Daniel Pemberton is I think one of the most inventive and talented composers working in film nowadays, his adaptability is something that at times I cannot take in, because he is able to tailor his style and the sound he achieves to any genre and any type of project, One of his latest scores is for the Netflix movie ENOLA HOLMES. Now this is like a breath of fresh air, musically speaking of course. The composer serves up a soundtrack that is literally bursting with a rich and melodic thematic content. Pemberton, has certainly embraced the movie and its storyline, creating something that is instantly likeable and also a soundtrack that one just wants to hear more of from the opening bars. Largely symphonic, the composer fashions an eloquent and romantic sounding work, that is hauntingly beautiful and also bombastically dramatic at the same time. The opening cue, ENOLA HOLMES (WILD CHILD) is straight away something that the listener can latch onto, it begins with an air of mystery, but soon moves into something that is more up-tempo and alluring, with the composer enlisting strings, solo woodwind and a upbeat percussive background, which acts as support to solo violin and a small string section as they lay down the introduction to the movie and also invite us into the score.
This is a score that has numerous attributes and many positives, in fact I don’t think that there is one cue I would say I wanted to skip over whilst listening to the work. Pemberton also makes effective use of female wordless vocals, which become a essential component of the soundtrack as it progresses and develops. The core theme is a pleasant one, and the composer utilises this throughout the score building other themes upon it and also orchestrating it freshly in various guises to give it a new lease of life on its outings. This I would say is probably one of the composers best scores to date, it is inventive, innovative and entertaining, having to it a quintessentially English sound, that also at times bursts into a flourish of something that is more contemporary and interesting. Its grandiose in places, mischievous, jaunty, and filled with melodic excellence. Do not delay go and add this one to your collection today.
I think my first encounter of a film made by the Coen brothers must have been RAISING ARIZONA, it was a movie that like THE BIG LEBOWSKI was more of an acquired taste or Cult movie rather than a box office attraction like FARGO and the more recent TRUE GRIT re make, I was going to call this a re-boot but then a friend said well, it’s a remake because it was actually more faithful to the original book than the John Wayne version was, which after reading the book after all these years is very true.
This is not however an article about the Coen Brothers, but they are I think a good starting point. There were a number of people and things that linked the films of the Coen brothers as in they often utilised the talents of certain professionals within their movies, and also because their movies were entertaining clever and well made, but for me personally the link came in the form of the musical scores which in the main were the work of composer Carter Burwell, and I have to say I thnk it was due to seeing the soundtrack album to RAISING ARIZONA and buying it that I then decided to take a look at the movie, so it was a case of the music in this case making me to want to see the film, but this I think you will agree is not something that out of the ordinary with us film music collectors.
FARGO is often referred to as the Coen’s breakout film, which I don’t think I would disagree with. It took the cinema world by storm when it was released back in 1996 and received not only critical acclaim but had the added bonus of being commercially successful for the film making duo. It, garnered Academy Awards for best original screenplay, best actress and was nominated in five other categories. The score for FARGO also put Burwell on the map, with an attractively sombre and subtle sounding soundtrack which suited perfectly the at times comedic mood of the movie and added layers of atmosphere and depth to an already compelling and entertaining storyline. I would not say that the music made the movie better, but it certainly supported it in many ways and enhanced the various scenarios that unfolded on screen.
Burwell worked on nearly all of the Coen’s movies starting with BLOOD SIMPLE in 1984, Burwell was initially recommended to the Coen’s by Skip Lievsay who worked with them as a sound editor.
Burwell was not at this stage of his career known as a film music composer, in fact he was not known as a composer, he had a musical background, but as for the actual scoring of feature films, well this was something alien to him at the time. I am told that when he was asked to score BLOOD SIMPLE he was working as a lab technician, it’s weird that so many film music composers did not choose the profession when they started out on ther careers, instead many were studying to be lawyers or doctors and some like Burwell working in science. Burwell recollected in an interview that Joel Coen had interviewed many film music composers to work on BLOOD SIMPLE and was looking for someone on the same wavelength as him and his Brother, and also someone who knew what they were doing. Which Burwell said was certainly not him at that time. He had no experience of movie music and was in his words lacking in knowledge on the subject. This was something that certainly changed over the years with Burwell scoring fifteen out of the eighteen Coen Brothers movies and going on to become an in demand composer by numerous other directors and producers,
The TWILIGHT saga being just one example, in fact I would say that it was in the TWILIGHT movies he worked upon that we as collectors of film music and fans in general of music in film saw the composer mature musically, expanding his musical vocabulary and showing us that he was able to easily adapt his musical skills to any genre and scenario that he was asked to work on.
The soundtrack I think was one that had to it a very serious sound, when the scene or maybe the dialogue was less than sombre, thus somewhat confusing the watching audience who were naturally thinking that because the music began to take on a more serious or darker tone that maybe something less than light was about to happen, so the audience were drawn into a scenario that turned out to be not as downbeat as the music had led them to assume. Burwell’s music for the Coen’s movies is in tune with the style of film making that they undertake, with shades of light that are at times overshadowed and interlinked with dark interludes and sombre sounding passages. It is a clever method of keeping things interesting I suppose. The composer also would adopt this style over and over in many of his scores and not just those that he penned for the Coen’s. I think that it is this way of scoring that keeps Burwell interesting and certainly makes each and every one of his soundtracks an interesting, intelligent and inventive audio experience. I am no expert on the composer or indeed the Coen brothers, but I have to say I have always enjoyed their style of filmmaking and enjoyed even more the music that Burwell created for them. The composer forged collaborations with other film makers,
Martin McDonagh for example, the composer working on all his movies to date (apart from SIX SHOOTER which was a short) including IN BRUGES and the acclaimed THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI. The latter in my opinion being scored not only astutely but also with much sensitivity. The score never becoming overbearing or intrusive but always adding support and atmosphere to the proceedings. The composers delicate approach giving the movie a soundtrack that was totally in tune with the story that was unfolding on screen, and at the same time becoming an integral and important part of that storyline, underlining and punctuating each and every character within the film.
In my opinion Burwell is a talented composer who at times utilises instrumentation that one would not normally associate with the subject matter that he is enhancing and supporting, maybe this is why his film scores are so affecting and also have to them life away from any scenarios or images. His score for THREE BILLBOARDS I have to say is probably one of the most listened works from the composer in my collection, the subtle yet effective way in which the composer places the music being a key factor of the success of the movie, but this is just my opinion. There are obvious nods to the western score, with guitar and percussion underlining various moments within the film, it is dramatic but has to it a heart that at times is overflowing with emotion, melancholy and poignancy.
The TWILIGHT movies were and still are a popular series of contemporary Vampire stories, which have a whole new way of looking at the tales of the undead and are a million miles away from the gothic horrors as produced by the likes of Hammer films some five decades previous. The movies in the saga sparked an amazing hike in interest amongst cinema audiences with many younger filmgoers being attracted to them. The saga also initiated a spike in reading as in the novels written by author Stephanie Meyer. Burwell worked on the original movie, TWILIGHT and returned for the third and fourth instalments TWILIGHT BREAKING DAWN 1 and 2 with the second movie in the series NEW MOON being scored by French composer Alexander Desplat, who took some of Burwell’s motifs and utilised these within his score. Burwell’s soundtracks for the series are a triumph, they are filled with a rich abundance of melody and have a striking and resounding thematic quality, the composer adding a fragile but dramatic musical twist to films and giving them a greater atmosphere and higher level on intenseness. The composer’s music for the movie MILLERS CROSSING too must be mentioned, it is a delightful score in part but also in keeping with the subject matter ventures into darker and more apprehensive interludes. The composer incorporated an Irish sound into his score again something that was in tune with the film’s storyline. The actual score was quite a brief one, but the music being used sparingly not only worked but managed to elevate the dramatic content of the movie to higher levels of intensity. It is a score I must admit, I ignored at first but one that I have grown to enjoy and appreciate more and more over the years. The central theme being particularly poignant and affecting. Its fragility and the delicate sounding persona of it being alluring and enriching and being another case of the composer providing a soundtrack that at times was scored away from the action or scenarios that were on screen.
One of my favourite Burwell scores in recent years must be for the Coen Brothers movie HAIL CAESAR.
I was drawn to this film and more so the music right from the start, the soundtrack is filled with varying styles and is also made up from an abundance of musical colours and textures, it is for me one of those soundtracks that one never tires of and also one that once you start to listen you have to stay with it till the end. It is a captivating score and, I think a cleverly woven work that is not only compelling and inventive but highly entertaining. This 2016 black comedy film stars Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum. Burwell’s score is not only perfect for the movie but also accomplished and polished. The film follows a single day in the life of Eddie Mannix who is a Hollywood fixer for Capitol films, it is set in the early 1950’sMannix played by Josh Brolin solves problems for the studio and also for stars of the day. But when an important star, portrayed by George Clooney disappears, Eddie is forced to do more than just fix things. Brilliant movie, great score, what more could one want.
Another score that I feel I should make mention of is Burwell’s moving and beautiful music for the Todd Haynes directed WONDERSTRUCK which was released in 2017, again it is a work that has been crafted superbly, the composer creating a plethora of engaging and effective themes for the movie. The film charts the stories of two children, one born in 1927 the other born in 1977. I do urge you try and watch the movie, so I will not go any further with the information on the plot. Burwell’s music is exquisite, and it adds a greater atmosphere to both the stories that unfold within the film, again the music is subtle but because of this it becomes even more effectual. I think if I was asked what four scores by Burwell would you choose to play back to back WONDERSTRUCK would definitely make the quartet.
In recent years I suppose one could say that the composer has become more involved in the scoring of movies that have a wider audience appeal TWILIGHT for instance and also examples such as GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN and THE GOOD LIAR. But this is a testament to the talent and the adaptability of this composer, who is abundantly able to tailor his style and fashion scores for each genre and every scenario. I loved his GODS AND MONSTERS, was totally wowed by the sensitivity of his score for MILDRED PRICE , haunted by his lilting and melancholy central theme for MILLERS CROSSING and amazed by his delicate touch on THREE BILLBOARDS.
The best way to acquaint oneself with the music of Carter Burwell would be I think to take a listen to the recording by the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra, it is in essence a best of album, but focuses upon scores or themes from them that maybe are not the most popular within Burwell’s canon. It opens with the melancholy and lilting Celtic flavoured theme for MILLERS CROSSING, which is a very good place to begin, it displays the thematic prowess that the composer is capable of creating, with soft but at the same time affecting tone poems, that invade ones subconscious and linger there long after the music has ceased to play.
The recording moves on to the composer’s music for FARGO, with the track FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA representing the score. This too is an emotive and even proud sounding piece that has epic connotations, strings and percussion combining with a flurry of brass to fashion an impressive and majestic sound.
So much for the composer taking a subtle approach on his scores, the recording also contains BELLA’S LULLABY from TWILIGHT and selections from movies such as A SERIOUS MAN, TRUE GRIT, THE MAN WHO WAS’NT THERE, GODS AND MONSTERS, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, THE SPANISH PRISONER, MILDRED PRICE, CAROL, HAIL CAESAR, WONDERSTRUCK, THREE BILLBOARDS and so many others. It is without a doubt one of the most gratifying listening experiences I have had in a long in fact its nearly an hour of superbly crafted music that is delightfully charming and totally enveloping.
Welcome to another look at various releases old and new from the world of movie scores, video game soundtracks, theme park rides and game shows. And it is a game show that we open with STAR WARS:JEDI TEMPLE CHALLENGE sounds rather interesting and looking at the trailer for the game show I think its going to be a popular watch. The original score is by composer Gordy Haab, who caused more than a ripple of interest with his score for the video game STAR WARS JEDI:FALLEN ORDER. As with this score Haab has created some beautiful melodies and flyaway sounding action cues for JEDI TEMPLE CHALLENGE and although the score only runs for thirteen minutes it is thirteen minutes of pure delight.
The score stands on its own two musical feet as in it does not directly incorporate any of John William’s themes instead what the composer does is cleverly emulate and fashion thematic material in the style of Williams, but also manages to place his own musical identity upon it. It may be brief but it’s a score that is well worth checking out, and one that will linger in your memory long after you have stopped listening to it, full of a sumptuous interludes and overflowing with tension and romanticism that is lavish, lush and relentless.
PORNO, is I would say a different kind of horror movie, it focuses upon five teenagers who are employees at the local movie theatre in a small Christian town. They unearth a mysterious old movie that has been hidden in the basement of the theatre and as they watch it they unleash an alluring demon in female form or a Succubus, who gives them a sex education…written in blood. The score by composer Carla Patullo, is certainly an inventive work, the composer utilising choir and female solo voices that are supported by sinewy sounding strings and punctuated by synths and electronic stabs to create a malevolent and tantalising sound. I realy liked the score, the gasping erotic sounding voices evoked memories of BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE by Morricone and also had a style about them that also reminded me of THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE score by Guiliano Sorgini, the soundtrack although from a horror movie I thought was entertaining and wonderfully affecting, it is richly dark and has ab abundance of tense and nervous atmospheres.
From one horror to another THE UNFAMILIAR the story is of a British Army Doctor who returns from a war zone, she starts to have symptoms which resemble PTSD, but gradually discovers that there is a more sinister and dangerous reason for her hallucinations and strange occurrences around her. Which make things in her life or the life she once had Unfamiliar to her.
It’s a chilling and tense storyline, which is aided greatly by a largely atonal and atmospheric sounding soundtrack, composer Walter Mair constructs a harrowing sound via percussive elements and electronic sounds and stabs, these are in no way what I would call musical, but in the context of the movie bring much to the proceedings. THE UNFAMILIAR is dark and spidery with a malevolent and grating musical persona, it is unsettling and unnerving, especially when the sound of children’s voices that are speaking by not really heard are brought into the equation. If you are a fan of composers such as Joseph Bishara, and to an extent Benjamin Wallfisch on films such as THE CONJURING and IT, then this is one for you.
DER ANFANG VON ETWAS is the latest offering from composer Christoph Zirngibl, and it’s a score that I really became entangled in, the thematic content is not grand or overly expressive, but it has fleeting themes that build and develop throughout the work, these create a sense of the apprehensive and ooze tension, while at the same time purveying a mood that is filled with melancholy. This is an inventive work, and one that I found remarkably interesting. Check it out. Available on digital platforms.
The next soundtrack is from a Rom-Com THE BROKEN HEARTS GALLERY. After ending a relationship, a young woman decides that she will set up a gallery, where people can come and leave trinkets and mementos from past relationships. The music is for the most part somewhat like a musical wall paper, being light and fairly up-tempo throughout, for me what the attraction was that it had a sound and a scattering of the style of composers such as Giorgio Moroder and to an extent Hans Zimmer in his early days, although on occasion the music does blossom into something that is more melodic and developed, the music is by Genevieve Vincent, it has to it a romantic yet quirky sound, that is created via keyboards and a sprinkling of strings with the remainder of the work being created electronically and with the use of samples etc purveying a electro-pop style in places. Still worth a listen, it’s a pleasant and easy listen.
Anne Nikitin is busy at the moment and her score for the TV series LITTLE BIRDS is well worth a listen, each time I hear a new score from her I straight away find something that is interesting, and this is no exception. It’s a soundtrack filled with an intimate yet quirky air, the composer also incorporating inventive percussive elements and compositions at certain times, She also makes effective use of sounds and voices within the score, I just loved it for its creative and inventive persona, the composer utilising solo piano, brushed timpani, bass and breathy sounding woods.
With the occasional gloriously melodious theme rising in cues such as HOWLER and THE TANGO. Check this out on Spotify, you will enjoy it.
ROBERT FOLK. Can I just say, I’m really happy to be interviewing with movie music international today.
Many thanks to the composer for taking the time to talk to MMI.
Did you start out wanting to be or at least thinking that you might become a composer of music for films?
Well, I was studying at Julliard for ten years working on my bachelor’s master’s doctorate and also teaching school. During the last couple of years that I was there, which was the late 1970s, I had a student whose father was a film director, and he would often come to my concerts that I was giving around New York City, These were mostly of orchestral and chamber music, and it was at one of these that he told me about the movie, it transpired that the film he was working on had quite a big budget which included a lot of resources for musicians. After he told me this I became very interested in the prospect of maybe writing the score for the film . He mentioned that they were going to hire the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London to record the music. So, that certainly caught my attention and I signed up. So really it was quite by accident that I did my first film, and I ended up having so much fun on it, with the added bonus of it being good business arrangement for me compared with what I was used to doing in terms of teaching and whatnot, that I decided to move to Los Angeles to see if I had any luck trying to score additional films having done this one project. I had only been in Los Angeles for about six weeks when very fortunately for me I was introduced to the great Lionel Newman, the composer, conductor and at that time president of music for Fox Studios. So, I went in to meet with Lionel and the same morning that I arrived at the music department I was introduced to John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, who were two of his very favourite composers, and worked on so many things at the studio that they actually had offices at the Fox Music Department on the studios lot. Lionel had been listening to some of my music that I had recorded in New York and in our first practice meeting he said look I have a small film for you. It was a Fox picture a thriller/action piece called SAVAGE HARVEST, he arranged for me to record the score with the National Philharmonic Orchestra of London, which happened to be Jerry Goldsmith’s favourite recording orchestra. During that period.
Another early project for me was a horror thriller called THE SLAYER. Which I scored around about the same time as SAVAGE HARVEST. Then after that I got another one of my first studio films with Warner Brothers, called PURPLE HEARTS. So, these three films which were recorded in Los Angeles were kind of the movies that got my career started on the West Coast.
Were any of your family musical or were you conscious of music at home when you were young?
As a kid, I was listening to music that my parents would have playing around the house. We had some musicians in the family, not professional musicians, but nevertheless they had talent. My father was a violinist my brother was a violinist and my sister studied piano for some years, but it was the music of the British invasion. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. The Kinks, The Animals, Cream, you know all these bands that you know we’re having such great success in the early 1960’s, I guess beginning around 1963 or so. This was the sound that actually got me very inspired and very motivated to go into music to begin with and at the beginning I really wanted to be a rock star or a songwriter with the intention of emulating these heroes of mine that were all in the Great British bands. Initially I was studying, mostly guitar and some light keyboards, but mostly guitar. I had several bands up in the Boston area where I was living in the suburb of Lexington, Massachusetts. I was involved with a few bands from the time that I was about 14/15 years old, which I continued with for around five maybe six years. We went on tour all over the East Coast and about as far West as, Ohio and we had some real success with a couple of these bands and actually we recorded quite a bit of music with a very prominent producer of the day by the name of Tom King, who mostly worked with Capitol Records. After focusing on the rock genre for about five years. I decided to move to New York City to get an education. I had my sights set on the Juilliard School and I began studying with some of the Juilliard professors, on a private basis, so that I could prepare myself for the entrance exam for the school, which I guess I spent a couple of years really working very hard on in preparation for trying to get a place there. My main focus was to enter the school as a composition major, but I also wanted to emphasise some work as a conductor as well. I took the entrance exams and I was very happy to hear that I was admitted to the composer department my major teacher was an internationally renowned composer conductor pianist by the name of Vincent Persichetti. This began an affiliation with the Juilliard School, that would last for the next 10 years, up until the time that I decided to move out to explore Hollywood in 1980. At this point, I left the academic world behind, and began to work on the first handful of films that I mentioned. SAVAGE HARVEST, THE SLAYER and PURPLE HEARTS.
How did you become involved on the POLICE ACADEMY movies?
I had heard about a film called POLICE ACADEMY and I decided to start exploring the possibility of writing music for it, I set about finding out who was involved with that film. I learned very quickly that they were about to sign Elmer Bernstein. My first thought was, well Elmer certainly would be perfect for that movie. I guess it’s probably not a film that I’m going to do.
But, a few weeks later I got a call from the Ladd company this was a company that was based on the Warner Brothers lot.It was run by Alan Ladd Jr, who had been the head of Fox at one time and had moved to form his own company over to the Warner Brothers lot. So, I got this call from the Ladd company. And they mentioned that suddenly Elmer’s schedule had changed as he was working on another couple of movies and he was too busy to work on POLICE ACADEMY. So, I set up a meeting with the director and the producer of the movie. which was at the same time that I was finishing the score for PURPLE HEARTS. Warner’s were very happy with what I had done on the picture, which helped because they gave a little push to POLICE ACADEMY producer Paul Maslansky and to the Director Hugh Wilson and they both came to the recording sessions of PURPLE HEARTS where we had our first meeting. I am pleased to say this went really well. After this they listened to some of my music which I had submitted to them. I think the first thing they asked was could I write a good memorable solid march? What I did then was to see the movie and I listened to some of the temp music which included a lot of Bernstein, and also had in it Jerry Goldsmith and a few other composers, after which I set out to write what would eventually become the POLICE ACADEMY march. I played it to both the producer and the director and they both loved it. The march became the foundation of the score and also was the cornerstone piece for the rest of the scores I did in that series. It was the first time I had scored a comedy, but I very quickly learned that writing music for a comedy was probably the hardest thing that I had ever done. It was quite a challenge because I was learning as I went going.
You know that there’s a lot of event making a lot of hits a lot of very sectional writing a lot of very specific to picture phrasing, that takes a lot of planning and detailed work. So I learned very quickly that comedies, may be the hardest genre. When scoring movies. And with the success of POLICE ACADEMY of course I was then asked to work on quite a few comedies, these included animated films as well, after which I think probably animation is definitely the hardest music to write when scoring for film.
You worked on THERE BE DRAGONS for director Roland Joffe, how dd you become involved on this as I understand there was another composer working on the film?
THERE BE DRAGONS is one of my favourite scores over the past few years, now Roland Joffe is one of my favourite directors, and I was lucky enough to be introduced to him by a mutual friend a producer who was working with Roland to re-do the editorial as well as entire score for there be dragons. He had an earlier version. And I guess he was influenced a lot by the producers on the earlier version, and he really wanted a director’s cut, something that was much more indicative of the way that he saw the film in a finished forum. And his directive was. He wanted really an epic thematic powerful, emotional, and action-based score to support his Director’s Cut. So, I got to theme writing right away, and Rowan was very pleased with the themes that I wrote, along with the producers that were still involved on the project. And we made plans to record with Seattle symphony orchestra members, up in this old church where they often record, where the acoustics were absolutely wonderful. Working with Roland was really a thrill. I was a big fan of the mission. This film with Robert De Niro, and as well as many of his other films so city of joy. The Scarlet Letter. The Killing fields. He’s just an incredible director, and sometimes script writer. He has incredible taste as well. He loves history and he also loves the religious influence on culture.
So, with there be dragons you have a lot of history involved with the Spanish revolution. You have a lot of Catholicism. And it’s set the tone fora very emotional rather deep and intensive musical experience, along with quite a bit of action writing as well. I was fortunate to have a wonderful choir, along with an orchestra of about, 98, players. So, we had lots of resources, and the recording was really turned out to be quite fantastic up in Seattle, I was very pleased with it. Robert Townsend became a fan of the score and arranged for it to be released on Varese Sarabande records which was certainly another bonus of working on this fantastic movie.
When working on a film series such as POLICE ACADEMY, do you recycle any themes from earlier movies into the current release?
There were seven police academy films for this franchise all of them, produced by Warner Brothers. And there was a certain challenge with each new version of the film that came out for creating additional themes, know they covered quite a bit of ground in those seven films. Of course, I always had the police academy March as the musical backbone for each of the scores.
But it was fun to have to come up with new signatures for different characters that would come into play, or different locations that where you need a certain sense of style in the music to represent where you were in the storyline. And it was kind of fun in the very last film the film that was set in Moscow. Of course, I got to bring in a few Russian influences here and there, but unfortunately on that last film the budget had been trimmed way back so I did not have the orchestral resources that I had for the first six films. Most of the scoring for that last film was recorded in my own recording studio. But nevertheless, it was fun to work on all these all these different styles throughout that series.
Would you say that there are a lot of differences between writing for TV and scoring feature films?
While I’ve concentrated mostly on writing for feature films during my career in Hollywood. I’ve also scored quite a bit of music for television. and I guess the main difference when writing for television is that your resources are a lot less as in fewer musicians are usually involved. And probably the most important difference is the element of time. You know, for an average episode on television you generally have to turn each episode around in about five days, because they’re usually coming out every week. So that is probably the biggest element that you’re challenged with. So, a lot of the work I’ve recorded in my own recording studio. Over the years, there have been certain occasions where I was able to get a small orchestra together for a television project. But normally especially with episodic television. I would record them in my own studio. But I certainly enjoyed working on many different shows for television over the years. When I first got to Los Angeles. I had a manager, who also managed the great composer, Mark snow. And Mark became an early advocate for me. And when he was working on certain episodic series, and he needed a break or he was too busy.
He would often just call up our mutual manager and say hey, see if Rob has time if he has interest in taking care of this or that episode for me. So, I really have to thank Mark a lot for giving me so many opportunities to work in television.
You scored THE NEVER ENDING STORY ll, did you utilise any of the themes from the original score, just for continuity and also when working on other sequels such as LAWN MOWER MAN ll do you again for continuity incorporate themes from the original movie?
I think I’ve scored about a dozen or maybe more films for Warner Brothers, the studio was sort of a nice home for me over the years. One of my favourite projects at that studio was scoring the first sequel for THE NEVER ENDING STORY. I really loved the first film and I was very excited to be able to work on this tremendous franchise. I was introduced to George Miller, the director by Carey La Mille the president of music at Warner Brothers. He had a meeting at my studio. He went in very well. And he said, Look, I’ve loved to have a really epic orchestral score with choir, and some beautiful themes. So, I set off to write and gather my materials together and he was mostly in Europe during that time. So, I would send him recordings of each theme as I developed them. I had a chance to take a trip to Munich, where a lot of the filming was going on Houston while I was beginning to write. And that was a great inspiration to see all the characters. And, you know, the clay-mation style that George Miller was also utilising for this film. So, I returned to Los Angeles back to my studio and kept writing themes for George. And, of course, they were also being referenced over to the producers to make sure everybody was on board. And I began building this very epic, very lush fantasy action score.
Other than a few sequences, using a Giorgio Moroder scoring from the first initial THE NEVER ENDING STORY. As I remember there was not much temp music in the film, which didn’t give me quite a bit of freedom. I think I referenced Giorgio’s theme, maybe once or twice in the film, but mostly I was working from my own materials that I created for this first sequel. We hired a great orchestra in Munich, where most of the score was recorded. And I believe that we had an orchestra of 95 players and we also had an all-female choir, I think it was around 30 to 35.
Later, there was some re-editing of the film, so we had to go back and record additional music, which was recorded in Berlin, the recordings in Berlin. Were also done with an exceptionally fine orchestra, luckily, we were able to match the sound pretty well even though we had different players in different studios. But because I was using the same engineering team for both recordings, it all, it all sounded pretty well matched together the entire score, but certainly the never ending story it was one of my favourite projects of everything that I’ve scored so far. And I really have fond memories of working on that project, along with all of the, the great creative team that was also attached. THE NEVER ENDING STORY of course was a sequel for me.
And I’ve done other sequels, including a score for THE BEASTMASTER ll and for THE LAWNMOWER MAN ll, and, you know, I love working on these sequels. It’s almost as good as working on the original films. But to be honest, whenever I can. I tried to create a fresh score, rather than utilising. Let’s say themes and other materials from the original instalment of these franchises, where there are sequels. So, in both of those films I did write completely original scores with little or no reference at all to the past scores.
Do you think that the main theme or themes for movies are in the decline, or is the current trend of soundscapes and drone like passages just a passing thing?
My idea of a great and rewarding film score is one that is built around really strong memorable themes. And for almost every film that I’ve written the score for. I’ve tried as best I can to come up with themes that are memorable. And that serve the film and the characters in the best possible way. You know this is certainly a long-standing tradition in Hollywood and elsewhere internationally in many countries and cities where films are made and has been that way for decades and decades. However, in recent years. We all must agree that there are many scores that are coming out, that are not particularly thematic or memorable. They really are mostly textural scores. And, you know, they can function very well in the movies that they are utilised for. And there are some great composers out there that are very very skilled at working through an hour or a couple of hours of music, with no real strong memorable themes or components from which they are basing their writing upon. And it’s just a matter of choice.
I really believe that young filmmakers are mostly the creative people that are driving this style of film scoring. And my own opinion is that it’s sort of a phase. I think that we will come back to hearing more thematic writing in films. As we continue.
Certainly, there are genres, anything historical period, those particular films tend to have still strong thematic materials for the most part, and I just I just happen to be of the opinion that we will come back to seeing more and more films that utilise strong thematic material because after all you want to remember a film, not only by its content and its performances, but also by the fantastic musical scores that accompanies it and when you have themes that are so memorable that they just come to mind immediately when you think of certain character or films. I think that’s just something that’s so important in filmmaking. And I do think we’ll see a lot more of it. Once this phase, gradually comes to an end.
Do you have a set routine when working on a project, as in main theme first and then moving on to smaller cues or maybe the big action cues if they are required?
Whenever I am asked to score a film. For me, the first thing I want to do is to get my materials created. Most of the time, this means strong melodies strong themes, or at least motivic work for characters or events or incidents that may be coming up in the film. I want those building blocks in place before I sit down to score a specific theme. I would liken it to an architect, having his blueprints. Absolutely, as strong as he can get them for the building of a house, or a property begins. Once I have those building blocks. I typically will score a couple of small incidental scenes. Just as a warm-up, and to start establishing the orchestral style the electronic style, or the acoustic small chamber ensemble whatever the elements of that score are going to be. I do like to try and set the tone. In a couple of smaller scenes from there, I usually like to work in the order that the film unfolds.
That is assuming that the filmmakers can deliver locked picture or mostly locked picture in film order. I really do like to work in the order of the way the film comes to life from beginning to end. It just helps me with continuity. And with developing a strategy for where the score is headed.
Are there any composers or artists that you have found particularly inspiring or have influenced you?
A lot of people ask me this or maybe say what composers do I feel have had some kind of an impression on what my music sounds like, and it’s hard for me to answer. I know who I like and I know who I love to listen to. I’ve done a lot of listening and studying, of course. To all the classical and Romantic Period composers, let’s say, starting with a Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, etc. and a little bit later, I listened to to a lot of Berlioz, Chopin, Wagner, Bruckner, Ricard Strauss and I do love Tchaikovsky Rachmaninoff and also Sergei Prokofiev In terms of the Russian composers and film composers. I guess I’d have to say my favourites have always been John Williams. Jerry Goldsmith Elmer Bernstein and I love Morricone and of course, the great John Barry. I really love some of Maurice Jarre’s work, and earlier material such as Korngold. As for composers working now, well there is working today. I really love James Newton Howard, Tommy Newman and Dave Grusin, there’s just there’s so many places to find such great music to listen to and I do believe that eventually all that listening and studying in some way, it impacts the work that each composer does, including myself,
Temp tracks I think it’s a case of love them or hate them, what do you feel about the temp track?
I would say ideally it would be great if we lived in a world where there were no temp tracks, because I think it would give, we composers a lot more freedom in our creative process. But in a practical sense, they are here to stay and I feel at this point that you might as well take advantage of them in respect to the fact that they represent music that the director feels , is working properly in his movie, this I think as composers we can learn a lot from. There is nothing more specific than listening to music, that a director has approved, and sometimes has helped to choose. In a specific musical language and if you can be influenced by that with the music that you are writing, without trying to copy it, or get too close to it, but just influenced from the tempo the mood and maybe some of the rhythmic and stylistic elements. It’s not that you’re quoting it or trying to get too close to it. It’s just that you want your score to say similar things in the end. For the director, whose film it is. And I do think that the temp track is one of the best ways for a filmmaker to communicate with a composer.
Is orchestration as important as composition, do they go hand in hand, and do you like to orchestrate your own film scores if this is possible and do you conduct all the time or only when you are not required to supervise from the recording booth?
Certainly, I think orchestration is one of the most important aspects of a musical score for a film. The writing can be great. The themes can be great, but you need to have that orchestra sounding absolutely as perfect as you can get it in terms of the arrangement of the musical components, and the orchestration of all the ideas and the score. I prefer whenever possible to orchestrate as much of a score by myself as I can. But sometimes that’s just not possible because of recording schedules release schedules for theatres, etc etc and in those cases, one needs to reach out to supporting orchestrators to sometimes get through a show on time. I’m not really into the whole concept of having 20 or 30 people working on the musical score for a film.
I like the way that john Williams works where he usually has one orchestrator working with him. In the case of POLICE ACADEMY, the very first film. I wrote and arranged and orchestrated the entire score by myself. As I got busier and busier in the 80s 90s into the 2000, s. There were times when I simply didn’t have the luxury of orchestrating everything on my own. One big example of that was working on the rescore of the film TREMORS for Universal Pictures. In that case, they had theatres, you know, very firm dates.
They were replacing almost all the original score. And I ended up having about three and a half weeks to get through everything. I think that was a film where I used the most orchestrators of any film that I have worked on. There were probably about six orchestrators, as well as me on TREMORS. As far as conducting goes, I really love to conduct my own music whenever I can. It is the most fun part of scoring a movie is to interact with a great orchestra like the London Symphony Orchestra, or the Royal Philharmonic, or the amazing musicians in Los Angeles, which are largely comprised of the LA Philharmonic. However, in some cases, it really is better to be in the mixing room with the director so that you can discuss elements with him right away upon playback and really understand his point of view, in a very specific way and it’s hard to do that when you’re out in the recording room with the musicians.
You have written for the concert hall, is writing music for performance as music in the concert hall, less restricting than composing for film and TV with timings special effects explosions etc going off?
I have written quite a bit of concert music over the years. But I don’t have that much time on my current track for that form of expression as much as I enjoy writing it, building and sustaining a film music composing career is consuming. It takes a lot of your time, even between projects. You are always setting up for future projects. So really, you’re never in a place where you’re resting up unless you’re intentionally on a vacation.
But it’s the same token pursuing a career as a composer of concert music that’s also another full-time job. So, I have basically chosen to stay in the film, television, and visual media end of the spectrum for quite a few decades now, and I’m very content there, perhaps, at a future time. I’ll focus more on song writing and composing concert music, chamber music, these sort of endeavours, but not right now.
How many times do you like to see a movie before getting any fixed ideas about where the music should go or what style of music you will compose?
When I first start working on a movie. I like to watch the film, several times, including at least one time with the director, then get back to my studio and start playing around with some initial ideas. I usually begin by improvising very freely to picture, just looking for a mood, looking for a tone, a sound an idea a scene. Setting the right tone is really the most important first step I think in creating any film score. I will usually begin this process, playing on an acoustic grand piano, like a real piano and sometimes, bringing up this sort of instrument in my studio. Based on samples so that it is interfaced with my computer system. And I can record as I go every single phrase and manipulate it as I move on.
And once I feel that I’ve found an approach, a sound, a style a tone. Then I will develop my themes. Again, mostly writing to picture using my computer system. Once I have these materials really developed and I’m happy with them, and the director signs off on them we’re all in agreement that we have the basis for the score. Then I will begin writing specific scenes, in today’s world I tend to do that also working on my computer system. Whereas years ago, it was all done with pencil and paper. Now I prefer to perform all of the parts into my digital recording system. So, I’m composing and orchestrating and building a mock-up of each scene which is fully recorded and mixed, as I go. The advantage of working this way, of course is to be able to play something for the filmmaker that really closely resembles what the finished orchestral sequence will sound like once it’s recorded with a major orchestra now working this way.
There is a certain level of artistry, that perhaps is lost a little bit when compared with writing pencil and paper detail into an orchestral score. Sometimes, particularly if it’s a big film with large orchestral resources. I will take the entire score all my mock-ups, you know everything, fully recorded and I will send that over to an orchestrator who works with pencil and paper, and let him go through and follow notations that I’ve made to implement another level of that fine detail that you can really only reach, when you’re working. Writing a score by hand with pencil and paper the old-fashioned way.
Are there any preferences as to where you like to record your film scores as in studios etc?
When I consider what location, I’m going to be recording in my favourite places are always Los Angeles and London. They are by far the best musicians’ and best studios in the world. When recording in Los Angeles I prefer the Fox Studios stage, this would be my number one request for recording large orchestra. Also right up there with that stage would be the recording stage at Sony Pictures in Culver City, and of course the Warner Brothers stage in Burbank in London over most I often recorded at Abbey Road, which is a phenomenal studio, and of course there’s also Air studios, those are my two favourites in London. As well as Los Angeles and London. I think I’ve been happiest in Dublin, Ireland, and also working with the Seattle Symphony, the pandemic of course has affected production bringing it to a standstill, for the last six months.
So, the marketplace is pretty slow, but it’s a time for working on developing future projects, and the one that I’m most excited about is called PLANET X. Now this is a big budget feature film that I’ve been working on as an executive producer, as well as a composer. We’re in the earliest of stages, got a long way to go, but it’s something really exciting for me. It’s a modern day, Star Wars, space fantasy, so of course that’s going to allow for a lot of big orchestral thematic adventure and fantasy writing. And I guess I’d have to say that’s one of my very favourite genres, along with PLANET X, I’m also interfacing with several of my directors that I’ve worked with in the past, to see what’s upcoming for them and once production gets ramped up again we’re all hoping to have a lot of new material too work on and to talk about.
So, I just wanted to thank you once again for the chance to do an interview with you, and movie music International. That’s the place for all the greatest latest film music news and it’s been a pleasure talking with you. Have a great day.
There will I am sure be something of interest in the following potted reviews for everyone. This time TV shows dominate the supplement with handful of film scores, such as EMMA by Isobel Waller Bridge and the somewhat disappointing soundtrack to TENET by Ludwig Goranssan, plus a couple of scores that have recently been made available although were composed a few years ago.
So, to TENET. This is latest offering from director Christopher Nolan, and sadly because of other commitments his almost resident composer Hans Zimmer was unable to work on the project. Zimmer and Nolan have a great collaboration, with Zimmer’s scores often becoming the driving force behind the many action sequences in movies such as THE DARK KNIGHT and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES to name but two. Composer Ludwig Goranssan landed the assignment, and this was something I was pleased about when I heard, I am a fan of Goranssan’s innovative score for THE BLACK PANTHER and also the work he did on CREED which was fresh and original but at the same time managed to be in keeping with the original ROCKY scores as fashioned by composer Bill Conti. He has also been industrious recently for Disney on the series THE MANDALORIAN. Did I enjoy TENET, well I have to be honest here and say no not really, I found it to synthetic, there was not enough of what I would refer to as conventional instrumentation, even if this is used as a sparingly scattered back up of the electronics, and to be completely truthful the majority of the score grated upon me and I am of the opinion that this is a noisy mess. A mish mash of sounds that barely resemble music. I am a critic of Zimmer you all know this, but even he when utilising electronics and synthetics laces these with some symphonic support or at least lets the symphonic lead the synthetic allowing it to build and breathe.
I try to see good things in every score I listen to, but TENET is certainly not a title I will be returning to in a hurry. But, and yes, there is always a but, the sounds created by Goranssan work for the movie so that’s the idea, its music or soundscape for film and if it works with the images then its done its job. But as for it being an entertaining listening experience, it is not. In a recent interview I think Goranssan commented he attempted to emulate Hans Zimmer on TENET, why? Surely do a Goranssan, that’s what we wanted to hear.
Moving on and too a movie that has not yet been released, it is a new adaptation of THE SECRET GARDEN. It has a score by Dario Marianelli, who recently scored PINOCCHIO, Marianelli is I think one of the most gifted composers in the world of movie music. His soundtrack for ATTONEMENT was received well and won him an arm full of awards. His delicately eloquent and beguiling score for this latest version of THE SECRET GARDEN is certainly one that many film music fans will fall in love with, it has to it a fragility and a vitality all at the same time. The composer makes effective use of solo piano and the string section, which is enhanced by woodwind and harp, it is a delightful work, thematic and haunting in every way. It is a score that you can listen through and then re-visit a while later and discover so many new things that you were not aware of first time around. I know this probably sounds wierd but the music sounds English as in it has to it a style and sound that would have been employed by the likes of Richard Rodney Bennet or maybe Howard Blake and Chris Gunning when they were busy scoring movies. This is entertaining and alluring, beautifully crafted and recommended.
So to a score that was released a few years back and those lovely people at Varese Sarabande have re issued with so much extra music, WILD WILD WEST has a score by composer Elmer Bernstein, the film I don’t think did that well at the cinema, and the score seemed to vanish quite quickly so it is good to see it back out and available again, it contains what I would call a typical Bernstein score, big on thematic material, and also having to it a robust and powerful musical quality that contains various Bernstein musical trademarks, with the central theme being one of the stand out cues on the recording.
The iconic TV series DR.WHO, never seems to lose pace or viewers, yes there were a few hiccups recently when the DR. turned up as a female in the guise of the brilliant actor Jody Whittaker, but after the initial “I AM NOT WATCHING THIS EVER AGAIN” rants its all good, and I think she is pretty awesome in the role. The composer on the series also changed in series 11, again a few were saying it wont be the same etc, but in effect Segun Akinola has succeeded in transforming the musical path and the sound of the series, with his highly creative and innovative writing.
Don’t get me wrong I loved what Murray Gold did, but both series 11 and 12 have been totally gripping in the music department, with composer Akinola fashioning epic sounding scores, that not only enhance and support the constant action but are great to hear away from the series as just dramatic and melodic music. Listening to both recordings I do not think that there is a track I would want to skip over, as each and every piece is interesting and wonderfully entertaining. You should check these two recordings out you will not be sorry.
Ruth Barret is a composer that I discovered via her music for the ITV series VICTORIA, and since then have always kept an eye and ear open for anything by her, THE DURRELS I thought was a triumph, and her work on THE BODYGUARD too was thickly atmospheric. She also scored the Netflix movie COLLATERAL which contained an affecting soundtrack, which at times was understated but because of this became even more effective within the movie. SANDITON was a series I must say I did not enjoy that much, but the musical score was outstanding, in fact I would go as far as to say I enjoyed the music far more than the series, the composer has a light and delicate touch for the series but also includes a number of traditional or folk sounding pieces, which are interesting, having an up-beat musical persona to them. One to check out try it on Spotify and try before you buy as it were.
Staying with TV but this time for an American TV sho, MRS AMERICA. Music is courtesy of Kris Bowers whose music for the drama WHEN THEY SEE US is superb, it was WHEN THEY SEE US that first alerted me to the talents of Kris Bowers and I have followed with interest his career. MRS AMERICA has done well on TV its one of those series that once you see one episode you want more and all of them on the same night. Cate Blanchett is totally suited to the role of Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly who leads an unexpected fight against the Equal Rights Amendment movement during the 1970s. Bowers music is superbly written and also intelligently placed to create maximum impact and effect. Again, check it out.
SUCCESSION is an HBO series, which has a score by composer Nicholas Brittel, what can I say well its now into its second season, and the music is sublime, theres only one thing to say here go and buy it. It is filled to bursting with so many wonderful themes, most of which are classically oriented, but its like listening to a best of album because every track has to it an excellence and a haunting aura present. The composer utilises solo piano, string orchestra and cello to create this lyrical sounding score. Another for your collection. VERA is another popular TV series, I have to admit to being a bit of a VERA holic, don’t care if it’s a repeat or not just find that I have to watch it. I think there are a few reasons why, but one of them is the musical score by Ben Bartlett, I always found the music for the series attractive right from the get-go.
There is for me in places a certain Barry-esque ambience present. Bartlett uses those breathy woods and the low but melodic sounding strings, to create layers of sounds and purveys so many musical colours and textures within his scores for this series. There is too the subtle but menacing persona that surrounds many of the cues which evokes the work of Bernard Herrmann at times, these are inventive scores, scores that rely upon a style and sound that is subtle rather than full on action or dark and foreboding, like the central character the music is mature and intelligent. There may not be that many themes within the scores, or at least not that many are allowed to develop but these scores are more than interesting for me, I love the minimalistic approach of the composer, who rather than swamp a scene hints at themes and lays down a soundscape that gives support and depth to the storyline. A mix of symphonic instrumentation and support from synthetic elements certainly one to go for. Available on Spotify and other digital platforms.
EMMA by Isobel Waller-Bridge is a soundtrack that I would say you have to add to your collection, entertaining, melodic, jaunty and filled with an air of comedic carefree mischief. The soundtrack also includes a number of songs, which too add to the entertainment value of the work. The composer treats us to so many fine themes, that are like musical poems filled with elegance and a haunting persona.
Other scores that I would recommend that you take a listen to include, Jerry Goldsmiths THE DON IS DEAD, PETSUNITED by David Newman, Maxime Herve’s SPACE HULK-TACTICS, TRANSFORMERS WAR FOR CYBERTRON TRILOGY-SIEGE by Alexander Bornstein, and the atmospheric but disturbing VOCES by Jesus Diaz.
FILM AND TELEVISION MUSIC FROM AROUND THE WORLD AND MOVIE REVIEWS AND NEWS.