For a story in this Sunday’s Calendar, our sister blog Pop & Hiss scored a rare — well, let’s be real– a just-this-side-of-impossible-to-land interview with Daft Punk to get the lowdown on how the Grammy-winning Parisian dance music duo went about creating the chart-topping soundtrack for the sci-fi epic “Tron: Legacy.”
From the word go, almost everything about the process went counter-intuitively: band mates Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo didn’t want the job when it was first offered to them, they balked when Disney Studios asked them to collaborate with a bigger-name film score composer and then rejected the kind of music everyone expected them to record for “Tron” — rave-y, four-on-the-floor Big Beat electronica — in lieu of more symphonic compositions that forefront an 85-piece orchestra and back-burner electronic musical cues.
“Especially in the beginning, [“Tron: Legacy” director] Joseph Kosinski was thinking that the score could be more electronic,” said Bangalter. “We tried gradually to show him the orchestra worked better, in order to convey the proper tone and timeless quality it has.”
Daft Punk started without a completed script, basing its musical passages on conceptual drawings of scenes and characters.
“Everything we’ve done in music has been very visual,” Bangalter said. “We always get a lot of inspiration looking at a picture or painting. Here it was interesting: We would see this refined concept art. It would help us work on the right textures and the sound — the evocative nature of what we needed to do musically.”
The group’s first six months on the project were spent doing research and development, making “electronic sketches” — synthesizer approximations of the kind of orchestral music cues they wanted, lasting between 30 seconds and two minutes in length. From there, the duo hooked up with music arranger and orchestrator Joseph Trapanese (Showtime’s “Dexter,” “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”) who translated the sketches into symphonic arrangements.
“The average fan might think they would only be able to use the synthesizer idiom,” Trapanese explained. “But they were really specific with what they wanted orchestrally. They did a lot of research. They gave me these iTunes playlists that had Bernard Herrmann — he was Hitchcock’s main scoring guy — Philip Glass, John Carpenter, Gyorgy Ligeti, who was known for having his music in Stanley Kubrick’s films.”
“My job was easy from a harmonic and melodic perspective,” he continued. “All the ideas were there.”
The orchestrator engaged in a bit of musical sleuth work, combing Hollywood’s musical catacombs for clues as to how yesteryear film scorers plied their trade.
“I would go to the music library houses where they have archives,” said Trapanese. “I’d look at Bernard Herrmann’s scores, look at what kind of details made that music sound different from contemporary film music. And I’d absorb details — woodwind details, horn phrasings — from those passages of music and incorporate it into what we were doing.”
So now that the “Tron: Legacy” soundtrack cracked the top 10 on the national album chart and debuted more strongly than any Daft Punk album to date, are De Homem-Christo and Bangalter thinking about giving up dance music for soundtracks? “We could consider doing another film score,” Bangalter said. “But we haven’t moved into this thing as a change of career. For us, it’s another experiment.”
And how do the band members respond to criticism from the likes of Pitchfork, which lamented the “gloom of blown expectations” in a thumbs-down review of the “Tron: Legacy” soundtrack and accused Daft Punk of selling out to Hollywood? “People can think whatever they want to think or say what they want to say,” said De Homem-Christo. “The only issue we would have is to put out stuff that we don’t 100% validate. Since we started 17 years ago, we have always managed to be fortunate to have the final result match our stated intention of what we wanted to do.”
“That’s why we take our time to release things,” Bangalter added: “We’re only putting out what we strongly believe in.”
Read the first part of the Daft Punk story here. Part 2 will arrive this weekend.
— Chris Lee
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