Category Archives: Film Composing

Bourne Again

Last week I watched the new Jason Bourne movie. With no James Bond film on the foreseeable horizon – this seemed the next best thing (aside from The Night Manager).

In terms of Bourne, I’m in the minority who is not a fan of The Bourne Ultimatum (which most people consider the best). Whilst I can appreciate it on some levels (eg. the excellent Waterloo sequence) I’m a far bigger fan of the first two (The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy). Both of these films have the heart and humanity of Marie (Franka Potente) which is contrasted nicely against the duplicitous cunning of Abbott (Brian Cox). These characters are both sorely missed in the later installments. The new film (which isn’t a strictly necessary addition to the series) plays like a greatest hits album but with slightly different renditions. It’s fun, familiar but not as good as the originals – but that’s not to say it’s not still enjoyable.

I’m also a massive fan of the musical scores from the first two Bourne movies. John Powell’s score for Identity was rather unique at the time – mixing throbbing percussion, atonal electronics, stabbing staccato strings against occasional acoustic elements. Supremacy expanded on these themes in the best possible way and introduced some new material (‘To the roof’ being my personal favourite). Much like the films, by the third installment everything was feeling familiar (in fact they even dropped cues from the first film over the top of some parts). The most recent (Jason Bourne) score is credited to both John Powell and David Buckley. I was sad to learn that John Powell’s wife died earlier this year, I suspect this is why David Buckley has also been involved this time around. He does a good job of weaving together some of Powell’s familiar themes.

I decided for fun I’d also like to try to emulate John Powell’s style and create an imaginary Bourne score. Had tremendous fun writing this! That said it tested my playing ability (the end is some of the fastest track work I’ve done – probably a rebellious response to the torn ligament in my index finger I’m still nursing). Hopefully fans of these scores can have some fun trying to see how many of the original themes they can spot!

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World Domination

There are only a couple of weeks until the new Bond film is released and I’m now at that ridiculously hyper but impatient stage. One of the things which keeps me going is analysing some of the score before seeing the film, but so far we haven’t had a peep out of Thomas Newman (or from his other spy score for that matter – Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies).

I therefore decided to write my own take (something contemporary but classic – without real orchestra/brass – just to make life difficult).

russian satellite killer
Being as the title is Spectre – I was clearly thinking along the lines of Volcano lairs, deadly satellites and “laser beams” with this one. Enjoy! Click here to listen to it on Soundcloud.

Glory: James Horner (1953-2015)

Today started in an unusual manner. I woke on a normal school day and the children were already up and dressed (odd). Whilst making a cup of tea my wife told me to read the screen on her mobile phone. I read it, but it took a moment to fully digest: “Film Composer James Horner aged 61 dies in a plane crash”. I was quietly devastated.

The very first time I recall remembering his music was for the trailer of Backdraft back in 1991. I remember thinking “WOW”, that music has a real emotional punch to it.

When I watched the film I came away bitterly disappointed that this wonderful music was nowhere to be heard! What was this music? I needed to know and I discovered (long before the days of Google or Shazam) that it was James Horner and the piece was taken from the ending credits of Glory:

This is the piece I am going to remember James Horner for, it made me sit up and take notice (really at a point when I didn’t do this much). It feels more poignant today than ever.

James Horner (image by Getty)

It wasn’t long before I discoverd he had composed music to other film scores I loved – most notably Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (I honestly thought it was Jerry Goldsmith), Aliens (I’ve lost track of the number of trailers which use Bishop’s Countdown in them), The Name of the Rose (I still find those bells creepy).

He would go on to win an Oscar for both his Titanic score and the song ‘My Heart will go on’. He was nominated for six other films. At the risk of being somewhat controversial – I didn’t rate Titanic as one of his better scores, but he did so many other memorable scores such as Apollo 13, Avatar, Braveheart, Casper and Field of Dreams – that there really is something for everyone.  The thing about James Horner for me was the way he could emotionally connect an audience to the scene in a beautiful yet bittersweet manner. Knowing we will never hear another of his majestic scores makes me feel a little emptier inside. RIP James Horner.

In the Moog for Music

My favourite band of recent times is Goldfrapp, yet I’m an 80’s child at heart. My favourite 80’s band is Tears for Fears. I had no idea of any link between the two until recently (Will Gregory collaborated on saxophone for Tears For Fears). Will is currently touring with his Moog Ensemble – something of a “Super Band” including the talents of Ade Utley from Portishead and film composer Graham Fitkin. The ensemble recently played in Oxford, I naturally felt compelled to attend.

Moog synths are analog with no presets but plenty of twisty dials and buttons to help sculpt sounds. They are also monophonic meaning you can only play one note at a time. As you can imagine, bringing this together takes skill. We thought it would either be complete genius or total disaster (and were extremely curious to know which).

The varied line-up included a number of classical pieces akin to Wendy Carlos’ Switched on Bach – clearly a source of inspiration.

The highlight of the first half was the rendition of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, the second half was arguably even better once their own material was introduced.  Firstly there was a sublime piece called Swell. My personal favourites of the evening were the tracks written for the film “The Service of Tim Henman”, both extremely catchy!

Topping off the whole experience was the venue: St John The Evangelist church which allowed sounds to reverberate to great effect creating a wonderfully rich ambience.

Will Gregory Moog Ensemble

By the end, the audience were applauding for more despite the fact the band hadn’t rehearsed an encore (hey – we were the first place for the tour). All in all I’d recommend this to anyone interested in retro-synths or looking for something a little different from the norm. The current tour ends on 8th July, further information is available on the website.

Deathly Silence

Whilst I was intending to have a quieter 2015, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d completely given up at blogging for good. Well, bad luck – I haven’t!

Music is perhaps one of the most subjective forms of creativity on the planet. I compose purely for fun (being self taught rather than classically trained). In particular I enjoy score-writing and would love to do more, although things don’t always work out.

In some cases I simply don’t have enough time (such as my original unused score for Sick – when I was directing The Choice, juggling family life and my full-time job). The score for Sick will now be by Lisa Pipkin – it sounds great and I look forward to seeing the final edit. Here was my original take below:

 

In some other cases things just don’t hit the right spot, pretty much like my most recent scoring assignment for the Film Oxford project Let Nothing You Dismay. My score was described as “too Ealing comedy” and “not the right tone” by the director (a short comedy where the Grim Reaper gets bored at Christmas – the first thing which popped into my head *was* an Ealing Comedy crossed with Danny Elfman). To be fair I did entertain and experiment the directors original idea of using a Shepard Tone, but this felt weird to me for a comedy of this sort (again – love to see the final version to see if they can make it work). There is no point in fighting this, it’s a simple matter of creative differences which (as a film-maker myself) I don’t take personally. It was fun to make.

I don’t like to see things go to waste however. There is definitely a market for rejected scores. My personal favourite is LaLaLand’s rejected John Barry score for The Golden Child (which is essentially like an 80’s Bond score – some of material was reworked into The Specialist score). There are many other rejected scores I’d still love to hear, some of which I am told are arguably superior to the music actually used (eg. Bernard Hermann’s Torn Curtain or George Fenton’s Interview With A Vampire). Half of these gems are never released because of complex legalities. Being as I have no such complications to concern me, here is my concept material for Let Nothing You Dismay (not sure how this will translate being as it was largely designed to mickey-mouse the onscreen actions/sound-mix). Enjoy!

Moonraker: Back to Earth with a bump

I clearly remember the moment at my dear Gran’s house, armed with a cassette recorder waiting quietly by her Ferguson television. I was patiently waiting to watch and record Moonraker which was on telly (Bond on the telly was a big event back in those days). Even if I was unable to record the picture, I could at least record the sound. I remember thinking the music was one of the most amazing things I’d ever heard. Indelibly marked in my psyche was the music during the opening pre-titles, the gondola chase, the hand-glider escape/following to the Aztec lair, the flight into space. I listened to these every bedtime, night after night. This along with John William’s Jaws score were my introductions into the power of film music. My older daughter responds to John Barry’s music in a similar manner to me (I did spot over Christmas she too has started recording CDs using her audio device using the speech recorder – a lovely moment of reflection).

moonraker-5179efd135cff

Somewhere during the mid-nineties came the magical moment when I finally bought the CD soundtrack. Yes, it was as beautiful as I remembered, but many of the lovely cues were also missing – not a hint of the Bond theme even. The history behind this being that Moonraker was filmed in France and the score was therefore recorded in Paris. Many of the Bond scores were remastered and expanded but the master tapes for Moonraker were (and presumably still are) missing. Moonraker still remains a Holy grail for Bond and Barry fans alike.

So you can imagine my excitement when the kickstarter campaign offering to re-record the missing cues comes along.

It was to be recorded by conductor Nic Raine who is one of the champions of re-recording John Barry’s material. He worked also worked alongside him on the scores for both A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights.

It was no surprise to me that within a day the campaign had almost reached the half-way point, and within a week or two it had supassed its goal. I was so excited, I may have even tweeted about it! Mr Barry’s local Yorkshire rag also picked up the story. Sadly however this was just not to be and within hours the campaign was forced to be cancelled for reasons (still?) unknown! I can only imagine someone behind the scenes got wind and wanted to use some legality to exploit project for financial gain. Ah well, it was fun whilst it lasted. On the plus side – it does show there is a market for these scores, so fingers crossed this still happens.

Day 6: Sick music

It seems a shame to waste anything these days. Thought I’d share a part-composed soundtrack score I did a while back. Sadly I just wasn’t able to give this one the attention it deserved because of other commitments and the directors/producers ultimately wanted to go in a new direction.  My take was essentially in the style of brooding sinister underscore (almost bordering on horror), nothing like a feel-good/fluffy tune for Christmas! I promise the next tune will be lighter.

You can hear it here: