Monday, July 28, 2014

Interview: Jeff Russo (Fargo)

Interview: Jeff Russo (Fargo)

Richard Buxton talks with composer Jeff Russo about his foray into writing music for television, balancing his career between composing for film and TV with his band-work, how he came to write the score for the first season of Fargo and more.

RB -   Having started your career in rock music, how did you find yourself composing for visual media, and was it a path you had considered taking before being presented with the opportunity?

JR - I was asked to play guitar on a score for a movie back in 2000. I really loved working to picture, so I thought "This is something I would love to do!" About 5 years later, when Tonic was on hiatus, I was talking to Wendy Melvoin about it, and she asked if I wanted to come into their (Wendy and Lisa's) studio to watch what they were doing. Soon after, I started working for them on various projects. That was my introduction to writing music for visual media. I had always loved film music, but this was the first time I thought about it as something I would like to do long term.

RB -  The last few years has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of scores being written by musicians who have a professional musical background outside film music. What do you think that such composers can offer that those who have worked solely in film scoring perhaps cannot?

JR - It's just a different perspective. When you come from a completely different background than a classically trained composer, you'll have a totally different musical point of view. That's the thing that is so attractive about it.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

In Context - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Michael Giacchino)

In-Context is a new series where I will deliver my thoughts on how an well original score functions within its specific context:  feature film, television program, or video game!   Our first stop is Matt Reeves' DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES with an original score by MICHAEL GIACCHINO.  You can watch this series on our Youtube channel and/or read the text version here on our blog!  Either way, let us know what you thought of the Giacchino's score as it performed in-context or what you think of this new series.


DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is the perfect sequel to the vastly under-rated RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) and has become the high-water-mark for 2014 movies so far.  For DAWN the directorial reins moved from Rupert Wyatt to Matt Reeves and soon thereafter, the scoring duties from PATRICK DOYLE to MICHAEL GIACCHINO.  The focus of this sequel clearly takes the audience from the perspective of the humans to that of this newly rising community of intelligent apes.  With one race trying to hold on to its civilization and another trying to build its own, is conflict inevitable?  Ten years after the events of RISE, Reeves and Giacchino reunite us with our favorite ape characters: Caesar, Maurice, Rocket, and Koba and also introduce us to a small band of surviving humans and explore the answer to this question.

So let's take a look at how Giacchino's original score worked in context.

I watched this film at the AMC Theater in Downtown Disney, Orlando.  This is truly one of the best movie theaters in the Orlando area and one of the few equipped with a Dolby Atmos. Unfortunately, I did not see DAWN on this screen.  I sat about 1/2 way back at the on the left side of the center section.  This was the very same screen where I had one of my worst movie-audio experiences of my life ... GODZILLA (2014).   I'm happy to report that this was not the case this time and the sound mix and volume was fantastic and matched the emotion and intensity of the images being shown to myself and the rest of this packed house.

In context, MICHAEL GIACCHINO's original score is one of the most effective of any summer movie release this year. One of the more intriguing elements are the nods to Jerry Goldsmith's impressionistic style for the original PLANET OF THE APES from 1968.  Giacchino even goes as far as to include some of the unique instrumentation found in Goldsmith's original.  Our prolific composer tends to lean more and more upon these impressionistic tendencies as the plot advances and the potential for large-scale conflict increases.  His use of such techniques are certainly not just for nostalgic purposes, but to create an atmosphere of unease which cocoon's the audience in with their sense of fear and dread.  There are a couple of moments where we get a dose of dissonant strings and chorus that, along with the imagery, cannot help be evoke thoughts of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It's quite the rare thing to find this style score attached to a mainstream, summer, blockbuster film these days and due credit must be given to Reeves and Giacchino for daring to do so.

Now, MICHAEL GIACCHINO does not go as far experimentally as Goldsmith did and manages to keep his own, signature sound close at hand.  Aside from the chilling aspects of the score, the listener will likely take away two main musical ideas upon viewing the film.

First, is the harmonious, peaceful title theme, which hinges upon two, simple piano notes.  It is used all throughout the score, not only in this form, but at times, plucked on the harp or played by full orchestra.  It is a device used in quite a number of Giacchino's scores, but fans of the early seasons of LOST will be the group that most certainly recognizes it.  The overall effect of the theme, and in particular the abbreviated motif, is this sort of "fragile peace;" somehow telling the audience that everything is good ... for the moment.

The second takeaway is what could be called Koba's theme.  In stark contrast to the aforementioned peace-theme, Koba's theme is, at its core, a quick set of six notes.  It maintains the rising and falling shape of the two-note motif, but is usually delivered in militaristic fashion - often lead on brass and underscored strongly with various percussion.  As the plot develops, the theme grows and ultimately is played over the Apes community as the tragic, pieces fall into place and they mobilize for the inevitable conflict with the humans.

Overall, as had been said by many already, DAWN is easily one of the Summer's best films ... or even one of 2014's best.  MICHAEL GIACCHINO's score has a crucial part to play.  And while his most enjoyable music tends to be for original properties over reboots or inherited sequels, you will definitely want to hear his score in context ... probably more than once.

Be sure to lookout for more IN-CONTEXT episodes on our YOUTUBE channel and also for my full soundtrack review of DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES in the very near future.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Oscars - Interview with John Williams, Gustavo Santaolalla, and Gustavo Dudamel

On July 21, 2014, The Academy held a special event "Behind the Score: The Art of the Film Composer" at LACMA's Bing Theater.  Below you will find six wonderful excerpts of a panel discussion with composer John Williams, Gustavo Santaolalla, and Gustavo Dudamel - hosted by Tavis Smiley.

They address questions such as: "What is the power of  film music to connect us to characters in film?"  "What they, as composers, wish for the audience to take away from the movies they score and the music they write."  "How do subtitles in a film effect your composition?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Soundtrack) by Henry Jackman - Review + Audio

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Soundtrack) by Henry Jackman - Review

Listen to this Review!

Oh Captain, My Captain
Review by Christopher Coleman

April isn’t supposed to be a month for blockbuster movies. Captain America isn’t supposed to offer one of the better stand-alone entries in The Avengers series of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and Henry Jackman isn’t supposed to be the one carrying on Cap’s musical story. Yet all these things are.

When last we left CAPTAIN AMERICA he, along with his new Avengers crew, had just saved New York and likely the rest of the world in the process … unless you count his brief Loki-channeled, cameo in THOR: THE DARK WORLD. Regardless, Captain America now finds himself in the post-911, post-tesseract, United States of America. Just as Tony Stark and Thor had to make significant life-adjustments as a result of the “Battle of the Tesseract,” so does Steve Rogers - perhaps even moreso.

It is in this modern, politically-grey, paranoid, and cynical America that Cap finds his next cinematic adventure. Fighting against a mysterious and formidable foe, known as The Winter Soldier, and an even greater, more elusive enemy, Captain America, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and the Falcon take on new biological, technological, and idealogical threats in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. Leaving behind the nostalgic and simplistic patriotic tones of THE FIRST AVENGER and ALAN SILVESTRI’s pitch-perfect score, this Cap sequel’s original score is equally fitting. Perhaps not as listenable out of context, but it is difficult to argue that HENRY JACKMAN’s score for The Winter Soldier is not a fit for the film.

For those who have only listened to the original soundtrack as released by Hollywood Records, I have the greatest sympathy for you. Jackman’s original score is the poster-child for the need of context. It’s performance on soundtrack, without this context, is painfully disappointing. The score jumps from Bourne-like action to unadulterated Americana, to twisted-metallic-screams. If one has a Captain-America-like grit and determination for repeated listens, then there are threads that do connect many of these seemingly disparate patches together. My advice? See the film and make your subsequent listens to the score a substantially more pleasurable experience.

Henry Jackman’s score is evenly balanced between action, dramatic, and atmospheric cues; seven of the first two type and six of the last. The action and dramatic cues certainly hold the lion’s share of identifiable musical themes and moments, but, if one care to look closely enough, there are a number of interesting moments tucked within the many layers of the synth-symphonic-hybrid pieces as well.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

There Be Soundtracks in those Collector's Editions

The Order: 1886 - Composer Unannounced
Expected release date February 2015

The next-next-gen consoles have been out for while now, but an ongoing complaint has been the lack of triple-A titles to be released for either the Xbox One or the Playstation 4.  We know.  We know.  They are on the way.  

One great thing about being able to still buy our games in physical form is the opportunity to pony-up some large coin and occasionally pick up a collectors/limited edition release of that game we simply can't resist - that we just want to totally immerse ourselves in.  And one of the things I immediately look for in a collectors edition is for a physical release of the game score ... especially if the game score has not been released elsewise.  So, if you are, like me, contemplating which console to get next, then let's have a look at a few collectors editions that have recently been released or are on the horizon.

Some of these packages are quite enticing and each of these are listed on Amazon, so you can get the full details on what these impressive packages have to offer aside from a physical soundtrack.

The Witcher 3:  Wild Hunt by Gene Rozenberg
Expected release date: February 2015

File:Unity-Bastille edition.jpg

Assassins Creed: Unity - Theme by Chris TiltonExpected release date: October 2014

Watchdogs by Brian Reitzell
Now available.

What do you say?  Does this whet your appetite and get you one step closer to your next-next-gen?

Did we miss any sweet editions with soundtracks included?  Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Soundcast Ep. 74 - Summer Catch Up

Soundcast Ep. 74 - Summer Catch Up

Ep. 74 - Summer Catch Up

The Soundcast crew reconvenes with guest, Kristen Romanelli (Film Score Monthly), to get caught up on the first half of the Summer of 2014 big movies and big move scores:  The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Edge of Tomorrow.

Episode Highlights

00:00 - Summer Catch-Up Mix
00:55 - Welcome to the Summer
08:10 - Feelings about the first-half of the Summer
13:22 - The Amazing Spider-Man 2
25:00 - Godzilla
44:30 - X-Men: Days of Future Past
60:39 - Maleficent
72:45 - Edge of Tomorrow
86:17 - What's left of the Summer
96:00 - Find and Follow
Music Selections

00:00 - "There He Is" (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) by Hans Zimmer
00:25 - "I'm Spider-Man" (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) by Hans Zimmer
13:45 - "I'm Electro" (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) by Hans Zimmer
20:27 - "The Electro Suite" (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) by Hans Zimmer
25:01 - "Godzilla!" (Godzilla) by Alexandre Desplat
29:57 - "Golden Gate Chaos" (Godzilla) by Alexandre Desplat
44:08 - "The Future (Main Titles)" (X-Men: Days of Future Past) by John Ottman
45:01 - "Hope" (X-Men: Days of Future Past) by John Ottman
46:15 - "Time" (Inception) by Hans Zimmer
46:58 - "Hope" (X-Men: Days of Future Past) by John Ottman
47:37 - "Time in a Bottle" (X-Men: Days of Future Past) by John Croce
56:26 - "Time's Up (Orig. Version)" (X-Men: Days of Future Past) by John Ottman
58:54 - "Time's Up (Film Version)" (X-Men: Days of Future Past) by John Ottman
60:40 - "Maleficent Suite" (Maleficent) by James Newton Howard
66:38 - "Maleficent is Captured" (Maleficent) by James Newton Howard
72:54 - "Angel of Verdun" (Edge of Tomorrow) by Christophe Beck
98:47 - "The Queen of Faerieland" (Maleficent) by James Newton Howard


Follow Kristen Romanelli on Twitter - @kbfornow

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Most of the  soundtracks mentioned in this episode can be found at Amazon.  Your purchases through these links help us to keep on keepin' on!  Thank You!

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Composer Commentary: The Good Wife by David Buckley

In our recent SoundCast interview with David Buckley, we mentioned a brand new feature ... a special COMPOSER COMMENTARY.  We figured ... why should DVDs and Blu-rays have all the commenting fun?  David Buckley was kind enough to sit down and comment through five of his compelling pieces found on his recently release soundtrack for THE GOOD WIFE.

Track 1 Commentary - The Good Wife (Theme)
Track 6 Commentary - "Partner Vote Sting"
Track 8 Commentary - "Plaintiff's Partita"
Track 11 Commentary - "Felon's Fugue"
Track 19 Commentary - "Countdown to Execution"

We hope you will take a listen and appreciate the insights he provides.  Please do check out our interview with him to get even more details on the story behind the TV-series' score and the soundtrack release.  And if you like this new feature, we'd appreciate you taking a moment to let us know in the comments below, hitting the like/heart button above and sharing it with others!

We'd love to do more of these and your feedback will go a long way to determining if we do!