Know The Score: Rock Stars-Turned-Composers

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Rock stars are a versatile bunch. They can write tunes, reduce mild-mannered crowds to baying, moshing masses, trot the globe for months on end and go triple platinum, all while wearing improbably tight trousers. And as Trent Reznor and Attica Ross prove this week with their terrific work on The Social Network, they can also knock out a highly accomplished movie scores when they set their minds to it. So if you’re looking for a composer to provide a full whack of tuneful ditties for a major Hollywood release, you could do a lot worse than head to Glastonbury. Or just have a read of our guide to some of the best rock-star/director collaborations of recent years…

Movie: The Social Network (2010)
Director: David Fincher

The Social Network SoundtrackNine Inch Nailer Trent Reznor was David Fincher’s first and only pick to score The Social Network. While Fincher had used a remix of NIN’s Closer for Seven’s opening and directed the promo for Only, the pair hadn’t worked together on film. Reznor had initial misgivings about the subject matter. “Is it just going to be a bunch of people on Facebook? Facebook sucks, so it just felt like, ‘Ugh’,” he told Pitchfork. A quick glimpse at Aaron Sorkin’s script, though, changed his mind. “When I realized what he was up to, I said goodbye to that free time I had planned.” Enlisting Atticus Ross, a regular collaborator of NIN and too-secret-to-mention-here side project How To Destroy, Reznor set to work. Tangerine Dream was a strong reference point, as was Moog master (and A Clockwork Orange scorer) Wendy Carlos, the touchstone for the crazed re-edit of Edward Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King which accompanied The Social Network’s Henley Regatta scene. The result is a fraying, electronic mood piece that perfectly captures the movie’s creeping sense of mistrust and acrimony. Expect Reznor and Fincher to work together again – just don’t expect them to poke each other.

Standout track: The Gentle Hum Of Anxiety

Further listening: Nine Inch Nail’s Pretty Hate Machine (1989), Year Zero (2007)

Movie: The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Director: Sofia Coppola

Mingling restless electronica with plaintive pianos, Air’s beautiful, understated score provides one half of The Virgin Suicides two-part musical accompaniment. It shares screen time with a soundtrack that features ‘70s staples from Carole King to ELO, and one of their own tracks (Ce Matin-là) that gives a clue why Sofia Coppola called on the French duo in the first place. Their debut, Moon Safari – one part Serge Gainsbourg, one part soundtrack to a Hal Ashby movie – was shot through with exactly the kind of gentle nostalgia and spacey atmospherics to fit the mood of the Lisbon daughters anguished coming-of-age, albeit a lot more Left Bank than 1970s Michigan. Air also played matchmaker, calling on Phoenix singer Thomas Mars to sing on the duskily sax-fuelled Playground Lover and providing a romantic intro for Mars and his partner Ms Coppola.

Standout track: Highschool Lover

Further listening: Moon Safari (1998), Talkie Walkie (2004)

Movie: About A Boy (2002)

Directors: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz

About A Boy SoundtrackDamon Gough’s Mercury-winning first record, The Hour Of Bewilderbeast, brimmed with bruised melodies and lovelorn lyrics that marked him as a talent to watch – and About A Boy directors Chris and Paul Weitz were watching. Two years later, the tea-cosyed folkster was lending his tender sensibilities to their adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel, with a little help from Beck and Elliot Smith producer Tom Rothrock. A more perfect choice you couldn’t imagine. From the unrequited longing of Silent Sigh to the melodic jaunt of Something To Talk About and instrumental cues that fit hand-in-mitten with the film’s melancholy wit and warmth, it’s 16 tracks worth of movie-completing magic. There’s even a song for the duck.

Standout track: Silent Sigh

Further listening: The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (2000), It's What I'm Thinking Pt.1 – Photographing Snowflakes (2010)

Movie: There Will Be Blood

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Talented bunch, Radiohead. Apart from all those seminal albums, their tracks have appeared on soundtracks from Vanilla Sky (Everything In Its Right Place) to Children Of Men (Life in a Glass House) and, er, Twilight (15 Step). Individually, they’ve branched out into the movie scoring business with consummate ease. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood was Paul Thomas Anderson’s choice for his psychological Western after hearing his haunting work on the entirely dialogue-free documentary Bodysong. He was rewarded with a majestic, string-soaked score as eerily haunting as the barren Californian landscape. Recorded at Abbey Road using a full orchestra, it’s filled with violins that scratch like unforgiving scrub and cellos that shimmer with tension. “Sometimes Paul would describe it close to the horror genre," Greenwood told EW. "We talked about how 'The Shining' had lots of [avant-garde Polish composer Krzysztof] Penderecki in it.” As Anderson put it: “When you have a title like that, the music better be a little bit scary.” It is. Deeply unsettling in fact, reverberating with menace that bursts into violent expression with all the unpredictability of Daniel Plainview’s rage. Happily it’s not Greenwood’s last cinematic outing – look out for his work with band mate Thom Yorke on the soundtrack for Edward Norton indie Stone.

Standout track: Open Spaces

Further listening: OK Computer (1997), Amnesiac (2001), In Rainbows (2007)

Movie: Tron Legacy (2010)

Director: Joe Kosinski

Tron Legacy SoundtrackThe chrome-headed electro titans look like they might have spent at least part of their formative years on lightcycles, and were heavily influenced by the look of Disney’s 1982 Tron world. An obvious choice to fire up for Tron Legacy’s neon-glowing musical cues, then? Well, yes, says director Joe Kosinski, who picked them from a shortlist of electronic artists. “We met for pancakes at the 101 Coffee Shop in LA,” Kosinski told MTV. “These guys take Tron very seriously. It was almost like they were interviewing me to make sure that I was going to hold up to the Tron legacy.” The score is still under lock and key at the Mouse House, but the Game Has Changed gives an early sample of its high concepts. If that’s anything to go by, the soundtrack will be a masterclass in tension-building electronica to accompany Sam Flynn’s journey into Tron world. One half of the robot duo, Thomas Bangalter, has also partnered up with Gaspar Noé to score Irréversible and to sound effect Enter The Void which, coincidentally, is the Tron of death-fixated acid-headfuck movies. Just so you know.

Standout track: released November 22.

Further listening: Homework (1997), Discovery (2001)

Movie: Hanna (2011)

Director: Joe Wright

Following The Soloist, Joe Wright’s next film, the Bourne-meets-Nikita actioner Hanna, sees him tackle a bold new musical direction as well as cinematic genre. Swapping Beethoven for altogether chunkier beats, Wright has called on The Chemical Brothers, auld muckers of his from the early ‘90s warehouse scene, to provide the score. Back when they were still Dust Brothers, Tom and Ed Chemical called on Wright’s visual skills to create suitably psychedelic projections for their sets. While the Hanna score is still under wraps, Wright is promising ‘a modern beat’. With luck that means something akin to John Powell’s edgy work on the Bourne films, only dragged through a nightclub by its hair and force-fed half a dozen Red Bulls. We do know that for a movie in which Saoirse Ronan and Eric Bana batter seven shades of hell out of Western Europe, it’s not going to sound much like Star Guitar.

Standout track: Released sometime 2011.

Further listening: Exit Planet Dust (1995), Surrender (1999), We Are The Night (2007)

Movie: Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

Director: Spike Jonze

Proof that exes can get along, Spike Jonze called on Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ lead singer (and old flame) Karen O to work on the bittersweet musical cues for his Maurice Sendak-inspired monster mash. Ms Orzolek did a Stallone and turned Barney Ross to assemble a kind of alt.rock Expendables: crammed into the studio were Yeah³ band mates Brian Chase and Nick Zinner, as well as members of Deerhunter, The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs and Liars, automatically making it 160% more indie-credible than any score ever recorded. It’s filled with the joyous primal screams of childhood exuberance: bright, crayon-drawn doodles that contrast perfectly with the bleaker, more mournful Carter Burwell melodies. A joy for kids big and small.

Standout track: Building All Is Love.

Further listening: Fever To Tell (2003), It’s Blitz! (2009)

Movie: Moon (2009)

Director: Duncan Jones

Fans of scraggly-haired West Midlands indie pop will claim Clint Mansell as one of their own, but unless Get The Girl! Kill The Baddies! Is one of your desert island discs, you’ll agree that ex-Pop Will Eat Itself singer has gone on to bigger and better things. Something of a sci-fi specialist, Mansell’s scoring talents were first spotted by Darren Aronofsky, who used him for Pi, Requiem For A Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, and now Black Swan (which sees him share a credit with some dude called Tchaikovsky). He’s building a similarly fruitful partnership with Duncan Jones, following up his work on Moon with the score for Source Code. Moon, all disquieting piano chords and sombre atmospherics, builds slowly to a breathless crescendo to match Sam’s fraught space odyssey. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Mansell eventually join the likes of Hans Zimmer, Philip Glass and Dario Marianelli in the pantheon of modern movie greats – he’s seriously talented. Hey, even Joe Carnahan describes him as ‘The Man’, and he once organised a fight between a jet and a tank.

Standout track: Welcome To Lunar Industries.

Further listening: This Is the Day...This Is the Hour...This Is This! (1989), Dos Dedos Mis Amigos (1994)

Movie: Sunshine

Director: Danny Boyle

From their earliest Dark & Long days, Underworld have effortlessly combined widescreen melodies with darker undertones. Their work with composer John Murphy on Danny Boyle’s criminally underrated sci-fi builds a sense of euphoric awe in the face of something so majestic it basically reduces the crew of the Icarus II to gibbering wrecks – a little like the ‘lager, lager’ bit of Born Slippy did to festival crowds during the summer of Trainspotting. Boyle, one of the most muso of directors, had used Underworld on A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach, while Murphy provided the score for Millions and 28 Days Later. Murphy wrote the film’s most recognisable cue, Sunshine (Adagio in D Minor), since used again on Kick-Ass. Underworld, though, penned the hauntingly elegiac, Eno-esque Capa Meets the Sun (To Heal), a fittingly transcendent accompaniment for Sunshine’s solar-powered climax.

Standout track: Capa Meets the Sun (To Heal).

Further listening: Dubnobasswithmyheadman (1994), Second Toughest In The Infants (1996), Barking (2010)

Movie: Out Of Sight (1998)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Since Danny DeVito’s Jersey Films picked him out for Out Of Sight’s soundtrack, Belfast’s own techno god David Holmes has carved out a seriously impressive Hollywood niche for himself, turning out pitch-perfect scores to five more Soderbergh movies as well as, a bit closer to home, Steve McQueen’s Hunger. Alongside the Oceans scores, Holmes’ terrific work on Out Of Sight still stands out. From the woozy accompaniment to Clooney and Lopez’s trunk ride (The Trunk Scene), to the moody breakbeats of that hotel meeting (Tub Scene), it builds in diagetic sounds to layer the movie with atmosphere – and a barrel load of funk. “I come in at script level,” Holmes tells Indie London. "I get a copy of the script, I read it straight away and from that ideas start to form. I then compile CDs and send them to Steven and we communicate via email. If he’s feeling positive about something he lets me know and the other stuff he just ignores.”

Standout track: Rip Rip.

Further listening: This Film’s Crap Let’s Rip The Seats (1995), The Holy Pictures (2009)