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ON THE SCORE is sponsored by La-La Land Records
Mark Mancina is a composer who often calls upon the musical heavens to deliver the elemental, exhilarating rhythm of “Speed,” “Twister’s” thunderous Americana and the morally clouded “Training Day” amidst the dozens of impactful scores this one-time rocker with Yes and Phil Collins has performed in his Hollywood career. But the one studio that’s continually sent out a call for Mancina’s exotic talents is Walt Disney, who’ve determined to be culturally correct when it comes to ethnically-accent feature animation. First arranging the soaring Elton John hits for “The Lion King,” Mancina’s music would next go fully swinging with a man-ape through the drum-filled jungle of “Tarzan” while also producing more Oscar Gold with Phil Collins’ songs. Then with “Brother Bear,” Mancina went to the native rhythms and winds of Alaska’s Inuit people as cosmic forces transformed one tribe member into an ursine.
But among Mancina’s powerful way of capturing centuries-old music within the bigger body of contemporary symphonic scoring, “Moana” stands tall with demigod energy in conveying wondrous Polynesian adventure. Its heroine is descended from a long line of empowered studio princesses, here determined to find personal liberation while navigating the South Seas to rescue her people. Offering wisecracking help is Maui, a transforming, hook-holding deity with a personality even more outsized than his powers. For Mancina, it’s a brash opportunity to explore a tropical musical culture like never before, filling the soundtrack with driving drums, excited chanting and enchanted flutes – a veritable tribal counsel of instruments as old as the gods. Together, they meet a wave of thrilling orchestral sound that conveys Disney scoring at its most exciting, from the danger of battling diminutive beasts to the comedy of buddy-god bonding and a feeling of celestial power. As conjured with as much cultural respect as symphonic magic, “Moana” is another rousing musical travel map brought back by Mancina.
Now on a new episode of “On the Score,” the culturally animated composer talks about playing the rousingly fun musical ego and ethnicity of “Moana.”
Click above to Listen Now or Click Here to DownloadBuy the Soundtrack: MOANA Buy the Soundtrack: THE HAUNTED MANSION Buy the Soundtrack: BROTHER BEAR Buy the Soundtrack: TARZAN Mark Mancina’s website
Flowing with melodic grace from classical to electronic music, Canadian-born composer Lesley Barber is often an inward traveler when it comes to her character portraits. Amongst her numerous, and eclectically-styled scores, Barber has played the music of a woman trying to break out of corseted English society in “Mansfield Park,” the heartfelt poetry of two women engaging in the tentative love affair for “When Night Falls,” found the inner courage within the Hebraic rhythms of a Hasidic wife discovering that she has “A Price Above Rubies,” or discovering the intoxicating darkness within a potential girls school while suspensefully reading “The Moth Diaries.”
Given Lesley Barber’s unique way of playing relationships, perhaps her most rewarding, if too long apart collaboration is with writer-director Kenneth Lonergan. For the film debut of this truly unique voice of indie American cinema, Barber found classically-inflected rhythms in upstate New York while depicting the tumultuous relationship between a bank teller and her wayward brother in 2001’s Oscar-nominated “You Can Count On Me.” Now, fifteen years later, Barber renews that elegant, sad bond with Lonergan in the Massachusetts’ town of “Manchester by the Sea.”
As with Lonergan’s bitingly ironic works that somehow manage to find wit within the depths of melancholy, “Manchester” finds the downcast Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) pulled back to the place, and people that caused him to retreat into a silent shell. But with his brother dead, Lee must now assume unlikely guardianship of his nephew, and become human again in the slow bonding process. Just as much as a youth draws him out, Barber uses her gently lyrical powers of classical persuasion to bring out Lee’s emotional epiphany. Joined by numerous Handel pieces, Barber employs a beautiful A Capella voice she knows well to give “Manchester” an elegiac quality. A sharp, rhythmic theme swirls about with ennui, where gentle strings cast a pastoral spell from the seaside. Lyrically flowing from self-pity to grief and rebirth, Barber’s solemn, yet finally enervating score again shows her subtle, psychological mastery of scoring, no more so than in the presence of a deeply humanistic filmmaker who brings out her poetic tenderness.
Tell us about your musical background, and what attracted you to both modern classical, and film composing?
I was a self-taught musician as a kid and started improvising and writing music at that age. Later, when I was 11 or 12, I started taking formal piano lessons and continued to compose as well. I studied composition at the University of Toronto – with a fairly intense focus on electronic music and orchestration. During that time, while I was completing my Master’s degree I was really drawn to the independent theatre and film scene in Toronto, and began actually working at a theater. Later I began scoring theatre productions, which quickly led me to scoring feature films. When I scored my first feature, Patricia Rozema’s “When Night Is Falling” I felt like I found my niche – - I loved the collaboration process and the power of music in the story telling.
Were you surprised that you’d start out scoring an animated series with Maurice Sendak’s “Little Bear?”
Working with Maurice and scoring “Little Bear” was a great experience — although not my first. I had already worked on features and this was more of a fun thing that I thought I would try. Maurice Sendak had called me and we talked a lot about music – especially the music of some of his favorite composers – Shubert and Mozart, and how we could do something special and different with the show. We wanted to do a score with only live players – quintets, and sometimes octets of strings, piano and winds – completely rare in the world of animation series these days. Maurice had a deep knowledge of classical music and so it was a complete pleasure to work with both Maurice and his producing partner John Carl. I was turning around a show each week and thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration.
You’d followed up “Mansfield Park” with “The Real Jane Austen.” Do you have a particular affection for that author and her work? And were you ever worried about being pigeonholed into becoming a “costume drama” composer?
“Mansfield Park,” again, seemed like a wonderful project. The script was extremely absorbing. I had worked with the director and writer Patricia Rozema before, and had just completed another Miramax project. I knew it would be an interesting scoring experience. Also, I wasn’t concerned about the costume drama aspect, as Rozema wanted a score that avoided the conventions of period dramas. She was not interested in a pastiche approach — She wanted something different – a gorgeous score that reflected the era but also felt contemporary and felt more present in the film than the genre often asks for. The orchestration for instance reflected instruments that may have been found on an estate like Mansfield Park at that time – not only instruments from the 19th century but also instruments that may have been left from eras past – viols, glass harmonica, hurdy-gurdy. It was great to live and work in London during that time and record with the musicians in London at Abbey Road and Air Studios. I was also scoring “Luminous Motion”, “A Price above Rubies” and “You Can Count on Me” around that same time and loved the diversity of the films I was scoring.
Another notable score you did was for Mira Nair’s telefilm “Hysterical Blindness.” How was that experience?
Mira Nair is a really wonderful director to work with. Like Kenny Lonergan, she brings the composer into the collaboration early in the process and there’s the time and space to create really specific thematic material as well as develop a palette of ideas, sounds, rhythms and themes that can be developed in the score. Mira’s feedback and comments always felt spot on and helped take the music to the next level. We scored a lot of it in New York and mixed at Sony Studios. The score was a real hybrid — and included a multi-tracked combination of bass/ 3 cellos/1 viola/4 violins to create a really particular string sound, in combination with programming and percussion loops and some atmospheric guitar work that feels almost like the weather in the piece, or a source of light or shadow in some of the scenes.
What do you think drew Kenneth Lonergan to your work? And what was your first collaboration with him like on “You Can Count On Me?”
I’m not sure what drew Kenneth to my work. A mutual colleague had given him a copy of some of my music and Kenny liked it. We were in touch, and then later met up in New York and started the collaborative process. With “You Can Count On Me,” we were both just beginning our filmmaking careers, and we were both learning the process of bringing the right score and sound to a story — creating a strong score. We both like to hold off on being decisive about our themes until we are sure we have the right one — and we’re sure the themes really work and bring the scenes to a new level. With “You Can Count on Me” for instance, we also worked together to get the right sound in the cello duet in the main theme and even rerecorded some of the pieces when we felt the performance approach wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. In some collaborations getting the recording right might be a smaller detail but for Kenny and I we both want to bring the right emotional sound quality to the score and take the time with the performers to get what we’re looking for. Both scores are highly thematic and in both films we often revisit a theme in a way that deepens the meaning of each musical recurrence and the scene as well.
Given your classical background, was “Manchester by the Sea” an opportunity you were particularly drawn to, especially given its contemporary setting?
When I read the script for “Manchester by the Sea” I was immediately drawn in to what Kenny had written and the character of Lee Chandler. I wanted to score the film. Between the films “You Can Count On Me” and “Manchester by the Sea”, Kenny and I have both evolved. We both have had the strength of working with other people and then coming back to work together again on “Manchester.” Over that time, we’ve grown as filmmakers and artists and that could be felt in the collaboration, and in the film and scoring, and it allows us to make some strong choices about how we’re going to score the film. Those are choices like the use of the a capella voices, or the particular strings sound — deliberate choices about sound and score design that fell into place quickly. I think we’ve developed a somewhat of a shorthand in this regard.
Did your creative collaboration with Kenneth differ on this film?
In both “You Can Count On Me”, and again in “Manchester by the sea”, Kenny includes borrowed pieces from the classical era. In “You Can Count On Me” we worked with the Bach Unaccompanied cello suites and a Cantata amongst others, and in “Manchester” mainly Handel as well as the blues standards and other on screen music. The original score is the music that returns and creates the recurrent musical themes in the movie, and blends and supports and unifies all the pieces in the film. The composed pieces needed to have a kind of strength in their design to work alongside the classical pieces so they couldn’t simply be a narrative, traditional score. It’s a really specific approach that Kenny and I have used in our collaborations but has evolved and strengthened over the time working together.
How did the numerous selections by Handel influence your score? And were their modern classical composers that impacted your approach as well?
I wrote the first themes for “Manchester” after receiving the script. I always like to put together a collection of pieces, almost like a musical suite of thematic ideas, to share with Kenny and discuss. One of the first pieces was the piano solo that we hear as Lee looks for a job midway through the film after he considers staying in the small Massachusetts’s town that he returned to. This became an active theme in the score, which then influenced the harmonic progressions we hear in many of the cues. The other piece that I recorded as a first demo was the “Plymouth Chorale” that we hear during Lee’s drive to Manchester and also while Patrick walks to his father’s funeral. Kenny had my first recordings with him while he was editing and found that the a cappella pieces were really working well with their harmonies, simple melodies and vocals.
After the themes started falling in place, I scored the rest of the music after seeing a fine cut of the film. For the opening piece, I recorded a choral piece – an a capella piece, in a concert hall in Montreal. The vocals in the first piece, and the recording approach work with the epic opening shots of the ocean, the boat with the boy and man seen from the distance, and the weather and atmosphere of that shot. With the string theme there is a kind is a transformation of the sound over the course of the film. In the opening cue the strings are barely there — with a kind of simple starkness, big, slightly dark sound. Over the film the string sound evolves and opens up into a much bigger sound — the string writing becomes more active. Then, in the final cue, we’re in a new place. We can feel that in the scoring and string arrangements, performance, and recording style.
The choice of themes was originally very intuitive — just an idea that I felt was right. For the A Capella themes, I wanted to do something simple, almost hymn like, but in a way that the theme and phrases can loop and move and progress almost infinitely with a kind of elliptical repetition that you sense but can’t define. I looked at the early hymns – psalmody — that were sung by the Puritans and Pilgrims when they settled in that same area of the small Massachusetts’s town that Lee has returned to. There was something in the melodies and harmonies that I felt was a great inspiration for where I wanted to go compositionally for this film. As the themes developed and I chose to multi-track record one vocalist — Jacoba Barber Rozema on all the vocal lines. She has a really gorgeous clear voice – a lyric soprano with a lot of control over vibrato and color. The orchestra was recorded later – in the last few weeks before the mix and added in as another layer to the scoring.
How did you have the idea of using your daughter for the female voice of “Manchester?”
While I was working on the theme I really wanted to hear the vocal arrangement in performance and Jacoba has a beautiful voice that seemed exactly right for this. She is a trained opera singer and performed as a child in several productions at The Canadian Opera Company. We recorded the first piece via Skype so she could record in her dorm room at McGill where she is studying opera performance. Later, we recorded some of the additional a cappella pieces in a large concert hall to get a more expansive sound that works with some of the exterior shots in the film.
You’ve often played characters struggling to find their voice in movies like “When Night Is Falling” and “A Price Above Rubies.” Is that something you look for, especially now when you have such a withdrawn person like Lee in “Manchester By the Sea.” What’s the importance of the music in drawing him out of his shell?
In most stories and films, we meet a central character that is longing for something, and for whom a great deal is at stake. There is often a sense that there is the potential for possible violence – either psychological or physical, so there is this central pull of character and story that needs to be reflected and lifted in the music. We meet Lee Chandler after he experienced the unimaginable, and he can’t leave it behind. His tragedy hangs over his head no matter what he does or doesn’t do and the music had to get inside this place.
Was it important not to make the score too depressing? To have it reflect a ray of hope, even when Lee might not?
This wasn’t really something I thought about consciously when I was writing. The themes have a kind of “moving forward” quality to them. Momentum in the harmonies that travel forward almost inevitably and perhaps this was something in the back of my mind when I was writing. Kenny just described the score like this – - “The music skips your brain and goes straight to your emotions.” The a capella piece had an almost angelic quality, a simple melody with complicated harmonies. It’s the aural equivalent of including the sky in a shot. You see a street and you tilt up to reveal this big sky over it. Music does that. It changes the perspective and adds color.
What strength do you think being a conductor and an orchestrator add to your work as a composer?
I think it helps to understand the communication part of music and what works and doesn’t work for performers – and how much the musicians and performers bring to the music — what’s essential in the orchestration — and also to come up with a specific orchestral approach for each film score. With “Manchester by the Sea,” I just had a week to turn around the orchestral pieces in the film – compose, orchestrate, record, produce and deliver. The timing was tight and I think knowing what I want from the orchestra and how things will sound helps me write with a kind of confidence that I know what I’m looking for. I also often also work with the fantastic orchestrator James Shearman, who has become an important collaborator in my work as we move the music from score to the recording stage.
Why do you think Kenneth is so seemingly reclusive as a filmmaker? And do you hope the success of “Manchester by the Sea” might encourage him to make more films?
Kenny’s actually really prolific — he has written many award-winning plays and written scripts for a number of projects at the same time, he’s developing his own films and scripts. The three films he made over the last ten years are just stellar films, from the script to the direction to the finished edit and finished film. I would imagine he’ll have many more great films ahead of him. We can certainly hope that “Manchester by the Sea” makes that real.
Do you think that film scoring is essentially what’s become of classical music, and do you think there’s a renaissance now for film composers who come from the world of “serious” music?
Cinematic writing is a great opportunity for a composer. It gives the composer an opportunity to work with orchestra and performers and a scale of writing that is rare in the classical and opera world these days.
I think for filmmakers who are looking for a next level kind of scoring they are often looking for a composer who can write orchestrally and build significant melody and harmony into the thematic of the score. My own approach is more hybrid and really film specific. It’s combining atmospherics, synth tracks, loops, beats, sampled orchestra, building specific sound palettes for each film and then combining that with orchestration. Sometimes it’s also breaking that out into a tight edgier intimate chamber sound against a more lush orchestral bigger sound.
As a Canadian in an industry that can often be sexist in the kinds of movies that female composers get, when they are hired, how do you look upon what’s happened politically in America? And do you think it will have any impact on the entertainment industry, especially in regards to women?
The female composer aspect is something I haven’t thought that much about over the years. Recently it’s become obvious in the industry that it hasn’t been inclusive enough. We need diverse voices as they add fresh language to cinematic writing. It’s the same issue faced by female directors and cinematographers. It feels like things are definitely changing. There’s more visibility, more awareness, and a consciousness that we’re moving in the right direction.
What kinds of films are you personally motived to do? And having done so many unique scores for intimately dramatic films like “Manchester by the Sea,” what kind of movies, or genres would you like to explore musically?
I love the kind of films I’ve been working on, and would love to work on a futuristic or large scale animation film — I would like to work on some kind of science fiction / futuristic sci-fi like “Blade Runner,” or something more contemporary like “Hurt Locker.” That would be great.
Visit Lesley Barber’s score for “Manchester by the Sea” on Milan Records HERE.
Visit Lesley Barber’s Website HERE
For The Month of October 2016
- Record Label
1Stranger Things V.1 &2 OST Lakeshore Records Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein
2The Magnificent Seven OST Lakeshore Records James Horner and Simon Franglen
3Mr. Robot OST Lakeshore Records Mac Quayle
4American Pastoral OST Lakeshore Records Alexandre Desplat
5Film Fest Gent: Ryuichi Sakamoto Silva Screen Records Ryuichi Sakamoto
6Sully OST Varese Sarabande Clint Eastwood, Christian Jacob, The Tierney Sutton Band
7Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children La-La Land Records Mike Higham & Matthew Margeson
8Bates Motel OST Lakeshore Records Chris Bacon
9Snowden OST Deutsche Grammophon Craig Armstrong and Adam Peters
10Captain Fantastic OSR Lakeshore Records Alex Somers
11The Girl On A Train OST Sony Classical Danny Elfman
12The Night Of OST Lakeshore Records Jeff Russo
13The Light Between Oceans OST Lakeshore Records Alexandre Desplat
14Morgan OST Milan Records Max Richter
15Denial OST Howe Records Howard Shore
16The 9th Life of Louis Drax OST Varese Sarabande Patrick Watson
17Supergirl Season One OST La-La Land Records Blake Neely
18Ben-Hur OST Sony Classical Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander
19Inferno OST Sony Classical Hans Zimmer
20I.T. OST Lakeshore Records Timothy Williams CineRadio is produced by Krakower Polling PR. For more information about CineRadio or Krakower Polling PR contact Beth Krakower at cinemediapromo (at) yahoo.com
The chart is composed of music played during the month of October on soundtrack music specialty shows. This month’s reporters include WXOX*, WRTU, KDRT, KSJS, WFMU, WHFR, KSPC, KFJC, WPRK, KMFA, KUCI, A Fistful of Soundtracks, Radionowhere.org, Cinematic Sound, The Score, Urgent.fm/Supercalifragilistic, BBC Radio 3 “Sounds of Cinema,” SoundtrackAdventures.blogspot.com, ABC Classic FM Australia, CityLights, Secklow Sounds, Celluloid.no, and Soundtrax.fm.
* denotes new reporters
Soundtrack Picks: “SHIN GODZILLA” is the top soundtrack to own for November, 2016
Also worth picking up: FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, FRIGHT NIGHT, HACKSAW RIDGE, HORROR CASTLE, LUKE CAGE, THE NIGHT OF, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, THE SERPENT, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF / LESS THAN ZERO
What Is it?: Whether spread onto the whitebread upper class suburbs of Chicago or the exclusive mansions of Beverly Hills, two impactful 80’s soundtracks showed that they could rock youthful ennui with alt. pop music and mature symphonic sweep. Now La La Land, a baby boomer label if there ever was one, releases these two superior classes in youthful musical contrast with the long-awaited, ageless albums of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Less Than Zero,”
Why Should You Buy It?: Writer-director John Hughes may have been a positively over-the-hill 34 year old when he made the first of his teen classics with 1984’s “Sixteen Candles,” but as evinced by the songs by The Stray Cats, Annie Golden and Patti Smith on that film’s still-to-be CD-ized mini LP, few directors working in the bubblegum genre had as much good bubblegum movie taste in being simultaneously old-school and cutting edge. Hughes’ subversiveness reached its apex with 1986’s ultimate hooky player, a wonderful wise ass represented by his decade-defining mix tape of classic kitsch and British-centric new wave energy. It was certainly a tangled cassette ribbon of rights to get the likes of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Yello, Wayne Newton and The Dream Academy that took three decades to unravel, but the inventive energy of these trend-setting tunes are just as much catchy fun with the long-awaited CD premiere of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” But most importantly, they embody a musical character in the same way (if less seriously) in the same way that director Mike Nichols’ used Simon and Garfunkel to define the angst of “The Graduate’s” Benjamin Braddock. Except “Ferris’” whitebread WASP is totally assured of his future and just wants to kick it, an energy to outwit adult authority that’s captured in the hyperbeat, insanely sampled “Love Missile” and the Yello’s hilariously suggestive “Oh Yeah.” New wave 1950’s energy runs through The Flowerpot Men’s “Beat City” and Zapp’s “Radio City.” But for all of the kinetic energy of Ferris’ English beat accented escapades, my personal favorite tracks are The Dream Academy’s “”Please, Please Please Let Me Go” and “The Edge of Forever.” With gentle guitar rhythms and organ guiding the truants through The Chicago Museum of Art, and the other tune promising that Ferris will indeed mature into Sloane’s husband-to-be, these song touchingly reach into the trio’s vulnerability and hopes for the future. But the instrumental importance of Hughes’ frequent composer Ira Newborn’s work also can’t be understated in its often over-the-top hilarity. For if the songs are Ferris’ fun time, then Newborn is the manipulative schemer. His work has the knowing orchestral lushness of a sunny TV family sitcom from the days of black and white. Segueing at a Carl Stalling minute from alarmed, principal-on-hold suspense to militaristic marches, swaggering Vegas big band, Bugs Bunny pizzicatos, doo wop and polka, Newborn captures “Ferris’” pop culture humor like a stream or channel-changing consciousness, with the overall bombast he’d soon give to the “Naked Gun” features. Most importantly, Newborn is equally adept at creating his own distinctive pop rhythms to effortlessly jam with the songs. Filled with nearly every tune that “Ferris” cult following has been salivating for, including snooty restaurant source, baseball organ and the marching band version of “Twist and Shout,” “Bueller’s” soundtrack day is finally here in terrific style, exceptionally produced by Dan Goldwasser and Neil S Bulk, with Tim Grieving’s extensive, excellent liner notes featuring new, insightful interviews from such soundtrack band mates as music supervisor Tarquin Gotch to editor Paul Hirsch and Hughes’ son James on how the DJ filmmaker put together the ultimate soundtrack mix tape.
Extra Special: No mainstream Hollywood composer has so beautifully balanced experimental funk with soaring, lush orchestration as Thomas Newman, the scion of a film scoring family whose humble musical beginnings were spent in bands and writing the funky beat-driven scores of such youth-oriented comedies as “Revenge of the Nerds” “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “Real Genius.” Newman’s way of combining his hip 80’s rhythms and his father Alfred’s 50’s symphonic swoon never met more beautifully than in 1987’s “Less Than Zero.” Ostensibly a time-old don’t do drugs fable, “Zero’s” predestined fate was told with uncommon, color-gelled visual style and somber maturity by “Another Country” director Marek Kaneivska, who should have had a far bigger career after his Hollywood debut. For a film with inexorable tragedy, Newman created haunting romantic themes full of sweeping regret, an approach perfect for hopelessly rich and jaded brat packers who fill their lack of parental love with cocaine and fast cars. It’s richly melodic despair that makes for some of Newman’s most strikingly heartbreaking themes. Yet as opposed to a straight-up string sound, Newman instills his distinctive way of blending futuristic electronics into a mesmerizing wall of sound, fashioning samples that are every bit as cool as the Beverly Hills architecture and its neon streets. Set at Christmastime, Newman employs bell percussion that only captures the hollowness of the holiday, but the sound of little children lost for all of their hip affectations. Given “Zero’s” memorable soundtrack filled with the likes of The Bangles take on “Hazy Shade of Winter” and Public Enemy’s “it’s Christmastime in Hollis Queens,” Newman draws on his own progressive rock background to give the score a dreamy, guitar vibe that casts a U2-like spell as it drives into the desert of lost innocence. Few “teen” movies were so haunting, or emotionally impactful during the era, and Thomas Newman’s gorgeously wrenching, soothingly anguished score for “Less Than Zero” is a thing of haunted beauty.
2) FRIGHT NIGHT (Song Soundtrack)
What is it?: After too long an absence, Perseverance Records rises back to life with the first-ever CD release of one of the 80’s cheekiest, and most delightfully fanged horror soundtracks for 1985’s “Fright Night.” Sure the decade offered such great rock-and-pop fueled song albums “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4,” “The Lost Boys,” “Maximum Overdrive” and “Trick or Treat,” but few were as well tailored to the tastes of Jerry Dandridge, a vampire who loved the nightlife, as well as the oddball rock rhythms of the teen horror geeks out to prove his existence.
Why should you buy it?: The enduring appeal of “Fright Night” comes from how nimbly writer-director Tom Holland, along with music supervisor David Chackler, walked the tightrope between humor and horror, an effectiveness that its song album exemplified right off the bat with the J. Geils Band’s spooky-ooky title track. Already a band with a sense of humor from such songs as “Love Stinks” and “Freeze Frame,” the Boston-based group was a perfect choice, with its howling, syncopated chorus, gnarly synths and catchy beat carrying lyrics that represent the hapless voice of Charley Brewster, the kid who cried vampire. But then, just about every song in “Fright Night” was written for the actual movie, which gave its tunes the power of actually commenting on the action and characters. Spark’s catchy, devilish chorus reminds Brewster that “The Armies of the Night” are coming for him, while 80s fixture Devo’s always playfully ironic beat further compounds his girl troubles. Proving heroic, romantic energy is White Sister’s Journey-like ballad “Save Me Tonight,” while jukebox 50’s energy blasts through the Fabulous Fontaine’s “Boppin’ Tonight.” But “Fright Night’s” musical centerpiece belongs to its club seduction scene as Jerry puts the Studio 54 moves on Brewster’s ammorata Amanda, her dance with an invisible man given burning cool new wave licks with Ian Hunter’s “Good Man in a Bad Time,” a sort of more accessible Bauhaus-styled, if way peppier Goth-rock number, brilliantly cut to Dandridge’s dance moves. Disco sensation Evelyn “Champagne” King provides the electric groove of the continuing dance, and rising passion of “Give It Up” as Jerry and Amanda’s moves veer into dirty dancing territory, only to be followed by Dandridge’s hair metal fury of having Charlie cut in to his dance floor seduction with Steve Plunkett’s “You Can’t Hide the Beast Inside.” They’re songs whose apropos lyrics sing out the intense combination of terror and attraction that marks for one of the era’s coolest choreographed scenes that gets down with a vampire’s rhythmic allure.
Extra Special: Where most of these song-driven albums would relegate one instrumental cue to the end of the “B” side (and you’ll need to unearth Intrada’s “Fright Night” score album from Ebay to hear its score), composer Brad Fiedel was able to perform his love theme “Come To Me,” adding his voice, and lyrics to Dandridge’s memorably seductive theme. Perseverance’s mastering truly swings for the undead cult of “Fright Night,” with horror music specialist Randall D. Larson showing that he has as much flair for describing song albums as he does score ones with his new interviews with Holland and Chackler on creating an album that was thoughtful fang drop as opposed to a cash-in needle one when it came to its songs.
3) LUKE CAGE
What is it?: Where the mainly PG13 Marvel movie Universe has a rousing orchestral-electric sound that’s most definitely super heroic, their non-costumed cousins on Netflix help to make up for what they might lack in an epic music budget with an edgier, R-rated vibe, John Paesano has applied captivatingly bleak, radar-sharp percussion to “Daredevil,” while Sean Callery just won an Emmy for his neo-noir approach for “Jessica Jones.” But leave it to a brother Defender to call on the most tunefully audacious outfit of them all when it comes to the team of Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Adrian Younge’s take on “Luke Cage.” Sure the show has gone to great pains to transform Harlem’s comic book Hero for Hire into a way more altruistic, non-charging good guy who goes so far as to throw shade on his original costume during his origin story episode. But if this show is going out of its way to avoid the character’s Blaxploitation heritage (although throwing in a “Sweet Christmas” for fans’ sake), Muhammed and Younge go full 70’s with a throwback, funky approach that at first might be WTF, but then grows on Luke Cage’s exploits with all of the soul brother power of the yellow jacket and metal headband he refuses to wear.
Why should you buy it?: Muhammed’s movie and TV street cred is as a copious songwriter for “Crooklyn,” “Beverly Hills Cop III” and “Notorious,” while Young was both the picture editor, and composer of the hilarious spoof “Black Dynamite.” Except in “Luke Cage,” he’s playing those John Shaft-isms for real in a show that’s loud and proud about being unapologetically African-American, while still appealing to a way broader Marvel demographic. But beyond just breaking out the Hammond organ, wah-wah guitar and cooing voices, the musical duo have gone for something even crazier in their instrumentations. It’s rare that you get any superhero score so firm in its retro intentions when just about everything is a muscular fusion of samples, strings and brass. But Muhammed and Young stick to their guns for a bulletproof cat that refuses to carry a piece, and the effect is just a bit jarring. But soon enough, “Luke Cage” fits comfortably into those stylistic duds, which turn out have way many colors beyond “Shaft,” “Superfly,” “Trouble Man” and Younge, including Spaghetti Western showdowns, lush, John Barry-esque 007 strings and Eric Serra “La Femme Nikita” beats as mixed with wacky 80’s action-exploitation synths. Much like The RZA’s martial arts-inspired take on “Ghost Dog” and “The Man With the Iron Fists,” Muhammed and Younge are soulfully hipping up a bow down before seemingly unbeatable odds makes him way better suited for George Reeves’ Superman costume than Luke Cage might want to admit.
Extra Special: While a CD release would have been nice for old time’s sake, this 51-track digital album offers a dazzling amount of listening cool that pretty much covers the thirteen-episode run. Songs are very much part of this Power Man’s fabric, and “Luke Cage” offers choice tracks that sing with a soulful, old school spirit, including Raphael Saadiq’s “Good Man” and Charles Bradley’s “Ain’t it a Sin, with Aiden Younge’s “Stop and Look” creating a cool, criminal burn for Cottonmouth’s ersatz Cotton Club. Given how often the old school urban groove is played for cheeky humor, it’s nice to have Muhammed and Young stand up tall for the real, super-powered soul deal in “Luke Cage,” a Power Man with a musical identity as distinctive as any God of Thunder or super rich Iron Man.
4) SHIN GODZILLA
What is it?: Since he (or some say she) first rose from the sea off Japan, Godzilla has laid waste to Tokyo and its environs with extreme prejudice in thirty films (and counting) over thirty plus years. In that time, The Big G has fought equally giant moths, dragons, cicadas and a prawn. Numerous composers captured his homegrown battles with an equally impressive range, from the lumbering marches that Akira Ifukube first defined “Godzilla” with to Riichiro Manabe’s 60’s psychedelia for “Godzilla vs. Hedorah to gaijin Keith Emerson’s prog rock rhythms in “Godzilla: Final Wars.” But perhaps no musician has faced the truly unique challenge of Shiro Sagisu when looking up at “Shin Godzilla” (aka “Godzilla Resurgence”). For the first time in a franchise that’s continually rebooted itself, Godzilla is imagined as a massive public nuisance in a satirical, realpoliitk approach that might define a Japanese version of “The Office,” with an epic cast of indecisive bureaucrats running from one meeting to the next to figure out how to solve a problem like Godzilla. From the monster’s decidedly un-Godzilla like first appearance as a kind of cute turkey thing befitting a Hyao Miyazaki film, this is definitely not your typical Godzilla picture, especially given its insanely talky structure that starts off as energetic fun before becoming stupefyingly boring. Yet leave it to a constantly mutating score that’s unusual in all of the best ways to work throughout – perhaps the most memorable B.G. soundtrack at that since Akira Ifukube raised him marching from the depths.
Why should you buy it: Shiro Sagisu is best known for his work on the phenomenally successful anime series “Neon Genesis: Evangelion,” from which “Shin Godzilla’s” dramatic co-director Hideaki Anno hails – though one wishes his viz effects other half Shinji Higuchi (“Attack on Titan”) would have been way busier behind the camera here. Colorful, explosive spectacle is something that Sagisu is certainly familiar with, especially given his awesomely batshit scores for the unfortunately maligned live action “Titan” movies (whose music has also been put out by Milan Records). But if the sight of Godzilla-sized naked man things cannibalizing people made “Titan” particularly outrageous, “Shin’s” great effort to play the reality of a city-stomping lizard encourages a more artistic approach from Sagisu, his music conjuring the sheer, terrifying majesty of staring up at a skyscraper-sized behemoth as it slowly struts past you on a nonchalant walk of utter destruction. Urgent, bongos and a rocking electric guitar driven themes befitting a 70’s Action Team News report slam home civilian panic as contrasted with sleepy jazz for a city about to get a rude awakening, But it’s in the epic, orchestral cues where “Shin Godzilla” truly takes on a mythic majesty worthy of The King of Monsters,” as “Persecution for the Masses” rises with lush, elegiac power. Dire, brass rhythm and vocals pit “Black Angels” against the monster, with the full, gnarly weight of the brass section crashing down with a monstrous roar of seeming invincibility. It’s the dire, excited sound of Armageddon that really keeps the film’s momentum in spite of its continuous cutting back from the creature we really want to see to those damn boring bureaucrats, “Shin Godzilla” enters a far more elevated concert hall realm, given the intimate lyricism of piano and violin or the frenzied excitement trying to give Godzilla the ultimate brain freeze. Through it all, there’s an almost astonishing sense of artistry and daring to Sagisu’s work, especially given how motif-driven the score is. And at it’s best, “Shin Godzilla’s” score is transcendent, especially in the beautiful “Who Will Know.” Given the angelic presence of a female voice and sorrowful strings, Sagisu’s piece builds with the tragic power of the orchestra and a male chorus, making for a devastating contrast as Godzilla nukes Tokyo.. It’s music that you might expect to hear in a drama about The Holocaust, which is exactly the point as its melody sinks home the metaphor of a walking A-bomb like never before in the series, or its scores for one of the best singular cues I’ve heard in any movie this year.
Extra Special: While “Shin Godzilla” takes gigantic pains to re-invent the green-scaled wheel, there’s no doubt its creators are fans of the series, especially when contrasting Sagisu’s brashly unique scoring with any number of classic Godzilla tunes, Hearing Ifukube’s lumbering marches, rapid-fire rhythmic theme, frenetic military action from such scores as “King Kong Vs. Godzilla,” “Invasion of the Astro Monster” and “Battle in Outer Space” makes “Shin Godzilla” a terrific exemplar of the music that started Godzilla strutting decades ago with this high art scoring, their energy resounding off each other in a cool battle between O.G. Godzilla music and Shinjuro’s concert hall shock of the new.
5) THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
What Is it?: A composer who hailed from the Jewish Mecca of Manhattan, Elmer Bernstein found the cinematic savior to deliver him to Hollywood’s promised land like never before when Cecille B. De Mille, the grand pharaoh of the epic, assigned this young Turk to write a truly monumental score for 1957’s “The Ten Commandments.” An instant perennial classic that still endures in network TV airings to coincide with Easter and Passover, Bernstein’s score has often be re-recorded by the maestro himself. Yet its original tracks have seemingly been as hidden as the lost ark of the Hebrews. Now at last, Intrada Records uncovers this Holy Grail of heroic Jewish-themed scores with an exhaustive box set that can stand in good company with Varese’s “Spartacus” in the vaunted peaks of biblical scoring. But if “Spartacus” composer Alex North’s music was about the human spirit, Bernstein’s is most definitely about the holy one as he expedite several thousand Jews out of Egypt, With such bible spectacle scores of “The Robe’s” Alfred Newman already behind him for inspiration, Bernstein knew the well of massive, trumpeting brass and strings to draw from, imbuing themes with the kind of larger-than-life orchestrations that he’d later turn to comedic ends. Here, it’s about the utter heroism and commitment of The Bible’s prophet, who’s given special musical interest by his segue from “villain” to hero” as Moses shirks his luxurious Bernstein draws on Hebraic rhythm to define Moses and his chosen people, as well as a Shofar to launch The Exodus, or the exotic rhythms of Egyptian and desert tribe dances. His score is replete with thrills that gallop with western-like romance, romantically swoon at attempted seduction, or sparkle with the presence of The Almighty, while playing the plagues with a creeping Theremin right out of a horror film. There’s practically nothing that’s subtle about Bernstein’s awe-commanding approach of “The Ten Pharaoh’s army with all of the angry wrath of “The Ride of the Valkyries.” But it’s in this approach that Bernstein touches upon the raw, emotional power that’s made a mythic story last the test of time, let alone television reruns, while clueing in listeners to the many westerns, action films and period epics whose muscular tunes this score contained,
Extra Special: Intrada has done an impressive job of mastering the original “Commandments” tracks on the event of the film’s fiftieth anniversary, with the original score heard over the course of three CD’s. On top of that, Intrada includes three more iterations that the smash popularity of Bernstein’s score demanded. An hour-long compilation of Bernstein’s themes would be put out at the time of the film’s release. Then given far better recording techniques in the ensuing decade, the composer returned to the mountain to re-record a sonically impressive, and well-chosen “best of” album, then further reduced it a 30-minute presentation, all the while making his orchestrations lusher, and more interesting. It’s an odyssey of a composer enthusiastically dipping into his best-loved well that Intrada captures magnificently through the “Commandment’s” varied presentations. The set also offers numerous alternate tracks, the most notable being a slow exodus track that played its slow pace before Bernstein wisely sped up the musical movement at DeMille’s wise command. Just as memorable is hearing an “audition” session of Bernstein playing his treasure’s worth of themes. An equally lavish good book of the soundtrack’s history is presented with entertaining classic score authority by liner note write Frank K. DeWald, accompanied by Joe Sikoryak’s colorful layout that shows the label pulling out the stops with all of the worship bestowed upon The Golden Calf. It’s taken decades to reach the promised land of what’s likely the last soundtrack grail, a major release that finally, greatest accomplishment.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. AMERICAN PASTORAL
When it comes to the universal language of melancholy, France’s Alexandre Desplat is one of the best composers in the world when it comes to speaking in beautifully sad and tender melodies, using all the emotional resonance of a flowing orchestra in such heartbreaking scores as “Suffragette,” “The imitation Game” and “Coco Before Chanel.” Where his recent soundtrack for “The Light Between Oceans” (also on Lakeshore Records) was awash in giant, romantic gestures, Desplat’s turn to an “American Pastoral” is a gorgeously downbeat score. But then, actor Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut isn’t a romance, but rather the pilgrim’s passage of an ordinary citizen Joe trying to live the middle class dream, only to see his small ambitions destroyed when his errant daughter turns to misguided, and deadly radicalism at the 60’s height of it. In a similar way that Jay Wadley accompanied this year’s other Philip Roth adaptation “Indignation,” Desplat conjures a spellbinding tone of solemnity as he accompanies a distraught family’s search to see where their child went so wrong. If there’s one sound that conjures Americana, then it’s brass, which Desplat uses in a way that’s all about mournfulness, as opposed to the kind of blank check patriotism the young woman is rebelling against. With dark, conflicted chords that bring to mind such shimmeringly dramatic Jerry Goldsmith happiness, Desplat’s horns are is always sure to bring it low, or bring in the dark suspense of Feds on the hunt. Yet opposed to a downer of a listen, “American Pastoral’s” score is nothing less than spellbinding, tapping into the American dream gone wrong in a way that’s lyrical as opposed to judgmental, marking for another low key triumph when it comes to Desplat’s universally keen dramatic instincts.
. DAY OF THE LOCUST (Expanded)
Beyond writing for the high class of England’s secret agents or star-crossed lovers, John Barry also had an affection for a particularly American brand of losers when teaming with fellow English director John Schlesinger – from the dark, scummy Time Square streets of “Midnight Cowboy” to Hollywood wannabe freakshow of “Day of the Locust.” Where the first 1969 film contrasted the lonesome blues of a hopeful Texan gigolo with the period psychedelia of NYC, “Locusts” was steeped in 1930’s jazz, all the better to convey moral collapse in a romantically ironic way. But then, jazz was also a natural for a composer who got his start with “Beat Girl,” and would go on to romance the 20’s and 30’s with the likes of “The Cotton Club” and “Chaplin.” Always important to Barry was creating a memorable main theme that could be used over and over again without becoming tiresome. For “Locusts,” he came up with a melody that resonates with a tenderness for the hopelessly deluded, always finding infinite variations that range from rhumba to a poignant Spanish guitar that builds with psychosis, as well as the glitzily lush orchestra that’s the composer’s trademark. Given “Locust’s” black, mocking heart for those locked behind the ropes of the era’s gala movie premieres, Barry’s music has a seditiousness as well, no more so than in his silent movie comedy way of playing Burgess Meredith’s desperate, way-too old vaudevillian doing the soul-crushing salesman rounds, ukulele, and “soft shoe” music mocking his pathetic efforts. And just as he played a sci-fi adventure for a movie unreeling in “Midnight Cowboy,” Barry re-scores a scene from an Arabian adventure comedy with cleverly affected audio to get across the dustiness of the film its bored patrons are watching. The score’s underlining darkness and frustration finally rises from the pit in “Locusts’” climactic explosion of movie premiere mob violence, with Barry’s dissonant, stromach-wreching sustain building with rattlesnake-like percussion, showing the ultimate end of the fans need to consume their idols. Indeed, it’s one of the composer’s most disturbing cues, especially as it reveals romance for the Hollywood illusion it is. Previously released on CD by Intrada with its original LP program, the label now terrifically expands on both Barry’s beautifully unnerving score and the film’s re-performed and original period songs, revealing the three 1930’s pitch-perfect tunes written around the main theme by “Goldfinger’s” Don Black. Intrada also powerfully re-sequences the score and song presentation, with its stripped down, instrumental solo alternates at first, followed by a wealth such period songs and source tunes as “Jeepers Creepers,” “Isn’t It Romantic,” Hot Voodoo. Barry even provides the patriotic newsreel march of a Paramount movie night. It pulls the listener into a depraved 1930’s Hollywood awash in swing, sin and madness, with John Barry the bandleader of the deluded and the damned finally clash for one of the composer’s his most haunting scores, if not his most disturbing film at that, given a superb liner note recollection by Barry expert Jon Burlingame.
As a composer with a shine to the pursuit of justice, particularly when it comes to the abuse of The Church in such riveting scores as “Spotlight” and “Doubt,” Howard Shore is a musician who offers a melodically reasoned and passionate approach for advocacy. Now he’s on the stand again with his powerful score for “Denial,” defending a female author whose mission it is to cement The Holocaust’s reality in the face of a blowhard denier of the Jewish genocide. But as opposed to viscerally detailing its horrors in music, “Denial” takes a very British approach to its defamation trial, a restraint that’s particularly well suited to Shore’s writing. Never a composer to outrightly hit dramatic incident as opposed to seeing its case a whole, Shore provides a strong, emotional flow to his melodic score that truly gets inside the determined, never-say-surrender headspace of its heroine, captivatingly playing the defendant’s need to put the survivors on the stand, all while her defense team expresses their dire concern of having The Holocaust’s truth invalidated for the world to see. It’s a strongly built case that rings with concern and outright devastation, yet has a sonorous optimism as well in its flowing, complex orchestrations (always a hallmark of Shore’s work) that are finally allowed to rise with elation in justice, and truth done. But for a movie that takes a subtle, gentlemanly approach to the unthinkable, Shore’s strongest moment is when visiting the ruins of Auschwitz, as a single, angelic voice becomes the plea of six million not to be forgotten, or outrightly killed again by an evildoer who knows how to play the media. Shore might have brought on the symphonic thunder in his battle against Sauron. But in this devastating, poignant moment, it’s music that’s about a very real, and international battle racist going on the world over for victims that sinister forces would deny existed, or would hope to kill again.
. THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER
If Henry Mancini’s cheerful, barnstorming score for Robert Redford’s coulda-been WWI fighter pilot has vainglorious period pomp, then it’s for bittersweet show in this wonderfully ironic score. George Roy Hill, fresh from Redford gambling hit “The Sting” sought to recreate that period charm for this dramedy that crashed at the box office due to its shocking character plummets to earth and a sad, mythic finale – a feeling of wry, unavoidable fate that’s wonderfully captured by Mancini. With his last WW1 flying ace movie being the loftily scored Blake Edwards’ box office disaster “Darling Lili,” the composer certainly know how to play the romantic exuberance of flight and valorous battle, even if Waldo Pepper happens to have missed The Great War. Given a theme full of rousing pomp and circumstance that captures a charming ego going full speed into the days of Hollywood stunt barnstorming, Mancini’s daredevil marching band orchestrations do cheerful loop-de-loops worthy of John Philips Sousa, much like the players in the bandstand as they marvel at feats of derring-do just before the crash they know they’ve really come to witness. A former band player himself, Mancini is clearly in his joyful element here with his rousing tunes. Given Waldo’s rivalry with an actual German flying ace with a thirst for real battle, Mancini composes a wonderful, melancholic Blue Danube-esque waltz for the air. Another lovely theme comes for the melancholy duet between trumpet and piano, while said instrument energetically becomes a silent movie accompanist. Trumpet-led waltzes also help give “The Great Waldo Pepper” heft, while an exuberant orchestra conveys Tinsel Town’s lure to the pilot. There’s even a bit of Scott Joplin-esque ragtime to bring back fond musical memories of “The Sting.” But if there’s a real daring to Mancini’s score, then it’s how it essentially works as the source music playing in its hero’s mind. For a composer best known for exuberantly lush comedy scores, there’s a nice, fatefully stripped-down quality to “Waldo’s” surfeit of waltzes and bandstand hoopla that marks one of Mancini’s more unique, and pleasurable soundtracks. Now Waldo flies for the first time on CD from Quartet Records, given extra lift by Jeff Bond’s liner notes that details the history of a flyer-turned-director Hill’s unsung, bittersweet gem.
. HACKSAW RIDGE
Mel Gibson has fashioned a beyond powerful old school war film with modern bloodletting effects that would be unimagined back in the black and white days when the Hollywood action of our fighting boys was positively antiseptic in comparison. And it’s the ability to capture the rousingly emotional power of a time when good and evil were well-defined the also distinguishes Rupert Gregson-Williams’ rousingly emotional score – as told with a contemporary combination of orchestra, samples and rhythm that brings an immediate emotional reaction with far more subtlety than an outrightly flag-waving soundtrack would have. Williams begins with a tender, elegiac quality that conveys both the rustic, fiddle and guitar beauty of conscientious object hero Desmond Doss’ upbringing in rural Virginia, a joyful roughhousing youth that’s contrasted with a miserable, violence-plagued home life that fuels his moral determination. Full of the lyrical, innocent beauty of first love, “Hacksaw Ridge” soon enough plunges into a brutalizing military experience. Williams conveys the quiet nobility and tension of an aw-shucks gentle kid who won’t change his non-killing principles, no matter how much crap gets kicked out of him, a plaintive, earnest approach that’s a hallmark of actor Andrew Garfield’s approach for a role that would have been filled with Jimmy Stewart – had a studio back in the day had the guts to make a movie about a medic who refused to kill. But make no mistake that this is a guts and terror-filled war movie that will give Doss the chance to prove his faithful mettle, as far more nightmarish use of samples and brass transport him to Okinawa’s hell on earth. Fierce, tribal percussion, breathless rhythm and blaring brass become waves of suicidal Japanese soldiers. Williams levels up his war scoring considerably here from his work on the “Battlefield” video games for this way more realistic portrait of all-out savagery and valor as heard in the same musical passage. “Hacksaw Ridge” explodes into full-on heroic writing as Doss runs back and forth in his rescue of dozens of soldiers – a miraculous feat the has all of the adrenalin that Williams brought to the excitement of his work on the way-better-than-expected “Legend of Tarzan,” while also carrying the evocative, surreal passages of synth and sting stillness that’s also marked the work of his brother Harry. Given the stunning impact of “Hacksaw Ridge,” it’s that kind of career which Rupert will hopefully find as much as director Mel Gibson in the comeback In the end, Williams’ “Hacksaw Ridge” is a stirringly thematic score that has as much lyricism as it does blood and thunder, conveying the poignant angelically voiced, bell-ringing spirit of an unassuming man who refused to violate his peaceful principals in the midst of hell on earth. It’s a soaring respect for inner fortitude that Rupert Gregson-Williams waves with incredibly moving pride for a real non-violent American hero if there ever was one.
. HORROR CASTLE
You might not think you’re in a English shag pad as opposed to a mad fiend’s domicile when you hear the lush, John Barry-style jazz that opens the door to 1963’s “Horror Castle” (aka “The Virgin of Nuremberg”). And that kind of bat in the belfry stylistic madness is a big part of the charm of cult composer Riz Ortolani (“Mondo Cane,” “Cannibal Holocaust”) for this Italian horror movie. As a musical mad doctor for genres from Giallo to Spaghetti westerns and hep swing, Ortolani injects “Horror Castle” with the stuff of pure, crazily lurching Frankenstein’s monster stuff – though in this case it’s understandable as the evil heralds from Nuremberg’s Nazi past, Brass screams as wild, throttling percussion treats this castle like a repository of horror scoring on fire in the midst of a massive lightning storm. Theremin, singing saw, and the creepiest funereal organ this side of “Phantasm’s” Morningside Cemetery compliment the none-too subtle scares that make this score a pure delight, while also finding some more unexpectedly subtle secret passages. It’s unhinged melody doing the stuff of fear that many of today’s horror scores would handle with dissonance, But then, there’s nothing quite as delightful as running for dear life through Ortolani’s fire-swept passages to bumble into the midst of a then modern-day hip jazz swing party. Quartet Records, which has done a fine job releasing any number of wacky 60’s and 70’s horror scores from Italy and Spain, brings out “Horror Castle’s” resounding power for the first time in a two CD set, offering both the original LP program and the full swaggering madness of its complete score. Foreign score expert Gergely Hubai gives another comprehensive liner note journey through one of the more stylistically insane scores to accompany Christopher Lee’s bad behavior in particularly atmospheric surroundings.
Hans Zimmer has spent a decade playing history’s greatest hits with professor Robert Langdon as he’s tracked down Jesus’ descendants for “The Da Vinci Code” than pulled the white rug out from under a false Pope for “Angels and Demons.” Director Ron Howard’s adaptations of author Dan Brown’s series of religion-based thrillers are certainly interesting for offering a decidedly non-Jason Bourne-esque academic hero who’s constantly on the run between offering fascinating lessons on Catholicism’s greatest mysteries, affording Zimmer the opportunity to capture myth and excitement in the same musical breath. Now a composer who’s risen to composing godhood on the strength of his rhythmic wiles gets his most furiously strange workout as Langdon gets down the bottom of a viral Dante’s “Inferno.” Given a hero whom right at the beginning is hallucinating from a head wound’s fever pitch, Zimmer pours on warped effects, rock percussion and piercing sustains to deliberately disorient the listener with uncompromising effect. But if the music, and film do their best to throw the viewer with maddening, nerve-ripping hallucinatory effects, one’s fears that this will completely be the stuff of nightmarish madness are gradually tamed as both Langdon and Zimmer regain their harmony in this insanely plotted chase. The music rarely, if ever lets up, which gives Zimmer all the more fun in pouring on the rhythmic adrenalin, though no doubt the most eerie, and interesting passages belong to the music of Langdon deciphering hellish Easter eggs. And it’s the most interesting Langdon score as well as Zimmer goes for an approach that’s way more about being at a techno rave than a religious college conference, Zimmer lets loose with a thematically booming, apocalyptic fusion of electronics and orchestra with some of the craziest adrenalin he’s displayed since the nuke pursuit of “Broken Arrow,” which will certainly be a Godsend to fans who particularly love the composer when he’s trashing in the percussion Thunderdome where it’s a breathless chase to the apocalyptic finish. But given the exciting relentlessness of “Inferno,” one of the album’s most effective piece belongs to the love theme between Langdon and his Beatrice that could have been, a love theme, music that’s both emotional and haunted with loss, delivered with an exceptional, still simplicity as powerful as the composer’s craziest chase through Dante 101.
. JOHNNY QUEST
Aside from their adult-friendly cartoons like “The Flintstones,” “The Jetsons” and their kiddie-cloying limited animation ilk, Hanna Barbera did manage to create some truly gonzo sci-fi cartoons like “Space Ghost” and “The Herculoids.” With enough adult danger to debut on Prime Time as opposed to Saturday morning, “Jonny Quest,” was a delightfully un-PC textbook in western imperialism and child endangerment as a boy genius, his professor dad, a brawny man of action, adorable pet dog and Indian friend battled an astonishing array of beyond stereotypical super villains, killer robots, dinosaurs, giant one-eyed blobs and jungle savages. Where later kid’s shows would have these opposing forces settle their differences with lots of talky, moral lessons, “Jonny Quest” would have none of that – piling on bullets, punches and actual death along with beyond goofy pre-school jokiness – an outrageous combo that “The Venture Brothers” would mercilessly spoof. Jonny may have been a kid, but his music was pure manly stuff, as meted out with cool, jazzy brass power by composers Hoyt Curtin and his musical manservant Ted Nichols. But then, Barbera favorite Curtin was clearly ready for more macho stuff than such positively sedate animals like Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Magilla Gorilla. Given a spin on the spy craze shows that were sweeping the nation (along with a healthy dose of sci-fi pulp), Curtin and Nichols (who’d go onto score the equally dangerous Hanna Barbera spy feature “A Man Called Flintstone”) were given the chance to travel across the globe to take on an array of would-be world conquerors. The result as heard on La La Land’s delightful two-CD collection is just about every bit as fun, and exotically diverse as such prime time fare as “Mission: Impossible,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” and “I Spy.” Traversing the rhythms of India, South America, Asia and all ports of dangerous stereotypical call, the composers created a dizzying, punch-drunk variety to “Jonny Quest’s” music that fueled its comic book fun, especially when it came to the shrill, brass punchiness of their action scoring, lurching monster music or the foggy suspense of scurvy pirates. But where “Jonny Quest” truly swings is in its terrific jazz stylings. Curtin and Nichols are shaken and stirred as they cover every 60’s idiom of the form from coffee house beat to swing and exotica. It’s a hep vibe that goes through such collected episodes as “The Curse of Annubis,” “The Fraudulent Volcano” and “The Quetong Missile Mystery,” suggesting way more of a show set in a swinger’s bachelor pad than anything involving a bunch of kids fighting adult evil, music that beckons for an extra olive to woo a luscious female visitor as opposed to a laser gun to shoot down a monstrosity. That swing alone is more than enough reason to make this terrific-sounding album a delight for baby boomers whose manliness was more than inspired by the music of a kid getting into completely inappropriate situations. TV music ace Jon Burlingame provides a look back this memorably unique entry in Hanna Barbera’s cannon, while Jeff Bond offers an appreciation from such current fans as Fred Dekker and Robert Rodrigues of a cartoon show that they’ve tried to turn into live action, appreciations accompanied by a graphically enticing booklet by the equally nostalgia friendly artist Joe Sikoryak.
. LE SERPENT
Italy’s Ennio Morricone effortlessly conjured a Russian on the run from his Kremlin overseers for this French Cold War thriller from 1973, a score that at first might think of as run-up to his “Exorcist: The Heretic,” given its awesomely groovy theme for fuzz guitar, eerily chanting vocalese and organ. But for the most part, “The Serpent” is a far more level-headed and disturbingly weird as Yul Brynner’s defector is given a beautifully mournful theme for strings, the haunting voice of “One Upon a Time in the West’s” Edda Dell’Orso and a balalaika-like dulcimer to create a memorable portrait of a man without an Iron Curtain country. Again pairing Morricone with his “Sicilian Clan” director Henry Verneuil, “The Serpent” plays very much in the fashion of the composer’s crime and policier scores, carrying a lyrical sense of mortality as the agents its antihero fingers find a way of ending up dead, their fate enhanced by the use of a funereal organ. Silken, eerie metallic percussion and snake hiss-like musical gestures also enhance the composer’s talent for fusing melody and dissonance into a seamless whole, while the relentless grilling that Brynner gets is reflected in harsh, computer-like electronics. Other surreal cues come across like a bad LSD trip, using string sustains and nerve-ripping metallic percussion to sustain the tension to an almost unbearable third degree. “The Serpent’s” powerful combination of wild experimentalism and poignant melody makes for one of Morricone’s more deliciously oddball and poignantly thematic scores, especially when pompous Russian marches and groovy jazz-funk cues are factored into its mindgames and assassinations. Music Box’s does a sonically great job of expanding on the score’s LP release to 73 minutes, where each cue offers a new, striking surprise.
. LITTLE BOX OF HORRORS
Varese Sarabande is in a terrifying special edition frame of mind lately with expanded releases of Jerry Goldsmith’s “The Omen” and Marco Beltrami’s “Hellboy” and “Scream 2” as follow-up’s to their formidable box set of every original “Nightmare on Elm Street” score. While their new “Little Box of Horrors” might not be suited up with a miniature version of Freddy Krueger’s green and red sweater, its seemingly plain black surface holds within a plethora of 80’s-centric horror soundtrack goodness, many of them never before released on CD. Certainly the prime jewel in the crown to puncture Ebay prices swifter than a finger glove is a re-issue of Brad Fiedel’s barely released “The Serpent in the Rainbow.” The composer of “Fright Night” and “The Terminator” applied his distinctive synth sound to create a hauntingly exotic, and thematic voodoo ceremony for director Wes Craven, complete with drum percussion that conjures the feeling of being in an undead trance. Where Charles Bernstein’s classic, original score for “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is back for another lullaby here, the composer’s “Deadly Friend” hits CD to re-animates a robot-possessed girl next door with equal components creepiness and absurd humor, with the end title droid chants of “Bee Bee, Bee Bee” certainly one of the nuttiest vocal pieces heard that decade. Marco Beltrami’s combo of Spaghetti Western stylings and crashing shocks for Ghost Face is familiar company with a special edition of “Scream,” where the composer’s wacky creativity also heard with the giant cockroach tango of “Mimic.” But Beltrami truly got to bring out his thunderous, Gothic best with the Craven-produced “Dracula 2000,” making its debut as the vampire’s musical tropes were powerfully rejuvenated. Killers human and supernatural rampage through this impressive black box, as Jay Chattaway’s gritty “Maniac” brings 80’s NYC synth sleaze to Joe Spinell’s sweaty mannequin lover, while Michael Convertino’s strikingly original score to “The Hidden’s” body jumping alien slug still stands as one of the genre’s most bizarrely percussive and effective soundtracks, samples creating a sound that’s violently otherworldly, which also capturing the haunted spirit of the relentless E.T. cop out to bring him in. Jerry Goldsmith’s Old Scratch violins had a devilish field day playing “The Mephisto Waltz,” where “The Other” used rustic instrumentations to bring out fiendish child’s play in a seditious “Waltons”-like setting. Backwoods eeriness became the folksy spirit of vengeance for Richard Stone’s “Pumpkinhead,” another notable score premiere within that created a foggy, bayou atmosphere and rampaging presence for director Stan Winston’s fearsome creation. Old school musical scares also swirl out the box with its debut of Bob Colbert’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” a score that should please the composer’s “Dark Shadows” fans in his telefilm work for its Goth-obsessed creator Dan Curtis. But the most operatic score is saved for Howard Shore’s “The Fly.” For a movie that he’d actually turn into all-singing variation, Cronenberg gave wrenching emotion to David Cronenberg’s Kafka-esque heartbreak, conjuring music that’s about the creeping horror and emotional devastation of a transformation that no love can repair. Put on a spider’s web of twelve discs, Varese’s “Box” (exceptionally produced by the label’s retro specialists Peter Hackman, Bryon Davis and Cary Mansfield) is certainly one of the most formidable collections of genre scores in many a blood moon that will delight both uninitiated, and hard-core fans. Be sure to scare up a copy of this limited edition at this link now.
If the interracial couple of “Loving” has an unbreakable bond in the midst of racist adversity, then we can be thankful that director Jeff Nichols has a similar attachment to composer David Wingo. Beginning with playing a Twilight Zone-esque apocalypse to “Take Shelter,” Wingo has created a unique sound of southern gothic for the turbulent familial relationships of “Mud” and “Joe” before going to outright otherworldly realms with the unsung “Midnight Special.” “Loving” is a somber return to earth for many of the team that have graced Nichols impactful films. But where many righteously aggrieved social just pictures of this genre understandably raise their musical fists high, “Loving’s” couple has a relationship based in nearly silent respect and admiration – leaving it to Wingo to speak volumes for their courage in taking down prejudice that we’d only like to think of as in the past. It’s an affecting simplicity that’s heard in a memorable two-note theme that tells us of the emotion that keeps the couple together through unimaginable adversity – the fear that any second cops will be pulling up their dirt road to throw them into prison for the crime of cohabitation. Wingo comes up with unbearable, near horror film electronic textures for that dreadful tension, the crushing weight of an institutionally racist state (and country) slamming at them with samples that sound like steam presses. But these are people who won’t break so easily, as determined, even playful rhythms take their fight to the Supreme Court. It’s a fortitude that movingly comes across in long, poignant string melodies as Wingo recalls the dramatic work of Ennio Morricone, sustaining strings conveying both hope with the melancholy realization that it will be a long road to musical victory in this devastating, yet restrained film and score that truly gets to the emotional heart of a couple going through the trials of Job all to achieve their tiny, unbothered place in the world. It’s a tremendously moving achievement in Nichol and Wingo’s most intimate exploration of rural identity yet.
. MAFIA III
Not since “Johnny Handsome” sought payback in the mean streets of New Orleans, or Judd Nelson went to clean up “Blue City” for that matter, has a rock-blues score strutted with such mean-ass Ry Cooder attitude onto the southern-accented soundtrack scene like the one emblazoned by Lincoln Clay in “Mafia III.” That this harmonica blowing and angry Cajun strumming is meant for a video game sandbox as opposed to a Walter Hill movie says a lot for the energetic payback put into the score by James Bonney (“Mortal Kombat: Armageddon”) and Jesse Harlin (“Star Wars: Battlefront II”). What makes this title’s continuation even more interesting given its goombah “Grand Theft Auto”-ish origins is “Mafia III’s” late 60’s setting, wherein a black Vietnam Vet assembles a team of criminals to wage war against the white mob at the height of the Civil Rights movement. No one musically figured a consciousness given an orgy of gun-blasting behavior, but it’s a depth of conflicted feeling that you can hear through the raucous, electrified tracks that cover driving about and doing crime in the very recognizable city of “New Bordeaux.” There’s a sizzling, vengeful energy that Bonney and Harlin invest into the cool r & b sets which bring a real character to this thematic soundtrack, musical rides that pack high octane guitar riffs, organs and harmonica licks to the low, melancholy cello of regret for a road of betrayal Lincoln can’t get off of, a sound very much tied into the game’s unique African-American identity for a people under siege. Expanding beyond its New Orleans roots to crime jazz vibes and somber passages that could befit a doomed western gunman, “Mafia III” has a rocking, period-centric power that’s as sinister as it is sad, getting across the joy of crime with the price that will be paid through its energetic, Cajun-flavored tracks.
. THE NIGHT OF
A veteran of numerous TV shows from “The Returned” to “Extant” and the recently renewed Satanic jollies of “Lucifer,” Jeff Russo is perhaps best know for his concurrent Emmy nominations for TNT’s brilliant spin on “Fargo,” a show often delighting in dramatically over-the-top music for its unbelievably labyrinthine, ill-fated crime capers. To hear Russo’s subtler, yet equally impactful range, then you should enter the quagmire of the justice system on HBO’s equally acclaimed “The Night Of,” wherein the ne’er do well son of Pakistani immigrants makes one bad decision after the other after a one-night stand gone wrong. As he’s relentlessly sucked into the soul-destroying prison system and legal jockeying that will destroy a likely innocent man, Russo paints a haunting, neo-classical picture of morality that’s chipped away bit by violent bit. Led by a Baroque theme for cello and strings, Russo’s delicately melodic score is suffused in sadness, yet not suffocated by it. Instead, “The Night Of” is full of transfixing gloom as Russo combines the uneasy sampling of a prison world trying to eat a young man alive before he may ever see freedom with aching, emotionally muted tenderness. String percussion takes the slow march of trial after trial, where elegant, rhythmic writing might lead one to believe this is a costume drama. But if this certainly isn’t the groovy pop irony of “Fargo’s” second season, there is some humor to be found in “The Night Of’s’” haughty, tea garden violins and mocking female chorus, or the oddball feel of spare percussion. Where many procedural dramas of this sort might resort to “the drone,” (a style so hilariously explained by the hapless cop show composer in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), “The Night Of” takes a musically humane and mysterious approach that’s poetic in evoking a trial where no will come off clean, or innocent. That Russo evokes the process with tremendous, yet incredibly subtle humanity is more than enough evidence of a composer with a powerful range when it comes to crime both funny, and sad.
. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Fashioned designer-turned filmmaker Tom Ford couldn’t have found a composer better suited to his cinematic brand of high art elegance than Abel Korzeniowski – a man as awash in delirious melodic beauty as Ford is in beyond perfect photograph and design. But then, there’s a certain romantic rapture to composers hailing from Poland, with Korzenoiwki’s own lush style emigrating to such scores as “W.E.,” “Escape From Tomorrow,” “Romeo & Juliet” and of course his true breakthrough with his co-score for Ford’s “Single Man.” Where that film was about the impeccably tailored, and closeted lifestyle of a social leaper, Ford’s new picture is an infinitely more sordid, yet even more beguilingly gorgeous look at sordid high society. His plot is an enigma wrapped within a fortune cookie as the pathetic, jilted nice guy ex of an artist awash in grotesqueries show’s he’s indeed become a macho man as he enthralls her with a story of rape and revenge that’s only a few highfalutin’ steps from “I Spit on Your Grave.” It’s Korzeniowski’s utterly gorgeous score that’s the very ironic window dressing on the depravity within the multiple stories of “Nocturnal Animals.” The knowing contrast between ugliness and beauty begins as Korzeniowsk’s lovely main theme graces the most aghast title sequence of an image-conscious Hollywood film within memory. In his shivering, haunted strings, one can positively hear the ghost of Bernard Herrmann, particularly his score to “Vertigo” (and even Philip Glass). with Korzeniowski orgasmically surrendering to female breaths. His exceptional symphonic writing helps to tie Ford’s narratives into a cohesively thematic whole, the score positively trembling with anticipation of the next awful chapter to come, The effect is spellbinding, a shining red ribbon wrapped around a golden box of sleaziness with a strong, thematic bow, as done with equal operatic and melodic restraint, Indeed, Korzeniowski seems transported from as much of an resplendent old-school scoring world in the same way that Ford’s pays fashionable tribute to a time and place when glamour was everything, even in the midst of unimaginable sin and payback.
Legendary director Akira Kurosawa was at his international height with 1985’s “Ran,” an inadvertent take on “King Lear,” that translated Shakespeare’s woeful tale to a ruler gifting his fiefdom to a bunch of disagreeable children in feudal Japan. Musically conveying a sense of timeless, tragic majesty was composer Toru Takemitsu, who’d last worked with Kurosawa for the contemporary setting of 1970’s “Dodes’ka-den,” which detailed the blighted lives of far lower caste Tokyo residents. Takemitsu had certainly commanded his country’s respect with such scores as “Woman in the Dunes,” “Kwaidan” and “Empire of Passion,” before going Hollywood one time with the international thriller “Rising Sun.” With one hand steeped in playing the ancient percussion and winds of his homeland, while the other evoked the sumptuously melodic orchestral style of the west, Takemitsu was as much of a modern classicist as he was a movie composer, writing evocative, challenging scores that fused modernism, jazz and melody. “Ran” epically conveys that talent with the powerful, shivering themes of a seemingly all-knowing ruler cast into pathetic, penniless exile by his hubris, with his court jester along to taunt him. Using ominous sustains, along with wind machines, Takemitsu conveys the elemental wrath for a shamed ruler’s hubris in his powerful use of Japanese instruments, the lyrical intimacy of the shinobuei flute, as contrasted with the furious percussion of warring troops to convey a militaristic country state torn asunder by grievously flawed judgment. Tension is cut with a sword in Takemitsu’s rumbling use of strings and woodblock percussion. But what’s most memorable about “Ran’s” score is its gorgeously ominous theme, and lush, tempestuously tragic power. Beautifully devastating in its funereal march to Shakespearean devastation, “Ran” is masterwork from a composer steeped in his own, richly melodic and emotional tradition. England’s Silva Screen does a terrific job at re-presenting the score’s original CD release in two extensive suites, followed by Takemitsu’s original score that more than ever grips us with a timeless sense of grand, lyrical tragedy.
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.540]Rupert Gregson-Williams ([m.44885]Wonder Woman), [c.4631]Nicholas Britell ([m.47478]Ocean's Eight), [c.2385]Gabriel Mann ([m.47658]Humor Me), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 31 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2016-11-01]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.38198]Doctor Strange ([c.534]Michael Giacchino), [m.44608]Hacksaw Ridge ([c.540]Rupert Gregson-Williams), and [m.35217]Trolls ([c.564]Christophe Beck)....
Maybe it’s something in the water in Iceland that’s produced an invasion of mournfully beautiful and stylistically innovative musicians, each setting out to revolutionize the word with a tonal language of ear-opening, futuristic art. In much the same way that Bjork has caught the world’s attention with her mind blowing take on pop, Johann Johannson has been terraforming a sometimes typical landscape of film scoring into a thing of haunting beauty. Listening to such works as “Prisoners,” “McCanick,” “Free the Mind” and his Oscar-nominated “The Theory of Everything” and “Sicario” are haunting journeys into humanity at its worst, and best. Low, nearly sub-sonic tones dance with subtle, yet memorable themes, his melodies journeying into the depths of hell or the highest reaches of scientific and spiritual heaven with striking originality. In that way, Johannson hasn’t diluted his indie street cred honed on any number of strange art music albums, operas and exhibition pieces. He’s made that rare segue from high-minded music to the more plebian demands of the big screen, spearheading a music revolution shared by such high art composers as Max Richter (“The Congress”), Jay Wadley (“Indignation”) and Mica Levi (“Under the Skin”).
Levi created a brilliantly confrontational “Skin” score that was as extra-terrestrial as film music could get with the buzzing tonalities of its black oil seductress, Now Johannson has initiated a scoring close encounter that’s just about as strangely memorable with “Arrival” – his latest tour into the extremes of human endurance with Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve. On the pitch black surface of its alien orbs, this tale of linguist trying to find common, grammatical ground for the sake of the planet’s survival might not seem to be made of the same unholy moral quagmire stuff of “Prisoner’s” psycho child-napper or “Sicario’s” ruthless drug war assassin. But those expecting ultimately happy Spielbergian wonder don’t know Villeneueve very well, as the translator finds herself moving through time and ponders visions of motherhood, all the while desperately trying to bridge the communication gap with creatures that would give Cthulu pause.
It’s a sense of dread, and wonder that Johannson conveys with icy, ominous strings, unearthly brass, tribal percussion, emotionally resonant melody and a dialogue between chirping women, moaning males and the approximation of alien whale cries Much in the same way we might not makes sense of the visitors’ Rorschach Test language, Johannsson’s score is its own wonderfully trippy and beautiful language that doesn’t spell itself out, yet remains thematically hypnotic throughout. Like this striking, challenging film, Johannsson’s “Arrival” evolves a musical conversation where Johannsson again proves himself as a composer driven to push the outer limits of the art form – yet in a way that multiplex movie audiences will want to understand, and hear more of.
In a way, do you think that you come from an alien planet given Iceland’s rugged environment? And do you think its wild, strange nature was an influence on your musical voice?
That’s a question I get asked frequently, to which I would respond both yes and no. I think any artist is influenced by the surroundings and geography of his upbringing. So it’s inevitable in a way. But living in Berlin, and having lived abroad for 10 years, I have a more romantic view of Iceland than I had when I was living there. I miss the light and the harshness and variety of the winter weather. So yes, it’s an influence, but no more than any other artist’s place of origin.
What kind of training do you think your concept albums gave you to become a film composer?
I think of my solo work and the film music as being very related. My first major film scoring commissions were the result of the filmmakers hearing my solo work. I try to keep the ratio of solo work and film work at 50/50, but this has been difficult in the last years as bigger, more time consuming film projects have come my way. I recently released a solo album, “Orphée” and there are more solo projects on the way that I have been working on over the last few years. I like the cross-pollination between the score work, theatre work and my solo work. For me it’s one body of work and I try to choose projects where I feel that my voice will bring something to the table.
What was your own experience like learning the English language, let alone the “Hollywood” language of scoring?
I learned English when I lived in France as a child and went to an American Middle school, which catered to the children of diplomats and English speaking ex-pats. So I became fluent quite quickly and I have a strong affinity for the English language because it’s so rich and full of nuances. I learned French also, which I still speak and read, but have fewer occasions to use. Iceland has quite a small population, with its own language, but only 350.000 speakers. This makes it very important for us to learn international languages, as so many people are fluent in other languages in Iceland.
I think your question about the “Hollywood language of scoring” is a bit reductive and generalizes an entire industry, which is very varied and full of talented people with original voices. So I can’t really answer it. I was writing in the style of my score for “Prisoners,” both for my own albums and for small European documentaries and art films for years before Denis got in touch and hired me for his film. Denis Villeneuve has always encouraged me to experiment and to seek out new sounds and this approach, plus the luxury of having a great deal of time to find the sound and the voice of the film has helped us in our endeavor to expand the palette of film music and to look for new horizons. Whether we have achieved that goal is for others to decide, but it is certainly what we’re trying our best to do. I think filmmakers seek me out because my sound is not the typical sound you hear in movies.
Given Denis’ utterly bleak world vision in “Prisoners” and “Sicario,” was it a pleasant surprise to score a film with hope for the human race, if with a big caveat here?
“Arrival” has a different tone than “Sicario” for example, but it is very much representative of Denis’ visual style and pace of storytelling, while remaining very compelling throughout. I have been waiting for an opportunity to score a science fiction film for a long time and it was a great pleasure to work with a script with such strong and bold ideas, a true piece of speculative fiction. And I knew that Denis would give it his own very special touch so it was a very exciting project to me from the start.
As you score Denis’ movies before he even begins shooting them, what kind of freedom did that give you to discover the sound of “Arrival?” Was this process of collaboration any different?
I began writing the music for “Arrival” almost as soon as we laid down the script. The concept art that Denis and Patrice were very generous to share with me was also a big source of inspiration. Denis and I discussed the score in only very general terms before I started. He likes to leave me alone to experiment in the beginning and I am free to generate a lot of material, which I then shape, and mold and present to him. Then there begins a back and forth process between Denis, myself and the editor, Joe Walker. Denis cuts without temp music, so I have to have a head start on him and have material ready for when they start editing. This requires time and a good rapport and communication between the three of us. I don’t accept many offers of scoring films, despite many very tempting offers from directors I’d love to work with for this reason: this approach requires time, so I can only do a certain number of films per year. Denis and I share certain sensibilities and tastes in music and has a good sense for where to place music and where not to do so, which is almost as important.
There’s a “2001”-feel to the score, and film in regards to encountering an unknown, all-powerful race. Were you inspired by Kubrick’s use of modern classical music, or for that matter the other “hard sci-fi” head trip movies and scores of the past?
I knew as soon as I read the script that voices would have to feature prominently in the score. And as I was using vocals, I tried to stay as far away from Gyorgy Ligeti as possible, as his vocal works are very much associated with “2001” and the monolith scene, a sign of alien intelligence (“2001” is one of my favorite films and I know it inside out). So in contrast to Ligeti, who used sustained cluster chords and micropolyphony, I’m using staccato polyrhythms, irregular and arrhythmic patterns of short notes which start small and are then layered to create a kind of cloud of short staccato polyrhythmic voices. I was also influenced by Stockhausen’s Stimmung and his use of overtones and harmonic singing and his aleatoric approach to performance. I worked with the vocal ensemble Theatre of Voices, led by Paul Hillier and they have a great command of extended vocal techniques. But I also worked with singers from very different backgrounds, who have developed their own sound and use the same techniques but in their own very unique way. So there is a combination of trained and untrained but very unique voices in the score. The voices were kept mostly pure, i.e. not processed in any way, except for some pitch shifting. For the orchestral and choral writing I was also influenced by composers like Giacinto Scelsi, Michael Gordon, Georg Friedrich Haas, Gerard Grisey and Meredith Monk.
What kind of impetus does the idea of doing a “real” science fiction movie, let alone one about aliens, place on your scoring? Or does the genre itself give one a license to be surreal in a way more true-life movies can’t?
The ideas in the short story by Ted Chiang and the script itself are fascinating and struck a chord in me. It is a film about communication and language and how to find common ground with an intelligent species that shares no points of reference with us. But it is also about how language affects our perception of time and space. And how learning a different language might change that perception. This is an old hypothesis in linguistics called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which I studied when I was at University, so the themes were right up my alley.
How did you want to strike a balance between the score and the sound effects of the alien vocalizations so each would be distinct?
There was a lot of communication between the music and sound design departments in this film, through Denis and Joe. They made sure I was constantly updated with the latest version of the sound design, and they also sent the music demos to the sound designers, so I was always aware of what they were doing and vice versa.
You’ve often taken music to its lowest, sonic registers. What is it about that utter bass vibe that attracts you, and how did you want to apply it to “Arrival?”
I like the extremes, so I often work with the lower end of the spectrum. It’s been a feature of my non-film work for ages, so it comes very naturally to me. Applying it to film came very naturally.
Given the unknown of encountering aliens, were you careful not to stray too far into horror music territory?
Yes, I was conscious of that – the music had to provide tension and a sense of awe and a degree of fear, but also of fascination, which is very distinct from the idea of “scary music”.
When your mission is to create a truly unique score, how important is it to give the audience some harmonic idea they can grasp onto, to not get musically “strange” for its own sake?
I don’t use an idea unless it at some point makes my hair stand on end and gives me a sense that it merges with the images and adds something to them. I think there are quite a few memorable musical statements in the score, even though they are not “melodies” in the traditional sense.
In that sense, did you want the audience to put as much work into deciphering the score, and film, as much as Louise has to in her effort to communicate with the aliens? And how did you want the score to evolve with each step she makes in being able to “talk” with them?
I didn’t want to create a score that is hard to listen to or difficult – far from it, I wanted to write something that evokes the strangeness, the otherness and the sense of awe that an encounter with an intelligent alien species might evoke. However, “Arrival” is a subtle score and although my music is often put together using quite simple elements, there are subtleties in there and layers upon layers and relationships between cues that often don’t become apparent at first listen. Which is good, I think – it keeps the listener interested and intrigued and it fits the atmosphere of the film – which is the primary purpose of the music of course.
You’ll next be teaming with Denis for the “Blade Runner” sequel. What’s that kind of responsibility like to follow in the shadow of an iconic score, especially given that you have a style distinctly apart from Vangelis’?
I’m a great admirer of Vangelis and listened to him a lot back in the day and I think he was an influence, especially in the very early part of my musical upbringing. I think we share an affinity for strong and distinct statements and an ability to create atmosphere. I also share with him an interest in placing sound in a space and in creating music that is epic while somehow remaining subtle. One of the many composers I learned some of these qualities from is Vangelis. Everyone who is working on this film is very aware of the legacy of the first “Blade Runner”, so I think everyone on the film feels this huge challenge of creating a film that exists in the world of “Blade Runner,” but is still its own thing.
Do you think you, along with such composers as Max Richter and Mica Levi are riding a vanguard of bringing “art” music to the multiplex with the studio exposure of “Arrival?”
I just write music that I think is interesting and keeps me challenged and makes me feel something. I’m a very visceral composer – I like music that affects the listener emotionally, whether it’s in a tense, disturbing way or a more emotional and emotive way. I just released a solo album on Deutsche Gramophon, “Orphée”, which is quite different in tone to “Arrival,” much quieter, emotional and very personal – but there are threads that bind these works together if you analyze them closely enough. I’m lucky enough to work with directors who encourage me to be bold, individual and to experiment. I think hiring the composer early in the process, like you hire the DP or the editor or the costume designer and giving them time to work and experiment and try new things is very important. If the composer is hired early, and can compose while or even before the film is shot, you can start editing immediately to original music instead of temp music, so the new music can grow organically with the film as its being shot and edited – this is an approach that has worked very well for my collaborations with Denis.
Would you like to get back into the more traditionally emotional scores like “The Theory of Everything?” And could you ever imagine yourself scoring a pure popcorn movie at that?
I love writing melodies and given the right project I would love to do that. My score for James Marsh “The Mercy”, which comes out next year, is more melodic, but it also grows darker as it goes along.
If you were only able to communicate in music or “words,” which would it be? And on that note, do you think that music is the ultimate universal language?
As long as an exoplanet has an atmosphere and things can be made to vibrate so that the air moves and be perceived by ear-like organs as sounds, then there will probably be a form of music on said planet, provided the beings in question have evolved to the level of producing and appreciating these movements of air as music. But intelligent life might also exist in conditions that do not allow this physical phenomenon to occur, so music might not be perceived at all by beings existing in such conditions. So it is difficult to say if music is the universal language. It unites us sometimes here on Earth and we desperately need something to unite us, so let’s consider ourselves lucky to at least have that!
“Arrival” arrives in theaters on November 10th, with Johann Johannsson’s score available on Deutsche Gramophone Records HERE
Buy “Orphée” ” target=”_blank”>HERE
Buy “Sicario” HERE
Buy “Prisoners” HERE
Visit Johan Johannsson’s website HERE
Johann Johannson photographs by Jónatan Grétarsson
The Society of Composers & Lyricists (SCL) names [c.149]Thomas Newman as one of the newest SCL Ambassadors. SCL honored Ambassadors include [c.193]Lalo Schifrin, [c.2653]Hal David, [c.151]James Newton Howard, [c.84]Dave Grusin, [a.302]Richard and [c.303]Robert Sherman, [c.76]Elliot Goldenthal, [c.9]Burt Bacharach, Leiber and Stoller, [c.91]Mark Isham and [c.150]Randy Newman.
The SCL Ambassador Program was established to revere the elite group of screen composers, lyricists and songwriters whose contributions have made a significant impact in music for film, television, and video...
Sony Music and Madison Gate Records are releasing [a.18355]Outlander: Season 2 - Original Television Soundtrack on CD and digital formats on [da.2016-10-28]October 28, 2016. The soundtrack includes original music from season 2 of the critically acclaimed series by Emmy award-winning composer [c.1238]Bear McCreary and vocal performances by Raya Yarbrough.
The soundtrack features lush orchestral arrangements with French Baroque and Gaelic influences, reflecting the season 2 story line. The score also contains alternate versions of the main title theme, including an all-new French adaptation.
"The adventurous second season of [t.39804]Outlander allowed me to learn and explore an entirely new musical language," said composer McCreary. "My immersion into the worlds of...
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.1231]Nathan Larson ([m.47575]Rupture), [c.1714]Corey Jackson ([m.47547]The Brits Are Coming), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 40 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2016-10-17]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.45504]Boo! A Madea Halloween ([c.19167]Elvin Ross), [m.44539]Jack Reacher: Never Go Back ([c.1480]Henry Jackman), [m.43482]Keeping Up with the Joneses ([c.3914]Jake Monaco), and [m.43729]Ouija: Origin of Evil ([c.1742]The Newton Brothers).
Among all new theatrical releases, we are tracking song...
Lakeshore Records will release the [a.18755]Moonlight - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack digitally on [da.2016-10-21]October 21 and on CD [da.2016-11-25]November 25, 2016, with a vinyl date to be announced. The album features the original score by [c.4631]Nicholas Britell.
"Working with Barry on [m.46878]Moonlight was a phenomenal experience," Britell stated. "He has an immediate instinct about how music works with picture. We would sit in my studio, watching scenes from the film, and experimenting with different possibilities." Britell continued, "This is one of my favorite things to do--exploring musical textures, sounds, and ideas live against picture. When an idea works, you see how it can change perceptions of a scene. You really feel it."
In a tough urban environment, being loud and proud is something reserved for the macho occupations of drug dealing and gangsterism, certainly not in the far more vulnerable act of proclaiming oneself as gay. It’s a contrast that marks both filmmaker Barry Jenkins’ artistically subtle approach to “Moonlight,” and his composer Nicholas Britell’s classically ethereal score. As divided into three “chapters,” Jenkins paints the quiet coming of age of Chiron, the seemingly meek son of a crack addicted mother who falls under the foster fatherhood of the sympathetic dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali, currently impressing as the far more villainous crime kingpin Cottonmouth in Netflix’s “Luke Cage”). Just as important in Chiron’s bullied upbringing is his friendship with Kevin, whose advice in navigating violent 9 year-olds progresses into something far more as “Moonlight” traces the youths to the age of 16, and then adulthood, where Chiron turns from victim to a man no one will mess with – his muscular remaking inspired by a life-shattering betrayal that must find peace with Kevin in the present.
It’s an evolution told in a powerfully quiet, almost dream-like way by Jenkins that deals firmly with the reality of the street, though not in a way that plays into the expected affirmation of orientation. Given a beautifully yearning piano theme for a boy whose few words always yield punishment, Britell tracks Chiron’s evolution with a classical lyricism that one might expect from a Terence Mallick film as opposed to “Boyz N the Hood,” a refined, poignant style that’s a poetic match for Jenkins’ uniquely powerful storytelling. It’s a quivering tension and melodic stare up into an ethereal “Moonlight” that marks an uncommonly beautiful and inventive score with more “street” roots than one might expect from music that hearkens to the white maestros of yore.
As a Julliard-trained musician, Britell has his own footing in both the classical and hip-hop worlds, performing as a keyboardist for The Witness Protection Program, whose rhythmic popularity saw the band open for the likes of Jurassic 5 and Blackalicious. Producing both the short and featuring versions of “Whiplash,” Britell applied his hip hop grooves to the acclaimed indie bombing dramedy “Gimme the Loot” in 2012, then to ironic rhythmic effect for “The Big Short’s” groovy financial meltdown. Britell reached back to far more chilling urban roots in 2013 to arrange songs, and compose additional music for “12 Years A Slave,” then fully immerse himself in the struggle for liberation with 2016’s “Free State of Jones,” a restrained, rustic score that brought to light the unusual partnership between Confederate deserters and runaway slaves. Now with “Moonlight,” Nicholas Britell continues his musical exploration of not only ethnic identity, but of hearing one’s true self for one of the year’s most poetically haunting scores, and films.
You started playing piano at a very young age. Could you tell us about your musical upbringing and how film scoring caught your ear?
I started playing piano when I was five years old, and in fact, it was film music that first inspired me in music. When I was growing up, we had a very old upright piano in our apartment. After watching the film “Chariots of Fire,” I fell in love with the theme music for the film;. So I went to the piano and tried to figure it out on my own. I was so inspired by that music that I asked my parents for piano lessons. So truly, in a lot of ways, it was film music that got me started. I then pursued classical piano for a very long time. For a while, I considered being a full-time concert pianist. I went to Juilliard for their Pre-College program, and from there I continued pursuing music, joining a hip-hop band in college at Harvard and scoring films for the first time there as well.
You produced both the original short of “Whiplash” as well as the feature film. How did you become involved with the project, and did you have any kind of Mr. Fletcher-like teachers who pushed you to your limit?
I had always been very fascinated with the way in which movies are actually made and produced. I have a very dear friend, Helen Estabrook, who was quite a few years ago in the process of putting together the film “Whiplash.” One day we were having a phone call and talking through the process of financing films, and she mentioned the idea of producing a short-film version of this fascinating screenplay written by Damien Chazelle, which was called “Whiplash.”
Damien had written a full-feature script, and they had this idea of creating a short film, which would be one scene from the feature’s script. By producing this short film, it could serve as a proof-of-concept for the feature film, which could get then financiers excited about the project and help fund a feature-film version of the movie. So because of my curiosity with that process and my belief in the script and the team, I agreed to come on board, and I actually financed the short-film version of “Whiplash.” I was then was able to stay on board to help, and I served as a co-producer on the feature as well. So that was an opportunity for me really to just explore another side of filmmaking outside of my passion for composing.
About the question of whether I ever had a Fletcher-like teacher, I think one of the elements of the script that really resonated with me was my own musical background obviously. I never had a teacher who was Fletcher-like. But I will say that I think some of my more intense musical learning experiences were the ones that pushed me the most, and in hindsight, it was the times when I was working the hardest, when I had potentially the most pressure on me, that I feel I did make great strides. So in some ways, I think the intense experiences did lead to musical growth.
How did you become attracted to hip-hop, and how do you think that walking in both urban and classical musical worlds adds to your voice as a composer?
I was in junior high in the early 1990s, and 1993 was obviously a very big year in hip hop. Early on, I was really fascinated by the sound of hip-hop, and over the years, although I was pursuing a classical music path in college, I became very inspired by the idea of writing hip-hop music and beats. A group of friends and I started a hip-hop band in college, and we ended up performing quite a bit. We spent really almost the entire four years of college performing and pursuing it. We even ended up opening for Jurassic 5 and Blackalicious, and touring throughout the Northeast. We used to play a lot in New York at places like Arlene’s Grocery, Don Hill’s, CB’s, and Lion’s Den. In Boston, we performed at the Paradise, the Middle East, House of Blues, and others. We played many, many colleges throughout the Northeast, and I really immersed myself in hip-hop through those years. I had a very focused approach to writing music because of the band.
I think the habit of writing music so continuously as part of a band was a very formative experience for me in the sense that it paved the way for, I think, the sort of regular activity of composition, which I’ve pursued fully since then. It was through the band that I became very active as a composer, and it never felt like there was anything but a very natural interplay between my composing for films or classical music and the songwriting that I was doing for our band.
Can you tell us about the “Chopped and Screwed” technique that can be heard in the Moonlight score?
“Chopped and Screwed” is a technique that first seems to have originated in the early 1990s. It’s a genre of Southern hip hop where songs are taken and slowed, and in the process of slowing them, the pitch bends lower, and so you get these tracks which are deepened and enriched in their musical texture, and so, a typical chop and screw might be take a song where you slow it and pitch it and then edit it by chopping it up in different ways, sort of remixing it in a sense.
When I was first working with Barry on “Moonlight,” among our early conversations, Barry expressed his passion for Chopped and Screwed music, and immediately I was into that idea because I felt that there was this real exciting possibility of taking instrumental classical-oriented music and applying this technique to it. So in some ways, it was both my classical background and my hip-hop experience that came together in that moment, and then led me to sort of very quickly think of the possibilities of applying the Chop-and-Screw approach to a score.
“Moonlight” has a beautiful elegiac classical approach to the score. What was the process of developing the score with Barry, and how would you describe his musical vision?
The process of developing the score for “Moonlight” for me really began first with my experience of reading the screenplay, and then followed by seeing some of the early cuts of the film. My first reaction to reading the screenplay was that it was incredibly poetic. It was intimate. It was sensitive. There was a tenderness to it. There was a deep beauty to it, and I was really, really overwhelmed by how powerful it was.
I think the first instincts that I had because of those feelings were that the music had to express and reflect some of that feeling of poetry. In my first conversations with Barry, and among the first ideas that I sent over to him, I actually called one of the early themes “Piano and Violin Poem.” That musical “Poem” was one of the early pieces where I was trying to evoke that feeling of poetry. I think that what evolved from that was a score that actually had many different characteristics. There were elements certainly of tenderness, of quietness, of soft atmospheres; but at the same time, there are moments in the score that get very large and almost soaring and operatic, and I think that one of the really wonderful things about the relationship that Barry and I had was that there was this huge scope of possibilities. Barry is deeply passionate about music and has a really, really wide knowledge of music; and I think because of that, he was very open to exploring a wide range of possibilities for the score.
Our collaborations really entailed a lot of discussion, a lot of experimenting to see what kind of music different scenes merited and what kind of music was needed. But we also kept our minds open as to the many different directions that the score could take. So it was definitely something that continued evolving as the film was edited, and over the time period that we were working, we continued to come up with ideas as the process evolved.
There are cues, particularly “You Don’t Even Know,” that have the impression of an orchestra warming up, along with the rising cellos of “Don’t Look at Me.” What was your intention musically with those cues?
There definitely were elements of the score where I utilized the sounds of an orchestra tuning up or instruments getting ready to play. I’ve always found that to be a very beautiful sound because on the one hand, the instruments are tuning up so they’re not yet in their “fully-prepared” tuning, they’re not yet playing a piece, and there’s this sort of chaos involved in that. But because they’re musical instruments and because musicians have specific approaches to their instruments, there is also an order to the way that it happens, and I always love that sound of the combination of order and chaos. I think there’s something very evocative about sounds like that, so as regard to the development of Chiron’s journey in the film and certain of those scenes, it felt like that kind of a texture could play an interesting role within the score.
As far as the cellos in a cue like “Don’t Look at Me,” some of those interestingly are actually violins, which we Chopped and Screwed and bent so they sound more like cellos. The riff I think you’re referring to within the track “Don’t Look at Me” is linked with the violin concerto-like texture in the piece “The Middle of the World,” which plays in the swimming sequence early on, so there are definitely elements of continuity that we were trying to have over the course of the film as the story evolves.
The film reflects three ages that the characters go through. How did the music reflect that in relation to the character themes?
Following some of my previous thoughts on, for example, the violin-cello motif in the “The Middle of the World” track and the “Don’t Look at Me” track, there were absolutely thematic elements that I wanted to provide as a thread that could connect the different chapters. So certain themes do recur. For example, the track “Chiron’s Theme” melodically occurs in a few places in the film. It occurs in the very beginning, where we call it “Little’s Theme,” (that’s the piece which I had called “Piano and Violin Poem” when I first sent it to Barry), and that piece is really a contemplative piano and violin prelude of a piece, which serves, in a sense, of trying to get inside of Chiron’s point of view. It was trying to provide a sense of his internal emotional state, and that piece of music appears through the course of the three chapters. But in each chapter it is modulated into a different key. It’s orchestrated differently with varying instrumentation as it evolves, and it’s also Chopped and Screwed in certain places.
For example, “Little’s Theme” in chapter one becomes what we call “Chiron’s Theme” in chapter two where it’s pitched down and bent. It then also occurs in a very Chopped-and-Screwed manner in the schoolyard fight where it’s almost entirely in the subwoofers, and it’s pitched about three octaves down and played on top of itself. There’s almost a double version of it playing. Then, in chapter three, it comes back again, and there it’s actually an ensemble of cellos performing it, so I think one way that we did evolve things while also linking them was by having these types of recurring themes, which in each chapter would morph both in their sonic pitch range, the keys, but also in the instrumental textures and in the techniques we used to actually create those sounds.
How did you want the score to contrast with the more rap, funk, soul tracks on the soundtrack?
I think that in a lot of ways, it’s a credit to Barry’s wide range of musical instincts that he was open, like I was saying before, to such a huge range of musical possibilities existing in the same film. And I think that one of the really fascinating things that we did was incorporating elements of the hip-hop texture into the score through the Chopped-and-Screwed technique. So while the score doesn’t actually perform any hip-hop tracks, there is this feeling of rumbling and power and depth that you might have in a really great hip-hop track, which we tried to evoke in the score’s soundscape.
You did a truly unique score for the financial meltdown comedy The Big Short. What was it like coming up with a rhythmic approach that could play with such intensively complex dialogue?
“The Big Short” was an amazing experience. Working with Adam McKay and editor Hank Corwin was something I’ll never forget. Your question brings up, really, one of the key challenges of that score, which was that the financial concepts that are being explained and demonstrated in “The Big Short” are really, really sophisticated. One of the important focuses that Adam had was on making sure that there was no simplifying of these concepts. Really, part of the point of “The Big Short” was to demonstrate and showcase these financial concepts in all of their extreme sophistication. In doing so, the hope was to demonstrate how overly complex all this stuff is and how that actually may be potentially quite negative for our society.
Within “The Big Short’s” music, one of the things that I faced was how do you have a score that doesn’t get in the way of the audience understanding all of these concepts? Also, how do you have a score that doesn’t invade a lot of the voiceover and dialogue as well? That’s something that I think you always face to some extent in a score. But in “The Big Short,” there were certain moments where it was really a focus. I think that my approach was just being very aware of it, by I was constantly trying to see how it felt as I was writing the music. Did the music enhance the understanding of a concept? Did it get in the way? There’s a scene, for example, where Margot Robbie’s in a bathtub, and she’s talking about shorting subprime bonds, and there were a couple different pieces of music that I put there to try out.Both of them were hip-hop tracks of mine, and one of them had a harp line that was really cool musically but which seemed to get in the way of understanding what was being said in the scene. So I ended up utilizing a different track that I wrote called “The Dopeness.” This track had a lot more musical space so that what Margot was saying was very clear; that beat sat perfectly underneath what she was saying. I think that gets to the essence of how a film score literally can fit inside of a film — inside of the audio space of a film.
Another powerful score you’ve done recently is for Natalie Portman’s directorial debut, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” based on the memories of the writer Amos Oz, growing up in Jerusalem in the years before Israeli statehood. In the film, Amos’mother falls into a dark depression. What was it like working with Natalie in creating a score that could hit those titular emotions without being too draining and “down?”
It was a truly memorable experience working with Natalie on “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” Natalie is a dear friend of mine. We actually went to college together, and I was incredibly honored when she asked me to work with her on her film. With regard to the music specifically, I think it was very clear to both of us early on that we wanted the score to be rather restrained because the story is very intense, and we wanted to make sure that the musical approach never felt like it was pushing the emotion too much. With this as our guide, I pursued a variety of textures in some ways inspired by Amos’ family’s love of Western European classical musical traditions and also by their background as coming from Eastern Europe. In addition, their immigrating to Palestine and the formation of the state of Israel provided another layer of potential inspirations. So there was a true variety of musical possibilities; but there was no one region’s approach that I focused on. If anything, I was trying to create a sound that felt like it wasn’t from any one place but was perhaps inspired by these multiple influences. I focused very much on the recording of the instruments in the score, really close miking a lot of the instruments, and focused on enhancing the sound of, for example, the bowing on a viola. In the recordings in “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” you can actually hear really very clearly the bowing itself, because we wanted there to be this feeling of closeness, at times a feeling of claustrophobia, but above all, we wanted the music to have a sort of intimacy.
You recently teamed with Gimme the Loot director Adam Leon for “Tramps.” What can we expect from that score?
Yes, I worked with Adam on “Gimme the Loot,” which was an awesome experience. “Tramps” recently premiered in Toronto and was acquired by Netflix, which we’re very excited about. With “Tramps,” it’s a multi-faceted score: it’s actually a combination of score-like pieces and also songs that I produced for the score. I would describe it as a very wide range of sounds, kind of an eclectic approach where at times the score is wood blocks and sticks and rhythms, and other times it’s electronic landscapes. It’s a very interesting, fun score, which Adam and I really enjoyed working on together.
Given how you’ve often taken an avant-garde approach to scoring, do you see yourself and such rising composers as Mica Levi (“Under the Skin”) and Jay Wadley (“Indignation”) as a new wave of musicians who are bringing a modern concert-hall approach to scoring?
For me, the way that I think about it, and the approach I take, is really determined by the film itself. The key is discovering a unique sound for a film. Sometimes it could be creating something which feels like a concert-hall, perhaps, more avant-garde approach. But other times it might just be discovering something unexpected musically, which really feels like it works with the picture. It’s about the film and what music resonates most strongly to the essence of that film. And overall it’s really about working with the director to discover that sound. I’m certainly drawn at times to nontraditional ensembles and arrangements because I find they often can create unexpected atmospheres and emotional responses. It’s also just really fascinating to try new combinations of instruments and to uncover colors that you hadn’t experienced before.
“Moonlight” shines on October 21, with Nicholas Brittel’s sore available on from Lakeshore Records on iTunes October 21st, and then on CD November 18th HERE
Hear Nicholas tell Natalie Portman “A Tale of Love and Darkness” HERE
Visit Nicholas Brittel’s web site HERE
For The Month of September 2016
- Record Label
1Stranger Things V.1 &2 OST Lakeshore Records Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein
2The Light Between Oceans OST Lakeshore Records Alexandre Desplat
3Halt and Catch Fire OSR Lakeshore Records Paul Haslinger
4Mr. Robot OST Lakeshore Records Mac Quayle
5Justice League vs. Teen Titans/Batman Bad Blood LaLa Land Records Frederik Wiedmann
6Don’t Breathe OST Lakeshore Records Roque Baños
7Mechanic: Resurrection OST Lakeshore Records Mark Isham
8The Magnificent Seven OST Lakeshore Records James Horner and Simon Franglen
9The 9th Life of Louis Drax OST Varese Sarabande Patrick Watson
10Ben-Hur OST Sony Classical Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander
11The Night Of OST Lakeshore Records Jeff Russo
12Star Trek Beyond OST Varese Sarabande Michael Giacchino
13Suicide Squad OSR WaterTower Music Steven Price
14Pete’s Dragon OST Walt Disney Records Daniel Hart
15Greater OST Lakeshore Records Stephen Endelman
16Richard Linklater Dream Is Destiny OST Lakeshore Records Graham Reynolds
17Anthropoid OST Lakeshore Records Robin Foster
18Florence Foster Jenkins OST Decca Records Alexandre Desplat
19Septembers of Shiraz OST Lakeshore Records Mark Isham
20The Hollars OST Lakeshore Records Josh Ritter CineRadio is produced by Krakower Polling PR. For more information about CineRadio or Krakower Polling PR contact Beth Krakower at cinemediapromo (at) yahoo.com
The chart is composed of music played during the month of September on soundtrack music specialty shows. This month’s reporters include WRTU, KDRT, KSJS, WFMU, WHFR, KSPC, KFJC, WPRK, KMFA, A Fistful of Soundtracks, Radionowhere.org, Cinematic Sound, The Score, Urgent.fm/Supercalifragilistic, SoundtrackAdventures.blogspot.com, ABC Classic FM Australia, CityLights, Secklow Sounds, Celluloid.no, BBC Radio 3 “Sounds of Cinema,” and Soundtrax.fm.
* denotes new reporters
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.1784]Dustin O'Halloran ([m.47505]Chappaquiddick), [c.361]Brian Tyler ([m.45724]xXx: The Return of Xander Cage), [c.91]Mark Isham ([m.47501]Megan Leavey), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 26 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2016-10-10]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.43273]The Accountant ([c.91]Mark Isham), [m.43869]Kevin Hart: What Now? ([c.9371]Philip White, additional music), and [m.41742]Max Steel ([c.1230]Nathan Lanier).
Among all new theatrical releases, we are tracking song credits for:
Sony Classical proudly announces the release of the [a.18521]Inferno - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, available on [da.2016-10-14]October 14, 2016. The album features the film's original score by Academy Award-winner [c.237]Hans Zimmer.
"If [m.5599]The Da Vinci Code was me at my most classical, [m.29607]Angels & Demons trying to reconcile the idea of science and religion, then [m.38408]Inferno is about disorientation. Ron Howard once said to us: 'Make sure you don't shut the laboratory doors too soon...' I took him by his word and we ended up with reckless experimentation. This one's more personal. This one's darker. Even for me. This one might not be for the faint of heart," Zimmer explained.
[m.38408]Inferno will be in theaters [dt.2016-10-28]October...
Lakeshore Records will release the [a.18566]American Pastoral -Original Motion Picture Soundtrack both digitally and on CD [da.2016-10-21]October 21, 2016. The album features an original score from the Academy Award-winning composer [c.752]Alexandre Desplat.
"I always like to work on the opening of a film to find my way through it. As if I was sitting in the audience in a theater," Desplat explained. "Two themes evolve through the film as the characters do. The emotional path Swede, our hero is going through was the lighthouse guiding us. Merry drifting away from her family was the other one."
The director, Ewan McGregor, himself got into the action. Desplat described, "Ewan is a brilliant French horn player and we felt the sound of the French horn could give both...
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.151]James Newton Howard ([m.44389]Jumanji), [c.234]Gabriel Yared ([m.47452]The Death and Life of John F. Donovan), [c.1061]Marcelo Zarvos ([m.46919]Fences), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 18 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2016-10-07]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.45281]The Birth of a Nation ([c.1480]Henry Jackman), [m.44985]The Girl on the Train ([c.58]Danny Elfman), and [m.45111]Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life ([c.1259]Jeff Cardoni).
Among all new theatrical releases, we are tracking...
Oscar nominated and Grammy-winning composer [c.91]Mark Isham teams up with his frequent collaborator, director Gavin O'Connor, to create a score that explores a world of duality and intrigue for the upcoming action thriller [m.43273]The Accountant. Opening in theatres on [dt.2016-10-14]October 14, 2016, it follows Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), a math savant with more affinity for numbers than people.
For the film, Isham created a hybrid score, which includes a 78-piece orchestra, choir, solo cello as well as 27 feet of Steinways (three pianos). Isham explained that writing the score was a massive undertaking, but the challenge was necessary to tell the story. Tapping into his diverse musical talents, he provides a score that traverses between the structured world of...
One might expect composer Mark Isham to have had a tender musical upbringing that resulted in a soft-spoken composer who carried a powerfully blown trumpet. No doubt he was given some very different life choices than Chris – a highly functioning autistic youth with a natural gift for math and an equally big bullying target on his back, one that makes his military dad train Chris and brother in the killer skills that mature a budding genius into “The Accountant’s” cross between Rain Man and The Punisher.
Certainly one of the crazier Hollywood films to give socially challenged characters a shot at equal screen time, filmmaker Gavin O’Connor’s follow-up to the macho sibling dynamics of his “Warrior” is a story that shouldn’t work. But given the absolute commitment of O’Connor’s vision, the silent charisma of star Ben Affleck and the subtle scoring of his returning “Warrior” composer Isham, “The Accountant” pays off as one of the odder avenging “superhero” films to come down the action hero pike in quite a while, especially as given Isham’s rhythmic, melancholy score that gets inside of unusually unique headspace, where figures are put down with just as much brutal efficiency as the villains who dare cross Chris’ code of honor.
With scores numbering well past the century mark since his film debut with 1983’s beautifully soulful “Never Cry Wolf,” Isham has played just about every conceivable genre, including the sweeping, Oscar-nominated vistas of “A River Runs Through It,” “The Cooler’s” crime noir, “The Longest Ride’s” country romance, “Crash’s” ethereal intersection of prejudice, “42’s” noble sports plays and the enduring fantasia of ABC’s “Once Upon A Time.” Hard-hitting action and suspense have long kept Isham delivering justice and a body count, including “Time Cop,” “Nowhere To Run,” “Point Break,” “Don’t Say A Word,” “Homefront” and two entries on “The Mechanic’s” kill list. But what makes Isham’s approach to good guys making mincemeat out of legions of highly armed villains is the propulsive, atmospheric intelligence he brings to these big gun downs, especially for “The Accountant.” Wielding a unique fusion of orchestra and electronics that say much about the composer’s jazz fusion background, Isham gives a deadly match magician not only a propulsive joy in putting numbers together, as well as steely, stealth militarism. But most importantly, Isham brings a haunted, yearning emotion for a man cursed to remain in his own world. It’s a mix of real world and crime avenging skills that constructs this Affleck dark knight out of a wholly different musical suit.
Starting out on such peaceful, ethereal scores as “The Life and Times of Harvey Milk” and “Never Cry Wolf,” did you ever figure out you’d also become in demand for the action genre, particularly when it came to violent thrillers?
No – in fact I was a bit standoffish about those sorts of scores. I really enjoy those type of films but at the time I had no idea how to score them, having never studied film scoring.
What was your stylistic, and philosophical adjustment that you took to get so adept at it?
I basically just decided to rise to the challenge and dive in. I remember studying some other composers – Toru Takemitsu I think, for dissonant energy etc. And working diligently on my percussion programming!!
As you developed your skill set in that particular field, how important would you see the especially hard-hitting score of “Time Cop” was? And were there other films that toughened you up as it were?
“Time Cop” was definitely a big learning experience for me. Learning ‘on the job.” “Point Break” was probably the biggest challenge and most successful new adventure for me. Kathryn Bigelow was great at getting me thinking the right way and helping me create the right energy and vibe.
“The Accountant” successfully walks a crazy tonal tightrope as a cross between “Rain Man” and “The Punisher.” How important was it for you to help keep the film on balance without slipping into a parody that some people might object to – i.e. playing Chris as some superhero?
It was crucial! And Gavin was very clear on that point. Chris is a VERY unique character and his abilities as a warrior were NOT to be glorified. His violence is a very efficient means to a very precise end.
“The Accountant” marks your second score for Gavin after “Warrior.” He’s a filmmaker whose themes often deal with the idea of manhood and brotherhood. What do you think makes you his go-to guy, and what’s your collaboration like?
Our collaboration has always been fun and fruitful – a real adventure. Gavin is very meticulous and communicates extremely well about his films, the storytelling and how the score should enhance and support it. He encourages experimentation and is open to any intelligent idea! I think what makes us work well together is a mutual respect for each other and agreement on the value of open, honest and continuing communication. He loves my music – I love his films!
You’ve often dealt with “outsider” characters, especially in “Nell” – people who communicate in their own language as it were. Given a character with more than highly functional autism, how did you want to capture Chris, especially given how the music has to “speak” for a lonely, isolated man who’d rather not talk at all?
The score is very eclectic – partially because of Chris’s character. There are times when the music represents the turmoil in his head and times when it communicates his experience with the beautiful abstraction of mathematics. There are several times when he has to face “real life” and interact with others, in tender ways and in tumultuous ways. So the music has very complex moments and extremely minimal moments. It represents and supports other people’s view of Chris as well, adding to further diversity.
How did you want to use percussion to play Chris’ mathematical genius?
I ended up basing the big ‘math scene’ on the piano. We used three! The instrument has the advantage of being percussive and melodic – it can communicate great precision and great beauty at the same time. This was the hardest nut to crack in the score. We went around and around trying many ideas. I started out very electronic but it made him too robotic. A big orchestral approach didn’t work at all. But the effect that three pianos created worked beautifully.
There’s an interesting, almost classical sound that comes to the fore in such cues as “The Accountant” and “The Trial of Solomon Grundy.” What inspired that approach?
As I mention above, there’s a beauty and precision that wants to be communicated with Chris. In “The Accountant,” the rhythms of classical minimalism really worked, along with a very simple theme that could grow and expand. Likewise in “The Trial of Solomon Grundy,” very classical harmony seemed to bring the right gravitas to Chris undergoing a life changing experience. That is our biggest cue, as it uses orchestra, choir, and a solo cello. It has a high emotional impact when he decides as a young boy not to be a victim anymore!
How did you want to capture Chris switching into equally analytical, and militaristic killer mode?
Gavin did some experimenting with temping those scenes. There is no gratuitous fighting here. If Chris needs to get into a house guarded by bad guys, he goes in absolutely the MOST efficient way possible! So the music is VERY EFFICIENT! Sometimes just one BIG hit! I had to go back and thin out my first pass quite a bit to get this right – and record special BIG drums!
The flashbacks to Chris’ childhood and what makes him into the unique accountant he is are a driving force in the film. Given that “Warrior” also dealt with highly dysfunctional family, how did you want to play that idea here?
The dysfunction is represented by the cello – and a unique theme. It is a more melodic approach than I used in “Warrior”. That was done with low overly compressed guitar notes and very little motion. A very stultified feeling. With Chris, it’s more heartbreaking. People are desperately trying to make good decisions in a situation they can’t grasp the meaning of. We want the audience to empathize with him in that way.
While “hybrid” scores are the rage now, you were doing unique combinations of electronics and orchestra from the start with “Point Break.” What do you think of how that sound has become a big part of action scoring, and how did you want to make it unique for “The Accountant?”
I have always loved blending sounds from all sorts of genres. It makes it possible to create a very unique sound for each score one does. I’m sure that’s why it’s caught on – “ear candy” for the audience! It allows the score to feel “contemporary” as well. “The Accountant ” is unique for me by its eclecticism. The score has many different sounds but holds together as a whole by its use of themes and motifs. There is a simple idea of overlapping rhythms that appears in every cue somehow. A pattern of 2 out of 3 – overlapped with a pattern of 5 out of 7 for example. Sometimes in different tempos….
In spite of its action, do you think there’s also the soul of a “little boy lost” to Chris’ musical character which reflects a skill set some people might think he never should have been given that irrevocably altered his life – a poignancy that really comes across in the cue “A Unique Remarkable Young Man?”
There is definitely a sense of his character starting out as a “little boy lost.” But the film actually allows us to see into his life and learn that he has in fact found a rich and fulfilling life – even though he denies himself certain human pursuits and pleasures. The cue, “A Unique Remarkable Young Man”, not only refers to Chris but to others as well who are equally unique and remarkable.
When it comes to lethally proficient antiheroes, you recently returned to the “Mechanic Resurrected,” a sequel that I enjoyed even more than the original, especially as it took pains to humanize Jason Statham’s character. What was it like returning to a cleaner who’s now given a love interest that drives his assassinations?
The “Mechanic” movies are fun – with a comic book type character that allows you to score in an over-the-top style. He’s a poor man’s James Bond! So it was fun to write a theme and score in that tradition. The new one does add a touch of romance to the equation – a perfect chance to channel some John Barry moments!
We recently lost Curtis Hanson, a director most widely known for intense film noirs like “L.A. Confidential.” Yet you scored the soft and lovely “In Her Shoes” for him. What was that experience like?
Curtis was lovely man. Very much like “In Her Shoes.” He was very thoughtful, weighing all his options. Curtis was a wonderful artist and a pleasure to work with.
Another, recent and quite lovely score you’ve done was for “Septembers in Shiraz,” about the desperate escape of an Iranian Jewish family during that country’s revolution. What made that film, and soundtrack particularly moving for you?
I really enjoyed Adrian’s performance. And the story was quite compelling. And it’s always fun to score with a touch of some ethnic influence.
“Once Upon A Time” stands as the most popular, and enduring series you’ve worked on. Why do you think it’s caught on, and what does the opportunity to embody this modern-day fairy tale (and now literary) characters give you?
OUAT is so much fun! I never studied traditional film scoring. I don’t think I’ve ever written a theme for a character like Indiana Jones. It’s always been for the idea of the film – betrayal – family – etc. But with OUAT, when Prince Charming comes on the screen, you hear his theme! Snow White, Red Riding Hood? These are iconic characters that I have a chance to write for. But there’s a twist – the creators did write “Lost,” remember? So it’s a very cool story line and plot at the same time. The scoring style is very traditional. Melody is desired and appreciated! And ABC is very supportive and we have an orchestra every week!
On that note, you’re taking on your first, fantasy-oriented YA score with the angelic romance and battles of Scott Hicks’ “Fallen.” What can you tell us about your score?
This was a fun one as well! Scott Hicks is a fabulous director and such a pleasure to work with. The score is pretty big – piano solos, soprano soloist – but with orchestra, choir, and LOTS of cool electronics. It’s epic but modern at the same time. Big choir and orchestra moments all under a pounding Tangerine Dream-ish type sequence! Beautiful moments of soprano and strings followed by Throbbing Gristle!
Given how uniquely powerful “The Accountant” is for the action genre, where do you hope it takes you with these films, while showing Hollywood just how far you can dangerously tread with this idea?
I know that the unique quality of this score comes from the unique quality of the film, and the desire and willingness of the filmmaker to search for a different and unique approach. I always try to create a score that helps tell the story the best I can. And that usually means finding a unique and special voice for that particular score. When you have the support of your director, producers and studio to do so, it’s an ideal situation to explore new ideas.
As a musician, do you find it more interesting to dwell in light, or darkness after the musical body count that you’ve accumulated?
When I started, I found the darkness easier and more rewarding. But as time went on, I realized that that is partially because our culture tends to look down on the brighter, lighter emotions and sees them as not as “artistic.” It seems to be harder to communicate those emotions at an artistic level. Certainly in concert music dissonant music has reigned supreme for years. But in the last decade or so, tonal music has re-emerged. (John Adams, my favorite example). These days I love the challenge of writing a great victory piece! And I work hard to bring to it as much innovation and artistry as I can muster!
“The Accountant” counts October 14th as its opening, with Mark Isham’s score available on WaterTower Music on October 7th HERE
Visit Mark Isham’s website HERE
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.237]Hans Zimmer ([m.41760]Boss Baby), [c.1703]Jacob Groth ([m.46925]Flatliners), [c.1018]Steve Jablonsky ([m.45458]Transformers: The Last Knight), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 43 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2016-9-26]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.42201]Deepwater Horizon ([c.1018]Steve Jablonsky), [m.42574]Masterminds ([c.1271]Geoff Zanelli), and [m.38199]Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children ([c.13924]Mike Higham and [c.2159]Matthew Margeson). [m.45496]Queen of Katwe ([c.1205]Alex...
Varèse Sarabande will release the [a.18647]Sully Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture digitally [da.2016-10-07]October 7 and on CD on [da.2016-10-28]October 28, 2016. The album features the original music composed by [c.54]Clint Eastwood, [c.19108]Christian Jacob, and the [c.19109]Tierney Sutton Band.
"One day he [director [c.54]Clint Eastwood] called and very casually asked if [c.19108]Christian Jacob and I would come down and see how he had provisionally used some of our music in the rough cut of [m.45380]Sully," Sutton recalled. "We thought he was interested in just using a few bits of our recorded music--or perhaps asking us to recreate some of that mood in a new piece for the film. But after screening the entire film, we were asked to score the...