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.

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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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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impossible log

I applauded composer Fernando Velázquez last year for his score for The Impossible, a film wrought with drama in which Velázquez wisely kept his music to the background rather than trying to influence the raw emotions on screen. But Velázquez’s latest project has audiences hearing a very different side of the composer – one of suspense and intrigue with his score for the Guillermo del Toro-produced Mama. Velázquez switches modes here, wasting little time bringing audiences into what del Toro described as a “fairytale gone wrong” with the first track, “The Car and the Radio” quickly putting you on the edge of your seat. Unlike his score for The Impossible, which drew audiences into the film slowly, Velázquez is at full tilt here, utilizing a full orchestra (and some ominous choral elements) which become a part of this world rather than simply keeping to the background of it.

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Gangster Squad Reshoots

The trailer for Gangster Squad brought us right into the world of 1940′s Los Angeles, where gangsters ruled the city under the unflinching thumb of Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) as ominous undertones vibrated against the sounds of punches and gunshots. This is a Los Angeles where crime and punishment rule rather than glitz and glamour, and the clothes, the hair, the makeup, the cars, and the guns alone let us know we are in a different time. But then a commanding female singer’s vocals cut through the chaos telling us to “get low,” while a hip-hop beat started to drive the action. This 1940′s world suddenly got a jolt of good ol’ contemporary R&B as Mr. HOV himself, Jay-Z, breaks in with his track “Oh My God.” His lyrics may be from a song released in 2006, but they do not feel out of place here saying: “A journey seldom seen / The American dream.” Gangster movies are appealing because they give audiences a glimpse into that dangerous world and Mickey Cohen has clearly convinced himself that what he is doing is simply living the American dream his way. Unfortunately this unique pairing of modern music with a period story exists solely in the trailer, while the film instead opts for an exclusively 1940′s feel. With a soundtrack full of songs from artists of that time such as Pee Wee King, Big Jay McNeely, and Peggy Lee it is this idea of taking itself too seriously that seems to be Gangster Squad’s inevitable downfall. Hoping to be a […]

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It is devastating whenever something tragic and unexpected happens, but when tragedy hits during the holidays, normally a time of celebration and good cheer, the impact seems even greater. As a nation, we know this feeling all too well due to the recent events in Connecticut, but this was sadly not the first time an unthinkable event occurred during a time when people are usually focusing on giving thanks and looking back over the year. In 2004, a deadly tsunami hit the coast of South East Asia, demolishing buildings, land, and people caught in its path. While this kind of natural event is much different than the harm caused by a person, the emotions related to suddenly losing, or being separated from, loved ones become the universal tenants of these awful situations. The images and stories that came out in the wake of this tsunami spoke for themselves, but The Impossible adds a personal touch by taking audiences inside the experience through the real life story of a family who was vacationing over the holidays in Thailand when the unthinkable struck and their lives were forever changed. The idea of a family being physically separated by powers beyond their control is enough to bring out one’s emotions and get your pulse racing which makes the task of a composer, in this case Fernando Velázquez, all the more daunting because music is not necessary to conjure up the emotions being felt and displayed on screen.

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You may have watched, or even just heard of, the slightly strange video featuring Shia LaBeouf and dancer Denna Thomsen that hit the web a few months back. The video features the pair dancing, fighting, and losing themselves to the almost sad sounding piano refrains of Sigur Rós’ “Fjögur Píanó” from the band’s latest album, Valtari. But even though the duo may have been performing to the music, the production was clearly more than a simple music video. Clocking in at a little over eight minutes, the video was directed by Alma Har’el (Bombay Beach) and is one of seventeen videos commissioned by Sigur Rós to be a part of their Valtari Film Experiment. Rather than simply going on tour to bring their latest album to the public, Sigur Rós had various filmmakers and artists take each of Valtari’s tracks and create their own visions inspired by them. Music and images have long gone hand-in-hand, with music used to score a film or images are used to depict the meaning behind a song, but when paired together, their impact becomes even greater. Sigur Rós, a band that has never shied away from experimentation, has taken the first step by creating the music and then released it to be re-imagined by others. Bands usually create music videos to accompany their songs and give fans a greater look at the song’s meaning, but this experiment allows those outside of the band have complete creative control to see what that freedom yields.

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We may stand in line to get our hands on the latest technology and watch as record stores close their doors as more and more music fans turn to iTunes and digital downloads instead of physical CDs, but there is still something about vinyl records that keep people coming back for more. While digital files are crisp and polished, it is almost impossible for a studio to duplicate the richness that comes from vinyl – plus those little imperfections and pops that come from listening to a record can sometimes be the best part. Even though CDs may seem like they are becoming a way of the past, there is a new trend coming forward and one that seems to be popping up more and more with soundtrack releases – the option to get these compilations on vintage vinyl. While he is known for creating electric scores for films such as Traffic and Contagion, Cliff Martinez’s work is also layered making it a prime choice to take a spin on the ol’ record player. This year Martinez’s work got the vinyl treatment twice with Milan Records releasing his dark and seductive score for Arbitrage and Mondo releasing his iconic score for Drive as a double vinyl album and enlisting artist Tyler Stout to create the album cover and package design. While the large cover that house these records allow artists more room for creative expressive and memorable images, it is the records themselves that give these scores added depth, providing […]

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Piano driven and almost jaunty, the score for 28 Hotel Rooms brings you right into that moment of falling for someone for the first time – the excitement and giddiness that come from getting to know someone new who lights you up inside. An ironic feeling from a track titled “I’m Never Gonna Call You,” but 28 Hotel Rooms is not your average love story – it is the story of an affair. The almost dangerous and daring piano refrain starts to hint at this truth, but it is “Elevator” that dives right in to this feeling of a different world, one that can only live in the various hotel rooms our two leads (played with fire and passion by Chris Messina and Marin Ireland) constantly find each other in. But in the same way we never learn these character’s names, their love story is also doomed to ever be fully realized because they are each tied to relationships and lives outside of their few nights here and there with one another with the score working to take us through their various feelings and emotions. I spoke with Will Bates, one half of Fall On Your Sword and the composer behind 28 Hotel Room’s vibrant score, to find about more about his process and what inspired him to create the music for this unique story in which neither lead is painted in the most favorable light. Messina and Ireland each deliver raw and stripped down (both metaphorically and physically) performances as two […]

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Tyler Bates

If you have ever grabbed your arm rest in fright while watching the recent Halloween remake or buried your face in your scarf (as I often do during the scary parts of movies) when a particular stanza in the Dawn of the Dead score made you jump, you are already familiar with composer Tyler Bates‘ work. With Halloween upon us, I thought it only appropriate to sit down with Bates to pick his brain about all things horror from his favorite scary movies to what he loves about composing for them to his favorite Halloween memories (and costumes.) Read on to hear about his experience working with directors Rob Zombie and Neil Marshall, how his early exposure to horror films may have set his current career in motion, and what may happen when you attend a wedding on Halloween.

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When one thinks of a party mix songs by artists like Bart Davenport, Cass McCombs, and Sonny & The Sunsets are not usually what come to mind, but then again, Smashed is not a film that simply shows you how much fun you can have while under the influence – it is an honest (and sometimes honestly hard to watch) look at what it means to live your life in a haze and what happens after you make the decision to come out of it. As I said in my review of the film, Smashed focuses on the life of Kate, played with brutal honesty by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Kate is not a Ke$ha style party girl, but she is a girl who likes to have a good time and can be spotted indulging in some “hair of the dog” before heading off to work (as a school teacher, mind you.) This slow, unassuming, almost innocent look at Kate’s life is reflected in the film’s soundtrack which is filled with more mellow artists (like those mentioned above) and composed pieces from Andy Cabic and Eric D. Johnson.

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Nathan Johnson

Out today, Looper tells the story of mafia hit-man Joe (Joesph Gordon-Levitt) who spends his days offing victims, but there’s a twist here: these victims are sent to him from the future. And when he comes face-to-face with his future self (Bruce Willis), things really start to unravel. Part sci-fi, part action, part drama, Looper flows between these different genres just as the story flows between different time periods and it is Nathan Johnson’s score that helps guide us from one place to the next. I spoke with Johnson about creating his completely original score, full of found sounds he then manipulated into actual instrumentation – no easy feat! But one that is fully achieved and gives this original story an equally original sound and feel, creating a new world that does not completely take us away from where we are now, but hints at where we may be going.

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Unlike most films, Looper starts off with only ambient noise – the sound of the wind and the rustling of leaves fill the space, but as we look upon a stone faced man wielding a gun these every day sounds we rarely notice take on a new feeling and become almost as foreboding as the use of sorrowful strings or rumbling percussion. A single shot breaks this near silence and with it, Nathan Johnson’s futuristic and industrial score comes in. Johnson has been no stranger to giving audiences peeks at his process for creating Looper’s score and there is little question why – it’s pretty damn cool. Rather than simply turning to a full-bodied orchestra to expand on the various characters’ emotions and set the frenetic pace of the film, Johnson took found sounds (a car door slamming shut, an industrial fan, the vibration of a door stopper) and used these sounds as his instruments while still infusing and pairing them with more standard instrumentation, creating a score that is both familiar and inventive. He even went so far as to build new instruments by combining normal instruments (a marxophone) with unique sounding elements (an appropriately selected gat gun) making the score feel off-putting, but still grounded in the fabric of the narrative.

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Have you ever looked at the expensive highrises that dot the New York City skyline and wondered what it would be like to run one of the companies housed within them? Not necessarily the long hours, tough decisions, and stress that would come with such a position, but the type of life that kind of work leads to – a life of privilege, beauty, and lack of consequences. A life where working above the fray causes you to feel like you may almost be above the fray itself. Director Nicholas Jarecki takes us past the velvet ropes and doormen into this decedent and stunning world, a world you usually only find in people’s fantasies, but one that is a reality for those select few able to afford it. While this life is unquestionably beautiful and enticing, the big businessman it is afforded to got a bit of a shake up when things started crashing down on Wall Street and those who may once have been viewed (and viewed themselves) as untouchable started to experience some undeniable cracks. Arbitrage focuses on the life of powerful businessman Robert Miller (Richard Gere), a man whose world is surrounded by rich mahogany, dollar signs, and the insides of town cars. His life is one you would expect for a man in his position, but Cliff Martinez takes a more unexpected route with his score, giving this stiff and almost antiquated environment some real texture and vibrancy. The juxtaposition of these classic settings with Martinez’s more modern, electronic sound helps create a […]

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Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) has done a terrible thing. He’s stolen another man’s words. And because of this deception, three different storylines unfold – one in the past, one in the present, and one in the future. However, when telling the story of a man willing to steal another’s words, it is hard to know how reliable our narrator is and as these three storylines start to blend with one another, the truth at the heart of it all seems to get more and more muddled. Throughout The Words, composer Marcelo Zarvos’ score provides us with sonic clues that attempt to point us towards that truth while also tying these three stories together. One of the most memorable parts of the score (and the film) is The Words’ theme. Within the first few seconds of the score’s second track, “The Old Man,” the theme hits you – a driving string piece that is both beautiful and romantic, but at the same time ominous and unsettling. This theme works as the first hint towards the true nature of this story. At first glance, The Words may seem like three simple love stories told through the perspective of three different generations, but as things begin to unfold, it becomes clear that nothing in this story is simple and the truth at the heart of it is much more complicated. (Listen for this theme to come back in a big way at the beginning of “The Bookstore” – possibly hinting at a link between these two pieces). Since we […]

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The following post contains spoilers. If you are not caught up on the current episode of Breaking Bad, proceed with caution. This current season of Breaking Bad has successfully hit the accelerator as we get closer and closer to the end of the series. The shocking end of former kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) has only made way for a new one – our increasingly sinister anti-hero, Walter White (Bryan Cranston.) The formerly meek and mild chemistry teacher may now view himself as an untouchable, successful drug lord, but those around him are suffering the consequences – whether they realize it or not. Since the beginning, Breaking Bad has gotten its distinct and inventive sound from composer Dave Porter. I spoke with Porter before the premiere of Season 5 and his teases of what was to come (both musically and episodically) have proven to be as true as those flash forward glimpses director Vince Gilligan and co. are so foud of giving us.

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Music and sound are not just elements that underscore select scenes in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, they are each specifically discussed and used in the story itself. Cosmopolis follows 28-year-old billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) as he drives around Manhattan over the course of a day, trying to get from one end of the city to the other to get a haircut. A seemingly simple premise, but as any Cronenberg fan (or those who have read Don DeLillo’s novel) know, it does not stay simple for long. It is clear that Eric is incredibly rich and his wealth has caused him to become removed from (although still amused by) the general population – a point that is further driven home as he travels through town in a showy, tricked out, bulletproof white stretch limousine. The score, created by composer Howard Shore and indie rock band Metric, may start the film at a kinetic pace with “White Limos” (which almost echoes the opening to U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name”), but once Eric enters his limo it is not just the music that is suddenly stripped away, all noise evaporates once he is inside. We learn that Eric had lined his limo with cork to eliminate street noise and it is this lack of ambient noise that makes every move, breath, and grunt in his limo sound all the more intrusive and off-putting. Cronenberg does not let up with this complete lack of ambience, and it makes the expansive limo feel no bigger than […]

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It’s in the title – The Odd Life of Timothy Green is, well, odd. But it is those oddities and the unexpected twists and turns that make this story memorable. Timothy (CJ Adams) is not your average child so bringing this character and his world to life required composer Geoff Zanelli to think outside of the box. Organic materials like dirt, wood, and leaves (of course) play a big part in not just Timothy, but all the character’s lives (and their futures) so it is no surprise that Zanelli took a more stripped down and inventive approach when creating the music for this film. Zanelli’s score is both magical and jaunty, much like Timothy himself, and creates a unique texture that helps make some of the more “out there” moments of the film still feel grounded in real emotion. I spoke with Zanelli about how he approached creating this score, what inspired him throughout the process, and what went in to creating music that sounded both familiar and new.

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Anyone who has watched a movie or a TV show knows how important song selection and music placement can be. A well-placed song can elevate a scene whereas a misplaced song can end up being distracting. While most films enlist a composer to create the score (i.e. the emotional backbone of a project), it is the music supervisor who is tasked with placing songs alongside those composed pieces. One of my current favorite bands, M83, has started gaining some traction and, unsurprisingly, started popping up in various films and trailers. I noticed that two different songs from the band were used in two different ways recently – one in a scene in Step Up Revolution (“Wait”) and one in the trailer for Cloud Atlas (“Outro”.) One of these placements worked well (see: Cloud Atlus trailer) and one did not (see: the kissing scene in Step Up Revolution.) M83’s otherworldly, electronic sound was the perfect fit for a film like Cloud Atlus and the use of “Outro” in the film’s trailer worked to add to the emotion of the stunning visuals. Granted such a small portion of “Wait” was used in Step Up Revolution it actually cut off before the lyrics really started to come in, but the song still seemed misplaced and felt more forced than a natural accompaniment to the scene. But when a band starts getting placed everywhere, instead of just getting that music exposed to new ears, it can sometimes cause the band to become oversaturated and end up […]

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With temperatures on the rise and Comic-Con officially over, there is one place comic book fans can still find solace in the middle of these hot summer months – your local movie theaters. Christopher Nolan is poised to complete his epic Batman trilogy with the highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises, set to hit theaters this weekend. Not only will Christian Bale be returning as Gotham’s caped crusader, he will once again be joined by his trusty butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), his business manager/tech wizard, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and Batman champion, Commission Gordon (Gary Oldman) – to name a few. And in true Nolan fashion, some other faces familiar to the director’s work will help round out this final battle with Inception alums Tom Hardy taking on the villain role as Bane and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as hopeful police officer, John Blake. But Nolan’s affinity for working with those he has before does not stop at the cast. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight composer Hans Zimmer (whose score for Inception was one of the most memorable of 2010) returns to finish out the trilogy as well. While most of us will have to wait until this Friday (or for you late-nighters, Thursday at midnight) to see the conclusion of this heroic tale, Zimmer’s score (now available) takes us there now.

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