What I love about film music is that it keeps giving, no matter how old the score is if it is good it will remain so and still give pleasure and entertainment to someone who appreciates this underatted art form. Cast your mind back if you can to 2009 and a film entitled 9. Yes, you remember, don’t you? Well 9 was an animated movie and for animation was surprisingly dark and at times frightening, at the time I think I saw the movie just once, and yes I was impressed, the film held my attention and aside from the darkness and the action there was to it an emotive and melancholy side, which at times managed to glimmer through. The thing that did impress me was the musical score, the themes were written by Danny Elfman but the actual score the music was by Deborah Lurie. And what a score it was/is too, filled to overflowing with brass flourishes, choral passages and driving and sinister strings, in short it was an action score that Jerry Goldsmith would have been proud of.
However, in amongst all the high-octane driving action material lurked a softer and more emotive sounding work, that was filled with emotion and possessed touching delicate and fragile sounding tone poems that purveyed heartfelt and at times heart breaking moods. There is no denying that 9 the score, is an accomplished work, it is a thundering and powerful collection of rich thematic material that although not melodic throughout its entire duration manages to remain theme driven even in the height of its relentlessness. Its never too late to re-visit a score, and at times I find when you do you discover it all over again, maybe noticing things that did not necessarily stand out to you when you first encountered it. I have to admit to Re-listening early one afternoon and I was still re-listening late that same night, there was just so much great music here, it was hard to take it all in and was a little difficult to comprehend that it all came from just movie. The rasping brass and the slicing strings that drive and push things forward are masterfully put together by the composer, and the fragility of the woods in the emotional scenes are also wonderfully and lovingly put together. There is real heart and soul within the more subdued moments of the score, its melodies are haunting and totally affecting. If you by passed this or have it and have not heard it in a while, go get it listen and be re-united with a marvellous work, or be introduced to a score that is exhilarating, dramatic and all consuming. Recommended.
Lots of discussion and lots of opinions were flying around recently about the quality of music in super hero movies that have been produced over the last five years or so, I have to say I do agree to a certain extent, especially the efforts of Hans Zimmer but that’s is another story, I think the THOR scores by Doyle and Tyler were very good and had what a good superhero scores needs, THEMES. The latest offering in the superhero film department is JUSTICE LEAGUE and this has a score by Danny Elfman, in my humble opinion this has got to be the best score for a film of this kind in many a year, it is a return to thundering themes, superb secondary themes and numerous motifs for the many characters involved. Elfman has always been a composer who has delivered and with every assignment just seems to become more polished and creative. Yes, the score for JUSTICE LEAGUE can at times sound predictable and maybe a little cliched, but I think in these days of mediocre music for the cinema it is what film music fans need and want. This is a large-scale work, with vibrant and strident strings, jagged, proud and at times rasping brass passages, powerful percussive interludes and support, ominous sounding choir brings at times a darker sound to the proceedings and enhances and embellishes this already commanding work. Driving, sinister and melodic go hand in hand within this score, each of them complimenting the other and fusing together to achieve a style and sound that is appealing and alluring, it is a work that I know will be a big hit with collectors, there is something here for everyone, action, adventure, romance, melancholy and memorable themeatic material. The sound that Elfman has created for this project is certainly a little different from his somewhat impish and tongue in cheek style and approach on other movies within this genre, it is a return to the days of BATMAN, with powerful dark and near operatic musical moments. A return to the commanding and haunting thematic approach that he employed within films such as DARKMAN, NIGHT BREED and has little nuances and references which could be out of BEETLEJUICE, but with a higher degree of tension and a richly dark and shadowy persona underlying, Elfman does pay homage to himself in a way, as he weaves into the fabric of the new music hints of the original BATMAN theme, which is instantly recognisable, but we can also hear the SUPERMAN theme or at least little hints of it. The composer also employs a style within the quieter moments of the score, that is melodious but at the same time has to it a menacing and foreboding aura. We are treated to some wonderfully emotive writing aswel in the cue, A NEW HOPE in which the composer employs strings, woods, piano and solo trumpet before it launches intoa momentous and powerful crescendo, but the inventiveness of the composer shines through in each track, where else would you hear a Balalika in a superhero score, well there is one here. The cue AQUAMAN IN ATLANTIS, is a composition that displays the versatility of the composer, because it has so many musical guises within its running time, robust and forceful to begin with and then moving into full on action mode, until finally coming to rest with slow and poignant woods that bring the cue to its close.
This is Danny Elfman at his best, it is the Danny Elfman we all know and love, a Danny Elfman who has managed I think to rescue the superhero score with this work. I recommend that you get this soundtrack, it is a score that you will never tire of and will return to many times. Buckle up for the ride of a lifetime, this is awesome stuff.
Animated feature films or indeed animated series for television always seem to be popular, maybe its because we all know that what is happening on screen is a little more far fetch and impossible than real life or indeed any of the live action movies etc. Our superheroes or crusaders for law, order and at times the American way are many but not as many it seems as the villains and unsavoury characters that said superheroes do battle with. SUPERMAN is of course the main character we all associate with the super hero genre, then we have SPIDERMAN, BATMAN, CAPTAIN AMERICAN etc etc the list is endless. Its probably true to say that the antics and adventures of these super beings transfers well and comes over as more exciting and outlandish in animated films, simply because these super characters are able to do more when presented as an animated character. This is just a theory and personal opinion. Music in these animated features too plays a big part and helps to create and establish atmospheres and moods giving storylines a greater impact. Many composers have underlined, supported and given our superheroes a musical helping hand over the years, but I have to say that with the emergence of BATMAN all’a Tim Burton and Danny Elfman’s dark yet impish and playful take on the soundtrack things did seem to step up a gear or two. Elfman’s brooding but at the same time richly dark and anthem like theme for the caped crusader is one now that has become synonymous with the franchise and in later movies when Elfman was not involved the images seemed to be lacking that dark and offbeat support, not that I am saying Zimmer, Newton Howard et al did not do a great job because as time moves on so do requirements of movies and everything else, but there just seemed to be something of a void there musically speaking. Back to the animated features and subsequent TV spin off’s and again producers turned to Danny Elfman to enhance the BATMAN character but only within the central theme department as many of the scores were penned by the brilliantly talented Shirley Walker who worked with Elfman on many occasions. I am no expert in the area of music for animation in fact it’s a case of listening to what I like and that’s the end of it, numerous composers were called in to work their musical magic on BATMAN the animated series for Warners/DC comics , some familiar others still remaining obscure and unfamiliar even after their BATMAN scoring experience. Todd Hayen, Carlos Rodriguez, Mark Koval, James Stemple and many others made invaluable contributions to the BATMAN animated series for TV and although they may not be familiar names in film music collecting circles its certainly worth checking out their wares.
So lets concentrate firstly on BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES volume three as released by La la land records.
This four disc set is in one word impressive or to use two Impressive and powerful. It contains music from around twenty three episodes or at least selections from these episodes, the opening is courtesy of Danny Elfman with his now familiar BATMAN theme strains and flourishes setting the scene deliciously and darkly for the remainder of the four discs. Track two through to seven are taken from ROBINS RECKONING, these first tracks being the work of composer Carlos Rodriguez written for part one of the story and tracks eight through to fifteen are the work of composer Peter Tomashek for part two of the same tale. The first six cues in my opinion are in many ways similar to the sound that was achieved by Elman on the original movies ie BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS, there is a certain sense of the operatic at times within the work but at the same time Rodriguez maintains a certain amount of the dark and quirky persona that Elfman created, this I think is mainly down to the orchestration, strings and brass playing a major part in the make up of the score, with not only drama but hints of the romantic being included along the way. Sections nine through to fifteen are somewhat different in their sound and overall style although saying this composer Peter Tomashek does retain that air of mystery throughout that is tinged with urgency and underlined with driving strings that are supported by booming percussive elements and at times rasps from the brass section that seem to sneer and push their way into the proceedings, his approach however is removed slightly from both Rodriguez’s approach and Elfman’s original take with the composer producing an inventive and original work that although dark at times does towards the end of the score transform into a more heroic or courageous sounding work which for me any way works a treat.
Track number sixteen is billed as a bonus track from ROBIN’S RECKONING, and is composed by Carlos Rodriguez, it has a kind of circus style to it but in a macabre and somewhat unsettling way. Tracks seventeen to twenty three are the handiwork of the brilliantly talented Shirley Walker, taken from P.O.V. or POINT OF VIEW and is one of the composers earliest contributions to the series, which is reflected in her score as she refers to the original Elfman theme during some of the action sequences, a trait that seemed to become less and less as the series progressed.
This is a powerful score from Walker, and one that contains so many of her own themes it literally oozes charisma and brilliance which is why she is considered still to be the foremost composer when it comes to the BATMAN animated series, P.O.V. is in my opinion a return to a more traditional way of scoring, bold themes, a march, numerous motifs and highly exhilarating action cues with driving strings and tense sounding brass stabs that certainly get the adrenaline going. Above all Walker’s music entertains away from the images as well as working with them. There are another seven sections on this four disc set credited to Shirley Walker and each and everyone of them is a delight and pleasure to listen to. SEE NO EVIL, THE MAN WHO KILLED BATMAN, THE FORGOTTEN,TERROR IN THE SKY among them. To review every section or every scrap of music on this collection would take hours, so based on what I have thus far told you about I would say go and buy this compilation a.s.a.p. You will not regret it, I promise. Over five hours of glorious dark and exciting music that is laced with the romantic and at times the melancholy, presented wonderfully and filled with informative sleeve notes and numerous stills from the series, highly recommended.
Right from THE BATMAN we move to SUPERMAN, again from the animated series and again this is a four disc set released by La la land records with a running time of over five hours. Shirley Walker again provides us with some pretty impressive music to accompany the man of steel. Her spirited sounding opening theme also opens the compilation, with a proud and anthem like sound created by flyaway woodwind and timpani acting as a background to somewhat cautious sounding brass flourishes that are them selves supported by driving strings and transform from furtive to full blown, in just over a minute Walker sets the scene perfectly for the adventures of this super superhero. Lolita Ritmanis is first up in the running order of the CD with her music for THE LAST SON OF KRYPTON, this was according to John Takis (who penned the excellent sleeve notes for this compilation and also the BATMAN collection) originally broadcast as a feature length movie, but is divided into three sections, the first part being scored by Ritmanis, who created a quite unrelenting score filled with action cues and a multitude of thematic material, in my opinion her style is not dissimilar to that of the late Elmer Bernstein, especially in the more action orientated passages and even at times within the quieter moments of the work as well.
Dark underlying strings laced with brass and percussion erupt into a more sustained onslaught if that is the right way to describe it that although essentially action music somehow remains melodic, Ritmanis at times echoes the Shirley Walker theme or at least fleeting references to it within her score, at times enlisting the aid of synthetic sounds.
Part two of the story is scored by Michael Mc Cuistion with part three being the work of Harvey B. Cohen, Mc Cuistion penned a suitably poignant soundtrack for the coming of age section of the story where we see the young Kal-El taken in by his earth parents after crash landing near their farm in Smallville and then growing into the young Clark Kent, Mc Cuistion’s score is an accomplished one that includes many variations of musical styles and also has within it a particularly rousing SUPERMAN central theme where we see Clark learning to fly. This is an album that is pleasantly surprising, it is grand and epic, filled with action cues but also has its fair share of compositions that ooze melancholy, romance and emotion. Don’t wait any longer, buy it, listen to it, enjoy it….
Who is the BAT MAN well the music for BATMAN is definitely firmly in the hands of composer Danny Elfman, the dark, ominous and rich themes that he created for Tim Burtons original BATMAN movie back in 1989, this is certainly an iconic score and one which I have to say for me personally can never be beaten. I remember when it was announced that Elfman was to score the movie I was a little surprised but as soon as I heard the opening notes I knew straight away that this was something fresh, something exciting and something that would be lasting and special. Listening to the music now some 25 years on it still manages to surprise, delight and entertain me. In fact it was this score that made me start to take Elfman seriously as a film music composer his originality and gift to create impish and malevolent sounding themes that had a dark comedic undercurrent intrigued me and left me wanting more. His music underlined and also at times elevated the sometimes twisted scenarios and images created by Burton making them even more grotesquely attractive and compelling. The soundtrack to BATMAN has been released in many guises long playing record, Compact disc, expanded editions, re-recordings, suites by various orchestras etc etc but this particular release I have to say must be the definitive version. Produced by the ever industrious and its seems unstoppable LA LA LAND RECORDS this four disc set not only contains music from the first BATMAN movie but also includes the score from his second screen outing under the directorial supervision of Tim Burton, BATMAN RETURNS. Which originally Burton did not want to do, but was persuaded after being given even greater artistic freedom, the result was an even more offbeat and bizarre vehicle than its predecessor. In both cases Elfman’s music was an essential and important part of the filmmaking process, his over the top expansive anti hero vigilante thematic material enhancing supporting and driving the action on screen, drama and intrigue all ooze from his musical compositions, giving the Batman an uplifting but at the same time foreboding and macabre sounding soundtrack. Elfman’s BATMAN theme which is built around a six note motif has become as familiar as the Jaws theme or the opening flourishes of SUPERMAN to cinema goers and film music enthusiasts alike. The composer creating mad cap but dark musical passages for Batman, the Joker and the imposing and unsettling backdrop of Gotham city, BATMAN RETURNS gave Elfman even more scope to create thematic motifs as he was given the opportunity to create musical signatures for two more cunning and twisted adversaries in the forms of THE PENGUIN and also the feline temptress with very sharp claws CATWOMAN.
So when I write this about the LA LA LAND four disc set of Elfman,s BATMAN scores its not really a review, it’s a personal statement saying how ingenious his scores are and how inventive and innovative he was and still is. At the time of scoring these movies Elfman I suppose was a virtual newcomer to the art of film scoring although he had already worked on a number of projects, but his music was instantly recognisable as being Elfman, fitting Burton’s take on the caped crusader like the proverbial glove. This is an excellent release, filled with so many informative notes and also containing snippets of inside info on both movies and their scores, a track by track analysis and numerous images from both movies, do you need this in your collection? YES YOU DO ….
You have been writing music for films since 2001, was this something that you had always wanted to become involved with?
We’ve both been around musicians and composers growing up. It was around us all the time. We’ve always had a passion for it. So yes it’s definitely something we’ve wanted to be involved with.
What musical education did you receive and what areas of music did you concentrate on?
Andy went to Berklee and the University of San Diego, while I had a majority of private lessons growing up. Andy was classically trained from age of 4. Played on several albums for many different artists. Where I had some formal training at an early age but abandoned it off and on in high school. Got into rock bands then later went into electronic music. But the concentration was always on writing our own stuff. Songs, score, classical pieces.
Your first scoring assignment was PAULY SHORE IS DEAD, for which you provided additional music, how did you become involved on this?
(Andy) – I had just moved back to Los Angeles from Boston where I was going to Berklee. A long-time friend of mine was editing Pauly’s film. He called and said, “hey man, are you still writing for orchestra and playing in bands etc? do you think you could help us get the score going for this film?” I said yes and moved into Pauly’s living room for 2 weeks where we worked through theme’s and got the ball rolling on the score.
You compose film scores with Andy, how does this partnership work, do you collaborate on every cue together or do you both contribute cues to the score separately?
We’re not actually brothers. Sorry, misleading for sure. It’s different for every project. Usually we both write themes and write on each others cues. Very rarely do we write completely separately. But if time is a factor and we have two weeks to write 60 min. It’s just go time. We’ll listen to each others stuff and constantly give notes before the director hears anything. I think it’s a great filtering method and a positive way to collaborate. But time is always a factor.
One of your more recent assignments is OCULUS, which is a horror that has more than its fair share of jumps and scares. How much music did you write for the movie and how much time were you given to score the picture?
It’s roughly 65 min of music or so. We had 3 months. (The most time we’ve ever had).
What composers or artists would you say have influenced you in the way that you compose music or approach scoring a movie?
I think it’s very different for both of us. But for me, (Taylor) I would say Williams and Zimmer influenced my working method. Williams gave several interviews that caught my eye at an early age. He talked about starting with the themes first or the final suite and working backwards. Which seemed so obvious but somehow I overlooked it. When I worked for Hans he would have these enormous suites with all these different themes pretty flushed out before picture was even locked ( this method is great.. but having enough time is a factor) these are tools we use constantly. We typically don’t write anything until we have thematic material decided. Composing music – That’s’ tough… to many to list. But off the top of my head I would say: Debussy, Herrmann, Elfman, Zimmer, The Beatles. I’m sure Andy would say: Erich Korngold, Bach, Puccini and Reznor.
OCULUS is a fusion of synthesized, choral and symphonic elements. What size orchestra did you have for the score and what electronic components did you add to this to achieve the sound that you were looking for?
We had a 50 piece string section that I would say was bass heavy. Then we had some solo woodwinds and solo cello played on top of certain sections. We used surprisingly large amount of recorded samples: Sheet metal, scraped instruments, shattered glass. Everything was really processed. On the synth side we used a Virus, an Old Oscar synth and Zebra.
Do you conduct all of the music you write for film or do you think it is better to monitor the scoring sessions from the sound booth? I personally would prefer to conduct everything we do. But sometimes it can slow things down especially if we’re in a country where English isn’t the primary language. It adds more stress when you’re under time restraints. Yes we both can conduct. But Andy prefers to be in the booth with the director. I’m happy to conduct if Andy’s with the director and people are generally understanding me.
Do you orchestrate all of your music for film or because of schedules etc do you at times use an orchestrator?
I’ve just about given up trying to orchestrate the movies we do. Time is ticking away and there’s always something left to do at the last second. But I did orchestrate the Choir parts for Oculus, just because it was faster than sending it to our orchestrator. I think it’s important to develop a team. Time is always a factor.
How many times do you like to see a movie or project before you begin to have fixed ideas about what style of music that you will write or where the music should be placed and at what stage of the proceedings do you prefer to become involved on a movie?
That’s a tough one. It depends on the movie and the director. Some guys have specific ideas where things should be placed and others just give you space to do your thing. I don’t usually get fixed ideas until the director says, “I like that”. We prefer to get involved as early as possible. Script would be ideal. Many of our films have started with us writing themes off of scripts.
You worked with Paul Oakenfold on OCULUS, he remixed the theme and also did the remix of the end title song which is performed by Greta, did you approach him or was he already involved on the project?
Andy Ross the music supervisor brought him in. He’s such a nice guy and incredibly talented.
OCULUS OF GLASS which is a vocal, is very haunting and infectious, did you write the lyrics as well as the music for this and when you were writing it for the movie did you have a vocalist in mind at that stage to perform the song?
Thanks. It’s actually an expanded version of Paul’s remix. Yes Greta was the choice from the start. We wrote the lyrics with her as well.
Did the director of OCULUS Mike Flanagan have specific ideas about what type or style of music that he wanted for the movie and did he have a hands on attitude when it came to the placing of the music etc?
Mike definitely had specific ideas but he was a true collaborator. We would sometimes throw things he wasn’t expecting and he would love it. Like the last cue. We had the idea to make this sort of lullaby. I was very nervous to play it. But he really liked it. He stood up walked over to the piano and just started playing the piece.
When you are working on a score for a movie is there a set pattern that you work to, by this I mean do you firstly establish a core theme or set of themes and then build the rest of your score around these?
Exactly. Thematic ideas first or end credits first.
Do you perform on your soundtracks at all?
We both usually play something on every soundtrack. Andy’s quite an amazing musician. He can pretty much play everything… and play it well. Where I have my go to instruments.
Although a lot of the music in OCULUS is quite atonal, it still has to it melodic properties in places, do you think it is important to maintain some thematic material even within a horror movie?
You really have to do what services the film and its characters. But I think it’s very important. You need try to have something memorable even if it’s one note.
You did an album of re mixes of the music of Les Baxter, why Baxter?
That was some time ago. We were approached by his grandson to do some remixes. We were fans of some his orchestral pieces. Like, “Pearls of Ceylon”. The guy was super talented and just wrote some really weird quirky material for his time. It was a lot of fun. We’re still very proud of that project. Nothing like getting original recorded material from the label and giving us the go ahead to have at it.
What are you working on at the moment?
We have a bunch of stuff in the works. A Bruce Willis film later this year, Of course we’re already getting into Somnia and a really cool Sci fi film towards the end of the year.
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