RIP: Keith Emerson

Keith Emerson (right) with Dario Argento
Keith Emerson (right) with Dario Argento

Keith Emerson – the keyboard genius and composer – has died. According to Rolling Stone, the 71-year-old musician was found at his home in Santa Monica, with a single gunshot wound in his head – an apparent suicide (though that has not been confirmed yet). Emerson was known mostly for his virtuoso keyboard work in the 1970s prog-rock band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, but he also provided soundtrack music for such horror films as Dario Argento’s INFERNO, Lucio Fulci’s MURDER ROCK, Michele Soavi’s THE CHURCH, and Godzilla’s 2004 swansong, GODZILLA: FINAL WARS.
Emerson was a flashy musician, who combined virtuoso technique worth of a concert pianist with outrageous stage antics (such as thumping his Hammond organ up and down to distort the sound, and using alligator clamps on the keyboard to create droning notes over which he could solo). Besides organ and piano, he was an early user of the Moog synthesizer, a monophonic instrument that could produce novel, electronic sounds, which Emerson used to create amazing solos and sonic landscapes, many with fantasy, science fiction, or mythological overtones, such as “The Three Fates” and “Tarkus,” an epic suite whose cover art suggested an epic battle between a manticore and a biomechanical armadillo-tank. His music combined rock and pop with classical and jazz influences. He frequently performed rock arrangements of classical pieces such as Holst’s Mars, Bringer of War (on the Emerson, Lake, and Powell album from 1986) and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a staple of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s live shows (including the throbbing and creepy “Hut of Baba Yaga,” inspired by a painting of a witch-like character from Slavic folklore).
Brain Salad Surger - artwork by Giger
Brain Salad Surger - artwork by Giger

Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 1973 album Brain Salad Surger featured cover artwork by H.R. Giger, and climaxed with Karn Evil 9 – 3rd Impression, which featured an early use of a sequencer (a device to pre-program notes which can be played back at any speed), with lyrics suggesting a futuristic battle between humanity and artificial intelligence.
Emerson’s work on INFERNO – his debut as a soundtrack composer – features a quieter, moody approach, with melancholy piano chords over strings, but there are a some faster-paced cues with pulsing rhythms and/or ominous electronic sounds. The soundtrack album represents some of his finest, most subtle work. It is also remarkable for representing one of the few times that director Dario Argento used a complete score intact in one of his films, instead of cutting and pasting together bits and pieces: the music on the album and in the movie coincide almost identically (with one or two minor deviations).
Emerson’s later soundtrack work was not up to par with INFERNO. NIGHTHAWKS was adequate. MURDER ROCK has one or two interesting cues. His main theme for THE CHURCH was effective, but his contribution to that film was limited to a few cues, mixed in with contributions from Phillip Glass, Simon Boswell, and Fabio Pignatelli of Goblin.
Purchase at Amazon.com
Purchase at Amazon.com

GODZILLA: FINAL WARS was another patch-job, stitched together from Emerson’s contributions, along with music by Daisuke Yano and Nobuhiko Morino. Fortunately, Emerson’s distinctive contribution shines through, particularly his glistening fanfare for the main title theme, which features Emeron’s trademark keyboard sound, emulating brassy orchestra.
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s back catalog remains easily available. Emerson’s soundtrack albums may be out of print or hard to find, but the tracks were assembled into the album Keith Emerson at the Movies, which is available on CD through Amazon and via streaming through Spotify.

La-La Land Superhero Scores

NEW RELEASES
Available for order at www.lalalandrecords.com

“BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES: VOL 1 (Second Edition):
LIMITED EDITION (2-CD SET)”
Music by Shirley Walker, Lolita Ritmanis and Michael McCuistion
Limited Edition of 5000 Units
RETAIL PRICE: $24.98
STARTS SHIPPING JULY 19, 2012
BATMAN_TAS_FC
“BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES: VOL 2: LIMITED EDITION (4-CD SET)”
Music by Various Composers
Limited Edition of 3500 Units
RETAIL PRICE: $59.98
STARTS SHIPPING JULY 19, 2012
“X2: X-MEN UNITED: LIMITED EDITION (2-CD SET)”
Music by John Ottman
Limited Edition of 3500 Units
RETAIL PRICE: $24.98
STARTS SHIPPING JULY 19, 2012
“THE PHANTOM: LIMITED EDITION”
Music by David Newman
Limited Edition of 3000 Units
RETAIL PRICE: $19.98
STARTS SHIPPING JULY 19, 2012
———————–
BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES: VOL 1: LIMITED EDITION (2-CD SET) LLLCD 1217
Music by Shirley Walker, Lolita Ritmanis and Michael McCuistion
Limited Edition of 5000 Units
STARTS SHIPPING JULY 19
RETAIL PRICE: $24.98
ORDER “BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES: VOL. 1: LIMITED EDITION (2-CD SET)” starting July 19 at 1pm PST at www.lalalandrecords.com and get your CD autographed by composers Lolita Ritmanis and Michael McCuistion. Autographs are while supplies last and are NOT guaranteed.
Back by popular demand, La-La Land has re-issued its 2008 sold-out title for the legions of BTAS fans who missed out on this dynamite release’s initial debut. This “second edition” re-issue is virtually identical to the 2008 version, except the bonus tracks “Gotham City Overture” and “Music of the Bat” have been removed to preserve the integrity of the initial release
The thrilling orchestral music from the acclaimed Warner Bros./D.C. Comics animated series BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES is unleashed again in this spellbinding 2CD Limited Edition pressing. Composer Shirley Walker (WILLARD, MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, FINAL DESTINATION 1-3, THE FLASH), along with Lolita Ritmanis and Michael McCuistion (BATMAN BEYOND, TEEN TITANS), and Danny Elfman’s iconic “Batman Theme”, revolutionized animated TV music with robust, full-blooded music that propelled BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES to lofty critical and artistic heights, enriching the The Dark Knight’s legacy. CD booklet features in-depth liners, including comments from writer/producer Paul Dini and composers Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Danny Elfman. Limited Edition of 5000 Units.
TRACK LISTING:
DISC ONE
01. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – Main Title (Danny Elfman) 1:02
ON LEATHER WINGS – SHIRLEY WALKER
02. Sub-Main Title / Batwing / Bat Attack 1:51
03. Batman Drives To Gotham 1:00
04. Batman Investigates / Batman Uses Infrared /
Police Rush Building 1:48
05. Batman Escapes / Batman Flies 1:48
06. Bats / Evidence Goes Up In Smoke / The Formula /
Dr Jekyll And Mr. Bat 3:01
07. Gotham From the Air / Ride’Em Batman / Epilogue 2:16
THE LAST LAUGH – SHIRLEY WALKER
08. Sub-Main Title 1:35
09. The Submarine / Joker Loots Gotham 2:35
10. Alfred Loses It 0:58
11. Bat Boat / Batman Catches The Big Fish /
Batman Fights The Bad Guys 2:18
12. Cliff-Hanger Under Water / Batman A.K.A Houdini 1:56
13. Batman The Terminator 2:01
14. Batman Vs. Joker / Batman Vs Joker Part 2 3:47
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE – LOLITA RITMANIS
15. Sub-Main Title / Stromwell’s Flashback 2:01
16. Batman on Top of Church / Stromwell Arrives At Pete’s / Thugs Exit 1:20
17. Stromwell Confronts Thorn 1:15
18. It’s Party Time / Batman Carries Stromwell 0:48
19. Stromwell Sees Joey 1:41
20. Stromwell Tricks Batman / Thorn’s Men Move In /
Thorn Chases Stromwell 3:22
21. Stromwell’s Flashback #2 1:45
22. Batman Cracks Heads / Thorn Removed 1:20
PRETTY POISON – SHIRLEY WALKER / LOLITA RITMANIS / MICHAEL McCUISTION
23. Ground Breaking Ceremony / Penitentiary Time Lapses 1:11
24. Batman Catches A Chopper / The Chopper Crashes / Rooftop Chase 1:58
25. Batman Sneaks Around 1:09
26. A Little Plant Muzak / The Carnivorous Plant 0:59
27. Batman Vs. Poison Ivy / Poison Ivy In Prison 3:52
CHRISTMAS WITH THE JOKER –
SHIRLEY WALKER / LOLITA RITMANIS / MICHAEL McCUISTION
28. 14 Seconds Opening / Jingle Bells / The Joker Blasts Off 1:03
29. Down the Mountain / Sidewalk Red Herring 0:51
30. Pukey Christmas Music / Christmas With The Joker / Game Show Music 2:18
31. The Train Crashes 1:19
32. Observatory Cannon / Cannon Out Of Control / Robin Blows Up Cannon 1:11
33. More Game Show Music / Drive To The Toy Company 1:39
34. Nutcracker Suite Medley 1:24
35. Pie In Batman’s Face / Dangling Hostages Saved / Deck The Halls 1:40
CD ONE Total Time: 62:02
DISC TWO
01. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES Alternate Main Title (S. Walker) 1:09
TWO FACE PART I – SHIRLEY WALKER
02. Harvey’s Nightmare / Dent’s Soap Box 2:24
03. Batman Tracks Dent 2:07
04. Split Personality / Harvey / Harv 4:21
TWO FACE PART II – SHIRLEY WALKER
05. Part One Recap 0:33
06. Sub-Main Title / The Heist 1:49
07. Bruce Wayne’s Nightmare / Two-Face Remembers 2:47
8. Batcycle / What About Grace 1:58
9. My Name Is Two-Face 1:52
10. The Great Equalizer / Where There’s Love 4:03
JOKER’S FAVOR – SHIRLEY WALKER
11. Sub-Main Title / Cussing Out The Joker / I Had A Bad Day 3:18
12. Joker’s Hide-Out 1:19
13. Charlie’s Neighborhood / Joker Finds Charlie 1:18
14. Charlie Arrives In Gotham / Joker Collects His Favor 0:42
15. Harley’s Party Source 0:44
16. Crashing The Party 1:33
17. Batman Saves The Commissioner / Batman’s After The Joker /
Charlie Gets the Joker 3:38
VENDETTA – MICHAEL McCUISTION
18. Sub-Main Title / Conway Is Abducted 0:43
19. A Clue / The Crocodile’s Lair 1:27
20. Another Clue 1:19
21. Croc’s Cave / Killer Croc 2:52
22. Batman Chases Croc / Sewer Fight 2:54
23. Bullock Gets The Croc 1:09
PERCHANCE TO DREAM – SHIRLEY WALKER
24. Sub-Main Title / The Dream Begins 0:52
25. It’s Impossible / Bruce Sees Batman /
Bruce Watches Batman At Work 2:14
26. My Life Is A Dream 2:48
27. Climbing The Church Tower / Belltower Fight 2:45
28. Your Own Private Wonderland / Back to Reality 2:48
Birds of a Feather – SHIRLEY WALKER
29. Birds Of A Feather 1:54
30. That Fine Roman Nose / Penguin vs. Muggers 2:32
31. Penguin Takes Veronica 0:40
32. The Drop / Rubber Duckie Ride 1:50
33. The Penguin’s Opera / High Society 2:19
34. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – End Credit (Danny Elfman) 0:34
CD TWO Total Time: 67:25
BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES: VOL. 2: LIMITED EDITION (4-CD SET) LLLCD 1218
Music by Various Composers
Limited Edition of 3500 Units
STARTS SHIPPING JULY 19
RETAIL PRICE $59.98
ORDER “BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES: VOL. 2: LIMITED EDITION (4-CD SET)” starting July 19 at 1pm PST at www.lalalandrecords.com and get your CD autographed by composers Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Carlos Rodriguez. Autographs are while supplies last and are NOT guaranteed.
Literally years in the making, La-La Land Records and Warner Bros. proves the wait was worth it with this amazing 4-CD set of previously unreleased music from arguably the greatest animated television series of all time, BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES! Produced by MV Gerhard and mastered by James Nelson, this 2nd Volume 4-CD set takes you through a treasure trove of astounding orchestral scores; music that rivals any blockbuster feature film. Composers Shirley Walker, Harvey R. Cohen, Carlos Rodriguez, Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion, Carl Swander Johnson and others are musically represented here, as well as Danny Elfman’s iconic theme. The 36 page CD booklet features exclusive, in-depth liner notes from writer John Takis. Limited Edition of 3500 Units.
TRACK LISTING:
DISC ONE
1. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – Main Title (Danny Elfman) 1:05
Beware The Gray Ghost – Carl Swander Johnson
2. Beware the Gray Ghost 0:54
3. Simon Trent 1:47
4. Trent Meets Batman* / Trent Runs 1:33
5. He Runs But He Can’t Hide* 0:36
6. Trent Helps Batman* 0:55
7. Lethal Toys* / The Ghost Saves Batman 1:25
8. Toy Car Chase* 0:43
9. Gray Ghost’s Shrine / Mistaken Identity 0:46
10. Twisted Ted* / Up in Smoke 1:36
11. Bruce’s Hero* 0:31
Beware The Gray Ghost – Bonus Track:
12. Gray Ghost Suite 1:24
The Cat And The Claw, Part I –
Harvey R. Cohen, Wayne Coster, Shirley Walker
13. The Catwoman (S. Walker) 4:51
14. Riding the Truck* (W. Coster) 1:01
15. Multigon International (W. Coster) 0:18
16. Introducing Red Claw (H. Cohen) / A Word With the Boss
(W. Coster) 0:55
17. Catwoman at Multigon H.Q. (S. Walker) / Cats in the Office (S. Walker) (Features “Ode to Joy” By L. Beethoven) 1:31
18. Batman Rescues Catwoman* (H. Cohen) / Lovers or Enemies (W. Coster) 3:33
19. Who Will Save You? 0:30
The Cat And The Claw, Part II – Harvey R. Cohen\
20. The Cat and the Claw 0:44
21. The Train* 1:59
22. Bruce Wayne’s Chaperone / A Bumpy Ride 1:57
23. Alley Cat* / Catwoman Strikes* 3:30
24. Bat Draft* 2:14
25. The Fallen Resort* 0:57
26. More Than You’ll Ever Know* 0:46
The Cat And The Claw – Bonus Tracks:
27. String Quartet (W. Coster) 1:01
28. Ode to Joy (Composed By L. Beethoven;
Arranged by Shirley Walker) 0:10
29. Introducing Red Claw (Alternate) (H. Cohen) 0:39
30. Ode to Joy Alternates (Composed By L. Beethoven;
Arranged By Shirley Walker) 0:28
Nothing To Fear – Shirley Walker
31. Nothing to Fear 0:43
32. Machine Gun / The Scarecrow Arrives 1:42
33. The Vault** / Sprinklers 3:22
34. Scarecrow’s Hideout 0:22
35. Scarecrow’s Backstory 0:35
36. Batman’s Flashback / Batman and Alfred 0:46
37. Scarecrow Invades the Museum /
Scarecrow’s Attempt at Escape** 2:13
38. Dirigible Flight / Fear Strikes Again / Escape and Explosion 3:22
39. Scarecrow Discovered / Scarecrow is Captured /
Scarecrow on a Skewer 1:54
Heart Of Ice – Todd Hayen, Shirley Walker
40. Heart of Ice 0:38
41. The Iceman Cometh Again / Cold as Ice* 3:30
42. Top Secret 0:57
43. The Swift Hand of Vengeance 1:55
44. Ice Assault / Frigid Frenzy / Alfred’s Cold Remedy 2:34
45. Arkham Asylum 0:59
Heart Of Ice – Bonus TrackS:
46. Newsbreak (Expanded) 0:44
47. Benefit Classic 1:15
48. Office Muzak 2:25
49. The Iceman Cometh Again (Alternate) 2:53
50. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – End Credits
(Extended) (Danny Elfman) 0:46
Disc One Total Time: 73:54
DISC TWO
1. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – Main Title (Piano Version)(Danny Elfman and Shirley Walker) 1:03
Appointment In Crime Alley – Stuart Balcomb
2. Sub Main Title 0:31
3. Batman Drives to Crime Alley / Where Are We Going to Go? 2:23
4. I’m Not Afraid Here* 1:12
5. Searching for Leslie / Leslie’s Held Captive 0:49
6. The Billboard 0:52
7. Baby Picture* 1:59
8. Chasing the Trolley / Trolley Rescue* 1:28
9. Batman Sees the Newstand Clock* / Leslie Sweats / Batman Swings During Speech 1:09
10. Good People in Crime Alley* 0:38
Mad As A Hatter – Harvey R. Cohen
11. Mad as a Hatter 1:00
12. Poor Jervis / Frabjous Day* 2:00
13. A Walk in the Park* 0:38
14. Ejection* / The Plunger* 1:15
15. The Mock Turtle Song 0:34
16. Until Tomorrow* / Will You, Won’t You* 1:03
17. All’s Fair in Love and War* / Mad Hatter’s Friends* /
Storybook Land* 3:04
18. Off With His Head* / The Maze* / Batman Comes to Tea* 4:15
Mad As A Hatter – Bonus Track:
19. Dining With Jervis 1:18
The Strange Secret Of Bruce Wayne – Lolita Ritmanis
20. The Strange Secret* / Batman Intervenes 2:21
21. Tragic Past* 1:23
22. The Strange Doctor / The Joker’s Phone Message* / Strange Has Left the Building 0:58
23. The Diabolical Plan* 3:07
24. Bruce Makes Another Tape 0:45
25. Strange Tries to Run / Flying the Unfriendly Skies* /
Running on Empty* / Batman Makes the Catch / Robin is Revealed 3:00
I’ve Got Batman In My Basement – Shirley Walker, Carlos Rodriguez
26. The Heist 2:17
27. Sherman Tracks Vulture / Birdseed / Penguin Revealed 1:36
28. Batman Gets Gassed 2:11
29. Batmobile Goes Bats / Sherman and the Batmobile* (Carlos Rodriguez) 2:09
30. The Vulture Flies / It’s a Matter of Life and Death 0:43
31. Vulture Attack / Penguin Pays a Visit 1:04
32. It’s Them or Us / Polite Penguin 1:49
33. Penguin the Bully / Batman vs Penguin 2:20
34. Front Page Penguin 0:41
Feat Of Clay, Part I – Jeff Atmajian,
Shirley Walker, Carl Swander Johnson
35. Feat of Clay* (J. Atmajian) 1:09
36. Mr. Fox’s Resignation (S. Walker) 3:32
37. Matt’s Make-Up (S. Walker) 1:31
38. Matt Finds the Formula (C. S. Johnson) 0:35
39. Creation of Clayface (J. Atmajian) 0:45
40. Bell Goes for a Ride*/** (C. S. Johnson) 1:56
41. Bruce Looks for Answers (J. Atmajian) 0:49
42. Teddy Discovers Clayface (S. Walker) 0:43
Feat Of Clay, Part Ii – Shirley Walker
43. Sub Main Title 0:36
44. Arrival at Imperial Pictures 0:19
45. Man of Many Faces 2:11
46. Suffocation for Fox / Foiled by Batman 1:08
47. Batman Confronts Clayface / The Matt Hagen Films 3:09
48. Batman Confrontation With Clayface / Clayface Dies 4:48
49. The Morgue 0:50
50. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – End Credits
(Alternate Beginning) (Danny Elfman) 0:48
Disc Two Total Time: 78:24
DISC THREE
1. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – Main Title
(MIDI Version)(Danny Elfman and Shirley Walker) 1:04
Almost Got ‘Im – Stuart Balcomb
2. Almost Got ‘Im 1:24
3. Pumpkin Patch* / Batman’s Scorn* 1:11
4. A Bad Penny* 1:12
5. Penguin’s Setup* / Birds of a Feather* 2:42
6. Laugh O Meter / Catwoman to the Rescue* / Catwoman KO’d 1:10
7. Shadow Secrets* / Cat Food for Thought* / Maybe Some Day 2:08
Almost Got ‘Im – Bonus Tracks:
8. Club Source #2 0:59
9. Club Source #4 0:57
10. Joker Talk Show Source* (Extended) 0:49
11. Joker Bumper* 0:15
12. Just for Laughs 1:40
If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? – Carlos Rodriguez
13. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?*/ Silent Radio 0:45
14. The Wasteland*/ Rescue Attempt* / Riddler Escapes* 4:18
15. Minotaur’s Myth* / The Griffin /Griffin Fight / Hand of Fate 3:05
16. Hijacked Hand* / The Minotaur / Destroy Them / Deadbolts* 3:06
If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? –
Bonus Tracks:
17. If You’re So Smart Source (Shirley Walker) 2:11
18. Riddle of the Minotaur Source 0:13
19. Griffin Theme 0:09
20. Question Mark Motif 0:08
21. Hand of Fate Motif 0:09
22. Wasteland Motif 0:07
23. Musical Puzzle 0:12
The Demon’s Quest, Part I – Michael Mccuistion
24. The Demon’s Quest* 1:47
25. Sad News / Strike One 1:06
26. Calcutta / Alley Fight* 1:48
27. Black Cat / Sweet Dreams, Kitty* 2:03
28. After You 0:33
29. Power Trooper* / The Demon’s Guard / They Call Him Ra’s* 2:45
30. Strike Three – You’re Out 0:44
31. The Lazarus Pit* / Revitalized Demon* 2:04
The Demon’s Quest, Part Ii – Harvey R. Cohen
32. Recap* 0:52
33. The Demon’s Quest, Part II* 1:26
34. Parted Lovers / Goodbye Beloved* 1:29
35. Orpheus / Lets Do It* / Caravan* 1:47
36. Pay for This Trespass 1:13
37. Lower the Bombs / Crazy / To the Tower 1:10
38. To Remember Me, Beloved* / Countdown* 1:44
39. He’ll Ruin Everything* 3:35
40. Prisoner of Love* 0:57
The Laughing Fish – Shirley Walker
41. The Laughing Fish / Joker’s Insane Scheme 3:15
42. Friendly Fish Truck / Missile Fish / Francis Gets Happy
(Extended) / I Know You’re Watching 1:13
43. Jackson’s Cat 0:57
44. Oceanside Aquarium / Sharkey’s Appetite 2:13
45. Catch of the Day / How Do You Spell Relief? 1:57
46. Batman Rides the Shark / Jumping Joker Sees Jaws / Is the Joker Gone? 3:30
The Laughing Fish – Bonus Tracks:
47. “Joker’s Fish Song” (Features “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” Arranged by Nerida Tyson-Chew) 1:03
48. Joker’s Door Chime #1 0:11
49. Joker’s Door Chime #2 0:12
50. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – End Credits
(Alternate Ending) (Danny Elfman) 0:44
Disc Three Total Time: 72:12
DISC FOUR
1. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – Main Title (with Sound Effects) (Danny Elfman) 1:04
Shadow of the Bat, Part I – Shirley Walker
2. Shadow of the Bat / Thorne on the Roof 2:01
3. Gordon’s Arrest 1:02
4. We’ll See About This / The Evidence Room 1:07
5. Two-Face’s Hideout / The Batgirl / Batgirl Takes Action / Batgirl Gets Trashed 2:37
6. Bad Company / A Different Disguise / Matches Malone 3:56
Shadow of the Bat, Part II – Harvey R. Cohen
7. Recap* 1:19
8. Shadow of the Bat, Part II / Casing Gil’s Apartment* 1:21
9. Robin and Batgirl Follow* / Matches Gives the Signal / Bad Guys Escape 2:58
10. Water in the Tunnel / Water, Water Everywhere* / Saving Robin / Batgirl up the Rope* 1:47
11. Blasted out of Jail / Batgirl Finds Out 1:00
12. Subway Escape* 1:44
13. Rescue of the Commish* / Batgirl’s a Real Drag / Batgirl Sees the Statue* 3:16
14. Welcome to Gotham 0:32
Shadow of the Bat – Bonus Tracks:
15. Recap (Alternate) 1:20
16. Matches Gives the Signal (No Bass) / Bad Guys Escape
(No Bass) 1:41
Harley And Ivy – Peter Davison, Michael Mccuistion, Lolita Ritmanis, Shirley Walker
17. Harley and Ivy* (M. McCuistion, L. Ritmanis) 2:57
18. Harley is On Her Own (S. Walker, L. Ritmanis) /
The Girls Escape (S. Walker) 3:18
19. Toxic Dump (P. Davison) / Crime Spree (S. Walker) 1:10
20. Batman Finds a Clue* (P. Davison) / Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (S. Walker) / Locked in Chains (P. Davison) / Batman Escapes Bondage* (P. Davison) 1:43
21. The Joker’s Flower (S. Walker, L. Ritmanis) / Batman Rescues Mr. J* (M. McCuistion) / No More Women (S. Walker) 2:04
Read My Lips – Shirley Walker
22. Read My Lips / Scarface’s Boys 2:14
23. What a Dummy 1:17
24. Drapes for the Bat / Lumber Slumber / No Apples 2:50
25. A Prima Notion 1:14
26. Platinum Vault / Hang in There 1:24
27. Dummy Up / Here We Go Again 3:24
Fire From Olympus – Shirley Walker
28. Fire From Olympus 2:17
29. Max on High 1:16
30. Lightning Demonstration 0:39
31. Sneaking Batman In / Fire in the Sky 2:39
32. Batman Enters Olympus / Snake Fight 1:51
33. Olympus Battle 4:59
34. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – End Credits
(Alternate Beginning and Ending) 0:43
Disc Four Total Time: 66:44
Total Album Time: 291:14
*Theme by Shirley Walker **Theme by Danny Elfman
———————-
X2: X-MEN UNITED: LIMITED EDITION (2-CD SET) LLLCD 1219
Music by John Ottman
Limited Edition of 3500 UnitsX-MEN2_CD
STARTS SHIPPING JULY 19
RETAIL PRICE $24.98
ORDER “X2: X-MEN UNITED: LIMITED EDITION (2-CD SET)” starting July 19 at 1pm PST at www.lalalandrecords.com and get your CD autographed by composer John Ottman. Autographs are while supplies last and are NOT guaranteed.
La-La Land Records and 20th Century Fox present the remastered and expanded 2-CD release of acclaimed composer John Ottman’s (THE USUAL SUSPECTS, GOTHIKA, SUPERMAN RETURNS, KISS KISS BANG BANG) original orchestral score to the 2003 Twentieth Century Fox blockbuster X2: X-MEN UNITED, starring Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen, directed by Bryan Singer. With a running time of over 112 minutes, this remastered and expanded 2-CD presentation offers more than 50 minutes of music beyond the original 2003 soundtrack release. Produced by Nick Redman and Mike Matessino and edited and mastered by Daniel Hersch, the improved sound and exclusive, in-depth liner notes by film music writer Daniel Schweiger take this noteworthy score to new superheroic heights! Limited Edition of 3500 Units.
TRACK LISTING:
DISC 1
1. Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare* 0:22 (composed by Alfred Newman)
2. Opening Titles* 1:07
3. Nightcrawler Attack* 3:15
4. Alkali Lake* 2:03
5. Jean’s Hallucination/Something Terrible* 1:03
6. Newscast/Permission/Reunion* 3:44
7. Cerebro 1:28
8. Sneaky Mystique** 4:04
9. Meeting Nightcrawler* 2:20
10. You Remember Him* 2:32
11. Mansion Attack/Don’t You Remember/Escape** 7:53
12. Opening Cerebro/Bottom’s Up** 1:55
13. Jason’s Story/Harmless Kiss** 3:29
14. Magneto’s Escape** 1:25
15. What Bobby Can Do/Finding Faith** 2:51
16. Pyro Attack** 3:13
17. Xavier Escapes 1:26
18. Storm’s Perfect Storm/Missiles 2:07
19. Fireside Chat/Flashback/Jean and Logan/You Know What I Want* 5:02
20. God Among Insects/Where Is Everyone?* 2:08
21. I’m In** 4:17
22. It’s Time** 3:51
TOTAL DISC TIME: 60:09
DISC 2
1. The Children/Something’s Wrong* 2:36
2. Augmentation Room (Death Strikes Deathstrike)** 4:45
3. Deathstrike Dies/Magneto’s Old Tricks** 5:52
4. Wolverine to the Rescue** 8:10
5. Rogue Earns Wings** 2:20
6. Goodbye/We’re Here to Stay** 7:08
7. Evolution Leaps Forward** 3:09
8. Suite from X-Men 2 (End Credits original version) 7:11
9. Evolution Leaps Forward (original version)** 0:48
10. Suite from X-Men 2 (End Credits film version)** 9:07
* previously unreleased
** contains previously unreleased material
TOTAL DISC TIME: 52:16
TOTAL ALBUM TIME: 112:25
—————————————–
PhantomMusic CDTHE PHANTOM: LIMITED EDITION LLLCD 1220
Music by David Newman
Limited Edition of 3000 Units
STARTS SHIPPING JULY 19
RETAIL PRICE $19.98
ORDER “THE PHANTOM: LIMITED EDITION” starting July 19 at 1pm PST at www.lalalandrecords.com and get your CD autographed by composer David Newman. Autographs are while supplies last and are NOT guaranteed.
La-La Land Records and Paramount Pictures present the remastered and expanded release of renowned composer David Newman’s (HOFFA, GALAXY QUEST, SCOOBY DOO, ICE AGE) original score to the 1996 Paramount Pictures feature THE PHANTOM, starring Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson and Catherine Zeta-Jones, directed by Simon Wincer. Newman’s majestic score gets remastered and expanded in deluxe fashion, running almost a full 30 minutes longer than the original ’96 soundtrack release. This is a big, classic film score that covers all the bases (action, thrills, romance) in high style! Produced by David Newman and Dan Goldwasser and mastered by Doug Schwartz, this special, limited edition of 3000 units also features in-depth, exclusive liner notes by film music writer Jeff Bond.
TRACK LISTING:
1. For Those Who Came in Late/The Bridge*/Truck on Bridge* (2:32)
2. The Tomb (2:55)
3. The Phantom (5:45)
4. Anything’s Possible (1:32)
5. Conversation with Dad*/Sengh Symbol* (1:59)
6. Microscope*/Drax Theme* (1:58)
7. Sala*/Phantom to the Rescue* (2:34)
8. The Rescue/The Escape (10:09)
9. More Escape*/Escape Continued* (1:42)
10. Must Be the Humidity/I Already Killed Him*/Kit Arrives*/
Horton Sees the Symbol*/Diana Must Leave/New York (4:24)
11. I Never Kid*/The Skull of Tuganda* (1:02)
12. Ray Gets the Point/Sengh Brothers Symbol*/Jade Perhaps* (2:39)
13. Always Were a Mystery*/Jade Skull*/The Museum/Kit Gets Beat Up* (4:50)
14. Drax*/Kit (The Phantom Fights Back)* (2:15)
15. Elevator Shaft* (3:55)
16. Flying to the Island – Part 1**/Inside Drax’s Car*/Inside
Taxi*/Diana Sees Kit* (1:57)
17. Flying to the Island – Part 2**/Quill is Destroyed/Silence* (9:59)
18. Fighting the Pirates* [co-composed with Randy Miller] (5:30)
19. Escaping the Island (8:48)
TOTAL ALBUM TIME: 76:17
* Previously unreleased ** Contains previously unreleased material
© 2012 La-La Land Records. All rights reserved.

Music for a Mockbuster: Scoring the Other Battle of L.A.

BattleOfLA prod still (1)
Battle of Los Angeles

Millions of dollars and years of pre-production planning, filming, and post-production refinement went into the massive sci-fi blockbuster BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, currently storming theaters across the country; only a small fraction of that expense and time was lavished on its pretender, BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES. Arriving on home video today after a March 12 premier on the SyFy Channel, BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES was made by The Asylum, a movie production company known for making “mockbusters” – low-budget films synthesized quickly to capitalize on the release of the larger films they are imitating. Unlike some of its brethren, however, BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES brought its own style and entertainment quotient to the small screen, like it or not.

The Asylum’s mockbusters are mostly denigrated as quickie knock-offs – in which Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS begat The Asylum’s H. G. WELLS’ WAR OF THE WORLDS, Stephen Sommers’ VAN HELSING begat The Asylum’s WAY OF THE VAMPIRE, Peter Jackson’s KING KONG begat The Asylum’s KING OF THE LOST WORLD, Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS begat The Asylum’s TRANSMORPHERS, Roland Emmerich’s 2012 begat The Asylum’s 2012 DOOMSDAY, Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES began The Asylum’s SHERLOCK HOLMES, wherein the master detective battles robot dinosaurs – and so on. Despite their frequent critical lambasting, the recurring comparison of The Asylum and SyFy Channel original movies with the B-movies of the 1950s is an apt one, and these cheesy new features fill a place for low-rent cinema among an eager audience of undemanding moviegoers and monster fans.

One area of The Asylum’s films that can usually be admired is that of music. While synthetic and artificially created, their musical scores are notable for their epic verisimilitude and ability to build excitement even in the midst of hackneyed dialog, less than stellar performances, and bargain basement CGI. With BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES, the high-energy and broadly played musical score of Kays Al-Atrakchi and Brian Ralston gives the film a great deal of its muscle and energy.

Kays_03
Kays Al-Atrakchi

Born in Florence, Italy, Kays Al-Atrakchi grew up in Orlando, Florida, switching from an early career in rock and roll and a songwriting partnership with Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas into what he felt was the more secure job field of film music. He moved to Los Angeles in 2004 and has maintained a productive scoring schedule ever since with more than forty feature films, shorts, documentaries, and video game scores to date. His music for CUTTING ROOM (2006), Ian Truitner’s serial killer comedy, earned the Best Soundtrack award at the Milan International Film Festival, and his moody scores for ALIEN RAIDERS (2008) and MIDNIGHT SON (2011) have also been favorably noted.

“I’ve been involved with a lot of horror films and thrillers, but these films generally want an intimate type of scoring and often require what I would describe as a ‘sound design-y’ type of scoring,” said Kays. “BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES offered a great opportunity to just go nuts with a full orchestra, to really let loose and do something that quite honestly I don’t get to do very often.”

BrianRalson-Color72dpiBrian Ralston actually started out with a degree in biochemistry, working for a neurologist until he discovered his true passion lay not in the chemical processes of organic matter but in the compositional processes of original music. He put his degree on the shelf and began studying film music at the University of Arizona under film/TV composer Jeff Haskell, completing his graduate studies at the University of Southern California with composers such as Christopher Young and the late Elmer Bernstein, David Raksin, and Buddy Baker. Brian was called in by composer Robert Kral to compose additional music for the fourth season of TV’s ANGEL in 2002, which led to a small handful of feature film scoring assignments, with BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES being one of his most significant so far.

“The Battle of LA score is a very different score than anything I had done in the past,” echoed Ralston. “It also was an opportunity to spread my wings a little bit compositionally, and to try to do some things that I hadn’t done before. There’s one thing I don’t want to do is get typecast into a very specific genre of film. I need to develop my sound as my career develops, but at the same time I don’t want to always be known for one genre of film. So doing a sci-fi action movie that’s pretty bombastic was an opportunity to do that.”

BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES director Mark Atkins had known Kays Al-Atrakchi for some time, but they hadn’t had the chance to work together until Adler got the green light to bring Kays into The Asylum’s version of BATTLE. Knowing the amount and type of music needed, and familiar with the abbreviated timeline the Asylum production would afford him, Kays brought in his friend Brian Ralston, suggesting they collaborate and score the movie together.

“I think it actually was a blessing that we had each other to cover everything, because it is pretty much wall-to-wall music,” said Ralston. “I think it’s a 90-minute film with 89-and-a-half minutes of music!

“I also felt very strongly that my style and Brian’s style were very complementary,” added Kays. “I thought that we could work together because we could probably create a score that seamlessly blended from one cue to the next without feeling like it was two separate composers.”

Working together on BATTLE seemed to replicate the process by which classic Universal B-movies of the 1950s like THIS ISLAND EARTH and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE were scored, with a team of composers banded together to create compatible film music on deadline. Universal’s composers usually were assigned to score specific reels of film, with two or more composers leapfrogging through the reels until all work was done; Al-Atrakchi and Ralston, on the other hand, tried to integrate their work so that each of their efforts would seamlessly permeate the soundtrack.

“For the most part we tried to space out our cues so that it wasn’t me doing a reel and then Kays doing a reel,” explained Ralston. “There were sections in the film where I might have had a very long section or a cue and Kays might have had another very long section or cue following it, but for the most part we tried our best to alternate what we were doing so that my creative input and his creative input were splattered throughout. And that gave the score a lot of balance, as opposed to the first half being one person and the second half being another person.”

Although BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES was made under the shadow of Jonathan Liebesman’s big-budget Columbia Pictures of BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, the composers never referenced or discussed what was happening with that film or its large-scaled score (composed by Brian Tyler), nor was there a temporary score that either of them had to face in determining their approach to scoring BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES.

“I didn’t even know that there was a studio-produced BATTLE OF LA until we were well into this project!” said Kays. “That shows how out of touch I am! Then I saw a billboard somewhere and I was like, ‘Oh wow!’”

“The Asylum has a business model that really works for them,” explained Ralston. “A lot of their films are made because their distributors and the channels that they distribute to are asking for that. So they are able to quickly respond to what they’re being asked to make. Whereas something like BATTLE: LOS ANGELES has had years and years of development and preproduction and finally production, the distribution chains in the foreign territories that Asylum is dealing with has been sold before the film has even been made. So then they have to quickly turn around and make the movie by the deadline that they agreed to.”

The pair began working on the film right in late November. At that time they only had two weeks to provide their score, since The Asylum had given them a mid-December deadline. Well into post-production, a deal was made with the SyFy Channel so that the cable channel would broadcast BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES as a SyFy Original Movie rather than having it released direct-to-video, in the manner of  The Asylum’s other productions.

“We got a locked edit on the first half of the movie around the first of December,” said Ralston. “We fully had the intent to finish scoring the film by December 15th. When the SyFy movie deal happened it changed our production schedule. Not only did they go back and throw more effort and money into the effects and the edit, they put us on about a one-month delay because the second half of the film [would not be] locked until sometime in February.”

“We were in a holding pattern while they got more footage,” added Kays. “That did give us the time to get our basic ideas down. But as far as working with a locked picture cut where we could actually match the cuts and hit all the dramatic points, that came fairly late into the game.”

Like most Asylum and SyFy Channel film scores, BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES is a fully sampled score, without any real, live instruments. The orchestral music was created synthetically using sounds of symphonic instruments sampled into a digital computer, but treated and mixed in a way that gave the score a fairly credible orchestral sound.

“Kays and I both always prefer to have live musicians when we can, because it just brings a whole other element to the score that a computer can never replicate,” said Ralston. “Having said that, because the turnaround time was so tight on this movie and because the music budget was certainly not what Brian Tyler had on BATTLE: L.A., we didn’t have the resources available to give it the live orchestral 80-member orchestra that it really needed.”

When the two composers first began talking about scoring the film, certain scenes appealed to each of them as a starting point for composing music.

“I remember telling Kays that there was a scene in the middle where Karla comes out with her katana sword, and I really wanted to do that scene!” said Ralston. “And Kays said okay, and I think I’m going to take this scene over here! We didn’t really score in order; we just started going with the scenes that spoke to us first. And then in the end we worked out who was covering what. We did collaborate by writing in a similar key so that if our cues were going to be butting up next to each other they wouldn’t completely clash tonally.”

That scene with Karla, for example, gave Ralston the chance to soar musically with an eloquent heroic theme, while sharing the propulsive, rhythmic drive that Kays had composed for his main title sequence. Kays also wrote the music for the scene with the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) blast, while Ralston was responsible for the 11-minute epic climax at the end. However, most of the score integrated the work of both composers, even though for the most part they were working alone in their own studios.

“We worked separately and we actually used somewhat different programs,” said Ralston. “I used Digital Performer and Kays writes in Logic and we had to deliver in ProTools. So I would write and record it and mix it in Performer, and send it to Kays. He would do the same in Logic, and then he assembled it.” In addition to composing, Kays also served as music editor, taking his and Brian’s cues and assembling them into the ProTools session that would have to be delivered to the sound mixer.

“I think what really helped for us to create a really smooth process of working together is the fact that we use a lot of the same sound libraries and a lot of the same plug-in effects and things like that,” Kays added. “So even though we were working in different sequencing programs, we could really reference each other’s sound quite easily. I could see that Brian was using certain types of sounds, so I could make my own cues compatible so they sound like they belong in the same score.”

One of the challenges in working on a movie like this, noted Kays, “is that it literally goes from balls-to-the-wall action to even more balls-to-the-wall action! There are not a whole lot of peaks and valleys from a character development or a musical point of view. What does happen, though, is that you get to progressively learn a little bit more about the aliens and why they’re invading Earth. In the early part of the movie, we’re mostly following the humans, so it’s fairly militaristic. We’re following these jet fighters and these soldiers on the ground as they’re trying to make sense of this situation. As the score progresses, we both started introducing textural elements into the music, which represent the aliens. So for me the score goes from a very traditional take on an action film to something that recalls a little bit more of the style that I’ve applied on horror movies, where I start using a little more sound design elements and a little more kind of unusual textures.”

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“I think what makes a composer’s contribution really great is that the composer has to be a film maker themselves,” said Ralston. “They have to understand character and character arc. When a director hires a composer, it’s not just that his liked their style of music, but that he or she is hiring someone who gets filmmaking, understands story, and understands character development. For the music to be effective, you have to understand that underlying message of what’s being said in a scene.”

“Something like BATTLE OF LA doesn’t need much musical subtlety and it didn’t really need much mood-setting, because it’s a very intensely visual film,” Kays concluded. “Right from frame one, you’re pretty much thrust into this world full of space ships and laser blasts and aliens and gunfire. So the role of the score in this type of a film is not so much to build the mood as to reinforce it and to add to the excitement and the kinetic motion of the film. You’re already very primed and excited to see these guys fighting for their lives against aliens, and the music is just reinforcing that.”

For more information on the composers, see:

  • www.musicbykays.com/
  • http://www.brianralston.com/

The Asylum’s DVD of BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES hit store shelves on March 15th. The Blu-Ray will follow on March 22.

John Barry: A Wordless Poet Dies

johnbarryOn January 30, 2011, iconic – and very prolific – composer John Barry passed away, after being in ill health for some time.  He was seventy-seven years old.  There is little doubt a great many will be saddened at the loss of one of film’s truly cherished friends.
Barry was an emotionally introspective and poetic composer whose haunting themes and pulsing atmospheric rhythms gained him far reaching notoriety.  He was also a five time Oscar winner (BORN FREE – both score and song; THE LION IN WINTER; OUT OF AFRICA; DANCES WITH WOLVES), a Grammy winner (DANCES WITH WOLVES), and two time BAFTA winner (The Lion in Winter and the Academy Fellowship).  In addition to his many other nominations he was nominated for 11 Golden Globe awards, taking home a win for OUT OF AFRICA. Though his work was far from limited to the genre, he contributed several excellent scores to science fiction, fantasy, and horror films – including, of course, several Bond films.
Born John Barry Prendergast in 1933, this son of a movie theater owner in York, England, would grow up to become a sentimental favorite composer of film and film music fans all over the world.
On a somewhat personal note, I was strongly affected by his work when I was very young; it was Barry who instilled within me a deep love for film music that has been with me most of my life.  My parents had a collection of record albums that included an interesting mix of musical genres and within that mix were two quite specific albums that captured my attention: GOLDFINGER and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, two very famous James Bond scores.  At the time I was too young to really know anything about James Bond, but once I discovered these two treasures I was altogether captivated.  I even wrote my own stories to some of my favorite TV shows at the time and recorded my little dramas onto cassette using these two albums as the ‘scores’ for what I considered my ‘radio dramas.’  For me there has always been an acute connection to Mr. Barry’s work.  And in this I know I am far from alone.
Barry would go on to score eleven of those Ian Fleming-based secret agent films and in so doing would cement a very solid position in the history of his profession.  Musician-composer Monty Norman did score the first Bond film, DR. NO; however, Barry arranged and performed the version of the 007 theme heard in the film, which arguably would become the most famous theme music in the history of cinema, as well as one of the most re-recorded.  (Some have speculated that Barry actually composed the theme — although the piece is credited to Norman. It certainly fits Barry’s style like a glove.)
In a 1996 interview with Film Score Monthly, Barry credited big band leader Stan Kenton with the inspiration for the Bond style.  “I think the genesis of the Bond sound was most certainly that Kentonesque sharp attack,” he said, pointing out Kenton’s brassy sound and notes that hit extreme highs and lows.
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS would be his final Bond installment in 1987, and in 2006 when asked by the The Sunday Express of London why he never scored another in the series he replied, “I gave up after (that).  I’d exhausted all my ideas, rung all the changes possible.  It was a formula that had run its course.  The best had been done as far as I was concerned.”
Though he is perhaps best known for the work he did on the Bond series, those scores are merely a fraction of his body of work.  He would eventually write the music for well over a hundred productions.  And in that there would be television, stage and radio – not to mention very personal efforts – that would beckon him to put pencil to music sheet.  For instance, in 2006 he would work with ten well-known tenors on an album titled HERE’S TO THE HEROES.  In that effort lyrics were written by lyricist and friend Don Black for Barry themes and a very pleasant, well-selling listening experience was the result.
barryJohn Barry was one of the most romantic film composers of his or any generation.  Even his action cues have a romantic, moody quality which beg multiple listenings.  And several films owe much of their critical and audience liking to his sweeping, moving style.  OUT OF AFRICA and DANCES WITH WOLVES are two clear examples.  These scores simply ascend with a lush beauty that instantly envelopes the viewer/listener and conjures something in the heart that refuses to be denied.
Many composers, especially modern ones, have a style that, although not bad, can be fairly easily interchanged.  Barry, however, was wholly himself.  No one has ever sounded quite like him.  And though he has on occasion been criticized for works which sound too similar, he consistently turned out material that continues to delight, stimulate and yet at the same time sooth the soul.   The imagination of audiences and listeners of his music will continue to bloom as time marches on.
We all have our inspirations in life and Kenton wasn’t the only influence on Barry’s.  In fact, it all inadvertently started with his father and those theater chains.  As a teen Barry operated the projectors in some of those movie houses and fell in love with cinema and especially its music.  He cites composers like Bernard Herrmann, Erich Korngold and Max Stern as some of those who worked their magic on him.
Once bitten by the bug Barry went on to study piano and composition, and then played trumpet in dance bands and later in a military band.  Eventually he formed his own successful band, The John Barry Seven, and wound up playing backup for a popular BBC program.  The band’s style was rather jazzy and sassy, which was just what the current crop of directors was looking for.  He began getting film engagements and with FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (the Bond producers didn’t forget his stylish DR. NO contribution) in 1963, and ZULU and GOLDFINGER (which pushed the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night off the top spot of the album charts and won Barry a gold disc) in 1964, he was off and running in cinema.  Eventually he would go on to score potent and very memorable works for films like MIDNIGHT COWBOY; THE LAST VALLEY; WALKABOUT; MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS; ROBIN AND MARIAN; KING KONG (from 1976); THE DEEP; HANOVER STREET; THE BLACK HOLE; RAISE THE TITANIC; FRANCIS; BODY HEAT; HIGH ROAD TO CHINA; Francis Ford Coppola’s THE COTTON CLUB (which won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental); Oscar nominated CHAPLIN, and the list goes on and on.
His work for a modestly budgeted fantasy film in 1980 called SOMEWHERE IN TIME helped place that film in cult classic status.  Starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, it didn’t garner much attention from audiences or critics upon its initial release, but its video release and airing on television gave it new life, with many thanks due to the beautiful melodies Barry wrote for it.  It is one of his most beloved works.  This is the type of almost spiritual elevation he could bring to a motion picture.
Director Sydney Pollack once said, “You can’t listen to his music without seeing movies in your head.”  It is hard to imagine a better compliment, or epitaph, than that for a film composer.

From Killer Crocs to Road Kill: The Horror Music of Rafael May

Blackwater (2007)

Australian composer Rafael May has made down-under horror cinema his own, with a trio of very powerful, very persuasive, and very scary Australian horror movie scores. He made a significant splash with his second feature film score, 2007’s BLACK WATER, an intensively suspenseful and powerfully directed film about a rogue saltwater crocodile, threatening three vacationers in the Australian outback after overturning their boat. May’s score is marvelously textured and claustrophobically atmospheric, giving the literate and well-performed film much of its tension. He did the same for 2010’s ROAD KILL (recently released on DVD in the Fangoria Fright Fest series), about a rogue truck terrorizing the South Australian highways, and has just begun work on THE REEF, about a rogue shark munching on trapped divers on the Great Barrier Reef. His music is modern and compelling, building a provocatively scary attitude over which these films play their stories.

May’s background included the normal piano interest as a youth segueing into a classical education, which gave him the background for the variety of music he would be accomplishing today. In his late teens he began to get commissions to write electronic music for a small theatre company, and found himself setting music to drama. “A lot of this was fairly intense music for plays like Equus and Caucasion Chalk Circle,” said May. “I then built a business as a music producer and composer for commercials. The first chance for a feature score was a nightclub/youth film called SAMPLE PEOPLE. The next and better chance was when commercial turned feature producer, Michael Robertson approached me to do the score for BLACK WATER. Our previous work together had won the London International Advertising Award for best music.”

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In BLACK WATER, a trio of young folk – a married couple and their younger sister – set off on a backwater sightseeing expedition, which turns very bad when their boat is overturned by the crocodile, which eats their guide. The trio takes refuge up a mangrove tree in the swamp, but with the croc hanging around, have no where no go. The thrust of the story is how each of them musters the fortitude to work together – or alone – to survive and escape. May’s score opens with the breezy atmosphere of cello and dobro, which sets the group off in a benign mood. It doesn’t last long. When the croc strikes, the score overturns along with the boat. May creates an severe amount of suspense and panic with clamorous, rapid fire drumming, sudden, sliding strokes of strings, howls of abrasive, rushing synth, reflective squeaking noises, steel gongs, a rising wake of increasing sound mass, and other threatening noises evoking a propulsive, queasy tension that makes the scene quite real and threatening.

“The two directors’ vision was originally that there should not be a music score in any recognizable way,” said May. “Their ideas were based on the documentary feel in which they shot BLACK WATER. Once we had a cut, I argued successfully that we needed a stronger music thread; also that the music nature had to have an organic element and not overpower the scale of the images and story. I wanted an electronic background with a solid identifiable core. We agreed that cello fitted the emotional bill – though never any violins or viola.”

Once composer and directors had agreed on the necessity of a cello core, May spent some time creating the rest of his pallet of sounds with which to construct the score. “I didn’t want to be playing standard synth patches,” May said. “I took samples of electric guitar feedback and plucks and experimented with playing them down two or three octaves. There is a repeating element of unsettling weird bells every time the characters descend into the water which is those electric guitar plucks played beyond recognition. There are a set of moaning sounds which are similarly displaced Indian flutes. The cello provided the lyrical content with dobro and acoustic guitars which were played as keyboard parts and then replaced by real instruments just before the final mixing. I scored the cello as mostly three part close and sliding harmonies that were extremely hard to play but gratifying and claustrophobic.”

May’s ominous, underplayed sonic tonalities generate an increasingly potent amount of visceral suspense, maintaining a persistent awareness of the growing danger of the crocodile when it’s off screen with a continually sustained tonality of menace, dappled with occasional shimmers, tones, and audible glimmers, with escalating wails and extruding synth tones. His recurring cello motif, very organic and emotive, evokes the human anguish felt by the surviving sisters.

“The music is critical to the emotional response,” said May. “Most of the effective parts of the score are so embedded into the picture that people feel the fear or horror and don’t hear that the music is there and guiding the way. The sense of scale was always at the heart of BLACK WATER. You had to believe you were stuck there in a small and ever-more dangerous environment with a creeping sense of dread. I found that any overplaying of the score broke the sense of belief and that most elements of the music had a sense of brittle delicacy and humanity. On the other hand when the crocodile attacks were imminent, the music could be extremely on edge and loud, and still be accepted as part of a natural sonic environment.”

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For ROAD KILL (originally titled ROAD TRAIN), May contrasted the vast, dry country of South Australia with the harsher, industrial menace of the supernatural vehicle as it roared, DUEL-like, across the highways and menaced a group of vacationing teens. Like DUEL, there’s a sense of the supernatural evoked in the presence and behavior of the three-trailered truck, which eventually captures the teens and trapped them in its careening, driverless cab. “I wanted a strong music character for the ROAD KILL, a sort of possessed and possessive giant truck,” said May. “It needed discordant metallic resonance. There is a continual grinding metallic unease from the moment the ROAD KILL starts taunting and attacking the characters on their backpacking holiday in the middle of nowhere. There is a strong dirty pop element as a language in the film featuring bleeding distortions and vocal manipulations.”

May crafted an intricate instrumental texture to enhance ROAD KILL’s propulsive suspense and terror. “I grabbed a bunch of metal industrial oil drums and dragged them into my studio to be hit by metal pipes,” he said. “At one point I unbolted the front gate of the house to be used as additional percussion. Most of these sounds were recorded and distorted. There were keyboard sounds also fed into a raft of different and ever-changing distortions to become the character of the ROAD KILL. The director had strong views on bringing out the sub text of the narrative requiring a love theme of sorts: a lyrical, distressed piano which feels more and more pain as the film progresses.” Added to the mix are some showpiece tracks meant to come out of the truck’s cab: one of them is “an abrasive trucker’s ode played on very cheap, detuned guitars, recorded into a cheap amp with reoccurring manipulations of screaming and distorted maniacal laughing.”

May was just starting to score THE REEF when I spoke to him. Directed by BLACK WATER’s Andrew Traucki, the film is about an overturned sailboat whose occupants are gradually picked off by a hungry shark, â la OPEN WATER with a reef landscape. “So far (and it is a little early), it looks like there will be a lot of strings in the score with a slew of gentler elements that start taking a sinister turn,” said May. “The film starts at a point of beauty that turns sour, through to terror with an emotional thread.” Aware of the standard set by JAWS and concentrating on avoiding any similarities, May is focusing his score not on the predatory fish but on the tense, personal situation surrounding the characters as they are attacked. “The precedent is a tricky one. I don’t think that the shark will have a musical motif: more the situation surrounding the characters as they are attacked and get taken one by one.”

RafaelMayMay has found each of these scores challenging but feels he has been able to come up with an approach that offers the genre something new, musically, while giving these films the right kind of music necessary to enrich their emotional impact. “The first track you produce does so much to frame the film,” May said. “Everything that you can do is propelled from that. In BLACK WATER it was find an emotional language that you wouldn’t question belonged to the world you were in. For ROAD KILL it was more about creating a new sonic world of dread.” While both scores challenged him, when completed they provided him with a sense of satisfaction. “The rewards are about creating the seamless connection between score and visual story,” said May. “The satisfaction is closing a chapter in what’s possible for each new project. “

May’s film music output has so far found itself concentrating on horror subjects; time will tell if this will remain the case of if opportunities will expand to further cinematic horizons. “I’ve really enjoyed these films so far,” he said. “There’s no doubt that the range of musical possibilities are huge for horror. The music is rarely benign and often foreground. I think that these films and their scores speak to the depth of the human condition and human fears. Having said that, my journey as a composer won’t be complete without working on a wider pallet of films to see what other senses I can evoke.”

The Tuneful Tentacles of Sharktopus: Composer Tom Hiel

sharktopusOriginal movies airing on the SyFy Channel (formerly The Sci-Fi Channel) have gained a reputation for being the equivalent of the Roger Corman exploitation movies of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, only with better special effects thanks to the wonders of CGI. SyFy’s seemingly endless parade of killer critters and mega monsters perhaps reached its pinnacle recently with SHARKTOPUS, the sensitive saga of a genetically combined hybrid of octopus and great white shark, which made its debut last September 25th.

Cheerfully embracing its scientific illogic, SHARKTOPUS swamp, scuttled, and tentacle-walked across the seas and shores of sunny Mexico consuming swimmers, sun-bathers, boaters, bungee-jumpers and various other species of eye candy, ruthlessly shedding its origin as a military weapon to munch on the local populace like so much popcorn chicken. Meanwhile, name star Eric Roberts chews up similar amounts of scenery as the hybrid monster’s creator, who harbors his own hidden agenda even while trying to recapture his escaped aquatic Frankenstein. Directed by SyFy Channel alumni Declan O’Brien (ROCK MONSTER, MONSTER ARK, CYCLOPS), the film flaunts the sheer audacity of its titular monster, which was clearly intended to out mega any MegaShark and out size any Giant Octopus previously seen in the cable channel’s oeuvre. Enthusiastically promoted, SHARKTOPUS became the talk of the ‘net for months before the movie actually premiered.

It was somehow poetic that SHARKTOPUS was produced by Roger Corman – the latest of several that he has provided for SyFy. The film revels in its absurdity even while lampooning its own formulaic inconsistency to achieve the sense of undemanding fun Corman is best known for. One aspect of Corman’s films as producer, from 1954’s MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR to 2010’s DINOCROC VS. SUPERGATOR and the hundreds in between, have been supportive and effective musical scores that often made up for their film’s lack of story excitement and believable special effect. In many cases, the music provided that extra dynamic that helped audiences forgive discrepancies in the internal logic of their scripts, in deficiencies of performance by their casts, and in the insufficiencies of set design or special effect – all while providing a layer of inexpensive yet effectual musical support that gave these films their needed dimension of emotive expression and excitement.

Quite so, SHARKTOPUS. Like those musical maestros of Corman’s AIP years, Les Baxter and Ronald Stein, who could work wonders with the barest of orchestral and electronic essentials, SHARKTOPUS features a powerful score that gives the film a wonderful sense of gravitas and energizes its drama while adding a good deal of coherency to the story.  The main and end titles surge  with a splendid rock tune written by New York rock band The Cheetah Whores, but it’s the dramatic underscore by composer Tom Hiel that really gave this torrid tale of teeth and tentacles its expressive ebb and flow.

Sharktopus composer
Composer Tom Hiel

Tom Hiel is an award-winning composer best known for his work on the television show, THE PRACTICE (2000-04). He began his career working as an assistant for composers such as Mark Mothersbaugh and Michael Giacchino, while also finding some movies to score on his own. One of the first scores to gain Hiel some notoriety was SWIMMING WITH SHARKS (1994), starring Kevin Spacey (a perhaps ironic counterpoint to his experience sixteen years later when swimming with Sharktopus).

Hiel’s first science fiction score was Erik Fleming’s CYBER BANDITS (1995), although his next foray into the genre came a dozen years later with the made-for-video movie DOOMED (2007), a futuristic story about death row inmates given a chance for freedom by becoming contestants on a SURVIVOR-style reality show on an island full of zombies. “That was just straight ahead pseudo-orchestral music,” Hiel recalled recently. “There were a lot of percussive loops and various atonal figurations you can use to accentuate the horror. Nothing deeper than that.”

As with most of the SyFy Channel film scores, budgets do not accommodate actual orchestras, requiring composers like Hiel to rely on synthesizers and sampled symphonic wave files in order to closely if not perfectly replicate a live orchestral performance on his keyboard. This approach gives films like SHARKTOPUS the dynamic of a full-blown symphonic score without the expense, and also takes advantage of the synthesizer’s ability to create unnerving and unusual musical sounds.

Original reports from SyFy back in February, 2010, suggested that Roger Corman would both direct and produce SHARKTOPUS, but the film went before the cameras with Declan O’Brien at the helm, Corman serving only as producer, along with his wife Julie.

“I never knew about Roger directing it,” Hiel said. “Declan told me there was another guy who was directing or maybe co-directing with Roger, and he quit. That’s when Declan got called in because he had worked with Roger on the CYCLOPS movie; Roger loves that movie and thinks it’s one of his better efforts.” Hiel had scored both of O’Brien’s previous original movies for the SyFy Channel, ROCK MONSTER and CYCLOPS (both 2008), so they already had a successful working relationship that allowed Hiel to launch right into the music for SHARKTOPUS.

Hiel produced a well-crafted fantasy-horror score that gave the CGI-enlivened carcharodon-cephalopod a vivid sense of reality. When the sharktopus first escapes its captivity, the music builds to a rising tide with its central motif, surrounded by tentacular eddies of swirling accentuations.

“SHARKTOPUS is a little more of a straight drama except for the horrific elements when it attacks,” said Hiel. “There are also some straight ahead dramatic themes coming into play as they’re looking for the creature. In a way it’s a low-budget JAWS. I don’t necessarily think the music’s reflecting that; I think there is a throwback to straight-ahead orchestral scoring in this one. Due to the budget, of course, it was all done with electronics.”

Hiel’s SHARKTOPUS score is rooted in a recurring 4-note, rising motif that is heard each time the Sharktopus is threatening or about to attack.

“Many times I was able to build that motif for a while as the attacks became imminent. When the Sharktopus did attack, I tended to use rising chromatic stabs over brass chords (alternating from lower brass to horns and trumpets) and heavy percussion loops. Also I used glissando effects and sampled sounds (a garden rake across metal) to accentuate the horrific elements of the attacks. After the attacks or when the action was slow, but where I wanted the audience to think Sharktopus might be around, I used this electronic pulsing loop that really adds another sonic dimension of creepiness for me.”

Sharktopus Bryony Shearmur
"I always score it straight," says Hiel of working on low-budget sci-fi.

That pulsing synth loop in SHARKTOPUS becomes Hiel’s JAWS ostinato, a recurring measure that adds a strident undercurrent of menace as the story plays out. That loop was actually created for a demo score Hiel had written in 2002 when he was being considered for the TV series, WITHOUT A TRACE. The studio wound up going with a different composer, so Hiel held onto his demo music until he found a suitable project for it, parts of which gave SHARKTOPUS much of its powerful propellant.

Hiel also provided a vivid action melody in the horns, punctuated by a string and wind ostinato on top, along with a driving percussion beat to push the action when Eric Roberts’ and his crew try to recapture the creature. For Roberts’ character himself, Hiel used a repetitive motif in the lower strings and brass along with another percussive loop which emphasized his own relentless pursuit of his own ends – inevitably Roberts’ theme and that for the Sharktopus merge, enhanced by electric guitars, as the two have their final encounter at a yacht harbor.

All of these elements come together nicely and give SHARKTOPUS a rich musical backdrop, not to mention an added production value for its otherwise simplistic story and scope. In addition, SHARKTOPUS’ vigorous orchestral sound belies the fact that its score is wholly electronic. Nowadays, virtual music libraries, which can be licensed or purchased, give composers the sonic sensibilities of renowned symphony orchestras at their fingertips and, though not conveying the true fidelity of acoustic performance, nevertheless provide a fairly persuasive approximation of symphonic sound. With SHARKTOPUS, Hiel took advantage of his experience in helping Mark Mothersbaugh and Marco Beltrami compile temporary mock-ups of their scores for director approval.

“These mock-ups have to sound very realistic, and I learned how to do that when I worked for them,” said Hiel. For SHARKTOPUS, he used a combination of sound elements from the East West Platinum sample library, the Vienna Symphonic Library, some music he’d inherited from Beltrami associate Buck Sanders, and original electronic material he’d created himself to give the score a sense of originality.

“For the melodic strings I used an old Roland string sample,” said Hiel. “It was made for the Roland 760 and I still use it for the long string sections.”

The process of composing a movie score for computerized music files – versus having an orchestra full of real players performing at a recording session – creates a different kind of challenge for composers like Hiel.

“You have to be more inclusive in your composing,” Hiel said. “When you know you’re going out to an orchestra and you know you’re going to orchestrate it yourself or you have an orchestrator do it for you, a lot of times when you’re in the writing process you can just say, ‘Oh, make sure to double the cello lines with bassoons’ or ‘double this with whatever,’ but when you’re actually doing this type of thing with samples you have to go back over and synth-orchestrate as you go, as it were – adding to the cello lines some French horns or bassoon, just things you do when you’re orchestrating to make it sound as thick as possible. You really have to be more in tune with that. I also add electronics – for SHARKTOPUS I was given free reign, thankfully, and so some of those pulsing electronic pads come in and they add so much.”

Sharktopus - watch out!Hiel said his biggest challenge in scoring SHARKTOPUS was simply  getting the right feel for each of the creature’s attacks.

“It’s easy to be heavy handed,” he said. “Each attack tended to be different enough where you couldn’t cut-and-paste the same motifs. Sometimes you needed a building progression – I would use that chromatic ostinato thing – it’s in the dive sequence, for example, where the strings would play in clusters, and that goes on for a while sometimes, where he’s dragging the body off. But that ended up being fairly challenging, just finding the right tone for each attack.”

Hiel’s scores have thus far remained in the low-budget realm – although, with the rise of computer graphic imagery and computerized music, low-budget movies look and sound a lot better these days.

“I think the stigma has come from low-budget music for low-budget films that has traditionally sounded hysterically bad,” said Hiel. “I think it’s come a long way from that now. Now, you can write music and record music even at a low-budget level that sounds pretty believable and big-budgeted. That’s the goal, anyway. It’s a little tricky to make it sound like the real thing. Half the battle is just to make the synthesizers sound the same as what you’re going to be doing orchestrally. We all have tricks of the trade that have been in play for awhile now.”

Putting those tricks to play when a film is clearly less than stellar provides its own challenge, although composers like Hiel give each assignment their best effort.

“I always score it straight and just try to pump it up,” said Hiel. “In SHARKTOPUS, for example, sometimes the monster was bigger than life, other times it looked more the size of a normal shark, so there were some size and spacial issues going on. But I didn’t score those scenes any differently – it’s just a big monster and he’s trying to attack. I just tried to make it as believable as possible. There’s a scene where Eric Roberts dies, and that whole scene takes forever. But I got a little chance to do my thing there, and I just scored it straight.”

Hiel recognizes the part that music can play in making even the lowest-budgeted movie expressive and involving, and especially in enhancing films of science fiction and fantasy.

“Music plays a huge role in helping the audience with their suspension of disbelief in these movies,” he said. “In ROCK MONSTER, it’s the big, fantastical music that really accentuates the whole storytelling aspect of the movie. There’s definitely more music in these films – I had something like seventy minutes of score in SHARKTOPUS; CYCLOPS was wall-to-wall. I think music plays a strong role in film in general, but it’s really going to accentuate science fiction and fantasy. It has to be carefully crafted, though. The wrong music, or cheap music, can lessen the whole experience.”

For more information on Tom Hiel, see: www.tomhiel.com

Of Superheroes and Predators: John Debney Returns to Sci-Fi

predators iron man combo

Comedy has always been contrapuntal to chillers in John Debney’s career. The composer began in the early 1980s scoring Disney television and cartoon shows like SCOOBY-DOO and features such as JETSONS: THE MOVIE.  These lighthearted scores were offset against Debney’s darker side, which revealed itself in such venues as the relentless horror music of THE RELIC and KOMODO, the vividly swashbuckling CUTTHROAT ISLAND, and the cataclysmic speculation of END OF DAYS.

Now, after many years during which he focused on comedy films, along with the occasional profoundly heartfelt drama such as THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, Debney has returned to heavy action and adventure with his scores to IRON MAN 2 and PREDATORS, both of which allow his more energetic expressiveness to come to the fore.

Debney was actually was considered for the first IRON MAN, since he had established a working relationship with its director, Jon Favreau, on the films ELF and ZATHURA. Circumstances didn’t work out on the first IRON MAN, but Debney was thrilled to be called in for IRON MAN 2.

“It was a joy to be working with Jon Favreau again,” Debney said. “I knew going in that IRON MAN 2 was going to be a different scoren and it was. IRON MAN 2 is a more complex, layered film than the first one, so the music had to play a different role. There were also many more characters and the music had to highlight these new characters.”

Click to purchase
Click to purchase

Following the lead, if not the themes, of Ramin Djawadi on the first IRON MAN, Debney’s score thunders with iron and steel – bolstered by heavy metal guitars and a thick, orchestral vocabulary, while also recognizing the beating heart within the metal. Debney’s music becomes the sheet-plated, iron-wrought, clamped-on metallic suit that gives the movie its life, just as the galvanized garb keeps Tony Stark’s heart beating and endows him with enhanced strength.

“I enjoyed the first score but the second score had to be different, per the film. The two scores share a common pedigree but are generally different,” Debney said. “They are different scores with different results.”

What they share is a similar pedigree of rock and roll which is powerfully integrated – like sizzling molten metal dipped into a smooth liquid fluid – through the role of the electric guitar, which continues to evoke the prowess of Iron Man and his metal suite, as it had in Djawadi’s score. Guitarist Tom Morello, best known from the bands Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave, came in to perform the shredding for IRON MAN 2’s soundtrack. The score integrates Morello’s electric guitars with Debney’s large-scaled orchestra and choir material to both evoke the characters and support the film’s action – while all the time leaving room for the AC/DC songs that were to be prominently displayed throughout the movie.

“Being a huge fan of Morello, I knew we had to work together on this film,” Debney said. “Jon is a friend of Tom’s and asked if I’d be interested in working with Tom. I, of course, said yes, and Tom was an absolute joy and wonderful collaborator. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat.”

The main challenge for Debney on IRON MAN 2 was to compose a theme that captured the duality of the Tony Stark/Iron Man character while providing an original flavor in view of the many large-scaled superhero movies produced recently, each of which needed very dominant, muscular themes.

“IRON MAN 2 was odd in that there were not a lot of places where a true superhero theme could be played,” said Debney. “Tony Stark is uber cool even as Iron Man, so, musically, we couldn’t state a full-blown superhero theme. The strains of Iron Man’s theme are heard only in a few spots by design. I’m hoping with future films, Iron Man might get his full-blown theme played aggressively.”

Available for purchase August 1
Available for purchase on August 1

IRON MAN 2 was followed by an equally aggressive score for PREDATORS (2010). This sequel to the original 1987 PREDATOR used an array of instrumental flavors that includes Tibetan long horns, Shakuhachi flute, a battery of ethnic wooden and metal percussion, and a phalanx of specially-engineered synth sounds and voicings, providing textures of the truly alien and mechanical to this relentless battle music.

“The ethnic instruments create a tribal feel while the metallic sounding motifs represent the predators,” said Debney. “They are both alien yet tribal.”

Debney’s most important decision on this score was to include music from the first PREDATOR, integrating Alan Silvestri’s original conceptualizations and combining them with Debney’s own music to match director Nimród Antal’s  vision of the story. The result is a unique partnership of musical ideas spread 23 years apart, yet seamlessly integrated into the sound design as if they were the product of a single composer.

“I knew going in that I wanted to incorporate Alan’s themes for this film,” said Debney. “PREDATORS is a true sequel in my opinion, and thus, I thought it right that we included Alan’s material. I wanted to pay homage to Alan Silvestri’s original PREDATOR score, but I also wanted to add my signature. Alan is a friend, and I feel he is also a brilliant composer.”

Debney said that he enjoyed extrapolating musical elements from Silvestri’s score, and creating his own vision of what the music should sound like for this new incarnation of the story.

“I love scores from the ‘80s and I felt we had a score without the highly synthesized, overproduced scores we sometimes get these days,” he said. “So by design, I wanted to harken back to the days of big scores and much orchestral fireworks.”

In recent years, a man epic action/super-hero/spectacular science fiction films have tended to follow (or composers have been asked to follow) the hybrid rhythm-based example established earlier in the decade by the music of successful films of Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, and the like. A composer even of Debney’s stature cannot help being mindful of this contemporary vogue even while seeking to proffer his own voice.

“There are a lot of truly unique scores out there and some that aren’t,” Debney said. “Of course for action movies, a film may be temp-scored with the type of score you describe. I like to listen to the temp for the emotion the director is trying to convey and, hopefully, write something that is unique. In the case of PREDATORS, I used an approach where I paid homage to Alan Silvestri’s original score as well as incorporated an original score.”

With nearly 140 film scores in thirty years, Debney has explored every genre and every style of music making, yet the fantastic genre continues to raise its growling head on his filmography almost every year.

“It is a joy to work on a wide variety of films,” he said. “If one does only one thing, it can get very stale. I love working in these non-comedic areas, as it is great to explore the darker side of my personality.”

Debney has gone on to add another action notch on the side of his baton with an iconic score for MACHETE, the feature film based on the faux trailer of the same name in the Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaboration, GRINDHOUSE, with Danny Trejo as an ex-Federale known for his coat of many scabbards, seeking revenge against his former boss. Another turn for Rodriguez will follow next year with SIN CITY 2.

Thanks to Ray Costa and Andy Perez at Costa Communications – and to John Debney for taking time out of an increasingly busy schedule to chat with me about these scores.

The Score: Robert Carli on Survival of the Dead

Survival of the Dead (2009)

Joining the ranks of Italian prog rockers Goblin and film composers Norman Orenstein, Reinhold Heil & Johnny Klimek, John Harrison, and a battalion of library music composers whose work has accompanied the walking dead in their nights, dawns, days, lands, and diaries of the dead as brought to shambling life by George A. Romero, is Canadian Robert Carli. His music has become part of a horror film legacy that runs from 1968’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to Romero’s sixth zombie epic, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, now in theaters, underscoring the definitive cinematic zombie myth that Romero has defined and perpetuated for over 40 years with his own definitive presence and a visceral aesthetic.

Romero’s seminal NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was compiled from library music in the vast holdings of Capitol Records – cues culled from compositions that had graced all manner of low-budget horror movies of the late ‘50s and early ’60s. DAWN OF THE DEAD would have gone the same way had not producer Dario Argento suggested Italian rock band Goblin, who had recently scored Argento’s SUSPIRIA; Romero mixed Goblin’s original music with his beloved library tracks. CREEPSHOW composer John Harrison proved the value of his original score on DAY OF THE DEAD, replacing many of the library tracks Romero had selected in favor of his electronic music. When Romero revisited his shuffling dead things in LAND OF THE DEAD and DIARY OF THE DEAD, he’d become accustomed by then to fully original scores, and had these new films composed by Heil & Klimek (known for their work with Tom Tykwer on RUN, LOLA, RUN, etc) and Norman Orenstein (whose long history in B-moving scoring included sequel scores like AMERICAN PSYCHO 2 and STIR OF ECHOES 2: THE HOMECOMING), respectively.

Robert Carli IMG_0678Thus it came that Robert Carli was brought in to compose Romero’s latest flesh-munchers epic, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, which was filmed up in his territory, in and around Toronto, Canada. The producers had approached several composers and invited them to score three scenes as a demo. “The direction we were given is that George wanted an orchestral horror score, somewhat vague, but I think fitting for the exercise,” Carli recalled. He got the gig.

Since he began scoring films in 1999, Carli has composed some fifty film and television productions, including the popular Canadian detective series THE MURDOCH MYSTERIES. Carli studied at the University of Toronto, graduating with a degree in composition, after which he began performing as saxophonist with The Toronto Symphony, The National Ballet of Canada, and The Esprit Orchestra. He has toured with rock bands and jazz groups across North America and throughout Europe, and he teaches saxophone at the University of Toronto, while continuing to perform with classical and contemporary music ensembles.

Fueding families underly the tension in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.
Fueding families underly the tension in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.

Carli worked closely with Romero and editor Michael Doherty on spotting SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD and determining the best placement of music. “My impressions were informed by some direction that George had given me in advance of the spotting,” Carli said. “He was interested in a traditional orchestral score, and Michael had suggested I employ various character themes and motives throughout the score. Also, there is a narrative arch in the film that touches on family (and its possible devolution), so I wanted to come up music that would somehow touch that.”

Early in the process Carli created a number of different themes and sonic textures which he pitched to George. These included a military theme, a “walking dead” theme, the island theme, a family theme etc. “I should note that I didn’t use ‘character themes’ so much,” Carli said. “Rather I used what you might call ‘situational’ themes. While George’s films often use rich characters, I believe that it is the environments and situations in which these characters are used that speak to his style of film making. For example, there are antagonists, but often they are a group of people, rather than an individual.”

Carli said that his biggest challenge in scoring SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD was simply a matter of time. “Like most films, it comes down to time,” he said. “I had very little time to complete the score, but I don’t really mind working in those parameters. It’s nice to have a looming deadline. Also, there was the challenge of trying to create a big orchestral score without a big orchestral budget.”

Survival of the Dead (2009)

The budget demanded few real instruments and most of the score was crafted out of synths and orchestral sampled worked out in the computer. Carli had offered suggestions to Romero about instrumentation to be used. “I wanted to feature the bassoon prominently in the family theme,” he said. “It has a wanton forlorn quality in the upper register that I thought could work. I also had sampled a number of ‘metal’ tools and pieces from a friend of mine who is a metal sculptor, and I thought they would add an interesting dimension to the score. Also, you can hear the saw from time to time in the score, which I’ve always loved and I tend to use a lot, since it can be simultaneously eerie and warm and melodic.”

Carli put together the music using orchestral samples, manipulated on the keyboard and mixed to sound convincingly realistic, sweetened with a handful of live musicians. “On SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, we used 3 or 4 fiddles, bassoon, clarinet, sax, bass clarinet, baritone sax, saw, soprano sax and piano as the live components,” Carli said. “I guess the secret is trying to get the fake instruments do what they do well, and get the real instruments to do what they do well. The next result can be a decent compromise in many cases.”

His experience among the living dead was favorable, and Carli enjoyed taking a journey into the further reaches of what horror music can accomplish. “I did score a psychological thriller called CORD (2000, aka HIDE AND SEEK) that starred Darryl Hanna and Vincent Gallo,” Carli recalled. “It was pretty dark. But generally, I haven’t scored too many thrillers. I loved doing SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, and I hope to do more.”

Carli enjoyed working with director George A. Romero.
Carli enjoyed working with director George A. Romero.

Carli also enjoyed his working rapport with legendary zombiemeister Romero. “It was a great opportunity to work with George,” he said. “It’s curious to meet such a warm and friendly person, and then look at the body of his work, which is anything but warm and friendly. A bit of a disconnect there, but I guess you can attribute that to the magic of film making; the reality on screen really is imagined, and not real at all.”

Carli is now currently scoring Cartoon Network’s first live-action series, UNNATURAL HISTORY (2010), produced by Warner Bros. This youth-oriented adventure series includes a number of fantasy and sci-fi permutations which will give Carli plenty of musical opportunities.

[serialposts]

Brian Tyler’s Final Destination

Fourth in the franchise launched in 2000 by former X-FILES writers James Wong and Glen Morgan, THE FINAL DESTINATION (known during production as FINAL DESTINATION 4 and FINAL DESTINATION: DEATH TRIP) is the latest variation on the entertaining but formulaic story about a group of teens who seem to cheat death only to find that death has a way of collecting its due all the same.

The first three films were scored by maverick music maestro Shirley Walker, who provided their palpable musical propulsion. But Walker died in 2006 not long after FINAL DESTINATION 3. After some consideration, director David R. Ellis, who had also helmed FINAL DESTINATION 2 (2003), asked Brian Tyler to take over for the fourth outing.

“I was brought on very early in the process by New Line Cinema, Warner Brothers, and the director David Ellis,” said Tyler. “They were still filming the movie and called me from the set and asked me if I was interested. We talked about the concept even in that original conversation. We all wanted to respect the tradition of what Shirley had established but also bring its own flavor and grit to this particular film.”

Over the last dozen years, Brian Tyler has established an impressive reputation as a film composer. Emerging after a year of independent film scoring in 1998 with the quirky music to SIX STRING SAMURAI, Tyler gained acclaim for his work on Bill Paxton’s creepy psychological thriller, FRAILTY (2001) and was soon scoring increasingly notable and bigger films, many of which were squarely science fiction and horror offerings. His music to Don Coscarelli’s brilliantly comic commentary on aging and mummy attacks, BUBBA HO-TEP, embraced the almost surreal sense of humor with musical elements that were reflective of Elvis’ country-tinged pop without completely losing thenecessary dramatic edge. A similar swaggering sound was provided for Tommy Lee Wallace’s VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS (2002), a follow-up to JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES, enhancing its Latin locale with persuasively rhythmic accompaniment.

Tyler went on to score large-scaled science fiction productions such as CHILDREN OF DUNE for the Sci-Fi Channel, laid down some eloquence for the exploits of TV’s PAINKILLER JANE series for the same network, Michael Crichton’s TIMELINE (replacing his own icon, Jerry Goldsmith, whose score was ironically deemed unsuitable, after which Tyler provided his own variation of a Goldsmith score for the final release), and CONSTANTINE, requiring a last minute collaboration with Klaus Badelt to overlay some new material on top of Tyler’s finished score (which was, indeed, better than having it Goldsmithed out of the picture entirely). Tyler provided a spooky score for DARKNESS FALLS (2003), chilled the ominous portents of GODSEND (2004), and catapulted the horrific battles in ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007).

In THE FINAL DESTINATION Tyler was prepared to confront death’s scythe itself while musically supporting the action, fantasy, and brutal shocks with a potent mix of ambient atmospheres and progressive, driving propulsion, from the blistering rock and roll of the main theme to the omnipresent chills provided by somber, sustained string chords and relentless, percussive chase motifs.

“I thought there were some dueling aspects of the film that needed addressing,” said Tyler of his approach to the film’s various nuances. “There was the fate aspect of the film that feels supernatural. But of course the propulsive action of these premonition sequences needed musical muscle. It was a fine balance to be sure. And yes, horror was a large part of this score but in a way, not straight up horror since there is no visible killer. In fact, the main character of the film is never seen. Death himself! So it was up to me to provide the voice of death through the music.”

Tyler incorporating Shirley Walker’s main theme from the first three films, which was integrated as Tyler developed old with new to arrive at a musical dynamic that both reflected the legacy of the series while providing something different for this excursion, much as he did with the FAST AND THE FURIOUS series and 2008’s RAMBO.

“Shirley’s theme is still the most prominent aspect of the score,” Tyler said. “There were a few other themes that I composed for this film. One was an upward death motif that only needed a small statement to recognize something was very, very wrong in a scene and about to get worse. Also there is a new danger theme for the most evil moments in the film.”

In addition, Tyler wanted to provide a more emotional and natural theme for the struggles of one of the main characters with his past.

Scoring terror is something that has come naturally to Tyler after several excursions through horror cinema. A score like this needs to drive the roller coaster of scary shocks, nudging the viewer-listeners as they anticipate those drops and curves and, in some cases, flinging them headlong over the side of the rail. Multiple layers of spooky sonorities and progressive riffs of percussion-led synth and orchestral pads generate a fatalistic drive to the characters’ rush toward their inevitable Final Destination, building the anticipation and intensifying the payoffs, while also providing a gentle, breezy melody for the film’s gentler environment.

Recognizing that horror scores, in particular among all species of film music, are by nature manipulative – intensifying emotions, anticipating events about to occur on screen, generating heightened excitement in the viewer – Tyler purposefully geared his music to operate subtly with finesse, or ferociously with propulsion, as the storyline and visual style dictated.

“It’s so tricky!” Tyler confessed. “Sometimes the music would lead you down a path of ‘something is coming’ and sometimes it would lead you down the path of ‘everything is okay’ right before the movie hits you with a hard right to the jaw. It’s all about finding the right moment for the right tone. I just go by feel and try to remember how I felt when I see a scary film that really, really got me.”

BrianTylersidestair_5

The hybrid nature of contemporary film scores – the mix of synths with symphs – have become the norm for modern action films and horror thrillers and almost dictates how a composer will proceed, especially in a franchise like this, which largely depends on following successful formulas and meeting audience expectations. At the same time, composers like Tyler cannot help creatingsomething that strives to make a new or personal musical statement.

“The hybrid style is certainly present now,” agreed Tyler. “I think it depends on the feel of the film. There are films that I score that are purely orchestral of course, and I love their purity. But I always try to make hybrid scores natural. The non-orchestral elements mostly come from instruments that I record with a microphone. The more I can record live the happier I am!”

Tyler has recently been signed to score Sylvester Stallone’s Latin American mercenary action film, THE EXPENDABLES, set for release next August. He is also set to score George Gallo’s psychological thriller, COLUMBUS CIRCLE as well as the next big science fiction invasion thriller, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, currently filming and planned for release in February, 2011.

For more information on Brian Tyler, see: www.briantyler.com.

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Erich Kunzel – A Fond Good-bye

Erich Kunzel conductingIt is with sorrow that we note the passing of Erich Kunzel at the age seventy-four. On September 1, 2009 the celebrated conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra for well over thirty years was struck down by “cancer of the pancreas, liver and colon,” according to Chris Pinelo, a spokesman for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which encompasses the Pops. Kunzel is survived by his wife of 33 years, Brunhilde.
He was diagnosed in late April, yet as advanced as the illness was by the end of May he still led the National Symphony in a Memorial Day concert on the Capitol Building lawn in Washington, and did so again on July 4. Both were televised by the Public Broadcasting Service. It was exactly one month prior to his death that he made his final public appearance, on August 1, conducting the second half of a Pops concert in Cincinnati.
Last year I wrote a light-hearted article of apology for not being able to attend a scheduled appearance he made in Denver, CO, where he conducted  “Trek: The Concert” –  a collection of music from the universe of Star Trek. The point was that I’d always wanted to see him live; he was a mere one hour away, and I still couldn’t arrange to get there. It seemed almost hypocritical because I’m always observing that we don’t get enough of the likes of him—or enough film music displayed—in the Colorado Springs/Denver area. Now I feel the regret of that missed concert more poignantly than ever, and I am sorry for it.
Mr. Kunzel was born to German-American immigrant parents in New York City. He began arranging music at an early age while at Greenwich High School in Connecticut and also played the piano, string bass, and timpani. He graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in music (thought he started out as a chemistry major), then studied at Harvard and Brown universities. He conducted for the Santa Fe Opera early in his career and studied at the Pierre Monteux School. From 1960 to 1965, he conducted the Rhode Island Philharmonic. Then from 1965 to 1977, he served as resident conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. It was also in 1977 that he helped found the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and became its conductor. In addition to his duties associated with this he lead the 8 o’clock popular concert series and made jazz recordings with Dave Brubeck and Duke Ellington.
Under Maestro Kunzel’s leadership the Pops became internationally known with half a dozen best-selling recordings a year and almost weekly subscription concerts. Once a major contender to succeed Arthur Fiedler at the Boston Pops, his popular recordings of classical music, Broadway musicals, and film scores topped worldwide crossover charts more than any other conductor or orchestra in the world.
Mr. Kunzel was on a continuous mission to make orchestral music more accessible to those who might not normally be drawn to what they considered long-hair music. For example, at Halloween he and the Pops musicians would don costumes and pumpkins would explode onstage. His recordings include numerous film music projects, many of them devoted to fantasy, science fiction, and horror: The Great Fantasy Adventure Album (with tracks from Jurassic Park, The Terminator, and Hook); Great Film Fantasies (music from Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter); Chiller (creepy clasiscal music and horror movies cues); and Symphonic Star Trek (self explanatory).  Science fiction and fantasy themes and suites were also laced through his other movie music albums, with cues from Independence Day, Batman Forever, JumanjiDragonheart, The X-Files A Clockwork Orange, King Kong, Star Trek, E.T., and Somewhere in Time, showing up on The Big Picture, Mega Movies, Simply the Best Movie Themes, Vintage Movies, and The Ultimate Movie Collection .
“He was able to take highbrow and in his inimitable way make it somehow lowbrow,” said his protégé, Steven Reineke, the associate conductor of the Cincinnati Pops, who was recently named music director of the New York Pops. “And I mean that in the best way possible.”
He conducted professionally for just over fifty years and in that time tucked approximately 85 high-quality albums under his belt and sold ten million recordings. Like John Williams with the Boston Pops, he enjoyed adoration from nearly all those who admire orchestral film music. Over fifty-five of the eighty-five or so albums he made with the Cincinnati Pops have landed on Billboard’s top ten charts. He won several Grammy Awards, the Grand Prix Du Disque, and the Sony Tiffany Walkman Award for “visionary recording activities.” He even made historic trips to China and was presented with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given to artists and arts patrons by the United States Government.
Mr. Kunzel was a one of kind soul within his art form, but that soul managed to connect to people all around the world. He will be much missed.
For more information on Erich Kunzel and his work, visit http://www.erichkunzel.com/.