actor as a businessman considering the ultimate fire sale. Instead of Pachelbel, Hamlisch had Ira Gershwin and Rogers & Hart here to take his cues from for a character who could have been a jazzman, his theme first played with big band vigor, and then with resigned vibes before surprising with a rapturous easy listening version of its melody. “Tiger” also offers takes on “That Old Black Magic” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” alongside 70s era with-it source cues that play like happy hour at a midtown Manhattan bar (though a bit by Charles Fox has a fun recall to his score for “Barbarella”). It’s an alternately solemn and kitschy “Tiger” that’s worth having a drink with. Like “Ordinary People,” “Save the Tiger’s” actual score might be brief, but it’s nonetheless impactful at holding deeply flawed characters by the tail.
. PEE-WEE’S BIG HOLIDAY
Paul Reubens’ infantile alter ago is now having a big adventure on Netflix. And while O.G. Pee-Wee composer Danny Elfman has biked off to bigger things since his clever, Nino Rota-inspired feature debut, Mark Mothersbaugh, no slouch himself on the movie scoring front, has decided to put pedal to the zanily exuberant metal with “Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday.”
Likely the biggest post-rocker man child next to Elfman, this former, ironic practitioner of Devo-lution and TV Playhouse pal of Pee-Wee (not to mention The Rugrats) has certainly found a kindred spirit in Reubens’ throwback character, who essentially takes the same road trip as his first movie outing. And while nothing is going to catch that adult-pubescent magic in a bottle, Mothersbaugh continues on Elfman’s musical vibe in a way that’s more of Aram Khachaturian riff a la “The Hudsucker Proxy” than a spin on Nino Rota’s Fellini work. Given a quite terrific orchestral performance, Mothersbaugh’s music is all about celebrating its character instead of making fun of him, capturing a gleeful, if somewhat socially backward energy of a nattily dressed yokel out of see the world, a sense of discovery that makes this a tuneful delight. It’s a joygasm on the very verge of sounding Christmas-y, given a bouncy theme to hold the journey to NYC together. There are many humorous diversions along the way as Mothersbaugh riffs on hellcat 50’s rock and roll, spaghetti westerns, and Theremin-topped sci-fi music, with Pee-Wee himself delivering an excited tour on the town with “New York.” The overgrown kid’s spirit has a rollicking blast through this “Big Holiday” as Mothersbaugh takes over the handlebars with friendly, humorous style that’s happily in on the nice-spirited joke of Reuben’s enduing character – long may he ride.
. SHY PEOPLE
For all of the entertaining exploitation that Cannon Pictures churned out in the 1980’s, let it not be said that their Israeli entrepreneurs didn’t have more artistic aspirations in mind with the likes of Andrei Konchalovsky’s “Maria’s Lovers” and “Duet For One,” When his “Runaway Train” actually hit an Oscar nomination, Konchalovsky took his most esoteric Cannon dive yet into the Louisiana bayou that held 1987’s “Shy People.” Seeking to conjure an unearthly atmosphere for these uniquely American swamp dwellers the Russian director turned to Germany’s Tangerine Dream to apply their unique blend of prog-rock electronic atmospheres and blues guitar stylings to this time-lost tribe. It turned out to be a great choice, as Dream had a way of creating an surreal synth atmosphere for even the most earthbound subjects they tackled. Coming just a few years after the fantasia of “Legend,” “Shy People” was hard on the heels of the evil southwest guitar vampires of “Near Dark” – with the tragically choral doomsday of “Miracle Mile” just around the corner. In its way, Dream’s score is an amalgamation of all three, propelling its swamp boat with progressive rhythm and native flute sounds, while other cues drift along in an eerily mesmerizing way, materializing the spirit of a long-lost relative that haunts this gator-killin’ clan. “Shy People” might be southern Gothic by way of Pink Floyd, but it’s spirit is state of the electronic scoring art, as Tangerine Dream’s silken, surprisingly thematic score makes this into an intoxicatingly tasty gumbo, especially when turned to song by Jacquie Virgil and Diamond Ross. With its initial CD release on Varese Sarabande having sunk into the bayou for years, Dragon’s Domain’s album marks a welcome return for one of Tangerine Dream’s most interesting projects, graced with three unreleased tracks and Randal D. Larson’s perceptive liner notes about one of Dream’s wildest movie trips.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes, Moviescoremedia and Screen Archives Entertainment
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.827]Heitor Pereira ([m.39985]The Nut Job 2), [c.1154]John Paesano ([m.46288]Almost Christmas), [c.3198]Johann Johannsson ([m.46542]Deep Water), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 22 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2016-5-23]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.39501]Alice Through the Looking Glass ([c.58]Danny Elfman) and [m.39523]X-Men: Apocalypse ([c.159]John Ottman).
Among all new theatrical releases, we are tracking song credits for:
- [m.39501]Alice Through the Looking Glass (5 songs)
ThinkSpace Education Launches World’s First Online Game Music and Sound Design Master’s Degree Programs
Enroll now for Composing for Video Games (MA), Sound Design for Video Games (MA), Game Music and Audio (MFA) postgraduate degree programs starting in September 2016
Chichester, United Kingdom (May 16, 2016) – ThinkSpace Education, a leading online music school specializing in composing for film, video games and television, in partnership with the University of Chichester, today announced the launch of three groundbreaking new master’s degree programs: Composing for Video Games (Master of Arts), Sound Design for Video Games (Master of Arts) and Game Music and Audio (Master of Fine Art)*. Commencing this September, ThinkSpace Education courses are the first online master’s degree programs focusing on the field of game music and sound design. Enrollment is now open to postgraduate students at
In consultation with leading industry professionals, ThinkSpace have developed a suite of online postgraduate courses to prepare sound designers and composers with the real-world creative and technical skills that future employers are looking for. Thinkspace Education is the only school staffed and tutored exclusively by professional working composers and sound designers, with video game franchise credits including ASSASSIN’S CREED, BIOSHOCK, DRAGON AGE, FALLOUT, MASS EFFECT, TOMB RAIDER and many more.
ThinkSpace Education’s partner institution, the University of Chichester also has close links with the games community and the program liaison tutor Dr Stephen Baystead has a long list of credits as a top game composer (NEED FOR SPEED, PROJECT CARS and many more) as well as audio director at Slightly Mad Studios.
Closing the gap between academia and the real-world of game music and sound, ThinkSpace Education courses provide personal 1-to-1 tuition from top professional composers and sound designers; work on a wide range of games including commercial releases; detailed feedback from a range of tutors, online workshops and tutorial groups, forum discussions and exclusive webinars.
Guy Michelmore, ThinkSpace Education’s course director and an EMMY nominated film, games and television composer, commented, “There are plenty of music and sound production schools yet, despite increasing interest in video game soundtracks, almost none who specialize in game music and audio. We’re excited to offer the first online master’s degrees in composing and sound design for video games.”
Composing for Video Games MA (12-months full-time / 2 or 3 years part-time) Composing for games is one of the most exciting and innovative areas of media composition. Composing for Video Games MA will bring you the real-world professional tuition you need to lay the solid foundations of a career composing music for video games. As well as developing as a composer, producing professional quality mock-ups, you will learn game technology and how to implement your music interactively inside the game using industry standard middleware. The master’s program is designed in consultation with the industry to ensure that graduates have the required skillsets to enter this extremely competitive but rapidly expanding area of the media music business.
Sound Design for Video Games MA (12-months full-time / 2 or 3 years part-time) Sound is a crucial element in the success of any game, but good sound takes a great deal of creative and technical skill. The master’s course has been designed in consultation with top industry audio professionals, to equip students with the technical, creative and team-oriented skills to work as sound designers in video games. You will learn creative audio techniques from location recording to working with dialogue and sound effects libraries, creating your own sounds and shaping your sounds inside a DAW using plugins and other techniques. You will learn not only how to create inspiring interactive sound but also how to implement your audio inside the game using industry standard middleware.
Game Music and Audio MFA (24-months full-time / 2 or 3 years part-time) For those who want the ultimate preparation for a career in game audio, this is a longer course that covers all the material included in the other two courses. The master’s degree in Game Music and Audio has been developed in close consultation with the industry to ensure you are learning the skills the industry requires.
Online Open Day
ThinkSpace holds online webinar sessions to meet the team, gain an insight into what postgraduate students will need to succeed in the business and to learn how these master’s degrees can help you.
For more information on induction events, the faculty team, modules, course fees and application requirements, please visit http://thinkspaceeducation.com.
*Subject to approval by the University of Chichester.
For a United Kingdom native with such diverse scores as “Escape Plan,” “State of Play,” Touching the Void” and “Dear Frankie” under his English language belt, Alex Heffes has likely traversed the musical continent of Africa more than any of his peers. Beginning his explorations with a harrowing escape from Uganda in “The Last King of Scotland,” Heffes took an emotional journey of education alongside “The First Grader,” then brought moving importance to the continent’s greatest leader in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” Later this year, he’ll even be showing determined woman self worth through the game of chess when Heffes makes a full circle back to a far more stable Uganda in the forthcoming “Queen of Katwe.”
Now the composer’s impressive way of capturing Africa’s rhythmic cultures will literally seize its people, and one man in particular, for a new TV take on “Roots.” Author Alex Haley’s ancestor Kunta Kinte first arrived on ABC’s shores in 1977, the telling of his family history turned into a smash hit miniseries that truly created “event” television. Feeling that any great tale is worth repeating to a new generation, these newly burnished “Roots” arrive on Memorial Day to air over four consecutive nights on multiple cable networks. Given a similarly massive, star filled cast, and overseen by multiple, acclaimed directors, it’s up to Alex Heffes to become a vital chain in spanning slavery to freedom. Heffes’ impressively accomplishes this mighty task with a score that starts out with all the pride of a continent, only to be seized into a terrifying, musically modernistic world of sampling and percussion. But hope lives in the playful guitar and warm, western-styled melody of captives determined to find their own personal freedom in a strange, brutal land, creating lyrical family bonds as strong as their harsh physical shackles – the breadth of Heffes’ score movingly culminating as the worlds of Africa and America merge to give birth to a culture, and people that would reshape the country’s music itself. Indeed, “Roots” has never quite sounded this real, with all of the punishment and spirituality that Heffes has been able to capture in body and soul with his impressive, time and continent spanning work.
What do you think gives you a particular affinity for African scores, and how important was it to be authentic in the process, especially given a remake of a landmark ABC miniseries?
I think I have always been color blind with music (and people I hope). Meaning, it’s all good to me. I’ve never felt like one type of music from one place or time is any higher form of art than another. I remember when I was very young being really drawn to African music just as much as loving a Mahler symphony or a melody by Puccini (still the Don of a good tune!). I didn’t think that was strange at all. Actually, looking back on it my teachers were a little puzzled by that attitude, I think. Back then things were very much more compartmentalized. Music was really taught in very classical-centric way. Even at university my ‘modern’ music history was only taught up to about 1911. However, my school years coincided with the explosion in recordings available on LP and then CD. So I collected whatever I could get my hands on. It was an exciting time. You could feel in the early 80’s that there was a lot of music starting to become available that had never been easily found before. And that’s all before the internet kids! If YouTube had been invented then it may just have blown my mind!
But to answer your question about authenticity – I’ll put it like this: We are making a movie, so it’s inherently inauthentic in a sense. I think there are two main choices: score your film with really authentic needle-drop tracks that are the real deal, or score it with new music that captures the spirit and essence of the story you are trying to tell. Yes, you could take as a starting points some authentic performers or style of music but that’s not always the rule. In some cases using music that is really ‘inauthentic’ can also be really powerful. Nobody would argue the score to “The Mission” is musically ‘authentic’ in the film but it does something really amazing for the picture. In the case of “Roots,” I’ve tried to steer a course of using real vocalists and instruments from Gambia as part of my palette, but also to not feel constrained by that. I felt it was important for the music to also feel modern and punchy in places. This version of “Roots” needs to speak to a very different audience than the original. I wanted the music to be able to transcend being a ‘travelogue’ or a piece of history. It has to make the characters seem like real people that the audience could imagine meeting and understanding. It seems to me that if “Roots” can do anything, it is to have the audience re-think the definition of people as ‘slaves’ and take a step back to understanding that these were ordinary people leading regular lives before they were defined as slaves. However music can help with a genuine emotional connection to the characters, which is what I always go for.
Did you go back to watch the original miniseries or listen to the score by Quincy Jones and Gerald Fried before taking on its remake?
No. I thought it would be best to totally steer clear.
Given that there have been a number of iconic “African” scores like “The Lion King,” how did you want “Roots” to establish its own identity in the genre?
Well, there are no lions in “Roots” (I don’t think Gambia actually has any lions sadly!). I wrote a theme that you hear in all four nights that is transformed through the generations. That’s the backbone of the score’s musical identity. I also tried to use the African parts of the palette in a way that is not expected, mixing it with synths and other elements so that it’s not just trying to sound ‘authentically’ African. As I said before, I’m trying to give the audience a connection with the characters and what they are feeling. For example, when Kunta Kinte first arrives in America, we wanted if it seem like he had almost been taken in a spaceship and landed on another planet. Everything is foreign to him – the language, the color of the people, the fact that every African person has been made a slave. The music tries to give his sense of alienation and disorientation by using a strange hybrid of African elements mixed with synths, electric cello and other slightly “unplaceable” sounds.
What’s the particular challenge of scoring a miniseries with so many interlocking characters, especially given one with the iconic reputation of “Roots?”
In a way it makes it easier. Lots of different characters give you something to hang your hat on musically. There’s Kunta who is the Mandinka Warrior, “Chicken George” who has a southern banjo thing going on, the crazed slave owner Tom Lee, who has something slightly unhinged about him. These are all really strong places to start from musically.
What were your own explorations into African music like in “Roots?” and what particular wind and percussion instruments became important to this score?
The story starts in Gambia where Kunta is born. So I did some recording remotely in Gambia with vocals and instruments. Sona Jobarteh sang and also played the Kora. Sona comes from an incredible lineage of Griot musicians (storytellers, poets, musicians) in Gambia. Her Grandfather was the Master Griot of his generation, Amadu Bansang Jobarteh. We also recorded school children from the Amadu Bansang Jobarteh School Of Music in Gambia, which comprises children from surrounding villages. I used a wide variety of African flutes and of course percussion, as well as all the traditional drums. I recorded a lot of mbiras (thumb pianos) and other tuned percussion myself. We also did vocals in London along with the orchestra that was recorded by Peter Cobbin at AIR studios. So it’s been a very international endeavor.
What was the musical importance of Kunta Kinte?
Kunta is wonderfully played by Malachi Kirby. It’s a very strong, quiet and internal performance. So in a way he has less music than you might imagine. I think the main “Roots” theme is more of a comment on his situation rather than his character’s actual theme.
It takes quite a while for more conventionally pleasing melody to enter the score. Was it important to create that harsh sense of being thrown into a punishing world for Kunta Kinte?
The idea is that the music is more traditional and centered around really authentic Gambian music in the beginning, using source tracks (also, some of the early part of Night 1 was scored in South Africa by Philip Miller using African musicians.) As Kunta is captured and taken to America the score starts to become more movie-like. That sense of alienation and harshness is certainly a strong element of the music in the early parts. But as tough as some of these early scenes are to watch – and they really are – it was always important to leave the door open to hope. So music can occasionally give you that glimpse of something brighter inside the mind of Kunta.
How did you want Chicken George to introduce southern music into the score, as well as a sound that was more “movie score”-ish as opposed to African?
George is two generations down from Kunta so he only knows America as his home. All the characters after Kunta only have a residual memory of Africa without ever having been there. It was fun doing George. He is the fast-talking chicken fighting gambler of the family. I tried to give him something fun with banjos and washboard but also throwing in some sneaky djembes too to give that off screen African echo.
How did you want the score to reflect the passage of time and regions, especially in relation to the black experience in America that goes from slavery to freedom?
The further away the story gets from Africa the more the palette opens up to strings and other colors. There is the Civil War section in the last night which has a blend of the snare drums and brass you might expect but with wooden anklungs and African percussion give it a slightly off-kilter feel. After the Emancipation proclamation one of the first things the characters are free to do is acknowledge their African heritage for the first time, so the score finally manages to come full circle to it’s African roots for the finale.
How did you want to integrate the western symphonic approach into the African music here?
That’s always an interesting conundrum as African music (whatever that is – it’s a huge continent!) is not really harmonic. It’s driven by single lines and rhythm. So trying to translate that into something that an orchestra can add to without sounding out of place is an interesting task. I think I’ve reserved orchestra for the more thematic moments. A good tune still sings on an orchestra.
Talk about the vocal performances in the “Roots” score?
We have some great vocal performances, as I mentioned from Sona Jobarteh and Sheriffo Kanuteh in Gambia. Lincoln Jean-Marie also provided a lot of vocals from London. He is fantastic. The kids from the Amadu Bansang Jobarteh School make me smile whenever I hear them in Night 2.
There’s a suspenseful, synth-sample propulsion darkness to “Roots” as well that brings to mind your score for “Escape Plan.” In that way, do you see “Roots” as a prison break out score as well as the characters try to figure a way out of both their physical and mental chains?
Certainly when Kunta tries to escape in Night 1 it’s pretty full on dark and pounding. I think that’s how you would feel inside being chased by dogs across sugar cane fields for your life. As I said, I’m more interested in how the audience should feel rather than what instruments might be historically accurate for a scene. In some of those scenes, I processed the African percussion to make it a little more synthy, to make it impossibly tight and punchy and give it some edge. I’m a fan of re-amping drums and putting them guitar pedals to give them some dirt. So there is some of that in Night 1 for sure.
Given that four separate directors (Bruce Beresford, Thomas Carter, Phillip Noyce and Mario Van Peebles), made “Roots,” how important was a musical sense of continuity? Or was there a guiding, creative person through the process?
That was an interesting part of the challenge. There are four great directors all with very different styles and different films. So the music really had to adapt to each one while keeping a senses of continuity. I guess that comes from thematic ideas that can be shared between nights but with radically different treatment.
Television has a particular breakneck pace. What kind of challenges did that add to scoring “Roots,” especially given how much music you’d need to compose for it, not to mention that you weren’t scoring the show in chronological order?
The schedules for films can be crazy, but TV is a whole other level of madness. I think I wrote close to 5 hours of music in a pretty short amount of time. Need I say more?
Your other recent miniseries is for the Stephen King adaptation “11.22.63.” Could you talk about the challenge of scoring time travel, especially given that this was Hulu’s first, ambitious project in long form television?
“11.22.63” is very different to “Roots!” That’s one of the things I love about being a composer the most. The show is very ambitious and I think it’s come out fantastically well. The writing is amazing and it has some of the best acting performances I’ve scene in a very long time. It has that Stephen King/JJ Abrams hook to it – as soon as your start watching you just get hooked on the premise. The thing I particularly like about “11.22.63” is that although on the face of it you are watching a time travel show about stopping the assignation of JFK it really turns out to be much more. Going back in time is really a way for the James Franco character to reassess his life and start living again with a blank slate to try and get it right. He meets Sadie and their relationship really turns out to the be the center of gravity of the show. That final episode is really heartbreaking! I was very happy with how Sadie’s theme turned out.
You wrote a powerful, propulsive score to the Lance Armstrong film “The Program.” What was the challenge of playing a man who at first appears to be an American hero who then takes a major fall from grace, putting those very ideals into doubt along with him?
It’s a challenge to write music about someone that has such a mixed history. Stephen Frears is a truly wonderful director, and his main direction to me – as the master filmmaker he is – was to say very little. He let me react to the film without temping it too much. Actually I wrote a lot of music to the rough cut and they edited many scenes to the music and then I would go back and re-score the scenes again. We had a great time at throwing it back and forward to each other. My initial idea, which stuck through the film, was to find that motor inside of his head that just keeps on turning. As it’s about bikes I knew it shouldn’t be too mechanized in it’s sound. So I recorded a lot of electric cello and processed and looped it so it has a sort of mechanical motor quality while still sounding like it came from a human. I also sampled a bike being hit and strummed. We even slapped bike tires against the garage walls to make drum sounds. A lot of the percussion in the film comes from these sounds. It’s amazing how many pitches you can get out of the spokes of a bike wheel actually!
Next up you’ve scored the Idris Elba action film “Bastille Day,” where he’s a cop trying to thwart a terrorist attack in France. Could you talk about that score, and how these kinds of action scores are now becoming fact – minus the happy ending where these plots get thwarted?
Yes, this is very different again. “Bastille Day” is a great Friday night kick-back-and enjoy fun movie. I watched it with a test audience here in LA and the amount of noise they made was incredible! They just love Idris and were cheering with him all the way! The score is much less orchestral than something like “The Program.” It’s pretty gritty. LOTS of synth programming plus me hitting or bowing just about anything I could get my hands in in my studio. It has a really great rooftop chase in Paris. I scored some of it by whacking an out of tune autoharp with chopsticks… What a way to earn a living.
You’ll once again be returning to Africa’s music this September with your score for Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe,” which is about a Ugandan girl who tries to become a chess champion. What’s will the challenge of that score be, especially given that it’s also about a cerebral sport?
Although chess is cerebral this film is all heart. It’s just lovely. It’s really about overcoming bad odds in life and achieving more than you thought possible. Mira is a really great director and knows just how to strike a balance between authored individual filmmaking and something that is also really commercial and speaks to a wide audience. It’s a really interesting film for Disney to have made. It has a great cast and really strikes a balance between great performances from Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo and the unknown Ugandan children actors in the film who are all brilliant. It’s a very thematic and gentle score that is a more orchestral than something like “Roots,” although it’s set in Africa. It’s a really universal story. There are plenty of authentic Ugandan needle drop tracks in the film to set the scene so the score could concentrate more on the music story telling. I am very fond of it.
Do you hope that “Roots” has the same kind of impact on today’s television audience? And what kind of lessons do you hope the musical helps impart on the audience?
I really do. I’m so proud to be a part of “Roots.” I hope it makes an impact. It tells a story that is so vital in understanding modern America. It’s not a tough navel gazing experience though. It’s modern and relevant, yes, but it’s more than just an important historical document about the African American experience – it’s also a great story and quite a ride!
“Roots” premieres on Monday, Memorial Day (Monday, May 30th) and will air over four consecutive nights on The History Channel, A&E and Lifetime. Alex Heffes’ score for “Roots” will be released by on CD
Buy Alex Heffes’ score for “11.22.63” HERE
Buy Alex Heffes’ score for “The Program” HERE
Buy Alex Heffes’ score for “Bastille Day” HERE
Visit Alex Heffes’ website HERE
Lakeshore Records will release [a.17064]Vol. 1 and [a.17065]Vol. 2 of the soundtrack to the series [t.43390]Mr. Robot digitally on [da.2016-06-03]June 3, and on CD [da.2016-06-24]June 24, 2016. The label will also release a special LP package in July. The albums feature original music by series EMMY-nominated composer [c.3207]Mac Quayle.
"During the first season of [t.43390]Mr. Robot, we filtered a wide variety of emotions through the surreal mind of Elliot Anderson," said executive producer Sam Esmail. "Music was the tool that allowed me to stay nimble and consistent with the show's tone, even as we regularly pushed our main character to weirder and stranger places."
"Elliot uses programming and social engineering techniques to seek and exploit weakness in...