Last year, M.F. Wilson, creator of the super-phenom graphic novel FLORESCENT BLACK, approached me about doing the music for a new short film that he was writing and directing called THE FINAL MOMENTS OF KARL BRANT. Set in the near future, the story centers around Dr. Bennett Ferryman, played by Paul Reubens (PeeWee’s Big Adventure; Blow) whose experimental technology allows two detectives to bring a murder victim back to life in a digital state in order to question him about his final moments. The film also stars Janina Gavankar and Pete Chekvala, along with veteran actors Fay Masterson (Eyes Wide Shut; The Quick and the Dead) and Jon Sklaroff (Three Kings; Nip/Tuck; 24). In designing the multi-textured musical world for this story, I thought it would be interesting to collaborate with my talented friend and fellow composer Stellita Loukas to really bring the soundscape to life.
After much anticipation, the film premiered at ComicCon to great acclaim, debuted worldwide this week at NERDIST.COM, and is enjoying a wonderful reception by fans around the world.
I was initially drawn to this project as a fan of Wilson’s graphic novels, but I knew I had to do it after talking through the story with him. He was asking the quintessential question of my generation:
In the digital age, when does a person stop being a person?
This is something that I have thought through on so many occasions being the social media and online animal that I am. I think it’s a fair statement to say that the majority of us, in a certain age bracket at least, live a large part of our existence through purely digital means. As some big information-gathering machine somewhere records those zeroes and ones over time, at what point do our actions and reactions become nothing more than bytes of information floating through the ethers or stored somewhere in “the cloud” or on optical media? Wilson brilliantly explores this concept through THE FINAL MOMENTS OF KARL BRANT and I am very pleased and honored to have had a part in creating this uniquely compelling film.
If you cannot see the video below, you can view the film by clicking here.
TONE & DIRECTION
I wrote the music for the opening scene at the Brant home (“1m1 Phonological Loop”) with a very specific sound in mind. M. F. told me that he wanted the sound of a “perfect world on the brink of being shattered” but that the music should evoke feelings of “doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing”. After being with that for a long time, my wife and I were walking at the mall and we passed a toy store that had a bunch of children’s musical instruments in the front display. I bought a little crappy $15 toy piano — the kind of cliché toy piano every child “randomly” finds in the attic in every horror movie you’ve ever seen, except this one was new in the box. After a couple of hours in my studio with that piano, a BLUE Dragonfly Deluxe, a pair of pliers and a ball-peen hammer, I had that cue.
That “1m1 Phonological Loop” cue became the blueprint for the rest of the score. Stellita and I worked back and forth with my source material mangling it into obscurity. We found we played well off each other’s sensibilities; her texture and my rhythm. We thought as out of the box as we could push each other to think. In the lead up to a crucial scene in the 2nd act, I created a cool “ticking clock” sound by recording the “snip” from a pair of plastic scissors and combining that sound with an up-close recording of a fingernail clipper clipping off a fingernail. My fingernail.
It was the crazy and weird and bizarro things like that I knew nobody would get but us, but I’ve always felt like the little secretive nuances that go into a finished body of work are the ones that subconsciously make all the difference to the interpreter.
As the writing phase came to an end and I had approval from M. F. on direction and tone, I moved everything out of the analog world of mangled instruments and microphones and into the digital world that I felt Karl Brant’s memory had been cruelly relegated to. That was the concept — to keep everything in the same basic ecology that he was now living in. The digital realm, but not in the expansive sense that we enjoy as free-spirited inhabitants in the 21st century. His was a digital realm that was very claustrophobic in its construct. An imprisonment, limited by whomever cared to turn him on or off. In the right hands Karl was an object of affection. In the wrong hands, he could be switched off forever. What did that sound like? What would that feel like? What would you hear if it was you in the machine?
I used a lot of time-stretching techniques and pitching tools to bend sounds into Brant’s environment. Stellita and I are both huge fans of Soundiron Sampling and made additional use of their superb RUST, HOLY AMBIENCES and CATHEDRAL OF JUNK libraries to augment the screechier parts of our recordings. In the end we ended up with about an hour of material that we then culled down to the finished score.
THE FINAL MOMENTS OF KARL BRANT was a project that not only meant pushing myself into new territory creatively, but as a fan of good old-fashioned storytelling it’s always a huge knockout pleasure to write music to support something that is so well-crafted. I am very proud of this picture, and I sincerely hope that you enjoy it.