Joe Trapanese Talks the Music for "The Raid: Redemption"
"I love making cool art," exclaims composer Joe Trapanese.
With the score for The Raid: Redemption, that's exactly what Trapanese did alongside Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda. Together, the duo crafted an all-encompassing aural experience. The music ebbs and flows with the action of the film, heightening intensity and revealing emotions at the appropriate moments. It's an entrancing collection that evokes Bernard Herrmann as much as it does Trent Reznor. At the same time, the music for The Raid: Redemption belongs to Trapanese and Shinoda alone. It's a groundbreaking score that'll stay inside your head forever.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief, Joe Trapanese talks scoring The Raid: Redemption and so much more…
Was it crucial to start with a bank of sounds to build the score from?
That's a really important thing. We had six weeks to write about 60-to-70 minutes of music. When you enter a process like that, it's going to be a whirlwind. If you do your homework and establish some basic ground rules and a sound palette, it's going to be a much easier, friendlier process, and the music is going to be much more focused and honed in on.
Did you always aim to balance the organic and synthetic sounds? The film has a similar balance between gunplay and martial arts.
Yeah! It's one of the few great action films I can think of where I really loved the story. I think of great action, and I love True Lies. I don't remember what the story's about though [Laughs]. I just remember the Harrier jet shooting up the building. The Raid: Redemption tells this story within an action film. That's where we got our traditional instruments from. Strings and piano are so effective for the moments in the movie when you're with Rama's family. The audience is immediately transported into a different world when they hear the strings.
The electronic side is very natural.
That's true. I've always tried to do that, and Mike has too. You use some of the most modern tools in combination with some of the most legendary, vintage tools at hand. I have a bunch of old synthesizers and devices. There are all of these tricks you have to turn something that can sound super clean and digital into something that's a little more warm and organic. That's always the goal.
What resonated with you about The Raid: Redemption?
The overall tone of the way it was shot really did. There were lots of really interesting decisions from the handheld to the color scheme to how close and intimate the shots were. Also, we might not necessarily understand the language, but if you get familiar with the characters, they all have such different tones with their voices. They all speak so differently. Jaka talks super-fast. Then, you have the insane machete guy who talks so methodically and slowly. Those cool things are so informative and inspiring to me musically.
Does the music attach itself to certain characters?
Definitely! That's a goal. When you hear that nasty, grinding synth sound Mike came up with, you know the bad guy is right there. The music is like peering into their soul. Immediately, you know without any words.
Did you and Mike click instantly on a creative level?
We really did. In a project like this, the film is the star. We were all aiming to tell this story. The film was so clear in how to tell this story that it was a great process from the beginning. Mike and I clicked personally. We have a lot of similar tastes, but we also clicked because of how awesome this film is. He was on the road, and I was in New York for a little bit with my family. We sat down with the film for a little bit, and then left the film for a quick second. We let the memory of the film echo in our heads. That's a great way of boiling down something to its simplest elements. We honed our ideas, sounds, and melodies during that time. When we came back together, because we did that groundwork, it actually made the process much easier.
Is there a piece of music that represents the score for you?
There are a couple. One of my favorites is not necessarily because of the music. It's because of the film. The power goes off, and the SWAT team is stuck in the hallway and they're looking around in the dark. They're not sure what's going on, and the camera rises up slowly and you start to make out some figures. All of a sudden, you see there are some bad guys with AK-47s. It's one of the simplest parts of the score. It's a couple of synthesizers and the filters are slowly opening. The tuning is getting more out of tune and dirty.
What are the best tools to create musical tension?
There are a lot. One is dissonant intervals. A lot of times, it's a little more esoteric in the sense that you take a sound that's muffled and quiet and you slowly open it up and make it less muffled, bigger, and brighter. That will reveal something growing. More simply, you can take a sound and raise the pitch slightly. There are a lot of tools we have in our arsenal.
Was there a composer who inspired you?
I think I share the same one, John Williams, with many others out here. I remember watching Star Wars in sixth or seventh grade. Prior to that, I was growing up in Jersey City and listening to a lot of hip hop. All of a sudden, I said, "What is this? Oh, it's an orchestra." I started listening to the score for Star Wars and then more film scores. Soon I found myself listening to Beethoven and I got really into classical music. Being exposed to so much, my palette has gotten a lot broader. John Williams was indeed the initial inspiration, and I carry that with me.
There are flourishes of Bernard Herrman.
Definitely! I remember at some point in high school I saw Psycho and The Birds. The Birds has no score. There's this whacky tension with these bird sounds and echoes. Your job as a film composer is to open yourself to not only different forms of music but different forms of art. All of it is very informative.
What are you listening to right now?
I'm actually listening to a lot of John Lennon. I've come to realize he's one of the best songwriters in existence ever. I've really been enjoying the simplicity of that production. It also reminds me of why The Beatles are so good. You have John Lennon being as crazy as he can be and Paul McCartney being as poppy as he can be. That balance is inspiring. That's on my playlist. I've got Frank Sinatra in there. I started listening to Sinatra because I was listening to The Doors. I love The Doors and Jim Morrison was heavily influenced by Sinatra. That's the example of the kind of juxtaposition. You wouldn't think Jim Morrison would be linked to Sinatra but they are somehow.