So as we saw with Mario Kart 8 previously, it's amazing seeing what a composer (or group of composers) can create in one specific project. In one game, a splash of genres were given to us, arranged for live/electronic settings and interacting differently to the player depending on the level and its design. Composers are generally stressed to understand as many genres and subgenres of music as possible. Anytime, a person may be hired by a director to score a Civil War-era romance or a futuristic dystopian film. So what do you do when you score something completely different from your previous project?
In this post, I want to explore some examples of composers who have done things differently, whether in movies or video games, and took their own chances in create a sound that could maybe be atypical from their comfortable style.
1.) Hans Zimmer
Starting the bat off with the man already criticized for copy-pasting the "BUUURRRRM" sound he made for Inception and applying it to his other works.
Here's what I defend him for: to me, his music always fits the movie and the action you are experiencing. Everyone knows about his slowing down of Edith Piaf's "Non, je ne regreete rien" to make the Inception soundtrack, or his use of African vocalists for The Lion King. So some interesting comparisons of different works of his include:
(Spoiler warning: My reviews of these tracks won't spoil too many aspects of the movies, but I may dive into specific scenes that reveal a lot about the storylines of these movies, so just keep that in mind as you read this. Thanks!)
Amazing Spider-Man 2 (example track: "My Enemy")
In this movie, the official credit for the composer team is "Hans Zimmer and The Magnificent Six", the name referring to a team that includes Junkie XL, Andrew Kawczynski, Steve Mazzaroritten, Michael Einziger (of Incubus), Johnny Marr (of The Smiths, Modest Mouse, and did guitar for Inception), and happy fellow Pharrell Williams, who did the schizophrenic vocals you hear in this track.
This track scores the first fight scene between Spider-Man and Electro. Hans is not someone to be really known for dubstep-esque electronic music, which is probably a reason he heavily used a team of six to help him. Heck, they helped him so much, he gave them CREDIT! Which I think is awesome. So OK, a movie technically done by seven musicians, and we're going with this as it's only done by one. Let's keep that in mind and analyze this track.
The track swells between Spider-Man's fanfaric brass and Electro's dominant electronic ambience. Throughout the track, there are whispers heard synced with the beat of the music, representing the anger in Electro, the strange villain in the movie who feels betrayed by Spider-Man. He is a seemingly lonely person who isn't the most social. This leaves him trapped in his own thoughts, which in this case, motivates him to become bad once he accidentally gains electric powers. Throughout the music, you hear phrases like "He lied to me...." "My pulse is rising...." "Paranoia... something's happening...". All while these organic synths swell back and forth in dynamics, as if his anger is represented by the constant charge of a battery. The vocals themselves are put through this cool phasing effect where the whispers seem like they are passing through an electric current.
In one part, too, starting at 1:37, as a gated synth that sounds like something from The Joker's cue from The Dark Knight comes in and dies off, Electro's human theme begins with a rhythm from bassoons and a melody from a clarinet. To be honest, I was quite surprised to hear Hans using woodwinds again. It feels like the last time he used them were in the days of The Prince of Egypt and The Lion King. It's kind of a cute little melody, too, obviously representing Electro's innocence and naivety. A little bit of his social awkwardness, too. The bassoons do some driving of the rhythm later on as well while the electronic synths grow again with Electro's hate for Spider-Man. And even in his innocent melody, you can still heart Electro's angry thoughts passing through his head.
2.) Christophe Beck
Christophe Beck, the most absolutely underrated part of Frozen. Sure, you've got the cool story, and the songs everyone plays and plays and plays, but you know who did those awesome orchestral arrangements? And who scored this whole movie? This guy right here.
Let's explore two recent projects of his:
1.) Frozen (example track: "Elsa and Anna")
This music is the first real orchestral introduction of Elsa and Anna. The beginning of the movie introduces the Norwegian world of Frozen with its Norse choir singing the introduction. (You can read about a choir musician's experience with the recording sessions here.)
Very traditional Disney score, but very effective, of course. The staccato and pizzicato strings follow the happy childhood of the two girls as they run around the house to play and hang out. Little flute and chime cues highlight key parts during their interactions. Slowly, the brass and strings start swelling more and more as Elsa starts revealing her magic powers. The "me-re-do-ti-do" melody is introduced here, starting at 0:35, which plays as Elsa's motif of her magic throughout the whole movie. The motif sprinkles across the woodwinds and the brass as she splashes one of the big rooms in her castle with ice and both of the girls go skating across. The rhythm becomes more and more waltz like, the flutes playing large runs here and there, until the drums and brass indicate danger! Elsa tries to save Anna, but accidentally hits her with her magic.
When the danger of her condition is realized, a beautiful melodic cue from what sounds like an ocarina of some sort comes in. Believe it or not, it's a Norwegian vocal techique called "kulning", and you can hear an example of kulning heard from Christine Hans, the vocalist who performed the little melodious icing.
The "me-re-do-ti-do" motif then grows with danger from the woodwinds along with the strumming strings and concerned legato cellos. You can hear that Anna does not that too much time before the magic freezes her to death, which is when Elsa's parents ride off to the trolls to save her. From her, Elsa's motif becomes the manifestation of her fear and insecurity from looking like a monster to society in the rest of the movie.
2.) Edge of Tomorrow (example track: "D-Day")
Edge of Tomorrow was Christophe Beck's first time scoring a big action movie. Frozen did have action of course, but this is raw sci-fi happening here. From the start, you hear rhythmic growling synth that sounds like a call to battle. A metallic synth that sounds like a horn comes in to, along with tremolo strings and low brass pounding with drums.
Unfortunately, as I've only seen the movie once, it's hard for me to describe which scene this takes in, but I do imagine the battleship that Tom Cruise's character wakes up on. And this makes me imagine his realization that he is being suddenly called to battle. This music drives the mood of the movie and his new path of war he is forced to take. Hollywood-like synthesizers overtake the music 1:53. A low gated-synth drives the rhythm while strings with artificial reverb and an echoing metal sound provide a dark ambient atmosphere, creating the mystery of war that Tom Cruise is about to face.
I really want to know what that metal looping sound that plays every now and then at the end is, too. The sound design in the music does bring to mind the hard textures of the steel battleship and the metal armor the soldiers put on when they are dropped off to fight the aliens. Either way, Christophe faced a cool opportunity being dropped off like Tom Cruise, suddenly called to score a movie where its initial composer was kicked off the gig. He pulled it off well, in my opinion, and proved that he has more in his art than his traditional symphonic style.
Do you have any composers that you personally admire for their unique styles and their ability to camouflage themselves into any work they find themselves scoring? Feel free to comment and post your own examples or thoughts in general.