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Audio: Interview with Junkie XL

Wo, 13/02/2019 - 19:47

ON THE SCORE is sponsored by La-La Land Records

Pushing the outer limits of music from the alternative concert stage to the multiplex film screen, Junkie XL (alias Tom Holkenborg) has made an impressive career on sound and fury. Whether his subject is Elvis, Mad Max, Batman or Deadpool, Junkie XL has shown his rhythmic dexterity in instruments both ancient and state of the art, while also banging on the pieces salvaged from the trash heap. With “Alita: Battle Angel”, Junkie recovers an object of beauty from the cast-offs of future tech. His discovery is a big-eyed cyborg super-heroine whose past domain was a cult Manga series. Now turned from Japanese illustration to Hollywood flesh and blood by director Robert Rodriguez and producer-writer James Cameron, “Alita” takes her own musical path to humanity.

Quite different from the often ferocious percussion that Junkie XL has given to super-powered icons, “Alita” sings the body electric with a gorgeously melodic score, with emotionally resonant strings and haunted voices taking the composer’s style to a new, epically lush frontier. With gliding themes both epic and intimate, Junkie finds no ghost in the machine, but instead of beating, soulful heart. But of course, brass and rock rhythms are ready to do scoring battle for “Alita” in the film’s cyborg-smashing Thunderdome, where Junkie unleashes full-throttle action. It’s an impressive, old school evolution for a composer pushing the cutting edge for some of pop culture’s wildest creations. Now on a new podcast of On the Score, a composer with a distinctive voice at conveying a warrior’s mettle reflects on his passionately powered, heavenly sound for “Alita: Battle Angel.”

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Buy the Soundtrack: ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL Buy the Soundtrack: MORTAL ENGINES Buy the Soundtrack: MAD MAX FURY ROAD Visit Junkie XL’s “Studio Time” YouTube Page Visit Junkie XL’s website

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Jeff Russo

Do, 07/02/2019 - 01:53
(photo by Cliff Lipson, CBS)

Much like the shape shifting of a certain multiple identity mutant that he scores, the Emmy-Winning TV-centric composer Jeff Russo has shown no end to his ability to morph across the small screens brave new worlds. Hailing from a Grammy-nominated background with the band Tonic, Russo has shown no end of personages from the murderously loopy miscreants who populate “Fargo” to “Waco’s” apocalyptic cult leader and the lethal club kingpins of “Power.” But no playing field affords Russo such notable creativity as the genre, whether it be the body-swapping surreal atmosphere of “Altered Carbon” the devilish antics of “Lucifer,” “Ghosted” and “The Santa Clarita Diet” or creating an alternate musical world from the other-earth agent of “Counterpart.”


2019 have given a noteworthy blast-off for Russo. Not only is he saving humanity from the vampire plague of “The Passage” alongside frequent collaborator Jordan Gagne, but Russo has also impressively returned to the commander’s chair with “Star Trek: Discovery” while steering a woefully dysfunctional band of ex-superheroes known as “The Umbrella Academy.” Coming on board a television starship whose post-classic incarnations had a prime directive order of bland scoring, Russo invigorated the small-screen franchise with the kinds of big themes, and melody that hadn’t been heard in that TV universe for decades. Now with a new “Discovery” season leavened with humor decidedly missing from the show’s deceptively bleak start, Russo is going boldly with terrifically exciting, and humane music that show creator Gene Roddenberry would no doubt be happy with – from a John Williams-worthy flight through a meteor shower to a sense of mysticism for a mysterious angel-like figure that haunts both Michael Berman (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her “brother” Mr. Spock (Ethan Peck). It’s a return of O.G. characters to a Kelvin universe that also gives Russo the chance to capture the heroism of a fully mobile Captain Pike (Anson Mount).

A far wackier approach worthy of Russo’s “Legion,” if not the eccentricity of “Fargo,” is “The Umbrella Academy. Adapted by Netflix from Gerard Way’s Dark Horse comic, this smash-up between “The Incredibles,” “Johnny Quest” and any number or ironic, dysfunctional avengers finds a band of lethal child superheroes brought together by the death of their sadistic English explorer mentor. Grown into woeful adulthood, the collective that includes a gorilla-powered leader, a drug addicted clairvoyant and a time-warped kid assassin must somehow unite to prevent The Apocalypse. Russo’s richly thematic, violin-topped score does much to distinguish each basket case. Whether using cheerfully chirping bells to rock guitars or more traditional orchestral fisticuffs, Russo’s witty emo score captures how children who were once the idols of millions end up as truly screwed grown ups. It’s a powerful, poignant approach that still delivers on ironic, ultra-violent hipness as well as Marvel-worthy save the world stuff.

Whether he’s warping to a new quadrant of the universe of showing the blackly humorous workings of the time continuum, Russo’s ever-prolific work continues to run with inventiveness and energy, creating some of the most thrilling television scoring out there while also making cinematic inroads. Now Russo expounds on his musical team spirit, whether said groups are united by a Federation, or neuroses.

I felt that every TV incarnation from “The Next Generation” onwards had music that wasn’t memorable, a “wallpaper” approach that was the producers’ Prime Directive. What was it like to bring back actual themes, and scoring that truly did something to the franchise since its original series? And had they asked you to take the same approach as the Trek shows before, do you think you could have even done “Discovery?”

I don’t know what I would’ve done. Early on, I had a meeting with the producers where I had a concept in terms of how to approach the musicality of the show. They were on board because their original idea also was “Hey, we need to bring back what music means to this franchise, what music does to the story.” It was certainly more in line what the franchise does from the films than it did from the last few iterations of the show. It’s not that the last iterations weren’t great, because the themes and music that composers like Dennis McCarthy and Ron Jones did were amazing. “Discovery” just wanted to bring thematic music back into the show so music would be a real part of it as opposed to just “wallpaper.”

In any show I score, I want music to have an emotional core. I write music based on what I think and see a character feeling rather than what I see that character doing. It’s an approach that has more of an undertone, an undercurrent emotional base that than what I’d think you’d expect. Had “Discovery” wanted to go in the other direction, I don’t know what I would have done.

Photo by Cliff Lipson, CBS

I wasn’t a big fan of how “Discovery’s” first season started out, with episodes that were way too violent. But then, it really won me over in the second half with its switch to adventure, and an attempt at peace with the Klingons. Were you aware of the overall arch when you started the show, and how did you intend to reflect that tonal “course correction” as such?

I have to deal with stories as they come in and to also think about what the endgame is pretty much at all times. It’s difficult to address fan concerns and people who don’t know what’s coming, especially how things are on a certain episode when I’m thinking about 10 episodes ahead. There was always this idea about how we were going to end Season 1, and how that was going to affect the jumping off point for what Season 2 was going to be. I’m assuming that the producers deliberately chose this “Kelvin” timeframe leading up to seeing The Enterprise, and how that timeline would affect the way we’d continue to tell “Discovery” stories. I needed to manage the music for the Klingon war, so there was always this big overarching feeling about how to approach storytelling for the long term. I try to keep that in mind when writing music as I continue to go back and say, “Okay, so how I do this one theme in this one episode will affect something that I’m going to need to do again, perhaps in Episode 11 when this and that happens.” I need to think about the whole thing in order to keep it all of the music tied together.

Do you think there were any lessons learned from Season 1 in terms of making Season 2’s story more tonally consistent?

I think that we as storytellers do the best that we can to come from an honest and emotional place. The beginning of Season 1 was fashioned in a deliberate way in how it was going to lead into its second half. We want to make “Discovery’s” new season a swashbuckling adventure, rather than a story of war, which has affected everybody’s idealism. Now we’ve become a more swashbuckling-adventure type of show with Season 2, and I’m trying to mirror that in the music. I think that’s a somewhat natural progression of how “Discovery’s” story is being told.

What was it like to get the O.G. characters of Captain Pike and Mr. Spock with Season 2?

It’s totally thrilling! At the end of Episode 15, you hear the bridge crew saying that there’s a message coming from the Enterprise and it’s Captain Pike! I threaded in Alexander Courage’s classic “Star Trek” fanfare for that moment. That was thrilling for me, even though I knew it was going to happen. I even got a tear in my eye! I threaded Alexander Courage’s classic “Star Trek” fanfare into the scene, which was as a nod to a new season in which we’d get to know Captain Pike. I thought how I was going to represent him musically. He has an aura about him that is really bright, and I wanted to represent that. You also have moments of seeing a younger Spock, in Season 2’s premiere, which was also exciting for me. I’ve been a “Star Trek” fan for my entire life, and we hadn’t seen Spock on the show since they had him years ago on “The Next Generation.” I practically lost my mind to see him coming back as a viewer, so I can imagine the same thing is happening for everyone on the show, to have these iconic characters as part of the storytelling process. It’s pretty incredible.


The second episode of Season 2 brought the names of actual religions into the franchise, which might be a first.

I talked to the producers about how to musically approach that aspect without sounding religious at the same time. Star Trek has always been about us trying to be grounded as we possibly can to tell the Human Story. I look at that as spirituality, which really doesn’t stray too much from the show’s ethos. It’s all about how you perceive religion from a literal standpoint, I think it’s always been spiritual instead of being directly religious.

Your other big “team” score this month is “The Umbrella Academy.” Do you think that doing so many off kilter shows like “Fargo” and “Legion” has set you up well for an eccentric superhero series that plays like Wes Anderson meeting The X-Men.

I think that “The Umbrella Academy’s” eccentricity comes from the way these really interesting individual characters are written and performed. I just really had to support that from, as I usually say over and over again, an emotional space. There’s a lot of emotion in the way the story unfolds and the relationships between this “family” and their father. The show is relatively close to the original comic book and its left-of-center feeling. The idea is that if these superhero characters were real people, then what would they be like? That was the most interesting storytelling part to me. But they’re also real people who fall in love and make real mistakes. The only thing that is really above reality is their powers. Everything else feels very grounded and very real. I think that that juxtaposition is what makes “The Umbrella Academy” feel like it’s very much in line with Wes Anderson’s kind of storytelling. He tends to write and direct from a real place, and that’s the thing that makes his films feel so oddball.

Can you talk about your thematic approaches to the various characters?

These are really deep characters, so I thought it would be a good idea to sort of start out by writing an overall suite of music that could represent them as a unit. Doing that made it so much easier for me to build the score over the course of the ten episodes in a way where my themes could really grow with these characters—starting with Vanya, and her solo violin theme, which then becomes an apocalyptic symphony that is the culmination of the show. The piece is called “The White Violin.” At the same time, I was also writing motifs for the characters that were added to the series.

Another interesting “family” series as such deals with “vampires” for “The Passage.” What’s it been like scoring that show?

It’s a score I did with Jordan Gagne. We had done two versions of the pilot because it changed, which often happens with pilots. The redone version of it was much better, which let us change the score from the ground up. Our “vampires” are called “virals,” because they have this virus that makes them vampiric. The challenge was trying to keep an emotional beat for an action-oriented show, especially as “action” music doesn’t really interest me that much. We played a lot less of that, and it worked out really well because there’s an emotional core to the show where there are a lot of related characters that need to be linked together thematically. There’s the kid and her reaction to this father figure whom she’s rebelling against. She’s got a lot of weight on her shoulders, so the question is how do you represent that through music? It’s been somewhat of a challenge but we’re getting there!

You’ve maintained a consistent quality through the numerous television series that you’ve scored. How important is a team to achieving that, as well as you writing your own music?

The commitment to writing the music is there, but we do work as a team. I couldn’t possibly do this by myself. I spend 12 hours a day writing for each show, but it takes a village to make these scores happen. So I take a very concerted team approach to this thing, because I don’t think it can be done without it. I’ve got an assistant who helps edit and rearrange scores based on the themes that I’ve written. It really runs the gamut of things that get done from the top down.

You recorded a lot of “Discovery’s” first season at The Bridge scoring stage, which unfortunately has since closed. What do you think about its loss, and what it says about recording in Los Angeles now?

Without The Bridge It’s been difficult, I did most of “Discovery” at Warner Brothers, while also using The Bridge. Now with one less scoring stage it does make it a difficult conundrum when it comes to recording music. I’m not sure what happened, but it could be many factors that led to the Bridge being shut down. With television there is a lot of sink or swim with new shows. And if there’s a hiatus, then there’s nothing new to record for quite a while. At the end of the day it’s a business. But it’s really unfortunate that it happened.

Besides television work you’ve been scoring films as well like “Mile 22” and “Lizzy.” How do you get your voice out there as a composer with the same success that you have on television?


I’m not sure I look at it that way, because I treat TV scores in the same way I treat film scores. I was asked to do “Lizzie” because its director Craig William Macneill had worked with me before on the show “Channel Zero.” Pete Berg called me after watching Season 2 of “Fargo,” even though “Mile 22” was nothing like that show! Now I’m working on “Lucy in the Sky,” which stars Natalie Portman, and is directed by “Fargo’s” Noah Hawley. It’s thrilling to be doing movies that are entirely different from television work, especially in terms of their more relaxed schedule. But in terms of my approach and desire, I want to continue to write music and make art. That’s the great thing about being able to jump from one medium to the next. I get to use different parts of my brain and shake my cobwebs loose, where I get to score an episode of “Discovery” and then get to mix a song for “Legion” in the same day.

What shows are coming up for you?

We have just finished the new season of “Santa Clarita Diet,” and the second season of “Altered Carbon” will begin shooting soon. The final season of “Legion” should be starting in April, which I’ll be getting to work on as soon as I finish “Discovery.”

When you look at all of the work you’ve done, how do you feel your music is reflected in how television itself is becoming a more challenging medium?

Photo by Justine Ungaro

I think it all depends on the show. Not every show is like a movie. Some shows are “television” shows, like “The Passage” which is written in an episodic way. “Star Trek” has a musical approach that’s very cinematic, for a show that is really shot for the big screen with all of its special effects. But it has an overarching story in the same way that “Fargo” does with each season. When music takes center stage like that on a series, it becomes part of the overall art form. I think more and more, people are making television like that.

Watch the second season of “Star Trek: Discovery” on HERE and “The Umbrella Academy” on Netflix, starting February 15th HERE.

Buy the Season 1 soundtrack of “Star Trek: Discovery” on Lakeshore Records HERE. Lakeshore releases “The Umbrella Academy” soundtrack on February 15th HERE

Buy Jeff Russo’s soundtracks HERE

Visit Jeff Russo’s website HERE

Thanks to Alexander Portillo for his interview transcription

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with West Dylan Thordson

Wo, 16/01/2019 - 16:12

Long before the idea of a shared comic book universe was a glimmer in Hollywood’s eye, M. Night Shyamalan introduced a “real world” superhero and arch villain for 2000’s “Unbreakable.” Little did security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) realize he was an ersatz Superman until his true identity was revealed by wheelchair-bound, brittle-boned, comic book collector-cum-evil genius Elijah Price – a.k.a. Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). It was a shocking journey of discovery guided with a mournful, symphonically lush score by Shyamalan’s then-frequent composing collaborator James Newton Howard (“The Sixth Sense,” “Signs”). Given perhaps his best twist ending to that point in a career made on them.

“Unbreakable” was arguably Shyamalan’s biggest highpoint for the next sixteen years until his critical comeback with “Split.” Transforming his work into a far darker, murderous meditation on identity, Shyamalan not only introduced his far darker side with a personality-filled “Horde” (embodied by James McAvoy), but also a new, impressive scoring collaborator in West Dylan Thordson.

Starting off as a Minnesotan rocker leading the band “A Whisper in the Noise,” Thordson’s spin on Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are A’Changin” proved notable Shyamalan, who used the version for “Lady in the Water.” With his scoring travels taking him to New York and then Hollywood, Thordson’s work was mostly in the documentary realm with such projects as “The Atomic States of America,” “Dixieland” and “3 Generations,” Thordson showed he had bloody money running through icy, creative veins when he played the cunningly, lethal sides of heirs John Du Pont in “Foxcatcher” and Robert Durst for the HBO documentary series “The Jinx.” With “Split,” Thordson channeled eerie empathy and bone-grinding rage, conveying vulnerable multiple identities helpless before the emergence of a wall-crawling, flesh-ripping Beast.

Of course saving the best surprise for last, the far more human strains of Howard’s David Dunn theme appeared at “Split’s” end to reveal that this hooded avenger (along with his arc-nemesis) shared the same “real” world. It was a promise for a comic book team-up that had Shyamalan’s fans salivating for the possibilities. Now nineteen years after this unexpected saga’s first chapter, “Glass” brings the three meta-humans together for the ultimate throw-down of powers real, or perhaps imagined. As staged in an asylum run by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), “Glass” veers from intensive psychotherapy to sinister plotting for a climax that might seem to move Shyamalan into Marvel and DC movie territory. But given the writer-director’s moody take on the nature of heroism and evil, “Glass” takes an expectedly unexpected route, especially in Thordson’s inventively psychological score. While Howard’s more mainstream signature is still in the mix, Thordson assumes Dunn’s identity with his own poignant approach to the security guard. Mr. Glass becomes a sinister, melodically crystalline force, while The Horde’s nerve-wrenching sampling becomes even gnarlier.

Varying between experimental dissonance and hauntingly intimate melody for piano and chamber orchestrations, Thordson finds a humanity that links the characters, especially in the relationship between Casey (Anya-Taylor Joy), a Horde survivor determined to reach the victim within his rage. Driving the score is the sense of a clock ticking to a confrontation governed by cosmic forces beyond anyone’s control. It’s a striking soundtrack as far away from the traditions of comic book scoring as imaginable as Thordson embodies Shyamalan’s subversive take on the genre. Like “Split,” “Glass” announces an especially forceful identity on the scoring scene, now more impressive than ever in its multiple guises.

Tell us about your musical beginnings and how they led you to composing?

I grew up in a fairly remote rural region of Minnesota. Early on, my most impactful connection to music largely came from messing around on my grandma’s old spinet piano that was next to an old wood-enclosed television set. Much of my upbringing was spent as the only child at my grandparents’ dairy farm. While they would be outside tending to farm work, I was often inside with the TV as babysitter. Music from movies, TV, and video games was a huge influence on me, and I remember spending many hours at the piano plunking out my versions of things I’d hear. Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther” theme was something I was particularly obsessed with. No one in my family was a musician or artist, and like many areas in the Midwest, pursuit of the arts tended not to be strongly encouraged, especially within working class families.

The music teachers I attempted to learn from tended to have a tough, pretentious shell to survive the area. Being very shy, it was difficult for me to establish trust or connection with these educators. Understandably, the musicians my age tended to have similar qualities to the local teachers, so many of my attempts to connect musically with other children was met with condescension. None of this was necessarily a bad thing, but it did cause me to introvert even further with my interests. Perhaps protecting a more unique inner world of creative perspective, but with diffidence attached. I became more secretive with my interests. For quite a while, I focused mostly on visual arts, which definitely had a big influence on how I perceive music. But creatively, what I really wanted to make was music with layered development.

The day that I discovered 4-track cassette recorders existed, things clicked for me. I became obsessed and began saving up money. Music has been focal for me ever since then. Long before I attempted playing music with other people, I began using the 4-track to make sense out of multipart music. No one I knew had one, so it was my world alone to develop within. The 4-track recorder became both a great tool and a crutch. Its limitations shaped me towards the composer I am today. Eventually, I worked my way out of my shell enough to start working with other musicians. I began learning to read and write staff music by going to the public library. This was all pre-internet for me, so there was a lot of isolated logic at play.

How do you think scoring a true, murderous series like “Jinx” set you up for “Split?”

From the start, Night mentioned that “The Jinx” series was the main reason I was hired. He said everyone at Blinding Edge, his film company, was obsessed with it, and he sought me out for “Split” because of it. Oddly enough, he hadn’t realized that he’d previously licensed a piece of music I made in an earlier movie. All this definitely helped with the interview process. To move forward on film projects, relationships with filmmakers take trust and feelings of connection between each other.

Much of the music from “The Jinx” played with a POV perspective for an audience peering in as if staring into a snow globe at a bad dream. Frequently, it scored an inner Robert Durst taking control of his own narrative. Durst obviously wanted to be understood, but to tell his story, his way, within the truth he wanted to be seen. As dark as it was, I wanted to humanize his crafted storytelling as best as possible, keeping it veiled and controlled, but with a yearning for connection. At one point, I thought of it as scoring the thrill and awe of a child feeling safe in his home, looking out a window at a tornado that’s destroying all the neighbors’ homes.

Yet aside from Durst’s POV, there was so much painful tragedy in the “The Jinx.” A family lost a young daughter and sibling, and they were unable to find closure with what happened. Any score music here needed to feel of a sincere place with both overt and complex feelings of loss.

In reverse of this sincerity, other parts of the score needed to play with a dark, wry comedic sense. Music from the original “Terminator” film was one inspiration for some of it. With Robert Durst, it played sort of in an over-the-top, tabloid news way.

Photo by Marion Curtis / Starpix

For “Split,” Night was looking for music with some very similar perspective and energy. He wanted a score that played from the POV perspective. Much of it needed to feel dark and controlled. The music for Kevin Wendell Crumb needed to hold a sincere sense of tragedy. The Beast needed unique colors that felt unexpected. There was also a darkly playful energy, and I definitely pulled from some of “The Terminator” influence for this. For me, much of this played to the perspective of Hedwig watching from within, scoring this child who spoke with a thrill when bragging about the Beast.

Were you a fan of M. Night’s films before doing “Split?” And how do you think his style set him apart from other director-writers in the genre?

I was a fan before we met. I’d seen all of his films from “The Sixth Sense” onward, regardless of critical conscientious. He’s the real deal – a true filmmaker and artist. Whether or not people like what he does with his movies, he makes them from a genuine place. When “Unbreakable” first came out, I watched it twice in a row. On the first watch, I remember not knowing quite what to think. I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but I felt compelled to watch it again. So I did and loved it. This stuck with me. I feel Night chooses a very difficult approach to filmmaking. He goes for things that are complex and difficult to achieve cinematically, though not in an esoteric way. He genuinely wants to make movies that many people connect to, yet still veer on the fringe of what many people might accept.

What did you discover about M. Night’s approach to music on “Split?”

On “Split,” he frequently commented that the score should always feel as though it comes from the internal perspective of the characters appearing within each scene. Through the music, he wanted to feel the ride that the characters were on. For me, I took liberties with what this means, but I really love this concept.

Talk about creating the guttural, nerve-ending sound for “Split,” and how it would lead to the appearance of The Beast.

For this sound, I started by recording several loose takes of some simple harmonic bowing ideas with a cellist and violinist. The intention was to heavily modulate the captured sounds. While playing around with an idea in the past, I’d accidentally captured something like this and wanted to explore it more.

For the initial take, it was basically two mics, a Coles 4038 and figure-8 condenser, setup in M/S. I recorded this digitally with Ableton Live. Afterwards, I individually sent both sides of stereo out to a mono Nagra 4.2 tape recorder running at it’s fastest speed. The tape was played back slowed down to the lowest speed and digitally re-recorded. The Nagra is extremely consistent for a tape machine, but when the two stereo sides are re-synced from tape individually, the result plays back with really unpredictable phasing issues. Next, the new stereo audio was time-compressed in Ableton so the slowed-down tape re-recordings played at approximately the same speed of the original recordings. To finish it off, I used a plugin called Elastique Pitch to further modulate the pitch to where it sounded best. I also with messing it up ever more using two separate Roland Space Echos and a plate reverb.

The resulting sound was extremely chaotic, unpredictable, and scary. It felt haunted and seemed to capture the otherworldly, tortured, animalistic quality I was looking for. I wanted it to feel like “Jaws,” foreshadowing the existence of this malevolent being.

Were you as surprised as everyone else by its sequel-promising ending the first time you saw “Split,” and what it portended for your involvement in a revealed M. Night “universe?”

When I began the project, I saw a version that didn’t include the final scene. Some of “Split” was still being shot, and I was told of the connections early on. All said, I still didn’t expect a third film would happen. So when I saw the first version of the film with the final ending, there was still an element of surprise for me.

Did your collaboration with M. Night differ on “Glass,” especially when it came to this film’s tone?

In the early stages, it did a lot. Having developed communication and trust from “Split” allowed me to be able to freely experiment a lot early on and feel like I was on the right path. When they shot at the Allentown State Hospital, I spent a lot of time on set. Experiencing the film process while cameras were still rolling inspired a lot of feelings about tone, which I was able to immediately explore with great depth.

How did being on “set” inspire you?

The Allentown State Hospital was an enormous property. I believe there were 28 buildings with a tunnel system connecting many of them. It was desolate and abandoned, with numerous vast spaces I found acoustically inspiring. Recording musical silence within the buildings captured otherworldly room tones I was dying use in the score. So soon after getting there, I brought in an assortment of drums and percussion. After the film crew fully wrapped for the night, I’d often go in and record ideas with a mobile rig. Generally from 9 PM until 4 AM. Aside from a couple roaming security guards, it was just me. Some might say it would be a very spooky and Kubrickian experience. But for me, the hospital at night tended to feel strangely inviting and electrifying. There were only a couple times I felt like I needed to pack up and get out quickly.

Mr. Glass and West on set (photo by Adam Bailey)

A friend mine, the violinist Tim Fain even came to the hospital. We recorded much of the violin work used in the score within the super creepy tunnel system. There was also an enormous upstairs auditorium we used. It was just down the hall from the main surgery room, which I’m certain held many dark stories. The “Pink Room,” with all the lights off, was used too. To say the least, it was an unforgettable experience. I can still feel a vibe from it sometimes.

What was it like for you to adapt, and expand upon the theme that James Newton Howard created for David Dunn in “Unbreakable,” especially when battling with yours from “Split?

In the beginning, it was intimidating. It felt as though any way I approached his work would be wrong. In the process, I ended discovering a lot of thematic material of my own that seems to flourish from these genuine feelings of doubt. Much of this worked well within the story of “Glass.” At some point, I felt that the best approach with James’ material was keeping it sincere and sort of naked, as if it was a far-off, ghost-of-a-tune that David was hearing.

How does your own music hear David?

To me, I saw David as a man who had still not fully believed that he was all that remarkable, even though he discovered he had superpowers. He chose to stay hidden, keeping a lifestyle of an ordinary, working class man. While staying mostly in the shadows, he had grown old, only choosing to take these gifts so far. Musically, new material was written for David that contained a lot of doubt, but with hesitant yearning to fully believe in the extraordinary.

What was your approach like to the brittle, calculating quality of Mr. Glass, especially given that you’re scoring another criminal mastermind?

Within “Glass,” I saw Elijah moving with a sociopathic precision and unstoppable persistence. He also has this playful energy, as if it all is just a thrilling chess match for him. To express this approach, I wanted to find sounds that felt brittle and sharp. Violin and metal percussion became clear voices for me to build from. At the core of Elijah is a philosopher, always in pursuit of knowledge and his perception of truth. So I felt there needed to be a determined feeling of the pursuit of truth. I loved the concept of recording the instruments and sounds I was gathering as they echoed down the halls of the empty asylum. So much tragedy and sadness was present there, and it seemed to attach to the sound of the recordings.

What is the challenge as well for scoring a film that brings together so many characters, especially given one with endless multiple personalities?”

For a good while, bass clarinet was something I explored intensely for Elijah. My concept was to link it into the world of the Beast sounds from “Split,” eventually melting them into one sound. I wanted to take the chaotic, animalistic growls and moans of the Beast theme and have it evolve with the meticulousness, chess-like nature of Elijah. As you score a film, music takes shape to picture in unexpected ways. For the collaborative process of filmmaking to keep moving, one needs to constantly detach and simply roll with it. If things don’t come together fast, alternative approaches need to happen. This is a challenging process, but embracing this is necessary for the craft of scoring films.

Talk about the metallic effects you created for The Beast this time out?

Much of this originated from taking the chaotic, animalistic sounds of the Beast theme and attempting to have it evolve with all the sociopathic precision of Elijah’s thematic concepts.

How did you want to play Casey this time out, especially given her sympathy for the multiple personalities, even after what they’ve put her through?

There was a strangely worn-in sympathy between her and The Horde. It felt as though Casey held a mild exasperation with this sympathy that balanced against her fears in this relationship. Within it was a yearning to reach through The Horde so she could explore deeper into this genuine connection she felt to Kevin Wendell Crumb. I wanted to find a theme for this that felt hopeful but could never fully find itself. Music that kept climbing and climbing and reaching but never quite got to where it was going. From the soundtrack release, the whole piece is played out as the track titled “Cycles.” Yet within the film, this piece only appears within fragments and slivers.

There’s a “ticking clock” aspect to “Glass” as the characters figure out how to escape. How did you want to play this element, and the setting of an insane asylum?

This sound was attached to Elijah, but I wanted it to integrate into the other characters as well. Early in the film, this sound appears within David, leading to his pursuit of the Horde. I wanted it to play as if David was already beginning to feel Elijah’s presence again. It seemed that David had been floating around for years with a feeling of being incomplete. He was becoming more and more lost and tired. Suddenly emotions in him were beginning to reawaken. I liked the idea of crafting a clocklike sound, but I wanted it to play at a much faster tempo. For some reason, 161 bpm seemed right to me. This tempo seemed more like time was running out, combined with a feeling of something unstopped and inevitable.

How experimental did you want to make the combination of melody and dissonance for “Glass,” especially in how you balance more intimate orchestrations for piano and chamber strings with gnarlier sounds?

Mainly, I wanted the combination of melody and dissonance in “Glass” to play to Elijah’s thrilling and playful energy. To me, this was in connection to Elijah’s defiant desire to shake things loose and turn everything around him upside-down while he calmly played chess – dissonant and chaotic, but fully in control. The longer gnarled sounds combined with the pristine orchestral elements seemed to work well to represent the melding of light and dark. Having them paralleling or harmonizing somewhat together, as if towards an awkward acceptance of a chaotic existence rather than a clear yin and yang opposition. To me, the score for “Glass” is largely about discovery and acceptance.

Do you think that that comparing the M. Night collaborations of you and James Newton Howard shows just how more experimental genre scores have gotten?

Yes, in many ways. Hiring Mike Gioulakis was very much in line with this, and there are similarities between him and me here. Within this era of filmmaking in general, there seems to be an openness to utilizing more unconventional scores, but much of this is directly related to current technologies of filmmaking. Many filmmakers have been tending to favor fast, loose results with a lot of energy over what they might consider to be the traditional, conservatory-trained approach. This can be extremely deflating when you have been envisioning music to be recorded by a full orchestra ensemble, especially when you feel the quality difference is dramatic. Yet for many modern filmmakers, the difference they hear between the results of a quickly-made, less-costly scoring approach and the recording of dozens of living, breathing, human beings – that are all making music together at once in one room as orchestral ensemble – has turned into a choice of preference and taste over a clearly perceived difference in quality.

For a clear example, I (along with other composers I know) have created music for scenes where I provided a demo mockup for a full orchestral recording. The filmmakers responded strongly to the demo piece, but agreed that it doesn’t quite sound full enough for the final picture. So they authorized the recording of a live orchestra, regardless of cost. The recording was made, and the results were extraordinary. The room felt alive and electric. When watching the picture with the live recording, one could clearly feel more air within the scene. The emotions became more focused, yet nuanced and human. I was overjoyed to share the material with the filmmakers. Yet somehow when the new recording was presented, the filmmakers listened back and forth between both recordings and found themselves unable to let go of the original demo. To them, the demo held some sort of cinematic magic that the full orchestra didn’t capture. Some of this is simply “demo love,” but some of this is a clear example of how people now hear music differently. It’s all down to a matter of taste, but tastes are always changing.

For “Glass,” Night’s decision to hire me seemed built around his intimate process of filmmaking. He seemed to want someone he could work very closely with so he could feel deeply bonded in the process of building the score. He wanted someone he fully trusted to fall in love with the film and pour everything into crafting the score. For much of the editing of “Glass,” I set myself up in a space just downstairs from his office. I relocated from NYC to Philadelphia. Night was looking for a very particular score. He specifically wanted music that he hadn’t heard before, yet echoed back elements of the first two films in some unique way. We searched for musical ideas that felt unpredictable and developed them alongside familiar ideas. Early on, we made plans to record everything live with a large orchestra ensemble. As the film developed, we chose a different route. The film we were making seemed to call for different music, utilizing a lot of the unusual sounds I captured at the Allentown State Hospital and smaller chamber ensembles.

How do you think “Glass” shows off your distinctive approach to the genre, and would you like to see him bring other elements of his movie universe together in the future?

I genuinely love the collaborative energy of the filmmaking process and thrive on finding a childlike joy in diving deep to discover unique sonic colors, motifs, and melodies that help shape storytelling. For me, scoring film is all about unearthing nuances in the story that could not be experiences without music. I tend to love scores that operate with an invisibility while doing this. No Country for Old Men” is one of my favorite films, and almost no music is used. When Carter Burwell’s score occurs, the story needs music to be there. “Glass” is an entirely different film. It seemed to thrive with lots of music. For the filmmaking process, about three times as much music was created as was used in the final version. As the film was edited, I attempted to remove music wherever possible. This approach aside, I also love melody and theme use. The score for the first “Jurassic Park” is another of my favorites. Though melody in “Glass” is very different, there was still a lot of influence from “Jurassic Park” in “Glass.”

As far as Night’s movie universe, all I wish for is that he continues to explore filmmaking in his own unique way, with childlike joy and fearlessness.

photo by Marion Curtis / Starpix

“Glass” opens in theaters on January 18th, with Wes Dylan Thordson’s score available on Back Lot Music HERE

Listen to the previous issues with ”Unbreakable” HERE and “Split” HERE

Special thanks to Nikki Walsh

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Mychael Danna

Do, 20/12/2018 - 04:50

Among the black-clad movie superheroes this year, the most impressive just be a wizened, real-life woman who goes up time and again against the sinister forces trying to take down her motherland. No injury can stop this iconic figure as her quest for justice faces increasingly diminished odds, a drive that’s endeared Ruth Bader Ginsburg more than ever to the fans who’ve watched her moving, life-spanning documentary “RGB.” But what might just provide to be the most empowering delight to Ginsberg’s admirers is to see her embodied in biopic form as a sensual, smart and vivacious woman who takes on the oppressively judicial overlords with the case that puts her on the legal map with “On the Basis of Sex.”

Mimi Leder, who blazed her own trail as the first woman to direct a mega-action picture with “The Peacemaker,” takes an equally powerful approach to fighting the good fight – her real world warrior embodied on screen by Felicity Jones, who last showed her biopic strength as Stephen Hawking’s first wife Jane in “The Theory of Everything.” As her Ruth Bader Ginsburg presents her case as an equal legal eagle to her beloved husband Marty (Arnie Hammer) and a force to be reckoned with government determined to keep an unjust status quo, “Life of Pi’s” Oscar-winning composer Mychael Danna is sure to be at her inspirational side to hold the true cinematic life legal briefs.


Certainly no stranger to the genre in scoring such figures as the writers Truman “Capote,” “Antwone Fisher” and Stephen “Shattered” Glass to Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane (“Moneyball”), Danna is one composer who knows how to play Hollywood’s particular form of reality. With delicacy and determination, Danna’s tender emotion and heroic, drum-rolling marches makes Ruth Bader Ginsberg come to life. It’s a strongly thematic approach that will no doubt have Ginsberg’s admirers cheering, while helping the film win over new converts to one of the last Supreme Court justices standing as steadfast as a rock for the kind of human rights that once-upon-a-time Democracy stood for. Like the best Hollywood scoring documentarians, this Canadian’s accomplishment with “On the Basis of Sex” is more rousingly important than ever in making audiences identify with a public figure as an emotionally identifiable human being, one who’s more thoughtfully vibrant than ever.

How familiar were you with the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg before “On the Basis of Sex?”

Not very. The documentary “RGB” had not come out yet. Obviously I knew who she was, but I didn’t really know her place in history like I do now. “RGB” was a film I found to be both interesting and inspiring film, I felt like I learned something about America I didn’t know before. Now I’m very excited about our film coming out. I wish that it were out already, because the more people that see “On the Basis of Sex” the better I’ll feel about it!

How did you get the assignment?


I believe Mimi Leder temped in my music from “Moneyball,” and “Capote” for the preview version, so she felt that I was the right composer for this, especially because “On the Basis of Sex” is a dialogue heavy film. It’s a courtroom drama with a lot of intellectual concepts and arguments gong on in it. So Mimi wanted someone to be restrained in those areas, yet to also be able to move forward when the drama needs a shot of adrenaline.

Once you got the film, did you do a deep dive into who Ruth Bader Ginsburg was?

Because this film’s ideas are laid out right there, I didn’t really need to do. I waited to watch “RGB” once I had finished “On the Basis of Sex.”

Where did the score’s “military” sound come from?

The film has two opposing camps. There’s the older white male institutions – the people who had inherited the laws of the constitution and want to keep out those who oppose their views. Then there’s the other side with Ruth and her husband Marty being a team in the groundbreaking movement opposed to the older white male institutions. But Ruth and Marty are the “true” America opposed to the males trying to hold onto the original American values that don’t exist any more. It’s Ruth and Marty who are able to change and evolve with the times. But that’s the thing that makes America great, and continue to be great. So we wanted to give Ruth the American anthem sound that you might normally give to the old conservative institution. We turn that musical cliché on its head by giving that approach to Ruth right from the very beginning, because it matches her ideas and the energy of who she is.

Some listeners might even regard that approach as a “Star Trek” one in how it captures a captain boldly going into the future.

Well, there is a sense that of American fearlessness in how she pushes boundaries – the kind of anthemic American melody where it’s trying to break through that glass ceiling, trying to expand where it’s being contained. There are those kinds of themes being built into those anthems throughout the score.

Felicity Jones stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Mimi Leder’s ON THE BASIS OF SEX, a Focus Features release.

For those who have a grandmotherly view of Ruth from “RGB,” “On the Basis of Sex” conveys sensuality about Ruth that viewers might not expect.

Ruth is an attractive woman who has this energy about her, which is a beautiful way they start off the film. The music had to reflect that, so we needed some soft romantic piano composition cues for that romantic side of her life.

A big part of the film is about Ruth’s relationship with Marty and her daughter. What was it like to “speak” for her emotions?

There is a Ruth and Marty theme. It’s not a love theme per se because it’s deeper than that. It’s a partner theme that’s warm, one that we didn’t want to push it into cornball territory. We were careful to make it super classy, like she is. Ruth’s well educated when it comes to classical music, and a big lover of opera. We wanted to use instruments that reflected that “audio” part of her life. It’s also a score that helps Ruth find confidence that starts with her as a young woman, who’s super bright and excels in school. But it still takes her a while to get her real world chops to go up against these institutions that have been around for 200 years.

photo by Nicholas Skalba

Having scored your share of biopics, what lessons have you learned in this genre and how do they apply here?

Whenever I am in an airport, I always look for a biography book to read. They’re a reflection of ourselves, how we are born into our place how we react to it all and how we learn from it. I find biographies more amazing than fiction, and more interesting to work on as a composer.

You have also done your fair share of courtroom dramas, with “Fracture” (along with brother Jeff) as a prime example. What have you learned about playing trials?

This film’s trial is about idea versus Idea. Much of the time we avoided those courtroom scenes, because they were so compelling that they didn’t need any score. Audiences know how to feel in those moments, though there were instances where we did want to musically punctuate their drama.

One scene that moved me to tears has what might be the best time jump cut since “2001.” What was it like scoring that moment?

It’s a moment for restraint. I musically built the emotion up to it so I could sit back and give people the space where they would have that “Aha” moment. It’s really powerful and emotional because you watch this film and you know intellectually that it’s about a real human being that’s walking around this earth. But when you have that moment in the film, it really lands, in a way that super effective. It was something that didn’t need any musical push for. It just needed preparation.

Given that you’re a guy scoring a movie about a woman was there an extra weight on your shoulders to get it right?

That thought never crossed my mind. My job as a composer is to empathize the emotion no matter what the sex of the characters are, I have to get into their place and try to feel it and score it. I don’t have to be black or white or female or anything to feel the emotions of someone, it’s part of what a composer does.

How did being a Canadian play into your view of a film that dealt with a time when you felt there was hope for change in America’s Supreme Court?

I am a proud American citizen now. I truly believe that this is the greatest country that has ever existed. Part of why it’s a great country is what’s portrayed in this film – this ability to evolve, to change with the spirit of the people. Canada is a wonderful place, but it’s a conservative country. America is the opposite of that. It may be all over that place at times, but it can still be the guiding light of the free world. I love both countries, but they are two different things.

“On the Basis of Sex” is getting the release accorded to an Oscar hopeful. As an award- winning composer for “Life of Pi,” how has an Academy Award changed your life?


Up to that point I had fun playing in my own sandbox and thinking that nobody was paying attention to me. That gave me a sense of freedom in both here and Canada to do my own thing because there was never really a spotlight on me. After that Oscar, my perspective changed and it took a couple of years to shake that off. I still am going to do my own thing and make my own decisions, but winning sort of froze me for a while which made me self-conscientious. But this film for me is very gratifying, and I am very proud to be part of it.

In a country of some people who feel that democracy on its way out, do you hope that this movie has the power to change minds? Or are we now too far gone for a film like this to have some kind of effect?

I still have optimism, I really do. I think that what’s happening now is a learning experience for America. I believe that America can turn the wheel back to the center of the road. But it’s a dark time and the system got tested here to an extreme. I don’t believe that we’re doomed, but we need to be vigilant – voting is not just a hobby, it’s something that you need to take seriously. I have faith, I have kids and I see how they are growing up, I feel that we are going to be just fine.

Mimi Leder, Director, Mychael Danna, Composer,

I believe that “On the Basis of Sex” will play everywhere. It’s not a blue state film. It’s a film about America and deals with an issue that’s a very important part of American history. It’s not pushing any buttons where it’s going to be offensive. It’s a story of how America and the law work. Though it paints a picture of the old guard, I was careful not to make them musical villains with black hats and moustaches, because they have their views of what America should be. We point out that America isn’t about that anymore. It’s an argument between two sides that’s handled in a very compassionate way, and it was a lightbulb moment for me to have that moment of clarity. As a viewer, you have that clarity as well – that society changes on its own and the law catches up. This film will remind us that democracy still works, even in the darkest of times. Now that the Kavanaugh hearing had happened, I do feel that this film needs to be seen, especially in this current political climate.

Have you gotten a chance to meet Ruth yet?

She lives on the opposite coast, so she did not attend the premiere at the American Film Institute. But then, she has an important job, so I won’t hold it against her. We don’t want her to leave her job on account of a film.

If you got to meet her what would you say to her? And what do you hope that Ruth thinks about your score?

I would be nervous to meet Ruth, because she really loves great music. So I was very self-conscious when I was composing this, I tried to keep my standards high and keep the score classy!

“On the Basis of Sex” opens this Christmas, with Mychael Dana’s score available on Sony Masterworks HERE

Listen to Mychael Danna’s scores HERE

Visit Mychael Danna’s website HERE

Special thanks to Alexander Portillo for his interview transcription

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Audio: Interview with Rupert Gregson-Williams

Wo, 19/12/2018 - 02:33

ON THE SCORE is sponsored by La-La Land Records

Once filled with gloom and overshadowed by other company’s comic book-to-film ventures, the DC movie universe is now being made ship-shape with a major keelhauling of fun and excitement. Listen for the sound of their brightly clad characters’ rejuvenated music, and you’ll hear the sweeping melodies and energetic inventiveness of a composer finally being given his epic due.

photo by Jordan Strauss

But then, rousing music runs through the bloodline of the Gregson-Williams family. Taking up the profession of his older brother Harry (“The Martian,” “The Equalizer”) to also learn his composing craft under the auspices of Hans Zimmer. Rupert Gregson-Williams began making his own name through the heavy drama of the Rwandan genocide in “Hotel Rwanda” before the funny animals of “Over the Hedge” presaged Gregson-Williams becoming Adam Sandler’s go-to musician with comedies like “Click,” “Jack and Jill” and “Grown Ups.” Now in a welcome heroic segue, Gregson-Williams’ melodic craft has entered a new, heroic realm, his more grounded entries showing the strength of Queen Elizabeth in “The Crown” and conscientious objector in the thick of “Hacksaw Ridge’s” wartime violence. After impressively rebooting the jungle king with “The Legend of Tarzan,” Williams’ mixture of brawn and Amazonian nobility that helped propel “Wonder Woman” from the trenches of WW1 into one of DC’s most acclaimed and successful modern era films.


It was only natural that “Wonder Woman’s” magic lasso would turn into an Ocean Master’s trident for Rupert Gregson-Williams, one that he holds mightily indeed for “Aquaman.” Given that its horror-centric director James Wan (“Saw,” “The Conjuring”) is making a wonderfully bold leap into the superhero realm, Gregson-Williams isn’t quite so serious this time out. Given a merman who’d rather be hanging in a biker bar than saving the seven seas and the earth above, Gregson-Williams brings a new, rocking attitude to his style, while also conveying the emotional vulnerability of Jason Momoa’s god-dude who’s got the muscles, if not exactly the confidence at first. “Aquaman” also announces its own scoring identity with a distinctive retro synth sound, one that makes this super science deep sound as hip as “Tron’s” game grid. With equal attention to thrills and majesty, Williams embodies this offspring of Atlantean and air breather, with a hybrid score for electronics and orchestra that more than fills the eye-popping Imax frame, His “Aquaman” is the water-filled stuff that hip superhero scores are made, especially given DC’s decision to beat up suffocating darkness above all – a wise decision that more than ever gives Rupert Gregson-Williams his long-deserved membership alongside Hollywood’s Justice League – a journey that he now talks about at “On the Score.”

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Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

The Best Scores of 2018

Wo, 12/12/2018 - 21:51

Click on the album covers to purchase the soundtracks on this list
(Joseph S. DeBeasi and Michael Stearns / Madison Gate Records)

A year of atypically impactful scoring starts off with the Dawn of Man, a savage epoch that’s usually heard in film scores with raging earth tones fashioned from the bones of Stravinsky and Holst. But in playing the first bond between hunter-gatherer and wolf-dog, composers Joseph S. DeBeasi (“American Sniper”) and Michael Stearns (“Baraka”) hear an evolution from ethereal music to symphonic friendship for “Alpha.” Taking a cue from the experimental world beat of Stearns’ globe-spanning, ethnically attuned documentary work on the likes of “Chronos” and “Samsara,” “Alpha” unfolds with a sense of mystical synth wonder for its harsh landscapes and even more menacing animals, creating a feeling of awe and dread that must have possessed the first cognizant humans. Asian-accented wind instruments convey the sense of their tribe, the score gradually building from ephemeral tones and primal, spear-throwing percussion as fear gradually turns to symphonic friendship. It’s a striking journey of scoring discovery where the soundtrack has to truly paint a picture where there’s way more growling than dialogue. “Alpha” is all about the powerful layers of emotional evolution, trekking through the primordial landscape on a musical path less taken.

(Michael Giacchino / Milan Records)

For all of the epic genre scores that Michael Giacchino creates (this year counting another swaggering visit to Jurassic World and The Incredibles) his most powerful soundtrack lies within the bummer in name only of “Bad Times at the El Royale.” Given a Tarantino-esque crime ensemble with loads more empathy, Giacchino opens new doors of film noir, acid rock and suspenseful dread for a knockout score that certainly doesn’t put a “do not enter” sign on his big, symphonically brassy balls he’s known for. Weaving together themes for multiple, deceitful characters, Giacchino’s score has a wink in its eye as it collects “Royale’s” plotlines with a punchy tone that takes a way different 60’s tone than his “Incredibles” scores. When a Manson-esque cult leader shows up at this nefarious bi-state hotel, the score swiftly goes to hallucinogenic hell as all bets are off, building to militaristic payback and tragic emotion that show off any number of styles that Giacchino can ace – ones that hopefully won’t be booked for a one night stay over.

(Terence Blanchard / Back Lot Music)

The enduring partnership between jazzman-composer Terence Blanchard and agent provocateur director Spike Lee has raged, and laughed at the violent ironies of race relations, which now shows off their mutual best by pulling a white sheet over their targets’ eyes with this stranger-than-fiction takedown of the KKK by a black-Jew cop tag team. Starting off with a gleefully militaristic take on “Dixie,” Blanchard has his merry way with the prideful music of the old South’s glory, showing off his muscular way with an orchestra while also bringing in a rock guitar and soul vibes that let us hear the 70’s-set movie’s social awakening. Blanchard’s emotionally charged themes have never been more potent at both mocking racists and showing just how deadly their threat is. Blanchard often channeled an Aaron Copland-like sound of Americana for Spike Lee to make a bitter point, and here’s it’s a gut punch of profound rage for a news footage ending that drum-beatingly resounds with bitter defeat. It’s a shock to the system unequalled by any film or score this year in showing that nothing has changed at all.

(Ludwig Göransson / Hollywood Records)

Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson certainly had the street cred to take on Stan Lee’s most revolutionary superhero, given his urban-themed work for Childish Gambino and “Creed” director Ryan Coogler, here taking a socially conscious leap into the Marvel Universe. Given the costume-wearing king of an African nation with roots both tribal and super technological, Göransson collects an array of authentic instruments and vocals that make Wakanda rock – delivering one of the most authentic African scores ever realized by Hollywood. He also crafts an equally memorable 70’s urban crime signature for villain-to-some Killmonger. But given that this is a comic book movie score when it all comes down to it, Göransson just as successfully unleashes the symphonic utility belt audiences expect. By the time that tribal beats, hooting vocals and orchestral fisticuffs are thematically duking it out for the boss battle, “Black Panther” hits a crescendo of exciting, emotional superhero scoring and black pride, showing just how unique Marvel movie scoring has gotten with collaborators determined not to sell out to The Man, expect if it’s capturing the spirit of Stan.

(Matthew Herbert / Varese Sarabande)

An outcast Jewess returns to her Orthodox tribe in London to make peace with her rabbi father’s passing, only to find rebuke again in the attraction to a woman still very much entrenched in repressive tradition. It’s a journey of mutual self-discovery that’s told in exquisitely beautiful tones by English composer Matthew Herbert, who’d previously shown an emphatic queer ear to “A Fantastic Woman.” Sexual identity is just as much on Herbert’s mind here, though told in a gorgeously hushed, hypnotic manner that makes “Disobedience” an exemplar of tone poem scoring. Strings weave an intoxicating spell of a bond that religion couldn’t sunder, bringing its characters together with an almost mystical sense of fate. Yet powerful themes arise in Herbert’s gossamer approach, brass taking on an incredibly subtle sense of Hebraic identity that the score announces with a Shofar. It’s an experimental approach to explosive feelings, perfectly attuned to a culture where women aren’t expected to raise their voice above a whisper. Full of mesmerizing tranquility and a mood of discovering one’s purpose, “Disobedience” stands its ground rarely raising its voice above a beautifully mesmerizing whisper until soaringly affirming its musical identity.

(Justin Hurwitz / Back Lot Music)

From the jazz drumming rage of “Whiplash” to an Oscar-winning reboot of the classic Hollywood musical for “La La Land’s” hipster set, Justin Hurwitz is a composer who’s consistently taking on new adventures in service of director Damien Chazelle. But perhaps no risk so boldly goes as flying in the soundtrack face of what constitutes the patriotic astronaut score for “First Man,” a stunningly introspective portrait of moon walker Neil Armstrong. Basing his themes on the loss of a child, and a wedding dance to a surreal Theremin tune, Hurwitz conveys space exploration with fear and melancholy yearning, until finally surrendering to the kind of soaring orchestra that’s defined cinematic space flight since the days well before NASA. Here, it’s the ultimate trip that’s never before achieved a scope of musically emotional intimacy, one that “First Man” is all the more powerful for.

(Torin Borrowdale / Sony Classical)

Where the endless “found footage” genre thought it was being inventive by dispensing with the artificiality of musical commentary, the social “Searching” brilliantly breaks those social media shackles to become the best film of its kind – especially when it comes to using an actual score that opens up a whole new dramatic world for its laptop-set “stage.” Torin Borrowdale (“The Midnight Man”) begins with an impressively dexterous use of his main theme, an initially warm melody that tracks a happy little girl into a sad, secretive teenager. Mostly using an electronic approach to capture the digital hole her desperate father plunges into, Borrowdale’s riveting music keeps the human drama front and center through music that embodies the depersonalizing nature of the web. Taking the pulsing nature of high-tech suspense scoring up several notches, Borrowdale’s rhythmically emotional score searches with ticking time bomb suspense, alternately haunting and riveting as he shows just how powerful the seeming artificiality of film music is to a moribund genre that refused to change its tune until now.

(Lorne Balfe / La La Land Records)

This TV-to-movie franchise has gone through six missions and counting, its Ethan Hunt-led teams leading any number of stylistically diverse composers to save the world – with their one common denominator being the understandable use of Lalo Schifrin’s themes. Now the militaristic, countdown fuse gets a sparklingly cool workout from Lorne Balfe, a composer with a special set of megabudget action skills with his own franchise blasts for the likes of The Terminator and Pacific Rim. But he’s never had such a skillful commander as filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie, who delivers the series’ best entry with a plot that mixes nail-biting suspense and action with the emotional toll of spying. Running at top percussive speed, or decelerating on a dime to brooding drama, Balfe shows the solve-anything dexterity of Jason Bourne in service of Ethan Hunt’s most desperate hour. Brimming with dazzling score set pieces that give Schifrin’s melodies a workout alongside his own impactful themes, Balfe keeps excellent musical trek from Paris to Kashmir, the orchestra booming alongside breathless tablas in a way that brings incredible freshness to the multiplex hybrid action sound. Balfe’s way of amping up the excitement delivers a true highpoint of climactic action for a deliriously extended helicopter chase finale that positively breezes by as it sweeps between mid-air battles and bomb defusing tension on the ground. It’s relentless, rhythmic scoring of the best storytelling kind that keeps upping the ante for the composer and this series in wonderfully impossible ways.

(James Newton Howard / Sony Classical)

After venturing into the post apocalypse for director Francis Lawrence with “I Am Legend” and the climactic “Hunger Games” entries, James Newton Howard arrives in his most bleak, and dangerously sensual environment yet for the filmmaker alongside the Cold War black widow code-named “Red Sparrow.” Given a grippingly intelligent old school spy thriller mainly set in Mother Russia, Howard starts off by expertly taking on the identity of a Tchaikovsky symphony that literally kicks off the story. Howard certainly knows his way around Soviet femme fatales after his excellent “Salt” score, even as the emphasis here is mostly on mind games, its physicality of the erotic persuasion as opposed to the kick-ass kind. Brimming with darkly lush symphonic romance that evokes Bernard Herrmann, Howard weaves an especially brooding thematic web. Like its unexpectedly resourceful heroine, Howard’s music is cunningly icy on the outside, but emotionally vulnerable within, subtly pleading for release from the Commie sex femmebot she’s trapped into being. It’s an escape provided as Howard again assumes the grand choral tone of the Russian maestros. But look inside of the balletic orchestrations, and you’ll most certainly hear a composer at the top of his orchestral game, pirouetting its set-ups with a whole new Soviet shade of dangerous beauty.

(Nicholas Britell / Decca Records)

Having given properly snarky vibes to the robber barons of the banking collapse for Adam McKay’s “The Big Short,” Nicholas Britell really gets to go to darkly satirical town for the director with a dictatorial wannabe attempting to steal Washington D.C. No, not The Orange One, but the ashen, succinctly twisted V.P. for Bush Jr. Starting off this Kingpin look-a-like’s rise to power with dissonantly noble brass blazing, Britell also tracks Dick Cheney’s beyond-Machiavellian rise to power with swinging disco beats and “Ocean’s 11” heist grooves. While giant orchestral reveals, fake end credit swelling and an outraged neo-classical approach sinks in the fourth wall laughs, the charm of Britell’s stylistically insane score is in how disturbingly well it digs out the festering insides of its subject to reveal that there’s a human being inside there, whether we like it or not. Britell’s “Vice” is a musical mix of comedy and pathos as its melodies try to ironically fill its subjects big, black hole where a heart should be. His imposingly thematic approach upends the notion of patriotic scoring to wave the musical tropes of the red, white and blue, hearing Washington DC as the ultimate bank to be ransacked by a composer who’s equally as smart as he is brutally smart-assed.


(Christophe Beck / Hollywood Records)

Having fashioned the caper crime jazz approach that made the first “Ant-Man” one of the first Marvel scores to truly break an already effective mold, Christophe Beck creates an even bigger and better score for a way smaller sequel. While it would be foolish to completely ditch the hip sound of his last score, Beck takes way more of an O.G. symphonic superhero approach in showing who really wears the wings in this dynamic duo. His crazier, electronic and vocal writing is reserved for the out-of-phase, semi-villainous Ghost, who creates a creepily effective presence as her samples do battle with The Wasp’s blasting brass. Especially effective is how Beck’s trumpeting themes weave in and out of our recognizable world and the infinite microverse for the ever-shrinking and growing chase at the end, his trumpeting themes creating a thrilling sense of acceleration, fun and feeling. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with out of the box or why-so-serious superhero scoring, Beck’s terrific return to “Ant-Man” shows the musical virtues of pure comic book scoring fun.

(John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies / Sacred Bones Records)

Given how many composers were affectionately rebooting the minimal tone of John Carpenter’s seminal synth horror with the likes of “It Follows” and “Stranger Things,” it seems perfect that The Man himself would get the chance to play a revamped Michael Myers sequel while new blood directed it. It’s a slasher infusion that also takes place in the score as Carpenter’s one-man band is significantly livened up with the inclusion of the musician’s son Cody and friend Daniel Davies, all of whom play The Shape’s greatest thematic hits while bringing stylistically fresh kills to the psycho’s sound. Minimally infamous rhythm is joined by eerie atmospheres, blazing rock guitar and nerve-ripping metal in a way that brings new sonic ferocity to the iconic masked man, adding to the menacingly silent charisma of an unstoppable supernatural presence. Here, a filmmaker who electrified the synth horror scoring revolution shows he’s more than got a lethal spring in his step for a decades-old menace that’s snapped out of his rhythmic trance like never before.

(Alexandre Desplat / ABKCO)

Alexandre Desplat has mastered Wes Anderson’s peculiar brand of arch, whether it be in animation with “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” or the live action of “Moonrise Kingdom” and his Oscar-winning score for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Drawing from hayseed music to a madcap Viennese waltz, the ethnic opportunities presented by Anderson’s fractured fairy tales now take the French-Greek composer to the peculiar, stop-motion Oriental trashland called “The Isle of Dogs.” You’d think that Desplat was to the droll manor born given just how well he channels the Japanese musical spirit animals, in particular Toru Takemitsu as Taiko drums join with a groaning male chorus along with flutes and bell-ringing rhythm. It’s a deliciously portentous mix, propelled by a humorously dire theme in the same energetic manner as “Fox” and “Budapest,” here creating a world of ninja-like skullduggery and the honorable heroism of disgraced canines. As with Anderson’s stylized worldview, Desplat’s approach suggests bemused, but respectful outsiders trying to make sense of a seemingly impenetrable culture, not to mention human race, as done with humorously woeful rhythm for this drum-beating tail of woe and redemption.

(Adam Barber / Seven Arts Music)

Just because a dame keeps bad company doesn’t mean that her music isn’t alluring, as the case for Adam Barber’s beyond-sultry score proves beyond film noir doubt. Just listening to the erotic saxophone, sinister techno grooves and intimate combo of piano and brass and your ears will envision a man-eater you’ll want to be devoured by. Barber’s score conjures the coolest erotic crime jazz this side of the glory days of “Twin Peaks’” Angelo Badalamenti and “Stormy Monday’s” Mike Figgis, balancing smoky mood with playful vocalese, bass-strumming and rockabilly sense of humor about his music’s overt desire – all of which makes “London Fields” as emblematic of great naughty girl scoring as a cancer stick held between pouting, scheming red lips.

(Daniel Hart / Varese Sarabande)

For his frequent director in cinematic crime David Lowery (“Pete’s Dragon,” “A Ghost Story”), Daniel Hart pulls off a surprisingly lightweight caper score that’s definitely in the old school vein. Given a gentleman thief who’s most rocking days were likely in the 70’s, Hart pulls gently jazzy loot from Dave Grusin (“The Firm”) and wonderfully launders it into his own, relaxed, small ensemble vibe. Sure this “Old Man” isn’t the only retro jazz heist score in town, but he certainly sounds like the leader of the pack given Hart’s nimble, bouncy way with strings and percussion. But for all of its sophisticated pistol-flashing fun and games, Hart’s lovely, nostalgic theme gives a sense that crime has the cost of family, especially as his main motif goes to a classical, hand-clapping quartet for the score’s neatest reveal.

(Mychael Danna / Sony Masterworks)

Given a stonily resolute Supreme Court Justice who will hopefully never say die, Mychael Danna, a master of biopic scores like “Antwone Fisher,” “Capote” and “Shattered Glass,” musically breaks our image of the ultimate spectacled superhero grandma to reveal a ball of sensually youthful, and vulnerable energy out to change a discriminatory system to all sexes. It’s a musical origin story told in an uncloyingly inspirational way as Danna depicts a workaholic lover and mom out to change a discriminatory law, and the plight of all sexes with it. That Danna rousingly helps her do with the military energy of a brave captain, his noble symphonic approach painting Ginsburg’s determination in much the same way as another officer named Kirk. Danna wins the musical case with convincing intelligence and emotion, his strong female power theme earning its rah-rah honors with the conviction of its case.

(Marco Beltrami / Milan Records)

A composer who often screams as loudly as possible in his prolific service of horror, Marco Beltrami is given the boss-level challenge of scoring a film whose beyond-clever conceit is that even a sliver of noise will bring instant, monstrous death. Also given the deceptively bucolic existence of an expectant family. Beltrami rises to the task brilliant with his combination of rural melancholy and abject terror. It’s lyricism that could befit “To Kill A Mockingbird” as attacked by demons, with rampaging fusions of electronics, grinding brass and crazed orchestra creating a stomping, roaring presence that would give Godzilla pause. It’s a score that simultaneously strokes the heartstrings while growling in one’s twitching ear, creating a score that’s as relentless as it is poignant, a rare feat that continues to show Beltrami’s inventiveness in a musical genre he helped give a shrieking rise to.

(Alan Silvestri / WaterTower Music)

Who else could score the ultimate pre-millennium geek culture valentine than the composer responsible for so many of its greatest soundtrack hits? With no slight to Spielberg’s usual, and then-occupied collaborator, the director has for turning back to the future with Alan Silvestri here. Unlike many of his compatriots whose epic, fun sound has somehow been sidelined since the 90’s, Silvestri’s been on a non-stop roll, as can be also be evidenced this year alone with “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Welcome to Marwen.” But nothing hits the magical formula that put Silvestri on the map of an entire generation like “Ready Player One,” which fills its Oasis with a grandly thematic orchestral sound and still-hip virtual reality electronic beats. Silvestri’s way with sweeping, youthful heroism, charge-ahead military rhythms and sparkling enthusiasm recaptures lightning in a DeLorean for “Ready,” playing the greatest hits from back in the Amblin day with freshly dazzling excitement. It’s music that’s about the stuff of sci-fi and fantasy dreams, while also hitting the characters’ emotional beats amidst the excitement. Especially fun are the musical Easter eggs within as Silvestri unleashes notes upon the blink-and-you’ll miss ‘em cameos, from a snatch of “Back to the Future” as well as Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla march as icing on the delicious throwback calories. With “Ready Player One,” we see, and hear that the musical wizards of our movie going childhoods have never grown up in the best way.

(John Powell / Walt Disney Records)

When you’ve got John Williams setting the tone for what’s arguably the most famous film scores in history for a galaxy far, far away, it takes a musical daredevil to truly pull out of that gravity well. John Powell, no stranger to having his way with epic sci-fi scoring while simultaneously having his way with its conventions, accomplishes the feat in style for this iconic pilot’s prequel, bringing a new sound to the “Star Wars” galaxy while paying homage to it in Williams’ writing. It helps that Powell has his Ben Kenobi as a thematic co-pilot, creating a fun mosh pit as Powell varies his brash percussive style with the maestro’s smoother romantic stylings – no more so than in a brilliantly tracked asteroid evasion sequence that flies right into a distinctively Powell monster maw. But for the most part, “Solo” sings with the enthusiasm of the new guy taking over the Millennium Falcon’s control, bringing any number of new musical ideas to the critter checkerboard table while paying heed to this saga’s forever trademarked sound.

(Thom Yorke / XL Recordings)

While taking a cinematic approach that’s as insanely different from Dario Argento’s vibrantly-colored, witch-run dance academy for vivisected girls as imaginable, arthouse darling Luca Guadagnino also chooses a musical approach far afield from Goblin’s frenzied prog-rock lullaby score. It’s a revamped “Suspiria” that’s an unexpectedly rare instance where going from a scream to a whisper (at least until its ending) yields strikingly chilling results, especially when it comes to the score by alt. rock Radiohead front man Thom Yorke. With his eerily poetic and restrained soundscape of tunes and score, Yorke evokes an intoxicate witches brew to seduce its heroine to the head of the coven. He conjures beautifully tender song-themes to pirouette alongside unearthly synth reverberations, heartbeat palpitations and gnarled, piercing samples that promising dance to the death disfigurement. It’s an alt. sorcerer’s waltz for the cool kids and crones seeking eternal youth. But if one listens hard enough to the guitar grooves and spacey atmospheres, the ghost of Goblin sort of haunts Yorke’s score, whose spirit is thankfully willing to seek new, weird dimensions to work its own, intoxicatingly dark magic on.


There could be no better backseat driver to the cinematic adventures of famed, progressive jazzman Dr. Don Shirley than a next-gen musician who embodies his subject’s ideals, Trained from the womb pianist Kris Bowers is just that as he opens the “Green Book” (Milan Records) to a buddy dramedy with a streetwise wheelman though the 1960’s deep South. Segueing from his work for Kanye West, Kobe Bryant and such Afro-centric series as “Dear White People” and “Warriors of Liberty City,” Bowers not only does a spot-on recreation of Shirley’s jazz-meets-classical modernism for the film’s performances, but digs into the characters’ emotional bond with a richly felt orchestral voice, his melodic approach conveying both an awakening sense of identity and a deepening friendship that makes this racial roadmap so incredibly affecting as the soundtrack travels from ironic concert halls to cotton field realizations and the pure joy of a down-and-dirty roadhouse performance, all of which show a composer whose trip is just starting.

Hildur Guðnadóttir was a protégé to the dearly missed Jóhann Jóhannsson, collaborating with him on the nightmarish Oscar-nominated score to “Sicario,” anti-matter music that plunged into the low tone intensity of the drug war to become the late composer’s most influential work. That torch is powerfully passed to Guðnadóttir for “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (Varese Sarabande Records), a sequel score that goes to even more impossibly terrifying depths with her fusion of sound design, ever-ratcheting suspense and new, haunting themes that convey the sadness of a bereaved lawyer who’s been transformed into an avenging angel of death. Guðnadóttir shows a riveting talent for conveying the kind of action anger that’s usually the playground of male composers, one that this musician proves herself more than capable in with a welcome touch of feminine soulfulness, making her potential in scoring the upcoming “Joker” standalone film even scarier given Guðnadóttir’s talent for playing monsters drawn from the real world.

Lili Haydn has segued from playing a precocious daughter to Mrs. Columbo and Rodney Dangerfield to a career as a top violinist and singer who’s worked with the likes of Roger Waters, Hans Zimmer and Marco Beltrami among her own albums. She’s also steadily become a composer of note on such indies as “Broken Kingdom” and “The Sublime and the Beautiful” and the new Netflix documentary “Feminists: What Where They Thinking?” Haydn also takes impressive center seat this year to propel the ersatz Uber-man of “DriverX.” for a truly interesting and eccentric ride with any number of offbeat passengers. Haydn’s deeply empathetic violin playing helps to veer her entrancing music between Spaghetti Western strumming, eerie techno beats, indie guitar grooves and whimsical rhythm. She conveys the lost souls of LA’s concrete prairie, as brought together for an eclectic, unique musical cab fare that captures what’s odd and beautiful about humanity in the backseat, as well as the seemingly silent guy at the wheel.

Nate Heller, the musical better half of director Marielle Heller, goes from the cartoon-drawing mindset that made for “The Diary of a Teenager Girl” to the fake literary signatures of a desperate author who pleads “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Verve) when her convincingly counterfeit jig is up. Heller is just as psychologically impressive at aging up here with a jazzily sardonic sound that cuts deep into the pretentiousness of the NYC literary scene. Creating a score that Woody Allen would no doubt love, while being the most deliciously urbane portrayal of NYC’s easily duped hoi polloi since Jerry Goldsmith’s “Six Degrees of Separation,” Heller’s witty, sad chamber approach conveys a distinctly unlikable, sad sack writer who finds her biggest acclaim far better known wits. Not only conveying Manhattan in poetic tones, the intimacy of Heller’s score more importantly paints the big city as a very lonely place where bad ideas can get the better of desperate has-beens.

An enjoyably evil, bonkers spin on “The Scarlet Letter” gets exactly the tripped out sound of social media maniacs it deserves from former Passion Pit front man Ian Hultquist for “Assassination Nation” (Lakeshore Records). That he goes for an acid-beat sound that could easily be mistaken for a slasher score is the texting icing on a sadistic cake of tweeting technology run amuck, with voices conveying a holier-than-thou attitude descending into lynch mob anarchy for a twisted, killer cocktail of blackly satirical sampling whose transfixing rhythms inventively cut deep.

Few films have captured the embarrassing nightmare of an American school horror story, or have given it such a wacky neo-retro synth sound like Britain’s Anna Meredith when attending “Eighth Grade” (Columbia). Her souped-up Casio vibe is perfectly suited for a teen girl who’s on the outside no matter how much she tries to get in. Turning a pool party into a trumpeting, Philip Glass-ian freakshow or pattering a banana BJ demonstration, Meredith’s approach has a psychedelic, nervous groove that feels homemade for all of its sophistication, bounding with antsy energy that’s as nervously offbeat as its heroine.

The Zellner brothers’ whimsical deconstruction of western archetypes, particularly a maiden in need of saving by a gallant suitor, gets a wonderfully offbeat, yet seemingly authentic tip of the hat by the Austin, Texas-based, alt. mumblecore tendrils of The Octopus Project for “Damsel” (Milan Records). Picking up from the ill-fated, “Fargo”-inspired quest of the duo’s “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter,” this musical collective encompasses a warped old west with bemused folksiness. Yet in their inspired combination of unplugged, era-specific instruments and haunting electric atmospheres, “Damsel” has a mesmerizing, airy twanginess that seems unusually authentic for the genre, creating a sense of introspection and rambling energy that brings an entirely old, and new sound to an oft-trod territory, even when it’s Robert Pattison strumming their song “Honeybun.”

With a background in creating and mixing sound effects, Jed Palmer knows the ghost in the state of the art machine, a talent that make his first major studio score for “Upgrade” especially effective. Given that fellow Aussie Leigh Whannell has taken the parts of so many past cyber thrillers and assembled an impressive new creation in the same re-jigged spirit as “The Terminator” and “The Matrix” Palmer creates a vibrantly cold score that draws from retro synth sounds, It’s music that pulses with lethal, steely efficiency, conveying both shock and awe at new superhuman abilities as its serves the rhythmic needs of a thriller who’s hero is on the run – all while hearing his humanity increasingly diminished by the implant that’s the real boss. It’s a great example of how sound design and score can be fused into a new, energized musical being whose old, replicant parts have never pulsed with shinier efficiency.

If film “music’s” first duty is to work for the picture as opposed to a stand-alone listening experience, then there’s no more abjectly terrifying, and tortuous example than what Colin Stetson has conjured from the satanic pit for “Hereditary” (Milan Records). One of the rising dark princes of alt. modernism, Stetson’s horn calling, nerve-shredding sustains and grinding metal take over any threat of melody as a miniature-obsessed housewife’s existence turns into a god of hell nightmare. Among Stetson’s experimental peers that seem to be engaged in a battle of the bizarre soundtrack bands to see who can be more insane, Stetson pierces some sort of evil veil here, crafting a finally unlistenable demonic tone that truly delivers on the term “horror music,” that being “music” in name only. Its anti-matter that lets “Hereditary” really deliver for a potential genre scoring career that should make routine listeners very, very afraid as Stetson drives them to insanity.

Like a determined journalist, composer H. Scott Salinas has empathetically any number of catastrophes from an Isis-haunted “City of Ghosts” to the drug crisis plaguing both America and Mexico in “The Trade.” Now his “Cartel Land” director Matthew Heineman takes the leap from documentary to feature biopic with “A Private War” (Varese Sarabande) as the lion-hearted, one-eyed report Marie Colvin conveys the anguish of war zones for a world that doesn’t care. While her reporting is more than devastating, Salinas’ score is impactful by not hitting the listener over the head, instead hearing inwards with an acoustic, subtly ethnic tone that finds lyricism in the unimaginable. His “War” is full of danger and sadness in its muted approach, sustaining melodies hauntingly portraying the anguish of those caught in the middle as Colvin tries to convince an uncaring world of civilians’ plight. Just as impactful is how Salinas’ score finally transforms into the song “Requiem for A Private War,” as Annie Lennox provides a beautifully anguished tribute to the sacrificial definition of #realnews.

Having played Armando Iannucci’s hilarious brand of political profanity for multiple seasons of “Veep,” British composer Christopher Willis gets possessed by mercilessly oppressive Russian ghost of Sergei Prokofiev in service to Iannucci’s twisted history lesson on “The Death of Stalin” (MVKA). It’s a textbook lesson on being a musical chameleon while still retaining one’s own voice, as Willis channels a raging orchestral fist for a scrum of opportunists, each hatching an arsenal of back-stabbing plotting to take the throne of a post-dictator Soviet Union. Expertly combining surging strings with a more reflective moments for piano, Willis’ massive, panicked score is its own brand of gleefully ironic satire, especially when channeling a thematic, symphonic voice that not celebrates the kind of darkly boastful music that gave birth to the sound of film scoring itself, but hears Prokofiev’s own torment by Stalin as a sort of last, bitter laugh.

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Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Max Richter

Wo, 05/12/2018 - 23:43

As Hollywood’s ranks of film composers become increasingly filled with talent drawn from realms of experimental and alternative music, few of these talents that claim their roots in the past have climbed to their craft’s throne like Max Richter. German born and English-educated in music, Richter has prolifically conquered concert halls and scoring stages, segueing between ballets, tone poems and a marathon work designed to lull listeners to sleep – all as he’s kept film and television audiences awake in an often melancholy spell.

Making a colorful splash with the fever dream score to 2008’s animated elegy “Waltz with Bashir,” Richter has provided aching lyricism to the departed, and the fatefully doomed in such scores as “Sarah’s Key,” “Perfect Sense,” “Testament of Youth,” “Disconnect” and “Hostiles.” But not to be pigeonholed into beautifully artistic ennui, Richter has shown himself just as capable with the rampaging zombies of “Last Days in Mars,” the sinister beat of “Morgan’s” replicant and the tough-as-nails percussion of the avenging lawyer angel “Miss Sloane.” On television, he’s dug into rhythmic mud of “Taboo’s” criminal England, become the unbearably lonely spirit of the “Leftovers” and reaffirmed the lyrical childhood bonds of “My Brilliant Friend.”

But no matter how diverse the project, Richter’s work is bonded by a sense of melodic classicism, whether unplugged or chopped into new electronic life. It’s a transformed old school spirit that now fully reveals its regal passion in the form of a royally iconic love-hate relationship. As blazingly embodied by Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, the rivalry between “Mary, Queen of Scots” and England’s Queen Elizabeth takes on its most impressive telling under debuting feature director Josie Rourke. Given a film of uncommon vitality and gritty, surreal beauty, this court musician assumes the throne like a composer to the manor born as he strides between old school symphonic scoring and his own distinctive alt. wheelhouse.

Beginning its march to the block with powerful, rolling drums, Richter brings a haunting vocal presence to females whose rule of a man’s world becomes ever more ironic. Texturing his myriad themes with the care given to a Renaissance tapestry, Richter’s richly atmospheric score casts light amidst ever-darkening fate. Given a lush orchestral sensibility that would likely make past “Scotts” composer John Barry proud, Richter’s transfixing score has the sweep of history in its excitement and emotion that brings this new “Mary” an uncommon, modern vitality to show femininity beset by the throne.

“Costume drama” scores have an expectation that come with them. How did you want to fulfill that, while also putting your own distinctive touch to the musical genre?

Finding the right tone or language for a project is always a kind of puzzle solving exercise in a way. You start with a lot of stratagems and ideas about how it’s going to be, and then it’s a process of exploring those, and finding out which sorts of languages make sense, and which things were kind of things were good theories, but actually don’t work. In this case, the big question was to what extent the music should have a Renaissance character? How much Renaissance DNA, and in which way should it populate the storytelling. The other thing about it is that the story is quite complex, really. It’s about these two women and their adversarial relationship. But in a sense they’re united by their position. They’re both lonely at the top, and are united in their isolation in this world of men. So all of those sorts of dynamics had to be possible in the music.

Did you research Mary’s history?

Yes, in a way. I’m very lucky in to have studied at university and conservatoire that the music education was very historical. I did Renaissance counterpoint and Bach fugues every week. At the time I really resented that, but now of course I’m super-grateful for that because a piece like this comes along, and it’s an opportunity for me to reconnect with a musical world I now adore.

Whom did you like more as a person? Mary or Elizabeth?

Mary and Elizabeth are appealing, but are also both flawed. Their tragedy is that they couldn’t find a way to get along because of the political landscape around them and the forces of history, really. I feel for them both, because they are women who made enormous sacrifices because of the position they occupied in their world.

How is that reflected in your score?

Their music works in a lot of different ways that speak to their emotionality. The composing for this film is like painting from that time, where you paint the foreground and background layers into a composite whole. In my case, my “primer” was the female voice. For those, I used an early music choir in London to make these sorts of choral environments. I wanted to populate the interior spaces inside the palaces and the landscapes with this sort of amniotic fluid to fill this world with the female voice, because that’s what the story is about. They’re the only “period” things in the score apart from the field drums. As soon as those drums start to play you know where you’re going.

Straight to the execution block!

They’re funeral drums, and the drums of war. They do a lot of work for us in the way that our minds make all sorts of connections into the imagery associated with percussion. The foreground element that comes into play is the orchestral music, of which we have two kinds. There’s the orchestral music of the two queens, which is a sort of regal, evolving music using this sort of Elizabethan motif of repeated bass lines, but with a slightly more contemporary language surrounding it. Then there is the orchestra for the world of men. It’s “heavier” with a different ground bass. It’s a much darker and dissonant orchestral world, which is basically the idea of male power – because at one level this story is really about two women being pushed around by a bunch of men. They are the Queens. They are ostensibly in control of their destinies. But actually they’re passengers on a male historical narrative.

Josie gives the movie a subtle, surreal quality that’s certainly in tune with your more contemporary work. How did you want to play that element?

The film is beautifully directed in a way that shows how Josie comes from a theater background. It has this kind of “hyper real” quality. Those images are a gift for any composer. It was incredibly satisfying to engage with that, especially when it came to playing Mary’s voice in all of this. I chose for musical, and cultural reasons to write her theme for a “Cor anglais,” which is the French word for the English horn. That’s her story, because Mary’s a French queen coming to Britain. I kind of liked that musical Easter egg.

How long were you in Germany before you arriving in England?

I was born in Germany and lived there for just my first three years. Then I was in the U.K. for a long time. But I’ve also lived in Scotland, Italy, and then Berlin for ten years. Now I’m back in the UK.

photo by Yulia Mahr

So how does living in Scotland and England come into play for this score?

I love Scotland, first of all. But anyone who’s spent any time in Scotland will know that a lot of it’s got to do with the weather. Mud is a big theme, and rain. Then there’s the way that light hits that extraordinary Scottish landscape. So it was wonderful for me to reconnect with those colors and textures. I feel like a lot of the “coloristic” aspects of this score come from those landscapes, which are utterly beautiful.

“Mary, Queen of Scots” reveals a lot of things about her that we haven’t seen in past films. As a composer, did you enjoy that voyage of discovery?

I think that working on any project is a voyage of discovery, isn’t it? You’re encountering a new world, and are trying to figure out how to make sense of it from a musical standpoint. What is it that music can bring to that universe? That was certainly the case with this project. I guess my first way into it was my love of Elizabethan music, which made this film perfect for me. It’s also these two amazing actresses lighting up the screen in the way they do. That’s a gift for any composer.

Given how dark this score could have been, was it also important to give a sense of fun in the power that these women command?

Yes, that’s very important because we all obviously know where this story is going. But that doesn’t mean we want to be hearing a kind of a funeral dirge for 90 minutes. So it’s about trying to discover spaces within that story where you can bring some brightness. That’s very important with challenging subject matter like this. These characters are very young when the story starts so the score absolutely needed to have their energy.

You handled another young character thrust into a position of “royalty” as such with “White Boy Rick” this year – though his surroundings was the decidedly bleak, drug-infested ruin of Detroit.

Yes. Scoring that film was also a great pleasure. It’s a fascinating story that was beautifully directed by Yann Demange (“’71”), and also had the amazing first time actor with Richie Merritt in the lead. I was intrigued by the idea of working on a piece where there was such as distinct musical universe already in it, which as you know is Detroit in the eighties. All sorts of dance music developed there at that time. That was also really interesting for me, because I knew there would be tracks from that era in the soundtrack. I had to navigate around that a kind of a storytelling music universe was great fun and very satisfying. I relentlessly experimented to find the tone of my score so that it would connect with those songs and the imagery. It was surprising what worked, and what didn’t. Every time I thought, “this will be great,” it was like, “No, it’s really not!” But then there would be another idea you thought didn’t work, and that’s the one that catches fire. So I think you need to be continuously open to being surprised with any score in that way.

You also scored around that black vibe for John Ridley’s Showtime series “Guerilla.”

The music for “Guerilla” was played very much on the interior lives of the revolutionary protagonists. It’s very emotional. It’s almost like there’s close-ups all the time, because there are a lot of needle drops from the era. I just did the emotional arcs for the characters. It plays in a very subdued way for the show, which I thought was great.

You recently performed your eight-hour piece “Sleep” in Los Angeles. What’s so unusual is that while most composers want their audience to stay awake through their experimental music, the point of this was to get them to doze off.

photos by Christine Hals

Well, I guess kind of. I started working on “Sleep” in 2014 because I felt that we were all becoming data saturated and exhausted. We’re all on 24/7, and there’s no way to hide from emails and social media, I wanted to make a piece that felt like a mini-holiday – a rest, basically. That’s something creative works can do. We lose ourselves in a novel, or go to a gallery, look at paintings and feel refreshed. Music can do that. So why not a big piece of music to can do that? My creative partner, Julia had the experience of being at home when I’d be playing a show in another part of the world, which would be streaming at some crazy hour. She’d be listening to it, being half-awake, being half-asleep and going between the two. So we got talking about the idea of making a piece that would talk to that condition. It just started to gather momentum. Sometimes a project has this sort of gravitational pull and you just feel you have to do it. So I wrote the piece, and it’s been fun.

How do you keep eight hours of music interesting?

Max Richter conducts ‘Sleep’

From a musical standpoint, my first thing was to hear it from the perspective of an audience member. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I want to know where I am. I want existential security – “Where am I?” But how do you musically do that? Well, we know where we are by recognizing things. A good way to musically recognize things is by using repetition and variation form. It’s the same trip, but slightly different each time. So you know where you are, but still interested. So “Sleep” is a set of two, intercut variations. There’s a piano-ish, pulsed variation, and a vocal one. These things just “A-B” all the way through.

How do you keep yourself awake through a marathon performance like that?

Well, for me, I can’t sleep with music on. Because if there’s music on, then I’m in “analysis mode.” I’m thinking. So for me, staying awake during a concert is quite “easy,” though it’s certainly tough to be doing a live performance for that long. It’s a physical challenge, like extreme sports. But from a mental point of view, if there’s music on, then my mind is working.

What are the most interesting things you’ve seen from the audience during a “Sleep” marathon?

The “Sleep” performances are really interesting because they really turn the audience-performer relationship on its head. When we’re playing, it’s like we’re accompanying what’s happening in the room. So the theme of the piece is really that what audience is experiencing is “sleeping.” That makes it completely different from a normal performance. You see people who arrive, they sit on their bed and they’re listening all night long. Then there are other people who go straight to bed. Other people do yoga. Beds get pushed together. All kinds of stuff. It’s a very free form kind of concert experience, which is one of the things I wanted to do – to break down the rituals of classical music performance where we all have to sit there and be very polite.

With “Never Look Away,” you return to your own roots with a story about an artist whose experience encompasses the war, division and then reunification of Germany. What was your approach for the score?

This is a really wonderful and fascinating film. It’s about how an artist discovers his voice as a way for him to navigate the world. He figures out how to live by figuring out how to paint. It’s also a story that’s about Germany and European 20th century history, which had all of these cataclysms. These are all big stories and themes, which the director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”) has handled in a very interesting and beautiful way. It’s also a big movie that runs over three hours. You know that when you have cues that take place in the eleventh reel! I used a couple of musical languages in it. One is quite traditional orchestral writing that has this kind of central European classicism. Then there’s some electronic music that is more abstract and ambient, as it had to do with the artist’s point of view and the very interior situations in the story.

As a composer who has to dwell on his own blank slate of creativity before scoring a scene, what’s it like to literally score the inspiration striking a man to create art from a blank canvas?

I tried a few different ways to deal with that, and ended up with something quite minimal because we also have a recurring theme that has to do with creativity and love. So I ended up really doing a kind of fairy reduced minimal version of that music for the scene, which almost feels like it’s just an atmosphere in the room. It tries to evoke the idea of this blank canvas, that’s almost calling to him – that there’s something in there that wants to come out. So anything grandiose and noisy would have obliterated that sort of atmosphere.

Besides being a “high art” composer, you’ve also shown that you can do more commercial genre pictures like “Last Days on Mars” and “Morgan.” Is that a musical world you’d like to get more into?

I just feel like there aren’t really any rules. I do things mostly that I just fall in love with for one reason or another. And like in real life, you don’t really know why that would happen. It’s a question of just following my enthusiasms. Someone will present an idea, and it’s like, “Yeah. Why not?”

Perhaps “Avengers 5?”

I think that kind of musical space is becoming more and more creative. If we roll back 10, 15 years, you know, it started out as a kind of a narrow bandwidth of storytelling and musical options. But they’ve really opening up and, you know, there’s some very creative and thoughtful things going on with those movies over the last year or two. So, yeah. Why not?

photo by Rahi Rezvani

How do you think that composers like yourself who are coming from the concert and alternative worlds are changing the sound of film music?

I feel like the language of film music is now much more diverse. There’s a greater openness to more experimental approaches and different kinds of languages. I think that’s great. I treat film and TV projects in the same way as I would treat a ballet or an opera or an orchestral work. It’s a space to experiment and to discover things. It’s the feeling of that voyage of discovery that’s exciting. I never want to go into it with any kind of self-imposed rules and ideas about how it should be. It’s more about finding the sound of that universe, which is fun. I feel like there is an enthusiasm for that sort of approach.

Have you been offered any big Hollywood blockbusters in that respect?

I don’t know if it’s multiplex or not, but I am I’m doing a film called “Ad Astra,” which is a really good. It’s a sci-fi for people who like “2001” and “Solaris,” which, which is me! It’s a movie that’s very beautiful and offers tremendous opportunities for music. It’s also very emotional film that’s full of big ideas and it’s fun.

Given what could happen to musicians during Mary’s reign, how do you think you might have survived as a court player back in the day?

Wow. Very difficult. You know, I think it was a numbers game in those days. Rizzio’s life was about trying to make alliances as he rose from relatively obscure beginnings to great heights – maybe too high. Maybe if he’d kept his head down a little and had remained just the musician. But he ended up as Mary’s right hand, and that was a problem for him. So I don’t know what lesson is to be drawn there. Maybe I would stick to just playing the fiddle!

“Mary, Queen of Scots” opens December 7th, with Max Richter’s score available on Deutsche Grammophon HERE

Listen to Max Richter’s’ “White Boy Rick” HERE, “Guerilla” HERE and stay awake through “Sleep” HERE

Listen to other Max Richter soundtracks HERE

Visit Max Richter’s website HERE

Special thanks to Christine Hals and Allegra de Souza

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Roque Banos

Do, 08/11/2018 - 01:48

The Goth-hacker super heroine of Nordic noir has gone through many variations in her translation from Sweden to Hollywood, even as her locale has remained the same. As Lisbeth Salander’s gaunt, tatoo’d embodiment transitioned from a Swede to an American and now an Englishwoman, so to has her scoring from Jacob Groth’s pulsing fusion of electronics and strings in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl Who Played With Fire” to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ nerve-ripping industrial attack on David Fincher’s take on “Girl.” Now given a psychologically damaged, female avenging cyber angel who’d rather speak in computer code, Spanish composer Roque Banos takes a woman as cold as her bleak surroundings and gives Salander her most musically well-rounded portrait yet in service to Fede Alvarez’s adaptation of “The Girl in the Spider’s Web.”

Having previously provided Alvarez with the ferocious, alarm-shrieking score of the impressive “Evil Dead” reboot and conjuring a suspenseful blind man’s tonal bluff for “Don’t Breath,” Banos doesn’t so much re-invent Salander’s musical portrait as much as he gives her emotional depth that the character dare not speak. Beginning with a dangerous synth pulse edge, Banos speaks in conspiratorial menace as Salander finds herself entangled in a villainous plot hatched from a tragic family tree, the music dripping with the malice of seemingly unstoppable evil. But as Banos’ complex threads begin to unravel, the score’s symphonic voice comes to the forefront, until dazzling, dynamic action suitable for a Marvel avenger adds terrifically exciting dimension to this theme-driven score, making for the most fully shaded Salander soundtrack yet.

But if there was no chance that anyone could keep Salander down, such was not the case with the eternal Don Quixote – or at least an insane actor taking on the windmill-jousting armor of Miguel de Cervante’s iconic character. Quixote’s clash with an egocentric American adman in Spain was director Terry Gilliam’s own dragon to slay – the first abortive attempt at shooting “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” only resulting in 2003’s documentary “Lost in La Mancha.” But never a crazed filmmaker to let a project thrown him, Gilliam finally resurrected the project in the recast forms of Jonathan Pryce and Adam Driver as a vainglorious actor-knight and director dealing with a tragic past.

Given the project’s need for a Spanish composer, it was only natural that Banos would be Gilliam’s Sancho Panza in tilting this reborn Quixote’s windmills. It’s a task robustly accomplished with fiery ethnicity and surreal music to spare. With a religious chorus launching “Quixote’s” quest, Banos unleashes a fully romantic and adventurous orchestra that joins with Spanish guitar, flute and a heroic horn, becoming a pretender’s impossible vision of himself in a score that’s a spiritual descendent of Michael Kamen’s rousing fantasia for Gilliam’s “Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” Waltzing, playing comedic tricks and taking us into the melodic desert of Arabia to boot, Banos’ terrific score is a highlight in a prolific career that’s bridged the gap between his Hollywood and Spanish assignments, joining with this “Spider’s Web” to show him off as a composer of many tones, particularly when the come to portraying a woman of ferocious inner resolve and a pretend knight losing his mind in service of a director who’s wonderfully lost his long ago.

Had you watched the previous “Girl” movies before taking on this project? And if so, what was your impression of them, their scores and Lisbeth’s character in terms of the series’ popularity?

Rooney Mara as Elisabeth Salander (L), Noomi Rapace as Elisabeth Salander (R)

I only saw the David Fincher one, and actually that was my next thing to do when I knew about Fede doing this movie. However, Fede thought it was better this way, and he even asked me to not watch the previous films so I wouldn’t be influenced by them. But I know all books very well. Now that I’ve finished “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” I’ve finally seen all of the other films, and I very much like Lisbeth’s character in all of them. I also enjoyed the movies’ scores a lot. They reflect very accurately Lisbeth spirit, which is what we really feel engaged with.

How important was it for you to establish your own musical approach here? And was it also important to link your work to the past scores in some fashion to retain a sort of musical continuity?

Oh not at all. We wanted to start from scratch, giving a new sound from the music to this younger Lisbeth. Never at any moment did we think about having continuity with the other scores.

How do you think that Clare Foy’s makes Lisbeth Salander her own, and how did that it influenced your musical portrayal of her?

Claire Foy as Elisabeth Salander

Foy wanted to create a very special character. Her Lisbeth is a woman that won’t give up and can never allow herself to fall under any circumstance. Musically we though we needed a badass theme to reflect this. But at the same time we needed a theme to show her weakest part, which is the reminder of her past. We wanted to get across the idea that it’s always something that can hunt her, and makes her weak.

Where the first “Girl” was made in Sweden, David Fincher’s version also used Sweden as its setting in service of an English language remake. Now she’s being interpreted behind the scenes by Spaniards. How do you think those international layers of cinematic vision, and scoring add to this saga?

I have a very simple but true answer for this question. We are all filmmakers, no matter where we’re from. There is not much from my Spaniard blood in this score. Same as Fede (I think) in the movie, and I believe the same happens with the other members from the crew in their field.

Did your collaboration with Fede differ on this movie? And do you think that scoring the outright horror of “Evil Dead” and the suspense of “Don’t Breath” for him prepared you for well this score?

Fede and I have learned from our previous collaborations. That’s evident. And this score have been more complicated that the others as the movie is a bigger production. Our collaboration in this one has been a bit different but very productive and enjoyable as well. We have kept one thing in common with our other movies though, which is the joy of experimenting with sounds to incorporate into the score. In this case, the glitchy sound of data transferring is a big addition that’s we think has never been used in a film score before.

Given that the past Salander scores have been given a lot of electronic and industrial rhythms, this is the first “Girl” score with an especially strong orchestral voice – which is particularly strong in the main theme and the chase sequences. Why did you want to take that symphonic approach?

That was one of our major questions when we started to talk about the score. And it has been a long way to get to this final approach. We wanted to make sure we were in the right path, so we tried many other styles before we got to the orchestra. Fede and I always have been more attracted to acoustic sounds, than electronics. But in a way we though at first that we should start from electronic and industrial music. As the composition process went on, we found a way to marry orchestral and electronics with a final result of a have the orchestra be dominant in the score, which is what we really liked. We called this final result “Hitchcock and the Machine”.

As Lisbeth isn’t a woman who’s about to reveal herself emotionally, was it important for the score to hear her humanity?

Absolutely! This movie is all about Lisbeth Salander. We have been always showing with the music who she is, how she feels, her emotions, her fears and of course her heart. I really hope after seeing the movie that everyone knows the unknown about Lisbeth and finally understand why she became who she is.

Talk about your music for the villainous organization. How dark and oppressive did you want to make the score?

Their music has a very simple low and dark theme, consisting of a movement of a minor 3rd. But the really villainous theme is for Lisbeth’s past. This is based in the serial dodecaphonic technique. This is, all notes from a chromatic scale forming a melody. I very much love this style that was invented and developed in the 20th century by such a great composers as Shoëmberg, Webern or Bartok. That approach creates a very frightening musical place where you don’t want to go. And the past is Lisbeth’s biggest fear.

How did you want to capture Elisabeth’s hacking skills and her heists? Do you musically see her as a sort of goth-punk superhero given her skills?

For Elisabeth’s hacking skills we used a self-built library of sounds in the score. They’re the glitchy sounds of different data transferring, like the fax machine or the telephone line when it connects to the internet. We really though it could be Lisbeth’s “language.” It’s also a great and unique way to show her spirit. She is like a byte that rapidly gets into the net and infects, steals, and transfers at her will.

How did you want to portray Elisabeth’s relationship to her sister?

I have used a specific theme for her sister. It is the most emotional theme in the score, which tells us about their nice and peaceful past together that was broken one day. This differs a lot from Lisbeth theme, which is very “bad-ass” music. At the same time Camilla is one of the villains so the score plays the antagonist part of her. The result is Camille becoming the past that Lisbeth doesn’t want to confront.

Would you say there’s a tragic quality to their music?

Yes, in fact the tragic can be heard in the score from the very beginning of the movie. The main titles are given this spirit that will remain for the whole movie.

Roque Banos and Fede Alvarez

How do you hope that your and Fede’s work continues Elisabeth’s story?

Lisbeth is a superheroine that we all empathize with. I hope her future would continue this way!

Now onto “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.” What did Terry Gilliam’s movies mean to you before this film came your way?

I am, from a longtime and huge fan of Terry and his movies, from watching him in films like “The Life of Brian” to seeing those that he wrote and directed like “Brazil” and “Time Bandits.” They’re among my favorite movies. In a way, feel very much like one of Gilliam’s characters!

What did it feel like to be part of a movie that was given this rebirth after its first, legendary failure to get finished decades ago?

I feel like I’m taking part of film history! No matter how the movie does, it’s going to be remembered as having this heroic “rescue.”

Were you brought into the “Quixote” during its production?

Roque Banos and Terry Gilliam

Yes! Terry and I have been working from before the shooting. It has been a very long but joyful journey. Working with him was beyond my expectations! Every time we sat together listening to the cues, or talking about how to approach a new scene, it was very funny and enjoyable. Terry infected me with his enthusiasm and energy.

How did you want your music to play into “Don Quixote’s” increasingly surreal nature?

The music is always adapting to the nature of each scene. Therefore, it is constantly changing and evolving as the movie does. The movie becomes very volatile and unpredictable as it goes on, and the score plays a big role in that. The themes get distorted, the harmony gets more dissonant, and the styles are more and more unequal. At the end of the film, the madness gets all the prominence as with all of Terry Gilliam’s movies. Yet it all still makes sense! So the music comes back to a “make-sense” version of the thematic stuff to give that feeling, even though the madness is absolute.

Did you want to play up the idea of the “ugly American” at loose in Spain?

Not at all. Actually the music plays in a way that we all love Toby, who’s magnificently played by Adam Driver.

Tell us about the score’s in Spanish identity.

The score has many styles – epic, adventure, drama and comedy. They’re all combined with orchestra, the Flamenco and Arabic music, which you hear when Quixote thinks of himself in an Arab king’s palace. The Spanish guitar is a protagonist throughout the score.

How do you think the score sees “Don Quixote” in his own mind as the “real” character, versus the crazed actor he is in reality?

The score has to say that Don Quixote really believes who he is. So we always play the music seriously within mind. He believes all he sees is true and we have to always be with him.

There’s also some overtly comic scoring in “Don Quixote.” How broad did you want to make the humor?

Of course, at points we needed to go comic and have “Mickey Mouse’ing.” But I didn’t want to go too far with it so we could always preserves the seriousness that Don Quixote has about himself.

Your use of the orchestra reminded me of the kind of approach that Michael Kamen took for such unhinged Gilliam fairy tales as “Brazil” and “Baron Munchausen.” Did you hope to capture his spirit here?

I’m not familiar with Michael’s scores for those films. That is possibly a coincidence. But I’m happy you noticed that, it means we were aiming for the same propose, and I’m honored by that.

When the legal complications revolving around “Don Quixote” arose, did you become worried that the film and score would ever come out?

‘Don Quixote’ star Jonathan Pryce and director Terry Gilliam

There had been several moments where everything seemed to fall apart. But Terry was a very strong and invasive director. Thanks to him, the movie was finally finished and released.

What do you think that “Girl” and “Don Quixote” show about your musical range when it comes to your work between Spain and Hollywood?

I hope they show a unique language, even though they are such different stories. If not, at least they fit the movies’ needs. I tried to put all my skills and heart at the service of every movie I work on, and it doesn’t matter wether it comes from Spain or Hollywood. The sleepless nights thinking on the themes, the long hours sitting at my piano trying to find them, and the emotion when they finally work in the movie is the same.

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” opens November 9th, with Roque Banos’ score available on Sony Classical HERE. “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” will hopefully be playing in America. In the meantime, purchase Roque’s score HERE

Listen to Roque Banos’ scores for Fede Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” HERE and “Don’t Breath” HERE.

Find Roque Banos soundtracks HERE

Visit Roque Banos’ website HERE

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans and Joel Edgerton

Do, 01/11/2018 - 23:55

Among the singular composers to emerge from the world of indie cinema, Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans have stood as an especially haunting, and prolific voice. Meshing styles from the realms of classical and alt. music over a partnership that’s been playing for two decades, Bensi and Jurriaans first got notice alongside 2011’s acclaimed “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” impressing with an eerily stripped-down score for a cult member putting her saviors’ relationship, and lives in danger. “Martha” set the measured pace for numerous tone poems to come from the duo for film and television. It’s an mesmerizing approach that can be both rhythmic and spare in such documentaries as “The Wolfpack” and “LA 92,” capture a nightmarish force from beyond the grave in “Fear the Walking Dead” and “The Autopsy of Jane Doe,” taking on a dream-like quality for “The OA” and “Chef’s Table,” or hear the menacingly rustic vibe of backwoods criminals meeting big city schemers in “Ozark.”

If there’s a running theme through Bensi and Jurriaans tonally shifting work, then it’s their ability to sympathetically listen inside the conflicted headspace of characters on the outside in scores from “Enemy” to “Frank and Lola,” people facing an uncertain oftentimes dark future as they stand in the crossroads of personal growth and relationships. For composers speaking with an angst that people can only hold for so long, “Boy Erased” is an impactful, haunting build to one youth’s cry to his parents’ that he’s gay – a basic, genetic fact that’s an affront to his ultra Christian parents whose compatriots think they can change the impossible through “conversion therapy.”

“Boy Erased” represents the second, impressive teaming between the composers and Australian Joel Edgerton, the often intense actor of “Warrior” and “The Great Gatsby” who revealed his equal talent as a writer and director with “The Gift.” Having built sleek, cunning suspense for Edgerton’s impactful parable on the effects of bullying, Bensi and Jurriaans now bring their ever-intensifying skills for this true story, adapted by Edgerton from Garrard Conley’s memoir “Boy Erased.” Though keeping his “sinful” longings to himself, Jared’s assault at a Christian college retreat ends up alarming his parents, who send the teen to a cultish therapy program, whose tortuous goal at any cost is Christ-believing heterosexuality, with failure not an option for those crushed by religion-inflicted shame.

As opposed to a rousing symphonic score that would push the obvious emotional buttons, Bensi and Jurriaans match Edgerton’s understated approach behind the camera (as well as his in front of it as a menacingly sympathetic program leader) with hypnotic intensity. Using an angelic like choir, twisting strings, melancholy piano and rustic militarism, the composer bring a sense of mercilessly sympathetic structure to “Boy Erased,” their themes creating a sense of repetition, much like the endless moral inventory and straight manning-up exercises that Jared is forced to endure, Steadily rising with intensity and poignancy, the composers become the voice welling inside of the impeccably mannered boy, whose revelation of his true identity threatens to destroy his life and family because of their biblically mandated intolerance.

As powerful as understated scoring and filmmaking can be, “Boy Erased” once against represents a challenging, impactfully creative voice from Bensi and Jurriaans, who now join with Edgerton to talk about a collaboration that reaps haunting, psychologically attuned rewards that reflect on any number of impressive scores.

Could you tell us about your route to becoming film composers? And how big of an influence was modern classical music, as opposed to movie soundtracks on it?

Danny Bensi ad Saunder Jurriaans: We had never really considered the idea of becoming film composers until about 8 years ago when we scored our friend Alistair Banks Griffin’s first film called “Two Gates Of Sleep”. We’d spent most of our lives writing/performing/recording music but never for films until then. So we could say we sort of fell into film scoring and then pursued it wholeheartedly. We definitely listen to and draw inspiration from modern classical music from Phillip Glass and Steve Reich to Penderecki and Arvo Part. We also love to discover new composers – there was a great podcast called “Meet The Composer” that we were both fans of, but it seems like they stopped making new episodes back in 2017 unfortunately! Film scores were probably less of an obvious influence on our composition – even though we were listening, digesting and loving them during our formative years we never thought we’d be making them, but they definitely snuck into our brains.

How did you first meet? And how do you think your musical approaches were able to mesh so well?

DS: We met in the late nineties when Danny was visiting a childhood friend at the Rhode Island School of Design. There he met Saunder who was playing bass in a band at the time. Danny was invited to join in with his cello from time to time and we became friends ever since. We were happy to find out we both listened to metal growing up, and that our parents both admired classical music. We moved to New York in 2001 and started a band called Priestbird. Priestbird began as in instrumental post rock trio that dabbled in all kinds of music from rock/metal to classical/impressionist music. The band was known for its range of styles, musicianship, captivating live performances, and unique sonic landscapes. We were often told after shows that we should definitely try our hand at scoring films. Back in the studio, we were layering string parts, experimenting with instruments and musical genres all the time, and flipping recording techniques on their head in order to try to discover new unique sounds.

Your first “breakthrough” film was “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” Do you think your eerily intimate score, and the indie acclaim set the tone of your career to follow?

DS: Yes. Soon after “Martha Marcy May Marlene” we started getting calls from filmmakers who loved the score (and the film). The approach of “less is more” and “not leading the audience” by over-scoring seemed to be what every director who approached us wanted at the time. We were lucky enough to be offered a myriad of projects over the course of time, so we were able to branch out and try different genres of film. The New York indie film world is pretty closely knit, so our names were passed around pretty quickly to filmmakers. On one hand, the “Martha Marcy May Marlene” score gave us a voice in the industry but it’s not like the films that followed were asking for the same kind of score.

Tell us about meeting Joel Edgerton for “The Gift,” and his approach to music.

DS: Luke Doolan was the editor on “The Gift” and a old close friend of Joel’s. He had used some of our music as temp score and Joel wanted to know who we were just from the music alone, so we arranged a meeting in LA and we all got along right away. Joel is a firecracker – cracking jokes, endlessly intelligent, and super down to earth. He has excellent ideas for music and a wonderful vocabulary to describe what he’s looking for.

Joel Edgerton in “The Gift”

Joel, how did Danny and Saunder come to your attention?

Joel Edgerton: I had come to know them through a couple of film friends of mine in New York, documentary types and the like. I really liked what they did so I was glad that they responded. We had a great collaboration doing the score for “The Gift.” Cutting in temporary music can also be tricky as a director, because you get very attached to it. Then you end up telling the composer to write something similar to what you were cutting the film with, which can be creatively regretful to the musician. So this time on “Boy Erased,” I tried not to use much of a temp score as to give the Danny and Saunder room to help the movie get its own feeling. For “Boy Erased,” I wanted to get Danny and Saunder in earlier to the process so that could contribute to the story – even when we were in the scriptwriting stage. We all thought it would be good to do this soundtrack ass more of a tonal thing, which would give more feeling to the story.

How did you all work together for “Boy Erased?” And would you say there were tonal, and thematic story similarities between these two projects for Joel?

DS: We worked very much in the same way as we did on “The Gift,” although “Boy Erased” was a longer process as there were many edits to the film. The opening piano pieces for each film have their similarities, but the rest of the scores don’t hold all that much in common – aside from some “eerie bendy strings” here and there that Joel loves. As for story similarities, there aren’t a ton. We actually found it all very refreshing to work with Joel on a such a different kind of film – especially one which is so emotionally charged, socially relevant, and poignant in our time.

Director JOEL EDGERTON on the set of THE GIFT.

Joel, how important was it for you to get across the idea of brainwashing in this repressive environment?

JE: It’s the setting of misinformation where you can be drilled with the wrong ideals and easily lead down a path where others would like to change your sexuality to their liking. It’s their mantra of “we are here to help you” that gives the idea that they actually are helping this people.

How do you think that it translates to the music in terms of what the music should be doing?

JE: Music is an interesting thing for me, especially as I am very visual person. I wanted Bensi and Saunder to psychology put themselves into the score, as much as any actor of behind the scenes department working on it. As Katherine Bigelow told me on “Zero Dark Thirty,” you should hire the best crew and get out of their way! For “Boy Erased” I wanted the music to have a beauty and hopefulness and a times a darkness when it came to the family element I wanted it to the therapy scenes to have a feeling of psychological horror and drama. As for the religious cult elements, that was a negotiation because we didn’t want it to speak too much to the Catholic part to it. But then, film scores can be very subjective, so we were very careful as to make sure that we were all in tune with the final result.

Why did you decide to take a mostly stripped-down approach to “Boy Erased” as opposed to a more symphonic one?

DS: Our decisions on orchestration and texture are mostly informed by cinematography, editing, and performances in the film. Is the aesthetic of the film expansive and open, or intimate and internal? Boy Erased was definitely the latter. That said, we love trying to be as minimal as possible – using the orchestra and being more symphonic we feel should be saved for climaxes or even unsuspecting moments – especially since nowadays it’s so easy to dial it in using midi samples, and the sound of the big Hollywood orchestra for 2 hours can often be numbing and forgettable. The sound of 8 cellos playing a part is obviously very different than say, 3 players or even 1 soloist. We do a lot of experimentation figuring out what communicates the sentiment needed – and we love to try and surprise the audience with unsuspecting scores. It’s quite common to want to “fill in the gaps” when writing film music – as if the music might feel “more sophisticated” if it has more parts. But we don’t think that’s the case. It’s the single, specific performances that we really find crucial – knowing when it’s the ‘right’ one takes years of sophisticated listening, performing, study, and training.

How important were themes to this score?

DS: As with many of our films we try to be subtle with themes. In “Boy Erased,” there are typical melodic themes, but also textural or instrumental themes. Sometimes it’s just enough to hear an instrument or a particular sound again in order for the audience to be reminded of a certain character/emotion/story line. For example, there is a theme for Jared’s internal struggle played on 2 violins and 1 church organ pedal (a rather strange orchestration!) We hear it when the pastors come to their house to tell the family to send their child to conversion therapy. The same music is heard again in the film when Jared goes for a jog and has his first real meltdown. That piece is played for a third and final, time by a whole orchestra when Jared is at Cameron’s mock funeral and we can see he’s strongly contemplating leaving. These three scenes are related by Jared’s anxiety – but the melody/orchestration is not necessarily a leitmotif where we need to hear it every time we see that character on the screen. It’s just one of many anxiety themes we wrote for him. It’s our job to know when and where it is suitable to have these themes return. And to do that, long discussions and agreements need to be reached with the director – to make sure the team is all on the same page.

How did you want the music to play Jared’s parents?

DS: We discussed the music for Jared’s parents as being warm and searching, with a hint of “something isn’t quite right.” His parents are on a similar personal journey, struggling with their own beliefs in their own way. We get the sense that his parents really do want to help him, really do love him, and really are doing their best to help him.

How did you want your music to reflect the militaristic routine that the program puts these people through?

DS: Coming up with music for LIA (Love In Action) was challenging in that although many of us may not agree with these camps, there are still over 3000 of them – which means a lot of people believe they are perhaps successful at “converting people.” We discussed with Joel that we should portray LIA with an “open mind” of sorts. We agreed that it’s not our place to portray LIA as a terrible place – the audience can formulate that opinion for themselves should they desire. Perhaps a work of art reaches people more deeply if they are left to figure things out on their own. It was extremely important to us also not to mock the camps or any religious doctrines. So we decided to be very subtle: a military snare drum when the attendees are being lined up or bossed around like soldier recruits…or quirky pizzicatos and confusing rhythms for when they draw their genograms, which illustrate their dysfunctional and perhaps abusive families.

Did you want to use voices to capture the idea of not-so heavenly Christianity in the score?

DS: We recorded a small group of boys singing rhythmical vowels and consonants that we could layer into the score. The idea there was to just give a sense of church music to the score, since religion is a strong aspect to this film, but also to add the inevitable human connection that vocal music achieves. The sound of the boy’s voices in particular, also carries a sense of innocence and fragility that we thought reflected Jared in so many ways. In speaking with Joel, we all agreed that there was no reason to go too ‘religious’ with the score – just to gently nod in that direction.

Your use of the piano is especially haunting in conveying loneliness. What made that instrument important here?

DS: There are really two types of piano we hear in the score. The grand piano recordings for this score were played by a professional pianist on a large Steinway piano in Brooklyn. That piano has a harder, more stoic, classical sound that we found worked best for some of the bigger, more expansive pieces and the more rhythmic, driving pieces as well. The other piano recordings are performed by either one of us on our studio uprights – super close-miced and often with their dampers on which gives a soft percussive sound, leaving strange harmonics ringing all over the place. These pieces often feel much more, intimate but also more strange and otherworldly.

Much of “Boy Erased” is watching Jared try to find his own voice. How did you want to capture his frustration and boiling anger?

DS: One of our favorite aspects of the film right away was Lucas Hedges performance. Often his perpetually furrowed brow was all we needed for inspiration! He is down-to-earth and relatable, approaching difficult situations with maturity and intelligence, but he is also so fragile and troubled. There’s so much bubbling constantly in his mind, and it’s all portrayed flawless by Hedges, so we didn’t feel the need to “help” film in that sense. We chose to create these meditative, cyclical pieces to compliment his incessant thinking and processing. There are many syncopated rhythms and different musical characters diving in and out, giving the impression of gears turning.

There’s always the threat of what awaits Jared should he truly reveal himself. How did you want to capture that impending dread of potentially being thrown out of his house and sundering the relationship with his parents?

DS: It wasn’t too difficult to do this especially since everybody’s acting performances are so strong and engaging. However, there are many aspects to the music that create dread. Regurgitating melodic ideas over and over with slight infractions exhibits a kind of “stuck in the mud” feeling… Also, some of the more Beethoven-esque piano pieces have more slowly churning dark chord structures. There is also a heavy ‘weight’ to the performances from the musicians which dramatizes the heaviness on Jared’s shoulders.

Do you think you have a particular talent for playing characters who don’t fit in with society’s morays, or outrightly rebel against them?

DS: Haha! Yes, we’d say we lean towards the more conflicted protagonists! We especially love to score films with multi-faceted characters. It really opens the playing field for us creatively. “Boy Erased” is full of them.

Did what’s happening in this country add to the dread, anger and tragedy that you instilled in the score as well?

DS: Yes we can safely say that what’s happening in this country made us really think quite carefully about the musical choices we made. It also inspired us greatly to do our absolute best – as we imagined people from all walks of life coming to see the film – with us trying to reach them. We must add that we had an innate underlying sense of honor and gratitude for being a part of this relevant film.

Joel, how important was it for the music not to say, “This is evil,” or make an obvious emotional statement?

JE: Though it was important not to go too far with that, there were times I felt that the music needed a bit of emotional judgment to it. As for the therapy moments I was glad to have those quiet moments for the danger and the confusion. So there were are parts where I didn’t want to go too far, but I didn’t want an obvious laden score either.

Did you want to make a moral judgment with the score?

DS: Absolutely not. There are over 3000 of these programs still in existence, which means a significant number of people in this country believe these programs work. Change is something that comes when you reach out to people and meet them on their own ground – not when you coerce them into believing something. We believe our job as composers on this film was to encourage audience members to have their own thoughts and not to tell them how to feel. Hopefully a film like this that avoids condemnation or finger pointing, but rather tells an honest story that will encourage dialogue rather than make people pull further back into their own echo chambers.

It’s amazing that these straight “conversions” are still going on in this country. How do you hope the effectiveness of “Boy Erased” and its score might help change minds?

JE: I think that the music shows that this “therapy” can be a bad thing. Yet we all wanted to make this as accessible as possible to document a truth while letting the viewers decide for themselves. So I didn’t want the film or music to be too “avant-garde” for lack of a better word, or to come across as an “indie” movie. To accomplish that, I trusted my instincts and my composers. I love that Bensi and Saunder didn’t write an obvious score, I also loved that it has this swinging string element to it – a pendulum-like aspect of a mind that’s swinging between those ideas and the changes he’s responding to.

Bensi and Saunder, you did an impressive job with such supernatural projects as “The Autopsy of Jane Doe.” Could you tell us about handling genre material, and what was it like taking on “Fear of the Walking Dead?”

DS: We had a blast working on “The Autopsy Of Jane Doe”. The Director André Øvredal gave us some direction but generally told us to “just do your thing!” We wanted to try some experiments with referencing orchestrations like Stravinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring” or referencing (Andre’s idea) the religious undertones in the music when the ark is opened in “Raider’s Of The Lost Ark.” “Fear Of The Waking Dead” was a fun challenge in that it definitely isn’t just a horror genre film but more a human drama with some horror moments. We’re very happy with the way the score turned out – it was a long haul to do 16 episodes but worth it!

“Ozark” has just been renewed for a third season on Netflix. What was your approach for combining rural music with the idea of big city avarice being visited upon the boonies?

DS: For “Ozark,” we started conceptualizing the sound even before they started shooting season 1. From Jason Bateman’s expertly communicated ideas of the tone of the show, we started coming up with sound and texture ideas. We made recordings of “junk” percussion (metal pipes, plastic containers, etc.) around the streets of New York – we used this dry, often distorted relentless percussion as the backbone of the score – maybe referencing old boats, noisy jet skis, campers, abandoned cars and trailer parks. We then layered it with more organic sounding instruments often played in strange ways – lots of slapping and smacking our poor instruments, and then we added further layers of super distorted analog synths and other manipulated pads. We save the rare – more organic, orchestral-ish moments for grandiose establishing shots of the landscape – or moments when a main character is seemingly “out of options” and emotionally distraught. But the essence of the Ozark score is relentless anxiety and DARKNESS!

Another notable Netflix show to feature your work is “Chef’s Table.” Did you both have a love of fine dining before taking on the project? And do you think your style is especially apt for so many luscious shots of slo-mo cooking?

DS: Well we certainly love good food and jump at any occasion for a food adventure! The Corrado Assenza episode in season 4 takes place in Sicily. It was such joy to work on the music that we tried to give an Italian flare to wherever possible. Danny is half Italian and has spent much time in Italy and also in Sicily – so this episode was especially close to his heart. The Albert Adria episode was right up our alley – another tortured, amazing soul! We had a great time with these episodes – a lot of work as they are pretty much wall-to-wall score, but satisfying because the music really plays front and center.

Documentaries have really showcased your work from “LA 92” to “The Wolfpack” and “Amanda Knox.” Do you think they allow even more musical experimentation?

It’s hard to say whether documentaries allow for “more” musical experimentation. With all the dialogue and explaining that needs to happen in most documentaries, there is sometimes little room for music to flourish. But we’ve been really lucky to have opportunities to score some fantastic documentaries where we did have some creative wiggle room. “LA 92” was particularly exciting in that the music was really the narrator – guiding the audience through the story. The directors TJ & Dan were so excited and open to something unique, bold and big! This was another project that we felt spoke so much about our current state of affairs, and also left a lot of room for important dialogue and deep introspection.

What can we expect for your work on the second season of “American Gods,” and did the fantastical template that Brian Reitzell set up for the first episodes provide a road map of sorts?

DS: Brian Reitzell most certainly set a beautiful playing field for us – we loved the first season and thought it was groundbreaking. He has helped set the stage for that creative freedom and we are taking full advantage of it! We’re really having blast with Season 2. There are really no limits in this crazy show, so we’re doing some wild stuff.

Your work really is like few scores out there, especially in the indie world. How do you maintain that sense of originality? And what do you think makes a collaboration like yours work after so many projects?

DS: Well we often freely admit to people when they ask us “how we do it” that actually, most of the time – we really don’t know what we’re doing! Obviously we now have a lot of experience and the technical aspects of scoring films are pretty second nature. However, we really make an effort with every film or show to take ourselves out of our comfort zone and get back to NOT knowing what we’re doing, because that’s where we excel! Picking up new instruments, working with new groups and individual musicians, using new gear… Because we really don’t have any formal training as “film scorers” we never really do anything the way it’s traditionally done. There were times we felt uncomfortable with that, and felt that we’d never make it past a certain point, but now we have really started to embrace it and we just keep adding all our weird techniques to our weird toolbox!

Danny and Saunder

As far as our collaboration – we are fully conscious of how lucky we were to have found each other. We know these kinds of collaborations commonly go sour after a certain amount of time – usually due to ego issues. We both have easy egos, meaning they exist, but we don’t let them get in the way of our collaboration (both with each other AND with filmmakers). You can’t make a good score, or film for that matter if you are unable to work with other creative people – or too proud to make big changes and experiment based on others’ ideas.

Do you hope your score for “Boy Erased” helps people see the light about the effects of “conversion” therapy?

DS: Yes! We hope our score helps the film to reach as many audiences as possible so that they can become aware of conversion therapy and how it continues to be so prevalent in the US today.

Be converted to the music of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans when you listen to the score of “Boy Erased” on Backlot Records HERE. Then unwrap their first “Gift” for Joel Edgerton HERE

Listen to more Bensi and Saunder soundtracks HERE

Watch “Ozark” and “Chef’s Table” on Netflix.

Visit Bensi and Saunder’s Website HERE

Thanks to Alexander Portillo for his interview transcription

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws