The storyline of Crimes of the Future sounds ambitious, as it delves into the not-to-distant future in which humans are learning to adapt to synthetic surroundings. This advancement moves humans beyond their natural state and into a metamorphosis, which alters their biological makeup. While some embrace the limitless potential of trans-humanism, others attempt to police it. It’s a David Cronenberg movie so you are going to either love it or loath it, I am still trying to make up my mind to be honest, as I found it both grotesque and disturbing, with so many cringing moments, but strangely attractive. This is not a movie for everyone, but everyone is different. I do not think its a film I would choose to see more than once lets put it that way.
Either way, accelerated evolution syndrome is spreading fast in this rather strange affair of a movie. In this case the filmmaker is adept at observing the close relationship between technology and the human body that this horror/philosophy film gives attention to, with the storyline making some sense some of the time. Arguably the film is easier to stomach, so to speak, than would be suspected. There’s almost acceptance of the way things have evolved which stands midway between The Fly and Crash, it is a movie that is symbolic and at times displays a glimpse of hope about how or if humanity will continue to survive. Surgery is the new Sex , in this picture, or so we are led to believe.
The musical score is by the renowned composer Howard Shore, who has worked on many of Cronenberg’s movies, Shore’s soundtrack is at times complex, but also has to it a kind of relaxed persona, with subtle motifs and thematic material, that in my opinion scores against the shocking and graphic content of the movie, and this is probably why the music works so well.
The composer utilising both symphonic and electronic instrumentation to fashion a score that may not be memorable, as its themes I have to say do not linger that long, but it’s certainly effective. Its dark, and thickly affecting and surprisingly easy to listen to away from the images, in fact its probably a better listening experience to hear it as just music. Available on digital platforms.
I truly believe that in recent years the spirit of the epic sounding score or the lush and lavish sounds of Hollywood as we knew them once have transferred to Spain and that countries many talented and versatile film music composers, this thought has been further consolidated this month after hearing the wonderfully dramatic, mysterious, and affecting soundtrack for Alma or The Girl in the Mirror as it is entitled in the US and the UK. This Spanish made supernatural thriller is at the moment streaming on Netflix and the beautiful, beguiling and foreboding score is the work of Fernando Velazquez. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that in my opinion this is probably the finest film score that the Maestro has penned.
It is an effectively brooding and unnerving work, but also has to it a luxurious and haunting musical entity. Comparisons can be made between the work of Herrmann here, as the composer’s music subtly develops and at times erupts in a very similar way in which Herrmann’s scores did, but there is also a lighter style within the work, melodic and delicate, that hints at fragility and vulnerability. I am tempted to say it is Barry-esque in places, but on listening to the work over a few times, the sound and style is inventive and innovative, and the work of a musical genius in a form that only Velazquez can do.
It is a soundtrack that contains hints of themes which are performed on solo instruments, these sparse but effective pieces are tantalizing and mesmerizing, with piano and violin working together to create an emotive and at the same time mystical aura. Plus there is the somewhat harrowing use of voices that are underlined by booming percussion and aggressive brass flourishes, this is a masterful score and one that you as a discerning collector must add to your collection, don’t believe me! Its available on digital platforms go and be astounded.
Alan Williams is an award-winning composer and conductor with more than 100 motion picture and television credits. Alan’s scores include the Academy Award nominated IMAX film, Amazon, Sony Pictures Classics’ Mark Twain’s America and some of the highest rated movies made for television.
Some of his recent credits include the Chinese theatrical feature film Legend of the Forest and the IMAX films Secrets of the Sea and Serengeti. Alan composed the award-winning score to the animated feature film, The Princess and the Pea and co-wrote the original songs with award-winning Lyricist David Pomeranz as well as the Student Academy Award winning short Pajama Gladiator.
With more than 100 awards and nominations some of his accolades include his score to Estefan being nominated for an Annie Award for Best Original Score, the Insight Award for Excellence for his score to Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa, 23 Accolade Awards for Best Original Score, 10 Park City Film Music Festival Gold Medal for Excellence Awards as well as his score to Crab Orchard being named as one of the Top 20 Film Scores of 2005.
The composer has received 21 Global Music Awards. His score to 20th Century Fox’s Cowgirls n’ Angels won a Prestige Film Gold Award and Alan was awarded the Jerry Goldsmith Award for Best Documentary score for the Netflix series Moving Art: Underwater along with 3 other JGA nominations.
Alan received a Hollywood Music in Media award (HMMA) for his song “Music of the Earth” co-written with David Pomeranz along with 3 additional HMMA nominations. In 2017 Alan was awarded the Global Music Awards Odyssey Lifetime Achievement in Music.
What musical education did you have, and did you focus upon any specific area of music whist studying?
I have a Bachelor of Music in Composition from Brigham Young University and graduate work at the University of Southern California in film and television composition.
Was film and TV music something that you were always drawn to as a career?
Yes. From my early days studying piano I was drawn to film music. By the time I was a sophomore in high school I knew I wanted to compose for film and television.
Many of your scores are for documentaries, but of course you have scored movies, animation, and television projects, what would you say are the biggest differences when scoring say a documentary of around forty minutes to working on a motion picture with a running time of nearly double this, do you approach each medium in a different way, and would you say that scoring a documentary with music being almost continuous is easier or maybe more difficult?
Most all my projects are similar in process. It doesn’t matter the genre or duration of the project. I begin developing thematic material and then compose to picture. It is true that many documentaries require more music, but the score still has the same purpose: to support, enhance and delve deeper into the emotional and dramatic story being told.
Do you have a preferred orchestra or recording studio when working on film?
My first preference is always to record in Los Angeles. I have recorded all over the world. There are many great musicians, and I am always grateful to have them play and record my scores.
When working on a documentary, is there sometimes a temp track on the film when you go to see it for the first time, and what is your opinion of the practice of directors and producers using temps in any type of film?
Temp tracks vary by project. Most tend to be very temp-heavy but some of my recent projects have either had some of my music in them or no music at all. It is wonderful to have a blank canvas to begin creating without predetermined musical ideas from a filmmaker before we have had a chance to talk creatively about the score.
Legend of the Forest is one of your recent scoring assignments and has an epic score, how did you become involved on the film and did the director have specific ideas about what style of music was required for the movie?
The post supervisor connected me to the project. The Chinese production company wanted all the post work done in Los Angeles although the entire film was a Chinese production. They wanted a “Hollywood” score, edit and sound mix. The director did not have any specific ideas other than the score should have the ethnic elements of the China/Mongolia period and especially the Ewenki people. He also wanted an epic symphonic score to blend with these ethnic elements. Other than that, he was very open to my input. This was a film that had no temp music at all. It was wonderful to have such creative freedom for the film.
What composers or artists would you say have had an influence upon you maybe in the sound that you achieve or in the way that you approach and score movies?
I have always been a huge fan of Jerry Goldsmith. Not just of his musical brilliance, but his ability to get deep inside the drama of a film and its characters and to write music that deepens the drama. Jerry mastered the skill of thematic development in a film. He said that if he could write a main theme that encapsulated the essence of the film or a character, along with some type of short motive (rhythmic, chordal or a few notes) he would have all he needed to write a score. This has been wonderful advice that I strive for in my scores.
When you begin working on a movie whether it be a feature, documentary, or TV project, is there a set way in which you like to score it, by this I mean do you like to create a core theme and build the remainder of the score around this, or does every project differ?
Yes, I begin composing a core theme, maybe even more than one depending on the project. Lately, I have created a suite of themes and other ideas which have been very useful at the beginning of a project. It gives me freedom to write away from the picture and maybe even material for an editor to use as temp music. Plus, it’s a great way to begin talking with a director about the musical approach.
You give talks, on creativity, what is your advice to young composers that are just starting out writing for film?
I am quite passionate about all things creative. I love the creative process and talking about it with young composers, filmmakers, and anyone in any field. I think the creative process is very similar for any discipline.
Orchestration is an important part of the composing process; do you like to orchestrate all your scores or is this at times not possible due to scheduling etc?
My demos are fully orchestrated, so I am always thinking orchestration every step of my composing process. Due to recording schedules I almost always use an orchestrator to prep the scores and parts for the session. My orchestrator Larry Rench is vital to the process, and I value my collaboration with him.
The same question regarding conducting, do you prefer to conduct yourself or maybe at certain times have a conductor?
I always conduct. For me it is the immediate connection to the musicians, and I can communicate quickly and directly with them. Plus, I know the musical interpretation I want and don’t have to communicate it to a conductor who then in turn, communicates it to the orchestra.
A lot of your scores have been issued on to promo recordings, with many now being available on digital platforms, when a score is to be released commercially by a recording label do you have input into what tracks or cues will represent the score on the recording?
Yes, I have input on commercial releases and almost always have a producer credit on the album.
Your scores are so rich and thematic, is it important do you think to write thematically for film, I ask because of the trend lately to score pictures with a soundscape rather than music that has melody and substance?
I feel very strong about thematic, melodic scores. I think themes help connect the audience in an emotional way to the story unlike any other scoring convention. Themes provide the building blocks of theme and variation the foundation for crafting a score.
Themes provide an emotional payoff for characters and story arc. Strong thematic films also stand the test of time. They can become timeless. Theme and melody connect directly with an audience and reaches deep into our souls as humans and really provides the connective tissue to a film’s story and drama unlike anything else.
What would identify as your earliest memories of any kind of music and were you from a family background that was musical, as in any performers in the family or just music lovers?
I started playing piano at age 7. I am the oldest in my family, so I didn’t really have anyone else around me that was playing music. I did grow up listening to music, mostly symphonic music. I do credit my parents with exposing me to music at an early age. They both played instruments when they were young but didn’t play as I grew up.
How much time are you given to score and record a film score, and have there been any that have been more difficult than others for any reason, and do you have a favourite score of yours or another composer?
The time frame for composing varies by project. Sometimes there is ample time to do research and work on writing a suite of themes. Other times it’s a crazy delivery schedule and I just must go with my first instincts and write very fast. Each project has its own set of challenges. Some may be more difficult for a variety of reasons, but every project requires all my attention in every detail, and I really try to write the best score I can for each project. I’m not sure I have one favorite score.
It’s like having a favorite child, which I don’t have! There are some that certainly are more rewarding. “Amazon” because it was my first IMAX film, “Princes and the Pea” because it was such a musical project, being an animated feature. I’m proud of the work I’ve done this past year. “Legend of the Forest”, “Secrets of the Sea” and “Serengeti” all have been wonderful, diverse projects.
After a while writing for film do you still wake up in the morning and hear the notes or start straight away to think of new and fresh ideas that you may be able to weave into your scores?
Sometimes the notes come quickly, especially after a night’s sleep allowing my subconscious a chance to keep working. Other times it’s hard work. I have found that the more I write, the easier it is to write. Moving from project to project is the best way to keep the creativity flowing. Short breaks are ok, but I really enjoy writing. I love solving dramatic and emotional situations.
What are you working on now if you can tell us?
I am working on a 3-part documentary series, “Ronin 3: The Battle for Sangin.” It’s a United States Marine commissioned project about a Marine unit in Afghanistan in 2010. I had the opportunity to compose a concert suite before working on the film itself. The world premiere for concert suite was performed by “The President’s Own” Marine Chamber Orchestra in Washington DC on August 20, 2022. It was fantastic to compose music about Marines and then have Marines perform the music. It was quite a fitting tribute to the Marines of the Darkhorse Battalion.
Many thanks…to Alan Williams who was in the middle of preparing for a concert but still answered my questions, thank you Maestro.
Can we start with one of your recent scores which is for The Sandman -season 1, how did you become involved on the project?
I am not 100% sure how I got on their radar, but I do know they were looking for someone who had an eclectic range and could meet the varying tonal needs of The Sandman. It’s a genre-bending story, so they wanted someone who was nimble and could move between orchestral writing to ambient textures and everything in between. I think my CV shows me as someone who has worked in a range of styles so I imagine that must have helped.
There are ten episodes in the first season of The Sandman, did you work on each episode in the order that it was to be released, or were you scoring different episodes as and when the schedule dictated?
It was all over the place, although I did start on episode 1 first which I was glad about. But then I was really at the mercy of the shooting schedule and visual fx.
The score is available on digital platforms, will there be a physical release as in a CD or maybe an LP?
I have not heard any plans for anything other than a digital release, but I love the thought of an LP – something classy and timeless about that!
What size orchestra did you have for the project, and how much music approx.; did you compose for the series?
In its fullest version, there were 40 strings, double woodwinds, 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone & tuba. Plus choir, piano, harp and percussion. And then of course all the sound design elements and specialist instruments I used along the way as I was scoring. There are occasions when all forces are full utilized, but also lots of quiet moments with just one or two instruments. It was really nice to explore a fully dynamic range in the show – never was there a need for me to be in your face all the time.
I think there are seven different directors who worked on the series, is it difficult working with more than one director as maybe each director has a different idea regarding the music?
Although the show has a very English feel with predominantly English actors (and I assume directors), the show was in post-production in LA and therefore followed the American convention of television production where the composer has virtually no interaction with the directors. The show runner and producers were my bosses, and it was to them that I was answerable.
I suppose the next question is will there be a season 2 and will you continue as composer?
After all the hard work everyone put into this it would be wonderful to hear there was a second season. I know there are a lot more stories to tell and the writer’s room is raring to go. I would love to continue as composer if asked.
You have scored feature films television series and video games, what would you say is the most striking difference between scoring a series and writing music for a video game?
I’ve only done a few game scores and although I enjoyed the experiences enormously, I don’t find the non-linear storytelling of games particularly satisfying. By that I mean the player gets to dictate how the story unfolds – to some extent – due to their skill and decision making.
So it’s harder to make longer-term musical structures. Even though television schedules can be brutal, at least you you can get a feel for the contour of the drama by reading scripts. Ultimately scripted drama suits me better.
When working on a long running series such as Evil and The Good Fight for Paramount+ do you ever recycle music cues from earlier episodes into more recent ones and how many episodes in advance of them being aired are you scoring them?
Yes and No. Sometimes a cue from an earlier episode works really well and if it does the job, why not? But for this season of The Good Fight (the final one), for example, I am pushing the music into a slightly new space, so no recycling there. And there’s only a week between spotting the episode and delivering the score, so it’s about is tight as it gets.
Batman Arkham Knight you scored alongside Nick Arundel, was this a collaboration or did you each contribute separately to the score. And can I ask the same question regarding Jason Bourne, you worked with John Powell on this, again was it a collaboration or what was your role on the score?
We contributed separately. I am not sure how possible it is for two composers to literally co-write a single piece of music. I’ve co-wrttien numerous scores and it’s mostly ended up being a division of labour. With both Batman Arkham Knight and Jason Bourne there was a musical language firmly established in previous instalments so it was my job to be faithful to the source while putting my own spin on it (when I was allowed).
What musical education did you receive, and was writing music for film, tv etc something that you set out to do as a career or did it just kind of happen as you began your musical career?
I was a cathedral choir boy in the UK and then I studied music at Cambridge University. As a child I performed on the score to The Last Temptation of Christ by Peter Gabriel, and I think that gave me my first taste for film scoring. So yes, I’ve probably always wanted to do it – started writing music for theme parks and toilet roll commercials and worked my way up from there.
Are you from a family background that is musical as in any performers or composers in your family, and what are your earliest memories of any type of music?
My mother wanted to be an opera singer, but her old-fashioned parents didn’t deem that a proper job so she became a teacher of music. Her father was Indian so I was introduced to non-Western music as a child, and my father was a lover of jazz, a love that we shared while he was alive. I still find myself playing a little jazz piano after a couple of beers once in a while.
What composers, artists etc would you say have either influenced you or inspired you to do what you do?
Richard Harvey is a prolific British composer and multi-instrumentalist. I sang on his eco-oratorio The Plague & Moonflower as a child, and it left a huge mark on me. I got in touch with Richard after I left university and he took me under his wing and helped me to break into Hollywood. I consider myself very fortunate to call him a friend and he frequently lends his talents by playing on my scores (including The Sandman). Harry Gregson-Williams took the baton from Richard when I moved to LA and really helped me get on the map. He oversaw my first couple of features (the little-known but excellent horror movie, Blood Creek directed by Joel Schumacher and the fun Asian fantasy flick, The Forbidden Kingdom).
I owe a huge amount to Harry, and again, I am so fortunate that he remains interested and supportive in what I do. There are others too: John Powell, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman and John Ottman, all of whom I have worked with and have learned so much from. Having said which, I’m not someone who listens to film music for pleasure. Sometimes for work it’s necessary to check out this score or that, but if and when I get the chance to listen to music it would likely be either 16th century vocal music or an obscure classical composer or band.
I’m a firm believer that we are influenced by every single thing that we have experienced in the past – it all leads us to make the the creative decisions we now choose – me singing in a choir, the Dixieland jazz my father played, the tabla player who performed at my grandfather’s garden party – they are all influences whether conscious or subconscious.
A few of your scores are available on digital platforms, do you like to be involved with these releases ie; selecting what tracks will represent your scores etc on the release?
Yes. For me this is a hugely important part of the process. If there is time, I try and put a gap between finishing a score and putting an album together as I like to re-experience the music away from the product for which it was created. By doing so, it’s easier to let things go and make edits, etc, as one forgets (some) of the tortuous process that bought the music to life in the first place. Ie, it’s important for me to look at and appraise the music as its own entity as that is exactly what listeners will be doing.
Walking With Walken was a short film you scored back in 2001, how did you get involved on this and is it more difficult to establish a musical persona on a short as opposed to a series or a motion picture, because of the running time of the film?
Blimey – that’s a LONG time ago. I was just starting out and I’d do anything back then to get a credit. I think I put my name up on a website and said I would score your film for 4 cans of beer, and I got the gig. Iremember the short being quite good and funny, but I don’t recall anything else about it. I’ve done a few shorts since then, and broadly speaking I approach it just as I would anything else. Yes, there’s a quicker and more concise journey with a short, but I don’t really do anything differently.
Your scores I think are very varied but there is still something within that say this is David Buckley, Do, you think it is important to try and infuse a certain style into your works, and what is your opinion of the increased use of the so-called soundscape approach to scoring movies, with thematic music becoming less frequent on scores?
It’s nice to know you hear something that says David Buckley in my various scores – I can’t think of a higher compliment. However, I think the quest to find your voice is an eternal one and I will always keep looking. Sometimes you get to express yourself more eloquently and sometimes you have to play the politics game. I was fortunate in The Sandman to be able to write as I felt and I wasn’t pushed around too much.
I have no problem with soundscape scores. One of the great things about this art-form is that it is an evolving one. 60 years ago all film scores would have been orchestral – some truly outstanding music was written back then, and of course John Williams is still working in that same tradition today. But in the last few decades we have hugely expanded the sonic pallet and have cut the umbilical cord to 19th century operatic traditions which was feeding scores since their inception. And I think movie and tv shows and games are all the better for having these increased resources available to them. I can’t remember a note of the Chernobyl score, but I thought the series was outstanding and score played a huge part in that. I also think people need to get over the notion that ’soundscape’ scores are easy to do and their composers are lazy. When done well, with thought and detail, they can take just as long to create as an orchestral score. And let’s not forget, just because a composer hires an orchestra, it doesn’t automatically make the music good.
Do you conduct at all, and do you like to orchestrate your own scores if that is possible?
I have no interest in conducting. I prefer to be in the booth to hear what is being recorded; I can then give my notes to the conductor. Also, I’m a shit conductor! I orchestrate my own music. Sometimes I have an orchestrator credited on my score – his job is to translate all my midi data into a legible format, but he is not making any orchestration decisions – the detail is written by me. That’s not to say that my ‘orchestrator’ is not a skilled and valued collaborator, but the job-description is a bit misleading.
Is there a set routine that you like to follow when working on a score, for example is it a case of working from opening titles through to end credits or do you like to tackle larger cues first or even establish a core theme on which you can build the remainder of the score?
It varies on every project. I don’t typically like to work sequentially as I normally find I get better results when I enter the project from a key scene, or somewhere were I can properly establish a theme or a vibe. It’s nice to spend as much time as possible being non-committal. Television schedules aren’t helpful with that notion as they require you to pump things out pretty rapidly. But when I work on something with a slightly luxurious schedule I enjoy having the opportunity to make wrong turns and then get back on track.
One of your up-and-coming projects is for Kandahar, can you tell us anything about what type of score you will be writing for this?
So far it’s a pretty ambient affair – organic textures, analogue synths, ambient guitars, upright piano and a few VERY subtle middle-eastern influences. Absolutely no orchestra or pounding taiko drums. The director, Ric, wants to avoid the score sounding too Hollywood and is in favour of a more Indi, dusty sound while still supporting the thriller qualities of the film. Got to finish it up in a month, so we’ll see where it ends up!
Many Thanks to David Buckley for his time and brilliant answers.
“Vampires suck blood from human characters and non-hostile subjects. Your character can use vampiric powers, weapons, and wit to eradicate your enemies and deal with the hunters.
This is how the developers of Vampire the Masquerade, Sharkmob describe the game. Bloodhunt the latest edition in the series is a thrilling free-to-play battle royale set in a Prague consumed by a ruthless war between vampire factions.
You must use your supernatural powers, weapons, and wit to hunt your rivals and dominate the night! The music for Bloodhunt is atmospheric and alluring, at times becoming almost hypnotic, but all the time thematic and entertaining. The composer for the game is Altanas Valkov, who has also worked on the Polish TV series Krol (2020) and the movie Ambition (2016).
His music for Bloodhunt is accomplished, polished and inventive, it sounds like a fusion of symphonic and electronic with choral work woven into the score, but I am thinking that this is a high-quality electronic work which is at times relentlessly driving, but also has to it a more melodic and gentle side. The composer creating an epic sound throughout. Certainly, worth a listen and available digitally.
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