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Score of the Month #8 - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri by Carter Burwell (2017)

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Score of the Month #8 - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri by Carter Burwell (2017)

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It's a new year, it's been 4 months since my last #ScoreOTM and it's currently Oscar season which means there are one hell of a lot of films out, all of which contain noteworthy soundtracks which makes my choices fairly hard at present when it comes to score reviews!

Firstly, I can't believe it's been so long since I posted... For a variety of reasons, the back end of 2017 became crazy on many fronts for me and while I could say "I just didn't have time", I am disappointed with myself for leaving it for this long, even a short post would have been sufficient in busy times, but I'm sure (or at least I hope) you guys understand, right? Anyway, before I digress too much into my life story, let's get back to the case in point, and that's Carter Burwell's score for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which is this months most important soundtrack for me.

So I had seen the trailer earlier in the month and was enticed by the cinematic tone of the film, intrigued by the title and being a fan of Woody Harrelson, it jumped to the top of my list of films to see next, but I'm going to be totally honest; after working through the night on a score and only getting a few hours sleep before heading for a shift at the day job, I waked into the cinema screen coffee in hand feeling knackered and knowing very little about the film. So little in fact that I didn't even know it was a Martin McDonagh film until the opening titles came up, bad right? 

So I'm there, watching the opening credits and doing my normal jig to the music and it suddenly hits me... This must be a Carter Burwell score? Just as I was thinking that, the titles confirm it for me and I was very satisfied... I am a bit fan of McDonagh's debut film In Bruges and as an extension of that, became a life long fan of Burwell, listening to the score extensively since seeing the film back in 2008.

The score does it once again, while under a totally different sentiment for this film,  Burwell has this amazing ambivalent way of creating creepy, almost medieval sounding cues which are somehow entrenched in emotion and also beautiful all at the same time, I mean I don't even know if that sentence even makes sense, but that is literally how I would describe his music. It's then the way he somehow manages to rearrange the cues into a more grander, upbeat state too, I just admire it so much.

I don't intend to include any spoilers here, but I feel it's fine to note that while the film is of course a black comedy (I did laugh a lot), the film at its core tackles some pretty horrific subjects and deals with pain on a number of different levels through the different characters an their stories. The opening cue "Mildred Goes To War" introduces the film perfectly (this is the cue I was jigging to in the screen), it gives us as opening perception of loneliness, but then quickly gees us up, this particular cue could easily fit into a western just before a standoff of some description, this cue is rearranged several times during the film. I seems to be to be a device to signify that Mildred's (Frances McDormand) iron will and determination for justice and vengeance,  see cues "I've Been Arrested" and "Billboards On Fire" for version variations. 

While the score tends to mainly follow Mildred focusing on her loss and anger, the more solum parts of the score covered by pianos, strings and a solo oboe also appropriately voice Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) in his moments of darkness too. Given loss seems to underpin the entire film motivating many of the characters, this doesn't seem out of place while it underscores the various characters; see cues "The Deer", "My Dear Anne" and "Can't Give Up Hope" for examples of this.

I very much enjoyed the film and I'm sure others will have too (there was much laughter in the screen and people were talking on the way out which is always good to see), I hope this is a welcome choice to kick 2018's #ScoreOfTheMonth off and I promise I'll be back real soon!

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Score of the Month #7 - Planet of the Apes (1968) by Jerry Goldsmith

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Score of the Month #7 - Planet of the Apes (1968) by Jerry Goldsmith

Welcome back to #ScoreOTM... Today we're going way back to an era of serious orchestral sound design and vast experimentation because yep, I'm naming Jerry Goldsmith's score for Planet of the Apes (1968) as my 7th Score of the Month entry!

Let me just start by stating that Jerry Goldsmith is, and always will be in my eyes a legend... I have so much respect for him, he stood his ground when it came to his approach (often causing some contention during spotting sessions from what I have read), but his results were seemingly always highly original (despite there being nods to Stravinsky, Holst and Herrmann in this score); he complimented the films he worked on in a way I am sure many directors, producers and indeed audience members would not have anticipated.  

So a little back story before we start... Planet of the Apes is to me is an absolute classic and while the newer films may be full of loud bombastic scores, high tech special effects and humorous characters, this film for me will always be the number 1. What with the release of the new "War for the Planet of the Apes" film, I found myself browsing Apple Music for the new score and was reminded of this one and well, the rest is history. I first came across it in 2013 while in my final year at University was so impressed, I based the entire "Landmark Score Analysis" module on it. I will be stealing some parts of that work for this blog post, I mean it's mine after all right? ;)

Any composer who starts getting microtonal and instructing his players to perform a one 1/4 tone up has my respect, but for some real scope on what I mean by experimental orchestration sound design, let's just start with the list of instruments Goldsmith introduced into the score...

  • Stainless Steel Kitchen Mixing Bowls

  • Bass slide-whistle (A wind instrument with a tube piston on the bottom to vary pitch

  • Brazilian Cuica - (Used to simulate Ape sounds)

  • Shofar (A Rams Horn traditionally used in Jewish religious ceremony)

  • Boo Bams - (Hollow bamboo stems which sound like tuned congas)

  • Electric Harp

  • Electric Bass Clarinet

  • Bells

  • Water Drop Bars

  • Tibetan Horn

  • Gong

  • Slit drum or ‘log drum’

  • Conch Shell

  • Anvil

  • Prepared Pianos

What I love about the careful design of his orchestra, is that these instruments are voiced throughout the entire soundtrack, they really are part of the world of the Planet of the Apes which in turn means the score definitely blurs the lines between what is diegetic and non-diegetic;  each of these instruments will at one stage or another take a leading role as both the world and story begins to unfold. These "instruments-as-sound design" elements blend perfectly with what is otherwise a fairly conventional score in terms of musical story telling.... We have action, romance, triumph, creeping "up-to-no-good", loss and anger motifs voiced throughout as you would normally expect, it's the clever execution, blend of timbres and rigorous performance instructions which really make it interesting for me! 

So let's talk about stand out cues... this is really difficult because I almost feel like naming the entire damn soundtrack, but let's be realistic about this and cut it down to 4 cues!

Firstly, for me the opening cue which was very practically named "Main Titles" is without a doubt in the list ; Goldsmith has been very cleaver here as he does not hang around in terms of introducing us to his very bold pallet of sounds and instruments from the very first frames. Not only does this set the tone of the film and introduce the audience to the world they are about to explore, but it's a great way of easing them into hearing these sorts of instruments and sounds, most of which they would not have heard before. We hear the prepared pianos, cuica, slide-whistle, shofar and gongs during this cue for the first time and it has to be said, the use of tape delay on those violin pizzicato notes really take my interest. 

Secondly, both "The Searchers" and "The Search Continues" (I mean it's basically one cue) really stands out for me! Those delayed pizzicato notes start the cue with a little more assertiveness than before and we are introduced to a real sense of mystery as the strings and horns take the audience on a journey of the planet for the first time. It's also the first time the audience is given a sense of dread, like something is not right here! As a side note, I think its worth noting that I really believe Vangelis took a lot of inspiration from these cues for his work on titles such as Blade Runner, while that score is hugely electronic, it is still based on an orchestra. The way Goldsmith has voiced the horns here, particularly during"The Searchers" for example, starting at around 01:32 give me a very similar vibe to what Vangelis replicated some years later. 

Thirdly, how could I not mention "The Hunt", it's probably the most famous cues for a start, but that aside it's just awesome. The piano ostinato is rude and makes absolutely no apology for being son, and I love it when it's doubled with the brass! The cue creates so much tension even listening to it now without those chaotic visuals it gets your blood pumping, the cuica is probably hear the most here ("The Intruders" and "The Forbidden Zone" are also good cues to listen to if you are looking for this sound) as Goldsmith attempts to voice the presence of the apes. 

Finally, and this has been really hard given I limited myself to just 4 cues, it has to be "A Bid for Freedom", simply because I feel it voices the work and way of live of the apes perfectly... It's a real observation cue as we view the apes going about their work and patrolling areas of the camp, the military-eqsue trumpets towards the end of the cue are a perfect example of that.

And that brings us to the end of this months #ScoreOfTheMonth, to finish this post off, I have decided to attach a PDF link to my score analysis, cue sheet and written work from the Landmark Score Uni module I mentioned above!, I got a 1st for it which I was thrilled with at the time... Perhaps a slightly abstract thing to do as it's not in line at all with my other posts, but anyone studying landmark scores may find find it useful or at the very least, interesting! I hope you enjoyed the post and will visit the soundtrack; see you next month folks! 

Film Score Analysis of Jerry Goldsmith's Planet of the Apes + Cue Sheet

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