Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2015-3
September 8th 2015

By Randall D. Larson



  • Composer David Newman on TARZAN, SERENITY,
    GALAXY QUEST, and more
  • Henry Jackman on Scoring PIXELS,
  • Charles Bernstein vs. SHARKTOPUS VS. WHALEWOLF

Soundtrack Reviews

12 MONKEYS (Rabin & Linford/Varese), ANNE FRANK'S HOLOCAUST (Leggett/Earthsonix), CONAN THE BARBARIAN Transcribed for Organ (Pelster/Naxos),  FANTASTIC FOUR (Beltrami & Glass/Sony), FLASH GORDON Vol. 3 (Picton/Perseverance), HELIX (Heil/La-La Land), JENNY’S WEDDING (Byrne/Varese), LOITERING WITHOUT INTENT: Music for Charlie Chaplin’s The Mutuals (Davis/CDC), LUV (Malo/Lakeshore), MACHINE GUN KELLY (Fried/Private Issue), MAD AS HELL (Landa/Ronen Landa), MARY OF NAZARETH (Farley/Caldera), MAX (Rabin/Sony), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION (Kraemer/La-La Land), OUTCAST (Roussel/MSM), TRISHNA (Umebayashi/Caldera), Z FOR ZACHARIAH (McIntosh/Varese)

I had the opportunity to chat with a favorite composer recently, discussing his impressive score for the recent animated French version of TARZAN – a score of his I am very fond of; I love its melodic base, its depth of instrumental texture, and its compelling rhythmic structure. We discussed his approach to scoring that movie, along with a few other selected works.

Q: Prior to TARZAN you scored ANIMALS UNITED for the same director and producer.  How did you first become involved with them, and what were your experiences scoring ANIMALS UNITED for them?

David Newman: They were looking for an American composer for ANIMALS UNITED.  They were very concerned about the film’s integration of comedy and drama, so they were looking around for somebody who had a bit of experience with animation and comedy.  I got hooked up with him via my agent at the time.

Q: TARZAN of course is a franchise with a long character and musical history in films.  What were your initial considerations for the kind of music this incarnation needed?

David Newman: We started off in one place and ended up in another place.  It ended up being a kind of a hybrid, contemporary score with elements of theme and things that aren’t necessarily contemporary in the way that films are scored now.  It was kind of a hybrid of what are called hybrid scores – a lot of electronic elements and by that I don’t mean just synths, I mean the beats and the feel of it.  It had a lot of techno-ish music and things integrated with more traditional orchestral music.  It’s a hybrid of a hybrid kind of thing!

Q: You have a long history in scoring animated films, and treating them as straightforwardly as if they were live-action dramas.  What did you find unique about this project as an animated movie and what challenges did that pose for you?

David Newman: It was that we wanted it to sound modern but that we wanted it to be thematic. Those tend to be mutually exclusive now, in terms of film scoring, and that’s not generally how films are scored now.  So we didn’t want it to sound old-fashioned, but we liked having thematic/motivic elements in it.  There’s hardly any dialogue in it, which is very unusual for an animated film, so the music had to take a front seat in a lot more of the film than it normally would be.  I’ve never done a film that had that little dialogue. I really love the movie, but it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. 

Q: What was the central element of the film that you built your score around?  What did your creative muse begin with on this score?

David Newman: We started without using themes at all.  We began as if it was an action/adventure hybrid score, and then we found that, in a way, it just was too cold.  The music wasn’t helping as much as it could be helping.  So we started moving into themes, and then integrated them into a more modern type of score.  I think the first cue I did after that was for him climbing up the tree, and then we extrapolated back from that.  Then there were some themes for him and Jane and for the ape mother, and so on.

People think of themes like songs, but really in film scoring they’re just sort of a jumping off point.  You don’t necessarily just repeat a theme over and over again in various places, you use parts of it and develop it, so you don’t always know that the use of a theme is going on.  And for something that has very little dialogue in it, we just found it was too esoteric without having some kind of thematic base that unified it.  There were four or five characters who had some kind of thematic material, but it wasn’t like we just played their themes over and over; the themes were used in a progressive manner.

Q: On this type of film how have you had to map out your thematic development so you’re able to hit each portion of the film’ dramatic arc and character changes?

David Newman: That’s the skill of being a film composer. It’s one thing to write music, that’s something all of us have been doing all our lives, and if you don’t learn to do that early on you’re not going to be able to score films. Even more important than the themes or the music that you write, you have to be able to sculpt whatever ideas you have around the film, because the film is the main thing.  So, once we found something that we liked for these five characters in the movie, then it started to come together. It’s a hybridized texture.  There are a lot of strings in it, and sometimes they’re playing themes or motifs, but there’s a lot of other contemporary elements that are going on as well, all at the same time.  I find with animation that you can do a little more than you can with contemporary live action film now.  Even though it’s CGI and it’s attempting to be realistic, your brain knows that it’s not, and there’s a little more you can get away with.

Q: Were you limited in the orchestral resources you had available? Did you have to rely on samples for choir or other musical elements?

David Newman: No, we had a real choir. This was great – this was like doing a film in the ‘80s, in terms of the money and the resources!  We were in Berlin, but they have a fantastic orchestra and great equipment.  So I had a huge orchestra and a full chorus for days.  They spared no expense on this. ANIMALS UNITED had been the same thing, I had full chorus and orchestra and plenty of time.  It was great.

Q: With those forces at hand, how would you describe your technique in developing these thickly orchestrated and thematically-oriented action scenes?

David Newman: With a combination of contemporary rhythm and percussion.  Obviously it takes place in Africa and there are apes and human beings, which leads to some obvious choices to make in action, but I think what’s unusual about it is the use of orchestra in those scenes – not just as slamming action, but also as pathos and angst and emotion.  We tried to put emotion in the action scenes – as a matter of fact we tried to put emotion in everything, maybe for better or for worse; what we found when we didn’t do that is that it worked less well.  “Emotion” may be too broad of a word, and it’s not always used correctly. We tried to put pathos in it, I would say, and angst, putting ourselves in the situation of the characters.  We had a great deal of difficulty with the last cue and what to do and how to end it.  The whole thing was very tricky to do. 

Q: I’ve read that you’ve also used a sample library called Forest Kingdom, which I think adds to the thick texture that gives the score such a sonic depth.

David Newman: I’ve always used sample libraries from almost the beginning. I did a movie early on called HEATHERS [1988] that was completely samples, no live orchestra at all.  It was really difficult and primitive, and it’s always been a big interest of mine, but I also use orchestra a lot, too. I’m very good at using orchestra, and I’ve got a certain style of what I’m interested in.  It’s not just me, everybody who’s doing films is doing this. And I don’t think anybody’s trying to do it to replace anything, unless you have to.  I mean, if you don’t have the money for an orchestra then you have to do what you have to do.  But no one would do that on purpose. If they had the money they would hire real players.  But I’ll still use sample libraries because they widen your pallet so much.

Q: I’d also like to ask you about scoring SERENITY [2005], the long-awaited wrap-up of Joss Whedon’s rudely aborted FIREFLY series.  How did you become involved in that film?

David Newman: I got that via the music department at Universal, who I had done a lot of work for.  They put me in touch with Joss.  I don’t know what happened with him and Greg Edmonson who had done FIREFLY. I imagine that maybe they wanted a film composer to do the film, but I really don’t know the particulars.  That was a very difficult film to score – or at least to get started.  I think I did 15 versions of the main title until I found something that we liked. I had written the little piano theme for River, quite early on, which Joss really loved, so that allowed me some leeway in trying to find the westerny-cowboy theme that FIREFLY had been imbued with. I didn’t know FIREFLY very well, and I tried not to listen to too much of it. SERENITY needed a different score; there was a lot of electronic stuff in it, and a lot of weird stuff.

I loved doing that score.  River’s Theme is a little piano motive that keeps going over – it’s like an out-of-tune piano.  Right after I got the film, I had a piece played by the Indianapolis Symphony – a friend of mine, Emmanuel Villaume, commissioned and conducted a piece that I wrote, which was called “Songs of My Father,” and it was a [compilation] of a bunch of Alfred Newman melodies. I took his themes and developed them into a performance piece.  So while I was there, Emmanuel is friends with one of the cellists in the orchestra, who had a square piano, which is a late 19th Century kind of parlor piano, and it was completely and utterly out of tune.  And so I just started screwing around on it and I found these notes and I thought, my God, this is perfect for SERENITY, because it’s just so weird, it’s kind of saloon-y in a way but it doesn’t really sound like a Western saloon.  So I sent my assistant as soon as I could to sample the piano.  And we used that all through River’s scenes.

Q: It’s perfect for her because it’s a sturdy but twisted theme, much like her character. How would you describe this score’s thematic content and how you were able to develop them across the arc of this film?

David Newman:  It wasn’t so much thematic, this one, except for River’s theme and the Main Title, which was the Serenity theme. The Main Title was only something like fifty seconds. It starts about ten minutes into the show, when you see the ship, but in the middle of the scene I stop because they hit something, and Mal says “what’s that?” and that’s all for the theme!  It comes back here and there and then the End Title develops it a bit.  But there’s not that much thematic stuff in that movie.  It’s a little more of a modern score, but Joss was adamant about that theme, and about the opening. That’s where we spent the first two-and-a-half weeks, doing that over and over again until I found it.

Q: Your instrumental palette is without the woodwind section…

David Newman: I didn’t feel like woodwinds were part of that world.  They’re not tough enough and they’re a little too individualistic and soloistic.  It just didn’t seem like we needed it. I had a really large electronic pallet and I needed the strings and I needed the brass, and a bunch of percussion. I had a ton of percussion.

Q: How does this compare with your previous outer-space science fiction score, GALAXY QUEST?

David Newman: GALAXY QUEST was a completely different animal.  That was one of the easiest scores I’ve ever done!  That was like a dream. Everything we did just worked great!  I did a couple of main titles and the first thing that I wrote was what was used in the movie.  I wrote another main title that was a parody of the original STAR TREK theme that Sandy Courage wrote, which they loved.  That theme informed the rest of the movie.  We made it as serious as we possibly could, and we were left alone.  Nobody in the studio understood that movie in the least. They had no idea what to make of it.  The studio thought it was a movie for kids, which is so insane because kids wouldn’t have seen STAR TREK, and if you hadn’t seen STAR TREK you’d have no idea what that movie is.  So we were just left alone. It was Dean Parisot [director], Don Zimmerman the [film] editor, and Jeff Carson my [music] editor, and we’re all really good friends, and we just had a blast on that movie.

Q: Earlier in your career you scored a number of quirky or comic horror films, going all the way back to your first score, Tim Burton’s FRANKENWEENIE short.  In that, and films like CRITTERS, MY DEMON LOVER, LITTLE MONSTERS, THE RUNESTONE, and even your scores for TV’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT, how did you play these films’ mix of humor and horror, and do you have any particular techniques you have found that are useful in creating sonic suspense and horror?

David Newman: You get typecast.  I did a lot of those films so I learned a lot about how to allow things to be funny without trying to push it, and I did a lot of quirky stuff. I used a lot of certain intervals a lot that were stylistic, for me – certainly not just for me, but in films like THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN and the other DeVito films that I did, that’s where I ultimately figured out how I wanted to play. But films like that aren’t really made any more. There aren’t any dark comedies that are weird and crazy like that, they’re either the Judd Apatow sorts of things or they’re independent films that are just bizarre.  I guess a film like GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL or some of those types of films are kind of like that but they’re more surrealistic.  The ones you are asking about were more realistic dark comedies. I did a bunch of them so I had developed a kind of syntax for it, for better or for worse.

Q: More recently you have specialized (or been specialized) doing comedy films, although certainly not exclusively. While certainly every film is different and has its own unique needs, have you found any techniques or musical approach that has been effective in following when scoring a contemporary comedy film?

David Newman: Generally what I have done are romantic comedies, stuff like THE FLINTSTONES and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. I would say both FLINTSTONES films are pretty goofy; I would say NUTTY PROFESSOR bordered on being a romantic comedy, and then there were those quirky dark comedies.  I did those a lot and I learned.  The most interesting aspect of movies for me are the relationships and the performances rather than the plots.  I’ll tell you a for instance: I also did HOFFA for DeVito and there’s a moment in HOFFA where Jimmy Hoffa is with the DeVito character, they’ve just won their first battle and as they walk away, the camera is on their faces.  They know they’ve won a battle but there’s such a long way to go, but they have this feeling of satisfaction that they’ve started this journey – they feel that it’s possible that they can do this and get it done.  The scene is only about a minute, but it’s one of the most interesting things about HOFFA to me, and it summed up the movie to me.  The whole movie was shot from the point of view of the DeVito character looking at Hoffa, who is this very early on flawed hero-ish thing.  This was way before BREAKING BAD and THE SOPRANOS and any of that was happening. That feeling, that point of view, and the internal relationship thing, that’s what was most interesting to me.  Most of the music that I wrote that I really like has to do with relationships and performances, since music for the most part can’t really do anything about plot or exposition or narrative.  I don’t know if that really answers your question, but I don’t know how else to answer it. 

You know, I am very good friends with Alan Silvestri – I’m going to conduct BACK TO THE FUTURE live at the Hollywood Bowl this summer and then in Lucerne. Alan said something that I thought was so funny and profound, and that was, “We all have a song, all of us, and we just try to sing it over and over again.  Not that we’re doing the same thing over and over again, we’re just trying to get it right.”  I just thought that’s kind of what this is about. You just keep working and working, trying to find your song. Some people will do it by trying to do something different every time.  I’m interested in what’s beneath the surface, and sometimes that’s not effective for a movie.  There isn’t anything beneath the surface or there isn’t time to go beneath the surface. This is not what’s popular or happening now.  That’s a whole other conversation!

Q: How do you use your experience and instinct to determine what is right in this type or comedy versus another type?

David Newman: You have to sniff around what the times are.  We’re all essentially commercial artists. We have to know what’s going on and deal with what’s going on. The good thing about being a well-trained musician is that you can adjust.  So if you’re going to do a film that needs to be contemporary, you’ll have the ability to integrate what the style is or textures are or beats are or electronics are and integrate it into your aesthetic.  And all the while the most important thing is scoring the movie.

“I don’t know anybody who scores a film who is looking at the movie and thinking ‘what a piece of shit, I hate doing this.’  It’s impossible.  You fall in love with every film that you do, even when it’s horrible, because you cannot do it without doing that.”

It’s the movie, not your music, that’s the most important.  Are you helping the movie? That’s all part of the experience of your own syntax and your own heart and aesthetic, and then the skill that you’ve learned for being able to listen and understand what a style is.  What is an electronic style; what is the essence of an electro-techno style? It’s not just a certain kind of beat, there’s other elements to it; it’s the speed with which the harmony changes or doesn’t change, the chords that can or cannot be used. In rock and roll, there are very few chords that can be used.  In blues, there’s even less chords that can be used. In jazz, there are tons of chords that can be used. In classical music there are tons of chords but they are not like jazz chords; there are different chords that can be used.  So you have to be able to look at a style and understand it and then integrate it into your own style, because you can’t do anything except from your heart. I don’t know anybody who scores a film who is looking at the movie and thinking “what a piece of shit, I hate doing this.”  It’s impossible.  You fall in love with every film that you do, even when it’s horrible, because you cannot do it without doing that.  I would bet you that ninety percent of everyone who does this, has that same experience.  You look at a film and you say “eh, it’s not that great. Whatever…”  And then you start working on it and you fall in love with it.  Maybe when you’re finished you fall out of love with it!  But you can always find something that’s good, and you gravitate toward finding the good in it, and glossing over the stuff that isn’t good. And you try to make it better with your music.

Q: Recently you’ve had a chance to score a domestic drama with 5 FLIGHTS UP, which is a very different type of music absent of any comedic elements. What challenges did you find in scoring this film and how did you approach it musically?

David Newman: This was a contemporary independent film. It’s a wonderful little film with Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton. I know what people are doing with these kinds of films so I know what’s expected in a film like that, so I had to just integrate it into my aesthetic and what I feel it needs. And it really didn’t need very much.  I used a very small acoustic ensemble, like a string quartet and piano, and I made it very simple.  It did need a really good, energetic Main Title, and it needed kind of a good end cue… it flips back and forth in time, so it needed some stuff to help with that, but other than that, I don’t think there’s more than eighteen or nineteen minutes of music in the whole movie. It’s about spotting, too. It’s about knowing where not to put music where it doesn’t need it.

Q: Are there any kinds of films you’d like to have the opportunity to score that you haven’t lately?

David Newman: Well, I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve been doing lately. I do wish there were some more middle class movies – which I know is a complaint from everybody – more of these dark comedies, or romantic comedies or the weird ‘70s kinds of movies, but it’s just not what’s being done now. 

David Newman’s poignant score for 5 FLIGHTS UP has been released by MovieScore Media.  For details, see


While by now the Adam Sandler-Pixel Busters film has proven to be much more of a wreck than anything Wreck-It Ralph ever did in his self-titled 2012 movie, but at the time I spoke with Henry Jackman, who in fact scored both movies, the film hadn’t yet confronted its audience – and in any case, focusing on the film’s score as we were, its other attributes, or lack of them, were far from our conversation.  PIXELS brought Henry Jackson into a full-on orchestral film music mode, treating its pixilated invaders with all the organic humanity of a clash between tribal humanity, as Jackman explained in the following discussion.

Q: PIXELS is the second feature film score you’ve done that focused in video games.  While WRECK-IT RALPH examined video games from the inside, Chris Columbus’s PIXELS brings their pixilated images into the real world in the form of an alien threat.  Are you becoming the go-to composer for video-game-themed epic scores? 

Henry Jackman: I’m sure it might have played on Chris’s mind!  He was a fan of WRECK-IT RALPH and so I’m sure he had the music.  They’re actually quite different.  There are moments in WRECK-IT RALPH where I was encouraged to use sort of 8-bit video game type music, and there’s quite a lot of synths.  With PIXELS and all of these iconic video game characters such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong and Centipede and all of their various sound effects – and they’re not literally the exact sound effects of those games but they’re definitely in the ball park – we made a decision fairly early on that it would actually be too much if you then had music that was derived from the original Nintendo and Namco musical styles.  You’d lose the film!  So, we made a conscious policy to have, for example, when you’re seeing the alien mother ship and all these arcade game characters are pouring out of it, something more along the lines of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and go for a grand symphonic score, which is what I’ve wanted to do all along.  So where WRECK-IT RALPH suggested the sound environment of real video games,  PIXELS was more of a nod to the kind of scores that you might have got in mid ‘80s action/adventure, the kind of thing Silvestri and John Williams were up to with BACK TO THE FUTURE and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and INDEPENDENCE DAY.  To have a straight up grand symphonic score, which is rare these days, was a really nice opportunity to be able to do that.

Q: PIXELS was the first time you’ve worked with director Chris Columbus.  How involved was he with the scoring process and what were some of the ideas he suggested to you for how you might approach the score?

Henry Jackman: One of the reasons, in fact, I was really excited to work with him was precisely what we’ve just been talking about, because film music is such a wide and broad church these days where you might be called to do anything from bizarre, textural electronica to, if you’re lucky enough, full symphonic orchestra.  So I knew that Chris has collaborated with John Williams, and I felt enormously privileged, and so I knew from the get-go that as a director his preference is to encourage the full use of a symphony orchestra and not sort of go down the modern action type of music. 

Chris reminds me of John Lassiter in a way, in that he steps in when he needs to and he gives you all the breathing room you need to do the best job you can.  Over Christmas [2014] I wrote all the themes on a piano – this was that kind of score where you didn’t need to sit there in front of millions of dollars of technology to put together the idea! I actually wrote it on an upright piano in the north coast of England!   We had an initial meeting where we went through the film scene by scene and really talked over the ins and outs of what would be a good idea, musically, and then I played him the themes.  He liked them and he liked the orchestral style, so he really let me get on with it.  Any time he had suggestions or notes it was much more from a filmmaking point of view; it wasn’t like micromanaging music. He’s one of those really good directors who knows if he finds someone he can really trust and who’s half decent at doing their job, then the best thing you can do as a director, when you have notes, is give sort of filmmaking and narrative and story notes and let the composer solve what needs to happen musically.  He was just fantastically encouraging and it was a very harmonious experience, really.

Q: There’s a tremendously propulsive drive to the film’s action moments.  How did the concept of the film and its video-game visualizations affect your scoring of these aggressive battle scenes?

Henry Jackman: That’s an interesting question, because, like I said, it’s more in a symphonic style.  In the modern film score era it’s very tempting for a lot of action cues to be full of a lot of pretty hard percussion and minimalist ostinatos and that sort of thing, which we studiously avoided.  In fact, one of the things I was very happy about towards the end of the film when there’s the full-on, giant invasion of New York and the mothership that you saw at the beginning of the film is now spilling out hundreds of arcade game characters running amok in New York – which is sort of redolent of other scenes; we know that scene, it’s like King Kong rampaging through New York, and it touches an archetypal nerve when the alien enemy is running rampant and there’s chaos on the streets.  My pitch to Chris was, instead of being more influenced by a modern kind of action cue, we should think of it more like an invasion piece of music - “if you’re thinking STAR WARS, wouldn’t it be The Imperial March?” It should be more like a full-on invasion than just frenetic action music.  Now, there is some action music, when the arcade is taking Pac-Man and all the rest of it, but there’s also this element that’s been slightly more influenced by an Imperial March or a Holst’s “Mars” kind of thing.  We should get the feeling that the tanks are rolling into Poland or that sort of feel, and that’s what he agreed we should do..

Q: Your score for CAPAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER took a new approach to scoring a superhero film, with a gritty and urban and industrial/environmental sound which characterized the dark realities of Cap’s battle against the Winter Soldier.   How did this approach come about?

Henry Jackman: Well, there you are! That just proves how broad a spectrum film music is these days!   I mean, if you played the first two tracks of PIXELS and then played the track called “Winter Soldier” on the CD you probably wouldn’t even think it’s the same person!  The Russo Brothers had a sort of scrupulous pre-occupation with realism and groundedness and toughness and brutality… it was a very disciplined story focusing on an arch adversary and the hero. Once I got to see what they were doing with the Winter Soldier it soon became clear that instead of indulging the full range of the symphonic orchestra to represent him, it would be much better to reach into completely different musical techniques, which was something closer to industrial, electronica, drum-and-bass, that area of music.

Q: At the same time there is a touch of Americana towards Captain America, especially in the scenes in the Smithsonian.  How did you approach these transitionary moments that contrasted the Cap of the first film, the more innocent era of the 1940s, with Cap adjusting to life in the 2014 of in this film?

Henry Jackman: In a funny way that took care of itself.  Initially, when I was asked if I was interested in getting involved in CAPTAIN AMERICA – well, first of all I was just very surprised because I thought  Alan Silvestri did a brilliant job on the first one, I could only imagine that he was probably busy or something and that’s probably the only reason they’re calling me!  So I imagined that this would be an opportunity for me to do my kind of Aaron Copland Fanfare For the Common Man score I’ve been dying to do. So that’s what I was imagining until I read the script and then saw the movie, and then thought “Oh! I see, it’s actually not that kind of film at all!” It’s psychologically and aesthetically closer to a movie like DARK KNIGHT RISES than it is to the original CAPTAIN AMERICA film so I quickly abandoned that idea. But you’re right, there are actually a couple of moments when he’s in the Smithsonian, when the very first mistaken thought that I had, that this was going to be some sort of Americana score, I was able to bring those orchestral toys out of the cupboard, which I was very happy to do. But THE WINTER SOLDIER mostly was not in that style.

Q: At this point, have you thought of what you might be doing as far as developing your musical structure in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR?

Henry Jackman: Only because they’re obviously understandably enormously secretive about exactly what the content of the film is, and I’ve yet to have the privilege of seeing exactly what’s going on in this one, I probably shouldn’t say.  The only thing I would say is that I’m sure that Joe and Anthony [Russo] will repeat their success in WINTER SOLDIER in finding a very disciplined and unique angle on the franchise.  What I really liked about what they did in the previous film they had some political substance to it as well as having all the entertainment and the action, WINTER SOLDIER also became, if you wanted it to be, a semi-thought provoking film about the role of governmental pre-emptive action and whether you should destroy an enemy if you’re able to predict it will exist at some point in the future, which Cap disagrees. So there’s that whole idea of political discourse which you can either choose to think about or to not think about, and I’m pretty convinced that in the upcoming film you’ll find Joe and Anthony bringing to the screen all the action and adventure that you expect from another Captain America film, but I guarantee they’ll be a threads of thought-provoking substance in there as well, and I think that what makes them special.

Special thanks to Ray Costa and Albert Tello at Costa Communications for facilitating this interview, and to Henry Jackman for taking time out of a very busy schedule to chat with me about these scores.


The latest entry in the mutant-sea creature horror film sub-genre, released close to The Asylum’s third entry in their festive SHARKNADO franchise, is SHARKTOPUS VS. WHALEWOLF, the tender saga of a man genetically altered into an oversized orca/wolf hybrid, who encounters the similarly enhanced shark-octopus creature known as the Sharktopus.  Like the SHARKNADO films, SHARKTOPUS VS. WHALEWOLF made its debut on the SyFy network, although it was the product of Roger Corman’s New Horizons Pictures, in partnership with Anchor Bay Entertainment.  The music scores are always among the most coherent elements of these outlandish movies, and for this one the producers went for the respected veteran composer Charles Bernstein, noted for such action and horror film scores as GATOR, MR. MAJESTYK, LOOK WHAT’S HAPPENED TO ROSEMARY’S BABY, CUJO, the vampire comedy LOVE AT FIRST BITE, and the first NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, where his main theme became a signature motif for the continuing series of films.

Q: How did you become involved in SHARKTOPUS VS. WHALEWOLF?

Charles Bernstein: My agent, John Tempereau, contacted me and said that Julie Corman at New Horizon Films had expressed an interest in me for this project. I believe that someone had suggested me to Julie, but I’m not aware of who that was. Although I had worked for Roger Corman many years ago, I don’t believe that figured into my being hired. When John mentioned the project, I just thought, cool… the idea of doing something off-the-wall like this really appealed to me.

Q: Were you familiar with the previous two SHARKTOPUS films – or their ilk such as SHARKNADO, MEGA SHARK vs GIANT OCTOPUS, etc – and what were your thoughts coming into this project?

Charles Bernstein: I was aware of the whole “shark phenomenon” in recent pop-media, but I had never actually seen any previous productions. The musical requirements were pretty obvious… action, atmosphere, humor, suspense, over-the-top moments, etc.

Q: How closely did you work with director Kevin O’Neill on establishing the kind of music he wanted?  Did Roger Corman have any input on the music?

Charles Bernstein: I met with Roger at the beginning, and he expressed a clear desire for “BIG.” He wanted the orchestral flavor of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and asked that the sound feel high-budget. The director was quite busy with the special visual effects (his main field). He sent notes about the music, but we only had a brief introductory meeting together. During the actual writing, we had minimal interactions.

Q: Kevin had also directed the previous SHARKTOPUS vs PTERACUDA film,  was there any request for musical continuity between the previous film and what you were asked to do in this one?

Charles Bernstein: There was no mention of coordinating with the previous score.

Q: I’m going to assume this is the first time in your career you were asked to compose themes for a hybrid shark-octopus and a hybrid orca-wolf about to battle it out. How did you come up with themes to musically embody the Sharktopus and WhaleWolf, and how did your themes interact as the story and score developed?

Charles Bernstein: You’re right. These were pretty unusual “villains” to write themes for. There were actually quite a number of musical themes in this film. There was one theme for each of the monsters, then there was a dark Germanic theme for Dr. Reinhardt, a sexy theme for Nurse Betty, a heavy afro-drumming/steel drum texture for the bad guy, a lighter “Buddies” theme for the two lead guys, a “Nautical” and a “Caribbean” theme for the location, and finally a Love theme. The monster themes had to be quirky and action oriented, the other ones just had to set up the various characters and moods.

Q: What kind of musical budget and deadline restrictions did you have to deal with on this score, and what instrumental palette were you able to utilize?

Charles Bernstein: The budget was very low. The score was mostly sample based with some live players to supplement the finished mixes. The film cut was in flux until pretty close to the dubbing session, (which was handled beautifully by Michael Perricone at Lotus Post in LA).

Q: Were there any unique instrumental facets of this score?

Charles Bernstein: It was mainly a standard orchestral palette plus the local Caribbean elements.

Q: In a film like this, how can music help with an audience’s suspension of disbelief and make the movie’s over-the-top situations acceptable – or is the conceit of these movies to simply relish in being as outlandish and out-there as possible, propelled along by high-energy music?

Charles Bernstein: Yes, high-energy action, location atmospherics, and a generally sincere musical approach. As a rule, it’s better to let the music be genuine, robust, and kick-ass, and let the picture and the actors provide the broad humor, the surreal weirdness and of course outlandish visual images that Kevin did quite well.

Ryan Beveridge

Q: Ryan Beveridge is also credited as composing music for this film – did you work with him or what was his responsibility toward the film’s music?

Charles Bernstein: Yes, I was going to mention Ryan if you hadn’t. He is a terrific, talented composer. I chose him to work with me on the film and it was really a wonderful experience. Ryan was great at extending and developing the themes in various places throughout the film. This picture was pretty much wall-to-wall music, and having Ryan as a partner gave me more time to focus conceptually and as a result, I think his talent and contributions made the finished product way better.

Q: What's next for you in film scoring?

Charles Bernstein: I never seem to know from one minute to the next what I will be working on. A recent project will be airing on Showtime Network this month on August 26th (2015). It’s a satirical docu-comedy called JESUS TOWN U.S.A. made by a terrific young Canadian director named Julian Pinder. I have also just finished writing a concert overture based on my original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET themes, and completed scoring a Chinese language film for a phenomenal young Chinese woman director, Jiaqi Lin. I also just contributed some music to a wonderful doc on returning American war veterans, BATTLEFIELD HOME.

For more information on the composer and his current activities, see:

Snapshots: New Soundtracks in Review

12 MONKEYS/Trevor Rabin & Paul Linford/Varese Sarabande
This new TV miniseries is a remake of Terry Gilliam’s 1995 sf thriller, which itself was a remake of the profound French short film of 1962, LA JETÉE, written and directed by Chris Marker. The time travel story in each film remains the same at its essence: a man from the future is sent back in time to our present day to find a solution to his world's fate, and each film explores the ideas of memory, time, and technology in different ways. Rabin scored the film with his long-time assistant and collaborator, Paul Linford (GET SMART’S BRUCE & LLOYD OUT OF CONTROL). “The score is a hybrid of ethnic sounds, orchestra, and electronic, with a strong theme base,”said Rabin. To capture the dangerous nature of time travel, Rabin said he “played a lot of the instruments, as did Paul. A big help was Lou Molino on percussion, using weird and sometimes ethnic instruments which gives the music a far more organic feel.” The resultant score is a mix of engaging thematic moments, intriguing harmonic atmospheres, and compelling progressive rhythm pads. On disc, the more chaotic sections may be less interesting, but the textured harmonic pieces like “It Was The Keys,” the elegant guitar solo over piano in “Goodbye, Cole,” and especially the score’s thematic elements (“Time is Cruel,” “Katarina [Jones's Theme],” etc.) are particularly likable. Together, the score’s varied components provide an intriguing and very effective musical exploration of dystopian futures, present-day turmoil, time travel paradoxes, and bleak character studies. It’s a very interesting sonic journey.

ANNE FRANK'S HOLOCAUST/Mark Leggett/Earthsonix Records
This new National Geographic documentary score by Emmy-nominated composer Mark Leggett (MY NAME IS EARL, CONQUISTADOR: A DAY IN THEIR LIVES, THE PRETENDER [TV series main title, with Velton Ray Bunch]) has been released digitally and on CD. Anne Frank’s world-famous diary comes to an abrupt end several days before she and her companions in the secret annex were arrested on August 4, 1944. This is the story of what happened next, as this young girl and her family were absorbed into the Nazi system of work and death camps. Leggett’s score is appropriately poignant and subdued, rendering a lovely acoustic sensitivity towards its subject, focusing on Anne as its primary motific focus. “We did not want to overpower Anne Frank's story with too many dense dark textures, which can be a tendency with WWII subject matter,” Leggett described. “We shied away from reflecting the horror musically and let the imagery speak for itself. I began by scoring the scenes depicting Anne Frank's childhood and the memories of her surviving childhood friends. These initial melodies became the source material for the developing score.”  Using simple themes performed by a string orchestra, Leggett maintained a minimalist approach that emphasized the true story’s sense of innocence and loss, “reminding us of what could have been,” as he put it. The cue “Loss of Self” is one of the score’s most affecting cues, and its most disconsolate, embellishing the hitherto pleasant sound of the music with furtive piano arpeggios and severely distorted and rough string agitato, evoking the aching losses suffered by this young girl through a nightmarish textural design, culminating in a touch of anguished choir. Leggett’s primary theme, “The Simplest Things,” is a beautifully impassioned melody for solo violin over piano, a strong lament for innocence lost; a more emphatic arrangement of this piece, with a harp replacing the piano, eloquently concludes the score. Arrangements of the theme with along with other acoustically-framed pieces make for a very pleasant listening experience, if short (16 mins).
Listen to the score here on vimeo

CONAN THE BARBARIAN Transcribed for Organ/Philipp Pelster/Naxos
The adaptation of popular pieces of film music into performances both authentic and highly interpretative has gradually become more accepted over the last decade. One of the most interesting recent translations is this fascinating sonic excursion. “With its power, energy and moments of tenderness, Basil Poledouris’s music supports the storyline in a similar way to a work written for the stage,” writes Naxos in their PR blurb for this album. “The superb Glatter-Götz/Rosales organ in Claremont, California was designed to inspire creativity and innovation, and Philipp Pelster’s vision in making a complete film-score transcription especially for the unique possibilities of this instrument transforms the orchestral colors of the original to generate a completely new and richly rewarding musical experience.”  The unique aural coloration, variety of sounds, and assertive power of this amazing pipe organ matches the dynamic richness of Poledouris’ original orchestral and choir rendition, ably translating even the emphatic drum elements of “Anvil of Crom,” the prevalent glissandos effects in “Pit Fights,” the surging filigrees of “The Orgy,” and the climactic clashing clusters of “Battle of the Mounds” into effectively rendered performances that are clearly recognizable and yet offer a fresh new perspective on this classic cinematic work. “The chief aim of a transcription should be to make it sound as though originally it had been written for organ,” writes Pelster in his album notes. “And indeed, playing Poledouris’s score on this instrument is like generating a completely new musical experience.”  And, by Crom, it really works as a unique and exploratory musical experience.
Music samples can be heard on Naxos’ web catalog (free subscription required):

FANTASTIC FOUR/Marco Beltrami & Philip Glass/Sony Classical
The unusual team-up of wide-ranging and versatile composer Marco Beltrami with noted minimalist Philip Glass has resulted in a very interesting sound for 20th Century Fox’s latest failed attempt to make an entertaining blockbuster out of their once again mis-used Marvel property. Glass makes his presence known in the first track, “Fantastic Four Prelude,” which has several stylistic elements one may quickly recognize from KOYAANISQATSI and other scores, but which become well integrated into Beltrami’s orchestral approach to this film, forming a unique union of these two musical minds. Reportedly, “the level of involvement that Glass had in the project seems to have been to write some thematic and textural material which Beltrami then integrated into his score,” according to the session report posted at the ScoringSession.Com website on Aug 7th. “Glass, who was on tour at the time of the scoring sessions, was not involved in the recording process,” in which Pete Anthony conducted the 76-piece Hollywood Studio Symphony while Beltrami and his teamed managed the process from within the booth. The result is a very progressive variant on the usual kind of super-hero score we’ve grown used to with the Marvel Cinematic Universe; there’s no real heroic theme that comes to the fore to cheer the heroes on during their moments of triumph, but rather the score’s thematic base is an ascending pair of four-note steps first heard early in the track, “Baxter,” first suggesting what this Institute will mean to the team (not to mention the clear reference meant in its use of a pattern of four distinct notes). This motif will recur at meaningful moments in the story and, most significantly, in the end as the team succeeds in vanquishing the villainous Dr. Doom and are recognized by the military as a viable team of benefit to the safety of the city, and only then does it surface as an official Fantastic Four Theme. A second motif consists of a repeated cycles of an ascending three-note figure (likely Glass’s main thematic contribution), introduced in the “Prelude”  and also reprised frequently throughout the score; seeming to characterize the individualistic aspects of the heroes as conflicts arise relative to the super powers their journey into an alternate universe has bestowed on them.  Both motifs face off in “Building the Future” and “Neil Armstrong.”  Around these two central thematic motifs, the music contains some massive symphonic action and battle music, superbly kept in coherent form by Beltrami and his orchestrators, with the Philip Glass material also dictating a sense of restraint and minimalistic progression in the structure of the score’s musical arc (most evident in the “Prelude” and the climactic track “He’s Awake.” On a decent home system, the album maintains a striking dynamic range that allows the full depth of its orchestration to be fully distinguished, while the score’s few moments of electronica, such as the stereophonic misterioso effects in “He’s Awake” and, in the same cue, the awesome sound of Beltrami’s blaster-beam-styled bass-electronica effects resonate and have the kind of rumbling potency he intended for them. A terrific work which sounds best at loud volume, thus allowing its powerful musical elements to stretch, clobber, and burn their way with an invisible force across your stereo’s sonic spectrum.

FLASH GORDON Vol. 3/Michael Picton/Perseverance
Perseverance’s third and final helping of the music from this single-series SyFy programmer provides music from the contemporized sci-fi hero show’s final six episodes. Canadian composer Picton, on his first TV series score, has done a fairly admiral job (see my review of the first two volumes in my Sept. 2014 column) on giving the series energy and verve using primarily samples and synths. His engaging main theme is reprised here on this album, but appears infrequently if at all within the episode scores, which are fashioned primarily from other thematic motifs and rhythmic action material. That action music is effective, percussive, and quite vigorous (notably the triumphal propulsion of “Revolution,” the rock-driven percussive battle sequence, “Captured,” “the choir-driven “Memory Stone,” the nicely-textured aggression of “Flash Gets the Fruit,” and “Ming vs. Flash,” with its thundering, choral infused climax), although somewhat generic and obviously synthetic in some places; I find his more poignant, reflective music the most interesting, particularly the intimate moments of “Harpist” (a lovely source music cue that is carried into the subsequent fight cue “Sister Battle,”), the ethnic voicings of “Brini,” as well as “Chamber of Archives,” “No Punishment Today,” “A New Son,” “Speech,” “Rescuing Dr. Gordon,” “Father and Son,” and [spoiler!] “Ming’s Execution.” Gergely Hubai completes his multi-volume look behind the scenes of the show and Picton’s scoring of it in the album booklet, discussing each track in detail. Thanks to Perseverance for rescuing this pleasing score from oblivion.
For more information on the composer, see:

HELIX/Reinhold Heil/La-La Land
Reinhold Heil’s score for the two seasons of this science fiction TV series is a variegated, inventive, sometimes incongruous, but constantly refreshing and fascinating mélange of musical sound patterns that haunts the story arc about CDC workers investigating a disease outbreak in the Arctic that opens up a life-or-death situation that could decide the future of humankind. Season two moves the first season’s survivors to a remote, forested island as a new and even deadlier virus presents itself. The score for the two seasons is both tonal and atonal, acoustic (focused on tonal string lines and solo elements of voice, cello, and ciola [an instrument the size of a viola but sounds like a cello] ) and synthetically created or highly reprocessed, rhythmic and discordant, forward moving and quite still. The scores invest and maintain a splendid atmosphere of isolation, claustrophobia, and various levels of worrisome apprehension and even severe fright (e.g., “Sarah in the Hallway”), with tracks that run from the 10-second Main Title to nearly six minutes in length; but it’s all so of-a-(patchwork)-piece that each CD (representing one of the two seasons) forms a progressive pattern with a textured through-line that keeps one’s interest continually peaked. “Some of my weirdest sound creations were a natural fit for this show,” Heil writes in the album booklet. “There are textures that were painted in a computer program and then rendered into sounds and used in a musical context, as well as a lot of straight-up synthesizers and lots of homemade sample creations.”  From this primordial soup of evolving musical organisms, Heil had crafted a disturbing musical design for the show which may be initially off-putting when heard separately on CD, but given a chance and some close attention, the listener may well find the musical magic within HELIX’s seemingly chaotic craftwork. Like the show’s hard cuts, some of the music ends abruptly, its forward thrust jarringly terminating into immobile silence, which is all part of the intent and design of the divergent array of sounds, textures, fragments, melodic filigrees, synthetic strains, battering and distorted percussion, and low register synthetic resonations. Heil is assisted by Paul Parker, who co-wrote nine of the tracks from Season Two, and by Steven Gernes (four cues) and Michael Levine (one cue) on from Season One. The remarkable vocalist Ayana Haviv provides her striking melisma on two tracks, one from each season, contributing a purity of resonance and melody to an otherwise primarily inharmoniously-designed musical discourse. The sonic journey across both discs, while perhaps not an oft-repeated one, is nonetheless an impressive and effective musical construction.

JENNY’S WEDDING/Brian Byrne/Varese Sarabande
Now available digitally and with a CD coming out on Sept. 25th, the original soundtrack to the romantic drama JENNY’S WEDDING features four tracks from the score composed by Brian Byrne (ALBERT NOBBS), Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm,” and four original pop songs penned by Byrne with lyrics by Kasey Jones, sung by Kristina Train. “This was a very last minute project that came to me,” said Byrne. “The brief was it needed a light score to be written and recorded, and maybe with one new song but it had to be done on a tight budget and in 10 days. That one song turned into five original songs and a new arrangement and recording of a standard!” The film is a romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl, who plays Jenny, a woman who finally decides to get married, but her choice of partner tears her conventional family apart. The album is bright and sunny, but short on actual score. The four tracks of Byrne’s underscore occupy some nine minutes, acoustically dominated, painting colorful pictures of the characters while evoking a more discerning reflection of character than the happy songs. They’re mostly quite likeable, especially the opener, “True Love Ave,” a gem of a tune sparklingly sung in breezy fashion by Kristina Train. The gentle harmonic colors of Train’s “Chase My Away” are also quite engaging, and Mary Lambert’s song is distinctive with its own carefully polished and produced dynamic. For the most part, romantic comedy scores tend to be uncomplicated and unchallenging in their filmic effectiveness, and JENNY’S WEDDING fits the bill, providing a thoroughly satisfying accompaniment to the story and a mostly pleasing, if slightly uneven in its mix of song vs. score, and familiar standard vs. original tunesmithing.

Charlie Chaplin’s The Mutuals/Carl Davis/CDC

This latest offering from the Carl Davis Collection (CDC) is sure to give you a smile, presenting as it does nearly three dozen delightful tracks that Davis newly composed for restorations of the twelve short films Chaplin made for the Mutual Company during 1916 and 1917. Davis had transcribed Chaplin’s own music for 1929’s CITY LIGHTS for a 1989 live performance (the music is available as part of the CDC; the success of that performance “started a vogue, thriving today, of stripping the scores from the soundtracks of all manner of sound films and performing them live” to picture, Davis wrote). Shortly afterward, Davis began to compose new music for the Mutuals, beginning with THE IMMIGRANT in 1991 and continuing to 2004 with the last of them. These short films, restored to DVD quality and with Davis’ new scores, were released in two volumes by the British Film Institute during 2003 and 2004; this CD is issued to coincide with the newly-restored BFI box-set of the Chaplin Mutuals released last May. Chaplin never created music for the Mutuals; it wasn’t until CITY LIGHTS and the coming of sound that he began to write music (technically, he hummed or “la-la-la’d” his tunes which were then written out by a series of assistants); later in life he returned and composed music to all of his 1918-27 films, but The Mutuals remained unscored until Davis had the opportunity to compose new music. The music, lavishly performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic and the Wihan Quartet, is derived from the kind of music Chaplin would have been exposed to in his youth and formed his musical tastes – thus Davis provides a number of original Victorian parlor ballads, music hall marches, polkas and waltzes, and the occasional quotation from the classical repertoire. In composing the various shorts, Davis discerned a defining shape to the material, as he wrote in his extensive album booklet notes: “Just as Charlie employed a small group of actors of contrasting size, shape, and disposition across the whole cycle, I too could use a handful of themes which could jump from film to film.”  What we have, then, is not so much a diverse collection of short film scores but a single, long form composition that carries a uniform musical arc, in varied style, across the whole of its 77 minutes, each of the twelve separate films forming a sequence within the longer musical work. In one respect, Davis approach resembles cartoon music in its catching of visual action, its variegated palette and stylistic patterns, and the oft-humorous disposition carried by much of the music; but at the same time the music retains a sophisticated elegance and a heartfelt sympathy that mirrors the innocent gaiety and well-meaning naiveté of Chaplin’s little tramp… to a T.

LUV/Nuno Malo/Lakeshore
Portuguese composer Nuno Malo’s marvelous score for the 2012 crime drama LUV has now been released on CD and digital download by Lakeshore. The film is a coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old boy who gets a crash course in growing up when he spends a day with his uncle, an ex-con named Vincent, whom he idolizes. Malo is noted for his articulation in blending elements from classical, modern, and ethnic music into a provocative and stimulation fusion in scores like NO GOD, NO MASTER (Varese Sarabande), BACKLIGHT (Kronos) and THE CELESTINE PROPHECY (MovieScore Media). In LUV (the film title is an acronym for Learning Uncle Vincent) “we wanted a direction that was an exploration of texture rooted in a strong main theme,” said Malo. “To create a palette that was original, but not for the sake of being original. The director wanted to me to create a musical texture that would add the poignancy to the main character - the boy. So there was quite a bit of experimentation. It starts out as a more electronic score, and moves toward a more orchestral palette as we reach towards the climatic scenes in the latter part of the film.”  The score eschews melody but derives its effectiveness though progressive layers of musical atmosphere and ambience, accompanying the boy’s day-long journey, gradually building the journey towards the apotheosis of loss, pain, and courage that occurs in the last 15 minutes of the film, as the score and film ends in an affecting musical climax. The score’s main theme, which opens the score, reprises in the elegiac “The Death of Vincent,” and again in the end titles, is a powerful piece of atmosphere so impassioned that Malo has distorted the high-register guitar crescendo that soars high over the top of the track’s sonic grain. “I played guitar, then heavily distorted and processed the sound, to reflect pain, anguish, despair,” Malo said. “I would describe that as the inner screams of despair of the boy, and the tragedy of it all.”

MACHINE GUN KELLY/Gerald Fried/Private Issue Collection
Among the latest limited releases from the Gerald Fried Private Issue Collection is this up-beat score to Roger Corman’s 1958 noir thriller, with the once-notorious, titular gangster played by Charles Bronson in his first starring role. Scored by Fried in his late 1950’s heyday of low-budget feature film scoring (before finding a new home with TV scores like STAR TREK and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.), MACHINE GUN KELLY includes plenty of terrific, authentic jazz from Big Band to modern and 1920s era jazz to the early 1950s (“Escape,” “Tip Toe,” “Charleston,” “Blues,” “Boogie,”) as well as jazz-inflected dramatic music (“Robbery,” “Lion,” “God of Death,” “Kidnapping,” “Pick Up”), and a gentle piano love theme called “Butterfly” that Fried also adapts into a cool waltz. Fried was an excellent composer of jazz, and this score runs from the terrific piano boogie to bar-room tenor sax jazz (“Tenor Sax”), and piano bar jazz (“Bar”), qualifying the album as much a catchy album of jazz as a crime thriller soundtrack. Superbly mastered from Fried’s original tapes by David Fuller, the album possesses a very fine sound; it’s an important relic from the late ‘50s jazz age of crime film scores, and a significant work in Fried’s filmography. The Private Issue Collection CDs are produced in extremely limited quantities as promotional recordings on behalf of the composer and his family; David Fuller is offering to put up a limited number of remaining copies in order to fund further work on Fried’s behalf; to purchase, make inquiries to David L. Fuller by email here.

MAD AS HELL/Ronen Landa/Ronen Landa
Composer Ronen Landa (CAVEMEN, AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR, BURNING IN THE SUN*) has digitally released his own score for the documentary film MAD AS HELL. The film, directed by Andrew Napier, is about The Young Turks, one of the most popular online news shows in the world, which has amassed a YouTube network of millions of subscribers and billions of views. The score is a varied riff-based one, comprising jazz, rock, and electronica elements inventively arranged and offset against one another to form an intriguing sonic backdrop for talking heads and associated imagery. “With the score for MAD AS HELL we wanted to capture the energy, passion and sacrifice of [founder/spokesperson] Cenk Uygur and The Young Turks as they blaze a unique path in the new media landscape,” said Landa. “The electronic textures interplay with the organic vibrations of piano and guitar melodies to help us paint the picture of a technological world where human drive and ingenuity are still at the heart of positive change. We also got scrappy and played some ‘kitchen sink’ funk on buckets, pots and pans.”  Each track is preceded by an interview voice clip from the documentary (example: “In my opinion, that guy needed a tall glass of shut-up juice”), which unless you’ve actually seen the film is fairly meaningless and somewhat annoying. But Landa’s music is as catchy as it is eclectic, capturing acoustic moods even while it’s primarily electronic, with sharp percussive patterns beating out an emphatic rhythm. The sound mix is excellent, especially when listening via headphones, each layer of sonic depth clearly articulate in its dimensional space. It’s a, enjoyable and intriguing album.

* This nine-word phrase, incidentally, would make an excellent name for a rock band.

MARY OF NAZARETH/Guy Farley/Caldera
Scores for biblical films, at least those centering around the story of Jesus, tend to be particularly impassioned and beautiful. That is certainly true of Guy Farley’s sumptuous score for the 2012 Italian television movie MARIA DI NAZARET (Mary of Nazareth), directed by Giacomo Campiotti. The two-part movie was a huge success in Italy as it recounts the story of Jesus’ mother Mary (Paz Vega) and accompanies her throughout the life of Christ until his death on the cross. The music, highlighted by vocal melisma supported by a massed string orchestra enhanced by a few solo ethnic instruments, all in an achingly lovely harmonious setting.  Campiotti wasn’t interested in a “big, quasi-religious, chorus-led score,” as Farley notes, “he wanted a great intimacy to the score,” and thus Farley decided to focus on strings and voice, featuring two wonderful vocalists, Lucy Johnson, and for the passion scenes, ethnic vocalist Tanja Tzarovska. The score is serenely beautiful and quite affecting. Additionally, Caldera has included another television score by Farley on the CD: the 2006 drama L'UOMO CHE SOGNAVA CON L'AQUILE (The Man Who Dreamed With Eagles, 11 tracks), a very poignant and breezy melodic score, as well as a single track from the 2004 Jean Claude van Damme movie WAKE OF DEATH, the gorgeous “Reunited”, featuring piano, strings and a lilting female melisma, which receives its premiere release here. The extra tracks are very complementary to the MARY score and all together make for an excellent and well-filled soundtrack album. Caldera has also included their customary behind-the-scenes track, a 3:17 audio commentary by Farley about his creation of the MARY score. This is the label’s second Guy Farley soundtrack – their first release, in 2014, combined Farley’s gracefully romantic and suspenseful score for Peter Fudakowski’s interpretation of Joseph Conrad’ SECRET SHARER along with the unused score for the South African crime drama, TSOTSI (see review in my April 2014 column)
Sample a 5-minute clip from the MARY score here:…/mary-of-nazareth-guy-farley

MAX/Trevor Rabin/Sony Classical
This is a very likable score from Trevor Rabin. The film, from co-writer/director Boaz Yakin (REMEMBER THE TITANS, NOW YOU SEE ME) is a coming-of-age story about a troubled young teen finding comfort, adventure, and hope with the heroic military dog of his fallen Marine brother. By its very nature, MAX affords Rabin with the opportunity to provide meaningful and uplifting music, which Rabin does by focusing on the characters of the boy and the dog as both learn to rely on each other to move forward after their mutual loss. Rabin’s orchestra, dappled by subtle melodic infusions of electric guitar, is warm and melodic, tugging at the heartstrings when appropriate, imposing worrisome tonalities during moments of danger on the battlefield, and sharpening the focus as boy and dog become united but still have obstacles to overcome. Rabin’s main theme, affectingly performed by the rich baritone flavor of horns and cellos; the composer’s gift for rhythmic structuring and languid and inspiring melodies serves the film very well and makes for a very moving listen on its own, apart from the movie.

Joe Kraemer’s score for the latest Tom Cruise/MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE feature film is a marvelous homage to Lalo Schifrin as well as a potent action score in its own right. Kraemer had done a powerful score for Christopher McQuarry’s JACK REACHER (2012, also starring Cruise), and when that film opened the doors for McQuarry to direct ROGUE NATION he brought Kraemer with him. Kraemer composed a motif for Cruise’s Ethan Hunt that is “a sort of upside-down answer” to Lalo Schifrin’s original theme for the TV show, as the composer put it. “In keeping with the goal of paying homage to the original show, while still sounding relevant to today’s audiences, I decided I would only use instruments that were available in 1966, when the TV show began,” Kraemer said. “That meant no synthesizers, no techno loops, and essentially no electronic instruments at all. As a result, the score has been performed entirely with acoustic instruments in a symphonic orchestral setting.” Kraemer’s treatment of the original Schifrin M:I theme is spot on and generously propulsive with pounding brasses and flailing strings (and, of course, bongos), and his original material is potent and effective as well. “Solomon Lane” is a particularly compelling and progressive rhythm piece surrounding a striking woodwind melody that builds to a tremendous surging crescendo with climactic trumpet figures sounding almost like something out of 007. The composer’s handling of the large orchestral forces at work in the score are both controlled and cool, aided by lead orchestrator Matt Dunkley and a team of orchestrators who have enriched Kraemer’s vivid compositions with striking and effectively-nuanced instrumental textures, with Schifrinesque flutes, bongos, and the like coming to the fore from time to time, and rich impositions of his M:I theme bursting out from the musical mass often enough to satisfy the most ardent M:I fan. Tracks like “Havana to Vienna” bristle with muted bombast, derived from the main theme’s underlying bass riff, adding a splendid energy to the traveling scene and enriching the film’s momentum and the audience’s expectations. The music is continually engaging with plenty of climaxes and interludes to make the journey an interesting one apart from the film.

OUTCAST/Guillaume Roussel/MovieScore Media
French composer Guillaume Roussel, who began film composing in France some fifteen years ago and recently completed an apprenticeship at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions, has provided a very organic-sounding and heartily-hewn choral-orchestral score for this historical adventure starring Hayden Christensen and Nicholas Cage as protectors of the daughter and son of a deposed Chinese Emperor to defeat their cruel brother, who seeks their deaths. Roussel’s score is thickly textured and ethnically infused, making for an intriguing sonic palette that is quite pleasing. “The challenge was to find a strong theme that would lead the journey of the characters… the intent of the music is to bound all three together. Some of the main inspirations are medieval music through the use of viola da gamba and that contralto singing in Latin, but there is also Chinese music with the use of guzheng for the romantic theme. I’m hoping that the music on the album will be able to showcase the whole journey through this very eclectic world: Crusaders fighting Moors, an Indian salt caravan cruising in the Chinese desert, a little kid becoming an Emperor and finally a man finding redemption.”  Thus the music’s shifting textures, dynamic thrusts, and sympathetic melodic arc as it follows the journey of is characters makes for a very stimulating listening experience. There’s a moment of wonderful epiphany early in “To The White Ghost” where a lyrical violin figures rise swirling in beautiful resonance amidst a surge of rising orchestral chorus that is quite attractive (these string figures are nicely reprised in “New Kingdom”). Shuffling horn figures do battle amidst frenetic percussion, slicing strings, hollow ethnic flutes, and insistent patterns of the guzheng in “Mountain Fight,” making for a quite compelling aggressive cue. For the most part Roussel avoids familiar designs of other historical action scores and provides a rather uniquely orchestrated and crafted work. The music also features countertenor solos by MovieScore Media’s very own producer Mikael Carlsson, who recorded his voice especially for this album release (can be heard in “Crusades” and “Gallain's Death,” for example).

TRISHNA/Shigeru Umebayashi/Caldera Records
Loosely based on the famous novel of lost love and unfortunate circumstances. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (previously filmed by Polanski in 1979 as TESS), director Michael Winterbottom shifts the setting to India as it tells of a working class girl who falls for a businessman struggling to find happiness despite their different positions in life. Composer Umebeyashi (HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, THE GRANDMASTER) has created an immensely sad score that seems to offer little hope for the lovers as it focuses on their seeming impossible romance. The score opens with a waltz piece that reflects the composer’s well-known composition for Wong Kar-Wai’s 1970 film, IN THE MOON FOR LOVE, but the score is driven by the seething sorrow of his gloomy love theme for Trishna and Jay, poignantly played on violin against cello counterpoint and collected strings in its introduction, and reprised variously throughout the score. The waltz theme is also reflected in a number of variegated renderings as the two despondent motifs carry the weight of their depression across the story’s arc, but despite the languid tone of the music, Umebayashi keeps these themes progressing and shifting, settling into a kind of resolution to be had at album’s end. Despite the score’s overall despondency, like Trishna herself the music finds dignity in sad circumstances, and the impassioned performances of the melodies really give the music a delicate beauty.

Z FOR ZACHARIAH/Heather McIntosh/Varese Sarabande
In the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally charged love triangle as the last known survivors on the planet.  No, this isn’t another episode of TV’s interminable same-story-every-week sitcom THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, this film is actually a rather poignant character study directed by Craig Zobel and based on Robert C. O'Brien’s posthumously-published novel (1974).  Heather McIntosh’s music is a mostly ambient, textural score mixing synths and acoustic instruments; in their oft-stationery sustains, they nicely establish the post-apocalyptic world without the usual discordant music one often encounters for such a dystopian wasteland, and in its pleasing sonic flavors it enhances the character interaction which is at the film’s heart. This is accomplished with various tonal colorations and a lot of sustained ambience, even to the point of extended droning passages across which various fragmentary melodic figures sparkle, resulting in a wash of particularly pleasing harmonies. “This work has a very pastoral tone; even though we are depicting the end of the world, it takes place in the only part of the world unaffected by the apocalypse,” said McIntosh. “Along with lush chamber strings and horns, there is also a subtle underlying tension developed by the use of electronic and acoustic manipulated sounds.”  The musical landscapes crafted by McIntosh for this score are developed progressively and harmonically to create a heartfelt soundscape that gives the story an accessible layer of emotional involvement between audience and characters.  Despite the score’s heavily languid and despondent nature, McIntosh’s music is actually quite bright and appealing; and when she opens up with a beautifully soaring orchestral piece such as “The Church” the contrast is quite striking. “This is my second time working with Craig Zobel, so our director-composer language is pretty well developed,” explained McIntosh. “With our last collaboration [2012’s COMPLIANCE], the ensemble was super minimal, super biting, but minimal. This time we wanted to push ourselves with the score and it's thematic development. Really go for it, you know? Though it is a chamber work, we wanted the sound to be full and orchestral.”  It’s quite a compelling work and a consistently appealing tonal character.
For an excellent short interview with McIntosh, see the We Are Movie Geeks website; McIntosh discusses her experiences scoring Z FOR ZACHARIAH, as well as the improving status of women composers in Hollywood, and how the organization, Alliance For Women Composers ( ) has been of benefit.


Soundtrack & Music News

The death of filmmaker Wes Craven at the age of 76 was a sad shock to many filmgoers and fans.  The director had been suffering from brain cancer and succumbed on August 30, leaving a legacy of memorable horror films that often belied their budgetary limitations, from the numbingly violent LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and THE HILLS HAVE EYES to the game-changing mythos of Freddy Krueger and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and through the self-referential comedic horror of the SCREAM franchise. Composer Marco Beltrami, who scored all four of Craven’s SCREAM films early in his career, stated, “ Wes Craven gave me my first break in the film scoring business with his movie SCREAM and really acted as a mentor in the early part of my career.  His calm, quiet confidence inspired me to explore ideas that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, and he taught me the psychological role that music plays in manipulating an audience.  Wes was a master at understanding the emotional state of his audience, getting inside their minds and leading them down unexpected paths; teetering between the lines of fear and humor, outrageous and commonplace.”

The World Soundtrack Academy aims at supporting film music, sound design, composers and their worldwide promotion. In fifteen years, the membership of the WS Academy grew into a group of 370 international film (music) professionals deciding on the nominees for the annual World Soundtrack Awards through several rounds of voting.
The WSA nominees for Film Composer and Original Film Score are:
Film Composer of the Year

  • Bruno Coulais
  • Alexandre Desplat
  • Michael Giaccchino
  • Johann Johannsson
  • Hans Zimmer

Best Original Film Score Of The Year

  • Birdman: (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) by Antonio Sanchez
  • Cinderella by Patrick Doyle
  • The Imitation Game by Alexandre Desplat
  • Interstellar by Hans Zimmer
  • The Theory of Everythingby Johann Johannsson

See full list of nominees on the WSA Awards here.

Take a moment to read & consider this heartfelt, honest, and very personal fundraising campaign from film composer Stephen Endelman (FINDING GRACELAND, HOME OF THE BRAVE, ROB THE MOB).  Endelman suffered abuse as a child and in 2009 survived a close call when he nearly succumbed to a rare form a brain cancer.  “I look at my sickness as a blessing, because I've been able to address what happened to me as child, and put it in perspective, and forgive myself,” Endelman said.  His involvement as composer for many films and TV shows have given him a unique perspective of how to create and deliver short film entitled A BOY A MAN AND HIS KITE. “I want to share with as many people as is possible that there is life after abuse which I feel lead to my cancer.”  Please take a look at this gofundme page and consider helping:

A $2 million commitment from Emmy-winning composer Jeff Beal (HOUSE OF CARDS, BLACKFISH, JESSE STONE films) and vocalist Joan Beal will launch the Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, the couple’s alma mater, and build on the film legacy of the School’s founder, George Eastman. The Beal Institute will provide students with instruction and experiences that prepare them for the increasing and evolving opportunities to write, produce, and perform music for film and contemporary media. “Not only is there a need for education in composition across contemporary media platforms, there is a growing trend for orchestras and ensembles to perform this music in the concert hall,” said Jeff Beal. “Film music provides narrative connection, engages listeners, and can introduce new audiences to the power of the symphony orchestra.  Eastman equips students with the artistry and deep skill sets needed to succeed across musical genres, and Joan and I are excited and proud to give our support.” Jeff Beal, who received his Bachelor of Music degree with High Distinction in 1985, will serve as artistic director of the institute and will continue to be involved with the school, its students, and administration. “This generous gift from Jeff and Joan connects the film legacy of the School’s founder, George Eastman, to a new era of opportunities in the music world,” said University of Rochester President and CEO Joel Seligman. “We are grateful for Jeff’s and Joan’s vision and support to enhance the Eastman School of Music’s preeminent role in preparing students to build lifelong careers.”

On October 2, Hollywood Records will release the first original soundtrack album for Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, featuring music composed by Bear McCreary.  And Madison Gate Records will the release the soundtrack, OUTLANDER, Vol. 2 on CD and digital formats on September 25.  “Having grown up immersed in Scottish folk music, in particular the folk songs of the Jacobite era, I’ve often reflected that Outlander might be the score I was born to compose,” said McCreary. “With the release of the second volume of the first season soundtrack, I’m thrilled that fans can finally experience the score from the entire first season in an album format.  I think of these two albums as two halves of a coherent musical whole. Themes introduced in the first are developed and matured in the second.  I am especially excited to present the full-length version of ‘The Skye Boat Song,’ which I produced along with vocalist Raya Yarbrough, specifically for this album.”

Speaking of Bear McCreary: Don't ask, don't hesitate, just click and watch this 3 minutes and 48 seconds worth of brilliance, as Bear reveals his life-long obsession with bagpipes, culminating in their use in his score to OUTLANDER.

Lucasfilm announces that John Williams’s soundtrack album to STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS will be released the same day the movie opens, on December 18.

Varèse Sarabande Records will release a two-CD HOUSE OF CARDS: SEASON 3 soundtrack album digitally on September 11 and on disc October 2, 2015.  The soundtrack features original score composed by Jeff Beal. “Beau Willimon [writer/exec producer] felt Season Three was all about President Underwood needing to govern,” said Beal. “The energy of those storylines, such as America Works, and the Middle East negotiations with the Russian President Petrovhad their own sound.” Additionally, Beal explained, “Season Three was a crucial season for the relationship of Frank and Claire. The dramatic arc and disintegration of trust and respect between the Underwoods needed its own voice in the music.  I [also] extended the use of the operatic soprano in Season Three. It’s a sound never really heard in modern scoring, and somehow seemed to be a great sound for Clair Underwood's burgeoning power and strength. I used it especially in the season three finale.”

Perhaps the most insightful Hans Zimmer interview yet:
“This interview took six months to do. It was done in two different countries, over two different time zones, scheduled and rescheduled numerous times through various assistants. It had to be worked around tour  dates, Grammy rehearsals and Oscar press. It’s without a shadow of a doubt that I can declare Hans Zimmer the Hardest Working Man in Show Business. And I should know, because I’m his daughter.”

Composer Frederik Wiedmann (GREEN LANTERN TAS, JUSTICE LEAGUE: GODS AND MONSTERS) has self-released his soundtrack to the SPECTRUM, a short film which combines live action and animation to explore the inner sensory experience of autism. While autism is largely regarded as a social disorder, Spectrum reveals the underlying sensory differences that create an autistic perspective. All proceeds from the album’s sale are going to Autism Women's Network. “When Jill Jones (Director) and Brent Yontz (Producer/Cinematographer) asked me to compose the music to SPECTRUM, I was beyond excited,” Wiedmann said. “Their beautiful film captured such unique and interesting aspects of autism, from the perspective of children and adults, from a different point of view, than previously illustrated in other documentaries…  In most cases I felt a sense of beauty and magic in the stories told by our people in focus. I wanted to complement those sensations with my score.  I want the audience to feel that autism is another way to look at the world, a different perspective, sometimes it is beautiful and inspiring, sometimes it is overwhelming and terrifying. The music had to follow these emotions, beat by beat.”  The film is viewable at

John Paesano’s score for THE MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS will be released Sept. 11th by Sony Classical.  The composer is now beginning to score a new TV series that Fox is preparing for 2016, a sci-fi/fantasy drama inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, titled LOOKINGLASS (originally called

MovieScore Media offers Stephen Warbeck’s score for the French thriller JE TE SURVIVRAI (I’ll Bury You).  Warbeck’s score is an eclectic mixture of Western-flavored twang, laid back jazz, and contemporary Euro-thriller scoring for moments of great suspense. The composer’s previous release with MovieScore Media was PRINCESS KA’IULANI (2009), a historical drama about a Hawaiian princess' attempt to maintain the independence of the islands against colonization. 

Silva Screen Records has digitally released the Emmy-nominated score to THE PARADISE Season 2, featuring original music written by Maurizio Malagnini (CALL THE MIDWIFE, THE BODY FARM). When starting to compose the score for the first season of THE PARADISE in 2012, Maurizio took a classic approach for creating the tonal palate for the series.The producer, Simon Lewis, contacted me very early in pre-production to invite me to compose the music for the adaptation of Zola’s novel,” Maurizio said. “He suggested that I be inspired by James Tissot’s paintings, representing the costumes and the art design of that time. They looked very colorful and lush and this made me think immediately that woodwinds would have to play a prominent part in the score and a large orchestral sound would be perfect.”

Norwegian record label Grappa Musikforlag has released a soundtrack album for the Nordic disaster thriller THE WAVE. The album features the film’s original music composed by Magnus Beite (COLD PREYRAGNAROK). The soundtrack is now available to download on Amazon, where you can also listen to audio clips.  The movie follows a geologist who tries to prevent a cataclysm when a mountain overlooking a popular Norwegian tourist destination begins to collapse into the ocean.

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Our leading film music journalist Jon Burlingame has launched his own official YouTube channel, presenting news, views, and interviews on the current state of affairs of music for films and television.

Recently Released: For those who enjoy a score with a more varied sonic landscape, then check out Fall On Your Sword's most recent musical effort, for director Ava Warbrick’s surf documentary, STEPHANIE IN THE WATER (2014). FOYS is primarily spearheaded by composer Will Bates and the soundtrack offers an array of tantalizing musical styles that morph into a kind of Surf-tronica ear candy and, when juxtaposed against shots of surfing legend Stephanie Gilmore cutting on big waves, it's an intoxicating mixture, to be sure.
Find the soundtrack (both on CD and digital) here -
 – Matt Osborne/DOCUMENTING THE SCORE Facebook Page

La-La Land Records, Paramount Pictures and The Carmen Dragon Music Library present the world premiere release of composer Carmen Dragon’s original motion picture score to the classic 1956 sci-fi chiller INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter and Larry Gates, and directed by Don Siegel. Renowned composer/conductor/arranger Carmen Dragon created an astoundingly complex and groundbreaking work (his inventive use of low, staccato piano notes for suspense would inspire many composers to do the same) that perfectly emboldens the film’s sense of invasive terror and paranoia, while never neglecting the story’s human emotions or its psychological and sociological underpinnings. For more information, see:

Varèse Sarabande’s LP to CD subscription series features one CD soundtrack per month culled from  the label’s archives and available only to subscribers. Each album in the LP to CD series is chosen for its quality and archival value, with a new title being announced each month from June 2015 - May 2016. The individual CD's are authentically packaged in mini-LP replica jackets, and the subscription includes a mini-LP carrying case for the whole set. This month's title is LET'S GET HARRY, a 1986 action thriller given an electronic based guitar infused scorefrom Brad Fiedel, featuring one of his catchiest themes. The only way to get LET'S GET HARRY is by joining the LP to CD subscription by September 14th; the next album in the series will be announced on September 15th.  For more info and to subscribe, see:  varèse sarabande.

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Varèse Sarabande will release the soundtrack to SICARIO (a crime/action film starring Josh Brolin, Emily Blunt, and Benicio Del Toro) digitally and on CD September 18, featuring music by Jóhann Jóhannsson (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING), a Berlin-based composer originally from Iceland. The film is Jóhannsson’s second collaboration with director Denis Villeneuve, for whom he scored the 2013 film PRISONERS. “Like PRISONERS, it’s quite tense and has a certain sense of dread, but the instrumentation is very different,” said Jóhannsson. “There is a lot of percussion in SICARIO; I recorded five different drummers and did a lot of electronic manipulation of the recordings… I wanted to capture a kind of relentlessly slow and mournful but still ferocious and brutal energy. I used a combination of 65-piece orchestra and individual soloists, combined with extensive electronic manipulation of the recordings, to create the score. The orchestral writing is textural rather than melodic.”

On October 15, Sony Classics will release Thomas Newman’s score for the documentary film HE NAMED ME MALALA, an intimate portrait of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was targeted by the Taliban and severely wounded by a gunshot when returning home on her school bus in Pakistan's Swat Valley. The then-15-year-old (she turned 18 this July) was singled out, along with her father, for advocating for girls' education, and the attack on her sparked an outcry from supporters around the world. She miraculously survived and is now a leading campaigner for girls' education globally as co-founder of the Malala Fund.

Intrada’s latest released include the CD premiere of Malcolm Arnold’s THE HEROES OF TELEMARK, combined with Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Gordon Douglas’s 1966 remake the John Ford/John Wayne Western, STAGECOACH. The label has greatly enhanced the sound of both of these ‘60s Mainstream LP’s, completely remastered from newly-discovered elements, together on one CD.

Ryan Shore is scoring filmmakers Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey’s upcoming feature length documentary, FLOYD NORMAN: AN ANIMATED LIFE, about one of the true giants of animation, Floyd Norman (SLEEPING BEAUTY, JUNGLE BOOK, ROBIN HOOD, JABBERJAW, SMURFS, TOY STORY 2, MONSTER'S INC. and many, many more.) The film looks to be an inspiring examination of Floyd's journey of overcoming the racial prejudices of Hollywood in the '60's, to becoming one of the most sought after creative talents working in animation. Shore also scored director Sharkey's earlier documentary about the much celebrated poster artist, Drew Struzan, DREW: THE MAN BEHIND THE POSTER.
 – Matt Osborne/DOCUMENTING THE SCORE Facebook Page

Lakeshore Records has released the score by Marco Beltrami & Buck Sander to NO ESCAPE, an intense international thriller about an American businessman (Owen Wilson) as he and his family settle into their new home in Southeast Asia only to suddenly find themselves in the middle of a violent political uprising. “The palette of the score is mainly manipulated Asian percussion and modular Eurorack synths, with some string orchestra,” Sanders described. “We played with the percussion sounds to really accent the ‘stranger in a strange land’ feeling in the film. We also used production recordings of some street musicians that were recorded on set. And I even recorded my daughter Roux doing a horrible, high-pitched scream and then slowed it down to help create a long, sustained ‘pad’ of wailing that channels the young girls’ screams in the film.”   

Lakeshore will release Joseph LoDuca’s original soundtrack music to the PAY THE GHOST digitally on September 18th and on CD later this year. The film is a supernatural thriller in which a couple's young son is mysteriously abducted on Halloween night; then, a year later, they begin to sense his presence in frightening ways. “I am pleased with the result of my close collaboration with Uli Edel (director) on a horror/thriller score that relied primarily on electronic sound,” said LoDuca. “Over several sessions together, creating dark atmospheres with a gnawing sense of tension was our primary objective… The first piece I wrote was ‘The Portal Song’, which is sung in Gaelic by a children’s chorus. Their chant sets the third act in motion. The film needed a song that felt pagan, yet plausible for the setting of a neighborhood park in New York City on Halloween.”

Paul Cantelon has composed a theme for M. Night Shyamalan’s new horror thriller THE VISIT. The theme written for solo piano plays over the film’s epilogue scene. Apart from Cantelon’s piano piece, the movie doesn’t feature any original score. – via

Kritzerland’s latest limited edition soundtrack release combines two classic Bernard Herrmann soundtracks on one CD: an expanded edition of this score for the 1945 mystery, HANGOVER SQUARE and the previously unreleased 5 FINGERS, a 1952 spy picture directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.   Herrmann’s score conveys every bit of suspense and emotion, and much of it almost seems like a preview of what Herrmann would go on to compose for Alfred Hitchcock in the coming years. 
For details, see:

Italy’s Digitmovies has released a trio of rare or enhanced Italian soundtracks. The first two are presented for the first time on CD: Gianni Ferrio’s score for the 1969 murder-mystery film PERVERSION STORY (I caldi amori di una minorenne), an engaging mix of string passages which change from romantic to melancholic, psychedelic and jazz motifs, and a lot of upbeat lounge music both instrumental and with vocals performed by the Cantori Moderni of Alessandroni (in full stereo); Pippo Caruso’s tuneful score for the 1966 Italian Western KILL JOHNNY RINGO (Uccidete Johnny Ringo). The third is the complete soundtrack by Carlo Rustichelli for the 1972 comedy romance, ALFREDO, ALFREDO.

Spain’s Quartet Records presents on a 2-CD set the world premiere release of infectiously catchy score for SERIAL (1980), composed and conducted by Lalo Schifrin. The release includes the also catchy unused score composed by Kenny Ascher. Schifrin’s score revolves around the eclectic skeins of ‘70s disco music, hippie sitar sounds, jazz waltzes, frantic orchestral chases, and a beautiful love theme.  The album has been remixed and mastered from the well-preserved 24-channel multi-tracks, courtesy of Paramount Pictures; the package includes liner notes by Tim Greiving, who explores the development of the film and both scores.

In collaboration with Sugar Music, France’s Music Box Records is pleased to present on the same CD two original motion picture soundtracks composed and conducted by Claude Bolling: L’ORDINATEUR DES POMPES FUNÈBRES (The Undertaker Parlor Computer, 1976), an American film noir homage about a statistician who develops computer software capable of programming the death of people he wishes to see disappear, and DIS-MOI QUE TU M’AIMES (Tell Me You Love Me, 1974), a comedy in the vein of the French bedroom farce, a genre Bolling took a part in on many occasions in the 1970s. The former is a jazzy score that alternates between somber and mysterious moods (blended with a Mancini-style of humor), while the latter is a sophisticated and inventive score anchored by the presence of numerous ‘70s styled pop themes.  The label will also release a Gabriel Yared double header, of6fering two mostly-unreleased scores on one CD: SARAH (1983) and DÉSORDRE (1986).  These two scores show Gabriel Yared’s interest in innovative ambiances and sound in his early years of film composing.

New, from classical labels: The London Philharmonic Orchestra has released on its own new label The Genius of Film Music: Hollywood Blockbusters 1960s to 1980s. The LPO is conducted by the esteemed John Mauceri in rousing renditions of the work of North, Rota, Waxman, Herrmann, Kaper, Goldsmith, Morricone, and Jarre across 2-CDs. See details and track list:
Naxos has released in its American Classics series three works of Philip Glass, his String Quartet No. 5, his String Sextet from Symphony No. 3, and a 19:21 suite from his 1998 score to the Lugosi DRACULA film. Each of the works are string based and performed by the Carducci Quartet.   Details:
Capriccio has released a lavish orchestral recording of the scores THE LEOPARD (Il Gattopardo) by Nino Rota, and Pietro Mascagni’s original score for the 1917 silent film RAPSODIA SATANICA, an early Italian version of the Faust myth with a femme fatale in the devil’s role.

Sam Smith has recorded “Writing's On The Wall,” the theme song to SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond adventure.  The film will be released in the UK on October 26 and in the US on November 6.  The song, released by Capitol Records, will debut and be available to purchase and stream on September 25. Smith wrote the song with fellow GRAMMY® Award winner Jimmy Napes.  It is the first James Bond theme song recorded by a British male solo artist since Matt Munro in1965. Commenting on the announcement, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, the producers of SPECTRE, said, “Sam and Jimmy have written the most inspirational song for SPECTRE and with Sam's extraordinary vocal performance, 'Writing's On The Wall' will surely be considered one of the greatest Bond songs of all time.” Smith remarked: “This is one of the highlights of my career. I am so excited to be a part of this iconic British legacy and join an incredible line up of some of my biggest musical inspirations.  I hope you all enjoy the song as much as I enjoyed making it.”



Film Music on Vinyl

Brian Tyler’s soundtrack to the latest FAST AND FURIOUS movie, FURIOUS 7, was released on double vinyl on Aug 31. Brian has created a terrific new behind-the-scenes video for the soundtrack – view it here on vimeo.

From Death Waltz Records, in partnership with Grindhouse Releasing, is a vinyl issue of Ennio Morricone’s Western score, THE BIG GUNDOWN. (This is a separate edition from Dagored’s vinyl release issued in January.) “Undoubtedly one of the finest Spaghetti scores recorded, we are thrilled to present you with this brand new remaster with 25 tracks split across 2 heavyweight 45rpm records,” reads the news blurb for this album. “The icing on the cake for this release has to be the insert that features an interview with Morricone, conducted especially for us. Wrapped in a beautiful gatefold sleeve by the legendary Geof Darrow.”

Also from Death Waltz comes a holocaust of horror: Nico Fidenco’s score for ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1979, aka Dr. Butcher M.D.) has been released in a double LP colored-disc limited edition of 500 copies, featuring new cover artwork by Corlen Kruger and sleeve notes by Ian McCulloch, Stephen Thrower & Fabio Bambini, Alexander Blonksteiner’s CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980, aka APOCALYPSE DOMANI; full score unreleased on CD), and Riz Ortolani’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, issued on vinyl for the first time.  This trio of Italian flesh-eating monsters genre soundtracks are each limited to 500 copies worldwide.  Death Waltz Recording Company & Death Waltz vinyl Originals are now distributed and manufactured by Mondo Tees LLC.

Concord Music Group to introduces their Original Soundtrack Classics series, a limited-edition line of vinyl reissues, each designed with both the music lover and the film buff in mind. To kick off the series, three scores from the Fantasy Records archives will be reissued on September 11, 2015 in deluxe, 180-gram vinyl LP box sets: AMADEUS (Mozart), ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (Nitzsche) and J.R.R. TOLKIEN’STHE LORD OF THE RINGS (Rosenman). The latter is released in a collectable, 2-LP box set filled with a wealth of ephemera, including a 16-page booklet with liner notes by Tolkien Enterprises’ Laurie Battle and a new Rosenman appreciation by Jon Burlingame.
For details, see:

The Ship to Shore Phonograph Company, One Way Static Records & Light In The Attic have released MARTIN, with Donald Rubinstein’s score to George A. Romero's vampire shocker re-mastered and pressed onto 180 gram vinyl.  The album features brand new original artwork from Brandon Schaefer, and exclusive liner notes from composer Donald Rubinstein and star John Amplas, this release is to 2,000 copies on vinyl in three variants: z

Mondo Records has released John Williams' tremendous score for the 1977 terrorist thriller BLACK SUNDAY on vinyl.  Housed in a deluxe gatefold jacket (featuring a shrapnel pierced die-cut interior gatefold), the release features new liner notes by Brian Satterwhite. 

See: Mondo Records.
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Film Music Books

Simians & Serialism is the first book that examines Jerry Goldsmith's legendary serial score to the 1968 sci-fi classic PLANET OF THE APES. Writer, musician and filmmaker John O'Callaghan spent more than three years researching and analyzing each and every cue Goldsmith composed for the film, which are broken down in detail with technical and orchestration details, music analysis, and additional minutiae. Placing the score in its proper context, O’Callaghan also details the development of the film and its four sequels with new research that offers fascinating, unknown details. As a bonus, the book has sections comparing the Film, LP and CD versions of the PLANET OF THE APES score, 3 Appendices and a handy Glossary of Terms defining music and filmmaking jargon. Available from:

Composer, orchestrator, and music engraver Jeremy Borum has authored the new book Guerrilla Film Scoring, the first guide to provide new cutting-edge solutions for composers to deliver quality music with ever-shrinking budgets. The book is accompanied by a documentary by the same name. Both are interview based, with 20 of the author’s filmmaker and composer colleagues contributing their insight and wisdom throughout, including Stewart Copeland, Bruce Broughton, Jack Wall, Garry Schyman, and Austin Wintory. “It's the voice of the whole Hollywood community, not just my own,” said Borum. “In a nutshell it reveals how to make a great film score both quickly and cost effectively. It's essentially a survival guide for how the industry is NOW - not an outdated treatise on how Hollywood used to work or is ‘supposed’ to work.
For information, see:  


Game Music News

On YouTube, game composer Winifred Phillips has pulled together a playlist containing all 15 of the instructional videos she has made so far to supplement her book, A Composer's Guide to Game Music. The playlist is now a part of the book’s page on Winifred’s web site  – but here's the direct link to the playlist on YouTube:


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 currently writes articles on film music and sf/horror cinema, and has written liner notes for nearly 300 soundtrack CDs. A wholly re-written and expanded multi-book Second Edition of Musique Fantastique is being published:) the first book is now available from Creature Features and Book 2 coming up next Spring/Summer from Midnight Marquee Press. See:

Special thanks to Benjamin Michael Joffe for copyediting assistance.

© 2015 - the Soundtrax column is copyright by Randall D. Larson; all rights reserved.

Randall can be contacted via -Your Store to Buy Hard To Find Film and Television
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