Soundtrax: Episode 2013-10
December 8th, 2013
By Randall D. Larson
Alex Heffes – Scoring the Journey of Nelson Mandela
British composer Alex Heffes has written a score full of passion and perseverance for Justin Chadwick’s MANDELA – LONG WALK TO FREEDOM; in this interview he explains how the score came together and what evoked his inspiration.
Composer to Watch: Bartosz Chajdecki – Scoring Modern Films in Poland
Best known for his eloquent scoring of the Polish WW2 TV series, TIME OF HONOR, Bartosz describes his approach to scoring and the difference between composing films in Hollywood and Poland.
Soundtrack reviews this month include: John Williams’ elegant THE BOOK THIEF, Henry Jackman’s propulsive CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, Mark Kilian’s fun romcom score EXPECTING, James Gelfand’s cool music for cheesy sci-fi, EXPLODING SUN, Benjamin Wallfisch’s psychological portrait HOURS, Ludek Drizhall’s delineation of disillusionment BADLAND, plus preserved and expanded Italian scores from Cipriani and Morricone, classic 50’s B-movie music from Paul Dunlap, music for animated YOUNG JUSTICE, and the poignant music of THE BUTTERFLY’S DREAM.
R.I.P. Nelson Mandela. Your like may not be seen on this earth again for a long time.
British composer Alex Heffes has written a score full of passion and perseverance for Justin Chadwick’s MANDELA – LONG WALK TO FREEDOM; in this interview he explains how the score came together and what evoked his inspiration.
British composer Alex Heffes has written a score full of passion and perseverance for Justin Chadwick’s MANDELA – LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, which opened with a limited engagement on November 29, with its wider opening scheduled for Christmas Day. Largely influenced by the striking performance of Idris Elba (PACIFIC RIM, THOR) in the title role, Heffes wrote over 90 minutes of original music for the movie.
Traveling to South Africa, Heffes recorded choir vocals and South African singing legend Caiphus Semenya’s own voice to depict Mandela’s passing into manhood as a young boy and ultimately reprising this theme for his inauguration as South Africa’s first black president. Heffes also recorded driving African percussion to underscore the years of activism and Mandela’s years on the run in the movie. He used South African percussion and vocals for the early years, and then moved into developing more orchestral themes as way of telling the human story. The orchestral score was recorded score at London’s Abbey Road with a 65-piece orchestra that included South African violinist David Juritz. Heffes also performed piano on the film’s score. Heffes’ goal in scoring this film is for the audience to come away having truly felt something – to feel the love of family, to try to convey despair and loss – the darkness and emotional emptiness when home seems lost and ultimately to feel uplifted. His aim was for the music to guide the audience through this emotional journey and come away with a joy for what this story can inspire in us.
Interviewed while he was in Los Angeles on Nov. 25, Heffes described his approach to scoring this film, as well as another recent historical drama, EMPEROR.
Q: When you first got involved with MANDELA, what was your thought process as far as what it needed musically?
Alex Heffes: The love story at the center of the film between Nelson Mandela and his second wife Winnie was very core of the music, which got me to thinking about how I should navigate through the film. Obviously there’s the apartheid and the struggle and the reparation of the country – that’s the backdrop against which the family life and the personal life of the man and the people close to him are played out. The music is quite intimate in places, as I was trying to score that relationship and how the incredible events of the politics swirling around them actually influenced the private life of the people involved. That was my starting point.
Q: How do you plan to integrate the different elements in the score, the African and the orchestral music, to create a truly emotional background for the picture?
Alex Heffes: It took a bit of planning. I had many conversations with a wonderful artist and singer, Caiphus Semenya, in South Africa, and as I was writing the music and I would call him and tell him I wanted to put some percussion and some vocals into some scenes, and asked him to prepare some people in South Africa for that. So when I arrived there we had a whole pool of incredibly talented performers to draw upon. I already had a very clear idea of what I wanted to try, and when he brought the people in we experimented. We recorded South African percussion and Caiphus himself did the vocal on the opening and the end of the film as well. Then I went to Abbey Road after that and did the orchestra. It was a wonderful experience, being in Johannesburg and being able to call in real genuine South African talent and make it a really unique combination of those two approaches.
Q: The film also takes place over a long period of time. How did these historical aspects of Nelson Mandela’s life, from youth to incarceration to becoming the country’s president, affect the thrust of the score and its musical journey?
Alex Heffes: That was something I thought about. The music starts off using tribal instruments and sounding very ethnic and progressive; then the orchestra creeps in and we underscore the love story and the family scenes, and then we begin adding synth as time progresses and then electric guitar and percussion, so by the time you’re up to the 80s and the early 90s the music palette has progressed along with the time frame of the picture, so that the audience feels like they’ve been taken on a musical journey through that.
Q: Something that struck me listening to the score is how you are able to bring out in the music the psychological perspective of Nelson Mandela, enhancing the actor’s performance as he grows and changes through the experiences he has faced.
Alex Heffes: The performances are so astounding, it’s a joy to work with them. I just can’t imagine anyone else doing it now, when you see Idris [Elba] and Naomi Harris and the way they transform over those years, they start off being good and they just get better. It’s a wonderful thing to work with as a springboard, musically, to draw out those emotions.
Q: Did the fact that the film is a true story, as opposed to a fictional adventure, did that affect your musical approach at all?
Alex Heffes: I think it adds an extra layer of sensitivity that you need to have, in terms of perhaps being restrained in places, and showing respect. At the same time it’s also a movie and it has to work as a movie, so you’re walking a delicate line, always hoping to engage the audience as they’re watching the movie and being respectful of these are real lives playing out. You don’t want to make it into a melodrama or over dramatize things that are already larger than life.
Q: Did you do any research into Nelson Mandela’s life and the times in which this is happening in order to properly enhance what you’re creating, musically?
Alex Heffes: Yeah, I did read a lot about Mandela, and I also talked to a lot of South Africans and musicians while I was there in South Africa. I listened to a lot of source music… A lot of the street music and the protest songs, the music of the struggle, appear on camera and I was sent a lot of that material early on. When I was scoring scenes that needed score in combination with that music, it was important for me to make sure that the two things worked together, so that it becomes an organic whole.
Q: In addition to your primary thematic material, which is centered on this very passionate, sublime, eloquently beautiful music, you’ve also got in contrast this striking tension-building music in cues like “Civil Disobedience,” “Bomb Making,” and “Solitary Confinement.” How did you determine the sound palette for those more suspenseful moments of the score?
Alex Heffes: The astounding thing about the story of Nelson Mandela’s life is that it is full of sublime, transformative emotion, and it’s full of action. He lived an extraordinarily fast-paced life when he was a young man. There is a thriller aspect to this film and to his life. He was on the run, he was a wanted man. I talked with Justin, the director, and the producers about how far they wanted to bring out that thriller aspect, and it’s certainly there in his story, so it’s getting a sense of pace and propulsion in the music in those sequences. We talked about that being very important to keep the story moving forward. Someone said to me that Mandela’s life has been described like a piece of jazz, constantly moving and riffing and vamping, you know, just having that feel of jazz. Every day was different, every day was exciting, and then he was put on ice for 27 years. It was almost literally as though he was put into a freeze-frame, and then they came out of prison and it started again, bang, bang, bang! It was incredibly fast and before you knew it, within three or four years, he was president of his own country. It’s incredible. And there is this extraordinary propulsion, and energy to his story that I wanted to convey, musically.
Q: You’ve worked with Justin before, on a couple of films, on a TV movie called STOLEN, and on the feature, THE FIRST GRADER. So does your working together now have a kind of shorthand than enables you to work together quite smoothly?
Alex Heffes: It always helps having a relationship with the director, because music is such a difficult thing to discuss in words. When you’ve been through the process once or twice you start to understand one another’s way of communicating. Justin is a very open person and very easy to communicate with, in many ways, so he’s a gem to work with.
Q: What was most challenging for you on scoring this picture?
Alex Heffes: I think walking the line between making it work as a movie and being respectful to the real people portrayed, and giving the audience a sense of satisfaction. My hope is that when they get to the end of the movie, they’ve been taken on a ride, they understand the journey that they have been through, and they feel fulfilled, both dramatically and musically. That was a real challenge and it’s been gratifying to me to have people coming up to me after screenings, as we’ve been doing for the last few weeks, saying exactly that – by the end of the movie they really feel like they’ve been on the journey, and they have arrived at a place. That’s wonderful to me.
Q: Now in addition to the music recorded in South Africa, when you recorded the orchestra at Abbey Road you also brought in South African violinist David Juritz, so you’re adding that same texture that is infused with time and place, with the orchestra material. What did you want David to provide in his soloing during those orchestral sessions?
Alex Heffes: I have worked with David for many years on and off, and it was very important for me to bring him in. I felt as a colleague and a friend, and also as a South African, it was valuable for me to actually talk to him a little bit, about music and the film, and have his perspective. We were lucky to have a few South Africans in the orchestra in London, and actually another colleague of mine who is playing in the strings had actually been imprisoned for some time in South Africa, and I felt it was good to have him there playing on this film, having been through what he had been through. It was sort of a cathartic experience, at least for me, to be able to tell part of his story in music. It was a very moving experience for me and many members of the orchestra were very moved, watching parts of the film and hearing the music. It was quite an extraordinary experience.
Q: An earlier film that also explores a challenging period of time is EMPEROR, which is about the US Army’s occupation of Japan at the end of World War II, and the conflict on how to treat their Emperor Hirohito. How did you approach that film with its shifting political and cultural nuances, while also staying true to the historicity of the drama?
Alex Heffes: That was an interesting task, and one I enjoyed a lot. I think it’s a film about the meeting of two cultures in a broad sense, which is focused through the primary characters but is much more meeting of two different worlds. My approach was to score the front of the movie, as Gen. MacArthur moves into Japan, in a very strident, victorious way and to take that thematic material and have it gradually become submerged into Japanese culture through the film. Japanese instruments are gradually introduced into the score, and that thematic material which is very self-assured at the beginning of the film, is reworked and made a little darker and a little more complicated, just as the characters do, and as the American forces learn to understand the culture they were coming into. By the end of the film, at the very end of the credits, the opening theme is reprised but in a different form, it’s as though the music is gone through as much a process as the characters have and learned something, and found itself slightly changed.
Q: As a horror thriller, THE RITE is a type of film you haven’t had the opportunity to do very often. How did you face the musical needs of this picture?
Alex Heffes: There were a few things I loved about THE RITE. I loved the way it was shot, I love the way Mikael (Håfström) directs films, and of course Anthony Hopkins is just wonderful, and going back to what I said about how inspiring it is to score someone like Idris and Naomi in MANDELA, scoring Anthony Hopkins in THE RITE was just a treat. You have an actor at the absolute top of his game, and just watching him perform on screen is a jumping off point for me, for music. That was special. My take on the score was that it was less of an overt horror film and more of something psychological that gets under your skin. That probably comes from the main performances. So you try and make that play. I think there’s a sort of religious aspect to it as well which takes the music in a certain direction; it’s set in Italy in the Vatican, so there’s a certain palette that might be associated with that. But the score, I think, does stem from the central performances and trying to treat it as a psychological horror or thriller.
Q: And then you worked with Mikael again in the action film THE ESCAPE PLAN, with Stallone and Swarzenegger. How did you apply music to the needs of this gritty action type of film?
Alex Heffes: Yeah, it was a unique opportunity to score the two great icons of action, and it was huge fun, I must say I really enjoyed it. You could just let your hair down and it was a hugely enjoyable experience. There’s a lot of music in there!
Q: And I guess subtlety is not what you’re looking for in a Stallone/Swarzenegger movie!
Thanks to Dan Barry at Chasen & Company for facilitating this interview.
Alex Heffes: Yeah, and I love the variety of scoring all these different pictures. Variety is definitely the spice of life!
Polish composer Bartosz Chajdecki began composing music at the age of 12, inspired and motivated by famous Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner. He graduated from the Academy of Music in Kraków and began his professional career writing music for theater in 1997 as well as serving as a music consultant with such cultural institutions as the Yale School of Drama and the New York School of Visual Arts. He was also a musician Samuel Beckett Theatre in London. In 2001 he began scoring short documentary films and in 2008 he was awarded the job of scoring the Polish World War II television series, CZAS HONORU (Time of Honor), for which he composed an especially sublime and expressive score, which earned him a nomination for best original score for a television series from the International Film Music Critics Association. Chajdecki went on to score another notable wartime series, MISJA AFGANISTAN (Mission Afghanistan), as well as, in 2013, the feature films BACZYNSKI (a biography of the young Polish poet killed in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944), LIFE FEELS GOOD (Chce sie zyc, a film festival prize-winning drama about a man overcoming his disability, from director Maciej Pieprzyca), and Juliusz Machulski’s surrealistic World War II/Hitler comedy, AMBASSADA – all of which benefitted from Chajdecki’s gift of eloquent melody and musical sensitivity.
Q: What sort of musical background have you had, and what prompted your interest in scoring films?
Bartosz Chajdecki:I have a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts with specialization in playing the double bass as my main instrument, but also piano and violins. From the beginning my teacher and the example to follow was Zbigniew Preisner – especially his score to THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE, which triggered my musical imagination. Listening to it for the first time was as if someone just opened some huge doors in my brain. That’s how it all started.
Q: How did you break into the film scoring business in Poland?
Bartosz Chajdecki:That was really a very difficult and tricky part – especially concerning the fact that I come from Krakow and all the industry is in Warsaw, so I had no connections, friends, or relatives in the business. Before I got to television, I was writing music for theatre for ten years. And there was one actress who had my demo recording and she was on a set with one of the biggest TV producers in Poland. She gave him my demo and he didn’t have anything else to listen to on his way from the set to Warsaw, so he put on my music. Next day his assistant called me to offer me writing some demo music to six scenes from the first episode of TIME OF HONOR series. I did it and one week later I send the music to the producer. They called me an hour after they received the package and offered me the job of writing music to the series! After that, I tried to break into the film scoring – for five years with no result. But I was writing a lot of music for television. I did seven series with more than 350 episodes. A year ago Kordian Piwowarski, one of the young polish film directors, called me. I had written music for a theater play directed by his sister a few years prior, and he liked my music very much. He offered me writing music to BACZYNSKI. At the same time I have met with Juliusz Machulski – one of the most famous directors in Poland and at first he wasn’t so sure about working with me. But within a year I sent him three letters with tons of different music and after my third try he called me and said that he really likes my attitude and he wanted to offer me writing music to his newest comedy, which was AMBASSADA. Both directors really liked the music I wrote for their movies. They spread the word and now people have started calling me and asking for music.
Q: Poland has a rich tradition and history in cinema, and is among the leading producers of cinema in Eastern Europe. What can you tell us about film music in Poland, its influences, and current trends for music in contemporary Polish cinema?
Bartosz Chajdecki:This is a very difficult question. There are two main ways of using music in Polish movies. One is strictly contemporary and minimalistic and the second one tries to follow American/Hollywood trends. However there are not a lot of composers in Poland who are capable of writing a decent “Hollywood style” score...There are also a problem of budgets, which are really low for recording music. It is extremely rare to get a large number of musicians to perform your film music. When it comes to influences – we have Kilar, Preisner, Penderecki, Kaczmarek. Each of them writes in a different style and uses a different set of the orchestra. So basically there are four main big names you want to follow in the beginning.
Q: What have been your primary musical influences as you began to compose music for films and television?
Bartosz Chajdecki:First of all it was Zbigniew Preisner as well as Russian romantic composers like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, for example. Then I explored Dmitri Shostakovich, John Williams, Eric Serra, Jerry Goldsmith, and Elliot Goldenthal – whom I had a privilege of meeting recently.
Q: How would you contrast your experiences in composing and recording music for films in Poland with that you experienced when studying in America or Western Europe? How does the process work in your country?
Bartosz Chajdecki:I attended many workshops and meetings with composers working in Hollywood as was within my reach – Beltrami, Giacchino, Don Davis, and Christopher Young, to name just a few. If they painted a correct picture of the industry, I feel as though I had a glimpse of it. First and probably the biggest difference is that most of the composers in Poland do not use orchestrators – for a very simple reason: there is no budget for that! But I think that it is better especially for young composers; usually when a young composer uses an orchestrator he just misuses him. The second and the most obvious difference are budgets. There’s no comparison with Polish budgets, as these are extremely low. Also the role of a music supervisor is completely different as far as I could understand how things work after attending a workshop with Maggie Rodford.
Q: Your initial scores were for short dramatic films made by Anna Taborska in the early 2000s. Would you describe the musical needs of these films and how you approached creating the music for them? What did you learn from these early experiences?
Bartosz Chajdecki:Well, I was 16 when I started working with Anna. It was a long time ago and it is a bit blurred to me now! But those were my first experiences working with films, and it was more like a “summer adventure” than a professional work in film production. I remember that in the beginning I liked my music to be extremely dark and sad – I think I was a kind of an Eastern European emo at that time, wearing only black clothes, listening to Mozart’s and Brahms’s Requiem all over again! So was my music – dark, loud, overdone and a bit too strong for those shorts you mentioned. It is obvious that when I am listening to that right now I try to run away! But having in mind that I did them at the age of 17 and 19, it does make me wonder where I would be right now if I had a chance to develop my skills in writing film music a little bit earlier. My music really changed a lot during all these years, and some things should be preserved as the other changed for the better. So – here I am now, still looking for possibilities to get more and more experience and in a constant search for a better and better sound.
Q: Your first feature-length score was for Anna Taborska’s 2009 documentary of the poet Boleslaw Taborski, ULAMEK ISTNIENIA. How did you flavor this story about creativity and poetry with music?
Bartosz Chajdecki:Actually, I did not write a lot of original music to this film. Anna had my previous music which I had written for her earlier shorts as well as some of my music for theater that I had the rights to use (I have been writing a lot of music for theater since the age of 16 – with my biggest success being awarded Fring First at the Edinborough Fringe Festival, for a play “A Little Requiem for Kantor” - which is one of the world’s most prestigious awards for a theater production; and that’s how I’ve met Anna, who lives in England). So she put some of my earlier music into her documentary and asked me for my opinion. I made a few small corrections and that was it. At that time I did not feel like writing for a documentary film – I was focused on four television series and trying to get to the “real film industry” – which in Poland means writing a score to a cinema production.
Q: Your next assignment was for the long-running wartime television drama, CZAS HONORU (Time of Honor), which you began scoring in 2008. What were your challenges in scoring this ongoing drama, and how did you work with the filmmakers to determine the right kind of music for the series?
Bartosz Chajdecki:I am still scoring this show; it’s been six years already! That’s a bit frightening, isn’t it? To be honest I had a lot of freedom with this one. Michal Kwiecinski is one of the biggest and the most important producers in Poland, so there aren’t a lot of people who question his choices! He puts a lot of trust in my skills. So after I sent my demo recordings he said that it was perfect for this project and he was absolutely confident that I would do it in the right way. He knew that I will do my best as this was the biggest chance I’ve ever got in my life. There was only one meeting we had; he took me to the screening room and we watched the scene they sent me before. This was an execution scene. He let me watch it with my demo music and then he said: “You did it American style. You wrote the illustration for the whole scene, as you would be doing it for a Hollywood production. But what we have in here is a Polish television series. I don’t want you to write big music for all of these people – I want you to choose one person who is going to be executed and you should write music for this single individual. Make it more personal and much more emotional at the same time. When you write – you should be one of them, not all of them. Then you are going to have a proper point of view and approach.” This was an incredible meeting and that single example set me on the right track. I changed a lot and from then on I had a complete freedom. But Michal Kwiecinski knew that I understood his words perfectly; that I’d gotten everything he wanted to explain.
Q:. Your main theme for CZAS HONORU is very powerful and passionate. How did you come up with the theme, and how have you used it throughout the episode scores to support the ongoing drama?
Bartosz Chajdecki:When I tried to approach writing this music my first attempts were more contemporary. Then I thought that I should experiment with a somewhat older harmony. That’s how I got to the point of inserting some “old style” harmonies and chords into the previously written themes. After merging these two ways of thinking, I got the main theme. The funny thing is that originally the producer bought a big Hollywood tune he liked very much in order to use it with the main titles. But after Anna Malarowska – the music supervisor – got my demo music and listened to my piece she said that she absolutely insisted on using it for the main titles. Another funny story is that after I got accepted to do this job I recorded all of the demo pieces with the full orchestra, and it sounded really grand but the producer did not like this new version! Indeed, it was spacious and powerful but also less emotional than the demo version recorded with small string quintet and piano. So we left out all the wind instruments from the orchestral version and retained the strings to bring us back to the original demo recording. That’s when it worked perfectly for everyone. So as you can see it wasn’t a completely straightforward situation. But the main tune for a television series is so important that you can spend a month on writing this single 30- to 90-second piece of music, preparing a hundred versions of it and still be missing something; it needs to be perfect and hit all the right spots without any doubts. In a way you need to summarize all the episodes within that 30- to 90-second piece of music.
Q: How did the music for CZAS HONORU develop and evolve over the several years the show went on? What other themes were involved and how did you balance the sympathetic music for the characters with the harsher music for the violent reality of warfare and conflict?
Bartosz Chajdecki:In a way, balancing it is the easiest thing. It is more about mathematics than music. I just wrote a certain amount of themes for each of the necessary moods and characters. There are also certain amounts of something I would call “bridge” tunes, which can be used as a connection between other themes. The trick is to write as many pieces as possible in the same key, which makes them easier to mix together. When it comes to pushing music forward it wasn’t also a very difficult task as I began with a kind of a retro, old style approach and as for now I just started to write more modern tunes also incorporating things like beats, electric guitars etc. Right now with every season I introduce a new leading instrument and it works very well to give a new feeling to the music. At the same time with every new season I go back to the main theme of the series, trying to approach it in a different way. Last time I did a tango variation with accordion! In my opinion the result was interesting and I thought it did the job very well.
Q: How large of an orchestra and choir did you use on the series? What determined your instrumental choices on the episode scores?
Bartosz Chajdecki: The first season was determined by the instruments, which were as classical as possible. Then it began to change as I started to introduce new instruments and begun experimenting with a plethora of different sounds. The orchestra in the beginning was only a 30-piece string and wind band with piano solo and one drummer. It got larger starting from the third season. It was connected with the whole new idea and the story. In the beginning it was supposed to be a very personal story of young people falling in love during wartime. The third series was more action oriented and got bigger in terms of scenography and overall pace of the show, so I had to go bigger with the score. And it was that point when this music started to be recognized – so that seems to have been a very lucky development for me!
Q: Your score for CZAS HONORU received much attention and honor, including a nomination from the International Film Music Critics Association for best television score. Did these reactions bring more professional interest in your music and enable you to get more scoring work?
Bartosz Chajdecki:Not directly but in the longer term, yes, it did help a lot. It is very important to be recognized internationally as it makes a big impression on producers and directors. Also a lot people in Poland started to talk more about my music afterwards. The demand for it was growing among the listeners so producers started to pay more attention to this what I am doing. Everything altogether brought me to the point that I started to get more job offers than I can handle. What is in a way incredible for such a small film industry as the one in Poland. Of course I am prepared for the moment when this situation will change but as for now I am totally focused on writing music for eight productions that I am going to be involved in next year.
Q: You have also composed another television war series, MISJA AFGANISTAN. Was it challenging for you to score a TV series similar in scope to CZAS HONORU? How did you approach this new series?
Bartosz Chajdecki:MISJA AFGANISTAN is about polish troops in Afghanistan, so it is more about the contemporary war on terror and how Polish troops manage to be a part of coalition forces in there. That made it much easier for me to come up with a different style. Still, I wanted it to be very powerful and emotional, but because this is happening nowadays I changed my approach towards instrumentation completely. MISJA AFGANISTAN is written mostly for electric guitars, drums, and ethnic instruments with a small addition of a chamber string orchestra. So it is very different. The funny thing is that people who love TIME OF HONOR music hate this one! And the opposite - there is a lot of people who like MISJA AFGANISTAN very much and usually they don’t like the TIME OF HONOR music at all! But I am really happy with that effect, because for the last few years I’ve wanted to address my music to a completely different audience than the one listening to the TIME OF HONOR. I think it is obvious that, in a way, being connected for such a long time with the same music gets annoying after a while. So my approach was to change the instrumentation completely and write it more like pop style music with an addition of ethnic flavor rather than a classical orchestral score.
Q: What has been most satisfying for you so far in scoring films and television in Poland? Where would you like your career to take you from here?
Bartosz Chajdecki:Well. This is a difficult question. Especially since some of the producers can read this interview so I need to be really careful on what I am going to say now! But seriously – obviously music to TIME OF HONOR is the most recognized of my scores and it receives the biggest attention. In Poland, television series have more publicity than any cinema production. To compare: I just finished writing music to the series which has an audience of seven to twelve million people. The biggest success when it comes to the Polish box office last year was one million. Polish movies here have an average of about 200,000 tickets sold, rarely going over 350.000 tickets. But recently I was very lucky to work with Maciej Pieprzyca on the film LIFE FEELS GOOD, which is receiving a lot of international attention; it certainly deserves it and I hope that it is going to be a big step/leap forward for me.
When it comes to my plans, as I said before – for now I need to focus on doing things that need to be done and then I will need a short break to have a rest and think about my plans for the future. Right now there is one particularly interesting production, which tells a story of the Warsaw Uprising and I have high hopes for this one. I will do everything I can to deliver the best score possible for this production (as I always try do to, but this one is really special).
Portrait of Bartosz by Karina Piwowarska; photo of Bartosz at Krakow Film Music Festival 2012 by Wojciech Wandzel, courtesy of Jonathan Broxton/IFMCA.
Special thanks to ?ukasz Waligorski of IFMCA for assistance in facilitating this interview, and for Bartosz Chajdecki for taking the time to answer my questions!
New Soundtrax in Review
BADLAND/Ludek Drizhall/Keep Moving Records
Czech-born composer Ludek Drizhall has crafted a poignant and lyrically psychological portrait of the damaged wartime veteran in BADLAND, a 2007 film that focuses on an American soldier unable to cope with the realities of daily life after he returns from his tour of duty in Iraq. Kind of a dysfunctional BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES for the modern military soldier, Drizhall’s music is lyrically beautiful but captures a tone of the melancholy in nearly all of its semblances, perhaps most poignantly rendered through the sad soprano vocalise of “Betrayal (Part 2)” which comprises a kind of tone poem for heartbreak and disillusionment. Reprised in “Running Away,” the vocal melisma has gained a more self-confident pattern, and is repeated over the “End Titles” in a fully redemptive triumph. Performed by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, the score has a fluently, richly orchestral sound which aids perception of its discouraged tonalities, particularly the fluent violin soloing of Jamie Desautels in tracks like “River Crossing,” which capture a particularly emotive sound. “What initially drew me to BADLAND was the beautiful cinematography and the majestic music it lent itself to,” said Drizhall. “Another thing that made me a really lucky composer was the fact that BADLAND had so little dialogue in it. When I have to write music under dialogue, I feel that I have to pull back, I have to avoid solutions that would interfere with the lines delivered by the actors. But with no dialogue to account for, I was given great freedom of what I could do with the music.” Writer Gergely Hubai provides a thorough examination of the film and its score in the supportive album notes contained in the 12-page CD booklet.
Two of Stelvio Cipriani’s most tuneful scores of the 1970s, BLONDY (1976) and TIMANFAYA (1972) have been reissued by Quartet in very nice packages. Showing that he’s just as good a melodist as Morricone and can write a tune suiting Edda Dell’Orso equally as provocative, Cipriani’s score for BLONDY (aka VORTEX in the US where it was marketed as far more of a sci-fi thriller than it was), directed by Sergio Gobbi, is a mystery thriller starring Rod Taylor as a bio-warfare researcher whose wife has a steamy affair with someone who is not who he seems. Cipriani characteristically plays against the espionage by focusing on providing steamy romantic music, wholly gorgeous in its various permutations. Dell’Orso inhabits Cipriani’s primary melody beautifully, and also turns in a fine bossa-nova styled piece in the pop-infused “Souvenir D’Un Soir.” The music also fulfills is support for actions sequences when needed, as in the propulsive chase rhythms heard in “La Poursuite” and “La Mort De Al,” the latter concluding the score with a churning, aggressive cadence punctuated by wails and punches of trumpet and a relentless riff on the piano; both of these tracks stand in powerful contrast to the sumptuous lyricism of the rest of the score, and are rather rare examples of Cipriani’s more aggressive, muscular scoring. Only release on vinyl in France, Quartet presents the record album program on CD for the first time (bonus tracks were unavailable); this Cipriani rarity is a thorough musical delight. A handful of source tracks (polka, waltz, jazz combo, pub piano, and a Baroque walk through the park) are included among the score tracks. TIMANFAYA, a bohemian erotic drama set in the titular Spanish National Park in the Canary Islands, prompted an even more lush romantic soundtrack in the favored style of Cipriani’s better known ANONYMOUS VENETIAN and the like. With Nora Orlandi performing the vocalise this time around, Cipriani provides a pair of primary themes, the title theme performed mostly by piano and voice, and a jaunty keyboard (celeste?) melody over strings, piano, and brushed snare drum, which is associated with the sculptor’s studio in which much of the indoor romance plays out. A third theme of the volcano whose name the National Park has taken as its own; Cipriani evokes the splendor of the majestic mountain through a mysterious tremolo organ sustain, out of which Orlandi’s voice emerges with elegant grace to impart the main melody, as if suggesting the torrid romance exudes out of the stalwart volcano, or perhaps shares its fiery countenance. Quartet’s release reissues the original LP program (released only in Spain) and adds ten unreleased bonus tracks which comprise a number of interesting alternate renditions as well as some wholly improvised variants. In what would probably be considered “easy listening” by thoughtless iTunes genre programmers and others who ignore the intricate sensitivity and orchestral acuity of Cipriani’s writing, both of these scores are delightful musical excursions grounded in luxurious melody; the preservation of these two rarities in Cipriani’s catalog is very welcome indeed. Writer Gergely Hubai thorough album notes, covering the making of both films and their scores, are just as welcome in giving us an understanding and appreciation of the scores.
THE BOOK THIEF/John Williams/Sony Masterworks
During World War II a young girl named Liesel finds comfort by stealing books and sharing them with others, including a Jewish refugee her foster parents are sheltering. It’s unusual for Williams to score a project not involving George Lucas or Steven Spielberg; but having been impressed by the book this film is based on, he reportedly sought the assignment once he heard a film was to be made. Williams’ score is built around a wistful, almost fragile melody suggestive of the titular character; brighter moments in the music reflect the youthful exuberance of her pre-war childhood, but the clouds of war and Naziism darken the coming horizon, and Liesel’s cheerful music is limited to her reading, and the sharing of her books with her new friends. Avoiding a strong thematic base, the music for THE BOOK THIEF opts for a quiet piano motif that characterizes the girl in all of her youthful innocence, and the necessity of withdrawing into imagination through the worlds of reading in the stark reality of the Holocaust. It’s a score that speaks from the heart of a young girl struggling to find solace during a period of incredulous human cruelty. Strings wash across the soundscape like fragrant ashes, flowing with gentle cadence, broken by deft soloing of cello and woodwinds, conveying a warmth of tone and texture, expressively conveyed through sublime melodic interpretation and a confluence of interactive orchestration. It’s a poignantly innocent portrait of war and inhumanity as seen through the eyes of a child. This is the John Williams of JANE EYRE, SCHINDLER’S LIST and ANGELA’S ASHES, a character-based story providing opportunities for understated emotions, interrelations, meaningful musical subtexts, and a severely dramatic environmental backdrop. It’s a wonderful reprise of Williams’ softer classicism, a gracious ode to youthful idealism retained in spite of the tragedy of one’s circumstances, and the consoling value of imagination.
THE BUTTERFLY’S DREAM (Kelebegin Rüyasi)/Rahman Altin/Do?an Müzik Yap?m
Rahman Altin’s score for this Turkish film, selected to represent the country as its entry for Best Foreign Language Film for 2014’s Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards, won the Public Choice Award at the World Soundtrack Awards in Ghent, Belgium. The soundtrack is available in the USA from Redwood Entertainment both digitally on amazon and physically on CD. Directed by Yilmaz Erto?an, THE BUTTERFLY’S DREAM is set in the 1940s during World War II in the Black Sea city of Zonguldak and tells the story of two poets who both fall sick with tuberculosis and fall in love with the same woman. Altin’s score is lushly sublime as it captures the romanticism inherent within the story. Rather than attemptin7g to recreate a period sound, Altin’s orchestra resonates with yearning and heartbreak, favoring strings and piano as it captures the passion and pain that captures the story. The lush wash of massed strings sets the predominant palette for the score, varied slightly by occasional solos that on their own create a triumvirate of individual pieces within the unified sonic tone of the score. The most frequent solo instruments are violin, piano, and oboe (“We Are Alive”), as if the composer were capturing the romantic triangle with these very different but very compatible instrumental textures (I have not seen the film yet to confirm this). “Wall of Poets,” and “Coalmine” both focus on solo violin above the pattern of interworking strings beneath it, which adds a pleasing sense of sonic clarity through the crisp, poignant soloing, while “Sea of Typewriters” punches out an alternate motif for solo piano over violins, punctuated by the crystal chimes of keyboard; the persuasive piano arpeggios appear again in “Picnic” and “Snowball.” Particularly of note are “So Much To Tell” and “So Pale,” arguably the most exquisite pieces on the album; “Istanbul” as well proffers a rich, drawn-up crescendo of strings while “Poets From Zonguldak” contrasts elements of all three primary instruments. It’s a very lovely album which perhaps depends a little too much on the same essential sound palette and rhythm throughout, but is a conveys its interpretation of passion, pain, and poetry in a very pleasing and beautiful orchestral treatment.
For audio clips, see http://filmmusicreporter.com/2013/11/26/the-butterflys-dream-soundtrack-released/
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS/Henry Jackman/Varese Sarabande
Henry Jackman has provided a propulsive score for Paul Greengrass’ exploration of the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, and the crew’s rescue by US Navy SEALs. Jackman has created an omnipresent overall riffing that runs throughout most of the score, a propulsive, driving strumming, thrumming, pulsing riff that energizes the growing tension of the hijack and the rescue attempts. The repetitive riffing is embellished by string figures, warping synthesizer sounds, and a plethora of very bizarre cello effects – quasi-Apocalyptica sliding and scraping heavy metal cello sounds that emanate from the soundscape to create a vibe punctuated by unfamiliar and disturbing sonic patterns, as if the very steel of the vessel were groaning and seething against the assault. With Greengrass exploring on very human levels both the hijacked victims, their Captain, and the Somali pirates without judgment, Jackman realized there was no need for hero themes and villain themes, but rather infused the film with an ambiguous sound pattern that suggested ethnicity but failed to clearly delineate one side or another. It’s the complete antithesis of something like G.I. JOE RETALLIATION where there are clearly delineated good guys and bad guys whose themes conflict, interact, and overcome one another. “When the boys leap into action on G.I. JOE, it should be feeling like testosterone-fueled military music, whereas obviously the portrayal of the Navy SEALs and the Navy in a movie like CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is more procedural and objective and realistic,” Jackman told interviewer Dan Solomon at fastcocreate.com.* Because it feels like it’s the same kind of vibe throughout the length of the score, this stylistic approach becomes a bit redundant on the album due to lack of musical variety, although upon closer listen one can detect the intricate countermeasures Jackman has invested into the arrangements and the orchestrations of his basic driving patterns. In this sense, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is a minimalist score and its musical value comes from the development and subtle enhancements placed upon the rhythmic configurations. Regarded that way, the soundtrack album becomes a variable, transforming feast, as the sonic landscape, though to be as sturdy as the deck of a cargo ship with its constant churning progression, is found to be as mutating and as malleable as the roiling surface of the sea on which the drama plays out. The soft cadence of piano and strings in the closer, “Safe Now,” offers respite and redemption once the turmoil is over, and the music slows to reflective measures and emotive expression for the first time, forming a satisfying resolution for a score that is, on final analysis, much more than the sum of its simple components.
*Read Dan Solomon’s full interview with Jackman about CAPTAIN PHILLIPS and his approach to scoring some other recent films, here.
On Dec. 17, Lakeshore will release digitally and Amazon on-demand CDR Mark Kilian’s music for this comedy about friends and pregnancy. Radha Mitchell is Lizzie, unable to conceive with her husband; Michelle Monaghan is her best friend Andie who winds up unexpectedly pregnant after a one-night stand. Andie offers to have the baby and give it to Lizzie as long as Andie can move in with them for the duration of the pregnancy, testing their friendship and commitment. Mark Kilian’s music is breezy and poppy, providing the kind of effervescent simplicity the story needed. In discussions with the filmmakers, it was “decided that what this movie needed was a simple and intimate warmth. Childlike in a way,” said Kilian. “As we see the main character Lizzie playing the ukulele a few times on screen we thought keeping that flavor and sentiment alive in the score would help tie all these characters and their journeys together. So I packed my car full with guitars, ukuleles and other weird and wonderful string instruments and drove down to my house in Mexico where I wrote all the main themes and ideas over the course of a few weeks. Back in Los Angeles I recorded and produced the score with the help of some fantastic musicians and the wonderful Bonnie Piesse on vocals. I also had my friend and amazing pianist Paul Hepker help arrange and play the Bach-like pieces which are based on my main melodies in the score.” Equal parts poignant and enchanting, the album makes for a fun listen; Piesse’s “la-la” styled singing forms an instrumental texture that fits well with the ukulele, pianos, and strings, while more tension-filled or introspective moments feature ringing synths and furtively-fingers guitars and piano riffing, while the more elegant piano material reinforces the maturity of the friendship and their mutual commitment toward the unborn child.
EXPLODING SUN/James Gelfand/MSM/Kronos
This latest made-for-TV exercise in moronic science contains, as many do, a well-conceived and executed synth-and-samples score that elevates the drama, if not making up for the goofy premise and inconceivable scientific framework of the story. Following a catastrophic journey to space, the solar system is shaken by unusual activities that have a devastating effect on our planet. People all over the world struggle for survival while a couple of brave heroes try to stop the destruction at risk of their own lives. Canadian film composer James Gelfand (PINOCCHIO 3000, CRUSOE) has crafted music that propels the story and escalates the film’s sense of drama with sensitivity and eloquence. With a pair of themes at its foundation (a heroic adventure motif emphasizing the nobility of the space mission at the start and in the ongoing struggles to save the world, and a progressive, 4-chord tension-building motif), Gelfand’s score is nicely grounded in (sampled) orchestral rhythm and progression. The score carries itself well on the album and the composer’s use of the synthetic samples is effective, if some of the sustained chords inadvertently sound a bit false. “To The Moon” and “First Flight” embody the heroic theme with eloquent style, while the tension theme is introduced in “Race Against Time” and then is especially well played to evoke cosmic peril “Angry Sun.” Gathered to a climax in “The End is Coming,” the composer’s themes here feature some fine violin writing to accentuate the growing chord progression). As part of the film is set in Afghanistan, Gelfand very subtly draws some of his textural palette from the ethnic music of the region; elsewhere he has ample opportunity to compose poignant moments in such cues as “Last Goodbyes” and “Losing a Friend,” where the hero theme is subdued with heartfelt sadness; the latter includes a striking Middle Eastern vocalise (also nicely heard in “Passage Through the Desert”) along with finger cymbals to create an softly expressive soliloquy. A rhythm pad of keyboard notes over strokes of violin creates urgency for the activities to save the world (“Trouble in Afghanistan,” “Save the Earth”). The Afghanistan motif along with the tension and hero themes are reprised in a comforting resolution in “The End.” Nicely done, and a good choice for preservation by the label.
Sample tracks from this score at http://moviescoremedia.com/exploding-sun-james-gelfand/
HELLGATE/LOST CONTINENT/Paul Dunlap/Monstrous Movie Music
In this archival presentation, David Schecter and the team at Monstrous Movie Music preserve the original soundtracks of two scores by the late Paul Dunlap, one of the unsung heroes of 1950s/1960s sci-fi movie music. Dunlap was of generation of composers who disdained movie music and yearned to be recognized as a serious composer, doing his film work to make ends meet. The irony is that Dunlap is being revered for his B-movie music for such films as INVISIBLE INVADERS, ANGRY RED PLANET, Herman Cohen’s TEENAGE WEREWOLF/TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN films, and much more, which musically personified a teen-oriented, angst-driven, low-budget movie trend and turned out some amazing monster music along the way. Dunlap died in 2010, but not before he had an inkling of how popular some of his discarded B-movie music had become in the popular culture, largely through his friendship with Schecter, who has salvaged what’s left of two of Dunlap’s favorite scores, the above-average 1952 Western HELLGATE and the 1951 science fantasy picture, LOST CONTINENT. Dunlap’s original scores were discarded long ago; Schecter secure what was left of the film tracks on acetate recordings the composer had retained. HELLGATE was a low-budget reworking of John Ford’s THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND, fictionalizing the original Dr. Mudd story into a tale of a wrongly-accused veterinarian imprisoned after aiding a member of a mercenary gang. Dunlap’s music matched the gripping drama of the movie. In the characteristic 1950s scoring style for these types of movies, there are little through melodies and few long cues; the music is made up of a variety of short motifs, statements, and brief action pieces, but within this format Dunlap supplies a lilting love theme, introduced in “Neil Closes Door” and poignantly reprised in cues like “Ellie’s Visit to Jail” and again in “Ellie’s Letter,” wherein the passion she feels for her imprisoned husband is strikingly palpable in the cues’ brief length; reunion is finally experienced in the finale, “Ellie at Mailbox.” In contrast with the love theme, Dunlap’s muscular action material is well-wrought, aggressive with strident trumpets and torrents of pounding timpani and yet an ongoing tonality of musical honesty with regard to the wrongly-accused veterinarian. LOST CONTINENT is one of Dunlap’s first, and best, scores, for Lippert’s low-brow mix of dinosaurs are rocket ships. Dunlap had the advantage of a fairly good-sized orchestra for a low budget film, comprised of about 50 musicians; it’s a shame more of the film’s music wasn’t preserved. Dunlap approached the film in the manner of an orchestral adventure, with a bold, brassy main theme at its heart, from which the various adventures and encounters with dangerous prehistoria draw. His music for the dinosaurs follows the animals’ footsteps in large, plodding chords, a traditional enough approach but one that works very well in the film and serves to paint a perilous musical picture of the savage saurian. Also included are two full-length source cues, “Erotica” (a steamy, romantic phonograph cue) and “Exotica” (“mood music for dancing”), which show Dunlap’s chops at scoring lounge music of the day. The sound quality averages good throughout both scores; considering their age of their source acetates, one must except some distortion and lack of dimensionality; but Dunlap’s musical muscle and sensitivity shines through. Despite the brevity of the surviving material, Schecter has pulled together just over an hour’s worth of music (35 from HELLGATE, 27 from LOST CONTINENT), both of which aptly pay tribute to Paul Dunlap’s versatility and ability as a sensitive and dramatic composer for films. Accompanying the CD is a 20-page illustrated booklet which covers the music, the composer, and the films in authoritative detail.
HOURS/Benjamin Wallfisch/Varese Sarabande
In HOURS, writer Eric Heisserer (FINAL DESTINATION 5, THE THING) steps up to the directorial plate with a provocative and moving film starring the late Paul Walker as Nolan, a new father struggling to keep his infant daughter alive in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. British composer Benjamin Wallfisch has provided an eloquent musical (HAMMER OF THE GODS, CONQUEST 1453) score which is set for release on December 17th. It’s a potent mix of poignant sensitivity and barely held-together struggle as Wallfisch creates a musical psychological portrait of Walker’s characterization of Nolan. As the only primary cast member, Nolan has few characters with which to interact or convey his own perspective, and in that respect it’s essentially a one-man show, at least in dramatic terms. Wallfisch’ score, then, becomes the character’s unspoken dialogs, serving to reflect and express Nolan’s inner stresses as he struggles to survive and protect his newborn daughter. The music is an articulate expression of the character’s state of mind, reflecting Nolan’s reactions to what he experiences more than enhancing the experiences themselves. Wallfisch accomplishes this with layered musical atmospheres and a few recurring motifs (one, a gentle piano figure, is associated with baby Abigail – or, rather, Nolan’s emotional perspective of the baby, and recurs from time to time when he stops to reflect on what the child is going tough and his own commitment to keeping her safe). Another motif is a propulsive, hybrid pulse made up of synthetic sounds (“Evacuation,” “Bad Battery,” “Generator Room,” “Helicopter,” “Looters”) which builds urgency and tension for the more active scenes (the motif seems to take its cadence from the whap-whap-whap of helicopter rotors); at the same time the texture of the pulse is dirty, a little fuzzy around the sonic edges, as if to reflect the post-hurricane landscape of devastation through which Nolan must travel. When Wallfisch intersects these rhythms with Abigail’s piano figure the result is particularly haunting and heartfelt. A sense of urgency is also evident in the reflective tonalities that make up much of these moments (especially the haunting reverberations of “Bad Battery”). The opening track, “Hospital,” first introduces the action pulse, imposing onto it a sense of reflective chaos that suggests Nolan’s initial lack of clarity in the face of the hurricane; until he musters his wits about him in the following “Tell Me She’s Fine” which introduces Abigail’s motif in the midst of serene layers of strings, as Nolan focuses on the situation and what he must do to prevail for her sake. The orchestration is fairly thin throughout much of the film and score as Wallfisch imposes intimate textures, close-miked soloing of piano, cello, and clarinet, to impart with severe clarity Nolan’s state of mind. Wallfisch opens up the orchestration in only two places; early on in “Searching for Abigail,” when strings gather into a crescendo halfway through the track, and then in an ultimate resolution at the end in “46th Hour” as, his task completed, Nolan allows his emotions to wash over him in a pure emotive climax of full orchestra. The score for HOURS is a brilliant psychological portrait that works perhaps subliminally in its effect, but imparts Walker’s excellent performance with an honest emotional connection with the viewer. On its own, the music paints a clear portrait, characterizing Nolan in equally articulate terms.
L’ASSOLUTIO NATURALE/FATTI DI GENTE PERBENE/Ennio Morricone/Quartet
Two classic Ennio Morricone scores from what many feel is his most fertile compositional periods, from the mid ‘60s through the mid ‘70s. 1969’s L’ASSOLUTO NATURALE (aka SHE AND HE and, alternately, HE AND SHE) is a “metaphorical love story,” the composer’s third film (of 15) for director Mauro Bolognini, about a nameless couple who begin a passionate love affair that quickly turns destructive. It’s one of the first Morricone albums I picked up once I’d become hooked (thank you San Francisco’s The Record Store), and always grabbed me as one of his best pop-oriented film scores. It’s got a great mix of two primary themes and motifs, the recurring “Sempre Più Verità” with its progressive, advancing rhythm and interaction of strings and drums (most memorably played by piano in “L’Estate è Vicina”), and the gentle love theme, introduced breezily in the title track and then reprised, with post-coital trepidation, in “Imparare A Conoscere” (“Learn To Know”), its soothing flute melody wafting exhaustedly over acoustic guitar (in the title track) or floating layers of airy strings (in the reprise track). Apart from the sensual romantic moments, Morricone interprets the couple’s growing dysfunction with psychological intensity in “Assalito Dalle Rondini,” a glacially icy layering of high strings that wouldn’t have been out of place in Morricone’s score for THE THING. Previously released in various forms on LP and CD; Quartet’s version presents the first extended/complete version with the original 13-track LP program and seven bonus tracks, only two of which have appeared on previous reissues. These new tracks are laden with pleasing variations of and interactions between the main themes, including a cool organ rendition of “Sempre Più Verità,” an alternate arrangement of “Assalito Dalle Rondini” transformed into a seething sneer of atonal tension, and a 6.5 minute erotically-suspenseful built-up of the love theme.
1974’s FATTI DE GENTE PERBENE (aka THE MURRI AFFAIR), also for Bolognini, is a political drama based on a true story from 1900s Italy in which a troubled young man kills his sister's abusive and reactionary husband and whose trial takes on politically socialist agendas. Morricone’s score is rooted in a familial love theme associated with the Murri siblings, a poignant solo violin that even in its haunting beauty suggests the bonds of love, of darkness, and of ultimate tragedy that will oversee the story. Of particular interest is Morricone’s re-use of his famous chiming pocket-watch theme from FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, here becoming a repeated ostinato (starting, as in the Leone film, as source music and moving into an intensely dramatic element of the score as the film goes on) associated with the murder scene and, ultimately, the murder itself. The ostinato is integrated within various other themes and cues as characters and events interact with the murder that lies at the story’s crux. As with NATURALE, Morricone extrudes an intense darkness through his seething, sustained strings in tracks like “Il Tema Per Un Assassino;” the contrast with these darker motifs against the pure lyricism of the Murri family theme in its various recurrences is continuously striking. There are a number of variations of these primary themes throughout, as well as a few source pieces composed and performed in period style. This album has also had its share of releases and reissues, but Quartet’s is the first to offer the complete score with 14 previously unissued tracks, including the single version of the primary theme, “Accade a Venezia.” Both releases have very informative notes by Gergely Hubai which puts the films, and their music, into period perspective while effectively analyzing the musical structure of each score.
YOUNG JUSTICE/Carter,McCuistion,& Ritmamis/La-La Land
La-La Land’s summer release of this DC animated TV series contains some first rate dramatic scoring. It’s super hero music with a youthful edge, meaning that much of the music is dark and captures a lot more angst and attitude than the gleaming super hero music of these hero’s Justice League protégés. Running two seasons from 2010-2013 and set in a futuristic, fictional earth, the series followed the lives of teenaged heroes who create a fictional covert operation group called The Team - essentially a young counterpart to the famous adult team, the Justice League. Scored by the intrepid super-hero animation music team Dynamic Music Partners (Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion, and Lolita Ritmanis), the music quickly departs from its electronic-infused heroic measure found in the show’s title theme. Of the title theme, as McCuistion explains in John Takis’ illuminating album notes, “We basically had twenty seconds to lead the viewers into this futuristic and darkly mysterious world. We decided to try a hybrid approach of using a strong melody surrounded by a textural sound to bridge the gap between the standalone theme and the underscore to follow.” Working together and individually, the trio carried this hybrid sensibility into the episode scores and motifs for individual heroes and the villains they encounter. As Ritmanis observes, “the majority of perceptible themes in YOUNG JUSTICE are more about sonic impact than melody.” Percussive riffing doubled by synths, electric bass guitar, keyboards and orchestra samples generates a tremendous energy and propulsion to the episode scores, shadowy, granular, and somewhat hyperactive musical commotion abounds, but all of it possesses a clear forward motion and rhythmic basis; out of this gloomy activity, the main rises with sufficient frequency to keep the music’s focus on track, and set a high contrast to the darker music, just as the team of young heroes sets a standard of rightness over the criminal undertakings perpetrated by the lower levels of the society in which they serve. La-La Land’s compilation a wide range of music from a variety of episodes – 42 score tracks ranging from a minute or so to nearly 4 minutes in length, plus the main and end title music, bristling with activity and the self-assurance of youth both brave and bold.
Soundtrack & Music News
Composer Henry Jackman’s gripping score for Paul Greengrass’ geopolitical thriller CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (see review above) has won Best Feature Film Score at the sixth annual Hollywood Music in Media Awards (HMMA) last month. In addition, the Nonesuch Records album INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, compiled and produced by T. Bone Burnett and the Coen Brothers, took Best Soundtrack honors, and composer Jeff Beal won Best TV Score for the Netflix series HOUSE OF CARDS. Other HMMA winners include ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT composer David Schwartz for his Best TV Show Song with “Getaway” from Season 4, and WALKING DEAD composer Bear McCreary for Best TV Theme Song. The film THANKS FOR SHARING counted two awards: Robin Urdang for Best Music Supervision and Kathryn Gallagher for her Best Song, “Damaged.” Jeff Broadbent was awarded Best Original Video Game Score for his original music to the ground breaking Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) First-Person Shooter (FPS), PlanetSide®2 for Sony Online Entertainment. Said Jackman, “It was an honor to work with director Paul Greengrass to tell the story of Captain Richard Phillips and the Somali Pirates. I enjoyed the challenge of telling a balanced story and adding perspective to this morally complex issue.”
The HMMA recognizes and honors music of visual mediums and the individuals who create, produce and place compositions in the medium. www.hmmawards.org
On Sunday, December 10, 2013 Education Through Music-Los Angeles will host its 8th Annual Benefit Gala honoring award-winning composer John Debney and veteran music teacher Christine DeMore. The Gala will take place at the Skirball Cultural Center in the Ahmanson Ballroom; proceeds will benefit ETM-LA, a nonprofit organization providing music education in underserved schools as part of the core curriculum.
ASIFA-Hollywood has announced nominations for its 41st Annual Annie Awards™ recognizing the year’s best in the field of animation. The Annie Awards cover 30 categories and include Best Animated Feature, Best Animated Special Production, Commercials, Short and Outstanding Individual Achievements. The music nominations are:
Music in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production
Alan Williams – ESTEFAN – Silverscreen Music
Guy Moon – T.U.F.F. PUPPY –
Nickelodeon Animation Studio
Peter Luyre, Stuart Kollmorgen, Peter Zizzo –
– Nickelodeon Animation Studio
Kevin Kliesch, Craig Gerber, John Kavanaugh – DISNEY SOFIA THE FIRST
– Disney Television Animation
Christopher Willis – DISNEY MICKEY MOUSE
– Disney Television Animation
Andy Bean – DISNEY WANDER OVER YONDER
– Disney Television Animation
Music in an Animated Feature Production
Alan Silvestri – THE CROODS –
Henry Jackman – TURBO
– DreamWorks Animation
Mark Mothersbaugh – CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2
– Sony Pictures Animation
Heitor Pereira, Pharrell Williams – DESPICABLE ME 2
– Universal Pictures
Danny Elfman – EPIC – Blue Sky Studios
Randy Newman – MONSTERS UNIVERSITY
– Pixar Animation Studios
Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, Christophe Beck – FROZEN
– Walt Disney Animation Studios
Dominic Lewis – FREE BIRDS –
Winners will be announced at the 41st Annual Annie Awards ceremony on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at UCLA’s Royce Hall, in Los Angeles, CA. For a complete list of Annie Award nominations, ticket and event information, please visit www.annieawards.org.
Worth Reading: Why Is Everyone pointing at me? Film composer Laura Karpman shares her thoughts on what it’s like to be the only woman in the room and have people point fingers at her – and why that’s a good thing.
Howard Shore’s soundtrack to THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG will be released on December 10th by WaterTower Music, available both digitally and as a 2 CD set. A Special Edition soundtrack, featuring twelve extended tracks, a bonus track, expanded liner notes, and interactive sheet music will also be made available. Included on the soundtrack along with the film score is “I See Fire,” a new song created for the film by Ed Sheeran, the 22-year old British singer/songwriter. “Ed Sheeran is a true Tolkien fan, and also happens to be a brilliant singer-songwriter,” said director Peter Jackson. “ ‘I See Fire’ is Ed’s emotional response to the film. It’s perfect.”
Blake Neely has been tapped to score the upcoming 10-part TV documentary series THE SIXTIES. The show explores key moments of the 1960s through archival newsreel footage, personal movies, and interviews with eyewitnesses to history. The docudrama is executive produced by Tom Hanks & Gary Goetzman for Playtone and Mark Herzog for Herzog & Company. Neely, whose scoring credits include such TV shows as THE MENTALIST, ARROW and EVERWOOD and features including LIFE AS WE KNOW IT has previously scored Playtone’s HBO series THE PACIFIC and the documentary MAGNIFICENT DESOLATION: WALKING ON THE MOON 3D.
- via filmmusicreporter
De Wolfe Music’s long-awaited and much-delayed CD release of Paul Ferris’ splendid score to the 1970 Vincent Price thriller WITCHFINDER GENERAL has finally been issued. The previously unreleased album comes with an informative booklet containing stills and liner-notes. See: http://www.roughtrade.com/albums/67778
The team behind the online CinemaScore and Soundtrack Magazine Archives has launched a web site in appreciation of film composer/orchestrator Hugo Friedhofer. Designed by Pascal Dupont, the site debuted within the last few weeks and is still behind expanded with new and reprinted content, but has received support from such Friedhofer scholars as William Rosar and John Steven Lasher, who have generously allowed previous content to be posted to the page.
On Friday the 13th of December, composer Simon Boswell is offering a double album in vinyl or CD or his classic score to Richard Stanley’s movie, HARDWARE. These are limited to 1,000 double vinyl and double CD boxed sets, with 50 of each signed by Boswell and Stanley. The album features new original artwork by Graham Humphreys (see photo), and is now available for pre-order online from www.simonboswell.com
Lukas Kendall has made the complete FSM print archive available in PDF form for free download (they were previously purchasable on data CD). This is a great value especially to researchers as the PDF files are searchable. See:
Spanish composer Roque Baños brings his mastery for creating bone-chilling aural suspense to Spike Lee’s re-imagination of Chan-wook Park’s cult South Korean provocative thriller OLDBOY. Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Samuel L. Jackson, OLDBOY tells the story of Joe Doucett (Brolin), an advertising executive who is mysteriously kidnapped and held hostage for 20 years in solitary confinement. When Joe is inexplicably released, he embarks on a path of revenge to discover who orchestrated his bizarre punishment. In capturing the fall and rise of a crushed, innocent man in OLDBOY, Baños remarkably wrote and scored OLDBOY in under a month’s time, and conducted it with the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra in Slovakia. Spike Lee tapped Baños for OLDBOY based on the composer’s mesmerizing work in EVIL DEAD. While contemporary string textures were one of the prime instrumental highlights in EVIL DEAD, for OLDBOY Baños relied upon electronic instruments in creating looping rhythms, which he then combined with strings, brass and percussion. Baños wrote two main themes used throughout OLDBOY, one for the suppressed protagonist Joe and the second for the acerbic villain Adrian Pryce (Sharlto Copley). Says Baños, “Adrian’s theme is dark, but also sad because of his past. Joe’s theme has a touch of epic given his heroic rise. It’s not an entirely epic theme because it has touches of emotion and revenge. Hitting the emotion was key as OLDBOY follows the transition of a man who has been confined for 20 years who then becomes more serious. He finds a lot in his life.”
ALL IS LOST stars Robert Redford as a man deep into a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean whose navigation equipment and radio are disabled after a collision with a shipping container left floating on the high seas. His 39-foot yacht taking on water, and unable to navigate, he sails unknowingly into the path of a violent storm. The soundtrack album has been released digitally and on CD by Community Music, and features ten original compelling, poignant compositions and one new song written, composed and produced by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ Alexander Ebert.
Composer Mark Isham marks his third collaboration with award-winning filmmaker Frank Darabont with TNT’s 1940s gangster series MOB CITY, which revolves around the decades-long conflict between the Los Angeles Police Department -- under the determined leadership of Police Chief William Parker -- and infamous gangsters such as Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel. Isham also performs on the score for MOB CITY in addition to writing fresh noir tunes and rearranging a number of Big Band standards. Isham has also scored Gary Fleder’s action thriller, HOMEFRONT. Scripted by Sylvester Stallone, based on the Chuck Logan novel, HOMEFRONT stars Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder and Kate Bosworth, and tells the story of an ex-DEA agent (Statham) who he tries to retire with his family to a small, quiet town only to find it is overrun with drug traffickers and needs cleaning up. Isham also continues to score the ABC TV series ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND and its predecessor ONCE UPON A TIME.
Sparks & Shadows, the boutique record label founded by composer Bear McCreary, announces the release of the DEFIANCE Soundtrack, Deluxe Edition on November 29th. The album, features two CDs, one containing 22 tracks of original score, original songs and cover songs as heard in the first season of DEFIANCE, and the other 22 tracks of original score MMO game. DEFIANCE gave McCreary the opportunity to write not only the underscore for the show but also songs for the multiple alien races. “Scoring a project like DEFIANCE is a rare situation for a composer,” said McCreary. “I was asked to help bring the alien cultures to life by developing a distinct musical heritage for each. I fashioned Votan instrumentation and lyrics into a variety of popular songs and ceremonial pieces. I wrote pieces for street musicians that float through open-air marketplaces. I produced alien classical music, jingles, jazz, rock-anthems and torch songs. The musical world of DEFIANCE is as diverse as the cultures it represents. For the first time on CD, this Deluxe Edition brings it together in one place.” I am very pleased to have been asked to write the commentary notes for this release.
McCreary’s label has also released a digital EP containing his score to THE WORLD OF STEAM: THE CLOCKWORK HEART, featuring 12 plus minutes of music composed for the pilot episode of the web-series, “The Clockwork Heart.” THE WORLD OF STEAM is a set of Twilight Zone-like episodes set in a Steampunk universe. “With my intense workload this year, I never thought I’d have the time to take on a new web-series. However, after one look at Matt Yang King’s short The Clockwork Heart, I knew immediately I had to be involved,” said McCreary. “The elegant story and innovative steampunk visual aesthetic alone would have hooked me. It was the film’s reliance on musical storytelling that made it especially appealing. Here was a rare opportunity for lyrical scoring where the music would be at the forefront. I was hooked.”
Intrada’s latest releases include, for the first time, Henry Mancini’s film soundtrack music to BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’s – all previous releases contained his album re-record version. Along with their earlier release of Mancini’s original HATARI! film tracks, this is a holy grail soundtrack for many of us and a must-have for any serious soundtrack collection. Released along with it is the first issuance of Bruce Broughton’s wonderfully comic melodrama score for SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER, and two unreleased scores by Craig Safan, the music to the REMO WILLIAMS television series, and the music to the made-for-TV movie, MISSION OF THE SHARK: THE SAGA OF THE U.S.S. INDIANAPOLIS combined on the same disc.
La-La Land Records has announced its final releases of the year, a fistful of major soundtrack reissues beginning with an 8-CD set containing music from all four of the LETHAL WEAPON movies (including the premiere release of LETHAL WEAPON 4), the first-ever release of Robert Folk’s wonderful score from POLICE ACADEMY, Dimitri Tiomkin’s classic 1957 Western score to GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL, presented here in its original film version for the first time, an expanded 2-CD retake on John Ottman’s score to SUPERMAN RETURNS, and John Debney’s new score for this month’s TV miniseries version of BONNIE & CLYDE. Mouth watering.
Check out the site for pre-order and limited signed copy availability: http://www.lalalandrecords.com/
Quartet Records has released the premiere CD soundtrack to Lalo Schifrin’s F/X 2 (1991), sequel to the 1985 thriller about a movie special-effects man brought in to use his cinematic illusions to solve a murder. Schifrin’s wrote a quintessential late ‘80s/early ‘90s action score featuring lots of intricate Fender Rhodes and rhythm section. The release includes album notes by yours truly. Other goodies coming soon from Quartet are expanded reissues of Maurice Jarre’s A PASSAGE TO INDIA and Lee Holdridge’s THE BEASTMASTER (the latter on 2 CDs), and an archival world premiere release of the original soundtrack of Miklós Rózsa’s PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.
For soundbytes, see http://www.quartetrecords.com/
Perseverance Records has reissued the soundtrack to Michael Mann’s THIEF (1981), featuring music by Tangerine Dream, with an additional score track by Craig Safan, and has just announced their release of Brian Ralston's score from the off-broadway show, Private Dancer. The show is the story of the tumultuous personal and professional life of famed actress Rita Hayworth. “Ralston's score is a nod to the style of Bernard Herrmann,” said Perseverance’s Robin Esterhammer. “His music is featured in the film section of the play. Brian recorded the score with the famed Hollywood Studio Symphony which gives it a sound that could from any golden age film of the 1950s.”
Kritzerland has announced three new releases for December: first up: John Wayne at Fox – The Westerns, comprising on two discs (at a one-CD price) music from three of the Duke’s Western movies for 20th Century Fox: THE COMANCHEROS (1961; Elmer Bernstein), NORTH TO ALASKA (1960; Lionel Newman), and THE UNDEFEATED (1969; Hugo Montenegro). “Both THE COMANCHEROS and THE UNDEFEATED were previously released on CD by FSM, and NORTH TO ALASKA was released on CD by Intrada,” noted Kritzerland’s Bruce Kimmel. “All are out of print - we're pleased to bring them all together in one great 2-CD set - they've all been newly remastered for this release.” The second album is a world premiere release containing two never-before issued soundtracks, the 1954 Billy Wilder film SABRINA and the music from Paramount’s 1956 Christmas release, WE’RE NO ANGELS, both with music by Frederick Hollander. The third album is a reissue of Kritzerland’s sold out 2008 archival release of the music from Bernard Herrmann’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL and A CHILD IS BORN, a pair of TV Christmas specials from the mid-1950s. The original release sold out almost immediately.
Walt Disney Records will release the original motion picture soundtrack for SAVING MR. BANKS, as well as a 2-disc deluxe edition on December 10, 2013. Thomas Newman composed and conducted the original score. The film stars Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson and is based on the story of the making of Disney’s MARY POPPINS movie. Newman said of scoring the film, “The rare opportunity of writing music for a movie about the making of MARY POPPINS was impossible to ignore,” Newman said. “The fact that it could provide emotional content in relief of the struggles that the Sherman brothers and Walt Disney endured was reason enough to take on the challenge. Like the story itself, the music is at times joyous and hopeful and other times, full of despair and nagging regret. All by way of England and America in 1961, with stops along the way to rural Australia in 1906. What more could anyone ask for...?” The soundtrack also features the songs “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” performed by Jason Schwartzman (as Richard Sherman) and B.J. Novak (as Robert Sherman) as they ‘demo’ the songs for P. L. Travers. Richard Sherman served as Music Consultant for the film.
England’s Silva Screen has released DOCTOR WHO: The 50th Anniversary Collection, a comprehensive overview of the very special music that has accompanied the Doctor over his travels through time and space from William Hartnell in 1963 to present day Matt Smith. From Ron Grainer's iconic theme realized by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's Delia Derbyshire to Murray Gold’s orchestral tapestries, this is a musical saga of monumental proportions. The esteemed collection of composers featured include Tristram Cary, Brian Hodgson, Wilfred Josephs, Dudley Simpson, Geoffrey Burgon, Paddy Kingsland, Roger Limb, Malcolm Clarke, Keff McCulloch, Dominic Glynn, John Debney and many more. The lavish 20 page booklet with the set includes liner notes from Doctor Who composer Mark Ayres on the history of music in the series and details of the episodes. For track list see silva screen
Canada’s Disques Cinémusique has announced their latest pair of releases, both CD premiers of significant French movie scores, and both in limited editions of 500 copies each. The first is Maurice Jarre’s music for Volker Schlöndorff’s CIRCLE OF DECEIT (Le Faussaire, 1981), a drama that follows a German reporter (Bruno Ganz) on a mission to Beirut to cover the ongoing conflict between Christians and Muslims. Confronted with the horrors and the complexity of this civil war, he comes to question the usefulness of his profession. “Jarre, who had previously collaborated with Schlöndorff for THE TIN DRUM, opts for a largely atonal score, but it is not unattractive for that,” notes the label. “Though disconcerting at first glance, the cues quickly become enthralling and prove to be very efficient on a dramatic level. The synthesizer and a chorus occasionally support the orchestra dominated by brass. Jarre uses many exotic plucked instruments, as well as a wide array of percussion, providing local color throughout the score.”
The companion release is Pierre Jansen’s THE LACEMAKER (1977; La Dentellière), Claude Goretta’s story about a transient love affair. “The score offers classical-style pieces performed by a traditional orchestra dominated by strings and woodwinds, highlighting flute, piano and guitar, in addition to popular source music typical of the seventies, with synthesizer, electric guitars, drums and vocals.”
Kronos Records has announced its latest limited releases of notable Italian film music, with the premiere CD release of Francesco De Masi’s epic, bombastic SOLIMANO IL CONQUISTATORE (1961; Suleiman the Conqueror). The 1961 This low-budget Italo-Yugoslavian co-production follows the exploits of 16th century conqueror Suleiman the Magnificent, the leader of the Ottoman Empire who tried to overtake Europe. Also announced is Carlo Rustichelli’s I PROMESSI SPOSI (The Betrothed), a 1964 TV movie based on the 1825 historical novel by Alessandro Manzoni, which is set in 1628 Northern Italy during the oppressive years under Spanish rule. The first release of the score on CD, Kronos’ album contained the original CAM LP program, plus 13 tracks never before released in any format. Both albums are limited to only 500 copies, and will ship early 2014. Sound samples on these and other new or forthcoming releases can be found at: http://www.kronosrecords.com/
Also, the partnership of Krono with MovieScore Media has released the music from Cartoon Network’s LEGENDS OF CHIMA, an animated adventure series based on the hit Lego toyline of the same name. The Cartoon Network show takes place in Chima, a magical land filled by tribes of anthropomorphic animals in which a mystical energy source called Chi forces the inhabitants to battle one another. The music was written by Danish composer Anthony Lledo, who made his grand entrance into the world of film scoring with the orchestral score to the Swedish thriller FROSTBITE (released by MSM). Lledo’s score is an exciting, colorful and epic-styled one with more than one respectful stylistic nod to John Williams and SUPERMAN. MSM has also released the music to the Spanish animated film, THE LITTLE WIZARD, composed by Marc Timón Barceló and Miguel Cordeiro who were also influenced by John Williams for this thematic-based adventure score, which has already been nominated for the Jerry Goldsmith Award at the International Film Music Festival as well as the Spanish Film Music Critics Award. Both scores are available digitally via iTunes and on CD from the label.
Italy’s CAM Records is offering a 30-CD set, Cinema Collection (30 Film Music Masterpieces), currently available for pre-order from amazon.it, Chris’ Soundtrack Corner, and arksquare.net in Japan. The set has a release date of Dec. 10 (postponed from original date of Dec. 3). For a list of what’s on each of the 30 discs, click on the Chris’ Soundtrack Corner link above.
Also from Italy, GDM’s latest batch of forthcoming soundtracks include INPUTAZIONE DI OMICIDIO PER UNO STUDENTE (Charge of Murder Against a Student), a very good 1972 score by Ennio Morricone, IL LUNGO SILENZIO (The Long Silence), also by Morricone from 1993, and Armando Trojavoli’s L’ANATRA ALL’ARANCIA (Duck in Orange Sauce), from 1975.
Digitmovies’ seasoned Italian film music releases for December are Stelvio Cipriani’s score for Ernesto Gastaldi’s 1971 thriller LA LUNGA SPIAGGIA FREDDA (Death Company), presented for the first time ever, complete and in full stereo; a 2-CD premiere stereo release of Mario Nascimbene’s 1961 historical drama for André De Toth, I MONGOLI (The Mongols), starring Jack Palance and Anita Ekberg; and Franco Micalizzi’s Italian police thriller, Bruno Corbucci’s DELITTO A PORTA ROMANA (1980; Crime at Porta Romana), starring Tomas Milian.
Beat Records’ December releases are Ennio Morricone’s score to LE RUFFIAN, a reissue of the out-of-print 1983 crime comedy; LE ALTRE by Piero Piccioni, a 1969 Sapphic romance; ERIKA, a cool lounge romance score by the late Roberto Pregadio from 1971; and HOUSE OF FORBIDDEN SECRETS, a new horror score by giallo master Fabio Frizzi (the film is said to be in the style of Lucio Fulci). The first three releases are all limited editions of 500 copies, and are remastered and contain booklets with detailed liner notes in both English and Italian.
Games Music News
Worth watching: During the Montreal International Game Summit last month, Assassin's Creed Liberation composer Winifred Phillips, also the author of the forthcoming book A Composer's Guide to Game Music (MIT Press, February 2014), spoke to the audience about how to compose musical themes for games, using her award-winning soundtrack for the Assassin's Creed Liberation video game as an example. Her presentation has been posted to youtube here.
Composer Siddhartha Barnhoorn reports that his score for the video game Out There will be released early next year and both game and full soundtrack can be pre-ordered from http://www.outtheregame.com/. In the meantime, a 5-track digital album of Barnhoorn’s score may be bought for as little as $2 from Barnhoorn's web site http://siddharthabarnhoorn.bandcamp.com/album/out-there
Randall D. Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine. A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer. He has written liner notes for more than 120 soundtrack CDs for such labels as La-La Land, FSM, Perseverance, Silva Screen, Harkit, Quartet, and BSX Records. A largely re-written and expanded Second Edition of Musique Fantastique is being published: the first of this four-book series is now available. See: www.musiquefantastique.com
Special thanks to Benjamin Michael Joffe.
Randall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org