Film and TV critic Clint Worthington (The Spool) talks to a new composer every week about the origins, challenges, and joys of their latest musical scores.
Colin Stetson (The Menu)
Welcome to Right on Cue, the podcast where we interview film, TV, and video game composers about the origins and nuances of their latest works.
It's hard to think of a more overt lens through which to satirize the divisions of class more than through food: Fast food vs. haute cuisine, Michelin stars over star-shaped chicken nuggets. Mark Mylod's The Menu is a sizzling satire of the snootiness of fine dining, and the class conflicts it unfurls.
Set on a remote island that's home to one of the most exclusive restaurants in the world, The Menu treats us to a multi-course prix fixe of mayhem centered around high-profile chef Julian Slowik (a beautifully ostentatious Ralph Fiennes). But as the eclectic group of well-off diners sample one conceptually-minded meal after another, it becomes clear there's more than meets the eye for Chef Slowick's menu.
Accompanying each course of the menu Mylod, his cast, and screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy have set out for us is a cheekily propulsive score courtesy of Hereditary composer Colin Stetson. He lays out ornate soundscapes and unusual instruments (glasses played with chopsticks, pans as percussion) with the same perverse mirth as Fiennes' devilish chef, granting each course, and each sick joke on Chef Slowik's guests, a unique voice. And all throughout lays an arch counterpoint to the kind of chamber-music regalness we aesthetically associate with fine dining.
It's a pleasure to welcome Colin Stetson to the podcast to talk about all these ideas and more.
You can find Colin Stetson at his official website here.
The Menu is currently playing in theaters. You can also listen to the score on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of Milan Records.
Ben Lovett (Hellraiser)
Imagine a world where pain and pleasure are one and the same, where hellish delights await those who crave the extremities of sensation. That's the philosophical underpinning behind Clive Barker's Hellraiser series, one of horror's most long-running and iconic franchises, centering around the poor unfortunate souls who come across the Lamarchand Box, a mysterious puzzle box which -- when opened -- unleashes the Cenobites, a cabal of deformed hedonists riding the razor's edge of sadomasochistic experience.
It's a series that's run across eleven films over thirty-plus years, the latest being a radical reimagining courtesy of The Night House and Relative director David Bruckner. This time, series icon Pinhead is reimagined as a "dark priest" played by Sense8's Jamie Clayton, who soon haunts a recovering addict named Riley (Odessa A'zion), who crosses paths with the Lamarchand Box after her brother goes missing. It's a film filled with grim delights and no small amount of squicky body horror, as our characters learn firsthand what happens when otherworldly forces conspire to tear your soul apart.
Just as the Cenobites explore the curious intersections between blood and beauty, so does Bruckner's regular composer, Ben Lovett, experiment with different configurations of his musical puzzle box. In addition to his distinctive use of electronic elements and discordant, warped instrumentation, he finds ways to weave in Christopher Young's classic theme from the 1991 original, tying it to Hellraisers of the past while cementing Bruckner's version as its own unique beast.
Now, Ben and I talk about his score to Hellraiser, his collaboration with David Bruckner, and much more (alongside commentary tracks from the score).
You can find Ben Lovett at his official website here.
Hellraiser is currently streaming on Hulu. You can also listen to the score on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of Lakeshore Records.
Andrew Prahlow (Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye)
When Outer Wilds was released in 2019, it felt like a casual revolution of not just adventure games as a genre but video game music as a whole. The game is a sprawling yet intimate time-loop adventure in which you play an archaeologist/astronaut in a distant system, solving the mystery of why your sun keeps exploding twenty-some minutes after you wake up. And through its elegant, cozy presentation and the banjo-forward music of BAFTA-nominated composer Andrew Prahlow, it also explored ideas of our own significance in the grand scheme of the universe.
The success of both game and soundtrack led Prahlow back to Outer Wilds for its expansion, Echoes of the Eye, giving him a chance to go back to the camping-out-in-space feel of the original while exploring new, alien territory to match the new ring world your character encounters in the DLC. What's more, he followed up the expansion's soundtrack with "The Lost Reels," which add six extended musical suites that help express some of the complex, post-rock ideas explored in the score -- from the orchestral expansiveness of "Older Than the Universe" to the playful string-quartet drive of "The Spirit of Water."
On today's podcast, I sat down with Prahlow to discuss the big, heady ideas Outer Wilds expresses in both game and music form, his own response to the score's breakaway success, and how it feels to be in consideration for the GRAMMY's first award for video game music composition. (He also takes us through a few tracks from The Lost Reels with some exclusive commentaries.)
You can find Andrew Prahlow at his official website here.
Outer Wilds is currently available on Xbox, Steam, and PlayStation. You can also listen to The Lost Reels on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of Andrew Prahlow.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Orchestrators Tutti Music Partners
Much has been said and written about just the sheer size and scale (and cost) of Prime Video's new flagship series, Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. And for good reason: Amazon's spent nearly a billion dollars on a series adapting arguably the most acclaimed and well-regarded fantasy series of all time, notably opting to tell a story set hundreds of years before Frodo's journey to destroy the One Ring. Instead, Rings of Power is content to slowly build a years-long tale in the Second Age, back when Galadriel was a brash young warrior, the Hobbits were called Harfoots, and Sauron was just a shadow.
A story this sprawling and expensive-looking requires a similarly robust score, one that evokes the sweep of the iconic Howard Shore scores for the Peter Jackson films and sets it apart as its own thing. While Shore composed a haunting title theme, the rest of the score goes to acclaimed composer (and previous guest) Bear McCreary, whose expertise with big-budget television and love of world music sounds adds a welcome variety to the show's sound.
But with the sheer amount of score required for the series, sometimes composers need a little help, and that's where orchestrators Tutti Music Partners come in. Longtime collaborators with Bear since 2009, Jonathan Beard, Ed Trybek, and Henri Wilkinson are the ones who help put Bear's music to paper, interpret where possible, and help produce the score itself.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Jonathan, Ed, and Henri to talk about their working relationship with Bear, what an orchestrator does, and how their role was uniquely suited to bringing Rings of Power's music to life.
You can find Tutti Music Partners at their official website here.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is currently streaming on Prime Video. You can also listen to the score on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of Amazon.
Amie Doherty (She-Hulk: Attorney at Law)
Welcome to Right on Cue, the podcast where we interview film, TV, and video game composers about origins and nuances of their latest works, as well as select commentaries from some of the score's most important tracks.
This far into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's an undeniable challenge to find new musical avenues to tread, as some of our previous episodes talking to Marvel composers can attest. But just as the Disney+ Marvel series are dabbling in new genres, so too is She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, which is less a superhero action show than an Ally McBeal-styled legal dramedy about Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) and her attempts to balance her high-paying legal career with life as a single woman. (And, of course, the fact she can turn into an invincible green giantess at will.) As such, She-Hulk demands a milder, more contemplative musical palate than you might expect from the smash and crash of a lot of Marvel works.
That's where Irish composer and orchestrator Amie Doherty comes in, underscoring the series with a sprightly, nimble score matching the quick-witted chicanery of Jen's antics with the bold, brassy fanfare of a superhero series. And this week, she joins me on the show to talk about her beginnings as a Sundance Composer Fellow, working within the Marvel ecosystem, and taking diverse musical swings at the many different cases and chases we see every week (with some exclusive track commentaries along the way).
You can find Amie Doherty at her official website here.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is currently streaming on Disney+, and you can listen to the score on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of Marvel Music.
Nima Fakhrara (Lou)
Of all the actors to get a John Wick-ian action vehicle, Allison Janney might just be the last one on your list. And yet, here we are with Anna Foerster's Lou, the straight-to-Netflix action thriller starring the West Wing legend, now transformed into a former CIA fixer who's given up the life for an isolated existence on a remote coastal island. But her skills are needed once more when her neighbor (Jurnee Smollett) comes to her in the middle of a rainstorm for help: Her daughter's been kidnapped, and her dangerous ex-husband (Logan Marshall-Green) is the culprit. Together, the two must track them through the mud-soaked forest, Lou calling on her particular set of skills to do one last bit of good.
It's a dark, grimy, psychologically complex thriller, with its crackling corners illuminated by Nima Fakhrara's richly textured score. The Iranian-born composer has worked on everything from video games like Detroit: Become Human to ad campaigns for Balenciaga. His work is characterized by his incredible use of synths and staggered, rhythmic vocals. His score for 2019's Becky, another action thriller involving a transformed character actor (Kevin James), is a muscular, primal scream of a score. Lou follows in a quieter permutation of that tradition. Clacking percussion, halting vocals, and tape-scratch elements from 1980s cassette recordings all culminate in a haunting sound that feels like the lost memories of an aging warrior.
And today, we've got Nima Fakhrara on the podcast to talk about his musical history, his experiences on Lou, and the innovative techniques he used to bring the score to life. (We'll also hear a few exclusive track commentaries from the score.)
You can find Nima Fakhrara at his official website here.
Lou is currently streaming on Netflix You can also listen to the score on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of Netflix Music.
Entertaining and illuminating interview podcast. The Spool is fast becoming one of my favorite destinations.