Time and the Loki Variant: Natalie Holt Confronts the God of Mischief
Scoring STAR WARS: THE BAD BATCH: Kevin Kiner & Sons
Interviews by Randall D. Larson
Overviews: Soundtrack Reviews:
CABO BLANCO/Goldsmith (La-La Land), FREE GUY/Beck (Hollywood Records), HERO MODE/Brown (MovieScore Media), THE LAST FRONTIER/Poteyenko (KeepMoving), THE PRINTING & BEYOND THE NIGHT/Gustafson (Caldera), RAISED BY WOLVES S1/Streitenfeld & Frost (WaterTower Music, SOMEWHERE IN TIME Expanded/Barry (La-La Land), STILLWATER/M Danna (Back Lot Music), STORM WARNING/CRAWLSPACE/Blanks (Howlin’ Wolf), WHAT IF…/Karpman (Hollywood Records), YOLK MAN/Pantawit Kiangsiri (MovieScore Media)
Plus Film & TV Music, Film Music Books, Documentary, Vinyl Soundtracks & Game Music News
Classically-trained touring violinist and composer scoring British shorts, documentaries, television series, and feature films since 2007, Natalie Holt deservedly leapt into the spotlight of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe when she won the assignment to score Marvel’s LOKI miniseries. With a variety of bold gravitas, uniquely textured sound design merged with classical orchestral instrumentations, wiry synth patterns, and a judicious use of that classic, manually-controlled electronic instrument best known for its use in 1950s science fiction classics: the Theremin, Holt crafted a powerful, thematic-driven orchestral and hybrid musical score that was the perfect musical accompaniment for this third MCU television series (following WANDAVISION and FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER). When Marvel approved my request to interview Natalie about her LOKI score, I made it a point to review more than a dozen previous interviews she’d done on the subject in recent weeks, hoping to avoid having her cover too much repeated ground and hoping to provide new questions she might find stimulating, in the time allotted to me. I’m not sure if I succeeded in gleaning wholly new details, but I am quite grateful for her taking the time out to chat with me about scoring LOKI and perhaps providing some new answers that will similarly stimulate readers. - rdl (See also my review of her LOKI soundtrack, in my July-August Soundtrax column, here.)
Q: What was most challenging for you in starting out composing LOKI?
Natalie Holt: I felt like it took me a bit of time to get used to the different level of pressure, and the number of people in the meetings. You’d log in for a meeting and there’d be like twenty people, because there’s five music editors and producers and head of post-production! Usually it’s just me and the director, with maybe the producer around. But actually it turned out those people were just there to facilitate, and in the end it was just me and the director – all those people were there to support the process. It took a bit of time to get used to that, working on a bigger scale, because it was the biggest job I’d ever done!
Q: Once you had the job, where did you begin and how did the score develop from those early steps?
Natalie Holt: I had to write a suite. Because of COVID, production had been halted and Kate Herron, the director, had gone back to film where they’d had to stop. So we had lots of chats, and I was writing the suite while she was filming some of the stuff with Jonathan Majors (He Who Remains/Kang) in Episode 6, and she was saying “I think you should see this. I think this will be really useful for you to know where we’re going.” So she sent me the dailies of what they were shooting, of his performance. Then I came up with the Loki theme and the TVA theme (which is actually Kang’s theme), and then the Mobius theme and Sylvie’s variance theme, and I put them all into a 12-minute suite. I recorded lots of live instruments in there as well, and then processed it the way I intended it because I wanted it to sound a bit tough and dirty and analog-y – lots of tape machine stuff and ticking clocks and things like that. Then that suite got presented to the three – Kevin Feige, Victoria Alonso, and Louis D’Esposito – and they approved the suite. That was great, because once those themes had been approved that meant the style had been approved, and that made scoring across the episodes much more straightforward. For example, if it was a scene between Mobius and Loki, then I had a starting point where the themes would be coming from. It felt like a really good process. I hadn’t worked like that before on a TV series, so it was great.
Listen to Natalie Holt’s “TVA Theme” from LOKI:
Q: While Loki never had a theme in previous MCU films, in approaching his personality, did his previous iterations influence where you were going for his music?
Natalie Holt: Definitely. Very often when you’re reading a script for something that hasn’t existed before, then you’re kind of stabbing in the dark. You don’t know how the actor’s going to play it and how it all comes together. But with LOKI, I had all these films I could watch to get an idea of how he played it and get into his character. So I thought I had a head start on creating his theme.
Listen to LOKI’s Theme:
Q: How did you treat Mobius and Ravonna, musically? You’ve said you felt they had a connection of some kind.
Natalie Holt: Yeah. Ravonna’s theme came out of Mobius’ theme. Her’s was a version played on organ that was related to his theme. I felt that they did have a friendship and a connection, and their themes should exist together. That happened as I was going along – I didn’t have Ravonna’s theme worked out in the suite.
Q: How would you describe those themes?
Natalie Holt: The organ was her instrument, because it has this power and authority. She’s like this judge figure – and it was quite high as well, which played into her feminine nature, so it felt right for her. And then Mobius has this electric, kind of ‘90s wah-wah guitar to go with his love of the jet skies and all things ‘90s!
Q: I like what you did for Hunter B-15 in giving her a theme of her own. Would you describe what you did there?
Natalie Holt: Her theme was quite multi-faceted. Kate had said “I think you should look at this scene in Episode 4 where she has that flashback memory – where Sylvie gives her the memory of her past.” So that scene was sent to me very early on as well, and I wrote that. I felt that was the sensitive side of her, like her conversion. Then she also had this kind of rhythmic power – she came in and took over the time theater and helped Loki and Sylvie in that fight sequence in Episode 4 against the Time Keepers. She breaks in and she’s the reason that they’re saved. So B15’s a very important, strong character. I wanted her theme to be rhythmic and driving, and it’s got this processed voice sliding in it, as well.
Q: The development of your finished score is quite precise. How was the time frame for you in getting it all done?
Natalie Holt: The MCU is quite new to television, and they don’t want it to be like a lesser product, so the idea was to treat this like a six-hour film. Usually with TV you have less time to work on a score – you get more time with a movie. But on this we were lucky enough to have the amount of time you’d have to score a movie. On a movie you often just work on the thing as a whole, you don’t split it into episodes, so approaching it like it was a film was a good steer from the producers.
Q: I’d like to ask about scoring the climax of Episode 5, where you’ve got this mass of music, a little bit of Wagner, and this tremendous orchestral force going on as they’re trying to get through the storm into that citadel… How would you describe that music?
Natalie Holt: I had the Loki theme from the pitch that I did to get the job, and I wanted to have a flourish over the top that calls to classical repertoire. I wanted to play it like he’s like Salieri to Thor’s Mozart, if that makes any sense! I tried some ornaments or flourishes from Mozart, but it didn’t quite work, and then I thought of Wagner and “Ride of the Valkyries!” Having something in there that called to classical repertoire felt really appropriate. That was there in the theme, but the idea of using it in it’s full form for classic Loki when he’s building Asgard was a thing that came to me later on. That wasn’t a plan – but after I watched Episode 5, I thought we could try that – and then Kevin and Kate were saying, “Yeah, give it a try… We’ve been feeding this thing the whole time, and he’s a version of Loki, so, yeah!” and I went ahead with it.
Listen to the track “Classic Builds” from LOKI episode 5, when Classic Loki builds Asgard to distract Alioth from Loki and Sylvie:
Q: What can you tell me about Episode 6, with your treatment for He Who Remains and how you brought the score around full circle back to a rather nervous TVA theme at the end?
Natalie Holt: When I watched the He Who Remains sequence, where he was giving his backstory, I had this idea that I wanted to bring in all the melodic material and treat it like a requiem, because it’s like his final explanation of why things are the way they are, before he’s killed. I presented that as an idea, and I said I think it would be great to have a choir because he sort of sang “Amen” in the middle of his speech – and I timed the requiem to have this full choir accompanying him as he sang that. It gave him a sort of majesty, I think, which is deserving considering he’s the Master at the center of the universe. And the way he played that part – he’s on the verge of madness the whole time – I decided to take all the material, treat it like it was musique concrete, and do a sort of atonal version of the Loki theme. It was fun to have the license to go to town and do something really different in Episode 6.
Listen to the track “He Who Remains” from LOKI episode 6:
Q: How did you treat the various other Lokis that were there?
Natalie Holt: There’s sort of a cheekiness when they go to the underground lair. I used these pots and pans and these funny, swelling chords. I wanted to help give it that quirky, cheekiness I suppose, because it just seemed like such a mad world and so fun that there’s an alligator version of Loki, so I didn’t want it to be too serious and score “Oh My God they’re in The Void!” It was more like, “They’re in the Void” but there was a light-heartedness to it.
Q: Did you use any of Loki’s theme to cover them, as well?
Natalie Holt: Yes. That sequence where it goes down through the ground into the lair and you see Thor jumping around with a frog in a jam jar, that’s a version of the Loki theme, and as he looks over to the throne in the underground lair, it transitions into Sylvie, and goes into Sylvie’s theme. I was always trying to have the different themes underlying scenes when you’re moving between characters, as much as possible.
Q: The score has a mixture of all sorts of things which I really think is interesting. You’ve got hi-tech electronics, Charlie Draper’s Theremin, Scandinavian instruments played by the Lodestar Trio, lo-fi analog treatments, a bit of Wagner as you mentioned, and a wisp of Alan Silvestri’s Avengers theme, all giving the score a fascinating, shall we say, variance. How did these elements both contrast and provide cohesion across the show’s musical narrative?
Natalie Holt: I think it was the themes that provided the cohesion, because I had those kind of quite simple themes for each character, and then the coloration and the instrumentation of the themes was giving it the variation, using a cheeky version or serious – like when Loki is walking down the corridor after Mobius is pruned and he thinks his friend is dead; that was a really tragic version of the Loki theme. Then some times I’d invert the theme, or like we said in Episode 6, do a really atonal presentation of the theme. So it was the theme that gave the score cohesion and the instruments that gave it the color.
Q: Final question: Is there anything about scoring LOKI that nobody else has thought to ask yet, that you’d like to share?
Natalie Holt: My goodness! Okay, I don’t think I’ve told anybody this, but Victoria Alonso rang me after Episode 5, and said, about trying to diversify and give people opportunities in our industry where we wouldn’t have had opportunities before, that she just felt so proud of the fact that I’d risen to the opportunity that I was given. That was really cool of her. And Louis D’Esposito rang as well and he said he was “in tears” when he watched Episode 5 when Kid Loki passes the dagger over to Loki, he said he loved that cue and he just wanted to ring and thank me for my work on the show. So those are two things nobody’s asked me – what the execs said to me when they rang!
Watch the scene where “Kid Loki gives Loki a dagger” from Marvel’s YouTube page:
Thanks to Alix Becq and Jana Davidoff at Rhapsody PR for facilitating this interview, and to Marvel for making it happen. Special thanks to Kelsey Hamilton for Zoom set up assistance, and especially Natalie Holt for a gracious discussion about her experiences in LOKI’s musical world, from the cloistered TVA to the expansive Void. The text has been slightly edited for clarity. -rdl
STAR WARS: THE BAD BATCH is a spin-off of animated series THE CLONE WARS, focused on the elite, eccentric members of Clone Force 99. The series premiered on May 4, 2021 and ran for 16 episodes until August 13. A second season is set to premiere in 2022. Composer Kevin Kiner (who scored THE CLONE WARS series as well as STAR WARS: REBELS) continues to keep the STAR WARS musical tradition as he scores THE BAD BATCH. The “Bad Batch Theme” was composed for the first episode of the final season of THE CLONE WARS, and is of course carried into the new series as its main theme. The series features voice actors Dee Bradley Baker, who voices all of the clone troopers in the series, including the members of Clone Force 99/the Bad Batch (Hunter, Wrecker, Tech, Crosshair, and Echo) and Captain Rex; with Ming-Na Wen as Fennec Shand, an elite mercenary and sniper, Stephen Stanton as Grand Moff Tarkin, a high-ranking Imperial officer, Andrew Kishino as Saw Gerrera, a freedom fighter with ties to the Rebel Alliance, and Michelle Ang as Omega, a mysterious girl from Kamino who joins the Bad Batch on their missions.
“I don't ever want to be, like, Mini-Me John Williams. I don’t think there’s any composer – film composer or composer on earth – who’s as good as him. I’m always looking at what he does and listening to what he does and finding little tricks, but I have to put my own voice to it.” - Kevin Kiner, undated video interview at starwars.com
Kiner, who also scores DC’s TITANS and THE DOOM PATROL as well as Netflix’s NARCOS: MEXICO and the new animated series based on Philippine folklore, TRESE, brought in his sons to assist him in managing these deadlines, starting with Sean Kiner during THE CLONE WAR’s fourth season and bringing Dean Kiner in that series’ seventh season, assisting their dad in scoring these shows. I had the opportunity to chat with all three of them – Sean together with Kevin, and Dean the following day – about their experiences and challenges scoring THE BAD BATCH. -rdl
Sean and Dean Kiner
Q: How did the three of you come together as you got involved with THE BAD BATCH?
Sean Kiner: Honestly it was a pretty seamless transition between the last season of CLONE WARS and BAD BATCH, since The Bad Batch were in the last season of CLONE WARS. We just picked up where we left off there.
Dean Kiner: I was off in college so I didn’t start until the series came back for the last season of CLONE WARS.
Q: What was the process as far as how you interacted with each other to create the scores?
Dean Kiner: I grew up with STAR WARS because of my dad, and I also grew up with my dad, learning the ways he approaches themes, the way that he works. We sometimes were on our own a lot, but when it gets to be something really big, especially that last season of CLONE WARS, we were really trying to throw ideas around and share things and make sure that we were all collaborating on it. We usually bring in a lot of different ideas. I know that Sean and I have been getting into a lot of different synthesizers and analog synths and things like that, so we ended up helping to bring that from a lot of stuff we’ve been working on like DOOM PATROL. We tried to bring that into that last season of CLONE WARS as much as we could – mostly under the guidance of Dave Filoni [creator/showrunner]. Actually a lot of that ended up being his idea.
Kevin Kiner: We’d written a cool theme for The Bad Batch when they were introduced in CLONE WARS, but I don’t think we knew they were getting their own series at that point.
Sean Kiner: We 100% didn’t know they were getting their own series. We thought that they were just going to get the four episode arc and then maybe show up one or two times as a cameo in later seasons of whatever came next. But we just liked them to much that we ended up giving them a theme – it was a good thing that we did, when they got their own show!
Dean Kiner: Sean was just so excited about their characters when they showed up in CLONE WARS Season 7 that he came up with a theme and said, “Well, that will be fun with this handful of episodes, but then we’ll never use it again!” Then something like a month or two later they came back to us and said “We’re actually going to make a series with those guys!” and we said “Perfect! We’ve got a whole theme for them and everything!”
Q: When BAD BATCH became its own series, what was unique, musically, from what you’d done before?
Kevin Kiner: I think one of the things that Dave Filoni talked about were the Bad Batch being a band of misfits, similar to THE DIRTY DOZEN or KELLY’S HEROES, which was used as an example – or THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, that kind of thing. Part of what I really dug was going back and studying those scores and listening to them. If you listen, a lot of my sneaking around/caper kind of music is a nod to those old composers – Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rozsa, and the cats from back then.
Sean Kiner: The challenge came down to: how do we make that stuff STAR WARS still, so it’s coming from a different kind of archetype?
Q: How did you come up with the Bad Batch theme for CLONE WARS, and were there any modifications to the theme for THE BAD BATCH series?
Sean Kiner: They had such a fun entrance in CLONE WARS, a bunch of hotshots flying in, and we knew that we had to have something brassy and bombastic. We were thinking like, what is militaristic that we can do that we can pull from these things like KELLY’S HEROES, but what does militaristic sound like in the STAR WARS universe? We ended up playing around with the brass and coming up with melodies that way, but then the counterpoint was very STAR WARS- and John Williams-esque. It’s kind of like the call-and-response between the different sections of brass.
Kevin Kiner: When you think about the main title of STAR WARS, it has that call-and-answer kind of thing, so that’s a very STAR WARS thing that we did with BAD BATCH as well. I had that call-and-response; it was in a little different way but still a similar device.
Listen to The Bad Batch Theme :
Q: Kevin, how did you initially bring Sean and Dean into the scoring process?
Kevin Kiner: I’ve been doing this for like 38 years. I started with George Lucas and Dave Filoni, I think, in 2006, and that’s a lot of STAR WARS music to write, and just for a career, I’ve been really busy for a really long time. I think it really would be easy to get burnt out after writing as much music as I have written in my life. Sean and Dean, independently, over the years, started composing – for instance, we were helping out GHOST IN THE SHELL, and that film was highly chaotic and we were brought in to write a bunch of action cues. There was an action cue that I really wanted to do, and it was a cue that either Sean or Dean (I don’t remember) really wanted to do also, so I said “Ok we’ll both do it. This is a studio film so they’re probably going to make us do a dozen rewrites anyhow, so we’ll submit two versions! I’ll do mine, and then I’ll also submit yours.” The studio wound up taking their’s! I didn’t get offended at all, it was a great validation to me that I’m not just a proud dad. There’s not this nepotism thing – although I guess strictly speaking it is, but it’s not for those reasons; the reason is they’re really talented.
This happened on HELL ON WHEELS all the time, we’d be with the producers and they were like “Wow I just loved that one thing!” and I said “Well, that was Dean who did that one thing!” It happens with Sean, it happens with Dean, they’re just super talented and they take a huge load off of me. Obviously, you can say I trained them, they worked with me, we talk about each other’s cues, I listen to their cues, I have comments, we do changes, they listen to what I’m doing, our templates are very similar and we all work in the same place. Sean recently moved out because he had a baby, but for a very long time we were all at the same studio with three separate work spaces, and there’s a lot of give-and-take. So it was just really natural when we were doing BAD BATCH to go, okay you get the bones of this cue going, and you get the bones of that cue going, and I’ll do this one. I want to do this theme, or somebody else wanted to do that theme. Sean really wanted to do Omega’s Theme and he did a great job on that. And then I’ll hear things in it, or Dean will hear something in it, and say, “Maybe it really should change here, maybe it’s a little too sweet here” and various comments. So it is extremely collaborative and it’s evolved over the years, and it very seldom comes to fisticuffs! [all laugh]
Sean Kiner: It really does make it much more efficient, if anything. It’s really great to instantly have a couple of professional opinions on the piece of music that you just wrote, and then be able to turn it around – instead of having to give it a day to come back with fresh ears. Instantly you can have this opinion. Dean and I grew up loving STAR WARS and so we feel extremely privileged and lucky to be working on this thing. We take it very seriously and try so hard when we’re writing all this stuff. We were talking about it – we were like physically crying when we were scoring the scenes in the finale of BAD BATCH, where Tipoca City is sinking beneath the waves, because we had spent hundreds of hours playing Star Wars:Battlefront as kids, side-by-side blasting clankers. We’d grown up with the movies and seeing this wonderful, unbelievable city and to then have that piece of our childhood sinking before our eyes and having to go over and over and tap into the emotions of the scene, it was a wonderful and very trying experience to score that!
Listen to the track “To the Surface” from THE BAD BATCH Episode 16 (Soundtrack Vol. 2):
Dean Kiner: We definitely play off each other’s excitement levels! Sean tends to get really excited about big moments and I tend to get really excited about dark moments, and our dad also gets really wrapped up in the big moments as well – but he is also really supportive of us and just goes with the flow. Sometimes he’ll hear something and he’ll go, “I need to do this scene” but usually if he sees either Sean or my passion about a specific scene he’ll say, ‘Okay, you guys have got it!”
Q: Sean, what can you tell me about Omega’s theme? How did you come up with that and how did it develop across the season as her character developed?
Sean Kiner: My daughter Raven had just been born when we were tasked with writing the theme, so honestly it was just a lot of that channeling… extremely sleep deprived but out of my mind in love wit this little beacon of hope! We were writing it as the pandemic was happening and it felt like the world was a really dark place, and yet I had all this hope coming out from this little baby girl. I tapped into that emotion and then, obviously, I was sketching things out and bringing it back to Kevin and Dean and showing them things and doing our collaborative process the whole time. But that was where the seed was, for me it felt like here’s Omega, the bright beacon of hope in one of the darker moments in the STAR WARS galaxy – the Empire has just taken over, the Republic has fallen, the future is unclear for the clones. It starts very optimistically – Omega’s out experiencing the galaxy for the first time and then, over the season, it evolves to be a little bit more family-centric, just in its application it was focused on how she was developing a relationship with her found family in the Bad Batch.
Q: How would you describe the theme musically?
Sean Kiner: I just began writing a melody… it’s written as a duet between two lines, and it keeps these diatonic thirds throughout most of it. That’s the A section, and then the B section has got this….
Kevin Kiner: Wasn’t that the B section originally or something? I remember we went back and forth with that a few times.
Sean Kiner: Yeah. Originally, the B section was the part where it would open up into emotionality but we decided that the emotionality should be centered, it should be the main part of the theme, so it became the A section and the B section is more of a Shepherd Tone. I was going for something that would be constantly feeling like it was rising higher and higher and then when it goes back into the A section it feels like that A section is even higher than it was before, so if you just keep going it feels like this endless optimistic musical rise. Then that B section ends up being more of her personal theme. That what plays when she gets her bow for the first time, that what plays when she’s doing things that are heroic, and then the emotional A section ends up developing even more for the family when she was with Wrecker, with Hunter, with any of the Bad Batch progressing her relationship with them.
Listen to “Omega’s Theme” from THE BAD BATCH Soundtrack Album Vol. 1:
Q: Kevin, where there any times when you created individual themes for the members of the Bad Batch? I’m mainly thinking of Crosshair as he separates from them and becomes an adversary.
Kevin Kiner: Yeah, they all have their own vibe. Crosshair’s theme is more of a sound. One of the things I created early as they were doing this BATTLE SIMULATION scene, I was really into that and I wound up bookending it because they do that at the very first episode and I think in the very last episode – I’m sure Brad Rau [director] and Dave Filoni [creator/showrunner] had a great plan to bookend it with that battle simulation. There was kind of a bit of Lalo Schifrin in there, and Lalo Schifrin scored KELLY’S HEROES! There is a bit of that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE vibe about the Bad Batch anyhow, and I like using odd time signatures when I can, so something has a little bit of a hiccup in it, because they’re goofy. They have great skills but they’re a band of misfits, and I think an off time signature can help reinforce that.
Listen to “The Battle Simulation” from THE BAD BATCH Soundtrack Vol. 1:
Dean Kiner: For Crosshair, we ended up really following his journey from start to finish. We weren’t one hundred percent sure where episode 16 was going to end up with him – we didn’t know about his inhibitor chip or whether he was being controlled or not, or who he was in reality by the end of it – so we started with the idea that he’s maybe not going to follow these guys and he might stick with the Empire. From there, as he kept doing everything that he did throughout the season, we followed each hit, and by the end of the season it felt like that was the moment to wholly flesh out his theme.
Q: As you have done with CLONE WARS and REBELS, you’ve been able to utilize a degree of John Williams’ STAR WARS music. With THE BAD BATCH, how did you decide what to use, how to use it, and how much were they allowing you to use those familiar Williams’ pieces in the score?
Kevin Kiner: It’s not so much a matter of them – whoever they are, let’s say the producers at Lucasfilm or Disney or whoever – allowing us. Within reason we can use it anytime we want to, but it becomes, as with anything, a group decision. Like, “is this necessary here?” And so it becomes much of a theoretical discussion. Sean, you were talking about going back to “A New Hope” because of the Storm Trooper thing, do you want to elucidate on that a little bit?
Sean Kiner: Two moments that leap out, at the top of my mind when you talk about using John Williams stuff, were the Kamino Theme, when we’re going back to Kamino in the finale, and the storm trooper motif when we’re discovering the prototype storm troopers. When we’re scoring the prototype storm troopers, we’re using a lot of the timpani and those repeated brass licks. It was an interesting scene because it’s got so much of the pace from A NEW HOPE, so we had to bring the tempo way down and ended up hitting it really differently. But the fans seem to react really positively and definitely recognized it. Then we scored Kamino like John Williams did in ATTACK OF THE CLONES. Honestly, most of the time. it was a collaborative discussion between us and Brad Rau talking about what themes would be appropriate, and where and when to use them. We didn’t use a ton, but I’m happy with the places that we ended up choosing.
Dean Kiner: John Williams’ stuff is just very intimidating. It’s very dense, it’s very smart and artistic, so, yeh, it takes a lot more studying.
Q: How did you guys treat the various villains, musically?
Sean Kiner: That stuff was pretty cool. You did some really cool Cad Bane stuff, when he first shows up it’s such a shock.
Kevin Kiner: Yeah. And there were a couple times in that Cad Bane episode when I’m saying to Brad Rau, “do you really, really want me to go like full-on Clint Eastwood here?” And he’s like “Yeah! Yeah!” And I’m like, “Okay! Let me know what you think, because you just gave me permission!” And it was so fun just to do that.
Sean Kiner: The other two villains that I liked musically are Rampart and Crosshair. Both of their themes developed musically throughout the season. Crosshair was getting darker and darker until the finale, and it starts out with the really hard-hitting synth, but then we turn it into an actual melody when he starts opening up to Hunter about how he feels betrayed by the Bad Batch, how they left him and he feels abandoned by them. So there’s a much more sympathetic sound for that when he’s not being super villainous which grew out of that original dark motif in the synths. And then Rampart kind of went in the opposite direction, because he’s this clean-cut guy, he’s obviously bad but he’s kind of idealistic about the Empire and he’s got this melody that we kept in French horn, and then I think as it started to get darker he started to lose his melody more and more and his music started to sink deeper into the synthetic sound…
Kevin Kiner: …It became more of a sound and not a thing that you could identify as a motif.
Q: Any other character themes that you were involved with that you can describe?
Dean Kiner: Does Cid and all of her bar music count?
Q: Absolutely, yes.
Dean Kiner: We were trying to figure out a way to expand the STAR WARS universe and we realized it would be fun to make a bunch of actual rock band music and explore that. A lot of the times we would conceptualize, “Oh, Omega’s hanging out in Cid’s bar and she’s all bummed out so this would be a song that Omega would choose off the juke box.” So how could we approach this like score but make it a song. And it’s really cool to get to work like that because most of the time you would find a song by a famous rock band or something, but we’re having to be those famous artists in the STAR WARS universe! We had a lot of fun figuring out, like, what would this music sound like, if it’s a rebellion song or something like that… Sean was coming up with all these ideas for backstories, like “Oh, this band used to be a bunch of separatists and they’ve always seen that the Empire and the Republic were corrupt and so they’ve been making this kind of angry music, and they’re trying to have their voices heard.” So we had a lot of fun with different ideas of bands that might be trying to change their world through music.
Listen to “Cid’s Jukebox Mix Vol.1” from THE BAD BATCH soundtrack:
Q: Any other recollections about any particularly challenging or rewarding elements of scoring THE BAD BATCH that you were involved with?
Dean Kiner: I got to have a lot of fun trying to bring back Kamino’s theme. Kevin and Sean were in charge of helping Kamino fall, but I was really excited to bring back the music that was used when we were first introduced to Kamino in ATTACK OF THE CLONES. I was really excited to bring that back and implement it into when Omega and everyone is flying back to save Hunter in episode 16. The last time that we got to play that theme from John Williams was really exciting. As they’re landing it’s so perfect from what was happening in ATTACK OF THE CLONES as Obi-Wan Kenobi is flying down to Kamino and seeing this mysterious place. It was the perfect atmosphere for it and I was excited to implement that theme there.
Kevin Kiner: One of my favorite themes that I’ve ever written for STAR WARS is Hera’s theme [from STAR WARS: REBELS]. And in THE BAD BATCH we visit Hera Syndulla as a young girl [in “Rescue on Ryloth”]. That’s on the soundtrack album (Vol. 2, “Hera’s Plan,”). I was just so happy to be able to use that again. You know how I always try and write a home run, and I feel like Hera’s Theme was one of those for me.
Listen to “Hera Soars” from the STAR WARS: REBELS Soundtrack Album:
Q: Any other high points or challenging moments that you encountered in this first season of THE BAD BATCH?
Kevin Kiner: There was another thing that was really fun – during the climax of the last episode on Kamino there was that underwater tunnel that they were using to escape in, and I wanted to attack that because I wanted to get my inner Debussy going on!
Sean Kiner: Weaving Hera’s Theme with Omega’s Theme was extremely fun. Also, with the second half of the season we’re starting to see the Empire take over separatists’ worlds and start imposing their authoritarian control over them. You’ve got Raxus and you’ve got Ryloth, and so that was also another kind of narrative thread that we wanted to play up musically and connect, so we developed a kind of sound palette for that kind of thing, even though they’re wildly different worlds and each of the worlds has its own sound and its own palette. Whenever it came to the political dynamics of the Empire coming in and taking over we tended to share the palette between those scenes.
Q: There’s so much in terms of music for action and character and theme throughout the whole series, and it’s grown so much and I think it’s really cool the way that CLONE WARS/REBELS/and now BAD BATCH have sustained themselves as really valid and energizing components of the STAR WARS universe. And the music is following suit and you guys have done a great job with that.
Dean Kiner: We feel insanely lucky and extremely fortunate to be in the business that we are in. We really care deeply about what we’re doing and the fact that we’re working on any kind of STAR WARS project is huge for us. So it’s really exciting and it’s really intimidating, just because it’s enormous and so many great people have had their hands on creating music in STAR WARS from John Williams to Michael Giacchino to John Powell to Ludwig Göransson, it’s really cool that we get to do this.
Kevin Kiner: What I really want to stress is that I am super proud of the way our STAR WARS scores have progressed over the years. Having started out in 2006 doing this I think it would have been really easy to rest on my laurels or John Williams’ great body of work, or whatever. I don’t totally give myself credit for this because I think it’s the entire team of Dave Filoni and Brad Rau and Athena Portillo – everybody who works on the STAR WARS projects we’re working on is trying to move STAR WARS forward. So we come to the point where we can have a villain that starts with just a sound that’s an extremely synth sound, that would never have happened ten or fifteen years ago. Absolutely not. And, like Sean said, it can evolve into a melody, and another character who starts with a melody can evolve into a synth sound. When we’re talking about it, it sounds simple but it’s not simple to pull off in an elegant way, and it’s also not simple to do it in the STAR WARS universe and still be STAR WARS. I feel we’ve kept our sounds extremely STAR WARS and yet we’ve evolved them a tremendous amount, and I’m really happy with that.
Many thanks to Kevin, Sean, and Dean Kiner for taking the time to discuss THE BAD BATCH music with me. And special thanks to Andrew Krop of White Bear PR for providing photos of the composers. -rdl
CABO BLANCO/Jerry Goldsmith/La-La Land Records- CD
Originally released on CD by Prometheus Records in 1993 and again in 2005, La-La Land’s newly mastered and expanded release adds five cues to the tracklist as well as nine source cues (mostly standards, three of which Goldsmith newly recorded for the film, and classical tracks), to give Jerry’s splendid WW2 heist action film fresh clarity and thorough musical representation. While I’m not big on the inclusion of source music (the film’s period and the fact much of the story takes place in a bar called for it), I am pleased with the choice to bookend the score with Ray Noble’s engrossing piano melody “The Very Thought of You” (heard in CASABLANCA, whose setting and atmosphere CABO BLANCO resembles). And of course I am completely delighted by the score in this vibrant new rendition. It’s classic Goldsmith in many ways, with strident gestures from trumpets, exuberant tropical guitar strumming, and a fine, airy string main theme balanced by sparkling brasses that circulates through the entire orchestra, and a strong interaction of orchestrations throughout the entire set. Jerry’s wife Carol sings an original song quite true to the film’s period, “Heaven Knows,” which he wrote to be played early in the Giff Saloon scenes. The film and its score reflects a bit of the atmosphere of CASABLANCA and similar period adventure films, and it’s a style and sub-genre that Goldsmith was always quite home in. As Jeff Bond describes in his thorough liner notes, “Stylistically, [the score]… fits in snugly with a series of tropical/equatorial scores the composer wrote over a decade beginning with PAPILLON in 1973 [and] including… HIGH VELOCITY… ISLANDS IN THE STREAM, and UNDER FIRE in 1983.” Goldsmith’s engaging action and adventure music is thoroughly attractive and the tropical flavoring of much of the music is quite appealing. Bond also notes that opening and closing a film score with another composer’s music was unusual for Goldsmith, but “the fact that Goldsmith’s CABO BLANCO music with its rousing main title easily stands on its own alongside the integration of a song as familiar as ‘The Very Thought of You’ is a tribute to the composer’s singular voice and his ability to write music that always speaks to a film’s highest ambitions.” In all respects, this new edition of CABO BLANCO is a must-have for Goldsmith collections. The label presents it in a limited edition of 2000 units. See La-La Land.
FREE GUY/Christopher Beck/Hollywood Records - digital
In Shawn Levi’s FREE GUY, Ryan Reynolds plays a bank teller who discovers that he’s actually an NPC (Non-Player Character) inside a brutal, open world video game. The score by Christophe Beck (WANDAVISION, FROZEN, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP) is a delight, a deliciously breezy concoction that both supports the film’s humorous concept and provides an enjoyable listening experience on its own. “In crafting the sound of FREE GUY Shawn and I decided that the score’s primary role would be to focus on Ryan Reynolds’ character Guy, and his journey. At the start of the film, Guy is getting ready for the day to work at a bank which is repeatedly held up. He doesn’t realize he’s a background character in a video game. He’s very childlike, and the music functions to underscore his attitude to life, with bucolic, up-tempo sounds, to convey his sense of hopefulness and a naïve love of life. That music repeats, and then evolves to reflect his changes in outlook and circumstances, and his gradual awakening to knowing there’s more to life than being held up 12 times a day.” The score is a mix of orchestra – and there are splendid moments of swelling orchestral gestures (“Sunglasses,” “About To Get Shot,” etc.) – and electronics. The latter reflects the concept that the movie is taking place inside a video game and serves to set the tone for that environment. I especially love Beck’s main theme, introduced in the main title (“Have A Great Day”) and concluded in the splendidly frothy “Life Itself.” He also provides a sweeping love theme for piano, electronics, and violins (“Millie” – the theme, at the director’s request, is adapted from Beck’s theme for the 2012 animated short film PAPERMAN) – “Shawn and I knew we needed a love theme,” said Beck. “The electronic score elements transcend when violins come in and it becomes a sweeping love theme in the grand tradition of cinematic love themes; as that relationship develops, so too does that theme grow and blossom.” Very highly recommended.
Be aware that Hollywood Records’ Original Motion Picture Score Soundtrack includes 21 tracks – but four of Beck’s cues are included on the Various Artists “Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” – one of them, “It’s All A Lie,” appears on the score album in the same form, but the other three (“Don’t Have a Good Day, Have A Great Day,” “Millie,” and “Go Time” [a separate and longer version of the score track “It’s Go Time”] are exclusive to the Various Artists album, which makes it worth picking that one up for those additional tracks, or at least ordering them individually from Amazon or wherever.
Listen to “Have A Great Day” from THE FREE GUY soundtrack
HERO MODE/Bill Brown/MovieScore Media – digital
A teenage coding genius has just 30 days to create the world’s greatest video game or his family loses everything. No pressure. Bill Brown (INFAMOUS, DOMINION, WOLFENSTEIN) provides a very likable score for this 2021 action comedy feature directed by A.J. Tesler and starring Chris Carpenter, Mira Sorvino, and Sean Astin. “The main message of HERO MODE is about the challenges we face in that experience of creating,” said Brown. “And it really hit home for me. I could relate to having a high-stakes puzzle that needs solving and all that it takes to harness your creativity (and maybe even some sweat and tears) to make it happen.” The main theme is a driving electric-guitar rhythm piece that morphs into electronics and from there into an energetic, string-driven orchestral push and then back to gentle rock before concluding with a bluesy denouement for electric bass. These components will make up the tone and texture of most of the tracks that follow; “The World of YORT” is a particularly likable hero theme adding in a bit of sampled choir for energy and valor; “Video Game Roundup” assembles a variety of sounds that might be from an assortment of video games in progress; “We’re Out of Money” allocates a bit of gentle tension to the story, while “10 Days Until Pixelcon” brims with excitement and anticipation. It’s a fun score with an interesting premise that Brown nicely accommodates through a variety of sampled sounds and musical energy.
Listen to Brown’s title theme for HERO MODE:
THE LAST FRONTIER/Yuri Poteyenko/KeepMoving Records - CD Among Russian film composer Yuri Poteyenko’s recent work is this WWII drama score for THE LAST FRONTIER. The film tells the story of the Podolsk cadets who defended Moscow in October 1941 and were one of the first victims of the German attack. The suicide mission was expected to buy five to seven days for relocating the military reserves. Within a week, only about a thousand cadets were still alive, while some sources claim only a tenth of the regiment survived. Poteyenko’s richly orchestral score is balanced between emotive poignancy for the young cadets and the girls they’ve left behind, favoring piano, strings, and winds (“Night Meeting,” “I Will Find You,” “Burial of the Fallen,” “I Need You Alive!” and “Do You Remember?”) and rousing yet impassioned battle music (“The First Fight”, “The First Line of Defense,” “Smoke Attack,” “Tanks Breakthrough,” and “Close Combat”) as well as evoking furtive tension in “Saboteurs” and recognizing the horrors of war through the palpable anxiety felt in “The Mission of No Return” and via an affecting female soprano eloquently speaking for the lost in “After the Bombing.” With “Honor,” the penultimate track, an all-male choir (the famous Alexandrov Ensemble of the Russian Army) provides a moving, almost spiritual epitaph for the lost soldiers, while the concluding track, “Heroes,” serves as a sad reminder of the fate of war, intoning the composer’s poignant music through the heavier tonality of the orchestra. This is a thoroughly engaging composition that treats warfare with both the heroism of duty and the inherent anguish of battle. It’s an extremely moving work. The limited-edition CD comes with liner notes by Gergely Hubai discussing the film based on commentary by the composer himself. For details and to hear sample tracks from THE LAST FRONTIER, see the track list at keepmoving.
As well as THE LAST FRONTIER, the label has also released Poteyenko’s scores to BATTALION (2015, true story of a battalion of women soldiers during WWI; includes additional music from WHITE TIGER, a 2012 WWII tank battle), DEVYATEYEN (2021, about a Soviet war hero during WWII), and FRONTIER (2018, time-hopping action thriller) and are worth investigating. See keepmovingrecords.
Watch the film’s Russian Trailer (narrated in English) (the trailer does not include Poteyenko’s music):
THE PRINTING & BEYOND THE NIGHT/Dwight Gustafson/Caldera - CD
Caldera Records’ latest release consists of the music of Dwight Gustafson (RED RUNS THE RIVER, FLAME IN THE WIND, SHEFFEY) for the films THE PRINTING (1990) and BEYOND THE NIGHT (1983). The former is a story of religious persecution against Christians in the Soviet Union during the 1980s and the illegal printing of Bibles; the latter tells of a missionary couple who face heavy government opposition in their attempt to preach the Gospel to the Muslim community of West Africa. Both films are products of Bob Jones University’s Unusual Films and are heavily religious in orientation, although the composer’s work can certainly be enjoyed and appreciated for its musicality for those not evangelically minded. Caldera has previously released Gustafson’s scores to FLAME IN THE WIND and SHEFFEY (see my review in the May 2020 column), and what I wrote there is equally applicable to this new release: both of these films contain first rate dramatic, Hollywood-worthy film scores, and you don’t have to be against or for BJU or its politics to discover the symphonic mastery of these compositions. With these scores, Gustafson’s music is finely crafted and performed, rich in earnest emotion and melodic themes – there’s none of the overly grandiose music of heavenly realms or sacred orchestral gestures that can throw religious films off balance; Gustafson’s scores are both very down to earth, and humanistic (so-to-speak) in their treatment of character motivations and situations. THE PRINTING features a synthesizer and introduces his main theme via subtle suspensions that open into a lyrical melody which is nicely developed across the score, while BEYOND THE NIGHT’s absorbing main theme is balanced against subtle elements of African music that evoke the film’s setting. The composer’s delicate, sophisticated orchestration and capable handling of the orchestral performance remains evident throughout, and it’s a very good dramatic score, firmly set in time and place, and makes for a fine listen.
For more information and to hear sample tracks, see Caldera.
RAISED BY WOLVES Season 1/Marc Streitenfeld & Ben Frost/
WaterTower Music - digital Executive produced by Ridley Scott, RAISED BY WOLVES takes place in the 22nd century when two androids escape an Earth devastated by war between militant atheists and a religious order known as the Mithraic to colonize the planet Kepler-22b, bringing with them human embryos with which to begin a new civilization. But as the burgeoning colony of humans threatens to be torn apart by religious differences, the androids learn that controlling the beliefs of humans is a treacherous and difficult task; therein lies the show’s conflicted exploration of artificial intelligence and religious fervor, adopted parenting and captive indoctrination, which it will continue to explore into its second season. Composers Marc Streitenfeld – who regularly works with Ridley Scott – and Australian composer/producer Ben Frost have scored the series. The score nicely combines the mix of orchestral compositions and unusual instrumentations and organic sounds of Streitenfeld with Frost’s classical minimalism and experimental music. Streitenfeld described the series’ music: “A lot of sound experimentation went into the score for RAISED BY WOLVES. I recorded things like the vibration of the wings of a wasp hitting the glass of my studio window, slowed it down, manipulated it melodically and morphed it with live violins and then had a classical soprano imitate that sound with her voice to create a blend that felt artificial and mechanical but also human and organic at the same time. The “Mother” character had a big influence on the score. Her qualities range from incredible strength to fragility. She has to navigate being an android mother who is confronted with human emotions and relationship issues and irrational human behavior, and she struggles as she discovers those human traits developing within herself. The intention was for the score to develop the same range of emotions and qualities.” This is a very interesting score although it may not be to the liking of all listeners. I thought it worked very well in the series itself.
The show’s title song, first heard in the second episode, is simply called “Opening Titles” and is performed by Ben Frost and Swedish singer/musician Mariam Wallentin, whose ethereal and accented voice matches the ensuing musical atmospheres in the score that follows. The score itself takes an interesting sonic journey through a variety of ambiences and drones, peppered by a variety of unusual sounds and textures; beginning with the sliding violin measures that formulate the main motif in “Opening Kepler 22b” and which recurs in various treatments across the score, with its harshest variation found in “Wolves Extreme.” “You are Atheists” is a sonorous atmosphere of growing voices, keyboard arpeggios, and brooding tonalities. “Thank You for Not Taking My Eyes” is a particularly nice, albeit quite short, orchestral cue; “Slaughter” provides a tenuous drone across which an organic pulse creates a sense of danger, progressing into the following “Android Bait” and “Chain of Command” with their multilayered textures and brooding vocalise. “Forest Creatures” is an interesting mix of hesitant voices echoed in the synths and sharing a repeated, menacing five-note pulsation; a dark variation on this track is found in “Giant Serpentine,” a particularly menacing mix of voice and electronica. The score is in measures quite sonically interesting and provocative in its somber sound design, but it characterizes the conflict between the androids, the children, and the uncompromising sway of the Mithraic. Its mix of stark tonal and atonal sound designs and brooding orchestral leanings serves its concept and storyline effectively but it may not prompt repeated listening, despite its interesting sonic structures.
The 41-track digital album is available at these links.
Listen to the title track from RAISED BY WOLVES:
SOMEWHERE IN TIME Expanded Original Soundtrack/John Barry/La-La Land Records – CD Arguably John Barry’s most rhapsodic and gorgeous romantic score, for Jeannot Szwarc’s 1980 time-travel tale of love, loss, and reunion, is given a long-awaited expanded presentation of its original soundtrack recording. The film’s story (based on a Richard Matheson novel) is a captivating mix of science fiction and star-crossed romance, as a Chicago playwright (Christopher Reeve) in 1985 uses self-hypnosis to travel back in time and meet the actress (Jane Seymour) whose vintage portrait hangs in a grand hotel. Originally issued by MCA with a 9-track CD in 1980, with Varèse Sarabande adding a 19-track digital re-recording conducted by John Debney with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 1998, La-La Land’s new edition includes 17 score tracks (7 previously unreleased, plus one expanded track containing previously unreleased music), with 16 alternate and source music tracks (all but two previously unreleased), proffering in all more than 76 minutes of music. The additional arrangements and treatments of Barry’s luxuriously romantic main theme are welcome, as its a completely infectious and emotive piece, taken by string choir, solo violin, and solo flute. In addition to his own theme, Barry makes captivating use of “Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, which replaced Gustav Mahler’s adagio from the unfinished 10th Symphony which was previously chosen for use in the film until Szwarc realized it wasn’t working and the Rachmaninoff was. The “Rhapsody” is presented via piano solo with orchestra, with an alternate version included as well as a music box arrangement heard in the film. Barry’s main theme is heard on most of the tracks – and most welcome so – in a variety of arrangements (“June 27th” and “Room 417” being the most dramatic interpretations, along with the gut-punching “Coin,” the intensively dramatic cue which abruptly jolts Reeve out of the past and inescapably back into 1985 when he sees the date on the coin and loses his connection to the past.
The CD is a limited edition of 5000 units. Especially of note are Jon Burlingame’s thorough liner notes, which discuss in detail the making of the film and its score (“The soundtrack album, like the movie, was released with little fanfare and sold around 35,000 units,” writes Burlingame in his liner notes. “What happened afterwards has become the stuff of Hollywood lore. In September 1981, SOMEWHERE IN TIME began appearing on pay-cable around the country. Over the next three months, the album sold another 50,000 copies, and MCA Distributing reported ‘consistent reorders in every part of the country,’ at the rate of 8,000 to 10,000 units per week, astounding industry observers.” By 1998 the album achieved platinum certification in recognition of selling a million units). “The film touched something in people, and the music is a major factor,” director Jeannot Szwarc told Burlingame. “John’s music gave the film everything it needed. I still think it’s his most beautiful score – and one of the most beautiful scores in the history of film.” I could not agree more, and La-La Land’s expansive treatment allows this luxurious score to be represented in a powerfully compelling and infectious entirety. See La-La Land.
STILLWATER/Mychael Danna/Back Lot Music - digital Starring Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, and Camille Cottin and directed by Academy Award® winner Tom McCarthy (SPOTLIGHT), STILLWATER follows Bill, an American oil-rig roughneck from Oklahoma who travels to Marseille to visit his estranged daughter who is in prison for a murder she claims she did not commit. Confronted with language barriers, cultural differences, and a complicated legal system, Bill makes it his personal mission to exonerate his daughter. Known for incorporating electronic elements into the scores he composes, composer Mychael Danna took a similar approach to STILLWATER. “Tom and I worked hard to design a score that subtly envelops and submerges us, along with Bill, in –what is for him—an unknown, unfamiliar world,” said Danna. “The film is a sophisticated thriller in the provocative setting of a clash of cultures: conservative America and the very multicultural south of France. Virtually all the action occurs in Marseille, but Bill begins the story very much imbedded in his own culture, that of a conservative Oklahoma oil rig worker, and brings that with him to Marseille. Soon, the very different sounds of a very different world begin to creep into his life and into the score.” The score begins with a lovely opening motif for acoustic guitars, violin, and drums, reflecting the homespun USA environment which Bill comes from, in “Swimming At Les Calanques.” As Bill finds himself in Marseille, Danna incorporates music of more electronic means to reflect that new environment (introduced in “Innocent of This Crime”), while the emotional heart of the story is conveyed through the pleasing sonority of a piano and string orchestra (introduced in “Maya”). A darker and more threatening tonality is provided in “Akim” through the use of urgent piano notes and a deep, thrumming beat over a confluence of ringing textures and pulsating throbs. “Working in Marseille” briefly brings back the tender melody of “Swimming At Les Calanques,” as does “Cemetery Marseille” in a pensive, solo piano rendering. “Initiative” suggests the “Les Calanques” melody as well, via piano, but mixes its acoustic texture with a bit of the tense design of “Akim.” As tension draws the music into darker substances, we have “Velodrome,” “Capture,” and “To Roucas-Blanc,” provocative rhythmic riffs for electric bass, strings, hand drums (in “Capture”), and synth. “Life With Virginie” proffers a moving, stirring piano, acoustic guitar, strings, and mandolin treatment. “Say Goodbye,” “Welcome Back,” “Nothing’s Changed” and “It All Looks Different to Me,” return the style to the earlier “Les Calanques” motif (“Welcome Back” remains somewhat pensive in this regard; “Nothing’s Changed” and “It All Looks Different to Me” add a wiry synth element to the tune. “As to be expected with Tom’s writing, the story has no easy resolution, no easy ending that can be defined as happy or sad,” Danna said. “I feel that the score was able to convey this nuanced almost fable-like ending, which in my opinion is a quality of the very best films.” A thoroughly enjoyable and moving score in many ways – highly recommended.
The STILLWATER (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is available here.
Listen to the opening track “Swimming At Les Calanques” via BackLot Music’s YouTube page:
Jamie Blanks/Howlin’ Wolf - CD Howlin’ Wolf Records, the label dedicated to horror soundtracks, provides two notable scare scores for the first time in this double-CD set. The Australian horror films STORM WARNING (2007) and CRAWLSPACE (2012) are both composed and performed by director/composer Jamie Blanks (URBAN LEGEND, 1998, and VALENTINE, 2001), and both won “Best Musical Score” at Screamfest the only two years Blanks entered scores for competition at the festival. STORM WARNING has to do with Rob and Pia, a yuppie couple lost in a thick, brush-filled marsh who seek refuge at an isolated farmhouse only to discover they’ve jumped out of the frying pan into the fire when the sadistic farmers imprison and torture the intruders, who understand they must do whatever it takes just to survive. CRAWLSPACE follows a special forces unit sent to infiltrate a top secret underground military compound, which comes under attack from unknown and terrifying forces. The scores are both highly atmospheric and thickly ambient; STORM WARNING, built around a variety of unsettling musical structure, maintaining and increasing its tension through an ominous minimal progression of apprehensive sound design, blocks of heavy percussive material, progressive tonality, and breathy, airy, gaseous sonic tonalities that evoke and maintain a constant sense of dread, often dappled by a furtive piano motif which rings menacingly in the midst of the sound clusters. “Waking Poppy” is a particularly effective 7 ½ minute cue in this regard. “Hell Breaks Loose,” with its crunchy percussion blasts, insectile electronica, and eerie, whining cries. The musical style both sympathizes with the couple’s panic by distilling the horror of their predicament to the audience via unremitting tension, shock, and evident hopelessness, until the captives barely gain an upper hand. “The score always projected the menace and threat of the antagonists and mirrored the fear that Rob and Pia were experiencing,” writes the director in the album booklet. Slowly over the course of the film, the score starts to project Pia’s determination to survive… The score becomes more primal, brutal, and deranged once Pia begins to turn the tables on her captors.”
CRAWLSPACE, a score that Blanks wrote for director Justin Dix’s film, is somewhat less atonal in its treatment, with some moments offering a pulsing/sustaining Carpenter/Howarth influence with more of a brooding, science fiction-esque, tone-based ambiance. Synths stretch and elongate to create ominous suspense (“Eve”); smooth musical pads, spooky vocalisms, and birdlike electronic tweets and tweaks create a frightening musical environment in “Mind Over Matter” and “Mind Blower,” while “Wailer” is just that, a haunting, echoing wailing timbre that cascades and grows through soft percussion patterns. “Killer Gorilla” provides a splendid bit of furious rhythmic action for percussion and wavering synth rumbles; “Tomb” is filled with shadowy, threatening tonalities. “Stinger” is just that, an example of a very effective and chilling jump scare. At 7:28, “Sub Surface” is the score’s longest track, crafting a running current of twisting tonality augmented by mysterious blaring blasts. “Aleatoric strings were used extensively in the score to evoke moments of terror, panic, and action,” Blanks writes. “Pulsing synths/basses and deep sub-bass percussion became key features associated with our military protagonists, and this is implemented consistently throughout the film.” CRAWLSPACE offers a powerful sense of unease in a somewhat more musically “fragrant” sense of apprehension than the darker, rumbling, rough metallic patterns of STORM WARNING; both are effectively scary in their electronic and synthetic cohesions and serve as splendid examples of this type of horror film musical accompaniment. There’s plenty of music here to feast upon or be frightened by; bonus tracks are included from both scores, and there’s a 32-page, full-color booklet with extensive notes by Blanks and others analyzing the films and their music in great depth. See Howlin' Wolf Records here.
WHAT IF… Episodes 1, 2, &3 /Laura Karpman/Hollywood Records - digital For Marvel’s third television series – and perhaps its most daring – Emmy®-winning composer Laura Karpman (LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, WHY WE HATE, SENIOR MOMENT) provides a very pleasing energetic and muscular orchestral score which is quite engaging on the soundtrack. Her main title music is full of gusto and wonder, while her score for the first episode, “What If…Captain Carter Were The First Avenger?” is every bit as powerful and exciting as any Marvel franchise film, rich in heroic confidence and vivid action. “I am so proud to be the composer of WHAT IF…?,” said Karpman. “Victoria Alonso, Brad Winderbaum, and Bryan Andrews gave me the perfect composer playground, rooted in the Marvel experience and the freedom to explore outside of it! In episode one, I got to play with the traditional sound for Captain America and transform it. What a great experience!” Karpman’s arrangement of Alan Silvestri’s Captain America theme is beautifully reconfigured for Captain Carter, fitting both the World War II time period of the episode), the tenuous transformation of SSR agent Peggy Carter into the super soldier Captain Carter, and her confidence in fully embracing her new alter-ego, along with Bucky Barnes, a diminutive but robotic-suit wearing Steve Rogers, and The Howling Commandos while facing the Nazi scourge under the Red Skull. With the second episode, “What If...T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?,” there’s some tremendous action music for the massive fight scenes taking place in The Collector’s (aka Taneleer Tivan) Knowhere abode, featuring Nebula, Yondu Udonta, and a friendly Thanos, now one of Yondu’s Ravagers. From the gnarly source music for “Alien Lounging” and the pop-ishly tuneful ‘50s throwback of “Maniac” and its bongo-centric caper companion “Strategy,” to the poignant grace of “The Soul,” the pulsating, suspenseful drama of “I Abhor Drama,” and the choir-infused “Prisoners Escape,” and “Not Crazy...Mad” with its thematic ornamentation exuding out of its bombastic pursuit music, this episode exhibits a delicious diversity of orchestral gestures, motifs, a massive, overarching theme, and a Tivan-worthy collection of exciting and intricately orchestrated frenzy of carefully coordinated wild action music, culminating in the Western-flavored escape music of “To the Skies” and the exotic dance music of “Cocktails,” the gentle poignancy of “The Universe,” and the regal majesty of “A Prince Goes Home," which Karpman wrote in memory of Chadwick Boseman's passing (Boseman voiced T'Challa for the episode prior to his death). This episode has a bit of music for nearly every occasion, and it’s a powerful treat to the ears.
With Episode 3, “What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?,” over the course of a week, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury attempts to recruit heroes for the Avengers Initiative but they are each mysteriously killed. Opening with a bit of Alan Silvestri’s Avengers Theme before launching into her own strenuous music for the dark events of this storyline, Karpman braces propulsive rhythmic string bowing against drum and brass punches and blasts to energize movement and circumstance (“Hold This”), while providing a sad violin melody, punctuated by French horn notes and the occasional drum hit, to reflect the downed heroes (“Missing”). “Sound The Alarm” is a penetrating mix of action, danger, and call to duty that resonates powerfully across the soundscape, ending in a distressing reprise of “Missing” as another hero falls. The arrival of Loki (the classic Loki) and his Asgardian warriors to confront Nick Fury is greeted by a fanfare of drums, trumpet blasts, and a threatening thrum of low horn (possibly synths as well) tonality in “Maybe Middle Earth,” and are reprised later in “Taken Out.” Those rhythmic string figures from “Hold This” recur several times to provide effective dramatic energy in later tracks such as “Sound The Alarm,” “Blast,” “You Won’t Win,” and “Sound and Fury.” The quiet resolve of the conclusive “Hope Never Dies” ends the episode with a note of confidence as Fury forges ahead to create his Avengers Initiative, and a new hero arrives to assist in the bigger picture. The score concludes with a heroic reprise of the Avengers theme.
As Marvel did with WANDAVISION, Hollywood Records is releasing a digital soundtrack for each episode of WHAT IF… The first was released on August 13th, the second on August 23rd, with subsequent albums releasing shortly after their corresponding episode. Enthusiastically recommended!
Listen to Laura Karpman’s Main Theme from WHAT IF…:
YOLK MAN/PMP (Pantawit Kiangsiri & others)/MovieScore Media - digital This is a rather pleasing score, from a 2019 Chinese super-hero web drama series about a university student who gains superpowers just in time to save the world. The PMP moniker is the collaborative name of a team headed by Thai composer Pantawit Kiangsiri. It’s a likable score for digital orchestra and a variety of synths and electronics which build an abundance of enjoyable motifs and themes; the Main Title introduces the score’s musical elements, which while relying on some familiar techniques nonetheless presents an exciting and fun overarching theme for the movie. “What unifies the score is a four-note main theme heard in the main title,” described Kiangsiri. “This theme set up the show’s alienness tone and represents our protagonist Jim and Yolk (together as Yolk Man). Together with my composer team (David Bertok, Tan Onwimon, Jetsada Hongcharoen, and Satta Rojanagatanyoo), we took this four-note theme and transformed it to fit different situations and emotions that Yolk Man have to face as the story progresses. The first third of the score focuses on the lighter sci-fi, fresh young feel and comedic tone to show Jim’s ordinary life in the university, his love interest and a first meeting with Yolk. The next arc tells the story of our protagonist being hunted by the brutal aliens, thus the music tone shifts towards suspense and horror. The last part of the series deals with a fight between good and evil and the score then turns to heroic action and concludes with touching cues to accompany an emotional end to the story.” The composers craft a number of compelling textures, voicings, and arrangements of the main theme. The track “The Hive Mind” is a particularly effective action cue, while “The Meteorite” is a pleasing cluster of spacey electronic riffs and burbles, and “Super Yolk” is a stirring heroic rendition of the main theme. “Super Tennis” is a TV sports-styled pop guitar riff until it turns dark and pensive; “Drunken Yolk” is an amusingly sloshy, inebriated variation of the main theme; “Train Fight” builds some pretty good percussion blocks over the main theme’s synth work; and the penultimate “There and Back Again” provides an enjoyable retrospective of the heroes’ efforts as Yolk Man prior to the score’s end credits, which reprises the catchy main theme a final time. A fun score with much to enjoy about it.
For sample tracks and more details, see MovieScore Media
Listen to the film’s Main Title:
The 78th Venice International Film Festival (Sept. 1-11) will include an out of competition screening of ENNIO by Giuseppe Tornatore, director of the Oscar winning CINEMA PARADISO. ENNIO is a comprehensive portrait of two time Oscar winning composer Ennio Morricone, among the most influential and prolific musicians of the twentieth century, who has scored over 500 movie soundtracks. The documentary tells the Maestro’s story in a long interview of him with Tornatore, and with comments by artists and directors such as Bernardo Bertolucci, Giuliano Montaldo, Marco Bellocchio, Dario Argento, the Taviani brothers, Carlo Verdone, Barry Levinson, Roland Joffé, Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Springsteen, Nicola Piovani, Hans Zimmer, and Pat Metheny, and through music and archive footage. – via Variety
Vestron Video/Lionsgate has released a Blu-Ray edition of the 1990 comedy-horror vampire film SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT. The beautifully restored presentation includes directors commentary, a variety of interviews, and – I’m pleased to announce – my own isolated score commentary detailing the excellent orchestral score by the late Richard Stone.
Good to see Mark Mancina’s name on a feature film credit again – he’s scored Clint Eastwood’s new drama, CRY MACHO, about a one-time rodeo star and washed-up horse breeder who takes a job to bring a man's young son home and away from his alcoholic mom. On their journey, the horseman finds redemption through teaching the boy what it means to be a good man. The film is set for release on September 17, 2021.
I recently interviewed composer/actress Brittany Allen about scoring the “Feral” episode of the new Hulu anthology series, AMERICAN HORROR STORIES (a spin-off of AMERICAN HORROR STORY). The weekly anthology series will feature a different horror story each episode, created by various writers/directors and scored by various composers – Mac Quayle, Ariel Marx, David Klotz, Amanda Jones, Brittany Allen, and Morgan Kibby. In AHS’s sixth episode, “Feral,” a husband and wife’s child disappears only to be found later in the care of a tribe of wild, feral humans living in the woods. Inspired by the primal nature of “Feral,” Brittany Allen recorded herself playing instruments with an instinctive recklessness, banging on drums and eking out every sound imaginable abusing a medieval instrument called a psaltery – as if she were one of the wild folk making “music.” Using the same psaltery, she also built a gentle theme that represented both the innocence of their child and the gaping hole that his disappearance left behind. In our interview she described how the “Feral” score was constructed and developed, and her thoughts about scoring modern horror: see musiquefantastique.
Coming seemingly out of nowhere, Sony Classical has released for the first time ever the original score to GHOSTBUSTERS II by Randy Edelman. 32 years after the film's 1989 release, the 16-track soundtrack is now available to stream and on CD format. Three of the tracks (3, 6, 10) have been newly re-recorded for this album and track 12, “One Leaky Sewer Faucet,” was recorded by Edelman for the film but not featured in its final production. Two tracks (9, 12) contain interpolations of Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” song. The album will also be available in vinyl format beginning Friday, October 16, arriving as a gatefold set featuring photos from the film. See more details, including Edelman’s statements on scoring the film, at ghostbustersnews.com
Intrada has followed its earlier Kickstarter campaign for DIAL M FOR MURDER with a proposal to record two lost Jerry Goldsmith scores. One is his first theatrical film, the western BLACK PATCH from 1957. The second is THE MAN from 1972, about America’s first black president. These are noticeable gaps in his discography and the only way to fill those gaps is through new recordings of the scores. Leigh Phillips is reconstructing both – BLACK PATCH from Jerry Goldsmith’s own surviving score and THE MAN from the film print. William T. Stromberg, veteran of numerous classic film score recordings for both the Marco Polo label and his own Tribute Film Classics label, follows up on his magnificent and authentic interpretation of Dimitri Tiomkin’s DIAL M FOR MURDER score by again stepping up to the podium and leading the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in this new recording of the Goldsmith scores. As of August 21st, the kickstarter campaign has reached and surpassed its goal but continued pledges – and rewards – are available. Check out this link for videos, audio samples, background and ways to contribute.
Kino Lorber has released a 4K Blu-ray restoration of the Lon Chaney classic silent film THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923), presented by Universal Pictures. This epic adaptation recreated the Paris of 1482 complete with its own Notre Dame, and it established Lon Chaney as a monstrously sympathetic superstar. This presentation of the classic movie features a new score by Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum & Laura Karpman, the joint composers of LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, as well as an audio commentary by film critic Farran Smith Nehme and a booklet essay by film historian Michael A. Blake, and more. The 4K edition will hit the streets on September 28th. I’ll have a review of the score in my next column.
BAPTISTE is a British TV drama starring Tchéky Karyo as Julien Baptiste, a character that originated in the series THE MISSING. The series has been scored by Dominik Scherrer, who also scored THE MISSING for BBC One. A soundtrack album is forthcoming.
Premiering Friday, August 13th on Netflix, BRAND NEW CHERRY FLAVOR is a limited American streaming television series created by Nick Antosca and Lenore Zion based on the novel of the same name by Todd Grimson. The 8-part psychological horror drama series stars Rosa Salazar, Catherine Keener, Eric Lange, Manny Jacinto and Jeff Ward, and follows Lisa Nova, an aspiring film director in the sun-drenched but seamy world of 1990 Los Angeles, who embarks on a mind-altering journey of supernatural revenge that gets nightmarishly out of control when she tumbles down a hallucinatory rabbit hole of sex, magic, revenge – and kittens. Award-winning film and television composer Jeff Russo scores the new series.
Watch the series’ deliciously manic trailer:
Spanish composer Arnau Bataller has scored MEDITERRÁNEO, an action/adventure biographical film directed by Marcel Barrena which tells the incredible story about a few good men who risked their own life to save many others during the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean sea. MovieScore Media will release Bataller’s gripping orchestral score on September 24th.
In the meantime, MovieScore Media has released Zacarias M. de la Riva’s original score from the 2021 animated film UN RESCATE DE HUEVITOS, (A rescue of little eggs), a sequel to the 2015 film UN GALLO CON MUCHOS HUEVOS (Little Rooster’s Eggcellent Adventure), also scored by de la Riva and released by MSM. “For me it is always a gift to write music for an animated motion picture,” commented the composer. “It is never an easy task, the music has to carry the images emotionally and has to help with the storytelling. The possibility of writing big action scenes, of giving the emotional dimension to the characters all without losing the comical touch needed and with a 75 piece orchestra is always an exhilarating and challenging experience.” See MovieScore Media. The label has also released 200 METERS, Faraj Suleiman’s original score from the 2020 drama film directed by Ameen Nayfeh, about a Palestinian father trapped on the other side of the separation wall who is trying to reach the hospital for his son, and ZANA, by Kosova based composer Dritero Nikqi, a 2019 drama thriller about a Kosovar woman, haunted by her long suppressed past and pressured by family to seek treatment from mystical healers for her infertility, who struggles to reconcile the expectations of motherhood with a legacy of wartime brutality. This label’s continued appreciation of foreign and lesser-known composers remains laudable, and offers much music of interest to discover. The label’s latest release is scored by Matthew Herbert for the 2019 drama feature film PORT AUTHORITY, which is about a young man arriving in New York and getting involved with explosively divisive groups: the queer ballroom scene and some straight debt collectors, while falling in love with a trans woman. See the label’s new releases here.
The second release in MovieScore Media’s sister label, Short Cuts – specializing in short film scores – is KIMANA TUSKERS, composer by Stephen Gallagher. The documentary film focuses on the few remaining elephants who’ve lived long enough to grow their tusks to reach the ground. With fewer than 20 of these tuskers left on earth, where ivory still sweeps the ground, KIMANA TUSKERS follows a famous tusker known as Craig and the younger elephant bulls who entrust their lives to him as they navigate a vanishing landscape through the Kimana Wildlife Corridor. This is the passage of experience, a brotherhood, built on respect, trust and loyalty, and what awaits them is the promised land, so that one day their sons will rise to be kings… Filmed throughout the Greater Amboseli ecosystem in Kenya, KIMANA TUSKERS is a short film of epic proportions. Written & directed by Jamie Joseph, produced by Saving the Wild, and narrated by two-time Academy Nominated actor Djimon Hounsou, with cinematography by BAFTA Winner Bertie Gregory and post production by Academy Award Winning facility Park Road Post. The soundtrack will release on September 24th. For more detail on the film, see https://kimanatuskers.org/
Watch the film’s trailer:
BAFTA-nominated composer and multi-instrumentalist Brian D’Oliveira (RESIDENT EVIL: VILLAGE, SHADOW OF THE TOMB RAIDER) has scored THE WITCHER: NIGHTMARE OF THE WOLF, a new animated film which focuses on the origin story of Geralt’s mentor and fellow witcher Vesemir, a cocky young witcher who delights in slaying monsters for coin. When a dangerous new power rises on the Continent, Vesemir learns that some witchering jobs are about more than just money. “When composing for THE WITCHER: NIGHTMARE OF THE WOLF, I challenged myself to stay true to The Witcher’s already rich musical ‘continental’ sound world and drew inspiration from Medieval, Baroque and Slavic traditions,” says D’Oliveira. “But at the same time I tried to pay homage to classic Anime soundtracks, by keeping them as fully live and raw acoustic performance-based pieces, and without shying away from experimentation.” An official soundtrack album of Brian D’Oliveira’s original score for THE WITCHER: NIGHTMARE OF THE WOLF will be announced soon.
Lakeshore Records releases EL CID – Music from the Amazon Original Series – available now digitally on all major music services. The score by Oscar, Grammy, Golden Globe and BAFTA winner Gustavo Santaolalla and Oscar and Grammy-nominated Alfonso G. Aguilar is richly orchestrated with medieval instrumentation and vocalizations that provide an epic backdrop to the first and second seasons of the Amazon Original series. EL CID Season Two debuted exclusively on Prime Video in more than 240 countries and territories around the world on July 15. This is the first of two albums – the second is an album of original music by Santaolalla which will be released in September. Lakeshore has also just released Brendan Angelides’ (aka ESKMO) score to NAKED SINGULARITY, available now digitally on all major music services. The new film from award-winning Executive Producers Ridley Scott and Dick Wolf is based on the best-selling novel of the same name; the movie stars John Boyega, Olivia Cooke, and Bill Skarsgård, and is about an idealistic young New York City public defender who is burned out by the system, on the brink of disbarment, and seeing signs of the universe collapsing all around him so he decides to rob a multi-million drug deal of one of his clients. The film is now available on Apple TV.
Edwin Wendler has composed the score to JURASSIC HUNT, a new science fiction thriller produced by Lionsgate and now streaming on Amazon, Apple, and VUDU. The film is directed by Hank Braxtan, for whom Wendler scored DRAGON SOLDIERS last year. The movie is about female adventurer Parker (Courtney Loggins) who joins a crew of male trophy hunters in a remote wilderness park. Their goal: slaughter genetically recreated dinosaurs for sport using rifles, arrows, and grenades. “JURASSIC HUNT reunited me with director Hank Braxtan and producer Arielle Brachfeld, two truly wonderful people who have established an indie movie production company in Grand Junction, CO,” Wendler told Soundtrax. “Their ability to get maximum mileage out of minimal budgets is admirable, and JURASSIC HUNT is a great example of that. The goal for the music was to help establish a ruthless environment where shady characters hunt dinosaurs for sport. Our main character’s noble mission is gradually revealed, amid a considerable amount of action and carnage. Hank wanted a John-Carpenteresque vibe, and I thought it would be a good idea to use synths when the humans dominate the action, and orchestral colors when the dinosaurs gain the upper hand, or the upper claw, rather. Hank provided several opportunities for the score to shine and step into the foreground a little bit, and I am so thankful for the trust he had in me, especially regarding a few major sequences near the end of the movie. There are a lot of notes in this score, so it was labor-intense, but for some strange reason, I genuinely enjoy writing music for action sequences. They give me an adrenaline rush while I'm working, and I absolutely love it.”
Endeavor Content has released NINE PERFECT STRANGERS the Original Series Soundtrack, composed by Golden Globe and two-time Oscar-nominee Marco Beltrami (HURT LOCKER, FREE SOLO) and Miles Hankins (THE NIGHT BEFORE [with Beltrami]). The score is described as being both melodic at times and in others intensely dissonant in order to enhance the constantly changing moods of the psychological series. The Hulu Original series is based on the book by Liane Moriarty, and takes place at a boutique health-and-wellness resort frequented by nine stressed city dwellers, but these nine “perfect” strangers have no idea what is about to hit them. Beltrami notes: “NINE PERFECT STRANGERS is constantly turning and shifting tone. Our score is a reflection of that evolution. It ranges from textural synthesis and at times cacophonous sound design, to overtly tuneful moments. This is reflected through the instrumentation which includes string quartet and piano with an electronic score. The series marks the third time Miles has co-scored a Jonathan Levine project with me.” Added Miles Hankins, “We wanted the score to underpin it all with a sense of uncertainty, and experimented with layering different musical ideas, recording them to tape, and then altering the speed or pitch of certain elements to varying degrees. At times, the result gives some of the cues a meditative or otherworldly feeling.”
Neal Acree is scoring THE LEGEND OF VOX MACHINA – an animated TV series directed by Chris Lockey from Critical Role Productions, Titmouse, and Amazon Studios. Sam Riegel and Peter Habib are writing original songs for the series as well; musicians Tina Guo, Kristin Naigus, Paul Jacob Cartwright, Eric Rigler, and the Budapest Scoring Orchestra have contributed to the score as well. The first ten episodes of season one were financed through a Kickstarter campaign, with Amazon picking up distribution and green-lighting an additional 14 episodes (two additional episodes for the first season and a 12 episode second season). The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the release schedule from Fall 2020 to a date as yet to be announced. Don’t miss watching the YouTube featurette “The Legend of the Music of The Legend of Vox Machina,” here.
Lakeshore Records has released the digital soundtrack for THE STAIRS, an independent horror film about a group of hikers hunted by a sinister presence in the woods, unaware of a long-forgotten evil lurking just beyond the tree line. The score by BC Smith (SMOKE SIGNALS, SKINS, DJINN) utilizes both acoustic and electronic instrumentation that subtly adds to the different characters and events in the film – a range that spans from idyllic to horrific. What started as a week-long adventure with friends, quickly turns into a terrifying fight for survival as they come face to face with the thing that nightmares are made of. Smith says, “Scoring THE STAIRS was a creative joy. There is nothing normal or ordinary about what the characters encounter, which proved fabulous inspiration for the music. The characters struggle to comprehend what they’re seeing, and the music helps to subliminally enhance that uncertainty, absurdity, and terror.” He adds, “The Stairs represent a malignant evil, incongruous to the serenity of the forest. The score adopts that metaphor by using sounds that don’t normally go together, like acoustic guitars and modular synthesizers, or sounds that seem familiar but are actually something else entirely.”
Quartet Records, in collaboration with Gruppo Sugar, presents a Philippe Sarde and Claude Sautet double-header, including the first and last collaboration between the composer and director, celebrating perhaps the most important and influential professional relationship in the composer’s career. LES CHOSES DE LA VIE (1970; Things of Life) is about a highway engineer involved in a car crash, who, near death, remembers his past love with two women leading up to the accident. This was Sarde’s second score (just after SORTIE DE SECOURS, also in 1970) and he was only 22 years old. Romantic and melancholic, with one of the most famous and catchy melodies in French cinema history (“La chanson d’Hélene,” performed by Romy Schneider and Michel Piccoli). Quartet’s new edition has been slightly expanded to include a seven-minute suite with the original version of “L’accident” and some short cues omitted from the original LP, as well as the original Italian and German versions of “La chanson d’Hélene.” The CD also includes Sarde’s 1995 score for Sautet’s NELLY ET MR. ARNAUD, a simple, intimate story about the strange and special relationship that develops between Nelly, a recently divorced woman, and M. Arnaud, a mature salesman just retired. Sarde’s delicate, subtle score was conceived by the composer as a 12-minute suite, here receiving its complete premiere release. For more details and tracklist, see Quartet.
KeepMoving Records has released on CD two scores by composer Anna Drubich for writer/director Valeriy Todorovskiy on a single CD: HYPNOSIS tells the story of a teenager who receives hypnotic treatment for sleepwalking, but eventually becomes so dependent on the therapy that he is no longer able to distinguish reality from illusion. The score’s idea of blending the border between reality and dreamscapes is a beautiful motive that disintegrates as the story progresses. The second score is ODESSA, a family dramedy based on Todorovskiy’s own personal memories about getting stuck in the Russian city in the midst of a cholera outbreak. Drubich integrates two main themes: a Childhood Theme – reflecting a stark memory from childhood, and a Family/Destiny Theme which is about taking responsibilities for your doings and wishes. See KeepMovingRecords.
David Williams reports that he has completed scoring the emotive MMA drama THE BUTTERFLY GUARD, “smartly written and directed by the uber-talented Michael Worth who I had a wonderful time working with,” he wrote in a Facebook post. This film stars Scottie Epstein, Michael Worth, and Tim Thomerson and is about two fighters on opposite ends of the world who find their lives will soon cross in the MMA cage. Tyler has spent a life of sacrifice for the sport and now must face the lives he left behind as he takes a final fight; his opponent Brad is the face of the new guard of fighters – but that face masks another side of the man that is much more vulnerable than the fighter who shows up in the cage. The film has been underway for several years but is now reaching completion; while the film takes place in the world of mixed martial arts, it is in fact a contemplative character drama.
The all-new animated series HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (this is a different series from Netflix’s recently released MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE REVELATION) is coming to Netflix September 16. The show has been composed by Michael Kramer. No stranger to composing for animated series with sweeping mythologies and larger than life characters, Kramer has utilized his musical world building acumen from scoring the hit NINJAGO animated series as well as the LEGO STAR WARS series. As the new HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE is a grandiose space opera, Michael took an incredibly “old school” approach to create his score by combining a fun blend of 80s-retro synths with orchestral melodies and modern style for a totally out-of-this world soundtrack. Watch the series’ trailer here.
Hollywood Records has released a digital soundtrack album for the new Hulu murder mystery comedy original series ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING, featuring selections of the original score from the show composed by Emmy Award nominee Siddhartha Khosla (THIS IS US, RUNAWAYS, LOOKING FOR ALASKA). The series, created by Steve Martin & John Hoffman and starring Martin, Martin Short, Selena Gomez, Aaron Dominguez and Amy Ryan, follows three strangers who share an obsession with true crime and suddenly find themselves wrapped up in one when a grisly death occurs inside their exclusive Upper West Side apartment building. The 10-episode series debuts on August 31 exclusively on Hulu.
- via filmmusicreporter <- which see for more details.
Silva Screen Records’ has released a second digital album in the Re:Scored series, following up on last year’s Re:Scored Epic Classical. The Re:Scored series introduces fresh, thoughtful and contemporary film score reworkings of established genres. On Epic Classical Vol. 2, composer Antonin Roux re-arranges classical favorites in “epic” film score mode, including Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1 in G major, Strauss’s The Blue Danube Waltz and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March in D Major. See Silva Screen for more details. The label has also released the digital soundtrack to PROFESSOR T, the Britbox/ITV drama, composed by Belgian Award-winning composer Hannes De Maeyer, who also composed the Belgian series the British series is based on. The show follows Professor Jasper Tempest, a genius Cambridge University criminologist with OCD and an overbearing mother, as he advises police in solving crimes. In PROFESSOR T, De Maeyer introduces a beautiful main theme with a pulse and purpose, and variations of it can be heard throughout the score, supporting the characters and giving scenes greater layers and depth. More details at SilvaScreenUSA.
Christopher Young is scoring Oliver Park’s new horror film ABYZOU. The movie is based on the Jewish folktale of the same name, and is set in a Hasidic community in which a family struggling with loss finds themselves at the mercy of an ancient demon trying to destroy them from the inside. From Millennium Media, the film is slated for release in October.
Intrada has issued a greatly expanded 2-CD premiere of John Williams original soundtrack to THE EIGER SANCTION, the 1975 espionage adventure/thriller with director Clint Eastwood as star, also features George Kennedy, Vonetta McGee, Jack Cassidy. Called out of retirement to perform one more “sanction” (killing), Jonathan Hemlock (Eastwood) gets more than he bargained for in a thriller that eventually climaxes atop the icy Eiger peaks with spectacular mountain climbing stunts largely performed by Eastwood himself. John Williams scores with his now-trademark seventies style that offers a symphonic orchestra using both highly tonal and atonal elements as well as smaller ensembles showcasing his early love of jazz. And wearing his softer garb, Williams uses flugelhorn (mellower trumpet) to bring love into the air. The original 1975 MCA re-recorded album presented 36 minutes of highlights across all of the myriad styles using arrangements designed for album listening back in the day. The actual film soundtrack, never-before-released, contains more than twice that amount of music - and Williams also recorded another seven minutes of original source music as well. All of it appears in this new 2-CD expanded Intrada presentation, with over two hours of music in all. See Intrada.
Varèse Sarabande Records?has announced its August 2021?CD Club titles: DANTE’S PEAK (The Deluxe Edition) by John Frizzell?—with themes by James Newton Howard—AND?LOVE FIELD?(The Deluxe Edition) by JerryGoldsmith. Howard was initially hired to compose the score but left due to scheduling; he contributed two main themes, for the volcano and the film’s romantic relationship, and recommended Frizzell for the score (as the two had done on THE RICH MAN’S WIFE; Howard had also mentored Frizzell). Working at a furious pace, Frizzell composed a massive, symphonic score befitting the life-or-death struggle of outrunning a catastrophic volcano—but also containing moments of grandeur, suspense and softer contemplation. Goldsmith composed a tender Americana score for LOVE FIELD (the title is the name of the airfield where John F Kennedy landed in Dallas on November 22, 1963), with lyrical strings and bluesy piano offering warmth and period flavorings, not unlike his gentle, humanistic music for actual 1960s dramas. The film also features moments of suspense and action—as society looked askance on relations between races at the time—which Goldsmith captured with more intense strains.
Maisie Music Publishing has released a soundtrack album of the score by Steven Price (GRAVITY, FURY, OVER THE MOON) for the Netflix original film SWEET GIRL. The film is directed by Brian Andrew Mendoza and stars Jason Momoa, Isabela Merced, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Amy Brenneman. The action thriller follows a devastated husband as he vows to bring justice to the people responsible for his wife’s death while protecting the only family he has left, his daughter. – via filmmusicreporter
Walt Disney Records released STAR WARS: THE BAD BATCH, Volume 2 (Episodes 9-16) last August 20th. Award-winning composer Kevin Kiner composed and produced all 37 and 38 tracks respectively on Volume 1 and Volume 2, assisted by his sons Sean and Dean. The series follows the elite and experimental troopers of Clone Force 99 (first introduced in STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS) as they find their way in a rapidly changing galaxy in the immediate aftermath of the Clone War. Members of Bad Batch, as they prefer to be called — a unique squad of clones who vary genetically from their brothers in the Clone Army — each possess a singular exceptional skill, which makes them extraordinarily effective soldiers and a formidable crew. Listen to or buy STAR WARS THE BAD BATCH Volume 2 at these links.
Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (1969–2018) wrote music for a wide array of media, including theatre, dance, television, and films. Jóhann’s body of work contains previously unreleased music never used by the projects it was composed for – much of it is now available in Gold Dust, from Redbird Music. During his lifetime, Jóhann produced studio albums with Touch, 4AD, 130701, and Deutsche Grammophon, which released his last solo record, Orphée. His first solo album, Englabörn (2002, Touch), drew from a broad set of influences, ranging from Erik Satie, Bernard Herrmann, Purcell and Moondog to electronic music issued by labels such as Mille Plateaux and Mego. A great deal of Jóhann’s work in his last years closely entwined with film: SICARIO (2015), the score of which was nominated for all major awards, ARRIVAL (2016), which earned him Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations and such notable film credits as James Marsh’s Stephen Hawking biopic THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014), for which he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. Check out the full EP here.
KNOCKING (Swedish: Knackningar), a 2021 Swedish thriller film directed by Frida Kempff in her feature film debut, is given a pulsing score by Danish composer Martin Dirkov (BORDER, ENFORCEMENT, THE CHARMER, SHELLEY, DON’T GIVE A FOX). A timely psychological horror-thriller built on very real human fears and anxieties, the film is about Molly, who leaves a psychiatric ward after a nervous breakdown and moves into a new apartment to begin her path to recovery; but it’s not long after her arrival that a series of persistent knocks and screams begin to wake her up at night.
Joe Kraemer has written the score to a new audio adaptation of John Masefield's The Box of Delights, staring Derek Jacobi. Gramophone asked the composer and conductor about the process behind creating a new musical sound world for the much-loved children's novel; Joe replied: “The biggest difference for me is that audio dramas allow me to compose much more active, and in my opinion, interesting music.” Since 2015, Kraemer has provided music and sound design to more than 30 audio plays released by Big Finish Productions, many of which have been Doctor Who Adventure plays.
Composing Adventure: Conversations with Composers about Great Adventure Scores by Aaron Lam Bear Manor Books
Hardback edition ($35), Paperback edition ($25)
Composing Adventure: Conversations with Composers about Great Adventure Scores is a collection of interviews with talented artists behind the scores for some of cinema’s most celebrated adventure films. Through casual conversations with composers like Bill Conti, Bruce Broughton, Laurence Rosenthal, Lee Holdridge, Craig Safan and many more, you will learn about their experiences in the film industry as they created some of the most memorable music ever written for motion pictures.
This book takes an intriguing look at the scoring of a popular overarching genre of motion pictures – adventure films – through interviews with 15 composers who have contributed noted scores for these kind of movies. Author Aaron Lam’s definition of Adventure Scores is quite broad, and much of his interviews cover fantasy, science fiction, action, super hero, and some drama films as well, but this allows him to investigate the musical techniques, styles, and treatments that these composers use to invigorate a large variety of films that provide a sense of adventure and call for grand, musical traditions. As Lam writes in his introduction, “Pinpointing the exact definition of an adventure score isn’t the focus of this book. It’s meant as a celebration of remarkable film music and the extraordinary composers who made it all come to life.” The book focuses largely on adventuristic film scores from the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s, which Lam admits “have a magic to them that makes me feel like a kid again. I love the unabashed heroism, romanticism, and epic sweep of it all.” Thus does the book both broaden its scope in the definition of adventure scores while narrowing its coverage to an era in which these were broadly and enthusiastically heard in cinemas, and the result is a likable and illuminating discovery of what makes this music so special to films and the process their composers have utilized in creating them. The question-and-answer format makes for a comfortable read, giving the reader the experience of sitting with the composers and hearing them describe how these beloved scores have come about. Composing Adventure is a welcome addition to the growing library of books on film music, and a notable discourse on one particular type of film score, no matter how broad the genre may be defined. Recommended.
Lakeshore Records and Electronic Arts (EA) have released Nami Melumad’s score to Academy Award®-winning film, COLETTE (“Best Documentary Short Subject”), directed by Anthony Giacchino. This is the first Oscar win and nomination for a film produced by a video game studio. An award-winning composer, Nami’s COLETTE score also won the Film Music Award at this year’s BMI Film & TV Awards. In Nazi-occupied France, resistance took courage; seventy-five years later, facing one’s ghosts may take even more. COLETTE is featured in the documentary gallery of the video game, Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond, also released by Lakeshore and EA. In addition, Nami’s score to Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond also won Best Original Score (shared with Michael Giacchino) for a Video Game or Interactive Media at this year’s International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA) Awards. The soundtrack is available here.
Notes Melumad on the making of the score and her personal connection to the work: “In a documentary like this, which is already relatively heavy on emotion, the score needs to support the story without being overdramatic. My approach was to go sparse and only score the moments that could truly benefit from the emotional impact of music. Whenever possible, I tried to sonically blend with the sound of the film itself… The score here focuses on the two extreme ranges: the high (dissonant strings) and the low (harp and piano strikes, basses), so the one can really feel the emptiness of the middle… this allows the viewer to experience the true heaviness of this moment without going melodramatic.”
Tom Phillips has scored ATTICA, a 2-hour long documentary on the September 1971 Attica prison riot and takeover produced by Stanley Nelson and the Showtime network. The documentary chronicles the five-day prison rebellion that transpired in the fall of 1971 in upstate New York and still stands as the largest and deadliest the country has ever witnessed. The film will be the opening night documentary film for the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
A new 3-part documentary series MYTH & MOGUL: JOHN DELOREAN is now streaming on Netflix. The series follows John DeLorean’s larger-than-life story, from his time as a somewhat unknown engineer at General Motors to the decade he broke from his corporate life to design his own fuel-efficient sports car. But under the hood of his self-created legend lies darkness and deceit, CIA, drug deals, espionage, and beautiful cars. Paul Leonard-Morgan has done the score; in a Facebook post, he remarked, “Got to channel my inner 70’s self on this one, with fantastic guitar, bass, vibes!”
Penka Kouneva has scored the feature documentary ZERO GRAVITY, directed by Thomas Verrette which takes an intimate look into Campbell Middle School’s innovative Zero Robotics program and three students as they participate in class, learning to create code that will program satellites, and then participate in a NASA-sponsored competition where astronauts will put the programs to the test. The film debuted at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose last March; it will have its Los Angeles premiere at The Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on Aug. 30th.
In collaboration with Sacred Bones Records, Waxwork announces the HALLOWEEN KILLS Original Motion Picture Soundtrack with an exclusive colored vinyl variant! John Carpenter has returned to the studio with son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies to further expand on the iconic score that forever changed the course of horror cinema and synthesizer music.
Spike-Rot Records in Italy has released the original score to LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO/BLACK SUNDAY on vinyl with 20 previously unreleased tracks from the score by Roberto Nicolosi. The album, in a beautiful gatefold sleeve, is offered in either purple or bone colored vinyl. The die-cut slip case features original artwork by Solomacelo and liner notes by Lamberto Bava. See Spike-Rot Records.
Waxwork presents the deluxe vinyl score album to George A. Romero and Stephen King’s 1982 horror-anthology classic, CREEPSHOW, composed by John Harrison (Day Of The Dead, Tales From The Darkside)!
Remixed and remastered for vinyl, CREEPSHOW has never sounded better and features every piece of score music from the classic 1982 film. CREEPSHOW features deluxe packaging with heavyweight old-style tip on gatefold jackets with built-in booklet pages, director liner notes from George A. Romero, composer liner notes from John Harrison, the complete score, 180 gram colored vinyl, printed inserts, and artwork by Ghoulish Gary Pullin.
Quartet Records announces official LP reissue of MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969). John Barry was credited under the credit of “Music Supervisor,” but he did compose a series of original cues and supervised the entire musical concept of the largely song-based film music, along with the American producer Phil Ramone. For this new Quartet LP release, the classic 1969 soundtrack album has been entirely remixed and mastered from recently discovered first-generation multi-track tapes and includes two bonus tracks. The LP can be pre-ordered now; availability date 09/01/21. See Quartet Records.
In partnership with Enjoy The Ride Records, Waxwork presents a deluxe and exclusive vinyl variant of CHILD’S PLAY 2 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. The iconic orchestral score, composed by GRAEME REVELL (THE CROW, STREET FIGHTER, SIN CITY) and conducted and orchestrated by Shirley Walker (BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, FINAL DESTINATION SERIES, THE FLASH) is now available on vinyl for the first time, and mastered for the format. See Waxwork.
Death Waltz has released their vinyl edition of Francis Ford Coppola's BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, featuring the acclaimed score by Wojciech Kilar, whose brooding themes and dark choral textures have become the standard for the music of vampiric cinema. Working with Coppola’s vision of the film as a tragic love story, Kilar conjured up a heartbreakingly beautiful, yet violent, tone poem that exquisitely encapsulates the darkness and passion of Bram Stoker’s classic narrative. However, love never dies, and neither does great music. Artwork by JC Richard. Pressed on 180 Gram Clear Red and Purple Splatter Vinyl. Also available on 180 Gram Black Vinyl. Housed inside a gatefold sleeve. Fine liner notes by Charlie Brigden. Available via Mondo.
Hildur Gudnadóttir, who won an Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy for composing the music for JOKER, is undertaking a new adventure for her latest project: She is scoring her first video game. Gudnadóttir and composer Sam Slater are writing the music for Battlefield 2042, the latest entry in the first-person shooter video game franchise from Electronic Arts and DICE, out Oct. 22. “We are thrilled to be writing our first video game score for Battlefield 2042, and teaming with Electronic Arts,” said Gudnadóttir and Slater in a statement. “It was such a deeply creative experience to dive into this world and create a truly unique and disruptive musical environment for the game.” – via Billboard. A digital soundtrack album will be released via Lakeshore Records, with Lakeshore partnering with Invada Records to co-release the vinyl edition. Details forthcoming. “From the very beginning, Hildur and Sam set out to craft a score like no other, in which music and sound design meld to create an extraordinary soundscape experience,” said President of Music for Electronic Arts, Steve Schnur. “I can say unequivocally that the original score for Battlefield 2042 is the most significant cinematic achievement in the franchise and an absolute game changer for the medium.”
Bear McCreary is scoring Call Of Duty: Vanguard, an upcoming first-person shooter video game developed by Sledgehammer Games and published by Activision. Scheduled for worldwide release on November 5, 2021, it serves as the eighteenth installment in the overall Call Of Duty series. Despite similar settings, the game does not serve as a sequel to Call Of Duty: WWII (2017) as it establishes new characters and storyline featuring the birth of the special forces to face an emerging threat at the end of the war during various theaters of World War II across the globe. Speaking at a press event reported on nme.com, McCreary said that he used “small ensembles of strings” as a starting point, aiming to create something “smaller and more urgent.” To that end, McCreary chose to use close mic’d instruments rather than full orchestra arrangements in a lot of the soundtrack. Thus he was able to create “raw and exposed” themes for each character while still creating a sweeping, epic score for the rest of the game. McCreary described his main theme as “emotionally ambiguous,” leaning more into the danger and panic of battle rather than just the heroism. This ties into the general tone of Vanguard, which is based on the “devastating” stories of real people who fought in WW2. “I’m psyched to score Call Of Duty Vanguard,” McCreary wrote on twitter on August 21, “Supporting an intense experience with mangled chamber strings, epic brass, and virtuosic soloists. Hear my score in action in the new trailer [watch below]. (Listen for a preview of the main theme in the brass at the end!)”
Watch the reveal trailer for Call Of Duty Vanguard:
Swiss composer and sound designer Jakob Eisenbach (PATIENT ZERO, TEMPLE OF THE DIAMOND SKULL), in partnership with TRUEVR Systems, has released the original soundtrack to Tikal: Night Of The Blood Moon. Now available at VR locations in North America and Europe, Tikal: Night Of The Blood Moon is a full-body VR arcade experience utilizing motion capture, physical props, and 4D effects to teleport players into an ancient Mayan temple where you and your team are dispatched to stop the awakening of evil in the shadow of the blood moon. Eisenbach’s original musical score was recorded with a full symphony orchestra and choir in Budapest, Hungary. “Tikal is a one-of-a-kind virtual reality experience that takes place during a long prophesized event in an ancient temple of the tikal,” explains the composer. “The focus and aesthetics demanded huge dimensions: especially in the vertical dimension, since this can only be achieved in a VR environment. Musically we needed to tell this story with an epic-sized orchestra, which I pushed to have recorded live and TRUEVR felt the same way. Inspirations for this epic journey were the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, the orchestration finesse of Franz Schrecker, the massive power of Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ and a very important touch of simplicity to not overwhelm players while immersed in the game.” Download or stream the soundtrack album here.
Watch behind-the-scenes with composer Jakob Eisenbach and the Budapest Art Orchestra:
Austin Wintory reports on Facebook that he is collaborating with Cold Iron Studios on the Xeno acid-drenched squad shooter Aliens Fireteam Elite. This is an upcoming multiplayer third-person shooter game developed by Cold Iron Studio in collaboration with Disney's 20th Century Games. It is the first Alien game since Alien: Blackout and is a standalone sequel to the original Alien trilogy. In contrast to Alien: Isolation, Fireteam Elite will focus on action rather than survival-horror. The game will be a third-person co-op shooter, able to be played with friends or AI teammates. “Few franchises are more thrilling and intimidating as this one...,” reported Austin.
In the early days of 3D, The House Of The Dead 1 & 2 lit up arcades worldwide with their compelling story, infectious gameplay, and heart-pounding music. Composed by the SEGA Sound Team, both games feature incredible soundtracks with truly ballistic punch, power, and bass. For the first time ever, both soundtracks are available in this collectible, hardcover slipcase—complete with new artwork and a spot gloss logo – from Light In The Attic (The LPs are also sold separately). See LITA.
Horizon Forbidden West is an upcoming action role-playing game developed by Guerrilla Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It is set to be released in 2022 for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. A sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn (2017), it features an open world in a post-apocalyptic western United States in which Aloy treks into an arcane region and faces with new hostile enemies and threat in the search for the cause of a mysterious, dangerous blight. The game’s music is the work of Joris de Man, Niels Van Der Leest, Oleksa Lozowchuk, and Joe Genson & Alexis Smith aka The Flight. The HORIZON: FORBIDDEN WEST Island of Spires 4-track EP is now available to listen to on streaming services including Amazon UK, Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube.
Watch HORIZON: FORBIDDEN WEST Meet The Composers featurette:
Developed by RaceWard Studio, RiMS Racing is a completely new approach to the motorcycle simulation game experience. It is the first motorcycling simulation game that combines a realistic riding challenge with engineering and mechanics. Players can use top-of-the-line bikes from the biggest manufacturers in a quest to harness their power, using an extremely accurate riding experience and precise control of the bike. The dynamic soundtrack is by the Italian Electronic Music Project formed by Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo, The Bloody Beetroots, with original tracks specially written for the game. The six exclusive tracks on the game’s original soundtrack are releasing next autumn as an EP and guarantee an adrenaline-filled experience for all players. See more details at Steam.
Sample some of the game’s music:
Randall D. Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine. A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema and Music from the House of Hammer. He currently writes articles on film music and sf/horror cinema, and has written liner notes for nearly 300 soundtrack CDs. Special thanks to Benjamin Michael Joffe for copyediting assistance.