Special Edition: Scoring the Modern Documentary Film
By Randall D. Larson
Jeff Beal – THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM and others
Harry Gregson-Williams – PENGUINS [also CATCH 22]
Drum & Lace and Ian Hultquist – AT THE HEART OF GOLD and others
Alexander Bornstein: FIRST TO THE MOON
• SNAPSHOTS: Soundtrack Reviews:
CLOWNFACE (Hans Hess/Hess)
ENEMY WITHIN (Desai/Notefornote)
RORY’S WAY (Ilfman/MovieScore Media)
SHAFT (1971; Hayes/Craft-Varèse Sarabande)
SHAFT (2019; Lennertz/WaterTower)
SOLIS (Hamilton/MovieScore Media & Perseverance)
• Soundtrack, Vinyl, Book & Game Music News
The Biggest Little Farm (2019) tells the story of documentary filmmaker John Chester and his wife Molly, who face the challenges and rewards of developing a sustainable farm on 200 acres outside of Los Angeles.
Q: How did you get involved with THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM, and how did you work with John Chester on formulating the kind of music it needed?
Jeff Beal: When I heard about this film I must admit I was skeptical. A documentary about a farm? Who’s going to watch that? But after producer Sandra Keats sent me the movie I was blown away. Even though it’s this personal story about John and his wife Molly taking over these 200 acres, the eight years through which they documented what happened to them and all the stories on this farm and the way they told it had this universal and moving arc to it. It really becomes about the cycle of life, and it’s also very much a love song to the Earth. It reminds you how beautiful the natural world is and of course by living in the modern world we’re so disconnected from basic things like where our food comes from. I found it very moving and very powerful on that level. It relates to BLACKFISH in some ways in the sense that some of the real stars in the movies are animals; there’s a wonderful female pig, Emma, who just steals the whole movie because she’s such a great character and what happens to her is so meaningful. John and Molly’s dog is also a major character. On one level it’s like a charming family movie like CHARLOTTE’S WEB or something, and on a whole other level for adults it’s got these much more metaphysical emotional underpinnings to it, which I found very fascinating.
Listen to the Track “Emma” from THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM soundtrack:
Q: I think an interesting thing about THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM is that the documentarian is not only the filmmaker but he’s the example of creating that kind of sustainable farm, narrating along with his wife, the story of this farm.
Jeff Beal: For John, it’s an intensely personal film, and that was one of the things I took to heart when I was doing it. Often when you’re doing a documentary you have this sense of “ok, I’ve got to really respect this story because this is not fiction, it’s really happened” – and that’s even more so when it’s autobiographical as this is. I think that’s a credit to John that he manages to do it with such a light touch that it’s really very humble and very approachable. He’s not afraid to document his failures, which makes it such a great story, because this was not a cakewalk for them at all. It’s the beauty of being young and having this dream but not realizing how difficult it might be and not giving up on that, I think it’s really beautiful on that end. Also the fact that they were able to get so many people to partner with them and help them in this journey makes it really meaningful.
It’s also a very non-cynical movie – it’s probably one of the most un-cynical things I’ve ever worked on! I think that’s very refreshing. When you put it into context of what the world feels like now in the news cycle and politics and everything, it’s emotionally a breath of fresh air, which I think it a wonderful way to spend two hours and just escape from all that!
Listen to the track “First Breakthrough” from THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM:
Q: How would you describe your music?
Jeff Beal: It’s primarily a real celebration of what I would call my rural palette—the things that make these stories, when they take place in America, are really special. It’s the Copland/POLLOCK sound a little bit, which is something I developed quite a long time ago and reached back to for this. But I’ve never done what I would call a country score, per se – I did GCB for one season for ABC and I got to do a little bit of that. But here I really enjoyed also using some of the rural colors: the banjo, the Dobro, washboard percussion, a bit of accordion. So that gave an eclectic, hand-made type of feeling to part of the score. There’s also an electric palette which represents the more mythical or dreamy elements of nature, but the heart of the score is this orchestral sound. I felt from the get-go that, even though it was a small personal story, the emotions are big, and also the cinematography could sustain that approach. Some of the nature photography has this really beautiful, almost PLANET EARTH kind of intensely gorgeous imagery of the farm, both on the macro and micro level, so I felt it visually could sustain this very lyrical, romantic orchestral sound.
THE BIGGEST LTTLE FARM soundtrack is available on CD and digitally from Lakeshore records. Watch the official trailer from THE BIGGEST LTTLE FARM:
Q: You’ve also performed THE BIGGEST LTTLE FARM score live-to-picture in concert recently.
Jeff Beal: Yes, I did the first concert version of it in Rochester, New York, which was really a treat. I’ve done this a lot with documentaries, which has been fun, I did it with BOSTON, I did it with BLACKFISH several years ago in Los Angeles, and this one is number three, so it’s become a pet project of mine. I think it’s an interesting answer to the big spectacles that are making their way through the concert hall, which of course are mostly the bigger Hollywood films, which obviously make wonderful events in concerts, but I am finding some of these documentaries tend to be really great vehicles for live performance as well. They often have a lot of music, much like a bigger Hollywood movie—I think THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM has over 75 minutes of music—so they feel like they’re justified in terms of that, and also the emotional weight of these films can often justify that added energy you get from a live performance.
Q: These concerts – both the live-to-film performances and live concert presentations – are allowing film music to be recognized and stand along with the great classical concerts. Being able to do this with HOUSE OF CARDS and the documentaries you’ve mentioned, what are your feelings of the rise of that kind of a public performance and how you’ve adapted something for a concert stage from a film presentation?
Jeff Beal: There are some technical presentation elements that we, as film composers, need to be mindful of when we do these types of presentations. One is making sure that the music is presented and orchestrated in such a way that justifies being on the stage. Most really good films and film scores do that pretty easily, but you have to put in the work. The other thing that is really significant about it is, yes, it’s finally making film music appreciated and recognized, when it’s really good, as something that is worthy of being listened to in a concert hall. It’s really a necessary evolution for the concert stage. An outgrowth of this is that, certainly myself and many other composers are also now writing pure concert music, which is just a further extension of that. It’s breaking down these walls between high- and low-art, which I believe are not put up for any artistic reason, and the more we can tear those down and simply have the quality of the work be the arbiter of it, the better off we’ll be. And I also think it’s really great for symphony orchestras. A lot of these film music concerts are sort of musical “gateway drugs” for young people, or anybody who’s never really experienced the power of an orchestra in a room. It’s phenomenal, enthralling, and immersive. There’s nothing more immersive than sitting in a concert hall in front of a full orchestra, and seeing a movie at the same time. That’s just thrilling! It’s ironic, historically, because in the days before we had sound for cinemas, in the bigger cities you would very often have a full orchestra playing alongside the silent movies. So we’re re-discovering something that we lost in the age of technology. This is also resonating culturally; with our fascination with screens and the way in which technology wants to connect us but also disconnects us into our little silos of your relationship to a device, concerts are these communal events that we have with each other, much like a theatrical screening. These events are a way for us socially to rediscover the power of those and the human needs that are filled by those.
Q: Like many of the documentaries you’ve done, AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL is a film with a specific meaning. It’s not simply historical; it’s about something that matters. How did you work with Al Gore and the directors on this project?
Jeff Beal: I didn’t work with Al Gore directly on the movie – that isn’t to say he wasn’t involved hands on, except in terms of music. The collaboration really happened between Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, who were the co-directors, and who are just wonderful people. But one of the real joys was, as you said, working on something where somebody has a real investment, personally, in the material, via Al Gore. I saw him at Sundance and then I got to meet him at our proper theatrical premiere, and by that time he’d been at twenty or thirty festivals, and it was so meaningful. He told me “Boy, I’ve listened to this music over and over again and I just feel like it’s so connected to the story and so appropriate,” and of course that meant a lot to me because his passion for this subject is so infectious. That was especially so in the second movie, which is much less the PowerPoint and the important science as it is the more personal side of Al’s activism, culminating in the ratification of the Paris Climate Accord (which two months later was left by our new President, which was bittersweet; we were actually rushing to update the ending of the movie slightly when this happened). One of my favorite scenes in the movie was a short scene where Al shows a picture that he kept in his office when he was in the White House; it was one of the first NASA photographs taken by the Apollo of the Earth, and he just thought that was an amazing image and an amazing point of view, seeing our planet in a completely different way.
Listen to the track “Two Feet at a Time” from AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL:
Q: Your score for BOSTON was an interesting overview of the history of the Boston Marathon which, of course, has its own place in critical history due to the bombing that makes it perhaps a little more personal than a simple history of this event.
Jeff Beal: I’d say that music was, yeah, a combination of the sweeping historical point of view but also the more personal story because the framing device in wake of the bombing really was the race that immediately followed that horrible event. So it’s the city coming back and choosing to not be deterred by terrorists and come out and celebrate as a community, which they’ve always done for more than a hundred years [the marathon began in 1897]. The real story for me, musically, began and ended with this idea we had to work with the Boston Symphony, which seemed like a crazy idea from the beginning but it’s something that nobody ever said “no” to, and we just managed to make happened. A bunch of people helped but really I’ll never forget recording that score on the stage of Symphony Hall in Boston with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was an amazing day and it actually extended into the theatrical premiere when we premiered the score live in Boston with the Boston Pops.
But to answer your question more specifically about the music, obviously I wanted to write for that orchestra, I wanted them to be a part of the score, so I wrote a very symphonic type of a score. It’s unabashedly American but it’s also global in a sense since a lot of the stories go away from Boston, they go to Greece, they go to Japan, they go to other places in the world. The social aspects were some of the most fascinating, in the sense that we had these real heroes, like the first women who ran in the race, which was a really fascinating part of the history.
This is actually the third film about marathons I’ve done with the director; we did two others before that; and there’s something about the marathon… It is by nature this big operatically scaled event; you’ve got thousands of people participating in this thing, so there’s this epic size, especially when filmed. They’re big visually, they’re big in terms of the amount of people, and they also have an emotional size to them. They’re emotionally extreme in the sense that physically what anybody does to run 26.2 miles is by definition an impractical and very intense act of self-perseverance. It’s fascinating when you see that in the emotions of both the professional, elite runners and even probably more in the faces and bodies of those who are not professional runners, just how meaningful it is to them. One of the reasons we watch movies is to be inspired, to be challenged. I feel this way about THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM, emotionally. It’s definitely a golden age for this type of filmmaking, because the stories that people are telling through documentaries in many ways are so emotionally resonant, I find myself as moved—or often more moved—than some of the stories I find in a fictional feature film.
Listen to the “End Title” from BOSTON:
Q: Looking back at the documentaries that have been over the last few decades, there’s so much of an opportunity to create emotion, especially if it’s about a sensitive subject like BOSTON or like BLACKFISH and certainly the story of THE BIG LITTLE FARM. What’s your take on that, as far as documentaries have gone in the last few decades and what kind of music that you’re able to do now that maybe you weren’t in year’s past?
Jeff Beal: Yeah, to be honest with you, I think it’s been this very interesting sort of dance between the filmmakers and the audiences that have gone to see these films. I think people like Michael Moore are great examples of filmmakers who have moved the needle in terms of making documentaries really popular events, cinematically, but also his style from the get-go always made pretty big cinematic use of music. He’s not afraid to take those big gestures, and I think his films actually emboldened a lot of people to rethink music in documentaries. Filmmakers are also getting more confident in their process. But the thing that’s most meaningful about docs is they always have a good story. You never have a lot of money to make a documentary, which very rarely happens. Occasionally they may be a really big budget one, but any documentary that rises to the top and gets these slots at Sundance and theatrical distribution is inevitably going to have an amazing story behind it that’s well-told, because if you don’t have that you don’t have anything! You don’t have CGI, you don’t have special effects, the footage you have can really be wonderful and beautiful, but it’s often a combination of some very beautiful footage and some much more vérité style visuals. So it’s really the wonderful stories that end up being made into documentaries, and those films can really sustain an involved score, which supports that level of storytelling.
Q: You were part of the SYMPHONY OF HOPE documentary, which 25 composers came together to write a collaborative piece of music in honor and in support of the people of Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. What was that like for you?
Jeff Beal: I loved doing that, I love Chris Lennertz, and I loved the spirit of what we did. I think the real fun of that whole project was just seeing how everybody’s compositional voice enhanced the final result, although all of the people involved in that had some thematic elements to work from [the symphony was based on a traditional Haitian folk tune]. I’m reminded of another film that I made a small contribution to, which was this Sandy Hook documentary that came out a couple years ago [THE BLEEDING EDGE]. That was a wonderful idea to have several of us partner on the score, and so we did that collectively. There’s inherently a community feeling about documentaries, there’s a sense of mission people have when they’re making documentaries, so to extend that to the artistic side of composers working together I think just made it that much more meaningful.
Watch the background trailer for Symphony of Hope at youtube here. Watch a segment of the Symphony of Hope premiere concert below, performed by a 70-member orchestra and 40-member choir in Los Angeles. Symphony of Hope: The Haiti Project is an original concerto, conceived and spearheaded by Christopher Lennertz and composed by 25 Oscar, Tony, Grammy, and Emmy award-winning composers.
Q: How was it working with Oliver Stone on THE PUTIN INTERVIEWS?
Jeff Beal: That was really fascinating. I think every composer has a few directors they really admire and is in their bucket list of filmmakers, and certainly Oliver was one of those on my list. I’m pretty sure at some point having HOUSE OF CARDS in my resume was part of what got me in the door there, and I remember meeting with Oliver and talking about the film. After I had seen the film I sent him some more music, some of which he put into his temp track and I think based on that, actually, I got the job. Oliver and I really hit it off; I think we have a similar sort of passion for story. I’ve always loved Russian music; I love its style, so this was a chance to dive into that canon a little bit. This was a more interesting film, tonally and emotionally, in the sense that you had a narrator who was at the same time fascinating but by definition probably unreliable some of the time, so I wanted to make the film feel like an exploration but not always tell the audience how to come down. I wanted to leave room in the score for a certain amount of ambiguity, which I thought was useful. That was the general approach. This was more of a talking head film in the sense that it was really Oliver interviewing Vladimir Putin. I think one of the things that made that film work was Oliver’s sense of fun that he had, just because of his improvisational nature; he was almost like a Columbo where he was able to be chummy enough with this guy that he was allowed in all these amazing places, like when Putin just casually invites him into the Situation Room at the Kremlin, which is a place we’ve never seen before. So there were just some sort of absurd but very fascinating aspects of that which I just felt like a fly on the wall.
Listen to the Main Title from THE PUTIN INTERVIEWS:
Q: Another one you did last year which seems very topical these days is GENERATION WEALTH by Lauren Greenfield.
Jeff Beal: This was my second film with Lauren. I loved working with her on QUEEN OF VERSAILLES. The other film I did last year, THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING, about the art world, had a similar theme. I think it’s probably a reflection of who’s in the White House, but I think this whole idea of affluence, especially the way it has been supersized in America and also exported around the world, is something that Lauren was just a master storyteller with in GENERATION WEALTH. It’s not just about the 1%, it’s more about the values of the ultra-rich that have unfortunately filtered down into everybody’s consciousness because we can see it all. We can see it on Instagram and on Keeping up with the Kardashians. It used to be keeping up with your next door neighbors – now it’s like everybody’s aspirations are completely insane. So it is a tough film. It’s hard to face these realities, but I felt like it was an intensely personal film because it was really also the story about Lauren Greenfield the photographer. There was some wonderful self-examination that she brought to her own story which I think really deepens the meaning and the resonance of the film. She brings her own family into the film as characters and examines not only what she’s observed but her own life, growing up in an affluent part of Los Angeles in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Q: Another interesting film which also talked about some current concerns was THE BLEEDING EDGE, about advanced medical technology.
Jeff Beal: I’ve always been a fan of Kirby Dick’s movies, and I think Kirby reached out to me for this one particularly because there was this sort of dark political element to this film. It’s about the medical device industry and the way this big corporate giant has been able to cooperate with the FDA, which unfortunately often has been very ineffective at regulating these devices. So there was the political element, but what I think was the strong part of that film was these personal stories that they told; there’s four or five main characters that have issues with medical devices. I’m kind of known as a composer who uses traditional instrumentation a lot; I love orchestral sounds and the organic approach, but because of the subject matter—there’s a celebration, almost an obsession celebration, of progress and technology in this film—so as a result there was a pretty big electronic component in the score, which I really enjoyed doing just because it’s something that I don’t get to do as much in other projects. So that was really a fun journey as I’m trying to figure out how to use the electronic palette as a way of telling the story and creating music out of those instruments.
Q: Another film you did last year which isn’t technically a documentary but more of a biographical drama, was BIGGER, the story of Joe and Ben Weider, known as the grandfathers of fitness.
Jeff Beal: I love historical dramas. It was funny because the director had actually temped in some of my cues from POLLOCK, which is something I did a long time ago, but it definitely relates to that type of film in that you are telling the story of real people. I love those kinds of films because they almost do feel like documentaries; you can suspend disbelief when you want to go along with the story, there is a bit of a gravitas because you know these people really existed. George Gallo is a wonderful director and has a pleasing visual sense. I’m really happy with it, even though the film didn’t have a long theatrical life. It’s coming to HBO soon, I believe. There was a personal side to the relationship of the two brothers, which I feel really grounded the film; the friendship of these two brothers and how they came from a very improbable place – two Jewish kids from Canada who came from a very intensely dysfunctional home via the mental health of their mom, so they had some built-in obstacles and a dream. I loved the fact that they never gave up on this dream. They were actually quite revolutionary… obviously we celebrate the visually fun world of body building but also Joe Weider was very ahead of his time in that he was very interested in health, fitness, and nutrition. And when you think of the decades when they were doing this, back in the ‘50s when everybody had a cigarette in their mouths and didn’t really think about nutrition and those sorts of things, he was very much ahead of his time.
Q: What kind of music did this take on being a historical drama versus a strict documentary presentation?
Jeff Beal: There’s a lot more of what I would call movie music in this score. It had this patina of a historical film that reminded me a lot of Brian de Palma’s film THE UNTOUCHABLES, and a lot of it took place in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and then into the ‘60s. Some of it had almost this Ennio Morricone jazzy sort of palette. Rather late in the film there was also some of the POLLOCK kind of Americana energy. Quite late in the process, George Gallo felt like he wanted a bigger overture for the main title, so he actually described to me: “we need a ROCKY theme!” So close to the end of composing the score he gave me this two-minute main title sequence with a montage and it was obviously going to be all driven by music, so that was especially fun because I got to write a big fanfare type of overture main title. I’ve actually done this one in concert a few times, so it’s sort of a curtain raiser. You rarely hear that kind of grand fanfare, it’s more like what you’d hear in a superhero movie or a sci-fi opera.
Listen to Jeff Beal’s main title theme from BIGGER:
Special thanks to Ray Costa and Lana Lay of Costa Communications.
Related story: Read my 2013 interview with Jeff Beal about BLACKFISH and many of his TV scores in my January 2014 column.
PENGUINS (2019): A coming-of-age story about an Adélie penguin named Steve who joins millions of fellow males in the icy Antarctic spring on a quest to build a suitable nest, find a life partner and start a family.
Q: This is your second Disneynature score, following MONKEY KINGDOM. How did you first become involved in scoring these films for Disney?
Harry Gregson-Williams: I’ve done different films over the years for Disney. When I got off the slow boat from England in 1995, one of the first things I did with Hans Zimmer was MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND and THE ROCK, ARMAGEDDON, ENEMY OF THE STATE [Buena Vista distribution] I like working for Disney, they’re really respectful towards the craft and they’ve always treated music in high regard, and allowed me to record different sized orchestras and the rest of it. So when they suggested I do MONKEY KINGDOM four or five years ago I was really happy about that, having never done a nature documentary. MONKEY KINGDOM was great fun and I was thrilled to be asked back for the PENGUIN ride! And in looking to the future I’m hoping to do more for them, because there’s nothing not to like about penguins, for goodness sake! They’re adorable animals, everybody loves a penguin. And in terms of scoring a film like PENGUINS, one doesn’t have too much to contend with apart from a single voice – a narrator – and then the beautiful images. Also since Penguins don’t speak I haven’t got to duck and dive around their dialogue like I would have to on the film I’m doing right now, which is MULAN. But the ducking and diving is all part of the joy of the thing! But the music’s got to do some heavy lifting on PENGUINS, as well, and it’s got to be very colorful. Alastair Fothergill, who’s a very experienced director at these things, and Jeff Wilson, the co-director, they came to my studio for the first time, about 18 months ago now. I spent a long time working on PENGUINS, and they pointed out that penguins don’t smile. They can’t. They don’t have the muscles for it in their cheeks. Because they don’t, the music’s doing a lot of the smiling for them. The music will have to be very colorful, at times playful, at times tense, and you know the photography is so beautiful the music’s going to be in awe of that.
Q: Now this is a documentary film, although in Disney “True Life Adventure” fashion it also tells a kind of a story, following the adventures of a particular penguin named Steve. Did the anthropomorphic storytelling style of the film affect how you would score it?
Harry Gregson-Williams: At heart this is a story, as you said, is about a particular penguin and his journey through finding a mate, having little chicks, and them growing up and hoping they’re not coming to a sticky end, because there are predators out there. So we could be talking about, I don’t know, turn back to MULAN. MULAN’s the story of a girl and her empowerment and trying to honor her family and, quite honestly, when one’s scoring a movie it doesn’t really matter whether you’re looking at chickens, ants, penguins, or Brad Pitt and Robert Redford in SPY GAME. The music is trying to get to the heart of the story and help hone that narrative, so whether one talks about penguins or humans, the same kind of rules apply.
Q: I think that allows you the chance to write more emotive music than, say, a documentary with historical footage and talking heads.
Harry Gregson-Williams: Yeah, exactly. We actually tried to cheer it up a little bit like that. The very first thing you hear in PENGUINS, and the first things you see, are some beautiful majestic pictures of Antarctica, and then the narrator quite pompously saying “Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, most forbidding place on the planet.” And the music is swelling with French horns and trombones pretty much like any wildlife documentary would, and you think “oh, I see, this is what the film is.” But within a heartbeat we’re out of that, we meet Steve and we realize we’re in a completely different story, one of these ‘80s songs starts up, and immediately one’s thrown into a different world. I think that’s what’s fun about this is it’s not your average wildlife documentary, although there are some educational aspects to it. You learn a lot about these Adelies.
Q: What inspired the whistled main theme for the penguins?
Harry Gregson-Williams [chuckles]: Given the fact, as I mentioned, that penguins don’t smile, musically we had to do a lot of the smiling. I translated that as having to arrange the music in as colorful and playful a way as possible. One of the first things I wrote was the Penguin March, which is heard right after that opening title that I talked about with that stock footage of Antarctica. We meet Steve and then we meet the colony of penguins that are all trekking across the ice. And there’s very little being said by the narrator, so what we need to feel is a certain community, a bit of happiness, an understanding that these little guys are going to be up to some mischief, and it’s going to be a fun ride. So I decided that a march would probably be the best thing, and rather than orchestrate it in a regular marching band sort of way, once I’d written my theme I thought instead of having a bunch of violins picking out the tune, or a flute or something over the top, let’s have the choir whistling! Actually that caused a bit of merriment when I got to London’s Abbey Road to record the score. One of the days was set aside for a choir, and I needed quite a lot of singing on this score, but when they all arrived at the studio and opened the music to see the direction was to whistle, not sing, there were some rather raised eyebrows! So the whistling was an added, fun color; in that same march we had an upright bass, a saxophone quartet grunting away at the bottom, an orchestra at the heart of it, some ukuleles flailing away in the background, and that was the fun about this thing. If Disneynature were to do a film about elephants, set in Africa, it’s going to have some African instruments in the score, right? You and I will be able to recognize certain African stuff. Antarctica? What does that sound like? There’s no cultural thing to reference there. So I was able to use musical influences from any part of the world or the planet and let them be.
Harry Gregson-Williams’ PENGUINS soundtrack has been released digitally by Walt Disney Records. Listen to “Penguin March” below:
Q: And on the other side of the scale you’ve got these very dramatic, almost scary tonalities for the sea lions, which are the predators of the penguins…
Harry Gregson-Williams: I think it’s very important to have a bit of contrast in a film like this – or any film or story. Life isn’t all a picnic for these penguins. They are a natural feast for several predators on the ice. The most awe-inspiring and ferocious are these huge, gigantic sea lions that take advantage of the fact that the ice begins to break up when spring turns to summer, leaving holes where the sea lions can actually surface for a moment and grab a penguin. So the music has to be pretty alarming there. But we didn’t want to go too dark, we didn’t want to scare the children. I think maybe my first pass at this sequence, which happens towards the end of the film, was a shade too dark, and for a moment I thought you might begin thinking you were in an ALIEN movie! Actually if you take a look at the sea lion, the first time this particular sea lion surfaces through the broken up ice, with its slimy head and mouthful of great teeth, it didn’t look unlike Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, that has to be said! There was something really otherworldly about that creature. So, musically, I didn’t have to push that too far because what was scary enough was staring at you right on the screen. Often music wants to amplify what’s on screen – or perhaps what’s not on the screen – and had these filmmakers not been able to capture the terror that these penguins actually do have from their predators, perhaps I would have had to work a bit harder with the music to make the audience feel the alarm there, but I really didn’t have to. Those animals are pretty alarming as they are!
Q: What was your thematic treatment for this score, and where you needed to use recurring themes or motifs, versus those places where you needed more of a standalone piece of music?
Harry Gregson-Williams: It’s definitely very thematic. Steve had his own theme, and there are echoes of Gershwyn in there somewhat. Now you might think: Gershwyn? New York? Why? Well, Steve lives in this big colony, he’s a busy little guy, he’s always running around getting lost, he’s always late for things, and I took some inspiration for that Gershwyn big-city thing. So he has his thematic material. The lady penguin that Steve meets, Adele, that thematic material tends to be quite easy to do. I decided to put it in a 3/4 time signature as opposed to 4/4, so the march of the penguins was definitely a march and a march is absolutely 4/4, it goes one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four. The lady penguins of this colony we gave them a theme that was in 3/4, which is kind of like a waltz and, in a certain respect, a waltz can seem quite feminine in a way, and it was light, and it was a contrast to the march. Then, apart from that, the predators have a motif as well. The sea lions weren’t the only predators, there are some very nasty birds that come and steal young penguins, also killer whales show up at one stage. And also, quite importantly, the directors wanted me to have a really solid theme that could occur four times in the movie and would represent the changes of the seasons. So we had the four seasons there – with apologies to Vivaldi! – and actually it was a lovely thought they had that I should do that, because the season changing is hugely important to a penguin. Come winter they’ve got to be in a certain place, battening down the hatches, because that is one heck of a winter they get there, and similarly as spring turns to summer, as we’ve already established, when the ice breaks up. So, yeah, I think it’s a quite thematic and tuneful score.
Q: How did it happen that you and your brother Rupert decided to collaborate for the first time on Hulu’s CATCH-22 mini-series?
Harry Gregson-Williams: We’d been thinking about collaborating for a long time, when your baby brother – I’m one of five kids, and he’s the fifth, what can I say? – is in the same line of business! We’ve often made music together as kids and as teenagers, but since we’ve both been scoring films in Hollywood we’ve had our heads down trying to get our own work done. I don’t know whether it was the moons aligned with CATCH-22, because as you know the film is directed and produced by two people, not just one, Grant Heslov and George Clooney, so that directing monster had two heads and the composing monster had two heads! It worked out really well. We felt very privileged to be working with George and Grant. They’re really enthusiastic about music, and when we first saw the first two episodes of this thing we were really into it.
From a musical standpoint, Rupert’s got some decent jazz chops on him, and always has—he used to play piano in a local bar when we were teenagers, and he was the one who would jazz it out, not me! And actually some of the score for CATCH-22 needed to have echoes of the period, and as you know it’s set in the 1940s. We started by writing the series main theme together—and we sat down at the piano in my studio just like we had done many times as kids and hammered out a theme. We played it for George and Grant, and they were onboard immediately. The key then was to find how we can use this thematic material in a number of different ways. CATCH-22 is unusual in that story is quite ludicrous and funny; there’s a lot of humor but at some points it’s horrific. It’s the tragedy of war, and these young boys losing their lives just so easily. At some point Yossarian, the lead character, goes crazy; he starts out a pretty jolly bloke but he ends up losing his mind pretty quick. And so the theme that we banged out on the piano to begin with had to be quite malleable. We had to be able to send it ‘round the houses, as it were, musically. And that was great fun to do.
Q: How did you work together on this score? I know you’re based in L.A., but doesn’t Rupert live in England?
Harry Gregson-Williams: When he’s involved in a film he has a studio over here; he’s actually over here a lot. We spent a lot of time together doing this, and it was about time we did! When we finished this, I sent a proper message to a really good friend of mine, Mychael Danna, who’s won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Grammy, and God knows what for LIFE OF PI. So I sent him a message saying “the Gregson-Williamses are coming for you, Danna!” since he works a lot with his brother, Jeff, who is also a composer, and they think they’ve got a monopoly on that. Now they’ve got to think again! I don’t know the Newmans well enough to be able to write them a note.
Q: When you were writing the score did you share composition of cues or did you each work on your own cues?
Harry Gregson-Williams: We shared everything. Obviously being two people we have two different studios, but during the course of scoring this we really did work together. We spent a lot of time in each other’s studio. If I’d written something I’d toss it to him on a thumb drive and go over to his studio, which is just a couple of miles from mine in Santa Monica. There’s was a bit of sibling rivalry going on with it, but I think it was very healthy, because composers are a lonely sort. I’ve spent a lot of time in a darkened room alone, and I actually love collaborating. I’d collaborated with some pretty fantastic people, when I think about it – Hans Zimmer, Trevor Rabin, John Powell, and now Rupert Gregson-Williams. It’s great fun, collaborating—you’ve got to leave your ego at the door and it’s all got to be for the good of the film, which it would be anyhow.
Q: The 6-episode series certainly gave you a lot of opportunities to score for humor, battle, horrendous tragedy, romance…. How did you map out what the arc of the score needed to be across those six episodes?
Harry Gregson-Williams: When we were starting out—and we would not necessary do this when scoring a film or a TV series—but we actually thought it smartest to start right at the beginning of the first episode, which, if you’ve seen the thing, what’s happening at the very beginning of the first episode is actually something that happens right at the end of the last episode. We see Yossarian, having lost his marbles, walking naked with blood all over him, across an airstrip, and then we cut to the beginning of the story. I think George and Grant did a great job with that, because that allowed us to set up our thematic material there and know where we had to travel to. So we started at the beginning and worked our way through.
Q: The series also uses a lot of actual and what I presume is newly-composed music of the period. How was it determined where licensed or public domain songs, versus your & Rupert’s own compositions, will be used, and where score should be used?
Harry Gregson-Williams: When we came to the project, George had licensed a lot of needle-drops, as we’ll call them– period pieces like Glenn Miller. I think we all thought that they would probably stay as they were, and our score would surf around them, but the deeper we went into the music, George would say, “You know? Let’s drop this period piece and you boys go in and try something yourselves.” So we actually replaced a lot of these things with original score. But, as you say, there’s a significant amount of period music, which was important to ground the series in the reality of the 1940s. We did a couple sessions with a small Big Band, if I can call it that—as opposed to a big Big Band—and we enjoyed arranging the theme that we’d written for the very first cue of the very first episode, which was not at all a period piece, it was a very internal piece reflecting Yossarian’s state of mind. But we had great fun sort of pouring that into a bowl and mixing it up with 1940s instruments and that vibe!
The Gregson-Williamses’ digital soundtrack to CATCH-22 has been released by Lakeshore records and is available. Listen to the track, “John Yossarian,” below:
Q: You’ll be joining Disney again with the live-action MULAN. If it’s not too soon, can you tell me anything about where this score will be going and what you’ll have in mind, musically, for the character and the period?
Harry Gregson-Williams: I can tell you it’s been going East! This movie is set in ancient China, and there are going to be songs in it as well as my score. It’s a beautifully shot movie, we’re still half-way finished but I’m having an incredible gratifying time writing music for it. The director [Niki Caro] is someone I had very happy experience with on a film we did together a few years ago, THE ZOO KEEPER’S WIFE, and the girl who plays Mulan is absolutely wonderful; luminous, brilliant, and beautiful. The footage looks incredible, and very respectful to the original. I’m just in the early stages of writing thematic material for that. It’s all in front of me, and I’ll be scoring that in London at Abbey Road Studios in September.
Watch the teaser-trailer for MULAN:
Special thanks to Jeff Sanderson of Chasen & Company PR for facilitating this interview.
At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal (2019): In 2016, USA Gymnastics was rocked by the revelation that national team doctor Larry Nassar had been abusing young athletes for decades. Tribeca alum Erin Lee Carr's unflinching documentary unpacks the scandal, its cover-up, and aftermath, while giving voice to the survivors. Ian and Sofia [aka Drum & Lace] Hultquist composed the score with sensitivity and honesty.
Q: The two of you have collaborated on numerous occasions and you’ve both scored films independently. How would you describe your musical approach or technique when coming into a new film to score? Sofia?
Drum & Lace: Working together was a bit harder at the beginning, just to get into the right groove just because we do work differently. But I feel like now that we’ve got that down, and it’s actually been great the times we’ve been able to do it, because we can both bring the best of what we have to offer. We do have different voices so that it is nice to be able to work on our own things. I spend a lot more time exploring and thinking whereas when you work together there tends to be this kind of “ok we have to make this work” so you’re more convinced of what you’re bringing to the table. Also, there’s some instant feedback with the other person you’re collaborating with, so it’s a more dynamic situation where you both go in and you go like, “Ok what do you think about this?” rather than being like “Oh, I wonder how this would work…” when you’re working on your own.
Q: Ian what’s your perspective on that same question?
Ian Hultquist: It’s pretty similar, to be honest. I feel like every time we start a co-scoring project together, there’s always that first week or so where, 1) you’re trying to figure out the language of the project you’re working on, and then, 2) you’re also getting comfortable with how two composers are going to work on the same project together. I know other composers who do this and trade off cues or scenes. We actually do everything sitting next to each other at the keyboard, so it’s completely 50/50 and neither of us writes anything without the other’s input. So I feel like it’s a pretty intense process. And then, compared to when I’m on my own, it’s just me by myself trying to get through things quickly and efficiently and making sure everyone’s happy. Sometimes it’s fun having another voice in the room. It kind of gets you out of your head.
Q: Sofia: how did you come to use the name Drum & Lace? I love that name, by the way – it’s very evocative.
Drum & Lace: Thanks! When I decided to go at composing on my own, I was trying to think of something that could immediately bring a sense of what kind of music I usually make, which tends to be more electronic. I’m a big fan of drum and bass music from the ‘80s and ’90s, and there was something about the name “Drum & Lace” that had both toughness and softness to it, which I feel, as an artist, reflects me. I do a lot of music with electronics and some of it is aggressive and some isn’t. I guess it’s all about being multifaceted and acknowledging that with a moniker.
Q: How did you become involved in AT THE HEART OF GOLD: INSIDE THE USA GYMNASTICS SCANDAL and what prompted you to collaborate together on this particular score?
Ian Hultquist: I worked with [director] Erin Lee Carr on every project she’s directed, starting in 2015 with THOUGHT CRIMES. Thankfully she keeps bringing me back! When she said that she was going to get started on this project, she actually suggested that Sofia should be involved with it – one, because of the subject matter, and two, because of the voice of the film, and three, just musically she thought it would be fun to bring in a fresh perspective in, instead of just me doing it on my own, which I agreed to right away. It made sense for this film to have multiple musical voices providing the music.
Q: What were your initial considerations on the kind of music this film needed, and how did that develop into the final score we hear in the film today?
Drum & Lace: That definitely took a little bit of exploration. Because of the subject matter, we wanted to make sure not to lean too heavily into it. It’s really easy to be a little bit heavy handed when the subject matter is this damning, to be honest, towards Larry Nassar, so it was a matter of really finding a way to stay respectful for the survivors and making sure not to over-score or under-score their emotions. As we watched the interviews, there were a lot of moments where there was temp score and we suggested “maybe this would work better without music,” because you don’t want to overshadow what they’re saying. But from the very beginning we thought it would be interesting to mix strings and piano just because of the fact that those two tonalities could really work to be like another voice for the survivors to tell the story.
Ian Hultquist: Originally we were talking about bringing in vocals and be a little more synthy and we did a pass with that, but after the first demo or two we decided to keep it more organic and stay a little truer to what’s being said on screen.
Q: Listening to the score, there seems to be almost a menacing tone to a lot of it which seems to underline what these girls are talking about and what is finally revealed in the end. How did that tonality, if I’m correct, come about?
Ian Hultquist: I remember when we were working on it we all felt like Larry Nasser needed a bit of an “evil” theme. Obviously there’s no question to his morality…
Drum & Lace: Or lack thereof.
Ian Hultquist: Yeah. We felt that musically we wanted a kind of “bad-guy theme” so I think that was part of it, and also because he’s not the only bad guy in this. There are so many institutions that are taken down and so many people standing behind those [who were complicit in what he did], so it might have started with him as the focus, but by the time you get to the track “The Fallout” at the end of the movie, you learn about how so many people were being brought down because of this and so many people had been allowing this terrible thing to happen, so the music had to reflect that.
Drum & Lace: Also, dealing with the assault aspect is obviously in everyone’s collective consciousness, like the hardest part, but as they also state in the movie, the recovery, it’s not a thing you can’t just put a bow on and say “Okay, now I’m better.” In a way, we wanted to underscore this lingering sense of dread that people are left with when they go through an experience like this, to try to bring the viewer into a little bit of what it must have felt for them to have gone through this experience. I really think what we were trying to go for, more so than evil, is to make people uncomfortable because, if anything with all of the #MeToo and everything going on, we need to start being more uncomfortable about this. We’ve been seeing a lot of people tweeting and mentioning to us that they were holding their breaths because it was so tense, and I think that’s the takeaway. You want this to be something that people think about because we have to start talking about it, or nothing’s going to change.
Listen to the track “The Fallout” from AT THE HEART OF GOLD: INSIDE THE USA GYMNASTICS SCANDAL:
Q: You mentioned strings and piano. How would you describe your overall instrumental/sonic orchestral/electronic pallet? What were the primary tools that brought the score to life?
Ian Hultquist: We use a lot of Spitfire Audio products. We really love their libraries…
Drum & Lace: Even as placeholders.
Ian Hultquist: Yeah. For this score we actually recorded live strings at Capitol Studios, which were really amazing. But as far as writing it all, everything starts as a VST [Virtual Studio Technology] sample instrument and then it’s just a matter of replacing as much as you possibly can.
Drum & Lace: I think a lot of the drones and the more foreboding things were a mix of either some analog synths, like Prophet 6, Juno 106, and then softsynths, primarily I’d say U-He Diva and Zebras, and then Spitfire for the strings. For some of them we used some stretched- out sounds like at the beginning; the opening montage is actually sounds from the gym – people on the vaults and doing stuff. We’ve sewn those percussive elements into the score as well.
Ian Hultquist: For example, we took the sounds of a gymnast’s feet hitting a mat and turned that into big bass drums.
Q: The film necessarily depends on a lot of talking heads, narrating their very personal stories? Was that a challenge in creating your musical environment?
Ian Hultquist: The edit on this film went on for a bit, I think because everyone was trying to find the right balance of telling the story and serving justice to those people who were willing to speak, but also we had to find breath in the film, because there are so many talking heads. We had to step back and see if we should refigure this a little bit. There was definitely a challenge. Not only are you handling the very tender emotional themes, but also handling those while giving a bit of air and letting the audience breathe a bit, and that’s tricky.
Drum & Lace: I think the way that we ultimately tried to overcome it was by the repetition of thematic ideas, for ostinatos of sorts to be there and to fill in the space but without being distracting.
Q: How closely did you work with the director in composing and producing the score?
Drum & Lace: We worked pretty closely, especially at the beginning of the process. The initial feedback of the main themes and what worked and what didn’t. The director also ended up being super-busy with another series and she just had an autobiographical book come out, so one of the producers, Sarah Gibson, was also very helpful with notes, so it was a mix of Erin Lee Carr and Sarah Gibson, and then the editors were also helpful. We worked with them in shaping those spaces and trying to find places for the movie to breathe.
Ian Hultquist: Documentaries in general are usually pretty tight knit between the filmmakers and the composers, just because there’s so much information and there’s so many moving parts to a documentary edit, that they are almost never finished – even after the release! We all stayed in pretty constant communication with each other.
Q: What do you consider some of the most important – or your favorite – musical moments in this score?
Ian Hultquist: I think the opening’s very powerful. It’s probably the most outright musically dramatic moment of the film, partially because we really wanted to hit people over the head and wake them up and bring them in to what is not going to be an easy film to watch.
Drum & Lace: I really like what we did for the scenes at the USC Gymnastics camp in Texas, the cue is called “The Ranch.” We’d temp’d that scene with something from BLACK SWAN. I wish it had been a little bit louder in the mix in the movie, but it’s a very Russian sounding moment that had cello lines. I’m proud of that cue. It’s understated; you don’t notice it in the film because it’s mixed low, but it does have this kind of driving force that’s very stoic and very regimented, the way that I think a lot of gymnastics is.
Ian Hultquist: And it’s very lyrical at the same time.
Listen to the track “The Ranch” from the AT THE HEART OF GOLD soundtrack:
Drum & Lace: And then I’m a big fan of “The Fallout” which is kind of like the theme, just remembering how powerful it was to hear the string section playing it.
Q: How did you come up with that end theme, where things are wrapping up and it’s coming to a conclusion? How did you determine what kind of a note to end the film with?
Drum & Lace: We liked the idea of an ostinato, and actually we both played the piano part that it starts with, together –Ian was playing one part and I was sitting on the right so I had the higher octaves, and I just started playing some melodic stuff. It was like this idea of both of us, with a metronome, playing some stuff on the piano, and from there this idea of repeating one note over and over and I think it was just the idea of really nailing it in and then adding the theme that we’d already established before – it’s a reprise of a cue called “MSU,” and it felt cathartic, because we’d been working on this for so long and been living with this film for so long that we just wanted to have this final big moment.
Ian Hultquist: We do that a lot, actually. Both of us will be sitting at the keyboard and maybe I’ll be playing chords or bass line and Sofia will start playing around with melodies or lead lines on top. This is a really good example of how that can develop and evolve into a full piece.
Q: Sofia, you scored a pretty meaningful documentary last year with INVISIBLE HANDS, which explores “child labor and trafficking within the supply chains of the world’s biggest corporations.” What can you tell me about this project and the kind of music you composed to support it?
Drum & Lace: INVISIBLE HANDS was a really great project to be part of. I learned a lot from it and it was eye-opening in thematic terms. Musically it was interesting and challenging because so much of it takes place in different parts of the world that I wanted to make sure the cues and the music were relevant to the kind of geographical location without them being a stereotype. The director [Shraysi Tandon] and I talked back and forth and she liked the idea of it sounding kind of modern but also having deep tones, because that is also a big talking heads movie, it’s a lot of people talking about a lot of really heavy and important stuff. For that one, to be honest, what was immediately established was this idea of drones but also then electric guitar or other plucked instruments. Because plucked string instruments exist all over the world so it was interesting to use different varieties of them all over the score. It was a lot of music, it was essentially like wall-to-wall music. I think the soundtrack album I put out was only half of the score, but the film had 70 minutes of music straight. Watch the trailer for INVISIBLE HANDS on youtube.
Q: Ian, what can you tell me about a documentary you scored earlier this year, I LOVE YOU, NOW DIE: THE COMMONWEALTH VS. MICHELLE CARTER, about the teenager who encouraged her boyfriend’s suicide through text messages?
Ian Hultquist: That was another Erin Lee Carr film, which I think will be out in July on HBO. That one was interesting, because it was a two-part film, so it was kind of like scoring two films together. It was interesting because it’s very music-driven. After I watched a rough cut I immediately wrote a handful of cues that were inspired by what I saw. Erin and the editor, Andrew Coffman, started placing the cues in the film right away and that immediately established a main theme. It’s an interesting score, it’s quite varied – one of the main themes is just a solo mandolin and strings, and then other cues feel like full on pop-songs, kind of like the French band Air, so it’s all over the place but it still makes sense. I’m really curious to see how people react to that. Like AT THE HEART OF GOLD it’s a difficult story and it forces you to question how you take certain things to account regarding loneliness, relationships, and the law.
Q: Ian, you were also involved in a TV documentary series called 7 DAYS OUT.
Ian Hultquist: Yes. That was produced by Andrew Rossi, one of the first documentary filmmakers I ever worked with; in fact he was actually responsible for introducing Erin and I. He and I, and Sofia, have done a number of projects together at this point. 7 DAYS OUT was the first time working with him and the TV world. For that project, I scored three of the episodes and I also wrote the opening credits. Each episode was a completely different musical landscape. One episode was about NASA’s Cassini Satellite and that mission ending, so we had a lot of fun jumping into ‘80s-sounding synth sci-fi stuff. But then we jumped into something like The Westminster Dog Show and that one was a lot of plucky orchestral music along with some disco beats, too, which was interesting.
Q: You both co-composed LOVE & BANANAS last year, an impassioned story about rescuing an Indian elephant. Would you describe the music you wrote for this film and how the music connected the audience with the plight of this elephant?
Drum & Lace: This one was very different. I feel like the filmmakers wanted this to be something that could reach a really large demographic, with the big hope of also being an educational documentary, so the tone of everything was a little bit softer. We were drawn to more, if this makes sense, music that was—I don’t want to say happy, but there are moments of good and moments that are kind of a call-to-action. The music was at times a little more modern and it had the chance to be a little more grandiose.
Ian Hultquist: A was a bit more light-hearted, overall. There are some dark moments, and for a lot of the tension scenes we actually took the sounds of elephants they had recorded in the field and manipulated those and stretched them out into distorted brass pads [Listen to the track “Pajan” on the Spotify link below].
Drum & Lace: They had a lot of graphic elements also, so I felt that called for music that was a little bit more lighthearted. The takeaway of that is to try to have this hopeful future and hope that people will learn from this not to do specific things such as riding Asian elephants or endorsing circuses that still use elephants. So the nature of the film was a little bit different from other stuff that we’ve worked on.
Listen to the music from LOVE & BANANAS on Spotify.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
Drum & Lace: Something that I think is interesting about our experiences in the world of documentaries is that it allows, at least in my eyes, for the filmmaker and the team to have a lot more gender parity. I have found that between Ian and I, we’ve mainly worked with female documentary makers, which has been really exciting because so much of the rest of Hollywood is so male-dominated. Documentaries, as you probably well know, are such a huge labor of love and everyone who’s involved is part of the team. I really love seeing what people are bringing to the table, and I think that’s why documentaries are having such a big moment now, because they are where people can strive and really find interesting stories.
First to the Moon: The Story of Apollo 8 is a 2018 documentary film about the second manned spaceflight mission in the United States Apollo space program. Apollo 8 on December 21, 1968 and was the first manned spacecraft to leave low Earth orbit, reach and orbit the Moon, and return safely to Earth. It proved the concept and paved the way for Apollo 11’s historic moon landing a mere seven months later.
Q: You began in film music scoring a number of documentary shorts and other short films. What can you tell me about these experiences and how they helped get you started as a film composer?
Alexander Bornstein: The best thing about those is that they offer a lot of collaboration with the filmmakers, especially on documentaries. There’s a lot of discussion about the kind of story that you’re telling, just because you’re taking something from real life and sort of recontextualizing it in a film. As a composer that’s great because you get all the insights into how you’re going to want to sculpt all of that. On other projects you might not get a chance to have those kinds of discussions or they’re maybe a little more muted or there isn’t as much time, but with documentaries you get a lot of time to really explore all of those things, and musically it gives you a lot of room to kind of move around and try things, to see what works and see what doesn’t.
Q: You’ve worked with Christopher Lennertz in various capacities, including additional music composer on AGENT CARTER, LOST IN SPACE, and the new version of SHAFT. What can you tell me about the role of the additional music composer in these projects?
Alexander Bornstein: It usually depends on which composer you’re working for, and I’ve worked for a few, but I’ve been working with Chris on and off for seven years now. I was his assistant for a while, and on projects with him it’s great because he always established really great themes that you can work with, and you can just take those and run with them. He’s really great at producing your cues and telling you what needs to be done, but also giving you some creative latitude as well, in terms of getting everything across the finish line, but it’s great. We’re on LOST IN SPACE right now, and that’s such a great palette to pull from.
Q: You’ve also worked as score coordinator on a number of Chris’ films. What does this role entail?
Alexander Bornstein: “Score Coordinator” is one of the official titles that you would give to the composer’s assistant. A lot of those projects took place when I was his salaried, on-staff assistant, where you’re basically in charge of everything from printing audio stems to making sure all the programmers have their materials, making sure that Chris’ composing computer and his rig are all functioning correctly, or if there is a technical issue with a hard drive failure, you’ll have to be sure that gets fixed. Also interfacing a lot with the music editor and explaining to them, “hey, here comes version four of this cue, FYI it’s going to spot into this version of the picture, I updated it on the google doc,” and that kind of thing. You’re sort of a conduit for the composer and certainly that’s how it worked for Chris. You’re the person that can go to any other area of the music department and say “this is what we need” or “this is where we’re at.” You function in that sense, but then you also have to put on your technical hat with the computers, and then you’re also sometimes pulled in to musical responsibilities as well. That’s how I ended up starting to write for Chris–sometimes I would have to do a fix or I would help him out with something and then, little by little I would start getting additional music.
Q: What brought you into scoring FIRST TO THE MOON?
Alexander Bornstein: I grew up being very interested in the space program. I moved to Orlando, Florida when I was 15 where you could actually see the space shuttle launch from our front yard, even being 50 miles away! But even before that I saw APOLLO 13 and I read every book I could get my hands on. I’m sure a lot of people feel this way, but I’ve always been very taken by the space race of the ‘60s and the achievements of that whole program. So I had been perusing kickstarter and saw that director Paul Hildebrandt was doing a fundraiser for his film about Apollo 8, and that was just the kind of thing I wanted to do. I sent him my reel and basically threw myself at his feet: “please consider me to score the film!” It was down to me and a few other people and luckily we clicked and I threw a few ideas at him about how we could do the score that he seemed to like, and it just went from there.
Q: What kind of music were the filmmakers asking for, and was there a temp score?
Alexander Bornstein: When I first started talking to Paul he hadn’t temp’d the film yet – he actually was in the process of assembling all the interview footage that he had done. I got into it at an interesting juncture where he was going to temp the film but hadn’t yet, so I was able to give him some ideas and I sent him some of my own tracks and we discussed the approach. Initially we were going to go very electronic, and almost as abstract as we could. We went down that path for a little bit, but it didn’t feel quite right, and when he started temping he saw that having some orchestra in there really gave the film a nice quality. So that let me figure out, ok, I think now we can integrate guitars, electronics, and orchestra all together. I wrote a ten-minute suite of ideas – here’s what we would do for big moments, here’s what we would do for small moments, and that was how we really figured out the language of the score. We decided not to use trumpets just because they’re coded so deeply for space in a way, it’s like for me, if I hear a solo trumpet with orchestra I feel like I’m walking through the Kennedy Space Center visitor’s exhibit, or I’m hearing James Horner’s APOLLO 13 or Michael Kamen’s FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, and I’m just not going to outdo those guys! Our idea was to sidestep that expectation a little bit and make it more about strings and a dusting of woodwinds and low brass and French horns. We only used a trumpet in one cue, which has to do with astronaut Bill Anders’ growing up as a military kid.
Q: What was your instrumental mix as far as integrating digital samples with live orchestra on this score?
Alexander Bornstein: We had a set budget to work with, so what I mostly focused on recording live were the strings, which we did in Hungary. We recorded a twenty-piece string orchestra and multi-tracked that in order to double the string section, which gave it a hyped-up feel. All of the brass in the score is sampled.
Q: How much music did you compose for the film?
Alexander Bornstein: I think about 100 minutes of score.
Q: What is the score’s thematic or motivic configuration?
Alexander Bornstein: It all spins out from one idea, which you can hear in track 2 on the soundtrack album on “Crew.” The guitar theme that comes in is actually an excerpt – I rewrote it for the cue – but it’s an excerpt from the suite that I did for Paul. So that major key theme is the main idea of the whole score, and most of the ideas spin out from that. So in Track 1 when you hear the French horns come in, that’s the minor key version of the theme, and then there’s another sub-minor theme that’s at the end of “Crew” when the strings come in—it’s just a bell-tone kind of sound playing this melodic idea, and that’s a development of the minor key version of the theme. We’d talked about maybe doing different ideas for each astronaut, but at the end of the day it’s really a very holistic story, it’s about the crew, the space program, the mission – it’s not really about the individual people or these specific moments. I think by keeping it to one idea that gets developed in different ways it conveys that a little bit rather than being overly motivic. Alexander Borstein’s music for FIRST TO THE MOON: THE STORY OF APOLLO 8 has been released by Notefornote music. Listen to a sample of the track, “Crew,” here.
Q: Did you find opportunities for significant musical moments of tension and emotion in the course of the film’s story?
Alexander Bornstein: Yeah, it was a very interesting process. I’d done shorter documentaries but this was my first feature, and so it was really interesting to find the great stories to dive into. There’s a moment in the story when Jim Lovell talks about being lost at sea in his jet fighter and how he was able to navigate himself back home. He’s a very talented storyteller and it was really fun to find the ups and downs of his story and accommodate them musically; or when they’re going up to the launch gantry – usually that’s a moment where it’s very exciting and broad and omigod they’re going into space, it’s going to be so gorgeous and amazing! But we totally pivoted and instead went really dark and almost frightening, because they’ve spent all this time talking about how the Saturn V rocket is essentially a 353-foot-tall bomb with millions of pounds of thrust and what could go wrong. APOLLO 8 was the first time that any humans had actually sat in the Saturn V and used it in a mission – all the tests before had been unmanned, so here are these three guys getting on top of what at the time was the most powerful machine ever created by human beings, and it’s a time that I don’t think anybody wouldn’t be a little bit scared and nervous, and so we learned more into that.
And it was also neat getting into the uglier side of the score, which was that 1968 in America was a pretty difficult time and it was a very challenging point in the country’s history, and being able to explore all the civil discord and the tension that was going on in the nation at the time. It’s a counterpoint to the story of the triumph of the mission.
Earthrise, taken on December 24, 1968, by
Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders.
Q: How did you accompany the famous “earthrise” photograph moment in the story?
Alexander Bornstein: We talked about that in terms of how to best give it its moment to shine. What we ended up doing was starting out very pensive, because they’re in lunar orbit at this point, and we built up to Bill Anders’ seeing the earth and then there’s this medium-fast tempo string build-up as you hear it in the radio transmission; he’s stumbling for the camera, he can’t find the color film… Frank Borman takes the first photo of the Earthrise in black and white, and the cue kind of discards that moment because it’s not really the significant one, and he finally calls out “I’ve got the color film!” and then Jim Lovell yells “I can see it right here. Take the picture right now!” So we built it as a moment of suspense, even though they’re going to go around the moon a bunch of times, but just the excitement of them being completely unprepared to see the earth rise, and then right when he takes the picture the cue just cuts out very hard and just rings out over the cut of the earthrise. I give all the spotting credit to Paul, he did a really tremendous job of letting that moment breathe, and we screened the film in New York last October and I was really happy with how that moment landed in the audience: the music just drops out and you see this photo in glorious color and we’ve seen the photo a hundred times but it’s still an effective moment in the film where you’re just like, “oh my God, that’s us!”
Q: Judging from the album tracks, you had the opportunity to write some long cues, and develop some long-form musical treatment for the film. How did that work out?
Alexander Bornstein: They were really daunting. There’s a lot of music that’s not the album, and some 8-, 9-, 10-minute cues didn’t fit. The “Dark Side of the Moon” track, which is ten-and-a-half minutes on the album is actually 17 minutes. That cue was a solid 3-4 days of work. I spent probably one day tempo mapping, meter mapping, sketching, figuring it out, and then another two days of just programming. The hard part is figuring out “how do I make this say something?” I knew what I need to hit and I knew what I need to acknowledge, musically, but how do I make this cue go somewhere, and I think the longer cues end up working out well, because like you said you have a chance to really let things breathe and build. That’s the sequence in the film where they actually get to the moon, and you want to give it those long statements, and if the listener is willing to hear the cue at length I think the payoffs are worth it. It certainly helps the film when the music can have that long dialog with the story. Short cues drive me insane, sometimes, because you don’t have time to make much of a statement, and I think to your point, it’s worth it if you’re able to let them build and let them sit there with the audience. It ends up helping the story, too, because I think there are people who may watch this film who might not be really into the space program and maybe they’re like, “Well I don’t know who these people are and I don’t know why I should care about them”–the music, hopefully, can serve as a little bit of a gateway, drawing them into that if it has the space to try and do that.
Listen to a 3:30 portion on “Dark Side of the Moon” here. Watch the film’s trailer below:
Special thanks to Bryon Davis and Peter Hackman with Notefornote music for their assistance in arranging this interview.
AMBITION/Leonard Rosenman/Caldera Records - cd
In Scott Goldstein’s 1991’s drama-thriller AMBITION, Lou Diamond Phillips plays an aspiring writer who is trying to write about Albert Merrick, a serial killer recently paroled after 15 years in prison. In order to get the right impressions for his book, he feels that he has to experience Merrick psychopathic again... Scored a few years before his retirement, Leonard Rosenman’s score is thoroughly impressionistic, maintaining a sense of tension and furtiveness throughout the picture that kept viewers on edge. The music makes a very intriguing listen on Caldera’s premiere release of the score as it avoids conventional harmonies and focuses on orchestral progression and coloration, as winds and brasses roam purposely about the soundscape, punctuated by keyboards, percussion, and sinewy filigrees, stridently bowed strokes, and reflective shimmers from the strings. An eight-note ostinato for xylophone, frequently ascends and descends throughout the score to accentuate trepidation. Rosenman creates a mesmerizing soundscape that is constantly in motion, one that creates quite an impression. Label owner Stephen Eicke provides a detailed making-of commentary on the film and its score in the album’s booklet.
For more information, see caldera
CLOWNFACE/Hans Michael Anselmo Hess/Hess – digital (cd forthcoming)
From director Alex Bourne (THE HOUSE OF SCREAMING DEATH) comes this new tale of terror about a deranged serial killer terrorizing the residents of a small town. The film’s been to a few festivals in 2019 but will have its official release in 2020 by Wild Eye Releasing. The music by Hans Michael Anselmo Hess (CONSEQUENCE, CARNIVAL OF SORROWS [reviewed April 2018]), a Brazilian born British film composer based in Bristol, UK, is nicely designed, with a mixture of compelling musical styles. In speaking with the director, “I could foresee that the music would not follow strict stereotypes of horror scores,” Hess wrote on his website. “Three main ‘emotional mottoes’ needed to be created and addressed to the three main characters. Each ‘emotional motto’ would encapsulate themes, motifs, textures, instrumentation, etc.” Each of these “mottoes” is associated in various configurations with one of the three primary characters – the dark, ponderous, and timpani-driven motif and breathy choir exhalations for Clownface; a gentle, solo acoustic guitar theme for the captive Zoe, whose music denotes her trauma-oriented duality; and the similarly traumatized Owen, whose thematic character is denoted by an erratic and socially distorted personality. The score springs off of this central triumvirate and takes the listener on an intriguing orchestral journey across the arc of the story. The digital soundtrack will be available for purchase on July 19th; and can be pre-ordered from iTunes. A physical release is planned to coincide with the film’s release in 2020. For more details on the composer’s approach to scoring CLOWNFACE, see the analysis on his website.
ENEMY WITHIN/ Nainita Desai/Notefornote – CD + digital
Born and brought up in London to Indian parents, Nainita Desai began studying music at a very young age. Working at the forefront of a new wave of artists, Nainita is a BAFTA “Breakthrough Brit” whose work traverses the worlds of television, film, and gaming through mainstream scoring to more experimental sound design. Set in the early days of the US involvement in World War II, ENEMY WITHIN is based on a true story and follows a Japanese pilot who crash-lands on the tiny, isolated Hawaiian island of Ni'ihau and is met with courtesy and traditional Hawaiian hospitality from the locals – until they discover he was part of the recent attack on Pearl Harbor. Desai’s music favors an acoustic ensemble, and is largely rhythm-based and delicately textural, reflecting a bit of the flavor of the exotic setting while focusing deeply on the story’s character interaction and emphasizing the awkward tension that mounts when the locals realize the pilot’s affiliation with the then enemy. Immersed in the interaction of guitars (played in the Hawaiian slack guitar style by Charlie Millar), violins and viola (played by Max Baillie), cello (Nicholas Holland), bass flute (William Arnold), and double bass (Malcolm Laws), the score is given a striking ethnic contrast provided by koto (played by the composer) and shakuhachi flute (played by the renowned Clive Bell), with drums and other instrumental elements sampled, the score maintains a vibrant texture throughout. “All key elements are live and that is very important to me for scores even when the budget is low,” Nainita explains. Her score generates a fascinating musical journey on its own in addition to powerfully supporting its film. Highly recommended. The album is available from amazon, where you can also sample the album tracks.
RORY’S WAY (THE ETRUSCAN SMILE)/Frank Ilfman/MovieScore Media - digital
MovieScore Media again teams up with composer Frank Ilfman (BIG BAD WOLVES, SENSORIA) to release the emotionally-charged, Celtic-flavored score for RORY’S WAY (previously known as THE ETRUSCAN SMILE; see my interview with Ilfman in which we discuss this score in my Aug 2018 column). Based on Jose Luis Sampedro’s novel The Etruscan Smile, RORY’S WAY stars acclaimed British actor Brian Cox as Rory MacNeil, a rugged old Scotsman who reluctantly leaves his beloved Hebridean island and travels to San Francisco to seek medical treatment. Moving in with his estranged son, Rory sees his life transformed through a newly found bond with his baby grandson. “RORY’S WAY is a very emotional and heartfelt story with a strong Celtic identity,” explained Ilfman. “The music is very melodic in its core, using a large orchestra comprised of strings, winds, percussion and some Celtic instruments to represent Rory’s heritage. I composed three themes that represent Rory’s character, his son and Rory’s relationship with his grandson always keeping central the strong emotions between the three generations.” Ilfman’s emotive score is generally light and tuneful, but turns poignant and heartfelt when it needs to. The main theme, introduced at the start in “Opening,” is a serene yet quite optimistic phrase from strings, confidently stated and quite engaging; Rory is identified with a soft, almost wistful flute melody set against a hesitant, delicate piano line; a sympathetic “Love Theme” maintains a reflective 3-note descending figure, while a very dapper motif is provided for “Rory and Claudia.” Much of the music reflects a Scottish flavor, denoting Rory’s home and heritage; this is most explicitly conveyed in a splendidly flavorful jig, “Your All Bum and Parsley.” An immersive 7-minute suite of the score’s primary motives concludes the score. Essentially a musical character study, RORY’S WAY is a consistently appealing and thoughtful score which, shifting between deliberation and buoyant optimism, remains beautifully vivid and pleasing.
On the link below, you can view a video, featuring a suite from the score:
SHAFT (1971)/Isaac Hayes/Craft [Varèse Sarabande]- cd
In this deluxe 2-CD softpak set, Isaac Hayes’ score for the original SHAFT is remastered and paired with 22 bonus tracks from the original film soundtrack. The originally released “Music from the Soundtrack of SHAFT” that has been the movie’s soundtrack album since 1971 is not, specifically, from the film’s original soundtrack. After recording the music that would be used in the film in Culver City, CA, Isaac Hayes returned to Memphis and the familiar confines of the Stax studios to re-record the songs from SHAFT; it would be those later recordings that would be released in 1971 as “Music from the Soundtrack” on Enterprise Records. The original versions of the music used in the film wouldn’t see the light of day in any form until 2008, when they appeared as part of a limited-edition SHAFT box set from Film Score Monthly that also included the music from SHAFT’S BIG SCORE and the SHAFT TV series (and is now out of print). It’s taken nearly 50 years, but finally both the music actually heard in the film (22 tracks) and the later recordings used for the soundtrack album (15 tracks) can be heard together in a 2-disc package. Having both versions in a single package makes for a great listen and an intriguing comparison. In addition to the Deluxe edition (a limited edition of 5,000 copies), the label is also offering the remastered “music from the soundtrack” album as a separate, single-disc release.
SHAFT (2019)/Lennertz/WaterTower – cd & digital
There was much controversy over whether there will be any of Isaac Hayes’ original or unused music from the 1971 SHAFT included in the new 2019 film soundtrack; Hayes’ son, Isaac Hayes III, was particularly concerned when a deal couldn’t be made to include his father’s original music in the new movie, as Jon Burlingame covers in detail in Variety. But to my ears, the essence of Isaac Hayes’ SHAFT music is all over Christopher Lennertz’s score for the new movie. The original 1971 main title theme opens the film, and Lennertz’s score is very much in the vogue and palette of what Hayes did in the original movie score along with, naturally, some of his own techniques and riffs added to it. But it’s clearly a recognizable close cousin to Hayes’ original SHAFT in the spirit of remaining essentially true to the original SHAFT’s sound – just as the movie maintains the spirit of the original while yet offering something in the vogue of the modern day; just as David Arnold did in the 2000 SHAFT film, with the 2019 film being a direct descendent of the 1971 movie through the 2000 film and into what we have today. Lennertz’s score is excellent and offers a unique link between all three Shafts – Richard Roundtree’s Shaft, Samuel L. Jackson’s Shaft II, and Jessie Usher as Shaft Jr. (son of Shaft II). The integration of modern songs with the authenticity of Lennertz’s score solidifies the music’s genetic connection between the franchise and remains on its own in a very worthy representation of SHAFT’s original music. WaterTower’s 27 track soundtrack includes 11 tracks of somewhat explicit hip-hop and R&B material, followed by 16 tracks of Lennertz’s score, making a fine listening worthy of the legacy of Isaac Hayes.
Get it from Amazon.
SOLIS/ David Stone Hamilton/MovieScore Media – digital/Perseverance - CD
MovieScore Media’s latest discovery, soon to be released physically by Perseverance Records, takes listeners on an unexpected journey to outer space with a thematically rich, symphonic score by composer David Stone Hamilton. Written and directed by Carl Strathie, SOLIS is a survival thriller set in space, in which a worker on a space mining operation becomes trapped in an emergency escape vehicle drifting towards the sun, with help potentially too far away to effect a rescue. Hamilton’s score provides the kind of tense, race-against-time momentum that heightens the story’s growing suspense, while also supporting the film’s human story and the dramatic nuances that it conveys. The score is a thematically rich, symphonic work, given an especially otherworldly sound through inclusion of a Korean instrument named the Haegeum, which provides a strange, otherworldly sound. “We wanted to create a score that would reflect the increasing tension and impending doom with a musical ‘ticking time bomb’ employed in different ways,” Hamilton explained. “Sometimes it’s literally a ticking clock, and other times we use modernist percussion effects or col legno strings to give this effect. Our Solar theme represents the grandeur and almost hypnotic allure of the Sun as well as the existential threat it poses to our protagonist.” The result is a very attractive, involving work, richly symphonic, with its sonic apotheosis found in a series of three 10-to-11 minute tracks collectively called “Solis Triptych” and subdivided into “1: Death,” “2: Space Walk,” and “3: Finale.” This impressionistic musical trilogy allows the composer to really energize his orchestration into powerful series of enthralling atmospheric progressions. SOLIS is a quite impressive and compelling score from a newcomer worth following. I’m looking forward to Hamilton rejoining Strathie for their next science fiction horror thriller, DARK ENCOUNTER, which will allow the composer to further push boundaries with its hybrid sound of orchestral, choral, and electronic elements combined.
Watch the SOLIS trailer at youtube. On the link below, you can view a video featuring a suite from the score:
True Detective - The Final Country- T Bone Burnett & Keefus Ciancia
When They See Us - Part Two - Kris Bowers
Outstanding Music Composition For A Documentary Series Or Special (Original Dramatic Score)
Free Solo - Marco Beltrami & Brandon Roberts
Game Of Thrones - The Last Watch - Hannah Peel
Hostile Planet – Oceans - Benjamin Wallfisch
Love, Gilda - Miriam Cutler
Our Planet - One Planet - Steven Price, Music by
RBG - Miriam Cutler
Jeff Beal has composed and recorded the music for the free 50th Anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing happening in Washington D.C. on July 19-20 on the D.C. mall. The project is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between 59 Productions, The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and multi-award-winning composer Jeff Beal. Recorded in Los Angeles, featuring violin solos by Mark Robertson, orchestra contracted by David Low. During the celebration, the moon launch, including a full scale Saturn 5 rocket, will be projected onto the Washington Monument.
For details, click here.
Composer Craig Safan was commissioned to write an original score for the1925 silent film version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, starring Lon Chaney. He conducted the Marina del Rey Symphony in a medley of the music live-to-picture during “Opera at the Shore” last July 11. Safan is also featured in a second concert on Thursday, July 25, and will include a dance performance by the Nancy Dobbs Owen Dance Troupe to Safan’s “Three Dances from Sirens” – the music is based on Safan’s original 2018 concept album from Varese Sarabande, Sirens - Music Inspired by the Odyssey. Both concerts are part of the Free Summer Concert Series in Marina del Rey at Burton Chace Park.
SoundTrack_Cologne announces the first speakers for their theme day “Music for Film” on August 30th, 2019: Amelia Warner (MARY SHELLEY), John Murphy (28 DAYS LATER) and Davíð Þór Jónsson (WOMAN AT WAR). SoundTrack_Cologne, the largest German Conference for Media Music, will take place from August 28 - Sept 1, 2019 and will feature composers working in Film, TV and Video Game Music, as well as sound designers, music supervisors and industry professionals. For details, see soundtrack_cologne 16.
The 50th celebration of mankind’s first steeps on the moon continues with the release of National Geographic’s APOLLO: MISSIONS TO THE MOON (2019), one of several documentaries related to the US Moon Landing, which took place on July 20, 1969. The documentary film features an evocative score by James Everingham (GRAND PRIX DRIVER, THE RELIANT). Sample the music on Spotify. Watch the film’s trailer here.
Another Apollo related documentary soundtrack is available, CAPCOM GO!: THE APOLLO STORY an Immersive 3D Planetarium film produced by the UK National Space Centre. The fully orchestral music is by Rhian Sheehan (THE MAURITANIA RAILWAY: BACKBONE OF THE SAHARA, THE DAY THAT CHANGED MY LIFE, BELIEF: THE POSSESSION OF JANET MOSES). “Rhian fully captures the bold sensations of aspiring to pull away from Earth’s gravity and having hope as mankind hurtled into space and toward our closest orbiting planetary neighbor and into, what was then, the unknown,” said Matt Osborne, admin of the Documenting The Score page on Facebook. Listen to The score can be heard on Spotify.
Hear Rhian’s 15-minute suite from the score on Soundcloud:
John Massari (KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME) has composed a gorgeous, traditionally-styled Western score for WARPATH, a new film from Josh Becker (HARPIES, ALIEN APOCALYPSE, LUNATICS: A LOVE STORY). The film stars Thom Mathews, Andrew Dawe-Collins, and Yassie Hawkes, and is about a woman who travels west along with a ruthless bounty hunter in search of her lost husband. “What is cool about this film is that I just happened to be binging on Republic Pictures western serials before I got the call!” Massari said. Listen to the music on Soundcloud.
In additional news, Massari had four of his music cues from the re-imagined orchestral KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE recording licensed for use in the first episode of STRANGER THINGS, Season 3. The cues are heard in the early scene when Dustin’s toy robots come to life and roll around the house. Segments of Massari’s KILLER KLOWN tracks “Mike and Debbie’s Discovery,” “Muscle Car Klown,” “Galactic Globe theater,” and “Hidden Klown Shop” are heard subtly beneath the sequence as the robots make their way into the living room, Dustin following cautiously armed with a can of . “I guess the Duffer Bros. have an affection for it!” Massari told Soundtrax
Miriam Mayer’s score for the horror film BUGS has won Best Music at the 2019 Indie Horror Film Awards, held on July 13th. The film, directed by Simone Kisiel, is a feature about helplessness, paranoia, and the bugs that inspire us to scream. Watch it on Amazon Prime. Learn more about the composer here.
Rustblade has released a deluxe edition and definitive soundtrack in vinyl and CD by Claudio Simonetti (ex-Goblin) for DEMONS, the iconic Italian horror movie directed by Lamberto Bava and produced by Dario Argento. Simonetti’s score is saturated with rock, electro, and industrial metal overtones and tribal vocalisms, creating a progressive and claustrophobic vibe. Rustblade’s release contains the soundtrack plus a bonus cd with remixes by a number of electro-industrial bands. The label also has released a definitive edition of Simon Boswell’s score to the sequel film, DEMONS 2, also directed by Bava and produced by Argento, also on vinyl and CD. Boswell’s score combines dark electronic prog grooves with violently smashing rock, resulting in an epic musical score rich with analog synthesizers, tense guitar rhythms, and Boswell’s signature atmospheres. DEMONS 2 contains unreleased tracks and a remixed track by Motion Kapture.
For more information as well as info on related vinyl albums and poster packages from Rustblade, see http://www.rustblade.com/
Brian Tyler will be scoring Taylor Sheridan’s upcoming thriller THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD. The film, which stars Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, and Tyler Perry, is based on Michael Koryta’s novel and revolves around a teenage boy who, after witnessing a brutal murder, is given a new identity and placed in a wilderness skills program for troubled teens as he is being pursued by said killers.
Notefornote Music has released a vinyl edition of BLADE RUNNER: Music from the Motion Picture Score – Edgar Rothermich’s faithful recording of the classic score composed by Vangelis, originally released on CD from BuySoundtrax Records in recognition of the film and score’s 30th Anniversary in 2012. Now Notefornote Music brings this eloquent and authentically-sounding replicant of the BLADE RUNNER music to the modern world of vinyl for the first time, in a limited 2-LP edition. For more details, see notefornotemusic
Deutsche Grammophon (DG) will release on August 30th the CD album Across The Stars featuring a dozen tracks of film music composed, adapted, and conducted by John Williams and recorded with German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Los Angeles Arts Orchestra. The album includes “Hedwig’s Theme” which was released previously as a digital single, as reported in my last column. A 2-LP vinyl edition will be available in September.
For more information or to pre-order, see https://www.deutschegrammophon.com/us/cat/4837456?
In recent years, Jared DePasquale has become a highly sought after composer in the world of audio drama as his stirring and diverse orchestral scores connect with many producers, directors, and audience members alike. His latest project is The Jake Muller Adventures: Unidentified, written and directed by Darby Kern for Tannhauser Gate Entertainment in which security specialist and adventurer, Jake Muller, finds himself mixed up in a quest for the truth when he discovers a young girl who has apparently fallen from the sky. In his quest he crosses paths with the military, politicians, theologians, Men In Black and, possibly, extra-terrestrials. “Jared’s work on The Jake Muller Adventures has been extraordinary. He quickly understood the unique style we were shooting for and matched us beat for beat. His themes give life to scenes that could have come off flat and one dimensional, transporting us into a universe that feels new and exciting,” said Kern. Said DePasquale: “Science fiction scores are pretty much what made me want to compose, but this was actually the first time I've ever had a chance to write one. It was a lot of fun thinking about all the music that inspired me - but somehow finding my own voice for the score.” Sample a suite of DePasquale’s tracks below:
Kurt Farquhar’s (BLACK LIGHTNING) latest score is for AMERICAN SOUL the BET drama TV series that premiered last February 5th. The series tells the story of Don Cornelius and the creation of his legendary music and dance program SOUL TRAIN, which aired in syndication from October 2, 1971, to March 27, 2006. Farquhar nails the sound of the times with some truly cool original tracks saturated with the smooth groove of rhythm and blues and ‘70s soul. The music features some legendary musicians who came in to play on the score – including Ray Fuller, Michael White, and Darryl Jones. Remarkably, the report from Farquhar’s office is that the network has no plans for a soundtrack release, which, for a show full of music that’s about one of the most iconic music brands of its day, seems very strange – and quite unfortunate, since this music cries out for a great soundtrack mix. Have a listen to 27 tracks from the first season on Soundcloud, here.
In an interview with PopDisciple, composer Miriam Cutler discusses her path to a purpose-driven career in the arts and her experience as a navigator and tastemaker in the ‘post-truth’ era. She also talks about her projects LOVE GILDA, RBG and DARK MONEY. See popdisciple.
Learn more about the composer here.
Jazz musician and composer Ryan Blotnick has collaborated with producer/engineer/keyboardist Tyler Wood on the score for the documentary KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE, which goes behind the scenes and follows four women – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Swearengin – who took on history in the 2018 midterm election. The composers honed in on a palette of strings, clarinets, guitars, pads and keyboards with no drums or percussion. Since the film is about insurgent candidates learning how to compete on-the-fly in bewildering political arena, they wanted the score to reflect this feeling of volatility and spontaneity. A lot of the music feels like it is in the process of formation, with momentum building toward an unknown outcome. The digital soundtrack has been released by Milan Records.
In additional Milan Records news, New York-based composer Alex Weston has scored the Lulu Wang film THE FAREWELL, which premiered at Sundance and will be released by A24. It was described as “gorgeously scored” by Vanity Fair. In this funny, uplifting tale based on an actual lie, Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi (Awkwafina) reluctantly returns to Changchun to find that, although the whole family knows their beloved matriarch, Nai-Nai (grandma), has been given mere weeks to live, everyone has decided not to tell Nai Nai herself. To assure her happiness, they gather under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, uniting family members scattered among new homes abroad. Milan Records will release his score on July 12th. Listen to the track “Family,” from Soundcloud: Watch the film’s trailer on youtube.
Milan has also announced their release on July 12th of the soundtrack to ULTRAMAN, the new Netflix Original Anime Series on all digital music providers outside of Japan. The score is composed by Nobuko Toda and Kazuma Jinnouchi. For more information on Netflix’s ULTRAMAN series, see musiquefantastique
In the HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON series of animated fantasy films, Oscar-nominated, IFMCA award-winning composer John Powell relies on the tradition of Wagnerian leitmotifs. The themes, representing different characters, concepts and locations are spread across the trilogy, are varied and developed, orchestrated in different ways. Often, the tempos and moods change and the themes play in counterpoint to one another. On July 19th, Silva Screen Records will digitally release Music from the How to Train Your Dragon Trilogy, 14 exhilarating themes from John Powell’s award winning scores, performed by London Music Works, which skillfully brings together a selection of the very best themes from Powell’s consummate and game-changing animation score. See SilvaScreen
Composer Christian Heschl has released his score to the documentary short film OKAVANGO: THE RIVER THAT NEVER FINDS THE SEA (2019). With an emphasis on low drones, pads, synthesized violin and viola string sections, piano and percussion, the composer sets a mood of dire solemnness and concern about region of Africa on the verge of an ecological disaster that could lead to the extinction of many distinct animal species that are under attack by poachers and a rapid decline of their dwindling natural habits. It’s a nice score by an up and comer. Available digitally via Amazon.
Kritzerland has announced the premiere release of the soundtrack to DEMENTIA, a one-off, nightmarish journey into the netherworlds of expressionism, noir, horror, and sexual psychosis. Filmed in 1953 but not released until December of 1955 due to censorship battles in New York, the film was reviewed thusly by Variety: “May be the strangest release ever offered for theatrical release.” DEMENTIA features no dialogue at all, just some sound effects here and there and occasional background laughing and chatter. It runs a terse 55-minutes. George Antheil’s celebrated music for DEMENTIA is almost wall-to-wall. It’s weird and wonderful, perfectly suiting all of the nightmarish goings on. In Musique Fantastique Second Edition Book 1, I wrote that “George Antheil’s music for DEMENTIA comprises an astonishing array of sonic textures and soaring, science fictionesque tonalities that fits the cinèma vèritè images of a disturbed young woman’s night-time sleepwalk through a dark and dingy skid-row landscape, providing an ethereal and otherworldly musical soundscape for the film’s visualization of a psychotic nightmare.” Giving the music an especially eerie texture are the vocal oohs and aahs of Marni Nixon. As a companion piece, Kritzerland includes Ernest Gold’s Piano Concerto, written in 1943. Although not critically well received at the time, the concerto is really terrific, filled with wonderful Gold tunes, some jazzy bits, and sounding every now and then like his film music. For details, sample tracks, or to order see Kritzerland.
An eight CD set called Banks Vaults: Complete Albums 1979-1995 has been announced by Esoteric Recordings, featuring all of the solo albums released by Genesis founder Tony Banks between 1979 and 1995. The album includes newly-mastered versions of his soundtrack to THE WICKED LADY as well as his Soundtracks collection album. Not sure if either of these will later be released separately. The set release date is July 26. For details and full tracklist, see popmarket. The set is also available from Amazon.
Japanese composer Kenji Kawai (IP MAN, DEATH NOTE, GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE, SEVEN SWORDS) has composed the music for anime television series AFTERLOST, adapted from the mobile game of the same title (aka, Shometsu Toshi, “Annihilated City”) by studio Madhouse. The series premiered on April 7, 2019. Pony Canyon has released a CD soundtrack in Japan, which is available from CD Japan and Ark Square.
Columbia Japan has released two CD soundtracks from the 2018 anime series THE RISING OF THE SHIELD HERO (Tate no Yusha no Nariagari), composed by Australian-born, UK-based composer Kevin Penkin (MADE IN ABYSS, MY LIFE AS A VIDEO GAME, IMPLOSION: ZERO DAY). The first album, released last March, called “THE RISING OF THE SHIELD HERO, Dusk,” is available from Amazon in the US and from CD Japan; the second album, released in mid-June, is available from Ark Square and from CD Japan. The album also streams from Spotify and Google Play.
The score for Brian De Palma’s film CARLITO’S WAY by composer Patrick Doyle is getting its first ever vinyl release. Varèse Sarabande is releasing the album on July 12th exclusively through Barnes and Noble.
This package has artwork created by Gary Pullin along with LP labels and a back-cover reference to the famous pool hall scene. CARLITO’S WAY will be a part of Barnes & Noble’s #BNVinyl Weekend 2019 and will be available here.
Mondo presents two new Death Waltz vinyl Italian titles, in the shape of Dario Argento’s TRAUMA and Michelle Soavi’s THE CHURCH. Both are Mondo exclusives. Pino Donaggio’s score to TRAUMA is pressed on 180 Gram Blue double vinyl, and features artwork by Eric Adrian Lee. Listen to select tracks on Death Waltz’s Soundcloud page, here. THE CHURCH features music by Keith Emerson and Goblin. Album artwork by Eric Adrian Lee, disc 180 Gram Purple vinyl.
Mondo is also shipping now Death Waltz’s vinyl soundtrack, in association with Lakeshore Records, to THE RITUAL. This 2017 film an extremely powerful chiller, part of the new wave of folk horror films. Ben Lovett’s score (featuring woodwind, strings and the occasional synth) captures the mood of the forest perfectly, It is both tribal and haunting. The score runs a range of emotions; One minute it is reflective and relaxed the next sinister and terrifying. For details see mondo.
Waxwork Records will release Bear McCreary’s score to CHILD’S PLAY (2019) in a special deluxe double vinyl edition. The album includes the complete film score on double 180 gram “Chucky’s Eyes” colored vinyl (blue and red), artwork by Phantom City Creative, composer liner notes, a 12”x12” insert, and deluxe packaging. This item is expected to ship August, 2019. Pre-order it here.
Light in the Attic Records announces Morricone Groove: The Kaleidoscope Sound of Ennio Morricone 1964~1977 from Beat Ball Music, a double LP set of Ennio Morricone’s lesser known but beautiful scores from the ’60 and ’70s. “This selection of the best of the Lounge style tracks from his film music production has been a true enterprise,” writes the label. “At the end of this very cool listening experience through four sides, the listener will have surely know and enjoyed all the colors of a musical giant.” The album contains 22 tracks from 19 films & a lounge album, and features newly illustrated artwork by Robert Sammelin. This is a sunburst & bloody color mixed double vinyl set housed in a laminated old style tip-on gate folded jacket, with an 8 page full color insert with poster archives and liner notes.
England’s Invada Records has released the official soundtrack album for S. Craig Zahler’s splendid drama thriller DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE on vinyl. Pressed on ‘concrete marble’ colored vinyl, housed in a deluxe spined sleeve with digital download card included. Limited to 500 copies only worldwide. The album features the film’s original songs composed by Jeff Herriott & director/composer S. Craig Zahler. See invada.
The Jim Henson Company and Music.Film Recordings will release a special edition Best-of-Series soundtrack album exclusively at Barnes & Noble for the popular sci-fi series FARSCAPE, in celebration of the series’ 20th anniversary. Featuring five tracks by SubVision (including the series theme), and six by Guy Gross, the album is pressed on limited edition gold vinyl, with artwork by famed illustrator Joe Corroney, including a collectible poster insert with an impressive character spread. Cher Martinetti of SYFY Magazine and FANGRRLS contributed liner notes with new interviews with creator Rockne O’Bannon, executive producer Brian Henson, and composers Guy Gross and Subvision. This release also includes a few unreleased tracks from the series’ cutting room floor. See B&N.
Announcing: John Scott: The Journey to the Lost World of a Symphonist By Christian Aguilera Couceiro, Preface by John Mansell Spain: Rosetta Editions, digital and paperback.
June 2019, 320 pages, Spanish language.
From the publisher: “Christian Aguilera has consecrated his most recent monograph dedicated to a film composer, the British musician Patrick John Scott, who debuted on the big screen with A STUDY IN TERROR (1965). Creator of a numerous scores for feature films, documentaries (many for Jacques-Ives Cousteau), Scott has also made concert works, a ballet and composed music for silent films.” The book includes discography and bibliography.
This is the author's fourth book dedicated to film composers, having written books on Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, and John Williams prior.
For details and to order see Rosetta Editions.
Annapurna Interactive’s Outer Wilds video game soundtrack features an original score by Andrew Prahlow (composer of the 2017 Mobile VR Game of the Year, ECLIPSE: EDGE OF LIGHT). Outer Wilds is an open world mystery game about a solar system trapped in an endless time loop. The soundtrack is now available digitally on Annapurna Interactive. Prahlow has been a part of this project since the beta stages in 2013 and has created a perfectly “ambient soundscape with guitar and synthesizers” to contrast the “melancholic textures” of the game, which won the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the Independent Games Festival. “When asked to compose the music for Outer Wilds, I wanted to create a sense of simplicity and nostalgia as the player slowly becomes familiar with the world of the Hearthians,” said the composer. “I immediately thought of an old beat up banjo that I had received as a gift a few years prior. This main theme contrasted the melancholic textures of the Nomai - where I crafted ambient soundscapes with guitar and synthesizers, heavily influenced by post-rock. As the player explores the solar system and the story moves forward, these textures become more complex, along with the campfire tunes that are the center of the score.”
Get it at amazon or iTunes.
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.