Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2010-9
November 15, 2010

By Randall D. Larson

Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and
Lolita Ritmanis
Session photos by Dan Goldwasser

Dynamic Music Partners: An Animated Conversation

Much of the contemporary style of composing for animated television and features can be traced back to the efforts of Shirley Walker and her team of composers who worked on such Warner Animation shows as BATMAN, SUPERMAN, JUSTICE LEAGUE, and the like.  Shirley began to assemble her team of composers and orchestrators while working on her first super-hero TV series, the live-action show, THE FLASH (1990), when Lolita Ritmanis and Larry Rench were brought in to assist with orchestration.  When Shirley began to score BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1992-95) and, later, SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion, Kristopher Carter, and Harvey R. Cohen became Shirley’s musical team, scoring the series’ individual episodes or portions thereof, while Shirley remained the series’ overall music supervisor. 

Since Shirley Walker’s death in 2005, Ritmanis, McCuistion, and Carter (Harvey Cohen having left the group in 1998 to orchestrate for feature films; sadly he died of a heart attack in 2007 at the age of 55; Larry Rench also went into feature film orchestration) have continued working together, under the adopted title Dynamic Music Partners, as the primary composers for Warners animated TV series.  Between the three of them, with a nod toward the approach to live action super hero feature film scores, they have continued to develop and define signature music for super hero action in the later 2000s.   Interviewed collectively for my book on fantasy film music, I am pleased to present the full length interview in its entirety.

Q: How was Dynamic Music Partners created and how do the three of you work together to provide music for an array of animated shows? What are the advantages of working as a composing team?

Lolita Ritmanis: Dynamic Music Partners was formed primarily to give a formal name to a relationship that had already existed for a number of years. The three of us have been working together for 17 years on an array of projects; working under the umbrella of “Dynamic Music Partners” presents a unified team. There are very few composers working in the business that do not have a support team. We are each other’s support team. Our clients know all three of us, and know that we will be the composers for their projects, as opposed to someone they have never met before but who may be involved in composing cues when the composer they have hired simply cannot physically complete a project without enlisting his/her team to compose. Another great advantage is the collective energy we can put into each and every score. With tight post production schedules we can compose a great deal of quality music in a relatively short amount of time without suffering burn-out.

Q: How has music for animated super hero shows evolved and developed over the years, from the pop kids’ Saturday morning cartoons of the 70’s to the dynamic, fairly sophisticated and fully-scored and orchestral sounds we have today that many adults watch and love?  What has prompted this development or change in direction?

Michael McCuistion: I think generally speaking the superhero cartoons of the 70’s were much more innocent, focusing on lighter subject matter and a sense of adventure. They were made primarily for really young children and really had a sense of fun and sometimes even silliness with a little bit of moralization thrown in for good measure. As the children’s market evolved and kid’s tastes skewed increasingly older it was possible to create a new kind of cartoon which dealt with deeper, more realistic subject matter. The tone became darker and the focus shifted from fun to mystery and stories with a less-certain outcome. It’s only natural that the music would follow suit, broadening to express these more mature themes in a way that would honor the increasing complexity of the story line. Also, the kids of the 70’s were growing up, and in some ways, cartoons have grown up right along with them.

Q: Clearly the loss of Shirley Walker was a huge loss to film music, especially film music for animation, and especially a heartfelt loss for the three of you.  How have you taken the lessons she taught you and the template for scoring these shows that she initially developed and brought it forward to meet the needs of today’s film musical environment?

Kristopher Carter: We are so grateful to have had a true powerhouse film composer like Shirley as our mentor. In addition to being simply brilliant as far as music composition goes, she had a keen sense of drama and storytelling and insisted that our music respect the framework established by the episode. As the business has evolved and producers and directors have enjoyed exploring new scoring approaches, having the music firmly grounded in the storytelling has given us a stable platform to stretch out in new musical directions.

Q: When developing the main theme for a super hero show, what elements of the character(s) or the show do you look at to build from? What is most challenging in creating a signature theme for one of these shows?

Lolita Ritmanis: There are so many factors that go in to creating a theme. Before even attempting to compose a melody or search for a “sound” we spend a great deal of time immersing ourselves in the characters, story, and artwork. What is the “feel” of the show? Many of the answers can be found by listening (really listening) to what the creator of the show has envisioned. What is his/her vision for their new masterpiece? As you know, the style of music can greatly affect the feel of the show. Are we going with something fun? Something timeless? Retro? Melody is key. Go to Comic-Con and ask a fan to hum the theme of their favorite show. You absolutely need some sort of “hook” that can be hummed by the fan from Kansas City!

Q: What’s the process of developing subordinate themes and mapping out the themes as the story (and story arcs) progress throughout a series?

Michael McCuistion: One of the most challenging aspects of scoring any show is getting the tonality correct and faithfully realizing the emotional vision of the producer. There are, of course, many challenges, including schedule, budget, scope, etc. but really it all comes down to how these things can be effectively and creatively used to produce a great score for the producer’s vision of the show. Theme development can be an effective device to tie together story elements, especially if the plot has a long arc throughout many episodes. Themes tend to focus on specific characters or situations, and decisions regarding creation or use of themes are usually made during spotting when the composers and directors have a chance to discuss each scene in depth. When characters or situations recur, there is usually a discussion about whether or not to use a particular theme, and sometimes themes are used very subtly and reorchestrated and rearranged/combined as more of a subliminal element in the scene rather than taking center stage and becoming an “announcement.”

Q: There seems to be a lot of cross-pollenization of the Warner animated shows – BATMAN, SUPERMAN, JUSTICE LEAGUE, and variations set in different eras like BATMAN BEYOND, TEEN TITANS, and LEGION OF SUPER HEROES – how does your music for these different but associated shows complement and contrast with each other?

Kristopher Carter: This is almost always decided jointly in our initial discussions with the producers. One of the first questions we will ask is whether or not they want the music to maintain a continuity with the previous series.  In the case of JUSTICE LEAGUE, we did carry through a leitmotif-based scoring approach (little melodic fragments that repeat). In fact, we were amazed to see catalogs that are available online tracing the developments of these little themes!  With TEEN TITANS and LEGION OF SUPER HEROES, the producers wanted a departure from that style, with less emphasis on having a certain theme played under the same dramatic circumstances. BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD is considered a different continuity than the BATMAN: TAS and JUSTICE LEAGUE “Batman,” so James Tucker decided that all the music would be completely new and unrelated to the other incarnation (with one notable exception: the recent “Bat Mite” episode, where there is a specific homage to BATMAN: TAS... fans of the original show will recognize it instantly!).

Q: Generally how do the three of you work together when scoring a series (or a feature film, such as BROKE SKY or DANGEROUS CALLING)? What technique do you use to provide a homogenized, cohesive final score – and what kind of time frames do you have to accomplish this on a given episode score?

Kristopher Carter: We have been working together for many years now, and even though we each have our own musical influences and voice, we are flexible enough to create a score that is unquestionably cohesive. In fact, it is quite common for our composing to take on an almost “hive-mind” aspect; sometimes without even discussing it we will subconsciously choose the exact same key and surprise each other when one piece of music overlaps the previous piece perfectly! 

Lolita Ritmanis: The time frames vary from project to project. With most of our work in animation we have a luxurious schedule compared to some of the live action prime-time shows. We have an average of 2 weeks from the time we spot an episode to the time that the final mixes have to be delivered to the dubbing mixer. In those 2 weeks we have to spot the episode, write the music, preview the entire score for the producer/director, make any changes, prepare the score (for live sessions), record the musicians, mix the score and deliver the final stems to the dubbing mixer. But keep in mind we are also spotting the next episode within that 2 week period. Time management is key in order to stay on schedule. With an order for 26 episodes without a break in production we really have to keep on top of things. In the case of BROKE SKY, we were hired at the very last minute; the film had been accepted into the SXSW (South by Southwest) Film Festival and they needed an original score composed, recorded, and mixed within 2 weeks. We hit the ground running and had a great experience in the process. I have such a warm spot in my heart for that film; we had great support from director Thomas Callaway, and after the film was finished, we all travelled to Austin for the premiere. It was like a Dynamic Music Partners field trip!

Kristopher Carter: For DANGEROUS CALLING, the directors envisioned (and had built a temp score of) big, epic orchestral music. One of the biggest challenges facing composers today on many projects (with the notable exception of big studio feature films) is how to support the filmmaker’s vision when the filmmaker is imagining a score that often would cost more than the film itself! Synthesizers and computers can do some amazing things today, but there is still no substitute for the warmth and expression live musicians bring to a score. On this particular project, we combined a string group with synthesizers and the end result sounds remarkably realistic.

Q: In addition to the DC Comics heroes for Warner, you’ve also scored Marvel’s SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN for Sony. How did you develop your approach to this series? What element of this show did you find central to your scoring?

Michael McCuistion: We were fortunate to meet Michael Vogel at Sony Animation and then later producers Greg Weisman and Victor Cook who were all three already familiar with our work, and when we had our first meeting with them they were already referencing shows we had scored in the past as examples of the musical approach they were hearing for their project. They were very thoughtful about their show and brought many ideas to the table (for instance, they knew they wanted a guitar-driven sound for the action), so in this case we were able to focus that communication into an approach that would give them the fun, fast-action score they desired while still having the emotional underpinnings required for the deeper emotions driving that action. Visually the show is really stunning, with some amazing camera sequences and truly “spectacular” webslinging; this visual style really drove our approach to the action music and affected our decisions about tempo and energy. This is definitely one of the fastest, most energetic series we’ve scored! The contrast of the amped-up action to the music for the sincere, heartfelt relationships between many of the central characters really allowed the score to be very well-rounded.

Q: To what degree are you able to use orchestras and acoustic instruments along with synths and samples to create the scores for these shows?  You’ve mentioned that the TEEN TITANS movie, for example, incorporated a number of ethnic and acoustic instruments, and your magnificent theme from JUSTICE LEAGUE sounds fully and dynamically symphonic.  How do budgets and deadlines affect these choices?

Lolita Ritmanis: Bruce Timm had always envisioned JUSTICE LEAGUE having an orchestral approach, and in the case of that particular theme Shaun McLaughlin (the line producer of JUSTICE LEAGUE) was my true champion. He convinced the powers that be that we needed to hire an orchestra to record the theme. It really takes someone basically saying “this has to happen.” It comes down to money and someone in a position of power saying “yes.” With TEEN TITANS: TROUBLE IN TOKYO, Glen Murakami was thrilled at the idea of having live musicians add their talents to this project. On one of our current series, BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, the budget is structured so that we have at least one live musician on each and every episode. For that series a wonderful woodwind player by the name of John Yoakum records on a weekly basis in our studio, playing everything from alto saxophone to bass clarinet. For the episode “The Mayhem Of The Music Meister” (a musical episode starring Neil Patrick Harris), Sam Register, Executive Vice President of Creative Affairs at Warner Bros. Animation, approved a budget to hire an entire orchestra. Apart from adding an enormous amount of dynamic range, a live orchestra adds a depth and timeless sound to our music. It is also a joyous experience to work with talented musicians. In the case of our series THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, the score needs to really rock at times .The brilliant Greg Herzenach lends his talent to that series, lifting the energy to a new level. Now, all that being said, the reality is that it is expected that our synth scores sound glorious as well.

Q: Clearly the three of you have a solid rep for scoring animated super hero shows. Does this ever lead to any restrictions where you’re not offered other types of projects you’d like to do (assuming you’d have the time to do it!)?

Michael McCuistion: We compose for many different genres, including live-action underscore, the concert hall and stage. The music we’ve written for animation is not “cartoon music” per se; we have approached most of our projects from a cinematic scoring standpoint. The resulting scores easily translate to both live-action and long-form film and television, so when we’re submitting for a project we often use music from our animated shows regardless of the project’s specifications.

My thanks to Lolita, Kristopher, and Michael and taking the time out for this interview, and to Lolita for coordinating our chat.

New Soundtracks Releases of Note

DARK PROPHECY/Bill Brown/MovieScore Media
Comprised of gloomy, shifting layers of dark tonality, chord progressions dappled by piano, and a weaving strata of heavy, reflective orchestral measures, Bill Brown’s score for this unusual online cinematic. Not a movie but scored cinematic elements (aka “cyber-bridges”) of the interactive extension of the “Level 26” book series by CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker.   Part of a book with associated web-based motion picture and interactive elements, which Zuiker terms a "digi-novel," Zuiker has produced 20 cinematic cyber-bridges, which readers will be prompted to view online using special codes embedded in the book's text every 20 pages or so.  Brown's score fuses live orchestral elements with electronic and ambient textures, and features a number of thematic ideas of which “Henry's Theme” for strings and piano is the most important one.  The score lays down like a thick fog, rustling and billowing slightly, giving the scenes a stark, noir vibe; on disc the experience is akin to listening to hushed ambiance softly whispering its way through your head, and back out again, leaving behind a dim flavor of where it has been.

With their release of DOCTOR WHO: SERIES 5 just around the corner, this fourth collection of music is given over to a double CD in order to accommodate more cues from individual episodes, providing much more musical continuity within episode cues than previous albums have permitted.  Comprising the four specials that were broadcast between 2008 and 2010 that spanned the gap between Series 4 (2008) and Series 5 (2010), these episodes also served as David Tennant’s denouement as the Tenth Doctor as the show transitioned in Series 5 to Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith; thus the music had the additional responsibility of serving to bid adieu to Tennant’s tenure, who had played the Doctor since the pre-Series 2 Christmas Special in 2005.  The music by series regular composer Murray Gold, assisted and conducted by Ben Foster, is majestically orchestral and gives these special episodes a significant degree of passion.  Three of the episodes appear on CD #1, with nearly a dozen cues from 2008’s “The Next Doctor,” while CD #2 contains the music from the two-part Special, “The End of Time.”  The music is varied in style (classical-styled in “The Next Doctor,” interspersed with some marvelous moments of raucous jazz, including Gold’s own rendition of “March of the Cybermen,” originally covered by Malcolm Clark in the 1982 episode, “Earthshock,” caper-music in “Planet of the Dead,” much claustrophobic and dissonant material in “The Waters of Mars” while giving way to one of Gold’s most affecting cues, the poignant “Fate of Little Adelaide” as well as “Altering Lives,” a cue that sums up the Doctor’s quiet heroic morality and the sacrifice he (and all the Timelords) undertake to do so; it’s a quiet, somber soliloquy for solo violin over a hushed chorus of synths, and closes out CD #1 with reflections of a kind of humble pride.  In its hour-long length (plus a few mins), the music to “The End of Time” is allowed to be particularly expressive and nuanced, from the epic poignancy and grandeur of “The End Draws Near,” “Final Days,” and “The Time Lords’ Last Stand” and the respectful choral cadences of “Gallifrey,” the brutal, martial bombast of “The Council of the Time” (intentionally capturing a STAR WARS/“Imperial March” tonality in its orchestration) to the reverent farewell chorus of “Vale Decem” and the cute, ethnic danceability of “Wif’s Wiggle.”   The CD concludes with a short but intensely exciting, rock-styled introduction of “The New Doctor.”  Murray Gold is one of the best things to happen to DOCTOR WHO (and to television film music) since Ron Grainer, and this album comprises some of the finest and most breathtaking film music of the current day.  It makes me want to run out and watch every episode right now, matching up the visual storytelling with the music’s thrilling majesty.  The album contains introductory notes and brief track-by-track comments by Gold.

THE GREEN HORNET/Billy May/Harkit Records
Originally released on LP in 1967, arrangements of Billy May’s music for the TV super-hero show, THE GREEN HORNET, one of many short-lived series to follow in the wake of ABC’s BATMAN series, performances by trumpeter Al Hirt playing the hit theme (which May based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” which was GREEN HORNET’s radio show theme during the 1930s) have been many, and recently were popularized in KILL BILL, PART 1 as the music when The Bride first arrives in Japan to confront O-Ren.  That record album contained 11 tracks of mostly extended jazz arrangements of elements used in the show.  Harkit released a CD containing these tracks in 2006.  This new recording adds seven new tracks to the mix to provide a definitive exploration of the GREEN HORNET theme music, its variations and its influences – added by explanatory notes by Martin Gainsford, and a much nicer booklet and cover design.  The new tracks include Al Hirt’s hit single (the trumpeter on the original soundtrack is not identified but is widely believed to be Hirt also) version, pianist Winifred Atwill’s 1956 hit, “Bumble Boogie,” a version of the Rimsky-Korsakov that greatly influenced May’s TV adaptation, Rafael Mendez’s virtuoso trumpet version which essentially duplicates Atwill’s swirling fingers to Mendez’s manic double-tonguing on his trumpet, an orchestral version of the Rimsky-Korsakov piece as originally written, a cool funky version concocted by record producer Maxwell Davis heavy on congas, bongos, and keyboards, and two audio episodes of The Green Hornet, one excepted from a 1940s radio broadcast, the other newly adapted from a never broadcast 1960s teleplay.

With the exception of the frequent recurrence of John Williams’ “Hedwig’s Theme” in either very subtle or clearly obvious fashion, each of the different composers who have taken up the wand to compose the next HARRY POTTER score has invested a unique and fresh take on the fantasy franchise.  With respected composer Alexandre Desplat taking his turn on the Hogwarts podium, wizards and muggles alike should be pleased as he provides a vigorous, illuminating, and captivating sonorous score for the second-to-last picture in the series.  While previously noted for his intricate and passionate melodic scores for character dramas, Desplat has also shown the wherewithal to musical embody an imaginative fantasy landscape with his scores to THE GOLDEN COMPASS, MR. MAGORIUM'S WONDER EMPORIUM (with Aaron Zigman), THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, and TWILIGHT: NEW MOON.  As much of DEATHLY HALLOWS occurs in the real world with characters who are growing up and roaming far from the comfortable confines of Hogwarts, Desplat is able to bring both elements to bear, grounding Potter in very human emotional musical statements (“we tried to keep away from ‘the magic world of Harry Potter;’ The heroes are facing the real world,” Desplat told interviewer Daniel Schweiger for Film Music Magazine) while allowing him to take flight with occasional moments of musical fantasy (“Sky Battle,” “Fireplaces Escape,” “Rescuing Hermione”); but as this is the darker half of the two-part finale, Desplat has allowed himself restraint, likely accommodating the more vigorous triumphal measures to come with Part 2.  The score is quite thematic and as orchestrally pure as Williams’ first, definitive POTTER score (Desplat’s violin counterpoint in tracks like “Hermione’s Parents” and “The Deathly Hallows” also seems quite Williamslike).  Harry’s growing up is reflected in brief, faint reprisals of “Hedwig’s theme,” while new themes are configured for Dumbledore, Valdemort, and others.  Desplat also reflects the heroes’ young adulthood with a powerful new motif, “Obliviate,” which opens the score and which serves to convey the characters’ loss of innocence as age and experience catapults them quickly into young adulthood.  Desplat has recently confirmed he will score the final volume, DEATHLY HALLOWS, Part 2; with the evidence of his score in Part 1, Desplat is a more than appropriate choice to bring the series’ musical quotient full circle back into John Williams’ territory, and take the characters through to adulthood and the resolution of their battle between good and wickedness.  In addition to the standard single disc CD of Part 1 (which contains a link to download the score in 5.1 audio), in December a limited edition collector’s box set will be apparated, containing a bonus CD of extra music, vinyl picture disc, the score on DVD in 5.1 audio with a video interview with the composer, autographed sheet music, poster, and more.

Winifred Phillips’ latest epic-styled game score accompanies the video game that is based on Zach Snyder’s CGI animated film of the same name, based on the novel series, Guardians of Ga’Hoole, by Kathryn Lasky, about a heroic band of soldier owls who do good and protect the weak from the wicked.  Zach Snyder specifically selected Winifred to compose the music to the movie-based video game; she had completed her score prior to Australian composer David Hirschfelder’s scoring of Snyder’s film, thus giving her total freedom in establishing her own sound design to bring the game’s environment to life.  The music, already nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media Award, has been released as a digital download on iTunes by Warner Bros’ Water Tower label.  The music, produced by Phillip’s long-time creative partner, Winnie Waldron, is created synthetically but, characteristically for Phillips, treated orchestrally, using both samples and pure synth sounds to create an effervescent atmosphere that suits the fantasy adventure sensibility of the game.   “The story of LOTG is full of universal symbols,” Winifred said in a featurette on the game’s score posted on her web site (www.winifredphillips.com).  “It was very important that the music reflect that, that the tone had the right sense of history and culture.”  Central to Phillips’ score is the Guardian’s Theme, which is introduced at the beginning of the game via a solo female voice, floating above the orchestra; it is first associated with the island of Ga’Hoole, where the mythic adventure takes place; the voice is later reprised amid denser textures and in harsher settings to bolster airborne action and intensity gameplay.  The piercing sound of the solo singer is contrasted with the chanting roar of a full choir which aggressively represents the ancient evil against which the guardian owls fight.  The two motifs pair off and bolster the music’s as it develops throughout the game. Apart from the gameplay, on CD, the music serves up a mythic conflict as right battles wrong, culminating in the winning 5-minute concluding track, “The Guardians.”

MEGAMIND/Hans Zimmer &  Lorne Balfe/Lakeshore
Welcome to the summer of the animated super-villain comedy – DESPICABLE ME (scored by Zimmer acolyte Heitor Pereira and songwriter Pharrell Williams) came out last July, and now we have Dreamworks’ MEGAMIND, about a super-villain who is overcome by boredom after vanquishing his arch-nemesis.  The score, by Zimmer and his Remote Control Prods. protégé Lorne Balfe, is a fairly predictable and perfunctory work, but it has some moments that shine quite nicely – including the opening montage, “Giant Blue Head,” which becomes manic march for super-villainy as it grows up (nicely reprised in the lively, comic “Crab Nuggets”), whose melody becomes the primary musical motive for the score, reworked into the epic motif “Stars and Tights,” the nicely saccharine love theme (itself reprised with overblown earnestness in “Drama Queen” and the compassionately poignant “Rejection in the Rain” with its affecting violin strains), and the bombastic chorale ode to villainy, “Black Mamba.” Lakeshore’s soundtrack album includes 38 minutes of score and four old rock/pop songs scattered throughout.

NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER/Frank Harris/Perseverance
This 1985 film, an urban martial-arts action drama directed by former Jackie Chan school-sibling Corey Yuen, introduced Jean-Claude Van Damme to international stardom.  That could be good or bad depending on your perspective of Van Damme and his films.  It also featured the second film score from San Francisco-based electronica artist Frank Harris – or not, depending on which version of the film you saw.  Harris scored the film, performing most of the electronics himself and writing several power rock songs used in the movie, at the request of the film’s Hong Kong producer; but when the film was sold to New World Pictures for US distribution, Harris found his score and songs had been summarily dumped and replaced by new score and songs by Paul Gilreath; Harris’ music heard only in European and Australasian prints.   Gilreath’s score was released by Silva Screen in 1994; Perseverance has provided the Harris score in a thorough package that contains more than an hour of music, including songs and unused cues, and comprehensive notes from Brian Satterwhite that covers the history of the film and its musical score(s) in compelling detail.  The music is a simple rock-styled action score performed mostly by synths and guitars, the kind of music to provide an supporting undercurrent for the film’s extensive fight sequences, but it’s well constructed and proffers plenty of intriguing musicianship in its chops and fight-scene riffs, and Harris finds a moment or two of quite expressive poignancy as the story unfolds – much of that having to do with the ROCKY/KARATE KID-styled trainer/trainee relationship as Van Damme the underdog becomes Van Damme the Champion and whips the bad guys.

WELCOME TO THE RILEYS/Marc Streitenfeld/Lakeshore
Known for his work on four consecutive Ridley Scott films in Hollywood, including the recent ROBIN HOOD starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, German-born composer Marc Streitenfeld has provided an intimate, banjo-driven score for this domestic thriller about the drawing apart and renewal of a couple recovering from the loss of their daughter.  Streitenfeld’s music is primarily acoustically atmospheric, setting down a reflective tonality and plucked riffing that embodies the difficult emotions and suppressed anguish of the couple.  The banjo suggests the Louisiana setting of the story as well as the simple, down to earth-edness of the couple.  As the husband leaves his agoraphobic wife behind to go on a business trip to New Orleans, he meets a 17-year-old runaway with whom he forms a platonic bond; what initially appears to be the final straw that will derail the marriage turns out to be the inspiration they need to renew their commitment.  The score mirrors this journey by taking its banjo motif from very dark and furtive strains, paired with solo violin, contrabass, or mandolin (Streitenfeld played most of the instruments himself), eventually giving it a brighter rhythm and a stronger degree of comfort that accompanies the couple’s journey out of darkness.  Sequenced at the end of the album, the soundtrack also features songs by Ying Yang Twins, Kitty Davis and Lewis, Odetta, Shiny Toy Guns, Joe Simon, and The Kills.

Soundtrack & Music News

Following their successful partnership on recording and releasing a spectacular restoration of Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for THE ALAMO, Prometheus Records and Tadlow Music have joined forces once again to present the world premier recording of the complete score to CONAN THE BARBARIAN, composed by Basil Poledouris.  Produced for Prometheus Records by James Fitzpatrick, the 2-CD set features for the first time the COMPLETE 100-Minute Film Score, performed by the acclaimed and award-winning 96-piece City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and 100-voice CPPO chorus conducted by Nic Raine, using the original Greig McRitchie orchestrations.  Recorded in dynamic digital sound, the album includes alternate cues and music from CONAN THE DESTROYER, comprehensive album notes by Frank K DeWald, and a booklet introduction by Zoe and Alexis Poledouris.

Delos has released their third and fourth entries in their Shostakovich Film Series, focusing on the Russian cinema compositions of the acclaimed composer.  Volume 3 contains suites from Dmitri Shostakovich’s scores to PASSER-BY (1932; aka ENCOUNTER), THE MAN WITH A GUN (1938), A GREAT CITIZEN (1938), and SOFIYA PEROVSKAYA (1967), while Volume 4 contains the entire ballet suite based on the screenplay to a 1918 film called THE LADY AND THE HOOLIGAN – it’s not really film music but encompasses a ballet of music developed from the screenplay’s elements.  Well performed by the Byelorussian Radio and TV Symphony and Minsk Symphony, respectively, both under the baton of Walter Mnatsakanov, these latest volumes continue to preserve the film and film-oriented compositions of one of the 20th Century’s greatest composers.

Varese Sarabande is releasing this week the soundtrack to the sci-fi invasion extravagancy, SKYLINE, with music by Matthew Margeson, and, on December 7th, will release 20th Century Fox: 75 Years Of Great Film Music, a deluxe, 75-film, three-volume set, highlighting a remarkable, rich and unparalleled heritage of classic films, Academy Award® winners and box office smashes, featuring some of the greatest composers ever to work in Hollywood: Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, Alex North, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Alan Silvestri, and many more.

Composer Alan Menken, winner of eight Academy Awards – more than any living person, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this last November 10, just prior to his new film TANGLED opening in theatres this Thanksgiving.  His score and original songs for Walt Disney Pictures’ 50th animated feature, based on the story of Rapunzel, can be heard on the soundtrack to be released on November 16 and in the film opening November 24.  “I wanted folk rock on this,” explains Menken about the TANGLED score. “I thought about Rapunzel’s long hair and the freedom she wanted. Immediately I thought about Joni Mitchell’s ‘Chelsea Morning’ and all that folk music that I love. Cat Stevens and that energy.”

New from Kritzerland is the score to the 1987 noir thriller, DEAD OF WINTER, directed with plenty of Hitchcockian touches by Arthur Penn, and scored with plenty of delicious Herrmannesque flavorings by Richard Einhorn, a composer previously better known for his concert music but who had tested the waters of film music from time to time with scary movies like DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE, EYES OF A STRANGER, and THE PROWLER.  In an era dominated by synth scores, Einhorn took the opposite approach, scoring for a real orchestra and turning in a score rich in tonal beauty, eerie suspense, and a colorful evocation of the snowy New England setting.  Kritzerland has mastered DEAD OF WINTER from Einhorn’s personal digital tapes, which were in perfect condition. The album presents the entire score in film order, followed by a short suite of alternate cues.

Limited to 2000 copies, Perseverance Records is about to release a 5-CD box set compiling the complete scores for each of the Full Moon Entertainment cult favorite PUPPET MASTER horror films.  Each of the original scores from Parts 1-4, 6, 7, 9 & 10 are represented here in digitally re-mastered form. (Parts 5 & 8 had no original scores but were tracked with music from other Puppet Master/ Full Moon features.)   In the case of the first four films, the producers went back to the composer's original 1/2" 4-track analog tapes and digitally transferred them to hard disk; the scores from the other movies were already digital recordings.   The box comes with a 28-page booklet that features in-depth notes about the music for the ten films by Brian Satterwhite, as well as interviews with all four composers.  The label has also just released the premiere soundtrack to RAIN MAN, one of Hans Zimmer’s earliest scores, and RED SONJA, music by Ennio Morricone.  www.perseverancerecords.com

Kronos Records of Germany has pressed a promotional soundtrack to Dario Argento’s latest film, GIALLO, featuring the splendidly Herrmannesque orchestral score by Marco Werba.  While a promo CD not for sale, Kronos is offering a small quantity of the album as a free bonus for buyers of at least 2 album from its web site.  http://www.kronosrecords.com/

Universal Music of France, in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the series known as Ecoutez le cinéma!, has issued a 4CD long-box set devoted to the music of Maurice Jarre. Prior to his death, Maurice Jarre had taken an active part in the production of this set in selecting and compiling the music as well as giving an exclusive interview (reproduced inside the booklet). A painstaking hunt was undertaken hunt to locate and reconstruct earlier scores that Jarre had not held onto.  The result is LE CINEMA DE MAURICE JARRE, a compendium collecting Jarre’s music, from his Georges Franju years to his work in the 21st century – 50 years of films compressed into 4 CDs and 5 hours of music.

Naxos has issued a vivid performance of John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 3: Circus Maximus, as dynamic and expressive as any of the composer’s works for films (ALTERED STATES, REVOLUTION). Energetically performed by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble, the video presentation is on Blu-Ray with DTS-HD audio in 5.1.  Also distributed by Naxos is the Arthaus Musik double-DVD set Michael Nyman, containing a video documentary, COMPOSER IN PROGRESS, which covers Nyman’s music for films and concert, and a live concert DVD of the Michael Nyman Band performing the composer’s tribute to Handel, The Musicologist Scores, in Handel’s home town of Halle, Germany.  www.naxos.com www.arthaus-musik.com

Coming soon from MovieScore Media is Emmy-Award winning composer Jeff Beal’s music to ONCE FALLEN, a gripping urban thriller scored with jazz elements.  Some listeners might be reminder of Mark Isham’s noir-ish trumpet scores in Beal’s dark harmonies and shimmering ambient textures.  Also newly released from MSM are scores to IN A BETTER WORLD (Johan Söderqvist) and the splendid comedy score to JACKBOOTS ON WHITEHALL by Guy Michelmore.  www.moviescoremedia.com

Ryan Shore has launched an official new web site launch, featuring new sections with scoring session footage, scoring session pictures, interviews and samples of Shore’s latest music. Check it out at: http://www.ryanshore.com

Due soon from Silva Screen is Francis Lai: The Essential Film Music Collection, featuring new recordings of classic themes from the French pop film music composer best known for LOVE STORY and his many scores for French director Claude LeLouch’s romantic dramas.

La-La Land Records has released a limited edition (1200 copies) CD with Christopher Young’s sublime and haunting  score to the 1988 Cannon Films period drama HAUNTED SUMMER, underscoring the film’s “summer of 1816” setting in which the film’s famous real-life characters (Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelly, Mary Shelly, John William Polidori and Claire Goodwin) gather for a summit of minds and passion – resulting in two literary works of note – Frankenstein and The VampyrThis special release includes both the original album soundtrack presentation as well as never-before-released film versions of cues as heard in the film. 

FSM’s Golden Age Classic release for November is the 1953 fantasy film, THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T., conceived by Dr. Seuss who tells of the villainous autocratic and maniacal piano teacher Dr. Terwilliker, who holds 500 young boys captive in his castle-like Happy Finger Institute in order to present a concert featuring 5,000 fingers on a giant piano of his own invention. It is the only live-action film featuring an original story, script, and lyrics by Dr. Seuss. It is a cult favorite, but its extensive musical score has never before been available in any authorized (or complete) form.  The music for THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T.was written by Frederick Hollander, whose “Falling In Love Again” from THE BLUE ANGEL is one of the most famous songs ever written for film. The 17 diverse songs Hollander composed for DR. T.encompass lyric ballads, mock-operatic recitative, Gershwinesque swing and up-tempo Broadway; he also wrote two extensive ballet sequences for the film. Heinz Roemheld and Hans J. Salter added additional dramatic underscore, based on Hollander’s themes.  The picturewas heavily edited prior to release, with only 6 songs remaining in the picture. With this 3CD release, Film Score Monthly has recreated the authors’ complete original conception of the music—a restoration effort that involved many years of scouring the globe for the best-sounding copies of rare acetate discs (the only surviving music masters from the production). All of Hollander’s songs, both ballet sequences in their entirety and most of the underscore (including much that wasn’t used in the final film) are presented on the first disc and the beginning of disc 2, which is filled out with
alternate versions and additional material, including orchestra-only tracks of several of the songs. Disc 3 comprises archival piano recordings played by Hollander himself, including pre-production piano recordings made for rehearsal purposes.

Released this week from Chandos is The Film and TV Music of Christopher Gunning, a compilation of the British composer’s most notable scores, performed by the BBC Philharmonic, under Rumon Gamba, who records exclusively for Chandos.  Gunning is perhaps most famous for his music for the TV series POIROT, but his career in film and TV music stretches back some forty years. He has won four BAFTA and three Ivor Novello awards.   His most recent film commission was the score for LA MOME PIAF, also known as LA VIE EN ROSE, a bio-pic of singer Edith Piaf.

Con Sordino Music has released the score for THE PAGAN QUEEN, a controversial 2009 film about the end of the old pagan world in central Europe, based on the Czech legend of Libuse, the Slavic queen of 8th century Bohemia. Gifted with supernatural powers, a visionary and a seer, this extraordinary woman was able to see the future and in a turbulent time of cultural change founded the modern city of Prague. The impressive orchestral score, written by Benedikt Brydern, is available for download via amazon.com – via soundtrackcollector.com

Award-winning composer Aaron Zigman has scored FOR COLORED GIRLS, Zigman’s sixth collaboration with director Tyler Perry.   The Lionsgate film is based on Ntozake Shange’s Tony and Obie award-winning choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf.” The story has become a rite of passage reading for many young women.  Now, thirty six years later, Tyler Perry adapts this landmark work for the big screen, integrating the vivid language of Shange’s poems into a contemporary narrative that explores what it means to be a woman of color - and a woman of any color - in this world.   The classically-trained Zigman’s sweeping original score is complemented with an evocative aria he composed, “La Donna in Viola,” for one of the film’s most pivotal and emotionally-charged scenes. The music is performed by a full orchestra and features solo performances by violin virtuoso Joshua Bell with Aaron Zigman on piano. “The idea of the aria was to capture the essence of Ntozake Shange’s poetry and incorporate it into an Italian libretto,” explained Zigman. The aria pays homage to Puccini and Verdi while incorporating Aaron Zigman’s unique voice.

Released last month to coincide with Halloween was Eban Schletter Presents Michael Avallone's Tales Of The Frightened, as told by actor Vernon Wells.  The follow-up to  last year's Eban Schletter's Cosmic Christmas, the album is essentially a remake of two classic LPs from 1963, Tales Of The Frightened, Volumes 1 and 2, in which horror film legend Boris Karloff narrated spooky short stories penned by the late prolific pulp fiction writer Michael Avallone. The project originated with Avallone's son David, a film editor (and with Schletter, the album's co-producer), who sought a fresh audio approach to his father's stories.  “He turned me on to the Karloff record and said he was a friend of Vernon Wells!” said Schletter, who previously plied the genre with the acclaimed 2008 album Eban Schletter’s Witching Hour and the score to the 2005 remake of the horror classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI(his work also includes comedy and animation music for programming such as DRAWN TOGETHER).  “I'm a huge horror fan, but my career has ended up in the comedy world and I haven't had a chance to go into the horror stuff that inspired me in the first place, other than Witching Hour and Cosmic Christmas. Tales Of The Frightened is good old-fashioned horror scoring, and it was fun to put together – and meet Vernon Wells!"  Tales Of The Frightened also makes use of Schletter's sci-fi sounding Theremin, as well as his keyboards and guitars (other musicians add violin, upright bass, and horns).

“One of the challenges was to make it not sound like a rip-off of the Karloff version,” said Schletter. “I really loved the original score - cool electronic music – but they put it in as library music: They probably had him come in and read the stories and put the music in behind. But I had the opportunity to let the stories breathe and let the music expand on the idea. So ours are the exact same stories, but go on for five minutes compared to the three minutes in the originals: They're more like radio plays, with their own actual melodic themes, along with little interstitial music bits to clear the palette between the stories.” – via www.examiner.com

Games Music News

BAFTA award-winning composer Jesper Kyd has composed an original music soundtrack for Ubisoft®’s  Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, the next iteration of the critically acclaimed, multi-million selling video game franchise. The new game is inspired by historical events during the occupation of Rome by The Borgias in 1503. Kyd’s new score for Brotherhood draws influence and authentic instrumentation from this Renaissance period, immersing players in Ezio's adventures to liberate Rome from a corrupt and tyrant regime. “Researching the history of the Borgia Family it became clear early on that Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood would require a very dark score in order to match the Borgias’ aspirations to become the rulers of Italy. The music reflects the compelling story of Ezio as a Master Assassin going up against the Borgias,” said Kyd, whose acclaimed score for Assassin’s Creed 2 continues to receive top honors for Best Original Music.  The Assassin's Creed Brotherhood Original Soundtrack will be available for digital download from iTunes on November 16, 2010, to coincide with the North American release of the game on Microsoft Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system and the Sony PLAYSTATION®3 computer entertainment system.  

Sumthing Else Music Works presents Speed Racer: The Soundtrack featuring remastered music from the 1960’s animated television series. The theme and music for the show were composed by Nobuyoshi Koshibe in Japan with English lyrics written by Peter Fernandez for US audiences. The album also features new tracks from contemporary independent music artists such as Lillix, Derek McKeith, Back Pocket Memory, Daybreak Ends, Melodramus among others. Speed Racer: The Soundtrack will be released on November 26th, 2010 to retail outlets and for digital download.  “This is a project that has been on our minds for a long time and we’re very fortunate that Sumthing Else Music Works allowed the album to be exactly how we envisioned it,” said Michael Cisneros at Speed Racer Enterprises. “We're very fortunate to have such talented artists on the record and we're more than happy to give them some well-deserved exposure. The driving beats of this soundtrack are meant to be played very loud in your car and driven fast to... after all, it is Speed Racer.”


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 now writes for CinefantastiqueOnline and has written liner notes for more than 70 soundtrack CDs for such labels as La-La Land, Percepto, Perseverance, Harkit, and BSX Records.  For more information, see: www.myspace.com/larsonrdl  

Randall can be contacted at soundtraxrdl@gmail.com



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