Tag Archives: composer

Into the Realm of Kafka: Talking with Mikolai Stroinski & Garry Schyman about their Score for Metamorphosis (2020)

Earlier this year, I got the chance to check out the soundtrack for the uniquely scored video game Metamorphosis, inspired by the work of Franz Kafka and scored in a very atypical style for a video game. The plot follows you, the protagonist, after you are turned into a bug and forced to explore a suddenly unfamiliar world from that perspective. The music for Metamorphosis was composed by Mikolai Stroinski, whose past credits include The Witcher 3 and Age of Empires IV, and Garry Schyman whose past works include scoring BioShock, Destroy All Humans! and Dante’s Inferno, just to name a few.

Not long after listening to the soundtrack, I received a follow up opportunity to speak with the composers themselves. Due to my day job, I’ve only just finished putting the interview together, and I’m really excited for you to check it out. Here is my interview with Mikolai Stroinski and Garry Schyman about their work on Metamorphosis.

How did the two of you get your start in composing for video games?

Mikolai: It was 2012 when I was asked to compose music for the Dark Souls 2 trailer. Both the trailer and the music itself gathered a strong fanship and soon after some independent studios asked me to compose music for their games. The Witcher 3 followed not that long afterwards.

Garry: Pure serendipity – My agent in 2004 sent my resume over to THQ, which, at the time was a big game publisher.  It sat on the fax machine (remember that technology?) and an executive happened to see it and she just happened to be my girlfriend’s (from college) roommate.  That started a series of events that led me to scoring Destroy All Humans! which I loved working on and it led me to pursue scoring for games very seriously.  And as the audio director for DAH! became the audio director for Bioshock she hired me without question, which was a huge boost to my career. 

How did you come to be involved with Metamorphosis?


Mikolai: I think it was mid-2018 when I was giving a presentation on video game music in Warsaw. Afterwards I was invited for drinks by the organizers and joined in by some people from the audience. At some point a group of people approached me wanting to show me a game they had been working on and asked if I would be interested in scoring it. It looked very original and interesting so I said I would do it with pleasure. After just under a year later I started working on it and it was during the very early process of planning the music that it became quite apparent it was going to be utilizing a symphonic palette with primarily atonal music. I somehow felt obliged to invite Garry because I knew he would enjoy it immensely – as much as I would. Garry said “yes” and the rest is history.
Garry: I have been friends with Mikolai for a few years and he contacted me one day and asked if I’d be interested in scoring the game with him.  When he described it as a Kafka game, I was YES for sure interested. 

What was behind the decision to have Metamorphosis scored in the style of composers like Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg and other Expressionist composers? 

Mikolai: Choosing the music style that we did, allowed us to be dark but not horrifying. I don’t think the score ever crosses that line when it becomes horrifying. It’s also interesting how combining the gameplay with this music brings out a subtle sense of humor, which was our goal.

Garry: It was my idea initially because Kafka was an Expressionist author who wrote during that turbulent time in German history.  Though he was Czech he wrote in German and was part of that movement. The absurdist aspects of the game reminded me of the Expressionist music of that era. Mikolai immediately agreed and we were off and running.  We also decided to include the vocal style invented by Schoenberg called Sprechstimme (half spoken half sung) which perfectly complemented the game’s ironic humor. 

Once you decided on composing in that style, how did you approach scoring the game? That is to say, what was your starting point?

Mikolai: I think we both started to sketch our themes pretty early on. Sharing them between each other and applying them to the score was an important factor which helped the cohesiveness of the score. Once the pieces were instrumentally sketched out, we invited singer Joanna Freszel for a recording session. She did a fantastic job!

Garry: The developer, Ovid Works, is a Polish company and Mikolai, who was living in Warsaw at that time, was in touch with them and sort of divvying up the music between us.  I scored most of the below ground insect music and Mikolai, the above ground score.  That had an advantage as each of us created a slightly different sound for each area which worked well.  Though I must say our score was very unified and most people can’t tell who wrote which cues until we tell them.  There was a wonderful synchronicity that did not require much conversation or planning between us. 

Joanna Freszel

I’m curious, what is the singer performing Sprechgesang singing out in the soundtrack? Does it relate at all to the player’s predicament of being turned into a bug? 

Mikolai: The lyrics I chose are about the world perceived by an insect, possibly one that used to be a human in a distant past. The singing technique is so uncommon, it might as well be the way bugs sing in their heads. Or it might be, from a strictly sonic point of view, the mirroring of the crazy world that doesn’t make sense as it had before.

Garry: We each had a different approach to lyrics for Joanna; I had a former student of mine who speaks German set the actual lines from Kafka’s book for my music.  It turned out really well and is at least intellectually unifying, though I doubt anyone will know we used Kafka for lyrics.   Mikolai went in a different direction.   My lyrics do not deal directly with the player’s predicament as far as I know.  Maybe it does but that would be pure serendipity. 

How much time did you have to score the game?

Mikolai: I think it was about 6 weeks of work plus getting things ready for the recording session and overseeing the mixing process.

Garry: I think I wrote the music over a period of a month or so.  I had plenty of time, as the writing went so smoothly and the ideas just poured out.  We then had the music recorded with live players, which we did with an orchestra in Macedonia.  We conducted that remotely (meaning we were at our home studios while the orchestra played at the remote studio) and it went very well!  We got an excellent performance.  Everything flowed on this gig, at least in retrospect, it all went so easily, and I loved writing this music.  Of course, the singer Joanna Freszel brought so much with her amazing vocal performance.  I have to credit Mikolai for directing her as she came to his studio in Warsaw to record and it just turned out spectacularly. 

Do you have a favorite track in the score?

Mikolai: I like all the music that we both did. However, the favorite would be “The Final Run” or “The Tower”.

Garry: I have a couple of favorite tracks, “Corridors” and “Bug village”.  I am also very pleased with the “Menu Theme”.  Really, I dig it all.  I don’t mean to sound conceited but I just had such a great time writing this music and I feel it turned out so unique and fits the game so well. 

What do you hope players take away with them when they hear the music in this game?

Mikolai: I silently hope that it would open some players to music that, at times, might be a bit more demanding. I hope they will also notice that there is something different about it – hopefully “good different”. But that’s not our main goal. We are happy that our music helped the game have its unique color.

Garry: Well the music should underscore and set a mood and create a unique vibe for this really cool, unusual game.  I mean, how cool to make a game based on Kafka.  I would love for the players to be curious about the music and especially the vocal and perhaps explore Expressionist music.  Maybe a few will really enjoy it and that would be lovely!  I don’t write music for games or films for that matter to get the player or viewer to listen to certain types of music, but if it happens, I consider that a real contribution. 

Once again I need to give a huge thank you to Mikolai Stroinski and Garry Schyman for taking the time to talk with me about their work on Metamorphosis. Let me know what you think about Metamorphosis in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Soundtrack Review: Metamorphosis (2020)

Composer Interviews

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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.

See also:

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

Composer Interviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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Exploring the Music of ‘We’re Here’: An Interview with Herdís Stefánsdóttir

Recently I was given the opportunity to interview Herdís Stefánsdóttir, a film and television composer perhaps best known for working on The Sun is Also a Star and currently working on the upcoming HBO series We’re Here.

Herdís Stefánsdóttir graduated with an M.A. degree in film scoring from New York University in 2017. Since graduation she has scored two feature films, an HBO series and a few short films. Her scoring work includes Ry Russo -Young’s MGM/Warner Bros. feature film, The Sun Is Also A Star and the HBOseries We’re Here. Herdís was nominated for The Icelandic Music Awards for her score in The Sun Is Also A Star. Herdís interned for the Oscar nominated composer Jóhann Jóhannsson inBerlin while he was working on the film Arrival (2016) and she has scored numerous short films that have premiered at top-tier festivals around the world like Berlinale, TIFF, Sundance and Palm Springs International Film Festival.

The subject of the interview was Herdís Stefánsdóttir’s work on the upcoming HBO series We’re Here, a short series about people being transformed into drag queens and coached into stepping outside their comfort zones by famous drag queens including Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara, and Shangela. We’re Here is currently set to premiere on April 23, 2020.

What drew you to composing for film and television?

I started experimenting with it a few years ago when I was in school. I was collaborating with dance projects, theater, and all that kind of stuff. I really enjoyed working with people and working on stories. It’s a totally different way of approaching music that I hadn’t done before. That’s how it started.

How did you get connected with We’re Here? It’s an interesting premise for a show

We’re Here [came about] from my agent sending in a portfolio, essentially a reel of my music that the creators really liked and they thought it was a good fit. And it is a good show, I quite like it.

How did you approach scoring a show like We’re Here?

Actually I’m not quite finished [with scoring], I’m actually in the middle of the scoring process. I just finished episode 3 and I’m working on episode 4. It’s definitely something that I hadn’t figured out before I started because what’s interesting is that the episodes all have the same theme with going to small towns. They’re talking to people and getting their stories. Each of the stories are so different and the characters are so different. So it kind of developed through the process of scoring. And I feel like where I am now, basically I’ve been creating a sound world for each person. Each story and each character gets their own sound. That’s how it’s been developing. And that sound is changing from episode to episode.

How is the process for scoring television different from scoring for film?

It’s very different. I’ve never worked on a project like this, that has real people and a real story, and it makes the scoring process almost indescribable because it’s so different from working on fictional material. It has to be so right, like when a person is talking you don’t want to go overboard and make it cheesy. You want it to be the right emotion without taking too much space. It’s a lot of work to get everything right. In film, there are moments where you’re just writing music for something where no one is talking and you can just write a piece of music more inspired by the film. But this [the show] is more like weaving a thread of music within all the stories and conversations.

About how long was the recording process for each episode?

For the first episode, that was the one I had the longest time to work on. That was when I was starting to figure out what I wanted to do, how do I want this to sound. That was more a process of experimenting and trying to get the right emotion and the right heart of this show.

I’ve been mostly working my myself in the studio and I record instruments, synths, different sounds, the piano, and my voice. Then I get friends to record specific instruments that I might need. And the further we are in the process the faster it’s happening. There’s definitely been more pressure for each episode as it goes on. And [the process] has been interesting because in a [traditional] narrative or fictional series you start creating a sound world with themes that are reused throughout. However, because each episode has its own identity, I always feel like I’m starting from scratch when I start a new episode. I would say it’s about three or four weeks per episode [to finish scoring].

Is the music for each episode connected to that of other episodes, or are they in their own musical “bubbles”?

They are definitely connected because there are two sides to it. There are the characters but there’s also all the moments in the show. Some scenes need cues to bring out a certain emotion so there’s definitely a thread connecting them. It’s a special element that defines each story or character. There is an overall sound that connects everything, even when I might play around and change the instrumentation for the different characters.

Did anything in particular influence the sound of the music you were making? That is to say, were you going for a particular sound?

I wasn’t at all. I was just kind of open to see where it would take me. What kind of surprised me was the different people, with their different stories, and how they called out interesting things. It was like “this person needs this in their story.” All of it has been developing as we go. I didn’t decide anything before [we started]. I just knew I wanted to avoid a typical TV score, I just wanted to create a unique voice for everyone.

What do you want viewers to take away when they watch these episodes and hear your music?

I just hope it gets into people’s hearts. I hope they feel the story. I think that’s the purpose of the music. It’s a way of helping people tell the stories.

I want to give a big thank you to Herdís Stefánsdóttir for taking the time to talk with me about her work on the upcoming HBO series We’re Here. The show will premiere on HBO April 23, 2020.

See also:

Composer Interviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

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Soundtrack Review: Tales From the Loop (2020)

Fox Music/Hollywood Records has released the digital soundtrack from the Amazon Original series, Tales from the Loop. From executive producer Matt Reeves and based on the acclaimed art of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, Tales from the Loop explores the town and people who live above “The Loop,” a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe – making things possible that were previously relegated only to science fiction. In this fantastical mysterious town, poignant human tales are told that bare universal emotional experiences, while drawing on the intrigue of genre storytelling.

 

The album features original themes by Philip Glass and score by Paul Leonard-Morgan. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Philip Glass is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the Juilliard School. Glass has expanded his repertoire to include music for opera, dance, theater, chamber ensemble, orchestra and film. His scores have received Academy Award nominations (Kundun, The Hours, Notes on a Scandal) and a Golden Globe (The Truman Show). Paul Leonard-Morgan’s unique cinematic style of fusing orchestra with electronica has put him in high demand as a film composer, a producer and arranger for bands, and has led him to win a BAFTA award, and receive Emmy & Ivor Novello nominations. In 2016, Leonard-Morgan began working with Academy-Award winning director Errol Morris on a string of projects including the documentary feature The B-Side, the award-winning Netflix series Wormwood, and the newly-completed motion picture on Steve Bannon, American Dharma. Other credits include The Quiet One–the story of Rolling Stones founding member Bill Wyman, the feature Last Breath, the hit series reboot Dynasty for The CW, and Designated Survivor on Netflix.

Leonard-Morgan said (on working on Tales from the Loop):

“Collaborating with Philip Glass on Tales from the Loop was an incredible experience. Philip and I had a discussion with Nathaniel Halpern (showrunner) and Mark Romanek (executive producer) about their vision for the show, the incorporation of unusual instruments, and their shared desire of wanting the soundtrack to be an integral part of the show: ‘Music which could be listened to by itself, melodies which could be hummed, a soundtrack which will stand the test of time apart from the series.’ Philip went and scored a bunch of initial ideas, as did I, and we discussed where they all might work together. Both of us playing off each other’s sounds and melodies to create a truly unique score. Over and again, we kept coming back to the original idea: to make beautiful music, which would work hand in hand with Nathaniel’s brilliant visions and beautiful cinematography. The 8 episodes are so unique—they’re like nothing we’ve ever seen, and hopefully the score stays true to this. Melodies come back throughout the show, each guiding us through the world of the loop. During recording sessions every 3 weeks, the natural sounds of the solo violin and the solo cello gave a beautiful, haunting sound to the loop, becoming an integral part of the sound.”

Glass added:

“I’ve always tried to collaborate with people from many disparate perspectives; everyone from indigenous musicians to electronic musicians have expanded my musical sensibilities. Working with Paul was no exception and the intersection of our two styles has produced a score both unexpected and familiar that accompanies the series beautifully.”

The soundtrack for Tales From the Loop is like nothing I’ve ever heard for television before, and I don’t say that lightly. Television music, in my experience, is either quite minimal or very grandiose (think Game of Thrones for the latter). But Tales from the Loop strikes a middle ground that I don’t think I’ve ever heard until now. Everything, every single track, is perfectly symphonic, like something you’d hear in a concert hall. And I can’t emphasize enough how much of a good thing this is. This is music that can be enjoyed completely separate from the show as well as while you watch each episode. It takes phenomenal skill to make music that can thrive outside of the show and with Philip  Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan in charge of the score it’s little wonder it worked out that way.

In hindsight, it actually makes a lot of sense that the soundtrack for Tales From the Loop would feel symphonic in nature. After all, Glass is well known for his concert works, and it’s only natural that that would bleed over into his work for film and television.

If you’re able to, check out the soundtrack for Tales From the Loop. It’s peaceful, it’s relaxing, and it’s like listening to a long, quiet symphonic work in a concert hall (and that’s a good thing).

Let me know your thoughts on Tales From the Loop (and it’s soundtrack) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

TV Soundtracks

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Soundrack News: Atli Örvarsson to score ‘Defending Jacob’ for Apple TV+

Thankfully the coronavirus hasn’t stopped all television from being made. In fact, Icelandic composer Atli Örvarsson (The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Rams) will compose the upcoming thriller “Defending Jacob,” which is set to premiere globally on Apple TV+ on April 24th, 2020.

 

“Defending Jacob” will premiere its first three episodes exclusively on Apple TV+ starting Friday, April 24th, and new episodes will premiere weekly thereafter Friday.

The new character-driven thriller starring Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, Jaeden Martell, Cherry Jones, Pablo Schreiber, Betty Gabriel and Sakina Jaffrey is based on the 2012 New York Times best-selling novel of the same name by William Landay. “Defending Jacob” unfolds around a shocking crime that rocks a small Massachusetts town, and follows an assistant district attorney who finds himself torn between his sworn duty to uphold justice and his unconditional love for his son.

Örvarsson recorded the score at The Village in Los Angeles with a 24-piece orchestra. Atli on the sound of “Defending Jacob”:

It was music from my upcoming album which sparked the interest of the filmmakers and as a result, composing the music for the series has felt almost like a continuation of that. The instrumentation and general feel is cut from the same cloth and there’s a definite Nordic Noir feel to the show, which has made the whole process feel even more natural. The vision of Morten Tyldum (director) and Mark Bomback (writer/producer) has been very compatible with my own, which has made the whole process a real joy!

Raised in the small town of Akureyri in the north of Iceland, Atli Örvarsson relocated to Los Angeles early on to pursue a career in composition. There, Atli worked extensively alongside prolific TV veteran Mike Post and Hollywood legend Hans Zimmer, which launched his career leading him to score over 40 films and countless TV shows.

Atli’s accolades include winning the HARPA Nordic Film Composer Award for his acclaimed score to Rams, several ASCAP & BMI Film & TV Music Awards, a “Breakthrough of the Year” nomination with the IFMCA Awards in 2009, plus he was nominated for the prestigious World Soundtrack Academy’s “Discovery of the Year Award” for his score for Babylon A.D in 2009 and his score for Ploey: You Never Fly Alone was nominated for a “Public Choice Award” in 2018.

Defending Jacob premieres on Apple TV+ on April 24, 2020.

See also:

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

Music for Camping in Space, an Interview with Andrew Prahlow about ‘Outer Wilds’

Just the other day I had the privilege of interviewing composer Andrew Prahlow about his work on the Outer Wilds video game that released to great acclaim in 2019. This was the first time I’d ever interviewed a video game composer and I was very excited to talk with him and learn about how the score for this game came together.

Andrew Prahlow’s music focuses on emotive soundscapes with a core of chamber-ensemble minimalism, creating a sense of familiar nostalgia for the listener. He recently scored the captivating music for Mobius Digital / Annapurna Interactive’s video game ‘Outer Wilds’ (2019), which has received numerous Video Game Music of the Year accolades, as well as writing for ‘Atone: Heart of the Elder Tree’ (2019) and ‘Eclipse: Edge of Light’ (2017 Mobile Game of the Year). 

He began his career in music as an intern at John Powell’s studio while completing his studies at the Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television (SMPTV) Graduate Program at USC. From 2011-2014, he assisted on the music of ‘The Legend of Korra’ for Jeremy Zuckerman and also on ‘Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness’ for Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn (Deru). 

How did you get started with being a composer?

I moved to L.A. in 2010 to attend USC’ grad program. My first job after that was being an assistant for Jeremy Zuckerman and also Benjamin Wynn on The Legend of Korra and the Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness shows on Nickelodeon. I worked with them until those shows ended and then I started working on my own. I was composing a lot with my friend Mark Petrie and we did a lot of trailer music, and things really escalated from there over the next five years.

Was this your first video game score? How did you get connected with Outer Wilds?

Yes and no. It was such a strange development cycle with funding that the project really started in 2012 [but didn’t release until 2019]. It was one of the first games I worked on since I had just finished up at USC. My friend Alex [Beachum] brought me onboard with the game. It was really a student prototype that turned into a full-fledged title. In between those times, though, I was working on other games that were shipped and completed before Outer Wilds was finished.

How is scoring a video game different from working on a film or TV series? Do you get to see the game when you record the score to give you an idea of what it will all look like?

There’s a lot of similarities that overlap of course, but I’d say one difference is, with several of the games I’ve worked on, that I’m brought in early on before any real artwork is done. So it’s really just talking about concepts and slowly trying to develop the music. Just like what some film composers do, I’ll write a suite of music beforehand to try and get some of the themes together. I’ll do that for the game at first to try and get some of the overall musical qualities and emotions that we’re looking for. Once we hone in on the sound of the game’s score, I’ll start to take the material from the suite and turn it into loops and figure out ways to make it interactive.

I’m paying more attention the ways music can be re-used, unlike film which is more linear. There will be times where you won’t want to write completely new music, you want it to all tie together so it doesn’t feel abrupt when you reach a new area of the game. In games you want the music to loop in and fade in and out and feel proper. That way you can make it as cinematic as possible.

One thing I focused on to make the music not turn into wallpaper was to create music that would give “clues” to the player. There’s no music playing for most of the game so when the music enters it’s really important.

How long did it take to put the score together? Because it sounds like it took a long time.

It did, it did. About halfway through production, about five years, I took it upon myself to go back and re-record the score. I had developed better recording techniques, figured out how to make more interesting textures and mix it better. I subsequently went back and revamped the score. From there they were still formulating the story and gameplay at the same time, so I would be writing new cues or rearranging old cues to fit how the game was slowly evolving over time. That part to me was very fun, where you’re having things change and sometimes music written for one area of the game turns out to work better in another area entirely.

How did the banjo come to be the center of the Outer Wilds score? It isn’t an instrument one typically thinks of for a story set on an alien planet with lots of space exploration.

Way, way back when Alex [Beachum] was prototyping, the idea of camping in space had always been a fundamental part of the game. Over time, it just became more and more influential on the storyline. The main title of the game was probably the second thing I ever wrote as a demo for this. From there, it really stuck and became the centerpiece of the entire score. We thought it would be cool because it’s sci-fi and I wanted to do something different, to combine this woodsy Americana sound with more sci-fi textures. Combining those took some time to figure out, but it turned out very unique and quirky in some ways, and really heartfelt in other ways.

We also approached it as, the game is difficult enough, I wanted to keep the music relaxing. We wanted to take at least some of the frustration off of the gamer.

Do you have a favorite part of the score? A favorite theme?

I’m really proud of “14.3 Billion Years” because that’s the end credits of the game and the final cue that plays. Also it’s this suite of music going through the Nomai theme, the other music and the Traveler’s tunes, and all of that happening at once. I was also able to bring strings in on that. I’m also really proud of the main theme, that one has really taken off and people have done covers of it or asked me for tips on how to play it. It’s really fun to be a part of the community and help people learn an instrument.

I want to give a big thank you to Andrew Prahlow for taking the time to talk with me about his score for Outer Wilds. The game is currently available for Microsoft Windows, Xbox One and Playstation 4. It will also be available on Steam starting June 18.

See also:

Soundtrack Review: Outer Wilds (2019)

Composer Interviews

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Soundtrack Review: Euphoria (2019)

A soundtrack album featuring music from the first season of the HBO series Euphoria is now available from Milan Records, an imprint of Sony Music Masterworks. The album features music by multiplatinum-selling artist and producer Labrinth. Euphoria marks Labrinth’s first-ever project as lead composer. Written and recorded in close collaboration with the show’s writer Sam Levinson, his original compositions feature prominently throughout the series as a sonic companion to the show’s angst-driven narrative.  The resulting 26-track collection is a genre blending mix of gospel, soul and electronic influences, indicative both of Labrinth’s imitable style as well as the show’s deeply moving storyline.

Regarding the soundtrack album, Labrinth had this to say:

My experience with Euphoria has made me a better musician. It was a dream come true to give wings and add magic to the different storylines. It was a collaborative effort among Sam Levinson, the crew and the cast – I only added texture to an already phenomenal show. I hope that anyone who listens to the music embraces feeling something.

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Euphoria, if you didn’t know, follows a group of high school students as they navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma and social media. It is an American adaptation of an Israeli show of the same name, and all episodes are written by Sam Levinson.

I haven’t seen the show myself, but having taken a peek at the soundtrack, I can say that the music is definitely interesting. It’s not traditional in the slightest, but that’s a good thing since I firmly believe that not all music should sound the same (for example, not all shows need to sound like Game of Thrones). If you’re a fan of Labrinth’s work, or just a fan of the series in general, I think you will like this soundtrack album very much.

Let me know what you think about Euphoria, and the soundtrack, in the comments below and have a great day!

EUPHORIA – SCORE FROM ORIGINAL HBO SERIES
TRACKLISTING –
1. New Girl
2. Formula
3. Preparing For Call
4. Forever
5. Planning Date
6. Nate Growing Up
7. Home From Rehab
8. We All Knew
9. Say Goodnight
10. Shy Guy
11. Following Tyler
12. Still Don’t Know My Name
13. Kat’s Denial
14. Slideshow
15. Family Vacation
16. Grapefruit Diet
17. WTF Are We Talking For
18. Euphoria Funfair
19. The Lake
20. Maddy’s Story
21. Demanding Excellence
22. McKay & Cassie
23. Gangster
24. When I R.I.P.
25. Arriving at the Formal
26. Virgin Pina Coladas

See also:

TV Soundtracks

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Soundtrack Review: Days Gone (2019)

Just for fun, I decided to switch things up today and review the soundtrack for a video game instead of a movie. Days Gone, a survival horror video game, is currently available, as is its soundtrack, which was composed by Nathan Whitehead (The Purge, He’s Out There, Delirium). The game follows former outlaw Deacon St. John as he roams post-apocalyptic Oregon, fighting enemies and making his way in a world overrun by zombie-like creatures.

Regarding the soundtrack for Days Gone, Nathan Whitehead had this to say:

“The ideas that define the score are the tenacity of the human spirit and the value of relationships. Early in the process John Garvin, creative director at Sony’s Bend Studio, described to me how the game isn’t simply about surviving, it also examines why we want to survive. When I heard that, I was instantly excited about all the places the music could go. I found it really interesting to be navigating the survival aspect and also this introspective aspect at the same time. The Pacific Northwest setting is absolutely beautiful and it really felt like the score needed to connect to this environment as well. Deacon and the environment seemed to call for an organic, lived-in sound with a touch of Americana.”

Boy, does Nathan Whitehead ever succeed with this goal for the soundtrack. Considering this is a survival horror video game, the music is surprisingly normal and, well, not-horror. There are exceptions of course, particularly the track titled “The Rager Bear” which is clearly straight out of a horror film, with its harsh beats and tension-raising rhythms. But other tracks I liked, including “Days Gone” and “A Good Soldier” are very lyrical in nature, with flowing strings and almost relaxed melodies. This could be a way of offsetting any tension created by the gameplay. When you think about it, an ideal way to relax players after they’ve been fighting zombie-like monsters for who knows how long is to create relaxing music for any cutscenes or segments taking place inside settlements. Otherwise it would be hard for players to unwind.

Another detail I love is the range of this soundtrack. Video game soundtracks are now practically equal to their film counterparts in terms of musical quality. Whitehead’s melodies range from almost upbeat to straight horror. The music is dynamic, and if you didn’t know better, you might find it hard to believe this came from a video game.

Overall, I like the soundtrack for Days Gone. It’s not a game I would play personally, but I highly recommend checking the soundtrack out if you get the opportunity. Let men now what you think about Days Gone (and its soundtrack) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Video Game Soundtracks

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Soundtrack Review: Hotel Artemis (2018)

Released on June 8th, 2018, Hotel Artemis is a near-future dystopian film that takes place in a secret hospital for criminals (the titular hotel). The hotel is run by The Nurse (Jodie Foster) and Everest (Dave Bautista), an orderly. Services offered include 3D-printed organs and top of the line care, provided you follow the rules of the establishment. This status quo is upended one night during a riot when a notorious kingpin (Jeff Goldblum) is rushed to the hotel with serious injuries.

The score for Hotel Artemis was composed by Cliff Martinez, whose approach to scoring is nontraditional.  His scores tend towards being stark and sparse, utilizing a modern tonal palette to paint the backdrop for films that are often dark, psychological stories like Pump Up the Volume (1990), The Limey (2009) Wonderland (2003), Wicker Park (2004), and Drive (2011).  Martinez has been nominated for a Grammy Award (Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic), a Cesar Award (Xavier Giannoli’s A L’origine), and a Broadcast Film Critics Award (Drive).  His score for The Neon Demon was awarded Best Soundtrack at the 2016 Cannes International Film Festival.

Not only is the soundtrack of Hotel Artemis sparse, it also suffers greatly from being overly homogeneous. I thought I was imagining it at first, but as I listened to track after track, I realized that most of the music sounded exactly the same: deep synthesized bass tones mixed in with a synthesized drone. There are minor variations to be sure, but the elements are the same throughout. No wonder this score hasn’t stuck in my mind, there was nothing memorable about it.

Synthesizers can be great for film scores when they’re utilized properly (Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 are excellent cases in point), but that is not the case here. The drones don’t lead anywhere, there’s no musical development. This can make a potentially great film average and in this case, it makes an average film mediocre.

In conclusion: the score of Hotel Artemis is mostly forgettable, just like the film, which is a real shame. I do my best to find the positives in any score I listen to, but I just couldn’t find them here. What did you think of the score for Hotel Artemis? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

See also:

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See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

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An Interview with Paul Henning

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Last month I was privileged to conduct an interview with composer Paul Henning where we discussed (in part) his work in orchestrating Star Wars: The Force Awakens, his work as a performer in film orchestras and the ongoing work of the legendary John Williams. I was fascinated to learn about the process that goes into recording a film score and how the process of orchestrating a score actually works. If you follow the link below, you can check out the audio interview I conducted with Mr. Henning. I hope you enjoy!

An Interview with Paul Henning

Film composer and musician Paul Henning’s most recent project was writing the score for the Tribeca Film Festival opening night documentary ‘Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives’. The film premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Paul had a somewhat unconventional role writing music for this project. While the focus was the cadre of huge music artists Clive has worked with, Paul scored key moments of conflict, loss or emotional gravity that were vital to the story.

Paul also recently released his debut album, ‘BREAKING THROUGH’. The album was crafted with a nostalgic, Americana vibe drawn from Paul’s love of the expanses of the Western US and his love of American History. The album features piano solos performed by the Paul and recorded live with a 48-piece studio orchestra. Here is a link to selections of the album for your review: http://www.paulhenning.com/breaking-through.

Paul has served as Concertmaster for the Golden State Pops Orchestra since 2004. He’s also worked on the score orchestrations for over 50 feature films, including ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens, ‘The BFG’, ‘Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb’ and ‘Chocolat’. In addition to his film writing, he also works on orchestral arrangements that have been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and London Symphony.

An accomplished pianist and violinist, Henning has performed with the Hollywood Studio Symphony on the soundtracks to ‘Frozen’, ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’, ‘The Maze Runner’, ‘Furious 7’, ‘Moana’, ‘Storks’, ‘Monsters University’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’, among many others. He has also played violin for artists including Barbra Streisand, Michael Bublé, Neil Young, Aretha Franklin, Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban. Henning has served as Concertmaster for the Golden State Pops Orchestra since 2004.