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tag: film

10 Great 2016 Film and TV Scores

And 10 additional notables

With the rise of underscoring, key big-screen composers such as Cliff Martinez, Clint Mansell, and Lisa Gerrard, among others, have managed to save the Hollywood score by diminishing its presence — and, in turn, they have raised its profile. With underscoring, an attention to room tone, background noise, and overall sound design plays as much a role as once did the grand-entrance character themes of times past. Nowadays underscoring has extended its influence to television, though the rapid pace of serial productions yields different outcomes, such as looped and repeated cues. (Sadly, TV scores are still far less likely than movie scores to be released for off-screen listening.) While scores ultimately serve the narratives for which they’re commissioned, they also serve a larger aesthetic purpose: a deeper, still emerging collective sense of where non-diegetic and diegetic sounds converge, how sound frames and participates in visual storytelling. And these days there is no better place than film (and on occasion TV) scores to hear music that revels at the intersection of ambient, techno, minimalism, and neo-classical, not to mention (where available) three-dimensional spatialization.

(1) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis — Hell or High Water (Milan)
Who better than two Australians to provide mirror-refracted atmosphere to this modern Texas western? Their chamber-folk approach has the violin veering between classical composure and porch-fiddle intimacy.

(2) Shane Carruth — The Girlfriend Experience (no commercial release yet)
Shane Carruth (writer, director, producer, composer, and co-star of Primer and Upstream Color) takes time out from his own filmmaking (the forthcoming The Modern Ocean) to lend an elevator-drone, glass-tower sheen to this TV-serial spinoff of the Steven Soderbergh film. It is as chilly and elegant, as anxious and zoned, out as are its cast of characters.

(3) Anne Dudley — Elle (Sony Classical)
The former Art of Noise member renders concise cues that balance a minimalist’s attention to patterning with a classic silver-screen sense of drama, at times evidencing echoes John Barry and Bernard Herrmann.

(4) Max Richter — Miss Sloane (EuropaCorp)
If only for the highly detailed ambient techno, all pitter-patter sound design, this would be a significant accomplishment, but Max Richter has such a range of skills at his disposal, he goes on to fold in orchestrations both intimate and broad.

(5) A Winged Victory for the Sullen — Iris (Erased Tapes)
A Winged Victory for the Sullen is Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran, and they infuse this erotic thriller with heart pulses and train rumbles, deeply emotional string sections, choruses that seem to fill football stadiums, and a lush, dreamy resonance.

(6) Jóhann Jóhannsson — Arrival (Deutsche Grammophon)
When Denis Villeneuve was announced as the director of the forthcoming Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049, a certain subset of music fans sighed with relief. This was because of the seeming inevitability that Villeneuve’s frequent creative partner, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (their work together include 2013’s Prisoners and 2015’s Sicario), would join him on Ridley Scott’s home turf, and thus make good on the classic Vangelis score of the original film. Arrival provided the duo with a science-fiction test run, and it’s a sprawling accomplishment, both earthy and otherworldly. (Contributing to the score as well: Theatre of Voices, conducted by Paul Hillier; synthesizer player Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe; cellist Hildur Guonadottir; and a sample of vocalist Joan La Barbara.)

(7) Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammed — Luke Cage (Hollywood)
It’s a nice touch that each episode of the first season of this Harlem-set superhero drama takes a Gangs Starr song for its title. And that the club central to much of the story features live performances by the likes of Raphael Saadiq, Faith Evans, and Charles Bradley, among others. But what really gives the show its cultural swagger is the instrumental hip-hop score by Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammed (the latter of A Tribe Called Quest), thick with terse beats and string samples.

(8) Abel Korzeniowski — Nocturnal Animals (Silva Screen)
You can depend on director Tom Ford to employ only the finest fabrics, and Abel Korzeniowski makes good on such expectations with an orchestral score that yields hyper-minimalist pleasures, like the string marathon that is “Crossroads,” and old-school romanticism, like the luxuriously syrupy “City Lights.” Not all film composers do their own orchestrations, and when they do you can often tell by the attention to detail, as is the case here.

(9) Scott Walker — The Childhood of a Leader (4AD)
It’s hard to make a case that Scott Walker’s feverish score for The Childhood of a Leader is anything close to underscoring, since the music is so in your face (well, in your ear), the orchestra being such a pounding, soaring figure throughout. Even when it’s quiet, such as briefly in the opening to “Up the Stairs,” it veers around the stereo spectrum in a fly-like manner that announces its unpredictable presence. But what it is is thoroughly composed, as if Walker felt that he’d never again have a full orchestra at his command, so he best make the most of the opportunity.

(10) Trent Reznor + Atticus Ross, Mogwai, Gustavo Santaolala — Before the Flood (Lakeshore)
Neither the Social Network team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross nor the seasoned veteran Gustavo Santaolala scored a major work of film fiction in 2016, but they did team up with Mogwai for this documentary about the impact of climate change, delivering characteristically meticulous instrumental gems.

And 10 More Notable 2016 Film and TV Scores
In alphabetical order by artist: The clandestine auras of (11) Keefus Ciancia + David Holmes’ London Spy (no commercial release yet) ”¢ The artful claustrophobia of (12) Keefus Ciancia + David Holmes’ The Fall (no commercial release yet) ”¢ The impeccable eeriness of (13) Mark Korven’s The Witch (Milan) ”¢ The cold grace of (14) Mica Levi’s Jackie (Milan) ”¢ The hinting at familiar themes of (15) Michael Giacchino’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Walt Disney) ”¢ The high-stakes trepidation of (16) Andy Gray’s Hunters (no commercial release yet) ”¢ The muted orchestral gravitas of (17) Rupert Gregson-WilliamsHacksaw Ridge (Varèse Sarabande) ”¢ The metric anticipation of (18) Dominic LewisMoney Monster (Sony Classical) ”¢ The louche tension of (19) Clint Mansell’s High Rise (Silva Screen) ”¢ The high-style electronica of (20) Cliff Martinez’s The Neon Demon (Milan).

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I’m Talking About Sound + Film at the Disposable Film Festival

That's April 8 in San Francisco at the Bay Area Video Coalition

dff2016

“Eyes are forgiving, ears less so. Eyes want to be seduced. Ears are sensitive to incongruity, discontinuity, artifice. How can sound reinforce narrative? How can sound be narrative? How can sound design serve as score? We’ll explore the past and the technologically enabled promise of film sound.”

That’s the opening of — and abstract for — a talk I’ve been invited to give at the Disposable Film Festival this coming April 8 in San Francisco from 4pm to 5:30pm. The title of the talk is “Sound + Vision: A Master Class with Marc Weidenbaum.” It’ll be at Bay Area Video Coalition, whose address is 2727 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, CA 94110.

I’ll be talking about usefully adventurous examples of creative employment of sound in film and about new technologically mediated opportunities. The audience is likely to include a higher than average percentage of people interested in making films, so I’ll also be outlining a variety of creative prompts to spur original sonic experimentation in the service of narrative.

As examples I’ll be drawing on work I’ve done in music supervision and sound design on the new science fiction film Youth, directed by Brett Marty, and on the documentary The Children Next Door, directed by Doug Block.

You can register to attend the talk here: attendease.com.

The full festival lineup is here: disposablefilm.com.

dff2016-bavc

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A Broker Tour of Clint Mansell’s High-Rise Score

One track in advance of the J.G. Ballard adaptation

highrise-xlarge

“The night passed noisily, with constant movement through the corridors, the sounds of shouts and breaking glass in the elevator shafts, the blare of music falling across the dark air.” —J.G. Ballard’s High Rise

Among the many promising aspects of the forthcoming wide-screen adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s classic novel High-Rise is that it’s set as a period piece. The film unfolds in the fabulous, wide-collar, garishly colored 1970s, the same era during which the book, a 1975 publication, was released. That is unlike recent filmed versions of, say, Planet of the Apes, or The Fantastic Four, or Jason Statham’s take on one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels, just to list a few examples, all of which original works were endemic to the era in which they were produced, and then yanked into the future when filmed.

With the new High-Rise, there’s no adjusting to today’s surveillance-media reality, no evocation of how 9/11 rewired America’s brain, no consumer-grade Internet, and no smartphones — all of which could easily lend themselves to Ballard’s urban fable of consumer convenience. The book is a characteristically harrowing Ballardian story in which the violence that humans do to each other, this time in a concrete and steel vertical manifestation of class differences, somehow manages to mask an even darker and deeper potential for violence. The more we play dress up, the more the animal in us, the animal that we are, comes alive.

Clint Mansell (Black Swan, Stoker, Requiem for a Dream) has provided the score to the adaptation, directed by Ben Wheatley and starring Tom Hiddleston, and judging by the first public track, “Cine-Camera Cinema,”it may be a willfully anachronistic act of underscoring — or maybe not. (One of the characters, played here by Luke Evans, is a documentary filmmaker, and “cine-camera” is the term in the novel for his equipment.) The piece is deeply subdued, chanting heard behind an enticing scrim of undulating drones. It has none of the symphonic grandeur of 1970s movie scores, nor the swagger of rock music at the time, though what sound like whistling does bring to mind Ennio Morricone’s westerns. Then again, the post of the track on SoundCloud quotes the Hollywood Reporter’s description: “a lustrous retro-classical score.” So, perhaps the music will be as era-specific as Tom Hiddleston’s lapel. Either way, this excellent first taste of Mansell’s work sets expectations high.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/silvascreen.

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Fragments of Serbian-Finnish Sound Design

Belgrade-based Svetlana Maraš posts a work no longer in progress.

20150201-svetlanamaras

Svetlana MaraÅ¡, who is based in Belgrade, Serbia, has been filling her SoundCloud account with bits and pieces of film scores and sound design projects, some finished, others from efforts that never reached completion, stalled at unforeseen junctures. Five shared fragments of trumpet soundings and quotidian atmospherics are sourced from one of the uncompleted ones, which MaraÅ¡ describes as “a beautiful, experimental film by a Finnish director.” She writes, “Unfortunately, the film never went into the post-production and was never finished. However, the soundtrack remains.” These include two “soundscapes” and three three spots of trumpet, the latter of which blur the line between soundscape and sound design by emphasizing tone and the slurry space within notes over melody. The room in which the music was played is as much a part of the recording as is the trumpet itself. She lists the constituent elements as “Trumpet, objects, glitch, noise,” and references Nenad Marković as the trumpeter. Marković plays the trumpet, while MaraÅ¡ plays the room.

Maraš is quite active and prolific, and a Vimeo page (vimeo.com/svetlanamaras) tracks some of her efforts, such as this short video of a live improvisation on small electronic devices, including a Korg portable and a Buddha Machine, with the ticking of an alarm clock providing the back beat, such as it is:

Set originally posted at soundcloud.com/svetlanamaras. More from Maraš at svetlanamaras.com. More from Marković at nenadmarkovic.net.

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This Week in Sound: SoundCloud, Replicants, Comedy, Surveillance

An occasional, lightly annotated clipping service

One-Track Mind: SoundCloud recently added a “repeat single track” function to its web player. This means that if you’re listening to something on SoundCloud you can click a button to have it repeat when it ends, rather than have the service automatically move on to another track. This is a very welcome turn of events. When it comes to audio streaming, we often don’t really hear something the first time we hear it, and often get lost in the continuity. The ability to repeat a single track in some ways having a chance to really pay attention through repetition.
https://disquiet.com/2014/12/01/soundcloud-single-track-repeat/

Replicant Soundscape: Speaking of listening on repeat, this following track has been online since August, but I only just learned of it via an io9.com post about a related subject. The account of “crysknife007” on YouTube is filled with great “ambient geek sleep aids” such as the sound of the Starship Enterprise’s engines running for 24 hours straight. What follows is the sound of Rick Deckard’s apartment in Blade Runner playing for half a day, so you can imagine you’re a cyberpunk gumshoe when you’re really just sitting at home paying some bills. Though YouTube comments are rightly avoided, a useful follow-up to the track did note that this same sound was later used in Alien for the Nostromo’s medical bay.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7FhEpif1cA

Ambient Comedy: The BBC has produced a retrospective of Chris Morris (Blue Jam, Four Lions), the British satirist. I had very much hoped to interview Morris for my recent book on the Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works Volume II because he used music from the album in his radio and television sketches to especially haunting effect, but sadly he wasn’t available. The BBC retrospective is three hours long and, according to the BBC webpage, will be online for another four weeks:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04sp5pq

New Heights in Eavesdropping: A thorough overview of the U.S. government’s system “Automatic Speech recognition in Reverberant Environments,” aka ASpIRE, an advance speech-recognition tool.
http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2014/12/what-happens-when-spies-can-eavesdrop-any-conversation/100142/

This first appeared in the December 2, 2014, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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