The Gravity Soundtrack
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There was an endearingly British quality to the Oscars speech of Steven Price after the year-old from Nottingham had won an Academy Award for best original score for Gravity. Price, who is fast becoming one of the most in-demand film composers, thanked his family, and joked backstage: "Mum, Dad, Jenny — sorry I made so much noise while I was growing up.
My house was full of music, my main memories are of the record player at home, it was all Beatles and Rolling Stones and we danced around the living room, that started me off on instruments and I've done nothing else ever since. Price, who is writing the score for the upcoming Edgar Wright Marvel film Ant-Man, took up the guitar at the age of five and later graduated from Cambridge University with a first-class degree in music.
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He has worked as a session musician, including with Michael Hutchence and Bono, and in advertising. But it is his work on Gravity that has now sealed his reputation. The music for Gravity came about by chance. Oscars in pictures.
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Price used innovative methods to accompany the space scenes featuring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, leaving out percussion because he thought it would clash with the number of explosions in the film , infusing radio signals into the music, and utilising unusual instruments such as the glass harmonica, which is played beautifully by Alasdair Malloy on the score. Price says the glass harmonica gives the music to Gravity "an other-worldly sound". The soundtrack, which was conducted by Geoff Alexander, also features the vocals of Lisa Hannigan.
Price says that he was "always a little obsessed about reading about all the Apollo missions" and said the chance to work on a space film was thrilling. Asked by Film Music Mag last month about some of the influences on the Gravity's music, Price replied: "I like expansive stuff that has a lot of space in it, like some of the early Pink Floyd albums.
The sound effects Cuaron does allow are the shocks from physical contact - the noises that the astronauts hear, refracted through their bubbles of dwindling oxygen. When collisions send vibrations through their spacesuits, that impact ripples across the score. Every now and then, everything erupts in a screech of distorted static - I won't spoilt which track - that shreds your nerves with an otherwordly shriek.
As the album's atmosphere spreads, Steven Price introduces a cello theme on Atlantis ; a low thrum of sad existence that returns with determination against the tide. Strings are stretched higher on the stand-out track Don't Let Go, ramping up the uneasiness as a violin takes the tune. An airy piano and delicate synth in Airlock 's maternal pause, though, remind us that it's not all doom and gloom above Earth.
That voice gets stronger in the second half of the album, picking up on the cello and vocal line, piecing them together into something more substantial. At the end of ISS , everything fades into a faint hiss, as Price feeds a trumpet through a synth, only to cause it to pack up altogether.
We hear the death of the machine - just as life is emerging. Soyuz is when it finally finds a way, arriving as the fully blown theme for Dr Ryan Stone. The cello and piano combo fight their way through Tiangong , as the synth surround grows bigger and faster - Gravity 's music doesn't just rise; it accelerates. Eventually, the audio debris climbs so far that it becomes a squeak that disappears out of hearing range. All the while, Ryan's theme is stronger and stronger, a falling refrain that evolves into a rising cello and vocal melody.
By the time Gravity 's force hits in the final track, that female voice is practically screaming in your face: a primal, powerful yell of trying to survive. The result is an astonishing soundtrack that is scientifically sound - and emotionally distressing. It's only when you remove your headphones and turn the lights back on that you realise you've stopped breathing.
Nathan Johnson is one of the most interesting composers working today. His approach is simple - and by that, I mean mind-bogglingly complex. He creates seemingly conventional scores with symphonic, romantic, exciting themes, but with one difference: none of the instruments exist. Instead, Nathan records noises from the real world than uses these found sounds to form a digital orchestra of impossible instruments, with which he then composes music.
It's a technique that gave an eerie quality to his cousin Rian's fantastic first film, Brick and added an industrial vibe to Looper' s sci-fi dystopia.
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It is perhaps no surprise, then, that Johnson should be called upon by the star of both, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, to compose the score for his directorial debut, Don Jon - a film in which the main character's online existence is, in many ways, more real than his actual life. Johnson's digital wizardry, you might think, is a perfect fit.
That's where the surprise comes. Rather than stick with his expected method, Johnson opts for more traditional instruments - including, of course, synthesisers. An album of one and two-minute bursts, the porn comedy's score could seem like a series of quick, off-the-cuff releases, but Nathan does not bash them out willy nilly; he splits the soundtrack into three styles to match the character's progression. Working with Son Lux for the first section, Jon's sex-driven nightlife has the pumping synth quality you might associate with Johnson's work.
Lots of the tracks climax in triumphant fanfares, the kind you hear when you complete a level on a computer game. Combined with the film's repeated use of the Apple startup beep and the recycle bin rustle, the sound design builds up the all-encompassing influence of Jon's virtual reality. Don't expect The Social Network, though: Don Jon' s main theme is a lurching waltz that matches stop-start phrasing and its unnatural instruments with a jaunty time signature to bring out the broad humour of the film.
That theme is reworked for each strand of the score. Once The First Date arrives, the soundtrack swoons back and forth before hitting a minor crescendo that mimics the emotions of Hollywood gone by.
Sweetly arranged by Judson Crane, the couple's first kiss is a fanfare of classic rom-coms more than console gaming. Then comes the score's final third, where Johnson teams up with Jonny Rogers to deliver an altogether more muted tone. Acoustic guitars and piano on tracks such as Nightschool strip the movie's techno vibe down to a slower number; Rogers' quiet sweep picking reveals that underneath that comic waltz is a melancholic piece.