The Sonata is a film that was released in 2020, it was one of the last movies that starred the wonderful, Rutger Hauer and has an incredible soundtrack which is composed by French Maestro, Alexis Maingaud.
There is a maturity and an eloquent melodic quality to the score, it is filled with a tense and nervous atmosphere, but also conveys an atmosphere that is alluring and appealing via its luxurious thematic material. For me it evoked the work of Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith, because it is not only a brooding and dark affair but has a foundation of semi melodious themes that ooze sophistication but saying that it also has to it an originality with the composer displaying his obvious gift for creativity throughout.
This is real film music, there are no drone like soundscapes here that fill time or underline the action on screen, intelligently written, overflowing with innovative musical passages and containing inventive orchestrations. The music seems to invade the listeners sub conscious and purveys moods and atmospheres that are thick with mystery and have to them a apprehensive air. The Four Faces of Evil, is a chilling and unnerving piece, low and somber strings are the main stay of the cue, with the composer adding more layers via a more pronounced string presence, with fleeting use of woodwind, and a faraway sounding horn solo momentarily rising out of the shadowy and somewhat macabre sounding composition giving a brief respite.
Many of the cues are quite short in their duration, but this does not mean that the music does not have any less of an affect upon the listener. There is an other-worldly or ethereal sound to much of the score, the composer creating a daunting and uneasy atmosphere. The cue The Crypt too conjures up a darkness and a menacing mood, strings again that form a foundation and are then surrounded by more strings that are like a swirling whirlpool of sound.
The Children is also a cue that must be listened too, short but effective, searing strings making their presence felt and creating a tense musical persona. Running in the Woods too is an intense composition, which begins low key, but has this ominous and harrowing underlying sound, which soon builds into a full on dramatic and driving force courtesy of a combination of percussive elements, brass, and strings.
This for me certainly evokes the style of Goldsmith and although short is exhilarating. TheSonata is a superbly crafted film score, with its driving brass and strings, its low key and richly dark piano, it’s fleeting thematic properties that haunt the listener and its inventive and booming percussion, it is a must have item. It punctuates, enhances, laces, and supports the picture but it also contains qualities that make it just as appealing away from the movie it was intended to enhance.
The Sonata is a powerful and nerve-jangling work, that will be amongst many film music collector’s favorites once heard Track number, 32, Violin Sonata op 54 “Rose”, is a triumph, and conveys so many mixed emotions, it is melodic, but at the same time highly expressive and dramatic. Even the End Credits, do not let up in the powerhouse department, so commanding and yet so sweet. Released soon on the French Independent music label AOC. On May 5th.
The music of British composer Rachel Portman has for many years now been a mainstay of cinema both British and American. Portman began her career as a composer by scoring mainly TV projects and soon progressed to writing music for the silver screen. Her style or sound is quite unique as it remains over ally and quintessentially English, but also has to it a underlying sound that can be likened to maybe the Hollywood style as in richly thematic and romantic.
She has over the years produced so many gorgeously enriching and hauntingly beautiful works, as in The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, and more recently Godmothered for Disney. Portman was born in Haslemere in the county of Surrey, England. She was educated at Charterhouse and became interested in music from an early age, with her first attempts at composition being undertaken in her early teens. After she completed her days at school Portman went onto study music at Worcester College in Oxford. It was whilst studying here that she first became interested in writing music for films and started to experiment by scoring student movies and writing music for various theatre productions. Her career commenced with the writing of incidental music for mainly BBC drama productions, and she also scored a handful of films for Channel four in the UK, which included Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, as well as Mike Leighs Four Days in July and the acclaimed Oranges are not the only Fruit. She has also worked on an opera The Little Prince, which was later adapted and made into a musical. Her success as a composer is due to her obvious gift for melody and her ability to adapt to any genre of film and create thematic but supportive music for any scenario. It is difficult not to be enchanted and engulfed by the composers wonderfully lilting and affecting music, she adds tender musical undercurrents to any production and enhances and laces each project with a fragile and delicate musical air, that is not just film music but is music that is integral and important to any storyline.
One of her better-known scores is for The Cider House Rules(1999), which is beyond beguiling and above enchanting, the central melody straight away captures the audiences ear and also sets the scene beautifully for the movies storyline, becoming central and so supportive of the main characters, relaying a fragility, vulnerability, and also a romantic atmosphere, that once heard is never easily forgotten. The theme which is a simple one binds the score and the movies story together adding poignancy, emotion, and drama to the proceedings. The affecting central theme is stunningly expressive, and the composer utilizes it and variations of it throughout, to elevate, underline and totally support.
The movie was directed by Lasse Hamilton, and starred Michael Caine, Toby Maguire, Charlize Theron, Paul Rudd, and Kieran Culkin. The story was written by John Irvin and is a touching drama set in an orphanage in Maine, where a doctor (Caine) trains and mentors Homer Wells (Maguire) and follows him after he leaves the orphanage. Portman’s score graces and ingratiates the films storyline as it develops adding much to the proceedings.
The same can be said for her emotive music for the movie Never Let Me Go (2010), which again is highly effective both within the movie and away from it when one listens to the score as just music. Portman conveys a mood of melancholy via solo cello performances, woodwind, and solo piano performances which are underlined and punctuated by the string section. The film was directed by Mark Romanek from a screenplay by Alex Garland. Never Let Me Go is set in an alternative history and focuses upon three characters, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy portrayed by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield, respectively, and how they become entangled in a love triangle.
Portman’s score is again essential to the film’s storyline, creating subtle and alluring moods and creating romantic, sad, and dramatically tense atmospheres. Godmothered is a more recent score from the composer. The film, which is a Disney production, has had mixed reactions from critics but as far as I can see the cinema going public love it, and that is all that matters isn’t it? It’s a movie that has a feel good and warm persona, and don’t we need something these days that makes us smile? Yes, we do. The score is filled with quirky and comedic passages that are all held together by oodles of sentimental melancholy.
A young and unskilled fairy godmother ventures out on her own to prove her worth by tracking down a young girl whose request for help was ignored. The score is a delight, and we hear Portman at her melodic best here. The work skips literally from one delicious piece to another, the composer creating a veritable landslide of joyous and affecting themes. It is also fully symphonic, which straight away grabs one’s attention, there is a fragility about Portman’s soundtrack that not only attracts and hypnotises but succeeds in enhancing the events on screen. Even with its reference to The Sound ofMusic within one of its tracks, both the film and its score complement each other as they are both enchanting and romantic, quirky, and entertaining. The story will transport us away from the here and now for nearly two hours, which again I am sure will be welcomed by many and the soundtrack is a sublime listening experience within the movie and away from it.
Private Peaceful, is a 2012 film that is said to be based partly on fact and taken from the story or novel by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo. The plot focuses upon two brothers that have both fallen in love with the same girl. But the story is far more involved than this. It explores the story and life of a young British man Thomas Peaceful, or “Tommo” as seen by him and as related by him in an account where he recalls his experiences and certain events in his life.
The early section of the story relates to his life as a boy and takes place before the outbreak of WW l, it tells the story of his obsessive love for Molly a beautiful young girl who he met on his first day at school. It also focuses upon his eldest sibling Big Joe who is brain damaged due to complications at birth and of his other Brother Charlie who is older than Thomas but younger than Joe. Thomas has for several years kept a dark and terrible secret, when he was younger, he went wood cutting with his Father, but a tree nearly falls on Thomas, his Father saves him, but his act of selflessness costs him his own life as he is crushed by the tree. Thomas has kept this too himself all these years, as he feels he is the reason that his Father died and is eaten up with grief and guilt. The three Brothers grow up together with the two younger members of the trio Charlie and Tommo protecting Big Joe at all costs. Their childhood is a happy one spent playing in the fields and having so many adventures together. One of their favourite pastimes being to annoy their Great Aunt who they nick name Grandma Wolf or The Wolfwoman.
They also cause the Colonel a lot of headaches and one day see an airplane fly over being the first in their village to do so. As they grow Charlie, Tommo and Molly all find employment either at the estate or in the village. As Charlie and Molly become closer, Tommo begins to feel increasingly left out, and soon discovers that Charlie and Molly have been seeing each other and Molly becomes pregnant. She then moves in with the Peaceful family after her own family refuse to have any more to do with her. As the outbreak of the great war becomes more obvious Charlie and Molly are married and soon after both Charlie and Thomas are sent to the battlefields of Flanders, where although they have had their differences, Charlie is still highly protective of his younger Brother. During an assault on German lines Tommo is wounded and despite being told to leave him in no mans land Charlie stays with his sibling once again protecting him at all costs. After which Charlie is accused of being a coward by his sergeant, charges are brought, and he is court martialed and executed. The story ends with Tommo waiting to go into action at the battle of the Somme. Directed by Pat O Connor, the movie starred Jack O Connell as Charlie Peaceful and featured a strong cast of familiar British actors that included, George MacKay as Tommo, Alexandra Roach as Molly, Richard Griffiths as the Colonel, Frances de la Tour as Grandma Wolf and Maxine Peak as Hazel Peaceful. Rachel Portman provided the movie with a sensitive and pastoral sounding score which is also a lilting and subtle one.
The composer adding moving and soft nuances throughout to underline the ever developing and highly personal storyline. Portman also provides a darker more ominous style of music, for the more dramatically laced parts of the story with its subdued but at the same time effective presence. A symphonic work, the main parts of the score being performed by the string section, giving it a rustic but idyllic sound, which is enhanced further and sustained by a small brass ensemble with percussion and woods adding underlying support. Other movies that the composer has scored include Chocolat, The Duchess, Harts War, Emma, Despite the Falling Snow, Benny and Joon, Race and so many more.
I want to start soundtrack supplement forty by mentioning just briefly the score for the new sci-fi movie Cosmoball, which has a magnificent soundtrack penned by Italian born composer and pianist Tony Neiman, let it suffice to say that it is well worth checking out, and available on digital platforms.
A full review will be here on MMI soon And an interview with the composer. So eatch for this.
So on with soundtrack supplement forty (yes forty) and it’s still a busy time for soundtrack releases, and there are so many new composers emerging as well as talented filmmakers. I hopefully will include some of the more interesting soundtracks here, and maybe be successful in pointing you in the right direction or at least giving you a recommendation or two as well as drawing your attention to a handful that you just might have missed.
Jermaine Stegall (Proximity 2020 and, Jamesy Boy 2014) is a young composer who in my opinion will become very, very, busy in the not-too-distant future, and hopefully we will be seeing his name on more of the credits of both TV and feature films, plus hopefully hearing more of his scores on CD and digital platforms. His most recent score is for the highly anticipated Amazon original movie Coming to America 2, which is such a great listen, the composer combines ethnic voices and rhythms with orchestral score, and this is a formula that I love and it works wonderfully. The score is so good in the movie but also away from the film the music remains entertaining and highly infectious.
The composers use of percussive elements is stunning, and for me is the focal point of the soundtrack, however, add to this the affecting and driving orchestral backgrounds and what we have here is probably one of the top scores thus far of 2021. The composer seems to have put everything he possible could into this score, with its highly rhythmic sound and its edgy but at the same mischievous style, it is something that I know many of us will take to straight away.
Tracks on the soundtrack such as Celebration are just wild and motivating with percussion only being the instrumentation. This is a soundtrack I could listen to all day long and I mean all day long and not tire of it. Highly recommended.
Another wonderful score is for the Disney plus documentary Secrets of Whales which is a four-part series narrated by Sigourney Weaver and directed by James Cameron. The score is by Raphaelle Thibaut, and it is one that you should own and cherish. Her music is enchanting and delicate in places, with fragile sounding tone poems making their presence felt throughout, it is a fusion of synthetics and symphonic, with the electronic elements being supportive of the more conventional instrumentation and both sections working harmoniously together in a collaboration that is stunning and haunting.
The work is totally absorbing, with the composer creating beautiful and affecting interludes, where the richness of the thematic material shines through to engulf and mesmerize the listener. For me it evokes the sound achieved by both Ennio Morricone and Vangelis, with the composer combining so many colors and textures and then adding them from her musical palette to the film like delicate brushstrokes to canvas. There is beauty and tenderness purveyed here that is rarely heard these days in film scoring, which she combines eloquently with an epic and inspiring sound. Again recommended.
The score for Traidores, is released on the Plaza Mayor label and available on digital platforms, the music is by composer Jose Sanchez Sanz, who has woven an at times quite complex but varied work, there are a number of themes within the score, but these are at times I think understated, and this style and tempo is the order of the day here, but just because they are not epic sounding or grand does not mean they are not entertaining and also effective, at times I think understated and near atonal cues are just as rewarding in the listening department as epic and romantic sounding soundtracks and this is certainly the case here. The composer has created a tense and dramatic score, that relies upon strings as in a small ensemble or solo performances to convey the apprehensive and at times awkwardness of the movie’s storyline, nonetheless this is a powerful score, it supports without overwhelming and adds atmosphere and depth to an already compelling story, and the composer also manages to relay a sense of vulnerability via his sparse and slight compositions. Try it out its on all digital platforms.
Mortal Kombat has a score by Benjamin Wallfisch, and I have to say it’s a score that I can take or leave, again there seems to be nothing whatsoever that is original here, there is nothing that says this is a Wallfisch score as it could easily be Junkie XL or Hans Zimmer, for me this is a bunch of noise, which granted does at times break into thematic material, but it has that grating factor, where most of us think Enough and either turn it off or move it on, Sorry this one is not for me, but its available on digital platforms so please do have a listen and make up your own mind. I wish that the composer would return to a more thematic style and stop this drone like soundscape work he has served up recently. But like I say its just personal taste and this is not mine, and who knows maybe the movie’s producers wanted this?
Let’s go back a little way shall we with a score that you might well have missed. Master of the World was a movie that starred Vincent Price, Charles Bronson and Henry Hull. The musical score was by American composer, arranger, and conductor Les Baxter. This is in my opinion one of Baxter’s more melodic scores and contains an avalanche of themes which are rich and luxurious. The soundtrack first appeared on the Vee Jay record label back in 1961. I always remember the gloriously colorful album cover, which thankfully has been retained on the various re-releases that have been made available, selections of the score is now available on digital platforms as Les Baxter at the Movies vol 1, along with selections from other Baxter scores such as Fall of the House of Usher, The Raven, The man With the X Ray eyes, Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, Goliath and the Barbarians, and Tales of Terror.
The sound on this release is wonderfully rich as in the old days when recordings were all in mono, and this compilation has to be a perfect introduction to anyone who is not familiar with the dramatic yet melodic style of Baxter. Master of the World for me was like a slightly darker version of Around the World in Eighty Days by Victor Young, with Baxter creating so many lush and expressive themes, that it is sometimes hard to believe that all this music came from just one film score. The track Flight Concerto is breathtaking and beautiful, with other cues such as The Mountains and The Overture (remember those), standing out.
This collection is a must have and I know that once heard you will be looking for the full scores of each and everyone of them. The full soundtrack album of Master of the World is also available on digital platforms and is the same line up as the original Vee Jay LP record from 1961 which is a total of twelve tracks. But the sound quality of this edition is a little worn out, and dull with a chattering throughout, but if you can get by this the score still shines and is stupendously entertaining, and one gets to experience Baxter at his inventive best with cues such as The Albatross, The Balloon Waltz and Topage, which is possibly the most appealing cue on the score.
Certainly one for your collection, vintage film music at its best and whilst you are there why not check out the abundance of Baxter releases that are both film related and exotica and easy listening, there is a whole world of sounds to discover or re-discover which ever applies to you personally. And just a thought when having a look around these digital sites also type in Henry Mancini and go to his score for Hatari, another masterful soundtrack from the 1960’s. Released in 1962,
Hatari was a vehicle for John Wayne, but turned out to be a popular movie with Mancini’s great soundtrack helping matters along nicely matters with the infectious opening theme which is heavy on percussion and the stand out cue from the score and even now still a familiar tune with many Baby Elephant Walk like many of his scores the composer combining jazz influences with romantic tones, easy listening flourishes and dramatic passages.
Then there is some classic Ennio Morricone, in the form of a seventeen-track edition of Escalation, which includes far more music than the original CAM CD release, I think its always good to go back and re-discover past scores, by composers living or by those that have passed away. Escalation was written at a particularly fruitful time in the composer’s career which was in the 1960’s through to the mid 1970’s. Escalation was released in 1968 and contains the sounds and style that the Maestro had effectively invented and developed. It is a fusion of pop or soft rock, Sitar performances, experimental sounds both musical and otherwise, and neo classical interludes, which are blended with romantic and dramatic orchestral colors. Certainly, worth a listen and even if you already have it why not treat yourself and listen again.
Back a new release and to a score by Howard Shore, Pieces of a Woman. This is a Netflix film, and contains a truly exquisite soundtrack from the composer. It is filled with fragility, emotion, and poignancy and oozing with lilting and haunting themes that seem to just trickle over the listener stirring deep thoughts of romance, melancholy, and solitude. The composer utilizing solo piano to purvey all these senses fashioning an effective and affecting soundtrack. The piano performances are at times supported and enhanced by woods or strings giving them even an even greater emotional impact. Highly Recommended.
Also worth a mention is Clint Mansell’s dark and somber soundtrack for In the Earth, I say somber, but it is in fact a highly creative, brooding, and inventive, the composer using a largely electronic line up to bring his musical notions to fruition.
Also take a listen to Joseph Trapanese’s recent work on the Netflix TV series Shadow and Bone, which is mysterious, and startling, being filled with a sinister undertone that is dark and malevolent but at the same time slightly mischievous.
Then we have the shifting moody music of Andrew Piland, who has recently scored These Streets We Haunt, this is an atmospheric work, that is one moment shadowy and foreboding and then in the next instant becomes a more melodic and thematic score that has these pockets of subdued romanticism and emotive interludes. Again, worth checking out.
30 Monedas has a soundtrack that has been penned by talented Spanish film music composer Roques Banos, this is not just an atmospheric work but is also a powerful one, with the composer combining rich orchestral sounds with choir to yield sinewy, urgent, and driving passages. Available on digital platforms, so just go click on it and be amazed.
Talking of being amazed also take a listen to the 2015 score for the video game Battlecry, music is by composing duo Two Steps from Hell or Nick Phoenix and Thomas Bergersen, which is superb, if you like grand musical statements and epic sounding compositions this is for you. The thing is it not only delivers in these departments but is also filled with rich and theme led pieces, it is in a word Outstanding and is the kinf=d of score that you will listen to through once or twice and then return to it again and again. Check it out on Spotify today.
Andrew Scott Bell has been writing original music for films and commercial media since 2009. His music has brought life to more than 50 productions, and has premiered in nine different countries across the world.
Was music always something that attracted you to do as a career, and do you come from a musical family background?
I’ve really always had a love for music. When I was very young, I was obsessed with Elvis Presley. So much so that people even called me Andy Elvis. I didn’t always want to work in music though, but I’ve always been attracted to storytelling. The first career I was interested in at a young age was being a comic strip artist. I wanted to have a weekly or daily comic strip in the funny pages. The problem with that ultimately is to be in the funny pages, you have to be funny. I also at one point wanted to be a director, making home video short films with my friends around the neighbourhood.
But when I was about seven or eight years old, Forrest Gump came out in theatres. Alan Silvestri’s score for that film really changed my life. My parents had the VHS tape and a two disc soundtrack album from the movie, most of which were popular songs from the 60’s and 70’s. The last track on the second disc was a suite of themes from the film’s score. I was entranced by the music. I learned to play the suite on the piano by ear. I remember I’d come home from school and head straight to the piano where I had set-up my bedroom CD player on the back of the upright. Having that kind of playful connection with music at that young age was the spark that grew overtime and led me to pursuing this career.
Witness Infection is a recent score of yours, it’s a great listen, and I can hear within it lots of nods to various composers and it contains so many styles, but at the same time there is an originality about it. How did you become involved on the movie, and did the director have specific ideas about what type of music should be written for the movie?
Thank you so much! Witness Infection was such a fun film to work on and I appreciate your kind words about the score. I believe it was after hearing my work on The Springfield Three that director Andy Palmer reached out to me to score Witness Infection. Andy called me up and after a great conversation about the film, he asked if I was interested in scoring it. Of course, I said yes! One of the things I enjoy most about this job is that each time I work with a director, it’s a completely different process. Andy took a more hands off approach to the score than I’m used to, but that felt freeing and empowering. I think a lot of what people are reacting to when they hear that score has to do with Andy’s leadership and the trust he allowed in our process. It was really fun!
We did talk a lot about the sound we were looking for before I started writing. I like to spend a lot of time talking and asking questions so the director and I can really get on the same page before I write a single note of music.
Witness Infection, is a score that sounds to me like a fusion of both symphonic and synthetic, how many live players did you have for the score, and do you conduct all your own music if possible?
I think one of the largest challenge’s composers face right now is shrinking music budgets and the amount of time we’re given to write our scores. We must find creative ways to go around those obstacles in our industry. We did not really have the budget or time to contract an orchestra for Witness Infection, so everything you hear in the score are instruments I played in my studio layered with synthesized orchestral instruments from my computer.
Sampling technology has really made leaps and bounds in recent years and the instruments these companies are selling sound more and more realistic with each new release. Still, I will always prefer the emotional intention behind a human performing on my scores. So out of budget necessity, I often end up playing my own violin, cello, and other instruments on a lot of my scores. I have conducted a few of my scores in the past, but it’s not one of my strengths (I’m out of practice, really) so I think I’m more comfortable sitting with my director listening and giving feedback to the orchestra from inside the booth.
How much time did you have to score Witness Infection, from start to finish?
Witness Infection had a fast turnaround. I had about four weeks to write and deliver the music for the film. “The composer would like to thank the gallons upon gallons of coffee he consumed while writing the score.”
Staying with Witness Infection, how many times did you watch the movie before you began to get any fixed notions about the music and where it should be placed for maximum effect?
The first time I watch a movie I’m working on, I make a small event out of it. I like to experience it first as an audience member; just sit down and enjoy the movie. So for Witness Infection, I decided to order some lunch, black out the windows in my studio, and treat it like a mini cinema.
I knew the film was about an Italian American family from New Jersey, so I ordered an Italian sub from Jersey Mike’s. What I didn’t know is that the cause of the zombie outbreak in the film is bad Italian sausages from a food truck. If you have seen the film, the movie starts out immediately with two hunters in a tent. One of them is eating an Italian sausage that’s causing quite a bit of… intestinal disruption. So, as it turns out I didn’t end up feeling very hungry for lunch, especially not for Italian food.
I typically watch a film I am scoring four times before starting the music. The first time, as I said, I just watch the movie. The second time, I take loose and general notes as I watch. The third time, I go scene by scene and make more detailed notes about where music should be and what the music should achieve. Then I watch the movie a fourth time during the spotting session with the director, which is when I take the most detailed notes.
What musical education did you have, and were there any areas of music or a particular instrument that you focused upon while studying?
I received a bachelor’s in music composition and theory with a minor in film studies from Christopher Newport University, a school in south eastern Virginia. CNU does not offer a film scoring program, so my education was more focused on classical composition than writing for film. I feel fortunate I was able to really focus on learning orchestration and to develop my compositional style free from the restrictions one has while writing for film. I took piano lessons as a child and in middle and high school I studied trumpet, but when I started under-grad I decided I wanted to learn more about choral writing so I switched my primary instrument to voice and sang in choirs throughout college. Composers in our music department also had to take what was called techniques courses, one for each instrument group – woodwinds, brass, voice, and percussion. The courses were designed for music education majors, something I was grumpy about at the time, but in the classes’ we learned how to play so many instruments at a fifth-grade level. I didn’t realize it at the time but getting my hands on those instruments and feeling how to play each of them was an invaluable part of my musical development. It’s something I still think about now when I write for those instruments.
I love the little nod to The Godfather in Witness Infection, are there any composers or artists that you would say have influenced you in the way that score a project, or indeed have inspired you to write certain themes?
Since the film is a comedy, we chose to play the music big and serious – leaning into the overly dramatic styles prevalent in horror scores from the early to mid-20th century. I think if we had tried to write “funny” music, the score might not have worked as well in the film. So Andy and I talked a lot about classic monster movie scores by composers like Frank Skinner, Max Steiner, and Franz Waxman, and how playing it big and leaning hard on that sound could really add to the comedy. We also often said “Godfather but make it horror” in reference to the mob family element in the characters. I think the real challenge was writing motifs that could work in both of those musical landscapes. I tried to write with a harmonic language that would sound natural played on a mandolin as well as an enormous low brass section. I think what we ended up with is kind of an odd combination of flavours, but it’s an Italian American mob comedy with flesh eating zombies so… buon appetito!
In 2016, you scored a short, entitled Rocket about dirt track racing, the movie was just 29 mins in duration, but your score was in my opinion so supportive and became the movies heart, when you are scoring a short, is it more difficult to establish themes and a musical identity, because of the briefness of the project. And does the scoring process alter a great deal between working on a short, a TV project and a feature film?
Well thank you so much for saying so. I loved working with director Brenna Malloy on Rocket. That was really a wonderful experience from scoring the film all the way up to it winning a Student Academy Award in 2016. I have such a fondness for the film and my experience working on it. I’m very proud of that music, so thank you for your kind words.
I often think composition is similar to painting in that there is so much work that goes into the preparation so that the creativity can be as fluid and natural as possible. Before I start writing music, I’m choosing a sound palette for the score, thinking about textures I’d like to use in my orchestration, and planning the harmonic language for the piece. It feels very much like a painter gathering paint and brushes or choosing between types of canvas.
That part of the process is the same regardless of whether it’s a short or a feature film, so in that regard the work is very similar. The obvious difference is in the amount of music written and the extent to which we get to develop those themes throughout the film. Structurally, a feature really allows the music we write to grow and bloom with the story. There is so much more room for the work to breathe and expand. I find that really rewarding.
Have you encountered a temp track on any of your projects, and do you think that this process is helpful or maybe distracting?
Films I score almost always have a temp music track in them before I come onboard. I think temp scores can be both helpful and distracting. It really depends on how attached a director is to the sound and feel of their temp. It can be quite a challenge if they have what I call “temp fever.”
I personally will only watch a movie once with its temp score. Each time I watch it after, I prefer to do so with no music so I can formulate my own ideas. It’s not all bad, though. I do think temp scores can be helpful as a jumping off point in a conversation. I see temp music more as a challenge than a problem and I tackle that challenge by just asking a lot of questions. What is it about the temp that you think is working here? How does the temp make you feel? What other pieces of music that you’ve heard make you feel a similar way? Etc.
The more questions I ask, the more I can dig down to the centre of what it is about the temp the director really loves. Once I find that, it can be quite freeing and often opens new possibilities for me to surprise them with something new they love but weren’t expecting!
When recording a score for a movie or other projects, do you have a preference as to where you record, or is this not up to you?
Well, I haven’t really made it to the point in my career where I’m regularly recording full orchestras. I’ve only recorded scores with full, live orchestras a few times, and each time the choice as to where we record was narrowed down by budget and timeframe restrictions. Apart from those few times, most of my scores are recorded here in my studio.
I have worked on the Newman Scoring Stage at Fox, though not for my own project. I’m looking forward to the day I have the chance to record one of my scores in that iconic space. I’d also love to record at Abbey Roads, but I think every musician dreams of that opportunity.
The Springfield Three is based upon a true story, your score is sensitive as well as dramatic, the film runs for approx. 30 mins, and your score is 22 mins in duration, and I think it is mostly due to the music that the audience become affected by the story that is unfolding. I was thankful it was issued on to digital platforms, do you have any input regarding what scores of yours are released and indeed what cues are selected for the release?
Thank you for saying so. It means a lot. Working on that film was emotionally taxing for me. Since The Springfield Three is based on a true story, I felt an enormous weight on my shoulders to give justice to those three missing women. Their case is still unsolved, so my hope is the film inspires someone to come forward with new information about the case. In regards to the release of my music, so far I’ve self-published all my music. I have my own publishing company and pay for my music to be distributed on digital platforms. I’m certain eventually that will change as I move to larger productions, and I look forward to that day, but for now I do it myself so I can get my music out for people to listen to and hopefully enjoy.
Do you regard orchestration as an important part of the composing process, and do you work on all your own orchestrations when possible?
I personally do, yes. It’s an important part of my process and I often do my own orchestrations. I did recently work with orchestrator Òscar Senén (No Time to Die, Hacksaw Ridge, Geostorm) on my score to Deathcember. I had such a wonderful time working with him. His incredible talents only made my music stronger, and I look forward to us working together again soon!
I noticed that your scores are very thematic, do you think that the current trend of utilizing soundscapes and drone like passages in movie scores is here to stay, or do you believe that the theme laden score will return?
I not only believe that theme driven scores will return, I think they’re already coming back now! I personally think that has mostly to do with changing personal tastes of directors. As younger directors who grew up on films from the 80’s and 90’s come into their own careers, they’re seeking out those types of scores. I also think audience preference seems to be leaning back toward melodic and thematic music for a similar reason. There are so many wonderful, thematically vibrant scores coming out right now. I think it’s an exciting time to be scoring film!
Do you perform on any of your scores?
Yes, I do. On my horror scores I play a lot of my own string effects and textures. I have a violin and a cello and I layer multiple takes together to create the sound of a larger ensemble. On Witness Infection, I also played the trumpet parts. There’s one instrument I really enjoy playing on my scores when it’s called for. I have the insides of an old upright piano (just the sound board and harp) I found on the sidewalk in Glendale. I’ve placed it on its side and added casters so I can wheel it in and out of my studio when needed. It’s incredibly eerie and creates a depth of textures.
I also play a lot of less traditional sounds on my scores from time to time. I was working on a film a few weeks ago and I literally played pots and pans in the score. I felt like a kid again, and I think that joy comes through in the music.
What is next for you?
I just finished a featurette by director Samuel Gonzalez Jr. titled, That Night. The film is based on an emotionally powerful anonymous craigslist “missed connection” post that went viral about five years ago. It’s a really wonderful piece and I’m certain people will be moved by the story.
I’m set to score Shudder’s upcoming and still untitled queer horror documentary directed by Sam Wineman and I’m currently scoring a super fun feature film titled Psycho Storm Chaser by Buz Wallick which is an edge of your seat adventure slasher set during a hurricane. I can’t wait for people to see it.
During the pandemic, I was also commissioned to write an opera based on a play The Trial of God by Nobel Peace Prize winning author Elie Wiesel. That has been a colossal undertaking but is such a rich and rewarding experience and I’m honoured to adapt his incredible and profoundly enriching play into music. That work will premiere in November 2021.
My thanks to the compose for taking time to answer my questions.
Two more interesting and innovative scores from Movie Score Media, which is nothing new from this pioneering and ever industrious soundtrack specialist. The first is from the movie Honeydew which has a score by composer John Mehrmann. This is a score that is a fusion of music, musical sounds and voices that are all used in a highly original way. The composer serves up an inventive and thought-provoking work as in one finds yourself listening more intently to the cues, simply to decipher how he achieved the sound. This is a concoction of half heard vocal phrases, and short stabs of sounds, which combined with anything thematic conveys to its listener a mood that is unnerving, unsettling and at times down-right scary. It is a rather intense listening experience, a sinister and a surprising work, with the composer employing sounds rather than music to create moods and atmospheres, I won’t say it is an easy listen because it is not, modern, slightly unbalanced and maybe bordering on the Avant Garde, but easy no. Check it out, available soon on digital platform.
As will be the latest score from Andrew Lockington and Michael White, Trigger Point, which is also released by Movie Score Media is a score not filled with grand and rich themes but is one that has to it a brooding and drone like aura. Yes, there are fragments of thematic material within it, but these rarely develop, but this does not however mean that it is a score that I do not like, because the way in which it is constructed is like Honeydew interesting, it has to it a tense and alluring persona, and it is I think the fleeting hints of melody that make it so, because they are given no room to develop and are overwhelmed by the dark and ominous synthetics. Not a symphonic work at all, but realized by electronic elements and soundscape as opposed to soundtrack, but still certainly worth a listen.
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