Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2015-1
February 4th 2015

By Randall D. Larson


1: Dead & Unburied:
Imran Ahmad on scoring THE DEAD and THE DEAD 2

2: The Musical Psychologies of COLLAPSE:
Vincent Gillioz on Scoring a Unique Zombie Thriller

Soundtrack Reviews

3: ASSASSIN’S CREED UNITY: DEAD KINGS (Velasco), CHICAGO FIRE (Örvarsson), DOCTOR WHO 50th Anniversary The Tardis Edition, ETHEL (Cutler), EVERLY (McCreary), THE LAST STARFIGHTER (Safan - expanded), LEGENDARY (Leonard-Morgan), THE LOFT (Frizzell), THE LOST EMPIRE (Altman), ONE CHRISTMAS EVE (Ross & Leroy), OPERATION CHANGE (Ross & Kovacs), SHARKNADO (Kousha), SHARKNADO 2 (Ridenhour), STAR TREK ENTERPRISE (Various), STILL ALICE (Eshkeri), THE WOMAN IN BLACK: ANGEL OF DEATH (Beltrami, Roberts, Trumpp)

Book Reviews

4: The Magnificent Elmer: My Life With Elmer Bernstein by Pearl Bernstein Gardner

The Ford Brothers films, THE DEAD (2010) and THE DEAD 2 (2014) are both excellent exercises in a familiar topic. In the first film, the directors set their living dead apocalypse in Africa, while the second tells a new story set in India. Both have to do with two or three people struggling to survive in the aftermath of a zombie pandemic. Both films are straightforward, unwavering, and brutally serious examinations of people joining forces to survive the onslaught. The characterizations are interesting and affecting and the story plays out amidst close encounters and other obstacles, resolving affectionately. In both films, Indian-born composer Imran Ahmad provides nicely nuanced scores that fit the environments and possessed sufficient gravitas to personify the zombie threat with effective potency. Interviewed on the eve of the second film’s soundtrack album release (via Howlin’ Wolf Records), Ahmad describes his approach to scoring these films and how he brought new life to music for The Dead.

Q: What initially brought you in to score THE DEAD in 2010?

Imran Ahmad: I met the directors, Howard and Jon Ford, in London at the time they were beginning post-production for sound on THE DEAD. I watched the initial trailer and was amazed by the visuals they had captured on 35mm out in West Africa. Feeling inspired, I wrote some music and sent it to them. The Ford brothers loved the sounds I had used, especially the adventurous pace and spiritual feeling of the vocal parts. They said it was very different for a horror genre score and that was exactly what they were looking for.

“In one of my initial conversations with Howard, I described the intended music as arising from nature itself and turning the environment into a twisted and distorted reality.”

Q: How did you determine the role of the score in this particular film, and what elements of the movie became the score’s focal point?

Imran Ahmad: The Ford Brothers wanted the movie to be original in every way possible including the score. They were very keen to communicate the fragile sense of hope the characters were left with. Also, in one of my initial conversations with Howard, I described the intended music as arising from nature itself and turning the environment into a twisted and distorted reality. So musically I wanted to develop a delicate sound for the inner journey of the main characters and use experimental vocals and percussion for the natural world and the horror. The focal point was determined by first establishing the reality of this particular story. For me this film is like a neo-realistic take on what it would actually feel like to be involved in a zombie outbreak. They do not want to kill the ‘living dead’ as some of them are people they were emotionally connected to. Daniel is distressed at having to slay his own people. Also they’re up against the unbearable heat, lack of food and water, and tiredness, which they could possibly die from. The zombies in a sense are another force of nature. The main characters need to rely on their primal instincts in order to survive.

Q: How did you musically personify the character interactions in the film?

Imran Ahmad: Having determined the reality of the story, I primarily wanted to experiment with vocals and percussion – two of the most ancient and primitive instruments known to human beings. And they are very strong features of the musical traditions on the African continent. It had to sound earthy and natural as the music was representing, in essence, a spiritual force. The counterpoint to this would be the light of hope carried within the characters. This is what led me to discovering the delicate sound of the kora (a West African stringed instrument), which would represent the internal journey of Brian and Daniel. After establishing the musical language, it helped me to continue the process in creating themes and deriving new sounds.

Q: The use of percussion to reflect the incursion of the zombies creates a striking sense of urgent panic and peril. What was your technique in using these instruments to bring the threat of the shambling dead to “life” [so to speak]?

Imran Ahmad: We wanted to propel the unrelenting threat from the walking dead. These are the slow moving zombies that were first made popular in the movies made by George Romero. The zombies are silent predators and slowly creep up on you without you even noticing. I think the scare factor is amplified much more than if you saw them running towards you, as you wouldn’t have any time to react and plan what to do. The percussive passages help to heighten the terror and sense of panic when the attacks occur.

Q: What was most challenging for you in scoring THE DEAD?

Imran Ahmad: Howard and Jon had made a visually stunning movie about a road trip journey across an unfamiliar landscape that happened to have zombies in it! I wanted to use sounds and instruments that were unfamiliar to the genre. Our overall aim was to give the audience a very different aesthetic experience in terms of visuals and music. So the challenge was coming up with the right mix, staying within the conventions of the genre while adding something unexpected which the audience did not expect. Also, with the unique visual language of West Africa, it was a chance to explore a rich musical landscape. The music had to also balance between embodying the main characters’ individual thoughts and conveying it ambiguously to a certain degree. We wanted the audience to become self-aware and contemplative in such moments. These decisions evolved throughout the scoring process as the directors and I attempted to calibrate our intention for each applicable scene with music. For example, there was music in the scene when Lt. Brian Murphy is talking to Sgt. Daniel Dembele in the car for the first time. We later removed the music as we didn’t want to imply any kind of relationship developing between them as they are a potential threat to each other at this point. And also we didn’t want to highlight Brian’s vulnerability. So in a much later scene of the story, when Daniel and Brian are leaving the airport and implicitly committing to help each other, the music here has a stronger underlying effect of an emerging friendship. In another scene there was music when a zombie walks underneath the tree that Brian is sleeping in. The directors removed the music and used the sound ambience to convey a moment that any noise Brian makes in the tree could be heard by the zombie. The audience can relate to this tension in their own way and so it was more effective.

Q: What were your thoughts when the Ford Bros. asked to you return and score THE DEAD 2?

Imran Ahmad: The Ford brothers have always wanted to make a zombie movie ever since they saw the original DAWN OF THE DEAD. This is why they co-directed both of these films. They are creative explorers and always inclined to go off the beaten track when they shoot their films. This results in the discovery of captivating and haunting locations that are not necessarily on the official location guide. I think this combination of passion for the genre, sense of adventure and relentless enthusiasm, led me to create a music score with a more expansive feel.

Q: THE DEAD 2 is not a direct storyline sequel but follows a similar pattern of events in a new location with new characters and situations. That said, were there any musical elements from the first film that you found effective to develop into your score for the second film?

Imran Ahmad: The main theme is primarily vocalized and is meant to outline the feeling of being human and not being able to make sense of the world. The zombie outbreak could very well be a force of nature such as a tsunami or earthquake and the main theme tries to convey the internal struggle of finding meaning in forces beyond our control. This theme naturally found a place in the sequel and also establishes a musical signature for THE DEAD films.

Q: With that in mind, did you also consciously strive to give THE DEAD 2 a unique musical flavoring of its own?

Imran Ahmad: As the sequel was set in India, I looked forward to featuring Indian sounds in the music. The Indian instruments were primarily the bansuri (Indian flute) with some sarangi (bowed string instrument) that was processed and distorted. I also worked with Indian classical singer Chandra Chakraborty. Howard and Jon were keen on embellishing a haunting song or lullaby into the film. Chandra and I recorded a Rajasthani lullaby about a woman who lives in a palace and dreams of her husband returning to her. It had relevance to the film’s setting and the yearning that the main characters, Ishani and Nicholas, both feel.

Q: Your use of voices adds a subtly powerful element to both of these scores, sometimes even seeming to speak for the dead shufflers themselves. Would you explain what the vocalisms reflect in the scores and how you wove them into the fabric of your musical pattern?

Imran Ahmad: For most of the vocals, I worked with a singer called Saba Tewelde who is originally from Eritrea in East Africa. Her voice was what I felt could represent the natural harmony of the world turning lethal. She has this amazing vocal dichotomy where her higher registers are very beautiful and ethereal, and the low ones sound haunting and foreboding. The higher tones are short and fleeting during moments when the characters are hopeful. The darker tones stay with the characters the whole time never leaving them alone. I also added distorted screaming as another texture to some of the sections of the score. This was disturbing and powerful as it is derived from fear. However, we had a fun time recording that in the studio!

Q: How closely have you worked with the Ford Bros. in spotting the film, and then conceiving and developing your score in these two films?

Imran Ahmad: The Ford brothers and I worked very closely together when we spotted THE DEAD. We spoke mainly about the main themes the films carry that helped me to start developing initial ideas for the score. For example, in order to develop an African influence in the music, I was very honored to work with a kora player, Jally Kebba Susso, who is from The Gambia in West Africa. The kora is an ancient African stringed instrument – very beautiful sounding. Jally comes from a long tradition of kora players – 75 generations. He brought the wisdom of his ancestral experience, which is embodied in the kora playing and the singing that he performs. The words that Jally sings right at the end of the movie loosely translates as “we are all One / we all come from the same Mother.” So there are these African musical nuances that are present in the consciousness of the film throughout. There was a lot of experimenting involved and this journey led to discovering beautiful elements of Jally’s music.

Q: What was your process of mapping out the score in these two films, as far as building up a thematic architecture that would integrate your various musical elements into a cohesive and progressive score for the film’s story arc?

Imran Ahmad: I usually start by composing music themes that attempt to describe the heart of the story. This is based on my discussions from the spotting session with the directors where we talk about the main themes of the movie in dramatic terms. Next, based on the spotting notes, I sketch the music through the whole film in order to get an overall picture of the musical landscape with respect to the picture. I may start to think of specific instruments or sounds at this point that I would like to feature and how the themes will integrate into the structure. The whole process is a mix of creating a framework and then having fluidity within that for creating the music. This process also starts to inform me on how to best utilize the time I have been given to complete the score and determine the scale of the technical requirements that includes recording live musicians.

Q: How do you feel your scores for THE DEAD films enabled you to provide your own musical voice to horror cinema – and the zombie apocalypse subgenre, in particular?

Imran Ahmad: I feel the scores for THE DEAD films have been inspired by the visuals, first and foremost. The fresh visual language of the films helped to inform how the music was going to sound. The Ford Brothers have created films that have beauty and horror and this is reflected in the music. And as the films are set in unfamiliar locations, the sounds add a further dimension to the experience. I love melody and I also love earthiness and the unexpected. An element of the unknown or unexpected is great as we are continuously learning about ourselves and the world and universe that we inhabit. I feel these qualities have helped me to discover my musical voice.

Q: Where do you feel these scores will fit in your filmography as you continue to develop it and score more types of films in the future?

Imran Ahmad: I am very proud of these scores and really happy to have them released on CD. I hope that I will continue to share new musical sounds and experiences with the audience as I continue to score more films in the future.

Thanks to Benjamin Chee and Wall Crumpler of Howlin’ Wolf Records for facilitating this interview. - rdl


A noteworthy take on the zombie apocalypse, 2012’s COLLAPSE focuses on a family running a ranch in rural Somewhere, USA.  Still recovering from the recent loss of their daughter, Robert Morgan and his wife Molly and son Will wind up in the midst of a zombie outbreak; Will is bitten, Molly is still near the emotional breaking point, and Robert must do what needs to be done to keep his family safe and alive – and Will contained.  Fine performances keep the drama affecting even during the more uneventful moments of the film, which proceeds at a fairly slow gait until a clever twist in the story changes the dramatic landscape in a very profound way.  Nicely directed by Mike Saunders and Jason Bolinger, the film is greatly enhanced by Vincent Gillioz’s score which amps up the tension and action considerably.  The soundtrack album was released late last year by Howlin’ Wolf Records.

Q: You’d been associated with Jason Bollinger and Insane Mike Saunders when they were doing make-up work for two Scott Beck films you’d scored.  Did that earlier association result in your scoring their feature film directorial debut, COLLAPSE?

Vincent Gillioz: Yes, the directors, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, kindly recommended me to Jason and Mike when they learned that they were looking for a composer for COLLAPSE; then Jason called me with excitement after listening to my music on my website. He sent me the movie, which I really loved, and I scored a few scenes to show him what my concept was. Then we had a discussion about the rest of the movie.  Since that had gone very smoothly and we felt we were both on the same wavelength, I was brought on board.  I found that Jason is a fantastic director to work with.

Q: COLLAPSE begins as a straight forward, if somewhat more personalized family account, of surviving during a zombie apocalypse.  What were your initial thoughts as to what the music needed to be and how did you develop those ideas through to the final work?

Vincent Gillioz: I had no temp track and was absolutely free in my approach. When I saw the movie, I felt that the music needed to reflect the way the main character perceives the world; a cold, mad, violent, and alienating post-apocalyptic world invaded by zombies. The movie is constantly presenting the world through the lead character’s eyes.

Q: How did you use your music to enhance the characterizations of the central family and help sympathize with their plight?

Vincent Gillioz: In order to cut through the cold post-apocalyptic atmosphere I gave the family a conventional theme and variations approach with a consonant warm and emotional theme played with the orchestra only. The family is the “sane” element in the middle of the madness, so it is the only moment where I allow any empathy with a character of the movie. The Family theme is heard the first time on track 3, “My Son is Sick,” on the soundtrack album.

Q: The music gives the film a tremendous amount of driving tension.  How would you describe your musical technique in energizing the film’s central story of a farm family struggling to survive and give the zombie threat such a ferocious potency?

Vincent Gillioz: I created a cold, mad, violent and alienating post-apocalyptic world invaded by zombies through the use of tweaked custom sounds, electronics, a dissonant orchestra, and metallic percussion. It’s like abstract painting where the texture is key. I tried to stay away from any pathos by having “gestures” tying the score together instead of themes and variations.  For instance there is the Zombie “gesture” played by the double basses slapping their strings against the fingerboard (called the Bartok pizz) at a pounding walking pace, sometimes accompanied by low brass holding a low note and finally bending it down; this “gesture” represents the world collapsing. A good example of these two gestures combined is found in track 5 “Storming the Town” at 1:01.
There is a character who is crazy throughout the movie. The associated “gesture” is random trumpets playing rapid staccati that bend down. A good example of this gesture is heard at the very beginning of track 10 “Into Darkness.” 

Q: The zombie-apocalypse-survival story has become a genre unto its own, with many films spinning many different takes and viewpoints; how were you trying to give the film its own unique musical voice?

Vincent Gillioz: I still don’t know if I’ve given the movie its own musical personality. I must admit that my approach was more visceral than intellectual. I wanted a score that came from the guts, except for the Family theme, so I have just let them take over and here it is. Of course my ego hopes that the score is peculiar, it feels to me that it has its originality, but I am not the best judge as I lack perspective!

Q: How did the twist that comes near the end of the film affect your concept for the music, and how was the score developed to anticipate (but not give away) that twist? 

Vincent Gillioz: In order not to give the twist away, I decided not to give any hints, therefore the score doesn’t evolve in any direction. The situations change but the psychological color never changes: cold, violent, alienating. That is also why there is no theme and variations, but “gestures.” Those gestures are repeated in a strict manner – there is no evolution because variations would imply a change, and I didn’t want that to happen.  At the reveal, I tweaked the music through a processor to convey a sense of dizziness. The moment stands out as well. However after the reveal the music is back to its original material, because the movie is perceived through the eyes of a character, and that character has not changed. In other words, there is deliberately no arc to the music.

Q: What was your instrumental palette for this score, and how did the film’s budget contribute to your ideas about what you could do musically?

Vincent Gillioz: The palette was tweaked custom sounds, electronics, orchestra, guitars, and metallic percussion. The budget was low, but we could afford a flute, clarinet, oboe and cello, and the rest were samples.

Q: What was most challenging about scoring COLLAPSE?

Vincent Gillioz: The most challenging was, as with most low budget scores, to be able to produce the score with the means that we had. It is something to have a concept in place, but then there is the reality of the means at disposal to realize it.

Q: Any final comments about your experiences scoring COLLAPSE that we haven’t already covered?

Vincent Gillioz: The collaboration with the filmmakers during the scoring was fantastic, as I had total freedom and no temp music to follow. They were really open to what I was proposing. The same is true for the production of the soundtrack with everybody at Howlin’ Wolf Records; there is a total support and it feels like family to work with them. I want also to mention you, Randall, for the smart, informative, and thorough job that you are doing when reviewing and interviewing.

Q: Thank you!

Thanks to Benjamin Chee and Wall Crumpler of Howlin’ Wolf Records for facilitating this interview. - rdl

New Soundtrax in Review

ASSASSIN’S CREED UNITY: DEAD KINGS/Cris Velasco/Ubisoft Music Cris Velasco’s game score for the latest chapter in Ubisoft’s historical action-adventure open world video game series is richly textured, melodic, and antiquated.  Set during the French Revolution, Dead Kings is a fully-fledged single-player campaign that continues Master Assassin Arno Dorian’s story after the events of Assassin’s Creed® Unity. The soundtrack is now available on iTunes
Velasco’s music immerses players and listeners alike into a thickly organic sound structure that characterizes the game’s mysterious underground universe.  The album’s eleven tracks are each compelling pieces, either unique musical atmospheres that define the game’s ancient necropolis and its intricate network of catacombs and deep caves, or develops into elaborate rhythmic atmospheres that accompany the player’s descent as he or she seeks the darkest secrets of deceased French kings buried in that labyrinthian underground environment.  Velasco ably captures the scent of decaying wood, thick, carven earth, sweat-laden footfalls, and the dank, fetid odor of long ago death in his harmonic textures, while spurring on adventures – or flight – with his progressive rhythms and discerning melodies, flavored with an instrumental palette of varied intensity.  It’s a fine adventure score that makes for a provocative listen on its own. The concluding track, “Hidden Temple,” resonates with full orchestra and choir and is quite a climactic resolution.
Three full-length tracks from Velasco’s score are available to preview on SoundCloud, here.

CHICAGO FIRE, Seasons 1 & 2/
Atli Örvarsson/Lakeshore

Atli Örvarsson’s music for this NBC-TV series, which premiered in October 2012, is fairly minimalist and keyboard-based.  The show is an action-drama centering on the working world of firefighters and paramedics assigned to Chicago Firehouse 51 (kind of like Denis Leary’s RESCUE ME but without all the soap opera…).  Lakeshore has already released the soundtrack for the first two seasons jointly but in separate editions as digital downloads; CDs will be issued on March 10th.  While the series has its share of excitement and action, the score as represented on Lakeshore’s two discs focuses on the human drama that is central to the show’s perspective. “The show found its soul in the heroism of these civil servants, their togetherness and the drama of their daily lives. It is the latter that’s the focus of these soundtrack releases,” explained Örvarsson.  “There is a bit of a Midwestern element in the use of guitars, a sort of a heartland Americana sound. The piano and strings play a very big role in the dramatic emotional scenes.”  The music underlines the nobility to the characters without the need for flamboyant musical heroic (“Helluva Firefighter” from Season 1 is a good example); like the series, it treats the firefighters and medics as dedicated human beings, not self-conscious heroes.  The score thus presents a kind of rolling riff that speaks for that inner nobility that lines the edges of each episode and characterizes the soul of the firefighters.  Drums, guitars, brass, and electronics are brought in to emphasize the more daring moments of firefighting and rescue (as in Season 1’s “Rooftop Action” and “Warehouse Fire,” and Season 2’s “Helping Casey” and “Underwater Rescue”), but the overall figure that is struck by the score is one of magnanimity and duty. “Chicago Fire Suite,” which opens Season 1’s album, is a concise 2:50 mélange of all the score’s essential elements, from its poignant bagpipe introduction through its percussive/electronic action midsection, through its reverberating synthesized bagpipes, fading into the distance and the future as firefighting in Chicago endures.  Örvarsson’s music is at its best when reflecting (rather than elevating) the characters and the quiet self-confidence and team spirit that defines their working world.

Silva Screen has acknowledged the 50th Anniversary of the DOCTOR WHO TV series (1963-2013, although it’s shown no sense of stopping or slowing down) with a trio of special releases, beginning with a 4-CD collection spanning the entire series released last year.  Issued this year is a special 11-CD box set – one CD covering the original soundtrack music of each Doctor, from William Hartnell’s First Doctor up to Matt Smith as the character’s 11th regeneration.  A standard box set of DOCTOR WHO: THE ELEVEN DISC EDITION was made available (pictured), but the real treat is DOCTOR WHO: THE TARDIS EDITION (also pictured) – in which those eleven CDs are contained within a specially constructed and quite sturdy wooden Tardis. Standing over 12” high, this impressive collectible takes up a 7” footprint on your desk, bedside table, or bookshelf.  The Tardis comes equipped with a flashing light on top and it makes the Tardis materialization noise when the doors are opened.* It’s a really nice collector’s item, although whoever was tasked with putting on the window stickers and the iconic “Free Use for the Public” sign beside the door could have taken a little more care – nearly all are noticeably crooked on the Tardis I received (see photo below).

  As for the music, the Tardis edition and the standard edition are identical.  Composer and BBC Radiophonic Workshop Archivist Mark Ayres compiled, edited, and mastered the set; working primarily on the first seven discs, much of which is released for the first time. The eighth disc features John Debney’s score to the 1996 TV-Movie, giving the score its first legit release (a limited promo edition was issued by Super Tracks in 2000; this version adds eight new tracks as well as extending some of the other tracks with previously unreleased music.  The remaining three discs contain music from the scores to the current rebooted series featuring the ninth, tenth, and 11th doctors, culled from the previous Silva Season CDs from new series 1-7.  Disc 9, which covers Christopher Eccleston’s single season as the Ninth Doctor, includes bonus tracks from his and the following two Doctors’ episodes; some of the tracks on Disc 10 have been edited from their original release. 

Thus these are extremely thorough and comprehensive in their generous exploration of music from each of the half century’s worth of seasons and the doctors whose episodes represent.  It’s a fascinating tour thorough musical time and space, from the early austerity of the simply electronics of the 1960s to the mix of computer-generated material and melodically-structured music in the ‘70s and ‘80s, ending up in the lavishly expressive and thrillingly heartfelt, melody-based orchestrations of composer Murray Gold and conductor Ben Foster.  Earlier years tended toward electronic effects as the doctor’s musical companion, gradually building into more formal musical structures in the 1980s, but always with a large degree of ingenuity and flavor.  With the reboot, I have found Murray Gold’s music to be amongst the most affecting and expressive music in television, intrinsically related to the delight, drama, and interactive characters relations that keep the series compelling and personally moving.  Smaller compilations may be more concisely sufficient (Silva’s 4-CD release noted above, for example, with its 45 tracks), but for the true Whovian this eleven-disc set, presented in such an iconic display container, is surely indispensable.  Allons-y!

* (For an example of what sound it makes when the doors are opened, see this brief video: )

** (Speaking of John Debney’s music for the 1996 TV movie, I posted a short feature interview I did with John Debney to my Musique Fantastique web site about his music to the 1996 DOCTOR WHO movie:

ETHEL/ Miriam Cutler/Perseverance
ETHEL is a loving, nuanced portrait of Ethel Kennedy, directed by her youngest daughter, Rory Kennedy. The film profiles the now-85-year-old widow of Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated while running for President in 1968. Since her husband’s death, Mrs. Kennedy has devoted her life to raising their 11 children and pursuing social justice issues around the world.  Composer Miriam Cutler, who enjoyed quite an eclectic career before specializing in documentaries; she led a feminist satire ragtime band called Alice Stone, played with Danny Elfman’s Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, led a swing bad, co-produced live horns for Nina Simone, Joe Williams, and Shirley Horn, and brought her unique insight and passion for community into the world of film scoring in the late 1980s. She’s scored more than a hundred films, from cheesy exploitation fantasy and sci-fi excursions to horror (she composed most of the scores for the 13-film WITCHCRAFT series from 1990-2006), but seems to have found her most comfortable niche in documentaries, where she can weigh her talent in on subjects that she finds meaningful, such as ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT, the story of a circus elephant whose life
the filmmakers followed for over a decade until she was retired to a sanctuary in Tennessee (a film Miriamalso co-produced). Cutler’s music for ETHEL favors a gentle wash of piano, guitars, mandolins, harp, and a small string and win ensemble, structured around an almost festive main theme whose slight theatrical nod (there’s even a brief, borrowed phrase from Gershwin sparkling through the End Title) reflects the historical legacy of the Kennedys even while its simple orchestration and instrumental palette reflects a more humble and pragmatic personality. The music’s light, airy flavoring maintains a sunny musical disposition in keeping with the positive personality of Ethel Kennedy, focusing on the Kennedys more as an American family than a political dynasty, although of course her music for segments dealing with Bobby Kennedy’s assassination are poignantly expressed with a sad elegiac rendition of her theme for solo piano over a hushed chorus of violins, faint and high and haunting.  “I felt the score needed to be sweeping, romantic and classy to capture those remarkable times and the iconic Kennedys, but intimate and non-obtrusive for the unique personal reflections,” Cutler states in the album booklet. “I also wanted it to encompass the Kennedy charm. It was important that the music have strong themes that could be developed and varied to serve different moods… Overall, the music was more about the narrative rather than explicitly reflecting certain eras.”  There’s an unusually large amount of music for a documentary film (nearly an hour), but Cutler sought to emphasize the humanity of Ethel Kennedy and the family she married into, and create a cohesive sonority that would connect the various interviews, historical footage, and other pieces that tell the story.  “The idea was to create the feeling of a musical narrative to tie together various types of material,” Cutler explained.  “Music is a glue that helps the story flow. I would rather write more music than I need, and scale it back as we get a sense of the whole movie.”
The result is a pleasing album of music that is heartfelt, American, and perhaps even bit nostalgic.  Perseverance’s nicely designed package includes album notes by Gergely Hubai that provide insightful background on the show, its composer, and her music.

EVERLY/Bear McCreary/Sparks & Shadows
“For EVERLY,” said composer Bear McCreary, “director Joe Lynch asked me to combine searing electronics, intimate chamber orchestra, Japanese instruments, pounding taiko drums, and Christmas carols into a film score, supporting an action movie that takes place inside a single room!  On paper, it sounds insane. In reality… it’s still pretty insane, but I had the time of my life making it!”  With such scores as KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM and THE ANGRY VIDEO GAME NERD under his belt, McCreary is no stranger to filmic insanity or providing a score that is both equal to that insanity and yet able to add coherency and dramatic meaning to the work in question.  In the case of EVERLY, Salma Hayek is the very capable femme fatale who unleashes the ultimate vengeance against a sadistic mob boss and his army of assassins in this action thriller.  McCreary’s signature taiko drums take center stage in EVERLY, creating a Japanese musical palette that would be the foundation of his multi-layered musical structure.  “Drums aside, it was still clear that Japanese music would be an important influence on Everly,” said McCreary. “The majority of the film’s characters are Japanese, including Everly’s ally, Dead Man. I found use for other ethnic instruments including bansuri, shakuhachi, biwa and shamisen.  I also drew influence from the film’s time setting: the holidays. I knew that Christmas music would be an important tool at my disposal.  I focused my energies on the score, and recruited my brother Brendan McCreary to produce and arrange both classic and original Christmas tunes for various scenes.”  On album, the five holiday songs are presented in a variety of very different arrangements: Raya Yarbrough’s “Silent Night” is the most traditionally performed, and movingly intricate presentation, but her “Deck the Halls” is delicious Big Bang swing all the way; Brandon’s “Fa La La La” is cheerful surf music with a festive choral harmonic; while his arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” seems to have a slight and scratchy air of Nick Cave brooding somewhere in its mix.  He also wrote the infectiously Michael Jackson/R&B-infused “A Very Merry Christmas” which is an equal delight.  McCreary’s score hangs around these songs like a would-be assassin seeking her target; the drums are the clattering machinations of the titular character’s relentless self-confidence while the hollow moans of Shakuhachi and twangs of Bansuri, Shamisen, and Biwa reflect the hidden shadows; gongs and echoes of distinctly Japanese choir lends an air of Asian misterioso into the sonic environment – all punctuated by heavy metal guitars as they cut through that tender atmosphere like a chainsaw carving through nomadic Texans.  The sound design is so malleable that you’ll never get totally comfortable in one setting before it shifts into something new, or fragile, or very dangerous.  It’s a very fun work, never taking itself totally seriously as music even while it plays it straight and stern in its application to Hayak’s massive onslaught against her assassin enemies. Revel in it.

THE LAST STARFIGHTER (expanded)/Craig Safan/Intrada
Craig Safan’s finest orchestral score, that for 1984’s THE LAST STARFIGHTER, sparkles and thunders in this long-overdue expanded release from Intrada, which first released the score on CD back in 1995.  In the midst of the STAR WARS and video game heyday of the mid 1980s, LAST STARFIGHTER told of a small town arcade game “Starfighter” champ tagged by real aliens to help them win an intergalactic war against a wicked reptilian alien race.  Former John Carpenter associate Nick Castle directed the film; Safan had scored Castle’s directorial debut, TAG: THE ASSASSINATION GAME (soundtrack released by BSX in 2012), and when Castle was awarded LAST STARFIGHTER’s directorial seat he brought Safan with him to score it.  Safan’s score was originally released in a modest half-hour/10-track (two of which were songs) vinyl disc by Southern Cross in 1984 (reissued on CD in 1987); Intrada’s 1995 CD ran 18 minutes longer but also replaced the songs with more score.  Intrada’s new release includes the complete score at more than an hour in length, and is the first release sourced from the session’s multi­track masters (the previous releases came from ¼ two­track mixes made for the composer).  Thus the new release adds a hefty batch of unreleased music and the entire album adds noticeable sonic improvements and dimensionality to the score.  And Safan’s score is a broad symphonic work that really excels with the added scope of the sound. The composer nails a brassy, breathtaking melody for his main theme, characterizing the teen, Alex and his conflicted desires to be a hero while also yearning for home.  The sumptuous motif is flexible enough to service the score in various arrangements to support the film’s honest emotional layers. Elsewhere an airy electronic woodwind instrument (EWI) serves to provide a mysterious and sinewy sound for Robert Preston’s alien overseer who recruits the game whiz, especially when Safan quadruples the size of the woodwind section electronically, giving it a rich and superbly unnatural quality.  For the alien death weapon, Safan catapults an array of sequenced synths patterns added to his orchestra to reflect the alien-ness of the instrument of death.  A score definitely worthy of all the extra minutes possible, Intrada has done a fine job expanding both length and sonic dimension to let THE LAST STARFIGHTER soar.  Detailed album notes from John Takis relay the history of the film and its score, and why Safan’s space opera symphony remains such a fertile piece of film scoring.

LEGENDARY/Paul Leonard-Morgan/MovieScore Media
For this adventure fantasy (rival hunters Dolph Lundgren and Scott Adkins race to find a real dragon in remote China), Paul Leonard-Morgan (DREDD, LIMITLESS) has come up with a score that is seasoned with a touch of Asian instrumentation, adding a pleasing aroma without being saturated to the point where that becomes the dominating flavor. “I was keen that, even though it was set in China, it shouldn’t be a pastiche Chinese score,” Leonard-Morgan says in Gergely Hubai’s album notes.  “It is a comedy/caper/adventure score first and foremost so I wanted to inject some energy into the film with a lightness of touch.”  The subtle Asian references, then, allows the score to focus on the film’s “we’re secretly hunting your dragon but we’re not very good at it” concept rather than referencing the film as a monster movie.  The composer creates an intriguing exotic/atmospheric motif (ambient synths molded against twisting Asian strings) that’s just enough to let you know that you’re definitely not in Kansas, morphing into some compelling string figures that scuff confidently and rapidly along the landscape and thus represent the rival dragon-hunters.  That strident violin motif is introduced in “Walk to the Forest” (where it emerges into a haunting semblance of floating voices, synths, and strings) and recurs in several additional cues (“Fun at the Morgue,” for example, where it’s balanced with some attractive organ and marimba textures that give it a quirky, almost tongue-in-cheek coloration, and serves as the score’s “caper” motif, which is extended and bridged by some action/chase rhythms in “Breaking In” and “Breaking Out” (dappled in the latter by some cool articulation from a Fender Rhodes for that proper Rat Pack vibe). The fairly inactive “Waiting at Night” is a furtive mix of swaying tonal ambiance, as the characters are basically just waiting, until the music finally growls into action with velocity and stumbling drums. 

“There are two main ‘vibes’ at play in this film – the fun and the scary,” the composer said.  “I wanted to write a tongue-in-cheek caper movie melody for the fun/searching for clues side of things… It’s a fun string riff which is doubled on wind in places with a light percussive touch below it.   For the scary stuff, which would signify the monster’s presence each time, I recorded a low horn, detuned it and then bent its pitch.  In the end we got this really creepy low brass sound which can be heard pretty clearly in Attack on the Site.”  That track is essentially the score’s “Storm on Odo Island,” a furious onslaught of heavy drums and that twisting brass sinew that flexes and stretches and displays the monster’s ferocious ability – and likely worries a member of two of the hunting party.  “Search for the Cave,” is a showpiece, adrenalin-laced action movie cue, revving up from furtive creeping-about-the-place (string motif over electric bass; pulsating, hesitant) into aggressive, onrushing brass, guitars and rock-and-roll drumming with a bit of voice sweetening.

Bookending the long middle portion of the film – the hunt underway, essentially – is a fabulous monster theme, which is first heard in the album’s opener, “Bear Chase,” and sets the stage for the musical muscle that will later accompany our titular beast.  It’s one of those marvelously languid, rhythmic melodies set above a furiously active undercurrent of strings and percussion that I really enjoy, and it returns with greater ferocity at the end in “The Creatures Lair” and “Fighting the Beast,” where it pits rival heroes against roaring horror and, with a spicing of the exotic motif, becomes the dragon’s theme.  Echoes of the exotic motif recur in the midst of “Search for the Cave,” which breaks into an effective misterioso; while the monster theme rears its head conspicuously in the climactic “Fighting the Beast,” shouldering for recognition behind a foundry-rhythm if the chugging rhythm of strings and horns, all gathering together into one mighty maelstrom of sound that finally peters out into dissolution at the moment of victory, allowing “Safety” to resolve the story more or less satisfactorily as the survivors emerge into civilization.  It’s a fun and subtly stylized score, one that hits all the right beats but never calls attention to itself.  Leonard-Morgan establishes a firm thematic arc from start to finish and in between accomplishes spreads out some admirable textures and atmospheres to accompany the journey, sifting in just the right kind of musical nuances and familiar flavors to fit the frothy adventures.

THE LOFT/John Frizzell/Varese Sarabande
Available digitally and on CD on January 20th from Varèse Sarabande Records, John Frizzell’s music for THE LOFT accompanies director Erik Van Looy’s film about five guys who conspire to secretly share a penthouse loft in the city – a place where they can indulge in their deepest fantasies – until it all turns into a nightmare when they discover the dead body of an unknown woman in the loft, and they realize one of the group must be involved.  “Erik Van Looy and I worked very closely together to create a score for his film that augmented the intricate structure of the story,” said Frizzell.  ”Told through a series of flashbacks, this thriller slowly reveals more and more, all the time asking more questions.  My goal was to have the score use themes to have this precise web of story lines reach maximum impact for the audience.”  Frizzell took the director’s use of flashbacks to create themes that augment their connections and the slowly converging storylines.  “I made a sort of a map of the themes at one point during the process just to keep it all clear in my head!” Frizzell said. The score unravels gradually, like a tightly rolled ball of yarn that begins to disentangle itself.  Maintaining a fairly dark timbre in his music, the score keeps the story unnerving, while embodying a contemporary sonic style that fits the young guys and the fantasies they hope to experience. The mixing, done by composer Frederik Wiedemann, allows the sonic layers to drift in and out of one another and yet sound clearly for the most haunting effect.  The score’s palette included “live strings and low brass mixed with a panoply of oddball things,” as Frizzell put it; but the weaving strings are cross-stitched with a variety of unusual textures; “The Slash” is a creepy example of this, as its sonorities are echoed by haunting sounds and variegated volume and tone shifts that make it especially spooky. “A solo violin plays one of the main tension riffs,” said Frizzell.  “The sound of the fiddle is manipulated and distorted to make it almost unrecognizable.  Many of the pulsing tonal sounds come from an upright piano that I sawed the keyboard out of to expose the strings and then played with mallets and my hands.  There is a good amount of guitarviol in the score which is an instrument that is more or less a cross between a guitar and a cello.”  The two parts that make up the “Casino Night” sequence enliven the score with urgency while retaining the score’s overall dark timbre; simply ramping it up on the propulsive scale; “Vincent Accused” will later echo a similar prompting toward panic. The haunting reveal echoed in “The Confession, Part 2” seethes with a variety of sonic textures, roiling and slithering over and across one another, suggesting that this confession is less of a revelation than a decidedly terrifying pronouncement.

THE LOST EMPIRE (aka THE MONKEY KING)/John Altman/MovieScore Media
MovieScore Media expands its Discovery Collection with its fourteenth entry: the world premiere recording of THE LOST EMPIRE , written for a 2001 Hallmark mini-series.  British composer John Altman (HEAR MY SONG, ON THIN ICE, THE REAGANS; conductor and additional music for GOLDENEYE) may have been writing for the small screen, but his resultant score in sound and scope is definitely feature film worthy.  It’s a thunderous, often poignantly lyrical and intricately exotic work with echoes of Maurice Jarre, John Williams, and Ron Goodwin in its adventurous cadences and orchestrations, captured in a tightly-knit musical work of strong disposition and elegant character.  The miniseries, produced by NBC and the SciFi Channel, is a contemporary take on the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West.  The book has been frequently filmed in Asia (most notably as a series of four films from Shaw Bros Studios in the mid-1960s, and more recently as THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM in 2008, starring Jet Li, and as THE MONKEY KING in 2014, starring Donnie Yen and scored by Christopher Young). Altman’s score for this four-hour miniseries directed by Peter MacDonald (RAMBO III, THE NEVERENDING STORY III) is a magnificent orchestral effort – one that you may wonder how it hasn’t had more recognition. Altman brings in Chinese flutes and the haunting sonority of an erhu to set the stage for the show’s setting and culture, but the action and adventure situations are replicated through the night of the full symphonic orchestra, wrapping itself around a thematic base with plenty of room for mighty moments of grandeur. The soundtrack features 75 minutes of epic adventure music from the two hours’ of score.  Altman has more than 100 film and TV scoring credits; Mikael Carlsson and MovieScore Media are to be thanked for beginning to address that discrepancy with this fine release of this emotive and often breathtaking orchestral score.

William Ross & Jerome Leroy/Momentum

William Ross & Alwex Kovacs/Momentum

A pair of new scores from William Ross and his associates at Momentum RLP, the music production company he co-founded with Jerome Leroy.  The former is a Hallmark Hall of Fame television production; Ross rejoins Jay Russell, his director on MY DOG SKIP, TUCK EVERLASTING, and LADDER 49 in a heartwarming holiday comedy about a newly divorced mom (Anne Heche) whose first Christmas alone with her kids is nearly torn asunder by a series of catastrophes.  The score is simple but finely crafted; you know the kind of music this type of film needs and Ross and Leroy deliver, pulling the heart strings at the right moments and organizing the score for maximum emotional undercurrent; it’s the kind of score that seems effortless and formulaic because it’s so simple in its needs, conception, and execution, but in fact Ross and Leroy have composed a multi-layered dramatic work whose focus is encountering and enhancing the sentimental moments of family – the many conflicts faced by the family and the inevitable rewards of resolution when things work out in the end.  It’s a cheerful score dappled my moments of uncertainty and temporary failure.  Ross and Leroy avoid the film’s comedic moments in their musical score – the close they come to it are some ‘antic’ moments where they support a character’s sneaking around and bridging moments of visual comedy.  These are difficult to set up and keep the musical approach honest without anticipating the punch line; Ross does this very well, underlining the story’s heartwarming moments and playing the drama of the broken family honestly; it makes for a very nice listen on its own (especially cool is the jazz version of the main theme that closes the album). 
Where ONE CHRISTMAS EVE is a homebound holiday family drama, OPERATION CHANGE is a vast, expansive documentary following the co-founders of the Starkey Hearing Foundation as they travel to distant countries to give free hearing aids and offer other philanthropic aid, joined on the way by various celebrities who join their humanitarian cause.  Built around a confident, almost majestic, main theme, the score is assertive, incorporating various ethnic flavorings as the Starkey Foundation takes us around the world, echoing with vocal and instrumental colors of the regions visited, which are melded into music’s propulsive forward motion. It’s a dazzling, colorful with intense with a variety of musical textures, but the focus is on movement, specifically the ongoing mission of the Starkey Foundation and their dedication to aid.  Across the 4 digital albums, Ross and Kovacs present music with intensity, drive, vivid thoughtfulness, and an urgency to do good in areas of the world are often dead set against it.  The composers wrote and recorded in total seven hours minutes of music for the documentary’s ten episodes, each of which required extensive research into the country, culture, environment.  “Regardless of the deadline, we always made a point to do as much research as we could,” said Kovacs.  “We found all the instruments that could make an interesting palette to write with… we would build a template from this smorgasbord of ethnic instruments that were a good representation of that specific country.”  While each environment has its own unique musicality, both composers made sure to share a comparable motivic arc across all ten episodes.  “How we handled the emotional arc was the key to making it all work,” said Ross.  “The instruments would change because of the ethnicity and culture, but the emotional arc could be similar.”  The result is a remarkable and very interesting musical journey, linked and developed through the common ground of magnanimity and social benevolence.  Both of these scores (the latter in its expansive 4-volume version) are now available as digital downloads.  Sample Ross’s main title theme from OPERATION CHANGE here at YouTube .

SHARKNADO/ Ramin Kousha/Lakeshore
SHARKNADO 2/Chris Ridenhour/Lakeshore
Coming on the fins of SyFy’s SHARKTOPUS (see my Oct. 2010 column), The Asylum’s uniquely successful 2013 exploitation film SHARKNADO, broadcast on SyFy and soon thereafter released on home video, became a television phenomenon, quickly outdoing in sheer audaciousness even the tentacled carcharodon of Roger Corman’s previous SyFy invention.  When a freak hurricane swamps Los Angeles, thousands of sharks terrorize the waterlogged populace, and nature's deadliest killer rules sea, land, and air.  Directed by Anthony Ferrante, the film reveled in its made-up science, its tongue-in-cheek storyline, and its outrageous confidence, and fans gobbled it up, and before you can say Mega Shark vs. Giant Whatsis, The Asylum, eagerly derided for their “mockbuster” films that rode in on the coattails of mega blockbusters with their own cheap knockoffs, became known for their fanciful, fun, and fantastic creature mash-ups.  At least among fans that could accept their impractical premises and low-budget CGI effects.  Naturally a sequel surfaced, which switched the devastating series of hurricanes to the east coast as tornados hurled sharks about to gobble up the Big Apple in an even sillier, and ridiculously entertaining follow-up also directed by Ferrante and featuring the hero duo from the first film. One aspect of The Asylum’s films, love them or hate them, is that their musical scores were always straightforward, honest, and very effective at giving these absurd films the kind of epic symphonically-styled (if synthed and sampled) powerhouse backbone that helped them to work.  The first SHARKNADO was scored by Iranian-American composer Ramin Kousha, a composer of independent films and shorts since 2010, in his first assignment for The Asylum.  The score played it straight, giving a dramatic intensity to the credulity-straining events in the film and giving them a dynamic of weight, tension, and irony that gave the film much of its effectiveness and suspension of disbelief. “There were textural and melodic themes used throughout the films that were established early on the process of scoring and can be heard throughout the score,” said Kousha of his approach to SHARKNADO.  “Melodic elements were not as important as the textural items.  It was more important to create a mood for the film rather than specific characters.”

The sequel amped up the sharks, the tornados, the in-jokes, and the cameos the nth level, and its score reached an even higher intensity (and length; the first soundtrack barely reached 30-minutes, the second supplies a generous 77 minutes).  Ferrante brought in regular Asylum composer Chris Ridenhour (several of his best Asylum scores are available on three digital releases from MovieScore Media), who quickly brought to bear his knack for writing epic themes to the shark-infested table, assisted by his associate Chris Cano, also a veteran of Asylum fare like POSEIDON REX, DRAGONS OF CAMELOT, and the forthcoming HANSEL vs. GRETEL).  For the sequel, Ferrante asked the composers for a classic score with traditional themes and big epic action moments.   “We wanted a fresh start and created a score that established new themes for the characters and a more epic overall feel throughout,” Ridenhour said.”  The score is truly infused with a ‘nado’s worth of exciting melodies and motifs, from the extended opening scene, which a plane piloted by Robert Hays, playing a character very like the one he played in AIRPLANE!, flies into a tornado full of sharks.  Faster than you can say “I want these m**f**ing sharks off this m**f**ing plane!!” chaos ensues and Ridenhour’s progressive tour-de-force 12-minute-plus cue (“Fin in the Clouds”) is a dazzling and articulate riot of wild agitato (view a short except of the scene here).  “I felt that the opening scene on the plane really set the stage for the film,” said Cano.  “The music that Chris Ridenhour wrote for that scene really knocked it out of the park for me as well.  SHARKNADO 2 has a much bigger feel to me, probably because of it being in New York. For my cues I just focused on what seemed right for the sequel.”  Added Ridenhour, “That whole scene is almost a small movie unto itself and had a lot of great tension filled, climactic moments,” agreed Ridenhour.  “The flavor of the film was infectious. I also enjoyed the subway attack music Cano wrote. That was the first big action moment set in NY and set a great pace and frantic energy for the rest of the film.”

There are a few attempts at enhancing character pathos (the second half of “Storm is Coming” displays the heroes’ theme for electric guitar and synth pad) but mostly the score is active and brisk, focusing on the swiftly hurled sharks rather than the disposable characters (although Ferrante and his composers do treat the main heroes compassionately when the opportunity arises: “Elevator and Bike Run” opens and ends with some apropos character poignancy).  Except for the first track (and the last), most of the cues are short ones, emphasizing bits of action (with cue titles like “Shark and Gator,” “Shark Pizza,” “Jumping the Shark,” and “Samurai Sharks) and giving SHARKNADO 2’s wild ride a sense of cohesiveness through a shared musical drive.  Cano’s aforementioned “Subway” maintains its ferociously aggressive orchestral attack through its entire three minutes, flecked by an electronic pulse; through propulsive cues like these music keeps the audience in pace with the action and from hesitating and questioning the incongruity of the film’s whole concept.  Then Ridenour and Cano explode into another furious progression of symphonic energy in the 15+-minute closer, “The Big Ending.”  Ridenhour had introduced his main theme, a sincere and vibrant French horn melody, at the end of “Cab Ride,” and reprised it with trumpets in the midst of “Stadium Attack,” then again very nobly for horns in opportune moments through the score, particularly in the tumultuous final track.  Throughout the score, but especially in that last track, Ridenhour and Cano manage their digital samples quite dexterously, enhanced by the few live instruments the film’s budget would permit; the samples are quite convincing in the midst of the score’s more frenetic cues, and their digital orchestration really gives the score - in film and on Lakeshore’s albums, both of which are available digitally and on CD.

[For more information on scoring SHARKNADO 2, see my interview with Chris Ridenhour on my book web site, - rdl.]

La-La Land’s expanded 4-CD collection of music from the 4-season run (2001-2005) of the final (so far) STAR TREK TV series, this one a prequel to The Original Series that takes place on the original Enterprise and its original explorations through space.  Initially released on a single-CD soundtrack by Decca Records in 2002, it had contained only a Baker’s dozen score cues, and two versions of the main title theme (the first STAR TREK series to license a previously issued pop-song for its main title music, rather than the distinctly sweeping, horn-dominated motif that had been associated with the franchise since its 1966 premiere.  That song, originally written for the Robin Williams movie, PATCH ADAMS, was an awkward fit.  Others, perhaps myself, might simply describe it as an awful fit.  Dennis McCarthy’s “Archer’s Theme,” which became the show’s End Title cue, was much better in conserving the kind of music STAR TREK has always been about.  La-La Land’s 4-disc expanded edition includes both themes (including an End Title instrumental version used until McCarthy’s dignified and spacious “Archer’s Theme” properly displaced it).  As composer of ENTERPRISE’s pilot episode, McCarthy set the tone for the series, but was not the show’s only composer.  His colleague since STAR TREK: TNG, Jay Chattaway, composed almost as many episodes, with others being brought in as needed – among these are Kevin Kiner, Mark McKenzie, John Frizzell, and Brian Tyler, plus others, all well represented on this comprehensive album.  Their work is well assembled here via extended suites from 33 episodes: McCarthy on CD1, Chattaway on CD2, the other composers on CD3 (including McCarthy’s unused Main Title version of “Archer’s Theme”), and CD4 preserving “fan favorites,” episodes with reflected or touched in elements from The Original series. These include music from Brian Tyler’s rhythmic and powerful “Regeneration” and a generous assortment of tracks from “These Are The Voyages” and “In A Mirror Darkly” (Parts 1 & 2), both jointly composed by McCarthy and Kevin Kiner.  The latter includes reprisal of Jerry Goldsmith’s reverent FIRST CONTACT theme, as “First Contact Revisited”).  The scores here tend to get more muscular than they were back in THE NEXT GENERATION’s day and the episode scores presented here are especially engaging and exciting.  McCarthy’s ENTERPRISE score theme retains the familiar French horn-dominated Star Trek musical milieu as pops up from time to time (especially in his own scores), while giving it a freshness through more overt use of electronics and modern instrumentation, suggestive of the eagerness of the Enterprise crew on their first missions.  As interesting bonus at the end of CD 4 is the inclusion of Lalo Schifrin’s arrangement of the Paramount Studios logo, which had been commissioned in 1975 but outside of being heard in a few trailers in 1977, was abandoned until Paramount Television acquired it as its signature motif in 1987, where it was heard at the end of all the STAR TREK series from that point on.  Even at only 3 seconds, it’s nice to have; a swifter version of the studio fanfare emerging out of a quick drum fill.  In a 36-page booklet, Music of STAR TREK author Jeff Bond provides detailed and authoritative analysis of the music and each composer’s contribution to the series.

STILL ALICE/Ilan Eshkeri/Nettwerk
Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland and based on Lisa Genova’s 2007 bestselling novel of the same name, STILL ALICE centers around Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), who is happily married (to Alec Baldwin) with three grown children. Alice is a renowned linguistics professor who starts to forget words. When she receives a diagnosis of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Alice and her family find their bonds thoroughly tested. Her struggle to stay connected to who she once was is frightening, heartbreaking, and inspiring.  I read this book just as my mother was slipping into the very similar illness of dementia and, while my mom was elderly unlike the 50-year old Alice, I could still recognize in Genova’s book the distorted world of perception my mom was now experiencing; while to me she was slipping into a haze of indistinct memories and confusion wherein she no longer recognized members of her family – but to her, this was now her world.  She was living in that state of confused unrecognition and trying to make the best of it even as her mind slipped further and further down that unremembered road.  Still Alice helped me to understand this, and Ilan Eshkeri’s score mirrors the personality of the afflicted Alice with empathetic understanding.  In his score, the composer offers a sense of grace and dignity that is very apt as he encapsulates Alice’s shrinking world.  Alice is no less a person even though her loss of mental acuity drives her further inward and her family further outward with a loss of what to do.  Alice is Still Alice, which is the point of both book and film – and that was the lesson I learned while caring for my mother in her descent into that place where memories are no longer associative nor coherent thoughts understood or expressed.  The score favors the piano in a close-miked and extremely poignant and melancholy setting, accompanied by light strings; at other moments the string ensemble takes the forefront with piano accompaniment.  In either case Eshkeri’s focus is on the titular character and her struggle to remain still Alice, at least in the perspective of those around her, despite her illness.  It’s a fragile and delicate harmony made by those keys and strings; a haunting and heartbreaking sonority.  Eshkeri occasionally cycles through a repetition of figures on the violin or the piano, reflecting Alice’s inability to remember clearly or speak with ease, the music shares the frustration of what her disease is doing to her thoughts and clarity of speech (“Lost Phone,” “Toothpaste”) or offers empathetic comfort to her loss of mental ability (“Speech”).  Along with Julianne Moore’s amazing and honest performance as Alice, Ilan Eshkeri’s music is sympathetic and respectful, reflective of a character who is as fully alive as she can be at each progressive level of her disease.  At its end, the music simply allows Alice to be Alice even as she enters a future that is less and less cognizant to her; yet the music reinforces its resolve with poise, as even in her most brittle moments of mental instability, reflections of Alice, like my mother’s bright smile gleaming beneath unrecognizing eyes, still shine through for those who will look for them.  The album concludes with a cover of Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had A Boat,” performed by British musician Karen Elson, which plays during the end credits.
Listen to STILL ALICE music cues here:

THE WOMAN IN BLACK: ANGEL OF DEATH/Beltrami, Roberts, Trumpp/Varèse Sarabande
Marco Beltrami returns to Hammer Films in this new follow-up to 2012’s THE WOMAN IN BLACK, extending his score from that film into the creepy new sequel.  “Musically, we built upon the score for THE WOMAN IN BLACK,” Beltrami explained. “I had the opportunity to collaborate with [composers] Brandon Roberts and Marcus Trumpp, who added a fresh take to the creative process. This film took place during World War II so we wanted to craft a sound reminiscent of the time. We incorporated percussive sounding instruments made out of artillery shells, which made a more interesting composition.”  In the new film, a group of orphaned children are forced to move from their home during the London blitz to seek safety in the countryside.  They are brought to the desolate and abandoned Eel Marsh House, 40 years after Arthur Kipps (played by Daniel Radcliffe in the first film) left it.  The house has new residents – and it isn’t long before children begin to disappear and their dwelling of safety becomes a house of horrors. As with the first score, Beltrami’s sequel music is a fluid parchment of creepy tonality, avoiding modernistic measures of sound design, but layering the score with a haunting texture of acoustic sounds that are both true to the period and are recognizable orchestral sounds, which, when they are twisted and applied to unusual timbral patterns, become especially creepy.  The motif for the primary caretaker, “Eve’s Theme,” creates a sinewy, mysterious pattern for strings, which is the score’s dominating color.  “Escaping the Blitz,” which should be comforting music, is instead a languid, and worrisome bit of string misterioso.  “Harry’s Theme,” for one of the children, is inquisitive but suggestive of the peril he will be put into by virtue of its slow measure and minor-keyed melody.  “First Night” gives the composers their first opportunity to engage in “poltergeist music,” as creepy things begin to happen and rough-edged layers of strange sounds, distant howling cries, minor discordant violin figures. And scraping sounds make for a sleepless night.  The composers will develop these pieces, and others drawn from it, to create a chilling sonority that accompanies the remainder of the story as explanations are sought and found, sympathies expresses, and entities encountered.  Beltrami and his associates provide a very mature, potent, and relentless ghost score, one with organic tendrils that reach through the speakers.  “Looking for Edward” has some superlative musical stingers and shocks; it and much of the score may well keep the listener sleepless

To view the preview video of the soundtrack, visit


Soundtrack & Music News

Patrick Gowers, a noteworthy British composer who was disabled by a stroke a few years back, has died December 30th, aged 78. Among various concert works, he wrote a terrific concerto for guitarist John Williams and a Toccata for organ for Simon Preston. His film work, starting with Peter Brooks’s MARAT/SADE in 1966, was distinguished and original. It included David Hockney’s A BIGGER SPLASH and Tony Richardson’s HAMLET.  He may be most widely remembered for television music for SMILEY’S PEOPLE, THE WOMAN IN WHITE, and several series of SHERLOCK HOLMES mysteries.
See more at:

Edgar Froese, founding member of influential German electronic music band Tangerine Dream, died January 20th in Vienna, Austria, of a pulmonary embolism at age 70.  Froese not only founded the band but was its leader, visionary, and sole mainstay over 40 years of shifting personnel.  “Although often criticized,” reads the Encyclopedia of Popular Music's entry on Tangerine Dream, “the band was pivotal in refining a sound that effectively pioneered new-age ambient electronic music more than a decade later. Their importance in this field should not be underestimated.”  In addition to releasing more than 100 albums, the band delved into movie music, creating some 45 film, television, and video game scores, among them SORCERER for William Friedkin, RISKY BUSINESS, THIEF and THE KEEP for Michael Mann, WAVELENGTH, FIRESTARTER, Karen Bigelow’s NEAR DARK, and Ridley Scott’s LEGEND, in which they had the awkward task of replacing a Jerry Goldsmith score for the film’s US and UK releases.  Just prior to his death, Froese completed work on his 500-page autobiography Tangerine Dream - Force Majeure - 1967-2014. That book is available to pre-order now through Tangerine Dream's official site
Read the full obit in L.A. Times here
Read article by Michael Mann about Froese’s death here
A week before Froese’s death, I happened to archive the original coverage I’d published in CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, about the musical controversy with LEGEND, onto the Soundtrack/CinemaScore magazine archives website.  The 1987 CinemaScore story featured my interview with Froese as well as Jonathan Benair’s interview with Jerry Goldsmith and David Stoner’s chat with Ridley Scott about the music for LEGEND.  I think the feature, now, also provides an insightful look at Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream’s approach to scoring films, and being in the awkward position of replacing the score of a film music legend.

THE IMITATION GAME - Alexandre Desplat
MR. TURNER - Gary Yershon
Winners will be announced on Sunday, Feb 22.
Related news: Read why the Academy ruled that the score to BIRDMAN was ineligible:

Johann Johansson’s score to the Stephen Hawking biopic THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING won the Golden Globe for Best Original Score – Motion Picture on Sunday Jan 11.  The song “Glory” from SELMA won for Best original Song – Motion Picture.

A recent Hollywood Reporter Composer Roundtable featured film composers.  Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, John Powell, Marco Beltrami & Trent Reznor discussed the challenges and rewards of composing for film. It’s all very insightful, from the gut and refreshing, so take the time to watch and see that the big dogs are, in fact, as normal as everyone else:

The television broadcast premiere set of Ain’t It Cool with Harry Knowles will begin airing on KLRU-TV, Austin PBS on Saturday, February 7, 2015 as part of Q Night at the Movies.  Each week KLRU-Q presents a block of movie programming starting at 7:00 pm; Ain’t It Cool with Harry Knowles will air immediately following the feature film.  The seven-episode television series created for the public television audience is a spinoff of host Harry Knowles’ hugely popular website, (and its own video version, presented on the YouTube nerdist page in 2012), an inventive and visual romp-through of some of the favorite films and genres loved, admired and sometimes even scorned by the iconoclastic film, television, and pop culture critic. 
The web series was noted for the creative visual design and photographic styles imparted by director Brett Hart (he had a hit with the Lance Henriksen thriller BONE DRY a few years ago), and for Harry’s passionate commentary and clearly evident love for films of all kinds.  Knowles frequently acknowledges film music in his journeys down cinematic memory lane, and both he and AICwHK’s director Brett A. Hart bring their love of movie music into the new series, as they did its web-based predecessor.  “My personal love of film music, as well as Harry’s, is evident throughout the new series, and I think the show has matured from its debut on Nerdist,” Hart told Soundtrax. 
The new PBS series is also set in Harry’s “magical basement” full of rare and unique movie memorabilia, Knowles is once again joined by “Pops,” his father and projectionist, and “Boiler,” his alter-ego and the millennial equivalent to “Oscar the Grouch” and “Chairy” from Sesame Street and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse fame respectively.  Says director Brett A. Hart, “We’re beyond excited to be able to finally release this series, a true labor of love from all involved.” 
This season’s list of fabulous guests include the legendary Burt Reynolds, House of Cards Creator Beau Willimon, Author and Film Critic Leonard Maltin, revered Filmmakers Wes Craven, Danny Boyle and more. “I’m quite proud of what we’ve accomplished as a united team fueled by our love of cinema, our dedication to our supporters and our collective ambitious hearts,” said Hart.
Check out the AICwHK Highlight Reel:

Composer Mark McKenzie has inspired award-winning New Hampshire artist Craig Pursley to exhibit 38 beautiful paintings, each created while listening to different excerpts from 12 of McKenzie’s film soundtracks. This unique, quite possibly the first, art with music show, entitled The Circle of Inspiration, will take place at the Tirage Fine Art Gallery in Pasadena, CA, February 7 - March 7, 2015.
“I have been listening to soundtracks while I paint for more than 25 years,” explains Pursley. “I thought I knew all the great ones, from Korngold to Zimmer, so I was surprised when I first heard the score to The Ultimate Gift. So melodic and interesting. One of the many things I love about Mark’s music is that it can convey joy, sadness, hurt, loss, celebration, as well as immeasurable power.”
Read complete story and view Pursley’s paintings at

Blake Neely’s score for Dec 2nd’s episode of THE FLASH, “Flash vs. Arrow,” has been released digitally via iTunes.  No word yet on release date for a soundtrack of the full season.

Silva Screen Records has also released a digital soundtrack to the GRANTCHESTER, a UK detective drama television series set in the 1950s.  The album features original music composed by John Lunn (DOWNTON ABBEY, THE WHITE QUEEN).  “It was a joy to work on,” Lunn comments. “I like to think of the music as a kind of ethereal impressionism where the music comes down from Heaven in order to help Sidney crack these crimes of passion, confront his demons and assist with his love life, though I think in series one God was more successful with the first two than the latter!”  Lunn continues: “I was thinking of fifties and sixties Italian movies to begin with but gradually moved towards a more modern score using electronics, solo piano, clarinet and string orchestra. Nevertheless the original inspiration is still buried in there somewhere.”

Silva Screen has also followed up its soundtrack CD for the first season of the popular UK Channel 4 series UTOPIA in 2013 with a double-CD set for the show’s second series, delivering more of Chilean composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s award-winning and unique sounds. See:

Michael Giacchino’s score for the Wachowski’s JUPITER ASCENDING will be released on Feb 3rd by WaterTower Music.

Madison Gate Records will release the OUTLANDER Original Television Soundtrack, Vol. 1 in digital and CD formats on February 10th.  The album features original music composed by Bear McCreary along with period-accurate songs adapted by McCreary for the series, including the main title theme, “The Skye Boat Song,” performed by Raya Yarbrough.  The album was produced in collaboration with McCreary’s Sparks & Shadows label.  Read more about McCreary’s scoring of OUTLANDER in my October 2014 column.

Brian Tyler will be scoring NOW YOU SEE ME 2 and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2, according to the Brian Tyler Fan Page on Facebook.

According to an interview with director Joshua Trank at [<- go to Page 2], renowned minimalist composer Philip Glass (KOYAANISQATSI, SECRET WINDOW) is scoring the new FANTASTIC FOUR movie with Marco Beltrami.

Take a gander at Dan Goldwasser’s Scoring Session web page for some splendid photo coverage of Christopher Lennertz and Alan Menken scoring Disney’s GALAVANT:

Director Pearry Teo confirms that composer Scott Glasgow, who scored his 2007 sci-fi thriller THE GENE GENERATION, will return as composer for Teo’s new fantasy film, THE CURSE OF SLEEPING BEAUTY, now in post-production.  The film is a live-action picture based on the Bros. Grimm fairy tale.

Composer Randy Miller (WITHOUT LIMITS) announces that he has written the original music for THE MARVEL EXPERIENCE, a mobile interactive attraction featuring Marvel’s characters run by Hero Ventures, which launched January 15th in Dallas, Texas where it will appear from January 15 – February 1.   The tour has announced further stops in Del Mar, CA (San Diego area February 7 - 22) and San Francisco (February 27 – March 22).  For a full list of dates and to purchase tickets, visit  “As a fan of the Marvel Universe since childhood it was with much excitement and anticipation that I began composing the score for THE MARVEL EXPERIENCE,” said Miller. “TMX is a unique opportunity for fans of all ages, all over the country and perhaps beyond to immerse in and experience the Marvel tradition and to hear my original score. My wish is the music becomes a unique part of the ever-evolving Marvel legacy.  My intention for the TMX music score was to combine strong, colorful and thematic material performed by full orchestra, combined with innovative synths/electronics and great industrial/metal guitar performances,” Miller described.  “The music score is completely original. There are brand new themes for The Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, Red Skull, M.O.D.O.K., the Adaptoids, other Marvel heroes, and a ‘call to action’ fanfare.”

Harry Gregson-Williams joins not only the very large group of film composers whose music has been completely removed the film he just scored without ever being told ahead of time, but the expanding club of film composers whose music has been near completely removed with near-Kubrickian mercilessness by director Michael Mann.  Gregson Williams found his music for BLACKHAT, Mann’s new hacker thriller, to be completely absent when he saw the film in the theater.  “I’m not sure, as I’m having a hard time understanding what I heard and why it was there and I can say nothing for certain except that I was not the author of most of what is now in the movie,” Gregson Williams posted on his Facebook page. “I therefore reluctantly join the long list of composers who have had their scores either sliced and diced mercilessly or ignored completely by Michael Mann.  This is his film and these are his decisions and I do respect that, but see no reason to have people mistake this score for one that I composed.”
Proving he’s a classier act than Mann, Gregson Williams concludes his posting by adding “I would still encourage you to check out his movie, as you may enjoy it.”
[For unspecified reasons, Gregson-Williams has since deleted his Facebook post, according to a report at ] For Mann’s perspective, see this story at Variety. There have also been a number of debates on Facebook about the issue; I agree with those who recognize that HGW wasn’t whining; he only wanted it to be clear that it wasn’t his music you are hearing in the film, since his is the only name in the front credits attributed to “music.”  HGW recognizes Mann’s right to (as well as his history of) slicing and dicing the music to fit his directorial vision, but just like writers or directors and allowed to remove their names (or replace with a pseudonym like “Alan Smithee”), he shouldn’t be blamed for wanting to remove association with a musical score attributed to him that isn’t his work, and which he considers inferior.]

Last weekend THE GODFATHER LIVE brought Francis Ford Coppola’s Masterpiece Film to music venues for the first time, making its Southern California debut at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE on Saturday, January 24, 2015. Nino Rota’s iconic score was accompanied by the film’s traditional Italian folk music and jazz comes to life on stage, all performed live by the Hollywood Studio Symphony, conducted by Justin Freer, while the film is simultaneously shown in high definition on the big screen.  According to Jon Burlingame’s report in Variety, the event attracted a crowd of 5,000 movie/music-goers unable to refuse the offer.  “The orchestra, dressed in ‘mob’ black, was tastefully lit beneath the main screen… Two other screens, flanking the stage, offered better views for audiences across the theater and in levels above,” wrote Burlingame.  “Most of the crowd stayed through the end-title sequence in order to give Freer and the orchestra – an A-list band of top-notch studio players – a standing ovation.”
“We are proud to embrace the evolution of live experience, and we hope that this concert honors the many talented musicians that bring the music of the movies to life, while giving everyone the ability to re-live one of the great masterpieces in Cinema,” said Brady Beaubien, Producer and Co-Founder of CineConcerts, which produced the concert.  For more information see

Milan Records will release Cliff Martinez-Film Festival Gent digitally and on CD February 17, 2015.  The album contains orchestral version of Martinez’s film themes as performed by The Brussels Philharmonic this past October as part of the Film Festival Gent and World Soundtrack Awards concert.  Conductor Dirk Brossé orchestrated the recording.  “For most of his films, Martinez created a rather spare, simple and expressive sound,” described Patrick Duynslaegher, Artistic Director Film Fest Gent.  “The combination of the original electronic instrumentation with a full-blown symphonic orchestra adds additional layers of complex musical duality to Martinez’s ambiguous and organic music. Since the beauty of Cliff’s music often lies in its stylized simplicity, our main concern was to highlight this subtle, transparent yet rich world of sound with crystal clarity.  We had to walk the thin line between symphonic and electronic music, complexity and transparency, rhythm and calm.”

Award-winning Italian composer Marco Werba’s latest score is for I FIORI DEL MALE (Flowers of Evil), about three women and their famous love affairs.  The film debuted last November at the Berlin Film Festival.  Werba’s score is an exquisite and sumptuous orchestral work; really very lovely and I’m eager to hear all of it.  Cometa Edizioni Musicali of Italy will release a CD of the film score later this year.
Listen to the film’s trailer with Werba’s main theme on youtube:
Watch a behind-the-scenes video of the recording of the score on youtube:

Back Lot Music will release a soundtrack album for Geoff Zanelli score to the action adventure sequel THE SCORPION KING 4: QUEST FOR POWER. The soundtrack was released digitally on January 13; La-La Land Records is releasing a physical version of the soundtrack to be released the last week of January. The movie sequel will be released on January 6 on Blu-ray and DVD on January 13 by Universal.  – via filmmusicreporter (listen to music samples and read more details at here.

More news from La-La Land: the label has just released a remastered and expanded 2-CD SET of the original score from the 1974 television series PLANET OF THE APES, based on the famed sci-fi feature franchise. Composer Lalo Schifrin, along with Earle Hagen and Richard LaSalle, bring the primal action and drama of the televised APES saga to orchestral life, resulting in a vivid companion piece to the groundbreaking scores from the original feature film series. Produced by Nick Redman and Mike Matessino and mastered by Daniel Hersch, this amazing 2 CD SET is limited to 2000 Units and features more than 2 hours of exciting music; booklet included exclusive, in-depth liner notes from writer Jeff Bond.   Also new from La-La Land is JUSTICE LEAGUE THRONE OF ATLANTIS, a new DC animated universe feature scored by Fredrick Wiedmann (GREEN LANTERN TAS); and MORTDECAI, featuring score and songs by film composer Geoff Zanelli and English rock musician Mick Ronson from the new Johnny Depp/Gwyneth Paltrow  comedy detective film.  Of pairing the celebrated musicians, director David  Koepp remarked, “I had the idea to connect two very different artists, pairing Mark Ronson with Geoff Zanelli, an accomplished Hollywood veteran… I will speak without blushing about the resultant piece of work, because it is wholly theirs and not mine – Mark and Geoff have written a score that’s worthy of [inspiration Henry] Mancini.”

A long sold-out and fairly elusive Barry Gray album has re-surfaced as a digital download.  Stand By For Adverts, originally released on vinyl and CD by Trunk Records, is a collection of rare jazz, jingles, and advertising electronics commissioned over the career of Barry Gray (THUNDERBIRDS, SPACE: 1999).  While sold out in both media and especially hard to find on CD, the album is still available as a digital download from Trunk.

Marco Beltrami’s score for the epic television series 1864 has been issued on CD and digital download by MovieScore Media. The titular year marked a dramatic turning point in the history of Denmark with the battle of Dybbøl; 150 years later the national tragedy is commemorated by an epic eight-hour long mini-series created by top Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal. The most expensive Scandinavian production to date features extensive battle recreations and a touching story about two brothers cast in the bloodiest battle of the country’s history. The Scandinavian co-production receives its majestic musical support from frequent Bornedal collaborator Marco Beltrami, one of the busiest and most creative composers working in Hollywood today.   “I feel a dark kindred spirit with Ole and his pictures inspire me deeply” explains the composer about his working relationship with the director (previous credits together include DEEP WATER, I AM DINA and VIKAREN). The CD selection includes the best hour’s worth of material from over 220 minutes of music developed for the project.

Intrada’s latest releases include a 2 CD presentation of music from 1994’s adventure thriller THE RIVER WILD, containing both Jerry Goldsmith’s complete score (the original RCA release offered just 30 minutes) and Maurice Jarre’s dynamic unused score (heard here for the first time).  The entire 2CD set presented from complete digital scoring session masters preserved by Universal in pristine condition and released courtesy Universal, RCA and Sony. Also released is David Shire’s music for a rare IMAX film, THE JOURNEY INSIDE; this 40-minute feature was showcase for special effects-laden journey into pioneering world of Intel, their Pentium processor, told via vivid sci-fi tale. Surrounded by veteran team of filmmakers, David Shire found himself recording at MGM Pictures Scoring Stage 1 (now Sony Pictures Scoring) with ace mixer Dan Wallin and 80 musicians to record exciting, lavish original music. Best part: Shire eschews expected beeps and bleeps approach in favor of powerful, sonorous symphonic essay. Vibrant stereo recording, colorful orchestrations by Thomas Pasatieri, handsome graphic design by Joe Sikoryak, liner notes by Tim Greiving.

From Italy, Digitmovies’ latest releases are a fistful of archival releases, including  Le sette fatiche di Alì Babà (The Seven Labors of Ali Baba) composed by Marcello Giombini (SABATA);
Giovanni Grimaldi’s comedy LA PRIMA NOTTE DEL DOTTOR DANIELI, INDUSTRIALE, COL COMPLESSO DEL... GIOCATTOLO (1970, aka THE LOVEMAKERS) and the less verbose IL MERLO MASCHIO (The Naked Cello), with music of Riz Ortolani; and finally a handsome 3-CD reissue of the label’s popular Stelvio Cipriano scores, FEMINA RIDENS / LA MORTE CAMMINA CON I TACCHI ALTI / L’IGUANA DALLA LINGUA DI FUOCO, originally issues separately and sold out for many years.

A Facebook page, if you’re not already a follower, that’s worth clicking LIKE to is DOCUMENTING THE SCORE.  Created by Matt Osborne in March 2013, it’s a public Facebook page meant to be “a place for filmmakers, composers and fans of film scores that are specifically composed for documentary films. As there are some creative folks who make their entire careers devoted to this small genre of film making, let this be a small outlet, but not an insignificant one, for promoting and sharing their craft and for those who enjoy experiencing it beyond the films that they were intended for. Ask for support, give support, share and explore documentary film music.”  Matt is very good at ferretting out samples of unreleased documentary scores to share, via youtube files or composer web sites, bringing many excellent scores to light that otherwise may not have been heard.

Music Box Records of France has issued one of its most ambitious releases yet - Bernard Herrmann’s classic score from Brian De Palma´s OBSESSION (1976).  The only previous release of this score on LP or CD has been the original 6-track/38-minute presentation, most recently issued by Masters Film Music in 1989.  Suffice it so say a full-length, expanded edition of this masterful score is very much overdue.  No longer.  For this special archival edition 2-CD set, Music Box Records has gathered the best sources available to this day in order to present faithfully the original score written by the composer. CD 1 presents “The Film Score’’ – painstaking reconstruction of the 5.1 Music Stem (courtesy of Sony Pictures) and a safety copy of the original music tapes, resulting in a stunning new sound dynamic for the score.  CD 2 presents ‘‘The Original 1976 Soundtrack Album’’ (courtesy of Universal Music) that was edited from Herrmann’s sessions and has been specially remastered for this edition – the misnamed and incomplete cue titles of the 1976 London Decca release have been corrected as well.  This Deluxe Edition with slipcase is limited to 3000 units and includes a 24-page full-color booklet with in-depth liner notes by Daniel Schweiger, sharing his comments about the film and the score, including new interviews with editor Paul Hirsch and producer George Litto.

Quartet Records of Spain has announced the premiere CD release of two hidden cult scores.  SAFARI 5000, composed and conducted by Toshiro Mayuzumi (THE BIBLE: IN THE BEGINNING…) is a 1969 Japanese thriller about race car drivers competing in a deadly rally in Africa. This premiere presentation has been beautifully mastered by Claudio Fujian from the original stereo master tapes; the 8-page booklet features liner notes by Gergely Hubai.  The other release is the music of Guido & Maurizio De Angelis for the 1979 caper/thriller, KILLERFISH.  The score for is anchored by the Amii Stewart theme song “The Winner Takes All,” played during the opening and closing credits while instrumental variations of it and another Stewart song occur throughout the story. The score was previously released on LP; the original recording tapes are long lost, so this CD premiere contains the same 35-minute program, which is almost all the music featured in the film. The 8-page full color booklet features liner notes by Gergely Hubai.  Both releases are limited to 500 copies.  For more info and listen audio samples, please visit

Lakeshore Records will release Timothy Williams’s (WALKING WITH THE ENEMY, RED SKY) score to the science fiction horror thriller DEBUG digitally on February 24th and on CD March 10, 2015.  The film is about six young computer hackers sent to work on a derelict space freighter, who are forced to match wits with a vengeful artificial intelligence that would kill to be human. “DEBUG is a sci-fi horror set on a prison ship in space,” said Williams.  “I knew that the score was going to be primarily electronic, but I loved the idea of using an orchestra for its organic quality, and then mutilating the pristine recordings, through reversing, pitch shifting, filtering, unusual delays and falling reverbs.  David Hewlett [director] and I have been friends since we were about 5 years old! So when I suggested 'reversed orchestra' for some of the score with electronics and 'processed brass,' he didn't do what some directors might do, which is fire me on the spot!  It is rare that you get the opportunity to play around and take chances with a score! I appreciate David giving me the luxury to do that,” said Williams. “Writing reversed orchestra, meant scoring sections and themes forward, then orchestrating back to front which was mind numbing! Once it was recorded, I then reversed it and flew it into the sessions.”
Copperheart Entertainment’s DEBUG will be released to theaters in the US later this year.

Germany’s Kronos Records has announced three new archival releases in its Gold Collection, each dedicated to an obscure Italian score, issued in a limited edition of only 500 copies.   COL FERRO E COL FUOCO (WITH FIRE AND SWORD) is a 1962 historical adventure drama also known as INVASION 1700), composed jointly by Italian film music legends Giovanni Fusco and Francesco De Masi.  With 45 tracks (mostly short) presented with a full orchestra and some precise brass writing, this is a beautiful and exciting score never before released.  Bruno Nicolai’s music for the 1977 Italian TV series DON GIOVANI IN SICILIA is a multi-themed affair, employing an array of traditional Italian instruments giving the historical picture an authentic sound; Kronos’s version is an expanded reissue of the 1977 LP – its first time on CD.  The trio is rounded out by a world premiere release of Franco Campanino’s music to Italy’s 1982 CONAN-esque barbarian thriller, SANGRAAL: LA SPADA DI FUOCO (aka THE SWORD OF THE BARBARIANS).  Companino’s dramatic and powerful orchestral score is enhanced by choral parts clearly inspired by Carl Orff (as was the music for CONAN, which this film and score are clearly – and rather successfully – emulating). See:

Kritzerland’s latest release comprises two scores on one album, both by composer Paul Glass (BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING, Hammer’s TO THE DEVIL…A DAUGHTER).  The first, 1964’s low-budget drama ETHAN about the conflict of faith and romance when a Catholic Priests becomes involved with a Muslim woman.  “ETHAN is a beautiful score, with haunting themes that are developed with wonderful variety throughout its playing time,” noted the label’s Bruce Kimmel.  As a companion piece, Glass’s score for the short 1960 film GEORGE GROSZ’S INTERREGNUM is included.  Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short, the film is a portrait of Nazi brutality as told through the images of artist George Grosz, the film is powerful and memorable.  “Glass’s score for Interregnum falls firmly into his avant-garde style and fits perfectly with the imagery of the film,” Kimmel described.  See:


Film Music on Vinyl

Back Lot Music congratulates composer Jóhann Jóhannsson on his Golden Globe win for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING – a soundtrack they have also just released on vinyl, featuring exclusive custom artwork by Anders Ladegaard. Now available on amazon com here.

Death Waltz Recording Company presents the world premiere soundtrack release of THE RAID, the original motion picture soundtrack by Aria Prayogi & Fajar Yuskemal.  Directed by Gareth Evans, this explosive piece of Thai uber-action has already been recognized as an exceptional action film, but few people know that when it was released in the UK and US, its music was replaced by a new score by Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park) and Joseph Trapanese.  “Coming from Thailand, the duo of Yuskemal and Prayogi seemingly not only have a geographical connection but a spiritual one as well, leading to a profundity in their music that can’t be matched,” the folks at Death Waltz wrote in their press release. “Full of muscular electronics and battering percussion, it feels like not only a score but also a workout. Electric guitars give an edge and at times the music reaches up to a post-rock crescendo, while ethereal textures give a nod to the insane world the film takes place in, and it all comes to a head to bring you one of the finest action scores the world has ever seen. You don’t just listen to THE RAID – you experience it.”


Film Music Books

A new book, Strings of Memories by music journalist Jim LaDiana, tells the hidden story of the Golden Age of Hollywood Recording Studio Guitarists.

Composer/author Winifred Phillips’s book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, has won the GMA Book Award, presented by the Global Music Awards as a Gold Medal Award of Excellence for the book that has been judged as exceptional in the field of music. For more information, see:

Pearl Bernstein Gardner, Elmer Bernstein’s first wife, has published a respectful and informative memoir, The Magnificent Elmer: My Life with Elmer Bernstein (Rosetta Press, 2014).  With 26 fairly short chapters, this is an easy read and an engrossing story – beginning when they first met (when a very young Elmer dedicated a piano recitation to her in a youth summer camp), through Elmer’s rise in Hollywood as one of the most famous film composers of the ‘50s and ‘60s, to their divorce in the aftermath of Elmer’s affair with a young woman (Pearl writes that she gave her husband the ultimatum: her or me.  To her dismay, he left with the other woman), through their subsequent amicable friendship, Pearl’s remarriage (to her co-author, Gerald Gardner), and Elmer’s death and memorial service in 2004.  A chapter discusses Elmer’s rejected film scores and what he thought about them (“Here was a man of immense talent whose music had moves millions… Yet his work to a lot of directors was just a dispensable product on the open market, to be approved or rejected.  Elmer’s unused work offers an absorbing picture of a Hollywood system that often ran amuck, squandering talent right and left.” [p. 73.])  Elsewhere she describes Elmer’s Academy Award win:  “THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE was the only score Elmer ever wrote that won the Academy Award,” Pearl writes in chapter 16. “ ‘To think,’ he mused, ‘I lost with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  I lost with THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN  I lost with THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM.  Then when I finally won, it was with, of all things, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE.’ ”  Pearl also notes, ironically, that MILLIE with its delightful theme and recreation of 1920s jazz “was the only major score Elmer ever wrote that has never been recorded in its entirely.” (The only place his theme has been included is on in Silva Screen’s Essential Elmer Bernstein Collection in 2005; other albums focused only on the film’s period jazz and music hall songs).  The Magnificent Elmer is a very positive memoir that airs no dirty laundry, but instead straightforwardly describes the romance, laughter, mutual respect, dissolution, and ongoing friendship between two souls; by so doing Pearl describes the human side of Elmer, how he felt about his rise to success and fame, how the family felt about that, and how it was to be Mrs. Elmer Bernstein – and, more importantly, how the process of being the ex-Mrs. Bernstein allowed her to find her own place in the world.  The 140 page paperback also includes some informative and enjoyable anecdotes found along the way, nicely balancing his professional and personal lives into a witty and enjoyable narrative.  Available from amazon here in paperback and kindle versions.


Game Music News

The original score from the breathtakingly atmospheric first-person mystery game The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Original Soundtrack has been released as a digital download by Sumthing Else Music Works.  Created by jazz and classically-trained Polish composer Mikolai Stroinski (The Witcher 3: Wild HuntDark Souls 2 trailer), the soundtrack has garnered numerous accolades for its immersive and ethereal emotional quality including nominations for Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition at the 18th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards and Best Audio at the 15th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards. Describing his process for finding the musical voice for Ethan Carter, Stroinski explains, “I’m a pianist. Through improvisation I was trying to come up with a central theme that would capture the story of Ethan Carter. I was planning on orchestrating it once approved. As it turned out, The Astronauts loved it so much they didn’t want to add anything. And so it stayed. If you listen closely to the melodic pieces from the score, you will notice that each one is a variation of ‘Ethan’s Theme’. It borrows either the melodic shape, or the rhythms or the distinguishing melodic intervals.”

Developed by Polish indie game development studio The Astronauts, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a “weird fiction” horror focused on atmosphere, mood and the essential humanity of its characters. With its mixture of a beautiful world with the haunting and macabre, the game is catered to immersive storytelling for adult players. For more information on the game, visit:


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:

Special thanks to Benjamin Michael Joffe for copyediting assistance..

Randall can be contacted at -Your Store to Buy Hard To Find Film and Television
Music Scores and Soundtrack CDs!