Soundtrax: Episode 2014-1
January 31st, 2014
By Randall D. Larson
- Jeff Beal: Encountering BLACKFISH
- John Debney Meets BONNIE & CLYDE
- Lior Ron: Animated Musical Designs for PABLO
THE BEASTMASTER (Holdridge/Quartet), BIG BAD WOLVES (Ilfman/MSM-Kronos), BLACK SAILS (McCreary/Sparks&Shadows), CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (Jackman/Varese), THE DONNER PARTY (Noone/2M1 Records), 5 TOMBE PER UN MEDIUM (Piga/Digitmovie), I, FRANKENSTEIN (Klimek & Heil/Lakeshore), JACK RYAN SHADOW RECRUIT (Doyle/ Varese Sarabande), RIDE ALONG (Lennertz/Varese Sarabande), The Best of SILENT HILL (Yamaoka/Perseverance), SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (La-La Land), THE THIRTEENTH TALE (Wallfisch/MSM-Kronos).
In an interview in the blu-ray Special Features section, BLACKFISH director Gabriela Cowperthwaite answers the question “What should a documentary do?” “[It] should be able to incite a little bit of anger,” she replies. “[It] should raise a lot of questions, and ultimately [it should] inspire hope.” With BLACKFISH, her compelling indictment of the SeaWorld-style animals-for-amusement park syndrome, Cowperthwaite has succeeded in all three while adding another significant factor – emotional expressiveness. Since its release last July, BLACKFISH’s message – that intelligent, aware, social and socially bonding creatures like orcas should not be penned into tiny pools and forced to perform stupid pet tricks that have no similarity to their natural behavior in the wild – resonates with clarity and has found a sympathetic chord among audiences throughout the world willing to be moved into action.
The central motif (and inspiration for the film) is the 2010 killing of Sea World Florida top orca trainer Dawn Brancheau during a moment of frustrated aggression by orca Tilikum, who it turns out has a history of aggressive attacks on people and had killed two before its final encounter with Dawn. Cowperthwaite segues through several interviews with former orca trainers in several aquariums, including Sea World, marine biologists, a neuroscientist who works with orcas, a former orca capture boatman and the like, whose experiences are persuasive and whose unity against the treatment of orcas and other animals by seaquariums is quite provocative. In the end, BLACKFISH indeed incites anger, raises questions, and prompts hope that the seaquarium industry can indeed shift from being a circus of performing animal tricks to a allowing the animals to be displayed in more natural environments, urging that seaquariums shift their focus from captive pet tricks to shore-based sea-pens, allowing orcas to be simply be orcas – and giving paying audiences a far more realistic impression of these majestic animals.
Composer Jeff Beal (ROME, MONK, HOUSE OF CARDS) supplies an elegantly atmospheric score that adds a very affecting emotional twinge to the images, giving BLACKFISH a musical backdrop that, like the film itself, never crosses into emotional manipulation but supports the narrative aesthetic and honest compassion exhibited by the film. I interviewed Beal in January about his approach to scoring BLACKFISH – and the place of music in our modern cinematic style of documentary filmmaking. (In a later column, I’ll present the second part of our interview, in which we examine the scoring highlights of his filmography in films and television. - rdl
Q: How did you become involved in writing the music for BLACKFISH?
Jeff Beal: The director sent me an email when she was working on the movie. She had temped in some of my music from a previous documentary I had done called LAST CALL AT THE OASIS, which was all about water issues. She sent me one scene from the movie, a sequence with the trainer, I think his name was Ken, who gets dragged under by this whale. He survives, but it’s probably a 3 to 4 minute scene, unbelievably suspenseful. I really responded to that scene and also to how she was using music in the film. So that's how we got started.
Q: BLACKFISH is not a preachy or vindictive documentary. Its message is presented through interviews, news footage, and spectator home videos without an omniscient narrator tying everything together. What did you and Gabriela see as the role of music in this particular production?
Jeff Beal: I really like that about the film. If I was going to be philosophical about it I'd say that's part of the reason the film’s had such an effect on people because it doesn't make a heavy-handed argument. The story is really told by people who used to train these whales, and we follow their story from the optimistic, wide eyed excitement about what they're doing and track their progression as they learn what's [really] happening. There were a couple dramatic through-lines that we really wanted to do with the score; one of the most important was to give a personality and a sense of presence to the whales, and to also contrast the whales in captivity with the whales we see swimming in the wild. BLACKFISH really isn't your typical nature documentary; it's more of a sort of investigative mystery, in a way, so one element of the score was to set up this drama, like a whodunit, and have the music support the sort of conspiratorial story that's going on.
Q: Music for documentary films seems to have become more eloquent, more dramatic, and more emotive in recent years – more than simply accompaniment for film clips and talking heads as it was a few decades ago. What do modern documentaries need in terms of music, if we can risk generalizing just for a moment?
Jeff Beal: I think you’ve stated it beautifully, and I wholeheartedly agree. Something's happened in the last 10 or 15 years, but audiences are definitely enjoying documentary films in a more cinematic way, whether they are watching them theatrically or at home. There used to be a sense in which anything in a documentary film that had a sort of cinematic element to it was [considered] false or manipulative, and I think we've gotten over that. Music is one of those contributions that, if it's done well, can really create a visceral and emotional response without feeling like you've betrayed the honesty of what you're doing. It has a way of tying threads together and giving a shape to something that really no other element of the film can do in exactly that way.
Q: How affecting should the music be? Do you ever feel there is a line you need to walk in terms of being too manipulative in a documentary in terms leading an audience to feel a certain way, as opposed to, as Gabriela has said, let the audience find their own emotional reaction to what is being presented on screen?
Jeff Beal: I completely agree. There is no formula for that – it's just a sense of what feels right.
But you can also have fun. There's one scene in the movie where we show Tilikum’s family tree after they harvest his sperm to inseminate many other whales and it comes after a series of very dark parts of the movie, and I wrote this very jaunty waltz; it's intentionally ironic and darkly comedic. That’s a good example where a very a purposeful musical gesture can not only underscore the black comedy of what's happening, but it also gives the viewer a moment to catch their breath. Because the material itself is so explosive, sometimes the music is more like a salve – it will keep you watching but not so completely revolted that you can't just pull back. There's another couple of scenes I really love where the music goes very emotional, there's a scene where a baby whale is taken away from its mother and one of the female trainers is telling the story and there's a sound that the mother makes, we learn it's a long distance call, and is just a heartbreaking scene and the music is very emotional, and, again I was worried about that, feeling like oh boy did we go too far, but it just felt like we'd earned it because the story itself, anybody who's a parent could know what it would feel like to lose a child, that's a very raw and powerful emotional setting. I guess what I'm trying to say is when the filmmaker earns something by the story they're telling it gives the space for the music to give a voice to that feeling.
One of my favorite parts is in the last scene in the movie, where the former trainers go out to see the whales in the wild. I wrote this very sweeping piece, unlike anything else in the film. I remember when I first saw it, I just had this flash watching BORN FREE and remembering how moved I was by the score at the end of that movie. I was surprised, when I was writing, just how far I was going, but it felt right and we never changed it and everybody liked it. But it's interesting as a composer how you can take a scene and feel like, yeah, this is the time to do something. It sort of points to a larger issue about film in general – I feel that film is our communal place to go to learn about ourselves, and you go into a film wanting to have some sort of an experience, and so it’s the filmmaker’s job to hopefully deliver that.
Q: What was your instrumental palette for this score and how large of an orchestra was used?
Jeff Beal: I had a string orchestra of about 17 strings, some woodwinds and some electronics, piano, guitar. I played the guitar and also played all the piano. I did have one instrument that was a fun discovery: I wanted a sound to go along with Tilikum. He had his own theme, which was a little bit mischievous but also a little dark, and it gets darker as the story evolves. It’s not that he’s a villain but his life becomes this fulcrum around which all this bad stuff happens…
Q: He’s been damaged by his captivity.
Jeff Beal: Exactly. He’s damaged and he takes it out on several trainers. Of course the irony is the fact that this is a tragedy of our own making. This is the karmic sort of payback of this sense that we have we can take these magnificent creatures and hold them in captivity. For Tilikum I was looking for a sound, and you know the sound that whales make? It’s actually a pretty high-pitched sound, but there was something about the size of these creatures that I saw on screen. Whenever you see something huge, the psychoacoustics of sound always makes you assume it’s going to be a low, deep sound. So I wanted to figure out a low sound that had a kind of groan to it, so I actually recorded my flugelhorn doing a few phrases, and then I tuned them down a couple of octaves, digitally. That gave me a fun element to add into the more traditional orchestration; it feels organic because it was a real instrument played, but again it’s also warped by the technology into another place that had this sonic character, which felt right for Tilikum.
Q: In addition to the Tikikum theme, what other thematic or motific building blocks make up the BLACKFISH score?
Jeff Beal: One would have been that investigative theme – that’s the music we hear at the beginning of the movie, and we revisit that several times – we hear it during the OSHA trial and several other places. There is a “Wonderment Theme” in the middle of the movie when the whales are out in the wild and we also learn about their brains; I guess it’s a sort of “organic beauty of the creature” theme. Another element is a theme we hear for Kalina, the baby whale who is taken away from her mother. I used that same theme later in the film when one of the trainers in Spain is killed and you hear his story told by his fiancée and then his mother, and I liked the symmetry of that in the sense that it’s again the sorrow of a mother losing her child. That tied together well. Those are some of the main areas of the score.
Q: BLACKFISH has some very dramatic and emotional moments, not the least of which is its inspiration, the tragic death of Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau and the orca Tilikum’s long history of frustrated aggression in captivity. How did you work with Gabriela to decide how these moments, and others like them, were to be treated musically?
Jeff Beal: We tried to tread very lightly in the more horrific beats in the film. There was another element of the score which was more like sound design, just sort of haunting, low tones. I developed a whole palette of some electronic sounds for that – sort of like what it feels like when you’re underwater. So there’s a sense in which there’s a fog over everything. That was a sort of sound painting – I wanted to create that cloud of doom, [conveying a sense of] something being terribly wrong.
Q: What, then, did you find unique about scoring BLACKFISH?
Jeff Beal: I guess the most unique discovery for me was the real protagonists of the movie are the whales. You look at them like the protagonists. We’re very used to having an actor or a person being the focus of something, so it’s always a challenge when it’s not a human being. But also I liked the idea that there’s this sense of this larger karmic sort of badness, you know?
Q: There’s definitely a cause-and-effect in play here.
Jeff Beal: Yeah. Not a lot of films represent an awakening from a way you used to do things. I mean, we took our kids to SeaWorld many times… I guess the thing I’m trying to get at is, in the digital age where we have so much information coming to us so quickly, I feel like good documentary films like this one have actually stepped in to do what the investigative journalist departments of news-gathering organizations used to do. I guess it’s also – and maybe this answers your question about music in documentaries and this whole resurgence of documentary filmmaking – I feel like one of the most creative areas of filmmaking of any kind is really documentary film. It just feels like there’s a huge amount of creativity and energy being invested there and really happening right now, and I love being a part of that, as a composer.
Q: BLACKFISH has certainly resonated with audiences and provoked action and education to seek alternatives to orcas in captivity performing tricks. What do you see as your contribution to that response, or what kind of reactions have you received from your music in the film?
Jeff Beal: Well, I just wrote the music, so in one sense I feel undeserving of most of that attention, but I will say that that one of the things I do take pleasure in is this groundswell of response from people who have been moved by the film. I’m proud of that because one of the things I tried to do was to make the movie an emotional journey. I think any good film that has this sort of effect on a population, really, with all this stuff that’s happened, all these self-organized protests, all these musicians cancelling appearances at SeaWorld and so on… just to see this movement starting, it’s really sort of overwhelming and gratifying.
Q: It’s cool to be part of a game changer.
Jeff Beal: Yeah, absolutely.
Q: Now you’ve just completed a new documentary film called THE GUIDE. What can you tell us about this picture and your musical approach to scoring it?
Jeff Beal: It’s a wonderful film that Jessica Yu made about the rehabilitation of a public reserve in Gorongosa, Mozambique. It’s about a couple things, but on one level it’s a coming-of-age movie about this African boy Tonga, who goes from being a young man growing up to eventually becoming mentored by this visiting biologist who flies to Gorongosa and shows him how to start cataloguing wildlife. It’s very tender and it’s Africa, so that was fun, musically, just to be in a different place. It’s much less explosive in terms of the way the story is told, as opposed to something like BLACKFISH, although it is a similar theme in the sense that again, it’s an important exposure of an ecological problem, as the Gorongosa park has been encroached by both poachers and also by the domestication of the land. A lot of Africans have started to cut down the forest in order to raise livestock.
Q: So, like BLACKFISH it has a message that may stimulate some interest and some action?
Jeff Beal: Exactly. I just heard from the director a couple weeks ago and I think it’s a film that’s going to have a pretty big educational roll-out with various institutions. It’s a very inspiring film for young people to see. That’s one of the things that BLACKFISH has done, as well. It gives the next generation a feeling of empowerment – we are stewards of the Earth, and I think there is a whole young generation of people who understand what’s at stake in terms of protecting our planet. Filmmakers are sensing this and they’re feeling this urge to tell these stories. It’s wonderful that they are.
For more information on Jeff Beal, see: http://www.jeffbeal.com/
For more information on BLACKFISH see: http://blackfishmovie.com/
John Debney has given the Lifetime/History Channel mini-series BONNIE & CLYDE an interesting sound texture mixing 1930s-era folk styles with a more modern musical vibe. The four hour series was directed by Bruce Beresford and starred Emile Hirsch and Holliday Grainger in the title roles of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, the 1930s couple whose crime spree enraptured the American public. Holly Hunter, William Hurt, Sarah Hyland, Elizabeth Reaser, Lane Garrison, Austin Hebert and Dale Dickey co-star. Debney previously co-scored the History Channel’s Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning mini-series HATFIELDS & MCCOYS (see interview in my August 2012 column). Interviewed in mid-December, Debney described his approach to scoring this legendary crime couple.
Q: How did this miniseries come about for you?
John Debney: I’d had a lifelong fascination with Bonnie & Clyde, and I heard through my agent, Richard Kraft, that these wonderful producers were going to do this miniseries about them. I love these guys, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, they’ve done The Oscars, HAIRSPRAY, CHICAGO, and all these big movies, so I’m a big fan, and I’m also a big fan of Bruce Beresford, the director, so when Richard told me about this and who was involved, I asked to have a phone conversation with them and try to express my passion over the real Bonnie and Clyde and that whole era. So I got Neil and Craig on the phone and I did my 20-minute passionate suite of “please consider me” and it worked out. Quickly after that I met with Bruce Beresford, and we each liked each other a lot, and then it was just a mad rush to get the thing done! There needed to be a lot of music in the movie! Quite frankly, it’s one of the most favorite things I’ve done in recent years. I was given the chance to write a melody or two, do a mash-up of quintessential ‘30s jazz music, and infuse it with some contemporary drum sounds and come out with this interesting, cross-section, deconstructed jazz score. That’s the way I’d describe it!
Q: I think what struck me, you have the period music, you had the ode to bluegrass, but you also had this very modern, dramatic music that went beyond period, beyond place, and really invested the audience in the minds of these people.
John Debney: You’ve just described it perfectly. That’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to write a period score. I wanted to write a score that would perhaps really give you a flavor of these two people and their love affair. They were deeply in lust, yet things went terribly wrong, and I wanted to describe that too, musically. But I always felt that if you were to buy into them you had to buy into the idea that they were hopelessly in love, and just a lot crazy. And that’s all infused with the idea of giving you a sense of place and time in this desperate time that they lived in. All those ideas were going through my mind as I was trying to create this music.
Q: There’s also the inescapable fact that, as much as these are being presented romantically as quasi-hero figures, they’re also clearly criminals and killers. How did you address that in your musical treatment of them?
John Debney: That was the fine line that I walked. I don’t conceive of them as heroic in the traditional sense of the word, but I guess you’d say at the beginning they were sort of like a Robin Hood, at least it kind of had a Robin Hood-esque feeling to it, and that’s why the public was with them at first. Then obviously the public turned against them once they started to shoot cops and do really bad things. So I just thought I would stick with the idea that they were two young people who were in love and who were fantasizing that they were heroes. I know in Bonnie’s case she wanted to be a movie star – she wanted to have fame and fortune, and in their weird, twisted way she did gain that. So I just wanted to stick with that. Honestly their acts were horrible, but there was something about the two of them and falling in love at first sight like they did, I just sort clung onto that and that’s what I tried to focus on as I went through the project.
I’ll tell you, my favorite scene that I wrote in the movie featured something called the Fate Theme. I only got to quote it a couple of times. I originally had that big theme in the very beginning of the movie, and there was some discussion with the network that they kind of felt it was a little too Americana or something. But I did use it in a few spots, and of wish I could have used it in a couple more places. It had this Randy Newman-esque/Americana feeling and it does make its appearance at the end of the very first cue on the album. The trumpet quotes it a little bit, and I quite like it. I quoted it in the woodwinds and a couple other spots where it just sort of makes me sad, it’s beautiful and yet it’s very sad. Sort of like they had no choice to do what they did, it was the fate of them…
Q: Things are happening, they’re going down a road that has no way out.
John Debney: Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s what I was trying to express musically.
Q: How would you describe the arc of the score, thematically and atmospherically?
John Debney: It’s big. It progresses in an interesting way. It sort of starts out very jazzy and very upbeat; even in the source music it’s very upbeat and jazzy and cool, from that time period. As it gets through to the end it really deconstructs itself into some very lonely, strange textures. It’s always anchored by versions of the Fate theme. By the end of the movie, the mournful trumpet is playing this pseudo-jazz motif and that to me exemplifies, again, the fate of it all, and what was going to happen to them. Our good guy/bad guy in this film is Detective Hamer – he’s the cause of their demise, and he has a definite sound to him; it’s a detuned guitar and a detuned dulcimer with some really low synth sounds in it. I utilized that a lot in the score to signify Hamer’s bad-ass, bloodthirsty quality. That’s the other main sound in the score.
Q: What was most challenging for you about this score?
John Debney: Lots of music! I had some really fine musicians come in, but trying to get these great musicians involved in time was a big challenge. Luckily I’ve developed some good relationships over the years and the guys came when I called. It was just a very interesting journey, a very different type of score for me.
Q: What can you tell us about your next project?
John Debney: I’m finishing DRAFT DAY which is a nice football movie, a really cool movie with Kevin Costner and my friend Ivan Reitman. And I just finished the new Chris Carter pilot called THE AFTER, which is very cool, so it’s just been really relentless work right now.
Q: Anything you can say about THE AFTER at this point?
John Debney: I’d hate to spoil it! I’ve always wanted to work with Chris Carter and have been a huge fan of his. Interestingly enough Chris and I met about 25 years ago on something but never got to work together. We were actually working on a show together, it wasn’t his show, and then he went off and became the legend that he is. He called me out of the blue a few weeks ago and reminded me that we knew each other and that we met, and I fell in love with his project, so I just jumped in. All I can say is that it’s an hour pilot with a very interesting concept, and for a very interesting place – Amazon Studios is doing this pilot, it’s one of their first pilots. It’s uber cool and uber awesome, but I don’t want to spoil it… I would just say for all your readers to check it out on Amazon. Like Netflix you can go there and view it directly, and I think it’s going to be pretty awesome.
American-Israeli composer and musician Lior Ron has scored Shoreline Entertainment's newly-released documentary film, PABLO. Directed by Richard Goldgewicht, PABLO is an animated biography blended with motion design and documentary footage that tells the extraordinary saga of “famous unknown” film artist Pablo Ferro, who created the iconic opening titles and montage sequences for numerous classic films (DR. STRANGELOVE, BULLITT, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, BEATLEJUICE, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, PHILADELPHIA). Narrated by Jeff Bridges and featuring appearances from Anjelica Huston, Andy Garcia, Stan Lee, Jon Voight, Leonard Maltin, and many more of his friends and collaborators, PABLO is a celebration of Pablo Ferro's magic and creative spirit, which ultimately triumphs after a tragic-comic rollercoaster life story. Hailed by Screen Daily as "A must for any lover of cinema," PABLO premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and is now available on DVD and VOD.
"We explored several different musical directions for the score," said Lior. "A term we kept playing around with was 'The Sad Clown'. I kept that in the back of my mind throughout the entire process." The scoring sessions took place in Lior's native Israel but he composed, mixed and produced the score at his studio in Los Angeles. "The score has lots of exotic/ethnic flavors to it and it was important for me to record musicians that have those qualities in their playing."
I interviewed Lior last November about his score for this unique film.
Q: After scoring short films since 2010, PABLO has given you the chance to score a feature film. What challenges have you faced in scoring the longer format of a feature movie – and how did your experience on the short films prepare you for this job?
Lior Ron: Working on PABLO was a wonderful opportunity for me, and I was lucky to have been brought on board during the pre-production of the film so I could immerse myself in the film-making process. I enjoyed working on all the shorts I scored before PABLO; they are a good way to work on your chops as a storyteller, but ultimately, scoring features is a much more sophisticated, demanding, and rewarding process of storytelling.
Q: How did the film’s mix of animation, talking heads, video/still clips – not to mention Pablo Ferro’s amazing life story - inspire you to compose the kind of score you did?
Lior Ron: In PABLO, the visuals are constantly changing from animation to talking heads, to Pablo’s commercial work, to sequences of news segments about Pablo, etc. It was important for me to create a unified score that will guide the viewer through all those different sources while still letting the viewer feel that he or she is watching just one unified film.
Q: The film is a documentary but unusually it utilized animation to tell much of its story – how did this process affect your scoring ideas as far as building a score that would support animated characters that represented real people?
Lior Ron: I don’t want to share any spoilers, but to some extent, Pablo’s life story is so rich and colorful that you almost have to wonder if all those stories really happened or maybe they were just fantasy. Coming from that point of view, I could easily connect to the director’s choices in using animation as a tool to show the viewer just how unique and intriguing Pablo’s story is. Scoring the animated scenes was fun because I was able step out of the ‘real’ world and go wild with any musical idea I had.
Q: What prompted your choice for the acoustic instrumental palette for this score, which features a number of ethnic elements – and what drew you to the musicians you brought in to perform them?
Lior Ron: When Richard, the director, and I were spotting the film for music and talking about our palette of sounds, we decided that we needed to have some Latin elements in the score. Pablo was born in Cuba and is truly a very colorful guy, so it was essential to have some Latin/ethnic flavors in the score. I’ve been playing the trumpet all my life, so going with the trumpet as the lead instrument was an obvious choice.
I met with Pablo prior to scoring the film, and after chatting with him for a couple of hours, I just knew that the score had to be unconventional, just like the kind of guy he is. I decided to go with an acoustic ensemble because acoustic instruments are always more personal, in my opinion. In my 20’s I was gigging as a trumpet player in Israel and got to record and perform with some amazing musicians, so I knew exactly who I wanted to play on the score. The Israeli music scene is a big melting pot of cultures and history, and there is an incredible amount of unique, world-class level musicians.
Q: As the film is about Pablo Ferro, designer of memorable movie title sequences and a guy whose life could have made a fascinating mystery thriller in its own right – you’re in essence scoring a movie about movies that has episodes that read almost as fiction. How did you treat the theatricality of the film, of Pablo Ferro, the references to the films he worked on, and the journey from obscurity, a life-threatening assault, to his triumph as a creator of iconic title sequences for major movies?
Lior Ron: Pablo’s life has really been an incredible ride; it’s almost hard to believe one person can have so much happen to them in one lifetime – not to mention so many amazing credits as a title-designer, visual FX guy, director. I received a hard drive from the production with tons of clips of Pablo’s work, from the super commercial and well-known blockbusters, to home-made experimental projects and hand-drawn illustrations by Pablo. I watched everything many times before I sat down to write the first note, so I’m sure that Pablo’s work inspired me to write the music for the documentary about him. On one of the occasions that I met Pablo Ferro, I asked him about the legendary DR. STRANGELOVE trailer he had cut for Stanley Kubrick. There’s a little xylophone hit for every cut on the screen, and I wanted to know who scored that or how they cut the music. Pablo said he had a few xylophone hits on a reel of film, and he just randomly cut them without giving any attention to what note is being played where. I thought that was pretty damn cool.
Q: What kind of response have you been receiving about this score – and what has it led in terms of new and future projects for you?
Lior Ron: I’ve been getting positive responses from film buffs all over the world that they thoroughly enjoyed the film and the music. I am finishing up my 2nd film with Richard Goldgewicht now – GAMEPLAY, about the evolution of the video games world. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve also been collaborating with the very talented composer Sean Murray (Call Of Duty: Black Ops) on a narrative feature titled BLACK ROSE (starring Adrian Paul and Kristanna Loken) and I’m working on a narrative project with Academy Award Nominated Director Lior Geller.
Q: Any final perspectives on scoring this or other films, and where you would like to see the future take you in music/film music?
Lior Ron: Lately I’ve been experimenting with some dark industrial elements combined with classical elements. I think that it’s really amazing for a composer today to be able to do so much in the box, while using brand new top-of-the line plugins and samples, and combining them with wind and string instruments that have been around for hundreds of years. It would be cool to score a thriller/espionage film where I could incorporate this new direction I’m going after. I love music, picture, and combining them both. Features, games, trailers, shorts – each has its own unique challenges and I enjoy working on them all!
Watch a behind the scenes video of the PABLO recording sessions here.
The score album is available on iTunes and amazon.
New Soundtrax in Review
THE BEASTMASTER/Lee Holdridge/Quartet
Spain’s Quartet Records has released a sparkling new expanded version of Lee Holdridge’s terrific 1982 sword & sorcery & animals adventure fantasy. Holdridge invested Don Coscarelli’s saga about Dar (Marc Singer), a barbarian hero with supernatural powers to command the animals with one of his finest themes, a thoroughly engaging and broadly adventurous anthem for full orchestra which propels the heroic action beautifully. In addition to that sweeping motif, which is associated with Dar the Hero, while sub-themes convey elements of his personality and power, such as the synth motif used to reflect the sorcery that has given him his power over animals, and the faint chimes that denote that power in use, particularly effective to personify the eagle, primary symbol of his animalistic symbiosis. A pretty melody for flute love over harp, wind chimes and finger-cymbals serves as a love theme for Dar and the abundantly comely Kiri (Tanya Roberts), while a motif for low timpani, sustained cello, and resonant horns reflects the twisted evil of Maax (Rip Torn), the villainous pagan priest. Holdridge’s basic approach to the film was a mythological one: “You can’t tell what period it’s set in or where it’s set,” Holdridge said in a 1982 interview I did for CinemaScore magazine, “so I decided that it should be mythological in nature. Therefore I opted for what I call a kind of modal approach in symphonic works. I used a lot of percussion and brass in THE BEASTMASTER, and the open sound of the notes gives a mysterious modal quality to it which makes it sound ancient.” Holdridge also wanted very specific and strong themes, the most dominant of which is the central heroic theme that runs throughout the film. This is balanced with a distinctive theme for the eagle, which becomes a symbol for Dar. “The two themes become more and more intertwined as the picture develops,” Holdridge explained, “and I found that I was able to work the two together in a nice way, especially in the final moments of the picture when they’re all united – all the themes come together in the very last scene of the movie.” Quartet provides the original 13 album tracks, which combined various cues into a cohesive listening experience, which was released on LP in 1983 by Varese Sarabande and in Japan by Seven Seas. The score’s first CD issue came from CAM in Italy, with the album tracks plus 1 unreleased track, “Battle on the Pyramid,” the same sequence appeared on a 2000 composer promo which also includes tracks from TV’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Quartet’s new version includes the 13 album tracks plus the actual film score version (32 tracks), with a combined total of 135:18. The score should be considered indispensable, the energy and boldness of its themes and the massive orchestration and thematic interplay and convergence that occupy Holdridge’s action music is masterful; the addition for the first time of the actual film tracks allows the music, and its permutations, variations, and nuances to shine – and the wonder and glory of that energetic, exciting main theme to resonate beautifully across your home speakers. Presented across 2-discs, the set includes a thorough commentary booklet which includes an overview of the film and its score, and a comprehensive track-by-track analysis of both discs, by John Takis.
BIG BAD WOLVES/Frank Ilfman/MSM-Kronos
Inspired by the recent films of the Korean New Wave, BIG BAD WOLVES is an Israeli crime thriller written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. Combining thriller elements with mordant humor, BIG BAD WOLVES was described by The Hollywood Reporter as “fiendishly clever” featuring “mind-bending plot twists.” This revenge film follows the life of a brutal serial killer through the eyes of three people: the father of the latest victim, a vigilante police detective, and the likeliest suspect who had just been released from custody. The paths of the three men are bound to collide… The film’s score was written by Frank Ilfman, who mentored under German film composer Klaus Doldinger as a teenager and was inspired to pursue his passion. To date, Ilfman has scored over 40 films and television productions, including the literature-themed documentary RUSSIA’S OPEN BOOK, hosted by Stephen Fry. “For BIG BAD WOLVES it was important to have a big major theme that will be bigger than life, something that will take you into this dark fairy tale” said Ilfman about the score. “The film has a few very Hitchcockian moments so we wanted to have a very bold strong main theme that can stand on its own and something that will stay with you when you leave the cinema thinking of the movie. The music is like a fifth character in the movie and its one of its key elements.” Ilfman's music is centered on a provocative, relentlessly driving main theme that effectively contrasts minor and major chords, creating a noir-ish mood that is quite affecting. The motif is arranged in a number of guises throughout the score, but almost always retains its command authority and it presses on irrevocably (“Scream For Me” and “The Chair of Horror” are two particularly excellent examples). In “Help Me” and “Bike vs. Car,” Ilfman contrasts his menacing main theme against the rhythmic device of mercato strings in a notably Zimmeresque fashion, which adds a strident rate to its already-vigorous potent forward motion, while in “Saved by the Bell” a mélange of processed sounds and samples maintains a nightmarish attitude that is deliciously unsettling. “A Story About a Little Girl” arranged the main theme in the manner of a music-box melody, which gives the dangerous refrain a particular arrogant menace in his treatment. This is a fine, darkly tinged score that makes the most out of its very flexible thematic base to evoke a number of atmospheres and emotions along its way. By the end, with the two final tracks “The Last Breath” and “The Missing Girl and Epilogue,” Ilfman slows down the theme’s inexorable pace to provide the opportunity for reflection, and through these two final tracks the score resolves itself very affectingly.
The music for BIG BAD WOLVES was recorded with the London Metropolitan Orchestra at Air Lyndhurst Studios, conducted by orchestrator Matthew Slater. Released digitally in December, the label plans a CD release for the future. For sample soundbytes, view an interview with the composer, or to order, see: http://www.kronosrecords.com/K35.html
BLACK SAILS/Bear McCreary/Sparks & Shadows
The latest new television series to take advantage of Bear McCreary’s extraordinary skills and boundless creativity as its composer is the Starz series, BLACK SAILS, which debuted in January. A highly detailed, period adventure with an ensemble cast and plenty of room for intrigue and corruption, BLACK SAILS is a pirate story from the inside out, examining the business of pirating – the politics and power of pirate life – from the perspective of those within its ranks. McCreary’s score is very much the match of the rugged detail shown in the series’ production design, an imperfect sound played by instruments of the day as if the score were performed by members of the pirate gang itself. In the process, two instruments leapt to the foreground of what would become the BLACK SAILS sound – the accordion and the hurdy-gurdy, instruments that the composer happened to play himself. As McCreary explains in his notes in the album booklet, playing the hurdy-gurdy on the BLACK SAILS score meant that for the first time, he began composing on that instrument rather than on the usual piano. “The resulting score is distinctly different from anything I’ve ever created,” wrote McCreary, who uses the terms “raw, filthy, salty” to denote the kind of musical score he felt would best suit the new show. “After spending my entire career in pursuit of the most perfectly orchestrated melody, the most elegantly voiced chorale, and the most precisely tune solo, BLACK SAILS allowed me to return to a primal state of creativity – to create something primitive, but no less effective.” With himself as a primary soloist on his own score, McCreary added an additional historically-proper ensemble – string quartet rhythm guitar trio, percussion duo, and a number of accurate solo instruments, and created a score that is based in the kind of raw fusion one might encounter if one stumbled onto a bunch of pirates playing instruments after a particularly providential haul on the high seas (or a particularly poor one). Within this primarily rhythmic approach, McCreary has crafted distinctive thematic structures associated with the series’ primary characters, as well as a variety of source music cues that would be equally accurate to history. Thus the musical world of BLACK SAILS is crafted with all the raw exuberance, filthy gusto, and salty violence one might expect when cavorting and conducting business with those unscrupulous merchantmen of black sails and bloody seas. The album, from McCreary’s specialty label, includes notes by series co-creator /exec producer Joseph E. Steinberg, and by McCreary himself (further details on scoring the show can be found in McCreary’s regular online blog at www.bearmccreary.com/blacksails )
Speaking of pirates...
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS/Henry Jackman/Varese Sarabande
Henry Jackman has provided a tangibly intense score for Paul Greengrass’ strikingly directed and powerfully acted portrayal of the real-life pirate attack on the merchant container ship Maersk Alabama in 2009 in which the Captain was kidnapped by Somali pirates and rescued in a superb feat of marksmanship by US Navy Seals on the turbulent high seals of the Indian Ocean. Greengrass had a productive collaboration with composer John Powell on the last two BOURNE movies (Powell also scored the director’s UNITED 93 and GREEN ZONE) but with Powell having taken a hiatus from composing to spend more time with family and children, Jackman was a reasonable choice to score CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. “If you were to take a film like 'Harry Potter,' you're expected to unleash all manner of unabashed thematic material. Nothing could be further from that in a Paul Greengrass film,” Jackman said in an interview with HuffPost Entertainment. “You have to steer well clear of that. You can’t really use themes that much at all. Melodic information is severely repressed. Which is necessary and has a beneficial effect on a movie like CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, because the way it’s presented is quasi-realistic. Paul Greengrass used to be a journalist and you can feel that in the way he makes films. It’s much more a case of taking textual and tonal motifs and elements that are not melodic, and then using them to create the tension. It was almost an exercise with minimalism and how few elements you can use.”
With most of Jackman’s action cues built around percussive material, notably a rough-edged, scraped-metallic kind of sound that suggests he’s representing the metallic innards of the ship in crafting his action material, the score is at once familiar in its overtly percussive orientation (this seems to be a Greengrass trademark, as he asked much in the way of drums from Powell as well) and yet intriguing in the textures that are added to it, such as oud and the nay as well as synthesized textures and processed variants. These tapping textures, often counterpointed by menacing incursions of the nay, accompany the pirate attacks and their treatment of Phillips once he has been kidnapped; they also maintain a constant atmosphere of tension in their grainy timbres and low tones that works very much in the film’s favor. Theses sonic textures begins with the introduction of the pirates as they form their teams to head off into the sea to raid the Maersk Alabama, and maintains a kind of dark malevolence throughout the score, fitting in well with the desperate intensity so powerfully played by the Somali-American actors portraying the pirates. In contrast is a gentle, humbly heroic theme for Tom Hanks’ Captain Phillips, first heard in “Maersk Alabama” representing both the Captain and his ship. Slight resonances of the melody recur in actions associated with Phillips in “Into the Lifeboat” and other tracks, making up much of the counterpoint that we will hear against the pirate’s motif. A strident, percussive motif accompanies the arrival of the Navy’s USS Bainbridge and later the Navy Seals, a semblance not unlike the pirate’s theme only without the ethnic textures. The percussion flurries for both pirates and Naval sailors reach their simultaneous apogee in “High Speed Maneuvers” which literally grinds the music into a ferocious intensity for the climax in which the pirates are vanquished and Phillips freed. The final cue, “Safe Now,” bears a flagrant and obvious resemblance to “Time” from Hans Zimmer’s INCEPTION score (a piece or an arrangement of which which is showing up in too many other film scores these days); still it does flavor the conclusion with a sense of profound relief and resolution. [As some have noticed, in addition to “Time,” Greengrass dropped in John Powell’s “The End” from UNITED 93 to cover the CAPTAIN PHILLIPS climax – up to the “execute!” order; it’s not clear if that cue that displaced what Jackman may have written or if it was intended to be used early on; as that sequence (which would occur between “High-Speed Maneuvers” and “Safe Now”) does not appear on the album.]
THE DONNER PARTY/Eimear Noone/2M1 Records
Eímear Noone is an Irish composer/conductor resident in Malibu California, who splits her time between video games, feature films, TV, commercials, classical repertoire and teaching conducting. Noone’s latest film score is for the 2009 film THE DONNER PARTY, a heavily fictionalized story based on the real events of the Donner Party, that infamous group of California-bound travelers who in the winter of 1846-47 became snowbound and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. The film stars Crispin Glover (“in a restrained and believable performance,” according to one online reviewer); Noone’s score is highly emotive in reflecting the psychological reaction and stresses undergone by the survivors, as well as underlining the harsh conditions they faced. The score begins with a tone of mid-19th Century Americana fiddle that soon turns dark and menacing. Emphasizing the fiddle’s low timbre resonance and ability to sound scratchy, embellished by an array of wickedly scraped percussive sounds, Noone serves up a hypnotic design of tone and texture, her main melody wafting through such brooding tracks as “My Love Will Warm the Chill Wind,” “Starving Body, Starving Soul” and “Dead Cold Hands” to remind us where these people came from even in the midst of their necessary choice for survival. A hushed a capella choir suggests some of the extreme struggles the group has to make, ethically, religiously, spiritually in “The Prayer.” The film’s focus, even to the point of the license it takes with historical fact, is to examine desperate human beings facing desperate circumstances; the score captures that focus in both its lyrical melodies and its moments of severe lamentation, emphasized as they are with the heavy bleakness of hope the music often weighs down with; in this light, “Civilization’s End” becomes a tone poem for anxious despair at the very door of death. “Hunger Beckons” sees the violin lyric all but overcome by pounding, befouled throbs of low drums, while high-registered metallic reflections suggest the contortion of one’s soul when faced with an awful decision. Noone’s main theme has its final statement in “Sorrowful Landscape,” where it celebrates survival but remains choked by the memory of the cost of that survival; even as the music rises up with a cry of thankful triumph, the survivors must keep their heads to the ground in shame. Eímear Noone’s score to THE DONNER PARTY is a dark and haunting Americana; a powerful tone poem that paints a chilled picture of humanity at its lowest, yet elegiacally confirming the spark for survival that beats within all of us.
5 TOMBE PER UN MEDIUM/Aldo Piga/Digitmovies
Italian composer Aldo Piga is a significant musical figure in the first wave of low-budget Italian horror films from the early 1960s. Once Riccardo Freda had launched the Gothic Italian vampire film with I VAMPIRI in 1956, other directors quickly stepped onto the bandwagon to create stylish and unique vampire films whose creativity often belied their shoestring budget. Among these were Roberto Mauri’s THE VAMPIRE’S LOVER (1960; L’amante Del Vampiro, aka THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA) and Piero Regnoli’s THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE (1960; aka L’ultima Preda Del Vampiro), two of the earliest Italian horror films after I VAMPIRI, both of which were scored by Piga. With this 2012 release, Digitmovies preserves for the first time two of Piga’s horror scores. 1964’s IL MOSTRO DELL’OPERA (THE VAMPIRE OF THE OPERA) from director Renato Polselli was a take-off on PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in which the Phantom not only mentors his treasured soprano, but turns her and her fellow chorus-liners into hungry vampires. IL MOSTRO’s main theme is particularly striking, one of the finest romantic horror motifs in pre-giallo Italian horror cinema. Structured in rising and falling parts, its waltz-like pattern provides a sense of elegance that is set in severe contrast to its forceful, attacking function in the film (it’s also structured as an elegant French horn/violins arrangement (“Titoli”) and a stately harpsichord rendition (Track 28). In Track 27 Piga embellishes the theme with the eerie sound of a musical saw, which is featured throughout the score along with a very high-end Theremin (the album also includes an experimental solo Theremin track). Piga’s background in jazz also came in handy for some big band jazz heard during the chorus girls’ performances (Track 25), which in the film extend into the score during a panic scene occurring in the theater. A blistering, high electronic wail, oscillating over musical saw, marimba, and clacking percussion, is heard in Track 19 and then reprised by Piga for a zombie-attack scene in the second film, 5 Tombe Per Un Medium/Five Graves for a Medium (1965; aka TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE) but wisely not included anew on the album. Directed by Massimo Pupillo and starring Barbara Steele, allegedly but inaccurately based on a Poe story, this film had to do with zombies who rise to attack those foolish enough to spend the night in a remote castle. Piga also recycled an aggressive, advancing monster theme he’d composed for THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE (Track 29, Finale), which worked well for another attack sequence. Piga’s score is characteristic Gothic horror music, but highly effective; influenced by both the Universal and Hammer traditions of the 1940s and 1950s. His main theme’s melody is based on that of a folk tune sung by a character in the film (presented vocally, in Italian and English, by a studio singer on the album). In the titles it is heard from a clear-toned violin playing over clusters of brass and tom-toms; midway through the main title, the orchestration is swapped and French horns take the theme over fastly bowed violins. The main theme recirculates through the score, becoming a lilting love theme for widowed Cleo (Barbara Steele) and her lover Morgan (Riccardo Garrone), and later as one of Hauff’s former servants hauls out his corpse on the anniversary of his death and vows to begin the process of his revenge, the tune adding a lovely serenity to the rather disturbing scene. The theme is also performed by the musical saw when one of the housemaids walks through the woods and is menaced by strange sounds; here, Piga also uses enhanced sound effects suggestive of bending tree limbs over 2-step xylophone and strummed harp that really gives the scene an enhanced spookiness. In the climax, exaggerated sound effects – twisting cloth, stretching rope, squeaking windmills – will again merge with music to intensify the mostly unseen threat of the reanimated plague-dead. The folk song’s words, about water, will clue hero Albert in on how to destroy the zombies, and it resonates with clarity and triumph from strings over repeated arpeggios of electric bass when a sudden downpour at the end keeps the zombies safely in their graves.
As the first soundtrack release of Piga’s music, it’s hoped that his earlier vampire scores may also see the moonlight of night one of these days.
I, FRANKENSTEIN/Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil/Lakeshore
From the co-writer of the hit supernatural saga, UNDERWORLD, comes the action thriller I, FRANKENSTEIN, a new take on the science fiction/horror classic written for the screen and directed by Stuart Beattie and based on the Darkstorm Studios graphic novel created by Kevin Grevioux. In this film, 200 years after his shocking creation, Dr. Frankenstein's creature, Adam, still walks the earth, having adopted his creator’s surname (thus the title). But when he finds himself in the middle of a war over the fate of humanity, Adam discovers he holds the key that could destroy humankind. The score was written by Tom Twyker regulars Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil (CLOUD ATLAS, RUN LOLA RUN) and features Lisa Gerrard contributing vocals on three of the tracks. It’s a fairly low, somber orchestral work, given a strong, grinding mechanism that subtly reminds us that our titular character is not a thing of natural birth. The composers decided to forego using any woodwinds to keep the music from sounding too organic and soft; even the strings are layered darkly, giving the music a consistently menacing/melancholy suspenseful/sympathetic tonality that fits this character-based treatment of the classic man-made monster. “The whole score was based around four main themes,” said Klimek. “These often intertwine depending upon the characters on screen and the emotional response needed. The film is quite musically driven in parts so some sequences called for many emotional shifts.” The music shifts and floats heavily on various sonic layers, as groaning choirs, airy voices, sepulchral tonalities, and whooshing synths jostle for air space, but massive footsteps of horns blast out frequent caverns of resonating monster rage as choir soars skyward. Through the active tonalities and textures, quiet moments featuring subdued atmospheres and gathering rhythms, including the mesmerizing voice of Lisa Gerrard. “I think the most interesting element from our side was getting Lisa Gerrard’s voice in the score,” said Klimek. Added Heil: “She has this very unique timbre that fit the Gothic nature of the story perfectly.”
JACK RYAN SHADOW RECRUIT/Patrick Doyle/Varese Sarabande
Patrick Doyle joins frequent directorial collaborator Kenneth Branagh for this new reboot of the intrepid Tom Clancy character previously filmed in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, PATRIOT GAMES, and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, and rebooted once already in THE SUM OF ALL FEARS. In SHADOW RECRUIT, an original story by Adam Cozad and David Koepp (the previous four Ryan films were all based on novels by Clancy, who died last October 1st), we learn how Ryan (played by Chris [Captain Kirk] Pine) evolves from being a young CIA Analyst to being a top field agent. The action-heavy score is something of a departure for the composer, as he noted in an interview with Etan Rosenbloom for the ASCAP web site. In JACK RYAN, said Doyle, “the depth to which I’ve immersed myself in the world of electronic music is quite a departure for me.” On one hand, the prevalence of propulsive, electro-percussive rhythmic riffs and beats falls into an overused trend heard in most action scores nowadays, but Doyle accommodates this formula-friendly technique with the kind of vivid orchestral thematic drive that he is best known for. The staccato riff becomes tiresome after a few tracks built out of the same basic material; Doyle’s more inventive electronic material is better suited for its use imbedding some intriguing electronic colors in tracks like “Get Out” or the buzzing counterpoint in “Stealing the Data.”
Overall there are three primary motific components to Doyle’s JACK RYAN score. Each of those elements is present in the film’s opening track, “The Activation.” The cue opens with a warm melody of piano over strings, playing a gentle arrangement of Ryan’s theme; midway through it turns very cold and begins to exude the uneasy tension of the suspense motif, as a sleeper agent is awakened; as the agent begins to follow his mission, a quiet, staccato percussion pad resonates with activity and purpose – each of the score’s three motifs articulated with quiet introduction and muted apprehension. The suspense cue varies in tonality but is usually sounded through keyboards or plucked guitar over a low, slow, tenuous resonance of winds, strings, light percussion and/or synths. Eight of the cues are built around this tenuous vibe, creating tense, brooding atmospheres. These include the more tentative measures of “Picking This Life,” “Plan in a Van,” “Rooftop Call,” “Shadow Accounts,” and parts of “Stealing the Data.” Nine cues are made up of the driving action motif; the staccato percussive forward riffing of this motif tends to stay the same (and, as noted above, suffers a bit in its use of a familiar device heard in modern action scores); it’s in the various elements that Doyle places above and against the riff that differentiates the tracks and gives their industrial drive a more evocative fluency. In some of these, the action material becomes the realization of the furtive, tension-building cues, in that the same kind of musical components are there in the suspense material, its quiet pads spun into high gear and set ablaze when the action begins. The third component is the most striking, and this is Doyle’s main orchestral theme for Jack Ryan, which soars above all of the covert machinations of the film’s technical activity. Hinted at near the end of “Aleksandr” and subtly reprised in “CIA Recruitment,” the eloquent melody follows the arc of Ryan’s story and serves as a more personal embodiment of Ryan’s spirit, here shown at the start of his career. Ryan’s theme is given its full measure of expression in “Ryan, Mr. President” as noble heroic theme, and is reprised after a fairly somber, melancholy measures of low orchestra which eventually turn into a muted arrangement of “The Engagement”) to elevate the end of “Second Great Depression” with a soaring air of hope. Outside of the score’s essential basic thematic is the exuberant Russian chorale, “Faith of Our Fathers.” It’s a very effective score despite the stale concept of its action motif; but Doyle keeps that percussive groove interesting with various flairs of orchestration, builds a solid foundation of provocative tension, and lets the music soar when necessary with a fluid, melodic apotheosis in “Ryan, Mr. President.”
RIDE ALONG/Christopher Lennertz/Varese Sarabande
Rejoining director Tim Story (after 2012’s THINK LIKE A MAN) for this police comedy starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, Christopher Lennertz takes a stroll down 110th Street and wraps the film in a vibe of cool urban R&B. “Director Tim Story and I wanted to make sure that this film musically had equal parts action and comedy to ensure the audience really went along for the ride as well,” Lennertz said. The music struts a thin line between the action and the comedy; Lennertz evokes the former with plenty of funky instrumental grooves drawn from electric rhythm section and a touch of hip-hop beats (including some turntablist scratching) while an element of comedy is accomplished in the music through the kind of music that personifies each of with the characters. “You have Kevin as the funny guy and Ice Cube as the straight shooter, which makes it the job of the music to enhance the energy of both of those characters,” Lennertz explained. “For Ice Cube’s character, I incorporated ‘90s hip-hop influences, whereas for Kevin’s character, I infused a tone reminiscent of the classic ‘80s cop comedies.” The result is a straight-ahead, focused score whose sonic references recall a kind of music and a kind of personality that exemplifies the performances of each actor. Plenty of percussion and hi-hat, cow-bell, SHAFT-style jangling wah-wah guitar, and the like drive the music forward, while orchestral strings and horns build the vibe into cinematic rhythm pieces. A thoroughly likable work.
The Best of SILENT HILL: Music from the Video Game Series/Akira Yamaoka & Edgar Rothermich/Perseverance
From Perseverance Records comes this very pleasing recreation of 16 tracks of music from the Silent Hill video game series. All tracks are composed by Akira Yamaoka, a Japanese music producer and former composer of soundtracks for the Japanese game developer Konami. The compilation features scores from Silent Hill, Silent Hill 2, Silent Hill 3, Silent Hill: Homecoming, Silent Hill: Zero, and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. All tracks have been arranged, produced and performed by Edgar Rothermich, a composer and music producer as well as a noted arranger and re-recordist for electronic soundtracks (he arranged, produced and performed, for example, the acclaimed rendition of Vangelis’ BLADE RUNNER score for BSX Records in 2012). This new recording makes many of these themes available for the first time outside of Japan. Yamaoka’s game scores are in an evocative, instrumental rock-and-roll mode, featuring electric and acoustic guitars, oboes, strings, and piano, usually over beds of synths. Working with Perseverance’s Robin Esterhammer, Rothermich chose music that would offer the greatest musical variety while working well on their own apart from the game; thus the more dissonant, horrific music, the spooky drones, and the industrial grinding sound design were abandoned in favor of Yamaoka’s more lyrical and haunting but pleasant musical ambiances. The music makes a fairly consistent atmosphere throughout, as a result, often reflecting a very lonely, melancholy sonority that is quite attractive to listen to, even though it doesn’t replicate the variety of much darker music that is heard in the game. Rothermich has endeavored to make the album tracks match the sound and performances of the originals, with the exception of arranging a more broadly-layered expanded remix of the finale music. In addition to 16 score tracks, this collection features the song “I Want Love” with vocals by pop-opera star Romina Arena (noted for her vocal performances on Perseverance’s 2012 Morricone Uncovered album); the song is an album track that Yamaoka composed for the Silent Hill 3 soundtrack album; it does not appear in the game itself. Along with Rothermich, Gergely Hubai provides commentary notes on the music and the new reproduction, which offers insight into the concept and execution of the album and the SILENT HILL music.
SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES/Carter-Cohen-McCuistion-Ritmanis-Walker/La-La Land
Latest La-La Land release from the wondrous world of Warner Bros. animation and DC Comics is this striking 4-disc set of music from SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. Like BATMAN: TAS and GREEN LANTERN: TAS before it (and coinciding with the label’s release of music from BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD animated series, also by McCuistion, Ritmanis, and Carter),the SUPERMAN series featured intelligent, cinematic, and stalwart hero scores, performed with gusto by an orchestra averaging 30 players. The wealth of music that covers these four discs, covering the series’ evolution from 1996 through its finale in 2000 (more than five hours of splendid dramatic, heroic music), is muscular, exciting, theme-driven, aggressive, and impassioned. Shirley Walker, heading the Warner Bros animation music department since BATMAN, retained four members of her rotating crew on that show to serve as a permanent musical team on SUPERMAN, honing the four of them into a group that could be depended upon to nail each of the series’ musical challenges. As with BATMAN, Walker would write the primary themes and tackled some episodes by herself, giving license for her team to develop her themes into other episodes they would be responsible for writing, thus creating in the process a unified musical approach to the series as a whole. As it turned out, after Walker’s untimely death in 2006, three of the team, Carter, McCuistion, and Ritmanis, adopting the name Dynamic Music Partners, continued to be the primary forces of animation scoring at Warner Bros throughout the decade and beyond. Where Batman was dark and brooding, SUPERMAN gleams with sparkling brasses, sweeping strings, and piping winds. While the super-threats that posed danger to Earth and Superman himself were colored with tones of worrisome peril, “the prevailing tone of the music for SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was energetic, daring, and above all, fun,” as John Takis notes in his album notes. Without Batman’s angst, the focus of Superman was upon super-feats and active, energetic music. The range of dramatic situations, characters, super-heroes (many guest-stars from DC’s universe would stop by) and super-villains would inspire music both simple and complicated to fit the series’ focus on action with briefer moments of character interaction. This collection assembles its tracks in the form of suites built from whole episodes, rather than individual musical cues; this allows tracks to average 15 minutes or so, maximizing the listening experience and minimizing gaps between music. It’s a very thorough collection of the show’s music and a terrific gallery of super-music that displays each of the five composer’s work collectively and individually. Kudos to Jim Titus for the package’s evocative art direction, which reflects the show’s mix of nostalgia and contemporary design, and includes a 36-page booklet with very comprehensive notes, images, and details. (Now if only the old animated JUSTICE LEAGUE scores would find a release, with Lolita Ritmanis’ thunderously unforgettable main theme, which to my tastes is one of the most majestic super hero themes to come down the pike in a long time).
[For more information on the composers, read my interview with Dynamic Music Partners in my Nov 15, 2010 column.]
THE THIRTEENTH TALE/Benjamin Wallfisch/MSM-Kronos
English composer Benjamin Wallfisch seems to be having a very good season. His music for the post-disaster drama HOURS was released by Varese Sarabande in December (reviewed in my Dec. 2013 column), and his new core to SUMMER IN FEBRUARY just came out from Deutsch Grammophone in January. Both are eloquent works, and are joined by this BBC drama, adapted from the Diane Setterfield novel by Academy Award-winning writer Christopher Hampton (ATONEMENT) and directed by James Kent (THE WHITE QUEEN) with David Heyman (GRAVITY, the HARRY POTTER series) serving as producer. THE THIRTEENTH TALE is a haunting psychological mystery set in the modern day, with poignant flashbacks starting in 1940. The disturbing story begins when a young female biographer sets out to interview a legendary writer whose health is fading. An unlikely shared empathy is cultivated between the two women, and the older woman’s story forces the younger to finally confront her own ghosts. Wallfisch said: “The Thirteenth Tale is a beautiful movie with an amazing depth of storytelling. The masterful acting from Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Coleman coupled with such an intriguing and compelling narrative meant scoring the movie was both challenging and inspiring in equal measure. What starts out as a ghost story evolves into something much more focused on the human domain, and it was fascinating to find a musical voice to accompany that journey.” The music takes an interesting journey throughout the narrative of this score. It begins very classical, warm and elegant, washing over the early moments with thick string refrains, fragile oboe, harp, and piano notes, delicate music for delicate people as we are introduced to them. As the story carries on, gets darker, introduces some elements that may be supernatural, Wallfisch’s score accommodates with choir-infused strains that whisper against the back of one’s neck (“Do You Believe in Ghosts”) or impose more unnatural, processed sound design onto the traditional musical orientation that began the piece (“Realisation,” “Genuinely Dangerous”), to the point of allowing the two elements to merge in “The Thirteenth Tale.” It’s a very well-designed and accomplished score, and one that doesn’t let its more horrific atmospheres get out of control; Wallfish keeps the music on a straight line from beginning to end, while shifting the coloration and tone of the music from orchestral and tonal to more synthetic and sound-design, and then back again once the journey has reached its end (resolving, as it began, with reflective piano, violins, and flute, in “The Ghost” and with a rising flavor of redemption under the End Credits, in “Wolf In The Room”). THE THIRTEENTH TALE is a truly haunting and striking stated musical journey in its own right. The soundtrack has been released digitally, with plans for a CD release at a later date.
Soundtrack & Music News
Esteemed Italian soundtrack composer Riz Ortolani has died in Rome on January 23 due to complications with bronchitis. He was 87. While not as esteemed as fellow cinematic scorer Ennio Morricone, Ortolani left a huge mark on the world of cinema and music. Born on March 25, 1926, in Pesaro, Italy, as Riziero Ortolani, the composer worked with such directors as Lucio Fulci, Damiano Damiani, Ruggero Deodato, Vittorio De Sica, Pupi Avati and many others over the course of his long career, venturing into everything from giallo films to spaghetti westerns to exploitation flicks and mondo cinema.
Among Ortolani's best known works is 1962's MONDO CANE, whose main theme "More" won a Grammy and was also nominated for an Oscar. Over the years, the track was covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Judy Garland to Herb Alpert. Ortolani is also well-known for his musical contributions to the controversial cult classic CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, whose guitar-led theme would go on to stand as one of cinema's most moving and eerily haunting movements. Ortolani contributed to virtually all genres of international cinema, including historical drama (CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON [Italian version], peplum (URSUS IN THE VALLEY OF THE LIONS, WAR GODDESS), Italian Westerns (DAY OF ANGER, A REASON TO LIVE A REASON TO DIE), German Westerns (OLD SHATTERHAND), American Westerns (THE GLORY GUYS), horror and giallo (KILLER CROCODILE, SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYE), Gothic horror (CASTLE OF BLOOD, THE VIRGINOF NUREMBERG [HORROR CASTLE]), war films (THE 7th DAWN, THE McKENZIE BREAK), mafioso (THE VALACHI PAPERS) – although in the popular mind he is likely best known for his “easy listening” scores for popular international films dramas and comedies like THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE, MAYA, THE SPY WITH THE COLD NOSE, THE BIGGEST BUNDLE OF THEM ALL, and so on. But while Ortolani's career was long and prolific, he also had a mark on modern cinema as well, with Quentin Tarantino using his works in the director's KILL BILL films, INGLORIOUIS BASTERDS, and DJANGO UNCHAINED.
Amended from an obit by Brock Thiessen posted at exclaim.ca (click to read full story:
Wojciech Kilar, a Polish pianist and composer of classical music and scores for many films, including Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning THE PIANIST, Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, and portions of THE TRUMAN SHOW, died on December 29. He was 81. The composer died in his hometown of Katowice, southern Poland, following a long illness, according to Jerzy Kornowicz, head of the Association of Polish Composers. Kornowicz said, "The power and the message of his music, as well as the noble character of Wojciech Kilar as a person, will stay in my memory forever."
Kilar's main love was composing symphonies and concertos, and he always put that above movies, even though he wrote the scores of dozens of films. He drew inspiration from Polish folk music and religious prayers and hymns.
For a poignant commentary behind the moving cue he composed for THE TRUMAN SHOW, click on “The Stunning Sacrifice At Auschwitz That Inspired Beautiful Film Music.”
American film composer John Cacavas is reported to have died, at the age of 83. Noted for his television music for KOJAK, HAWAII 5-O, THE EQUALIZER, and a few episodes each of COLOMBO and MATLOCK, Cacavas also scored feature films including Hammer’s second “modern Dracula” thriller, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, HORROR EXPRESS, AIRPORT ‘75 and AIRPORT ’77, and a number of others – more than six dozen TV series, made-for-TV movies, and feature films, mostly during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Cacavas was twice nominated for a Primetime Emmy, for his music in the KOJAK episode “Only The Pretty Girls Die, Part II”, and the “A Question of Answers” episode of EISCHIED.
It’s AWARDS time. Chronologically:
The Golden Globe Awards took place January 12:
Alex Ebert won Best Original Score for ALL IS LOST.
Other nominees were:
- Alex Heffes, MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM
- Steven Price, GRAVITY
- John Williams, THE BOOK THIEF
- Hans Zimmer, 12 YEARS A SLAVE
“Ordinary Love” from MANDELA: LONG WALK to Freedom won Best Original Song (written by U2).
Other nominees were:
- “Atlas” from THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
- “Let It Go,” from FROZEN
- “Please Mr. Kennedy” from INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
- “Sweeter Than Fiction” from ONE CHANCE
The British BAFTA Awards come along on February 15.
Music nominations are:
12 Years a Slave – Hans Zimmer
The Book Thief – John Williams
Captain Phillips – Henry Jackman
Gravity – Steven Price
Saving Mr. Banks – Thomas Newman
The 86th Academy Awards come along on March 2, 2014. Here are the Nominations for music:
Best music (original score)
Gravity -- Steven Price
Philomena -- Alexandre Desplat
The Book Thief -- John Williams
Saving Mr. Banks -- Thomas Newman
Her -- William Butler and Owen Pallett
Long Walk to Freedom: "Ordinary Love" -- U2
Her: The Moon Song -- Karen O, Spike Jonze
Despicable Me 2: "Happy" -- Pharrell Williams
Oscar Song Nomination Ousted: Controversy
Conspicuously absent from the Oscar nomination list is the song, “Alone Yet Not Alone” (music by Bruce Broughton and lyric by Dennis Spiegel) from the independent movie of the same name, which had been nominated but on Jan. 29th was deemed disqualified by the Academy, claiming that Broughton had engaged in lobbying to promote the song amongst its voting members. The Academy accused Broughton, a former governor of the Academy’s Music Branch and head of that branch’s executive committee for four years, of improperly using his influence when he emailed voters in the branch to bring attention to the song. AMPAS campaign regulations prohibit both mailings and email that “extol[s] the merits of a film, an achievement or an individual.” (read The Wrap’s article about the Academy’s removal of the song here )
The rescinding of the nomination (a drastic step that is very rarely incurred) immediately raised a hue and cry in the film music community, which in turn accused the Academy of unfair treatment toward Broughton in their decision to disqualify the nomination.
In the Academy’s press release announcing the nomination’s rescindment, AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs had written: “No matter how well-intentioned the communication, using one’s position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one’s own Oscar submission creates the appearance of an unfair advantage.” Broughton’s email read in part: “I’m dropping you a line to boldly direct your attention to entry #57 [a reference to the track number on a CD containing songs up for nomination consideration]. I’m sending this note only because it is extremely unlikely that this small, independent, faith-based film will be seen by any music branch member; it’s the only way I can think of to have anyone be aware of the song.”
“I’m devastated,” Broughton said in a statement soon after the news dropped on Jan 29th. “I indulged in the simplest grassroots campaign and it went against me when the song started getting attention. I got taken down by competition that had months of promotion and advertising behind them. I simply asked people to find the song and consider it.” In an earlier interview with the Studio System News website that took place before the disqualification, Broughton stated: “I wrote a letter to people that I personally knew and thought were a member of the branch to ask to them to look for the song, to be aware that there’s a song there. I didn’t ask anyone to vote for it, I just didn’t want the song to be bypassed … I had a definite eye on the Academy rules [and] was respectful of the conditions.”
Academy rules prohibit the direct solicitation of votes from academy members – however studios and stars routinely get around this by sending notices or “For Your Consideration” DVDs and CDs to guild mailing lists rather than only to Academy members. The AMPAS (which by the way never described which rule violation they were punishing Broughton for in rescinding the song’s nomination), may have felt he violated Academy rules by having sent his email to Academy member (according to an article in the L.A. Times on Jan 31st the emails went to about 70 of the music branch’s 239 members; whose addresses, Broughton said, came from his own Rolodex, not an academy database) . But Broughton’s email never solicited votes – a necessary part of violating the rule. “I read one of Broughton’s emails and saw no evidence that he had ‘thrown his weight around’ as an ex-Academy official or promised something in return for support,” opined Scott Feinberg in The Hollywood Reporter; “he merely offered ‘a request For Your Consideration,’ a hope that the song will get noticed and be remembered among the many worthy songs from more highly visible films.”
Kristopher Tapley, reporting in HitFlix on Jan. 29th “explained that “It was revealed in the days following the Oscar nomination that a PR firm representing one of the songs that was not nominated hired a private investigator to dig up the truth. I can’t speak to that report’s veracity because it leaned purely on anonymous sourcing, but it certainly didn’t seem far from desperate reality when it comes to Hollywood. So perhaps all of the publicity was enough to force the Academy’s hand. Either way, it’s a hugely hypocritical thing to have done.” Tapley quoted an “industry insider not affiliated with any of the nominees and who had no skin in the Best Original Song game this season” who told him, “if the Academy is going to go after Broughton, ‘then they should start coming after all of us. They should look at everyone and not just wait for someone to forward them an email from a guy who said ‘listen to my song.’ It seems really punitive and over the top.’”
In an article by Guy Lodge posted at HitFlix on Jan. 30th, Lodge criticized the Academy’s press release‘s contention of “using one’s position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one’s own Oscar submission creates the appearance of an unfair advantage” by asking “how can you begin to frame this as an issue of fairness? What’s fair about access to studio funds versus a tiny independent production like this? The other three songs in the category are performed by Grammy-winning and nominated artists like U2, Karen O and Pharrell Williams. The third is belted by a Tony-winning goddess of the stage. What’s fair about that sort of inherent exposure versus that of a quadriplegic Evangelical minister you’ve never heard of before?”
In an opinion article in The Hollywood Reporter by Scott Feinberg on Jan. 30, the author felt that the Academy’s disqualification of the song was unjustified, nothing that “Just about every individual and every studio with any hope of an Oscar nomination or win – including those with far deeper pockets than Broughton and ALONE YET NOT ALONE’s backers – campaigns for it, usually far more aggressively than did Broughton. Is sending a few emails requesting consideration for one’s contender a more egregious form of campaigning than taking out “For Your Consideration” ads in print and on television or hosting large, lavish receptions at which the famous singer(s) of a nominated song perform it live? I would argue that it is not. (No fewer than half of this year’s nominated songs have been promoted at events of this nature.) Ads and parties are not necessarily an option for low-budget productions like ALONE YET NOT ALONE – so was Broughton supposed to sit back and do nothing while his competitors were going all-out with their campaigns? That expectation strikes me as unfair.” Even if the Academy did believe Broughton acted improperly, the drastic step of disqualifying the nomination (Feinberg echoed the feeling of many others in stating this), seemed a huge overreaction. The Hollywood Reporter “has been able to identify fewer than a dozen prior instances of nominations being revoked,” noted Feinberg, adding that “It feels like the punishment doesn’t fit the ‘crime.’ Maybe something more along the lines of a slap on the wrist, like the loss of tickets to the Oscar show – that is, after all, how THE HURT LOCKER’s Oscar-nominated producer Nicolas Chartier was punished by the Academy after he sent emails to Oscar voters, after having been nominated, disparaging another competitor, AVATAR.”
In an open letter to the academy quoted in The Hollywood Reporter on Jan. 31st, Oscar-winning producer Gerald Molen (SCHINDLER’S LIST) stated, “If we were truly to operate by this new standard the committee has cited, your office would be filled with returned Oscars from past winners and nominees who have lobbied their friends and colleagues. This seems to me to have been a normal practice for a long, long time, and yet the Academy has suddenly discovered lobbying in the case of this one song?” Molen also accused the Academy of “faith-based bigotry” in singling out this film for its heavy-handed discipline.
Film composer Don Davis (THE MATRIX series) has organized a petition among the AMPAS’ Music Branch demanding the nomination be reinstated. “ ‘Alone Yet Not Alone’ was eligible by all of AMPAS applicable rules and regulations,” Davis’ petition reads in part. “Any personal correspondence some of us may have received from the artists involved was miniscule in comparison to the deluge of email, print and recorded promotion that we received from every studio production for every possible nomination. It should be noted that there was no studio promotion for this film or the song nomination whatsoever… The act of rescinding this nomination had no consideration for the artistic merit of the song in question, and as such is an insult to those of us who were asked to consider the artistic merit of each song and found “Alone Yet Not Alone” to be fully worthy of an AMPAS nomination in its category.”
Finally, a letter in his defense that Broughton sent to the academy on Jan. 30 was made public on Feb 1st by his publicist, Ray Costa. “We are now making it an open letter,” Costa wrote. “[Bruce’s] comments about Cheryl Boone Issacs involvement in campaigns like THE KINGS SPEECH and THE ARTIST as a paid consultant can be found on the oscars.org website in her bio as well as in the press release when she was elected president. During those and other campaigns she was a governor and has served every office in the academy, again based on her biography.
“The following is Bruce’s letter that was sent to Teri Melidonian, Dawn Hudson, and to cc to Cheryl Boon Issacs.
I just looked at the Academy release of the rescinding of the nomination and came upon this line in the penultimate paragraph: “Members were asked to watch the clips and then vote in the order of their preference for not more than five nominees in the category.” This isn’t at all accurate.
What the letter that Charlie Fox sent to accompany the DVD actually said was: “When making your voting selections, simply select up to five songs in order of your preference. We hope that you will watch (italics mine) the enclosed DVD and use it to better inform your voting decision.”
Based upon that italicized phrase, I decided to send some emails.
Furthermore, if, as you quote the Academy’s rules, “it is the Academy’s goal to ensure that the Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner,” and my 70 or so emails constitutes a breach of that standard, why could the current Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, consult[ant] on Academy Award nominated projects like The Artist, The King’s Speech and others with a history as an Academy governor that far exceeds mine and at the same time produce the Governors’ Ball without having that look like a breach of the same standard?
I am of course copying Dawn Hudson on this email, and would have included Cheryl if I had had her email address.
More so than the professional insult of the song’s being rescinded is the betrayal by the Academy of his reputation. As all Broughton’s friends and fans have stated in social media post after post Broughton’s reputation and integrity are unquestionable, a man thoroughly dedicated to motion picture music and to the role of the AMPAS Music Branch in the art and science of film music. That one such as Bruce should be held accountable for a questionable charge and treated with such a harsh punitive measure is an insult to everything we know about Bruce Broughton.
Writing in a Facebook posting also forwarded to the Academy on Jan. 29th, Hollywood film music agent Richard Kraft stated, “Today composer Bruce Broughton got thrown under the bus by the Motion Picture Academy for promoting his song in a manner that so closely resembles the manner other songs are promoted for Oscars. Because of his position as a former Academy Governor and head of the music branch and the utter obscurity of the film from which the song originated, a spotlight was shined on the role promotions play in garnering votes. He wasn’t the only one doing it, he’s just the one who got caught. The inner-politics of the Academy is not really that important to me. But the reputation and legacy of a good man is. Bruce Broughton is one of the finest composers to ever work in film and television. But beyond his talent, he is a truly fine and decent man. He has GREAT integrity. He is a tireless worker on the behalf of other composers and musicians. He is a straight shooter and an impeachable honest man… It breaks my heart that such a decent man should have to suffer even a moment of question of his character.”
Film composer William Ross was again named Music Director for this year’s Academy Awards.
A new unofficial website about composer Patrick Doyle has been launched – have a look at it here:
Concert News: Composer, orchestrator, arranger and conductor Peter Bernstein will guest conduct the GSPO for a concert honoring his father, legendary composer Elmer Bernstein, on Saturday, February 15 at 8:00 PM. Says Peter: “For this concert, I have created a new suite of music - which I will conduct as a world premiere with the Golden State Pops - from my father's comedy scores of the 70's and 80's, including ANIMAL HOUSE, GHOSTBUSTERS, TRADING PLACES, STRIPES, AIRPLANE!, and THE THREE AMIGOS. This composing era in my father's life began with Animal House in 1978 and ran for about 10 years. His career, which had previously been defined by sweeping Americana-oriented themes: THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and jazz-oriented scores: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, WALK ON THE WILD SIDE - was now associated with most successful youth-oriented comedies of the era. It was exciting for him to be in the forefront of a new kind of film-making, it was energizing to be working with an entirely new group of young producers and directors, and most of all it was a whole lot of fun. It was my privilege to be an orchestrator on most of these films and to enjoy this wonderful, unexpected time with him."
The suite will include selections not usually, if ever, heard in concert, and could not have been created without the kind support of the Elmer Bernstein Estate. This historic tribute concert will also include music from THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, WALK ON THE WILD SIDE, HOLLYWOOD AND THE STARS and FAR FROM HEAVEN.
For ticket sales and more information: http://www.gspo.com/
Alan Silvestri will be the special guest film music composer for the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, February 28 through March 2, 2014 at the 2014 Chattanooga International Film Music Festival. Silvestri joins the festival’s artistic director, George S. Clinton, for a weekend of seminars with film music composers such as Clinton and Sundance Film Music Program director Peter Golub. There will also be a panel discussion moderated by BMI’s Doreen Ringer Ross, a screening of Back to the Future followed by a discussion with Mr. Silvestri, as well as open rehearsals and two film music concerts with the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera.
Registration for the Chattanooga International Film Music Festival is now open. The cost for the full Festival is $195. Film, composing, and conducting students can attend for $50. For more information, visit http://chattfilmmusic.org/
Metropolis Movie Music has released a soundtrack album for the 3D family action adventure WALKING WITH DINOSAURS. The album features the film’s original music composed by Paul Leonard-Morgan (LIMITLESS, DREDD). WALKING WITH DINOSAURS is directed by Neil Nightingale & Barry Cook and features the voices of John Leguizamo, Justin Long, Tiya Sircar and Skyler Stone. The movie, a fictional narrative based on the popular BBC documentary series, centers on two brothers looking to follow in their father’s footsteps, which leads them to a showdown with dinosaurs in the Arctic. To learn more about the film, visit the official movie website. The soundtrack is available for download on iTunes – link to either UK or USA itunes here.
The Hollywood Reporter has posted to youtube a hosted chat with “the creative forces behind the year’s most celebrated scores” – including Thomas Newman, Alan Silvestri, Hans Zimmer, Steven Price, and others.
Rolfe Kent has teamed again with director Jason Reitman for LABOR DAY, a tense drama starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. Kent took intimate instrumentation, including guitars, charango and sounds of crickets, and processed them to create intense moody ambiances, at once both organic and other-worldly, delicately navigating a line between tension and emotion. “Nothing could have prepared me for LABOR DAY,” said Kent. “It was an experience unlike any other I have had. The music was to bring focus to the images, but in an incredibly delicate way. Really an indefinable way. You know it's simple to compose happy or sad music, but to create something simple yet sophisticated, that calls the listener to be curious and yet uncertain and perhaps a little unnerved, well it called me to forget everything I knew about composition and discover a whole new musical language. It was at once incredibly stressful, and deeply rewarding.” Warner Bros. has released the soundtrack album.
Lionsgate Records has released Finnish composer Tuomas Kantelinen’s score to Renny Harlin’s THE LEGEND OF HERCULES. In the epic origin story THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, Kellan Lutz stars as the mythical Greek hero – the son of Zeus, a half-god, half-man blessed with extraordinary strength. Betrayed by his stepfather, the King, and exiled and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love, Hercules must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his rightful kingdom. Through harrowing battles and gladiator-arena death matches, Hercules embarks on a legendary odyssey to overthrow the King and restore peace to the land. The film is the second pairing of Kantelinen with director Renny Harlin, with whom he previously teamed on MINDHUNTERS. “I was ecstatic to get to tackle the score of a movie that plays on such a grand scale,” said Kantelinen. “The film has both huge action scenes - where one can go crazy with brass and percussion - and a beautiful love story, with opportunities for a softer musical approach. From the get-go Renny wanted a more 'old-fashioned' score in the vein of classic swords and sandals movies, and as a big fan of orchestral music I was more than happy to go with his idea.”
Because of their previous relationship, Kantelinen’s involvement with the project began unusually early. “I read many versions of the script and visited Bulgaria when the movie was being shot, so I got to be on set and meet the cast and crew,” he explained. “I had already started writing some themes back then and was lucky to be in Sofia when they played my piece on the set the whole day while shooting that particular scene. The cue is in the completed movie as well, so the actors where really hearing the same music on set as the audience hears in the theaters, which rarely happens.” In the epic origin story THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, Kellan Lutz stars as the mythical Greek hero – the son of Zeus, a half-god, half-man blessed with extraordinary strength. Betrayed by his stepfather, the King, and exiled and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love, Hercules must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his rightful kingdom. Through harrowing battles and gladiator-arena death matches, Hercules embarks on a legendary odyssey to overthrow the King and restore peace to the land.
If you like Asian period action movies as much as I do, you’ll be pleased to learn that Hong Kong composer Henry Lai is offering a half dozen or so of his intriguing scores on iTunes and amazon MP3, including his effective blend of rock rhythms and period Chinese instruments for Gordon Chan’s massive super-hero wire-fu epic THE FOUR (2013), first segment of a trilogy based on a classic Chinese historical novel. Also available for download for Lai’s THE LAST SWORDSMAN and 14 BLADES, as well as the modern day HK action films, THE SNIPER and BEAST STALKER. Log onto either MP3 service and search for “Henry Lai.”
MSM-Kronos has released Angelo Badalamenti’s music for the Russian war movie STALINGRAD. Badalamenti, a legendary composer who wrote cult scores for David Lynch (TWIN PEAKS, BLUE VELVET, MULHOLLAND DRIVE) and many other acclaimed films (SECRETARY, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, BEFORE THE FALL), showcases his classical side with the powerful, exciting and beautiful orchestral score for the Russian war epic. Featuring several strong themes, Badalamenti’s score is a passionate journey through militaristic landscapes, romantic orchestrations and powerful action sequences. The film, which opens in the UK and US this spring, is the first Russian movie made completely in 3D and is the highest-grossing Russian movie of all time. – via MSM-Kronos
See: http://moviescoremedia.com/ or http://www.kronosrecords.com/
Beat Records of Italy presents the definitive edition of Ennio Morricone’s wonderful score for Lucio Fulci’s UNA LUCERTOLA CON LA PELLE DI DONNA (1971; Lizard in a Woman’s Skin). Long out of print, this new 2-CD edition offers around 90 minutes of music from the Maestro’s most beautiful soundtrack from one the most iconic artistic crossroads of the early ‘70s: Fulci and Morricone. This release features a 12-page booklet lavishly illustrated by Alessio Iannuzzi, liner notes by Andrea Morandi (CIAK Magazine). The release is limited edition of 500 copies!
From GDM comes an expanded reissue of Ennio Morricone’s score to UNA VITA VENDUTA (A SOLD LIFE) is a 1976 political drama directed by Aldo Florio. Morricone composed an orchestral score dominated by a melancholy main theme for trumpet, alternated with suspense pieces of a military mood and often colored with Hispanic sounds. The 43:34 recording comes from the master album (CAM SAG 9073) issued in 1976 and the stereo recording sessions, which are adding about twelve minutes of unreleased music (approved in full by Ennio Morricone) to the selected material of the previous release (29:48), all properly restored and digitally remastered.
The latest release from the Carl Davis Collection is Davis’s new recording for the 1925 Harold Lloyd comedy, THE FRESHMAN. Lloyd was one of the most successful and popular comedy film actors of the 1920’s. THE FRESHMAN, a satirical film about college life and football, was made at the peak of his career. “The balance of stunts, gags and true feeling is the hallmark of a Lloyd feature and that is the continuing pleasure of performing my scores for these wonderful silent comedies,” said Davis. The soundtrack CD will be released on March 25th to accompany the Criterion DVD and Blu-Ray editions of the movie.
Kritzerland’s latest release is Franz Waxman’s music for the 1953 historical epic, DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, a shrewd attempt to capitalize on the success of the first CinemaScope picture, THE ROBE. “While THE ROBE eclipsed its successor in its day,” noted Kritzerland’s Bruce Kimmel, “decades later it looks like Demetrius is, in fact, what screenwriter Philip Dunne called it: “a far better pure movie.” And one of the true pleasures of the film is Franz Waxman's tantalizing score, which, while incorporating several of Alfred Newman's incomparably majestic themes from THE ROBE, nevertheless manages to display a modernist élan and power all its own. DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS was this fabulously versatile composer’s first Biblical epic; as usual, he adapted his talents to a new genre with superbly dramatic dexterity.” Expanded from the FSM 2002 release (now sold out), Kritzerland has done extensive restoration and remixing; three cues from the score had completely deteriorated by the time the original reels were transferred in 1997; the new edition rescued “brief segments of these, unmarred by dialogue and sound effects” from the original 4-track stereo audio for the film itself and included them in the program in order to present as much of the score as possible. A few other partial restorations are included as bonus tracks. “Every effort has been made to bring out its original brilliance so that, as a listening experience, Demetrius may take its rightful place beside recent musical restorations of other Fox Biblical epics of the period,” said Kimmel. The release is limited to 1,000 copies.
For more details, see kritzerland.com
Richard Band reports that his recent film SHIVER starring scream queen Danielle Harris & John "Wolf Creek" Jarratt is now available as an amazing Exclusive Collector's Edition Combo, which includes the film DVD, small poster, and a CD with selections from his score (theme and short suite) along with songs from the movie - and more. Click here to check it out!
Perseverance Records has released a reissue of one of Full Moon Pictures’ very first film releases, THE PIT & THE PENDULUM. Originally released in 1991 on the then fledgling Full Moon Pictures imprint, the film has gone on to enjoy cult status and is usually ranked as one of the best films released by the company. Directed by Stuart Gordon and starring Lance Henriksen, frequent Gordon collaborator Jeffrey Combs and Oliver Reed, the film is a take on the classic Edgar Allan Poe story about the evil inquisitor Torquemada during the Spanish Inquisition. The engaging score is by Richard Band who is one of the most prolific composers of genre films in the 1980s and 90s, including RE-ANIMATOR, METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN, TROLL, FROM BEYOND, PUPPET MASTER, DEMONIC TOYS and many more. “For this deluxe edition, we have remastered the music from the original 4-track tapes which was overseen by Richard Band and Chas Ferry,” said Perseverance’s Robin Esterhammer. “Our release will feature the music from the original Moonstone Records release with bonus material that was in the film but not on the CD.”
Sony has released AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, which features songs specially written for the film by Kings of Leon and by JD and the Straight Shot, as well as celebrated songs by Bon Iver, Eric Clapton and Billy Squier. These tracks are backed up by new music composed by Gustavo Santaolalla and others.
Games Music News
Grammy-nominated, BAFTA-winning composer Austin Wintory has scored the highly anticipated video game The Banner Saga for Stoic Studios. Funded by Kickstarter, The Banner Saga is an epic role-playing game inspired by Viking legends. The game features hand-painted landscapes that portray a world eerily suspended in perpetual daylight. Cities and towns begin to crumble into chaos. Heroes abandon their hearths and homes to traverse the snowy countryside, gaining allies along the way to help battle a strange, new threat. With visuals evocative of the golden age of animation, The Banner Saga brings skillfully crafted art, story and strategy to gamers waiting to re-experience classic adventures and tactics. In his score, Wintory created an earthy, multi-layered orchestral score for the single player role-playing tactical game.
The score features the Dallas Winds orchestra, recorded in Texas at the Meyerson Symphony Center concert hall, in addition to a trio of famous YouTube soloists: vocalists Malukah and Peter Hollens, and violinist Taylor Davis.
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 has written liner notes for more than 120 soundtrack CDs for such labels as La-La Land, FSM, Perseverance, Silva Screen, Harkit, Quartet, and BSX Records. A largely re-written and expanded Second Edition of Musique Fantastique is being published: the first of this four-book series is now available. See: www.musiquefantastique.com
Special thanks to Benjamin Michael Joffe.
Randall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org