Remembering David Shire's Zodiac by Charlie Brigden

by Charlie Brigden

There isn't a lot of score in ZODIAC. Nearly thirty minutes out of a hundred and fifty-eight, which isn't unknown for a movie of its sort. "It didn't need a score," thought director David Fincher, who had already curated a large and personal playlist of songs for the film which both served to reflect the general mood as well as illustrate the passage of time. But then he was reminded of David Shire.

Even today, on the tenth anniversary of the release of Fincher's masterpiece, David Shire certainly isn't anywhere near a household name. He doesn't get mentioned in the conversations that usually take place around the densely saturated vinyl soundtrack market, and his name is rarely brought up in film journals. But he's responsible for some of the greatest scores in cinema, with an influence that stretches from Broadway to hip-hop, not to mention the deadly streets of Fincher's San Francisco.

Shire started off scoring Westerns at Universal and independent dramas - one of the earliest pictures he scored was Jack Nicholson's 1971 directorial debut DRIVE, HE SAID - but his stock quickly rose when he took on a paranoid thriller from Francis Ford Coppola in 1974, with the director fresh from THE GODFATHER. Shire scored THE CONVERSATION as a piano score on instruction from Coppola, to echo the lonely hidden life of the film's surveillance expert Harry Caul, but worked with sound designer Walter Murch, to alter the texture of the score as the film went on, using the mixing board to modify the piano to match the rising tension of the film's narrative. The same year Shire created another landmark score for Joseph Sargent's subway heist picture THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE, orchestrating a funk landscape that would go on to make several appearances in hip-hop, in songs by such artists as J Dilla, Mix Master Mike, and Xzibit.

It was sound designer Ren Klyce's love of THE CONVERSATION that led Fincher to hiring Shire for ZODIAC, placing cues from the score, along with Shire's music to ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, into a temp-track despite having no budget for original music. “Even though the studio was getting a sense we needed a score, I sort of had to do this under the radar," Klyce said in the film's original production notes, "I knew my head was on the chopping block." Shire would look to composer Charles Ives for inspiration, and his 1906 work 'The Unanswered Question', which has sections of the orchestra asking musical questions, only to have no resolution, which he felt suited ZODIAC. “This whole movie is an unanswered question,” Shire opined, “Even at the end you don’t get the answer 100 percent; even after more than 20 years and still you question. There is this awe of irresolution about it.”

ZODIAC was David Shire's penultimate score (his last was the 2009 remake of Fritz Lang's noir BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT) but he had kept plenty busy over the years, whether it was winning an Oscar for best song for NORMA RAE, adapting Mussorgsky's 'Night On Bald Mountain' for SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, or composing for the Broadway musical adaptation of BIG. One can hope that with the increased reputation ZODIAC has found since its release, the composer might eventually receive the kudos and respect his music has deserved.

Recommended works by David Shire: THE CONVERSATION (1974), THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974), FAREWELL MY LOVELY (1975), ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976), THE BIG BUS (1976), 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT (1984), RETURN TO OZ (1985), MONKEY SHINES (1988), REAR WINDOW (1998), ZODIAC (2007)

The Interview: Nicholas Britell (Moonlight) by Charlie Brigden

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By Charlie Brigden

Nicholas Britell is about to hit the big time through his Oscar-nominated score to Barry Jenkins' Moonlight. With the film out soon in the UK, we sat down with the composer to discuss awards, swimming, and chopping and screwing.

CB: Hey Nicholas, how are you?

NB: I’m good, I’m good. I’m, you know, watching this huge snowstorm! [laughter]

CB: First of all, congratulations on the Oscar nomination.

NB: Thank you. Thank you so much.

CB: How did it feel when you found out?

NB: Oh, my. It was really surreal. It was…it has been an unbelievable experience. I think, you know, you can never even dream of something like that happening and, when it did, it felt pretty incredible. [laughs]

CB: Okay. So, with Chiron being such a reserved and almost silent character, was it something you were kind of tasked to do with using the score to provide the facets of the character that he wasn’t able to use through dialogue?

NB: Oh, that’s a really great question. And actually, that was something that I definitely focused on quite a bit. I think, you know, one of the amazing things that music can do, it can bring you into the emotional landscape of characters. And one thought that I did have early on was imagining what is the world like from Chiron’s point of view? You know. Because he’s a profound individual. And he obviously has a huge range of feelings, and thoughts on the world that he doesn’t necessarily express to others. So for me I felt the music could, in a small way, bring us into some of that.

And along those lines, when I first read the screenplay actually, the feeling that I had from the screenplay was this incredible feeling of poetry. It was such a beautiful, intimate, tender, sensitive screenplay. And Barry, in creating the film, he brought all of those feelings to life. So there was a question that I had of “what is the musical analogue of poetry? What is the sound of that?” And exploring musical ideas that felt like that.

Because so much of what I do really is, you know, as a film composer, is trying to translate my feelings into sounds. And then explore how they interact with the picture. So, you know, starting from that basis of exploring the poetry of Moonlight. That was how is started with some of the music ideas and I actually wrote a piece which I sent to Barry called Piano and Violin Poem. That was really channelling the idea of poetry. And Barry loved it, and that actually became Little’s Theme. That is Little’s Theme. So that feeling of poetry, that feeling of getting inside Chiron’s point of view, it was all very linked together for me.

CB: So as you mentioned, the film composer’s usual job is to kind of emphasise the emotions and kind of say what can’t be said almost sub-textually. So was it difficult because even with… Chiron is still, even with his body language, is still so reserved, so trying to draw that character out through the music?

NB: It’s interesting. One of the things musically we really tried to explore a wide range of musical possibilities, because there are certain scenes where there is that feeling of subtlety. This feeling of quiet. Scenes where it’s Chiron by himself, just thinking. And walking and we’re imagining his internal thoughts, his internal emotional landscape. And then there are themes where the music actually really soars. For example in the scene where Juan is teaching Little to swim. That’s a place where Barry, you know, as opposed to the parts of the film where the music was of a more tender character. The swimming sequence where I wrote a piece called 'The Middle of the World' is a place where the music really soared. So actually, in some ways, it felt…I know Barry was trying to have that scene almost feel like a spiritual baptism in a way. Almost like the beginning of the rest of Little’s life. Sort of really speaking to the profundity of, and depth of feeling that is inherent really in all of our lives at certain moments. And I think Barry definitely was so open to exploring the wide range of emotions. So the music was able also to have a wide range of possibilities in that respect too.

CB: So, you said about being very much from Chiron’s point of view, the swimming scene is obviously such an impactful scene. So to me that almost brings up, kind of almost a translation of what Chiron is hearing. And the feelings coming from that, is that what you’re going for?

NB: Yeah, you’re saying almost in a sense of, this music is almost a reflection of what he’s feeling and hearing at that moment internally. I think that, in the swimming scene, because I think we were moving even beyond what I think Chiron knows at that moment. And for me and Barry, I think that sequence was really about the whole world of Chiron at that moment in time. And a way of expressing kind of a depth of feeling, both the relationship that he has with Juan and I think the sense of what is to come, actually.

Because on its own, when I first looked at the sequence, I remember thinking to myself, “oh, this is a sort of touching moment between Juan and Little, he’s learning to swim. There’s Juan there”. But what was really fascinating was to hear Barry’s perspective on it. That actually, he felt that it was this really profound baptism kind of a moment. Where we’re actually looking forward, through the rest of the chapters. It’s almost a prelude to what is to come. And music in that sense is speaking to more than what either Juan or Little I think knows at that moment.

And that scene, I wrote for that piece almost like a violent concerto kind of cadenza, very virtuosic, arpeggios, that Tim Fain, a dear friend of mine, he’s an incredible violinist. He performed those in the film. And that same musical idea comes back in a few moments, in particular in relation to Paula, Little’s mother. So we first hear it with Juan in the sea there, and we hear it again in a different sort of morphed form in the hallway sequence with Paula. And we hear it later in the film as well. So there’s an element I think of that musical idea, which actually relates to Little and his life’s journey. And his relationships with these parental figures, actually.

CB: Yeah. It certainly comes, just from the nature of the scene and the music, a euphoric almost kind of awakening.

NB: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

CB: And certainly where that relates to the two scenes of Paula where that’s played. First of all when you don’t hear her, and then when you do hear her…

NB: Exactly.

CB: …it’s when he wakes up and he’s an adult. Yeah. So the way that works is amazing.

NB: Exactly. And I was just going to say, one of the things that we really tried to do as well, that Barry and I spent a lot of time on, is this question of across the chapters in Moonlight, finding cohesion across the chapters. While also allowing for a transformation. Both, you know, obviously Chiron is going through his life’s journey, but also for the music to in some ways parallel that. And it was interesting though.

There were a few different ways that we actually approached that, where for example ideas that start, for example in the swimming sequence we were talking about, recur across the chapters. But each time they’ve evolved and changed in a way. And in some ways, at some times it’s a question of changing the orchestration. But in some places too, it’s a question of actually applying…there’s a hip-hop technique, in southern hip-hop where you call it chopping and screwing the music. Where chopping and screwing is a style of southern hip-hop where you take tracks and you actually slow them down. And when you slow the music down, the pitch goes down. And so you get this audio texture which is really deepened and enriched and you hear things that you didn’t hear before.

And early on in our process, Barry actually said to me how much he loved that type of music. And we had conversations where we actually said to ourselves, “what if we chopped and screwed the score?” “What if I actually wrote music, and fully recorded it, and then as the second part of the process I started experimenting with the audio of my recordings, and I started bending them and slowing them and experimenting?” And that’s what we did, actually.

So one of the means by which we evolved the musical ideas in Moonlight was by actually chopping and screwing some of the tracks, so in some cases you’re hearing instruments that literally sounded something that wouldn’t be physically playable, at register in real life. In chapter three with what we call Black’s Theme which is a new orchestration of Little’s Theme where it is played on an ensemble of cellos. That piece was actually recorded in D major. And then what you hear in the film is a version of it where it’s actually morphed and it’s pitched down into A major.  So you’re hearing what sounds sort of like cellos, but also sounds like basses. You’re not really sure. And there was something about the sort of interesting qualities of the audio and the morphing of it. It felt like it actually had like a symbolic kind of correspondence with the evolution of the characters in the film.

CB: It’s really nice, a) because you just answered one of my next questions without me having to ask it [laughter] which is fantastic. And it’s great because it’s almost like an evolution of kind of the pattern of film music with the normal thematic and almost the light motif and things like that. But instead of just having the recurring themes, being able to change it in that way is a really beautiful new way of having that effect, I think.

NB: Well thank you. We were really excited by it because, what’s so interesting with film music is that you never really know, until you try something out, if it’s going to work with the picture. There are lots of really interesting music ideas that, as music, can be fascinating. But when you put them up against the picture, they may not work, or they may not feel like they’re part of the movie. And why that is is I think one of the great artistic mysteries of film composing. But what was so exciting for Barry and me was that when we attempted to evolve the musical ideas with this chopping and screwing technique and we experimented and we put it up against the picture, it just felt like it was part of the movie. It felt totally natural to the movie. And it worked. And it felt emotional.

And so that was so exciting, that it both felt exciting on a musical level, but it also felt really functional and potent on a film level. And that was what was so important to us. And as a composer, it really did open up a whole new kind of dimension of exploration for me. Because it think historically when you write music, you’re writing notes, you’re writing tones, writing sounds, that then get recorded. And what’s interesting about this is that recording isn’t the end of the process, when you’re doing something like this. The recording is actually the middle of the process. And then you add this other dimension, where you’re actually exploring the recording itself. And you’re taking that recording and you’re experimenting with it. So, for me just on an artistic level it was really exciting.

CB: Yeah. It actually reminds me of the stuff Jerry Goldsmith used to do with the echoplex machine.

NB: Well, you know, I think in history there are lots of, there are moments when you find certain techniques that unlock new possibilities. And I think that what’s great about those moments is that if they excite and inspire, then they’re just really starting points for new things. Like I think that there are, I’m sure there are so many other techniques that no-one’s yet explored for discovering new sounds and thinking about music. And I think what was really cool about chopping and screwing for Moonlight was that it actually related, not only to Barry’s personal love of that kind of music, but this was music that for example in the film, Black is listening to chopped and screwed hip-hop. There is this kind of correspondence between the technique. The score itself doesn’t actually have hip-hop beats or styles in it per se. But what’s interesting is that the score is crafted with the techniques that southern chopped and screwed hip-hop is made with as well. So that’s kind of interesting. It’s almost like they share a process, in a way.

CB: Was there any score you composed that didn’t make it in for any reason?

NB: Well you know, it’s interesting. There are always ideas in every film that don’t make it in. I think with Moonlight, I think there were certain, interestingly there were certain experiments that we did on some of the chopping and screwing that were very extreme [laughs] and that we didn’t put in the movie. There’s a version for example of Black’s Theme. The version in the film is a perfect fourth lower than the recording. I did a version of that that was much further than that. And it was really interesting but it didn’t feel right for that moment.

There’s a certain point at which, when you’re evolving the audio, where it really starts to change the characteristics and the tone. And actually one cue that does that in the film is the schoolyard fight sequence, there’s a track that we call 'Knock Down, Stay Down'. And that track is an ultra-screwed version of Little’s Theme, at the very opening. It’s a track where it almost just sounds like rumbling. And occasionally you hear something that sounds like a bell and you hear something that sounds like a bass. And what’s interesting is that cue the thing that sounds like a bell is actually the piano from Little’s Theme. The thing that sounds like a bass is actually a violin. So you’re hearing this completely morphed soundscape in that cue.

And that worked really well there because I think in the fight sequence, you needed to feel this complete, you know, the world’s upside-down almost, for Chiron at that moment. So the musical landscape reflects that. And so it worked there in the film. But when I did some other extreme experiments like that later, it actually felt a lot better inside the film for Black’s Theme to be a perfect fourth away from the original recording as opposed to further.

CB: Well. If you ever want to do another soundtrack album you could do Sketches from Moonlight, and include all your new stuff.

NB: {laughs] Yes, you hear all of our experiments, yeah.

CB: Yes, that would be fascinating.

NB: Awesome, well, thank you. These are great questions, I really appreciate you discussing them.

CB: Thank you, and thank you very much for your time.

NB: Of course. All right. Take care.

Moonlight is released in the UK on February 17th - the soundtrack album is available now

Nocturne by Charlie Brigden

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Raiomond Mirza's score for Saul Pincus' enchanting indie drama NOCTURNE is a classy affair, a heady mix of jazz rhythms and traditional symphonic music, with haunting melodies punctuated by explosive emotions. The relationship between symphonic score and jazz in movies is a lengthy and historic one, from the the scores of Elmer Bernstein to the use of George Gershwin in Woody Allen's MANHATTAN, and it's treated beautifully here. Mirza's score has elements of tension and danger behind it, but pushing it forward is some beautiful symphonic elements.

Part of NOCTURNE involves the reconciliation of past and future events, and appropriately the album begins with a delicate music box melody before segueing to a reprisal on solo piano ('Origami'). Suddenly the music box comes back as counterpoint and it's a wonderful moment, albeit short-lived due to the introduction of the mysterious and alluring theme for lead character Cindy. There's a suspenseful feel to the theme and with the inclusion of xylophone, it has an ethereal quality, full of memories, shadow and fog.

And there are certainly threatening moments, with the thick tense opening brass of 'Flying In Dreams' and the chase music of 'Daymare', where the fast modern percussion slowly melds into some fierce string work. There are also some wonderful moments where Mirza introduces a playful waltz using the lower string registers that recalls John Barry's score for KING KONG. But so much of NOCTURNE is filled with absolutely dreamy symphonic pieces that it's obvious where its real strength lies.

The lovely and delicate 'Reflections' is a test run for this early in the score, and 'Fast Friends' starts to hint at it but it's the shimmering strings of 'The Aunt's Legacy' where it begins to open up. 'The Perils of Pirate Peacock' provides a delightful piece including harp, but it's really set up to slowly build to the tense action cue 'It Ends Here' and final score track, 'Going Home'. The latter is a beautiful track, with a measured solo guitar playing a new, hopeful variation on the main theme, to be joined by a chorus of strings that thankfully don't overwhelm the melody as they might in other scores. Joining the fray to finish the album is sultry song 'Heaven's Midnight', sung by the lovely voice of Niccie Simpson.

NOCTURNE is a wonderful score. I was going to say little, not in a patronising way, but more in the context of its intimacy. A tone poem may be an appropriate description; the album feels at times like poetry, with the aesthetic that comes with that. Either way, it's a brilliant way to spend forty minutes.

NOCTURNE is out now from the composer and can be purchased and/or streamed below

Amazon - iTunes - Spotify

The Interview: Sascha Dikiciyan, Part 2 by Charlie Brigden

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With Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s fantastic soundtrack now available on digital and 2-CD, Paul Weedon caught up with composer Sascha Dikiciyan again to discuss the intricacies of producing expanded versions of one of 2016’s finest video game scores.

Read Part 1 here

Here we are again! We previously touched on the fact that you worked on the music for Prague in the game. In terms of scoring locations, how do you go about conceptualising the futuristic sound of a city like that? Do you look at contemporary music from the city today and work from there, or is it a more conceptual process than that?

That really depends. There are times when we do mix contemporary sounds of that part of their world with the Deus Ex sound - the Dubai missions for example. Personally, I was purposefully trying to stay away from the cliché - i.e. using any sort of contemporary sounds based on Prague and their history. Deus Ex music is really, at its core, a mood score. It all comes down to the vibe and what the player’s mission or directives are and how does it all fit into the overall story arc. And you go from there.

So tell me a little bit more about the process of working on an album version of a soundtrack. How do you go about condensing a series of tracks that tend to be somewhat non-linear in terms of the way they’re heard, and not only rework them so they work in isolation, but also make them work as a cohesive standalone listening experience?

Good question! I initially struggled a bit with how to approach this for the soundtrack. The music in Deus Ex is implemented in layers. There are many layers that adjust to the interactive behavior of the gamer. For example, if a player decides to play the entire game just by stealth and avoiding combat, they would never even hear any of the actual combat layers.

I mean, I've been writing music for games for many years and while I'm fluent in writing cues that require a lot of technical thinking, I’ve never felt comfortable just putting the layers on a soundtrack and calling it a day. So, for Deus Ex, we really wanted the tracks to stick to their original in-game idea but at the same time enhance the pure listening experience.

So how does the process start?

First, I had to go back and extract all my favorite parts from a cue. I would then start from scratch basically importing stems into a new arrangement. From there I’d work more like I would when I’m writing a record. I mean, on one hand, you need to give the players the in-game tracks but I also want non-gamers to enjoy the music. So we added new parts not present in the in-game cues and of course created the arrangements from scratch with a proper start and finish.

Going back to the combat cues, it was great to implement them into the soundtrack cues so that we could present all of the music from the game. Part of the reason why it took us a while was because of these new arrangements. There just isn't a magic formula for them and it really needs to feel right. We also elevated the mixes for the soundtrack by using my mix engineer Sonny DiPerri, who also mixed my artist record “Doomsday” last year. We mixed everybody’s tracks to give the soundtrack a sense of brotherhood, if you will.

We have Michael McCann’s music of course and some tracks from Ed Harrison, so we wanted to make sure the quality is the same throughout even though we had different composers for different parts of the game. I hope people enjoy the album and appreciate how much work went into the soundtrack. In the end, I’m very happy with how it turned out.

And, when you’re producing an album like this, how important is it to pull in outside support?

I used to think, “Sure, I can do it all,” when, in reality, if you’re reaching for a certain level of quality you just can’t do it alone. It’s impossible. I had a kick ass team - Sonny DiPerri mixing and Dave Cooley mastering on my record last year. They took the whole project to another level and we wanted the same for the Deus Ex soundtrack. Sure, composers master and mix as well but when you hire someone whose only profession is mixing then you know you are raising the bar - period. It also allows me to focus on the creative aspect, which is the actual composing and creating the arrangements. Every top score you hear out there is a team effort.

What, for you personally, is one of your proudest moments on the Extended Soundtrack that didn’t make it in to the game itself?

Well, I was happy to use some of the melodic content we didn’t use for the in-game tracks simply because it would have been too distracting. Yes, scores need melody but again, Deus Ex is about vibe and mood. This isn't Star Wars where every character has a leitmotif. There are a few sounds and chord progressions that are typical for the Deus Ex sonic universe but overall melody is used pretty sparsely.

For the soundtrack, we wanted to implement a bit more of that because you don't have any visuals when you listen to it. So it just made sense to bring those elements back. Arrangements of the in-game cues are also somewhat restricted because of the technical requirements. We have proper beginnings and endings now plus the arrangements flow much better.

Obviously, an electronic soundtrack like this also lends itself to remixes, which is something that seems to be happening even more with video game soundtracks of late. Is that something you’re interested in exploring more of – taking your own work and reworking it in to a format that could find an even wider audience?

Well, I love remixing but the soundtrack versions, I wouldn't call them remixes per se. They are different but still at their core the same tracks.

Actually, one thing I didn’t think to ask you about previously was Quake. You were heavily involved with the franchise for years, picking up the mantle from Trent Reznor, and you were integral in shaping the sound of that franchise as it developed. What did it mean for you to be involved with a franchise like that over such a prolonged period? Is it a franchise you’re keen to revisit?

Oh man. Quake. It’s where it all started for me. I was very young at the time and it was an intense experience. Obviously, landing Quake II as your first gig in 1997 was… mind blowing. I mean, how do you follow up the iconic work of Trent? It was tough. Also, back then the community was very tight and protective. Just because we were not Reznor was reason enough to question everything. We did shape the music a bit more into our direction with Quake 3 but it wasn’t until maybe 10 years later when Quake II and Quake 3’s music reached cult status. I mean, there are still hundreds of YouTube videos of fans playing the riffs. That’s pretty cool. I have composers who come up to me today and say, “You know, I do what I do because well, you inspired me.”

While that’s making me feel somewhat old, it’s actually pretty cool! Having just had the chance to play some of Quake’s music live together with DOOM composer Mick Gordon during The Game Awards, I felt like it would be very cool to revisit that universe again. It’s sort of come full circle. Maybe if id were to go and make a story-based Quake game again. Until then we’ll have to wait and see I guess.

Sascha, thanks again!

Hello Moviedrone! by Charlie Brigden

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Hi! You might have noticed things have changed. As of today, Films On Wax has officially become Moviedrone. I imagine this is confusing, so I'll try and explain why.

Films On Wax - as good a name as it is/was - was originally chosen in mind with the approach we were taking, which was a focus on looking at soundtracks on the vinyl format (hence the wax). For many reasons, mainly because it's prohibitively expensive, it's never been something we were able to keep up, so we decided to let it go, with a new (old - we'd been using Moviedrone for some podcasts) name to show we're not focused on any particular format or medium, just the celebration of film music.

In terms of the name Moviedrone, it's one I've had percolating in my head long before we even started FOW, and is a tribute to the great BBC television show Moviedrome, where presenter Alex Cox (and later Mark Cousins) would give an introduction to a cult film, providing a sense o0f context for the film that is sometimes needed with older films that newer audiences may not always understand (the show introduced me to films like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE TERMINATOR).

We thank you all for your readership so far, and hope that we'll continue to have it in 2017 and beyond...

Charlie Brigden

A Tribute To Carrie by Charlie Brigden

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With the sad passing of Carrie Fisher yesterday, we put together a short musical tribute to her featuring the three themes from the "Princess Suite" composed by John Williams for the STAR WARS trilogy. [soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/299901676" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /]

The Best of 2016 by Charlie Brigden

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2016 has been a pretty fantastic year for film music and here are what we consider the best of the lot, in no order of quality... By Charlie Brigden

ABULELE - Frank Ilfman 

A darker take on E.T., with spectacular melodies from Ilfman, one of the best contemporary composers around.

HIGH RISE - Clint Mansell

As dystopian as the film's concept, Mansell combines orchestra and moog to score a deterioration of society and it's a spectacular work. Review.

JACKIE - Mica Levi

Levi takes the bones of UNDER THE SKIN and fashions them into something equally powerful, an exploration of grief and identity. Review.

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS - Dario Marianelli

A stunning and bold orchestral score matching the fearless innovation of Laika, with shades of absolute beauty.

LAMB - Daniel Belardinelli

A lovely tender score, introspective and searching from a real talent of a composer. Review.

MOONLIGHT - Nicholas Britell

Fantastic look at three time periods and the way that changes musically, a brilliant character study score.

THE NEON DEMON - Cliff Martinez

Electronica doesn't get much betterer, with Martinez building on the work in DRIVE and ONLY GOD FORGIVES and beating both of those into the ground. Review.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY - Michael Giacchino

Giacchino was on a hiding to nothing, but he deftly weaved themes from the original trilogy while creating memorable motifs of his own and a truly enjoyable score. Review.

SYNCHRONICITY - Ben Lovett

Ben Lovett's synth masterwork has shades of Vangelis and co, but develops from that to become its own beautiful thing. Review.

THE WITCH - Mark Korven

A small and intimate score with the use of older instruments which like the movie it belongs to is both terrifying and truly brilliant.

Watership Down by Charlie Brigden

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Vocalion steps in with a welcome reissue of the long out of print rabbit drama score, along with two other back catalogue releases... By Charlie Brigden

A beloved adaptation with an undeserved reputation as a nasty piece of work, 1978's WATERSHIP DOWN is a tale of a group of rabbits that escape from their warren after believing a great danger is oncoming, and search for a new home. It was bestowed with a wonderful score by the late Angela Morley, with two original sketches by original composer Malcolm Williamson that were arranged and expanded by Morley and arranger Larry Ashmore, and those two cues begin the score and the album, the faux-biblical 'Prologue' (featuring the Michael Hordern narration from the film) and the serene 'Main Title', with the latter an important unifying theme in the score.

Morley's own themes come in the wondrous 'Venturing Forth', with a lazy and bucolic feel with harp and woodwind, 'Crossing The River and Onward' which introduces the driving "Onward" theme pushing the group on during their difficult journey, 'Kehaar's Capture' with the hilarious Viennese waltz for the rabbits' grumpy avian companion. Other themes are included for the evil Efrafans, but it's the Onward theme that really shines as a propulsive agent for the story, as well as just being a fabulous and charming theme. WATERSHIP DOWN varies between the wonderful sense of British countryside the film captures so well and the more threatening elements from all sorts of dangers, from the Efrafans to speeding cars, and Morley is able to deftly weave both together at the end with a consistent tone to produce some really special music.

Of course, also present is 'Bright Eyes' by Mike Batt and sung by Art Garfunkel, with a wonderful interlude by Morley. But this really is an essential album, and Vocalion have done a superb mastering job, with a beautiful sense of clarity and depth*, and it sounds wonderful. The programme is exactly the same as the original LP and previous CD, which is to say out of film order but still a great listening experience. Liner notes come from Robert Walton, who discusses the score in a brief track-by-track format, with much of it in context of similar classical pieces.

Also from Vocalion comes the jazzy television score THE ROGUES by Nelson Riddle and comedy score HOW SWEET IT IS! by Patrick Williams. ROGUES is a typically fun and swinging score from Riddle, who most will know as the composer of the first couple of seasons of the 1966 BATMAN show, but it's HOW SWEET that's a hidden gem, with some beautifully lyrical work amongst the zany arrangements from Williams. But out of the three, WATERSHIP DOWN is the real treasure, and needs to be hunted down as soon as possible.

*the album is a hybrid SACD but I don't have the equipment to be able to decode that

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Charlie Brigden

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Going Rogue: A Star Wars Soundtrack Story

By Charlie Brigden

People have been waiting with trepidation ever since Disney announced they were making spin-off Star Wars pics under the banner A STAR WARS STORY, but now the first one is here, and after a couple of behind-the-scenes music changes - Alexandre Desplat was replaced by Michael Giacchino - ROGUE ONE has launched.

Notable and controversial for being the first in the franchise not to be scored by John Williams, all eyes are still on Giacchino for how much of the beloved original music returns with the credits and the album cover stating a big "Original Star Wars Music By JOHN WILLIAMS", but it's not a lot. Giacchino was never going to go the Ken Thorne way and Lucasfilm would not have hired a composer like him to do that, but there are several reprisals of themes from the original trilogy, with several Imperial motifs making their sophomore appearance since 1977's STAR WARS (aka A NEW HOPE). Giacchino is able to weave these in deftly, giving them the celebratory referentiality the fans want while still making sure they're narrative-relevant.

Several new themes are created for the film, a vulnerable yet spirited theme for lead character Jyn Erso, an appropriately propulsive yet somewhat superficial march for villain Krennic, a beautiful spiritual choral piece for the "Guardians of the Whills" - Baze and Chirrut - as well as an inspiring theme called 'Hope' that begins with the same pair of climbing notes that open the Star Wars main title. It's sparingly used, but when it does come up, for example tenderly in 'Rebellions Are Built On Hope', it sounds beautiful. These themes are also expanded in severeal suites at the end of the album.

Giacchino's thundering action music is present from the beginning, with the jarring stinger that opens the score leading to urgent strings under a bubbling, threatening tuba in 'He's Here For Us' - the opening of the track (and film) has a very short but very obvious homage to the first shot of Tatooine and the mysterious woodwinds in the 1977 score - and there's a brief introduction to Jyn's theme. The Hope theme gets a short but big run-out in 'A Long Ride Ahead' for the title card, a big fanfare mode designed to evoke that famous crawl that doesn't appear in this picture. Jyn's theme gets some lovely play in 'Trust Goes Both Ways', playing in counterpoint at one point with the Force theme, and it goes big and romantic, which makes for a wonderful moment.

Jyn's theme really dominates a lot of the score, understandably given this is her story. A wonderfully emotional rendition on piano and strings is in 'Star-Dust', just a beautifully delicate section that quickly turns into darker material. 'Confrontation On Eadu' is one of the big setpieces thematically and musically, and it's a mix of haunting emotions and big action beats, with pounding drums (that sound just like the ones used in the Death Star in '77) and another huge statement of Jyn's theme that gives the cue visceral and heartbreaking conclusion. As we move into what is the film's third act with 'Rogue One' the action music starts to ramp up and more elements of previous scores creep in (not just STAR WARS either - at one point there's what sounds like a cameo of 'The Shark Cage Fugue' from JAWS).

'Scrambling The Rebel Fleet' throws the Rebel Fanfare at us together with a big militaristic version of Jyn's theme that segues into the Force theme, with a brief lighthearted quotation of Luke's theme for a little cameo, while 'AT-ACT Assault' homages the dissonant notes of the snow battle in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Of course, much has been made of the appearance of a certain Sith Lord in the film, and his scenes are fantastic on a filmic and musical level. 'Krennic's Aspirations' has the Imperial officer getting a talking to by Lord Vader at his home, with big brass flares reading Krennic's theme as he arrives by shuttle. What's played first isn't what we expect, but instead the twelve-note Imperial theme from STAR WARS. It sounds fantastic, and of course from that we get a slithering and malevolent version of The Imperial March, which circles back to the Imperial theme.

His final scene in the film comes in the climax of the picture, and is what has been referred to as the 'Vader horror scene'. It's preceded by the wonderful "Your Father Would Be Proud", which takes Jyn's theme to the fullest emotional conclusion, before ending with 'Hope'. This has Giacchino going crazy with the choir as Vader does his thing, ending with a big Imperial March fragment before mirroring the Rebel Fanfare from 'Imperial Attack' and leading into a big climactic statement of the Force theme. Hope indeed. The album finishes with the theme suites and does not feature the traditional Star Wars end credits as the film does.

Michael Giacchino was on a hiding to nothing whatever he did, really. The thing is, he's not John Williams! Stylistically he seems more like Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner, but even so, giving him four weeks to come up with the kind of score that people expected is just unfair. That said, what he came up with was fantastic. His themes are solid, with the Jyn and Guardian themes especially great, the use of the original themes are integrated well, and it's a really entertaining listen.

Since the days of his video game scores, he's been put forward as the next John Williams, but he's really not. He's just Michael Giacchino. And that's absolutely fine. The sooner we accept that, the sooner we can be happier. And with his music, I am certainly happy.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out now from Walt Disney Records

Op-Ed: Embrace The New, Academy! by Charlie Brigden

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Watch out - it's an Oscar hot take! By Charlie Brigden

Okay, so controversy has yet again reared its ugly head now that the list of film scores eligible for a 2017 Academy Award have been revealed. Of a reel of 145 scores there are some eye-opening omissions, including Kim Allen Kluge and Kathryn Kluge's score to Martin Scorsese's Silence, Lesley Barber's Manchester By The Sea, and probably the biggest shock, Jóhann Jóhannsson's Arrival. The latter was hotly tipped for a possible win and had just been nominated for a Golden Globe.

The standard line that the Academy offers is that it's about pre-existing music diluting the original score; in Manchester's case it's music by Handel, Massenet, Ella Fitzerald, and more; for Arrival it's a piece by Max Richter used twice. This is not a new thing, both Birdman by Antonio Sanchez and The Revenant by Ryuichi Sakamoto were disqualified in recent years, as well as Cliff Martinez's Drive. Initially, Howard Shore was told that his score for the second Lord of the Rings film - The Two Towers - would be ineligible due to its use of themes from its predecessor, but this was pulled back as being a "late change" that would be implemented the following year. While Towers was not nominated, the following year its successor The Return of the King was, and won the Oscar.

So what is suggested here is a combination of inconsistency and inflexibility. Another example of this is another recent score, 2011's The Artist, which primarily featured a score by Ludovic Bource. I say "primarily" because its final scene used music from another movie, specifically the 'Scene D'Amour' piece from Bernard Herrmann's score to Vertigo. The score took home the Oscar in 2012 to some controversy, not least from Vertigo star Kim Novak who clumsily accused director Michael Hazanavicius of "rape" for using it (a very poor choice of words). Even Ennio Morricone's The Hateful Eight, which won the 2015 award was partially created out of music unused for another film, the 1982 John Carpenter shocker The Thing, although admittedly that is a much greyer area.

So why is the Academy so haphazardly inconsistent? Why do these controversies keep rearing their heads again and again? I can't answer that specifically, I have no access to the Academy and their dealings, although I know there is a strict no appeals rule for this. Some have even said it's a mathematical issue, that some look at music sheets submitted and rule by a percentage. Would it not be easier if someone - a panel perhaps - actually looked at these films and examined in context the way the music affects the film, and whether it truly dilutes it or enriches?

Another possible solution is to create a category for music supervision. We know that the credit of "music supervisor" is an important achievement, especially recently where there's been a breakout of people like George Drakoulias who has worked on everything from Zoolander to Zodiac, or Brian Reitzell on Sofia Coppola's pictures. With the kind of soundtracks that are getting produced a lot more today, maybe it's time for the Academy to open the field a bit more and show some appreciation for the different ways film music is created, which in turn might allow more of a celebration of the diversity of the ways music is used in film, instead of alienating artists, particularly someone like Jóhann Jóhannsson, now one of the top composers working in the medium today.

The music hasn't changed but the technology and techniques have. Let's embrace that, not reject it.

The Interview: Sascha Dikiciyan by Charlie Brigden

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When composer Sascha Dikiciyan, otherwise known as Sonic Mayhem, first came aboard Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the follow-up to Square Enix’s masterful continuation of the much-loved gaming franchise, it was no small undertaking. Assisting returning composer Michael McCann, whose moody score perfectly captured the tone of Deus Ex’s bleak dystopian universe, Dikiciyan, perhaps best known for his extensive work on the Quake franchise was able to plumb his back catalogue for inspiration. As the duo prepare to release the long-awaited expanded edition of the Mankind Divided soundtrack, Paul Weedon sat down for a chat with Dikiciyan to discuss his work on the series and the process of creating an expanded soundtrack from an otherwise non-linear body of work.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Sascha. At what stage did you become involved with the project?

Thanks for having me! I became involved last summer after the release of my artist record “Doomsday”. We sent a copy of that record to Steve Szczepkowski, one of the coolest audio directors in the business, and started a conversation. While Doomsday was never really intended to have anything to do with Deus Ex, it shares a similar ‘future retro’ aspect musically, including lots of arpeggios and synth work. Since I was a fan of the Human Revolution game and score, I knew the soundscape very well and had no problem to fit right in. So I was hired to write music in addition to Mike. Since the game’s scope was so massive, they needed a lot of music.

I understand you originally came on board as the team at Eidos Montreal were familiar with your work on Tron: Evolution, is that right? How did your experience on that franchise inform your work on Deus Ex?

Yes, my score for Tron was referenced a few times. While Tron’s biggest similarity is of course that it’s a synth driven score, Deus Ex is a completely different beast. It’s more emotional and less technical musically, if you will, than Tron was.

When you were brought on board, what sort of things were you working with in terms of reference materials? I suppose this was quite a unique project in that not only did you have Human Revolution to refer to, but also Michael and his experience to bounce off of.

Yes. Both Mike and Steve were very helpful and shared a lot of insights into what makes up the Deus Ex sound. There was the reference material they had originally used when they started Human Revolution and of course I had many phone calls with Mike and talked about the music and ideas in general. The pool that Deus Ex draws from is very, very much what I grew up with and still listen to. There were a lot of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis references, so nothing really came as a surprise to me.

On that note actually, talk me through how the collaboration between you and another composer works on a project like this. Do you generally get assigned different sections of the game to work on, or themes perhaps?

The soundtrack is a collaboration in the sense that we shared writing music on the same project but we actually did not work on tracks together. We each had our own set of areas in the game to work on. For example, while Mike was working on Dubai I was onto Prague. We did exchange some musical ideas but really we each did our own thing while still staying within the universe of Deus Ex. Especially since each of the sections of the game are so unique, they each needed their own identity. So we did not share really any thematic content.

How challenging was it to build on Michael’s previous work to create something that still sounds distinctly Deus Ex, as it were, but also has its own unique identity?

Well, obviously Mike created a monster with Human Revolution so the pressure was definitely on when I started. But I knew the sound very well and, being a synth head all my life, it wasn’t too difficult to get in sync with the Deus Ex sound. At some point it became clear that I should expand on what Mike had already established and give the Deus Ex sound a bit of my own DNA. That wasn’t easy, especially when you have a franchise that has a ton of fans that really identify and love the musical soundscape that was established with Human Revolution. So the differences are really in the details.

However, I did take some risks especially with the combat tracks. They are vastly different than in Human Revolution simply because I thought that Mankind Divided needed something different - darker, yet more organic and less synthetic - maybe more of a hybrid sound. Since Mankind Divided’s story is ultimately about the struggle of the Augs, which are also still human, it just made sense to develop that musicially. So all the combat drums are live and recorded at the wonderful East West Studios here in Los Angeles. Our engineer Sonny DiPerri, who also mixed the soundtrack and drummer Ron Marinelli did a great job.

Before we touch on the soundtrack release, how did you work with the game’s systems to ensure your music was employed in the best way possible? Talk me through the process, if you can.

Gosh, the audio system in a Deus Ex game is quiet complex. We basically have to write in layers. Imagine it as a DJ set of tracks that play at the same time. We have one main ambient track, the so-called ‘core’, that will always play when ambient music is needed. Other layers play onto but are muted until they are needed. We have a melodic layer that contains all the thematic composition. There is a so-called ‘proximity layer’, which basically are the now well-known Deus Ex arpeggios which will tell the player how close he or she is to danger.

Then we have a “suspicious layer” which is mostly a percussion bed that elevates the sense of tension when dealing with enemy AI. And on top of that, all these layers need to be a) the same length as the main core track b) follow the same harmonic structure and c) have the same tempo and loop perfectly. The same system applies to the combat cues. So yes, it’s complex. It not only requires you to compose just music, you need deal with a lot of technical stuff. It maybe seems limiting but really when you hear it finally working in the game, it’s pretty awesome.

Actually, on that note, is it quite a daunting prospect for you to hear your music at the mercy of the game’s systems and, to some extent, the player and their actions?

Yes, that’s true. I mean our ambient cues are the longest - between 2 1/2 - 4 minutes - just because you never know how long the player will be just exploring the environment without engaging in combat. So the trick is to write these tracks in a way that they never really sound repetitive. It’s easier when you have 4-5 minutes to write, but much more difficult with a 2 minute cue. The cool thing is that the layer system basically enhances these tracks so they seem longer. So even if the, let’s say, Prague Hub ambience is looping after 2 minutes, we might play the melodic layer on top which makes it seems like a longer, 4 minute cue. On a side note, it totally hit me after a few Twitter comments that players who will finish the game just by sneaking around will actually never get to hear the combat cues. Luckily, the soundtrack will feature most music from the game.

Speaking of the soundtrack, what can we expect from the extended edition?

As of right now, I can say the extended version of the album will include all the trailer music Michael and I have done, plus more tracks from the game that didn’t make the cut for the Original Soundtrack. It will be worth the wait.

Is it a particularly challenging process to take the music you’ve created for a video game and rework it in to a linear soundtrack release? If so, why?

So glad you’re asking. We’ve been working on them a lot, and let me tell you it’s a lot of work, simply because all the cues exist in layers and it’s a much different beast to make them sound and flow in an interesting way just for a listening experience without visuals - more like a real album experience… Steve, Mike, Ed and myself are taking the soundtrack really to heart and trying to make it the best it can possibly be. We have my Doomsday album mixer, Sonny DiPerri, working on all tracks and Dave Cooley from Elysian Mastering, who worked on M83’s last releases, will provide the final magic touch. We can’t wait for fans to hear these new arrangements.

Just finally, what were some of the greatest challenges this project for you personally?

The biggest challenge at first was to trust myself. It’s always an exciting challenge to jump into a well-established franchise like Deus Ex. Luckily, I’ve done it before with Quake II and Mass Effect 3. The other challenge was that I, of course, did not want to simply copy Mike’s brilliant work but enhance it and build a new soundscape foundation for future Deus Ex games. And finally, I had to force myself stop giggling like a girl every time I realised “I’m working on Deus Ex.”

It must have been a trip. Generally speaking, what is it about the sci-fi genre that makes it such a compelling genre to score?

Personally, to me, visuals are everything. There are other genres of course that offer interesting visuals, but even current day or near future sci-fi can be more compelling to score. Obviously it’s all a personal preference. I tend to like the darker side of things. It just sparks my imagination easier and I’m a huge sci-fi nerd to boot!

The Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Original Soundtrack Extended Edition is available to buy now on digital download and Special Edition vinyl:

http://www.sumthing.com/p/deus-ex-mankind-divided-extended/

https://www.amazon.com/Deus-Ex-Revolution-Michael-McCann/dp/B01MQ3YIJH

No Holst Barred: 25 Years of Star Trek VI by Charlie Brigden

Exploring Cliff Eidelman's score to the original cast swan song...

By Charlie Brigden

On December 6th 1991, the original crew of the USS Enterprise - Kirk, Spock, et al - took their final voyage aboard the iconic starship with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the swan song of the original cast movies (since then, we've had four "Next Generation" pictures as well as three of the J.J. Abrams-produced reboots). And while the series already had a rich musical legacy with music by luminaries such as Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner, Trek VI would boldly go with a relatively young and inexperienced composer.

Cliff Eidelman was a student at the University of Southern California when he submitted a demo to Paramount, who had put the call out for younger composers simply because of budgetary constraints. Director Nicholas Meyer, who cemented his place in the franchise's history with 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (still seen today as the best of the thirteen movies), hired Eidelman but initally wasn't interested in an original score. Instead he wanted the composer to arrange the famous suite The Planets by the British composer Gustav Holst, a curious idea but one albeit not completely original.

In 1976 while in production on Star Wars, George Lucas wanted to licence Holst's suite and other classical works for his space epic after the success of 2001. While he was eventually convinced to go with an original score from John Williams, the Holst influence clearly remained in the score, illustrating the impeccable way Williams used influences from Holst to Korngold to Herrmann to create a neo-classical symphonic tapestry (along with editor Paul Hirsch's temp-track). Along with the sheer cost of licencing, Eidelman's compositions won him the chance to create his own score, a mysterious, tense, and beautiful work encapturing the romance and danger of space travel in similar ways to Goldsmith and Horner.

Star Trek VI's score is different from the opening frame, with a slow-burning piece steadily building over the end credits, dominated by a six-note ascending/descending phrase that would become the conspiracy theme for the picture. Intentionally designed by Meyer to be something other than the usual broad representation of main themes that the previous credit sequences had been, the somber and questing tone helps the main title become a part of the narrative, all building to that memorable explosion of the Klingon moon Praxis, itself an iconic moment due to the CG shock waves not seen before in these kind of effects.

That's not to say the movie doesn't feature a more traditional main theme; Eidelman's bright and sweeping piece for the Enterprise and her crew is wonderfully majestic in cues such as 'Clear All Moorings' - where the theme is given its first workout as the Enterprise leaves spacedock - but also works in a reflective mode, something important given the status of the film as the last one featuring that iconic crew. It also fits beautifully with the Alexander Courage TV series fanfare, something which is used sparingly outside of the climax, where it's appropriately brought back to close the picture.

Eidelman also uses interesting colours and textures for the more alien parts, such as an ethereal and glasslike theme for Spock and his successor Valeris with a certain fragility that perhaps foretells the way the relationship plays out in the story. Brutal and bellicose brass scores the icy prison planet of Rura Penthe along with a male choir that recalls some of Jerry Goldsmith's terrifying choral work on The Omen (1976), but the escape from prison and the spectacular snowy vistas let Eidelman break loose with some evocative big string moments reminiscent of Maurice Jarre and David Lean.

The final big action sequence as the Enterprise takes on the Klingon warship is not only brilliantly tense but also thematically consistent with a great sense of clarity. But it's the ending where the score pulls out the stops, both aesthetically and emotionally, using the main theme to celebrate the first seeds of peace between the Federation and the Klingons being planted, before the crew is given a suitably wonderful final sign off. With Spock answering a request for the Enterprise to be decomissioned by uttering the now iconic "If I were human, I believe my response would be... go to hell." the Courage fanfare signals the beginning of a new journey into the unknown - to say goodbye to the gallant crew and the spaceship that has been a part of our dreams since the late sixties.

As William Shatner's Kirk gives a final log entry - signalling the hand off to the next generation with "...boldly going where no man, or no one, has gone before..." as the Enterprise disappears into a star, the fanfare exploding as a final farewell before the signatures of the cast are presented upon the screen, again capped off by that iconic fanfare that has meant to much to so many. The essence of Star Trek, a call to arms for humanity.

Twenty-five years on and Star Trek has experienced many more highs and lows, with music from all kinds of composers, and with a new show about to launch - Star Trek: Discovery, due in mid-2017 - it has the potential to reach more people than ever. And they could do worse than look at Cliff Eidelman's Star Trek VI as an example of what the franchise is, not just romantic space travel but an exploration of the complexity and fragility of the human body and mind, emotions, prejudices, and that which has nurtured and influenced those. As Jean-Luc Picard once said, "Starfleet was founded to seek out new life: well there it sits!"

Gremlins - Liner Notes by Charlie Brigden

gremlins At some time tomorrow Mondo will be putting up Jerry Goldsmith's great score Gremlins for sale on LP. The special cover that Mondo have put together is a crazy thing that will reveal certain images when it gets wet - how mental is that? Now, what happened is that I wrote liner notes for this edition, which unfortunately were not including for reasons beyond their control. So what I've done is put them into a pdf, so anyone who wants to read them can download this.

Follow Mondo on Twitter for the sale announcement and download the notes here.

The Films On Wax Podcast #9 by Charlie Brigden

Our latest podcast features music from Nocturnal Animals (Abel Korzeniowski), Jackie (Mica Levi), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (James Newton Howard), and Allied (Alan Silvestri), as well as a look at two recent live score concerts at Royal Albert Hall in London (Jurassic Park and Aliens). https://soundcloud.com/filmsonwax/the-films-on-wax-podcast-9

 

 

-Karol Krok

The Films On Wax Podcast #8 by Charlie Brigden

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In the latest episode, Charlie and Karol discuss a trio of new score releases - Nicholas Britell's Moonlight, Michael Giacchino's Doctor Strange as well as the long-awaited release of James Horner's Living in the Age of Airplanes. In the second part, they both pick their favourite scores for this year's Halloween... https://soundcloud.com/filmsonwax/the-films-on-wax-podcast-8

-Karol Krok