With Netflix recently releasing the soundtrack for their new film Stowaway, I had the opportunity to sit down and listen to the film’s official soundtrack. The music was composed by Volker Bertelmann (The Old Guard, Lion) and recently made available digitally.
The film’s synopsis is as follows:
In Stowaway, on a mission headed to Mars, an unintended stowaway accidentally causes severe damage to the spaceship’s life support systems. Facing dwindling resources and a potentially fatal outcome, the crew is forced to make an impossible decision.
Says Bertelmann of the Stowaway soundtrack:
“Working on Stowaway and collaborating with director Joe Penna was a special experience in many respects: Joe, who is a musician himself, gave me a lot of freedom to explore different sounds and we had a joint understanding of the purposes the music should serve. This facilitated the compositional process, which was extremely helpful given the considerable amount of music the film needed. The music for Stowaway is one of my favorite scores so far.”
Given what’s at stake in Stowaway, I was surprised at how low-key and passive a lot of the music is. There’s an underlying sense of tension of course, most notably in ‘How Much Oxygen’ but for the most part Bertelmann’s soundtrack is almost perfectly serene. The biggest exception to this comes in ‘Solar Flare’ which covers what is undoubtedly one of the climax points of the film. But even then, there’s still a polished smoothness lingering in the music that takes some of the edge off what might otherwise be a raw piece of action music.
All of this smoothness and serenity in the music confused me until I considered where the film is set. Stowaway is set entirely in space, aboard a ship bound for Mars, and it could be that Bertelmann had it in his mind to back up the interstellar background of the film with music that fit the location. After all, there’s something about space that can generate a lot of musical grace and beauty, and this film is surely no exception. It could also be that the composer wanted to remind viewers that in the grand scheme of things this conflict is barely a blip in the cosmos (or I could be overthinking it entirely). Most likely of all the options is the possibility that Bertelmann wanted the score to backup the story, but not overwhelm it with sheer depth of volume, as some film scores have been known to do.
I really enjoyed listening to the soundtrack for Stowaway. It really subverted my expectations for what I thought this movie would sound like but in the end it was really enjoyable. In some places it actually reminded me a little bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey with some of the more quiet tracks. If you get the chance to listen to the Stowaway soundtrack separate from the movie, I highly recommend doing so.
Favorite Spot on the Ship
How Much Oxygen
Setting Up the Algae
It’s Literally My Job
Can I Take His Place?
I Was in the Fire
Can You Talk?
What Did You Do?
The Algae Are Dead
Climbing the Tethers
On the Kingfisher
More Than Enough Oxygen
I Will Go
Climbing the Tethers Alone
Into the Solar Storm
Let me know what you think of Stowaway’s soundtrack (and the film) in the comments below and have a great day!
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to speak with film composer Benji Merrison about his work on the film SAS: Red Notice. The film is based on Andy McNab’s novel of the same name and follows a Special Forces operator who comes face-to-face with an army of mercenaries who are intending to blow up the Channel Tunnel.
Benji Merrison is an award-winning composer who went on to obtain a BA (Hons) in Music and an MSc in Music Technology from York University. He also studied Jazz Piano with Howard Riley at Goldsmiths University. His selected credits include SAS: Red Notice, BBC Green Planet, General Magic, Dynasties 2, and Victoria.
I hope you enjoy our conversation about SAS: Red Notice.
How did you get started as a film composer?
Thank you for having me along Becky.
As a child, I grew up with a lot of music around. My Dad had a great vinyl collection and played folk guitar a lot. My mum played piano and so there was an upright in the house. I started getting really into the piano when I was probably five or six. I got a bit obsessed just trying things out to see what sounded good. I spent ages just working out little tunes and things, and then took piano lessons with a local teacher. When I was about eight I got hold of a Roland Juno 6, which blew my mind – I couldn’t believe all the sounds it could make and used to make up imaginary stories in my head as I cluelessly messed around with the knobs and sliders. Funny now, looking back, as it is such a simple synth. I still have it.
Fast forward a few years, and I went on to study classical music, and then a Master’s degree in Music Technology. After working for a few years in motion graphics & audiovisual arts, I started suggesting to clients that I could do the music as well as the motion graphics. So, I started out with small jobs really, which got bigger and bigger over the years.
It’s been a wild ride so far, a very organic process. To be honest, at the start I didn’t even know you could get paid to be a composer, I just muscled to the industry because I thought ‘I can do that, let’s see what happens.’
How did you get brought in to work on SAS: Red Notice?
SAS: Red Notice has been a wonderful project to be a part of, and landing the job was quite a chance thing really. I met the music supervisor at an event in LA and we got chatting about the project and the fact they needed a British composer. Of course, I put on my most over-the-top British accent at this point! She put me in touch with the producer, Laurence Malkin. Larry rang me up and said, ‘can you be in Amsterdam tomorrow for a screening?’ Slightly flustered, the ‘yes man’ in me kicked in and I was indeed there the next day (this was pre-Covid of course). I think my enthusiasm must have impressed him because after some composition tests to picture, I got the job!
Where did you start with putting the themes together? How did you decide what this film should sound like?
I’m quite an improvisatory composer, so I often approach themes and writing in general by simply jamming and seeing what feels right. At the start of the scoring process, I had a couple of these improv style sessions with Larry Malkin (producer) and Peter Clarke (music editor). I had a cool Cubase template prepared with loads of interesting instruments all stacked in a session, so I could go from an intimate piano sound to a full orchestra with mad synths and pulses mixed in. I had programmed some midi controllers to do all sorts of things to each instrument, including pitch bending the different layers (some going up, some going down in pitch). In one of these sessions, we were trying to work out what kind of themes would work for the lead character Tom Buckingham, and also what musical device we could use to represent the unfolding of his psychopathic nature. I started off jamming a simple ‘English Country Garden’ style riff, whatever fell under my fingers easily, which became the ‘Tom Buckingham’ theme. I then gradually wigged out more and more with the midi controllers until this massive, intense, swarming orchestral sound hammered out! Larry and Pete were like ‘What was that?!! That sounds like psychopathy right there!’ This developed into cues such as ‘Emergency Response,’ ‘Two Psychopaths,’ and the end of ‘Finding the Player.’ As a matter of fact, quite a bit of the score came from this one improvisation. I find that funny and inspiring.
Did you create themes for specific characters?
Yes, for some. In particular, there are very clear themes, as mentioned for Tom Buckingham and also for The Black Swans. There are also other thematic elements such as the ‘Church of Psycopathy’ theme we first hear in the scenes in reel one with Will Lewis. However, it was very clear from the beginning that these themes should gradually subvert, morph and degrade over the course of the movie. It seemed like the most ideal way to represent psychopathy. In addition, I took ideas of those themes, and, for example, shortened them into an ostinato figure, or played them in retrograde or inverted, that kind of thing. Deconstruction was a big part of the process. This happened both on a thematic level, but also on a sonic and instrumental level. Over the course of the movie, I would take something like a timpani or snare (which very obviously says ‘militaristic’) and I would run them through various effects chains or spectral processing, to become something very new but derived from the same source. I like this kind of idea, but only when it means something to underline the narrative. In this case, it was a logical and proportionate approach. I also think it worked.
What is your overall process for choosing which instruments to include (or exclude) in the overall mix?
I don’t have a consistent process, it will vary for each score. I always do a lot of exploring, trying all sorts of things out to see what feels right to picture and for the character or storyline. I often like to pair one familiar or obvious piece of instrumentation with another which is more surprising or arresting.
This way the viewers feel a sense of familiarity in one sense, and another which has a degree of tension, surprise, or questioning. This can be a very useful musical device, once clearly defined. You can use the relative push and pull of this pairing to play with the viewer’s emotions, and invoke more nuanced compound emotional states.
Were there any musical ideas you tried only to find they weren’t working out?
Oh yes, many.
In fact, for me, it is a huge part of creating a successful score. I think as you gain more experience, you develop the professional maturity to ditch an idea (however good it is or however long it has taken to write) if it isn’t right for the film. I used to feel anguish at this, but now I find it quite fun to destroy a carefully crafted idea. The thing is, sometimes you learn more from the things that ‘aren’t right’ as you do from the things that ‘are right’. It all feeds into the score as part of the process.
I like to float above the feelings around the creation of music, to hear the music objectively, just as the audience will. Things are either right or not right in that sense. The only important thing is the emotional response of the audience to the film, my own feelings are irrelevant.
To aid this I don’t like to spend long in any stint working on cues, or writing themes. I’ve found over the years that the longer I spend on things, there is a point where I lose perspective and start ‘taking away.’ I like to regularly hear my work as if it wasn’t me who wrote it. That way I am more objective and logical about how others will respond to it.
How long did you have to score the film?
The scoring took place around four months over the late summer/autumn of 2019. It was a pretty intense, but hugely satisfying experience. The recording sessions took place in the Hall at AIR studios in winter 2019, just before the pandemic hit.
It’s amazing to think of the intensity of that period, especially given that the release was put back so far due to the events of 2020. I’m grateful it worked out this way, as it meant we got all the recording sessions and mix completed in time before the restrictions came in.
What was the collaboration process like? How much collaboration was there with producer and writer Laurence Malkin on the score?
There was a lot of collaboration. Larry is a very hands-on producer and likes to be involved with all aspects of the film. I really enjoyed that about the process. We got into a great pattern, where he would come over to the studio every weekend and we’d spend the whole day going through two or three reels, chatting through each shot and working out how we could impact and add value to the storyline through the score. I’d then spend the week revising things, and repeat the process. This all created a score that was very tight and precise to the picture.
Whilst that sounds like it could be a bit regimented, it was quite a liberating and structured way to approach the score, which I really enjoyed. I had plenty of time to experiment and free-flow my ideas, but I had that focus point and second opinion so that I didn’t get too bogged down with a particular idea or section.
In this sense, I’d say it was one of the most collaborative scores that I have completed to date.
Do you have a favorite track? Or any detail that you hope audiences notice?
Ha! There are quite a few actually. A firm favourite of mine (and others who have seen the film so far) is ‘3m23 Emergency Response.’ It’s a real action romp type of cue, but also combines a perfect blend of the distorted, fragmented Tom Buckingham theme along with the ‘Psychopathic String’ signature lines. It is basically ‘orchestral heavy metal’ masquerading as a soundtrack cue, which really appeals to me!
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me about SAS: Red Notice!
Cheers Becky, thanks for having me!
I wanted to say thank you one more time to Benji Merrison for taking the time to speak with me about his work on SAS: Red Notice! I hope you all enjoyed this interview!
WaterTower Music has released the soundtrack to New Line Cinema’s explosive new movie Mortal Kombat, which brings to life the intense action of the blockbuster video game franchise in all its brutal glory, pitting the all-time, fan-favorite champions against one another in the ultimate, no-holds-barred, gory battle that pushes them to their very limits. The Mortal Kombat (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) contains all new score by Golden Globe-, Emmy-, and Grammy-nominated composer Benjamin Wallfisch (IT and IT Chapter 2, Shazam, Blade Runner: 2049 [w/ Hans Zimmer]). It features 24 tracks by Wallfisch, who interpreted the film’s themes and emphasized the story’s hard-driving, visceral action through his music.
Director Simon McQuoid discussed working with Wallfisch on the score:
“Ben and I both knew that we needed to use the classic Immortals track ‘Techno Syndrome’ as source material for the entire score of Mortal Kombat. But along with that we knew that an updated elevated version of the song also needed to be created. And Ben certainly delivered! I am so excited by this new 2021 version of the track, when I first heard it, it blew my mind. Actually, Ben kind of blew my mind on a daily basis through the making of this film, so we can all thank Benjamin Wallfisch for his genius and passion in creating ‘Techno Syndrome 2021’.
Wallfisch further elaborated:
“When I was invited to come on board ‘Mortal Kombat,’ I was very aware of the responsibility that comes with scoring a franchise so deeply embedded in pop culture and with such a passionate fanbase. My first question was what can we do with ‘Techno Syndrome,’ a piece of music so much part of the DNA of the game and the original movies? What motifs could be reinvented and blown up to a full-scale symphonic sound world in the score, and might there be room for a full reinvention of the whole song as an EDM single in 2021? A huge thank you to The Immortals for giving us their blessing to reimagine their classic track in this way, as a celebration of the world of Mortal Kombat and its fans, and of the uplifting power of Electronic Dance Music, which the original did so much to light the fuse of 30 years ago.”
I have rarely experienced such a turnaround as what I’ve felt regarding Mortal Kombat. Having minimal contact with the video game series (and the one time I made an effort to play not going particularly well), I was initially on the fence and unable to emotionally invest in the idea of the film at all. But then THAT trailer came out, and I was intrigued. Then came the chance to listen to the soundtrack ahead of its release on April 23…
And I think my brain exploded.
I may have the bad habit of using superlatives too often in my reviews, but please believe me when I say Benjamin Wallfisch’s score for Mortal Kombat is one of the best I’ve ever heard. This isn’t just a soundtrack for an action film, this is an entire world realized through sound and melody and I am here for every last minute of it. During the music for the fight scenes (it’s not hard to tell which ones those are) you can feel every punch and every attack with brutal clarity. For the music alone, I am now itching to see these fight scenes in their proper context, because I need to know how this music connects to the action. And it’s such beautiful music, it has what I like to call “height” which is to say it expands and creates the illusion of space as it goes along. You can literally hear the music grow and soar in certain places, which helps to create the idea of a world existing within the music.
However as I said there’s far more to this soundtrack then just action. Wallfisch also demonstrates a keen ability to take the music in the opposite direction, to slow it down and allow the audience to take a collective breath. That’s an important thing for any film: if the soundtrack is just GO GO GO constantly, it can eventually begin to grate on the ear and become quite tiresome. But the music for Mortal Kombat isn’t like that at all (much to my surprise). There’s plenty of action to go around, but also more than enough moments of calm and relative quiet, though it is more often than not the “calm before the storm” type of quiet. There’s an impressive amount of balancing going on between the two extremes of loud and quiet, and I love it all.
Another detail I like about this soundtrack? The track list doesn’t give too much away regarding plot details. In fact, if I’m reading the track list correctly, most of these tracks appear to be themes for specific characters, which is great because I love thematic-based soundtracks (when done properly). Even so, very little is given away in terms of plot, and that’s great. I’ve seen too many soundtracks where you can suss out the plot of a film from the track list names alone, but you can’t do that here.
I could go on and on about the music for Mortal Kombat, but I’ll wrap it up by saying that listening to this soundtrack has rocketed this film to the top of my must see list for 2021 (and six months ago I couldn’t imagine saying that). If you get the chance, you need to check out this soundtrack independently of the film itself, it is that good.
Techno Syndrome 2021 (Mortal Kombat)
Kano v Reptile
The Great Protector
Sub-Zero v Cole Young
I Am Scorpion
We Fight as One
Get Over Here
Let me know what you think about Mortal Kombat (and its soundtrack) in the comments below and have a great day!
Milan Records released on February 12 the Minari (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) with music by award-winning composer Emile Mosseri (The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Kajillionaire). Available everywhere now, the album features score music written by Mosseri for director Lee Isaac Chung’s family drama.
Minari follows a Korean-American family that moves to an Arkansas farm in search of their own American Dream. The family home changes completely with the arrival of their sly, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother. Amidst the instability and challenges of this new life in the rugged Ozarks, Minari shows the undeniable resilience of family and what really makes a home.
Emile Mosseri is an award-winning composer, pianist, singer and producer who has quickly made a name for himself in the world of film music with his song-based approach to crafting emotionally-stirring compositions. Mosseri made his feature film score debut with Sundance standout The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019), garnering extensive critical acclaim from LA Times, Pitchfork, Entertainment Weekly and more. A breakout moment for the young composer, the sweepingly romantic score cemented Mosseri as a sought-after collaborator, next joining director Miranda July for her comedic crime drama Kajillionaire (2020).
Of the soundtrack, composer Emile Mosseri had the following to say:
“Working with Lee Isaac Chung on Minari was the purest collaboration. Isaac made a gorgeous film about his childhood, and it was an exciting challenge to try and musically personify something as visceral and emotionally-loaded as childhood memory. He invited me into his filmmaking process at the script stage which was a first for me and a dream. I’m grateful that my music found a home in his profoundly honest, vulnerable and deeply poetic film.”
“In July of 2019, five days before production began on Minari, Emile sent me musical sketches for the score,” adds Minari director Lee Isaac Chung. “He wrote, ‘I like the idea of the score having a warm beating heart but also some dissonance and struggle, dipping between those two worlds seamlessly.’ As I listened to the pieces, I was in awe of how he had captured this poetic intent perfectly. From the start, his music contained all the things I hoped for in the film: warmth, heart, dissonance, and struggle. I listened to the songs so often during production that the world of the film contains the songs, and the world of the songs contains the film. As you listen to his brilliant score, you will, in his words, be dipping between those two worlds seamlessly.”
I’ve heard a lot about Minari from my fellow critics on Twitter, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from the soundtrack as, to my shame, I haven’t seen The Last Black Man in San Francisco or Kajillionaire. As a result, I haven’t heard any of Mosseri’s music before, so this was my first time hearing anything he composed.
To my delight, the music for Minari is deeply touching and rich. The story is set in the Ozarks, deep in the heart of America and it shows in this beautiful music. Unlike other soundtracks I’ve heard this year, Mosseri’s music for Minari seems largely content to just “be” and serve as a backdrop for what’s happening in the story. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this either. More than once I’ve heard a soundtrack that has too much going on and distracts me from the story (or worse, is better than the story itself). It’s a great change of pace to have music that’s so tranquil and slower-paced. It reminded me more than once of a deep river: it appears smooth and quiet, but it’s hiding a lot going on underneath (not a bad metaphor for the film itself given my understanding of the plot).
My particular favorites from this soundtrack are Big Country and Garden of Eden. Both, particularly Garden of Eden, gave me the strong impression of the wilderness and untamed nature. The music flows all around you, giving no hints as to where it takes place in the film. That’s another thing I like, unlike some soundtracks where you can pretty much follow the film through the music (The Invisible Manwas one example of this), Minari gives no such hints. Instead we’re treated to an almost concert-like string of music that I took great pleasure in listening to.
Milan Records today announces the November 13 release of Ammonite (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) with music by Dustin O’Halloranand Volker Bertelmann. Available for preorder now, the album features music written by the duo for director Francis Lee’s critically-acclaimed film starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. The nine-track album features music co-composed by O’Halloranand Bertelmann, who previously teamed on the Academy® Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe® Award-nominated score for 2016’s Lion, A Christmas Carol and more.
Of the soundtrack, composers O’Halloran and Bertelmann had the following to say:
“Writing music for Ammonite was a smooth and natural process. We already knew from director Francis Lee’s previous work this would be a score full of emotion and restraint. Because the film is a period piece, it also meant finding a tone and instrumentation that would work in this world. The overall length of music recorded is somewhat shorter than our other scores; therefore, we used many natural sounds, so when the pieces arrive, it feels meaningful. We decided for a small chamber group of strings and piano as our palette and worked from there. Francis’s original idea was to find a single piece of music playing in parts and come to a full suite at the end. In some ways, this was how we approached it, save for a few moments of score specific to the scene. We found the strong acting that both Kate and Saoirse brought meant we needed to offer space, and try not to overstep. The last piece of music in the film, during the museum scene, represented a full understanding of the emotions that played out between the two characters.”
Ammonite tells the story of acclaimed self-taught paleontologist Mary Anning, who works alone on the wild and brutal Southern English coastline of Lyme Regis in the 1840s. The days of her famed discoveries behind her, she now hunts for common fossils to sell to rich tourists to support herself and her ailing widowed mother. When one such tourist, Roderick Murchison, arrives in Lyme on the first leg of a European tour, he entrusts Mary with the care of his young wife Charlotte, who is recuperating from a personal tragedy. Mary, whose life is a daily struggle on the poverty line, cannot afford to turn him down but, proud and relentlessly passionate about her work, she clashes with her unwanted guest. They are two women from utterly different worlds. Yet despite the chasm between their social spheres and personalities, Mary and Charlotte discover they can each offer what the other has been searching for: the realization that they are not alone. It is the beginning of a passionate and all-consuming love affair that will defy all social bounds and alter the course of both lives irrevocably.
AMMONITE (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK)TRACKLISTING –
Aria – Peter Gregson
The soundtrack for Ammonite is available for preorder now and will be released on November 13, 2020.
It’s been announced by Milan Records that the original motion picture soundtrack for Wendy will be released on February 28, 2020. It will be released the same day the film comes out, and you can view the trailer for Wendy below:
The album features music co-written by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin. The album is the latest in a series of scoring collaborations for the duo that includes both Zeitlin’s own critically-acclaimed, breakout film Beasts of the Southern Wild as well as additional titles Brimstone & Glory and Mediterranea.
Of the soundtrack, Wendy director and co-composer BENH ZEITLIN has this to say:
We set out to create a score the charges straight at you, with all the energy and reckless abandon of a toddler on a rampage. The themes are meant to feel timeless and cathartic, iconic yet dizzying. We wanted to take the ragtag back yard orchestra concept from Beasts of the Southern Wild and explode it to new heights.
A single from the new soundtrack, “The Story of Wendy” has been made available already. You can listen to it below:
“The Story of Wendy” is a beautiful piece of music. It starts off with some whimsical strings but quickly grows in power, adding in brass and the rest of the orchestra. If this piece is representative of the soundtrack as a whole, then Romer and Zeitlin have indeed taken the story of Peter Pan and Wendy in a completely different direction than anything we’ve seen before (and that’s really not a bad thing). I’m excited to hear what the rest of the soundtrack is like just based on this single track. Romer and Zeitlin really have gone for a timeless feel here as they said, and that’s the type of feeling you want in any story dealing with Peter Pan and not growing up.
Enjoy this sneak peek at the Wendy soundtrack and be sure to check it out when it becomes available on February 28, 2020.
WENDY (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK) TRACKLISTING –
1. Sneak Away
2. Straight On ’till Morning
3. The Haunted Train
4. Into The Night
6. The Mother
7. Never Grow Up
8. The Old Hand
9. Where Lost Boys Go
10. Want To Fly?
11. To Grow Up is a Great Adventure
12. Battle for Mañana
13. I Love My Mother
14. Counting the Days
15. The Story of Wendy
16. Once There Was a Mother
Let me know what you think about “The Story of Wendy” in the comments below and have a great day!