MICHAEL WANDMACHER (2009)

October 20, 2010 | By

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With a background in commercials, film, shorts, indie films (Cry_Wolf) and electronica as Khursor, Michael Wandmacher’s latest pair of scores are for the high profile 3D remake of My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009), and The Punisher: War Zone (2008), the sequel to the 2004 film based in the popular vigilante character.

In our interview, Wandmacher describes scoring a movie designed for the 3D realm, as well as his large-scale orchestral score for The Punisher. Only a handful of the composer’s scores are available on CD and as MP3 albums, but they’re solid works by a composer who melds orchestral and electronic elements with exception fluidity.

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Mark R. Hasan:  How did you get involved in film scoring, because you have a very interesting background?

Michael Wandmacher:  I don’t know; an act of will, I guess! I actually went to school, got a journalism degree, and after college I started working at a couple of advertising agencies, and also moonlighted writing music for commercials.

Through that job I met various filmmakers, and worked on short films and a couple of independent features, which kind of parlayed itself into meeting people on the west coast.

I was invited out there a few times, and I met some people on the way there and handed out my music, which eventually got into the hands of some people at Miramax, and I started working on some of Jackie Chan’s really early films – Operation Condor 2: The Armour of the Gods(1998) / Long xiong hu di (1987) – that were going direct to video thru Dimension at the time.

When Twin Dragon (1999) / Shuang long hui (1992) came up, they were doing a theatrical release, and they said, ‘You can do it, but you have to move out here to Los Angeles,’ and that was almost ten years ago to the day now, but that’s kind of how it happened.

I’d been playing bands all through college and high school, and I’ve always loved music, but I don’t have a formal education per se; I’m pretty much self-taught.

MRH: Your early years sound really interesting, because you basically learned by tackling every kind of idiom and genre that’s out there – short film, commercial ads, and independent films.

MW:    Commercials, in my opinion, are especially a good training ground because you’re kind of forced to tackle every kind of music there is; you never really know what kind of stuff is coming down the pike, in terms of genre.

In one week, you’re working on something that’s kind of atmospheric and soft and light, and the next week you’re working on something orchestral, and after that you’re working on something mental. It can change day to day, and you’re also working by committee, so you’re dealing with copyrighters and account execs and people like that whose job is to mirror the jobs of producers and directors and editors in the film world, so it’s kind of a good way to cut your teeth and learn both the process of it, and the politics.

MRH: Your latest film score is for a remake of My Bloody Valentine, this classic Canadian slasher film from 1981. The genre itself embraces a lot of experimental musical ideas, aggressive sounds, and I’m curious what kind of sound you settle for in the remake?

MW:    My Bloody Valentine 3D was a lot of fun. It’s a very fun movie. It’s kind of a rocket sled ride from frame one. I like to say it starts on furious and ends on insane, and the score very much matches that center all the way through the film during the action scenes, the chases, and things like that.

It uses a lot of classic horror devices in the music – the Boo! moments with big aggressive brass, lots of atonal, aleatoric elements  – and a lot of things I threw in the bucket of my own which were electronic elements, like heavily processed power tools, metal pot drums, and custom elements that I took from the general environment. We destroyed a piano in the process; it was falling over and as we took it apart, we sampled it frequently.

I like lots of scores with dynamics… When the killer is actually there and the game is on, the music is very aggressive and very much in your face, but in the moments leading up to that, the music is extremely quiet and very, very still, so that the added shock value of this massive dynamic range assaults you.

MRH: When you were spotting the film, did you see it in 3D, or did they give you the flat version?

MW: What’s funny is that one day I would get “one eye.” When you see the picture ‘flat,’ you’re looking at one eye or the other eye (it’s either the right eye or the left eye), and one day I would be looking at the right eye, and the next cut I would be looking at the left eye, so I would put the two up and A/B it, and the character would move from one side of the screen to the other.

It’s kind of funny, but the thing that I found most interesting was that in 3-D, for some sequences, especially when there’s an intense depth of field in a shot, it might hang on screen a little bit longer than you would see in a 2D film, and then because there was a real physical aspects of watching a film like this in 3D, your brain literally needs a little bit more time to process all of the visual information that’s in front of you.

It’s an interesting process, learning how a 3D film is made. It’s intensely technical and intensely laborious, but the end results are amazing, especially in horror; it’s the perfect genre to exploit that technology.

MRH: Your other recent film score, The Punisher: War Zone (2008), has got to be one of the most daunting if not intimidating films that you’ve done because it’s a very large scale orchestral score, and I wonder if that particular sound was something that the producers wanted, or was it something that you suggested?

MW:    I think that from the beginning they wanted to do an orchestral score. There ended up being some prominent electronic elements in the score, but it’s definitely a symphonic score at its heart, and when I saw the film for the first time, I thought there was really no other way to approach this, given how the character is portrayed in the film.

I’d worked with orchestras before on other films, and I was excited about the prospect. The most daunting part was that the schedule was really short, so everybody had to kind of hunker down and get it done. The writing itself took about three and a half weeks, and then we had about ten days to record it and mix it.

MRH: I noticed the dominant instruments in the score are brass, and I really liked the way you create these smooth transitions between the different brass instruments, and suggest a kind of gothic, brooding atmosphere without actually being very heavy.

MW:    Thanks, I’m glad you noticed that. It was a conscious decision. Since we were using a large orchestra, I made a decision very early on… I thought it would be smart to stick with just strings and brass so I could cover a lot of ground melodically and emotionally with the strings, and leave the brass for the more thematic, bigger, macho moments of the score.

It’s a dark but heroic and mournful, stoic sound. I just felt that once we had started going down that road we should keep it up, and we ended up using a really large orchestra with just brass and strings.

MRH: I think what I like so much about the score is that you don’t saturate the soundtrack with the might of the orchestra. There’s a great deal of restraint that’s applied to a lot of passages, and many cues are very quiet, with a focus on a few nuances. Those cues aren’t sound design or atmospheric filler; you get a sense that they have direct and dramatic function, but the orchestra is applied with a great deal of restraint.

I found that surprising because in comic book-styled films and films derived from graphic novels, the traditional, formal approach tends to be to use the force of the orchestra, and I don’t know if that’s just because there’s the influence of Danny Elfman’s Batman (1989), where you have to be gothic and big, or whether it’s a sense that ‘I’ve got a huge orchestra, and I have to do something with it.’

MW:    My approach for scoring has generally been less is more in most situations. There are times when you have to deploy the orchestra and really use it at its full capacity to get a point across, but especially in this portrayal of The Punisher, Ray Stevenson plays the character very reserved, quiet, tormented, and forceful; he doesn’t say much, he’s very attuned to the modernPunisher comics that are out now, and the character is driven by something in his emotional core – the death of his family – that leaves him in a very morally ambiguous place.

Even though he’s doing his Punisher thing, he’s kind of a machine; he makes snap judgements about guys, but when he’s not doing that, he’s locked in this personal emotional hell, and I thought to best illustrate that was to use an approach that was quieter; something that was diametrically opposed to the action and plays to his theme and the many aspects of his character. It’s important to bring that out.

“Vigilante” is a very weird place to be for a character, because people both abhor you and root for you at the same time, and I wanted the audience to remain in the center, and a restrained approach to music highlighted that. Also, by not taking it over the top, it doesn’t take the audience out of the movie; I thought that was really important.

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KQEK.com would like to thank Michael Wandmacher for discussing his latest film scores, and Liz Ferraris at Costa Communications for facilitating this interview.

For more information on Michael Wandmacher and downloading his music from iTunes, click HERE.

To read a detailed film profile of My Bloody Valentine 3D, check out the January-February double issue of Run Morgue Magazine (issue #86) HERE.

To read our 2010 interview with Michael Wandmacher regarding Piranha 3D, click HERE.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2008 by Mark R. Hasan

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KQEK.com would like to thank Michael Wandmacher for discussing his latest film scores, and Liz Ferraris at Costa Communications for facilitating this interview.

For more information on Michael Wandmacher and downloading his music from iTunes, click HERE.

To read a detailed film profile of My Bloody Valentine 3D, check out the January-February double issue of Run Morgue Magazine (issue #86) HERE.

To read our 2010 interview with Michael Wandmacher regarding Piranha 3D, click HERE.

To read our 2011 interview regarding Drive Angry (2011), click HERE.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2008 by Mark R. Hasan

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Related external links (MAIN SITE):

CD:  Cry_Wolf (2005) — Killing Floor, The (2007) —  Punisher: War Zone, The (2009)

DVD/Film:  Cry_Wolf (2005) — My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)

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