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. ➔

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

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, 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.

The Sonic Set Design of Kimi

Cliff Martinez's new score is killer.

Cliff Martinez, one of the essential soundtrack collaborators of movie director Steven Soderbergh (ever since Sex, Lies, and Videotape back in 1989), has scored Kimi, Soderbergh’s most recent film. In it, Zoë Kravitz plays a remote tech worker who stumbles on what appears to be a violent assault while doing her desk job, which involves listening to audio recorded by domestic digital assistants. Kimi is not the name of Kravitz’ character. She is Angela. Kimi is the feminized brand of devices — à la Alexa, Cortana, and, of course, Siri — that drives the film’s plot.

Kimi is very much inspired by classic Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, notably Rear Window (1954), though rather than a physical injury, it’s a kind of agoraphobia that keeps Angela stuck at home in Seattle. (The name Kimi seems like a nod to Kim Novak, the actress who appeared alongside Rear Window star Jimmy Stewart in 1958’s Vertigo.) Angela’s home is a brick-walled industrial loft from which she keeps a wary eye on the pandemic-era outside world. Soderbergh explores the physicality of the residential space throughout the movie, right up to almost the very last minute. Angela’s loft resembles the workshop of Harry Caul, the investigator played by Gene Hackman in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film The Conversation, which was also obsessed with technological eavesdropping. (It’s almost a joke that a building that felt low-rent in 1974 feels downright enviable today.) The camera guides us through the open plan while Martinez’s music alternates between narrative tool, window into the emotional state of Kravitz’s character, and pure sonic set design.

This is one of Martinez’s best scores. It beautifully merges a chamber orchestral palette (actively engaging with the legacy of Bernard Herrmann’s famed Hitchcock cues) with synthesized lines, making the most of the quietude allowed by modern digital production — the same digital realm that allows a device like Kimi to exist in the first place.

My favorite cue from Kimi is “Watch the Spray,” in which what at first seems to be a violin solo quickly reveals itself as a synthesized melody, one that remains expertly intertwined with the underlying symphonic bed. If there’s something eerie to that combination of strings and synthesizer, it’s arguably because the machine-made sounds of Martinez’s score serve as a parallel to how the Kimi devices are insinuated into people’s everyday lives.