Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2010-02
February 25th, 2010

By Randall D. Larson

Marvin Hamlisch

The Return of Marvin Hamlisch

Marvin Hamlisch returned to Hollywood filmscoring late last year with THE INFORMANT!, his third score in two years after a ten year hiatus from filmscoring that followed a prolific 30-year run since 1968, earning him multiple Oscars (Best Score and Best Song for THE WAY WE WERE, 1972) and numerous nominations as well as winning virtually every major entertainment award that exists for his 40+ film scores.  Hamlisch’s music for THE INFORMANT!, Steven Soderbergh’s new comedy drama about a corporate VP turned informant who is the star witness in a federal price-fixing investigation, was nominated for a Golden Globe and numerous other awards, and is currently up for best comedy score for the International Film Music Critics Awards (http://filmmusiccritics.org/).  See my review of the score in my October 25, 2009 column.


Q: You left Hollywood for a dozen years in the mid 1990s after a very successful and accomplished career in film scoring.  What led to your “sabbatical” from film music in 1996 and what brought you back in 2009 to score THE INFORMANT!?

Marvin Hamlisch: I got very busy with a lot of concerts. I’m a concert director for many orchestras, and I’ve been very lucky to work with some great directors in my lifetime – particularly George Roy Hill, Sidney Pollock, Allan Pakula, people like that. I felt like it was time to do other things, and I got involved with some Broadway shows, and one thing lead to another. But to be honest, I got a call from Soderbergh and it was such a great feeling to work with him, and it really started my juices flowing.

Q: How did you derive the musical style that you and he felt was appropriate for the film, and how did you develop those ideas into the finished score?

Marvin Hamlisch: The score of the informant is not so much about notes as it is about choices. Since the character is bipolar, I came to believe that the music would have to represent the part of him that the world didn’t see.

Q: The score also evokes a bit of the Mancini era in some cues, and a touch of John Barry with the fine electric guitar riff amidst the big, bold brasses in “Multi-Tasking.”   Would you describe how you brought together these various flavors and textures to evoke period, style, and flavor in addition to your own thematic/motific ideas found in the score?

Marvin Hamlisch: It was all about accentuating the comedy. We were on a very tight budget, which can be very helpful sometimes. If you can’t have 70 musicians, you need to figure out what you can do with 16 or 18. So what I tried to do was use different combinations of about 17 or 18 people featuring different people in different parts of the score. So, you have some zany, off-the-wall scoring which is all part of the brain of Mark Whitacre. The truth of the matter is, we’ve given the other part of this bipolar person a voice.

Q: Despite the film’s overall comedic tone, the story also delineates a psychological portrait of a deeply disturbed individual, and carries a number of darker subtexts that lay beneath the rather jaunty flavor of Soderbergh’s cinematic storytelling approach, which you’ve also reflected in your score.

Marvin Hamlisch: There hasn’t been a film like THE INFORMANT! for a long time. It’s a very black and white film that calls for a unique range of a score. What iced it for me was the desire to have this range. Every note in this score is written out hodgepodge, but every note has a purpose.

Q: Your gift for melody and remarkable hooks in songwriting have provided some very memorable and tuneful film scores – which have tended to overshadow your equally effective dramatic material, such as your sensitive scores for SOPHIE’S CHOICE and ORDINARY PEOPLE, the action cues in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, your fun TV score for THE RETURN OF THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN AND BIONIC WOMAN, and others (even going back to your first score, THE SWIMMER).  While it’s true that a film dictates its music, how would you describe your own approach at scoring drama and suspense, as opposed to the more familiar elements of comedy and light romance that most moviegoers tend to associate you with? 

Marvin Hamlisch: I think with drama you have to be very careful not to be overly anything. That is to say, not to be overly sentimental, not to be overly dramatic, and not to go over the top. That is something that we have really gotten away from. I usually try to figure out what element in the film or in the scene could use some extra lift. I try to find some kind of undercurrent that might be very interesting for the scene. So I am always looking for something that’s not quite on the screen, but I can add to.

Q: Comedy films have always been a part of your repertoire, from your early scores for Woody Allen, your marvelous music for Neil Simon SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, and many others, up and including THE INFORMANT!   Understanding that different types of comedies require different types of music (playing straight against the comedy; playing comedic music with the comedy; less music; more music; etc.), how would you describe your process of determining the right kind of music for a given comedy, and thereby enhancing the humor and charm of the picture?

Marvin Hamlisch: I learned a lot while doing the score for BANANAS, one of Woody Allen’s very first films. I remember that we used to preview parts of the film for people all the time. And I became very aware that there was a lot of… I’d go to the preview without music, and somehow the laughs got lost if the music was wrong. Comedies are very difficult because you can’t allow the music to overtake the laughs. So you have to be very careful. I think doing music for a comedy is probably the toughest thing to do.

Q: Your love of music and song, melody and tune, have been very much in evidence throughout your career.  How would you contrast your work in films and television with that of your efforts on Broadway, in theater, as a recording artist?  Are the challenges greater in films when you are essentially working at the behest of a director, or do you find equal rewards in being able to invest your own distinct voice into this collaborative creative vision?

Marvin Hamlisch: Film music requires composers to come in and pick up something to put it to the film. They usually use an element that comes in late in the process. In the show of course, the composer is part of the creative team. Both of these types of work can be very rewarding and both have different challenges that are both very unique and enjoyable.

Q: What is your view of the current state-of-the-art of movie music – and how have you felt about its evolution during your 40 years in Hollywood?
Marvin Hamlisch: Well, change is usually good. There was a time when film scores were the accent to the acting. Then it became about the songs, ‘make sure the song’s a hit.’  Now we’re going towards another pattern. But in the long run, I think that there is no such thing as a total trend in movie music. I think that the movie dictates the score, but sometimes there’s a trend in how many movies come out a certain way. The electronics we deal with now– just the amount of electronic music and electronic stuff and the new equipment is a tremendous advantage, but I feel it is also a crutch. I think the biggest differences between now and then, is that now I there aren’t as many melodies around these days but that doesn’t mean it won’t change again... That’s just how it’s evolved.

Q: Will there be further Marvin Hamlisch film scores to be expected in near future? 

Marvin Hamlisch: Film scores will be in the future, but it has to do with being hired by directors!

Thanks to Melissa McNeil and Ray Costa of Costa Communications for facilitating my interview with Marvin Hamlisch


Dominik Scherrer

The Primeval Music of Dominik Scherrer

I got hooked on the British science fiction TV series PRIMEVAL a while ago, impressed with its entertaining and intelligent story lines and exciting fantasy about the exploration of random “anomalies” that opened a window into time and allowed ancient – and future – creatures to emerge into our world; and the government agency charged with tracking and containing these anomalies.  A fine cast, terrific stories with a compelling arc running through them, convincing CGI special effects, and an exciting musical score by composer Dominik Scherrer made for a most entertaining show.  While word came last summer than PRIMEVAL had been cancelled, a new co-production deal between ITV and UKTV has happily recommissioned the show for another two seasons.


In addition to his work on PRIMEVAL, Scherrer has written the award winning score and theme for the MISS MARPLE series with Geraldine McEwan, the comedy SCENES OF A SEXUAL NATURE starring Ewan McGregor and the apocalyptic NINE LIVES OF TOMAS KATZ, among many others. 


Q: What initially led you into composing for films and television and what steps did you take to enter the field professionally?

Dominik Scherrer: As a teenager I was making my own films – animations, overcomplicated literary adaptations, and art-films. I was a musician too – playing in bands, playing piano and flute, and so I did the soundtracks to my own films. I went on to study film, and kept writing the soundtracks, not only for my own films but also more and more for other filmmakers. Gradually the films became longer and had better budgets, and at some point I was given the opportunity to record orchestral scores.

I am very excited about the energy that a combination of film and music conveys. I am always working on my own films too. The films are music led. I wrote two operas for example. The last one, the “motorbiker-opera” Hell for Leather, was a twisted, MAD MAX-like version of the story of Satan’s downfall and was conceived as a film, even though later I adapted it for stage at Glastonbury Festival.

Q: How would you describe your earliest experiences, challenges, and lessons learned when you began composing music for motion pictures?

Dominik Scherrer: Every soundtrack is still a challenge and I keep learning many lessons. For example one thing I learnt was that whenever I am working on a new score, and I think to myself: “This has to be a masterpiece!” then it probably won’t turn out a masterpiece because it is too complicated and too labored. But whenever I have to write something without thinking too much due to time constraints, it turns out to be stronger. (But perhaps still not a masterpiece…) In the end it’s good to have extremely tight deadlines which force you into a simplicity that can be quite effective, and it’s also essential to have projects with more generous deadlines, to allow for time for experimenting and taking risks.

Q: Since 2004 you have been composing the ITV’s series of television films featuring Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.  What kind of music did the ITV’s modernization of the Marple stories need, and how did you approach this series? 

Dominik Scherrer: I had always been a fan of the 60’s Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford and Ron Goodwin’s great harpsichord title theme. So when ITV phoned up and said they are making a new Miss Marple series, I told the person on the phone that they should just re-use Ron Goodwin’s music!  In the end, there was of course a new approach, but some of the music, for example the title tune, still has a subtle nod to Ron Goodwin.

I think, what makes the new Marple scores different to the previous ones is that the music is often quite big and quite dark, often contrasting the quaint English scenery and characters. This can be humorous, but also highlights the contrast between the exterior and the characters’ dark, secret inner world.

Q: What challenges did the series JERICHO OF SCOTLAND YARD pose for you? 

Dominik Scherrer: The films are set in the 50s. Inspector Jericho lives in the middle of London’s Soho, and spends his nights in Jazz Clubs. The producers, however, were keen to avoid jazz, which would have made it too clichéd. That was quite difficult, but in the end, I wrote more of a romantic score with a very slight jazz influence and it took the story onto a more universal level.

Q: You scored Bill Eagles’ 2006 interpretation of DRACULA – a story that has had numerous film and television – and film musical – incarnations.  What was unique about this version and what was your musical approach here?

Dominik Scherrer: It’s a great story and it will keep inspiring filmmakers and composers in the future. The 2006 adaptation adds an element that is not originally in the book: A London-based occult sect worshipping Count Dracula and facilitating his arrival in England. This provided an inspiration: culti-ish vocals in an invented language. It’s a great story, and I guess every composer has to do a Dracula at some point in their career….

Q: What was your technique to enhance the story's romance, scariness, suspense, action, and horror with your music?

Dominik Scherrer: The sexuality of vampirism is also central to this adaptation, and provides a key to the thematic structure. I tried to make that aspect as big and scary as possible, and enlarging a potentially more intimate scene into vast mayhem, like opening the floodgates. The innocent romance of Mina and Harker provides a great contrast, which I illustrated with cello solos playing the high register.

Q: How did you become involved in PRIMEVAL?  Your main theme for this show has an almost John Barryesque sensibility to it that embodies both the show's sense of fantastic adventure and its romance.  What was your brief on developing this signature theme and how have you developed the episode scores, thematically, so far over the show’s three series?

Dominik Scherrer: Indeed adventure was the main idea behind the title theme, and the series itself, particularly for the first three episodes. The threat and the violence were never too serious, so the whole family can enjoy it, like JURASSIC PARK, or RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. There is a heroic side to the theme too, with its use of shimmering brass chords, which is perhaps where John Barry comes in…

Then series then evolved into something darker. We found out that it’s most effective to go for maximum violence, scariness and hard action, which in the end was threatening the idea of PRIMEVAL being ‘family entertainment.’

Q: Has the fact that the show depends on such much CGI animation challenged you as a composer, since you're probably not able to see the final visualizations you’re supposed to be scoring to until much later?

Dominik Scherrer: Indeed in some scenes I get footage that’s only slightly better than a wireframe rendering. But the editors have to work within the same (or even more) abstract realism, so they give me drawings and verbal impressions of the creatures. Each episode has its own theme, which is based on the featured creature’s nature. It’s important to give each of the creatures a distinct musical character, so when I am working with very rough CGI, I may not get it completely right. I then normally get a day or two working with more final renderings of the CGI, which allows me to do some tweaking in the orchestration for example, in order to really reflect the creature’s individuality.

Q: How have you treated the show's characters, thematically?  Have you developed any motifs for different characters beyond the overall main theme?

Dominik Scherrer: I rarely work with individual themes for characters. Perhaps for a cartoon I would, but with drama my themes are rather based on story strands. The first major story strand in PRIMEVAL was Professor Cutter’s quest for his lost wife, who probably went missing into another era in time. This inspired a major musical theme. This story, however, took some unexpected twists, and the musical theme evolved over the first two series. There are parallel themes that are about Abby and Connor’s more lighthearted romantic attempts. In the end, a lot of themes tend to be slightly related: all the characters are on a similar journey.

Q: Your score for THE TRUTH, a dark and twisted murder mystery, has received acclaim.  How would you describe your approach to enhancing its style and story with music? 

Dominik Scherrer: The music for THE TRUTH was a concept score. The main part of it was recorded a capella with an ensemble of nine singers in a church. Some of it was scored out and elements of it were improvised. The idea was to reflect the cultish nature of the group of characters within the film. It was a lot of fun, and recording the music before the shoot commenced gave the editor some material to play with.

Q: How does comedy music, for you, differ from suspense or action/adventure music, when scoring a film like SCENES OF A SEXUAL NATURE?

Dominik Scherrer: The music had to work the emotions in the right way, without being cheesy, as well as have some fun with the comedy. In terms of instrumentation I went for a hybrid approach: a band with guitars etc and a string and brass section. Perhaps I was trying to be slightly more hard-edged and experimental than a British romantic comedy such as FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL. I found some inspiration in some of the Beatles’ later work – unusual arrangements with Mellotron, strings, brass, etc., and there some fun Beach Boys style backing vocals in there too. The entire film is set in Hampstead Heath, a big park in North London, in bright sunshine and I wanted the music to reflect that summery feel!

It makes a nice change to go from horror, action and suspense to comedy and romance. In fact, it’s quite healthy for a composer to do so, and most composers do change between genres all the time. I guess we are constantly trying to something different…

Q: Do you enjoy scoring series versus standalone TV or feature films?  Does the longevity of a series permit you to develop your music across a broader landscape than the 90-minute duration of a feature film allows?

Dominik Scherrer: Yes I do enjoy developing themes over a whole series. The hardest part in scoring is always the first 20 minutes of a film, where themes and a general tone, and musical language have to be established, and designed to be understood by the audience. Once this is done, I can start to play with the themes, I can overlap or merge them, or subvert them. With a whole series, once the first episode is out of the way, you are having that sort of fun throughout the series, although there is of course still some establishing part at the beginning of each episode.

In the end though, composing for the big screen is probably more satisfactory: There is room for more subtlety. Cinema is a more intense medium compared to television, the audience is more attentive, so the music doesn’t always have to reinforce every turn and emotion on the screen, but is allowed to have its own integrity. Sonically it’s of course also more interesting for the music – there is more room and dynamics in a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix.

For more information on Dominik Scherrer, see: www.dominikscherrer.com/

New Soundtrax in Review

When he’s not driving the Moscow Symphony through a masterful recording of a classic film score like SHE and THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, composer/conductor William Stromberg is writing similarly profound scores for low-budget movies, the latest of which is ARMY OF THE DEAD: THE CURSE OF THE ANASAZI, Joseph Conti’s 2008 direct-to-video feature in which a modern day archeological expedition unleashes the curse of ancient Spanish conquistadors whose bony remnants unearth themselves in a frenzy of vengeance.  Stromberg has supplied a lively score with orchestral samples enhanced by live brass, guitar, and a couple of overdubs from the Moscow Symphony, which is now available as a digital download from iTunes.  The sound is marvelously symphonic, giving the music a strong, muscular sensibility that gives the low-budget production a huge boost in effectiveness.  Stromberg has a marvelous way of giving the samples a powerful dynamic.  The music is build around a pair of martial rhythms, enhanced by sampled chorus, for the army of the resurrected skeletonized conquistadors as they trod en mass to fulfill the curse on the contemporary explorers.  A Latinesque acoustic guitar motif gives a bit of ethnic flavoring to the legendary Anasazi myth that figures in the story, providing both orchestral color and a poignant, emotive aspect to the characters (as in “Lost”) – while in “Baja Buggy Montage” the Latin acoustic guitar is enhanced by strident electric guitars over shuffling violin rhythms. Potent action cues like “Skeleton Action” are nicely orchestrated for propulsive rhythms enhanced by sparkling, light piano notation, curving horn figures, and some pleasing, Goldsmithian string-and-brass interaction. 

Speaking of Jerry Goldsmith, La-La Land Records has released a pair of significant Jerry Goldsmith scores for the first time on CD: Fred Schepisi’s 1991 romantic comedy, IQ, about a man getting some relative advice from Albert Einstein when he begins wooing the famous scientist’s niece; and John Frankenheimer’s SECONDS, a riveting 1966 speculative drama about a middle ­aged businessman’s frustrations after being transformed into a new identity.  Less than 100 copies of this late 2009 release (originally a 3000 edition run) are available through the publisher, so you’d better get a copy quick – it will be worthwhile.  Both scores are polar opposites – IQ is a breezy, fun romantic score with Jerry at his melodic pop best – frequently riffing on “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to evoke an ironic, simplistic counterpoint for the brilliant scientist.  Goldsmith’s romantic violin writing is just wonderful.  SECONDS, on the other hand, is a rock solid, modernistic score offsetting a pair of themes, one for piano, one for organ, each representing the two personalities of the protagonist, ultimately absorbing one another as the score comes to a conclusion.  This score is a particu­larly fine example of the symbolic use of music, thematically, to underscore what lies beneath a film’s surface strata, and it’s quite remarkable, from the intricate piano writing of “Quiet Isolation” to the spooky violin sonorities and contrapuntal organ tonalities of “Rehabilitation/Strange Arrival” and the melancholy strings underlying the stark piano notation of “Begin Again/Peaceful Aftermath,” where piano and organ finally merge.  The score is alternately soothing and jarring, and completely brilliant in its psychological portrait of a personality undergoing radical change.  Preserving the SECONDS score, one of Goldsmith’s most elusive unreleased soundtrack, was a tough job since the only extant tracks were the mono 35mm stems from the 35mm film; but the label and the digital restoration and mastering of Mike Matessino result in a very clean and appreciable result.  Four alternate tracks from SECONDS are added that include slight dialog bleed or course music just to make sure we have as much of Jerry’s score as possible.  Album notes by Jeff Bond (on the films and their music) and album producer Dan Goldwasser (about the music restoration) are included in the 20-page accompanying booklet.

As vampires become increasing less menacing as all-powerful villains and icons of evil, and more into romantic leading man roles, â la TWILIGHT and TRUE BLOOD and their crush-abiding brood, they also become far less interesting to the non-Harlequin romance crowd. One recent effort, even though it is also based on a popular series of formulaic novels (by Darren Shan), it still manages to attain a degree of originality and interest is Paul (AMERICAN PIE) Weitz’s CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT, about a teenager who unknowingly breaks a 200-year-old truce between two warring factions of vampires and lets all hell loose. No misty heart-throb hunk vamps, no love-sick teenage bite-my-neck-NOW wannabe vamp babes, no convoluted AS THE GRAVE TURNS soap opera complications – just a fun mix of humor and horror, a neat carnival setting, a new take on vampires as a species that ignores all past literary and cinematic vampire lore, some cool non-vampire monsters, Salma Hayak with a beard (Yeah. I’m ok with that), and an impressive and fun score from Stephen Trask, released on CD last Halloween by Varese Sarabande Records and well worth scooping up if you haven’t already. Trask has been scoring films since the early 2000s, notably HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, IN THE LAND OF WOMEN, and Weitz’s IN GOOD COMPANY and AMERICAN DREAM. Opening with a catchy whistled theme over mandolin, Trask’s score embodies a pleasing carnivalesque air, along with ethnic vocalizations that have a kind of Scandinavian timbre to them. It’s a very flavorful score, mixing ingredients from traditional horror music and adding a pinch of new musical colors to its vibrant stew. The music has no real narrative through-line, thematically, but rather creates a variety of stand-along atmospherics that supply the necessary sonic textures to support the story as it plays out; but Trask is quite good at orchestrating an intriguing progressive musical substance that remains both attractive and effective in creating modernesque Gothic moods, from its austere folk opening for mandolin and whistler to its headier Gothic bouquet in “The Vampire’s Bargain.” “The Show” introduces the Cirque du Freak carnival, and runs through a quartet of engaging movements, from the fanfarish low monster chords of “Welcome” to “The Wolfman,” with a slight Eastern European-styled folk melody that lopes along with mysterious and menacing measures until it segues into “Dance of the Bearded Lady,” a progressive mélange of industrial percussion, undulating synth tremolos, and twinges of harp, bell, and strings; to the piercing piccolos of “Octa’s Jig,” which open into large, fragrant chord progressions of brass, piano, under high end xylophone. The ethnic female vocals, introduced in “Destiny,” were provided by a local Los Angeles-based Bulgarian choir, singing in Russian, which lend an invigorating character to the icy soprano voice striding across low end Gothic orchestrations; the voice, which is associated with the legendry of the vampire war and the protagonists fateful place in it, is reprised subtly in “I Have Returned.” “Graveyard” generates a growing rhythm of drum-induced vibrato strings and thrusting brass figures. “Cirque du Freak” embodies spookily reverbed textures of harp, flutes, choir, low strings, frame drums which undulate in pensive progression, emerging into an expressive mysterioso that mixes curiosity with apprehension, opening into a diabolical but pretty waltz embellished by choir and xylophone which give it its dark edge. It all eventually comes to a head in “The War Begins,” a 9:26 assemblage of rhythms and textures that integrates much of what’s come before into a percussive exchange of clashing instrumentation and discordance, choir and then ascending brass figures rising to the fore to capture the graceful elegance of slight victory shared with the continuance of ongoing conflict. “Vampire Bird” closes the score with a pretty melody for oboe and strings, progressing through some incidental phrasing to culminate in a pleasing Hollywood-styled climax. Overall a very enjoyable and effective score.

Newly released from Sweden’s fin de siècle media are two forgotten works from Italian composer Stefano Torossi, combined on a single disc of 17 tracks (40 min), replicating the long out of print CAM LP issued in 1969.  L’ASSASSINO HA LE MANE PULITE (aka OMICIDIO PER VOCAZIONE; aka DEADLY INHERITANCE) is awash with pop organ colors, grinding saxophone intonations, and electric guitar riffing, not to mention a touch of Tijuana Brass orchestral pop (“Camion”) and straight ahead rock and roll rhythmatics (“Dietro L’orchestra”), and an appealing French-flavored lounge-ish number for small choir, whistler, and accordion (“Fonogramma Fisso”).  The score, as giallo scores tend to, gives the dark murder thriller a fun up-tempo rhythm.  A romantic version of the main theme contains a striking female vocal melisma, very Dell’Orso like (the singer is uncredited).  The second half of the album contains Torossi’s score for E’STATO BELLO AMARTI, a romantic drama featuring a sublime score, also featuring female voice and whistler in a couple of cues, as well as some lush easy-listening melodies, one (“Era D’agosto”) a compelling solo piano effort.  The score concludes with a raucous bluesy-rock number, “Incontro Al night for sax and singer with rock band.”  The album is issued in a limited edition of 500 copies in a foldout digipak.

A new Russian label named KeepMoving Records has emerged offering some very interesting soundtracks in very limited editions of 500 copies.   Los Angeles-based commercial and game composer Kaveh Cohen’s music for THE CRASH OF FLIGHT 191, a 2004 American documentary about the investigation into the 1979 crash of American Airlines Flight 191 DC-10 just after takeoff at Chicago O'Hare airport, is a very compelling dramatic work.  Cohen’s sampled orchestrations are nicely delineated, enhanced by female voice singing a haunting melisma in sympathy for the 271 victims of the disaster.  The music remains subtle and respectful, giving the documentary film a subdued but evocative undercurrent of feeling that makes the film much more than a simple news report, but makes the loss of life clearer and more potent.  Cohen provides a few motifs that recur, associated but with characters or interviewees but with situations that arise when a specific component of the story – which hinges on deceit and arrogance in shifting blame and pointing fingers and little sympathy for what actually happened – is revisited.  The score’s primary expressiveness, of course, revolves around the victims of the crash, and for them Cohen provides a reserved and eloquent  rhythmic melody that is quietly honorable as their story is retold.  KeepMoving Records provides the entire score on one disc, with a pages of notes from the composer and one about the film itself.

Also released from KeepMoving, which also specializes in video game scores, is that of The Abbey, by Spanish composer Emilio de Paz, a veteran of a dozen years scoring Spanish video games.  De Paz has provided a rich, orchestral score which is beautifully performed by the City of Prague Symphony Orchestra.  Gregorian nuances appear subtly from choir and in the melodic style, while medieval period music also crops up from time to time to set period and place, but the overall focus of the score is on gently rhythmic atmospheres evoking a medieval sensibility with a slight degree of menace and mystery.  The music is well crafted and very likable.  De Paz’s character themes are interesting and unique, especially “Umberto’s Theme” with its jolly cadence, and “Aegidus’s Theme,” which waddles along with a comical grace.  Other tracks are movingly expressive, such as the reverent orchestra and choral melody in “Nazario Of Milan” and “Requiem,” and the inspiring “Opus Rei.”  A dark, Gregorian choral motif is provided for the adversary in “Satanico,” driven by resolute cadence of drums; the album concludes with a 3:45 suite that recapitulates the score’s various elements.  Also available from KeepMoving is Yury Poteyenko’s gamescore for Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales, one of several gamescores the label has released by Poteyenko.  This score nicely avoids referencing to recent popular Pirates and/or Caribbean adventures in pop culture and is entirely its own entity; Poteyenko provides an elegant, regal score in which brasses and strings play off each other in a musical semaphore of slow cadence, honorable and confident, moving into high speed during attacks with surging flurries of orchestra, heavy drums, and choir.  The game’s main theme, “Hymn of the Corsairs,” is an undulating orchestral motif, gleaming with brass and bow, with choir added on its “Storm Theme” reprise.  The score also musically delineates various ports of call experienced in the game, and portrays a delicate Rozsa-esque folk melody for oboe and strings in “Quiet Bay,” nicely reprised in fuller measure in “Sunrise.”


Carl Davis’ music for CRANFORD, a five-part BBC television historical drama, has been released on CD as part of the “Carl Davis Collection,” a new label dedicated to the work of the film and theater composer, distributed by Naxos.  Based on the novellas of Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell, the show tells of life in an English village in the mid 19th Century, where propriety is key and the changes of the Industrial Revolution are a distant but lurking threat.  Davis emulates the local bands that were what villagers in towns like Cranford listened to, and his score is built of small ensemble orchestral melodies, dulcet string and woodwind chorales.  The music is very elegant, from gentle melodies like the prosaic “The New Carpet and Hat Shop,” as wistfully compelling as “Deborah’s Vigil,” as classically intriguing as the cello and wind scherzo, “Purge The Cat,” as persuasive as the yearning “Permission to Propose,” or as movingly emotive as the splendid romantic melody in “Oranges & Cherries” or that of strings and harp in “Holbrook.”  There are a number of classical motifs, or classically-styled motifs representing music of the period as well, which provide gentle melodic atmospheres; as does most of the score.  It’s not an especially dramatic work, but it sets down a pleasing mood appropriate to the period and formality of the story and its setting.  The album includes music from all five episodes, with a 10-page booklet that includes comments by Davis and notes on each track and its place in the story.   Also released in the Carl Davis Collection is his score to THE UNDERSTUDY, a 2008 dramedy about a perennial understudy who takes matters into her own hands to achieve fame at any price, directed by Davis’ daughter Hannah Davis and son-in-law David Conolly.  Davis’ music here is a mix of traditional orchestra and cool 1960s jazz, with a few classical styled pieces mixed in.  A lot of the jazz cues consist of solo saxophone riffing.  “Casual Bossa” is a sultry lounge slow dance, while “Restaurant” is a bluesy electric guitar wah-wah solo beneath drums; “Deli” is a classy marimba jazz piece that will get your head bobbing no matter how hard you try not to.  “Fireman” and “Electioneering” are both snappy piano jazz; “Thriller” is a suspense motif for growing tremolo violins, over which a sharp saxophone figure nicely intrudes; “Arrest” is a compelling piano blues piece, assumed by low sax midway through.  The album becomes steadily more dramatic and orchestral as the story plays out.  It’s a nicely varied album and score.

Daniel Pemberton’s music for two episodes of the BBC TV series, HEROES AND VILLAINS – namely, ATTILA THE HUN and NAPOLEON – have been issued on a nice soundtrack package from MovieScore Media.  Both episodes gave Pemberton the opportunity to convey a rich musical texture and sweeping tapestry for the score to embody.  A traditional orchestra embellished by ethnic woodwinds and vocalizations set tone for the show’s depiction of the cruelties and leadership of Attila, with surging horns and marcato strings propelling the action sequences, as with “Naissus Battle,” while cues like “Naissus Aftermath” and “I Had A Dream” provide more reflective sonorities out of the same texture.  “Royal Tour/Bath” conveys a heavy ambiance for horns, strings, and voices that suggest the rugged regality of the titular character.  “The Greatest Coalition” seethes with heroic confidence in its first half, extremely low, growling winds and drums play out its second half in a far different demeanor.   “Immortality” evokes a thunderous paean to the legendary 5th Century Emperor with a gathering cluster of raging horns, drums, and flutter-tongued singing.  The NAPOLEON episode is overconfidently regal, shimmering with flamboyance and pretention where ATTILA reflected a more primitive and barbaric personality.  It likewise paints an effective picture of the historical character, especially in the soft and introspective, close-miked piano performance in “Napoleon Alone.”  Pemberton avoids too much of an 1812-ish sensibility in his battle sequences while still giving them an interestingly orchestrated symphonic aggression.  Like the former episode, NAPOLEON ends in an honorable and reflective sonority.

From Chandos Movies comes The Film Music of Bernard Herrmann, a new recording by the BBC Philharmonic and conductor Rumon Gumba, containing HANGOVER SQUARE, 17 minutes of original score plus the 11-minute Concerto Macabre that Herrmann based on that film score, and 49 minutes of music from CITIZEN KANE.  While HANGOVER SQUARE’s celebrated Concerto Macabre has been recorded many times, little of his actual score for the film itself has been made available outside of bootlegs of questionable sound quality, so Gumba’s faithful and exquisite presentation of it here is especially welcome.  It’s richly a expressive variation on Herrmann’s familiar two-note chord progression motif, out of which emerge various filigrees and figures and statements of flutes, strings, low brasses, crafting an elegant mysterioso.  The seven tracks from CITIZEN KANE are well nuanced and pleasingly performed.  Herrmann’s eloquent  score, favoring woodwinds and brasses, is quiet and understated most of the time, delineating the psychology of Welles’ powerful central figure with dark, progressive nuances, weaving the few notes of his central motif into an epic canvas of the arc of a great man’s life, from its youthful joys to its elderly regrets.  The full score is readily available (newly recorded for Varese Sarabande in 1999 by Joel McNeely conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and an earlier 1991 version by Tony Bremner conducting the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra, released by Preamble, not to mention Herrmann’s own partial interpretation on his 1968 LP, Welles Raises Kane (we will forget the awful interpretation by Leroy Holmes issued by United Artists on LP in 1975), but like any respected piece of classical music subject to multiple interpretations, KANE is up to the latest treatment.  I haven’t gone back and compared Gumba’s reading to McNeely’s or Bremner’s; suffice it to say that the album on its own is a fine collection of magnificent film music, much of it relayed through soft performances of isolated sections or the orchestra, punctuated by sudden flourishes of the full ensemble, and a thoroughly respectable concert of music in its own right.

Canada’s Disques Cinemusique, continuing to specialize in and preserve rare French film scores, has issued BONJOUR TRITESSE, Otto Preminger’s 1958 romantic drama scored by Georges Auric (Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST; Jack Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS).  Auric’s score is melodically sophisticated, elegant in its orchestration, and shimmering with late ‘50s Parisian glitz.  His main theme, which occupies most of the score in various permutations, is lovely, introduced in the main titles for massed strings emanating out of a discordant brass and percussion opening.  Co-star Juliette Gréco sings a sultry vocal version of the title theme in the form of a slow waltz; while “Wicked People from Paris” provides an energetic Dixieland jazz rendition; “Baiting the Trap” performs it on accordion over harp.  A secondary motif, first head in the exuberantly rollicking “Dancing in the Streets,” is restated amidst pensive passages in “Your Plan Worked.”  It’s a very nice score with a silver age orchestral sensibility and a subtle Parisian influence on its symphonic character.  The album includes a dozen tracks from BONJOUR TRISTESSE, replicating the 1958 RCA LP soundtrack album, filled out with four tracks from Auric’s score for GERVAISE (1956), a romantic drama directed by René Clément and starring Maria Schell (who sings the main theme), for which Auric provided a fast-paced main theme containing some virtuoso string section work in the form of a manic polka, and a charming waltz, and five tracks from Pierre Gaspard-Huit’s romance, CHRISTINE (1958), starring Romy Schneider and Alain Delon, which is also based on a sumptuous waltz melody, while also including a pair of intriguing solo zither pieces. 

Rupert Gregson-Williams’ music for THE PRISONER, AMC’s recent 6-hour miniseries remake of the classic British series, is an interesting mix of atmospheres and motific development.  While many fans of the original Patrick McGoohan series have lambasted the new version for being less than a shadow of what the first show had been – a distorted retake on a show about distorted reality – although taken on its own merits the musical score is quite likable and effective.  Released on CD by Varese Sarabande, the score is a mélange of melodic phrases and delicate ambience that, like the story concept, is held in check and is not always what it appears.  Crafted from orchestral colors and a hint of voices, but with a heavy tonality of electronics and reflective reverberation, the score sounds sublime, like the cheerful demeanor of contented villagefolk, but constantly intruding on this deceptive brightness are the dark, mechanistic twangs of metallic synths phrases, undulations, echoes, and discordance.  “Everybody Knows Everybody” is a docile and pleasant Satie-esque piano motif, eventually overcome by accordion and chimes, and finally by brutal, controlling synth pulses.  Those warbling pulses will recur throughout the score to reflect the deceptive serenity of “The Village,” the rehab facility in which its selected residents have been placed and are under the control of enigmatic overseers who dictate their behavior.  Gregson-Williams crafts a perceptive musical design throughout the score to reflect the strangitude encountered by protagonist “Six” as he seeks the truth about The Village and his real past, with gamelan percussion here, kitschy polka or waltz there, bright TV fanfare music here, a chimey clockwork march there, and lots and lots of backwards-playing samples, all of which gives the musical accompaniment an odd, distorted quality that fits the premise’s notions of deception and unreality quite well. 

Dario Marianelli’s score for AGORA, Alejandro Amenábar’s historical epic of the Roman Empire in Alexandria, Egypt in 391 A.D. and the clash of religion, starring Rachel Weisz, is a massively melodic and eloquent orchestral score, moving in large, shifting patterns.  The soundtrack, released in Spain by Warner Bros., captures the gentle lyricism for which the composer is known, while the film gives it a huge, epic historical canvas with which Marianelli can propose and develop his themes with very broad strokes. 
As Marianelli writes in his “Notas Del Compasitor” in the CD booklet (translated from Spanish by Google Translate with my minor edits): “AGORA is the story of… contradiction, personalized by the philosopher and mathematician Hypatia, in the era of the destruction of the great library of Alexandria.  I wanted to keep this contradiction, this tension, in the music: idealized beauty, heavenly perfection on the one hand, and brutality and violence on the other.  But it was important for me to introduce an element of compassion and empathy in the score as we speak also of a story of love, the love of man for truth, and uncompromising in the need to understand our place in the universe.” Enhanced by a large choir, the score is as powerful as the notions of these eternal contradictions in the history of mankind.  It’s often breathtaking in its evocative expressiveness, and yet intimate in its reflection of human perspectives and the sharing of hearts.

Greg Edmonson (TV’s FIREFLY) has provided an impressive score for the Naughty Dog video game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, released on CD by Sumthing Else music.  Edmonson also scored the first game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (soundtrack issued in 2007 and available on iTunes), and in this new game his further develops his theme for adventurer Nathan Drake into an epic adventure/romance.  This is a true orchestral score, recorded, like the first score, at Skywalker Sound.  Edmonson’s enticing melodies are embellished with familiar but nonetheless very effective and captivating ethnic nuances (ethnic winds by the amazing Chris Bleth, er-hu solos by the amazing Karen Han, plus evocative female voice and deep male throatsinging), that gives the soundtrack a flavorful sonic environment.  Edmonson wraps the game’s cinematics and gameplay in a compelling soundscape that makes for fine listening apart from the game on CD. 

Soundtrack & Music News

British composer Johnny Dankworth died on February 6th at the age of 82.  Dankworth was a pioneer of modern jazz in Britain, a leading composer of film music, a tireless champion of musical education, regardless of genre, and a superb instrumentalist in his own right.  In 1960 Dankworth gave up full-time bandleading in order to concentrate on composition. He had already made an impressive debut with the score to Karel Reisz's documentary film WE ARE THE LAMBETH BOYS (1959), and his new efforts graced such films as SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (Reisz, 1960) and THE CRIMINAL (Joseph Losey, 1960). So successful were these, and so distinctive the music, that the Dankworth sound became inseparably linked with the new wave of British cinema in the 1960s.  Among the best known are THE SERVANT (Losey, 1963), DARLING (John Schlesinger, 1965), MODESTY BLAISE(Losey 1966) and MORGAN, A SUITABLE CASE FOR TREATMENT (Reisz, 1966). To these were added television e such as THE AVENGERS (1961 – Dankworth wrote the theme for the show’s first season) and TOMORROW'S WORLD(1966), as well as an endless stream of advertising commercials.  He also appeared with wife, singer Cleo Laine, in Hammer’s musical short PARADE OF THE BANDS.   RIP Mr. Dankworth Sep 20 1927 – Feb 6 2010.

(Read my review of Dankworth’s FATHOM score in my Jan. 29th column.)

For more info, see: www.quarternotes.com/

Composer Angelo Badalamento has launched a new web site at www.angelobadalamenti.com, featuring news, sound bytes, and more.  His latest score, 44 INCH CHEST, was just released on CD by Varese Sarabande.

John Debney has reunited with director Garry Marshall for the sixth time to score the romantic-comedyVALENTINE’S DAY, starring Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Biel, Patrick Dempsey, Taylor Swift, Jamie Foxx, Taylor Lautner, Anne Hathaway, George Lopez and many more. The film was the #1 film at the box office and breaks previous President's day weekend records bringing in over $63-million. Along with writing an original score for the film, Debney also re-united with lyricist Glen Ballard to create the song “Every Time You Smile” performed by Carina Round. Currently Debney is scoring the highly anticipated Marvel comic book sequel IRON MAN 2. In June, Debney will travel to the Vatican for a performance of “The Passion Oratorio” in St. Peter’s Square.

Newly announced from La-La Land Records is the world premiere recording of Shirley Walker’s music for television’s THE FLASH (1990-91), based on the fast-running DC Comics superhero. Building off of Danny Elfman’s rousing theme, Walker composes and conducts an exhilarating orchestral super-hero score that chronicles the thrilling adventures of one of DC Comics’ most beloved superheroes.  Produced by Ford A. Thaxton and mastered by James Nelson, this two-disc release features over 2 hours of astounding music and includes in-depth album notes by yours truly. This is a limited edition of 3000 Units.  Also new from La-La Land is Ryan Shore’s score for the feature film drama CONFESSION, starring Chris Pine, Peter Greene and Bruce Davidson, and directed by Jonathan Meyers. Shore fashions a hauntingly beautiful orchestral score that skillfully weaves together all the complex emotions and themes inherent in this thoughtful drama, which deals with faith, loyalty, love and murder. Produced by the composer, this one is a special limited edition of 1000 Units. CD booklet contains exclusive liner notes from the composer and director.

The Carl Davis Collection has reissued his soundtrack music from the British TV WW2 documentary series, THE WORLD AT WAR.  Originally issued on LP in 1973, the new CDC release replicates the 2003 Silva Screen CD, which was a new recording of the score conducted by the composer, with period songs and wartime speech excerpts included.  Of the score’s 27 tracks, ten are score tracks, ranging from a minute-long theme reprise to a nearly 11-minute suite from the Fall of France sequence.  The Carl Davis Collection is distributed by Naxos, see: www.carldaviscollection.com


Tadlow announces their next release, due out on March 22nd, as a 2-CD set containing Maurice Jarre’s Oscar nominated score from the epic film THE MESSAGE starring Anthony Quinn. (Remastered from the original album master tapes) plus the complete score (including source cues and ethnic music) from LION OF THE DESERT, another epic directed by Moustapha Akkaad starring Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, Rod Steiger, Irene Papas and John Gielgud. Not a re-recording, but the original tracks conducted by Jarre, performed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and The London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, respectively, both remixed and remastered from the 24 track session tapes.  Also coming from Tadlow is MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME – the complete film score composed and conducted by Maurice Jarre in a 2 CD Set, also remixed and remastered from the original 24 track session tapes.   www.tadlowmusic.com

Larghetto Music of France has unleashed a massive 17-CD boxed set of music by renowned French composer Vladimir Cosma.  Entitled 40 Bandes Originales pour 40 Films, the set contains healthy doses of 40 (out of more than 220) film and television scores composed by Cosma, including well-known but rather elusive soundtracks to DIVA, LA BOUM, MICHEL STROGOFF, THE TALL BLONDE MAN WITH ONE BLACK SHOE (but not, most regrettably, its superb sequel score, RETOUR DE LE GRAND BLOND), THE MAD ADVENTURES OF “RABBI” JACOB, LE JAGUAR, and more.  This is not just a collection of themes, but, taking the precedent set by FSM with its “MGM Treasury” a couple years back, the set contains the entire soundtrack albums (whether issued as LPs, EPs, or singles) of these 40 films, compactly fit across 17 CDs – including many “inedits” previously unreleased.  In addition there is a massive 152-page, well-illustrated booklet describing the composer, the films, and the scores in detail (albeit in French).  Although much of his work was in a pop or romantic jazz idiom, Cosma could also detail a fine classical melody, and the scores compiled here are a fine example of his varied efforts.  This is a significant collection of music from a master of the craft.  Highly recommended, if expensive (although at most offering prices it comes out to about $5 a disc, which isn’t bad).

The new online issue of Film Score Monthly features an excellent interview with Christopher Young about his music for CREATION (reviewed here in my Jan 21st column) and why he prefers writing that kind of a score than the ubiquitous horror film music he is best known for.  www.filmscoremonthly.com

Rudy Koppl’s masterful interviews with Mychael & Jeff Danna, about scoring Terry Gilliam’s THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS, and with composer Gabriel Yared and director Mira Nair about AMELIA, headline the current online Music From The Movies, recently redesigned and relaunched.  www.musicfromthemovies.com

Intrada has released for the first time on CD the late Gil Melle’s groundbreaking all-electronic score for Robert Wise’s 1981 film, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN.  The album replicates the original soundtrack album issued at the time, and includes the original album’s liner notes as well as a new commentary by Daniel Schwieger.  Also new from Intrada this week are David Newman’s MEET THE APPLEGATES and John Barry’s score for DAY OF THE LOCUST, all in limited editions expected to sell out very quickly.

Germany’s All-Score media, in cooperation with Soundtrack Corner, announces a March 12th release date for JERRY COTTON – FBI’S TOP MAN, a new compilation of long unavailable music of the original German film series, with more than one hour (28 tracks) of music from Peter Thomas.  Undoubtedly Peter Thomas’ soundtracks to all eight Jerry Cotton movies, composed between 1965 and 1969, are the highlight of the krimi series. Thomas re-configured American jazz the way the filmmakers re-configured New York City, mixing it up with sounds that appropriately call to mind the military, the lounge, the chase (of course) and even the circus. Thomas goes for the jazz jugular and spices up the proceedings with his own brand of ephemera: gunshots, screams, scat singing, and wild improvisation that must have made participating musicians happy as hell. Crime Jazz at its best!



Games Music News

BAFTA award-winning composer Jason Graves has created a rousing thematic score for the next iteration of the highly acclaimed submarine simulation series, Silent Hunter® 5: Battle of the Atlantic. A classically trained composer renowned for his adventurous symphonic music in video games, Graves elevates the dramatic story of a World War II German submarine captain with an emotionally charged orchestral score, expertly crafting graceful chord progressions and Wagnerian majestic chorus. Developed by Ubisoft Romania, Silent Hunter 5: Battle of the Atlantic will be released exclusively for the PC in March 2010. The original soundtrack will be available with the Collector's Edition of the game and for digital download on iTunes®.

"Collaborating with Ubisoft Romania was a wonderful experience and it was a privilege to be asked to score the next installment in the franchise," commented Jason Graves. "I always try to find a unique approach to every score I compose. I thought the German perspective of the story would permit more musical liberty than my previous World War II scores. I drew on classical composers such as Mozart and Wagner to instill a dramatic, operatic sensibility to the score and I utilized choir to the same purpose, especially in the main themes."

Silent Hunter 5: Battle of the Atlantic ventures into uncharted territory and takes players behind the periscope of a German U-boat to take on the Allied Forces in famous battles across the vast Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. For the first time in the history of the series, players can live the life of a submarine captain from a first-person view and lead and interact with crew in the dynamic campaign. For more information about the game please visit www.silenthunter5.com

For more information on Jason visit www.jasongraves.com

Randall 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 from the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer.  He now reviews soundtracks for Music from the Movies, Cemetery Dance magazine, and writes for Film Music Magazine and others. For more information, see: www.myspace.com/larsonrdl
Randall can be contacted at soundtraxrdl@aol.com



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