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Masked maniacs, ferocious fish, unhinged vigilantes and a wheelman from hell. Reading a list of Michael Wandmacher’s prolific credits feels like a particularly crazed membership drive for The Suicide Squad, a rogue’s gallery that he’s taken out for a spin with a distinctively energetic ability for pounding action where a metal attitude often hits the pedal. Starting his career in the rhythmic company of Jackie Chan with the English version scores for “Armor of God,” “Twin Dragons” and “Once a Cop,” Wandmacher has brought his passion to “Cry_ Wolf,” “The Killing Floor,” “My Bloody Valentine,” “Piranha 3-D,” “The Last Exorcism: Part II” and “Punisher: War Zone” (though with equally pleasant variation for the likes of “Max Keeble’s Big Move,” “Ben 10: Alien Swarm” and “The Goldbergs”).
It seems only natural that given the karate-proficient composer’s genre action chops that werewolves and gun-shooting vampires would be ideal to take a bow in Wandmacher’s company. Now it’s a hybrid of both monsters for the long-running “Underworld” series with “Blood Wars,” an eternal battle between Lycan and vampire that found a darkly beautiful “death dealer” in Selene (Kate Beckinsdale). Over the course of three films (and a Selene-less prequel), the heroine has done her best to ensure her clan’s dominance over the Lycans, a fight that now spawns an all-powerful werewolf clan whose final push for dominance puts Selene to her ultimate test on their frozen home turf.
Though plenty of cinematic kills are notched into Wandmacher’s scoring belt, the composer finds himself a newbie for his biggest genre credit yet for “Underworld: Blood Wars,” – the series’ ground impressively trod by Paul Haslinger and Marco Beltrami. Wandmacher takes up their bloodline using darkly heroic, pounding orchestra rhythms that drive the relentless Selene. Howling winds strike for werewolves as eerie ethnic instruments recount the two sides’ forever war. It’s work that fits into “Underworld’s” musical groundwork as it resounds with sinister heritage and modern, pulsing action that significantly amps up Selene’s dramatic stakes; More so, this “Underworld” score howls to the blood moon for a composer who energetically goes for the throat with musical guns blazing – twin fusillades for the supernatural and action cinema that excitingly mesh for what might be a vampiress’ swan song.
Could you tell us what brought you into film composing?
It was something I aspired to early on, but being in Minnesota at the time, I wasn’t quite sure how to get there. Some music community connections eventually got me started working on TV spots and news music full time. Through these jobs I was able to meet filmmakers in Minneapolis who were doing both shorts and features, some of which I scored. That’s when a completely unreal event occurred. Through a series of email exchanges that started via a film music newsgroup (Yes, newsgroup. Way back in the Jurassic period of the internet!) I met Alan Silvestri, who already was a musical hero to me and is even more so now. He subsequently invited me to LA to see some real scoring sessions and introduced me to a number of people, including YOU, the interviewer, who eventually paved a path for me to move to LA permanently. Just those few trips got my music circulated enough to start working on direct-to-video films for Dimension and also land a job scoring “Modern Vampires” for Richard Elfman, Danny’s brother. Between the two of them, they picked me to do the film! And I was in Minnesota! At that point, there was a resounding chorus around me saying, “If you really want to do this, you have to move.” So I did the classic “throw-everything-in-a-U-Haul and off to the land of movie magic!” To this day, when I truly think of how all that unfolded, especially with the hindsight of knowing just how difficult it is to make a career of scoring, I feel incredibly fortunate.
Having worked with Lexi Alexander on the insane “Punisher: War Zone,” how did the experience compare with Anna Foerster on “Blood Wars?” And what do you think these movies show when it comes to women as being as capable of bloody kick-ass action as male directors are?
I don’t draw comparisons between directors. To me, they are all fascinating people who take on an incredibly demanding task. Each one has their own vision, work methodology and creative process. A big part of what makes my job interesting is adapting and responding to each individual director and what their needs are for a given film. Whether they are male or female makes no difference to me. I am solely focused on the collaboration and delivering the score that’s best for their film and hopefully forging a working relationship that continues into the future.
What do you think made you particularly adept at particularly ferocious genre scoring for such projects as “Piranha,” “Drive Angry,” “My Bloody Valentine” and “Bloodborne?”
After years of playing guitar in rock bands, it seemed natural to me to try to inject that sort of energy into film scores. The metalhead part of me is still alive and well and it helps me formulate high-powered musical passages into something that an orchestra will embrace. For instance, I often work out rhythmic figures for a bass string section on an actual bass guitar. Or I come at it the opposite way and use the legato flow of the celli to guide a moving guitar atmosphere or texture. For these types of projects, the ability to think in terms of symphonic music as it relates to rock or metal or industrial music and also how the two can combine into something even bigger and more aggressive is a great deal of fun! I’ve been experimenting with this sort of intermingling and crossover since the beginning of my career, even before the approach was popularized.
Was the “Underworld” franchise on your radar as a fan? And how did you become part of “Blood Wars?”
Definitely. The idea that a centuries-long battle between the two factions of our folkloric super monsters is waging right alongside, but relatively unknown to, humanity is very cool. And both sides deal with the same sorts of power struggles, corruption, forbidden alliances and emotional discord that humans do. It’s a very interesting, fresh twist on myths and legends that have lived inside a certain box of tricks for a long time.
As for how the job came my way, it was pretty serendipitous. I had worked on “Patient Zero” for Screen Gems and they were very happy with the results. When the time came to find a composer for “Blood Wars,” I expressed my interest in doing the film. It represented a dream project for me. The confidence I had built with the studio on “Patient Zero” led them to facilitate a series of meetings, which eventually led to getting the job. I was ecstatic.
As this is your first entry into the “Underworld” series, how did you bone up on the series, particularly when it came to capturing the musical vibe of the franchise?
As a fan, I understood the “Underworld” universe and its components going into the job. Although I knew the score would be incredibly challenging, I was confident that I could find the place that the music needed to be in for this particular film. After some discussions about the tone and shape of the score, I started building custom templates of sounds, thematic ideas and rhythmic pulses that I thought were appropriate. That’s what I call “mad scientist mode”. In that space of time, I don’t limit myself. It’s pure experimentation and always yields elements that will make the score unique. In the case of this film, I started with some single scenes, trying different combinations of instruments and sounds, and filled out the rest from there. The process of refining the all the programming, recording myself playing various instruments and orchestration continued all the way up to recording.
How did you want to put your own personal mark on the “Underworld” music?
It was certainly a daunting to enter into a beloved franchise and want to add my spin to it – while, at the same time not stepping on the toes of what came before me! I was very aware that I was contributing to a larger whole, but that “Blood Wars” had to have a distinct musical personality. The themes, motifs, ideas and sounds in the score are all new, but they still had to latch into the overall “Underworld” universe in way that wouldn’t throw off audiences. The key for me came from the fact that the story swirls around Lycan/Vampire hybrids, both existing and those characters that are attempting to achieve hybridization. I let that narrative point spill over into the music and built a palette that was hybrid on a grand scale, utilizing both a very large orchestra and hundreds of tracks of electronics. The two sonic sides of the score push and pull and combine right along with the plot as it unfolds. How I mixed all these elements up compositionally allowed my own voice to emerge in the music.
How do you musically see the character of Selene, especially when it comes to the new abilities she gains?
She is the thematic, emotional and stylistic core of the film. The best metaphor I can muster right now is that if the movie is a solar system, she is the sun. Even if other themes or elements arise in the score when she is not onscreen, they still tie back into her character somehow. Over and over, I would always look to her character for inspiration while working on the film to find a fresh angle for new sequences or narrative twists. A great deal of the momentum in the film is derived from her performance or the performances of others as they seek to interact with her somehow. She was a musical well to constantly draw from. As for how the music relates to the new abilities she gains, it also ties directly into new motifs and colors as they become appropriate.
Is it particularly hard bringing emotion to a character whose survival depends on being a stone-cold killing machine?
I don’t think so. While everyone loves watching her battle onscreen, I’ve always recognized Selene as the reluctant warrior queen-type, not the merciless conqueror-type. She fights when she has to, but never for the sport of it. The key word you use in the question is “survival”. That’s why she does what she does. There is nothing nefarious at work, even when she’s clearing a room. Action has a purpose. She is actually awash in emotion through all of the films she appears in and in a constant state of internal conflict. Emotional pain and longing are what drives her at her core and she seeks to do what she feels is right, even when it appears counter to her kind’s existence. Ultimately, she seeks peace, but it constantly eludes her. I believe these things are what make her most compelling to audiences. Ironically, even though undead, there is humanity in her. Drawing from that construct, I see making the music that surrounds her introspective and emotional moments as being part of her true essence.
Did you want to musically differentiate the Lycans and Vampires?
In a broad sense, yes. But I was more concerned with maintaining a presence of this whole universe of beings that exist among us. The music palette, as a sum, is what acts as the backdrop for that world. In terms of differentiation, the vampires are often underscored with dark, gothic string movements and a heightened sense of drama and intrigue to highlight their old-school hierarchical ways and in-fighting, while the Lycan underscore, especially under the leadership of Marius, takes on a distinctly militaristic tone. He is a general leading his troops to battle. Most important was a feeling of propulsion and forward motion, to give the sense that these two factions are headed for a climactic showdown on a scale that neither side has ever seen.
This is definitely one of the icier “Underworld” movies. How did the setting inform the score? And could you talk about making particularly cool use of eerie, ethnic winds as well as voices?
“Blood Wars” introduces us to The Nordic Coven. It is a fortress set far to the north and houses a whole different breed of vampire. The coven is old (and cold!), sequestered and its inhabitants are steeped in lore, ritual, and a monastic-type existence. Finding the music for this locale and population was probably the biggest musical challenge in the entire movie. We (the director, producers and myself) all knew we wanted something that both spoke to being Nordic and fit within the “Underworld” sound, but we weren’t sure was that was at first. For battle scenes it was relatively straightforward as primitive war drums and war horns were utilized alongside the orchestra, but the dramatic scenes were a different nut to crack. After researching and experimenting with various traditional Nordic and Scandinavian instruments, I found that they weren’t quite fitting into the fabric of the score. Many of the instruments, like the nyckelharpa, hardanger fiddle, kantele, or various dulcimers and zithers didn’t convey the mysterious, dangerous and exotic feeling that the director was looking for. The solution lay in another instrument: the flute, of which there are many varieties throughout the whole of Northern Europe. By mixing and manipulating different flute types down into registers that are un-naturally (or supernaturally?) low, I landed on a sound that was unique to the coven in terms of mood and character. It is the undead’s brand of Nordic winds – dark, airy and evocative, with deep vibrato and strange overtones. Vocal chanting is layered with these flutes to heighten the ritualistic nature of these vampires. In addition, I added bowed crotales playing intentional dissonance against the melodic elements, and various bells and ceremonial percussion, like frame drums, zills, and chains.
There’s also the striking use of metallic effects in the score. What made you go for an industrial sheen of sorts, yet one that never makes the jump into that full-on territory?
Mainly, I like using those types of sounds to add aggressiveness to the music. They have an edge to them that slices through a cue, no matter how dense the orchestration or layering, that provides harsh definition and rhythmic clarity that you can’t find with other types of sounds. They are the fangs and claws and teeth in the music. As effects and ambiences, metallic textures call forth a danger and ferocity that warns the audience that unexpected events, unforeseen threats or a sudden bloody outburst could happen at any time, even in moments where everything seems calm.
Going all the way back to my TV commercial days, I’ve always been fascinated with sound design and how that can integrate with score. The use of metallics and other non-traditional or organically sourced sounds is always a consideration to further enrich the textures in the music. For instance, some people see might see a box of nails sitting the garage. I see an instrument! That idea of music design, as people are calling it now, is always something I try to bring to a score that utilizes ambiences and moody atmospheres like the ones in “Blood Wars.”
People may not realize you create much lighter fare for “The Goldbergs” and the upcoming “Imaginary Mary”. Is it difficult shape-shifting into a whole different composing mode, and do you try to mix up your projects when possible?
I get asked the “shift” question a lot and the answer is, truthfully, no. I think it’s because of my entertainment input as a kid. It was pretty eclectic. Cartoons, genre films of all kinds, classic films, TV shows (especially comedies I watched with my dad), video games, comic books, whatever records came along, novels, etc. No one thing in particular. I was always paying attention to the music or making it up in my head if I was reading something. I carried that mental kaleidoscope of stuff with me into adulthood and use it set my mind in motion when approaching any type of score. I think a lot of composers can do the same. We’re a much more creatively flexible lot than people might think!
I like to mix things up because it keeps work challenging and interesting and opens up doors to new relationships that can lead to future work that may stretch your creative boundaries even further. And those varied relationships are the key to keeping things fresh. It’s a tough thing to do, though, because if you find success in a particular genre, you can get pigeonholed very fast within the industry and that can cause a career to stagnate. For that reason, I’m very grateful that I can work on projects across genres. In looking at the careers of people I respect and admire the most, they all have resumes that span many musical styles and approaches.
Tell us about your score for the unusual “zombie talker” pandemic movie “Patient Zero” that will be hitting in February?
I can’t say much about that yet. It would actually give too much away! Only that it’s not what you would expect for a movie of this type. The atypical approach is what made the project so interesting.
Given the amount of savagery you score, do you think movies are going to get even darker now, and their scores along with them?
Not necessarily. It’s all about filmmakers and musical trends in the marketplace. A good scary movie will always have an audience, as will a fun animated film. People are always looking for a variety of different things, especially in this internet-driven age of the short attention span. If everything moved towards being progressively darker, my guess is that the moviegoing public would eventually tire of it and look for something light. The converse is probably, true, too. So, it leads to a kind of equilibrium. People expect a movie like “Blood Wars” to be dark and stylish and aggressive, but not so for latest comedy or drama.
Are you Team Lycan, or Team Vampire?
I’m Team Selene. So, given she’s a hybrid, I guess that makes me a bit of both.
“Underworld: Blood Wars” opens in theaters on January 7th, with Michael Wandmacher’s score available on Lakeshore Records HERE
Wreak energetic musical mayhem with Michael Wandmacher as he deals death for “The Punisher: War Zone” HERE, unleashes a pack of “Piranha 3D” HERE and gets behind the wheel with madman Nicolas Cage to “Drive Angry” HERE
For The Month of November 2016
- Record Label
1Berlin Station OST Lakeshore Records Reinhold Heil
2Before the Flood OST Lakeshore Records Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Gustavo Santaolalla, Mogwai
3Stranger Things V.1 &2 OST Lakeshore Records Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein
4Bilial: A New Breed of Hero OST Atli Orvarsson Lakeshore Records
5Moonlight OST Lakeshore Records Nicholas Britell
6The Nine OST Ever Studio Steven Emerson
7Allied OST Sony Classical Alan Silvestri
8Hacksaw Ridge OST Varese Sarabande Rupert Gregson-Williams
9The Girl On A Train OST Sony Classical Danny Elfman
10The Accountant OST WaterTower Music Mark Isham
11Black Mirror: San Junipero OST Lakeshore Records Clint Mansell
12A Street Cat Named Bob OST Sony Classical Various
13Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children La-La Land Records Mike Higham & Matthew Margeson
14Arrival OST Johann Johannsson Deutsche Grammophon
15Mr. Robot V1&2 OST Lakeshore Records Mac Quayle
16Planet Earth II OST Silva Screen Records Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea Jasha Klebe
17The Magnificent Seven OST Lakeshore Records Alex Wurman
18Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them OST WaterTower Music James Newton Howard
19The Light Between Oceans OST Lakeshore Records Alexandre Desplat
20Sully OST Varese Sarabande Clint Eastwood, Christian Jacob, The Tierney Sutton Band 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 November on soundtrack music specialty shows. This month’s reporters include WPRK, CFMU, KUCI, WRTU, WFMU, KSJS, KMFA, KFJC, KSPC, WHFR, A Fistful of Soundtracks, Cinematic Sound, The Score, Urgent.fm/Supercalifragilistic, BBC Radio 3 “Sounds of Cinema,” SoundtrackAdventures.blogspot.com, ABC Classic FM Australia, Secklow Sounds, and Soundtrax.fm.
* denotes new reporters
Death and transfiguration are two themes that have often accompa-nied the scores of Fernando Velazquez. Powerfully embodying a new generation of orchestrally rich Spanish composers to steadily take root in Hollywood, Velazquez rose from numerous shorts in his na-tive country to impress Hollywood with his lush, alternately creeping and raging sense of old school melody for “Devil,” “Mama,” singing with a romantic sense of aristocratic doom for “Crimson Peak” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”
A particularly resonant ferryman for Velazquez when coming to grips with the inevitable, as well as the potential radiant light afterwards, is filmmaker J.A. Bayona. Creating a haunting orchestral tapestry for 2007’s “The Orphanage,” Velazquez heard just as much emotion as fear from a woman’s return to the old haunts of her childhood with a collaboration that truly put modern Spanish horror on the map. The director and composer next travel to Thailand with 2012’s “The Impossible,” the devastating loss of thousands of lives from it tsunami enabling Velazquez to embody a one family’s anguished and tender struggle to survive and reunite.
Now Bayona and Velazquez draw on all of their Gothically emotional power for a story steeped in equal parts tragedy, fantasy, anger and acceptance with “A Monster Calls.” Hearing the resounding cry of a score steeped in chilling majesty dark enchantment and tearful disbelief is Conor (Lewis MacDougall), a boy facing the imminent loss of his Mum (Felicity Jones) and a future spent with a seemingly evil Grandma (Sigourney Weaver). Calling upon his brutalizing anger, Connor summons the tree-like Monster (Liam Neeson), who regales the youth with seemingly disparate animated stories, all of which will finally combine for Connor to truly face the reality of his sad situation. It’s a coming to terms that Velazquez plays with a devastating, beautiful power rooted as much in the monstrous musical tradition of the organ, thunderous brass and angered strings as it draws from the lyrical power of piano harmonies, angelic voices and a poetic or-chestra. “A Monster Calls” is Velazquez’s most powerful stride yet from Spain into a Hollywood, swinging with astounding might that plays the seeming supernatural and the all-too real heartstrings with equal, impressive passion.
Your first English language score was for the thoroughly creepy incest drama “Savage Grace.” What are your memories of it?
It was a wonderful movie that had great performances by Julian Moore and Eddie Redmayne, who got really big after this movie. For the score, I just had some strings. People say it’s the old-fashioned way, but I would say it’s a classical way that always works in good movies. It was dark and a little bit romantic, which addressed what the director Tom Kalin (“Swoon”) wanted in this movie.
How did you begin your collaborations with J.A. Bayona? And how do you think “The Orphanage” set the tone for his running theme of coming to terms with death?
We started in short films before anything else. We did “El Hombre Esponja,” a really nice short. You can still listen to the music, as I recorded it last year for Quartet. “The Orphanage” set the tone of his running theme of coming to terms with death.
What was it like to score the epic, real-life tragedy of “The Impossible” with J.A.?
Even though these movies all have themes of death, love and moth-erhood they are all also quite different, along with my scores for them. “The Impossible” is the most intense and film of our collaborations. “The Orphanage” was very dramatic with the neo-romantic old orchestra. “A Monster Calls” is really different for me, because the approach is really minimal and inspired by the three stories the monster is telling. It scope is smaller in a way, and not so sad as “Monster” is commenting on a story outside of the story. “The Orphanage” is a story within itself.
You made a pilgrim’s progress through such Spanish thrill-ers as “Shiver” before your first Hollywood horror film with the elevator-set “Devil.” What do you think are the biggest differences between both countries’ approach to genre films?
There aren’t many differences between horror movies from country to country, but rather movie to movie. One Spanish horror film can be completely different from another Spanish horror film, and the same thing goes for American films. Nowadays, directors can do great things and make fantastic movies without a large budget. You can still have that big orchestra sound in a low cost movie. It’s just about what the story needs. The difference comes from the director and how he wants to portray the movie. In that way, “A Monster Calls” very intense because we want the audience to feel what the characters are feeling. We want to address this so the music was in-tense, not epic. It’s their emotion, as opposed to the story, that gets epic. If you listen to the music without the movie, you might think it’s over the top. But when you watch the movie, you know the music is exactly how you’re feeling during it, which fits the film perfectly.
How did you want to draw on your horror scoring, and general full-blooded gothic scoring in musically depicting The Monster?
The stories are kind of different. They are big and the orchestra is big with big harmonies. The choir is there. There is a feeling of adventure and story telling which works very well with tales. It works beautifully with the watercolors we see in the movie. Whereas, the music for reality is quite small, probably the smallest you get for the purpose because it’s a little piano and some strings. Only in the end, they come together in a metaphorical way because the choir paints a reality and accompanies Connor and his mother.
How did you want to draw on your horror scoring, and general full-blooded gothic scoring (complete with organ) in musically depicting The Monster?
Well the music for the monster, of course, includes the organ at some point. We looked for many different sounds of woodwind and bagpipes. The woodwinds in the orchestra and a lot of wooden things that we thought would work with the monster. But in the end, we realized that the monster is more ominous, like the wood it-self. This ominous threat we feel is more from the bass, strings, the bass brass and the woodwinds, than everything else. But as we worked on the movie we realized that we didn’t need the tree to be felt as a threat. We tried with the choir, it worked really well, but we realized the choir would work better with other things in the movie like the end and when Connor is desperate and the times when it seems mankind is telling Connor that everything is going to be all right.
How did you want to score Conor, given a hard shell where him dealing with his mother’s deterioration becomes a sadomasochistic need for punishment?
I think this was really well depicted by the movie itself. It didn’t need a lot of music for suffering. We tried to make things even worse with the bullying and the hard feelings he put on himself. But this music was not needed at all, because really small music was already making the audience feel sorry for Connor. There is a moment in the piece “Break Things” when he destroys everything, which is even more brutal with abstract noises more than the music itself. It’s a cue I’m very proud of.
Given the tendency of many genre scores to use some form of sampling or electronics, why did you want to go for an old school orchestral feeling here?
I never thought about it. You know my first approach was orchestra with this movie because we thought it was best. We never thought about electronics. You could, of course, score this movie with elec-tronics. It might be good, but we think that for the movie, it wouldn’t make sense, or at least I like it better with strings.
Everyone goes through loss. Did you have any such instances in your own life that you particularly drew on for this score?
Not really. But it’s funny, because our own experience with “The Im-possible” was used because we wanted to do the opposite in a way. And of course you know music is like a magnet. You get all of the emotions you put in it. Of course, in the last cue called “The Truth,” there is a lot of my life, but also the players’. A lot of them can put their experiences and heart into the music they play, listen or com-pose.
Conversely, how did you want the score to reflect the ten-sion and beauty of the mother-father-“evil stepmother” relationships with Connor, especially with the pain they all endure?
From what I’ve seen, this is something that works very well in the movie without music. The stepmother doesn’t have her own theme, even when she’s kind of depicted as the queen in the tale, which is not obvious. It’s not the direct connection you can talk about. We have the idea that the stepmother looks evil and cruel, we know she’s not. At first we tried to do that with the music. But that didn’t turn out to be a good idea because it was too obvious.
Given the understandably heightened emotions of “Monster Calls,” how important was it for you and J.A. to avoid overt manipulation, and to honestly earn tears, even while using such devices as piano and a heavenly chorus that practically guarantee them?
I think with this movie, practically anything would guarantee tears, even the synthesizer woodwinds, a piano, singing, a flute, organ… anything what would cause the same thing. I think sometimes emo-tions come by themselves very naturally, so we didn’t spend much time trying to see how far we could go with the music. It’s opposite to “The Impossible” where you have feelings, but you won’t necessarily be crying while watching the film. In the end, what makes you cry is the story itself and how you relate to the storyline.
While kids might be enchanted by the creature in the trail-er, “A Monster Calls” is far more of a film for adults in how dark and disturbing it is. How did that affect your scoring?
Well, we could have done a fairy tale or something more for children, but the music itself is kind of somber. I wouldn’t say “adult” because this is something that is difficult to address. We needed to play with the cards we were dealt, the ones that we were working with. Now, for some moments we thought the tales were a bit lighter and they work faster in the movie, But then we realized many details would be missing. You know sometimes you’re afraid the movie feels slow. But we thought it was good for this movie to have this pace, which is a little far away from a movie for kids.
Conversely, how did you want your music to provide a sense of acceptance and emotion, especially for kids who might want to see this as some form of therapy? In that respect, would you say that this score itself goes through “the five stages?”
I read the five stages. It’s just some therapy thing, but you don’t necessarily need to go through all the five stages. The music is more about accepting. There is no denial or rage in the movie, ex-cept there is a little bit of rage where the music is more literal. Honestly, for the most part, it feels as though it is more about humankind and ancestry, as we can see in the tree and the grandfather and grandmother. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the main sce-ne in the movie happens in a cemetery, where ancestors were buried. I think this scene goes directly with the collective consciousness way of thinking, which is what art connects us with. The movie itself is a huge metaphor about how we can deal with reality. The music is the ultimate stage of this metaphor. The music tells you that with melodies not words.
In the end, do you think horror films, and their music is a way of dealing with death?
Well not really, because horror films deal with death in a very precise way. They are usually not serious films about death. “The Orphanage” is not a horror movie, or “The Sixth Sense.” They are scary, but they are not “horror” movies. Of course, I think many films and many works of art are a way of dealing with death.
Where do you see J.A.’s movies as going from here, or do you think he’ll keep returning to the same thematic material of grief and loss, as often given a supernatural twist?
Well, now he’s doing “Jurassic World” and it doesn’t seem to be about grief and loss! I know nothing about this movie. Juan Antonio has all the talent to do all these different things. He wanted to bring out these particular feelings for “A Monster Calls,” because he’s had loss and grief. But these movies are also about love which the emo-tion that remains in all of his movies.
You had a particularly busy year in 2016, with Quartet Records representing your Spanish releases. One impres-sive score was “Gernika,” which dealt with the awful bombing in Spain’s Civil War that also became Picasso’s most famous painting.
“Gernika” was a great opportunity to do a historic drama with really wonderful acting and great storytelling by my director friend Koldo Serra. It was just a big gift to have an opportunity to do this score. It is old fashioned in a way, because it is classical, big and orchestral. It is one of these scores that we are not allowed to do very often because they don’t want these big melodies or orchestrations. Many filmmakers think that things need to be small. I’m particularly proud of the end of the movie, which is the big and long cue.
You also composed two delightful children’s’ scores for the animated dog comedy “Ozzy” and the live action ad-venture “Zipiy Zape and the Captain’s Island.” What was it like working on the scores, especially when it came to giv-ing both a big orchestral sound?
I feel very passionate about orchestra and the big classical way of composing with themes and orchestra, because we aren’t able to do it often. I was very happy that I had both opportunities, because I’m a big fan of all the John Williams, Alan Silvestri and James Newton Howard scores. I’m just a little sorry these movies didn’t get that much attention, but the scores are there. They’re very rich and I hope people realize they’re out there on one day and get to listen to them. Even “Zip and Zap” gets big and emotional in the end. With melodies and themes, you will remember the theme if you listen to scores and watch the movie. This makes me happy. In electronics, there is another movie coming out that was just in the Austin festival called “The Invisible Guest.” This is the complete opposite, because it is a lot of electronics and orchestra, which was also a lot of fun to do because the music works in a different way. It was also really fun doing this.
Given that you’re one of Spain’s busiest composers when it comes to Spanish-funded, or director-made English language films like “Hercules,” “Mama” and “Crimson Peak,” how do you hope that “A Monster Calls” might finally, and fully propel you into the realm of Hollywood? And do you hope to continue your lush, orchestral approach to scoring there, particularly when it comes to chilling subject matter?
Well, I think nowadays Hollywood is everywhere. You don’t really know where a film is being made. For example, “Mama” got huge. It was a Spanish movie, mostly shot in Canada and scored in Spain. So, I don’t think Hollywood is necessarily the center of all film anymore. I think we have a lot to say from Spain. Of course, I’m very happy to do American movies. The studio movie world is a little tricky and I hope I will find a place without being forced to be very conservative and try to copy other music and composers. Honestly, I think voices are needed, not only in music but in filmmaking itself. I’m a composer, not an “orchestra guy.” I do electronics, which I love, and sometimes I do massive orchestral things. You know my first movie was scored with a chamber trio and I was very happy with it. It had nothing to do with big orchestras. The second movie I did was really only songs. So It’s not about doing only orchestra. The business can pigeonhole you, but I think that if I’m lucky I will be able to do different things.
Pick up Fernando Velazquez’s score when “A Monster Calls” on Back Lot Music and Quartet Records HERE
Listen to “The Impossible” HERE
Special thanks to Gabby Belzer, Jana Davidoff and Amanda Greenbaum for arranging and transcribing this interview
A distinctive, and prolific voice in Hollywood since arriving from his native Brazil, Marcelo Zarvos has created any number of musically explosive dramatic incidents – among them “Cell’s” zombie-making phone calls, the murderous bad cop behavior of “Brooklyn’s Finest” and “Beastly’s” groovily hip take on a fairy tale as old as time. A frequent collaborator with director Barry Levinson from the found footage parasitic horrors of “The Bay” to “Phil Spector’s” record producer gone mad, as well as a go-to composer for Showtime series like “Ray Donovan,” “The C Word” and “The Affair,” Marcelo Zarvos’ eclectic resume is no busier than when dealing with relationships in all of their humor, passion and pain. Starting out on such indies as “Tully” and “Kissing Jessica Stein,” Zarvos has brought comic quirk to such dramedies as “Please Give,” “The Beaver” and “Friends with Kids.” But it’s in his often gently affecting way with strings, piano and rhythm that Zarvos cuts to the heart of the matter in such moving scores as “Door in the Floor,” “Remember Me” and “The Words.”
Where Zarvos has often dealt with the strains of family ties, perhaps none of his work in that playing field has felt the angry, anguished weight of “Fences,” or required as much delicate restraint to express those emotions. While it marks the first studio adaptation of an August Wilson Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Fences” multi-hyphenate Denzel Washington certainly knows the territory of a writer who chronicled America’s working class black experience for the stage like no other, especially having played “Fence’s” volatile family matriarch Troy on Broadway. A baseball star that could have been somebody before ditching his dreams to become a garbage man clawing his way up a dead-end ladder, Troy seethes with anger for everyone in his Pittsburgh orbit. Facing the brunt of his rhapsodizing on life’s brunt realities is his hapless wife Rose (Viola Davis) and son Cory (Jovan Adepo), taking as much emotional, and sometimes physical abuse as they can bear, all while Troy’s battle-scarred, bugle-playing brother Gabriel (Mykelti Wilson) receives what tender mercies can be bestowed by Troy when not draining a government paycheck earned from his head injury.
While filled with impressive, and likely Oscar-nominated performances, the true star of “Fences” are August Wilson’s virtually non-stop words, monologues on philandering, fate and misery that are a music all their own. Subsequently, “Fences” isn’t a movie that requires non-stop scoring to say the least, let alone music that will rise above its harsh, sometimes screamed utterances. It’s a requirement that brings out Zarvos’ expertise in broken characters at its most impactfully hushed – all the better to contrast the verbal heat for scenes that border on exploding into outright violence. Yet it’s a score that yearns for something better in its soft piano and string melodies, an approach that’s unexpectedly lyrical, given the anger on hand. Troy’s madness at evading “Mr. Death” also comes across in eerie percussion, where not allowing the sadness that permeates the film to plunge into outright musical depression. For when Zarvos’ score does show up, however briefly, his work powerfully opens up August Wilson’s world to the big screen – showing off Zarvos as a musical wordsmith who knows here that nothing is more impactful than keeping his voice at a hushed, poetic whisper.
Tell us about what brought you to film scoring?
My first loves were stories and literature. I was an avid reader at a very young age, a real bookworm and it was a very natural transition from written stories to filmed ones, even before I was into music at all. Actually it was the movies that first awakened my interest in music. I remember the score for “The Sting” in particular pretty much being the catalyst for me wanting to learn to play the piano. All that marvelous ragtime music somehow really captured my imagination and I became obsessed with learning that music and played Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” for my first piano recital when I was 9. Film scores from the 70s and 80s were also a big source of inspiration for me. I fell in love of course with all the Spielberg/ Williams stuff. “Blade Runner” was another big one. I think by the time I was 13 I knew film scoring was what I wanted to pursue and basically bid my time playing in rock bands and studying classical music and jazz until I was ready to go to college.
I attended Berklee College with the intention of studying Film Scoring but felt it was too soon too specialize so much and decided to transfer to CalArts where I immersed myself in World Music, Experimental Jazz and 20th Century Classical music. After graduating from CalArts I moved to NYC and it was not until 10 years after I came to the U.S that I had my first actual scoring experience. Somehow during those 10 years I trusted film would come to me, I kept my ears open, watched A LOT of films and I spent my time performing my work with my group in downtown venues like the Knitting Factory as well as various art galleries and basically any space that would have me. I also recorded three albums for a Japanese label called MA Records that really allowed me to find my voice as a composer. The style was a mix of classical, jazz and world music and I would say it formed the basis of what I do to this day.
You scored quite a few independent movies like “Tully,” “Kissing Jessica Stein” and “The Mudge Boy” before drawing the ear of bigger films like “The Door in the Floor,” “Brooklyn’s Finest” and “The Good Shepard.” What was that journey like, and how do you think you finally made it to the prolific place you are now?”
I can pretty much trace everything I’ve done to the very first short film I did which was called “A Soccer Story” and was a real success in the festival circuit – starting with the Brasilia Film Festival where I won an award for Best Score and going all the way to an Academy Award nomination in the Short Film Category. My first feature came via a fellow Brazilian editor, Affonso Goncalves, who was cutting “Tully” and had heard my score for “A Soccer Story” and also had watched me perform on Brazilian TV some of my compositions. He suggested that the director Hillary Birmingham should meet me. We really hit it off and that was my entrance into the indie film world that has been a really big part of my career to this day.
From there on it was a pretty steady and gradual progression with “Mudge Boy” and “Kissing Jessica Stein.” Somehow I managed to just keep getting these indie jobs at a time when real breakouts were very much possible, like in the case of “Kissing Jessica Stein.” My real “big” break came with “The Door In the Floor,” once again courtesy of editor Affonso Goncalves, who put me in touch with the director Kip WIlliams. That was a big jump for me and also the beginning of a very fruitful collaboration that still continues to this day with all the folks from the former Good Machine film company. James Shamus, Ted Hope, Anthony Bregman and Anne Carey were all responsible for that project and opened more doors for me than I could count. James Shamus who at that time was the head of Focus Features brought me back to work on several of their projects like “Sin Nombre” and also additional music for “Brokeback Mountain.” “The Good Shepherd” came from Robert De Niro falling in love with my score from “Hollywoodland,” which was also a Focus Features project.
In the times that you’ve seen stage plays, what struck you about how music was used in them?
Having lived on and off in NY for a long time I’ve had the opportunity to watch many plays. I think in general the music in plays tends to be about transitions. Whether physical, psychological or chronological, music tends to work best in that way as far as I can tell. I did write a few scores for plays but the area that really interested me more was always dance and my scores for modern dance companies like Pilobolus and DanceBrazil were a really important part of my musical development.
How were you brought onto “Fences?” And were you familiar with August Wilson’s plays before taking the gig? If not, did you dive into them?
I had read his work in college but can’t say I was that familiar with it. And yes, of course I read “Fences” and really tried to imagine what music could do for this incredible piece of drama. My involvement really came the old-fashioned way from me putting a reel together and sending it to the producer Todd Black and Denzel. They really liked the music and asked me to meet with them after screening an early cut. It’s been a real series of pinching myself moments ever since I walked into the cutting room and meet Denzel in person.
Having worked with actor-directors like Robert De Niro for “The Good Shepard” and Jodie Foster on “The Beaver,” what do you think they bring to the process that a singularly occupied filmmaker might not? How was your collaboration with Denzel unique?
What these actor/ directors have in common is how they bring their mastery of performance into the director’s chair. With De Niro and Denzel in particular their aversion to anything that smells of over acting very much informs how they would direct me to score their films. Both demanded A LOT of restraint from the scores. One of the unique things about Denzel was that he was also the lead of the film and his performance could not have been more under a microscope. I consider it to be one of the great privileges of my life to have been able to watch him sculpt this incredible performance while remaining very faithful to the words and calmly and methodically do some of the hardest things one can attempt in film. Number one, adapting a successful play and number two creating a screen performance that is equal or better to the many roles we have seen from him, which by all means would be a superhuman effort to begin with when you think of “Training Day,” “Philadelphia” or “Glory.” His commitment to the film was 200%. He knew the material inside out having performed it and been awarded a Tony for the “Fences” revival in NYC a few years ago. It just was a marvel to watch an amazing actor being directed by an incredible director and they just happen to be the same person.
Did Denzel have any particular philosophy as to how the music needed to work in “Fences?” And how did the score evolve through the process?
He knew there would not be a lot of music and that the score would have to fight its way into the movie and really deliver where it counts. He also was very focused on the idea of “less is more” and forced me to really look at the totality of a scene, including the sound effects and most importantly the words to figure out how music could fit in. When we first met he said the score was the August Wilson text and music was there to enhance and support it. He also set a very high bar to everyone involved in the production. We had to be as good as August and either the work elevated the play or it has no place being there at all.
How do you think your score helped Denzel “open up” the play into a film?
I think it helps a lot to suggest the passing of time. To give it an epic and cinematic quality. I also think at times it can work as an ultra-focusing device so we pay even more attention to the words. It helps the emotional arc of the film. We don’t have score until the middle of the second reel about 30 minutes into the film. The score becomes increasingly present as we approach the climax of the film in the later reels. In a way one could almost say the score doesn’t peak until the very last scene of the film when as per August Wilson’s words “The sky opens up as wide as God’s closet”. So it really was all about restrain and just giving enough but never an inch more and to make sure music was never leading and always supporting and staying out of the way of the performances.
Your score isn’t “black” in terms of bringing in jazz and ethnic elements. Did you and Denzel want to go for a universally emotional approach as such?
Denzel had zero interest in having the score be overtly African American in any way. In his own words August Wilson IS the blues and we don’t need any more of it in the score. His vision was that “Fences” is a universal story that transcends all cultures and ethnicities. I happen to agree and when we first met that was one of the first things I told him about my own vision for the score.
How did you and Denzel want to place the score into the film, especially given how impactful nearly all of August Wilson’s dialogue is?
For me the dialogue in “Fences” is really like Shakespeare. You live, breath and die by the words. Denzel always said the score was the text and the music should always be looking to support it as much as possible. Interestingly enough both Denzel and Viola’s voice range were quite low and he became very fond of high violin textures that would hover well above their range and provide a subtle counterpoint to the complexity of the words without getting in the way.
Given how many scenes are on the edge of physical violence, the score is unusually lyrical. Was that a contrast you strove for?
Yes, very much so. We were not interested in ever mimicking or replicating what was on the screen already. The idea, and this is a big one for me in general, is that you don’t want to “double” anything – especially in the case of “Fences” The performances are so layered and nuanced that you are always better off staying out of the way and trying to provide a new dimension that may not be apparent to the naked eye.
There’s a real “love” – hate relationship with Troy in the film. How did you want to capture such a conflicted, often abusive character?
I always try to make things personal on any score I work on. So I really try to draw from my own experiences. We all have one or more Troys in our lives – people who both hurt and inspire us. And I was very much thinking of that as I wrote the music to so many of these scenes that make you cringe. But here is the thing. I believe we, as filmmakers, must love all the characters no matter how flawed they might be and withhold any form of contempt or prejudice. It is up to the audience to decide how they feel about them.
How did you want to play Troy’s increasing, heartbeat-like madness when it came to fighting “Mr. Death?”
For those scenes the trick was to keep it internal and avoid at all costs giving into any kind of “genre” type sound. The struggle for Troy is a spiritual one and I tried to make the music inform that, but again, not replicate the almost savage elements of the performance in the music. A heartbeat was very much a part of it. Interestingly enough those scenes were the only places in the score where I used any form of electronics to create this otherworldly heartbeat feel.
How did you want to play the character of Gabriel, especially when it came to his flawed, but heavenly note that ends the film?
Gabriel is the musical soul of the film. I believe August Wilson certainly thought that by naming Troy’s brother Gabriel, and the fact that he played the trumpet. We first hear the score when he appears and as a matter of fact he hears it before we do. And needless to say the final cue also comes literally out of his trumpet playing. A miracle happens there, and from a strained trumpet note, out comes this heavenly sound that becomes our final cue. I was frankly terrified of writing that cue but we were all very happy with how it came out in the end. After Denzel first heard that cue he said now it was up to Visual Fx to match the transcendent quality of the music. It really does open up the movie and takes us to this miraculous place that Rose, Cory and the family find themselves in.
Is it hard to compose such a restrained score that also has to communicate a tremendous amount of emotion, while dancing around so much dialogue?
You bet. I’ve done my fair of dialogue heavy dramas but this one is really at a very different level due to both the complexity and musicality of the dialogue and also the immense restraint Denzel wanted from the score. It really was a case of how much musical bang for the buck can you get from beginning to end. As a matter of fact while I was working on “Fences,” I made a large sign than hung just below the screen in my studio that said “LESS IS MORE” and often would sit and stare at it for long periods of time while trying to crack the heart and soul of Troy Maxin.
Perhaps the most listened-to project you’ve scored is for Showtime’s “Ray Donovan,” which essentially updated the “Hollywood fixer” you scored for “Hollywoodland” to the modern day. What’s your fascination for these industry enforcers, and why do you think that “Ray Donovan” has caught on like it has?
Ray Donovan, like the detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) in “Hollywoodland” is a modern day super hero. With all his flaws the one constant is that Ray always delivers in the end, no matter what. I feel the cat and mouse element of the story is the heart of the show’s success. The other element of course is the incredible group of ever evolving, crazy and lovable characters like Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight) whose charm and humor work as such a perfect balance to Ray’s serious and brooding performance. My personal fascination is the whole anti-hero thing and the ability to tap on that dark side of the characters.
You’ve done particularly impressive work for HBO “real life” telefilms like the financial collapse of “Too Big To Fail” and the Al Pacino biopics “You Don’t Know Jack” and “Phil Spector.” What draws you to these often troubling subjects?
The thing hat attracts me the most to all of these HBO films has always been the excellence in filmmaking. The projects you mentioned were directed by the late Curtis Hanson. Barry Levinson and David Mamet. I mean, these are heroes of mine whose body of work has not only been incredibly influential for me personally but I would say to the entire world of filmmaking. Another fun element in those projects are the HBO folks themselves. Both the head of HBO films Len Amato and music supervisor Evyen Klean are not only immensely talented and filmmaker friendly but also have become good friends over the years. So it really is always a no brainer when one of those projects come up.
Two other impactful Showtime series you’ve scored have been for “The Big C” and “The Affair.” What have those experiences been like?
“The Big C” was my first foray into episodic television and was quite a steep learning curve. But we really had a blast creating that unique blend of humor and pain in equal measures. As for “The Affair,” all I can say is the show has been like a creative paradise for me. Show runner Sarah Treem has from the beginning given me so much freedom and trust to do what I feel is right. She’s created a situation that is the antithesis of the “too many cooks” syndrome that can affect so many TV shows. I consider “The Affair” to be as true an expression of my artistic soul as anything I have ever done and probably will ever do.
Your score for the Stephen King adaptation “Cell,” which finally came out this year, is particularly creepy in capturing the killer signal of technology. Tell us about how you created that particularly unnerving sound?
Everything started with “The Pulse” in that one. At first we wanted to score everything electronically but it became clear the music needed to emphasize more the savagery of the “phoners” who had been infected and in the end the score is very much a blend of electronics and late 20th century extended orchestral techniques. One of the challenges was how to navigate a very thick soundscape that was created by sound design team. In the end I was very happy with the result and felt it was very much a stretch out of my comfort zone.
Would you like to do more scores that draw on your Latin heritage like “Sin Nombre,” especially given the rising prejudice towards immigrants, and foreign citizens the world over?
Oh yes. I would really love to do that. I have also have a fruitful, ongoing collaboration with Brazilian director Bruno Barreto on “Last Stop 174” and “Reaching for the Moon.” Having the opportunity to incorporate the sound of my native land into my work is always both a blast and a tremendous privilege.
Why do you think you have a particular talent for intimate dramas like “Fences,” “Remember Me” and “The Words?”
I believe it goes back to my love of words and literature. These projects all have one element in common which is a real devotion to the spoken word. They’ve taught me how to write around complex dialogue and be expressive and nuanced. A lot of the times when I write for films like “The Door in the Floor,” I will literally turn off the video and just write to the rhythm of the words, letting the text itself be the clock and guide to the music at all times.
What do you think that “Fences” will show Hollywood in terms of its play adaptations?
I think there have been amazing play adaptations. Mike Nichols alone did so many iconic ones. I do think it’s always a challenge as the medium is so close to film to begin with, as opposed to a book adaptation for instance, but in the hands of a passionate director, whether he or she may come from theater or not, plays will always be a rich source of material. I just feel so lucky to be a part of such a special one.
Given that the score for “Fences” is relatively short in the film, do you think the music is more impactful for its restraint, or would you have wanted more of it? On that note, do you think there’s something to be said for shorter-running scores when many movies seem to have too much music?
I think “Fences” has exactly the amount of music it needs. At first I kept trying to find ways to add more but as it’s often the case the more I saw the movie through the eyes of the director the more I realized the music had to be incredibly subtle and just the right amount. Remember, there is NO music in the play so whatever we ended up with is already a big addition to a play that frankly needs very little to begin with. And yes, I do believe less music does tend to value the importance of the score more. That is not to say there should be a “one size fits all” approach to spotting films. As a matter of fact I feel as composers out job is to always find the perfect balance. Not more and not less than what is needed for any particular film. As Barry Levinson would say to me, if you listen carefully the movie will spit out all the music it does not want or need.
“Fences” opens on December 25th, with Marcelo Zarvos’ score available on Sony Classical Records January 6th HERE
Visit Marcelo Zarvos’ website HERE
Click on the CD covers to purchase from this list
(Johann Johannsson / Deutsche Grammophon)
An Icelander whose intensely psychological, yet still melodically accessible modernist scores like “Prisoners” and “Sicario” speak in alien languages of subsonic strings and nerve-chilling brass at last gets his actual close encounter as he translates the Rorschach Test language of obelisk / monolith dwelling inter-dimensional deities here. Johannsson brilliantly captures both a sense of wonder and fear with beholding the mind-boggling, verbally-scrambled unknown as whale cry motifs join with alternately moaning and chattering voices, backed by a strong orchestral sound that serves as a powerful universal musical translator in a way that’s both harmonically understandable, and profoundly strange in a soundtrack that now elevates Johannsson to level of film scoring’s Gyorgy Ligeti with the score equivalent of “2001’s” climactic head rush into the experimental unknown.
(Michael Giacchino / Hollywood Records)
Michael Giacchino is the Composer Supreme when it comes to being the hardest working musician in the genre multiplex realm this year, keeping up a consistent sense of symphonic wonder with the likes of “Zootopia,” “Star Trek: Beyond” and a little prequel called “Star Wars: Rogue One.” But it’s Giacchino’s first franchise venture into The Marvel Universe that casts a particularly beguiling spell with “Doctor Strange,” not only for summoning up all the thematically heroic orchestral forces at his command, but also drawing up the musical mystical arts of way-out reverse sampling, the harpsichord and the sitar, creating a crazy-quilt melodic universe that’s the equivalent of a mind-bending Steve Ditko splash page from the original comics, a devotion to the source material that makes Scott Derrickson’s movie such a particularly joyous adaptation. Giacchino’s admiration for this kind of colorfully iconic stuff always brings out a real sense of fun and excitement well suited to each blockbuster, here conveying a particular excitement of a very talented fanboy romping about a fantastical playing ground he’s always longed to be a part of – in this case a constantly morphing, topsy-turvy cosmos he zooms about with groovily psychedelic panache.
GODS OF EGYPT
(Marco Beltrami / Varese Sarabande)
Having played “Knowing’s” apocalypse and “I Robot’s” mechanical revolt for all of its wonderful orchestral bombast in the service of Egypt-born filmmaker Alex Proyas, Marco Beltrami really gets to go to cosmically symphonic town for this wonderful exercise in throwing any semblance of restraint to the winds as he pays tribute to these “Gods,” as well as his mentor Jerry Goldsmith with enough sweepingly memorable, Middle Eastern-style themes to fill Set’s treasure vault, It’s the stuff that bold Saturday matinee thrills are made of in service of giant beings with a habit of transforming into metallic beasts, or a flat Earth being guarded against an equally gigantic demon – waved off with music that’s a terrifically fun exclamation point to wonders within Proyas’ unsung vision of “Planet Egypt.”
(Benjamin Wallfisch & Pharrell Williams & Hans Zimmer)
The uniquely suited team of Wallfisch, Williams and Zimmer more than have the right stuff to musically chronicle the below-the-line black women whose math-magician skills truly got the space race off the ground. It’s a combination of soul, futuristic percussion and symphonic pride that seamlessly rockets with an inspirational vibe, never failing to hear melodic optimism in the face of almost unbelievable prejudice, finally uniting in a common, movingly melodic goal that’s greatly empowered by Williams’ sense of energetic vocalese – though his vocal beat box stylings stop understandably short of a chorus of “Happy,” given the less-than gleeful era its heroines’ music nobly gains its determined respect from.
(Mark Mancina / Walt Disney Records)
An animated scoring ethnomusicologist second to none for Disney with his ventures to Africa in “Tarzan” and Alaska for “Brother Bear,” Mark Mancina sails, and soars higher than ever as he hits Polynesia’s south seas for “Moana.” Already a rhythmatist of note with “Speed,” Mancina combines drum percussion with the sounds of instruments as old as the island gods, then puts them in league with the west’s Hollywood tradition of a rollicking symphony orchestra for a respectfully thrilling adventure score that hears a universal language of heartfelt Disney Princess emotion, along with The Rock’s brawny antics for a thoroughly fun, culturally heroic splash.
(Cliff Martinez / Milan Records)
As the composer who not only helped launch indie films and their often-corresponding electric sound with “Sex Lies and Videotape,” Cliff Martinez has used his distinctive, crystalline voice to push the surreal boundaries of synths, making it only natural that the similarly transgressive vision of filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn would choose Martinez to play the darkly rhythmic voice of “Drive” and “Only God Forgives.” But it’s the gamine innocence of “Neon Demon’s” model that brings out Martinez’s electric LSD like never before. Sparkling with slick, sick musical colors, Martinez conjures the artificiality of a realm where looks are everything, an all-consuming wall of knowingly hip sound that’s utterly hypnotic in its little girl lost fairly tale feel, gnarled samples and unnerving atmospheres that perfectly complement Refn’s truly sick sense of humor while creating a memorable, plastic musical realm all its own.
(Abel Korzeniowski / Silva Screen Records)
If Bernard Herrmann’s music was about resurrecting the ghosts of Straus and Wagner, then Poland’s Abel Korzeniowski has re-incarnated himself as that most darkly romantic of all American movie composers in service of the impeccable, Hitchcockian spirit of fashion designed-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford. Now they move together from the positively demure “Single Man” to the cunning sordidness of “Nocturnal Animals,” as done up in the height of LA art chic-meets white trash murderousness, Given a multi-story enigma of a film, Korzeniowski’s ultra-lush themes beautifully dress up unspeakable behavior, a rapture of erotic orchestral melody whose contrast with the onscreen grotesqueries is exactly the point as his music shivers with anticipation towards the next shocking chapter. Scores rarely get this operatic in their unrestrained string and piano passion, an unabashed approach that I’m sure Herrmann himself would be beguiled by as he might hear Korzeniowski raising his ghost in the height of style.
THE RED TURTLE
(Laurent Perez Del Mar / Quartet)
Having done the animated soundtracks for the transcontinental boy’s adventure “Zarafa” and the distinctly adult horror anthology “Fears of the Dark,” French composer Laurent Perez Del Mar gets marooned on a desert island with beautifully poetic results in “The Red Turtle.” For what’s essentially a cartoon version of “Castaway” that’s even more movingly profound, Del Mar draws upon an elemental spirit of flowing, gentle melody and rhythmic danger, his score all the more vital in serving as storytelling, given that barely a word is uttered in this movie. With a haunting theme that’s often accompanied by female voice, Del Mar’s flowing orchestral melody captures a lyricism that’s worthy of Debussy’s “La Mer” in communicating the literally transformative effect of nature on man, his lovely themes for aching violin capturing despair and acceptance, playful pizzicatos embodying a renewed sense of hope (as well as endearingly comic crabs) and exotic percussion hearing the mystery of an island and its outlying sea. Like Michael Dubo de Wit’s remarkable film that draws upon the pastel naturalism of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli for what might be their best film in a line of classics, Del Mar’s music is the equivalent of those soft brushstrokes on a big screen canvas of visual poetry, a score that profoundly captures a life at first seemingly lost at sea, only to soar under, and above it though its graceful music that touches the silent tides of nature’s life force.
(Clint Eastwood & Christian Jacob & Tierney Sutton & The Tierney Sutton Band / Varese Sarabande)
An accomplished jazz musician and connoisseur of America’s musical art form well beyond his other gigs of directing and acting, Clint Eastwood’s scores have always been about memorable thematic simplicity, memorable melodies that other artists have helped him expound upon in such scores as “Unforgiven” and “Flags of Our Fathers.” But never has Eastwood’s restrained jazz approach proved so unusual, or impactful than in the place of what’s essentially a disaster film with “Sully,” whose cockpit is comfortably filled in by artists Christian Jacob, Tierney Sutton and her band. With the score never overplaying the already heightened drama of the most miraculous crash landing ever, “Sully’s” uses the cool of jazz to represent the spirit of a captain who remained the height of calm under pressure. It’s an unexpected, tuneful approach that proves tremendously moving, particularly when Sutton gives turns the theme into song with “Flying Home.”
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
(Bear McCreary / Sparks & Shadows)
A composer who certainly knows his way around sci-fi scoring with the likes of “Battlestar Galactica” and “Europa Report” gets to enter The Twilight Zone in the confines of a crazed survivalist’s bunker. Leave it to McCreary’s cat-and-crazy symphonic suspense for its heroine to explore the nooks and crannies of his “Lane’s” confines when the composer isn’t rushing for the escape hatch, finally opening up the score’s impressive thematic structure to take on space invader proportions worthy of John Williams. It’s an A-plus lesson in how to exhilaratingly milk a potentially claustrophobic soundtrack situation for all of its big reveal worth.
(Alex Somers / Lakeshore)
More proof that those in touch with Iceland’s musical spirit animal are blessed with an ability to capture profound emotion through unusual means, American-born Alex Somers’ work with the band Sigur Ros (and its essential continuation with its bandmate as Jonsi and Alex) now yields a score of singular spirituality as Somers tracks a family of ultra liberals who’ve have truly gone off society’s reservation. His soundtrack’s beautifully ethereal melodies are a unique mix of alt. rock sampling, angelic choruses, Native American winds, accordion and the music box percussion all resonating with the gently troubled vibrations of normal childhood lost, along with the, lyrical nature of mad individuality. It’s a truly “Fantastic” road trip of reckoning and reconciliation that lights a soulful funeral pyre for alt. scoring.
EDDIE THE EAGLE
(Matthew Margeson / Varese Sarabande)
In a year where 80’s retro electronics are all the rage when it comes to the sci-fi throwback realms of “Stranger Things,” leave it to Matthew Margeson to salute to the era’s days of sports-ready synth glory with this run down the slope of power-pop electro artists like Harold Faltermeyer, Bill Conti and Vince Di Cola Margeson also layers on inspirational strings for his tribute to The Day’s most unlikely Olympic ski champion of them all. “Eddie” is not only spot on with its glorious throwback beats and Eddie Van Halen rock swagger, but also the defiant underdog attitude of Margeson’s work on the “Kick-Ass” series to boot, making for a score that plays the retro thrill of victory with wonderful smile with just a bit of awesome computer keyboard cheese on its goggles after the big run.
(Rupert Gregson-Williams / Varese Sarabande)
Rupert Gregson-Williams delivers a devastating war score that plays both parts emotional inner peace and the terror of one of the Pacific’s most devastating WW2 battles, a potent segue from melodically soothing, rustic nobility to the overwhelming, Asian-inflected darkness of waves of suicidal Japanese troops. Far from a musical time capsule, the rhythmic talent that flows through the musical lifeblood of Williams and his brother Harry make for the stirring, rhythmically contemporary heroism of a conscientious object as he rappels our boys from the heart of darkness. Yet always at “Hacksaw’s” center is a rousing sense of near-angelic nobility that hears hope amidst war’s instinctual need to kill.
THE JUNGLE BOOK
(John Debney / Walt Disney Records)
One might say it was his Disney family birthright that made John Debney one of the Mouse House’s most reliable composers with the likes of “The Emperor’s New Groove” and “”Hocus Pocus,” let alone a reliable collaborator of director Jon Favreau on “Zathura” and “Iron Man 2” – all ensuring that Debney would get the plum assignment of that filmmaker’s live action remake of a charmingly carefree cartoon classic. That Debney’s muscularly exotic score doesn’t play like symphonic kid’s stuff is emblematic as to why “The Jungle Book” exceeded just about everyone’s wildest expectations, as Debney’s majestic score that proudly swings through the jungle with Max Steiner’s “King Kong” in terms of chest-beating, old-school symphonic power. For while the charm of the Sherman Brother’s songs might make an appearance here and there, Debney’s often scary score sings with the danger and excitement that make for a great, exotic boy’s adventure, blending choral majesty with drum-pounding savagery, yet in a way that’s firmly on the studio’s musical reservation as they terrifically expand their horizons with robustly flesh and blood scoring.
LA LA LAND
(Justin Hurwitz / Interscope)
While referencing 80s synth scores is all the cool millennial rage now, it’s also nice to see their soundtrack tastes can go way back as well to the 50’s and 60’s singing and dancing days of George and Ira Gershwin and Michel Legrand, as embodied by the composing-directing partnership of Justin Hurwitz and Damien Chazelle. Ditching the drum-smashing darkness of their brilliant “Whiplash,” the duo create an effervescent updating of “An American in Paris” and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” by way of Technicolor throwback LA. Working with lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Hurwitz comes up with a truly wondrous tune in “City of Stars,” using it to form a beautifully thematic basis for the surprising amount of underscore here, his excellent, spot-on retro arrangements going from the simplest guitar and piano to swooning, planetarium-elevated orchestral melody. There’s also more than enough reason to convert jazz haters as well as Hurwitz effortlessly segues from O.G. improvisation to the electronically hip in this engaging slice of musical LA dream life and its myriad musical styles, turning a seemingly lost golden age of musical storytelling into the hippest tune around.
THE MONKEY KING 2
(Christopher Young / Intrada)
As a master of unabashed, epic sci-fi and supernatural scoring with the likes of the world-shattering “Core” and the Asian-accented “Grudge,” Christopher Young is an ideal travelling companion for a legendary Chinese manimal trickster god, whose second outing with him is even more spectacular than their first journey to the west. With the morally uncertain “Monkey King 2” battling mountain-sized skeleton demons and flying witches, he’s the closest thing that China has to a superhero (and likely one of the oldest in the world at that), Young jumps off such robust Marvel scores as “Spider-Man 3” and “Ghost Rider” for a series of hellzapoppin orchestral battles, as a battery of millennia-old Asian instruments like the erhu are skillfully blended with raging electric guitars, the score’s numerous themes bursting with the honor of eternal warriors and choruses thundering from the heavens. The score is given extensive action workouts that draw on Young’s rousing magical powers where the symphonic sky is literally the limit. Yet his score is just as grounded in the calming, melodic lyricism of the Buddhist Sutra as it is spectacular, magic-powered musical action that Dr. Strange would be envious of.
(Nicholas Britell / Lakeshore Records)
An urban, down low relationship forged in equal parts tenderness and violent self-hatred receives a contrastingly refined, classical chamber treatment from Nicholas Britell, who last dealt with race in the somberly effective “Free State of Jones,” Upon hearing the refined strains of “Moonlight,” you might mistakenly think you’re listening to a costume drama, the kind of music that accompanies emotionally constricted aristocrat. Yet that might be the ironic point of Britell’s hauntingly beautiful score for two urban men’s potentially punishing relationship through the years. Beyond its delicate string and piano approach, Britell also affects the instrumentation through a hip-hop “chopped and screwed” technique that only adds to the score’s poignantly anguished emotion.
THE SECRET LIVES OF PETS
(Alexandre Desplat / Backlot Music)
Sure French composer Alexandre Desplat had no shortage of big, serious work this year like “American Pastoral” and “The Light Between the Oceans” (while not forgetting his affectionate score for the seriously bad singing of “Florence Foster Jenkins”). But the most exuberantly enjoyable soundtrack in any composer’s talking animal realm goes to the Gershwin-accented “The Secret Lives of Pets.” It’s a sort of “Rhapsody in Blue” for the CGI toon set as 30’s-style swing mixes it up with bouncy poodle cuteness and bridge-hanging adventure that manages to hit every pet nationality to boot – all cohesively playing the madcap toon humor without Mickey Mouse’ing the comedy. For a composer often beset with tragedy, “Pets” proves that nothing can be as enervating or fun as hearing the pure joy of being unleashed. The result is Desplat’s pure, lushly sweet imagination on an outing with a big, tail-wagging, jazzily nostalgic heart.
STRANGELY IN LOVE
(Austin Wintory & The Controversy / T-65b Records)
Amin Matalqa’s beguilingly quirky updating of Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot” plays like a Buster Keaton silent that somehow has a literary master’s dialogue in it, all the better to get the most wonderfully eccentric score this side of Jon Brion’s “Punch-Drunk Love” in depicting the fitful relationship between two even more eccentric characters – courtesy of composer Austin Wintory and the LA indie group The Controversy. Way more French than Russian in nature, Wintory’s music casts its romantic charm with accordion, harp, harmonica and any number of styles that range from Spaghetti western to whimsical waltzes, pirate jigs and tango It’s the score equivalent to opening Felix the Cat’s magic bag and having all sorts of amazingly inventive wackadoo music jump out of it with unexpected grace that’s as absurd as it is lovely.
THE COMPOSERS TO WATCH
Having helped create an all-singing serial killer tuner for “London Road,” Adam Cork uses his instrumental voice to capture the despair and ebullience of North Carolina author Thomas Wolfe for “Genius,” (Milan Records) his Americana-accented score capturing the unique, orchestral spark of literary inspiration along with the jazz bounce of a copious writer’s enthusiasm on the loose in The Big City.
Writer-director Paul Dalio devastatingly autobiographical “Touched With Fire” (Lakeshore Records) also shows him sparking with musical talent as his score rises with the chiming, child-like wonder of impossible optimism, then plunges to surreal despair in his score’s entrancing mood swings that conveys lives gone askew with mental illness, his haunting, religious-like musical portrait making us understand the price that comes with artistic inspiration born from bipolar enthusiasm.
The dregs of society become industrial music zombies running through an NYC tenement, driven to madness by Daniel Davies and Sebastian Robertson in “Condemned” (Lakeshore Records). Chips off the angered, experimental rock block in their relations to Dave Davies and Robbie Robertson, Davies and Robertson fuse a grungy, 80’s exploitation synth style along with glowhead techno bounce and bebop jazz to create an electrified, eerily pulsating sound right in retro-line with the likes of “It Follows” and “Stranger Things,” but with a effective, raw murkiness befitting the evil low-rent surroundings that allowed “Condemned” to carve out its own, effectively evil horror score identity.
There’s a true, lived-in lyrical poetry to Steven Emerson’s surreal approach to “The Nine” (CD Baby), a dream-like score for a documentary about the down-and-out of Modesto California, their lives embodied with raw guitar chords, industrial samples, lost soul voices and hallucinatory vibes that make for the most interesting and poetic garage rock trip through through the American wasteland since Sonic Youth’s soundtrack for “Made in USA.”
After hearing England’s knightly magic for the series “Merlin,” James Gosling impressively segues to the big screen with far darker, Irish faerie folk that inhabit “The Hallow” (Movie Score Media). Beautifully verdant strings soon give way to the truly frightening string and sampled moss that fuses together with the real science-based reason for the once-human things chasing our frightened scientist family through the woods, terrifically effective horror-action and atmospheric scoring that not only plays eco body horror, but also a beautiful sense of choral tragedy for a clan that really should have listened to locals’ warnings to not go into the Emerald Isle’s forbidden woods.
The “Final Fantasy” movie saga has come a long, technical way from the game-changing, Elliot Goldenthal-scored film of 2001. Now after an even longer musical history of handling action films and trailer soundtracks form “Full Contact” to “Dishonored 2,” composer John R. Graham impressively carries on the saga’s epic musical tradition with “Kingsglaive,” matching its astonishing mo-cap visuals with a score that captures both the characters’ emotional stakes as well as the furiously drumming symphonic fury of its hellzapoppin mash-up of steampunk, sword and sorcery and giant monsters. It’s music that hits every aspect of a video game mythos unlike any other with impressively sweeping, metal-clanging devotion that turns CG into musical flesh and blood with a true sense of choral majesty.
Alt. singer and songwriter Julia Holter turns the introspective sound of such albums as “Tragedy” and “Ekstasis” into the indie-score grit of an upstart fighter refusing to stay down, becoming one of the few female composers to step into the boxing movie ring as she captures a stripped-down and ultimately orchestral inspirational spirit for the terrifically unsung drama “Bleed For This” (Milan Records)
One can easily imagine voices appearing in the head of anyone who’s been marooned on an island for a suicidal amount of time, but Andy Hull and Robert McDowell take that idea to a whole other thematically multi-faceted level with “Swiss Army Man” (Lakeshore Records) with a score that’s entirely based around vocals, from whimsical humming to joyful, drum-sailing shouts and hilariously profane songs (with even an a capella “Jurassic Park” theme thrown in) – music that also helps to bring to life a farting corpse for extra, eccentric measure.
Patrick Watson gets to the bottom of why a child made a seemingly suicide plunge for the “9th Life of Louis Drax” (Varese Sarabande), and in turn opens up a captivating, surreal world of musical possibilities as he enters an enchanted, subconscious realm of eerie voices and hallucinogenic samples, as coming back to reality with suspense-thriller stylism, as well as waltz-like rhythms. They’re two equally effective music realms that together unlock the film’s mystery for an enthralling listen.
East meets west in the sumptuous teaming of Chinese composer Ye Xiaogang (“Shower”) and the scoring debut American Chad Cannon (an orchestrator for Howard Shore and Alexandre Desplat) with “The Cairo Declaration”(Movie Score Media), an gorgeously soaring, red-flag waving WW2 score about the Allies teaming with China to stop the Japanese advance in the South Pacific. From the sweeping, Oriental rhythms of its main theme to the dark brass of enemy invaders, the patriotic march of Chairman Mao’s resistance and the heart-rending melody of love sacrificed to protect the motherland. Above all, it’s an impressively epic score that firmly declares its love for sweeping melodies a la John Barry, let alone any Hollywood film from the WW2 era worthy of its nobly symphonic salt for two composers signaling their thematic talents.
Composer Jay Wadley creates an elegant sense of anguish for “Indignation” (Nettwerk), a Philip Roth adaptation, set in the day when heavy petting was an unimaginable college crime. With passion bursting at the seam, and hopelessly hemmed in by not-so book smart intellect, Wadley creates a score of devastating, elegant subtlety, using the naturally sorrowful violin for all of its Ivy League tortured worth, along with a gently regretful piano. It’s a subtle requiem for a young love affair that should have been, if only not for over-intellectualization and the very real, primitive brutality of war.
This week, the Grammy Award nominations were announced. Check out the nominees in the categories "Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media", "Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media" and "Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Visual Media" by [url./news/article/?id=2292]clicking here. Congratulations to all the nominees.
New composers assignments included: [c.2507]Joseph Trapanese ([m.46722]Granite Mountain), [c.2724]Toby Chu ([m.47910]Wish Upon), [c.1259]Jeff Cardoni ([m.47907]Once Upon a Time in Venice & [m.47908]The Female Brain), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
Over 40 albums were released this week;...
The nominations for the 59th Annual Grammy Awards were announced today. The nominees in film music related categories are as follows:
Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media:
"Can't Stop the Feeling" - [m.35217]Trolls Songwriters: [c.]Max Martin, [c.]Shellback & [c.19905]Justin Timberlake
"Heathens" - [m.41974]Suicide Squad Songwriter: [c.]Tyler Joseph
"Just Like Fire" - [m.39501]Alice Through the Looking Glass Songwriters: [c.]Oscar Holter, [c.]Max Martin, [c.]P!nk & [c.]Shellback
"Purple Lamborghini" - [m.41974]Suicide Squad Songwriters: [c.]Shamann Cooke, [c.]Sonny Moore & [c.]William Roberts
"Try Everything" - [m.41740]Zootopia Songwriters: [c.]Mikkel S. Eriksen, [c.]Sia Furler...
As an invigorating wave of “modern classical” scores like “Indignation,” “Moonlight” and “Arrival” now take film music in uniquely interesting directions, the utterly bizarre and hypnotic originality of 2013’s “Under the Skin” was the equivalent of an alien landing in arthouse land to broadcast its musical language. Weirdly pitched strings, sound masses and unearthly metallic samples created the equivalent of a seductive hive mind, its heartbeat eerily slithering with just enough melody to keep the listener from Kafka-esque madness.
“Under the Skin’s” sonic shock of the new was created by the kind of avant-garde composer who could only come from nowhere. However, the earthly, pleasantly unpretentious English-accented form of Mica Levi is most definitely known to indie music fans under her stage name of “Micachu.” With her group evolved from Micachu & The Shapes to Good Sad Happy Band, Levi’s boundary-pushing tastes were insured by growing up with similarly eclectic musician parents. DJ’ing, commissioning classical symphonic pieces and playing alt. festivals the world over in the service of such albums as “Never” and “Jewellery,” Levi honed the kind of unconventional voice perfect for breakout first score efforts, especially given such well-fittingly esoteric subject matter like “Skin.”
That chilling, gut-wrenching spirit pervades Mica Levi’s next score for “Jackie” in feeling, though without quite as much musical confrontation given that she’s scoring a First Lady, as opposed to an E.T. succubus. Yet don’t expect harmony as beautifully fitted as the costumes Jackie Kennedy used to put the nation under the spell of Camelot. Instead, the somber direction of Pablo Larrain (“Nasty Baby”) and the devastating performance by Natalie Portman assist Levi in creating a gut-punch of a soundtrack. Following the shell-shocked Jackie through her husband’s assassination, LBJ’s inauguration and her planning a potentially dangerous public funeral for JFK, Levi’s music resounds with melancholy. Told in an elegiac, neo-classical style, “Jackie” is full of strong, yet melodically hesitant themes, strings never quite coming together to make a grand statement. Dark military percussion conveys the continued threat of assassination, weirdly descending strings a White House world breaking apart, while somber piano confronts children asking where their father is. It’s shell-shocked, neo-chamber music that’s full of dark heartbreak, yet powerfully conveys a woman who’s far less fragile than her public image as she rises from unimaginable grief to self-determination and worth.
Once again getting inside a character who’s unconventional in spite of their beautiful appearance, “Jackie” is striking proof once again that there’s likely no composer on earth like Mica Levi.
What was it like growing up with musicians for parents, particularly given their passion for record collecting?
There was lots of music, particularly devout classical music, as well as jazz, funk and prog-rock records. My dad also played a lot of music that was banned by The Third Reich and really obscure, far-out compositions from that time. As for me, I didn’t like all of the pop music that was about when I was young. I preferred The Beatles and Michael Jackson, which was a bit older.
Audiences, and critics had truly never heard a score like “Under the Skin.” Were you surprised by the enthusiastic reaction it got, especially considering how experimental the score was?
Ummm… yeah! I think I was surprised. It was a totally new, life-changing thing. But I knew when I was on the film that something good was going to come out of it. I felt that we had a bit of a guarantee, because we’d worked on it day and night for ten months. And they’d been working on it before I came in even longer than that. So I thought, “there’s got to be something good about this!”
People at first might ask what the composer of “Under the Skin” is doing scoring a movie about Jackie Kennedy. But then, you realize that “Jackie” is far from a typical biopic. Did that strike you when they asked you to score it?
It didn’t, because I guess I’ve always thought of Jackie Kennedy, as having these fucked up moments, so I thought a film about her could be quite dark. I also think that Jackie Kennedy and JFK had a situation that wasn’t entirely ordinary anyway.
There might not seem to be any connections between “Under the Skin” and “Jackie.” But when you think about it, they both deal with a woman who’s an enigma to the public around her. They’re completely mysterious subjects.
I think for me there was a moment when I thought, “Oh yes. It’s another movie about another woman with brown hair!” But other than that, the musical process of these two films felt very different.
Right from the start, “Jackie’s” score disorients you with this plunging musical effect. How did you achieve that?
It’s actually a really easy “effect” that I’ve always been drawn to for two reasons. One is that it used to be a really romantic thing to do, a rich, lush, indulgent musical move to sweep you away somewhere. It’s really easy to achieve with a guitar that has frets, which separates all of the pitches. Within the traditional orchestral string family in the orchestra, there aren’t any frets, so you just have a continuous glissando that hits all of the frequencies in between each note, so it’s very natural if you ever pick up a violin, cello or a base that you just keep your finger on it and slide it up. It’s a characteristic string sound that’s a player’s instinctual first move on the instrument. It’s almost like a grotesque dance move that seems “elastic,” if that makes sense. There was a period of time when people played classical music in that way, with a lot of stylistic “slides,” which felt like the era of “Jackie.” It’s kind of a warped thing that happens if you slow something down – like equipment before it becomes a drawn-out, viscous sound. I’ve always been interested in distorting music in that way with speed, as opposed to loudness.
Usually, themes have a “straight,” flowing line in scores, but here everything is hesitant, almost in pieces, much like Jackie, who’s in shock through a great deal of the film.
What happened was that I wrote a lot of the music before I saw the film. I sent it to Pablo, saying this is kind of what I’ve come up with so far as I thought about what Jackie might like, what her musical tastes might be from my point of view in this period of time. And a lot of that ended up in the film. So scoring “Jackie” wasn’t quite as to picture as what films usually are. But I tried to link the music key-wise as much as possible so that it was all subconsciously connected somehow. I didn’t always manage to do that, because sometimes when I transposed things, Pablo said, “That sounds different. I liked it before!” And I was like, “Ok. Fine. I’ll put it back!”
You really capture the gut punch of a person going through an awful event. Did you draw on any personal, nightmarish experiences to create that musical sensation?
I think I have felt like that. I’ve always wondered about people who really suffer. I don’t suffer like some of the people in this world do. Far from it. But I wonder if humans’ capacities are different. So if someone is in a very life-threatening, desperate situation somewhere, do they have a wider thermometer than someone who is in a not-very desperate situation? Can they still inflict the same amount of highs and lows?
You also manage to capture a “classical” sound akin to the composer Arvo Part in “Jackie.”
I think Jackie listened to a lot of classical music. While I wouldn’t cite Arvo Part as a specific influence on my score, “Jackie” draws from the older Baroque stuff that surely influenced him.
Because the film is so dark, I imagine that your music couldn’t be depressing all of the time, especially when there’s a witty pizzicato theme between Jackie and her press handler Nancy.
Yeah, for sure. I thought the music needed to lift the film up a little bit more, so I sent a lot of lighter stuff to Pablo actually, but it didn’t end up on the soundtrack. But then you don’t want to be contrived and write something that ends up being freaky, which is very easy to do, especially when it’s accompanying older looking footage. The more chirpy the music is underneath it, the more psychotic and terrifying it ends up sounding!
There’s also a powerful march theme that taps into the unspoken “conspiracy” aspect of JFK’s assassination.
It’s military, almost like gunshots. Jackie’s whole situation is very official. She’s almost never, ever alone in the film. There are always two guys standing around to chaperone her, and she’s “kicked out” very quickly at Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in on the airplane in Dallas. Suddenly some guy has taken her husband’s job. So it’s all very much like “Next!” So that regimented thing felt like a no-brainer to me. Someone just gave me the CD of John Williams’ score to “JFK.” I’ve never seen that film, or heard its score. But someone told me he used snare in it, so apparently I wasn’t wrong in that approach!
When people hire you, do you think they realize they’re going to get something really out of the ordinary?
Yeah. I guess they presumably want the sound of something I’ve done of a film before. But if they asked me to repeat a score, then I’d probably find that hard to do. Not on principle, but it’d be hard to do intentionally. So they shouldn’t ask that of me. They should trick me into doing it! But funnily enough, I never think any music is “weird.” Sometimes it just works! But that’s just me. I went on this film music-judging thing once, which I have very minimum experience with. I didn’t want to do it, but felt like I should take the opportunity. I got there, and sure enough, I couldn’t do it! That’s because I think you’ve got to respect anyone writing music and their point of view. It wasn’t my place to judge them, because I don’t have a very firm hold on what’s good, bad, weird or normal. I felt like I wasn’t very good at that role. I was clueless in that.
It strikes me that there’s a whole new wave of modern classical composers who are now changing the face of film music to create something very intellectual and demanding in a medium that’s about serving up mostly “understandable” music.
I think there’ve been trends and styles of films, which means that it’s easier for people to process them. I’m not a “film composer” in that sense though, as I’ve just written pieces of music. But there’s clout in trying to write fully formed music to picture, because then it’s generally better. There’s a real skill to that. And then there’s a whole phase now of people putting pre-existing songs into movie soundtracks, which changes up the game a lot
You have an utterly unique voice as a composer that accompanies absolutely original films. But do you think you could score a Will Ferrell movie to picture?
Cool! I’d certainly be up for trying. I would love to do a comedy.
Travel to a mournful White House with Mica Levi’s score for “Jackie” on Milan Records HERE
Go “Under the Skin” with Mica Levi’s alien score HERE
This weekend, two movies are being released in theaters nationwide (with music by): [m.41158]Incarnate ([c.1265]Andrew Lockington) and [m.47704]Believe ([c.19910]Michael Reola). Awards contender [m.47075]Jackie ([c.9466]Mica Levi) is opening in limited release. For the full list of theatrical releases, [dt.2016-12-02]click here.
Among new theatrical releases, we are tracking song credits for:
- [m.45667]Best and Most Beautiful Things (4 songs)
- [m.47410]Bodyguards: Secret Lives From the Watchtower (6 songs)
- [m.46692]The Eyes of My Mother (7 songs)
- [m.47075]Jackie (5 songs)
- [m.44246]Man Down (12 songs)
- [m.45913]PET (4 songs)
- [m.47248]Two Trains Runnin' (29 songs)
The nominations for several...