Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Composer Interview: David Buckley

David Buckley is a composer on the rise and is quickly making a name for himself. I first discovered Buckley’s work through Harry Gregson-Williams since Harry is one of my favorite composers. Buckley did some additional music on a few of Harry’s scores like Flushed Away, The Number 23, Shrek The Third and Gone Baby Gone. His solo projects include the Joel Schumacher thriller Blood Creek, the epic martial arts fantasy The Forbidden Kingdom and recently the Luc Besson produced action flick From Paris With Love. I was honored when David agreed to do a live interview.

Kaya: Thanks for agreeing to do this, especially a live chat.

David: No problem! I hope my spelling does not let me down. By the way, i have to get this Dragon score of Powell's - you seem to like it a lot!

Kaya: It really is great. I've been busy with work but my next day off I wanna see it in IMAX.

David: I worked on these little olympic commercial spots that were tied into the film, and the characters seemed great. Looks like Dreamworks is raising its game.

Kaya: I've always loved Dreamworks. Kung Fu Panda really won me over and back in the day when Harry and John did most of the stuff, haha. Which they still do I guess, last Shrek coming up.

David: Yes, being mixed just upstairs from me now.

Kaya: Well, enough about those guys.

David: Indeed.

Kaya: So, I guess it would be interesting to know how you found your way into music, and I guess eventually film music.

David: Well, my mother was a music teacher so from a very young age I was messing around on a piano. I was probably making a horrible noise, but was allowed to explore and not forced to play from scores. I would play nonsense for hours and hours and really loved it.

Kaya: Nonsense is always the best.

David: I went on to be a cathedral choirboy and then studied composition at Cambridge. So, a liberating beginning, and then a very traditional study period.

Kaya: Which is interesting, because I think your style is anything but traditional.

David: I think there are things in my music that fall back on some of my passions, early music being one of them. Little flavors of mediaeval and renaissance music under the surface. Nothing explicit, but it's part of the musical language I was brought up with.

Kaya: What were you listening to growing up?

David: Well, I was performing every day, mainly music from the 1600's. My composition teacher then introduced me to Stravinsky and Messiaen. My grandfather was Indian, so he would play a lot of traditional Indian music.

Kaya: That's interesting.

David: My dad loved jazz so that would be coming from his radio. Quite a mix.

Kaya: So what made you want to be a film composer? Which is a very specific branch of composition.

David: Two things. I had sung on the score to The Last Temptation Of Christ and it was an incredible experience. We only recorded for a day, but I began to realize that music could work alongside other art forms, and the synthesis could be thrilling. Shortly after, I performed a piece of music written by my friend and mentor Richard Harvey.

Kaya: Love Richard Harvey.

David: Again, it was an eye-opener - full orchestra, choir, ethnic instruments, electric instruments, visuals, lighting. At the age of 10, I thought 'fuck'!

Kaya: Hahaha.

David: From this point on, I knew I wanted to get into this field and Richard has been great in helping me get to where I am.

Kaya: That's interesting because I come from the other side I think. I saw The Rock when I was 9 years old and thought 'Well, holy crap. The music is so awesome'. And that's how I wanted to be a filmmaker.

David: I loved The Rock too. I think these moments stick in our minds and give us drive. I guess we are both fortunate to have caught the bug at such an early age.

Kaya: Yeah, even though some people look at my score & DVD collection and think I'm a bit insane.

David: Because it is so vast?

Kaya: That's one part, and that I own every Hans score, Harry score, John score, etc. The ones that impacted me when I was little. Even every one of yours commercially released.

David: I guess I own all those too!

Kaya: Haha, great! Common ground!

David: Yep.

Kaya: So how did you get involved with working with Harry Gregson-Williams?

David: Well Richard re-introduced us a few years back, but Harry and I had known each other in the classical music world back in the UK. I happened to be around when Harry was getting busy and he asked if I would stay on to help him out on a few things. I guess an example of being at the right place at the right time.

Kaya: Yeah, definitely. How would you describe working in such a collaborative environment. I know you've done some additional music on some of Harry's scores. How does that process help your creativity and learning process?

David: Anything I have learned about film scoring has come from Harry. I had worked in the UK prior to moving here writing music for TV and commercials, so I thought I was armed with the appropriate skills, but I was so wrong! It's pretty tough this film scoring stuff, and there is plenty to learn beyond just the musical. One also needs to understand film.

Kaya: I can't imagine how hard it is to tell a story through music, but you do it very well.

David: That's kind - thank you! I still feel I have plenty more to learn. I look back at an old score, and I think, gosh, I wish I had done this or that. But I have always been a revisionist.

Kaya: I do that all the time with my short films.

David: I think as we grow as people our outlook changes a little and it is inevitable that we want to tell the story a little differently. More about nuances than wholesale rewriting.

Kaya: Do you ever look back at a score you've done and think to take parts of that work and maybe expand on them for a different film? I guess sort of evolving your sound.

David: Well, sometimes the nature of the film dictates that one can never take the ideas as far as one wants. For example, I wrote a score for a Scott Free film - Tell Tale, which had quite a nice theme and harmonic invention, but the film just required me to simmer for most of the time. To have done anything more would have been way too much for the film. But I do think there are some ideas there that could be expanded, but I guess it would be odd, if not illegal to use them in another project!

Kaya: I just think it’s unfair that when a director reuses a shot or recycles a story idea it’s a sign of being an auteur and then i hear composers being called unoriginal or hacks when they reuse ideas.

David: Yes, and of course there are only 12 notes!

Kaya: Right, which makes what you do even more impressive.

David: Aren't there only 5 real plots for story-telling? Or something like that. Maybe we have it easy - over double the amount of building blocks!

Kaya: Haha maybe? So, I'm listening to The Forbidden Kingdom right now and I have to say it's maybe my favorite of yours.

David: Ah, thank you! I'm fond of it too. Brings back good memories.

Kaya: I know you mentioned this to me before, but could you go into the whole Morricone style riff that found its way into the score?

David: Yep - it was not actually my idea - I think it was a producer or music editor who thought it would be amusing to dress Ni Chang up with this sound. Even though on paper she comes across as a terrifying bitch, I think she needed a little help on screen. So this was an idea to give her a bit of identity. I tried other things along the way - including a shrill male countertenor voice, but this sound got the laugh in the screenings, and it also added to the idea that we were making a spaghetti Eastern!

Kaya: Haha, love that approach!

David: By the way, Harry may come down here any minute to ask me something, so do excuse me if I break for a few mins! I'll be back! Here he comes!

Kaya: Of course.

David: Ok! sorry.

Kaya: Not a problem at all. Was his question concerning Shrek at all? Or is it secret? Haha.

David: Oh, just a general catch up- he got back from London last night.

Kaya: Ah. So, From Paris With Love. That was a fun score I thought.

David: Well I thought so, but not every one did it would seem!

Kaya: I mean, I can honestly say the movie itself while fun didn't do a whole lot for me, but I was smiling at certain points with your score. Especially within the film.

David: I think the movie was what it was - an action flick, take it or leave it. Perhaps not the best script in the world.

Kaya: But it's a Luc Besson production, always fun stuff.

David: Yes - over the top, silly, noisy, raucous...

Kaya: The Fifth Element is still one of my favorite movies from growing up. So there's a special place in my heart for Luc.

David: Quite - a great film.

Kaya: You also scored a documentary called In The Land Of The Free . . . What was that like?

David: Yes, in fact it will be aired end of April, I believe. Not sure where. It's a fascinating story. Three guys who have been in solitary confinement for over 25 years - for a crime they almost certainly did not commit. I have worked on documentaries before, but this is feature length, and the music plays an important role in telling the story.

Kaya: How is approaching a documentary different than a fictional film? Is it more challenging?

David: Good question. I don't think it seemed that different. I still had to write around the dialogue, had to commit to themes and expand on them. It seemed surprisingly similar now I think back on it. Harder work perhaps because there was no money or very little.

Kaya: Yeah, that can be a limitation on smaller budgets, but I guess in the end it was a story with protagonists and a goal. Is that how you pretty much looked at it?

David: Totally. And even though a serious topic, there were moments of lightness and laughter - it tapped into the whole gamut of human emotions.

Kaya: The magic of the medium.

David: I guess if I were scoring a documentary about the history of the food processor, maybe it would have been different, but this film certainly felt comfortable and allowed me to do what I wanted to do.

Kaya: You do television too such as The Good Wife. How does episodic television bring new challenges versus films, which I imagine it does.

David: It does indeed. The producers were brave hiring someone who had mainly worked in film to score a TV show. The schedule is tough, and one has to be writing stuff that is close to right the first time out. The luxury of meetings and revisits that we have in the film world are not present here. I guess trusting instincts is key. I've been loving it though.

Kaya: Since the stories and arcs span much more time than in a film do you ever keep the end in sight or are you scoring in the moment. Like, I'm sure Micheal Giacchino on LOST has some comfort in knowing where the story will finish. And Geoff Zanelli said that The Pacific was all but completed in a somewhat finished form before they even touched it.

David: I actually don't know what will happen at the end of the season, so I guess I am writing in the moment. Not sure if that is good or bad now you mention it!

Kaya: I don't know, I feel like it may be hard on a composer’s part to close things out. Like I feel bad for Jim Dooley whose score to Pushing Daisies is amazing but of course that show got cut short. So now, it seems like it was a train of thought cut off in a way. Must be the same for the writers I guess if a show ends abruptly.

David: Yes, I had not realized that - have not seen the show.

Kaya: You also did the accompanying Shrek Forever After video game. Many film composers are doing video games these days. How do you make sure your music in a video game actually tells a story and doesn't fall into the category of "background music"?

David: I don't think one can be a hundred percent certain that it will play exactly as intended as there is a certain amount of chance as to how it will all work. For that reason, certainly in my experience, one writes to set scenes and describe locations and characters, as the story is really determined by the player. I think! Although I don't really play games. But that is my understanding. Having said which, the music I composed is symphonic and has its fair share of drama and emotion.

Kaya: What are the major differences of scoring a video game versus a movie?

David: I guess much the same as above. Add to that that much of the music must be able to loop. Therefore keys and tempos need to be considered in a different way. Overall a video game score cannot be linear as far as I can tell, as there must be infinite ways in which the story will run.

Kaya: We all know Harry scored all four Shrek films (first one co-composed with John Powell). Did you look at what he did in the films and work off those ideas and themes or did you start fresh?

David: The remit was to write in a 'Shrekian' style, but all material, including themes was to be original. Having worked on Shrek The Third and Shrek The Halls, I was acquainted with the style, so I understood what they were looking for. I'd like to think I've made it my own however and that there are some unexpected departures. It was certainly a fun project, and I was very glad to be back with a symphony orchestra once again...

Kaya: So, I guess maybe to wrap things up. If David Buckley is driving in his car alone with his thoughts. What music is playing?

David: Haha - well I can't drive, so that is a scary prospect...

Kaya: Haha, okay so maybe sitting at your computer.

David: I don't listen to enough music you know, but someone is always telling me about a great score here or a great band there. A lot of classical repertoire - particularly Debussy and Ravel. Crap answer, sorry!

Kaya: Haha, no, I like it!

David: I used to be terrible. I used to only listen to things I thought I would like and not give anything else the time of day, but I guess since moving on in this business, one needs to be open to anything and everything.

Kaya: Can't ever hurt! Haha.

David: I think western classical music holds a significant place in my heart - it's where I began my musical journey...

Kaya: Is there any film from the past you'd like to take a crack at with no disrespect to the original composer?

David: Oh wow, good question. Since doing Blood Creek, I have really enjoyed the horror genre and would love to score more horror films. So maybe something like Paranormal Activity - did it have a score? I can't remember.

Kaya: I don't think it did. For $11,000 can't imagine so, haha.

David: But, I think I would love to get my teeth into a film with a similar scope to The Forbidden Kingdom.

Kaya: But yeah, Blood Creek. I wish that got a release. I love the Urban Thriller album you put out on iTunes.

David: As much as I enjoy electronica, and I know it has a significant place in modern scoring, I do like thematic music, and the thrill of the full symphony orchestra.

Kaya: The blending of the two is equally great I think.

David: So, I imagine having a go at one of my favorite films - The English Patient would be a fun challenge. But I have to admit, that score is one of the best I have heard.

Kaya: Oh wow, nice pick!

David: So would be a doomed exercise.

Kaya: Well, it's been a pleasure to chat! I really appreciate it. Any big projects on the horizon?

David: Thank you! Very nice to talk with you too. There is something on the horizon, in fact I have started it, but it's not official yet, so I should probably not say anything... Sorry, i'll let you know when it is confirmed.

Kaya: No problem. Best of luck! Tell Harry I can't wait for Prince Of Persia, Shrek 4, Twelve and of course Unstoppable! He has a busy slate!

David: Thanks Kaya. Best of luck with your work too. Will pass it on!

Again, thanks so much to David Buckley for taking the time to do the interview with his schedule. Check out his scores to The Forbidden Kingdom and From Paris With Love; all available on iTunes, Amazon MP3 and CD. David Buckley’s Urban Thriller album is available on iTunes and Amazon MP3. The Shrek Forever After video game hits shelves on May 18, 2010 on pretty much every system available.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

How To Train Your Dragon by John Powell (Review)

John Powell is without a doubt one of the most unique voices in film composition. His style is nothing but his own. I have never heard another composer come close to his sound and what he’s able to do with it. John Powell also has the honor of being the best modern day composer of animated films.

How To Train Your Dragon is Powell’s first animated score since Ice Age 3, which I will admit was a disappointment even though I loved his score to Ice Age 2. How To Train Your Dragon is a much more inspired film, and John Powell brought every ounce of effort he had to the table.

The score itself is just beautiful if you had to describe it in one word. There are two themes that Powell uses variations of. The themes themselves are 100% pure Powell. Fans of his may hear a bit of Kung Fu Panda in it with a touch of Ice Age. However, the score as an exercise in storytelling is just brilliant and one of a kind when examined that way. It will gently carry you and lift you up to a level you could never imagine. Beauty emerges from its simplicity and the emotions that grow will remind you for just a moment how unique it is to be a human being and feel these emotions. Tracks like “Forbidden Friendship” and “Where’s Hiccup” will move you in a delicate fashion. Examining moments of fear with curiosity and a growing companionship, or moments of loss and hope and the ability to come back when all seems lost.

Tracks like “Test Drive”, “Romantic Flight” and “Coming Back Around” soar high on human spirit and are just pure celebrations of joy and love and will likely bring you to tears. Powell does incorporate a Scottish sound for one of the themes to add flavor and atmosphere to the setting, but it never outweighs the true identity of the score. The song “Sticks & Stones” is included near the end of the album and is performed by Jónsi who is part of the Icelandic group Sigur Rós. It’s a perfect closing to an amazing album.

Full of Powell’s trademark percussion and signature descending note progression this score is an absolute wonder. It reinforces just how powerful an inspired score can be and what it can do for the film. It’s a beautiful celebration of the human spirit and the bond of friendship. This is a score you won’t want to pass over. I always felt that Happy Feet was Powell’s best score up to this point, but I do believe he has topped himself.

Green Zone by John Powell (Review)

Green Zone reunites John Powell with director Paul Greengrass on their fourth collaboration together. Before this Powell composed The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum and United 93 for Greengrass. Green Zone is an action thriller based off the United States’ involvement in the Middle East. This is an action score and it’s nothing more than that. To be honest I think John Powell could have composed this score in sleep, but that’s not a negative comment.

Powell is known mainly known for his intense trademark percussions. They find a way into pretty much every score he composes and are more prominent in his action scores. Here they work especially well because they create a constant rhythm for the action and if you know Paul Greengrass you know you’re going to get handheld cameras and fast paced editing. The same way that Harry Gregson-Williams is a perfect fit for Tony Scott is also why John Powell is a perfect fit for Paul Greengrass.

The one thing I’m glad to have found here is that Powell didn’t go the full Hans Zimmer route which has been pretty standard in films dealing with modern warfare. Ever since Black Hawk Down every modern warfare score has been a rock infused ethnic wonderland. While I love that genre defining sound I found it refreshing that Powell kept things to his creative palette and worked with his own sound. Though there are a few ethnic strings thrown into the mix, which is excellent because it establishes setting and atmosphere.

One thing I’ve read in other reviews and heard from other people is that they don’t like the score because there is no thematic material. While I’m a huge fan of using themes to make a score stand on its own I honestly feel that in this case it wasn’t necessary. Our main character isn’t a super hero or an action hero like say Jason Bourne. Powell did compose a theme for that character. This is a film fully propelled by the plot and if you see the film you’ll probably agree that we really don’t get to know our characters as people. Freddy is maybe the only character where we can connect with as an audience and Powell does hit us with some emotional strings for his character in the track “WTF”, but for the rest of the film we’re on an adrenaline rush.

Powell’s score for Green Zone is superb action scoring and nothing more. It won’t wow you but it’s highly effective and does wonders for the film. Looking at it from a stylistic point of view one can admire Powell’s techniques and compare them to his other action scores. When listening to it you’ll have a hard time discerning different tracks from one another because yes they do all sound similar with no unique arrangements to give them any sort of identity. So approach this one as a full on listening experience and just go from start to finish to really enjoy how effective this score truly is.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves by Greg Edmonson (Review) [CD RELEASE]

**ORIGINAL REVIEW From October 19, 2009:

Greg Edmonson returns to the successful Sony franchise for the PS3. Game scores have become a new breed. Looking back at game music history is fascinating. I can honestly say that today game scores are identical in function to film scores. Michael Giacchino helped blur the lines with his magnificent work on the Medal Of Honor series, but real credit goes to Norihiko Hibino who scored Metal Gear Solid for PS1. That score was the first game score that had to work with characters and cinematic developments or in simpler terms a story with a hero and a goal.

What Greg Edmonson has done here is successfully created a sound for the Uncharted universe. In what can best be described as a modern take on classic adventure scores this score is massive in scope and scale. Percussion, strings and brass work in grandiose arrangements to transport you to the story’s exotic locales all the while keeping tension and excitement at a maximum.

I definitely think that this score is a huge improvement over what he did for the first game. He does use many variations of Nate’s Theme throughout the game. Instead of blatantly placing it in the score like say the James Bond theme he will instead weave it into the arrangements to avoid it being “cheesy” or just over the top. New this time around is the use of vocals. At first you’ll get airy female vocals, which is perfect for the exotic and mysterious aspect of the story. Later as you plunge deeper into darker territory he’ll bring in the droning throat singing male vocals, which is a perfect accent since the game deals with Shambhala and throat singing is a custom of the Inuit people in that part of the world.

All in all Greg Edmonson has found his shining achievement. I never got into his music because looking at the nature of his filmography it ranges from shows like Firefly and King Of The Hill to some obscure films. Uncharted 2 is an amazing musical accomplishment and stands with Harry Gregson-Williams’ work for the Metal Gear Solid franchise and Michael Giacchino’s work as some of the best game scores of all time. It works as background score for the gameplay and seamlessly transitions between cutscenes and gameplay to mesh the two in a way where you feel the entire game is one huge cutscene and your experiencing it front and center. This album is a digital download only just like the first score. So check for it on iTunes.


Sumthing Else has given us a physical CD release of Uncharted 2, which was previously only available as a digital download only. Just like with the Infamous CD release we get 3 new tracks that were previously unavailable. “The Heist” is by far my favorite of the 3 new tracks because it’s really reminiscent of the first Uncharted score. So, definitely ditch the digital and go for the CD.

Dark Void by Bear McCreary (Review)

Dark Void is a sci-fi video game that features what I found to be an immensely superb score from Bear McCreary. Certain elements to this score give it a classic feel. While listening through I was reminded of Jerry Goldmsith and certain parts reminded me of James Horner.

The score itself is incredibly thematically based. If there was ever a perfect example of theme and variation this would be it. McCreary sets up with the timeless sounding romanticized theme right off the bat. Another big surprise is that we have a full on sweeping orchestral score. Leave your synths at home boys and girls. McCreary successfully sets up an identity for the score even though he used a full orchestra. His wonderful percussion gives the score substance, and his use of ethnic instruments and arrangements give it character. He uses an electric violin to give it a bit of a vintage video game feel.

The music here is truly unique in that it doesn’t follow traditional gaming standards. Usually what we get from video game scores is “background” music. However here McCreary has given us a grand and lush musical story complete with changing arcs and swelling emotions. The very last track is a complete homage to Mega Man II, which Bear states in the liner notes was one of his first musical influences growing up. So, I thought that was fun of him to include.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Composer Interview: Geoff Zanelli

Geoff Zanelli is one of today's most promising talents in the film music world. Working alongside Hans Zimmer at RCP he has been living the success story of separating himself as one of the premiere voices in the score industry. Geoff is an Emmy Award winning composer who has done a number of solo projects such as Outlander, Disturbia, Hitman, Ghost Town & House Of D. He also scored the miniseries Into The West, which won him his Emmy. I recently got the chance to ask Geoff some questions about his work on the highly anticipated HBO miniseries The Pacific. He along with Blake Neely and Hans Zimmer were in charge of the emotional backbone of the series also known as the score.

Kaya: Could you describe the scoring process on The Pacific, mainly how collaboration factored into it? You co-composed with Hans Zimmer and Blake Neely. How did the three of you decide to approach the scoring duties?

Geoff: First off, thanks for contacting me about The Pacific. I'm glad to see the reception our score is getting, and really glad to see how much interest there is in it!

Our process really evolved over time, so it's probably best to start at the beginning. The original idea was Hans would write the Main Title and Blake and I would score the show. We were going to just alternate episodes actually, but very quickly we realized that doesn't make sense since so many of the story arcs go across multiple episodes. It was apparent that we had to approach it as a ten hour film so that one of us could take a particular story arc and see it through from start to finish. This helped immensely with the consistency of our score.

I think the roughest way to describe how it broke down, and please bear in mind that this wasn't a hard and fast rule, but Blake Neely handled most of the Basilone story, I handled most of the Leckie story, and Sledge's story was a combination of both of us. For instance, Blake handled Sledge on the home front. There's a fabulous piece in the final episode when Sledge comes back home which Blake wrote. In fact, I think it was one of the very first things he wrote for the series, and it ties in to his music for Sledge's story which is begun in the first episode.

For my part, I handled quite a bit of Sledge's war story. What he goes through after he lands on Peleliu came mostly from me and you'll hear that in episodes 5 through 7.

Kaya: How much did each of you contribute? Was there a constant flow of communication or was it more “you go score this, I’ll score this and we’ll meet back here and see what we have”?

Geoff: We had a very constant flow of communication. Even though we weren't working in the same building, we'd be getting together to show each other what we'd been up to and listening to every note the other wrote. We'd have playbacks with Hans and then with Gary Goetzman, one of the producers we worked with over the course of the show. And yes, we'd discuss beforehand which of us would write which scenes.

But before we even got to writing individual episodes we were all writing thematic material to try to define the tone of the show. Hans initially wrote a gorgeous and very dark 12 minute suite which we tried parts of for the Main Title. That ended up instead being a very crucial piece on Iwo Jima. Part of Basilone's story is played with that music.

Hans then wrote another piece which was meant to be fleshed out as a new approach for the Main Title. Then Blake came in and he worked very hard on what would become the Main Title as you hear it now. At one point, a very different version of With The Old Breed was the Main Title actually, but that was reworked a bit and lengthened to be used as the End Titles as well as the epilogue for the entire series where we learn what happened to all the soldiers we've come to care about after the war.

As for the episodes, you'd get mired in details trying to figure out who wrote what for each individual scene, but you can look at it this way: Episodes 1, 3, 4, 5 and 10 were cowritten by Blake and myself. Episodes 2 and 8 were Blake's, with one key scene in 8 being the piece of Hans' I mentioned earlier. Episodes 6 and 9 were mine, and with the exception of two one-minute cues, episode 7 was mine as well.

Kaya: Scoring a 10 part miniseries has got to be an incredible challenge. I feel like it would be easy for the score to lose focus. How did the three of you make sure all the mini story arcs held their own yet still applied to the big picture? Were you always scoring in the moment or always kept the entire scope of the series in mind?

Geoff: Ah! I'm glad you can appreciate why it takes nine months to score a mini-series!

Well, we did decide that the story arcs would each be handled by one composer, so that's how we kept multi-episode arcs cohesive. The big picture was always in our minds too. I really mean it when I say we approached it as a 10-hour movie.

The dividing line between episodes started to be less of a consideration for me, especially the big Peleliu arc in episodes 5 through 7. I can't recall which episode certain scenes were in even, cause I was thinking of that whole section as "the Peleliu story."

I really wanted it to all work as a show if you sat down and watched all ten episodes in a row, and it does.

Kaya: We’ve seen lately in war scores a heavy use of ethnic influences to establish setting and atmosphere. Was there ever discussion to incorporate certain ethnic sounds?

Geoff: Only in that we decided early on that this was the American soldiers' story, so we were going to tell it from that point of view. During a few of the battle sequences actually, you may hear a tiny bit of Japanese presence in the music, especially in the scenes where you hear the Japanese soldiers but don't necessarily see them. But really, we are very, very sparse with that.

This was different from my experience on
Into The West, by the way. There, we had two stories to tell and the success of the score depended on intertwining the musical cultures so to speak. Here, we are very focused with our perspective.

I'll tell you another spot where we considered it though. On Okinawa, Sledge has an encounter with an Okinawan citizen in a very moving and effective scene. I had considered trying an "east meets west" approach in the score there, with an Okinawan flute playing a sort of duet with a cello to try to humanize the citizen there. It's one of the very few times where that really happens in the show and it was a very important moment in the film but the more I thought about it, the more I re-affirmed our earlier decision to focus this score. We never recorded it that way because I thought "this is Sledge's story, we've lived with him for 9 hours and I want this music to give him a voice to express how he feels about this situation."

Kaya: There’s about 1.2 hours of music on the CD release. About what percentage of that is that of the complete score for the series. How much music did you end up recording when it came down to the end?

Geoff: Me personally, I think about four hours. From all of us, about seven hours was written, with just near five hours in the series.

Kaya: This isn’t the first miniseries you’ve worked on. Were you able to take anything you learned from working on Into The West and apply it on The Pacific? Were the two projects more similar or different?

Geoff: I'd say more different than similar, but I was still able to apply the lessons learned.

Into The West was more like scoring a movie and then five sequels because of their production schedule. They were still shooting or editing the later episodes while I worked on the earlier ones, so it was one after another. With The Pacific, everything was shot and at least in a rough state with the edit before anyone wrote a note, so I saw the whole story and absorbed it that way.

It's a daunting task whichever way you do it though! Much more common for me in my world is a two hour film and two or three months in which to write it. Besides just the logistics, or the practical issues in keeping track of five times as much story, there's an endurance component to the miniseries format that you have less of on a film. I didn't get to take any vacations, let's put it that way!

Another thing I touched on before was
Into The West had a different musical palette to draw from stylistically cause we had not just the settlers, but the native music to incorporate. And it probably took a broader view of the story as well. The Pacific is, and it sounds bizarre to say this, but it is intimate. It's about the cost to the individual who goes to war. Some die, some live, some are haunted, some make bad decisions. There's a whole lot of psychology to it, especially with Leckie and Sledge. Those are elements that maybe weren't so much in Into The West.

Kaya: For me as a filmmaker/writer I always look to scores to get emotions and ideas flowing and always have used music as my main source of inspiration. Where do you usually turn for inspiration? Is the footage the filmmakers shoot usually enough or do you find yourself looking elsewhere for ideas?

Geoff: Oh it's usually enough, just the film. Especially in this case. See, and I think this is one of my strong suits, I'm told it is anyway... My work [is] very symbiotic and specifically geared to the story I'm working on. I mean you couldn't take one of my pieces from The Pacific, plunk it into another war movie and have it just work because it's meant to co-operate hand in hand with The Pacific, it's for that story only. That comes from being able to find inspiration in the film I'm working on. Well, and the reality is I don't know how to work any other way.

Kaya: Does working in such a collaborative environment like RCP help the creative process? For instance do you ever knock next door and run your early compositions by someone else and get their thoughts, etc?

Geoff: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. All the time. Actually, on The Pacific it was a little different in that Blake works from a different location, so we would send ideas back and forth, get together once in a while, things like that.

But off the topic of
The Pacific, I can tell you a little about what I've just finished which was working on Clash Of The Titans. A very different score! But that one, there were only 3 weeks from the time Ramin Djawadi was hired to score the film and the dub so he asked me and a few other pals to come and help him. Now that score is a perfect example of the collaborative process, that or the first Pirates film which has already been written about at length.

Clash of the Titans we had the exact situation you talked about. I'd show the roughest versions of cues to Ramin or the other guys and vice versa, we'd throw ideas back and forth. It was "hey, what about that riff from your cue? I bet it'd work here..." or someone would come play a cello part on someone else's cue and keep things interesting. It was some of the most fun I've had writing music in years, working that way! And with that deadline, frankly, I didn't expect that it would be, I expected just three weeks of panic and hard work.

Well, ok, and it was indeed hard work and a little bit of panic, but also huge amounts of fun mixed in.

Kaya: Okay, so Geoff Zanelli is driving in his car alone with his thoughts. What music is playing?

Geoff: If I'm alone with my thoughts, probably no music is playing! But let's see... I like the
MGMT record, Hans' Sherlock score, James' Lady In The Water, and I have a great recording of Petroushka which I'm listening to cause I just saw it at Disney Hall a few weeks ago.

Kaya: Who is your favorite film composer?

Geoff: Well I wouldn't be at Hans' place if I didn't think the world of him. Can I say a few more? James Newton Howard, my old boss John Powell, Bernard Hermann, and you've got to love Giacchino and Desplat these days, I think.

Kaya: What was the best score not composed by you that you’ve heard recently?

Geoff: I know it wasn't that recent but I only only just saw Children of Men and I loved how the music was used in that. And I loved that heartbreaking sequence Giacchino did at the beginning of Up. Very classy.

Kaya: Which one of your scores are you most proud of?

Geoff: House of D has a special place for me, it being my first score. But I really feel good about that score, and it's a good example of what I was saying earlier. It's so very specific to that story. I'm also proud of how I balanced all the different elements in Outlander, which was a very tricky film in some regards cause it was a multi-genre film. And Ghost Town, I'm proud of how intimate some of that score is. It's not quite what you'd expect from me, for one thing, but that was a score where I was constantly taking things out until just the very core of the music was left. When you think of it that way, it's a pretty risky score. The climax of the film is really just three instruments, piano, clarinet and cello.

Kaya: Which one of your scores do you look back on and wish you could redo completely or erase from your filmography?

Geoff: You know, there's something to be gained from all of them so I don't really want to erase any.

There are scores where I wish I had more time though, like
Hitman for instance, but I still think that was very solid work. There were some tricky circumstances on that film. For a start, I had just over three weeks from start to finish to score the whole thing, fly to Paris to record it and back to LA to mix it. Then there was a six minute action scene added to the film on the day before the dub finished. The 2nd to last day! So there wasn't time to write, record and mix something. This was the sequence in and around the sword fight, if you're familiar with the movie.

What ended up happening was the music editor John Finklea, who was in France where they were dubbing, would cut versions of other cues into that scene and send that to me in LA to review. I'd give some notes or send a new edit and we just whittled away at it overnight until it was finished. Now, if you were to watch that film and skip that scene you'd find the score feels balanced, but what ended up happening is nearly every minute of action music I wrote for the film's other scenes was edited into this new scene. You heard all of that music twice as you watched the movie! It made the action in the film feel like it was treated the same way for each of the scenes. In a perfect world, I'd have had another day or three and I could have made that into a setpiece to give it its own identity.

Now another one was
Gamer but here again I think the score is effective in the film. It works well for that story, but I'm not convinced it's a great listen away from the film. The albums I release are edited to contain only the music I feel would work once you take it away from the film, but Gamer was such an ambient score, not particularly tuneful but really dependent on the sonic qualities, the production or the soundscape that it was hard to find a way to build an album. That's for sure been my most polarizing score, and even though I say I'm on the fence about how it worked as an album, I get contacted often enough with people saying how much they love that score. They love the risks it took and that it was irreverent. Definitely not a typical score, that's for sure!

Kaya: Say someone gave you the opportunity to re-score one film that’s already been made, with no disrespect to the original composer which movie would you want to take a crack at?

Geoff: All of them! It'd be hard for me to list just one again, but in no particular order I'd love to have had these playgrounds to play in: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Rosemary's Baby, District 9 and Lost In Translation.

Kaya: Again, thanks so much it was truly an honor! Best wishes and good luck!

Geoff: Thank you, too! It's my pleasure. I'm so pleased with how people are responding to The Pacific. Glad you got in touch with me about it. Good luck to you as well.

Read my review of The Pacific: Click Here
Buy The CD: Click Here
*The score is also available on iTunes and Amazon MP3

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Pacific by Hans Zimmer, Geoff Zanelli & Blake Neely (Review)

The Pacific is the new miniseries on HBO that takes a look at WWII in the Pacific Theatre, which is mostly looked over in films and TV. The Thin Red Line is so far the best war film that deals with the fight in this particular area. Of course if you’ve seen Band Of Brothers then you’ll know that these Spielberg/Hanks produced miniseries aren’t Malickian in nature. They are about telling the stories of the heroics, courage and honor of the men who fought and died. The score had to reflect this.

The unbelievable task of scoring this monster epic series was handed to Hans Zimmer, Geoff Zanelli and Blake Neely. Zanelli has stated that he spent 9 months working on this. The score itself is not an action score if that’s what you’re expecting. Think The Thin Red Line but woven with the heroism found in Zimmer’s score for Pearl Harbor. The score is an immense journey of tragedy, sacrifice and finding strength within.

There are certain cues on this release that I found just absolutely stirring. Tracks like “We’ve Gone Respectable”, “Even The Trees Hate Us” and “Where Do We Go From Here” will shake your emotional core. Truly beautiful and moving music that reflects the stories being told. The score is not afraid to embrace the darkness of war, which so many scores do not. Most scores like Saving Private Ryan and Flags Of Our Fathers, while great, will stick only to the heroic route and never say “Hey, this is terrible stuff and I’m going to make you feel emotionally vulnerable now.” That’s what The Pacific does. It makes you feel emotionally vulnerable. Not so much as to the extent The Thin Red Line did, which is a score you should never listen to you unless you’re prepared to shed some tears. Here the composers successfully examine the darkness of war but they keep it within the POV of the American soldiers. You won’t find any ethnic sounds or arrangements here.

The main theme for The Pacific is entitled “Honor”, which says a lot about the focus of this amazing score. Zimmer, Zanelli & Neely were all perfect for the project. Neely especially seems befitting since he worked a lot with the late Michael Kamen who scored Band Of Brothers. This CD release is mostly representative of Zanelli’s and Neely’s work with a touch of Zimmer. Remember though, this is merely the surface of the score which spans 10 episodes. If you’re a fan of the genre I urge you take a listen and if you’re a fan of the composers then it’s a no brainer. What we have here is something memorable. The composers should be extremely proud of their work here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Award Winning Composer Creates Gun-Slinging, Sword-Swinging Soundtrack for Ubisoft's Action Fighting Video Game on Nintendo Wii™

New York, March 17, 2010 - Renowned composer Tom Salta has written and produced an original musical score for Red Steel™ 2, Ubisoft's new first-person action title developed exclusively for the Nintendo Wii™ and designed with full Wii MotionPlus™ integration. In Red Steel 2, the player becomes a swordsman who finds himself in a remote mixed metropolis in the middle of the American desert, where Eastern and Western cultures collide. To reflect this adventurous new setting in Red Steel 2, Salta composed an action-packed 'Wild West' guitar-driven score blended with evocative Asian music influences. Developed by Ubisoft Paris, Red Steel 2 is scheduled for release on March 23rd, 2010.

"Tom Salta is an extremely versatile composer and delivers a unique and dynamic soundtrack for Red Steel 2," said Isabelle Ballet, music supervisor for Red Steel 2. "He has crafted various music styles including mixing blues guitars with traditional Asian instruments to produce an energetic, hybrid score that motivates and immerses players in the action. We can't wait to share this experience with everyone!"
For the Red Steel 2 score, Salta enlisted the virtuosic guitar performances of veteran studio musician Steve Ouimette and recorded various instrumentalists for Chinese percussion, Shakuhachi, Fue, Pipa, harmonica and violin. Salta previously scored the original Red Steel soundtrack that received numerous accolades for its vibrant musical palette, including IGN's Wii Award for Best Original Music.
Red Steel 2 is a revolution in the action-fighting genre, taking full advantage of the capabilities of the Wii MotionPlus™ accessory. Your movements are faithfully replicated on-screen, putting the emphasis on swinging, shooting and fun! With the ability of the Wii MotionPlus to sense the strength of a swing, you will literally be able to make an impact on your adversaries through power and precision. For more information on Red Steel 2, please visit

About Ubisoft:

Ubisoft is a leading producer, publisher and distributor of interactive entertainment products worldwide and has grown considerably through a strong and diversified line-up of products and partnerships. Ubisoft has teams in 28 countries and distributes games in more than 55 countries around the globe. It is committed to delivering high-quality, cutting-edge video game titles to consumers. For the 2008-09 fiscal year Ubisoft generated sales of €1,058 million Euros. To learn more, please

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