Taking a Look Back at the Films of Darren Aronofsky on His 45th Birthday

Darren Aronofsky once said, “I’m Godless. I’ve had to make my God, and my God is narrative filmmaking.” And in the church of cinema, for many, the 45-year-old director ranks high on the list of worship. As one of the most psychologically enticing and visually minded filmmakers working today, he creates haunting worlds full of desperate and passionate characters clinging to intangible ideals. As intelligent as he is artistic, Aronofsky’s films come alive through his wonderful knowledge of how to tell a story through dialogue and images, but also characterized by the his ear for music and the help of composer Clint Mansell.

And as today marks the 45th birthday of Aronofsky and his famous petit mustache, let’s take a look back on some of his best work with behind-the-scenes clips and favorites from his amazing soundtracks.

Behind the Scenes: Requiem for a Dream

Aronofsky’s nerve-wracking and chilling sophomore feature about the mutual existence of addiction and psychosis and how love crumbs in its wake. Brilliantly directed, shot, edited, acted, and scored, the film takes us through four leading characters as they fall prey to delusion and reckless desperation. With music that feeds its way through your veins, there are few films who possess such cohesion of sight and sound. Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for her frightening performance as a amphetamine-addicted, lonely older women who becomes obsessed with the idea of appearing on a daytime talk show.

Soundtrack: Requiem for a Dream

Behind the Scenes: Black Swan

Aronofsky’s beautifully dark and sensual psycho-erotic horror thriller. Revolving around a production of Techaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the haunting doppleganger tale is told through a ballet dancer who loses her mind after gaining the lead role of the delicate White Swan. Aronfsky saw the film as a companion to The Wrestler, both surrounding demanding physical performances in various forms of art.  The film won Natalie Portman a Golden Globe and Academy Award with nominations for Best Director, Editing, Cinematography, and Best Picture.

Soundtrack: Black Swan

Behind the Scenes: The Wrestler

Aronofsky’s gritty and painful film of desperation and redemption. A deeply moving portrait of a man at his last end, the film tells the story of an aging wrestler attempting to cling to his past success and failing health while trying to mend a stain relationship with his daughter. Mickey Rourke took home a Golden Globe for his immersive performance as did Bruce Springsteen for his heartbreaking original song.

Soundtrack: The Wrestler

Behind the Scenes: The Fountain

Aronofsky’s romantic fantasy drama that serves as an amalgam of history, religion, and science fiction. Compromising of three story lines, we see the actors play different sets of characters entwined in themes of love and mortality. The visually stunning and hallucinatory film that spans over a thousand years won Clint Mansell a Golden Globe nomination for his stunning and encompassing score.

Soundtrack: The Fountain

Soundtrack: Pi

Aronofsky’s surrealist debut feature, the psychological black and white thriller first introduced him to audiences as visual and narrative force. Centering around a man whose obsessive pursuit of an idea leads him into a spiral of self-destructive behavior, paranoia carries the film as he searches for a key number that will unlock the universal patterns found in nature. The film won Aronofsky a Gotham, Independent Spirit, and Sundance award.

Celebrating Clint Mansell’s Birthday With a Listen Through His Best Soundtracks

As one of the most fascinating composers working today, Clint Mansell’s visceral sonic world not only compliments the films he scores, but elevates them with a feverish power. He creates soundtracks that haunt long after the credits have rolled, transcending the screen—keeping your sensory pleasure centers brimming with emotion. And with an affinity for working on films that fall into the realm of the psychological, his scores range from gut-punching and harrowing sonic tales to elegant and melodic whispers that creep into your bloodstream. Although best known for his perfectly symbiotic and fruitful relationship working with Darren Aronofsky on films from Requiem for a Dream and Pi to Black Swan and The Wrestler, in recent years Mansell has lent his tremendous talents to the likes of Park Chan-wook with Stoker and -Duncan Jones with Moon.

 In speaking with Mansell last winter, he discussed his process my noting:

 I’m not very analytical really; everything I do is based on gut feelings. I just spend a lot of time with the film and with the characters and allow it to consume me, I suppose, and completely absorb it so that you’re thinking about it on a subconscious level. A lot of the films I’ve done have tended to have a main character who is driving the story whose journey I have to support. Black Swan was probably an example of that. This character was totally obsessed with her work and getting the role, but the fact that it’s a ballet, that music would have haunting her and taunting her the whole time. You know what it’s like, the first thing in the morning you might hear a record on the radio, and you can’t get it out of your head all day. So I thought well, if you imagine that the music is actually part of what you’re doing and you’re listening to it all day, it will drive you insane. To a degree, it’s very similar to what I do. I listen to the same bit of music over and over again. I see my stuff as a very Burroughs type approach.

…I like to write a piece and move it to a place where it wasn’t written for—which is not exactly a revolutionary idea but it does bring in an element of chance, so things occur that you wouldn’t naturally gravitate towards or wouldn’t have occurred to you. You can get these ideas in with like a very violent scene but with music that’s very beautiful—you can juxtapose and it gives you so much more than just the one note of: oh here’s sex, here’s violence, here’s a kiss; you musically can bring in other layers. You can build up an idea of who these people are. My job is to embellish the universe that the filmmaker is trying to create with this story and images and performance; everything I do has to be true to that world. You don’t want something to happen musically to take you out of the movie. So I’ve constantly got to find my way into these characters’ heads and be aware of the fact that if something doesn’t ring true that I’ve got to do something about it. Like in the film Double Indemnity, Edward G. Robinson is an insurance claims adjustor guy and he can spot something’s off with an insurance claim because he gets this little man that gives him indigestion— that’s kind of what it’s like.

And as today is Mansell’s birthday, what better way to celebrate than to take a listen through the best of his soundtracks? And if that doesn’t quite fill your fix, check out our 3 Minute conversations between Mansell and writer Irvine Welsh HERE and HERE. Black the lights, grab a whiskey, and enjoy.

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, Complete OST

MOON, Complete OST

 PI, Complete OST

STOKER, FULL OST 

BLACK SWAN, Complete OST

BlackBook 3 Minutes: Composer Clint Mansell and Writer Irvine Welsh (Part I)

If, like me, you were lucky (and old) enough to have attended the UK premiere of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting in Edinburgh in 1996 you would have been aware of witnessing a cultural moment. Part of that was Boyle’s kinetic filmmaking—a much-needed jolt in the arm of a moribund British movie industry dominated by period dramas and genteel comedies. Then there was the alchemy of a cast that included Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, and a terrifying Robert Carlyle, as well as barmaid-turned-actress Kelly Macdonald making her debut as Diane, the underage girlfriend of McGregor’s heroin addict, Mark Renton. And, crucially, there was the political landscape into which the movie was born—the tail end of 18 years of Conservative rule that had decimated Britain’s industrial base.

More important than any of these things, however, was the scabrous novel by Irvine Welsh, a boiling cauldron of fury and outrage leavened by the antic, madcap exploits of a group of pals desperate to find their next fix. The idea of a literary “event,” seems almost quaint today, but the 1993 publication of Trainspotting—really a series of short, interconnected stories—was a seminal moment that connected to the kind of readers not typically courted by the publishing industry. The fact that is was just voted Scotland’s favorite novel of the last 50 years illustrates how lasting its impact has been even if the novel’s principle concern—Scotland’s chronic drug culture and the epidemic of AIDS it spawned—is less resonant than it once was.

Welsh did not rest on his laurels—seven novels and four collections of short stories have followed, including Filth, a picaresque tale of a misanthropic, coke-snorting psychopathic Scottish detective. Despite being described by Welsh as “unfilmable,” a movie version has just been released in the U.K. to raves, particularly for James McAvoy’s performance in the central role, and it will be a lasting shame if it doesn’t find the audience it deserves. And as Trainspotting drew power from the propulsive techno of Underworld’s seminal track, “Born Slippy,” so Filth is elevated by the sepulchral beauty of composer Clint Mansell’s score.

Best-known for his long working relationship with Darren Aronofsky, Mansell grew up in the U.K. at a time when the attitude and spirit of punk was rousing a generation of frustrated teens. For Welsh, the call-to-arms was The Sex Pistols; for Mansell it was The Ramones. Both men would channel that spirit into their work. As lead singer and guitarist for Brit rock band, Pop Will Eat Itself (aka The Poppies), Mansell enjoyed modest success, cracking the U.K.’s top ten with the 1993 single, “Get The Girl! Kill The Baddies,” and later befriending Trent Reznor (Mansell plays backing vocals on NIN’s The Fragile).

The break up of The Poppies in 1996 might have been the end of Mansell’s career in music but for a random encounter with Aronofsy who was looking for a composer for his debut movie, Pi. The two bonded over their mutual despair at the state of filmmaking in general, and film-composing in particular. Requiem for a Dream—arguably Mansell’s best-known score—followed, and the commissions have come thick and fast ever since. “I’m not very analytical really; everything I do is based on gut feelings,” Mansell told BlackBook earlier this year. “My job is to embellish the universe that the filmmaker is trying to create with this story and images and performance; everything I do has to be true to that world.”

BlackBook invited Welsh and Mansell to chat about the art of story telling, the power of punk, and what it means to help articulate a cultural moment.

(See PART II of their conversation HERE)

Revisiting the ‘Requiem for a Dream’ Soundtrack

There are few albums I’ve listened to more than Clint Mansell’s schizophrenic, sharp, and incredibly stirring soundtrack for Darren Aronofsky’s beautious drug-fueled nightmare Requiem for a Dream. I mean, if you were to melt me down into a song, I would probably be comprised of half “Fall: Marion Barfs” and half “Winter: Ghosts of a Future Lost,” but anyhow, in giving a masterclass at the BFI London Film Festival over the weekend, the man behind Requiem, and so many other brilliant soundtracks, Clint Mansell, noted that the original intent for the music had been quite different.

“There’s a scene early in the film where Ellen Burstyn’s character first takes the diet pills and she’s vacuuming the room. It’s all fast and then it wears off and it all slows down. So then he put over it ‘[She Watch] Channel Zero [?!]’ by Public Enemy, and it was really incredible…,” he said. “But it doesn’t do anything besides being cool. It’s just visually and sonically interesting, but it didn’t help express anything about the film.” And although the score is a paranoid and heartbreaking mix of chilly electronic beats that hit like a stab to the arm infused with a more classical long stroke of pain—an amalgamation that has made “Lux Aeterna” one of the most haunting and powerful scores eve—you can still sense a bit of that hip hop sensibility on some of the “Summer” songs.

Back in April, we had a lengthy and wonderful chat with Clint, in which he spoke to his experience wonderful working relationship Arononfsky, saying:

“…Filmmaking, by in large in the 21st century, is a joke I think. It’s all basically the same thing designed to get 15-year-old boys to part with their money. So that was never really of interest to me. I spent a lot of time listening to music and movies that I was excited by and when I met Darren, these are the things that we bonded over really. He was getting the money together to do Pi and he had no real musical connections to people, and we were introduced through mutual friends.   We bonded over these different elements of filmmaking that we were excited by, and we were very fortunate in a lot of ways on Pi because it meant that we had no industry or nobody butting their noses in telling us what to do. We had time to figure out what we were doing, and originally Darren wanted to use pre-existing electronic music for Pi and I was just going to write a main theme, a snappy title. But then because he had no money and no real contacts, he couldn’t get a hold of the music and the rights, so every time they lost a piece I basically had to write the piece to replace it. And by doing that I needed up scoring the whole film. And by doing so, Darren and I figured out what we liked without anyone telling us we couldn’t do it this way or that way. We just didn’t know. Even when we did Requiem, we just didn’t know. We were just doing what we liked and that’s an invaluable, invaluable experience.”

And going further into his creative process:

“Yeah, I like to write a piece and move it to a place where it wasn’t written for—which is not exactly a revolutionary idea but it does bring in an element of chance, so things occur that you wouldn’t naturally gravitate towards or wouldn’t have occurred to you. You can get these ideas in with like a very violent scene but with music that’s very beautiful—you can juxtapose and it gives you so much more than just the one note of: oh here’s sex, here’s violence, here’s a kiss; you musically can bring in other layers. You can build up an idea of who these people are. My job is to embellish the universe that the filmmaker is trying to create with this story and images and performance; everything I do has to be true to that world. You don’t want something to happen musically to take you out of the movie. So I’ve constantly got to find my way into these characters’ heads and be aware of the fact that if something doesn’t ring true that I’ve got to do something about it. Like in the film Double Indemnity, Edward G. Robinson is an insurance claims adjustor guy and he can spot something’s off with an insurance claim because he gets this little man that gives him indigestion— that’s kind of what it’s like.”

(check out the rest of the interview HERE)

Now, incase you forgot how perfect the entirety of Requiem is, go listen to the soundtrack for fifteen minutes and tell me you don’t want to go home from work, get under the covers in your underwear, and submit to its anxiety-provoking world. Bonus: it’s currently streaming on Netflix.

http://youtu.be/QAPu3PSN-_A

http://youtu.be/or0V6S7JtTY

Listening Through Cinema’s Best Soundtracks: Your Wednesday Morning Treat

A film’s soundtrack is a necessary component to the total sum. The best use of music in film is not when its manipulative but rather acting as a character of its own, helping bring to life the filmmakers artistic vision. And this year, we’ve been graced with some truly fantastic new soundtracks—from Shane Carruth’s complex ethereal wonder Upstream Color to Clint Mansell’s stirringly sensuous Stoker. So to liven up your Wednesday afternoon, I’ve rounded up the best film soundtracks floating around in their enitrety. So whether you’re in the mood to transport yourself into a delicate and gauzy Coppola world or the existential romatic longing world of Wenders, peruse our listen and see whar perks up your emotions. Enjoy.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Almost Famous

The Virgin Suicides

Trainspotting

For more

Requiem for a Dream

Upstream Color

A Clockwork Orange

For more

 

Nashville

For more

Pulp Fiction

For more

The Last Waltz

For more

 

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

For more

 

Natural Born Killers

For more

Blue Velvet

For more

 

Paris, Texas

 

Punch-Drunk Love

For more

Waltz With Bashir

For more

 

The Graduate

For more

 

Schindler’s List

For more

 

Spring Breakers

For more

Amacord

For more

 

Fire Walk With Me

For more

Chungking Express

For more

 

Magnolia

For more

 

Elevator to the Gallows

Drive

For more

 

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

For more

 

Taxi Driver

 

Superfly

 

Mystery Train

For more

Dirty Goes Clean in a New PG Teaser Trailer for ‘Filth’

We’ve already seen two enjoyably explicit trailers for Jon S. Baird’s Filth. Adapted from Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same title, the film stars James McAvoy as a bombastic, obscene crooked, drug-addicted, bipolar, sex-crazed cop who tries to gain a promotion by solving a murder while dealing with his very clear emotional issues.  With Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent, Martin Compston, and Eddie Marsan rounding out the cast, today we’ve got a new PG trailer for the feature which basically teases at the fact that nothing you’ll he here is intended for a young audience. The always brilliant Clint Mansell has taken the reigns on the film’s score and today we also have a new set of still from the smutty film to check out. Enjoy.

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Emily Wells on Creating ‘Mama Acoustic Recordings’ + Watch Her Beautiful New Video for ‘Darlin’

Multi-instrumentalist, singer, producer, and all-around wonderful human being Emily Wells has emerged in recent years as a fascinating new talent whose work is a varied array of musical wonder. Mixing everything from classical instrumentation with synth beats to hip-hop loops and acoustic folk songs, Wells not only produces her own music, but has been in high demand from artists and filmmakers around the world. Most recently, she collaborated with the iconic and brilliant Clint Mansell, for the soundtrack to Park Chan-wook’s Stoker

But Wells’ latest effort is the stripped-down and bare acoustic re-imagining of Mama, her 2012 record release. This time around, Mama Acoustic Recordings takes the original tracks and revisions the structure of the album, breathing a raw and honest new life into the album in a way that’s as fragile as it is powerful. Today, we’re pleased to premiere a stunning new video for the acoustic re-visioning of her song "Darlin."
 
The delicate and lovely track soars with her ethereal voice and sparse guitar, creating a melancholic moment shown through the black-and-white video work of  Ruben Woodin Dechamps and Bat On Ball Creations. In addition to premiering the new video, I also had the chance to chat with Wells about her affinity for the inspiration of strangers, the freedom of her new album, and our mutual literary hero, Richard Brautigan.
 
Did you grow up playing music as a kid?
I played violin, started when I was four—one of those kids—and learned pretty much by ear for the first few years. Then I began to pick up other instruments along the way and started writing my own music, but I was very much a classically-trained little guy.
 
How did you transition into the kind of music you’re playing now?
I went far away from the violin. As you’re growing you’re figuring your sound out and learning, so it became a lot more experimental and kind of electronic. I tried a lot of different stuff and then I came back around to the violin and I was like gosh, I really know how to play that thing better than anything else. And with the advent of looping medals and all that it really made a difference. I was never going to be an orchestra member, that didn’t really appeal to me, but I love the sound of ensemble strings and string arrangements in general. My mind writes and works in that way naturally. So yeah, then I was just building on that and utilizing the violin more as a writing tool and a performance tool.  So that’s how it evolved.
 
What are you drawn to for inspiration when making music?
I’m a voracious music listener and collector. African music has influenced me—there’s no direct sonic correlation obviously but it’s something I care a lot about.  I’ve been collecting records over the years but I also love the blues and I love rap. I kind of go through my stages of what I’m into. And also, my environment and the city I’m in has a huge impact on the music that I make. I think that’s one of the reasons why I keep returning to New York, it’s such an inspiring city, mostly because of the people. And it’s even the people you’re not having direct interaction with, but rather the people you are existing in the city with—whether it be walking on the street or riding on the train or whatever. I can’t deny that as being a huge, huge influence on me as well. I was hanging out in Portland when I wasn’t on tour last year and I wasn’t experiencing that same energy, so I think that’s part of what made me come back here. 
 
Do you see a lot of live music while you’re here?
I really love watching live jazz but I’ll go to a show at Glasslands or Knitting Factory or whatever too. 
 
So why did you choose to do an acoustic re-working of Mama?
It really wasn’t an intentional thing, and I certainly wasn’t planning on releasing it or recording all the songs. The original album got a little delayed in release and by the time the record came out,  a few months later when I started recording the acoustic. So there was kind of a large gap in the experiences discussed on that record and the present. The record is about an incredibly rough time and an incredibly harsh breakup, but that’s what the root of it is so when you have some time yo can process it and you know, time heels all wounds or something. I enjoyed approaching these songs a little more gently and a little more honestly. 
 
Was it different playing the album this time around?
I wasn’t getting wrapped up in the production, this was like deeply honest, and perhaps the fact that I thought I would never release it helped me to be that way. It wasn’t for anybody else. And I’m not a guitar player or anything but it was so simple—just voice and guitar. I’m kind of like that too, I’ll get on something and then have to see it through.So by the time I got to the end of recording the songs, I thought maybe I’d print up a small pressing of it, but I sent it to my label to get their blessing and they really loved it and wanted to release it. So I was like well, okay why not. But it certainly was no grand plan, it was just something I did.
 
And you’re currently working on a film about Richard Brautigan? I love him. He’s quite possilbly one of my favorite humans who has ever existed.
Me too! That’s amazing. It’s either people are like, "who is that?" or say, "I’m obsessed!"  I like that. People who know him really know him. While working on the film I voraciously read everything Brautigan’s written and was interacting with that work as a musician. So I was  just responding to the experience of being baptized in Richard Brautigan. 
 

[More by Hillary Weston; Follow Hillary on Twitter & Tumblr]

From Clint Mansell to Terrence Malick, Here’s Your New York Cultural Itinerary for the Week

It may only be Tuesday, but the days already seems to be crawling by slowing. But never fear, this week there happens to be a wealth of exciting events happening around the city to help the days ago by faster and feed your artistic affinities. With Simon Killer and Upstream Color premiering at IFC this Friday and To the Wonder finally being released next week, throughout New York premiere screenings and filmmaker Q&As are being held, which is a total delight. In addition, you can get the chance to see brilliant composer Clint Mansell in his first ever live NYC performance, amongst other fun events to attend. So I’ve rounded up the best of what’s going on this week for you to peruse and enjoy. Take a look.

 

Fractured Spaces at 92YTribeca, Wednesday (April 3)

Primer with Shane Carruth in Person at Musuem of the Moving Image, Thursday (April 4)

Get It Out There: Comedy by BAM & IFC at BAM, Thursday (April 4)

Clint Mansell at Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Tuesday & Wednesday (April 3 and 4)

Upstream Color with Shane Carruth Q&A at IFC, Thursday (April 4)

Simon Killer with Antonio Campos + Brady Corbet Q&A at BAM, Thursday (April 4)

To the Wonder Special Preview Screening at Musuem of the Moving Image, Friday (April 5)

Darren Aronofsky’s Pi at MoMA, Thursday (April 4)

CKTV Exhibit at BAM, Ongoing

 

 

Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker: Baseketball + Rushless People at Lincoln Center, Tuesday (April 2)

Twin Peaks Bingo at Videology, Wednesday (April 3)

Feel First, Intellectualize Later: An Interview with Legendary Composer Clint Mansell

A symbiotic relationship between composer and director has always been of massive importance when creating a work that’s not only momentarily visceral and dynamic but has the staying power of something truly cinematic. And if there’s any modern composer that truly knows how to penetrate films with sonic accompaniment that haunts, excites, and transcends, it’s visionary English maestro of emotional sound, Clint Mansell. With an affinity for twisted psychological intensity, his compositions work like a drug to suck you into the world of the film and hit you straight in the gut—even with his most elegant melodies teeming with an undercurrent of unease and desperation that makes us cling to each note with pleasure. 

After departing from Pop Will Eat Itself in the mid-1990s, Mansell has been proving his tremendous ability to create a potent soundtrack, working with myriad directors from Darren Aronofsky to Duncan Jones, breathing life into their creative visions. And since the release of Aronfsky’s debut feature Pi, he and Mansell’s work have become synonymous with one another’s—intwined in such a way that one’s images conjure up the other’s sounds, while one’s sounds evoke a very specific movie of the mind. And as one of the most simpatico working relationships in the world of film today, the two have shaped many a vision together—from the iconic paranoid and heartbreaking score for Requiem for a Dream, to the classically harrowing sounds of Black Swan, and the music to come for the upcoming Noah

So although we’ve become quite accustomed to hearing Mansell’s sound in one very specific world over the years, it’s interesting and thrilling to see him lend his talents elsewhere—as he has recently with his incredible work on Moon and Stoker. And in a very rare treat, this week Clint Mansell will take to the stage at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle to play his first New York City performance. Live with a string quartet, full band, and video projection Mansell will be playing songs from Stoker, as well as a taste of everything we’ve grown to love and obsess over him for from Requiem for a Dream, to The Fountain, to Moon, and back around. 

A couple weeks ago, I got the chance to chat with Mansell about composing from gut feeling, the joke of 21st century filmmaking, and how mood’s overarching effect.

So do you find that live performance translates well to your music? Is performing something you still enjoy from your past when that was such a large part of your work as a musician?
I always enjoyed playing live when I was younger. But the experience of playing live, in a lot of respects, is a youthful thing. It’s sort of pleasing to me—and probably my family members—that I found a way to re-enter the live environment but doing it somewhat age appropriately without having to shoehorn myself back into a pair of leather pants to rock the house, you know? 

And it’s a wonderful space to perform in.
We played a church in London a few years ago and it was beautiful. Churches just have an ambiance of their own. With film music, there’s a lot of long quiet passages—which is not really what people usually go to gigs for, so it may require sitting down and being a bit attentive, but obviously a church would really lend itself to that, so I’m really looking forward to it. I haven’t played a gig in New York since 1996 when I was part of something called Night of Nothing at Irving Plaza where I was a guest member of Nine Inch Nails for a few songs.

What originally struck me about your music is how psychologically rich it feels and how it transports you into the mental landscape of its characters so fully. How do you go about building these worlds of sounds for the films you score and do you have a certain process?
I’m not very analytical really; everything I do is based on gut feelings. I just spend a lot of time with the film and with the characters and allow it to consume me, I suppose, and completely absorb it so that you’re thinking about it on a subconscious level. A lot of the films I’ve done have tended to have a main character who is driving the story whose journey I have to support. Black Swan was probably an example of that. This character was totally obsessed with her work and getting the role, but the fact that it’s a ballet, that music would have haunting her and taunting her the whole time. You know what it’s like, the first thing in the morning you might hear a record on the radio, and you can’t get it out of your head all day. So I thought well, if you imagine that the music is actually part of what you’re doing and you’re listening to it all day, it will drive you insane. To a degree, it’s very similar to what I do. I listen to the same bit of music over and over again. I see my stuff as a very Burroughs type approach.

Like cutting-up of the work?
Yeah, I like to write a piece and move it to a place where it wasn’t written for—which is not exactly a revolutionary idea but it does bring in an element of chance, so things occur that you wouldn’t naturally gravitate towards or wouldn’t have occurred to you. You can get these ideas in with like a very violent scene but with music that’s very beautiful—you can juxtapose and it gives you so much more than just the one note of: oh here’s sex, here’s violence, here’s a kiss; you musically can bring in other layers. You can build up an idea of who these people are. My job is to embellish the universe that the filmmaker is trying to create with this story and images and performance; everything I do has to be true to that world. You don’t want something to happen musically to take you out of the movie. So I’ve constantly got to find my way into these characters’ heads and be aware of the fact that if something doesn’t ring true that I’ve got to do something about it. Like in the film Double Indemnity, Edward G. Robinson is an insurance claims adjustor guy and he can spot something’s off with an insurance claim because he gets this little man that gives him indigestion— that’s kind of what it’s like.

Do you tend to use the character as the musical conduit for the story? Like in Requiem for a Dream, there’s the song "Marion Barfs." A lot of the songs from that film sound like they’re scoring the entire scene or the specific chapter of the story but a song like that sounds like its scoring from her insides. 
I don’t think I would analyze it that deep really because it’s really a gut thing, it’s an emotional thing. I think the application of intellect, that comes after the fact—for me, anyways. I just respond to something and so I don’t know if I think about it in that linear kind of way.

Well that’s the best way to enjoy a film: to experience it and feel it first, then intellectualize later.
When I first get a film I watch it and watch it and then I kind of jam to that picture, just very rudimentarily on a piano whilst watching it. And believe you me, it’s very unmusical at that point. But what I’m getting is rhythm and momentum from the performance and feel like I can just respond to what’s going on emotionally and  build from there and get deeper and deeper. You can go in and color-coordinate, find out how these scenes fit together and do that on an intellectual basis. But I always tend to come from the emotional side—which is a gift and a curse. It may not always be the right way to go but you know, that’s how I do it. 

The beginnings of your career, playing with Pop Will Eat Itself, etc., that was a very different musical world than you’re in now. Did you make a conscious effort to move into scoring or was it more of an organic progression that happened from meeting Darren [Aronofsky]?
It was a completely fortuitous chain of events. I’ve always loved film, I’ve always loved film music, but my choices of what I like in film music are probably quite different. I come from more of John Carpenter, David Lynch school of film score appreciation and you know, John Williams, no offense but that’s not really my thing. So I was always interested in stuff like The Parallax View with Michael Small’s music—minimal really but really evocative. I also grew up watching cowboy movies with my dad and those have great rollicking scores to them as well. But then in my late teens, early 20s is when I discovered cinema of a lesser known nature, Blue Velvet, Betty Blue, etc. stuff like this. Those films all have much more interesting musical senses to me. To this day, I wouldn’t give you a round of drinks to what the score to Die Hard 5 is, I mean who fucking cares—no offense to anybody working on—that but who cares?

Well it’s completely different. With someone like Angelo Badalamenti, his music is like a character of its own in Lynch’s films.
Absolutely. Filmmaking, by in large in the 21st century, is a joke I think. It’s all basically the same thing designed to get 15-year-old boys to part with their money. So that was never really of interest to me. I spent a lot of time listening to music and movies that I was excited by and when I met Darren, these are the things that we bonded over really. He was getting the money together to do Pi and he had no real musical connections to people, and we were introduced through mutual friends.

Were you working down at Nothing Studios with Trent [Reznor] at that point?
No, I was living in NY at the time. If Darren had known someone with film experience, he may have preferred to go with someone with chops—but having said that, knowing Darren maybe he wouldn’t have either. You’d think that if you were making your first film you might want someone with experience opposed to some guy who was a long-haired alcoholic in a rock and roll band. 

But if you share a sensibility then that’s important.
We bonded over these different elements of filmmaking that we were excited by, and we were very fortunate in a lot of ways on Pi because it meant that we had no industry or nobody butting their noses in telling us what to do. We had time to figure out what we were doing, and originally Darren wanted to use pre-existing electronic music for Pi and I was just going to write a main theme, a snappy title. But then because he had no money and no real contacts, he couldn’t get a hold of the music and the rights, so every time they lost a piece I basically had to write the piece to replace it. And by doing that I needed up scoring the whole film. And by doing so, Darren and I figured out what we liked without anyone telling us we couldn’t do it this way or that way. We just didn’t know. Even when we did Requiem, we just didn’t know. We were just doing what we liked and that’s an invaluable, invaluable experience. 

Do you miss that sense of freedom?
To be honest, I still have a huge awareness over the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing and honestly, I think that’s an absolute benefit. Sometimes when I meet with a director, I tell them that the biggest ability for me is having the time to get it on, because you start off the film and it’s like a huge blank piece of paper and you’ve got all these choices and you make one or two and certainly your options have narrowed hugely. But that kind of vulnerability, I don’t know if people like that, they seem to like the sort of I’m here to solve all your problems! 

But that music, I’m sure would be pretty void of any authentic feeling.
Of course, it’s bullshit. You know how the movie industry works, people aren’t into vulnerability or actually having an emotional connection to something, they like trousers stuffed to the gills with confidence. I think that’s why we have so many poor products. And obviously I’ve scored a lot of films now, so I do have some knowledge about the process, but the feelings aside, to start every film is like, what the hell are we going to do with this? My most successful movies—and by successful I don’t mean box office, just my own personal preferences—are the ones that I’ve had to try hard and dig deep to find things and challenge myself. I mentioned John Williams earlier, I couldn’t do what he does; if someone said, we really want a John Williams or Hans Zimmer type, well, you better get someone else. I can do what I can do but I’m not a musician, per say, I’m not classically trained musician. I noodle around on piano and guitar and I have to find the emotional moment. I look for the moment in the story where everything comes together that’s bigger than all of those parts are, these moments of transcendence that just elevate you somewhere else. 

So yes, aside from working with Darren, you’re very selective about the films you take on. How do you go about choosing a project and how early on are you brought into the process?
It’s got to have to be something that appeals to me, something that makes me think I’d connect to the story. And there’s a time for everybody where you might just need a job, of course, but the one’s you’re really excited about like when I first read the script to Moon. It blew my mind—why aren’t scripts like this every day? It just had everything I love: isolation, loss, memory issues, just so intellectual while being deeply emotional. And you know, that’s exactly what I am looking for. I’ve been very fortunate in as much as a lot of my work has had a life outside of the film it’s been written for, which have afforded me the opportunity to not have to jump at every job that’s come my way. There was a time that I did so that I could learn my trade really, but in doing so, I also found the things that I don’t like or can’t do and areas where I can shine. Stoker was very much like that. 

And that was such a stunning soundtrack, but sonically that entire film was just mixed so well.
The sound of the film is just incredible. The balance between the sound design, the score, and the dialogue is just so finely tuned and elegant. I would never have thought to put any of my work in an elegant category but just everything on the film is just beautiful. That all comes from the director and their sensibility. Before I’d gotten offered the Stoker job I’d actually withdrawn from scoring for a while, because after Black Swan everything that was coming my way was crap. The film was successful, so bigger films that want to be successful think they can use you now because you have this proven hit factor or something. No, it doesn’t work like that and I was getting all these rubbish films. And I knew I was going to be doing Noah with Darren and I thought I’d just explore some other things for a while.

Where do you look to draw from for inspiration?
Music in general really. I definitely go through love/hate relationships with music. Sometimes I can’t bear to hear it and other times you just want to play it all day. That’s the fantastic thing about music for me: there are no right and no wrong answers, it’s just what it is and it’s people’s expressions of themselves and their feelings and you don’t when yesterday’s cacophony is going to be today’s sweet melody because you’re in different moods and different times. Again, I like this sort of Burroughs thing of random experience and if something happens to fall into your lap. There’s great music out there. It’s really that simple, I suppose. Some days everything works like a charm and other days it sucks; so, obviously my own moods play a big part it in.

So did you start working on Noah?
Yes, I haven’t been on it that long. I had written stuff in advance just based on the script and I went to Iceland to the shoot to just get a few for things. I’ve just been chipping away at it.

Well, I’m very excited for that one. But are there any favorite films you’ve worked on, ones that particularly allowed you to explore something new?
I tend to always like the later stuff I’ve done because I’m always just thrilled to have gotten through another film and actually had some meaningful music involved in it. But I did really enjoy Stoker and I just finished a film called Filth. But probably The Fountain and Moon are amongst the favorites of my own—but you’re kind of always hoping the next will be the best one.

I also always loved how your music works so well in the films and with the characters but it also can have a life of its own separate from the work. Personally, I listen to the Requiem soundtrack when I need to calm down, which is probably odd but I love it.
Does that help?

I must be pretty anxious if that’s going to relax me.
So it’s like the equivalent of giving hyper active kids Ritalin or something.

Precisely.