Every once in a while, we like to expand the scope of the Sage Audio mastering blog to focus on sound in movies and television shows. Though it tends to fall outside the focus of our online mastering service, much of the sound on screen is produced in a similar way as music, and can give us as recording and mastering engineers a welcome additional perspective from another industry.
However, when looking at the music in the new Matt Damon film “Elysium,” we get a look at how independent musicians can find success working on a big budget film, much the same way indie musicians often move to major labels before finding widespread success. And the story is nearly unbelievable.
Wired tells the tale of Ryan Amon, who was living in Bolivia working on film scores when he got an unsolicited email that said only, “Is this you?” and was accompanied by a YouTube clip. It turns out the clip was in fact the work of Amon, and the email was sent from Neill Blomkamp, director of “District 9.” The director was looking for a musician to score his upcoming film which became “Elysium.”
In fact, Amon thought the email was sent from one of his composer friends — they apparently are in the habit of pranking each other — but he says he replied to the email “just in case.”
Because of being searched out by Blomkamp, Amon went from relative obscurity to recording the score of a big-budget film in Abbey Road Studios, though the process wasn’t necessarily straightforward. Amon was instructed to begin the score for the film without seeing any footage, instead being given a brief summary of the plot of the film, and being instructed to create scores for ideas including “darkness,” “spiritual” and “light.”
Amon was encouraged to use nontraditional instruments and sounds sources for the score, and ended up using baboon noises, mosquitoes hum and Tuva throat singing. All of which sounds like a liberating experience to create the sounds for a sci-fi thriller. Of course, he also got to go into the aforementioned Abbey Road Studios to record the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
“I remember walking into the studio thinking, ‘What am I doing here? Why did they let me in the door?’” Amon said, which I think nearly anyone that knows the history of the famed studio would think upon entering. He recorded in Studio One, which he took to calling the “‘Star Wars’ room,” because of its huge sound and the epic scores that have been recorded there.
Though these type of discovery stories are not common in the film score industry — or any audio industry, for that matter — it is refreshing to see relative unknowns being brought to the main stage, particularly when part of their appeal is using nontraditional methods to get the sounds needed.