Polaroids from the Singularity: Flaming Tubas

Ongoing exploits with the DALL·E 2 Algorithm

Werewolf by Night, the new seasonal horror special from Marvel Studios, was directed by Michael Giacchino, the prolific film composer who has done a bunch of Marvel movies (among them Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Love and Thunder), and one of my favorite TV series of all times (Fringe), not to mention Lost, and Alias, and Star Wars: Rogue One, and The Batman (“the one with Robert Pattinson”) and a lot of Pixar. Needless to say, I was especially interested in how music would be situated in the one-hour, standalone show.

As it turned out, beyond the notable presence of a soprano voice (two are credited: Grace Davidson and Sumudu Jayatilaka) amid the orchestral score, the main things to make a sonic impression were diegetic — which is to say, they were sonic occurrences that appeared on-screen.

One was the presence of a Wizard of Oz tune, which felt almost inevitable, given the (largely) black and white nature of the film. (Fun fact: Giacchino did the theme music for The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz back in 2005.)

The other was a flaming tuba seen during a ritual procession. The next morning after watching it, I asked DALL·E 2 (the text-to-image tool founded on artificial intelligence: labs.openai.com) to produce some flaming tubas in a variety of styles. Shown here, clockwise from the upper left, is the prompt (“a tuba on fire”) in four styles: photograph, pixel art, Johannes Vermeer, 3D render.

One additional sonic fun-fact: all the vocalizations by Man-Thing in the episode were made by the film editor Jeffrey Ford, who has worked on a lot of Marvel movies (and Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, among other films).

From Soundscape to Score in Andor

And "the bell guy"

I was really struck, so to speak, by the anvil carillon atop a tower toward the start of the second episode of Andor, playing now on Disney+. So too, apparently, was James Whitbrook, deputy editor at i09, who wrote a lengthy appreciation of “the Andor Bell Guy” the day after the show’s first three episodes debuted. “There’s people here and there,” he writes, “lurking out there in the early dawn, but it’s when the bell guy that’s not really a bell guy — he’s the bell, I guess, spiritually speaking — rings his hammers that life starts on Ferrix, the bustle of the town below beginning to blossom as his hammers ring out, over and over. The sound fades, the day begins, and bell guy presumably goes on with his life, his job done until the morrow.” Pretty much the only thing I’d add is that the sound doesn’t entirely fade. As I hear it, the bells fade, but they are then not just subsumed but emulated by the score (composed by Nicholas Britell, best known for his work on Succession). This series has some of the most memorable music in any of the Star Wars TV series so far, in part because it doesn’t sound particularly like the John Williams music that has long defined the Star Wars universe. ➔ gizmodo.com.

Originally published in a special, experimental September 23, 2022, “TWiS x 3” edition of the This Week in Sound email newsletter. Get it in your inbox via tinyletter.com/disquiet.

Prada x Cliff Martinez

Scoring a runway

Apparently the music in this Prada womenswear runway show is by Cliff Martinez (Contagion, Kimi, Solaris), who worked with frequent collaborator, director Nicolas Winding Refn (their team-ups include Drive, Too Old to Die Young, Only God Forgives, and The Neon Demon), on videos for the installation. If you watch the archived comments scroll by as the video plays on YouTube, you’ll see numerous assumed Prada aficionados describing the music as “creepy,” which is accurate and to be expected, since that is often the impact of this duo’s modus operandi.

I’m all for fashion houses hiring great composers to do bespoke scores for their shows. I feel like I’ve read smart critiques of runway music, in particular how name DJs performing at the events get paid large fees while the musicians whose tracks they play may earn little if anything — but I can’t find a citation in my browser history.

According to IMDB, Martinez had no releases in 2000 and 2021, with the exception of his work on the TV series The Wilds, so until his next reunion with Refn or Soderbergh, we may just have to listen to Prada on repeat.

Video originally posted at YouTube.

The Sound of Michael Mann

And an upcoming feature film

I’ll read anything about Michael Mann, so, clearly, I’ll be reading the upcoming Heat 2 (!) novel (!!), co-written with Meg Gardiner. I love that this lengthy New York Times interview gets into the role of sound in Mann’s productions, for film and TV alike.

Pinned to a wall behind him were several images of vintage Ferraris painted different screaming reds. He’d tasked his crew with making full-body 3-D scans of these vehicles, crafting perfect facsimile shells and fitting these with contemporary drivetrains capable of high-performance racing. Special recordings, Mann said, would capture the engine sound of period-accurate “small-displacement V12s running very high, this shriek, driving down narrow canyons through masonry, then suddenly they’re out in an open field.” He smiled. “It’ll feel like the air is being ripped apart.”

More from the Times article, written by Jonah Weiner. It’s mostly about Mann’s upcoming movie, Ferrari (a biopic I’d otherwise pay close to zero attention to, but, you know, it’s Michael Mann).

[Christopher] Nolan calls “Heat” Mann’s masterpiece, and when we spoke, he singled out a “tiny detail during the bank robbery, where the money is stacked and wrapped in plastic, and they put it into the duffel bags, then use a razor to slash the plastic and bang it, so that it comes loose and takes the shape of the bag.” This moment flies by, but it “grounds the entire robbery in a technical reality that you respect and enjoy,” Nolan said. “You feel you’re watching a film about experts made by experts.” The sequence’s most indelible aspect is its terrifying sound. Mann recorded the gunfire — “full-load” blanks, containing the same powder charge as live ammo — not on a soundstage, as is common practice, but out on the streets, as it reverberated off the sunny steel-and-glass canyons onscreen.

I wrote a short appreciation of Thief in 2019 for hilobrow.com, and followed that up with a close listen to his feature debut, a TV movie called The Jericho Mile.

Current Favorites: Tape, Score, Wind

Heavy rotation, lightly annotated

Trying to get back in the habit of my weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. I hope to write more about some of these in the future, but didn’t want to delay sharing them:

▰ As of this writing, three tracks currently preview the upcoming (May 6) release of Sanctuary, an atmospheric collection of tracks by Daou (born in Beirut, based in Paris) that all emit the melancholy warble of tape loops set on decay mode.

Isobel Waller-Bridge’s scores (Fleabag, Vanity Fair) are always worth listening to, and just check out the submerged-orchestra wonder of “The Woman Who Ate Photographs,” a cue from season one of Roar.

▰ Google Translate tells me that “lye” is the translation of “灰汁” — that’s the title of the latest snippet of transmogrified field recordings from prolific Japanese noisemaker Corruption, who here bends wind to their will.