OVER THE MOON with LIFE ON OUR PLANET:
A Conversation with Steven Price
Reinhold Heil: Revisiting DEUTSCHLAND: Scoring the 3-Season Historical Espionage Series
Interviews by Randall D. Larson
• SNAPSHOTS: Soundtrack Reviews:
AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE/Scherrer (Quartet & MSM), ALL AGAINST ALL/Sensini (Kronos), AUDREY/Somers (Silva Screen), A BAND TO HONOR/Church (Notefornote), THE BOYS Season 1 & 2/Lennertz (La-La Land), KILLING SMALL ANIMALS & BAD DREAMS/Fogelström (N10Y Records), I LIVIATANI/DiBona & Sangiovanni (Sonitus), OUTSIDE THE LAW/Sanko (Kino Lorber blu-ray), THE PLATFORM (El Hoyo) & TAXI A GIBRALTAR Calleja (Plaza Mayor & Atresmúsica), THE RIGHT STUFF/Taylor (WaterTower Music), SADAN HANIM/Kallis (KeepMoving), SOSTIENE PEREIRA/Morricone (Caldera), THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7/Pemberton (Varèse Sarabande), WONDER WOMAN 1984/Zimmer (WaterTower), ZOMBIES & ZOMBIES 2/Clinton & Cohen (Disney)
Book Review: • Reflections on the Music of Ennio Morricone: Fame and Legacy
Soundtrack, Documentary, Vinyl, Film Music Books, & Game Music News
Academy Award winning film composer Steven Price has maintained a unique, story-driven approach to the craft of film scoring that has seen him work on some of the most innovative productions of recent years. From Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY to Edgar Wright’s BABY DRIVER, Price’s individualistic scores seek to enhance the ideas and images of great filmmakers in truly bespoke ways. His diverse music reflects the wide range of movie and television projects he has been involved with. Beginning his career in the late 1990s, Price contributed to productions such as THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and BATMAN BEGINS, before making his scoring debut in 2011 with Joe Cornish’s inner-city horror comedy, ATTACK THE BLOCK. Recent years have seen him compose distinctive scores for Claire McCarthy’s reimagining of Hamlet, OPHELIA, David Ayer’s SUICIDE SQUAD, and the Paramount Animation WONDER PARK. From his incorporation of original WW2 tanks in the percussion of the Brad Pitt starring FURY to the wind instrument-driven score created for Tom Harper’s THE AERONAUTS, the music created for each production seeks to give each story its unique voice, the result of an experimental and collaborative process. – via http://www.stevenpricemusic.com/
A LIFE ON OUR PLANET (2020) In his 93 years, David Attenborough has visited every continent on the globe, exploring the wild places of the planet and documenting the living world in all its variety and wonder. But during his lifetime, Attenborough has also seen first-hand the monumental scale of humanity’s impact on nature.
Q: You’ve scored several documentary films and series over the years which feature David Attenborough. A LIFE ON OUR PLANET is Attenborough’s most personal documentary film, his urgent plea towards protecting our future on this planet. How did the film’s focus direct you towards the musical approach you have employed in this project?
Steven Price: That was one of the exciting things about the project when I was asked to do it. This one felt very different to all the things we’ve done before. We’d done more traditional natural history shows where there was a lot of spectacle and it was quite an epic sort of sound from big orchestras with lots of music and lots of big moments, whereas this one was very much David’s own personal statement, and it’s quite intimately delivered. Most of the film is him talking straight to the viewer, and you see his entire life and watch how he’s seen the world from a relatively untamed place to the state we’re in now. It felt like it needed something different musically, and certainly I was really keen that it felt like the sort of music that David would like. I did a little bit of research around David by speaking to people who know him, about what his tastes in music are, and they let me know that chamber music is his thing—he likes to hear more intimate stuff. So the decision was made very early on to write a chamber score. It’s a very reduced-forces thing compared to what I’d done before—a small string group with soloists, basically. Once we’d got that settled down, the writing really just followed everything that David was doing onscreen, and because he’s so brilliant a communicator my job was just to go with the message he was putting across.
Q: Your score provides an eloquent and elegant cadence against which Attenborough’s tale is told, augmented by stunning wildlife photography. How does the imagery of documentaries like this stimulate your musical inclinations in providing these visuals with music?
Steven Price: I’ve felt they are an amazing gift and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve done a fair bit of this natural history stuff. Musically, there’s so much variety, there’s such incredible heart to everything—you’re dealing with life and death situations, you’re dealing with this incredible range of colors and environments that you’re working in, and every single one of them triggers a slightly different musical response. If you’re talking about the arctic, the sound that conjures up in my mind is very different than the forest, for example. We certainly dealt with all those different places in this film, but we also had the passage of time as well, and the fact that you’ve started off with this enthusiastic adventurer back in the 1950s, and we’ve watched him grow older through these programs and so the music has to do that too. Then in the middle of the film it certainly becomes darker as you realize what’s happening to the world, and then the last twenty minutes of the film is all about his solutions so that gave me an opportunity to write more uplifting material.
Q: Documentary films, just as a genre, have changed so much over the years to the talking-heads of a couple of decades ago to these magnificent and beautiful scored pieces, and you’ve certainly been doing your share…
Steven Price: Oh, thank you. They are wonderful to work with because they don’t shy away from emotion and they don’t shy away from melody, and that can be pretty rare in movies nowadays. It’s a lovely way of scratching that itch, and I think with programs like OUR PLANET last year, and then this new film, it feels that these films are dealing with really important stuff.
Q: How would you describe your thematic or motivic architecture for A LIFE ON OUR PLANET, and how have you developed that material throughout the many “chapters” or segments of the film?
Steven Price: Early on I composed a theme for David the Adventurer, which you hear as he starts his exploring. He was one of the first people to take an airplane and go around the wild places, so there’s the sense of him being an adventurer. His theme is often carried on woodwinds in the first half of the film, but gradually goes into more darkness as we go through his story. The theme that seems to be most used in the film is one that I originally wrote for the sequence when Sir David talks about the moon landings, and the first time we saw the Earth from space and we realized what was there. That was a theme that I wrote early on, and it was the first one that really landed with the filmmakers. That became a recurring theme for David’s summing up of the situation. It’s used in various ways, whether it be his wonder at the fact that we saw the Earth and all of humanity in one photograph, but then, as we go through and realize what humanity has done to it, it changes into a sadder form, and then comes back at the end as a very optimistic piece. So that was one of the key pieces that recurred throughout the film. Each sequence allowed me to do different things. I remember writing the History of Evolution sequence, where it shows the periods that the Earth’s been through, and that gave me the idea of overlapping as things got more complex, but then disappearing and another wave of complexity begins. The ideas that are in these shows are so inspiring from a musical point of view, they always give you this great start.
Q: How did you use your music to drive the film’s larger message of warning about where we are headed, and what we should do to restore ecological balance and a sustainable future?
Steven Price: I worked really closely with one of the directors, Johnny Hughes, who was very involved with the music. We took the approach that the music had to totally reflect David’s words, so when David is at his saddest the music really does go for that. We wanted to move people with this film; we wanted to make people see what he’s seen, and that meant the music sometimes did tweak the emotion. But obviously when we start talking about the solutions, it’s a very different sounding score from that point. I think we take people to as low as they can possibly be halfway through the film, but when we start talking about solutions the music becomes a much more hopeful sounding thing. There were a lot of entwining patterns—I remember writing a lot of things where I was trying to bring together some of the disparate lines that were fractured in the middle of the film, and they come back toward the end of the film but in a more interwoven way. We’re always talking about how we need to live in harmony with nature, and certainly things have become a lot clearer in the last third of the score, they become a lot more harmonious as well. That was our hope, that the music reflect in various ways what the message was.
Q: I like the bookends of the film, beginning and ending with the ruins of Chernobyl and showing how that affected, and is being affected by, the survival of the wild taking over what used to be a human city. Was there a special piece of music you did for that?
Steven Price: Yes. That was an important thing when I was writing it—and actually the beginning of a film is always important, but with this one the film starts with thirty or forty seconds of incredible stillness, just a high sustain but with a kind of electronic voice in there, and the sound of something that hopefully feels like it’s been abandoned and is empty, and there’s a sadness to it. That’s so different from what I would have done in one of the previous documentaries, it felt like a definite statement of “this is going to be quite sparse in places and it’s going to be quite true to what David’s saying and what you’re seeing.” Then that piece comes back at the end, but there we give it a little more of a positive feel because at that point David’s back in Chernobyl to show how nature finds a way. When the humans have left and over the course of 34 years the city has become an incredible nature reserve with all sorts of species, that felt like an important message to tie up the music as well.
Q: Which orchestra did you use to record the score?
Steven Price: In terms of the instrumentalists it was pretty much a hand-picked group. Since I knew we were going for a small ensemble, pretty much everyone who played on this were people I had worked with on films in the past and got to know and had brought them back time and time again. As I was writing for them, I was very much hearing their individual voices. For the string group I think we had somewhere in the region of twenty-four players, and then there were additional soloists—piano, harp, flute, clarinet. There were lots of violin solos by a wonderful musician named John Mills, and cello solos by Will Schofield, who’s worked on everything I’ve done since GRAVITY, pretty much. Phil Cobb on the trumpet has lots of wonderful moments in this film. And so it’s very much a handpicked group of London musicians, and we recorded the whole thing in two days at Abbey Road, at the end of last year. It was the last session before Christmas. David actually came to the sessions, as well, and that was quite moving. We recorded the whole film in sequence so that the musicians could see what we were doing, and they felt this journey from the adventure through to the darkness, so that halfway through the sessions, when the music became really dark, it was quite a heavy atmosphere; then just before we shifted into the optimistic music, that’s when Sir David gave a little speech to the musicians. It was a lovely couple of days.
Q: On the soundtrack album, I like the way you’ve included a short quote from David at the beginning or ending of most tracks—which is something film music fans generally don’t want to hear, they don’t want dialogue excerpts to interfere with listening to the music, but in this case I think its important that his voice is there and that people realize this film is something more than your typical nature documentary.
Steven Price: That was a big question mark. I’ve been very aware for a long time that dialogue isn’t something a lot of film music fans like on soundtrack albums—I remember doing a score album for BABY DRIVER and there’s a lot of dialogue on that because of the nature of the score; we thought it would be fun to have a souvenir of the film in that way, and it wasn’t well approved of in film music circles! On this one, it was suggested early on that we might try it, and when I did do it, it just felt like the words should never be separate from the music, that they should always be together. I tried to play David’s dialogue bits around the music so it doesn’t get in the way of the music—it’s very possible to listen to the score without the dialogue, which usually comes in at the start or end of tracks, it doesn’t overlap with it very much. But his voice is so melodious to me, anyway, and in many places he really is the top line for this. There are a couple of tracks near the end of the album where he recorded some special lines, and I thought the music should definitely keep its association with his words, this time.
Watch the trailer to LIFE ON OUR PLANET:
OVER THE MOON (2020) An adventurous girl builds a rocket ship to meet a mythical goddess on the moon.
Q: With OVER THE MOON, what kind of planning was necessary to determine the score’s placement in the story and its interaction with the songs?
Steven Price: The position of the songs had all been set before I was involved. When I came onboard, they’d already been going for a couple of years, and so by that point they’d also animated the songs. The songs were introduced in demo form at that point, and I was just part of the finishing-off of the songs and recording the orchestra. So in terms of placement they were there, and then basically it was a case of this other 65-minutes of the film that needed score. The first sessions I had with the filmmakers were really about how the score was to weave between these songs and to carry the journey of the main character. There’s a lot of diversity in the songs, a lot of different musical styles going on, so I felt that the score needed to smooth that over a bit as well. But other than that, the score was really sticking with our lead character, Fei Fei, as she goes on her journey.
Q: How did the film’s broad fantasy element determine the tone of your score, not only the emotional journey of the character but relative to the fantastic creatures and environments she encounters on the moon?
Steven Price: That was the most exciting thing for me. When I was first asked about the film, I was sent the script and some of the artwork of Lunaria, the dark side of the moon, with this incredible, vivid neon. It was unlike anything I’d really seen before. I thought it needed the sort of music that felt really locked into a different sort of environment, and that’s always exciting to me—the idea that the music can texturally feel like it belongs to a unique kind of place. I spoke a lot with Glen Keane, the director, about the sound of Lunaria, and he described to me how everything felt like it was lit from within and it was alive—all these different organisms floating around, they’re all borne of the moon goddess’s tears, and they’re shining and shimmering. It felt almost electrical to me, and that became a big part of how the sounds were. It was like everything needed to feel like it was fizzing, like it was alive. So that dictated the sound of it, and then once I’d started working on the palette, the tunes started to emerge out of that. There was a lot of Chinese influence both in the China setting of the film and within Lunaria, as far as building up the textures and finding the musical language to write in.
Q: Did you work with animatics or rough cells or were you able to score to finished animation?
Steven Price: It varied. When I started off it was a little rougher, but then some sequences came in that were much more advanced, and one of the things I love most about working in animation is that it’s very much like the way I write music—you start off with a rough sketch and then gradually you add more detail, and as you add a bit more detail, other ideas emerge, and maybe you’ll throw away a little bit of something. I felt that the animators were doing exactly what I was doing, so I’d get a new iteration of the picture and that would influence me in a way to change what I was doing, and then I’d send a bit of music in and that might have a bit of influence there and gradually this thing evolved as each sequence would go back and forth between us. Glen was amazing, and he would explain to me in detail what was coming up, and even towards the end of the recording sessions there were little changes that were happening with the way a scene was being lit or a visual effect that would just inspire another idea and we’d find a player and see where it takes us.
Q: How long and complicated was this scoring process for you?
Steven Price: It was an intense period from early this year through the middle of the year. The writing of it was just a lovely collaborative process with the filmmakers, but it was complicated by the Covid situation. I would have been spending a lot more time in L.A. with them doing it, but as it was, there was an awful lot of me sending the music from London and then us talking over things. The recording itself was complicated because of the impossibility of recording in London as we’d originally intended to, during the middle of the year. We thought we were going to be the first film that could come back to London Studios in the pandemic but we just couldn’t get the safety thing to be agreed by everybody, so we ended up recording it remotely in Vienna. So I was sitting in my studio here in England talking to musicians in Vienna, while the filmmakers were sitting in L.A. and New York. I’ve never done anything like that before, and I was kind of terrified of it because I’ve always been in the room talking directly to everyone, but once we started playing, a couple of days in, we found a way to work together, and I was pleased with the results.
Listen to the track "Remember When We Said Goodbye" from the OVER THE MOON soundtrack:
ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011) A teenage gang defends their South London neighborhood from predatory alien invaders on Guy Fawkes Night.
Q: One of your first scores was ATTACK THE BLOCK, an intense take on an alien invasion in a South London neighborhood. How would you describe your music for this film and how you became involved in the movie?
Steven Price: That was my first feature film, that came about as a result of working with Edgar Wright on a couple of his projects when I was in the capacity of a music editor. I’d done some additional music on his film SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD , which they gave me some credit for and that was lovely. When ATTACK THE BLOCK came up, with a much smaller budget, I think they’d run into a few music problems along the way, so it was one of those last minute we-haven’t-got-a-score-who-can-help situations. I got a call for that and I just loved it. It was: finally I get to score a film after trying to get into that position for fifteen-twenty years, and just the energy of the film was incredible. We were trying to make a film that was set in South London but also touched on the fantasy films that we grew up with, so I got to play with electronic beats and with that fusion, it just felt very alive and very fresh. When I got to work with the musicians from the group Basement Jaxx who did some of the electronic stuff, it was just a really fun process. The film was so full of energy, and [director] Joe Cornish is such a great person to work with and had so many great ideas, it was a very quick process. I think I wrote the whole thing in three or four weeks.
THE WORLD’S END (2013) Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from twenty years earlier unwittingly become humanity’s only hope for survival from an alien invasion.
Q: You worked with Edgar Wright again on THE WORLD’S END. What can you tell me about that?
Steven Price: That was the last film in the trilogy he’d made with the same actors, starting off with SHAUN OF THE DEAD, which I remember watching in the cinema years before, going “That’s the kind of film I want to make! God, that’s brilliant!” And then a few years later I got to do THE WORLD’S END, so that was great. The thing that I most remember about it was just the sense of escalation that was built into the plot, the fact that they were going through this pub crawl for twelve pubs, and each time the music would build and get weirder as you realize what’s happening in this town. Again, it was a fusion of electronic stuff and quite a small orchestra. We started to play with some of the inter-relationships with the story, and I remember there was this idea of a network of the alien beings trying to communicate with each other, and that leaked into the music. The score included all these mobile phone interference kind of sounds that would be tuned and would work with the music, and that got me into a lot of playing with found sounds, and that led into things like GRAVITY where there was a lot of manipulating sounds and playing with it.
GRAVITY (2013) Two astronauts work together to survive after an accident leaves them stranded in space with no link to Earth and no hope of rescue. As fear turns to panic, they realize that the only way home may be to venture further into space.
Q: Speaking of which, GRAVITY was the film that really put you on the film music map and of course won you an Oscar for best music. How did you get that assignment and how did you come up with your way of scoring this almost silent thriller occurring just above the Earth’s atmosphere?
Steven Price: I was just very fortunate, I think, that the director, Alfonso Cuarón, is a genius and was at the time looking for someone who hadn’t done lots of films and was willing to do something new. I’d been around the film music scene for a while by then and I was trying to break through, and Alfonso knew Edgar very well, so I think they’d had a conversation, and that led to my having a meeting with him. That was basically a ten-minute meeting about this film, which, until that point, I think he was intending to be without music—he was going to play it as a very silent kind of art film. His first words to me were, “I hate film music!” Which was a great start…! We ended up having these conversations about, “Well okay, we’re not doing conventional film music, but we want to achieve the same things; we want people to feel fear, we want people to feel excitement, we want people to be moved at various points of it. So how do we do that in a way that isn’t conventional?” Coming to it from that idea, you immediately started hearing things in your head—all these pulsations and things moving around, and the fact that this whole film was in space and the camera was floating around as if it was weightless. There was no sense of normal framing, so you literally felt disoriented like you would in space, and therefore it made no sense for the music to be conventional and to feel like it was just in front of you, as it would in a normal theater. The music had to be in all those dimensions and it had to feel like it was moving around, so as soon as he started talking like that, it just started conjuring up sounds I would then make, and we’d play with them, and then I would write a little more, and gradually this process of constant experimenting with him developed into the sound, and then we just followed our noses. We’d go down some blind alleys here and there, but all the time you felt like it was helping the audience feel what you wanted the main character to be feeling. We kept pushing away at it for a long period—I think it was eight or nine months that I was working on that solidly, and it worked. I remember seeing the final mix and getting this sense that the picture and the music were locked together in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. That’s something I think we’re always searching for—those moments where music and the visuals and the story all come together and suddenly become alive in a way that you’d never felt before.
Q: What was your musical palette for this score?
Steven Price: It was a lot of made things. There was an orchestra involved, it does get more orchestral as it goes through, and there are voices involved, but everything in the film starts off very disguised and hidden and processed. There’s huge amounts of textures that you hear in GRAVITY which are voice-derived, whether it was me or Lisa Hannigan, who sang an awful lot on it, and things are slowed-down and stretched and moved-around. There are a lot of glass instruments, there were a lot of guitar things that were played and then stretched, all those big rising things that happen throughout—an awful lot of that was done with a Hawaiian slack steel guitar, but you could never tell that by ear, because it all gets processed through various techniques. And then the orchestra itself was disguised in lots of ways—nothing was ever really pure until we got to the very end of the film, as they re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, then it’s like she earned it, and that’s the only time you really hear the voices as pure voices; the rest of the time everything would be played through synths or played through pedals or whatever it may be, just to get the sense that it’s pulsating and alive around you.
Special thanks to Jeff Sanderson of Chasen PR for facilitating—and to Netflix for setting up a conference call line to accommodate—this interview.
Golden Globe-nominated composer Reinhold Heil draws on his eclectic background in classical music, rock, and electronica to challenge the boundaries of contemporary film and television scoring. His career as a film composer began with the propulsive electronic score to Tom Tykwer’s international art house sensation, RUN LOLA RUN. Reinhold’s synergistic collaboration with Tykwer continued for more than a dozen years on such films as THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR, PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER, THE INTERNATIONAL, and CLOUD ATLAS, which received a Golden Globe nomination for best score. For television, Reinhold has written scores for DEADWOOD, HELIX, LEGENDS and BERLIN STATION, among others. His score for the widely acclaimed series DEUTSCHLAND 83, DEUTSCHLAND 86, and the final season, DEUTSCHLAND 89, which debuted during the fall of 2020, was awarded the prestigious German award The Grimme Preis. The series has won numerous awards, including the Peabody and the International Emmy.
DEUTSCHLAND ‘83 Martin Rauch is recruited by the East German foreign intelligence service Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HV A) to infiltrate the West German army. As a rookie spy, his decisions constantly put his cover at risk and force his agency to take extreme measures.
DEUTSCHLAND ‘86 Abandoned by Moscow and desperate for cash, the East German leadership pushes their secret operatives to experiment with global capitalism and save their sinking socialist ship. Long banished to Africa for his sins in 1983, Martin Rauch is now sent back into the field.
DEUTSCHLAND ‘89 Martin Rauch experiences the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 during his activities as an East German spy.
Q: You’ve scored all three seasons of DEUTSCHLAND, which in its ‘83, ‘86, and ‘89 iterations provided a unique overview of German history through the experiences of fictional Martin Rauch. With the first season introducing the espionage storyline, how did you develop your score and establish a musical template for this season?
Reinhold Heil: I was referred to the show runners by a friend who knows my musical background, which decades ago was in the German pop music of the ‘80s, and in the meantime I’d become a film composer, so my first question was ‘Do you want something that resembles the sound of the music from that period, or do you actually want something that’s more a proper score?” And they said, “We definitely want a score and we want it to be contemporary.” I actually was very happy to hear that, in that I thought okay, because the story was going to be suspenseful, there was going to be a lot of brooding energy.
The historic backdrop to all of the fictionalized stories in this series is extremely well-researched. I know that for sure because I lived through all these periods, and I lived through it while living in West Berlin—being surrounded by the wall that ultimately came down, I was there the entire time. Jörg Winger, who is the show’s main writer and who did most of the research, is a little bit younger than I but he was also already very aware of all of this and lived through some of these events. For instance, the show’s very first scene, in which two East German border guards confiscate some Shakespeare books from two students who’d bought them in West Berlin, and the guards then gave them as gifts to their friends—I had literally lived through that exact scene myself, except with me instead of books it was records of Stravinsky and Bach! So I’m thinking I am the right person for this show! Jörg also had that same experience.
I was able to just do a very electronic score and I integrated things like synthesizers that were almost emulating air-raid sirens, and stuff like that. Everything was very, very dark and foreboding because there was a situation in 1983 that almost led to a nuclear war. There were war games going on all over NATO on the Western side, and the Russians were very, very skeptical whether those were actual war games or whether an attack was imminent. Of course then the fiction comes in, in that Martin Rauch is caught in between these two fronts and then has to deal with it and of course as the hero of the show he is always involved in the big events that are happening.
It took a while until I had developed the sound, because in the very beginning there were about five very, very different people with very different opinions who were weighing in on the music I was writing, so if you watch it from the beginning you will see there are some slightly orchestral, more traditional elements and they slowly get peeled away and it became more a real electronic score, of course with percussion and such—that was because, after episode 2 or 3, the situation was basically no longer really manageable because of all these different opinions. It wasn’t to bring all of this together and distill it into something that will make everybody happy, because there’s just too many contradictory opinions. Eventually they decided to have two people with me on a conference call, so it was just me, Jörg, and Ulrike Leibfried, an executive producer at the network and a really good filmmaker and someone with great musicality who was a great asset during the first season.
By the time the second season rolled around, Jörg and I were pretty comfortable with the arrangement, although by then Ulrike had moved on. But during all of that, the thing I learned is not to wait until people tell you exactly how to do something. After spotting, you just score the episode. You follow the temp if it’s good, if not you do it better, and then you present the whole first pass of your score. When people have something in front of them then it’s much easier to articulate which direction they want. Of course, that may mean you have to redo a bunch of things, several times, but I think it’s the best way to communicate by showing them the work. Just write the music and then not be offended if somebody says “Well, this one moment here doesn’t quite work yet.” This worked out well on this show after we sorted things out.
I use themes consistently on this series, which means for its three seasons it got easier because I can develop the themes over the seasons. For example, if you listen to that opening cue of the first episode—not the title song, but my first score cue—it ended up becoming the series’ main theme, and it occurs a lot throughout the show. If you go to the equivalent spot at the beginning of Season 3, you can see how that theme has been transformed into something else, and the energy is very much higher, whereas the first iteration in Season 1 is rather brooding and dark and atmospheric. This new one is fully energetic and has a string quartet playing the theme in a very in-your-face manner. And in between, in Season 2, which begins in Africa, the theme was Africanized as much as possible. There were some remnants of that version still in use in Season 3. That and other recurring themes remain consistent but they constantly undergo work, so there’s hardly ever a situation where we just take exactly what there was before and slap it onto a new scene. Even if we use the same material, we always work the new scene very specifically. When I say “we,” I mean myself and my assistant Paul Parker, who basically does most of this kind of re-work of pre-existing stuff while I focus mainly on developing new material, and that works quite well.
Q: What elements of the story most influenced you in creating your musical/thematic palette for the score?
Reinhold Heil: The military angle. Martin Rauch infiltrates the West German military and is involved in intrigue at the Stasi headquarters in East Berlin as well as the HV A [Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung] building—those were the two entities in the ‘80s which were comparable to, in our case, the FBI and the CIA. Many scenes were shot in the actual Stasi museum in East Berlin, so there was already a very authentic East German atmosphere there. The series constantly bounces between the West and the East, so I had to be careful with creating my musical sounds, although I tend to avoid simple East and Western sounds—I’m more interested in developing themes for a character or a group of characters. There’s a family theme, because Martin has a family including a girlfriend who’s staying behind in East Germany, and there are issues with his mother and father, who are not together. Everything is very dysfunctional, but at the end of the day you can see how the family is still a family, and there is a big family theme that unfolds over the three seasons. All of that develops bit by bit, episode by episode across all three seasons. I need to be aware of the bigger picture when I’m creating my new material—my assistant Paul is also very instrumental in this; he’s also the music editor on the show and he maintains my thematic overview while I compose away—and I would have to rip myself away from the creative process a lot more if it wasn’t for him keeping track of the themes and making suggestions.
Q: Tension seems to be a very prominent element of your score across all the seasons. What’s been your technique in maintaining and/or developing a tense musical environment for the show?
Reinhold Heil: [Chuckles] That’s a good question! I have a very big knack for sound design, so I design a lot of my synth sounds and samples myself, and this whole tension thing is what fascinates me the most, so I have a really extensive library. Of course I also buy sounds, because these days there’s such an amazing market of digital libraries available. I try to use a lot of my own sounds, because I’d rather be repetitive with my own stuff instead of using too many of the sounds that everybody has. I have a template that’s already stuffed full of sounds, and the sounds are selected from an even more vast library in this sort of semi-conscious way where I think of the story, I think of the characters, I think of what’s happening in this situation—espionage, looming war, tension in the family, all these different levels of tension, and in selecting the specific musical sounds I’m already sort of pre-determining what the score is going to sound like. And then I actually piece it together and let my inspiration—the picture and the story—guide me with that palette I’ve put together. That palette is usually always somewhat dark and has a lot of elements that are useful in creating tension.
I have one sound that I use a lot, which I made quite early, maybe 1998-99 or so. I sampled the sound of my knuckles hitting a bunch of high class wine glasses and making all kinds of sounds; one of those sounds turned out so great and has so much character to it. Some times, instead of writing a great orchestral piece, I’ve used a hovering atmosphere that erupts into percussive outbursts with a physical modeling synthesizer and on top I’ll put some bells that are also done with physical modeling, so there’s a lot of computing involved. [The track “Gotta Do What We Gotta Do” on the DEUTSCHLAND 89 score album is an example of this kind of modeling synthesis on the show. “That’s basically where the implication is that a boy has seen too much and they’re all onto him, so unfortunately the boy can’t live. He needs to die. But they’re actually conflicted about this. That atmosphere affords a great basis for a long, hovering drama.”]
Q: As you mentioned earlier, the second series, DEUTSCHLAND 86, starts in Africa, where Rauch has been sent to broker an illicit sale of West German weapons to South Africa. What is musically unique about the scoring of this season?
Reinhold Heil: It’s mostly the African percussion, which I played myself. I’m not an amazing percussionist, but I can keep rhythm, and I have a bunch of hoop drums and darabuka and other kinds of drums. I actually did a session where I stacked a whole bunch of my own drum performances and put the rhythm pattern, which was like a heartbeat, under the main theme in Season 1 and turned it into a tribal rhythm in Season 2. Another thing that was pretty unique and more on the atmospheric side, was the scene where Martin wakes up in Libya after being knocked out with no idea how he got there. He’s in a Bedouin tent and explores his surroundings. I was trying to keep it discreet but I couldn’t quite hold back on the Rhaita, a double reed instrument known from North Africa. Of course I’m using samples, so I played that on the keyboard and tried to make it sound as authentic as possible.
Q: Having lived in Berlin when The Wall came down, how did Season 3 affect you personally in developing your score for this season?
Reinhold Heil: When it happened, I’d lived in Berlin for sixteen years. I moved there in the Fall of 1973 at age 19 and went to music academy for six years to become a classical music producer/engineer with the knowledge of score reading and music itself. I used that all as a means to an end, and the end was not to be a classical music producer, the end was to play in a famous band, be on stage in front of thousands of people and sell a lot of records and have my own studio and make music in it. This was a vision I had when I was 14, and, weirdly enough, ten years later it was all 100% real. I was playing in front of thousands of people and we were safe in the studio doing records together. So during this time I lived in West Berlin, and when I wanted to go home, which was near Frankfurt, I had to pass the border twice, stand in line for hours, be x-rayed (because your entire car was x-rayed; once they realized that people were hiding underneath the back seats in order to escape into the west, they started x-raying entire cars at the border, and who knows how much radiation we actually got just from that!). And the funny thing, of course, is it becomes normalized, so that Wall was nothing special anymore after sixteen years, we’d just go, “Okay, it’s The Wall.”
[See sidebar below at end of interview for Reinhold’s memories of the Berlin Wall]
Q: What new musical elements came into play in this 3rd season – and how much was carried forward or modified from the previous two seasons?
Reinhold Heil: We used a string quartet. It plays a limited number of times and it is mostly used to play themes that already existed, like the main theme and there’s a sort of comical thing from Season 2 that happens when Rauch is being threatened with a gun by a female assassin. This unravels when she suddenly realizes that the time has come where her wonderful existence as an assassin only happens in the GDR regime, which now no longer exists, so there’s a moment of humor. I love that about it—with all the tension that happens in this show, there are some perfect lighthearted moments, even when she pulls a gun on Rauch, because you realize, with that character, it’s not really serious.
Q: Season 3 also seems to have some more contemporary music, even beyond its 1989 setting, than earlier seasons had…
Reinhold Heil: There is some more electronic material that is somewhat more contemporary. Even at the tender age of 66, I’m a film maven, and there are always lots of people, sometimes younger people, who come up with cool, fresh ideas in that department, and they influence you. I have no problems with that—I like moving forward and then combining my old experience with new ideas, so there’s some synth stuff that’s definitely more recently contemporary. There’s also some hard rock, and that’s Paul Parker, actually, and he’s a bit of a metal head. He’s only 31 and he used to be very much into heavy metal and can play the guitar pretty well. There’s this one piece that hearkens back to Season 1, it’s in a big action sequence, and we decided it called for the metal approach, at least for a little bit. So that sometimes happens, and then he can go all out and play one of those themes on his guitar..
Q: What’s been most challenging for you in composing this series?
Reinhold Heil: I enjoyed it so much! I can’t say that it’s not challenging or that it’s not sometimes difficult and you have to go back to the drawing board. I think it’s always the long suspense themes with so many twists and turns where you don’t want to be too on the nose, but on the other hand you do have to reflect the differences… One of the earliest pieces from Season 3 is “Reading the Draft.” It’s almost 4 minutes long, and it takes twists and turns. Rauch is spying on his people on behalf of the spy agency, and he realizes that something is going to change in a major way and he’s quite surprised, but also thrilled because he’s realizing stuff is changing for the better for the West. So now we have suspense, now we have a little bit of motion, we need to keep the story going, but then we have this little moment of an internal triumph, but it can’t be too big, then it goes back to the suspense, then he meets his mother, he asks his mother for her perspective about all this, what happens if The Wall comes down, she goes “This will be the end of the GDR”—and it’s going to be the end of that spy agency, everything is going to change, and then you have a little family scene. So pulling things like that together without being too on-the-nose and at the same time not ignoring or glossing over these constant changes, can be a challenge. Those can sometimes be the kind of cues where you have to go back to the drawing board maybe three or four times, but not in terms of rewriting it altogether, just in clarifying and shaping and reforming the music. Those are the more challenging cues, but I can’t say that I am burdened by the work. Scoring DEUTSCHLAND has been definitely one of the highlights of my career, because of its subject matter, because it’s dealing with my own history decades later, from afar. I think that’s a cool thing. If I were still living in Berlin, it wouldn’t have been half as cool to be working on it. But just to have this outside perspective, not only looking back but looking into the distance, that’s been really cool.
Special thanks to Andrew Krop of White Bear PR for facilitating this interview.
History Lesson - Reinhold Heil: Personal Memories of The Berlin Wall I have an interesting story where I was working very briefly with this very famous British singer, Kim Wilde, and I became friends with her. Only a year before The Wall came down, there was a giant concert in front of the German Reichstag, a big open space with about half a million people seeing Michael Jackson playing live. Kim Wilde was the opening act, so she invited me and after that I gave her a whole tour of Berlin by night, certain clubs, but also we came to the Potsdamer Platz where The Wall was—actually it was two walls with a little bit of a no-mans land in between. At the Potsdamer Platz there was also a studio in this big, old building that had survived the Second World War, and there was this studio where David Bowie had recorded his Berlin trilogy (Heroes, Low, and Lodger), and I had recorded two albums with Nina Hagen at that very studio. So I drove Kim there to see it. There were these observation platforms, so you could go up there and then look across The Wall and see what you could see. Of course at night it was even more spooky, everything was in the sort of yellow light, and there were watchtowers every 200 meters, and there were always two people in each watchtower because each one would make sure that the other one wouldn’t escape. They were equipped with guns and if anybody wanted to cross they would shoot at them—but not only that, the area between those two walls was mined. There were landmines all over the place, and in Potsdamer Platz, the no man’s land was particularly wide, it was like several hundred meters, and the other wall was at the end of that, and you could see all that from the platform. So you could see just how chanceless it was for a person to climb that first wall, run for hundreds of yards across a mine field and then climb the next Wall while being shot at by these guys. I explained this whole thing to Kim Wilde, and she’s standing there, and she’s bawling her eyes out, and I go “Why? What’s going on? This is just West Berlin. This is how it is here.” And I realized, through her perception of the whole thing—and she had a more abstract idea of it than I did, living here—just how unbelievably perverse the whole thing was.
October, 1989: The year later, I was producing an album with a singer-songwriter named Rio Reiser. He was a left-wing rebel at 16, which would have been in 1966, and he already had a band which was called Ton Steine Scherben, which is German for Clay-Stones-Shards, meaning, revolution – you smash windows. And they were doing an early kind of punk, ten years before there was anything known as punk, with German lyrics, and they were so left-wing and so revolutionary and of course they had a complete media ban on them, and they’re totally legendary. Unfortunately he died in the ‘90s. I became good friends with him in the ‘80s and worked on some of his records, especially the one that he worked on during 1989. And we were in the mixing phase of that album in October of 1989, and we were at his studio working with three of us, my friend Udo Arndt, who’s a great engineer/producer, I was doing a lot of the programming and co-producing, and Rio the artist. We were mixing and taking turns at the mixing board and it was a wonderful, easy-going work flow, and one of us, usually Rio because he wasn’t involved in the mixing, would sit in the TV room and watch East German television all day, because you could basically see the German Democratic Republic unravel. There were certain TV appearances of famous and less-famous people who were now starting to, even metaphorically, speak openly against the regime, and it was a thing to behold, I have to tell you. It was quite amazing. We were saying this was going to happen at some point, because there were demonstrations in Leipzig every Monday, and they would go “We Are The People!”—you have to stop all this shit!” Then there were the reforms, but the reforms were of course all fake and nothing was really going to change, and then all of a sudden on November 9th The Wall comes down, and we had been dealing with this on such an intense level, we were talking about what if… what are the Russians going to do? It could totally mean war, the frigging Russian tanks are going to be back. Well, of course, it was no longer Stalin time, it was Gorbachev, and Gorbachev himself was doing the whole Glasnost and Perestroika, so there were changes happening in the Soviet Union as well, so maybe it wasn’t as dangerous any more, but what did we know?
AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE/Dominik Scherrer/Quartet – cd/MovieScore Media – digital
Britain’s ITV’s iteration of Agatha Christie’s beloved elderly fictional crime solver Miss Marple was the most extensive presentation of classic Marple stories, starring Geraldine McEwan in the first three seasons with Julia McKenzie taking over in season four. The music by Dominik Scherrer (PRIMEVAL, RIPPER STREET, THE MISSING) graced all 23 episodes aired over six seasons between 2004 and 2013. “We’ve treated each episode as a standalone film—each was based on a separate Agatha Christie book, had its own set of characters, apart from Miss Marple herself,” Scherrer said. “Each had its own director, cinematographer and visual style. Each score was composed specifically for that film and had its own, unique themes, and recognizable sound and was structured like a feature film.” Scherrer’s score sits between English pastoral idyll, with influences from Vaughan Williams or Jane Marple’s favorite composer, GF Handel, opposite an altogether more sinister universe. “I had to look for instrumentation that worked for both the pastoral and the evil, and settled for an ensemble dominated by woodwinds and strings,” Scherrer explained. “The shimmering muted strings and melodic woodwinds of Vaughan Williams were an inspiration. We had London’s top musicians performing soaring violin and cello solos. Utilizing the extreme ranges of instruments, hitting the lowest open strings on the cellos and basses hard, haunting bassoon solos, and screechy high violins at the top of their range could produce truly frightening textures, only to be followed by a beautifully played, plaintive cor anglais solo.” While the series completed its run seven years ago, a soundtrack album has not been forthcoming until now, and it’s a most welcome debut. Scherrer’s music fits the time period in which the stories are set, just as it fits the character and attitude of Marple, with each film having its individual musical style as well. The only character that re-appears is Miss Marple herself, so there is a musical language that comes with that character. The album contains 21 tracks of music from 11 episodes, plus Marple’s theme—a nice choice while leaving plenty of material for a potential further volume or volumes. Scherrer’s episode scores are exquisite, capturing the tone of the characters, situation, and providing eloquent motifs and melodies for the mysteries as Marple investigates and ultimately solves them. A very pleasing collection.
For digital release, see moviescoremedia. For CD release see quartetrecords.
ALL AGAINST ALL/Kristian Sensini/Kronos – CD This superbly tense political thriller score from Italian composer Kristian Sensini (HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE, ROCKS IN MY POCKETS, KUARTETS) provides an engaging score in the classic Italian fashion. The 2019 film is a drama immersed in elements of politics, electoral fraud, and the decay of moral values, taking place in a fictional Alpine town wherein a corrupt mayor, about to lose an election, engages a criminal to ensure he wins. The film’s director Andrej Košak’s said of his composer, “I think I have found my Ennio Morricone. Kristian has made a score which perfectly suits my film.” Sensini’s music accommodates a number of brusque, staccato permutations that lend a marvelous tone of anxiety to the film that is both unnerving and captivating on CD. The 13 ½-minute track “Puzzle Pieces” is a masterful work, opening with taut piano arpeggios, menacing cycles of high-end paired woodwind figures, eerie synth echoes, threatening woodwinds over throbbing plunks of bass guitar and various percussive elements that grows in its impending journey from tentative apprehension to fully immersive dread, its aggressive elements bridged by an array of full-on atonal warbles, twinges of electric guitar, haunting piano figures over suspended pads of sound, even a bit of echoing prog rock riffing from the guitar and bass around two thirds in, which opens into a melodic progression of keyboard and flicks of guitar strings, reprising the woodwind chorus over progressive steps of guitar chords to conclude the track. It’s a completely immersive track and one of the score’s most engaging pieces. Throughout the film, Sensini’s mix of dark orchestral flavors with electric guitars and synths give the film both a modern sonic treatment and inflect the film’s suspense and the mayor’s venality with an entangling unease. A more melodic tone is heard in the concluding “All The Major’s Women,” which provides a beautiful, growing romantic melody that still managed to reflect a certain something of haunting darkness even in the sultry loveliness of its tune. This is a thoroughly absorbing score that maintains the listener’s interest from start to finish. Highly recommended!
The CD is limited to 200 copies. For more details, see Kronos.
AUDREY/Alex Somers/Silva Screen - digital With access to never-before-seen footage from her family’s personal collection, AUDREY provides a deeply insightful exploration of Audrey Hepburn, her life, her dreams and her legacy. “Audrey Hepburn was such a special person” says composer Alex Somers. “It was my goal to tap into what made her such a one-of-a-kind soul and create a melodic and sonic accompaniment for her. Collaborating with Helena [Coan, director] was a beautiful and rewarding experience. The music poured out and together we experimented and pushed deeper to tell Audrey’s story; there is music here that is dark and there is music here that is light and uplifting, but the common thread is that it is honest and true to the spark that was Audrey.” What’s interesting is that Somers avoids using the kind of Hollywood symphonic overtures and pop tune-smithing that accompanied many of the actresses’ films, but rather creates a luxurious wash of balletic resonance which fits the film’s “beguiling and emotionally affecting portrait of Audrey,” as director Coan put it. “Dance magnifies Audrey’s emotional landscape and brings a heightened sense of drama and theatre to the film, as well as a rich visual language which has not yet been used in documentary.” Somers’ poignant sound world is a sustained jewel of elegant ambiance, eschewing melody for a gentle flowing atmosphere that drifts gently behind the scenes. All of this may work better in the film than it does as a separate listen, despite the subtle variations that Somers gives to his score’s sonic ether. But if one is familiar with the film to begin with it may better satisfy repeated listening on its own (I have not yet seen the film).
Listen to Somers’ theme “Rose” from the AUDREY soundtrack:
A BAND TO HONOR/Holly Amber Church/Notefornote – digital Composer Holly Amber Church has recently been associated with horror films of late but in truth she’s been scoring a wide variety of topics since her first feature score with 2003’s Hollywood satire BILL THE INTERN. A bushel full of short films, features, and the like kept her busy until the late 2010s, when a number of scores for scary subjects gained her some attention (see my reviews of her splendid scores for DARK LIGHT and OPEN 24 HOURS). With A BAND TO HONOR, Church shifts into a totally new genre, and one that, as her list of upcoming projects reveal (as much as I admire her credible work in horror) will likely open a range of new genres to the composer. A BAND TO HONOR is a documentary film made by Las Vegas-based filmmakers Annette and Warren Hull, who spent three years producing a film that tells the story of Navy Band Unit 22—the ship’s band for the USS Arizona battleship. “They were 21 men—kids, really, most of them in their late teens and early 20s—who served their country by wielding musical instruments as well as weapons,” wrote John Przybys in an article for the Las Vegas Review/Journal (well worth reading!). “And when the attack on Pearl Harbor came on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, they died together [on deck, having dropped their instruments to staff their battle stations], along with more than 2,400 others... It’s an aspect of Pearl Harbor—an attack that brought the United States into World War II—that most people don’t know about… which made it both compelling and a perfect subject for the Las Vegas-based filmmakers’ first feature.” Przybys also notes in the article that A BAND TO HONOR was a personal project for composer Church, whose grandfather served in the Navy during World War II. “It was just an emotional, wonderful journey for me,” Church told him. “My grandpa passed away two years ago. He was 95. It definitely felt like a way to honor him.” Not a lot of people know that the US Navy still maintains ships’ bands, something that has been part of naval vessels since the 19th Century, as band units afloat and ashore played a major role in promoting the morale of sailors and civilians alike (see this article).
A BAND TO HONOR is a significant documentary film and it possesses a sublime, expressive score quite fitting for the film’s title. The score album follows the arc of the film itself, from early days of the band’s history from its creation in January 1941 through that fateful day less than a year later when the entire band would all lose their lives. The soundtrack begins with a musical memorial as Church introduces her main theme in “A Band to Honor” after a dignified, military opening for snare, strings, and trumpet that leads into a reverent requiem for strings and choir that reminds us from the start the story’s ending will not be a happy one; but it will be one to honor. After a bit of band music that opens “The History of the Navy Band,” the track’s second half introduces a fast driven string choir whose mercado-like bowing becomes essentially a motif for the USS Arizona, playing in several tracks and which will later drive the furious action during the Pearl Harbor attack sequence. There are a couple of tracks that emulate tunes the band might have played on board the ship: “The Naval School of Music” begins tentatively but then opens up with a string choir not unlike that one from the previous “History” track before offering delicious bits from trumpet and snare, and then concluding with a fragrant piano part. “The Great Depression” sets the somber stage for the early history of events that will lead up to the Second World War. “Into The Pacific” begins with the Arizona motif as the battleship heads west towards Pearl Harbor after being overhauled at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, then segues into a catchy dance number played on board by the band. The first half of “Battle of the Bands” (a Fleet Recreation musical contest between 18 military bands stationed at Pearl in the Fall of 1941) is a nice swing number, before the music morphs into a soft and cautious mood, preparing the way for the following track, “December 7, 1941,” which, at 12 ½ minutes long covers the battle scene with an opening clock-beat the counts with increasing trepidation towards the inevitable. Church’s battle music in the middle of this track is especially dynamic and rich in symphonic action. The rhythm and pulse of that music segues into a painful sadness at the fate of the Arizona battleship at the end of the cue, and that musical climate is carried through with further remorse in the following “Missing in Action.” The final track, “Remembering NBU-22,” provides a sorrowful and respectful harmonic epitaph for the members of the band, featuring a memorial choir, solo flute, and solo violin as the film’s main theme is reprised a final time. The score has been created with digital samples but possesses a pretty authentic and satisfactory symphonic sound. The variety of music—as well as the two main motifs and their treatment across the arc of the film—is quite agreeable and provides both an instrumental tribute to the ship’s band and an enjoyable musical journey on its own.
For details on the soundtrack, see notefornote.
For more information on the film, see the facebook page or the film’s website.
Listen to the track “Heading West” courtesy of Holly Ann Church on YouTube:
THE BOYS Season 1 & 2/Christopher Lennertz/La-La Land - CD Based on an American comic book series created by Garth Ennis [writer] and Darick Robertson [designer and illustrator], THE BOYS tells of the powerless against the super powerful as they embark on a heroic quest to expose the truth about a superhero team called The Seven and their benefactor Vought, the multi-billion dollar conglomerate that manages these superheroes and covers up all of their dirty secrets as they repeatedly abuse their power for personal gain or personal kicks. Lennertz’s score is unique in its gritty sound palette, mixing the scruffy Boys against the not-so-heroic Seven, and skewing the familiar concept of superhero music in a most intriguing manner. In his score, Lennertz captures the attitude, the arrogance, and the dark characters that The Seven are really embodying. “Everybody knows what a superhero is; now it’s to the point where it’s such a part of the pop culture that it’s ripe for skewering,” Lennertz told me in a 2019 interview about scoring THE BOYS. “But it demands, when we’re skewering it, that we start from a place of expectations and stereotypes, and say ok this is the kind of chord structure that a corporate manufactured superhero image would come from.” The score for the show is thematically driven, with character themes introduced in the first season, including a bonafide heroic theme for The Seven which is introduced in Season 1’s “Truck Robbery,” which will later be contrasted against a darker theme for team leader Homelander (gruffly introduced in “Homelander and Stillwell”). Once we learn about the team’s inherent self-centered corruption, this theme is used in a more ironic way (such as episode 3’s “Race of the Century” where speedster A-Train races against fellow fast hero Shockwave, and in the manifest darkness of “Homelander’s Speech” at the “Believe Expo” in episode 5.). A rough-edged electric guitar theme for Butcher (Karl Urban), the leader of The Boys, sums up the character’s arrogance and determination, with the groups’ official theme emerging in “Boys Arrive,” which adopts Butcher’s Britishness with a clear reference design of Brit punk a la ‘60s rock. The newest member of The Seven, Starlight, is identified with a wistful theme which includes a modest female vocalise reflecting the character’s timidity and innate decency. A short but delicious south-of-the-border tango is provided for Homelander’s ex in “Maeve Spars,” heard in episode 3 when Maeve has a sparring match with some guys in the Vaught training room.
Much of Season 2 is fairly raucous, with the corruption of The Seven becoming more aggressive as The Boys close in, and while the latter themselves are having some interpersonal conflicts. A lot of the material has to do with Homelander’s threats towards Starlight and others, as well as his super-carnal relations with newly-joined hero Stormfront. Lennertz explains this shift in tone in his comments in the Season 2 CD booklet: “Homelander and his narcissism and insecurity spin totally out of control. The music is purposely uglier and more dissonant, but at the same time, more dramatic and intense in many places. On the flip side, not only did we get more serious… we also got more ridiculously meta and self referential.” There’s also a recurring exotic, synth-driven motif that is associated with Homelander’s interactions with various characters and such (“Red Cross Center,” “Back to the Cabin,” “He’s OD’ing,” and the album’s concluding track from the season finale, “Let Them Go,” when Maeve threatens to release a very damaging video of Homelander if he doesn’t let his son and Butcher go free after a massive battle. This motif offers more of a mysterioso-cum-danger pattern that contrasts against the grungier rock material; a similar motif also appears in a different and highly foreboding context in episode 4’s “Elevator,” wherein Homelander threatens Starlight. “Sharks!” is a massive percussive battle scene from episode 3 when The Deep sends a troop of toothy fish to curtail Starlight and The Boys’ meeting to deliver evidence against The Seven to the CIA. The Seven’s heroic theme makes a welcome return in “Real Action” and “Church Of The Collective” where The Seven’s aquahero The Deep undergoes some mental therapy, including relating a painful memory with “I Hear The Goldfish.” There’s also a fairly horrific electric-guitar driven action cue involving rogue hero Lamplighter in “Light Up The Room” in episode 7. The second season CD also included the songs “Never Truly Vanish,” performed by Erin Moriarty (“Starlight”) and “Faster,” performed by Jessie T. Usher & Amiee Proal.
The overall distinction of musical styles as the score follows each season’s arc provide some effective variety, while the specific motifs provide character motivation across the episodes. The aggressive rock elements that dominate the tracks may not be for everyone’s taste but if you enjoyed the series you’ll likely be pleased with the soundtracks, and happy to recognize how ideal the music fits in with this excellent tale of super-abusive-heroes being taken down by dedicated street folk.
The Season 1 album is a two-CD set, while Season 2 is covered in a single disc. Both albums are limited editions of 2000 copies each. For more details from the label see La-La Land THE BOYS S1 and THE BOYS S2.
KILLING SMALL ANIMALS and BAD DREAMS/
Oscar Fogelström/N10Y Records - digital The composer has kindly made these two short horror film scores available on his boutique label. The first, KILLING SMALL ANIMALS (2020), is from Swedish director Marcus Svanberg. The film premiered at Gothenburg Film Festival and is currently doing festival rounds; it has won several awards, and recently screened at HollyShorts, an Academy Awards® Qualifying Festival, in November. In the 11-minute film, a woman becomes overwhelmed by anxiety and does something she never thought herself capable of… and once she’s started, she can’t seem to stop. Fogelström’s score features a small string ensemble and other treated acoustic instruments; it’s a mix of electronics and live performances, including Derryn Cullen on cello and Jessie Morgan on violin, with additional performances by the composer. The 7 tracks on the album fit the 11-minute film almost down to the second, providing an effective emotional tension to the woman’s uncontrolled hysteria. It starts gently enough with a couple of tracks built from quite lovely and warm string movements, although both possess some percussion hits that seem to suggest the anxiety that will follow. When this happens in track 3, the music mirrors the woman’s explosive reaction with a mix of severe electronic elements spawning from the live strings, suggesting the woman’s mental illness and violence in quite literal musical means; “The Cat Lady” and “Trapped Inside Yourself” are both visceral and sympathetic presentations of her uncontrolled state of being, with the final track, “Beginning or End,” rendering a sensitive psychological resolution. 2019’s 8-minute horror short BAD DREAMS, directed by Stuart Fryer, also made the festival circuit and won best short at several of them, including Horror Hound and Austin After Dark. The film is based on a short story by Andy Jones from his story collection Untogether Lives. The film, a horror story rooted in the cycle of child abuse (it’s tag line is the comfy “As a child he believed in monsters. As a man, he became one”) has been accepted into over 15 festivals so far, winning best short at various including Horror Hound and Austin After Dark. The score drifts between sympathy and horror toward prey and malefactor, with some excellent writing by the composer which is powerfully conveyed through strings, performed with dark aggression by David Bergström to give the short film a very powerful resonance. I recommend checking them out on these links: KILLING SMALL ANIMALS here; BAD DREAMS here.
I LIVIATANI/Susan DiBona & Salvatore Sangiovanni/Sonitus - digital The American-Italian duo of DiBona & Sangiovanni have provided an engaging original score for Italian dark horror comedy feature I LIVIATANI (titled in Italy I LIVIATANI - Cattive attitudini [Bad Attitudes]). Directed by Riccardo Papa, the film focuses on Orlando and his best friend Biagio, who introduce themselves to The Liviatanis, the family of Orlando’s girlfriend, Diana, to officially ask for her hand. Biagio, moved by countless doubts and absurd suspicions, will do everything to convince Orlando of the real nature of the betrothed and her family, in a desperate attempt to make him change his mind and take them away with him. Both, however, are unaware that they are guests of a nice and bloody family of serial killers. This premise is clearly pregnant with musical possibilities of many varieties, and that is exactly what the composers have provided in this inventive score, which soars fearlessly through multiple film music genres, from old school melodic film scoring to modern and experimental styles; from classic Italian giallo to electronic horror featuring gritty guitars; to classical chamber music, tango, jazz, and beyond. There is literally something for every musical taste to be found somewhere in this score, including a pair of songs in the mix, but the various musics are carefully constructed to provide the right amount of humor, tension, hysteria, and so on. The cues tend to be short and go by fast, but with an hour and six-minutes of music and a shifting assortment of tunes, instruments, styles, and tones for every new scene that goes by, there’s plenty to occupy the senses. The result is in no way chaotic, but rather with something new behind every door, carefully tied to the story, character, comedy, and dynamic pattern of the film. From the dark gothic of the opener, “Blood Moon,” the furtive lurking of “Tick-Tock Rabbit,” the crafty swagger of “Grotesque Arabesque,” the dark, sinewy mysteriousness of “Tutti A Tavola” (All at the Table), the graceful pianistic jaunt of “Grave Sospetto-Un Valzer Ancora” (Serious Suspicion), the shadowy prowling of “All In Good Time” with its quickly-beaten hand drumming, the pianistic concerto-ism of “The Importance Of Being Ermanno,” to the devious pizzicato and warbly low winds of “Pusillanime,” the haunting electric progression of “Dark Eyes Locked,” the furtive, low cello meandering of “I Liviatani Nei Secoli” (The Liviatans In The Centuries), the quirky Morriconesque keyboard of “A Detective,” the impending jangly keyboard and strings development of “Eyes Of Crystal,” the wild grunge of “Slow Maniacal Steampunk,” the carnivalesque peculiarity of Biagioland, the gritty distortion metal and voice in “Vox Perpetua,” the frenetic scherzo of “Macabre,” the electric guitar/electric violin dance of “El Tango Y La Muerte” (Tango with Death), the giallistic portends of “A Fuoco Lento” (“A Slow Fire,”), and the tremulous step patterns of “Davanti Ai Tuoi Occhi” (Before Your Eyes) make this a thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating story-driven variety show soundtrack, with a tone for every foray. A trio of songs written by the composers (in three different styles, of course, from Italian sultry to Golden Age Hollywood), add to the fun, making this a completely dazzling and delightful musical adventure.
Listen to the soundtrack at Spotify; download from Amazon or Apple Music. Watch the film’s hysterical trailer (in Italian, but easy enough to follow), here. Very definitely recommended.
Watch a short video from the recording sessions of I LIVIANTANI:
OUTSIDE THE LAW/Anton Sanko/Kino Lorber - Blu-ray This 1929 silent gangster melodrama starred Priscilla Dean and Lon Chaney and was directed by Tod Browning, a prolific director in the silent era who directed Chaney in THE ROAD TO MANDALAY, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, WEST OF ZANZIBAR, THE UNKNOWN, and others, before going on to acclaim when sound came to films with the original DRACULA, FREAKS, and MARK OF THE VAMPIRE. While Chaney was featured in a double role in OUTSIDE THE LAW, the film is essentially a Priscilla Dean vehicle (this film was somewhere around her 70th motion picture); Dean played Molly, the daughter of a crime lord in San Francisco; they’ve both given up their life of crime. Chaney plays gangster Black Mike Sylva, who frames Molly’s dad for murder, which prompts Molly to return to her criminal ways. Chaney also plays the peripheral role of Chinese servant Ah Wing, who serves as an informant to various underworld personages [the silent era was rife with this unfortunate kind of whitewashing]. The film has been restored from a single 35mm nitrate print and looks grand in Kino Lorber’s 4K Blu-Ray edition. The fine orchestral score by composer Anton Sanko (MASTERS OF HORROR: SOUNDS LIKE, JESSABELLE, RABBIT HOLE, OUIJA, THE POSSESSION) really enlivens the drama, particularly at suspenseful and dangerous moments where he provides a modern scoring style to generate the necessary surprise, fear, or intrigue. Running the 76-minute length of the film the score is of course wall to wall, filling the film’s lack of environmental sound and dialogue with actively energetic and ideal music for the mood of each sequence in the story. His darker colorations for the gangsters are especially operative. It’s an excellent composition and makes viewing the restored film quite a vivid and engaging audio-visual experience.
THE PLATFORM (El Hoyo)/Aránzazu Calleja/Plaza Mayor – digital TAXI A GIBRALTAR (Taxi To Treasure Rock)/Aránzazu Calleja/Atresmúsica - digital The Plaza Mayor Company, a music publishing company and album label based in London, has just released THE PLATFORM Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Spanish composer Aránzazu Calleja (COVEN, BIRDBOY: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN). The 2019 Spanish social science fiction-horror film, directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, is set in a massive vertical prison with one cell per level. Two people occupy each cell; only one food platform descends from the top level giving each level only two minutes per day to feed, leaving little left over for those in the bottom levels. The result is an endless nightmare trapped in The Hole. Calleja gives the score a compelling and often tense atmosphere with a number of tracks housing quite intriguing percussively derived electronic emulations; her sonic derivations provide an absorbing array of tonalities, wails, thrumming bass beats, … leading to a satisfying conclusive resolution. THE PLATFORM premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award for “Midnight Madness.” The film then secured a worldwide streaming deal with Netflix and was released on the streaming service in March 2020. The digital soundtrack is streaming on Spotify and is purchasable on Amazon. For more details, see plazamayor. (Review continues below)
Listen to the main theme from PLATFORM:
Last August, Calleja’s delightful and occasionally Italian Western-tinged score for the 2019 comedy film TAXI A GIBRALTAR (Taxi to Treasure Rock in USA) was released digitally on the Spanish label Atresmúsica, and is available on Amazon US, here. Quite the antithesis of THE PLATFORM’s deep plunges down the prison food shaft, TAXI is a an exciting and equally stimulating array of melodic cadences, interesting pop tunes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Jacques Tati film score, and provides an appealing and fun musical experience. The sheer variety of musical flavors in this score, and its frequent excursions into Musica a Western Italiano make this a winner in all respects. The tracks on both of these soundtracks are fairly short, but there are enough of them to make a satisfying listen (PLATFORM runs 45 minutes, TAXI a comfortable 33 minutes given its variety of styles).
For more information on the composer, see https://aranzazucalleja.com/en/
Sample some music from TAXI A GIBRALTAR below:
THE RIGHT STUFF (Disney TV Series)/Adam Taylor/WaterTower Music – digital Adam Taylor (THE HANDMAID’S TALE, CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA) has composed the original music for National Geographic’s THE RIGHT STUFF, now streaming on Disney+. Now I’ll admit it’s initially difficult to separate this film and its score from Philip Kaufman’s masterful 1983 feature film version of Tom Wolfe’s bestseller and its eloquent, heroic Bill Conti score, but one eventually realizes that 37 years is plenty of time to grant the opportunity for a revisitation through the extended medium of an 8-episode series. It’s a period in American history that is well worth revisiting. Having grown up during the entirety of the US Space Program, it’s a story I welcome reexamining again and again. This is not a remake of Kaufman or of Conti, although the film credits being based on both Wolfe’s book and Kaufman’s movie—it’s very much its own entity and tells the story its own way—and its length allows it to cover much more than the previous film did. It’s an inspirational look at the early days of the U.S. Space Program and the incredible story of the Mercury Seven, America’s first astronauts. At the height of the Cold War, newly-formed NASA selects seven of the military’s best test pilots to become astronauts. Competing to be the first in space, these men achieve the extraordinary, inspiring the world to turn towards a new horizon of ambition and hope. If the series is successful and Disney signs on for additional seasons, the drama may surpass Wolfe’s focus on Mercury and carry the story through to humankind’s greatest achievement: the moon landing. Taylor’s score is highly effective in providing moods of heroism, honor, patriotism, dedication, conflict, and tension. He includes a lot of ubiquitous mercado strings to establish many of those moods, and they work well in conveying the story’s sense of making history; while the mercado style is an oft-used conception, Taylor makes it work well, often contrasted against powerful trumpet figures and driving drums (“Press Tour”) and tracks like the impressive “Mercury Project Capsule,” the softly affecting “Star Voyagers,” astronaut Alan Shepherd’s “Lift Off,” and the concluding “The First American in Space” are quite stirring. More intimate music covers the personal lives of the Mercury astronauts with effective poignancy, such as the tonal piano interludes for “Gordo Leaves” and its follow-up, “Trudy Leaves Gordo,” critical issues such as “The Launch Failed” and “Glenn Looks for a Solution,” and the tension of personal issues like the minor keyed “Coping” and “Trouble with the Medical File.” It’s a very pleasing and involving score, and I’m hopeful of further seasons and further development of these musical elements.
Listen to the track “Mercury Project Capsule” from THE RIGHT STUFF soundtrack, via WaterTower’s YouTube page:
SADAN HANIM/George Kallis/Keep Moving Records - CD KeepMoving Records once again teams up with Cypress-born composer and songwriter George Kallis (LEV YASHIN: THE DREAM GOALKEEPER; reviewed in my April column) in the composer’s latest documentary score. Directed by Göksel Gülensoy, SADAN HANIM takes a look at the progress of Alzheimer’s through the life of a Turkish woman, Sadan Ünüvar. Produced over an unprecedented time frame of four years, the film takes a unique approach to exploring the decades of history between Sadan and her husband Ziyaeddin, often using original 8mm home movies shot in a number of locations, including the United States, Italy, Morocco, and Turkey. “Göksel was really interested in a thematic approach, but he wanted to find the right balance, a more intimate score that has the capability to portray a sense of humanity and vulnerability – something that shows both the tragedy and a hopeful message about overcoming it,” Kallis recalled about scoring the film. “As a result of this concept, the score revolves around two themes with a concentric structure that parallels the degenerative qualities of Alzheimer’s.” The music is lyrical and gentle; strings, piano, and winds form its basic palette, with moments of poignancy inflecting Sadan’s condition. The score opens with an expressive and meaningful original song, “The River of Life,” a eloquent and melancholy reflection of Alzheimer’s lingering impact, sung by Irish singer Mairead MacMullan; The song’s melody becomes Kallis’ main theme, poignantly and affectingly woven throughout the score with gentle reverence and sympathy. The score’s warm melodies, and even a festive tune like “A Dare at the Beach,” make for a most compelling listen. “Fear and Despair,” essentially a very sorrowful piece, maintains an air of beauty in its instrumentation and texture; much of the score is like that—where there is sadness there remains dignity, where there is confusion there is the memory of a vivid life. The score therefore becomes as uplifting as it is unhappy, just as the condition (having gone through it with my own mother for several years) reminds us to be caring and loving; while the memory fades there are occasional moments of surprising clarity to be celebrated, and the afflicted one can even be treated with dignity and honor even though he or she is unaware of it. Kallis’ score is considerate of all this; in its beauty the score reflects the positive, whether it be in overcoming the illness or in allowing the afflicted the respect they deserve even though they may be far beyond recognition or understanding.
SOSTIENE PEREIRA (1975, ACCORDING TO PEREIRA)/Ennio Morricone/Caldera - CD In collaboration with Sony Music Germany, Caldera Records offers a re-release of Ennio Morricone’s music for Roberto Faenza’s 1995 film SOSTIENE PEREIRA. This is a most-welcome reissue considering the original CD release came out 25 years ago. Based on Antonio Tabucchi’s 1994 novel of the same name, the film is about the titular Pereira, a newspaper editor who is responsible for compiling the paper’s cultural pages, but he has no interest in publishing his political views—until his political reluctance is challenged when he meets a young man named Rossi, and his life soon changes radically. This film is the last of eight which Morricone composed for the director, and it’s quite an engaging composition. As the label’s Stephan Eicke writes in the informative album notes, SOSTIENE PEREIRA “is intricate and subversive, subtle and stimulating… his score subtly features Fado, a Portuguese style of music in which a woman as the singer is accompanied by one or two guitars. Morricone’s score consists of several themes and motifs the composer cleverly weaves together.” It’s a very interesting score, providing a number of variations on his main theme in very different arrangements. This score marks the first time the composer worked with Portuguese singer Dulce Pontes, who intones the Fado song “A brisa do coração,” which both opens and concludes the score; Morricone would work with her a number of times subsequently. With woodblocks forming his primary percussion on this score, the music is “both full of tense suspense and passionate lyricism, striking a delicate balance as a coherent whole that weaves a dense atmosphere,” as Eicke writes. Another recurring device that Morricone uses to great effectiveness is a piano effect in which three consecutive notes from the high end are struck rapidly, creating a very quick tone cluster that serves as a percussive element, usually struck between every 10th beat or so of the woodblock; this combination of piano tone clusters and woodblock is also used in the Pontes songs in similar manner. In other tracks, with the woodblock/tone cluster effect at its base, Morricone will insert a variety of instrumental groupings (acoustic guitar blends well with the percussive matter) or lyrical melody lines from the violins, maintaining the base musical effect but creating an intriguing substance of different motifs flowing through the percussion pulse. SOSTIENE PEREIRA is essentially one of the composer’s minimalist scores, however its so deftly arranged that it never seems that austere, its sonic patterns constantly imaginative and interesting, offering a fascinating treat for the ears.
For more details or to order, see calderarecords.
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7/Pemberton/ Varèse Sarabande - CD
Varèse Sarabande Records has released the soundtrack to the Netflix film THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7, featuring the original score by 3-time Golden Globe®-nominated composer Daniel Pemberton, including two vocal performances and a song by Polydor recording artist Celeste Waite (aka Celeste). The film tells the story of the violent clash between protesters and police at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In what was intended to be a peaceful protest of the Vietnam war, the organizers, which include Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), are charged with conspiracy to incite a riot, leading to one of the most notorious trials in history. “The first time I met [director] Aaron Sorkin to talk through our ideas for the film, he’d already formulated the entire plan in his head,” said Pemberton in a statement on the album label’s website. “He knew the moments where the music should be strong and bold, and then also the ones where it should take more of a subtle and supporting role. I wanted there to be two worlds juxtaposing against each other—from the perceived restraint and control of the courtroom to chaos of the riots, which were some of my favorite moments to score.” The score opens with one of three tracks featuring Celeste’s powerful voice—each of the tracks forms part of a triptych: “Hear My Dream” is hummed over a low synth pad just before the film opens, during the Crosscreek Pictures and Dreamworks logos. “Hear My Voice” is the song sung over the end credits, followed by “Take The Hill (Hear My Screams),” a hard rock instrumental cue written for the riot sequence but instead moved to the close of the end credits in which the singer cries out, protesting over what she sees during the riot: “Hear my voice! Hear my dreams! Hear my pain! Hear my screams!” After the “Hear My Dream” cue, the film opens with a solid ‘60s R&B rock and rhythm section number (the nearly 6.5-minute “We're Going To Chicago”) as a montage of historical footage sets the stage for the protests that will follow and result in the trial of the accused seven. From there, the austerity of the courtroom is initially presented in Track 3, “The Trial,” which opens with a discreet sustained string tonality, punctuated by a pair of muted drum beats at regular intervals; gradually this takes on a little more presence, the strings moving into a 4-note phrasing with the drum beats a little more declarative until joined by the light chiming of keyboard. It’s a rather haunting cue, almost reverent in its starkness; this same motif carries into the following tracks, “Conspiracy Office,” “My Life,” and “Sequestering the Jury,” each consecutive track providing inobtrusive tonalities which lurk behind the dialogue of these initial courtroom scenes. Pemberton’s second element is introduced in “Meet The Police,” a propulsive, percussively-driven rhythm with a pinging bell tone counting the measures; the violence of the riot occurs in track 8’s “Take The Hill (Hear My Screams)” an alternate, reworked instrumental version that replaced the original arrangement that had included Celeste’s singing. It accompanies the riot itself, depicted on screen via historical, black-and-white newsreel footage and a full color reenactment filmed on set; this cue carries a driving rhythm that expands as the riot becomes more violent with snare drums beating furiously, distorted guitars blazing, creating a wild vortex of rising sound mixing with the noise of the riot until it suddenly turns to vapor with the shattering of a tavern window and clack of numerous handcuffs. It’s a powerful piece of music that comes as close to musically personifying a riot as I’ve heard. The next four tracks take us back to the courtroom, to meeting rooms where the lawyer for the accused (Mark Rylance) tries to piece together exactly how the riot began, which comes out in “Blood in the Streets,” which mixes dialogue with flashbacks—courtroom music with riot music—until the revelation is exposed. Another courtroom scene (“Trial Day 151”) brings that revelation to the court, with little fanfare, sadly; but the Chicago 7 maintain their dignity and purpose, what they were beaten for and how they’ve been mistreated by an abusive judge (Frank Langella); then, in the score’s apotheosis, “Stand Up (The Chicago 7)” concludes the story with a powerful climax, the orchestra slowly rising higher and offering a marvelous, emotional catharsis as, at the end of the trial, despite the Judge’s instructions and objections, Tom Hayden uses their closing statement to name the 4,752 soldiers who were killed in the Vietnam War since the trial began. This act prompts many in the court to stand and cheer. Pemberton captures the story in all its nuances, underlining the tension where it needs to be, augmenting the emotional quotient when it needs to be recognized, both in the courtroom and in the streets of Chicago, and the score does a fantastic job of supporting the drama inherent within the film’s story and its filmmaking. THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is a film and score I’m quite passionate for; it’s both one of the year’s best films and one of the year’s best scores.
WONDER WOMAN 1984/Hans Zimmer/WaterTower – digital
(CD reported to be forthcoming)
Hans Zimmer’s score to WONDER WOMAN 1984 will lay to rest any arguments that the composer no longer writes orchestral thematic film music. His score for the second WONDER WOMAN movie is full to the brim with bright, heroic, rousing orchestral themes, and those who have complained about too many drones in recent years are going to be very surprised at the melodic richness of this new superhero score [as for me, I willingly digress, I’ll go on record as having found much to treasure in the music of DUNKIRK and other of Zimmer’s tonally oriented scores]. WONDER WOMAN 1984, logically enough, fast forwards from the 1940s of Patty Jenkins’ 2017 WONDER WOMAN film as circumstances in 1984 find her riding lightning across the sky, donning wings of gold, and chasing a dream while in pursuit of two new formidable foes: ruthless businessman Maxwell Lord and Wonder Woman’s arch-nemesis, Cheetah. In WaterTower’s press release, Patty Jenkins discussed her work with Hans Zimmer on WONDER WOMAN 1984: “Not only did the film require the multiple themes that had to relate to the era of the 1980s, but on top of that, Diana, our Wonder Woman, was now unfolding into a much more complex character with many new subtle layers of emotion.” This required music of a different sort from the original theme that Zimmer had written for the Wonder Woman character when she was introduced in BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (the same theme—shall we call it “Wonder Woman’s Battle Theme?”—was also included briefly by Rupert Gregson-Williams in his score for WONDER WOMAN, validating the theme’s connection to the character. “It was very important to both of us to include and celebrate that beloved battle cry of a track that has now become so… synonymous with her character,” Jenkins continued, “but Diana also now required a much purer and more heroic theme. And Hans provided the most mind-blowing suites of themes for Wonder Woman to now use, all related to and unfolded from his original track. He also gave Diana and Steve a love theme for the ages. He wrote Max, Barbara, and the Dreamstone their own extremely specific theme suite of emotional tracks that all veered from almost camp lightness of the era, to dire, to the profound and emotional.”
Zimmer has essentially written an orchestral 1980s’ score for a film taking place in the middle of that decade, and this musical approach gives this film exactly what it needs. From the reintroduction of the island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons, in the first track (see film clip at end of review), we’re led into “Games,” where many of the Amazonian warriors, including a young Diana, a few years along in her training from the opening of the first movie, are preparing to take part in the Amazon Olympics. The track is rich with female vocalizing as the gathered athletes deliver their opening ceremony, which joins with Zimmer’s choir into a rhythmic cadence that unites with the orchestral Themyscira motif in a paean to the Amazonian prowess, with strings and drums propelling the fanfare into a grand, heroic orchestral crescendo, softening to allow the track to end with a quiet dignity from choir and gleaming brass. The film’s title theme appears in “1984,” a magnificently presented seven-minute-long rhythmic anthem comprised of another Olympic-like motif from full orchestra sparkling with triangle, bells, etc. as it rollicks along. It’s absolutely cheer-worthy in its feel-good bravado. Midway through, the track turns a little dramatic for some business, and then reestablishes the sheer pleasure of its exuberance through its end. “Black Gold” introduces our main villain, Maxwell Lord, with strident strokes of strings beneath a brass melody, arranging itself into a hearty, rhythmic cue until diminishing into a tense, breathy mix of strings and soft choir. “Wish We Had More Time” establishes the love theme between Diana and Steve in a beautifully impassioned melody for strings, very much like something from Golden Age Hollywood (perhaps reflecting their romance from the 40s).
“The Stone” offers up a rising, heraldic motif for the Dreamstone, a mystical gem that allows one to have a single wish granted, which is how Steve Trevor comes back from the dead [see article here]. Zimmer offers an interesting mix of string orchestra and burbling synth tonalities to create an unusual sonic color, with winds taking the melody at the end with an intriguing new flavor. “Cheetah” provides a motif for Diana’s primary adversary: largely string-based material beneath a ringing bell tone that provides a beat for the opening few measures until the music shifts into a melodic ten-note phrasing over a low, see-sawing violin chordal structure; some aggressive downward spirals of the Battle theme then introduce a languid, slow-ranging series of brass notes that resonate assertively while the cue drifts out. “Fireworks” is another beautifully festive theme, a vociferous delivery of the love theme: big and bold and assertive. Maxwell Lord’s theme is reprised in “Anything You Want,” where its two-note rhythm drifts amidst rippling synth pads and keyboard notes; an introduction of strings a third of the way through creates a menacing pattern through which a pleasing violin melody drifts; the cue opens with a bar of Cheetah’s theme, linking the two villainous characters together, and concluding in a bold, brash statement of Lord’s theme.
“Open Road” gives way to a full-on angry Battle theme, while “Without Armor” is a more subdued, reflective presentation of the love theme for strings and piano. In the seven-minute “White House,” we have a variety of assertive and aggressive high points along with several effective statements of the Battle theme with Cheetah’s theme as the two characters face off. “Already Gone” returns us to the Diana/Steve love theme with a critical level of emotional gravity, intoned by soft brasses, impassioned strings, and choir, all of which grow to a fairly intense dramatic elevation. The 8-minute “Radio Waves” is a dynamic cue comprising a variety of frenzied action material; as the cue develops, Zimmer imparts elements of both his Themyscira and Battle themes, after which “Lord of Desire” intones wickedly in a growing choral and brass progression of Lord’s theme, finally reaching a marvelously powerful and malevolent summit. “The Beauty Is What Is” is quintessential Zimmer: a mounting built-up of mercado strings and walking brass chords slowly propelling their way across the soundscape, finally coming to a halt, taking a breath or two, and fading out. “Truth” effectively concludes the score with a passionate recap of it’s primary themes, building a massive interpretation of the Themyscira theme for brass choir and rendering a final, percussive reprise of WW 1984’s main theme for full orchestra, enhanced by pounding drums, carrying the music to a most satisfying finish. An almost 12-minute bonus track, “Lost and Found,” presumably containing material that wasn’t used in the score proper, is added to the end of the album, largely offering an extended arrangement of the love theme that allows its beauty and emotive capacity, particularly in a few violin solos, choir intonations, and a few crescendos along the way, to resonate fully across the track’s length.
This is one of Hans Zimmer’s most engaging scores of recent years; its variety of vivid orchestral elements, colors, and emotions provides a very compelling listening experience—the 90-minutes of music included on the score album is perfectly pleasing and evidence that it will work magnificently in its film when WW84 opens on the 25th.
Watch the opening scene from WONDER WOMAN 1984, featuring Zimmer’s “Themyscira” track, from Warner Bros.’ YouTube page:
ZOMBIES & ZOMBIES 2/George S. Clinton & Amit May Cohen/Disney Music – digital Walt Disney Records has released a score album from its hit Disney Channel franchise; music from the original score of ZOMBIES (2018) and its sequel ZOMBIES 2 (2020), apart from the two song & dance music albums released previously. Based on Zombies & Cheerleaders by David Light and Joseph Raso, both films are light-hearted, musical comedies about an incursion of zombies on the town of Seabrook that was curtailed when the government created bracelets for zombies, called Z-Bands, that deliver soothing electromagnetic pulses to keep zombies from craving brains. The story focuses on zombie football player Zed and human cheerleader Addison who meet and fall in love, and who must lead their respective groups to coexist with each other. It’s neither a parody nor a horror film, it’s a cute, friendly, and entertaining Disney take on the zombie genre. Disney’s soundtrack album includes score selections from both films; Clinton scored ZOMBIES, while he and his assistant Amit May Cohen co-composed ZOMBIES 2. The music is full of melody and action, capturing the breezy nature of the films; they’re both a lot of fun and are highly thematically driven, with themes for the happy zombies, the angry zombies, the cheerleaders, the town itself, and so on. These motifs were carried into the second film, which added a new theme for the werewolves (which are the antagonists of ZOMBIES 2, since the zombies have all become friendly by this time). The scores for budgetary reasons are created digitally, sweetened by a live Shakuhachi flute which gives a great sound to the werewolf theme. The final track on the album generates some intense action for ZOMBIES 2’s climactic battle between the zombies, the cheerleaders, and the werewolves, featuring choir, massive drumming, vigorous brass and violin movements. With his experience scoring comedies like the AUSTIN POWERS movies as well as HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY, not to mention 1984’s CHEECH & CHONG’S THE CORSICAN BROTHERS, Clinton knows just what these films need; having worked with him for four years and being elevated to co-composer with ZOMBIES 2, so does Amit. The result is a lively, energetic score which offers plenty of enjoyable adventure music with some rather potent elements to cap it off.
Speaking of George, Amit, and the zombies, see my interview with the two of them about scoring both these films at musiquefantastique.
Michael Giacchino has confirmed that he will be returning as the composer for the third installment in the Spider-Man series as part of Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe. The composer has previously scored the first two films, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING and last year’s SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME. The third Spider-Man film is set to be released in theaters on December 17, 2021 by Sony Pictures. See details at filmmusicreporter.
Composer Carlos Rafael Rivera has posted a fascinating glimpse at his scoring process for THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT using digital orchestral samples to evoke convincingly authentic sounds of orchestral instruments, and how various settings in his system were used to evoke specific flavors and textures as he created his musical palette for this score. Watch it here on YouTube.
Composer Tom Holkenborg, also known as Junkie XL, is scoring the upcoming Universal spy thriller THE 355, Jon Burlingame has reported in Variety. Directed by Simon Kinberg (DARK PHOENIX), the film features a powerhouse cast of women including Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Bingbing Fan. Holkenborg calls it “a high-octane film, with really authentic action on screen. My job was to create a score that allowed these amazing actors to shine.” Burlingame adds that “Holkenborg is currently finishing work on Zack Snyder’s JUSTICE LEAGUE, an expanded version of the 2017 film slated for release via HBO Max next year. He is also scheduled to reunite with his MAD MAX: FURY ROAD director George Miller on THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING, now shooting in Australia. (See my interview with Holkenborg on scoring MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, in my November 2015 column).
ACMF stands for Association of Italian Film Music Composers and includes the most important Italian composers of music applied to images of the country. The first ACMF playlist has just been released on the Spotify platform, and for the occasion, by mutual agreement, the board has sent a jointly signed press release: “The ACMF lands on Spotify with a playlist that includes the best songs of our members taken from film soundtracks released in 2020.
Together with our honorary President Ennio Morricone, present with songs taken from the album Morricone Segreto just released by CAM Sugar and Decca Records, we find songs by Pivio & Aldo De Scalzi, Giuliano Taviani, and Carmelo Travia and other names, perhaps less known to the great public, but always at the highest level, in line with our membership entry parameters. This will be the first of a series of playlists which will be published over the next few months, to bring the works of composers of music applied to images to the attention of a wider audience.”
Here’s the link to listen to the Spotify Playlist.
Varèse Sarabande Records has announced the first-ever digital release of 11 classic deluxe edition titles from its catalogue. For details see image at right, or click here.
Walt Disney has announced that Hans Zimmer, along with Pharrell Williams and Nicholas Britell, will provide the music for the studios’ upcoming LION KING prequel. The film will be directed by Barry Jenkins (IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK) and will use the same photo-realistic technology from last year’s remake directed by Jon Favreau (-via filmmusicreporter).
In further Disney news, the mouse music house has released the digital soundtrack from the movie GODMOTHERED, which is streaming exclusively on Disney+. The digital album features score by Oscar® and Emmy® winning composer Rachel Portman, plus the end credit songs “Rise Up (Joy to the World)” and “Hero” performed by Jillian Shea Spaeder. The film tells the story of a young and unskilled fairy godmother who ventures out on her own to prove her worth by tracking down a young girl whose request for help was ignored.
Disney has also issued the Original Soundtrack to SAFETY, featuring the score by critically acclaimed Grammy®-winning jazz musician/producer and composer Marcus Miller (MARSHALL). The film tells the true story of Ray-Ray McElrathbey, a freshman football player for Clemson University, who secretly raised his younger brother on campus after his home life became too unsteady. Commenting on his score Miller said, “The story is told in a beautiful, soulful way so it was important that the score convey emotion that fit this very special relationship—not too sweet but very deeply felt. When I was first thinking about the score, I knew the biggest deal would be the football scenes—lots of excitement, energy, and screaming fans. In my mind that meant drum line percussion, the sound that instantly says ‘college football.’ But I wanted to combine that sound with a large orchestra in order to support the size and drama of those scenes.”
Milan Records has released the soundtrack by Cliff Martinez to the Amazon Prime Video THE WILDS, an original young adult drama series about a group of teens who must survive on a remote island after a crash leaves them stranded. There’s just one twist to this drama—these girls did not end up on this island by accident. “THE WILDS is a story about the odyssey of adolescence for ten young women.” Martinez said, adding: “Not a subject I have a lot of familiarity with and it clearly perched me on the edge of my musical comfort zone. Nonetheless, I put on my teenage girl hat and embraced the challenge. For this score, I put aside my usual preoccupation with sparse instrumentation and stark undulating textures in favor of more traditional musical food groups such as…uh...harmony and melody! The resulting score to THE WILDS is probably one of my most uniquely ‘musical’ efforts.”
Milan Records has also issued a soundtrack to the Netflix film MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM, featuring the score by critically-acclaimed saxophonist, instrumentalist, composer, bandleader and educator Branford Marsalis. Of the soundtrack, Marsalis says, “When George Wolfe called to ask me to compose music for his upcoming film, the project forced me to quickly fill in a gap in my musical experience: addressing the music of the 1920’s. I was excited about learning a new sound for my aural library and had to get right to work... Having only written arrangements for the modern big band (17 instruments, no strings), I looked forward to the challenge of writing in a ‘20s format and convincing the musicians to play the music as authentically as possible.”
Sean Callery (24, JESSICA JONES, HOMELAND, ELEMENTARY, BONES) has composed the original score for the upcoming action thriller THE MARKSMAN. The film is directed by Robert Lorenz (TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE) and stars Liam Neeson, Katheryn Winnick, Juan Pablo Raba, and Teresa Ruiz. The movie follows a hardened Arizona rancher who becomes the unlikely defender of a young Mexican boy desperately fleeing the cartel assassins who have pursued him into the U.S. The film is scheduled for release to theaters on January 22.
-via filmmuscreporter < which see to watch trailer.
Sparks and Shadows has released a digital soundtrack album for the action thriller AVA, featuring the film’s original music composed by Bear McCreary. Directed by Tate Taylor, AVA stars Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell, Common, John Malkovich, Ioan Gruffudd, Geena Davis, and Joan Chen, and is about a deadly assassin who works for a black ops organization, traveling the globe specializing in high profile hits, who is forced to fight for her own survival when a job goes dangerously wrong. “This film was a big departure from my normal musical palette,” wrote McCreary in a Dec. 5th Facebook post. “With my first cinematic spy thriller, I paid homage to my favorite electronic artists and composers of the 90’s, such as Éric Serra, Trent Reznor, and Marilyn Manson. I had a blast exploring this side of my musical personality.” The digital album is available from apple music, amazon, and other streaming services. Read Bear’s latest blog post, all about his AVA score, here.
Silva Screen Records has released a digital soundtrack to composer Harry Escott’s original score for the new BBC drama ROADKILL. Starring Hugh Laurie, the four-part political thriller follows a self-made, forceful, and charismatic politician whose public and private life is being picked apart by his enemies. Escott’s score is a jazzy, small ensemble affair featuring Mercury nominated pianist Kit Downes as leader of the band of world class performers—Martin France on drums, Richard Price on Double Bass, Oliver Pashley on Clarinet and Hugh Wilkinson on Vibraphone. Escott’s jaunty yet slippery themes and chromatic angular waltzes, seem to be purposefully disassociated from the on-screen drama. The music’s role in ROADKILL is to heighten the viewer’s understanding of the central character, the sociopathic politician Peter Laurence, skillfully played by Hugh Laurie.
ROADKILL premiered on BBC One, UK on October 18th and is expected to premiere in the U.S. in early 2021 as part of the PBS’ Masterpiece series.
Watch The Film Scorer’s interview with Escott about scoring ROADKILL on YouTube.
Kronos Records has announced three new soundtrack releases in their prestigious Gold Collection: The first is Bruno Nicolai’s soundtrack to CIVILTÀ DEL MEDITERRANEO, an Italian television docu-series. In one of the composer’s most appealing soundtracks, Nicolai employs sensitive strings and floating woods that are accompanied by harpsichord and subtle percussion. The combination of this instrumentation creates a pleasing and haunting work that must be among the higher-ranking scores by this much under applauded composer. The album features liner notes by John Mansell of MovieMusic International. See details here. Nicolai is joined by fellow countryman Francesco De Masi, whose music for the documentary series L’UOMO EUROPEO (The European Man) ran on Italian National Television during the late 1970’s. The disc was recorded at Bruno Nicolai’s Edipan Studios, and features Nicolai’s sublime performance on the piano parts. See details here. The third album is a hidden gem from the Golden Age of cinema presented for the first time in any format: VIKING WOMEN AND THE SEA SERPENT composed by the prolific Albert Glasser, master of 1950s low-budget monster, Western, and adventure movies. Despite his low budget, he always managed to deliver a class-A score. Kronos’ restored soundtrack album contains all the surviving music for the film (which is most of the score). See details here.
All three albums are produced in a limited edition of 300 copies, and are scheduled for December/January release.
James Newton Howard is scoring the upcoming Disney Animation Studios feature RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON. Directed by Don Hall (BIG HERO 6, WINNIE THE POOH) & Carlos López Estrada (BLINDSPOTTING) and starring Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina, the movie follows a fearless warrior as she seeks a water dragon who can transform into a human being to save the realm from evil forces. The movie is currently scheduled to be released in theaters nationwide on March 12, 2021. – via filmmusicreporter
French composer Eloi Ragot’s soundtrack for the Belgian TV series INVISIBLE (UNSEEN) has been released by MovieScore Media and is now available from the label or also via Spotify, iTunes, Deezer, etc. See these links.
The anxiety-inducing atmosphere of the series and the way it resonated with the current real events linked to the international health crisis inspired composer Eloi Ragot to create the series’ original music: “The score was almost entirely written during the first lockdown last Spring, a situation that has definitely influenced me. When preparing this soundtrack album, I noticed that most of the melodies are based on patterns with repetitive notes and recurring dissonance. Those darker sounds seem to go around in circles and—at the same time—evolve very slowly. Because of this mix of science-fiction and realistic, the choice for a hybrid score with electronic and orchestral felt natural… I love designing sounds and electronic instruments and was really happy to create the right soundscape for these darker moments.” Listen to the soundtrack on Spotify or purchase via Amazon and other digital soundtrack retailers.
THE MAURITANIAN, a forthcoming 2021 thriller from director Kevin Macdonald (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, 11.22.63 , TOUCHING THE VOID), about a detainee at the U.S. military’s Guantanamo Bay detention center held without charges for over a decade who seeks help from a defense attorney for his release. The film has been scored by Tom Hodge (RISE OF THE NAZIS, McMAFIA, THE BILLION DOLLAR GAME) and is scheduled for release on Feb 19, 2021.
Milan has released a digital soundtrack for Paul Haslinger’s score to MONSTER HUNTER. Loosely based on the Capcom video game series, MONSTER HUNTER is written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson and stars Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, T.I., Ron Perlman, Meagan Good, and Diego Boneta and is about a team of soldiers who are transported to a new world where they must engage in a desperate battle for survival against enormous enemies with incredible powers. Haslinger previously scored Anderson’s DEATH RACE (2008), DEATH RACE 2 (2020; Anderson produced) THE THREE MUSKETEERS (2011), RESIDENT EVIL THE FINAL CHAPTER (2016).
The soundtrack is available at these links.
Constructive (a new sister label of SN Variations) presents its first official soundtrack release on digital: Adrian Corker’s original score for the third season of the Sky original drama TIN STAR, co-produced by Gaumont Television UK and Kudos and created by Rowan Joffe. Titled TIN STAR: LIVERPOOL, the album is now available on all digital streaming platforms. “TIN STAR: LIVERPOOL is the last chapter in TIN STAR and moves the location from the wide-open spaces of Canada to the urban landscape of post-industrial Liverpool in the U.K. I knew that I wanted to replace the predominantly acoustic ensemble sound from the first two seasons with something that reflected this, while retaining some of the original TIN STAR feel,” says Adrian Corker. “12-piece string ensembles are combined with a trio of brass, percussion played on oil drums, and Russian synthesizers. Ensemble recordings made in London, were then played back in different locations and rooms that were used for the TIN STAR shoot in Liverpool and re-recorded using a 360-degree mic array by Chris Watson. These were then used for composition alongside the other recordings, combined with analog tape processing and some more of Chris’s field recordings.”
Marco Beltrami will score the upcoming superhero movie VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE, a sequel to Sony’s 2018 film VENOM, which was loosely based on the SPIDERMAN spinoff character from the Marvel comics although the studio decided to distance the character from the Spiderman universe. The new film is directed by Andy Serkis (the actor’s fourth feature directorial assignment) and stars Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Reid Scott and Naomie Harris. Beltrami has previously composed the music for several Marvel films, including LOGAN, THE WOLVERINE and FANTASTIC FOUR. Ludwig Göransson scored Ruben Fleischer’s 2018 original VENOM film. VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE is currently scheduled to be released in theaters on June 25.
- via filmmusicreporter and other sources.
Russia’s Keep Moving Records soundtrack label has released on CD the soundtracks to both Timur Bekmambetov’s NIGHT WATCH (2004; Nochnoy dozor) and its sequel DAY WATCH (2006). Loosely based on the first two books in a series by Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko (which runs half a dozen books to date), the films form a continuing fantasy-thriller set in present-day Moscow where the respective forces that control daytime and nighttime do battle. Yuri Poteyenko composed the scores for both films which share space with a number of rock songs by various bands intended to support the film’s contemporary eclectic environment. The soundtracks to both NIGHT WATCH and DAY WATCH have been in the making for several years. Both CDs come with generous booklets containing complete breakdowns of the score and the various versions of the film circulated on different markets, by writer Gergely Hubai. For details see KeepMoving Records – NIGHT WATCH, DAY WATCH.
Lakeshore Records has released WILD MOUNTAIN THYME Original Motion Picture Soundtrack featuring music by neo-classical composer Amelia Warner (MARY SHELLEY). The soaring orchestrations provide a lush backdrop to the unabashedly romantic film. Says Warner: “It was the other worldly magical quality of the script that really spoke to me and it utterly bewitched me. I felt like I knew exactly how the film should sound and I wrote one of the main themes straight away. I wanted the score to feel classic, sweeping, and unapologetic in its romance. I tried to write strong themes that would speak to the love story, the strangeness of the people and the beauty of Ireland. The main themes are orchestral with lush strings as the main melodic force. We also had a trad/folk band made up of bass, clarinets, accordion and fiddles as another facet of the score which is fun and full of energy.”
Read an interview with Warner about scoring this film, here.
Lakeshore has also released a soundtrack to WANDER DARKLY, featuring the score by Alex Weston (THE FAREWELL). Premiered this year at Sundance, Tara Miele’s film is a drama involving a pair of new parents who are forced to reckon with trauma amidst their troubled relationship; they must revisit the memories of their past and unravel haunting truths in order to face their uncertain future. Available to stream or download here. Watch a short video interview with Weston about scoring the film here.
Also from Lakeshore is I’M YOUR WOMAN, the soundtrack to the Amazon original motion picture featuring the music of Aska Matsumiya (BETTY, AFTER YANG, SELAH AND THE SPADES). The composer offers a main theme founded on a minimal yet melodic piano, anchoring the score as it transforms unexpectedly into a much darker work, with synths and strings are added, providing a tension-filled backdrop to the modern noir thriller.
La-La Land Records’s December releases offer five new soundtracks, four archival albums and one new score making it’s debut on CD. The archival albums are: the fourth 4-CD volume of composer Mark Snow’s original scores from the award-winning, landmark television series, THE X FILES; a limited edition CD release of the original motion picture score to 1990’s beloved horror-sci-fi-comedy hit TREMORS, which includes the score by Ernest Troost as well as additional music by Robert Folk; a remastered and expanded reissue of Bill Conti’s score to 1989’s THE KARATE KID PART III, the second sequel to the 1984 classic. Previously out of print, the PART III score returns with completely remastered audio and now features the world-premiere release on CD of Zamfir’s pan flute performances as heard in the film; Bringing back out-of-print favorites while also debuting previously unreleased music, Goldsmith At 20th offers a pair of 2-CD sets collecting Jerry Goldsmith scores for 20th Century Fox. Volume 1 presents 1965’s WWII-era VON RYAN’S EXPRESS and 1966’s WWI-era THE BLUE MAX; Volume 2 serves up 1968’s police drama THE DETECTIVE and 1967’s crime caper THE FLIM-FLAM MAN. The new score is the premiere CD release of Bear McCreary’s original motion picture score to the all-new feature film hit FREAKY, offered in a limited edition CD release, wherein McCreary unleashes a wildly entertaining orchestral thrill ride—the perfect match for this audacious horror-comedy-thriller in which a brutal serial killer swaps bodies with a high school cheerleader. For details, see lalalandrecords.
Intrada’s latest releases include the premiere release of Mark Mothersbaugh’s score to DreamWorks Animation’s sequel film, THE CROODS: A NEW AGE. Mothersbaugh, veteran of the LEGO MOVIE and HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA franchises as well as THOR: RAGNAROK, takes over the musical reins from Alan Silvestri on the initial movie, offering a symphonic score with an emphasis on colorful rhythm and vitality. Also released is an all newly-remastered presentation of Jerry Goldsmith’s INCHON score in 24bit 96kHz hi-res audio for the digital marketplace—but a limited release of a 3-CD presentation of the score has been pressed but will only be available for 45 days and goes off sale Jan 30, 2021 or when supplies run out. The CD includes both previously available discs that offered the original 38-minute 1982 soundtrack album as edited and assembled by Goldsmith and Intrada’s earlier complete program which expanded the release, retaining the editorial assemblies made for Intrada by both composer and engineer back in 1988. A similar digital presentation has been made of Miklós Rózsa’s 1952 score for IVANHOE, re-recorded by the Sinfonia of London and conducted by Bruce Broughton. The CD release will only be available for 45 days and goes off sale Jan 15, 2021 or when supplies run out; while the 24-bit, 96kHz hi-res digital release is offered to the digital market. For details, See Intrada.
Quartet Records’ December releases include a world premiere recording of a previously unreleased classic Bernard Herrmann score, the 1972 version of Agatha Christie’s ENDLESS NIGHT. Reconstructed from Herrmann’s original manuscript (provided by the publisher), the music is conducted by prestigious composer/conductor Fernando Velázquez, performed by the Basque National Orchestra, with original Moog synthesizer sessions played by Toni Saigi. Classical soprano Núria Rial provides vocals for the score. There is also a mammoth 3-CD expanded edition of Ennio Morricone’s iconic score for the no-less iconic 1966 epic western by Sergio Leone: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. The original 34-minute album has seen countless releases on LP and CD since 1966. An expanded 55-minute CD edition was released in 2001, but it was still far from including all the material that Morricone had conceived for the film. For this new release, Quartet has included all this material thanks to newly discovered original recording sessions vaulted in mono at MGM, which also include a large number of alternates, revised cues, and music that was ultimately not included in the film. The original album has been included on Disc 3 for its historical value, although it has been remastered for the first time from the first-generation stereo master tapes. Also released is an expanded 2-CD edition of the iconic score for the triple Oscar-winning 1969 landmark film MIDNIGHT COWBOY. The film’s musical score presented a then-new concept—a combination of songs and original music developed into a perfect underscore; John Barry, appeared under the credit of “Music Supervisor,” but also composed a series of original cues and supervised the entire musical concept of the film, while the song “Everybody’s Talkin’,” written by Fred Neil in 1966 and performed by Harry Nilsson, became the film’s main theme. Quartet’s release includes the classic 1969 soundtrack album plus alternate versions on Disc 1, with the music (both songs and score) as it appears in the film. Finally, the label offers an expanded 2-CD release of John Addison’s acclaimed score for the 1977 WWII film A BRIDGE TOO FAR; for this release, the film score has been remixed from the original multi-tracks vaulted at MGM and includes the complete score in film order, as well as several alternates and revised versions for the film’s ultimate edit. We have also included the remastered original album that features interesting edits and additional mixes specially conceived for it. For info see Quartet.
MovieScore Media began spreading the holiday cheer early with THE CLAUS FAMILY, the latest yuletide release by Anne-Kathrin Dern [see Dern’s LILLY’S BEWITCHED CHRISTMAS reviewed in October]. Co-written and directed by Matthias Temmermans, the Belgian-produced Christmas adventure focuses on a young boy who hates Christmas following the death of his father; but when he discovers his grandfather is Santa Claus and he is next in line to carry on the family business, things change. “Once again, composer Anne-Kathrin Dern delivers her giftbag of lushly orchestrated beautiful themes and a heaping helping of Christmas-time cheer we all need these days,” writes the label. “THE CLAUS FAMILY isn’t your average feel-good Christmas movie,” promises composer Dern. “It’s a profound story about grief and loss during times of Holidays. We go on a journey with this family trying to find their Christmas spirit again. The score very much tries to capture that struggle and alternates between isolating melancholy, exhilarating adventure, hopeful warmth, and Christmas joy. The FAME’S Macedonian Symphony Orchestra’s marvelous performance only enhances those emotions.” For details, see MSM. To complement MSM’s digital release, a physical release will follow shortly on KeepMoving Records.
NOCTURNE is the latest installment of Amazon’s Welcome to Blumhouse horror series now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The soundtrack features score by Elizabeth Bernholz (as Gazelle Twin); her previous film credit is collaborating with Max de Wardener on the music for Corinna Faith’s 2020 film THE POWER, currently pending release. The film follows an incredibly gifted pianist who makes a Faustian bargain to overtake her older sister at a prestigious institution for classical musicians. The soundtrack is scheduled to be released digitally on December 18 via Invada Records and Lakeshore Records. For more details, see musiquefantastique.
Watch the trailer to NOCTURNE:
Harry Gregson-Williams is reteaming with director Ridley Scott on the upcoming period drama THE LAST DUEL. The film stars Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck, and Harriet Walter; it tells of knights in 14th century France whose bond is tested by treachery and a young woman forced to navigate the brutal and oppressive culture of the era in order to survive. Gregson-Williams has previously scored Scott’s 2005 epic KINGDOM OF HEAVEN and 2015’s THE MARTIAN and also provided additional music to the director’s PROMETHEUS and EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS. THE LAST DUEL is set to be released in theaters nationwide on October 15, 2021. -via filmmusicreporter
Emmy-nominated composer Kris Bowers (WHEN THEY SEE US, BAD HAIR, MRS. AMERICA) has scored BRIDGERTON, a new period romance premiering December 25 on Netflix via Shondaland, the pioneering storytelling company founded by Shonda Rhimes. The film explores wealth, lust, and betrayal set in the backdrop of Regency era England, seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family.
Composer Steven Gutheinz has released his score to the fascinating James Kennard-directed PBS premiered documentary THE BOOK MAKERS, which details the dedication and labor of love of the impassioned individuals who are keeping the art of bookmaking alive in the 21st century. Steve’s score is a blend of piano-driven themes that are sometimes backed by a light, complimentary orchestral palette (strings, woodwinds) and synths. It’s a delightful score and one that perfectly serves the film’s organic aesthetics. Listen to the score on Spotify or listen/purchase from Apple Music.
The new feature length documentary ZAPPA, from director Alex Winter (DEEP WEB, TRUST MACHINE: THE STORY OF BLOCKCHAIN, actor of Bill in the BILL & TED movies) has been scored by John Frizzell, with additional music from David Stal. The film is an in-depth look into the life and work of musician Frank Zappa, and is now playing in selected theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime.
Perseverance Records has released the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to Emmy Award-winning Israeli documentarian Maya Zinshtein’s latest film ‘TIL KINGDOM COME. The album features an original score written and produced by three-time Emmy Award-nominated composer Miriam Cutler (RBG, LOVE, GILDA). The film investigates improbable and dangerous links between Israel and American evangelical groups, exposing a story of faith, power, and money, revealing how Trump’s America has been led by an End-Times apocalyptic countdown. “Like many Americans, I’ve been perplexed as to why the religious right has so fervently embraced such an obviously indecent president,” said Miriam Cutler. “I got my start in horror movies, and it came in handy whilst scoring this harrowing documentary… As for the sound of the score, my notes from director Maya Zinshtein were to create an unsettling mood that runs as an undercurrent, while the film itself is fairly objective. I love creating subtle turbulence with rhythmic string patterns and chamber instrumentation,” adds Cutler.
For more details or to order, see: perseverancerecords
Musician and composer Quentin Kayser has released his relaxing, handpan infused score to the cycling adventure documentary ALALASKA PATAGONIE, LA GRANDE TRAVERSÉE. It’s a beautiful little film which spans a 28,743km trek that took place over a two-year span, and Kayser’s musical accompaniment, consisting of handpans, acoustic guitar, and solo voice, is marvelous in depicting both the toils and celebrations of a journey that ran the length of two American continents. Listen to the score on Spotify; watch the film’s gorgeous trailer (French language) here, which includes some of Kayser’s score.
Independent label Scissors has digitally released the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the indie festival favorite PRINCESS OF THE ROW, from executive producers Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary. Composed by German-raised, Los Angeles-based Julian Scherle, the film is an inspiring tale of a runaway foster child who will stop at nothing to live with the only family she knows: her homeless, mentally-ill veteran father who lives on the streets of LA’s skid row. Scherle’s inspiration for the score began with the simple question: “How would I make music if I were homeless, living on Skid Row, with no access to ‘conventional’ instruments? Based on that idea, the vast majority of the score was created by using instruments I built from trash found around Downtown Los Angeles. These unusual ‘instruments’ included a shopping cart played with a violin bow, various pots with mounted strings (think ukulele) played with a guitar pick, and an array of bowed metallic rods, that were soldered on a metal plate,” he added. “The sound that derived from these unusual instruments was used to represent the real-life grit of Skid Row as a direct contrast to the more traditional instruments. The latter were used to represent the fantastical bond between the father and daughter, from the daughter’s innocent, uncorrupted perspective.”
The digital soundtrack album is now available from Amazon and Apple Music.
The new PBS documentary HARBOR FROM THE HOLOCAUST has been scored by Chad Cannon. The film, now streaming on Amazon Prime, explores the story of nearly 20,000 Jewish refugees who fled Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II for the Chinese port city of Shanghai. The music includes many personal and cultural influences, and features traditional Chinese guzheng played by Bei Bei Monter, and world renowned Cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing passages throughout the score. Watch a short Behind the Music video about creating the textured musical score for HARBOR FROM THE HOLOCAUST by composer Chad Cannon, violinist Niv Ashkenazi, and cantor Avram Mlotek, here. The score, fromToro Records, LLC, is downloadable from Amazon
From Varèse Sarabande Records comes the first-ever LP release of THE HOLIDAY featuring the original soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. The film was released by Sony Pictures on December 8, 2006, and has since become a modern-day annual holiday classic for movie enthusiasts around the world. The LP will be pressed on snow white vinyl, and is now available on Amazon. A CD edition is also available from the label, here.
Forthcoming from Mondo, in collaboration with Hollywood Records, is the vinyl soundtrack to the all new hit game MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN: MILES MORALES, featuring the score by John Paesano (DAREDEVIL, THE DEFENDERS, SPIDER-MAN Video Game) as well as original songs by Lecrae and Jaden Smith. See details here. Also from Mondo, in partnership with Walt Disney Records, is the premiere vinyl release of John Powell’s brilliant score to SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. For the first time on Vinyl, this limited edition two-disc vinyl release features amazing new artwork by César Moreno, and is pressed on 2x 180 Gram “Hyper Space” color vinyl. This is expected to ship on or around January 29th. See details here.
Available from Mondo as a distributed title is IKARUGA - Original Video Game Soundtrack LP. Unlike its spiritual predecessor, RADIANT SILVERGUN, the music of IKARUGA is intense, compact, and relentless in its focused energy. Steeped in dramatic tension and propelled by frenetic synths, this sublime score, composed by Hiroshi Iuchi (who also directed the game) perfectly encapsulates the meticulous design and demanding nature of this most revered of shooters. IKARUGA is presented as a 180g vinyl LP, carefully remastered and packed into a heavyweight matt laminated sleeve. It is accompanied by four lithographic prints of beautiful illustrations by Yasushi Suzuki and an obi strip. See details here.
Milan has released Evangelion Finally, a collection of vocal songs performed by Yoko Takahashi and Megumi Hayashibara as heard in the hit anime series NEON GENESIS EVANGELION and the 2009 film EVANGELION: 2.0 YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE. The series originally ran from 1995 to 1996 and is credited with the big global spread of Japanese animation due to the popularity of the series. Available for the first time on vinyl with a Lita Exclusive Variant – pressed on blue rei-nbow splattered colored vinyl; also available on non-exclusive pink & magenta colored vinyl, housed in a wide spine jacket. The LP includes a credit insert featuring interviews with the performers. Pre-order from LightInTheAttic, shipping expected on March 26, 2021.
OONA Recordings announces a limited edition environmentally conscious vinyl pressing of the I AM GRETA soundtrack by Rebekka Karijord and Jon Ekstrand. Manufactured at RPM Records in Denmark, the records are pressed of 100% recycled PVC, and printed on 350 gsm 100% recycled uncoated card stock with plant based inks. The records will be sealed with a sticker printed on recycled stock, and no plastic or shrink wrap will be used in the packaging or production apart from the recycled PVC in the vinyl record itself. One can read more about the process and the drive to create more sustainable productions on the RMP Records website here. The eco-friendly and limited edition I AM GRETA vinyl will be released on February 12, 2021 and is available for pre-order today.
Scored to Death 2: More Conversations with Some of Horror’s Greatest Composers is the sequel to J. Blake Fichera’s popular first book, 2017’s Scored to Death. Now, in Scored to Death 2, a fascinating and entertaining investigation of the dark recesses of the film music world where terror lurks, Fichera delves deeply into the minds of yet another epic cast of noted horror genre composers—the musicians who make us tremble and jump out of our seats—with 16 brand-new, info-packed interviews. Included are composers who have provided music for some of the horror genre’s greatest films, film franchises, and TV shows: John Harrison, Michael Abels, Richard Band, Charlie Clouser, Brad Fiedel, Joe LoDuca, Donald Rubinstein, John Massari, Bear McCreary, Craig Safan, Kenji Kawai, Holly Amber Church, Koji Endo, Robert Cobert, Rob, and Disasterpeace, all bookended by a Foreword by writer-director Eli Roth and an Afterword by composer Christopher Young.
Reflections on the Music of Ennio Morricone: Fame and Legacy
By Franco Sciannameo
London: Lexington Books (imprint of Rowman & Littlefield), January 2020
186 pages, 9½ x 6”, hardcover, $90 (e-book $85.50) www.rowman.com
Reflections on the Music of Ennio Morricone: Fame and Legacy provides new contextualized perspectives on Ennio Morricone’s position as a radical composer working at the cutting edge of music within the frame work of his cinematic compositions. The Italian composer has reached world fame as the creator of some 500 film scores and hundreds more arrangements for commercial recordings; however, Sciannameo argues that Morricone’s legacy must include his concert works, a catalogued list of more than 100 titles. By analyzing the composer’s formative years as a music practitioner and his transition into the world of composing for the screen, Franco Sciannameo reconsiders the best of Morricone’s popular compositions and reveals the challenging concert works which have been an intimate expression of Morricone’s lifelong creative season. – publisher’s blurb
Here, writer and lecturer Franco Sciannameo, known especially for examining the role of the artist in society, and of contemporary music and its relation to politics, provides a comprehensive examination of Morricone’s lifetime of musical composition, specifically inclusive of the necessity to recognize the composer’s concert works—which Morricone considered “absolute music”—which fans of the composer’s film and television material tend to be less interested in, but it must be agreed that focusing on this aspect alone cannot represent a properly comprehensive overview of Morricone as a composer. At 142 pages of text (followed by appendices) it’s not a long book but it is quite comprehensive in its treatment and is both newly educational and further inspiring to one’s regard of the famous composer.
Sciannameo’s dedication to Morricone’s absolute music is clearly held in a very high level of regard, but this isn’t a book about the composer’s concert music. If anything, that is simply the lens through which the author engages his examination and biographic perspective of all aspects of Morricone’s music; this offers a somewhat different perspective from other books on the maestro, and it’s both an intriguing and rewarding viewpoint. Chapter 1 examines Morricone’s formative years where he “gained remarkable experience that shaped the development of his career.” Chapter 2 explores more of Morricone’s early years as an adapter of popular Italian music and initial success as arranger-in-chief at RCA’s Italiana recording studios in Rome. Chapter 3 looks at the partnership of Morricone and director Sergio Leone, chronicling the birth of the Italian Western genre, and includes the first English translation of Leone’s final interview, done shortly before his death. Chapter 4, “Toward a New Consonance,” takes a detailed look at Morricone’s giallo scores as well as his participation in the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, and how his experimental recordings with the latter interplayed with his music for the former, as well as his unique approach to scoring musical comedy. With Chapter 5, “Scoring Social Justice,” we have what the author regards as the core of the book, scrutinizing “commitment to various real-life events as well as historically fictitious ones,” from his personalized, meaningful scores to SACCO & VANZETTI and BATTLE FOR ALGIERS up to THE MISSION. In Chapter 6, Sciannameo concludes with an argument for “Morricone’s legacy, its nature, and its eventual impact on posterity.” The chapter covers Morricone’s concert performances and the appearance of the composer’s more impressionistic and expressionistic varieties of his film music in these public appearances as a conductor, and concludes with the author’s examination of selected works of the composer’s absolute music. “…it should be explored scientifically and enriched by outstanding performances presented in a totally ‘isolated’ fashion from his commercial music,” Sciannameo concludes. “Morricone’s concert music is part of the intimate diary of a man who never lost faith in his art.”
The book is thus an intriguing read—and indeed serves as an essential and comprehensive examination of the fame and legacy of this singular, unique, and multifaceted composer. – Randall D. Larson
CD PROJEKT RED has released the original score from the 2020 action role-playing video game CYBERPUNK 2077, composed by Marcin Przyby?owicz (THE WITCHER 3: WILD HUNT - BLOOD AND WINE, THRONEBREAKER: THE WITCHER TALES), P. T. Adamczyk (GWENT: THE WITCHER CARD GAME, THRONEBREAKER: THE WITCHER TALES), and Paul Leonard-Morgan (LIMITLESS, DREDD, TALES FROM THE LOOP). Following a 6-track original score EP issued last September, Projekt Red’s 2-disc digital release features 37 tracks amounting to over 2 hours of original music composed for the most highly-anticipated video game release of the year – now available on PC and Google Stadia (PlayStation and Xbox versions having been withdrawn due to performance issues on those platforms). “If music in CYBERPUNK 2077 would have to be described with just one word, it would be attitude. No matter the style, sound palette, or specific genre Przyby?owicz, Adamczyk, and Leonard-Morgan worked with, attitude is the cornerstone of every cue they composed for the game,” described the album’s PR notes. “Night City shimmers with colors and so does the music – not limited to one specific genre. Instead, the composing trio drew from all sorts of styles to craft a unique mix that drives the narrative and provides additional layers of context to the story. Expect a wide range of music styles from jazz, through downtempo, hip-hop, metal, industrial, to various incarnations of techno.” The score album is available from Apple Music and can be heard on Spotify.
Additionally, Lakeshore Records and CD Projekt Red have released the Cyberpunk 2077: Radio Vol 1 soundtrack, a compilation of music heard on the in-game radio stations and other areas of gameplay. This various artists soundtrack features artists performing under pseudonyms. Cyberpunk 2077: Radio Vol 2 will be released digitally on Friday, December 18.
CYBERPUNK 2077 is developed and published by CD Projekt Red. It was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Stadia, and Xbox One on December 10th 2020, and will come out for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S in 2021. The story takes place in Night City, an open world set in the Cyberpunk universe. Players assume the first-person perspective of a customizable mercenary known as V, who can acquire skills in hacking and machinery with options for melee and ranged combat.
Austin Wintory has released The Pathless Meditations, a follow-up to his marvelous game score for THE PATHLESS (reviewed in my November column). “Because THE PATHLESS has an open world design in which the player has great freedom to explore, the music in-game is designed to be very flexible and expansive,” Wintory wrote on Bandcamp. “As you roam, the score has various methods by which it remixes and rearranges material, to avoid anything ever feeling repetitious or fatiguing. The initial soundtrack album focused on the primary narrative beats of the story, specifically the Hunter’s journey from start to end. As a result, a huge amount of the music was cut or heavily abbreviated. This album provides most of that cut music, and is also more representative of how one might experience it in-game. That said, the more exciting variations that are possible are skipped here too, to make for a hopefully very relaxed, introspective listening experience.” Check out The Pathless Meditations on Bandcamp.
Sony’s Milan subsidiary has released several video game soundtracks during November: GODFALL from Counterplay Games and published by Gearbox is set in a high fantasy setting, split into the realms of Earth, Water, Air, where players take the role of one of the last exalted Knight’s Order to prevent a major apocalyptic event. The score is composed by Ben MacDougall (MARVEL VS. CAPCOM: INFINITE game, TO THE ORCAS WITH LOVE docu) and is available from Sony here. The reimagined DEMON’S SOULS for 2020 is an action role-playing game developed by Bluepoint Games with assistance from SIE Japan Studio and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It is a remake of the 2009 game of the same title, originally developed by FromSoftware and released for the PlayStation 3 in 2009. The new 2020 game was released as a launch title for the PlayStation 5 in November 2020. It features a soundtrack by Shunsuke Kida, (films CANNONBALL WEDLOCK, SAILOR SUIT AND MACHINE GUN: GRADUATION) and is now available to purchase on CD (here is the amazon link), with a vinyl release planned for 2021. HYPERBRAWL TOURNAMENT is a sports game available on Steam in which players smash, brawl, and score their way to victory in relentless, high-adrenaline PvP arena battles for 1-4 players. The game features original music by Steve Levine, which is available on Sony Classical here.
Lakeshore Records and EA Games have released MEDAL OF HONOR: ABOVE AND BEYOND —Original Soundtrack. Composed by Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA award-winner Michael Giacchino and Nami Melumad, the uplifting orchestration provides a rousing backdrop to the WWII -based Virtual Reality game produced by Respawn Entertainment, a studio of Electronic Arts; the game is available on the Oculus Store for the Oculus Rift and streaming on Open VR. The soundtrack is available here
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.