Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2013-03 
February 26, 2013

By Randall D. Larson

A protégé of Hans Zimmer, Icelandic composer Atli (pronounced AHT-Lee) Örvarsson has scored a vast array of film and TV projects this year. He scores NBC's new hit series CHICAGO FIRE weekly, composed the current hit HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, and is working with Hans Zimmer on the new Superman feature MAN OF STEEL.  I Interviewed Atli in January, discussing his background and his approach to composing music for films such as VANTAGE POINT, THE EAGLE, SEASON OF THE WITCH, and HANSEL & GRETEL.

Q: What brought you to the USA from Iceland – and what inspired your interest in scoring films?

Atli Örvarsson:  I originally came to the States to go to Berklee College of Music, and at the time I’d been in involved in music since I was about five years old.  Iceland is a pretty small place, and one of the good things about small places is that you actually get a lot of opportunities simply because there are not that many people who can play an instrument. In my hometown, with fifteen thousand people, when they needed a trumpet player I was the guy. So I got exposed to all kinds of music and got to play with symphony orchestras with brass bands, pit orchestras in the local theatre company.  Then I got into playing rock and roll and had a pretty successful career in Iceland. I was in one band that got two platinum records, and so at the age of 22 I just felt that I needed a new challenge. So I decided to go to Berklee.  I didn’t really know what I was going to study, so I just picked jazz piano to have something on the books. And then, as luck had it, I decided to take a film scoring course and just fell in love with scoring pictures, and that was that.

Q: Your early years in Hollywood found you working under the tutelage of Mike Post and Hans Zimmer – what were some of the most valuable lessons you learned from them?

Atli Örvarsson:  I’ve been lucky enough to work with two of the top people in the industry. They’re very, very different in their approaches. Mike really goes with his gut, and is quite fast at what he does.  He just trusts his instincts and goes for it. Whereas Hans is very, very deliberate.  He spends a lot of time inventing and reinventing.  So, on the one hand, I’d be working with Mike for a TV season for about eight months and we’d do perhaps about a hundred and ten episodes of television between the two of us, an enormous amount of music. And then I’d find myself working with Hans where I could spend a couple weeks writing one five-minute cue. They were two incredibly different approaches, but both very successful. So I feel like I’ve gotten a very rounded education!

Q: The role of “additional music composer” has been one that’s become more recognized, largely due to Hans.  How important are these assignments – and these credits – in allowing opportunities for new composers to get themselves known in film music circles? 

Atli Örvarsson:  I think they’re incredibly important. You get to actually work under the tutelage of somebody who’s really, really brilliant at what they do, and you work on really good films.  You get to have the time to really through-compose things and be deliberate about it. And at the same time, you make some connections, and as we all know at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good you are as a composer if you don’t have the right connections.  But I think one of the reasons why the additional composer role has become more recognized is that it’s actually more time-consuming to write film music the way Hans does it, or as the way it’s down nowadays with these elaborate mock-ups, than it used to be.  If you think about it, the composer nowadays has to perform every part, so you compose, you orchestrate, you perform everything, and then you’ve got to mix it.  The job description has changed in a way that’s very difficult for one person to write two hours of music in three months. We always think technology is going to make our lives easier in general or quicker, but it’s actually the opposite, I think, when it comes to film scoring!

Q: What did your work entail when writing additional music for films like PIRATE OF THE CARIBBEAN, ANGELS AND DEMONS, IRON MAN and THE SIMPSONS MOVIE?

Atli Örvarsson:  Typically the way it goes is that Hans writes a suite of themes, and then the other people who are working on these films, or have been involved in applying music to the film, arrange those themes to fit the picture.  In a couple instances, somebody will actually write a tune or solve a problem that hasn’t been solved by the suite, and get to actually write the notes, but more often than not it’s really kind of a glorified arranger’s job.

Q: I thought your score for THE LAST CONFEDERATE drew a powerful musical canvas across this moving historical romance.   Do you recall your thoughts when you began on this project and how the score was conceived and developed?

Atli Örvarsson:  The movie’s really about the battle of the heart of America at that time, so Americana has to be a part of it, clearly. It is a love story, so that’s another aspect to consider.  And then the geography, the history, the subject matter, already puts you in a certain musical environment.  I began writing tunes and figuring out the different themes, and then started assembling it. The person who was acting as director towards the end, Julian Adams, he’s a southerner – I mean, really a southerner. When he heard my demo and realized that I wasn’t born in this country and had no real predisposition to the north or the south, he felt that that was going to be an asset to the film and to the score, since it was told by somebody was quite neutral.  This movie really opened my eyes to how the Civil War still lingers in the psyche, especially in the southerners.

Q: Did Julian ask for any particular changes in the way you were scoring the film in that regard?

Atli Örvarsson:  No. I do remember that he definitely wanted the music to have Celtic influence, to represent the origin of the main characters, the Irish and Scottish immigrants.  Being from Iceland, which isn’t Ireland but somehow that kind of music still seems to be in the DNA somehow, so I quite quickly figured out what he was looking for. So you could say that the main musical influences are this Celtic influence and then more of an Americana feeling with a hymn-like quality to some of the other themes.

Q: In VANTAGE POINT you were presented with an action-thriller with multiple viewpoints, situations repeated from differing perspectives, and a non-linear plot that revs up to a compelling climax.  How did these aspects challenge and/or inspire you in developing this score?

Atli Örvarsson:  It was really hard to find themes that worked all the way through the film, because it is nonlinear and it’s all over the map. So the hardest thing was just to come up with 85 minutes of music (or whatever it was) without really having strong themes. There was a main theme (the main title) and then two or three themes that applied to other characters, but thematic material was a bit scarce because it was hard to pinpoint – because the story wasn’t told linearly – and I wasn’t able to have the score tell the story in a more traditional way. The other thing I would say… you know, I’m more of a melodic, traditional writer at heart, but this score was really very much electronic, and it needed to sound very current, so I sort of delved into a world of sound design and synthesis. I’d heard synthesizers since I was a kid, but I’d never really gone into it this deep, and this was a challenge – but a really fun one.

Q: What do you feel are the primary needs when scoring contemporary action films and how do you try and invest your own unique voice into a genre which is very prevalent in today’s cinema?

Atli Örvarsson:  There’s a rhythm track in all modern thrillers nowadays, and I think it’s just a representation of the aesthetics of the pop music during the last 20 years, where genres like dubstep keep coming up in conversations nowadays. Electronic music and dance music rhythms have become the norm for modern-sounding action scores.  One of the things that is limiting about that is that most dubstep and experimental dance music and those kinds of genres tend to be very much in one key, if not one sort of chord; it’s all the same bass note and it becomes a bit monotonous. The challenge for me is to try and keep it interesting.  With HANSEL AND GRETEL, in particular, I felt that a certain amount of chromaticism and chord-changes and key changes were necessary to depict the fairy tale aspect of it, and it was quite a fun challenge to try and marry those.

Q: BABYLON A.D. contrasted a sublime chorale theme with some heavy action material, creating a compelling sonic atmosphere for this futuristic action thriller.  How did you use texture, atmosphere, and theme interaction to delineate the film’s science fictionesque setting and environment within a propulsive thriller setting?

Atli Örvarsson:  The main influence was probably the futuristic theme of the film.  That needed to be represented in the sound design, the rhythmic design, and the electronic aspect of the film. At the heart of it, though, there’s the story of this pure girl, and for that I used the very pure female voice, which developed into a larger choral setting.  Those were the main influences. I spent a lot of time just creating sounds and noises that are moving in the background to try to give it that sort of alien, futuristic feel.

Q: In THE FOURTH KIND you were also able to integrate an exotic atmospheric motif that served as a distinct contrast with the rhythmic action material, adding a moving sense-of-wonder to the score.  What was your intention to musically enhance the growing mystery and embody the awe and fear created by the aliens in this score?

Atli Örvarsson:  I think that score was all about juxtaposing good and evil, or a sense of malice, so again I used the female voice for the female character there, representing an innocent person in this very frightening and very dehumanized mechanical environment of the supposed aliens. In many ways, it was a kind of similar set-up as BABYLON A.D., and the trick was to find different ways of doing it. I felt the movie was, again, very successful in making you feel very uncomfortable and messing with your imagination, and my intention was to just try and heighten that with juxtaposing innocent-sounding things with horrible-sounding things.

Q: How would you describe your use of theme-and-variation within predominantly rhythm-based scores such as these?

Atli Örvarsson:  All you can do is try to come up with a good tune!  I’m thinking ahead as I’m writing these melodies, thinking about something that will fit on top of a rhythmic palette or could even modulate into something rhythmic. There’s always a method to the madness! But it’s just a long, organic process, composing these film scores. It’s a few months of living with this material and constantly trying to discover new ways of using it and developing it.

Q: THE EAGLE is another score defined by a thick musical texture that suggests the film’s period while supporting a massive historical war story.  How did you develop this score to enhance the film’s historical period, opposing armies, epic battle sequences, and intimate personal drama across the arc of the story?

Atli Örvarsson:  That’s a movie that has a Celtic sound to it.  It’s a story about Roman soldiers in Scotland in the year 140 AD, so one of things I did actually was to go to Scotland and, with the help of the director, I was able to locate these musicians who specialized in ancient Scottish instruments – and when I say instruments, they ranged from stone whistles to ram’s horns to a replica of this ancient Celtic war horn called the Carnyx. So it was a very interesting sound-world. One of the ideas that the director introduced was using those instruments for the Celtic tribes and their side of the story, but use a more traditional orchestral sound for the Romans. And that took us into… well, the Roman Empire stretched pretty far East, so we decided to use a little bit of kind of a hint of Eastern-sounding instruments as well, with the Romans. That was the delineation: symphonic orchestra, symphonic with a bit middle-eastern sounding music for the Romans, and Celtic for the locals.

Q: How have your Icelandic musical roots benefitted your ability to capture these instrumental textures – the ethnic instruments, voices, electronics – to characterize the story’s the environment and peoples?

Atli Örvarsson:  I wonder myself!   I’ve said before that everybody’s aesthetic and what we create is influenced by the place we grew up in. Iceland happens to be very sparsely populated, there’s a lot of open spaces, huge sky, so… I don’t know. I like to think there’s quite a bit of space in my music, and some transparency, which I really think that comes from growing up on a fjord in northern Iceland. Sometimes it’s something that I decide against, especially when I’m doing action stuff. I have to really try to get out of that and into a more dense, mechanical world. I’m sure there’s some kind of “Icelandicness” in my music, but it’s probably better to let other people analyze that than myself!

Q: SEASON OF THE WITCH combines that rich historical texture with a pervasive sense of perilous magic and fantasy bordering on horror.  How did your approach to this score come about and how would you describe its thematic and instrumental elements?

Atli Örvarsson:  In the very beginning, the director and producers really wanted, again, a very modern score. So we went down a road of creating an electronic kind of background and texture. But we also realized that it honestly needed to be a bit more on the orchestral side, just to give it historical and dramatic scope, so it became one of those hybrid scores.  There are a lot of religious overtones to the story, and that’s also represented in the score itself. There are a lot of choral passages and some Latin used in some of the choral pieces, and that kind of thing. I think the final product was a combination of all these things. And then obviously there are some horror aspects to it as well, and there’s quite a bit of that kind of thing, but it’s more of a blend of traditional orchestral elements with an electronic underbelly.

Q: Your use of chorus is especially effective in capturing a sense of period and what was happening with the Crusades and the Plague, and later the power of the witch.  Were these all live players and would you describe your use of choir as a layering element within the score?

Atli Örvarsson:  Honestly it was a combination of both live choirs and sample choirs. Sample choirs have become frighteningly good, so you can get really good results, but I had the luxury of using some live choirs on it as well.  I also had some solo voices – two of them, as a matter of fact – and I took all of these elements and manipulated them electronically to create an otherworldly sort of vocal sound.

Q: How did you use music in this score to generate and augment the story’s sense of horror and scariness?

Atli Örvarsson:  On a film like this, you’re trying to make people feel uncomfortable. You can do that with melody or you can do it with sounds. In the sound world, I use both orchestral elements – string effects, brass effects, even choir effects– and with my team we create a bunch of sounds that make you feel uncomfortable and on edge. It’s really a combination of all these things.

Q: Do fantasy films like these have more responsibility in terms of evoking their environments than in mainstream action thrillers like VANTAGE POINT?

Atli Örvarsson:  It’s much easier, to be honest with you. For me it’s much harder to do a very modern score, like VANTAGE POINT. And it’s because, again, I feel I’m very much a melodic writer, and melodies come very easily to me and that’s something that’s a really good tool for fantasy and historical pictures, whereas modern stuff is more rooted in rhythms and sounds and production and electronic things.  As a composer I just don’t find it quite as satisfying. My thing is writing a tune.  I’ll do whatever is called for, of course, but I prefer the more fantastical approach. I would argue that they’re equally important, though more important to create a fantastical backdrop to a fairy tale than it is to create a really tense, serious backdrop for something like VANTAGE POINT.

Q: HANSEL & GRETEL also merges elements you have been associated with previously – historical era, mythic fantasy concept, action-oriented treatment.  Coming into this project, what were your first thoughts for the kind of music the director wanted and/or the film needed?

Atli Örvarsson:  I’d just recently done another witch movie, SEASON OF THE WITCH, and I was a bit apprehensive about going down the same road, but after speaking with the director I realized he really wanted to go very rock and roll with it. I realized that would be the answer to coming up with something that I hadn’t done before. And I think it did, actually. I used to play in rock and roll bands myself, back in the day, and it was kind of a nice, guilty pleasure to go back into generating all these guitar riffs and then have the orchestra play them. And so I feel like, there are similar elements to what I’ve done in the past, in the orchestra perhaps, but I think what really sets it apart is the just the rock and roll flavor.

Q: You’ve described this score as “Baroque ‘n Roll” due to its use of heavy metal and dance influences mixed with early classical elements. How did this all come together to create the energetic backdrop you wanted for this film?

Atli Örvarsson:  Sometimes you just start with something and you have no idea where you’re going to end up. This was very much a case of that. It took a lot of experimentation. The key word just was to invent, to come up with something that maybe hadn’t been done before. A wall of guitar, or having some harpsichord next to each other, is something people haven’t heard too much of. That’s kind of how it all happened. We tried a bunch of different things and ended up with this cocktail.

Q: What was most challenging for you in pulling all of these elements together and making them all work as you intended?

Atli Örvarsson:  I think it is what I mentioned before – which is the norm with most electronic music; it’s very much based on one key, one bass note, or one kind of tonality. Whereas I feel that the fairy tale needed some chromaticism and sort of some fantastical, chromatic chord progressions. And so marrying those two elements was the hardest thing.

Q: A fairly large team is credited with assisting with music prep, programing, and additional music on HANSEL & GRETEL.   This is fairly common nowadays on big movies – how did you manage this behind-the-scenes music team to allow you to realize the score the way you and the director wished?

Atli Örvarsson:  With all the programming necessary in this type of music it simply takes a lot of man-hours coming up with new sounds that nobody’s heard before. When you’re creating synthetic sounds, whether it’s an organic sound source or a synthesized sound source, you’re trying to come up with new sounds, and that in itself is a big job. So for this kind of a score you need a big team.  I think it’s another aspect of Hans Zimmer’s approach to having a big team helping out, and so I probably learned quite a bit about managing a team just by watching Hans. For this kind of a score, there’s no way one person can pull this all together, in time and in style. 

Q:  You’re now working with Hans on the new SUPERMAN movie score.  Are you able to tell us anything about this score and where it’s heading in capturing the Man of Steel musically, or what your involvement in it will be?

Atli Örvarsson:  I’m helping out with some arranging work, the typical additional composer thing that I’ve done with it in the past, but no, I cannot tell you anything about the score yet.

Q: Finally, what are your goals for the future?  Are there any kind of projects you’d like to do that you aren’t getting just now?

Atli Örvarsson:  My goals for the future are really just to write the best music that I can write, and hopefully keep getting the opportunities to do so. One of the next things coming up for me is the movie from the Czech Republic, and it’s sort of a historical – another historical drama! – that takes place during the Holocaust, so it’s sort of a new thing for me. I’ve mostly done American films, and I’m looking forward to some challenges in Europe, which I think in many ways will lend themselves well to my strengths as a composer. And then having two little kids, I look forward to doing more animation and children’s movies. But to be honest, I feel very blessed to be able to do all kinds of things, and just hope that somebody will keep hiring me!

Thanks to Alex May at Costa Communications.  Interview transcribed by Kelsey Kennedy, edited by RDL. Atli Örvarsson has also scored the edgy new indie thriller A SINGLE SHOT, directed by David M. Rosenthal. Starring Sam Rockwell and William H. Macy, Örvarsson’s score brings a chill to the forested homestead of John Moss (Sam Rockwell), a hunter navigating a deadly game of cat-and-mouse involving a bloody cover-up, rural locals, dodgy lawyers, and a large sum of money.



Chisos: A Native American word meaning “ghost” or “spirit;” may derive from the Castilian hechizos (“enchantment”).

CHISOS is a live action short film with story and music written by acclaimed composer Michael J. Lewis, known in our circles for his outstanding musical scores to such films as THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT, THEATRE OF BLOOD, and THE MEDUSA TOUCH.  It’s been eighteen years since Lewis’ elegant orchestral melodies have graced the silver screen, but he’s back with a new and very personal project – one in which he’s begun with his score and developed a short film to go with it.  Michael J. Lewis’ CHISOS is now underway as a short narrative film with no dialogue; photography and performance – and, of course, music – will carry the story from start to finish – a provocative mix of fantasy, drama, action and moonlit romance as it tells of an Hispanic teenager who confronts a tragic past only to find true beauty.  With pre-production completed, a funding proposal on Indiegogo has been established to complete the project.

“This project is a dream. If you can marry your incredible score to equally moving images, you cannot lose” - Ramsey Nickell, Cinematographer. February 2013 Austin TX

Q: What inspired the CHISOS project?

Michael J. Lewis:  I wanted to work with film again. I have been away from scoring for some time, recording and conducting music of my native Wales.* It has been a great period and I am immensely proud of what I have achieved. But, that nagging desire to return to the big screen had been gnawing away at me for some time. Then, last summer, I saw a very elegant 60-second European TV commercial that was just action and music. No dialogue and no sound effects. It was wonderful! That was the turning point. A film without words, great storytelling without dialogue but by no means silent. A picture can say more than a 1000 words. Let the music and the actors carry the show. The flame was rekindled. The gnawing became insistent.

During my last seven years in Texas, I have developed four film projects as writer and composer. Writing, after composing, became my second obsession. (When you marry those two obsessions, sparks fly, I tell you!) The scripts are written, the music is written and recorded – but they are full length, very ambitious features to produce. A short film of the highest quality was the obvious way to go to return to film. A live action short, driven by the music with actors communicating through body language, set in wild Texas, my current home. I briefly flirted with Caddo Lake in NE Texas as my locale (for a time the project was codenamed OOOZE) but the dramatic majesty and magnificence of West Texas won my heart.

Q: When you were writing the music, at what point did you decide that it needed a visual story to go with it, and how did you develop the written story from there?

Michael J. Lewis: From the outset, I knew this was going to be a score for a film, but I had no idea what the nature of the film would be.  The M.O. was simply to kick the music off and see where we end up. Almost immediately, the piece took over and rapidly established its own identity. All I needed to do was get up in the morning and let it happen. The structure came naturally; the instrumentation came naturally. Austin is a major music city, both classical and contemporary; there a lot of country and a lot of blues, which was all new to me when I first arrived. The modal influence in blues fascinated me. I worked with many of these musicians, talked to them, learned from them. Their influence popped up as the work developed. I had only used a saxophone once in all my scores (NAKED FACE).  I hated them, along with the clarinet. Now I love them. Soprano, alto, baritone sax began wailing everywhere; pedal steel sliding everywhere; harmonica bending everywhere; electric guitar soaring everywhere. Dazzling colors, a new palette, all in perfect order. Then the experimenting with Miroslav, East West, and Vienna I had been conducting over the last few years finally paid off. By the end, we had 256 voices cradled in Pro Tools. One day at the end of a session, my engineer, the world class Austinite Tim Gerron, said to me, “I am beginning to see the journey in this piece.”  It was an intriguing comment, which prompted me to reacquaint myself with the 12 steps of “The Hero’s Journey” by Joseph Campbell, which I had studied a few years earlier. Guess what? Campbell’s structure and the structure of my piece were identical.  Acts 1, 2, 3 were clearly defined. The leitmotifs were all there. The character arcs were strong. Now all I needed was the story. I had the structure, I had the soul, and I had the atmosphere. Certainly needed no sound effects or interfering words. But what’s the story?  It nagged me for weeks. I even toyed with the idea of getting someone else to write the tale. I had a few writers come over and listen to the recording. They turned pale and fled. So I sat back quietly and allowed my own baby to speak to me. I kept looking at a map of Big Bend, West Texas. I kept looking at the word CHISOS (the central mountain range in the region are the Chisos Mountains). One day I looked up the meaning of Chisos. It was either a Native American word for “spirit” or possibly a Castilian word meaning “enchantment.” Perfect. The story erupted in my head and was completed in two days.  CHISOS was born.  Now came the biggest hurdle of all: how to bring it to the big screen. I had paid all the development to date including all recording costs, but production and post was another matter.

Q: Having spent so many years composing music for a pre-existing filmed story, what was the experience like in reverse – creating a story to fit the expressive music you wrote?

Michael J. Lewis:  Wildly intriguing and demanding. It stretched me to the limit.  It was a very rare experience, which I relished. I love the great romantic composers (the basis of quality film music for sure) but by and large they had allowed traditional myths and legends to be their inspiration. Wagner turned to German folk lore, Berlioz to well-known literary works, Verdi turned to Shakespeare. But, as you said, Randall, I had to reverse the process and turn to my own music as the story source. I found that to be fascinating. Once I had the notion of “spirit” and “enchantment,” I really was on my way. Then the mystery of West Texas led to elements of fantasy and drama, and “enchantment” led to eventual romance. The wild nature of West Texas led to mystery. I picked a young protagonist, out alone in the desert (on horseback) tracing a tragic family history, as opposed to the older, stereotype macho gnarly cowboy. The mentor called out for a weather-beaten “curandera” [healer]. The antagonist needed to be older and ugly. The protagonist’s romantic “treasure” needed to be young and beautiful. Of course, Chisos, the spirit, whirls its way, quietly and fantastically, through the entire film. It’s quite enchanting, with colorful characters in a colorful setting with colorful music. Way to go!

Q:  Where was CHISOS recorded?

Michael J. Lewis:  Principally, it was recorded by an outstanding young engineer, Kyle Graham, in my own studio. It took a long time but I finally, inevitably, joined the ranks of home studio based composers. It has opened up a whole new world for me, far more improvisational than the desk bound pencil and paper approach I was brought up with. In fact, I love this way so much I am not sure if I will ever return to the traditional method. We’ll see. As I said earlier, the music was mixed by Tim Gerron here in Austin at SPACE and I am delighted with the result. Equal to anything I have done in London, NYC or LA.

Q:  How did you select your cast and director for this project?

Michael J. Lewis:  Casting is largely complete. I found a young Hispanic actress in San Antonio who is ideal. She is a natural talent, stunningly beautiful, rides horses and is a great dancer; the film has a wildly seductive, erotic dance sequence, the likes of which has never dropped off my pencil before. I took up dancing two years ago. I am now dance crazy and want to write more for the medium. The search for a “curandera” is proving to be a challenge because talent agencies seem to have little to no interest in heavily creased, weather-beaten actresses over 60. But I will find her. It’s a great part. I learned years ago in London that smart producers fill their films with great supporting actors to surround their stars. (See THEATRE OF BLOOD). I have also been involved in discussions with a director but I have not exhausted that search yet. I have viewed over a 100 reels and what I see is overwhelmingly ugly. Poetic directors with a sense of drama are not in abundance. Where is a young David Lean or John Ford? They knew how to make movies. I know one is out there waiting to be found.

Q: How did the notion of the Indiegogo funding process come about, and what is needed to fund the project through to completion?

Michael J. Lewis:  Austin is regarded as the independent film capital of the world. A surprising amount of filming goes on here. Everyone talks about funding. Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been invaluable tools for smaller film makers. Many mavericks get by on shoestring budgets. Technology is making that more and more possible. This project is drawing a lot of attention and talented folk are offering to work with me at a reduced rate. But they have to be paid, equipment needs to be rented, cast and crew need to be fed, watered and housed out in the desert hundreds of miles from base. Above all, the Academy calls for excellence in originality, entertainment and production quality. I intend to deliver but I need help. Pruned to a minimum, the budget for production and post is $35,000. Development, music, and script are already paid for. I now need help with the rest. I beg all to make a contribution, small or bigger, to CHISOS through the Indiegogo site. Profit is not the motive, originality and excellence in music and film is the uncompromising goal. Please help me achieve this goal. Every dollar will help.
Filming is scheduled for the second half of May to coincide with the full moon.

Q: What would you like audiences to take away from the film once they see the finished project?

Michael J. Lewis: Basically, I want the audience to say “wow.” I want them to love the music – enjoy and then ponder the story, admire the actors and applaud the concept, as they are entertained. Then I would like them to text everyone they know and say, “You have to see - and hear – CHISOS!” Who knows, someone may approach me and suggest doing a complete feature without dialogue. I am ready. For years, directors in film, TV, and commercials have consistently asked me to bring emotion, feeling, and warmth to their creations that they themselves had not succeeded in doing. Let the music become a principal character rather than a supporting one and the emotion will be right there from the beginning.

For more details, see the CHISOS Indiegogo site at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/chisos/x/2420407

* “The first Welsh CD I produced, The Romantic Splendour of Wales, was all in the Welsh language,” said Lewis. “Cost a bundle. Friends and colleagues told me I was crazy. You know what?  I recouped every penny!”

New Soundtracks Releases of Note

La-La Land Records will release Bear McCreary’s soundtrack to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: BLOOD & CHROME on March 12.  The second prequel to the reimagined BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (after 2009’s CAPRICA), BLOOD & CHROME takes place in the midst of the First Cylon war and depicts eager fighter pilot William Adama’s experiences in battle and clashing with his battle-weary co-pilot Coker.  “In scoring the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA prequels CAPRICA and BLOOD & CHROME, I returned to the unique combination of world and orchestral sounds that defined my previous score,” McCreary said. “But, both prequels had their own distinct approach. CAPRICA was interlaced with delicate chamber orchestra textures, solo harp, and other-worldly source songs. BLOOD & CHROME is energized by heavy distorted-synthesizers and searing electric guitar performances. Listeners will hear, however, that all three series have a common musical DNA.”  Elements of both BSG and CAPRICA waft through the score, from the light gamelan twinkles that open the score (“Dear Dad”) to the massive, drum-infused orchestral lament that weighs down upon tracks like “Husker” and our first view of the “Galactica” (which also includes a poignant reprise of Stu Phillips’ original 1979 BSG Theme, expressing the mythology and legendry of the stalwart vessel).  Like CAPRICA, BLOOD & CHROME is dominated by the omnipresent taiko drums that were such a part of the original BSG series and its space battles.  But McCreary is not simply returning to the ethnically textured instrumental design that gave BSG such a unique flavor for its human-drama science fiction core, there’s a new layer to his sound design for BLOOD & CHROME.  The new score mirrors the young Adama’s confidence and ambition with the youthful exuberance of rock and roll guitars and synths, effectively blending into the fabric of the more familiar BSG musical conceptualization. 

“Tonally, BLOOD & CHROME departs from the heavy political and religious subtext of the previous two series and emphasizes action, adventure, sex and aerial dogfights,” Bear wrote in his online blog.  “The visual palette of the film forgoes BSG’s gritty documentary approach in favor of a glossier, brighter and more dynamic look, fitting for the depiction of the military at its peak.” 

McCreary very intentionally had favored acoustic instruments in his BSG series scores, avoiding anything that wasn’t the product of human hands or mouth.  In BLOOD & CHROME, he embraces and exploits electronic tonalities, giving the texture a blazing new component that invests a lightning-like vibe into his sonic mix.  “Synths can be a deadly trap for composers and filmmakers,” Bear wrote in his blog.  “Because the technology develops rapidly, synth scores generally do not age well… In 2004, I avoided using synthesized sounds in BSG as a direct reaction to these pitfalls.  The heavy, dramatic tone of that series would have been undercut by synthetic sounds.  BLOOD & CHROME, however, is a different animal – it’s simply more fun.  The emphasis on action and occasional comedy one-liners gave me license to introduce synthetic sounds to energize the acoustic instrumentation of the BSG score.”  These synths are especially striking in “Archeron,” wherein a seething synthesizer motif introduces the ruins of Battlestar Archeron, grafting its wiry, synthetic texture onto an aggressive palette of blistering drums, a roaring cadence of buzzing electronica, and a heady electric guitar riff with momentary flavors that seem to conjure up BSG Season 4’s hidden “All Along the Watchtower” rhythm (and thereby suggesting who was responsible for the destruction of Archeron).  An ethnic flavoring of electronic woodwind and electric sitar circulates wildly through the pounding taikos and snares of “The Ice Cave,” a palette which is reprised in the ominously sustained chords of “You Will Regret This” which hang suspended and menacing for a love scene tinged with dangerous signals.

Softer elements in BLOOD & CHROME include a reflective woodwindy theme for “Becca,” the new film’s female lead, and a warm, poignant melody for “Coker and Kirby” when Adama’s co-pilot is reunited with a friend thought lost in battle (the motif is partially reprised for solo piano in “Coker’s Interlude,” a source cue heard briefly in the film as Coker noodles on a piano; performed by Joohyun Park, it’s heard in its beautiful entirely here). The score is nicely varied from weighty, throbbing chords permeated with low brass and electronics to very airy, high end flutes (“The Last Battle of the Osiris” provides an especially pleasing combination of these two elements, as Osiris surges ahead into its sacrificial doom), although such sympathetic melodies are in the minority here; the score’s predominant aspect is on the heavier, metallic aspects of the music.

McCreary gives his string section a terrific workout in “Sky Lodge Battle” (the music includes a quote from Bear’s score for the BSG Season 2 episode “Valley of Darkness,” in which a similarly shown Cylon incursion occurs); the sharply miked strings bend and reflect and stretch out over echoing wood block and taiko, bowed furiously in maniacal mercado rhythms, goaded to higher velocity by eager provocation by the drums.  These strings seem to evoke the soul of the mechanical Cylons, revisiting the palette in “Automated Cylon Transmission Relay” and “A Cylon Spy.”   McCreary brings things to a furious climax in the concluding track, “Apocalypse: Blood and Chrome,” which features the tremendous voice of Raya Yarbrough (the track opens with Raya singing the BSG main title “Gayatri Mantra”), and brother Brandon McCreary in a glorious victory chant triumphantly sung over the top of the “Watchtower” guitar riff; the cue is modified from a track in his score from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: THE PLAN and closes the score with a marvelous synthesis of various elements that reach back to the earliest days of the BSG saga.  Thus BLOOD & CHROME’s musical journey (mirroring, of course, William Adama’s personal journey) traverses the gossamer terrain from the young, arrogant refrains of the Stu Phillips’ theme (reflecting not just the magnificent Battlestar when Adama first sees it, but embodies the self-confidence of the young, untried warrior himself) to the battle-hardened echoes of “Gayatri Mantra” that carry us forward, suggesting the future that will be Adama’s when he takes command of Galactica itself, presaging BSG’s own sound world.

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD/Marco Beltrami/Sony Classical
Marco Beltrami visits the world of DIE HARD for the second time since inheriting the franchise with 2007’s LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD following the death of series’ original composer Michael Kamen in 2003.  It’s a very propulsive, action-oriented score; like the film there’s little time to develop character and only the briefest of expressive interactions between Bruce Willis’ John McClane and his son, Jack (the progressively stirring string piece, “Father & Son,” and its later, after-battle reprisal in “It’s Hard To Kill A McClane,” are the only real poignant moments in both film and score).  Thus Beltrami’s focus is on the action, which of course makes the score quite active, but to his credit Beltrami is able to make it constantly interesting, never relying on the same musical devices without variance for too long.  The score opens with a phrase of “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (a motif which figured in the first DIE HARD movie), which starts off the track “Yuri Says” before moving the more predominant use of violins, percussion, and orchestra.  Some of the action writing is very reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith, with perhaps a wider representation of drums.  A lot of his action music opens with a declarative downbeat of horns before assembling into its pounding rhythmic mix of brass and percussion counterpointed by strident string works.  Beltrami also deploys some electronica elements sparingly but effectively (such as the whapping helicopter rotor rhythm that gives “Regroup” its energizing edge) and a bit of choir, such as in the apprehensive Mother Russia feeling evoked during “Entering Chernobyl.”   “Triple Vodka Rhapsody” is a festive flamenco-styled piece (it would perhaps be more accurately described as a balalaika melody played on an acoustic guitar, which gives it an intriguing flamenco sensibility) whose quick rhythm and melody are taken over by strings and orchestra; and “McClane’s Brain” (which closes the album) is a quirky funky/fusion piece for jazz saxophone, drum-kit, bongos, suggesting the chaotic clamor of McClane’s contradictory mental hemispheres.


MAGIC CITY/Daniele Luppi/Silva Screen
This Starz cable TV series is centered on 1959 Miami Beach's most luxurious dream palace - the Miramar Playa Hotel – as its visionary leader, Ike Evans, deals with the Mob, his complicated family, and a city in the midst of dramatic change as Fidel Castro takes control of Cuba just 200 miles offshore. By day the hotel at the center of 'Magic City' is all diving clown acts and cha-cha lessons by the pool, but at night Miami Beach reveals a darker truth as Ike tries to keep his personal empire from exploding. The music from the film is immersed in the music of the period – new covers of tunes originally sung by Ella Fitzgerald and authentic hits from Tito Puente, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles, and Frankie Avalon – while composer Daniele Luppi gives the show its dramatic edge with a tension-imbued score favoring sustained strings and strident, plunked piano.  Silva has wisely divided this presentation into a pair of discs – one for the songs, the other for Luppi’s score – which allows either to be enjoyed on its own without jarring interference between the two.  I’ll focus on the score here since that is the main objective of my examination.  The score is built from several motifs that appear in various guises (“Underwater Forest,” “A Wave of Fear,” “Young Lovers,” and “A Brother’s Love Theme”) as well as a number of standalone tracks, but all are crafted out of the same musical block of stone.  Luppi’s opening theme captures a bit of the flavor of 1959 Miami Beach, as marimba, piano and lush strings permeate the palette while ratchet and bongos punctuate the lounge melody.  There’s little of that style in the score proper, which focuses on building or maintaining a palpable mood of apprehension as the story delineates dangerous intersections between players with hidden agendas held close.  It’s a pleasing amalgamation of atmospheres both sinewy and unsettling; “Dangerous Water Games” best exemplifies the former, with its dominant melody of strings over drifting ripples of piano that form a pretty motif, yet one with perturbing portents.  “The Pressure of Power” exemplifies the latter, a rhythmic mix of harp arpeggios interacting with a pensive piano melody while strings set up an undulating pulse below them; Luppi accomplishes this mood just as well with pure strings (“A Tide of Violence”) and with solo piano (“A Drop of Fright”).  “Young Lovers” proffers a romantic melody for strings, yet one that, too, is subservient to the predominantly dark and intimidating mood that overshadows the story; likewise the solo piano soliloquy of “A Brother’s Love.”  Miami Beach may be a place of sunshine and sparkling waves, but in the region of Magic City, it is a dark and threatening place, clouded over by a severe and ill-omened mood – one that Luppi captures effectively in this disquieting score. 

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS/Alexandre Desplat/Varese Sarabande
Alexandre Desplat’s wonderful score for this CGI fantasy feature (“When the evil spirit Pitch launches an assault to engulf the world in darkness, the Immortal Guardians team up to protect the innocence of children”) is enchanting and effervescent.   This is Desplat’s latest animated feature score since 2009’s THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX and his latest children’s fantasy film score since THE GOLDEN COMPASS, MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM (both 2007; the latter co-written with Aaron Zigman) and the final two HARRY POTTER films (2010-2011), all musical environments in which he has excelled.  Elements of those earlier films – their magical flavors and extravagantly-relayed themes – are evident in RISE OF THE GUARDIANS but it’s also very much its own work.  The score develops thematically, taking big, exaggerated steps – perhaps the musical equivalent of the simple narrative of a children’s story – but this simplicity and overstatement results in an easily accessible, pleasing, and very fun musical adventure, finished in a smoothly embroidered musical texture colored in bright thematic interplay.  It’s a very Williamsesque score, very children-friendly, but not lacking in attractive musical substance, with rich orchestrations, wondrous melodies, surging choirs used sparingly, and delightful acoustic textures.  While Desplat does pay heed to the currently in-vogue technique of using an underbelly of mercado strings beneath larger, heavier melodic structures (“Dreamsand,” particularly), it actually elevates the simple children’s fantasy into farther reaching epic proportions and gives the movie a great sonic dynamic that I quite like. The score has a fantastic sound, the orchestra gaining a terrific dynamic, especially in surging cues like “Wind Take Me Home!” and the 7-minute “Nightmares Attack.”  Desplat’s heroic main theme is bold and vividly conveyed, with a second major motif that conveys through more subtle means the dramatic facets of the story and the permutations of the dream world in which it occurs, and a pair of secondary themes rise up often enough to provide some intriguing thematic interplay throughout.

SILENT HILL: REVELATION/Jeff Danna & Akira Yamaoka/Lakeshore
Like Christopher Gans’ first film adaptation of the survival horror video game, this movie sequel is terrific in atmosphere and spookery but as thin on story coherency as the ashy smoke that shrouds the lost town of Silent Hill itself.  Jeff Danna connects with Japanese composer Akira Yamaoka (who wrote the music for the video game series) to provide an edgy score that is as gritty and mesmerizing as the dimensional shifting visual atmospheres present in the movie.  Most tracks are credited to both composers; Yamaoka has a few sound-designish tracks of his own device, as does Danna, whose cues tends to be more tonal and orchestral in nature.  The score is largely built around the duality of the two worlds – the normal world embodied by the characters Vincent and Heather, and the nightmare dimension into which they are thrust once they arrive in the legend-haunted Virginia coal mining town of the title.  The nightmare world of Silent Hill tends to be embodied by raucous, discordant, and violent sounds, from gritty, pounding percussion, blaring siren-like klaxon horns, while the characters and the normal world are emulated by smoother structures of strings.  A few tracks, such as Danna’s “Vincent Condemned,” embody both element, such as, in this case, the melody-based theme for Vincent portrayed through the nightmare dimension’s archaic and unsettling orchestrations. Yamaoka concludes the album with a pair of song, the metal-infused “Silent Scream” with its haunting riff of female la-las, and the dark Goth tendencies of “Rain of Brass Petals.”  It’s an often-spooky composition in its own right that worked potently well in the film, although much of it may be too dissonant for comfortable listening on its own.

TRON UPRISING/Joseph Trapanese/Disney CDR-On-Demand

Joseph Trapanese’s score for Disney’s 2012 animated TV series based on the TRON franchise has been released digitally on iTunes and as a CDR-on-demand from Amazon.  The series is set between TRON and TRON: LEGACY and has to do with a young program named Beck who becomes the skillful leader of a revolution inside the computer world of The Grid.  The show features the voices of Elijah Wood, Bruce Boxleitner, and Mandy Moore, among others.  The music is far different from that of either TRON feature film, fitting into an epic, hybrid action/adventure mold.  Trapanese, who arranged Daft Punk’s music from TRON: LEGACY and also arranged the new orchestral version of Moby's “Extreme Ways” for THE BOURNE LEGACY, has composed an engaging score for the animated TV series, with a splendid main theme for Beck, built around a striking and strident synth/guitar melody over mercado strings and horn interactions; a very powerful motif which almost captures a rock-and-roll sensibility but is used orchestrally throughout the score.  The thrust of the rock influence electrifies the music while the (presumably sampled?) orchestral figures provide an energetic foundation for the rhythmic melody of the theme.  Trapanese captures quieter moments with a notable eloquence, like the lyrical mix of muted horns and voice in “Lux's Sacrifice;” sampled choir is used elsewhere in the score to great advantage, offering a great sense of dramatic size, but Trapanese’ main theme for Beck is so stirring that it anchors the score in a blazing electronic dynamic that works terrifically in its many guises throughout the score.  The sonic texture sparkles in tracks like “Price of Power,” a progressive action cue that is one of the score’s highlights.  The score possesses a fairly simple architecture, but Trapanese’s sense of orchestration and the clarity of his bristling textures, along with the attractiveness of his main theme, make TRON UPRISING a winning score in every respect, and a great listen. “Renegade’s Pledge,” captures a bit of a Steve Jablonsky/TRANSFORMERS vogue with its low and slow rhythm and very dignified melodic presentation before seguing into Beck’s theme for the End Credits.  I found this to be an excellent score with a great melodic hook and some very cool and compelling arrangements throughout. The album contains 16 score tracks (seven of which come from the two-part “Scars” episode midway through the show’s run, each of which comprise a progressive suite with a very provocative musical arc that would be tremendous in concert) and four “remixes” which are rather unnecessary unless you’re looking to hit the local club with your lightcycle.


Soundtrack & Music News

Best score nominees:
Dario Marianelli (Anna Karenina), Mychael Danna (Life of Pi),
Alexandre Desplat (Argo),
John Williams (Lincoln),
Thomas Newman (Not Pictured) (SkyFall).
Photo: Dan Goldwasser

Mychael Danna has followed up his Golden Globe win for LIFE OF PI by winning the Oscar for best music for his score for that compelling Ang Lee film (read my interview with Mychael on this score in my last column).  And, making Oscar history, the song from SKYFALL (by Adele and Paul Epworth) is the first 007 movie song to win an Oscar.

BTW, William Ross did a splendid job as Music Director for the 85th Academy Awards, turning musical segments on a dime and keeping it continually on track.  This year, for the first time, the orchestra was not playing in the same theater where the Oscars were held – the orchestra was housed a few blocks away at the Capitol Records tower in Hollywood and piped into theater speakers in 5.1 surround sound (for details click here).  For more on Ross and his efforts for Oscar music, listen to the interview at FSM Online (subscription required).

Canada’s Oscars, The Canadian Screen Awards, broadcasts on March 13th.  For best Achievement in Music, nominated are Laurence Anyways for NOIA, Mars et Avril for BENOIT
CHAREST, Don Rooke, Hugh Marsh, & Michelle Willis for STILL MINE, Howard Shore for COSMOPOLIS, and E.C. Woodley for ANTIVIRAL. See full list of nominees: http://www.academy.ca/awards/nominees.cfm

Thomas Newman has won the BAFTA Award (British Oscars) for his score for SKYFALL.; also nominated were Dario Marianelli (ANNA KARENINA), Alexandre Desplat (ARGO), Mychael Danna
(LIFE OF PI), and John Williams (LINCOLN).

For full list of winners and nominees, see http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/bafta-2013-complete-nominees-winners-420086

The International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA) has announced its list of winners for excellence in musical scoring in 2012:
Score of the Year: LIFE OF PI (Mychael Danna)
Breakout Composer of the Year: LOOPER (Nathan Johnson; read my interview with Nathan on this score in my September 2012 column).
Film Music Composition of the Year: “THE IMPOSSIBLE Main Title” (Fernando Velázquez)
The various genre awards were won by John Williams for Steven Spieberg’s historical drama LINCOLN, Walter Murphy for the raucous comedy TED, Thomas Newman for his work on the near-universally lauded James Bond film SKYFALL, Michael Giacchino for the epic Edgar Rice Burroughs space adventure JOHN CARTER [Of Mars], Alexandre Desplat for the whimsical fantasy animation RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, and Finnish composer Panu Aaltio for his music for the beautiful nature documentary METSÄN TARINA
Best Score, Television Series: DOCTOR WHO, Season 7 (Murray Gold)
Best Original Score for a Video Game or Interactive Media: JOURNEY (Austin Wintory)
For full list of winners and nominees, see http://filmmusiccritics.org/2013/02/ifmca-winners-2012/

Annoyed at Oscar’s traditional inattention to real film music during the 1980s, film music journalist Roger Hall, author of A Guide to Film Music (now in its 4th edition), created his own film music awards in 1988, called The Sammy Awards after movie lyricist Sammy Cahn.  Hall’s 2012 Sammy Movie Awards are:
Best New Film Score: RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (Alexandre Desplat) with an honorable mention to LINCON (John Williams).
Best New Film Score for a Video Game: JOURNEY (Austin Wintory)
Best New Film Song: “Still Dream” from RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
Most Overrated New Film Score: SKYFALL (Thomas Newman)
See Hall’s complete awards list along with review links at:

Christophe Beck’s music for Disney’s delightful (and Oscar-winning) animated short PAPERMAN (which preceded WRECK-IT RALPH in theaters) is available on iTunes

Varese Sarabande’s Robert Townson
with flutist Sara Andon. 
Photo via Costa Communications.

Romantic Hollywood film music has visited China, marking the first performance of film music by the Macau Orchestra and the first Hollywood film music concert in China. Conducted by Lü Jia, Great Romantic Film Music was held on February 23, 2013 at the Venetian Macau Resort and Casino, the world’s largest gambling casino, in Macau, China. The event was hosted by Varése Sarabande Records’ producer Robert Townson. World-renowned U.S. flutist Sara Andon and Italian violinist Paolo Morena were featured in a concert of an illustrious collection of romantic film music from American and International composers.  The music of American composers Jerry Goldsmith, Alex North, John Williams, Dave Grusin, Bernard Herrmann, Michael Kamen, James Horner and Henry Mancini was featured, as well as international composers including England’s John Barry, France’s Georges Delerue, Scotland’s Patrick Doyle and Craig Armstrong, and Italy’s Nino Rota. Sara Andon’s program featured the premier performance of Georges Delerue’s Academy Award-winning theme from A LITTLE ROMANCE and a special arrangement of Alex North’s Love Theme from SPARTACUS.

Varese Sarabande has two new limited edition titles now available for preorder. First up is MIMESIS: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, featuring music composed by Diego Navarro. Described as one of the very best horror scores in years, featuring epic writing for orchestra, choir and soprano soloist. The other is Scott Glasgow’s score to the haunting thriller, RIDDLE.  “Great ideas and musical variety unfold along this wonderful musical journey, taking it's time to reveal composer Scott Glasgow's best score yet,” notes the label.  “The finale is an absolute whopper but it's the expressive writing on the way there that makes reaching it so rewarding.”  Both albums are limited to 1000 copies, and both should ship on March 11. www.varesesarabande.com

La-La Land Records has released Brian Tyler’s score for JOHN DIES AT THE END, based on the clever and entertaining novel by “David Wong” (Jason Pargin).  Tyler re-teams with BUBBA HO-TEP writer/director Dan Coscarelli and fashions “a wild, infectious original score that, once again, is the perfect complement to a cult-classic in the making. Part rock, part spacey, part spaghetti-western and ALL cool, Tyler’s trippy score is the ‘soy sauce’ that runs through the veins of this remarkable genre mash-up of a movie.”  Produced by Brian Tyler and MV Gerhard and mastered by James Nelson, this special release includes exclusive liner notes by film music writer Daniel Schweiger. Limited to 3000.


France’s Music Box Records announced two new releases:  the original television soundtrack music to NAPOLEON AND EUROPE (1981; NAPOLÉON ET L'EUROPE) by Wojciech Kilar, and (coinciding with the 30th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 movie), the original motion picture soundtrack to THE OUTSIDERS by Carmine Coppola.  Both CDs will be released on March 11th 2013 and are now available for pre-order: http://www.musicbox-records.com/

Aaron Zigman’s music to the animated feature, ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH, is available on amazon and iTunes for digital download.

John Ottman’s music from Bryan Singer’s new fantasy adventure, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, is out this week from Watertower Music, a digital release which amazon is also offering as a CDR.

Digitmovies, with the collaboration of Sugar Group, have made available a premiere release of Miklós Rózsa complete score to Alan Resnais’ 1977 film PROVIDENCE. “To realize this ambitious project, we utilized a first-generation, full-stereo master tape of the original LP soundtrack album, augmented by first-generation stereo masters (preserved in the Sugar Music archives),” said Digitmovies’ Claudio Fuiano. “In addition to the fifteen tracks (35:48) from the album presentation (released in France on Pema Music 900 057 and reissued on CD in Italy, Japan and the United States) our CD includes, as bonus tracks, all the remaining cues from the master tapes (17:25) giving a total time of 53:13 to the delight of Rózsaphiles around the world. With the assistance of Doug Raynes from The Miklós Rózsa Society (www.miklosrozsa.org), we wanted to produce a deluxe edition digipack that would pay homage not only to the wonderful musical artistry of the legendary Miklós Rózsa but to the great director Alain Resnais and a film that has left its mark on the history of international cinema.” See: http://www.digitmovies.com/

Film composer Randin Graves is offering three digital albums containing his music scores from independent features on his web site; all are definitely worth a listen (samples are available on the site). JAKE’S DEAD is a horror/psychological thriller (the film is just wrapping post production), its score is an unusual mix of guitars, synths, virtual orchestra and effected didgeridoo, and is largely atmospheric with some horror stabs, romantic bits and some sweeping emotional sections.  ALL ROADS LEAD TO OCCIDENTAL is a sort of small town spaghetti neo-noir with a bit of range in the music from a folksy romance theme to Morricone-influenced themes to some hard rock action.  A third album, combining Graves’ scores from SATURNALIA and SHADES OF TREASON, proffer some pretty haunting music, one with virtual strings, synth and atmospheric electric guitars, the second one for horns, guitars and "ethnic" instruments.  Have a listen at http://www.randingraves.com/store.html.  These scores are also available for purchase at cdbaby.com.

Silva Screen offers 100 Greatest Film Themes Take 3, schedule for release on March 25th.  This third soundtrack release in the series embraces over 80 years of first-class film music ranging from Laurel & Hardy's DANCE OF THE CUCKOOS theme to John William's majestic score for LINCOLN. There's a wide selection of Disney favorites, classic 60s and 70s film tunes and some of the very best of the contemporary scene that includes DRIVE, PROMETHEUS, SKYFALL, LES MISERABLES and THE HOBBIT (although it may be premature to call some of these of such recent vintage among film music’s “greatest.”  Silva has also released the latest in their annual series with Film Music 2012, a compilation featuring the best film music of last year, superbly performed by the Prague Philharmonic (expertly conducted by Nic Raine) and London Music Works.

Trevor Morris is the composer of the History Channel’s upcoming drama VIKINGS. Created by Michael Hirst (ELIZABETH), the series centers on Ragnar Lothbrok, a historical figure, and the greatest hero of his age. Morris has previously scored Hirst’s critically acclaimed Showtime series THE TUDORSfor Take 5 Productions and is also scoring the production company’s THE BORGIAS. VIKINGS is set to premiere on March 3, 2013 on the History Channel. To learn more about the project, visit the History Channel’s official website.
-via filmmusicreporter.com

Must read: composer Neal Acree has begun a new topic on his blog, “Ruminations from the Edge,” titled “Inspiration and Finding Your Creative Zen.”  Acree ruminates on the concept of Inspiration, aided by thoughts and comments from fellow composers Austin Wintory, Jack Wall, Laura Karpman, and Joe Kraemer.  Give it a read at: nealacree.com

In Volume 8 of its exclusive Toho sci-fi series, Ark Square has released the complete original soundtrack from THE LAST WAR (1961), composed by Ikuma Dan and Rentaro Taki. The digitally remastered album contains a deluxe 24-page booklet (in Japanese) and a bonus postcard. This Japanese film speculates on the events which lead the U.S. and the Soviet Union into a nuclear Armageddon. Directed by Shue Matsubayashi, starring Frankie Sakai, Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi.

Italy’s Beat Records have announced a fistful of new titles, restoring or reissuing in extending releases a quintet of notable Italian film scores – from a new, slightly expanded (with a new 7-minute suite) version of the out of print Western score, 1,000 DOLLARO SUL NERO by Michele Laceranza, Ennio Morricone’s 1969 political thriller score SAI COSA FECEVA STALIN ALLE DONNE? Now offered in an expanded, standalone release, Piero Piccioni’s crime noir classic I MAGLIARI, Marcello (SABATA) Giombini’s quirky 1980 sci-fi movie score LA BESTIA NELLO SPAZIO, and a collection of Piero Umiliani’s “Discomusic” from films.
See: http://www.beatrecords.it

Roger Bellon (tv’s HIGHLANDER, etc) has scored THE PERFECTION OF ANNA, from actor/director Elizabeth Gracen.  The film is the story of a young girl dealing with the debilitating stroke her mother's best friend suffers and how it impacts her life. “All told through the medium of dance, it is my second film with Elizabeth,” said Bellon. See http://www.reverbnation.com/BellchantMusic

An online successor to MSV (Musica Sul Velluto), the long-running Ennio Morricone fanzine, has been launched.  Called Maestro, its first issue is now available in electronic form, for free. You just need to register as a premium member on www.chimai.com. Articles are solicited for issue #2 (submission deadline is end of May) - send submissions to webmaster@chimai.com).


Games Music News

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) has announced the nominations for its Video Game Awards. For best music, the nominees are Diablo III (Development Team), Assassin’s Creed III (Lorne Balfe), Thomas Was Alone (David Housden), The Unfinished Swan (Joel Corelitz, Keith Leary, Peter Scaturro), Journey (Austin Wintory, Keith Leary, Monty Mudd), and The Walking Dead (Jared Emerson-Johnson).  See http://awards.bafta.org/award/2013/games

James Hannigan is composing an original music score for Jagex Games Studio's upcoming Massively Multiplayer Online Game Transformers: Universe. Based on the iconic TRANSFORMERS brand from Hasbro, Inc., this new game puts players at the heart of battles between Autobots and Decepticons. Hannigan's original score features rousing themes recorded with full orchestra as well as a hybrid mechanistic soundtrack to reflect the heavy action-driven style of gameplay. Hannigan is currently scoring several more TV and video game projects yet to be announced. For more information visit: www.jameshannigan.co.uk

Jamie Christopherson (Lost Planet 1 & 2, Spiderman: Web of Shadows) was commissioned by PlatinumGames to write both the score and songs for Konami’s upcoming action title Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.  Featuring extremely fast hardcore electronic/heavy metal music, the soundtrack in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance marks a clear departure from the music of the previous Metal Gear games.  Christopherson said, “With action-packed gameplay this intense, we knew that the music for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance had to be something really special and different from previous Metal Gear Solid games.  In order to accomplish this, we decided early on to have hardcore electronic/metal songs with vocals that would lyrically and sonically mirror the game storyline during boss battles.  Pre-existing licensed songs or traditional orchestral score wouldn't suffice for these sections; the music had to be something fresh and impactful.”  To achieve the desired result, Christopherson worked closely with many talented recording artists from across the globe, such as heavy metal producer Logan Mader (former guitarist of Metal Head and Soulfly), electronic remixers Maniac Agenda and DJ sensation Ferry Corsten.  Well-known vocalists such as John Bush (Armored Saint/Anthrax), Tyson Yen (State Line Empire/Drist) and Free Dominguez (Kidneythieves) were chosen to match specific bosses based on the quality of their voices.  Songs start with an instrumental version that increases in intensity as Raiden begins to defeat each boss, eventually transitioning to a full-blown vocal version of the song for the final moments of battle.  Albums of both songs and score are now available.

Sumthing Else Music Works has released a soundtrack album for the game Gears Of War®: Judgment, featuring original music composed by Steve Jablonsky and Jacob Shea.  The CD will be available on March 19 and for digital download at Amazon MP3, iTunes and other digital music sites.  Gears Of War®: Judgment brings players back to the terrifying aftermath of Emergence-Day, before the events of the Gears of War trilogy, for the most intense and challenging Gears of War game yet.
See: http://www.sumthing.com

Garry Schyman has created a unique musical score for the highly anticipated video game BioShock Infinite developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K Games. Recorded with solo string instruments, intimate string ensembles, and experimental percussion, Schyman's raw and intensely emotional score reflects BioShock Inifinite's compelling narrative, following the development of the relationship between the lead characters, Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth, and immersing players in the game's spectacular alternate early Twentieth Century setting. BioShock Infinite will be released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows on March 26th, 2013.  “It doesn't get any better for a composer than to be able to score a game as remarkable as Bioshock Infinite,” said Schyman. “It provided a vast canvas filled with extraordinary and completely unique characters and situations that permitted me to be creative in ways that we composers usually only dream of. Much thanks goes to Ken Levine, James Bonney, and the entire team at Irrational for inventing such an astonishing world and then letting me write music for it!”

I am so very pleased to see that my book Musique Fantastique II Book 1 has made the cut and is among the nominees for a Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award as one of the best books of 2012. Since 2002 the Rondos have been fandom's only classic horror award. They are decided by fans, for fans.
Voting begins now through April 7th, midnight, at 11th Annual Rondo Hatton Awards.


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

Special thanks to Benjamin Michael Joffe and Kelsey Kennedy

Randall can be contacted at soundtraxrdl@gmail.com

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