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Interview with Lorne Balfe

Di, 20/06/2017 - 00:14

Even if one might not be able to comprehend the seemingly fantastical equations of Albert Einstein, music remains the great communicator in touching the senses, and imagination. Such is the wonder of Lorne Balfe’s score to “Genius,” National Geographic’s ambitious foray from the often-staid world of straight documentaries into fictionalized reality. With Balfe’s sweeping orchestra and sci-fi-like sampling opening up Albert Einstein’s revolutionary theorems about the nature of time and space, “Genius” conveys the magic of a mind realizing the secrets of creation.

Yet this Ron Howard-produced series is far from the iconic scientist chalking up a classroom board. Instead, “Genius” is far more concerned with showing how a man who could be so brilliant with math can be so grievously flawed in his personal life. As portrayed young and old by Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Flynn through nine episodes, “Genius” reveals the violin player as a budding world-changer as capable of passion as he is indifference, leaving wreckage from the lives of his first, equally intelligent wife and their sons, while carrying on affairs in front of his beyond understanding second wife. For a vainglorious, yet somehow sympathetic “character,” Balfe draws on powerful, lush emotion that also captivatingly plays the greater canvas of Eastern European history through two world wars.

It’s a haunting, evocative and strongly orchestral sound whose spirit can be heard more intimately in “Churchill.” Dealing with another formidable true personage that held the weight of the free world on his stout shoulders, Balfe’s music here is more intimate and spiritually minded for a leader grasping with doubt about the invasion that he knows will cost thousands upon thousands of lives. It’s an epic intimacy that shows the versatility of this Scottish-born composer. Having risen up the ranks of Hans Zimmer’s musical brain trust on such scores as “Rango,” “The Dark Knight” and “Inception” to show his own stylish voice with “Beyond: Two Souls,” “Ironclad,” “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman,” the Emmy-nominated “Restless” and this year’s smash “The LEGO Batman Movie” among numerous works, Balfe’s “Genius” and “Churchill” hear the human heart of history with captivating lyricism. It’s music that makes the math, and history books open to their icons with immediately understandable, captivating melody that’s true inspiration.

How were you approached to score the music to Genius, and did The National Geographic Channel have an approach in mind for the show?

Ron Howard approached me, because I had worked with him and Hans. Ron knew that I had a background in television, and the “Genius” pilot was his debut as a director for television.

Did you do your own research into Einstein?

I wouldn’t say “research,” as I did know about the basic life of Einstein. Yet as “Genius” shows, there was far more about his life that people didn’t know about. The music was really about looking at where his story was going. The only research I did for the show was when it came to Einstein’s love of the violin. I don’t know how good he was at playing it, but if I had to make a guess, I’d think that maybe he was good at it. Some people say the same thing about most musicians being good at math, though that’s certainly not true when it comes to me!

Did it weigh on you that Alan Silvestri won an Emmy for his work on “Cosmos,” which is another show about the exploration about science, though one far broader in its scope than “Genius?”

“Cosmos” was an amazing soundtrack. But thinking like that won’t get you out of bed in the morning! The one thing I did learn from all of this is that you have to distance yourself from whatever you do, not to get too attached for too long or you will feel that pressure to outdo yourself every time. “Genius” was such a complicated work in its own way that to make all the themes for the theories to work together was something else. Television is far more complicated than film; with film, where you have an hour and a half to tell a story. With television, you’re musically telling a story for ten hours where you’re on this journey with the audience. It’s far more intense than your usual film. And viewers don’t watch television the way they used to. They sit down and watch five episodes in one go. So you have to monitor your use of themes, particularly nowadays.

Can you personally relate to Albert Einstein?

I I don’t think anybody really can. If they think so, then they’re very egotistical! Einstein was a complicated person and Ron wanted to make the score for him more of a classical storytelling experience as opposed to making it feel like a period piece. So it took me a while to figure out what the colors were to his story. .

“Genius” is far more about Einstein as a human being as opposed to being a “science show” as such, and in the process offers a lot of revelations about his personal life. Did any of them surprise you?

The most shocking thing to me about Einstein was his womanizing. I wasn’t aware of how much of a lothario he was! I didn’t know where he had the time to do all those great mathematical findings while chasing these women.

For all of crappy stuff that Einstein did to the women he was involved with, how do you want the music to maintain sympathy for him?

Einstein’s passion and his love didn’t make him a bad person. There was nothing malicious about him. He was a man that couldn’t help himself – a true eccentric. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for him and the people that he hurt. Musically, I didn’t want to make Einstein pitiful, but to hear him realistically so that it wouldn’t sideline the importance of what he’s contributing to science.

How difficult was it to musically convey the idea of scientific discovery, which make for some of “Genius’” most visually stunning sequences?

From the beginning, Ron always talked about that “sound” where, and when you have that “unique moment?” What is that piece of music when ‘all of a sudden” happens? Where you figured out that equation, or the conclusion to that theory? We’ve portrayed that with film music as a burst of energy. But on this television show it was important not overwhelm the viewer. The music has to sit back when Einstein’s demonstrating his theories, because had we been too intrusive it would’ve detracted from the information given. What he’s saying is so complicated and that I didn’t want to overwhelm the situation.

Did you combing “old school” orchestrations with more futuristic samples to show how Einstein was ahead of his time?

When we started the process, Ron would always unintentionally experiment with the two, but it wasn’t planned out to make “Genius” into a hybrid score. It just happened. The electronic elements provided us a way to look inside what was going on in Einstein’s head, the inside looking out if you would. I didn’t want to make a conventional score. I wanted to make one that, like him, was always evolving. The colors of the score had to match that evolution.

Was it important for the music to hold onto the audience that tuned in expecting Geoffrey Rush through the whole series, where in fact he essentially shows up at the very beginning and then the final few episodes?

I was more invested in the younger Albert Einstein, as that’s the person I never knew about. I actually yearned for even more with his earlier self. But you couldn’t have two different musical approaches for their ages. The music had to a whole, because it’s the same journey, a constant yearning by Einstein for passion and love.

How did you want to convey the scope of history that goes through two world wars?

It was an underbelly to the music that made for a sense of dread and brooding power that’s trying to overtake the viewer. It’s always a difficult thing to score when dealing with those dark themes. For example, when I was writing on “The Bible A.D.,” I had a theme for the devil, whose dark music could mean different things to many people. Sometimes that approach can end up being parody if you don’t watch it.

How did Hans Zimmer’s main theme inspire your own approach, or were you working on the score at the same time?

Han’s main theme was a difficult one, because it really isn’t about Albert Einstein. It’s about the concept of genius, as the series won’t be about Einstein next year. It’s about what the thought process is when you have that moment on inspiration – whether it’s writing the plotline for a great plotline for a piece of literature, composing a piece of music, or doing a painting, all of which will become iconic. My score is specifically about Albert Einstein.

How do you think “Genius” represents the move by channels like National Geographic from straight documentaries to essentially fictionalized shows like “Vikings?”

Viewers have a yearning and an appetite for knowledge, they want more content and this is an amazing dramatization that works as well as a feature film. That’s possible for shows, but very difficult to achieve. The process is even more difficult, because with a film, you have a certain amount of time to tell the story – whereas with television, you have more time spread out to tell the story, and to be more consistent in almost every aspect. People today tend to talk more about television more than they do about films.

Having now scored “Churchill” after Einstein, do you see anything in common with these two iconic figures?

This movie was also about discovering a side of a person you’ve never seen before. “Churchill” is about the end of his political career, when he was losing control. And it’s sad to see that happen. Like any character, that makes them relatable to viewers when they can relate their own emotions to them. While you can’t really relate to someone had the kind of lives that Einstein and Churchill did, you can relate to common emotions of vulnerability and loss. Both films are interesting to see because they also deal with the characters’ relationships with their spouses. “Churchill” and “Genius” are about men, not myths.

How did you want the specter of the D-Day invasion to be part of “Churchill’s” score?

“Churchill” isn’t about war, but the pride of the nation. He’s dealing with his emotional wounds, and trying to find a way back for a second chance. So to me, I never looked at it as a war film, but more as a drama. The director Jonathan Teplitzky (“The Railway Man”) was always keen on the authenticity of it, not wanting to make it epic. This was the story of a man who needed to make wrongs right.

You use voices in a particularly haunting, and hymnal way in “Churchill.”

British chorale music is the most beautiful pure music I remembered as a child. I think Churchill became the man he did because of his upbringing. He was brought up by his grandparents, and was alone for most of his youth. He wrote great poetry when he was young, so there’s a purity when you hear the voices in the score, as they for a man who sounded simplistic, but spoke from the heart.

Credit: Pierre Futsch and Nicolas Cabarrou

Do you think that scoring these films about legendary figures from the past will advance your own career?

I don’t care. I think that the most important thing I did was a documentary called “Salinger,” based upon the life of the reclusive author who wrote “Catcher in the Rye.” I loved every single moment on that project. The reviews were not good. Time Magazine called it the worst film of the year. I mean, Adam Sandler beat us! But that didn’t really matter, because there was a bigger message to be told. I think that if you’re lucky in life, you’ll get to work in different genres, it’s an amazing opportunity than just writing for horror films every single day, which can become monotonous, I think that in writing a score for Churchill and Einstein, you really want to learn about these men. It’s rare to be able to work on gems like “Genius” and “Churchill.” Albert Einstein was a rock star of his time. To be able to portray these characters so that people won’t think of them as stuffy and old is important to me, because we need those kinds of people again in our lives, and the future.

Listen to Lorne Balfe’s musical theories for “Genius” HERE on Milan Records, then listen to the sound of Britain’s wounded lion on Filmtrax HERE.

Watch “Genius” HERE. “Churchill” is now in theaters.

Visit Lorne Balfe’s website HERE

Special thanks to Alexander Portillo for transcribing this interview

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Audio: Interview with Brian Tyler and Alex Kurtzman

Wo, 07/06/2017 - 01:07

ON THE SCORE is sponsored by La-La Land Records

Through the pedal to the metal energy of his “Fast and the Furious” scores to the explosive ramp-ups of “The Expendables” and the stealth, death-inducing percussion of the concluding two “Final Destination” scores, there’s no mistaking the franchise-friendly sound of composer Brian Tyler. With a muscular, pop-rock friendly mix of orchestra and sampling, Tyler has long had the multiplex testosterone musical fuel in demand by Hollywood heavy hitters. However, when the lid is taken off the coffin that will unleash a new series of classic Universal horror monsters for a rebooted “Mummy,” the striking music that issues forth isn’t the kind of Tyler score we’ve come to know. It’s a new, classic beast entirely.

With his most impressive score yet, Tyler recalls the richly atmospheric, melody-driven horror of such classic composers as Franz Waxman, Hans J. Salter and Heinz Roemheld – all Eastern Europeans who heralded a dark, romantic sound that powered the likes of “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Wolfman” and “Dracula’s Daughter” (which isn’t to mention how Tyler also draws on the symphonic, sandstorm force that Jerry Goldsmith gave to the first “Mummy’s” vintage-set reboot).

Brian Tyler conducts a live performance of “The Mummy”

Very old school, sinister girl power is what this lavish, modern-age take on the mummy movie legend is all about in the increasingly seductive form of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a far more sensuous mummy than the soul-eating eating “Bubba Ho-Tep” that Tyler scored from way back when. As Ahmanet seeks to unleash hell on earth through her fatal attraction to roguish adventurer Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), Tyler’s epic score goes for a sweeping sense of ancient fear quite unlike himself. A booming chorus, thrilling symphonic suspense, skittering evil and an enticing sense of Egyptian doom fill this “Mummy,” revealing a whole new composer whose princess seeks musically biblical payback.

Alex Kurtzman and Brian Tyler greet fans at “The Mummy”’s French premiere

Now on a new episode of “On the Score,” Brian Tyler is joined by “Mummy” filmmaker Alex Kurtzman as they talk about a long-lasting collaboration that’s evolved from “Eagle Eye” to “Hawaii Five-0” and “Now You See Me” to reach its biggest challenge yet for a genre directing debut that’s drawn vital powers of grandly melodic, evil excitement as both men seek to create a new, Dark Universe for Universe Pictures’ most prized and fearsome properties.

Click above to Listen Now or Click Here to Download

“The Mummy” strikes on June 9th, with Brian Tyler’s score available on Backlot Music.

Visit Brian Tyler’s website HERE

Convening after “The Mummy” concert (L to R) Courtney Vance, Annabelle Wallis, Tom Cruise, Brian Tyler, Alex Kurtzman, and Sofia Boutella

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Rupert Gregson-Williams

Vr, 02/06/2017 - 19:11

Just as the Amazons have remained hidden on their Zeus-blessed Paradise Island of Themyscira, composer Rupert-Gregson Williams has essentially remained one of the best-kept secrets in the insular town of Hollywood. Now, the impressively skilled residents of their respective worlds finally get their blockbuster coming-out party with “Wonder Woman,” as the Greek-molded goddess Princess Diana fiercely fights for peace and love to Williams’ heroic strains – an inherent optimism that finally blasts the dark, draining nihilism that’s defined DC films to bright smithereens.

But if Diana is properly travelling the cinematic world for the first time since her comic book creation by William Moulton Marston in 1941, her English-born muse has been out doing good works for nearly two decades. The brother of Harry Gregson-Williams (“Man on Fire,” “The Martian”) rose from “Urban Ghost Story” and “Virtual Sexuality” to impress with his own rousing orchestral sound. His music made you believe a farting kid could fly into space with “Thunderpants,” conveyed the genocide outside “Hotel Rwanda,” captured the backyard animated antics of “Over the Hedge” and has given any number of Adam Sandler pictures magical maturity with the likes of “Click” and “Bedtime Stories.”

It’s been a diligent climb through any number of comedies like “Blended” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” in recent years for Williams (including the smarter laughs of HBO’s “Veep”). Thankfully, Williams’ heroic talents were finally allowed to come roaring to the fore with his energetic work for the seriously underappreciated “The Legend of Tarzan.” Capturing the noble adventure of the iconic jungle lord, Williams’ cache was elevated significantly further as he grippingly played the incredible WW2 heroism of the real-life savior Desmond Doss in “Hacksaw Ridge,” before hearing the introspective feminine drive of Queen Elizabeth for Netflix’s “The Crown.” But nothing in Williams’ increasingly impressive arsenal of conveying heroism socks it to the audience like director Patty Jenkins’ smashingly great realization of “Wonder Woman.”

Bonded to his brother and the Hans Zimmer school by their use of propulsive samples alongside a traditional orchestra in a way that’s more newfangled than John Williams’ superhero-defining style, this particular Williams’ hears just as much valiant, sweepingly melodic conviction within Princess Diana. With ethnic instrumentation and bold, sword and shield clanging percussion capturing this Amazonian champion’s mystical birthright, the composer sends her out into the world and its Great War in the company of secret agent Steve Trevor, employing sympathy, humor and the heart-rending emotion of a sheltered woman seeing male-made carnage for the first time. It’s a sweepingly noble approach that’s pure comic book movie magic as Diana charges through the trenches in full costume as sweeping strings build to the thematic fierceness of Tina Guo’s rocking cello playing. There’s also no mistaking pure good and evil in the dastardly music of its gas-loving Huns and higher-powered villains, combat that reaches cosmically choral levels for its exhilarating musical climax, and truly moving aftermath. Bringing back every hero-making musical element that DC had forgotten, Rupert Gregson-Williams “Wonder Woman” resounds with epic girl power in a way that distinguishes the long-awaited arrival of Princess Diana as much as himself.

Did you and Harry become interested in music, and film scoring simultaneously? And in what way do you think your styles are similar, and dissimilar?

Harry and I both trained in performance as youngsters, and our love for film and film scoring came later. I think our styles differ sonically, but harmonically I think we may have one or two similar traits – we both were choristers at Cambridge. That training goes deep!

Were you familiar with the character of Wonder Woman before taking on this score?

I’d seen the TV show back in the day, and of course, Gal’s Wonder Woman really made an impressive mark in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” I had wondered, like many fans, why such an important figure in the D.C. Universe had not been explored before, but never dreamt I’d be taking her to the big screen for the first time.

Did the Wonder Woman music that was heard for the character’s first appearance in “Batman v Superman” influence your approach here?

The theme used in that film represents a Diana who is already a super hero, and confident in all things-warrior. In our origin movie, I needed to write a fresh theme and original music for the young Diana to represent her naivety. I composed for Diana knowing where the journey might end tonally. I enjoyed using cello playing of Tina Guo to show glimpses of what is to come!

Tell us about your collaboration with director Patty Jenkins, and what she was looking for the score to accomplish?

director Patty Jenkins & Rupert Gregson-Williams - photo by James Gillham/Sting Media

Patty is smart. She’s also got a great ear, and is a fan of film music. We worked closely on how to develop themes, especially the journey that Diana’s theme should take in her development from young girl to super hero. She really wanted a strong theme that represented the heart and strength of Diana. We spent a long time together simply talking Diana – her naïveté, her compassion , her strengths , before I wrote a note. We spent a lot of time with themes going back and forth until we found The One.

Before “Wonder Woman” you scored another highly enjoyable, period-set superhero with “Tarzan.” Do you see the characters as similar in that they’re noble warriors thrust into a weaponized world that they try to make sense of?

Yes, both characters have a naivety about them and their need to help the weak. Both draw on years of training or survival in sheltered paradise for their strength. Ultimately Wonder Woman was a journey of discovery for her powers, whereas Tarzan knew his strengths only too well.

Do you think your heroic music for the horrors of war in “Hacksaw Ridge” came into play here as well when it came to Wonder Woman taking on the WW1 trenches?

Yes, it’s an interesting comparison. Both Wonder Woman and Desmond Doss seek to help the vulnerable through their love of humans differ. Diana’s strength comes from a lifetime of training, and of course being the daughter of Zeus helps! With Desmond Doss I had to drill down into the spiritual heart of the man and where he got his strength.

Tell us about developing your Wonder Woman theme and how it fit this new retro-vision of the character?

Patty and I worked hard on the theme. We wanted to show strength and beauty and love. She is from a proud and brave race, descended from Gods. Diana is also naïve and humorous. Simple nut to crack! Really I wanted to have a theme that could be noble, romantic and ultimately heroic as the film moves through to its climax.

How did you want to convey a mystical, ancient land of Amazonians, and the tribal heritage that Wonder Woman carries with her along with their very physical emblems of their might and magic?

The Amazonians are fearless, and their land is timeless, so I had to be very confident with the theme for them. Their land feels less ethnic and more wondrous and magical to me, so I set about it with that in mind.

What attributes of Wonder Woman were important for you to capture?

I felt I had to capture strength, beauty and compassion. Because her nobility, charm and humor shine through so well with Gal Gadot’s performance too. I had plenty of opportunity in this movie to explore all these attributes.

How did you want to achieve a balance between musical femininity, and strength?

Diana’s melody is feminine, but always underpinned with percussion and propulsion. She learns of the darkness going on in the world, which drives her to want to want to save humanity. As long as her theme sung out, I could explore ever more bold ways of accompanying it.

Even during its most furious action scenes, did you want to go for an overaching, brass-driven sense of nobility for Wonder Woman’s mission?

No, as I play each action scene differently. In the movie she encounters danger at her most naive on the island of Themescyra, and in the man’s world she develops her powers and we see her at her most confident. I tried to develop the strength and powers of the theme to reflect her journey in the action scenes.

In most male superhero films, the “girl” is usually left to play second fiddle. But here the relationship is essentially reversed with Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. How did that dynamic play into your score?

They have a great chemistry together, which I hope is reflected in the score. Steve isn’t left behind in any way. He holds his own, but Diana keeps surprising him as she develops. The themes become stronger and more about Wonder Woman as the dangers grow and her awareness of her powers develops.

Tell us about your more villainous music here, especially given their mix of the Germanic, and warrior godhood?

I loved writing for General Ludendorff and Dr. Maru – the theme is a low ascending figure on the lowest woodwinds with a counter line slithering downwards – it says pure evil after the first three notes play. There’s real darkness there, so I didn’t need to play the Germanic side of Ludendorff. I felt he represented a broader and older evil on the earth.

You’ve also scored a member of real-life female royalty with “The Crown.” Can you see any musical comparisons with Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana?

No, though both are brave in their way. Elizabeth doesn’t show emotion in the way Diana does. Her strength is in restraint. Diana wears her heart on her sleeve. So Diana’s theme is both noble and overtly romantic and heroic. Elizabeth’s is noble, but emotionally restrained. That’s the English for you!

Though you scored some decidedly serious movies like “Hotel Rwanda,” comedies, especially those from Adam Sandler, have been a consistent of your career. Why do you think that relationship’s lasted so long, and do you think you bring a particular musical “weight” to his brand of comedy, most recently with “Sandy Wexler?”

I love working with Adam – We’ve lasted a long time because he makes me laugh. I sometimes make him cry and I try to make him laugh. He is one of the most loyal in the business and I admire him for that.

A lot of women campaigned to get this score, but you were the winner in this tournament. Do you think that a person’s sex should determine who gets a “women’s” picture as such, or do you think it should be left to the director and studio to determine who’s right for the job based on talent, regardless of their sex, given a film’s subject?

I don’t think Patty would have liked to hire someone based simply on their gender. Just as she is a director first, She is also a female director. I know she spent long time thinking about who would score her movie, and heard a lot of music from both female and male composers. When she made the decision, it was based on whom she thought would understand the character of Diana best. I hope she was right in choosing me, and I feel lucky to have been given the opportunity.

Photo by James Gillham/Sting Media

Like Harry, you’ve created a dynamic style that blends a strong, thematic orchestra with rhythm and samples. Would you say that’s the sound any composer needs to stay sonically current, especially when it comes to getting films like “Wonder Woman?”

I think it helps to feel comfortable with technology and current musical trends, not necessarily to follow them. One can’t help writing melodies, harmonies and rhythms that get you excited, so the best thing for me is to keep an open mind on what I hear and to make sure I play with new musical toys as they are developed with new technology.

Do you think that “Tarzan,” “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Wonder Woman” now truly show you’ve at long last “arrived” in A-level Hollywood? And what do you think will be the trick to staying in a place you’ve long deserved?

Well that’s kind of you. But once you feel you’ve arrived, you may as well flick to autopilot and put your slippers on and sit back. I will always feel fear at the beginning of a project – that’s how I’ll keep it fresh. It’s been a terrific and exciting year. I’m thankful and looking forward to the next year. Let’s hope I get half the amount of opportunities I’ve had this year.

Lasso the musically mighty truth of Rupert-Gregson Williams’ score for “Wonder Woman” on WaterTower Records HERE

Listen to Rupert Gregson-Williams’ scores for “Hacksaw Ridge” and “The Legend of Tarzan” HERE and HERE

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

May 2017 Soundtrack Picks

Wo, 24/05/2017 - 18:09

Soundtrack Picks: “BARBARELLA and WONDER WOMAN: THE TELEVISION SERIES” are the top soundtrack to own for May, 2017


To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover




Price: $11.49

What is it?: In space, no one can hear you scream. But you can certainly hear its terrifying music in these two auspicious, alien-centric scores from Milan Records.

Why should you buy it?: In “Alien Covenant,” we get the clearest view yet as to how these bioweapons work, as their spores and face huggers invade bodily orifices, bursting out with creatures that take on their victim’s shape. On that note, listeners of “Alien Covenant” might be searching for the creature running around in the form Jerry Goldsmith and Elliot Goldenthal. It’d likely resemble Jed Kurzel, whose striking, vicious creativity here is sourced from those composers’ DNA. Yet before his literal Hollywood breakthrough here, Kurzel made his own strong impression down under with his eerily tense work for “The Snowtown Murders,” “The Babadook” and “Macbeth.” Now Kurzel impressively insinuates himself among the giants that have come before him in “Alien’s” musical saga. Where director Ridley Scott had used just a bit of Goldsmith’s “Alien” theme in Marc Streitenfeld and Harry-Gregson Williams’ score for “Prometheus,” that legendary composer’s score has a far larger presence in “Covenant,” which is particularly ironic as Kurzel is called upon to use both Goldsmith melodies that were used in the original, as well as the ones that were rejected for a score that the Scott mostly tossed to use older Goldsmith work to arguable effect. Kurzel styles the orchestral side of “Covenant” in Goldsmith’s creepily orchestral fashion, using both minimal, gong-like percussion and well as grander gestures that at first reflect the optimism of seriously misguided space settlers. But as the invasive spore dust hits the fan on a deceptively pleasant planet, Kurzel introduces bizarre sampled and electronic elements, gnarled, percussive effects that get under your ears at conveying some alien civilization’s unknowable purpose in manufacturing civilization-killing dust. With the crew increasingly decimated in gory fashion, Kurzel brings impressionistic, brass heavy horror to the surface, modernistic music that veers from a whisper to frenzy in the tradition of Elliot Goldenthal’s nightmarish music for the lamented “Alien 3.” It’s an Avant-garde style that gradually consumes “Covenant” to impressive effect as eerie chorus and orchestra laments engineers destroyed by their own creations. Face huggers skitter about with terrifying percussion, and a chest burster is heard as a thing of tender beauty by an android with delusions of godhood. With a score that treads well between melodic fear and sound design, Kurzel’s unusual approach also delivers on the action set pieces, as rhythms, chopped vocal effects and orchestra capture the excitement of our heroine repeatedly hanging for dear life over the abyss, with gnashing double-jaws in front of her. Such is the intricacy of Kurzel’s work that more than a bit of it gets lost in the film mix, making this CD the best way to appreciate “Covenant’s” impressive hybrid of sound design and score that pays genetic tribute to the series’ musical heritage while skittering off in its own impressively unnerving way.

Extra Special: A major rebound for both director Daniel Espinosa and composer Jon Ekstrand from the interminably murky “Child 44,” “Life” is positively roaring with its more fiendish genetic aspects for a bald-faced, incredibly effective rip on that old chestnut of spacemen being chased about by a mutating creature with a decidedly bad attitude. However, Ekstrand really nasty trick is having his music make you think that it’s going to be a cosmically blissful close encounter between man and cute amoeba-like thing, as “Life” starts out with a richly symphonic sense of discovery and wonder. His music builds, its themes long and drifting as opposed to being forthright, reaching an “Also Sprach Zarathustra” transcendence with “It’s Alive.” But just as heavenly chorus sings with the promise of peace for “New Best Friend,” Ekstrand pulls the rug out from under the listener while severely tightening a protoplasmic handshake. “Life” from this point out builds with gripping desperation, suspensefully layering in the orchestral Where other composers might take a more frenetic route as the increasingly decimated space station’s dwindling crew try to outmaneuver the creature, Ekstrand goes for a more melodic than dissonant depiction of consuming fear. It’s scoring as relentless forward thrust, even amidst some blissful moments of dealing with the hopelessness of the situation, capturing the emotion of not only trying to save oneself, but also one’s blood brothers as well. Even when that clichéd used sonic bwwaammmm repeatedly pounds as a Soviet craft proves anything but a rescue ship, Ekstrand’s increasing momentum for blaring brass and strings is nothing less than riveting. Where “Gravity’s” Oscar-winning battle for survival against space itself showed how cool and unique one might make orchestra and electronics work for the vacuum, what distinguishes “Life” is how Ekstrand mainly uses the orchestra to convey heroes alternately running for their lives and trying to science the shit out their increasingly bleak and terrifying situation.



Prices: $13.98 / $ 34.98

What Is it?: It can be said that Charles Fox’s prolific film and TV scoring career got off to cult fame right off the bat with “The Green Slime.” Having an equal ear for era-defining pop beats and brightly energetic orchestrations, Fox composed any number of eternally memorable TV hits (often in the company of lyricist Norman Gimbel) for “Love American Style,” “Happy Days” and “The Love Boat,” along with such beloved caper scores as “9 To 5” and “Foul Play.” Among his genre projects, “Barbarella” and “Wonder Woman” stand tall as much for their camp heroines’ eye-catching uniforms as much as their space Shagadelia and groovy patriotism, musical girl power that’s now finally on full display with the two long-awaited CD editions.

Why Should You Buy It?: 1968 was indeed an auspicious year for Fox to groovily suit up astronauts, or in the case of “Barbarella,” provide much of the acid-washed clothing for Jane Fonda’s barely-dressed sex kitten. Director (and then Fonda husband) Roger Vadim created as much of a delightfully wacky comic strip adaptation as he did a stunning pop art tableau, it’s a psychedelically humorous with-it attitude complemented by the chart-topping sensibilities of Four Seasons collaborator Bob Crewe and his Bob Crewe Generation Orchestra. But with its fat brass licks on “Barbarella’s” progressively torn covering, the sensibility here is also very much of a “Casino Royale” one – with both scores very aware of their high camp purpose. But if that Bond spoof had Burt Bacharach and Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, Crewe’s production expertise created a wall of sound that was like Phil Spector in space. Electric guitar stings, sensual percussive atmospheres, hep spy music and an electric organ create the kind of alternate universe where a shag carpet space craft crash lands on a planet from the combined Id of Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali. “Barbarella” has it every which way as Fonda’s character, not exactly the brightest bulb in the universe, becomes a love object for any number of lustful characters, from the sleigh bells of an hairy chested iceman to the sitar-like grooves of the black queen and her Sodom and Gomorrah domain. Musical pastiche reigns in the mocking vocals of killer dolls and the crazed symphony of an orgiastic organ that Barbarella overloads (back then, you couldn’t do a satire score without taking on the classics). Yet what makes “Barbarella” memorable is that it’s way more than fun shtick, wrapping its craziness in genuine adventure and memorable themes, no more so than in the joyous, ascending string and brass melody for Pygar the Angel after he’s been deflocked by Barbarella. A combo of the playfully hip and the musically otherworldly, “Barbarella” also offers memorable songs, from The Glitterhouse’s cooing opening title for Fonda’s unforgettable space striptease to the goofily pitched “Love Love Love Drags Me Down” and the Bacharach-esque romance of “I Love All the Love in You.” Crewe rings out the film, and album with his riff on Pygar’s curiously touching sign off of “An Angel is Love,” the singer’s voice climbing to the heavens with a sweet horn refrain. It’s a combo of 60’s hip grooves and thematic melody that blissfully pays of “Barbarella,” a long beloved album that finally soars with terrific sound from Varese after decades of one inferior release after the other – pure heaven for fans of Fox and Crewe’s triumph of sci fi and Shagadelia.

Extra Special: Excepting Spider-Man, the 1970’s weren’t a banner TV decade for costumed superheroes, as the motorcycle riding, barely recognizable Wonder Woman and Captain America proved to face-palming reaction from comic book fans. But one colorfully twirling exception was 1975’s reboot of Wonder Woman, whose origin in WW2 and red, white and blue emblazoned outfit were dutifully recreated on ABC, and embodied to winningly beautiful effect by Lynda Carter. Done with just slightly less camp than Batman, every enamored school kid in America instantly recognized the bullets and bracelets call to action of Fox and Gimbel’s punchy-funk brass theme, who deliriously excited rhythm and chorus extolled her Amazonian virtues. The theme was a driving force through WW’s first war-set season, a patriotically nostalgic approach set by Fox. The dastardly Nazis were given the sound of Teutonic evil, as contrasted with square jawed Steve Trevor’s noble brass and the timpani. Paradise Island’s most famous ambassador had femininity to spare in her warm strings, while a jazzy sax cemented her maybe not-so platonic attraction to her ersatz boyfriend. With light militaristic suspense setting up the inevitable scene were Carter would effortlessly throw Germans and fifth columnists about, Fox brought the theme’s chorus to the fore, the orchestra cleverly varying the melody, with brass pows every bit the uppercut that Nelson Riddle’s music landed for The Caped Crusader’s punches. Fox was also canny enough to give “Wonder Woman” a contemporary pop vibe to its percussion. With his work done after scoring the pilot, Fox left the show in the capable hands of such composers as Artie Kane and Robert Prince, who kept “Wonder Woman” very much in Fox’s vein, even as the show transitioned to the modern era and a new network for its second and third seasons. Their music was stalwart enough, with a tone familiar to fans of such sci-fi shows as “Buck Rogers” and “Battlestar Galactica,” as well as displaying the kind of jazzy suspense that could be heard in any number of cop shows during the era. But it’s on the third disc of this terrific La La Land Records presentation that “Wonder Woman’s” scoring really jumps the shark in glorious fashion, from the punchy-funk action of Johnny Harris to Robert O. Ragland’s neo blaxploitation beat that could’ve easily fit his score for “Trouble Man.” The usually more sedate Angela Morley of “Watership Down” created a tingling, ersatz sci-fi meets Bond score, Robert Prince brought the Cosmic Beam with crazed disco rhythm and Richard LaSalle applied goofy monkey shines to awesomely absurd effect. In short, “Wonder Woman” is the 40’s by way of 70’s TV scoring awesomeness that’s a delight to fans of this cult show that Charles Fox emblazoned with a pop-friendly cleverness, a musical saga entertainingly chronicled by comic book score specialist John Takis on the triple CD’s colorful booklet.



Price: $17.95

What is it?: Dragon’s Domain shows how two composers linked to the inexplicably popular horror franchise “Friday the 13th” are just as adept at playing the evils of drag racing, or the nefarious designs of alien overlords in an unusual western fashion.

Why should you buy it?: After making a bloody splash with the parasitic terrors of “Shivers” and “Rabid,” David Cronenberg took a brief pit stop on his way to becoming the cinematic king of body horror with 1979’s “Fast Company” an almost forgotten B-movie interlude where the director indulged in his love of drag racing. Fellow Canuck Fred Mollin was just hitting the road to a prolific scoring career that would include “Friday the 13th’s 7 and 8, along with 72 episodes of its vaguely connected TV series. But as opposed to grooving with the sound of haunted antiques or mutating humans for that matter, Mollin and his brother Larry crafted a cool, song-driven score that could easily be jamming on the jukebox of a New Jersey country-blues bar as some racetrack. But if the producers couldn’t get couldn’t get Bruce Springsteen to perform the songs, Mollin, Bat McGrath and Michael Stanley impressively filled in the working class groove as their throaty vocals jammed with a swaggering sax, electric organ and lite jazz vibes, with even some disco fever thrown in. Even more impressively, the band also featured future Toto members Steve Lukather on guitar and Mike Porcaro on bass. Where movies of this sort had forgettable source cues, the Mollin bros tunes are uniformly good, conveying the energetic grit of tough living and loose women that surround the racer rivalry, or a “shootout on a drag strip” as Cronenberg saw it. It’s a grooving atmosphere that even smells like stale beer and burning motor oil in the best way a late 70’s drive-in flick can. Mollin’s relatively brief, band-centric instrumental work (Cronenberg’s first original score at that) is similarly packed with that era’s rocking goodness, with travelling men piano percussion, electric flame-exhaust thrash, and drum /guitar suspense for simmering sabotage, energetic instrumentals that sound like songs waiting to happen, putting much-needed energy into Cronenberg’s laid-back direction.

Extra Special: While his “ki ki ki ma ma ma” theme for the “Friday the 13th” series will remain his defining musical signature, and the stalk-and-slash suspense of his numerous series scores his most popular works, Harry Manfredini has always been far more capable than musically embedding blunt instruments in dumb teenagers heads – as can be diversely heard in any number of scores like the darkly heroic “Swamp Thing” or the high flying action of “Iron Eagle 3.” But likely his most impressive score that you’ve never heard of until now is for 1995’s “Timemaster.” As made by James Glickenhaus, who had a definitely talent for spectacle with “Shakedown” and “The Protector,” as well as Jason-worthy grisliness with “The Exterminator,” the director’s last movie had something to do with alien overlords hijacking humans into virtual reality games before sucking up the energy of planets. Well, ok then. But for Manfredini, it’s a terrifically diverse and highly melodic playing field at conveying youthful sci-fi action adventure by way of the old west. Coming up with exhilarating action rhythms at one moment and then spaghetti western stylings the next before venturing into Shaolin Temple Kung Fu action, “Timemaster” is a score full of exhilarating diversions, and one with a magically emotion heart as well as a starstuff chorus, youthful boldness and rock-pop rhythms that jet its heroes from one time zone to the next with the help of Pat Morita and Richard Wagner. It’s music on the equal of Alan Silvestri or Michael Kamen without an orchestral budget to speak of. But such is Manfredini’s dynamic writing and enthusiasm that the symphonic emulation here never matters. It’s the quality of this terrifically exciting music that does as it propels the imagination. Dragon’s Domain’s liner note specialist Randall D. Larson’s liner notes effectively shed light on this gem, as well as “Fast Company’s” draghouse blues to illuminating effect.



Prices: $16.95 / $10.79

What is it?: For all of his effectively gigantic scores like “The Fate of the Furious” and “The Mummy,” many of Brian Tyler’s best scores center on slow-burn mood as opposed to the fuse leading to an explosion – though given his prolific output there’s certainly room for both ends of the arthouse and multiplex stick to just get along with “Panic” and “Power Rangers.”

Why should you buy it: Done very near the beginning of an auspicious career, 2000’s “Panic” showed much talent to come with a beautifully haunting, low key score for equally promising director Harry Bromell, for whom star William H. Macy twisted his mild-mannered persona as a hit man with daddy issues. As he reveals his lethal neuroses on a psychiatrist’s couch, Tyler creates a thematic bed that’s about the sad insides of the protagonist as opposed to his cruel job. Hearing a unique, transfixing sound caught between strings and orchestral emulation that would pay off well, Tyler employs the delicate sound of a piano for a hopelessly wounded character trying to heal himself through romance with another lost soul in treatment, his futile dreams of salvation played through Tyler’s own wordless vocals. It’s a choral-inflected rhythmic approach reminiscent of Tangerine Dream, but done in a different more directly emotional playing field. There’s a real tenderness to “Panic’s” music that makes it unusually moving picture for the tortured hitman genre, though with a fatalistic film noir sensibility that let’s us hear the only sad road it can end on, if one that gives us a sympathetic feeling of transcendence. Like the author gone too soon, “Fitzgerald” marked Brommell’s last movie before his sudden passing, but his powerful mood piece about the writer’s final days in Hollywood only added to the newfound vitality of Tyler’s music. Impressionistic in its detox of booze and creative madness, Tyler’s conjures the rich, sometimes hallucinogenic alcohol-drenched sound of going into the iconic night with atmospheric style to spare. Given a gorgeously fatalistic theme that sings with the lush jazzy blues of Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry, “Fitzgerald” is beautifully sad and captivating, making for a tragic double soundtrack combo with a knockout punch, featuring exceptional sound and liner notes by album producer Zach Tow. It’s a CD a long time coming, but very much welcomed in displaying Brian Tyler’s muted, intimate touch at soulful, troubled tragedy.

Extra Special: There are few kid’s series more awesome in their rubber suited kitschiness than “The Mighty Morphing Power Rangers,” Saban Entertainment’s gonzo, Americanized reworking of an already absurdist monster battling Japanese show. But perhaps the most daring thing these “Rangers” have ever done was to fight for respectability as a big screen reboot, done as seriously as if its makers were trying to create “Superman: The Movie.” That these “Power Rangers” succeed at their lofty goals in an entertaining, thankfully non-goofy film is in no small part owed to Brian Tyler’s grand, and unequally uncondescending score. Having tackled the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot with equally fannish, if just a little bit more knowingly humorous energy, Tyler approaches the multi-colored cosmic avengers with a welcome mix of earnestness and zoid-roaring excitement, his music squarely aimed at a slightly older youth audience with its alt. pop-friendly guitar energy that brings out real heart from the teens underneath these way better-looking suits. Standing proudly next to his Marvel scores for Iron Man and Thor, Tyler’s dynamic fuel of rhythm, orchestra and futuristic samples are the stuff that emo superheroes are made of, the score powerfully building to the big morphing moment, with Tyler’s music socking him a real Jor-El valor to Bryan Cranston’s pixilated head as he tells his young charges to do their multi-colored change-o thing. It’s a score that’s no more in geek heaven that when Tyler gets to have his rocking orchestra crank it up with “Go Go Power Rangers.” Given a chorus and his way with creature-smashing percussion, Tyler’s mesh of symphony and sci-fi samples does its darndest to make you believe a bunch of kids can morph. That “Power Rangers’” score succeeds with almost amazing maturity shows a confidently energetic composer who’s suited up long ago.


Price: $21.99

What Is it?: What does the gay journey of discovery between two men have to do with a bunch of RV road tripping pals trying out outrun Satanists? Not much beyond the composer involved in one the crazier CD double feature that spotlights the diverse talent of Leonard Rosenman. Taking scoring into new, avant-garde territory with his brash, impressionistic work for piano student James Dean on “Rebel Without A Cause” and “East of Eden” before such experimentally surreal work as “Fantastic Voyage,” Rosenman wasn’t a composer particularly known for relaxed melody, which is what makes “Making Love” the true shocker that starts off this soundtrack.

Why Should You Buy It?: Perhaps the most romantic, and altogether lovely score that Rosenman ever wrote, “Making Love” speaks for all of the tenderness that goes with the most personal of connections, here a love that dare not speak its Hollywood name until Arthur Hiller’s sensitive 1982 drama, where a perhaps not-so happily married doctor comes to terms with his gay identity as his wife grows increasingly distraught. A master of using unsettled harmony to reflect psychological turmoil, Rosenman impactfully reflects a man’s sexual confusion, while not making it seem like he’s plunging into a nightmare, as so many far less enlightened films and scores did back when homosexuality and lesbianism meant the moral comeuppance of ostracization, or often worse. Here, it’s a beautifully lush thematic journey of self-realization that never goes for the musical melodrama, though one still very much in Rosenman’s tradition of blending melody and dissonance, if to way more emotionally subtle effect, with a gorgeous, harpsichord-topped classical rendition of the main theme also showing that this was the composer who won an Oscar for his adaptations for “Barry Lyndon.”

Extra Special: When you hear how Rosenman twists the harpsichord into an instrument of sheer terror along with gnarled strings the main title of “Race with the Devil,” fans will know just as quickly that this is manic ghost rider behind the Satan-driven “The Car” and the mutant savagery of “Prophecy’s” killer bear. Subversively using playful rhythms worthy of a western puppy dog round-up as pals Peter Fonda and Warren Oates drive around the southwest, it isn’t long before an inadvertently witnessed sacrifice bring out the snaky percussion, raging tone pyramids and dissonance that’s the singular trademark for Rosenman’s dark, experimental side. Indeed, there’s no mistaking the foul pit its relentless, villains have emerged from as Rosenman uses feverish onslaughts of strings, brass and perverted electric violin for black sound mass, yet one whose fearsome motifs are still evident within the madness of its primal fear. It’s music that’s pure, unnerving panic, displaying Rosenman as one of the most uncompromising, experimental composers of his day, especially when in the service of cult horror in more ways than one. Admirers of “Making Love” won’t know what hit them, but for fans of Rosenman’s ferocious genre scores, “Race With the Devil” will be twisted music to their ears.



While Mark Isham has done any number of powerful, all-symphonic scores like “42,” “Quiz Show” and his Oscar-nominated “A River Runs Through it” that examined the male drive to win, his psychological journeys into a the orchestral-electronic realm have been just as effective, particularly the hypnotic atmospheres of “Crash,” “The Cooler” and “The Accountant.” Now the latter film’s producer Mark Williams brings along Isham for his directorial debut “A Family Man.” But Gerard Butler’s Sparta-avenging ferocity as a corporate headhunter seems anything but hearth and home as his hunger for success consumes all, until his son’s medical energy makes him seriously re-examine his life choices. Isham has certainly been direct about the right soaring path to take for any number of screwed-up macho men, but what makes his “Family Man” particularly effective is the overall hushed tone he takes. At first building on the kind of electric alt. rhythms that are now powering dramas about company climbers, Isham’s pulsing music earns its emotional makeover as the composer slows down with hushed, subtly transcendent atmospheres that made for the kind of haunted, electronic vibes that distinguished such early scores as “Never Cry Wolf” and “Mrs. Soffel.” Evocative piano sounds amidst haunting, voice-like sampling and vibe percussion to convey sadness, and an affectingly poignant, slow awakening, where more overt realization is conveyed through heart-rending performances for the strings and violin. “A Family Man” travels from the rhythmic rat race to the spiritual with the kind of soulful perceptiveness that’s long made for Isham’s often profoundly quiet dramatic work, of which this score is a beautiful, moving hush, heard digitally June 2nd on iTunes.


Teen auteur John Hughes saw that he’d come into a good thing when he had an adolescent make mincemeat out bumbling burglars with “Home Alone.” So what better way to reprise what worked by adjusting the formula for a giggling infant to wreak city-wide havoc on a bunch of miscreants than with “Baby’s Day Out.” As directed by Patrick Read Johnston, this daredevil cherub didn’t exactly hit the Chicago upper class suburban payday, but it inspired an utterly delightful score from Bruce Broughton. With his lush, ultra-melodic child-friendly orchestral sound that defined such classic youth fantasy scores from the 80’s and 90’s as “Harry and the Hendersons,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Boy Who Could Fly” and especially “Honey I Blew Up the Kid,” there was no better composer to pick up the whack-a-thug, hearth and home mantle from John Williams. Given a little, lumbering theme that’s quick to dash into playful panic, Broughton’s score comes across like a gossamer spin on “Peter and the Wolf,” with the sweet melody of Baby Bink being an unwitting hunter, and accident-prone brass the villain out to snatch him. These musical forces dances about as well in the spirit of Carl Stalling and the 30’s-style city symphony energy of George Gershwin. But while every skyscraper-ascending string, gorilla-charming bell and noggin-bashing horn tells you exactly what physical comedy is going on, Broughton is far more concentrated on melodic finesse than musical pratfall shtick. It’s a wise move that doesn’t let “Baby” devolve into busy music, keeping it consistently smooth and pleasing through all of its piano runs and sneaking flutes. But the height of “Baby’s” ingenuity is “The Construction Site,” as Broughton’s gorgeous orchestra spins “The Blue Danube” into a sparkling carnival of comic mishaps, his theme a perilously ascending and plunging waltz that makes for beyond-cute sweetness with death-defying irony amidst the girders. First released as a instantly collectable composer promo that ran around 30 minutes or so, Intrada has gorgeously remastered “Baby’s Day Out” to 79 minutes that never prove tiring, showing this score’s marvelous construction of comedy as perhaps his sumptuously melodic high point, even as nefarious adults here take the bruising brass falls.


Girl power is too smart in Susan Johnson’s winningly intelligent, and sensitive directorial debut, even as “Carrie Pilby’s” peppy collection of alt. and rock songs by do their best to loosen her up, from Justin Dean Thomas’ Ramones-esque “Anytime I’m Feelin” to Chauncey Jacks’ Motown groove for “You Make Me Happy” and Mose Jordan’s soulful r & b “Be Your Man.” It’s a cool variety that speaks for a young, warmth-starved and intellectually confused woman trying to find herself in a musically hip big city. Thankfully, she’s got adept indie movie and TV composer Michael Penn (“The Last Kiss,” “Girls”) as her emotional wingman. In the welcome, brief score tracks on display here, Penn uses a gentle, sympathetic approach for strings, piano and guitar, dream-like samples yearning for something more. It’s a quietly memorable portrait of Carrie that has both tenderness and whimsy in evoking musical poetry from a wannabe novelist, much in the way that Penn has created emotionally fragile, female portraits in such scores as “Sunshine Cleaning.” Like “Carrie Pilby,” Penn has a poetic intelligence to his musical way, which points this soundtrack in a lyrically affecting emo direction.


Black metal has certainly played its demonic part is horror scores from “Rock and Roll Nightmare” to “Trick or Treat” and “Ghost Rider.” But never before has it seemingly had the power to summon Satan himself than in the fevered fingers of Michael Yezerski (“Mental,” “The Little Death”), whose twisted power chords join with the artistic severity of Tasmanian director Sean Byrne, who last subjected a prom date to the looney tune family of “The Loved Ones,” and now loses any sense of humor when subjecting a rock-loving family to a serial killer’s musical fixation in the middle of Texas nowhere. But as opposed to slash, which certainly flavors this “Candy,” Bryne treats this potential grindhouse material with the visual art of Terence Malick, leaving an impressive playing field for Yezerski to work his dark incantations on. Like “Devil’s” dad’s fever dream painting coming to life, as the composer twists the screws in for his daughter’s peril with unbearable tension. Subsonic sustains lead to bone-splitting percussion, bizarrely sampled atmospheres reek with pure evil, with slicing power chords and pulse heartbeats unbearably build to relentless, howling attack. It’s a flaming climax that’s the equivalent of having a hair metal band thrash away to multiple homicides. In other words, easy listening this ain’t. But in terms of creating a score that will actually scare the shit out of you, while leaving the more adventurous horror listener transfixed, Yezerski creatively hits the insane, black mass sweet spot that makes your preacher’s worst warnings of metal come true.


NBC’s severe sword-and-sorcery reboot of “The Wizard of Oz” recently had Nielsen’s house dropped on it. But that’s no reason not to let the continuing imagination of Trevor Morris’ music fill your own quest down a colorfully twisted yellow brick road with this sumptuous presentation of the late series’ music. Having impressively accompanied a hero raging against the Greek gods for “Immortals” for Tarsem Singh, Morris now accompanies the visually opulent director for his take on Frank L. Baum stories. Just don’t expect affable munchkins and the heroic triumvirate of a scarecrow, lion and tin man, as displayed in child-friendly music terms. We’re talking about Dorothy getting water boarded by barbarians, with a steampunk wizard severely seek her termination. Morris, a composer with is own impressive track record in such genre series as “Kings,” “Dracula” and “Iron Fist” conjures an “Emerald City” that’s a world of darkly magical, musical possibility. Formidable choruses, ancient percussion and a miasma of creative sampling conjure mystical threat, where grand symphonic writing and an organ lead to a famed metropolis. Evil, good and the many green shades in between of just who are the heroes and villains are here are bound together with Morris’ impressive tapestry. But beyond conveying the constant threat to Dorothy, Morris also rejoices in the soaring beauty she encounters. From the raging brass of a locust attack to a lyrical crucifixion and the soaring, violin-topped tragedy of a cowardly lion, you never know what style of scoring you’ll encounter over this well-crafted collection of music for one of the network’s crazier fantasy efforts. “Emerald City” is a consistently invigorating quest of positively cinematic music that show just how much imagination Morris has when it comes to re-inventing iconically sunny music into something far more dangerous, or as trippy as a poppy field.


As one of the truly remarkable composers working in the often mind-bending videogame scene with his talent for melding expansive, classically-influenced melody with futuristic synth and sample rhythm in such scores as “Assassin’s Creed IV,” “Bound By Flame” and “The Technomancer,” Olivier Deriviere reaches new heights of surreal musical visions between the past and future as he plays a detective who wakes up in “Get Even’s” nightmarish realm. Trying to puzzle out where a bomb-strapped girl vanished to whilst mapping his way through Kafka-esque enemy territory. Deriviere creates entrancing atmospheres from heart beats, ticking clocks, human breath, train whistles and a siren, each creative sample morphing itself into music that recalls the composer’s brilliant time and pitch-bending game score for “Remember Me.” Action pulses merge with cues that recall Vangelis’ trippier noir scoring in “Blade Runner,” where other electronics bring to mind “Tron’s” game grid – as imagined here in a hallucinatory maze. “Get Even” probes as deeply into a sampler’s creative possibilities as it does a hero’s unsound mind, offering the most stunning use of classical impressionism and futuristic music since Garry Schyman explored the undersea metropolis of “Bioshock.” For more often than not, Deriviere’s score is in the haunted land of such modern classical composers as Arvo Part, using trembling, slowly drawn melody and chamber music to convey a sense of guilt-wracked tragedy and identity unraveling, the piano washing over the listener with lyrical loss. Though “Get Even” promises hard-edged music with its title, let alone with first person shooting, Deriviere is mostly in a fragile, tenderly emotional realm just as suited for a concert stage as a PS4, especially as beautifully recorded in Auro-3D technology, its all-enveloping audio making you feel like you’ve been thrown into a neo-classcial Twilight Zone you can perhaps shoot or map your way out of if you don’t go mad first.


After his crazed, super fun, Eastern European-accented Cold War spy score to Guy Ritche’s unsung reboot of “The Man from UNCLE,” Daniel Pemberton applies the same punk rock sensibility to reinvigorating the round table into an electrified Rorschach test for the director’s far more uneven, if still enjoyable in-your-face spin for “King Arthur.” Proving that there’s truth in advertising for a film that trumpeted that this wasn’t your grandpa’s Camelot (likely to “Arthur’s” box office detriment), Pemberton’s treatment of not-so noble knights is as far away from the Wagernian take on “Excalibur” as you can imagine, let along Hans Zimmer’s “King Arthur.” Here the effect is like wandering into battle of the bands night at a particularly dangerous tavern in Camelot, as a director hell-bent to O.D. on style can imagine it. Going for striking themes comprised of heavy breathing heavy metal and all sorts of bare, sword-slamming percussion, this is more like some AC / DC 70’s album cover come to long hair waving, ultra-colorful life. Often, “King Arthur” is stripped bare to rhythm to accompany sarcastic storytelling rhythms, i.e. “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Swords.” Yet as hard as his score tries to reinvent the wheel, often to fun WTF effect, Pemberton actually does convey the expected period with Celtic-influenced strings, bagpipes and balladeering, creating a score that’s at once the most iconoclastic and authentic Arthurian scores in a long line of them. Yet for all of the delinquent fury that’s conveyed for a hero that’s anything but sterling, even Pemberton realizes that he’s got to go old school as a heroic orchestra shows up here and there, most notably for the iconic sword form the stone sequence. It’s the kind of go-for-broke work that fans of the musical legend will either love or hate. But at the least, “King Arthur” will catch their attention, which is more than can be said for many scores that follow the straight-ahead road to Camelot.


When it came to musically embodying the howls, roars and buzzing of any number of 1950’a bug-eyed, mutated monsters from “Earth Vs. the Spider” to “The Amazing Colossal Man” and “The Cyclops,” there were few composers as rampagingly prolific in the genre as Albert Glasser, especially when given already nasty wasps grown to beyond-Raid size by rocket radiation in 1957’s “Monster from Green Hell.” Where today’s horror scoring for far smaller ghouls is usually comprised of dissonant string and brass, the approach to these genre pictures from back in the day turned that frenzy up to 11, its strident orchestrations effectively conveying unstoppable terror beyond atom age imagination. While pleasantly strolling melody might not have been these pictures’ thing, what distinguishes Glasser’s approach in darkest, insect-infested Africa is that it’s got a titanic, distinctive theme to embody the wasps, an immediately evil three-note motif that hangs over the score. Better yet at giving these “Monsters” musical variety beyond the giant tarantulas and ants you’d find hanging in the American southwest is “Monster’s” exotic setting. Much of the score is trekking about the jungle to find what’s freaking out the tribes, allowing for native drums and tribal rhythms that make “Monster” sound equally like Tarzan score from yore. Ultimately ending up in a nest of smashing cymbals and shrieking brass, “The Monster from Green Hell” is pure hog heaven for enthusiasts of this delightfully over-the-top1950’s style, with the theme even becoming “Jungle Jazz.” As Monstrous Movie Music has seemingly ceased releasing these genre highlights, it’s great to have Kritzerland excavating these spine-tingling behemoths here and there with impressive, blasting sound, complete with a cavalcade of literal stingers for what’s arguably the most nightmarish flying insect of all, as well as one of Glasser’s more memorably insane creature feature. “Monster’s” inherent goofiness in the bottom half of drive in bills is hilariously chronicled in producer Bruce Kimmel’s liner notes for a glossy booklet that likely cost more than the movie itself.


Eric Neveux has had a long, internationally dramatic career with the spare likes of England’s “Intimacy,” Italy’s baroquely vengeful “Borgia” family and France’s lush artistic bromance in “Cezanne and Me.” But none of his scores have the migratory flight like the wonderfully energetic and surprisingly soulful “Richard the Stork.” Taking stylistic wing from the rambunctious, animated land of “Rio’s” John Powell, Neveux uses strongly melodic orchestral winds (exceptionally well generated by the Brussels Philharmonic) to jet between any number of constantly surprising approaches. Given a sparrow who thinks he’s a stork, Neveux goes for a thematically optimistic, rhythmic spirit that knows it will make the journey sans adoptive parents. Launched with catchy, can-do brightness, “Richard” dances about with ethnic, bird call elements for the oddball fowls he encounters, or cleverly panics with the theremin and improv jazz when chased by bats. Jazz of a soft shoe kind also inflects “Richard,” along with fuzz guitar rock, thrilling action, African percussion and a French accordion for the composer’s good, native measure. Not veering about quite as crazily as Powell’s similarly terrific efforts in the CG animal kingdom, Neveux’s firm grasp of symphonic melody make “Richard” consistently pleasurable, while also hearing real, wounded emotion from a character learning to take pride in his own species. That “Richard’s” most moving power comes from Neveux’s lush show just how well he’s jumped out of the gate for his first animated score, given Stacey King’s charming, pop-powered “Zootopia”-worthy song “We’re Coming Home” to send Quartet’s album off on striving wings of wonder.


From “The Great Race” to “The Magnificent Men in their Flying Machine” and “Those Daring Young Men in their Jaunty Jalopies,” transportation was grandly running retro amuck in the swinging 60’s. Competing multinational teams of eccentric inventors were just racing for the gun to go so they could engage in this genre of riotous demolition derbies, which got a comedic sci-fi spin with 1967’s “Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon” (soon changed to the adjective cash-in title of “Those Fantastic Flying Fools”). Aboard this cannon-propelled trip were of course the sputtering, iconically buck-tooted Terry Thomas, as well as Lionel Jeffries, who’d previously made the eccentric tip along with “The First Men in the Moon.” But there’s really no person aboard who propels “Moon’s” very English buoyancy that Patrick John Scott. A jazz band player as well as an esteemed session man for the likes of The Beatles and John Barry, “Moon” helped launch Scott’s career, then in its auspicious start with the Sherlock Holmes thriller “A Study in Terror” and the shagadelic femme fatales of “The Million Eyes of Sumuru.” Still standing as one of his most delightfully buoyant entries, “Rocket to the Moon” is ever so English in its approach, from the imperious brass of Queen Victoria to its bucolic orchestrations amidst the more overtly comedic music for dastardly villainy. Constructing a sturdily charming theme whose whimsy translates through marching bands to lush strings, Scott’s fondness for brass is apparent throughout, from the gamboling Victorian source music to the Teutonic swagger and blarting tuba of Gert Frobe’s explosive mastermind. His rising and plunging orchestrations are musical lessons in physics themselves as e a cliffhanging orchestra contributes to the joyous pastiche that powers “Rocket to the Moon.” Its given slapstick given gravity by Scott’s terrific orchestral writing that also manages to convey a sense of wonder at the insane enterprise of shooting man out of cannon. Now this decades-old rocket that’s been sonically polished up to snuff by Kritzerland for its trip from LP to CD (a greater voyage than anything in the film), with album producer Bruce Kimmel providing real appreciation for John Scott, and his robust approach to the kind of 60’s madcap comedy inspired by throwback traveling technology, as well as the bright melodic future that mostly seriously lay ahead for a most inventive composer.


You might not have found an odder couple than Elmer Bernstein and John Wayne. One was a short, vastly talented composer who was nearly blacklisted, while the other was a towering performer who represented red-hating, God Bless America values. But The Duke certainly can thank Bernstein for adding immeasurably to his legendary Hollywood stature over the course of six, rousing western scores that included the likes of “Big Jake” and “Cahill U.S, Marshall.” Having released Bernstein’s climactic score for Wayne’s noble movie exit “The Shootist,” La La Land Records now goes gun blazing into 1965’s soundtrack for “The Sons of Katie Elder.” And it’s hard to imagine a more emblematic score at defining a Wayne western. A rousingly heroic theme, sonorous, desert-spanning orchestra and rough-and-tumble brass action are just some of the classic sounds that Bernstein brings to this Mexican-flavored round up as Wayne leads a brotherly four-pack out to avenge the varmits who’ve done their parents grievously wrong. But then, the year before he’d first saddled up with Wayne on “The Commancheros,” Bernstein had been part of the western game-changer with 1960’s “The Magnificent Seven,” a scored that defined an Americana brand of gunslinging heroism. Given the brotherly “Sons,” Bernstein has more of sentimental, bromance range to his melody, while the men’s punch-happy antics get treated with the most delightfully brawling Irish jig this side of Gerard Fried helping Captain Kirk give a beatdown to Finnegan in “Shore Leave.” With drumming suspense, a sturdy orchestral sense of righteous vengeance and a melancholy accordion, Bernstein’s score is great, rousing stuff that showed Bernstein as every bit the rough-riding gunslinger as Wayne. La La Land’s presentation offers rousing sound for “Katie’s” decades-old, eternally vital age, while offering three versions of its song along with Jeff Bond’s always interesting, well-researched liner notes on the legacy of Elmer Bernstein’s Old West.


The golden age of television served as a fertile training ground for many great film composers to be, with perhaps none learning how to unleash terror from the cathode ray tube quite like Jerry Goldsmith. If there’s a program that sowed the seeds for “The Omen,” “The Mephisto Waltz” and “Poltergeist,” then it would two seasons of the unheralded anthology show “Thriller.” Sure Rod Serling may have gotten more popularity over in his CBS corner of “The Twilight Zone” where Goldsmith’s devilish fiddle conjured the tiny astronauts for its beloved “Invaders” episode. But Boris Karloff certainly was no slouch when it came to introducing tales of terror on NBC from 1960 – 1962, where Goldsmith applied said fiddle as well as a battery of chilling instruments to those in need of terrible moral comeuppances. Though given a TV-budgeted ensemble at the time, the dependable rescoring restoration team of producer James Fitzpatrick, conductor Nic Raine and The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra apply expanded symphonic weight to Goldsmith’s work, choosing six of the sixteen episodes he scores to make his “Thriller” work more impactful than ever before. Each episode is a malefic set piece. “The Grim Reaper’s” Shatner-cursed painting is personified by the retro-electric sounds of the Novachord, old scratch violins and the kind of eerily lovely waltz that would send a ghost down the Freling family’s staircase. A darkly lumbering theme and snarling brass push the listener into “The Well of Doom that recalls the more monstrously suspenseful music of Bernard Herrmann, where the shivering electronics and harpsichord of “The Prisoner” pave the way of Baroque psychological fright that would bring Goldsmith an Oscar nomination for “Freud,” as well as his truly unhinged asylum-set score for “Shock Treatment.” A girl’s ghostly protector “Mr. George” seems positively kind with a tender, tinkerbell-like theme, where “Hay – Fork and Bill – Hook,” offers Irish lyricism. But the perhaps the most striking suite is saved for last as Goldmsith pens “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” as signed in a delightfully diabolical way that suggests a drunken dance band stumbling about the fog-shrouded alleyways of Victorian England. Ace TV music journalist Jon Burlingame writes the liner notes that shed light on Goldsmith’s memorable contributions to this unheralded anthology series, whose music couldn’t be scarier given this impressive new Tadlow Recording that shows a composer grabbing onto the psychological, if not outright monstrous fear that would serve him so well on the big screen.

CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes, Moviescoremedia and Screen Archives Entertainment

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Geoff Zanelli

Di, 23/05/2017 - 19:02

In the franchise world of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” one rises up the ranks from deckhand to captain by scallywag subterfuge, mutiny and murder. In composer Geoff Zanelli’s case, it’s the far more mild, if no less impressive traits of hard work and talent to get ahead as part of Hans Zimmer’s crew. A mate on the very first ship named The Black Pearl, and dexterously jumping from one darkly enchanted sea craft to the next over the course of three more pictures, Zanelli is now having a not-so motley band of musicians answering to his beck and command with the rousing “Pirates” saying of “Dead Men Tell No Tales.” As overseen by Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (who commanded the positively sedate journey of “Kon-Tiki” in comparison), “Dead Men” reprises the series’ stalwart, alternatively dead and undead characters as they combat the vengeful Spanish spirit of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a pirate-hating ghoul and his crew with a particular mad-on at Sparrow for afflicting them with their unholy condition.

Just as this film puts the band back together with a freshly villainous spin, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” arms Zanelli with a booty’s worth of memorable themes gathered from past “Pirates” scores, which abet his own hip, adventurous voice for the allegedly last adventure of Jack Sparrow. The Zimmer-commandeered series rudely re-invented all the wonderful clichés of pirate scoring into devilishly fiddling, jigging and brass-blasting in-your-ears rambunctiousness – yet still grandly paid off those clichés anyway. If anything, Zanelli’s swabbed these decks with just a tad of refinement for a terrifically exciting and fun score that delivers on the “Pirates” mish-mash of horror, excitement and punch-line humor – all of his gigantic musical cannons blasting with chorus, cellos and orchestra ablazing, and with some particularly gnarly and cosmic new themes for Salazar and Poseidon’s Trident to boot.

But then, one might say that Zanelli’s ascension to his biggest score shares much of the fateful destiny that drives the “Pirates” mythology. Composing on no end of soundtracks for Zimmer and his crew like “Antz,” “Pearl Harbor” and “The Machine,” Zanelli created a twisted Johnny Depp with his first major score for “Secret Window,” His prolific scoring career has since ranged from the arthouse (“House of D”) to thrillers (“Disturbia,”” “Hitman”) sweeping, Emmy-winning and nominated TV miniseries work (“Into the West” and “The Pacific”) sci-fi adventure (“Outlander”), charming romance (“Ghost Town”) caper comedy (“Mortdecai,” “Masterminds”) and the creepily kid-friendly (“The Odd Life of Timothy Green”). As hard to peg down as a pirate leg in his styles, “Dead Men” now shows just how rockingly adept Zanelli is at making a sizeable ship his own as he impressively sails into the Memorial Day weekend multiplex with music that excitingly hits all the notes of The Enchanted Kingdom’s singularly seditious movie take on their most beloved ride.

As a California native, I imagine you’ve been to the Pirates ride at Disneyland as a kid. What impressed you about it, and what effect did it have on you?

Pirates was a favorite ride of mine, for sure. I loved how immersive it was, and that each scene had some sort of punch line, or story point. You’re being taken through a whole narrative at a pace where you can absorb it all. There’s a spirit of adventure in that ride, and that same spirit was in all of my favorite films as a child growing up in the suburbs. Those films, like “Indiana Jones” or “Clash of the Titans” and the rides at Disneyland are all part of that daydream, and they feel very much like they’re a part of me. That’s why “Pirates of the Caribbean” was such an easy thing for me to get involved in.

Tell us about becoming a mate at Hans Zimmer’s studio. And what does it take to survive, and learn from an experience that’s caused other less hardy souls to jump ship?

At this point, the only person who’s been at Hans Zimmer’s studio longer than I have is Hans himself, so yes, that means it’s an environment I’ve thrived in for quite a while. But “survival,” that wasn’t really the word that was on my mind. The very first professional studio I ever walked into was Hans’ place back in 1994. I was 19 years old when I came to Los Angeles without knowing a soul in music or in film. I don’t even know if there was a recording studio in my hometown, but even if there was, there still wasn’t much film music going on, so I had to make a move. I was really working against all odds, if you think about it. Somehow I talked my way into an internship at Hans’ studio and once I got that I just never went home. I didn’t get a foot in the door, or even a toe, it was just my toenail! Hans was writing “The Lion King” at the time and I was pouring coffee and cleaning the dishes so I could stay after hours to hear Alan Meyerson as he mixed, or absorb technical experience from the staff there, or my favorite: bringing coffee into Hans’ studio and walking back out of the room as slowly as possible so I could hear one or two more notes, or one more comment from a director as a meeting was going on. That was my early education, in addition to all the stuff I was doing during school months at Berklee.

I think over the years I just became a fixture at the studio. I don’t even recall a formal introduction to Hans or most of the people there; I just made myself trusted and dependable. Two years after that, I became John Powell’s assistant, which was really my first actual job in music. John was my mentor for three years and I wrote more and more additional music on his projects, and then one day Hans approached me to ask if I’d work on “Hannibal” as an arranger. So I found a little broom closet of a room there, set up shop and then for a few years, I was Hans’ arranger on all sorts of projects. We always worked well together, and you can imagine how much a young composer can learn from guys like John and Hans.

What’s the trick of writing in tandem to create a cohesive score, especially at Hans’ studio?

Scoring assistant Zak McNeil, additional music composer Anthony Willis (rear), additional music composer Phill Boucher, composer Geoff Zanelli, music editor Pete Snell (rear) Photo by Dan Goldwasser

The cohesiveness of a score that’s being written as a collaboration, in my opinion, is the responsibility of the main composer. All I do in the role of additional music composer is respond to the film, write something I feel strongly about, and from there it becomes a matter of Hans or whoever has their name is on the poster to direct it. So often, and Pirates is a great example of this, I’ll write something in isolation that works well or is compelling, or undeniably right for the film and then that starts to inform other aspects of the score. Tia Dalma’s theme, for instance, or the Cannibal Island music I wrote in “Pirates 2” are examples of something of mine taking on a life of its own. The score becomes cohesive as all those elements expand from their original form into other scenes. You can go find Hans’ original demos of “Pirates” themes and track the evolution of some of them through the film, to see another example what I mean. This is a testament to how Hans works, and how he collaborates with people. He never says, “Make it sound more like me” but he does say things like “I don’t know how you write strings like that. They’re very ‘Geoff.’”

How did your work on the “Pirates” movies evolve to the point where you captained your own ship in the franchise? And given that this is your biggest film to date, was that responsibility at all daunting?

I did find it daunting, but I found the first four daunting as well. There’s a lot at stake with every movie I work on and I commit fully to everything I do, so they all feel important to get right. This is a blessing and a curse, though. The work really does keep me up at night. The evolution of my role felt natural, though. Since I threw myself into the world of “Pirates” from the very first film, the commitment was identical on all five films. Being the composer of record was an organic extension of that, and in a funny way it was almost a non-issue. I was ready for it.

How do you think the first “Pirates” film upended that particular genre? And do you think its score did as well?

The score for “Curse of the Black Pearl” was one of a few crucial elements that elevated the film from being a very good adventure movie to being a franchise-launching, iconic and influential blockbuster. It was hard to know at the time how people were going to respond to it, but at least for me, as it was coming together, it really did feel like we were right out there on the edge as far as how you could write a pirate movie score. If you look at pirate music tradition, so often you arrive at flourishing woodwinds or sea shanties or something like that. We got more into the grit of it all, the splinters under the fingernails, the body odor and the muscularity of it. It’s really an orchestra treated as if it’s a rock band. As for the rest of the film, you can see Johnny Depp arrived at a similar conclusion. A lot is made of his using Keith Richards as inspiration. The cellos are our rock guitars, and we’re not afraid to put them through the guitar amp when we need to! And Gore Verbinski’s direction was crucial here, too. He talked about Elizabeth Swan being “Cinderella at a Metallica concert,” so it all adds up to the same thing. We were all approaching the whole thing with a rock and roll attitude, a sneer and a gallon of rebellion.

On the other end, did you want your “Pirates” to recall the more traditional sea adventures of yore?

Not so much, no. I think the strength of “Pirates of the Caribbean” is in that self-indulgent attitude. There’s a way of playing the romance of the ocean, or the mythology of the sea within that rock context. If anything, I pushed it even farther in that direction, particularly with Salazar’s music.

Given the rich history of the “Pirates” scores, did you do you own digging to see what old themes you wanted to bring into this score? And conversely, how “new” did you want to make your take on the music without rocking the boat too much?

I know and worked with all the themes already on the first four movies, so I didn’t need to go digging. Those are all part of my blood by now! But it was important to break new ground. There are so many new elements with characters like Carina Smyth and Salazar, a bigger focus on mythology, Poseidon’s Trident, plus Jack’s origin story that I really had to go experiment for a while to get those all to feel fresh. I didn’t think about rocking the boat or not rocking it. I just wrote what felt right for the film, and since I’ve been on board for all of the first four films my perspective is already part of the sound, enough so that it won’t feel like a departure.

Do you think that scoring such epic television series as “Into the West” (along with Blake Neely) and “The Pacific” put you in good stead for handling a movie with this kind of expansiveness?

I think my experience on the other “Pirates” films, as well as other Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer films was really what prepared me for this one. Actually, my work on the first “Pirates” film is probably what positioned me to take on “Into The West.” That additional music credit on “Curse of the Black Pearl” made a big difference, and people who worked on it were pretty vocal in praising my work, so there was more awareness of what I was really capable of after that. I don’t know that I’d have been entrusted to take on a huge miniseries like that on my own, if I hadn’t already succeeded on a big project already. I was still in my 20s when I got “Into The West”, and it’s hard to put into words how validated I felt to get a Steven Spielberg project.

A definite bit of fatigue had set in with the last film. How important was it to restore faith in the franchise, especially in terms of the energy the score could give this far better reviewed entry?

Well, I had a different experience with “On Stranger Tides” because I got to be involved with a lot of new material. I worked with Rodrigo y Gabriella on some of the legacy themes, and the Spain theme was mine, plus the mermaids’ sequence. So from my perspective, I was trying to get to a novel place with the music. Really all I did was carry that approach over to this one where the aim was to break new ground whenever we can, for instance with Salazar and Carina since they are crucial new characters. And then when I go and use themes from the earlier films I was trying to find a new way to play them.

Jack’s origin story comes to mind for that. That sequence starts with Salazar’s music that is new, but then it weaves through all sorts of things including many re-imagined versions of the iconic music from the earlier films. There were only a few places where I’d go and use the original arrangement of the earlier themes. That happens when you first see Jack, though. It turns out you really do want to hear Jack’s theme, pure and simple right then. Another cue comes to mind, which is actually the very first thing I ever wrote for a “Pirates” film all the way back during “Curse of the Black Pearl.” The one that’s called “Barbossa is Hungry” on the album, that was actually me working up a variation on “He’s a Pirate,” but it took on a life of it’s own. A version of that gets used twice, and that’s a great example actually of how my voice came through on the earlier films, without many people knowing it’s actually my voice.

One particular shot of freshness comes from the saga’s new directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, who’d done the far artier sea adventure “Kon-Tiki” before this movie. What kind of sensibility do you think they brought to “Pirates,” and what was your collaboration like?

We had a great collaboration, right from the start. Both Joachim and Espen are huge fans of “Pirates,” and they poured themselves into this film in a big way. I think they made a smart choice in aiming the tone of the film, the story, the look, the attitude squarely at what made “Pirates” great in the first place, which is a concise but interesting story that deals with a few characters involved in a larger than life plot. “Pirates” isn’t really about giant armies fighting each other; it’s about a few people whom we get to know intimately over the course of the film, set in a world that’s enormous. And it’s not afraid to be emotional, or scary. Espen and Joachim recognized those things and it really shines in this film. They were with me every step of the way.

Given the long time that this “Pirates” was in post-production for, did that you give more room to experiment with the score?

We did have a good schedule for this film, and yes that allowed me to experiment for a while longer than usual. I had the gears turning before they even shot the film, though, cause I got to read the script and carefully consider things. I think where it helps the most is in the architecture of the score, the way the themes are laid out and how they can each progress from scene to scene. That’s the job when you’re getting the main credit, and it differs from the earlier films where I was working in support of Hans. What I try to do is look at the big picture, figure out what each theme is going to need to do, break that all down into smaller and smaller problems, and only then do I start writing the theme.

Tell us about your theme for Salazar and his particular curse?

Salazar has a big story arc in the film, so his music gets to evolve in the score. We meet him in the present day and he’s just a vengeful, hateful creature bent on destroying all pirates, so that music is raw, muscular and dangerous. That’s where I started layering all sorts of twisted sounds, like Adam Peters’ cello through a horrible guitar amp, plus Martin Tillman’s acoustic cello just digging in with such malice and attitude, layered with a choir, the orchestra and some bizarre woodwinds. They all add up to a single minded, nasty sound! But we also see his backstory where you can learn his history and how it intertwined with Jack’s, and there he’s a mortal Spanish captain, a military man. So all that music plays later in the film, and you can hear where his theme came from, but only after you have already heard where his theme and character ended up.

This “Pirates” gives us the origin of Jack Sparrow. What kind of musical opportunity did that provide in showing a perhaps more grounded take on him before turning into the eccentric scallywag we know and love?

Actually, in the same way that you hear Salazar’s musical origins in retrospect, you hear Jack’s, too. The sequence, to me, is really about the actual moment in Jack’s life when he becomes Jack Sparrow. It’s the defining moment for him as a young boy. It’s also the same moment when Salazar becomes the twisted, cursed version of himself. A double origin story! And their stories are intertwined of course.

This sequel also brings back a lot of fan favorite characters. How did you want the music to show their growth?

Jack, in the present day scenes at the start of the film, is down on his luck, so his music has undergone a turn for the worse. It leads him to set in motion some pretty drastic, bad events, so that all had to be played with enough seriousness that you can believe Jack would be desperate enough to make some questionable choices. And then you have Barbossa, who goes through some amazing revelations during the film. I took the approach that he becomes a legend in this movie, part of the overall “Pirates” mythology so his music is actually informed by what I would call the “Myths of the Sea Theme,” for lack of a shorter name for it. I mean, if the constellations were named after “Pirates” characters, this is the film that would immortalize Barbossa in the stars, let me put it that way. So while there are some nods to the old themes we used for him, there’s a lot of new material, and it even ties in with the mythology of other pivotal characters in the series. I don’t want to give away too much, so I’m tiptoeing around the answer right now, but I think of Barbossa as the quintessential pirate and I wanted the music to embody that. He transcends his own character. He becomes lore in this one.

How did you want to embody this film’s central mystical object of the Trident of Poseidon?

The trident is part of the myths of the sea as well, but in a different way. It’s a tangible object, and the thing that everyone is trying to get to throughout the film. There are puzzles to be solved, and it’s all linked to a hidden place called Blackrock that Carina thinks she knows how to find. Carina, being a scientist, thinks of it as a problem that science can solve, but as she learns more about the world she lives in she finds there are things that simply can’t be explained by science. Once she’s armed with that knowledge, she can combine elements of both approaches and arrive at the answer.

What’s the importance of balance contemporary instruments like the rock guitar with more ancient ones like the Duduk in creating the pirates sound?

I think the only time we used an electric guitar was the third film, but I’m definitely abusing some cellos by shoving them through guitar amps this time around. The whole orchestra even gets put through that mayhem from time to time. The thing is, with a world as colorful as “Pirates,’” you can really use any instrument you want if it helps tell the story. I used to say things like “it is the composer’s right to go looking for new sounds” when people would ask why there are synthesizers in a score about “Pirates.” Now, I double down and say, “it’s the composer’s responsibility to go looking for new sounds!” Anything that helps convey story is fair game, as far as I’m concerned. You’ll hear a Duduk in this score when I’m dealing with ancient ideas, like mythology or Poseidon’s trident. But when we get supernatural, like with Salazar, I’ve gone and searched for something distinctly contemporary.

What’s the challenge of balancing the often eccentric, wisecracking humor of a “Pirates” movie with suspense, often in the same cue?

The film really leads the way with that. I’ve always been good at making sharp turns as the movie dictates, and that’s why I wrote so much action music in my early career. I’m pretty energetic as a person, so it’s natural for me, and easy to understand when and where the gears are shifting. So the challenge really isn’t in knowing when to make certain moves with the music, it’s really more in designing the detail that I want to have in there, the stuff that makes me feel like I’ve finished the cue and there’s nothing left that I can do to improve it. And the guiding principle in all of that, always, is the story. In action sequences, the story might be divided up into tiny little slices that each need to be acknowledged. It’s different from building or sustaining an emotion, where you are writing a much longer gesture, and the “Pirates” films are full of examples of both approaches.

This “Pirates” also gives us a return to the more horrific elements since the first skeleton-filled movie. How did you want to convey the unholy forces at play here?

We might scare some people this time, I’m glad you point that out! Carina is really the audience’s entry point for that, I think, since we witness her whole world come crashing down. She’s spent her whole life believing that science is all you need to explain the world, and she learns that things can be supernatural, unexplained, and just plain terrifying. For all of that, I wanted a larger than life sound and a lot of that relates to what I do with Salazar’s music, looking for a combination of sounds and instruments that makes it distinctive and specific. I’m layering all sorts of sounds, some which are easily identified and some that are not, in hopes that it adds up to people wondering “what is that sound?”

Given how fast and furious the action and effects get in these movies, what’s the trick to scoring their action sequences?

Detail, and giving each setpiece and identity are two things that come to mind. And again, it’s about telling the story the best way possible. The filmmaker David Koepp (“Secret Window”) once told me that every person who works on a film in any capacity should have on their business card “assistant storyteller.” Music is crucial for that, it’s the thing that exists in the air in the movie theater, it bridges the gap between the audience and the movie, and that applies not only to action sequences but anything that you’re playing music for.

The chorus also gets a particularly stirring workout here. How did you want to employ it?

There isn’t an instrument that exists that’s as expressive as a human voice, so I find it’s a very direct way to involve the audience in something, particularly something extraordinary. If there’s a moment of awe, something that’s hard to process cause it’s so large in scale, I use the choir to keep you engaged. It’s also something I use for creating discomfort or mystery, so the trident and Salazar get some pretty odd usages of the choir. And of course it just sounds huge to have a mass of voices all singing.

Nick Glennie-Smith conducts the string session. Photo by Dan Goldwasser

You’ve got as much of a massive sound for this “Pirates” with its orchestra and chorus. What were the recording sessions like?

We had a huge group for this, nearly 200 musicians all told, and sometimes multiple orchestras layered on top of each other so there was no shortage of size at my disposal. That’s a rare luxury in this day and age, but I have Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer to thank for that. They’re the ones who understand the value of putting together an enormous session like that, and they really do help musicians by remaining committed to recordings at this scale. Right now, I think film music is doing a lot to keep orchestras alive and I feel privileged to be part of that.

Recording this was just a joy. Scoring sessions are like the World Series for me. They are tons of pressure that only goes away if you work as hard as you can in there. But one thing you have to know about the musicians that come and play on “Pirates” scores is that they just love to play this music. If you add up all the experience for all 200 musicians you’re looking at something like 4,000 years of practice, blood, sweat and tears, probably more! And all they want to do is make the best recording they can, day in and day out. So I get great results from them, I just talk with the players constantly about what the scene is about, why I wrote what I wrote, and then I leave space for them to come meet me, so to speak. And every single time, they lean into it and play their hearts out. Plus, Pirates has a unique angle, what with the rock and roll orchestra and some amount of irreverence. They get to loosen up a bit, play rougher, let the edges show a little bit and that’s exciting for all of us to get to hear.

One important musical voice that’s back is cellist Martin Tillman. What kind of voice do you think he brings to the “Pirates” scores, and particularly this one?

"Pirates" cellists Martin Tillman and Tina Guo

Martin is Jack Sparrow. It’s as simple as that. In fact, you have to look to Itzhak Perlman playing “Schindler’s List” to find as good an example of a piece of film music being inextricably linked to a specific musician. I got in touch with Martin when I started writing to make sure he could join us, and my blood pressure went back to normal when he signed up. I had Martin play the Salazar theme as well, but in a very different voice and attitude. It was just nasty, really scrape-y and it argued with Adam Peters’ electric cello, which was recorded first, perfectly. I love the idea that Jack and Salazar were both voiced by the cello, but Jack was just one guy and Salazar was layer upon layer of electric and acoustic celli, more massive, more dangerous and threatening.

But why stop at two when you can have three? Tina Guo also played on some of the Salazar music, in particular the crazy and fast stuff in the shark attack sequence and what we called the cannon fight. So there’s three distinct cello voices in this film, and sometimes they play nice together, and sometimes their sounds clash in such beautiful ways! Tina Guo, by the way, goes on tour with Hans and she plays the Jack Sparrow melody when they play “Pirates”, but she does a smart thing with it. She makes it her own so it’s not a Martin Tillman impression, which would cheat both the audience and her. That music plays great in a live setting. it brings the house down every time!

How do you think this “Pirates” film stands in the franchise, and your score along with it?

That’s for the audience to decide. I know that Joachim and Espen were as devoted to “Pirates” as Gore was, and that it wasn’t lost on me how important it was to really try and deliver a score that lives up to the legacy I was already a part of. I reminded myself from time to time that this really is going to be a lot of people’s favorite movie this year, or maybe ever, and it had to be fully committed. I meant every note of it.

Special thanks to Dan Goldwassar at

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” opens on May 26th, with Geoff Zanelli’s soundtrack available on Walt Disney Records HERE

Visit Geoff Zanelli’s website HERE

See Geoff Zanelli live, and get your “Pirates” CD signed at Creature Features! For more info, go to

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Aaron Zigman

Di, 16/05/2017 - 23:15

There’s dropping out of the rat race. And then there’s really dropping out. For the sardonic, disaffected Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston), it’s using a breakdown in his usual commuter train route to NYC suburban malaise to take a trip straight into his garage attic. There he stays for months, and maybe forever, looking across his driveway to watch his wife and daughters cope with his seeming disappearance, and grow to discover a new life without their jaded breadmaker.

Staying mostly silent throughout (apart from the flashbacks that show what drove Howard to isolation), it’s Wakefield’s first-person narration that imparts the listener with his caustic viewpoint, sardonic self-recrimination that gradually grows into a far more meaningful spiritual realization. The same can be said for Aaron Zigman’s profound, hauntingly melodic score that gets into Howard’s headspace and makes us understand a man alone, even when he once was part of society. “Wakefield” is a multi-layered, multi-thematic score of dazzling complexity, the summation of a prolific composer who’s ranged from the tearful emotionalism of “The Notebook” to the epic fantasy that paved “The Bridge to Terabithia” and the wacky comedy of “The Proposition” among dozens of scores.

Zigman’s time with Howard’s physical, and mental transformation opens up a world of styles to explore here, searching through tender strings and piano, rat race rhythms, eccentric humor, jazzy hubris, blissful godhood and the panic of being chased by Russian scavengers among the many facets of Howard. Capable of intimacy and lush orchestrations, Zigman’s “Wakefield” is the height of musical introspection and suspense, as well as the vital glue that, along with Cranston’s daring performance, hypnotically fills Robin Swicord’s beyond-intimate film. For Zigman, it’s music that’s as much about his own journey to reach a personal, and professional apex as he fills a garage’s second story with an enormity of an unlikely hermit’s life choices.

You’ve always had a skillful approach to melody in scores like “The Notebook,” “The Bridge To Terabithia,” “Flash of Genius,” and “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” which you co-composed with Alexandre Desplat. Do you think that’s something missing in many of today’s scores?

I think that memorable tunes that are achieved primarily by the four bar phrase—or just melody in general—are somewhat diminishing in today’s film music.

You’d scored Robin’s directorial debut “The Jane Austen Book Club.” What was your collaboration like this time?

Robin Swicord - Photo by Gilles Mingasson.

The collaboration was only different in the sense that Robin and I had already worked together before, so there was a deeper understanding and a more intuitive process. I had known about this script four years ago, so I was able to send Robin a lot of material that we could cull from. We were also not emulating a piece of temp music, but rather working from a concept, which, in my opinion, paved the way for a more original score.

There are a remarkable number of themes in “Wakefield.” Could you talk about developing them?

Years ago when Robin was writing this script, she and I spoke and she said she wanted a score in the style of “Vertigo” by Bernard Herrmann. My response was a piece of music that I sent her in that style while retaining my own voice and she was really moved by it. That piece of music was like an overture to the story. One of the things I’ve always felt strongly about is that when a script is well written I don’t need to see the picture to write themes for the various characters. That was the case with “Wakefield.”

How did you want to convey the meaningless, suburb-to-city rat race that starts “Wakefield?” as well as Howard’s yearning to break free from it?

Jennifer Garner, Bryan Cranston - Photo by Gilles Mingasson

Actually, I did not want to stamp the story as present day, especially in light of the fact that the original story was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1835, with a variation of the story written by E.L. Doctorow. I trusted my instincts and used music that wouldn’t comment on modern present day but convey almost a timeless impression so that whatever “Wakefield” said in the narrative, written by Robin, it would not be foreshadowed by the music.

Most of “Wakefield’s” dialogue is heard through Howard’s first person narration. What challenge did that give you in the respect that a great deal of Bryan Cranston’s performance is silent, and your music has to speak for what’s going on in his head?

I so identified with Bryan’s character—not about doing the unthinkable—but with his yearning to break free of the things that bound him to a lifestyle that was not working for him because I am a person who believes in behavior modification. Over the last four years I have worked on myself and breaking free of chains that hold me back. I, too, am exploring a metamorphosis like this character.

When you have a film about a person secreting himself in an attack, it’s usually the domain of outright horror films like “Hider in the House.” How did you want the music to convey that “Wakefield” wouldn’t go in that direction, while also giving suspense to just what Howard is going to do?

Bryan Cranston - Photo by Gilles Mingasson

I wrote music not indicative of that style. It was actually the antithesis. I created music that used melody to convey an emotional fabric and I tried to stay away from being literal in any sense. To me the attic was not a creepy place, rather it was a place of refuge for Cranston’s character to sit with his thoughts, wrestle with his own human frailty and deal with his own self-grandiosity so that he could make his eventual transformation.

There are many spying sequences of “Wakefield” that recall “Rear Window,” as well as the danger of him going outside of his attic. How did you want the score to communicate that kind of on-edge creepiness, as well as the emotion of what he’s missing out on?

I used very dissonant harmony, not in the sense of the horror genre, but to convey anxiety.

Some people might look at Howard’s quest to find himself as a highly selfish act. Was it important for you to give the character empathy he might not otherwise have without the music? And did your scoring of Howard change your own opinion of the character?

Absolutely. It was important to use the music to create a path of emotionality and tenderness so that the viewer would be open and empathetic to the fact that this guy is not only a self-absorbed person but also a man who might be seeking to find himself. I wanted to create beauty in the music so that the audience would not interpret the movie in a myopic manner.

Did you want the garage attic to become a musically magical place, capable of bliss as well as danger?

I wanted the attic to become a place of quietness. I stayed very minimal in the attic and I wanted to sustain that sense of a place where the character could organize his thoughts and change his viewpoints on life. I didn’t see it as a magical place as much as a place of solace.

There are a surprising amount of musical styles to “Wakefield,” one of which is jazz, which is mixed with a particularly lush and sensual orchestra for Howard’s wooing of Diana in a way that’s film noir-ish. Did you want to go for that kind of classic, retro use of jazz? And were there any composers you wanted to pay tribute to in that respect?

Jennifer Garner - Photo by Gilles Mingasson

There were actually only two short jazz cues in the film, both of which were in the style of Thelonious Monk. I used these to convey some comic relief in an otherwise tense drama. The music of this film was more about paying homage to some of the great film composers of our past like Nino Rota and Bernard Herrmann.

There’s also playfully twisted, almost waltz-like comedy to “Wakefield” to reflect Howard’s sarcastic worldview, and even very funny doorbell-ringing suspense. Is it difficult to put absurdist musical humor into an otherwise dramatic score?

I wrote some waltz-esque rhythmical cues, but I tried to stay away from the traditional pizzicato articulation. I had the strings play an arco articulation so that the chords could be heard and felt and you could feel the oddity and the skewed quality of its dissonance. I wanted the comedy to be left-handed instead of using a generic or more pedestrian approach. For instance, I even used gamelan instead of marimbas to create a percussive feel in the comedy sequences.

Howard develops an almost Jesus-like relationship to the challenged kids next door to him. How did you want to convey their giving, emotional purity and the potential salvation they deliver to Howard?

Bryan Cranston - Photo by Gilles Mingasson

The autistic children that were used in this film by Robin Swicord were an example of purity to “Wakefield” because they were untainted by life’s adversities and every day problems. They were a mirror for Cranston’s character to be able to see himself through a transparent lens rather than a translucent one so that he could reconnect to humanity in a different way, in a way that is loving and kind. Instead of being threatened by these characters, he realizes through these children all the things that he was missing in humanity, such as kindness and unconditional love that so rarely exist in the universe. So I wanted the music to have an emotional quality whenever he was with these two characters and have a real poignant effect on the viewer so that they could see “Wakefield” in a different light, as well as pave the way to make his journey toward redemption.

Given the intricacy of “Wakefield’s” score, what are some things about the score’s construction you’d want people to realize that might otherwise elude them?

The most important thing is that I want them to understand that this is a period score to a modern drama. And, in my humble opinion, with the exception of many of our great writers, the scores in the past were more sophisticated in their harmonic construction and I would hope that audiences sense that about this score, too.

I can only imagine how many endless hours you’ve spent locked in your studio. In that way, how did you draw upon your own experiences with the self-realization that comes from isolation, or even moments of madness, to create the musical character of Howard?

I do identify with this character because I have had to deal with a lot of adversity and I have had to take accountability to achieve redemption. I really responded to his metamorphosis. Especially the aspects of contrition, self-examination and being open to change and focusing on the things in life that is important. So, it was quite easy for me to stay in my studio for hundreds of hours and write this music. I could have happily worked on this score for a lifetime.

With all of the scores you’ve done, “Wakefield” just might be your best work to date. What do you hope that “Wakefield” does for peoples’ musical impression of you?

I’d like filmmakers to recognize that I know how to be emotionally evocative without being saccharin. I hope that my work conveys that I am a serious dramatic writer who can write music that can achieve a director’s vision while saying something powerful and meaningful without overwhelming a film.

What do you think that “Wakefield” and its score have to say about the human condition when a character so starkly deals with himself?

Aaron Zigman - photo by Eugene Powers

In contrast to the question, I want to respectfully say that Howard’s actions and condition never seemed stark to me. I saw his predicament as a matter of life and death. If Howard never left his family and the comforts of his seemingly successful career and lifestyle, he never would have become the enlightened human being he becomes and he never would have achieved redemption. He would have died an unevolved person. Every human being should have the chance to become the best person they can be. And that message is the power of this movie.

“Wakefield” opens in New York on May 19, then in Los Angeles and select markets and on VOD on May 26, with Aaron Zigman’s score available this summer on Decca Gold

Visit Aaron Zigman’s website HERE

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Audio: Interview with Tyler Bates

Wo, 03/05/2017 - 14:23

ON THE SCORE is sponsored by La-La Land Records

In a scoring career that began with 1993’s alien-filled “Blue Flame,” Tyler Bates has explored myriad worlds of music, whether it be the beat jazz of “The Last Time I Committed Suicide” the sexually-driven groove of “Californication,” the cool killer percussion of “John Wick” or the terrifying knife-metal of Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” reboot. But given his muscularly powerful work, few genres that Tyler Bates has played have been as impressive as films that take their origins from graphic novels and comic books – the last stand of The Spartans in Zach Snyder’s “300” rising Bates to a new level of musical adventure with its brash combination of rock and ancient orchestral tradition.


Often putting numerous stylistic approaches into the body of one score, Bates merged an elegiac symphony with bold anti-heroism and industrial kick-ass for Snyder’s epic take on the “Watchmen.” It was an unhinged approach that marked him as an ideal partner for the in-your-face attitude of filmmaker James Gunn. Their partnership has encompassed the deliberately gross-out approach to “Slither,” the God-like chorus that delivers a mission of violent justice to the unbalanced vigilante of “Super” and the satirically sanitized groove of the web series “PG Porn.” Yet though they share an indie spirit, “The Guardians of the Galaxy” truly rocketed Gunn and Bates into the stratosphere with their exciting treatment for the universe’s wisecracking saviors. But if this team-up of a tree, green Amazon warrior, a rabidly irate raccoon and cocksure human Starlord gave the finger to convention, leave it to Bates’ music to deceptively play their heroism for all it was worth. Delivering a theme as memorable as any superhero opus, Bates brought cosmic choruses, pulse-pounding excitement and best of all real humanity to these Guardians.

Now as Gunn flips open a second volume for “The Guardians of the Galaxy,” Bates returns to the hip fight with a score that’s as gigantic as Ego the Living Planet with it rousing orchestra, smashing percussion, a chorus as big as heaven itself and the sensual samples of sexy empathy. But perhaps most impressive is just how much heart and nobility that Bates’ supremely melodic score gives to these upstart space avengers this time out. It’s exciting musical camaraderie that ranks high amongst Marvel’s movie scores, a mix of adventure, humanity and humor that the composer discusses in a new edition of On the Score.

Click above to Listen Now or Click Here to Download

Meet Tyler Bates at Burbank’s Creature Features on Saturday, May 6th at 2PM as he talks about “Guardians V2″ and signs V1 CD’s. Find out about the event, and how you can order your personalized soundtracks HERE

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Mandy Hoffman

Ma, 01/05/2017 - 21:17

One might say there’s a waltz to the Pas De Deux of infidelity, the steps taken to hide illicit lovers while feigning the deadening routine of a longtime marriage, or long term relationship. But then, while we Americans might poo-poo this sort of thing, dallying with mistresses and Lotharios seems to go down just non-judgmentally fine in France, especially in their comedies. The American indie “The Lovers” delightfully has it both ways, no more so than in its gorgeously swooning score by Mandy Hoffman. Dallying with the classic romantic spirits of Georges Delerue (“Jules and Jim”), Nino Rota (“Amacord”) and Paul Misraki (“And God Created Woman”), Hoffman’s music casts a rapturous spell as schlubby husband Michael (Tracy Letts) and nonchalant wife Mary (Debra Winger) fall in love again. The neat conceit of filmmaker Azazel Jacobs (“Terri”) is that they turn into cheaters on the people the high-strung dancer and wannabe poet (Melora Hardin, Aidan Gillen) that they’re cheating in – resulting in the kind of roundelay that’s been the stuff of life for such directors as Francois Truffaut and Eric Rohmer – as transferred to our screens. But listening to Hoffman’s wondrously full-blooded thematic score will likely make cineastes think they’re back in the Gaelic glory days, a sound whose waltzing orchestral richness ironically belies a quite intimate indie film – music that captures the spell of rekindled romance, as well as the moral blowback that must ultimately arrive.

Residing in Manhattan as opposed to Paris, where this sort of ultra-melodic thing is also the norm, Mandy Hoffman has composed a score that will perk up the ears with its pure, unashamed lavishness. A dead ringer for Zooey Deschanel, and with a talent that will hopefully reach those converse heights, Hoffman has long been about the indie scene with a far more alternative sound. Beginning her scoring career with Jacobs’ “The GoodTimesKid,” then reteaming with him for “Momma’s Man,” “Terri,” and the HBO/ SKY series “Doll & Em.” Hoffman’s credits have included such character-centric shows as “The Mop and Lucky Files” and the forthcoming Amazon series “I Love Dick,” as well as the film “Ana Maria in Novela Land.” “The Lovers” is her biggest jump from the cool eccentricity to a Hollywood-distributed film, and her biggest sound at that, revealing a symphonic talent that will likely land her more creative affairs to come.

How did you get your start in the business?

I was a musician as a child, I played viola and piano. They came to me very easily. I also had a real problem with discipline, I would start making up my own music. I had friends who were also musicians, and wanted to form a band with them, they didn’t get it. For a while I stopped playing music altogether, up until my twenties where I had a serious relationship with a songwriter and rediscovered I ended up in this ten-piece band called The Rogue Burns Ensemble. They were great musicians, but somebody had to help organize it, and that fell into my lap. I played these toy instruments while another guy read his poetry. We did soundtrack music as well. I particularly liked retro film scores like from the sixties that had really moody instrumental stuff.

Dana (L) and Mandy Hoffman (R ) on the piano

I ended up moving to Los Angeles with this guy I was in a relationship with, and had a horrible break-up there. I didn’t know anybody in town, but I decided to stay and just be by myself for a while. He’d given me this four-track. As time went on I kept hearing from people that my music was very cinematic. Yet even when I was a child, I always thought of myself as musical writer of narrative, a storyteller. The scores of John Williams really took me into movieland. And I finally got to see it when a friend introduced me to Josh Mancell. He was working at Mark Mothersbaugh’s company Mutato Music. I was blown away the creativity I saw, and knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life.

I asked if I could work there, and was told that I should to go to UCLA”s film scoring program study serious composition. Right when I started I met Aza, who he asked me to do his film score for “TheGoodTimes Kid,” which was like a toned-down version of “The Lovers.”

“Toned Down?”

Yeah, really toned down! I was going to school with a lot of jazz people, and some of them played on my hodge-podge score. People still mention it to me, and it really is one of my favorites. I did things on it that I probably wouldn’t do now, because I didn’t really know any better at the time. It just seemed to work. I got a couple of write-ups from a few critics who said it sounded like Nino Rota’s scores were “being slowly digested by a boa constrictor!” That wasn’t intentional, it just happened, because I was just writing from my gut. It made realized how much the scores from the 70’s and 80’s really had an effect on me, especially Nino’s “The Godfather.” It was really an era when film music was all over the place. You had disco. You had Bernard Herrmann, whose work for Hitchcock I also particularly loved.

How was it for someone who was self-taught to have had to learn “self-discipline” in film score structure by taking classes?

It was challenging because I didn’t have this corporate goal in mind like the people around me, who wanted to be the next Danny Elfman or John Williams. I didn’t want to be that. When Aza asked me to score his next film “Terri,” I wanted to do something big, but Aza didn’t want that. So we kept it small and innocent because of the children in the movie. I ended up working backwards because I had written a piano piece for the end, which Aza really liked, and wanted to base the score on that sound.

“The Lovers,” is certainly a score that sounds big, which creates a sense of irony for such an intimate film.

I felt that “The Lovers” needed a big score. The actors were delivering these solid performances, and the music needed to fill in the gaps that that they were intentionally leaving out. It was like there was this conversation being said without a word being spoken, and I wanted to show that part of the story. When we started, Aza had asked me if I wanted to work on certain themes for different couples and characters. I didn’t want to do that, but to instead have this universal theme for them.

Was it important for the score to give a certain empathy to the characters that are constantly cheating on each other, something many people wouldn’t particularly approve as being a likable trait?

photo by Rob Rosenfield

I didn’t think I needed to get into the characters in that way. I felt as if I were a bird nearby, watching as these events as they were taking place. So I didn’t feel so much pressure to make a “statement” about anybody’s behavior. My dad was really into French cinema, which I watched a lot when I was younger. In those old movies, everybody cheated on each other, because that that’s the way it is in France! I don’t think that’s as commonly seen in that way for American audiences. Everybody in “The Lovers” is seriously flawed. The adults just seemed like children. So it was about my score catching the in betweenness of their lives, their grey areas that are not the black and white realities that we’re so used to.

“The Lovers” essentially is a French comedy in that way.

I have gotten comments that my film scores sounded French. I really don’t know what that means but maybe because I play the accordion? I really feel that most 50’s French scores have a uniqueness that doesn’t sound like the comedies in America tended to at that time. Today’s film scores tend to sound very homogenous, where they use the same clichés over and over, something they didn’t do back then. They had a voice, particularly in France, where they used strange instrumentations.

photo by Charchi Stinson

What about “The Lovers’” waltz-like quality?

Aza loves waltzes, so I knew I would be writing in ¾ time for those moments. The whole waltz thing happened when I was banging my head tying to write for a key scene. Aza had mentioned an old French film to me at that time. He wanted this carnival-carousel kind of music for the film, for this kind of ride to be taking place – this kind of youthfulness happening for these immature people playing games on each other.

If you were to strip away the music, “The Lovers” might not end up being as funny as it is. How important was it to capture the humor?

Well, I try not to score things as being “funny.” I’ve done a lot of comedies. For me, comedy is all about timing. I don’t like the music to dictate what should be funny. I had struggled with another project where the director wanted me to score funny for this scene that was already funny to begin with. Humor works better when there’s depth to it.

You’ve really captured the joy of being swept up in newfound romance.

I have written romantic music before but this was more like “soap opera” music without being a soap opera! I was really inspired by Alberto Iglesias’ music from Pedro Almodovar films, which are like soap operas, without the cheese.

photo by Rob Rosenfield

There’s this weird brass thing happening in some of the score, which seems like it might seem like a mistake, but it ends up being really funny for Tracy Letts’ husband – a guy whom you wouldn’t think of as a babe magnet.

I felt that that was my “comedy” music for “The Lovers.” I had these strings playing pizzicato, plucking where the musicians felt that I was doing a big mistake. We actually didn’t use much brass for the film, but when I did, I wanted this kind of growling for one of the character’s frustrations. I had written this crazy, 50’s inspired violin run for one of the female characters, making her seem like a real psycho, which I really loved but they made me take it out. They felt it was too dark for the film.

“The Lovers” does get increasingly dark by the end. How did you want the music to capture that tonal shift?

photo by Rob Rosenfield

I tend to go dark anyway, and “The Lovers” seemed like it needed this graveness to it. In the end, I was inspired by the score to “Vertigo,” which was an approach that had different textures that were not in the rest of the score. I had the harp doing these harmonics throughout the film but I made it more noticeable by the conclusion. I also brought in this xylophone to create this weird harmony.

How did you get such lush symphonic quality for your score?

I worked with a great orchestrator named Patrick Zimmerli, who’s a great jazz composer in his own right. He’s a New York guy and he does a lot of “new” music. He normally doesn’t touch the film world. I felt like he is such a great composer that I wanted to live up to his standard, and wanted him to dig what I was writing. I really wanted to challenge him, too and he really enjoyed it. We really didn’t work too closely together, I just more or less just handed him the score and he did his thing. There really wasn’t too much change from my mock-ups, but he made it all sound a bit more human.

photo by Pat Reynolds

I wrote “The Lovers” pretty much in the same e-flat key for continuity purposes. Of course, there were some changes here and there, but it was mostly in e-flat. As you know, strings don’t play too well in flat keys, which I did on purpose because it had a darker sound, and I didn’t want the score to sound too happy. I think the e-flat has been compared to a “majestic” key because there’s something rich about that. In the last two cues, I switched to “sharp” keys. You can hear that the string players are much more confident playing in their natural keys, which makes it sounds brighter and happier, because Aza wanted this happy resolve to the score. That’s why I shifted my approach. There was this piece of temp music at the end that I liked a lot but he said it wasn’t doing anything where it should be happy and sweet. I was scratching my head on what he was trying to convey towards me. Then it hit me. What Aza really wanted was a lullaby! He wanted me to put this movie to bed, so I wrote this piece what he wanted and that’s what closes the movie. It was the last week of the film and I was able to pull it off this lullaby that’s like the carnival that ends the film, I was very happy at his suggestion and the score turned out better for it.

What’s up after “The Lovers?”

I’m working on a new Amazon comedy series called “I Love Dick.” It’s a story about these people who move to this small town in Texas, where they don’t really belong. I get to write some crazy Tex-Mex music and country music for the show that I play on guitar, accordion and pedal steel guitar. Pedal steel is such an underrated instrument. It has this depth and wit to it that really brings out something in the score. I would really like to work more with that instrument in future. I also got some horn players doing mariachi-style playing, so this is “comedy” music that’s more on the nose than “The Lovers’ ever could be.

What’s it like to be a female composer in Brooklyn?

Pretty much all of my clients are in Los Angeles, so it’s been a challenge. I think I have been passed over a bit because I am a female composer, no matter where I live. I think most in this business thinks that it’s a man’s job. These days I’m very excited to see female composers such as Mica Levi having such a strong voice and breaking all these rules. She has made some fucked up shit. She’s such a huge hero to me. I think a change is happening these days because of strong people like her. And I’ve been working with a lot of women directors lately. I find it kind of easier in a way to work with them, because they give you more creative room and trust. Aza is an exception being a sensitive guy of sorts, but I feel that female directors tend to give up a little of their power to entrust it to me. They don’t want to micromanage me.

Director Azazel Jacobs and Mandy Hoffman (photo by Pat Reynolds)

How do you feel about the potential of doing big budget films after so much time spent in the indie world?

They kind of scare me because there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and so many opinions can make the end result not as good. I see a lot of it in advertising. If you look at it, most advertising music is crap. There are too many opinions, but there are a couple of companies out there that are doing good quality work.

Do you view yourself as a musical non-conformist?

My husband David Morrin is a classically trained guitarist who’s really versed in pop music. He loves The Beatles and The Beach Boys, which I skipped. Being the musician that he is, he doesn’t always get what I’m trying to do. Even I don’t try to conform to what I’m trying to do!

photo by Daniel Schweiger

In the end, what do you want people to realize about your score for “The Lovers?”

That there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this film, especially because I happened to get pregnant during it. For the first time I felt that I didn’t have to give an explanation on what I was doing on a movie score. This is music that just speaks for itself.

“The Lovers” opens in theaters May 5th with its soundtrack available on Milan Records HERE

The “I Love Dick” soundtrack will be available for download on Amazon Music May 12th

Visit Mandy Hoffman’s website HERE

Special thanks to Alexander Portillo for transcribing this interview

(cover photo by Daniel Schweiger)

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Bear McCreary

Wo, 05/04/2017 - 18:53

The guy problems of fawn-eyed rom-com star Anne Hathaway in the American big city and nowhere town. Asia’s pesky buildings that get in the way of a man in a big monster suit (or at least in the good old pre-CGI days). Never shall these two movie worlds, or protagonists meet – especially in the case of a composer whose lovers usually get split asunder by Cylons, Walkers or nasty British soldiers. But there’s got to be a first for everything for Hollywood, and Bear McCreary. In this case, it’s “Colossal,” wherein Hathaway’s woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown through a series of bad luck relationships goes back home to sort her wreck of a life out – only to discover that her angst is controlling a major, monstrous wrecking ball in the form of a creature terrorizing Korea’s capital of Seoul. Gradually breaking through her alcoholic, guy-fueled haze, Gloria takes control of her life by making the beast half a planet away do some unexpectedly silly things (or at least the kind of wincing stuff Godzilla did back in his drunken, dancing Elvis period).

However, when you at first listen to Bear McCreary’s glorious, city-stomping score, you might think he’s playing the continuing adventures of the can-do heroine who just blew up a space invader at the end of “Ten Cloverfield Lane.” Such is the rousing orchestral weight and emotional mystery of “Colossal,” which gradually tips its hand to the more intimate, ironically dramatic story at hand from the eccentric mind of director Nacho Vigalondo. But then, the idea of taking a small view at a gigantic genre twist is often a spin on Nacho’s offbeat Spanish films as “Timecrimes,” in which a time paradox unwinds in someone’s home, and “Extraterrestrial,” where an invasion is waited out in an apartment. McCreary’s score for “Colossal” makes you realize the scope is just a bit bigger, and intimate at that. Alt. score faves like acoustic and rock guitars blend with bombastic symphonic foot-smashing, an angst-ridden cello finds an accompaniment in blasting brass, and tender piano builds to cosmic revelation worthy of Gozer the Gozerean. It’s witty and emotionally stratospheric scoring that has it both ways, often playing the straight, musical creature to a wacky, well-realized idea in a way that only expands McCreary’s catalogue of genre music, while showing the different, dramatic paths he’s equally capable of.


Indeed, it’s likely that the collected works of this protégé of Elmer Bernstein would stack higher than Godzilla if you put together the likes of “Battlestar Galactica,” “Black Sails,” “Outlander,” “Agents of SHIELD,” “The Walking Dead” and all of the other hit shows to his credit. Yet it’s McCreary’s forays into movie theaters that provide some of his best work, from the wondrous “Europa Report” to the metalhead demon busters that comprise the “Knights of Badassdom” or the eerily haunted beauty of “The Forest” and “The Boy” (we can even throw in some dance moves of a “Step Up” picture in there). But given its own tonal connection to the riveting, exceptionally constructed bomb shelter break out of “Ten Cloverfield Lane,” “Colossal” comes across like the tip of an iceberg to just how many genres McCreary is capable of in a movie, and score that delightfully, and movingly has its way with two unlikely ones.

What’s your for the giant monster films of yore, and how do you think their scores played into that?

I have always loved a good giant monster movie, and have tremendous respect for the legacy of the genre. “King Kong” was certainly the first giant monster movie on a large scale, and featured one of the first recorded scores in the history of film. So, in a way, every film with music owes a debt of gratitude to giant monster movies!

What was it like working with Nacho, especially given how unique his genre films are?

Nacho quickly proved himself to be as distinct as his films. I was inspired by his film, and even more inspired by his creative leadership. His grasp of the story, the themes, and their interaction, was as detailed as any filmmaker I’ve ever collaborated with. He was fun, funny and clear in articulating his vision.

We’ve never quite seen a “Kaiju” movie like “Colossal.” How would you say it subverts the genre? And was that a big appeal for you to do the score?

It subverts the genre by being a different film entirely that happens to take place within that world. I think the film is character drama, wrapped up in a love letter to the “Kaiju” genre.

How much did you want to emulate the sound of “Kaiju” movies with “Colossal?”

It was not a concern of mine in the slightest, to be honest. I did not revisit any classic monster movies scores before scoring this film. I focused on the character arcs and the tension. There certainly are big moments in my score, but those were not the focus of my creative energies.

Given Korea is the setting of its monster rampage, how much of an Asian quality did want to bring to “Colossal?”

I think my score, with its folksy strumming electric guitars and solo cello melody, has a distinctly rural American sound. The large orchestra represents the giant monster and the stakes of the danger, but the iconic sounds of the score are intimate and indie-rock in nature.

How did you want to thematically contrast the characters of Gloria and the monster, then have the music gradually bring them together with their symbiosis – especially give how different the worlds are of the “indie comedy’ and “giant monster” scoring are?

Gloria has a theme that stands out pretty frequently in the film. Her solo cello melody is often supported by strumming electric guitars. Those elements definitely come from the “indie” film world. I used an orchestra to achieve a larger “blockbuster score” sound when appropriate. In fact, the opening Main Title cue is actually a bit of a musical joke: a tense ostinato in the low strings and mounting huge brass fanfare build tension that sounds like it will reveal an epic monster, and instead, we cut to Gloria sheepishly opening a door to her boyfriend’s apartment after having been out drinking all night. At the end of the film, I brought the two sounds together, putting the “indie cello” melody in the soaring full orchestra. It was an epic, fun moment.

Usually films follow on storyline. But what kind of challenge did it pose given “Colossal’s” intercutting between Gloria and the monster?

I chose to focus the music entirely on Gloria. We witness the fantastic events through her eyes, so I generally chose to score her reaction to the events, rather than the events themselves.

Two instruments in “Colossal” that are particularly featured with the orchestra are the guitar and cello. Could you tell us about the score’s ensemble?

The guitars and solo cello were my way of rooting the score in an “indie film” persona. I wanted the score to feel almost schizophrenic for the first hour of the film. Like, some edgy indie rock band scored half of it, and a classically trained orchestral composer scored the other half. Then, as the film progresses, the two musical styles merge to form a coherent vision.

Colossal doesn’t quite prepare for you for its most massive subtext about abusive relationships involving men. As a male composer, did that affect you emotionally, and make it all the more challenging to play the score from a female perspective?

The themes of abuse, both in substances and relationships, run deep in this story, and those themes inspired me to give the score a sense of emotional weight and importance. The film is about how relationships can become imbalanced, with dominance overtaking vulnerability. This is represented in the score with the acoustic solo cello struggling to hold its own against a relentless and overpowering synth pulse. I suppose in that regard, the feminine voice of the score is represented by an acoustic instrument, and the masculine voice is represented by a synthetic instrument.

In its way, minus its indie vibe, “Colossal” plays as a sequel score to “Ten Cloverfield Lane,” one of last year’s best films, and scores, especially in how the music “opened up” a movie that could have been claustrophobic. Could you talk about scoring it, and how you hope to remain part of the “Cloverfield” universe?

I wouldn’t have thought of it until you mentioned it, but there is a musical structure that’s similar to both films, I guess. Both films start off very contained, and build to a huge finale that’s bigger than what you’re anticipating based on the first hour of the film. That story structure obviously has an impact on the requirements of the scores for those films. As for the “Cloverfield” universe, I am always up for whatever JJ Abrams wants me to do.

There’s a fun, bombastic quality to your score. How important was it to give “Colossal” that extra, astounding push without overwhelming it?

This was a huge question, and the first thing I tackled in scoring the film. It was vitally important that the score deliver an epic, soaring finale, without overpowering or destroying the tone of the film. The last 12 minutes of the film, were the first thing I wrote (in fact, I scored the entire 12 minute last reel on spec as a demo to land the job!). Once the final reel was approved by the director and studio, it was an easier process to reverse engineer the rest of the score.

Conversely, how important was it for you to give an insane story like this emotional weight?

Giving a story emotional weight is truly the only thing I am ever concerned about when doing a film, regardless of genre. Without an emotional connection, plots ultimately lose my interest after about 30 minutes. It was the intensely satisfying emotional arc of this film that made me want to do it in the first place.

You’ve been upfront about how you use a team of composers given your insane workload something that’s been commonplace in the industry for years now, though not talked about as candidly as you do. How do you retain quality control, and are there projects where you are determined to be the sole composer on?

Working in modern television requires a composer team to keep up with the massive amount of minutes necessary every week. Because all my television scores feature live players, most with full orchestra every episode, my team at Sparks & Shadows also includes orchestrators, engineers, music editors, copyists, session producers, and employees dedicated to coordination, logistics, project management, sample development, and tech support. Everything is in-house. The operation is massive, but allows me the creative support to spend my every waking minute involved with the creative concerns of my projects.

How do you think “The Walking Dead” has changed in the way where it’s now featuring scenes that rely entirely on music? And given the epic war that’s coming in the next season, how do you see your music for the show growing?

I have been fortunate to be a part of “The Walking Dead” since day one. My score has evolved as rapidly as the show itself, now nearing the end of its seventh season. I am just completing my fourth season with showrunner Scott Gimple, who really appreciates the value and emotional impact of music, and envisions sequences where score will be featured prominently. I am eager to see what happens next season!

With all of the film and television work you’ve done, it’s almost a surprise that you’ll be scoring your first non-genre dramatic movie with the upcoming “Rebel in the Rye,” about J.D. Salinger. What was that experience like, and do you hope to get more “straight” assignments like this?

Working with Danny Strong, creator of “Empire” and an accomplished actor / writer, on his directorial debut was a remarkable experience. It felt like a feat to land a film without time travel, robots, aliens, zombies, pirates, or demons. Scoring “Rebel in the Rye” was one of the best experiences of my life, yielded one of the best scores of my career, and I hope very much to do more films like it in the future.

You’ve also scored your first feature documentary “Unrest,” about a Harvard PHD who’s suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. Could you tell us about your approach for it, and the big difference you’ve discovered between writing for features and non-fiction here?

I learned a lot working with Jennifer Brea on “Unrest.” Her film is a chronicle of her personal journey suffering with CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), telling both her intimate story and that of people like her around the world. For Jennifer, this film is literally her life. So, approaching it as I would a fiction film proved to be pointless. I rewired my thinking so that I was scoring her life, and thought of the film as a byproduct. The music had to be as intensely personal and intimate as her filmmaking. I am really proud of the film, and excited that people will get to see it on PBS in the near future.

Another forthcoming project is the Blumhouse production of “Half to Death,” a “Groundhog Day”-like movie about a heroine learning how to get to the bottom of her multiple deaths. What’s the trick of scoring a film with repeated scenes, and how do you want to repeat, and the change the music for it?

Oh my, word gets around fast. I’m just getting started on this one. It’s too early to say, but I am looking forward to tinkering with this. I am attracted to the idea of using similar music for repeated sequences, but ultimately, my motto is always “Follow the Character.” It’s more important for me to adapt with the character’s POV. I have some ideas crazy ideas that I’m looking forward to pitching the director soon.

With “Colossal,” how do you think you’ve contributed to movies about giant monsters, as well as millennial relationship problems? And when you think about it, are they the same thing?

I’d love to think that my score checks both of those boxes. That was certainly my goal. We’ll have to see how people respond when the movie comes out.

Colossal is another atypical genre film, and score for you. Do you find these films more interesting than a far bigger, cookie-cutter opportunity that might come your way?

I always enjoy working on projects that challenge me, and make me a better composer for having done them. I like to think that even a “cookie cutter” gig might present cool musical opportunities. But, for now, I just keep my eye out for interesting projects that push me out of my comfort zone.

“Colossal” rampages in theaters April 7th, with Bear McCreary’s score available on Lakeshore Records. Pick up your copy HERE

Visit Bear McCreary’s website HERE

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Rob Simonsen

Di, 04/04/2017 - 02:14

Hollywood is a town of the young when it comes to the composers who get all of the cool gigs (perhaps excepting that 85 year-old duffer John Williams). On that note, there are few creatively hotter, hipster commodities than Rob Simonsen at finding unique, vibrant groove that speaks for a new sound of film scoring. Simonsen began his career as an assistant, arranger and then addition composer to Mychael Danna on such brilliantly non-conformist scores as “Where the Truth Lies,” “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” and the Oscar-wining “Life of Pi,” Making his solo feature debut with the knightly drama “Westender” (in which he played a role as well), Simonson has since amassed dozens of credits, with a particular emphasis on quirky, character-driven films. Tapping into an alt. rock sound so preferred by Gen X’ers and millennial audiences yet with a strong, old school sense of orchestral melody, Simonsen has chronicled their romantic angst for “(500) Days of Summer,” “The Way Way Back” and “The Spectacular Now,” as well as a rhythmic addiction to the net with “Nerve.” He’s heard the creepily symphonic sound of true crime with “All Good Things” and “Foxcatcher,” as well as using impossibly lush strings and electronics to mesmerizingly embody eternity in “The Age of Adeline,” or even hell’s kitchen with a cool, cutting-edge sample sound for “Burnt.”

With all of Simonsen’s credits, it’s ironic that one of his most clever, and thoroughly fun scores is a throwback jazz heist soundtrack with a hip, mature feel for “Going In Style.” It’s a hundred-and-eighty (plus thousands of more dollars) turn for both Simonsen and actor-director Zach Braff after their collaboration on “Wish You Were Here.” Gentle whimsy gives way to a rollicking, fat brass section, whistles, and a suspenseful orchestra that might befit the golden days of Steve McQueen barreling down the streets of San Francisco. But in this case, it’s the dream team of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as three seniors who are mad as hell as their corporate mistreatment, and decide to take on a bank for the retirement robbed from them. Far more optimistic than the sad, gritty 1979 original, this “Style” is feel-good multiplex entertainment that gets the goods with well-weathered chemistry and symphonically jazzy flourish to spare, especially in Simonsen’s fresh retro grooves.

If these thieves might do their best not to get a rap sheet, Simonsen himself is getting labeled for comedy for good reason. At year’s end, he’ll be going on the lam with Owen Wilson and Ed Helms for “Bastards.” As their two man-children try to find their father in a series of screwball incidents and verbal squabbles, Simonsen provides an instrumentally eccentric take on a free spirit vs. stuck-up sibling. It’s a winning score that takes Simonsen on a road trip that’s familiar for its stripped down sound, but like “Going in Style,” offers the composer the chance to go for new, broader musical punch lines.

Certainly nothing if not prolific with the often musical chairs release dates of the many movies he’s scored, Simonsen also has the distinction of having another film scored by him on “Going in Style’s” April 7th opening date. And it couldn’t be for a more different movie, if beautifully familiar Simonsen score, than “Gifted.” Returning him to the company of “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb, if in way more grown up surroundings, “Gifted” finds a math-magician little girl whose gifts are closely guarded by her single dad, who’d rather have her find a winning formula in life than becoming a guinea pig savant. At first depicting their relationship with ethereal magic, Simonsen introduces a more serious, symphonic sound for grown ups trying to tear them apart, yet with a subtlety that distinguishes the composer’s dramatically melodic instincts in a rich grab bag of distinctively vibrant, and stylistic scores.

How did you first connect with Zach Braff, and why do you think you were in tune as a composer and director?

Zach discovered me through an Apple commercial that I scored. He said he was watching TV and the “Photos Everyday” ad came on, which has no voice over or dialogue – just music accompanying all these beautiful shots of people taking photos on their iPhones. He loved the music on the ad and thought it was perfect for his film “Wish I Was Here,” so he did a Google search to find out who did the music and then found me. It was only after the fact that he found out I had done a fair bit of work with his editor and producers, so it all came together happily.

Not only is “Going in Style” Zach’s first “mainstream” film as it were, but it’s also a whole new, broader orchestral comedy sound for you, one very different from the kind of alt scores you often do. What were your mutual challenges like?

Zach has never made a film that was scored to this degree, so there was a lot of discovering about how to make the film work with score, which was achieved through a wonderful team Zach had with his editor, Myron Kerstein, music editor Andrew Silver, his producer Donald DeLine and music executive Erin Scully. Everyone wanted the same thing, but it took us time to figure out how to get there. Zach was very trusting of me and the process and we faced all the challenges together.

On my side, the initial challenge faced by all composers, is how to do something that hasn’t already been done – and done so well by the greats. In the journey of a working film composer, there isn’t always the opportunity to invent something new, so then it’s a question of how much fun to have with the genre and established approaches.

For me, this was a great opportunity to have a bigger, broader sound that harkened back to the 80’s and so many films I saw growing up. The fun, orchestral approach to “Back to the Future” was something we discussed in terms of how that score plays to the film. So really, it was trying to find unique musical material with melodies, motifs, etc, and then having fun.

This is definitely not your grandfather’s “Going In Style,” which was a very good, but downbeat movie. How important was it for you to establish a tone that was dramatic, but also played the lighthearted nature of the film?

Our rule was to never take away permission to laugh. Even though our heroes face real consequences, we were careful to never go dark. Zach’s films tend lean in with emotion so we also knew upfront that we needed warm fuzzy melodies.

When so many fun, jazzy “heist” scores have been done, what’s the challenge of finding something new for the genre?

As I was saying before, I think it’s about having fun with an existing genre. Not all films can handle experimentation, and they need to feel connected to their predecessors. So for me this was a chance to get into scores and records that I’ve loved for a long time, a love letter to Lalo Schifrin, Roy Budd, CTI Records…it’s musically referencing 60’s and 70’s but the approach and production is more of an 80’s, almost Amblin kind of thing.

How important was it to bring a youthful vibe to the score, while at the same time playing the particular challenges that reflect these characters’ ages, as well as their distinct personalities?

Zach wanted the youthfulness of the granddaughter character to come through in her scenes, so we needed something with energy there. And with our three main characters, despite their physical age, were playful and fun with each other. We never wanted to make their situation seem sad, we always wanted to lean into the fun and excitement.

A retro element would definitely come with aging characters like this who were in the primes of their youths in the 60s and 70s (as well as the 40s in one cue). How did that determine what kind of vibe did you want to explore for them, and how to incorporate that into a big orchestral sound?

I was definitely inspired to go retro, but not too much. Recording/mixing engineer Alan Meyerson was a brilliant partner in finding ways to give nods to the music we were referencing, while still staying modern.

What are your own favorite “heist” movies and scores, and why? How did you want the score to “track” the big, climactic robbery?

“Bullit” by Lalo Schifrin is one of my favorite scores of the genre (and films). John Barry’s stuff with the Bond franchise. Anything Roy Budd was doing in the 60’s-70’s like “Get Carter.” Quincy Jones, Deodato, Morricone. Even Sam Spence’s NFL Films stuff. I love the sound of electric bass and drum kit with orchestra.

There’s also a fun, subtle tropical flavor to “Going in Style,” as well as whistling and swinging flutes. How did those ideas come into play?

The whistling was actually an idea that Zach had, I think. It seemed like a fun idea so we went with it. There’s some body and mouth percussion in some spots as well. There’s a carefree playfulness to that stuff so it seemed like something to try and work in. The tropical vibe wasn’t intended, but maybe that’s just inherent with bongos and congas, of which there are a lot. We did a lot of Latin percussion, headed up by Pete Korpela, who is a fantastic player and brought a lot of groove to the whole score.

As fun as “Going in Style” is, does scoring a film like this make you reflect on your own mortality, and challenges that you’ll be face a few decades down the pike, especially in a composing industry known for its ageism. And if so, did that emotion play into the score’s more heartfelt moments?

You mean, was my own sadness about aging channeled into the score? Yes. Yes, it was.

“Bastards” is more in tune with other eccentric comedy scores you’ve done like “Girl Most Likely” and “The Way Way Back,” especially with its unplugged acoustical sound. How did you hit on this approach here, which also uses a more subdued orchestra?

“Bastards” needed something plucky and I wanted to find a way to get pluck without using plucked strings. I ended up using them a bit, but they’re 1:1 blended with palm-muted acoustic guitar plucks most of the time, so it makes it a little bit of a smaller, more intimate and hopefully unique sound. It still sounds like plucks I think, Ha! But the story for “Bastards” is really about a couple of brothers who are still trapped in their childhood selves in a lot of ways, and they reconcile by going on an adventure to find their father. So there needs to be a spirit of adventure driven by emotion, but big orchestra just felt too big and adult for that. It was the softer, quieter tones of acoustic guitar and upright piano seemed to match their characters.

It seems like just about any eccentric instrument is possible in “Bastards.” How did you pick which ones to use, whether it’s a dulcimer, a ukulele or a fuzz guitar?

Fumbling around until it felt right, pretty much. We used cimbalom, which is a fantastic instrument that I first heard my friend Chester Englander play with the LA Phil. It’s got a unique sound that can blend so interestingly with other things that we’re really used to hearing. It’s a fairly intuitive thing I think, just wanting something different and hunting for the right sound. I spend a fair bit of time at the outset just thinking about and experimenting with the palette.

How do you want to hit the difference between one brother who’s hopelessly wound up, and the other who’s a free spirit?

One is loose and goes with the flow, so we have something that’s laid back and relaxed, whereas the other one is uptight and needed something angular that is a little tense and also melancholic.

Like “Going in Style,” “Bastards” is a “caper” film of sorts, in that the mission is to do whatever it takes to discover who their real dad is. Tell us about capturing that kind of alt. jazzy sneaking about, as well as the idea of a multiplicity of potential, woefully flawed dads?

I think in the end I’m just tried to do what sounded sneaky to me. We knew there needed to be sneak in the score, but I think the discovery of the score was a theme that had a bit of hope and adventure. I imagined two young boys playing in the forest, setting out on a quest to find their lost father, the king. Waving a flag as they march into the unknown. There’s something sweet and earnest about that, and inevitably they get into shenanigans.

Is it particularly fun to play a road trip where bantering dialogue is as big a part of the physical comedy?

It’s quite different. Again, this was a bit of a broader film and score than I’m used to. But it was fun to play that up.

Despite its shenanigans, there’s an emotional core to “Bastards” about dealing with parental rejection, and wanting to be loved. How did you want to hit that without being overly sentimental?

Exactly as you said – to hit it without being overly sentimental. I was just trying to serve the scenes, which director Larry Sher did a wonderful job with. There’s some real emotion in that film. I get misty eyed every time I see it.

How was it for you to reteam with director Marc Webb on “Gifted,” this time as the sole composer?

It was great. I love Marc and he’s someone I’ve had a friendship with since we all did “(500) Days of Summer.” He’s a wonderful filmmaker.

Do you think there are instruments that naturally convey the innocence of children? And how did you want to play them here, especially given that this girl is super smart?

Anything small and bell-like seems to ring true for the sound of children. The main theme for the girl in “Gifted” is very simple. Elemental. She’s a normal kid in many ways, but a genius in others so we needed a more adult, complex sound from the orchestra that could keep up with that.

How did you want to play her bond with a dad of normal intelligence?

I would say he’s above average intelligence. But the life he is trying to give her is one of normalcy. He wants her to have a chance at developing without the pressure from the world to juice a mind like that. There are some interesting questions about the morality, ethics and responsibility of genius there.

There have been many kid’s “courtroom” movies that have gone wrong, especially given scores that tended to be treacly. Was that a concern here, especially as the score grows increasingly solemn with its dramatic stakes?

Yes, we never wanted to be too cute. McKenna Grace, the young actor that plays the lead is extraordinarily funny, smart, and entertaining and we didn’t want it to turn into cuteness.

You’re part of an “Echo Society” that stages new works from composers in Downtown Los Angeles. Tell us about the group, and what kind of creative outlet it gives you?

The Echo Society is a group of like-minded friends who gather to create new works of art, and share that with the greater LA arts community. This city is so rich with artists of all disciplines. We wanted to connect with other artists that we may not have a chance to work with in our “day jobs” of film composers, etc. For us it’s really important to make art for art’s sake – to see what’s possible and to cast a vision for something that moves us. We try to execute that with as much passion and commitment as we can in a way that will hopefully move others. It’s been wonderfully rewarding as a composer. I’m just as excited to be there to experience it as an audience member as I am to share it as a co-creator.

You’ve got quite an interesting film coming called “House of Tomorrow,” which mashes architectural legend Buckminster Fuller with the story of two punk teens trying to get laid. What can we expect from that score?

The score is all analog synths and glass flutes. The idea was to capture the sound of the future from the past. So there’s a ‘science documentary’ from the 60’s kind of vibe. It was wicked fun.

When you hear “Going in Style,” “Bastards” and “Gifted,” what do you think they say about your range as a composer? And where do you want to go in terms of exploring uncharged musical areas?

What it says about my range is a statement for probably for someone else to make, as I’m always just doing my best with any assignment. For me, a film score is always a chance to do something new. Maybe it’s just new for me, but that’s worthwhile. I’m always looking for ways to grow and develop as a composer and human being, and doing things I haven’t done before is always an opportunity for that. I’m also finishing up my first solo record and that will hopefully open me up more to making more music for music’s sake.

“Going in Style” and “Gifted” open in theaters April 7th, with “Style’s” soundtrack on WaterTower Music HERE and “Gifted” on Lakeshore Records HERE

Join the “Bastards” on their road trip at year’s end in theaters

Find out about the Echo Society’s latest LA performances HERE

Visit Rob Simonsen’s website HERE

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

CITY OF GHOSTS (and resilient grit)

Di, 21/03/2017 - 22:16

From its first ethereal tones, Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s (Oscar-nominated CARTEL LAND) CITY OF GHOSTS music score and sound design achieves a hauntingly simultaneous balance of nearly-imperceptible presence and atmospheric poignancy. “I sorta figured if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” reflects Mr. Heineman when expressing why he continues his creative collaboration with composers and personal friends, H. Scott Salinas and Jackson Greenberg.

With Mr. Salinas and Greenberg’s consent, I offer to kickoff our visit with an immediate impression during the start of the film that distinguishes it’s score from Cartel Land’s…it deftly emerges with warm, melodic cello and higher-notes vibraphone progessions from a dreamlike silence, and only registers as a lilting, tender counterpoint to the viscerally intense imagery of ISIS-occupied contemporary Raqqa, Syria in the picture’s opening sequence well after we’re already emotionally all-in invested via what will certainly be a harrowing, yet inspiring cinematic experience. Mr. Heineman recalls, “Cartel Land was an amazing collaboration with Scott and Jackson, and they’re so talented. We all developed a sort of shorthand making Cartel Land and for me, this film was extremely stressful on a bunch of different levels, so I just wanted to keep that band together. I reached out to them about collaborating quite early in the process, which influences the edit, allows them to freshly color the emotions and feelings of the images based on what I was responding to, what felt right or didn’t right away. So, those first sessions were extremely important to developing the language of the film.”

After the aptly assembled opening sequence juxtaposes quick shots of human ingenuity with fierce ISIS challenges, the creative team offers rhythmic marimba and guitar during it’s aural foreshadowing of visceral collective human resilience by showing early-resistance Raqqa uprisings against the anaconda-like noose unleashed upon local residents as the IS fighters descend upon the region from the hallucination-like mirage of surrounding desert terrain.

Integral to this story’s resistance are local members of the resistance platform, Raqqa Being Slaughtered Silently, or RBSS. We first meet hope in the schoolteacher Mohamed and blogger/videographer Hamoud…then immediately witness IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi slowly ascend mosque pulpit stairs. Tension feels temporarily relieved, then abruptly withdrawn as pensive piano accompanies our introduction to the situation’s lethality…the group’s member Moutaz is assasinated, and the team flees Raqqa for sactuary in nearby Gazientap, Turkey to establish a RBSS headquarters and where we meet their partner, Ibrahim, as well as German safehouses where we meet liason, Mouza.

“Raqqa is a nightmare,” whispers Hamoud’s brother, Hassan, one of the “Raqqa 12″ internal/external correspondents early in the film, and Mr. Heineman kindly brings us into their intuitively collaborative musical scoring process. “First, I sent them (composers Mr. Salinas and Greenberg) a few clips because we didn’t have a cut yet, and they delivered 10 – 12-minute ‘concentrates,’ that had a lot of different elements and we’d sit around and talk about what I was responding to.”

I ask about how scene cues felt unique in so far as they ascended from silence, almost imperceptibly. Mr. Greenberg responds with, “I think that’s a testament to the editing of the film. Every cue would start with a single instrument or sound. The opening sequence was so impactful (sic), with every intense moment followed by another even more intense moment, so we wanted to allow each of those to linger with the audience as long as possible while also moving them along in the story. The challenge was, let’s let people feel this but not have the music drag them out of the story, so our solution was to go with really simple opening to the cues, and then they often return to their simplest form at the end of the cue.”

Mr. Salinas expands, “There were a few cues that come in really strong too, so because mostly the cues were simple, so when the few cues that don’t behave that way come in, they feel way more impactful (sic), almost bigger than they actually are because we weren’t overusing that sort of strong. It’s sort of an instinctual tactic, that we can sort of really hit you hard when we need to. You’ll notice we do that with sound too, like when there’s an explosion or a phone suddenly dropping, it feels jarring. So, because before those moments, we’ve been in this interestingly delicate, smooth world, where I imagine your senses haven’t been overloaded yet, so we’re all sensitive to, when we go ‘to 11,’ how many times are you gonna do that and why.”

“When we were mixing with our amazing mixer, Tom Paul, who we worked with on Cartel Land, elaborates Mr. Heineman, “we said to him, ‘we want the film to have breaths but we don’t want them to feel like they’re breathing. So, in the sound mix, we did a lot of work with ‘reverb-ing’ sound in and out to help ease some of these transitions, make them seamless, make them seem like one long poem as opposed to a bunch of starts and stops.”

Case in point, about 3/4 into the picture, there’s a viscerally dynamic sequence elucidating the RBSS crew-in-exile as they emotionally transform from a sort of post traumatic stress detachment after settling into German safe houses, into a gradual fearless, actualized confrontation with German nationalists at an anti-refugee assembly. Tension builds as strings rise from a building bass and acoustic guitar trot that slowly gathers accelerating velocity into an alarming gallop. Mr. Heineman reflects on how he and the team approached music and sound challenges here with, “that scene was so chaotic and loud…there was a natural rhythm to the protests, and I feel that cue of Scott and Jackson’s is one of my favorite cues, so powerful. If you take away the ‘nat’ (natural) sounds, it’s pretty large and complicated but you just feel the emotion when you’re watching that scene. It’s really subtle in how it plays in the mix.”

Mr. Greenberg adds, “One of the things that happens in that cue is that at times, all the sounds get stripped away and we’re left only with music, and you can become aware that, ‘oh, wait a minute, the music was doing that the whole time,’ that creates a kind of whiplash impact.”

“It was similar to what we did sometimes in the Cartel Land mix, when we stripped away all nat sounds at the end of a cue and let the music bring it out,” Mr. Heineman recalls. “As a filmmaker, what I love is not going to a film with any preconceived notions or script in mind but letting it evolve naturally. If you’d talked to me a year ago when we started, would I ever think that we could include a scene of neo-Nazis marching through Berlin to somehow fit into this film. And while the film is sort of about this war of ideas, propaganda, information from these citizen journalists and ISIS’ slick propaganda, it’s also a story of immigrants, an exodus story, of Man’s understanding, coming to terms, and dealing with the cumulative effects of trauma…also, rising nationalism both in Germany and around the world. It’s about finding one’s own identity in a new place. So, what was beautiful about their music, is that nothing feels heavy-handed…it’s not like we get to Germany, Turkey, or Raqqa and suddenly the whole score changes. There’s a real sort of elegance to it, it’s so emotive but you’re not always aware of how the score is making that happen.”

Mr. Salinas chuckles at having utilized “that crazy precussion instrument – a ‘pocket piano’ I found at a luggage store in San Francisco” for that scene. It sort of sounds like an rhythmic organ but it’s made out of wood and makes really interesting sounds.”

Mr. Greenberg expands with, “It felt kind of like making an album where we felt free with Matt to experiment with shaping larger movements from those original stems. So, instead of aiming for a perfect cue, we did a subtractive rather than additive process, of a quickly freeing mashup approach. We also collaborated with a Syrian classically-trained musician, a well-known revolutionary songwriter who played over a dozen instruments…weird, distorted synths. We just did it and it worked very effectively because we all like similar source material and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.”

Mr. Salinas adds, “I’d send in stuff, just as a jumping off point, and when it worked, it ended up in the movie.

In closing, I offer that the score maintains a organically-consistent vibe continuity flow throughout, to which Mr. Heineman generously lauds, “Yes, and I think that’s a huge testament to Scott and Jackson. One of the things I love about our collaboration is that we’re all sort of ego-less in the collaboration, there’s a trust that we’ve developed. For example, them delivering between 6 – 10 ‘stems’ for each cue, which allowed us the option to fine-tune everything. We played a ton with the stems.”

He kindly wraps to race after his next interview with, “I really appreciate your feedback on the film and our music process, it means a lot. Some people get the film and some don’t, and you get the intricacies of what we were trying to do.”

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Soundtrack Picks: “LOGAN” is the top soundtrack to own for March, 2017

Di, 14/03/2017 - 22:39

Soundtrack Picks: “LOGAN” is the top soundtrack to own for March, 2017


To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover




Price: $21.99

What is it?: Intrada has often mined musical treasure from the Disney vaults. But perhaps none are shinier than the treasure that results from composers with a taste for fantastical adventure, be it involving waterfowl or teen superheroes in training.

Why should you buy it:
Not every funny animal star to grace Disney came from film or television, one case in point being Scrooge McDuck, a feathered spin on Ebenezer created by comic book artist Carl Barks in 1947. His money-making schemes providing no end of perilous trouble for nephew Donald Duck and his kids in a series of popular adventure stories, and later a syndicated TV show that provided the gist for 1990’s “Duck Tales: The Movie.” But when listening to Scrooge’s musical quest for the treasure of the lost lamp, you might assume you’re listening to the score for a long lost Indiana Jones picture, if given a somewhat lighter spin. Few composers gave that era’s kid-friendly comedy-adventures the kind of energetic rambunctiousness like David Newman. With lush orchestrations that shifted to new ideas at a moment’s notice, Newman’s scores for the likes of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Galaxy Quest” and “The Brave Little Toaster” came across like a fusion between his dad Alfred Newman and Warner Brother’s toon king Carl Stalling. “Duck Tales” is a prime cut of his seamless ability to jet between cheerful rhythm and cliffhanging peril, a silly symphony by way of the lost Ark as Newman inflects Arabic exoticism into a constantly thrilling sense of discovery. Newman embodies Scrooge and company as a hardy band of explorers boldly facing death-defying traps, as well as a few pratfalls. It’s exactly the kind of dynamic scoring that makes the listener take cartoons all the more seriously, especially given the composer’s dynamic use of strings and brass, given a constant sense of melodic excitement and wonder that plays one of the composer’s best “Tales” where the real treasure within is robustly cliffhanging music that plays Scrooge as anything but a McDuck.

Extra Special: Michael Giacchino was fresh off Disney’s “The Incredibles” when the studio’s “Sky High” flew his way in a welcome case of superhero typecasting. Where Giacchino had taken a stylized, hep John Barry 60’s approach for that animated movie’s spandex-clad family, the composer’s approach for “Sky High” was all about his love for John Williams. Giacchino confidently responded to his first live action movie leap with a stupendous theme whose trumpeting melody was practically emblazoned with a big red “S,” Giacchino’s score immediately nails the lofty nobility of this power pack, while also capturing the underdog emotion of a son trying to fill his crusader dad’s cape. Like David Newman, Giacchino’s use of his formidable orchestral resources was serious, if not exactly life or death stuff given the villain’s plan to reduce her foes to kindergarten size. With numerous genre franchises that the composer would conquer on the horizon, Giacchino’s affection for the material rings through the theme-rich score, from the dastardly bell-ringing brass of evil to swirling, save-the-day orchestrations, a symphonically grand approach whose climactically suspenseful string and choral power would only grow to Oscar winning heights, not to mention the brilliant John Williams’ emulation of “Rogue One.” Yet “Sky High” is certainly a match for Giacchino’s most enjoyable work to come, a comic book-colored score that again showed him as being to the superhero manor born.


Price: $14.99

What Is it?: Marco Beltrami has always been a composer to find a uniquely dark sound in nihilistic subject matter, whether it’s onboard the twisted samples of a train to a frozen apocalypse in “Snowpiercer,” or using a distorted metal to defuse ticking Iraqi bomb death in his Oscar nominated score with Buck Sanders for “Hurt Locker.” He’s also been to the twisted well once or twice for Marvel, teaming with Philip Glass for a cool modernistic take on the disastrous revamp of the “Fantastic Four,” and journeyed with director James Mangold for a Japanese take on everyone’s favorite berserker Canuck mutant with “Wolverine.” If you want to hear the inspiration for “Logan,” then go back to the old, twisted west for Beltrami’s first Oscar nomination in service of Mangold’s “3:10 To Yuma.” Or better yet, listen to the psychologically perverse score to “The Homesman,” and you’ll get the tantalizingly doomed basis for “Logan’s” ride into the sunset as Beltrami lays the saga to rest with his creative claws blazing.

Why Should You Buy It?:
Right from the “Wolverine” recall of a western-style harmonica that signals a blade-slinger who doesn’t want to be pulled back in, and the lovely, lonely piano theme of his melancholy existence with the last tatters of his X-life, Beltrami (along with his composing team of Sanders, Marcus Trumpp and Brandon Roberts) embody a savage, wounded animal who’s nonetheless a warrior poet. A seething berserker rage, along with the villainy of the hapless cyber-enhanced reavers become gnarled, electric guitars that paint a bleak, hypnotic landscape replete with melancholy and sudden death. The crazed musical violence is balanced with a poignant, Zen calm that gives the score a nicely modulated impact, eerily enhanced by the crystalline sound of a glass armonica’s water bowls. Mostly defying the kind of big orchestra that could potentially recall a sunnier Marvel superhero film, Beltrami pays off those big moments nonetheless as he crafts perhaps Marvel’s most distinctive score yet.

Extra Special:
While “Logan” makes no bones about being a bloody update of “Shane” (excepting that the kid attached at the hip to the gunslinger is no shrinking violet), the biggest musical surprise here is how Beltrami’s score is way more of a throwback to Gene Hackman than Alan Ladd, employing some of the nuttiest use of jazz rhythms to the hard-broiled action genre outside of Don Ellis and David Shire’s scores for “The French Connection” and “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.” Beltrami puts piano runs into the jagged adrenalin frenzy of “El-Limo Nator,” where the brass impalement fiesta of “Forest Fight” kicks it with a seeming improv drum solo that might have come from “Whiplash,” as kept pace with wildly rhythmic brass. Electric guitar also leaps into Beltrami’s mayhem, really given a chance to shine in an album that reveals the intricacy of the score. It’s the sound of pure, savage creativity that uses low key emotion to rips out fans’ hearts, laying bare a wounded soul and a hell of a post-apocalyptic western-jazz score at that.



Price: $19.98

What is it?: A label that’s often shown a love of foreign soundtrack, or delightful Hollywood froth that just happens to take place overseas, Kritzerland now puts out two Parisian soundtrack delights, one about the tender relationship between a boy and helium, and the other using, swinging jazzy hijinks to bring dialogue to a screenplay in the city of lights.

Why should you buy it?: A classic to schoolchildren of a certain age, Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 short film “The Red Balloon” featured the wordless interplay between a young boy and a puppy-like balloon, winning an Oscar for Best Screenplay in the process. Following him around the streets, into school and dancing out of the popping desires of bullies, the lovely little score by Maurice Leroux is a magical thing of wonder, shimmering bells conjuring the enchantment of a special friend, as sweet orchestrations become the blissful sound of youth, all while painting the balloon as a flesh and blood playmate. Thematically buoyant, Leoroux’s playfully suspenseful score seems like the music of a lost Disney animated feature from the 40’s, capturing a sense of natural wonder that might befit a “Bambi” sequel, a vintage quality enhanced by the archival sound. Lamorisse followed up “The Red Balloon” with “Le Voyage en Balloon” (aka “Stowaway in the Sky”), a far grander1960 feature that finds “Red’s” balloon-fascinated boy soaring over France with his grandfather. This time the score was by Jean Prodromides (who’d go on to score adult fare like “Spirits of the Dead” and “Danton”). Far more dance hall and a bit less “childish” in approach, Prodromides’ score is a delight, given a theme that dances from waltz to lullaby as it captures the sights below with sumptuous orchestral enchantment. While not “French” as such in approach, there’s no mistaking the Gallic countryside in the joie de vivre of its music, which floats on the magic of where the air takes you, as its soaringly melodic dance rhythms escalate with excitement, and finally a stirring chorus worthy of an epic. Both “Balloons” add up to a real charmer, showing how music and imagery remain aloft together to convey the magic of both flight and boyhood wonder.

Extra Special: Way more in jazzy key with a 1964 American bachelor pad, Nelson Riddle is in full, swinging bloom with “Paris When It Sizzles.” William Holden played another screenwriter on the make, though with Audrey Hepburn making for far more agreeable company than Gloria Swanson as the temp trying to break his mental block in gay Paree. As the idea girl segues his stream of consciousness from one nutty scenario to the next. Riddle was Frank Sinatra’s go-to arranger when not scoring TV and film assignments like no one’s swinging business. By the time he sizzled, Riddle already had such hep credits as “Ocean’s 11,” “Lolita” and “Come Blow Your Horn” to his credit. “Paris” particularly sings with the fun variety of premises offered here, from aping stormy Dracula music to cliffhanging cowboy and Indian action. Musical movie-movie stereotyping has rarely been this delicious as Heft’s talent for “serious” drama meets his jazz chops, given a quite lovely theme for the two eye-catching stars who’d previously proven their chemistry in “Sabrina.” Hefti also pays ode to “Paris” with a can-can inspired chase and the waltzing brass and accordion, while also globe hopping with an Argentinian tango and Italian mandolin. “Paris’” delights are only enhanced with a second CD, featuring copious alternates as well as the original soundtrack release from back in the day. But given an artist whose sweet cocktail touch remains as fun as ever, Riddle’s “Paris” is le jazz hot at its finest, as it delightfully, and purposefully run though any number of clichés, as given new vibrancy by Hefti’s boundless imagination.



Price: $8.99 / $9.49

What is it?: From a psychopath with submerged multiple personalities to the violently misunderstood creation of Mary Shelly, two new, distinctive horror scores create music that’s’ as much about inner psychology as body terror scares.

Why should you buy it?: M. Night Shyamalan is the master of surprise twists, the latest of which is his almost shocking return to form with a super villain who has many of them, the most intoxicatingly evil of which is the new music identity of West Dylan Thordson. With Shyamalan having used the robust symphonic sound of James Newton Howard for his way higher budgeted films (with the music ultimately becoming the best thing about one disappointment after the other), the filmmaker’s retreat to indie world brought has now brought him the relatively unknown Thordson, no doubt having a light shown on his talent with his score for HBO’s documentary series “The Jinx,” which detailed the murderous guises of the money-hungry killer Robert Durst. Now given a multiple identity murderer with a bit more of a sympathetic background, Thordson creates a singularly unique horror score, beginning with a metallic, growling effect that seems to come from the bowels of hell, signaling a “Beast” gnawing to break free from a kidnapper’s jumbled personas. Yet there’s a melodic measure of sympathy for a man / woman / child who isn’t of his own making, even as the score’s more lyrical moments become inevitably distorted. For all of the identities at play, Thordson keeps the score at a subtle, spare pitch, gradually unnerving the listener with each new revelation of a captor, seizing the grown, unholy anticipation of the emergence of his inner Beast. It’s a mixture of sympathy and fear that encourages any number of interesting samples that seem to come from a steam pipe-filled jungle lair, nicely balancing melody with growing savagery in way that signals the emergence of a musical talent determined to take the percussive brutality of the genre in his own direction – a contrast of styles that makes the JNH reappearance of an old Shyamalan theme (as heard in the movie itself) all the more effective in this ear-catching, fear-inducing soundtrack that makes us eagerly await the next sound that will jump out of Thordson.

Extra Special:
The cinematic body parts that comprise Frankenstein’s monster have been given innumerable mix-and-matches for well over a century, some dressing Mary Shelley’s classic tale in blood-splattered Victorian finery, while others have sought to garb him the baleful creature in futuristic clothing. But rarely has a hoodie given such new, impressive life to the undead as “Candyman” genre auteur Bernard Rose with this excellent, woefully unrecognized modern-day spin on the story as old as time – its hopelessly disfigured mother’s boy strikingly electrified from its score by Halli Cauthery. Composing additional music for the likes of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Hellboy II” and “King Kong: Skull Island,” Cauthery made a strong feature debut with the eco-guerillas of “The East.” For “Frankenstein,” he paints a portrait of weird, brutal science run amuck, as driven by a tender, doomed heart. A plaintive piano lets us know that the escaped, patchwork man “Adam” only wants to belong, even as harsh, industrial samples wreak unintentional havoc. It’s a experimental nightmarishness that’s genetically spliced with poignancy, the music trying to resolve into melody before being swept away by some bizarre, angry effect in Cauthery’s effective mesh of sound design and score. But there are also strong themes at his “Frankenstein’s” core, the most effective of which is a mournful, monk-like chorus, its string emulation marching him to inexorable tragedy. Like Rose’s astonishing, determinedly ragged take on the legend, Cauthery’s work is as raw as a barely stitched-together wound, raging against a Los Angeles to distinguish both film and score from its ancestors, who’ve perhaps never dared as much to break a familiar mold.



Prices: $19.98

What Is it?: Action films began to get truly outrageous in the 90s as one testosterone-fueled picture tried to beat the other out in terms of the sheer, epic scale of logic-destroying insanity. The same might be said of their scores that reached new heights of awesome bombast, and manliness – two prime music cuts of that decade being Mark Mancina’s “Twister” and Trevor Jones’ “Cliffhanger,” a tornado of orchestral players now fully unleashed in the new millennia via La La Land’s ultimate editions.

Why Should You Buy It?:
Probably the 90’s most seminal action score belonged to “Speed,” Jan De Bont’s ingenious, time-ticking elevator to bus to subway triathlon that truly introduced the percussive talents of Mark Mancina to Hollywood with this thrilling fusion of thematic tradition and then state-of-the-art sampling. For their next venture, De Bont and Mancina traded off mechanical carnage for nature’s fury with the barnstorming music of “Twister.” One might expect they’ve mistakenly put on the score for a bucking bronco western when hearing the rollicking Americana theme that opens the score, though the tip of the hat that we’re in modern times comes from the ripping guitar solos by no less than Eddie Van Halen, showing that the horse these heroes are riding is in fact a town-tossing string of hurricanes with a temper worse than any red-maddened bull. With the string-driven orchestra more pronounced this time, Mancina’s delightful hoedown conveys the fun of the death-defying, mind-boggling profession of storm chasing. It might be crazy, but it’s also heroic given Mancina’s bold approach that conveys the characters fearlessly barreling into the CGI weather events, their swirling majesty conveyed with towering brass and a foreboding chorus that might as well the voice of God giving warning. It’s big, unabashed fun that conveys director Jan De Bont’s way of throwing the kitchen sink, as well as a cow, at the screen, an unabashed enthusiasm for multiplex thrill rides that Mancina boisterously embodies with a category 5 score, driving hell-bent for rhythm into the kind of throttling, thematic percussion that distinguishes his action scoring for one of his most delightfully gonzo projects.

Extra Special:
Bruce Willis’ skyscraper-mountaineering battle for survival against Eurotrash criminals inspired a wave of “’Die Hard’ in a….” movies of varied ambition and originality. But leave it to explosive “Die Hard 2” director Renny Harlin to try to summit the most breathtakingly outlandish of them all with Sylvester Stallone for 1993’s “Cliffhanger.” Michael Kamen’s score (also just re-issued on La La Land) had pretty much chiseled the orchestral path up for these pictures, but Trevor Jones took the approach to swaggering heights with his biggest blockbusters score. Certainly buffed up to take on villains in the great outdoors after his stint on “Last of the Mohicans” the year before, Jones composed a sweeping, horn driven theme that captured both the heroic majesty of nature, and Sly’s rescue ranger who finds himself in world of hurt, and heroism while taking on nasty John Lithgow’s gang of thieves, wiping them out one by one with a cunning that Jason would admire. Meshing his own distinctive sound with the kind of swirling action orchestrations that were the rage in the summiting days of James Horner and Alan Silvestri, “Cliffhanger” has a solid, multi-thematic base and rhythms to spare, but always with a keen sense of desperate, noble emotion of a man alone. The music lives up to its title with a thrilling, near-continuous sense of peril. Embodying the percussion of a ticking time bomb, dastardly brass for the bad guys and even calling back to the hymn from his breakthrough score to “Excalibur,” Jones truly opens up the lush vastness of the massive, near-Wagnerian orchestra at his disposal, while also applying his distinctive touch for eerie, voice-like electronics for the mountains’ icier recesses. And action cues don’t get more exciting than in the spectacular, helicopter-hanging finale, as Jones’ unleashes a punishingly exhilarating series of orchestral punches that work the listener to sweaty exhaustion. A composer who could pour on fun, balls-out rhythmic excitement like few others in scores like “Dark City” and “Desperate Measures” (and whose touch is dearly missed now in the multiplex), “Cliffhanger” trumpets its back into the CD market, peaking on this new presentation that features both the complete score, along with the original album presentation, whose remastered sound has never been more thrillingly majestic



While his videogame music has aggressively let the blood flow for “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate” and “The Banner Saga,” Austin Wintory is in even more demand as a composer who stretches the ethereal, imaginative boundaries of the genre. It’s a talent for gorgeously drifting melodies that brought him worldwide acclaim with the Grammy-nominated music for “Journey,” its angular figure making his puzzle-solving way across the desert. Where those sands were full of exotica, Wintory has taken the plunge into the oceans of “ABZÛ” in a way that strongly swims to that ultimate example of wave-swept tone poems. Indeed, one can imagine Claude Debussy being enchanted by this latter-day, interactive “La Mer” as gossamer flutes and strings gently push the quest of a lone diver, the music floating, and playfully dancing among fish, whales and mysterious structures to be unlocked. His chorus wraps itself around the listener, the harmony venturing from playfulness to melancholy and enchantment with a flowing effect that is nothing less than hypnotic throughout, the symphony as lush as water itself. One not only comes away with the majesty of the ocean from listening to “ABZÛ,” but also with the transformative power of game scoring to truly submerge the listener in a magical world that gives them appreciation for the real wonders of the sea outside of their living room. After “ABZÛ,” one looks forward to the gaming elements that Wintory has yet to conquer.


At the least, filmmaker Justin Kurzel attempted to break the game-to-movie curse with this adaptation of Ubisoft’s long-killing franchise, even if the results were pretentiously muddled and visually muddy. Yet it certainly didn’t lack for ambition, especially when it came to the music of his partner, and brother in crime Jed Kurzel. Having given minimally unbearable tension to Justin’s serial killing “Snowtown Murders” and percussive grunge to an ultra realistic bloodbath of “Macbeth” (while also delivering memorably unique scores for “The Babadook” and “Slow West” outside of the family circle), the Kurzels entered the animus of intended multiplex blockbuster here. But those expecting the usual orchestral-synth fusion action stuff here definitely don’t know Kurzel’s resume, as the composer delivers a surprisingly thoughtful and interesting score that’s one of the few things that survives “Creed” untarnished. With an antihero who jumps between centuries with the air of a gene-travelling machine, Kurzel creates a haunting, dream-like ambience that flows well with the segues from past to present, creating an eerie sense of myth for the creed’s bloodline, if not a holy sense of purpose. But while “Assassin’s” has atmosphere to spare, fans check into something like this for the action. On that note, Kurzel also delivers with unique ferociousness, amping up his rhythm into a head-bashing mix of age-old ethnic instruments and a rocking adrenalin attitude. Sure “Creed” dies on the sword of its noble ambitions, but Kurzel’s consistently interesting, and sometimes thrilling music soars with much promise ahead from one of the more unique composers to arise from Down Under.


“Before I Wake” stands as one of the best studio-made movies you’ve never seen. That’s because the studio was Relativity, whose botched near-releases numbers Mike Flanagan’s superb fantasy thriller among them, a tale of a boy’s ability to materialize dreams that stands tall in a genre of youthful chillers that includes the likes of “The Lady in White” and “Paperhouse.” But just because you have to get an all-region player to see it (certainly worth the purchase), that doesn’t mean the exceptional co-score by The Newton Brothers and Danny Elfman can’t escape Relativity’s vault of horror, courtesy of a limited edition from Varese Sarabande Records. Taking a lo-fi approach to high concepts, Flanagan is certainly the most impressive genre filmmaker on the rise with “Oculus’” killer mirror, stalking a deaf woman in “Hush” and providing a creepy retro beginning for “Ouija: Origin of Evil” – all films distinctively scored by the non-sibling team of The Newton Brothers (aka Taylor Newton Stewart and Andy Grush). Given his most ambitious picture at the time with a youth’s somnambulant conjurations of boogeymen and butterflies (hence “Wake’s” original title of “Somnia”), one can see how Danny Elfman was brought on board to add his own distinctive approach to the score. But as opposed to three voices creating a stylistically clashing morass of fear, Elfman and the Newtons seamlessly play off of each other to create an atmosphere that’s both uncanny and empathetic. Given an ersatz mutant boy who’s an object of terror through no fault of his own, “Before I Wake” uses a poignant theme for piano and strings, leaving no doubt for still-grieving foster parents to take him in, even if the eerie melody tells us their decision is unwise to say the least. It’s in these sections where Elfman’s music shines, leaving no doubt as to who’s behind the aching violin and boy’s chorus that’s embodied so many misunderstood monsters, his music beautifully soaring as it appears the kid has the magic to heal his new parents’ hearts. But if “Wake” eerily lulls you into thinking it’s going to be a nicely understated feel-fest, The Newtons arrive with a jolt to bring the nightmarish, surreal terror to the table as caffeine becomes a way better idea than sleeping pills. With the Newtons conveying jump-scares and uncanny atmospheres, The Newtons create a powerful sound for night terrors, in turn making “Before I Wake” powerfully work on two levels between wanting to hug an innocent child, and running away from him. With moving, emotional poetry and seat-jumping shocks, “Before I Wake” paints a gripping, meeting of the musical minds that conjures equal measures of abstract fear and lyrical redemption. Now if only we could properly see this movie, which would truly be a dream come true.



Few composers embodied the hip synth action attitude of 80’s Hollywood like Harold Faltermeyer. Riding the wave of such dance floor-to-score pioneers as Giorgio Moroder (“Midnight Express”), Faltermeyer evolved the disco-pop groove into peppy musical bullets for smart-ass heroes from “Top Gun’s” Maverick to “Fletch” and “Kuffs.” But when it came to bouncy sass, no character that Faltermeyer played has the decade-defining hipness of “Beverly Hills Cop’s” Axel Foley. His iconically bouncy theme was a perfect match for Eddie Murphy’s career-defining role, that of an authority-flaunting prankster, yet a guy who’s also packing utterly confidant coolness as he delivers one-liners alongside banana and bullets. Like a great song hook, Axel F.’s melody never wore itself out through any number of iterations, which is mostly the case for the first “Beverly Hills Copy” soundtrack. Alex’s theme drives a lion’s share of the score, as joined by cool, Calypso-esque, finger-snapping suspense motifs as Murphy takes the smug out of the upscale hood. It’s pretty much all play and no danger, a nearly always-lightweight approach to action that made “Cop” all the more agreeably fun. Even though Faltermeyer could have easily coasted on the sequel score given an unmistakable theme and sound, “Beverly Hills Cop II,” took an essentially new direction back to the glitzy hood, showing off a darker complexity alongside the Murphy funk. For if director Tony Scott’s take on the franchise was way more violent, and far less successful than Martin Brest’s, the way more stylized testosterone of “II” nonetheless gave Faltermeyer far more playing ground to work with. Vocal effects now join the snappy percussion as new themes mix it up with the cop’s lightweight takedowns with cool, sleekly sinister heist grooves for keyboard and mean electric guitar. Low rhythm even means the possibility of Axel actually getting shot. Having released a complete set of “Lethal Weapon” scores, La La Land Records does a similarly fine job with these electro-icons of 80’s action grooviness, including numerous alternates, and just as importantly for fans, the songs as well from Glenn Frey’s “The Heat is On” to The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance” and Bob Seger’s “Shakedown.” It’s great having Foley and Faltermeyer truly on the beat at last, music as inseparable as a fish out of water who schooled the snobs with rhythm.


Cinematic portraits of raging European artists often involve tormented, impressionistic scores, a la Miklos Rozsa’s swirling orchestral colors for Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life.” Yet even as Paul Cezanne swears a river at society (when not punching through canvases or defacing them with black paint), Eric Neveux takes an approach for the artist that’s positively soothing in the face of his anguish. A fine picture (opening Stateside on March 31) that details the tormented bromance between one of France’s great artist and Emile Zola, the country’s man of letters, “Cezanne et Moi” is awash in beautiful, poignant melody that takes a dramatically universal approach as opposed to one that’s Gallic. It’s all the better for two creative geniuses whose work has risen above nationality, even as a friendship begun in boyhood hits increasingly rocky, self-loathing paths through the decades that this movie traces. Neveux, a longtime composer whose work has ranged from the stark “Intimacy” to the gossamer magic of “Hideaways” comes up with a striking theme for lush strings and piano, love music for the often punishing bond between two geniuses that’s full of admiration and sadness In its often sweeping power, Neveux communicate the allure of the countryside that’s drawn artists since time immemorial, in this case one who paints it with a brilliantly eccentric eye. Also eschewing a period approach as Cezanne and Zola’s ties ebb and recede through the latter 1800’s and into the new century, Neveux’s traditional, yet contemporarily vibrant music gets across the kind of passion that drives the frenemies. Yet it also has the restraint that embodies one man who explodes with passion, while the other is emotionally constricted in spite of his explosive political writing. It’s gorgeous, haunting work that stands as one of the truly impressive musical etchings of the power of creativity, and the lyrically romantic bromance of a wayward bond between two geniuses whom you’d wish could just hug it out.


Carter Burwell has spent much of his career traveling the byways of America for a host of dreamers and losers in such eccentric scores as “Raising Arizona,” “Fargo” and “The Rookie” a highway of oddball rhythms and portentous strings and piano that’s sped down no more effectively than with his score for this Oscar movie that should have been, if not for the Weinstein Company switching its release dates around more confusingly than a garden salad on a McDonald’s menu. That fast food behemoth’s real birth by the avaricious idea man Ray Kroc is the subject of “The Founder,” a terrific American success story where greed is one tasty whopper. There’s a delicious homespun quality as this milk shake maker salesman ventures from one dead-end drive in to the next, a wistful flute and guitar creating a rustically woeful atmosphere with the potential of something big around the horizon. But there are ideas bubbling in the head of this entrepreneur upon encountering two hamburger makers happy to stay put where they are. Krock’s desire to think way out of the wrapper is heard with the ethnic rhythms of the Indonesian gamelan, joined by equally offbeat percussion, or sturdy, militaristic percussion that paint Kroc as the fast food General Patton, with a similar scorched earth attitude. Any number of fun montages take “The Founder” from one McDonald’s franchise to the next, with Burwell’s talent for wistful irony tipping us off to the sad, nearly ignominious string fate of two all-beef patty suckers at the rhythmic, winner-take-all hands of Kroc. There’s a wry, thrillingly bitter taste to “The Founder” from a composer who consistently defies the ordinary with a sound as distinctive as the taste of McDonald’s fries, though way more wonderfully tangy in his continued, oddball journey through the American dream. Further adding to “The Founder’s” fun is any number of diverse song pit stops from 60’s blues pop to kitsch, including stars Michael Keaton and Linda Cardellini doing a charming duet of “Pennies from Heaven,” as well as The Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s “Music for a Found Harmonium,” a signature, wacky instrumental tune that’s sure after Burwell’s own whimsical heart.


Both writer-director James Clavell and composer John Barry were students of epic, haunted history – one man a specialist in penning rugged, manly sagas like “King Rat,” “Shogun” and “Tai Pan,” and the other a musician who brought romantic sweep to such period scores as “Out of Africa” and “The Scarlet Letter.” Clavell and Barry fatefully met over the course of the Thirty Years War, cinematically speaking, with 1971’s “The Last Valley.” In this unsung, 17th-century spin on “Lost Horizon,” Michael Caine’s ruthless, German-accented merc clashes with Omar Shariff’s humanistic teacher, both having fled to a seemingly peaceful village in the midst of the mindless, religious warfare that’s burning the world around them. However, the seemingly quaint hamlet reveals itself as its own lethal hotbed of intolerance as soldiers and peasants uneasily mingle. Barry had fought with militaristic heroism with Caine in “Zulu,” then dealt with the affairs of ancient royalty in his Oscar-winning score for “The Lion in the Winter.” It’s to that soundtrack which “The Last Valley” owes its own heritage in the use imperious military timpani, voices that range from ghostly wordlessness to sing-song chants, and most importantly a bold, brass-driven orchestra conveying torrid emotion and life and death stakes. Blessed with a typically great Barry theme, the steel-swinging anger of the holy warriors is embodied in church gongs, male choral marches and Germanic and Latin song, music vaingloriously convinced of might making right, while bucolic lyricism for flute and strings is given to doomed romantic respite. There’s considerably more suspenseful action to “The Last Valley” than “Lion in the Winter,” with a rhythmic, time-ticking orchestra very much in the tradition of Barry’s Bond classics (he’d score “Diamonds Are Forever” the same year) that will make this equally exciting to 007 fans. Issued as a rare LP, then on CD as both a re-recording and original track presentation, “The Last Valley’s” latest emergence on Spain’s Quartet label is the last word on Barry’s powerhouse score given its spectacularly remastering from the original LP, bringing out all of the passion, and tragedy of this darkly poetic, and angry work on how no land can stay untarnished in the face of the intolerance waging war around it.


Certainly one of film’s most intellectually-minded composers, Howard Shore’s prolific work also includes any number of concert and opera pieces – much in the same way that previous musicians like Jerry Goldmsith and James Horner sought to write music utterly free of visual constrictions (let alone studio notes). Given that Shore has written no more rigorous scores than for David Cronenberg with the likes of “Naked Lunch” and “Dangerous Method,” those fans will likely appreciate the haunting expressions of “A Palace Upon the Ruins.” This compilation of Shore’s tonal works begins with the titular chamber piece, a meditation on loss, with Elizabeth Cotnoir’s lyrics of bereavement and healing given beautiful, German-sung expression by Jennifer Johnson Cano. The somber choir of St. Alban’s National Cathedral School make a poignant plea for “Peace,” their voices joined by a resounding organ- the group then given the elegiac melody of Shore’s interpretation of Robert Penn Warren’s poem “The Garden.” But the most Cronenbergian, and score-like of the selections within are Shore’s “6 Pieces,” with the darting, slicing pianos and strings conjure an uneasy, impressionistic tapestry, the movement’s sting power feeling like the onset of madness before Cotnoir’s lyrics once again try to sooth the unbalanced beast with pleading lyricism, and some sense of twisted peace. The album ends on the blissful piano notes of Lang Lang’s “Cantania,” a delicate melody written for a wedding of all things, “A Palace” gives much for the adventurous listener to ruminate on in terms of Shore’s “serious” music, a realm that can often be uninviting, but here made entrancing as the composer showing a powerfully stripped-down side to his expressionistic cycle outside of the rings one.


Rob (aka Robin Courdert) has mainly been heard in the states with unique works of mayhem, from the throwback Giallo electronica of “Maniac” to the full-blooded, if somehow tender demonic revenge of “Horns” (and one of these days as well for the perpetually unreleased, no doubt horrifying score of “Amityville: The Awakening”). Those film’s viewers entranced by Rob’s work will likely have the feeling there’s even more variety to him. Now thanks to a double CD from France’s Music Box label, American listeners can get an earful of a stunning, way more lushly melodic side of this ingenious composer than we’re used to, beginning with “Planetarium.” Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp are two sisters with seeming talents to contact the dead, an illusionary act that catches the eye of a Nazi-era Jewish filmmaker in a movie that has yet to orbit theaters here. But given Rob’s beautifully evocative score, one can imagine much of their sensual, ghostly duet in troubled times given his use of rich, eerily romantic string melody that would have Bernard Herrmann swooning, or Philip Glass’ ears tantalized by hypnotic, repeating rhythms. Eerie voices rise as well in a score that brings to mind the score for the soundtrack for “Perfume” in all of the right ways, along with exotic, Arabic music, Spanish guitar and tender violins also sensuously evoke a sisterly bond beyond the material world. It’s rapturous, evocative “Planetarium” that will likely have spellbound listeners asking what realm of existence Rob has come from. Far more familiar to fans of “Maniac” is the second disc’s start with “Belle Epine” (released here as “Dear Prudence”), an earlier film from “Planetarium” director Rebecca Zlotowski with latter Bond girl Lea Seydoux as a teenager throwing herself head first into the wild life. Given a Goblin-rific use of electric organ, voices and synth beats, “Belle” is even more hardcore Giallo than “Maniac” often playing like the soundtrack of a great Dario Argento movie that never was. Cool keyboard melodies evoke the kind of haunted, young female innocence that usually met at the end of a killer’s blunt instrument back in the 70’s / 80’s synth score heyday that Rob captures par excellence. His Ziotowski triptych is rounded out with 2013’s “Grand Central,” wherein Seydoux’s character falls for a fellow nuclear plant worker to tragic results. Given the protagonist’s Arabic ethnicity, Rob uses an ethnic approach to powerful, stripped down effect, conveying the bleak lives that lead to very bad decisions. With solemn flutes, percussion and the eerie whistle of the glass armonica and haunted female voice, Rob finds the poetry, and uneasy, toxic atmosphere of an ill wind blowing for their relationship. But whether the scores are orchestrally sweeping, prog-rock or ethnically intimate, the approaches of Rob’s work for Ziotowski make for a singularly gripping double-CD that reveals Coudert cresting in a new wave of unique French composers, whose soundtracks I’m glad to have land on our shores.


Spanning the globe from “Frozen Planet” to “Wild Arabia,” and “Yellowstone, England-based Silva Screen Records is seemingly the migration point of all BBC documentary scoring. Few are as formidable in scope as their newest release “Planet Earth II,” a sequel to the 2006 nature series whose camera gets even more in the face of all creatures great and small. Shows of this sort allow music to run wild, becoming tone poems for viewers who tune in to see shadows of themselves in the “human” behavior of bears, birds and big cats. And who better to launch “Earth” than a majestic main theme from “The Lion King’s” Hans Zimmer (who’d play it on Stephen Colbert’s show no less). But the lion’s share of the scoring belongs to Jacob Shea and Jasha Klebe for Bleeding Fingers Music. Fresh talent in the Zimmer music brain trust who’ve contributed to “The Dark Knight,” “Man of Steel” and “Inception,” the duo have their own, strong voice here in giving beasts the musical personalities of human beings. Komodo dragons rage with the percussive fury of Batman, ethereal voices accompany a singing indri and butcher birds and bee eaters a quirky rhythm that’s straight out of Italy. And in what might be the most nightmare-inducing segment ever on a nature documentary, the sight of swarms of razor snakes engulfing desperately running baby iguanas hammers with tribal drumming, hissing samples and terrifying, spine-chilling builds as lizards evade the coils of death, or not. Such is the size that Shea and Klebe give to the score that it could easily accompany a zebra evading a lion or Jason Bourne running through the streets of Tangier, as opposed to the Langurs of Jodhpur. Where other documentaries take a more traditional symphonic approach, Shea and Klebe’s blend of lush strings, ethnic instrumentation and often eerie atmospheres bring a contemporary vibrancy to this genre that propels the music from one continent to the next, impressively evoking a sense of wonder, excitement and emotional identification for beasts that could care a whit about the music transforming them into human beings


In an electrified universe where everything 80’s is new again, one of the most interesting composers to ride the retro wave previously surfed by Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter is Poland’s Wojciech Golczewski. Where he created distinctively chilling soundscapes with “Late Phases,” “We Are Still Here” and “Beyond the Gates,” his concept album “Reality Check” really takes off on his synth-ified sci-fi score to “400 Days.” But where his music for astronauts emerging from a mission into a terrifying new world had smooth, sampled edges, “Reality” adds a distinctively cool rudeness to that keyboard polish. Conceptual cues blend with prog-rock electric guitars, bell percussion on top of drum machine beats, while other pieces take on a more meditative progression. It’s a cool universe that cleverly warps about sounds that scream of old-school synth soundtracks into a dark, groovy salute that will no doubt please fans from the Tangerine Dream day, let alone viewers of “Stranger Things” seeking to expand their fannish listening horizons. “Reality Check” is an album that unleashes throwback imagination to a time when banks of computers were weird orchestras unto themselves.


There’s been no prime mover at bringing world music kicking, screaming and laughing into mainstream comedy scoring like Englishman Rolfe Kent. Musically reinventing the genre with the wonderful likes of “Election’s” tango, “About Schmidt’s” mopey African rhythm and the catty tribal rage of “Mean Girls,” Kent’s soundtracks are a constant source of inventive delight, even as he’s continued to explore new dramatic sides of his inimitable sound with “Vampire Academy” and “Labor Day.” There’s no kind of movie to bring out a composer’s wild side like kid-friendly animation, especially one about a funny animal following the power of music. While it had the misfortune of following the similarly themed “Sing” at the box office, “Rock Dog” certainly didn’t lack for enthusiasm, especially in its underscore. Given that its bright-eyed and bushy-tailed hero hails from Tibet, Kent launches his wanna be a pop star’s journey in a Kung Fu Panda way with far East instrumentation and funky percussion, an Asian inflection that carries through the score with Kent’s trademarked use of such ancient wind instruments as the erhu and shakuhachi. As Bodi ventures to the big city and meets the pitfalls of music biz, Kent brings in a plethora of energetic styles from spy jazz to squelched chorus and Koto-esque drumming, all nicely held together by a richly melodic orchestra. Where “Sing’s” delightful score was all about pop, “Rock Dog” basically leaves that to the source cues, succeeding on its own sweetly dramatic journey. It’s full of peppy bits to be played by the Hammond organ and dulcimer, as nicely balanced by emotional moments for piano, strings and samples. Like its star, “Rock Dog” is continually engaging trip of musical discovery by a composer who just can’t wait to get one eccentric, ethnic instrument off of his wall and play the heck out of it. No musical mutt for sure, “Rock Dog” nicely joins the pack with Kent romping at the top of his delightfully oddball game.


Sci-fi’s green revolution began with the lyrical strains of folk singer Joan Baez, and the impressive orchestral music of her sometime arranger Peter Schickele (better known under the name of his classical novelty act “P.D.Q. Bach”) with 1972’s “Silent Running.” “2001’s” effects whiz Douglas Trumbull also made his directorial debut as Bruce Dern’s eco warrior piloted away Earth’s last ecosystem from corporate destruction, abetted by the adorable droids Huey, Dewey and Louie. Given the all-consuming love of the environment, having Baez perform the theme song “Rejoice in the Sun,” and “Silent Running” gave major hippy street cred to this quite moving space opera, her lilting voice carrying potent, rhythmic imagery of children running through the grass, earth between their toes to reap a cosmic harvest, especially when these tunes’ potent moral message is given gossamer orchestrations for the guitar and piano. The bigger musical heavy lifting of “Running’s” gigantic crafts are well done by Schickele, who incorporates militarist pomp and circumstance with more unusual, rock-folk instrumentations for flute and percussion as Dern’s character is moved to violent revolution when his bosses order the gardens destroyed. But it’s a beautifully tender, meditative score for crotale cymbal, organ and electric guitar vibe, as graced with lush strings and Medieval rhythm, that’s “Silent’s” most effective thematic voice. Schickele’s music conveys a man truly alone in the universe, an unlikely messiah for the forests communing with holy nature in the company of cute robots. As graceful a sci-fi metaphor score as there ever was one, listening to the beauty of “Silent Running” makes it even more impactful knowing that this would be Schickele’s only true film score to date, one that remains as uniquely resonant as ever at turning the often dark sounds of space music into a vibrant tree-hugging message score worthy of Woodstock. Jeff Bond, himself an insane collector of model spacecraft (even winning an award for his own Valley Forge), does a very nice job of detailing this very 70’s soundtrack in his liner notes, which features down to earth quotes by Schickele about conjuring his folksy, sci-fi magic.


Few composers wore emotion on their vest like Georges Delerue, but then again maybe that’s a French thing, especially given his country’s wealth of musical masters. His venture to the English countryside with 1988’s “A Summer Story” stands as one of his most heartbreakingly lovely works in a long line of tearjerkers that’s included the handkerchief-grabbing likes of “Steel Magnolias,” “Beaches” and “Jules and Jim.” The tragic events here are very much class conscious, as a handsome posh is attracted to the local farm girl, with results inevitable for any fan of “Far from the Madding Crowd” and “Howard’s End.” A sort of cousin to the Phillipe Sarde-scored “Tess” in its tale of a servant girl whose trust leads her terribly astray, “A Summer Story” gave Delerue lush fields of poignant romance to till. With its a lovely main theme, the composer rolls up his sleeves with boundless melody at his disposal. As this “Story” begins with the bliss of first love, Delerue starts off with similarly poignant optimism using the flute with utmost delicacy as his orchestrations that convey the ebb and flow of the verdant countryside. Yet there’s the danger of the social mores that will break the couple apart in the air, the score becoming ever more beautifully sad, if sometimes dangerous, with the violin heard at its most anguished. Few of Delerue’s scores sing with the weeping poetry of “A Summer Story,” whose new release from Music Box adds fifteen minutes to a gorgeous presentation that stands as an ode to the kind of classically inspired, gorgeous anguish that was Delerue’s stock in trade as he heard the universal musical laments of lovers torn asunder, a siren cry especially well examined in Gergely Hubai’s liner notes.


Where Austrian émigré Max Steiner made an indelible, score-setting imprint with his fantastical adventure for 1933’s “King Kong,” it was Hungary’s Miklos Rozsa who’d set a gorgeously romantic tone for many lost cinematic worlds to follow – among them “The Jungle Book,” “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” and “Time After Time.” But the genie in the bottle for his rapturous sound was 1940’s “The Thief of Baghdad,” producer Alexander Korda’s remake of the Douglas Fairbanks 1924 Arabian adventure, complete with flying carpet. And if black and white had become glorious Technicolor, then silence turned into the exotically swirling orchestra under Rozsa’s command. Like Steiner, Rozsa was a classical wunderkind back in the old country, now having fled its darkness to establish the operatic language of Hollywood scoring. Given the tongue of a Middle Eastern Neverland, Rozsa wove Arabic rhythms into a sumptuously melodic orchestral score. But whether given the pounding film noir of “Double Indemnity” or the holy crusade of “El Cid,” Rozsa’s suspense and action stylings had a mad, whirling dervish quality to them, an escalating, swashbuckling fury that “Baghdad” really put on the map with cliffhanging joy. Conversely “Baghdad” has a simpler, innocent quality to it to orchestrations that would sometimes border on the frenetic. It’s a little thief’s wide-eyed view of an opulent, danger-filled kingdom that he’s thrust into along with a lovestruck prince that makes this score so effortlessly charming during its formidable length, a joy of discovering the next giant jewel, evading an enormous, skittering spider, the clockwork sounds of the bad guy’s villainous inventions, or rubbing a lamp that sweeps over “Baghdad.” Also bringing sparkle to his epic score is its fun song interludes, with a chorus joining with a heroic symphony. Where Rozsa would later have the honor of creating the first real soundtrack album for Korda’s “The Jungle Book,” the iconic “Thief of Baghdad” has begged for decades for a sonic lamp polishing. And leave it to album producer James Fitzpatrick and The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus under conductor Nic Raine that really let “Baghdad” out of its sonic bottle. Having done yeoman work on such Rozsa re-performances as “Quo Vadis” and “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,” their beautifully performed “Baghdad” is a real jewel in the crown for these collaborators, given fine liner notes by Frank K. De Wald that help bring this classic score to new, radiantly fun life.


One of the most alluringly fierce players to ever pick up a cello, Tina Guo has graced such film scores as “Inception,” “Iron Man 2” and “Sherlock Holmes.” Her distinctive sound as much of a character as the underscore itself, perhaps no more than in her bold signature that embodied Wonder Woman for “Batman Versus Superman” and her own upcoming film. Just as busy touring with the likes of Hans Zimmer as she is performing at scoring stages, Guo’s beyond passionate cello voice is spotlighted for her nifty concept album “Game On!” Those lucky enough to have seen Tommy Tallarico’s dearly missed Videogames Live! concerts in LA from a while back will get an idea of the thunderous collaboration between solo artist and a full orchestra and choir both exploding with colorful rapture as game footage flashes behind them. Guo’s evocatively explosive playing of themes from “The Legend of Zelda,” “World of Warcraft,” “Metal Gear Solid” and “Halo” make these hugely popular melodies her own. But as opposed to hitting everything at a thunderous, warrior woman peak she’s well capable of, Guo nicely balances her approaches for these cleverly arranged suites. “Final Fantasy VII” starts off with positively angelic stings, harp and sweeping cello, only to turn into a head banging electric guitar prog rock jam. “Skyrim” begins with Orc-like chanting as Guo gets quietly medieval, only to rise with battle-ready power. A native of China, Guo’s beautiful erhu playing gives powerful oriental emotion to Nate’s theme from “Uncharted,” while a suite from “Journey” is especially haunting. And if everything seems a bit serious, there’s a playful bit from Super Mario Brothers to show Guo is equally capable of mushroom-jumping levity. Showing just how well the cello has evolved from its classical origins to becoming the battle cry of the PS4 generation, Guo’s “Game On!” is a thoroughly fun listen, a fusion of rock concert and score tribute that lets her cello evocatively sing with passion in the midst of epic, controller-pressing accompaniment.


Aussies seem to have a natural swagger that comes with hardy, very reluctant emigrants thrust into the wilds down under – no more so than when it comes to their boisterous, often brassy film music. The first composer from the continent to make a big splash was Brian May, with his dark, rip-roaring music for the first two adventures of Mad Max (as well as a series of genre scores for “The Day After Halloween,” “Patrick” and “Harlequin” that can be heard on Dragon’s Domain’s release of his “Fantasy Film Collection”) Yet just as big a chase the same year as May put orchestral pedal to “The Road Warrior’s metal was 1981’s way more light-hearted music for “Treasure of the Yankee Zephyr.” A hunt for gold directed by “Deep Red” English-actor-turned filmmaker David Hemmings, and not managing to star one Australian in a leading part (which is why the movie ended being shot in New Zealand), the delightful score is likely the closest thing that May got to doing a live-action cartoon (not that Max wasn’t). Given way over-the-top characters battling for bullion and booze, May unapologetically engages in Carl Stalling-esque pratfalls and villainous lurching about. Over-the-top, Teutonic militaristic villainy effortlessly segueing to madcap classic music rhythms. But then as Ernest Gold proved with “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” nothing brings out treasure hunting fever like blazing waltz rhythms, though May’s trumpeting, adrenalin-fueled orchestrations, every bit as intense (if a bit lighter) than Max Rocketansky’s. Just call it his Bugs Bunny score, as done with the exuberant energy that he used to propel an apocalyptic V8 interceptor to glory, here with a wonderfully berserk classic swing in the fuel line.

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Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Audio: On the Score with Alan Menken

Ma, 13/03/2017 - 23:52

ON THE SCORE is sponsored by La-La Land Records

If any animated-centric studio could claim its soundtracks as eternal, then it would be Walt Disney Pictures, whose many fairy tale-based classics owed as much to their wondrous scores and songs as their animation. Yet for all of their memorable tune-filled pictures like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book,” the studio’s animation department was nearly underwater in 1989. But then, two energetically melodic hands belonging to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman rescued an adrift studio with one of the most memorable endearing cartoons in memory with “The Little Mermaid.”

Howard Ashman (L) and Alan Menken (R)

Versed in the off-Broadway man-eating plant hit “Little Shop of Horrors,” the duo pulled Disney into a whole new world of critical and financial success. Indeed, a generation of fans knows the Disney songbook by verse as created by Menken and Ashman, whose winning duet of lushly romantic, adventurous instrumentals and beyond-catchy tunes won repeated Oscars – a joyful spirit that Menken continued after Ashman’s after “Aladdin” with “Hercules,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Pocahontas,” “Tangled” and “Enchanted,” further showing his own live action chops with “Noel,” “The Shaggy Dog” and the decidedly R-rated title toon of “Sausage Party.”

Yet the undeniable jewel in Menken and Ashman’s crown remains 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Their charmingly revisionist take on the classic French fairy tale dared see Belle as the bookworm heroine, whose courage and romance never wilted in the face of a bellowing prince charming in the furry rough. Blessed with earworm songs and a gloriously romantic underscore, “Beauty” not only won Oscars for score and song (the second of the eight underscore awards that Menken would receive with Disney), but also became the first animated film in history to receive a Best Picture nomination.

The “Beast’s” popularity was enough to transform him into a long-running Broadway show (a Disney hat trick that the NYC-born Menken also saw with the Great White Way adaptation of “Sister Act” and “Newsies”). Now given the hit live action versions of “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book,” it’s a given that “Beast” has morphed again into a flesh and blood film, albeit with a kitchen’s worth of CGI. But rather than rest on his original score’s laurels, Menken’s new “Beauty and the Beast” does it one better, adding lush, spellbinding attraction, emotional depth and rousing adventure into a familiar mix of instantly recognizable song riffs. It’s a lavish new affair between an unlikely couple that stands as a work both familiarly profound and energetically revitalized, continuing Menken’s classic collaboration with Ashman onto new, singular heights.

Now on a new episode of “On the Score,” Alan Menken talks about putting a new bloom on a tale as old as time, told for the first in live, musical action for Disney

Click above to Listen Now or Click Here to Download

Buy the Soundtrack: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Live Action) Buy the Soundtrack: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Animated) Buy the Soundtrack: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Broadway) Go see A BRONX TALE: THE MUSICAL on Broadway Visit Alan Menken’s website
Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Martin Tillman

Do, 09/03/2017 - 00:20

Of all of the instruments given to an orchestra, few evoke poignancy like the cello. When given to the hands of a master, it becomes a weapon of devastating power – both on its own and as part of the Middle Eastern-tuned ensemble that conveys the “Cries from Syria.” Wielding both strings and score is Swiss-born musician Martin Tillman, whose talents as soloist and composer bring explosive, sad light to a world-shattering conflict, and refugee crisis created by Syria’s unending Civil War.

Their tears are chronicled by Russian documentarian Evgeny Afineevsky who’d previously revealed the brutal, valiant battle for Ukrainian freedom with “Winter on Fire.” But where that film ended on a note of tenuous hope, “Cries from Syria” has no such optimism as it details the seemingly insurmountable fight for freedom of a people against a brutal dictator. With nothing spared to the audience to show them the truth about a situation that’s killed thousands and displaced millions, it’s all the more important for Tillman’s score to draw viewers to the hope of its victims, as well as their horror.

Mixing the lethally cold music of torture and wanton murder, Tillman nevertheless hears the optimism of their spirit in the human voice and an ancient, aching Middle Eastern ensemble. Filled with melodic irony, Tillman gives “Syria’s” score a powerful, unforgettable truth that will perhaps move listeners to shock, and tears as they wrap their minds around an unfathomable situation that’s often being met with a cold-hearted response the world over.

Martin Tillman has long been able to create his own well of emotions with his distinctly evocative use of the cello, his virtuoso contributions heard to suspenseful, eerie effect in such scores as “The Pledge,” “Hannibal,” “Phone Booth” and “Constantine.” It became the sinisterly humorous voice of undead brigands in numerous “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, became an aging cad for “Something’s Gotta Give” and the dark heart of Hans Zimmer’s superhero-scoring changing “Batman Begin.” It was his frequent contributions to the work of Zimmer and his compatriots that have yielded some of Tillman’s most frighteningly unique work, no more so than with the electrified sound of a girl’s vengeful ghost in “The Ring” and its sequels, the second of which Tillman co-scored.

Continuing to play with any number of stadium acts while adding his instrumental voice to the likes of “Man of Steel,” “Rush” and “The Martian,” Tillman’s own scoring star is on the rise with his work (along with percussionist Satnam Ramgotra) for the doomed, moody heroism of “Last Knights,” as well as documenting the repressive cultural killing of women with “In the Name of Honor.” Yet even as Tillman scores his most powerfully bleak project yet for “Cries from Syria,” the soft spoken composer has found a soaring, rocking sense of optimism with his acclaimed concept album “Superhuman,” embodying the stylistic voice that tells us to rise for the stars above one’s own situation – a dream he desperately hopes for when it comes to an intractable crisis for the millions of innocent people inhabiting Syria, or desperately hoping for a safe haven from it.

What inspired you to pick up the cello above all other instruments? And how did you make its sound your own?

I was surrounded by cellos as a kid. My parents had a boarding school. During the summer they opened our house to 30 kids and teachers and organized music camps. I loved the deep human sound of the instrument, and it became my dream to be a rock guitarist. However, I had no talent on the guitar whatsoever! I then decided to study the cello professionally and perform with it in orchestras. But did not like it as much. That changed a few years later when I basically electrified my cello and started to emulate the guitar with it. In the very first view years of doing that, I played along to Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack for “Passion,” along with albums by Toto, Supertramp and many more…all alone in my basement.

What interested you about film soundtracks, and was a move to Hollywood always in the cards?

I was far more into rock and roll than movie soundtracks. But I enjoyed scores like “White Nights,” and the scores to Fellini films. My favorite score was Morricone’s “Cinema Paradiso.” What really what made me interested in going to Hollywood was when my cello teacher, Lynn Harrell, accepted me here at USC. He’s a fantastic artist and teacher. Also, most of the recordings I listened to in the 80s all came out of LA. So I had a vision that one day I would meet all of the musicians and writers I admired, and I did! I met Sting, Elton John, BB King, Shaka Khan, T-Bone Burnett Alison Krauss. I also met many great session Players like Michael Landau, Vinny Colajuta, Steve Lukather and Leland Sklar.

How did you come to Hans Zimmer’s attention? And what do you think he particularly liked about the sound of the cello in relation to his scores?

Martin Tillman (L) and Hans Zimmer (R)

I think he heard me on some TV shows. I was working a lot at that time with Jeff Rona, which connected me to him. Hans couldn’t figure out what I was doing in the beginning, nor did I. But eventually we came up with a plan how to use the electric cello in his scores. It blends really well in the hybrid world of the modern soundtrack. I was literally one of the first on the Hollywood score scene with the cello. Hans called it “the secret weapon,” because you never could see its sound coming. Sometimes the cello would be percussive. Sometimes it sounded like an Armenian instrument called the Duduk. Then it could sound like The Edge’s guitar in U2. Fun, literally unlimited voices can come from the cello, even wind and whale sounds.

Tell us about your first experiences playing on scores as an instrumentalist? How much of your own personality could you bring to your role as part of an orchestra?

In the very beginning I was a session player in Hollywood orchestras, but I felt a little bit that I wasn’t really meant for that. I needed artistic freedom. So I eventually ended up playing more and more solos for various composers, adding my own spin to their scores, whether they were classically influenced or more modern. Eventually I borrowed from the technique of the fabulous session players I’d worked with about how to be in the moment and come up with unique ideas within the framework of a score.

How did you go from player to composer on such scores as “An Everlasting Piece,” “The Pledge” and “Pearl Harbor?”

It was just a natural progression for me. I always composed, even as a player, but more for my own CDs. I eventually worked as a co- writer, and now doing my own scores. But deep down I’m still that “rocknroller.” It’s a lot of years of me having worked with Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson-Williams, Mark Isham, Steve Porcaro, Jeff Rona and many more. They provided me with the tools and inspiration.

Your real breakthrough as a cellist and composer was on “The Ring” and its sequel, where you received a full co-composer credit. What do you think it was about the electric cello that made it so suited for horror scoring, especially this story?

Hans and I came up with some unplayable parts for both the electric and acoustic cello, which we then sampled. There was the “human” sound, and then the electric. It became the dark distortion of horror and suspense.

What was the challenge of becoming a solo composer, especially when it came to orchestrating what instruments you wanted to favor?

Since I am not a “proper” composer, I started in the early days with riffs and little melodies on the cello. But piano is still, and always will be my instrument of choice to write on. I do love small simple scores, where I normally do my own acoustic cello parts. Then Christine Wu adds her one-woman orchestra, which sounds tremendous! I keep experimenting with new sounds all the time.

You teamed with fellow Hans’ percussionist Satnam Ramgotra on “Last Knights.” What was that meeting of the “session player-turned composer” minds like, especially given your different specialties?

It was perfect. We are great friends and love to improvise, which you can hear a lot throughout the score, where I concentrated on doing the love scenes and the action bits.

You recently created the concept album “Superhuman,” which you could say plays as a diverse “soundtrack” of its own. Tell me about what inspired the album, and what you hope to accomplish from it.

My wife’s horrible MS inspired me to come up with a project which is inspiring to me, her and hopefully the listener. The dream is to tour the world with it. Having a blast is my goal!

Martin and Eva Tillman

How did the experience of scoring such documentaries as “Brave Miss World” and “In the Name of Honor” teach you about the different approach the genre has from fiction. Or is the dramatic goal the same?

I am a big fan of great documentaries because of their subjects and storylines. They always open your eyes to new stories that are real and need desperate attention. Sometimes documentaries have a dynamic that is similar to fiction, though I suppose the feel of the music is less melodramatic and action-oriented. I tremendously enjoy composing music for them.

What were your thoughts about the situation in Syria before “Cries” came your way?

I did not know much, just what I saw on the news. This film obviously changed my life by getting to know some of the people who are a part of the story, like Kholoud Waleed, who is so amazing as she talks about the civil war.

(L to R) Evgeny Afineevsky, Kholoud Helmi, Martin Tillman & Den Tolmor

How do you think playing cello on such scores as “Black Hawk Down” helped set you up for “Cries From Syria?” And how would you describe how film music plays the war-torn Middle East?

I was in a Persian band here in LA called Axiom of Choice, so I already had my appreciation for Middle Eastern music On my first Album “Eastern Twin,” I used some of its influences with the player Tom Vedvik. Playing on “Black Hawk Down” was my first approach of making new groves with the electric cello. It was a very “open-minded” world music score that had bits of Middle Eastern and African approaches in it. I suppose that played a part in Kathy Nelson introducing me to Evegeny Afineevsky for this film.

Could you talk about your collaboration with Evgeny? What do you think drew him to your music, and what did he want the score to achieve here?

Director, Evgeny Afineevsky

I think he really got the sound of my cello in a cerebral way. The film is about a human tragedy of crazy proportions and it was important to give it a human, hopeful element despite all the horror. I came up with themes and started placing them. Also my conversations with the editor Aaron I. Butler during the writing process were very fruitful. As I only had 9 days to do the score of 1 hour 37 minute film, it just happened so quickly that I only remember the hours left to meet the final deadline!

Tell us about the instruments used in the score, and the players.

I had Mamak Khadem for voice, Satnam Ramgotra on percussion, Christine Wu for the string orchestra and additional music, orchestration and electronics by Joerg Huettner and by William V Malpede. I played on the keyboards and various acoustic and electronic cellos. We also recorded with Alaa in Berlin via Skype. He performs beautiful instrumental versions on an Arabic instrument called the Oud, and sang in the street demonstrations by the Freedom Fighters

How did you want to use the female voice?

We used it as an expression of humanity, and the represent the Syrian motherland. The voice is The Mother, the comforter of all, especially the children.

What things about the documentary particularly moved or shocked you, and how do you think that translated to your score?

The loneliness of the children as they experience on horrific moment after another, with absolutely no future in sight. I tried to give them a comforting sound of hope

When you work on a documentary like this, does it have a psychological effect on you?

Yes. Immense sadness.

Did you distort instruments, or samples to create a sustaining sense of unease?

I distorted many of them. I sampled my own cellos and had Joerg Huettner create amazing sounds with it. He layered 60 of them to create a “wall” of cellos, which we used in scenes where the Russians attack with chemical weapons.

Given how brutally powerful the documentary is. How did you want to balance subtlety with the bigger emotional moments?

I just went with my intuition, always letting the story come first. I’d also counterbalance the terror with hopeful themes.

Another impactful musical sequence is where the documentary shows the “white hats” saving people from rubble, a squad of rescuers who’d win Best Documentary short this year. How did you want to score them?

They provide “Cries from Syria” with one of the most optimistic moments of the film, which I hoped my music helped.

Could you talk about scoring the ending of the film, which is essentially a plea to stop the war? How can you imagine it being stopped though?

I hope and I hope. But it does not look good at the moment.

When it seems that many Americans could care less about what the people in Syria are going through, how do you hope your music will make viewers empathize with them?

I pray the music helps them to hear it even more as an international problem, to make the civil war and the refugee crisis not only about Syria, but about what’s happening all over the globe, which made me score “Cries from Syria” as contemporarily as possible.

Tell us about your forthcoming scoring and film session work.

I am preparing Superhuman Shows in Europe. I’m glad to now be doing a fun project with a rock band, an orchestra and a lightshow. And there is always a next movie popping up from nowhere! After “Cries from Syria,” I know that I can handle any nine-day deadline!

“Cries from Syria” premieres on HBO March 13th. Listen to Martin Tillman’s “Superhuman” HERE before taking a ride with the “Last Knights” HERE or watching the “Rings” at your peril HERE

Visit Martin Tillman’s website HERE

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Michael Abels

Di, 07/03/2017 - 21:14

A sinister, hypnotic score with a racially satirical difference, “Get Out” creeps up on you with a lulling power until whipping forth the musical equivalent of deer antlers. It’s a soundtrack full of the kind of lethally cunning assurance that can only come from a composer schooled in suspense. But like this film that reveals comedian Jordan Peele as a master of metaphoric horror, listeners will be shocked to discover that this is actually the movie composing debut of Michael Abels, a composer whose background lies in a not-so lily white world of concert and performance work.

Growing up on a farm in South Dakota, Abel took up the piano at the age of four, a musical exploration that grew to include jazz, gospel and African drumming. His cultural influences would be reflected in work that encompassed the life of Martin Luther King, fall of The Berlin Wall and global warming. With his orchestral skills growing through commissions by the Richmond Symphony, The National Symphony and the Los Angeles Opera, Abels composed music for children’s fables narrated by the likes of James Earl Jones and Garrison Keillor, wrote a hip-hop ode to The Watts Tower and explored the operatic tunes of Giuseppe Verdi.

Abels’ impressively prolific body of work outside of the movie screen only makes for the kind of seemingly come-from-nowhere debut that dazzles with a wealth of ideas. Yet perhaps you might expect Jerry Goldsmith to actually be under his skin, as Abel’s superb, subtle use of deceptively bucolic strings, delicate harp, old scratch fiddle and demonic chanting bring to ear such classic scores from the seemingly dead maestro as “The Other” and “Poltergeist,” let alone “The Omen.” Abels is indeed to the old school manor born, beginning “Get Out” with a catchy, skin-crawling version of the 1930’s song “Run Rabbit,” brilliantly re-configured to sound like some doom-laden spiritual. The banjo-like Kora, an ancient, African instrument, along with gasping voices, tell us that the movie’s happy liberal home is in fact a southern plantation of the damned. Sucking our seemingly placid hero into mind slavery is the sound of percussive bowls, becoming the ersatz metronome of a stirring teaspoon. Even an emulated orchestra, usually the bane of horror scoring, is used to terrific, effect as it slowly reveals a silent garden party to be a human auction in the score’s most striking moment.

But when the chorus practically sings “Amen!” it’s time for Abel to really claw out of his lulling melody and deliver the kind of stabbing terror right in line with a climactic body count, though with the big difference here being a black hero that doesn’t make the stupid, dooming mistakes of his genre forbearers. There’s a thrilling sense of discovery from Abel’s subtle, slow burn score that helps Peele wield his darkly satirical edge, showing a composer who can play The Man’s horror scoring expectations while at the same time subverting them into something even scarier. “Get Out” is a breakout score for Abels in more ways than one.

Tell us about your musical beginnings, and what styles interested you. Was the influence of film music ever part of that equation?

Yes, from the beginning. The first film I remember seeing was “The Sound Of Music.” I think I must have been 3 years old. Rogers & Hammerstein’s Do Re Mi influenced me profoundly. “One word for every note, by mixing it up, like this!” The perfect and essential music composition lesson.

Tell us about how you explored various cultures, and historical figures and events through your musical education?

Like every passionate music student, I explored them as I discovered them. Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder. After college I made an effort to study West African music for a semester. There was more separation between classical, popular and world music in the way it was taught back then, but I tend to be fascinated by any music that is well written and performed.

What were your first experiences with a symphony orchestra like?

Great. I actually got to hear the first piece I ever wrote performed. Little did I know how lucky I was! There is nothing like the sound of so many great musicians playing together, it’s just magical and always will be.

If you’d watched horror films before “Get Out,” did anything strike you about the fate that usually met black characters in them?

Come on. Everyone knows the black guy gets it in the first reel. If not, everyone’s got a stopwatch on him to see just how long he lasts. Obviously that’s one of many stereotypes this film sets out to turn on its head with humorous and terrifying results.

Were you familiar with Jordan’s sketch comedy show with Keegan-Michael Key?

Yes, ever since “Obama’s Anger” went viral. But I hadn’t seen a full episode until I was scheduled to meet Jordan. Then of course I watched some so I wouldn’t seem like a complete idiot. But I didn’t watch too much, I didn’t feeling intimidated would help.

Given that you had no movie credits, what drew Jordan Peele to you for “Get Out?” And do you think your mutual bond was being in uncharted territory, as he’d never directed a film before?

Jordan was looking for someone who had the harmonic language for horror who could also bring an African-American perspective. Yeah, there was some first-timer bonding because of that. But a director’s job is much different than the composer’s, and deals with so many other competing considerations. So I was focused on delivering a score he could be proud of, one that honored all the hard work he’d put in on this film.

Do you think your own background in orchestral, black-themed performance and orchestral pieces make the transition easier? Or do you think the freshest film scores are done by people who are unexpectedly thrust into that world?

I had some experience scoring to picture doing commercials and short TV projects right out of college. So I wasn’t in entirely uncharted waters. The difference is that Jordan chose me because he liked the music I had written purely for the joy of it, and had decided that was the voice he wanted for the project. If the score is fresh, it’s because that’s what he wanted and allowed me to do.

What were your biggest challenges adapting from free-form music to composing that has to play with picture?

The deadline. Every project has one, but the film post-production schedule is particularly demanding. The compositional challenges are not as daunting because the assignment is so specific that the creative choices you need to make seem clear. At least that’s how it was for me.

Did you immerse yourself in horror films, and scores to bone up on the genre’s music?

No but I did listen to particular pieces that Jordan said he found scary.

Could you talk about your creative collaboration with Jordan?

Essentially, he told me what types of music and which scores he found particularly scary, and why. There was a temp track for the rough cut, and so I asked him “what emotions does this music evoke that made you choose it?” and took careful notes. He is excellent at communicating about that, so I had very clear direction. But he also enjoys collaborating, so I felt free to try things and experiment.

Director Jordan Peele (L) and composer Michael Abel (R)

Both you and Jordan come from multi-cultural parents. Do you think that gave you an added bond, especially given the theme of mixed couples in “Get Out?”

Believe it or not, we’ve never talked about that. Maybe because it was obvious? We have similar backgrounds, as we’re both in interracial relationships. None of our in-laws are trying to kill us. Or are they?

“Get Out” has a very calculated, slow burn to its pay off. How did you want to keep the kind of self-doubting suspense up, while gradually unraveling this family’s secrets?

The script is so brilliantly paced, all I needed to do was provide the correct emotional temperature in any given moment. I did some subtle things to reinforce that, i.e. I held off using any brass or low percussion instruments until midway through the film. But mostly it was “score the moment, score the film.”

Just in the way that “Get Out” handles its racial satire, your score handles its African elements in a subtle way. How ethnic did you want to make the score with its banjo-like strings, or was it important to “bury” those elements, much like the black characters themselves who are consumed within their own bodies?

A great question, but extremely hard to answer. The main title, “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga” — that’s clearly meant to sound exotic and African in the way that we Americans imagine it. In the body of the film, it was important to make the score straddle genres as successfully as the script does. So I was trying to make it feel Hitchcock-ian, but with added rhythmic elements to bring a contemporary, African-American influence. “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga” emerges in the score in a couple scenes, but without the vocals.

“Get Out” starts with the incredible creepy use of the 1930’s song “Run Rabbit.” Who had the idea of using it, and how did you so effectively distort it?

My guess is that it was the choice of Chris Moliere, the music supervisor. Jordan loved the implication that the song could be referring to black people in its lyrics “Run, Rabbit, Run!” even though I’m told it was actually written to demean German soldiers in World War II. Regardless, it’s a perfect choice for the abduction scene. I can take no credit.

How did you want to create the sound of hypnosis, especially given its particular form here?

That was the first scene I scored because I knew if I could get Jordan’s approval it would give me some themes I could use throughout. The scene is mesmerizing, it actually hypnotizes the audience along with the main character. The music had to match, had to draw the audience into a hypnotic pattern without them noticing. So that’s exactly how I approached it. There is a harp phrase that evolves into a pattern gradually.

You have a striking use of voices here that not only suggest the cult’s victims trying to claw their way out of the black pit they’ve been thrown into, but also the suggestion of the oppressed ghosts of the past. Could you tell us about that choral approach?

The black voices represent the souls of black slaves or lynching victims. They are trying to warn Chris, the protagonist, just like his friend Rod the TSA Agent does. Ghosts speak in dreams and metaphors, so the voices sing and whisper in Swahili, which forces us English-speakers to hear the foreboding in their voices, rather than the actual words. They are saying, “Brother, run! Listen to the elders. Listen to the truth. Run away! Save yourself.”

One of the most effective scenes is the ersatz “slave auction.” How did you want to handle the moment where we finally realize there’s a conspiracy afoot?

That moment is scoring with the same four descending chords we first hear when Chris sinks into “the sunken place.” It’s laced with the tense, rhythmic pattern first heard when Chris comes upon the deer in the woods. There’s another repeating melody of depressing finality that happens over the shots of each of the family members’ faces.

How did you want to play the unusually cheerful villains, as well as to create a bucolic sense of upstate suburbia?

I found the cheerful garden party guests to be quite funny, and wrote a baroque concerto in the style of Vivaldi for that scene. It was the type of music those characters would party at a garden party. Jordan hated it, saying, “It’s Chris’s story. The audience has to see the situation through his eyes.” Chris was feeling uncomfortable and on display. He was right of course, so I went back and wrote some unsettling, creepy, on-display music. The only comedy is in the dialogue, and in the embarrassment we feel watching the awkwardness of the situation.

There’s some particularly delightful sinister music as we get to see their training films. How did you want to handle these sunny, evil explanations of their technique?

There is one piece of comedic music. It’s the underscore for the orientation video that is played for Chris. Jordan said he wanted that music to sound “like an erectile dysfunction commercial.” (Point of fact, whoever scores those commercials is actually pretty skilled.) His meaning was, “Give me your most horrible saccharine happy music ever.” It’s so terrible I actually hesitated to put it on the soundtrack! But if you’re listening closely, the melody is the hypnosis theme that is heard in very creepy moments in the film, played on a cheesy jazz guitar sample over the most obvious banal chord changes. But that’s the only comedic music in the soundtrack. All the true comedy scenes are dry because they represent reality, and a break from the tension. The score is used to help create the sense of isolation and hopelessness that surrounds Chris as he gets deeper into his predicament.

How much of a horror score did you want to make “Get Out,” especially given that a genre film has to pay itself off by releasing the bloody tension it’s built up? And what was it like going for those musical shocks?

Jordan’s first direction to me was that, above all, the music had to be “seriously scary.” The film had to work as a legit psychological thriller, aside from any comedic or satirical aspects. So where the story was scary, the music had to deliver the shock. Creating the music that makes an audience jump is fun! It’s like lying in wait for your little sister to come around the corner.

Why do you think “Get Out” has become such a hit with both audiences and critics? And what do you think it says about the future of black-themed thrillers?

I think it’s a hit because it’s just so interesting to watch. The characters are interesting, they say believable things, the actors are each masterful in their portrayals, you care about what happens to the protagonist. It works as a thriller, as a comedy, as a satire. And if you don’t like the film, you want to talk to your friends for an hour about what you didn’t like about it! It’s a great entertainment, even if it rubs you the wrong way.

Many black composers peers can get pigeonholed into doing “black” scores, what’s your key to continuing onward as a composer suited to all stylistic colors. Or do you want to continue exploring scores with those ethnic elements?

I’m interested in doing any good creative project, regardless of what sonic colors the story calls for. I’m choosing projects based on whether they are well written and musically interesting. Projects that meet those definitions will likely include diversity. But it’s not a prerequisite.

If you could imagine a sequel to “Get Out,” what would the story be, and how would you like to develop your sound for it?

In my opinion, a composer shouldn’t develop a sonic palette before listening carefully to what the director is hearing in his/her mind. It’s their film, their vision. Composers are there to bring the music the director is hearing in his/her mind into reality. So regardless of the story, I’d begin by asking the director, “What are you hearing when you listen to this film? What emotions does the score bring up for you? What messages do you want the music to convey to the audience?” There’s your sonic palette right there.

“Get Out” is now in theaters, with Michael Abels’ score available on Back Lot Music HERE

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws