Continue below to hear more from the Dynamic Music Partners as they touch upon their work on the Batman: The Killing Joke
animated movie, selecting Justice League score tracks and some of the neat extras on the Batman: The Animated Series
The World's Finest: Dynamic Music Partners has been heavily involved in creating the music scores for an assortment of DC animation projects in the past, but you're now back to tackle a huge title - Batman: The Killing Joke. What brought you back for this title (your first DC DTV work in quite some time) and how does it feel to be returning to the DC world on a project this high-profile?
Kristopher Carter: We’re simply thrilled to collaborate with Bruce Timm again! Other than the "Batman Beyond" short we scored as part of the Batman 75th Anniversary celebrations, our last full-length project we worked directly together on was "Justice League Unlimited!" Bruce is such a visionary in telling immersive animated tales, and after meeting with him and director Sam Liu, we knew we were in for a treat. As we were hired not only to write the score to the film, but also to compose the song that the Joker sings on-screen, our collaboration actually began quite early in the process: we wrote the song even before the voice recording and creation of the storyboards and animation.
WF: As a semi-follow-up, given the darker tone of the material, did Batman: The Killing Joke allow you to really try something new, and perhaps explore some places you couldn't before?
Lolita Ritmanis: One hopes that as a composer, the goal is always to explore new places, new ideas, new ways of underscoring a scene. I find the biggest source of inspiration in my own life, and through the life experiences I have had. I think that the idea of being allowed to try something new and perhaps explore places I haven’t been before musically is much more about being in an environment where all the music that has already been percolating in my brain can actually be realized. This film is an emotional rollercoaster: dark, cerebral at times, melancholy. While I cannot imagine what it feels like to be The Joker, or Barbara Gordon, or Batman, I can draw from my own inner angst about things. Life is messy sometimes, complex, amazingly happy, and then tragic.
WF: Can you break down the scoring process for this one? Were there any surprises along the way, or maybe different expectations given the scope and tone of the movie?
LR: As Kristopher mentioned, we composed the song first. We met with Bruce Timm long before the film had been animated to specifically discuss the song that The Joker sings. The song has nothing to do with the rest of the score mood-wise. It is in complete contrast to the dark, moody tones that we used for the underscore. Early on we knew that to achieve the level of nuance we wanted with the score, we would be hiring live musicians. When we spotted the film, director Sam Liu was very much looking for a score that would add to the depth of the story in a very subtle way. Themes, long musical cues, taking time to breathe, honoring the performances of Mark Hamill (The Joker), Tara Strong (Batgirl), Kevin Conroy (Batman), Ray Wise (Commissioner Gordon) and others by weaving our music around their powerful performances made for a very fulfilling experience creatively. The artwork even breathes. Truthfully I did not have any preconceptions as to what this experience would be or not be. Now, looking back at the process from that initial song meeting with Bruce, to now, thrilled to be attending the premiere of the film at ComicCon, and very excited about the release of the soundtrack I can say that this has been a truly great project to be a part of.
Michael McCuiston: We spotted the film act by act, deciding together with Bruce and Sam where music was needed, and what the role of the music would be. We previewed each act of music for them at Lolita's studio, making any requested changes along the way. Once the synthesized version of the score had been approved we had our recording sessions. Contractor Gina Zimmitti hired a marvelous string orchestra for this project, comprised of many musicians who had played for us on "Batman: The Animated Series.” The orchestra was recorded by Bobby Fernandez, who also was our scoring mixer on “BTAS." Musicians John Yoakum (woodwinds) and Andris Mattson (jazz trumpet) added layers of color through their artistry. Our key team members: Mark Mattson (engineer and music editor), Mako Sujishi (engineer) and Larry Rench (orchestrator) deserve a tremendous thank you from us for their time and talent.
WF: So, about Batman: The Killing Joke, any chance you can share your quick thoughts on the film itself?
KC: I was blown away by the depth of emotion in the film: It is far darker, more twisted, more visceral, and more tragic than I was expecting. No punches were pulled; the film absolutely captures the raw intensity of the graphic novel! It is not a complete downer, though, for there are moments of levity, humor and enough thoughtful points made to come away from the viewing and reflect a bit. And perhaps a bit after that. And then followed by repeated viewings!
WF: The Batman: The Killing Joke soundtrack will be available to purchase at San Diego Comic-Con 2016 and then via retail shortly afterwards via La-La Land Records. Could you break down your SDCC comic plans and tell us where fans might be able to snag a copy of the soundtrack and snag some autographs?
MM: We are excited to present a special songs and music panel on Friday, July 22, from 1pm-2pm in room 28DE called, “I Love That Song! Composing, Scoring and Singing Superhero Style.” We will be joined by producer/lyricist James Tucker and moderated by BMI’s Anne Cecere and White Bear PR’s Chandler Poling and will discuss the process that goes into creating a song for an animated production. That evening we will be attending “The Killing Joke” premiere in Ballroom 20 at 9pm. On Saturday, we will attend a CD signing event at the La-La Land Records Booth (#4536) from 11am-12pm. They will have copies for sale of “The Killing Joke” as well as our other big releases, and we hope that anyone at the Con that day will stop by and say hello!
WF: Continuing with SDCC, two other big soundtrack releases will hit at the con - Justice League and Batman: The Animated Series - Volume Four. First up - Justice League! Can you walk us through the track selection of the release and some of what you each consider stand out tracks?
KC: Picking tracks for "Justice League" was a fairly monumental task! In looking through the archives and listening to all these scores, I was struck by just how huge the scope of the show was. The producers often mentioned that to create a story featuring seven of the world’s most powerful heroes, you needed a gigantic threat to be able to keep them all busy. A task they completed successfully, of course—we were saving the universe on a weekly basis! Some episodes were chosen because they are my personal favorites, others because they are episodes popular with the fans. In particular, I’m pleased the album includes tracks from “Secret Origins, Pt. 3”. I was finishing the score in the wee morning hours of Sep. 11, 2001, and there was something strangely comforting about being reminded that even in our darkest hours, there is always hope!
LR: It is such a pain trying to figure out which cue, which score goes on the CD, and which one doesn’t. The team at La-La Land: Matt Verboys, Michael Gerhard, John Takis, Neil Bulk, Dan Goldwasser and James Nelson make the process as painless as possible by having a pretty good idea of what should go on the disc. We always listen to input from the fans. I think "Justice League" has been the most requested soundtrack from us.
MM: "Justice League" was the first project we worked on that we did not have the full live orchestra like we did on “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Superman,” and I had the dubious honor of presenting the first music that Bruce would hear in this new paradigm! We were ALL nervous at that first preview, but Bruce immediately relaxed after he heard the first piece—he liked what he heard—and then we could relax too! Some of the musical highlights from “Secret Origins, Pt. 1” are included on the disc so that listeners can experience the origins of our "Justice League” scores as well.
WF: When it comes to a release like Justice League, or even the recent Young Justice soundtrack, can you walk us through the track selection and your involvement in the soundtrack's productio? How do you decide which tracks are included on the release and which ones are left out? Is it tough to compile such a release when there are so many episodes to choose from?
KC: It’s terribly difficult! If only CDs had unlimited space, then it would save hours of mental anguish worrying which of my “children" would be able to go out into the world to be appreciated on its own, away from the picture! Ultimately, we want to create a disc that is enjoyable to listen to, so we lean towards cues that have longer complete statements of music over music that has “a little bit of this, a little bit of that”, always switching styles. For our releases on La-La Land, we usually submit a batch of the best music from the project to them, then work closely with them to set the track order and possibly knit shorter sections of music together into longer pieces of music that can be better enjoyed. Once the track list is locked, the music is mastered (balancing the sound and maximizing the quality) and sent to press along with wonderfully detailed booklets. La-La Land always makes sure that the total package is something that soundtrack collectors and fans alike will truly appreciate.
WF: Continuing with the SDCC releases, can you highlight what content you're contributing to Batman: The Animated Series - Volume Four? Any comments on your included work? Any thoughts on seeing work from early on in your career still drawing in lots of fans?
LR: Volume 4 has a great “behind the scenes” feel to it. There are of course episodes on this set that had not been previously released, but I love all the extras that LaLa has collected - alternate cues, awesome source cues, etc. I don’t want to get into the specifics of the release. Let’s leave that to La-La.
WF: In comparing Batman: The Animated Series - Volume Four to Batman: The Killing Joke, can you touch upon how things have changed over the years when it comes to scoring animated projects? That's a pretty loaded question, I'll admit. Have you noticed any patterns or changes in the industry throughout your tenure to date?
LR: I think that the music community, animation fans and film music fans all are hungry for great music. How one achieves that has certainly changed over the years. Technology sometimes shortchanges the creative process by us relying too much on it. “Back in the old days…..” when we wrote everything with pencil to score paper, committing to each note took a bit more thought. Even though a pencil has an eraser, there is something that happens to one’s brain when music is not played (performed, sequenced) but is actually written down on paper. On the other hand, technology absolutely rocks, in that we have an orchestra at our finger tips at all times. Film music has been and continues to be about storytelling. The TV and Film music business is changing at such a rapid pace! More and more content is being produced to fill the various outlets/markets. The one thing that does weigh heavy on my heart especially what I see happening with many professionals in this field, is the lack of face to face connectivity. Michael, Kristopher and I really advocate for face to face meetings with our producers when at all possible. Upload everything, emailing, sometimes never meeting …seems odd. We are extremely fortunate to work primarily with people that crave the collaborative process.
WF: Now, DMP has been performing regularly at massive concert venues over the last few years. Any chance you can fill us in one your upcoming performances? Where and when can fans check these out?
LR: We recently returned from Krakow, Poland, where we presented a concert of our music from Warner Bros. projects we had composed over the years. It was a marvelous festival. We are thrilled to be traveling to Tenerife, Spain, in October as guests of “Fimucite” Film Music Festival to present two concerts of our works: an orchestral concert, as well as a wind ensemble concert. We will also present a panel on composing music for film and TV, as well as teach a few master classes. For me personally, the next concert coming up is August 19th, at LAs Grand Performances Downtown. It is a free concert featuring the music of 20 women composers, including my themes from "Justice League," "Mystery of the Batwoman" and Supergirl’s theme from "Superman: The Animated Series." On the program will also be music by Shirley Wallker, Rachel Portman, Laura Karpman, and others. For more information on that concert go to www.theawfc.com (Alliance for Women Film Composers).
WF: So, as we wrap this up, can each member of the DMP give us a taste of their current and upcoming projects that we should be keeping an eye out for?
LR: I am getting ready for the various concerts I mentioned, as well as spending a great deal of time in my studio with my favorite Warner Bros. and Marvel characters. I also have 5 performances coming up in September on the east coast and in the midwest of a multimedia show called “Te nu mes esam,” (translation: “Here We Are.”) I am one of the producers and the musical director. The show is in Latvian (I am Latvian).
MM: Continuing on with Marvel’s “Avengers Assemble” as well as some other projects that we can’t name right now because they haven’t been officially announced yet.
KC: I recently scored a new indie live-action horror film called “Siren” that was directed by Gregg Bishop and produced by Universal’s Chiller TV. It had a sneak-peek screening at the Atlanta Film Festival earlier this year and is headed for other festivals prior to a limited theatrical run. Other than the concerts and our animated television work, I’m also looking forward to being able to share these upcoming projects—I think one or two in particular the fans will be very excited to learn about!
WF: So, final question! Can you drop any teases and/or tell us why fans need to rush out and pick up the soundtracks to Batman: The Killing Joke, Justice League and Batman: The Animated Series - Volume Four, and also see the Batman: The Killing Joke animated movie?
KC: We are so proud of the score for Batman: The Killing Joke. It features some of our most intensely emotional music mixed with some of the most introspective music we have ever written for a film—animated OR live action—and we’re excited it will be available for soundtrack fans to experience. We have received emails from fans asking for the Justice League music to be released literally for years now… Well, La-La Land answered, and with four discs’ worth! Batman: The Animated Series - Volume Four rounds out the epic archival collection of scores from the beloved animated series, and as for “The Killing Joke” movie? Timm, Liu, Conroy, Strong, Hamill? Are you kidding??? Get out there and see that movie! And we sincerely hope that fans everywhere will enjoy all the new music that is about to drop. Thanks for having us, James—always a pleasure to chat with you!
Interview conducted by James Harvey.
For more information on Dynamic Music Partners, along with the assorted works and projects - past, present and future - check out their
official website. DMP can also be found on Twitter at @DynMusPartners and
on Facebook. Details on the soundtracks
for Batman: The Killing Joke, Justice League and Batman: The Animated Series can be found by clicking
the respective artwork above.