Soundtrax: Episode 2010-05
June 29, 2010
By Randall D. Larson
The Film Music Career of Terry Plumeri
Equally busy in the worlds of jazz and classical music recording, composer Terry Plumeri has quietly amassed a significant filmography of motion picture scores, some of which have recently been issued on limited edition CD by Intrada. I recently spoke to Terry at length, discussing his career in film scoring. Portions of this interview will appear in my forthcoming book – here is the full length, unabridged, director’s cut version of this interview:
Q: What was it that led you into film music, and how did you manage to break into the industry?
Terry Plumeri: I’ve been a musician since I was ten years old, and as a child, thanks to a great neighborhood theater, I always loved music in film. Thanks to composers like Miklos Rozsa, Alex North and Bernard Herrmann, who I heard in my neighborhood theater, symphonic style film music was something I was always interested in and from my college years on, seriously aspired to.
As you get older and begin to chase your dreams as a musician, doorways which you never knew existed, become accessible to you. My doorway to film music came from Dick Halligan, who was a founding member of the Blood, Sweat & Tears band. We had been students and roommates together at the Manhattan School of Music in NYC. After the Blood, Sweat and Tears days, Dick moved to Los Angeles and began working as a composer in television and feature films. It wasn’t long before he began to have enough work so as to need another composer to help out. We talked about it and the result was…I moved to LA to ghostwrite for him. Within a week of arriving in LA, I was ghosting on two network television shows. That’s how it all started. That lasted for approximately four years or so, and during that period, I ghost wrote the music on roughly 20 to 25 films. Eventually I got very tired of doing that because psychologically, it’s a tough job to pour your heart out musically and receive no credit. It pays your rent but beyond that, it becomes less and less fun. In the beginning it’s great because you’re learning your craft and you’re caught up in the excitement of hearing your musical thoughts displayed by very good studio orchestras on a regular basis. But as the years pass, you get very tired of doing it, because it’s very much like performing while having somebody else’s face in front of your face! The result is…there is no direct appreciation. And as you know, appreciation is sometimes your greatest pay for your hard work as a composer. So there came the day when I said “I’m not going to do this any longer.” And that was the end of that chapter.
Q: How do you contrast or regard your role as a composer for films with your role as a composer/conductor of classical/absolute music and a performer of jazz? How do these roles complement each other?
Terry Plumeri: Probably the biggest drawback about film music is that the journey from beginning to end is pre-defined when you enter. As a film composer, you are a psychological colorist to someone else’s architecture. Although as a colorist you can make serious contributions to the existing journey, in the end, it never compares to creating and coloring your own structure.
Q: Your first film score was for a horror picture called SCARECROWS. What were your initial impressions of this project and what lessons did you learn from this experience?
Terry Plumeri: SCARECROWS was the first time I was working under my own name. That was a great experience in many ways, and still one of my favorites when I look back at my work of the past. Being the first score, obviously you jump up and want to do your absolute best. One of the great things about working on Scarecrows was, the director, William Wesley, was an original TWILIGHT ZONE series fan and he loved the music of that series. I grew up watching the TWILIGHT ZONE, and certainly was influenced by it, so right away we became friends and colleagues in our approach. Because of the budget for SCARECROWS, I was limited to thirteen instruments. I chose to use an augmented string quartet (2 violins, 2 violas, cello and double bass), four woodwinds with doubles (Eb contrabass and Bb bass clarinets, Bb clarinet, Eb clarinet, bass, alto and C flute, English horn and oboe), harp, piano and percussion. I was fully experienced in writing music for large orchestra at that point, and had also written a number of chamber works. So…it wasn’t a new thing for me to accomplish dramatic impact with a small group of instruments.
It was 65 or so minutes of music to write in three weeks, and that’s never fun. But musically, what the visual brought out was lots of fun. I got along very well with the director, and we became good friends after our work on SCARECROWS.
Q: You have demonstrated an affinity for scoring fantasy-horror films. What do you think it is about your music that has led to your recurring efforts in these genres, and what kind of music have you found that these films need over the last 20 years you’ve been scoring them?
Terry Plumeri: I’ve always had an appreciation for those types of films since my childhood years of going to the theater. So it was something I gravitated to musically. One of the beauties of a fantasy or horror film is that the musical vocabulary can generally be stretched, and that’s always appealed to me. A family film for instance is a much more restricted kind of vocabulary. The events in fantasy and horror generally require a more extended style of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic expression. So the freedom involved is probably one of the greatest elements about doing the work. I do a good bit of research before I write a score, generally to expand my vocabulary so that I’m capable of properly expressing the visual and writing something I’ve never written before. One of the great things about doing a film is the education that you receive. Every time you go into one of those projects you walk away knowing more about yourself as a composer than you did before, and you’ve displayed something musically that you’ve never shown before – and hopefully, maybe something that is brand new, so that in some small way…you’ve made a contribution of some sort.
Q: How would you describe your score for THE TERROR WITHIN II? To what extent was music necessary to bring to life the film’s post-apocalyptic environment?
Terry Plumeri: The film had to do with post-nuclear devastation, so that was the environment. It was a primitive environment in an almost biblical way, with people living nomadically. It called to mind some of the flavors of those biblical scores of the past. The score was a combination of that plus the vocabulary needed to accompany the mutant monster. It was also the first film I worked on with Andrew Stevens as director, and we ended up doing four films together. Once again, not a lot of time and dimes, but certainly I walked away from it musically extended and expanded. That film also became a doorway into Stephen King’s SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK because the director heard THE TERROR WITHIN II, liked it a lot, and called me and that’s how I ended up getting the job.
Q: In an era, and due to budgets and deadlines, many scores from these genres are being done by synth and samples, but you’ve maintained a pretty acoustic orchestral approach. How have you managed to do that when you’re dealing with such low budgets?
Terry Plumeri: I managed to do so because of my love and belief in acoustic music. Even though the keyboard sound is rampant in the industry, and even more so now than the past decade, lots of film makers still want orchestra scores when they can afford one. An orchestra score is generally a much more timeless sounding score than what a keyboard score can ever be. Keyboard scores tend to display flavors that embody the latest technology, which may sound appropriate for the day, but five or ten years from today they tend not to hold up; you can hear the dated quality in the electronics. There are some visuals that work better with electronics, and that’s a whole other story. But in general, the accompaniment of the dramatic journey of two or more humans from A to Z tends to work better with some sort of acoustic score. It has a warmer, more personal feel to it.
Q: Film music is essentially a language of emotions. Acoustic music played by a human being touches those emotions much more than the more mechanical sound of a synthesizer.
Terry Plumeri: I agree completely. For me, it comes down to the sound source which
is either the cold, relentless, bland beam of electricity or that of a human vibration which is ultimately superior due to its infinite variation and warmth.
Q: How did you approach scoring Stephen King’s SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK? What type of music did this ghost film suggest to you, and how did the score evolve throughout the project?
Terry Plumeri: SOMETIMES THEY COMEBACK was about an individual returning to his home town 25 years after he had experienced the death of his older brother. So… there was this whole element of the family flashbacks of the two brothers when they were children. The main theme was one which needed to convey brotherly love. I intended this music to have a childlike innocence. In contrast to that was some severely dark, and creepy tension which was needed to accompany the ghost element. It was another one of those films that became an education in the sense that you were balancing family innocence and beauty with dark and creepy horror, and being able to make the proper transitions out of one into the other.
Another film I did like that, which I feel is one of my greatest accomplishments in film music, was a Disney channel film called STEP MONSTER, about a step mother who from time to time turned into a monster and ate some of the neighborhood kids as well as the adults. It was tongue-in-cheek horror. It’s one thing to write family music and one thing to write horror music, but to write horror music with a smile is another ballgame. That film was also one of those films that was a real education musically. I walked away from that film having expanded my vocabulary and my understanding of a specific musical accompaniment.
Q: How would you describe your score for Jim Wynorski’s WASP WOMAN, a remake of the 1960 Corman film? What kind of music did the film’s alluring plot inspire?
Terry Plumeri: First of all I have to tell you something about Jim. He is a serious film music buff. He has an amazing collection of old film music on record. It’s kind of ironic though, because almost all of his scores are keyboard scores, but here he is, a great appreciator of orchestral film scores of the past. WASP WOMAN was an interesting film in the sense that it was another journey that was an unexpected one. The film had very probably one of the worst deadlines I ever experienced. There was approximately one week to do the work and there was well over an hour of music to be written. I chose a dark waltz which had lots of tension and strange effects for the WASP WOMAN theme. Before the transition to the monster, she was a beautiful woman. So, it required music that possessed elegant beauty but at the same time, also had darkness to it. The result was a demented and twisted waltz, intended to convey the torment of a beautiful woman caught in her worst nightmare. It was certainly another musical education to delve into this horrific elegance.
Q: Were you able to do that acoustically?
Terry Plumeri: No. That’s one of the first keyboard scores I did, due to the music budget being much too small for an orchestra.
Q: How did you transition from having an orchestra into doing it through the keyboard?
Terry Plumeri: I still think orchestrally. I’ve done four or five keyboard scores out of 58 films, which were just impossible to do with an orchestra. But I still think orchestrally and always try to use some live instruments as often as possible in combination with the keyboard – percussion and possibly individual solo instruments. That’s how I go about doing it. It’s always a compromise. It’s an unnatural act at best, to do a keyboard score. But you try to give it your all.
Q: What was your approach to scoring the vampire movie, NIGHT HUNTER? In scores like these how have you integrated heroic music with horror music to enhance the film’s action, adventure, and suspense?
Terry Plumeri: In that film, Don Wilson plays a vampire hunter and wore a long, dark, ambient coat which immediately conveyed gypsy to me. That’s what I saw for him. I knew that I would either be criticized or loved for it and I’ve heard both! But it worked for me and it made the film much more stylized, because his flavor was flamenco. NIGHT HUNTER had limited materials; it was done with string quartet, flamenco guitar and keyboard strings enhanced with real strings. I brought in one of my favorite guitarists, Federico Ramos, who’s played on a number of my scores, and the film is full of him playing this intense, driving, flamenco style guitar accompanied by string quartet.
Q: Thematically how did you organize the score to enhance what the film needed, dramatically, while investing it with this flamenco flavor over it all?
Terry Plumeri: There are certainly thematic horror elements to it with the strings. The Main Titles are completely dissonant counterpoint and very horrific. You have that quite a bit, but the flamenco was associated with Don Wilson who was the lead character and whose ancestors were vampire hunters for centuries. He was the present day version, so that’s where the flamenco came into it. In the fight scenes with the vampires, there was a combination of intense flamenco guitar and string quartet which actually gave a lot of energy. The dubbing was not so great in the film; it would actually have been better for the film if the music had been dubbed a little louder, because…the music had a great energy to it. They lost a little bit of that in order to have the impacts to the face and the gut, stand out stronger.
Q: You’ve scored many action films, such as DIPLOMATIC SIEGE, AMBUSHED, DIAMONDBACKS, STORM TROOPER, BLACK SEA RAID, and so on. What do you see as the primary musical needs for contemporary action films, and how does a composer such as yourself invest your own musical voice into action films like these?
Terry Plumeri: Action films are about action and so…that means strong rhythms. There are exceptions which I’ll talk about in a minute, but for the most part, if you don’t have a score that’s strongly based in rhythm, you essentially don’t have an action score. Hopefully you have a large orchestra, because the weight is essential, especially for explosive, military type action films. Also in its ability to convey expansive visuals, large orchestra is certainly a necessity. So is your choice of harmonies, because you’re conveying conflict in an action score. Harmonies that achieve conflict are an absolute necessity. There’s usually a love element in most action films, so there is a need for a great love theme also. Writing a love theme is a great thing, if it possesses real beauty and has a nice flow to it. So is writing rhythmic music that’s really burning and hitting the cuts the way you want them to. But there are exceptions…I did a film called SOLDIER BOYZ, a kind of remake of THE DIRTY DOZEN. SOLDIER BOYZ is one of my favorite action scores. There was a scene in the film that was agreed upon by myself and the director to not play in an obvious way. One of the American soldiers gives his life in order to save his buddies by diverting a Viet Cong patrol, while letting everyone else get away. The scene plays out in a clearing where the Viet Cong are shooting him many times as he is making his way in the opposite direction from where his platoon is. Rather than play it as action, we played it with a very sad theme over the top in which I used heavy military drums in coordination with the bullets as they hit his body. It’s romantic, dark and sad, but it played over the top of something that was heavy action. You don’t hear the guns. You hear nothing but the music, and the drums are conveying the sound of the shots hitting him.
Q: That allows you to speak for the pure emotion of what’s happening.
Terry Plumeri: Completely. The scene was emotionally very strong. And I must say…It is a rare situation whenever the music takes precedence over the effects. So many times they bury the music for the effects! Every film composer has experienced that agony.
Q: How did Native American music come into play in your score for THE HOMECOMING OF JIMMY WHITECLOUD?
Terry Plumeri: Most of the film takes place on a reservation, so it was necessary in terms of an authentic environment. I love Native American flutes. I have Apache in my family background on my grandmother’s side. So whether it comes from my heritage or just the fact that I love the sound of wood flutes, any time I have the opportunity to use it, I love to use it. And THE HOMECOMING OF JIMMY WHITECLOUD was the perfect opportunity.
Q: What kind of score did ROUTE 666 prompt?
Terry Plumeri: That was one of the only times I’ve ever worked on a film where there was a serious need to adhere to someone else’s desire. It was a horror film and one that mistakenly took place in the daytime. As you might guess, it’s a little tougher to achieve frightening monsters in the daytime than it is in the night! I visualized it much more frightening with an orchestra score, and there was enough money to have done a small orchestra score. But they somehow had a need to have heavy metal rock and roll instead. I accepted that and I did it as best I could and it works well in a lot of ways, but…it doesn’t have the mystery and the horrific intentions that can come out of a well written orchestra score.
Q: Did they want to emphasize that whole “Route 66” tie-in, which historically signified old fashioned rock?
Terry Plumeri: I don’t know. It was actually my second film with William Wesley, who was the director of SCARECROWS. He had moved into a whole other state of mind on this film, so all of those flavors of THE TWILIGHT ZONE were out the door. One of the things that I enjoyed doing was working with electronics in that score. I tried to achieve something that was reminiscent of the electronic flavors that were used in those ‘50s sci-fi films. Those were fun to work on and I thought they came out quite well. It was also the beginning of my knowledge of editing. From that film on I started doing all my own editing and mixing, using Protools.
Q: What was your approach to scoring DEATH WISH V? Your approach was wholly different from the heavy modern-jazz/rock beat of the first few films in that series. What was your approach in accompanying the severe violence of that film with a score that is quite non violent in its style?
Terry Plumeri: Menahim Golan was running that company at the time and he was actually a fan because he had hired me a number of times. It was because of Menahim and director Ken Stein, that I got my first trip to Russia which ultimately became the doorway to my relationship with the Moscow Philharmonic. I have Menahim and Ken to thank for that. The director of DEATH WISH V, Allen Goldstein, initially did not want that kind of score, but saw the need for it and at one point in the mix of the film, I actually heard him tell the producer, “the score is not what I wanted but it’s the score the film needed.” That was really beautiful of him to admit to the fact that it worked quite well for the film and I’ve always appreciated him for it.
Q: Your score gave more of an emotive expression compared to some of the earlier scores in that series that had just accompanied the violence with dissonance or heavy rhythm only.
Terry Plumeri: I knew none of those other films. If I’m going to do a score I never go look at someone else’s work, so I never felt the responsibility of adhering to the tradition of the other DEATH WISH films. I saw it as the first time it was ever done. I mean, in all due respect to Herbie [Hancock], who I know, have performed with and have the greatest respect for. I’ve gone back since I wrote the score to DEATH WISH V, and listened to Herbie’s score [for DEATH WISH] and really appreciated it, but it wasn’t what I would have done. I don’t hear that way, I hear differently. My score was also a flavor of where I was at musically, at that time. It was a nasty deadline. It was 70 minutes of music due in a little over two weeks.
Q: You’ve mentioned the violence of the film, and I guess a lot of the films you’ve scored have happened to be violent films. How do you write music for active violence?
Terry Plumeri: The music actually sets properly with the violence in DEATH WISH V. Even though its tension may be a little different than what someone else might have done, it had its own kind of tension. I also tried to achieve the love element, because Bronson’s motivation, like all of those films, has to do with the fact that his wife was murdered, so that’s a big part of it. At the same time there is a lot of dark music in there.
Q: Your score for ONE FALSE MOVE was nominated for Best Score by the IFP Spirit Awards. How would you describe the kind of music you came up with for this crime drama?
Terry Plumeri: That score was originally written by two British blues guitarist who had written a score that was basically electronic. Carl Franklin [director] disliked the score and refused to use it. He kept a couple of the guitar solos and then I was brought in and wrote an orchestral flavored score. That was a rural film about a rural area and characters that are functioning in a rural state of mind, so it’s hard to go after the accompaniment without being aware of that. So it did involve guitar and harmonica, but I also strived to integrate the orchestra properly – there were some expansive countryside scenes and things of that sort. Generally, it was a very confined score, in the sense that Carl was someone who didn’t like the orchestra to stand up and be obvious. So it was necessary to function in a subdued fashion. I actually had individuals who knew my writing, saying that it was one of the most un-Terry Plumeri scores they had ever heard me do! That was only because the director had asked me to hold back and I respected the request.
Q: Did you have to work with the blues solos that were left over from the original musician or were those left up to the music editor to work in?
Terry Plumeri: What was leftover was solo guitar, and there was one that was solo guitar and harmonica. There were just a few like that. I had done some new guitar solos played by Eric Gale, who I first met when we played on Roberta Flack’s band together. I’ve always loved Eric’s playing so when it came to doing this movie, I asked Eric and he played very beautifully on it. There were times when I tried to integrate Pete Haycock’s original solos for the sake of unifying the film, but in the end I wrote 90% of the score.
Q: NATE AND THE COLONEL gave you a chance to score a Western film. How did you find working in a Western environment, which has its own long standing musical traditions?
Terry Plumeri: Paul Winters, the director of THE HOMECOMING OF JIMMY WHITECLOUD was the director for NATE AND THE COLONEL. He’s a serious Western buff. We got along very well on JIMMY WHITECLOUD and he asked me to do NATE AND THE COLONEL. I’d never done a full blown Western like that but was very ready to give it a try, given that I had grown up on the John Ford westerns of the past. I chose to work with my good friends, the Moscow Philharmonic which culminated in the score being released on CD. My good friend, Lou Diamond Phillips wrote the lyrics to the love theme which was a treat. All in all it was big fun, except for being a million notes with little time to write them. There were only two days to record it and there was well over an hour of music. There were technical problems so we weren’t able to record on the first day, so the entire score, which is what’s on the CD, was recorded in one day. Most big films like that use a week, or at least three or four days! But I enjoyed using the flutes and that whole Native American environment. Paul is always great fun to work with, because he and I hear alike, and we get along really well. He was never somebody who questioned why I was doing this or that. Each time he heard what I was going to do he said ‘oh, I understand totally,’ and he appreciated the enhancement and what it was doing for the film in terms of the psychological underpinning and forward motion.
Q: How did you approach writing music for a traditional Western score?
Terry Plumeri: Generally the musical vocabulary of Westerns is a little simpler. They have a more triadic based vocabulary, as opposed to a crime story, which has much more dissonance.
Q: One of your most recent scores was ZERO OPTION for first-time director David Batts. How would you describe your approach for this score?
Terry Plumeri: David was someone who I always feel a lot of respect for in the sense that he made an independent film with a small amount of money and still spent 20% of the film budget on the music. How many directors or producers would do that? He believed in it so strongly and he wanted an orchestral score. It came out of him having heard the score for NATE AND THE COLONEL. The film was an urban environment and carried those kinds of flavors, and he was an appreciator of certain kinds of flavors that I had done in the past and I tried to incorporate some of those in that score. It does have a Russian orchestra in it, which is rare for an independent film like that.
The most recent film I’ve done was LOVE TAKES WING, which I did with Lou Diamond Phillips. Lou is someone I’ve worked with since 1993 in DANGEROUS TOUCH, and we’ve written a number of songs together, including one that Roberta Flack recorded. As I said before, Lou also wrote the lyrics for the vocal version of the love theme in NATE AND THE COLONEL. Lou is great to work for. He has a good sense of what the film needs musically and can convey it without closing you up in a small box; he can convey his ideas but at the same time leave you free and loose, which is an ideal way to work with a director. Lou’s great in that way. LOVE TAKES WING was set in the 1800s and is about a female doctor in Missouri who comes to town to quell a cholera outbreak. So… it’s a dramatic Western as opposed to being a shoot-em up kind of Western. Federico Ramos also played on that one, and there’s some nice solo guitar.
Q: Film music has been a small portion of your overall musical creativity. What do you see for your film music work in the future?
Terry Plumeri: I would like to continue what I am doing, only do more of it. There’s more concert music happening now, and my relationship with the Moscow Philharmonic is greater than ever. In the last couple of years there’s been the release of the late Symphonies of Tchaikovsky which is a serious conducting coup, especially as an American conductor. Last year I recorded my first in a series of four DVDs as conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic. So there are tours in the works with them as well as concert commissions and then film. I’m always glad to do film, and hopefully the film work will move into a different category now. In recent years I stopped doing film except for a few films for friends since 2000. This also afforded more time devoted to my relationship with the Moscow Philharmonic. I’m refreshed and ready to do it again with a whole different set of ears. My orchestral writing is better than ever. I’ve spent more time with the Philharmonic in the last ten years and as an instrument, the orchestra has never been as available to me and has never been more friendly an entity than it is now.
Robert Carli Survives the Dead With George A. Romero
Canadian composer Robert Carli joins the ranks of Norman Orenstein, Reinhold Heil & Johnny Klimek, John Harrison, Goblin, and a battalion of library music composers whose work has accompanied the walking dead. From NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in 1968 to his sixth zombie epic, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, now in theaters, George A. Romero has defined and perpetuated the zombie movie with definitive presence and a visceral aesthetic.
Since he began scoring films in 1999, Carli has scored some fifty film and television productions, including the popular Canadian detective series THE MURDOCH MYSTERIES. Carli studied at the University of Toronto, graduating with a degree in composition, after which he began performing as saxophonist with The Toronto Symphony, The National Ballet of Canada, and The Esprit Orchestra. He has toured with rock bands and jazz groups across North America and throughout Europe, and he teaches saxophone at the University of Toronto, while continuing to perform with classical and contemporary music ensembles.
Recently, I spoke with Carli briefly about his musical approach to SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD and his experiences working with the zombie master.
Q: How did you get the job to score SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD?
Robert Carli: The producers approached three or four composers and invited them to score three scenes. The direction we were given is that George wanted an orchestral horror score (somewhat vague, but I think fitting for the exercise).
Q: How closely did you work with George Romero or the producers on the scoring process?
Robert Carli: George was very involved in the process, as was the editor Michael Doherty. George and I spotted the film together, and then met several times to listen to cues, with Michael often providing some input as well.
Q: When you first sat down to spot this film, what were your first impressions of what kind of music it needed, and how did that develop into the final score?
Robert Carli: My impressions were informed by some direction that George had given me in advance of the spotting. He was interested in a traditional orchestral score, and Michael had suggested I employ various character themes and motives throughout the score. Also, there is a narrative arch in the film that touches on family (and its possible devolution), so I wanted to come up music that would somehow touch that.
Q: What elements – thematic, motivic, or instrumental – are central to your SOTD score, and how have you developed them throughout the arc of the story and the breadth of the score?
Robert Carli: Early in the process I created a number of different themes and sonic textures which I pitched to George. These included a military theme, a "walking dead" theme, the island theme, a family theme etc. (I should note that I didn't use "character themes" so much; rather I used what you might call "situational" themes. While George’s films often use rich characters, I believe that it is the environments and situations in which these character are used that speak to his style of film making. For example, there are antagonists, but often they are a group of people, rather than an individual). I also offered to him my suggestions about instrumentation. I wanted to feature the bassoon prominently in the family theme. It has a wanton forlorn quality in the upper register that I thought could work. I also had sampled a number of "metal" tools and pieces from a friend of mine who is a metal sculptor, and I thought they would add an interesting dimension to the score. Also, you can hear the saw from time to time in the score, which I've always loved and I tend to use a lot, since it can be simultaneously eerie and warm and melodic.
Q: What was most challenging for you about this assignment?
Robert Carli: Well, I guess like most films, it comes down to time. These days, we could use more time. I had very little time to complete the score, but I don't really mind working in those parameters. It's nice to have a looming deadline. Also, there was the challenge of trying to create a big orchestral score without a big orchestral budget.
Q: What is your process of integrating sampled orchestral music into a fully realized final mix, and making it sound nearly convincingly symphonic?
Robert Carli: If I can, I like to get some real instruments into the mix. So on SOTD, we used 3 or 4 fiddles, bassoon, clarinet, sax, bass clarinet, baritone sax, saw, soprano sax and piano as the live components. I guess the secret is trying to get the fake instruments do what they do well, and get the real instruments to do what they do well. The next result can be a decent compromise in many cases.
The marriage of samples and real instruments is a constant challenge. The sample have become quite good, as you know. But it's not the same. My wife, who is a violinist with the Toronto Symphony, laughs when she hears them. I'm not as offended as she, but I still spend time playing with professional orchestras (this week I'm playing Bernstein’s West Side Story with the National Ballet – a real thrill), so I it is a little disheartening to return to the studio and the samples after a show.
Q: You've been scoring films since 1994, but I believe this is your first outright horror score. What was your perspective at composing the right kind of music to augment the film's suspense, fantasy, scares, and ultimate horror and yet try to come up with a new approach that might be considered your own?
Robert Carli: It’s actually been since 1999. IMDB does cite a variety show that a supplied music for, but that was with some members of the band I was playing with at the time, and it wasn’t really scoring. I did score a psychological thriller called CORD (aka Hide and Seek) that starred Darryl Hanna and Vincent Gallo. It was pretty dark. But generally, I haven't scored too many thrillers. I loved doing it, and I hope to do more.
It was a great opportunity to work with George. Such a lovely human being. It's curious to meet such a warm and friendly person, and then look at the body of his work, which is anything but warm and friendly. A bit of a disconnect there, but I guess you can attribute that to the magic of film making; the reality on screen really is imagined, and not real at all.
This Week’s Soundtrack Recommendations
Impressed by the success of the classic film score reconstructions that producer James Fitzpatrick had been doing for his Tadlow label, Prometheus’ Luc Van de Ven (former publisher of Soundtrack magazine, one of the world’s first regular film music periodicals) approached the producer willing to invest in a new and complete recording of a major film score for the Prometheus label. Between the two of them, they chose THE ALAMO, Dimitri Tiomkin’s vast, epic Western score for John Wayne’s spectacular (but unfortunately politicized) 1960 filming of the historical Battle of The Alamo, a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution that mustered support for the massacre of its defenders by the Army of Santa Anna in February-March of 1836, and paved the way for the subsequent independence of the Republic of Texas a month afterwards. Prometheus’ 3-CD restoration of THE ALAMO is lavish affair, presenting a world premiere recording of Tiomkin’s complete score spread across two and a half discs, with the balance of disc 3 presenting a variety of alternate takes, album versions, and additional vocal versions of themes not used in the film. THE ALAMO was a huge success for Tiomkin in 1960, generating a popular soundtrack album – despite the fact that Columbia’s plans for a 2-record LP was diminished to barely 30 minutes of original score shouldering for space among the dialog extracts and folk songs favored for the soundtrack album. Additionally, when the film was shorn of 30 minutes running time from its full roadshow version to its 162-minutes general release (and further cut in 1967 for a 140-minute re-release), much of the purposeful development of Tiomkin’s score was lost. Thus Prometheus earns major points simply by providing every note of THE ALAMO’s full score, beautifully and faithfully portrayed by Fitzpatrick’s usual ensemble, the City of Prague Philharmonic and the Crouch End Festival Chorus, conducted by Nic Raine.
Beyond that, THE ALAMO is a marvelous film score and Raine directs a blazingly authentic reconstruction of one of cinema’s classic film scores. Perhaps best known for its folk chorale theme, “The Green Leaves of Summer,” which went on to become an easy-listening standard, and its resonant trumpet deguelo which surely had a major impact on a young Italian composer who would, a few years later, redefine and change the face of music through a fistful of Italian Western scores. Heard in its full extent, Tiomkin’s THE ALAMO becomes a blisteringly superlative accomplishment. With 57 previously unreleased tracks, the listener can appreciate Tiomkin’s deft assimilation of theme-and-variation, whose adherence to its leitmotif structure provides both a commentary upon and a vibrant accompaniment for the film’s characters, action, and sacrifice, from its full-figured orchestral bombast and its gentle folk choruses, to its less flamboyant nuances and quieter moments of character introspection, anxiety, and final dedication to sacrifice in the cause of Texas freedom. It’s a breathtaking score, one of the icons of late 1950 symphonic filmscoring, and Prometheus has provided it in a fine package, containing an excellent and thorough analytical commentary by Frank DeWald, accompanied by notes about the music and the recording by Fitzpatrick, and introduced by the composer’s widow, Olivia Tiomkin Douglas.
One of Ennio Morricone’s rarer scores, for WHITE DOG (1982), Samuel Fuller’s controversial film about a man who tries to re-train a vicious dog raised to attack black people, has been released in a fine package by FSM. The film is not a racist film (Fuller handles these elements of the story sensitively and with elegance) but it was believed to be and was thereby decried by people who hadn’t seen it, resulting in the film’s being shelved by Paramount until its release on DVD in 2008. Having Morricone, who’d begun scoring some Hollywood films during the previous decade and who’d gotten his first Oscar nomination in 1978 for his music to DAYS OF HEAVEN) score the film was a result of a suggestion by Fuller’s wife. Morricone flew to L.A. and in his usual fast working pace, composed and recorded his score there with a 40-piece orchestra. Morricone’s score, which virtually disappeared along with the film for a quarter century, is a sensitive, sympathetic and graceful composition which ranks among the composer’s best work, and was often remarked upon in the few review of critics who actually saw the film. Variety, for example, perceptively reported that the “tragically slanted music invests the story with tremendous dignity, just as it lends an emotional resonance to the more intellectual concerns of the drama.” This background data, by the way, comes from Jason Comerford’s album notes (aided by researcher John Bender), which are included in an informative 16-page booklet which is essential reading to clearly put the score and its flavors in their cinematic historical context. Rhythmic strings and severe recurrences of a staccato piano figure, dappled by intonations of low clarinets, follow the action, while a melancholic figure of strings bolstered by horns evokes more sympathy than repugnance for the dog attacks; the score’s tone is one of sympathy toward the animal who has been so brutally trained, and with those who seek it rehabilitate its brutal instincts. As Comerford describes, the score is constructed out of four primary themes – a “re-education” theme mostly heard on the oboe and accompanying scenes of the new trainer’s efforts to deprogram the dog; a repeated 3-note figure for piano associated with the “unstable nature of the dog’s mind;” an optimistic theme for Julie (Kristy McNichol) also worked out from oboe, piano, and flute; and a charging, “attack” motif that is “a relentless, almost operatic sequence of descending phrases typically heard on strings.” Morricone fluently weaves his quartet of themes into a pervasive and progressive composition that is both commentative on the story as it plays out, and strikingly lovely to listen to on CD. The album includes 8 bonus tracks – source tunes, alternate takes, and a pair of tracks specially recorded for the intended soundtrack album (which, due to the film’s being locked in a drawer at Paramount, never came out). Fortunately, the intrepid folks at FSM ferreted it out and have presented it in a vastly satisfactory package which should be as essential to Morricone fans as it should be to film score collectors in general.
The spooky score for one of the GhostHouse series of low-budget horror films from 2008, SEVENTH MOON, has been issued on CD by ERM Media. The film, directed by Eduardo Sánchez, is a scary picture about an American couple (Amy Smart and Tim Chiou) vacationing in China who are caught up in the “festivities” of the full moon of the seventh lunar month, when the gates of hell are supposed to open and the dead freed to roam among the living – and guess what happens? The score was composed by Antonio Cora, who’s scored two of Sánchez’s prior films, 2006’s ALTERED, and 1999’s THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (Cora’s unsettling end title music was that film’s only music), and Kent Sparkling, a noted sound designer and re-recording mixer for films since the mid-1990s who’s scored some half dozen films since 2004. The score, like that of Cora’s BLAIR WITCH end titles, is a nightmarish sound-design styled score that uses musical sound – mostly in the manner of sustained synthesized tones, impenetrably dark voicings, piercing musical reflections, and thickly textured accoutrements of sonic ambiance – to build a palpable tension and pervasively unsettling atmosphere. There are no melodies and many of the sounds are from unrecognizable sources, which instantly provokes an uneasy feeling in the listener. A recurring ambient pattern consists of stretched out filaments of tonality that hover in the sonic atmosphere like hanging mist or the contrails of malevolent spirits, heard in the traveling tendrils of synths in tracks like “Some Believe,” “All Around Us” and “Tied Up Outside” and in the eerie, ghostly vocal patterns developed in “Empty Village” and “No Coverage/Moon Dreams.” From the slowly rising (in pitch, volume, velocity, and force) mélange of sounds in “Converge” (eerie fiddle, playing perpendicular figures across the strands of rough-edged, whispered synth pads, and increasingly active percussion rattlings) to the drum-driven urgency that emanates from the ambiance at the end of “Go” that lead in to the seemingly relaxed respite of the more familiar organ-sounding keyboards of “Dawn,” this is a first rate terror score that lays down an instantaneous discomfort in the listener and keeps them on edge throughout the entirety of the score. It’s not the most relaxing music to have on, removed from its companion visual storytelling elements, but it’s an impressive listen just to explore the range of sound patterns that flow through the speakers to evoke such dark moods.
Movie Score Media has released Ilan Eshkeri’s score to Neil Marshall’s new Roman/Celtic adventure, CENTURION, which is about a group of Roman soldiers lost behind enemy lines who fight for survival and honor. The score enhances a large orchestral performance from the London Metropolitan Orchestra with a pair of unusual instruments from antiquity, the rare Scottish trumpet, the Carnyx, and the Irish frame drum, the Bodhrán, both of which add a unique textural dimension to the score. Eshkeri reportedly made extensive research of Celtic music before he began work on the actual writing, and based his thematic material on discoveries of old folk songs he made when listening to early BBC recordings from the furthest reaches of the British Isles. While the typical rhythmic-based musical characteristics familiar from Eshkeri’s background with Remote Control productions are very much in evidence (e.g., the fast mercato strings below the eloquent, over-arching slow melody punctuated by distant pounding drums, which appear throughout most of the action moments almost to the point of distraction despite their singular effectiveness within the score), they are not necessarily detrimental to the score in the film or its listening experience on the album. Eshkeri’s orchestra derives a fine action-oriented performance in cues like “Quintus Escapes,” whose progressively coherent moments are beaten into a steady rhythm by pounding blasts from the Bodhrán, occasionally dashed with choral and vocal nuances, as in “The Ninth March On,” which develops from a severe martial cadence into a mystical, overseeing viewpoint where quiet whispers and sustained echoes from strings peer down on the battlements with dispassion. The martial music Eshkeri develops for the Ninth Legion characterizes the soldiers as a unit, a single entity fighting together under the leadership of Quintus Dias, just as his orchestra rushes forward and conducts its business in measured order beneath the composer’s baton. Slashes of strings over drums and twisting figures from violins become the flashing blades, flying crimson droplets, and heavy footfalls of the Legion as it rages into battle. Softer, more delicate cues like “Arianne,” a tender soliloquy for harp and strings (the tune reprised later on in “Necromancer”), “Funeral,” an ambient lament for reverberating female voice over sustained ringing tones of synth, or “A Sacred Rite,” wherein layered, reflective synth tones entwine over a dappled underlay of hushed synth choir and ethnic voice patterns, provide and almost spiritual contrast to the Ninth’s earthy and organic and very pervasive cadence. “Wolves” is an intriguing solo Bodhrán cue that develops a compelling percussive rhythm all on its own, until undulations of synth and sinewy entwinements of high violin revolve to a slowly-ascending climax. “Fate of the Ninth” closes the score with a sad violin epitaph that wafts upward into a dignified tribute to fallen heroes.
Varese Sarabande released a special CD Club album this month, the expanded, deluxe edition soundtrack to Michael Giacchino’s STAR TREK, which adds over an hour of additional, unreleased music to the bare bones 15-track, 44-min soundtrack Varese issued in May 2009. The deluxe edition contains 44 tracks on two discs, more than 1 hour and 38 minutes of music, sequenced in a chronological presentation, including the final film version of the Main Title. The elaborate packaging includes a 28-page, full-color booklet (in the dimensions of a Blue-Ray disc case turned sideways). While the booklet contains notes by Starlog Magazine founder Kerry O'Quinn and a note from director J. J. Adams, neither one of more than a page in length and not very in depth; the 26 pages of color photos are nice to look at once but a full set of in-depth notes, analysis, interview material, and track-by-track commentary such as has become the norm in special edition soundtracks these days, is noticeably lacking. Aside from that, the expanded soundtrack is outstanding. While the first, 15-track album proffered the best segments of Giacchino’s expansive score, this new edition allows the nuances of theme-and-variation and much new material not hinted at in the first release to shine. Hearing the full score like this allows one to appreciate how the simplicity of Giacchino’s main theme (originally decried by some for its lack of counter melodies and complex development) is just perfect for the story and how well it's developed throughout the score, emerging into the TV theme at the end. J. J. Adams STAR TREK is, after all, a regenerated origin story, in which the characters have not yet matured into the experienced crew they will become in STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and THE WRATH OF KHAN; therefore it’s appropriate that they are complemented by a simpler, less developed theme. Giacchino’s theme possesses the eloquent simplicity and heroic dignity of Goldsmith’s FIRST CONTACT theme, and its ability to integrate itself in many articulate nuances throughout the score makes it as much a character as young Kirk, Spock, and Uhura.
Adding the Alexander Courage theme onto the end of the film was a stroke of thematic brilliance, since it links in assured continuity where our heroes are heading to at the conclusion of this STAR TREK (although there will surely be further adventures to come, in the meantime).
There has been a hue-and-cry amongst some fans that the choir overdubs have been removed from this deluxe release if STAR TREK, and that they have – the re-use fees for the choral material (which is outside of the AFM agreement that now allows less expensive re-use of orchestral scores for soundtrack albums) would have been too costly; rather than abandoning the project altogether, Varese was able to remove the choir dubs to allow the album to be created and released; while the choir definitely added an elevated dimension to the music in the film and its loss is noted, such is the power of Giacchino’s score that it still attains impressive heights just with the orchestra. [Expenses relating to choir material have also resulted in the removal of the original choir performances on the soundtrack albums for James Newton Howard’s THE LAST AIRBENDER (partially replaced with inexpensive sampled choir elements) and, reportedly, Danny Elfman’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND; which suggests a trend not, as some fans have complained, to save money and increase profits to the detriment of the consumers (or as originally put on one discussion board, “to screw the fans”), but to make an album that would otherwise not be financially attainable to be produced and released; and also suggests that an agreement with the singer’s union such as we finally (after many, many years) was settled on with the AFM to permit orchestral soundtracks to be issued at all, would be beneficial to both the choir singers and the accurate representation of a film’s true soundtrack on CD.] Be that as it may, Varese’s expanded soundtrack is a more than satisfactory and largely splendid presentation of a significant and very fine film score that was well placed in its film. Having as much as we do is cause for thanks.
An early musical invocation of STAR TREK has also been proffered in a much expanded form. As they did with STAR TREK II a year ago, FSM under its Retrograde imprint has released an expanded, 2-CD album of James Horner’s STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK. Horner’s second excursion on the Enterprise allowed him to expand his theme – probably the most complex in terms of notation and development of any STAR TREK theme – and develop his approach with a larger orchestra and an amount of unusual instruments that let him treat each of the film’s alien races (Klingons and Vulcans) with ethnic singularity. This new release includes both the complete score as heard in the film itself, and the contents of the 1984 soundtrack album (which in some cases employed alternate takes from what actually appeared in the film), evenly divided between the two discs. Added at the end of disc 2 is the pop-single disco version of the main theme, but the less said about that the better. The music is marvelously developed and beautifully evocative score from Horner’s richest period as a composer, and is as essential a soundtrack as any from this era. The score, assembled and remixed by Mike Matessino, conveys a rich and fluent sound dynamic; a 20-page booklet with comprehensive notes and track-by-track commentary from Jeff Bond and Lukas Kendall provide a fine education about the score which nicely enhances one’s appreciation for the music.
Mark Isham revisiting the dark musical soul of THE MIST in his score for THE CRAZIES, a remake of the George A. Romero film in which a strange toxin in the water supply of a small Iowa town turns its residents insane… and then dead. Released on CD by Varese Sarabande, the score proffers a very dark and percussive underbelly that exposes the same mottled gut as possessed by the maddened Iowans. Isham’s bone-hard drumming batters a wicked heartbeat across the skin-taut surface of his sinewy synth strains. THE CRAZIES is a fully tonal score with little actual horrific dissonance, but therein lies its frightening allure. Some of Isham’s sustained electronic vibe scratches like fingernails on a skull, some of his whispers undulate like fetid exhalations darkening moonlight, the last wisps of sanity borne onto the ether and then gone. Staccato synth twangs vibrate like plucked muscle; wavering tones hover like suspended tremolo fog hanging just overhead; all of it harboring ferocious intent barely held in check. The score assumes a power of its own on the CD, pervasive and controlling. The synth rhythm on “Let It Mean Something” wafts into something a little lighter, a progressive rhythm and jangles along with a vestige of hope; that tonality is reprised in the closing cue, “Cedar Rapids,” where it suggests a triumphal getaway into freedom.
Two of Michael Small’s finest scores have been released together on a single album by FSM, 1976’s MARATHON MAN, and 1974’s THE PARALLAX VIEW – taut thrillers each, given added dimension by Small’s brilliantly minimalist scores. The former, directed by John Schlesinger, forever bore the fear of dentist drills into moviegoing audiences as it told of an innocent marathon runner (Dustin Hoffman) caught in the middle of an international conspiracy who is tortured by a renegade Nazi war criminal (Laurence Olivier) who believes he has information vital to his survival. Small creates an incredible amount of tension through minimal measures of piano figures in careful cadence and development. Aside from a blissful piano-based love theme, Small plays the score as direct and relentless as Olivier’s form of persuasive dentistry. As if the mere whining sound of the dentist’s drill doesn’t evoke feelings of terror and panic all by itself. Small adds to it a piercing, vibrato synth tonality that violently punctures the audience’s discomforting psyche. That musical effect, developed by Small’s keyboardist, Ian Underwood, becomes central to the score as a penetrating ostinato for the film’s overt plot as well as its underlying subtexts. Small described it as “a kind of a scream which went not only with terror and torture but also with the limits pushed by being a marathon runner.” (thanks to Scott Bettencourt for his fine commentary on MARATHON MAN in the album notes; Jeff Bond likewise does his usual perceptive job at analyzing the music of PARALLAX VIEW; both writers put film and music in its historical context and provide details that allow the listener to far better appreciate these scores. For those collectors who don’t bother to read the notes – make an exception with this one, especially if you haven’t seen the films. The music deserves the better understanding.)
The throbbing pulse of foreboding elevates PARALLAX VIEW’s tension to a scalp-itching angst. The film, Alan J. Pakula’s mesmerizing study of assassination, paranoia, and conspiracy as reporter Warren Beatty’s investigation into a senator’s killing unwittingly puts him under the influence of an assassination corporation. The film has clear references to JFK and the Warren Commission and the confused politics of the late 60s and early 70s, and Small plays up on these shared cultural concerns in his score, which rings like pealing bells of warning as Beatty becomes sucked into the maw of a massive conspiratorial organization from which extrication is not possible. Like MARATHON MAN, Small drafts the slimmest of sonic treasures from his small orchestra, but derives the greatest of suspense out of them. The staccato pulse of piano, the wiry network of string figures, and the ironic patriotic sound of the trumpet create an apprehension that just won’t go away, and an inevitability that seems to suggest all has been lost for Beatty the moment he questioned his first witness. One of both film and score’s best moments, “Parallax Test” is heard as Beatty undergoes a test as an applicant at the corporation’s headquarters; but the cue’s patriotic Americana tone is in fact wholly ironic since Beatty’s test is done to draw out anti-American sentiments in order to verify his capabilities as a political assassin. It is flavored as a gentle ‘60s folk-rock tune (it is, in fact, source music provided by the Parallax Corporation to accompany their montage of American and anti-American imagery) but goes on to contain some of Small’s most intriguing brass writing. As the cue ascends with an anthemic thrill of heroism, it captures in brilliant irony the calculating manipulation of the Parallax corporation (and, within the context of the film’s political commentary, suggests that such manipulation may actually exist [the, as now]. Outside of this deceptive cue, the score remains quite sinister in its straightforward fatalism, culminating the film’s shocking conclusion with a pulse-pounding progressive rhythm that morphs into the finality of a lone trumpet call, which resonates with all the sharpness of dagger stabs to the temple as Beatty realizes how he has been duped. Small concludes the score with an ironic marching band tune for the end credits, what Bond describes as “a final ridiculous – yet terrifying – victory march for the Parallax Corporation.”
Along with David Shire, the late Michael Small composed some of the finest thriller scores of the 1970s, and both of these composers’ literally defines ‘70s action cinema with their musical styles: modernistic, minimalist, sonically mesmerizing, shunning easy melodies in favor of rhythmic and instrumental progression, slightly jazz-inflected, and with a near subliminal power that demands attention. These two scores, in particular, have cried out for release in the three decades-plus since they came out; regrettably not all of PARALLAX’s music tracks survived, but what we have between MARATHON’s 37 tracks (including two alternates) and PARALLAX’s dozen cues are essential tracks in thriller film music, and are most welcome. I generally don’t care for paired soundtracks but in this case you couldn’t find a more compatible pair of scores to share disc space.
Randy Newman’s return to Andy’s bedroom in Pixar’s TOY STORY 3 is a fun and endearing score, as were Newman’s previous two TOY STORY scores. Released only online as a digital download by Walt Disney Records, the album features score and songs, including a new version of "You’ve Got a Friend in Me," the Randy Newman hit from the first TOY STORY, newly recorded in Spanish by the Gipsy Kings.
Newman’s score explores diverse directions, ranging from classic Western themes in the opening sequence to the dramatic orchestrations that accentuate the action-packed climax, and sudden charges into rock and roll as suits the manically-developing storyline. Newman works in a few of his main themes from the previous scores as well as an assortment of new themes and antic music for the escapes of Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the other toys.
Coming off the hells of such potent shock scores as THE UNINVITED and DRAG ME TO HELL, Christopher Young’s pleasing score for writer Brandon Camp’s directorial debut, the romantic comedy LOVE HAPPENS has been released on CD by La-La Land. Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston play a pair of unlucky-at-love thirty-somethings who connect in another interchangeable romantic comedy that rings no less true than most of the other situationally-based romcoms that have come out over the last few years. Young’s score treats its subject with a light touch, just enough sonic gloss to dapple the story with heartfelt colors and heartaching setbacks. It’s a fairly simple score built around a breezy main theme which undertakes various variations as the story develops – lots of acoustic guitar, marimba, piano – there’s not a lot of development of the thematic material but it is nicely arranged as it progresses through mostly short tracks (2 minutes seems to be the average length; the longest tops out at 6:07); “Mind Noise” takes a darker turn and turns the main theme into a morose, melancholic introspection of self-doubt and uncertainty. But overall it’s fun frill and Young has the chops to carry off a nice modern-day love story just as well as he could have drag Eckhart and Aniston down into the bowels of hell with one stroke of his baton. With a pleasing synth choir added to the end of some of the last cues, Young opens up and resolves the story with a satisfying gleam of togetherness.
James Newton’s Howard’s new collaboration with director M. Night Shyamalan bas resulted in a broad fantasy score for THE LAST AIRBENDER, released digitally and on CD by Lakeshore. Based on the first season of the American animated television series, AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER (2005-2008), the film is unusual for Shyamalan in both tone and treatment, being an epic-styled heroic fantasy carved largely out of Asian art, mythology, and martial arts in which the director brings his visual storytelling style for the first time to a work originating in another medium from another writer. Howard’s musical approach is compatibly vast, shaped out of large orchestral colors and wide expanses of integrated musical textures reflecting a notable Asian influence, while evoking the singular emotional expression of Shyamalan’s story. Monumental in scope, Howard uses the four sections of the orchestra – strings, brass, winds, percussion – to provide instrumentally singular depictions of the four natural elements, which are wielded by the title hero to save his world from the all-consuming Fire Nation. Harmonically and melodically vivid and thematically persuasive, the score is an engaging orchestral work built around a series of powerful heroic themes that bring to life young Aang’s struggles to fulfill his destiny as an Airbender and defeat his fiery foes. The score begins with a tremendous 11-minute suite, a kind of concert rendition of the score’s various components, and then succeeds through eleven tracks with an average length of about 4.5 minutes each. [As noted above in the STAR TREK review, for necessary economic reasons, Lakeshore has had to remove the choir overdubs that embellished the score’s sonic prowess; the sampled choral material that replaced them in some of the cues are serviceable enough to make do.]
Lakeshore has also released Rolf Kent’s latest romantic comedy score, this for KILLERS, an action-packed romantic comedy directed by Robert Luketic (LEGALLY BLONDE, THE UGLY TRUTH, 21) and starring Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher as newlyweds facing their first major challenge: Kutcher neglected to tell Heigl that he was an international spy and assassin. The album includes 8 songs heard in the sing, and 8 score cues, so it’s evenly divided and thankfully sequences the songs together at the start, so Kent’s music can be comfortably listened to on its own. The music is fun and flirty, as these types of film scores tend to be, and it derives a delightfully breezy sonic vibe that makes for quite an enjoyable listen. Kent has gained a reputation (or perhaps a pigeon hole) as a capable composer of light comedy, and he keeps the music both lively and interesting with intriguing instrumental choices and a running beat that keeps the story moving forward at all times. The score attains the style and scope of a classic Mancini or Bacharach caper score of the ‘60s – think TWO FOR THE ROAD or AFTER THE FOX, and is thoroughly enjoyable.
Irish composer Ronnie Doyle, with barely half a handful of scores under his keyboard, has released his compelling horror score for Joe Ripple’s SEALED FATES, currently available from www.bandcamp.com (free membership is required to purchase download content) and he hopes soon will be available from amazon and iTunes. The film is an anthology of three terror tales; Doyle has essentially written three small scores for each of them, linked cohesively with a single overarching theme which can be heard at various points on different instruments and textures; a descending four-note motif that carries an air of impending doom, as if “someone’s fate is about to be sealed,” as Doyle put it. SEALED FATES is quite a good score that evokes and maintains a cool atmosphere of fatalism as it progresses. Active cues like "Silent Assassin" have a good sense of forward motion to them, while quiet melody in "Target: Anino" with its squeaky reflections and propulsive string figures evokes a degree of sympathy. A heavy string figure that exudes about at third of the way through "Bloody Declaration" is also quite compelling. The score conveys an interesting texture throughout (like the synth counterpoint - reminds me of whale calls – in the second portion of "Bloody Declaration", and the claustrophobic bells in "Lynsday Begins to Turn." But above all is the dominating pattern of Doyle’s primary theme, which propels the score along with a slow yet relentless cadence. Doyle maintains an interesting sonic texture as the score develops, with touches of gamelan here, reflections of percussive clatter there; his use of samples and synths create an intriguing musical flavor.
The latest compilation of cool jazz soundtrack music from German maestro Peter Thomas is Jerry Cotton: FBI’s Top Man, which proffers just under a full hour of music from the eight Eurospy movies about the exploits of American FBI agent Jerry Cotton (1965-69). Thomas is a rigorous composer whose use of American jazz on German films and TV of the ‘60s and ‘70s, from Joseph Cotton to Edgar Wallace, German krimi to “Sauerkraut Westerns,” from SPACE PATROL to CHARIOTS OF THE GODS, made him a legend in his country. Thomas is to Cotton what Barry is to Bond and while his music is derived from familiar forms of jazz, Thomas usually always gives it his own spin, whether that’s adding sultry lounge singers, small choirs, bizarre scat vocalisms, whistling, and the like. “Peter Thomas reconfigured American jazz the way the filmmakers reconfigured New York City, mixing it up with sounds that appropriately call to mind the military, the lounge, the chase (of course), and even the circus,” wrote Douglas Payne in the album notes, who adds that despite the prevalent popularity of James Bond at the time the Jerry Cotton movies were being made, it was the influence of American TV music like DRAGNET and PETER GUNN that provided Cotton with his musical mores. The album provides 28 tracks of varied style (six previously unreleased; one first time on CD) but provocative rhythm and lounge-jazz verisimilitude.
A gap in the discography of Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda has been filled with a new album from Harkit Records, proffering two of Komeda’s scores for director Jerzy Skolimowski, 1966’s BARIERA (Barrier) and 1967’s LE DÉPART (The Departure). This is the first time on CD for both these scores. The first film is a darkly humorous and cynical story about post-war life in Poland; the latter, filmed in Belgium in the French language, is a lighter tale of a young boy who dreams of entering a car race, but has no car. Both scores are jazz-based, but more orchestral than the Peter Thomas brand of swinging American jazz; Komeda embraced more of a modernistic style of jazz, which is especially provocative in propelling the action of LE DÉPART, which also includes a marvelous piano love theme in “Le Scooter Et Le Tramway” and a very dramatic confrontation of trumpet and tremolo strings in “Marc Et Michele.” A very compelling flute, piano, and drumset jazz performance is found in “Les Trucks Du Moroir.” A few of the cues include brief dialog or sound effects behind the music, revealing they most likely have come from video sources; Harkit’s source appears to be a 2002 Japanese CD release of LE DÉPART and a 1997 Polish CD release of BARIERA; the sound quality is clean and clear for the most part. BARIERA is a more somber work, with darker jazz arrangements and several instrumental variations of folk hymns which no doubt serve to represent the dismal spiritual life of the Polish people in the aftermath of the war (one sixth of all Polish men are said to have died in World War II). Komeda’s arrangement of these hymns for flutes and strings resemble some of Morricone’s romantic themes of the same period. There are also a few variations of a melancholic “Hallelujah” chant for small choir over bass. The film was less light-hearted than LE DÉPART and so its tone less catchy, although its basic elements are still found in the jazz ensemble. A couple of romantically-flavored cues emphasize a similar sorrowful expression, although the one that closes the album concludes with a festive denouement, the happy spirit not yet demolished by the hardships of war. Album notes from Amanda Kennington-Pryce describe the films, the significance of director Jerzy Skolimowski to Polish cinema, and their music in some depth; a Japanese translation is provided for Harkit’s Asian market. I’m especially keen on hearing more Komeda outside of the familiar Polanski scores which have been hitherto offered; hopefully more of his regrettably short output might similarly find its way onto disc.
Flautist Louise Di Tullio (who has performed on many, many Los Angeles recording sessions for some 40 years, including major scores by Williams, Barry, Elfman, Goldsmith and more) has released The Hollywood Flute, a very nice collection of film music by those same gentlemen, performed by flute and chamber orchestra (the Sinfonio Toronto). Released on Cambria (distributed by Naxos) the album proffers fairly full blooded arrangements that feature Di Tullio’s marvelous flute flying to the forefront of each of the cues, but also allows the other sections of the ensemble to shine where they need to (as in the violin parts of DANCES WITH WOLVES). Nor is it a rendering of popular film themes; Di Tullio selects significant moments of the film scores to interpret and lets them play out without imposing her instrument on the integrity of the work. We this have some exceedingly fine performances of John Williams’ HOOK (3 tracks, 13 min.), Barry’s DANCES WITH WOLVES (2 tracks, 8 min.), Elfman’s CHARLOTTE’S WEB (2 tracks, 8 min.), Goldsmith’s SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY (1 track, 3:49; an absolutely gorgeous interpretation) and RUDY (1 track, 4:07). A trio of non-film compositions are included – David Rose’s Le Papillon, a celebration of French culture composed at Louise’s request for her solo performance with the New American Orchestra, the very cinematic Short Stories for Flutes, Harp percussion and String Orchestra was composed at Louise’s request for this album by Ronald Royer (who arranged most of the other selections on the album), and the one solo flute performance on the album (also the only piece not written for or premiered by Louise), Laurence Rosenthal’s composition, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, based on The Wind in the Willows and written for his daughter. Aside from this track, Louise’s flute is thoroughly integrated into the chamber ensemble and the result is an extremely compelling interpretation of some fine film (and other) music. Album notes by Jeannie Pool illuminate the structure behind each of the selections and Louise’s part in the original performances, and which include some insightful information (such as Di Tullio’s comment that she found the flute and piccolo parts for HOOK to be among the most challenging music she has ever encountered as a studio player, “with their technical difficulties and breakneck speed.”
Soundtrack & Music News
Reprise Records has released a 6-track EP from the band Mastodon comprising their contribution to the score for the supernatural Western, JONAH HEX, based on the DC comic about the Western anti-hero with the mutilated face. JONAH HEX features an original score by Marco Beltrami; Mastodon were asked to create the score personally by the film’s director, Jimmy Hayward who was inspired by repeated listenings of Mastodon’s 2006 album Blood Mountain, but who apparently needed someone with film scoring experience to make their style of hard-driven rock and roll fit the timing and dramatic needs of the film.
John Debney followed up his IRON MAN 2 score with a similarly propulsive action score for PREDATORS, reuniting with the film’s producer Robert Rodriguez for the fifth time. Debney said he was honored to be part of the “Predators” franchise, “When I first learned that Robert Rodriguez and Fox studios were planning a re-boot of one of my favorite films of all time, PREDATOR, I was thrilled. Having worked with Robert on four films previously, I knew that if anyone could do justice to a remake such as this, it would be Robert. Learning that Nimrod Antal was going to be the director, I was doubly thrilled and knew I had to be a part of this one,” said Debney. For PREDATORS, Debney recorded many custom sounds and instruments, including Tibetan long horns to create squeals and screams. He manipulated metal scrapes and ethnic percussion to highlight the advanced yet brutal primitive quality of the Predators and their world. PREDATORS opens in theatres on July 9; Debney’s original score will be available through La La Land Records on July 20.
Silva Screen serves up a second helping in another massive compilation of re-recorded film themes. 100 Greatest Film Themes Take 2 is the fifth release in Silva Screen’s “100” series and features an assortment of some of the best themes from 70 years of music from the silver screen. The compilation features such cult classics as CITIZEN KANE, The James Bond Theme, THE SOUND OF MUSIC and SHAFT as well as more contemporary scores such as AVATAR, THE DARK KNIGHT, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and TWILIGHT. The 6 CD set will be available in US stores on July 13, 2010.
Christopher Lennertz has scored Fox’s MARMADUKE, a family comedydirected by Tom Dey (FAILURE TO LAUNCH) and starring the voices of Owen Wilson, Fergie and George Lopez, based on the long-running comic strip, MARMADUKE’s leap to big-screen stardom sees the world’s most lovable Great Dane moving to Southern California, where the “Duke” is livin’ large and enjoying new adventures. After completing MARMADUKE, Lennertz went on to score Warner Bros’ sequel CATS AND DOGS: REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE. Lennertz is currently scoring three 3D animated shorts for Warner Bros; the first features the beloved Looney Tunes characters Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner. For all his recent projects, Lennertz incorporated a full-orchestra. For the Looney tunes shorts, his style is reminiscent of the classic cartoons of the 40s and 50s.
Composer Edwin Wendler has composed music for AZUREUS RISING, a CG "proof of concept" video short for a planned feature film trilogy which tells the story of a young man who, after escaping death and enduring a life-changing journey, matures into a heroic freedom fighter. AZUREUS RISING is an epic tale of self discovery, obligation, and love against all odds. Posting on YouTube, the video has received more than 500,000 hits so far and is generating some serious buzz for director David Weinstein, who recently signed with Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Wendler delivered an exciting, action-packed score of epic proportions, perfectly accompanying the stunning visuals created by David Weinstein and his team of CG animators. Westwood Music Group's soundtrack release of Wendler’s short score is now available as a free download on www.edwinwendler.com. It includes a suite of alternate versions and a 6-page digital booklet featuring an interview with composer Edwin Wendler (first published on the official Azureus Rising website).
YouTube video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agk2svo7svI
Azureus Rising website: http://www.azureusrising.com/
The score for STAR MAIDENS – DIE MAEDCHEN AUS DEM WELTRAUM, British-German Sci-Fi Series from 1976, has been released on CD by AllScore Media and on iTunes. The music, by Berry Lipman, is a fancy kaleidoscope of 70s music, from disco-related titles to SHAFT-like R&B grooves, with an occasional side trip into the trash galaxy with songs like “Sex World,” enthusiastically belted out by singer Toni McVey.
Composer Charles Fox had written an autobiography entitled Killing Me Softly: My Life in Music which will be published on September 1st by Scarecrow Press. Fox has composed more than 100 motion picture and television scores, among them the themes of many iconic series, including HAPPY DAYS, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE, and LOVE BOAT. In this memoir, Fox recounts his development as a musician, describing the cornerstone events of his musical and personal life. He reflects on the highlights of his career, working with some of the greatest names in entertainment, film, television, and records, including Jim Croce, Barry Manilow, Lena Horne, and Fred Astaire. The book includes a foreword by Robert Flack, who had a huge hit with Fox’s song, which has become the title of his memoir.
In the latest issue of Film Music Review (Summer 2010), features Steve Vertlieb’s analytical review of the Film Score Monthly’s 15 CD box set, Miklos Rozsa Treasury (1949-1968), designated Best of the Month for June: www.americanmusicpreservation.com/MiklosRozsaTreasury.htm
This month also marks the 50th anniversary of PSYCHO, the classic Hitchcock thriller. Read Roger Hall’s remembrance of watching this thriller for the first time in 1960 and also the chilling film score by Bernard Herrmann, with recommended CDs, DVD and books at this link:
For the first time a film composer is honored for his music’s contribution to the environment. Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Project Foundation and the Tenerife International Film Music Festival (FIMUCITÉ) will present the Fimucité Green Award to Bruno Coulais on July 9 in honor of his work on environmentally conscious films such as OCEANS, WINGED MIGRATION. and MICROCOSMOS. Additionally, the Tenerife Film Orchestra & Choir will perform a concert of Coulais’ scores during the Fimucité 4 festival in Spain’s Canary Islands. “The award recognizes works advancing sustainability and preservation of our planet through the artistic fields of music and film,” said Joao de Lima, general director of The Climate Project Spain (TCPSpain).
“It is with honor and a heavy heart that I accept this award while the horrific oil spill tragedy (in the Gulf of Mexico) unfolds,” said Coulais. “My greatest wish is that our film, my music or even this tragedy inspires the world into action to protect our waters and its creatures. I am humbled by this acknowledgement for my contribution to the betterment of our environment.”
For more information on the Festival Internacional de Música de Cine de Tenerife, visit www.fimucite.com.
"I am deeply honored to have my film music performed by the Tenerife Orchestra and Choir, under the direction of my Diego Navarro,” says Coulais. Rare are festivals which bring to light the film music and which give to the composer the chance to have concerts with a symphony Orchestra. I am thus delighted to discover the beautiful island of Tenerife in such an atmosphere."
Film Music Live Debuts June 30
Film composers are increasingly receiving the spotlight. Now fans of film music have the opportunity to interact live with leading composers. FILM MUSIC LIVE, the first interactive video site dedicated to the sounds of film, premieres with John Debney on June 30th at 5:30 pm PDT/8:30 pm EDT at http://www.justin.tv/filmmusiclive. The award winning composer, from his studio, will answer live questions from fans and discuss his recent projects including Iron Man 2 and Predators – which opens in theaters on July 9th. The video broadcast will stream on the Film Music Live channel from the website Justin.TV.
Film Music Live is a new channel on Justin.TV that allows viewers an opportunity to communicate live to leading film composers. Bi-weekly, FML will present composers live and anyone is welcome to join in the chat. Justin.TV was created for users to broadcast and watch live videos. The live video streams and ability to chat are open to anyone who has access to the Internet and participation does not require an account with the site.
Film Music Live is produced by Costa Communications, an award winning full service marketing, public relations and artist management firm. For more information visit www.costacomm.com.
Games Music News
Award-winning composer Jason Graves has created a thematic orchestral score for City of Heroes Going Rogue™, the new expansion to the massively multiplayer online role-playing game City of Heroes® based on the superheroic comic book genre. Classically trained and renowned for his sophisticated orchestral music, Graves composed memorable superheroic themes to immerse players in the alternative world known as Praetoria. The score reflects the game's new alignment system allowing players’ characters to shift allegiances between Heroes and Villains. Developed by Paragon Studios and published by NCsoft, City of Heroes Going Rogue™ will be released exclusively for the PC in July 2010.
"With very little direction, Jason was able to anticipate the needs of our project and deliver a score which far exceeded our expectations," said Adam Kay, Audio Director at Paragon Studios. "Jason provided a soundtrack which feels contemporary while still being firmly rooted in the tradition of action film music. Juxtaposing themes provide contrast and variation capable of underscoring far more than the sum of total minutes delivered. Mostly, though, it just kicks ass!"
"Adam and I worked on our first title together a few years ago and we really hit it off," commented Graves. "When he called with another opportunity to collaborate, this time on a superheroic title, I couldn't wait to get started! I'm especially excited about the main theme, "Welcome To Nova Praetoria," which immediately establishes the Going Rogue concept of choosing your side and even switching sides during the game. The theme progresses through variations of good and evil before eventually arriving at an enigmatic and unresolved conclusion. That was my way of musically illustrating that the final decision is really up to the player."
For more information about the game visit http://goingrogue.na.cityofheroes.com.
Randall Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine. A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music from the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer. He now reviews soundtracks for Music from the Movies, Cemetery Dance magazine, and writes for Film Music Magazine and others. For more information, see: www.myspace.com/larsonrdl
Randall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org