Welcome to another edition of CS Score! This week we’ve got a great interview with Jupiter’s Legacy composer Stephanie Economou, who breaks down her scoring process and shares some unique insights into her fantastic score.
We also take a look at La La Land Records’ re-release of Danny Elfman’s Darkman soundtrack. Let’s do this thing!
Back in stock – *batteries not included (2CD). https://t.co/YFQ8wlDAdz
— Intrada (@IntradaCDs) May 4, 2021
New Intrada Release RIO CONCHOS. Completely remastered presentation of our celebrated 1989 Excalibur series recording with Jerry Goldsmith conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. https://t.co/eV5moRz9D8
— Intrada (@IntradaCDs) May 3, 2021
— La-La Land Records (@LaLaLandRecords) May 1, 2021
Announcing our latest CD Club batch:
LIONHEART (The Deluxe Edition) by Jerry Goldsmith and KNOWING (The Deluxe Edition) by Marco Beltrami. Both titles are now available to order via the links below.
— Varèse Sarabande Records (@VareseSarabande) April 30, 2021
EDWARD SCISSORHANDS Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Danny Elfman is On Sale Now! We are proud to bring you a deluxe new vinyl pressing of the music to the beloved Tim Burton film. https://t.co/4dcjHKQ6P4 pic.twitter.com/ns4oVxFHvq
— Waxwork Records (@waxworkrecords) May 7, 2021
In Celebration of Star Wars Day 2021, we’re re-issuing THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: SYMPHONIC SUITE FROM THE ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SCORE by John Williams.
— Varèse Sarabande Records (@VareseSarabande) May 4, 2021
DARKMAN – 30th Anniversary Expanded Edition
My first introduction to Danny Elfman’s exciting score for Sam Raimi’s Darkman happened, oddly enough, when I watched the trailer for Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow way back in August of 1999. Said trailer culminates with music from the track “High Steel” from Darkman, which I instantly loved and, for whatever reason, assumed was part of Elfman’s score for Sleepy Hollow.
As such, when Sleepy Hollow’s soundtrack made its debut on November 16 of that year, I was stunned to discover a completely different — albeit equally terrific — film score. During those days, info on the World Wide Web was limited, but, after an extended search, I finally discovered the source, made my way to the nearest Camelot Music and picked up a copy of Darkman.
Right off the bat, I was struck by how familiar the soundtrack was to Elfman’s work on Batman and Batman Returns. Darkman is more or less a quasi-remix of the latter, but it still packs quite the punch thanks to the composer’s contagious signature thematic style. The Main Theme, in particular, is vintage Elfman, what with its undeniably Gothic tone and rambunctious circus-style rhythms that somehow form a fascinating, aggressively dark march that pops up throughout the score in a variety of ways — on organ, strings, brass, etc.
Not to be outdone, Elfman goes even darker for tracks such as “Rage,” which utilize choir and wild percussion in a manner that recalls his work on Scrooged. The results are downright freakish at times, but nonetheless entertaining.
Actually, one of the things I like about Darkman is the way it plays like a montage of Elfman’s Greatest Hits — a little Batman, some Edward Scissorhands, with a dash of Pee-Wee and Scrooged. Hell, you can even hear many of the same musical ideas, styles, and rhythms Elfman would go on to utilize for Mission: Impossible six years later.
No matter, because it all works perfectly within Raimi’s film and provides a wild listening experience thanks to its clever use of varied instruments and unapologetic brooding nature. Compared to modern superhero scores, which are mostly indistinguishable from one another, Darkman stands out as one of the more unique scores of the genre.
Just listen to the track: “Waltz/Rage/First Blood,” which kicks off with a Batman-esque waltz, morphs into a cacophony of horns, percussion and organ, then segues into horror, punctuated by brief interludes of the main theme, and culminates with a wild blast of action music. That track is followed by the demented “Creating Pauley,” which quite literally sounds like a nightmare, spruced up with a few snippets of an eerie choir, no less. Later, there’s a track literally called “Carnival From Hell,” which just makes me think of evil clowns.
In other words, this is not your typical superhero soundtrack. Of course, Darkman is not your typical superhero movie.
In fact, the only track that offers anything close to what one might call conventional superhero music is “High Steel,” perhaps the most exciting cue on the entire album. Whether you enjoy the rest depends on your fondness for Elfman’s style.
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Originally, the soundtrack to Darkman was comprised of roughly 40 minutes of music. Thanks to La La Land Records, Elfman’s score has been expanded and remastered via Darkman: 30th Anniversary Expanded Edition, which released last year and quickly sold out. Lucky for us, the limited edition 2CD set has been reissued, though, again, with a limited quantity. So, get it quick before it’s gone!
Produced by Mike Matessino and Neil S. Bulk, and mastered by Matessino, this limited edition release of 3000 units features a bounty of previously unreleased music. The release’s exclusive, in-depth liner notes are by writer Daniel Schweiger and the robust art direction is by Dan Goldwasser.
STEPHANIE ECONOMOU INTERVIEW
A long-time collaborator of composer Harry Gregson-Williams (The Martian, The Meg), Stephanie Economou is in a new class of composer who carry on the legacies of the greats who came before while also establishing their own unique, equally-powerful, lyrical voice.
For her score in Jupiter’s Legacy, based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Mark Millar (Kickass, Kingsman: The Secret Service), Economou created a super heroic theme that feels satisfyingly epic and yet is versatile enough to twist and turn through the diverse range of emotions throughout the series.
Aside from a critical story moment where this theme becomes profoundly diegetic, as well as using regional instruments as the heroes globetrot, Economou also lifted text directly from Millar’s original graphic novel, translated it into Latin, and incorporated those choir vocals into the theme itself – further connecting her music and the show to the adapted source material.
Jeff Ames: What drew you to the world of film and TV composing?
Stephanie Economou: I grew up playing piano and violin and kind of playing in orchestras and stuff, I was really fortunate enough to go to a high school on Long Island, a public school that had this great composition and theory program for four years. So that’s kind of what really inspired me to start writing music to begin with. Going to the New England Conservatory of Music for college, I had a couple friends who were filmmakers at Emerson and they had some short films, and they were like, ‘Hey, do you want to score them?’ And I was like, ‘Sure, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, but I’ll give it a shot!’ And it was just such a wonderful feeling to just collaborate with other people who aren’t in the music world. They always pushed me to do something that I wouldn’t have normally done and kind of just got me out of that sort of box that you can get into when you’re just sitting in a practice room and writing self-important music. So that was really nice to be able to have that experience. And I just felt like that was what I wanted to do. So I came out to LA and I was working with another composer named Harry Gregson-Williams for many years, and he was such an amazing mentor, especially to a young composer who’s super green and doesn’t have a lot of experience yet. He just took me under his wing for many years and that’s how I started building my credits and getting experience writing on feature films and TV series.
Ames: What’s the difference between a classical composer and TV/film composer?
Economou: Being in the concert world, and writing concert music is a lot about your own, just kind of isolated creativity, at least that’s the way I felt it was. And pivoting into film and TV, there was a lot that I had to learn about in terms of pacing. And I think the crucial thing is just learning about the filmmaking process. You know, understanding what the editor is doing, and how to read picture, how to read emotion, how to understand the role that music can play, in the storytelling process. It’s not always about writing sad music under a sad scene, it’s about what happens when the music is the antithesis emotionally to what’s going on on the screen; and the complexities involved with that, I think, is the biggest thing that one has to learn, coupled with just the collaborative process — who’s in the room, who has final say, who do you need to get the music signed off, who’s gonna sign off on the music and the process of doing a live scoring session recording an orchestra, and getting the players working with a mixer. Basically, the whole process from start to finish, like what it looks like to actually sit down before you write a note of music and figure out how you’re going to accomplish the score. So, there’s definitely a big pivot. And there was lots to learn. But I was lucky to have had such a wonderful mentor to show me the process.
Ames: What’s it like navigating through the competitive field of TV/film scoring?
Economou: That’s a good question. I mean, the answer to that kind of eludes me still. I do find that just looking at the careers of others, a lot of that comes down to relationships. You know, ultimately, it’s about who you’ve met along the way. And Harry was just always so wonderful about being really transparent to his collaborators about my role at his studio. He was always introducing me to people that he knew, and down the line, they would think of me for things on my own. So that certainly has helped me navigate the landscape because I know people at Disney and I know people at Fox and ABC and Netflix and Hulu and stuff, so that has certainly benefited me or just given me some seeds to plant along the way. And I feel that that kind of is the most important thing in Hollywood — that relationship aspect of it, which is hard to demystify, like how you even get there. It’s kind of just a slow process that you crack away at. And you hope that you kind of have repeat customers that you get to work with. When I move on from Jupiter’s Legacy, I mean, hopefully, there’ll be more seasons, but there’s so many wonderful producers that I was able to collaborate with. So the hope is always when they go off and do their next project, if it’s right creatively, that I get to work with them again. So that’s sort of just how it kind of snowballs. It’s always like a really slow period to start for many years, and then it kind of sort of gradually picks up as you keep treading through.
Ames: With Jupiter’s Legacy, you’ve got this big, sprawling, epic superhero series that spans several different time periods, feature daring escapades, aliens — all that stuff. How was your role as a composer on the of the series envisioned? And how did that evolve throughout the creative process?
Economou: Jupiter’s Legacy was unique in that they hired me when they had been editing — they were in post for quite some time — and they had really good solid cuts of all eight episodes. So we sat down together — the showrunner, and producers, and myself — and we had a spotting session. So, we went through all the episodes and talked about concept musically. And it was really important to them for it to feel more like a long feature film, and not like an episodic season. Because of that, I wanted to have a plan conceptually before I tackled the score.
So you know, watching Episode Seven, which is just this epic, incredible journey-based episode, the whole seasons kind of building up to it, I had a very clear idea in mind what I want to do for the final scene of that episode. They’re on the island, and they get to the last stage of it right before they’re granted their powers. And I had the idea from the beginning, like, this is such a bizarre, incredible, shocking scene that I wanted to write like a big choir piece for it. I felt like it needed something bold and kind of different. And I wanted to use the main theme of the show, which I had written — it’s kind of Sheldon’s/The Utopian’s theme, but also the show theme, or the Union theme. I thought that would be a great spot for it, because it’s like the moment where they get their powers; and what bigger statement could you do musically than to write a chorale? So I had decided that with the producers and sold them on that idea, even before I’d written a note of music, and because of that, I didn’t want it to just be like, suddenly, we get to Episode Seven and there’s a huge choir! I kind of unwound that idea. So vocals became part of the DNA of the score, however subtle and kind of experimental and fragmented and strange. That was a seed that was being planted throughout the whole series. So by the time we get to that moment, in Episode Seven, it feels like it’s earned. And it feels like a grand statement of what it was teasing the whole time. So there was a conceptual idea from the start, especially for that.
Other than that, because, you know, the scope and the scale of the show is so kind of crazy. You know, we’re having time periods, we’re going to Morocco … it’s all different, right? So the whole idea was to have themes established for characters. So there’s a theme for the Utopia and a theme for Chloe, Raikou, Grace, Walter — there were these musical signatures and identifiers that I tried to establish as we went so that even if we’re hopping time periods the music isn’t changing to fit the time period, it’s still that same theme that we feel is developing with that character. So that was kind of the approach throughout.
There were some surprises along the way like Chloe ended up with an industrial rock theme, which I didn’t know was going to happen. But you know, the actual musical content of her theme, those notes that are associated with her, they had to get quick, intimate and dark and twisted; and even if the dark metal aspect wasn’t there, stylistically, her theme was still there. It just had kind of a different interpretation. So, I just tried to do that with all of the characters wherever I could. My hope is a cohesive sort of evolution of this core as it evolves with the picture.
Ames: Were there any particular scenes in the series that challenged you to produce something outside of your comfort zone?
Economou: I was very worried about the choir piece, because it’s like, what a great, cool idea to decide at the beginning of the process. But, like I said, I haven’t written a note of music. So, by the time I got to Episode Seven, I was like, ‘Shit, can I pull this off?’ That was a different kind of, just like sort of psyching myself out, self-awareness kind of thing.
There was another scene in Episode Seven, which I called “Illumination” on the soundtrack, it’s a scene where there are six original characters stuck behind this rock wall, and they can’t escape. And they all go up and put their hands on the wall, and these lights come up and our showrunner, Sang Kyu Kim, really wanted there to be a tone associated with the lights on the wall. He really wanted it to be music, he didn’t want it to be sound design. So, I was faced with this really unique, rare undertaking for a composer, which is to create the diegetic, this on-screen sound, but also had an underscore there, and it all had to work together. So my idea for that was, all these characters have their own themes. So like, why not associate their individual tones with a little snippet of their theme and like, have a tone come out of it. So that was a very composer thing to do, like no one watching that is going to know that like, you know? When Sheldon puts his hand on the wall, the first two notes are of his theme on horn. The characters had that moment. And if their hand ever came off the wall, I had reversed the tone and reversed their little motif. And the idea was like when everybody has their hands on the wall, but they’re all hanging there — the tones — and they’re not quite harmonious together until they all do it. And it all happens and it becomes this big chord. And then the final challenge I was faced with creatively there was what do I do with these tones that have just been hanging in that space once it opens up, so I decided to take the tones and make it part of the score. So the tones became an arpeggiated kind of sequence of belly tones that continued on as the score built to the end of the scene; as they walk, they walk into the light past the rock wall. So, it was definitely something that I never thought I would be able to do before I did it. And I think having the creative concept, and just having a little bit of an idea of how I wanted to tackle that sonically really helped get me through it. But it’s certainly one of those kinds of experimental, different things that you never know if you’re gonna be able to pull it off. But it was really fun, being able to do that.
Ames: Are there themes or motifs you developed in Season One that you’re eager to explore or expand upon in later seasons?
Economou: Yes! That’s a great question. I think the main dominating theme of this series was definitely the Utopian show theme that I wrote. And there’s also another little motif that I call the “Adventure Germ,” which is basically just kind of a sequence of four or sometimes five notes. Sometimes it’s on a piano, sometimes it’s on short strings or an action sequence. Sometimes it’s on like a weird sense, but it’s always there. It’s really just constantly there. That was fun to be able to have it start sort of as, like when the adventure is picking up, but also carry it into the present day, because that sense of, you know, them getting their powers, and this responsibility is still there even in the younger generation. So I like the idea of continuing to expand on that and having it be this microcosm of a musical idea that carries through all of their lives. On top of that, I really wish I could have developed more of a theme for Walter because he definitely has his moments for it. He has a really wonderful emotional scene in Episode Seven. The performance is so incredible, but he has this cello theme; and I like the idea of, in Season Two, really turning that on its head and making it more dark and twisted. And really giving it the chance to have the legs to be something so far beyond what it was introduced as. So I hope I get the opportunity to do that.
Ames: As a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series, I noticed you’re scoring the Valhalla DLC “Siege of Paris.” Can you tell us anything about that?
Economou: That was definitely a pivot for me creatively because I had never done game music before. So it was fun being able to learn that process, but it was also really fun being able to, or just at least try to create a sound for Paris in that time, like around 845 — so so so early on — and I did a lot of historical research. There’s so little documentation about what music sounded like back then it was kind of mainly sacred choir music. And there was very little written about what instrumental music was used. So I sort of ended up collecting a lot of strange instruments from around that time period, kind of early medieval, so a little bit later on, but I bought a Vielle, which is kind of like an original version of a violin. I have some Kantele — just like anything that has a string and a box attached to it I basically just knocked on and scratched and sort of made all sorts of sounds, because that’s the thing about Assassin’s Creed … what I chose for a palette was kind of like a reflection of these old instruments, but with super hyper-modern production. And it has that energy of being like a siege. And it was really fun to be able to try to craft a sound for that … and have the chance to kind of experiment with that sound palette.
Jupiter’s Legacy is now streaming on Netflix.