Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2016-2
Frebruary 19, 2016

By Randall D. Larson



  • Interview: Paul Leonard-Morgan: Composer without Limits

Soundtrack Reviews

AWAKEN (Ralston & Al-Atrakchi), THE BOY (McCreary), CHILDHOOD’S END (Clouser), Concert Suites (Velázquez), DAD’S ARMY (Mole) , DARK AWAKENING (Huud & Huey), Early Works (Korzeniowski), GIANT (Tiomkin, expanded), THE HALLOW (Gosling), KRAMPUS (Pipes), PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES (Velázquez), TALE OF A LAKE (Aaltio), THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN (Sangiovanni & DiBona) , VENDREDI OU LA VIE SAUVAGE (Jarre)

Book review: EPIC SOUND - Music in Postwar Hollywood Biblical Films
Soundtrack, Film Music on Vinyl, & Game Music News

Composing for films since the late 1990s, it was Paul Leonard-Morgan’s score for the science fiction film LIMITLESS (2011), along with the success of the film, that brought the composer worldwide attention. Leonard-Morgan went on to score the successful remake of DREDD the following year,  which lead to assignments composing the 2013 thriller THE NUMBERS STATION, and the adventure fantasy LEGENDARY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON (2013). He also scored the WALKING WITH DINOSAURS 3D feature film (2013) as well as three short MINIONS spinoffs from DESPICABLE ME 2. He just scored his first video game, Battlefield Hardline last year, and is currently scoring the LIMITLESS television series, which premiered in 2015.

Q: What prompted your interest in composing film and TV music, and how did you get your start?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: Luck!  I’ve always written music, always loved music. Mom’s a music teacher. I was studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. When you get into a university you really don’t know what you want to do, all I knew was that, “Oh! Writing film music. That sounds great!” I was really into Morricone and all his classic Spaghetti Westerns, John Williams’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and all those classic scores, but I never really knew what it entailed. While I was at the academy I started working with loads of bands. Glasgow had this really vibrant music scene, bands like Snow Patrol, Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian, Isobel Campbell, Travis, all those kind of guys. Everyone was hanging around the one studio because that’s really all there was, so I started getting calls asking if I could come and put some strings on this album or that album. I did some of that for an album for Simple Minds. When you do that people just get to know you. Some filmmakers heard about the band stuff I was working with, and they said “do you want to come and try scoring this short independent film?”  I did, and the year after that I began to get some TV series, and then I got a call asking if I wanted to have a go at writing the music for LIMITLESS, the feature film. That was about four years ago. So I happened to write it, it happened to be a hit, and it’s actually been pretty berserk after that!  Maybe I was in the right place at the right time. 

My background had always working with orchestras, and then when I went up to Glasgow and suddenly was working with bands as well, I fell in love with this whole crossover vibe. It wasn’t just classical, it wasn’t just band stuff, it was getting orchestra and bands playing together, really, and that’s still what I’m about. I love working with hybrid crossover things. For me, it’s always about live bits in with electronic stuff, and I don’t care whether people realize it’s orchestra or realize it’s real musicians, as long as it’s serving its purpose.

Q: With LIMITLESS, How did you find working on a science fiction film for the first time?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: I never actually thought of LIMITLESS as sci-fi at all, until someone asked me, “well, what the hell else do you call it?”  I have to call it “reality” – this is about things that could be happening!

Q: It doesn’t feel like sci-fi because it treats its sci-fi-esque component so realistically and so matter-of-factly. It’s a modern-day thriller set in a future environment.

Paul Leonard-Morgan: Yeah!  And so many people go on about the LIMITLESS idea, that whole “you only use 10% of the brain thing is bullshit.”  I have no idea anymore what’s true and what’s not! I just scored the thing! 

Q: When you first came in to the film, what kind of inclination did you have as far as the kind of music you and they felt should be used in the film, and how that developed in the process?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: They sent me a script and some visuals – but instead of doing it to picture I just went off and wrote some tracks, I think I wrote three of them. They were all about three-and-a-half, four minute tracks. One of them was called “Trippy” which I felt was what Bradley Cooper’s character of Eddie Morra was about. He’s a bit of a layabout, a bit of a waste of space, but when he’s on this drug he’s suddenly incredibly clever and incredibly bright. It needed to be this very short motif, this very trippy thing. I pictured it almost as if, you know you get this in cartoon characters, and they go “Dinggg!” and you have that light bulb moment, and for me it was trying to come up with that in a slightly modern musical way. When he’s suddenly on the drug, I need people to realize that he’s on the drug, so I came up with this musical motif - which Neil [Burger], the director, said, “it’s awesome, I totally love this! Every time he’s on the drug we’re going to crank this right up in the mix!” And he did - to the extent where I’m in New York sitting at the premiere and I’m going, “bloody hell, he’s really cranked this up in the mix! It was everywhere!” But that was the thinking behind it. It was trying to come up with a theme that would play when he’s on that drug, which I could then twist and morph and make it sound whacky as he’s tripping out and getting high and all of that. But it wasn’t like a TRAINSPOTTING movie where the drug was bad; it was a case that this was an enabling drug. So that was how I went about it. I just wrote some long tracks and they started the movie and they realized, wow, this was working really well – and, thank goodness!

Q: On that particular film what was your technique as far as merging the orchestral and electronic and other elements?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: For me it wasn’t an orchestral soundtrack, even though there’s orchestra on it. It was never an orchestral soundtrack. It was always electronic, simply because I pictured it quite trippy. No one, actually, including the producers, could quite work out what was orchestra and what was guitar because I crunched it up so much. I’ve got God knows how many analog, vintage and ‘80s synths and stuff like that. I’d been working with this producer Mark "Spike" Stent on the No Doubts’ “Push and Shove” album - I did some drum and synth programing, and I had all these drum sounds for that, and I thought these sounds might work quite well twisted into this for LIMITLESS. I also had all these analog synths around and I just started mucking around with them. I think the good thing about those kinds of analog synths – it’s not like now where if you’ve just got a normal synthesizer, you press a button, and there’s your sound. With these analog synths it’s very much a case of your morphing the sound; it’s almost like sine wave that you’re then mucking around with, which was in the same way how I pictured his head – he’s got this little sine wave and then he’s on this drug and suddenly the wave’s going absolutely berserk. So I was creating this little mish-mash of sound and then I got this guitarist to play loads of stuff and started manipulating it – I reversed it, put delays on, and all that. So again you don’t know what’s guitar and what’s synthesizers. I did the same technique with the orchestra when they recorded it – I reversed it, distorted it, and made it not sound like an orchestra, so that it’s soundscape as much as music.

Q: In contrast, how did you treat the more reflective moments as the character is trying to deal with what’s happening and the relationships he’s got going?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: It’s funny you should say that, because I remember sitting there with Neil Burger after the film was done. I said to him “do you think it’s weird because this is the only time where I really got any emotion on it?” There’s a scene with him sitting in a café with his ex-girlfriend and it’s a little bit of heart-to-heart, and that’s the only intimate moment in the whole film. Neil said, “Yeah, I know. And that’s the only time that I let you do those things!”  I used a Rhodes keyboard as the main sound for it, because I thought, piano’s been done so many times before, and I wanted to keep it quite organic, so the Rhodes keyboard has got this lovely, warm sound, it’s like a band sound but it can also play melodies because it’s keyboard. And Neil’s point was, “Yeah Paul, I’m always trying to keep people on the edge of their seats, because you can never get comfortable in the same way as Eddie Morra, because when he was high on the drug, there was always the thought that one second later he was going to fall flat on his face because the drug’s going to run out, so it’s never this perfect drug - and similarly when he’s unsettled, he can take the drug and suddenly become incredibly high, so Neil didn’t want the audience to be able to sit down and tap their feet along to it. There are a couple of sequences, one is called “Trashed Hotel” on the album, where he goes into this room and he’s suddenly high and he’s walking along and he’s getting into the beat so that everything’s going well, and suddenly I start distorting the beats and delaying the beats so the music’s tripping in the same way he’s tripping. It was quite a weird soundtrack.

Q: What was most challenging for you about that score?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: The time scale!  I did the whole soundtrack in three weeks, and it was over Christmas and my wife was pregnant… but it was just amazing!  It does make it so much easier when people like your initial themes, because when they start taking those themes and putting them into other parts of the film and it’s working really well, it gives you that confidence to carry on and not have to rehash it or rework it. It gives you the confidence to be bold and do something completely different, whereas sometimes you’re slightly nervous, going, “Are they going to like this? Is this too wacky or too weird?”

Q: Now you’re scoring the LIMITLESS TV series. I don’t think it’s often that the feature film composer is chosen to score the TV incarnation of the film. How did you get involved in that and what was it like to develop your film score further or differently throughout the breadth of a TV series?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: I think it was last April, I got a call and went down to Universal and had a chat with Marc Webb and an amazing show runner named Craig Sweeney. They asked, “Well, how do you see it?” I said, “I don’t see it as a rehash of the film score, because that’s been done.” In the same way the TV series isn’t just a spinoff of the film either. It’s very much segueing on from the film. Bradley Cooper returns – his character was developed in the film but also has a life of its own on the TV series. I used a lot of the same elements as far as the Rhodes keyboard and a lot of the sounds. It has a major/minor feel to it, so you’re never again settled, the little motif is slightly major/slightly minor, so again you’re always slightly unsettled when he’s on this pill. But I said to them, it’s going to need a lot more energy, a lot more pace, because it’s a very frenetic soundtrack and a very frenetic TV series. Everybody has commented on the first couple of weeks just how ridiculously fast it is!  And they’ve all said the same, that the music is really helping with that because it’s just totally schizophrenic and totally bonkers - one minute you’re doing a great big orchestral chase sequence, and then the next minute you’re doing a thrash guitar track because he’s gone off his head!  Brian, the main character of the TV series, used to be in a band, so then the next minute you’re doing an ‘80s rock throwback thing – so it’s really good fun getting to do lots of different styles.

Q: What kind of deadlines do you face when scoring the show?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: TV, as I’m learning, is very much a case of “you get a week to do every episode.”  So every single week you’re heading down to the sound stage for the dub, and you go in and spot the episode with the director as a team, then off you go and write the music, and then the following week you’re spotting the next episode, and the next episode, and so on. It doesn’t give you enough time to experiment as you get in film soundtracks, but on the other side of it, it means that you’re really, really focused. For me when I score I just don‘t get to sleep – I just stay up until I’ve finished it, and somehow my brain just kicks into gear while I’m doing that.

Q: You also scored DREDD, the 2012 version of the British comic book character that had been filmed previously in 1995. You gave the score a really evocative soundscape mixed with some dubstep beats that worked really well. How did you develop your approach to scoring this picture?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: Again… all these random scores! One day I’m going to do a traditional score!  I did this film WALKING WITH DINOSAURS about a year and a half ago, a $100 million Fox animation thing, and I got a week with an orchestra on that, and I was listening to it the other day and going “that was really good fun, you know.” You get to write big melodies and lots of excitement, typical animation kind of thing, whereas this, and LIMITLESS and so on, can be just crazy! The DREDD score had a very John Carpenter vibe, in the sense that everything was there for reason; there was never a note that was superfluous. A guy pulls out his gun – you’ve suddenly got tic-tic-tic-tic. Dredd puts down his boot, and there’s another sound. So as a stand-alone listen, I think it’s probably very strange, but included with the film, hopefully, it’s very effective and it’s become almost a cult soundtrack. It’s got this kind of real hard core electronica side to it. Someone described it as “post-industrial,” I think, was their phrase. You know, drums crunched it up and then I tied that in with electronic drums as well and then tied that in with more vintage synths and so on, and then there was guitar on top of it, so you’ve never really got time to settle in DREDD, either!

Q: I thought your synth motif for the drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), especially the requiem when she meets her end down the building shaft, gave it a very poignant sensibility.

Paul Leonard-Morgan: That was one of the most incredible things I got to do. I’ve spoken before about it. There’s a program called “Paul’s Stretch” which Geoff Barrow from Portishead had discovered and given to his mate Alex [Garland], who was producing DREDD. He told me I should check it out. ….

Earlier I mentioned that whole sci-fi idea – is it or isn’t it? – but for me as a composer that isn’t the main thing. What you’re trying to do is just see the humanity in people and whether they’re good, bad, or other. You’ve always got to try and get to what their essence is as a character. To me, Ma-Ma was a villain; yes, she killed everyone and she was brutal and so on, but I said “what made her that, as a person?” because, again – and why is it with me and drugs?! – you’d got this drug, slo-mo, and once anybody’s taken it, it can be such a thing of serenity and beauty. Then we’ve got her fall at the end – spoiler alert! – which is supposedly hell on earth because you know that you’re going to die, you know you’re going to be squashed against the floor when you get there, and although the journey might only have taken ten seconds, in your head it’s probably taken ten days, because of the slo-mo drug. So I thought, instead of making it scary, why don’t we make it beautiful?  Whatever’s happened in her life to make her this bad person, this is her reaching her fate, and she’s gone back full circle then. I always felt her a little bit of a victim as much as a villain, so for me that’s what it was all about. So I wrote the track and slowed it all down by about 8,000 per cent, added on some real instruments over the top of it, and made this thing which hopefully is a thing of beauty rather than a thing of ugliness and scariness.

[Listen to Ma-Ma’s Requiem:

Q: You’ve brought up a good point there as well, which is something I’ve often noticed, that good science fiction isn’t all about space travel and future tech but it’s about characterization and humanity. Focusing on character lets sci-fi transcend its fantasy because it’s about real people, and characterizing that musically is where a composer can really make a difference.

Paul Leonard-Morgan: That’s true, because it depends what kind of sci-fi you’re into. The kind of sci-fi that I love is something like LIMITLESS, where it’s make-believe but it’s not necessarily make believe! Like my dad would always go, “it could so easily be true!”

Q: Another question I often ask composers dealing with science fiction scores – to what extent is there perhaps an added responsibility for the music to help the audience with its suspension of disbelief, that you don’t have in mainstream kind of drama, because the music has to help sell the futuristic environment or technology? You seem to do it in a way that tries to make it as real and as relevant and as immediate and treat it more like a realistic thing as opposed to emphasizing the fantasy elements that make up the film’s environment. Is that an accurate supposition?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: Yeah, I think it’s a really good point. I think I’ve been incredibly lucky in that the projects that I’ve worked on have all had incredible scripts, as with Craig’s TV series, he’s just fucking brilliant. So I’m reading these things, and yeah sometimes they’re a bit of a laugh – but sometimes you’re also going “yeah – why the hell wouldn’t this be true?” And similarly with DREDD, it’s this post-apocalyptic thing, but it could certainly be true! So I think, know, why would you want to patronize an audience? I haven’t needed to do what I would call wallpaper music, which is where you need to signpost the audience to feel certain thing. I think if you’re trying to signpost people’s emotions and to help them feel something, a: it’s cheating, and b: it means that something’s wrong somewhere in the production process whether it’s with the script or with the way it’s put together or the edit, whatever, because it’s needing music to help. As I say, I think I’ve just been incredibly lucky getting to work with these wonderful projects, where I get to do my thing and, if the script is believable, why would I have to signpost it? Let’s just treat it like a normal film and let people make up their own minds whether they’re watching it as escapism and being sucked into this land, whether it’s a land of make believe or whether it’s a land of realism.

Q: Another film you’ve done which is more fantasy oriented is LEGENDARY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON, which touches on a bunch of things – it’s an action film, it’s a fantasy, it’s a little bit of a caper movie, and it’s also a monster film. How did you come in and treat those various elements?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: Do you know what? The timing on that was just brilliant, because without getting too deep and heavy, my second child had been very unwell - she’s fine now, but I’d basically been living in hospital with my wife for about two and a half months, so I wasn’t speaking to anyone, and then she got out and she’s fine and my agent said “I’ve actually been putting these people off for the last two and a half months, but you probably don’t want to do it because you’re getting your head together, but there’s this kind of caper movie.” I asked what it was, and it was bizarre because the previous two years had been THE NUMBERS STATION and LIMITLESS and DREDD – really dark, murdery, twisted stuff – and suddenly, my daughter’s born and then she’s fine after being in hospital for a time, and that year was just a year of these fun, happy soundtracks!  So I had this caper thing. then I had the MINIONS shorts come along, and then I had WALKING WITH DINOSAURS and suddenly it’s “hey! He’s the happy animation guy!”  That’s fine - let’s forget about the deaths and drugs, I’ll go for the happy animation guy anytime! So LEGENDARY came along, and I read the script, and thought “You know what? I can do with a bit of happiness in my life!” It was basically a family movie and I’d never done one of those before, so I thought I’d give it a try! It was actually a rollicking ride – it had a sense of humor and lots of big action pieces where I could really get into the orchestral stuff and have really bombastic drums. It was just one of those films where you’re going to go and have a bit of fun for a couple of months.

Q: One of the things I like about that score, beyond its overall tone, is how you’ve treated the monster – the dragon. It’s always kind of iffy in the film – is it really a monster, is it a figment of legend, and you’ve got this music which really adds a presence to that creature as they’re investigating it.

Paul Leonard-Morgan: I think there are two sides to the film. One is obviously the kind of caper side where they’re just going around trying to find clues – one of the tracks is called “Fun at the Morgue,” so it was always going to be tongue-in-cheek. But as far as the actual creature itself, it was a case of “how do you make something scary, without doing what’s been done a million times before?”  So I got some really raw percussion – let’s think back to what it was like in The Land Before Man with these monsters, and if you didn’t have electricity or you didn’t have machines, you had people hitting things, whether that was a cave man hitting walls or people just hitting some sort of metal, that was the idea behind it. Then I thought well, yeah but also need to make people feel for this creature, whether it’s fear or empathy or however you’re feeling towards the creature; so I got some brass instruments, trombones and horns and everything, which I can’t play for the life of me but I just blew into them. Then de-tuned them and tied them together, layered them up against some other samples, and you’ve got this really, raw, shouting-from-the-depths of this dinosaur creature. So that was my thinking: percussion and raw, de-tuned brass.

Q: How did you treat the more muscular action music? Apart from everything else you’ve also got these two rival action heroes, Dolph Lundgren and Scott Adkins, and they’re at odds.  

Paul Leonard-Morgan: It’s funny, isn’t it?  You’ve got these martial arts guys in there, and then they’re going around trying to steal secrets!  It’s one of those films where you just don’t take it too seriously. I think if you start going, wow, we need to kind of do this, or do that, then you start questioning, well, why are they in China chasing after dragons?

Q: It’s like suddenly we’re in a Jackie Chan movie or something!

Paul Leonard-Morgan: Yeah, totally! And then out come the guitars and we’ve got PULP FICTION and RESERVOIR DOGS….!  Dolph does these fantastic baddie faces: do you trust him or do you not trust him? Scott is clearly a Hollywood heartthrob who everybody loves, so it’s going back to a comic book character, one’s the villain and one’s the goodie. Let’s play them up a bit and have a little fun with it.

Q: You mentioned THE NUMBERS STATION which is another film and score I quite enjoyed. It’s not sci-fi but you’re dealing with technology and espionage with this human story laced throughout it. How would you describe your approach to scoring this picture?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: When we sat down and spoke about THE NUMBERS STATION they said to me “look, we don’t want this big Hollywood soundtrack.”  There’s only one big explosion in it, but it’s not this great big action movie even though there’s a sense of his being chased and the baddies are coming in, and how’s he going to escape, and is he going to be alright?  I pictured it as a kind of very claustrophobic movie, it’s all set in the Numbers Station – for those who don’t know, the Numbers Station is just this whole code space where you’re going along and people have to decrypt these codes, and it’s all set underground in this bunker. So for me, I thought it would be underground for so long, it must be like being in a submarine or something, where you go slightly insane. You’ve got the sound of, whether it’s ticking clocks or the sounds of air conditioning or whatever’s down there, but it would always be a heightened sense of these sounds, because there’s nothing else down there at all. So when I was trying to think of the music for that, it was a case of well, look, it’s not great big action sequences, it’s much more the ticking sound of it, so I started taking that concept of a clock and taking sounds and adding delays to them so that sense of delay was giving us the momentum without having too much energy in it. It was much more about that sense of momentum and the ticking clock going hand in hand with the numbers, which was a kind of countdown as they’re trying to escape and go for cover.

Q: You took over scoring the TV series SPOOKS [MI-5 in the US] from Jennie Muskett in 2006, on its 5th Series. What was the transition like and how did you begin to treat the series with your scoring?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: I had just done my first TV thing which was called FALLEN [2004] which was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award and so Andy Woodhead the producer said, I would love you to come in and just have a chat about SPOOKS. So I went and had a chat, and they explained that Jennie had done the first three series, and then the fourth series they just had a music editor, and he said, “Would you be interested in this, we’re trying to bring it a little more up-to-date.” I thought Jennie’s music was lovely, really clever, and really set the tone for it. And I said, “What would I be doing here, am I trying to replicate someone’s style or am I just going to do my own thing?” They said, “No, we don’t want you to replicate anyone’s style, we just want you to do your own thing.” I said, “Ok, well my thing is strings and beats” [it was then] and they said great. I think the fun thing about SPOOKS is, talking about sci-fi, this is very much a land of make-believe, in the sense that, “Well, that could never happen!” SPOOKS was just a fun ride of a program. I hate chopping up music, I hate re-using music; if I’m going to score things, I want to score them!  I don’t want to have music editors chopping everything up for me. So it was literally 60 minutes wall-to-wall music every single week, it’s Bond meets Bourne meets whatever! Some of the ideas were crazy but it’s that energy. I think going back to LIMITLESS the series, and how everyone always talks about the energy that’s behind the score and really helping get the series momentum and pace and the sense of freneticness, I think SPOOKS is probably where I learnt that, in the sense that sometimes you just go hell-for-leather and just take the audience along right with you. It’s good fun!

Q: In definite contrast, one of your recent scores was GRUMPY CAT’S WORST CHRISTMAS EVER [Paul laughs]!  How did you treat this internet meme that was the main character, and do a Christmas movie at the same time!

Paul Leonard-Morgan: Tim Hill, who had directed WALKING WITH DINOSAURS - he’s an absolute nutter! He phoned up and said “I’m doing this funny Christmas movie, do you want to do it?”  We’d just moved over to L.A. last September, so that sounded mental. His idea was: “This is going to be the most bizarre, surreal movie that you’ve ever watched in your life. It’s a cat, for God’s sake, that doesn’t do anything!  I want it to be as cheesy as possible.” Is it HOME ALONE? Is it this? It was all very… what’s the word you use over there… very meta, where you’re very aware of itself. It was grumpy cat being his usual miserable so-and-so, with Aubrey Plaza doing this fantastic voice-over. (I always thought Grumpy Cat was a him, but no, Grumpy Cat’s a her! I never knew that!)  So the idea behind GRUMPY CAT was all just very tongue-in-cheek. It was almost a pastiche of every single Christmas movie you’ve ever seen in your life.

Q: What’s coming up next for you?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: I’ll be doing another video game score. I’m doing a thing for Disney [Paul will be composing the soundtrack for a new Disney Ride in Shanghai, according to his web site News page. -rdl]. I’ve got the same play at the National Theater that we did last year (The James Plays), which had sold out at the end of the festival and then down at the Olivier Theater in London; that will be touring around the world next year, and I’m changing the soundtrack for that. So I think my next day out in the studio is going to be about August!

For more information on the composer, see his web site at

Snapshots: New Soundtracks in Review

AWAKEN/Brian Ralston & Kays Al-Atrakchi/Perseverance – cd + digital
Ralston and Al-Atrakchi rejoin director Mark Atkins, for whom they scored the Syfy original movie BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES in 2011 (see my interview with them about that score at Cinefantastique online), for this action thriller about a random group of people who wake up on an island where they are being hunted down in a sinister plot to harvest their organs. The film has won several festival awards, stars Darryl Hannah, Vinnie Jones, Edward Furlong, Robert Davi, and Natalie Burn (whose story idea launched the project). This mash up of MOST DANGEROUS GAME and the awful reality of organ harvesting is given a compelling score. With the film giving homage to late ‘80s and ‘90s action films, the composers had license to compose thematic themes and use a mix of instrumentation. The score is almost entirely MIDI synth for budgetary reasons, but sounds very authentic; a live acoustic guitar is used as a on some cues, mixed with digital pan-flutes and strings to provide a very eloquent primary theme, while elsewhere a mix of brass over jungle drums gives the music a great tonality and suggests the jungle island habitat in which the story takes place; this becomes a major element of the score which is gradually infected with mysterious voicings and other elements as the characters realize the island harbors far more dangers than the typical jungle paradise. AWAKEN is a splendidly listenable score on disk, with character, environment, and action cues that hold together nicely for listening apart from the film, developing through and across the story arc into a pleasing resolution at the end. Perseverance’s package includes album notes by Gergely Hubai with interviews with both composers, and an attractive end title pop song, written by Mark Gozman & Ethan Edwards, is performed vocally by Natalie Burn.

THE BOY/Bear McCreary/Lakeshore - CD & digital
In between seasons of THE WALKING DEAD, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., OUTLANDER, and BLACK SAILS, Bear McCreary has taken the opportunity to score a couple of evocative horror films, Jason Zada’s THE FOREST (reviewed in my January column), and THE BOY, a creepy psychological terror tale from director William Brent Bell (WER, THE DEVIL INSIDE). The film stars Lauren Cohan (Maggie in THE WALKING DEAD) as Greta, a young American woman who takes a job as a nanny in a remote English village, only to discover that the family's 8-year-old is a life-sized doll that the parents care for just like a real boy… and yet, when she violates some of the family’s strict rules, realizes the doll may actually be alive. A story like this if rife with moments for creepy, spooky, scary atmospheres and McCreary accommodates in spades. “The film’s success comes from the audience following Greta on her journey of discovery. She begins skeptical that Brahms [the boy] is alive, as any sensible person would be,” said McCreary. “This was the character arc I wanted to highlight with the score: Greta’s growing relationship with Brahms, and her transformation from skeptic to believer. I knew that if this character arc works, the film works.”  McCreary introduces and then intersperses provocatively moody themes for both of the main characters – a lovely, wistfully soft piano melody over string choir for Greta, and one played on various percussive stringed instruments, very furtively based on Brahms’s Lullaby (which is heard diegetically in the film on several occasions). “I sampled an antique music box, a gift from an old friend, for a frail, plunky sound,” McCreary said. “I then layered in detuned pianos, autoharps, dulcimers, ethnic bells, celeste, glockenspiel and harp, panning them around the mix. The creaky, off-kilter music box sound was the result of hours of tinkering with live instruments and samples.” The somnambulant cadence and flow of the music, and the harmonic sound of the mixed and processed instruments achieves a very unsettling mood, much to the score’s benefit, which remains captivating and evocative on Lakeshore’s soundtrack release. The album concludes with an original moody alt-rock song, “In My Dream,” written and produced by Brendan McCreary, and performed by Fyfe Monroe. Lakeshore released the album digitally in January, a CD version coming out February 19, 2016.

CHILDHOOD’S END/Charlie Clouser/Lakeshore – CD & digital
Charlie Clouser’s score for SyFy’s 2015 miniseries based on the Arthur C. Clarke s.f. classic, CHILDHOOD’S END, will come as something of a surprise for those familiar with Clouser, the former Nine Inch Nails’ keyboardist noted more recently for his highly electronic sound design structure of the SAW films and other modernistic horror offerings. CHILDHOOD’S END is primarily a rich, atmospherically symphonic and choral score, a style not readily apparent among Clouser’s previous filmography. However a closer look reveals this isn’t some a major shift into some newly discovered musical semblance. The more surreal moments of Clouser’s music for Fox’s WAYWARD PINES series as well as elements of his scoring of CBS’ NUMB3RS demonstrated a scoring application that welcome a lighter stylistic approach. In CHILDHOOD’S END, Clouser is using a symphonic palette to create the kind of awe-inflected wonder that a film like CHILDHOOD’S END needs in the same essential manner in which he used processed electronics to give the SAW franchise the kind of unsettling, nightmarish sounds it needed. For Clarke’s tale of transcendent evolution guided by seemingly hospitable alien overlords, Clouser’s music provides something of a slow build as it begins with fairly unsettling textures and gradually grows into a much simpler and more comforting confluence of instrumental textures.   “Childhood’s End” deals with ordinary people experiencing extraordinary events, and is really a human drama,” Clouser told Daniel Schweiger in an interview for Film Music Magazine, “so I knew that it would need a much more delicate touch than the insanity and mayhem of some of the scores I’ve done in the past for movies that were populated by unhinged lunatics committing grievous acts of torture. That’s why there are so many cues with gentle, emotional melodies played on a solo cello, backed by warm, muted string passages. Sure, there are some extra-large epic moments, but really the majority of the score tends toward the smaller, more emotional thematic ideas.” There’s still some sound design present in a few tracks (“Peretta Pod” carries a Khachaturian-esque mix of growing and reflective textural strains, “Jennifer Followers” is a definitely creepy cue), while elsewhere a striking vocalise appears in the foreground of some of the atmospheric track (“This Stick Burns,” “Children Ascend,” as examples). A very impressive score that proves Clouser is more than just synthetic sounds and SAWs.

Concert Suites/Music for Films/Fernando Velázquez/Quartet Records – cd
In fifteen years, Spanish composer Fernando Velázquez has emerged as a major force in world cinema, providing initially superlative orchestral; scores for Spanish cinema and in more recent years, especially with the release of THE IMPOSSIBLE, in the USA (see my review of his PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES score, below). This concert recording features lengthy suites from seven of Velázquez most notable works, from his very first score, for J.A. Bayona’s short film EL HOMBRE ESPONJA (based on the silent classic THE MAN WHO LAUGHS) and including his lyrical score for Bayona’s acclaimed ghost film THE ORPHANAGE through to the music for Bayona’s affectingly portrayed film of disaster, THE IMPOSSIBLE. Bayona’s short film score and BOSQUE DE SOMBRES (The Backwoods) are both previously unreleased, both are excellent scores, and their inclusion is especially welcome. But all seven suites portray the composer’s sensitivity and melodic expressiveness; this album makes for an excellent sampling of his work for newcomers and a powerful reorientation for those already familiar. The composer conducts the Orquesta Sinfonica de Euskadi (Basque National Symphony Orchestra), which provides an excellent performance of Velázquez’s significant works.

DAD’S ARMY/Charlie Mole/Silva Screen – cd + digital
Charlie Mole (NORTHANGER ABBEY, HIGH HEELS AND LOW LIFES, and the recent ST. TRINIAN'S revivalsbrings a vibrant and powerful orchestral score to his new feature film adaptation of one of the UK's favorite classic sitcoms. Set in May, 1944 – as the Allied armies massed in the British Isles prepare to invade Occupied Europe and strike a mighty blow against Hitler’s Reich, a heavy responsibility falls on the men of Walmington-on-Sea’s Home Guard platoon. DAD'S ARMY features a stellar cast of British acting talent that includes Toby Jones, Michael Gambon, Bill Nighy, Tom Courtenay and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Musical quotes from Ride of the Valkyries, a pinch of swing era rhythm from Miller and Mole alike, an eloquent and earnest patriotic anthem (“Proud to be British”), and an infectious main title march theme entitled “Auf Wiedersehen Mr. Hitler” that charges out of the air raid sirens that open the film (and reappears at the end whistled and sung by the cast) set the tone for the film’s dazzling tongue-in-cheek sensibility. What follows is a mix of punchy melodies, tenuous horn steps, militaristic snare drums, engaging rhythmic pieces, and the occasional emergence of those air-raid siren oscillations (instead of “more cow bell,” the directive for this score apparently was “more air-raid siren!”), this is a splendid mix of patriotism, pastiche, pageantry, and poignancy, a thoroughly delightful score very nicely presented.

DARK AWAKENING/Terry Michael Huud & Michael Huey/Terry M. Huud – promotional cd
DARK AWAKENING is an intriguing and effective independent ghost story about a young couple who move into the family’s rural estate while they try and sell it, and soon begin seeing the spirits of dead children. The film overcomes its low budget with effective performances (particularly from Valerie Azlyn, as the wife, Lance Henriksen as the local all-knowing priest, and a very credible and well-directed performance from William Pifer who plays the couple’s young boy), some good scares, and a twist that carries it to its ending that justifies the less fluent story points that have gone before. Supporting the film’s creepy atmosphere and emotive strength is this lyrical and haunting score, which also amped up the film’s scare factor. Restricted to a digital orchestra by the production’s low budget, the composers make the most of very authentic digital instrument sample programs, enhanced by live violin solos from Hannes Frischat on a couple of tracks. Collaborating closely, Huey focused more on the score’s thematic elements while Huud, with a prior history on scoring indie horror films, concentrated on the creepy horror material, although often the two elements are combined. The film’s director, Dean Jones (both composers also worked on his previous film, COFFIN BABY), encouraged a thematic/melodic fragrance to the score, and thus the music includes some lovely thematic material associated with the family, the town of Cedar Rock Falls, and the mystery behind the ghosts, as well as some truly unsettling and effective sound design for the scary moments (“Late for Work” and “Scary Tub” both contain especially potent and propulsive moments, as are the strident horn and string figures that abide in “Danny’s Room” and the onrush of music that perpetuates “James Remembers,” the sinewy synth tendrils of “Sleep Walker” will really chill your spine; and an electric guitar riff that Huud uses throughout as a kind of ostinato of ghostly goings on is also very appealing and articulate).

For more details on scoring DARK AWAKENING, see my interview with Huey & Huud at
Contact Terry Huud to order a copy of the soundtrack CD.

EARLY WORKS/Abel Korzeniowski/Caldera Records – cd
Caldera presents a very handsome two-CD set proffering scores for stage productions composed early in composer Abel Korzeniowski’s career, before he gained acclaim for such scores as A SINGLE MAN and the TV series PENNY DREADFUL. The Polish-born musician wrote several compositions for stage plays in his home country. Among them were “I Served the King of England” (2003), “The Odyssey” (2005), “Kafka” (2001), “Antigone” (1996) and “The Tempest” (2003) which celebrate their official release on this set. These scores are very modern, some even very experimental or Avant garde, all quite intimate in their orchestration and presentation, and thoroughly fascinating in their musicality and accompaniment, each demonstrating a very different side of the composer than we may know from his cinematic works. They range from the stark, austere, and small groupings, even a remarkable a capella choral score for “Antigone,” a score mixing modern and medieval instruments for “The Odyssey,” and the rich Eastern European flavorings of “I Served the King of England.”  Particularly of note are “Ariel’s Dance” and “Dance from The Tempest,” both fascinating interactions of strings from, you guessed it, “The Tempest,” the delightfully manic “Dance Obscene” from “Kafka,” the bagpipe and what sounds hammered dulcimer from “Penelope’s Theme” in “The Odyssey” as well as the mix of frame drums, dulcimer, and a raging chorus of roaring voices in “The Cows of Helios” from the same production, and nearly all of “I Served the King of England” with its compelling textured harmonies, achieved through the intricate playing of hammered dulcimer and accordion. It’s all very fascinating, unusual, even challenging material, and Caldera should be commended to bringing these stage play scores to our attention and edification. The label’s signature composer commentary feature, too long this time to include on the album, is available as a download from a link provided in the album booklet. For more details, see the label’s web site.

GIANT/Dimitri Tiomkin/La-La Land expanded reissue
Although it came out last year, I don’t think there will be much argument in calling this expanded reissue of the classic 1956 soundtrack by Dimitri Tiomkin essentially a 60th Anniversary album. From its original 12-track soundtrack LP which focused on the score’s pop tunes and folk standard adaptations, La-La Land along with Warner Bros. and Universal Music Special Markets has culled a total of 61 tracks across 2 CDs, including a number of alternate arrangements, folk song arrangements, and those original album tracks. While the complete film version of the score no longer exists, producer Neil S. Bulk managed to augment surviving film takes with alternates cues and additional materials (recovered and transferred specifically for this release) into a thorough representation of the beautiful magnificence of Tiomkin’s grand score. This is a Golden Age score provided for a sprawling early Silver Age epic drama about the life of a Texas cattle rancher and his family and associates. Tiomkin, with three recent Oscars under his belt when he started on GIANT, came up with a terrific main theme, an old fashioned-styled love theme, and plenty of impassioned intimacy and orchestral muscle and to match the epic drama, character, and landscape of Steven’s’ vast storyline. There are plenty of quotations from classical and pop pieces here, an organ version of “Clair de Lune”, the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin used for a character’s wedding scene, Mitch Miller’s chorale version “Yellow Rose of Texas,” and so on. La-La Land’s presentation includes articulate mastering by Doug Schwartz, very nice booklet art direction by Jim Titus, in-depth liner notes by writer Frank K. DeWald that examine the film and its score in perceptive depth. This is a limited edition run of 3000 Units.

THE HALLOW/James Gosling/ScreamWorks
James Gosling’s Screamfest Award-winning score to THE HALLOW is the first addition to the ScreamWorks Records catalogue in 2016. Co-written and directed by Corin Hardy, the film is set in the misty woods of Ireland and tells the tale of a family who move into a remote mill house just to find themselves in a fight for survival with demonic creatures living in the forest. THE HALLOW collected three awards at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (including Best Horror Film) and swept five awards at the 2015 Screamfest (including one for Best Original Score). Gosling has worked with Rob Lane on HBO’s JOHN ADAMS and BBC’s MERLIN and ATLANTIS, and is now co-scoring Lego's new animation series NEXO KNIGHTS. Gosling’s score has an inviting large-orchestral feel; it gradually accentuates the growing nervous tension of the story until the all-out terror emerges in grand scale. “The score is a musical journey that follows the emotional trajectory of our central characters,” explained Gosling. “It begins with the setting of the tone and place - the uncertainty of unfamiliar Irish shores. The score gradually helps to further fray the nerves as the local villagers make it clear their presence is unwelcome, until finally, and without giving too much away, we are embroiled in a tale of terror and sacrifice, and of love versus evil.” There are moments of tenuous anxiety and growing disturbiana, but Gosling’s approach remains rooted in tonality and an acoustic orientation, with reverberant percussive elements, creepy sonic interactions and voicings, and huge propulsive shapes making their way across the soundscape. Less effective is the wailing closing song, performed by Sea Read, which though it may have fit the tone of the story, didn’t come across as likable to me.

KRAMPUS/Douglas Pipes/La-La Land
In my last column I reviewed one of two significant yuletide horror scores to emerge during the last Christmas season – this is the other one. From Michael Dougherty (TRICK R TREAT) comes this tale about a suburban family that comes face to face with a Christmas demon, a story based on European Alpine folklore. Composer Pipes scored Dougherty’s earlier Halloween horrorshow, as well as 2006’s MONSTER HOUSE, and has provided a robust horror score full of delicious orchestral flourishes and creepy tingles of apprehension. “The challenge,” Pipes wrote in a note for the album booklet, “became writing a score that combined holiday themes music with some of the intensity of a horror flick, while keeping the Christmas spirit alive throughout.” The score begins rather incidentally, as the story slowly starts up, with a few Christmas tunes mixed into the benign, family-oriented first bit of the tale, but by the time the demon begins making itself known, Pipes brings the full prowess of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and its accompanying choir into bearing and the score becomes a thing of colossal force and beauty. The nearly 9-minute “All Through The House” and its following 5-minute-plus “Creatures Are Stirring” are both massive tracks that will give anyone’s home speakers a wonderful workout, while the eloquent, full-throated chorale arrangement of “Silent Night” in the midst of the “Sacrifice” track, with just enough reverberation to give it a broad dimensionality and beauty before it turns into a corrupt chant of horror. Both film and score evoke the spirit of a darker, less religious Christmas from a more pagan time when the holiday resembled something much closer to Halloween, as Dougherty writes in the CD booklet, the score is a curious amalgamation of Christmassy sonorities, innocuous accompaniment, and titanic, comfort-shattering crescendos of a mountain range-crumbling dynamic. Play it loud.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES/Fernando Velázquez/Varèse Sarabande – cd & digital
Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 parody novel, Pride And Prejudice And Zombiesunexpectedly became the cornerstone for a whole new subgenre, and the zombification of classic literature continues to be a surprisingly, but not completely incomprehensible, trend in popular culture. The pervasive influence of George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD over the last forty-plus years continues to resonate in modern lit as much as in modern film. What began as a novelty idea spawned a splendid and thoroughly straight-faced mash-up of Jane Austen’s aristocratic narrative conjoined with Romero’s flesh-feasting walking dead. The marriage of Austen’s language and characters with Graham-Smith’s Romeroesque invading zombie hordes, in which the Bennett sisters are the ninja-trained protectors of Longbourn and its environs, made for a smashing good read, affectionate in its treatment of its source material while allowing its ferocious fancy to flourish. There’s nothing like a pride of zombies to make Jane Austen’s dreary gaggle of snobby class-conscious young women interesting and fun. It took a few years for the novel’s option to finally make it to the big screen, but now that it’s on the screen it’s brought Day of the Living Austen from book to box office with plenty of enthusiasm and energy. The increasingly acclaimed Spanish composer Fernando Velázquez has given P&P&P a fine orchestral score that matches its inherent aristocratic sophistication while supporting the rampant zombie infestations that the Bennet sisters have been born to quell. The score opens with a noble, trumpet melody that becomes an eloquently propulsive orchestral charge, associated with Darcy (Sam Riley’s character) and supplies an invigorating opener. The social manners of 19th Century wealthy English high society is evoked through several classical dances, as much of the early part of the film occurs during social gatherings at Nether field. Velázquez also supplies plenty of echoes of “Rule, Britannia!’s” chorus for the introductory sequence, “An Illustrated History of England 1700-1800,” in which Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance) narrates the origin of the zombie outbreak, which is represented in the form of a pop-up book. The score is thus a convergence of authentically-sounded classical music (“Menuet Des Mortes Vivants” [Minuet of the Living Dead]), “The Soldiers of Meryton,”
Rosings Park”) and Velázquez’s own breed of musical mash-ups, like the Irish jig “Dance of the Ponderous Distaff” with its tin-whistled quotations from “Ride of the Valkyries,” to splendidly fluid orchestral sinews and orchestral crescendos that are as far removed from the light classicism of Netherfield and Meryton as the slavering, shuffling zombies are from proper English society. It’s both a fun score and a compelling, melodic treatment of horror, and Velázquez has always treated horror, from his early days in Spanish cinema (THE ORPHANAGE, JULIA’S EYES) to more recent excursions (OUT OF THE DARK and CRIMSON PEAK), with a mix of fragile beauty and inescapable peril. With P&P&P, gossamer strings weave and stretch between elements of fragile piano, along with the pervasive, impassioned choral string runs (“The Letter,” “Don’t Go In The Woods Alone,” and the flourishing orchestral warmth of “After the Explosion”), while horns and percussion are reserved for more brutal semblances in “Orphan Attack” and “Siege of London” and the like. The score also manages some ferocious sound design, although here rather than synthetically textured, in “St. Lazarus” it’s made out of interactive acoustic, symphonic timbres. It’s an excellent score, all told, beautifully harmonic and organic, music that revolves between poignancy and panic, exuding emotive colors in shades both bright and dark. It’s a superb listen with or without its visual skin.

TALE OF A LAKE/Panu Aaltio/MovieScore Media – digital + cd
In 2012, MovieScore Media’s release of TALE OF A FOREST by Finnish composer Panu Aaltio was voted as the Best Original Documentary Score by the International Film Music Critics Association. 2016 sees the release of TALE OF A LAKE where writer/director/producer Marko Röhr and editor/director Kim Saarniluoto return with another breathtaking overview of the country’s natural beauties. The documentary focuses on the world of rivers and the thousands of lakes of Finland with stories ranging from birds, fish and their spawn, to the lives of critically endangered seal pups. “TALE OF A LAKE continues the series started by TALE OF A FOREST, but is not a direct sequel” explains composer Panu Aaltio. This time the score aims for a more mythical angle, focusing on the majesty, the mystery and the serenity of Finland’s thousands of lakes. “A big challenge was to have all new themes while still having a connection between the movies. One of our main new elements is the vocal, amazingly performed by Johanna Kurkela. Her singing acts as the wordless voice of the protagonist, Ahitar, the water spirit.” The score is a sumptuous and compelling orchestral work, with spritely melodies, light classical stylization, and delightful orchestral interactions; the voice work by Kurkela is quite stirring, giving the opening track and others (“Reunion,” “Ancient Spirit,” “Under the Frozen Surface,” “The Water Cycle”) a wistful magnificence which is evocatively affecting. Tracks like “First Morning,” “Frog Wrestling,” the inventive “Macro World,” the nobility of “Crab Garden,” and the frivolity of “Brisk and Idle” are thoroughly infectious, while “A Family Divided,” “Coming of the Fall,” and “The Birds' Farewell” are more subdued and serene. An exciting waltz called “Bug Ballet” makes for a vastly enjoyable composition. There’s a liveliness to many of the tracks which is quite pleasing, making the music come completely to life on its own, apart from the film. Very nicely preserved on album.

THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN/Salvatore Sangiovanni
and Susan DiBona/Kronos Records -  cd

Shades of vintage ‘70s giallo saturates this thriller score for Domiziano De Cristopharo’s new film, about a couple whose financial condition forces them out of the city into a remote home in the country; the wife is an independent blind woman who, spending much time alone in the new house, becomes convinced she is not alone. The situation nicely evoked by the lyrically atmospheric score by Sangiovanni and Susan DiBona, working together for the second time (both scored 2013’s THE NIGHT-GAUNTS; DiBona scored 2012’s NIGHT OF NIGHTMARES and the “I Love You” segment of the 2011 anthology THE THEATER BIZARRE). Featuring provocative voicings not too far remove from the lyrical vocalise in Morricone’s THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, tentative piano renderings that start and stop brusquely, sensual jazz riffs for keyboard and bass, and sinewy string misteriosos. Avoiding discordant or harshly dissonant music, the composers create an unnerving atmosphere through the use of uncertain harmonies and shifting cadences, permeating the film with a wash of unusual colorations and strange fluidity. The end title piece, “Domiziano,” is an especially engrossing mix of keyboards, bells, bearing edge drumming, electric bass, all gathering together in high reverberation. There are recurring motifs, such as the vocalise pattern, but most cues are very different and there’s plenty of variety in the supporting sounds the composers create. It all makes for very provocative album on its own, thoroughly captivating in its fluctuating tonalities and kaleidoscopic vicissitudes. The composers’ treatment of the music creates a score that is a soft nightmare of exuding sonority that remains unsettled and discomforting despite its loveliness. The presentation, limited to 300 copies, includes concise liner notes by John Mansell.
For more details and music samples, see:

VENDREDI OU LA VIE SAUVAGE/Maurice Jarre/Music Box – cd
Music Box Records has re-issued one of its bestselling, now out-of-print CDs, Maurice Jarre's 1981 score for VENDREDI OU LA VIE SAUVAGE (Friday or the Wild Life – aka Robinson and Man Friday), and in the process has expanded it into a new 2-CD edition with 50 minutes of previously unreleased music and new liner notes discussing the film and the score for the 35th anniversary of the series. Adapted from Michel Tournier’s 1967 novel based on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, VENDREDI OU LA VIE SAUVAGE was adapted for television in three episodes in 1981, filmed in French and English simultaneously and starring English actor Michael York and a young American dancer, Gene Anthony Ray, who had recently made a name for himself appearing in Alan Parker’s Fame. Maurice Jarre, who was known for his broad adventure scores of the ‘60s as well as the recent American TV series SHOGUN and the rich historical epic, LION OF THE DESERT, agreed to score the ambitious series, turning in a large-scaled symphonic work that is by turns melodic, flavorful and exciting. With a grand main theme in Jarre’s finest style, its melody carries a rich seafaring melodic sound reminiscent of Jarre’s sweeping scores for David Lean. Additional themes mirror the reality of life on an abandoned island, Crusoe’s emotional journey from desperation to self-confidence and the honest friendship he develops with fellow castaway Friday, with emphatic choruses of brass, mighty displays of timpani, delicate soloing from harp and oboe, and inclusion of Jarre’s signature Ondes Martenot, the score captures every range of emotions as the expansive story plays out. The main title song, the lovely “La Chanson De Speranza”, is sung by Alexandra Brown several times in the score; she also provides a vocalise variant, and Jarre has arranged a very nice orchestral rendition. This extended soundtrack features many more compelling and versatile arrangements and interactions of Jarre’s thematic material, all tied together by the wonderful lyric of the main theme which really has become one of my favorites of the composer’s melodies, and his military marches are quite appealing here as well. The orchestrational treatment of the material is captivating in its development and interoperability, with the new material quite intriguing in its form and substance.
For information, see:


Soundtrack & Music News

Ennio Morricone’s score for THE HATEFUL EIGHT has won the British BAFTA award for best score; BRIDGE OF SPIES (Thomas Newman), THE REVENANT (Ryuichi Sakamoto & Carsten Nicolai), SICARIO (Jóhann Jóhannsson), and STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (John Williams) were the other nominees.

The Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media went to Antonio Sanchez for his music in BIRDMAN. The other nominated composers in the category were Hans Zimmer (INTERSTELLAR), Johann Johannsson (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING), Justin Hurwitz (WHIPLASH) and Alexandre Desplat (THE IMITATION GAME). No comment.

Composer Michael Giacchino was the Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement, Music in an Animated Feature for his score in Pixar’s INSIDE OUT.

The International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA) has announced its list of winners for excellence in musical scoring for 2015:

Film Score Of The Year
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, music by John Williams

Composer Of The Year
Michael Giacchino

Breakthrough Composer Of The Year
Maurizio Malagnini

Film Music Composition Of The Year
“The Jedi Steps and Finale” from STAR WARS: THE
FORCE AWAKENS, music by John Williams

Best Original Score For A Drama Film
WOLF TOTEM, music by James Horner

Best Original Score For A Comedy Film
KRAMPUS, music by Douglas Pipes

Best Original Score For An Action/Adventure/Thriller Film

Best Original Score For A Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror Film
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, music by John Williams

Best Original Score For An Animated Feature
INSIDE OUT, music by Michael Giacchino

Best Original Score For A Documentary
THE HUNT, music by Steven Price

Best Original Score For A Television Series
CARLOS, REY EMPERADOR, music by Federico Jusid

Best Original Score For A Video Game Or Interactive Media
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, music by Austin Wintory

Best New Archival Release - Re-Release Of An Existing Score
OBSESSION; music by Bernard Herrmann (Music Box)

Best New Archival Release - Re-Recording Of An Existing Score
OBSESSION; music by Bernard Herrmann, performed by the
City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (Tadlow)

Best New Archival Release - Compilation
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – The Television Scores (La-La Land)

Film Music Record Label Of The Year
Intrada Records

The IFMCA has decided to bestow a rare Special Award on the late James Horner, for his classical work “Pas de Deux,” a double concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra. Sadly, with the composer’s tragic death last June, it also represents ‘what might have been,’ and this award is intended to be a tribute in recognition the composer’s life and work, and all the great unheard music that died with him.
For more details on each of these awards, see

Ennio Morricone will be honored with the 2,574th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Feb. 26. He will get honored in the category of live performance/theatre. Among those helping to unveil his star at 7065 Hollywood Boulevard will be THE HATEFUL EIGHT director Quentin Tarantino, producer Harvey Weinstein, and Pascal Vicedomini, the founder of the Los Angeles Italia Film, Fashion and Art Fest. The festival, held Feb. 21-Feb. 27, will also honor Morricone. The 87-year old composer is expected to stay for the Oscars ceremony, where he is nominated in the best score category for THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Morricone has already won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award for the score for the film.
-via The Hollywood Reporter

CineConcerts, CBS Consumer Products, and Paramount Pictures has launched Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage, a North American concert tour playing performing arts centers in more than 100 cities. The tour began on January 15th in Florida and will travel throughout the U.S. and Canada through May 2016, with music from the franchise performed live while the most iconic STAR TREK film and TV footage is simultaneously beamed in high definition to a 40-foot wide screen. Beginning this June, CineConcerts will launch a new series in partnership with Warner Brothers Consumer Products, according to breaking news reported in Variety: The Harry Potter Film Concert Series will reformat each “Harry Potter” film into an orchestral concert experience that offers audiences a live symphony orchestra performance of the entire score in-sync with the film, which will also be projected onto a high-def 40-foot screen. “The original dialogue and sound effects will be kept intact,” CineConcerts president Justin Freer told Variety. “All the music is pulled out of the film, so that’s one of the interesting challenges — mixing the live music against the dialogue and the effects.”
For details, see

The Music is Back Out There: With the new X-FILES mini-series presented on Fox the last few weeks, I chatted with the show’s consistent composer about what it was like to rejoin the franchise after many years. “Getting back to THE X-FILES for this limited episode series was really thrilling for me because I was able to bring back some of the textures, sounds, harmonies, and things that hopefully THE X-FILES fans really love and I think are looking forward to hear – plus some new sounds and perhaps a new kind of minimalism that I don’t think was particularly present in the episodes or the movies,” he said. Read my complete interview with Mark Snow about scoring the new X-FILES miniseries:

Naxos has reissued THE UNINVITED: Classic Film Scores by Victor Young, containing gorgeous suites from four of the Hollywood tunesmith’s dramatic works from the 1939-1952 period, masterfully reconstructed by John Morgan and performed by the Moscow Symphony under William Stromberg. Originally issued on CD in1998, it’s given a fresh new cover design featuring Naxos’s “Film Music Classics” banner. The focus is still on the 1944 ghost story THE UNINVITED (which also appears on Naxos’s 1999 Murder and Mayhem collection), but also contains the March prelude from THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1952) and suites from Max Fleischer’s GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (1939) and Michael Curtiz’s BRIGHT LEAF (1950).

Fernando Velázquez rejoins director J.A. Bayone (THE ORPHANAGE, THE IMPOSSIBLE) to score THE MONSTER CALLS, a fantasy-drama about a boy who seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom's terminal illness. The film is set for release this October.

Christopher Lennertz is composing the score for the upcoming romantic comedy MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2. The movie is directed by Kirk Jones (NANNY MCPHEEEVERYBODY’S FINE). The sequel to the 2002 comedy follows as Toula and Ian are struggling to find time for each other while managing their lives and a teenage daughter, while also having to deal with yet another Greek wedding. 
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La-La Land Records proudly presents its first digital download-only release, composer Joe Kraemer’s (THE WAY OF THE GUN, JACK REACHER) original motion picture score to the independent thriller FAVOR. Kraemer effectively weaves mood and menace in exciting fashion, creating a seductive musical soundscape for this dark, noir-ish tale of childhood friends who become embroiled in mayhem and murder.

Varèse Sarabande has just released the soundtrack to PERSON OF INTEREST Seasons 3 & 4 featuring the original music composed of Ramin Djawadi. “The PERSON OF INTEREST Season 3 & 4 soundtrack is a natural development of season 1 & 2 and showcases the evolution of the show,” said Djawadi. “The music differs from the previous seasons because season 3 & 4 present a darker, more evolved story. We record with a 20-piece string orchestra. The size and tone of this ensemble enhances the score and ultimately has become an integral part of the PERSON OF INTEREST sound. A great fit for this electronic-orchestral score.” Ramin is currently writing the music for the sixth season of GAME OF THRONES, set to premiere April, 2016. Djawadi is currently collaborating with PERSON OF INTEREST’s creator Jonah Nolan on the new HBO series WESTWORLD set to release in 2016.

Varèse will also release the soundtrack to GODS OF EGYPT, a new fantasy-action-adventure inspired by the classic mythology of Egypt, digitally on February 26 and on CD March 25. The album features the original music composed by Marco Beltrami (WORLD WAR Z, THE HURT LOCKER). “The director Alex Proyas and I did some great research together to create the right sound,” Beltrami described. “We watched some of the great films that reflected the area and sensibility we are going, for such as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, BLACK NARCISSUS, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA together as these were influences of his for the film and wanted the music to perform a similar thematic function. After that I did my best to deliver.” Beltrami also said that “The magnitude of the score is beyond anything I have done before. This two and half hour score is the biggest film score project I have ever undertaken, after all these years that id saying something. Just mixing it took over a month but it was all worth it as it is really fun to stretch my wings a bit.”

Harry Gregson-Williams will score ALIEN: COVENANT, according to a report posted by “Enoch33” at the website. “In an interview with Kaya Savas, Gregson-Williams officially confirmed that he will be doing full soundtrack for ALIEN: COVENANT,” wrote news poster Enoch33. Harry has done music for numerous Ridley Scott movies, “from KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (replacing a Jerry Goldsmith score), to PROMETHEUS.” The latter “was actually composed by Marc Streitenfeld, but Ridley brought Harry to compose few more tracks for the movie, so he did two important tracks (“Life” and “We Were Right”). Williams also collaborated on music for EXODUS, and composed the full soundtrack for Ridley's latest movie THE MARTIAN, [typos corrected]. “Harry also noted that he adores composing tense music with strange spooky atmospheres, adding that he always very much admired Ridley's specific way of filmmaking and very sharp eye for important details,” writes Enoch33. “He said that he will start composing [the film] sometime near the end of the year. Harry also expressed how excited he is about [the] ALIEN: COVENANT project.”
Read more:

Lakeshore will release Theodore Shapiro’s score to ZOOLANDER NO. 2 digitally on February 12th and on CD later this winter. “At its heart, ZOOLANDER NO. 2 is an epic mystery,” Shapiro described. “The movie starts with the question, ‘Who is killing the world’s biggest pop stars?’ and continues on a dark journey into the depraved madness that lies at the heart of the fashion world. The director Ben Stiller and I knew that such an epic journey required a score to match.” Shapiro added, “I always favor a very serious approach to scoring comedies, and Ben, who is the film’s star as well as its director, shares that approach completely. We really only talk about the music in terms of storytelling, never about jokes. The film’s comedy always comes out in contrast to the seriousness of the music’s tone.”

Brian Tyler has completed scoring CRIMINAL, a new thriller from Ariel Vromen about what happens when the memories & skills of a deceased CIA agent are implanted into an unpredictable and dangerous convict. The film is scheduled to debut April 15.

Pithikos Entertainment proudly presents this all new recording of the Complete Score Jerry Goldsmith composed for Planet of the Apes – a project more than two years in the making and a logical extension of the work author, musician and recording engineer John O'Callaghan, did for the acclaimed book Simians & Serialism (see review in my , While in no way a substitute for the original recording conducted by Jerry Goldsmith and performed by Hollywood's finest musicians, this new Digital Recording makes this legendary score come alive again. It demonstrates for the listener that Goldsmith's serial compositions are more than mere "movie music" and deserve a place among the defining works of twentieth century orchestral repertoire. See:

Intrada Records’ releases for this week include an expanded edition of Bruce Broughton’s masterful orchestral score for Disney’s RESCUERS DOWN UNDER (1990) as well as Andrew Lockington’s rich, multi-layered score for music for SIDDHARTH, Richie Mehta’s 2013 drama about a man searching for his missing son (of the titular name).

Quartet Records’ three new releases include: The first ever real expansion of Romolo Guerrieri's 1968 cult giallo  IL DOLCE CORPO DI DEBORAH (The Sweet Body of Deborah) composed by Nora Orlandi, offered for the first time in full stereo. After working with Guerrieri on JOHNNY YUMA, composer Nora Orlandi was  invited back for this horror mystery, where she fashioned a score that highlights the story’s more psychedelic aspects; the premiere release of an exciting polizziesco (Italian police thriller) score by Stelvio Cipriani. QUEL POMERIGGIO MALEDETTO (1977; The Perfect Killer) stars Lee Van Cleef as a hit man who uses his job to avenge a betrayal by his former crime partners. Stelvio Cipriani's infectious mod-flavored score recalls the easy-listening world of the Mission: Impossible scores with some tense suspense music for the assassinations; and Pascal Gaigne’s latest score, EMBARAZADOS, a romantic comedy about a couple having difficulty conceiving a child. Gaigne provides a delightful original comedy score, romantic, and also elegant and contemporary, with a touch of lounge-style melodies. Quartet offers the complete score in three long suites, compiled and produced by the composer.
For more information, see:

Silva Screen has released Edmund Butt’s score for BBC TWO’s nature documentary series, YELLOWSTONE. Originally transmitted on BBC2 in 2009 in a Sunday night prime time slot the series attracted the highest rating for a natural history series for the channel in over five years. Edmund Butt's music won Best Original Score at The RTS Craft And Design Awards with the accolade, "This powerful score matched the visuals effortlessly whilst not being over played. The end result was both bold and epic.” Performed by the Chamber Orchestra of London, the score is now available for the first time.

Canada’s Disques Cinémusique has released the score for THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE. The movie tells three stories about the lives and loves of those who own a certain yellow Rolls-Royce: First purchased by the Marquis of Frinton for his wife as a belated anniversary present, the Marchioness finds her own use for the vehicle - one which prompts her husband to sell the car in disgust. Gangster Paolo Maltese's moll, Mae, thinks the Rolls is a "classy" car in which to tour Paolo's home town in Italy. By the outbreak of World War II, the car has come into the possession of socialite Gerda Millet. While on her way to visit Yugoslavian royalty, Gerda and the Rolls become (at first) unwitting and then (eventually) most willing participants in the Yugoslavian fight. The score is composed by Riz Ortolani. 
Available for download from Disques Cinémusique.  

Two more soundtrack CDs have been released this month from Kronos Records, along with THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN (reviewed above) are Stelvio Cipriani’s THE BLACK SPIDER, previously available only as a digital download, and the score by award-winning Serbian composer Aleksandar Randjelovic (ST. GEORGE SHOOTS THE DRAGON) for TRAVELATOR, a 2014 action thriller about a teenage gamer hired to kill a person in the US witness protection program. Both releases limited to 300 copies.

Sony Classical has released Hans Zimmer’s score to KUNG FU PANDA 3. “Working on these films has always been such a treat, and this latest installment is no exception,” said Zimmer, who also scored the first two films in the animated franchise. In addition to his engaging score, the soundtrack includes a song by the band Vamp, as well as “Try,” the global theme song for the film, performed by Jay Chou and Patrick Brasca, which pays homage to both western and Chinese influences. Also part of the compilation is superstar pianist Lang Lang, who contributes featured piano solos within the soundtrack. 

Austin Wintory has released his music to Charles Burmeister's introspective film MERCURY PLAINS, an action thriller about a young man who foolishly gets involved with the Mexican drug cartels. “[The Film]  was a wonderful canvas to play on,” said Wintory. “It's almost like an art house action film, so I found myself alternating between desolate, gentle guitar solos and vicious walls of static. As someone who finds himself writing orchestral music more often than not, projects like this are a real gift!” Featuring the guitarist Tom Strahle, the MERCURY PLAINS soundtrack is available via Wintory’s bandcamp website.

Australian composer Guy Gross (FARSCAPE) is set to reteam with director Stephan Elliott on the upcoming comedy FLAMMABLE CHILDREN. The film is set in an Australian beach suburb in the mid-1970s and follows a 14-year old boy who tries to find his feet in a world changing faster than his hormones, and deal with his crush on a shy and sensitive girl-next-door.
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From Beat Records in Italy comes the premiere soundtrack release from FRACCHIA CONTRO DRACULA (also known as Who Is Afraid Of Dracula? and Fracchia Vs. Dracula), a 1985 Italian horror-comedy film directed by Neri Parenti featuring comedian Paolo Villaggio's "monstrously shy" character, Giandomenico Fracchia, subject of three films beginning in 1975, of which this is the last. Scored by  Bruno Zambrini, the music was “performed by a major symphony orchestra with a variety of themes and orchestrations,” described the label. For details (but no sound bites), see


Film Music on Vinyl

Nino Rota’s soundtrack to Fellini’s TOBY DAMMIT segment of the 1968 French Edgar Allen Poe horror anthology film SPIRITS OF THE DEAD is scheduled for release on Feb 26 in on the Bella Casa label. The label doesn’t appear to have an available web site but the album can be pre-ordered from several google-listed UK-based retailers, and

Lakeshore Records has released several variants of James Newton Howard’s score to NIGHTCRAWLER, a 2014 thriller with Jake Gyllenhall as a man who becomes so immersed in TV crime journalism that he becomes more a participant than an observer. The LPs are available from Invada in the UK. Some of the variants (i.e., splatter disc versions) have sold out, but these are available as of this writing – cherry cola variant, streetlamp variant, discount combo of both previous versions, and a regular retail version is said to be soon announced. Also available through Invada is Brian Reitzell’s HANNIBAL Season 3 soundtrack.

Death Waltz offers a double LP issue called The Poliotteschi Files, presenting a double bill of classic Italian police thrillers from composer Franco Micalizzi in a single package. The first disc features ROMA A MANO ARMATA (Rome, Armed to the Teeth) while the second features IL CINICO, L’INFAME, IL VIOLENTO (The Cynic, The Rat, and the Fist). “Micalizzi soundtracks these violent cop thrillers with an incredible one-two punch that filters David Shire’s THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE score through the crazy Italian house style that is rightly obsessed over by soundtrack fans worldwide,” writes the label. The outer 425gsm gatefold sleeve houses two 180g black vinyl records in a one-off pressing of 500 copies, available exclusively through MONDO tees

Italian archival label GDM has released several classic Italian soundtracks on LP – most recently four Ennio Morricone scores from the late ’60s/early ‘70s: AD OGNI COSTO (1967; At All Costs); the comedy sequel CI RISIAMO, VERO PROVVIDENZA? (1973; Morricone & Bruno Nicolai); the dark romance D'AMORE SI MUORE (1973), and Pasolini’s neorealist comedy-drama UCCELLACCI E UCCELLINI (1966; Ugly Birds and Little Birds). All LP titles are limited to 500 copies.


Film Music Books

Music in Postwar Hollywood Biblical Films
By Stephen C. Meyer
Indiana University Press, 2015.
Hardcover & Paperback, 272 pages.

This is a well-researched and thorough book examining what the author finds to be a unique facet of film music of the late 1940s and early 1950s – its use, sometimes to glorious excess, in the biblical epics of postwar Hollywood. Meyer covers nine films – SAMSON AND DELILAH, DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, QUO VADIS, THE ROBE, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, BEN-HUR, KING OF KINGS, BARABBAS, and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD – in detail to examine what is similar in their use of music and what is different, how music shaped the epic nature of these films, and how the music in these films was influenced by films in previous periods and how they influenced film music in subsequent decades. “Although music… played a disproportionately large role in these films, there is by no means a unitary biblical epic musical style,” Meyer writes in his introduction. “Mario Nascimbene’s score for BARABBAS (1962) included innovative textural effects that would in many ways presage the more elaborate sound design of subsequent films. Other scores, such as Elmer Bernstein’s for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956), seem more indebted to the techniques of the thirties and forties. And if the scores to the postwar biblical epics contained a wide variety of different styles, so too did the function of music differ greatly from film to film. In some – most notably QUO VADIS - music helped to create an aura of historical authenticity… whereas this idea played little or no role in other films under consideration here. More generally (and most obviously), music contributed to the grandeur and ‘epicness’ that was so central to the genre.”

In addition to evaluating these films’ musical components internally – as elements of the art and craft of moviemaking – the author also examines the role in which the music in these films (and the films themselves) reflected American culture and national state of mind, particularly in the placement of these films in the era between World War II and the emerging Cold War. “Perhaps the epic emerges precisely in those periods in which Americans are more profoundly questioning their sense of destiny and their country’s role in world history,” Meyer writes. “The postwar period was just such a time, as are, perhaps, the times in which we now live.”

The succeeding chapters examine this thesis and explores the use of music in each of the aforementioned films in great detail, including musical notation (for those who read music), before revisiting his original objective in relating the scores and their films to the eras in which they were made and shared with audiences. “The epic sounds of postwar Hollywood biblical films are worthy of reevaluation, not simply because their intrinsic beauty and complexity makes them monuments of the art of film scoring, but also because of the ways in which they amplified and resonated with the cultural energies of a pivotal period in American history.”  Even if Meyer’s cultural associative element isn’t of particular interest, his research and analysis of the use of music in each of the individual films makes this book a valuable assessment of film scoring in this unique genre of cinema.


Games Music News

Award-winning composer Tim Wynn returns to the sci-fi genre to score a new alien threat in XCOM® 2, the sequel to the award-winning strategy game from Firaxis Games and 2K. The original soundtrack is available with the XCOM 2 Digital Deluxe Edition and has also been released via iTunes. XCOM 2 transports players into the future, where humanity lost the war against the alien invaders and a new world order now exists on Earth. After years of lurking in the shadows, the remnants of the secret paramilitary organization known as XCOM must build a global resistance to eliminate the alien occupation and save the human race. Wynn’s score resumes the legacy sound of the reboot and expands the franchise’s sonic palette with emotional orchestral themes and synth-driven sci-fi ambience now defined by the epic fight to take back the planet. XCOM 2 marks Tim Wynn's second outing in the XCOM universe having also written music for XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Wynn's other work includes the long-running hit TV series SUPERNATURAL as well as video games in the Command & Conquer and Total War series, Marvel's The Punisher, and The Darkness II, another 2K title that was based on the best-selling comics from Top Cow. 

Two-time BAFTA winning composer Jason Graves has been announced as the composer of the original game soundtrack for the next chapter in the award-winning Far Cry® franchise, Far Cry® Primal. Graves is renowned for his textural concept scores and cinematic orchestration on AAA titles such as Until Dawn, The Order: 1886, Evolve, Tomb Raider and Dead Space. As a classically-trained composer and world percussionist, Graves created an entirely live organic score for Far Cry® Primal, blending a diverse array of sounds from the natural environment and incorporating many animal effects into the score. The evocative soundtrack features a unique set of textures representing each of the tribes that players will encounter, including a ram's horn and solo flute (Wenja); Aztec death whistles, female vocals, ritualistic percussion (Izilia); raw sounds from Far Cry's Stone Age natural environment including bushes, bones, antlers, clay pots, wooden artifacts and male vocals (Udam). Crafted together the sounds bring the rich and primal gameplay alive to players challenged to survive in a hostile environment and rise to become the apex predator. The soundtrack will be available worldwide when the game launches on February 23. 
The first track "The Heart of Oros" is available now on YouTube: 

Kaveh Cohen and Michael Nielsen have composed the score for Forza Motorsport 6, a  comprehensive racing game in which players collect, customize, and race over 450 Forzavista™ cars, all with working cockpits, opening doors, and full damage as they compete in epic 24-player races across 26 world-famous locales. Master wet weather and night racing on your road to victory. More information about the Forza Motorsport franchise is available at


Randall D. Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine. A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema and Music from the House of Hammer. He currently writes articles on film music and sf/horror cinema, and has written liner notes for nearly 300 soundtrack CDs. A wholly re-written and expanded multi-book Second Edition of Musique Fantastique is being published:) the first book is now available from Creature Features and Book 2 coming up next Spring/Summer from Midnight Marquee Press. See:

Special thanks to Benjamin Michael Joffe for copy editing assistance.

© 2016 - the Soundtrax column is copyright by Randall D. Larson; all rights reserved.

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