What You'll Hear in 'Breaking Bad': Composer Dave Porter's 4 Greatest Themes

Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston - P 2013

Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston - P 2013

Ahead of Sunday's premiere, Porter gives THR an exclusive preview of musical cues to listen for in the AMC drama's final eight episodes.

"I know what happens," Breaking Bad composer Dave Porter told The Hollywood Reporter after teaching a TV composing master class at Poznan, Poland's Transatlantyk Festival on Wednesday. "And I'm not saying." But he gave THR an exclusive hint of what season five's last eight episodes will sound like when the addictive AMC show returns Sunday.

"There are some new characters we haven't even met yet, and there's some new situations for Jesse [Aaron Paul], for which I wrote a lot of music in a meter of five. Your brain is so in tune with the 4/4 beat that when you throw in that extra one, that extra step, it gives it a little hiccup, an extra level of discomfort the audience may not notice, but they’ll feel."

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Porter also says it’s “very, very likely” the audience will hear the four most important themes from the previous seasons in new guises. “I’ve never repeated any music on the show,” he says, “but now I’m taking these musical ideas and motifs I’ve been building up over the years and finding ways to bring them to their logical conclusions. They’re pivotal moments in the story, and landmark moments emphasized by the score.”

Porter’s four top Breaking Bad cues to listen for in new episodes are:

1. The Pool Match Toss Cue. “In the pilot, Walter White [Bryan Cranston] sits tossing matches into his pool. The show was originally supposed to be set somewhere out of Sacramento, but when it went to New Mexico, I tapped into the iconography of Westerns. I used an ambient electric guitar, something we view as Americana, or a kind of naivety or innocence. There’s a warmth in the season one score, particularly for Walter. There’s an opportunity to return to some of that feeling now that Walter is out of the [meth] game.”

2. The Jane Demise Cue. "Season two is super-frenetic, out of control. Everyone has their own interpretation of when Walt has crossed that moral point of no return -- it's a reflection of your own morals, or your stomach for bad behavior -- and for me it's the Jane [Krysten Ritter] dying sequence." (Walt selfishly lets the young woman OD before his eyes.) "It's emotional without being too 'comment-y', and the sound of emotion is an old Oberheim synthesizer. I have 30 synthesizers, and I love them all so well. People think of synthesizers as big and powerful, but the old ones can be unpredictable and faint and frail. I love creating sounds that are just on the edge of breaking up, losing pitch, so that they feel a little weak. Walter thinks of himself as an enormously fragile person."

3. Walter White's Black Hat Cue. "His putting on the hat is his transformation into thinking he's emulating Gus Fring [Giancarlo Esposito].The hat cue is my most direct and obvious Sergio Leone sound, except I actually played the five-note motif on a Japanese koto, which I studied in Yokohama. I then put it into the computer and processed it with fun stuff, distortion, spring reverb, to give it more of that twang. The koto, while a large instrument, is very fragile. That dichotomy of taking a soft, sensitive sound and goosing it with tech to transform it into something else was, I thought, something powerful. I hope it subconsciously creates unease, which is one of my largest and most creative roles on the show." 

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In the new episodes, adds Porter, "it increases to a whole other level of scale in my score. The stakes are so much larger, showing a bigger view of the underworld than Walter ever knew existed. All these things come to a head in the final season."

4. The Crawl Space Cue. "For when Walter is in the crawl space, out of options and money, death at the hands of Gus imminent, I used this very deep pulse, almost a heartbeat but not a heartbeat, on an old synthesizer, combined with a sound I had just accidentally recorded, a guitar amp with spring reverb getting kicked. That's the prevalent sound indicative of the dread in the end of season four. It will more than likely make another appearance -- subtly."

THR tried to get Porter to reveal the Breaking Bad finale by offering to refill his glass of delicious pilsner in Poznan's medieval Freedom Square, but he refused to betray show creator Vince Gilligan. “I’d jump in front of a train for that man,” said Porter.