Comic-Con 2017: Composers Talk Music to Fight Super-Villains By

Comic-Con’s fifth annual “Musical Anatomy of a Superhero” featured composers from comic book movies and television shows. Brian Tyler showed us the funeral scene from Thor: the Dark World that had special meaning to him because it was a “pivotal moment” with no dialogue or sound effects, just the music to create the mood and tell the story. David E. Russo explained the challenges and opportunities of Gotham, a series that, in its third year, sees its young characters growing up, “evolving,” and becoming more complex. The music has to reflect the shift away from “a sense of merry mayhem” into something darker, “more operatic, amping up the level of craziness.”

Mark Isham (Once Upon a Time, The Accountant, Blade) also scores the doubly heightened world of adolescence and superpowers in the upcoming Cloak & Dagger. “They are teenagers, discovering their own lives, identities, dreams. The setting magnifies the growth of a young person, as all superhero stories do.” 

The crowd was especially excited to hear from Ludwig Göransson, who is scoring Black Panther. He met director Ryan Coogler at USC and worked on his student film, and then again on Creed. For Black Panther, he spent a month in Senegal and South Africa, recording rhythms and instruments, and played some of what he recorded for the film score.

A highlight of the panel was the discussion of rejection. Tyler said it was an chance to hold onto a rejected idea and use it again later, and Isham quoted director Robert Altman: “Any time someone rejects something, its an opportunity to make it better.”

The panel of all white males admitted that the industry needs to do more in diversity outreach. Moderator Ray Costa said that writer/director Jordan Peele Googled “African-American composer” to find someone to write the score for his hit thriller, Get Out. The first name that came up alphabetically was orchestral and choral composer/schoolteacher Michael Abels, so he got the job.

Other composers attending Comic-Con included Jake Monaco, who used PVC pipe to make the Mesozoic-era music for the Netflix series, Dinotrux.  He is also the composer for the rebooted Be Cool, Scooby-Doo.  “This iteration is much more fast-paced in terms of the comedy.There’s still a mystery but the comedic beats were emphasized much more. So looking back on the jazz-influenced score of the series in the 1970’s, it’s how to implement that into this iteration while incorporating the orchestra to emphasize the comedic moments and melding those two worlds.”

And Joseph LoDuca was there to talk about writing the music for the Evil Dead films and the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead.  “There were these very interesting kids I met in college, and they had a little office next to a magic shop. They were looking for a composer for their self-produced film called Evil Dead, that they had conscripted all of their parents’ friends to kick in $10,000 because they knew that horror movies could be profitable. They were looking for someone to make scary sounds. I was a composition and performance major in college, and I said, ‘Yeah, sure, I could do that.’” LoDuca also worked on Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules, and Spartacus, all with the same production company. “It’s been a beautiful friendship.” He is constantly looking for new ideas, whether from traditional instruments or a cake plate, to “tell a story from a sonic perspective, adding another character, another dimension.” 

“Every era has its own version of scary sounds. What was scary to an audience when I was started is not scary any more. And the ways that you can manipulate sound have changed. Two days ago I had a session with some brass and we had a little time left over. So I ran a tape and I dictated things I wanted them to do with their instruments with the sole goal of making scary sounds.  We ran through that for about 15 minutes and I got some great material.  It’s whatever your imagination can dream up, whatever makes an ungodly, horrible sound.  What’s beautiful about film music is that there’s no rules, and for horror music there’s no idiom. It can get as crazy as you want, and most directors will push it even further.” His latest project: Chucky 7, which takes place in an asylum with “sounds I haven’t used on any other project. It’s a beautiful life,” he said. “Horror people are the nicest people.”

Featured image: Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger in Black Panther. Courtesy Marvel/Disney.