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.

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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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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Aural Fixation - Large

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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Aural Fixation - Large

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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Aural Fixation - Large

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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Aural Fixation - Large

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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Aural Fixation - Large

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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published: 12.22.2014
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