Soundtrack Review: Enola Holmes (2020)

Milan Records today releases ENOLA HOLMES (MUSIC FROM THE NETFLIX FILM) with music by award-winning composer Daniel Pemberton (Birds of PreySpider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse).  Available everywhere now, the album features music from Netflix’s newest mystery film starring Millie Bobby Brown, Sam Claflin, Fiona Shaw and Louis Partridge with Henry Cavill and Helena Bonham Carter.   Based on the series of young adult novels written by Nancy Springer, Enola Holmes will premiere on Netflix Wednesday, September 23

Daniel Pemberton is a multi-Golden Globe, Emmy and BAFTA Award-nominated composer who has been regularly cited as one of the most exciting and original new voices working in modern film scoring today. Constantly working with some of the most renowned names in the industry Pemberton has already scored projects for the likes of Danny Boyle (Steve Jobs, Yesterday), Ridley Scott (All The Money In The World, The Counsellor), Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game, The Trial Of The Chicago 7), Darren Aronofsky (One Strange Rock), Edward Norton (Motherless Brooklyn) and Guy Ritchie (The Man From UNCLE, King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword).

Of the soundtrack, composer Daniel Pemberton has this to say:

“It’s been a real joy to write music for Enola Holmes and to go back to writing some unashamedly melodic and emotional orchestral music – coupled with a nice level of messy quirky oddness thrown in as well. From my first meeting with Harry Bradbeer the director, we talked about trying to create a score full of themes, mystery and surprise that both encapsulated her character but also took you on her journey. I hope this soundtrack allows anyone listening to it to re-live the first amazing adventures of one Enola Holmes…”

This soundtrack is, without a doubt, an incredible adventure to listen to, hardly surprising given that Daniel Pemberton is one of my favorite film composers. A lot of the music is bright and bouncy, and I’m fairly certain I’ve identified Enola’s specific theme within the score. It recurs frequently throughout, which is why I’m so certain it belongs to Enola. Also, it’s a short motif that skips and jumps around, much like the titular character who is free spirited and doesn’t act in a traditional “ladylike” manner.

I was actually surprised to hear how dark the soundtrack gets in places, there are a few places (I won’t name any track titles because I don’t want to accidentally spoil anything) where the music gets quite ominous. Though in hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised, this IS the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes after all, no doubt trouble finds Enola all the time.

And, true to form with Daniel Pemberton’s work, I’m delighted to report that the soundtrack for Enola Holmes is filled with all kinds of non-traditional sounds. My personal favorite has to be “Tick Tock”, so named because the music is framed around, that’s right, the ticking of clocks. I like the entire soundtrack, but this piece immediately stuck in my mind the moment it began, and I love how the composer is interweaving the tick-tock of a clock and the “clip-clop” of shoes walking across a floor with more traditional instruments (the most hair-raising strings I’ve heard in months) to create something so mind-bending I’m dying to know its full context in the film. I should note, you can hear unusual sounds in other portions of the soundtrack, but “Tick Tock” really does stick out from the rest.

I sadly won’t be able to watch Enola Holmes until this weekend, but listening to this soundtrack has me more than excited to check the movie out on Netflix.

When Enola Holmes—Sherlock’s teen sister—discovers her mother missing, she sets off to find her, becoming a super-sleuth in her own right as she outwits her famous brother and unravels a dangerous conspiracy around a mysterious young Lord.

The soundtrack for Enola Holmes is available now, and you can also (as of today) check the film itself out on Netflix.

Let me know what you think about the soundtrack for Enola Holmes in the comments below and have a great day!

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Soundtrack News: Soundtrack Album for Netflix Original Series ‘Away’ Available Now

Back Lot Music has digitally released an album from the Netflix Original Series Away (produced by Universal Television) by composer Will Bates (I OriginsAnother Earth). The sci-fi drama’s score is full of electronic atmospheric soundscapes with an intense emotional undercurrent. Bates takes listeners on a beautifully diverse sonic journey with this 22-track album.

Will Bates has scored a number of television series: Golden Globe & Emmy-nominated Netflix series Unbelievable, SyFy’s hit The Magicians, Hulu’s The PathChance and The Looming Tower, the Hilary Swank-led drama Away for Netflix, as well as NBC’s Rise. Other projects include Sweetbitter on Starz, the George R.R. Martin series Nightflyers on Netflix, and the Hulu biographical documentary Hillary. Will’s recent features include Michael Tyburski’s The Sound of Silence, the HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, and the horror-thriller Depraved. Upcoming features include Michael Haussman’s Rajah set in 19th century Borneo, Mike Cahill’s Bliss and Alex Gibney’s Crazy, Not Insane.

Regarding the music for Away, Will Bates had the following to say:

“I had an amazing experience scoring Away. Having worked with the showrunners on several projects together before, including The Path and Rise, there was already a shared language and a real mutual sense of trust…Sharing that explorer’s sense of wonder and aspiration, space itself can be something of an exciting blank canvas for a composer. And the showrunners were always keen to try something a little different. I found myself experimenting with all sorts of unusual instrumentation; from dulcimers, prepared pianos and dusty old parlor organs to modular synths, timpani and manipulated live strings. Identifying the human themes whilst capturing the vast distances of space. And of course, having one of the lead actor’s play pieces I’d written for him was thrilling in its own right,”

TRACKLISTING
01 Lunar Base Alpha
02 The Atlas Crew
03 I Love You Shithead
04 Launch
05 Making My Way Back To You
06 Reaching For Mars
07 How’s The View?
08 Calligraphy
09 Cracking Up
10 Spacewalk
11 Open The Hatch
12 I Just Need My Wife
13 Going Home
14 Anything Is Possible
15 I Need You To Go
16 Etude De Main Droit
17 Ice Harvest
18 Last Words
19 Forgetting
20 Descent
21 Anyone Wanna Go Again?
22 Atlas

You can enjoy the soundtrack album for Netflix’s Away now 🙂

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Dune “Main Theme” (1984)

With the Denis Villeneuve adaptation of Dune on the way, it only makes sense that I’d have all things “Dune” on the brain as of late, and that includes the music of the 1984 film that did its best but ultimately fell short of being a satisfying adaptation. Despite its flaws, I maintain that the 1984 adaptation of Dune is a fairly satisfying film, not least because of its musical score from Toto and Brian Eno.

One of my favorite musical moments in Dune is the main theme, which opens the story and recurs at pivotal moments. Take a moment and listen to the main theme of Dune below:

I love this theme because of how effective it is. It’s a simple enough melody but by thrumming up in the strings and brass it communicates the idea of power and growing tension, both themes that can be found throughout the story of Dune (as controlling Arrakis and the spice grants power and there’s unending tension between the Atreides/Fremen and the Harkonnens throughout the story).

It also, as I said before, recurs at pivotal moments throughout the film, and I’ll look at two of those moments as examples. The first example comes when Paul is summoning a sandworm for the Fremen. The theme begins when the massive sandworm is first seen rising up from the endless dunes. The placement of the music and visual image is pretty brilliant here, as the music rises up in conjunction with the worm, really making you feel the appearance of shai-hulud (the Fremen name for sandworms).

Notably, the main theme continues in a higher register once Paul has control of the sandworm, ending on a triumphant tone as the scene ends. This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie, and it’s all because of this wonderful music.

The second example I’d like to look at is at the end of the film, when Paul demonstrates his power as the Kwisatz Haderach. As Paul exerts all his power to cause rain to fall on Arrakis, the main theme recurs yet again. Now, instead of the sandworm’s power being highlighted, it’s Paul and his power that we’re being drawn to by the music. He’s doing something that no human has ever done before, he’s causing rain to fall on a desert planet that likely hasn’t seen a rainstorm in a hundred generations, if ever. It’s set up as a fairly powerful moment and I feel the music is what makes it so. Check it out below:

Now, unlike the first example with the sandworm, this example uses the music in an entirely different way. The scene with the sandworm almost vibrated with raw power. Here, at the end of the film as Paul assumes absolute power, the music assumes a higher register, even including a choir at one point to highlight the awesomeness of what Paul is doing. This is a profound moment, so the music, though the melody is the same, has to be that much different to carry the point across to the audience. This is the ultimate expression of the main theme, nothing will ever surpass this (or at least that’s the intention).

Yes, it’s true, Dune has many, MANY flaws, but the music is not one of them, as I hope these examples with the main theme show. I really believe this score is underrated and should be given more attention. I hope you enjoyed listening to some examples of Dune’s main theme.

Let me know what you think about the main theme of Dune in the comments below and have a great day!

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Film Soundtracks A-W

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Soundtrack News: ‘The Nest’ Original Soundtrack Available September 18th

Milan Records has announced that the original motion picture soundtrack for The Nest (composed by Richard Reed Parry) will be released on September 18th, 2020. Available for preorder now, the album features music written by Parry for the thriller and marks Parry’s debut feature film score as solo composer.

Of the soundtrack for The Nest, composer RICHARD REED PARRY has this to say:

“When I watched the very first rough cut of The Nest without any music, I could feel right away what I wanted the score to be: Music that sounded like it was written and played somewhere within the massive old manor house that so much of the film centers around… I am very grateful to my fantastic musical collaborators, and for Sean Durkin’s trust in my own intuitive musical process and the artistic space and freedom he gave me to explore the musical landscape of his film.”

“Long before Richard was the composer for the film I was listening to his Music for Heart and Breath album while writing the script, so for him to come on to the project was very exciting for me,” adds The Nest director SEAN DURKIN. “It’s been an incredible collaboration working with him. He’s created a stunning score that captures the atmosphere and emotion I wanted the film to encompass.”

In The Nest, Rory (Jude Law), an ambitious entrepreneur and former commodities broker, persuades his American wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), and their children to leave the comforts of suburban America and return to his native England during the 1980s. Sensing opportunity, Rory rejoins his former firm and leases a centuries-old country manor, with grounds for Allison’s horses and plans to build a stable. Soon the promise of a lucrative new beginning starts to unravel, the couple have to face the unwelcome truths lying beneath the surface of their marriage.

THE NEST (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK)

TRACKLISTING – 

1. Drone Beast
2. Symphony Brew
3. Base Motives 
4. Murky Half
5. What We’ve Always Wanted
6. Base Motives II
7. New Descent
8. The House
9. Dark Tumbling
10. Drone Beast: UK
11. Symphony Brew Redux
12. Slow Descent
13. Drone Beast: In the Air


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Soundtrack Review: Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege (2020)

Hasbro has digitally released Transformers: War for Cybertron – Siege Original Anime Series Soundtrack by Alexander Bornstein. The soundtrack features 17 electro-charged tracks from the hit Netflix Original Series, in partnership with Rooster Teeth. I had the opportunity to interview Alexander Bornstein about his work on this series earlier this summer and I’m thrilled that everyone will have the chance to listen to this great soundtrack apart from the series.

Bornstein had this to say about the incredible task of creating new music for the beloved franchise:

“Being brought on to compose an entirely new musical world for the ‘Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy’ on Netflix has been both a dream job and huge creative responsibility. The world of the Autobots and Decepticons has been part of my pop culture psyche for a long time, going all the way back to watching G1 reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel in the early 90s.  I’m very excited fans will now have a chance to delve deeper into the music of the trilogy’s first chapter ‘Siege’, and hear the show’s themes for characters like Elita-1, extensive use of analog synthesizers, and amazing solo players.”

If you haven’t gotten the chance to experience Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege, check out the synopsis below to get an idea of what the story is about:

TRANSFORMERS: WAR FOR CYBERTRON TRILOGY – SIEGE begins in the final hours of the devastating civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons. The war that has torn apart their home planet of Cybertron is at a tipping point. Two leaders, Optimus Prime and Megatron, both want to save their world and unify their people, but only on their own terms. In an attempt to end the conflict, Megatron is forced to consider using the Allspark, the source of all life and power on Cybertron, to “reformat” the Autobots, thus “unifying” Cybertron. Outnumbered, outgunned, and under SIEGE, the battle-weary Autobots orchestrate a desperate series of counterstrikes on a mission that, if everything somehow goes right, will end with an unthinkable choice: kill their planet in order to save it.

Getting to hear the soundtrack by itself was an absolute delight. The tracks I was most interested in hearing were the first three on the list: “Autobots”, “Decepticons”, and “Cybertron.” I remembered from my conversation with Alexander Bornstein that these tracks were the starting point of the score and I was very curious to see how they played out and related to each other. Sure enough, there is a definite relation between “Autobots” and “Decepticons.” Even though they’re themes for opposite sides of the conflict, you can definitely tell they’re two halves of the same coin, which is a brilliant decision since it recasts the conflict on Cybertron in an entirely new light.

The other theme I was particularly interested in listening to was “Elita’s Theme,” since the composer related to me that it was one he really liked it. It is, indeed, a beautiful theme to listen to, and not surprisingly there’s a strong connection to the “Autobots” theme. It’s always interesting to hear how themes are connected to one another, using the same melodies but twisting them slightly to fit different characters. These similarities actually expand into most of the soundtrack, since, as the composer explained, the first three themes on the list serve as the base for pretty much every other melody in the soundtrack. It’s one thing to hear about this but it’s another to see it in action without the rest of the TV episode to distract me.

TRACK LISTING

  1. “Autobots” (3:22)
  2. “Decepticons” (3:34)
  3. “Cybertron” (2:04)
  4. “Optimus Steps In” (4:21)
  5. “The Ark” (3:15)
  6. “Optimus And Elita-1 (Elita’s Theme)” (2:14)
  7. “We Are Not Decepticons” (2:09)
  8. “Traitor” (2:37)
  9. “Metal Vortex” (2:45)
  10. “Megatron’s Speech” (3:44)
  11. “Alpha Trion Protocols” (4:11)
  12. “Sea Of Rust/Virus Attack” (4:13)
  13. “The Ark Takes Flight” (4:04)
  14. “Battle Of The Space Bridge” (3:08)
  15. “For Cybertron” (4:00)
  16. “A New Leader” (1:24)
  17. “Siege End (Autobots Theme Reprise)” (1:20)

In a year that’s been turned upside down, the soundtrack for Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege has been a sorely needed bright spot. Fans of Transformers both old and new will love this music. I can’t reiterate enough how happy I am that the soundtrack is now available, since now everyone can take the time to listen to some gorgeous music.

Let me know what you think about the music for Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege (2020)

For Cybertron! Talking with Alexander Bornstein about ‘Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege’

TV Soundtracks

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Soundtrack Review: Marvel’s Avengers (2020)

Hollywood Records has released the complete soundtrack for the recently released video game Marvel’s Avengers, with music composed by Bobby Tahouri. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Bobby Tahouri comes from a musical family, and began playing piano at the age of seven. He studied piano and composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and also at the California Institute of the Arts, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Music Composition.

Marvel’s Avengers allows you to take control of earth’s mightiest heroes in an all new original playable story. Crafting original music for these iconic characters is no easy task, but Bobby Tahouri (Rise Of The Tomb Raider) has composed an epic, sweeping score deserving of the massive playable roster of Marvel heroes.

Epic and sweeping are certainly two good words to describe Bobby Tahouri’s score for Marvel’s Avengers. It also, to my ears, sounded strikingly familiar. Starting with the first track, “Every Hero Has to Start Somewhere”, it occurred to me that what I was hearing sounded quite similar to the Avengers main theme as composed by Alan Silvestri in The Avengers (2012). Well, maybe that’s not quite the right way to put it. Tahouri’s music isn’t identical to Silvestri’s theme, but they do sound to me like they could easily belong in the same musical family, there is definitely a thematic relationship present. Given that the game centers on the Avengers, this is appropriate.

Another detail I like about this soundtrack is how dynamic it is. As you might expect with a soundtrack for an action-adventure game, most of the music is loud, bombastic, and clearly following video game-style fighting. However, Tahouri does take the time to slow down in a few places (parts of “New Normal” and “No More Heroes” are prime examples). These tracks are refreshing to hear because they give your ears a brief rest from the frenetic pace that makes up most of the soundtrack.

As video game soundtracks go, Marvel’s Avengers sounds pretty good. I like that it sounds similar in certain respects to the 2012 film (and the Avengers films in general). I haven’t gotten to see the game in action, but this feels like the kind of music you’d want to have in an action game like this.

Let me know what you think about the music for Marvel’s Avengers in the comments below and have a great day!

TRACK LISTING

1. “Every Hero Has to Start Somewhere” (8:45)

2. “The Light That Failed” (2:48)

3. “God of Thunder” (3:13)

4. “They Played Us” (1:22)

5. “New Normal” (2:27)

6. “I Am Iron Man” (3:00)

7. “Am I Alone?” (2:13)

8. “No More Heroes” (2:14)

9. “To Stand Alone” (2:06)

10. “Some Things Haven’t Changed” (2:10)

11. “We Are Dangerous” (1:38)

12. “Hulk Smash” (1:41)

13. “Perfect Landing” (2:01)

14. “Old Friend” (1:33)

15. “By Force of Mind” (3:08)

16. “It’s a Thing Your Do” (3:18)

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Video Game Soundtracks

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Soundtrack Review: Stargirl (season 1) (2020)

WaterTower Music is pleased to announce that the Season 1 soundtrack for DC’s Stargirl is now available on all platforms.

DC’s Stargirl: Season 1 (Original Television Score) features 22 tracks from the debut season of the hit series. Recently wrapping its first season on both The CW and DC UNIVERSE, DC’s Stargirl was recently renewed for a second season exclusively on The CW. Based on the character created by Geoff Johns, DC’s Stargirl features an epic score by the award-winning film and television composer Pinar Toprak, who received her first Primetime Emmy® nomination this year for her work on HBO’s McMillions.

Toprak was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, where she began her classical music education at the age of five. After studying composition and multiple instruments at the conservatory, she moved to Chicago to study jazz, before continuing on to Boston for a degree in film scoring from Berklee College of Music. She then moved to Los Angeles, earned a master’s degree at CSUN in composition at age 22. In addition to DC’s Stargirl, she has composed for major Super Hero sagas like Captain Marvel, and Warner Horizon Scripted Television’s Superman prequel series Krypton. She also scored HBO’s six-part docuseries McMillions, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and earned her a 2020 Emmy® nomination. In addition, she has written music for Epic Games’ massively popular online video game Fortnite.

Regarding season 1 of Stargirl, composer Pinar Toprak had the following to say:

“I’m a huge fan of show creator Geoff Johns and everything he’s done,” remarked Toprak. “When we met, the way he talked about Courtney, the character, and his vision for DC’s Stargirl really touched my heart. Obviously, I love this genre to begin with, so it was a no-brainer to compose the score. Working with Geoff was just one of the best experiences of my career, to be honest.”

From a purely musical standpoint (I have yet to see the actual show), I love Stargirl. I loved it even before I heard it because I knew that Pinar Toprak would be scoring the series, and I’m a big fan of her work on Krypton (an underrated series with a severely underrated soundtrack and, of course, Captain Marvel. And the music of Stargirl is just as amazing as her previous works in the genre. Pinar Toprak has this amazing ability, that I first noticed in Krypton’s first season soundtrack, to take a television series and give it a “big screen” feel with the powerful themes she creates. Such is the case with Stargirl. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear this was a movie soundtrack, and that’s not a bad thing. I feel like any work in the superhero genre, be it film or television, should have a certain sound to it. You almost need that brassy, heroic sound to chart the adventures of the fledgling heroine (there are exceptions of course, the short-lived Constantine and Swamp Thing come to mind).

On a side note, speaking of Krypton, it may be my imagination but a few of the tracks in Stargirl sound similar to that earlier show. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as any string of works by the same composer are bound to sound similar in certain areas. I just find it interesting that Krypton (a series based on Superman’s home planet), and Stargirl (another DC comics series) have a similar sound.

Another detail I really enjoyed about the soundtrack of Stargirl is its almost symphonic quality. That is to say, the main theme that Pinar Toprak introduces at the beginning of the soundtrack album recurs throughout, but in slightly different ways, exactly as it would be if this music were in a symphony played in the concert hall. I feel like the superhero genre is ideally suited to symphonic music (similar to the Star Wars films), and listening to this great music just reinforces how well the two fit together.

I highly recommend checking out the soundtrack for Stargirl’s first season. It’s a stirring soundtrack from a great composer and one that any fan of superhero music should check out. On one final note, I’ve seen Stargirl get some mixed reviews here and there. Whatever your thoughts are on the series itself, don’t let that stop you from checking out the soundtrack. There’s a world of difference between hearing a soundtrack during the actual show and listening to the music with no distractions. So please, give the soundtrack a chance, you won’t regret it.

Let me know what you think about the soundtrack for Stargirl season 1 and have a great day!

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TV Soundtracks

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The 5th Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon Recap!

At long last the time has come for the 5th Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon, where we come together and talk about the films scored by the late, great James Horner and why we love them so much.

This is the official recap post where I’ll be listing this year’s entries. My entry may be slightly delayed as I’m currently under the weather, but I look forward to seeing the articles from everyone who signed up for this year. I’ll update the page as I can, but make sure you tag my blog in your article so I know it’s up.

Thanks again for taking part! Enjoy the blogathon!

Day 1

Plain Simple Tom kicks off the blogathon this year with his look at Glory (1989)

Day 2

MovieRob submits his first entry for this year with his look at The New World (2005)

Day 3

Tranquil Dreams joins in with a look at the incredible film that is The Land Before Time (1988)

MovieRob adds his second entry for the year with his look at Apocalypto (2006)

And finally, MovieRob adds his final entry for the year with The Journey of Natty Gann (1985)

For Cybertron! Talking with Alexander Bornstein about ‘Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege’

Earlier this summer I was granted the opportunity to speak to Alexander Bornstein about his work on the Netflix series Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege. A reimagining of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, Siege takes you deeper into Cybertron than ever before, and turns everything you thought you knew about Optimus Prime and Megatron (and their conflict) upside down.

Alexander Bornstein is an award-winning composer currently based in Los Angeles. His music has been heard on television, independent films, feature films, web series, documentaries in the festival circuit, and concert halls around the U.S.  Alexander has also been at the forefront of new multimedia platforms, composing music for one of the first VR television series. His projects include (but are not limited to): The Twilight Zone, Lost in Space (the Netflix series), The Boys, Agent Carter, and of course, Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege.

How did you get started with composing for film and television?

It’s actually a roundabout story. I’d been listening to film scores since first or second grade, it was really a genre of music I gravitated to. I grew up listening to Basil Poledouris, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and Hans Zimmer, a lot of composers that everyone’s familiar with. I then started as a filmmaker when I went to college. I wanted to be a writer/director, so I was writing feature scripts, I was directing short films, but I was always doing music on my own time. I didn’t really start to study music extensively until I was about 20 years old in my second year of college. I’d always had this passion for film music, but I didn’t really know how to write music even though I really wanted to do that. And so in college I started experimenting on my own. Then I met the right collective of professors who told me “Well if you really want to do this, this is what you need to do.” It was kind of, before I knew what was happening, I was declaring a music major and writing music, then studying with a composer. When I graduated from undergrad I decided I wanted to go to grad school and one of the programs I got into was for film scoring. I took that as a sign from the universe that I should give this a shot professionally.

How familiar were you with the Transformers series before you started working on War for Cybertron?

I was fairly familiar [with Transformers]. I was a big fan of the original cartoon when I was a kid, because the SyFy channel would air the G1 cartoons on its morning animation block. That’s how I became familiar with Optimus Prime, Megatron, Autobots, and all that. That gave me a fleeting familiarity with Transformers growing up because of my love for G1. I watched a little bit of Beast Wars, I kept up with the series over the years and got re-introduced when the first movie came out. It was really cool to see Peter Cullen come back as Optimus Prime. So there’s always been this familiarity with the franchise as I grew up.

On a related note, did the music from past Transformers series influence your work on this score at all? Any musical Easter Eggs that longtime fans might notice?

That was a discussion I had pretty extensively with F.J. DeSanto, the showrunner, when we started. The risky thing about this series is that it is a step in a new direction for what many have seen in a Transformers show before. There’s obviously a lot of callbacks, since the show was written by fans, it is definitely a faithful update. But, to your question, we never really wanted to go too far into referencing stuff from the Robert Walsh and Johnny Douglas scores or the Vince DiCola score from The Transformers: The Movie. I can’t speak for what might happen in the future, but I think for this first chapter of the trilogy we tried to focus on creating a new sound and not necessarily incorporate stuff from previous iterations of the franchise. We talked about it when I started and decided to step away from trying that out, but you never know what could happen in future chapters.

How did you approach scoring War for Cybertron? What was your starting point with putting the music together?

The first thing I wanted to do was create three main themes for the series. Those three main themes would basically be the building blocks of all the music for the show. Once I was officially onboard, I started working on a theme for the Autobots, the Decepticons, and then for Cybertron itself. From those themes, I had discussions with F.J. [DeSanto] about what kind of instrumentation was wanted, what kind of sounds should be tried. Once I did that I went off on my own for a few months. They were just getting started on the animation when I started, so there wasn’t really anything for me to work on, so I had all this time to bat ideas around. Once I had those three themes, I presented them, we signed off on them, and then from those themes I felt pretty comfortable diving into the actual series and working on the score.

The approach I tried to take is, rather than getting too motivic, because of the amount of characters on the show, I tried to keep the music more economic and lean, for example by developing the Autobots theme based on various characters and situations. So, there’s a heroic variation of the Autobot’s theme for Optimus Prime, and likewise similar variations for the Decepticon’s theme. The theme is arranged or developed in different ways specific for a character. One thing I’ve learned during projects is that it’s difficult to get themes established, especially now with content and stories moving so rapidly with so much to go through. I wanted to rely on less [music] so I could keep repeating it to get it established more efficiently. From those three themes there are some sub-motifs here and there. For example, the All-Spark has a sub-motif that gets developed in different ways. Elita-1 has a theme of her own that starts with the same chords as the Autobot theme but then goes in a different direction. The Decepticon theme its actually part of the Autobot theme, just with different chords. Basically, there’s a “B” section to the Autobot’s theme that is uplifting and hopeful and that is the basis of what became the Decepticon theme with a more minor key in the harmony. Ultimately, this [similarity] is because at one time they were all Cybertronians.

What kind of instruments did you use for the score? Considering that it’s Transformers, I’d imagine there was a lot of electronic music? Or maybe not?

There’s definitely a heavy electronic component, that was something we decided upon early on. There is a big orchestral component as well, for the emotional as well as the action-heavy moments. Inspiration was taken from synth waves and that genre of writing, but I also looked at Vangelis and Jóhann Jóhannsson for some of the other, more static textures. It was an interesting challenge to take something like Transformers, which up until now has been fairly ‘heavy’ and taking it in a slightly different direction with more static and organic textures. There’s still some very reliable old-school synth arpeggios, the analog sounds, but you’re also getting some of these organic, processed textures as well, so it’s not a complete retread of what people have heard already.

Have you finished the scoring process for Siege? How long did scoring take? 

I began in August of 2019 and then I finished writing it in January of 2020. I was given a lot of time, which is somewhat atypical for a television production, and definitely on animation. It was a really good opportunity to make sure we were always putting our best foot forward. This has also been the case for “Earthrise” (Part 2 of the War for Cybertron series). I can take a step back and be like “Is this really the best version of this cue, do i need to fix anything?” as opposed to just grinding it out as quickly as possible.

Do you have a favorite part of the soundtrack? Any favorite themes?

I was really happy with how the theme for Elita-1 turned out. She’s kind of a breakout character on the show for me and I wanted to make sure that she had a theme that could

really stand on its own. It gets some really good opportunities in the series to develop. It shows up for the first time in episode 2, and then it gets a lot of chances to develop. I was really happy with how it turned out. It was one of those instances where you write and hope that you don’t get any notes on it because you don’t want to change anything about it. Thankfully, it came through and they didn’t have any notes on it. So I was really pleased to come up with this theme for a character that I really liked and seeing it stick in the series has been really great.

I want to say thank you to Alexander Bornstein for taking the time to talk with me about his work on Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege. You can currently view the series on Netflix. There is currently no release date for Transformers: War for Cybertorn: Earthrise, though I was given to understand that the scoring for Earthrise is ongoing at the time the interview took place.

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My Thoughts on: Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege (2020)

Composer Interviews

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My Thoughts on: Land of the Pharaohs (1955)

I came across Land of the Pharaohs in a somewhat backwards fashion: I saw the ending first. Somehow, I forget the exact circumstances, I saw a clip of how Land of the Pharaohs ends, and it intrigued me so much that I was determined, someday, to see the movie in full. At last, I tracked down a copy, and I definitely have some thoughts about it. For those who might not have seen or heard of this film, Land of the Pharaohs was directed by Howard Hawks and starred Jack Hawkins, Joan Collins, Dewey Mertain, and Alexis Minotis. It is set in ancient Egypt in the time of Khufu (Hawkins), a pharaoh obsessed with building a robber-proof tomb to protect his treasure for “the second life.” To this end, he enlists the skills of Vashtar (James Robertson Justice), a slave who is also a brilliant architect, to design the tomb in what will become known to history as the Great Pyramid.

First, let’s start with one of the big positives of Land of the Pharaohs and that’s the music. Dimitri Tiomkin created a gorgeous score for this film, and for me is that one detail that makes the bulk of the film watchable. From the strange chants hinting at ancient Egyptian religion, to the joyful singing as work on the pyramid begins, Tiomkin’s score flows through every scene, rich and vibrant with strings, brass, and choral chants. The music helps to move the story along, and serves as a good distraction from the, er, slower moments in the story.

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Another positive in this story are the costumes. While not quite as vibrant as those of The Ten Commandments (another story largely set in ancient Egypt), the costume design in Land of the Pharaohs is quite fetching. You can tell there was great attention to detail when putting these designs together, and a decent attempt made at historical accuracy (some of the outfits resemble those seen in Egyptian tombs).

As for the rest….oh boy. I should make it clear that Land of the Pharaohs is a generally enjoyable film, but it does have its fair share of weak points that detract from the experience. One of the big sticking points for me comes with all the time spent watching the pyramid being built. The initial montage starts fine, but then it goes on…and on…and ON. And during this never-ending sequence, all of the major characters disappear, it’s just a scene of nameless extras. I found myself squirming towards the end, more than eager to get back to the story of Khufu, Nellifer, and all that treasure. And speaking of…Nellifer is one of the most frustrating characters I’ve ever seen in an epic film of this kind.

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I understand what they were going for with Nellifer, the devious princess from Cyprus, but her character has all the subtlety of a rock being thrown through a window. It’s painfully obvious what she’s after (gold and power), so much so that it’s a wonder Khufu and Hamar (his loyal high priest) don’t figure it out sooner. Not only that, but for all her scheming, Nellifer is shown to be rather stupid too. A good example comes towards the end of the film: Nellifer has decided that Khufu must die so she can rule Egypt while nominally serving as regent for his minor son. To do this, she sends her personal slave (one KNOWN to Khufu) to do the deed. Wouldn’t you think the smarter thing would have been to send an unknown slave so that Khufu couldn’t instantly trace the plot back to Nellifer if it went wrong? The one thing they get right about Nellifer is that she’s designed to be very unlikable, so much so that by the end of the film you’re secretly cheering when her comeuppance finally arrives in dramatic fashion.

That comeuppance comes from a plot detail that I find fascinating. From listening to the commentary, I learned that Howard Hawks was fascinated by the ongoing puzzle of how the Great Pyramid was built. A student of engineering himself, the director decided to puzzle out a theoretically feasible means that might explain how the pyramid was built so perfectly. The solution came in the form of a system that used sand to slide the remaining blocks into place (to both seal the tomb and give it a finished look). While there’s no way to know if the ancient Egyptians actually used a system like this, I’d like to think it’s plausible.

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One other detailed that bothered me: the wide shots, or should I say the lack thereof. When an epic film is shot in CinemaScope, you expect scenes packed with action and pageantry (a la The Ten Commandments and especially Ben-Hur). However, many of the scenes in Land of the Pharaohs struck me as feeling…cramped. To be sure, there is a grand parade with Khufu at the start of the film, but it doesn’t feel like the space is used properly with the format. Many of the shots feel much too close up, and I feel that CinemaScope wasn’t used to its greatest advantage.

As I said before though, despite these issues, Land of the Pharaohs is pretty enjoyable; the plot is basic, but watchable, and great satisfaction can be derived from watching the fate of Nellifer (that I won’t dare spoil because it’s something you just have to see for yourself).

Let me know what you think about Land of the Pharaohs in the comments below and have a great day!

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