Soundtrax: Episode 2012-8
August 30, 2012
By Randall D. Larson
The three-hour History Channel miniseries series HATFIELDS & McCOYS, premiering last Memorial Day and recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray, is based on the true story about two feuding families who nearly launched a war between Kentucky and West Virginia. Starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton in the main roles, the series is scored by John Debney and Tony Morales, who, weave an updated classic western sound with rich melodies and Appalachian instruments. Simultaneously modern and classic, the music complements the gritty Civil War images and enhanced the relationships – antagonistic as well as romantic, between the characters.
I spoke to both composers at length about their work on the score, as well as other recent works, including John Debney’s raucous score for the new action film, ALEX CROSS, and present both interviews in this month’s column.
1: John Debney
With more than 150 film and television scores so far to his credit, John Debney has scored nearly every type of film, from swashbuckler’s (CUTTHROAT ISLAND) to science fiction (PREDATORS, SEAQUEST DSV) to horror (THE RELIC) to action-noir (SIN CITY, with Graeme Revell and Robert Rodriguez) to super hero (IRON MAN 2), to Biblical epics (PASSION OF THE CHRIST), to romantic comedy (NEW YEAR’S EVE) and much more. Refusing to be typecast, Debney’s filmography continues to show a diversified mix of types of films and scoring approaches.
Q: What was your basic approach to scoring HATFIELDS & McCOYS and how did you work with Tony Morales to construct and develop the score across the three 95-minute episodes?
John Debney: We actually worked as a team. I set the tone and the created some of the main themes and then, because of the great deal of music in this thing – almost 3 hours plus – I thought who best but a friend of mine who I’ve worked with a lot, Tony Morales. There was a lot of thought and care taken into the idea of the music and what we wanted to evoke with this score. It’s a little different than your normal kind of Western fare. We wanted to evoke the place and the time, and we wanted to some other interesting instruments besides just the normal sort of banjo, mandolin, and guitar that you might hear in this kind of score. We added solo instruments like the solo fiddle, solo cello, solo bass… Again, the intention was in trying to create a hybrid, as it were, something that might have been heard in Westerns of days gone by, but also make it a relevant score, something interesting utilizing talent from today. Those were the two benchmarks: we wanted to do a melodic, tuneful score and also one that was contemporary, so we were trying to achieve both.
Q: I think the flavor that came through, especially with the soaring melisma of Lisbeth Scott that takes the music above what we’re actually seeing, almost into a spiritual dimension…
John Debney: I'm so glad that you mentioned that and felt that. That was the intention. You know my great history with Lisbeth; I try to bring her into anything that I can that I feel she would be appropriate for, and she did that again with this show. After the first few cues that I did with her, I played the material for the producer, and he really just fell in love with her. I think his words were correct, he described what she did as being the moral compass of the movie, and it really is. Lisbeth’s voice comes in and just grounds the whole movie. She gives it a sense of angst and a sense of spirituality. There's a feeling of fate when you hear her, too; it's like we’re seeing these events and even though we know the outcome of them, with her beautiful performance, you feel a spiritual morality of the good and bad of it all.
Q: It evokes the idea that these characters are human beings. Despite the historical caricatures a lot of us have grown up about the Hatfield and McCoy’s feud, the music reminds us that these are real people with real emotions…
John Debney: That's exactly right. Her voice, as always, does that. She just gets to the heart of the matter and I couldn't be more thrilled for her. We turned one of the themes from the movie into a song, and it’s on her new album and is doing really well, so I'm really happy for her involvement.
Q: When you first came into this project and you are looking at this concept and the way the filmmakers were treating it, how did you develop your musical approach to the subject?
John Debney: There was a lot of thought in that. The producer, Leslie Greif, delineated quite clearly what he was looking for. He thought an overall theme would be wonderful as well as a theme for the McCoy's and a theme for the Hatfields, and then of course a love theme. There were a lot of little ancillary themes, but there were four major themes. The overall theme that I came up with, quite frankly, was a little bit of an homage to the past – I wanted something that was rather tuneful, so I went and I watched a couple of my favorite Westerns, HOW THE WEST WAS WON being one of them, and just marveled the thematic thread that Alfred Newman put in that particular movie and how he made so many variations of it. So that was the intention. I might add to this that Kevin Costner's theme, The Hatfields, was something that came out of a song that he wrote with his band, called “These Hills.” The moment I heard the hook of and the thread of it I really felt that we could find a place for that theme, and we certainly did. We use it throughout the show for his family and their characters. It's a really nice, rich theme that turns into a great song that he did with his band that was actually used at the end credits. So was this very collaborative spirit of doing all this together, and seeing what we came up with. That was the intention going in and the result bears that out.
Q: What were the mechanics of doing this score for a miniseries that needs a lot of music over a short period of time?
John Debney: I must say I approached it with a little bit of trepidation just because of the sheer amount of music needed, and of course we didn't have much of a budget, which is kind of normal these days for television, so we really had to think outside the box and get very creative. Sometimes you’re faced with the kind of movie that score-wise is already dictated for you, either with a temp or if you're doing the second movie in a franchise – there are certain kinds of sonic things that you have to adhere to. In this case, we were thrown this whole thing by the producers, and the filmmakers said “Just do what you do and let's see what we come up with." I found once I got into it again that I enjoyed the feeling of freedom that came with it… They left us alone knowing there was such a volume of music and that we didn’t have a lot of time to do it all, so in a funny way, that added to the creative freedom of the whole thing and I quite enjoyed it. You know, I can see approaching it again and doing some television if it was something of this quality.
Q: What was most challenging to you about scoring HATFIELDS AND MCCOY'S?
John Debney: The most challenging thing was trying to vary the instrumental and sonic palette enough so that we didn't, for instance, have a whole lot of cues with solo violin back to back to back. We tried to vary the sonic landscape and, for example, feature a Weissenborn guitar in a few scenes, and then not go back to that until much later. It was really a lot like putting the pieces of the puzzle together. The other challenge was just trying to create a score of scope when needed with a very miniscule budget. We ended up doing a lot of layering of instruments. We utilized synth orchestra as much as we could but tried to not get into the realm of overusing it so much that it became a bad copy of a big score. We strove to just take different pathways to get to where we needed to go.
I have to say, one thing that made my job and Tony's job easier were seeing the performances for the first time. They’re just stellar, and it made the job – I never like to say it made it “easier,” but it really did in a sense, because when you get a great performance sometimes you have to do very little to highlight it or just nudge it along. That was the case with this, from top to bottom. Really a fine, stellar cast.
Q: What was your objective in delineating the many characters in this broad historical saga?
John Debney: There was a very logical and obvious thing that we found we had to do in this score, since the film is cutting back and forth so much between these families, one can get a little lost with who's who. They are both big families and there are a lot of characters, so we were very careful about, when appropriate, putting in a little bit of each other's themes in there just to highlight what was going on. I have to give credit to the producer, he mentioned that as something he wanted very much to do, because it was such a longer piece that we really had to sometimes guide the audience as to where we really were. I thought that was a great idea.
Q: I wanted ask about another film you did recently, and this is a film which is near and dear to my goofy heart, and that's THE THREE STOOGES. Here, the film is a brand-new story but it's done in a way that might have been done by The Stooges during the 30s and 40s. How did you approach this score with that in mind and at the same time realizing there was a need to make it contemporary with today's filmmaking senses?
John Debney: That was a tough one, and I'll tell you why. First of all it was my first foray with the Farrelly Brothers, and they are just tremendously fun guys in real life, and yet they were very, very careful of making this movie very true to the originals and to who these characters were. So there were a number challenges. The biggest one was that, if you recall with a lot of the original shorts that they did, there really wasn't a lot of music. In particular, there wasn't much comedic music; much of their shtick, as it were, was dry, and so Pete Farrelly and I discussed at length that where it works with this new film, we’ll just go dry also. During some of the bigger comedy bits we didn’t user music. But he knew that we couldn't sustain that over the course of a feature-length film, so very careful spotting was really what occurred. I did score a lot of things that certainly wouldn't have been scored in the original, and we ended up with a sort of a potpourri of styles. In some cases there is some very traditional sort of silly, comedic music, and then there's also a lot of rhythm section stuff. In some of the scenes I would cover stretches of it with just rhythm section with the addition of funny instruments, and then I might score a scene two ways, one with a conventional orchestra kind of approach and one with the rhythm section. Pete made what I thought were some smart decisions about going in and out of that – sometimes we'll get a little rhythm section which then leads you right into an orchestral bit and then back out again into some rhythm. So it think the biggest challenge was just in how to put this whole thing together and not make it a music-heavy show either. They also use a lot of songs, so it was an approach of spotting and just talking about this it that we really happened upon a nice balance of music and song.
Q: The other thing I think you were able to bring in to THE THREE STOOGES that the original never had was that you evoked the heart of these guys. The music helped remind us that despite all the hijinks and lunacy the film also has a tender aspect to it about these characters.
John Debney: I'm so glad you said that, I was remiss in not mentioning that also. That was absolutely a huge deal for Pete. He wanted us to feel something for these guys and their plight and their history, so I worked very hard on what would become a sort of family theme for them, and he was very pleased with it. I came up with a little bit of the tune and it pulled at your heartstrings but not too much. I think it did end up helping to ground the emotional bit of this film, and I’m pleased to say a lot of people have commented that they like that. We tried very hard to create the right balance with that.
Q: In the realm of comedy films, you’ve continued to work with director Garry Marshall. His last two films, VALENTINES DAY and NEW YEAR’S EVE were these broad, ensemble romantic comedies that, again, had a lot of characters and many interweaving relationships to keep track of until everything comes together and resolves at the end. What was unique about scoring these films for you?
John Debney: I've done about six films with Garry and every time out is an absolute joy. He is just a delight to work with. VALENTINES DAY was a new kind of a beast, it was this huge ensemble – every big movie star in town was in this thing, and I think it ultimately was successful in that Valentine's Day, itself, is a very romantic holiday. So Garry and I went in knowing where we were going to go with it – where we ultimately had to have individual themes for a few of the couples but also an overall love theme for our main couple, Ashton and Jennifer Garner’s characters. So that one was a little easier in that we had our roadmap on how to get where we wanted. NEW YEAR’S EVE was a tougher thing because it's a less defined holiday, to be quite frank. We knew that going in and so NEW YEAR’S EVE was a much tougher road. Interestingly enough, I think NEW YEAR’S EVE was a much more emotionally affecting outcome type of movie, but it was certainly less successful, and I think that may have been because of the fact that was a less defined holiday with more characters than they had in VALENTINES DAY. There wasn't a clear emotional musical thread in NEW YEAR’S EVE that we would hold onto. I'm not sure, musically, it was as satisfying as VALENTINES DAY ultimately was, but nonetheless it’s always fun with Garry. I'm really hopeful he'll make another movie soon, because he sort of a national treasure.
Q: When you're approaching a comedy or a romantic comedy is there a general way you like to approach them, or is there a particular type of music that you're asked to write for these types of films?
John Debney: I would say that comedy and rom-com, these days, can mean a lot of things. It really starts with the director. There was a time, not even that long ago, let's say pre-HANGOVER, that rom-coms and comedies were scored in a certain way. The wonderful thing about HANGOVER and a couple other of those movies was that they really broke the mold both dramatically and musically, and I think it's fantastic that they did so. So it really depends on the director, for instance David Dobkin and I worked together on THE CHANGE-UP, which is really a fun, raunchy movie that I got to do with him last year. And he really wanted an eclectic blend of different styles, so the main theme featured an out-of-tune 12-string guitar. That was a lucky find for me because the strings are doubled up so you could de-tune the strings from each other just a little bit to give it this sort of unbalanced wacky feeling and that ended up being perfect for these two characters who end up switching bodies through a magical thing that happens. So, best laid plans are that there is a lot of discussion upfront and then it’s just trial and error. There are no rules, especially nowadays, particular with rom-coms and comedies, which can be scored with hard-edged, distorted guitar rhythm scores like HANGOVER or it can be a little bit indie/pop-y, which I had a lot of fun doing for NO STRINGS ATTACHED which was very indie and yet in the end there's a nice theme that I was given the opportunity to write. It just depends on the needs of the film and what the director's tastes are.
Q: Then, on the other side of the coin, you’ve also brought your own style to the realm of mystery thrillers with scores such as DREAM HOUSE, THE DOUBLE, and your new score, ALEX CROSS. How do you begin to consider scoring these types of films?
John Debney: ALEX CROSS was really just uber-cool for me, because, especially nowadays, I’m looking for projects where I can stretch and do something different than I'm maybe known for. In the case of ALEX CROSS the director Rob Cohen, who is someone I've worked with before and who I think is a really smart director, wanted to be really, really nasty and distorted – kind of Trent Rezner-esque or taking some of the bands from the era like a Prodigy or Skinny Puppy, and take that music and to see how we can apply it to the fabric of the film. And so, ALEX CROSS is really different for me, and it's really, really nasty and out there. Interestingly enough, in some cases we had to pull back on so that distorted nastiness because it was taking over the movie a little bit! We ended having what I think is a nice blend of the crazy, overly processed music, but it was really fun for me. I think it's probably my most contemporary score to date. It will be fun to see what people think of it. DREAM HOUSE, on the other hand, was very much a psychological ghost story/thriller. They had temped it with my score from DRAGONFLY from a few years ago. So that was a cool situation which doesn't happen that often, where they temped the whole movie with one score of mine, and so when I got the call on that I knew going in what they liked and what they had temped with. So it was a different challenge for me because I had to divorce myself from my own work. It ended up being a very simply-driven melodic score that's just a motivic series of notes on the piano that turned into an evocative theme that people seem to like and was rather effective in the movie because of its simplicity. So, two different movies, two different approaches. Again, the dictates of what you are going to do are really set out, sometimes, in front of you and at other times is just a wide-open book.
Q: Just as comedies and rom-coms have changed over the years and do something different, so have I think these very visceral psychological/suspense thrillers. When you're approaching something like that, has what you're being asked to do by directors changed in recent years like they have in the comedy realm?
John Debney: Absolutely. There are a lot more electronic-based scores now. I'm not saying that's a trend, I think right now it's just what's in vogue. For me, it's been interesting because in doing that type of music it's truly a different side of my brain, to wrap my head around doing more of the production end of things. Now we’re having certain artists and bands being asked to do scores, and I think that’s cool. The pitfall is when a band or an artist really doesn't know how to translate their work into what the needs of the film are, so that's sometimes when a collaboration is really cool. That’s what I love doing and I'd like to do more of that. I think if Mr. Film Composer can be teamed with uber-cool artists, some really special stuff can come out, and is coming out.
Q: What do you have coming up from here, if there’s something you can discuss at this point?
John Debney: I'm taking a much-needed break now, to be honest with you! I’ve got a couple of things on the books with the director who I did THE STONING OF SORAYA M with; he's got two wonderful movies happening next year. One of them is a sort of spiritual-based movie and the other one's a big period piece. I don't want to spoil the names since they’re right in the middle of their financing and I don't want to jinx anything, but next year looks to be fun for me, being able to do some different things which I'm really enjoying. When I'm asked to do comedies, they’re always fun, especially with people like the Farrellys, but I also really enjoying doing different kinds of things and that's what were involved in right now.
Special thanks to Alex May at Costa Communications for facilitating this interview.
2. Tony Morales
Emmy-nominated Tony Morales began his career as a staff composer within the commercial music division of Hans Zimmer’s Media Ventures in 1998. Since that time he has gone on to compose numerous scores for film and television including the short film GOPHER BROKE, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short in 2005, HIDE AWAY, an official selection of the 2011 SXSW Film Festival, UNGUARDED an ESPN documentary that was nominated for two Sports Emmys, and the Emmy-nominated HATFIELDS & MCCOYS (co-composed with John Debney). A guitar player since the age of six, music has always been a part of Morales’ life. After an adolescence spent playing in a series of bands, he turned to the world of film music. Morales holds a degree in film scoring from the renowned Berklee College of Music.
Q: How did you move from scoring commercials at Media Ventures into scoring feature films?
Tony Morales: After spending about three years in the ad world, I’d made some friends around town who are doing more television and film work, so the time was right for me to leave the comfort of the commercial life. I worked for about two years doing arranging and working on television scores, and after a few years I got back in touch with Harry Gregson-Williams, because Harry was a reason I even got to Media Ventures in the first place…
Q: How did that happen?
Tony Morales: Post-college I went to the USC scoring program for film and television. After college I had two choices, I could move back home or find a day job and figure it out. I took the day job route and ended up moving to Venice California with a roommate and not too long after that we need to get another roommate involved to pay the rent. Someone moved in, and her best friend happened to be Harry Gregson-Williams. Total kismet, I had no idea! I think this was before Hans had done THE PRINCE OF EGYPT so Harry was just getting his feet under him with THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS. Moving ahead a few years, I reached back to Harry and said, “Hey I'm out here if you need any help or anything.” He was very gracious and very loyal and got me involved doing guitar work on some of his films – guitar arranging, guitar recording. I spent some time doing that and a couple years into that I ended up meeting Brian Tyler – that connection was made because an intern back in my commercial days had gone on and start working for Brian. Brian was getting busier and was looking for arrangers and somebody threw my name in the hat and then we work together for a few years.
Q: When did you first start working for John Debney?
Tony Morales: It was on a small independent thriller called THE DOUBLE. The introduction to John happened similarly to that with Brian. We had a mutual friend who had done some work for John, he happened to be too busy this go-around so he referred me. John I got in touch and I did some arranging for him on THE DOUBLE. It was a great working relationship and therefore THE CHANGE-UP was his next film that year and because we had a good time the first time, he called me back.
Q: What was your role? What did you contribute to?
Tony Morales: On THE CHANGE-UP it was more arranging. I believe John was the second composer on that film and so of course it was a time crunch. There wasn’t a lot of time to get through it so he did a bunch of theme development and brought me in as an arranger to help get everything done in time.
Q: What was your working relationship on HATFIELDS & MCCOYS? How did you determine the kind of music needed?
Tony Morales: John brought me in at the beginning of that and from day one we went into the meetings together. From the get go, the producers wanted a memorable melodic/thematic score. So right away the first challenge was figuring out what the themes were going to be, because there are so many different storylines with the miniseries of the different families. So after that first meeting, we went into a two week period of theme exploration. We had another meeting where we presented those themes and we all agreed on about three or four that were going to work for different scenarios – but we still needed the overall HATFIELDS AND MCCOYS theme. That's one took probably another four weeks, because it was a process of figuring out what felt right. But having the other themes got us going. Aside from wanting to have a thematic score, the producers also wanted to stay authentic to the time in the region – post-Civil War, late 1800s, in Appalachia – so we were looking at creating a modern score here, but we decided to have the Appalachian instruments take the lead as far as tonality goes. For the vocals, we had Lisbeth Scott, who John's worked with several times before, she came in with our lead solo voice. We used fiddle, a whole range of guitars, acoustic, mandolin, mandola, banjo, hammered dulcimer, and hand percussion – we tried to keep it all organic, as far as that went. We started writing cues based on the meeting where the themes were okayed. John had brought in a few themes so it was natural to get started on those cues. I did the same with the theme I had brought in, and then we just chipped away. Everything we wrote we played for each other so we both knew what we were doing and could stay cohesive between us. We finished almost the first and half of the second night before we started doing production of the music. It was important to go through a few phases of recordings to test our ideas out on the soloists, because were also trying to keep a little bit more of a modern edge to it. It was good to have these exploratory recordings, because we did have to make it through what would be a six-hour marathon of footage. We ended up having about two or three different recording sessions throughout the process.
Q: So was a true collaboration between you and John as opposed to just splitting the episodes between you?
Tony Morales: Absolutely, yeah. There wasn't a split up of episodes. We started together at the same time, and it seemed to work out well. The best part about working with John is that he’s really supportive. He realizes I'm a younger guy and newer to this. He was real supportive in collaborating with me; he played me his music and he was open to my ideas. It was truly a great time working with him.
Q: Would you describe your thematic architecture of the score?
Tony Morales: At the end of the entire job we had four true themes. One was the overall Hatfields and McCoys theme, which actually opens up the miniseries and you'll hear it more often than the other ones. There was a Hatfields family theme, there was a McCoys family theme, and then there was a love theme for Roseanna McCoy and Johnse Hatfield. It was important to establish that love story at the beginning because it's a tragic, Shakespearean thing – the son and the daughter from the different families, a forbidden romance. That was established up front as the part where the romance happened and as the story went on it got a little more tragic. We would try to delineate between the two families because one of the things we talked about at the start was that it was important to keep a separation, with the music, as to what families we were following in the storyline because they did cross over a lot and we wanted to make sure the audience kept up with who was who. John nailed the overall Hatfields and McCoys theme about four weeks into it. He had a lot of different passes at it and finally he just came up with a fantastic thing that the producers immediately fell in love with, and that really wrote the rest of the score for us because it gave us our material for the overall theme.
Q: Moving back a little bit, would you describe your experiences working with Brian Tyler on FAST FIVE and BATTLE LOS ANGELES?
Tony Morales: Those are both super-fun, huge epic scores. The process was pretty much the same in my working relationship with Brian. He would establish what the direction his music was taking, and what the themes are. He is very traditional in that sense, he likes to work with themes. In BATTLE LOS ANGELES we had this alien sound which he came up with right away, and we had to make sure we were conscious of that in the scenes we were working on. And we talked about sound palette –FAST FIVE was going to have a little more of the electronic hybrid elements under it, plus the orchestra, than we would in LAW ABIDING CITIZEN or BATTLE LOS ANGELES. And by the same token, in BATTLE LOS ANGELES, the director early on wanted to use some guitar in there, like the band Sigur Rós, so that was a tough thing to balance. Brian would say "okay, this can work, but how are we going to make it work with the orchestral elements and not sound forced?" So he would come in and drive the boat and then explore a scene or two here and I would work on programming and arranging the parts, and trying to figure out how this blend would work.
Q: You also worked with Brian on both EXPENDABLES scores. Were you doing arrangements for those also?
Tony Morales: Yeah, arranging for Brian. With THE EXPENDABLES, the original one, Brian called me up once he had his themes developed. He gave me examples of where he thought things should be sonically, and it was just a matter of taking his work and expanding on it to take care of some scenes and get it all done in time. I think I was on that job for four or five weeks.
Q: In addition to arranging and composing you've also been a musician on scores. You played some instruments on Harry Gregson-Williams’s scores for PRINCE OF PERSIA and SHREK FOREVER AFTER. What was that like coming as a session player?
Tony Morales: I like those jobs. Harry seems to hire me more often for those than the other guys, but the great thing about it is he'll have his cue already written and fleshed out, and he'll send it to me. All is missing at that point are whatever instruments he wants me to record on to it. On PRINCE OF PERSIA he wanted to have his huge epic sound but he also wanted to keep it authentic to the region. He suggested that, in addition to just playing an oud, if I thought a 12-string part might fit into that and add a neat color, I could go ahead and try it. He likes to see what works. I'll end up layering and recording usually more than he'll want, because as a composer I can appreciate getting back options. Same thing with SHREK. I played guitar on some stuff for Puss in Boots on SHREK THE THIRD, and then with SHREK FOREVER AFTER there was an on camera bit in the front of the film where Puss in Boots sings the end of Bob Marley's "One Love" in a tree. They had done the animation without the guitar part, so I needed to match my playing with everything that you're seeing. After the job, DreamWorks asked me to do an arrangement where Puss in Boots could sing on just for the soundtrack album. So I did an arrangement and I got to have Antonio Banderas sing in the Puss in Boots character, and that was great.
Q: You've also contributed to television on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, THE RICHES, and recently Syfy’s WAREHOUSE 13. What were those experiences like for you and what were your musical contributions to those shows?
Tony Morales: Those were all very different experiences. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER was back when I’d decided to leave the advertising world and pursue TV and film. BUFFY was the first show I had gotten to work on. I worked on it with a composer, at the time, named Thomas Wanker [pronounced “Vanker” – now called Thomas Wander], this was season six of Buffy, and it was a great learning experience. Like I mentioned earlier, I kind of fell into the ad world, so coming out of Berklee and USC I was ready to take a crack at film, and it was like a complete 180: ads are short, you have to grab the viewer's attention right away, and there's nothing subtle. Getting into underscoring, you have to do almost the opposite of that, you have to be subtle and pick your points. So BUFFY was really a great way for me to get my feet wet again and start thinking about long form writing, and Thomas was great. I believe he had done two seasons of it, he had done season five and then I got involved in season six. THE RICHES happened right around the same time. I got back in touch with Harry and started doing a lot of guitar work for him, and it was natural for him to call me, because when they first started talking about music on THE RICHES, guitars were to be an important part of the sound they wanted – not really anything melodic or chord-y or riff-y, but guitar ambient vibe music. Before that show I had never owned a mandolin or ukulele and so it is fun experimenting with those for him. He called me and another guy named Toby Chu who had also worked for him, to some in and be the guitar guys and collaborate on the project. And WAREHOUSE 13 is composed by a good friend of mine, Edward Rogers. Ed and I were actually at USC together, so that's where that relationship began. That was more of an arranger/collaborator effort.
Q: You’ve recently begun working on some video game scores. With these diverse experiences you been involved with, how does the videogame world compare with the films and TV for you?
Tony Morales: In scoring games, you don't really have the visual restrictions you do with film and TV, because for the most part you're working to description – what is this level of the game going to need energy-wise, what is this level going to need duration-wise, will we have to have something that works over a two- or four-minute time period without driving the player nuts when they hear the loop for the hundredth time. So it was a little bit freer and you didn't have to worry about all the hit points, you could write something that felt a little more flowing and not have to worry too much about the time crunch on it. But the games that I've worked on, like Eat Lead: The Return Of Matt Hazard was almost like a spoof of the game because you had different characters that were based off of older games from the ‘80s, and you could have fun with it. There was a track I did for one gangster boss that was like a ‘70s disco track – and I never thought I'd be doing a ‘70s SHAFT sound for a videogame! And some other ones were for really hard rock and then of course there were your orchestral action themes. It was a fun game.
Q: What do you find unique about scoring for an interactive medium as opposed to the linear format of a film?
Tony Morales: I think for games you need to have an ability to grab the viewer’s attention and/or keep them interested a little quicker than you do with film. Sometimes, in a film, you're waiting to see your character come in and develop and see what the story is about, whereas in a game, just by the nature or the tone of what you're purchasing off the rack, or because of the game’s legacy, we need to get to the point quicker.
Q: You’ve been working with Nickelodeon on the series SUPAH NINJAS. What’s that been about, musically?
Tony Morales: SUPAH NINJAS has been great. It's a live-action superhero show, but they’re ninjas. It’s a take-off of classic comic books in that there's new villains all the time confronting the ninja heroes. It's been a great experience because they want the music to be real filmic, they don't want it to be watered down or simplified in any way. For me it's been a great experience in running the ship for a full series – the first season was 26 episodes back to back with no break. It was a great learning experience for me. I’m just starting Season 2 right now actually.
Q: On a series like SUPAH NINJAS, does it get a little easier down the line when you are able to draw from the previous themes, or are you still creating new material as new characters came in?
Tony Morales: SUPAH NINJAS was a job that came in through John Debney. This was in between THE DOUBLE and THE CHANGE-UP. John had written the main title for the show [Louis Febre is credited with underscore for the pilot], and then based on our working relationship he asked if I would be interested in handling the week-to-week scoring duties. John had written this great theme which I used as the Ninjas theme, along with a few other themes he developed in the pilot. So there was already a pool of themes to pull from there; what I had to do, consider, and be challenged by throughout the season were the villains. We established, about two or three episodes in, that it would be fun to give each villains their own [thematic] voice. So, for example, one of the early episodes had this villain named Mechanov who had a mechanical buzz saw arm, so I built a percussion track that sounded like it made from trash cans and metal pipes and stuff that felt metallic. The producers really responded to things like that, and it’s worked out to be something to look forward to each week, instead of just using the same themes over and over.
Q: And you just done a feature film thriller called THE FIRSTLING?
Tony Morales: Yes, I just finished that. It's a supernatural thriller, a kind of haunting story, that takes place in Georgia . They are literally finishing the mix as we speak. That's an independent thriller, so we are hoping to get a 2013 release for that.
Q: How do you describe the music wrote for that and how you musically augmented the film’s scarability?
Tony Morales:. Actually, they didn't want it to be to "horror" – so we made a conscious decision to treat it more as a thriller/suspense than using lots of clustered strings and scary sounds. So I went at it with a very thematic approach – and maybe this is more of Brian Tyler and John Debney rubbing off on me. I developed a few key themes for the show and went at it with a traditional string section, a few select woodwinds and some other processed, synthetic sounds that would provide our haunting tones. The haunting aspect has to do with a child, so they want to have a lullaby. I used a vocal soloist and I would double the vocalist over an oboe and flutes. I was constrained to using samples for the rest, but I thought it turned out well though.
Q: From an arranger/composer’s standpoint, what’s your view of making do with samples and getting them to sound as realistically acoustic as possible in a score like this?
Tony Morales: First let me say I wish I could live players in every single score because there really is no replacement, but obviously budgets won‘t always let you do that. It's tough making samples not sound glaringly synthetic. I find that the best way to write for samples is to try and blend them with things that aren't necessarily real. I look at it as: “I'm not going to get this string patch to sound as real as possible. What I'm going to do instead is I'm going to use the strings but I’ll layer them with something underneath. You won’t really know what that sound is, whether it's a type of pad or something I’ve manufactured on my own, but I blend it so it's a little bit more of a balanced sound – something you not quite sure what it is but it feels organic. I just to try to turn the knob a little bit, instead of putting a total fake flute or something out there, for example. On this film they really wanted to hear something lullaby-ish, but we couldn't afford to pull in some things you might think of, like a celeste or a glockenspiel, so I treated it with a little bit of synthetic sounds, a few things that sounded bell-like but you could tell they weren't a celeste. To just twist it a little bit rather than to completely fake the real thing.
Q: As a relative newcomer to film scoring, what would you like to see yourself another five years in film music?
Tony Morales: I'm very grateful for where I am, I feel I’ve been really lucky to have worked with a lot of the people I've been surrounded with and been supported by, and if I'm still working at five years I will consider that an accomplishment!
Q: This whole idea of established composers mentoring younger ones, even in the very formal manner of Media Ventures/Remote-Control Productions, seems to be opening up the world of film scoring to many more people than say 20 or 30 years ago.
Tony Morales: Absolutely. It's amazing. Having some of these guys, at the levels they're at, nurturing new composers is a testament to everyone out there who's willing to do it. If I'm lucky enough to be there someday I will certainly turn around and pass on what I've been given.
Special thanks to Beth Krakower at Cinemedia for facilitating this interview.
For more information on Tony Morales, including sound bytes from the scores we’ve discussed, see:
96 MINUTES/Kurt Farquhar/MovieScore Media
In a gripping reflection of the 2004 film CRASH, Aimee Lagos’ award-winning thriller 96 MINUTES is a compelling urban drama that focuses on four multicultural kids in Atlanta who are caught up in a violent carjacking. Intercutting between the now (the carjacking) and the then (how each of them wound up in that car), Lagos opens up the film to illuminate the separate stories of each kid, exploring such themes as racism, gang culture, and the plight of urban youth. In his score, Kurt Farquhar interweaves shimmering melodic textures with coarse, often distorted comingling of electronica and industrial sound design. It’s an ambient score juxtaposing flavors of beauty and darkness, musically commenting on the visual perspectives made clear by Lagos in the film. “The director Aimee Lagos and I had discussions about the distinctly different worlds that these characters come from…one being a poor inner city environment scared by violence, danger and hopelessness and the other an insulated college campus filled with all the hope in the world,” Farquhar said. “I not only had to balance these two worlds….I also had to create a jarring super dark and edgy world inside the car where the crime was taking place. Another interesting point is the vocal piece that comes in during the final scene and continues over credits. I chose not to use lyrics as I did not want to make a moral choice for the audience at the end. I wanted them to leave the theater still making up their own minds.” The shifting tonalities and urban grit of the score create a claustrophobic musical design that evokes the emotional desolation and violent landscape in which the characters subsist. Most of the music is comprised of these brutal expressionistic atmospheres, with occasional glimpses into the light of hope and redemption, which come to the fore in the final track, which concludes the score with a pleasing song of liberation.
For more information on the composer, including sound bytes, see www.kurtfarquhar.com/
BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES Vol. 2/Shirley Walker & Various/La-la Land
In a nice double fisted move, La-La Land has reissued their out-of-print 2008 2-CD soundtrack with Shirley Walker’s music to BATMAN: TAS (sans the two bonus tracks, but otherwise identical, designated “Second Edition” on the discs and booklet), allowing those who missed out on it the first time to grab it along with a second helping of BATMAN: TAS music in this tempting four-CD set, containing almost 300 minutes worth of pristine Gothic super-hero music. In addition to Walker’s music, this volume contains the notable work of Carl Swander Johnson, Lolita Ritmanis, Todd Hayden, Harvey R. Cohen, Carlos Rodriguez, Stuart Balcomb, and others – including seven sparkling versions of Danny Elfman’s series theme, including a very cool rendition for solo piano. The music is varied but retains a cohesive texture based largely on Elfman’s style from the Tim Burton movies, which influenced the animated series; Walker composed her own striking Batman theme, which along with the Elfman movie theme makes frequent appearances throughout the episodes to bolster the activities of the animated Dark Knight. The efforts of all the various composers proffer a variety of musical voices that retain a cohesive tone and flavor which is largely defined through Shirley’s theme and musical direction earlier in the series. The music is richly orchestral and colorful in shaded of dark, Gotham City noir glare, and the four-disc set makes for a very fine listening experience of some of the best music for animated TV you’ll hear
COWGIRLS ‘N ANGELS/Alan Williams/Silverscreen Music
For this family film about a young girl searching for her father while joining a group of rodeo trick-riders, Alan Williams has composed a sweet and sentimental score favoring piano, guitar, and flute. The music poignantly captures the heart of the feisty and rebellious young girl. In its quiet melodies and soft spaces, the primary theme evokes the girl’s passion and longing in a manner that is almost hymnlike in its structure and cadence, perhaps conveying the spiritual qualities suggested by the film’s title. The score progresses slowly and purposefully, with variations on the main theme (which reaches its peak of eloquent passion in “Hippodrome” as the story climaxes in a final rodeo competition) as well as moments of underscore using the same instrumentation, warming the score beneath dialog and moments of doubt and reflection in the story. Williams also quotes from Alfred Newman’s HOW THE WEST WAS WON in “Sweethearts Ride,” giving the short cue a likable and affectionately familiar energy. A very nice work.
THE EXPENDABLES 2/Brian Tyler/Lionsgate, Silva Screen
Available now as a download on iTunes from Lionsgate records and due for official CD release on Sept 25 from Silva Screen, Brian Tyler’s score for this mayhem-driven action fest is a propulsively bombastic orchestral work that is as proud and brash as the mercenary soldiers who shred the Eastern European scenery in the film. In the midst of Tyler’s aggressive, percusso-brass energy, the score’s main focus centers on the heroic characters of Stallone and his squad of daring he-men and women. Reprising his eloquently bold theme from the first EXPENDABLES movie, Tyler’s sequel score remains thoughtfully articulate even at its most explosive drive. That theme continually reasserts itself and suggests, especially when the violence of the film obscures it, the honor and spirit of the heroes, while also echoing their firmly hidden demons. The music’s elements are familiar – daggers of marcato strings, percussive synths and pounding drums, bold soaring French horns, fragile interludes of violins and the deeper voicings of cellos, but Tyler as usual assembles a satisfying spirit through it all that gives cohesion to the music’s aggressive velocity and continually ties it in to character emotion and dedication to duty.
GREEN LANTERN: THE ANIMATED SERIES/Frederik Wiedmann/La-La Land
Frederik Wiedmann turns in a thoroughly splendid super-hero score for this Warner Bros./DC Comics’ new animated series, GREEN LANTERN. Sustained by a majestic title theme evocative of courage and heroism, the score bristles with energy and charisma. “Early on in the process,” Wiedmann writes in a short composer’s note, “we decided that the music for this series needed to be of a larger scale; epic, orchestral, and thematic. In addition, we had a great opportunity to take the music to an ‘other-worldly’ place, since the main thread of the story takes place in outer space. We explored various musical flavors that are not so common, such as the electric violin, electric cello, and multiple ethnic wind instruments, just to add an evocative and intriguing voice to the score.” At the same time, Wiedmann avoids “spacey” or “science fictionesque” music, focusing on creating exciting and heroically-driven action music that resonates with a familiar symphonic palette. Despite being restricted to using orchestral sample enhanced by a handful of live players on winds and strings (and a solo vocalist), the score sounds richly symphonic, a credit to Hyesu Yang’s orchestrations and Wiedmann’s own intentions to layer a credible orchestral sound. With interesting textures among the brassy inflections of the hero theme and that for various villains encountered by Hal Jordon and his warrior comrade in the Green Lantern Corps, Kilowog, the score is exciting and pleasing and makes for a striking listen on disc.
See my Dec. 10, 2011 column for an interview with Wiedmann about his score and others.
HIGH GROUND/Chris Bacon/Varese Sarabande digital
Chris Bacon, having sadly eliminated his middle initial (P.) from his credit lines in recent years, composed a compelling and textured score for this documentary film not long after supplying an energetic score for the action thriller SOURCE CODE and working with James Newton Howard on the CGI animated feature GNOMEO & JULIET. The documentary, from three-time Emmy® winning director Michael Brown, captures an inspirational expedition of eleven veterans Iraq and Afghanistan veterans (representing nearly every branch of the military) to climb the 20,000 foot Himalayan giant, Mount Lobuche. With blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer and a team of Everest summiters as their guides, they set out on an emotional and gripping climb to reach the top in an attempt to heal the emotional and physical wounds of the longest war in U.S. history. Bacon’s score, released digitally only, is quiet and subdued, evoking the quiet spirit of both the men and women undertaking the “Soldiers To The Summit” expedition as well as the stolid, silent landscape they intend to traverse. This is not a grand, majestic score, but an intimate, reflective, and humble music that hovers behind interviews, creates a considerate rhythmic force as Brown’s cameras capture with breathtaking clarity the imposing Himalayan landscapes and the mountains’ own quiet, solitary spirit. It makes for peaceful listening on disc with its subtle orchestrations of acoustic guitar over a large string section, hand drums, and a very unobtrusive undercoating of synth. The drums primarily evoke the energy and might of the mountains, while the acoustic guitar melodies capture the personalities to confront those snowy peaks. In the midst of so much aggressive bombast in film music, HIGH GROUND holds its own as a work of reverence and serene inspiration.
HORN (gamescore)/Austin Wintory/T65-b Recordings (digital)
Austin Wintory’s new score for Phosphor Games’ Horn, an action role playing game (RPG) designed for tablets and mobile phones like the Android, has been released digitally on iTunes, amazon mp3, and other digital outlets. Recorded with a Hollywood orchestra (likely the first such mobile game to receive a Hollywood styled score), Wintory wrote the score in three weeks, but the music shows no sense of haste or lack of effort. Horn received a pleasing symphonic soundtrack that evokes the medieval period the game appears to be set in (gamers play Horn, a young hero whose village has been conquered by giant stone monsters), with large frame drums providing a thunderous energy to the game play, while solo ocarina, Penny Whistle, and viol de gamba provide their own unique textures to the sound. The earthy flavors and organic texture of the music provides a suitable bed for Wintory’s main theme, a pretty and olden-sounding melody performed on doubled winds, musically delineating the characters and the setting with pleasing lyricism and sunny timbres, while heavy drums and dark rumbling chords suggest the bulk and might of the granite aggressors. “Coming straight out of [the videogame score for] Journey, where our music engine capabilities were seemingly limitless, made for a bit of a technical culture shock in adapting to the relative constraints in an iOS environment,” Wintory said. “But… the narrative was instantly intriguing.” Likewise Wintory’s music is highly intriguing in its own right, washing the soundscape with inventive orchestrations and delightful resonances.
For a cool behind-the-scenes look at the Horn scoring sessions, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-zz344H448
For more on Austin Wintory, see: http://austinwintory.com/
THE PHANTOM Ltd Ed./David Newman/La-La Land
David Newman’s majestic 1996 super hero score for THE PHANTOM, originally released by Milan in a modest 13-track/46-minute edition, has been remastered and expanded with half a dozen unreleased tracks (30+ minutes) of fine heroic/romantic adventure music. The Simon Wincer film starred Billy Zane as Lee Falk’s comic strip hero, supported by Kristy Swanson and Catherine Zeta-Jones. This score was Newman’s second with director Wincer, after 1995’s comedy OPERATION DUMBO DROP. Newman's score is a delight, with a thoroughly engaging main theme conveyed through an absorbing long-line melody; the score is fully orchestral and is enhanced by solo pan-pipes and effectively integrated synth textures that give the music a subtly intriguing sonic edge. Thus the score maintains a rousing melodic energy reminiscent of Hollywood Golden Age film music, but his musical palette is far more varied and contemporary, the instrumental timbres enriching the title character with the suggestion of more internal angst than the average masked crime fighter of the day. The electronic material also characterizes the villain, Drax, who is delineated through reflective, acid-drenched droplets of synth keyboards, offering a distinctive contrapuntal sound palette for The Phantom’s clearly stated melody to play against. The action scenes are therefore exciting, wonderfully orchestrated clashes of motif and instrumentation, thick swaths of stirring melodic phrasing dabbled by very intriguing instrumental textures. While the score’s essential elements can be found on the old Milan release, the addition of 30 additional minutes of Newman’s grand, powerhouse score are not only welcome but essential to really allowing the score to breathe deeply; it now resonates with broader variation and development of motif, and the further examples of Newman’s brilliantly arranged action music plunges across the soundtrack in a marvelous post-modern Korngoldesque integration of motif, drive, and elegantly aggressive timbres. La-La Land and producer Dan Goldwasser had put together a splendid gathering of some of Newman’s best music (Kudos also to Goldwasser for the album’s art direction, especially the moody ambiance of the cover design. Jeff Bond supplies detailed notes that thoroughly analyze the film and its score, including illuminating comments from Newman.
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES/Jeff Beal/Lakeshore
This film is a reality/documentary film about David A. Siegel, owner of Westgate Resorts, and his family as they build the second-largest and most expensive single-family house in America, and the crisis they go through as the US economy declines. Composer Jeff Beal enhances the Siegel’s aspirational lifestyle and the impact of the economic crisis on the family with a score fit for royalty. Beal incorporates a classical, chamber music sensibility, reflecting the baroque time period and ambience of the original Versailles. “What we (Jeff and I) talked about was glorifying the good life and then seeing what happens,” said director Lauren Greenfield. She and Beal used her original Wagnerian temp score as a springboard. “In the beginning there's a montage that's like The Fabulous Life Of,” Greenfield continued. “When I was at the Sundance Lab, the temp score we had was Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. I loved it and thought about keeping it in, but there was something objectifying about it. Jeff uses a waltz that later gets deconstructed, which gives a real baroque over-the-top quality which is also sort of regal. He brought a humanism to the music and an empathy.” The score is rich with melodic themes, baroque characteristics, and grandiose moments that almost seem wryly satirical, and in so doing the music comments as much on the film’s subject matter as does the film itself. When the film progresses and delves deeper into the lives of Jackie and David Siegel, the music takes on a more intimate and thoughtful approach, and Beal introduces somber solo horn and cello lines to underscore a growing a sense of loss. At the same time Beal supports in his music Greenfield’s objective approach toward the film, eliciting compassion rather than judgment. “Seeing Lauren's amazing telling of the Seigal Family story suggested a very unique music puzzle to solve,” Beal said. “Her poetic use of photography and her ability to capture the most fascinating moments of both excess and honesty gave me the chance to explore the intersection of the grand musical gesture with the more intimate. Since my days as a trumpeter I've been fascinated by the Baroque period of music, and the chance to use this as a springboard for some of the score in THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES was a real treat.” The music, a digital release from Lakeshore, offers an intriguing mix of classicalism (to evoke the ostentation and outward appearance of the couple) and modern acoustic tonalities and textures (to evoke their personal sense of loss when the gloss of glamour and the reality of economics have come crashing down onto the couple).
STRANGE INVADERS/John Addison/Intrada
Intrada’s world premiere release of John Addison’s fanciful soundtrack for Michael Laughlin’s 1983 homage to 1950s sci-fi movies contains a splendid orchestral score. Addison reflects the film’s quasi-‘50s roots with subtle incursions of Theremin and orchestral progressions in the style of 1950s sci-fi/monster movies, suggesting the decades’ sci-fi music without belittling it in any way; he adopts elements of ‘50s sci-fi music and integrates it within his own musical style. While elsewhere he invests superlative orchestral touches of small town Americana (his theme for fictional small town Centerville is a delight). John Addison has only rarely explored his music in the science fiction genre, and aside from the requisite Theremin moments, his approach remains orchestral and earthbound, reflecting the characters and their town as they discover several of their neighbors are actually aliens who covertly invaded their town twenty-five years ago. The music is splendidly melodic as the scenario is developed; and when the alien presence is out in the open, Addison engages the enemy with righteous indignation, as a funnel of advancing strings and horns gather through quaking drums and shrieking trumpets. In another nod to the ‘50s, Addison introduces a new, militaristic theme to denote the rise of the film’s scientist hero; again, a respectful and non-condescending reflection of a ‘50s sci-fi mainstay. By the time the ultimate victorious conclusion brings the story to a close, Addison resolves the score with an exquisite flourish and a return to musical normalcy in downtown Centerville. This is a thoroughly endearing score, very nicely presented by Intrada. Daniel Schweiger supplies a thorough set of commentary notes about the film and its music.
TOTAL RECALL/Harry Gregson-Williams/Madison Gate
There’s no point in comparing this new score to that of Jerry Goldsmith for the Paul Verhoeven’s original 1990 film, since the two are different scores for different films (and there’s no comparison to Goldsmith, anyway!). Taking Gregson-Williams’ score for Les Wiseman’s new sci-fi remake at face value (and I haven’t yet seen the film), it seems an effective enough action score, built around a forward thrust of pounding drums, percussive synths, and howling horns, with a tendency toward industrial music grit and propulsion. Unfortunately, most of the music bears little difference from what we’ve heard before in fistfuls of other action films over the last couple of years: rhythm-based percussive drive over a cyclonic sea of mercato strings, and it’s unfortunate that Gregson-Williams was constrained to write a score that sounds virtually interchangeable with half a dozen or more previous scores. There is a noteworthy melodic theme running through a few of the pounding rhythms, evoking the assurance of Quaid as he seeks to discover the source of an implanted memory and discover who he really is, but so much of the action music is derived from the tried-and-true that it’s difficult to appreciate the score on its own merits. It’s on its best when the stalwart main theme is allowed to bellow out its despair and liberation and interact within and amongst the driving action material – a subtler variation of the action motif in for soft keyboards over strings in “The Key” is very likable and articulate; a reflective variant in “The Scar On Your Hand” is also infused with a more striking reflective tonality. The closing tracks, as the story approaches and reaches its culmination, “The Fall Collapses” and “It’s Hard To Believe, Isn’t It?” work much better and manage to convey earnest expression, and in them Gregson-Williams is allowed to embrace a striking and melodic resolution that is quite satisfying. But as for the score’s ubiquitous action material, the score’s musical merits in that regard tend to be swallowed up in a formulaic sea of the overly familiar.
Soundtrack & Music News
Marvin Hamlisch, the only composer to win all three music Oscars in the same year (1973): original score and original song for THE WAY WE WERE and best adaptation score for his work adapting Scott Joplin tunes for THE STING, has died at the age of 68 after a brief illness. He won four Emmys, three for songwriting or music directing for Barbra Streisand TV specials. Hamlisch, who began in Hollywood in the late 1960s; among his early scores were Woody Allen’s BANANAS and the Jack Lemmon-directed KOTCH. He was also known for scores such as ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980), SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES (1980), and THREE MEN AND A BABY (1987). While much involved in stage musicals in recent years, Hamlisch came back to Hollywood in 2009 to score Stephen Soderbergh’s darkly comic film, THE INFORMANT! See Jon Burlingame’s obit on the Film Music Society web page here.
See my 2010 interview with Hamlisch in my January 2010 column.
I am pleased to report that the first book in my expanded 2nd edition of Musique Fantastique is now available at Creature Features. The book, a thorough examination of film music in fantasy, science fiction, and horror films, was first published in 1984 and has been out of print for years. In this 2nd Edition, I’ve been able to expand my in-depth coverage of the subject to the present date while dynamically increasing the scope of each of the chapters in the 1st Edition. Now totaling more than 1700 pages and featuring a new introduction by film composer Christopher Young, Musique Fantastique, Second Edition is being published in four volumes, the first of which is now available in printed and e-book format. See: www.creaturefeatures.com
A web site supporting the book, at www.musiquefantastique.com, will be up and running shortly.
Jennifer Athena Galatis’s soundtrack to EARTH 2, a Canadian Geographic documentary, has been released to iTunes. “This album is very special to me because besides orchestral sounds I was let to use synthesizers which I love,” Galatis said. “The combo of acoustic Instruments and electronic ones bring a very special flavor to the whole album which is very emotional.”
On Sept. 12th, BSX Records released the soundtrack to the 2003 television miniseries HELEN OF TROY, composed by the late Joel Goldsmith. One of its composer’s most ambitious projects, this score was a mixture of grand Hollywood adventure music and a certain amount of world music sensibilities reflecting the film’s place and period. Goldsmith was preparing this soundtrack for release for some time; BuySoundtrax has completed the album for Goldsmith’s FreeClyde Records, which will be issued in a limited edition of 1000 units. Orders placed through.buysoundtrax.com will receive a special bonus disc prepared by the composer as a gift to his fans.
FSM has released an expanded, 2-CD recording of John Barry’s music for BODY HEAT. The first disc edition contains the full score, plus alternates and a generous program of source music. Disc 2 opens with Barry’s never-released soundtrack LP, mixed by Dan Wallin and (unlike subsequent issues which featured new mixes) approved by the composer. Rounding out disc 2 are 10 early demos of Barry’s main theme, recorded with a small combo to demonstrate how it might sound with various instruments playing the melody. A 16-page booklet, seductively illustrated with film stills by FSM art director Joe Sikoryak, features a perceptive essay on film and music (including a track-by-track analysis of the score) by authoritative film music writer Jon Burlingame.
Composer Lorne Balfe (IRONCLAD, Assassins Creed Revelations video game) has scored HARRY’S MOUNTAIN HEROES, a British TV documentary about a team of five soldiers who were wounded on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan took on one of the world’s toughest challenges: to scale the imposing Mt Everest. The film, which covered an event very similar to that documented in HIGH GROUND (see reviews, above), aired in the UK on ITV1 on August 27th. “HARRY'S ARCTIC HEROES was the first documentary I did in connection with the Walking with the Wounded Charity,” said Balfe. “Watching their stories, I began to really realize how fortunate we all are. The challenges these soldiers face in life, let alone the unfathomable tasks they set for themselves in attempting to climb Mount Everest, are for me unimaginable. Being able to contribute to this fantastic documentary and such an important cause has been a wonderful opportunity.”
Speaking of Lorne Balfe, Rhino Records will be releasing a soundtrack album for the British crime drama THE SWEENEY. The album features Balfe’s original score composed as well as two songs by Magnetic Man (featuring John Legend and Katy B). The soundtrack will be released in the UK on September 10, 2012 and is now available to pre-order as an import on Amazon. No word yet on a domestic release of the album.
MovieScore Media has released of Spanish composer Zacarías M. de la Riva's score for TAD: THE LOST EXPLORER (Las Aventuras de Tadeo Jones), the feature film debut of Tadeo Jones – the animated adventurer who has already enjoyed success in two short movies also scored by de la Riva.
MSM’s album offers nearly one hour of “first rate, Hollywood-style adventure music featuring rollicking action scoring, heroic and romantic themes and many moments of musical awe and magic. The composer pays tribute in particular to Williams’ legendary RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK score but still remains true to his own, refreshing symphonic voice.” The soundtrack is available on iTunes now, with a limited edition (1000/c) CD available in a few more days.
Death Waltz Records, purveyors of limited and very cool vinyl reissues of classic horror soundtracks, have announced an October 1st date their LP releases of the music to HALLOWEEN II and HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH. The former is graced with exclusive new artwork from Brandon Schaefer with liner notes by he and Carpenter’s musical associate Alan Howarth, while HALLOWEEN III includes all new cover art by Jay Shaw and sleevenotes by Howarth and him. Both LP’s feature an orange and black color-in-color effect on the LP discs.
Kritzerland’s latest release is a world premiere limited edition soundtrack to Victor Young’s
STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND, the 1955 Paramount war movie starring James Stewart, June Allyson, Frank Lovejoy, Barry Sullivan and Harry Morgan – and a ton of very cool aerial and location footage in VistaVision. “Young’s score for STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND is one of his greats,” noted Kritzerland’s Bruce Kimmel. “It has everything you’d want in a score – a rousing main title march, beautiful and emotional music for the drama, and, above all, some of the greatest ‘flying’ music ever written for the screen. Young’s scoring of the flying scenes virtually turns those sequences into ballets of flight, a sky symphony of enduring beauty.” Kritzerland’s album is taken from the original mono music masters, which were found mostly in very good condition at the Paramount vaults. A couple of tracks only existed on acetates (which were cleaned up as best as possible), and a handful were too damaged to use at all. “There have not been nearly enough Victor Young scores released on CD, and we’re especially thrilled to bring out this particular example, as it presents all of Young’s strengths as a film composer and a brilliant melodist,” Kimmel said. “They don’t come much better.”
Kevin Kiner’s score for the first season of HBO’s cool building-the-transcontinental-railroad Western series, HELL ON WHEELS, has been released digitally on iTunes. The score is primarily acoustic guitars and some very modernistic chord progressions and atmospheres. The show’s main theme is by Gustavo Santaolala.
Alan Williams music for the web series THE BOOK OF JER3MIAH is now available on iTunes and amazon MP3. Williams has also launched his own youtube channel to share video bits and behind-the-scenes vids of his film scoring work. See: http://www.youtube.com/user/MusicbyAlanWilliams?feature=mhee
Varese Sarabande has announced an October 2 release date for James Horner’s soundtrack to FOR GREATER GLORY, a historical drama based on the true story of the Cristeros War (1926-1929), a revolt by the people of Mexico against the atheistic Mexican government. Horner provides a thrilling, expansive score for 100-piece orchestra and choir.
For the first time in Italy, the association "Diabolus in music" is organizing a bilingual Master Class in "Music for thrillers", which will be held by composer Marco Werba from January 2 to January 6, 2013. Werba, in recent years, has specialized in the writing of film scores for thrillers and horror films. He won three awards for the music of Dario Argento's GIALLO and the Italian Golden Globes for the soundtrack of the thriller NATIVE. During the internship students will be studying the composition and orchestration techniques for thrillers, horror and science fiction movies. They will have the opportunity to write the music for a scene of a film that will be analyzed and discussed. The best music will be awarded and the student will be able to work as an assistant of Maestro Werba and to write the additional music of his next film score assignment. For more information, contact: Alfredo Igrandi, email@example.com
A soundtrack CD of Gary Guttman's music for the CAPTAIN POWER series is now available for pre-order at www.captainpowerreturns.net . For the first time ever the original orchestral score to the sci-fi cult classic is available on limited edition CD exclusively through Goddard Film Group. Including an exclusive 16 page booklet with extensive liner notes featuring all-new interview material with Guttman, creator Gary Goddard, and recording sessions producer Ted King. The booklet also includes never before seen concept art from the series.
- via Benjamin Michael Joffe/Facebook
A cool Facebook group dedicated to our cherished love and art of film music is happening at https://www.facebook.com/groups/moviemusic21/ . Its moderator is Edwin Wendler, an accomplished composer in his own right Stop on by and talk all things film music.
Kronos Records proudly presents THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY, the German label’s first collaboration with multiple award winning composer George Fenton. “Fenton provides a highly dramatic and beautiful score, rich in suspense and action cues for this 2006 Irish war drama film, craftily managing to keep the score from being invasive,” noted Kronos’ Godwin Borg. The film won the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. This CD is limited to 500 copies and can be pre- ordered here.
Games Music News
Sumthing Else Music Works has released the soundtrack to Borderlands™ 2 featuring the original musical score from the highly anticipated Role-Playing-Shooter video game by Jesper Kyd, Cris Velasco, and Sascha Dikiciyan. The game is the sequel to the critically acclaimed four-player cooperative shooter-looter that combined intense first-person mayhem with role-playing gameplay. Borderlands 2 Original Soundtrack is scheduled for release on September 18th to retail outlets worldwide through www.sumthing.com, and for digital download at Amazon MP3, iTunes® and other digital music sites.
The composers created a colorful and dynamic music score for Borderlands 2's adrenaline-fuelled combat and diverse atmospheric environments. The soundtrack fuses multiple music styles which capture the multi-faceted personality and thrilling co-op action of Borderlands 2 as players storm through the world of Pandora and its dynamic art style.
The game itself will be available on the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and Windows-based PC in North America on September 18, 2012 and internationally on September 21, 2012. For more information,see: www.borderlands2.com.
Randall D. Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine. A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer. He now writes for CinefantastiqueOnline and has written liner notes for more than 70 soundtrack CDs for such labels as La-La Land, Percepto, Perseverance, Harkit, and BSX Records. For more information, see: www.myspace.com/larsonrdl A massively re-written and expanded Second Edition of Musique Fantastique will be published this Spring, see: www.creaturefeatures.com/products/books/musique-fantastique/
Randall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org