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Audio: Interview with Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson

Do, 25/04/2019 - 03:02

ON THE SCORE is sponsored by La-La Land Records

Of all the 1980’s reboots that have become Hollywood’s new rage, perhaps none delivers the excitingly nostalgic or vibrantly fresh kick of “Cobra Kai.” Continuing the “Karate Kid” grudge match between Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence while adding a new generation of teen rivalry and romance to the mix, this film-to-net continuation of “The Karate Kid” saga from the retro brain trust of “Hot Tub Time Machine” became last year’s biggest viewing surprise by not sweeping the in-joke leg. Instead, the show was a grand ratings slam of heart, humor and action that paid ironically affectionate tribute to a beloved franchise while taking its spirit in a new direction.

The same can be said of the musical styles applied to “Cobra Kai” by its twin dragons Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson. Hailing from the dojo of composer Christophe Beck where they’d team on additional cues for such scores as “Ant-Man,” “Frozen” and “Hot Tub Time Machine 2,” the composers would forge their own separate destinies with “Son of Zorn,” “Adam Ruins Everything,” “Bad Exorcists” and “F*&% the Prom” while teaming on the series “Sing It!” Their strong background in symphonic action, teen spirit and rock grooves have now forged spirits like never before with “Cobra Kai.” Capturing the both the Oriental spirituality and can-do heroism of Bill Conti’s original scores and iconic themes, Birenberg and Robinson also hit the guitar groove anthems and power pop rhythms that made “The Karate Kid’s” album the definition of the 80’s movie tune energy. Balancing the instrumental tones between Miyagi-Do’s philosophies of self-defense with Cobra Kai’s strike-first fury, the duo’s impressive balance between fighting montage energy, orchestral power, contrasting guitar characters and ethnic meditation are far more than the one-note approach that could have been, reflecting a love for the “Karate Kid” and what it still represents to fans old and new.

Now as “Cobra Kai” returns for a second kick-ass season on YouTube Premium, Birenberg and Robinson continue to open up their sound for the growing emotional dimensions of the LaRusso-Lawrence conflict, which grows to a boiling when the merciless Kai sensei Martine Kreese comes back to his stomping grounds. It’s a demonstration of bringing an iconic 80’s score-soundtrack approach into new Valley that shows Birenberg and Robinson as crane stance composers to beat in the 80’s homage competition – a Zen of musical homage and a rocking updated attitude that they now discuss on a new episode of On the Score.

Click above to Listen Now or Click Here to Download

Leo Birenberg (L) and Zach Robinson (R)

Buy the COBRA KAI Season 1 and 2 Soundtracks HERE and HERE

Watch “Cobra Kai” on YouTube Premium HERE

Rock out in the Dojo of the Whiskey A Go-Go on Wednesday, June 12th as Zach and Leo perform “Cobra Kai” Live HERE

Visit Leo Birenberg’s website HERE and Zach Robinson’s website HERE

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Disasterpeace

Wo, 17/04/2019 - 22:36

For one of Hollywood’s rising musical talents, Disasterpeace (aka Staten Island native Richard Vreeland) has a way of energetically reaching into the cinematic past. He’d begin his career in the indie videogame realm with eccentrically rhythmic scores to “Bonk: Brink of Extinction,” “Shoot Many Robots” and “KRUNCH.” But it was Disasterpeace’s bouncy eight-bit “chipmusic” sound for acclaimed “FEZ” that caught the ear of writer-director David Robert Mitchell, who was looking for a composer that could crawl into the 70s and 80’s skin of classic horror synth scores. The resulting, eerily electrified collaboration on 2014’s “It Follows” not only alerted film critics and viewers to the duo’s talents, but also jump started a new wave of throwback computer-generated scores typified by “Stranger Things.”

Having since generated more game scores and performance pieces, Disasterpeace has finally made his re-entry into the cinematic world this year, impressively transforming his expected identity in the process. The first soundtrack to see release is Netflix’s “Triple Frontier,” with director J.C. Chandor (“A Most Violent Year”) subverting what could have been a typical south of the border drug-smashing action picture into a band of military brothers’ morally conflicted quest for the contraband treasure they think is owed them. Disasterpeace brings on furious, war-like drumming (with a helicopter assist from Metallica’s Lars Ulrich) and rock guitar licks for a to-the-second planned heist that of course goes haywire, It’s a dark, gritty score brimming with anger and tension, paying off the percussive demands of musical merc action while accenting the intelligence and emotion that Chandor uses to re-energize a well-worn action genre,

But no Disasterpeace score is as audacious, or as positively old school as the film noir strains that can now be found “Under the Silver Lake.” Where its writer-director David Robert Mitchell drew from classic chain mail horror films for “It Follows,” the cinematic influences in “Silver Lake” are all over the classic map from “Vertigo” to “Chinatown” and “The Long Goodbye” (with a dash of “Repo Man” thrown in) as a slacker turns detective to solve the disappearance of a beautiful blonde apartment neighbor. It’s a long journey down the hipster neighborhood rabbit hole, and Los Angeles at large that has no end of irony as it decodes self-help cults, self-obsessed movie culture and the insane vanity of the rich and powerful, as overseen by a wary homeless figure and a twisted name-that-tune musician.

As his epic, eccentric score goes “Under the Silver Lake,” Disasterpeace channels his inner Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Miklos Rozsa and throwback videogame love into a rabbit hole of beyond esoteric clues and reversed-record messages, meeting a gallery of Robert Altman-worthy eccentrics to play in the bargain. Lushly channeling the romantic mystery maestros’ styles, Disasterpeace brings his own witty inventiveness to “Silver Lake” with whistling, sci-fi synths and just a bit of videogame love – all adding to a uniquely satiric, hallucinatory miasma that pays as much tribute to classic Hollywood scoring as it does the composer’s futuristic inventiveness. It’s a witty homage that shows a singular musical voice seemingly capable of any stylistic transformation for an always-weird La-La Land.

Tell us about your own musical beginnings, and what drew you to scoring?

It really started for me with a love for making stuff. I spent my childhood drawing, writing stories and experimenting with software. I spent a large portion of my teenage years freelancing, making websites and logos. But I was always surrounded by music. My family was in the music ministry at our church, and I eventually took up the guitar in high school. Everything up to that point had me pursuing a passion for graphic design, but as my love for making music blossomed I eventually decided to pursue that instead. I stumbled into my first soundtrack gig by responding to a wanted ad on a message board, but I never thought that scoring was a possibility until I found myself doing it.

How did videogames like “Hyper Light Drifter” and “”Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake” become the medium to start your career in? And how do you think they made you grow as a composer?

My very first soundtrack gig 13 years ago was a game, and I’m still working on games. It’s a very challenging and fun medium to contribute to. There’s something to be said about the history of videogame music too, and how it evolved from simple, technologically restricted beginnings. I came to appreciate these early stylings, which are sometimes called “chipmusic.” It dramatically influenced my own work. I think videogames really got me to think about music contrapuntally. When you’re emulating a style that limits you to a few voices and simple sounds, everything that remains needs to be quite strong. It also delayed my foray into the production side of things, and got me to focus more on composition. I was able to perform my music live for many years as part of a small but international scene of very enthusiastic people. I could really go on – it was an awesome experience and I owe so much to the medium of games and to many of the smaller scenes in its orbit.

How did the name “Disasterpeace” come about?

I had a habit as a kid of creating fictional entities just so I could make designs. So I wanted to form a band, and I started with a name and a logo. The band never came to fruition but the name has stuck for over a decade. It’s a play on ‘masterpiece’, with the added twist of ‘peace’ to give it a bit of a dual nature.

What do you think it was about “FEZ” that drew David to your work, and made him believe you’d be ideal to score a live action horror movie?

I think he was looking for a sound that had an emotional range suitable for the film. The music in “FEZ” is intimate at times, but can also be very aggressive and menacing. I think having a breadth like that worked well for “It Follows.” In that way there is a fundamental similarity between the two scores, but many distinctive differences as well. I think I was lucky to connect with a film director who is an avid player of videogames.

Could you talk about scoring “It Follows” in a way that replicated the classic synth-horror sound of the 70’s and 80’s? And was that genre of scores something you’d always been interested in?

I never spent much time with horror films, and so I came to the project with very little knowledge of the genre. I knew the “Psycho” theme, and I had listened a bit to the band Goblin and dug that. So I think in a way there is some of that spirit in there, but I tried to take a deliberately ignorant approach to scoring the movie. I would only listen to the temp once or twice before writing something new for the scene. In this way I could hopefully build on a distillation of why the temp works, without mimicking it too closely. I think it’s a good practice to try and not be too on the nose. Some of the temp music references were from 80s films, but most of them weren’t. The anachronistic nature of the film was something that I was always sitting with. And the aesthetic of the score was in part a byproduct of real world limitations. We only had a few weeks to score the movie and the only thing I knew I could do in such a short period was to build a synth score. I learned how to build my own synth patches in college and had refined that ability while working on “FEZ.”

What did you think when “It Follows” caused an explosion of retro-scores?

I really tried to be deconstructive about how we were being nostalgic, and so it was not my desire for the score to come off as overly retro. I’m glad if people were inspired by it but I think the characterization is at odds with what my intentions were. But that’s life!

“Triple Frontier” was your next feature score to come out. What drew J.C. Chandor to your work, especially given how different this subject was from “It Follows?”

This score was actually written after ‘Under the Silver Lake.” JC’s editor Ron Patane was fond of my work and shared it with JC, including the music from that aforementioned film. I’m not entirely sure what drew them to me to be honest. I think they wanted something bold and different. They didn’t want it to sound like every other blockbuster movie. For a lot of the team, including JC and myself, this was our first time working on a big action movie. I’m always looking for novelty in my work and I think that’s what brought us together. When you’ve never done something before, it makes it a little easier to do something different.

What do you think separates “Triple Frontier” from the usual mercenary action films, and how did you want to take a different route from the usual electronic-ethnic beats we get from movies set in South America – while at the same time paying off the demands of an “drug” action score?

I’m honestly not entirely sure, as I’m not well versed in action films, mercenary or otherwise. I think it’s probably a bit of a throwback because of the way we used motifs. We had the benefit of working with Suzana Peric, a veteran music editor who knows JC well and brings a ton of thoughtfulness and experience to the table. We figured out early on that it wouldn’t benefit the film to use any overtly South American themes. Focusing on the protagonist’s relationships was the most important thing for the score to do, and so aesthetically the score goes in more of a military direction, as that is their background. The grittiness of the score I think helps to sell that they are ex-military mercenaries who are dealing outside of the law.

You do a lot of “tracking” with the characters’ plans to “professionally” get in and get out. How did you want to map out the infiltration of the drug kingpin’s jungle mansion?

This went through a couple of different iterations but what ended up working best was to have plodding music that left lots of space for the characters’ planning and radio talk. Along the way it’s important to have points of interest in the music, especially when you have something slow and methodical. We leaned heavily on a few themes for this – one that characterizes the soldiers’ backgrounds and identities, one that signals that there is trouble ahead, one that is all about greed and money, and the title theme. The title theme is meant to represent the journey that they are on, but is also tied to the drug lord Lorea, who has his own dissonant version of the theme that is usually played out slowly on a jangly guitar. Once we figured out the pacing that we needed, we interwove the score with these different thematic elements. They help to emphasize moment to moment what’s happening and what’s important to take away as an audience member.

Another terrifically suspenseful sequence is when the group tries to get elevation for their helicopter ride over the Andes Mountains. How did you want to get the idea of rising and falling momentum across here?

This scene is very dense visually and sonically, and so we had to pick our spots with the score. I had written music to carry through the whole scene, but in the mix it was decided to pull that out during the second half of the helicopter’s ascent. We actually stumbled into having solo drums over the helicopter falling sequence. I had delivered a work in progress sketch for the cue, in which I had fully accompanied score up until the helicopter begins to fall, at which point there was only drums. I had yet to get around to writing the rest of the parts for this section, but when we all watched the scene together the idea of just drums clicked really well. The drums build in intensity and tempo as the helicopter spirals further and further down and that rise in energy matches what’s happening on screen.

Usually in films like this, the heroes have no problems killing nameless, faceless natives and drug dealers. But here they take pains not to unnecessarily kill anyone – which they do in spite of their best efforts. How did you want to reflect this unexpected level of morality in the score – and the price that comes from breaking that?

This is anything but a usual action film, and I think JC and the entire team brought a lot of thoughtfulness to the characters motivations and to the genre.

Do you think that living in LA is a surreal experience in and of itself?

It definitely was when I was working on ‘Under the Silver Lake’. To work on a film that is set very near where you live is quite bizarre. To drive by those locations, and to ponder on the story, really got me thinking about where the lines get drawn between reality and the wacky world David created for the film.

CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 16: Director David Robert Mitchell attends “Under The Silver Lake” Photocall during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 16, 2018 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Were you a fan of the kind of offbeat 70’s films like “The Long Goodbye” that “Under the Silver Lake” references?

My unfamiliarity with noir was pretty severe, so at the start it was a bit tricky to find a good place to start. David and the editor Julio Perez IV recommended I watch some films to develop a bit of a reference point. And so I watched films like “Citizen Kane,” “Vertigo,” “Taxi Driver” and “Blue Velvet.” I haven’t seen that film you mentioned, but just watching a couple of movies really helped me a lot to get a sense of the attitude and aesthetic that was such a big inspiration for David.

How did you and David come up with the approach for “Silver Lake’s” score?

At first we set out to try a new approach. On “It Follows” we worked from a temp score, and I wanted to experiment this time around with writing material from scratch for David and Julio to cut to. This proved to be very difficult, and the amount of material required to find the right fit for all of the different scenes was a very tall order. So after trying a couple of different styles, we had to go back to the method we knew worked. It’s really crucial to have a strong way to communicate with each other about music, and for us, it’s temp music. David and Julio are a great team, and very well versed in films and music. Riffing on their references is fun and enlightening for me. They always introduce me to tons of material I’m unfamiliar with.

There are a lot of scenes in the film that stand apart, and draw from references that are a bit out of the ordinary for the movie. The temp music for some of these scenes was never quite figured out, and so this made the cues themselves difficult to solve. At times it was hard to figure out what was needed musically and there were definitely a couple that we had to iterate on over a dozen times to get right. But part of that process is having long, interesting conversations about the underlying intent of some of these sequences. You really have to get into the heads of your collaborators, while also acknowledging to some degree that the film itself has developed its own immutable properties. Figuring this stuff out is never quite the same, from project to project, scene to scene, or even minute by minute.

Before scoring “Under the Silver Lake,” did you do a deep dive into the scores of composers like Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa, Max Steiner and Jerry Goldsmith? And were there any particular scores and styles of theirs that stood out for you in determining this score’s classic film noir tone?

I would call it a shallow dive, but it was really crucial for me to have something to grasp onto. On “It Follows” I had at least a vague familiarity of horror which helped me out, but for “Under the Silver Lake” I would say I had even less familiarity with David’s touchstones, so it only made sense to go listen to some things. Discovering the music of a composer like Bernard Herrmann was one of the great joys of the project for me, and I’ve subsequently gone back to watch and listen to some of his other work.

Conversely, how did you want to bring your own take to an iconic musical style, especially when it came to such eccentric touches as whistling and sci-fi like sounds?

It was important to me to try find fun, odd elements for this score that would set it apart. The film music certainly wears its inspirations on its sleeve but there also a lot of disparate ideas at play. I wanted to acknowledge the eclecticism on display through the music as well.

Scoring “Under the Silver Lake” at The Bridge

The recurring whistle motif was actually something I recorded in the production office bathroom. It had a bizarre feeling of being tonal but atonal, and had a nice reverb to it. Sometimes it can be hard to recreate these kinds of spur of the moment ideas, so I ended up just using the voice memo I took with my phone. There are also sections of the score that are the full orchestra accompanying the whistle motif, but the whistle motif has been omitted. I think it will hard for people to figure out where those are, but it’s a fun little tidbit!

What kind of level of cinematic archness and irony do you think your approach gives to the film, especially since you’ve got young characters watching old movies?

Certainly the music contributes to those feelings. By its very nature of being inspired strongly by older music, but with all of its odd contemporary twists, video game sounds, and so forth, I think we were able to concoct something really unique and fun. Despite the irony of it, I can earnestly say that we were channeling things like “The Legend of Zelda” and Alfred Hitchcock in the same breath. And to have the opportunity to take a musical tour of some of David’s strongest inspirations, filmmakers like Fellini and Lynch, was a really difficult but satisfying challenge.

How did you want to convey the idea of patterns and portentous signs?

I had experimented with weaving patterns into the score, but the visuals do such a strong job of that and so I maybe felt less inclined to force the issue there. What the score does try to do is hint at many of the signs and clues that are going on. There are many subtle nods to things, and something like the musical ideas of the song “Turning Teeth” are littered through the film and the score itself. It was also fun finding ways to have the music participating in the visuals of the film. There are some pretty neat Easter eggs worth finding.

What does Silverlake mean to you as a location, and as music? And how do you think that the score captures the strangeness of LA in a bigger picture?

I haven’t spent a ton of time in Silver Lake, but I do have friends there and live about 15 minutes away. I know that place and the scene associated with it loomed large with David, who lived there around the time the screenplay was meant to take place. It’s perhaps a tough sell to an unaware audience but the film was meant to be a period piece, about a very particular period of time in this neighborhood, not too long ago.

What I love about the film is how it plays with the many curiosities and oddities that bubble up around the culture of Hollywood and entertainment. There’s a very dark side there, and historically a lot of cultish, esoteric behavior. LA is an easy target for commentary because of the absurdity of the place, and how concentrated it is. It’s interesting how people behave when the culture of a place, a culture of entertainment, celebrity and personality, can almost border on religion at times, whether they realize it or not.

How did you want to score to peel away the layers of the film’s mystery, to play the progress that Sam is making? And did you want the score to become more hallucinatory along with his discoveries?

The score wears a lot of hats, which is part of what made it such a demanding project. Some of that was maybe self-inflicted, but I knew I wanted the score to participate in the way that the film reveals, suggests, and just generally does things that feel subversive, or like a slight of hand. The music does a ton of foreshadowing, introducing you to characters and themes, and hinting at the unsettling nature of this world we’re about to enter. But what I love is that we also got to participate in a kind of running commentary. The music oftentimes will play very straight and earnest, which can help to sell the absurdity or bizarreness of certain scenes. But there are other times where the music is audibly melting and warping and really trying to get you to notice that the walls are crumbling, that the line between what’s real and what’s not is being blurred and to ask, “Who knows where we are anymore?”

The hallucinatory nature of the score is generally in alignment with the things that are being talked about or visualized, things that are beyond our typical understanding of how the world works. Things that are esoteric, part of the unknown, or only for a select few to know and understand. But it’s also unclear whether Sam is having visions and nightmares at times, or whether these things are a concrete part of his reality. And to play up those questions, and really lean into those scenes, was a particular joy of mine as the composer.

How difficult was it to walk a tightrope where the music wouldn’t fall into outright absurdity or horror?

It was important to establish the language of the score to help in solving some of the darker sequences. I ended up finding and developing an effect that made the score sound like it was melting, and this became a key ingredient in helping to modulate the score from its more noir default setting into a strange, unsettling soup.

There are also some comically bizarre touches that just seemed to work, where perhaps we had enough of a traditional analog that it wasn’t too distracting. One example is the whistling, which starts as a motif associated with the hobo codes, and eventually turns into the solo clarinet melodies that are thematic to the Homeless King. I thought the idea of whistling made sense for the idea of a hobo culture, as it’s very human. But since it was an idea rooted in the esoteric for Sam, it also made sense for it to be somewhat distant and eerie. At some point though, when the rubber meets the road and Sam meets the Homeless King, to switch to a very concrete and dry instrument, like a solo clarinet, seemed to work really well. The fun and earnest nature of the music also helped to sell the absurdity, and perhaps reflect in some way that the Homeless King felt about himself.

Though it’s not scored as such, a remarkable “musical montage” sequence is where the pieces start to get put together using any number of memorable pop-rock and even score hits. Did you play a part in that?

Yes. This was one of the most challenging parts of working on this film, but we’re really happy with how it turned out. As you can imagine this sequence required assistance from many different people. There were initial workshop periods discussing the songs we could potentially use, and the licensing ramifications associated with that. But also there were story and musical considerations, about lyrics and about how songs could effectively flow into each other. It’s more or less possible to transition from any song into any other song at the piano, but it’s certainly not always easy, by any stretch. We had rehearsals with the actors so that they could get used to pacing their dialogue to the music changes and so that the changes in the medley could be paced to their dialogue.

The Songwriter starts the sequence by playing a very loose and improvisatory rendition of Satie’s “Gymnopedies”, arranged for one hand. This was an idea I had that I thought would be a fun way of establishing the character. The Songwriter is someone who could write or play pretty much anything, and perhaps already had. And so in his private moments he might just be noodling around on some of his old hits, or at least that was the thought there. We also made sure to work in thematic material from the score.

It’s hard to describe all of the complexities of this sequence, but on the day of filming David ended up doing a fair bit of adlibbing, so that we had all the coverage that we needed. We even had the musician on set, who played keyboard for the actor’s in-ear monitors, get into makeup so we had some overhead hand coverage for the piano. An unexpected wrench in our plans was that the prop piano was totally without strings, so he couldn’t play the piano by ear at all! He had to try to remember all the hand positions, and he did a remarkable job.

Tell us about a particularly nifty bit where you do a throwback to old Nintendo music.

There are a few, but the most overt one is while Sam is using the Nintendo Power to solve the puzzle of where to find Sarah. One of my earliest ideas was wanting to use different aesthetic elements to represent different aspects of the rabbit hole Sam finds himself going down. Using sounds inspired by classic video games was a great way to do this, and something fun and unique for the score that we had a lot of fun with. It was also fun to make subtle use of it at times, as opposed to being obvious. This played along well with the role games play in the narrative of the film, particularly the monologue by Topher Grace’s character. It’s about how a generation of kids, through playing videogames, were obsessed with finding secrets.

With each score, you seem to assume a completely different musical identity. Is it important for you not to get trapped by the assumptions of what you might be capable of?

It is. I think I’ve always been motivated by how people tend to over categorize, oversimplify and generally just misunderstand artists and their intentions. I relish the challenge and the opportunity to prove myself and others wrong, to surprise people, to interface with new ideas and to allow a new set of requirements to humble me and send my work in a new direction. It’s really important to me that I’m always trying to push my boundaries creatively, to be a little bit uncomfortable and see where that takes me.

“Under the Silver Lake” was very uncomfortable, and an amazing opportunity. To have collaborators who have faith in you, like David had in me to develop a score for a full orchestra with no prior experience, is a remarkable thing. I think there are those who have succeeded through relationship building and public outreach, but that’s never been easy for me. I’m a pretty private person and I like to keep my social circle smaller. So I think for me to be successful, it has to be about taking creative risks and finding collaborators who trust me to take those risks. I was fortunate to have a remarkable team of collaborators on “Under the Silver Lake.”

Lead Orchestrator Kyle Newmaster and Disasterpeace scoring “Silver Lake”

What’s up ahead for you? And what kind of musical genre do you hope to surprise people with next?

I’m working on a game with Heart Machine and Annapurna called “Solar Ash Kingdom,” as well as a film with the director Joaquin del Paso called “A Hole in the Fence.” I’m also diving into an immersive theatre project that I’m excited about. I’m hoping to work more with the human voice in the near future.

If someone played your score for “Under the Silver Lake” backwards, what coded messages might they hear?

You might hear a thing of two if you’re really diligent!

Plunge into “Under the Silver Lake” in theaters and on VOD April 23, with Disasterpeace’s score available on Milan Records HERE. “Triple Frontier” can now be located on Netflix.

Listen to Disasterpeace’s scores for “Triple Frontier” and “It Follows” on Milan Records HERE and HERE

Visit Disastepeace’s web site HERE

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Christopher Young

Do, 04/04/2019 - 21:47

Horror is a genre that’s especially subject to no end of deaths and unholy rebirths. But staying professionally alive in a field that’s always starving for new blood takes uniquely creative survival skills, an eerie energy that Christopher Young has demonstrated in spades with a chilling-centric scoring career begun with the 1982 slasher “The Dorm That Dripped Blood.” Scraping together an impressive orchestral sound given the small budgets of “The Power,” “A Nightmare On Elm Street 2” and “Torment,” Young’s music became the stuff of bloodily orchestral legend with 1987’s “Hellraiser,” his score turning Clive Barker’s torture loving Cenobites into bringers of romantically waltzing rapture.

Young has remained a musically inventive presence over the decades since in horror scoring with “Drag Me To Hell,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and “Sinister,” while showing his equally impressive talent for subjects that didn’t involve corpses and creatures with such diverse works as “The Shipping News,” “Beauty Shop,” “The Man Who Knew Too Little” and “Sleepwalking.” But for a composer with a major league Halloween pumpkin collecting addiction, there’s no bigger desire than to always be pulled back into a malefic playing ground, even if its one that’s become increasingly forbidding to melody over pure shock effect – let alone old blood. But thankfully the “Starry Eyes” directing team of Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer have heard Young’s siren call when trodding upon their first major Hollywood picture for a new visit to the “Pet Sematary.” Where filmmaker Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaption of one of horror maestro Stephen King’s ghastliest stories still stands tall as perhaps the most transgressive studio movie ever with its sight of a boy tyke biting open Fred Gwynne’s throat, this new, exceptionally well made and acted “Sematary” has scares to spare, even if it more acceptably as such transfers the resurrected rage to an adolescent girl.

Where the original “Sematary” announced the shape of experimental scores to come from a studio debuting Elliot Goldenthal, this return to sour ground allows Young to tread two worlds. One is the eerily sympathetic piano picture of a family becoming undone, and the other the nightmarishly sampled feeling of clawing through cursed Native American ground. Far afield from the operatically symphonic terror of “Hellraiser,” Young’s electronic spin on “Pet Sematary” is almost shocking in its subtlety, shape-shifting from harmony to haunting percussion to help the film conjure a mood straight outta classic Universal Horror until it becomes one of the most enjoyably lunatic undead ‘roid rages this side of “Re-Animator.” Leaving that audience participation thrill ride for the movie itself, Young’s inventive score stands tall as a haunting tone poem of spectral voices, growling samples and floor dragging, pipe hitting percussion that weaves an indelibly freaky mood with capturing parental desperation. Better yet, its uncanny music shows a composer whose enthusiasm, and most importantly ability to uniquely scare with his enduring voice is in no danger of being buried in a “Pet Sematary.”

“Pet Sematary” is your first major studio horror film since “Deliver us from Evil.” What’s it like to be in that position, and what do you think attracted the “Sematary” directors to you?

I think it was I’d scored a lot of the films that they loved when they grew up. Perhaps dreamed of working with me, because of the good vibes they got from those movies. I know they are big Sam Raimi fans, so that connection may have helped solidify things. They’re pretty young guys and it was wonderful being an old school guy getting asked to come in and join this team.

Tell us about your collaboration with Kevin and Dennis, especially as you’re dealing with two directors. Were they always of one mind, or did they have different opinions on how the score should go?

Pet Sematary directors Kevin Kölsch (L) and Dennis Widmyer (R)

They were pretty much one minded, of course, there’s going to be differences of opinion but it’s not like they were at opposite ends of the extreme. They were pretty unified and had a clear vision of the direction the “Pet Sematary” score should go in. But the music still went through an incredible evolution over the many months I was on board. We were thinking at first of an approach that was more orchestral. But slowly and surely that morphed into what was primarily an electronic score. I think that happened once the team at Paramount got involved. It was felt that this was the kind of score the picture really needed. Most of the gatherings included quite a lot of people from Paramount and they voiced their opinions, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Verheiden, Randy Spendlove and even the head of film production. At times there were up to eight people whose opinions I had to take in mind. Being back at Paramount was ecstasy. Without a shadow of a doubt, it was heaven on earth being able to be back on the lot to be a part of that team. I loved working on this movie, I adore the directors, I adore the movie, but equally so it was wonderful reuniting with a studio that gave me my first big legit studio break 26 years ago with “Jennifer 8”. That marked the beginning of me being really taken seriously by the major studios. It’d been a while since I’d done a Paramount movie after “The Core” and “Wonder Boys.” Paramount always treated me like family, which was remarkable. Now I’m old enough to realize the value of having the opportunity to come back into that fold. So I wanted to make sure everybody was very happy and to try to deliver the best score I could. And it was a miracle that everyone seemed to be pretty pleased about the way this score turned out.

It’s also been many, many years since you’ve scored a Stephen King movie, that last one being George Romero’s excellent adaptation of “The Dark Half” in 1993. What does Stephen King’s work mean to you, especially when it comes to all of the scores his writing have inspired?

I’m a big collector of fantasy literature. I have a major obsession with classic, primarily English and early American ghost stories. And of course, Stephen King is an author I have a tremendous admiration for, like everybody else on the planet. So there’s no better way to see how I’ve evolved as a composer than to return to a Stephen King film. There’s a major difference between these two scores. “The Dark Half” is entirely orchestral, whereas “Pet Sematary” is entirely electronic. Doing an electronic score for George just wouldn’t have come up because he wanted me to do an orchestral score, as most people did back then because of “Hellraiser” being a symphonic horror score. Being given the opportunity to try to continue to try to reinvent myself thru this electronic world is exciting. I suppose if it had been an orchestral score, my question would have been ‘Can I do it again? What can I do with the orchestra that I haven’t already done?’ The pure electronic thing in horror movies is new and exciting. If I’d been doing nothing but electronic scores my entire career, then maybe this score would have been less exciting for me.

At the time that the first “Pet Sematary” movie came out in 1989, you were actually making a name for yourself with very richly melodic orchestral horror scores, like “Hellraiser”, “The Fly II” and “The Hider in the House” with music that hearkened back to the likes of Bernard Herrmann and James Bernard. Now, What did you think of the first “Pet Sematary” film and Elliot Goldenthal’s score for it?

I have a confession to make. I never saw the original “Pet Sematary” back then. I’m a tremendous fan of Elliot Goldenthal’s music for sure, though I had never heard the “Pet Sematary” score, I knew his later music – not only his film stuff but his concert music. Now, along comes the opportunity to have an interview for the current “Pet Sematary.” The first order of business was to read the script, which I did. The script was exploding in my head along with my ideas of what I thought the score needed accomplish for it. I then thought ‘before I have the interview it might behoove me to finally look at the original movie.” I started watching the original “Pet Sematary” and I said, “I’m going to stop, because this is actually doing more harm than good.” So guess what? I’ve never gotten through the whole original “Pet Sematary.” So I’m not the person to be able to answer any questions about it or its score.

All that I have heard from people who know both films, is that this new one is pretty rockin’. It’s a great, updated take on that story and so I don’t think it’s going to let anyone down who is very much attached to the original one. I think they’re going to find merit in this new one for sure. As far as A/B-ing the scores, of course, Elliot’s score from what little didn’t sound like a very big orchestral. As for me, I’m always trying every time I get up to bat on another horror movie to make sure that I’m trying to outdo myself. Whether I succeed or not, I’m not the one to say. I’ve been doing cues for horror movies for 35 years, I still get as worried with each cue as I did when I did my very first horror movie “The Dorm that Dripped Blood.” I’m always in a state of anxiety as I ask myself “What can I do better? What can I do to improve myself?

One of the big changes in the film is switching the undead killer from a small boy into an adolescent girl. What is the trick of scoring a “bad seed” once an innocent kid turns evil?

The age-old thing that seems to work is doing some kind of a lullaby to capture the child “bad seed” in a way that reflects the youthful innocence they once had. Lullabies have been around since the beginning of time and thusly I did the same. Because as trodden as that road has become, it really works in communicating in innocence in an immediate way, and at the same time has the ability to get messed up as we get further with Ellie down her dark path. Ellie and her family have the only two themes in the movie that you can actually trace developing over the course of the picture.

Given that animals really don’t “act” as such, how did you want to convey Ellie’s sweet cat Church similarly becoming a demonic figure?

While Church doesn’t have a theme as such, I did give him these “sonic blobs” that represent it. There’s bass bending, like a vomiting bass section sound. It’s there somewhat consistently with the cat once it goes evil. Also there’s this manipulated cello modified scream that comes from cello, and it has this horrid kind of “waaaahhh” like a cat scream.

How do you want to reflect the Native American nature of this burial ground?

It’s storyline is about the Wendigo that lives in the forest, this evil spirit that is somehow connected to this ancient burial ground where all of these bad things happen once a deceased body, either animal or human, is buried within it. Because of this ancient Native American aspect of the storyline, that became a part of the sonority of the score. Reflecting that ancient Native American kind of attitude was definitely encouraged by both the directors and producers. It’s done in a subtle way with these deep drums that are supposed to be like Native American tom-toms. Then there are wood flutes that I played and messed around with at my studio to sound like a Native American flute. There are whispers, there’s bells, little metallic wind chimes that also help deliver that feeling of being in the forest where there’s this deathly Native American attitude vibe happening.

You make particularly eerie use of voice in “Pet Sematary” which ranges from moaning to panting.

I used samples to create voices, which I thought was the perfect way to describe Rachel’s memories of her disabled sister. I focused on vocal clusters that could be pitched, hummed, or whispered that could communicate the sense of varying levels of uneasiness to outright terror. I’ve been a big fan of that cluster stuff that always works well in horror movies. There are some moments that are exclusively voices and that’s kind of fun and twisted. I love using the stereo spectrum to have things move around in a way that one could never be done with live musicians, which makes these moments even more effective in the score.

You’ve certainly done outré electronic and sample-based scores going from your unused one for “Invaders from Mars” to the absolute insanity of “Sinister,” “Wilson’s Heart” and now “Pet Sematary.” How do you brainstorm just how weird you can get?

I’ve taken that approach even further for the album of “Pet Sematary” than what you hear in the film itself – which I don’t even think the film could have allowed! But that’s the one thing I love doing when we get to the record, or the movie – those moments where I do get to be malfunctioned in the head. To me, the fun stuff as I’m getting older is always trying to figure out a way to bring something to the table that I haven’t quite heard in movie scores yet. If I succeeded in doing that in “Pet Sematary,” then I’m thrilled. You mentioned “Invaders from Mars,” which was one of the earlier attempts of going off the deep end and trying to create sonorities that you just didn’t hear in movies. It was “music concrete” that actually didn’t use many digital electronic sounds, but was all basically recorded with acoustic instruments that were messed around with. “Sinister,” “Wilson’s Heart” and this movie are all extensions of my desire to try to keep whacking out the sonority world.

As it moves between haunting melody and abstract effects for a killer, “Pet Sematary” particularly recalls your score for “Jennifer 8” that you mentioned before. It’s an approach that stands out when so many horror scores are dissonant from beginning to end.

CY: I appreciate that. It’s extremely rewarding working in scary movies. As a composer who happens to love crazy 20th century concert stuff, it’s the place to be able to explore that world and so I’m very thankful. But there’s this side of me that also lusts to write long melodies, I haven’t done a romantic movie in a long time, nor a drama. But that side of me always is sitting inside of everything. So every time I’m trying to scare you there’s this person who finds an equal amount of joy in writing in music that makes you weep. So of course, whenever there is an opportunity to introduce something melodic or tonal that addresses a different level of the emotional experience in a scary movie, I’m all there.


A lot of horror films are not held together by melodies. But they never really have been. However, some really catchy motifs and some great tunes have been written for scary movies. For me, the best composers for that genre realize the value of using melody and chords and triads as a way to take you to a place that clusters could just never take you to. When I was doing films like “Jennifer 8,” “The Fly II” and certainly “Hellraiser” was that these were tragedies as much as they were horror films. I owe it all to “Hellraiser” at the end of the day for giving me the first opportunity to express what precisely you and I are talking about here. There is more to horror films than just scaring the audience. Great horror films have to sympathize with someone. If it’s a monster movie, then we actually care about the monsters. They’re not just vicious mad men, (although slasher films are) but they are characters with an inherit tragedy. And if a composer is doing his job right, then that feeling will be there. I mean, the score for “The Bride of Frankenstein” wouldn’t be what it was if there wasn’t a romantic element to Franz Waxman’s work. And on and on it goes.

In that way, do you think that “Pet Sematary” is as much about a family tragedy as much as a killer kid coming back from the dead?

That’s what the story is about, for sure. You’ll notice the score really doesn’t play the tragedy. But if I had done “Pet Sematary” around the same time I did “Hellraiser” the music probably would have been more inclined to speak of those tragic emotions in a much more recognizable way. But it’s much more subtle in this movie because times have changed. The music can’t be as open and extraverted emotionally today as one used to be able to be in the 1980s, let alone in the 1940s. The tricky thing is that I had to dial this emotion down, even though the story’s tragedy is what I caught on to. Because I’m a father myself, the part of the story that knocked me solidly out was about what the father goes through for his daughter. I thought about what I would do if I were that father, and I was given the opportunity to bring my daughter back to life. What would I do? Would I sign on the dotted line and bury her up there in that ancient burial ground and have her come back regardless of being told what the consequences might be? I don’t know, but that gives the film this heavy tragedy, which I still didn’t hit too hard. But that was the smart thing to do. The way the score turned out in the movie is exactly the way it should have been I think. It had to do with the excellent direction I got, not only from the two directors, but as well from the entire Paramount team. They directed me perfectly in order to deliver a score that seems to be the right one for this movie.

How do you remain an elder statesman of the genre while keeping it fresh enough to still be viable to still get studio movies like “Pet Sematary?”

Well, first of all, fortunately, even though I’ve done as many horror films as I have. I have had the opportunities throughout my career to work on films that are not horror. I know that’s what I’m best remembered for, but I have had the opportunity to move away from horror films on occasion. So that when I come back to them, it’s not like that’s all I’ve been doing. But because of that I’m not burned out by them. What does burnout mean? Does that mean you stop being able to think anymore? The musical part of your brain is burnt to a crisp and it’s no longer functioning? No. I still have that all very much in my head, I still think of music of the time, all day long. So, I move away from it, I’m not exclusively a horror guy. And when I’m not working on movies, the things I do on my own are not horror-based. So when I return, fortunately, there’s this youthful enthusiasm that’s still there. So it’s the combination of having the youthful enthusiasm for a genre that I have not burnt out on, coupled with the fear of failing, you know? That keeps me on my toes and trying always to outdo myself, always trying on each cue to make it the best that I’m able to make it within the confine of working in a business where perfection is not possible. It’s not possible if you have write two minutes a day to write perfect music, But you can try your best and the composers who I like the most are ones who consistently always try their best, who never stop evolving. Who are always taking each and every note that they commit to tape or to paper very seriously. They got my vote, whether they get awards or not. They’re my favorites.

“Pet Sematary” opens on April 4, with Christopher Young’s score forthcoming on CD and Digital via Paramount Music HERE, and on LP form Waxwork Records HERE.

Find Christopher Young’s soundtracks HERE

Visit Christopher Young’s web site HERE

Special thanks to Max Blomgren, Mackenzie Kirk, Vee Noriega and to Sabrina Hutchison for her interview transcription

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Michael Abels

Ma, 25/03/2019 - 18:30

(photo by Ray Costa)

The definition of come-from-where success for many concerned, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” revealed a TV-centric comedian who could turn satire into a socio-political cinematic knife. Equally captivating was the work of modern classical composer Michael Abels, who enlightened the body bidding of a sunken place with uniquely twisted music that truly got under the cultural skin. A box office and Oscar success with all audiences that racially redefined the horror genre, the utter, sinister originality of “Get Out” and its score made us wonder how Peele and Abels could possibly top it.

Now with “Us,” the answer comes from America’s literal underground as a nation-encompassing lookalike legion of the “tethered” emerge to take long-simmering vengeance. As opposed to playing the same tune, the color that counts here for Peele and Abels is orange, as humanity itself falls under the scissor-wielding mute killers by way of a bizarro underworld – with the Wilson family under particularly lethal focus. Wife and mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) must face off against her childhood trauma come back in the form of a raspy-voiced double, whose own “family” will pursue father, daughter and son down a literal rabbit hole.

Music plays an even bigger part in “Us,” as Michael Abels moves between slithering melody and off-kilter Baroque instrumentations, music the lets us know something angry is lurking under the surface of gorgeous vacation homes and an amusement park town. With the gibbering tethered given voice with a choral “Anthem” every bit as creepy as “Get Out’s” use of “Run Rabbit,” Abels impressionistic, chamber-like work captures his other modern classical identity, while paying off the dissonant rage of today’s horror scoring once all hell breaks loose, and then keeps going from there. There’s also no small feeling of ironic musical humor for the have and have-not point that Peele is ultimately making. It’s relentless, smartly inventive thrill ride score, that doubles down on Abels’ composing promise, climaxing in a dazzlingly lethal dance-off as Peele warps the family’s preferred hip hop listening into musical combat unlike any other.

Now Michael Abels reflects on a new collaboration for an auteur steadily transforming himself into a new, multicultural generation’s mesh of Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling, as given a distinctively scary and ironic musical voice that lets us hear the real monsters as “Us.”

How did “Get Out’s” instant success affect you as a budding film composer? And do you what you learned on it made “Us” easier to dive into?

The success of “Get Out” had a life-changing effect on me, although it was gradual. As a result, I’ve been able to devote my life full-time to being a composer and because that has been a lifelong dream, I’m blessed beyond belief. What I learned on “Get Out” was the musical mind of Jordan Peele and to understand what kind of music excites him. As a result, in approaching “Us”, I already had a good understanding of what musical choices would be able to help him tell his story most effectively.

How do you think that “Us” shows how Jordan has developed as a writer-director? Would you say your collaboration was the same this time out?

I think that “Us” shows that Jordan Peele is what I would describe as fearlessly creative. He’s not going to settle for doing anything expected and I’m delighted by that aspect of his creative personality. Our collaboration on “Us” was similar in some ways to “Get Out.” For example, for “Us” I wrote some music for Jordan based off of reading the script and he started making some choices based on that. So, music was very much a part of the pre-production as it was in “Get Out”. Another way it was similar is that Jordan’s very clear about what he thinks makes music work in a film and in horror and so, the types of notes I would get from him about what he liked and what he didn’t were consistent.

“Get Out” began with the memorable use of the 1920’s tune “Run Rabbit.” “Us” starts with the equally striking, but original theme song “Anthem.” Can you tell us about writing this Gregorian chant-sounding piece, what you wanted it to reflect and what its words mean?

That was an example of one of the pieces that I wrote for Jordan to listen to just based off reading the script before they started shooting. But unlike the main title theme of “Get Out”, the lyrics of “Anthem” from “Us” don’t mean anything. I made them up. The reason is because the music isn’t meant to sound like any particular culture over another one. Although, the nature of the style of music makes it sound more western than non-western. But the reason it sounds that way is because it’s meant to conjure up the feeling of an organized movement of people preparing for battle. And so in a sense, it’s a battle anthem. And it’s the anthem of the tethered although at the beginning of the film, we don’t know that. All we know is that there’s a bunch of people and they sound organized. And they sound organized and unhappy!

But there are also some deliberate non-western elements in the anthem. It starts out with just children’s voices alone, which is another great Jordan Peele juxtaposition of something that is supposed to be happy and friendly in a context that is clearly meant to make you unsettled. And then as the anthem grows, a very kind of seductive rhythm enters, definitely not a march. It’s a very syncopated, tribal rhythm designed to let you know that this music refuses to be pigeonholed into one culture. And that was important because as Lupita’s doppelgänger character says in response to the question, “Who are you people?” She smiles dryly and says, ”We’re Americans!” It’s very pointed humor that’s there for a reason.

Like “Get Out,” “Us” has a slow, though relatively shorter burn to where the terror gets going – and then doesn’t stop. How did you want to reflect that pacing, while not making the score to exhaustingly tense?

Michael Abels and Jordan Peele (photo by Ray Costa)

With any piece of score I do, Jordan and I discuss a lot about telegraphing to the audience. And I think it’s super important in any horror or suspense film how you deliver the scare, whether it’s with slow, uneasy dread or whether it’s a jump that you don’t see coming. And every moment of terror or fright in the film was carefully crafted by Jordan to deliver according to that plan. So depending on the type of fear the audience needs to experience, the score pacing reinforces and helps support the type of scare it is.“Us” is not broken up like “Get Out” with some scenes of pure comedy that are done without score. In “Us”, the comedic moments are briefer, and so the score is paced according to what the characters are experiencing. When the characters are under threat, the score is terrifying. When the characters are taking a well-needed breather to get their bearings, the score backs off and lets them figure out what’s going on. I paced the music according to the pace of each scene.

How did you want to musically separate the main characters from their doppelgangers, as well as to distinguish the tethered family’s lethal abilities?

Early on, we had explored whether there was a way to have a duality, in that the musical theme might be done one way in the everyday world, and another way in the tethered world. But ultimately, the story is about this tethered rising up into the everyday world. So that paired theme concept wasn’t really executed, because you have to deal with the emotional experience the characters are having, rather than a concept. But the score where we are in the tethered underpass world and the score has a lot more elements of sound design. That comes from the sonic experience you have when you’re in a tunnel and things are rumbly and reverberating. So there’s a definite difference to above ground score versus below.

Was it important to give the “tethered” some kind of humanity as well?

That was crucial and I found myself empathizing with them a lot. I think that’s the beauty of the story that Jordan is telling. He realized that we would feel both fear of and compassionate for the tethered and that that’s confusing. So there were places in the film where we discussed whether this was a moment where the score needed to identify with the tethered rather than be afraid of them.

Given the chillingly raspy voice that Adelaide’s tether speaks with, was it important to make sure the score sonically wouldn’t get in the way of her affected speech?

One hundred percent. It’s an incredible voice that Lupita brought to that character. And it had scoring challenges because it’s a raspy whisper. There are key scenes– both the scene in the underpass where she is telling the story of the tethered and then earlier on right after the initial home invasion, when she explains who they are, where she has these long soliloquies in her raspy voice and I had to be very cognizant of how to find a sonic world that would complement rather than compete with that voice.

Would you say that this score draws more on your modern classical background?

There are more of the types of orchestral effects that you would find in 20th-Century concert music in the score to “Us”. So by that definition, yes.

Michael Abels composing Get Out

Conversely, how important was it to make “Us” work as a traditional horror score. And how did you want to balance that approach between melody and more impressionistic fear?

The way I score a scene is very immediate. I’m trying to channel the emotions of the character as they’re having an experience. When we have emotion, our emotions may be informed by what we know intellectually. But nonetheless, it’s very visceral and unfiltered. So, when I’m scoring a scene, I’m not considering whether it’s important to give a nod to traditional horror, or Impressionism or anything. I’m only thinking what music is going to convey this emotion. The analysis of what worked comes after the fact.

Tell us about your spectral use of voices and chorus here, as well as eerie use of the violin and the cimbalom. In a way, did you want them to speak for the wordless “tethered?”

Jordan is really drawn to voices and vocal effects, and he loves strings. I think, especially because of the strings, I think of Bernard Herrmann. The cimbalom and the violin both have significant parts in the score and it was fun writing for them. The key to making it sound evil is the dissonance that’s present in both the harmonies and the melodies.

“Us” certainly has no lack of satiric humor to it, as well some jokes for geeky movie fans. Do you think there’s any humor in your score when it comes to seeing the tethered try to become the originals – especially when it comes to Elizabeth Moss’ character?

Completely. That scene is a classic Peele-ian joke, where there’s something funny out of the juxtaposition of elements that are absolutely surreal together. I really enjoy helping Jordan deliver humor in that way. I saved scoring that scene of Elisabeth Moss and the mirror for the end of a recording session, on a day filled with otherwise very dissonant music. The violins were rewarded after playing horrifying effects all day with playing this wonderfully syrupy classic Hollywood-sounding theme. Although little did they know it would accompany such a disturbing image on-screen.

When Adelaide goes down the literal rabbit hole, you could have taken some fairy tale approach to the music, but chose to play the situation scarily straight as opposed to going for the metaphor. In that way was it important not to nail Jordan’s ironic visuals on the head with music?

Adelaide goes down the rabbit hole, what we need to notice is how she has gone, over the course of the film, from being filled with dread to be willing to confront whatever is about to happen. So the music depicts her emotion of preparing for battle.

“Us’” most striking sequence is the almost entirely new orchestration you bring to the climactic killer ballet-off. How difficult was it creating a “Pas De Deux” that would work as both a dance piece and terrifying action, especially given the scene’s quick crosscutting?

I think the dance aspects are very much present in the way Jordan staged and directed the fight sequences. There is a long, slow wind-up to the two Adelaides engaging each other, a back and forth that is very balletic. Similarly, the beginning of the cue that scores it, “Pas De Deux”, takes the “Why You Treat Me So Bad” sample from the Luniz “I Got 5 On It” track, and emphasizes the back-and-forth between the melody in the violins and violas, and the bassline in the cellos and basses. As a result, you hear the lines as two distinct melodies, one high and one low, which answer each other. Even though the high and low phrases aren’t precisely on shots of the two Adelaides, it’s unmistakable that the musical duality represents them. Finally, when the two Adelaides engage and the music becomes much more intense, the audience is already set up to hear the music as a battle or dance of two different ideas both sonically and visually.

Where were you in 1986? And do you remember Hands Across America?

I was here in LA! I remember Hands Across America, but I did not participate. Although I greatly enjoyed adapting Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleurs” into a cheesy 80s underscore for the faux Hands Across America TV commercial in the initial scene of “Us!”

After “Get Out” and “Us,” how would you describe Jordon’s growing brand as a metaphoric horror impresario? And where do you see you partnership going while exploring other, un-“tethered” opportunities as a composer?

Michael Abels at the Chicago Orchesta Hall (photo by Todd Robinson)

“Metaphoric Horror Impresario” — very nicely said! I think Jordan is just showing the world that there’s no end to the creative genius that he has and that he’s going to be sharing with the world. And I am very excited to go wherever he chooses to invite me along.

“Us” is now tethered to theaters across America, with Michael Abels scores for “Get Out” and “Us’ available on Back Lot Music.

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Rob Simonsen

Do, 14/03/2019 - 01:49

Even in the more earthbound realms of coming of age (“Love, Simon”), eternally adult romance (“The Age of Adeline”), social justice (“Stonewall”) psychological striving (“Wish I Was Here”), the post-birth blues (“Tully”) and even a heist caper (“Going in Style”), the music of Rob Simonsen has intrigued with its willingness to escape normality. Starting under the innovative wing of Mychael Danna, Simonsen started notably coming into his own for their collaboration on “500 Days of Summer.” Showing a versatility that could range from symphonic murderous intent for “All Good Things” and “Foxcatcher” or work that bubbled with indie music energy for the sleek “Burnt” the hyper-propulsive “Nerve” and the percussive fall of Gary Hart in “The Front Runner,” Simonsen’s music over dozens of scores has taken listeners to new dimensions. They’re ones that that could sometimes confront the listener with raw experimentation, or hypnotically sooth them with beauty – but always with a focus on human character. Now Simonsen gets to hear both stylistic extremes as he takes a giant leap for his first major studio alien invasion film “Captive State” and the super-heroic intimacy of “Fast Color.”

“Captive State” throws us into a metaphoric America that’s been taken over by “legislators,” with of course the nation’s majority happy to accept alien rule that will bring absolute order. One mysterious agent is Mulligan (John Goodman), who’s after Gabriel (Ashton Sanders) to help him unlock the mystery of the resistance group called Phoenix, and the fate of his resistance-leading brother. Simonsen’s score powerfully conveys the dread of an oppressive, human-abetted alien rule with grinding, metallic samples, a bullhorn-like sound alerting us to the overlords as kinetic beats race for their life. It’s a sometimes harsh, oppressively atmospheric score that buzzes like a hive mind to reflect the constant terror of occupation. Electronics here create a sci-fi sound along with the militaristic threat of percussion, an orchestra standing for the resistance to bring the score down to a more relatable earth than we’d like.

While symphonically cosmic girl power certainly has its place in the comic book movie universe, Simonsen’s music for “Fast Color” takes a far more mystical and low-key approach for a woman in a water-starved future. Though men in black think that the matter reforming, earthquake-generating powers of Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) might be the key to saving the world, it’s an ability that’s brought her nothing but grief. Fleeing back to her rural home to reconnect with her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and abandoned daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney), Ruth concentrates on putting back together her own life more than any atomic particles. Simonsen’s beautifully drifting melodies take an unconventional view of meta-humans as his ethereal synths and yearning bells gradually unite the family. Just as astounding is how chamber music serves to embody the creative, day-glo visual effects that emanate from this unique family. It’s superhero scoring as melodic Zen for a most unconventional, yet powerful entry into the genre’s growing diversity. Simonsen’s “Fast Color” transfixes with the kind of innovation that he brings to his entire scoring universe, one that now takes off to the stars while bringing itself furiously into the present day.

Both “Captain State” and “Fast Color” make particular use of your electronic “hybrid” abilities that were on display in “Nerve.” Could you tell us how you got started in that world, and how it’s developed to the point of these two scores?

My ear has always been drawn to hybrid scores- combining electronics with acoustic instruments has captured my imagination more than anything else. When the opportunity to do “Nerve” came up, I was pretty elated to get to dive into a world of synthesizers. I grew up on Vangelis and am a true child of the 80’s. Mark Wike, who was the music editor on “Nerve,” was also the music editor on “Captive State.” He presented some of my work to the director, and that’s how that job came about.

“Fast Color” was a filmmaking team I had worked with on their previous film and it went great- they’re also friends of mine and we were happy to work together again. The director Julia Hart was really into the idea of using synths and making it a hybrid score. She always wanted the synths to be louder in the mix, which I loved.

Though you’ve done such genre projects as “Dollhouse” and “Seeking A Friend at the End of the World,” “Captive State” marks your first large-scale, effects-and-action filled sci-fi movie. What was it like to take on that challenge?

It was a thrill. Sci-fi and films with a fantastical or surreal bend to them are my favorite kind of films, so to be able to finally sink my teeth into one was very exciting. There’s so much opportunity for experimentation there, and the director Rupert Wyatt wanted to experiment. We stayed away from using any temp in the film, so the palette was developed in collaboration of working on the film as opposed to in context of anything else. I loved it. I hope it’s a first step into a larger world.

“Captive State” is very much part of the classic tradition of such sci-fi shows as “Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek” that stand for metaphors with contemporary issues – here being a fascist takeover under the guise of “kindness.” How did that influence your approach?

We initially started sketching with brass melodies. My first stab at the opening (which is completely different now) was a descending brass theme, which was about the crumbling, darkening, twisted state of government authority, and an aspect of deluded society. A darkened American, patriotic theme. In the end the score became a bit more about an alarm bell for a rebellion.

Did you ever look to other “alien invasion” scores or films for inspiration? Or did you set out to do something truly unique with the genre?

I avoided listening to other scores when I was writing, but of course, I’m naturally influenced by so many of them just by virtue of being a fan of the genre. I’m sure they informed things subconsciously. But I wanted to keep my head clear of anything else as much as possible to try and give myself the best shot at creating something pure. One of the only things Rupert and I looked at from a musical tone perspective was a scene from “The Battle of Algiers” which Ennio Morricone scored, and had some fantastic percussion in it.

Tell us about working with Rupert, who’s now moved from apes to aliens here when depicting our contemporary world under siege.

‘Captive State’ director, Rupert Wyatt

Rupert’s awesome. He has so much passion for filmmaking and really pushes, which I love. He’s also a fantastically warm and genuine guy. He lives in upstate New York so I would go out there and we’d work at a house that was rented out for post-production. I had a little room up there, visual effects were on the ground floor, and the edit was in the basement. It was pretty cool being all under one roof. Rupert gave me a lot of leeway and autonomy in terms of finding gritty sounds and was always straight when he liked or disliked something. It was straightforward and satisfying.

How does the focus being more on humans dealing with an alien invasion, more than the aliens themselves, play into the score, especially given that people are split into camps of abetting or resisting the occupation?

We worked on a theme for the cell, the team of rebels. It needed to be a little warm and human, but it is often heard adrift amongst crunched synths and processed sounds. The aliens have sounds assigned to them but not a melodic theme. The humans got that.

Would you describe “Captive State” as being more of a conspiracy-paranoia score than a science fiction one?

Another film that Rupert mentioned early on was “The Parallax View,” with a score by Michael Small that speaks to what you describe. It has a kind of 70’s conspiracy-paranoid-Americana vibe to it. I think “Captive State” is a conspiracy-intrigue drama set in a sci-fi world.

There’s an especially gnarly feeling in how you use percussion, which meshes dark beats with a militaristic tone. Could you talk about that blend of music and sound design?

There’s a brokenness to everything in the film, whether obvious or underneath what we are seeing. We wanted things to have an off-kilter vibe to them. One of my favorite drummers out there, Ian Chang is a bit of a master when it comes to off-kilter, in the best possible way. I called him up and he made some beats for me. I took those and chopped them, pitched them around, processed them and that was a great element of energy and aliveness that was woven into the score. We also recorded a couple percussionists doubling on more militaristic type drums and augmenting the more processed sounds. Some of those also got processed as well. There are also some hits that I created by blending low drum hits with animal growls. I think there’s a lion growl in there!

How did you want to play the “legislators’” presence among the characters, even when we don’t see them?

In the film there are flocks of drones that the legislators use to police/survey people. It’s not a far-off idea actually with pretty impactful implications. We came up with a sound for the drones, which is a bowed mandolin that bends in pitch a bit. Then pitched that down a couple octaves in kontakt. It’s got this “swarm” kind of sound to it. Since we hardly see the legislators it became more about how the humans feel when they encounter them instead of having their own theme.

You also reach some fairly low tones with your samples, especially with bullhorn like effects, which serves as a sort of theme. How do you think the score personifies the alien machinery that keeps the humans in line?

The bullhorn sound is a synth patch I made using this little soft synth called Basic. It was inspired by tornado sirens I used to hear growing up in Missouri. They’d spin up at different places throughout the city as portents of a possible severe storm. Oftentimes the sky would be full of dark, twisting clouds and you’d hear some in the distance, some nearby, and it would make a creepy, sickening choir of dissonance and portent. It was unnerving and awe-inspiring. I was trying to get at that. It’s about the humans rallying, being called to action in response to the threat of the aliens.

We also recorded brass effects and gestures with the London Contemporary Orchestra, which also performed the strings. One of the tuba players for the LCO can circle breathe and play multiphonics, which is achieved by singing into the instrument and playing at the same time. We spent a day with different brass players doing multiphonics and extended techniques. It was a lot of fun. They are a wonderfully talented group of musicians.

It seems like there’s no way to beat the aliens, let alone human turncoats, how important was it for the score to reflect a sense of hope when it comes to bringing orchestral emotion into the nerve-grinding tonalities?

In the end, that’s exactly what the film is about, hope and courage. It was important to give glimmers of that and connect to human warmth and heart at points, even if there was a lot of tragedy and sacrifice involved.

Could you channel your own political feelings in “Captive State?” And do you think the current state of America makes the film, and score even more disturbing and suspenseful than it would have been?

I definitely was able to channel my political feelings in this film. It’s an interesting experience, seeing the rise of authoritarian regimes and nationalism throughout the world, which does feel like a threat with real consequences. Where it will all lead, who knows. I don’t want to give anything away but I think the film does offer a chance to see situations from different viewpoints in a way that we (specifically Americans) might not have considered before.

Abbey Road Studios (L to R) “Captive State” mixer Stan Neff, composer Rob Simonsen and director Rupert Wyatt

With such an offbeat score, was it difficult creating a song out of it with me for home “Home?”

Home was all Jake (Kill the Noise) and Mija. They took the stems of the prologue (track no 2, “Captive State”) and ran with it. I loved what they did with it.

Conversely, “Fast Color” takes an ethereal approach that reteams you with Julia Hart and writer Jordan Horowitz, for whom you scored “Miss Stevens.” Given that this was a completely different genre, how did your collaboration differ?

‘Fast Color’s’ Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz

We were going for something much bigger on this one. The palette was quite different and we were dealing with larger themes. It’s a bit of an emotionally driven superhero origin story. Our collaboration was very similar, propositions, notes and refinements!

With “Fast Color” being done on a very intimate scale, how important was it for your score to open up the story to the earth-changing, and even cosmic aspects of the characters, their powers and the bigger story that lies beyond this one?

Orchestras are great for adding a sense of scope to a film, and we knew we wanted that. There’s a fair amount of solo violin, which adds a lot of emotion and sense of a central character amongst a larger backdrop. The film deals with larger themes from an intimate point of view so we definitely wanted to bridge that.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw has superpowers in trailer for Fast Color
Credit: Jacob Yakob

“Fast Color” could be called a superhero film, much in the way the show “Heroes” tries to show normal people gifted with extraordinary abilities. What was it like to score that genre, be it in such an offbeat and independent guise?

It was great. Sci-fi is such a rich genre because you can deal with really large questions. You can build fantastical worlds and put forth very human questions that we all face. It’s my favorite genre so I loved it.

Do you think that scoring a heroine who’s mystically granted eternal life in “The Age of Adeline” helped you portray super-powered ones here?

I think my natural response to these kinds of stories probably has led me to using the orchestra both times. They are characters touched by something cosmic, mysterious, larger than life. The orchestra is great for that.

Does the emphasis on non-costumed female characters allow this score to be melodically softer than if it involved men with the same abilities?

I think it’s more about the intimacy of the relationships between the characters and the fact that no one has fully come out with their powers. These are people in hiding, dealing with personal and interpersonal issues, including motherhood, the processing of which leads them to stand up and be powerful in plain sight. I’m not sure what I would be drawn to if they were costumed and/or had fully embraced their powers. There are so many great metaphorical threads running throughout the film and we were just giving it the tones we felt were right to support it. I’m not sure how it would be different if it were men. Interesting question!

How did you want music to personify color?

Swirling strings seemed like the most accurate representation of colors flying around in the sky to me.

We’ve seen lots of super powers, but “Fast Color’s” ability of molecularly separating, and then re-forming objects brings something new to the game. How did you want to capture that family talent?

There’s a violin motif for their powers that is heard on solo violin the first time we see anyone really enacting powers. That same motif is played by the full orchestra at the end, so there’s hopefully a through line for all three generations whenever they’re wielding powers that grows with them.

How did you want to merge the synth style here with more traditional symphonic colors?

Again, hybrid scores are combining my favorite sounds in the world- orchestras, synths and processed sounds. Orchestra wasn’t quite right for a score like “Nerve” but for “Fast Color “it felt like the appropriate texture to get at what we were going for emotionally.

How did you want to reflect the toll that Ruth’s powers take on her life, and her relationship with her family?

I think that was rendered pretty successfully in the film by the story and actors so it was more about holding a space for that to take place- the longing, tenderness, regret. Ruth is a loner when we meet her, she’s a woman on the run so we needed the music to help get at the feeling of that. But once we get the full picture, more tender threads come in.

Talk about the “lullaby” sound that links mother and daughter,

Again we knew we needed something to echo the tenderness between them, and speak to a love that exists even though physical circumstances might pull a mother away from her child.

Given that a more conventional score could have expressed “Fast Color’s” emotions in an immediately recognizable way, was it a challenge to use a more ethereal style here to get those feelings across?

Not really, I think a more ethereal approach is something I gravitate towards naturally. I’ve loved listening since I was young to Vangelis, Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol II, Michael Stearn’s score to “Baraka,” Brian Eno, Steve Roach and others that do more ambient work and have ethereal qualities to them. It connects me to similar feelings I get looking at stars in the night sky, which has always been a big inspiration for me. So I’m probably always trying to get to those ambient musical textures in a lot of my work.

In your non-score life, you created a truly fascinating musical collective with The Echo Society that did site-specific conceptual non-score concerts with other film composers. What do you think these events added to LA’s musical landscape, and would you hope to do more of these events?

Ah thanks. My hope is that they’ve been explorations in what’s possible and getting together to create exciting new works with other creators. There are a lot of musical groups doing similar things both before us but especially now- it’s a rich landscape in LA for music and art. We are definitely planning on doing more and are beginning work on our next show. Stay tuned!

When science fiction scores like “Under the Skin” and “Annihilation” are increasingly “out there,” does this make it even more difficult to create a unique score like this? Or do you even set out to create the kind of “hybrid” sound that no one’s heard before?

I think overall the rising tide of inventive and as you say “out there” scores have given filmmakers and studios a lot of confidence to stand behind a director’s bold choices to experiment and be different. Of course, it can be a daunting proposition to say “we’re going to try and do something totally different that no one has heard before”, as all music stands on the shoulders of what came before it. But it’s an exciting challenge to attempt. I love it.

“Captive State” opens on March 15th with Rob Simonsen’s score available that day on Sony Classics here. “Fast Color” opens on April 9, with Rob’s score available shortly thereafter on his label Miles of Lions Records.

Visit Rob Simonsen’s website HERE

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Audio: Interview with Pinar Toprak

Wo, 06/03/2019 - 01:44

ON THE SCORE is sponsored by La-La Land Records

“Captain Marvel” gloriously represents a first for Marvel in shattering a super-heroic stratosphere. Not only does it represent the brand’s first female-led film, but also the first one to be co-written and directed by a woman (Anna Boden, along with partner Ryan Fleck) as well as to mark an ascent by composer Pinar Toprak to blockbuster status. A musician hailing from the far away land of Turkey, Toprak arrived on Hollywood shores to work with Hans Zimmer and William Ross before impressing with her own work for both the majestically ocean-swept (“The Lightkeepers,” “The Wind Gods,” “Tides of Fate”) and two-fisted action and suspense (“Behind Enemy Lines II,” “The River Murders,” “The Angel”) and the videogame phenomenon “Fortnite.” A long time fan of costumed characters, and a red-caped one in particular, Toprak was able to play Superman with additional music on “Justice League” as she took Kal-El back to his alien beginnings with her mystically noble Syfy prequel series “Krypton.” All would prepare the composer for her most impressive flight yet to the stars with “Captain Marvel.”


Female superhero and live-action Hollywood scoring has been trailblazed by Shirley Walker (“Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” “Memoirs of an Invisible Man”) with her protégé Lolita Ritmanis continuing on that costumed fighting spirit in the cartoon realm. Now Toprak singularly shatters both budgetary, and flesh-and-blood boundaries in the identity of a comic book movie. But more importantly, Toprak’s soaringly thematic and humorously playful work delivers on the inspirational emotion that’s the stuff of cinematic superheroes, as wielded by the cosmic power possessed by Carol Danvers, an air force pilot finding her place in multiple worlds. Toprak delivers on the genre’s symphonic musical expectations while saluting the 90’s retro synth setting to melodically fly high with the spirit of her musical forebearers.

Now on a new episode of “On the Score,” Pinar Toprak discusses her path to light the way for the fellow composers who dare to dream with a score, and movie that stands tall as of one of the most empowering films in any superhero universe.

Click above to Listen Now or Click Here to Download

Buy the Soundtrack: CAPTAIN MARVEL (Digitally available on Hollywood Records March 8th) Buy the Soundtrack: KRYPTON Buy the Soundtrack: TIDES OF FATE Visit Pinar Toprak’s website
Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

February Soundtrack Picks

Di, 26/02/2019 - 21:07

Soundtrack Picks: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD is the top soundtrack to own for FEBRUARY 2019


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




Price: $29.99 / $21.99

What is it?: From the Mutara Nebula to an animated North Pole, James Horner took many incredible journeys, both historical and imagined, through a legendary musical career that’s often been heard through Intrada Records in such spectacular releases as “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” and “Balto.” Now the label finds more treasure in the composer’s archives with two 2-CD releases of 1987’s “An American Tail” and 1996’s “Apollo 13.” Tied together with Horner’s immediately recognizable orchestral sound, these subjects also reflect the heroic optimism and danger of venturing to a new land, whether it be the moon or a new cartoon world of turn-of-the century New York City with beautiful flesh-and-blood emotion

Why Should You Buy It?: With his penchant for brass and military percussion, let alone his love of flight, James Horner certainly had the right stuff to give patriotic hope to America’s space program during one of its darkest hours with “Apollo 13.” Having teamed with director Ron Howard for the sweetly spacefaring “Cocoon” and the rousing fantasy adventure of “Willow,” “Apollo 13” gave the filmmaker his true exercise of urgent dramatic gravitas and real-life heroism, for which Horner conveyed with a soaring orchestra that paid tribute to America know-how at its can-do best, his score’s military snare drum percussion and solemn trumpet conveying the very stuff of bravery, and ticking clocking brainpower, as well as the exhilaration of rocketing to the moon, with one of Horner’s most majestically developing pieces depicting the rocket launch with a suspenseful rhythmic build to the blast off of a heavenly chorus. As all hell breaks loose in space to discordant percussion, Horner’s music regains urgent control for a powerful depiction of command under pressure. With its cold, piano-based tension, “Apollo 13” plays at times as a more concerned cousin to Horner’s “Sneakers,” – minus that team’s bouncy jazz. No cue in “Apollo 13” is more haunting as the voice of The Eurhythmics’ Annie Lennox takes the capsule over the dark side of the moon, her wordless lament full of awe and despair over an opportunity missed before Horner’s orchestra comes in to remind all that the greatest goal is survival. Horner’s Oscar-nominated score (along with the equally noble “Braveheart” that same year) has lost one of its emotional power or awe in the decades since, especially given that Intrada now lets the soundtrack fully soar in the way it always should have at the time, which then yielded a song and dialogue-filled “storytelling” album. John Takis’ exceptional liner notes chart this new edition, which offers cues that appear for the first time, and are expanded upon to make up a first 76-minute CD, from the brassily discordant “Master Alarm” to the dramatic concern of “A Son’s Worries and Simulator Crash.” Of special interest is a section that features Horner’s peril-enhancing synth cues, while the exceptionally sequenced album that Horner planned (and which essentially floated around as a high priced score-only promo for decades) makes up the presentation’s second album at just about an hour, all adding to the dramatic gravitas of Horner’s brilliance at capturing the spirit of brave nobility put to the ultimate test.

Extra Special: Animator Don Bluth created his masterpiece with 1982’s “The Secret of Nimh,” which put the usual cute talking mice into truly dire situations the wondrously scarred a generation, especially given Jerry Goldsmith’s darkly magical score (also available on Intrada). Given that film made far more of a cult impression than a box office one, Bluth toned things down several cutesy notches for the Hollywood clout of Steven Spielberg to way more success with 1986’s “An American Tale.” Taken from the filmmaker’s idea of cleverly turning the particular Jewish immigrant experience into the musical form of Fievel the Mouse, Bluth turned to James Horner for a sense of ethnically accented adventure, comedy and rag-tugging emotion. Though Horner had certainly played kid-friendly subjects before with “The Journey of Natty Gann” and an episode of “Faerie Tale Theater,” “An American Tail” would be his first animated film – as it was for Goldsmith with Nimh. And like his fellow maestro, Horner succeeds by giving the colorful cell imagery the symphonic passion of any live action score, especially when it comes to the period and neo-religious details. Balalaikas and lilting violins stand for The Old Country that Fievel and family hail from, while also giving ethnic due to Ireland and China, with the evil cats being given the full Prokofiev force of Mother Russia. Ragtime conveys the scurvier elements of this mouse-infested NYC, his tin pan alley band also launching the composer’s jazzier explorations for the likes of “*batteries not included” and “Swing Kids.” When Fievel falls into none-too-menacing peril, Horner, already a master of sci-fi excitement, pours on trumpeting orchestras and cat-dodging rhythm a la the “powerhouse” style to bear heard in “Honey I Shrunk the Kids,” Yet though it might get antic, Horner is sure to, never letting us forget of the mouse’s Eastern European identity, or the search for his family. For all of its energy, there’s a pure emotional magic that suffuses the score, from a chorus hails the dream of America. A theme for Fievel is tender and magical in the way of his yearning music for “Cocoon.” Given an animated musical answer to “Fiddler on the Roof” to “Yentl,” Horner teamed with songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. “There Are No Cats in America” playfully swings from Hebraic to Italy and Irish wishful thinking of escaping feline Cossacks. Christopher Plummer presages Jerry Orbach’s singing lamp with the French swoon of “Never Say Never,” joined by the kid singing voice of Phillip Glass, while Nimh’s goofball seagull Dom De Louise transforms into a the one loveable, singing cat with his gasping, chuckling operatic “A Duo.” But if anything, “An American Tail” stands tall in a generation’s collective memory as Phillip Glaser and Betsy Cathcart warble the Oscar-nominated “Somewhere Out There” as Fievel and his sister. It’s daringly off-tune, and absolutely right for two hopeful children wishing upon a star with the impact of any Disney song, especially given Horner’s flutes. Used as the film’s most memorable theme, the song gets a more vocally mature performance by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram that would arguably become the most memorable film song that Horner would be involved with outside of “Titanic’s” “My Heart Will Go On.” Even if this “Tail” might not have been as daring as “Nimh,” Horner’s score represents the child appealing sound that showed why his sound was so unmistakably magical in the 1980’s, music that is now gloriously heard in full through this terrific Intrada release that brings back memories to turn of the century, not to mention a generation of film music fans decades later weaned on Horner’s animated scores.


Price: $19.99

What Is It?: For as terrifying and gothic as Bernard Herrmann’s work could be, there was often a wicked sensibility at place when he gave a killer a musical motif – especially when it came to ghastlier scores for the genetically deranged killer of “The Twisted Nerve” of the crazed Moog synthetisers that bonded “Sisters.” But one of the heights of his macabre subversion goes to one of his more unsung scores for “The Bride Wore Black,” which took traditional wedding bells to new heights of gonging, satisfied frenzy for Jeanne Moreau’s bereaved avenger. Now her darkly romantic fury gets new vigor with Quartet’s stunning rendition of the “Bride” under the baton of Fernando Velasquez, a composer who’s certainly no slouch himself when it comes to lush, symphonic suspense with the likes of “The Orphanage” and “Crimson Peak.”

Why Should You Buy It?: After Herrmann had gotten a creative divorce from Hitchcock following their aborted collaboration on “Torn Curtain,” the young filmmakers who sought to work with the composer were determined to let Herrmann did what he did best – namely pour gorgeously unbridled emotion into his subjects. That was no more true of cineaste admirer Francois Truffaut, who first had Herrmann bring haunting poetry to his Hollywood adaptation of “Fahrenheit 451” – a score that proved to be the most transfixing element of an otherwise dull film. Truffaut was on far firmer territory with the French-spoken “Bride’s” angel of vengeance as she takes out the boy’s club that shot her husband on her wedding day. Herrmann’s score takes waltzing, methodical pleasure in stalking her victims for the righteous coup de grace, while also psychologically haunting her with a husband’s ghost. No psycho who enjoys payback, Herrmann’s gorgeous score paints her in tragic colors – reflecting an assassin who will forever be in love with a ghost, with further death giving her the only meaning in life. But while the score is full of grim, brass and string purpose as Herrmann varies the music for each of her kills, his music is also diabolically playful with its gossamer bell percussion and plucked violins in a black widow’s cat and mouse game before the relentless pounce, and satisfaction of a diabolical jump with a bell-ringing statement of Felix Mendelssohn “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” the inimitable sound of the altar.

Extra Special: James Fitzpatrick’s re-performance of Herrmann’s brilliant “Obsession” a few years ago certainly set a high bar in bringing new symphonic blood and thunder to Herrmann’s work. The beautifully robust re-performance of “The Bride Wore Black” can hold her head up high as she lethally swoons down that aisle under Velazquez’s baton, which strikes a tempestuous band with The Basque National Orchestra, which take particular flourish in the unusual orchestration that denies trumpets and pianos. It’s a robust announcement of the group’s arrival onto the re-performance concert scene, with an added bonus of using the organ at the church featured in the film itself – and more importantly of restoring the score to its full glory after Truffaut’s slices that doomed another director relationship for Herrmann. For a composer on a macabre French honeymoon who was no doubt determined to show Hollywood that he still had his killer instinct, the passion that Herrmann gave to “The Bride Wore Black” sings like never before with bereft rage and icy cunning on her 50th anniversary.



Price: $10.00 / $14.57

What Is It?: From John Williams to Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner, composers who’ve established themselves first in the film arena used a concert stage to realize music that could be truly unbound by image and dialogue – if not a theme to coalesce their classical work to show their true musical selves. But if that work could sometimes be offputtingly dissonant in the way the modern classical pieces think they need to be, two new concept works from an established composer and one on the rise show just how pleasing a melodic approach can be to the concert hall.

Why Should You Buy It?: Cliff Eidelman, has always impressed with a gift for rapturous melody, from the epic (“Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country,” “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery”) to conveying the heartfelt bonds of girl power (“Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” Now and Then”) and the magic of believing in the impossible (“Leap of Faith,” “Big Miracle”). Having been sure to release a succession of concept albums like “My Muse” and “Wedding in the Night Garden” along with his film work, Eidelman now delivers two impressive concert pieces on a singular album that begins with “Symphony for the Orchestra and Two Pianos.” Eidelman sets a lyrical stage, whose rhythmic idea continues to build to a majestic conclusion, his opening cadenza having a subtle Hebraic rhythm that recalls his astonishing first major score for the Holocaust-set “Triumph of the Spirit.” The second movement beautifully starts as a piano nocturne that’s joined by strings, their dance growing with an impassioned orchestra for its third movement. While this “Symphony” certainly has a classical pedigree to be reckoned with, fans of Eidelman’s scores, especially his more fantastical ones, will particularly enjoy the chillingly playful theme of “Night in the Gallery.” Inspired by Eidelman’s quick dash through the Louvre Museum in a way that could reflect the characters of barely-seen paintings coming to life and narrating a story, those stepping unknowingly into this “Gallery” might think they’re getting a sophisticated reading of various “Goosebumps” tales. While the music certainly conveys whimsically disparate works of art, his “Gallery” also the atmosphere of a sweet haunted house, opening with syncopated rhythm a la Philip Glass before having the pianos conjure a wistful sense of spookiness. Brass instruments achieve a similar loopiness in their jazzy inflections, winds chirp like gently alarmed parakeets, and storm clouds of gothic Guignol arrive alongside pounding brass. Consider it an exceptionally gentle “Night on Bald Mountain” as Eidelman passes by masterpieces in a way that a tyke takes in the wonders of Halloween. But whether sophisticated or wonderfully whispering an unintended “boo,” the performance by the London Symphony orchestra and pianists Michael McHale and Tom Poster are excellent, giving Eidelman’s concert stage works the quality of any big screen soundtrack.

Extra Special: With an impressively growing career, Chad Cannon has gone from orchestrating on “Godzilla” and two “Hobbit” movies to show his lyrical orchestral talents for the post-Hiroshima documentary “Paper Lanterns” and the epic score for the patriotic Chinese WW2 film “Cairo Declaration.” Gifted with an affinity for Oriental subjects that have also seen him work with acclaimed Miyazaki composer Joe Hisaishi, Cannon certainly has the resources to create a tone poem that expresses “The Dreams of a Sleeping World.” Thankfully with its emphasis far more on melody than the usually tonal salvo that stands for modern classical music, Cannon’s work for orchestra and voices has a slowly building naturalism that recalls Debussy, with another foot in such contemporary styles as jazz clarinet. Divided into chapters for “The Sea” and “The Land,” Cannon’s poetic work draws its inspiration from the paintings of Japanese-Brazilian artist Oscar Oiwa, with an accent on environmental catastrophes – though that might be hard to discern from the piece’s overall poetic approach. However, darkness certainly lurks in its chants, bell percussion and brass when need be. Starting out quietly before launching into aggressive chorus and orchestration, “Dreams” certainly has a cinematic power to it, especially in swirling voices and dire world-in-jeopardy orchestrations that would be right as home atop Mount Doom as easily as it conveys the blood oil battlefield of Iraq and the corpse-strewn waters of Hurricane Katrina. It’s a world of hurt and ultimately hope in the program’s second half that Cannon embodies as well with the Middle Eastern sound of Diduk, Japanese winds and Tibetan bells, entwined with his feeling for humanity at the brink. Yet there’s an overall, soothing quality to this “Sleeping World” that makes it a quite listenable tone poem from a composer with tangible empathy for a far bigger picture. Though available on iTunes, those with the interest in seeing Oiwa’s impressionistic work and reading the concert’s lyrics should be sure to purchase “Dreams’” physical version via CD Baby.


Price: $12.69

What Is It?: Ever since his first animated work on “Antz” (alongside Harry Gregson-Williams), John Powell has shown an unhinged sense of inventiveness worthy of Carl Stalling. From such efforts as “Shrek” to “Horton Hears A Who” and any number of “Ice Ages,” Powell has turned stylistic ideas on a dime in pursuit of a gag with any number of wackadoo instrumental approaches – yet always encompassing his stream of consciousness within a solid thematic framework that gave a sense of grandeur to talking animals and any other amount of fantastical creatures. But perhaps the height of Powell’s adventurously madcap sensibility was his Oscar nominated score for 2010’s “How To Train Your Dragon,” which dared to imagine beast-riding Vikings by way of Scottish bagpipes, while also capturing the majesty of flight and dysfunctional family dynamics. Now after doing a fine job of accompanying a mixed bag sequel, Powell returns to put a capper in a decent trilogy ender with his most magnificent “Dragon,” and toon score yet, holding the reigns a bit tighter for a more mature approach as such as the now fully grown Hiccup faces his most dire challenge, and his jet-black steed Toothless romance with an other-dimensional albino beastie.

Why Should You Buy It?: Given the theme of Hiccup maturing into a true leader of his tribe as well as facing the equally daunting prospect of marriage, Powell takes a more mature tone that deepens his “Dragon” without losing any of its fun. While the familiar bagpipe themes resurface here and there, especially during dad flashbacks, there’s a nice feeling of pushing this musical world further, while bringing a pre-Medieval time and place to the score through his orchestrations for harp, plainsong in a touching farewell and even a bit of Kung Fu Panda Orientalism into the fractured fairy tale mix. There’s also a bigger percussive threat in a villain bent on enslaving dragons and wiping out night furies in the bargain, with Powell giving the Italian-accented baddie a weirdly slithering tone. Where the composer wonderfully summoned up the spirit of John Williams in his terrific score for the underrated “Solo,” Powell’s spirit animal in “Hidden World’s” adventurous moments is way more Erich Wolfgang Korngold, with the daring thrills and spills positively Robin Hood-ian in their brightly heroic orchestrations. Powell’s epic choruses also particularly shine here, from leading a Viking sky exodus over a jaunty military rhythm. The sky’s also the limit when it comes to Powell’s use of voices, which herald the hidden world’s waterfall portal with religious reverence before lowering to an eerily beautiful hush as we sweep among its inner neon colors. Among the many times that Powell has communicated visiting a truly magical place for live action or animation, the sense of wonder he conjures for this massive inner earth has never been more beautifully enveloping.

Extra Special: The biggest strength of this “Dragon” is its ravishing visuals, with its best sequences dispensing with humans altogether to center on the courtship between a besotted Toothless and the gossamer, not-so-easy to please Light Fury. With strings aflutter and romance literally in the air, Powell does wonders at emotionally translating these creatures’ growls from the ground to their gossamer, magical waltz through lightning-filled skies. Toothless’ extended mating dance is certainly a career highlight for Powell, where the music is front and center to match every one of his endearingly hapless moves. Powell swings between Celtic slapstick and harp-plucking hopefulness, his waltz jigging over any number of ethnic beats in the process to win a white dragon’s heart as their orchestral passion grows to a thrillingly majestic theme. It’s like the cartoon Animal Channel version of “Riverdance,” and a brilliant example of the pure, inventive joy that Powell has brought to animation, and the saga he’ll likely be remembered for as its scoring goes out on a lovely high note.

5) THE THIN RED LINE (20th Anniversary Edition)

Price: $59.98

What Is it?: With a unique ear to iconoclastic musical possibilities, filmmaker Terence Malick has approached his subjects with a dream-like sensibility, his ear often finding magically unexpected sounds amidst particularly dark historical subjects. Ironically giving a serial killer the tubular percussion of Carl Orff in “Badlands,” using Saint-Saens “Carnival of Animals” to take us from an industrial wasteland to the open wheatfields of “Days of Heaven,” or landing in “The New World” with Wagner, Malick’s use of unexpected source music nearly rivals Stanley Kubrick’s. His ability to send composers on voyages of discovery rivals that auteurs as well, whether it was letting Ennio Morricone do his poetically melancholic best on “Days of Heaven,” having Alexandre Desplat hear the cosmic roots of the “Tree of Life,” or clashing with James Horner as he had his way with the score for “The New World.” When he’d team with Hans Zimmer for 1998’s “The Thin Red Line,” this film about WW2’s Pacific war theater was a particularly auspicious event, given that Malick hadn’t made a movie in two decades, not to mention that Zimmer’s music was best known for its brash melody and percussion. The epic tone poem that Zimmer worked for two years on, completely rewriting it in the process, was essential to the haunting spell of this unique war film, one that continues to resonate twenty years later as over six hours of music composed for the picture are whittled down into an entrancing four-cd set from La La Land Records.

Why Should You Buy It?: Filled with a myriad of characters while essentially being seen through the eyes of a young GI bewitched in the island wilderness of Guadalcanal, Zimmer captures that sense of existential detachment in the midst of hell on earth with a lyrical masterwork. Setting an elegiac tone with slow, tolling bells and drifting string lines, Zimmer’s music is about a sense of wonder and horror. Yet it’s rarely overly emotional, as “The Thin Red Line” isn’t a visceral war movie in the style of “Platoon” (even if that film’s director Oliver Stone was just as much in love with modern classical music). Malick’s sensibility gave Zimmer the difficult task of writing thematic music that would comment without commenting. But there’s an undeniable heroism to some of this fine tightrope walking across a line of traditional scoring and the melodically experimental, especially with ever-building, percussive melodies that would become the Wagnerian stuff of movie trailer music to come (no more so than in the coming attractions for the Zimmer-scored “Pearl Harbor”). Of particular instrumental interest is Zimmer’s use of The Cosmic Beam, whose guttural resonance mostly served to convey the danger of space for the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and John Barry – tuned here with strings by Zimmer to reflect the awful, subterranean vibrations of earthbound battle. The Melanesian islanders serve as a heavenly chorus with their pidgin English, their blessed chants having a natural, optimistic exuberance to them – their praises as sacred as any European holy mass as Zimmer conveys their exotic environment with native voices and winds. But for the most part, aside from the orchestra’s storm clouds, the ethereally driving feeling here is one of tenderness, music for a disparate band of brothers grasping onto their humanity, as heard with the transcendental beauty of a soul rising above the bodies and wreckage below.

Extra Special: “The Thin Red Line” served as a first true tour of existential duty for Zimmer that would lead to more percussively aggressive, if similarly classically drawn psychological works, especially for the similarly attuned (if more commercial) filmmaker Christopher Nolan with the likes of “Dunkirk” and “The Dark Knight Returns.” Given Malick’s relentless experimentation, there’s much pensive purity to go around with over two hours of score as heard in the movie. La La Land’s collection also offers he original soundtrack album as well as the pin-off recording of the Melanesian chants from the blessed islands. It all adds up to a transfixing listen, a metaphysical journey of war as hell with heaven as the final destination through a director embedded in the visual, and aural possibility of filmmaking. Zimmer engagingly recollects his tour of duty for Malick in Jeff Bond’s perceptive liner notes, which also offers a forward from the album’s recently passed co-producer Nick Redman, a titan of soundtrack special editions and film documentaries – for whom this remarkable album now stands as a tribute to his perseverance at releasing Hollywood’s best work.



Starting out in a rhythmic realm with the action beat downs of two “Raid” assaults and the dazzlingly rebooted videogame world of “Tron: Legacy,” Joseph Trapanese has impressed with the dramatic deepening of his musical worldview, especially with the mournful approach to the rapper rise of “Straight Outta Compton” and a heroic last stand against nature with “Only the Brave.” Now he takes an impressive trek alongside Mads Mikkelsen through the “Arctic” as a plane crash survivor is finally spurred to leave the relative safety of his wreckage and find rescue. For Trapanese, it’s a melodic environment that’s a place of dangerously imposing majesty as much as it is a state of mind. Trapanese creates his “Arctic” out of drifting, yet captivating melodic lines through a unique, organic ensemble comprised of tubas, flutes and samples of polar winds and cracking ice. It’s an unearthly tone that shares much with his sci-fi expeditions, music that one could easily imagine trekking though a Martian landscape (which was the film’s original setting). It’s a elegiac tone that finally breaks into percussion to pushes Mads’ taciturn hero to the edge of death and transfiguration, with whale-cry like voices, hypnotic sustains and a heartbreaking violin becoming the driving determination of a man who’s been cut off from humanity, maybe in more ways than one, who commits to the possibility of perishing to reconnect with it. “Arctic’s” score has the kind of psychological power that made Trapanese handling of the doomed firefighters in “Only the Brave” so incredibly powerful, conveying a noble fate in the face of impossible odds. It’s scoring that becomes the soul of a man who at last finds himself, even if he might not find deliverance. Trapanese’s punishingly physical and tenderly ethereal work helps “Arctic” rise to a powerful, emotional crescendo in a film where the score and sound effects do most of the talking. As heard on this generous 76-minute CD, it’s a rewarding quest that continues to opens up new creative worlds for Trapanese to conquer.


After unleashing a rampaging fusion of orchestral and electronic scoring for a science-mutated polar bear in “Unnatural” (on Varese Sarabande), Edwin Wendler finds himself in ferocious company with critters that would give “Them” pause with “Dead Ant.” Given a way-less serious story by “Unnatural” director Hank Braxtan, Wendler runs with the satiric opportunities of having a bunch of peyote hopped-up, over-the-hill metalheads taking on armies of overgrown ants in the desert. It’s a world of drive-in worthy possibility that turns Wendler’s score into a fun, berserk mosh pit that has it every which way with the shrieking symphonic terror of the atom age 50’s sci-fi scores, 90’s hair ballads and today’s rage of atonal horror, all while enjoyably not settling on any approach for too long. Especially fun are “Dead Ant’s” loonier moments, from the approximation of a Theremin to the sounds of ‘shroom psychedelia and power guitar overdrive, all while his string attacks make the threat of getting ripped to shreds as real as the music can manage. “Dead Ant” has a rollicking, scary-in-spite-of-itself attitude that does much to help this nutty little movie achieve its bloodily anarchic goal, impressively crafting horror comedy with a pincer bite


While Brian Tyler continues to rock out with action mega blockbusters, many of his projects are taking him back to the more musically eclectic beginnings that marked the rise of his career with the suspenseful fusion of “The Final Cut” and the jazzy “Last Call.” Now two latter day cases that show Tyler’s versatility arrive with “The Devil We Know” and “What Men Want.” Working again with co-director Stephanie Soechtig after the weapon control documentary “Under the Gun,” “Devil” concerns Dupont’s poisoning of a local town with the chemicals used to make Teflon, It’s a sense of outrage at uncaring industrialists and the damage done on babies to be that marks Tyler’s intense, propulsive work. Combining strings and electronic sampling in a way that suggests dangerous artificial elements becoming one with humanity, Tyler’s music has a investigative drive to it as the film uncovers a horrifying truth that’s been going on for decades, a callousness represented by the company’s decision to stick with “the devil we know” as opposed to finding a money-losing alternative. Bringing in hip-hop beats, chorus and druggy sounds with percussive irony, Tyler’s thematic score draws on emotion in the same way he would for any drama– his ears here on the locals’ anger as he shifts from an electric guitar to rural strings to conveys the terrible impact on an unquestioning community. The “Devil’s” somber empathy for its afflicted subjects and humanity at might not have the profile of a superhero film, which makes Tyler scoring it all the more important in both showing the composer’s conscience and his storytelling ability.

Having captured the 40’s-style jazz swing and romantic tribulation of “Crazy Rich Asians” in a way that wasn’t so ethnically specific, Tyler truly gets his funk on with the black-centric re-imagining of “What Women Want.” Instead of Mel Gibson’s telepathic cad, we get Tarija P. Henson’s put-upon sports agent using the newfound voices in her head to get up the ladder in a misogynistic company. It’s a #metoo era reboot that Tyler hears with a soulfully energetic groove that could just as well suit John Shaft. It also helps that Tyler has dealt with cunning grooves to take The Man down with his “Now You See Me” scores. Here Tyler impressively handles all of the instruments himself to swing with rambunctious, R&B energy for drums, organ, bass and vibes that has its heroine play her newly gained macho info like a harmonica. Veering from full-blast energy to cool sexiness, Tyler’s poignant keyboard playing getting somewhat seriousness with the more emotional and sensual old school cool jazz vibe. More overtly wacky bits are giving to new age Indian music, bringing in percussion and a sweeping orchestra to let our heroine roar. Leaving any overt rom-com stylings in the dust, Tyler’s one man band knows that this woman wants for this very enjoyable score that shows him as a jack of all rom-com ethnicities with a universal sense of comedic energy and character.


This surprise hit horror-comedy combo between “Groundhog Day” and a baby-masked “Scream” now gets a second spin with its major participants back again and again – few more valuably than original composer Bear McCreary. A musician well versed in twisty genre exercises from “10 Cloverfield Lane” to the death demon metal of “Knights of Badasssdom,” McCreary doesn’t push the autopilot button when repeating himself. Instead, he goes for broke to make this score icing on the cake for those who enjoy full-blast scares with a smile. “Happy Death Day 2U” is one epic rampage of slasher movie theatrics on laughing gas, giving a ticking clock sensibility that it will be soon be lights out for the characters unless they solve the killer continuum. Pumping on the rhythm with the symphony raging, McCreary thankfully makes his killer noise with a surfeit of melody and invention, always pushing the excitement to the next level of overkill in a way that nicely recalls the delirious excitement that Shirley Walker brought to her meta-death “Final Destination” scores. Not only do you get PG-13 level string splatter here, but also a sense of delicious enjoyment, especially when a French-style accordion joins the busy jam. McCreary’s score is the alarm bell waking up these college kids for another deadly day, and always with a new smirk and scream ahead as it runs off a cliff with exuberance, again and again in this singularly delightful score.

. LA CAGE AUX FOLLES I, II, III (500 edition)

While best known for his spaghetti westerns and somber drama among his hundreds of scores, the indefatigable Ennio Morricone has just as much of a sweetly deft touch with comedy, one that’s the most popular on the international scene with the three “La Cage Aux Folles” films. With the first “Birds of a Feather” dressing up in an Oscar nominations (with an American stage musical and “Birdcage” remake to follow), Morricone sympathetic farce depicts the loving relationship between straight-laced cabaret owner Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) and his far more outrageous partner Albin – aka “Zaza” (Michel Serrault). With the original hilariously showing the complications that ensue when they try to play it straight for the sake of the marriage of Renato’s son, Morricone goes with the boisterous energy of the St. Tropez setting. With a peppy theme, the composer effortlessly swings between hooting samba pop confection and charming, soft jazz romance on the kind of dance floor used by Henry Mancini’s foreign-flavored romps. That he comes across with his own voice in a parade of humorously gauche colors says much for the maestro’s versatility in his range between the sweet and the swaggering, whether it be with a violin or a disco beat. With “Cage II” sending Renato and Zaza to Italy with spies in pursuit, Morricone gets to have fun with the kind of growling crime suspense he’d apply to more serious pursuits, with guitar, flute and overlapping strings serving as a warm up to “The Untouchables.” Darker piano and string melody brings gravitas to these unlikely targets, while an affecting love theme shows the couple’s serious bond. But if these sequel scores might not have the original’s wackiness, a harmonica send-up to Morricone’s spaghetti background certainly gets a sly laugh. “Cage III” returns Morricone to a somewhat lighter and more sentimental tone as Albin is faced with the project of a traditional marriage and a resulting baby in order to inherit a fortune. With the couple’s bonds tested, Morricone gets to their heart of their relationship with a poignant theme that the composer effortlessly varies from song to effervescence and heartbreak in the face of a far less accepting society back in the day. Peppier bits are provided with a “Flight of the Bumblebee” club groove and cooing female pop, while lush, swooning sax jazz and strings game up Zaza’s feigned attraction to the opposite sex. Though the least seen of the trilogy, it’s this “Cage” that has the most tonal costume changes to stand as the best of the bunch. Having released Morricone’s fashion-fixated score to “So Fine,” France’s Music Box Records now puts out this delightful Morricone collection on two CD’s, showing off his talent at always playing to the humanity of his characters, here no more cheekily, or sympathetically.


The most terrifying documentary series that isn’t a documentary continues to evolve as its musical enslavement of America (and potentially the multiverse) fall deeper into the despair of the fascism wrought by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Yet while this excellent series might be transfixingly gloomy, it never fails to evolve in its foes’ twisted ambition, or the musical direction of Dominic Lewis. Having worked alongside Henry Jackman at the Amazon series’ start, Lewis has continued to take it direction in a powerful, character-based approach. As mainly seen through the eyes of a female freedom fighter, a seemingly ruthless American commandant and a peace-seeking Japanese official, Lewis subtly opens up the characters’ three dimensional possibilities, as well as this season’s thematic idea of defiant hope, voices and piano joining for a beautifully haunting “Requiem” for the price that comes with revolt. Lewis’ musical clock ticks to stop the Reich’s master plans as rural strings evoke a verdant free zone where the last Jews hide. Now given way more sci-fi possibilities with the Nazis creating a dimension busting machine in a secret headquarters worthy of a James Bond villain, Lewis is able to write a nine minute “Die Nebenweld” for sinister, undulating strings and orchestra that pulsate with a villain countdown energy that would make Blofeld happy – following its symphonic crescendo with eerily aghast motivic echoing – only to build with triumph for “Lights Out.” Now with “High Castle” confirmed to end with its fourth season this year, one can only anticipate how Lewis’ powerful combination of the emotionally subtle and proudly villainous strum und drang will liberate our country, or doom it. As to how we got there in real, and fictional life, there’s no better accompaniment than that sinister, somehow empowering musical lament of American gone wrong that Lewis has powerfully built.

. NIGHTFLYERS (Original Series Soundtrack)

One of the more otherworldly and inventive under the radar composers in the experimental scoring universe, Will Bates (under the Klytus-friendly name Fall On Your Sword) has taken sci-fi scoring into haunting, hypnotic realms with “Another Earth” while taking a sardonically rhythmic look at a star-reaching belief on this planet for “Going Clear.” Now he reaches a surreal musical destination further out in many ways with SyFy’s series adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s “Nightflyers.” Long before his fantasy world of Westeros took off, the author’s starcraft-as-haunted house story was adapted into a 1987 film, its titular craft propelled by an impressively imaginative synth score by Doug Timm. SyFy’s version went to new budgetary, and storytelling lengths as passengers from a dying earth attempt to contact an unfathomable alien civilization all while dealing with a far more sinister ghost in their machine. Timm’s adventurous electronic presence is certainly present in Bates’ approach to the end of the universe. With synths and samples convey the spirits that float through the circuitry and their explosive vengeance, Bates also reflects the growing disconnect that the crew has from their loved ones, and ultimately humanity itself. Though there’s certainly horror to be had onboard in the violently chattering percussion, gnarled reverberations and twisted strings, Bates’ transfixing music is even more impressive at capturing The Great Unknown though his sonic fusion of the computerized and organic, using voices that wordlessly sing with the aliens’ god-like power. With percolating synths at once 80’s retro and state of the art, Bates’ mesmerizingly weird musical voyage once again pushes the boundaries of TV scoring for a show that will continue in the music’s imagination.


Whether you dig Seth McFarlane’s empire of satirical snark or not, the one thing that can definitely be said is that this Grammy-winning impresario knows music – whether he himself is belting out a more than capable Sinatra tune or hiring exceptionally melodic composers to do their best. A big case now in point is “Orville,” McFarlane’s straight-laced smarty pants uniformed salute to Star Trek, where he of course puts himself into Captain Kirk’s chair. But where fans of that franchise’s once-thematic TV music had to most suffer through aimless doodling for a few decades since TOS, McFarlane has gone boldly by getting Bruce Broughton, Joel McNeely John Debney and arranger Andrew Cottee to steer a very impressive course way beyond a geeky wannabe constellation. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to tell there was any humor in the show given just how well this trio serve as the musical straight men, as heard on a two-disc collection of their top episodic work via La La Land Records, a label that’s certainly no stranger to compilations of another next gen. That Broughton and McNeely, responsible for some of the genre’s great scores during the 80’s and 90’s, have been neglected on the big screen says something about the obvious passion they put into this starship. Given a sizeable orchestra of 70, the composers run wild with brash, spacefaring exuberance, their bright symphonic music reflecting McFarlane’s love of TOS scoring and 70’s sci-fi shows like “Buck Rogers” in general. The quartet pay spot-on tribute to the Trek film work of Jerry Goldsmith and Jerry Goldsmith, from the mysterioso of flying over V’jer to the military ramp up of galactic battle. But fans will also hear the composers’ own styles clearly whether its Broughton’s western-esque martial percussion of “Tombstone,” McNeely’s rip-roaring action that seamlessly filled in on “Air Force One” or Debney’s “Cutthroat Island” swashbuckling (and even the rampaging of his “Relic”). Whether going for thrills or emotion, their sounds merge to make “Orville” a singularly thematic delight with a truly cinematic force. As with composer Jeff Russo’s unabashed turn on the real deal “Star Trek: Discovery,” this alternate Trek universe under the stewardship of a star unafraid to break the past’s prime musical directive yields joyriding results aboard their thinly cloaked salute, creating the exuberant music that should have been on the franchise’s TV voyages.


Though he’d win his only Oscar for “The Omen” in 1976, Jerry Goldsmith would have an equally impressive dive into a more metaphysical supernatural realm the year before with “The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.” Michael Sarrazin was a college professor who gradually discovers he had an even randier, and far less likeable past life as a lothario who’d pay the price for his emotional abuse. However, “Caboblanco” director J. Lee Thompson wasn’t out to make a typical horror film, rather staging the story as far more of detective investigation, with equal parts chilling suspense and twisted romance. An ace at just about any genre, Goldsmith certainly had a background in psychological horror with the likes of his electronic-topped, Oscar-nominated “Freud” as well as employing even more freakish synths for “Shock Treatment.” Starting out with creepy buzzing and beeping electronics that would foreshadow his score to “Logan’s Run,” Goldsmith’s hauntingly thematic score is disturbing in a surreal way, his music conveying a bubbling shadow realm from which our hero /anti-hero’s nightmares emerge. As Peter begins to get closer to the truth, the score gradually solidifies into the realm of the living with organic strings and piano, the music getting a bit lighter, and lyrical with guitar and violin. It’s a rustic quality that takes us from LA to New England, conveying a lakeside world of idle rich mansions and tennis clubs in a rustic way that would befit the positively homegrown subjects of Goldsmith’s bucolic scores for the likes of “Lilies of the Field” and “A Patch of Blue” – yet given the strangeness of synths and fuzz guitars. As forbidden love arises between a reincarnated dad and his past life’s daughter, Goldsmith conveys a feeling of something that’s beautifully star-crossed and unholy at the same time, and finally tragic with a dash of his trademarked staccato action in a rush to pre-ordained fate. With its shockingly succinct ending, Goldsmith displays “Peter Proud” as one of his most bravura examples of shifting tones and orchestration for a score, and film that never descend into the obvious, instead finding a powerful, spookily lyrical twilight zone in between. Where Jerry Goldsmith fans thought “Peter Proud’s” score was lying in a watery grave for decades, Intrada resurrects his genre masterwork with far better sound than the muddy bootlegs of before, with half of the score in true stereo, and the other in affected mono, which only adds to its creepy quality. Goldsmith expert Jeff Bond and Intrada head Douglas Fake, who oversaw a similar release of the composer’s seemingly lost “Damnation Alley” for the label, provide a captivating history on this cult film and the way it was ultimately shown the sonic light of day.


A composer whose work burst with an epic sense of symphonic manliness and a hauntingly lush sense of history, Mario Nascimbine was also one of the first Italians to break the waves of scoring Hollywood pictures like “Alexander the Great,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Quiet American.” His touch at handling both widescreen scale and torrid emotion (latter from “Solomon and Sheba” to “One Million Years B.C.” made Nascimbine ideal to sail to Norway at the impressed request of star and producer Kirk Douglas for 1958’s “The Vikings,” Richard Fleischer’s exuberant entry into the sword and sandal genre as such – here tackling Norway’s famed marauders with as much authenticity as possible. No instrument was as synonymous with the Odin-worshipping warriors as the regal sound of a giant horn, whose brass presence gives Nascimbine his main theme that practically sings in its rising tone to the Valhalla, a majesty that plays into the royal blood of father Ernest Borgnine, his lusty one-eyed son Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis’ half brother by way of pillaging. Capturing the neo-biblical spectacle of Miklos Rozsa and presaging the likes of Basil Poledouris’ “Conan” in creating a sound of pure, unrelentingly advancing barbarian might, Nascimbene’s score is full of romantic, sword-swinging blood and glory that’s all about the joy of battle – its might impressively mapped out by “Lawrence of Arabia’s” Gerard Schurmann. The setting might be the fjords and shores of England, but the grand orchestral spirit is all about the Teutonic gods of Wagner. Carving out truly memorable motifs, Nascimbene’s “Niebelungen sound is exhilarating, throttling stuff as it veers between marauding and nobility as French horns trumpet wrath, drums pound out waves of sword-swinging berserkers with a wall of thematic orchestral might that fills the widescreen for all of its musical worth. Given that its original soundtrack was released back in the day with a decidedly unimpressive recording, it’s no wonder that producer James Fitzpatrick, conductor Nic Raine and The City of Prague Orchestra and Chorus wouldn’t want to pick up “The Viking’s” mighty oars again, especially after their rousing re-performances of such legendary epic scores likes of “Quo Vadis” and “The Alamo.” Their passion blazes like never before on this sumptuous rendition of Nascimbene’s great work (while adding a suite from “Barabbas” for good measure), with Frank K. DeWald’s always-informative liner notes adding to the score’s historical import. There’s no better music to once again light up a Viking funeral with a Valhalla’s hall worth of singing Valkyries.

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

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Interview with Joe Kraemer

Do, 21/02/2019 - 22:07

With dozens of films and television shows to his credits in a career launched with “Way of the Gun’s” cult explosion, composer Joe Kraemer has scored no end of see-it-to-believe it projects. From daredevil swings between conspiratorial suspense and Lalo Schifrin spy riffs on Christopher McQuarrie’s “Jack Reacher” and “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” to the scary second entries of “House of the Dead” and “Joyride,” not to mention the orgasmic thrills of Skinimax’s “Femme Fatale’s” anthology series and upending a TV spin on “The Poseidon Adventure,” Kraemer’s energetically melodic approach has made listeners believe in the improbable. But perhaps the biggest surprise of Kraemer’s career is not only making us believe that Sam Elliott is “The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot,” but giving these accomplishments dead dramatic seriousness as well the kind of gorgeous thematic resonance you’d expect in a John Williams score dealing with far more earthbound events.

Yet it’s exactly the unexpected that makes this “Man” stand out. Written and directed with slowly paced resonance by Robert D. Krzyowski in his feature debut, taking down an infamous dictator and an unfortunately afflicted primate aren’t the happiest affairs for the history-haunted Calvin Barr (Elliott), who’s most silently tormented by the happier, romantic road his life has not taken due to his special set of lethal tracking skills. Veering between a homespun naturalism worthy of a “Waltons” episode with more ferocious combat one might find in “The Dirty Dozen” and “Evil Dead,” Kraemer’s quite beautiful score effortlessly segues through time and emotion with its striking lyricism, where military action takes a turn into the sad poetry of aging. For if the people who know Calvin quite didn’t realize he had it in him, the same might be said for listeners familiar with Kraemer’s more ferocious music in this most unexpected of stories.

Joe Kraemer and Sam Elliott

Of course that doesn’t mean Kraemer isn’t up to his sly tricks, particularly with the seditious “Comrade Detective.” Produced in Eastern Europe but made by Yanks, this seditious, terribly dubbed procedural has Bulgaria’s greatest macho detectives taking down the evil pawns of democracy to Kraemer’s over-the-top, spot-on salutes to America cop TV kitsch as well lampooning the iconic work of numerous capitalist film composers. Then with the deliriously fun documentary “King Cohen,” Kraemer gets into a jazz-blaxploitation swing that’s all about the chutzpah of a prolific outlaw filmmaker. It’s music that captures a Deuce decade when anything was possible in the name of memorable exploitation and pure, jazzy moxie. In yet another feat that shows his stylistic dexterity, Kraemer’s lush re-score of F.W. Murnau’s classic 1927 film “Sunrise” again shows Kraemer’s talent with a full, lush orchestra for film music at its purest form, from a time when scoring truly had to tell a story – from a composer who’s shown an affinity for tall tales like never before.

How did you become involved in a film with one of the more outlandishly memorable titles in some time?

The writer-director Robert Krzykowski first reached out to me to score a short film he made, based on a comic strip he drew in college called “Elsie Hooper”. The short film was a black-and-white noir made with life-size puppets and was very unique and personal, so when he told me he had a script for a feature he wanted to make, I was braced for something out of the ordinary.

Sam Elliott and Robert D. Krzykowski

He sent me the script and some production art he’d done. I read the first 20 or so pages, and emailed him right away and accepted the job. I usually don’t read scripts at all (unless I need to write music for use during principal photography) because there can be such a big gap between what one reads in a pre-production script and how the finished film turns out, and I find this can interfere with the scoring process. But because of this title, I just had to read some of it. When I finally saw a cut of the movie, I was so impressed by Bob’s filmmaking. He made an independent movie that looks as good as a big Hollywood feature, with phenomenal performances from exceptional actors. I was most struck by the emotional heart of the film, which ran counter to the expectations the title evoked.

The film has a surprisingly naturalistic pace in spite of its outré elements. How important was it to capture that feeling of normalcy in a way that you could still plunge into the more fantastical scenes?

I think it was very important. I think if I had tried to fight the feelings and pace that the movie was built on, it would have felt false. As a composer, I always try to follow the film’s lead, sometimes within a specific scene, and sometimes looking at the film as a whole. I have to trust that the movie knows what it’s doing, if you will, and that by following the film, I’ll be able to help the director tell his or her story. Of course, sometimes I encounter a situation where I have to deviate from this aesthetic and help push the film in one direction or another, usually at the director’s request, to help drive home a point that for any number of reasons might be resonating as strongly with the audience as desired. On this film, it was usually the opposite. We were pulling back on the emotion in spots to make sure we didn’t overdo it for the audience.

What kind of gravitas do you think Sam Elliot gives to the film, and your score?

I think he captured perfectly the sense of a lifetime of exhaustion that Barr has endured, disappointment at the way things turned out, and resentment that he didn’t take certain actions when he had the chance.
Again, I try to let the film tell me what kind of music it needs, and with Sam’s performance at the center of the film, it obviously led the direction of the emotional arc of the movie, and the score too as a result.

Can you talk about your main themes, and how they suit the film’s bittersweet, if not often-melancholy idea of aging in deceptive anonymity?

Well, Barr’s principal theme is pensive piano melody, which grew from my reaction to the lonely, quiet life he’s living in the modern part of the story. There is a “Brotherhood” theme, which developed out of the relationship Calvin has with his brother, Ed (Larry Miller), and grows to encompass his feelings about a particular character he interacts with in the back half of the movie. I wrote a delicate theme for Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald), the love of his life, which is first introduced in the scene in the Hat Shop. They also have a love theme that is heard throughout the film, including a heartbreaking sequence involving letters she has written to Barr. There’s also a theme for the Bigfoot, which also relates to the FBI and the Canadian authorities. Finally, there is a theme I wrote, the purpose of which is more ambiguous, and deals with the desire to hang on to a single moment in time and make it last forever. I hope these themes are composed or arranged in such ways that they resonate with the scenes in question effectively.

The film has an interesting flashback structure between young Calvin (Aidan Turner) and old. How important was it for the music to tie the timelines together?

If the flashback structure is working for the film itself in a narrative way, then the score should also work if I go along with it. I think Bob did a terrific way of pivoting the audience into the flashbacks through visual turns, so the music didn’t really need to help out there. Maybe films like “The English Patient” and TV shows like “Lost” have opened me up to the liberties stories can take now with flashbacks, because it was never really something I worried about on this.

Tell us about scoring the assassination of Hitler?

For me, the key to the scenes with Hitler is a close-up shot of Hitler’s hand, shaking uncontrollably. Combining this with some information Barr gives us during an engrossing monologue about what it was like to carry out that mission led me to score you hear in those scenes with Hitler. Nervous, tense, frenetic, hopefully with a surprising humanity in the subtext for Barr’s character.

What was your approach to Bigfoot?

Sometimes I try to be clever. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, I took the notes B, G, and F and made a musical motif out of theme that became the music signifier for Bigfoot. Not only do we hear it during the brawl with the creature, but also earlier in the film, I used it to foreshadow the involvement of the FBI with Bigfoot, although this is one of the things we pulled out of the film during the mix, as we felt the audience could figure this out for themselves…

There’s a nice John Williams-esque feeling to your orchestration in your score. What kind of feeling do you think that composer brings to distinctly American films, and how did you want to capture that kind of homespun quality here?

I suppose I’ve been such an admirer of John Williams for such a long time that I can’t help but approach some of the situations I encounter as a composer with techniques I learned studying his work. But I also specifically referenced J.S. Bach in this score, as well as making allusions to Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, David Shire, and John Barry. I didn’t specifically set out to capture that homespun quality, as you eloquently put it, but rather, tried to make music that seemed appropriate for the scenes in question.

Onto way more obviously crazy material, your music from Amazon’s “Comrade Detective’s” score is getting an LP release. What kind of opportunity do you think that scoring a “fake” Bulgarian cop show gave you, especially as the villains were the purveyors of Capitalism and Democracy?

The fun thing about that project was that I got to pretend I was someone else. I imagined I was a composer living in the Soviet Union in the early 80’s and I’d been given this chance by the Communist regime to do a big score for their top show. As this imaginary composer, I was given the chance to subvert American propaganda being distributed through their action movies like “Bullit”, “First Blood” and the Rambo films, “Chinatown”, and TV shows like “The A-Team”, “Hill Street Blues”, and such.

Did you do a deep dive into older TV “cop” music in preparation for “Comrade Detective?” And just how goofy did you think you could get with that over-the-top approach?

I didn’t do any specific research per se, instead I relied on my memory of how those shows were scored, which kind of worked as I imagine the composer I was pretending to be would not have seen these shows more than once, and even then as bootleg video tapes smuggled into Communist Romania. But I didn’t purposely try to be goofy with the music. If I got big, it was because I imagined the filmmakers of this 80’s program would have wanted the audience to be invested in the importance of this show.

Kraemer conducts Comrade

You pay some hilariously obvious homages to composers like Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry with “Comrade Detective,” not to mention twisting Democracy’s most sacred anthems to villainy. Was that part of the fun?

Definitely. Perhaps the most obvious aspect of my career has been an association with a “retro” approach to scoring, and getting to use techniques that audiences enjoy hearing in Goldsmith and Barry scores was a lot fun. I also love putting clever little Easter eggs into my scores. So using famous American melodies, such as the National Anthem, in twisted kept me amused.

Having scored the adult anthology series “Femme Fatales,” what was it like to get to do a way more kid-friendly “Goosebumps”-esque show called “Creeped Out” for Netflix?

I loved it. I’m kind of a kid at heart, and I really love the late 70’s and early 80’s films and scores, and I keep returning to those when I listen to music or watch movies for fun in my down time. So having a chance to write music for Amblin-esque material, albeit through the lens of the BBC, was really terrific. The director I worked with most on the show was Steve Hughes, who comes from “Doctor Who” and “Casualty”, just to name a few, and together we really wanted to make each episode a sort of mini-tribute to a film or director we loved from the 80’s.

Another thoroughly enjoyable throwback score you did was for the documentary “King Cohen.” How did you want to capture the go-for-broke chutzpah of an “outlaw” writer-director whose career has gone from the golden age of television to today’s Hollywood?

Larry Cohen is such a larger-than-life character, that it was impossible not to go-for-broke with the music. Some of the music we did in the film was driven by effective temp music placed by the director, Steve Mitchell. Some of it was from me, reacting to Larry’s personality. Sometimes it was dictated by the time period being discussed in the film, or the film being covered.

Joe Kraemer and ‘King Cohen’ director Steve Mitchell

What do you think the appeal of Larry Cohen’s movies are, and how did you want to translate to music an oeuvre where you feel the filmmaker’s personality?

I think Larry Cohen makes movies that are genuine and honest expressions of who he is and what he’s trying to say, and the audience reacts to that. I think writers and directors who try and create a false impression of who they are, or make movies that aren’t really what they love or want to do, end up creating work that is false, and the audience can see through that too. In terms of his personality, I think Larry is a natural-born entertainer who is at his best when he has an audience to perform for. You see it in the movie, I’ve seen it in real life at screenings and signings, he engages the audience and draws them into what he’s doing, with humor at first, and then with sincerity for what his ultimate goal is, whether that’s to scare them with “It’s Alive”, address a social issue with “Bone”, or satirize commercialism and capitalism with “The Stuff”. He has a lot of energy as well, so I tried to create music that had energy, a sense of humor, but an underlying sincerity, and depending on the situation in the documentary, a sense of fear, a sense of justice, let’s say, or a sense of humor. Evoking those senses through music is the job of a good film composer, and I tried to use the skills I’ve developed in those areas as best I could.

King Cohen

With so many film clips in “King Cohen,” how did you want to reflect on the actual scores in his movies?

Documentary scoring can be different from narrative feature scoring in that sometimes the music has to serve a purely practical purpose, such as linking interviews between movie clips. Obviously, music rights prevent us from using the scores from the original Cohen films except in “fair use” clips, so I had to come up with pieces that could segue into and out of the film clips without infringing on the copyrights of the original scores but also without taking the audience out of the flow of the documentary. But any composer who survives in this business has to have some skill at listening to a temp score that a director loves and finding a way to create a new piece of music that satisfies the filmmaker without stealing from the temp.

One of your most interesting projects has been doing a new score for the classic silent movie “Sunrise.” How did this classic come your way, and what kind of musical opportunities did it present to you?

Up until 2016, I had never had anything I’d written for orchestra performed live in concert, and it was a dream of mine I was striving to realize. In March of that year, I got a call from composer Brian Satterwhite, asking me if I was interested in writing a score for a silent film to be performed “live-to-picture” in the fall. I immediately said yes. I have to thank my friend, Beth Krakower, for pointing Brian in my direction. She passed away last year, and it was heartbreaking for me, and my score for “Sunrise” will always remind me of her.

Beth Krakower

My favorite aspect of the music itself was the freedom to tell the story in the score. I actually really love the balance between sound and music in films, having worked in sound for years while I waited for scoring opportunities. I am always complaining that my score is mixed too loud in some scene, or that we have too much music in a movie, but with “Sunrise” it was all music, all the time. Combined with the very classic look of the film, I felt liberated as a composer to indulge in thematic, emotional writing that had kind of vanished from live-action dramas in the 2000’s. You still hear it in animation, and some kids films, but this was a chance to just go for it one hundred percent.

What’s the trick to writing in the style of a 1927 score, from your way of embodying exactly what’s happening on screen to capturing the jazz age influences?

I don’t know if there was a “trick” per se. I tried to write music that felt honest to the film, music that didn’t clash with what I was seeing on screen. I guess the biggest factor in my decision-making was choosing the instruments to be used in the ensemble. By avoiding any synths or “modern” sounds like guitars or a drum set, the music had a certain accuracy to the film in terms of instrumentation. There is a character in the film referred to as “The Woman” or “The Other Woman” and she dresses in what for 1927 was considered very flashy clothing, a “flapper” haircut and the dress and heels that go with the look. That to me evoked an association with “rooty-tooty” clarinets and Gershwin and such. Another sequence has the central couple of the story dancing at a fancy restaurant to a brass band in a waltz, and the music for that sequence was determined to a large degree by the instruments seen on screen, the tempo the on-screen bandleader sets and at which the couple dance, and the kind of dancing they do. There are plenty of moments in the film where I do something that a composer from 1927 would not have done, things that are more modern than that, but I always tried to make sure those moments felt honest to the emotional intent of the movie.

As an especially busy composer, what’s coming up for you?

Joe Kraemer at Abbey Road Studios

I’m planning very soon to score a film for Lucky McKee, who I met when he produced “The Man Who Killed Hitler and the the Bigfoot.” Later this year, I’ll be working with Marcus Ovnell, a Swedish filmmaker, on a fantastic family-oriented film he’s currently editing called “Faunutland.” I also do a lot of work with a British organization called Big Finish, and they make Doctor Who audio dramas. With 50-plus years of history, the Doctor Who universe has endless story potential, and actors from the show’s history come in and do radio plays for CD, Audible and such. I do scores for those whenever I have time, they keep me busy and they give me a chance to work on a property I’ve loved since I was a kid.

Having gotten such a wide, stylistic range of film and television to score, is there any approach you’re still looking to play?

I think I’ve made it pretty obvious over the years that I’d love to score a “Star Wars” movie. I came pretty close with one, actually, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe one day? I guess rather than any one musical style, I’d just like to continue working on films that have something to say for the audience. I’ve been really lucky with “The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot” to have a canvas on which to paint a very emotionally satisfying picture.

Returning to “The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot.” do you think this score shows about what you’re melodically capable of as a composer, especially as its title is about the pre-conception of what kind of movie and score you expect, but then actually get?

I do the best job I can with every opportunity I get, whether it’s a film like this with a crazy title that yields a heartwarming story, or a popcorn-entertainment like “Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation.” Looking back at the past five or six years of my career, I see lots of turning points for my growth. I suppose “Hitler and Bigfoot” feels to me like a kind of fruition of seeds I planted in my work on “Sunrise.” I don’t really have any expectations of where my career is headed, I don’t actually believe one can control that kind of thing, so I just keep studying, keep practicing, and keep working. I trust the universe to take care of the rest.

“The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot” is now playing on Amazon iTunes and other VOD outlets HERE, with Joe Kraemer’s score available soon on La La Land Records.

Tune into the music of “Comrade Detective” on Lakeshore Records HERE, then get the blu ray / cd combo of “King Cohen” on La La Land Records HERE

Joe Kraemer’s score for “Sunrise” is available on Caldera Records HERE. Listen to other Joe Kraemer scores HERE

Visit Joe Kraemer’s website HERE

Categorieën: Filmmuziek nieuws

Audio: Interview with Junkie XL

Wo, 13/02/2019 - 20:47

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.”

Click above to Listen Now or Click Here to Download

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 - 02:53
(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