Soundtrax: Episode 2016-6
November 15, 2016
By Randall D. Larson
- Blake Neely: On Scoring BLINDSPOT
- Australian Composer Mario Millo:
A Walk through a Musical Career
93 DAYS (Kallis/MovieScore Media), THE ARRIVAL/Jóhannsson/Deutsche Grammophon), BOULEVARD NIGHTS (Schifrin/Varèse Sarabande), THE BOY AND THE LION (Cipriani/Kronos), THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (Elfman/Sony Classical), HACKSAW RIDGE
(R. Gregson-Williams/Varèse Sarabande), MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (Margeson & Higham/La-La Land), A MONSTER CALLS (Velázquez/Quartet), THE SAND/SONATA (Gillian/Howlin Wolf), SCREAM/SCREAM 2 (Beltrami/Varèse Sarabande vinyl), SCREAM TV Series (Zuckerman/Lakeshore)
Book, Soundtrack, & Game Music News
Composer Blake Neely has become the go-to composer for DC’s Television Universe, first scoring ARROW in 2012, then adding THE FLASH in 2014 and SUPERGIRL along with LEGENDS OF TOMORROW in 2015, each of them interconnected with characters and music that intentionally crosses over between one another in an increasingly complicated fictional universe. In 2015, Neely added another series to his ongoing repertoire – NBC’s crime drama BLINDSPOT, starring Jaimie Alexander (best known as Lady Sif from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) about an amnesiac whose body has been covered with tattoos, each of which seems to offer a clue towards knowing who she is, what happened to her, and why. I spoke to Blake earlier this year and asked about the unique challenges of scoring this series, and how he manages to keep all five programs coherent and cohesive – and turned in on time.
Q: With BLINDSPOT, how did you develop the kind of music that would highlight the mystery of the main character as well as supporting the show’s crime-of-the-week police action vibe?
Blake Neely: The interesting thing about this is that, sort of like my work on THE MENTALIST (2008-2015), there’s a through-line. I wasn’t interested in the show because of the FBI-procedural aspect, but because there was this emotional through-line: you’re always with her. Every case that they go on, even if it’s a case-of-the-week, it’s connected to a tattoo on her body, so it always has to be about her. So you’ve got your normal action music and your investigation and hunting and running and car chases, but it really always comes back to her, and Agent Weller. So that’s been very interesting to do. Also it’s mostly a mood and a tone and a vibe; it’s not too much theme-and-variation.
Q: How did you come up with the series’ signature motif?
Blake Neely: It’s mostly comprised of a sound, and for that I relied on the idea of this stutter vocal effect that I had my singer, Sherri Chung, perform. We put this stutter effect on it and it just became something that was instantly recognizable, which is always a great thing to find when you’re scoring. If you accidentally find something and turns out to be memorable, that’s lucky! But what’s funny is that I also took the series on because I thought it wasn’t going to be anything like the superhero shows. And it’s not – but I just didn’t think it was going to actually have more music than those superhero shows! It is non-stop! I mean, once you get on that train, you can’t get off! So I’m actually writing more music per week than I am on any of the other superhero shows.
Q: What’s your musical palette for this series?
Blake Neely: It’s very electronic. It’s bass, percussion, electronics, and a little bit of strings for the emotion, and then the vocal.
Q: That stuttery voice seems to fit the whole idea of the mystery of the tattoos; we see them but we don’t understand them, in the same way the stuttering voice makes a strange but recognizable vocal…
Blake Neely: Yeah. The esoteric way of my coming up with it was not just because it sounded cool, but in the way it depicts her. She doesn’t know who she is, so it’s almost like she sees an image of herself, but it’s blurry… So this was a way to make her voice, if you think of it as her voice, blurry. She almost knows who she is, but not quite… and will she ever?
Q: Each week as we learn and as she learns a little but more through the cases they are led to investigate by the tattooed clues on her body, are you treating that awakening or that growing understanding musically, in your treatment of the stuttering voice?
Blake Neely: Very, very subtly. It’s almost like a little window has been open. I’d been thinking, wouldn’t it be cool of at the end of the series that you get to hear the vocal in its pure form, because she suddenly knows who she is and then that’s the release, musically. No more stutter! But hopefully I won’t be able to tell you that for a few years!
For more information on Blake Neely, see his web site at www.blakeneely.com
I had the first opportunity to interview Mario Millo when I was writing the notes for the Dragon’s Domain reissue of his acclaimed score to THE LIGHTHORSEMEN (1987), Simon Wincer’s vast historical portrait of Australian expertise on military horseback during World War I. Our interview covered additional insights and recollections that wouldn’t all fit into the album notes, and I asked Mario if he’d be interested in undertaking a second, extended interview covering his entire film music career. He agreed and over a period of several months this interview was completed. While the final notes for THE LIGHTHORSEMEN soundtrack tell the story of the making and scoring of the film from the perspectives of Millo, Wincer, and producer Antony I. Ginnane, I’m pleased to present the unpublished (or only paraphrased) portions of our original interview within the broader scope of our second interview to provide a thorough portrait of the career one of Australia’s most significant film composers. I am especially indebted to Mario for taking the time and care in sharing his perspective and experience in such reflective detail. -rdl
Mario Millo was born in Sydney, New South Wales, in 1955. His first musical inclinations led him into the world of popular and rock music, and since high school he was lead guitarist on several bands, the most significant being Sebastian Hardie, which began moving into progressive and symphonic rock, with Millo on lead vocals as well as guitar. Bandmate Jon English joined Millo in 1978 to co-compose the historical miniseries AGAINST THE WIND, in which English also had a starring role. This led to Millo’s switching to scoring films and television full-time. He went on to compose more than two dozen mostly symphonic film and television scores through the 2000s. While the prospect of doing more scoring remains definitely viable, Millo is currently enjoying performing with a new band at venues such as the Sydney Blues and Roots Festival this last October 30th.
In memory of Mario’s friend and collaborator, actor/composer/musician Jon English, who passed away on March 9, 2016, while this interview was underway. -rdl
Q: What prompted your interest in scoring films and how did you first enter the business?
Mario Millo: I had the good fortune to have been commissioned by a leading Australian Audio Visual company to produce the music for several of their projects. I thoroughly enjoyed the work and it paved the way for me to pursue more of that type of work and turned out to be a great introduction into my film scoring career.
Q: Was it challenging to move from the world of progressive rock in the ‘70s into electronic and later orchestral film composing in the ‘80s?
Mario Millo: I loved playing my guitar, singing, and being on stage performing original music with my band Sebastian Hardie in the mid-seventies. It was a perfect relationship in that I had a bunch of guys hungry to play my music and we were all young and carefree, a real band in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, the band split around June ‘76 and although I was involved with various other bands throughout the years, none of them ever reached the intensity and commitment I had with Sebastian Hardie.
So, after struggling to make a living with these bands and getting a taste of co-writing the music for the TV miniseries AGAINST THE WIND (1978-79), I was definitely ready for a career change. I think moving into composing for film seemed a new challenge for me and a natural progression for my writing which always had an orchestral element. So, at the time, I didn’t perceive it as being a big step to take.
In 1982 I was approached to score the music for a TV documentary film called WE’RE COMING TO GET YOU which centered around the trials and eliminations for the 1983 America’s Cup featuring the Australian yacht Australia 2, which went on to win the cup that year. From that point on, I became established and was doing one film score after another. I was being acknowledged and awarded by the Australian music and film industry and I enjoyed much success for the following twenty years. While this was great for my writing career, the biggest struggle I had was not performing on stage and playing my guitar. I tried many times to get something going again so I could play live, but the film work was demanding and left no time for performing.
Q: With AGAINST THE WIND you first worked with George Miller (later to direct THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER) and Simon Wincer. What was this assignment like and what did you learn from this first experience in film/TV music?
Mario Millo: I was able to compose, record, and produce the music for ATW in my own studio, which took away the pressure of having to use an outside facility. It was a relaxed, wonderful, and very rewarding experience. The series and the soundtrack album were both very successful and so this first experience in drama production for me was a complete delight.
As best as I recall, the original plan by the producers was to use library music for the series. It was after they heard my demo of what became “Mary’s Theme” they decided to drop the library music idea and commission me and co-writer Jon English to produce the music. Jon also had the lead male acting role in the series and it was he who played them the demo.
The series was filmed and produced in Melbourne and I was in Sydney. I would spend the week writing and recording the previous week’s episode in my studio while Jon was on the set in Melbourne acting in the lead role. He would fly back to Sydney on Friday for the weekend and bring with him the next Episode. We would do a bit of writing and mixing together and then armed with the previous week’s two track master, Jon would fly back to Melbourne, deliver the music and resume his acting for the week. ATW was a thirteen hour episode series focusing on the early settlers in Australia and I believe it was the first mini-series produced for Australian television.
Listen to the song “Six Ribbons, by Mario Millo & Jon English from the AGAINST THE WIND soundtrack, on YouTube here.
Q: Your first theatrical feature film score was for the documentary AUSSIE ASSAULT, about the Australian win of the America’s Cup in 1983. This was obviously about a proud moment for Australian sports – how did you develop your score to reflect that while also giving it a sense of drama and tense excitement?
Mario Millo: AUSSIE ASSAULT followed the previously mentioned TV doco WE’RE COMING TO GET YOU and both were produced by film production company Sportsmaster. When Alan Bond’s Australia 2 won the America’s Cup, there was such an amazing buzz here in Australia about the win and even our Prime Minister Bob Hawke took the day off to celebrate with the rest of Australia. Sportsmaster fortunately had the foresight to film the races at Newport and didn’t waste any time producing the feature film AUSSIE ASSAULT. They had expressed how much they loved what I’d written for WE’RE COMING TO GET YOU and gave me what was my first opportunity to write for orchestra. It was my first large orchestral score and orchestral recording experience.
I wrote four pieces: Victory Theme, The Race Begins, The Jolly Theme, and The America’s Cup Theme. They were recorded at Sydney Opera House and the remainder of the music score was recorded and produced at my own studio.
Scoring AUSSIE ASSAULT taught me how to allow film scenes to evoke and inspire me to compose music that enhanced and connected with the film. Those four pieces were composed and recorded well before I had a locked-off picture; I had seen unedited rushes and this gave me the essence for the score and I then went ahead and composed without the restrictive start and end cue points. The images were then edited to the music which was bliss for me. Mostly when I was composing this music I had to rely on my memory of the film rushes and my imagination. It was such a learning time for me.
Q: The historical miniseries A FORTUNATE LIFE prompted a wide-ranging orchestral score. Would you describe your approach to scoring this film and how you developed your thematic structure across the show’s four episodes?
Mario Millo: I composed and recorded most of my music in my own studio throughout the decades. When the time came to record A FORTUNATE LIFE, and because of the lean music budget, I had to squeeze an eleven-piece ensemble in that small studio with zero room to spare! The ensemble consisted of 1 flute, 6 violins, 2 violas, 1 cello and 1 double bass. These sessions were my first conducting experience. Considering it wasn’t an ideal situation, the final outcome was fine.
I recall meeting with producer Bill Hughes before they had chosen the composer for the series. He suggested I read the book and submit a theme which I did and it was that main theme demo that won me the composing job. For this series, I was scoring to locked-off pictures with definite ideas and notes from the two directors. It was again a big learning curve for me and I realized I had the ability to enhance and sometimes create magic in certain film scenes. What I found was that a great film scene inspired me to write something special. In every film there is a percentage of mediocre scenes that inspire mediocre music. I’m definitely a composer who is inspired by the pictures in front of me.
Q: Was it that earlier working relationship with Wincer on AGAINST THE WIND that brought you into THE LIGHTHORSEMEN, or how did you become involved?
Mario Millo: It was actually Ian Jones (co-producer and screenwriter) who pushed for me to be the composer for LIGHTHORSEMEN. Ian had heard my work on AUSSIE ASSAULT. I think that Simon was a little unsure until he heard my music come to life when it was finally performed by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, aka The Victorian Philharmonic Orchestra. He loved the score and I’ve always been puzzled as to why we never worked together on another film. He did go to the USA to live and work shortly after so that may have been why we have not had that opportunity since.
Q: How long a time did you have to write, orchestrate, and record the score?
Mario Millo: It was so long ago that I actually can’t remember exactly, I’m guessing around 6 - 8 weeks from my receiving locked-off pictures. At the time, I was one of the first composers down-under to use the original Kurzweil K250 sampler keyboard and so a mock-up of the score was available for Ian and Simon to preview. In fact, the first trailer for the film used the mock-up of “Horses and Train” because the actual recording hadn’t happened yet.
I recall experiencing an incredible emotional time in my personal life apart from the pressure of my first score for large orchestra. Although I had orchestrated prior to LIGHTHORSEMEN, I always had help from various music masters especially from Eric Cook, a great music arranger, conductor, teacher who had died a few years beforehand. I recall thinking there was no one else I knew and trusted in that way to check my work and I realized I was on my own, so I just went for it. In addition, my father Bruno, had suffered a stroke several years earlier and at the time I was writing “Victory at Beersheba (Closing Titles),” he suffered another stroke and passed away 28 days later. I clearly remember writing “The Letter” after visiting him in hospital. He had been in a coma for several days by then and I knew we were going to lose him. The day before my father’s funeral, my wife was rushed into surgery due to an ectopic pregnancy. It was the most emotional time in my life and with all this happening in my personal life, it definitely affected what I was writing. The music I wrote for LIGHTHORSEMEN will always be very special to me. Absolutely loved writing the score though I feel losing my dad had much to do with what I composed.
Q: How did you musically delineate the characters like Ann and Dave, finding moments for reflective consideration and giving the score its more intimate, emotional flavoring?
Mario Millo: The music depicting the love story between Ann and Dave was the contrast and relief from the main score. The market scene was the most light-hearted, happy moment in the film. These romantic moments in the film gave the important light and shade.
Q: What element of the film initially struck you as central to the music as you were preparing to write it?
Mario Millo: The location (Middle East), the time in history when it all took place, and the Australian soldiers on horseback at war. These were three elements paramount in my mind. It confirmed to me that it definitely had to be a large orchestral score.
Q: How large of an orchestra was used to record the score, and where was it recorded? Was it a standard orchestral ensemble or did you emphasize any particular sections or groupings?
Mario Millo: 38, 55 and 75 piece standard ensembles were used to perform the score. No unusual exotic instruments were used. The orchestrations are generally rich and full. I used the violas, celli, and basses to create much of the rhythmic foundations throughout. I do have a tendency to favor strings in general. It was recorded in the Robert Blackwood Hall at Monash University. As mentioned earlier, the musicians were from the MSO, moonlighting as the VPO.
Q: What was most challenging for you in scoring this film?
Mario Millo: Although it wasn’t my first orchestral work, it was the first time the orchestrations were entirely my own. Coming from a rock’n’roll background and little formal training, I’ve sometimes felt a bit behind the eight ball; however, I’ve since realized that being a hybrid composer has served me well throughout the years. As mentioned, I had the great fortune in prior years to have had my music orchestrated by two great music men, Eric Cook and William Motzing, both now deceased. Apart from my father, these two men were my teachers, mentors and great friends. They passed on to me their invaluable knowledge and technical skills which gave me the confidence to be able to do my own orchestrations. I will always acknowledge them for this.
Q: Do you have any other memories about scoring THE LIGHTHORSEMEN and the response you received for your score?
Mario Millo: I will always associate THE LIGHTHORSEMEN score with losing my father, Bruno, especially the final piece “Victory at Beersheba.” He was a wonderful dad and the man who placed my small, five year old hands on a mandolin and pushed for me to have a career in music. He succeeded.
After being awarded the Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award for the LH score, I felt that it was my time to push forward. However, the Australian film industry at the time, although active, was very small compared to Hollywood and therefore opportunities were extremely sparse, especially for orchestral scores.
In the early nineties, Simon Wincer invited me over to LA and he organized introductions with several Hollywood composer agents. After those meetings I was offered an opportunity to score a mini-series which I had to decline because a prerequisite was I had to live in the U.S. close to Hollywood. My life and young family were all here in Oz, the country I love. All things considered, though I may have been able forge a place as a composer in Hollywood, my wife and I made the choice to keep our humble lifestyle here in Australia. This is something we have never regretted as we live in one of the best countries in the world!
Listen to samples of Mario Millo’s score to THE LIGHTHORSEMEN here.
Q: TANAMERA – LION OF SINGAPORE was an interesting World War II miniseries set in Singapore. What can you tell us about scoring this series and the range of opportunities its story had for music?
Mario Millo: I knew from the outset that because of the era, Asian location, and WWII backdrop and subject matter (a forbidden love story between a British soldier and the daughter of a wealthy Singapore family), that I had to come up with a main theme that evoked all these elements.
I was excited to score this series and it was another opportunity to compose an orchestral score.
As it was post-LIGHTHORSEMEN I was more comfortable with the entire “orchestral process,” meaning that with the very limited music budgets across the Australian film industry, composers in Australia were expected to compose and orchestrate the music, organise talent, the recording facility, copyists, conductors, insurances, etc. All fees and payments came out of the limited music budget (guessing about a twentieth of a U.S. composer’s fee at the time). As stressful as it was with limited funds and tight deadlines, somehow we all found a way to deliver our scores on budget and on time.
Q: The Australian Western OUTBACK was another film produced by Anthony I. Ginnane for whom you did LIGHTHORSEMEN. How much of the film was inspired by the style of American Westerns and what evoked the music with which you would frame this film?
Mario Millo: This was a difficult project in that budget restrictions caused the final score to be produced using first generation Kurzweil K250 samples. At the time (circa 1987-88), orchestral samples were somewhat novel and to the untrained ear it was perceived as an orchestra. The consensus by the producers and the director was that the orchestral mimic was good enough to use for the final score/sound for the film, which was extremely frustrating for me after having the wonderful experience of recording with the VPO on LIGHTHORSEMEN score a year or so prior.
I remember struggling through it and injecting real piano and a few other acoustic instruments in order to breathe some sort of life into the sound. At the end it was disappointing to me because it was an orchestral mimic which should have been performed by a real orchestra to bring it to life. Consequently I’ve never listened to the music since working on the film.
Q: Many of the films such as these that you’ve scored have been for historical films or miniseries, and they have evoked particularly sweeping romantic orchestral scores. What is it about these historical periods that you find enjoyable and/or challenging to write music for?
Mario Millo: I didn’t set out to do the romantic period dramas, it’s what a lot of Australian film producers were making at the time and I guess I became pigeon-holed to a degree. In any case I was happy to compose lyrical, emotional music as opposed to dark, tense pieces. I suspect a horror film would possibly drive me nuts, although I’ve never had to score one, so who knows! I love dissonance as much as harmoniousness; they are both necessary in music in my opinion.
Speaking of melodic and romantic scores, late in 1987 I was commissioned to compose the main opening and closing themes and several theme variations for the miniseries ALWAYS AFTERNOON, which was set in Australia in WW2. It was a beautiful love story of forbidden love between a German violinist and the local town baker’s daughter. I enjoyed writing this score so much and had the great experience to have my music conducted by Dobbs Franks, who was then the resident conductor of Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Among his impressive credits, I believe Dobbs had worked closely as assistant to Leonard Bernstein in West Side Story. I thought he was an incredible conductor and it has been one of my best memories to witness my music come to life with the TSO with Dobbs at the helm.
Q: BRIDES OF CHRIST was a provocative drama set in the more recent past (early 1960s) about a young bride struggling with her faith and precepts set down by the church. Your music is especially evocative in both spiritual and human-drama terms. How did your musical approach for this series come about and how did you find the elements of the story that you felt should be at the core of the musical development?
Mario Millo: I absolutely loved composing and producing the score for BRIDES OF CHRIST. The best way I can sum it up is that it was an amazing, emotional journey and I enjoyed every minute of it. The first piece I wrote for the series was named The Apparition (beginning of the first episode). It was that scene in the film that inspired the main phrase. Once I had conceived that four note main phrase I was on my way. I used variations of the main theme throughout the series, although each episode had its own definite character and story which inspired its own thematic elements. The entire series was so inspiring and the writing just flowed out so easily. I was locked away writing for six weeks or so and loved every minute of it.
Director Ken Cameron was so great to work with. From the moment we first met we were in sync. At the music spotting sessions he articulated clearly the feelings the music should evoke and then left me to it with complete faith that I was able to interpret what he needed. It was an absolute pleasure working with Ken and BRIDES was one of my favorite commissions even though I would have loved to have had the budget to engage a real orchestra.
Q: The 1993 TV-Movie SINGAPORE SLING returned to the Singapore environment but in more of the fashion of a detective thriller. How did you tackle the needs of this grittier action-oriented story, and its Asian setting, with a more modern theme and some fine use of vocalisms?
Mario Millo: SINGAPORE SLING was a very interesting and enjoyable experience. I remember deciding that percussion would play a significant role and so I armed myself with an arsenal of percussion gear.
The digital era was really opening up by this stage. Sampled instruments, sampled voices, looped sequences, and drum and percussion loops were all becoming part of a new music pallet with access for everyone to use. I was excited about some aspects of these new tools for making music; however, I felt that individuality was starting to wane. I made sure that in SINGAPORE SLING there were always real instruments being performed to keep things unique.
It was a timely and complete change for me and I welcomed it. I got to play my guitars and percussion and had fun implementing samples and loops etc.
Q: You revisited this film in two further TV-films in 1995 – ROAD TO MANDALAY and OLD FLAMES. How did you develop the music further into these continuing adventures?
Mario Millo: There were in fact three more TV films – the two you’ve mentioned plus MIDNIGHT ORCHID, which was a continuation of SINGAPORE SLING. The main opening and closing themes were used for all three films, but the music for each episode had its own individual thematic cues. By the time I had completed the three films, I remember feeling that I’d used my sample arsenal to the max.
Q: JOH’S JURY dramatized the 1991 perjury trial of former Queensland State Premier Joh Bielke-Petersen – how did you confront this courtroom drama and accentuate its own dramatic moments?
Mario Millo: With a shoe string budget, once again. But it was another opportunity to work with Ken Cameron (director of BRIDES OF CHRIST) whom I had much respect for. Again, Ken entrusted me completely and left me to it. Throughout the years as a film composer I’ve recognised that writing and producing music for television is quite a different task to scoring a feature film. It’s a much more “on or off” approach with TV. Feature films have a canvas with a huge dynamic range. I learned how to apply both.
Q: SEE HOW THEY RUN was a TV crime thriller series but one made for a youthful audience – did that, along with the short length of each episode (25 mins), provide any unusual challenges as far as your musical approach and development? What were your scores like?
Mario Millo: SEE HOW THEY RUN was very enjoyable and I don’t recall having any issues with the shorter episodes. It was a BBC/ABC co-production and the first time I had worked for the BBC. I remember I had a great rapport with the director Graeme Harper, who was very excited with the music I was coming up with. He was very much like Ken Cameron in that he was very encouraging and had complete faith in leaving the music decisions to me.
Instrumentation wise, I again focused on a more contemporary approach making use of guitars, keyboards, percussion, and string samples. It was the cues that featured guitars that Graeme really loved, I recall. I was awarded the Australian Guild of Screen Composers (AGSC) Award for “Best Music for a Television Mini Series” for this series.
Q: Your scores are noted for their evocative and captivating melodic components and the films you’ve done have given you a great opportunity to write affecting and memorable melodic themes. When you are starting out scoring film, what’s your process of coming up with an original melody, one that is flexible enough to service the ensuing dramatic needs of a film or series, and how you use themes to comment on the arc of the characters or the heroism in films like these?
Mario Millo: Coming up with the main idea, the main thematic phrase, for a film is the most exciting part, but can also be the most stressful if I keep drawing a blank or if I feel the music isn’t connecting with the film. The music has to capture the essence of the story and I’ve always tried to create something special and unique thematically for every film. If it’s a great film then most of the time I’m inspired and it comes easy, other times it can take a few attempts before I feel it is sitting well. For me, the music needs to make a definite connection with the film. I know when I’ve come up with the right theme as it is like someone has waved a magic wand above me and everything sparkles for a time and then I feel I have the keys to unlock the journey.
Q: CHANGI is a provocative miniseries returning you to World War II Singapore, about six young Australian mates who go to war and wind up in prison camp. What were the musical requirements for this 6-episode series and how did you accompany its dramatic arc and characters?
Mario Millo: An absolutely fantastic production to have been a part of. I also had the task of coaching and recording the actual actors for several singing performances which were in the script and all needed to be recorded before the filming of the scenes. Screenwriter John Doyle was hands on throughout the production and a great influence. He had injected so many great classic songs from WW2 era in the script and that gave me the opportunity to get to know those wonderful songs in detail. There were similarities to BRIDES OF CHRIST in that each episode focused on an individual character’s story. I was able to add a definitive musical character for each episode while maintaining the thematic thread throughout the series. A wonderful experience!
Q: HEROES’ MOUNTAIN was based on the survivor of the Thredbo ski lodge landslide tragedy. How did you decide what the music should be for this film and how you developed it to support this true story’s dramatic highlights?
Mario Millo: I recall feeling frustrated at the spotting session taking my notes and hearing the wall-to-wall temp music, mainly music from the feature film GLADIATOR (we are talking about a budget disparity of probably around 1/50th of the music budget compared to GLADIATOR). While I think the music from GLADIATOR is great, I didn’t feel that musical approach worked for HEROES’ MOUNTAIN. I was also thrown a bit as the general consensus was that the score should be minimalist, single cello for example, even though the temp music portrayed a huge score.
I had just finished an orchestral score for CHANGI, and the director on HEROES MOUNTAIN had watched the series and loved what he heard. However, there was not the music budget for HEROES MOUNTAINwhich allowed for an orchestral score. The solution I found was to use a small six piece string ensemble, piano, classical guitar and female soprano feature. This turned out to be the right approach for what was such a sad but heroic true story that captured the nation, and everyone was happy with the outcome.
Q: What musical challenges did the family film PAWS give you, and did you enjoy scoring this mystery adventure involving a talking terrier and a hidden fortune?
Mario Millo: I hadn’t composed for real orchestra since TANAMERA in 1988, so PAWS broke the drought. I was thrilled to be writing for orchestra once again and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. It also reacquainted me with Concert Master, violinist Philip Hartl and audio engineer Christo Curtis.
I recall the biggest challenge for me was to create a score that was comparable to the temp music they had used throughout the film while keeping in mind that it was a basically a film for kids and the music need to reflect the humor of the computer-literate talking dog (brilliantly voiced by comedian Billy Connelly). It was lots of fun.
Q: Do you have any final thoughts to share, looking back over your career thus far, concerning where you’ve been, and what opportunities you hope may come your way yet in the future?
Mario Millo: Most of my involvement scoring music for film and television happened in the eighties and nineties. After scoring THE LIGHTHORSEMEN, ALWAYS AFTERNOON and TANAMERA, I was primed and began to feel very comfortable composing orchestral scores. As it turned out, it was nine years post TANAMERA before I had the opportunity to write for orchestra once again and that was scoring for the film PAWS, as we’ve just discussed. That has always been a disappointment for me, but a result of choosing to stay in Australia to work and bring up my family. I have no regrets I made that choice.
My career has been divided into two distinct parts. As a recording/performing artist progressive rock guitarist/ vocalist, and as a film composer, evolving into orchestral scores. In recent years I’ve had the pleasure of producing young talented artists including my daughter Jess’s band, The Vandabelles, and talented singer/songwriter Nick Latta. I hope to be doing more of this in the future.
I’m currently composing my first symphonic work based on “Four Moments” which I composed in 1974. It was my bands’ debut album and has become a prog rock classic album. I’m also planning to perform again and currently in rehearsals with my new band, which I am really excited about.
I have had a few life changing opportunities come my way throughout my career that I’ve declined and I sometimes wonder about, but deep down I have no regrets. I’m looking forward to more composing and hopefully more performing as a guitarist.
Listen to samples of scores discussed above, on his web site here.
For more information on Mario Millo, see his web site: www.mariomillo.com
Snapshots: New & Notable Soundtracks
93 DAYS/George Kallis/MovieScore Media cd + digital
George Kallis (HIGHLANDER: THE SOURCE, GAGARIN: FIRST IN SPACE) has composed an impassioned orchestral score for 93 DAYS, a film directed by Steve Gukas (they first collaborated in the 2014 Nigerian thriller, A PLACE IN THE STARS) dramatizing the bravery and sacrifice made by a small team of doctors in Lagos, Nigeria, who quickly contained the Ebola virus that broke out in 2014, with only 8 deaths in a city of over 20 million people. “After our early discussions I realized that Steve wanted the music to make a significant statement in the film and to accentuate the soul and humanity behind the story,” Kallis said. “So for me it was a fascinating opportunity to compose a lyrical score that expressed the emotions and heroism of the people that perished in order to save thousands.”Recorded with a 65-piece orchestra, the music ranges from serene solo segments to evocative thematic landscapes, resonating with a polished sentiment that is honestly conveyed while also coloring the urgency of the task at hand and the subsequent international concern about it. “We have various melodic elements such as a four-chord motif for the core medical stuff, an Ebola-threat melody based on contrabasses and trombones, and a native African element, which is featured with Onyi, a wonderful singer of Nigerian roots, who is based in LA and whose voice brings a wonderful dimension to many parts of the score,” said Kallis. 93 DAYS is a powerful score, possessing a compelling melodic and harmonic structure, set against a growing biological threat, which breathes life and soul into a drama of powerful reality.
THE ARRIVAL/ Jóhann Jóhannsson/ Deutsche Grammophon – cd & digital
Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score for THE ARRIVAL, French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction drama about a linguist who attempts to communicate with the alien intelligence controlling a fleet of spacecraft, has been released on the prestige classical label Deutsche Grammophon. The composer previously scored Villeneuve’s SICARIO (2015), for which he garnered an Oscar Nomination for best score; and the two will reunite next year for BLADE RUNNER 2019, the much-anticipated sequel to s.f. classic BLADE RUNNER.
“ARRIVAL is a very unique science fiction film and I decided early on that the human voice would feature prominently in the score,” said Jóhannsson. “It seemed a natural choice, given that the story is very much about language and communication.”
The score is a massively atmospheric and deeply textured production that is as evocative as it is discomforting; the music exudes a fascinating blend of both classical and avant-garde orchestral elements along with incorporating a number of vocal ensembles and soloists, experimental musical gestures, and found sound, all layered together using digital sound processing, analog tape loops, and adroit musical design. Jóhannsson’s integration of all this creates an aural soundscape that mirrors the alien-ness of the visitors and their gigantic, oblong spacecraft, providing some grandiose statements as well as an unsettling anxiety as the story takes us within one of them. Processed vocalisms interact with low, unnatural drones and suspended orchestral passages, floating like bits of star stuff, while textural patterns emerge as shifting, sonic fractals, giving the story a floating and fluctuating accompaniment that is affecting and invigorating. It’s a fascinating and unearthly a sci-fi score, and as potent an accompaniment to the film’s narrative arc as any you’re likely to find in today’s film musical language.
“I basically had carte blanche to experiment musically and sonically in creating this unique sound world,” explains Jóhannsson. “Denis and I have developed a trust where we can work together in a very collaborative way.” The score is very much of a sound design process, yet one that never loses its inherent musical components nor crosses over into sound-effect-as-score. The DG soundtrack album is said tofeature the complete music from the film. Jóhannsson has imagined and created his most compelling and immersive work yet, which really amps up the anticipation to see what he’ll do with BLADE RUNNER 2019.
Read an interview with Jóhannsson about the score at thecreatorsproject here.
BOULEVARD NIGHTS/Lalo Schifrin/ Varèse Sarabande - cd
Varèse Sarabande has launched a new web-exclusive series called “We Hear You,” a limited edition series of soundtracks consisting of albums that fans have been requesting. A new title is expected to be released every few months. The first release is Lalo Schifrin’s BOULEVARD NIGHTS, a jazz and disco oriented score for Michael Pressman’s 1979 crime drama about a young Chicano man (Richard Yniguez) who is trying to escape from life in a street gang, with the expected difficulties. This is its first appearance on CD, the content replicating the original Warner Bros soundtrack LP, with the addition of new liner notes by Jim Lochner, which put the film and its score into 1979 context, and its album tracks in their context within the film. Latin jazz abounds, often morphing into shimmering disco within the same track as the boundary between source music and dramatic street rhythm are blurred. George Benson provides the vocal for the reflective End Title song, “Street Tattoo,” built around Schifrin’s main theme with lyrics by Gale Garnett. Greg Prestopino provided lyrics for three additional compositions which are vocalized by uncredited studio singers and give an excellent late-1970s disco/jazz urban street vibe. It’s quite an enjoyable score, perhaps a little nostalgic from our viewpoint 37 years down the road; but it’s constructed out of the kind of street savvy jazz/pop that Schifrin excelled at, especially in those days. A very welcome release.
THE BOY AND THE LION/Stelvio Cipriani/Kronos – cd
Originally released digitally-only by Octopus Records in 2013, Kronos has provided the premiere CD-release of this easy-listening score from one of Italy’s most quintessential film composers. An obscure title on Cipriani’s filmography (so much so that it doesn’t even appear), little is known about this Italian TV miniseries. Unlike the composer’s more pervasive pop- and jazz-based scores, THE BOY AND THE LION is favored with a luxurious and melodic symphonic score, favoring massed strings, harpsichord, and a subtle use of electronics in the deep background. The album is organized in an interesting manner – six primary themes form the backbone of the score: “The Boy and the Lion,” “Lion’s Waltz,” “Running,” “Playing in the Sun,” “Jungle Life,” and “Animal Life.” These are presented in theme order in the album’s first 26 tracks, meaning that there are 14 tracks of “The Boy and the Lion” – a main version followed by eight alternate versions, four string versions, and a piano version. Four versions of “Lion’s Waltz” follow, with two each of the other themes coming up afterwards. While this does mean that by the end of 14 versions of the main theme, the tune and its presentation becomes a little tiresome, despite differences in arrangement or instrumentation, and so on with the remaining themes; but, with the way the score was written, this sequencing actually makes some sense, allowing each of the thematic efforts and their variances to be considered on their own, and offering the final six tracks, each one a somewhat more dramatically-oriented atmospheric cue, to take up the end of the presentation. The score is fairly sedate, without the swing and sparkle of Cipriani’s more active scores, but it’s likable nonetheless, its composer still very much in command of eloquent melodies and comforting harmonic rhythms. As with most of the labels releases, this is a limited edition of 300 copies.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN/Danny Elfman/Sony Classical - cd
Danny Elfman has scored a modernistic ambiance of rolling tension in his score for THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, directed by Tate Taylor (THE HELP) and starring Emily Blunt in the title role. For this mystery thriller, Elfman eschews the more orchestral, choral, and broadly-melodic approach he’s given to his fantasy and heroic scores in favor of a darkly-hewn, twisting rhythm of reflective tonalities and enigmatic clusters of orchestration. Using a palette confined to strings, percussion, prepared piano, strident guitars, and an abundance of computer keyboards, Elfman keeps the viewer on edge as the story plays out. The music shadows Blunt’s mysterious divorcee as she takes the train to work each day, passing the house she once lived in with her husband, now home to him and his new wife; the music’s reverberant keyboard reflections enliven a young couple she sees in a house a few doors down, fueling her fantasy about their happy life that has thus far eluded her; and then twists those feelings with darker, distorted music when she witnesses something shocking before the train passes by, and she becomes immersed in finding out what happened – which allows the music to takes he into even darker places. It’s an intriguing musical journey as Elfman leads us from the comforting keyboard realm of “Riding the Train’s” keyboards and guitars into the drearier assemblages that culminate in the distressingly dissonant “Really Creepy,” a mélange of gloomy shades and threatening, discordant musical structures that very much earns its title; and then back out into the brighter coloration of protective piano in “Resolution.” It’s a very intriguing sonic ride.
HACKSAW RIDGE/ Rupert Gregson-Williams/Varèse Sarabande
Rupert Gregson-Williams has composed an elegant and emotive orchestral score for this true-story World War II drama about Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who, in Okinawa during one of the bloodiest battles of WWII, saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. As Rupert puts it, the score is really in two parts. The film begins as, “a lovely romance that blossoms as Desmond discovers both the love of his life and his faith.” Through the progression of the story, the second half of the movie becomes more brutal. “The score reflects some of this, and also Desmond’s spiritual strength,” Gregson-Williams added. Rupert worked closely with the film’s director Mel Gibson to discuss how best to reflect Desmond’s spirituality without being pious, and his bravery without celebrating violence. The score is richly symphonic and captures Desmond’s feelings and faith with a humble resonance while still finding livelier moments of musical danger and peril to augment. “Throw Hell at Him” is a very tense, suspenseful cue and “Japanese Retake the Ridge” contains the score’s primary action music on the album, propulsively describing the environment of violence in which Desmond stood his moral ground; the remainder of the album’s music reflects Desmond’s point of view with heartfelt melody and an adherence to his confidence and pacifistic demeanor. The film is a thoughtful and perhaps thought-provoking contrast to modern heroic war and action films that glorify the violence inherent within warfare – maybe an ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT for the new millennium – and regardless of those considerations it’s a very nice listening experience on disc.
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN/
Matthew Margeson & Mike Higham/La-La Land - cd
This is the third Tim Burton feature film not to have been scored by Danny Elfman (Howard Shore scored ED WOOD in 1994, and 2007’s SWEENEY TODD adapted the Stephen Sondheim musical), although the score actually reflects a good bit of Elfman’s musical vocabulary. Composers Matthew Margeson (EDDIE THE EAGLE, KICK-ASS 2) and Mike Higham (DEAD COOL, THE BALLAD OF SANDEEP) have jointly created a full-blooded fantasy adventure score that very strikingly brings the film’s environment and peoples to vigorous life. Higham had previously composed additional music for Burton’s SWEENEY TODD and BIG EYES and was the music editor on several of the director’s films; he recommended Margeson to Burton; thus their connection to Burton. The story follows a dark tale of a young boy who discovers a secret shelter for children with unusual abilities headed by the enigmatic Miss Peregrine, but he soon realizes that danger is imminent and takes it upon himself to protect the residents from these powerful forces. The music is a delight, a robust orchestral work enhanced by synth elements that emphasize the quirkiness of the story, its uniquely-abled characters, and evocative setting, and thus it’s as much fun to listen to on disc as it was heard supporting the film. The score begins with a very engaging title track, full of mystery and evocation via tenuous string pulses, until a series of delicate harp arpeggios rise above them, carrying along an eloquent violin melody dappled by pleasing woodwind trills but still conveying a sense of mystery and uncertainty. This is the main theme’s melody, which will be renewed in various guises elsewhere in the music; the string pulses return and gather together around powerful, descending horn statements that validate the insecurity of former music with the clarity that this is indeed a place in which to be wary. Elsewhere there are enchanting passages carrying wisps of ethereal tunes and melodic fragments, which define the magic elements of Miss Peregrine’s Home (“A Place Like This,” “The Augusta”) which opens, dazzlingly into a magical environment of fragmented arpeggios and bright colors (“Squirrel Rescue,” “Projecting Dreams”), more overt magical demonstrations involving suspended choral elements or haunting, aggressive choral intonations (“I’ll Be Here Forever,” “Barron’s Experiment”). Also present are sturdy and powerful action pieces bolstered by brass and/or choir (“Hollow Attack,” “Raising The Augusta,” “Standoff at Blackpool Tower,” “Ymbrynes, Ymbrynes, Here I Come,” “Peculiars vs. Wights”), various moments of menace (“Barron Revealed,” “Surprise Visitor”), as well as intimate and honest character interaction motifs (“Blackpool,” the concluding “Go To Her”). Naturally some cues contain a necessary mixture of these elements, The score thus demarcates the various components of the story – the magical environment in which the story takes place, the titular mansion itself with its multifaceted components and inherent mystery, the various influences of enchantment encountered by the protagonists as they learn about their unusual peculiarities and bond with one another, and the dangerous challenges they face through it all. At odds with the rest of the score is “Handy Candy,” and raucous techno dance track, which can be quite jarring after so much of Margeson and Higham’s quite elegant orchestrations. Otherwise, though, this is quite an excellent score, delightfully rich in flavor and range, and a very welcome new partnership that I hope to hear more of.
A MONSTER CALLS/Fernando Velázquez/Quartet - cd
Spanish composer Fernando Velázquez’s latest collaboration with director J.A. Bayona (following THE ORPHANAGE and THE IMPOSSIBLE), this is an exquisitely heartfelt composition for Bayona’s delicate portrayal of a bullied boy whose friendship with a storytelling tree monster allows him to cope with his single mom’s terminal illness. With a full orchestra and choir, Velázquez’s score is graceful and affecting, its willowy pace allowing for each measure of the harmonic melodies to saturate into the characters’ arc – and the viewer’s memory. The beautiful and suspended themes are associated with the boy and his journey through the story; the tree monster is initially characterized musically through a flaying landscape of heavy chords, a rough musical periderm of powerful strokes and advancing steps, the music ultimately soothing (as in the final moments of “The Monster Wakes”) revealing him to be a gentle giant. But it still takes a while for boy and yew tree to make their connection; “Second Encounter” carries this from large strokes of musical trepidation and energy through to a theme associated with connection and friendship while continuing to treat the tree creature with a sense of ominous power, enhanced with choral accompaniment as the two join forces to support the boy’s situation. It’s a fantasy score with brief elements of the monstrous, wide swaths of heartbreaking poignancy and passion, and an innate sense of humanity. Quartet’s release of the score includes the original song by British band Keane heard in the film (included in its orchestral film version as well as an alternate performance just by the band, which bookend Velázquez’s 19 score tracks). In the booklet, Bayona provides commentary about the film, what drew him to it, and how he determined to film it, which is intriguing background on the film, but he doesn’t comment on the score, which is allowed to speak for itself.
THE SAND + SONATA/Vincent Gillioz/
Howlin Wolf Records – cd
This new release contains a pair of horror thrillers scored by Swiss-born Hollywood composer Vincent Gillioz (LAST BREATH, COLLAPSE): last year’s THE SAND, about a seemingly carnivorous beach (yes, you heard me) whose sand put the kibosh on an all-night shoreline graduation party, and 2004’s SONATA, an intricate claustrophobic thriller about a young woman, locked up in a house of secrets by an overprotective mother, who is visited by an enigmatic stranger who may, or may not, be a Prince Charming come to rescue her from her imprisonment. For THE SAND, Gillioz has composed powerful and propulsive monster music performed by live orchestra, its motivic tendrils tunneling through the shifting orchestrational strata to suddenly emerge from the granular rhythms with raging crescendo and contorted confrontation. There are four main themes that characterize the score: the aggressive four-note Monster theme just described; a wistful Hope motif whose warm melody stands in contrast to the bold monster music and suggests that survival may yet be at hand; a melancholy Love theme that carries the arc of an unresolved romantic triangle between the leads; and a Success motif for legato figures from the horns that punctuates the protagonist’s progress in escaping escape their predicament. Gillioz’s score is coherent and sophisticated in its progression to delineate each of these story elements, and is quite engaging across its journey, capturing a likable flavor that supports both the horrific and the heroic aspects of what may be low-grade monster movie – elevated by its music several realms above that status, and it works on CD as a fine and immersive performance. SONATA, a much earlier score in the composer’s oeuvre, is more of a psychological thriller and is treated delicately as the film unspools as a kind of character melodrama, the multiple facets of which Gillioz treats with a smaller orchestral ensemble, although it has its share of powerfully stated moments. Gillioz’s focus here is on intimate performances, distinctive textures, and a variety of character themes associated with personalities in the girl’s imagination with whom she ultimately comes to eschew her innocence and accept a sense of personal triumph over her situation. A far subtler work in contrast to THE SAND, SONATA attains its own musical charisma through its instrumental configuration and textural detail, and in its own way is very much the equal of the former, more effusive, work. Benjamin Chee provides helpful album notes that describe both film and score in thorough detail, aptly describing Gillioz’s use of theme and variation and indicating where each theme appears throughout the tracklist. The album is a limited edition of 500 copies.
For more details and audio samples, see howlin wolf records
SCREAM/SCREAM 2/Marco Beltrami/Varèse Sarabande – vinyl
The music from the SCREAM franchise was instrumental in launching the career of Marco Beltrami, who scored all four feature films and has now become one of the most popular composers in Hollywood. The first SCREAM film in 1996 came and went without a proper score album; only a songtrack CD of its songs was issued by TVT at the time of the film’s release, with a single perfunctory score cue of Beltrami’s appearing at the album’s end; not until SCREAM 2 in 1997 proved the series’ success did a score soundtrack come out, put together in 1988 by Beltrami for Varèse Sarabande’s release with 6 tracks from SCREAM and 9 from SCREAM 2. Varèse Sarabande’s new premiere vinyl release of Beltrami’s scores for SCREAM and SCREAM 2 replicates that 15-track CD release, with SCREAM on Side 1 and SCREAM 2 on Side 2, presented either on “Bone White” 180 gram colored vinyl (available through amazon) or on “Ghostface White with Blood Splatter” 180 gram colored vinyl (available at F.Y.E. stores). Film music aficionados will probably want Varèse’s Deluxe CD Editions of both scores (SCREAM, issued in 2011 – 25 tracks; SCREAM 2 issued just last month from their CD Club – 32 tracks), but this album will definitely be of interest to vinyl collectors. Specially mastered for vinyl by Chas. Ferry, the vinyl release possesses a splendid sound – bass tones are especially organic and heavy compared to the digital CD and the separation seems a little more provocative on first comparison. Both scores are excellent – they’re both orchestral; whereas the first film contains a compelling female vocalise with “Sidney’s Lament,” the second film combines the orchestra with some bluesy electric guitar. Both scores utilize synthesizers, but on SCREAM Beltrami used stock library samples, whereas on SCREAM 2 he brought in composer/synth wizard Kevin Manthei to create some unique electronic textures and loops. As a vinyl representation of the abbreviated version of the soundtrack, this release of these two scores – significant both to Beltrami’s early career and to Wes Craven’s SCREAM franchise – is a most welcome addition to the growing library of classic horror soundtracks available in the vinyl medium.
SCREAM (TV Series)/Jeremy Zuckerman/Lakeshore – cd & digital
Composer Jeremy Zuckerman (AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER animated TV series, with Benjamin Winn) composed the music for MTV’s short series, spun off from the Wes Craven feature film series. On the TV version, a diminishing group of high school friends are menaced by a serial killer, with the same kind of slasher movie self-references that made the movies fun with the essential whodunit plot arc carried/prolonged/drug (depending upon one’s perspective) across its first season’s ten and second season’s twelve episodes (a 6-episode third season has recently been ordered by MTV). Lakeshore’s soundtrack album includes musical selections from seasons 1 and 2. Zuckerman’s score is an effective accompaniment of horror movie tropes and modernistic atmospherics that fits the series’ young characters and audience demographic; but does so using an almost-exclusively string orchestra. Performed mostly on solo violin or cello amidst a wash of string choir, Zuckerman gives the music a kind of starkness that suggests the isolation the characters tend to find themselves in despite their interactive clique and well-populated high school environment and town in which the story takes place. The Main and End Title motif (“The Rules”) comprise an elegant string quartet, its fast pace an applicable distinction among the slow, methodical movement of much of the suspense material. The string-heavy sound includes piano, which provides a striking (pun intended) contrast in its clarity of attack, and the occasional picked or strummed electric guitar, oftentimes supplemented by synths. “There is some guitar in there,” Zuckerman said in an interview for mtv.com. “There are definitely some percussion elements. There [are] a handful of exotic instruments that I’m using, these sorts of strings, modern percussion. It’s a lot of metal, stuff like that.” The latter are mostly used for stingers, shock moments, and the build-ups to them (the 4.5-minute “Hey, Sis...Surprise!” is a splendid example of gathering sound textures and interactions as potent, intensifying suspense building into a false but highly dissonant payoff). There’s no real association with the musical scores Marco Beltrami provided to the four feature films, not of course is there a need to; television’s SCREAM is a different kind of animal.
Soundtrack & Music News
Highly acclaimed film, television, and visual media composers have reimagined and created new scores for classic silent films for Silent Films Live, held November 3rd in the Malibu Screening Room. The event included an overture by ASCAP Award winner Juhi Bansal (“Where Shadow Chases Light”) followed by original compositions for the following silent films:
- “Modern Times”- with music by Four-time Emmy Award winner Jeff Beal
- “One Week”- with music by ASCAP Award winner Jeff Cardoni
- “Battleship Potemkin”- with music by Academy Award nominee John Debney
- “The Cabinet of Dr. Cagliari”- with music by Two-time Emmy Award winner Laura Karpman
- “Phantom of the Opera”- with music by Emmy Award nominee Kevin Kiner
- “The Great Train Robbery”- with music by Grammy and Emmy Award nominee Jeff Russo
Michael Giacchino will be scoring Marvel Studios’ upcoming feature SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. The movie follows a young Peter Parker as he begins to navigate his newfound identity as the web-slinging superhero. It marks Giacchino’s second movie for Marvel following DOCTOR STRANGE. The composer also scored the fanfare for the studio’s new logo, which was introduced with DOCTOR STRANGE. Giacchino’s upcoming projects also include ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, Matt Reeves’ WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, Brad Bird’s THE INCREDIBLES 2 and Colin Trevorrow’s THE BOOK OF HENRY.
Composers Andy Grush and Taylor Stewart, aka The Newton Brothers, have scored Universal Pictures’ OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, sequel to the 2014 horror film. It is their fourth film collaboration with director Mike Flanagan, following HUSH, BEFORE I WAKE, and OCULUS. A digital soundtrack to the film was released on October 21 from Back Lot Music. The brothers recorded the score in the heart of Nashville’s Music Row at Ocean Way Studio in a restored church—an intentional choice to reflect that one of the principal characters of the film is a priest. To stay true to the film’s mid-1960s era, they intentionally avoided using any modern instruments. In regards to instrumentation, The Newton Brothers stated: “Strings, woodwinds, piano, water phone, percussion and various live-recorded Foley noises were incorporated for added depth and texture.”
Listen to sample tracks at the composers’ web site: www.thenewtonbrothers.com
Supported by the Film Fest Gent’s World Soundtrack Awards, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Music For Film is the third release from the series and second on Silva Screen Records. Each year an eminent film music composer is invited to present their work during the annual World Soundtrack Awards Ceremony & Concert closing event. As part of the celebrations, Film Fest Gent and partner Brussels Philharmonic record a CD of their music in advance of the concert. This year’s guest of honor was Ryuichi Sakamoto, who received the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the Film Fest in October.
Varèse Sarabande has released a CD of composer/songwriter Charles Fox’s performances of some of his best music in Seasons. The album was released internationally in 1981 but not in the US until now. In addition to his film scores (BARBARELLA, LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, SHORT CIRCUIT 2, TV’s CONAN THE ADVENTURER), Fox has written numerous hit songs, including “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” “Ready To Take A Chance Again,” and “I Got A Name.” Seasons features his own versions of several of his hits, and original to this release is a live 2015 recording of “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” featuring the jazz clarinetist Eddie Daniels and The Harlem String Quartet, with Charles at the piano.
Composer Penka Kouneva recently completed her biggest scoring job yet, as sole composer for the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, the newest exhibit complex at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The exhibit opened this Veteran’s Day, with dozens of astronauts and NASA officials in attendance. “I wrote all original music to accompany the museum experience which tells the stories of astronauts and their missions,” Penka said. Her music accompanies multi-theater, 3D, and 4D cinematic experiences dedicated to the pioneers of space travel, as well as exploration pods. The Kennedy Space Center is visited by 1.5 million people annually. Penka receiving this scoring job because of her experience as a film, game, and Augmented Reality composer, and also because of her passion project, the CD The Woman Astronaut released by Varese Sarabande in 2015. “Working on this music was a tremendous experience!” said Penka. “This is an incredible honor.”
Animation music specialist Kevin Manthei announced on his Facebook page that he will be scoring Marvel’s newest animated series: MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN, coming in 2017. “I’m staying on the Spider-Man bandwagon as this new series is replacing the current Spider-Man series I score - ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, which airs its last episodes in January,” said Manthei.
La-La Land Records has released the third 4-CD volume of composer Mark Snow’s spellbinding original scores from the award-winning, landmark television series, THE X FILES. Over the run of this beloved series, Snow’s music shaped all the episodes’ many emotional and contextual layers, crafting a sonic atmosphere unlike anything prime time television had heard before. Limited to 3000 units, this new set showcases more than five hours of music and is housed in a sleek, hardcover slipcase. For more information, see lalalandrecords.com
Intrada has released an expanded edition of their own 2010 31-minute CD premiere of John Barry’s beautiful and nostalgic score to DAY OF THE LOCUST. The new release presents the entire 34-minute John Barry score plus additional score alternates and unused music including three Barry songs, penned with his frequent lyricist, Don Black. As John Barry authority Jon Burlingame puts succinctly in his booklet notes, “nearly 48-minutes of vintage John Barry from one of the composer’s most creative periods.” Additionally, the film’s flavorful late 1930’s-era source music, much of it specially arranged and recorded for the movie by Barry, is also included on this generous 78-minute CD following the original score presentation. Details and sample tracks at intrada.com
Perseverance Records has announced the first CD release of the songtrack album from the original 1985 Tom Holland horromedy, FRIGHT NIGHT. Originally released on LP in 1985, the song soundtrack contains all the songs heard in part or in full in the movie, including the J. Geils Band’s title tune, White Sister’s “Save Me Tonight,” the four songs that make up the dance seduction scene, and others, including score composer Brad Fiedel’s alluring end title song, “Come to Me.” The unique thing that made FRIGHT NIGHT’s use of songs stand out from the crowd is that all but one of them were written for the movie, rather than licensing a popular song and plopping it somewhere in the film. The songs in FRIGHT NIGHT melded with its storyline, referencing and commenting on what is happening in the film, and thus became part of the film’s narrative. With the extended score album released in 2011 by Intrada, Perseverance’s release now closes the gap on the availability of all the music – score and song – from this neighborhood vampire romp. The album notes cover in detail the use and design of the film’s songs, with new interviews with Holland and music supervisor David Chackler.
For more information, see perseverancerecords
Italian composer Marco Werba has provided a powerful orchestra score, performed by the Bulgarian Symphony, for the new docudrama film THE MYSTERY OF BRITANNIC, about the WWI sinking of Titanic’s sister ship. Watch the trailer here – it includes Marco’s energetic main theme for the film. A soundtrack album will likely be forthcoming once arrangements have been made. For more information about the composer, see www.marcowerba.com
Quartet Records and AI Music have released Archipiélago: A Film Music Retrospective, an ambitious five CD project that compiles 25 years of film music from one of the most personal voices on the Spanish musical scene: Alberto Iglesias. Favorite composer of celebrated Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, Iglesias has worked with him on 10 successive films, and has worked with some of the most personal and interesting directors in international cinema. Alberto Iglesias has received 10 Goya Awards from the Spanish Academy, the Spanish National Film Award, and three World Soundtrack Awards, as well as three Academy Awards nominations, Golden Globe, and BAFTA. Archipiélago’s five CDs compile the best and most significant 100 tracks from his many soundtracks - all remastered - including some new remixes and unreleased tracks. A unique opportunity to approach the fascinating musical universe of Alberto Iglesias. More details and sample tracks at quartetrecords.com
The Ivor Novello Award-winning composing team of Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow (EX MACHINA, FREE FIRE) have scored an episode of Charlie Brooker’s highly anticipated BLACK MIRROR season 3, the internationally acclaimed show which returned this autumn, now fully available on Netflix. The soundtrack to the episode, called “Men Against Fire,” has been released on digital platforms in North and South America by Lakeshore Records and worldwide via Invada Records. Physical formats are to be released next year.
Beat Records of Italy has announced the premiere release of Fabio Frizzi’s 1984 horror score, SHARK – ROSSO NELL’OEANO (aka DEVIL FISH) in a complete soundtrack CD. Directed by Lamberto Bava, the film marked one of two collaborations between the director and composer (BLASTFIGHTER, released the same year, being the other). It’s an aquatic monster movie, a spin-off of the JAWS and its copycats, depicting an epic fight between man and shark, the latter portrayed in a more horrific and evolved, almost alien, shape. “The score presents a real treat for all fans of the Maestro and ‘80s electronic/synth sounds, never before released and now available thanks to the miraculous discovery in an old archive of a multi-track master tape featuring the original recording session on separate channels,” wrote the label in its announcement.” The CD, a limited edition of 500 copies, comes with liner notes by Fabio Frizzi and graphic design by Alessio Iannuzzi.
Naxos has released a newly recorded selection from the classic masterpiece NAPOLEON (1927) by Abel Gance. Carl Davis has composed and recorded the complete soundtrack to the five-and-a-half hours of film which will be released by the British Film Institute on DVD and Blu-ray. For this release, the highlights of the soundtrack are included, recorded by one of London’s foremost orchestra, the Philharmonia, under the baton of Davis, himself. American-born composer Carl Davis has made his home in the United Kingdom since 1961. He has written the music for over 100 television programs, but is best known for creating music to accompany modern day silent films. He is also known for his collaboration with Paul McCartney in the creation of the Liverpool Oratorio.
Sample the tracks on amazon here
RustBlade Records Italy Presents Nino Rota’s original 1969 Motion Picture Soundtrack to FELLINI SATYRICON, in both CD and vinyl presentations. The film was one of the few adaptations helmed by Fellini during his career, based on the fragmented novel of the same title by Petronius. Described as one of “the most profoundly controversial movie in all history,” the story tells the picaresque journey of a former gladiator, who is in search of his boy lover. Nino Rota composed one of his most unusual scores for the film, evoking barbaric rhythms and ancient-sounding instruments to underscore the colorful visual cacophony of the film. Although the score has been released previously on CD those issues were produced from LPs sources, whereas this CD has been mastered from the first generation stereo master tapes, recently discovered in the vaults of EMI Italy. The release features a new cover painting by Lola Airaghi (Sergio Bonelli Editore); the vinyl edition features limited colored vinyl + poster.
Film Music on Vinyl
Mondo offers a one-two-three punch of Netflix superhero scores on vinyl, which are the first physical copies of these soundtracks to appear after the original digital-only editions. John Paesano’s score for Marvel’s DAREDEVIL, Season One, creates a powerful sense of urgency and an undercurrent of darkness, crafting some of the most kinetic musical sequences in the Marvel Universe. Single LP, pressed on 180 Gram Red Vinyl. Limited to 3000 Copies. $25
Sean Callery’s score for Marvel’s JESSICA JONES Season One took the tonal shift from gritty ground level action to noir. Everything you need to know can be found in “Jessica Jones Main Title” (2016 Emmy® Award winner for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music) with its mix of late night, street corner jazz consumed by pulsating rhythms and a wailing guitar that creates a musical dichotomy thematically appropriate to the narrative of our titular hero. Double vinyl set, pressed on 180 Gram Purple Vinyl. Limited to 3000 Copies. $35
Composers Adrian Younge (SOMETHING ABOUT APRIL) and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest) have combined forces to produce an inspired, genre-bending blend of orchestral score and 90’s hip-hop beats for MARVEL’S LUKE CAGE, filtered through the sonic lens of the works of Ennio Morricone, “It’s no surprise that the score hovers in the same terrain of the Spaghetti Western soundtracks of Morricone - the narrative of Luke Cage plays out like a modern Western, only set in Harlem,” wrote Mondo in its announcement. Added the composers: “We sought to create a score that reflects the world of Luke Cage. We see this world as a place where classic cinema meets classic Hip Hop.” A 2-lp double vinyl set, pressed on 180 Gram “Power Man Yellow” colored vinyl. $35, ships in late November. Pre-Orders now available.
Each of the three releases features collectible cover artwork by Matthew Woodson.
Also from Mondo is Jay Chattaway’s first score, for the slasher movie MANIAC (1980), pressed on 180 gram vinyl with exclusive clear blue vinyl with white and red splatter, and cover artwork by Randy Ortiz. In his score, Jay Chattaway “perfectly captured the unease and grime of Times Square in its pre-Disney clean-up era. Its minimal synth lines, full to the brim with dark brooding menace, exaggerated ring modulations and discordant strings manage to echo the utter despair of Joe Spinell’s character on screen.”
Death Waltz Recording Company posted on its Facebook site that it will soon release a vinyl edition of. Fabio Frizzi’s score for SCORPION WITH TWO TALES, featuring a picture disc (see image). Other features not yet reported.
Cinewax announces a new vinyl edition of Jerry Goldsmith’s superlative score for CHINATOWN (1974) [not the expanded Intrada edition but the original album’s 12-track program]. Jerry Goldsmith was hired to create a score for the film after the work of the production’s first composer, Phillip Lambro, was abruptly rejected. Goldsmith composed his new score in just 10 days. Originally released as a soundtrack on vinyl in 1974, with its first CD release from Varèse Sarabande in 1993 (and its first extended “complete” soundtrack release came from Intrada just this last May), the Cinewax collector’s vinyl edition, scheduled for release on November 25th, is newly remastered from the original tapes and presented with brand new artwork by acclaimed illustrator and painter Sterling Hundley, with layout by Jay Shaw. The title is also available in a deluxe Black Friday edition pressed on gold wax, available only from participating Black Friday RSD shops. For more details and a sonic preview, see:
Warner Bros.’ Watertower Music has issued a 2-LP set containing the scariest musical moments from both THE CONJURING & THE CONJURING 2, scored by Joseph Bishara and featuring “Family Theme” by Mark Isham. For more details, see here.
Announced on Halloween, Varèse Sarabande will release on Nov. 18th their Little Box of Horrors, a collection of 13 horror soundtracks across a dozen CDs, either never released before or long sold out and unavailable, contained in a small briefcase-like carrier (similar to that from last year’s LP-to-CD series). Read complete Facebook announcement here
Orange Mountain announces for the first time on vinyl Philip Glass’s 1998 score to the 1931 film DRACULA starring Bela Lugosi. Glass chose to compose a score for Tod Browning’s 1931 DRACULA because it never had an original score. He composed the work for string quartet to evoke an ancient sound and now almost 20 years later Glass and the Kronos Quartet continue to perform the music live to film around the world. Watching the film with the Glass score is an interesting alternative take to browning’s highly theatrical and moody adaptation. The album was originally available on CD from Nonesuch in the late 1990s; this is the first time Glass’s DRACULA is available on vinyl. The release features double LP, 180 gram black vinyl, gatefold jacket, available from www.onewaystatic.com
Film Music Books
We Will Control All That You Hear
The Outer Limits and the Aural Imagination
Pendragon Press, 2016
Following the author’s 2013 volume, A Dimension of Sound: Music in the Twilight Zone, this third volume in Pendragon’s “Music in Media” series focuses on the second major television anthology of the early ‘60s and its creative use of music. Reba A. Wissner has provided a comprehensive analysis of the series’ use of music, both newly composed scores and stock music, to interact with the stories being played out on screen, enhancing their sense of drama, wonder, and disturbiana. The first three chapters set up background basics, explain the common practice of recycling cues out of a studio’s library of music, and how orchestration and sound design provides the final ingredients for an interactive score. The final two chapters examine in detail the scores of Dominic Frontiere for season 1 (and also Robert Van Eps, Frontiere’s former teacher who was brought in to compose music for several episodes), and that of Harry Lubin for season 2. Rather than examining the music episode by episode (which would have been impractical, especially due to the re-use of cues over many episodes), Wissner opts for a more coherent examination oriented around a topical design (“Gearing the Unseen,” “Ethnic Identities,” “Music and Gender,” “Creatures Big, Small, and Gooey,” and the like). Very well researched and organized, Wissner’s analysis of the series’ limitless outré musical design is an authoritative and definitive one. Her research has discovered much which had not been previously known or revealed (such as Van Eps having composed more than just the “Tourist Attraction” episode and the jazz source cues from “The Day After Doomsday” that he’d been credited with previously). Music samples are provided for those who read music, but Wissner’s narrative style never becomes so scholarly and obscured by musicological terminology that it loses readability for those who don’t have an academic musical education. Alongside her previous TWILIGHT ZONE book, Wissner’s OUTER LIMITS music assessment is a significant entry to genre film music studies as well as being a welcome read for the film score fan.
Games Music News
Varèse Sarabande has issued Austin Wintory’s latest game score, Abzû. The game is an epic descent into the depths of the sea, where players will explore beautifully rendered ocean environments with fluid swimming controls, and Wintory’s score is vividly integrated within the structure of the game itself.
“I started with a theme (“To Know, Water”) very early in the process and then spent the next 3 years developing that material in tandem with the game,” Wintory said. “Both game and music went through many iterations and conceptual shapes before arriving in what you hear and see now. The resulting score is one I can definitely say pushed me into territory I’d never been.
“I’ve had to play the game quite a lot in order to wrap my head around exactly what the player’s experience is going to likely be, and then craft music to be maximally compatible with that,” Wintory continued. “I don’t want to dictate to the player what they should be doing or thinking, but I also don’t want the music to be a shot in the dark with what is going on. The process ends up being a lot of experimentation, trial and error, and playtesting and iterating.” Wintory concluded, “To me, a hands-on experience is crucial. If the score comes from a deep understanding of the game, it has a better chance of adding something meaningful to the game.”
Sumthing Else Music Works has released the soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi for Gears of War® 4. Renowned for scoring some of Hollywood’s biggest hit TV shows and films, Djawadi has created a sweeping score that returns the franchise to the dark tone and intensity of the original and fuels the heart-pounding adventure and riveting story of Gears of War 4. Djawadi’s compositions mixed with the sounds of the iconic Lancers, Gnashers, and voices of the franchise, are said to take the game to a whole new level.
From Billboard 10/24/16: Activision’s new Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is the first Call of Duty game to go interstellar, and it’s aided greatly by the gravity-defying score from composer Sarah Schachner. The game is the first time she’s received sole composer credit. “If you feel zero pressure knowing that your music will be heard by millions of fans, you must be a cyborg,” she observed. “But you have to thrive under pressure, to some degree. I find finishing music with no constraints or deadlines more daunting than working on a multibillion-dollar franchise.” In addition to doing her own synth programming and performance, Schachner’s own violin, viola, and cello work can be heard in the final recording. “A lot of the playing I did as I was writing was mixed in with the live orchestra,” she said, noting that that many of the percussion sounds were found metallic objects recorded in her home studio. “Pretty much every metal object in my house ended up being used at some point.” The 70-minute soundtrack is now available for digital download with a $35 vinyl release scheduled for the fourth quarter through Iam8bit.
Read the full story at http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7550129/composer-sarah-schachner-call-of-duty-infinite-warfare-soundtrack-interview
Randall D. Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine. A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema and Music from the House of Hammer. He currently writes articles on film music and sf/horror cinema, and has written liner notes for nearly 300 soundtrack CDs. A wholly re-written and expanded multi-book Second Edition of Musique Fantastique is being published:) the first book is now available from Creature Features and Book 2 coming up next Spring/Summer from Midnight Marquee Press. See: www.musiquefantastique.com
Special thanks to Benjamin Michael Joffe for copy editing assistance.
© 2016 - the Soundtrax column is copyright by Randall D. Larson; all rights reserved.
Randall can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org