Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2013-02 
February 9, 2013

By Randall D. Larson

“The one with the tiger. That's the better story.” - Writer

Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe winner for his music for Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI, Canadian composer Mychael Danna drew from many chapters of his musical upbringing in creating the multifaceted music score, including church choirs, piano, Indian music, and electronic music.  Danna traveled to India to work with respected Indian musicians and also incorporated such notable Western influences as the accordion and mandolin, as well as a full Los Angeles studio orchestra.  In addition to writing the original score, Danna co-wrote the film’s original song “Pi’s Lullaby” with singer/songwriter Bombay Jayashri, who performs the song in her native Tamil language. 
I interviewed Danna this week and discussed in detail his approach to conceiving and creating the LIFE OF PI score.

(Spoilers Ahead)

Ang Lee and Mychael Danna
Photo: Kevin Estrada

Q: This film reunited you with director Ang Lee for the first time since 2003’s THE HULK, in which your score wasn’t used in the end.   What led Ang back to you for LIFE OF PI and what were your initial discussions relative to the use of music in this film?

Mychael Danna: Ang and I have worked together three times – actually four times if you count the BMW short.  We did THE ICE STORM and we did RIDE WITH THE DEVIL, and Ang and I have been friends through thick and thin.  Things happen in filmmaking and, as they say in the mob, it's just business.  It’s all part of what we do, and it's not personal.  We remained friends the whole time, and we talked about what he was working on. I had read the book [Life of Pi] shortly after it first came out in 2001, and I remember thinking "I really hope nobody ever makes a movie of this and wrecks it, because it's such a beautiful book!"   Ang called me about four years after that; he had just gotten the property and said he was about to start it.  He kind of laughed and said, "Well, this one's all you.  It's a Canadian novel, Canadian sensibility, a boy from India…  You’re Canadian and you're married to an Indian woman, so let's get to work!"  So I guess it's hard to imagine anyone more suited to score this film and me, just given what it is, and it wasn't exactly an odd choice.  But like I said, Ang and I talked all the time over the years, so it was not an unexpected phone call.

Q: Through the narrative of the film, there is a pair of unique perspectives revealed as well as a mixture of time frames in which the story is relayed.  How did this style of storytelling affect where you began in terms of conceiving the score, and where it was developed?

Mychael Danna: There are two stories, as you know.  There's the story with Pi on the ocean that takes the bulk of the film, and then there's the second story that he reveals in the hospital bed.  It was essential to Ang that we completely believe the first story while we're there (which is at least the first two thirds of the film) and that we completely believe the second story as well, so that while we're hearing each story we are completely in the moment, and it needed to be scored as such so that was real. That's a byproduct of the medium of film: you immediately suspend your disbelief when you sit in a chair and you accept what you're seeing no matter what it is, and if it's animals on a lifeboat you believe it and accept it because that's just how we’re trained to watch films.  Certainly you see a lot more belief-stretching things in films than the first two acts of LIFE OF PI, so it was a matter of scoring it in a very sincere and very real and immediate way.

Q: You’ve centered the score on two main themes – that for Pi, played by Indian flute, and that for Richard Parker the tiger, played on a ney.  How were these instruments selected and how did you intertwine these themes to reflect the journey taken by these characters in the story?

Mychael Danna: You've drawn a brilliant parallel there.  I had very distinct reasons for picking those instruments for those themes. The Pi theme was an Indian flute, the bansuri, and of course he is born in at almost liminal place in the sense that it's partly India but it's also partly Europe.  It’s a French colonial town where people eat croissants and speak French as well as speaking Tamil and eating Indian food, so it's a place that is already breaking down borders. Pi is certainly that kind of person as he grows up; he's attracted to different religions, different cultures, and he moves effortlessly between them in his thinking.  He has no problem seeing the good in all those things. But he is Indian in his soul and his heart, so an Indian instrument like the bansuri is very expressive and it’s got a youthful quality, so it seemed to be the perfect instrument for him.  It's something that carries all the way through the film from beginning to end and it’s the one instrument you hear from the beginning of the movie and it goes right through to the end. Then for Richard Parker I also used a woodwind, because in some ways, as Pi's father says, the tiger is a reflection of Pi, so they are very closely related.  Whatever the tiger may mean to you as a viewer, and everyone's welcome to their own opinion so I don't want to say one thing or another- is the tiger God or is the tiger Pi?  I related them together through woodwind instruments, but the difference in the quality of the ney is that its sound is 80% air.  In other words, it's 80% not there. So just seemed like a perfect symbol for Richard Parker in that it's so difficult to grasp ahold of.  It's almost invisible and effervescent in that way.

Q: You’re well known for combining non-Western instruments with orchestral and electronic ensembles.  Would you describe your method of integrating these diverse elements into a unified harmonic musical texture for LIFE OF PI, which itself draws from many cultural landscapes in its storytelling?

Mychael Danna: This was kind of the central nut that we had the crack with the music – how to involve all these ideas of Pi, all these borderless ideas in the many religions and cultures and his open and questioning view of life. That called for using instruments from everywhere in the world and combining them. What was difficult was to make them combine in such a way with a Western orchestra and Western choir.  I used Western instruments like mandolin and accordion, piano, celeste, and of course the orchestra.  And then I had all the Eastern instruments – Indian and Balinese gamelan, Persian ney, and the various other Indian instruments.  Somehow that vast array of instruments from all over the world, along with the task of bringing forth these very deep themes and complicated concepts, all of that had to sound simple and pleasant and not laborious to listen to – not like an ethnomusicology class where here we have this instrument and now this one… It really had to be effortless and flow through borders the way that Pi does in his thinking, just in a moment with no sense of effort. And as you know, as a writer, the hardest thing in writing is to make something simple, and that was really what took a great deal of effort on my part.

Q: Our audiences more accepting of that kind of mixture because they’ve become more familiar with its use, in one way or another, over last decade or so?  What makes audiences accept what formerly may have been a strange musical mixture?

Mychael Danna: I think our world has shrunk dramatically in every way from the beginning of the Internet age in the 90s, if you want to call it that.  It’s good timing, because if we don't have that sense I think were doomed as a species, but that's another discussion!  Musically, yes. It’s certainly been something that I have worked hard to do over my career right from my first film 25 years ago, I've been combining Western and non-Western instruments and have tried to do so in a very educated way. I've done my best to really study and learn the very fine details of these instruments and their cultures, where they come from and what their roles were, what their strengths and weaknesses are. So in a way, my whole career has been a preparation – well, really my whole life has been a preparation – to do this film.  Although I don't think I used any instruments for the first time in this film, but I’ve used pretty much all the instruments I've ever used all in this one film.  I think because I've had so much experience that I did have the ability to do that in a way that feels natural and seamless and, yeah, I think audiences are ready for that.  We're really talking about Western audiences when we say that, but this film has been very successful everywhere in the world, in fact arguably more successful outside of North America.  It’s had very big numbers in Asia, for instance, and Europe and Russia. I think it's partly because it's such an internationalist kind of a film, right from the novel itself, which has an open quality to it, and it's got that in every craft in the film.  If you watch the credits at the end of the film, I believe there's seven minutes of credits, and there's a minute and a half from North America, there's a minute and a half from Taiwan, there's a minute and a half from India.  Ang’s told me that [people from] 24 countries worked on this film, and it's something we're all very proud of.  I think it’s meant that it's something that has been accepted around the world just because it came from that way of looking at our world culture.

Q: Your use of voices is especially striking in the score, from the English and Tibetan choirs to soloists Pandit Jasraj and Bombay Jayashri.  How did you build the sonic textures in this score and was there special meaning to the musical layers you chose?

Mychael Danna: Right from our very first discussions, Ang always felt that there should be a boys’ choir and a men's choir in this film. I think he was right, from both a conceptual and a philosophical way, but also from a sensual way. Those sounds were a perfect match to the water, to the story of a boy growing up and becoming a man, so we knew from the beginning that we wanted the male voices and certainly to combine that with our whole concept of these blurred borders. The English boys’ choir sung Sanskrit mantras and the Tibetan choir, the lower men’s voices, was singing in Latin, so this is also something where we were paying attention to that concept.  And then Jayashri’s inclusion, of course, is right at the beginning of the film; Pi’s Lullaby begins the film in this childhood paradise, and it’s all about the mother's love for her son, to just set the scene for what it is that we're about to take away from Pi.

Q: A cornerstone of the score is certainly the “God Storm” sequence, in which the score moves from the gentle atmosphere of the sea that has been reflected for some time and cascades into something massive and awesome.  What did Ang have in mind for this scene and how did you develop this striking moment in the score?

Mychael Danna: That was a very difficult scene to score – probably all of them were!  But that one was particularly complicated because it had to feel like it belonged to the rest of the sonic world that we had created. In other words, it had to have Richard Parker's theme and Pi’s theme as well as having the emotionality of a young boy basically shrieking at God.  But it also had to reflect the power of this absolute God, a God that doesn't care or is not even aware of his existence; so those two opposite and opposing ideas – the small boy, and the absolute God – were things that we had to capture in the scoring of that scene.  As far as musical forces, that’s certainly the biggest part of the score.  We ended up doubling the orchestra, so we did one pass in the morning, which was the melodic or lyrical part of the equation, and then in the afternoon we did the second pass, with the orchestra doing the crushing fist of God and the power of the storm.  We then combined both passes, which gave us 165 players or something like that, plus choir.  So that’s by far the largest scored part of the film.

Q: “God Storm,” both in the film and on the soundtrack album, is followed by the reflective serenity of “I’m Ready Now.”  How did you treat the spiritual journey that Pi’s experiences take him through?

Mychael Danna: That was the most important thing for the music to track through the film, really.  Obviously, we have Pi’s physical journey, but it's Pi’s emotional and spiritual journey that the music has to really track and take special note of.  Ang was invaluable in helping understand, moment-to-moment, where Pi was and how he was dealing with where he was at that time. It's something that was just very finely tuned from beginning to end.

Q: How did you handle the “reveal” sequence, in which we finally realize that maybe what we’ve been seeing may not have been what really happened and that there’s an alternative perspective that may be more valid. 

Mychael Danna: First of all we wanted the effect of the scene and the music to be like a held breath – to be very suspended and very, very delicate.  One element that the score has there that is in no other place in the film is something electronic.  There’s an electric guitar doing a very high-pitched tremolo, and it's because this is a place where, obviously, things take a huge turn. The entire perspective of the film changes from this point on and, like you said, there suddenly doubt as to what we've just watched.   It raises questions about the nature of what we've witnessed with our own eyes and with our senses. So it was important to bring a new characteristic and a new element to the score that hadn't been heard before. It's very subtle, like everything in the score – it's an Ang Lee movie so everything is subtle!  It certainly doesn't clobber you over the head in any way, electronically, but there is something I think that allows you to sense that there's a change in the atmosphere.

Q: Elements of the score were recorded in India as well as Los Angeles.  How complicated was the mixing process to put all of these separate elements together into a seamless whole?

Mychael Danna: [chuckles] Very!  We had a battalion of people helping us. We had a wonderful editor who did nothing but get all these elements assembled and put together as well as our regular music editor. We never would have been able to do this without a lot of smart people doing their work really well. I was really proud of being part of a team that could pull together what really was extraordinarily complicated and convoluted and to bring their best work to the table and just knock it out of the park. Technically, this score is the best sounding thing I've ever done, by far.  We recorded at the high sample rate of 196 kHz, which is just this unbelievable sounding format, but of course that causes all kinds of other complicated technical issues with different sample rates all being combined. The quick answer is: it was very complicated, but we had some really great people doing their best work and it all came together.

Q: So what was most challenging for you about conceptualizing and realizing this score?

Mychael Danna: Very simply the most challenging thing is just that there was no other film to refer to that was like this one. It's not like this is a genre picture – there is no genre of tiger and boy on a lifeboat talking about God!  The whole idea of doing this film was kind of crazy, which is why it's such a wonderful feeling to be sitting at the end of the process knowing that somehow we did do it, because it shouldn't really have worked.  It's a testament to Ang and the studio for having the courage to do this and to bet a very big dollar number on something that just had a very small percentage chance of being a success.  So the challenge was that there was nothing to model this on.  It was just a whole set of problems that we had to find original solutions to.

Q: You’ve recently finished scoring a new film with Atom Egoyan, DEVIL’S KNOT, based on a true story about some kids put on trial for committing murder for a satanic ritual.  How have you treated this film musically and how would you describe its music?

Mychael Danna: This is what's wonderful about this career, one goes from one universe to another in the blink of an eye. DEVIL’S KNOT is a very different score. A lot of it is almost sound design; it's a lot of prepared piano and low, almost unidentifiable sounds. We wanted to capture the kind of group madness that occurs in a society when panic and unreason take hold, and search for closure at any cost, even at the cost of truth. So the score’s reflective of that.  It's really based in the world of fear and the world of unreason.

Q: I wanted ask you about a couple other recent that fits into our discussion of various realities.  I am especially fond of your score for THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, which is a science fiction fantasy film that focuses on a profound and heartfelt love story that’s impacted by the man’s uncontrollable leaps in time.  How would you describe your approach to that film?

Mychael Danna: That is a film where the protagonists have to be tracked emotionally because they are physically and in time fractured.  That's what the music had to follow and make its main structure around, their emotional lives and their emotional relationship. Certainly, within the score, we have some fun with that, and there are a lot of reverse sounds built into it.  In fact there are a couple of cues that we actually wrote out backwards and recorded the strings playing the piece backwards, and then flipped it.  The notes are the way we mocked it up but the performance is actually backwards.  It's quite subtle, actually, because it's legato strings, but there is a sense of a reverse nature within the sound, which is pretty cool.  It gives it the sense that at any moment in time can be bent, that time is a kind of a fragile and insecure thing.

Q: And you worked with your brother Jeff again on THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS for Terry Gilliam, what was that experience like for you?

Mychael Danna: I love working with Terry, both of us do.  He is, as you can imagine, a really fun and exciting person to be around. He's extremely dynamic and creative, and he's a font of ideas. PARNASSUS of course, was a very difficult film given the Heath Ledger situation that we encountered in the making of the film [Ledger died in the middle of production].  The film literally was about to be scrubbed.  Half of it had been shot, and when he died we got a call saying “Stop work, this film is over, we're scrapping it." And then Terry called a day later and just said, "Hold on, I'm going to figure this out, I'm not going to let Heath's last film get thrown away. Just give me a week." And within a week he had come up with this incredible solution to an impossible situation, and he revived the film with the outrageously brilliant solution of having three movie stars step in and be the alter ego, the looking glass versions of Heath. And they were back in business, and everyone was just so happy that we were able to make Heath’s last film a success in and work.

Q: Musically the film’s got this traveling theater company, which would seem to suggest one kind of musical treatment, and yet there's this darkness it runs throughout the music, which has a kind of menacing quality to it…

Mychael Danna: It definitely does.  We recorded it in Hungary, and the orchestra was wonderful for that because there's just a slight kind of Eastern European bend to the sound, which I think really is wonderful. It was a perfect place to record it.

Q: You worked with Joss Whedon on the TV series DOLLHOUSE, which has a slight science fiction element in what was more of an action series with a modernistic kind of score.  How did you determine the scoring approach to that show?

Mychael Danna: Joss is another one of those- I never thought of this before but there's kind of a parallel between Joss and Terry.  There’s this brilliant and lateral-thinking kind of creativity. I loved the concept of that show and it has these killing revelations.  It's obviously a very dark view of where we're headed as far as unbridled technology. I really enjoyed working on that, and the concept of it.

Q: What was your use of electronics and orchestra and the episode scores?

Mychael Danna
Photo: Sally Stevens

Mychael Danna: Given the subject matter, it was mostly electronic and electric guitar.

Q: I believe that SURF’S UP was the first time you've done an animated feature.  What was that experience like for you as far as treating animation in a very realistic way and making it fun and frothy for that type of film?

Mychael Danna: It was a great experience. I love working in animation. That's one thing I would really like to do again. It's very different, obviously, in that the structure [of the film] is figured out pretty securely from the beginning. It takes about two years for all the shots to come in and for it to come to life before your eyes, but the structure is pretty much set early on, so you're able to work on it for quite a long time, which I really liked. Working with animators is very different in that they are literally all artists so they understand very well what it is that you go through every day.

Thanks to Dan Barry and Chasen & Company for assistance in facilitating this interview.


New Soundtracks Releases of Note

BULLET TO THE HEAD/Steve Mazzaro/Varese Sarabande
Newcomer Steve Mazzaro (additional music composer on Assassin’s Creed video game scores, etc.) had crafted a bluesy tonality for this Sylvester Stallone buddy action thriller, in which a New Orleans hitman and a detective join forces to catch the gunmen who shot their respective partners.   It’s up-front, nothing-subtle-about-it, fist-in-your-face (bullet-in-your-head) action music, with twangy electric guitars playing heavy rock and blues riffs over drum kit, with raspy percussion effects and stretched out synth patterns (the film is directed by Walter Hill, who clearly enjoys the bluesy vibe of Ry Cooder, who scored seven of Hill’s previous films, and likely asked for a similar approach here).  This basic tone permeates the entire score, but Mazzaro massages the music with enough different arrangements so although it rocks with a recognizable consistency the music does stretch itself with some variety before slamming into its target cranium, as glimmers of steely percussive grain sparkle among the rhythmic progression.   “The Only Life He Had” gives us a reflective track in between the musclebound electric riffs, and “It’s All Over” resonates with sultry coolness and wailing blues harmonica between the steel string guitar licks.  It’s a strenuous and energetic southern blues-rock score that gives the film and its players a firm contemporary grounding in music that reflects their age and personalities, with plenty of Louisiana grit and beady New Orleans glitter.  It’s just what the film needed.

DUELLO NEL TEXAS/Ennio Morricone/Digitmovies
Six years after bestowing us with the first complete soundtrack to maestro Ennio Morricone’s very first film score (IL FEDERALE), Italy’s intrepid Digitmovies label gives us another Morricone first – his first Western score, 1963’s DUELLO NEL TEXAS (known in the USA as GUNFIGHT AT RED SANDS; known in Spain by the hero’s name, GRINGO).  Being as it was his Western scores for Sergio Leone that first propelled the composer to international acclaim, it’s a notable incident to have this Western made available in its complete form for the first time.  While singer Peter Tevis’ version of the film’s theme song, “A Gringo Like Me,” (written by Morricone with lyrics by Tino Fornai and Ann Carol Danell), has often been found on collections of Morricone’s Western film music (and a 5-minute suite of music was included on CAM’s 1999 anthology CD, Wanted: Dead or Alive), none of its other music has ever been released – until now.  With 20 tracks and nearly 42 minutes of music, this is the complete score to the film.  A handful of tracks are different instrumental renditions of the theme song (sung on the soundtrack by Dicky Jones, whose version closes this album), providing an intriguing variety of interpretations of the theme with its staccato acoustic guitar licks and easygoing melody; Track 19 substitutes Tevis’ vocal for French Horn and trumpet, which add a terrific new resonance to the familiar melody.  Three tracks are source music – a saloon piano, a Latinesque guitar soliloquy, and a jaunty Mexican dance number.  Aside from his treatment of the acoustic guitar, instrumentally DUELLO NEL TEXAS is a fairly traditional Western score for the 35-year old composer; it wouldn’t be until he got A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS from Leone that he introduced all manner of unusual instrumentation into the Western scores that made him famous.  But there are plenty of distinct Morricone touches in DUELLO NEL TEXAS that are recognizable from later use, from a striking trumpet deguello, intoned somberly on Track 7 in a manner that presages his lower-end brass soloing in THE BIG GUNDOWN, and reprised in confidence and clarity in Track 13 [the tracks are not named], to the piercing piccolo and percussive tension music on Track 7 and the mixture of galloping piano arpeggios, pensive snare rolls, imposing moans of organ that make up the splendid suspense cue on Tracks 10 and 16. The bristling piano and vibrato strings on Track 5 (reprised in Track 11) reflect a style Morricone would modify in scores like BATTLE OF ALGIERS, DEATH RIDES A HORSE, and NAVAJO JOE, and its use here as exciting aggressive action material works splendidly.  Track 18 proffers a completely new piece of music, a pretty acoustic piano melody over strings that opens into a dainty, lyrical dance for recorder over triangle and what sounds like harmonium, culminating in a gorgeous violin solo that rises to a full string section crescendo – surely the score’s most striking track. It’s heard in the film when heroine and hero have a teasing, and ultimately passionate, interlude down by the river.  The album consists of every note recorded during the original recording sessions in 1963, which retain a pretty potent sound for their age.  Morricone was officially not interested in releasing this score for many years, but fortunately the gentle persistence of Claudio Fuiano and his team at Digitmovies secured Morricone’s approval and supervision of this release, which is a must-have for Morricone devotees and for its historical importance to Italian Western film music.

FIRST LOVE/John Barry/La-La Land
The advent of a previously unavailable John Barry score is surely cause for celebration, especially when it’s a lush, romantic composition in Barry’s finest form.  From the 1977 feature, FIRST LOVE, the score predates Barry’s later period in which these types of scores were the norm.  Sandwiched between the disco-groove of THE DEEP and the raucous jangle of GAME OF DEATH, FIRST LOVE is a sumptuous, lush rhythmic romance score for a film starring William Katt and Susan Dey as youngsters engaging in romantic and physical passion for the first time.  Previously unavailable in any format, only a small portion of Barry's score was actually used in the final film, so much of this engaging work has never been heard before.  The score is infused with the distinctive Barry touch, while source cues such as “Elgin’s Room” and “The Hallway” reflect Barry’s EMI and Ember Records rock ‘n roll phase, both beautifully arranged pop rock numbers.   In addition to soothing arrangements of the main romantic theme (which is consummated early in the 7:26 “Big Love Scene”), Barry also created an intriguing harpsichord cue for a visit to a “Model House,” a delightfully strident violin and xylophone romp in “Two on a Bike,” and a prim martial motif for “Soccer Game.”  Barry de-saturated his main theme to a tone of worried impatience in “Shelley Waits,” and created a slightly more austere variant for flutes and harpsichord as “Dante’s Theme.”  The limited release (2000 copies) includes extensive liner notes by Jeff Bond, and includes the score in its entirely, mixed into full stereo from the original 16-track tapes by Mike Matessino.

FLIGHT OF THE STORKS/Éric Neveux/MovieScore Media
With nothing whatsoever to do with documentaries like MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, this French 2012 TV miniseries is instead an international thriller based on the 1994 novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé in which a young academic teams up with an amateur ornithologist to follow storks on their migration to Africa, only to be caught up in an international web of intrigue (and, er, fowl play).  In this very fine score, Éric Neveux underscores both the geographical and emotional journeys of the protagonists using beautiful flourishes of orchestral colors and subtle ethnic instrumentation.  The score nicely integrates these elements as well as some electronic components, flavoring the music with a broad swath of intriguing instrumentality that builds tension (“The Hatch,” “Diamonds,” “Remember,” “Brother”), evokes menace (“Looking for Max,” “White Flat Trap”), augments moments of action and violence (“Locked Up”), conveys outright panic (“Hallucination,” “Death Flight”) and understanding, revelation, and triumph (“Awakening,” “Not Friends Anymore,” and the closing title track), and develops a riffing atmosphere for the landscape we’re taken into by the story (“Journey to Sofia,” Welcome to Antwerp,” “Streets of Kinshasa”).  But Neveux’s sound design never calls attention to itself or becomes intrusively “ethnic;” i.e., there’s no “African” or “Belgian” music in the story, but rather the score develops a rhythmic vibe through rolling instrumental textures and cadences that propels the film very discreetly.  It’s nicely presented in this digital release, which also sports a gorgeously intriguing cover design using one of the film’s less circulated pieces of key art.

Canadian composer Darren Fung has crafted a very beautiful score for this political and historical documentary, embellishing the forces of the China National Symphony Orchestra with the striking song of the er-hu (Chinese two-stringed violin) and the plucked resonance of the pipa (Chinese lute).  The documentary centers on the family story of co-director Kenda Gee and the last 150 years of the Chinese diaspora in Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia. The movie begins documenting Gee's ancestors from 1910 China, further progressing through the years to focus on the racism that they and other Chinese emigrants have experienced.  Mixing western orchestral writing and Chinese folk music orchestra, the score mirrors the epic proportions of the narrative. Fung’s score was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Music for a Non-Fiction Program or Series.  Digitally released by MovieScore Media, the score resonated with a humble humanity, ranging from the eloquent austerity of solo piano to the resonance of full orchestra and soloists.  The music lends an heartfelt expressiveness to the documentary film, evoking the soul of Gee’s ancestors (and by extension, all of these displaced members of humanity, forced into expulsion from their homeland by wars, starvation, and political corruption), with “What Could Have Been” climaxing with an especially heartbreaking orchestral lament, seguing into the strident plucking of the pipa to lend an arresting texture to “Returning Home.”   As a bonus track, Fung provides “Chop Suey,” a very fun if brief jazzy routine somewhat in homage of the song of the same title from FLOWER DRUM SONG.

Silva Screen’s latest concert-style recording with the City of Prague Philharmonic captures the fantastic musical journey from THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY through the three LORD OF THE RINGS films, proffering a compelling and delightful musical treatment of fifteen magnificent Howard Shore score tracks.  While essentially an abridged repackaging of Silva’s 2004 2-disc release, Music  from THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy with the addition of three newly-recorded tracks from THE HOBBIT, the album is thus mostly a second helping; but HOBBIT’s tracks add a new flavoring to the musical story, and heard in such close conjunction with the LOTR music – which both preceded the HOBBIT tracks in film order but serve as a sequel to them in the chronological storyline – it makes quite an enjoyable journey (if not quite an unexpected one; be ready for a pair of newly packaged releases to follow the next two HOBBIT films).  This is not quite a criticism; Silva’s rescores are tremendously powerful and thoroughly faithful to their sources; the City of Prague Philharmonic is a terrific orchestra and Silva’s house conductor Nic Raine keeps them on target.  The recordings are just magnificent and the variegated offerings, albeit rearranged and repackaged from time to time, do make for invigorating listening.  In the case of this release, “Over the Hill” from THE HOBBIT serves as a powerful opening number, resplendent in its brassy instrumental rendition of the Trolls’ song, “Misty Mountain,” which becomes HOBBIT’s primary quest theme.  Raine then takes us through the thunderous furioso of “A Thunder Battle” and into the reflective poignancy of “Dreaming of a Bag End,” with its earthy flute intonations of LOTR’s Hobbit theme before morphing ahead into the world of Frodo and the Fellowship with five tracks from THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, three from THE TWO TOWERS, and four from THE RETURN OF THE KING.  Shore’s splendid compositions for these films is more than up to revisitation in many forms, whether in his own Symphony arrangement or in theme compilations such as Silva’s, and this new updated reprisal of their earlier LOTR collection makes for a very precious listening experience by any estimation.

THE RELIC/John Debney/La-La Land Records
For those who may recognize John Debney’s name in connection only with the frothy rom-coms of Garry Marshall or the passionate historical poignancies of HATFIELDS & McCOYS, THE STONING OF SORAYA M, or THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, reconsider your view of Mr. Debney.  He has worked in virtually every genre of film and television, and the first-ever proper release of this soundtrack is firm evidence that he can compose music as muscularly scary and ferociously powerful as he can delight the adventures of diary-wielding Princesses and love-starved holiday gatherers. Peter Hyams’ self-described 1997 “smart horror film” THE RELIC, about an ancient and deadly creature uncrated to haunt the hallways of Chicago’s Natural History Museum, contained one of the strongest horror scores of the decade, an absolutely fierce mix of synths and symphs, an incredibly dynamic and scary gathering of viscerally frightening music, from its brooding, mysterious musical designs to its relentless, active chase music with their pulsating violins and rushing percussiveness.  Debney’s monster attacks and shock sequences are an effective mix of swirling electronic whorls and pounding percussive shocks.   The churning electronic music becomes an ostinato of sorts, a spiraling musical auger that bores into the listener’s psyche with each raging attack of the monster.  Thematically sparse, Debney scores the film with a series of orchestral onslaughts, each growing in power and force and fury, built around the same sense of rushing motion.  The music is a tone poem for a runaway freight train.  It rushes from the shadows like the rampaging biological anomaly that inhabits the National History Museum, and rushes after us with an unstoppable force.  There is no interplay between themes for good and evil, monster and hero; Debney’s music relates only to the savage genetic predator roaming the museum catacombs.   While released privately in a 14-track composer’s promotional CD in 1997, La-La Land has uncrated the box in the vault to expose the entire score and has now unleashed the sonic powerhouse in the grip of a thorough 20-track package, making a thunderously nightmarish mix of shadowy suspense and relentless, meteoric aggression.  Quoted in Daniel Schweiger’s thorough commentary notes, Debney said of this project, “Oddly enough I love the darker stuff, even though I wear my religious side as a badge of honor…. THE RELIC is very complex for how cacophonous and clangy it does get.  And I found a lot of freedom in between Peter’s desire to keep the score simple and having it throw the kitchen sink at you.”  Debney’s music never separates into noise; even at its most violent, he holds it together rhythmically and tonally.  It maintains a congealed musical sensibility that never dissolves into atonality or cheap electronics.  I still find it one of the most potent chiller scores of the last quarter century


Soundtrack & Music News

Best known for his video game music, composer Normand Corbeil (Heavy Rain, V, Double Jeopardy) died Jan. 25.  He was working on music for a new game, Beyond: Two Souls, at the time of his death. He also composed for films and television, including WHITE NOISE 2: THE LIGHT and THE LAST TEMPLAR.  Corbeil won BAFTA and Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences awards for his work on Heavy Rain, and was nominated for two Emmys.  Corbeil, who was 56, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2012.  Quanticdream, the studio that produced Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls and worked with Corbeil on those games, posted a memorial to him on its website Monday. "We are today deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend Normand Corbeil," the memorial says. "Normand was not only one of the most talented composers of his generation; he was a formidable person, kind and humble." – via msn.com; read full story at http://news.msn.com/obits/video-game-tv-composer-normand-corbeil-dies

The International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA) has announced its list of nominees for excellence in musical scoring in 2012. The largest numbers this year are, for the most part, split evenly between four composers, all of whom received four nominations: Mychael Danna, Alexandre Desplat, Fernando Velázquez and John Williams. The nominations for Danna, Velázquez and Williams were each for a single score – director Ang Lee’s vivid shipwreck drama LIFE OF PI, director Juan Antonio Bayona’s harrowing tsunami drama THE IMPOSSIBLE, and director Steven Spielberg’s look at the last months of the life of Abraham LINCOLN, respectively.  Desplat’s nominations were for his body of work in 2012 which included writing IFMCA Award-nominated music for the quirky comedy MOONRISE KINGDOM, the storybook animation RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, and the contemporary war thriller ZERO DARK THIRTY, as well as for the 1970s espionage thriller ARGO, among others.  The other nominees for Film Score of the Year are the ambitious sci-fi drama CLOUD ATLAS by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, and director Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy prequel THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY by Howard Shore. Danna, Desplat, Velázquez and Williams are also short-listed for Film Composer of the Year along with Danny Elfman, who enjoyed a stellar year composing music for such popular and successful films as DARK SHADOWS, FRANKENWEENIE, HITCHCOCK, MEN IN BLACK III, PROMISED LAND and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.  For full details see: http://filmmusiccritics.org/2013/02/ifmca-nominations-2012/

Award-winning film editor/film composer John Ottman reteams with director Bryan Singer for Warner Bros.’ epic fantasy JACK THE GIANT SLAYER. Watertower Music will release the score album this month. JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is not Ottman and Singer's first confrontation with the forces of evil; the duo have gone from confronting Nazis in APT PUPIL and VALKYRIE to fighting super villains in FANTASTIC FOUR and XMEN 2. Using a 100-piece orchestra, Ottman’s classically styled score for JACK THE GIANT SLAYER contributes to the tension, adventure and grandeur. Ottman explains, “There aren’t many current films that give license to classically styled scores, but JACK THE GIANT SLAYER called for it - a throwback to vintage adventures and the perfect invitation to compose broad music that tells a story and wears its intent on its sleeve.”  Ottman spent over two years working on JACK THE GIANT SLAYER as the film’s editor, composer, and associate producer. “Past projects required music to ride a sensitive line, conjuring up psychological ironies buried deep in subtext,” Ottman explained.  “The music for JACK needed to reflect time-honored themes: good versus evil, magic, a love story and an unlikely hero. I didn’t want the music to be cutesy or cliché. Instead, the aim was to push the score to reflect the gravitas of a world we took seriously. Too frivolous and the movie would be dismissed as silly; too serious, the experience would become a downer. So there’s always a line, and this was the one I was riding on Jack.”  Ottman created four main themes: Jack’s, the love theme (or Isabelle’s), Roderick’s, and the crown. For the giants, the composer wanted an instantly recognizable primal motif; what he calls the “boom clack” (A taiko drum slammed on the skin and then on the side with sticks, often surrounded by clashing woodwinds.) The beans also have their own brief motif with solo tremolo strings, glockenspiel and choir. Roderick’s playfully sinister music features dulcimer and rising classical chords.

Coming from Quartet records in February is Pino Donaggio’s soundtrack to PASSION, Brian de Palma's remake of Alain Corneau’s 2010 French film, LOVE CRIME. This film marks Donaggio’s first new collaboration with De Palma since 1992’s RAISING CAIN, after a successful collaborative run that generated Donaggio’s classic horror scores for CARRIE, DRESSED TO KILL, BLOW OUT, and BODY DOUBLE, among others.

La-La Land Records and Paramount Pictures will release the score to the big-screen fantasy-horror-actioner HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton and Famke Janssen. Composer Atli Orvarsson (SEASON OF THE WITCH, THE EAGLE) unleashes a thunderous gothic score enhanced by guitars that propels the film's action, chills, and laughs. The CD release contains a bonus track not available on the digital download version.

On Feb. 12, La-La Land will release STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE Collection, a limited edition 4-CD soundtrack set that showcases musical highlights from episode scores as heard in all seven original seasons of DS9. This special collection of music features more than five hours of score, selected from some of the most acclaimed episodes from the show, featuring Dennis McCarthy (CD 1), Jay Chattaway (CD 2), John Debney, Richard Bell, Gregory Smith and Paul Baillargeon (CD 3), while the fourth disc, entitled “The Lost Album,” contains an album assembly of material that was prepped by music producers and the composers for a soundtrack compilation that was never released. The set is limited to just 3,000 units.

And coming up, La-La Land will release Bear McCreary’s soundtracks to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: BLOOD & CHROME on March 12 and CAPRICA (the TV series) in April.  La-La Land released McCreary’s music to the CAPRICA pilot episode in 2009; his music from the 19-episode series has not been released until now.  “In scoring the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA prequels CAPRICA and BLOOD & CHROME, I returned to the unique combination of world and orchestral sounds that defined my previous score,” McCreary said. “But, both prequels had their own distinct approach. CAPRICA was interlaced with delicate chamber orchestra textures, solo harp, and other-worldly source songs. BLOOD & CHROME is energized by heavy distorted-synthesizers and searing electric guitar performances. Listeners will hear, however, that all three series have a common musical DNA.”   BLOOD & CHROME takes place in the midst of the First Cylon war and depicts eager fighter pilot William Adama’s experiences in battle and clashing with his battle-weary co-pilot.  “The Caprica series soundtrack was made possible by the tireless enthusiasm of the series' passionate fans,” said McCreary. “After countless Tweets, Facebook posts, emails, questions and rants, fans made it clear they wanted to experience this music in album format. I am thrilled to collaborate once again with La-La Land Records to release more music from the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA universe.”
See: www.lalalandrecords.com

Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders original score for the zombie romantic comedy, WARM BODIES, will be released soon on iTunes and Amazon.   Samples can be heard on Beltrami’s web site at http://www.marcobeltrami.com/news/13736137

Aaron Zigman scores his first animated feature with The Weinstein Co.’s ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH. Zigman recorded the nearly two-hour score with a 100 piece orchestra and choir at Abbey Road Studios in London. Directed by Callan Bunder (DESPICABLE ME), the film follows the story of blue planet hero Scorch Supernova, a master of daring rescues, with the quiet-aide of his brother Gary. Scorch pulls off astonishing feats, but when he embarks on his latest journey to an “alien” planet- Earth- it is up to Gary to save him.  For ESCAPE, Zigman created a classic action adventure score. He stated, “Musically this is my most ambitious project, with 100 musicians and choir.” ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH opens Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2013; the soundtrack will be available on Sony Classical.

Silva Screen announces the release of Howard Blake’s soundtrack to S.O.S. TITANIC, which many feel is the most intelligent and authentic version of the Titanic tragedy. An Anglo-American co-production premiered by ABC on September 23rd 1979 it ran for three hours and was the costliest television film ever made.  Howard Blake is one of the most popular and prolific living English composers. Successes include scores which he wrote for films such as THE DUELLISTS and A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY, both of which won prizes. In 1982 he wrote words and music for the animated Channel 4 TV film THE SNOWMAN, with its acclaimed song “Walking in the Air,” so much loved by children all over the world.
Silva Screen will also release George Fenton’s score to the TV documentary, FROZEN PLANET. See: www.silvascreen.com/

GDM has announced three new Italian Western soundtracks in its Hillside series: Daniele Patucchi’s score to BLACK KILLER, Gianni Marchetti’s ONE STEP TO HELL (Caccia Ai Violenti), and Carlo Savina’s HEY AMIGO… REST IN PEACE! (Ehi Amigo...Sei Morto!).  Other GM releases underway include Ennio Morricone’s FEAR OVER THE CITY (Peur Sur la Ville, aka Il Poliziotto della Brigata Criminale) and Luis Bacalov’s SISTEMO L'AMERICA E TORNO.   – via eurofilmscoresociety at yahoogroups

MovieScore Media has released Roger Goula’s music for SHOCK HEAD SOUL is an acclaimed cross-media documentary directed by BAFTA-winning filmmaker Simon Pummell.  The film explores the writings of Daniel Paul Schreber, a lawyer who claimed that he received messages from God. Goula's score was performed by the Raven quartet and is both an avant-garde piece of work as well as a soundtrack that follows the narrative of the film. Pieces relate to such idioms as atonalism and French avant-garde minimalism as well as late romanticism. Instrumental colors in addition to the string quartet include the early electronic instrument, the ondes martenot, and piano. Variety wrote: “A rich score by Roger Goula enhances the atmosphere throughout without upstaging or overemphasizing the emotional register.”  See www.moviescoremedia.com/

Charlie Mole’s score to Oliver Parker’s 2009 British adaptation of DORIAN GRAY, starring Ben Barnes as the non-aging man with the aging painting in his closet, has been released digitally to iTunes and Amazon.

Atli Örvarsson, composer of HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, has scored A SINGLE SHOT. The edgy new indie thriller directed by David M. Rosenthal, stars Sam Rockwell and William H. Macy, about aman who, upon killing a woman in a hunting accident, attempts a hasty cover up, only to be caught up in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse involving rural locals, dodgy lawyers, and a large sum of money.  Örvarsson’s score for A SINGLE SHOT is a minimalist blend of woodwinds, strings and piano that create a creeping tension on the brink of being broken by an unperceivable threat.



Games Music News

Film and video game composer Kevin Riepl (SILENT NIGHT, ABCS OF DEATH, THE AGGRESSION SCALE, Gears of War, Resistance: Burning Skies) has created an original symphonic score for the highly anticipated Aliens™: Colonial Marines video game, launching worldwide on February 12.  Developed by critically acclaimed studio Gearbox Software in partnership with Twentieth Century Fox, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a true continuation to James Cameron's film ALIENS, taking place after the events of the second film. Players are part of a U.S. Colonial Marine squad and must prepare to face an alien assault, more intense and horrific than ever before.  Continuing the legacy of Jerry Goldsmith's music in ALIEN and James Horner's music in ALIENS, Kevin Riepl's original score for Aliens: Colonial Marines features all new themes and atmospheric underscores while staying faithful to the franchise's iconic scores. Infusing his haunting, sweeping and bombastic orchestral score with familiar nods and intense cinematic action music performed by full live orchestra, Riepl draws on his own classical training and film scoring background to create an authentic score that will immerse players in the definitive Aliens gaming experience.
For more information on Kevin Riepl, visit www.kevinriepl.com.


Game composer Jamie Christopherson, has composed music for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is the latest Metal Gear console experience due for release on Feb 19. The game features an all-new style of frenetic action gameplay and central character, Raiden, a cyborg ninja who uses his High Frequency katana blade to cut through anything that stands in his vengeful path! A song soundtrack will be released on that same date (see here), and the expensive limited edition version of the game will include a score CD of Christopherson’s music (see here).


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


Randall can be contacted at soundtraxrdl@gmail.com

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