Aural Fixation

Aural FixationWhat would your favorite movie be without sound? Try thinking of Jurassic Park without hearing the great John Williams score? It’s not really possible. Music can add untold dimensions to the vision of a filmmaker, and our own Allison Loring is as music-obsessed as they come in the world of movie geeks. Join her as she looks at all the best and most interesting work in the world of movie music.

Get On Up

It is hard to believe summer is almost over, but as we look back on a season that gave us surprise hits (who knew Edge of Tomorrow would be so entertaining?) and surprise misses (Let’s Be Cops didn’t quite capture the buddy comedy magic it was looking for) the most interesting trend to emerge was how this summer’s soundtracks were all about the past. From 1920s jazz to 1960s funk to 1970s pop rock, this summer felt more like a music history lesson than the expected barrage of radio hits piped into every blockbuster looking to generate box office heat. (Granted those were there too – looking at you Transformers: Age of Extinction and Imagine Dragons.) And audiences were into this change of pace. So much so that a soundtrack full of songs from the 1970s made it to the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Kiss

Over a century old, superheroes are inextricably rooted in nostalgia. We usually meet them first when we’re kids, growing up with them and building memories – which character we first rooted for, which villain we first hated, who we first dressed up as for Halloween (or any given Tuesday). While it’s exhilarating to see characters from the page brought to life in a modern faddish flurry, something almost always gets lost in translation when some of them are “updated” for our modern world. Acknowledging that these are beings of another time, even ever so slightly, helps make these films feel like an experience instead of just another blockbuster. A prime example? The Guardians of the Galaxy, which figured out a way not only to combine action, drama, humor and heart, but also figured out a way to infuse a great sense of nostalgia thanks to a soundtrack full of funky beats from the 1970s.

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Michael Giacchino

Coming up with song titles for a score or soundtrack can be a tricky business. The music for a film is usually released before the film itself to get audiences excited, but if the track listing reads like a spoiler list for what happens in the film, the music can end up being more upsetting than enticing. Other times the titles that make up a film score can be boring and forgettable (even if the music is not). However composer Michael Giacchino has taken a different approach by making his track titles stand out by giving them funny (even pun-y) titles.

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The Purge Anarchy

Watching gruesome scenes over and over seems like a symptom for someone battling serious demons, but when you’re the composer on a horror film, this practice is just part of the job. Nathan Whitehead returns to The Purge series with a brand new score full of the tension cues you’d expect, yet he’s also included enough unexpected musical elements to keep your ears guessing throughout The Purge: Anarchy. Unlike the first movie, Anarchy takes audiences out of the confines of a single home to go out into the streets and explore what it really means when laws are lifted and chaos is allowed to reign supreme. I spoke with Whitehead last year about his score for The Purge, and he explained that the hybrid nature of the film as both horror and thriller “really steered the music into these grittier textures and more processed sounds,” whereas with his score for Anarchy he looked to “explore the action moments more.” “But there are also opportunities to explore more emotion,” he said when I talked to him again about scoring the sequel. Now that the series is moving further into the fray, the violence is sure to get amplified as the story goes from cat-and-mouse to all-out nihilism. I wondered about the psyche of someone tasked with having to watch these scenes repeatedly to get all the elements right. How does that weigh on a person? The short answer: perspective helps.

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Screen Gems

Christopher Young knows horror. After 32 years in the business and countless horror movies under his belt from Hellraiser to The Grudge to Drag Me To Hell to his latest, Deliver Us From Evil, Young is a wealth of information when it comes to talking all things fear. A composer, but also a big fan, Young’s appreciation for the genre has in turn helped him give it some of its most terrifying scores. Young didn’t seek out the horror genre, it just happened that he was coming up in the business when films like Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Freddy the 13th reigned supreme. Deliver Us From Evil marks the third time Young has worked with director Scott Derrickson, and Young is clearly a fan of the rising filmmaker, noting that he is one of only a handful of directors whose specialty is horror.  “He’s one of two or three horror directors that I’ve worked with who are extremely intelligent and concise about what it is they’re trying to do with their movie as a director, but equally — and more importantly from my perspective — is what needs to be done with the music,” Young says.

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dashes

The montage that opens every episode of Dexter is an interesting example of how showing every day images from certain angles can make innocuous actions suddenly look like potential crime scenes. Paired with composer Rolfe Kent‘s creepy theme full of Asian and European instruments like a ukulele, bouzouki and saz, Dexter‘s open is the perfect way to prepare to dive inside of the mind of a serial killer who ties his shoes just like you or me. But the violent images in the open (and the show itself) also bleed into Dexter‘s score as created by composer Daniel Licht. Dexter (Michael C. Hall) prefers a surgical approach when dealing with his victims, and Licht reflects this preference in the show’s score by taking surgical instruments and turning them into musical instruments that pair surprisingly well with the more classical orchestration. Using scissors and knives as percussive elements helped Licht give Dexter the ominous feeling that something sinister was constantly lurking in the background. If you ever wondered how all these different sounds come together on the show, Licht created a behind-the-scenes video to show how he created the sound of Dexter. You can see how Licht shifts from conducting an orchestra of classically trained musicians to create bone-sawing percussion that makes you feel like something isn’t quite right.

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True Detective Titles

One of the best things about True Detective is the complicated relationship between detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) with McConaughey’s Rust working as the perfect philosophical foil to Harrelson’s gregarious man’s man. The two have the ability to rub each other the wrong way personally, but they also make each other better detectives. Viewers who love the relationship between Rust and Marty (and McConaughey and Harrelson) were likely disappointed when the show’s creator, Nic Pizzolatto, announced that not just two, but three, new detectives would be taking the reins in season two, leaving Team Rust/Cohle behind. True Detective will not only be changing up the cast, but also leaving the bayous of Louisiana to explore sun-soaked California. These changes may be less than great news for fans of season one’s location and character dynamic, but this approach is an exciting way to keep the series feeling fresh and expansive from season-to-season. For a series rooted in unraveling mysteries, it makes sense that certain elements need to change to keep viewers on their toes, always guessing and always questioning what may happen next. But there is one element of True Detective that should remain constant – the music.

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Mad Men Best Things Bert

Don Draper is losing his mind. This is not a new theory, but after last Sunday’s season finale (for this half of Mad Men’s final season) it looks like it is becoming a fact. A season that has had Don fighting to keep everything – his job, his marriage, his family – finally allows our battered protagonist to end things on a high note with Don back on top at SC&P, letting go of a marriage that seemed only to weigh him down, and building an honest relationship with his kids (well, Sally at least). But then the true cracks start to show.

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Paul Walker in Brick Mansions

If you are an aspiring composer, a musician, or simply a music fan interested in how a song actually comes together before you see it on the big screen, we have a peak behind the curtain for you. Composer John Fulford specializes in creating music for productions and has worked on shows like Breaking Bad, Glee and Enlightened as well as indie films like The Sunset Limited, studio releases like American Reunion and, most recently, Brick Mansions. Fulford knows how to work within tight deadlines (thanks to the weekly schedule of TV) and this discipline of constantly creating has helped train his ear in recognizing track elements that would work perfect on screen. Fulford was looking to get some music on Shawn Ryan’s The Chicago Code and figured the best way to achieve that goal was to work with Chicago-based artists. That led him to the artist N.E.P.H.E.W. Fulford and NEP began working together and created the track, “Nephgroove.” Unfortunately the song did not end up being used on The Chicago Code, but when Brick Mansions was looking for some authentic rap, they were sent “Nephgroove” and, as Fulford puts it, “the rest is history.” In this video (as created by Louis Mayo @Viewbility), Fulford takes you through his process of writing the song and highlighting the elements that ultimately stood out to the producers.

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Jesse Eisenberg in

Have you ever wished a fantastic song struck up the moment you walked into a room? It’s something that happens in movies, never in real life. But there are sounds that do accompany us in our every day lives. The ambient sound of the wind, cars driving by, idle chatter, coffee brewing. We rarely notice these noises because they are simply a part of the background, but what if suddenly all these unnoticeable noises were amplified? A subway car rushing by so loudly you’re forced to cover your ears. The chatter in a coffee shop becoming deafening. A copy machine sounding like gun fire. And no one else seems to notice. You would think you were going crazy, right? This is exactly what seems to be happening to Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) in The Double. Simon seems like an ordinary guy with a boring job, a small apartment, and a crush on a girl, but his world also seems off-kilter thanks to the film’s choice to turn up all the ambient noises that usually help give a scene a sense of grounding reality. Then again, Simon may not be living in reality, and The Double‘s ambient assault helps convey this idea without needing to explicitly say it. When Simon is introduced to his new co-worker, James, who happens to look exactly like Simon, it makes sense that Simon would start to feel like he is losing his mind — especially when no one else seems to agree that their similar appearance is striking and more than a little strange. But director Richard Ayoade creates a world that seems to live […]

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Movies live orchestra

Would bringing live music back into theaters improve your experience of watching a film? Or would it feel like an old timey distraction? Eight-seven years ago, before movies were able to synchronize sound to the actual picture, having live musicians and orchestras perform as the film played was the norm. The Artist showed audiences how silent films relied on the music to convey the feelings and emotions of the actors on screen in lieu of dialogue. But as film (and the film industry) moved into 1927 – film technology began to advance and recorded dialogue and sound synchronization became the way of the future as theaters began swapping out orchestras for speakers. But should theaters bring live music back to the movie going experience? We say yes.

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Captain America USO scene

Captain America was introduced to the Marvel universe in 1941 as a young man who gets injected with a super serum that changes him from a frail kid to human perfection. The idea of an ordinary person suddenly finding themselves with super powers has consistently appealed to audiences and comic book fans, but Captain America became one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes during the 1940s thanks to it’s patriotic message, something that was much needed while America was in the throes of World War II. But most notably, out of all the superheroes populating the Marvel universe, Captain America was the first character to get his own movie serial, the self-titled, Captain America. (The next Marvel superhero to hit the screen would be The Punisher forty-two years later!) The serial (and Dick Purcell) brought Captain America to life, but Purcell’s version was slightly different from the version in the comics. Purcell’s alter ego was that of District Attorney Grant Gardner while the alter ego in the comics was the formerly frail Steve Rogers. However the patriotic message and feeling of the comics remained constant on the screen thanks to music from composer Mort Glickman.

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frank-movie

This is Frank. He’s the lead singer of the band Soronprfbs. He’s played by Michael Fassbender in the film of the same name. And he’s based on an actual person (or character – depending on how you see things). A man who never takes off a papier-mâché head is a situation that seems made for the big screen, especially when that same man lives his life in the spotlight (rather than staying the shadows). Fassbender’s Frank in Frank is based on the real-life creation of comedian and musician Chris Sievey - Frank Sidebottom. While both Franks are aspiring musicians, they attempt to capture success in very different ways.

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Say Anything Boombox Scene

When most people hear “music supervisor” they think of television and the person who places the songs heard throughout an episode. These days, most shows end with a highlight reel of the artists and music featured in the episode so you can easily figure out who sang what (and, they hope, go out and by the song). But music supervisors do not only exist in the world of TV, they also work on movies. As this past weekend’s Oscar broadcast proved, the main recognition for movie music falls to the film’s composer. Rightfully so. The composer does create the lion’s share of the music and helps deliver the overall impression a film looks to make on audiences, but they are not the only ones involved in shaping the tonal language. Original songs written for a film can become as iconic as the film they are featured in (right, Llewyn?), but placed music is just as much a part of the experience and those curating the choices are as big a part of the scoring process as the composer.

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Almost Famous - Stillwater

In the wake of the untimely passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, we here at FSR were asked to think of our favorite Hoffman performance. I immediately thought of his portrayal of rock journalist Lester Bangs in Almost Famous which got me thinking about the band Stillwater which William (Patrick Fugit) ends up following on tour. Stillwater is a fictional band created for Almost Famous, but they feel like anything but fiction, instead coming across as a real band just starting to climb the charts, easily existing alongside The Who and Black Sabbath (the band they opened for in the film). So what was it about Stillwater that made them feel like a real life band and not one simply created to help drive the story?

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August-Osage-County-Poster-header

In an interview with Rolling Stone, “August: Osage County” playwright, Tracy Letts, said the difference between watching a movie and a play is “…the way people take them in. You don’t work as hard to watch a movie. You work harder to watch a play, so what the audience puts into it is interesting.” Going to the movies is definitely a communal experience, but watching a play can be an intense experience because you are not simply escaping into a story as a passive viewer, you are in a theater with the actors, the presence making you a participant in the overall experience. Before the premiere of the film adaptation of August: Osage County at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, Letts expanded on this comparison saying, “There are a lot of people in a room [when watching a play] and everyone is a living person as opposed to an image that’s already been shot. Meryl Streep is not in the house tonight, just her picture’s up there, so it’s a different experience.” Movies allow for quick location changes and close ups of an actor’s face, but the feeling of being in the same room with an actor is lost when it’s solely their image on a screen – and that is where music comes in.

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alexandre-desplat

Even though “Please Mr. Kennedy” is probably still stuck in most people’s heads, it is officially a new year full of films with music that will move us to tears, make us cheer, make us smile, or simply introduce us to something different. Sometimes a movie won’t hit all the marks, but the music will be unforgettable and other times the music ends up being the element that makes a film by tying all the other elements together. After looking over the titles set to hit theaters this year, the following 15 are the ones to keep your ears open for. From well-known composers embarking on new collaborations to popular artists once again taking to the stand to musicians stepping away from their usual genres into something new,  the upcoming year is poised to deliver films boasting an eclectic array of tunes. If you are still looking for something to use those holiday iTunes gift cards on, get ready to add these upcoming scores and soundtracks to your playlists for 2014.

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Wolf of Wall Street Band

From the moment we saw Leonard DiCaprio bust a move in the trailer for The Wolf of Wall Street (creating one of the best gifs of 2013), it was clear the movie knew how to party. Martin Scorsese’s latest tells the provocative true story of former Wall Street stockbroker Jordan Belfort (played by DiCaprio) – a man who did not hold back when it came to his ambition, drug addiction, insatiable greed, and throwing some of the wildest parties both inside and outside of the office. The Kanye West beat that pulsates throughout that trailer (making it one of our favorites of last year) set the tone for this non-stop party atmosphere, but the musical choices throughout the movie itself (and those highlighted on the film’s soundtrack) are as unpredictable as Belfort after downing multiple handfuls of Quaaludes. The Wolf of Wall Street takes audiences back to the early 1990s where, in the wake of the stock market crash of 1987, ambitious Belfort sets his sights on exploiting penny stocks and begins to make a name (and buckets of cash) for himself. Despite the setting, the film isn’t jam packed with tunes from the decade (not to say they aren’t there) opting to instead focus on the blues with songs from artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, and Cannonball Adderley.

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Another Day Another Time

In a Q&A after a recent screening of Another Day/Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis, T Bone Burnett was asked why he wanted to create a four hour concert celebrating the music of Joel and Ethan Coen‘s latest film, and Burnett simply replied that he wanted to “keep the movie alive.” To which he quickly added, “Even though that seemed lame.” But Another Day/Another Time is anything but lame — it’s a true celebration of the music featured in, and inspired by, the Coen brothers’ folk odyssey. Burnett, along with Marcus Mumford (who served as an associate music producer on Inside Llewyn Davis and who also appears on the soundtrack), brought together a variety of musicians to put on a concert at New York  City’s Town Hall, which director Christopher Wilcha then turned into a documentary by filming the days leading up to the concert along with the concert itself. Just as Inside Llewyn Davis focuses on the performances and lets the film’s singers play without interruption, Wilcha created a stripped down music documentary that features the performances rather than the stories behind them. Another Day/Another Time gives audiences a front row seat and makes you feel like you are actually in Town Hall, only realizing you’re not when Wilcha slyly cuts from performance footage to shots of rehearsal.

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Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford

The idea of robbing banks and trains should conjure up images of brazen cowboys and the spaghetti western music of Ennio Morricone, but instead, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford depicts a stark world left in the wake of these famed outlaws, full of melancholy and restlessness. Jesse James has a very distinctive look and feel thanks to the cinematography, the acting from the film’s two leads and the costumes — all of which give Jesse James an almost mournful tone. There’s one other element that solidifies that dirge-evoking spirit. The film may have come out six years ago, but with a revival screening poised to take place this weekend, it felt time to revisit Nick Cave and Warren Ellis‘ score, a work which embraces the mystery and magic that is the story of Jesse James as it is told through the unreliable perspective of its narrator Bob Ford (Casey Affleck).

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