Daft Punk Mash Classical, Electronica to Shape 'Tron: Legacy's' Soundscape
Director Joseph Kosinski turns to Grammy-winning DJ duo to help the film's cast and crew better visualize sequel's digital universe.
When it came time to construct the soundscape to complement the edgy, visually stunning world of Tron: Legacy, due out Dec. 17, director Joseph Kosinski turned to influential L.A. disc jockey Jason Bentley, who is also music director of the Peabody Award-winning KCRW and host of its taste-making Morning Becomes Eclectic program. Having served as music supervisor on the Matrix trilogy, Bentley was well-suited for the gig. Sharing a singular vision, both were instrumental in bringing on board two-time Grammy-winning faux-robo duo Daft Punk, comprised of French DJs Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, who recruited a 90-piece orchestra and turn in a decidedly classical-inspired score.
"I knew we wanted to create a classic film score that blended electronic and orchestral music in a way that hadn't been done before," Kosinski said at a Nov. 20 soundtrack listening event at Apogee Studio in Santa Monica, where he and Bentley, Tron: Legacy's music supervisor, gathered to talk about how they seamlessly melded the visual and sonic landscapes of the long-awaited sequel to 1982's Tron. "I knew creatively we were in the right spot, it just took some time to get everything lined up and then once we were off to the races, it was pretty incredible.
"I was a big fan of Daft Punk. I was also a fan of the work that Thomas and Guy-Man were doing outside of Daft Punk. ...It was very clear to me that these guys were more than just dance music guys. There was something about their music and the way it was produced, especially the Discovery album, that showed a level of musicianship and songwriting that made it clear they were working on another level. …There was a lot going on behind those masks, and when this project first came up, I kind of found out through mutual friends-business connections that there was an interest on their side. There was clearly an interest on my side."
Shortly after committing to the project, the DJ duo began working on the score very early on in the filmmaking process. And in addition to making a cameo in the movie, they also helped craft its sound design.
"They really brought a lot just straight away," Bentley said. "They had really prepared themselves, and I should say also how highly unusual it is to have composers onboard and committing to a two-year process. It's absolutely unheard of. But I think it also gave us the opportunity to do something very, very special."
"We've got over 100 minutes of music in this movie, and it's so tied to the visuals because we had it so early -- I just can't imagine this film without it," Kosinski added.
"They approached it with such an intellect," Bentley said about Daft Punk's moody tracks that fuel Tron: Legacy's dramatic story of the rescue attempt of Tron's Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), whose 27-year-old son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) enters a dangerous digital world to save his father. "They talked a lot about the layers, the orchestral layer, the electronic layer, the granular layer [which] feel organically married, and that's not easy to do."
Daft Punk's early compositions served as a mood setter for the film's cast and crew -- Kosinski played their demos on set during production to provide a feel for the energy of the story's neon-lit world.
"Music has this ability to answer so many questions without having to say anything," Kosinski said. "With a movie like this, it's very important to establish the exact right tone for the actors, even for the crew. So I always had my little sound station at my director's chair where I was playing all the demos constantly between setups. It set the vibe and the crew got a sense of this movie as we were making it. I think it affected the way people worked.
Kosinski on set with Wilde and Bridges.
"Olivia Wilde came to me when we were shooting a scene," Kosinski continued, "and we were talking about this character 'Clu,' who's a completely digital character who was really only completed in the last couple of months. She was asking questions about him, (mentioning) 'I have to talk about him in this scene, but I've never seen this character because he doesn't exist yet.' I said, well let me play you 'Clu's Theme,' and she listened and was like, 'I got it! Now I know why to be afraid of this guy.' "
In addition to "Clu's Theme," Daft Punk's edgy contributions segue from the ethereal, orchestral "Overture" to the stirring string arrangement and stark, propulsive beat of "The Game Has Changed" to the furious violins that bring a sense of escalating danger to "Outlands." And it just wouldn't be Daft Punk without at least one dance floor-ready track; in this case it's the digital dazzle of the soundtrack's first single "Derezzed." The crushing dance-trance grooves of "Tron: Legacy End Titles" and the ominous, hypnotic "Solar Sailor" also demand to be heard in THX and Dolby.
"We knew from the start that there was no way we were going to do this film score with two synthesizers and a drum machine," Bangalter mentions in Daft Punk's cover interview in the December issue of Dazed & Confused. He says the duo opted to incorporate classic non-synth instruments to make the music more timeless, and cited Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann, John Carpenter and Vangelis as influences. "Synths are a very low level of artificial intelligence, whereas you have a Stradivarius that will live for a thousand years," he added.
The end result is an eclectic collection of 22 tracks that propel the storyline of Tron: Legacy and comprise Walt Disney Records' original motion picture soundtrack, due Dec. 7.
On Nov. 29, KCRW will begin previewing the soundtrack and streaming Bentley and Kosinski's chat about it.