Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2014-7
October 5th 2014

By Randall D. Larson


Catching up with BEAR McCREARY

Soundtrack reviews: THE BOXTROLLS (Marianelli), DEAD WITHIN (Bradford & Worbeck), DJANGO STRIKES AGAIN (Plenizio), Three from Rachel Portman: DOLPHIN TALE 2, THE RIGHT KIND OF WRONG, STILL LIFE), THE NAKED GUN Trilogy (Newborn), ROCKS IN MY POCKETS (Sensini), TOKAREV(Eyquem),           WISH I WAS HERE (Simonsen).

I caught up with Bear McCreary last week and we chatted about the many projects he’s currently involved in – half a dozen hit (or about to be hit) TV series, not to mention a feature film or documentary here and there, and he still has time to generate one of the most insightful film composer blogs on the World Wide Web.  The variety of the kinds of projects he’s doing, and the enthusiasm and depth of thought and creativity he brings to each project continues to attract and astound filmmakers and fans alike.  - rdl


Q: OUTLANDER is a show that gives you the chance to evoke a number of different periods and musical forms, from Scottish folk to orchestral scoring music, and more.  What was your initial take for scoring this show and how did you develop the musical direction?

Bear McCreary: I was drawn initially to the possibility of scoring the series with Scottish folk music and folk songs – these are sounds that I grew up adoring.  I actually researched music for the Jacobite era a lot when I was in high school.  I knew the historical significance of that music, which was always a huge part of my musical DNA.  I’ve used that kind of music in some of my earliest scores – you’ll hear some bagpipes in BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, for example.  I was lucky there because the producers were open-minded to that, but as I graduated BATTLESTAR and moved on into other projects I realized that, generally speaking, Hollywood is not thrilled with hearing bagpipes in their scores!  So when this show came up, I was very excited about the possibility of working on it.  I had not read the books, but I knew the basic premise and I knew the bulk of the first season would take place in Scotland in 1743, which is right in the sweet spot of where my knowledge base exists.  So I was talking with Ron [Moore, series creator] and he was very excited about everything I could bring to it, and that’s how that started.  As you pointed out, there’s a lot of other stuff which is what makes it very fun and dynamic and vibrant.  There is a more modern sound that I can incorporate when necessary, because the protagonist, Claire, is herself a relatively modern woman.  So my harmonies can get a little more sophisticated.  My string writing is very evocative of a more romantic time period, where we’re spending more time in the late baroque, so it lets me bend some of these rules and draw from the influences where they are necessary and then draw from other influences for dramatic purposes.

Q: You’re also using some of the ‘40s era music, where Claire’s originally from, to represent her longing to return to her contemporary time period.

Bear McCreary: Definitely.  Those are actually period recordings – I don’t actually re-record any of that stuff.  What we were hoping to create was the sense that she’s remembering music that she had heard when she was in her own time.  It was a really cool idea and I’m hoping that as the series goes on that it’s something we can go back to.  I think it’s important for the audience to remember the big picture, which is a woman from 1943 is trying to back to her time period, and each episode touches upon this premise; but actually each episode has its own conflict, its own story, and the more time we spend with these characters, the MacKenzie clan and some of the other Scots that we meet, we start getting roped into their stories, so it can actually be forgotten that Claire is from the 1940s.  You really start getting drawn into the stories and the world of 1743, so having that music was a powerful device to connect the two timelines.

Q: And you have this lovely druid music that was so effective in the pilot when Claire is drawn to the ceremonial site which is what yanks her back into the 18th Century.

Bear McCreary: In the first episode there’s the Dance of the Druids and that was a really fun piece.  You will hear that theme again!

Q: How did you come up with the main title, which is sung by Raya Yarbrough?

Bear McCreary: The main title is an arrangement that I created of “The Skye Boat Song,” which is my personal favorite Scottish folk tune. [Listen to Bear’s main title tune, sung by Raya Yarbrough, on his youtube channel here.]  It’s always been a melody that has resonated with me ever since I was a little boy, and the lyrics are about Bonnie Prince Charlie – they are politically relevant to the time period, and one could also say to today, given what’s going on over there!  I had recorded this song many times over the years, it was a tune I played on accordion or piano, so before I even had the job, when Ron and I were talking about the possibility of my doing OUTLANDER, I had sent him a recording I had done of that song, and he responded to it immediately, asking what it was.  I told him a little about the history and about the melody and where people think it came from, and he said it was beautiful and that he thought it could be the main title of the show.  So, going into the series, we knew that would be the main title theme.  I did make one adjustment to the lyrics.  The lyrics we set were the less-known but more appropriate lyric by Robert Louis Stevenson, and his lyric is “Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,” and we changed two letters and one syllable making it “lass” – so it becomes “Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,” and when you have a female singer singing that lyric it gives a whole new perspective on the show, and it really feels like the voice of Claire.  Obviously it’s not, it’s the voice of Raya Yarbrough, but the perspective makes a lot more sense.  This is one of those situations where I felt we were honoring history so well by including a song that melodically dates back to that time period; the lyrics are from a little later but politically it’s certainly appropriate. And I thought changing one word to make it perfectly fit the series was justified.

Q: What would you say is or has been most challenging for you on scoring OUTLANDER?

Bear McCreary: That’s hard to say…. OUTLANDER is such a joyous experience. It is one of the most rewarding and emotionally engaging projects I’ve ever been involved in.  I think the challenge has really been finding the tone for each episode, and I almost don’t count that as a challenge because I knew it would be this going in.  Working on Ron Moore’s last show, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, was similar in that there is a big picture story, but every week there’s always a unique narrative challenge.  Every episode has a different approach, and every episode has different folk music and different themes.  So, if anything, the challenge has been that balancing act between telling the big picture story and unifying the sound from episode to episode, while at the same time acknowledging how different each episode can be from the previous one.

Q: What fascinates me about music for fantasy films, even one that’s essentially a human drama set within a fantasy conceptualization, is that music can immerse you in its drama and its environment, allowing you to bypass the question of just how and why Claire wound up in 1743 by instead guiding you to invest emotionally in the drama as it unspools.

Bear McCreary: Yes.  And I credit Ron Moore for creating that tone with – and I hate to sound like a broken record – on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, which is: let’s take this outlandish premise and accept it as a given and, from that point on, everything about the characters and the way people react to things will be as dramatic and grounded and serious as possible.  Treat the material and the audience with respect. That’s what I really admire about Ron and why I so greatly enjoy collaborating with him.

Q: How do you work out your instrumental palette on this show?  In addition to the authentic instruments are you using digital samples and synthesizers to add to the texture?

Bear McCreary: Samples: there are basically none.  Electronics: there are certain very ethereal sections. I’ll throw in some custom synthesis of some unusual colors just to create [an interesting texture], but everything else is recorded live. The orchestra ranges in size from four or six players to 30 or 45, depending [on what we need to record].   The bagpipes are legit, the viola de gamba is another period instrument we use, along with penny whistle, accordion, guitars, and the bodhrán, which is a frame drum from the region that has a very particular style of playing.  It feels very authentic when you hear it, as does the fiddle playing.  Those are all played live by masters of those instruments.  I work with musicians who not only know their instruments but they know the style; they know the way a Scottish fiddle player would approach something that I’ve written, so working with them brings authenticity to the sound.  It also educates me – it helps me write music that is more authentic because every week I get to go back to my studio and think about the things that were changed to make them more authentic and make adjustments, and get better at it every week. 

Q: Will there be a soundtrack album coming out with your OUTLANDER score?

Bear McCreary: I believe there will be one.  We’re coming to the end of a good run of episodes, but there are still eight more that are part of the first season that will air next year, so I’m not even going to think about compiling a soundtrack until I can look back on the whole first season and pick the best parts.  It is funny that fans online are just clambering for an album, because I’m not done writing all the music yet!

Q: I’d like to touch briefly on some of the other shows you’re currently involved in, starting with AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., which has just begun its second season.  The first season had an interesting arc, from its opening through some generic crime and spy episodes, to integrating with the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe at the end.  How did the score develop through that arc and what do you have coming up that you can talk about for Season 2?

Bear McCreary: The score went through a lot of changes in the first season.  I developed a lot of themes and as character allegiances were revealed I had a chance to change the loyalty of the theme.  It was a complex narrative and there was a lot to keep track of, but that was the real thrill – being able to track all those changes with musical development.  S.H.I.E.L.D. is a sound that is very cinematic, at heart.  I have an orchestra every week that ranges on the small side from 55-65 players, which in and of itself is unprecedented for television, but we can get up to 95 or close to 100 on our larger episodes. To be able to do that on television is pretty astonishing!   I think what you’re going to hear in the next season is an evolution in the way I’ve been writing for the orchestra and the synthesis that I use.  The orchestra’s still there, in fact in many episodes it’s even bigger, and the themes are all there, but I’m trying to rough-up the edges of my synth programming a little bit.  A lot of contemporary sounds and driving synths are there.  In the first season we were looking at an organization that was glossy and polished, organized, clean.  And now, there basically is no S.H.I.E.L.D.  They are pushed underground after the events in CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER and the events in the season finale [of S.H.I.E.L.D.].  So I wanted to have the synths, and the score in general, be dirtier and filthier and a little rawer; not sound so polished and so clean, because now our characters are dealing with limited resources, so I wanted to reflect that musically.   I really like the new sound, and I’ve found that the second season has a much more unified look and tone.  The tone is much darker, and our characters are more conflicted, and that is an easier narrative to wrap my head around.

Q: Now, as the show got more closely related to the plot threads of THE AVENGERS and CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER, was there any need, desire, or thought about integrated a similar stylistic tone to the music, or were these thought of as separate entities with a common thread?

Bear McCreary: They were essentially kept separate.  The Marvel films have had a thread of S.H.I.E.L.D. woven through them, but there’s certainly nothing in any of those films that an audience would remember as being musically related to Agent Coulson or S.H.I.E.L.D.  So right from the first pilot, we – the producers and Joss Whedon and I, and everybody at Marvel – decided that we wanted to have a unique sound that belongs to us.  And, as I mentioned, ABC has given us the resources to do a really big orchestral sound, so in that regard the sound of the show is very much like the sound of the movies; you’re hearing a big, orchestral score every week.  So I really strove to make sure that while AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. has its own identity and character, musically, it still holds up against the scores of the films.  And I believe that it does sound as cinematic and grand when it needs to.

Q. Another show you’re doing that’s just about to step into its fifth season is THE WALKING DEAD.  Each season has had its own unique environment, from urban Atlanta to the farm to the prison and its conflict with the town of Woodbury, and coming in now to this compound of Terminus, where they’re held captive.  How have those environments affected development of the score and where might you be taking us musically in the new season?

Bear McCreary: The environments have had a big impact on the sound of the score, but it really must be acknowledged that in five seasons I had three different show runners – so that’s three different visions, three different takes, three different scores, basically!  Historically speaking, when a new show runner takes over you get a new composer.  I certainly know what that feels like, having replaced a composer once and been replaced myself.  I know that’s the way of the business, so I am very grateful that when Glen Mazzara took over [in 2011], and then when Scott Gimple took over [in 2013], they each gave me a chance to adapt my sound and change the sound of the score.  I think the unintended result of all this has actually been very beneficial for the fans, because the sound of the show has ever-so-subtly evolved and been tweaked.  As you pointed out, we’re going to different places, geographically and narratively, so it makes sense that the music would also reflect that.  I think if you were to really critically listen to the scores that I’ve done over the years, you would hear a very organic and acoustic Bernard Herrmann-style approach to Season 1 and Season 2 – we can still hear that in the Main Title, which I think is a love letter to Bernard Herrmann; but the new season is very different. It was a decision that Scott Gimple and I made together (this is Scott’s second season as show runner).   Terminus is where we are now and we really wanted to shake things up, so you’re going to hear a lot of different kinds of sounds; sounds you haven’t heard before; sounds that are very cold and synthetic and distorted.  There are still the strings and guitars and the music that is evocative of the region, but there’s less of it.  I wanted to create a sense of claustrophobia and of being in a new, foreign place.  And after four seasons, I really needed to change the sound, because we’ve been living with these characters and these tones for a long time!  So I really needed to do something different in order to create that sense of dread, and I think it’s going to be very effective.  The jury is out until people see it when it premieres next month, but I’ll just say that I think the fifth season of THE WALKING DEAD is the most disturbing, the most upsetting, the tensest – and that’s really saying something!

Q: Another show you’re doing that gives you the chance to write some period music and some action music is BLACK SAILS.  What can you tell me about how you’ve developed that music and where it’s going through the first season?

Bear McCreary: BLACK SAILS has been the most experimental score I’ve ever done. It’s such an oddball sound that I don’t think you could ever mistake it for coming from anything other than BLACK SAILS. It primarily features period instruments that existed in 1715.  When you’re doing a pirate show, the first question is obviously whether you’re going to acknowledge the 80- or 90-year tradition of having swashbuckling orchestral music accompany pirates.  That question was answered with a resounding no! We really didn’t want to do that. This is a much more grounded and serious take on the genre – arguably, the most serious take on it that has yet to be done; certainly among the most.  So I looked at period instruments.  I wanted the score to feel as if it was being played by a band of pirates on the deck of the ship. I wanted it to feel like all the instruments are portable – they’re all instruments that you could take with you on a long sea voyage. The largest instrument we used is a cello. So you get a very intimate, raw sound, and I record the score with a little MIDI ensemble, where the percussion are all recorded together, and then the guitars and fiddle are all recorded together.  What you end up creating is this feeling of improvisation.  Now most of it is not improvisation, because we’re scoring a picture, so I have to be very careful about what happens, but the groove that is established is one that musicians are interacting with one another and playing off of each other.  It feels very much like a group of guys just sitting around just playing stuff together; it feels very organic and that’s what has been an extreme challenge for me – to capture that energy of a live performance but still get the cue to land at exactly this frame and get the violin to shift right when it needs to. It’s still got to be precise.  But it’s been a blast, and I will say that the second season, which I believe premieres in January, is even better than the first!  It evolves from being a fun, gritty, sexy, violent adventure to being, in my humble opinion, one of the best-written shows that I’ve ever worked on. I cannot stress enough that, even if you don’t think pirates are your thing, you should watch the first season and then get caught up with Season 2.  It’s pretty spectacular.

Q: Another thing the score does is that it avoids the fun, swashbuckling exuberance of the pirate movies of the ‘40s as well as the seriocomic rock-based rhythms of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies; here you’re got pirate music with attitude.  You can taste the grit as they’re playing; you can smell the oil and grease on their beards…

Bear McCreary: Oh man, I appreciate your saying that so much, because that’s exactly what I was going for.  There’s nothing fun about what these characters are going through.  They are essentially slaves, and they have very limited lives.  They’re not fighting for freedom in a romantic sense; they’re fighting for freedom just to control their own lives.  When they are fighting out on the deck of the ship, it is not a fun adventure for them; it is life or death.  While the show does have some fun characters and very fun moments, in the score I really wanted to underline how real the drama is.  The show does that so well, visually, that the musical approach was self-evident; there’s no other way you could score it.  A swashbuckling, fun, upbeat score would just destroy the show.

Q: Somehow, through all of this, you’ve managed to find time to score a couple of features.  You scored an action film called EVERLY and a documentary called DIGGING UP THE MARROW.  What were those experiences like for you, especially in contrast with everything else you’re doing?

Bear McCreary: These are for two directors I have worked with in the past. Adam Green [HOLLISTON, CHILLERAMA] directed DIGGING UP THE MARROW, which is making the festival circuit now, and I just love hanging out with Adam, I could never say no to him!  It’s a fun one that horror fans should definitely check out.  EVERLY is a film by Joe Lynch who I’ve collaborated with a number of times [WRONG TURN 2, CHILLERAMA, KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM]; it’s an action thriller starring Salma Hayak, and it is unlike any film I’ve ever seen.  It is such an unusual take on the genre. I really think that it is daring filmmaking, and I leapt at the chance to be involved in it.  I’ve just never seen anything else like it. It is definitely a disturbing film and it is not for everyone, but I was just riveted by it and I think it shows a side of Joe as a filmmaker that you’ve never seen before.  I think it comes out next year, and if the words “action thriller starring Salma Hayak” appeal to you at all, do not miss it!

Q: What’s been your musical take on the action genre in this film?

Bear McCreary: It’s interesting. The film is claustrophobic and very dark.  It’s one of those action thrillers like DIE HARD where you get a premise in the beginning and then the tension does not release until the end credits roll.  So for me it was exploring new ways of creating very dark colors, because it is also a bit of a horror movie, but I wanted to keep the urgency and the adrenalin running through your ears and keep your heart pounding constantly.  And that’s a hard thing to sustain for two hours; you really have to be very careful to be able to do that.  I think it works and the payoff at the end is really beautiful. It’s a really wonderful film.  The score is primarily electronic for the aforementioned tension; I have some sort of mangled electronics playing steady 16ths  or steady 32nd notes almost through the whole movie – not literally, but a lot.  I find electronics are very good at that.  For the human/emotional elements (and there is a great emotional story at the core of the film) I needed live strings and I needed live players. Some of the percussion is live, and that is something that I find very effective when you put it on top of really driving electronics. 

Q: Now you’re also scoring the pilot for CONSTANTINE, which takes the comic book hero into a new life on television, after its one-shot feature film translation in 2005…

Bear McCreary:  I think of it less as a film adaptation and more going back to the original source material.  As a comic book fan, I was thrilled when David S. Goyer, the producer, asked me to be involved, because I’ve always loved Constantine as a character.  As a comic book fan it’s amazing to me that we now live in a world where comics are being exploited to such a degree by mainstream media that there is a big budget launch of a television show for mainstream audiences called CONSTANTINE!  I love it!  If you would have told me this when I was ten years old I would have never believed you!  CONSTANTINE is a very loyal adaptation to the source material. I think it’s something the fans are going to be really excited about.

Q: Where are you on the music just now?

Bear McCreary: It’s going to be cool.  You can actually hear my theme, it’s already online on my youtube channel. It’s really fun.  There’s an orchestral element, there’s a harpsichord to represent the quirky and the bizarre side of the character.  I don’t know why I heard it, but I think it works so well…

Q: There’s a Gothic element to the character, isn’t there, that the instrument would apply to?

Bear McCreary: There really is. There’s a Gothic element to the look and I thought that [the harpsichord] really captured it beautifully.  Then, to give some attitude, there are some drum loops and synthesis that have a little bit of a wink, they’re just a little on the playful side, but they’ve also got such a badass energy.  I felt combining elements of Gothic music, orchestral, and harpsichord, along with the heavy-duty drum loops – they honestly would be at home in something from the ‘90s or late ‘80s – captured the spirit of the characters.  At heart, the show is a horror show, really; the main theme represents Constantine as a character, but as we really get into the show the heavy duty work that the music needs to do is bring on the scares.  Director Neil Marshall has such a beautiful, stylized look, I think it’s amazing what NBC has let these guys create in terms of a horror atmosphere.  I don’t know, maybe WALKING DEAD is to thank for that! I think it’s going to be very exciting to see it unfold, and I’m so glad they’re doing it in October.  It’s an October show!

Q: Speaking of dark and scary shows, you’re also scoring the new paranormal series called INTRUDERS, which is airing on BBC America. [watch and listen to the opening sequence on youtube here.]  What musical approach have you taken on this show?

Bear McCreary: This one is fun.  I took on the show because I wanted to work with Glen Morgan, who’s the executive producer, who comes from X-FILES and has done a bunch of great features.  I knew that the show would be good because he’s running it, but it really exceeded my very high expectations. It is a supernatural thriller about a cult that understands how to cheat death.  Just imagine that there is a way that you can cheat death and be reincarnated, but it’s only a small group of people who possess this knowledge; what would they do to defend it?  So the concept was intriguing; another reason I wanted to work with Glen is because he had known Shirley Walker, who is one of my heroes.  I still idolize her work! She and Glen had done a number of series and films together.  When I brought her up in my first meeting with Glen, his whole demeanor changed, and I could tell how strongly he still feels about her and misses her very much.  I felt that if I took on this show I would be able to talk to someone who worked very closely with her.  As we started sending him demos and we would talk about the themes, he said that working with me reminded him of what it was like working with Shirley, because he could just tell that we approached music the same way.  I was so moved by that; it was just such a wonderful acknowledgement of her influence on me.  I only got to meet her once, but I knew her work, and here was a guy who worked with her recognizing that her influence on me came through, and that was a really moving experience for me.  When you watch the show you’re going to hear a score that does not sound like Shirley Walker, but my approach to themes are very similar to hers.  If you want to see one of the coolest video blogs I’ve ever done, read my INTRUDERS blog on youtube – we actually destroyed multiple pianos with a sledge hammer to create the sound that you hear in my score!   

Q: All of this stuff we’ve been talking about prompts another question: how do you fit it all into your schedule, as far as prepping it, writing it, orchestrating it, recording it, and getting it all done day after day?

Bear McCreary: I have a fantastic music team that handles the orchestration and all the technical stuff.  They are my secret weapon, because they allow me to focus on the creative issues.  It’s true, I don’t get to sleep a lot, but I find that when I’m streamlining my day and getting to just be creative as much as I can, that’s when I thrive.  I thrive when I’m multi-tasking, when I can go work on one project and then shift gears and do something different, it’s a power conduit for me. It’s actually less stressful for me than if I only have one project to focus on; that’s when you kind of freak yourself out and overthink things.  So it’s great, I really feel like I am very fortunate getting to work on the projects that I work on, and I’m a fan of all this. I love working on all these shows.  I feel like a kid in a candy store!

Q: You alluded to your blog a moment ago, and I wanted to ask about this.  Not just your video blog on youtube but, especially, your online written blog on your web site.  Among Hollywood composers, you’ve got a unique relationship with your fans where you’re doing an ongoing dialogue through your blog, exploring your compositional process, answering questions and being accessible, and taking up a lot of your own time to write these wonderfully articulate text commentaries about your music. How did you begin this blog and how has it grown into a distinctive conduit of sharing your behind-the-scenes compositional modus operandi in this way?

Bear McCreary: I started the blog very casually.  I just had a web site up that I was doing in Dreamweaver, the web design software that was all built around frames.  So I needed different sections and I realized I wanted to have something in my website that changed, that wasn’t just “the content!”   I’d heard of this thing called a blog so I thought I’d just do that.  I’ll just write a couple of paragraphs, and when a new episode of BATTLESTAR comes on the air, I’ll just write about that.  It evolved exponentially.  I found very quickly that the more detail I put in, the bigger response I would get in return from the fans.  Initially I thought this would be boring for people!  I’d no idea that people would be so interested in the creative thought process, but then I thought about myself when I was growing up as a soundtrack fan, I would consume everything I could find about the composers I admired.  If I could have found a blog that Jerry Goldsmith did about his music, I don’t think I would have left my computer!  And so I understand now, looking back, why people responded. 

With regard to the other part of your question, it does take a lot of time, and it is something that I do for myself more than anything else. I really love the connection with the fans but I also have this feeling that, until I blog about it, it’s not done.  And I want to be able to write down my thoughts while they’re fresh.  I recently did a big blog entry about my time with Elmer Bernstein, and as I started writing about it, all these memories came back.  I wasn’t going to do a big blog about it, I was just going to acknowledge the tenth anniversary of his passing, and I realized that all these memories were coming back and I thought, if I do this in fifty years, if I’m writing an autobiography and I’m going to write about Elmer, all this stuff will have disappeared.  All these memories are here now.  Also, when you look back on a struggle that you had, creative or otherwise, it’s different looking back on it than when you’re in it, so I think it’s invaluable for me to be able to just write down my thoughts right after I finish an episode, and say “this is what I went through” and you’ll get a really honest, unfiltered view of what it takes to be a creative person.  Honestly, as I go forward, it’s also a tool for me.  Sometimes when I come back for a second season, I‘ll go back and read my own blogs and remember, “Oh yeah, this is that theme and this is what I did for that character.  It’s all coming back to me!”

Special thanks to Melissa Axel.
For more information on Bear McCreary and to read his exceptional blog, see: www.bearmccreary.com






Subscribe to Bear’s video blog at https://www.youtube.com/user/bearmccreary

New Soundtrax in Review

THE BOXTROLLS/Dario Marianelli/Back Lot Music
Dario Marianelli has composed a pleasing and often exuberant score for this 3-D stop-motion animated fantasy feature based on Alan Snow’s 0205 novel, Here be Monsters!  The story revolved around cave-dwelling trolls who collect trash, which they then employ to build and fix things in their fantastical underground community of Cheesebridge – a section of a land called Ratbridge, which novelist Snow has expanded further in additional books.  The Boxtrolls have raised an orphaned boy named Eggs, who must save his adopted family when an evil exterminator come to rid the land of the scavenging Boxtrolls.  Marianelli, scoring his first animated film, captured the world of the Boxtrolls, with an enchanting orchestral score, based on a trio of primary themes – one for each environment: the cave dwelling of the Boxtrolls, the high society of Cheesebridge, occupied by the White Hats, and the darker world of the Red Hats, to which the exterminator belongs.  To reflect these different environments, Marianelli created distinctive musical textures that circulated throughout the score to identify character allegiances and bring to life these various sectors; they aren’t so much constructed themes as they are musical atmospheres, creating the cobblestone and woodgrain, and air of the story’s major locales.  “The orchestra made use, at one time or another, of a Theremin, a saw, a music box, toy piano, dulcimer, accordion, rubbed glasses, washboards, broken light bulbs, forks and knives, and a typewriter,” said Marianelli, who was brought in early in the process and worked closely with the filmmakers.  “That was a huge benefit for us,” said co-director Graham Annable. “Dario started work when most of the movie was still in the storyboard phase, and he was able to ask for a few more seconds here and there to let his score breathe – and truly support key moments in the movie.” Apart from his sonic environmental statements, Marianelli’s delivers the musical magic to bring the animated characters to life, retaining a fairly dark tonality suggestive of the cave-dwelling, if kind-hearted, creatures of the title.  The exception is the delightful waltz that may be the score’s most distinctive, and festive, moment; introduced with a kind of quirky classical air in “Allergic,” the piece is later reprised in a more formal performance called “Slap Waltz,” for honky-tonk piano and strings and, ultimately, full orchestra that gives it a wondrous elegance without belying its essential idiosyncratic roguishness.   The exterminator’s big moment occurs in “Snatcher's Dramatical Entrance,” a wonderfully ostentatious symphonic piece with a tremendous brass line surrounding by swirling, genuflecting strings, and strident, indeed dramatical Herrmannesque chord progressions.  Another key piece if a barbershop quartet piece called “Quattro Sabatinos,” which accompanies a montage of Eggs growing up in the midst of the Boxtrolls, and “The Bostrolls Song,” with music and lyrics by Monty Python alumni Eric Idle, which serves as a folk song popular among the people of Cheesebridge.  (Idle explained, “I do like telling a story in song. From the artwork that the production sent me, I saw that this movie would have fresh and original characters. In context, this would be a song that the people of Cheesebridge sort of knew. So the song had to have a catchy hook to anchor it as well as quite a strong chorus. I started writing, and playing on my guitar, and came up with something that aimed for a Kurt Weill feel.”)  A final element of the score are three songs from the Portland-based sextet Loch Lomond, whose distinctive acoustic harmonies (incorporating vocals, mandolin, Theremin, bass clarinet, and a cornucopia of percussion minutia) provide some moments of musical cheer, including a festive rendition of Malvina Reynolds’ 1962 folk tune, “Little Boxes.”

DEAD WITHIN/Joshua Bradford and Clayton Worbeck/Screamworks
My first thought on encountering this score on disc was that it is likely a very effective and spooky score to operate within the sonic structure of its film (which I have not yet seen), but that it was also a pretty unpleasant score to listen to on its own.  First encounters, however, are not always proper appraisals, and once I began paying close attention to the musical interoperability of the score and recognized how the tones and strands and ways & means of the material were orchestrated, the sounds of massive machinery taking the place of an orchestra’s strings and woodwinds and brass sections, it begin to take on its own intricate dimension.  Canadian composers best known in the industrial music scene, Joshua Bradford and Clayton Worbeck have created a claustrophobic and particularly unsetting sound design using a purposeful progression of industrialized tonality and discordant harmonic texture that maintains a very disturbing ambiance through which the film’ story flows.  Directed by Ben Wagner, the movie is set six months after a devastating outbreak that has all but ended the human race; it focuses on one couple who have survived only by strictly isolating themselves within a remote cabin; now starved for resources, they have no choice but to venture out and confront the horrors waiting beyond their cabin door. 

The medium of industrial music is especially suitable to creating disquieting musical sound design for horror films, because within a horror score it refuses to follow normal musical structure.  How better than to keep an audience on the edge of its seats than to impose music that exemplifies wrong notes, awkward tonal shifts, relentless repetition, unidentifiable and thus uncomfortable sounds, and musical textures that are jarring and discordant; merging with sound effects so that often any differences between music and source sound are indistinct.  “It was a pleasure to work on this score because of the clear intent to blur the lines between the score and the sound design” explained co-composer Clayton Worbeck. “This approach gave us the freedom to create some incredibly dark, tense compositions that creep and claw into each other as the two characters make their way through hell on Earth. Embedded in all this darkness and insanity is a strong bond of love and trust slowly eroding away. This decay of faith influenced much of my work on the score.” 

Thus the score captures a predatorial sonic construction designed to enforce audience discomfort, using musical texture and minimalist, repeating fragmentary melodies, the structure becoming more disjointed as story and score progress.   The use of repeated patterns, cycles of musical form rendered over and over with minimal variance and then suddenly shifting into something totally different but equally strange and repetitive, grow enormously vexing and help keep an audience unsteady, unsure, unable to find a comfortable foothold as the story shifts and rotates beneath them, and thus the delicious discomfort of experiencing a horror film is achieved and perhaps elevated.  The track “H2No,” for example, imposes a pulsing low piano key persistently depressed amidst obscure, howling voices and a fervently incessant beat coming from elsewhere on the keyboard; it then introduces a piercing melodic ostinato of bells set among scraping noises, buzzing synths and the like, and the result is a very frightening piece of music just on its own.  The two tracks that comprise “Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust” create a mesmerizing ambiance through a somber toy piano motif set among a randomly-cyclical percussive beat that imparts a rhythmic progression in alternating pairs; kind of a two steps forward, one step back musical rhythm.  Deep buzzing sounds circulate among sinewy, wiry electronic elements; fast keyboard pulses coil in and out of the stereophonic passageways in “Crisco and Lasagna.”  A foghorn throb punctuates a steady whining tone amidst wind-whipped sails before opening into a melancholic splinter of melody in “PTZD / Incurable.”  A delicate, minimalist melody from piano in “It’s Black” emerges out of a muted cacophony of angry voices… and so on.  It’s a deeply interesting conceptualization of musical structure that belies its surface-level discomfort to engage the listener in a dark and often frightening excursion of sound.  As is often the case, reprieve comes only at the end as the journey concludes; here we have the score’s first consistent rhythm piece with the concluding track, “Eudora Fordycio,” wherein keyboards and percussion intone a rock-rhythm track with a defined melodic pattern that brings the audience out of the darkness and into more comforting territory; it’s still not a happy melody but at least it’s a defined release from the dark tendrils of the sound design that has gone before.

DJANGO STRIKES AGAIN/Gianfranco Plenizio/Kronos
Known in Italy as DJANGO 2: IL GRANDE RITORNO (and aka DJANGO RIDES AGAIN), this 1987 Italian western film is the only official sequel to DJANGO (amid dozens of look-alikes issued or retitled in its wake) and features original star Franco Nero reassuming his iconic role as the machine-gunning antihero Django.  In the years between the original film, Django has abandoned his violent ways and become a repentant monk in South America, until he learns he has a young daughter who has been kidnapped by rogue Hungarian soldiers led by 'El Diablo' Orlowsky who is using native slave labor to run a silver mine – and sexual slavery to keep his soldiers satisfied.  Learning of this, Django digs up his buried machine gun and heads off to free the slaves.  Directed by Nello Rossati, who has worked with composer Gianfranco Plenizio almost exclusively since stepping into the director’s spot in the early 1970s, the film is competent and fun in the shadow of Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 original classic.  Likewise, the score is a bit of a step down after Luis Bacalov’s distinctive music from the first DJANGO movie; its melodies workable if not singularly striking, but it’s still an interesting piece of work.  Plenizio’s score has a noticeable South American flavor running through out as befitting its setting (the film was also shot in Colombia), and features three primary and two subordinate motifs.  His main theme, “Durango,” is comprised of a plaintive trumpet melody over quickly-strummed guitar and makes a good rhythm piece for horse riding and pursuit. “Black Vessel’ is associated with the armored, black steamship that Orlowsky uses to navigate the rivers with his human cargo.  The ship is named after a rare black butterfly Orlowsky covets for his collection of dead and mounted Lepidoptera; its motif is a seagoing rhythm for low horns and beaten percussion.  The dark and menacing sound suggests the drum beats of an ancient hortatory keeping time for then slave oarsmen below decks, a fitting aural reference to the slaves chained in the Mariposa Negra’s hold.  When Django is captured by Orlowsky, Plenizio combines the two themes (“Durango Choral Version,” reprised ), while elsewhere it is rendered in a poignant expression for acoustic guitar over strings and in a particularly dramatically evocative fashion for choir and strings.  “Mercy” is a poignant melody for female soprano over guitar strings and percussion, and reflects Django’s sympathy for the daughter he was unaware of, who has been captured by a slave runner operating a desert silver mine; it’s used very expressively several times in the film also to represent Django’s pity for the slaves in general, which results in his decision to free them (including one wonderful Scotsman vigorously played by Donald Pleasence).  The fourth motif, used sparingly, is called “Devil Theme” and is occupied by a solo violin played in a “diabolical” fashion, doubled by a clarinet or oboe, over rhythm guitar, which tends to represent the evil Orlowski himself.  A final motif is an austere melody played by pan flute over beats of hand drum, which represents the native Indians that Orlowsky exploits and terrorizes.  Plenizio also provides an affective gunfight theme, the characteristic trumpet de guello of the Italian Western (“Alamo’s Battle”) for the clever opening sequence in which two aging gunfighters face off in a final duel only to miss shooting each other entirely; afterwards they share a drink in the local tavern and reminisce about the notorious gunfighters of old – and then try to remember the name of that guy with the machine gun…  Alternate takes of many of these themes are included on the album, which expands the 13-track 1987 Colosseum LP by nearly two dozen for a total of 36 tracks and 54 minutes of music.  The result is a very good representation of the score in its many variations. Plenizio isn’t a Bacalov any more than Nello Rossati is a Sergio Corbucci, but both film and score are satisfactory and enjoyable, and it’s good to have Plenizio’s DJANGO 2 on CD in such a well-presented expanded release.

DOLPHIN TALE 2/Rachel Portman/Lakeshore
THE RIGHT KIND OF WRONG/Rachel Portman/Varese Sarabande
STILL LIFE/Rachel Portman/Kronos
Three very fine scores by Academy award-winning composer Rachel Portman released in recent months that are deserving of attention.  Actor-director Charles Martin Smith’s 2009 film, DOLPHIN TALE (scored by Mark Isham), centered on the true story of friendship between a boy and Winter, a dolphin whose tail was lost in a crab trap, and whose recovery was prompted by the groundbreaking attachment of a prosthetic tail.  Smith’s new sequel film continues the story, reuniting the main cast after the passing of Winter’s surrogate mother in order to find a companion so the dolphin can remain at the marine hospital.  These kind of feel-good family films have a pretty clear musical direction and usually always result in light, tuneful scores that pull both ways on the heartstrings and resolve in a positive, uplifting way, and Rachel Portman’s pleasing music for DOLPHIN TALE 2 satisfies these needs quite nicely with her own proclivity for emotive music and harmonic melody.  “The film is a wonderful canvas for music because there are so many gorgeous underwater scenes,” Portman said.  “Charles [Martin Smith] was keen for the music to have strong melodies that could be threaded through the story.  My first task was to come up with a theme for Winter. She has her own high flute melodic phrase which comes back several times through the course of the movie. It needed to be emotional and watery as well as easily identifiable with her.”   The result is a thoroughly enjoyable orchestral work enriched by heartfelt melodies; it may be a predictable approach but one that is appropriate and provides a very agreeable listening experience. 

THE RIGHT KIND OF WRONG from TV-director Jeremiah S. Chechik is one of those preposterous and forced romcoms that make even lonely single guys cringe.  A failed writer-turned dishwasher finally meets the girl of his dreams, on the day she is marrying the perfect man.  Naturally he is able to sway her into falling for him, thereby justifying the self-centered Hollywood cliché that stalking will always net you the man or woman you want and deserve.  Humbugs aside, the film features an excellent score, in which Portman takes the predictable norm of the romcom score and invests it with a fresh musical palette that is quite delightful; we have a generous waltz theme that is very pretty even in its grandiose presentation (“Flying,” “Colette Kicks Ball,” “Colette Comes Back”) and a primary theme evoked through a multi-tasking guitar-and-piano motif that’s quirky, fun, and a bit impish (“Time For a New Theme”).  It’s a lighthearted score with an edge, whose instrumental twinges offer up a stimulating musical design that’s far more likable than the characters whose misbehavior it accompanies on the screen; where DOLPHIN TALE 2 was a very satisfying but conventional score, THE RIGHT KIND OF WRONG is thoroughly unconventional, and winningly so.  Her motifs sparkle with inventive musical textures as she works from an unusual pattern for this type of film, creating a happy ambience from unconventional ensembles – such as the acoustic guitar and honky-tonk piano of “Leo Leaves the Wedding,” the bells, accordion, guitar, piano, and clanking bells and buckets of “Leo Juggles,” where the main theme kicks into a dizzying accordion treatment, the theremin-like synth or slide-whistle motif of “Two Objects In Orbit,” the rocking bass and guitar twang of “Spark It Up” (and its earlier rendition for bass, marimba, tambourine, and guitar in “Shit Kicking, Eviction Notice”), the ethereal synthesized melisma of “Ghost Bear on Green,” the accordion, organ, and tambourine of “Awesome Times BBQ,” the fun hand-clap rhythm of “Three Beautiful Things,” and so on.  A delightful score best heard on its own, nicely presented on disc by Varese Sarabande.

For its 50th release, German label Kronos Records has released Portman’s score for Uberto Pasolini’s STILL LIFE, a poignant British/Italian drama focusing on the life of a lonely social worker whose job it is to find the next of kin to those who died alone, and in so doing winds up finding himself.  The score is a poignant, acoustic work favoring small ensembles in various combinations and usually very closely-miked: piano, cello, a variety of plucked instruments, solo woodwinds, and the like.  Portman creates sonic patterns or recurring structured motifs  rather than melodic themes here, but the result is fervently expressive.  It’s a sublime, impassioned, work whose simplicity belies its emotive proficiency; melancholic and reflective, Portman’s straightforward motifs speak volumes about the character and the journey he takes through the film.   The acoustic textures she derives from these ensembles is intricately affecting, as is the listening experience of attentively hearing the full score by itself.  A very fine work.
For more information and music samples, see: http://www.kronosrecords.com/K50.html

THE NAKED GUN Trilogy/Ira Newborn/La-La Land
From the makers of AIRPLANE! came the 1982 TV series POLICE SQUAD!, starring uber straight-faced everycop Leslie Nielson as Lt. Frank Drebin in a hilarious send-up of cop movies.  While the series only lasted six episodes, it spawned a 1988 movie, THE NAKED FUN: FROM THE FILES OF POLICE SQUAD, which in turn spawned a pair of sequels, THE NAKED GUN 2½: THE SMELL OF FEAR (1991) and THE NAKED GUN 33?: THE FINAL INSULT (1994).  Composer Ira Newborn generously inflated his marvelous scores for the TV series into three varied and swinging orchestral scores that ranged from over-the-top crescendos and dramatic chords as furiously intense as the furled brows of Lt. Debrin, not to mention that brassy big-band sound that made up the series’ theme music.  The first two film scores are presented in remastered, expanded form from their previous combined soundtrack release, and the third film finds its world premiere release here in this 3-CD set (including its Academy, Award.  Newborn’s music from the series was a straightforward homage to (and thus satire on) the grim-faced cop shows of the early 1960s – M SQUAD, particularly, which had also been the series’ biggest satirical source, and the same sensibility was brought aboard the feature films.  Lush dramatic orchestral writing, earnest action material, vivid symphonic suspense, and loads of big band jazz that spiced the films perfectly, allowing the absurdity of the films’ humor to play against a background of utter seriousness.   Combining all three scores into one release is an excellent idea and makes for a definitive presentation lacking only in including tracks from the original TV show.  As it is, however, it’s exciting, swinging, coolly reflective, honestly heartfelt, and energetically dynamic on that early 1960s jazz-flavored orchestral manner, all of which makes for a thoroughly thrilling album.  In addition to the score tracks, there are a healthy fistful of source music cues from each movie (most of which are negligible to my way of thinking), and a number of alternate cues included as bonus tracks.  The album is produced by Dan Goldwasser and Neil S. Bulk and mastered by Doug Schwartz; it’s presented in a limited edition release of 2000 units and features a 36-Page Booklet with extensive liner notes by writer Daniel Schweiger, including comments from the composer and filmmakers.  So: You’ve read the review, now buy the album!  ;)

ROCKS IN MY POCKETS/Kristian Sensini/MovieScore Media
Italian composer Kristian Sensini has composed a delightfully varied and wistful score for Latvian director Signe Baumane’s uniquely-stylized animated feature, ROCKS IN MY POCKETS.  The film won the Fipresci prize at the prestigious Karlovy Vary festival and was described as a “modern milestone in animated storytelling” by Variety. The American distribution of the film was picked up by Zeitgeist who premiered the film in New York and Los Angeles in September, to be followed by a nationwide release.   Based on true events, the film tells the story of five women in Baumane’s family (one of whom is herself) their battles with severe depression and madness.  “Inspired by the animation styles of surrealist Jan Svankmajer and Bill Plympton,” wrote the label in their press packet, “Baumane’s film employs a unique, beautifully textured combination of papier-mache stop-motion and classic hand-drawn animation which required more than 30,000 drawings.”  To accompany the film, Sensini carefully selected instruments that would be complementary to Signe’s voice as she narrates the film in counterpoint to the beautiful, mixed media animated images, without serving as a distraction to the narration.  “Writing music for a cartoon which deals with such dramatic, real issues was a challenge for me,” Sensini wrote in a blog on his web site. “Not to mention the fact that these events belong to the personal story of the director, meaning the risk of ruining everything was always around the corner.”   Employing an acoustic ensemble of piano, flute, clarinet, cello, and double bass, supplemented by ethnic Latvian instruments, Sensini has created an intimate and variegated musical soundtrack for the film; each of the five women have a defining musical theme of their own, which show up in other treatments as Signe tells the story of their issues with mental illness (the first woman’s story, that of Anna, is the most oft-reprised motif); a number of stand-alone compositions support various other animated set pieces.  Melodies tend to be brief, with tunes relayed in a kind of folk-music orientation and much of it written in a spritely ¾ time; each track is as welcoming and charming as the cartoonlike drawing style of the animated illustrations.  The film also covers a short history of 20th Century Latvia, which Sensini has largely accompanied using those ethnic instruments.  While Signe’s story narrative conveys in comfortable resonance the very sobering story of the darker regions of despondency (the light-hearted opening track’s title, “How Not To Commit” [it leaves off the word “Suicide,” which is nonetheless implicit in the statement] is an example of the layers of depression that Signe’s describes; the film’s title itself echoes another form of self-destruction), Sensini focused on the clever and charming visual style of the animated drawings and creates music that is almost always optimistic, breezy, and delightful – not to negate the seriousness with which Signe addresses the story of mental illness in her family history, but to layer the film in a positive and comforting telling of the family’s journey through life despite the shadows of despair that shrouded these five ladies (the film’s subtitle, “A Crazy Quest for Sanity,” perhaps best exemplifies its tone).  In the final analysis, Sensini’s score is echoing the inner soul of each of the characters, whose soft-spoken grace and elegance is perhaps best described musically in the score that accompanies Signe’s verbal reading of the tribulations each of them have gone to, with his very moving “Finale” offering up a heartfelt musical resolution of dignity and humility; a tone that his “End Titles” relate in the happy waltz rendering of Anna’s Theme.

Sensini, who bears a special interest in the sci-fi-,fantasy, and horror genres, received a total number of nine nominations for Best Score (including Feature Film, Documentaries, Promotion, Best Song, Best Short) at the Jerry Goldsmith International Film Music Award; he also won the Global Music Award for his music for HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE (see my review of this earlier score in my November 2012 column). 

For more information on Kristian Sensini, see http://scorekomposer.com/
To sample the score, see: http://moviescoremedia.com/rocks-in-my-pockets-kristian-sensini/

TOKAREV/Laurent Eyquem/Caldera
Following up his delicate orchestral scores to COPPERHEAD (reviewed in my July 2013 column) and WINNIE MANDELA, Laurent Eyquem has supplied an energetic and reflective score for this new direct-to-DVD revenge thriller, starring Nicholas Cage as a reformed criminal who reforms his old band to impose justice on the Russian mob who’ve kidnapped and killed his daughter.  A US/French co-production, the movie was released in the US under the title RAGE.  Eyquem favors orchestra mixed with electronics and voices to generate a pulsing, suspenseful score, while treating the film’s more intimate moments with gentle flavors of solo piano and soprano melisma.  The occasional use of balalaika and heavy male choir accommodates the film’s Russian association.   With an engaging primary theme that floats through orchestral and electronic variations alike, Eyquem crafts an insistent action/suspense rhythm through interactive strings and quavering electronic pulses, splendidly creating an urgent riffing for the film’s moments of string action (“Opening,” “The Kidnapping”), while imparting moments of pure acoustic string passages in their midst to reinforce the human element involved in the story.  Drum-beaten, rock rhythms swagger loudly (“Trying to Understand,” “The Foot Chase,” “Room By Room”) while the main theme’s empathetic lyricism underlines the results of violence, first from soprano and strings in “All Is Lost, The Funeral,” later with grief stricken piano in “A Box of Memories,” “The Pain,” choir, balalaika, and strings in “You Killed My Brother” and “A Child Should Never Pay,” and so on.  The result is a very effective action score that also reflects an honest humanity and poignancy in the midst of its vengeful propulsion; the mix of heartbreaking lyricism and brutal, mechanistic action makes for a compassionate commentary on what we’re seeing.  Eyquem’s main theme concludes the score in a fine summation from orchestra and choir (the film is told in a flashback; Eyquem thus wanted the main theme to be heard only in its fullest form at the end of the film, as a resolution to all we have seen prior to that); its evocative melody and harmonic construction quite pleasing and stirring, providing for what is otherwise a fairly generic revenge thriller a sympathetic and thoughtful musical overlay.  The music is nicely preserved on disc by Caldera; continued evidence that Eyquem is a composer worth listening to; I’ll be looking forward to hearing what he comes up with for Roger (BARABBAS) Young’s biblical adventure, THE RED TENT, in December, and another action film, MOMENTUM, set in South Africa coming up next year.  As with Caldera’s previous releases, this album concludes with a 6:48 commentary from the composer about his background in music and his scoring of this film.

WISH I WAS HERE/Rob Simonsen/ Miles of Lions Records 
Starring and directed by SCRUBS’ Zach Braff,  WISH I WAS HERE is the story of Aidan Bloom (Braff), a struggling actor, father and husband, who at 35 is still trying to find a purpose for his life. He winds up trying to home school his two children and in teaching them about life his way, Aidan gradually discovers some of the parts of himself he couldn't find.  As with other recent scores like THE SPECTACULAR NOW, Simonsen here again exemplifies the delicate melody and the breezy, heartfelt proclivity he has for scoring contemporary dramedies.  Walking the line between comedy and drama in this film, he nails the right balance, negotiating the story’s personal/family drama by keeping the tempo and mood upbeat.  As with the film, the score is fun entertainment but carries a heartfelt honesty that treats its subject respectfully and leaves the audience feeling good about the journey.  Simonsen’s score is built around a pleasing and affecting main theme for keyboards (piano melody/riff over airy synths).  Introduced in “The Family Bloom,” the motif, in numerous variations, is central to the score.  Even when it’s not present melodically, Simonsen’s piano maintains the instrumental association that expresses Bloom’s perspective throughout the score (a variant for electric guitar is heard in “Talking to Jesse”).  The score’s journey naturally mirrors that of the character, and thus the album assumes a pleasing musical journey on its own, culminating in Simonsen’s touching and redemptive resolution, “Forward is the Only Direction We Have.”  It’s thoroughly enjoyable.
A songtrack album is also available from Columbia Records.  See my previous columns for reviews of Simonsen’s ALL GOOD THINGS and SEEKING  FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.
Simonsen’s next film is FOXCATCHER, a sports drama about Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, which opens November 14th.
Watch a YouTube video of Simonsen playing a selection of his score:

More on the composer at www.robsimonsen.com



Soundtrack & Music News

Recording has begun on the score for THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES. The album featuring music from the third and final Hobbit film from composer Howard Shore, will be released on December 16th.

French composer Antoine Duhamel passed away on Sept. 11 at the age of 89 in Paris.  Composer of nearly a hundred film scores since 1960, Duhamel worked with many of Europe’s most outstanding directors, including Jean-Luc Godard and Bertrand Tavernier.  In 2002 he was awarded the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his music for Tavernier’s LAISSEZ-PASSER.  In addition, Duhamel's career also yielded three Goya Awards and five Cesar Awards.

Nice Marvel musical cross-pollenization: Those who watched the season premiere of AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. may have enjoyed the WW2 flashback prologue featuring Agent Carter (and Dum Dum Dugan) – and you may have also noticed that when Agent Carter (Steve Rogers’ girlfriend in CAPTAIN AMERICA THE FIRST AVENGER who starred in her own Marvel One-Shot episode and begins her own series next year) strides into the Nazi encampment that AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. composer Bear McCreary quoted from Christopher Lennertz’s AGENT CARTER theme.  Lennertz pointed this out in a Facebook posting, adding, “Who knows...perhaps a certain S.H.I.E.L.D. theme could make an appearance in AGENT CARTER as well, if and when things may call for it…”   If you’re on Facebook you can watch the scene here (her theme will be heard right around 1:15).

Noted film music journalist Jon Burlingame has launched a web site, rich in news, perspective, and valuable commentary: www.jonburlingame.com   

Celebrated cellist Tina Guo records with a variety of film, TV, and video game composers for the album Tina Guo & Composers for Charity. 100% of the proceeds from the digital album will be donated to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation to support underfunded music in schools.  Guo collaborated with 14 composers including Penka Kouneva (PRIMROSE LANE), Neal Acree (DIABLO III), and Austin Wintory (JOURNEY). Tina Guo commented, “I’m so humbled that 14 wonderful composers donated their precious time and talent for this album, each writing a unique piece involving myself on the cello.” Now available on iTunes and Loudr.fm, this album is an opportunity to hear talented composers involved in all aspects of the film, videogame and music industry have their compositions performed by a world-class cello virtuoso.

Director Fred Olen Ray’s crowdfunded short freak show drama SPIDORA has won the "Award of Merit" and "Best Original Score" (written by Matthew Janszen) in its first Festival appearance at the Los Angeles Cinema Festival.   Janszen has been scoring films since 2007; his latest score is for the thriller FINDERS KEEPERS.

In 2011, composer Shawn K. Clement was commissioned to compose an orchestral piece honoring America’s wounded veterans. The four-movement work, entitled “The Warrior’s Hymn,” debuted later that year at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to a standing ovation with all ranks and branches of the United States armed services in attendance. Unfortunately, the recording of the piece – which featured a 106-piece orchestra, 247 member choir, and lead vocals by Jon Anderson of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominated group YES – was technically unsuccessful and the acclaimed performance was lost.
Over the course of the next three years, Clement teamed up with producer Jack Douglas, Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, choral conductor Tim Davis from TV’s “Glee” and drummer Dan Potrouch to recreate the performance and record it at Hollywood’s East West Studios. Additional orchestral tracks were recorded at George Lucas’ Skywalker Sounds in Marin, CA. The newly-recorded “The Warrior’s Hymn” has now been released, with a companion DVD about the project to soon follow.  Portion of proceeds from sales are planned to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.  Have a listen to the new recording on Soundcloud here.
In addition to “The Warrior’s Hymn,” Clement has composed for a number of primetime reality shows, the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER television series and several feature films. Throughout his career, Clement has created more than 25,000 music cues, available for licensing through the Clemistry Music Library.

Rahman Altin’s music for THE BUTTERFLY’S DREAM were named Best Film Score at the 15th Moondance International Film Festival in Boulder, CO, on September 28th.  Altin’s score had previously earned four other international film score awards: the 13th World Soundtrack Academy’s Public Choice Award (Gent, Belgium), 15th Milan International Film Festival Best Film Score Award (Milan, Italy), 19th Kral Turkish Music Awards [Turkey’s equivalent of MTV] - Best Film Score Award (Turkey), and Best Film Score at the 46th Siyad Movie Awards [Film Critics Association].  “It was such a great privilege for me being a part of the biggest film to ever be produced in Turkey,” said Altin. “Continuing to receive recognition almost two years after the movie was released is an incredible honor.”  Upon its release, Altin’s soundtrack immediately became the No.1 bestseller in the country. The Soundtrack reached in total of 860,000 plays in Turkish Music Portals.

On Oct 14, Varèse Sarabande will release Stephen (GRAVITY) Price’s score for Brad Pitt’s World War II drama, FURYADDICTED, by Aaron Zigman, comes out the following week, on Oct 21, and the animated kid’s film score, THE HERO OF COLOR CITY, composed by Zoë Poledouris-Roché (daughter of Basil Poledouris, whose songs have appeared in STARSHIP TROOPERS and SHADOW OF DOUBT) & Angel Roché Jr., on Oct 27, along with Tyler Bates’ JOHN WICK (with Joel L. Richard) and Mark Kilian’s REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGON.

Out now from Varèse is the soundtrack to Cartoon Network’s animated series LEGO NINJAGO: MASTERS OF SPINJITZU: Season One, featuring the original score composed by BMI TV Award-winners Michael Kramer and Jay Vincent.  “Jay and I really love mining diverse musical genres and experimenting with new combinations of styles and instruments,” described Kramer. “I think it satisfies the little mad scientist that lives in each of us! Whether it’s retro analog synths fused with mystical ney flute, or a funk band meets classical Indian music, we always look forward to conjuring up fresh sounds.” Commented Vincent, “From the very outset we set up a musical dichotomy between the heroes and villains, so when the kids watched it they could actually hear good and evil, rather than just seeing it.  So we established a simple rule: winds for the good guys, strings for the bad guys.  Wind instruments are played with breath, which suggests life, whereas the bad guys’ instruments use harsh plucking, bowing and scraping.  It’s a more intense, slightly more violent and physical way of playing.”
Kramer and Vincent will also be composing music for the LEGO STAR WARS: THE YODA CHRONICLES on Cartoon Network. 

Lakeshore Records will release a soundtrack to the domestic drama THE ONE I LOVE digitally on October 7th and on CD November 4, 2014.  The album features original music by Saunder Jurriaans and Danny Bensi (ENEMY, A GOOD MARRIAGE). “We were trying to do everything quite nontraditionally but full of character so that it would have a stark approach,” explained Bensi. “We like to do that for a lot of scores where the music will really be almost like one of the characters in the movie, so that’s what we made sure happened with this score right away.”  Bensi and Jurriaans, recently placed amongst On The Rise 2014: 12 Film Composers To Watch, are multi-instrumentalists and classically trained musicians formerly of the rock band Priestbird, where they evolved what has been described a ‘dramatic, cinematic’ blend of music – a style they’ve adapted into their film work since 2010.  Also new from Lakeshore (digitally now available, CD on October 28th) is Garth Stevenson’s music for  TRACKS, which tells the incredible true story of Robyn Davidson, a young woman who in 1977 undertook a perilous solo trek across 1,700 miles of stunning Australian outback. “For most of my life as a musician, nature has been my primary source of inspiration,” said New York-based double bassist and composer Stevenson (RED KNOT, YOUNG LAKOTA).  “Having spent so much time working on music directly in nature, I had a clear vision of how to depict the Australian desert with sound. John [Curran, director] and I discussed trading the literal dryness of sound in the desert for a more reverberant openness that would depict the vastness of the landscape most accurately.”  Garth is currently working on the score for the drama TEN THOUSAND SAINTSstarring Hailee Steinfeld and Ethan Hawke.   Lakeshore Records will release the soundtrack to THE ROVERdigitally on October 7thand on CD November 11, 2014.  The album features original score by Antony Partos (99 HOMES, ANIMAL KINGDOM) with additional music by Sam Petty (ANIMAL KINGDOM).

Sumthing Else Music Works will release the original soundtrack from Season 2 of METAL HURLANT CHRONICLES, the live-action sci-fi television series based on the popular comics anthology Métal Hurlant, (aka Heavy Metal) magazine. Available for digital download worldwide, the METAL HURLANT CHRONICLES Season 2 soundtrack features 40 tracks composed by BAFTA award-winning and Billboard/MTV VMA nominated composer Jesper Kyd (Assassin's CreedBorderlandsHitman). Preview samples are available on Soundcloud.
For more information on Jesper Kyd visit www.jesperkyd.com. (See also Game Music News, below).

Emmy award winning composer Mark Adler scores Sony Picture Classic’s eye-opening documentary MERCHANTS OF DOUBT, inspired by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway’s book about pundits-for-hire who speak as scientific authorities on toxic chemicals, tobacco and climate change.  “Robbie’s [Robert Kenner] His direction to me on Merchants of Doubt was to think of it as a ‘comedy about the end of the world,’ a phrase which I wrote on a Post-It note and looked at while I was writing the score for the film,” said Adler. “Though the completed film isn’t exactly that, it did help me create an atmosphere of irony in the score, as these pundits, these ‘Merchants of Doubt,’ went about their task of confusing the public. At other times the score would move into a darker tone, portraying the seriousness of these issues that threaten our world.” Depending on the tone of the score at any given moment, Adler would favor certain instrumentation, utilizing marimba and celeste for the more playful main theme, turning toward low strings and woodwinds for a darker, more twisted tone.

From Japan comes a 3-CD release of Kenji Kawai Original Masters Vol. 2: Apocalypse - WORLD WAR 2 by Kenji Kawai, now available from VAP Records. This is the second collection of original soundtracks composed by Kenji Kawai, previously released only digital downloads/unreleased on CD music composed for NHK's TV programs. Over 220 unreleased tracks composed by him are released with this series.  Also released as an exclusive from Ark Soundtrack Square is the world premiere release of complete original soundtrack from TV anime series BROTHER, DEAR BROTHER (1991), based on the comic by Riyoko Ikeda (LA ROSE DE VERSAILLEs) and directed by Osamu Dezaki (GOLGO 13, SPACE COBRA, AIM FOR THE ACE). A 2-CD release with music by Kentaro Handa. 

Roger Hall, composer, musicologist, archivist, a film music critic, and writer, has finished the 6th updated edition of his book, A GUIDE TO FILM MUSIC, with bonus music examples and a video program when he was a guest on a local cable television program.  The multimedia DVD includes tributes to Ray Bradbury, James Bernard and others, as well as a letter from John Williams and many notable endorsements.  Purchase the new edition here:

Saimel Records of Spain has released Joan Valent’s soundtrack for Alex Church’s horror comedy, WITCHING & BITCHING (aka LAS BRUJAS DE ZUGARRAMURDI/The Witches of Zugarramurdi), a dynamic and exciting orchestral score.  Hear samples of the score on Saimel’s album page at http://www.saimelrecords.com/SAZUGARRAMURDI.HTM.

A record label called Essential Media Group has just released a bunch of Elmer Bernstein scores from the early 60s as digital releases on AmazonMP3. I'm guessing these are vinyl transfers... Titles like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE CARETAKERS, WALK ON THE WILD SIDE and THE CARPETBAGGERS. – via Benjamin Mike Joffe

BORDER RUN/ Sebastián & Emilio Kauderer/
MovieScore Media

MovieScore Media travels to Latin America once again with the release of BORDER RUN, the human trafficking thriller by Argentinean filmmaker Gabriela Tagliavini. The music is provided esteemed Argentinean composers Sebastián and Emilio Kauderer. Emilio’s best known work is the Oscar-winning THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (co-composed with Federico Jusid). During his decade-spanning career, Kauderer has worked on projects like the Emmy-nominated music for DEAD LIKE ME (with Steward Copeland), the opening of the Winter Olympics (with Michael Kamen) and the 60th anniversary of the Holiday on Ice show, Diamonds which ran for four years. The score for BORDER RUN has a strong, darkly textural Latino feel with inventive guitar solos and unnerving strings providing the background for Sophie’s new discoveries on the Mexican underworld. Occasionally crossing the line between thriller and horror scoring, the music covers a wide area of emotional responses.
MovieScore Media has also announced that its October CD releases will include the original scores for "Automata" (Zacarías M. de la Riva), "Rec 4: Apocalypse" (Arnau Bataller), "The Game" (Daniel Pemberton) and "Coliseum" (Marc Timón Barceló). 


Game Music News

Sumthing Else Music Works present Borderlands®: The Pre-Sequel™ soundtrack featuring the original music score from the newest entry in the critically acclaimed Borderlands franchise.  The album features a pulsating electronic synthesizer sci-fi score by celebrated series composer Jesper Kyd (BorderlandsBorderlands 2Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep) on CD1, followed by a diverse mix of ambient soundscapes and synth-tastic combat music by 2K Australia in-house sound designers Des Shore and Justin Mullins on CD2. Describing his music for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Soundtrack on CD1, Jesper Kyd said, “There are no traces of real instruments, everything is made with analog synths, drum machines and old gaming consoles. The music is my take on 1980s sci-fi music and electronic music and there's everything from Commodore 64 and Sega Megadrive instruments to massive analog synths and vintage drum machines. It's basically a headtrip through 1980s film-inspired electronic synth scores with my own twist on that genre.”
Music samples from Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Soundtrack are streaming on SoundCloud. 

Coming on October 21st in digital download and on CD from Sumthing Else is Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved Original Soundtrack, featuring the original score and classical music selections from the award-winning musical motion game arriving October 21. Developed by Harmonix, the innovative minds pioneering new ways for users to connect to music through gameplay, "Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved" is a breakthrough musical motion video game inspired by Walt Disney's classic animated film FANTASIA. The album comprises the game's orchestral themes scored by award-winning composer Inon Zur and the music team at Harmonix, alongside new performances of classical masterpieces recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, Academy of St. Martin In The Fields and Chamber Orchestra of London at the famed Abbey Road Studios. Available for digital download exclusively on Sumthing.com, a  "Director's Cut" soundtrack, will offer exclusive remixes of the classical selections and original score B-sides for collectors who want to experience Fantasia “unlocked.”



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 for copyediting assistance..

Randall can be contacted at soundtraxrdl@gmail.com

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