Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2011-12
November 29, 2011

By Randall D. Larson

This column we focus on two very promising newcomers to film scoring whose work has been notable. 

Silke Matzpohl, who began her career scoring documentary films in Germany before studying with Christopher Young and eventually relocating to Hollywood, was honored in 2007 with the Film and TV Music Award for outstanding female composer.  She is currently scoring Ron Judson’s inspirational documentary called 24 PEACES about the efforts of two dozen peacemakers around the globe.

Ronnie Doyle, an award-winning Irish composer with a proclivity for ambient, classical, and experimental music, is currently scoring an American thriller called READY TO DIE.  His previous score, for the horror thriller SEALED FATES, has been released as a digital download.

Silke Matzpohl

Silke Smooth
Silke Matzpohl is an international award-winning composer and multi-instrumental performer based in Los Angeles and Munich. Her music blends melodic symphony writing with modern ethnic textures – from European to American raga. The result has been described as "a unique and very deep going."

Q: How did you first get involved in film scoring?

Silke Matzpohl: I fell into film music by accident. I first started playing piano when I was five years old, and when I was thirteen I received a scholarship to study piano at university. After graduating from university I stopped playing the piano every day. I just couldn’t practice 10 hours a day anymore. As I had good technical skills I decided to become sound engineer and work for television. I landed a job working for German Public TV. There I met the head of the film music department who was looking for composers and editors. From that moment on I had the feeling that both of these talents would come together and I knew: “This is for me.”

Q: What did you learn from working on these German TV programs?

Silke Matzpohl: I learned to quickly catch the emotions that directors and editors wanted for their projects, and to translate these emotions into music. It was very fast-paced, and sometimes I only had one to two hours to compose. So, writing the right style of music under time pressure was a lesson I learned fast.

Q: Where you able to use orchestras back then or was it all keyboard?

Silke Matzpohl: For the television programs it was more keyboard oriented, but more and more I began working with orchestras and music ensembles, which I of course prefer. I first started working with orchestras when writing music for music libraries.

Q: What were some of the challenges of scoring documentaries in Germany?

Silke Matzpohl: I try to bring in a feature film scoring style to the documentaries. My music gives the documentaries more life than just writing music behind talking heads!

Q: What brought you over to Hollywood?

Silke Matzpohl: I came here as an exchange student in high school when I was fifteen, and I came again when I was selected for the prestigious ASCAP film scoring program in 2002. I took the film scoring program from Christopher Young and stayed at Tilden House, a unique residency program established by him. He offered to sponsor me as a film composer here. He has been an enormous help and I also learned much from him.

Q: You scored a series of short films, such as THE CAGE, LIFE WITHOUT GREEN, and AWAKENING ARTHUR, which received a gold medal at the Park City Film Music Festival in 2011. What were those scores like?

Silke Matzpohl: AWAKENING ARTHUR is a short film that may become a feature film from Hallmark Entertainment.  It’s about an elderly man who recovers from a heart attack and starts a new life, beginning with online dating. The filmmakers were searching for a composer when they were in the final editing stage and unhappy with the current music as it was too modern and cold. It’s a romantic comedy, and I approached the film with a vintage music style. I recorded the main motives with a clarinet player and added midi sounds.

THE CAVE is about a prisoner who, after spending his entire life in a cave looking at shadows, escapes to discover the real world. This film was more sound design than a musical score. There is no real theme. I didn’t give it a melody or a motive – as it didn’t require that.  It’s mostly atmospheric tones and sound design. This short film was very successful and shown in over 30 film festivals around the world. It also received several international awards.

LIFE WITHOUT GREEN, is an environmental thriller and a dramatic piece with horror, suspense and supernatural elements. Due to the genre, it is not a big thematic score.

Q: Your most recent short film score was SAVING DAD.

Silke Matzpohl: SAVING DAD has been selected for the short film competition at the Cannes Film Festival.  It’s a true story written by a friend of mine. It is about a father with schizophrenia who disappeared ten years ago. So it’s a very personal film. It is a dialogue heavy film, and my challenge was to find a way to bring in the music without interfering with the dialogue. Also, it’s a very intense film. All the music is recorded with live piano.

Q: What are some of the challenges of scoring a short film where you have to create a concise score while still enhancing the arc of its story?

Silke Matzpohl: I don’t believe there is a different approach between a short and a feature film. Music is always the glue, the effect it has with the picture is incredible.

Q: Your score to LEBEN MIT BERGBLICK (LIFE WITH MOUNTAIN VIEW) earned you your first gold medal at the Park City Film Music Festival in 2008. What was that score about?

Silke Matzpohl: This film was for German television; it portrays people living in a village in the German Alps. The director wanted to have original Bavarian instruments and voices, but performed in an uncommon way with no use of synthetic sounds. 

Q: Did the award bring you any additional recognition?

Silke Matzpohl: I think every award gives you additional recognition. This is the 1st time a German documentary was awarded at PCFMF.

Q:  Your work has also been honored with a Film and TV Music Award for outstanding female composer in 2007.  Did that award help give you another stepping stone toward your developing career? 

Silke Matzpohl: It was really great boost for me. It was one of the steps that encouraged me to move to L.A. I was so happy when I received it.

Q: Did that help pave the way to coming here?

Silke Matzpohl: Yes, totally.

Q: Have you completely relocated to Hollywood?

Silke Matzpohl: Yes, I live here now.  It was a decision I made and do not regret it.

Q: Your music has been described as “blending melodic symphonic writing with modern ethnic textures.” How would you describe your style and your use of all different forms of music?

Silke Matzpohl: I have a lot of soul in my music. My music really comes from my heart.  It’s not intellectual and I am not a “rhythmic” composer. I’m a melodic person, and my musical motives really touch people. 

Q: What can you say about your new documentary project, 24 PEACES?

Silke Matzpohl: 24 PEACES is an artist’s journey to inspire people to create peace through exploring its meaning with 24 peacemakers around the world. Peacemakers include Dr. Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson and Dr. Michael Bernhard Beckwith … Ron Judkins, who won Academy Awards for Best Sound for SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and JURASSIC PARK, gave me the opportunity to be a composer for this project and I am eager to work with him.  It’s a very interesting project and I am very happy to be a part of the team.

Q: What kind of music are you writing for that – or have you gotten to that point yet?

Silke Matzpohl: We just got started. For every peacemaker the musical approach will be different.

Q: What do you have in mind for the future?   You’ve actually been scoring films for about twelve years ago, since 1998.  Now that you’re here in Hollywood, where would you like to be in another five years?

Silke Matzpohl: Drama, drama, drama!… No, seriously, I would love to write music for drama feature films.

Q: I will look forward to hearing more from you as you climb up that stepladder to feature films! 

Silke Matzpohl: Randall, your questions have been very thoughtful and well chosen. Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak about my music.

For more information, see: http://www.silkematzpohl.com/


Ronnie Doyle

Doyle Be Back

Ronnie Doyle is an award-winning Irish film and concert composer based in the United Kingdom. Has written scores for feature-length films, independent short films and has had concert pieces commissioned for performance in New York, USA.

Q: What drew you to film scoring?

Ronnie Doyle: I think it was an amalgamation of several things: the music wafting around my house as a boy certainly wasn't Goldsmith or Steiner or even Webern or Stravinsky (all that wonderful stuff came much later). We were firmly in the Rock and Metal camps, with a pinch of good old Seattle grunge thrown in the melting pot for good measure. My love for Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and the like goes on to this day.

We (my three older brothers and one sister) were all very musical. Obsessively so, I'd say. My sister was a cellist for a number of years through her teens, my three brothers all well acquainted with the guitar and maybe a little bit of the piano. None of us were ever classically trained in that respect. We really just naturally enjoyed it and thought it was the same for everyone else, too.  My father (who left my mother when we were quite young) was a musician, and expected his children to follow suit. The mentality was: "pick it up and practice until you drop." He was very abusive and aggressive, both mentally and physically. They were horrible times – we all had to grow up quite fast. I'm absolutely certain those experiences shaped part of my approach or mentality toward my own music and what I wanted to put down on paper. I always had an affinity for dark, textural music. I don't know why, but I always found it more interesting. It was at the age of ten that I found Brad Fiedel's score to THE TERMINATOR. That. Was. It. I was absolutely enthralled by that score: the emotion, the textures, the atmosphere. That became the first score I ever bought (which I kept a secret from my friends for fear of being laughed at). Film scores were not something someone from a little industrial town like mine should be interested in. I knew it would be seen as sort of weird, so I kept my quiet about it. I had been involved as a soprano in several church and local choirs for a number of years up to this point, performing lead soprano roles and auditioning for TV spots and the like. I won some competitions and started to get a little more confident in my singing. I thought maybe this could develop into a career.

Then, one day in 1997 while in primary school, some pupils were going around the classrooms announcing that the Wexford Festival Opera was looking for 14 young singers to become the children's chorus in that year's performance of Ottorino Respighi’s La Fiamma. I remember a few of my classmates turning in their chairs and smiling at me: "Go on Ron, go for it!" I shyly declined. I was always the "quiet guy," and I wasn't in any of the "cool" groups during my school years. I was never massively confident in my own ability, always highly critical, if anything. So, it was funny how those who were the "cool" kids recognized and encouraged my singing. It was because of those smiles that I puffed out my chest and decided to apply. I ended up being chosen, alongside thirteen others kids, from hundreds of applicants. I didn't realize it then, but those six months of vocal, acting training, and performances would become some of the best days of my life. And, it was also the first time I ever experienced the power and beauty of the orchestra. It just bowled me over. I would try to stand as close to the pit as I could on dress rehearsals, and get the rush of the cacophony coming up through the old, creaky wooden slats. Our Choir Master would give us rehearsal tapes of the score and make us learn the music and vocals in between our training days. I used to wait until my house was empty, slot the tape into the cassette player, put on my brother's studio headphones and pretend I was conducting the orchestra performing the opera! Had any one of the neighbors seen me...well! But, between Fiedel's inspirational score and my experience with that live orchestra, I began gravitating toward film music almost without thought. It just sort of happened.

Q: Was it difficult to break into film scoring in Ireland? How did you attract offers from the USA?

Ronnie Doyle: That was the killer, really. I knew I'd never really make a start in Ireland. At that time, there really wasn’t any film industry there, and that hasn't really changed much today. That’s a real shame, as there is plenty of talent there without anywhere to go, no avenue from which to get their ideas realized. Films made through the Arts Council there are generally, if not always, required to have an overt "Irishness" to them (which, subsequently, is a very distorted and inaccurate sense of what it means to be Irish), which angers me greatly. Young upstarts wanting to express a vision, regardless of what that may be, are bound to the conformity of a corny, stereotypical shtick which, I feel, mocks our culture to a certain extent. Those who don't want to head down that route end up with zero financing and just one more rejected script to be shoved in the desk drawer. How terrible is that?

It was only when I moved to the UK in 2006 to begin my Bachelor's degree that I started scouring the internet for any gig I could find; short films, student films, you name it I'd do it. I'd even score music to scenes in comic books just for practice as a way to get acquainted with writing for pictures. I wrote a whole short score based on a Terminator graphic novel. It was pretty basic, poor stuff, but I was cooking. My housemates, like me, were studying Film at University, so any short story ideas they had, I'd ask to see them or a page from the script and offer to write some music to a scene, or what not.  I built up a small CD of demos and decided it was time to get them online and present myself as best I could.

Q: How valuable was the internet and social media now in being able to find and attract scoring assignments?

Ronnie Doyle: In my case, it was just common sense that the Internet would be absolutely paramount if I wanted any chance of sourcing out potential projects and making connections. I was on the wrong side of the Atlantic to make any physical connections. Fortunately, I was sensible enough to know that I had to make things happen myself. Nobody was going to fall at my feet, heralding my "talent," begging me to write a score to their movie. You'd be amazed at how many other fledgling composers still haven't grasped this concept. They think the offers from directors or producers will come flooding in just because they've graduated with honors from a scoring/composition program, set up a snazzy website, and have a decent showreel. I've even had other composers personally blast me over the Internet because I happen to have gotten more work than them, without a music degree, and that it must be the result of some shady dealings on my part! Crazy, but not surprising, either.

It really doesn't land in your lap and it certainly doesn't for me. My own personal experience has been one of dogged determination and constant nagging, emailing, calling, texting producers, companies and directors trying to get them to listen to my music. Surprisingly, no restraining orders have been filed against me...yet. You can't just give a polite tap on the door; you battering-ram it down and turn the room upside down until someone finally throws their hands up and agrees to hear you out. The Internet, in that regard, has been invaluable to me. It's helped bridge those seemingly unbridgeable gaps.

Q: Who or what have been your most important influences as a film composer?

Ronnie Doyle: Right away, my experiences with that Opera orchestra and, of course, Brad Fiedel's music. On the film music side of things, certainly Cliff Martinez, Antonio Pinto, Marco Beltrami, Johan Soderqvist, Elliot Goldenthal, Alexandre Desplat, John Barry, Philip Glass, John Corigliano (ALTERED STATES? Wow!) and many, many more. Other more concert/opera-minded guys like Ottorino Respighi, Arvo Part, Gorecki, Elliot Carter, Penderecki and Giacinto Scelsi (Uacxuctum? Amazing!) have made massive impressions on me. I'm a big fan of the 20th Century Polish Avant Garde. All that dissonance and textural writing wowed me from very early on, but I also really love intimate, minimalist writing and Arvo Part, for me, is a master. I'm attracted to the idea of mixing minimal with expanse, building something huge with as little material as possible and, yet, saying something with it, have it have meaning and depth. It's something I try to experiment with a lot in my music. Not exactly a new concept by any means, but I just find it a very interesting juxtaposition.

As well as Heavy Metal and grunge, I'm also a huge fan of electronic and ambient Post/ Progressive Rock and Dream Pop (All these sub-categories! It's confusing!), particularly M83, Tool, Dream Theatre, God Is An Astronaut, Wedge, Air, Squarepusher and OMR. I find a lot of that stuff to be very cinematic in nature, intimate, drenched in atmosphere and really textural. I love it.

Q: One of your first scores was for the horror film SEALED FATES. What was your approach to scoring music that would fit this type of film?

Ronnie Doyle: That was a lot of fun. Joe Ripple, the director, gave me the go-ahead to just have fun with it. The movie was very much a horror/slasher but with tinges of humor, albeit quite dark humor. I wanted to have a big, bold, beat-you-round-the-head orchestral pomp score, something that just grabs you by the neck and drags you along kicking and screaming. I thought it would really fit with that fun element of the movie. To attempt a "serious" score would be somewhat pretentious and kind of insulting to the audience, as well as betraying the film itself.

The movie was a collection of three short tales of terror, all with the same theme of inevitable, grisly endings for each of the protagonists. I came up with this descending four-note motif that you hear played in variations throughout each of the three stories: the Sealed Fates Theme. I usually start by selecting my instruments. I like to hone in on the tone, the atmosphere. That can mean me looking where the film is set, the lighting, costumes, just the look and feel of everything. Whatever feelings I get from that, I'll then use in deciding on instrumentation. For SF, I knew I needed one instrument to build the rest of the score around, and that was the erhu violin. I wanted one instrument leading because I wanted it to be almost like Death's herald, its lead trumpeter, in a way. The rest of the music would be like the band marching to the herald's death tune. You hear the theme on the erhu first, and then the rest of the orchestra and synths swell up into the theme and belt it out. I loved the erhu because its timbre and rasp just worked for what I had in mind. It could be chilling, but incredibly intimate and warm in the same breath. I had a great time scoring that film and I owe a lot of thanks to Joe for giving me license to run wild with the music.

Q: What’s your technique for using samples and synths along with live instruments and voices, when possible, to create the compelling musical sound patterns you generate in scores like that?

Ronnie Doyle:
To be honest, I don't think there's any real technique, as such, to how I put them together. I just hear it in my head and try to build everything the way I hear it until I'm happy with the end product and it's all making sense to picture and to me. Everything is in there for a reason, of course. They all have their individual roles. But, I always try to keep the process purely emotional, purely reactionary. I think when you start trying to over-intellectualize things, the pool gets cloudy. Yes, there is a certain amount of intellectual process when writing music (the actual writing of the notes, timings, etc.), but the ratio, I think, has to always weigh heavily on how it feels to you. The second you get all caught up in whether something is making a political statement, or whatever, I think you're in trouble. You're side-stepping the point. That stuff matters, but only a certain degree.

Q: How did you come to be involved in Ryan Collier’s EVERYTHING FROM HERE ON?

Ronnie Doyle: I came to meet Ryan about a year ago. He was experimenting in film music and had aspirations to be a film composer. We swapped demos and he seemed to like my music. A little later, I discovered he was a really good writer and had been toying with some ideas for short films. He sent me the treatment for EFHO and I loved his prose and the story. I could really envisage and feel what he put down on paper, and that was the start of my intrigue into the project. He decided he wanted to direct it and, one day, we were chatting over email about it and he just said: "Why don't you write the score to the film?" In truth, I had been formulating ideas for the score ever since I read the treatment, but didn't want to seem too pushy in putting my name in the hat to write the score. Fortunately, Ryan had liked my previous work enough to entrust me with the music. That was it. We were off and running.

Q: What kind of musical tone was he looking for and how did you develop that into the score?

Ronnie Doyle: From the outset, we both knew it should be dark in nature, but it should also be quite beautiful. The reasons being that Eva (our lead character) transitions from this idyllic relationship with her fiancé, Jack, to an ice cold killer: a femme fatale with an axe to grind. It was that juxtaposition and her festering rage toward the mob boss who murdered Jack that would take precedence in the music. When I sat down to read the treatment, I heard a sorrowful but sultry female vocal in my head, akin to PJ Harvey in a lot of ways, paired with a solo viola. Don't ask me why – it just seemed to fit with what I was feeling. I really locked on to this idea of her as a 'Girl With A Gun.' There's this great scene where she's in a dimly-lit room in her silk sash, putting on her blood-red lipstick, looking at herself in the mirror with a .45 pistol sitting on her bed behind her. To me, that was her transformation point. She had hardened herself enough to actually go out and kill this guy who had taken everything away from her. But, there was still warm blood underneath all that ice. She wasn't totally dead, which is why the viola comes in during that scene. I scored that scene with the viola, solo voice and some light jazz-inspired percussion. I think that was the scene where myself and Ryan kind of went, "That's it. That's Eva's song right there." We ran with it.

Q: Jennifer Cook provided haunting vocals for your score. Melisma such as this is becoming more effective in film scoring. What’s your theory on the placement and presence of vocals like this as part of a film score’s sound design – and what do the vocals represent in EVERYTHING FROM HERE ON?

Ronnie Doyle: Jennifer did a fabulous job. I knew immediately after I heard one of her demos that she would embody exactly what I wanted for the vocals. The vocals in EFHO represent Eva's emotional duality: I wanted there to be two voices conflicting with one another. I asked Jennifer to record two octaves: one warm and sultry and the other cold and almost deathly, and have them swirl around one another throughout the score in order to show Eva's inner conflict with her rage and sorrow. Was she going to go through with this? Could she go through with this? It was this constant battle within herself that the vocals tried to bring out in the score. I wanted them to almost be voices in Eva's ears, sitting on her shoulders whispering. That's why you hear a lot of breathy stuff from Jennifer; that was what I directed her to do. She brings a lot to this score and I'm so pleased with the result.

In terms of my theory toward it, I don't know. If the score requires it and it fits, use it. But, it has to have a purpose. You wouldn't put a gear in a machine if it didn't help it run properly, would you? No matter what the texture or instrument is, there has to be some sort of creative purpose or idea behind its inclusion.

Q: How is your studio set up – do you compose on the keyboard, improvise to film, or write out on scoring paper? What’s your composing/recording/mixing technique?

Ronnie Doyle: It can vary from project to project. I usually do all those things at some point. I like being able to sketch out my ideas on paper, although my music theory and notation is still quite rough. I was never classically trained so I'm teaching myself all this stuff. It's tough, but so rewarding. But, I also sometimes like to just sit with the film playing and start playing on the piano what comes to me in my head. A lot of film scoring is improvisation to a certain extent. Many composers won't be honest enough to admit that, but we've all done it. It's not always a case of pulling a fully-formed, masterpiece direct from your head. Sometimes those little knee-jerk reactions can produce just as exciting results; even better results sometimes. I think this happens this way because you're freeing your mind from that natural tendency to over-think I mentioned earlier. Switch your head off and let your emotions dictate what keys you hit on that piano, or notes you write down, as you watch the film playing.

My studio is a very intimate little space with a few bits of gear. I don't need much. I've learned to get the absolute most from what I have. I work exclusively through Logic Pro and Pro Tools and trust them totally. Of course, eventually I'll need to expand the workstation and upgrade and what not, but for now I'm doing well with what I've got. But, having said all that, the most important pieces of equipment in my studio are: my head, my heart, and my ears. Without those, a sequencer, pencil, or paper is useless.

Q: What has been your most challenging score so far? (and how did you overcome its challenges?)

Ronnie Doyle: I'd have to say, the score to HAPPY CLAPPER. I've never toiled and stressed over every single inch of a note like I did on that one. It was just one of those getting-it-right slugfests that has you tossing and turning all night. Tom Marshall, the director, and I went through several (I think maybe ten) versions of the Main Theme. I just wasn't hitting his vision and he called me up one night and basically just said, "You either get this one right, or I'll have to find someone who will." I'd never had that kind of ultimatum before. I felt like I was working as hard as I could and didn't really know where these notes were going to come from. I had serious self-doubts during that score. It wasn't nice. But, in times like that, you have to respond by coming back at it again fifty times harder. That's the only way you'll get yourself out of a rut like that. And, low and behold, one morning in the shower, the notes came to me. Clichéd as it sounds, that's how it happened. I didn't bother even getting dressed! I just ran to the desk and hummed it into my computer, and later wrote it down to flesh it out. Tom loved it, and I didn't get fired. I slept for a week after that score!

Q: As a fairly new composer, what advice would you give to others trying to break in to the industry?

Ronnie Doyle: I'm no position to give anyone advice, but all I'd say is: keep writing, give yourself completely over to it and never, ever give up.

Q: What does the future hold? Where would Ronnie Doyle like to be in another five or ten years?

Ronnie Doyle: I see plenty of hard, hard work ahead. I'm developing a concept album right now, as well as another new concerto. Five or ten years? I'd like to be in Los Angeles, in an intimate little studio, coffee brewing beside me, hunched over my piano writing film music and realizing, in a momentary pause, which all those years of hard work have led to that moment. That I'd finally gotten there. I'd also like to have, by that stage, written music that people have been affected and moved by. That's the most rewarding thing I could possibly hope for. I want to be among, if not the, greatest ever. If I can't add something to the fold during my time in the business what's the point, you know? I want to help usher in a new approach to film music, get it back to the art and away from the cookie-cutter stuff we see too much of today. I can feel a change coming. Many other new guys feel the same way I do. One day, I'm going to be a part of that change, and that excites me.

For more information, see http://www.myspace.com/ronniedoylecomposer

For information on the SEALED FATES soundtrack download, see http://smashortrashindiefilmmaking.com/?p=823


Remembering Russell Garcia

Composer Russell Garcia has passed away at age 95.  Garcia was “an arranger, composer and conductor who was an influential figure in the West Coast music scene during the 1950s and '60s and whose work in Hollywood included writing the score for the 1960 science-fiction classic THE TIME MACHINE,” wrote Dennis McClellan in an obituary for the Los Angeles Times

Garcia was born in Oakland (CA) in 1916, and was a self-taught musician who started out in radio when he substituted for an ill colleague.  That brought him to Hollywood where he eventually gained a position on the music staff at Universal.  . At the same time, Garcia was arranging the music for many top recording artists (including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, and Stan Kenton); his skill as an arranger led to his writing the important text book, The Professional Arranger Composer, in 1954; a second edition was published in 1978.  Garcia had also released a few record albums of his own style of innovative and experimental music.  One of these, Fantastica – Music From Outer Space (1959), a spacey combination of music and sound effects, brought him to George Pal’s attention, and he was brought on board to score THE TIME MACHINE at MGM.  Pal was impressed enough with Garcia’s approach on that film score that he brought him back to score ATLANTIS, THE LOST CONTINENT (1961). 

While Garcia only received scoring credit on less than a dozen films, as a staff composer at Universal during the 1950s and early ‘60s, he contributed to the music of more than a hundred.  With the demise of the studio system in the 1960s, Garcia followed many Universal staffers into television work.  Garcia composed the theme and wrote episode music for LAREDO in 1965, and wrote the End Title for RAWHIDE’s final season in 1966.  Shortly after that, Garcia, a member of the Baha'i Faith, retired from film music and settled with his wife in New Zealand, where he continued to write and conduct classical music and jazz. 

"Russ is a very generous man," said Wellington voice teacher Charles Humphreys, who commissioned one of Garcia's last arrangements in March. "From the first time I spoke to him I could tell that this was a man who was peaceful and full of the kind of love of life and people that we all search a lifetime to possess. He wrote a lovely arrangement of East of the Sun for me and said 'well I think that will be the last piece of music I'll be writing'.” - stuff.co.nz

“His magnum opus, THE TIME MACHINE, perfectly evokes adventure, danger, romance - and somehow manages to evoke a wistful, bittersweet quality at the same time,” noted Aram Sarhadian in a Facebook posting.

“I’ve worked on hundreds of films, loads and loads of things I didn’t get credit for!” Garcia remarked in our 1985 interview.  “Sometimes a producer or director would be in New York City, drunk in some bar and a pianist there might be playing a nice tune that they’d written, and they’d say ‘I want you to score my next picture!’ So, Joe Gershenson would call me in and say, ‘They’ve done it again!’  And I’d have to take the few little themes that had been written and score the film with them!”

My 1985 interview with Garcia is posted at http://colemanzone.com/Time_Machine_Project/garcia_interview.htm


2011 Film Score Grammys

The nominees for the 54th Grammys have been announced – comingsoon.net has reported on those categories for "visual media," which honors film soundtracks and songs from films and television.

Because the Recording Academy uses a different time span for their selections, it means that a number of soundtracks from movies released in 2010 are joined by some from 2011, which has allowed Alexandre Desplat to be nominated twice, once for last year's THE KING'S SPEECH and again for this year's HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS - PART 2. Clint Mansell's score for Darren Aronofsky's thriller BLACK SWAN also received a nomination as did Daft Punk's score for TRON: LEGACY. Noticeably absent was Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score for David Fincher's THE SOCIAL NETWORK, which won the Oscar earlier this year.

Photo: Dan Goldwasser

Last year's musicals, the Disney animated TANGLED and Screen Gems' BURLESQUE were the standouts in the compilation soundtrack and song categories, although Craig Brewer's recent remake of FOOTLOOSE also received a song nomination.

Additionally, the massive and unique Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box (pictured) was nominated as Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package.


Read more: Film Score and Song Grammy Nominations Announced - ComingSoon.net


New Soundtracks Releases of Note

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN/John Williams/Sony Classical
WAR HORSE/John Williams/Sony Classical
After an absence in the film scoring world since 2008, John Williams now offers us not one but two major new film scores, both from new Steven Spielberg films, both opening within days of one another.  While with Williams’ name alone they evoke significant interest, both scores are very different.  The animated film ADVENTURES OF TINTIN is a vivid adaptation of the popular 1930s European comic book series created by Belgian artist Georges Rémi about TinTin, a reporter and adventurer who travels around the world with his dog Snowy to discover mystery, fantasy, and intrigue.  Williams’ score opens with the jazz-styled title track, which also possesses a touch of French or Belgian elements in its melodic structure and instrumentation. The score thereafter moves into more symphonic orchestral territories, while often remaining spritely playful (as with “Introducing the Thompsons” with its mélange of accordion, piano, trumpets and clarinets and with the effervescent frolic of “Snowy’s Theme”) and fluidly adventurous (“The Secret of the Scrolls,” “The Pursuit of the Falcon” and much else).  Williams constructs an unusual fusion of operatic extracts in “Presenting Bianca Castafiore,” mixing ungainly high-pitched arias from Rossini and Gounod that may work well in the film’s context but on the album are very much at odds with the rest of the score’s style (also, as another reviewer has pointed out, the track has a distracting cut at 3:09 where the singer’s voice is replaced by an artificial high note and shattering glass effects in an attempt to be funny but just don’t match up well). “Marlinspike Hall” possesses a touch of misterioso that kind of feels a bit like RAIDERS’ “The Map Room” while Williams’ Unicorn Theme (introduced in “Sir Francis and the Unicorn”) may remind listeners of HARRY POTTER in its opening notes.  Other elements of TINTIN’s adventure music are characteristic of that type of RAIDERS/INDIANA JONES/HARRY POTTER mold, which is fitting for this type of lighthearted adventuretainment.   It’s a grand score that is ample with thematic interaction and vivid orchestral interplay – and plenty of both swash and buckle. 

WAR HORSE, on the other hand, is an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s book about a young man who tries to find his beloved horse after it is sold to the cavalry and sent to the trenches of World War One.  The score focuses much less on action and more on the emotional bond of loyalty between man and horse, strengthened by subdued but heartfelt melodies. Williams’ main theme is contemplative and earnest, warmly blanketing itself around the story, swelling with majestic strings and horns for each of the film’s emotional high points, crescendoing in “The Reunion.”  The music is expressively poignant as it follows the story’s predictably emotive structure but that necessary formulaic architecture never once diminishes the score’s power, grace, and beauty, offering the listener a sensitive and affecting musical journey.  Both of these albums include the characteristic notes of praise from Spielberg that accompany nearly every new album of music Williams composes for him; while heartfelt and honest they are lacking in analytical value and are predictably repetitive, although his taking time out to recognize the music in this way is nonetheless appreciated. 

ARRIETTY THE BORROWER/Cecile Corbel/Tokuma (Japan), Pony Canyon (Korea)
Studio Ghibli takes on “The Borrowers” in this fine anime fantasy, based on the Mary Norton novel.  Hayao Miyazaki scripts the story while Ghibli key animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi steps into the director’s chair for the first time – but the film could have been directed by Miyazaki himself, it so well mirrors the characteristic Ghibli flair, nuance, and visual style.  The storyline is simple but very engaging, the animation lavish and colorful with some splendid camera movements that take the viewer on soaring rides across the landscape and into the miniscule world of the Borrowers, who live beneath the floorboards of normal-sized homes and “borrow” what they need to survive from the homes’ residents.  French harpist and singer Cecile Corbel, with Simon Caby among others as yet uncredited, composed a delightful score for this 2010 Studio Ghibli anime, which is also known as THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY.  Corbel supplies some soaring songs while the score is comprised of bright and breezy acoustic folk-pop tunes from plucked and bowed strings over drums. Corbel’s delicate harp music is very much in evidence and creates an intricate and delightful world of sound for Arrietty and her family.  The expressive music fits the film’s visual style very well (especially the instrumental rendition of main theme (“Arrietty’s Song,” whose melody is self-assured and headstrong, just like the miniscule heroine herself).

THE ARTIST/Ludovic Bource/Sony
Set in 1927, Michel Hazanavicius’ THE ARTIST is an affectionate tribute to a bygone era in Hollywood as a silent film superstar’s career gives way to the sound era of cinema, and a young extra finds an opportunity for stardom.  Hazanavicius’ striking black-and-white photography recalls the expressive look and feel of the silent era, while composer Ludovic Bource (OSS 117: CAIRO NEXT OF SPIES, 0SS 117: LOST IN RIO) has capture the sumptuous sound of Golden Age Hollywood in a splendid symphonic score.  Both director and composer looked closely at the way film music created moods in the 1920s, and Bource refers both to the big romantic symphonic repertoire of the 19th century and to later composers –Prokofiev, Debussy, Ravel – who inspired film scores of that era, not to mention writing music in the spirit of influential film music composers like Steiner and Waxman and the like. Bource’s marvelous theme for silent film heartthrob George Valentin is self-assured, carefree, and slightly arrogant, a somewhat jazzy orchestral romp dappled by sharp raps of xylophone and strutting piano and violin interactions; it’s a thoroughly captivating and immersive composition that is in continual motion, flavored with stardom and magic.  The young ingénue, Peppy, is captured in a happy, lyrical melody that suggests a touch of Chaplin, a pinch of Victor Young (notably “Passepartout”), and an enthusiastic flavor of eager hopefulness.  Beyond the two character themes, Bource focuses on enlivening the era but avoids pastiche, cliché, and sentimentality; the convergence of silent and sound Hollywood is musically delineated as vividly alive, honest and vigorous, a melting pot of creative genius and the magic of celebrity.  While Hollywood certainly had its seamier side in the late 1920s, Bource concentrates on reflecting the thrill and excitement of Peppy’s making it big even while painting the sorrow of Valentin’s fade out with a tortured melancholy (“The Sound of Tears”) and the severe dramatic downturn of “L’Ombre Des Flammes” and “Ghosts from the Past.”  There are a few period source music tracks included on the album, Duke Ellington, Red Nichols, Rose Murphy [although her career didn’t actually begin until the late 1930s], and the like, as well as Bource’s own jazz exotica “Jungle Bar” and the exquisite solo piano concerto piece, “Comme Une Rosee De Larmes.”  The score concludes on a tone of despondency but is given a bright coda in the Dixieland-styled “Peppy and George.”  The score was performed by the Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra in Brussels; however, the variety of the soundtrack extends beyond the symphonic mode, as the tap dance scenes are played to lively big band music.  As Bource said of his score: “it’s a tribute, a declaration of love to the great composers of great Hollywood films.”  In addition to the standard soundtrack album, Sony Music is also releasing the soundtrack as a CD+DVD including a documentary, trailers and images of the film with a 12-page illustrated libretto.

CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 3/Brian Tyler/Activision
Brian Tyler’s epic orchestral score for this latest game in the Activision Call of Duty®: Modern Warfare® series is as lavish and majestic as his scores for such A-list feature films as BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, THE EXPENDABLES, or RAMBO.  Tyler grasp of action music comes out in this 20-track soundtrack, now available for download on iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere; massively percussive in its action moments, laced through with an occasional female vocalise and centered with a heroic main theme for strings and horns, it’s a constantly engaging and powerful score.  Its standout track is one of the composer’s finest works, “I Stand Alone,” which embodies each of the score’s primary elements thrust through a lens of heroic conviction and self-reliance.  As gameplay goes on, the score interacts with new settings in Russia, Prague, London, Manhattan, Paris, and the Middle East, each of which carries a slightly different texture (while avoiding stereotypical ethnic music) even as each embodies the score’s primary propulsive directive.
Tyler and Activision have announced that they will donate all proceeds from the Call of Duty®: Modern Warfare® 3 soundtrack to The Call of Duty Endowment, a non-profit, public benefit corporation that seeks to help returning soldiers transition back to civilian life, find work and establish careers.  "I am so excited to be the composer for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3," said Tyler. "I feel privileged to be able to contribute to the building of the Call of Duty Endowment. It is a true honor!"

IL CONSIGLIORI/Riz Ortolani/Chris’ Soundtrack Corner (Germany)
The music for Alberto DeMartino’s answer to THE GODFATHER is the latest release from the German soundtrack retailer’s own label.  THE COUNSELOR (aka COUNSELOR AT CRIME) is a sumptuously melodic score in Ortolani’s finest lyrical style, mixing urban jazz riffs to set the stage for the Mafioso story with a tender, reflective melody for Tomas, the film’s main protagonist.  These two themes (“The Advisor” and “Tomas Theme”) are given half a dozen or more arrangements, each of which invests the motif with a different tone and sensibility; A pair of source cues (“Music Flute,” a funky jazz combo piece; “Kermesse Folkloristica,” a marching band folk anthem) offer a completely different musical style, while a third theme, “Pupi Siciliani,” reflects the heritage and the code of honor of the gang when Tomas (Tomas Milian) tries to break from The Family, inciting instead of war between his sympathetic godfather Don Macaluso (Martin Balsam) and his criminal army.  The tone of the score is full of expressive regret as Tomas seeks a better way but is too deeply entangled in the crime family to do so.  Ortolani’s abundant melodic talents lend a harmonic beauty to the score that is often at odds with the violent face of the film itself (much as he would in his scores for such visually grotesque horror films as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST), and the score is highly recommended.  Even with two recurring themes and a handful of standalone tracks (including three theme variations not used in the film), the score has enough diversity of arrangement that tracks stay fresh and interesting.  The package includes a 16-page booklet with comprehensive commentary on the film and its score by Euroscore specialist John Bender.

Deutsche Filmmusicklassiker/Hans-Martin Majewski/Alhambra (Germany)
This compilation from Germany is quite a decent collection of Hans-Martin Majewski’s music from more than 25 film scores of all types (dramas, spy, war) spread over 6 discs, ranging from 1 track to a dozen or more per film. Majewski is revealed to be a superlative melodist, with some excellent lyrical tracks as well as blaring jazz discordance and toe-tapping rhythmatics.  The music ranges from mostly dramatic orchestral to easy listening to obviously source dance tracks (jazz, waltz).  This set is a good follow-up to Bear Family’s 2003 single-disc theme compilation, Deutsche Filmkomponisten Vol 10 (part of a series of albums each devoted to a German film composer), as only few of the tracks on that earlier album are part of this new multidisc set, so there's very little duplication of music between the two.  It’s an expensive release available from amazon.de but is a much more comprehensive gallery of Majewski’s film work, allowing for more variety and variation of thematic material across its half dozen discs.

55 DAYS AT PEKING/Dimitri Tiomkin/La-La Land
THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE/Dimitri Tiomkin/Prometheus
The gentlemen at La-La-Land Records have reached back into the Silver Age for this expanded original soundtrack release of Dimitri Tiomkin’s music for one of Samuel Bronston’s historical epic films.  Miklós Rózsa had scored the producer’s two previous films, KING OF KINGS and EL CID, but when Bronston had 20 minutes of score cut out of EL CID without the composer’s input, Rózsa no longer made himself available to the producer.  So Bronston selected Tiomkin, who had scored his own share of historical epics, to score 55 DAYS AT PEKING (1963).  The composer would receive his 14th Oscar nomination for this score.  The music was issued on a soundtrack LP concurrently with the film’s release, which was reissued on CD by Varese Sarabande in 1989; La-La Land’s release proffers essentially the complete score, including additional material not used in the film.  The film is a turbulent drama as diplomats and soldiers representing a dozen nations fend off the siege of the International Compound in Peking during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion.  Tiomkin avoids scoring the film 1812 Overture style but still invests the score with a base of thematic interplay for characters, romance, and a sweeping motif for the Rebellion itself, with briefer statements of traditional pieces popping up here and there in the style of the day (such as a bit of piped “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in “Welcome Marines,” etc.).  Subordinate motifs (such as the lovely violin treatment for “Hotel Blanc,” the undulating vocal machismo of “A New Kind of Weapon,” the violin and oboe sonority of “Bad News”) are well established and form an effective contrast against the more stalwart battle music.  The score’s themes interact naturally as the score develops, becoming a massive landscape of pageantry and bellicose conflict.  The action music is intricately orchestrated and very fast moving, energetically marching across the soundstage, giving the score plenty of thrilling excitement to match its fewer moments of poignancy.  It’s a fine score to examine in an expanded presentation; this two-disc set allows the score and all of its variant nuances to be heard and appreciated as more than simply an assembly of the film’s main themes.  A half dozen bonus tracks conclude the disc, offering easy-listening arrangements of primary themes made by the composer for EP release in England.
A year later and eighteen centuries prior, Tiomkin reunited with Bronston to score the producer’s next historical epic. 

Partnering with Tadlow Music once more, Belgium’s Prometheus label has issued the complete film score for THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, newly performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic and chorus, conducted by Nic Raine, which gives the music a much more expansive stereophonic sound than its original recording.  Tiomkin’s music, offered on 2-discs, is resplendent in its powerful fanfares, vigorous battle music, and captivating romantic themes.  As both score and story march to the inexorable Fall of Rome, Tiomkin’s music drives to cataclysmic crescendos, stabbing dissonances, and wild counterpoint, resolving in a furious recapitulation of the score’s primary themes at the film’s climax.  The album concludes with a performance of Christopher Palmer’s concert suite arrangement of the score’s “Prelude” (without the heavy organ tonalities that were present in the soundtrack version), which adds a fitting coda to this recording.  Both of these releases show Tiomkin in his finest form and are excellent presentations of important scores.  Frank DeWald provides illuminating notes and track-by-track commentary for both releases.

THE GREATEST VIDEO GAME MUSIC/London Philharmonic Orchestra/X5 Music
The continued recognition as video game music as concertworthy is reflected in this excellent compilation of music from 21 gamescores, mightily performed by the London Philharmonic, conducted by Andrew Skeet.  The album features stunning concert performances of suites or themes (averaging about 3 minutes each) from the sublimely epic (World of Warcraft, Legend of Zelda, Tetris, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Halo 3, etc.) to the ridiculously quirky (Angry Birds, Grand Theft Auto IV, Super Mario Galaxy).  The music is powerfully aggressive and anthemic, as game music tends to be, and this collection proffers some of its best moments, reproduced symphonically, if not originally performed that way; those games that originally had fairly simple electronic music are rendered just as symphonically sweeping as those originally presented in full orchestral prowess.  If you’re not too familiar with game music this compilation is an excellent place to start and get a big taste of what this cinematic music tends to do; even if you are this makes a fine concert presentation of this music.  My only problem with this release is that nowhere on the digipak are the composers of the music credited (the iTunes download does credit the composers; it also contains an extra track not on the CD version).  Failure to recognize the writers of these massive and majestic themes in the CD edition of the album is an epic oversite.

HUGO/Howard Shore/Howe Records
A DANGEROUS METHOD/Howard Shore/Sony Masterworks
Martin Scorsese’s vivid steampunk adventure fantasy HUGO (it’s a mystery involving a 12-year-old orphan boy who lives in the walls of a 1930 Paris train station and his late father’s invention, a robot) is enlivened by an enchanting and provocative musical canvas that may well be Howard Shore’s finest work outside of LORD OF THE RINGS.  The music has a prominently French aspect in both its melodic structure and in the frequent use of accordion in combination with the lush orchestral playing, which not only fits the environment but achieves a compelling musical texture, the strident dynamic of the accordion notes piercing the waves of orchestral sonority in just the right manner to reflect the mixture of archaic machinery and inventive technology that is found in the storyline.  The soundtrack, from Shore’s own record label, is enthralling from start to end.  Its opening track, “The Thief” is energized with a forceful pulse that is wonderfully stimulating.  “The Chase” finds some virtuoso accordion soloing in the midst of some frenetically interactive orchestrations propelled by a strong rhythmic beat.  “The Clocks” offset Shore’s soaring accordion melody with a dappling of piano notes and a wondrously textured lyricism of strings and a curious bit of percussion ticking that reflects the clockwork environment in which the young boy resides.  This is only the first three tracks, and I am already solidly hooked.  The score carries on with very little repetition of form for another 18 tracks of captivating soundscape, each track a completely compelling experience.  One of the year’s best scores. 

Shore also reunited with director David Cronenberg for A DANGEROUS METHOD, a many-layered tale of the intellectual relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud and the troubled girl, Sabina, who comes between them on the eve of World War I.  The music is sublimely dark and complex, associating itself not with the Vienna and Zurich locations in which the film is set, but with the psychological landscape across which the two great pioneers of psychology wage their own interpersonal battles.  It’s a reflective and thoughtful score as it explores and contrasts the intellectual personalities of both men as the conflict over Sabina opens up an emotional quandary within each.  The result is rich territory for musical drama and Shore invests the film with an affecting and appealing musical accompaniment.  The score also incorporates Shore’s arrangement of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, a delicate and personal piece of music that later became part of his opera Siegfried.  The piece appears several times in the score (in “Something Unforgiveable” it nicely segues from solo piano to full orchestra) and is also performed in its entirely on the album by renowned pianist Lang Lang.

Jim Dooley has done a great job giving this video game score a truly epic sound with full-blood orchestral melodies and soaring choral accompaniment.  Despite the music’s function to simulate the progress, pauses, and manic rhythms of gameplaying, Dooley’s score also makes for a cohesive and progressive musical composition.  “The music to JAK & DAXTER [is] designed to simulate an actively scored experience,” Dooley told online interviewer Kaya Savas of Film Music Media. “You have music that is contingent upon specific criteria that trigger it so that different levels of players will all enjoy the experience equally. For example, there are very short pieces that come in and out of the game that give a general mood for the level you are in. As you start reaching different parts of the levels new music will play. If you do nothing and are trying to figure out the controls, random music will still play to keep it interesting…. In a film, everyone experiences the medium in a specific time line. This is not the case for video games. You are challenged to keep things interesting and exciting for everyone as they play the millions of different ways to conquer each part of the game.”  With JAK & DAXTER, Dooley bolsters the gameplay with accessible thematic anthems, progressive rhythms that energize the action and encourage the player, and textural moments of anticipation and tension.  I'm not a gamer anymore but this kind of music is very awesome. Find it on iTunes.


JOHN CARPENTER’S THE WARD/Mark Kilian/Varese Sarabande
John Carpenter’s new horror show is a fairly potent psychological ghost story with an abundance of jolting shocks and a cool denouement.  Amber Heard is an institutionalized young woman who becomes terrorized by a ghost inside the facility; the story progresses smoothly through a series of plot twists and concludes satisfactorily.  Mark Kilian’s electronica score is sinewy and sexy, delineating the female inmates with grace while maintaining a continual sense of peril and threat that fits the story’s multiple layers and multiple twists. “When I decided not to score THE WARD, I began to look around for a composer who would bring new layers of mood, atmosphere, and texture to my little ghost story,” Carpenter wrote in a note on the album.  “I found Mark Kilian.  Enormously talented and able to produce spectacular results with limited means, Mark composed a darkly haunting score, a ghostly lullaby for the girls trapped inside a mental institution filled with illusions and memory.  Mark did a better job than I could.”  Unlike Carpenter’s characteristic electronic pulses and rhythm-based scores, Kilian’s music lays down a pervasive, dark, and cloudy atmosphere, pierced by the gentle sung lullaby that drifts through it to reflect both the girls as they join together to fight the oppressive spirit haunting them, and to reflect the tortured soul of the ghost girl as well.  Action cues (“Elevator Escape”) are percussive and discordant, flavored with moaning voicings and rushing synth aerations, while some of the scarier moments are colored with textured sound design.  The score’s best moments, on disc, are its more intimate and reflective atmospheres of haunting melancholy, where the score assumes more than a shocking dissonance but characterizes the soul of the heroine(s) through multiple layers of ambient harmony.  An effective horror score with more eloquent atmosphere than roughshod shocks.

MARS LANDING/Jennifer Athena Galatis/Profilmusic
Canadian composer Jennifer Athena Galatis provides an eloquent and expressively subdued score that lends a rich undercoating and a pride-of-accomplishment tonality to this speculative documentary about the first manned spaceflight to Mars. The score is a thick orchestration of harmonic synths, creating an expressionistic wash of musical color that is quite beautiful.  The score exudes a sense of pride in accomplishment and teamwork, as well as an honorable nod of grief for astronauts lost in action.  A few of the tracks include a subtle bit of voice over, mainly from 20th Century astronaut radio traffic and JFK’s “To The Moon” speech, giving the adventures of our future Martian endeavor a credible historical context, while Galatis flavors the words with profound musical impressions.  This is especially the case with “In Orbit,” where the music floats serenely through a mélange of voice transmissions from those who have been there.  But those voice threads never interfere with nor distract from the semblance of the music, which remains purely evocative: marvelous strands of gossamer nebulae wisping across a soundscape that stretches from your ears to the rusty crest of Olympus Mons.  This is one of several of Jennifer's scores now available on iTunes and very much worth hearing.

THE MECHANICAL BRIDE/Rich Ragsdale/2M1 Records
Allison de Fren’s 2011 feature length documentary THE MECHANICAL BRIDE explores the science fiction fantasy and current reality of artificial companions in the robotics and sex industries. Shot in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, it offers a personal, at times humorous, look at the contemporary “cluster image of sex, technology, and death” on which media scholar Marshall McLuhan commented over a half century ago.  In his score, released as a digital download, Rich Ragsdale’s “eclectic polymerization” of varying themes distinguishes itself as an eclectic melodic mix of textures that not only characterize the underlying dissatisfaction that reflects this industry, but also the bizarre kind of innocence the dolls seem to represent.  Embodied with sparkling clockwork patterns, seductive synth vocalisms, and heavy, oppressive chords, the music is as alluring and as thought-provoking as its filmic context.  Some tracks are noticeably dismal and discomforting (“F**d Her Limbs Off,” “Made of Silicon”, “Love Object,” “Nazi Music”), others are fluent in the beat of house and discoteque electronica (the compellingly burbling “Sex Convention” and “Level D,” the more brutish, porn-styled “Erotica Convention” and “German Techno”) or electronic lounge (“Porn for Dolls,” “Lounge Underscore”), but more often it’s a poignantly expressed score even when it surges into rhythmic progression, laced with the mixture of attraction and repulsion that de Fren examines in her film.  In all cases the score is very effective in coloring the mood of the situations that are encountered and depicted in the film.

MILDRED PIERCE/Carter Burwell/Varese Sarabande
Culled from the 2011 HBO miniseries (based on the 1941 James M. Cain novel and filmed earlier in 1945 with an added murder subplot), Carter Burwell’s score for this historical drama (about separated single mom Mildred Pierce who decides to open a restaurant during the Depression while dealing with a new love and lack of respect from her narcissistic daughter) is an eloquent embodiment of all that the main character undergoes in the film.  The score, which sits among a plethora of opera and 1920s era popular and jazz music in both film and album, is beautifully tonal, underscoring the character (played by Kate Winslet) in soft waves of ambient drifting rhythms and gentle melodies, earnestly conveying her conviction and struggles.  The melodies reflect the difficulty Mildred encounters with their somber timbres and cynical tone of noir (recognizable from Burwell’s early scores for the Coen Bros.), even while the notes are beautifully conveyed.  It’s a powerful yet understated score that gets under your skin very easily.

THE RIVER WHY/Austin Wintory/T-65b Recordings
For director Matthew Leutwyler’s 2010 coming-of-age via fly fishing story, Austin Wintory (CAPTAIN ABU RAED, GRACE) has crafted a beautiful acoustic score that encapsulated the quiet outdoors with an elegant harmonic calm.  The film starts off as a fishing story about a young fly fishing prodigy who runs away from home to find comfort on the river, but by the end it is more about a young person struggling to come to grips with the modern world.  Wintory’s music aids the film’s metaphoric contemplation with a score that embraces the freeing outdoor environment while also offering musical parallels in the young man’s personal journey.  Available on iTunes, the score favors acoustic guitars, tambourines, paired fiddles, cellos, banjos, and the like.  The guitar playing (by guitarist and co-writer for Sting, Dominic Miller) is homespun, close-miked, and very intimate; the viola and cello sonorities in “Fishing Abe” stretch into the fiber of your being they sound so close at hand; the music is subdued but never feels austere – there is enough harmonic reverberation and sympathetic vibrations in the sound that even with a solo instrument the sound is rich and full.  The music embraces the young lad’s journey with moments of uncertainly, anguish, freedom, and joy.

RUSSLAND/Kolja Erdmann/Amboss (Germany)
Kolja Erdmann's score to this German documentary miniseries, WILD RUSSIA (edited into a 90-minute theatrical documentary feature, RUSSIA - IN THE REALM OF THE TIGERS, BEARS AND VOLCANOES) is nothing short of amazing. A 6-part exploration of the majestic landscape, flora, and fauna of Russia, this miniseries features fantastic photography and a fascinating examination of the six major regions of the Russian landscape: The Caucasus, the Ural, Siberia, the Arctic, the Far East, and the Kamchatka Peninsula.  Each region is fascinating in its biodiversity and its breathtaking scenery, which each 45-minute episode depicts in gorgeous detail; each episode is helmed by a different director but their styles are similar, linked by concept and content – and music.  Erdmann's score (which as far as I can tell is all he has done) fits the show's epic landscapes and scenes of nature in the wild beautifully.  His themes often reference Russian music, either explicitly as in “Die Weisse Ebene” (The White Level) and others that feature a strident Russian chorus, or more implicitly through the structure of orchestral melodies.  The main theme is quite striking and inspiring, evoking the majesty of the snow-covered mountain ranges as much as the delight of the wildlife that thrives in their embrace; “Stimme Der Wälder” (The Voice of Forests) replicates the main theme in awe-inspiring reverence for strings and female chorus.  The main theme is also reworked for a vocal song over the miniseries and film’s end titles, very nicely sung by Julia Breckheimer.  More action oriented tracks, such as “Krallen Und Wut” (Claws and Anger) and “Sieben Brüder” (Seven Brothers), are equally captivating.  There’s not a track on this album that doesn’t move me; it’s a thoroughly captivating musical experience, its melodies and arrangements sincere and inspiring.  Available at amazon.de

SHAOLIN/Nicolas Errèra/MovieScore Media
Benny Chan’s epic martial arts drama, SHAOLIN, latest in an ongoing series of historical action epics to emerge from China, was scored by French composer Nicolas Errèra.  The film is a remake of the 1982 film martial arts film, THE SHAOLIN TEMPLE, in which Jet Li had is first starring role.  Set during the warlord era of early Republican China, the film depicts the conflict between the military who occupy Dengfeng, Henan, and the righteous monks of its Shaolin Temple (known as the birthplace of Shaolin kung-fu), in particular warlord Hou Jie (Andy Lau) who, after a failed coup against a rival, becomes a Shaolin monk to atone for his past violence.  Errèra says that the director “wanted the score to take the point of view of an European composer mixed with Chinese sonorities.”  Errèra’s music combines the forces of the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra with several solo instruments, most notably the Chinese erhu performed by virtuoso Guo Gan, in a powerful score that is very much the equal to the film’s massive battle scenes and intimate spiritual conflicts.  Battle sequences are heavily percussive, evoking the many footsteps of warring soldiers and the clank of swords and twinge of arrows, while ascending string and erhu measures flying over the battleground.  More intimate moments revolving around Hou Jie’s family and loss of his daughter are poignantly conveyed (“The Little Girl,” “Life Goes On”) and affecting, the score reaching its most tender moment in the beautiful erhu lament for the “Death of Hou Jie” and its reflective counterpart, “Redemption,” performed by solo erhu in high reverb.  “Tension and Treason,” heard when Hou Jie sets up the assassination of his rival, builds a palpable suspense through wavering strings and a heartbeat-like pulse of drums, dappled by hollow bamboo sticks and scraped piano strings, rendered even more ominously when those plans begun to unravel.  “The Fury of Hou Jie” is rampant with Chinese flutes, zheng, bamboo percussion, gong, and bells, as the powerful warlord exorcises his militant aggression and takes the vows of monkhood, while “Monks in Training” develops across a drum-led base into an evocative string and flutes melody evoking the spirit of Hou Jie as he trains with the other new monastics.  Errèra’s concluding “Epilogue” begins sublimely for erhu and piano and emerges into a powerful and moving denouement for full orchestra and soprano voice as the Shaolin Temple, burned to the ground in the final battle, carries on in the spirit of the monks, who resume their training and spiritual convictions amidst the ashes.

Following up on their release of Van Cleave’s fine score to ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964) earlier this year, FSM provides the composer’s previous two sci-fi scores paired on a single disc.  The eerie music for Jack Arnold’s THE SPACE CHILDREN (1958; about an alien intelligence gaining telepathic control of the children of military scientists in order to thwart their plans for rocket weapons testing) contrasts a harsh, ominous suspense motif (“The Arrival,” etc.) with a heroic, Americana melody (“The Thunderer,” etc.) reflecting the patriotism of the military weapons program.  Featuring electronic violin and some intricate fingering on a Novachord, Van Cleave gave the film a disturbing sense of sinewy suspense from the very start, even while the progressive melody from horns and winds lend it an air of intrigue and adventure.   The score is more than a duel between opposing musical themes, as the alien intelligence is shown to be benevolent, and the militant orientation of the scientists revealed to be perilously self-destructive, and so there’s a bit of cross-over subjectivity embodied in each motif as the score plays out.  THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (1958) Eugène Lourié’s film about the father of a brilliant young scientist killed in a car crash who transplants his dead son’s brain into a robot body so that it can continue his work, took an entirely different approach musical approach.  This score was conceived and composed entirely for keyboards – three pianos and a celesta (plus an organ for a source cue) – a most unusual accompaniment for a sci-fi/horror film.  Van Cleave was assisted on COLOSSUS by composer Fred Steiner, orchestrated much of COLOSSUS and ghost-wrote a handful of cues, including the film’s main title.  For its instrumental brevity, the piano-based music carries the drama well and carries a kind of mechanistic sound that was appropriate for the hulking mechanical man that ultimately goes on a rampage through the Big Apple. The album represents both scores very well; Jeff Bond supplies comprehensive album notes, analyzing both film in score in detail.

TRADING PLACES/Elmer Bernstein/La-La Land
From the midst of Elmer Bernstein’s comedy period comes this varied score for John Landis’ 1983 satire in which an upper class commodities broker and a homeless street hustler unwittingly trade places, Prince and the Pauper style.  Bernstein’s score is sophisticated and upper class, laced with elegant strains of Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro (itself a story of mistaken and hidden identities) that both represents the film’s Wall Street milieu and parodies the working class environment outside of it (and shown behind the Main Titles where it first plays).  With the Mozart piece as the film’s thematic core, Bernstein sets up all manner of musical set-pieces to accompany the story and the comedy as it plays out.  The music consistently works straight man and sets the stage for the comedy personified by stars Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, and lends a degree of sincerity to the film’s more heartfelt moments.  As with most comedies, the score inhabits very brief sections of film, requiring a degree of editing and combination of short cues to achieve a rewarding listening experience on the album, but the result is a varied mix of Mozart and Bernstein that makes for an interesting and enjoyable listen.  The score itself runs only 10 tracks (about 23 minutes), but 10 source tracks (about 14 mins.), usually the least interesting soundtrack music to me, are in this case quite good, from restaurant/resort muzak to a striking nitty gritty blues number (“Louis Winthorpe III Blues”) that Bernstein wrote for a scene in a seedy pawn shop.  Most surprising of these, though, are a half dozen Christmas tunes, heard during the extended Christmas office party scene; Bernstein’s symphonic arrangements of these carols are by far the most striking and non-schmaltzy renditions of these old chestnuts I’ve ever heard, and really put these tired pieces into fresh and envigorating instrumentals.  Six additional bonus tracks conclude the album with alternate takes and a promotional LP version of one track (“Train”).   Jeff Bond analyzes the film and the music in his album notes while exec album producer Dan Godwasser describes how the tracks were arranged for this CD.


Soundtrack & Music News

Kritzerland’s latest limited edition CD soundtrack pairs two very cool scores on one very cool CD: SYNANON by Neal Hefti, and ENTER LAUGHING by Quincy Jones. Check the music samples at www.kritzerland.com

Exclusive horror movie music purveyor Screamworks Records has released Ivor Novello
Award-winning composer Daniel Pemberton’s orchestral score from the British supernatural
thriller THE AWAKENING.  The film takes place in 1921 England and is a ghost story where the storytelling and visuals are beautifully underlined by a large, gothic orchestral score. Dark orchestral sonorities, haunting vocals and elements of almost operatic choir writing form its backbone; particularly memorable is “The Awakening Theme” which is used throughout the score, an instantly memorable arpeggio motif that has the same effective ‘hook’ as many of the most famous horror scores in the history of film music.  http://www.screamworksrecords.com/

Warner Classics and Jazz has released a 3-CD boxed set of film music from Dmitri Shostakovich, strongly performed by the Belgian Radio Symphony Orchestra & Belgian Radio Symphony Chorus, conducted by José Serebrier and featuring Karol Golebiowsky (organ).  Shostakovich Film Music includes healthy portions of eight scores, including one of his first (THE GOLDEN MOUNTAINS, 1931) and one of his last (KING LEAR, 1970).  The others, not all of which have been recorded for CD before, are THE GADFLY (1955), PIROGOV (1947), HAMLET (1964), FIVE DAYS, FIVE NIGHTS (1960), MICHURIN (1949), and THE FALL OF BERLIN (1950).

ComingSoon.net is reporting that Michael Giacchino has confirmed that he will be returning to score the upcoming (currently untitled) STAR TREK sequel. The assignment was expected as the composer has previously scored all of director J.J. Abrams’ previous movies, including the first Star Trek film in 2009.  The film is due for release in May 2013, so don’t hold your breath just yet.  In the meantime, Giacchino will be providing the score for the Abrams-produced MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL (arriving on IMAX screens December 16th and going wide on December 21st) and Andrew Stanton's live-action debut, JOHN CARTER (hitting theaters in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D on March 9, 2012). Though he provided the score for 2009's Star Trek, fans shouldn't necessarily expect more of the same, noted ComingSoon.net. Giacchino points to the differences between his scores for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3 and GHOST PROTOCOL as an example of how he likes to treat sequels like altogether new projects. That said, he's not sure at this stage what direction the Trek sequel will take. See also a new interview with Giacchino at Crave Online which talks about his most recent collaboration with Abrams.
– via ComingSoon.net and FilmMusicReporter.com

Loon Music has released the compilation CD Cinemusica, with film music by French-born composer Mader (THE WEDDING BANQUET). Transfixed by the scores of Rota, Morricone and Mancini, Mader's original palette has given birth to a series of memorably quirky melodies, which have added the richest of colors to numerous films. Themes are haunting but not disturbing, catchy but not facile. The CD features 25 tracks by the composer from such films as EAT, DRINK, MAN, WOMAN, with its classic Cuban and Latin shadings, the bluesy Americana of MORGAN'S FERRY, the barroom jazz of IN THE SOUP and the somber and dramatic moments in the Pakistan of the late Benazir BHUTTO. Mader's music is indelible and unique. This CD is a collection of some of Mader's favorite pieces from his catalog, incorporating material from his early days in New York to the choicest of his recent musical explorations in Los Angeles. Available from www.perseveranceRecords.com .

Composer Siddhartha Barnhoorn has released a 3rd collection of his film music.  Film Score Collection Volume III is available for purchase and download from his web site: http://siddharthabarnhoorn.bandcamp.com/album/film-score-collection-volume-iii


Want a personally guided tour of composer Brian Tyler’s studio?  Tyler has posted just that on youtube and it’s well worth a look-see:



Games Music News

Sumthing Else Music Works and Square Enix Ltd., have joined together to release the original music score from the game Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  The game soundtrack features 25 captivating compositions from the game's original score composed by Michael McCann (ReGenesis, Splinter Cell: Double Agent, It's All Gone Pete Tong). Renowned for his ambient cinematic scores and emotional organic soundscapes in film, television and video games, McCann's original music reflects the dark and beautifully visualized world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and enhances the game's unique mix of stealth, action, and role-playing genres. Set during a time of great innovation in neuroprosthetics, but also a time of chaos, conspiracy and a new social divide, the transhumanism-inspired soundtrack fuses various musical styles and thematic elements including cybernoir, futuristic renaissance and electrosymphonic ambience.  “There were close to 200 pieces of music created for the soundtrack for Deus Ex: Human Revolution and I've selected 50 of those cues to create the 25 arrangements on this album,” said McCann. “Many of the cues are a mixture of different pieces of music from the game’s soundtrack, including alternate versions that were created for the various advertising trailers for the game. I have chosen these 25 to represent the arc of the game's story, drawing from the styles and ideas that make up the full soundtrack.”

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and WaterTower Music have released the score to the game The Lord of the Rings: War in the North composed by award-winning composer Inon Zur. After three highly acclaimed performances of the music at E3, Inon Zur has continued the tradition of iconic The Lord of the Rings music and crafted an epic and beautiful nineteen track score to the game, recorded at famed Abbey Road studios in the U.K.  “Composing the music for The Lord of the Rings: War in the North was a very inspirational, creative process,” said Zur.  “The story is very compelling, and this had a direct influence on my music. As a longtime fan of The Lord of the Rings, I always dreamed to be a part of this franchise, and when this dream came true, I was extremely motivated to tell the emotional story of this dark heroic adventure and its captivating characters. Bringing on board the London Philharmonia Orchestra at the legendary Abbey Road studios magnified the music to new heights. I am so grateful to Warner Bros. for their support and I'm very excited to have you, the players, be a part of this musical experience and hope you will be as engaged as myself.”

Sumthing Else Music Works has also released the original music score from Saints Row®: The Third™ The music for the game, an open world action-adventure video game developed by Volition, Inc.® and published by THQ Inc. was written and produced by composer/artist/musician Malcolm Kirby Jr. (Brooklyn's Finest, Cop Out, Pimp My Ride, The Love Guru).  “I am a huge fan of both Saints Row and Saints Row 2 so when the opportunity came to score Saints Row: The Third I was ecstatic,” the composer said. “Saints Row: The Third is such an insane game and everything is just pushing it way over the top. This type of thinking and attitude definitely influenced the diverse nature of the score/soundtrack.” 

As a prolific live musician Malcolm Kirby Jr. has performed and recorded with numerous artists.  He has also composed music for the films COP OUT, THE LOVE GURU, BROOKLYN'S FINEST, and such TV shows as CSI, NUMB3RS, PIMP MY RIDE, LAW AND ORDER, and others.  Kirby Jr. describes the different music styles heard in Saints Row: The Third: “Each gang has its own theme and the textural characteristics are completely different for each, ranging from menacing orchestral to gangster hip hop to heavy metal. I think the biggest challenge was coming up with themes of completely different textural styles and making them still feel related and unified in the context of the game which was also the most enjoyable aspect of scoring Saints Row: The Third. Volition and THQ have such an amazing vision for this game and it is truly an honor working with them.”
To learn more about Saints Row: The Third, visit www.saintsrow.com.

Also newly released from Sumthing Else is the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Soundtrack featuring new orchestrations of the classic Halo: Combat Evolved music originally created by award-winning composers Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori. For more information, see: www.xbox.com/haloanniversary.

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  A massively re-written and expanded Second Edition of Musique Fantastique will be published this Spring, see: www.creaturefeatures.com/products/books/musique-fantastique/

Randall can be contacted at soundtraxrdl@gmail.com

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