Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2012-2 
February 27, 2012

By Randall D. Larson

Q: While the larger percentage of your scores has been for comedy films, you have not written comic music.  Your scores circumnavigate the drama inherent within the storylines and give these pictures their emotional core.   With that in mind, what do you feel is the essential duty of music in a comedy film?  Does it or should it have any kind of a different purpose or technique than in a drama or a thriller or a detective movie?

Rolfe Kent: Well firstly, I appreciate that people think that comedy constitutes the bulk of my work, but I think it's like 51% or maybe 52%. It's just that some of the more high profile ones are what seems to be noticed. But that's really the accident of the marketplace. But it's just funny that one gets known for one single thing.  As I said, every film has its own unique issues and problems and challenges, and I always come fresh to each one.  I think the biggest thing regarding comedy that is a challenge for me is when there's a certain expectation that I am going to do what I've done before which is, frankly, the most crossing thing to be burdened with! So there have definitely been times when the challenge has not been to sort of find a specific comedy approach, it is how can I do this without using pizzicato, because everyone seems to think those pizzicato kind of rhythms are the way to go! So you are inventing new ways of doing things, I suppose.

I don't really think of those comedies very much as comedies, really. I am aware that sometimes the music has to give license to the audience to find things funny, but I think my approach on all films is about storytelling.  It’s about point of view – what point of view and what energy the director is looking for.  I'm fairly sure that I don't approach comedies any differently from non-comedy films, because it's the point of view that gives license to find something humorous.  It's not really any different for comedy except that the kind of emotions and emotional reactions you're inviting are different; but I think they are specific in all films.  There isn’t any difference between a comedy and anything else in terms of the overall approach.

Q: Are there different approaches for different types of comedy films – for example, romantic comedies, madcap comedies, dramedies, raunchy comedies, teen comedies, and so on?  Do these subspecies of the comedy family pose specific challenges or musical techniques to make them work better – or am I trying to psychoanalyze the genre too much?

Rolfe Kent: The films that got me early recognition were all quite ironic. They were satires, and satire is its own thing, and at the time there really wasn't much satire going on in the US. This was back when we made ELECTION and CITIZEN RUTH and films like that. There, it's absolutely not a question of setting up a laugh; it is completely about setting up an ironic point of view – a way of seeing things that leaves room for an ironic perception.  The opening of CITIZEN RUTH, for example, is of the character Ruth being fucked on a dirty mattress in a filthy hovel, and then kicked out and smashing a car in the parking lot. There is nothing there that is funny except for the point of view, and the point of view is actually very funny because it starts off with this ridiculously romantic music over the sex — if one is generous enough to call it sex, it's so unappealing — and then the score comes in and has a kind of whimsy over her smashing the car and suddenly the point of view is different. It absolutely does not say "this is funny." But it gives the audience license to find it not grim, which without music is very grim. So the approach, in satire, is very much a very careful navigation of point of view.

The other thing which has constantly come up throughout my career has been that the filmmaker doesn't want to do the "Hollywood thing." They know that those big, old sweeping scores will turn audiences off because those big, old sweeping scores tend to tell them what emotion to have.  Audiences are more sophisticated and want to be more responsible for their own emotions and their own perceptions, so the music can be obvious in the way it sets things up.  I’ve come to realize that people don't mind being set up for humor, but they do mind being set up for emotion.  So, especially in things that have a romantic sense or a strong heart to them, the music cannot do it in that old way of “feeding them the violins.” Audiences spot that and hate it. At least sophisticated audiences do.  And of course that kind of stuff crushes any possibility of humor if people are already being cynical about the way they're being manipulated while watching the film.  It's come up a number of times – directors say "whatever you do, don't go sappy on me. Don't give us schmaltz!"  Unless of course schmaltz is what's called for!

Q: In the couple of decades you’ve been scoring films, how has music, specifically for comedy, changed in terms of style, technique, and what is being asked of you?

Rolfe Kent: I don't know! And partly I don't know because what I ask of myself changes, but I'm not keenly aware of it. What I do know is there is way more satire now and a much more ironic sensibility than there was in the mid-90s when Alexander Payne was making CITIZEN RUTH and ELECTION. There is more of that kind of intelligent humor in the mainstream now than there used to be and it may be that that's become a more common way of approaching things. But I'm not entirely sure. What I am sure of is that in movie scores, generally, there seems to be an awful lot of score.  I don't remember being so conscious of how much music was being produced, and most of it seems very average. Maybe that's always been the case, and it's easy to look back to the past and go "but, there were these gems that were coming out back in those days, why don't we have those anymore?" I am privileged in that I get called on to produce strong melodies and put in a lot of personality and character into what I do, and I guess a lot of films avoid that. It does seem that there is a lot of music that is pretty much interchangeable because it doesn't have that much personality in movie scores, so I’m aware that I’m in a rather happy situation because character is what I'm entirely about. 


I do think that I am privileged in that I get called on to produce strong melodies and put in a lot of personality and character into what I do, and I guess a lot of films avoid that.


Q: When does a theme-and-variation approach work well, and when does simply establishing a musical vibe over the arc of the story work best?  What is it about the film that suggests one kind of scoring approach versus another?

Rolfe Kent: I'm always very much about themes.  I think it's also why I get called, because thematic material, strong melodies, is what I do, and some films just don't need that. So my experience tends to be with the thematic stuff, so when I'm called, the films that I see, they mostly seem to need the thematic approach!  I find it works brilliantly for storytelling because it enables you to connect the dots in a very significant manner. When people get very used to a certain theme being associated with a certain feeling, quality, or character, then you can make the slightest reference to that theme 20 minutes later and the audience knows what that's about. It's holding the story together in a very tight and unspoken but groovy way.

Q: There seems to be an increasingly prevalent practice to use a lot of songs, licensed or original, as a large part of a film’s soundtrack, even in some cases accommodating dramatic moments with songs.  How should the score interact with/complement the songs used in some of these films?

Rolfe Kent: It would be great if we knew what those songs were going to be, but generally we don't.  I always ask when I know there's going to be a song and that the music is going to connect somehow to it or run into it. It's really a good idea to know that we’re in the same key and things like that, so I always ask. But very often there's a delay between finishing the filmmaking and the release of the film.  If it's going to be seven months between us finishing the film and it actually being released, they quite often want to do a final mix of the film shortly before the release so that the songs are current. In that case, there's no way of knowing. So the best I can generally do in those situations is to find out what they're intending and trying keep in mind. But, really I often just have to accept that it's something they going to make the best of in the mixing status.

Q: Your recent score for MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS was a characteristically cheerful yet rich in supporting the film’s heartfelt emotional components.  What can you say about the development of that score?

Rolfe Kent: That was very strongly influenced by the director's request that it be Gershwinesque, that it be influenced by Rhapsody in Blue, that it be influenced by An American in Paris.  Mark [Waters] wanted colors of Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin to be apparent in the score, so that it has that sort of classic Deco New York scale and weight.  We listened to those pieces and discussed what instrumentation and what rhythms and what colors are the kind colors we really liked in association with New York. That was the intention, to produce an iconic New York sound.  The melodies and the arrangements of course are original but they're very influenced by Gershwin and by Bernstein so that it felt like it had that sort of architectural quality to it.  That was really the approach. Of course, there's a lot of music in the film so it had to do a lot of different things. Those big, bold moments are where we really get to exercise the orchestra and sound grand, but the whole architecture of the score was colored by and influenced by that approach. I'm very proud of that score; I felt it was a real achievement. 

Q: What was most unusual for you in scoring THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS?  What spoke to you about the kind of music that would be right for it?

Rolfe Kent: GOATS was a tricky one. Part of the narrative, which is based on truth, is that these warriors in the US military referred to themselves as Jedi, and, coincidently, in the cast we have Ewan MacGregor who had played Obi-Wan Kenobi but is now playing a very, very different character – but certainly there was a moment when we went, “well we’re not referencing STAR WARS!  We can't, it would just be too lame!”  But we did at least address that! The overall philosophy varied through the film.  It was originally intended to be rather drier an approach, and then we realized that it needed to actually have a bit more energy and a bit more color to it.  But it was a real mixture.  There is the serious mystery quality of what's going on, the journey to discover things, and we really treated that seriously; at the same time there's this back story of what went on with the Jedi, how they were created, and all of that.  So it was a tricky one because the score needed to navigate a line between sending things up due to the absurdity of it all, while also taking it seriously because the characters involved were deadly serious and the stakes to them were very high.  It was tricky to find the right point of view to tell that story and give it a real sense of substance, especially as it came to its climax.

Q: Your score for the crime thriller MEXICO CITY was unusual in that it’s written completely for solo guitar.  How did you determine that approach and what did you do to make that approach work, dramatically?

Rolfe Kent: The use of only guitar came out of a discussion between me and the director, Richard Shepherd.  While the only sound source was Spanish guitar they could be screwed with in various ways, so I could put it down an octave, I could layer it, and there was a point where the sound I wanted would be like a submarine sonar and I figured out a way of processing the sound of a nylon string guitar so that it came out sounding like that.  There was one passage I might normally have written for strings, but instead I wrote these chords and had the chords played one note at a time in tremolo, so we ended up with something like 12 guitars all tremoloing on different notes to create this big wall of sound.  It was challenging but it was really interesting and diverting; of course the film is set entirely in Mexico.  The idea was to create a score that was very melodic yet sought to have some sort of iconic value was through music that is diverse and yet only came from Spanish guitar.  I thought it was a really worthwhile approach because you end up with something rich that doesn't sound like anything else.

Q: You wrote the theme for the TV series DEXTER, but not the episode scores.  How did you get involved in this and how did you work out the type of signature theme the show needed?

Rolfe Kent: I believe I became involved through Gary Calamar, who was supposed to be the song supervisor on the series.   I don't know how my name came up but I met with the producers and the director of the first episode; I watched it and thought it was wonderful and it was very dark, and I thought they're going to want something very sober and dark.  But they said, “No we want it light! We wanted with a whimsy, but a twist!”  So I went away and I wrote two themes: one was in a swing rhythm and the other one was much straighter and they said, “We like the swing rhythm but we want the theme from the straighter one!”  And at the time I was thinking, that's not possible!  Then I decided just to try and see if I can jam the straight melody into the swing rhythm, and that's what I did.  It's got that slightly reggae feel but it's swung. And because the show is set in Miami they wanted to have a somewhat Afro-Cuban influence to it, so there are some elements that contribute that – there's guiro and some other percussion.  But apart from that I just went with finding sounds and rhythms that felt good to me.  That’s how the theme evolved.  I was surprised that it fit the show so well because, as I said, my thought on the show was that it seemed very dark and dry, while the melody and the music seemed more skipping and whimsical, but it fit.  It contributes that element that isn't actually in the show but it feels like it is.

Q:  It's got that sense of sardonic wit and irony about it and it really sums up the character.

Rolfe Kent: Right. And then Dan Licht did a lovely cover of it in one episode of the first series.

Q: Was there ever a consideration of you scoring the episodes, or did you just come in to write a theme?

Rolfe Kent: No.  I don't know if Dan was already on board but, no, no one ever talked to me about doing the episodes.

Q: You also scored both series of TV’s THE JURY, which ran nine years apart.  What kind of music did this show need and how did you find the confines of a weekly series, albeit one of short-run?

Rolfe Kent: I came on because a college friend of mine, Peter Morgan, was the writer on both series. He's an old and a great friend and a huge writer in Hollywood, actually, now. Were both English, but he wrote THE HEREAFTER, and FROST/NIXON. In both series of THE JURY he simply rang me up and asked if I would do the show. On the original one, there were only six episodes, and five episodes of the second, so they weren't really episodic TV in the way that some things go on for years. These were very limited runs.  On the first one, the director was very keen on human voice and something that was very soulful.  I came up with a melody, which I originally wrote for the Chinese er-hu, I did in fact use an er-hu on some of it, but I also found this wonderful singer in a bar near London who came in for two days and did a bit of singing.  The melody – I was and often am interested in what I call long melodies. Movie scores generally do four-bar or eight-bar tunes, much like pop songs. But then you listen to Ennio Morricone’s music, especially things like Gabriel’s Oboe from THE MISSION, or the main theme from CINEMA PARADISO, and it's at least 16 bars long and maybe far longer. It's an amazing thing because it has this ongoing sense of narrative; it keeps on drawing you in and in and in and yet doesn't repeat. It has a sense of itself in that you can hear the phrases evolving around themselves, similar rhythms turning up, but it just keeps on discovering itself. I love that approach; it's very seldom possible in film because you don't get that much real estate in which to develop a theme, so when there's an opportunity I love it.  I did it in MEXICO CITY, I had one of those long, evolving themes, and I did it in THE JURY. The main theme is this thing that takes quite a while to evolve, and it exists in various incarnations in the original show, but there's lots of other music as well. Then, ten years later, Peter rings me up again and says we’re going to do another one, would I do the music? And I can't say no! Originally, the director was saying “this is a completely different jury, it's not like a sequel so we don't have to use the same music,” and I thought, that's fine, I’ll come up with different stuff, but I'll update the [original] theme a little bit and show it to them – and they were more love with it the second time round then they were the first! There are new and different themes, but the main title theme is the same, sung by the same woman, and is very much present in the show.  It was very interesting to do and a great experience for mem as you say, known for comedy – to do something which hasn't got a single laugh in it is so delightfully refreshing. 

Q: Your latest score for YOUNG ADULT is your third for director Jason Reitman.  What kind of interaction do you have with him in spotting the film and developing the score, and how would you describe your music for this latest collaboration?

Rolfe Kent: I would describe the music as fairly minimal.  There's a lot of solo piano; it's atmospheric; there is a melody to most things, but the one piece of music that is used the most in the score I always think of as “junkyard jazz.” It's played on my cheapest guitar and various other instruments, and has a sort of clunky, junkyard quality to it; at least that's how I hear it. The way I work with Jason is evolving over the various films we've done together. He has such a strong musical sense and he DJs.  He loves turntablists like Cut Chemist, so it’s not necessarily all about just maintaining a groove but actually coming up with interesting elements to juxtapose against each other.  He's quite inventive in the way he thinks of music.  When I work with him I sometimes will give him bits and pieces to experiment with and he may come back having layered things of mine in interesting ways, which starts a discussion as to what might happen next.  So he's very involved in the way that the music develops. You know, composers always want to compose which is our fault, because we're always trying to fill the page – it's as if were writing the play and the inclination is always to write a play for 50 characters when maybe three would do! Jason's one of these guys who knows which three!  So I will have written a piece of music which I think is fairly minimal, and he'll make me throw out half the cast! He'll say “Take that out and take that out, what we got left?”  And I say “You've got harp left.”  And he goes, “Oh it's great, isn't it?!” Sometimes he's absolutely right.  He's got a great musical insight.

Q: You’re now set to score GAMBIT for Michael Hoffman, a remake of the 1966 film with a script by the Coen Bros.  What can you tell us about this new score? 

Rolfe Kent: Lots of melody and lots of character.  It's a British film and it's mostly set in the UK, so it's kind of fun to work on a film from my home, although the director, Michael Hoffman, is American and some of the cast is. At the moment all I can tell you really is that it will be a lively score, although there isn't a huge amount of it – I think only about a third of the film will have score in it – and it plays a very important role in setting up the energy of the film.

Q: As you've said the larger part by perhaps a percent or two appears to be comedy, although those seem to be the big steppingstones that people are more familiar with.  Thinking back at your filmography thus far, are there other types of films you would like to have a chance to score, but for one reason or another aren’t being offered?  Where would you like to go from here in your career?

Rolfe Kent: I’d love to do some epics but they’re not offered because they're not made. No one seems to make epics anymore. It does make me start thinking that maybe I need to produce an epic, because that would be an amazing thing to be involved in.  I’d love to do thrillers and action films but I don't really want to do them the way they're mostly done these days, so I’ve been fortunate in not being asked to do them if the request means to do them like everybody else is doing them. I have done some, I've worked with Richard Shepard on a number of thrillers including THE HUNTING PARTY which I was very pleased with.  But variety is the key. I think of CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON as a romantic thriller, but Tan Dun brought a very different approach to scoring that film from anything anyone else is doing; so there is definitely the opportunity there to do something really interesting in that genre.  I'm just waiting for someone to step up and suggest it.

Q: You mentioned epics – do you mean costumed historical pictures like from the 50s?

Rolfe Kent: Absolutely. It would be interesting to see if it would be possible to do an indie epic! Using a great digital camera, maybe it's possible to conceive and produce an epic on a budget!  I produced one film 15 years ago so I know it's doable to make a film.  The idea of making a Cinemascope epic on a budget would be kind of exciting!

Thanks to Beth Krakower for facilitating this interview.


New Soundtracks Releases of Note

BLACK GOLD/James Horner/Varese Sarabande
James Horner’s music for this Arab-backed French adventure film about adversarial kingdoms vying for control of the Arabian oil fields in the 1930s is inflected with enough elements of Arabian music and tonality to fit the story’s environs.  The score roams from ethnic ambient cues (“Main Title – A Desert Truce,” “Phantom Army,” “You Were A Prince”) to fairly quiet, ambient orchestral tracks (“I Have Chosen You,” the first half of “Leaving As An Emissary”), or a mixture of the two (the poignant “So This Is War”), not all of which is very interesting, musically, for album listening.  Likewise, the keening female wails of “The Blowing Sands” are likely effective within the context of the film but on the album they are anything but attractive.  “The Wonders of Wealth” is a Williamseque classical piece, modern pomp and circumstances that contrasts ironically with the earthy ethnicity of the Arab landscape and its music.  Horner’s 7-note main theme is engaging when it takes flight, as in the flurry of violins in “Fresh Water” and in the letter half of “Leaving As An Emissary” and a few times in the closing track, “A Kingdom of Oil,” but its absence of felt in the more mollified ambient orchestral tracks; its piano interpretation in “I Have Chosen You” is reverent and respectful, but lifeless on disc until the orchestra joins and gives it a fresh dose of exuberance. The action music in “Battle of the Oil Fields” and “One Brother Lives, One Brother Dies” is quite energetic, the latter largely developing an interaction between strings over a bed or martial drums before seguing into a reflective interpretation of the main theme for subdued violins; the latter portion of the 6:45 track becomes pretty somnambulant, and that’s one of the main problems I have with this album – it has moments of orchestral greatness (especially in those few moments when the main theme is allowed to soar) but much of the score hangs in the air, motionless, like the stark sunlight baking a Arabian desert on a windless afternoon; even the nearly 9-minute finale, “A Kingdom of Oil,” is fairly static in its musical construction.  All of that is likely what the film needed and is proper in its cinematic context but, again, its slow pacing makes for a dull listening experience on its own, outside of the score’s livelier moments.  And much of that, although it’s well textured and accomplished, breaks no new ground and sounds a lot like what we’ve heard before from this composer.  It’s a nice but narrow score.

MovieScore Media

Panu Aaltio's sumptuous score for THE HOME OF DARK BUTTERFLIES received some well-deserved acclaim when released on CD by MovieScore Media in 2009. The Finnish composer is now back with an equallyu impressive score that showcases another side of his musical vocabulary: this is a big, epic, majestic, exciting and powerful adventure score where a strong thematic approach to the heroic aspects of the story forms the backbone of the score.  Also known as PALADIN, DAWN OF THE DRAGONSLAYER is a fantasy epic that was just released on DVD in the UK.  Aaltio’s penchant for broad melodies saturates his approach, which is brimming with soaring melodic themes and heroic anthems.   While “Paladin’s Journey” reflects the kind of languid, heroic melody over bristling mercato strings that are often associated with Hans Zimmer, Aaltio acknowledges that filmscoring standard but applies the technique lightly, and not for long.  His propellant action music is thunderous and vivid, but there are quieter moments of musical persuasion and those delightful, cheer-inducing heroic themes that are the stuff of mythic legendry and fantasy film music.  This is a vigorously exciting score, flavored in thick orchestral strokes that occasionally bask in the warmth of choral accompaniment.  The album sequence follows the journey of Paladin, the young Dragonslayer from his tentative beginnings to his flourishing triumph, with a splendid suite recapping all of the score’s elements as a coda.  Aaltio is a composer worth noticing and MSM has my thanks for bringing another of his scores to our attention.

DOCTOR WHO Series 6/Murray Gold/Silva Screen
In their seventh release of Murray Gold’s thrilling DOCTOR WHO music, Silva Screen presents a 66-track double album featuring lush performances from The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Gold’s frequent associate (and co-composer for WHO’s sister series TORCHWOOD) Ben Foster. As with his previous five seasons (and four specials), Gold’s WHO music is a hugely attractive composition of splendid orchestral music of primarily melodic construction.  It flows vividly creating a fine romantic aura that benefits the Good Doctor and his adventures without, within, and throughout time.  The energetic drive of the music is consistently engaging, while perhaps carrying a slightly more aggressive dynamic than previous seasons, although the frequent soaring melodies happily still abound.  The orchestral music is augmented here and there by a wistful female vocalise (“Deadly Siren” and “Melody Pond” being two provocative examples of this), while Gold’s propulsively rhythmic Doctor Who theme (introduced in “I Am The Doctor in Utah” on Disc 1 and concluding at the end of Disc 2 with The Majestic Tale [Of A Madman In A Box]”) makes occasional incursions upon the subsequent episode scoring.  Among the album’s other singularly intriguing cues are “All For One,” which provides an especially fine anthemic moment midway through, while “The Curse of the Black Spot” captures an amusing semblance of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL in its energetic rhythmatics.  After its quirky processed piano opening, “Lost in the Wrong Stream,” lays down a jazzy groove for strings and bass before settling into eerie reflections of synth and what sounds like water gourd and other ringing percussion.  “Growing Up Fast” offers a big of side-slapping country folk, while “Tick Tock” is occupied with a menacing, processed children’s vocal.  “My Time Is Running Out" renders a poignant moment of reflection with gentle strings tinged with twinkles of piano.  Gold entertains a bit of cartoonlike jazz in “Ladieswear,” dabbles in an electronica-laden nostalgic piano piece in “36 Years,” and riffs on a strident, portentous rhythm with a heavy rock beat for electric guitar and choir in “5:02.”   As with the previous six albums, DOCTOR WHO Series 6 is another must-have soundtrack album; the music just keeps getting better while continuing to evoke musical Doctor Who magic that Gold has clearly made his own.

GONE/David Buckley/Lakeshore
I admired David Buckley’s score for the 2008 Jackie Chan/Jet Li fantasy epic, THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM, and I’m pleased to see this new soundtrack made available.  It’s out digitally now from Lakeshore, with a CD edition coming in on March 20th.   The film is a suspense thriller starring Amanda Seyfried as a woman desperate to rescue her kidnapped sister from an apparent serial killer.   British composer Buckley has provided a somber score that emphasizes the peril that both Seyfried’s character and her sister are in, keeping the viewer uneasy as the story cautiously progresses; at the same time Buckley personifies Seyfried’s character with an air of confidence and dedication.  “It's a dark score expressing danger, paranoia and fear, but ends with a sense of restrained defiance and victory,” described Buckley.  “The challenge in scoring GONE was to provide a layer of tension and intrigue, but one that did not get too big or ahead of the story. A string orchestra and piano feature in many cues, but the filmmakers did not want a traditional score, hence these conventional sounds are used alongside non-standard instrumentation and textures. The score is based around a 5 note motif that at times is used explicitly and elsewhere is twisted and distorted within the musical fabric.”  The score therefore develops with a strong reliance on ambiance and atmosphere.  Its more active moments are energized with a rock-styled beat beneath assertive notes of sustained strings (as in the latter half of “Empty House,” and the entirety of “Jill Runs for her Life” and “Alameda Car Pursuit,” both of which are also dappled by menacing digital voicings).  A similar pulse creates an ominous tonality of unease in “Darkness Falls” and in the first half of “Confronting Jim” until that cue takes on a horror-movie kind of sound design with heavy rushes of synth patterns and jarring percussion, until it returns to the confident action riff for the end of the track. “Evidence” and “Leaving the Forest” allow for more melodic designs as the story reaches its happier ending, although the latter concludes with a resounding aura of renewed menace.  Buckley’s “End Title” adds a persuasive vocalise to his action theme which is very nice; the music as a whole makes for a satisfying listen isolated on the album.

A pair of late ‘60s Spanish terror films scored by Carlo Savina make compatible bedfellows on this recent release from Quartet Records.  Armando de Ossorio’s MALENKA (1969; aka FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD; aka THE VAMPIRE'S NIECE) told of a young virgin who inherits a castle but discovers its undead inhabitants prefer to inherit her blood, while José María Elorrieta’s I DIABOLICI CONVEGNI(1971; FEAST OF SATAN) is about a twisted doctor who abducts vacationing beauties for bizarre experiments.  Savina’s scores for both films feature organ, providing a Gothic feel to each films’ spooky environs (an ancient castle in the former, a menacing sanatorium in the latter), contrasted against a variety of exotic pop and jazz elements that covered each film’s more contemporary elements.  A provocative, swaying violin figure over bongos often saturates the organ tonalities in MALENKA, while furtive, droning slides of violin over low percussion and organ figures create strikingly eerie suspense motifs.  Both scores focus on discordant and atonal musical elements to create distinctly unsettling atmospheres, but remain musically interesting to make the album an intriguing listen.

Music From The Walt Disney/Pixar Films UP, RATATOUILLE, THE INCREDIBLES For Solo Piano/BSX
Pianists Joohyun Park and Mark Northam have crafted compelling solo piano renderings out of Michael Giacchino’s music for these three Pixar animated filmsm now available on a digital release from BSX.  This album and others from this various labels offer further evidence that film music is worthy of the same interpretation of performance and variation as the classical repertoire, and deserves such personalized treatment.  While of course not intended to share the orchestral vivacity of their original orchestral performances, Northam and Park arrange the music into more intimate settings, the result being a very likable album of piano music.  Northam’s interpretation of UP, which already had a nostalgic glint in Giacchino’s original, is especially fitting for solo piano, conveying the old man’s wistful nostalgia and sense of loss through the simple poignancy of the piano keys.  His performance of RATATOUILLE evokes the romantic Parisian splendor of the film score with an elegant and spirited interpretation.  Park’s arrangement of THE INCREDIBLES captures the liveliness of Giacchino’s masterful super hero score with the exciting vitality of silent film piano accompaniment, which gives the music a wholly new exuberance; the opening, “In The Glory Days,” is especially “animated” in her playing.  It’s an enjoyable and intriguing interpretation of film music in a viable and effective instrumental medium.

John Williams & Quincy Jones/FSM

This premiere release pairs two scores for unsold TV pilots – John Williams’ score for Robert Altman’s NIGHTWATCH (broadcast in 1968 but scored in 1965/66 just after the composer’s LOST IN SPACE foray), and Quincy Jones’ music for KILLER BY NIGHT, a failed pilot broadcast on a January 1972 episode of The New CBS Friday Night Movies.  Both scores are infused with jazz – especially (and not surprisingly) Jones, and both feature some splendid pure jazz source cues.  The musical underscore is rooted in a similar jazz base but serves a more dramatic function within that idiom, emboldening the efficient criminal menace at work in both films.  Timpani, furtive percussion raps, and slow pizzicato affords a brooding suspense motif in NIGHTWATCH as echoes of bongos and snare rims and plucked strings saturate the soundscape like a hoodlum’s sneer, while a rhythmic ostinato for declarative string lines over bursts of muted trumpets, along with a separate trumpet figure that reminds one ever so slightly of Williams’ LOST IN SPACE melody, provides a powerful center to the score. The action music is nicely exciting throughout the score, while more of a bluesy jazz riff inflects “Granstrom’s Headache,” in which one of the lead suspects suffers a queasy reaction, a motif revisited by sour strings in “The Waiting Room.”  Jones’ tuneful pop-jazz score for KILLER BY NIGHT, an intended pilot about a communicative disease specialist scoring the streets of L.A. seeking to prevent an epidemic, is jangly and sinewy, supporting the urban activity of the story, the psychology of both its protagonist and its disease-carrying menace, and the overall danger of the dangerous, unseen microbes.  A reserved love theme for synth, flute, and harpsichord offer a respite of the darker music focusing on the potential pandemic.  Aside from these more introspective moments, both scores are quite active and make for an enjoyable jazz-inflected listening experience.  FSM has remastered each score from their only surviving sources (¼” monaural tapes, given a slight stereo ambience for listenability), but the album’s sonic dimension is quite satisfactory (the NIGHTWATCH theme for promo bumpers are in genuine stereo).  A 20-page booklet designed by Joe Sikoryak contains authoritative notes on both films by Jeff Eldridge, plus track-by-track analyses by Eldridge and Frank K. DeWald.

RED TAILS/Terence Blanchard/Sony
Terence Blanchard proffers likely his largest score to date with RED TAILS, a fictionalized portrayal of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American United States Army Air Force servicemen during World War II (subject of an excellent 1995 TV-movie scored by Lee Holdridge).  Produced by Lucasfilm, the movie is epically-scaled, especially in its aerial battle scenes; thus Blanchard scores the film in a suitably epic orchestral fashion dappled with synth colorings and often beaten to flying speed by a heavy percussive propellant.  Sony’s album contains about an hour of Blanchard’s score, with a dozen minutes of period pop tunes heard as source music in the film added to the end of the album.  Arguably better known for his jazz and fusion music and live performances, trumpeter Blanchard came into filmscoring in 1991 through director Spike Lee, for whom he has composed numerous films.  Of those 50+ film scores, Blanchard has shifted styles and tones from jazz to orchestral, but RED TAILS is surely his biggest orchestral work thus far.  Focusing on the adrenalin-pumping excitement and danger of aerial combat and avoiding any sense of saccharine or undue patriotic sentimentality, Blanchard’s score identifies the Tuskegee Airmen as soldier pilots, delineating them not by their skin color but by the grit and bravery they displayed in their most successful role as bomber escorts in the war’s European theater.  There’s a touch of militaristic percussion in some of the cues, and perhaps in the drum-laden, sweeping action material.  A few softer cues characterize the pilots more intimately (“Visit Sofia,” “Junior Medical/Luntz Screening,” and the like) although they are made up of the same material that will explode across the European skies in aggressive rhythmic propulsion in the action cues.  It’s a well-congealed score that serves its subject well and accomplishes a strong score in the war film genre.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK/Marco Beltrami/Silva Screen
The Woman In Black is a theatrical phenomenon that has run continuously in London’s West End for 23 years. Susan Hill’s 1983 horror novel, about a menacing spectre that haunts a small English town, foreshadowing the death of children, was first adapted into a stage play in 1987 and then became a television film in 1989, with a teleplay by the distinguished film and television writer Nigel Kneale (best known as the creator of the QUATERMASS science-fiction serials).  Hammer Films, which incidentally had produced a trio of films in the late 1950s based on Kneale’s QUARTERMASS shows, has adapted the novel into a feature film starring Daniel Radcliffe, which is the second release (following WAKE WOOD) of the revived Hammer Studios.  Marco Beltrami’s score, which is set for release worldwide by Silva Screen in March, is a spooky yet traditional ghost movie score, but sounds deliciously chilling enough on the album.  Haunting woodwinds, sustained strings, scrabbling electronic, voice, and percussion effects, and slamming drum exclamation marks create a tense and brooding musical soundscape.  The music fits Hammer’s conventional filmmaking style handsomely, while tendering a scary musical dimension that stops just short of veering into sound design, remaining primarily symphonic and melodic in its development.  Not unlike his score to the Guillermo Del Toro-produced DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, this is an eloquent ghost score, hauntingly beautiful to hear, yet potent in sliding the film’s sense of spooky/scary right down your spine with an icy skeletal fingertip.



Soundtrack & Music News

The music winners from Sunday’s 84th Academy Awards presentation:
Best Original Score– Ludovic Bource won for THE ARTIST
The other nominees were:
HUGO – Howard Shore
WAR HORSE- John Williams
On his way up to the podium to accept his Oscar, Bource took the time to shake the hands of his fellow nominees in the audience. Nice touch.

Best Original Song:
Bret McKenzie won for Man or Muppets from THE MUPPETS
The only other nominee was Real in Rio from RIO

As for the Oscar telecast itself, Hans Zimmer composed the score that played behind the event itself.  In the process of creating a new score for the Oscar shoe, Hans asked each of the musicians in tonight's All-Star Band to contribute his or her own piece of music inspired by or derived from the basic Zimmer thematic framework. Each of them did so in extraordinarily different, inventive and sonically surprising ways.  In the spirit of innovation, Hans and Pharrell Williams recorded a compilation album of these interpretations and are releasing it exclusively through iTunes. The proceeds will benefit programs at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dedicated to advancing the art of film music.
Download the album from iTunes < http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/celebrate-music-84th-academy/id505624696>

The Grammy Awards took place on February 12th.  The Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media winner was Alexandre Desplat for THE KING’S SPEECH.  Desplat had also been nominated for HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2; also nominated were Clint Mansell (BLACK SWAN), Ryan Shore (THE SHRINE), and Daft Punk (TRON LEGACY).  Alan Menken won for Best Song written for visual media, for "I See the Light" from TANGLED. The mammoth, majestic Danny Elfman & Tim Burton Music Box had been nominated for Best Box Set but lost out to a Bruce Springsteen album.

The International Film Music Critics Association has announced the winners of its eighth annual awards for excellence in musical scoring in 2011 with John Williams’ score for Steven Spielberg’s WAR HORSE topping the list, winning Film Score of the Year, Best Score for a Drama Film and Individual Cue for “The Homecoming.” Williams also wins Composer of the Year and Best Score for an Animated Film for THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN. French composer Ludovic Bource wins Breakout Composer of the Year for his score to THE ARTIST.
Cliff Martinez wins Best Score for an Action/Adventure/Thriller Film for Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE. Best Score for a Comedy Film is given to THE RUM DIARY by Christopher Young. Michael Giacchino wins his 11th career award for JJ Abrams’ SUPER 8 in the Best Score for a Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror Film category. Turkish composer Pinar Toprak wins Best Score for a Documentary Film for her score to THE WIND GODS.
In the non-film categories, Arnau Bataller wins Best Score for a Television Series for the Spanish telenovela ERMESSENDA. Veteran Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi wins Best Score for a Video Game or Interactive Media for the Level-5 / Studio Ghibli game NI NO KUNI: WRATH OF THE WHITE WITCH.
The Best Archival Release goes to the massive Warner Bros sixteen-disc, retrospective box-set The Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box, which was housed in a Zoetrope box and included an exclusive historical book. The winner of Best Archival Re-recording goes to conductor William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra for their re-recording of Bernard Herrmann’s THE BATTLE OF NERETVA and THE NAKED AND THE DEAD. Best Record Label of the Year goes to La-La Land Records, their second win in a row in this category, for such notable 2011 expanded release soundtracks as 1941, SPACE ABOVE AND BEYOND, FAT MAN AND LITTLE BOY, COMMANDO and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION COLLECTION VOLUME 1.
The Association is also bestowing a Special Award to Symphony Of Hope: The Haiti Project, a benefit recording collaboration between 25 film and TV composers, including John Debney, Christopher Young, Dave Grusin, Marvin Hamlisch, and Christopher Lennertz who produced with Steve Schnur. The recording is available as a download on itunes and Amazon among other outlets with proceeds going to Haiti Earthquake Relief. More information can be found at www.haitisymphony.com.

Many of the video game industry’s leading music composers, producers and songwriters have joined forces to create Novum Initium (New Beginning), a benefit album dedicated to supporting working musicians in need of financial assistance. Partnering with the music industry charitable organization Sweet Relief, all proceeds from the album will be donated to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund which provides financial assistance to career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems.  The 18-track album, which includes tracks by Brian Tyler, Neal Acree, Jason Graves, Inon Zur, Christopher Lennertz, Trevor Morris, Garry Schyman, Jack Wall, Cris Velasco, Sam Hulick and others, is available digitally from all the usual sources.  https://www.sweetrelief.org/novuminitium/

Mark Isham has prepared an EP of his music from television’s adventure fantasy ONCE UPON A TIME, now available at iTunes - Music - Once Upon A Time Orchestral Suite - EP by Mark Isham

FSM's latest deluxe presentation is a massive 5-CD “Complete Soundtrack Collection” of Miklós Rózsa’s masterful, classic score to BEN-HUR. This set includes every film cue, every outtake, every alternate and every additional take preserved by the studio, mastered from the original six-track recordings, augmented by rare material from the Miklós Rózsa collection at Syracuse University. In addition, the set contains CD reissues of all three LP recordings released by MGM Records in conjunction with the film—including the premiere CD release of the rare (and controversial) Lion label disc. Limited to 2000 units.  http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/17340/BEN-HUR-5-CD/

THE SIMPSONS hit a milestone Feb 19th with its 500th episode, but it has also quietly managed to break another record en route: the most original musical scores ever composed for a primetime series.  483 of those 500 episode scores (each one an original composition) was written by Alf Clausen, who began with the with the show's first Halloween episode in October 1990. Clausen has won two Emmys and garnered another 21 nominations for his SIMPSONS songs and scores. “It really is a challenge,” Clausen told writer Jon Burlingame in Variety. “I work hard not to repeat myself,"
– read Jon Burlingame’s full story here.

Silva Screen Records has marked composer John Williams’ 80th birthday (Feb 8th) with the release of a comprehensive 6-CD box set.  Faithfully performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic, The Music Of John Williams - The Definitive Collection features 88 tracks with over 7 hours of music.  For details, see: http://silvascreenmusic.greedbag.com/buy/the-music-of-john-williams-the-d/

Silva Screen has also released Music From The TWILIGHT Saga, a collection of favorite music from the first four films of the quintilogy, featuring the talents of three of Hollywood’s most creative composers - Howard Shore, Alexandre Desplat and Carter Burwell. This release brings together for the first time the music from all four films onto one disc, performed by The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. (BREAKING DAWN: PART 2 is not included for the simple reason that the film is not completed yet).  And also from Silva Screen is the original score for HAYWIRE, an action packed, star-studded thriller. Composer David Holmes is a Belfast born DJ and producer whose career as a film composer began with RESURRECTION MAN and then blossomed through his working partnership with director Stephen Soderbergh which continues with this release. http://www.silvascreen.com/

In their newly launched reissue sublabel, Perseverance Records has announced the reissue of the soundtrack to Clint Eastwood's 1977 action film, THE GAUNTLET, with music by composer Jerry Fielding, who collaborated with Eastwood on four films.  Perseverance offers this reissued album at the low cost of $12.98. Like their previous reissue of THE EXORCIST II, this new CD is another CD release many people missed out on from the Warner France reissue of the early 2000s.  The album has been remastered for Perseverance by Warner Music remastered this for us, and included authoritative album notes by Nick Redman.

La-La Land Records, 20th Century Fox and Sony Music present the remastered and expanded version of Danny Elfman's thunderous original score to Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of PLANET OF THE APES.  Featuring over 212 minutes of music, this comprehensive 3-CD set is the definitive release of Elfman's APES score. Discs One and Two contain the film version of the score, with source cues and alternates, while Disc Three features the original 2001 soundtrack album assembly. http://www.lalalandrecords.com

Quartet Records is releasing the first CD issue of the score to ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, a cult classic of 1970s American road cinema, which is also the only film as director of famous music producer James William Guercio, who also composed its score. Electrifying jazz-fusion parts, soul and funky in the best Lalo Schifrin style, and beautiful symphonic pieces for full orchestra. This CD includes the same program of the 1973 original stereo album (the only source available in the MGM vault) in its first official release on Compact Disc, respecting the same program, and including two original songs performed by The Marcels and Madura. The package includes 16-page full color booklet and liner notes by yours truly.

Label Zero has announced the complete original score to the family film, YOKO, featuring the music by composer Mark A. Yaeger, produced by Klaus Badelt.  The album is available digitally at www.labelzero.com and www.markyaeger.com as a pick-your-price offer, as well as a priced CD and a forthcoming Special Composer's Edition which, for $99, contains such exclusive extra offerings, besides the digital and CD album, as a Blu-ray Disc of the score in 5.1 surround audio, a DVD Disc of the score in 5.1 surround audio, a printed edition of complete score & photo-book, and the official theatrical poster signed by both Mark Anthony Yaeger and Klaus Badelt. 

Monstrous Movie Music announces that their next release, scheduled for March, will be the classic 1950s sci-fi score to KRONOS, composed by the B-movie dynamic duo, Paul Sawtel and Bert Shefter (THE FLY series, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, etc.)  http://www.mmmrecordings.com/

The Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program at the Seattle Film Institute is now offering the only 1 year  
Master of Music (MM) in Film Composition. Study with program creator and co-lead instructor
Hummie Mann (2-time Emmy Award winning film composer of ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS and much more.  Applications are now being accepted for the 2012/2013 school year; scholarships are available for qualified applicants.  Additional details at http://www.pnwfilmmusic.com or call: (800) 882-4734

Intrada’s latest Special Collection releases provide two world premiere soundtracks: Robert Folk’s exciting score for the Don Bluth/Gary Goldman animation fantasy, A TROLL IN CENTRAL PARK, and Gil Melle’s cerebral thriller score to BORDERLINE.  Both of noted these composed are severely underrepresented in the soundtrack market so these two releases are very welcome.  Folk scores TROLL with emphasis on robust action for full orchestra, melding tuneful ideas with incredibly busy, fast-paced activity.  Mellé creates an unusually punchy, vivid score primarily for brass, strings, keyboards, and soloists using L.A. session players plus his own "Jazz Electronauts" ensemble; Mellé was asked to re-score some sequences with London Symphony Orchestra; the album melds both approaches into one major work that combines dynamic symphonic music with flashes of experimental composition and jazz.

John Hunter, composer and partner at Breed Music, has scored the Academy Award nominated animated short THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg of Moonbot Studios. The team also worked together on the accompanying app which was named by Apple as one of the “Top 5 New Apps for iPad.” Both the fantastically innovative short and appuse a hybrid style of animation that harkens back to silent films and MGM Technicolor musicals.  John Hunter stated, “I worked closely with the directors to musically convey their vision since the music is such a key component in the storytelling.” The directors wanted to include an ornamentation of the folk song/nursery rhyme “Pop Goes the Weasel” as a theme in the original score. Hunter incorporated a 50 piece orchestra to create a powerful yet retro score that interacts with the visual, mirroring Morris Lessmore’s adventures and emotions.


Games Music News

Composer Jeff Broadbent has created the atmospheric music score for Ubisoft's upcoming post-apocalyptic action/adventure, I Am Alive™.  Developed by Ubisoft Shanghai for Xbox LIVE® Arcade (March 7th) on PlayStation®Network (later this Spring), I Am Alive was engineered to create a convincing, post-disaster world in which players are faced with thought-provoking choices.  “Creating the score for I Am Alive was an exciting undertaking," said Broadbent.  "The unique nature of the game allowed for a very creative and experimental approach to scoring.  After first hearing of Ubisoft's concept and direction for this title, I knew it was a project that would allow for creative freedom and exploration.”  The I Am Alive original score combines sublime ambiance, emotional intensity and thematic compositions to immerse players in this post-apocalyptic survival experience.  As Broadbent explains, “A sense of environmental desolation was essential in crafting the aural landscapes of I Am Alive.  Because of this, the music often uses ethereal and sound-design inspired approaches, blending organic and synthetic elements to create the sonic imagery of devastation and abandonment within a crumbling city.  The quest of our unnamed protagonist to survive and protect the young girl Mei allowed for the use of poignant emotional themes and motifs.”

Award winning composer Daniel Licht has scored Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc.'s Silent Hill: Downpour. The highly anticipated game will be released on March 13, 2012 for Playstation Network and Xbox 360.  Available March 13, 2012 on Milan Records, Downpour will bring a completely original storyline and an all-new haunting soundtrack to the video game series. The album includes the game’s theme “Silent Hill” by Jonathan Davis, front-man of nu metal band Korn, and the score by Daniel Licht (DEXTER).  In describing Silent Hill: Downpour, Licht stated, “I’m inspired by the mood and the story. I came up with a sound world that I feel amplifies and augments the player’s experience. I incorporated numerous instruments including piano, mandolin, and industrial sounds.”

Marking the next step in the evolution of video game soundtracks, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning™ features original music composed by composer Grant Kirkhope (GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Viva Pinata).  The soundtrack album is distributed through Sumthing Else Music Works, the leading video game music company created. Kirkhope and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra augment the magical world of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning to life with an original dark fantasy score.  “Reckoning was a huge undertaking, as I knew from the start the scale of the game was going to be big!” said Kirkhope. “I wanted to make sure it was strong thematically so that the player could make real associations with characters and places; I've always tried to do this with all the games I've worked on. There's a good two and a half hours' worth of full orchestral score in Reckoning ranging from huge boss fights to smaller ensemble pieces for dungeons and cities. I wanted the score to have a dark fairytale kind of feel that was full of magic and danger at every turn just like the game.”  Set in an entirely new universe crafted by New York Times best-selling author R. A. Salvatore, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is brought to life visually through the trademark visceral style of renowned artist and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane. With a sprawling explorable world and deep RPG gameplay at its core, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning adds a new level of intense action combat to the genre, and a one-of-a-kind advancement system as players unfold and evolve their destiny through constant character customization. www.reckoning.com

Sumthing Else Music Works has also released the Resistance® 3 original soundtrack featuring the music score from SCEA's epic sci-fi first-person shooter video game developed exclusively for PlayStation®3. Hailed as one of the top video game scores of 2011 by Classical Minnesota Public Radio, Boris Salchow's dark, cinematic soundtrack for Resistance 3 reflects the struggle of the remaining group of human survivors against an overwhelming force of alien invaders. To capture an authentic and unique sound for this alternate history sci-fi story set in the 1950's, Salchow and Insomniac recorded the emotionally diverse musical score with orchestra at the historical Abbey Road Studios in London.
See” www.myresistance.net, www.sumthing.com

Randall D. Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine.  A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer.  He 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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