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Soundtrax: Episode 2008-14

July 6, 2008
By Randall D. Larson

Neal Acree and the Savage B’s 

One of cable TV’s most potent and prolific composers discusses his efforts for low-budget horror and science fiction, including terrific scores for chillers like They Crawl, Curse of the Komodo, Venemous, Cerberus and others.  He also describes working with Joel Goldsmith on Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate: SG1 and what it’s like to be a b-movie composer in the 2000s.  We also review this week’s new and pending soundtrack releases: Hellboy II: The Golden Army (“A grand, energetic, and eloquent Elfman score”), The Forbidden Kingdom (“A very winning soundtrack and an impressive major film debut for David Buckley”), Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (“Lockington’s score wraps the score in a very sturdy and likable orchestral theme, which suitably adorns the journey as it gets underway and meets several of its milestones along the way”), Death Defying Acts (“a sumptuously classical composition, merging elements of klezmar and Scottish folk music”), Street Kings (“Graeme Revell’s pulsing, electronica/rock based score has opportunities for softer, more tonal orchestral elements”), and La-La Land’s wonderful collection of music from the original Outer Limits (“Preserves some splendid and significant music from one of the 60’s most important and memorable shows).  And then there’s the latest news from the worlds of film music and soundtracks.

Neal Acree

Interview: Neal Acree and the Savage B’s

 Q: What brought you in to film music as a composer, and what has been your background in music?

Neal Acree: I'm not sure when exactly the seed was planted but most likely one of the biggest factors was that my earliest exposure to movies happened to coincide with John Williams "golden age" in the late 70s/early 80s.  My first record was Empire Strikes Back and I've loved movie music and its emotional impact on me ever since.  My parents listened to a lot of different music which probably prepared me as well.

From early on I wrote a lot of music, most of which was instrumental and experimental in nature.  As time went by my education went deeper and deeper into classical theory and orchestration as well as electronic music. 

I was basically on the path to film music from the start but didn't realize it until I was taking a class with Mike Watts, a session keyboard player, who made me see that it was an actual career one could have.  He tried not to encourage me since it's a tough business to break into but I was persistent enough in my desire to learn more about it that eventually he started taking me to some scoring sessions.  It was probably when he took me to a session for Liar Liar at Todd-AO and I saw John Debney conducting a full orchestra that it seemed real to me.

Q: You were one of several composers to work with Joel Goldsmith on Stargate SG-1 in 1997.  What was the extent of your musical contributions to this show and how did you find this early experience in film scoring?

Neal Acree: Though the series began in 1997 and continued for ten years, I only wrote for it during its last three seasons.  I was involved in many other aspects of music production for the show having started off as Joel's assistant around the start of the 3rd season.  Working on the series has been a great training ground for composing as it has given me the opportunity write a lot of music in a few short years and has taught me how to streamline the process.

Q: You're now back working with Joel on Stargate: Atlantis.  What does your "additional music" credit entail on this series? 

Neal Acree: As was the case with SG-1, Joel had already established the musical style and themes for Atlantis before I became involved.  The sheer volume and complexity of the music that is required for sci-fi action shows like these over the course of a season makes it impossible for any one person to give it the attention it deserves in the limited time the schedule allows.  I've written pretty much every kind of music that's been in the show but our goal has always been to give the series a singular musical voice based on the groundwork Joel has laid. 

Q: Over the last ten years, you have become associated with, more than any other genre, horror film scores.  Where have you gained your affinity to scoring the genre, or is it just happenstance?

Neal Acree: I had never really thought about it until now, but I suppose horror music does come fairly naturally to me.  I'm not sure if it's in the way that I often approach music texturally as well as melodically, or just that darker music has always been more appealing to me.  Not to say that I don't enjoy writing lighter stuff – I do very much – but I even find myself listening to horror scores on their own occasionally which is not something many people do.  I suppose it's also because a lot of what horror music is about is creating sounds, whether electronically or organically, that evoke some of the less pleasant emotions and I've always been fascinated by the power of music over the listener's emotions.  Even though scary music has a limited emotional scope, it is often very intense.

Q: Your horror scores tend to be characterized by theme and melody, more so than the pure ambiance and texture that some recent horror films have adopted.  When you are first getting involved in scoring one of these horror films, what facets of the story do you hone in on to center your music on?

Neal Acree: Obviously it varies from film to film, but I usually try to find a central musical theme that will resonate throughout the majority of the film and secondary theme/motif or two for auxiliary characters/storylines.  Usually with horror scores, that main theme is as much about establishing a feeling of unease or mystery as it is about a specific element to the story.  I think it's important, when appropriate for the film, to have that thematic thread to tie the score and the story together.

That having been said, I generally tend to treat the incidental scenes in horror films, like the "scares" and the moments building up to them, in a more ambient, textural, and/or dissonant way.  I think that while the power of melody is through its cognitive effect on the listener, ambient/textural music lacking in melody can often have a more immediate psychological effect necessary in horror scores.  I suppose a lot of the horror films I've done have been made from a slightly more traditional approach that involved setting up characters and backstories thematically in contrast to the scarier moments, meaning if the film called for it and it was the most effective approach, I wouldn't shy away from using ambience and texture as the primary focus.   

Q: I believe They Crawl was your first horror score.  How would you describe your experiences composing the music for this film, and what was your approach to it?

Neal Acree: I did a film right before that called Project Viper that was a sci/fi horror film as well, and that led to They CrawlThey Crawl was one of several experiences I've had on films where, for various reasons, the director wasn't involved in the post production process.  This also meant that there was no temp score which gave me a lot of leeway in terms of the musical approach.  I wouldn't go as far as to say that I had free reign to do whatever I wanted, but I had the opportunity to follow my instincts a little more than usual.  The film was basically about a guy who is trying to find out who killed his brother and a detective who is investigating some ritual killings that end up teaming up and uncovering a plot to unleash genetically mutated cockroaches on the world.  Musically there were some drama and suspense scenes to go with the more intense horror scenes.

The approach was fairly straightforward.  This was score was less thematic in a melodic sense than most of my scores as the story had a darker feel.  I did use a specific palette of sounds and harmonic progressions as a common thread but overall a more textural approach worked best for the film.  The only thing I made a point of not doing was the Penderecki-style building-random-pizzicato that John Williams used for the spiders in the beginning of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, since it has become such a cliché for bug movies.  Okay, I may have used it once or twice.  It felt wrong not to.

Q: What techniques to you find especially functional in scoring horror films?  What kind of music does a contemporary scary movie need?

Neal Acree: Like I said before, sometimes the lack of melody (or traditional harmonic progressions) can have a very specific effect on the listener.  Though, like other genres, there may be specific themes that tie the story together, horror scores are different when they depart from the traditional structure.  Horror music is one of the more manipulative forms in scoring.  It creates a feeling of ease, lulls you into a false sense of security and then wham!, makes you jump out of your seat. 

As far as techniques go, I find one of the most effective ones to be silence.  Whether it's the quiet right before the scare, or simply making an effort to not overuse music, silence is one of the best ways to catch the viewer off guard.  Audiences these days are fairly sophisticated when it comes to scary movies.  They've seen enough of them to know when to expect a scare.  Consciously avoiding clichés and playing against those expectations can go a long way as well.  I also try to augment the traditional orchestral horror techniques with sounds or instruments used in unexpected ways as another way of creating challenging the listener’s expectations.  The less they feel like they've seen or heard it before, the more likely they are to be caught off guard when something happens. 

Q: You have worked frequently with prolific director Jim Wynorski on many of his low-budget direct-to-video horror films.  How closely does he usually work with you when you're scoring one of his movies?

Neal Acree: Jim is a huge soundtrack collector and though I haven't worked with him recently, I always valued the enthusiasm he had about the music.  I think almost every one of his films I did had a 2-and-half-minute Main Title sequence which is very rare these days and is a great opportunity to establish a theme.  It's nice to work with someone who knows the value of music in a movie at least as much as the composer.

Jim is very involved in the music from the very beginning, especially in creating an effective a memorable theme.  He also directs his movies with music in mind, often working in extended scenes that rely heavily on music as the narrative.  Once you've established a working relationship with him and know how to deliver what he expects from his crew, he's one of those directors who trusts the people he works with and can be a lot of fun to watch in action.  I learned a lot having done many of my first films for him and I would probably credit the abundance of thematic scores early in my career to the value he placed on melody.

Q: You've also maintained an ongoing collaboration with director Fred Olen Ray, also known for his many low/medium budget genre films.  How closely has Fred gotten involved in the musical aspects of his films, and what does he generally look for in music for his films?

Neal Acree: I did a couple films for Fred who is a good friend of Jim's.  His is a less hands on approach than Jim's but like most directors has a vision for the music in his films and looks for something fresh and unexpected.  On Venomous, for example, we talked about approaching some of the music like that of an old Twilight Zone episode which he and Jim are huge fans of.

Q: Most of your scores have been for low/medium budget and direct-to-video projects, which suggests some budgetary and deadline restrictions for you as a composer.  How have the post-production conditions of these types of films affected the kind of music you are writing/recording for them?

Neal Acree: In some cases (though certainly not all) I've been fortunate to have slightly more relaxed schedules than might be the case on a major studio feature with a pre-determined release date.  That can allow someone like me, who does everything himself, a little more time to make the music the best it can be.  The budgets on those, however, rarely allow for anything fancy in terms of instrumentation though I've always prided myself in doing my best and providing the highest production value possible regardless of the budget.  I see every film as an opportunity to elevate my craft to the next level.

Q: Do you usually work with synthesizers and samples or have you also been able to use orchestras or acoustic instrumentation, as the project or the budget permits?   Do you have a preference?  How has this instrumental consideration affected some of these scores?

Neal Acree: Hands down I prefer working with an orchestra but it's not always possible with low budget films and television.  I see samplers as a necessary evil in that it's almost unheard of for someone to be given the budget for a full orchestra on their first film, not to mention that directors and producers have come to expect very sophisticated mockups even when there is an orchestra involved.  There are certainly sounds and textures that can only be created electronically and I love experimenting with the technology but I don't think any amount of technology will ever fully replace the sound and energy of a live orchestra.  I've done my best on films that didn't have the budget for orchestra to create as realistic of a live sound as possible and relied more on non orchestral sounds in those cases as well.

Q: What was your approach to scoring the "bee movie," Deadly Swarm?  What were your musical considerations on this project?

Neal Acree: This was another film where the director wasn't involved in the post process and there was little to no temp score so I had some fun with it.  Because it was set in Mexico and Guatemala I took the opportunity to use a lot of Latin instruments that aren't that common in the genre.  In addition to some wailing male flamenco vocals I used for some of the scenes involving an ancient backstory, I worked with Bolivian folklorico composer/musician Ramiro De La Zerda to record a handful of textures using South American wind instruments like pan pipes and the quena flute.  It was not what you would expect musically from a film about killer wasps but then again the film varied a bit from the formula as well. 

Q: Curse Of The Komodo captured a nice texture with the ethnic voicings and prominent percussion, while your main theme gave the film a powerful sense of size and scope.  What were your intentions with the music for this film and what experiences did you have on this project?

Neal Acree: Thanks!  As with many of Jim Wynorski's films, this one covered a lot of ground stylistically and also had a lot of moments that featured the music very prominently.  I needed a theme that would work in everything from intimate father and daughter dialogue scenes to epic jungle trekking scenes and everything in between so the key was to write something as simple as possible.  I also wrote a "Godzilla-esque" theme for the giant komodo dragons but the thing that tied everything together was ethnic percussion, vocals, and winds (mostly Japanese and African) which also served to establish the island locale.  

Q: Cerberus also had a powerful score that supported the film's historical mythology with a strong use of (sampled?) choir.  How would you describe your approach to this score?

Neal Acree: The three main elements of the story were a modern treasure hunt of sorts, a mythological back story and of course, the giant 3-headed dog known as Cerberus.  I wanted to create some contrast between the mythological and modern so I tended to treat the latter more electronically than I had on previous scores.  Also, being set in Eastern Europe and involving the sword of Atilla the Hun, I used some ethnic colors in that film as well.  As far as choir goes, I generally prefer to limit it to those story elements that involve mythological, ancient or religious underpinnings as opposed to using it solely for size and scope, but in the case of Cerberus, both applied.

Q: Several recent scores (Juncture, Throttle, Crash Landing) have been straight action thrillers without the sci-fi elements of some of these horror stories.  How did your musical approach differ (or did it) and what were the unique needs of these scores?

Neal Acree: I try my best to make everything I do sound as different from anything else I've done as possible which can be very difficult when dealing with genre films that share a lot of similar story elements.  In the case of films like Juncture and Throttle though, both of which were directed by James Seale, I had a great opportunity to experiment and branch out stylistically.  James not only has a terrific visual style but excellent taste in and understanding of music in film that has led to some of my most fruitful collaborations. 

In the case of Juncture, I began writing before the film had been shot, something I had hadn't done before but it gave us an opportunity to begin molding the music stylistically from a very early stage.  More than anything I enjoy experimenting with sounds and instruments in the hopes of finding an unexpected juxtaposition that will be both dramatically effective and stylistically fresh.  In addition to some odd sounds like backwards piano we ended up opting for an exotic sounding female voice as one of the main elements of the score.  I ended up using Azam Ali who has worked on a ton of movies like Matrix Revolutions, 300 and Children Of Dune, to name a few.  She has an amazing voice and that really brought the score to a new level.

With Throttle, my first collaboration with James about a man trapped in a parking garage being tormented by a mysterious truck, I used everything from shakuhachi to sampled car crashes.  We wanted to create both feelings of isolation (which I handled fairly ambiently) and sheer terror which I handled with some very aggressive percussion and brass.  There was on point as well where I was experimenting with some odd guitar sounds and decided to take the glass of water I had just finished and rub it all over the strings.  The sound was pretty eerie.  That's the kind of stuff I love doing.

Crash Landing was a much more straightforward action film and I can't say I approached the score in a particularly different way except that being that I wrote it right after Jerry Goldsmith died, I was compelled to make it a subtle tribute to some of his action scores.  Having had the opportunity to know him in a small way, I doubt he would have been all that impressed by my homage, but nonetheless, his music and approach to scoring films has always had a big influence on me and it felt fitting at the time.  

Q: Hallowed Ground had quite a compelling score with some evocatively scary moments, also featuring (sampled?) voice and choir which gave the music a very massive and dominating import.  What were the musical bases of this score and how did it develop?

Neal Acree: Hallowed Ground was a good old fashioned horror movie and the score came together relatively easy for me.  The film itself tipped its hat to many classics in the genre in that it a small town full of religious freaks, a possessed scarecrow, haunted cornfields, a prophecy and some angry birds so I had some fun with it.

I started off by scoring the 2-minute credit sequence which gave me a chance to write a main theme and establish to tone of the film.  I have to admit that I allowed a touch of Bernard Herrmann to find its way in there.  The rest of the score was very theme-driven and though I had several established motifs throughout, I was able work in the main theme, or fragments of it into most of the cues, which helped create a fairly consistent musical vocabulary.  I only point this out because it's not as common for a film these days, at least in my experience, to support this to that extent.

Naturally I used the choir to emphasize the supernatural and religious elements of the story as well as to increase the musical intensity as the film progressed. 

Q: You also scored the opening cinematic for the World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade expansion pack to the popular WoW videogame.  How did you get involved with this, and what were the musical needs for this kind of project?

Neal Acree: I got involved with that after I expressed an interest to my agent in branching out into video game music.  Blizzard is known for making the best cinematics in the industry and to have been a part of that was an amazing experience.  I did my best to bring a size and scope sonically that would complement the elaborate visuals as well as create a musical thread which would tie together the various characters and locations depicted.

It was important for me to remain as true as possible to the musical style that had been established in previous cinematics from the game.  I also wrote lyrics for the choir that covered 4 separate languages created for the game, each of which was specific to races that were represented in the cinematic.  So far nobody has picked up on it that I'm aware of, but with a game like that, with the devoted following that it has, I wanted the music to have as many references to the established lore as possible.

Q: What has been most challenging for you in scoring films – so far?

Neal Acree: That's a tough one.  I suppose, like many composers who are required to tread the line between absolute originality and relative familiarity, I am faced with the challenge of reinventing myself on every project I work on while at the same time trying to establish a consistent style of my own.  This, I have to admit, becomes increasingly difficult the more I work in any one particular genre.  That's one of the reasons I enjoy working in as many different styles as possible as it's easier to completely wipe the slate clean each time.

I would love more than anything to stumble upon something completely fresh and different in film music but it takes a certain kind of film and a certain kind of filmmaker to allow for the experimentation necessary for that kind of discovery to happen.  Regardless, I love the challenge and live for those moments where something unexpected comes together.

Q: What would you like the future to hold for your career?  What's coming up for you next?

Neal Acree: More than anything I hope to continue to have opportunities to try my hand at new styles and to be involved in a variety of media.  I love working on movies because of the opportunity it gives to develop musical ideas over the course of the film and I'm always excited about working on well written, well directed films.

I've also enjoyed working in video games.  Though the process is not too dissimilar to writing for film, the opportunity to build interactivity into the music has always intrigued me.  I actually just recorded the opening cinematic for the forthcoming World Of Warcraft expansion, Wrath Of The Lich King, with the Northwest Symphonia and Chorus.  Before that I contributed some music to the Stargate direct-to-DVD features, The Ark Of Truth, and Continuum both using that orchestra as well.  The Ark Of Truth is out on DVD and there is also a limited edition soundtrack available on Joel Goldsmith's Freeclyde label.  I wrote two of the tracks on that CD based on themes of his.  The Continuum DVD will be out on July 29th I believe.

As far as what's next, I'm currently co-composing the music for a World War II zombie movie called Stone's War with Joel Goldsmith and then will continue my involvement with Stargate Atlantis on the upcoming 5th season.  Beyond that, there's a couple projects in the early stages that I can't really talk about so it's looking like a busy year so far.


For more information on Neal Acree see: www.nealacree.com



New Soundtrax in Review

Teaming Jet Li and Jackie Chan for the first time, The Forbidden Kingdom, in theaters and on Region 2 DVD now, available on Region 1 DVD on September 9th, is a very entertaining martial arts fantasy drawing from, but not wholly dependent upon, the personalities of the two legendary kung fu artists. 
Lionsgate will release the soundtrack on July 9th as a digital download and an amazon exclusive CD.  The score is the work of David Buckley, a protégé of Harry Gregson-Williams who worked on the scores of Flushed Away, Shrek The Third, Gone Baby Gone, The Number 23, and others, who provides much of the film’s expansive and widespace atmosphere with his vivid and compelling musical score.  The film, directed by Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little, The Haunted Mansion) is all of an homage to, an influence of, and a satire upon, classic Asian martial arts fantasy films, incorporating such characters as the Monkey King, the 8 Immortals, the Bride with White Hair, and others.  While the inclusion of an American kid in the hero role as Jason, kung-fu geek who turns out to be one of these only-person-in-the-entire-universe-who-can-save-the-world kind of kids (and I am sooo tired of these only-person-in-the-entire-universe-who-can-save-the-world kind of heroes), and who becomes the equivalent of a martial arts jedi master after only a few lessons, beating the tar out of fighters who have trained their whole lives, is an obvious and forced attempt to appeal to an American youth audience, but actor Michael Angarano does a pretty good job in the role, although he is far outstaged by the double-Js.  The film also boasts a pair of delectable battling babes who could have used all manner of additional screen time, Yifei Liu as a vengeance-seeking orphan girl who joins the J-team (and of course becomes Jason’s inevitable love interest; only in Hollywood movies do kung fu movie geeks really get the babes) and Bingbing Li, as the Bride with White Hair bounty hunter.  Everyone has some spectacular fight scenes which are incredibly well staged as only action director Yuen Woo-ping could have done it.  With this as his first major feature score, David Buckley may have been a surprising choice for such a big action film (although the film’s budget was surprisingly low), but he proves more than capable and concocts a richly melodic, broadly harmonic, and thoroughly expressive composition that both enlivens and individualized the ambitious storyline.  With an instrumental pallet that matches the story’s merging of East-and-West, Buckley emphasizes historical Chinese instrumentation while wrapping the score in the broad linen of a modern day Zimmeresque action composition.  On first listen, the Asian instruments come to the fore – plenty of erhu, pipa, and gu zheng set the sonic stage for the film’s setting and classically Chinese musical sensibility.  But then we also have light hand drums, poignant flutes, generous arrays of horns and other brasses, and massed strings in a very Western setting; and, to drive the musical mismatch even further, we have electric violin and electric guitar in classic Spaghetti Western style sharing some very forefront sonic moments – all to the score’s great benefit. 

Thematically, rather than tying a theme to each of the four main characters and two main villains, which would overly complicate a score that needed to be fairly simple, Buckley allows his sweeping main theme to represent all of the heroes as a foursome, even in their individual episodes.  The Main Theme is introduced subtly by the er-hu in “The Mountain of Fruit & Flowers,” and recurs in slight form throughout much of the first half of the score, gradually emerging in fully and finally in fullest score as the score develops and the heroes join forces into a single, powerful union.  Ultimately the theme becomes the music of the Monkey King, whose influence sets the purpose of their quest and whose release from captivity finalizes the climactic battle and sets things aright in the world of earth and heaven.  The sturdy theme bears both repetition and recurring variation well, and wraps itself nicely around the film’s action and characters.   

Bingbing Li’s Witch Bride (aka Ni Chang, a reference to Brigitte Lin’s title character of the classic 1993 Hong Kong film, The Bride with White Hair) is represented in “The Tyranny of War” (one of the score’s most potent tracks, mixing a slow and sad er-hu melody with a thunderous gallop of percussion) and especially in “Ni Chang and Her Cult Killers”, by an assertive (and all-too brief) statement from electric guitar, paying as much homage to Ennio Morricone’s iconic “As A Judgment” theme from Once Upon A Time in The West as Buckley’s indirect mentor, Hans Zimmer, did in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and giving the cues’ textures a wonderful coloration.  Her boss, Collin Chou’s vicious Jade Warlord, is at first associated with a tantalizing and alluring melody on woodwinds as Jason confronts him in the temple (“The Seeker of the Prophecy”), and later revels in his revealed menace and wickedness in “Battle of the Bride,” through a progressive ascendance of thunderous chords.

The score works very well for the film’s many fight sequences.  The inevitable temptation to score martial arts fights with heavy percussion, Tan Dun/Crouching Tiger style, is suggested by rampant drumming but is always done away with through intensive and vibrant orchestration of winds and strings on top of the percussion.  The climactic fight scene, which spans “Monkey King Released,” “Battle of the Bride,” and “Her Destiny was Written,” is a rousing and energetic orchestral composition, incorporating various themes and broad textural depth as it supports each of the characters in their final fights and culminates calmly and quietly on the poignant fading strings and quietly reverent reprisal of the main theme for flutes in “Her Destiny was Written.”  Both “As One Tale Ends…” and “…Another Tale Begins” form a coda to both film and score, reprising the valiant main theme and transforming it from its eloquent ancient Chinese form (“As One Tale Ends…”) into a modern-day urban setting with a very clear Schifrinesque Enter the Dragon vibe (“…Another Tale Begins”), complete with kung-fu shouts.  All in all a very winning soundtrack and an impressive major film debut for David Buckley.

For more on David Buckley, see his web site at: http://djsbuckley.wordpress.com/
(And look for an interview with Buckley in one of my next Soundtrax columns).


Lakeshore Records releases the soundtrack to Death Defying Acts on July 8th on CD and via iTunes.  The movie is a historical drama about Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce) and his romance with a con woman.  After the death of his mother, the famed magician developed an obsession with psychics and offered $10,000 to any person who can make contact with his beloved mother and reveal her final words.  11-year old Benji (Saoirse Ronan, young Briony in Atonement) and her mother Mary (Catherine Zeta-Jones) transform themselves into “Princess Kali and her Dusky Disciple” and attempt to find out everything that can about Harry and his mother in an attempt to win the money.  Directed by Gillian Armstrong (Charlotte Gray, Oscar and Luncinda), the film features a sumptuous score by Polish émigré Cezary Skubiszewski, one of Australia’s leading film composers (Two Hands, Black & White, After the Deluge).  Skubiszewski’s score for Death Defying Acts is a sumptuously classical composition, merging elements of klezmar (associated with Houdini) and Scottish folk music (associated with Mary) onto a widespread canvas of rich orchestral coloration.   The album opener, the 7:43 “Death Defying Suite,” serves as an excellent introduction to the score’s sound as well as its rich array of motific melodies and textures.  It first introduces Mary’s Theme with a compellingly harmonic viola line in low register, wafting out of a burbling collection of bi-directional strings doubled by choir.  The choir emanates with an almost Philip Glassian-chanting effect, which drives much of the music it encounters and provides an effective forward motion to much of the music.  Skubiszewski’s theme for Houdini is introduced in “The Great Houdini,” a lyrical and free-spirited melody for strings also, like in Mary’s Theme, playing in low register, carrying on with an urgency and a single-mindedness befitting the magician’s obsession and drive, with an oddly timed percussive counterpoint that suggests a slight psychological instability.  The motif ends with a crescendo of surging orchestration.  It is further developed in “Houdini’s Angel,” where it morphs with more exotic instrumentation to become something almost ethereal or otherworldly.  Mary’s Theme comes into its own in “Hello Edinburgh,” a similarly fast-paced and determined motif for strings and choir, suggested that Mary may be as obsessed with her goal as Houdini is with his.  “You’re the One” is an especially warm and poignant composition, progressing into gloom and ending on a note of throbbing trepidation, while “Scott’s Monument” is a powerful progressive cue filled with a vibrant and captivating array of violin and klezmer-iana, merging elements of the two main themes.  “Benji’s Nightmare” a windblown assortment of synth tones, whooshing across the sonic landscape; “My Immortal Soul” is similarly dissonant and chaotic.  “Just Like Falling is a sublime piano melody, vaguely reminiscent of Legrand’s tune from Summer of ’42 in its opening notes until transforming into poignant motif embellished by winds and soft choir in another Philip Glass-like arrangement.   “You Saved Me” features a rich tonality of Scottish Harp, viola, viola de gamba, violin, accordion, and lute, rendering a persuasive acoustic texture as the unusual instrumental array progresses through the score’s melodies.  “The Final Curtain” reprises the main themes, culminating in a rich harmony of strings that envelopes the klezmer and Scottish material in a very Americana-esque sonority.  There are few source or period pieces included in the score – a neat mixture of exotic Indiania (lots of oud, dholak, and zurna) which morphs into a cheery klezmar performance (“Princess Kali”), a jaunty 1920s-ish foxtrot, and a wondrous vaudeville/silent movie piano motif in “The Star Picture House” which adds a very cool historic flavor to the soundtrack.


New Line Records will release Andrew Lockington’s in-depth score for the new version of Journey To The Center of The Earth.  Based on the Jules Verne novel but included a couple of correlations to the 1959 movie, the score however is fully fresh and new, without any references to the classic ’59 Bernard Herrmann score (appropriately so).  However, Lockington (a protégé of Mychael Danna who previously scored the new-age werewolf movie, Skinwalkers [reviewed in my Aug 14, 2007, column], among others) has adapted Herrmann’s proclivity for outlandish instrumentation, integrating with his traditional orchestra and choir the unique orchestral percussion of the Japanese drumming ensemble, Kiyoshi Nagata, which provide the characters’ descent into “middle earth” with their own thunderous accompaniment of gongs, bells ,clappers, shakers, and bamboo flutes.     “Iceland” bids the travelers bon voyage with furtive flares of the themes’ melody amidst an icy field of cool atmosphere; vibrato and staccato strings, fluid passages of melody, accentuations from triangle and finally a heroic send off.  “Climbing Sneffels” reprises the main theme with plenty of theatrical aplomb from triangle and full orchestral bombast.  “Rope Descent” is an especially compelling cue, with the score’s main theme threading through sturdy strands of gnarled violins, punctuated by knots of harsh orchestral dissonance.  “The Generator” produces a powerful rendition of the main theme, resonating triumphantly.   “Mine Car Adventure” is just as Indiana Jones-ish as it sounds, with plenty of chaotic violin figuring and heavy brass phrasing amid drums and percussion, whipping the orchestra into a frenzy of activity, with short, fast measures of the main theme popping in, Carl Stalling like, in the midst of the bombast.  “Diamonds and Muscovite” produces an attractive interaction of rhythmic violin figures, while “Water Drop” slaps the orchestra around like helicopter blades – or a very hard percussion of raindrops – in its frantic shrapnel of strings, brass, and drums.  The explorer’s arrival at “The Center of the Earth” is represented by a fragility of high winds, sustained high strings, which grow into a surging and powerfully triumphant rendition of the main theme, its lyrical violin melodies intertwining among proud intonations of brass and, finally, reverent choir.  “Building the Raft’ is another highly energetic cue, the main theme surging along solidly, bolstered by choir and timpani, opening up for warm variations on the main melodies, and surging to life on wave after wave of thundering orchestra, which is stirred up even more in the succeeding “Storm,” in which the orchestra’s ferociously vibrant activity and energy propels around a miasma of the main theme from horns and strings, set to a thundering rhythm and din of crashing waves, imploding thunder, a cataclysmic chordal clattering of violins, all well held together by Lockington’s powerful and controlled main theme.   “Dinosaur!” is made of similar musical muscle, pulsing and flexing with surges, while the inevitable “Volcano” (lost world movies always seem to end with a volcano) spews out an undulating array of thick orchestration, flowing in rivulets across Lockington’s soundstage, flailing violins, surging horns, pounding drums, powering to a midway crescendo that dissolutes into a fjord of hushed choir and sustained violins, only to propel forward anew, boiling and relentless, crested by a rendition of the main theme for men’s choir and sparkling brass and culminating in a cyclonic eddy of violins and a final reprise of the main theme from horns.  “The Return” concludes the score with an air of exploratory politeness and a return to mundane normalcy.


Danny Elfman’s score for Hellboy II: The Golden Army, released this week by Varese Sarabande on CD and digital download, is magical and muscular, richly and evocatively orchestrated, and a winning fantasy action score in every respect.  After a persuasive introductory cue, the score explodes with “Hellboy II Titles,” a raging and rhythmic legion of powerful horns and strings and percussion.  A nod to Tan Dun and drum-driven action cues is heard in “Training,” in which all manner of percussion emphasize the training scene, embellished by an overarching tonality of horns and strings which give the cue a notable degree of melodic warmth for its second half.   “Hallway Cruise” is a delightful sidestep from the miasmic bombast of the majority of the score, a clever and mischievous bit that revels in its faux Men in Black lounge space jazz idiom, complete with Theremin sounds and exotica rhythms.  Very cool.  “Where Fairies Dwell” introduces a neat motif for sing-song choir over a very sturdy intensity of horns and percussion, driven by staccato strokes of violins and blaring trills of punchy, shouting brass.  “Mein Herring” is a choral march introduced by strident twangs of heavy electric guitar, segueing into a jaunty wind and string motif, punctuated by light cymbal tapping, that opens into a lavish choral chant over a short martial cadence.  Also very cool.  “Father and Son” is a compelling action cue stippled with moments of melodic eloquence as is develops a progressive rhythmic atmosphere that hangs in the air here, and then fumes violently forward there in a compelling fusion of poignancy and potency.  Elfman’s orchestral surges are quite evocative in “The Troll Market,” with a dominatrix element of female choir and trilling winds over the propulsive orchestral movement that really propels the cue forward with a hazardous energy.  “Market Troubles” evokes a similar motif only with more tension and confrontation that the forward movement that characterized the former track.  Elfman gives way to a quiet, introspective cue in “The Big Decision,” soft and tender winds and strings over piano; “A Dilemma” reprises the eloquent tonality, as does “A Choice,” the latter emphasizing confident fills of cymbal and ascendant strings, and a rising self-assurance of horns and choir and glissandi of harp; a sublime coda of strings and piano, reprising the earlier “Decision/Dilemma” motif, concludes the track expressively.  “Doorway” resonated with a huge, cataclysmic array of mammoth horns and mastodon timpani, a gigantic shuffling figure of massive orchestral magnitude, supported by a thin arpeggio of strings, piano, and harp, moving into a Herrmannesque mix of thick chord progression.  A pair of colossal climactic cues, “In The Army Chamber” and “Finale,” conclude the score with a terrific dynamic of raging orchestra and choir, progressing through a variety of surging motifs, figures, punctuation and counterpoint, and an ongoing deconstruction/construction of Elfman’s primary musical elements in the midst of battle and triumph that can be quite breathtaking.  This is a grand, energetic, and eloquent Elfman score.


Graeme Revell’s pulsing, electronica/rock based score for Street Kings, David Ayer’s exploration of police culture on the streets of L.A., has been released via iTunes by Fox Music.   Working with Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs, the score is suitably street worthy and a powerful hybrid of synth and symph (likely sampled).  The score is primarily rhythmic and motific, although as pad- and riff-intensive as it is, Revell finds plenty of opportunities for softer, more tonal orchestral elements to surface, as in the latter portion of “The Kims” or the entirety of “Funeral” and “Grace’s Apartment,” to support the film’s emotional depth.  Predominantly, though, the score builds an atmospheric riff for the urban politics of street violence, and keeps that riff going through most of the score’s 23 tracks.  It builds an invigorating drive and rhythm.  It isn’t an especially fresh or unique take on this type of film score, but it is a likeable collection of riffing and rhythm.   A clear tonality of “Taps” from trumpet resonates powerfully above awkward posing of piano and strings and cello in “Funeral.”  “Ludlow and Diskant Alliance” is a powerful cadence of orchestra and drum beat, “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” style.  “Ludlow Talks with Mrs. Washington” is a soft and introspective contemplation of piano and strings.  “Ludlow with Santos and DeMille” builds a harsh tonality for severe apprehension, dark twangs of electronics over a doomsaying beat of headshaking percussion.   Atonal elements of tracks like “Wander’s Kitchen” could almost have come from a horror score like Saw XXVII, brutal conclaves of sonic aggression and miasmic ambient claustrophobia.   Both “Wander and Ludlow” and “Biggs and Ludlow” start out slowly and build relentlessly to huge and dramatic climaxes.  “Street Kings X” concludes the score with a hip-hop riffing of strings and horns over electronics and drumset, a fairly cool fusion of orchestral sensibility in a streetwise modern hip-hop environment, A Zimmeresque rhythmic melody refocused through a nonvocal rap idiom.  Quite interesting.

La-La Land Records has released a sumptuous 3- CD collection of original soundtrack scores from the classic 1965 TV series, The Outer Limits.  Featuring suites from nearly a dozen episodes and a plethora of variations on the main title theme, with and without the famous “Control Voice” opening and closing narrative, the new released, which is limited to 3,000 copies, includes the material that was on the previous GNP Crescendo soundtrack album, newly remastered, plus another 90-minutes of previously unreleased music.  Dominic Frontiere, who served both as composer and a producer for the show’s first season - the second season had a complete change in management, with music brought over from Harry (One Step Beyond) Lubin – wrote a variety of music both mysterious and melodic to serve episodes such as “The Architects of Fear,” “Don’t Open Till Doomsday,” “100 Days of the Dragon,” “Tourist Attraction” (erroneously referred to in one place as “Tourist Trap” by the moron who wrote the CD notes – oh wait, that was me!!  Ok, yes, my fault, so sorry; my movie title reference database suffered a temporary synapse twinge that none of us in proofreading caught (and hopefully one boneheaded mistake out of five references won’t invalidate the whole thing).  Even if I didn’t have the pleasure of writing the notes for this new release, I’d be recommending this release eagerly, as it preserves some splendid and significant music from one of the 60’s most important and memorable shows and a vastly underrated composer.  The package has also been beautifully designed by our very own webmaster Mark Banning.  While Outer Limits was the work of a single composer rather than the shared effort of many composers like its older cousin, The Twilight Zone, it shares many of the same musical attributes as that legendary Rod Serling series, intricately phrased mysteriosos, moody phrasings associated with characters’ psychologies, and all manner of melodies and instrumental textures befitting each individual story.  Frontiere, who reused some of the music for his underscore on The Invaders, drew a deft hand when composing for macabre, fantastic, and horrific subjects (he also could write dynamic action scores for John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, as Chisum, Brannigan, and Hang ‘Em High bear out, not to mention his scores for television’s well-remembered WW2 series, The Rat Patrol).  Little of Frontiere’s music has been made available on its own, outside of the popular Eastwood score, but thanks to La-La Land and Intrada, more of his work is coming to the fore.  The Outer Limits is a great place to start as it demonstrates the versatility of a capable composer and reflects the creative environment of the group of talented artists who gave us a compelling anthology series.


Film Scoring News

I reviewed Craig Armstrong’s terrific score to The Incredible Hulk last column, and suggested readers also check out his interview in the latest online FSM.  You should also take a look at Rudy’s Koppl’s compelling interview with Armstrong and director Louis Leterrier about the music to the new Hulk: www.musicfromthemovies.com

Robert Miller, who recently wrote an acclaimed score for horror comedy Teeth, reunites with the director of that film, Mitchell Lichtenstein on a new movie called Happy Tears, a drama about two sisters who return home to deal with their ailing father.  Miller is also scoring the comedy-drama Wherever You Are and recently scored The Caller and a pair of documentaries, Trumbo and Theater of War. – via upcomingfilmscores.com
(BTW I’ll have an interview with Miller coming up in a forthcoming column.)

Not only does Harry Gregson-Williams provide the score to the recently released Narnia follow-up Prince Caspian, but he performs the voice of Patterwig the Squirrel. – via Film Score Monthly

According to UK agency Cool Music, Charlie Mole is about to begin scoring Oliver Parker's Dorian Gray, based on the Oscar Wilde novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ben Barnes stars as the title character in a story about a young man who keeps his youthful beauty eternally. The film is produced by Fragile Films. Oliver Parker and Charlie Mole has worked together on numerous films, including The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husbandand Othello.  – upcomingfilmscores.com

Klaus Badelt will score the upcoming action adventure Solomon Kane, based on the character created by pulp magazine author and Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard. The film stars James Purefoy as Kane, with a supporting cast featuring Rachel Hurd-Wood, Max von Sydow, Pete Postlethwaite and Jason Flemyng.  Badelt's other current projects include The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder. – upcomingfilmscores.com

Unsurprisingly, Charlie Clouser will score the fifth film in the popular horror series, Saw.  Scheduled for release on August 24th, Saw V continues the posthumous activities of the malevolent trapster, Jigsaw.   Clouser’s hybrid Saw scores with their frequently use of sampling and found sound, are among the most potent and chilling horror scores of recent years.

For the 35th edition of the Ghent Film Festival (7-18 October), composer Gabriel Yared will be honoring director Anthony Minghella, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Yared had been Minghella’s trusted composer for years, penning the scores for The English Patient, Cold Mountain and The Talented Mr. Ripley. The concert is a co-production between the Ghent Film Festival and Hogeschool Ghent and will be held on October 15th at the Ghent Conservatory of Music in Belgium.   For more information, go to www.filmfestival.be

Soundtrack News

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard will perform together live for the first time on stage at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square IMAX Theater prior to the world premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' The Dark Knight on Monday, July 14, at 7pm. The composers teamed for the second time to create the score for this highly anticipated sequel to the blockbuster Batman Begins, which they scored in 2005.  Zimmer and Howard will be signing copies of the soundtrack at Virgin Megastores in New York on Tuesday, July 15, in Times Square at 7pm, and in Los Angeles on Wednesday, July 16, at Hollywood and Highland, also at 7pm. The soundtrack for The Dark Knight will be released on Warner Bros. Records on July 15 prior to the film's nationwide opening on July 18.  Warner Bros. Records will release four different configurations of the soundtrack for The Dark Knight: a standard jewel case CD, a 2 LP set of heavy-weight 180 gram vinyl version, a special edition digipack, and a collector's edition with special artwork to come after release.

The latest release from Tribute Film Classics is a complete re-recording of Max Steiner's score for the elaborate 1935 fantasy, She.  William Stromberg conducts the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with score reconstruction by John Morgan.  The 1935 film, produced by King Kong’s Merian C. Cooper from the story by H. Rider Haggard, follows a group of Arctic explorers searching for the land of Kor and the legendary 'Flame of Life' capable of granting immortality to whoever bathes in it. They are successful, but run afoul of the ageless, beautiful queen who desires one of them for her eternal lover. The film starred Randolph Scott, Helen Mack, and Nigel Bruce, and featured Helen Gahagan (in her only role) as She.  Despite lackluster box-office and negative reviews, one aspect of the film has always been revered – Steiner's magnificent score that is at-once powerful, mystical, and diversely colorful. Yet even that was compromised by a budget that saw his orchestra dwindled and musical passages truncated.  Tribute's new rerecording has adapted Steiner's original pencil sketches, and his work has at last been given the true opulence it deserves. With the addition of a female choir, the orchestra reached 60 players at times. With this release, "She is finally getting the respect that has been denied her for over seventy years," said John Morgan.

And the latest release from Tadlow Music will be their most ambitious recording project: the complete score by Miklos Rozsa to the epic Charlton Heston film El Cid. Scheduled for release on September 1st, the 3-disc set will feature over 170 minutes of music – the complete 140 minute score plus bonus tracks and five videos from the El Cid recording sessions.  An added bonus, a suite from Double Indemnity is also included.  The music is performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic and Choir, conducted by Rozsa expert Nic Raine.  The package includes a 28-page color booklet with introductions from Martin Scorsese and Juliet Rozsa.

Intrada has released the world CD premiere of John William’s Cinderella Liberty, the salty 1973 Mark
Rydell drama with James Caan as sailor on brief liberty, Marsha Mason as hooker he falls in love with. “Williams writes score of some importance,” notes the label.  The “project immediately follows on heels of The Poseidon Adventure but plays in contrast to Irwin Allen's upside down tale with its own seaworthy score full of wistful romance, soulful melody, brash poolhall swagger. Tuneful effort earns Williams not one but two Academy Award nominations: one for original score, one for haunting song written in partnership with Paul Williams.  Further adding to importance is introduction of soon-to-be Williams signature of scoring for world-class instrumental soloists: here he engages harmonica work of legendary Jean "Toots" Thielemans.  Album is an Intrada Special Collection release limited to 3000 copies!. 

Available now from Perseverance Records is the score from The Deaths of Ian Stone by Elia Cmiral. Sequenced in listening order, the album also features seven tracks, remixed by the composer to reflect what the cues would have sounded like if they had been written for the album exclusively.

Digitmovies releases for this month include a long sought after rarity, Manuel Di Sica’s score for the cult favorite, Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore).  Directed by Michele Soavi and starring Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi, has been considered a cult of the genre since its theatrical release in 1994. Francesco Dellamorte (Everett) is caretaker of a Northern Italian cemetery who lives a boring and depressing life by day, but by night he becomes a living dead’s exterminator.  In fact, dead people of the town routinely come back to life seven days after their death; Dellamorte is there to make sure they stay dead.  Noted composer Manuel De Sica is the author of several scores for Cinema and TV, mostly notably those to Amanti and Garden of the Finzi Continis, both directed by his father Vittorio.  The album will be released on July 7th, along with the label’s ninth volume of the series dedicated the soundtracks of the Italian Peplum genre, for the first time on CD: the complete soundtrack by Carlo Innocenzi for Il terrore dei barbari (aka Goliath and The Barbarians) directed in 1959 by Carlo Campogalliani and starring Steve Reeves.  For the film’s American release, Roger Corman’s A.I.P. replaced the score with an alternate musical soundtrack by Les Baxter, which was issued on a soundtrack LP, but the original Italian score was never released, until now. 

Digitmovies third July release is another world premiere CD: Bruno Nicolai’s sumptuous score for Jess Franco’s erotic mystery thriller from 1970, Les cauchemars nassent la nuit (aka Nightmares Come at Night) starring Diana Lorys, Colette Giacobine, and Soledad Miranda.  The master tapes kept in the Edipan vaults were rescued in very good conditions and in full stereo. For this movie Bruno Nicolai has written an OST of experimental kind, perfect as background for the protagonist’s recurrent nightmares

Joeharnell.com presents The Incredible Hulk: Music From The Television Pilot Movies, featuring music composed and conducted by Joe Harnell for the cult television show, The Incredible Hulk, created and developed by Kenneth Johnson and starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. 

MovieScore Media’s latest is George Shaw’s score for the US-Mexican horror film J-ok’el, coinciding with the US DVD release on June 24.  The score won a Gold Medal for Excellence at the Park City Film Music Festival and it’s Shaw’s most ambitious project to date. Recorded with the Hollywood Studio Symphony, the orchestral score contrasts beautiful thematic writing with subtle suspense and pounding action. As a bonus, the CD reprises George’s inventive score from Marcus, previously released by MSM only as a digital download.  J-ok’el means “The Crying Woman” in Tzotzil dialect, but is based on the Mexican myth legend of La Llorona: a woman who drowned her own babies centuries ago and whose spirit has returned to claim more children as her own.  The film stars Tom Parker, Ana Patricia Rojo, and Dee Wallace.

Film Music on DVD

Jon Burlingame reports in Variety about the furor over the 2nd Season DVD of The Fugitive:

Last month's DVD release of the second season of David Janssen's 1960s series The Fugitive caused a firestorm when fans of the show and many in the music industry discovered that the entire underscore had been replaced – not just a song here or there (not uncommon in shows where music licensing is a factor) but all of the dramatic music. Only composer Pete Rugolo's title theme remained, and only under the main and end credits… In most cases, there's not a problem with clearing the show's underscore, because most composers create TV music as a "work made for hire," and the production owns it outright.  But The Fugitive was not scored like most shows. Music editor Ken Wilhoit drew not only on Rugolo's library of Fugitive-specific music but on other libraries, primarily the CBS Music Library… CBS Home Entertainment issued a statement saying, "Unlike season one, there were a large number of cues, the current ownership of which was not clear... We kept the original theme song but decided it would be better to rescore full episodes to give viewers a seamless, consistent experience throughout."

 - www.variety.com/article/VR1117987978.html?categoryid=14&cs=1&nid=2562

Randall Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine.  A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music from the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer.  He now reviews soundtracks for Music from the Movies, Cemetery Dance magazine, and writes for Film Music Magazine and others. For more information, see: www.myspace.com/larsonrdl
Randall can be contacted at soundtraxrdl@aol.com


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