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Randall D. Larson's SOUNDTRAX

October 8th, 2007

Interview: Gabriel Yared Checks into 1408

By Randall D. Larson

Gabriel Yared on 1408

Gabriel Yared’s terrific horror score for 1408 is crafted from spellbinding sound designs, ambient strata of tonality shifting and balancing upon one another, bristling sonic textures integrating to form a provocative assemblage of frightening atmospheres; it’s a potent and fascinating excursion into sound design.  As Yared’s first foray into horror scoring, the music is a far cry from what we’ve heard from him in the past.  His take on horror scoring isn’t uniquely fresh, but the composer examines, reflects, and engages horror scoring with a palette that is uniformly interesting and entirely effective.  Interviewed for BuySoundtrax on October 5th, Yared explains his approach at scoring horror and what he found inside Room 1408.


Q: 1408 was your first musical foray into scoring a horror film.  How did you get the assignment for score the film? Do you know what drew director Mikael Hafstrom to your work?

Gabriel Yared: I had just finished the score to Breaking and Entering, which was a Weinstein Company film, as was 1408.  I have always worked with Harvey Weinstein on Anthony Minghella’s films, but this was the first time that Bob Weinstein recommended me for a project.  The score for Breaking and Entering was an electronic/orchestral blend in a contemporary style (actually a collaboration with the group Underworld) and may have been a step towards some of the ideas Mikael and Bob had for the score for 1408.  As soon as Mikael and I met and talked we were both absolutely sure that we wanted to work together.


Q: What was it about 1408 that inspired you?

Gabriel Yared: The main inspiration was actually realizing that the music was capable of suggesting so much of the character of the room.  Although the performances from John Cusack were excellent, the film is mostly one man in a room, and watching the film without music or sound effects made you see how nearly all of the tension and horror needed to come from the soundtrack combination of sound effects/design and music.

I think the idea that you are not sure whether Mike is hallucinating and events are essentially in his head, and the cyclical nature of the events that unfold suggested certain sonic ideas – for instance the manic relentless weird ticking of the clock and the idea of looping sounds and using "broken" glitching sounds disturbing the norm and giving a kind of 'internal/insane' feel.  Whilst these are all electronic type ideas I always thought we needed to combine these elements with orchestral writing, but this needed to be done in such a way that it all felt like it was supposed to go together, so sometimes the electronics would be adding to a basic orchestral idea, sometimes the orchestra would be only providing another textural layer to the electronics but mostly it needed to be a composed homogenous whole.


Q: What was your central musical idea for this score? You've both enhanced the film's spookier moments while also commenting on its psychological and emotive subtexts. 

Gabriel Yared: I think so much was suggested by the script and the action that for me it was just a matter of finding the right colors and judging the level of tension required at that point of the movie.  Obviously there were some themes which came into play at the appropriate moment, but generally I allowed myself to be lead by the story and the unfolding horror.  It was quite difficult to judge the pacing of the tension and horror and it was only by doing long playbacks of large sections of the film in a continuum that we were able to see if the pacing was working or not.  I think on this score I ended up being more minimal in approach than I have been in the past, I think in this case some of the most uneasy feelings could be evoked just by very careful choice of the right sound, sometimes just a single slow sonically evolving note for 30 seconds or so.


Q: How closely did you work with director Mikael Hafstrom in establishing the kind of music he wanted and its placement in this film?  Was there a temp score to deal with on this film, and if so, how did that affect your efforts?

Gabriel Yared: Mikael was a joy to work with.  He gave free reign to try anything - regardless of what the temp score had done (which incidentally was pretty good although I rarely referred to it).  He was always ready at the drop of a hat to come and listen to something no matter how small.  Of course he had clear ideas and comments but I feel right from the start we were really in sync with what we were trying to do with this score.  Consequentially the writing process was a great creative time in which I received support and inspiration from Mikael.


Q: While we do have Katie's Theme and a motif or two that recur throughout, the score's primary focus is on layers and textures of sound that cohabit on the soundtrack to form an unsettling ambiance.  What were your considerations in crafting a score that would enhance the film's scarier and shocking moments in this fashion? What makes music scary in a film like this?

Gabriel Yared: I think that the score is actually very thematic, in terms of the melodies and motifs as you have mentioned, but also the various families or collections of electronic sounds were also used thematically – for instance the distant old fashioned pianos with glitchy loops of the recurring ghost figures, and distant metallic bells that introduce Katie's theme – maybe the effect is very subtle but I think it adds a subconscious level of recognition.

I think one of the strengths of the score is it can take you from the most subtle noise-based ambience to full huge symphonic work seamlessly.  I think this reflects the rollercoaster of emotions and surreal events that Mike experiences in the room, and I think these extremes are part of what makes the experience out of control and scary.


Q: How did you achieve the mixture of acoustics and electronics in this score?

Gabriel Yared: The score is predominantly synth/sample based.  Some cues are more electronic sounding than others, but even some of the more organic/orchestral sounding cues are heavily synth-based, often using samples of real instruments or orchestral phrases treated and layered.  There are very few musical moments in the film that aren't actually a fusion of orchestral/electronic elements.

I spent a long period at the start of the scoring process with my programmer and collaborator Kirsty Whalley creating new electronic sounds, sampling and treating, crushing and distorting all sorts of sounds, then layering and mixing them into often quite complex soundscapes.  She supported me and had a huge influence on the resultant work.  She sourced sounds that were consistently inspirational, but as well as being a synth programmer, she also helped produce the score.  We worked together on both the sounds and the development of my musical ideas.  She played an essential role in crafting this score.

Some of the most unnerving sounds are derived from actually pretty standard sounds; for instance, a sample of a music box detuned, slightly distorted through a wobbling pitch delay or a strangely recorded viola harmonic digitally stretched in length.  Kirsty's work was crucial at this stage of the process.  The challenge then was to really integrate these into the more conventional sounds of the orchestra – actually composing with the sounds, not just sweetening the orchestra with them afterwards.  At this stage Jeff Atmajian, the orchestrator, came on board; he did a fantastic job of orchestrating not only the conventional melodic, orchestral elements, but added a whole layer of orchestral effects that blended with the synth textures.  Also then the final mixing was very important where Kirsty and I worked with engineer Andrew Dudman to create just the right balance.


Jesper Kyd scores silent Jeanne d’Arc Classic


BAFTA award-winning composer Jesper Kyd has provided an original score for a special presentation of Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 masterpiece, La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc). The landmark film portrays the intense trial and death of France’s 15th-century warrior-maiden.  Kyd was commissioned to score the revived silent film for the Danish Film Festival: Los Angeles.  Co-presented with the American Cinematheque, the Danish Film Festival opened October 4th with the screening of the Danish print of the film accompanied by Kyd’s score at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.

The film’s extensive use of close-ups is among the most harrowing, claustrophobic ever witnessed in a motion picture. Actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s face, with her uncanny glowing eyes and mournful looks, proved an ideal map for the emotional territory the director wanted to explore. Her performance has rightly been called one of cinema’s greatest.

Composer Jesper Kyd’s unique scores have garnered international critical acclaim including endorsements from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Billboard, MTV and The Hollywood Reporter. His powerful blend of orchestral, choral and modern music styles enhances the emotional and dramatic impact of numerous cinematic productions including the multi-million selling Hitman franchise. His upcoming projects include Assassin's Creed and Kane & Lynch.

For more information on Jesper Kyd visit www.jesperkyd.com and www.myspace.com/jesperkyd.


Band & Crew Re-Animate The Music Library

Composer Richard Band (Re-Animator, Masters of Horror) has joined forces with colleagues Harry Manfredini (Friday The 13th) and Jerry Lambert (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) to launch the Gratis Music Library (www.gratismusiclibrary.com),

The composes have been working on the Library for nearly five years, and officially launched it at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Los Vegas last April.  With more than 5,000 cues online and some twenty composers contributing to the Library, Band and his partners hope to market the music library to film companies, directors, producers, production houses, networks, foreign companies, whoever would be in need of music for their productions.

“This is a music library not created by a bunch of sales people but a library created by film composers for film and television use, specifically,” Band told me recently.  “So you have a lot of really top quality music in there, probably 90% of which is done with orchestra.”   

The Library was started as an alternative for production houses, especially in television, to get quality music without the expense of a full original score.  “Technology has advanced to the point, today, where editors, producers, and directors sit at their AVIDs or what have you,” Band explained, “and they can edit their movie and they can put music in and they can do all this up to literally hours before broadcast, if it’s television.  That has shortened the amount of time, under the best of scenarios, that a composer has to score anything, at least on television.  Your average time on a TV show these days is a few days to score an episode, which is crazy.  Technology has also been driving the price down, as far what composers would be paid to do any work.   At the same time, production has been increasing drastically – there’s a lot more television production worldwide, but most of it is for cable.  I’m not talking high end cable like HBO, but there’s hundreds and hundreds of channels, worldwide, and there’s no way that these people could financially or time-wise go and spend ten, twenty, or thirty, or fifty thousand dollars on a composer and wait a week or two to get score, but they want a good product. 

“So that’s why we decided to do the library, because the need for good music, dramatic music, comedy, animation, doesn’t matter what style, but for quality music, was going to be growing exponentially and internationally.  We’ve put it together as an adjunct to our own being composers, and we’ve already done about eleven or twelve movies using the Library.  Inevitably, some of these are situations where they can’t afford a whole full-blown score, but they want a main theme or an end theme or a couple of things originally scored.  Or maybe they just have a small about of money, and so in those scenarios we can go in and we can do some original scoring, and then tailor it around the rest of the library to utilize in their project. 

“So we didn’t think it was going to be a huge interference, that we’d be cutting off our nose despite our face!  That was the first question we were asked: ‘if you’re trying to get work as a composer, why are you doing a library?’  Well, the two are not mutually independent anymore, and for all those scenarios where they wouldn’t be having a composer anyhow, that’s exactly why we’re doing it.  There are going to be lots of projects where they just don’t have the money or the time to go get a composer, so what are they going to do?  That’s the whole idea behind the Library.”

For additional information on Richard Band, see my interview about his work on Masters of Horror, posted at http://cinefantastiqueonline.com/category/columnists/the-score/


Film Music News

British tunesmith Ronnie Hazlehurst, who wrote the theme songs and scores for television shows such as Blankety Blank and Last of the Summer Wine, has died at the age of 79 after suffering a stroke in Guernsey, UK. A former musical director at the BBC, he was closely involved with the Eurovision Song Contest and conducted the UK entry on seven occasions. Hazlehurst was responsible for many of the BBC's best-loved theme tunes, including Yes, Minister, The Two Ronnies and Are You Being Served? The composer said he always tried to make the music fit the title of the programme - “ such as using a piccolo to spell out the title to Some Mothers Do 'Ave Em in Morse Code. "I wouldn't prostitute a tune, to bend it every which way to fit the title," he said. "But if I can make it so, I do." As well as writing theme tunes, Hazlehurst composed the score for programmes like Last of the Summer Wine. "His music captured the mood immediately," the show's producer Alan JW Bell said. "If a character was walking, all the footsteps would be in time with the music and if there was a little hand gesture, there would be a little figure that would accompany that. He was very precise with it. The musicians said they didn't know how he did it - it was so painstaking. Musically, he was the king."
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7023501.stm

Jessica de Rooij’s score for Bloodrayne II: Deliverance, is now available online from www.filmmusicdownloads.com.  Young composer de Rooij has quickly emerged as a truly interesting voice in film music. This year, she is getting her big break-through with the music for three major features from German filmmaker Uwe Boll: the political drama comedy Postal, the horror film Seed, and the sequel to the 2005 vampire flick Bloodrayne. The stylish music for BloodRayne II: Deliverance, starring Natassia Malthe, Zack Ward and Brendan Fletcher, fuses two major elements: the Morricone-influenced western style and the big epic orchestral sound. De Rooij is no stranger to the big orchestra, having written a large symphonic score for In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale together with Henning Lohner. The filmmusicdownloads.com release of the BloodRayne II: Deliverance score album from Music2Gold Records, which coincided with the US DVD release of the film last September 28th, features the music in its chronological order, as heard in the film. 

Thomas Newman has been signed to score the upcoming Pixar movie, Wall-E. He is rejoining Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton in an animated sci-fi adventure, taking place in the year 2700, about a robot who discovers the true meaning of his “life.” The film is expected to premier on June 27 next year.  – via www.filmmusicweekly.com

Silva Screen will release Murray Gold’s music for Doctor Who - Series Three on November 5th.  Last year’s release of the music from the first two series was a bestseller and received massive acclaim from both critics and fans alike. These fully orchestrated scores are an essential part of the magic of the series and Murray excels once more as he teams up with The BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

Director Tim Burton is currently working with British composer Alex Heffes on the much anticipated film version of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd.  With very few exceptions, Tim Burton works exclusively with Danny Elfman on his films (Corpse Bride in 2005 was their twelfth film together). But on Sweeney Todd, British composer Alex Heffes – best known for his recent The Last King of Scotland score – is the one who has been hired to provide the additional original score for the Stephen Sondheim musical.  “My job has been adapting the piece to Tim’s cinematic vision, writing underscore and creating new arrangements based on Sondheim’s themes,” Heffes told Film Music Weekly. “It’s one of the all-time great pieces of music theatre so it’s a been a real pleasure to work on something like this.”   For the full report, see: www.filmmusicweekly.com

Recently, award-winning composer Randy Newman was at the Sony Scoring Stage in Culver City, CA, to record his score to the upcoming romantic comedy period film, Leatherheads.  Taking place in the world of 1920s football, the film stars George Clooney, John Krasinski and Renee Zellweger, and was directed by Clooney.  Newman conducted the 83-piece Hollywood Studio Symphony, which had a rather large woodwind section, including a saxophone ensemble.  Read the full photo report at www.soundtracknet.com

StarChild in Japan has released a special edition soundtrack to the upcoming tenth-anniversary Neon Genesis Evangelion theatrical feature.  The cd includes the full sized original score by Shiro Sagisu, which was recorded at Abby Road Studios in London with the London Studio Orchestra.

Also from Japan, Verita Note has released, for the first time on CD, Carlo Savina’s complete original score to the 1967 spaghetti western comedy, Due Rrringos Nel Texas; Japanese Academy award-winning composer Michiru Oshima’s latest work, for Yoshimitsu Morita’s South Bound, has been released by Sony Japan; and music from the 2007 Halloween version of Haunted Mansion: Holiday Nightmare The Ride In Tokyo Disneyland is out on Disney Records Japan, featuring music arranged, adapted and conducted by John Debney based on Danny Elfman's themes from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (additional music arranged, adapted, orchestrated and conducted by Gordon Goodwin).

Harry Gregson-Williams will compose the music for G-Force, the upcoming Walt Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer action movie directed by visual fx wizard Hoyt Yeatman. Gregson-Williams’ other upcoming films include Jolene and the second Chronicles of Narnia installment. – via www.filmmusicweekly.com

Composer Christopher Lennertz is scoring The Comebacks, a new comedy from the producers of The Wedding Crashers. The film stars David Koechner (Talladega Nights, Anchorman) as a college football coach with the worst record in the history of the sport on a quest to turn his team around. In addition to his score, Lennertz recorded a song he produced and arranged, performed by Koechner in the film. The score will be digitally on iTunes beginning October 17.  Lennertz has expanded his repertoire as a composer for all types of media, from film to television and even to videogames.  Among his film scores are several notable independent films, including the jazz-based gangster drama Baby Face Nelson featuring Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham, the seductive thriller Lured Innocence, starring Dennis Hopper, and the film festival favorite, Art House.  His television credits include the WB's Supernatural and The Strip, Fox's Brimstone, and the theme song for the MTV series Tough Enough.  His powerful, full orchestral score for the Stephen Spielberg-created videogame "Medal of Honor: Rising Sun" earned an award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences and led him to score two more "Medal of Honor" games.  Most recently, Lennertz scored the Latin comedy Tortilla Heaven. He is currently working on Perfect Christmas, a family romance starring Terrence Howard, Queen Latifah, and Gabrielle Union.

Artists' Addiction Records will issue an original soundtrack CD and digital music download from Saw IV on October 23; an extended digital release will follow in November.  Rather than using music licensed for the film, however, the Saw IV is an "inspired by" song collection, featuring songs from metal, hard rock, and industrial bands.  Only a single original excerpt from Charlie Clouser’s underscore was actually heard in the film.  Of Clouser’s indelible work on the Saw movie franchise, Artists' Addiction’s Jonathan Scott Miller says: "A lot of people who don't really know him from his Nine Inch Nails days are now major fans of Charlie's music. We feel very lucky to have him on the soundtrack."  In 2004, IGN.com described Clouser’s work as "the fine art of composing a bone-chilling, organically enriched industrial score."  Saw III generated a limited score album from Germany after the release of its song-based soundtrack; time will tell if Saw IV will follow suit.


Games Music News

Renowned video game composers Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan have created the original soundtrack for Hellgate: London, the premiere PC title from Flagship Studios. Furthermore, the complete original soundtrack will be made available within the Hellgate: London Collector's Edition. Both the Collector's Edition of Hellgate: London and the standard retail box will be hitting store shelves in North America on October 31, 2007.

To complement the post-apocalyptic setting of Hellgate: London, veteran game musicians Velasco and Dikiciyan merged several music styles encompassing orchestral, rock, and ambient, as well as musical sound design elements. No strangers to the action RPG genre, the duo worked closely with the audio team at Flagship Studios to deliver an original soundtrack that embraces the fantasy and sci-fi aspects of the game while infusing it with a modern edge.

"The collaborative partnership of Velasco and Dikiciyan is an ideal fit for the world of Hellgate: London," said Dave Steinwedel, Audio Manager at Flagship Studios. "By drawing on their diverse musical influences they have created an outstanding original soundtrack that will stand the test of time."

Hellgate: London combines the depth and addictive gameplay of traditional role player games with the visceral action of first-person shooters.

For more information on composers Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan, visit their respective websites at www.monarchaudio.com and www.sonicmayhem.com.

For more information on Hellgate: London, please visit the official website: www.hellgatelondon.com.

Randall 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 from the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer.  He now reviews soundtracks Music from the Movies, Cemetery Dance magazine, and writes for Film Music Magazine and others.


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