Soundtrack Review: ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’

Die Hard 3 soundtrack

Anyone remember the RCA Victor release of the “Die Hard with a Vengeance” soundtrack back in 1995? That release was a joke and an unforgivable one as well. It did have some of Michael Kamen’s music score on it as well as a couple of rap songs which I’m not sure were in the movie, and some symphony pieces by Beethoven and Brahms which are not in this movie at all. It was as if RCA just wanted to throw any kind of soundtrack together so they could cash in on this sequel’s expected success, and what resulted was a travesty which any true soundtrack fan would be right to despise.

Well, it took over a decade, but La La Land Records has finally given “Die Hard with a Vengeance” not only the proper soundtrack release it deserves but an expanded one which contains two discs of music. In addition, it also comes with an informative booklet written by Jeff Bond who discusses how this “Die Hard” movie differs from the two which came before it, and it looks at how Kamen came to develop this particular score. But the great thing about this soundtrack release is it forces you to listen to Kamen’s music more closely in a way we didn’t previously.

When I first saw this sequel, I wondered if Kamen had actually bothered to create a new score for this “Die Hard” adventure. Many of the music cues sounded like they came from “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 2,” and it was hard to spot any new musical themes throughout. Listening to the La La Land Records release, however, makes you realize Kamen did not just simply throw something together. Much thought went into this particular score as it presents a somewhat darker John McClane (played by Bruce Willis) than what we have seen previously, and it also captures the joyful qualities of the heist movie that “Die Hard with a Vengeance” is meant to be.

Among the pieces of music I was thrilled to hear on this soundtrack is “Taxi Chase” which has McClane and Zeus Carver (played by Samuel L. Jackson) driving through a populated park in New York in an effort to catch a train before it explodes. “Taxi Chase” sounds unlike any music Kamen has previously composed for a movie with all its urban percussion. In the booklet, Bond quotes Kamen on this cue as it is one of the composer’s favorites which found its inspiration from his living in Manhattan.

“A lot of it (the movie) takes place on the streets I inhabited,” Kamen said. “I was trying to figure out what music to put there and I remembered that Needle Park is just up the street, and all you ever hear is bongo players and people driving past, and that’s why that cue is all native percussion. We’re using drums and drum loops and the normal accouterment of a modern recording studio – even a live drummer from time to time.”

This soundtrack not only contains music which was not on the original release, but also the music which was written for the movie but not included in it. Bond writes how director John McTiernan removed a number of Kamen’s cues from the movie, but Kamen wasn’t bothered by this too much because he was very collaborative and agreed with many of the changes McTiernan wanted to make.

And yes, The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” which opens the movie is on this soundtrack as well, and it has never sounded better.

When it comes to these expanded soundtracks, I usually say how they have never looked or sounded better. With La La Land Records’ release of “Die Hard with a Vengeance” though, that’s a given as the original release was put together before Michael Kamen even had a chance to finish his score. While it may not have the same exhilarating or emotional sweep as his score for “Die Hard 2,” what Kamen has put together here is great and highly enjoyable to listen to. This release also forces you to realize Kamen was never out to just recycle his own work in the way the late James Horner was often accused of doing.

Sadly, this proved to be the last “Die Hard” movie Kamen scored before his death. Marco Beltrami later took over composing duties for “Live Free or Die Hard” and “A Good Day to Die Hard,” but the music Kamen created for these films will live on forever.

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT HOW YOU CAN PURCHASE THE “DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE” EXPANDED SOUNDTRACK.

Soundtrack Review: ‘Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star’

Assault on Precinct 13 Dark Star soundtrack cover

Of all the soundtracks to John Carpenter’s movies, the ones for “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star” remain the hardest to find. “Dark Star’s” soundtrack has been out of print for years and is basically comprised of dialogue and music from the movie. As for “Assault on Precinct 13,” its soundtrack was available only as a bootleg until 2003 when a French company named Record Makers gave it its first commercial release. But now BSX Records has released “Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star,” a soundtrack which contains the music from both movies and has been newly recorded by Alan Howarth, and the results are truly fantastic.

“Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star” were Carpenter’s first movies which he directed and did film music for, and they were extremely low budget affairs which forced him to make the best use of whatever he had available. The soundtracks for each ended up inaugurating what is known as “the Carpenter sound” which was expanded on in later films such as “Halloween II” and “Prince of Darkness.” The theme to “Assault on Precinct 13” is one of Carpenter’s most memorable, and it was inspired in part by Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” His music for “Dark Star” helped to illustrate the movie’s more thoughtful elements as well as its most comically absurd.

Other artists have re-recorded Carpenter’s music over the years with varying degrees of success, but BSX Records really lucked out here in getting Howarth to recreate these two soundtracks. A highly regarded sound designer and pioneering electronic musician, Howarth worked with Carpenter on the scores to many of his movies all the way up to 1988’s “They Live.” With “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star,” Howarth doesn’t try to update either soundtrack, but instead aims to remain faithful to Carpenter’s original versions and how they sounded back in the 1970’s. The only real difference is while both soundtracks were originally recorded in mono, Howarth gets the opportunity to record them in stereo which allows for a more powerful presentation.

“Assault on Precinct 13” ends up sounding better than ever here, and the main theme will give your stereo speakers a really strong workout. Track 16 is my favorite on the disc as Howarth takes the movie’s theme and adds orchestral elements on top of the electronic ones. It’s the closest he comes to updating any of Carpenter’s soundtracks, but the theme still stays very close to its original sound.

As for “Dark Star,” Howarth sounds like he’s having a blast recreating all those primitive computerized sounds which dominated the score for the 1974 movie. He even recreates “Doolittle’s Solo” which had the character of the same name performing on a makeshift instrument made up of bottles and tin cans, and he adds in those crazy sounds which emanate from that beach ball of an alien. In addition, composer Dominik Hauser arranges and performs a new version of the song “Benson, Arizona.”

This CD also comes with a highly informative booklet entitled “Assault on a Dark Star: The Musical Pulse of Early John Carpenter” written by Randall D. Larson, a film music columnist and author of the book “Musical Fantastique: 100 Years of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror Film Music.” Larson goes into excellent detail over the challenges Carpenter faced in making both “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star,” and of how he went about created the music for each. Larson also talks in depth with Howarth on how he went about re-recording the scores for this release and the types of equipment he had to work with.

When it comes to re-creating a well-known soundtrack, composers and musicians usually find themselves at a loss. Whether they do a good job or not, they end up giving us something which makes us pine for the original version. The great thing about BSX Records’ “Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star” release is how Alan Howarth makes both film scores sound as they were always meant to sound. Listening to them is like traveling back in time to the 1970’s when these two movies came out, and it makes for one of the best soundtrack re-recordings I have heard in a long time.

Click here to purchase a CD copy of the soundtracks.

Click here to purchase the digital copy of the soundtracks.

 

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.”

 

 

Conquering the 2018 Los Angeles Marathon

LA Marathon 2018 Pablove team photo

It was almost hard to believe, but the time had finally come to run 26.2 miles through the vast city of Los Angeles. The day of the 2018 Los Angeles Marathon had finally arrived. Was I prepared? I couldn’t say for sure. This is the eighth year in a row I have ran this event, a brutal test of endurance, and while I am a true marathon veteran, I still approached this particular one with much nervousness. Was I really ready? Had I done all the training I needed to do? The only way I would know for sure is when I crossed the finish line, and I was determined to cross it regardless of any concerns I had.

LA Marathon 2018

We had a wonderful and delicious celebration dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy Restaurant located in The Grove the Friday night before the big day, and from there we were encouraged to get as much rest as possible. Since there was a full bar nearby, Coach Kerry said we could have all the alcohol we wanted, but he made it clear we were not to touch a drop of it on Saturday. As for myself, I abstained from drinking any alcohol throughout the week as running this event completely dehydrated was not much of an option.

I did have to work for a few hours Saturday night, and getting to sleep was challenging as always. While I had a very restful sleep Friday thanks to Temazepam, I found myself understandably restless as I knew what I would experience following the marathon, soreness which would feel never ending. Plus, a new episode of “Saturday Night Live” was on, and it was being hosted by Bill Hader with musical guest Arcade Fire, an unbeatable combination. Somehow, I managed to turn my television off before I could see him reprise his endlessly hilarious character, Stefon, on Weekend Update. Still, my mind would not rest until I made a payment of any kind on my past due credit card bill. Afterwards, I read several chapters of Amy Poehler’s memoir, “Yes Please,” before I found myself sliding into the realm of sleep. Considering I couldn’t get myself to put the book down for a long time, this was surprising.

The alarm on my Android phone and my interval timing watch went off simultaneously at 3:15 a.m., and for once it didn’t take long for me to haul my ass out of bed like it does any other day of the week. I had set up everything the night before, so I was all set to go. I even took out the trash as walking anywhere following the marathon was out of the question. My running shoes, which I bought only a couple of weeks ago from A Runner’s Circle (I was in and out of there in less than 5 minutes), were right next to the gym bag I packed with a change of clothes, deodorant, another pair of shoes and whatever else I needed following this amazing event which inspires in even those who do not run it. Unlike the night before when I was panicking about all the things I was afraid I would forget, I was quick and efficient in getting out the door at a reasonable time.

One thing I was especially thankful for this time around was how much cooler the weather was. The last few years have seen the Los Angeles Marathon deluged by high temperatures which meant we had a better chance at getting sunburned than in setting a new personal record. So, considering how the forecast was predicting this Sunday to be an especially cold one made me very happy as, for the first time in years, we would not be feeling like shish kabobs on the grill as we passed through Century City on our way to Santa Monica.

The line to get on a bus which would take us from Santa Monica to Dodger Stadium moved a lot faster than in previous years, and I arrived at Dodger Stadium in what felt like record time. However, I do have to say the bus I was on bounced around a lot to where I wondered if the shock absorbers on it needed to be replaced a long time ago.

Unlike previous years when I ran with Team to End AIDS where we had a suite inside Dodger Stadium, us Pablove Foundation runners had to wait outside in the freezing cold right next to the UPS vans which served as the gear check stations. The fact I was able to find any fellow Pablove runners in the midst of the thousands of others was amazing as I expected to see them. But sure enough, I ran into a couple of them as they tried to figure out where the hell everyone else was. Eventually, those Pablove runners who were not stuck in traffic met up with one another in front of the Los Angeles Road Runners gear check van. It says a lot about that this group got their own UPS van unlike all the others.

While I was glad the weather cooled down a lot this marathon year (as much as it can in the realm of global warming anyway), it proved to be a very chilly morning in Santa Monica to where my teeth were chattering uncontrollably. I had a couple of non-cotton shirts on as wearing the Pablove singlet by itself was a little too horrifying as it is already clear to the world I have yet to reach my ideal weight. I also was wearing a UCLA cotton jacket which I picked up from the local Goodwill Store the day before, but even then, I was moving my legs around in an effort to keep warm.

LA Marathon 2018 Pablove socks

All the Pablove runners had the foundation’s logo proudly displayed on their outfits whether it was on their singlets or their socks. The socks were pink by the way, a color which doesn’t always look great on me, but on this day, it didn’t matter. They were given to me a while back, and they have proven to be a great and much-needed pair when it seemed like all my other pairs have gone past their prime.

Coach Kerry was supposed to meet up with us before the marathon began, but he ended up getting stuck in traffic as there was an accident on the freeway. Still, it was all good because the support system was definitely in place as we always look out for one another.

At around a quarter till 7 a.m., we went to our individual corrals which were designated by the pace we were running per mile. I had been running a 15-minute mile pace this season, but I ended up waiting in the 13-minute corral instead as Walter, a fellow marathon veteran, was there and it felt good to start off with a fellow T2EA/Pablove runner before we lost sight of one another.

The Elite Runners were the first to start, and when Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” began playing on the speakers, we knew it was our time to start. However, just as it felt like we were proceeding to the starting line, everyone was starting and stopping at a rather alarming pace to where it felt like we were on the 405 freeway during rush hour. Seriously, if you ever want to know what the life of a snail is like, drive on the 405 when the work day is over. It doesn’t take long for it to resemble a used car lot. At one point, I yelled out Al Pacino’s famous line from “Carlito’s Way” of “here come the pain!” Walter laughed and replied, “Well, not yet!”

By the way, I always wonder why the organizers of the L.A. Marathon never bother to play “Walking in L.A.” by Missing Persons as we head to the starting line. Even they must be getting sick of “I Love L.A.” by now.

Anyway, I managed to get across the starting line while stepping over all the sweaters, jackets and mylar blankets which other runners tossed away once they began running. We do what we can to keep ourselves warm, but when we start running, people don’t hesitate to shed the extra layers of clothing they don’t need. The trick is not to trip over anything as there is always something on the road for us to trip over or slip on to where the marathon can end as quickly as it began.

LA Marathon 2018 the start

As I made my way out of Dodger Stadium, my teeth were still chattering as the temperature was still at around 50 degrees, and I soon became impatient for the weather to warm up, if only a little. Obviously, I didn’t want to experience another hot summer day while running this event, but I also don’t want frost forming on my clothes like it did several years ago. Believe me, there was a time when it did snow in Burbank.

While there is always some joker at the start of the race holding up a sign which says “the end is near,” I found it both very reassuring how one guy proudly held up a sign which said, “The End is Very Far.” For once, someone spoke the truth at Dodger Stadium.

And as you can expect, the Bible thumpers were all over the place, holding up signs which said “Jesus Saves” among other things or trying to get our attention through the use of megaphones and yelling out, “Give your life to Jesus!” Now I don’t know any of these people personally, but they strike me as a group who has taken the word of the Bible ever so literally to where they won’t allow themselves, or anyone else, to question it. Most of the runners I saw were annoyed by their presence, and one put his hand behind his head to make it look like he had horns. The Bible thumper with the megaphone saw him said, “Yeah, I see you. This guy likes to worship Satan.” Everyone in the vicinity laughed out loud in response.

As we made our way from Silverlake into Chinatown, I once again was in awe at the sight of thousands of runners making their way through the city. It remains quite the image every time I run this marathon as it feels like the whole city has joined in to either run it, volunteer for it, or to simply be a spectator. I wanted to take a picture of this, but my damn Android phone kept shutting down on me even though it had 90% power. Seriously, when did this device turn into an iPhone?

From there, we made our way into the unmistakably urban streets of Downtown Los Angeles, and it was at this point the temperature rose into the high 60’s. Once I took my UCLA jacket off (I went to UCI by the way), I wrapped it around my waist as I figured it would still be needed with the weather being so cold. When I ran this marathon for the second time, I held onto the second-hand jacket I bought for the whole thing as the winds kept howling like crazy to where I kept waiting for all the palm trees in Santa Monica to get blown over. But it soon became clear that, while there was still a nice breeze in effect, the temperature was not about to drop down to where it once was, so I ended up ditching the jacket at around Hope Street. It either fell into the hands of a second-hand shop employee and may end up being sold yet again at the Goodwill store I bought it from, or it made some homeless person very happy.

Incidentally, this country really needs to get back to fighting wars on poverty and not poor people.

In Downtown LA, I went up the first of several hills this marathon had to offer, and it never fails to test my limits as I force myself to run up the street where all the courthouses are at. One thing which really helps on this hill is the presence of all those Taiko Drummers who gleefully pound away at a furious pace to where I think they are playing the “Tsunami” theme which was featured in “Rising Sun.” I have the soundtrack, and as a teenager I often found myself boogying out to this music as it forced you to shed your inhibitions in a way other music could not.

LA Marathon 2018 Jasmine in hazmat suit

At around mile five, I heard someone from behind me calling my name. It turned out to be Jasmine, one of my fellow Pablove runners who was quickly catching up with me. At the Pablove celebration dinner, Jasmine told me she had been really sick this past week to where she wasn’t sure she would be able to run the marathon. But she did indeed show up and in a hazmat suit as well. When I first saw her in the suit, I couldn’t help but tell her, “I loved you on ‘Breaking Bad!’”

Jasmine was still under the weather as she caught up with me, but I wouldn’t have known how sick she was if she hadn’t told me. I really admired her for persevering despite dealing with the flu, and she called me a lifesaver as I continued at 3:1 pace. While part of me wanted to see if I could set a new personal record and finish in less than six hours, it felt more appropriate to stick with Jasmine as she confessed to me that I was saving her life. You know what? Jasmine explained it best in her Facebook post several hours later:

“Now that the dust has settled at bit, I wanted to say a few things. As many of you know, I had a pretty nasty flu a week up to the marathon. It settled into my chest and by marathon morning I was still sick, hadn’t eaten much for the week prior and I was coughing up a lung. So, when I started, it sucked and kept sucking.

At mile five, I ran into Ben Kenber. Ben stayed with me for the next 14 miles, talking to me, encouraging me and basically keeping me in the game. When it became obvious to me that I couldn’t keep up with him anymore, Ben still didn’t want to leave me. What a guy!

Ben finally went on, at much insistence, to run his race but, I just want to thank you Ben, I don’t think I would have finished without you.”

LA Marathon 2018 Kerry and Jasmine and Ben and Kat

Indeed, we kept with one another for over a dozen miles, and Jasmine remarked how this was one of the best-catered marathons she had ever ran. In addition to all those volunteers who were handing out paper cups of water and lemon-flavored Gatorade, others were handing out orange slices, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas (which contain potassium that feels so heavenly on any long run), Red Vines, Jolly Ranchers, and fun size Snickers. While I may have been hesitant to consume these things in the past, it suddenly became in my best interest to do so as I take whatever runner’s fuel which presented itself to me. After lagging behind all the other Pablove runners this past training season to where I was astonished Coaches Kerry and James were still waiting for me in Griffith Park at the finish line. I kept imagining they were rolling their eyes as they were eager to get home and enjoy the rest of their weekend, but they were still there to cheer me on as when I made it to the end.

Jasmine’s flu made her belch quite a bit, something I used to think only men could do, but I have long since been corrected to where I am annoyed when other men consider themselves superior to women. Let’s face it men, we never were in the place. Every time Jasmine burped, I made sure to tell her “bless you.” I know you only say this to someone when they sneeze, but it felt appropriate considering the distance we were trying to travel. She kept up with my pace of 3:1, but every time I heard her watch beep, I thought it was mine. It became a routine for Jasmine to tell me it was her watch going off. Still, it was a force of habit to check my watch whenever any beep went off.

LA Marathon 2018 Kerry and Kat

At mile 11, we finally ran into Coach Kerry who was waiting for us right near where The Pablove Foundation office was. He was there with Kat and several others who were cheering us on, and he gave Jasmine a big hug as he was worried about her. As to why he didn’t give me a hug, well, scientists are still looking into that.

When it came to mile 19, Jasmine decided she wanted to walk the rest of the way. As she indicated in her Facebook post, she encouraged me to go on, but I wanted to make absolutely certain she was okay with that. She made it clear I should go on, and I congratulated her for making it this far despite having to deal with a disease which cruelly greeted her a week before she was set to run this marathon. Please believe me when I say I was not quick to leave her behind as I very much admire her for getting as far as she did. It’s been a long time since I had the flu, but I remember just how debilitating it was to have it. The flu robs you of your ability to do much of anything, but it didn’t rob Jasmine of her ability to run the LA Marathon. Furthermore, I got to meet her mother and some friends of her who were kind and patient enough to wait for her on Hollywood Boulevard.

LA Marathon 2018 Kerry Jasmine and Ben

One of the more unfriendly parts of this marathon is running through Century City as the roads lacked of shade from the occasionally brutal sunlight. Then again, I did get to pass by Robin Russell whose energetic drumming always lifts me up whenever I find myself slowing down more than I would like. I remember first seeing him pounding away at his drum set during the 2009 LA Marathon and totally digging the rhythm he was drumming. It’s always great to see him out there, supporting us runners with his playing.

When I started my way downhill through San Vincente Boulevard, a street which always feels never ending, it was then that the soreness began overtaking me. I was actually feeling really good for most of the marathon, and I even took an Extra Strength Tylenol capsule to ease whatever pain my body was experiencing. However, my legs were starting to feel the pain. I wasn’t in agony, but it was an especially irritating pain which just annoyed the hell out of me. I have never broken any bones in my body before and I am in no hurry to experience that level of pain and torture, but this kind of pain really irked me. It was like I was telling my legs to give me a break as there were only a few more miles to go, but just like Edward Norton in “Fight Club,” my legs were calling out to me in vengeance, “I am Ben’s inflamed legs!”

As I continued down San Vicente, I did run into Coach James who was all smiles once he saw me. As always, he was enthusiastic and proud of us runners as it was clear even to us just how much our training had paid off these past few months. James had a whole bag of treats for us, and he kindly gave me a bottle of Cool Blue flavored Gatorade. Along with the ice-cold bottle of water some from UCLA gave me, this proved to be a most welcome gift. James, if you are reading this, thanks for everything.

I did bring my soundtrack iPod with me and put on some tunes to take my mind off the soreness. “Sliver” may have been a terrible movie, but the soundtrack which came out of it was awesome, and songs like “Slid” by Absurd, “The Most Wonderful Girl” by Lords of Acid and “Unfinished Symphony” by Massive Attack helped to move my spirits when they appeared down for the count. Also, Aftershock’s “Slave to the Vibe” remains one of the lost hits of the 1990’s.

Following this, I listened to the “Tangiers” track from John Powell’s score to “The Bourne Ultimatum.” It is one of my all-time favorite pieces of film music as we watch Jason Bourne race over rooftops in an effort to save his friend from an assassin. Listening to it makes me feel like I am running to either stop something bad happen, or instead running from an adversary who looks to seal my doom.

When I finally turned on Ocean Avenue and headed towards the finish line, I was determined to listen to Peter Gabriel’s “The Heat” from his soundtrack to “Birdy.” This track really got me to run fast when I needed a boost, and it certainly came in handy as my body was starting to give up on me. The soreness continued to escalate to where I was acting like some spoiled rotten cheerleader who kept complaining about how there was a run in her nylons. I was basically telling my legs, “Ow! Stop it!” as I could finally see the end just ahead of me. My soundtrack iPod only had a little bit of power left, so I prayed I could listen to “The Heat” as the finish line got closer and closer. Keep in mind, this music by Gabriel has been used on numerous movie trailers, and it never fails in getting my adrenaline running.

I held eight fingers up in the air as I crossed the finish line, signaling to everyone this was the eighth year in a row I ran and completed this marathon. From there, I kept walking as to stop moving at all was not a good idea. We still needed to cool down from what we had just endured, and to suddenly come to a full stop is not at all healthy. I got my medal from one of the marathon volunteers, had a cinnamon raisin bagel and just kept walking. The volunteers were still on hand to give us food and drinks (of the non-alcoholic kind of course) as we now had to put a lot of calories back into our bodies.

On my way past the Santa Monica Pier, I came across another one of those Bible thumpers who was also equipped with a megaphone and saying, “If you are an adulterer, you are a sinner! If envy another person, you are a sinner! If you are a thief, you are a sinner!” This became very monotonous to where I began to wonder, who isn’t a sinner? Heck, I wanted to go up to the guy and ask him this. Of course, he would have responded by saying he was not, so what would be the point? Surely everyone has sinned at one time or another, but does this really mean we will never make it to heaven?

In the past, Team to End AIDS had a booth set up for runners to stop by and sit for a bit as we reveled in what we had accomplished and indulge in some much-needed refreshments. The Pablove Foundation, however, did not have anything set up as we were, once again, a small group, so I just kept walking and walking until I got back to my car and drove home. I avoided the 10 freeway which I knew was going to be backed up and I drove through the back way of Santa Monica and thru Marina Del Rey and headed straight down Washington Boulevard. Geez, I sound like an episode of “The Californians.”

Before I made it back, I did drop by my local Ralphs Supermarket to pick up a few things, among which was a 10-pound bag of ice. For once, I was going to subject myself to an ice bath, something I actually hadn’t done in quite some time. But considering how infinitely sore I was, an ice bath felt absolutely necessary as it always succeeds in reducing the swelling in the legs. I still had my marathon medal on and going through the supermarket was a lot like running those 26.2 miles as complete strangers saw it and congratulated me on my grand accomplishment. One supermarket employee asked to hold it, and she was stunned at how heavy it was.

These congratulations continued as I made my way back to my apartment. One guy even passed by me and said, “And you’re still standing!” I was also ever so thankful to find a parking spot on the side of the street which would not be subjected to street cleaning on a Monday, and this meant I could sleep in.

Having an ice bath was a different story, however, as the water in my bath tub kept draining almost as quickly as the water went into it. I should have known something was up when a dozen minutes had passed and the tub wasn’t even half full. Keeping the faucet on also made it impossible for me to listen to the Fresh Air interview Terry Gross did with Danny Trejo about going from being a San Quentin inmate to becoming an in-demand actor. I did finally put the ice in once the water got to a certain level, but this ice bath was unfortunately not as effective as it could have been. Following this, I crashed in bed and had a nice, long nap. Again, I didn’t get much sleep the night before, so you can sure bet I caught up on it.

Now it’s a few days later, and my legs are still recovering from the soreness. Walking normally has gotten easier, but I still find myself wanting to cry whenever I see a flight of stairs in front of me. Even though I know I will fully recover, looking at stairs after running a marathon always makes me wonder if I will ever go up them again with the same enthusiastic energy I once had. The answer, of course, is yes, but it always feels like I never will. I also find myself in a constant state of tiredness, but this may have to do more with depression than running the marathon.

JC Fernandez at the Boliver tree

Recently, JC Fernandez, one of my former coaches from T2EA, posted the following on my Facebook page:

“Hey Ben! At the start of the year, I mentioned how I felt Coach Scott’s presence in your weekly Ultimate Rabbit posts. Your determination and will to push through your struggles is the embodiment of his mantra ‘keep going.” Reading Jasmine’s account of the race this weekend and how you stuck by to support and encourage her, sacrificing your race for her well-being… and I feel him again.

Thank you for carrying on his spirit. And congrats on another 26.2!!”

Indeed, Scott Boliver’s spirit has never left us as he always told us to just keep going, and it felt great to hear I embodied this spirit from JC. For us T2EA and Pablove runners, it isn’t always about setting a new personal record or winning the whole thing. It’s all about crossing the finish line. If you set a new personal record for yourself that’s great, but what really matters is finishing the whole thing come rain or shine. Even when we have hit the runner’s wall where are brain is telling us to just give up already, we keep going. Maybe we will run a bit slower or just walk the rest of the way, but we keep on going even when everything tells us to call it quits. In the end, that’s all we can do, just keep going.

Scott Boliver photo

In life I try to be humble about a lot of things as having an oversized ego has led me into painfully embarrassing situations more often than not, but few things in life have earned me more bragging rights than running a marathon. While I may be shy about some things, there is no reason for me to be shy about the medal I earned.

My thanks to Coaches James and Kerry and to everyone at The Pablove Foundation for helping me get through this season. I also want to send out congratulations to my fellow Pablove runners for participating and completing the 2018 Los Angeles Marathon. Special congratulations to Jasmine who ran despite being sick and finished about 20 minutes behind me.

Will I be back next year? I’m not sure. The last few years have had me wondering if it is time to take a break from all this running, but when the start of the training season is near, the excitement overcomes all the rational thoughts I have, and I find myself happily back at Griffith Park on Saturday mornings. But with my advancing age, something I prefer not draw too much attention to, maybe I owe it to myself to give my body an extended rest. Then again, Harrison Ford said it best in “Raiders of the Lost Ark:”

“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”

The 2018 Los Angeles Marathon was truly one of the best years for this event. The weather was perfect, the nutrition was endless, and the support from complete strangers is always welcome. And, as one spectator pointed out on a sign he held up, we were running much better than the U.S. Government.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: I have now raised $1,389 for The Pablove Foundation. As a group, us Pablove runners succeeded in raising around $60,000 in the fight against pediatric cancer. It is important to note that while the U.S. Government does give a lot of money to cancer research, only 4% of it goes towards childhood cancer. My personal page is still open, so if you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, please do not let me stop you (as if I would ever want to).

CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION TO THE PABLOVE FOUNDATION.

See also:

What’s Pablove Got to Do with It?

No Pablove Runner Walks in L.A!

Running in the Aftermath of Thanksgiving for Pablove

A Tough Pablove Run for Me

One Last Pablove Run for 2017

A Pablove Run in Memory of Scott Boliver

A Longer Than Expected Pablove Run

An Especially Frigid 18 Mile Pablove Run

There’s Nothing Like a Hot Summer Day in February

23 Miles in the Frigid Los Angeles Wilderness

One Last Pablove Run, and One Last Hill

LA Marathon 2018 the runners

Scott Boliver tree 2014

Alan Howarth Discusses Working on Film Scores with John Carpenter

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A screening of John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood brought out a number of guests such as Austin Stoker who played Lieutenant Ethan Bishop and Douglas Knapp who was the film’s director of photography. But the one guest I was really interested to hear from was Alan Howarth, the composer and sound designer who collaborated with Carpenter on a number of his film scores from “Escape From New York” to “They Live.” Howarth even took the time to do a live performance of his and Carpenter’s music, something I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime.

During the Q&A, Howarth talked about how he came to work with Carpenter, their process for scoring his films and his favorite film scores of the ones they worked on together. Howarth wasn’t actually on board for the original “Assault on Precinct 13” though he did work on a remastered version of the soundtrack for it and “Dark Star” for BuySoundtrax.com. It wasn’t until he worked on his first big film when he became inadvertently acquainted with Carpenter.

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“I came on board at ‘Escape from New York,’ and that was kind of happenstance because my very first movie, less than a year earlier, was ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture,’” Howarth said. “I had come on as the sound designer and created the sounds of the Enterprise like the warp drive and the transporters and stuff like that. The picture editor from that movie, Todd Ramsay, his next assignment was ‘Escape from New York,’ so I had slipped him some cassettes and he knew I was a musician. John had worked with another fellow on ‘Halloween,’ Dan Wyman, and there was some change up there, and so literally the guy comes over to my little, rented house in Glendale and set up in my dining room. It was nothing formal. I sat down and I played him a few things and he goes, ‘okay, let’s do it.’ That was it.”

“John always wanted somebody who knew about the technology,” Howarth continued. “In fact, a couple of times I tried to explain to him how it worked and he was all, ‘I don’t want to know that. It’s your job to make it work, make it in tune, and when I push down the note the red light is on.’ So that’s where I started, but he’s a collaborative person. I love working with people. I’m from the bands and rock & roll. I was one of those people. So, it was really great and my first film score was ‘Escape from New York.’”

escape-from-new-york-soundtrack

From there, the two of them worked on several projects all the way to “They Live.” As he continued discussing the work he did with Carpenter, we came to discover he played a larger part in Carpenter’s film scores than we ever realized.

“Next, he went off to do ‘The Thing’ and they wanted to make ‘Halloween II,’ so again John said, ‘I’m going to be busy. You’re going to have to do Halloween.’ Same thing, so I did ‘Halloween II’ and I used his original ‘Halloween’ music, overdubbed it and created new stuff.”

 

After “They Live,” they seemed to part ways for reasons Howarth never explained, but it gave him the confidence to start scoring films on his own. Of course, he was still eager to get Carpenter’s blessing when it came to a franchise the director never planned to start.

“I found out they were going to do ‘Halloween 4’ and I said to John, ‘they asked me to do this and you’re my buddy and I want to do something with this.’ He said sure, so I wound up doing ‘Halloween 4, 5 and 6’ and that really launched me as a composer which is what I love to do the most, and as we are in a world of economic stasis, I had to do it all by myself. As you see, this is my studio right here. It’s all down to a laptop and a guitar and some recorders when it used to be a million dollars’ worth of stuff. Not that that stuff isn’t valuable, but you can do without it now,” Howarth said.

 

halloween-4-original-soundtrack

One audience member asked which of the scores he did with Carpenter is his favorite, and the answer was a little bit of a surprise.

“I think ‘Halloween III’ because it was really an artistic departure for both of us, and ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ is the most produced and has the widest range,” said Howarth. “We had rock and roll and scary things and chases and this whole Asian influence, so it was really a broad scope of things. That’s one of my favorites.”

halloween-iii-soundtrack

Like many in the audience, I was eager to hear how Howarth and Carpenter would go about working on a score. Did they start working on it before shooting began? Did they work on it after shooting was finished? Did they think about the music while making the film? We hear how composers spend so much time preparing the perfect score for a movie, but Howarth made his process with Carpenter sound quite simple.

“It’s all one big jam. It’s improvised,” Howarth said. “Sometimes he would come in with a theme in mind. I’d set up the piano before he came over and started something. A lot of it we just made up on the spot. In fact, I introduced him, because I’m a technical person, to the synchronization between a videotape and a tape recorder. It almost seems like we were the first to do it. Before that, everything was done with a stopwatch. So, you would make a cue that was three minutes long and kind of set a tempo, and then you would go back and literally copy it on a Moviola and fool around with the scene.”

“This was the first time you could watch the movie and play at the same time, so he referred to that as the electronic coloring book which made it even easier to improvise,” Howarth continued. “Through that whole period we also benefited from the evolution of electronic music instruments, so from analog synthesizers and a 24-track machine to midi and digital sequencers, these scores had a new installation in the progress of musical instruments, so it’s almost a chronology or a music lesson in the gear.”

Another audience member asked Howarth how long he and Carpenter would jam until they found something they really liked. His answer illustrates how fast these two worked on their music.

“We did a cue a day,” Howarth said. “One quote I always get from John, and it’s just really true, he said, ‘Alan if you want to be a director you only need two important words, yes and no. Just be very decisive. Even if you say no today or yes today and tomorrow, you change your mind. You got twenty or thirty people that are taking direction, and you don’t want to leave them in a lurch, so it’s better to just be decisive.’ So, it was a couple of times we did something and came back and said that wasn’t working, but it wasn’t very often.”

Having worked in movies and music all these years, Howarth clearly has a wide knowledge of musical instruments and electronics. When asked what he would consider as the go to synthesizer, Howarth’s answer shed some light on how far musical technology has come over the years.

“I chose all the gear and I arrived at being a fan of the Prophet 5,” Howarth said. “It sounded good, but the other reason was that it was the first programmable synthesizer. Prior to that, you had to literally make little diagrams of where all the knobs and switches were to get back to the same sound, so this was the first time you could do something and save it. That really moved things forward a lot, and I brought in the programmables and the sequencers.”

One big question many had about the music Carpenter and Howarth worked on was the score to Carpenter’s remake of “The Thing.” This was Carpenter’s first big studio movie, and it allowed him to work with his all-time favorite composer Ennio Morricone. However, when you listen to the score, some it sounds like it was done by Carpenter and Howarth, and this is especially the case with the movie’s main theme. Howarth went into detail about who really composed the score to “The Thing.”

“They (Carpenter and Morricone) took a meeting, and he (Morricone) saw a little bit of the footage and he scored his score,” Howarth said. “He comes back and, of course, how does John talk to his hero about what just went down and where he wants to go? And there’s a translation issue between English and Italian and all this other stuff. So John played the stuff we did for ‘Escape from New York’ and he says, ‘Can you do something like this?’ Ennio goes back for a second pass now with keyboards, and that’s where ‘The Thing’s’ theme came from. So it’s Ennio Morricone doing John Carpenter really. At the very end after all that, there was one more pass on about four or five cues where John came over for just an afternoon and we did some cues that kind of sound like ‘Christine’ that you can tell is basically our synth stuff. So basically, it took three scoring passes on the show to get it.”

the-thing-soundtrack

It was a real treat to have Alan Howarth talk about his musical collaboration with John Carpenter. The film scores they worked on are among my favorites of all time, and I never get sick of listening to them. Howarth continues to work as a film composer, and his more recent credits include scores for “Backstabbed,” “The Dentist” and “House at the End of the Drive.” Here’s hoping we get to hear more scores from him in the near future.

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.