Audio: On the Score with Cliff Martinez

By • March 11, 2013

ON THE SCORE is sponsored by La-La Land Records

When you listen to sonic landmarks in the ever-evolving sound of film soundtracks, the savage orchestral strains of Max Steiner’s “King Kong,” Alex North’s avant-garde jazz in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and the pop youthquake of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Graduate” songs stand out. But perhaps no relatively modern score has done more with a whisper to explosively influence the alt. rock-centric scores of today than when Cliff Martinez created the ethereal, experimental rhythms for Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 “Sex, Lies and Videotape”- the picture that launched the indie film movement and its much of its corresponding sound that’s developed into the high-tech tones of the likes of “The Social Network” and “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

For sure, the 80s rock aesthetic of this former punk drummer and has grown since in his collaborations with Soderbergh and many other filmmakers- adding Latin narco grooves (“Traffic”), retro depravity (“Wonderland”), lush orchestras (“Solaris”) and war-torn Middle Eastern grooves (“Severe Clear”) to his repertoire. Yet the one thing that’s remained consistent is Martinez’s ability to turn an approach that might easily be called minimalism into some of the most subtly impactful scoring in town. Martinez’s music is simplicity at its finest- melodies that don’t so much describe his characters’ emotions as opposed to hypnotizing them to open up their inner thoughts. Angelic percussion has provided the sense of “Drive’s” brutal getaway man seeking deliverance. Siren-like electronic wails became “Contagion’s” nerve-tingling alarms for viral Armageddon. Calming, pulse rhythms and icy strings were the anticipation, and anguish of modern relationships in “Wicker Parker,” while ever-tensing, ethereal melodies became a business kingpin trying to weave his way out of a murder rap in “Arbitrage.”

With the crystalline percussion that signals Martinez’s now-trademarked trance-rhythm wall of sound, darkness is but a dream, especially in his offbeat approaches to the crime and punishment in “Spring Breakers” and “The Company You Keep.” It’s ironic that a tonal style that Hollywood equates to youth appeal makes the knowing sleaze of Harmony Korine’s orgy of girls-gone-wild bad behavior into a surreal fairy tale. Martinez’s score is the gorgeous, dreamy purple haze that accompanies a color-filtered parade of sex and drug imagery that’s the worst nightmare for the parent of any kid in college- the beats growing ever more dangerous when four way-precocious girls fall in with a gold-toothed superpimp- his machine gun swagger given an extra boast by the sleazy music of alt. star Skrillex.

Then in “The Company You Keep,” Martinez’s approach is at once soulful and suspenseful, his music almost praying for forgiveness for the past misdeeds of a 60s political radical, while tense rhythms bring the authorities ever-closer, thanks to the reporter who’s unmasked the long-wanted man. “Company” is easily the hippest score that an old pro like Robert Redford has gotten in his work as a director- a shot of gossamer, groove energy and emotion in a movie that deliberately balances Redford’s star appeal with the new Gen-X energy of co-star Shia Labeouf.

Now on a new episode of “On the Score,” the soft-spoken Cliff Martinez talks about how he’s kept a style that stood for a new wave of musical experimentalism into an approach that’s as fresh, and mesmerizing as ever as it makes bad behavior into a thing of strange beauty.

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Click above to Listen Now or Click Here to Download

a Buy the Soundtrack: SPRING BREAKERS
a Buy the Soundtrack: THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
a Buy the Soundtrack: DRIVE
a Buy the Soundtrack: CONTAGION
a Visit Cliff Martinez’s Website

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