Keeping score


Top composers discuss their latest projects

Mateo Messina
"Juno" (Fox Searchlight; release Date: Dec. 5)

"Director Jason Reitman wanted me to approach the music in a way that would not 'lead' the viewer. So the music was more about coloring themes and saying a lot by being subtle. Juno (Ellen Page), is rough around the edges. She's a 16-year-old (who gets pregnant) that on one hand thinks she knows more than she does, and on the other, is still very innocent and naive. Because she is rough around the edges, I chose to represent her with clanky guitars. But Juno's power was glockenspiel and angel bells. Part of (Juno's) sound came from Kimya Dawson, who wrote the songs for the film. Jason thought that these songs were great, but lyrically they would interfere with the dialogue, so we produced seven songs of her just humming. So part of the sound came from her because she has this great innocent voice and it really comes down to simplicity. I think it's this innocence that just screams through this music. What's funny (is that for Juno's theme) I was auditioning guitars as much as I was guitarists. I brought in a lot of different guitarists. It took me going through eight or nine before I found the right one. Not a ton, but it was really about finding that right sound and ironically, of all the session guitarist that I heard, my favorite came from a guitar named Stella -- a guitar picked up at a garage sale for $25. It had this great, tinny sound. It couldn't stay in tune but it had a mostly in-tune kind of sound. I remember my reaction was, 'That's it. Stella. That's her, that's our guitar.' And so she became the voice that I was looking for.

"In terms of unique instrumentation, my favorite moment was in the trailer where I played some really old brushes that my grandfather who was a big band leader back in the twenties had given me, on an apple. The genesis of using the apple was simple, I had an apple sitting on my a piano and I thought, I need something different for percussion, and then I started playing brushes on the apple and it worked! It had this weird thud to it that was unique and so that ended up being this strange little percussion section in a few of the cues. It was a green apple. I never ate it because I beat the crap out of it but I did paint the little smiley face on it so I didn't feel so bad abusing it."    

Alan Menkin
"Enchanted" (Disney; release Date: Nov. 21)

"The role the music plays in 'Enchanted' is what made it such an irresistible assignment for me. Opportunities to write a film score with so many styles and varied functions come along very seldom. The score to 'Enchanted' functions on a number of levels. At the top of the film we're in the world of animation and animation scoring. It starts as a pastiche of the early Walt Disney-era fairly tales, like 'Snow White' or 'Cinderella,' complete with the big choir and our main theme. The music is meant to strongly establish the tone of the movie. 'Enchanted' is all about coming of age. But, instead of being just about a character who grows up, we see the entire world of animation come face to face with our world and become three dimensional. In a nutshell, Giselle, a wide-eyed, innocent girl from the animated world of Andalasia, falls in love with a prince and is about to marry him. All of her dreams are about to come true when the prince's evil stepmother (in the guise of an old hag, of course) manages to put a spell on her, sending her to the place where no dreams come true.

"One by one the other animated characters follow her into our world and learn their own lessons. Director Kevin Lima had an incredibly specific vision, even to the point of suggesting song titles; many of which we used. But truly, this was a full, dynamic collaboration. Instrumentally we went from MIDI tracks to rhythm section to small orchestra to huge orchestra with choir. And universally the musicians and singers who contributed to this film were a joy to work with. Many of them are now old friends, having worked with us from the days of 'The Little Mermaid' and 'Beauty and the Beast.' But it was a constant learning process for Kevin and me, learning where to let the music play at the surface of the story and where it needed to submerge and support in a nonthematic way. The biggest challenge was balancing my animation style of scoring and my live-action style.

Antonio Pinto
"Love in the Time of Cholera" (New Line; release Date: Nov. 16)

"Cholera' is about love in its most basic form. It is about a man who (at a young age) falls in love with this girl who will be the greatest love of his life, but by the power of destiny they drift apart. Even though in his heart she is the only one for him, he does not relinquish sex. In fact, he has relations with more than 600 women over 53 years, while waiting for his true love to become his. On the other hand, his beloved lives a more traditional life -- she gets married and has kids. However, in her life, love is not the most important thing. So for me, in a simplistic way, this describes the nature of men and women. Basic instincts. Animal instincts. For me the film is about human nature. I also chose to underscore Colombia, where the film is set. I tried to do it in the most subtle way because the emotion is so strong in the film that I didn't want to interfere with it. I didn't want to overwhelm it. This was a big challenge. Where to speak and where not to speak with music. So I chose to write beautiful and simple themes. There are no specific instruments for characters. But there are specific themes for different phases of their love.

"(Director) Mike Newell totally set me free to experiment with musical ideas that would work with the film's period and its Colombian setting. I think he did tremendous work, and he completely understands the Colombian and Latin soul. In terms of instrumentation, I used a lot of traditional Colombian instruments: the 'Colombian cuatro' which is a small guitar with four strings very much like a ukulele; another is a 'marimba de chonta,' a very rustic marimba featured in Colombian traditional music called 'Vallenata'; a rustic Brazilian fiddle called a 'rabeca' played by a great musician called Siba. In addition, I used a number of percussion instruments from the region. I invited three of my friends from Colombia to come and record with me. My idea with all of this was to make the music transport you to a Colombia of long ago in a very original way. I am not Colombian so, in a way, I became a filter -- using all of these Colombian instruments, though in a different form. I didn't box myself in with playing the music exactly as you would have heard it at that time. I wanted to give you a sense of the place without being boring. "   

Brian Tyler
"Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem" (20th Century Fox; release Date: Dec. 25)

"I'm a big fan of both the 'Alien' and 'Predator' series and it's something that both I and directors Greg and Colin (Strause) grew up with. What Greg and Colin really liked was the grittiness of the early films, and they wanted to go about filming the movie in that manner and the music to reflect that grittiness; it's a much more wild and crazy and scary and violent movie than probably the last ... definitely an R film. It was important that the score be intense but also flow between Predator music and Alien music. That language had been established in early scores by Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Alan Silvestri and Elliot Goldenthal. So we wanted to make sure that tradition was reflected in this score but with all new music.

"In terms of themes, everything had its own. The Aliens have the most dissonant, violent theme. There's almost no putting a cap on them, there's no way to control them so the music is really outside the borders. I used all kinds of extended techniques, blurred the line between music and noise in terms of what an orchestra can do with extreme registers in the strings. The trumpets were played in all sorts of crazy ranges, there was striking the cellos and the basses with sticks, and hitting music stands and knocking things over -- just chaos like (the Aliens). Like you're being attacked by a swarm of hornets when you hear that music, and it's contrasted by the Predators, which have this militaristic-meets-jungle sound. Predators are intelligent, organized, but brutal, so (we used) a lot of primitive drums from around the world. We did not use symphonic drums; we used drums that have been around forever. Big leather-bound drums that you can hear pretty much in any ancient culture. That gave (the Predators) this feel of movement and energy that had been established in the early Predator movies. It's hard to think of a more challenging film that I've worked on because it's some of the most intense music that I've worked on for the longest time. It's such complex music -- I've never been so worn out conducting; we had pieces that were 13 minutes at really high rates of speed. My musicians got completely wiped out and my orchestrators wanted to kill me."