Iberia Isaac Albeniz
18 October 2014, 12:39
After tackling the quiet helplessness of being adrift in space with Gravity, the Oscar-winning film composer turned to the Bible to tackle Brad Pitt's World War Two film.
Describe the music to someone who's never heard it before
It’s an epic, emotional and hopefully moving musical journey into the hell of the last days of World War II.
What was your brief?
When I met the director, David Ayer, on the set in October 2013, his main brief for me was that he wanted the audience to “feel”; that this should be an emotional journey giving a sense of the weight of exhaustion and fear that the crew of the tank Fury had experienced - but also honouring their sense of brotherhood.
How long did you have to write it?
My first meeting was a year before I finally finished the work, and I started loosely playing around with melodic ideas at this point, (which means mostly that I was humming into my phone’s voice recorder app at strange hours of the night when ideas struck), but the real work started in late March of this year.
What did you think when you saw the first cuts of the film?
I was totally gripped. Usually when you watch an assembly cut at the early stages of a film, everything feels very rough and seemingly never ending. But in this case it was clear that intensity of the performances and the detail and technical precision of the camerawork were coming together to produce something very unique. I was mostly nervous about letting the side down!
What were your inspirations?
David and I spoke a lot initially about the nature of World War Two as the first war of mass mechanization. Both sides were frantically trying to come up with ever-more deadly ways to gain an advantage. The tank, Fury, grinding forward every day with its exhausted and mentally broken crew inside, gave me the idea to build a score that combined a sense of weight, of constantly moving heavily forward, and combining that with very human qualities, the people within the machine.
There are a lot of heavy grinding rhythms in the score, but also strings, for example, playing very dynamically, from so quietly that the bows were falling off the strings to huge sweeps of emotion.
The characters themselves showed me the way forward with the thematic writing. Brad Pitt’s character Wardadddy has an enigmatic theme initially which develops as we learn more about him, whilst Logan Lerman’s Norman starts off being accompanied by a theme that constantly shifts around harmonically, matching his sense of wide-eyed nervous terror when he realises he’s been sent into this hellish environment.
Did you have a 'EUREKA!' moment?
Yes, and it involved the choir that is used throughout the piece. It’s easy to assume that, just three weeks before the end of the war, things might have been less intense for the crew of the Fury, but in actual fact they’re in the middle of Nazi Germany. They’re surrounded by danger. When I was writing a cue, I started to experiment with the idea of the choir chanting in German, this constant, spookily unemotional presence.
I found some apposite quotes from the Lutheran Bible concerning ideas of invasion, and war, and had the choir perform long takes of these chants, sometimes sung, sometimes whispered. Occasionally the choir sounds like a unit, but by using individual mics, I could move the performances around the audience. It may feel like someone whispering into your ear in one moment before it sweeps around to the other side of the room.
I was initially unsure it would work but seconds into the first take with a wonderful choir called the Pinewood Singers at Abbey Road, it was clear there was something very unsettling about the sound. It became a big feature of the score, at once giving me a sense of the constant grinding forward I was looking for along with that idea of danger all around.
If you had to compose it again, what would you change?
I’m not sure… I’ll purposefully avoid watching the film for a few years now so I don’t run the risk of suddenly having the idea that in retrospect I wish I had had earlier so I don’t depress myself too much!
If you could hear anyone admit they're a massive fan of this score, who would it be?
I’m still at the stage of my career when I’m so utterly thrilled that ANYONE is listening that I wouldn’t want to specify anyone in particular.
Do you think it will have a life beyond the film?
I have no idea, although I’m hopeful there’ll be a couple of tracks on there that might be played occasionally on Classic FM! I live in hope.