Creed Composer Ludwig Göransson Finds the Beat in Boxing

Ludwig Göransson is a Swedish composer who has scored television series, including New Girl and Community.  We spoke with Göransson about using real-life boxing sounds in his score for the new Rocky movie, Creed, co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler, and a whole lot more.

The movie is about an ambitious young boxer who is the son of Rocky’s opponent-turned friend, Apollo Creed. In an interview, Göransson talked about composing a score that echoes Bill Conti’s iconic theme for the original film but provides a robust, contemporary, rousing soundtrack that suits the storyline.  “It was always really important for me to bear in mind that we’re telling the Adonis Creed story. So it’s a new story about a new person. And so my idea was to kind of create something new that also has the same kind of big impact, the emotional impact that the original score has. It was a very big challenge and I think I took that pressure and used it for something positive to help me get more excited and take more time and really make me work harder.”

Adonis Creed comes from a very different background than Rocky did, and he is a very different personality living in a different time. Göransson had to find a way to express all of that through the music and help tell the story as well. “I think his personality changes a lot through the movie, and what he is going through is changing a lot though the movie. He comes from being this street fighter, growing up somewhere where he doesn't know where he belongs, and so the music kind of goes along with that story as well. So it kinds of starts off a little wandering, a little bit more ambient and a little bit more atonal, and then as he grows as a boxer and he meets Rocky and he begins to understand who he really is, the music starts taking on this more orchestral, heroic color and it evolves into this big, almost superhero score with a big melodic build-up. A big part of my job is to make the music work with this transformation of the character.”

Another factor that has to play into the score is that Adonis Creed’s love interest is a musician played by Tessa Thompson. Indeed, they meet when he knocks on her door to tell her to turn down her music.  We get to see and hear her perform in the film, in a style he refers to as electronic R&B, so the music has to tell her story as well.  “When Ryan told me that Bianca was going to be a musician, we started talking about what kind of musician she was going to be,  because I had to write and produce all the music she performed in the movie as well. So I'm wearing two hats, and I’m scoring the whole movie but then I'm also producing songs that are supposed to be songs from like a quirky, up and coming, cool artist from Philly. I had about ten days to write all these songs Bianca is performing in the movie and for that little amount of time to come up with songs for a totally unique and cool artist, that was also a very big challenge.” 

One of the most famous scenes in film history is in the original Rocky, when we see Rocky run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.  There is a touching reminder of that scene in this film, and that called for something special in the score.  “I think for Rocky when he was running up the steps, that was one of the most iconic scenes of all time, and I really wanted Creed and his theme that I wrote to go hand-in-hand with each other.”

There’s a secret boxing element in the score as well. “I went to a gym in Oakland and recorded a boxer with professional music equipment, one of his training sessions. I recorded all of the sparring and all of the boxing, the jump rope, and punching the bags, and I turned all those sounds into music. I took those sounds and kind of manipulated them and made them into beats, more of a musical element. That's kind of the foundation for the score, and then I had the big orchestra playing all these beautiful sounds over these boxing sounds that sound like drum sounds. You just slow that down and it becomes this really amazing element that sounds like some drum you've never heard."

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