In keeping with Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s vision for “Steve Jobs” as a trio of product launches (the Macintosh in ’84, the NeXT in ’88 and the iMac in ’98), composer Daniel Pemberton wrote three different pieces that underscore the story arc and complement the distinct visual styles of director of photography Alwin H. Küchler. In fact, it became a very personal journey for the surprise Golden Globe nominee for Best Original Score, who exclusively composes on the Mac. (Watch an exclusive featurette on the making of the score above, and listen to it on SoundCloud, via USA Today, and in the excerpts below.)
“Danny Boyle described the three acts as ‘Vision,’ ‘Revenge,’ and ‘Wisdom’,” Pemberton recalled. “For the first act, I wanted to embrace the optimism of the future that’s promised with technology and computing, and I wanted to do something of the period to encapsulate that. So I used synthesizers, which, for me, at the time, sounded very similar to computers. I was only using equipment from 1984 and before, and that equipment had its limitations, which was interesting for someone now in 2015 to go back into the past and try and score the future in the past.”
Pemberton (who also composed the score for “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”) used, among others, the CS-80, which was Vangelis’ synthesizer of choice. “The limitations [playing one note at a time] forced me to write differently, and, in a way, helped me write as if I was in 1984,” he added. “As an emotional beat, it also helped because you are trying to write music that is technological.
“In the second act, the whole thing is based on this Shakespearean tragedy, which is very theatrical. I wanted to reflect not only the amazing setting of the San Francisco Opera House but also Steve Jobs as the conductor and the ringmaster. We basically went to the oldest computer of all time—the orchestra—and wrote something very different, very dramatic, unashamed orchestral music: opera, big symphony. We even did stuff with the tuning-up sequence of an orchestra and rewrote that so we could turn that into an actual piece that reflects what’s happening in the script.”
And, by the third act, Pemberton fully embraced the digital age by designing sounds exclusively within the computer, “because, by 1998, the iMac had become what Steve Jobs intended it to be, which is a tool that would allow people to express themselves artistically while it’s doing more mundane things, like databases.
“Musically, we’ve got this momentum all through the film and we’ve reached the point where Steve Jobs has to confront the personal part of his journey. So from an emotional point of view, [the music] is a lot more introspective and has a weird coolness about it, which reflects both him and the world that the act is set in.”
For Pemberton, the experience was very liberating. “Because of the computer, I don’t have to be just a classical composer or an electronic composer,” he suggested. “I can very easily jump between all of these different ideas. And it was only possible that I could make this film with three different scores because of the product of the time that I’m in.”