Cinematic Soundscapes: Post-rock in Soundtracks

Here at Arctic Drones a lot of us are in a buzz about the exciting news that 65daysofstatic are currently in the process of writing the soundtrack for the game ‘No Mans Sky’, an upcoming sci-fi epic that takes place in an infinitely large universe set for release later this year. This announcement got us all talking about the countless other films, TV programs and games that have used post-rock in their soundtracks. Be it a lone song on a varied track list or a full score written specifically for the production there is a range of examples of post-rock in the media.

So in the following piece I have dipped into a few of them and put together a list that presents examples from across the board. Some are bands that have allowed their songs to be used in a soundtrack; some are bands that have written the soundtrack from scratch and others are traditional composers who have written scores that take on the character of what would classically be seen as post-rock.

I hope you enjoy the list but I’m definite that it’ll be missing out some of your favourites so why don’t you leave a comment below and share the love.

Note: I have aimed to make the list as spoiler free as possible, but sorry if any scenes that I have mentioned have been described in too much detail.

65DAYSOFSTATIC


 As stated above, 65daysofstatic are currently writing the score for the game ‘No Mans Sky’, and it’s looking like it could really be something special. The Game is to be set in a procedurally generated universe, meaning that with the use of complex algorithms and clever computer calculations, the world is created before you as you explore deeper and deeper, and this isn’t all that’s going to be evolving as you play. The sound team for the game, headed by audio director Paul Weir, are currently working alongside 65daysofstatic to create a soundtrack that works in the same way, as you explore the universe the music is procedurally evolving along too to create a constant and immersive soundscape. In an interview with Game Informer, alongside two members of the band and Paul Weir the founder of Hello Games, Sean Murray, admits how he is a fan of the band and he has said that in the early developmental stages of the game he had been listening to their albums and felt that ‘Debutante’ was the perfect song to unleash his vision to the public and he certainly wasn’t wrong.

Murray therefore emailed the Sheffield four piece to ask permission and not only were they happy for the song to be used, but they went one stop further and dropped some hints about their interest in the game and sci-fi in general and it all came together from there. So far the creative process has been a two way street with both parties seeing inspiration in the other. Paul Wolinski, guitarist and keyboardist of 65daysofstatic, recalls an early meeting in which the following back and forth went down, ‘right we’re ready, we’re going to soundtrack your vision,’ stated the band, to which the reply from the ‘No Mans Sky’ production team was ‘no don’t do that, write 65days music because that will inspire us’. Keep an eye out for further developments on the ‘No Man’s Sky’ webpage as well as the 65daysofstatic site.

columns-pr soundtracks-silent running

‘No Man’s Sky’ is the not the first soundtrack project that the lads of 65daysofstatic have taken on. Back in 2011 they were involved with an interesting project with Glasgow Film Festival who had asked if the band were interested in soundtracking a film for the festival, any film. They settled on the sci-fi (sensing a theme here) cult classic, ‘Silent Running’, a poignant film that sees a botanist attempt to maintain all that is left of Earth’s flora and fauna aboard a spaceship adrift in space. The venture, originally set at two dates at Glasgow Film Festival, evolved into a short tour and although there is no official release of the film with this alternative soundtrack, it was later released as an album that is available on the bands website.

SIGUR RÓS


It would be impossible to write something about post-rock in soundtracks without mentioning a few staple bands, one of which being Sigur Rós, and to list all of their appearances would probably warrant its own article. Arguably the best known post-rock outfit around today, Sigur Rós can be found floating into a number of different films and TV programs. Their appearances started early on and still going strong to this day racking up an impressive number of credits. The bands big break had come with their critically acclaimed second album, ‘Ágaetis Byrjun’, shooting them to international renown, and with the album came several tracks that would be picked up for various soundtracks on blockbuster movies, this wasn’t the start of the soundtrack game for the band, having been featured on Icelandic documentaries and films at an earlier point, but it is perhaps the beginning of the bands climb to where they are now, helping to present them to a wider audience. The bands contributions range from simply allowing their songs to be used, through writing the odd songs for a soundtrack to composing a complete soundtrack. Ranging from Icelandic documentaries to blockbuster dramas, TV adverts, talent shows, various montage sequences and renowned TV series’ the Icelandic group have definitely appeared in a varied list.

One of their first credits comes from Cameron Crowe’s 2001 release ‘Vanilla Sky’. The band leant three songs, two of which came from ‘Ágaetis Byrjun’, to the varied soundtrack that went on to be nominated for an Academy Award. Appearing alongside the likes of R.E.M, Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley and Radiohead, some have said that the diverse soundtrack is one of the reasons the film has become such a cult classic. This isn’t the only time songs from ‘Ágaetis Byrjun’ have been used in film, Wes Anderson used ‘Starálfur’ in one of the final scenes of his 2004 comedy drama ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’. The combination of Anderson’s cinematography and the wonderful song from Sigur Rós all comes together in a climactic scene that the whole film is setting up for, it all leads to a staggeringly beautiful and moving scene that, I’m not ashamed to say, brings me to tears every time I see it.

Soon after their break in ‘Vanilla Sky’, the band composed a full soundtrack for an award winning Icelandic Documentary titled ‘Hlemmur’ in 2002. The documentary, named after Reykjavík’s main bus terminal, revolves around several unfortunate and impoverished men who spend a majority of their time in the terminal adopting it as their second home.

As mentioned, ‘Ágaetis Byrjun’ can be given the responsibility for the bands step into international recognition, but it was arguably their fourth studio album ‘Takk…’ that put the group on the pedestal that they find themselves on now, in the UK at least. ‘Takk…’ was soundtrack gold. Around the release of the album it was difficult to tune into a TV program without hearing the iconic piano intro from ‘Hoppípolla’. For several years it felt like it was the go to track for any moving human interest story or magnificent ‘wonder at the beauty of our world’ montage, notably being featured in the advert for the BBC’s ground breaking 2006 documentary ‘Planet Earth’. If you want to bring people to the brink of tears or send shivers down their spine, chuck ‘Hoppípolla’ on your project and you’re laughing.

columns-pr soundtracks-the simpsonsThe burden wasn’t solely on the shoulders of ‘Hoppípolla’ though, and many of the other tracks from the album have featured in various places with the BBC’s ‘Top Gear’ using a number of songs such as ‘Mílanó’, ‘Svo Hljótt’ and ‘Sæglópur’. The latter was also featured on the adverts of ‘Life of Pi’ and was used a number of times by Ubisoft when introducing and advertising ‘Prince of Persia’ in 2008. The exposure to a mainstream audience that came from the album resulted in the bands most successful period, with ‘Hoppípolla’ being their most successful single to date.

Finally, and possibly a perfect example of just how big the band have become over the years, they also made a cameo appearance on ‘The Simpsons’. Guest staring alongside the then Prime Minister of Iceland, the band had a brief cameo in the episode ‘The Saga of Carl’, an episode that was set in Iceland, and contributed some original pieces of music as well as offering their own take on the iconic theme song. If being immortalised in yellow isn’t enough to show just how far the band has come in the years then I don’t know what is.

3EPKANO


Another interesting example of the alternative soundtrack to a film comes from the Dublin based group 3epkano who create original soundtracks for classic silent and avant-garde films. Their compositions have been described as fascinating and mesmerising as well as being likened to Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai.

3epkano manage to create wonderful soundtracks to go alongside classic pieces of cinema, often doing so in a live setting. They have tackled a number of silent cinema classics, amongst the list ‘Faust’, ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’, ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’, ‘Nosferatu’ and most recently ‘Der Golem’ with Irish Singer Iarla Ó’Lionáird. I’d highly recommend checking out their stuff as 3epkano create truly beautiful compositions that really do add something special to the old films and the wonderful coming together of classic cinema and modern music is absolutely brilliant.

EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY


Another one of the must mention bands, Explosions in the Sky are a group that are well known for their soundtracks, having composed a number of original pieces for films and TV Series’ as well as having there music featured in a number of places as well.

columns-pr soundtracks-friday night lightsTheir first major credit came back in 2004 when they composed the original soundtrack for Peter Berg’s ‘Friday Night Lights’. The band were originally approached by the film’s music supervisor Brian Reitzell to see if they would be interested in a new project that he was working on. The group were already familiar with the story having heard about the original book. They were even more familiar with the setting of the film, with several members of the band growing up in the areas where the film was to take place. During the recording process they were given the use of several rare, odd and old instruments but they chose to stick with what they knew and composed the soundtrack using their own traditional style. When the film was later adapted into a TV series many of the songs that the band had written for the film were also used.

The next composer credit came about in an interesting way, almost the reverse of their first with the band starting proceedings on the project. The film in question is ‘Prince Avalanche’, a 2013 low budget comedy-drama film. The films director, David Gordon Green happens to live nearby to the band in Austin, as does David Wingo who often worked on the soundtracks for Green’s films. They all knew each other and as Green recalls in an interview with Esquire the band came to him about making a film together, going as far to suggest the eventual location of the film. The soundtrack doesn’t have the heavy edge that is found in the usual output from the band, with the film requiring a softer score to fit with the theme, but with this being said the band did keep their own distinctive style throughout.

The band remained busy with soundtrack duties over the next few years, first returning to work with Peter Berg, this time on his 2013 war film ‘Lone Survivor’ before going on to work alongside David Gordon Green again in 2014 on the film ‘Manglehorn’ staring Al Pacino.

JOHN MURPHY


Up to this point, post-rock bands have dominated the list. John Murphy however comes in from a different angle. As a film composer he has a varied and eclectic catalogue of music and within this catalogue there are a number of works that have a definite post-rock influence. Murphy has worked alongside prolific and well-respected film directors such as Danny Boyle and Guy Ritchie and his scores can be found on a wide range of genres varying from comedy and romance to action and crime thrillers. Having picked up numerous awards and nominations along the way he has made a strong name for himself in the business.

The first film that is of interest is Danny Boyle’s 2002 post-apocalyptic horror film ‘28 Days Later’. Murphy’s soundtrack is filled with the classic post-rock standards, repeating motifs, heavy effect usage, a good use of orchestral instrumentation and build ups and peaks, with this sound he managed to create a soundtrack that gives a perfect reflection of the action in the film as the protagonists run for survival through a desolate England ravaged by a highly contagious disease.

The song ‘In the House – In a Heartbeat’ is one example of the post-rock styled songs on the soundtrack, and is a good illustration of just how well the genre worked for the film as the dramatic and frantic song builds, getting heavier and louder, in a scene that is just as manic and dramatic as the infected make chase. This song would go on to be remixed and used several times in the sequel ‘28 Weeks Later’ as well as ‘Kick Ass’ and ‘Kick Ass 2’, all of which were also scored by Murphy. His original score is not the only post-rock to feature on the soundtrack of ‘28 Days Later’ with an edited version of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s ‘East Hastings’ also making an appearance, however in an interview with the Guardian in 2002, Boyle discussed how difficult it had been to get the bands permission to feature their song and how he could only get the rights for the film score, the reason that it was not featured on the official soundtrack album.

Murphy went on to collaborate with Boyle again in 2007 on the sci-fi thriller ‘Sunshine’. A collaboration with the British electronic group Underworld, ‘Sunshine’ is another soundtrack to feature songs with a post-rock style. Just as fitting as the soundtrack for ‘28 Days Later’ was, the post-rock theme gives the perfect musical accompaniment to the drastic film and is paced brilliantly. Underworld originally improvised a score for the film, taking inspiration from soundtracks to classic sic-fi films such as the iconic ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. This was then sent to Murphy who completed the score adding his own stamp to it. The much anticipated soundtrack release was a long time coming, with legal issues causing delays in its release, eventually coming out over a year after the films release date.

MOGWAI


Mogwai is another band that a lot of people will be familiar with, and there’s likely a chance that a lot of people are familiar with their soundtrack credits too, but that is the very reason why I’ve included them. Mogwai, much like Sigur Rós, are band that have had their music used regularly on TV programs and films (and they are another band that BBC’s ‘Top Gear’ are big fans of it would seem), and much like Explosions in the Sky they have also written original material for a couple of projects.

columns-pr soundtracks-zidaneIn 2006, Mogwai were involved in an interesting venture, ‘Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait’. The documentary film, feeling more like an art piece than anything, records a football match and focuses exclusively on French footballer Zinedine Zidane throughout. The films director Douglas Gordon asked the band if they would write the soundtrack for the film, and after seeing some segments of the film with a remix of ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ behind it they agreed to take part. The documentary is fascinating to watch and gives a completely different experience of football than you would usually find on TV and Mogwai’s more restrained soundtrack adds an interesting element to the experience, but with this being said though, if you’re not a fan of football, maybe give this one a miss.

The lads from Glasgow returned to the soundtrack game in 2012 when they composed the soundtrack for the French supernatural drama TV series ‘Les Revenants’, alternatively titled ‘The Returned’ in English speaking countries.

Another case of the odd recording process, most of the score was written and recorded without the band actually seeing any footage of the program, at first working off only a couple of translated scripts before filming had started, the soundtrack evolved as the show developed and moved along through casting and filming. The score went on to be released as an album with most of the tracks being re-recorded so the tracks on the album are actually re-works of what is heard on the series, the released material on the album does however manage to retain the feel of the show and it is clear how closely they are linked. Mogwai have also confirmed that they are returning to score the second season of the series, which is currently in production and due to be out in late 2015.

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3 Comments

  • Thank you Richard for this very nice overview!

    Just wanted to let you know that the post-rock band We Stood Like Kings, of which I’m the pianist, is also composing soundtracks for silent movies (www.westoodlikekings.com)

    • Hi Judith,

      Thanks for the heads up, we hope to publish a Part 2 to the list so I’ll definitely check this out. Thanks for the heads up 🙂

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