Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2012-10 
November 5, 2012

By Randall D. Larson


French composer Bruno Alexiu first came to my attention when I heard his score for Serge Bromberg’s documentary film L’ENFER D’HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT, a movie about the making of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s ambitious psychological thriller INFERNO and the production problems that resulted in his abandonment of the project.  Alexiu composed a vibrant, sensitive score that could have worked wonders in Clouzot’s actual film had it been completed.  From its elegant opening through frothy jazz pieces and moody mysterioso, much of it dominated by piano, the score exudes a kind of sensuality and allure that would have fit the 1964 movie perfectly; as such it creates such a mood of nostalgia for Clouzot’s 1964 and effervesces with the jazzy delight of the period.  The music pays due homage to its French filmusical predecessors like François de Roubaix, Georges Delerue and Michel Magne, with an occasional nod to Bernard Herrmann; with occasional modernistic elements such as trilling electric guitars over organ and drums that establish a nightmarish psychedelic atmosphere.  When Alexiu’s score to that L'ENFER was released on CD by Canada’s Disques CinéMusique, a top French director got in touch with Bruno on the phone to congratulate him on his score. The director thought that Bruno was an elderly gentleman who had written the music back in 1964! He probably couldn’t have paid the young composer a greater compliment.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Alexiu via email to learn more about his score for this film and others, and how scoring movies in France these days differed from the Hollywood experience.

Interview Facilitated and Translated from the French for Soundtrax by Kevin Schwankner

Q: What brought you into film scoring and how did your musical background prepare you for the specific tasks of composing for cinema?

Bruno Alexiu: I learned to play the piano at age 4, taking a very serious approach to classical music with a very demanding teacher and under the stern scrutiny of my father.  I then went on to study an eclectic range of subjects at the l'École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs de Paris. There, I eventually specialized in audio visual directing. The skills and knowledge acquired during those years have contributed greatly to my understanding (as a composer) of the relationship between image and sound. Immediately upon graduating, I embarked on a film music career, mostly because that is where my greatest interests lie. In short, narration in whichever form has always been my greatest ambition.

Q: What specific composers and compositions/film scores have influenced you the most in your career in film music?

Bruno Alexiu: During my youth, film scores were often expected to have the same impact as songs – in other words be very popular like the music of Morricone, De Roubaix, Magne and John Williams of course.  I must also mention Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones, and John Barry for the main titles and great scores they composed for television and film. However, since my father constantly had me attend classical music concerts with him, I now realize that classical composers are the ones that have had the most influence on my writing.  I think we are all influenced to a certain degree by their ideas, inventions and inspirations.

Q: Your first few scores, such as OUR LOVE, LOVE FORBIDDEN, and DE SOIE ET DE CENDRE, were romantic dramas.  What was your approach to scoring these films?

Bruno Alexiu: Before scoring those films, I worked for a quite a while co-composing or ‘ghostwriting’ music for numerous television programs. When OUR LOVE and LOVE FORBIDDEN came along I was no longer a beginner, but a solo artist!  LOVE FORBIDDENwas a wonderful film, shot with a dearth of means that could have easily found its way to the Sundance Festival. For this movie, I took a counter-intuitive approach and it was in fact was the near opposite of a romantically styled score.

On the other hand, OUR LOVE is a classic example of a romantic film. I find these types of film a bit difficult to handle especially when the director doesn’t want to acknowledge what is on the screen. As always, the temptation and the risk is to pour on the syrup too thick rather than view the subject with the necessary distance and objectivity. On the whole, purely ‘romantic” music can often be boring to listen to and even more so to compose.

Q: Christophe Malavoy’s CEUX QUI AIMENT NE MEURENT JAMAIS (Those Who Love Never Die) was a wartime drama. What kind of music did you write for this picture?

Bruno Alexiu: This particular film holds a special place in my heart. First and foremost director (Christophe) Malavoy is a wonderful and subtle artist, but also in that the score gets to play an preponderant narrative role in this wartime movie, delineating something else, a drama no one speaks of and that every one of the characters is afflicted by: the pain of absence, the anguish of expectations and life without your loved ones, but life nonetheless.

Q: How closely do you work with directors like Malavoy to determine the kind of musical accompaniment that he wants for his film? 

Bruno Alexiu: For DE SOIE ET DE CENDRE (Silk and Ash) I wrote the music in a summer residence, late at night and without any instruments.  I prepared four mock-up tracks before filming began. Director Malavoy immediately accepted them. I remember being really moved at the time by the fact the director was playing my music for the hundreds of Russian extras playing French soldiers in the trenches before an attack.  Seeing the effect of my music on dozens upon dozens of faces made me realize the power of music in generating emotions, in this case the fear of fighting men living their possible final moments.  As with an image, sometimes music is its own explanation.

Q: What is your view of the current state of the art of film music in France, and how do film scoring techniques and styles compare with those in Hollywood or the UK?

Bruno Alexiu: These days in France, all too often the music has a very perfunctory role. Directors are, for better or worse, focused on other facets of filmmaking.  My classical music background, coupled with very rigorous training, makes it sometimes difficult to me as a composer to watch some movies these days. For instance, there is often very little narrative progression in the music, little or no organic links to the movie, and a great deal of subjective and inappropriate use of some music instruments.

In contrast, there is an advantage in Hollywood: the music is considered on a somewhat equal footing and has a distinct status in and of itself. In that sense, music is the object of more consideration and more in tune with the role it can play in a motion picture. On the other hand, there is a risk that the music as well as the approach will be more conventional.

In that case, the best thing to do would be to get a major Hollywood director to give me a shot at his next film!

Q: Olivier Ringer’s POM, LE POULAIN (Pom, the Foal) is a gentle family film about a drama between horses, and his À PAS DE LOUP (On The Sly) was a children’s fantasy.  Your music for both of these films, however, was not oriented toward children but painted an eloquent musical landscape for the film’s characters and situations.  What were your intentions for providing music for these films and how did the scores develop?

Bruno Alexiu: I’ve never actually scored a children’s film per se. Both of those pictures were directed and created by a man haunted by his own childhood, its doubts, its yearnings and its pains. In effect, these two films were made from an adult’s point of view on his own childhood, a period that is forever behind him. This adult viewpoint speaks to children in the same way a parent’s would when telling a tale or a grandparent talking about a youthful adventure. Such a device still has impact on children even if the narrative style is considered obsolete these days. I don’t really believe that an auteur can truly extricate himself from his own experiences and that is the part of himself that is called upon when directing a film or composing a piece of music.

Q: Your score for L'ENFER D'HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT (INFERNO) was an especially elegant score with touches of jazz.  What kind of challenges did this score pose for you, particularly in that it was a film about the making of an unfinished Clouzot movie – and, in a sense, you were composing music for Clouzot!?

Bruno Alexiu: The director (Serge Bromberg) himself asked me to do the project; I composed four mock-ups that seemed more convincing to him than others he had heard up to that point from various composers.  I had also proposed a musical concept that was ambitious, but achievable. He is a director but also a very talented musician, very intelligent (particularly) with regards to his understanding of the role of music in film; he then approved the entire set of cues.  From my perspective, it seemed of the utmost importance to use musical instruments from the period in order to respect the exceptional and historical nature of the images. Further, I avoided the temptation of using synths or effects that would not come into existence until several years later.

My musical concept was articulated around a wind quintet and a brass septet. The two groups formed the main thrust of the score, voicing their parts in turn.  They were used to play the musique concrètes or the jazz parts. I added guitars, organs and drums here and there where the cues dictated it.  Strings and piano were used to tell the unfolding story of the Clouzot film narrative.  Furthermore, I wanted two distinct musical worlds between the film (a work of fiction) and the actual shoot of said film. However, it seemed interesting to me that the musical realms would grow gradually closer as we go forward in the documentary, the unraveling of Clouzot mirroring that of the Regianni character: inevitably, both of them fell into the abyss.

Q: I felt the music for the nostalgic scenes in L’ENFER were notable for referencing the style of previous French film music masters like De Roubaix, Delerue, and Magne, as well as Bernard Herrmann.  How did these musical elements come into play here?

Bruno Alexiu: It's an indirect homage in Herrmann’s case. Henri- Georges Clouzot loved Hitchcock. Thus, it is very humbly that I tried to bring them closer together for one scene (The Murder). As for the other influences, they run the gamut: Delerue and Auric, but also de Roubaix (François), Magne (Michel). I thought it would be wise to place the audience in a nostalgic listening mood. This way, the viewer would be in an appropriate mindset for what is to follow.

Q: How would you describe your personal approach to scoring films, generally?  What elements do you look for in a film to inspire you or to center your music upon?

Bruno Alexiu: I have a three part approach when choosing projects to work on: 1: Either the project is particularly interesting from an artistic point of view; 2: It will help advance my career; or 3: It is a well-paying project...  Very often, it is the artistic dimension that wins out. I know this may seem an arbitrary conceit, but it is more often than not the determining factor for me. Thusly, I have I have invested months upon end in projects, occasionally for free, because they held a special place in my esteem.

I tend to work every day of the year. When I am working late on a great picture I always leave my studio with pangs of regret, regardless of if I’m exhausted, only too happy to get back at work at the crack of dawn the next day. Regardless of the size of the project, it is the space that I am given that is of the most import.

The notoriety of the director has very little bearing on my overall motivations: I spent nearly a year working for one of France’s top directors who had sought me out for an ambitious movie. Alas, his understanding of the use of music to further the narrative was very limited. In the end, things didn’t work out between us and the reasons matter little: what I do know, watching the finished film a year later, accompanied by the music of another composer, is that for a handful of cues lasting less than a minute on average (and which had no bearing in relation to the film or its subject) I wouldn’t want to relive such an unpleasant daily experience for such a result. Better to work on a more modest project with passionate people striving for a common vision than a rudderless big one. Better still, a big project with passionate people.

Q: Your music for UN COIN D'AZUR is especially exuberant and charming.  How did the film inspire this type of music?

Bruno Alexiu: The movie is an old fashioned light comedy on the silly side, but also very funny if one goes along with it. I strived to create a musical ensemble, with some of the key musicians missing, directed by a somewhat failed composer working in a creaky and dusty theatre set in the ‘40s. The music isn’t meant to be serious, but at the same time remain precious and delicate in contrast to the succession of outlandish innuendos playing out on the screen. The fictional composer/conductor of this imaginary ‘operetta’ presses on regardless... always retaining a rather bitter dignity through it all. Perhaps I was merely transcribing my own persona without being aware of it.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge so far in composing music for film?

Bruno Alexiu: The most important challenge is to go on creating. Regardless of an artist’s notoriety, that seems to be the main criteria. You surrender a part of yourself each time you apply yourself to a project.  It is also a very solitary endeavour.   It requires a dose of courage, for lack of a better word. One can easily be led by self-doubt when things become difficult and the temptation to give up seems the simpler route, but pressing on is the biggest challenge and also its biggest reward.

Q: What has been your biggest reward?

Bruno Alexiu: By reward, one can mean several things. One anecdote does come to mind however: when HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOUT’S INFERNO was presented at the Cannes Film Festival, I was treated with the same regards given to a real ‘star’ (i.e limousines, going up on stage, cocktails, private parties.. etc.). While it wasn’t particularly glorifying, it was a whole lot of fun!  I had asked my children to tape this rare occurrence of me going up on stage with cast and crew, flash bulbs going off, being projected on the big screen at the ‘Palais des Festivals’ and on live TV only to find out later that they preferred taping an episode of AMERICAN IDOL instead!

Q: How would you like to see your film scoring career develop from here?  What other types of projects would you like to have the opportunity to work on?

Bruno Alexiu: I’m always looking for projects that require a convergence of artistic visions from the very modest to the gargantuan. Every composer dreams of a Herrmann-Hitchcock, Elfman-Burton or Morricone-Leone partnership, but the main thing is to be able to assist a director in realizing the full potential of his picture and, with a bit of chance, create a musical composition that people will enjoy.

In the last few years, the economic realities and tastes of the industry have changed the way music is put to picture. I’ve been quite sensitive to these changes and have taken all the steps to be in tune with these new directions. However, I’m no fan of the ‘sound design’ approach in lieu of music nor the systematic dramatization of every camera shot with an avalanche of percussions and synths as is in vogue all too often today. Music has a structuring role to play and not just merely fill in a void.

On the other hand, I’m not nostalgic for the good old days. The environment composers where working in wasn’t really better. For instance, the ‘home studio’, a staple of for the last 30 odd years, has only become user friendly in the last 10 years or so thanks to a myriad of technological innovations. Today, both approaches are well integrated and that is for the better.

In the meantime, I eagerly await the time where film music will once again take on its full popular and narrative functions – after all, who can whistle a movie them from the last five years?  Every week, I see many great films because the cinema in general is doing very well and as such I am very confident that great projects lay ahead of me. Or not...  That is part and parcel of creative endeavours. One needs a pinch of talent, a handful of inspiration, a ton of work and great amount of luck for the music to come to fruition.

For more information on Bruno Alexiu, see his web page (French language) at: http://www.bruno-alexiu.com/



New Soundtracks Releases of Note

ASSASSIN’S CREED: REVELATIONS (The Complete Recordings)/ Jesper Kyd & Lorne Balfe/Ubisoft Music
Between the video games Assassin’s Creed 2 and 3 came a pair of spinoff games, of which this is the second (the first, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, came out in 2010).  In this 2011 game the three protagonists from the previous games face a new myriad of dangerous foes set in Constantinople, the heart of the Ottoman Empire, where a growing army of Templars threatens to destabilize the region.  For this fourth installment, Jesper Kyd (who composed the first two games and previous spinoff) shared scoring duties with Hollywood composer Lorne Balfe (who would go on to score Assassins Creed III by himself – see below).  Ubisoft’s 3-disc “Complete Recordings” release contains 79 tracks, which cover the expansive multiple storylines of Revelations.  The thematic base of the new score is provided by Balfe, who composed a haunting new theme that captures both a texture of antiquity and the spiritual perspective provided by a captivating melisma that grows into an epic choral surge embodying a great musical dynamic.  That lovely female voice in Balfe’s theme is that of Madeline Bell, the 18-year old winner of an online singing contest held by Ubisoft, Balfe, and Hans Zimmer to find a singer for the new game theme.  The massive array of music presented in this digital-only release (2.5 hours) provides an epic musical saga the equal of the game’s scope and historical period.  The game included a refined multiplayer plot option, in which the music expands into additional areas, as well as a game-within-the-game feature with its own dedicated music.  Balfe’s music is effectively integrated with Kyd’s throughout the three CDs, providing a cohesive textural pattern even while Balfe captures the thematic foundation of the score.  It’s broadly textured and powerfully evocative, constantly progressing and changing, making it an engrossing listen on its own. 

ASSASSIN’S CREED III/Lorne Balfe/Ubisoft Music
After collaborating with Jesper Kyd on scoring Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Scottish-born composer Lorne Balfe assumed command of the entire score for the final third in the basic Assassin’s Creed gamesaga, released on Oct. 30.  In this game, players experience the untold story of the American Revolution through the eyes of a new assassin named Connor.  With a new direction in environment and game avatar, Balfe takes the music on a new direction also.  “When I found out that the new Assassin's Creed was going to be based on the American Revolution and that we were introducing a new Assassin born from a Native American mother and a British father,” said Balfe, “I realized this was going to be a difficult score to write.  `Visually, the game is rich in colors and I wanted the music to take players to new levels of the Assassin's Creed franchise.  There are large naval scenes in the game and I wanted to create an epic feeling that would complement the grandeur of the visuals. This was the beginning of America as we know it today—filled with cultures from across the world. With such diversity available, I was able to bring Celtic and other musical influences into the game to further accentuate the complexities of the game itself.”  The music has a lighter texture than the heavy-layered Revelations, favoring woodwinds, fiddle, dulcimer, and the like, but a consistently interesting texture.  The flutes in the introspective “Connor's Life” suggest his Native American heritage and his heroic integrity.  Balfe’s striking new theme for this game captures an effective sonic timbre and a rhythmic melodic structure that is quite stimulating, suggestive of the significant era in history in which the game takes place.  The main theme recurs as a motif for heroic gameplay in sequences like “The Battle of Breed's Hill.”  “Battle at Sea” transforms the theme into an unsteady undulation with nautical flavoring.  A neat Celtic folksy quality embodies “Beer and Friends” with the festivity of an Irish fiddle, while “Welcome to Boston” captures a bit of both Irish dance and the rhythmic surge of the main theme.  Suspenseful moments like “Temple Secrets” are given tension through hollow reeds and sinewy strings.  On CD, the score is a rich musical canvas with pleasing melodies and splendid aural textures.
See my interview with Lorne Balfe in my Oct, 2011 column.

ASSASSIN’S CREED 3: LIBERATION/Winifred Phillips/ Ubisoft Music
Winifred Phillips’ latest game score is this thrilling music to this spinoff of AC III, available digitally from Ubisoft.  Stepping into the musical format developed by Kyd and Balfe for the first three games and their two spinoffs, Phillips has created a potent and captivating work that may well be her most exciting and dynamic score to date (the score has already been nominated for two Hollywood Music in Media Awards in the categories of Best Soundtrack Album and Best Score).   Phillips creates a pulse-pounding drive for gameplay in tracks like “Aveline's Escape,” a dazzling array of hand percussion punctuated by strident incursions of horns and interplay of stroking violins, while she enlivens the ancient world of the game with a delightful elegance and lots of intriguing instrumentation.  Her elegiac 7:16 long “Society Suite in 4 Movements,” which creates a stately elegance for one of the game’s environments, is a sheer delight, a lively classical performance given a broad dynamic range in its articulate mix (the production by Phillips’ associate Winnie Waldron retains a sparkling clarity; even in its most aggressive moments, every instrument, whapped percussion and bowing of string alike, achieves a remarkable clarity).  Set in Colonial America and continuing the adventures of Connor, the half Native American/half British assassin introduced in AC III, the setting provides plenty of musical inspiration for Phillips, although she wisely avoids referencing authentic period music but rather informs her music with sounds (the solo violin interludes, the occasional militaristic fanfares, and the ubiquitous Native American drumming styles) that evoke the historical period even while immersed in the modern world of hybrid music.  The use of female voice as an ethereal component soaring over and above the action music, as with previous Assassin’s Creed scores, generates an emotive quality that really enhances the depth and dynamic of the music; but it rarely stands apart on its own but is immersed within the constantly charging rhythm of the music, proffering its expressive intimacy to run with the battles, keeping pace with the furious offensive underway within the gameplay.  “Chasing Freedom” is an especially powerful track, wherein the gathering conflagration of percussions parts to allow through an intimate violin solo, which then joins with brassy synths to provide an eloquent and powerful statement of the main theme.  This is a fine score and one that even non-gamers should applaud for its cinematic dynamic and immersive drive.
A YouTube video with music excerpts from all of the tracks of the Assassin's Creed III Liberation soundtrack album is available here: http://youtu.be/wLYVvb1Pvis?hd=1

ASSASSINATION GAMES/Neal Acree/Sony (via  iTunes)
Neal Acree’s keyboard-dominated score for the first of two Jean Claude Van Damme films he has scored, 2011’s ASSASSINATION GAMES, has been released digitally on iTunes (here’s hoping his second score, for 2012’s SIX BULLETS, will also make it to release one of these days; it’s as uniformly excellent as this one).  The film tells of two rival assassins who form an uneasy alliance to take down a target, which is backed by dirty Interpol Agents.  Despite its electronica basis, Acree invests the music with a great deal of heart (more than the typical Van Damme score, I’d say) through a haunting melody (“Anna’s Theme,” sung by Laurie Ann Haus), in which a female melisma proffers an emotive sonority (that theme recurs in the string section elsewhere in the score).   The music is very effective at building and maintaining a sense of tension as well as driving the storyline forward through aggressive pulses of synths, menacing string patterns, filigrees of ethnic woodwinds, and oppressive percussion fills.  Acree captures the arrogance and over-confidence of the film’s subordinate tough-guys (except, of course, for Van Damme and his rival [played by Scott Adkins]) in the assured rhythms and swaggering arpeggios of his progressive motific patterns.  While it does share the percussive rhythmic drive currently in vogue in action films these days, Acree develops an array of intriguing textures in his orchestrations, and the score carries a progressive sound design both in film and when listened to off-movie, where it makes for a compelling musical journey of progressive patterns, rhythms, and recurring motifs.  And the gentle tip-toe patterns of “Anna’s Theme” continually reinforce the score’s emotional edge, giving its instrumental variety a firm organic center.  Despite having scored 25 features since 1998, this is Acree’s first solo album release (all the others have been shared with other composers) – and hopefully will be the first of many.
Sound samples are available at: http://soundcloud.com/neal-acree/sets/weapon

ESCAPE/Edwin Wendler/Perseverance
This 2011 drama is about two men from very different walks of life who are kidnapped by human traffickers in Thailand.  It’s a drama with religious overtones as one of the men has suffered a loss of faith after the death of his daughter and is struggling to make sense of things.  Edwin Wendler’s score is a tense composition that gives the spiritually-oriented film its earthly grounding and very human emotional sensibility.  The music is saturated with Asian musical influences, in keeping with the film’s Thai setting, and Wendler worked to ensure these ethnic elements were authentic within the bounds of a Western symphonic approach.  “Non-pitched percussion instruments were easy to incorporate but melodic elements needed to be pitch-corrected in order to blend with the western tuning of the orchestra and synths,” he is quoted by writer Gergely Hubai in the album’s liner notes.  “The Thai scale consists of 7 tempered notes, so the intervals tend to sound ‘out-of-tune’ to Western ears. I left some of that intact during moments where the ethnic instruments play basically by themselves.  In the case of the Thai vocal samples, I changed pitches in some instances, and time-stretched them when they needed to be more eerie or mysterious.”  The landscape is initially evoked with exotic rapport in “Welcome to Thailand,” which is festive and hopeful.  After the main characters’ abductions, however, the tone turns quite dark.  Wendler avoided the impulse to score the action scenes with muscular overtones, but instead concentrated on finding the appropriate mixture of orchestral action and dark, evocative strains to keep the proper psychological tonality engaged.  Taken to “The Island,” Wendler imposes a seething array of evocative Asian percussion and filaments of violin and ringing synth to build an apprehensive mood, while eerie sung and synthetic voicings in “Stop That Kid!” disorient the listener and build anxiety.   The score emphasizes these evocative designs in “Diversion” and “Point of No Return,” returning to a more familiar orchestral tonality with the early moments of “Escape.”  But all is not as it seems, and the 9-minute cue soon loses its hopeful gloss, gathering an array of clacking, menacing percussion and whispering voices which advance against the respite of comfortable strings until “The Shore” allows a final release from captivity, and the purity of the orchestra emerges in a clear resolution.  The orchestral elements of the score are performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic, conducted by Nic Raine, and achieve the same magnificent sound found in this orchestra’s numerous classic film score re-recordings for Tadlow and Silva Screen.  Non-orchestral musical elements consist of samples and synth patches mixed in Wendler’s studio.  Both in concept and in performance the score attains an effective and pleasing sound quality, and its journey through the Thai landscape and imprisonment is enthusiastically captured by Wendler in this very fine score.

HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE/Kristian Sensini/Kronos
Kronos Records  has released a CD of Kristian Sensini’s eloquent orchestral score for this “granguignolesque and erotic” horror reinterpretation of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde saga.  The film is from Italian director Domiziano Cristopharo, who first began to recover the tradition of erotic horror in his 2009 film, HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS, which was also his first collaboration with composer Sensini.  The two worked again on 2010’s THE MUSEUM OF WONDERS; Cristopharo described their collaboration on HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE as their best collaboration to date.   “HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE was something complex to make music for, but I wrote it out of instinct, thanks to the evocative power of the images,” wrote Sensini in a composer’s note in the album booklet.  “From my part, it’s a personal tribute to the many international Masters (Goldsmith, Herrmann, North) and Italian composers (Morricone, Simonetti, Frizzi) who made this genre a great one.”  Sensini created the score in his own studio.  “I didn’t try to imitate a real orchestra through technology,” he said.  “On the contrast, I wanted to use the digital sound palette I had at my disposal in a creative way, in order to recreate a new sound floating above dream, reality, and nightmare.”  Eschewing specific themes, Sensini chose to use a simple three-note descending melody, which is omnipresent throughout the film in a wide number of very different variations.  The score embraces a kind of dark allure, fitting the director’s mix of seduction and suspense, eroticism and alarm.  Its central 3-note phrase reappears throughout like an unwanted evil spirit, emerging from the shadows to evoke the tendrils of its melody or evoked in a passionate pianistic triad with voice and woodwind, such as the dark sensuality of “Love you Madly,” which grows and erupts into an oppressive siren-song of imminent doom, the glint of sharp teeth reflected in its gathered cacophony and wailing melisma.  The score creeps along this way in a variety of guises, from haunting solo piano pieces (“Truth or Dare,” “Mother”) and spooky mélanges of acoustic piano and synthesized ambiance (“Bad Memories,” “Twinge of Love” which also adds a distant operatic voice, Thereminlike, into the mix), to rocking grooves (“Elektro Dark”) and minimalistic progressions of piano and winds (“Beyond the Mirror”).  “Sad-uction” is a particularly striking track: opening quietly with low, pensive piano notes and reverberating scraped piano strings, the main melody is gently played on acoustic guitar while a quiet flute wafts in the background.  The cue grows in emphasis, progressively rising in power, until its formal structure is shed and the cue becomes a frightening array of fragmented shards of its former design, the piano melody transformed into malicious harpsichord notes, the flute piping aimlessly, the 3-note motif erupting in a viciously thrice-segmented declarative grimace, until all dissolves into a rushing spray of eruptive cymbal.   “Death Lover” is a sensuous cue embraced within a rocking electric bass rhythm, progressing into a sturdier mélange of urgently fingered piano arpeggios, very giallo in style.  It’s quite a captivating score with an interesting mixture of styles, each evoking a kind of gloomy longing in which desire seeks constantly to trump caution and danger lurks with each enticing curve of shadow.  The composer’s sure hand keeps the musical momentum from spiraling out of control, and the progressive textures and enigmatic appeal of the sound design is constantly appealing.  Bonus tracks on the album include Sensini’s quite thrilling developing ambiance for the film’s trailer, and two tracks he wrote for Cristopharo’s segment of the subsequent 2011 anthology film, P.O.E. POETRY OF EERIE.

LINCOLN/John Williams/Sony
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited score of the season, John Williams’ music for Steven Spielberg’s historical drama about the final four months of Abraham Lincoln’s life is a tremendously passionate score resonating with eloquent meaning and evoking strong feelings of national import and destiny.  Embodying the kind of Americana-based writing that made Williams’ scores for BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY, JFK, and NIXON so respectfully poignant, LINCOLN (the 26th collaboration between Spielberg and Williams) is an etched landscape of elegant massed strings, a haunting trumpet theme, and despondent voicings that evoke both dignity and tragedy in capturing the events of these four months in Lincoln’s life, while also echoing the import of what this period in history meant to the nation as a reconciling whole.  One cannot regard, or at least thoroughly appreciate, the music on its own without recognizing its historical context, since the score is saturated with the variety of elegiac nuances filtered through the person of Abraham Lincoln and the events that surrounding him at this point in time.  Williams evokes in his themes and orchestrations the ideals, the controversies, the patriotism, and the doubt that pervaded Lincoln as he struggled against politics (the supremely reverent tones of “The American Process” and the music for Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, “With Malice Toward None”), unpopularity (the lonely string cadence of “The Purpose of the Amendment” that ultimately musters into confident echoes of self-assured rightness), and personal loss (the soft oboe of “Father and Son,” and the correspondingly heartrending violin solo in “Remembering Willie”).  The Civil War itself is represented by a soft solo piano piece, “The Blue and the Grey,” which so clearly captures the sad expressions of grieving parents, disassociated brethren at arms, battlefields of fallen soldiers, culminating in a wringing gathering of morose string figures and dour brass permutations, as well as a fine, energetic and full-blooded choral rendition of “The Battle Cry of Freedom.”   The music throughout also embodies a reserved melancholy, reflecting the same despondency that shadowed Lincoln’s general demeanor; there’s hardly a truly happy melody here (the closest the score comes to that is in the immense sense of relief embodied in the affecting “Freedom’s Call” and the acceptance of loss and of letting go that comes in the finale’s music).  The music resonates with a reverent substance, echoing a tangible feeling of historical relevance to events given such a larger than life depiction in Spielberg’s film, even while serving as an epitaph for the man himself, from the final days of the Civil War through that final evening in Ford’s theater.  This sensibility is resolved in the 11-minute “The Peterson House and Finale,” where Williams stirs up a musical summation of Lincoln, belonging now to the ages, painted in a brilliant wash of standing glory.  The album ends with a sublime piano arrangement of “With Malice Toward None” which serves as a coda and remembrance of Lincoln.  There are also a couple of folksy tunes (“Getting Out the Vote” and “The Race to the House”) that prove Williams can hoe-down with the best of them.  At Spielberg’s suggestion the score is performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (in honor of Lincoln’s home state of Illinois).   In all its parts, LINCOLN is a masterful score that is captivating in its potent feelings and evocative emotions, coloring a broad canvas of historical proportion and significance that nonetheless is also able to focus right in on the heavy heart that, for 56 years, beat within the man Americans remember as our 16th President.
(For an excellent and far more detailed analysis, including an examination of themes and a track-by-track commentary I heartily recommend for further study Mikko Ojala’s review posted online at the John Williams Fan Network.)

Williams on Lincoln: transcribed from comments made by John Williams at LINCOLN's world premiere (Nov 8), included in Dreamwork’s EPK released today:  "It's different only in the sense that every film that one does, and with Steven in this case, is a separate individual and discrete process. The subjects vary wildly, the texture and timbre of what needs to be done is individual in every case, so it is certainly a very different approach than INDIANA JONES or ET or SCHINDLER'S LIST. It is its own work. We hope that, in this case, that it's remotely worthy of the subject... Certainly the atmospherics of the 19th Century and of the American musical grammar needed to be articulated in a musicologically accurate way, which I hope we did, and in addition to that, all the emotional connections that need to be threaded…  People who will be watching this conversation may not have seen it, but it's a film some very beautiful words, beginning with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s wonderful book and Tony Kushner’s script, and President Lincoln's own writings… so a musical accompaniment of that would need to be something that, as I said earlier, I hope would be remotely worthy of what it purports to do. I hope that it is. I think that it's very important for people to see this movie, it has an educational component which shouldn’t scare us away, actually, it's not a tough film to take, but it's a very rewarding film."


THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS/RZA and Howard Drossin/Soul Temple
For this Quentin Tarantino-presented martial arts/Samurai/Western directed by composer/rapper RZA (who had written original score music for Tarantino’s KILL BILL).  Scripted by RZA and Eli Roth, this is essentially a martial arts film in the classic Shaw Bros tradition but filmed with a contemporary style and very high production value.  Set in 19th Century China, the story follows a series of lone warriors who are forced to unite to defeat a common foe and save their home of Jungle Village.  As a first-time director, RZA’s visual storytelling is admirable; the film is a dazzling action fest with a cornucopia of anachronistic but fun characters and a storyline rich in homage that is well played out.  I was worried about the music, since I am no fan of rap music, and that’s RZA’s musical forte (as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan rap group); but the film score is actually very pleasing and very effective; joined by composer Howard Drossin, the film possesses a capable and commanding orchestral sensibility.  The songs, which are used rather sparingly in the film, have been released on their own separate soundtrack album (along with many “inspired by the film” songs that aren’t heard in the movie); this album is reserved purely for the film’s score.   Aided by Drossin, an experienced composer of game scores and a handful of features and shorts, the soundtrack takes on an elegant dynamic that enriches the film beyond what its songs and occasional hip hop riffing can do on an emotive level.  The score elevates the film’s iconic hero moments, bolstering its mythic mood and reflecting unspoken character nuances.   Like the Tarantino-compiled soundtrack for KILL BILL and INGLORIOUS WARRIORS, the music for MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is a mélange of variegated influences (especially Italian Western scoring techniques, and the occasional James Bondish horn flourish [“The Die Is Cast” contains a dead-on 007 moment that segues into a pure Italian Western orchestral-chorale]), and the music works very well in energizing the film and in providing the kind of referential power that its musical pastiches embody.  It also adopts an effective Zimmeresque rhythmic power that gives it a modern action-movie prowess (notably “The Gemini’s Arrive,” the hero moment of “The Man With The Iron Fists,” and the conclusive “All Iron and No Rust”).  The score is quite varied, actually, with a sparkling rock-styled theme for “The Brothel,” an honorable motif for the avenging son, Zen Yi, a curious motif for er-hu, drums, electric bass, and French horns for Russell Crowe’s character (“Jack Knife”), and an enchanting ambiance for woodwindy synth, mandolin, and snare drum for “The Temple Monks” in which we learn of the title character’s backstory.    A particularly poignant moment is heard in “Black Widows' Theme,” where a boy soprano intones a sad epitaph for one of the characters, moving into dazzling Italian Western arrangement with the boy’s voice joined by many others and a strident rhythm of strings and trumpets; a stirring celebration of the character’s revelatory moment.  Nicely preserved by itself on this album, the film’s score is thoroughly appealing and makes for a very absorbing listen.

QUO VADIS (complete recording)/Miklós Rózsa/Prometheus
Of the several historical epics scored by Miklós Rózsa in the 1950s, this 1951 saga of a fictional romance set in the reign of Roman emperor Nero remains a favorite, containing a main theme of immense power and resonance, a beautifully heartfelt love theme, its own exciting and brassy chariot race music, and some splendid choral material and brassy marches and fanfares.  The score has been released many times before (almost all re-recordings, including some by Rózsa conducting), but never in as complete a form.  Produced by James Fitzpatrick of Tadlow Music, this premiere recording of the entire score as it was written “presents Rózsa’s music from QUO VADIS exactly as he wrote it during 1949-50, before any changes or cuts were made,” as Frank K. DeWald notes in the accompanying booklet.  “It is based on a condensed score preserved in the studio archives, from which Leigh Phillips created a full score replicating the composer’s original orchestrations.  It includes beginnings and endings of cues dialed out of the final film and, more excitingly cues deleted from the finished film entirely.  The songs and a cappella choral cues have been recorded as written, without attempting to recreate the (significantly shortened and revised) film versions.”  The result is a thoroughly pleasing and sparkling recreation of a magnificent composition, grandly performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Nic Raine.   The music’s sonic dynamic is far above any previous recording of the score (all of which, except for the segment in Classic Miklós Rózsa Film Music, are analog recordings).  All of the above make this a very significant release and an essential restoration of one of the ‘50s finest film scores.  Kudos and gratitude to Leigh Phillips for his tireless work in recreating the full score, James Fitzpatrick and Tadlow Music for presenting it so well, and to Nic Raine and the City of Prague musicians for investing it with so much orchestral gusto and sensitivity.

THE RED HOUSE/Miklós Rózsa/Intrada
With only a handful of tracks previously appearing on LP and a 12-minute suite appearing on RCA’s “Classic Film Music” series album devoted to Rózsa, the advent of a faithfully re-recorded, complete soundtrack album of Rózsa’s 1947 film score is more than welcome, providing an essential piece to fill a gap in the composer’s discography.  Performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (conducted by Allan Wilson) and Winchester Cathedral Chamber Choir, this is a magnificent rendering of a fine score, as emotionally expressive, poignant thrilling, and powerful as any of the composer’s work.  Famously featuring Theremin for the third and final time in the composer’s work of the period, THE RED HOUSE is a lush romantic score tinged with a dark psychological portrait (the film tells of an old man and his sister who are concealing a terrible secret from their adopted teen daughter, having to do with an abandoned farmhouse in the woods).   Containing a lilting romantic melody for strings and a variety of mysterioso material for woodwinds over low-end piano, the score is as alluring as it is mysterious and threatening.  Intrada’s new recording amps up the sound from Rózsa’s original 55 -piece recording to the splendid dynamic of 80 players.  The use of Theremin is far more subtle here than in SPELLBOUND and THE LOST WEEKEND; most of the time it's submerged in the orchestration, but when it surfaces it resonates with a powerful intensity that adds a striking psychological timbre to the music. Often doubled by choir, the timbre articulates a duality of meaning – a grain of calm melodious assurance shadowed by a tonality of penetrating menace.  A thick 20-page booklet includes comprehensive notes from Frank K. DeWald including a track-by-track commentary.

THE SESSIONS/Marco Beltrami/Lakeshore
Now available digitally and coming to CD on Nov 13th, Marco Beltrami’s score for this sensitive drama is heartfelt and sparkling with optimism and confidence.  Based on the autobiographical writings of California–based journalist and poet Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), THE SESSIONS tells the story of a man who lived most of his life in an iron lung who is determined - at age 38 - to lose his virginity.   With the help of his therapist (Helen Hunt) and the guidance of his priest (William H. Macy), he sets out to make his dream a reality.  Beltrami focuses his score on the main character, evoking his initial condition, within the claustrophobic confines of the iron lung, with a reflective, hollow ambiance of confined tonality (“Breathing,” “Amanda Reckonwith,” “Hair Trigger”), while investing his optimistic desire for fulfillment with a poignant piano melody over strings, which becomes the score’s main theme (“Newscast,” “Casanova’s Kiss,” “Coffee Date,” etc.).  The sorrow of “Rejection” is echoed through a despondent arrangement of the piano theme, while an air of hope takes flight on solo violin over pizzicato strings in “Priest Blessing.”  Sparkling piano notes glisten in “Boy on the Beach,” their bright gemlike gleaming in clear contrast with the hollow tonality of the iron lung motif.  The score concludes with “Mark’s Kiss,” in which the tentative piano melody is reprised with the assured satisfaction of a string quartet, opening up with oboe and piano accompaniment.  This is an intimate score with a jewel of a main theme that evokes passionate longing and an unwillingness to settle for the limitations of circumstance.  Beltrami has given a confident voice to those feelings and fashioned a compelling and satisfying score out of them, which is very nicely represented in this soundtrack release.

SINISTER/Christopher Young/Varese Sarabande
Drawn back into the horror genre, Christopher Young has created a provocatively disturbing score for SINISTER, a frightening new thriller from the producer of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films and the writer-director of THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (which Young had scored). Ethan Hawke plays a true crime novelist who discovers a box of mysterious, disturbing home movies that plunge his family into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror. Dispensing with any form of orchestral basis for the music, Young has created an unearthly miasma of scary musical sounds using electronics and musique concrete, crafting a score out of a strange manipulation of found sound and jumbled-up tonal entities.  It’s much more than sound-effect-as-score, and far beyond the kind of trendy sound design we’ve heard in other recent horror offerings. 
In an interview with Mark Morton about this score, posted at examiner.com, Young stated “I’ve always wanted to do something that gets me away from the orchestra, because, let’s face it, the minute you introduce a violin section to your score, I don’t care how imaginative you are, there’s a certain personality of sonority that is brought into the palette that is unmistakable. I always try to ask the directors if I can do something more experimental, but they always say, ‘Maybe on your next movie, but not on mine.’
So, the great thing about SINISTER is that it gave me the chance to explore that other world, and in many ways, it felt like I was reinventing myself. This score is not laden with a lot of tunes, and usually with my horror stuff, I get a little obsessed with spelling out some core themes. The film is remarkable, and the score integrates really well into the picture. 
The SINISTER score, therefore, is a tone poem of decrepit sound configurations, a Louis and Bebe Barron score turned inside out and flayed with a thorn-studded scourge.  It’s a perilous sound collage of scrabbling insectile rustlings; moaning wails from distant places; an unsettling fog of weighty shadows settling in like the crushing stone edifice of a fallen tombstone; the pensive, uneven ringing of piano, harp, and guitar notes wafting across a landscape of undefinable echoes or prompted into movement by pulsing beats of twisted rhythm; bizarre reprocessed voices in variegated speeds or played backwards, sideways, and upside down, then gathered into a synthetic discord; atonal mixes of reverberant sonic structures set amidst industrial cacophonies; strange noises dialed in and out and stretched and distorted into something even more distressing.  In other words, this is one of the most alien scores I’ve ever heard, and one of the most potently affecting.  In terms of enhancing the film’s claustrophobic fear factor, SINISTER is a potent array of disquieting textures, unnerving sound patterns, and vaguely musical architecture that creates a palpable sense of dread and unease – the very apotheosis of what a horror score can be in terms of keeping an audience entirely on edge, enveloped in a landscape of unfamiliar and terrifying vagaries of musical sound. 
As spooky as all this material is, what you have on the CD is not exactly what was heard in the movie.  As Young explains to Mark Morton, “It’s my feeling that a lot of sound-design scores are hard to listen to on their own. Why? Because they consist of blocks of sounds in varying densities – they aren’t governed by the same principles as music that people like to listen to. So I used the same material that I presented for the film, but I reworked it and introduced some new material for it to become a more satisfying listening experience… what you are getting on the CD is eleven tracks of newly-written and reworked material, and the twelfth track is an extended suite of the material presented for the film situated in a 10-minute piece. And then the thirteenth track is a dance-like remix of one of the themes. How weird is that?”
Delve into the darkly-colored and rough-hewn sound world of SINISTER and hear for yourself.

SKYFALL/Thomas Newman/Sony
With SKYFALL, Thomas Newman succeeds at what many other composers haven’t been able to accomplish when encountering the musical world of James Bond: provide a new sound that is free of the signature John Barry style and yet works effectively and significantly as a Bond score at the same time.  Newman does include a few subtle references Barry’s Bond elements (such as the punchy brass chords that open the album, the raging waves of brass and string that envelope the middle of “Brave New World,” the sensuously surging  rhythms of “Komodo Dragon”), and the famous James Bond Theme makes a few fragmented incursions into the soundtrack (the low flutes that open “Brave New World,” the full rendition of the theme in “Breadcrumbs”), but largely SKYFALL is very much its own musical entity – yet one that seems to fit 007 like a form-fitting Walther PPK shoulder holster. Newman’s characteristic use of percussive instrumental arpeggios (“New Digs,” “Shanghai Drive,” “Quartermaster”) here take on suspenseful import that, even without having yet seen the film, are electrifying in their suspenseful excitement.   Newman’s string writing, often entwined around and through stalwart horn statements, are alluringly powerful – thus the action/suspense material like “Severine,” “Jellyfish,” “The Bloody Shot,” “Tennyson,” and the like resonate with a Barry-esque texture and rhythm but are clearly the work of a very different musical sensibility.  Many had their doubts that Newman, known primarily if not exclusively for low-keyed suspense dramas, would be up for the massive dynamic of a James Bond score; especially with the poor track record that most composers besides Barry had made in their efforts to accompany Bond in the way he had been accustomed (up until David Arnold resurrected the Barry musical milieu in the previous five films).  Rest assured, SKYFALL is very clearly a James Bond score even if it strays a ways from earlier customs in musical accompaniment.  It fits Bond, yet sounds fresh and energizing.  The album as a whole is splendid, with “Welcome to Scotland” a particularly virulent action piece, with its angry stabs of brass over furious hand drums and knife-edged violin bowing, while the cycles of marcato strings of “She’s Mine” propel the listener into a massive ascent of powerful string and brass chords, culminating in a series of fine trumpet statements of the James Bond Theme.  “Deep Water” serves the climactic track, rigid with each of the elements that have gone before swirling into a thrilling cyclonic crescendo, with the succeeding two tracks “Mother” and “Adrenaline” serving as compelling codas to the furious action.  Oddly, the striking title song admirably performed by British singer Adele is not included on the soundtrack album; it’s separately available as an MP3 single and 2-track CD single (song + instrumental version) and should be an essential companion to Newman’s score album.

TERRA NOVA/Brian Tyler/La-La Land
Brian Tyler’s music for this single-season science fiction TV series is very pleasing.  The series has to do with a family that travels 85 million years into the past to an Earth of a parallel Universe where they encounter various creatures and perils.  This generous helping of music from La-La Land contains nearly 135 minutes of music from each of the show’s 13 46-minute episodes spread across two discs, complemented by a 24-page booklet with extensive background commentary by writer/composer Brian Satterwhite.  Composed old-school fashion, the score is thick with thematic melodies, absorbing Tyler’s penchant for melodic hooks and fluent harmonies, and always conveyed with a profound emotive expression.  The show’s main theme is grand, languid melody that really captures a spirit of nobility and adventure, reflecting in its careful cadence the awesome scope of prehistory and the majestic landscapes into which the heroes are dropped as well as the closeness of the family who, Space Family Robinson-like, are at the heart of the adventures.   Tyler included the main theme frequently throughout the individual episode scores, scoring the series as if it were a single, 10-hour-long movie, supported by a variety of subordinate themes and a multitude of variations on each of them.  The soundtrack album, therefore, becomes a vast musical saga, capturing waves of emotional flavors – from awe and mystery to triumph and agony and much in between – capturing the contours of relationships and the larger embodiment of the show’s drama.   It’s grand film music, thoroughly likable, and striking in its mastery of both epic scope and poignant intimacy.

THUNDERCATS/Kevin Kliesch/La-La Land
Another terrific sci-fi TV score from La-La Land.  For this new version of a 1980s animated series, which was produced by Warner Bros. Animation and debuted in 2011 on Cartoon Network, composer Kevin Kliesch (TANGLED EVER AFTER) has assembled a thrilling and sophisticated orchestral score very much in an epic John Williams mode (Kliesch said the producers’ direction to him was to “think John Williams, James Horner, Howard Shore”).  Without becoming derivative of those influences, Kliesch has created a massively powerful, pleasingly melodic score that gives this cartoon show a huge symphonic prowess that makes for an entirely satisfying recording, a task benefitted by his more than 15 years’ experience as an orchestrator for major Hollywood blockbusters.  For the 2-CD album, Kliesch has hand-picked what he felt were the best musical moments from the show, giving us almost two hours of strikingly powerful music, from soaring melodic lines and heroic bravado to massive choral intonations and thunderous battle music.  For his score, Kliesch was deservedly nominated for an Annie Award as well as two BSO Spirit Awards (Best Television Score, and Breakout Composer of the Year).  Variegated in its thematic architecture, THUNDERCATS is a rousing and energetic score that enlivens its Japanese animated landscapes and humanoid feline characters, while electrifying the show’s sense of stalwart honor, loyalty, and sacrifice in an imaginative world of high fantasy.  Don’t let this one slip by – it’s well worth repeated listening at high volume!

For the 1961 peplum programmer, Ursus nella valle dei leoni, Riz Ortolani stepped into the sword-and-sandal genre with an exceptional score that makes its full-length debut in this new release from Digitmovies (Vol 20 is its continuing Italian Peplum series).  This score was the 30-year-old composer’s tenth film score, and his first in the historical-action-adventure genre.  Previously issued with only 11 tracks on a 1991 Cinevox release (shouldering against tracks from three other Ursus film scores), Digitmovies has unearthed the film’s complete mono masters, proffering every note of the score in this handsome release.  The score is a splendid array of lilting melodies and surging battle music, featuring one of Ortolani’s loveliest romantic themes (and that’s saying a lot, since he wrote dozens of them).  Rolling timpani aggressive patterns of brass and strings drive the action vigorously, there is a stalwart military march and a cute scherzo for wildly flayed violins, while a main heroic theme for French horns is reprised throughout to ground the score in its musclebound heroism.  Cymbals and drums abound to create a sizzling energy to fight scene after fight scene, but the melodic primary themes continually reinforce the characters (thinly painted as they may be in the story), while low-end piano in high reverb creates a dark sonority of suspense, often in conjunction with tremolo chords of shimmering organ.  Despite the mono source material, the music retains a lively sound quality and is lively throughout the album’s 44-minute length.

VIETNAM IN HD and WWII IN HD/Various/Extreme Music
The compiled musical scores for these two History Channel documentaries, which gather high-definition video taken on the battlefields of World War II and the Vietnam War, have been released digitally to amazon, iTunes, and other providers.  The tracks are licensed from a variety of film and game scores and music libraries, and worked to create a powerful and compelling musical backdrop for the film clips compiled into these documentaries (both of which are available on DVD and Blu-Ray).  The tracks, averaging two minutes in length, include work by John Powell, Klaus Badelt, Steve Jablonsky, Atli Orvarsson, Jim Dooley, Geoff Zanelli, James Hannigan, Henning Lohner, Tyler Bates, and other familiar and not-so-familiar names (the original sources for most tracks can mostly be determined simply by googling the composer’s name and track title).  Each track has clearly been selected for its epic dramatic resonance, and each conveys a sense of the heroic, triumphant, or reflective that is suitable to the shows’ apolitical, you-are-there, boots-on-the-ground sensibility, portraying the soldiers and their struggles, fears, and courage.  Both soundtracks, then, comprise outstanding compilations of epic quality dramatic film music, richly eloquent and rhythmically powerful, and very evocative of the dedication, heroism, and sacrifice of soldiers in war.

WRECK-IT RALPH/Henry Jackman/Disney

With its affectionate fusion of a number of video games - in which the bad guy from a vintage 1980s arcade game quits his job and goes off into several other games on a quest to earn a hero’s medal – Henry Jackman has composed music that both works as a broad heroic action score and also includes many moments of homage and acknowledgement of the style of video game music over the last 30 years.  From the tinkling, 8-bit music associated with the arcade and Ralph’s primitive audio-visual game world, to the massive, epic action music during Ralph’s visit to the first-person shooter game Hero's Duty to the kid-friendly cuteness of the Sugar Rush candyland game world where most of the film’s final action takes place, Jackman breathes life into these cybernetic environments and gives Ralph both his bravado and his heart.   His music for “Life in the Arcade” is an enchanting mix of old-school synths and primitive keyboard soundscapes, forming a montage of the various game worlds existing behind the CRT screens of the arcade game consoles, moving into “Jumping Ship” as Ralph secretes his way out of his game and heads for freedom in another game.  “Rocket Fiasco” takes the arpeggiated symbiosis of “Jumping Ship” and carries it into a massive, orchestral battle scene, thoroughly delightful and wildly arranged.  The effervescent pop rhythms from the Sugar Rush game form the structure of “Royal Raceway” when Ralph finds himself fleeing from Hero’s Duty warrior woman and the hordes of insect-creatures who have followed him into the candyland race game.  “Candy Vandals” reprises the rhythmic pad as an action riff as Ralph commits mischief in the candy kingdom and meets up with a banished Sugar Rush race queen named Glitch.  “Laffy Taffies” proffers a chorale of singing candies in a charming scherzo of frothy melody.  The heartbreak of winning his hero’s medal only to realize he’s doomed his own gameworld is spoken in the hushed orchestrations of “Out of the Penthouse, Off to the Race;” its second half restores Ralph’s spirits as he realizes what he must do to set things right, and the music soars with renewed confidence and purpose.  “Sugar Rush Showdown” dazzles the climax with reprise of the candy world’s surging pop electronica, racing at full speed toward the assured victory and humiliation of the villain, after which “You’re My Hero” provides a poignant moment of redemption and reunion for Ralph.  “Arcade Finale” concludes the film with an anthemic, country-pop tune which summarizes the all-ends-well denouement, before seguing into a heavy rhythm of rock and old-school moogs to wind our way into the end titles. The soundtrack includes half a dozen obligatory songs, but fortunately they are sequenced at the start of the album, so if you want an uninterrupted listen to the exciting and eloquent score cues, begin with track 7 and you’re off to the races with a generous 19 score tracks.



Soundtrack & Music News

WaterTower Music has announced the release of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY on December 11th.  The soundtrack will be available both digitally and as a 2 CD set, featuring the original score by Academy Award winner Howard Shore recorded at Abbey Road studios by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Additionally it includes an original song entitled “Song of the Lonely Mountain,” written and performed by Neil Finn (Crowded House).  A Special Edition of the soundtrack featuring six exclusive bonus tracks, seven extended score cues, and deluxe liner notes will also be available December 11. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, the first of a trilogy of films from filmmaker Peter Jackson (THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy), will be released in the U.S. on December 14, 2012.
“I have looked forward to returning to the imaginative world of Middle-earth for quite a while,” says Shore. “I read all of the books by Tolkien, including The Hobbit, when I was in my twenties, and his deep love of nature and all things green resonates deeply with me.”

Perseverance Records’ latest releases in its budget reissue series include THE EXORCIST (the original Warner Bros album, not the unused Lalo Schifrin score), Benjamin Frankel’s BATTLE OF THE BULGE, John Williams’ THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, and Jerry Goldsmith’s CAPRICORN ONE.  These are straight reissues of the sold out records, without extra tracks, but all include extensive liner notes.
See: http://www.perseverancerecords.com

Monstrous Movie Music has its latest quartet of classic monster movie soundtracks available, which includes premiere releases of the scores to THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (Paul Sawtell & Bert A. Shefter), THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (Walter Greene), and MISSILE TO THE MOON (Nicholas Carras), and for the first time the complete score from Leith Steven’s DESTINATION MOON. All releases contain thorough liner notes by David Schecter.  See: http://www.mmmrecordings.com/

Dana Kaproff (WHEN A STRANGER CALLS) is back in action with a fine score to Bob Shapiro’s elegant documentary, GREGORY CREWDSON: BRIEF ENCOUNTERS.  The film follows the extraordinary photographer Crewdson through his creative process. A soundtrack release will be announced shortly.
For more information on the movie, see http://www.gregorycrewdsonmovie.com/

Lakeshore has released a soundtrack album for SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, which combines 10 score tracks from Carter Burwell with 9 songs from various artists.  Written and directed by Oscar-winner Martin McDonagh, the comedy film follows a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) kidnap a gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu.  Burwell’s brooding score lends an underlying darkness to the characters, emphasizing their criminal psychologies; even a brighter motif like “Billy’s Theme” is weighted down with a brooding atmosphere. 

“The score to SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS tries to accomplish two things, primarily,” said Burwell. “One is to make the characters as human and sympathetic as possible - or as one can make characters in a film titled SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS.  Because the reality of the story and of the characters is so often subverted and reframed, it seemed a worthy challenge to draw the audience into the characters' own hearts and minds and emphasize their emotional reality.  The other important goal for the score was to make the ending of the story redemptive,” Burwell explained. “Thus the musical theme that is used for The Quaker and The Vietnamese Priest does evolve in the end into the theme I called Redemption.  And hopefully the audience perceives this redemption as real and truly felt.”  Lakeshore’s soundtrack album is now available digitally and will be in stores on CD on November 20th.


Varese Sarabande will release Alexandre Desplat’s score to the animated fantasy adventure RISE OF THE GUARDIANS on November 13th.  The film is an epic adventure that tells the story of a group of holiday heroes (Tooth fairy, Jack Frost, Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus, who join forces for the first time to protect the hopes, beliefs, and imagination of children all over the world when an evil spirit lays down the gauntlet to take over the world.  Desplat’s wondrous and fantastical score is brimming with magic and adventure.  Also announced for Nov. 13th is Ramin Djawadi’s score to PERSON OF INTEREST, a thought-provoking crime action drama about an ex-CIA agent, presumed dead, who partners with a mysterious billionaire to prevent violent crimes.  The label has released the soundtrack to PARADE'S END, the story of a destructive love triangle set against the backdrop of a society on the brink of catastrophe during the advent of the First World War. Famous conductor Dirk Brossé (Star Wars: A Musical Journey) here contributes a beautiful original score, capturing the period of World War I and also the romance and drama of the relationships at the heart of the story.
See: www.varesesarabande.com

Shawn Clement’s film score for the 2006 crime thriller KARLA (aka THE DEADLY is now available for purchase as a digital download via his web site.  The score is a keyboard-and-percussion heavy score featuring an elegant piano theme and a variety of action/suspense material.
See: http://www.nimbitmusic.com/shawnclement

La-La Land Records and 20th Century Fox present the world premiere release of composer Andrew Belling’s original motion picture score to the 1977 animated cult classic WIZARDS, written and directed by Ralph Bakshi. For this still-timely, post-apocalyptic fantasy regarding a pint-sized wizard who saves the universe from fascist mutants, Belling conjures a dynamic mix of synth and live players, creating a one-of-a-kind musical soundscape that inventively melds dramatic narrative scoring with experimental rock, jazz and electronics. This special limited release includes the never-before-heard full version of the song Time Will Tell performed by Susan Anton.  Commentary notes by Randall Larson include interviews with Bakshi and Belling.

Mark Isham hasreturned this fall to score three television productions, two of which reunite him with film directors Frank Darabont and Gary Fleder. Darabont’sLA NOIRwas recently picked up by TNT for six episodes.To create an authentic 1950’s feel for Darabont’s period noir drama, Isham creates a score with a heavy jazz influence.Isham continues to score ABC's weekly series ONCE UPON A TIME with a full orchestra, and recently scored the pilot episode of the CW's newest series BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  Isham is also scoring the upcoming Jackie Robinson biopic 42.

Harkit Records has announced a new release of John Barry’s score to DR NO.  Commemorating the film and its soundtrack’s 50th anniversary, this unique reissue contains music from the original album release plus many of the cues that were not on that album culled directly from the film soundtrack. 

Paul Ferris's celebrated score for Michael Reeves’ 1968 classic WITCHFINDER GENERAL will be released on December 10th from Rough Trade.   It’s now available for pre-order:

Discques CineMusique announce their latest combo reissue soundtrack, with Victor Young’s music for three John Ford movies of the early fifties: RIO GRANDE / THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT / THE QUIET MAN.  Two of them are remastered reissues, while the third one, The Sun Shines Bright, appears for the first time on CD. Although shorter, this lesser known effort by Young has consistency and its share of grandeur.  While an earlier DCM release devoted to Young offered exotic scores (FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, GOLDEN EARRINGS, OMAR KHAYYAM), this one has an unmistakable American flavor. Hence, traditional repertoire and popular "western" songs of the era figure prominently in each of the scores.  In some cases the director himself asked the composer to integrate some of these melodies into his orchestral scores. 
See: http://www.disquescinemusique.com/

Kronos Records proudly presents the soundtrack release of IL FIGLIO DELLA SEPOLTA VIVA composed by Franco Micalizzi.  This little known Italian film from 1974 is perhaps not director Luciano Ercoli's best film to date however the music that Micalizzi gave the film makes it worth watching over and over again.  The music we are proudly presenting on this compact disc was never previously released, except from 2 of the cues on a very rare 7inch vinyl from 1974 on Beat Records.   The score is rich in suspense cues, scary moments and has one of the most beautiful melancholic themes Micalizzi ever composed.  This CD is limited to 500 copies; the first people to preorder this CD will receive as a bonus a booklet autographed by the composer.  Pre-Orders are now underway; the release is scheduled for December 23. 
Soundsamples available at: http://www.kronosrecords.com/catalogue.html

Aleph Records is proud to release Lalo Schifrin: My Life in Music, a four-CD boxed set of music from the legendary composer’s career in film, jazz, and classical music. The set features music from three-dozen films, jazz and symphonic pieces composed by Schifrin, spanning music from all aspects of his career from the early beginnings of his film music to the big hits that include MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, DIRTY HARRY, ENTER THE DRAGON, and BULLITT.  Also represented is music from his jazz and classical compositions including work commissioned by Dizzy Gillespie, as well as the Grammy-nominated Jazz Meets The Symphony series, and unreleased music from films including CHARLEY VARRICK, THE BEGUILED, JOE KIDD, and COOGAN’S BLUFF.  Along with more than five hours of music, a 48-page book is included with archival photos and notes.

Sony Music announces the release of Mychael Danna’s score to Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI, a journey of adventure and a tale of personal discovery based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel.  The soundtrack recording will be available from Sony Classical on November 19. LIFE OF PI takes place over three continents, two oceans, many years, and a wide universe of imagination.  Director Ang Lee’s vision, coupled with stunning 3D visuals, has turned a novel long thought un-filmable into a thrillingly audacious mix of grand storytelling and powerful and provocative themes.

This week La-La Land Records is releasing a soundtrack composed by one of the label’s liner note writers, Brian Satterwhite.  MAN ON A MISSION, featuring music by Satterwhite and John Constant, is a behind-the-scenes journey with video game legend, Richard Garriott, in his quest to become the first second-generation astronaut, from making his fortune to spending it ($30 million!) to reach the International Space Station via Russian rocket. From secret training in Moscow, to a rumbling launch from Kazakhstan, to 12 glorious days onboard the ISS, the adventure is captivating. And for the first time ever, a camera is rolling in the capsule during the fiery return to earth. The soaring music by Satterwhite and Constant is the perfect companion to this fascinating documentary. The release included notes by the composer and the filmmakers take the listener deep into the scoring experience as David Fein’s art direction shed some light on this in depth documentary score. See: http://www.lalalandrecords.com

Music Box Records has announced three new releases this month, including the world premiere release of George’s Delerue’s score for the Hitchcockian mystery thriller, THE HOUSE ON CARROLL STREET (1988).  Transferred from the original four-track session tapes, this high-powered and noirish score recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, is presented in stereo sound with around 35 minutes of pure Delerue: beautiful melancholy, darkly powerful and swirling strings, suspense scoring, tension with pulse-pounding chase music.  Also coming out from this French label is an anthology of music for short films composed between 1963 and 1973 by French composer François De Roubaix and a pair of soundtracks from Claude Bolling, LA GITANE (1986) and LE LÉOPARD (1984). All three albums will be released on December 5th, and may now be pre-ordered. See http://www.musicbox-records.com/

Widely recognized for nearly 20 years as Hollywood's pre-eminent producer of original music for motion picture trailers, music production company Immediate continues to innovate the genre of epic trailer music with the release of "Trailerhead: Triumph", the third chapter in the "Trailerhead" series of trailer music albums available through Imperativa Records. "Trailerhead: Triumph" is the most robust collection of the acclaimed trailer music album series, with over twenty tracks of anthemic, cinematic music that has been featured in many of today's biggest blockbuster trailers including THE HOBBIT, HARRY POTTER, TWILIGHT,  PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIAand many more.  
With the release of the original "Trailerhead" album in 2008, Imperativa Records and artist Immediate launched the 'trailer music' genre as a bona fide contemporary music category, with CD sales and downloads far exceeding those of most film soundtracks. "Trailerhead: Triumph" continues the tradition of featuring modern orchestral and choral compositions blended with contemporary electronics and synthesis. The album was recorded in the finest concert halls and studios worldwide, including the famed Abbey Road in London, and the featured tracks have since been heard by millions of people daily in cinemas and television. The "Trailerhead: Triumph" CD also includes two bonus tracks featuring up and coming remix artist Moniker fusing modern, cutting-edge dubstep with Immediate's signature orchestra and choir recordings. 
"Trailerhead: Triumph" is produced by Yoav Goren, the award-winning composer who celebrates 20 years at the helm of Immediate Music, the acclaimed Hollywood-based music production company. Immediate was recently honored with the Vanguard Award by the Hollywood Music In Media Awards, in recognition of its success as pioneering producers of trailer music. Goren has also won an Emmy Award for his compositions as featured in NBC's Olympic Games. 
"Trailerhead: Triumph" is now available on CD and digital download.
See: www.imperativarecords.com

The acclaimed score for THE ORPHANAGE won Spanish composer Fernando Velázquez a lot of fans around the world, and his current score for ORPHANAGE director J. A. Bayona’s THE IMPOSSIBLE has even more established the composer as one of the most talented film composers of his generation. MovieScore Media has released two of his previous scores, the large orchestral score for SHIVER and the chamber jazz score for GARBO: THE SPY, and now – after more than four years of preparations – present the world premiere recording of his score for SEXYKILLER, the Spanish horror action comedy from 2008 on its Screamworks label. Without any doubt, this is Velázquez’s most entertaining score to date, featuring his trademark big orchestral voice in conjunction with some surprising stylistic elements, heard specifically in the opening track. Reflecting the hilarious genre mix of the movie, the score features a lot of action writing, über-romantic love themes and spine-chilling horror orchestrations.
Sound bytes available at:


Games Music News

When the new Activision game Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 arrives on November 13, so does its soundtrack - the 49-track album includes Trent Reznor's theme and an epic score by Jack Wall.
Find it on iTunes or pre-order a Collector's Edition now of the game with the soundtrack cd: http://callofduty.com/blackops2/preorder

Sumthing Else Music Works, has released the original music score from Dragon's Dogma, Capcom's exciting new action role-playing game franchise. The music was composed by Tadayoshi Makino (Monster Hunter), Inon Zur (Dragon Age), Rei Kondoh (Devil May Cry 4) and Chamy Ishi (Devil May Cry 4). Dragon's Dogma Original Soundtrack will be released on November 13th to retail outlets and for digital download at.  Set against a high fantasy backdrop in a huge open world, Dragon's Dogma players challenge a fearsome dragon and set forth on an incredible journey to discover the mythical beast's secrets and end the cycle of destruction.  "The original concept for the music of Dragon's Dogma was music that the listener could physically feel, such as the rush of the winds and the pull of the tides, but I took care to not make each piece too assertive," said Tadayoshi Makino,the game’s main composer. "I thought by using the smaller pieces as accents, I would be able to make the all-important main theme that much memorable. I poured everything I had into expressing the splendor and uniqueness of the Dragon's Dogma world." 
For more information on Dragon's Dogma, visit www.dragonsdogma.com
For more information on Sumthing Else Music Works and its complete catalog of video game soundtracks, visit www.sumthing.com

MASS EFFECT: PARAGON LOST, the Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell) animated film adaptation of BioWare's blockbuster sci-fi video game series, will feature an original musical score composed by award-winning transmedia composers Joshua R. Mosley (Max Steel vs The Toxic Legion, Splosion Man) and David Kates (Mass Effect 1 & 2). "Our goal through all of this was always to find the deeper meaning, the humanity if you will - while also capturing that Mass Effect essence that we all know and love," commented Mosley and Kates. "We believe we have expressed that through the musical score and are very excited to share this with the Mass Effect fans."   The MASS EFFECT: PARAGON LOSToriginal soundtrack will be released by FUNimation Entertainment for digital download on iTunes and other digital music stores to coincide with the film's one-night-only theatrical screening on November 29th at various theaters across the country. Screening locations and showtimes may be found at http://masseffectparagonlost.com/screenings.
The Mass Effect: Paragon Lost Blu-ray/DVD Combo and DVD will be available on December 28th, 2012. For more information, see http://www.masseffectparagonlost.com. 



Randall D. Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine.  A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer.  He has written liner notes for more than 120 soundtrack CDs for such labels as La-La Land, FSM, Perseverance, Silva Screen, Harkit, Quartet, and BSX Records.  A largely re-written and expanded Second Edition of Musique Fantastique is being published: the first of this four-book series is now available.  See: www.musiquefantastique.com


Randall can be contacted at soundtraxrdl@gmail.com

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