AK-47/Stern (Keep Moving/MovieScore Media), AMMONITE/O’Halloran & Bertelmann (Milan), FREAKY/McCreary (Back Lot), FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD/Manfredini & Mollin (La-La Land), PETITE VAMPIRE/Daviaud (2DD Music), The Musical Anthology of HIS DARK MATERIALS Series 2/Balfe (Silva Screen), THE PATHLESS/Wintory (Bandcamp), THE RACER/De Maeyer (MovieScore Media), VERA DRAKE/ALL OR NOTHING/Dickson (Caldera)
Film, Television, Documentary, and Video Game Soundtrack News
Disney’s 2020 version of MULAN is a live-action reimagining of the legendary female warrior immortalized in the centuries-old Chinese ballad. Acclaimed filmmaker Niki Caro brings Mulan’s epic tale to life in an inspiring, thrilling adventure that follows a fearless young woman as she risks everything out of love for her family and her country to become one of the greatest warriors China has ever known. When the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father. Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honored warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation…and a proud father. Composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, the soundtrack is available digitally and on CD from Disney.
Q: You worked with director Niki Caro on THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE, a very engaging film and score that I love very much. How was it working with her again on MULAN, and what process did the two of you go through in starting MULAN and finding its musical direction?
Harry Gregson-Williams: I can’t say that there was much of a shorthand between Niki and I when I started MULAN, because the films are both very different. It was obviously a great privilege to be asked to do MULAN. It’s an iconic character and I loved “The Ballad of Mulan,” where the source material comes from, and I loved the original movie.
Q: “Mulan’s Theme” is a wonderful and very malleable theme as it represents the character’s growth through the story, becoming heroic and muscular towards the climax. How did you come up with this theme and develop it to suit the narrative?
Harry Gregson-Williams: It was a theme that came to me fairly easily, sitting at the piano, actually. Once I had the notes under my fingers—or I thought I did—I started to arrange it and orchestrate it with a couple of scenes in mind. I tend not to go directly to scoring certain scenes in a movie but rather tread around a bit with a freedom that comes from not writing to picture, and see what instruments I should use and what key I needed to be in to be able to have the top line of the melody played on various Chinese instruments. So I spent quite a while just tossing the theme around and seeing how many different ways I could make it work. I originally wrote it in compound time, in 6/8, with a kind of lilt to it; I knew that later in the film when Mulan comes into her own and becomes quite the warrior that she wants to be, that I’d probably have to take it into 4/4 and it would have to work in a very heroic way. Originally I’d written it as quite a sweet theme and rather plaintive, hopefully evocative of her ancestry, but I knew that I was going to have to use this in a more overtly heroic way, and I’d need to straighten the meter out from compound time to straight up-and-down 4/4. Once I’d done that, I then started to score a couple of moments in the film and got Niki Caro down to my studio as I always do with a director to try and get them onboard with the thematic material and the language.
Q: Would you describe your motif for Mulan’s main antagonist, Böri Khan?
Harry Gregson-Williams: The Böri Khan theme, unlike the Mulan theme, had more of a modern twist to it. It was certainly not in compound time, but it was quite chromatic. So you’ve got a complex character [as leader of the Rouran warriors] and you want to be sure that he’s a bad guy, but his motives are a little unclear to begin with. So I wanted a theme that needed a few scenes to express itself properly.
Q: How did you treat Xianniang, the witch?
Harry Gregson-Williams: For the witch, Niki pointed out to me quite early on that these characters are quite similar in a way. She wasn’t an out-and-out villain—this was a character who felt a bit lost, who’s an outcast, who’s operating outside of the norms, and very much like Mulan. Niki actually suggested that I try and paint her fairly sympathetically, just a little sneaky and sort of mysterious. What helped, actually, is that Niki was very drawn to the erhu, the Chinese violin, and although we hear the erhu during some thematic material connected to Mulan, it actually grows into the witch’s voice. Literally the erhu could be mistaken for a voice. I toyed with the idea of using vocals around the Witch, but actually the erhu did everything I needed it to do. Very melodic and quite malleable. I had a lot of fun writing the witch’s theme.
Q: Your musical palette is very interesting, ranging from full-bodied symphony to very intricate and of course necessary Chinese instrumental colors. How did you decide where to use Chinese instruments in the score, and how did you integrate them into your orchestral material?
Harry Gregson-Williams: Often with my scores I tend to want to try and integrate synths with a more classical, conventional orchestral sound. On this occasion I switched out my synths for more unique colors, and leaned into instruments of Chinese origin, as you say. So it was abundantly clear that the score could be colored with these Chinese instruments. There was no rule as to which scene had to have these things deployed. I think this was an equal smashing of Chinese inflections and influences throughout the score.
Q: Mulan’s journey through the film, from resisting her traditional place in village society to taking her elderly father’s place in the call for warriors, and other non-spoilers until the eventual honorable ending, is a wonderful story. How did you map out the music’s placement and form in following Mulan’s epic tale?
Harry Gregson-Williams: That was fairly tricky, because one of the challenges that was put before me as I started on the concept for the score was that I would integrate somehow, somewhere, some echoes of the previous movie. The melody that I gravitated toward was from the original movie’s song, “Reflections.” It was decided that, so long as it felt homogenous and didn’t stick out too badly and I could make it feel very intentional—and pleasing to the audience—that we should pick out a couple of moments in Mulan’s trajectory from an innocent little girl running around after chickens in a village to warrior. Somewhere we could give the audience sort of a warm, tingling feeling because this was a melody that they knew from somewhere else. One of those moments was when Mulan takes off her disguise and rides into battle—she lets her hair down, takes her armor off, and clearly she’s the girl that she really is. Another moment, which was really exciting and really pleasing to do, was what we called The Water Challenge, where the boys—and she’s obviously one of the boys at that point—in the training camp, they’re training to be soldiers—and one of the challenges is to carry these pails of water up a steep hill. At the beginning of that scene she does catch her reflection in the water, so it made sense for us to quote that theme there. But right at the beginning of my process, I remember there being a song called “Reflection…” I couldn’t sit down and play it for you, so I had to remind myself a bit, and when I came to look into it, it did sound incongruous to me, not the melody so much as the orchestration, which sounded very Disney and very sort of ballad-y, and that really wasn’t the feeling I wanted to go for. So rather than take anything from the harmonic nature of that song, I fragmented the melody. So in that water challenge, instead of using the ‘90s style that song had employed, to convey it across quite a dark feeling, and let the melody be played by a single Chinese flute. We put a little delay on it, and as she gains in strength the cue leaves the melody of “Reflection” behind and turns into Mulan’s theme. So there were several points in the trajectory of her character that were marked out for me, if you know what I mean, and these were the marks that I had to hit. So that was quite helpful, in a way. There was no doubt about her emotional arc, really—it’s not like you’re left guessing. She throws off her disguise and rides into battle, and that needed to be full-on heroic; but at the beginning of that cue I chose to use Matthew Wilder’s melody from that song.
Q: Another tune from the original MULAN is “Honor to Us All” which makes a few instrumental appearances. What prompted your using that musical element in your score?
Harry Gregson-Williams: Having spotted two sequences where we quote the “Reflection” melody from the first movie, they both come halfway through the film or later. So we wanted to find some small Easter egg to put in during the first part of the movie, and it made sense for us to use that, because it was actually in the script before Niki had shot a bit. It was quite clear in the script that this very similar scene plays out where Mulan has been prepared for the matchmaker, not particularly willingly, and not only is this a similar scene to the first movie, but the mother actually says, “Mulan, your job is to bring honor to us all.” So we felt this would be the moment to try that. I hope it resonates, but it’s quite a glancing moment; it only happens for about thirty seconds and then the next thing we hear is Mulan’s theme. So that was something we experimented with; Niki wasn’t sure if we wanted it or if it would work—these things had to be tried and tested, and I can tell you they weren’t necessarily the first thoughts! Plenty of experimentation went on. But what we gravitated toward was that scene because it’s so reminiscent of the original movie, and there wasn’t too much dialogue there so I could play the melody quite clearly and people would hopefully get it.
Q: You also co-wrote the film’s original song “Loyal Brave True,” and provided the orchestral backing for Christina Aguilera’s new version of the song “Reflection.” What can you say about these aspects of your work on MULAN?
Harry Gregson-Williams: It seemed like a natural extension, when we were looking for how we were going to end the film. The question was should we have an actual song, and if we do, what would it be? It happened that a friend of mine had introduced me to a bona fide songwriter named Jamie Hartman, who stopped by my studio one day as I was writing the score, and he asked to hear Mulan’s theme. I sat down on the piano and played it for him, and he said “You know, I think that could be a verse for a song. We could absolutely make that a song.” So I said, “I’ve got a lot of score to write here, I’ve got 80+ minutes of music to get written, approved, orchestrated, mixed, and delivered. I don’t really know how you think we’d go about that.” He said “Why don’t you get in the room with two other people who I collaborate with, Rosi Golan and Billy Crabtree?” All four of us pitched in with words, sentences, melodies, but it was based very much around the Mulan Theme; it had the same meter and the same sort of feel. Once we’d done that, there was no assurance that this would be the song, and no one quite knew who would ultimately want to sing it or who we should ask. But having played it for Niki and Mitchell Leib, the head of Music for Disney, they got very excited and I think it was Mitch’s idea, ‘Why don’t we come full circle and ask Christina if she wants to sing it?” And within a couple of days we had her recorded. Having done that, I was then asked, since I had used the “Reflection” theme in my score—and I’d used it in a different way to how the first movie had it, it was with a bunch of taiko’s and in a very heroic way as she rode into battle. What if Christina was playing a version of this song, it would be very similar to—and it would be Matthew Wilder’s song, but would have been a different interpretation, and would I do that and produce that? I agreed to do that and that’s what we have.
Q: Your battle cues, like “Mulan Rides Into Battle,” the second half of “Oath of a Warrior,” “Fight For The Kingdom,” and others are filled with tremendous orchestral gestures, driven by massive drums. What can you tell me about your technique in building these cues?
Harry Gregson-Williams: They take time! The composition takes time because it’s layering and layering. But, you know, one of the very fortunate things with a company like Disney, on a movie of this scale and this budget, is it afforded me the chance to have a roomful of taiko players, with no machines, no samples being used. Obviously, having written these things on samples using electronics and whatnot, it was then a question of getting into a big, old studio here in Los Angeles—I think we recorded everything at Sony—and having some fun with the drummers. One of the battle cues you’ve mentioned ends in a huge avalanche, and I knew there were going to be massive sound effects there, huge rumbling effects. So I had to be very careful with what sonic range I was in, because the sound effects guys deserved a lot of space in the sonic spectrum there. Often, as a trade off, I’d find my moments when there was little sound effect, I could really give the orchestra a big moment there, and in areas where there was going to be this huge sonic rumble for the avalanche, I would stay out of the way, or else stay out of the way in that area of the sonic spectrum. But battle cues are always fun to do, but quite time consuming.
Q: In contrast, you have these powerful moments of sensitivity such as “Mulan & The Emperor,” “Return To The Village,” and the conclusive “The Fourth Virtue.” How would you describe those moments?
Harry Gregson-Williams: If there’s anything that appeals to me most it’s writing cues like that. That’s really where my heart is, and I should think most composers would share that view. Particularly, say, with “The Fourth Virtue,” which is a combination of all of the thematic material we’ve heard before come to fruition, and it’s a great joy to be able to do that. And I’m thankful to say that we just snuck in before the virus did. I was sitting in front of a big orchestra playing that final cue in February, earlier this year. Another four weeks and we’ve have missed the boat, and I don’t know how we would have quite done it! It’s a great honor to be able to do that, and a great fortune to stand in front of a large symphony orchestra and have them live out your themes. Especially for a 6 or 7-minute final cue, that was very satisfying.
Q: I know you’ve discussed this before, how the main challenge for you with Covid was the fact that the film went out on streaming services with a mix that was really intended for theaters…
Harry Gregson-Williams: That’s just something out of our control. From having been extremely disappointed and grumpy about that I’ve changed my attitude to well, at least we were able to get it out in front of the masses. You know, there are many films which are delayed, and still haven’t made it to get to their audience. But our film made it out there, and we’ll just hope that people don’t watch it on their iPhones!
Q: Where are you with the score to INFINITE? Is there anything you can discuss about the music at this point?
Harry Gregson-Williams: I’m nine-tenths of the way there. I’ve written all the music, I’m just looking at my options as to where and how I’m going to score it. It’s very exciting—we’re in the back straight with that movie very close to finish.
Q: You also composed an episode of the revived AMAZING STORIES recently, “Signs of Life.”
Harry Gregson-Williams: That was through my association with Michael Dinner. I really hadn’t done much TV… I’d done the odd bit, but hadn’t gravitated towards it. Then Michael came along about two or three years ago and he asked me to compose the opening title theme for Philip K. Dick’s ELECTRIC DREAMS. And I had great fun doing that, and afterwards he asked me to do a couple pilots he was doing, and then again last year my composing assistant, who’s a fabulous composer in her own right, Stephanie Economou, and I took on Michael’s series MANHUNT. I was really deep into another score at the time, and I said, ‘look this would be a fabulous opportunity and a wonderful payback time for my talented assistant Stephanie to do this with me.’ So we did that together. Then in amongst that he asked me to do one episode of AMAZING STORIES—so pretty much anything Michael asks me to do I won’t say no!
Special thanks to Jeff Sanderson of Chasen PR for facilitating this interview, and to Disney PR for providing photos from the movie.
Inspired by an incredible true story, CLOUDS is a vibrant ode to the life of singer/songwriter Zach Sobiech. Zach (played by Fin Argus) is a seventeen-year-old, fun-loving student with raw musical talent living with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer. At the start of his senior year, he is ready to take on the world, however when he receives the news that the disease has spread, he and his best friend and songwriting partner, Sammy (Sabrina Carpenter), decide to spend Zach’s limited time following their dreams. With the help of Zach’s mentor and teacher, Mr. Weaver (Lil Rel Howery), Zach and Sammy are given the chance of a lifetime and are offered a record deal. Along with the support of the love of his life, Amy (Madison Iseman) and his parents, Rob and Laura (Tom Everett Scott and Neve Campbell), Zach embarks on an unforgettable journey about friendship, love and the power of music. CLOUDS is directed by Justin Baldoni and produced by Andrew Lazar, Justin Baldoni and Casey La Scala. The score was composed by Brian Tyler. “Brian is one of the most kind, talented and intuitive composers in the world and working with him on CLOUDS has been a dream,” said Baldoni. “Despite all the obstacles the pandemic and lockdown presented, Brian overcame and found a way to create one of the most beautiful, raw, and ethereal scores I have ever heard. I will forever be in debt to the delicacy and care to which he handled our film and Zach’s musical legacy.”
Q: How did you become involved in CLOUDS, what were your musical ideas coming in to this project, and how did you work with the filmmakers to decide on the musical tone of the score?
Brian Tyler: It came about basically because I scored Justin Baldoni’s film FIVE FEET APART. That was a great experience. He’s very much an emotionally forward director. He is drawn to stories about the human condition—love/loss/joy/tragedy—and how life is a mix of all things which makes the journey beautiful. We hit it off, philosophically. FIVE FEET APART was very much that way, and then he had spent a lot of time with Zach Sobiech, who CLOUDS is about. Justin read about Zach’s story and he thought it should be documented, so he went out and started filming it, spending pretty much the last year of Zach’s life with him. He became close to Zach and his family and after Zach passed away it was his mission to create a feature film about him. So we started talking very early about this movie because it was something that I needed to be involved with early on, because I was really doing two things on the movie—I needed to take Zach’s songs and produce them and bring them up to speed and also work with the two main characters to make sure they can sing their parts and have them learn the songs; and then after that writing a full score that could capture the spirit of Zach, but with original, new music. So I was on the film for quite some time; we were able to film it right before Covid kicked in. I think we wrapped the week the shutdown happened.
Q: How did you come up with your main theme, which presents in a number of treatments throughout the score?
Brian Tyler: I sat down to really think through what would Zach be doing if we were scoring the story of his life. His family was really helpful and involved in the movie. They had his mix tapes, so I listened to music that he had been inspired by, and became very familiar with how he wrote, because I transcribed his music and I did arrangements of all his songs. So I was able to extrapolate what Zach would have written. What would happen if he had another fifteen to twenty years of writing—where would that have gone? I felt that he would have increased the complexity of chords and the sonic soundscape, but would have kept melodies very tuneful and very hummable. I noticed that everything he listened to, if it had complexity it still had a very discernable melody.
So that is where my starting point was, and I felt responsibility to his parents, his friends, his sister, his brother, and people who knew him who will be watching this movie, and I wanted to write a theme that would do him justice. I had to just focus on “What would Zach do?” I wrote this melody that could be played on piano and guitar, and I went back and forth with that. I needed to sing my heart out on it—he was brave about singing because he didn’t consider himself a vocalist, he really would lean into it, so I would lean into it also, singing these falsetto lines, especially in the last few minutes of the theme where it’s just this soaring kind of singing from the bottom of my heart—it’s non-lyrical but the notes are very high and very long and completely honest and earnest. I wanted this to be a tribute from the heart.
In terms of the instruments, I knew that he loved church bells, glockenspiel, and anything bell-ish, so I recorded church bells ringing throughout the background, I have cascading pianos that sound like bells, I have glockenspiel, I have dulcet tones, vibraphones, there’s a harp running through granular stomp-boxes like guitar pedals, creating these deep atmospheres. At the end of this I realized that it really sounds like what we would think of as the instruments that traditionally have conveyed heaven and the clouds. You’d hear the harp and you’d hear the voices in the choir and church bells, it was traditional, even from the 1930s and ‘40s that’s what you would hear. I didn’t even realize that I was channeling that until I finished the piece—that in a way this is a modern completely honest and straightforward way of using church bells, voices, and harps to convey communicating to the other side.
Q: I love the harmonic structure of that theme and its layered elements. How did you use the theme to resonate both with the sorrow of the young boy’s terminal condition and where it led him, and yet celebrate what he accomplished in the life he had?
Brian Tyler: Right from the beginning, even before I wrote it, I was talking to Justin that I really needed to write something that worked in a dynamic way in two directions—it needed to be joyous and sad simultaneously. Depending on the scene, it would play one of those ways. It has that ambiguity of minor and major chords at the same time, and it can be happy and sad, which of course lands you squarely into melancholy. It’s kind of like smiling through your tears. Smiling by remembering Zach and how wonderful he was but sad that he’s gone. The music is firmly anchored in that emotion, and that is one of the hard things to pull off in a melody, to truly be both at the same time—to be joyous and sad. The main theme with the more abstract, cascading up-and-down arpeggiations on the piano and the singing, it really does move at the end towards joy and celebrating. As the movie ends, the score goes on, which is completely represented by the main theme, which becomes a complete celebration. That mode that ended up just naturally happening wasn’t something I did by design, it just happened that way, as if the theme and the music wrote itself, in that sense.
Q: The track “Progression” is an especially vibrant cue with an engaging beat, heard when Amy, Zach’s love interest, meets him as he is about to leave for a camping trip with his family. It sounds almost retro in style, but authentic. How did that cue come about?
Brian Tyler: There are different pieces in the film that signify traveling, like when they go off to New York to meet EMI, there’s also a piece used in the school hallway when Zach goes to meet Amy that’s a really upbeat piece, and then when the Nissan GTR shows up in the driveway, all these different moments that are all real moments. Those are the ones that adhered to the vibe of that kind of music that Zach was actually listening to, like that time—which was 2012. The instrumentation of those pieces very much follow the indie electronic musical style that he liked to listen to, that I also related to. When I was a kid, I had a drum machine called “Boss Dr. Rhythm,” that was this really cheapie thing that years later ended up being this cool, retro thing that was used by indie artists during the synth wave later. It created extremely short little tiny beats… like there isn’t enough memory in this thing to have anything longer than a nanosecond of a sound. These very staccato electronic drum samples became popular in hip-hop during the early ‘80s because the sound of hip-hop and early electronic music, even the British new wave, were made with instruments that young, poor, musicians could afford. That’s why the cheap stuff became the coolest sounding stuff, by association. So today, when you want to buy vintage gear in the world of electronic music, it tends to not be the super-fancy instruments like the Synclavier and the Fairlight EMI, and stuff that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s actually the cheapie Roland 808s and the instruments that sound like the cool stuff from the early 1980s.
So in this song, since Zach loved that kind of thing, I wanted to do something legit and wasn’t a knock-off of that kind of music. I wanted to use electronic gear that was of that era. I collect vintage gear from the early ‘80s, so I have all these things to use. Also, music from that era is very much defined by that really loose, play-it-by-hand style, right before there was MIDI that would correct their playing and make it perfect, but it also became colder and less human. So if you really want it to sound legit synthwave throwback, you don’t play in the computer and quantize it, you play it by hand—you play the whole bass line and the synth part by hand, like a live band would play. So there are various tracks on CLOUDS that go out of the atmospheric, ambient, super emotional kind of thing and go into progression, where it’s a throwback to that era. Even though Zach was born long after that era, he grew up in the era where it was already on its second wave of throwback retro, and so to him it was just as nostalgic as it was for me. We’re just two generations of listening to it.
When you combine all these different influences, it’s a very unique sound for a score that you rarely, if ever, hear. This is usually relegated to needle-drop songs that are used in a movie during these moments, but Justin was very specific in that a lot of these moments that normally would be a song, he wanted it to tie into the thematic music of CLOUDS because he felt that I was so much more in the headspace of what Zach was all about. He did use some outside songs, which were very carefully picked by him and Jordon Carroll, who’s an amazing music supervisor. But there were more song-ish score cues in this movie than would normally happen.
Watch a behind-the-scenes video from YouTube which shows how all of the sounds we’ve been talking about were created for CLOUDS’ main theme:
Q: You recently completed scoring the third season of YELLOWSTONE, and I’ve just heard that a fourth has been ordered by the network. How would you describe the evolution of your score across the three seasons so far?
Brian Tyler: When you go through a series—this is what’s great about a series—you have a lot of characters. So at the beginning you’re establishing characters who need to be a little bit more entrenched in the spectrum of good on one side and villain on the other. Hero and villain are a lot more defined from each other, so the viewers can get on board and know where they’re at. The cool thing about something like YELLOWSTONE is that, as time passes, the complexity of that spectrum gets less defined, and there isn’t as much black-and-white—we get a lot of very interesting grey that starts happening, characters that you were following who seemed very good, all of a sudden do things that you find repugnant, and vice-versa. This makes great drama, because you can play with your heroes and make then flawed in a way that you wouldn’t be able to right from the start. So, as each episode has gone, Taylor Sheridan [creator/director/writer] has done an amazing job at making these characters more complex and more emotionally contrasted with even themselves. The music and themes have had to become reflective of this and the music has continued to become richer and more complex along with these storylines. That’s something that I find is really amazing; the edge of where you can push a piece of music into ambiguity and examination is as far away from the obvious as you can possibly be. It just becomes more and more what feels right for the show, as the show keeps going.
Q: Your Main Title for YELLOWSTONE is an especially moving melody; it seems to share both a sense of epic grandeur and emotive sincerity. How did you come up with this theme and how have you used it in the episode scores?
Brian Tyler: The theme is something that I sat down and wrote not as a Western. In the traditional sense, music for a Western tends to fall into one of two categories: the traditional American Western which was influenced by Aaron Copland and that kind of Americana music, and then the Sergio Leone/Ennio Morricone Western that came from Italy and became a contemporary, post-modern ironic style of music. YELLOWSTONE is neither. What I would hearken it back to wasn’t the old American Western directly, but where that type of music had come from. The music of the “Old West” is really music of immigrants from Europe who were leaving Ireland and England. It wasn’t played on fancy instruments—you wouldn’t get a violinist from the symphonies with a Stradivarius coming over and playing, you would get someone who was a fiddler who has something very humble and was a street musician. The music of the real Old West is really an amalgam of the lower tier demographic economically from Europe who fled and were looking for a better life in America. So we have these humble versions of every instrument that was ballyhooed in Europe—you had the poor person’s version of that and it became folk music, so instead of a violin it’s a fiddle. They’re really the same thing, you see what I mean. This happens with all the instruments. The style of writing, instead of the scales being very much in the Beethoven classical style, they were more from traditional folk music that was much older, they used drones and they used minor chords, and they used melodies you could sing. They used dirges. I wanted to have a theme that could be something that was very beautiful but dark in a way that a dark folk song would be sung. I listened to this kind of music, from Jewish traditional to old Scandinavian folk music, and often this music was telling the story of their people and their history from the perspective of tragedy and overcoming tragedy by going through it. So that’s why that melody sounds so much like something that pre-dates the Old West. It even pre-dates traditional classical music. Then I record this with instruments that are updated to symphonic. The main melody is on the cello, but I wanted it to be low, baritone; again if you listen to that folk music of Jewish, Irish, Scandinavian tradition, often it was a male kind of bellowing low drone. So the cello was the right range for it, since the theme is very low, then of course violins come in and do it with an octave, but it has the sense of being like an ancient, almost mythological telling of the story of this family through the lens of music that is much, much older than the show. The spirit of the series is the folklore and warring families and traditions and views that go back centuries. That’s where that came from.
Listen to the Main Theme from YELLOWSTONE:
Q: Your propulsive score for the 2019 CHARLIES ANGELS reflects the 70’s attitude of the TV series while adopting the charged-up energy of modern film scoring. What can you tell me about scoring it and reflecting the vibe of the franchise?
Brian Tyler: I wanted to do something that absolutely felt retro, that would honor where the roots of the show were but not by taking records from the ‘70s and using them in a way that sounds like I’m making fun of a 1970s score, doing the wacka-chicka guitar on the nose. I didn’t do that at all. I leaned into what was really amazing about ‘70s music, which found itself in some of the early scores on the TV series and just in general during that era, which was really brilliant jazz musicians getting hired to play on albums to make them feel funky. But it didn’t sound like someone had found a record from the ‘70s and used it as a sample for a hip-hop song. Instead, I took all the things that I was doing live and injected them into layering with orchestra, and conducted the orchestra at Fox. That gave it a scale and scope of cinematic fireworks, which really bounced it in a real way that felt like it was a record. I wanted to resurrect that music in a completely authentic way, because the thing that I found so much to be the case is when people do movies that throwback to the ‘70s, they’re stereotypically making fun of the ‘70s music, you have just the wacka-chicka guitar on the wah pedal and the open high hat on the off beat; it’s so lame to me. These people were great musicians and there’s such a rich history there, and this score was my moment to say, whatever this ends up being, I want to make a musical statement that serves the movie and resurrects the sound of CHARLIE’S ANGELS in a completely straightforward way.
Q: With HAWAII FIVE:0 you recently completed scoring ten seasons of the series. What can you tell me about this experience and how the series music maintained or developed over those ten years?
Brian Tyler: Over ten years you’re going to have so many experiences on a show, and the idea that we were able to start with a show that was in the shadow of its previous self, and which had been such a giant of a show, we needed to find our sound, and it became its own unique thing. I would definitely nod to the original score, which I loved, and of course I wanted to maintain the theme throughout without doing anything that would take away from it. There were conversations about doing something relating to what I was just saying a second ago about CHARLIE’S ANGELS, taking the theme and updating it and making this ironic thing and doing it with hip-hop beats and stuff, and I said, no, this theme is a classic, let’s keep it classic. And then with the score I would acknowledge the original characters here and there and then bring it into its own in a much more modern way, because the new series is more modern—it’s not like a retro show. This was a show that became really dramatic as it progressed, and there was dramatic music. We would often record live orchestra for it, and then you’d have these really interesting one-off episodes—like I remember writing an entire jazz score for a throwback episode in the 1940s, that kind of black-and-white film noir thing with full jazz. The producers—Alex Kurtzman, Peter M. Lenkov, and the whole gang from day one—would always think outside the box, and there was no cage that we had to stay within. It was great working on it with Keith Power, one of my best friends in the world, he was my assistant from way back, and I said we should do the show together.
Q: You’ve also worked with Breton Vivian for several years, going back at least as far as POWER RANGERS. In YELLOWSTONE he’s come in to write additional music—how has this worked out to assist you?
Brian Tyler: He’s fantastic, I just think he’s immensely talented. He was the co-composer on FIVE FEET APART. It’s kind of like the way I took to Keith, I took to Bret in the sense that we align so well as human beings and our philosophy of life, but also as a musician, he’s someone who never stops learning. Bret has this hunger to learn these instruments, learn how to mix better, learn how to produce better, keep on going, and his stuff is so good now. It’s so amazing to see that kind of growth, that makes me want to work with him more, someone who is willing to say I don’t know everything yet.
Q: And in the process you’re nurturing the next generation of film composers, with Keith and Bret.
Brian Tyler: Absolutely. There’s also Max Lombardo, Nathan Alexander, Josh Zimmerman, Sarah Trevino, John Carey, and so many talented people and I try to do everything I can to help get them new gigs of their own. I get a lot of people who come to me, “Look, I’ve got a movie but I know you’re busy, and can’t do it,” but I can say “Hey, I’ve got someone for you! You may not know this name, but I’m telling you, the best possible thing you can do for your movie is use this person.” I’ve been doing that for over ten years where I’ve really tried to let people know there is this well of talent. Also orchestrators, like Dana Niu, she has been someone I’ve always championed, and like Sarah Schachner and these people that I’ve worked with early on, when they were just out of college.
Q: You’ve got a number of films in post-production – REDEEMING LOVE, FURIOUS 9, THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD for example. How has the pandemic affected what you’re able to record and what’s the status of these pending projects?
Brian Tyler: All of them have their own particular journey. REDEEMING LOVE is a beautiful story about a tragic romance set during the Gold Rush. It was difficult—they’d barely finished filming the week of the shutdown as well, and it’s a period piece so there was color-timing and everything still to do. D.J. Caruso directed that, who did EAGLE EYE, and it’s absolutely a heart-wrenching story. I was able to record that with an orchestra in Austria, and it sounded absolutely gorgeous, and then I needed the best violinist I could think of to do the violin solos. I actually managed to get Gil Shaham who is probably my favorite well-known violinist in terms of a soloist who tours with orchestras. He recorded it by himself in a concert hall in New York, with his engineer. It is an absolutely spellbinding performance. So I was able to pull it off even during Covid because of most of the score being recorded in Austria and Gil recording in New York.
Then on FAST AND FURIOUS 9 we were going to record that at Abbey Road, and it was the day that things started to shut down, and one hour before the session it was called off. That was in March, and we waited and just recorded it two weeks ago [week of Oct 18th] in England with social distancing, with players sitting further apart from each other in sections. I had to do all the production and I mixed the score myself and all that. It’s a massive project, and I loved it. Justin Lin is back directing, so that was fantastic. There’s a new, big theme, and it feels like a compete reset of the franchise. It’s all about family history, and it’s amazing how far the series has come in terms of the storytelling.
Then I have THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD, another orchestral music score, for Taylor Sheridan. This is more in the contemporary orchestral avant-garde. It’s a crime thriller that takes place during a huge forest fire that traps the characters behind it. It is very emotional but at the same time it’s very much in that cyclical style of modern classical music, with a lot of woodwinds, strings, and brass. The woodwinds are doing these different arpeggiations and ostinati… it’s a very complex and rich score. The ostinato is played by a clarinet rather than an oboe, over this wild arpeggiated progression played by the violas and the harp, and then these long, long, 18-second soaring notes, and then the basses taking it down further. It’s like a modern concert piece that is just hair-raising. I absolutely love that and it’s been a while since I’ve been given permission by a director to go there. It is very much in that vibe. I did all sorts of things with fire—we actually burned up a cello and recorded the sound!
Special thanks to Jeff Sanderson of Chasen PR for facilitating this interview, and to Disney PR for providing photos from CLOUDS.
AK-47/Sergei Stern/Keep Moving – CD/MovieScore Media - digital
This new release from the Russian label KeepMoving Records, AK-47 (aka Kalashnikov) features a splendid thematically rich score from composer Sergei Stern (THE ENVELOPE, QUEEN OF SPADES 2: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, CICADA 3301). Directed by Konstantin Buslov, this biographical drama tells the story of inventor and designer Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov whose name has become synonymous with automatic weapons. The film chronicles the long and thorny path the self-taught innovator traveled to create the legendary AK-47 weapon at the age of 28, while also discussing the controversial legacy of his greatest innovation. Stern’s phrasings and melodically-driven motifs are quite likable, deliciously portrayed via a sturdy 40-piece string orchestra enhanced by sparkling brass and keyboard. Aside from the engaging main theme, Stern provides an ethnic-sounding motif for Kalashnikov’s early youth that features the composer playing balalaika and accordion. An impassioned love theme for piano and strings—harp and woodwinds are added in some tracks—creates an emotive resonance for the romance that develops across the storyline and personifies the main character while contrasting against the potency of the score’s primary motive. This is an impressive orchestral score rich in characterization and melodic configuration. The composer’s handling of the score’s orchestral maneuvers keeps the music moving forward and the textures interactive while maintaining a stimulating cadence; the penultimate track “Judgement Day” is an especially moving crescendo to the story, while the conclusive “Parade” provides a declarative trumpet over resonant strokes of strings that accommodates the main theme’s most emotionally celebratory rendition. Quite an excellent score that makes a nicely engaging listen on its own.
For more details on the CD, see KeepMovingRecords, while the digital version can be had from MovieScore Media’s sharp newly designed website.
Listen to Sergei Stern’s potent Main Theme from AK 47:
AMMONITE/Dustin O’Halloran & Volker Bertelmann/Milan - CD AMMONITE is director Francis Lee’s critically-acclaimed film starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, which is set in 1840s England and follows acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter Mary Anning (Winslet) and Charlotte (Ronan), a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea, who develop a passionate and all-consuming love affair that will defy all social bounds and alter the course of both lives irrevocably. O’Halloran and Bertelmann (the latter has also composed music as “Hauschka”) have scored films on their own but, in addition to AMMONITE, have collaborated on LION (2016, garnering a Critic’s Choice Award, among other recognition), the BBC’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2019), and Netflix’s THE OLD GUARD (2020). Their richly emotive score fits AMMONITE’s period and character while embracing the interaction and connection discovered and welcomed by Winslet and Ronan’s characters. The score is constructed for a small chamber group of strings and piano, beginning softly and hesitantly and gradually growing stronger and more confident as the characters follow their hearts. “Francis’s original idea was to find a single piece of music playing in parts and come to a full suite at the end,” the composers described in a statement. “In some ways, this was how we approached it, save for a few moments of score specific to the scene. We found the strong acting that both Kate and Saoirse brought meant we needed to offer space, and try not to overstep. The last piece of music in the film, during the museum scene, represented a full understanding of the emotions that played out between the two characters.” The film is classically styled, beautifully wrought, and emotively driven in its dramatic journey. It’s a relatively short score, running nearly 25 minutes, but the emotional intensity of its drama and the delicate clarity of its soundscape fills those minutes with captivating sentiment and honesty. Definitely a welcome and articulately moving composition. Acclaimed cellist Peter Gregson performs the aria that concludes the score.
FREAKY/Bear McCreary/Back Lot Music – digital
Bear McCreary’s latest musical escapade with co-writer/director Christopher Landon (HAPPY DEATH DAY; HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U) is this ferocious slasher-comedy in which a young high school girl named Millie (Kathryn Newton) swaps bodies with a deranged serial killer, then learns that she has less than 24 hours before the change becomes permanent. The body-switch happens because, on Wednesday the 11th, four teenagers are brutally murdered by a serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn). During this murder spree, the Butcher steals an ancient dagger known as La Dola. When the Butcher stabs Millie with it during an attack at a football game the next night, identical wounds appear on both their arms, by the next day they wake up in the opposite’s body. Millie is given a perky theme for strings and piano, introduced in “Morning Millie” and continued in the following “The Butcher and the Beaver” wherein the aforementioned attack takes place, accompanied by much percussive slamming and raging string figures and culminating in a soft reprise of Millie’s piano music. Next day, awakening with a cacophonic miasma of howling brasses, shrieking choir that settles into a spooky realization for curving violins and cello as awareness manifests itself with a variety of shivers and shakes and Theremin-like tonalities which evokes the miasma once more and the horror reaffirms itself. Continued reflections in the orchestra identify the reflective change that has come upon both Butcher and Millie. This direction in the music will continue as Millie/Butcher seeks to murder and Butcher/Millie broods on how to reverse the uncanny doppelanging effect. There are plenty of gathering twists, propulsive maneuvers, aggressive sonic attacks, delicious suspense and suspended dangerousness to keep audiences and listeners alike clinging to their seat edges, while moments of sympathy and discovery for Millie/Butcher occur as the storyline proceeds (“La Dola Revelations,” “Easy To Talk To,” “A Poetry Reading” [first half], “Backseat Butterflies”). The progressing drive of “The Plan” sets the stage for Millie’s reckoning, and the last few tracks accommodate both recovery and turmoil through to the film’s exciting end [no spoilers]. The score is quite satisfying in all of its configurations, giving the film what it needs to be fun, exciting, scary, and unpredictable, elements reflected very nicely when listening to the score on its own. “Freaky Credits” has a delicious final coda that will no doubt amuse all listeners.
FREAKY opened theatrically by Universal Pictures on November 13, and will release to video on demand on November 30.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD/Fred Mollin w/Harry Manfredini/La-La Land - cd
La-La Land Records surges on with their FRIDAY THE 13TH soundtracks. The label’s definitive six-CD box set containing FRIDAYs 1-6 was issued in January 2012, followed by single reissues of each CD in the wake of the box set’s being sold out (Part 1, Sep. 2012; Parts 2 & 3, Oct. 2017; Parts 4 [THE FINAL CHAPTER] & 5 [A NEW BEGINNING], 2018; and Part 6 [JASON LIVES] Oct. 2019 thus far), all of them composed by Harry Manfredini (Parts 3 and 4 included music from earlier FRIDAY scores in addition to new music by the same composer). La-La Land now embarks on FRIDAY THE 13TH Part VII: THE NEW BLOOD which was the first FRIDAY not to feature new music from Manfredini (he was busy scoring DEEP STAR SIX for Sean Cunningham). Canadian composer Fred Mollin, then scoring the FRIDAY THE 13TH TV series (an anthology format unrelated except by title to the slasher film franchise) was brought in to compose new music for the franchise’s seventh iteration. But to maintain musical continuity, tracks of Manfredini from the previous FRIDAYs were adroitly tracked in to supplement Mollin’s score and give the film a bona fide sonic adherence to the previous films in the series. La-La Land’s fresh new FRIDAY PART VII includes Mollin’s complete original soundtrack, along with Manfredini’s cues tracked into the mix¸ thereby proffering a proper soundtrack to what you hear, score-wise in the movie. (The producers were pleased with Mollin’s work and brought him back to write a wholly original score for FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN; Manfredini returned to score Part 9 [JASON GOES TO HELL], Part 10 [JASON 2000], and Part 11 [JASON X], while Graeme Revell scored FREDDIE VS JASON, the last film in the original series). Follow all that? Bottom line: The label’s new FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII release includes Mollin’s original electronic and percussion music for the film as well as selections from Manfredini’s acoustic scores from previous films. Mollin composed his own theme for Tina, Jason’s would-be prime victim and surviving final girl in PART VII, and his ringing synths (mostly Kurzweils fed through MIDI) and percussions gives the score all it needs to power through Jason’s new bloodletting. Manfredini’s iconic FRIDAY THE 13TH theme is brought into NEW BLOOD through his tracked music, and Mollin steered clear of it in favor of creating his own voice; thus any Ki-ki-ki’s and Ma-ma-ma’s heard over Mollin’s material was taken from an isolated track created by Manfredini in PART III and cut in by music editors. Brian Satterwhite’s thorough and informative liner notes for the album’s booklet describes this and much more in knife-edge precision. The album, of course, is highly recommended.
LITTLE VAMPIRE (PETIT VAMPIRE)/Olivier Daviaud/2DD Music Group – digital & vinyl
French composer Olivier Daviaud created the original score to LITTLE VAMPIRE (Petit Vampire), an animated film by Joann Sfar (THE RABBIT’S CAT/Le chat du rabbin). The film is centered around a little vampire who has been ten years old for three hundred years and he wants to go to school and make new friends. Michael is an orphan with problems at school, and his meeting with Little Vampire sets him on a course for adventure in a world of fantasy and imagination. As the two forge their new friendship, the terrible Gibbus appears. “The idea was not to fall into the trap of writing ‘ghost’ music for a ‘ghost’ film,” Daviaud said in a PR statement. “I instead turned to Mediterranean, Celtic, and Klezmer folklore, crossed here and there by the big orchestra because we wanted Little Vampire to be a big family adventure film. I thought a lot about the soundtracks of the pirate films that rocked my childhood and my adolescence. I feel like an heir to film scores. ‘Old’ where we feel the breath of adventure, the great emotions, and I hope that we will want to sing the themes when leaving the film!” The score is a delight, full of effervescent scherzos, jaunty mysteriosos, plenty of delicious mandolin tunes, and a splendid swashbuckling orchestral overture, all creating a colorful and enticing musical panorama. Sample some of the score at 2DD Music.
Watch the film’s French trailer:
The Musical Anthology of HIS DARK MATERIALS - Series 2/
Lorne Balfe/Silva Screen - digital Silva Screen introduces Lorne Balfe’s music to the second series of HIS DARK MATERIALS, based on The Subtle Knife, the second book in Philip Pullman’s trilogy, with this anthology concept album that presents the newly-composed principal themes from Series Two. As the same label did with Series One, this volume will likely (hopefully) be followed by a two-CD soundtrack which serves up the majority of the rest of Balfe’s score for this second series. I rather like Balfe’s music and it is effective in world-building the lands, peoples, fantasy and supernatural aspects of this series with large orchestral gestures, propulsive cadences generated by brass, strings, and drums to augment action scenes, and sufficient underscore to accentuate the persuasive politics and magics of the trilogy’s fiction. “Writing the score for season two was a fantastic experience due to being able to delve into the musical world of Cittàgazze.” says Balfe. “Recording the score had its challenges due to Covid. Musicians and singers from Inverness, Cardiff, London, Vienna, and Bulgaria contributed to this season’s soundtrack and made the music come alive.” The music collected here focuses on Balfe’s more progressive and imposing orchestral contributions to the series, and his main theme from the first series makes some powerful appearances here (“Dark Materials Between the Worlds” is a wonderfully fulfilling reprise of that theme), and a new motif for Series 2 is introduced in the opening track, “The Subtle Knife.” “A New Cardinal Rises” is an energetic orchestral and choral endeavor with a massive counterpoint from the organ fading into some eerie, whispered voicings. A very pretty and somewhat exotic tune for strings, synth, and choir accompanies “The Witch Queen of Lake Lubana,” propelled to grand heights when a heraldic trumpet takes the melody. In similar fashion, the woodwind melody of “Children of The Prophecy” roams from peaceful to powerful as full orchestra and trills of brass soar to forcefully engage the cue through to track’s end, where it quiets and concludes with three simple flecks of mandolin. The album’s longest track, “The City In The Sky,” at 5:01 (just surpassing “The Subtle Knife’s” 4:54) is an absorbing journey of its own, beginning with mysterious twinges of synth tonalities opening into an ascending/descending cadence of reverberant three-note brass footsteps; midway through the treading brasses are replaced by a swath of weaving violin notes, gradually rising until supplanted by the return of the dominating brass. The album concludes with sinewy violin and the clarity of solo trumpet for “The Shaman,” advancing into a strident reprise of the main theme, concluding with full orchestra until quieting with a solo trumpet sounding the final notes. The Series 2 anthology is substantially shorter than that from the first series, with nine tracks of 32 minutes occupying the disc versus Series 1’s 19 tracks and 53 minutes, but the music’s impressive structure is quite intriguing, and makes for an exuberant treat in the listening.
THE PATHLESS/Austin Wintory/Bandcamp –
digital / vinyl forthcoming
Developed by the award-winning team behind ABZÛ, The Pathless sees players take on the role of the Hunter, a master of archery who travels to a mystical island to dispel a curse of darkness that grips the world. The Hunter must forge a connection with an eagle companion to hunt corrupted spirits, being careful to not become the hunted. Players will explore misty forests full of secrets, solve puzzles in ancient ruins and be tested in epic battles. The bond with your eagle and the fate of the world hang in the balance. The music was recorded around the world with over 100 musicians fusing composer Austin Wintory’s breathtaking orchestral arrangements with musical traditions, instruments, and vocalizations from a variety of countries—a “global jam band” (as Wintory puts it)—including Tuva, Scandinavia, China, Eastern Europe, Mongolia, Appalachia, Western Africa, and hints of the Middle East. Each track embraces this unplaceable sound, seeming to come from some timeless, non-existent mythical people—a worldwide combination of cultures and soundscapes harmonizing as one to immerse players in the adventurous realms of The Pathless. “In every way, this was a more ambitious game than its predecessor [ABZÛ], and the score ended up following suit,” said Wintory. “Musically, creatively, technically ... in every area, we tried to push past where we’d been and find something fresh. The result is a game and (I hope) a score which feels simultaneously ancient and familiar, yet utterly alien and new. I’ve taken to calling it a ‘playable myth’ as if Giant Squid has made a game out of the story we tell when describing an archetypal hero or character from a constellation. Yet there is no singular mythology it draws from. The seeds of the game and music both can be found all over the world.” Wintory’s encyclopedic diversity of musical conformations makes for a beguiling score, from the haunting flutes and dazzling array of drums to warbling female vocalisms to the astonishing Tuvan throat-singing. The score’s multi-ethnic sonic personalities, in Wintory’s hands, are well integrated and inviting to hear, even without the gameplay visuals to link them to an environment. Austin has been noted for the unique and far-reaching integrated textures of game scores like ABZÛ, Journey, The Banner Saga, Flow, and films like AFTERMATH and BULLET HEAD, and The Pathless is another astounding sonic treat for the mind and spirit, and an enchanting journey for the player.
Read Austin Wintory’s blog post on PlayStation that includes some behind the scenes info and video, here.
The digital soundtrack is available at the composer’s bandcamp page or can be streamed at Spotify; additionally, Both iam8bit and BlackScreen Records are offering pre-orders for a vinyl release scheduled for late 1st Quarter 2021.
Watch a making-of/preview of the soundtrack:
THE RACER/ Hannes De Maeyer/MovieScore Media - digital Belgian composer Hannes De Maeyer has written the musical score for the Irish-Belgian Tour-de-France drama THE RACER. The film, directed by Kieron J. Walsh, is set during the first Irish stages of the notorious 1998 Tour de France. The film is more of a character study than a sports film, telling the story of Belgian cyclist Dom Chabol (Louis Talpe). After being dropped from the team on his last race in 1998, he is reinstated following a doping error. He’s always been one of the best support riders (“domestiques”) on the Tour de France, but had dreams to win it himself; we follow his story as he experiences the most dramatic three days of his life, facing the end of his time with his team. The score is a mix of electronics and orchestral material performed with the Budapest Art Orchestra, thus portraying the rhythmic adrenaline of the action and the emotive dramatic story of the obsessed protagonist: “Kieron and I were on the same wavelength and I quickly understood which direction he wanted to go music-wise,” said the composer. “The repetitive, minimalist character of the music—in notes, motifs, and percussion (such as marimba or electronic percussion)—reflects the repetitive of pedaling the bicycle, the cadence.” Using beats, fast-driven textures and rhythms, De Maeyer circulates the score through a sense of speed, the racers legs pumping, bodies stationary, moving like silent torpedoes between the crowd of onlookers (“Bienvenue au Tour de France 1998,” “Night Heart,” “Random Testing,”)—toes will tap, I assure you—while quieter cues reflect the personality and challenges of Dom Chabol (“Phonecalls,” “Bad Dreams,” “First Training,” “Goodbyes,” “Making the Armband”), while some cues are a mix of both (“Bad Dreams Return,” “Collapse”). The three “Stage” tracks, used as the racers begin each leg of the race, are adrenalin boosting both as the cyclers stage in preparation to their starting signal, and in motion as they rush through towns and country as each racer pushes themselves further and harder. “Stage 1: Dublin-Dublin for instance,” said De Maeyer, “should reflect the sense of fear and trepidation that Dom and his teammates have as they approach the start line but also the excitement and thrill of being a competitor in the Tour—as if you feel the 164 racers’ hearts beating!” The score personifies Dom Chabol with both his enthusiasm and drive, and his anguish and disappointment.
For details, see https://moviescoremedia.com/newsite/catalogue/the-racer-hannes-de-maeyer/
VERA DRAKE, ALL OR NOTHING & others/
Andrew Dickson/Caldera - CD
Caldera submits two short feature film scores from English composer Andrew Dickson, whose 20-year career in film scoring resulted in just ten scores; he was much more active as a songwriter and composer of concert music and a lifelong involvement in church music. Six of his film scores were for director Mike Leigh, including 1988’s HIGH HOPES which won the composer a European Composer Award; his most recent score was for Eren Gulfida’s short film, EVENING NEWS in 2019. Leigh’s 2004 drama VERA DRAKE tells the story of the titular character, a secret abortionist, finding her beliefs and practices clash with the mores of 1950s Britain—a conflict that leads to tragedy for her family. The film won Best Film at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for eleven BAFTAs, one Golden Globe, and three Oscars. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert wrote “The strength of Leigh's film is that it is not a message picture, but a deep and true portrait of these lives. Vera is kind and innocent, but Lily, who procures the abortions, is hard, dishonest and heartless. The movie shows the law as unyielding, but puts a human face on the police. And the enduring strength of the film is the way it shows the Drake family rising to the occasion with loyalty and love.” The composer, for the first time in his 20-year association with Mike Leigh, decided to use a choir in the score to emphasize the conflict Vera’s secret occupation creates. A pretty melody emphasizing violin and harp introduces the first few cues, until darkness sets in and the music becomes fairly gloomy, with a small female choir echoing the tortured sadness of “Sentencing” and a solo guitar beneath flute concluding this score. ALL OR NOTHING tells the story of a family whose members spend their days working at essential and yet low-paid jobs. Penny is the main breadwinner as a cashier in a supermarket; her partner Phil drives a cab around town after years of unemployment due to his crippling depression. Living in a council flat with their two children, Penny and Phil have resigned themselves to their life on the treadmill. Like VERA DRAKE, the score is a dour one, reflecting the submissive unhappiness of the couple, but despite the gloomy nature of the first and last two tracks, Dickson elevates the three middle tracks with pretty melodies. This score is performed by a small ensemble of strings, guitar, and flutes, which is quite sufficient to emphasize its tone. Also included on this CD are selections from Dickson’s scores for SOMEONE ELSE’S AMERICA (1994, flute and violin) and OUBLIE-MOI (1994, “Forget Me,” violin or viola & cello). This world premiere release (Caldera’s 39th CD) features detailed booklet-text by Stephan Eicke and elegant artwork by Luis Miguel Rojas. The CD includes Caldera’s specialty: an (8-minute) audio commentary on the score by the composer.
For more information on the composer, see here; for details on this recording, see caldera.
New Soundtracks & Film Music News
Cheryl Tiano, a well-known and respected agent for the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency who represented many film, television, and video game composers, died November 4th of complications from heart surgery. She was 59. Among the musicians Tiano represented were Brian Tyler, Steve Jablonsky, George S. Clinton, Sean Callery, Gabriel Mann, Jack Wall, and Jesper Kyd. Tiano spent the past 27 years with GSA and developed its video games and interactive division, through which she encouraged game producers to elevate their soundtracks by utilizing orchestras and prominent composers.
- via The Hollywood Reporter
Lakeshore Records has released Rutger Hoedemaekers’ score to the forthcoming Hulu exclusive series, NO MAN’S LAND, now available digitally. Hoedemaekers is known for his Edda award-winning score to ÓFÆRÐ aka TRAPPED, shared with Icelandic greats Johann Johannsson and Hildur Guðnadóttir. Lakeshore Records has also digitally released the REBUILDING PARADISE Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. The music is by award-winning composers Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe. The score provides an emotive backdrop to the film, from Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard, which chronicles the destruction of the city of Paradise, California by devastating fires and the residents’ efforts to restore it. “Being able to work with Ron and Hans again is not only a privilege but an amazing learning experience,” said Balfe in a statement. “They are both amazing storytellers. This is a story that isn’t known and had to be told. It gave me faith in humanity and gave me the belief we can overcome our challenges in life.” Says Zimmer: “It was heartbreaking to watch the destruction the Camp Fire brought on the city of Paradise, but I have been incredibly moved to see the resilience and hope that has come out of that heartbreak. I am inspired by the people of Paradise and it has been an honor to help tell their story in a small way alongside Ron and Lorne.” The soundtrack is available via these links.
Speaking of Lorne Balfe, Universal Music’s Globe has released Balfe’s soundtrack for the drama JUNGLELAND. The soundtrack is now available on amazon and other digital music sources. The movie follows a boxer and his manager brother who are left in debt to a local crime boss after a devastating loss in the ring and are forced to risk it all in a bare-knuckle boxing tournament. -via filmmusicreporter
And, speaking of Ron Howard and Hans Zimmer, Howard’s film HILLBILLY ELEGY has been scored by Hans Zimmer and David Fleming. The movie, an adaptation of J.D. Vance’s memoir about growing up in Appalachia, is a modern exploration of the American Dream through three generations of an Appalachian family. The film stars Amy Adams, Haley Bennett, and Glenn Close and follows a Yale law student who is drawn back to his hometown grapples with family history, Appalachian values, and the American dream. Milan will release the soundtrack on CD December 4th. The film will premiere on Netflix on November 24th.
Christophe Beck has been slated to score THE LAST TRANSPORT, directed by Chris Angel (WISHMASTER 3 & 4, THE FEAR: RESURRECTION) for GlobalWatch Films. The film is a science fiction thriller set in 2021, when the last transport off a doomed Earth has only two seats left—and four people show up. The film stars Katee Sackhoff, Michael Trucco, and Jon Huertas and is currently reported to be in pre-production.
THE LOST HUSBAND, a romantic drama written, directed, and produced by Vicki Wight, is about a woman who, trying to put her life back together after the death of her husband, moves with her children to her estranged Aunt’s goat farm in central Texas. The film has been composed by Sherri Chung (RIVERDALE, BATWOMAN, THE RED LINE, BLINDSPOT), and a digital soundtrack has been released on the Stupid Kazoo label and is available to purchase on amazon and to stream or purchase on applemusic.
From the director of BRAVE comes the PETER PAN and ALICE IN WONDERLAND origins story, COME AWAY. Written by Marissa Kate Goodhill and directed by Brenda Chapman (PRINCE OF EGYPT, BRAVE), the film features a score by John Debney which carries film music fans to Neverland and Wonderland. Lakeshore Records has released the soundtrack digitally; available at these digital and streaming sites.
The music from the Netflix original series THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY Season 2 has been released digitally on Lakeshore Records. The album features original music by Emmy® Award-winning composer Jeff Russo and Perrine Virgile. Created for television by Steve Blackman, THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY is about a family of former child heroes, Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Five, Ben, and Vanya, who have grown apart but have reunited to continue to protect the world from a coming apocalypse. With Season 1 ending with the heroes failing to save the world, with time-traveling Five sending himself and his siblings back in time presumably to try and prevent the apocalypse from happening during an earlier time, Season 2 finds the family scattered across the timescape between 1960 and 1963 Dallas, Texas—only to find another world-ending apocalypse brimming. Seeking each other within the timelines, the Umbrella Academy must find a way to reunite, figure out what caused the earlier doomsday, put a stop to it, and return to the present timeline to stop that other nasty apocalypse. All while being hunted by a trio of ruthless Swedish assassins.
The digital soundtrack is available now. Download/Listen from these links.
In related news, IGN reports that Netflix has officially renewed UMBRELLA ACADEMY for a third, 10-episode season.
Watch the Season 2 trailer:
After five years of working on Lullabies for Younglings: A Star Wars Lullaby Album, composer George Shaw is excited to share his arrangements of relaxing renditions of STAR WARS tunes from across all nine films of the Skywalker Saga, composed by John Williams. It’s an album worthy of all younglings, padawans, and even Jedi masters to sit back, clear your mind, and feel the force flow through you. “Most lullaby albums are created with cheap sounding bell and synth sounds aimed at babies, which doesn’t make for an interesting listen to an older and more discerning audience. I wanted to create versions of my favorite STAR WARS music that I could listen and relax to. I wanted to keep the integrity of the compositions by John Williams, finding ways to translate the complex textures and countermelodies in the original orchestrations, while taming the big climactic swells in the music to create an even and calming listening experience.”
“I based most of the arrangements off the orchestral scores that I had available,” George told Soundtrax, “and in other cases off of the published piano sheet music (like RISE OF SKYWALKER which hadn’t been released as a published orchestral score when I arranged it earlier this year). So I was able to include as many counterlines and background textures as possible, translating them from orchestral sounds into keyboard and synth textures. I also programmed all of the electronic/synth and sampled parts of the recordings.”
Shaw says his biggest challenge was to make lullabies out of “Duel of the Fates” and “Battle of the Heroes,” which he hadn’t initially considered turning into lullabies. “The original orchestrations from some of STAR WARS’ most epic lightsaber scenes are full of rhythmic drive—how do you turn that into a calming piece of music?” he wrote. “I knew I wanted to have a theme from each of the nine films in the Skywalker Saga, so I decided to accept the challenge. Eventually I found an approach that involved slowing the tempo, and transposing low menacing melodies into the high tinkly range of piano and bells.”
Stream or purchase Lullabies for Younglings: A Star Wars Lullaby Albumhere.
For more information about George Shaw see his website here. https://www.georgeshawmusic.com/
Watch a video of Shaw’s rendition of “Han Solo and the Princess:”
Music Box Records has announced the premiere CD release of new entries in the label’s “Great Television Soundtracks” series; Vol. 2. contains Claude Bolling’s L’ETRANGE MONSIEU DUVALLIER (The Strange Monsieur Duvallier) and MISS, and Vol. 3 includes Georges Delerue’s LA CLOCHE TIBÉTAINE (The Tibetan Bell, 1974) and SPLENDEURS ET MISÈRES DES COURTISANES (The Splendors And Miseries Of Courtesans, 1975) are offered together in a limited-edition (750 units) CD soundtrack.
Pre-order now at https://www.musicbox-records.com/en/
WaterTower Music has released THE UNDOING (Soundtrack from the HBO® Original Series), featuring the music of composer brothers Evgueni and Sacha Galperine, whose merged respective talents, expansive musical palette, and cinematic passion and knowledge combine to put forth distinctive musicality. The limited series follows Grace (Nicole Kidman) and Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant), who are living the only lives they ever wanted for themselves. Overnight, a chasm opens in their lives: a violent death and a chain of terrible revelations. Left behind in the wake of a spreading and very public disaster and horrified by the ways in which she has failed to heed her own advice, Grace must dismantle one life and create another for her child and her family. The soundtrack is available from these links.
Polish film composer Bartosz Chajdecki is scoring the fourth season of the Polish crime drama TV series CHYLKA (aka THE DISAPPEARANCE in English-speaking countries). The series follows detective Joanna Chylka, a capable, uncompromising, courageous and rebellious detective. In a legal world full of men, she does not give in to anything. When three-year-old Nikola Szlezyngier disappears without a trace and the police do not find evidence of kidnapping, the main suspects become the child’s parents; it is Chylka and her new apprentice Kordian Orynski who undertake to solve the case. A soundtrack release with Chajdecki’s music from the series should be forthcoming; details will follow. A fifth season of the series has already been greenlit for 2021.
Kronos Records has announced its December CD releases: THE SHEPHERD by Arthur Valentin Grósz, a World War II drama set in 1944 Hungary, in which an old shepherd, whose daughter is murdered by Nazis, decides in his grief and anger over the cruelty of the oppressors to save as many Jewish lives as he possibly can; and GAZA MON AMOUR by Andre Matthias, a romantic drama set in Gaza. Both CDs are limited editions of just 300 copies. The label is offering a free copy of Matthias’ score to CONTROL to the first 100 people to order both THE SHEPHERD and GAZA MON AMOUR.
Miriam Cutler has scored the documentary NOT CAROL, which examines the scourge of postpartum psychosis through the tragic prism of the Carol Coronado murder case. Carol, in the midst of a psychotic postpartum breakdown, murdered her three young children and is serving three life sentences. In a judicial system riddled with archaic laws and chronic misunderstanding, Carol’s story shines a light on a public health epidemic that is enormous in scale and no one is talking about. “I couldn’t be more proud of being part of this beautifully crafted and important film which helps us understand the terrible effects of postpartum psychosis,” Cutler said in a Facebook post.
The film is showing on Starz. Watch the film’s trailer here.
I AM GRETA, the intimate Hulu documentary by director Nathan Grossman, tells the story of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg through compelling, never-before-seen footage. Starting with her one-person school strike for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament, Grossman follows Greta—a shy student with Asperger’s—in her rise to prominence and her galvanizing global impact as she sparks school strikes around the world. The film culminates with the extraordinary wind-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. To musically accompany Greta and the children of the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement on their journey, composer duo Rebekka Karijord and Jon Ekstrand spent quite a lot of time searching for the right balance when it comes to how much emotional triggers the music should offer: “With the music for I AM GRETA we aimed to find a sonic counterpoint to the friction between the shy, contemplative inner world of Greta, and the unbounded energy of the natural world and climate change movement. From the start we found it useful to separate the score into three distinct voices: Greta’s voice, the voice of the natural world, and the voice of the climate change movement,” said the composers in a statement. Through the sketching process, Rebekka and Jon discovered that when they set melodic music to the pictures it just did not meld: “It came off as too sentimental in relation to Greta as a person. Too leading, somehow. So, we choose to work with repetition and persistent musical patterns, often illustrated through energetic string arpeggios. This we felt helped underline the remarkable persistence and focus Greta has on the climate issue, as well as that of relentlessness of nature. Then we found a few places throughout the score, where more melodic aspects could be introduced and carry the score through its dramaturgical journey. It allowed the melodic aspects to shine through when they are introduced.” The synergy between the two composers with very different backgrounds as well as the blend of classical instrumentation and usage of electroacoustic elements led to a unique, compelling score: “The score consists of a string octet, modular synthesizers and a voice instrument built by Rebecca of 25 male, female and non-binary singers from around the world in their full range. Our soloist in the score is the cellist Linnea Olsson, whom has a very specific airy and organic tone. From the first sketch recordings with Linnea it just felt like this was the tone of the soundtrack.” The score has been released digitally via OONA Recordings and is available through Apple Music/iTunes and streams via Spotify.
Paul Leonard-Morgan (LIMITLESS, DREDD, MI:5 [SPOOKS], THE TOMORROW MAN) has completed scoring MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY, the new TV documentary by Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris. The film tells the story of polarizing psychedelic drug advocate Timothy Leary.
Composer Jamie Thierman (orchestrator on STARGIRL, asst. orchestrator on THE HANDMAID’S TALE, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.) has announced the Nov. 10th release of the documentary film WHERE SHE LIES on Amazon Prime, and the forthcoming release of her original score soundtrack to the film on December 8th. The film, directed by Zach Marion, is about an assaulted teen who gives birth in the deep south and receives conflicting narratives about her infant’s fate. 36 years later, her mother gives a deathbed confession that the baby never died. A filmmaker helps her uncover the truth. Watch the film trailer here.
Composer Kevin Smuts has released his mesmerizing and endearing score to the hit Netflix documentary MY OCTOPUS TEACHER (2020), which is now streaming on Spotify. Directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, the film follows filmmaker Craig Foster as he forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world. Foster started filming in 2010; the film was ten years in the making and was the first South African nature documentary to be a Netflix Original.
The film received eight nominations for awards at the Jackson Wild Media Award and won Best Feature at the Earthx Film Festival and is now showing on Netflix.
Winifred Phillips has composed music for Sackboy: A Big Adventure, a 2020 platform game developed by Sumo Digital and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the PlayStation 5. Part of the LittleBigPlanet series, it follows Sackboy, and features 3D platforming as opposed to the 2.5D of previous entries. Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a Playstation 5 launch title, releasing last week simultaneously with the PS5 console launch. The game was also released last week for the Playstation 4. This is Winifred’s seventh game for the LittleBigPlanet series. “It is such an honor to be a part of the music and audio team for this wonderful franchise,” Winifred told Soundtrax. “I’ve been composing music for Sackboy for over ten years, and it’s been an amazing adventure! The music for this franchise is always intensely complex and interactive, so composing music for Sackboy definitely keeps me on my toes. This time around, I was asked to focus on a more classical, orchestral approach, which was very enjoyable for me. Adapting this approach to an interactive framework posed significant challenges—but I really loved combining the whimsy of Sackboy’s imaginative world with classical orchestral colors and techniques.”
On November 13, Lakeshore Records and game giant Ubisoft have issued the highly-anticipated Assassin’s Creed Valhalla–Original Game Soundtrack. The 47-track album features original compositions by Jesper Kyd and Sarah Schachner as well as original songs by Einar Selvik (of Wardruna). Prior to this, a pair of 7-track EPs were released last July and August as previews/promotions of the full soundtrack, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Out of the North and Assassin’s Creed ValhallaThe Ravens Saga.
The game released worldwide on November 10th for Xbox, Ubisoft, and PlayStation. The full digital album is available from these links.
Listen to a preview of the score from YouTube:
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a first-person shooter video game developed by Treyarch and Raven Software and published by Activision. It is the sixth installment of the Black Ops series, and the seventeenth installment in the overall Call of Duty series, and serves as the direct sequel to Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010) and the direct prequel to Call of Duty: Black Ops II (2012), the game was released on November 13, 2020. Jack Wall composed the score, which has been released by Activision and is available digitally at amazon and streams on spotify.
In a Facebook post, Wall stated “I’d like to dedicate my work on this score to my beautiful wonderful agent and friend, Cheryl Tiano. You will be missed so very much.”
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. Special thanks to Benjamin Michael Joffe for copyediting assistance.