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film music

Score of the Month #10 - Rambo: First Blood by Jerry Goldsmith (1982)


Score of the Month #10 - Rambo: First Blood by Jerry Goldsmith (1982)


First off! Where have you ben Mike? I know its been a while since I wrote for Score of the Month, but after much hiatus for personal reasons and going a bit mental for a while, I am firmly back.

Anyone who has had any sort of lengthly conversations with me regarding my favourite composers, will know that Jerry Goldsmith is pretty high up on my list… In fact, this is the second time he is featuring as part of #SotM after my lengthly review of his 1968 score for Planet of the Apes.

I had sadly all but forgotten the Rambo score, that was until my mate Ric suggested it during a conversation on a new video for Off The Record. Since listening again, I have been filled with life and yet again my admiration for Goldsmith’s compositions are at the foreground…

One of the many interesting thing about this score, is the fact that there was a more “poppy” arrangement of “It’s A Long Road” composed and arranged for singer Dan Hill.. I guess in some ways, it loosely links to my comments in SotM #9 for Junkie XL’s Divergent where he had teamed up with Ellie Goulding to incorporate her into the score, but this takes it a little further. I’m almost certain that someone else may have come in to rearrange Goldsmith’s cue for the Dan Hill version of “It’s A Long Road”, but i could be wrong there, it may have been Goldsmith working on these arrangements all the way through (If anyone knows, please let me know).

“It’s A Long Road”, is basically the opening cue “Home Coming”, it’s as sad as it is lonely, but it is also hopeful and peaceful all at the same time. I really love this opening cue, the trumpet for the main theme supported by the arpeggiated guitar lines really sets the character up and the string lines are so lush, they really pull on your heart strings and they just sound for lack of a better work, perfect. As the cue comes to a close, we hear those heroic french horns and woodwinds before the strings join the composition again and highlight a more adventurous and hopeful sentiment.

Cue two, "Escape Route”, features those famous “wandering around and up to no good” Goldsmith piano ostinatios which I really love... A lot of the orchestration, style and choice of instruments in the following cues are actually very reminiscent of his earlier work for Planet of the Apes, which really isn’t a bad thing in my book. From here, the score album mixed very nicely into “First Blood”, which has a very military vibe to it, intrinsic to Rambo’s character. This cue mixes and blends very cleverly with key motifs from “Home Coming” and “Escape Route” as the score begins to show Rambo in action while also reminding us of his softer side. The use of this merge is consistent throughout the score, “The Tunnel”, “Hanging On”, and “Mountain Hunt” are good examples of this and a great example of pacing and motif done well.

”Mountain Hunt” is an interesting cue to me, because the tension in it reminds me of parts of Alan Silvestri’s score for Predator! While this film came out later in the 1980s (1987 to be precise), I definitely feel Goldsmith’s approach Rambo (perhaps through experimentations he had had while scoring Planet of the Apes) were a case study for Silvestri while composing the Predator score.

Another favourite cue of mine is “My Town”, mainly because it underpins crucial parts in the story where we really start to learn of the horrors that Rambo has been suffering post war, but it’s also musically intriguing. The rhythmic build, french horn section and slower arrangement of the “Home Coming” cue are brilliantly powerful within this scene.  

When you really dig deep into the score, there is actually not a great deal of music, but I think it is an absolutely classic and a strong example of how really amazing music and key motifs can be arranged, rearranged and reorchestrated in truly powerful ways. It took me a long time to realise this as a film composer, if only I had listened to Goldsmith earlier.


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


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


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!


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


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


Score of the Month #6 - King Arthur: Legend of the Sword by Daniel Pemberton (2017)


Score of the Month #6 - King Arthur: Legend of the Sword by Daniel Pemberton (2017)

Thanks for staying tuned and welcome to #ScoreOTM #6; this one absolutely had to go to Daniel Pemberton for his work on Guy Ritchie's new film "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword"... If I ever saw this man in a public house, I would send over a pint without a second thought! 1hr 32mins of pure entertainment....

Being a reprobate and breaking my golden rule yet again, I listened to the soundtrack before watching the film and my first thoughts were, wow... This score is for lack of a better word, just rude! It's loud, angsty, bold and totally brutish while making absolutely no apology for being so in any way, shape or form; I just love that!

First of all, let me just clear up any anxieties people may have with regards to the film itself as for some unknown reason (to me at least), it got absolutely slated by the critics. Did Guy (Ritchie) piss some people off in Hollywood or something? I mean the "TOMATOMETER" over at Rotten Tomatoes ranked the film in at just 27%; the "Audience Score" however was much higher at 78%, I know which side I'm on! I guess what I'm trying to say is, go and see the damn film and don't worry too much what's being said about it, it's a film for the big screen without question and it would be a shame to miss it... Okay, okay back to the score...

You get put into Medieval England pretty quickly from the very first cue "From A King Comes Nothing" in which we hear a loud blast from what may as well be a Carnyx ensemble sounding out a battle cry, this is followed by a short, sweet and beautiful violin melody which also helps to set the scene for us cinema goers. Then it all kicks off, I legitimately started to jig in the cinema to the second album cue, "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" which we hear as the main titles and credit into to the film are shown, this is Arthur's theme and Pemberton gets us used to it pretty quick! It's rhythmic as hell and 100% like something you would hear on a Pagan Metal album, but just on a huge scale! From here on, any outside thoughts I had lingering around my head were gone as I began to relax and take in the story; here comes cue 3, "Growing Up Londinium" and later "Run Londinium"... I mean what is happening now, we have this heavily distorted drum section and percussion thundering through the cinema accompanied by some seriously heavy rhythmic breathing, guitars and scratching string, I was loving it! These cues work perfectly to voice the fun, youthful and playful side of the film which is portrayed by Arthur and his gang living and grafting in the streets of Londinium.

Cue's such as "The Story of Mordred", "Vortigen and the Syrens" and "Tower & Power" deal with the darker side of the story and voice the dark forces and mystical beings Vortigern is toying with perfectly as they have the right amount of a fear-and-wonder element while maintaining a creepy and eerie core.

And of course, I can't finish this blog without speaking about the "The Power of Excalibur"... For starters, I love that loud Carnyx ensemble sound yet again which kicks off the cue; I love the build in tension as we begin to hear distorted basses and high strings in unison before the addition of a huge percussion section and string runs. I loved being led into that classic heroic feel through the use of the horns as Arthur begins to realise the power of Excalibur, followed by the humble cascade as we are brought back to earth... The cue worked amazingly well to picture!

If you have not already, please go and see the film, listen to the score and I'd love to know your thoughts in the comments below; until next time....


Score of the Month #5 - Assassin's Creed by Jed Kurzel (2016)


Score of the Month #5 - Assassin's Creed by Jed Kurzel (2016)

It's Saturday and another month has flown by; meaning it's time for me to yet again do some writing and give you guys some insight into what I've been listening to this week...

This #ScoreOTM will probably come as a surprise to some... The hardcore gamer of my youth is currently screaming as I admit this, but I've never played the Assassin's Creed games! (although I have heard the majority of Lorne Balfe & Jesper Kyd's scores). I also don't generally go for move adaptations of games... I think that's something that may change for me as video games are certainly becoming more and more cinematic with every passing year; my buddies are increasingly working to get me back into video games, but without digressing to far, let's return to the subject of the film and why it's taken this week's first pace. 

First and foremost, despite the general criticism I have read online over the past few months, I'd like to take this opportunity to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed Kurzel's score both on the big screen against the picture and alone as a standalone soundtrack album. Perhaps I'm missing something in terms of atmosphere which the scores for the games had (especially given I didn't pay them), as I am kind of puzzled as to why this score seems to have been so disliked. That is in part the reason I chose it this week, I think it deserves some recognition!

Jed Kurzel is a new name to me and I didn't really know what to expect when entering the movie theatre, but I found the opening themes to be interesting, other-worldly and ethereal, emotionally stimulating when needed and voice the action and chaotic nature of the film very well. 

A section of the main theme and general bombastic action of the score is introduced straight away in the first cue "Young Cal" where we hear raspy, staccato brass accents, wood blocks, taikos, snares, metals, bass drums; eerie string sections with sul ponticello performance instructions (which I personally absolutely love) and various organic sound design instruments... I mean it really sets you up for a good show. Similar cues are heard and developed throughout, a good example of this would be "Second Regression", it takes on more of a military stance mid cue as we take in the action, but the core of the cue is the same.

Cues such as "The Execution", "Abstergo", "Columbus" and "Seville" build on the main themes and speak on a more emotional level as we begin to learn about Cal and his families past... As usual, these would seem to be my favourite cues of the score. Kurzel capitalises on the use of drawn out, arco performances across the string section, but leaves room to introduce those deep foreboding basses sections to carry the heaviness of the mood; these are accompanied by subtle synth lines and lush pads. These cues also interested me as the melodies are vaguely reminiscent to Hans Zimmer's work for Interstellar, I don't mean so much in the sense that the melodies have been plagiarised, but more the religious/grandiose sound has been orchestrated and achieved in very similar ways; the sentiment is very much the same!

Another standout cue for me is "The Mutiny", I love the distorted and hybrid electronic approach, it's been popular in the car this week!

What did you thin of the score? Did you like the film? Let me know in the comments box below...


Score of the Month #3 - Moonlight by Nicholas Britell (2016)


Score of the Month #3 - Moonlight by Nicholas Britell (2016)

I'm a little behind on my monthly posts folks, but rest assured, I'm picking up where I left off!  You may have guessed it based on my Tweets over the past few week; but Nicholas Britell's score for Moonlight has definitely taken 1st place this week! It's been on heavy rotation at home, in the car and walking around the street; thus making it my #ScoreOTM

I've always been a sucker for those Vivaldi-esque virtuoso arpeggiated violin performances which can be heard clear as day in the 5th album cue, "The Middle of the World"; and I can't not mention those harmonic arco notes, which just sound emotionally painful as the player slowly performs the notes.

Being a bit of an existentialist, Moonlight spoke to me as it told a very lonely and emotionally complex story of an individual at various stages in his life; all very personal to him and his own life experience. In terms of the score, the use of a simple musical idea and a handful of players captured close miked throughout, I feel Britell voiced this perfectly! As a member of the audience, his score provided enough of an emotional bed to draw me in and observe the scenes without over speaking.

Our main character's theme is heard on various occasions thought the film, but as the story progresses and the character grows older, we hear slight changes, especially in timbre, mood and presentation relevant to the character at that time; the core theme however stays identical throughout! I personally loved this, I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but to me it was a way of musically stating that this character while now grown up, is still the same at his core... Listen to "Little's Theme", "Chiron's Theme", "Chiron's Theme Chopped & Screwed" and finally "Black's Theme" for a comparison of this!


Score of the Month #2 - Lego Batman by Lorne Balfe (2017)


Score of the Month #2 - Lego Batman by Lorne Balfe (2017)

Fun, that's what life is all about, right? This month I've found Lorne Balfe's awesome work for Lego Batman in the playlist, a lot! 

I saw the film at the cinema just ahead of the release date as Odeon were running advanced showings and loved it. I'm a big fan of pretty much all the Batman films to date and with the more recent Nolan trilogy being on my radar all the way through Uni, it was great to be able to revisit the films in a more tongue and cheek light.

Lorne clearly had a lot of fun with the score, while there is a wealth of new ideas in there, the creative way he took ideas from the previous scores of all three films and reworked them together into cues for Lego Batman was incredible, I found it genuinely entertaining. 

If you only ever list to one cue from this score, make sure it's "Black", as you will hear references and re orchestrated ideas of all three of Hans's scores for the Nolan Batman's reworked into a suite here alongside Balfe's newer ideas for the Lego Batman character in a really cool, bombastic style.