Tag Archives: Film Composer

Soundtrack Review: The Vigil (2021)

Back in February of 2021, Lakeshore Records digitally released The Vigil Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – with music by Michael Yezerski (The Tax Collector, Blindspotting). Earlier career highlights for Michael Yezerski include HBO’s Only the Dead See the End of War, his first feature film The Black Balloon (winner of 8 AFI/AACTA Awards including Best Picture), PJ Hogan’s Mental, Wolf Creek Series 2, Catching Milat, Peter Allen, the Academy Award winning animated short, The Lost Thing and his collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, The Red Tree.

Steeped in ancient Jewish lore and demonology, The Vigil is a supernatural horror film set over the course of a single evening in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Borough Park neighborhood. Low on funds and having recently left his insular religious community, Yakov reluctantly accepts an offer from his former rabbi and confidante to take on the responsibility of an overnight “shomer,” fulfilling the Jewish practice of watching over the body of a deceased community member. Shortly after arriving at the recently departed’s dilapidated house to sit the vigil, Yakov begins to realize that something is very, very wrong.

Speaking about the philosophy behind the score, Yezerski said:

“As [director] Keith Thomas and I discussed, music is memory. We associate music with the best and the worst times in our lives. For The Vigil we needed to create a score that explored the malevolence of memory (both personal and cultural).” Yezerski went on further to note, “We needed massive textures that could read as both beautiful and brutal. The music attacks but also meditates on long and difficult lives. After all, what is the greater horror at play here – the supernatural or our lived reality?”

Going in, I thought I knew how The Vigil would sound, but to my surprise I was quite wrong. It’s true that like many horror film scores I’ve listened to in recent years, there’s an ongoing feeling of malevolence that pervades the entire score. But it’s how this feeling is delivered that sets The Vigil apart in my mind from recent scores in similar genres.

For example, the score’s use of the human voice (especially chanting) really emphasizes to me the story’s religious background (as it is based in Jewish folklore). That’s not something you hear in a lot of horror film scores so already the story is set apart in my mind. I also really like it because it evokes the feeling that you are around something ancient, as chanting is one of the earliest song forms in existence.

I also really like how the composer creates aural “textures” that literally make your skin crawl when you listen to them. “Lair” is an excellent example of that technique, but it really pervades most of the score if I’m honest. This is fitting as horror films, to the best of my understanding, are designed to make the viewer uncomfortable. It’s only natural that this should extend to the film’s score as well.

One final note, I also like how the music for The Vigil is full of various creaks and groans created by the instruments. It creates a similar sense of age that the chanting does, but it also gives you a sense that you’re in a space that is falling apart or in disrepair (as I understand it the film is set in a dilapidated house). This is most definitely a unique score, one that’s small but contains some powerful musical thoughts. This is yet another example of why you should never dismiss a soundtrack out of hand because it belongs to a horror film.

The Vigil Soundtrack Track List

  1. Tefillin (4:23)
  2. The Ghost, Pt. 1 (1:58)
  3. The Ghost, Pt. 2 (2:52)
  4. Past (3:15)
  5. Lair (4:25)
  6. Broken by Memories (5:08)
  7. Video Games (4:12)
  8. Behind You (3:32)
  9. Face to Face (4:12)
  10. Begin the Vigil (3:31)
  11. Ner (3:41)
  12. Echo (4:26)
  13. Sunlight (2:24)

Let me know what you think of The Vigil and its soundtrack in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Soundtrack Review: Cherry (2021)

Late last month, Lakeshore Records digitally released the original motion picture soundtrack for Cherry by Henry Jackman. The soundtrack will be available exclusively on Apple Music for 60 days before becoming available to all other DSPs on Tuesday, March 30, 2021.

Henry Jackman has established himself as one of today’s top composers by fusing his classical training with his experience as a successful record producer and creator of electronic music. Jackman’s upcoming feature is the anticipated drama from The Russo Brothers, Cherry. He recently completed Jumanji 2, a continuation of the magical board game adventure story, and Detective Pikachu, following the story of the beloved Pikachu Pokémon character starring Ryan Reynolds. His other recent work includes Ralph Breaks the Internet, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature. His other diverse credits include Captain America: Civil War, Kong: Skull Island, Captain Phillips, Big Hero 6, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle.  

Cherry follows the wild journey of a disenfranchised young man from Ohio who meets the love of his life, only to risk losing her through a series of bad decisions and challenging life circumstances. Inspired by the best-selling novel of the same name, “Cherry” features Tom Holland in the title role as an unhinged character who drifts from dropping out of college to serving in Iraq as an Army medic and is only anchored by his one true love, Emily (Ciara Bravo). When Cherry returns home a war hero, he battles the demons of undiagnosed PTSD and spirals into drug addiction, surrounding himself with a menagerie of depraved misfits. Draining his finances, Cherry turns to bank robbing to fund his addiction, shattering his relationship with Emily along the way.

Speaking about his score for Cherry, Henry Jackman had the following to say:

Cherry’s soundscape never deviates from the core idea of emulating the internal. It’s music that ebbs and flows depending on the emotions and mental state of the main character grounding the film in Cherry’s subjective experience.

 Directors Joe and Anthony Russo said of Jackman and his score, “This is Henry’s most sublime work. Beautiful, poignant, riotous, devious. Breathtaking in its ability to manifest such complex tones, while unifying them at the same time. He’s truly a master of the craft.” 

The soundtrack for Cherry is definitely one that has subverted all of my expectations. Based on what I know of the film’s plot, I was expecting something that was extremely gritty, rough around the edges, or very action oriented. But Henry Jackman has created something that is none of these things. The music for Cherry is strikingly beautiful, with an orchestral mix that I wouldn’t have expected in a million years. But it’s also got a number of twisted elements at work, several of which I’d like to highlight.

First I want to bring to your attention ‘Carnival of Losers Pt. 1’ and ‘Carnival of Losers Pt 2’. The first iteration of Carnival of Losers will sound like a misnomer, because the piece sounds, for all the world, like a charming waltz with a street carnival vibe (hence the name I’m sure). It’s not until you hear Pt. 2 of Carnival of Losers that you realize the two pieces are mirror images of each other: Pt. 1 takes place before the trauma and Pt. 2 takes place afterward. I say that because Pt. 2 is a muted and twisted version of Pt. 1. It’s set to an almost identical beat as Pt. 1, but it’s clear something terrible has happened between Pt. 1 and Pt. 2.

The most twisted part of all though? That would have to be ‘Star-Mangled Banner’. This piece screamed volumes to me, and likely will to many other people who have had their faith in the government shaken as of late. It takes a while to become recognizable, but there IS in fact a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner in this piece, but one that’s so warped, discordant and twisted that it is barely recognizable. If I observe this piece as a commentary on the state of the nation, it’s a damning piece of musical commentary, and one that deeply moved me.

Those are the big moments that I wanted to highlight from the Cherry soundtrack, but the rest of it is equally fun to listen to. To reiterate, this soundtrack will completely subvert whatever expectations you had going in, but in the best way possible. This is a reminder that one should never let a film’s premise dictate your thoughts on what the music may sound like, you might find you’re proven wrong.

Cherry Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Track List

  1. When Life Was Beginning, I Saw You (2:51)
  2. Madison (2:01)
  3. Carnival of Losers, Pt. I (2:10)
  4. The Elusive Sensation of Bliss (2:09)
  5. It Was Perfect (0:43)
  6. A Thing for Weak Guys (2:19)
  7. Honeymoon (3:25)
  8. Star-Mangled Banner (2:26)
  9. Iraq (5:10)
  10. Triangle of Death (1:01)
  11. Cheerleaders (1:05)
  12. Huffers of 1st Platoon (1:54)
  13. Another Day, Another Mission (3:15)
  14. Night Tremors (2:52)
  15. Unholy Retribution (1:24)
  16. OxyContin (0:43)
  17. Date Night (2:51)
  18. Carnival of Losers, Pt. 2 (2:03)
  19. Acquiescence (2:24)
  20. I’m Your Worst Nightmare (3:34)
  21. Crossing the Line (1:34)
  22. Rob Another Bank (1:57)
  23. Overdose (2:28)
  24. Your Fate is Darkly Determined (6:21)
  25. One Last Job (3:00)
  26. The Comedown (9:23)
  27. What I’m Trying to Say Is… (Bonus Track) (5:06)

Let me know what you think about Cherry (and its soundtrack) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Soundtrack News: ‘Saint Maud’ Soundtrack Available Now

Milan Records released the soundtrack for Saint Maud today, with music composed by Adam Janota Bzowski. The album will also be released in vinyl format this spring. From A24, Saint Maud arrives in select theaters and drive-ins January 29 and will be available to stream exclusively on EPIX beginning February 12.

Adam Janota Bzowski is a London based composer, sound designer and visual artist. As a child he was known for his fondness of intermittent static between radio stations, an interest that led him to study Sound Art at the University of Brighton. Whilst living in a disused biscuit factory on the English coast, Adam became heavily influenced by ambient music – performing under the moniker Adam Halogen, he utilized an old 4-track tape recorder and various guitar pedals to create compositions for theatre, short films and animations. Saint Maud marks his first feature-length score, which has already won him Best Original Music at the 2020 Gérardmer Fantasticarts Film Festival.

The debut film from writer-director Rose Glass, Saint Maud is a chilling and boldly original vision of faith, madness, and salvation in a fallen world. Maud, a newly devout hospice nurse, becomes obsessed with saving her dying patient’s soul — but sinister forces, and her own sinful past, threaten to put an end to her holy calling.

Of the soundtrack for Saint Maud, composer Adam Janota Bzowski had the following to say:

“Before coming on board, I initially received only a treatment for Saint Maud containing a short synopsis alongside various macabre pictures of twisted figures and haunting spectres. From this alone I created around 30 minutes of demos inspired by the images and plot outline, much of which ended up in the final film. Rose wanted the audience to feel inside the head of the main character, Maud. As a result we gave the score a very claustrophobic almost creature-like quality to it, often leaning closer to sound design than traditional music. After sending her cues, Rose would frequently feedback ‘go weirder, go stranger’ – words which I had waited my entire career to hear from a collaborator.”

SAINT MAUD (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK)
TRACKLISTING –

  1. Opening Title
  2. Maud’s Theme
  3. Khöl / Nosebleed
  4. Pallative Care
  5. God On the Couch
  6. I Think It Went Well
  7. Succubus
  8. Revelation
  9. My Saviour (By the Coast)
  10. Holy Water
  11. Bedside Manor
  12. Scissors
  13. Saint Maud

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The Music of Snow Hollow: Talking with Composer Ben Lovett about ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’ (2020)

After getting to check out the soundtrack for The Wolf of Snow Hollow, I knew I had to speak with composer Ben Lovett about his work on this soundtrack. Fortunately for me, the moment came and I took it! It was so exciting to get to ask Ben Lovett about his work on this score and I can’t thank him enough for taking the time to answer my questions about the music for The Wolf of Snow Hollow.

Ben Lovett is an American recording artist, songwriter and composer known for crafting unconventional scores to a diverse range of films including the Netflix original The Ritual, Independent Spirit Award nominee The Signal, the Duplass Brothers’ survival thriller Black Rock, Amy Seimetz’s award-winning noir Sun Don’t Shine, Emma Tammi’s avant-garde western The Wind, and the time travel sci-fi noir Synchronicity which earned Ben a nomination for “Discovery of the Year” at the prestigious World Soundtrack Awards. Lovett’s latest work includes scores for the Hulu series Into the Dark, the colorful taxidermy documentary Stuffed, Orion Pictures tragicomedy The Wolf of Snow Hollow from director Jim Cummings, and a new collaboration with Ritual director David Bruckner on the Searchlight Pictures thriller, The Night House.

How did you get started with being a film composer?

I was tricked.  Someone convinced me I could do it even though I tried to argue otherwise.  Or more specifically, they convinced me I had no good reason not to try, and of course they were right.  That was in college at the University of Georgia in the late 90’s and I’ve been doing it ever since.

How did you get connected with The Wolf of Snow Hollow?

The producers at Vanishing Angle reached out early in post production. I scored “American Folk” for them a few years back and had a good rapport there. Jim is part of a great community of filmmakers that all share an orbit with Vanishing Angle and he was familiar with some of the scores I’d done. I watched “Thunder Road” and absolutely loved it. I knew after about the first 10 minutes that I had to be part of whatever he was doing next.

I saw in the PR announcing the release of the soundtrack, that you said that you and the director talked together and some big names came up, like Herrmann and Prokofiev, in regards to the music. How big an influence did they play in the film’s score? What other names came up in the discussion that ended up having an influence on the score?

When I came onboard Jim sent me a YouTube clip of a 75 piece orchestra performing Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet” and said “The score needs to be like this!” The budget was very modest and there wasn’t a lot of time so as reference points go that one was exciting and hilarious and terrifying all at once. Jim was super enthusiastic about the score though and I could tell he wasn’t afraid to swing big. He referenced Jon Brion’s score to “Magnolia”, and the Jerry Goldsmith score for “The Burbs” as spiritual reference points as well. So I dove in with this sort of Mt Rushmore of influences in the background and tried to just channel the spirit of all that into some kind of hybrid, low budget, horror comedy appropriate, musical jambalaya.

More specifically, how big an influence did Bernard Herrmann’s music have? I swear I can hear parts resembling Psycho (1960), especially in “Third Crime Scene.” Are there direct musical homages in there? If so, was that a thing decided on from the beginning or did it just evolve as the scoring process continued?

That evolved along the way. It was more a sense of feeling like that was a common language where all those other references crossed paths. There weren’t direct homages or specific Herrmann scores I was referencing, it was more channelling the spirit of his style as a general point of inspiration. There’s something very signature in the way his scores operate melodically, and some intangible quality about the nature of their relationship to the picture and how his music informs the overall aesthetic of those films.

“Third Crime Scene” is kind of a thought experiment of me going, “What if Bernard Herrmann had scored “Peter & the Wolf’? I was never afraid of landing anywhere in the vicinity of his talent so it felt like a safe exercise to swing for something with a similar mentality, or whatever I’d interpreted that to mean. I didn’t get too academic about it, it just seemed like a fun sandbox to play in and one that seemed appropriate for this film.

How did you approach scoring The Wolf of Snow Hollow? Did you have a lot of time to work on the music?

Definitely not. I’m not sure I’d know what to do with a lot of time, does that exist? It was a small window from start to finish, very much your classic race the clock, down to the write, 11th hour, head first slide into home plate kind of finish. But that’s also the job, honestly, so I’m no stranger to that.

In terms of the approach, I knew I would have a limited number of crayons to draw with so I made a decision to just pick just the boldest flavor of each color that I needed. I guess that’s where the Herrmann thing comes in – I wasn’t going to have a lot of instruments so I needed to make sure the parts could carry a lot of water for us. It was figuring out how to pack big ideas into small packages, in that sense. How to deliver on the ambition of the director within the logistical limitations of the schedule and budget. I felt like the film had the capacity to hold something pretty audacious, it’s just something in how Jim directs movies. The score needed a distinct musical personality that could address the horrible reality of the things going on in this town, but specifically in how they’re related to this manic central character trying to put a stop to them – to find both the comedy and humanity in his struggle, because that’s really where the movie takes place thematically.

On a related note, are there leitmotifs in the score or did you approach it another way?

There are certainly some thematic, recurring melodies and variations in there that map out the arc of the main character, but we weren’t too dogmatic about those always accompanying specific situations or thematic moments. You routinely have characters in the film that are introduced then promptly killed off, so it became more about the recurrence of certain instruments and sounds than melodies, and what those sounds might represent to the viewer. Because I was working to locked picture with a new director and very much doing both at full sprint, sometimes the process influences decisions as much as any sort of creative intention. You’re trying to do your best to help make the movie as good as you can, while you can, with what you have.

Do you have a favorite track in the score?

Nah. Once they’re done you love em all, because you no longer have to feed them and change their diaper and they’re not keeping you up all night. I don’t have kids so I don’t know if that analogy works but, it’s sorta like that I imagine. Once they’re grown and leave home you forgive them for all they put you through. Maybe that’s where the analogy breaks down, I don’t know. More to your point, I think I’m more likely to listen back to ones that either took an unexpected turn along the way or endured some interesting metamorphosis by way of film scoring being a naturally collaborative process. Generally the ones that are the hardest to nail are usually my favorites in the end. I think the progression of the three crime scenes is a pretty fun journey. If you play those in a row you really get a sense of the variety of ground we needed to cover. “Detectives” and “Returning Evidence” maybe best capture the overall spirit and intention of the score, and are both thematic pieces that contain recurring elements.

What do you hope listeners notice when they listen to this music?

Well I always hope the album provides the means to re-experience the story in a way that reveals another level to what you might have enjoyed or experienced in the film. I feel like there are elements of any story that only music can describe, or that it best describes, in some strange innate way that we experience things as humans. Once you have a reference point for the characters and the story, my hope is that people can throw on the album and revisit Snow Hollow and uncover some new clues about what was going on there the whole time.

Again, I’d like to thank Ben Lovett for taking the time to speak with me about his work on The Wolf of Snow Hollow. Please check this film and soundtrack out if you haven’t already.

See also:

Soundtrack Review: The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)

Composer Interviews

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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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RIP Ennio Morricone (1928-2020)

I normally don’t comment on moments like this, as I normally reserve my blog for film and soundtrack reviews, but the passing of Ennio Morricone, a veritable titan in the world of film music, cannot be passed over without a mention.

I woke up this morning to the news that Ennio Morricone had passed away at the age of 91. He composed over 400 scores for film and television, and to this day might be best known as the composer for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (you know the piece I’m talking about). But Morricone’s work stretches far beyond that (rightfully acclaimed) film. He composed for spaghetti westerns, comedies, Hollywood films, foreign films, television scores, when you look at the complete list of scores Morricone created, you’ll be amazed that one man could create so much.

But I think the memory that will stick with me the longest about Ennio Morricone is how he won the Oscar for Best Original Score for The Hateful Eight at the age of 87 (making him the oldest person to ever receive a competitive Oscar to date). That he didn’t receive an Oscar until so late in his career is something of a crime in my opinion, but I’m glad he did receive some official recognition of his work from Hollywood (and rightfully so, as the music for The Hateful Eight is incredible).

The world of film music will never be quite the same again now that Ennio Morricone is gone. Rest in peace good sir, and thank you for everything.

Let me know about your favorite score by Ennio Morricone in the comments below.

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Soundtrack Review: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

WaterTower Music has announced that the soundtrack for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is finally available for purchase. The soundtrack features 27 tracks composed for the motion picture by Daniel Pemberton. He 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 scored projects for the likes of Danny Boyle (Yesterday, Steve Jobs), Ridley Scott (All The Money In The World, The Counsellor), Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game), Darren Aronofsky (One Strange Rock), Edward Norton (Motherless Brooklyn), Louis Leterrier (Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance) and Guy Ritchie (The Man From UNCLE, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword).

Regarding the score, composer Daniel Pemberton had the following to say:

One of the best things about writing this score was the fact I felt Harley Quinn as a character would be into anything – I can see her listening to whatever she wants: opera, metal, hip-hop, EDM, rockabilly, gospel, pop. I always felt she didn’t really care for one thing – she’d absorb them all and not give a f*** if anyone thought it was cool or not. So, I felt I’d do that with the music. In the same way she dresses like no one else, pulling disparate styles together to make something her own, I wanted to do the same with the score. Then couple that with a crew of other great larger-than-life characters and the completely unique take on Gotham that director Cathy Yan has created, a world with a kaleidoscopically colorful palate, you have something very special to inspire you.

DSC_6785.dng

And the soundtrack for Birds of Prey truly is an eclectic collection of musical styles befitting the insane mind of Harley Quinn and the twisted world of Gotham. Anyone who describes this soundtrack as being “not much to listen to” really  hasn’t been paying attention. While it’s true that several of the tracks firmly belong to the pop rock genre, others, and I must cite “The Black Mask Club” by name, are more traditional, with an aura of menace generated by the strings.

I’m also a really big fan of the fast-paced electronic music that characterizes the early parts of the films (particularly Harley getting really drunk at the club). It really gets you into Harley’s state of mind, not just in the moment but as a whole. You have to remember that Harley Quinn is a crazy person at the core, and the electronic music fits that part of her perfectly. It’s frenetic, almost manic, and it symbolizes Harley’s insane mind racing along from one idea to the next with little to no concept of the consequences. “Harley Gogo Agogo” is a great example of this idea.

Of course a lot of the soundtrack is just fun to listen to, like “Battle Commences” and “Fight Together.” Pemberton is really skilled at weaving together music that heightens the action on the screen or making potentially dull moments interesting, it’s one of the reasons I like his work so much. There is always something going on in this soundtrack, and in this case that’s a good thing.

Track List

  • Flying High (Birds of Prey)
  • The Fantabulous Emancipation Explosion
  • Harley Quinn (Danger Danger)
  • Birds of Prey
  • Harley Gogo Agogo
  • The Black Mask Club
  • Stolen Diamond
  • Bad Ass Broad (Whistle MF)
  • Lonely in Gotham
  • Black Canary Echo
  • The Bertinelli Massacre (The Huntress Story)
  • Bump It!
  • Roman Sionis
  • Lockdown
  • Bruce and the Beaver
  • Lotus Flower
  • Femme Fatale
  • Breakout!
  • The Bertinelli Revenge
  • I Want To Kill You Because I Can
  • Zsasz Showdown
  • Work Together
  • Battle Commence
  • Fight Together (Birds Of Prey)
  • Founders Pier
  • Roller Vs Rollers
  • The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

I hope this review has inspired you to check out Daniel Pemberton’s soundtrack for Birds of Prey, which is available for purchase now. I certainly enjoyed listening to it, and it proves once again why Pemberton is one of my all-time favorite film composers.

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

See also:

My Thoughts on Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Film Soundtracks A-W

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

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Soundtrack Review: The Musical Anthology of His Dark Materials (2019)

*apologies for taking so long to get this one out, I meant to publish this one weeks ago but November has been a very busy month for me, I hope you enjoy it!

In The Musical Anthology of His Dark Materials, an introduction to the music from the television series, composer Lorne Balfe delves into the story and character themes from His Dark Materials, the new adaptation of Philip Pullman’s trilogy. Lorne Balfe (Mission Impossible: Fallout, The Lego Batman Movie, Churchill) is a Grammy Award-winning, EMMY and BAFTA nominated composer. Whether on an impossible mission, the heartbreak of the Queen, the perils of the cape crusade or the soul of a genius, Lorne Balfe creates a musical voice that reflects the characters and the stories that embody them.

Available on digital as of November 2019, this collection features a number of key musical themes that appear throughout the HBO series. Presented on this soundtrack album are the opening title theme, together with key character themes for the young protagonists Lyra, Roger and Will and the adults Mrs. Coulter, Lord Asriel and Lee Scoresby. Other themes present the majestic locations of Oxford and Svalbard, the people that Lyra encounters on her epic journey, the Gyptians, the Witches of Lake Enara, the machinations of The Magisterium, and The Alethiometer, the device that helps set all the events in motion.

“Since the beginning, myself and the rest of the music team knew we wanted a mixture and a hybrid,” says Lorne. “What I wanted people to feel when listening to the music is they don’t necessarily know if it’s real or not or whether it’s in the present or in the past. There are no rules and musically, it’s constantly evolving. Another crucial element we strived to accomplish was to always have a clear journey of each character’s theme. I wrote their themes separately as a journey, so that we knew musically what would happen throughout the series.”

The timeless nature of the music is evident right away. You literally can’t tell what time period this is taking place in. Sometimes the music sounds contemporaneous, other times it seems to snap back to the Renaissance (or what sounds like the Renaissance). This does a great job of muddling the senses and creating a musical environment for the alternative world that His Dark Materials takes place in. If the show is half as good as this  soundtrack, then this is an amazing show indeed.

Let me know what you think about His Dark Materials (and the soundtrack) in the comments below and have a great day!

Tracklisting:
1. His Dark Materials
2. The Alethiometer
3. Lyra: The Child of Prophecy
4. The Settling of a Daemon
5. Scholastic Sanctuary
6. The General Oblation Board
7. The Life of Roger Parslow
8. The Machinations of Lord Boreal
9. A Gilded Cage
10. The Strength of Gyptians
11. A Plea to Fate
12. The Legacy of Svalbard
13. Mrs. M. Coulter
14. The Magisterium
15. The Path Foretold
16. Release the Spy-Fly
17. The Tales of Lee Scoresby
18. The Compass Points North
19. The Witches of Lake Enara

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TV Soundtracks

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An Interview with Chad Cannon, Composer of American Factory

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Chad Cannon, who composed the score for the Netflix original film American Factory. Composer Chad Cannon has traveled the world drawing inspiration from cultures, history, and human stories to create moving scores for documentaries, animation and live performances. His debut soundtrack for the documentary Paper Lanterns received an IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Awards) nomination for Best Original Score for a Documentary, and was lauded as “haunting, mystical” by The Japan Times; while his soundtrack for Cairo Declaration, co- composed with Xiaogang Ye, received China’s highest film prize, the Golden Rooster Award for Best Music. Chad most recently scored Netflix’s documentary, American Factory, which won the Best Director Award for a Documentary at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and is the first film released by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground. His other recent works include a symphonic Americana score for PBS’ documentary CyberWork and the American Dream, as well as scoring Chris Meledandri and Illumination Studios’ animated short, The Dog Days of Winter.

Chad Cannon 2.jpg

 

How did you get started with composing for films and documentaries?

So I studied music at Harvard, I was studying music and Japanese there, and then I did my Masters at Julliard, also in composition. But all along I kind of knew…I’ve always like film, I thought it would be really cool to have a career that intersected film and music. So when I graduated from Julliard I moved to L.A. and I started working with this orchestrator named Conrad Pope, he worked for many years with John Williams, and the first project he hired me on was Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, so I got kind of dumped right in the middle of a huge film score project, and as an orchestrator it’s a little less pressure then a composer obviously, because the orchestrator’s job is really to help the composer prepare all the conducting scores in time for the recording sessions, so you’re the one putting the notes on the page eventually. So from there, I kind of transitioned into writing more for film, and I had an opportunity to score a couple of feature documentaries with my brother who directed feature films for CrossFit. …My brother just had me write some custom music for those films. And then I had this opportunity to write for a film called Paper Lanterns, which was a Hiroshima documentary about the 12 Americans who had died in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. So that was my first feature doc(umentary) that was more serious and I had an opportunity to write a more rich, orchestral for that film, and it was also a crossover score where I included some traditional Japanese performers in addition to this American orchestral sound that I was creating. So that led to me being accepted into the Sundance Composer Labs which happen every summer at Skywalker Ranch, and that lab is how I got connected to the American Factory film.

How did you get involved with American Factory

The Sundance Labs people knew I’d done quite a bit of work in Asia and they thought “Oh, since this is a film that is very much connecting Asia with the U.S., maybe he would be a good match” and so they referred me to Julia [Reichert] and Steve [Bognar]  who were the directors of American Factory.

How did you approach scoring the documentary?

Well, anytime I get a new film, the first thing I like to do is experiment with new materials or new instruments, just to sort of develop a sound world that I can draw from as I start getting clips of the film. So I tried two things at first that didn’t actually end up working out very well for the film. One was, because of the glass factory I thought “What if we used glass instruments?” and had glass be the heart of the score. So I got all the glass I could find and recorded myself playing rhythms on them. I got wine glasses, and did a bunch of tones, and I tried a bunch of stuff. And Julia and Steve heard it, and were like “Oh, this is cool but it’s too ‘twinkly.’” And that’s because glass creates a lot of high overtones, which creates a “twinkly” sound. And because there’s quite a few ominous, or dark themes in the film, as well as a huge amount of factory noise, from a sound design perspective this film was very difficult because the sound designer Lawrence Stevenson had to navigate, when you’re recording the audio in the factory and it’s hard to hear, just from the amount of noise. So anyway, the glass approach didn’t really work.

And then the next thing I tried was to include traditional Chinese elements, especially from Fujian Province, which is where the Fuyao headquarters is within China, and I had happened to have been there before…Steve and Julia also considered that, but then they said “We’re Americans,  we’re from Ohio, we don’t want to make this feel like it’s exoticizing the Chinese component of this movie. Make it more universal in the approach.” So ultimately we ended up focusing on a low woodwind sound; so there’s a lot of bassoons, bass clarinets, some lower flutes like alto flutes…and the reason we went in that direction is because Julia had heard a Mozart piece called the “Gran Partita” and this piece is for woodwinds with two horns and a double bass, and it’s just a really unique instrumentation…and ultimately I think she was right in leaning in that direction, because the woodwinds’ timbre goes well against all the metallic glass timbre that you hear in the film. The factory noises are complimented by this woodwind sound, as opposed to competing with it. There’s something about that combination that ended up working nicely, and I ended up writing a lot of music for these slow woodwinds.

Were you inspired by the factory machines, because in several of the manufacturing scenes it feels like the music is mimicking the frenetic action of the glass factory

For sure, there are a lot of moments..there’s one specific moment if you remember near the end of the film, there’s a sequence where Wong is sitting next to this panel of blinking lights in the dark, he’s sitting there and there’s a voiceover where he says “I think the most important thing is mutual understanding” and he expresses this admiration for American workers who can manage having multiple jobs at once…and that sequence…the blinking lights were the trigger for the music in that scene, where if you listen there’s a lot of minimalist patterns. A lot of the American minimalists will come to a pattern and they’ll repeat it for a really long time to create this meditative state and, that’s a very common technique now in film music. That pattern that I have in that scene is very much trying to show…it’s drawing inspiration from the blinking lights on the panel. And it gets you into Wong’s mind about how things are kind of dark at that moment.

And the music when we enter the factory for the first time is also rooted, grounded in a repeating bass note. The cue is actually called “The Resurrection,” …and for me the pillars of the factory, and the weight of this machinery, all of that is finding its way into the score in these heavy bass figures that I’ve been writing.

It feels like there are different themes, or different musical sentiments for the American and Chinese sides of the story, is that so or am I imagining that?

There are no themes that are specifically Chinese or American…Thematically there’s like four or five melodic ideas that spin out, and sometimes it’s the same theme but in a dark variation, sometimes lighter. Pretty much all of the musical material is tied back to that first theme called “The Forge.” There’s a parallel fifth motif that becomes the bed of pretty much everything else that happens after that. There are also themes for the Chairman and Wong. Wong’s theme is what comes back at the very end when we see this sequence between American workers and Chinese workers leaving the factory, and it’s like this fanfare for workers. The point of this theme is that it’s where I’m trying to convey the dualism of two countries coming together. And at the very, very end, there’s a long sequence with the Chairman where all of the themes you’ve heard throughout start to come back very quietly, underneath the dialogue, revisiting the places we’ve been along the way. So there are musical themes that are attached to specific characters.

How did you decide which parts of the documentary need music, because I’ve noticed chunks that have no music at all, and it feels like a very abrupt transition between music and no music.

So the way the film is edited is by chapters, and they’ll create a scene, or a series of scenes which together comprise a chapter. And the filmmakers who are also the writers, you know documentaries are written in the editing room, they don’t have a script, they just go out and film stuff. They get all the footage and then they go back and figure out what story they captured. And they could’ve told many different stories with the footage they had. They had to go through 1200 hours of footage shot over 3 years, so it’s really an incredible feat, what they did to cut it down to the film you see now. So musically, the way this pans out in documentaries is that, first of all, as opposed to feature films, and I personally feel that feature fiction films tend to get over-scored, I’m a fan of leaving space for people to just appreciate the environment that they’re in…the whole world is full of sound and interesting environmental ambience, and there’s music everywhere if you just open up your ears.

And I feel like in film it’s really beautiful when people know not to put music, because then you can be more immersed in the reality of whatever environment you’re in, even more so in a documentary. The challenges of a documentary film composer is that you can’t be too dramatic, you can’t hit things too hard on the nose without it starting to become editorializing. They’re telling true stories and representing real people, and you have to respect that. So the choices about where not to do music were largely where Julia and Steve had told me beforehand, where they said “Oh we don’t need music for this scene, or for here.” If there was music the whole time it would just start to get in the way of what people are saying.

There was one scene where I pushed for there to be no music, which was this scene where there’s no video just the recording, where the Fuyao employee had recorded this audio of the anti-union guy persuading them to vote against the union. And originally that scene had some very ominous music in it and I ultimately told them this is already such a shock where you lose the video, that you don’t need any score there because it’s already such a change from what we’ve been doing. And it’s already so ominous that the picture’s gone.

……….

It was a great honor to be able to talk with Chad Cannon about his work on American Factory, and I hope you enjoyed reading about it. Let me know your thoughts about American Factory (and the soundtrack) in the comments below and have a great day!

American Factory is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

See also:

Composer Interviews

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John Lunn talks Downton Abbey, Soundtrack Will Release Next Week

Decca Records/Decca Gold has announced the upcoming release of the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the highly-anticipated feature film, Downton Abbey, scored by composer John Lunn. Composed in a similar style to the two-time Emmy Award-winning music from the series, the score is richly orchestrated, with the familiar title theme making an appearance throughout. In a throwback to the ‘Roaring Twenties’, upbeat jazz arrangements appear alongside lavish waltzes, reflecting the popular styles of the day.

The original television series first aired on PBS Masterpiece in the US in 2011 and has enjoyed six critically-acclaimed seasons. Downton Abbey is scheduled for cinematic release on September 13th in the UK, and September 20th in the United States. The film picks up where the story left off in the autumn of 1927, joining Lord and Lady Grantham and the extended Crawley family as they prepare for a visit from the reigning King George V. With a script by Julian Fellowes, original cast members including Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern and Dame Maggie Smith star alongside new cast members Imelda Staunton, David Haig and Geraldine James.

Scottish composer John Lunn writes music that possesses a unique voice and spans a wide spectrum of musical styles. He received two Primetime Emmy Awards for his music for Downton Abbey, and two BAFTA nominations in 2012 and 2016. Other recent television work includes The White Queen (Starz), Grantchester (ITV), Shetland (BBC One), The Last Kingdom (BBC Two) and Jamestown (Sky). Lunn received critical acclaim for his scores for three BBC Charles Dickens adaptations: The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Little Dorrit, and Bleak House.

Lunn was the first choice to score the film and recalls when the project was first proposed:

“I was delighted to be approached to create the feature-length film score to a series which has had a huge impact on audiences and fans all over the world. At first it was like discovering a long-lost friend, but gradually I realized that we’d never really been apart; by the end it was just such a joy to revisit this material and have the opportunity to take it to a whole new level.”

Downton Abbey: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack will be released by Decca Records/Decca Gold on September 13th, 2019.

Tracklist

1. A Royal Command
2. Pillar of the Establishment
3. Gleam and Sparkle
4. God Is a Monarchist
5. Two Households
6. Incident at A Parade
7. Sabotage
8. Maud
9. Honour Restored
10. Never Seen Anything Like It
11. Not Entirely a Bad Night
12. May I?
13. Taking Leave
14. Resolution
15. You Are the Best of Me
16. Sunset Waltz
17. One Hundred Years of Downton

Once it comes out, let me know what you think about the Downton Abbey movie and its soundtrack in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

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