Soundtrack Review: ‘Halloween’ (2018)

Halloween 2018 soundtrack cover

As I write this, I have not yet seen David Gordon Green’s “Halloween,” the movie I am looking forward to the most this fall season. I was, however, lucky enough to get a copy of its soundtrack while at the “Halloween: 40 Years of Terror” convention this past weekend in Pasadena, California. I had preordered the soundtrack on iTunes, but anyone who knows me has no doubt of what a die-hard fan I am of Carpenter’s music as well as his movies, so of course I had to purchase a physical copy even if it meant spending more money.

This 2018 “Halloween” movie marks Carpenter’s return to this undying horror franchise since “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” and it is also the first film score he has composed since 2001’s “Ghost of Mars.” With this score, he joins forces with his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies to not only build on the themes he made famous back in 1978, but to give us new ones as well. What results is a highly effective score which I have been listening to endlessly ever since I purchased it.

The “Halloween Theme” is a musical piece impossible for most to ever get sick of, but listening to it on this soundtrack reminds me of how no one can play it better than Carpenter. Along with Cody and Daniel, he makes this theme as potent as ever especially with its ticking sound in the background which spells out how evil will be arriving in Haddonfield before we know it.

“Laurie’s Theme” sounds much different this time around. Whereas her theme in the 1978 “Halloween” and 1981’s “Halloween II” highlighted Laurie’s innocence and lack of awareness of the horror she would be forced to endure, this version acknowledges how haunted she remains after Michael Myers almost killed her 40 years ago. As we should all know by now, Green’s “Halloween” serves as a direct sequel to Carpenter’s 1978 original, wiping the slate clean of all the other sequels and reboots. So, the Laurie Strode we see here as long since become hardened by her terrifying encounters with pure evil to where it appears she only lives for revenge.

Carpenter does bring back some of his old musical stings which are always welcome, but there are other stings which come at us more furiously than ever before. There is an unrelenting edge to tracks like “Michael Kills” or “The Shape Kills” which go far beyond the original “Halloween’s” simplistic musical design. Evil sounds even more furious than it did previously, and the driving rhythms of the music here promises us a thrilling good time at the movies.

John Carpenter once said he can play just about any keyboard but that he cannot read or write a note. Regardless, nothing has stopped his growth as a musician or a film composer. His son, Cody Carpenter, has since proven himself to be a very talented musician in his own right, and his additions to this score only heighten the tension in it. Daniel Davies sounds like he is having so much fun experimenting with guitar sounds, and they add a real edge to a score which proves to be anything but an exercise in nostalgia.

The soundtrack concludes with the track “Halloween Triumphant” which is an epic piece of film score as it combines John’s unforgettable “Halloween” theme with the musical additions of Cody and Daniel who help update his themes for a new generation. Listening to it brings a smile to my face as the three men have composed what feels like an ode to the enduring legacy this 1978 horror classic continues to have on filmgoers everywhere, and it sounds like a victory march in more ways than one.

When John Carpenter composed the original “Halloween” score in just three days, it is clear how he and his collaborators had more time to develop one more multi-layered for Michael Myers latest cinematic onslaught. This is not just a return to the musical themes John made famous years ago, but it is also an opportunity to expand on them as the filmmaker and composer is clearly not content to just give us the same old thing. Along with Cody and Daniel, he gives us a superb soundtrack which I find myself listening to endlessly as the music proves to be more complex than I expected it to be.

The 2018 “Halloween” soundtrack is a must buy, and I encourage you to buy it when it is released on October 19, 2018.

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Soundtrack Review: ‘The Man with One Red Shoe’

The Man With One Red Shoe soundtrack cover

Anyone remember the action comedy “The Man with One Red Shoe” from 1985? It starred Tom Hanks as Richard Drew, a concert violinist who is picked out at random from a crowd to become the target of CIA surveillance. It also features one of my all-time favorite film scores by Thomas Newman, a composer who has given us many unforgettable scores like “Scent of a Woman,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Skyfall.” But like many film scores I loved from the 1980’s, this one never got a commercial release, and I was relegated to recording sections of the music from a VHS tape onto an audio cassette. While the dialogue threatened to get in the way, I was determined to enjoy this music any way I could get a hold of it.

But now, 33 years later, La La Land Records has now made Newman’s score to “The Man with One Red Shoe” available as a limited-edition CD. I have been waiting for this soundtrack with extreme patience, and it proved to be well worth the wait as this classic 1980’s score has never sounded better. Seeing the iconic image of the red shoe with a lit fuse on the cover made me want to buy this soundtrack yesterday. The back-cover features Hanks being hugged by the gorgeous Lori Singer while on a bicycle, and it makes me just as envious of him as when this movie first came out. And when you take the disc out, you will see a picture of the late Carrie Fisher who co-starred as Paula. Carrie, you are still missed.

Ever since I first watched the trailer for “The Man with One Red Shoe” on television, I quickly fell in love with its main title. It’s a classic 1980’s theme, and it sounded ever so cool. Listening to this theme, it made me want to walk around town like I was a spy. Granted, I was ten years old when this movie was released, so my imagination was unfettered by the harsh reality of the real world.

While I have long been led to believe Newman’s score was completely electronic, there’s actually a good deal of instrumentation involved in it as well. You can hear this in a number of the tracks throughout. Listening to this soundtrack reminded me of just how much I dug what Newman came up with, and in retrospect it proved to the world what a unique film composer he could be.

La La Land Records has included liner notes written by Jeff Bond entitled “How Thomas Newman Got His Groove On.” A portion of the notes deal with this movie’s making and of how it was released in a time when Hanks was best known as the star of the sitcom “Bosom Buddies,” long before he became the prestigious Oscar winning actor we all know him to be these days. In regards to Newman’s score, Bond described it best in this paragraph:

“Sonically, ‘The Man with One Red Shoe’ not only evokes the jazz fusion/pop electronica vibe of 1980’s popular music, but also presents the distinctive musical voice of composer Thomas Newman at a pivotal point in his development as an up-and-coming talent.”

The liner notes do not go into how the movie was ill-received upon its release with both critics and audiences, or that Hanks himself admitted this is not one of his films he would be quick to put into a time capsule. Nevertheless, I cannot recommend this limited-edition release of “The Man with One Red Shoe” soundtrack highly enough. As far as I am concerned, it was well worth the wait, and having it in my soundtrack collection makes it feel more complete than it already is.

Now, if someone could put out limited edition of Newman’s “Gung Ho” score, all will be right in the world.

Click here to find out how you can order a copy of “The Man with One Red Shoe Soundtrack.”

 

 

Soundtrack Review: ‘Patriot Games’ Extended Edition

Patriot Games soundtrack

Patriot Games” was the second Tom Clancy novel adapted to the big screen after the huge critical and commercial success of “The Hunt for Red October.” But in the process of bringing Clancy’s heroic character Jack Ryan back for another adventure, many changes ended up taking place. John McTiernan stepped away from the director’s chair and Phillip Noyce came on board, Alec Baldwin was replaced by Harrison Ford, and Basil Poledouris stepped aside for James Horner who at the time was an A-list composer very much in demand.

La La Land Records has released a remastered and expanded soundtrack to “Patriot Games” which contains a lot of music never before released, source cues and the Clannad song “Harry’s Game.” The film has Jack Ryan stopping an IRA assassination attempt on the Royal Family, but this makes him the target of a renegade faction of terrorists, especially Sean Miller (Sean Bean) whose brother Ryan ended up killing. In scoring this action and suspense film, Horner creates a surprisingly understated score which features lovely Irish and Gaelic flavors, and he combines both electronic and orchestral music to highlight the movie’s action set pieces.

Now most action scores start off with a thunderous main title to get the audience all hyped up, but the main title for “Patriot Games” is surprisingly subtle and not the least bit bombastic. This turned out to be an excellent move on Horner’s part as this film proves to be a more personal one for Jack Ryan than “The Hunt for Red October.” Among my favorite tracks are “Attempt on the Royals” which underscores Ryan’s heroic save and the loss of Sean Miller’s brother, “The Hit” in which Jack rushes after his family to save them from the vengeful Sean, and “Assault on Ryan’s House” where IRA terrorists make their last effort to eliminate the brilliant CIA analyst. I’ve always been a sucker for adrenaline pumping film music, and Horner was one of the masters at composing it.

At the same time, I really liked the low-key music he comes up with like “Closing Credits” which is a piece of music great to fall asleep to. I kept thinking it was one of the singers from Clannad who did the backing vocals on this track, but it was actually Maggie Boyle whose voice is nothing short of heavenly. Horner is great at finding the humanity in the characters inhabiting an action movie, and his music can be both thrilling and highly emotional at the same time. Not many film composers can pull off such a feat.

Among the previously unreleased tracks, it was nice to see “Sean Obsessing in Jail” on this release as Horner gets at what is eating away at Sean whose obsession for avenging his brother’s death continues to grow and grow, and I also got a kick out of “Cooley Escapes” which follows a minor character in the film who suddenly discovers he is under police surveillance. As for the source cues, they include the “Washington Post March,” some traditional Irish music and some pieces composed by Mozart, I’m not sure how necessary they were to this edition of the “Patriot Games” soundtrack. At the same time, those additions prove just how serious La La Land Records is about giving fans the most complete soundtrack to a movie they could ever hope to have.

One interesting thing about this particular La La Land Records release is it doesn’t contain the original commercial release of the soundtrack. Other releases of theirs have had them on a second disc as a bonus for those who liked the original version. But in the end, I guess they decided not to include it because everything from the original release is on these two discs anyway. I do need to point out, however, there are two different versions of “Closing Credits” on this expanded version. One is listed as the film version, and the other is listed as the album version. The difference between the two is the film version is in English and the other one is not. Regardless of which version you find yourself liking more, it is great to have both of them here.

And like many La La Land Records releases, it does come with a booklet detailing the making of the soundtrack and the movie itself. The booklet is entitled “The Pluck of the Irish,” and was written by Jim Lochner who is the managing editor of FSM Online and the owner of the website FilmScoreClickTrack.com. Now I have reviewed several La La Land Records releases, but the booklet for “Patriot Games” is one of the best they have ever put together as Lochner covers just about every single detail about the movie more than ever before.

Among the memorable passages are why Neufeld didn’t bring McTiernan back for “Patriot Games,” how Baldwin reacted to not getting cast in the film, and how Clancy was constantly upset about the changes made in bringing his book to the big screen. In describing Horner’s score, Lochner writes it is a “subtle, understated score that percolates underneath the surface, conveying the tension of a family under siege and the terrorists’ patriotic Irish roots.” I think this is the perfect description for the music of “Patriot Games,” and Lochner, in writing about the other tracks, makes the case for why Horner should have received more attention for it when the movie came out in 1992.

Once again, La La Land Records has given film music fans another remastered and expanded soundtrack which is a must buy. In a career that has seen him create unforgettable film scores for “Titanic,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “Glory,” Horner’s score for “Patriot Games” stands out as one of his most unique. It is at times an understated and at other times a pulse pounding listen, and the Irish elements he puts in reminds us of what a masterful composer he was. Now it has the soundtrack edition it has long deserved.

Click here to purchase the soundtrack.

 

Soundtrack Review: ‘Grand Canyon’ Extended Edition

Grand Canyon soundtrack cover

Anybody who knows me best knows I am a huge fan of film scores and soundtracks, and James Newton Howard’s score to “Grand Canyon” is one of my all-time favorites. I knew at some point this score would get an expanded and remastered soundtrack, and La La Land Records finally came through with this limited-edition release. While he is better known for his music to “The Prince of Tides,” “The Fugitive,” “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” which he worked with Hans Zimmer on, “Grand Canyon” remains my favorite work of his as the music provides a soothing heartbeat to this movie.

The movie “Grand Canyon” came out in 1991 and was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and written by him and his wife Meg. Its story revolves around six different Los Angeles residents whose lives intertwine with one another over the course of a few days. It all starts when Mac (Kevin Kline), while driving home from a Lakers game, drives into a bad neighborhood where his car breaks down. Just when it looks like he’s about to be killed by a gang, tow truck driver Simon (Danny Glover) rescues him and the two end up becoming unlikely friends. Many called it “The Big Chill” of the 1990’s, but “Grand Canyon” more than stands on its own as it observes the lives of Los Angeles residents who are dealing with personal issues which are tearing them apart.

What I love about Howard’s score is how it combines so many different kinds of music, be it orchestra, electronics, rock, jazz or percussion, to create a film score so unique to where I have a hard time comparing it to any other. It captures the coldness of big city life while giving the characters stuck in it a sympathetic voice which understands how they feel. The “Main Titles” hooked me right away and made me feel so at ease even though I knew this movie was not going to be a fairy tale.

La La Land Records limited edition release of “Grand Canyon” includes twenty-five minutes of music not included on its original release. Soundtracks, back in the 1990’s, were limited to having only forty to fifty minutes of music on a compact disc, so a lot of great stuff got left out as a result. It’s been over twenty years since this movie came out, but the music remains as powerful as ever. In addition, there are some bonus tracks which are alternate takes on certain themes as well as some source music for a violent film which Davis (Steve Martin) has produced with an unrestrained glee.

As usual, La La Land Records has provided an informative booklet on the making of “Grand Canyon” and its music which is entitled “Scoring the City of Angels” written by Daniel Schweiger, soundtrack editor of AssignmentX.com and Filmmusicmag.com. Schweiger writes extensively about the making of the movie and of how Howard came up with the music for it, and I’m not sure we have had as much detailed information on the creation of this score previously. Each track on this disc gets an individual write up, and it’s nice to see someone, let alone anyone, give this soundtrack the attention it deserves.

If there’s any downside to this edition of the “Grand Canyon” soundtrack, it’s that it doesn’t include the song “Searching for a Heart” by the late Warren Zevon. Usually La La Land Records is able to get all the songs from a movie’s original soundtrack, but I guess there was an issue with the rights this time around. It would have also been great to have the other Zevon song featured in this movie, “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” included as well. Mac plays it while he’s driving home from the Lakers game, and the lyrics turn out to be quite prophetic for him.

“Grand Canyon” is truly one of the unsung cinematic masterpieces of the 1990’s, and what’s sad is most people don’t know about this movie today. This proved to be my introduction to the work of James Newton Howard, and it is one of the main reasons why this movie is so great. I am thrilled to see La La Land Records has taken the time to make Howard’s score sound better than ever before. While he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for his work here (he was instead nominated that same year for “The Prince of Tides”), there’s no doubt in my mind this remains his most memorable film score to date.

This limited edition has only 2000 units available, so be sure to order yours before it goes out of print.

Soundtrack Review: ‘Lethal Weapon 3’

Lethal Weapon 3 soundtrack

We are now at the 25th anniversary of the release of “Lethal Weapon 3” in theaters, something I have a hard time accepting as I still remember seeing it for the first time like it was yesterday.

With it being the third movie in a highly successful franchise, “Lethal Weapon 3” settles into a familiar formula which, as this sequel proves, still works. Director Richard Donner and stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover were interested in making this film more of a comedy, and we get the usual gunfights, explosions and car chases which are all expertly filmed. In addition, we also get another thrilling music score from the composers who worked on the previous “Lethal Weapon” movies: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, and David Sanborn.

I still remember the first time I saw “Lethal Weapon 3” and how gleefully entertained I was while watching it. I also loved the score for it as well even if it sounded recycled from the previous two films. After seeing this sequel twice in one week, I couldn’t wait to buy the soundtrack in the hopes it would have more of the music I expected to hear on the soundtracks to “Lethal Weapon” and “Lethal Weapon 2.” But yet again, the commercial release of the “Lethal Weapon 3” soundtrack left me disappointed despite some good tracks (“Armour Piercing Bullets” was the standout) included on it. Furthermore, it only had a portion of Kamen’s, Clapton’s and Sanborn’s music score on it.

But now we have a brand-new expanded and remastered soundtrack for “Lethal Weapon 3” which includes two compact discs containing all of the music cues I prayed would be on the 1992 commercial soundtrack release. It is being released as part of La La Land Records’ “Lethal Weapon Soundtrack Collection” box set, and it is gratifying to listen to this score in its entirety.

This film score starts off with a whimsical feel as Riggs and Murtaugh try to disarm a bomb and end up failing to do so quite explosively. Busted down from detectives to beat cops, they are at the scene of an armored car robbery and immediately jump into action. This leads to one of my favorite tracks on the first disc entitled “Armoured Car Chase.” Hearing the three composers come together to create such a thrilling piece of music made watching this sequence all the more exciting.

My other favorite tracks on this expanded soundtrack are “Gun Battle” which is the same piece of music as “Armour Piercing Bullets,” and it always succeeds in getting me super excited to where I can see myself in appearing in an action movie. Another is “Fire/Fire Battle/A Quiet Evening by the Fire” which gives the movie’s action climax an equally thrilling and highly emotionally effect which reminds you of how the “Lethal Weapon” movies are as big on character as they are on unforgettable action set pieces.

The second disc of “Lethal Weapon 3” features the commercial release of the soundtrack which includes the songs “It’s Probably Me” by Sting and Clapton, and “Runaway Train” performed by Clapton and Elton John. The rest are pieces of the score by Kamen, Clapton and Sanborn, and there are some additional tracks featuring alternate versions of music cues. I have to give credit to La La Land Records for including the original album on this special release instead of just trying to bury it under a rug or something.

Jeff Bond, whose booklet “Some Movies Don’t Invent Genres: They Just Perfect Them” accompanies the “Lethal Weapon Soundtrack Collection,” writes about how Donner decided to put more of an emphasis on comedy and family with this sequel. Still, there were some new additions like renegade ex-cop Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson) and Internal Affairs officer Lorna Cole (Rene Russo) to give “Lethal Weapon 3” the dark edge it needed. It also was revealed Lorna was originally written as a male character. For those who have seen the movie, I think we can all agree the change in gender was a very welcome one. Who else but Russo could have inhabited this role so memorably?

In regards to the score, Bond makes it clear Kamen, Clapton, and Sanborn did not phone this one in at all. Unlike the previous “Lethal Weapon” movies, this one starts out with a song performed by Sting. The song was “It’s Probably Me,” and Bond quotes Sting as saying his idea behind it was that Riggs and Murtaugh are such macho guys to where they wouldn’t express their love for one another right away.

Bond also points out Kamen did intentionally stick with the formula which made the scores to the previous movies work so well. But at the same time, this score shows how talented Kamen and company are in scoring the most humorous scenes as well. In “Lethal Weapon” and “Lethal Weapon 2,” Kamen succeeded at balancing action spectacles with character driven moments. But in “Lethal Weapon 3,” he also proves to be a master at adding to the endless laughs which were to be had in this sequel.

Once again, La La Land Records has given us another great special edition of a soundtrack long overdue for an expanded release. Here’s hoping they release more remastered and expanded soundtracks I have spent decades waiting for in the future. Can an expanded release of Harold Faltemeyer’s film score for “Fletch” be far behind?

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Perseverance Records’ Deluxe Edition of Tangerine Dream’s ‘Thief’

thief-soundtrack

Tangerine Dream kept composing one great film score after another back in the 1980’s. Whether it was “Risky Business,” “Firestarter” or “Miracle Mile,” the German electronic music group lent their own distinctive sound to some of my favorite movies from my youth. One of their best efforts was “Thief” which marked the feature film directorial debut of Michael Mann and starred James Caan as Frank, a highly skilled jewel thief and ex-convict who is looking to achieve the American dream. With Mann’s meticulous detail to cinematography and the ways in which jewel thieves, several of which were hired as technical advisors for this film, carry out a robbery, Tangerine Dream’s music proved to be the perfect complement to the style he ended up capturing to such an unforgettable effect.

Thief” has now been given a deluxe soundtrack release by Perseverance Records, a small label specializing in film scores which have either not been given the proper releases they deserve or are in need of a remastered edition. Their edition of “Thief,” to no one’s surprise, sounds better than ever, and it also includes the track “Confrontation” by Craig Safan who is best known for composing the score to “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.” This particular track has been omitted from previous soundtrack releases, but the good people at Perseverance Records did the right thing by including it here. It would not have earned the status of deluxe soundtrack had it been left out.

Now anyone who knows me best understands how much of a sucker I am for electronic film scores, and “Thief” is one of my favorites which wasn’t composed by John Carpenter. My favorite track is “Diamond Diary” which underscores the first big robbery Frank commits in the movie as it captures the intensity of it as well as the amount of time he has to complete his job in, which isn’t much. Then there’s “Dr. Destructo” which focuses on Frank’s determination to rid others of the control they have over him. As for Safan’s “Confrontation,” it is terrific in scoring how Frank gets his revenge and accepts the inescapable reality of who he is and what he cannot change.

Is there any downside to this edition of the “Thief” soundtrack? Well, there are no additional or alternate tracks to be found here. Since this movie is now over 30 years old, I figured there would be more music included which we haven’t heard on vinyl, cassette tape or compact disc before. Having watched Mann’s movie again recently, there are portions of Tangerine Dream’s score which sound different from what’s on the soundtrack, and I would have loved it if the film versions had made it onto this edition as well. Still, Perseverance Records has gone to great lengths to make this terrific film score sound better than ever before, and it makes revisiting this soundtrack all the more necessary.

“Thief” also comes with liner notes written by James Phillips which looks at what inspired Mann to make this movie, how Tangerine Dream came to compose the score for it, and of how Craig Safan was brought in to write music for the movie’s ever so violent climax. It was a surprise to learn Mann originally considered using blues music to score the criminal lifestyle this movie sucks us into. It turns out it was William Friedkin, who had just worked with Tangerine Dream on his underrated cult classic “Sorcerer,” who recommended the band to Mann for “Thief,” and back then the band was on the cutting edge of a new kind of music.

Phillips quote Edgar Frosse, the founder of Tangerine Dream, as saying he wanted to create “timeless music” and that the “exotic and shifting moods” of “Thief” fit in perfectly with the kind of music the band played. Just from listening to this soundtrack, you can tell Frosse and his collaborators, Christopher Franke and Johannes Schmoelling, were very much into experimenting with music and sounds, and it all makes for an unforgettable score which for some utterly ridiculous reason got a Razzie nomination for Worst Original Score. Go figure.

Another interesting section of Phillips’ liner notes is of how Safan was brought in to compose one piece of music for “Thief.” I was always under the assumption the track Safan composed was actually taken from a soundtrack to another movie as Mann got into the habit of doing this with his later films. However, it turns out Tangerine Dream was unavailable at one point due to their being on tour in Europe, so Safan was brought in to finish things up.

Granted, a lot of electronic scores from the 80’s sound hopelessly dated these days to where you can’t help but snicker at them, but Tangerine Dream’s score and Safan’s contribution to “Thief” really has stood the test of time. It perfectly captures the adrenaline rush of stealing stuff which doesn’t belong to you as well as the inevitably of how you can’t escape the life you were destined to leave. Perseverance Records has done an excellent job in making Tangerine Dream’s music sound better than ever. Like many of my favorite movie soundtracks, I never get sick of listening to this one.

Exclusive Interview with composer Brian McOmber on ‘Krisha’

Brian McOmber photo

Trey Edward Shults’ “Krisha” swept through the festival circuit and gained critical acclaim for its brilliant direction and tremendous performances from the cast. But among the many things “Krisha” deserves to be acknowledged is the film score that was composed by Brian McOmber. A former member of the popular band Dirty Projectors, McOmber’s score proves to be a pivotal part of this movie as it succeeds in taking us right into the fragile mental state of its main character. I got to talk with McOmber about his music for “Krisha,” and I invite you to read my interview with him below.

Krisha movie poster

Ben Kenber: Your score for “Krisha” is brilliant and fits perfectly with a movie I would describe as emotionally pulverizing. When it came to creating music for the movie, did you know right away if you wanted it to be an electronic score or an orchestral score or a bit of both?

Brian McOmber: I think we did want it to be a combination of both. The first time I had worked with Trey was on the short version of the film, and with that one you didn’t want something more orchestral. He wanted something that just immediately grabbed our attention because to try to re-create the arc of the feature version in the short, we really just went all out with the music right away. So with that one we had orchestral, percussion, strings, electronics, the whole bag right off the bat, whereas with the feature we wanted to break apart the individual components and try to figure out how they could all work independently and also together because there was so much more music to be made, and the arc needed to be more of a slow burn in the feature. Actually, when Trey made the short version of the movie that was supposed to have been a feature. He tried to make a feature version of the film, and a few days and $7000 later… Trey is obviously a brilliant director, but he was just being a little too ambitious so it became a short film. With the feature version of “Krisha” that’s out there now, that was him going back trying to make the film he always wanted to make.

BK: When it came to going from the short film to the feature version, how would you say the music evolved?

BM: I think that the main order was just unraveling those components, the electronic components and the new orchestral components, and figuring out how we could use those textures and instrumentation and spread it out over the course of 12 cues because it was 12 cues we ended up doing in the end. I think that was the main approach to the feature.

BK: I read in an article that you said that you and Trey tried not to get carried away by ambition. How did you manage to keep that from happening?

BM: The entire film was made for under $100,000 and Trey is a young, really smart and really ambitious director, and he wanted the music to be that way too with the little amount of money that we had. So there’s a few instances where we had to chisel and tone down our expectations of what we wanted to get from the music just because we didn’t have the resources, but I think we did a good job. We were very ambitious with what we had to work with, but hopefully being that ambitious with such a small film didn’t work against us. I think we did a good job trying to balance all of our hopes and dreams for the music and the reality of what we were working with. It was a challenge with this film, more so than maybe any other film that I have worked on.

BK: What’s great about the “Krisha” score is while you might know where the movie is heading, the music itself is unpredictable in that you are not sure which instruments are going to be used to capture the emotions. Did you start with one instrument and then decide to go with another while composing the score?

BM: Yeah, I think that coming from this sort of film again we all knew we wanted to use things like wooden blocks or these kind of natural instruments. I didn’t think about the unpredictable component. That’s an interesting point. The film plays into a lot of archetypes of what film music should be and that’s like the orchestral stuff. The electronic component was more of me bringing these ideas to Trey because I felt like having these glitched electronics or at least taking organic instruments like a prepared piano and running them through electronics and making them glitch out or making errors or things like that. That was part of my effort to try to capture, especially early on in the film, Krisha’s slow unraveling, and especially to help capture that anxiety she’s feeling early on that slowly becomes overwhelming. I thought electronic sounds would do a better job of that. Not that we couldn’t have used orchestral sounds, and maybe we would have if we had more resources and time to work with classical musicians but they get expensive. So a lot of times I would just take a prepared piano and run that through electronics or these other programs where you can make it mess up kind of. In general, we never had a rule of what instruments to use and not to use, but we wanted to have some instruments sort of carryover from cue to cue as the film went on. We wanted all the cues to be different and we wanted different instrumentations to keep you on your toes, but at the same time we wanted to have some sort of thread running through that felt like there was some continuity there. So from one cue to the next you might hear an instrument that was used on a previous cue on the current cue, but we never had a rule about what we couldn’t use. It was more about seeing what works.

BK: The score, like the movie, is a ticking time bomb. Did you ever have to make a list of when things in the movie get more and more intense or do you put a level at which the music should build?

BM: Yeah, for sure. That was one thing we started with of what the music should tell and where it should bring us to and how it should support the scene. Even before we started making sounds we start talking about how music would support individual scenes and where it should go. Where the music brings us to is pretty much in her head almost all the time except maybe for the end. So it was about what Krisha was feeling inside from the beginning, middle and end, and that’s how the music helped out.

BK: Were there any film composers or specific scores that served as an influence on your work on “Krisha?”

BM: Sure. I think it was that prepared piano and the glitched electronics, that was certainly what I first thought of. The prepared piano was kind of a John Cage thing, and even though I’m not a big fan of Cage’s music I do find a lot of inspiration towards his approach to music. In a few instances I worked with particular musicians that I knew had a very unique voice and style and had them improvise quite a lot in the very early process of making “Krisha.” With that raw material they gave me, I would do a lot of heavy editing of their parts and flesh out pieces of music that were largely built around improvisations from key players. So that’s nothing new, but I think Cage definitely inspired me. Trey is a huge film music buff and he’s a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan, and he was referencing “Punch Drunk Love” and “The Master” and some of these other movies. He’s a big Jonny Greenwood fan as am I.

BK: It’s great that you brought up Jon Brion’s and Jonny Greenwood’s scores for Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies because your score for “Krisha” reminded me of them in that they sound so unique compared to so many other film scores that are out there. Was it your intention to make the score sound unique or was that just something that happened?

BM: Well yeah, of course you wanted it to be unique but I don’t think that was the main goal. The main goal was to simply make music that was in service to the picture and in supporting Krisha’s emotional mindset as she goes through this journey. One thing I thought was interesting, thinking about Jon Brion and Jonny Greenwood, is that maybe we come from similar backgrounds in that we’re not classical composers. My entire background is playing with rock bands and maybe that brings a unique perspective to scoring films. In the past a lot of film composers came more from the classical world whereas I don’t, and I know that Jonny Greenwood doesn’t and I know John Brion doesn’t. But also I have a feeling that Paul Thomas Anderson is to blame for a lot of that music too because in choosing his music collaborators and also just the way he makes films and uses music is, for Trey anyway, absolutely an inspiration. I never really studied them the way Trey has.

BK: Like Brion and Greenwood, you do come from the rock and roll world as well having been a member of the indie band Dirty Projectors. The same also goes for Danny Elfman who was with Oingo Boingo before he began scoring movies for directors like Tim Burton.

BM: Yeah, there’s quite a few. I think when I started doing this I was a little intimidated. I started helping my friends with their movies, and more and more people started to hear of my film score work and I just started to fall into it a few years back. I don’t have any musical training and I can’t really read music, so how am I going to do this? I don’t write notes to the page almost ever. For the most part, I think your musical background influences your approach to making things. Maybe there is a similar thread running through all these film music composers who got their start in a different kind of music making.

BK: Now that “Krisha” has been released and is a huge critical success, has that opened the floodgates for you in terms of offers to score other films?

BM: I don’t quite know yet actually. People are just starting to see it now because it did a lot of festival runs. A lot of my film maker friends have seen it, but so far I’m very busy and I don’t know if that’s because of “Krisha” or not. At the moment I am working on a new film, and the music I am making for it has nothing to do with “Krisha.” In fact, the music is more like genre music in that there is a metal song and there’s a couple of slow songs. It’s more songwriting whereas with “Krisha” it was a score. I hope more people see it. “Krisha” is the kind of film that I would love to score more. It’s not that I don’t like doing other kinds of films, but I really enjoyed the challenge making music for a film where music is so much a part of the film. So I hope to do more films like “Krisha” in the future.

I want to thank Brian McOmber for taking the time to talk with me about his score for “Krisha.” It is now available to download on iTunes.

Exclusive Interview with Chris Hajian about his score for ‘The Infiltrator’

Chris Hajian

With “The Infiltrator,” Brad Furman’s movie about U.S. Customs special agent Robert Mazur (played by Bryan Cranston) and his attempt to bust Pablo Escobar’s money-laundering operation back in 1985, I couldn’t help but expect a film score that was inspired by Jan Hammer’s music from “Miami Vice” or a variety of electronic scores that were very popular at the time. But the film’s composer, Chris Hajian, ended up creating something much more modern, and it acts as Robert’s conscience as he sinks deeper into a world of crime he may not get out of alive.

Hajian was born and raised in Queens, New York, and his love of music began at the age of five when he started playing the trumpet. He went on to get formal training at New York’s High School of the Arts, and he later studied classical composition at the Manhattan School of Music. His credits include “Mr. Vincent,” “Inspector Gadget 2,” “Jingle All The Way 2” and the documentary “Unraveled.” “The Infiltrator” marks his latest collaboration with Furman who he worked with previously on a number of short films and “The Take.”

I spoke with Hajian over the phone recently about his music for “The Infiltrator,” and I was interested to learn how he managed to make it sound like much more than a typical 80’s synth score. It was also fascinating to hear him talk about his approach to this material and of the different elements he used to get into the psychology of the main character.

The Infiltrator poster

Chris Hajian: Thank you so much for making time for me and getting to know me and my music. I really appreciate that.

Ben Kenber: You’re welcome. I was really surprised with your score because the fact that the movie takes place in the 1980’s made me expect an 80’s score, but what you manage to do was take a lot of synth elements and orchestral ones to create something that’s surprisingly modern. Was that always your intent?

CH: Thank you for noticing that. When Brad Furman and I set out to talk about this in the initial phases, we always wanted the score to have a relevance to the 80’s as the film was shot in a way that’s relevant to that decade. We focused on that sound with the textures and the synth stuff, but we never wanted it to feel like a clichéd or tongue-in-cheek or cheesy reference. I also wanted to combine it with my aesthetic of the lyricism of the strings and the kind of very ambient textures that I use to create a lot of the emotional and internal conflicts, so that was my intention. The other thing was when I studied a lot of those classic 80’s synth scores, the “Blade Runner” and Vangelis stuff and Giorgio Moroder, I started noticing how those scores used a lot less music and thank God. I think the trend now to put music everywhere is not good for storytelling personally, and I tried to capture that and use that in the film because the film is so well acted, and when you have Bryan Cranston and the level of actors on there I didn’t want to clutter it with music or overcompensate. So we tried to look at that and use music in a way they did in the 80’s as well in smaller bursts. There’s a lot of music in the film, but there’s also a lot of moments where the film breathes without score so that’s the approach we took.

BK: There are a number of intense moments throughout this movie like when Bryan Cranston’s character auditions for a meeting with a certain drug dealer, and that’s a scene which almost doesn’t need music. But the way you added music in was quite subtle. How tricky was it for you to score that moment?

CH: It went through a lot of different iterations, but Brad wanted that moment to be the most abstract and surreal. This guy is diving into this crazy world, but now he’s taken down to a foreign place and put through this ceremony or an audition. There are some synth elements but there’s much more music score design elements that are working together. We wanted to avoid a lot of the horror clichés that you could do in that scene with the high strings and all that stuff that is so easy to go to. We always tried to counter ourselves and say let’s go to something more nuanced and internal. My whole goal with this whole score was to get into the mind of Robert Mazur and how he is going to pull this off and living with the impression that at any given time he gets discovered, he and his family are dead.

BK: We really do get into the mind of Bob Mazur and the danger he is constantly under. What was the challenge of getting into that character’s mindset?

CH: Just living the double life. As a composer I am a storyteller first and foremost, but I am also always trying to check and watch from the perspective of an audience and understand what can I use to deepen a character from a storytelling or an audience point of view. So for me it was about what’s the essence of a character that is living these two lives and is constantly one move away from getting exposed. To me that all just kept pointing back to keeping the score internal and pushing into his mind, and a good moment that I think illustrates that is after that car accident where he almost dies. He climbs out of the car and the score gets super, super into his mind and almost to the point where you can just see him processing all this. To me it’s all about him having to tie up his own fears and come to grips with his own fears and mortality, so that moment has a very, very surreal quality to it. That’s a sound that I used a couple of times in the film where I felt like it was appropriate to get into the world of what he was doing and the pressures he was feeling.

BK: I’m glad you brought up the car crash scene because that just came out of nowhere, and it’s like everything else goes silent when it happens.

CH: That was the idea. I love that technique when directors will pull out the ambience and the score can have a moment. From the point that the car stops and you’re just kind of wondering if he’s alive or if he’s dead, all the ambience comes out and all you hear is the score. You can’t write too over the top. To me it does a disservice to the story and it takes you out of the moment. I just wanted this thing to evolve. How is he going to reconcile all that just happened in his mind?

BK: What specific clichés from 80s synth scores you were looking to avoid the most when composing this score?

CH: You probably noticed by listening to the score that there’s very little use of drums or percussion in the entire score. Brad and I both talked about how when you deal with thrillers on some level and action and stuff like that, it’s very easy to go to the percussion bank and a lot of composers use it and it always works, there’s no doubt about that, but we felt that would’ve taken away from the film. So all the motion and the stuff that I’m generating were emotions by and large, and there’s a few moments with some drums but very sparingly were created by synth pulses and the ambiences and reverse sounds that I have created and created loops on, and that’s really what gave it a lot of propulsion.

BK: That’s what is fascinating about this score of how you use little in the way of drums or percussion. I don’t think I even realized that as I was watching the movie.

CH: Yeah, it worked. It just felt right and it became a really good challenge. As a composer you always want to get challenged by the director in a really wonderful way, and when Brad said I just don’t hear that sound, that made me say okay, cool, now what can I do or dig into to find something that’s maybe a different take on those kind of scenes. The other thing with the clichés too is I incorporated the kind of 80’s synth with the ambient textures and the strings that created that emotional warmth. That was my goal, to have those three things all work. I didn’t want you to identify one or the other like that, and I don’t ever want the audience to feel oh here’s synth, now here’s strings, now here’s ambient textures. I had to find a way to merge them so that it’s seamless and you don’t realize that. I wanted it to feel like it’s just a wave of these different sounds and textures. One of them becomes a priority at different times depending on what the narrative is.

BK: That’s a great point because this is a score that could’ve called too much attention to itself with the 80’s synth sound. But all of them, the synth, the ambient textures and the orchestral elements, do come together in a seamless way. You could have just composed the score electronically, but an emotional component to the story could have been lost in the process.

CH: You’re totally right. You can look at the film and think this is going to be a film about a drug cartel or it’s going to be like “Narcos,” but cocaine is really the least important aspect of the film. Yes, it’s in that world and the cartel is dealt with, but it’s really about this man’s journey and his emotional connection to his family, to his own self-doubts and ultimately to that bonding he makes with Alcaino played by Benjamin Bratt and his family and the immense amount of conflict he has knowing that he’s going to ruin this guy’s life and his family after he becomes friends with him.

BK: You worked with Brad Furman previously on a number of projects including “The Take.” How has your working relationship with him evolved from “The Take” to “The Infiltrator?”

CH: I have known Brad for 21 years. He is the most generous, trusting collaborator and I think the world of his talent. We have become amazing friends and have become better collaborators the more we work. We start with a really big sense of trust, and I think for a composer that’s what you need, to really see yourself and reach for something more interesting. To work in a situation where you’re afraid you’re going to fail or you’re going to try something different and it’s going to be looked down on as you can’t do the job, then it’s going to feel like a straitjacket. To me it’s not enough to just get a score done or get the cues down. I need to put my own mark and personality on it in a way that the director wants. I really know what makes Brad tick. I know his sensibilities, I know his inherent likes and dislikes in what a score represents. I have invested a lot in this relationship and I will go to the ends of the earth for him and to stop at nothing to make him feel that I was the only person who should be scoring his films and telling the story with him. That’s what it’s about; to have somebody that really gets you and understands you creatively.

BK: I read that one of the film scores that really influenced your work on “The Infiltrator” was Giorgio Moroder’s for “Midnight Express.” What was it specifically about that score which influenced you the most?

CH: I think that was one the most landmark synth scores. Nobody really did that before Moroder, and he did it in a very serious film with a lot of intensity. You listen back on some of those synth sounds now and some of the sounds are teeny or small, but at the time that put such an incredible uniqueness onto that score and really tapped into what was relevant in its pop culture in a positive way. I just think it was highly unique and I think it opened up the door for Tangerine Dream and Vangelis and all those things that followed it.

BK: When it comes to composing the score for any project, do you find yourself running music before you watch the movie or do you have to watch the movie before you can start writing any music for it?

CH: Usually a composer is hired relatively late in the process. In this case I was on very early because of my relationship with Brad, and it was so important that we define the tone of this thing so we spent as much time as possible on it. I was writing these really global themes and even just putting sounds together just to see if Brad connected with it. Even while they were shooting I was sending Brad some ideas. It just made him think about this film sonically.

BK: Did you ever get to talk with the actors or get any ideas from them that you put into the score?

CH: Yeah. Bryan Cranston is an amazing guy and of course an incredible actor, and I was down on the set for a couple days in Tampa and he’s saying that he’s really an aficionado. So we start talking about so many electronic scores and we kind of connected with what my concept was, and he was very generous and excited about what it would sound like. I saw a lot of them at the premiere and I am very friendly with John Leguizamo who is in Brad’s circle as well. It’s been nothing but the most encouraging, really wonderful experience and I wish they could all be like this. I hope everyone is going to experience something where there is just a really big coming together of people for the right reasons. That’s a real tribute to Brad. We were in the foxhole with him.

I want to thank Chris Hajian for taking the time to talk with me about his score to “The Infiltrator.” Please feel free to visit his website at www.chrishajian.com.