I am happy to announce that my album “Red Fields of None” is finally up on my Bandcamp site! This is a collection of musical pieces inspired by events, themes, and characters from Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series of novels. Thank you, Mr. King, for creating a rich world with fascinating characters to draw inspiration from.
Here’s a short review of “Interstellar”– I saw it over the weekend and I thought it was great. Obviously, no film is perfect, but the few flaws it has weren’t enough for me not to enjoy it. Usually, the amount of time I spend thinking about a film after watching it is a good measuring stick for how much I liked it. And I’ve been thinking about this film most of the week!
First off, though… I’ve come across more than a few negative, nit-picky reviews online. When I first started seeing these–especially the ones that seemed to take a lot of delight in tearing the film apart–I suspected that some of these reviewers were trying really hard not to like it. I am more convinced of that now. I wonder if their opinions would be different if the movie hadn’t been so hyped up for so long. Also, for some reason Nolan is a “love-him-or-hate-him” type of director, and I think that plays into it, too. FYI, I am a Nolan fan and am a big fan of his Dark Knight trilogy and Inception.
Visuals-wise, the film is a masterpiece. According to physicist Kip Thorne, who was a consultant on the film, the black hole simulations actually led to new discoveries about gravitational lensing around black holes. The story can be a bit confusing, and they throw around a lot of complicated science concepts, but I don’t think most people would have trouble keeping up. The acting is also stellar (haha). Music-wise, Hans Zimmer delivers a very powerful and surprisingly emotional score (can’t wait for the collector’s edition of the album). If there’s a flaw in the film, it’s the character-driven interactions. That tends to be the flaw in most of Nolan’s films–the stories are very plot-driven, and the characters just do and say what they need to get from point A to point B. This would bug me if it were a weak story, but in this case it’s not a deal-breaker at all. (And this is probably the “flaw” in many sci-fi films and novels.)
One of the messages of the film is truly relevant in today’s climate change era. If we’re to survive as a species, we MUST start thinking of going to the stars (or nearby planets, for starters). If climate change doesn’t kill us, then probably an asteroid or volcano will. We’ll definitely need to be off-planet when the sun expands to the point that it cooks the Earth some 5 billion years from now. The film addresses that type of thinking, and also some of the problems we’ll come across as interstellar explorers. One such problem is relativistic time dilation–time moves slower for you if you’re in a gravity well. The higher the gravity, the slower time moves. An hour for you might be days, weeks, or more for someone outside the effects of the gravity well. I can’t think of any other film that deals with this as dramatically as “Interstellar.”
Bottom line… If you’re a fan of Nolan’s previous work and/or are into realistic science fiction/space travel movies with “mind blowing” concepts, you will enjoy this film.
The first two tracks of my Xeelee project (see previous blog entry) are done! Here they are…
I have a few more coming up in the next few weeks. Stay tuned…
It’s been awhile since my last blog post! Just a quick update…
For awhile now my Dark Tower project has been pretty much finished. The goal of this project was to compose dramatic music, something with a modern orchestral sound, that might fit in a score if the Dark Tower series were made into a film. For those unfamiliar with “The Dark Tower,” it’s an eight book novel series that’s kind of different for what Stephen King is known for. Yeah, there are some suspenseful and horror elements in there, but it’s mostly a fantasy/adventure epic. The main character is Roland Deschain, the last of the Gunslingers (kind of like an order of knights, except with revolvers). The stories take place in a dystopian setting, after “the world has moved on.” Throughout the stories, Roland pursues his life goal of reaching the Dark Tower, where he believes he can atone for his past and fix whatever is wrong with the world.
I used a lot of synths, electric guitars, saxophones, etc. in these pieces, but I think in the end result, the orchestra is still most prominent. In the description section in each of the tracks, I provided a bit of an explanation as to what inspired each piece.
The project I’m working on right now is also inspired by a novel series, written by another Stephen. This one is Stephen Baxter’s “Xeelee Sequence,” a space-opera sci-fi series. I think anyone that’s a fan of Star Trek or Star Wars would enjoy these. To summarize, the Xeelee Sequence is about humanity’s expansion into space, from around the 30th century all the way to a million years in the future, and beyond. Baxter is known for “hard science fiction,” which means that he meticulously researches real scientific ideas and concepts for his stories. He covers everything from quantum physics to evolution (in particular, the evolutionary effects on humanity once we’ve been space-faring for thousands of generations) to spacecraft engineering (Baxter himself is an engineer).
If I had to pick one main theme in these stories, it would be “survival”–how humanity adapts and survives, despite the odds against them (a common theme in his works). The other theme is the expansion of mankind throughout the galaxy. After a few shaky starts (humanity actually gets conquered by aliens–twice), humans finally set out into the stars, but not as Star Trek-like peaceful explorers. After the trauma of two alien occupations, humanity takes on a “never again” attitude and expand into the galaxy as conquerors, eventually becoming the dominant species in the galaxy. By then, their only rivals are the god-like and aloof Xeelee, who are too preoccupied with their own projects to really be bothered by humans. But every now and then, humanity gets their attention…
This project will consist of five tracks (for now… I might add to it later). Here are the track names…
1 – Closed Timelike Curve
2 – Expansion
3 – Anthem to the Exultant Generation
4 – Prime Radiant
5 – The War in Heaven
Anyone familiar with the series will understand these references 🙂 The first track should be ready in a few days, so stay tuned…
Films are, first and foremost, about characters, so that is the starting point for the music (after all, I don’t know too many people that go to the movies just to listen to the music). So getting a feel for the characters and understanding their motivations is important if we want to come up with meaningful music. There are various aspects to each character–for example, Romy, the oldest of the “grave bandits,” is essentially a good person, but he is also somewhat motivated by greed, and so this aspect finds its way into his musical themes. After the themes for each of the characters are developed, we suddenly have a good amount of material, and a better feel for what the entire score for the film will sound like, even if some of the material winds up being cut or is never used (that is the way things go sometimes).
On to the characters…
Romy and Peewee are the “Grave Bandits,” as they’ve come to be known by the media and the people from the towns they’ve “visited” (i.e grave robbed). When we first meet them, they’re in the middle of one of their operations; Romy is digging up a grave, while Peewee is acting as a lookout from a tree. This is the first time we the audience see the Grave Bandits, and we meet them right after a very intense opening scene, so the first musical cues we hear are lighthearted, playful, and mischievous to lighten the mood a bit (as heard in the track “Meet the Grave Bandits”).
There is also a very sad reality to these characters, and the track “Romy and Peewee” expresses some of that. But despite their situation, both characters still have dreams. The track opens with Romy’s theme on acoustic guitars, and then near the end we hear Peewee’s theme in the piano.
Maiya is one of the first characters we see in the film. When we first meet her, she is being held against her will by a band of pirates, hired by Seabrook, who are looking for the Gemstone. She is the character that reveals the secret of the Gemstone and the Zombies as the story moves along. A lot of the material I wrote early on for the film was Maiya-related, and this did a good job at setting the mood for the rest of the film. The track “Maiya’s Story” has her main themes, which are driven by the woodwinds (flutes) and strings (cellos). Her main theme is played by a Xiao, a Chinese bamboo flute with a beautiful, expressive sound (we hear this around the middle of the track).
Seabrook is a researcher that has become obsessed with finding the Gemstone. When the film opens, we find him with the band of pirates he hired to capture Maiya to force the location of the Gemstone from her. There is quite a bit of Seabrook material that, unfortunately, didn’t make it to the final cut of the film (yup, that’s the way things go). “Red Moon” is a compilation of some of this material. Most of it is in demo form, so please excuse the rougher, unfinished quality to the sound! The track opens with the “Red Moon” theme (btw, the term “Red Moon” comes from a conversation the director and I had about this character’s back story), which is played by the brass. Then we have a few variations of the “Indiana Jones gone bad” theme. One motif that did make it to the film was the up-and-down piano line, which came to symbolize Seabrook’s obsession (the “film version” of this piano line is also heard in “Maiya’s Story”).
In Part III, I’ll discuss some of the action themes–and the Zombie themes! Stay tuned…
Here is my Facebook page…
And the film’s Facebook page, for updates on theaters that will be showing it…
Please “like” both!
The soundtrack to the motion picture “The Grave Bandits” is now available on Amazon and iTunes! It’s also available through my Bandcamp page, and through CD Baby. Here are all the direct links…
Here is the film’s Facebook page:
The film will be getting a theatrical release in the Philippines later this spring. Hopefully it will come to the US real soon! Stay tuned…
From my Soundcloud page:
” Terminator: Messiah” A track inspired by the Terminator franchise. (Terminator theme by Brad Fiedel). After the intro, my Terminator theme comes in at around 2:10. I tried to capture the flavor of Fiedel’s theme–in particular the “machine heartbeat” percussion sound–without actually ripping it off.
At 6:47, John Connor’s Messiah theme comes in. The goal was to highlight an aspect of the John Connor myth that I don’t think has been emphasized enough in the films or the series.
And I close with Brad Fiedel’s well-known theme. I hope he doesn’t sue me.
This track is a couple of years old. I’ve been listening to some of the older stuff on my Soundcloud page (organizing my material, trying to decide what to keep, what to clean up, and what to throw away–good-bye, bad wanna-be-Metallica-song-with-bad-guitar-playing-by-me!) when this track caught my ear again. It’s far from perfect, and if I had to re-do it, there are a few things I’d probably change. But I’ve decided that I’d rather move forward and not try too hard to change the past. I’m an endless tweaker, and I could probably spend the rest of my life tweaking, adjusting, re-mixing, etc. the same song, over and over. Also, this track is an example of where I was at the time, so I guess its imperfections give it some charm.
Yeah, yeah. That’s all good stuff, but I still just gave it a quick re-master to clean up the sound a bit! My excuse is that it’s like dusting off the old track… and patching up a few scratches and dings.
I got the idea for this track shortly after watching “Terminator Salvation.” Danny Elfman did an excellent job with the score, and although a lot of people were upset that the famous Terminator theme was hardly in the film (and not at all in the soundtrack album), I was actually pretty glad Elfman did his own thing. More original material = more interesting. So after listening to his work, I wondered what I could come up with. (Also, the excellent “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” TV series was still fresh on my mind, so that played a part in this as well.)
With that in mind, onto the track itself… After a lengthy intro (yeah, I do long intros), we get the “machine heartbeat” theme. I’ve read that composer Brad Fiedel was going for a heartbeat-sounding rhythm in his original score for “The Terminator.” But since it’s not a human heartbeat, the rhythm skips around and doesn’t sound quite natural. Here is my interpretation of a machine heartbeat.
I also wanted to explore the “messiah myth” around the John Connor character. The Terminator films are excellent action movies, but they are also high-tech modern day “prophecy” stories, foretelling the end of the world and the rise of a savior. So near the end of the track, I introduce Connor’s quasi-religious “messiah” theme. I am pretty pleased with the sound of the choir/brass combination–that might be my favorite part of the track!
And yes, I had to end with that familiar theme, in case there was any doubt this was inspired by Terminator.
Some reference material… Three percussion-driven Terminator themes…
Brad Fiedel’s original Terminator theme:
Bear McCreary’s theme for “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”:
And Danny Elfman’s main title theme for “Terminator: Salvation” (percussion theme starts around 50 seconds in):