Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2011-13
December 30, 2011

By Randall D. Larson

After graduating from Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music in 2004, German-born composer Frederik Wiedmann relocated to Hollywood, where he became a full time assistant to film composer John Frizzell starting in 2005.   Wiedmann learned his craft while apprenticing with Frizzell, although Wiedmann had begun to score short films and independent features, it was his co-composer credit with Frizzell on 2007’s horror film, BENEATH, that really got him started in a film composing career.  Later the same year he scored RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, the video-movie sequel to William Malone’s 1999 remake of the 1959 William Castle ghost thriller.  It was followed by THE HILLS RUN RED (2009), which helped to cement Wiedmann’s association with scoring horror films, which to date have included MIRRORS 2 (2010), HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS (2011), HOSTEL PART III (2011), and a pair of SyFy channel monster movies.  Through it all Wiedmann avoided pigeon-holing by scoring a dozen or so mainstream drama, comedy, and action films.  His latest effort is securing the composer spot for Warner Animation’s new super-hero show, GREEN LANTERN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, debuting next Spring (a one-hour preview was shown last Fall).
I spoke with Frederik recently and we discussed all of the above in detail.

Q: What drew you into film music and how did you get started?

Frederik Wiedmann: The thing that originally got me hooked on film music was John Barry’s score for DANCES WITH WOLVES. I was obsessed with Indians at the time which probably made me watch the movie over and over but it also made me fall in love with the music even more.  It was also the first soundtrack I ever owned. It made a big impact on me. The next pivotal moment for me was meeting a film composer who lived next door to a girlfriend of mine in a tiny little town called Augsburg in Germany, where to find a film composer is probably incredibly rare!  I began hanging out at his studio, watching him work.  That’s when I really realized that this was a job that people do, and that kind of blew my mind.  I had initially wanted to study jazz guitar but the gears shifted dramatically at that point, and began looking for universities that had film music courses.  There were very few at the time (now there's a lot more), but Berklee College of music seemed to be a good fit because I wanted to move to Los Angeles afterward.

Q: When did you make the move over here?

Frederik Wiedmann:  I started at Berklee in 2002, graduated in 2004, and then immediately moved to Los Angeles and started to work with John Frizzell. He and I have in working together ever since.  For the first three years I was his only full time assistant and I did all these big movies with him like THE REAPING, WHITEOUT, STAY ALIVE… All the horror movies that he's done since 2005 I've been involved with, in one way or another.

Q: How did that prepare you for your first composing work in BENEATH?

Frederik Wiedmann: I'm glad you brought that up – nobody asks me about this movie!  It was in fact my first feature, it was a collaboration between me and John, he was kind enough to let me co-score it with him, it was a huge amount of music, it was a Paramount movie and me, not having any credits as a composer at the time, John throwing me that film was really a great thing. It was a lot of fun, John and I really collaborated in a very good way and at that point I had done at least 10 movies with him so I did know the drill – I knew about surround sound and mixing, and knew about structuring a score in a certain way and figuring out the sound palette, recording musicians, all that stuff.  I was very much up to the task at that point, technically, because I had done it so many times with him.  But to actually get to write cues, hands-on, was an amazing experience. It came out great, the clients were very happy and that just led to the next thing, which was RETURN TO THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, which I did on my own for Dark House at Warner Bros. That was an amazing experience also, and then I just went along from there, one thing led to another.

Q: That film is a sequel to a remake of a classic 50s horror film. What kind of music were you asked to write or how would you describe your approach to creating a scary score with the instruments you had at hand?

Frederik Wiedmann: According to our discussions at the beginning, the big concept was that we wanted to continue the sound of the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL that Don Davis had done — not the 1950s version, but the 1999 version.   Now, obviously our budgetary restrictions were a lot more, and that had a big impact on us because we couldn’t use the big choir that Don had or his big orchestra. We could only record a string section over in Eastern Europe, and everything else we had to figure out using electronic elements. We didn't want to rely too much on synthesized orchestrated sounds or choir, which doesn't really work at all. So we had to figure out our own sounds. We did incorporate Don's main theme from the first movie in a few key places, but we didn't reference any of the 1950s movie at all and neither in the filmmaking or in the score. But we did want it to seem like a continuation of the 1999 version. Hopefully you didn't feel too far out of it. I don't know if you've seen the branching version that was released on Blu-ray – the cool thing about that version was that it was interactive: you can watch it and as the story progresses the film freezes and you can ask decide if the character go through this door or that door.  Depending on your choices people die in different places in the movie or even survive!  In the end, everybody dies in Reel 4… if you make a bad choice and in the movie just goes right to the end credits and it's only an hour long!  You have 96 completely different versions of the movie within that, depending on those different choices, and horror fans can literally sit there all night and go through the movie and see it in different ways. The music obviously had to transition from all these chapters into the other scenes, and that was a big challenge for us, from an audio standpoint. But it was a really fun experiment to try, and it did really well, the movie, people really dug the idea. And I'm very surprised they haven't done it again.

Q: Another sequel you scored was MIRRORS 2, which was a sequel to a film or Javier Navarrette had scored. Did the musical style of the first film affect you were doing?

Frederik Wiedmann: The story really has nothing to do with the first one; it's like its own thing. It's got the same kind of premise, in terms of your reflections trying to kill you, but it was not in any way a continuation of the story from the first movie. They just took the basic idea of the first one and made a new movie out of that.  Given the fact that was unrelated, we did want to try to do something on our own and so we had this idea to make this less of a traditional horror score with a lot of effects and ambiences and have it be more of a ghost story, using a lot more of these haunting, mysterious elements. That was a very exciting direction for me, because then I can really get going and figure out themes and cool instruments to use. We did an experiment with this vocalist who did a Bulgarian style solo vocal on a couple of tracks, impersonating the ghost girl who was trapped in the mirror, and we had a beautiful solo cello piece (on the soundtrack it's called “Eleanor's Lament”) which is a haunting, melodic piece of music which is very rare to hear it horror movies.

Q: Especially, this was 2010, and a lot of horror films at this point are being very sound-designy and you're not finding a lot of opportunities for melody or total suspense. How do you use your approach to create tension and suspense in this horror film?

Frederik Wiedmann: I am a big fan of melodies, themes, chord progression,  and harmony – things that just make the music more tangible to an audience as opposed to just being scary.  I always try my very best to infuse that as much as I can. Even in a slasher movie that is incredibly gruesome, like THE HILLS RUN RED, I still tried to have thematic material that recurs, because I think if you are able to establish themes in a horror movie and you're not taking away from the scary, I think you can make the story better, and you can make the audience more engaged into it as well, so it's always been my goal to do that in a horror film as much as I can.

Q: In a film like THE HILLS RUN RED, for example, what was your technique to create scary music and really ramp up the sense of spooky/scary and shock in a film like that?

Frederik Wiedmann: I can think of two specific instances where the counterpoint of something really sweet and intimate can make it even more scary. First of all, in the opening of the film, where the main actresses is singing a lullaby over a little child who is cutting his face, and later we repeat that same theme with a music-box type instrument when Babyface, the killer of this film, is searching in his smokehouse for the last surviving girl.  That’s another very gruesome and intense scene, but I played against it with this very cute little children's tune.  It can be very effective if used in the right place. I was one thing we did in a couple of scenes just to give it this really absurd counterpoint which I thought was very effective. Another thing is using a lot of aleatoric orchestral effects where the strings are playing very dissonant harmonies and clusters and different effects that feel very creepy but are still orchestral.

Q: Were you able to use live instruments on THE HILLS RUN RED?

Frederik Wiedmann: Yes we use an orchestra in Eastern Europe. I think there were about 42 people, so, pretty nice sized. Same as for MIRRORS 2, HOSTEL III, and RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. That's been the same ensemble really, for those movies.

Q: You scored a couple of films for the SyFy Channel, ARCTIC PREDATOR and TRIASSIC ATTACK. What were your experiences working with the sci-fi channel on these films?

Frederik Wiedmann: I love working on those movies, just because they are so exciting, and I'm always eager to see what they come up with next, especially when they're merging all these animals together and come up with new monsters. I wish I had done SHARKTOPUS! The two that I have done were both about scary creatures, ARCTIC PREDATOR was about an alien ice creature in Antarctica that kills these explorers, one by one, and then there was TRIASSIC ATTACK, which is about these dinosaur skeletons in a museum that come to life because of an Indian ritual and they go on a rampage. The musical possibilities for those are just endless and big and crazy and fun and exciting - you name it! You can throw everything into the mix and they let you do it because they want the movie to be that way. There is no such thing as “We want it to be subtle!”  And that's also the best for the movie, because they are designed to be a fun experience to watch. I had a great time working on those.  It was a challenge because they don't have that much time, it's usually about a 4 to 5 week schedule, and they need wall-to-wall music generally, so you're dealing with 67 to 74 minutes of score in a very short time, and a lot of it is action based, so that takes obviously a little bit more time.  I hope to do more in the future.

Q: Are those scores orchestra or electronic?

Frederik Wiedmann: it's a little bit of both.  The budgets, at least for the ones I've worked on, were on the low side, so we did not have money to hire a full orchestra. I always record a few people on top of it to give some human life to it as much as I can, but most of it is synthetic orchestral stuff. But it still sounds pretty good.

Q: What can you tell me about the score for ARCTIC PREDATOR?

Frederik Wiedmann: They temped the movie mostly with all Jerry Goldsmith, so it sounded very traditional, very much relying on brass and strings with very few woodwinds.  It was clear that they were after a pretty ballsy orchestral score, so I took that idea and I did my own thing. I had a couple tracks in there that had more weird ethnic instruments to give it more of the otherworldly flavor and more contemporary, perhaps. But overall it's a fairly traditional score.

Q: How did you treat the science fiction elements of the extra-terrestrial in ARCTIC PREDATOR?

Frederik Wiedmann: there's not really a musical thing that is otherworldly and represents that creature; it's fairly traditional so there wasn't a whole lot of room to do something really weird and out there.  In the opening, however, which shows you how the creature crashes on Earth, I used a very eerie background score featuring electric violin,  That gave it a weird intro, because at that point were still in space; everything beyond that point is happening on earth, so that's why we got back to a more traditional type of score.

Q: HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS is the ninth film in a long running series. What was your approach and what was your mandate when you first came in to that project?

Frederik Wiedmann: My approach was to try to fit into the HELLRAISER series as much as I could with my sound palette, so that meant it's going to stay fairly traditional. I incorporated some solo vocals which I think a few of the other ones have done, but it was pretty much a straightforward type of thing. They wanted it to be orchestral, they wanted it to feel like the other movies. There was a lot of room to develop thematic material, which was really great.  We recorded this crazy viola player who did some really interesting solo viola effects, which was something I'd never done before, but I think it worked great for this one.

Q: The interesting thing about the way this film is structured, is that it's not a linear story, it goes through a series of flashbacks and ultimately intersects the past with the present. Musically how do you treat the different time periods or time in environments in the film?

Frederik Wiedmann: I think if you listen very carefully you will find that the themes, especially the theme for the brother, Stephen, develops as he is becoming more evil.  It starts off very sparse – you just hear the two notes, and as the story progresses and you get closer to the revelation, the theme gets more polished.  I wrote my own Hellraiser theme, which opens the movie but then it also gets developed as all the pieces get put together, and becomes more fully flourished.  When we actually go to Hellworld you'll hear it for the first time in the full sequence.

Q: HOSTEL III is another sequel to a film you did not score.  What was your approach to this new film in the series?

Frederik Wiedmann: HOSTEL III is a different animal than HOSTEL I and II. The big thing is that it doesn't take place in Eastern Europe, it takes place in Las Vegas. The tag line is “Sin city just got a whole lot darker!”  I always thought Nathan Scott’s beautiful scores, which I really love, for HOSTEL I and II had a lot of Eastern European romantic flavor to it.  So with HOTEL III, that didn't apply to us anymore. We were much more in a very dark, inner-city American environment, so the music is a lot more intense, I think.  There's a lot more action in it than the other HOSTEL movies. Some of the music is very much in the sound design area – we wanted it to be very sci-fi and out there and trippy and weird. There is a lot of it that is very traditional orchestra that will maybe remind you of the first two HOSTEL movies, but overall it doesn't have that Eastern European vibe.

Q: Now how did you treat the Las Vegas environment in this film?

Frederik Wiedmann: There are a couple of source pieces of sort of imply Las Vegas, but we didn't really need to do that in the score itself.  There wasn't a need to express the place with the music. It was really more important to play the action and the emotion, bring out the horror, and all that.

Q: And now you're working on GREEN LANTERN THE ANIMATED SERIES which is an entirely different kind of thing for you. How do you get involved in that?

Frederik Wiedmann: I got involved in it through a very normal process, which is basically just demoing amongst other composers, and I was lucky enough to be selected to do this incredible show. They basically wanted people to pitch ideas on how they would score this. Bruce Timm, during the demo process, gave very specific guidelines on what to hit, what not to hit, and what the music should shift to at what point.  It was an interesting experience because when I saw these notes for the demo, I was thinking, “wow, that's a lot of detail.”  The musical gears shift every 5 to 10 seconds I'm somewhere else – I'm heroic and then I'm shifting to serious, then things shift to emotional.  That's the thing about animation that I wasn't really familiar with, not having done it in the past.  There is very little emotion in the faces because they aren’t that detailed; it's a fairly smooth surface. You see basic expressions but not nearly as much as you would see in a real person’s face, and so the music really has to dig in and pull out all the subtle things that may not be there visually. And that's a very exciting place to be for a composer. It's an amazing challenge, and I'm really having an awesome time composing for the show.  It’s a lot of fun to switch gears so much but it’s also very tricky, especially when you're trying to write this very traditional orchestral music that is thematic, and you want to keep some kind of a smooth continuity between those sections without it sounding too much like Mickey Mouse music.

Q: How big of an orchestra have you been able to use?

Frederik Wiedmann: We don't get an orchestra! I get about 4 to 5 players on each episode and I have a lot of different orchestral samples that I use.  We do our best to make it sound pretty big, regardless. We spend a lot of time in the mix and really sweeten up a few things for the live players to make it kick as much as possible.

Q: Did you also come up with the show's main theme?

Frederik Wiedmann: I did come up with the main theme, yes. I did the main theme and the end titles.

Q: What was your take on creating a hero theme for the Green Lantern?

Frederik Wiedmann: The direction they wanted was that it's got to be ballsy and heroic and emotional but it should not feel like traditional hero music. That was the big thing. They did not want another Superman theme or the kind of hero music you would immediately think of for a superhero.  The challenge was to compose something that sounds masculine, heroic, and it's got some emotional content but doesn't sound like traditional hero music. We came up with a theme that sounds like a waltz, it's in 3/4, that worked for them.   I think it's a pretty strong theme, and I’ve been able to use it many times.  I'm already scoring episode 10 right now, and we've been using it all over the place and it works fantastically.

Q: What's the main challenge for you to score an animated series like this?  What are you confronting as far as time, deadline and what you have to work with, to score to?

Frederik Wiedmann:  There are a couple of challenges. Time-wise it's fine, there's no big time crunch.  They're giving me as much time as I need to get it done in the best possible way, so I haven’t been rushed.  The challenges are mainly what I mentioned earlier with the pacing and the way the music shifts every few bars to something completely different. The other challenge is that the footage I'm getting is hardly ever finished.  Some of the animation is very, very raw and very much in the beginning stages, so I have to imagine what it will be. It gets easier as we go on because I know where they're taking it more and more as I'm seeing the finished episodes and realize what the rough footage is going to look like in the end.  But it has been challenging to work with something that has fairly little emotional depth. It’s important to look beyond that and really feel the emotion of the scene, even though it may not be there yet.

Q: Your scores for sci-fi and horror seem to have been most prominent, but obviously you've done other genres as well.  Looking back over the last five or so years since you came over here and started scoring these films, how you feel about the genre that you seem to be working a lot in? Are you comfortable in doing the genre pictures?

Frederik Wiedmann: I am very comfortable doing them. I really enjoy every single one of them. They always have something new that I can try to explore and work with, so every project has its own excitement for me.  Even though it may be another horror movie I still very much enjoyed working on it. I love diversity I’m interested in doing as many different things as I can get my hands on.  I know it's very easy to get pigeonholed here in this town as a horror composer or a sci-fi composer and that would make it progressively difficult to get other things, like comedies or dramas, but so far I've been very lucky to have a very balanced workload. The other movies that I have done in the other genres may not be as well-known but I very much enjoy scoring different things, so I'm hoping that things will keep going the way it has. I mean, GREEN LANTERN is a really interesting change of pace for me because I haven't really been doing big, epic orchestral music for any other shows. It's a really great shift for me. I'm hoping I'll get more work in that area, and other people will be able to hear that I can do that.  That's always the thing: how will you get everybody to hear the other side of you if you don't have the opportunity to do those kinds of movies?  GREEN LANTERN is a perfect example of that. Bruce Timm and Giancarlo Volpe, who are the executive producers that I work with every week, did not look at me as a horror guy or a sci-fi guy. They just like what I presented to them in my demo.  That was the key moment for them to have a meeting with me. If we’re given the chance, we might be able to pull something out of our sleeves you wouldn't expect.

Q: Was there ever a consideration of tying in the animated series music with the Green Lantern feature film?

Frederik Wiedmann:  No, none. I brought it up once with them, but they gave me the impression that they didn't want it to have anything to do with the feature film.  We have different characters – our Hal Jordan is an entirely different character than the Hal Jordan in the movie. He's a completely confident hero, he has no self-doubt, he’s even a little bit of a daredevil.  That's very different than the Ryan Reynolds character in the movie.  So is Kilowog, his sidekick. All the other characters that show up are very different from the feature film. They are very unique and I think original too. I watched the movie and I did listen to the soundtrack, and very much enjoyed James Newton Howard's work on the movie, but the score that we have is a lot more traditional. We don't have many of the rock guitars or electronic drums that were in the feature score. We kept it fairly organic and traditional for our purposes.


New Soundtracks Releases of Note

One of the most popular comic book super-heroes in Spain makes his long-awaited feature film appearance in this new Spanish heroic action film from director Antonio Hernández.  Luis Ivars provides a striking, epic-quality score that sits well among contemporary super hero scores without any real degree of mimicry, giving El Capitán Trueno some musical gravitas that is very much his own.  Ivars supplies a blazing main theme and accommodates the action sequences with exciting and thunderous (sorry) orchestrations, while adding a strong degree of compelling nuances through ethnic flavors (much of that associated with the Trueno and his sidekick’s search for the legendary Grail) and understated electronics (which contribute to the score’s sense of scary/spooky in cues like “Is He Going to Die?” and “Sigrid’s Spell.”  The music is not all glory and spandex, however; Ivars is very capable with some exceedingly dark energetic tracks, like “Mysterious Tunnel” and “The Great Troop.”  All of these elements complement each other nicely and give the bold and brassy main theme some interesting counter texture.  Definitely a score and a composer worth listening to. 
Music samples and a movie trailer: http://www.moviescoremedia.com/captainthunder.html

CONAN THE DESTROYER/Basil Poledouris/Prometheus
With this powerful new presentation of the complete score, Prometheus asserts the fact that, musically, CONAN THE DESTROYER is far from being CONAN THE BARBARIAN’s bastard stepchild.  It’s a broadly textured and sweeping evocation of the primitive majesty of Basil Poledouris’ first CONAN score, rendered on a fully wrought canvas of breathtaking sonic structure.  (say that five times fast…)  In the label’s follow-up to last year’s splendid new recording of Basil’s seminal CONAN THE BARBARIAN score, marvelously delivered by the City of Prague Philharmonic and chorus conducted by Nic Raine, producer James Fitzpatrick facilitates a thorough re-recording of the score.  Varese Sarabande had released the original soundtrack in 1984 (then reissued it on CD in 1992) with only half of the score’s full 60+ minutes of music.  Raine and company provide the full score in its entirety, including several alternate versions of primary tracks like the Main Title and the Dagoth Ceremony (with/without choir), plus 20-some minutes of Poledouris’ adapted score for Universal’s theme park live action Conan show added to the second disc.  It’s a rich and percussion-heavy score, taking several key themes from the first CONAN score (the main theme, the “orgy” motif co-written with his daughter Zoe, etc.) and developing them into a progressive, sweeping new sonic canvas that really serves the score well (Poledouris was unhappy with the original soundtrack recording of the DESTROYER score and, prior to his death, was excited with the prospect of having it re-recorded properly.  We should be too; this is one of the finest re-recordings of the year and a superlative restoration of an outstanding heroic fantasy-adventure score.  Both of these scores beg for a concert tour.  Frank DeWald goes over the history of the film and its score in his album commentary; James Fitzpatrick adds a Producer’s Note about the restoration and recording of this new performance.

THE DARKEST HOUR/Tyler Bates/Lakeshore
Lakeshore has released Tyler Bates’ latest score, for the 3D sci-fi thriller THE DARKEST HOUR.  The movie tells the story of five young people who find themselves stranded in Moscow, fighting to survive in the wake of a devastating alien attack. Bates imposes a primarily synthetic score of unrelenting darkness, painting the conflict and the invading aliens in a desperate mélange of tonal and atonal sound.  “This music reflects the headspace of our survivors as they navigate their way through an alien-infested Moscow,” Bates said of his musical approach to the film. "The score is largely electronic – comprised of a palette of modular synthesizer experiments and propulsive rhythms featuring a vintage Synare [an electronic drum] at its core. Its atonal voice is an extension of the eerie electrical sound design that often makes one’s hair stand on end.”  Bates designed a score utilizing nontraditional instrumentation.  He described “The decision to make this journey without the aid of choir and brass melodies required me to delve deep into the complexity of the non-orchestral aspect of the music in effort to convey the essence of Moscow’s desolate streets through sound and music. The vast expanse of a micro-waved Moscow, void of human life, allowed for emotional themes to be stated entirely with solo instruments.”  Shifting strata of synths in low tonality and often extreme reverb quake and scrape against each other amidst a rattling percolation of the Synare, punctuated by heavy, industrial drumming, processed natural sounds (musique concrete), and faint, sampled voices create a brutally alien and despairing sonic environment. The score is a crashing air craft carrier, scraping against granite monoliths, grains of each creating dappled textures that flake off into the distance.  The film benefits from this musical sound design but it does make it a very awkward listen apart from the film.  “Metro Shred” develops an accessible forward rhythm, “Say Goodbye” steps apart from the metallic grinding to proffer a reflective sympathy for the characters as they reflect on those lost in the Moscow invasion, and the final track, “Looking Forward,” at last emerges from the confines of the sonic grime of the oppressive alien conflict to finally celebrate a moment of hope, the music brightening with plucked instruments and ascending synths, and heroic drumming to herald a new day and hope for survival.  This last track is a thoroughly engaging work, likably orchestrated, and a satisfying and epic resolution after so much oppressive darkness.  But most of the rest is extremely difficult to listen to on its own.

FILM MUSIC 2011/Silva Screen
In this, the fifth installment of Silva’s film music “Year Book” concept, we have a representative of a dozen significant tracks from last year’s film music output, at least as far as big Hollywood movies are concerned.  Vividly performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic and the London Music Works, tracks from THOR, WAR HORSE, SUPER 8, ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, IMMORTALS, and others provide a generous overview of 2011 blockbuster film themes.  The performances are earnest, especially that of “Mermaids” from Zimmer’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES, and a particularly pounding interpretation of “It’s Our Flight” from Jablonsky’s TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON.  Even though I have the original soundtracks of these tracks, I always enjoy Silva’s year-end recaps for their faithful if concise synopsis the some of the year’s best film tracks.

LOST IN KINO/Ljova/Kapustnik Records
Noted for his eclectic soundscapes, composer/arranger/violist Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin (son of acclaimed Russian film composer Alexander Zhurbin) has composed film scores and contributed to film soundtracks since the early 2000s.  This is his third compilation of music he has written for films, including tracks from Copolla’s YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH, Robin Hessman’s award-winning documentary MY PERESTROIKA, Josef “Birdman” Astor’s documentary LOST BOHEMIA, the Russian dark comedy BLACK LAMB, and others.  The collection is divided in half in the manner of a 2-sided record album, with 13 “bright and sunny” tracks on “Side A” followed by ten gloomier tracks on “Side B.”  Russia-born and Julliard-trained, Ljova’s film music is largely the kind of folk-based music he performs as a violinist, most prominently acoustic eastern European styled music, and many of the tracks in this collection are performed by the Gypsy party band Romashka.  Lost In Kino is by no means traditional film music, but it’s a provocative and engrossing mix of acoustic string-based illustrative music.  His music is flavored by a wealth of European folk traditions and, while not necessarily dramatically inclined, postulates a range of moods in its deceptive simplicity. It’s almost entirely instrumental, one of two exceptions being the raucous closing vocal “The End (Baby You Gotta Get Up!”) energetically sung by Sarah Natochenny (POKEMON) from Lev Polyakov’s animated short, FANTASTIC PLASTIC.  “I wrote my first short film score in 2000, for the late actor/director Andrew Koenig,” said Ljova.  “Since then, I have worked with probably two dozen directors on a mix of features, documentaries, shorts, and animation. While some of the films have gone on extensive festival tours, winning awards (including some of best music) and securing distribution, many were not widely seen.  In compiling this album, I tried to find the music that best worked on its own, that could easily find a home in another context, and music I would miss too much, if by some misfortune the film itself were unjustly forgotten.”  The music is very worth exploring.
For more information and to watch videos featuring Ljova’s music, see www.ljova.com

THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN/John Morgan & William Stromberg/Creature Features
Larry Blamire’s 2008 sequel to his masterful 2001 spoof of cheap-and-cheesy ‘50s B-movies, THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, is a wonderful parody, arguably funnier than the original.  With a larger budget, Blamire dispenses with the cheapness and lets the film proceed in the style of a proper ‘50s B-movie, with hilarity erupting from the earnestly over-the-top performances from the cast.  The b&w photography is crisp (turning to color when the story gets into the Amazon jungles), photography (wonderful use of tilted “Dutch angles”) is great, and special effects are effective and fun (making good use of foreground miniatures) except when they are intentionally cheesy (the monster suits are hilarious).  In place of the cheesy library score that adorned the first film like so much sparkling tinsel, Blamire licensed music from film music dynamic duo, Morgan & Stromberg, who in addition to restoring and recreating so many classic film scores of yesteryear for Marco Polo and Naxos CDs, have also jointly and singly scored a couple dozen films.  Their music for LOST SKELETON RETURNS is not an original score, but comprised (like library music) from several films our duo scored in the ‘80s (Blamire and the composers describe all this on the digipak’s fold-out package). Most of it came from a 1987 parody of Saturday afternoon matinees called FLICKS in which the composers parodied a variety of ‘50s movies, and all of it served to create an extremely powerful Herrmannesque score for RETURNS.  The tracks are presented here in the order they appeared in the film, except that rather than being edited to fit the specific scene timings, the full length cues are included.  In addition to those 17 tracks, we are also presented with 27 tracks containing nearly the complete original music to FLICKS itself. All of this is wonderful music – bot cartoon music nor humorous music, but earnest miniature scores honestly written and performed in the style of matinee features-of yesteryear.  The music is wholly orchestral with very minimal synth embellishment, and with a dominant Herrmannesque sensibility throughout. One of my favorite scores of the year – this is definitely worth picking up and relishing.  Slowly…

MAN TO MAN/Patrick Doyle/MovieScore Media
Patrick Doyle’s marvelous, epic score to this 2005 feature film about a group of anthropologists who hunt and capture pygmies in an attempt to illustrate the link between man and ape finally comes to the light of laser playback from MovieScore Media, the tenth entry in the label’s “Discovery Collection.” The film takes place in 1870, allowing Doyle’s music to resonate with an eloquent 19th Century classicism, portraying the drama, character interaction, and excitement of the story in a broad and traditional musical canvas.  Enriched by a sumptuous performance by the London Symphony Orchestra.  “Exquisite orchestrations, elegant counterpoint (a trademark asset in Doyle’s music), and engaging rhythmic writing makes MAN TO MAN one of the composer’s finest works, crowned by a magnificent main theme,” said album producer Mikael Carlsson.  The film’s director, Régis Wargnier, said of Doyle’s score: “When I hear the richness, the variety of themes, I know how much he loved the film. I think he felt closer to this one than to the others, doubtless because it’s an English movie, so he perceived all the nuances.”  Doyle’s score is configured to the attitude of the anthropologists, whose British pride prevents them from viewing the pygmies as anything but primitive, half-apes, far down the evolutionary scale.  The music illustrates this most explicitly in the very classically British-styled main theme, introduced in “Paying the King,” where the team purchases a group of pygmies and brings them back to England for study.  Little by little, the theme loses its pride and its formality, emerging at the end in “The Return of Likola” as a generously emotive wash of warmth as the scientists recognize the shared humanity of their pygmy captive and bring him back home.  The score is abundant in melody and vigorous drama in Doyle’s finest style.  Action scenes such as “Pygmy Chase” are invigorated by Doyle’s beautifully propulsive rhythms; his waltz-like accompaniment for “The Kidnapping of Likola” is a marvel of serene aggression.  Striking dramatic moments like “Alexander Cut” and “Catching Elena” are pierced with fluidly strident orchestral punctuation, while fraught with emotive expression at the same time, as is the magnificent epic flourishes of “In the Snow.”  The score’s thematic journey accompanies the story from the arrival in South Africa, where primitive drums and blasts of brass set up a scurrying cadence (“Main Title and The Rapids”), through various nuances of exploration, discovery, and understanding.  The album opens with a 4:28 suite, working over the score’s main elements in a nicely condensed musical format, and ends with “Monkey Waltz,” a stately waltz that reflects the earthy freedom of “The Kidnapping of Likola” through the formality of a drawing room chamber group. It’s a thoroughly engaging and engrossing composition.
Music samples and a movie trailer: http://www.moviescoremedia.com/mantoman.html

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL/Michael Giacchino/Varese Sarabande
With J.J. Abrams among the nearly a dozen members of the producer team, Michael Giacchino came in to assume the musical reins of this fourth MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE feature (I haven’t seen it yet but I’m told it’s the best yet), and provides an excellent score.  Liberally sprinkling orchestral variations of Lalo Schifrin’s original M:I TV theme throughout the score, Giacchino’s music is energetic and propulsive, if some of the action music is a bit mundane – familiar rhythmic punchy brass over furious drumming (“Out For a Run”), typical aggressive interplay between strings, brass, and electric guitar (“Launch Is On Hendricks”), the Zimmeresque rhythms that populate the second half of “From Russia With Shove”.  The score’s best moments occur when Giacchino has the chance to open up his melodies and extrapolate honest emotive material out of the excitement – the hearty Russian choir introduced in “Kremlin With Anticipation,” the sultry and pensive spy-music of “In Russia, Phone Dials You” complete with Schifrinesque bongos and bass underlying whispers of the M:I theme from strings, piano, and flute, the measured  orchestral interactions of “Railcar Rundown,” the captivating orchestra swells in “A Man, A Plan, A Code, Dubai,” the progressive ethnic flavorings of “Mood India” which become lavish layers of sitar, tablas, orchestra, and electric guitar, culminating in a waterfall of Schifrin’s M:I riff.  “Putting The Miss in Mission” concludes the adventures lets Giacchino’s very pretty and delicate love theme express itself earnestly, before a “Out With A Bang Version” if the M:I theme blazes through the end credits.

THE RUM DIARY/Christopher Young/Lakeshore
Christopher Young reunites with his director from JENNIFER 8 in Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s debut novel.  Johnny Depp, who played Thompson so brilliantly in 1998’s FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, plays Thompson’s character, itinerant journalist Paul Kemp, who travels to the pristine island of Puerto Rico to write for a local newspaper. The score is saturated with a ‘50s era jazz, providing the proper beatnik vibe to Thompson’s story while also creating the environment as it was some sixty years ago; the score is greatly influenced by the large jazz bands of the 50s and 60s.  “It’s ‘50s jazz score,” Young told me in an interview last May.  “It’s like The Rat Pack set with strings and a jazz group.  I’ve tried to give it that dated quality, and there are some tunes that reflect Puerto Rico, where the film takes place, as it may have sounded in the ‘50s.  There’s also some New Orleans dirty blues stuff.  It’s a lot of tunes in song form, with some improvisation – not a lot of legitimate underscoring.”   Young used to be a jazz drummer, and he can swing a jazz vibe with confidence; the album is a compelling and quite provocative assortment of trumpet- and percussion-inflected nightclub jazz that underlines the setting and era across which the story plays out.  It’s also a highly varied collection of music, from the sultry saxophone allure of “Flagged Me Smiling” and “Rockin' on Rooster (With My Dead Monkey's Mother),” the Latinesque acoustic guitar and saxophone wash of the main title tune and “My Car the Cockroach” and the hearty stomp “Black Note Blues” with its gravely vocals, the Neal Hefti swing of “Hefti-Tefti” and the sumptuous vibe-and-piano carnality of “Neon Popsicles,” the Schifrinesque “Whacking a Salesman” to the rocking, quasi bossa-nova strut of “Desperate Drunks and Postcard Loons,” the score is, well, intoxicating.  A couple of tracks, notably “Sweat Bee” and “Chenault,” apply very poignant sensibilities and serve as dramatic touchstones for the score, while the others enrich the texture of the film with sizzling and sensuous vibes. Young’s music is present on 18 of 24 tracks; the balance include two sizzling blues-rock instrumentals from Depp’s group, The JD Band (good stuff!), and a quartet of songs, including Dean Martin’s signature tune, “Volare,” which opens the movie.

SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND/Shirley Walker/La-La Land
Created by Glen Morgan and James Wong, SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND (1995-96), was a mature science fiction TV series cancelled by its network before it ever really had a chance to catch on.  While intended for a five-year arc, the show ran for a single season, but earned both Emmy and Saturn Award nominations.  In the classic ensemble style of an old fashioned war drama, the show focused on a squadron of Marine pilots involved in a war against alien invaders. Unusual even for a network series, composer Shirley Walker was able to score the show with a sizeable orchestra, which greatly added to the tonal resonance of the music as well as the emotional impact of the show.  Scoring all 23 episodes of the series, Shirley’s score captured a military precision and yet went far beyond the expected sensibility of a wartime drama, investing the series with an emotional depth that really enhanced its character interactions and sense of teamwork as the “Wild Cards” squadron faced an ongoing alien assault and other threats.  A couple of primary themes delineate the Wild Cards and the peril imposed by the extra-terrestrial Chigs, but the scores do not rely overly on theme-and-variation, as episodes inspired a variety of stand-alone music suitable for action, suspense, and drama; resulting in a listening experience that is more than simply a collection of cues, but a progressive composition that follows many arcs and works as a single extended composition.  Producers Nick Redman and Mike Joffe serve up a fine assortment of tracks that give both show and score its musical due: 110 tracks across three discs, with generous helpings of score from 17 episodes plus the pilot, main title demo and several variants, and a suite of commercial bumpers, all of which really expresses the score’s essentials, nuances, and subordinate layers very well.  Jeff Bond supplies an extensive historical analysis of both the show and Shirley’s music in the 28-page booklet, nicely designed by Mark Banning.  “It’s the work of a composer with enormous skill and great heart,” wrote Bond, “…and despite her many great achievements in film and television, the ambition of the series and Walker’s approach to it are arguable the finest work in Walker’s impressive and far too short career.”

A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS/William Ross/Varese Sarabande
In this, the third Harold and Kumar “stoner comedy,” the two estranged friends who embark on an adventure to find a new Christmas tree after Kumar destroys the original.  William Ross steps up to the podium to score the bud’s 3D exploits in this latest film (David Kitay and George S. Clinton scored the previous two H&K films), and provides a stirring score that carefully walks the chalk line between playing it straight and taking a pratfall.  The music occupies three dozen mostly short tracks; it isn’t comic music, but Ross does play up the comical antics of the duo in his lighthearted and breezy motif for the pair.  Several tracks necessarily cover well-known Christmas music, but the bulk of the score consists of earnest dramatic music, while perhaps demonstrating a compositional tongue in check, strengthens the film’s comedy by playing the situations and the heart of the characters honestly.  Most of the primary characters are introduced with carefree, “antic” type music; we first “Meet Kumar” via a carefree tune for vibraphone and hand drums, and when we “Meet Harold,” despite a briskly adventurous opening from heartfelt French horns and oboe, we are greeted with the same styled music; same when we “Meet Adrian” and “Meet Vanessa.”  Ross is giving these characters the kind of brisk, frivolous music that will endear them to the audience, while circumstances and situations are developed more dramatically; that motif is morphed into new shapes when necessary, as in the addition of a sultry electric guitar in “Massage,” the classical string figures, brass pulses, and pounding drums of “Black Ice” (merging into a confluence of discotesque dance rhythm section), the cyclonic scherzo that erupts at the end of “Santa’s Magic Joint,” and the sexed-up organ, guitar, and drums of “Video Message.”  But it’s the dramatic (albeit humorously dramatic) cues that are the most engaging on the album.  “Eggtion” is a fiercely propulsive cue for flailing strings, pounding timpani and snare, and blasting brass counterpoint, bridged by a very ethnic female vocalization; “Perez Story” ruminates across an evocation of old world Lantinesque for Harold’s prospective father-in-law, with a hint via flutes and electric guitar that despite his old-school traditions, Perez (Danny Trejo) is sharp as a machete.  “Roldy Roll” is an action-movie progression of rhythmic strings and drums, embellished by pulses of low brass and flurries of ethnic flutes as it rolls to its energetic climax. “Segei Katsov” is a fun play on a Russian march, the wonderfully multifaceted “Kidnaped/Hug It Out” cycles through the variegated bristles of powerful full orchestra, tense and reflective atonal designs for cymbals and percussion, a sultry and reverb-heavy riff for electric guitar, and finally a poignant soliloquy for reflective strings and winds (at 2:50, the score’s longest track).  “Wafflebot Rescue” is a triumphant victory cry for full-on orchestra; “Operation Santa” morphs through the main “antic” theme to emerge into a dizzying draft of energy from strings and drums, with just a momentary hint of sleigh bells, and then back to where it started.  “Flight with Santa” is a, well, soaring arrangement of the main theme that resolves all that has gone before in a bit of warm sentimentality.  Despite the brevity of most of the cues it’s a fun ride.


Soundtrack & Music News

Michael Kamen’s final film score, for the 2004 German animated fantasy BACK TO GAYA will be released on CD and online by Swedish soundtrack label MovieScore Media on January 24, 2012. Kamen died in the midst of working on the score, which was completed based on his sketches by a team headed by Kamen’s long-time associates Steve McLaughlin (producer/recording engineer) and Christopher Brooks (producer/music editor). "Although Michael had been suffering from MS for a few years before he passed away, his death came as a terrible shock and surprise,” said McLaughlin. ”He had only completed a few sketches of the GAYA score, and we hadn’t had a chance to talk about how he thought it would be produced. I had an idea of how we might finish it. Over the years I worked with Michael, I remembered many sketches that Michael thought had value, but that we’d never used, or given any prominence to, in a film. I thought we might find more music for BACK TO GAYA in that archive.” Committed to fulfill the vision of Kamen, complementing the music he had written specifically for BACK TO GAYA with a selection of his unused compositions from previous film projects, Kamen’s team of producers, orchestrators and additional composers, finalized the score to fit the film perfectly. Elaborate research and skillful additional composition, arranging and orchestration by team members such as Ilan Eshkeri (now a prominent film composer in his own right) and Robert Elhai (Kamen’s lead orchestrator for many years) resulted in a soundtrack that is pure Kamen, according to the album producer, Mikael Carlsson. ”Although Michael wasn’t there to actually tailor the music to the picture, you can hear his voice in every single bar, every nuance, every phrase of the score. It is very melodic, highly emotional, elegantly orchestrated with extremely clear voice leading, sometimes intensely energetic but also often restrained and refined.” In honor of the late maestro, MovieScore Media will share a portion of revenues generated by the album with Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which was founded by Michael Kamen in 1996 as his commitment to the future of music education.

Word has it that Thomas Newman will be scoring the newest James Bond movie SKYFALL. The online James Bond movie website MI6 has reported that Newman will be scoring the new Bond film, due out later this year. Newman has been a long-time collaborator with SKYFALL director Sam Mendes, having scored four of the directors other films: AMERICAN BEAUTY, ROAD TO PERDITION, JARHEAD, and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. Regular series composer David Arnold, who has scored five James Bond entries from TOMORROW NEVER DIES through QUANTUM OF SOLACE will be busy in 2012 as he is the London Olympics musical director. Arnold took over the mantle of resident composer from John Barry and took the essential elements of Bond and updated them for the 90s by incorporating driving rock rhythms and the use of modern technology in the production.
- via mi6-hq.com, via http://filmmusicreporter.com/

Worth reading: Jon Burlingame calls for reinstatement of Oscar's "adapted score" category in his overview of the Academy’s strict rule-abiding process concerning best score. “With all the criticism that the Academy music branch gets, the one thing that everyone can agree on is this: They follow their own very strict rules,” Burlingame writes, adding: “However, a variety of observers say that maybe the rules themselves need modification -- especially when it comes to ‘adapted scores,’ which are no longer eligible under Academy's mandate. Or ‘partial scores,’ which never have been.” Read the whole story at http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118047857?refcatid=13

On January 30th, Silva Screen will release a CD and digital soundtrack album of the acclaimed musical score for SHERLOCK, BBC1’s contemporary remodeling of the Arthur Conan Doyle classic Sherlock Holmes, screened over three ninety minute episodes: A Study In Pink, The Blind Banker and The Great Game.   The music, by David Arnold and Michael Price, was nominated for a BAFTA (Best Original Television Music for episode “A Study In Pink”). Silva’s release will coincide with the return of the multi-award winning drama with a second series of three new ninety minute films. 
(See my December 2010 column for an interview with Michael Price about the SHERLOCK score, and more)

Summit Entertainment will release Henry Jackman’s music for action thriller MAN OF A LEDGE digitally on January 17, 2012 by and on CD on February 7. To pre-order the CD, visit Amazon and click here to check out audio clips from the album. – via http://filmmusicreporter.com/

2M1 Records will be releasing Music For Murder, a new album featuring 15 tracks of dark, atmospheric, experimental and cinematic music tracks from Chris Alexander, Fangoria magazine’s editor and a filmmaker and musician/composer in his own right.  Many of the album’s tracks are culled from Alexander’s film and multi-media work. Using analog synthesizers, electric guitars, found instruments, vocal effects and minimal computer interference, Alexander’s music is designed to be listened to in the dark (…or while reading the latest issue of Fango).
For more info on Alexander, see: http://chris-alexander.ca
For more info on 2M1 records, see: http://www.2m1records.com/

On Jan. 24th, Varese Sarabande will release Cliff Eidelman’s “sweeping and lush symphonic score” to the family adventure, BIG MIRACLE, which is about a small town news reporter and a Greenpeace volunteer who are joined by rival world superpowers to save a family of majestic gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle. On Feb 7th, Varese will issue James Horner’s BLACK GOLD, Ramin Djawadi’s SAFE HOUSE, and Robert Folk’s music for Roland Joffé historical drama of the Spanish Civil War, THERE BE DRAGONS: SECRETOS DE PASIÓN.

Italian specialty soundtrack label digitmovies has released new soundtracks to TENTACOLI (Stelvio Cipriani), ZORRO (Guido & Maurizio De Angelis), FINCHÉ C'É, C'É SPERANZA (Piero Piccioni) and CHI SEI? (Franco Micalizzi).

MovieScore Media has released the soundtrack to the new fantasy film, HIDEAWAYS, composed by Award-winning composer Eric Neveux, whose beautifully melodic and harmonically rich orchestral score serves Agnès Merlet’s acclaimed fantasy drama very well. Essentially a love story, the film is about a young man who possesses an extraordinary power which ultimately forces him to retire to the depths of the forest.  Neveux’s music for the film underlines its fantastic elements and gives the story the musical form of a darkly romantic fairy-tale. “People may compare the writing and approach to that of many fine Danny Elfman scores – but with a distinct European voice, more fully developed thematic ideas and perhaps somewhat more economic orchestrations,” wrote the label. The first edition of the CD is limited to 500 copies.

Naxos has released a new recording of Dmitry Shostakovich’s score for the 1929 film NEW BABYLON.  One of the composer’s most inventive and symphonic film scores, it’s been a frequent entry in compilation albums – but at last here we have the first complete recording of all of the music as it survives on Shostakovich’s manuscript, as well as the first to use five solo string players for its string section as originally conceived by the composer. The new recording appears on 2 CDs performed by the Basel Sinfonietta, conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald.

Perseverance Records has re-released the score for EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, composed by Ennio Morricone.  This soundtrack is the first release in Perseverance's new series of low-price reissues.  The release replicates the original 1977 Warner Bros LP release with added album notes by yours truly.

Lakeshore Records has released Craig Richey’s score to the mystery-drama, ANSWERS TO NOTHING; The album also contains 8 song tracks from various artists mixed among the score cues.

Kronos Records has released AFRICA TO-DAY, a library music collection of tracks by Italian composer Pieri Umiliani. The pieces of this collection blend jazz, funk, world music and progressive rock with percussive breaks, marimba solos, piano riffs and moog licks in a state of the art performance by Umiliani and his orchestra. The tracks were previously issued between 1971 and 1975 on three privately issued vinyl LP's on Umiliani's own label.  Also released were two Piero Piccioni scores on a single disc, TEMPTATION (1968) and LA FIGLIA DEL CAPITANO (1965). 


Games Music News

Kotaku, the wildly popular and credible video game site, has named the LittleBigPlanet 2 game as having one of the best video game soundtracks of the year in their recent "Best Game Music of 2011" summation. Blogger Kirk Hamilton singled out the work of composer Winifred Phillips, whose original music gave the game much of its soul, expanding the emotional wallop and excitement of the licensed songs and cues incorporated into the game soundtrack. For more on composer Phillips, see: http://winifredphillips.com/

Kotaku has also posted their annual Reader’s Choices for best game scores: http://kotaku.com/5872163/the-best-game-music-of-2011-readers-choice

Sumthing Else Music Works has released a limited edition green vinyl version of 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. The limited edition green vinyl soundtrack (2,000 units) includes a digital download code for the entire full-length album and is now available at retail outlets and through Sumthing else Music Works www.sumthing.com.
The richly atmospheric score, featuring a splendid integration of orchestra, choir, and electronics, is also available on CD and digital from Sumthing Else.
For more information on Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, please visit www.xbox.com/haloanniversary and

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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