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.

12 Years a Slave Violin

12 Years a Slave tackles many issues throughout its narrative, doing so in the elegant and unflinchingly honest way only director Steve McQueen can deliver. Hans Zimmer’s score works well to reflect the action on screen, playing almost like a horror score at times, but music becomes more than just something accenting the background and driving the emotion, it is also a major part of the story. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a violinist and his talents have not only helped provide him a comfortable life, they have made him a respected member of his community. Solomon is certainly skilled, but it is also clear that he simply loves to play. Unfortunately, that love leads him down a path that changes his life forever. In Saratoga, New York, Solomon is a free man who plays for pleasure and additional income, but once he is kidnapped and shipped south, all the talents and skills that made him a valued member of society could now get him killed. Freeman (Paul Giamatti), the slave trader in charge of getting the highest price for his latest “stock,” quickly utilizes Solomon’s talents and has him play during his human auction as those around him are sold off and families are ruthlessly broken apart. The idea that upbeat music would keep those being sold and separated seem less upsetting is the first glimpse both Solomon and audiences get of the logic existing south of the Mason-Dixon line. The image of Solomon playing as people scream for […]

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Muscle Shoals Movie

The recording studio can be a magical place where the songs you now know and love are first born, and there are many factors go into making that magic a reality – a talented artist, just the right hook, a producer with a keen ear, a dedicated engineer, the perfect microphone placement. But there is one other factor that certain studios are also able to deliver: an iconic sound. Earlier this year Sundance premiered two different documentaries that gave audiences an inside look at two famous recording studios – one located in rural Alabama and the other on the outskirts of the entertainment capital that is Los Angeles (i.e. “The Valley”). Nearly a country apart in more ways than one. Muscle Shoals focused on the Alabama town that housed FAME Studios which produced some of the biggest hits of the 1960s and 1970s such as “I’ll Take You There,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Mustang Sally,” and “Freebird.” Where Muscle Shoals explored the location’s unique sound, Sound City focused on a more tangible object – the studio’s Neve board which helped produce hit albums for artists such as Fleetwood Mac, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty, and Slipknot. Not to mention Sound City’s musician-turned-director, Dave Grohl, who recorded there with his former band (one you may have heard of), Nirvana. With the release of Muscle Shoals last week, I wanted to revisit these two films as one documentary brought the music to life while the other seemed to circle around the same idea […]

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Thanks For Sharing

Telling the story of a sex addict is no easy task, especially when it involves his first real relationship since becoming sober. The music for such a story has to hit the various notes of a person going through the transition of recovering addict to stable boyfriend – and do so while dancing around the question of whether or not this transition is even possible. Mark Ruffalo takes on the role as Adam, a five years sober sex addict, by making him a mix of confidence and humility. Christopher Lennertz’ score follows suit sounding confident at times, but also ebbing into a more reserved tone when the theme calls for it. Adam is a Type-A personality who lives in a beautiful apartment in Manhattan and seems to have his entire life together. The classical music that plays as the film begins certainly reflects this, but as the music gets more staccato, it becomes clear that there is more to Adam then first meets the eye as the true depth of his disease is revealed. Thanks for Sharing tackles some serious issues, but it’s not all doom and gloom.

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penka_kouneva

Last year I posed the question, “Where are all the female composers?” The answer was not as dire as the question may have suggested. Yes – it may now be a year later and the majority of well-known composers are still male, but female composers such as Rachel Portman, Anne Dudley, and Miriam Cutler are pushing their way through, creating the music for films such as Never Let Me Go, The Full Monty, and Ethel. So why has it been nearly two decades since a woman was the lead orchestrator for a major studio release?

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Short Term 12

A foster care facility filled with various at-risk teens may sound like an intimidating place, and it certainly can be, but the realistic and sensitive way director Destin Cretton approaches the material makes audiences want to go behind the walls of Short Term 12, and what they find there may be surprising. The innocence conveyed through composer Joel P. West’s simple guitar plucks suggest things are not as scary at Short Term 12 as it may first seem. Sure, some kids try to break free from the facility by running at breakneck speed towards the front gates, but there is a comfort and true sense of security perfectly reflected in West’s score that suggests a different reality. The key for music in a film like Short Term 12, which features many moving elements — stunning performances, beautiful cinematography from Brett Pawlak, strong writing — is to add to the narrative without overwhelming it. As we get to know the residents of Short Term 12 better, the music follows suit, filling out tracks like “Wiffle Ball” and “Birthday Cards” with rich violins and piano refrains. However West’s score is wise to never overpower pivotal character moments as proven in the more restrained tracks like “I’ll Be Fine” and “This Is Home.” West creates a beautiful soundscape that successfully accents the character driven Short Term 12, but music also plays a strong role within the film with Marcus (Keith Stanfield) opening up to Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) through his song lyrics featured […]

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Ben Stiller in a still from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Remember the days when movie trailers simply teased what might happen in a film? Trailers have been getting longer and longer lately and this increase in length has caused many trailers to give away too much, too soon. With so many movies to choose from these days, they also seem eager to tell you almost everything upfront, an idea that seems predicated on the false hope that more information is more persuasive than mystery. But the opposite affect is happening as more and more people have begun loudly complaining that trailers are turning into mini-movies that leave viewers with little reason to go see the entire film. That’s why it was surprising last week when the trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty debuted and did something too many recent trailers have not: it shut up. Coming across like a mini music video, the trailer let Of Monsters and Men’s “Dirty Paws” play over images from the film and allowed the subjective lyrics and catchy rhythm to speak to viewer’s own imaginations as they tried to piece together what may happen n the film.

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  The 1990s were a very distinct decade in music – Seattle became the birth place of grunge, putting on a memorable live performance became just as important as releasing an amazing album, and boy bands dominated the end of the decade with a fever pitch that reverberates to this day (see: The Package Tour). The 1990s also saw a number of movies with fantastic soundtracks that truly represented the decade (Singles, Clueless, Can’t Hardly Wait), but The To Do List is one of the first films to come out in the aftermath of the ’90s that takes audiences right back to the days of Naughty By Nature, The Cranberries, Mazzy Star, and Salt-n-Pepa. The soundtrack for The To Do List is, as one would imagine, filled with “sexy” songs which play to the plot of the film which has Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) running through a laundry list of sexual exploits with a laser focus on losing her virginity before heading off to college. While the soundtrack is certainly tongue-in-cheek, the film takes things one step further by choosing to have two of its characters also reflect the music scene that permeated this decade.

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ogf

Anyone who has seen the trailer for Only God Forgives knows that director Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest promises to take viewers on a wild, intense ride through the back alleys of Thailand. Refn once again teams up with Ryan Gosling, who plays soft-spoken drug runner Julian, and composer Cliff Martinez to create a stylized and violent world that is nothing short of a living nightmare. Martinez creates a layered score that incorporates kinetic electronic elements with bold organs and Asian instrumentation that work perfectly with the sound design and sparse dialogue (a Refn favorite, these days anyway.) I spoke with Martinez about constructing such a commanding score, working with Refn again, unavoidable Drive influences, and the challenge of creating music that actually helps tell the story rather than just accent it.

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Lovett banjo 1

There are two main challenges with most independent films – time and money. But whether you are dealing with a big budget studio blockbuster or small independent fare, music is usually the last thing to be added and usually puts composers up against tight deadlines with little money left to work with. Brian Tyler, who recently composed the music for Iron Man 3, commented that no matter what kind of movie you are working on, “It’s a race and there’s really no time to second-guess yourself on a movie, regardless of the scale, when the time crunch is upon you.” This race against time is a common adversary for almost all composers, but this time crunch seems especially heightened when it comes to independent films. To dive in to this issue further, I spoke with Ben Lovett who composed the music for two independent films released last year, Sun Don’t Shine and Black Rock. Independent films can be a double edged sword allowing for great creativity (thanks to fewer “cooks in the kitchen” that come with studios), but with less funds and time to work within.

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Between Us

It is a challenge to take a story originally intended to be performed on stage in front of a live audience and adapt it for the very different environment of the big screen. A compelling story is a compelling story, but sometimes the moment the restrictions of the stage are taken away through “movie magic,” an important element is lost rather than gained. On stage it comes down to the actors and their performances and while that can be an immersive experience when watching live, it does not always translate to film. Movies are about being shown rather than told and plays are more about the dialogue and subtle performances of the actors. There is a connective tissue that does not always exist on stage, but does in film, and can help bridge this gap – music. Films need music to help round out emotion, especially when the actor is not standing right in front of you. But creating the music for a film adapted from a play is a very specific, and not always simple, undertaking. Composer Alexandre Desplat seemed to have cornered this market, having composed for Carnage based on the stage play of the same name and The Ides of March based on the stage play Farragut North, but two new composers, H. Scott Salinas and Tobias Enhus, have thrown their hats into the proverbial ring with their score and sound design for Between Us.

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NW_3984-LoRes

We all have those moments whether we are stuck in traffic or at the end of an un-moving line at the airport/post office/DMV where you just want to lash out at everyone around you. It’s human nature. But would the world really be a better place if we were allowed to give in to those momentary impulses rather than keeping our emotions in check? The Purge is a new kind of horror film that not only indulges in the expected slasher terror as a home is overtaken by a group of sociopathic “purgers” hoping to get some release, but goes one step further and becomes a comment on our society and how allowing this kind of controlled “Darwinism” would come down to those lucky enough to have wealth and protection versus those who do not. The strongest are not necessarily the ones who would survive and at the root of The Purge is this question of what happens when those who are easy to “pick off” because they cannot afford a fortress to hide behind are eliminated and only the rich remain? I spoke with the film’s composer, Nathan Whitehead, about his thoughts on the film’s unusual concept, how that inspired his score, and whether he thought silence could be scarier than sound.

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Gatsby Music

  Director Baz Luhrmann is known for his grand, stylized aesthetic, but he is also known for his keen ability to place contemporary music into classic stories or those set in decades past. Whether updating the world of Romeo + Juliet from fair Verona to Verona Beach or having the leads in a musical set in 1899 sing songs like Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and The Police’s “Roxanne,” Luhrmann always gives these musical choices a purpose whether he is bringing a well-known play into present day or infusing renewed life into the 1900s. The fact that these modern music placements actually work within these different contexts proves music really is the universal language and reminds audiences that even though these stories may not be from present day, they are certainly not dated. Luhrmann is a master at taking these stories, no matter when they were written or set, and making them feel fun, vibrant, and relevant.

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Brian Tyler

Iron Man 3 hits theaters this Friday, but you can already get the soundtrack composed by Brian Tyler. While the music of the previous two Iron Man movies was rooted in rock and roll, the newest entry  ushers in a new era of Tony Stark, and Tyler rises to the challenge of creating a more epic sounding score to accompany this change in tone. Tyler and I discussed his sound profile for a new era of Iron Man, the process (and importance) behind creating a memorable theme, and the joy of recording in the same studio where an iconic film score was made.

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Mud

Growing up on a riverbank in the rural outskirts of Arkansas is equal parts bleak and beautiful. The stark landscape can feel confining, but when it is all you know (or the only place you want to be) it is easy to find the beauty in the things that surround you. And that is how we find Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a charismatic drifter with an eye for this beauty, but one who ends up in the exact place he should not be. Mud is a story of redemption, but Mud himself is driven by another emotion: love. And it is his love story that captures the attention of two young local boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who end up learning more about themselves while trying to help Mud escape his own troubled fate. The film’s music, created primarily by David Wingo and Lucero, creates a captivating duality of sounding both ominous and playful (much like Mud himself.) Wingo, who also created the music for director Jeff Nichols last film, Take Shelter, clearly knows how to bring Nichols’ vision to life and make his worlds feel like an interesting combination of tangible and magical elements. Ben Nichols, whose track “Shelter” also appeared on the Take Shelter soundtrack, returns with two new blue-grass infused songs, “Davy Brown” and “The Kid,” which bring texture to Ellis and Neckbone’s world while tracks like Wingo’s “Juniper” add that sense of magic.

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The Company You Keep

Robert Redford’s Jim Grant speaks a poignant line in his latest film, The Company You Keep, stating, “Secrets are dangerous things. We all think we want to know them, but if you’ve ever kept one yourself then you understand to do so is not just knowing something about someone else, it’s discovering something about yourself.” As the film’s ominous title suggests, The Company You Keep is about uncovering secrets and what doing so can mean for the people keeping them and those desperate to reveal them. Driven by dynamic performances from an all-star cast, The Company You Keep is as much about what is said as what is not said, all underscored by a restrained, but moving score from Cliff Martinez. Martinez’s rock band roots have made him no stranger to electrifying his scores and pushing the boundaries of standard orchestration. Unlike the thriller pulse Martinez created for last year’s Arbitrage (another story about a man who is not everything he first seems), he takes a different approach to The Company You Keep relying heavily on the use of one of his go-to instruments, the baschet cristal, to create music that hovers in the background like an unwanted thought, dissonant while still being memorable.

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2012_Rogue_Office_Comp_2314_M4R

Most of us don’t remember the days when there were only three television channels (ABC, CBS, and NBC) producing a limited amount of programming. We grew up in the age of cable television with a new channel popping up every few months and more and more new programming available at the click of a remote control button. And just when we thought we couldn’t get any more cable channels, companies like Hulu and Netflix have thrown their hats into the original programming ring with shows like the former’s Fresh Meat and Prisoners of War and the latter’s House of Cards. Now DirecTV is getting in on the action with their first original show, Rogue, premiering next week on DirecTV’s Audience Network. Rogue tells the story of undercover cop Grace (Thandie Newton) who goes — ahem — rogue to dive deeper into the world of organized crime in order to avenge her son. I spoke with the show’s composer, Jeff Toyne, about his musical vision for the show, what is was like to watch that vision come to life, and the process of working outside the constraints of standard network television.

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score olympus has fallen2

A composer known for his otherworldly scores for films such as Immortals and period scores for television programs such as The Borgias, The Tudors, and The Pillars of the Earth may seem like an odd choice for a film about a very real place (the White House) falling victim to a fictional (albeit extreme) situation. However with a title like Olympus Has Fallen, composer Trevor Morris‘ past pedigree seems to make him the perfect fit to tell a story that is in fact as grand, and moving, as his past work. A fan of action movies himself, Morris worked closely with Olympus‘ director Antoine Fuqua to not only bring the story of the White House being taken over to life, but do so by getting audiences’ adrenaline and emotions racing.

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Adele Oscars

Adele is a mere two steps away from an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) having already won multiple Grammys (plus another this year making her a nine-time Grammy winner) and she just added an Oscar to that list. Adele’s now Academy Award winning song, “Skyfall,” was a perfect match for the James Bond franchise – bold, memorable, and just a little sexy. Adele’s powerful and commanding vocals seemed like a natural match for the film – and clearly it was an award winning combination. But what happens now? Adele is not the first mainstream artist to cross over into film and walk away with that coveted little gold man. Back in 2002, Eminem stopped simply telling people his story and put his lyrics on screen with 8 Mile and walked away with the Best Original Song Oscar for “Lose Yourself.” 8 Mile was Eminem’s first foray into film and while he now reserves his acting for music videos, Eminem has also worked as a musician on the 2012 film Love Written in Blood along with another well-known film composer, Clint Mansell, who created the film’s theme music.

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Stoker

At the beginning of Stoker, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) tells us she can hear things more clearly than most people, a talent that is quickly apparent seeing as every noise and sound in India’s life is amplified. From the crunching sound of an egg shell to the sharpening of a pencil, Stoker‘s sound design seems to take its cues from the opening credit sequence of Dexter, by turning seemingly innocent sounds into violent ones. Stoker’s director, Park Chan-Wook, makes his American debut here, but is well-versed in creating creepy worlds where violence and passion live hand-in-hand. This world is brought to eerie life by composer Clint Mansell, who creates a score that works seamlessly with Stoker’s unique sound design, plus a catchy hip-hop influence from Emily Wells and a new piano duet by Philip Glass. India’s voiceover, which begins the film and explains her unusual talents, is captured in the soundtrack’s first track, “I’m Not Formed by Things That Are of Myself Alone” and bleeds into Wells’ “Becomes The Color,” an upbeat song with a haunting chorus and a deconstructed ending that makes it the perfect introduction to Mansell’s score. His first track, “Happy Birthday (A Death in the Family),” has a light piano refrain that directly mirrors the chorus in “Becomes The Color,” introducing the importance of piano and creating a sense that everything heard (and possibly seen) in this world is simply an extension of something else.

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Aural Fixation - Large

Films that are submitted to festivals come with many questions. Will my film be accepted? Will people be interested in watching it if it is? Will it get distribution? What will happen if it does get distribution? But these questions are also what make film festivals so exciting – the great unknown and all the possibilities it contains. This year’s Sundance Film Festival gave festival attendees (and soon audiences all over) many different films from comedies to dramas to horror. Signing up to work on an independent festival film can end up being a labor of love, but it can also open doors and catapult otherwise unknown talent into the spotlight. The road to Sundance has been seen through the eyes of writers, directors, and actors (which can be found on the Sundance website), but I wanted to look at the process from the composer side of things and was lucky enough to speak with not just one, but two composers who ended up with a total of three films at this year’s festival between them. Rob Simonsen who composed music for two of Sundance’s most well-received coming-of-age films, the heart-felt The Spectacular Now and the funny The Way, Way Back and Heather McIntosh who created the inventive and sinister soundscape for the surreal The Rambler.

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