After learning the piano and drums from a very young age, composer Segun Akinola later turned his attention to composition, graduating from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire with first-class honours and the National Film and Television School with an MA in Composing for Film and Television. He was a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit in 2017, with the composers other works including the scoring of BBC Two’s landmark four-part series Black and British: A Forgotten History, written and presented by Historian David Olusoga OBE. Regularly collaborating on BBC projects, he completed the scores for the major three-part series The Human Body: Secrets of Your Life Revealed and two-part series Expedition Volcano, both for BBC Two and PBS.He is better known for his music in the latest series of Doctor Who, series 11 and 12, which feature the first female Doctor, portrayed by Jodie Whittaker.
Can I start with series 11 of DR.WHO which is when you began to score the show, How did you become involved on the show and did you like so many of us watch the series when you were younger, and were you given any specific instructions as to what style of music you should compose for it?
Chris Chibnall was looking for a new composer for the show and had come across my work, so we started to talk from there. I had not watched the series, but I’d always been very aware of its musical history, particularly the ground-breaking work of Delia Derbyshire and the Radiophonic Workshop. My remit was to start from a clean slate musically, bring my personality to it and to take it in a new direction.
Are any of your family musical in any way, and can you remember the first piece of music that you took notice of?
My sisters both learned instruments during their teenage years and my mum always sings around the house but that’s it really! What I can say is that my family love music and it’s always been a big part of everyday life. Sadly, I have no idea what the first piece of music I took notice of was, but I do know that I always enjoyed it.
When you began to work on DR. WHO were you aware of the style of the previous scores and was it a little unnerving creating a new arrangement for that familiar theme?
I was very aware of all the music that had come beforehand. For the main score, I had so much creative freedom to come up with a new sound world, which was a lot of fun. The main theme was of course daunting to tackle but, once I’d figured out the overall sound world for the series, it made the main theme much easier to approach.
Do producers use temp tracks at all on TV shows to let the composer know what kind of music they want if so, do you find this practise helpful or distracting?
Yes, they definitely use temp music which can be incredibly helpful and can also be a little limiting but it depends on the particular situation and I’ve certainly experienced both. Fortunately, I’ve found that a lot of the people I work with really do see it as a guide and they’re very happy going in a different direction that works for the storytelling or, are happy to do something that fits better with their overall desire for the score, or, are happy to take general ideas from the temp music without becoming too attached to it.
The scores for the series 11 and 12 I think have been amazing, so atmospheric and they really do give the series storylines a great lift and create an even higher level of intensity and atmospherics, what size orchestra do you tend to utilise for the series and what percentage of the instrumentation is made up of electronic or synthetic elements?
With the change of sound world that arrived with series 11, there was also a change in approach. As the stories each week took place in different locations and time periods, the intention was also for the music to change with the story whilst maintaining a core, recognisable series sound. As such, the instrumentation changes almost every episode! There’s usually at least one live instrument in the score unless the specific musical approach for an episode really doesn’t call for it and an orchestra is only used on select episodes too. I’ve created a number of bespoke sounds, synths and atmos that are used throughout the series so there’s a healthy blend of acoustic instruments, synths (both created from synthetic and acoustic sound sources) and electro-acoustic experimental elements too.
I noticed that even when there is an action cue on the soundtrack, it still maintains a level of thematic content, do you think it is important for films and TV shows to have a theme or themes that the audience can identify with and do you think that the main title as we knew it is now a thing of the past in movies?
Thematic material is (generally) very useful in the storytelling but that doesn’t mean that a theme has to be melodic. It could be a sound, a motif, a harmonic progression, a texture – anything goes! The most important question is: how can the music best serve the storytelling? A lot of the time, themes will be part of the answer but that’s not always the case.
What in your opinion is the purpose of music in film and TV?
At its core, it’s quite simple: the purpose is to help tell the storytelling being depicted on screen in the best way possible in conjunction with any other sound e.g. sound design.
When you are asked to work on a project do you like to see the film or show a number of times to allow you to become familiar with it and then start to figure out what style of music is required and also where it should be placed?
This depends on when I’ve been brought onto a project, but I don’t tend to watch it a great deal of times before I start writing. At the moment, I generally get brought on early enough to write some sketches based on the script or on conversations with the director and then when there’s a rough cut ready, I can watch that through and have a spotting session with the director and possibly the editor and/or producer too, to figure out where music is needed and what it should be doing.
There is a cue entitled MI6 in series 12, which sounds a little 007, was this something that you did consciously, or did it just develop as the scoring process progressed?
It was very intentional! That particular piece is from the first episode of series 12 which was titled ‘Spyfall’ so it of course required an equally Bond-influenced score throughout which was enormous fun!
Do you score the episodes for DR WHO in sequence, and how long approx: does it take to score an episode?
This depends on the production order and when the edits get completed. Sometimes I follow the order they are aired in and other times I’m jumping around the series. As for how much time it takes, this can vary quite a lot and it’s very much a question of how much time I’ve been given! For series 12, I was usually working on different stages of two or three episodes across a two-week period on average, but usually that time shrinks a bit the further into the series we get.
How do you work out your musical ideas, maybe straight to manuscript or via PC or keyboard, and is there a particular routine that you have when scoring something, ie; main title to end title, central theme first and build the remainder of score around this etc?
Because of time limitations, I generally work straight into my computer. If I have time and I’m working on quite a traditional or classical-based score or theme, then I’ll sketch it out first and that may be on manuscript paper but that’s quite rare at the moment. The approach I take depends on what I’m working on so I don’t have a routine as such but I do like to figure out the central theme, idea or whatever the heart of the score will be, before I get into the rest of the score.
Do you work on the orchestrations yourself or is this sometimes not possible due to schedules, also do you conduct at all or do you prefer to have a conductor so you can monitor the scoring process from the booth?
With the time constraints and everything else to keep on top of in this line of work, an orchestrator is very handy! Orchestration is incredibly important to me and I write into my computer exactly as I’d write on manuscript paper, so all the same detail is there. I work with a great orchestrator who also conducts my scores, this way he already knows the music and my intentions and I get to sit in the booth very much with a composer-producer hat on rather than a composer-conductor hat on. I really enjoy conducting and take every opportunity to do it but when I’m recording, I prefer to be in the booth.
What artists or composers would you say have influenced you or inspired you and was writing music for film and TV something that you always looked at as a career?
I’m very influenced by a wide range of artists, composers and producers so there’s a very, very long list. I think some of my key influences are Earth, Wind and Fire, Quincy Jones, Hans Zimmer, Brian Tyler, John Williams, John Powell, Xenakis, Walter Afanasieff, Leonard Bernstein, Holst, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Foo Fighters, Snarky Puppy and many, many others. I was particularly influenced by arranger-producers so from a young age I wanted to be a record producer but, as I watched more films and read more and more books, that slowly morphed into film/TV composition, at which point it definitely became my focus.
You have been presenting a show on Sundays for Scala radio which is called TV ON THE RADIO it’s been brilliant to listen to, do you compile these shows and when will you be returning as I think it’s now finished?
It’s so good to be able to celebrate the brilliant work of many composers, it’s a real joy. I do compile the music along with the producer and we work really hard to put together a list of some of the best music around from many different TV shows and composers in different stages of their career. For now, I’m just grateful I was asked to come back for a second series!
What are you working on at the moment, and has the pandemic affected your work schedule a great deal?
Yes, the pandemic definitely affected my work schedule as projects were temporarily put on hold but thankfully things have picked up again and I’m currently working on the Doctor Who festive special and a feature-length documentary.
With the passing of Il Maestro Ennio Morricone earlier this year, I began to look back over his career, and also re-discover many of his scores mainly from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Inevitably one then drifts onto other composers who were a large part of our lives as collectors and are now sadly no longer with us. Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini, Maurice Jarre, Elmer Bernstein, John Barry, and FrancisLai amongst them, I grew up with the music of these composers, and it became an important piece of my life and still is. So I thought I would dedicate some of this soundtrack supplement to the memory of these great film music icons and look at just a few of their scores, maybe you have them maybe you missed them, if it’s the latter where have you been?
If like me, you began to become involved with the collecting of film music in the early 1960’s then you will probably be familiar with most of the titles in this article/review. Jerry Goldsmith, was always my go to composer alongside Morricone and it is probably true to say that if there was a new Goldsmith soundtrack released and I saw it in the rack in the shop next to something by say, Goodwin or even Barry I would inevitably or should I say predictably go for the Goldsmith. There was just something about Goldsmith that you knew as a collector would make any of his score’s worth having.
My first soundtrack by Goldsmith was PLANET OF THE APES, which I got on a gatefold LP on the project 3 label, this was followed by THE BLUE MAX, which is a movie that brings back quite a few memories for me, it was the first time I was introduced to the stunning beauty of Ursula Andress and also it was the first time that I heard Jerry Goldsmith’s sweeping and dramatic soundtrack, it was also one of the first import long playing records that I purchased, which was around four years after I first went to see the movie. I think I was about eleven years old when I first saw the picture and then at fifteen managed to get the music on a mainstream recording that boasted that eye catching and colourful art work and all for the Princely sum of £3.15p including postage (thank you Michael Jones).
The score remains one of my favourite Goldsmith works to this day and this latest edition of the score on a two CD set is breath-taking. LA LA LAND records should be given a great big pat on the back for bringing us the complete score from this now classic WW1 movie. Goldsmith’s vibrant, melodic, and wistful sounding music is timeless and is still as moving and stirring as it was when he first composed it over forty years ago. The compact disc set is split into THE INTENDED FINAL SCORE which is represented on disc number one by twenty five cues, these are in the correct running order of how they appeared in the movie, and the sound quality is wonderful.
The second disc contains twenty eight cues; these are in sections of one to fifteen THE 1966 SOUNDTRACK ALBUM, Tracks sixteen through to twenty-two ADDITIONAL SOURCE MUSIC and tracks twenty three to twenty eight are categorized as ADDITIONAL MUSIC, so this is most certainly the most complete edition of the score ever produced. Scores such as THE BLUE MAX led me to seek out more by Goldsmith and soundtracks such as THE HOUR OF THE GUN followed, this is a score I still play regularly even now. STAGECOACH, THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS, ONE HUNDRED RIFLES, RIO CONCHOS. IN HARMS WAY and PATTON followed, even though some were not at the time released.
There were also the likes of OUR MAN FLINT, LILLIES OF THE FIELD, WILD ROVERS, etc, as they often say the list is endless, but in this case it is. It was always the more epic or dramatic Goldsmith material that I was drawn too, and with the advent of the compact disc came the re-issues and also during the1980’s and 1990’s the composer seemed to be even busier than he had been in previous decades and his music (apart from MR BASEBALL ) I always found entertaining. But to be fair even MR BASEBALL has grown on me a little. So where to go next with Goldsmith?
Maybe not the 1960’s but a little more up to date THE THIRTEENTH WARRIOR for example or his breath-taking and foreboding score for THE OMEN lll-THE FINAL CONFLICT, maybe HOOSIERS (BEST SHOT), or how about AIR FORCE ONE, EXECUTIVE DECISION, NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER, BASIC INSTINCT, SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, like I said the list is endless.
So, lets go forTHE FINAL CONFLICT, which was the third and final instalment of THE OMEN trilogy, in this we see Damien grown to adulthood and played convincingly by Sam Neil. THE OMEN will always be my favourite score from the trilogy, simply because when it was released it was so fresh, vibrant and original, but THE FINAL CONFLICT is I think very close to that soundtrack, Goldsmith creating a more grand sound for the final instalment of the series and also giving the music a more religious and epic sound. Again it is the AVE SANTANI chorus on which Goldsmith lays his musical foundations, with the composer replacing choir in the opening bars of the films main title with imposing brass flourishes, then introducing choir that is supported by brass, strings and percussion, and moves to a gloriously tumultuous crescendo before segueing into a reverent and almost celestial interlude which takes the cue to its near calming conclusion.
This is a score that is filled with grandiose set pieces as in track number 7, THE SECOND COMING, Goldsmith creates a beautiful piece build around a variation of the AVE SANTANI but in this case it is a heavenly and triumphant sound that we hear, although it is at times interspersed with icy whispers and threatening voices, these give way to the splendour of Goldsmiths vibrant and awe inspiring music that announces the second coming of Christ, the cue ends with the AVE SANTANI motif performed on French horns, giving the cue a fearsome and commanding finish.
THE FINAL CONFLICT is filled to overflowing with rich thematic material, imposing, and affecting fanfares and flourishes plus there are still present the evil sounding verses that we recognise and relish from both THE OMEN and DAMIEN OMEN ll. This I think is probably Goldsmith largest score from the trilogy, the composer developing fully all of the elements that he may have touched upon in previous scores and adding to them, it is also a more reverent work and one that also contains a greater urgency. The highlight cues for me personally are THE MAIN TITLE, THE SECOND COMING, THE HUNT and the excellent end sequence music, which underlines Damien’ s eventual demise and heralds the appearance of The Nazarene in all his glory. It is an inspiring soundtrack an accomplished one and now an iconic work that will be recorded in film music history, for its innovative, dark and inventive persona.
From a horror scored by Goldsmith, to a tense and relentless thriller in the form of AIR FORCE ONE. From the first cue on the recording PARACHUTES there is no doubt that this is the work of the Master Jerry Goldsmith, the proud anthem like horns accompanied by timpani and string is one of his trademarks, patriotic and filled with passion the theme opens the score, but soon segues into something that is more dramatic and tense with a martial sounding aura to it, there is also hints of the theme for Gary Oldman’s character as we see the action unfolding on screen, with the music taking on a more Russian flavour. AIR FORCE ONE is one of the composers most intense scores in my opinion, it like the movie is relentless and unstoppable, Goldsmith employing his percussive elements that work alongside dark sounding piano and are laced with strings and interspersed by jagged brass stabs, in cues such as EMPTY ROOMS, THE HIJACKING, and ESCAPE FROM AIR FORCE ONE that add so much to the atmosphere of the movie, giving it a heightened sense of the frenzied or at some points emphasising the hopelessness of the situation. Then there are the triumphant flourishes as the President (Harrison Ford) fights back, as in FREE FLIGHT. It’s one Goldsmith score you should own, and if you have not managed to add to your collection as yet, well it is available on digital platforms, but I would recommend the compact disc release on LA LA LAND Records, because the digital versions are the original VARESE SARABANDE release which is considerably shorter in duration.
Finally two more Goldsmith’s I would say take a listen to are the composers unused score for TIMELINE, which was eventually scored by Brian Tyler and Goldsmith’s epic soundtrack for THE WIND AND THE LION for which he penned a magnificent and grand sounding work. It is in my opinion one of the composers best works for cinema. Its brass flourishes and pounding percussive elements add authenticity and stature to the movie, with Goldsmith’s edgy by also sweeping strings evoking the sound and style of bygone days from film music history.
It also manifested strong thematic properties and styles that were to influence the composers later work on movies such as MULAN, THE 13TH WARRIOR and FIRST KNIGHT. Its majestic but at the same time menacing horns and driving strings which were already a trademark of Goldsmith become even more prominent and effecting within this movie, the score becoming not just a background or an accompaniment to the action, but an integral and essential part of the film itself. The love theme from the score I REMEMBER is too text-book Goldsmith, with eloquent and effecting strings that tug at the emotions, with their sumptuous and lush sound overwhelming the listener whilst also enhancing and supporting the scene being acted out on screen.
THE WIND AND THE LION is an inspiring adventure an tale, and the composer stepped up to the mark when writing the score, it is a thrilling work, and one that I know is so popular amongst connoisseurs of expressive, exciting and lavish film music.
From one great film music Maestro to another, John Barry, what can you say about Barry that has not already been said, exactly, he was the ultimate film music composer, talented, innovative and highly sought after, so what scores if any might you have missed? THE WHISPERERS, was the fourth film that Barry had scored for the filmmaker Bryan Forbes, and at the time of the film being released Forbes was of the opinion that it was the best score the composer had written for one of his projects. Released in 1967,this British drama was based upon the 1961 novel by Robert Nicolson, it starred the excellent Edith Evans and was filmed in the rather run down town of Oldham in the north of England an area that was once a thriving industrial Centre for the textile industry.
The score by Barry is an affecting one and employs lilting themes and also jazz infused pieces, but it is the emotive and poignant cues such as THE LETTER that tug at the heartstrings, with Barry utilizing solo violin and subtle woods that are enhanced by vibes to purvey a sense of loneliness and fragility. Considering this was a score that came early in his film music composing career it is surprisingly mature and sophisticated. Barry, tailoring his touching and melancholy music to suit the unfolding scenario on screen.
There are also dramatic interludes, which have that unmistakable Barry musical fingerprint as in THE RAZOR ATTACK and THE THREE ATTACKERS, plus there is the central or opening theme which Barry realizes via the use of subdued harpsichord that is eventually supported by woods. This is a soundtrack that is masterfully written and also one that is precisely placed to support without being intrusive. The soundtrack was issued on LP record in 1967, on United Artists records in both the UK and the U.S.A. it was later re-issued on the MCA Label with LP and also Cassette being available, finally it was released onto CD by Ryko-disc in 1998.
THE SCARLET LETTER had been scored by both Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Morricone, with their music not being used, enter then John Barry.Who provided the movie with a soundtrack that was fragile and delicate somewhat like the subject matter of the movie. Like so many of Barry’s scores from this period, the mid-nineties, it contains wonderfully lyrical and beautiful sounding themes, which manifest themselves more prominently in the form of the cues HESTER RIDES TOTOWN and THE LOVE SCENE THE. it’s a score that I love to listen to and just sit eyes closed headphones on and allow the music to wash over me, allowing some escapism which I think we all need these days. For Barry at his melodic and romantic best, with themes that make your heart ache, this is one I have to recommend, classic John Barry. MY LIFE is another score by Barry that I recommend, again filled with eloquent and sensitive thematic material, that tugs at the heart strings both within the context of the movie and away from it.
Barry creates another superbly melodious and haunting score, that contains that unmistakable John Barry sound, in the form of a lilting and affecting MAIN THEME and also again is present in the cues, THE LOVE THEME and A CHILDHOOD WISH, in fact it is throughout the entire score, its one of those films that I defy anyone to say that they sat through and never shed a tear, I know I did and it was most of the time the music that created these emotions, the music is delicate, playful and just so poignant. Let’s, move on before it sets me off again shall we.
This time to Maurice Jarre, I have fond memories of Maurice Jarre, because we became friends after a few years and it was Jarre that was responsible for me catching the film music bug as it were when I heard his soundtrack for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, which was in 1962 at the Regent cinema in Brighton, I was 7 years of age and all I remember really was the itchy seats and the music I was hearing from the screen, I think it was the overture that got to me because in those days the overture would play before the movie had started the curtains remaining closed.
The thundering percussion and the romantic and mysteriously alluring strings that were emanating from behind the curtains did it for me and its an obsession that I have never given up on now for the past 58 years in fact I think my enthusiasm and my passion for film music has become more intense, so thank you Monsieur Jarre, Merci, Maestro. But LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is a score everyone has heard I guess, so what other Jarre scores would I say were must haves. TAI PAN is one but mainly for its stupendous theme, which for me is four minutes of sheer delight, sweeping and sumptuous thematic and driving, it is a wonderful opening and sets the scene for a story of epic proportions. Then there are the western scores as penned by Jarre, now Morricone and many other Italian composers were credited for re-creating the sound of the western, but look at the western scores as penned by Jarre and we have here another innovative selection, RED SUN, THE PROFFESSIONALS, EL CONDOR, VILLA RIDES, all classics, with that special Jarre sound.
Like in many scores by Maurice Jarre, the Main Title for the movie EL CONDOR begins with an array of percussive instruments, in this case it is tambourines being vigorously shaken and beaten supported and punctuated by piano and castanets, these are joined by various other members of the percussion section, strumming guitars and underlying strings that build to a crescendo that ushers in the catchy central theme from the score performed on harmonica mirrored by cimbalom. The theme moves along at a brisk pace developing and picking up additional instrumentation along the way until it segues into an arrangement of the theme performed on Mexican sounding trumpet supported by strings and up tempo strumming on guitars, this returns swiftly to a full working of the theme which is taken on by the string section, and brings the opening cue to its conclusion. Stirring material which sets the scene perfectly for the remainder of the score. Track 2, BALLAD FOR TWO GUITARS, is just that, a lazy but melodious sounding composition performed on two Spanish guitars, that pick out a plaintive and pleasing ballad, the guitars are later in the cue augmented by the delicate placing of a solo flute, which although short lived has the desired effect of adding a touch of melancholy to the proceedings. Track 3, BEFORE THE ATTACK, is another arrangement of the scores central theme, this time the composer utilizing harmonica, minimal brass and woods to begin with then adding cimbalom and plucked strings combined with an almost fuzzy guitar sound with harpsichord flourishes and stabs, these components combine to build an atmosphere that is tense but one that also has an air of mischief about it. This eventually leads into a more martial sounding version of the theme that in turn develops further into a short sharp up tempo working of the central theme, performed on strings, brass and supported by percussive elements.
Track 4, HIGH TENSION AND BROKEN WALTZ, is a veritable smorgasbord of instrumentation and styles, Mexican flavours are fused with a comic air at the offset of the cue, but the mood changes quite quickly as the composer employs a slower tempi to the proceedings and treats us to another version of the haunting main theme, harmonica, trumpet, piano, strings and percussion all take part creating an entertaining and inventive composition. Track 5, is one of my personal favourites on the compact disc, it is a bouncy version of the theme, performed by trumpet which is played in unison with cimbalom enhanced and embellished by tambourines being shaken, the rack develops in volume and also the tempo is increased as the strings are added to the mix punctuated by the use of castanets as a jaunty Mariachi trumpet solo takes the lead. EL CONDOR is a gem of a score, and it was far too long getting released, but it was worth waiting for in my opinion. Available on CD if you can still get it that is, it was released as part of the listen to the cinema series on the Universal France label. A fantastic series that includes also Jarre’s RED SUN score.
Let us also not forget the brilliant score for the western THE PROFFESSIONALS, which starred Robert Ryan, Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Claudia Cardinale and Jack Palance. Directed by Richard Brooks this was a rip-roaring western. That had a score that matched the action frame by frame. Released in 1966, it was essentially an American or Hollywood western, but it did contain certain scenes and scenarios that were influenced by the then up and coming Italian made western. Two years later Jarre scored VILLA RIDES, which was released on the same CD as EL CONDOR a perfect duo of Jarre’s western music, each score complimenting the other. The movie starred Yul Brynner with hair, and Hollywood legend Robert Mitchum. Again, Jarre provided a more than adequate score, and even incorporated the rather cheeky sounding, La Cucaracha into the fabric of his original score, thus giving the work shades of authenticity.
The composers triumph sounding central theme which opens the score, (track 11) Comes complete with whistling, strummed guitars, slow building percussion and builds to an inspiring crescendo which is patriotic and stimulating is the foundation for the entire work, it is heard in various arrangements throughout but it remains fresh and invigorating the whole time. The composer also treats to a handful of what I call secondary themes but they are in no way second class, as in Track number 12, MUCH MORE MONEY, this is a lively and highly entertaining cue, which contains a delightful mariachi style that is contagious listening. Track 13, WALTZ IN THE CLOUDS is just a wonderful listening experience with Jarre employing strings to accentuate and carry a rousing theme to accompany Pancho Villa on his revolutionary path.
THE LOVE THEME, track 16, is a variant of the central theme, but Jarre gives it a light airy waltz treatment, which is followed by a delicate and emotive Mexican serenade performed by guitar and male vocal embellished and underlined by strings. The grand piece of the score must be track 20, THE BATTLE, Jarre squeezes everything possible into this track, arranges and links all the major themes within the score together in a masterful and high energy piece which thrills and inspires. Again, Jarre delivers a work of much quality and also a score that is exciting, stirring and entertaining, overflowing with sweeping almost epic themes and energetic passages to accompany a turbulent but thrilling period in history.
Henry Mancini for me was a great source of listening to film music because he not only wrote movie scores but was responsible for releasing so many compilations that included film music by him and other composers. But I always looked forward to anything new from Mancini, he was the master of melodies and fashioned so many hit songs with the assistance of the likes of Johnny Mercer, but there is a side to Mancini that many rarely hear, the dramatic and darker side of Mancini is worth seeking out, because it is wonderfully driving as well as being melodious at the same time. Take his score for CHARADE for example, when we think of this score or soundtrack we invariably think of the nice little song, but investigate the actual score and the powerful main title in the movie, this is Mancini at his best, also remember PETER GUNN, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, MASTER OF THE ISLANDS,THE MOLLY MAGUIRES and more up to date LIFEFORCE.
All contained powerful scores and commanding themes, which proves that Mancini was not all DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES while you sat under THE SWEETHEART TREE having BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS on the banks of MOON RIVER. His score for the movie SUNFLOWER, is awash with romantic musical poems, and is an emotive and affecting work.
Elmer Bernstein is a composer who figured large in the early days of my collecting, his iconic score for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN being one that was always on the turntable of the record player in my bedroom as a youngster. But it was not just this western score that attracted me to Bernstein’s unmistakable musical fingerprint and his distinctive sound. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, THE SCALPHUNTERS, WALK ON THE WILD SIDE, THE CARETAKERS, and THE CARPETBAGGERS are just a handful of titlesthat all contained that resounding style and vibrant musical aura that the composer was able to create, and from the first bars of each composition one instinctively knew that this was an Elmer.
I remember getting his rousing score for THE BUCCANEER and being blown away by the sheer melodic and sweeping content of the work, and being touched emotionally by the overwhelming quality and fragility of his score or TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and his affecting music for THE BIRDMAN OF ALCARAZ still to this day mesmerises and haunts me.
His jazz scores too were a source of great entertainment with the composer utilising at times complex jazz vibes and dance or big band sounds, but at the same time integrating and cleverly combining these with sweeping or intimate sounding symphonic elements. ANNA LUCASTA, STACCATO, and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN arm being just three examples that come to mind. Bernstein was a composer who I think bridged the Golden age and the Silver age of cinema and film music, because he worked within both era’s and beyond. His later scores from the 1980’s etc often being parodies of some of his more familiar and classic soundtracks, such as AIRPLANE, STRIPES, SPIES LIKE US and GHOSTBUSTERS.
It was however, with scores for THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE COMMANCHEROS, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER etc, that Bernstein became a driving force within the film music arena, and he was still in demand in his later career when he scored movies such as TRUE GRIT, THE BLACK CAULDRON, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, FAR FROM HEAVEN, TRADING PLACES, THE THREE AMIGOS and THE GRIFTERS. A score that I do like a lot is KINGS OF THE SUN, I alsoenjoy the film each time I re-watch it, its an unusual storyline, which I think makes it even more attractive and entertaining, and Bernstein’s music enhances, supports and underlines every single piece of action that unfolds up n the screen eloquently and perfectly. The score also contains an air of romance and grandeur. Its one I never tire of.
From Elmer Bernstein to the composer Francis Lai, this French music-smith, was responsible for creating some of the most thematic and romantic sounding scores during the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s and 1980’s. His music for MAYERLING being one of my personal favourites, Lai’s music was always melodic with the composer creating sublime tone poems that fully immersed the listener and at the same time mesmerised the watching audience, often taking storylines to another level. His at times delicate approach was moving and ingratiating, but he was also able to provide movies with highly dramatic and action led music. Lai, was a composer who became known via his most popular themes as in LOVESTORY, A MAN AND A WOMAN and LIVE FOR LIFE all of which became themes or songs that had a life of their own in the popular music market. Some being recorded by well-known international artists.
Lai often utilised electronic support within his scores such as BILITIS which is a jaw droppingly beautiful soundtrack. He also worked on movies such as HANNIBAL BROOK’S, I’ll NEVER FORGET WHATS HIS NAME, INTERNATIONAL VELVET, and THE BOBO, which I think are scores that are at times overlooked.
THE HANNIBAL BROOKS MARCH is a brilliant piece filled with melody and a driving but at the same time easy listening musical persona. There is so much more though to the music of this much missed composer. Just take a few minutes to find HANNIBAL BROOKS on Spotify or any of the other digital music platforms and listen to the artistry the sheer gift of melody and the inventive expressive style of this composer, which is not just supportive of the film and its storyline, but also becomes an entertaining and compelling listen away from the movie. Lai like the other composers I have mentioned was a rare talent, and all of them will be sorely missed.
So onto something more contemporary, or new releases, and there are again a handful that are certainly worthy of a mention, and also are well worth checking out and maybe adding to your collection. These include ANTEBELLUM, which is an American made psychological horror thriller, written, and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz in their feature directorial debuts. The musical score isby Nate Wonder and Roman GianArthur. I am bringing this score to your attention because in my opinion it is one that you should add to the collection, wonderfully atmospheric, with enticing and effective use of choir and percussion, that is supported at times by grand sounding brass laced with epic and tense sounding strings, and this is just the cue entitled THE PAST IS NEVER DEAD, its grandiose, developed and richly thematic. The remainder of the score I found to be interesting, as in I never felt the need to skip forward or come across anything that I thought, was not just quality film music. THE OPENING is a cue that makes you want to delve further into the work, it entices and beguiles with a fascinating and compelling air, the composers layering strings and adding textures via solo violin as they build a tense but at the same time forthright and attractive piece. It is symphonic and draws from the classical, did I say it was good? Well I lied; it is great. The cues HORSE PURSUIT and BATTLE CHOIR in my opinion being brilliantly fashioned fearsome action pieces, and by contrast the final cue on the recording DAY BROKEN is gorgeously affecting, with inventive use of strings, that hint at a theme but we never quite get there, it just hovers but never fully comes to fruition. The score is a triumph and if you do not just buy this well, I don’t know what is wrong with you. Highly and I mean Highly recommended.
Other scores that you should investigate include Frederik Wiedmann’s touching and emotive soundtrack for WISH UPON AUNICORN which is attender and emotive soundtrack, it is a pleasant and delicately melancholy work that for me evoked the style of James Horner in places.
Anne Nikitin’s tense and highly atmospheric score for THE PALE HORSE too is one to check out, it is a disturbing listen, very edgy and filled with apprehension, the composer making effective use of voices combined with sinewy strings and dark musical colours throughout. It seems that Anne Nikitin is becoming a regular in the soundtrack supplements, but her inventive and innovative style can only be admired.
Now to multiple award-winning Cristobal “Cristo” Tapia de Veer, who is a Chilean born, classically trained musician, producer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist and composer for film & TV based in Montreal, Canada. One of his most recent projects includes the new TV series that stars Jude Law entitled THIRD DAY-SUMMER. I watched the first episode which has music also credited to composer Dickon Hinchcliffe, and I was attracted to the score because of its originality, with diverse and unusual instrumentation making it difficult not to try and listen rather than watch the harrowing scenes that were being acted out on screen, maybe this is the wrong way to do this, but I found the drama more compelling because the score was so unusual. I am pleased that the soundtrack has been issued only on digital platforms for the moment, because it is a work that deserves to be listened too. The composer experiments with female voice, birdsong and guitar at times, but there are also more apprehensive and foreboding and disturbing passages, with synthetic and conventional instrumentation coming into the equation. It is however the use of the female voice in a lullaby sounding piece that re-occurs which is the most unnerving and memorable, think ROSEMARYS BABY and it’s that kind of atmosphere that evoked, but in this case many times more disturbing.. It is a chilling work, filled with sinister and malevolent elements, but I also found it wonderfully original. Recommended. Also check out the composers score for the 2018 Netflix production, BLACK MIRROR-BLACK MUSEUM.
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.
FILM AND TELEVISION MUSIC FROM AROUND THE WORLD. WITH MOVIE REVIEWS AND NEWS FROM ALL OVER THE GLOBE.