Saturday, December 28, 2013

Michael Giacchino: The Wunderkind

Michael Giacchino was born in 1967 in New Jersey.  His early love for music and filmmaking began when he spent time as a nine year old creating films with his father's Super 8 camera.  Inspired by films like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Giacchino also created stop-motion films.  Eventually he would write music for the shorts or sync up movie scores to his films.  After high school, he attended the School of Visual Arts in New York, with a focus on film production and history.  He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, but it was music eventually began to take over.  While in New York he also took classes at the Juilliard School and working in the publicity offices for Disney and Universal.    

A few years later, Giacchino moved to Los Angeles, working in the Disney Studios in Burbank while still composing music.  Ever busy, he also took night classes at UCLA in orchestration and film composition.  With Disney Interactive Studios expanding, Giacchino became a producer and began submitting his own scores for video games.  Games he co-scored include Gargoyles (1995) and Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow (1995).  It wasn't long before Giacchino moved over to DreamWorks Interactive and composed The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) video game which ended up being the beginning of his breakthrough.  Due to Steven Spielberg's involvement, it would be one of PlayStation's first games with a live orchestral score.  While with DreamWorks, he scored a few Jurassic Park sequel games and the game score to Small Soldiers (1998).

His next big break came from scoring the video game Medal of Honor (1999), the Spielberg-produced/created project set in WWII.  Again, Giacchino worked with a live orchestra, this time the Northwest Sinfonia in Seattle.  J.J. Abrams, a fan of Medal of Honor, eventually contacted Giacchino to score his new show, Alias (2001).  In a rare move like the games, Giacchino utilized a live orchestra for the television show.  It stayed that way for the show's run (2001-2006) in which Giacchino scored almost all the episodes.  In 2002 he scored two game sequels, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (2002) and Medal of Honor: Frontline (2002).  He also expanded to the new WWII series Call of Duty (2003) and provided a top notch score to Secret Weapons Over Normandy (2003).

His large film break came with the Pixar film, The Incredibles (2004).  Director Brad Bird had been impressed by Giacchino's work with Alias, and hired him for the jazz-inspired superhero film.  Various awards came for the score, including a Grammy nomination for Best Score Soundtrack Album (with Gordon Goodwin winning a Grammy for the spectacular orchestral arrangement, The Incredits).  2004 was also the starting of the next J.J. Abrams project, the television show Lost (2004-2010).  Scoring all the episodes, Giacchino built a bevy of musical themes which were able to build and be used over the seasons - not to mention utilizing a live orchestra.  The pilot episode won Giacchino an Emmy for music composition.

2005 saw more feature films, like the superhero film Sky High (2005), the Christmas dramedy The Family Stone (2005), and scoring the Pixar short One Man Band (2005).  At Disneyland, he composed some updated music for Space Mountain.  With friend J.J. Abrams making his directorial debut with Mission: Impossible III (2006) Giacchino naturally followed suit, integrating Lalo Schifrin's classic theme into his action score.  He also scored the first batch of the show What About Brian (2006) and the Pixar short Lifted (2006). 

Once again with director Brad Bird, Giacchino brought his best to the French-inspired Pixar film Ratatouille (2007).  The lively score would win him a Grammy Award and be Giacchino's first Oscar nomination.  Ever returning to his roots, Giacchino would also go on scoring Medal of Honor: Airborne (2007) and Turning Point: Fall of Liberty (2008).  With the Abrams-created show, Fringe (2008-2013), Giacchino composed a handful of episodes and provided the themes that would be passed through the show.  He would also provide the manic action score to the Wachowski's film Speed Racer (2008), and compose the Cloverfield overture "Roar!" for Cloverfield (2008).

2009 became one of Giacchino's biggest years with scores to the documentary Earth Days (2009), the Pixar short Partly Cloudy (2009), and action comedy Land of the Lost (2009).  For the 81st Academy Awards, he was the music director and arranger for the ceremony, using creative arrangements of great movie themes.  He also became a go-to for the Disney television Christmas special Prep & Landing (2009).  One of his biggest hits became the reboot of Star Trek, with director Abrams at the helm.  Star Trek (2009) became one of his most popular scores, and was nominated for a Grammy.  It was his score to the Pixar film, Up (2009), that received the most praise.  Notable for its 'Married Life' sequence and its transformation of lovely themes, the score would go on a winning streak - winning the Grammy, BAFTA, Golden Globes and Oscar.  

Taking a well-deserved break, Giacchino scored a handful of projects the next year, including the horror film Let Me In (2010) with Cloverfield director Matt Reeves, the cute Pixar short Day & Night (2010), and the next TV short Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa (2010).                  
Returning with a bang, Giacchino scored the Pixar short La Luna (2011), and arrangements of John Williams themes for the updated Star Tours (opened in 2011).  In between large orchestral scores, Giacchino also scored the smaller projects Monte Carlo (2011), 50/50 (2011) and the next Prep & Landing special - Naughty vs. Nice (2011).  His larger scores include the next Abrams film Super 8 (2011), the Pixar film Cars 2 (2011) and the Brad Bird directed follow-up, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011).  Also premiering with 'Ghost Protocol', Giacchino composed the fanfare for the 100th Anniversary of Paramount Pictures.   

Returning to TV with a new Abrams created show, Giacchino composed some themes for the series Alcatraz (2012).  He expanded his style with the large-scale John Carter (2012).  He also expanded his past work with the Abrams-helmed sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013).  He also scored the Pixar TV special Toy Story of Terror (2013).   

The future is bright for Giacchino, with upcoming scores to the comedy This Is Where I Leave You (2014), and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) with director Matt Reeves.  Returning with the Wachowskis for Jupiter Ascending (2014), Giacchino had the score recording in London (compared to his usual Hollywood Studio Symphony) and also composed the score before filming even began (still relatively rare in film scoring).  Also in the future, the Brad Bird imaginative film Tomorrowland was recently pushed to 2015.  

His collaborations with conductor/orchestrator Tim Simonec since the beginning have led Giacchino to have a singular voice, and his use of expert Dan Wallin as score recordist/scoring mixer over the years has also influenced his sound (for better or worse).  He's also notable for his use of puns in his track titles, with help from his music editors.  

In addition to his great film work, his work on Lost has set a new bar for television scoring.  With his connections to Pixar, Disney and J.J. Abrams, his scoring schedule will be busy for quite some time.  It's amazing to what heights he has gotten to in such a short time, and becoming a popular choice for new projects.  Clearly Giacchino is a main choice for many genres, and venues - from video games, to television series, to TV specials, animated films, to box office hit feature films.  He'll have much more to write, and more for us to listen to.                        

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Quick Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Music composed by Howard Shore
Music Conducted by Conrad Pope
Orchestrations by Conrad Pope, James Sizemore
Score performed by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at Wellington Town Hall

Special Edition running time: 123 minutes
Available on Water Tower Music

It is hard to believe it has been a whole year since the last installment of Peter Jackson's new trilogy of The Hobbit.  The Desolation of Smaug naturally picks up right where An Unexpected Journey left off.  The music follows suit with a few exceptions.  Many film score fans balked at the change of the orchestrator and conductor to Conrad Pope - both originally by Howard Shore on the previous Lord of the Rings films and Unexpected Journey.  Others noticed the change in orchestra - moving from various London orchestras to the New Zealand Symphony (and recording in Wellington).  I am pleased to say that the changes didn't affect the outcome of the score - neither change stood out or was really noticeable.  The score is most definitely still a Howard Shore score.  

Just like before, we are treated with a regular edition and slightly longer special edition.  This is a rundown of the special edition.  Thematic continuity is one highlight of the Tolkien world, and Howard Shore has crafted a gigantic musical world.  This score utilizes a few of the themes from the previous film (AUJ), including the Erebor theme, Thorin's theme, Azog's theme.  Notably absent is the Misty Mountains theme (written by Plan 9) which was so prevalent in the previous score.  This score adds a few main themes and a few motifs which will most likely appear in the next film.  The main new themes include the Durin theme, Lake-town's theme, with many iterations of Tauriel's theme and Smaug's theme.  Minor themes include music for the Arkenstone, Beorn, Bard and the love theme.

The Quest for Erebor contains a nice refresher of themes, setting the tone for the film and the album.  We first get a bit of Smaug's theme (hinted a few times at his mention in AUJ), before giving us a calming rendition of The Shire theme.  Setting up this backstory, we get a bit of Thorin's theme alongside the dramatic underscoring of the scene.  Wilderland sets up much of the villain motifs and themes, quickly going between theme, starting with the Arkenstone, before showing the rising theme for Beorn, Smaug's theme and the low-ranged Warg-Riders music.  Beorn's pulsing and driving themes eventually take up more of the track before calming down.

A Necromancer is another dark and moody track, featuring more villain motifs - Azog, Smaug, Necromancer and snippets of what will become Sauron's theme from the Lord of the Rings films.  The House of Beorn features more of Beorn's theme, and the mysterious blurred sounds of the Mirkwood theme.  We still are in the low reaches of the orchestra, keeping it very dire sounding throughout.  One lone voice rises above, with the theme for The Nine - representing the formation of the Ringwraiths.  A faster version of the Erebor theme rounds out the track.  Mirkwood features a delightfully dark and murky sound.  Shore (and Pope) really explored more orchestral choices of percussion and chanting to vary the Mirkwood theme and set the tone for this track.  Flies and Spiders features a bit more of the slithering Mirkwood theme, flowing through a mention of the Erebor theme, and the creepy sounds for the spiders.  It plays like a full horror movie underscore, with the dissonant sounds of the strings and brass and shreaking woodwinds.  Just as the drama rises over and over, the Ring theme appears on a solo violin.  The action picks up, and we get the first burst of Tauriel's theme which functions as a bit of a fanfare.                                

The Woodland Realm features the eponymous theme, with mysterious variations for Thranduil and the Woodland elves with Tauriel's theme eventually appearing on oboe.  Tauriel's theme appears in Feast Of Starlight, alongside the Love Theme for Tauriel and Kili.  The theme lends itself to the tender moments of the film, and is helped by the use of a solo voice (something Shore has consistently done well).  A brief statement of the Ring theme is book-ended by the Love Theme.

Barrels Out of Bond features some of the themes from the past film, using Bilbo's past themes in a comedic effect.  The short track leads up to The Forest River - a clear favorite in the album.  The track is a large-scale action cue, and if you are a fan of Tauriel's theme as much as I am, this track will shine.  The orchestra really gives the track its propulsion mixing in Tauriel's fanfare-like theme, a motif for Legolas, and a heroic variation of Thorin's theme as the tempo speeds up.  

Bard, A Man Of Lake-Town introduces us to a main character - Bard, and his musical theme which is played right into the track on the English Horn.  The semi-mysterious theme doesn't quite reveal what side of the story he is on, similar to Strider's entrance in Fellowship of the Ring.  The track ends with the Politicians of Lake-Town motif, another winding melody.  The High Fells and The Nature of Evil return us to the villain side of the story with the rising Necromancer theme and the eerie vocal theme for the Nine.  Bard and Thorin's theme blend together in Protector of the Common Folk.  We also get the introduction to the Grieg-like Lake-Town theme in addition to the Politicians motif.  
Thrice Welcome begins with a grand statement of the Lake-Town theme, before the Politicians theme enters with the clavichord and cello giving the town and characters a distinct musical flavor. Bard's theme appears as well as the "fussy" theme for Bilbo first heard in AUJ.  Girion, Lord of Dale begins with Girion's theme, which fits with Bard's theme. Tauriel's fanfare bursts in, interspersed with the Woodland theme. The House of Durin theme appears as well, with its rising pattern and strong male chorus. Durin's Folk becomes a who's-who of themes, with Erebor, Thorin, and Laketown all rising, with a slight menace underneath as their quest comes closer to the mountain.

In the Shadow of the Mountain features a stirring variation of House of Durin (without choir) before leading to the Erebor theme and Smaug's theme with a sense of dread.  A Spell of Concealment joins back where The Nature of Evil left off - variations on Sauron's theme, the Necromancer theme in an action setting.  On the Doorstep features more of the Erebor and Thorin's theme and a beautiful choir moment in the middle of the track. The versions of the past themes have a weight to them, and each have a solemn variation.  The Courage of Hobbits naturally has a callback to the Shire theme of the LOTR trilogy, but also include some of the Eastern-sounding percussion including gamelans representing the mysteriousness of Smaug. It is something that makes the character and music stand out as nothing we've heard yet.  Inside Information uses more of the interesting percussion with almost hypnotic variations of Smaug's theme appear.

Kingsfoil takes a break from the Smaug material, with lovely string-led versions of the Love Theme, and a female solo voice joins in. But then, A Liar and a Thief kicks us right back to the darkness with Smaug's menacing motifs mixed in with Sauron's theme. The orchestra shows off the extreme ranges with the deep lows and extreme highs in the strings. The Hunters is another large action cue that begins with a combination of Erebor and Smaug's theme. The rhythm keeps the action moving as we alternate between the motifs for our heroes and villains - especially Legolas. The House of Durin makes another appearance, again in the cellos and choir. Smaug as you could guess, is full of the Eastern percussion, Smaug's theme and the lowest lows of the orchestra. The House of Durin theme mixes with Smaug's theme in My Armor Is Iron, and some riveting writing near the end before ending on a cliffhanger.

I See Fire (written and performed by Ed Sheeran) begin a capella before his guitar and string accompaniment joins in. The song is certainly specific for the film, maybe even more so than the past credit songs. I know the song is just as divisive as AUJ's Song of the Loney Mountain, but this one has grown on me more than the last. Not really familiar with Sheeran's work besides a few songs, I am generally impressed with his offering for the film. The album ends with Beyond the Forest beginning with a vocal version of the Love Theme. The Woodland theme gets a reprise as well as another thrilling version of Tauriel's theme before the album ends.

With the initial fan freakout out of the way, it was nice to sit down with the score after seeing the film.  The score is crafted with the same care as the previous scores, even without Shore touching upon every step.  The score (and film) are far more action based than expected with some real shining moments in cues like The Forest River.  Tauriel's theme is used to great effect, as well as the quieter moments with the love theme.  The score is also considerably darker than AUJ (no surprise there).  I hope that the Girion theme will return in the next film, as well as the House of Durin theme playing a larger part.  Shore is still clearly at the top of his game, a master at crafting these Wagnerian themes and relying on them as needed.  This is one of the more interesting of his Tolkien scores, even if isn't as accessible as the others.  One of the top scores of the year, Shore has me waiting impatiently for 2014's There and Back Again.           

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Screen Credit Quiz (Decade Edition)

Rather than jumping from random film to random film, this quiz has one credit from each decade (1930s 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s).  I'll even tell you which is which, this should be a nice hint and narrow the choices down a bit.
Here's what to do: name the film by the title card and put your guesses into the comment section!

1. 1930's

2. 1940's

3. 1950's

4. 1960's

5. 1970's

6. 1980's

7. 1990's

8. 2000's

9. 2010's

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Quick Review: The Book Thief

The Book Thief
Music composed by John Williams
Music conducted by John Williams
Recorded at Newman Scoring Stage, 20th Century Fox
Album time: 53 minutes
Available on Sony Classical

Returning to the screen after scoring 2012's Lincoln, the announcement of John Williams scoring The Book Thief came as a surprise to many. It is also notable that this film is Williams' first non-Spielberg or Lucas film since Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), another film in which he personally sought out scoring. This film isn't really a departure from material Williams has worked on before - a World War II set story, and based on a novel (albeit young adult). One listen and you will instantly recognize some of the composer's idioms, which in this case certainly aren't a bad thing.

Here's my track-by-track rundown, spoiler warning for track titles only.

The album opens with "One Small Fact", starting right off with a melancholic piano solo. As the strings pulse underneath, woodwinds begin their first rendition of the main theme. The strings respond back and forth a bit, with the piano included as well.  The Journey to Himmel Street begins with an plaintive oboe solo, before the piano taking over with a scale-like motif.  New Parents and a New Home is a bit more tender and warm. The same scale-like motif in piano appears in Ilsa's Library (fitting with the main character Liesel's love of books), before another appearance of the main theme with a lighter orchestration. [I'll call that motif the reading motif for this rundown.]

The Snow Fight is a scherzo similar to those found in his Harry Potter scores, The Terminal, and The Adventures of Tintin. Phrases pass between instruments - woodwinds, strings and celeste. Learning to Read begins with the bare harp solo before shifting to a lush reprise of the main theme and reading motif. An solo oboe takes over with interjections from the strings, until they arrive with harp utilizing the melody heard from the oboe earlier. Book Burning uses a bit more close dissonance in the strings to give a sense of dread and suspense with a repeating chord.

"I Hate Hitler!" begins with a simple-sounding harp solo, but the real beauty appears as the solo clarinet enters and other instruments unfold. This track is one that shows off the deceptively simple and stark approach to scoring the film.  Max and Liesel begins with a lovely new melody presented by the oboe, showing another sweeter moment of the score. The Train Station is full of gentle string writing, allowing them to to crescendo with a splash of percussion and supporting woodwinds before coming back down.

Revealing the Secret is one of the lengthier tracks on the album, with an opening similar to the lilting rhythms heard earlier. A solo clarinet and flute have moments in a more mysterious section, still melancholic even as the orchestra crescendos.  Foot Race is another brief scherzo, and the sweet ending is a welcome change to the pace of the album.

The Visitor at Himmel Street begins with an oboe taking over the theme first heard in "One Small Fact", eventually adding strings and harp. A stand-out track. Learning to Write starts off with a cello solo, before the main theme gets another sweeping rendition. Departure of Max is a tender track, featuring the theme for Max and Liesel (heard earlier in that track). The theme is transferred to piano as well.

"Jellyfish" features more of the reading motif, before a return of the main theme on harp, another sweet moment of the album. Rescuing the Book begins with a repetitive string pattern, giving the music momentum as melodies soar over.  Writing to Mama begins with a magical sounding opening section and a return to the main theme.

Max Lives is another highlight of the album. The brief clarinet moment in the middle really shines as it reprises the theme for Max and Liesel, without getting too sappy.  Rudy is Taken is the flip side of the previous track, a somber and dark track that could easily fit into Munich (2005). Finale begins with Max and Liesel's theme, before the piano and harp share a beautiful moment, moving and sweet before ending with an optimistic tone. The longest track is The Book Thief, a suite of themes with more room to expand. The themes benefit from the expansion and different orchestration, letting each have more time to shine.

The film score really touches upon many emotions, never lingering on one for too long. I give credit to Williams for the understated scoring style for this film. It is more intimate that some of his recent scores, with no broad strokes or large sweeping moments (like War Horse). The stark and tender solos really bring the score to life. It wouldn't be fair to not acknowledge the solos led by Jessica Pearlman (oboe), Don Foster (clarinet) and Randy Kerber (piano). 

 The main theme has many resemblances to past works, mainly Angela's Ashes (1999) and Jane Eyre (1970) and several Williams-isms a throughout the score. He really tells a story in the music, something John Williams has always been a master at. Don't listen to the score if you're looking for the bombastic Star Wars moments, but if you're looking for an intimate, emotional underscore with lovely theme transformations - this is the score for you.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Quick Review: Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World

Music composed by Brian Tyler
Music conducted by Brian Tyler, Allan Wilson
Score performed by the The London Philharmonia Orchestra and The London Philharmonic Orchestra
Score recorded at Abbey Road Studios
Album time: 78 minutes
Available on Hollywood Records/Intrada Records

Following his score to Iron Man 3, composer Brian Tyler seems to be the young, hip voice the Marvel Cinematic Universe was looking for.  I enjoyed the musical world created by Patrick Doyle for Thor (2011), with a rousing theme and strong heroic material.  I was a bit confused with the original announcement of composer Carter Burwell at the helm, but thankfully Tyler stepped in around June.  Here's a rundown of the newest Marvel score.

No spoilers ahead, and track names don't spoil much.   

The album begins with Thor: The Dark World, a charging track with a bombastic theme complete with choir.  This serves as the main theme for the film.  This track sets up the score on the rest of the album, and for Tyler's composing style.  Lokasenna features a lamenting solo voice (sung by Azam Ali), with a slower variation of the main theme with a gentle orchestral accompaniment.  Those familiar with Tyler's score to Rambo (2008) will find this technique familiar, but that isn't obtrusive.  Asgard sets up another main theme, certainly cut from the same cloth as the main Thor theme.  The pounding rhythm motif appears throughout the score as it relates to the onscreen action.  The swirling strings and anthemic horns are a holdover from Doyle's Thor (or just about any epic film score in the last decade).

Battle of Vanaheim contains more choir with a nice reprise of the Thor theme. Origins represents the villain Malekith and features the low brass and strong percussion. The motif features a bit of electronics and hints at an ethnic sound.  While not entirely defined, this motif appears through other action cues later in the score.  The Trial of Loki begins with a minor lullaby-like theme in the celeste and harp before being passed to the low strings.  This mysterious motif serves as Loki's theme.  It reminds me a bit of Michael Giacchino's John Carter theme.  Into Eternity begins with the vocal solo heard in Lokasenna, this time more developed and expanded.  Escaping the Realm starts right off with the Thor theme and fits well in this action setting.

A Universe from Nothing is a more dramatic track, mainly focusing on strings.  Untouchable brings back the electronics and ethnic percussion for Malekith and Dark Elves.  This track brings the ostinato and brass work of Hans Zimmer to mind, certainly moments from The Dark Knight (2008).  Thor, Son of Odin naturally features Thor's theme over heavy percussion with subtle variation from the last.  Shadows of Loki begins with a great horn motif before reprising Loki's mysterious theme for most of the track with some rising changing.  Just because it hasn't been heard in a few minutes, Thor's theme comes back charging in with Sword and Council.  Much like Doyle's theme, each iteration makes the theme more memorable and identifiable within the score.  

Invasion of Asgard features more of the villain music with the brass showing off and adding dissonance to the score.  Electric guitars show up more and more feature dramatic choir moments near the end.  Betrayal contains some nice dramatic string and choir writing with Loki's theme within the orchestral layers.  The orchestra then crescendos to a brief snippet of Thor's theme.  A slightly slower version of Thor's theme starts Journey to Asgard before the louder rendition enters.  As the orchestra drops out, the vocal solo takes over.  I don't remember hearing the Thor theme so much in the film, but you certainly get your money's worth within each track.  

Uprising is more percussion-led action with low strings with an appearance of Loki's theme and a burst of Thor's theme.  Vortex fits between the sweet and menacing sound before the orchestra rises for a brief lovely moment.  An Unlikely Alliance plugs Loki's theme a bit more in more mysterious settings, with some low strings plodding.  About halfway through, the theme is put in more of military style before Alan Silvestri's Captain America theme appears for a brief cameo.  It doesn't last long, but it's nice to see a bit of musical consistency in the Marvel Universe.      

Convergence begins with a lovely horn theme, backed with the strings before turning a bit more nasty and combining the Malekith material, bits of Loki's material, and Thor's theme with orchestral and percussion outbursts.  Beginning of the End slowly simmers until the dissonant strings and brass enter.  The electric guitar of Malekith is split by a reference to Thor's theme.  The string ostinato of modern film scores appears and the action keeps moving, but rarely goes over the top.  Deliverance is a moving track, utilizing the slower Thor variation and the vocal soloist.  

Battle Between Worlds is the action cue that begins with a bang.  The momentum of the music keeps the track alive, with pounding percussion as the brass crescendos.  There are some brief moments of breathing space before it jumps back in.  The orchestra rises to the finish.  As the Hammer Falls builds to another version of the Thor theme.

Legacy features more slower-moving strings, reminding me of some of Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings music.  Thor's theme appears as the music seems uplifting before a reprise of Loki's theme in it's most majestic (if villainous) rendition.  Thor's theme gets the ultimate reprise with swirling strings and the choir as the album ends.  Basically a bonus track, the Marvel Studios Fanfare is brief logo music composed by Tyler, and used for the first time on this film.  It'll be nice to see (and hear) this updated logo for the upcoming Marvel films.  

Similar to Iron Man 3, the track titles seem fairly vague and don't give much away to the film.  Just like most Tyler albums, the album track order doesn't fit the film order, but doesn't change the overall flow.  I'm sure more adept listeners will be diligently putting the soundtrack in film order, so have fun.  If you enjoyed the main themes for this film, Tyler's Children of Dune (2003) might be on your mind as well.  Even the vocal soloist, Azam Ali, sang on that film.     

Tyler's Thor score is a nice followup to Doyle's score to Thor, while not embodying his themes or specific style.  If you had trouble keeping the similarly written themes apart, that doesn't change the listening experience.  The main theme is stronger than Tyler's for Iron Man 3 and certainly fits with the many heroic moments in the film.  There are many standout moments in the score and worth listening to if you aren't the ardent Tyler listener. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Marco Beltrami: The Intensity

Born in 1966 in New York, Marco Beltrami began his musical career by taking piano lessons at a young age.  He slowly began to make up his own music, or change the pieces he was supposed to be practicing.  He found his way into various rock bands in high school playing keyboard.

Instead of following his musical path, Beltrami entered Brown University to study urban planning.  While at Brown, Beltrami began experimenting with the school's electronic music studio and discovering all the techniques available with the 1980's synthesizers.  His compositions at the time were a combination of electronic styles and the 'traditional orchestra'.  After graduating from Brown, Beltrami traveled to Venice, Italy and studied with Luigi Nono, a prominent avant-garde composer.  In 1993, he won the Charles Ives Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  With that, he returned to the US and entered Yale University, writing concert works as a classical composer.

In 1992, Beltrami swapped coasts, and began a fellowship at University of Southern California (USC) with legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith.  His first glimpses of the film scoring business came with Goldsmith, as he learned the craft and artistry of the medium.  At the same time, Beltrami composed several commissions for various orchestras throughout the country.  He also started getting film work, including the short The Bicyclist (1995), cheap thrillers Death Match (1994) and The Whispering (1995).  He also worked on the television series Land's End (1995), composing the main titles and score.

In 1996, Beltrami's big break happened with Scream (1996).  Asked by director Wes Craven to score the opening scene, his take eventually led him to score the entire film.  Using his 20th century orchestral techniques, his music fit with the horror genre.  The film also led to larger films, many in the thriller/horror genres like Mimic (1997) the first with director Guillermo Del Toro, Scream 2 (1997) which featured tracked music by Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer and adding music to Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998).  This same streak also led to him scoring The Faculty (1998).                     

Expanding his horizons, Beltrami scored the TV movie David and Lisa (1998), and was nominated for an Emmy award.  The next year, he also scored the TV movie Tuesdays with Morrie (1999).  In 2000, he also began composing music for the series The Practice, scoring 85 episodes from 2000 to 2004.  It was his thriller scores that provided more opportunities, scoring films like The Crow: Salvation (2000), Craven-produced Dracula 2000 (2000), The Watcher (2000), the obligatory sequel Scream 3 (2000), which featured a more experimental orchestral sound and even a throwback to Zimmer's tracked music from the previous installment.

With Resident Evil (2002), rocker Marilyn Manson added to the electronic-heavy score.  For the action/sci-fi Blade II (2002), Beltrami reunited with director Guillermo Del Toro.  Working with producer/writer Kevin Williamson, Beltrami scored his television series Glory Days, a short-lived thriller in 2002.  He also returned with a massive orchestra for the percussion-led Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003).

He exercised more of his blockbuster chops with I, Robot (2004), which featured some great action writing, and Flight of the Phoenix (2004).  It was Hellboy (2004) - another collaboration with Del Toro that Beltrami hit the scene with one of his best scores.  2005 saw the Wes Craven films Cursed (2005) and Red Eye (2005), and expanding his horizons with the western The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005), directed by actor Tommy Lee Jones.

Taking over the series from composer Paul Haslinger, Beltrami composed the score to Underworld: Evolution (2006) with solid rhythms and plenty of synthesized sounds.  For the remake of The Omen (2006), Beltrami reworked a few selections of the original 1976 Jerry Goldsmith score.  With Live Free or Die Hard (2007), he used more intense rhythms and blaring brass into another blockbuster action score.  On the flip side, his score to James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma (2007), evoked another western atmosphere.  This top score gave Beltrami his first Oscar nomination.          

2008 saw a wider variety of styles, having moved further from his horror roots.  With director John Moore (previously working together on Flight of the Phoenix and The Omen) collaborated again with Beltrami on the action score Max Payne (2008).  Another departure from his norm, was for the 2-part French film Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2008) and Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (2008).  Similar to 'Yuma', his minimal score to The Hurt Locker (2008) caught the critics attention and he shared an Oscar nomination with composer Buck Sanders.

For Knowing (2009), Beltrami re-teamed with Alex Proyas, the director of I, Robot for a majestic fantasy/sci-fi score.  Other scores around this time were Del Toro-produced Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010) and Jonah Hex (2010), scored with the band Mastodon.  Again with Tommy Lee Jones in the director's chair, he scored the TV movie The Sunset Limited (2011).  On the television front, Beltrami scored 22 episodes of the reboot series V from 2009-2011.

Not a stranger to sequels and reboots, he returned for Scream 4 (2011) with Wes Craven again in the director's chair, and provided a dissonant horror score for The Thing (2011).  Yet it was his moving and dramatic Hawaiian themed score to Soul Surfer (2011) that remains one of Beltrami's top recent achievements.  2012 saw the thriller The Woman in Black (2012), the very understated Trouble with the Curve (2012).  2013 was an even busier year, utilizing large orchestras with intense rhythms.  There was the horror comedy Warm Bodies (2013), and the next Die Hard - A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) with director John Moore.  Continuing his string of blockbusters, Beltrami's scores to World War Z (2013) and The Wolverine (2013) featured more ambient and dissonant sounds.  Keeping close to the horror norms, Beltrami also scored the remake of Carrie (2013).        

Beltrami's future looks just a busy.  Collaborating again with director Ole Bornedal, Beltrami is working on the Danish TV series 1864 for 2014.  Future scores also include The Homesman (2014) with Tommy Lee Jones directing, and the adventure fantasy Seventh Son (2014).  There may also be another Die Hard movie in the pipeline, and with Beltrami scoring the previous two installments, he may return yet again.  

Using his compositional background, the transition to film scoring fit nicely.  His orchestral techniques fit into the thriller tropes, making him an ideal composer.  Beltrami has also developed a knack for intense action writing, showing off in several action films.  His sound is also defined by his collaborators - notably co-composers and producers Buck Sanders and Marcus Trumpp.  While not all of Beltrami's scores have risen above the films, several have stood out as his top scores.  He often provides a unique take on his films, no matter what the genre is, or even if it's a reboot/remake/or continuation of a franchise.  Given his ability to compose several scores a year, there'll be lots more to listen to.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Glimpses of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

As scoring continues for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, here are some glimpses into Howard Shore's score with the recording sessions, this time performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Conrad Pope.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Treehouse of Horror

Hard to believe that since 1990, there has been the annual tradition of The Simpsons Halloween special - Treehouse of Horror.  For the Treehouse of Horror, a new tradition started with the writers changing names of the cast and crew for the credits.  

With a few exceptions, most seasons have some funny name changes - but we will just focus on Simpsons theme composer Danny Elfman and series composer-extraordinaire Alf Clausen.  Enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

Treehouse of Horror (1990)
normal credits
Treehouse of Horror II (1991) 
Red-Wolf Elfman, Sheer Terror Clausen
Treehouse of Horror III (1992) 
Red Wolf Elfman, Sheer Terror Clausen
Treehouse of Horror IV (1993) 
Red Wolf Elfman, Sheer Terror Clausen
Treehouse of Horror V (1994) 
Danny Skellingelfman, Sheer Terror Clausen
Treehouse of Horror VI (1995) 
Li'l Leakin Brain Efman, Sheer Terror Clausen
Treehouse of Horror VII (1996) 
Boris Elfmonivich, Sheer Terror Clausen
Treehouse of Horror VIII (1997) 
Danny Elfblood, Sheer Terror Clausen
Treehouse of Horror IX (1998) 
Danny "Hell"fman, Sheer Terror Claws-son Treehouse of Horror X (1999) 
The Bloody Elf, Sheer Terror Claws-son
Treehouse of Horror XI (2000) 
Danny Elfbones, Sheer Terror Claws-son
Treehouse of Horror XII (2001)
normal credits
Treehouse of Horror XIII (2002)
normal credits
Treehouse of Horror XIV (2003)
Elfmunster, Sheer Terror Claws-son
Treehouse of Horror XV (2004)
normal credits
Treehouse of Horror XVI (2005)
normal credits
Treehouse of Horror XVII (2006)
normal credits
Treehouse of Horror XVIII (2007)
Satan McElfovitch, G-Daddy Claws-son
Treehouse of Horror XIX (2008)
Bloody Elf-Thing, Sheer Terror Claws-son
Treehouse of Horror XX (2009) 
Scabby Elfthing, Sheer Terror Claws-son
Treehouse of Horror XXI (2010)
Dan of the Dead, Claw-son's Haste Management
Treehouse of Horror XXII (2011)
half-Elf half-Man, Claw-son's Haste Management
Treehouse of Horror XXIII (2012)
Diablo Del Elf-Monstruo, You Don't Know Jack O'Lantern
Treehouse of Horror XXIV (2013) 
Nightmare on Elfstreet, Claw-son's Haste Management
Treehouse of Horror XXV (2014) 
The Dark Red Elf, Claw and Son's Haste Management
Treehouse of Horror XXVI (2015) 
Danielo Elfmostro, Claw-and-Son's Haste Management
Treehouse of Horror XXVII (2016) 
Danny Going Straight-to-Hellman, Claw-and-Son's Haste Management
Treehouse of Horror XXVIII (2017) 
HP Elf-Craft, Bleeding Fingers Music: Hans Killer & Rusty Evilhell
Treehouse of Horror XXIX (2018) 
Dannybus Succubus Elfmonicus, Bleeding Fingers Music: Hannibal Zimmer & Russell Evil Smell

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

John Powell: The Animated

Born in 1963 London, John Powell started his musical education surrounded by music. Powell's father played tuba in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.  As a young boy, seeing the RPO record film scores, led Powell to play violin while enamored with classical music.   

He eventually went to Trinity College of Music in London, studying composition.  He expanded his musical world by performing in the soul group The Fabulistics, and while at Trinity, Powell joined Media Arts Group, a performance art group with Gavin Greenaway. Together, they worked on music and sound for conceptual art performances.  Leaving the group in 1986 upon graduation, Greenaway and Powell continued creating art pieces with Michael Petry.  In 1988, Powell joined Air-Edel Music, the UK film/advertising/jingle/TV producing company.  While at Air-Edel, Powell began his music writing career alongside Greenaway, Patrick Doyle and Hans Zimmer.  In fact, he was an assistant to Doyle on Into the West (1992) and electronic music programmer for Zimmer's White Fang (1991).  

Powell left Air-Edel in 1995, and formed Independently Thinking Music with Gavin Greenaway.  Around that same time, Powell and Greenaway wrote music for Petry's performance art opera An Englishman, an Irishman and a Frenchman performed in Germany.  After doing jingles, advertisements and various art works, Powell moved to Hollywood.  

In Los Angeles, Powell found himself near Greenaway and Hans Zimmer at Zimmer's company, Media Ventures.  When Zimmer was unable to score director John Woo's film Face/Off (1997), Powell was recommended.  The score was Powell's Hollywood breakout, with Greenaway providing additional music and Zimmer as a helping hand (and score producer).  He also wrote additional music for Zimmer's The Thin Red Line (1998).  With the newly formed DreamWorks SKG going into the animation business, Powell arranged/produced the Stephen Schwartz song "Playing with the Big Boys" from The Prince of Egypt (1998).  For their first CGI animated film, Antz (1998), Powell teamed up with fellow Media Ventures collaborator Harry Gregson-Williams to compose the score.    

His Media Ventures connections led him to other films, including the beautiful Endurance (1999), romantic comedy Forces of Nature (1999) and co-composed Chill Factor (1999) with Hans Zimmer.  He also teamed with Zimmer co-composing the DreamWorks animated film The Road to El Dorado (2000).  Powell re-teamed with past collaborator Gregson-Williams for the Aardman/DreamWorks film Chicken Run (2000), which proved to be one of their most popular scores.  

With a partnership in tow, Powell and Gregson-Williams surpassed their past success with the newest DreamWorks film, Shrek (2001).  He also began receiving more and more scoring assignments, expanding genres with scores like Evolution (2001), Rat Race (2001) and the drama I Am Sam (2001).

2002 saw lots more films for Powell, including Drumline (2002), Two Weeks Notice (2002), but it was director Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity that brought Powell more attention.  While his rise was mainly for animated films and comedies, his knowledge of synthesizers matched with the orchestra paid off with this first Bourne film.  Continuing his action style was The Italian Job (2003), Paycheck (2003) with director John Woo and starting a new collaboration with director Paul Greengrass with The Bourne Surpremacy (2004) - this time improving upon his action work in the previous film. 

Powell continued to be sought out for a wide variety of films, like Be Cool (2005), Blue Sky Animation's Robots (2005), and with Doug Liman, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005).  With each feature, Powell expanded his orchestra, using unique orchestral effects.  He continued working with Blue Sky Studios on Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006), taking over the rest of the series from David Newman.

Working again with Paul Greengrass, Powell went against the norm with an ambient and emotional score to United 93 (2006).  Based on his Bourne work, director Brett Ratner tapped Powell to score X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) with great action and heroic moments.  He also continued his streak of animated hits with Grammy nominated Happy Feet (2006), and finished the Bourne trilogy with the electronic-infused The Bourne Ultimatum (2007).

2008 saw a handful of films, mainly split between action with films like Jumper (2008) and Hancock (2008), drama Stop-Loss (2008), and a bevy of animated hits, the inventive Horton Hears a Who! (2008), and Disney's Bolt (2008).  He also re-teamed with Hans Zimmer for the hit Kung Fu Panda (2008), full of strong themes and Chinese instruments.

Keeping busy with more animated sequels, Powell scored Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) and took a well deserved break from scoring.    

2010 saw more action-oriented films with past director collaborators like Green Zone (2010) with Greengrass, Fair Game (2010) with Liman, and action-comedy Knight and Day (2010).  It was his next DreamWorks animated film, How to Train Your Dragon (2010), that gained the most attention.  His bombastic Celtic-infused score lent Powell a BAFTA nomination as well as his first Academy Award nomination.

Since 'Dragon', Powell has primarily composed more animated films like Mars Needs Moms (2011), Rio (2011) and followed up with the sequels Happy Feet Two (2011) and reunited with Hans Zimmer for Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011).  In addition to composing the score, Powell co-wrote several songs with Cinco Paul for The Lorax (2012).  His goofy and sometime erratic moments came in Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012), his third film in the franchise.  

With sequels being ever present, followups to Rio and How to Train Your Dragon are in his future, with their release in 2014.

John Powell has flourished because of his collaborations and close friends.  Not only directors like Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass, but composers like Harry Gregson-Williams and Hans Zimmer.  Certainly his London school connections have helped in Hollywood, namely Gavin Greenaway (who has written additional music and conducted a fair number of his scores) to John Ashton Thomas (orchestrator/arranger on many projects since Rat Race in 2001).

One of Powell's great ability is to shift and blend styles, and his scores often switch between pastiche styles, including using unique instruments.  Euphonifaffamelophone in Horton, or 20 bass accordions for Ice Age 4, for example.  His knowledge of electronic and programming has assisted him with many action films, while his gift for melody has always given the heart to the films he's worked on.  Honing his craft over the years, Powell has produced solid scores and a go-to for large orchestral scores and certainly a go-to for animated scores that leave a mark in the film.  

His larger than life scores fit the musical world he creates for each score, making his scores a joy to listen to - both on album and in film.         

Monday, October 14, 2013

Scoring Stages: Goldwyn Studios

Goldwyn Studio
Stage 7
Used since the silent era in 1917, the lot as gone through several names.  Know as Hampton Studios and Pickford-Fairbanks Studio in the 1920s, United Artists Studio starting in 1928 and in the 1950s became Samuel Goldwyn Studio.  Besides films, the stage was used for recording many albums.  By 1972, the Scoring Stage was unused for years.  After fires a few years later, the Scoring Stage was not rebuilt, and instead dismantled and turned into a shooting stage.  The lot was purchased by Warner Brothers in 1980, and changed names to Warner Hollywood Studio.  Warner sold the studio lot in 1999, and is currently a leased studio space known as The Lot.   

Scores recorded here include:
Gone with the Wind (1939) - Max Steiner
The Killing (1956) - Gerald Fried
The Magnificent Seven (1960) - Elmer Bernstein
Spartacus (1960) - Alex North
The Great Escape (1963) - Elmer Bernstein
Marnie (1964) - Bernard Herrmann
Torn Curtain (1966) - Bernard Herrmann [rejected score]
Torn Curtain (1966) - John Addison

Alex North in Stage 7

Felix Slatkin conducting a classical album

Felix Slatkin conducting a classical album
Sinatra's classic album The Concert Sinatra (1963)

Stage 7 now

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Spotlight on...Spider-Man

The newest Spotlight On takes a look back at the Spider-Man films.

Based on the ever-popular Marvel superhero, the first Spider-Man film was pivotal in the superhero film craze.  Composers for the character include Danny Elfman, Christopher Young, with James Horner and Hans Zimmer taking reigns of the reboot.

Here's a look back on the Spider-Man films score by score. 

Spider-Man (2002)
Music by Danny Elfman
Elfman returned to the superhero world, this time with a swirling motif, with Spider-Man's main theme always changing throughout the score, notably as a noble horn solo in the finale.  Also included are themes for the Green Goblin, tender moments for Peter and Mary Jane and great uses of choir.  (Just listen to: Main Title, Costume Montage, Specter of the Goblin, Farewell

Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Music by Danny Elfman
Following the well-matched first score, parts of Elfman's score was often tracked into this sequel.  There are some improvements in the heroic moments, and a stronger villain motif, for Doc Ock.  Also brought onto the film for additional music was Christopher Young and John Debney, although their portions didn't make the album.  (Just listen to: M.J.'s New Life/Spidus Interruptus, He's Back!, Armageddon/A Really Big Web!, Spidey Suite)

Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Music by Christopher Young
After a fallout with director Raimi and Elfman, Christopher Young took over the third film.  The main theme appears throughout the film, lending a little continuity.  His action cues are some of the best in his career, while many parts of the score feature his black suit motif and menacing/melancholic Sandman theme.  As of now, there still is no album release of the score.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Music by James Horner
With the reboot, Horner was tapped to compose a new theme for Spider-Man's heroics.  Many parts of the score are led by piano solos (played by the composer) and vocal solos.  Following his blockbuster action techniques, we get a villain theme, mystery motif, but all overshadowed by the heroic theme. (Just listen to: Main Title – Young Peter, The Ganali Device, Saving New York, Promises – End Titles)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Music by Hans Zimmer & the Magnificent Six
Zimmer & Friends created a electronic rock score, with a notable (but laughable) Copland-esque Spidey theme, a goofy clarinet motif and vocals (Pharrell) for villain Max/Electro.  A solo piano leads some of the quiet relationship moments, but other dubstep parts will leave you with a headache.  (Just listen to: I'm Spider-Man, My Enemy)

Check out the others!