Last week, we kicked off our annual On The Rise season with a look at 5 cinematographers who you'll be seeing a lot more of in the coming years. This week, we wanted to switch lanes a bit, away from the eyes, and towards the ears, to pick out some promising new composers on the scene.
Ever since we've been running these features, we've wanted to focus on composers, but for one reason or another, it's never quite come to pass. As such, there were plenty of names floating around. Composition can be a hard thing to break into — the field is often dominated by the same old names, and even looking at this year's Oscar nominations, you see people like John Williams, Alexandre Desplat and Mychael Danna, who've been fixtures of film scores for years if not decades (not that we don't love their work).
But it's also an exciting time for film music, with bands and dance acts increasingly called upon for scores, and strange new sounds becoming more and more commonplace. So as such, we've picked out five of the young composers who we think have the best chance of doing great work in the coming year or two. You can read our picks below, and let us know your own thoughts in the comments section below.
2011's "Attack The Block" rightly gained a lot of attention for a lot of people, but someone who was somewhat overlooked was composer Steven Price. Thanks to the presence of legendary South London dance artists Basement Jaxx as co-writers on the score, Price was often left out of the conversations about the film (including, it should be said, by ourselves), but Price was really the film's secret weapon.
The 35-year-old Brit started off working in recording studios, until landing a job as an assistant to composer Trevor Jones ("In The Name Of The Father," "Dark City," "Notting Hill"). Price got to train with him over the next few years, before his work at Abbey Road studios saw him hired as the music editor on "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (a position that, for the record, involves putting together temp scores, as well as later compiling, cutting and syncing the composers' finished work). He continued this work on "Return of the King," "Batman Begins" and "Mr. Bean's Holiday" among others, and also served as Cate Blanchett's musical coach on "I'm Not There." But the really big break came with "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," on which Price assisted Nigel Godrich on the score, including arrangements and additional music. And when that film's backers Big Talk were looking for a composer to work alongside Basement Jaxx on "Attack The Block," Price was their first call. It's impossible to say who did what on the menacing, John-Carpenter-with-grime-beats score, one of the best of 2011, but director Joe Cornish and executive producer Edgar Wright have both made clear how invaluable Price's contributions were. Indeed, Wright's put his money where his mouth is, hiring the composer for what will be his second full composing credit, on "The World's End." But possibly even more exciting is the prospect of his musical contribution to perhaps the most anticipated film of 2013, "Gravity," Alfonso Cuaron's ambitious space adventure which sees George Clooney and Sandra Bullock stranded alone in orbit. If the script is anything to go by, there won't be a lot of dialogue going on, so Price could well have some heavy lifting. We're expecting something special…
To our knowledge, Daniel Hart had no music composing credits to his name before the start of this year, though he has a long history in the indie scene in various guises, but after his moody and brooding, storm-rollin-into-town score for the Sundance hit "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," this is all likely going to change. Directed by David Lowery, 'Saints' is a searing and slow-burning outlaw drama set in 1970s Texas. While the picture features fantastic everything — performances, cinematography, editing, direction — perhaps its greatest asset is its simmering and sinister atmosphere. And a lot of that overall evocative tone can be attributed to Hart's incredible score, that we were completely taken with at Sundance. Hart, who trained at Southern Methodist University, and has played the violin for bands including The Polyphonic Spree, St. Vincent and Broken Social Scene, as well as fronting his own group The Physics of Meaning, makes his compositional debut on the film, having released his first solo album, The Orientalist (which has guest appearances from Bon Iver and Andrew Bird, among others), last year. And it's a fairly extraordinary effort for his first time at bat. To quote from our review, "another MVP of the picture's below-the-line talent, is Daniel Hart's haunting score. Cripple-creek fiddles pluck away anxiously, cellos drone, banjos twang out with ghostly notes and violins cry into the night sky, creating a sonorous musical backdrop for this brooding picture to lay its ten gallon hat on.” “Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is an intense and portentous bad moon rising out of love, revenge, crime and good intentions gone bad, and Hart’s striking work therein should hopefully launch a career we’re going to keep our eyes and ears tuned to.
Few composers have gotten as much attention with only a few minutes of music as Harry Escott, the British composer whose moody, throbbing score to Steve McQueen's "Shame" put him on the map after years of somewhat under-the-radar work. The London-born Escott was a chorister as a child at Westminster Cathedral, before going on to study at the Royal College of Music and Oxford University, where he decided to go into composition for film. To begin with, Escott worked alongside Molly Nyman, the daughter of the legendary Michael Nyman ("The Piano"), their first collaboration being a fairly high-profile one; the terrific, lyrical fairy-tale score for David Slade's debut "Hard Candy." This brought them to the attention of Michael Winterbottom, who hired them for his docu-dramas "The Road To Guantanamo" and "A Mighty Heart," with the documentary "Deep Water" also following. And one of their most important works came in 2008, with "Shifty," the directorial debut of Eran Creevy. The excellent British drama (not seen much in the U.S., sadly), starring Riz Ahmed and Daniel Mays, sees a real shift of mood, with an almost folktronica feel. Capable of being both light-hearted and menacing, and performed by Escott's ensemble The Samphire Band, it's one of the more delicate and undervalued scores of recent years. That led to further strong work with "I Am Slave" and "The Arbor," before Escott went solo to work on "Shame," his bookending pieces (while reminiscent of Hans Zimmer's "The Thin Red Line" score in places) for that picture were among the most memorable bits of film music of that year. Next up is a reteam with Creevy on the actioner "Welcome To The Punch," with James McAvoy and Mark Strong — a terrific, propulsive collection of music picking up all the best bits of recent action scores (Zimmer's again a touchstone) and blending it with Vangelis-y synths. It should put Escott even further on the map than he was before.
Fall On Your Sword
If you’ve been paying attention, you know we’ve been championing Fall On Your Sword for several months now; they've become the go-to indie film composers of late and it’s easy to see why. The duo are made up of multi-media composer Will Bates, and Phil Mossman, who worked with David Holmes on the "Out Of Sight" and "Ocean's Eleven" soundtracks before going on to be the founding guitarist in LCD Soundsystem (he also plays with Primal Scream on occasion). Based out of a studio in Williamsburg, their moody and often effervescent scores got early exposure in indies like "Another Earth" and Ry Russo-Young's "You Won't Miss Me." In 2012, they had a banner year writing awesome pieces for Russo-Young’s "Nobody Walks,” “Lola Versus” and “28 Hotel Rooms” that are all distinctively theirs, but also show some range. Twinged with an electronic-hum, but never quite electronic-music per se, "Lola Versus" has a sweet ebullient vibe, “Nobody Walks” is alternatively dreamy, pulsating and atmospherically romantic like a night swim, and “28 Hotels” is propulsive, heavier and dramatic (which fits the subject matter of two adults weighing the pros and cons of their affair). Perhaps more importantly, the composers seems to have terrific range – one can imagine them jumping from any genre back and forth effortlessly, but they do seem to thrive in moody indie pictures where introspection and the inner-life are king. In fact, they are often giving the expression of this manifesting emotion to characters and we can’t wait to hear what they do next — on the way is "An Unkindness Of Ravens," while Bates scored Alex Gibney's Sundance Wikileaks doc "We Steal Secrets" solo. The pair also play occasional live shows with a full band.
You might well recognize the name (even if you probably can't spell it) at this point. The 40-year-old Korzeniowski has been bubbling under for the last few years, but a recent Sundance flick has brought him to back to the attention of many. Born in Krakow in 1972, Korzeniowski (who comes from a family of musicians), trained at the Academy of Music in Krakow, under the great Krzysztof Penderecki, whose music has been used famously in "The Exorcist," "The Shining" and "Shutter Island," among others. Korzeniowski went into film composing at home after graduating, with his first notable work being "Big Animal," the 2000 film directed by Jerzy Stuhr, based on an unmade script by Krzysztof Kieslowski. Further work in Poland followed, including "An Angel In Krakow" and "Tomorrow's Weather," as well as a new score for Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" in 2004. But it was "Contagion" and "Side Effects" writer Scott Z Burns who brought him to the attention of the U.S., picking Korzeniowski to score his hugely underrated directorial debut, the HBO movie "Pu-239," starring Paddy Considine, Radha Mitchell and Oscar Isaac (as well as his follow-up, the short "What We Take From Each Other"). Lower profile work followed, in indies "Tickling Leo" and "Confessions Of A Go-Go Girl," before his demo reel made it into the hands of fashion designer Tom Ford, who was looking for a composer for his directorial debut "A Single Man." The outstanding film, starring Colin Firth, immediately marked Korzeniowski as someone to watch; its lush, deeply romantic orchestral score is a perfect fit for the subject matter. Since then, Korzeniowski's been selective about taking on work (he was at one point going to score John Cameron Mitchell's "Rabbit Hole," but it never came to pass), with only one major film released in the meantime, Madonna's "W.E." Still, his music there is one of the few highlights of a borderline unwatchable film, showing he could elevate the material if necessary. Another year or so passed, but Korzeniowski resurfaced at Sundance last month, with the score to "Escape From Tomorrow." One of the buzz films of the festival, it tells the story of a family man losing his grip on sanity during an annual trip to Disneyland, and Korzeniowski's score (which you can already listen to on Spotify or iTunes) nods cannily to classic Disney scores of the past. Strangely enough, he told First Showing recently that it came about because his wife was the nanny to director Randy Moore's kids when they first moved to L.A. As far as we know, he's doesn't have anything lined up, but hopefully "Escape From Tomorrow" will serve as a reminder of his immense talents.
Honorable Mentions: We've also enjoyed recent work by Jonathan Goldsmith, who did an undervalued job on Sarah Polley's "Take This Waltz" and "Stories We Tell," and Jeff Grace, whose credits include "Meek's Cutoff" and "The Innkeepers." We're also excited to hear more music from Dan Romer & Benh Zeitlin, whose score to "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was one of last year's musical highlights, though we suspect that it won't come until Zeitlin directs again. We're also looking forward to another score from the Chemical Brothers after their superb work on "Hanna" — the British dance legends were set to score Louis Letterier's "Now You See Me," but it's not happening in the end. The same goes for Austin post-rockers Explosions In The Sky. They're no newcomers to scores — they soundtracked a lot of the music in the original "Friday Night Lights" movie, but we haven't heard from them on the soundtrack front since then until "Prince Avalanche" at Sundance this year along with composer David Wingo. As those who heard it firsthand, you can almost guarantee that's going to be on our list of the best scores of 2013 at the end of the year. While he's younger than any on this list — he's only 31 — we thought that prodigy Nico Muhly, who worked on "The Reader," "Margaret" and Sundance flick "Kill Your Darlings," among others, might be too established to crop up here. And we're expecting big things from Rob Simonsen, who's been working with Mychael Danna in recent years, and made a bit splash at Sundance this year with his scores to "The Spectacular Now" and "The Way Way Back." And our most anticipated score of 2013, sound unheard, might be M83's work on the Tom Cruise sci-fi flick "Oblivion," which will arrive in April.