Past Columns

Soundtrax: Episode 2014-6
September 17th 2014

By Randall D. Larson


A conversation with JEFF BEAL

Part 2: TV Scoring


The first part of my interview with composer Jeff Beal, covering his score for the documentary film BLACKFISH, posted in my January 2014 column.  The remainder of the interview, covering his work for television such as CARNIVALE, JESSE STONE, MONK, HOUSE OF CARDS and others, follows.

Q: You scored nearly all of the episodes of TV’s MONK [2002-2009].  When you started how did you determine the musical direction for the show’s concept and how was that then developed across its 8 seasons?

Jeff Beal: I remember I got a copy of the pilot because they were asking for some demo reels, and I loved it.  In the pilot Tony Shalhoub’s character goes to his dead wife’s grave and plays his clarinet there, and I just loved the idea of that clarinet for him. It felt so throw-back.  There was a way in which it reminded me of one of my favorite detective shows of all time, COLUMBO; it’s a murder mystery but ultimately the joy of the show is really about this character and how he moves through the world.  That was exactly what MONK was – it was the struggle of his OCD and how that on one level provides some wonderful comedy but on another level gives you a window into his world and how it’s ultimately that OCD which, every week, enables him to solve the murders.  I loved the idea of the music being the voice of his very peculiar brain, how his brain worked and how his brain thought. I had a lot of fun playing around with a lot of circular forms and things that feel like they got stuck, and would always repeat – and the different ways in which OCD behavior suggests a musical shape, which was very much a part of it.

Q: CARNIVALE [2003-2005] was an interesting fantasy series taking place in 1930s Oklahoma involving a proxy war between agents of heaven and hell.  What kind of music did this show need?

Jeff Beal: I loved working on that show.  It was sort of a tale of two worlds, and in that sense I tried to create a sound and an instrumentation around the character of Ben Hawkins, who was the savior figure or mythic hero, a humble healer who lives with these vagabonds.  They’re like 20th Century gypsies who go from town to town. I wanted to compare and contrast their world with the other lead character of Brother Justin Crowe, who is played by Clancy Brown; he is the preacher who turns out to be a very complicated and an ultimately evil force.  Brother Justin’s world occasionally had this sort of liturgical, or grandly operatic and dark heroic/villainous side to it, while Ben Hawkins’ side had a little more earthy and hand-made sound to it.  I used a lot of solo violin and banjo. I did a lot of sound design for that show as well, various things that I created and recorded.

Q: In a series like this one and some of the others you’ve done, after you’ve  defined your initial building blocks early on in the pilot or first few episodes, what is most important after that - taking those blocks and developing them in further ways or keeping a musical status quo, maintaining a consistent sound throughout the arc of a series?

Jeff Beal: A little bit of both.  Really, a lot of the work is done in the first few episodes.  I really believe that film music is about themes and everything, but it’s also about the palette of the sound and how it has a psychological effect and also a dramatic effect in terms of creating a world.  So there is a lot of work that’s done in the beginning, and then usually as I’m working through a series of episodes, a new episode will come up or a new storyline or a new character where something new might creep in and become part of it.  But I always try to, especially on these shows like CARNIVALE and another one I did for HBO, ROME, where there’s these long story arcs, it’s more like scoring a long movie. So if somebody sits down and watches these on DVD or Netflix, you want to create continuity for the viewer a sense of thematic and sonic continuity.

Q: How did you get involved in the JESSE STONE [2005+] series of TV movies – and how would you describe your approach to scoring them over the years?

Jeff Beal: I loved doing those movies! Robert Harmon is a big music fan and when I first moved to L.A. we met through Mark Isham, a mutual friend.  He had come to several of my jazz gigs in Los Angeles, and we struck up a friendship.  I’d always wanted to work on something together.  I think there was a movie or two before JESSE STONE [There was one: IKE: COUNTDOWN TO D-DAY, 2004. -rdl] but once we did the first JESSE STONE we ended up with a very wonderful collaboration on eight of those movies.  It was a very unique thing, especially during the time that we made them – it was very unique.  What was popular on TV then in terms of crime drama was CSI and the quick-cut and very active shows; whereas on the JESSE STONE films there were some very literary aspects towards the source material by Robert Parker; there’s a wonderful sort of poetry to this lonely guy who’s got a drinking problem in this beautiful town.  There was a bit of a lyrical nature to his story which was fun to explore. Tom Selleck used to joke that some of our biggest scenes were, like the old Seinfeld joke, about absolutely nothing happening – Jesse Stone walking through a room and picking up a drink and taking a deep breath and looking at his dog, you know?!  But as a composer it’s these wonderful moments in the film – where, of course, it’s not about nothing, there’s a ton going on but it’s not being said or necessarily even shown visually, so the music has an opportunity to give a voice to the internal monologue of this guy and create a feeling and an atmosphere for his life. 

Q: This was a series of standalone movies, as opposed to a TV series of episodes – did you try to connect them as an ongoing series, musically?

Jeff Beal: We always did them as separate movies.  I can’t remember if there was ever talk of a series, I believe it was discussed and then decided it really couldn’t practically be done that way, because of the way these things get shot and scripted.  But it was very much a serial, so there were some central themes that we developed in the first movie which became our Main Title sequence.  We would use variations of those themes; not every film has the same Main Title but every film at least shared one or two themes from the other movies, so that you’d have a sense that these were all related.

Q: In the series MEDIUM [2005], how did you balance the elements of domestic drama, crime thriller, and supernatural fantasy throughout this series?

Jeff Beal: I only scored a few episodes of that, but I did work on the main theme.  There’s a voice in the main title theme that I used in a few of the early episodes I did for that show.  It was a nice device because I wanted something that tied into the lead character but also gave it that sense of mysticism.  So the solo voice was very useful in that score.

Q: ROME [2005-2007], which you alluded to earlier, really gave you the chance to explore a period earlier in time. How was your score to that show developed?

Jeff Beal: I did some research on the instruments available and obviously musical research.  One of the first things you learn is that we have a pretty good idea of what instruments were available to people in that time, but we know very little of the exact music that they played because in the ancient Roman and Greek traditions none of the music was written down.  That was fascinating for me because I come from a jazz background, I’m a jazz trumpet player, so there was a sense in which this music was either improvised or was a complete oral tradition, and that was exciting for me.  One of the things I did was start to collect a lot of wind and percussion instruments – recorders and drums and the like – and I started to play a lot of them because, unlike a lot of scores where you can build them from the ground up with samples and later on record an orchestra, which I did quite a bit in this series, but there is also a world music element to this which you can’t really do that way.  The only way to do it is to throw up a mic and start creating.  I really enjoyed that – it got me out of my more traditional way of writing and thinking about music very creatively.

Q: To what extent were your ROME scores built on the period/semi-ethnic quality of music of that time period, and opportunities to score something more dramatically in more modern terms.

Jeff Beal: I think the similarity is that in each of these shows, my first and foremost goal was to create a unique musical world.  It wasn’t just about being slavish to history, and something that was interesting about ROME was that, in a way, it was not trying to put you into the past.  The show was scripted and shot in a contemporary way that allowed you to experience history as it relates as a metaphor to modern day life.  So in that sense, we didn’t want the music to make you feel like you were having a history lesson, per se; you wanted to get invested in the stories and the characters, but in the way that makes their world feel real.  It’s exactly what I do with HOUSE OF CARDS and did on MONK or CARNIVALE or any other show.  It’s often the same dramatic goal, but of course you arrive at it in completely different ways, musically.

Q: How did you accentuate the fear and fright of STEPHEN KING’S NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES [2006] – and what were the challenges of scoring this miniseries?

Jeff Beal: I loved working on that show!  In fact that was the one where I won an Emmy for the “Battleground” episode.  One thing about that mini- series, there were eight episodes, all adaptations of Stephen King’s short stories, but each one was a completely different film – different directors, different casts, so part of the fun of that was, unlike a series where, like we just said, you develop certain themes and sounds which carry from episode to episode, we didn’t have that responsibility at all with NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES. Each episode could feel very much like a standalone story.  The challenge was serving the story and creating that fun, strange world of Stephen King, which is sometimes funny, sometimes ironic, and sometimes very dark.  How to give each one of those its own voice was challenging!

Q: Was there any attempt to integrate a main theme or motif for the series overall?

Jeff Beal: There was. That was the one thing that was consistent from show to show.  We did have a main title sequence that I wrote, and that stayed on the beginning on each episode to unify them.   But beyond that, they sort of became their own creatures. I think most films for television have a slightly OCD personality and it was fun not to feel [held back].  I mean, it’s like when I start a new project and I’m not beholden to what I did on my last film.  I think some composers have a reputation for writing very similar music in several different films, and I tend to pride myself on the sense that, if you look at my body of work, there’s a ton of variety in the projects I’ve done and the type of scores that I’ve written.

Q: In the contemporary but fantastical world of the stories in NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES, do you feel music has a particular responsibility in aiding an audience’s suspension of disbelief and their buying into the fantastic circumstances in which the characters find themselves? 

Jeff Beal:  I do think so to some extent, because a lot of times the situations are more fantastical and not what we find in the natural world, per se. I mean, the “Battleground” episode is a perfect example, where William Hurt gets attacked by army toys that come to life. On one level it’s incredibly funny and ironic, but I remember in working with the director, Brian Henson, and talking about how he was asking William Hurt to play it and how we ultimately scored it.  There’s no humor or irony here at all; we’re going to play this completely straight.  And I really liked that choice because it makes the dark humor of it become another layer of the story as opposed to its making fun of itself.  I don’t think you ever get that far into filmmaking where you’re judging your characters or stepping back too far from a situation; it’s the same thing with comedy.  You can’t score the punch line but you can score the set-up.   You score the situation from which humor arises, which often is the predicament, so a lot of times in a comedy if you play it straight or you play the predicament or the set-up to a joke in a more straight fashion, that emphasizes the reality of a character’s state, then the joke is much more emphatic.  I guess the same thing can be said for suspense or horror: you need to make sure that the music creates a world that becomes immersive for the audience and they invest in the suspension of disbelief so that, obviously, when something really scary happens that you’re with those people, you’re believing them you’ve invested in that world.

Q: Another comedy series you scored was UGLY BETTY [2006-2009].  What was your musical intent on there?

Jeff Beal: I loved scoring that show!  It was like, as I was just saying about comedy, UGLY BETTY was a great example where the comedy was often very broad and fun and all about fashion… so unlike a lot of shows where you’re just sort of tip toeing around the line, here it was the opposite – how much fun can we have and how crazy can we get with this thing before we feel like we’ve gone too far?!  It was a very visual show.  It was really hard to work on anything else for a while after working on that show. It was so colorful, so beautifully shot, and all the clothes and everything!  I love painting – another film I did very early in my career was a film called POLLOCK, which Ed Harris directed.  I loved doing that film and I’ve done several films about painters since then, and I think there’s a real similarity between painting and music.  That world was really exciting to be in, because it gave you a lot of opportunities to have fun with the music.  But at its center was this wonderful heroine who had a ton of heart, who is an authentic person in what is often a very inauthentic world; so part of my goal with the music was to make sure that the heart of the show, the soulfulness of Betty’s character, was not undercut by all the stuff around it.

Q: On a series like this have you been able to use orchestras or have you been tied to using more digital samples?

Jeff Beal: It depends. Most of MONK was not an orchestra, just a few musicians.  BETTY was a small band but I often used a tango violin and cello on that.  I played a lot of salsa trumpet on that show.  ROME and CARNIVALE were different; I used a small orchestra pretty often on those shows.

Q: With its dark political interactions, the Netflix series HOUSE OF CARDS [2013+] has been described as an emotionally ambivalent story.  How did you decide on the kind of music necessary to evoke that kind of a sensibility, and how have you worked within that scheme throughout the show’s episodes?

Jeff Beal: It is very dark and it’s very moody.  I guess the thing I felt from the very beginning when I saw how David Fincher shot the pilot and the way the look of the show evolved; it reminded me of one of my all-time favorite political thrillers, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.  Those 1970s political thrillers had a very certain sense to them that was gritty, they were [often] ambiguous but they also felt very evocative to me with their sense of dread and this cloud of intrigue and plotting, which is very much an important element in HOUSE OF CARDS, although one of the things that makes the show fun is that, one, this obvious Shakespearean element where the main character will directly address the camera like Richard the III and many other Shakespeare characters, and there’s a dark comedy often to that which we had fun with.  That gives a little break to the more horrific or dirty or evil parts of the character.

For more information on Jeff Beal, see: http://www.jeffbeal.com/



New Soundtrax in Review

Bear McCreary/Sparks & Shadows

Not unlike his score for KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM (see review in my April 2014 column), Bear McCreary’s music is a delirious and delightful mix of rock, electronica, and orchestral film music.  Released digitally by Bear’s own label, the music is a vibrant mix of rock songs and instrumentals entwined within a world of epic Hollywood film scoring and happy, 8-bit early videogame tunesmithing.  The film is based on James Rolfe’s popular Angry Video Game Nerd web series, which became a web sensation with The Nerd (Rolfe) and his angry and often foul-mouthed reviews of video games and pop culture.  The movie is the successful result of a Kickstarter campaign launched in 2011 to bring the web series to the big screen. Based on the famous Atari video game burial of 1982 (Atari rushed into production a game based on the biggest blockbuster movie of that year, E.T., which was a gigantic commercial failure and millions of unsold game cartridges were buried in a desert landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico – not, coincidentally, too far from UFO hotspot Roswell), which is the stage for the Nerd’s latest angry and hilarious adventures.  Bear McCreary had previously created the music for the 2010 Angry Video Game Nerd Christmas episode (watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMINBv_Dqvs ) and thus was Rolfe’s choice to score the movie version.  “The music combines a full symphonic orchestra, heavy metal rhythm section and custom sampled synthesis from NES, Super Nintendo and SEGA Genesis hardware,” McCreary said.  “For this score, I got to live out all my musical fantasies, combining influences from my favorite video games and film composers that inspired me when I was a kid.”  McCreary incorporated into his film score the web series’ musical theme song, composed by Kyle Justin, who worked with McCreary to expand the theme for the movie.  McCreary also remixed Justin’s song, “Sacred Ground of the Golden Turd,” and brought in his brother and frequent song collaborator Brendan McCreary to write two songs and perform them with Brendan’s band Young Beautiful in a Hurry.  Thus the soundtrack album is a mix of classic rock styles, heavy metal, even a touch of rap that is dialed in at the beginning “Killer Robot” before the dial revolves intro a brief lounge torch song and then a touch of Michael J. dance/pop before being propelled headlong into an onrushing orchestral rhythm driven by a strident remix groove.  There’s also some nostalgic digital videogame electronica tunes that create the video game world the Nerd simultaneously inhabits and criticizes (“Save The Fans,” “Source Music Medley,” “Maverick Regeneration”), while an Italian Western-stylized ode characterizes Atari’s desert “Landfill.”  1950’s sci-fi music with heady flights of mock Theremin (“Zandor’s Tale”) nuances NERD’s nod to Roswell, and there’s at least one track that circulates a mix of all of the above (“Unidentified Flying Nerd”).  It’s this schizophrenic nature of the score that makes it so enchanting, since you never really know what corner Bear’s going to turn and from which music stand he’ll pull his next stylistic rabbit.  “I can honestly say that the score for ANGRY VIDEO GAME NERD: THE MOVIE is without a doubt the most fun score I’ve ever produced,” said McCreary. That much is evident in the music itself.  And, in the midst of it all, emerges one of Bear’s most striking themes, a poignant melody that erupts to glorious symphonic triumph in “The Nerdy Hero.”

With this, and the magic he’s currently pervading on TV’s time-travel drama OUTLANDER along with the pirate actioner BLACK SAILS and with the zombthriller THE WALKING DEAD about to make its fifth season in another month and AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. even sooner, Bear McCreary continues to be one of the busiest and most creatively chameleonic composers working in Hollywood. 

A PUGNI NUDI/Franco Bixio/Chris’ Soundtrack Corner
This German label continues its “crusade to openly flaunt the exceptional precociousness of Italian film scores of the 1970s” with A PUGNI NUDI (1974; aka NAKED FISTS), a striking solo work from composer Franco Bixio, otherwise best known for his collaborations with Fabio Frizzi and Vince Tempera on a number of pop-Western and giallo scores (Tempera rejoins Bixio here as conductor of his score).  The film is a sympathetic drama about a young boxer who comes out of reform school and then struggles against temptation to renew his acquaintance with the criminal underworld.  Bixio’s score is a pleasing mix of pop and R&B that hearkens back to Afro-American funk and urban jazz. One of these pieces, “A Fist in the Thought,” becomes the score’s primary “urban” theme, attaining a delicious Blaxploitation vibe that would have been right at home in ACROSS 110TH STREET or perhaps even SHAFT itself.  Bixio’s nearly arrogant melody is taken by grouped strings over electric bass, piano, wah-wah guitar, and drum kit, with a quick rising gesture from the strings at the end of every bar, like a dismissing backhand.  In addition this street-wise gathering of musical attitude, Bixio has composed an utterly sublime orchestral main theme that is introduced amidst the first track’s R&B groove (“With Bare Fist”), heard initially from piano doubled by strings and then from a crystal clear trumpet.  It’s reprised for tremolo organ notes over piano in “Where They Reform You,” becoming a poignantly emotive refrain from an accordion; in “Noble Impulse” and “Split Second” it resonates with a melancholy air from strings over a fast piano groove; and it concludes the score with a more stridently active arrangement for strings over a delicious drum kit arrangement in “The Hunt Down.”  The score shows that Bixio can very much stand on his own as a film composer, and hopefully may prompt the release of more of his own solo work.  The album’s 11 tracks are enhanced by four alternate mixes or versions of the two primary themes.  A thoroughly likable score.

BATES MOTEL/Chris Bacon/Varese Sarabande
Chris Bacon gives this A&E series, produced by Universal Television, an appropriate musical atmosphere that deviates from both its progenitor, PSYCHO, and the time period in which the show is set.  The TV series is a wholly different animal, although in its psychological portrait of Norman Bates and the environment in which he grew up, Bacon’s music may share a vague reflection of the psychopathic adult Norman is on the road to becoming.  But his result is far from the strings-only musical template employed by Bernard Herrmann on the Hitchcock classic.  Bacon explores his own musical territory, giving BATES MOTEL its own musical voice suitable to its own tales of psychosis and familial disturbiana.  “In my early conversations with the show's producers about the score's direction, they made it clear that we are not trying to re-create or pay homage to the original PSYCHO, which was good news because that's one of the most iconic and recognizable scores of all time and my attempts to emulate would most likely come across as a cheap imitation,” explained Bacon.  “BATES MOTEL is not so much a horror show as a psychological drama with real elements of emotion, tension, humor, as well as some horrific events. The tightrope has been trying to play the real emotion between Norma and Norman while maintaining just enough discomfort to underplay the dysfunctional elements of their relationship.” 

His score begins with a wash of brightly colored orchestral flavors, immediately introducing the dominant piano motif that will be used throughout to reflect the intimacy and entwinement of the personalities of mother and son.  In an interesting contrast to the film’s quaint environment and period, electric guitar and organ are used to create a strident and somewhat twisted rhythm for Dylan, Norman’s half-brother (result of an incestuous rape in his mother Norma’s teens).  Themes are devised for all of Norman’s relationships in a musical network that extends to each individual characterization while all tied back to Norman’s own impressionistic musical perception.  “There are several musical themes that weave their way throughout the series,” said Bacon. “Most prominent are probably the quasi-love theme between Norman and Norma, and a more mysterious theme that we first hear in connection with the house which evolved into the overall theme of the show and its psychology. In addition are thematic accompaniments for many of Norman's relationships, which include his brother Dylan, friend-zone girlfriend Emma, object-of-desire Bradley, and forbidden fruit Miss Watson.”

Culled from the show’s first two seasons, the album provides a solid hour’s worth of music, although its 36 tracks average out to about a minute or two each, but they are nicely sequenced and progress nicely from one to another.  Of note is the “previously on BATES MOTEL” synopsis music, which is a very interesting interworking of rhythmic strings, horn intonations and hand drums.

Robert J. Kral’s music for the latest DC Animated Universe feature, BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, takes a more electrified rock approach to the franchise than we’ve heard in most previous animated Batman movies, which have largely shared the live-action films’ heavily Gothic sensibility.  This was an intentional stylistic change desired by the production crew.  “BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM marks a departure from what we normally do from a music standpoint,” said director Jay Olivia. “We usually do the operatic epic music that we've all become accustomed to in the live action and animated comic book films for the last twenty five years…. James Tucker, my producer, was very supportive of the idea of doing a more contemporary take on the superhero music and when Rob sent us his first pass of the score, we were tremendously pleased.”  The film is based on the universe of the Batman: Arkham video game franchise, and is a direct sequel to BATMAN: ARKHAM ORIGINS which had been scored by Christopher Drake (see review in my Nov. 2013 column).   With that prequel game depicting a younger Batman, Drake gave it a more percussive, electronica-based score in keeping with the game’s Batman-with-attitude.  Kral (SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY, GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT, TV’s ANGEL) extended this approach even more so, embracing a heavy rock orientation but also allowing for flights into pop, R&B.   
“In terms of influence, for this movie most of the approach I knew would be different, with influences coming from Guy Ritchie movies or even OCEAN’S 11 in places,” said Kral. “Jay and I definitely wanted some funk grooves. We wanted the flavor of setting up the story to feel like a heist movie but set in the Batman world.”  The score’s dominant, heavily percussive, industrial flavoring may not appeal to all listeners but it does give the film’s game-based world a properly propulsive atmosphere that suits this more manic dark knight like a tight cowl. Being as how the film features a number of classic villains (including Riddler, Poison Ivy, and Joker; the storyline follows a group of supervillains code named Suicide Squad ordered by The Riddler to break into Arkham Asylum to steal information – and free the Joker), it can get thematically complicated but Kral keeps the material cohesively progressive. 

Kral’s own Batman theme emerges out of this roiling electronic mix; bright, reflecting horns freed from Gotham’s dark swaths of claustrophobic, percussive metallic rhythm; it will recur in similar fashion throughout the score, but the mainstay is the ubiquitous, drum-beaten rhythms that form the soil in which themes and motifs are planted. A recurring action motif is introduced in “Gearing Up / Beer Room Challenge,” which opens with a heavy dance club beat, vocally punctuated with hip-hop styled “Yeahs” before moving into a funky groove for organ and bass; it captures a splendid game-play vibe that translates well into the world of the film.  A less frenetic track is heard in “Harley Arrested to Arkham,” which carries us through several set pieces with a roguish smirk that fits the character of Harley Quinn very well.  “Infiltrating Arkham & Joker Assault” is the first of the heist movie vibes Kral was referring to, with a swaggering rhythm from wah-wah guitar, organ, and drum-kit that seethes with self-assurance and wicked intent.  “Batman Fights Suicide Squad” gives the Batman theme a nice reprise in something of the old Gothic style before diving headlong into a cool, nicely orchestrated action piece, sticking to an orchestral flavor without the industrial synths and electronica ratchets heard in some of the other fights.  “Chopper Fight / Poison Ivy / The Batplane” is another splendid cue covering several sequential action scenes pretty much in the old style, including a sly, slender, and swaying motif for Poison Ivy and a reprise of the Batman theme at the end; captivating, purely symphonic piece follows with “Chopper Crash" as well as the conclusive “Final Confrontations,” with “End Credits taking us back into the “Gearing Up” motif before circulating through the score’s various elements in a fine summation.  La-La’s limited CD (1500 units) edition contains 4 exclusive tracks not available on the digital edition.

Germany’s Kronos Records dares to release the soundtrack to the 1981 Italian exploitation film which was called “the most violent film ever made” by its U.S. distributor and which by its own director’s admission went on to be “banned in 31 countries.”  Violence, gore, and mistreatment of its female characters aside (some have already needlessly complained about Kronos’ cover art, which simply reproduces the film’s key artwork, as did a recent vinyl reissue of the album from OneWay Static), Umberto Lenzi’s CANNIBAL FEROX (aka MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY) features a breezy score by Roberto Donati, who mixes funky grooves and rhythmic R&B pop instrumentals to give the ghastly cannibal film a deceptively gentle musical accompaniment, much the same way Riz Ortolani scored the even-more notorious CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST by Ruggero Deodato with a score of sublime, tranquil beauty).  Mostly, Donati’s score is provocatively lovely, although he does proffer a couple of apprehensive cues (the dour, doomful beaten “Kettle of Doom” and the chilling electronic musical effects of “Mike Flips Out”), and ends hopelessly on a note of inevitable doom with two sobering rock rhythm tracks, “On the Trail” and “Evil Rising.”  For this release, Donato’s FEROX score is merged with his 1980 score for the equally notorious cannibal picture EATEN ALIVE! (1980), also directed by Lenzi, which makes its CD debut with this release. This score is dominated by rock guitars and a predominant somber mood, which keeps the atmosphere pretty cheerless throughout the film, while at the same time containing some striking guitar soloing.  A few exceptions to this mood are found in the toe-tapping organ and guitar track “Speedway, the easy-going lounge/pop of “City Man,” and the pulsating claustrophobic Carpenteresque rock-and-synth of “Iron Nightmare.”

Tony Riparetti/Howlin’ Wolf

Best known for his work with director Albert Pyun, composer Anthony (Tony) Riparetti has been scoring films since the late 1980s, largely for low-budget horror and science fiction films, while also touring with his band, Sue Saad and the Next and performing as a session player and producer for a number of other artists.    Pyun’s COOL AIR (2006) is extended from the H.P. Lovecraft story about a man who keeps himself alive after death trough means of chemicals and perpetual coldness.  Riparetti’s score is primarily an atmospheric one, favoring electronics and percussion; he develops an interesting sonic palette to lay down a quiet ambience over which the story plays out (“Intro,” “Main Titles,” “Driving”).  An acoustic guitar instrumental, punctuated by modernistic, chant-like male chorus intonations, creates a deceptive gentleness for “The House” in which Lovecraft’s mystery will be played out; “Heart Attack” is a mélange of processed sounds, found sound, and electronic wails over a steady drum beat creating a nightmarish sonic collage; “Writers Block” is depicted with a progressive electronica rhythm piece; “Freezer Burn” develops a similar progression with electric guitars and the same steady drum beat; while the extended climax, “Dr. Schockner’s Demise” (at 11:04 mins.) provides a compelling mix of an airy synth melody over an arrangement of electronic patterns, pads, and riffs. Riparetti’s “End Titles” reprises or rearranges some of the previous material into a similarly-styled, rhythmically-flowing sound design, emerging into an electric guitar, organ, and bass rock and roll instrumental and culminating in the kind of sound collage heard earlier.  Most of the cues are not developed, musically, but presented as minimalist patterns, ambiences, and rhythm tracks giving the film a somewhat isolated but affecting sound accompaniment.  Pyun’s INVASION (2005; aka INFECTION), about a biological outbreak spread from a meteor crash, found Riparetti in more of a pure rock and roll mode, riffing somewhat in the style of John Carpenter or Tangerine Dream, with more of a sound design mélange used to depict the results of the outbreak (“Timmy’s Infected.”)  The album contains 9 tracks from COOL AIR and three from INVASION, nicely arranged and well produced for album listening.  The label has also released an expanded CD of Riparetti’s score to 1989’s CYBORG (composed with Jim Saad), MEAN GUNS (1997), and TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE (2010).  See www.howlinwolfrecords.com

THE DOLL SQUAD/Nicholas Carras/Monstrous Movie Music
Ted V. Mikels’ 1973 low-budget but high-regarded exploitation story may have inspired CHARLIE’S ANGELS, not to mention Quentin Tarantino’s “Fox Force 5” team of lady assassins that figures briefly in PULP FICTION (and got fleshed out into the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad in KILL BILL).  Mikels’ film is a fast-moving story about government agent babes assembled to thwart pissed-off mega villain Michael Ansara from unleashing a deadly plague upon the world.  The black-suited Dolls, one of which is biker exploitation movie queen Tura Satana, shoot every one of Ansara’s seemingly thousands of incompetent, helmeted guards on the first shot and few of them wind up with so much as a mussed hairdo, but it’s fun to see these empowered babes battle baddies and beat ‘em badly.  Composer Nicholas Carras, who in the late 1950s scored such low-budget monster & sci-fi movies as FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER, MISSILE TO THE MOON, and SHE DEMONS, had a bit of a revival in the 1970s, scoring several films for Mikels, including THE ASTRO ZOMBIES, THE GIRL IN THE GOLD BOOTS, 10 VIOLENT WOMEN, and this cool sexy-girl spy exploiter.  Somehow mustering the gusto to treat its subject matter seriously, Carras carpeted the film with a wall of 1970s era action pop, exotica, and variations on ‘60s era spy music.  The result is some very fun lounge groove, 31 score tracks plus the film’s end title song, “Song for Sabrina,” heartily sung in a Tom Jones/James Bond style by noted singer (and the song’s lyricist) Solomon King.  A fun and nostalgic album from MMM’s latest batch of recordings (none of which, incidentally, are actually monstrous, but provide a welcome array of B-movie soundtracks from westerns and juvenile delinquent films of the ‘50s and ’60s.  Robert Aragon’s original cover art is a nice approximation of the films key art, although it’s a shame the original iconic movie poster image (shown in the insert booklet) couldn’t have been used on the front.  MMM’s producer and all-around good guy David Schecter provides his characteristically thorough notes for the booklet.  See www.mmmrecordings.com

FLASH GORDON Vol. 1 & 2/Michael Picton/Perseverance Records
Perseverance Records has released Michael Picton’s score for the Sci-Fi Channel’s 22-episode TV series of FLASH GORDON (2007/08) over two CD volumes, which contain music from the first 14 episodes, while a forthcoming third volume will complete the set with music from the final seven shows.  The series was a contemporized version of the classic sci-fi hero, following the all-new adventures of Steven 'Flash' Gordon and his companions, Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov, ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, who find themselves as Earth's last line of defense against the forces of the merciless dictator Ming.  Trained in Montreal, the Canadian composer had scored a handful of short films when the opportunity to score the series (which was filmed in Canada) came his way; even though he hadn’t scored a TV series before, the weight of his short film scores and other sample music got him the gig.  Picton gives the series a high sense of energy through rock-based melodic arrangements (including a very attractive main theme), but also reinforces character nuances and reflective moments with more delicate orchestral material (“Complications,” on Vol. 2., sets up an instantly appealing light rhythm for guitars which is very appealing), while employing a variety of synth effects to support the show’s more science fictionesque aspects; all of this joins together to embody the musical world of this 21st Century Flash Gordon.  The main theme, which headlines both albums, is a winning composition and gives the opening moments of the show a fine sense of vitality and vigor; its choral intonations that punctuate the theme’s rhythm may remind some of Queen’s title song from the 1980 feature film version (“Flash!”) but Picton uses them much more efficiently and effectively and takes his theme in an entirely different direction.  His episode scores are exciting and proficient; laid out across these first two albums they offer a great deal of variety and musical expression, and provide an impressive gallery for this composer’s work. Like the film itself, they’re a lot of fun.  Writer Gergely Hubai provides a thorough look behind the scenes of the show and Picton’s scoring of it in his liner notes, which proceed across each volume in sequence.
For more information on the composer, see: http://www.michaelpicton.com/

HOUDINI/John Debney/Lakeshore
John Debney’s latest two2-part miniseries score (after HATFIELDS & McCOYS and BONNIE & CLYDE) is this rather anachronistic mix of industrial electronics and acoustic folk-flavored music for director Uli Edel’s arguably largely fictional biopic of the famed escape artist Harry Houdini.  For some reason Lakeshore has decided to release this in two full-priced CDs or digital volumes rather than combing it into a single, more reasonably priced two-disc set.  Also for some reason, Debney was asked to score the film with a mix of period-setting acoustic music and loud, raucous, largely monotonous industrial rock drones intended to reflect the enigmatic character of Houdini and his feats of espionage and escape as depicted in the story.  According to Debney, early discussions between him and Edel led the score to be “centered around the idea of giving Houdini a very edgy and contemporary sound while grounding the music with period splashes of style.  I would best describe the score as Industrial Rock meets Gypsy-rooted mystery.  We incorporated electronic sounds combined with dulcimer, zither, and other stringed instruments such as a solo gypsy violin and cello.”  The wonderful period score is mostly kept to Vol. 1, with all of Vol. 2 except for four tracks occupied by largely the same kind of blaring industrial material.  (That said, I did find “Tub Full of Ice” and “WW1 Montage” rather likable industrial rock pieces, mostly due to their prominent and catchy beat; most of the other industrial pieces are, to my ears at least, uncomfortably jarring, blaring, and disturbingly discordant pieces which may have given the scenes of Houdini’s feats the kind of edgy tone that Edel wanted but do little to stimulate listening on their own.)  As much as I love John Debney and his music, and as much as I love some kinds of industrial rock, the largely chaotic use of shifting industrial tones are simply not my thing; others may disagree and I welcome their appreciation of those aspects of the score.  For me, programming the period score tracks on CD1 to play on their own makes for a much more compelling and stimulating experience.

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY/A. R. Rahman/Hollywood Records
In Lasse Hallström’s THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, Hassan Kadam is a culinary ingénue with the gastronomic equivalent of perfect pitch. Displaced from their native India, the Kadam family settles in the quaint village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France. Filled with charm, it is both picturesque and elegant – the ideal place to settle down and open an Indian restaurant, against the wishes of a rival restaurateur (deliciously played by Helen Mirren).  A stimulating triumph over exile, blossoming with passion and heart, THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is a portrayal of two worlds colliding and one young man’s drive to find the comfort of home, in every pot, wherever he may be.  The score, by multi-award winning Indian composer A.R. Rahman (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, COUPLES RETREAT, WARRIORS OF HEAVEN AND EARTH), is flavorful and elegant, suiting the environment and passion of the principle characters, while also rising to loftier heights, such as in the massive orchestral crescendo that culminates “New Beginnings.”  There’s an occasional bit of Indian music, characterizing the Kadam family (“Mr. Kadam,” in fact, has his own theme, hauntingly intoned from a bansuri), which, as in “Vintage Recipe,” is exuberantly merged with elegant European classical strings.  Rahman beautifully depicts the clash of cultures with his adroitly integrated mix of Indian and French classical mores, giving the film a delightful musical texture and a frequently heartfelt and moving expressiveness.  “A. R.’s working methods are instinctual, improvisational, he thrives in creative chaos, he is a great collaborator, and in the end, the result is fiercely personal and original,” said Hallström.   The album concludes with three original songs written for the film.

MAPS TO THE STARS/Howard Shore/Howe Records
Howard Shore has released his latest score, MAPS TO THE STARS (his fifteenth feature film collaboration with director David Cronenberg), via his own label.  Winner of the 2014 Cannes Soundtrack Award this past May, MAPS TO THE STARS was given the award for the original score best suited to a feature film in official competition by a jury of 15 critics. “Shore delivers one of his best scores yet... a menacing undertow that picks up on some of the ethnic, New Age sounds of the world it depicts, but shifts them into CLOCKWORK ORANGE territory,” said Lee Marshall of Screen Daily.  The film connects the savage beauty of writer Bruce Wagner’s Los Angeles with the riveting filmmaking of director David Cronenberg and an ensemble cast to take “a tour into the darkly comic heart of a Hollywood family chasing stardom, one another, and the ghosts of their pasts,” as the PR puts it. “Shore’s morose score casts a dark shadow across the family’s desired luminary and luxury, focusing on deliberate declarations from string and piano; baring the family’s vapid integrity and self-serving motivations; one slight deviation that suggests the possibility of harmony in the family is heard in “Love Is Stronger Than Death,” a beautiful string quartet piece.  In addition to the predominant violins and string-quartet material, we also have tracks like “Wildfire,” a jangling, ethnic rhythm piece for hand-drum ensemble and bass that builds a tight, active, rhythm (reprised a little jazzier in “Liberty” with more active double bass accompaniment); “A Little Crazy,” which establishes just that with a mosaic of clustering electronica and backwards electric guitar; and the droning intonations of “I’m Sorry” with its windy synths and discordant, subterranean rumbles; although the violins bring it back into the family home at the end of the track.  This is a very interesting score, the closely-miked strings bring a clarity of sound which is constantly affecting and alluring, and the mostly ambient music’s lack of melody paints a fascinating psychological portrait of a family at its most nonviolent dysfunction, a gathering of individuals connected through family ties who find it impossible to connect, just as the music remains aloof, detached, yet intrinsically beautiful.

THE MAZE RUNNER/John Paesano/Sony Classical
American film composer John Paesano studied classical music in Paris and then focused on composition at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.  On his path to scoring films on his own, he served minor roles amongst some of the industry's most prestigious composers, including Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, and Hans Zimmer's Remote Control Productions. In 2012 Paesano received an Annie Award for Best Music for his work on DreamWorks’ animated series DRAGONS: RIDERS OF BERK, which is based on HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. Paesano recently scored Sony's sports drama WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL. With his score for THE MAZE RUNNER, a kind of HUNGER GAMES-ish futuristic thriller in which young boys are forced to survive in and escape from a massive maze, Paesano has had the chance to score a major studio release and a contender in one of the big blockbuster science fiction effects dramas of the year.  Rooted in the modern style in which Zimmer and many of his colleagues are known for, THE MAZE RUNNER is a rhythm-based musical score comprised of massive building blocks of progressive sound and large drums.  It possesses elegance and an appealing advancement that is quite likable.  Paesano creates a sonic journey that mirrors that of the protagonists as they find themselves lost within the gigantic, stone labyrinth.  The music grows from the insecurity of its beginning, as the maze looms high and horrible before the characters, to a more assured, self-confident attitude as the story moves on and the characters learn a thing or two about survival within the granite network of passageways and discover a bit of information about the world beyond.  “Maze Rearrange” is a large-scaled action piece that, despite the score’s dark tonality, possesses a melodic structure and developing essence is not devoid of hope.  Tracks like “Waiting in the Rain” hold a particular beauty in their texture and harmony that allows us to appreciate the environment regardless of its embodiment of confinement; the decisive harmonies of “Chat With Chuck” are equally lovely in their intimacy and textural interaction.  “Going Back In” echoes the certainty of Thomas to find a way through.  This approach works to reflect the perception of that main character, Thomas; thus Paesano’s music expresses Thomas’ optimism and surety that he’ll find a way out, and thus allows the audience to share in that self-confidence even in the midst of the set-backs that seem to loom up at every turn. “Goodbye,” near the end of the album, presents the score’s emotional peak, an almost ethereal lightness that radiates a pleasing serenity that is very fine.  Despite its inherent reliance in form and style on familiar structures of sound, rhythm, and musical development, Paesano’s score to THE MAZE RUNNER works very well to embolden its film with a strong musical tracking that energizes its scale and sense of drama and adventure.  His sense of orchestration and handling of these large musical forces are adept, assured, and impressive.  It’s a superior and powerful work that supports its film in every way, on its own makes for a very provocative listening experience.

MUSIC FOR ALFRED HITCHCOCK/arr. John Mauceri, Danish Natl Symphony/Toccata Classics
Toccata Classics has released a new compilation of Music for Alfred Hitchcock, featuring the Danish National Symphony and Concert Choir performing live in Copenhagen under the direction of conductor John Mauceri.  This concept has already resulted in a number of fine compilation albums, and Mauceri’s new recording is a fine contribution to this trend.  Conductor Mauceri has prepared a number of concert suites from the film scores, some of which receive their first recordings here (Herrmann’s “Concert Overture” from THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, new suites from Tiomkins STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and DIAL M. FOR MURDER, and a “restored” edit of Herrmann’s 1968 “Narrative for String Orchestra” from PSYCHO).  In addition Mauceri guides the orchestra through lovely suites from Waxman’s REBECCA and REAR WINDOW, Herrmann’s VERTIGO (Prelude) and NORTH BY NORTHWEST (Main Titles), and Danny Elfman’s End Credits from the 2012 biopic, HITCHCOCK, which is an appealing addition to this collection.  Also included, although it’s technically not score (which arguably discounts it, in my view), is Arthur Benjamin’s “Storm Clouds Cantana,” which is the classical music played at the concert at the end of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.  The music is presented in a sparkling recording with gorgeous dimensionality (and cries out for a 5.1 concert version on Blu-Ray!).  The album booklet contains an introductory text by John Mauceri and an extensive, illustrated essay on Hitchcock and his use of film music and work with composers by British film-music historian John Riley.
Check out some soundbytes from the album here: http://naxosusa.com/2014/hitchcock/

NO GOOD DEED/Paul Haslinger/Madison Gate Records
Directed by Sam Miller, NO GOOD DEED is a thriller about a devoted wife and mother of two (Taraji P. Henson), living an ideal suburban life in Atlanta, when Colin (Idris Elba), a charming but dangerous escaped convict, shows up at her door claiming car trouble. Terri offers her phone to help him but soon learns that no good deed goes unpunished as she finds herself fighting for survival when he invades her home and terrorizes her family.   Paul Haslinger’s gripping score emphasizes the psychological response of the wife and the sociopathic personality of the villain, painting a portrait of the two as one struggles for survival and the other attempts to maintain control, thus augmenting the tonality of tension for the viewer.  "NO GOOD DEED offered a great opportunity to re-explore a style of score I had first developed for the film VACANCY [2007]: music designed to enhance psychological qualities in the telling of a story, in this case, a rather dark one,” Haslinger comments. “My personal preference for this kind of approach is to mix classic film noir elements with music/sound-design elements, sometimes alternating, sometimes superimposing them. The goal ultimately was to connect the headspace of the characters with that of the audience, to make the audience feel the threads of the story as they watch it unfold. Working off great performances, this was a unique and rewarding project to be involved with!”  Haslinger’s score is a potent mix of layered tonal elements, progressive rhythm structures, eerie synthetic wails, pulses, and sinewy curving shapes that maintain a menacing ambience of discomfort that creates a two-sided tone poem for the dual psychological acuities of these principal players.   It’s a mix of angular and troubling sound patterns but they are treated symphonically in the way they counterpoint against, reflect off of, and harmonize throughout each other.  A soft melody associated with the woman, Terry, is introduced in “Leaving For The Weekend,” setting the gentle normality of her life which is soon to be invaded by the villain (Haslinger anticipates this by an incursion of low, troubling synth rumbles at the end of the cue); its peaceful atmosphere will not be heard against until the end of the film.  Shards of sound clang against one another like metallic meat hanging in an abattoir in “17 Creston Lane,” building an imposing sense of foreboding which segues into one of near-panic; which is let loose in the following “It Is All A Game,” a percussively driven chase punctuated by broad pounding synth chords anchoring a propulsion of drum beats, rising orchestral chords, and fastly scurrying violins that vividly projects that visceral panic upon the sequence.  Eerie reflective tones are set against low, shuddering chords, percussive forms slap against one another as motors of discordant sound driven by manic violin cycles blast their way through the soundscape, keeping the climax uncertain and terrifyingly brisk (“Fight for Life”), broken only by the soft relief of comforting violin strains once the struggle is finished (“Terry's New Beginnings”). 

THE NOVEMBER MAN/Marco Beltrami/Varese Sarabande
Roger Donaldson’s new international espionage thriller stars Pierce Brosnan as an ex-CIA agent lured out of retirement to protect a witness (Olga Kurylenko) who could expose the truth behind an old conspiracy.  The film features a compelling score by Marco Beltrami that bristles with its own energetic tangibility.  “I wanted to create a taut score incorporating a guitar theme with a slightly Eastern European meets Western motif befitting an action thriller about international espionage,” Beltrami said, who has filled the film’s soundscape with a rather fresh sound for this kind of film.  It’s a percussive, rhythmic score but filled with some very interesting textures and a sustained melodic structure that seems to waft over and through the rhythmic material.  The acoustic guitar gives the percussion and rhythmic elements a striking sensibility as well as a softer voice for the film’s more introspective moments, while the soft strumming of the guitar lends an unsettling tension where needed, often offset with reflective synth sustains that create a striking, imminent anxiety.  A softer melody for strings and piano is employed, over a bed of quiet mercato strings, to resolve the score nicely.

REAR WINDOW/David Shire/MovieScore Media
MovieScore Media’s Discovery Collection celebrates its 13th entry with the digital and CD release of David Shire’s Primetime Emmy-nominated music for the 1998 television version of REAR WINDOW. Designed as an acting vehicle for the recently wheelchair-bound Christopher Reeve, the ABC production kept the basic premise of the original Hitchcock movie: wheelchair-bound Jason Kemp (Reeve) suspects that his neighbor Julian Thorpe (Ritchie Coster) murdered his wife, but nobody believes him. With the help of his beautiful blonde aide Claudia Henderson (Darryl Hannah), Jason gathers enough evidence to convince the police, but the killer is on to his schemes and confronts the paralyzed man in his own home… With the full support of Christopher Reeve’s star power, Shire was awarded a bigger musical budget for the project and was able to use 26 live musicians in addition to the ubiquitous synth percussion and articulate sound design.  Shire’s score is a brilliant mix of homey melodies, unsettling Hitchcockian/Herrmannesque rhythmic progressions, and loud, aggressive, metallic percussion, associated with the film’s primary villain who is a sculpture working with metals. The pounding percussive motifs for the villain get pretty intense and really drive a pulse-pounding intensity, while Reeve’s character is lovely interworking of flutes, piano, and strings that impart the character’s sensitivity and integrity in overcoming his disability.  A third theme is associated for the “other woman” who replaces the wife whom Kemp saw being murdered from his overhead apartment window is provided by an Electric Wind Instrument (EWI) which effectively plays a saxophone melody, sounding appropriately imitative and false, just like the character.  The thematic interworking of all three motifs give the score an alternating beauty and tension, and Shire’s intricate use of these pieces as layered building blocks to develop and sustain some potent apprehension makes for an especially vivid progressive dynamic. 

WICKED BLOOD/Elia Cmiral/Varese Sarabande
Issued as part of Varese Sarabande’s Limited Edition series, Elia Cmiral’s music for WICKED BLOOD reunites him with director Mark Young, for whom he’s scored TOOTH AND NAIL (2007) and THE KILLING JAR (2010).  The film has to do with a pair of young sisters (Alexa Vega and Abigail Breslin) who are trapped in a dark Southern underworld of violence, drugs and bikers. Both live in fear of their "Uncle Frank" Stinson, the ruthless leader of a crime organization. Things change for the worse when Amber falls in love with Wild Bill, a meth trafficker who finds himself at war with Frank. Hannah realizes the only way to save her family is by cleverly scheming to pit one pawn against another in a cunning chess game.  “The movie is set in an unspecified location of the American South so it was naturally I was looking for inspiration and ideas there,” Cmiral explained.  “Mark and I we felt we want a strong emotional and contemporary score with southern flavors but without imitating the local music styles.”  The sound is a new one for the composer, who develops a credible and hauntingly beautiful opening mandolin, piano, and string quartet, instantly appealing and provocative.  “The poetic opening title felt as an emotional key to the score and it contains two important themes I used throughout the whole score,” said Cmiral. “The music for the string quartet opens the movie and also closes it in the end. It feels very right to close the circle of the whole movie with the same music.”  The score that follows draws from the same laid-back musical style; languid measures of acoustic guitars, fiddles, mandolins creating a dry, dusty, yet fragrant sound evocative of the rural South and the sordid machinations of wicked men.  Processed percussion and “dirty” grains of synth and scraped sound, emerging from the tanned fabric of the main themes, are used to energize moments of action and violence, or threat of same (“Frank Gets Complaints,” “Bobby Beats Amber,”), taking it almost into a jarring and grotesque sound design for electric guitar and festering, percussive electronic scrabblings in “Bobby’s Rage.”  Judging from the track list, the music is not presented in film order (except for the first and last tracks), but the music on album makes for a darkly beautiful musical sensibility of its own.  Cmiral’s eloquent use of Southern instruments is especially appealing and he’s developed an affecting, haunting resonance for the two sisters that accompanies their journey through the film with dignity and compassion.



Soundtrack & Music News

Songwriter and record producer Bob Crewe, who discovered and co-wrote songs for The Four Seasons in the 1960s, including numerous hits that led to his inclusion in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, died at his Scarborough home on Sept. 11. He was 83.  Among his many pop hits, he is also remembered for contributing to the score for the 1968 sci-fi cult classic, BARBARELLA, starring Jane Fonda.  The film’s music is a vivid mélange of ‘60s lounge, pop, and psychedelica, rich in semblances of swinging ‘60s Europop, smothered in twanging electric guitars, organ, harmonica, trumpets, a suitcase of eccentric percussion, and plenty of simmering pop vocals; despite being a commercial and critical failure on its initial release, BARBARELLA’s ample charms have been well remembered and the film has become a pop culture classic. 

Crewe co-wrote many of the film’s songs in collaboration with composer Charles Fox, most of which were sung by the band Glitterhouse.  Crewe’s own band, The Bob Crewe Generation, performed most of the instrumental music for the score, and Crew himself sang lead vocal on the torch ballad, “An Angel is Love,” which closes the film as Barbarella and blind angel Pygar wing their way off into the setting cosmos.

A festering whirlwind of sonic chomping: the primary composer for that often-rebuked indie studio The Asylum, Chris Ridenhour, has given the studio’s hit sequel SHARKNADO 2 an exciting, symphonic-styled score that belied the film’s audacious silliness and gave it much sonic production value that energized its torrid tornados of ferocious flopping fish.  “I wanted to try and do something special and give the film a classic type score and try to avoid all the usual movie music clichés as much as possible,” Ridenhour told me.  “I wanted it to have a classy but contemporary feel.”  Read my interview with composer Chris Ridenhour on scoring SHARKNADO 2 (we also discuss his terrific music for ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES) over on my book web site:

The new film composer documentary CHASING NOTES debuted last week at the United Film Festival in Los Angeles.  “Though music is the focal point in CHASING NOTES, the overarching motif is the chase we all embark on to make our dreams a reality,” noted a press release.  “By seeing a year-in-the life of emerging composer, Jaymee Carpenter (who also scored the film), we get to witness an inspiring message come to life through his resilience and artistry.”  In the film, Jaymee interviews many of today’s top working film and television composers, including Nathan Barr, Marco Beltrami, Harry Gregson-Williams, John Ottman, Christopher Young, Christophe Beck, Theodore Shapiro, Deborah Lurie, George S. Clinton, Gingger Shankar, Mervyn Warren, Greg Edmonson, and Peter Golub (Director of the Sundance Film Music Program).  “This film captures a year in my life as a struggling up and coming film and television composer, but broader than that, it captures the spirit of what it means to throw everything on the line to chase one's dreams,” said Carpenter.  “I had the opportunity to interview and get to know some of the biggest names in the world of music composition for this film. I was also given the opportunity of composing the film's soundtrack, which was one of the most interesting artistic experiences of my life. But make no mistake, it was one of the hardest years of my life as a musician, father, and husband. This experience led to a newfound humility regarding the process of making music and living life.”
For more information, see http://www.chasingnotes.com/

Joel McNeely reports that a Deluxe Edition complete score to A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is available on iTunes.  “For all you ‘completists’ out there this is all 62 minutes of the score,” Joel wrote on his Facebook page.  “One interesting thing to check out is the end title suite. The version on the CD release was recorded in a different studio (Fox) than the rest of the score due to schedule. When the end title scroll came out much longer than expected, being the awesome guy Seth is, he said rather than edit it, I could write a new version and we'd go back in and rerecord it. We were then able to record it at Sony where the rest of the score was recorded. Apart from being for me, a much more unified piece, it affords an interesting comparison of the two studios as it’s essentially the same music and same orchestra, [but] different rooms.”  (For more details on the scoring of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST see my interview with Joel in my June column.)

Marco Beltrami has scored 20th Century Fox’s THE DROP, directed by Michaél R. Roskam. The film follows the story of a lonely Brooklyn bartender who gets entangled in a ring of organized crime through a money-laundering scheme comprised of drop points at local New York City bars. The film stars Tom Hardy, Noomi Repace, and James Gandolfini in his final on-screen appearance following his death in 2013.  Beltrami’s pulsing score enhances the on-screen performances and pushes the film past the boundaries of the traditional crime-thriller genre. The film was met to critical acclaim at advance screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival. 

Varèse Sarabande Records will release WHIPLASH digitally and on CD October 7, 2014. The soundtrack features original score and big band songs by Justin Hurwitz (GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH) and original big band competition pieces by Tim Simonec (DUNE).  The film tells the story of an ambitious young jazz drummer seeking the opportunity to become one of the greats, until his passion to achieve perfection spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability-and his sanity.  ““While the original jazz would be somewhat straightforward, the movie's dramatic underscore was more of a conundrum,” said Hurwitz.  “How do you score a movie that already has so much music in it?” To navigate these waters, Hurwitz would use the techniques of electronic scoring, but using all real instruments.  “I recorded the score cues one note at a time.  Literally, one note at a time,” Hurwitz explained.  “What this allowed me to do was layer and manipulate the notes in a way that musicians can't.  The resulting textures are reminiscent of an electronic score, except every note was either a sax, trumpet, trombone, piano, vibe, or upright bass.  The majority of the notes in this score are slowed down to about 1/3 time, creating a hellish version of a big band sound.”

Varèse will also release Harry Gregson-William music from THE EQUALIZERdigitally and on CD September 23, a few days prior to the film’s theatrical release.  “Because the director Antoine Fuqua, wanted the action to be believable, the score had to be rooted in reality,” said Gregson-Williams. “We couldn’t have French horns announcing this character as if he were some super hero. Consequently, there’s quite a dark tinge to his theme, and I learned quite early on that to bring real darkness to any given scene, it’s necessary to have a little ray of light somewhere in order to contrast the colors. I took a two-pronged attack with the protagonist’s music – one avenue followed his action, which was bold, strong, and noisy, while the other was quite sensitive and introspective.”

La-La Land Records latest releases include the world premiere release of James Newton Howard’s original motion picture score to the 1996 Paramount Pictures dramatic thriller EYE FOR AN EYE. “Brooding, suspenseful and driving, this never-before-released gem of a score from a prime period in Howard’s career is a knockout!”  Produced by Dan Goldwasser and mastered by Noah Scot Synder, with exclusive notes from writer Kaya Savas and art design by Dan Goldwasser. Limited to 1500 Units. This is vintage JNH, coming shortly after his success with the score for THE FUGITIVE. The label’s second title a new score from composer Frederik Wiedmann, FIELD OF LOST SHOES, a Civil War drama starring Tom Skerritt. Frederik Wiedmann fashions a soulful, thoughtful score that swells with heroism, heartbreak and melancholy – an ideal complement to this riveting true-story Civil War drama. Produced by Wiedmann and mastered by Noah Scot Snyder, this special release features art design by Dan Goldwasser. Limited to 1000 units.

Heitor Pereira has scored Summit Entertainment’s philosophical drama IF I STAY, a drama about a gifted musician torn between studying at Julliard or being with the love of her life, who must find the will to live on after a car accident leaves her in a coma. Dealing with themes of love, loss, death, fate, and finding one’s way, IF I STAY brings Pereira into exciting new dramatic territory to which he lends his consummate musical craftsmanship.  Water Tower Records has issued the soundtrack digitally.

Italian Label Beat Records has announced on their Facebook page the imminent release of a an Italian Western score by Bruno Nicolai.  UOMO AVVISATO MEZZO AMMAZZATO... PAROLA DI SPIRITO was directed by Giuliano Carnimeo and released in 1972, known in the US as HIS NAME WAS HOLY GHOST.  Portions of the score were included in the series The Western Film Music Of Bruno Nicolai from Saimel Records; Beat has not yet indicated the track list or specific release date but it is assumed the album will include the full score beyond the Saimel tracks.

Intrada’s latest limited Special Collection releases are an expanded CD of James Horner’s score for GORKY PARK, an exciting 1983 crime thriller set in Moscow, directed by Michael Apted, and based on the Martin Cruz Smith novel; and the premiere CD release of Michel Legrand’s magnificent score for Charles Jarrott filming of Sidney Sheldon novel, THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT.
See: http://store.intrada.com/ 

France’s Music Box Records has released a newly remastered and expanded edition of the Georges Delerue score to A RÉVOLUTION FRANÇAISE (The French Revolution), a two-part motion picture released in 1989 and later shown in an extended version on French TV.  Music Box’s new release includes more than 2 hours of music, including 30 minutes of music never released before, along with a full-color 16-page CD booklet with French and English liner notes by Gergely Hubai.  A Limited Collector's Edition of 1500 units

Perseverance Records is the sole distributor for a unique Flash Drive edition of Don Peake’s KNIGHT RIDER Vol. 4 soundtrack.  It is not a CD, but rather a credit card-sized USB flash drive that contains wav and mp3 files of the music Don composed for the episodes “A Nice Indecent Little Town” and “Killer KITT.”  The flash drive itself has a capacity of 8 GB, but only less than 1 GB is used up by the music files, so there are more than 7GB left to store your own music or files.  “Only 250 of each volume were made, and a lot of them were sold at the Knights of Atlanta fan con when Don introduced these new gadgets,” said Perseverance’s Rob Esterhammer  The product is not a Perseverance Records release, but a CD that Don Peake produced on the Hitchcock Media label that Perseverance is distributing for him through a unique deal with Universal.  The flash-drive “album” serves Vol. 4 in the Hitchcock Media series of CDs containing Peake’s KNIGHT RIDER episode scores.  The USB gadget is a limited edition of only 250 units, with limited quantities remaining.

On 14th October Silva Screen Records will release RECLAIM, a dramatic score by Inon Zur. The contemporary thriller film follows an American couple who travel to Puerto Rico to finalize the adoption of their seven-year-old daughter only to become immersed in a strange underworld when the child disappears from her bed one night.  Zur’s original score features an emotionally powerful combination of rich, sweeping strings, performed by the Macedonia Radio Symphonic Orchestra, delicate piano and acoustic guitar matched with dramatic orchestral writing and percussion for the action chase sequences. In addition to employing the lush sounds of the symphony orchestra, piano and traditional acoustic guitar palette, Zur experimented with different techniques on a bowed guitar to produce unusual string sounds and effects to evoke unease and tension during the edgier scenes of the film. Describing his approach to scoring the film, Zur said, “First and foremost I related to the story as a parent. Your instinct is to protect your child whatever the circumstances, so I wanted the music to reflect the couple’s desperate struggle to get Nina back, no matter the danger or cost.” 
The song for the movie “Fighting the World”, was originally written and performed by 11 year-old Maddie White. The song is inspired by children struggling to make sense of the world and is an anthem for all the disenfranchised kids, encouraging them to stand up for what they believe in.  Inon Zur saw Maddie’s video and instantly knew this was a great song – the perfect song – for the movie RECLAIM he was working on!  Bringing on board Singer/guitarist Mike Harris and producer/keyboards Alex Ruger, the team recorded the song at Inon Zur’s Encino --studio with Maddie singing backing vocals. 

To watch the videos of the film version of the song and of Maddie White's talent show performance on YouTube follow the link:  bit.ly/1wg0a59  

Siddhartha Barnhoorn just released his music to THE HYPNOTIST, a short film from 2013.  The mini-album contains 6 tracks from the film.
To download at low cost, see: http://siddharthabarnhoorn.bandcamp.com/album/the-hypnotist
For more information about Sid and his music, see: www.sidbarnhoorn.com


Howe Records will release three expanded collector’s edition soundtracks celebrating the 35th anniversary of the collaboration between filmmaker David Cronenberg and composer Howard Shore.  Three previously out of print soundtrack albums, DEAD RINGERS, NAKED LUNCH, and CRASH will be newly released on CD and digitally October 14th. Each recording contains significant bonus material that has never before been released on CD.

Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson has scored Focus Features’ THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, directed by James Marsh. Inspired by Jane Hawking's 2007 memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the film centers on the relationship between physicist Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde, the arts student he fell in love with while at Cambridge in the 1960s. The film features a beautifully poignant score by Jóhannsson depicting the ups and downs of their love story as Hawking faces a virtual death sentence from ALS. The score includes the composer’s signature blend of acoustic instruments and electronics. A keystone composer in the modern classical movement, Jóhannsson is distinguished by his ability to create soundscapes by electronically manipulating orchestral instrumentation, with an emotional range that spans from inspirational to harrowing. Jóhannsson explains, “It always involves the layers of live recordings, whether it’s orchestra or a band or solo instrument, with electronics and more soundscape-y elements which can come from various sources.”

Brian Tyler’s latest epic film music isn’t just heard in EXPENDABLES 3, THOR: THE DARK WORLD, IRON MAN 3, and television’s SLEEPY HOLLOW – he’s also recently written the theme for ESPN’s NFL SUNDAY COUNTDOWN, bringing his own massive heroic flavoring to the world of NFL football. In an article written By Greg Sukiennik for ESPN.com, the author describes Tyler’s youthful interest in both music and football: “There was a place where those two worlds were one and the same – the weekly highlights produced by NFL Films, in which the dramatic game footage and the music that told the story were inseparable from each other.   Tyler…tapped into those childhood football memories. He saw a parallel between the tension of the game and the emotions of battle scenes he has previously scored.”  Sukiennik quoted Tyler: “It's not just the battle itself, but preparation for the battle. It's the angst you have, the nerves you're trying to allay – and at same time you're trying to psych yourself out to go on the battlefield. There's the strategy, the mind games and the physicality of the battle itself. And after the game there's jubilant victory or crushing defeat. Musically, I wanted to get all of those things.”
Read Sikiennik’s full article at:
Listen to Brian Tyler’s new NFL Theme on Soundcloud:

Silva Screen records has just released The Music Of Hans Zimmer - The Definitive Collection, with performances by  London Music Works & The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. From 1988's South African political drama A WORLD APART and then through three decades of Hollywood blockbusters including GLADIATOR, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy to 2014's THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, this 6 CD, 77 track compilation brings together the very best music from one of the most accomplished and prolific composers in film music history. 

AHI Records, to be distributed by BSX Records, will be releasing a special Limited Edition Expanded release of HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS. The soundtrack features music composed & performed by Alan Howarth for the 1995 sequel to the popular HALLOWEEN series.  For this new expanded release, the music is presented on 2 CDs. Alan Howarth’s original unreleased score (the Producer’s Cut) can be found on Disc 1 of this new release while the music as it was heard in the final film is provided with an extended presence on Disc 2. The music has been newly remastered and contains previously unreleased music.
For more details, including why the film wound up with two scores, see: http://buysoundtrax.stores.yahoo.net/ha6cuofmimyo.html 

Spain’s Quartet Records has announced its latest, er, quartet of limited edition soundtrack releases: Michael Gore complete Oscar-nominated score from the deeply moving drama TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983), with the complete score on one disc and a newly remastered version of the original Capitol Records soundtrack on disc 2, including a 16-page full color booklet with detailed liner notes by John Takis; Carl Davis’ symphonic score for the 1985 Biblical epic, KING DAVID, performed by The London Symphony Orchestra under the composer’s baton. This 2-CD set (for the price of one) contains all the material conceived by Davis for the film, including several alternates (many involving choir) and includes a 16-page full color booklet with liner notes by Frank K. DeWald; a remastered reissue of two long out-of-print and hard-to-find Ennio Morricone pop comedy-western scores, composed during his final period of work in the genre – UN GENIO, DUE COMPARI, UN POLLO (aka THE GENIUS) directed by Damiano Damiani  (with uncredited assistance from Sergio Leone) and Sergio Corbucci’s LA BANDA J. & S. – CRONACA CRIMINALE DEL FAR WEST (aka SONNY & JED). Both scores (out of print years) have been fully remastered by Claudio Fuiano and Daniel Winkler from first-generation master tapes; the album includes a 16-page full color booklet with an essay entitled “Ennio Morricone and the Musical Aesthetic of the Pop Western” by Randall D. Larson [hey, that’s me!] along with a detailed cue-by-cue analysis; and a world premiere release of two ‘80s comedy scores composed by Alan Silvestri – Carl Reiner’s SUMMER RENTAL (1985; starring John Candy) and Michael Apted’s CRITICAL CONDITION (1987; starring Richard Pryor). Both scores have been sourced from stereo session masters vaulted at Paramount Pictures and sound stunning. Package includes a full-color 12-page booklet with liner notes by Andy Dursin.

Austin Wintory has completed scoring a short video called OUR CURIOSITY, which celebrates the two-year exploration of planet Mars by the Curiosity robotic rover.  The film and its corresponding web site were created by Wintory and filmmaker Jeffrey Marlow as “a sort of filmic love letter” to the rover and the amazing information it has sent back.  The film features narration by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Felicia Day – and, of course, Wintory’s orchestral musical score. “This was definitely one of the most fun times I've ever had on a project,” said Wintory, “and [was] particularly gratifying because of my huge passion for the spreading of scientific passion and literacy.  We created [the] site to augment the video , which we'll be filling up with more specific details of the science Curiosity is engaged in.  I hope this glimpse into the amazing achievements (and continued ambitions) of the Mars Curiosity Rover offers as much inspiration to you as it does to Jeff and me.”
The music is available for download free on Bandcamp (with and without the narration by Tyson and Day):
Watch the video:

Explore further on the web site, which will aggregate all the relevant science and Behind the Scenes: http://ourcuriosity.org

Wintory also reports that he recently composed the score to a science fiction novel by Mike Selinker, called The Maze of Games.  It’s not the first time a score has been composed for reading a novel, but it may be one of the most potent.  The resulting “soundtrack” album is full of “strange arias, inspired by the book but also, shall we say, interwoven with it,” as Wintory explained.  “My involvement in The Maze of Games vastly surpassed any of my initial expectations. This project began as a simple conversation of ‘what ifs’ regarding the intersection of an elaborately thought-out novel of puzzles with music of a similar flavor. What resulted… bent my mind further than anything else I could name. And what pure joy it was!
The book score can be downloaded for a minimum payment of $3.50 from:

From Japan, Ark Soundtrack Square announced a world premiere release of two complete original soundtracks from Japanese classic horror films, THE BRIDE FROM HADES (1968) and YOKAI MONSTERS: SPOOK WARFARE (1968), both scored by Sei Ikeno and collected onto one CD.   The release, from Salida, is an Ark Soundtrack Square exclusive (available at limited stores in Japan).  The music is taken from the master tapes and remastered in 192kHz/24bit.  See: www.arksquare.net (click on “Japanese Releases” then search for “Spook Warfare” and select the first entry).

A recording outfit in Italy named Solisti e Orchestre del Cinema Italiano has been issuing expanded or complete score albums of notable Ennio Morricone soundtracks, with actually very faithful performances.  Their release of DANGER: DIABOLIK!, for example, contains a lot of music which for one reason or another has never been released in its original soundtrack recording, but the “Orchestre’s” presentation is accurate enough to provide a very pleasing rendition of the missing music from one of Morricone’s great pop Eurocrime scores.  Available digitally through amazon in the US and Europe, the DIABOLIK music was paired with the same groups rendering of The Complete FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE on a CD release.  More recently, the “Orchestre” has released “complete score” 2-CD set on the Retro Gold label of THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY as well as a 43-track compilation, Ennio Morricone - Rare & Unreleased Soundtracks from the 60s & 70s.  European film score collectors may find these respectful re-recordings worth acquiring, especially in the absence of OST recordings of much of this music.


Film Music on Vinyl

Sadly, offered only as an exclusive at the MondoCon in Austin Texas this last August 20-21, is the release of THE IRON GIANT soundtrack on vinyl for the very first time.  Michael Kamen’s music for this animated science fiction tale is offered in a two-disc release, remastered for vinyl by James Plotkin, and cut at 45RPM for best possible sound quality. It’s available in two versions: Version A features brand new, hand painted artwork by Jason Edmiston, pressed on 180 Gram Black [some copies will have randomly inserted steel grey vinyl instead]; Version B features artwork and package design by Jay Shaw, also pressed on 180 Gram vinyl but housed in a metal embossed slip case. Both are limited to 1,000 copies and as far as MondoCon reports went, were available only at the convention.  May be well worth vinyl collectors checking secondary markets for availability.


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

Special thanks to Benjamin Michael Joffe for copyediting assistance..

Randall can be contacted at soundtraxrdl@gmail.com

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