Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Golden Globe Awards:

From soundtrack.net:

Tonight in Beverly Hills, the 64th Annual Golden Globe Awards were handed out. Winning for Best Score was composer Alexandre Desplat, for his music to The Painted Veil. Desplat's other excellent score this year, for The Queen, was also listed on SoundtrackNet's Best of 2006.

Winning for Best Song was Prince Rogers Nelson, for "Song of the Heart", from the animated family film Happy Feet.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Critics Choice Awards

The two soundtrack categories had interesting results:

*Soundtrack: "Dreamgirls"

*Composer: Philip Glass, "The Illusionist"

I can't argue with the "Dreamgirls" nod, because this wasn't a "score-only" category, and that soundtrack has some pretty good songs on it. Haven't seen the movie though, and probably won't. Not my type, regardless of the (Oscar) hype surrounding it.

As for Philip Glass winning the Best Composer award.... Ugh, there were just so many better choices. What about John Powell? Truth be told, X3, Happy Feet, and Ice Age 2 aren't the kind of soundtracks that are gonna win their composer a major award. But United 93 could. And if you're going for a Philip Glass-y sound, then why not nominate and award Clint Mansell's The Fountain! Mansell did Philip Glass better than Glass himself with that one!

Ugh, I just don't like all these stupid awards. They rarely go to the person or score that truly deserves it.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Book: "The Emerging Film Composer"

A new book is coming out this spring called "The Emerging Film Composer." Written by Richard Bellis (best known for his score to Stephen King's IT) the book is a guide for the aspiring movie music composer. Although Bellis isn't the most accredited composer in the industry, his book of insights and tidbits about the soundtrack business has generated some very positive feedback from guys like James Newton Howard and Bruce Broughton. Composer Alf Clausen said that the book is a "wonderful guide to realistically dealing with the business side of this seductive career."

I'm definitely going to check it out. Not many books of this sort have been written exclusively for the soundtrack industry, that I know of.

If any of know of others like this book, please let me know in the comments.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Listen to "The Mars Underground" by James Dooley

In my opinion, one of the more impressive offerings from a new/up-and-coming composer was the soundtrack to The Mars Underground a couple years ago. Influenced by his Media Venture-buddies, composer James Dooley put together an impressive array of cues drawing from synthesizers and traditional instrumentation. The end result was a terrific score of a quality rarely heard in a documentary. 3 of the tracks are online, and I'm linking you to them, here. Take a listen; there are some impressive moments, especially in the first track.

1. Arrival on Mars
2. History has taught us
3. Confrontations

Saturday, January 06, 2007

FatBoy Slim reverses music genre roles

Like Paul Oakenfold before him, DJ FatBoy Slim is starting a different gig, in Hollywood. Here's the story:

"Norm has already begun working with Hollywood composer Danny Elfman- trice nominated for Oscar awards for his musical ingenuity –on the soundtrack to a New Disney animated film.

Fresh from the adulation and success of his staggering 20,000 capacity New Year’s Day Brighton beach party, fans of Norm’s dance moniker, FatBoy Slim, will be disappointed to hear the DJ’s plan to lay off dance production and djing in 2007, to concentrate on new projects such as his stint in Hollywood.

‘It’ll be a quiet one for FatBoy this year... It feels right that after 10 years and so many albums, we should give it a rest for a while’."

Friday, January 05, 2007

The soundtrack was king in 2006!

Here's a fun statistic for movie-music-lovers like us: Although overall album sales were down 5% in 2006, the second fastest growing music category (behind "Classical") was Soundtracks. In fact, the number one best selling CD last year was a soundtrack. Can you guess which one? Come on, getcha head in the game, you know this! ;-)

Yeah, so High School Musical totally won out with a triple-platinum+ certification, but another soundtrack (Hannah Montana) slid into 8th place with just under 2 million sold. Now, you may say "those aren't soundtracks!" and I'd agree that they aren't the movie music I've come to love and appreciate. But they still fall under the "soundtrack" category alongside Hans Zimmer and John Powell offerings. Elite company!

Here are the complete top ten best-selling albums of 2006:

Rank Title/Artist Units Sold

10 Soundtrack / High School Musical 3,719,071

2 Me and My Gang / Rascal Flatts 3,479,994

3 Some Hearts / Carrie Underwood 3,015,950

4 All the Right Reasons/ Nickelback 2,688,166

5 Futuresex/Love … / Justin Timberlake 2,377,127

6 Back to Bedlam / James Blunt 2,137,142

7 B’day / Beyonce 2,010,311

8 Soundtrack/ Hannah Montana 1,987,681

9 Taking the Long Way/ Dixie Chicks 1,856,284

10. Extreme Behavior/ Hinder 1,817,350

Yeah, I bought...all of none of those CDs.....

The Fountain soundtrack review

The Fountain
By Clint Mansell
Let me start by saying that I think 2006 was a great year for soundtracks. There was a little something for everyone, and genres that are typically weak or cliched were given rejuvenated life (eg: the continuous action scores of MI:3 and Casino Royale). Danny Elfman spread his wings with an impressive symphony composition (not technically a soundtrack) and a worked on a children's story that wasn't somehow morbid or terrifying (WOW!). Alexandre Desplat improved on output of recent years with scores like Firewall, and the award-winners: Queen and The Painted Veil. His rich musical style has even earned him the job of scoring the hotly-anticipated first movie in the His Dark Materials series (due out later this year). John Powell was probably the surprise of the year, with not one or two stellar soundtracks, but three: United 93, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Happy Feet. There was even activity from my man Alan Silvestri (Night at the Museum).

When you look at the surprises of film music in 2006, the first score that comes to my mind is the brilliant Pan's Labyrinth by Javier Navarrete. This is an articulate and gorgeous work with arguably the most intimately fetching theme used in cinema last year.

But in my opinion, Clint Mansell's movie soundtrack to The Fountain was also a very great surprise. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the film, itself (it left the box office before it scored 10 million domestically), so I can't account for the "music in film" aspect of the score. But I'll rent it as soon as it comes out.

Mansell had teamed up with Director Darren
Aronofsky on two of his other films (including Requium for a Dream), and, more recently scored the soundtracks for Sahara and Doom; the former I loved as much as I hated the latter. So, suffice it to say I wasn't expecting much from his work on Fountain; a movie which I had heard was a convoluted mess of time zones and spirituality. But after his score received a couple nominations for various awards, including a Grammy, I finally tracked down the score, and took a listen.

And I was very glad I did.

The story itself is summed up on wikipedia as "three interwoven narratives that take place in the age of conquistadors, the modern day period, and the far future. The film stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, whose characters' romance exist in all time periods." The movie can simply be described as a creative and inventive--if highly frustrating--exploration of love and mortality.

The soundtrack opens very quietly with "The Last Man" (incidentally the film's original teaser-title), a track dominated by repetitive string patterns, and melodies that are sweet, yet sorrowful. It is interesting to note that, although the soundtrack is full of artificial instrumentation, the disc opens and closes with simple piano compositions. The Kronos quartet, comprised of two violins, a viola, and a cello, expertly carries out the plain arrangement of "The Last Man," which reminded me of the main theme from James Horner's An American Tail, even though the the two do not actually sound very much alike. The mood transitions to morose foreboding during the final seconds, effectively leading into the next cue: "Holy Dread," which sounds like a basic B-movie horror theme until the Scottish rock band Mogwai makes its grand entrance after almost 3 minutes of listless repetition. What follows is what sounds like a vigorous demonic chase sequence, with violins, synths, percussion, and an electric guitar violently pulsing out looping motifs. "Tree of Life" is just an extension of these viral ideas, with a piercing blend of conventional and electronic instruments punching out the three note motif which is to be one of two main themes endlessly hammered out by Mansell during the remainder of the score's 46 minute runtime.

A variation of that motif is looped for most of the following cue "Stay with me," except it is designed to draw out an emotional sequence, instead of an action-packed one. Like most of the score, "Stay with me" will appeal to the Philip Glass crowd who enjoy endless repetition of a simple, yet beautiful theme. I felt for this soundtrack, the looping was effective to get across an emotion, but was not so simple as to bore me to tears (like Horner's Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius). The following track is basically two notes drumming over and over, with violin melodies moodily caressing the flow. Again, repetitive, and composed of a small team of four musicians, a band, nine vocalists, and synthesizers, but nonetheless: stylish and fetching.

"Xibalba" is musically the highlight of the CD, traditionally speaking, and probably the most listenable, as the Kronos quartet winds simple patterns that evoke emotion and beauty. Love is definitely the predominant mood here. "First Snow" is all about cycles and patterns. A 5 note violin theme dominates the meandering percussive underscore straight through to a rousing crescendo near the end, where the vocalists are also showcased.

"Finish It" is a kind of guilty pleasure. It starts really slow, then gradually picks up speed, as the familiar 3 note theme takes over, sounding for all the world like snatches ofMorricone's Untouchables. Then the electric guitar takes hold of the motif and runs with it for a few ear-splitting measures while the quartet plays in the background. This is a haunting piece with more dissonance and cacophony than most will find bearable, but in the overall scheme of the CD, it works very well.

Most cite "Death is the Road to Awe" as the best track, and I'd have to agree. It encompasses both themes, and interchanges them with a few new ideas, most of them morose, but all of them appropriate to the rest of mood. What I love about this cue is the way all the instruments are combined to punctuate the musical ideas. There's your choir, your band, and your talented Kronos quartet all working together, making up for what they lack in numbers with originality (engaging despite its repetition) and execution. Approximately, the final 2 minutes personify the organized mayhem of all these instruments and styles with a brilliant crescendo that left me breathless and inspired.

I applaud Mansell for making do with what he had, and coming up with just the right melodies and themes for his ensemble. Sure the basic melodies tend to be simplistic, and yes, they loop--some think--ad nauseam, but some of the most popular and successful movie themes were built off of the same idea. Take Jaws and Titanic, for instance. Of course, those soundtracks had more embellishment to the score and theme than you might argue The Fountain does; but I still feel that Mansell was correct in his aim to express the mixture of radically different time periods with radically different (clashing) musical styles...and I think he did this well.

One of the surprise movie scores of 2006, and hands-down the best offering, yet from this 44-year-old composer.

My Rating: **** 1/2

Now I just need to experience the music in terms of the movie it is accentuating! :-)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Director finds a composer: himself (with a great result)

In my experience, movie directors don't often compose musical scores for their own movie. At least not for big-budget Hollywood movies. The prime example of a director who has done this would be Clint Eastwood, who has composed piano-driven scores for his recent films.

On January 5th, the movie Perfume: The Story of a Murderer debuts in Chicago. For the film, Tom Tykwer Directed, wrote the screenplay, and composed the music. Now that's a tall order! Wikipedia sums up "Perfume's" intriguing plot in this manner:

"Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, whose prodigious gift of an incomparable sense of smell and inexplicable lack of personal scent isolates him from society. Obsessed with the rich sensory world he alone inhabits, his single objective in life becomes the preservation of the perfect scent...."

What follows is a VERY weird story that combines elements of a murder-mystery, love affair, and serial killer, all bound up in 18th century France. The trailer reminded me slightly of The Prestige, but the music (clips provided on the films official website) was something far more special. In fact, what I heard, blew me away. This is not an Eastwood-style mood piece, this is an amazing expression of smell through sound.

And while Mr. Tykwer was not without help in constructing this musical achievement, I think he is to be commended for the highly provocative, astonishing result. I can't wait to grab this CD!

Listen to the Director talk about the job of composing the music via this link.