Daft Punk’s path to ‘Tron: Legacy’ was not an easy one


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This is Part 2 of Chris Lee’s story from his rare interview with Daft Punk. Today, we see how the duo worked on the score for ‘Tron: Legacy’ and whether more soundtracks are in the works. (To read Part 1, click here.)

After a year of reflection in which ‘Tron: Legacy’ director Joseph Kosinski continued to detail his vision for ‘Tron: Legacy’ to them, Daft Punk duo Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter agreed to take the plunge as a means of learning to ‘widen the palette’ of Daft Punk’s sound. And in 2008 Disney arranged to have the band mates meet with several of the most successful soundtrack composers working today about potentially collaborating: Hans Zimmer, Harry-Gregson Williams, John Powell and Christophe Beck among them.


Bangalter, 35, said: ‘They were very generous and very open, sharing a lot of technical advice.’

‘And warnings,’ De Homem-Christo, 36, added. ‘They said, ‘You have to make your vision understood. It’s not easy. You’re serving a movie. You’re not just serving the director, you’re serving a team of people. It’s always about changing and going back.’ ‘

The band ultimately scrapped any collaboration plans. And the task of telling the studio fell to Kosinski, a successful commercial director with no feature film background. ‘It was considered a huge risk for Disney,’ Kosinski said. ‘A director who had never done a feature before and composers who hadn’t scored a movie before.’

‘Electronic sketches’

After the two relocated to Los Angeles, scoring began in earnest in January 2009. Nevermind that ‘Tron: Legacy’ still had no script, only concept drawings to illustrate set pieces and characters. De
Homem-Christo and Bangalter decided that an orchestral score employing subtle electronic cues -- rather than vice versa -- would be most appropriate to ‘paint that epic quality’ the film dictated. So the duo applied the same kind of musical cross-pollination responsible for its gold-certified 1997 debut album ‘Homework’ and commercial breakthrough ‘Discovery’ to recording violin arpeggios, surging horns and roiling timpani.

‘In dance music, we’ve always tried to combine existing genres -- heavy metal and disco or funk, something that contrasts associations,’ Bangalter said. ‘[For the film], we liked the idea of a dark influence reminiscent of some electronic scores of the ‘70s. But at the same time, we wanted the scope of classic Hollywood. To mash up those things that usually exist on opposite ends of the spectrum.’


The group hooked up with music arranger and orchestrator Joseph Trapanese, whose job was
to translate Bangalter and De Homem-Christo’s ideas into symphonic arrangements. They provided him with ‘extensive electronic sketches’ -- synthesizer approximations of orchestral music and iTunes playlists running the gamut of 20th century film composers that were indicative of the ‘timeless’ vibe they wanted.

‘They had this very clear and distinct idea of what the orchestra should sound like,’ Trapanese said. ‘They gave me an overall tone to work in. Maybe they couldn’t physically transcribe what music for, say, a cello. But they know how a cello sounds and how to translate ideas to it.’

Tonally, Bangalter explained: ‘We thought it was very important that the score not sound like real world music. It could not feel 2010 in any aspect.’

In July 2010, Trapanese helped actualize Daft’s vision for the score over a five-day recording session with an 85-piece orchestra at London’s AIR Lyndhurst studios. ‘My role was as the interface between the robots and the orchestra,’ he joked.

For his part, Kosinski says he understands why Daft Punk wanted to diverge from the repetitive, sample-and-synthesizer-based template that has served such epochal dance floor anthems as ‘One More Time.’ And he feels the new music fuses electronic and orchestral music in ways that serve the scope and sweep of ‘Tron: Legacy.’

‘It was always conceived as a blend,’ Kosinski said. ‘What evolved over that first year was the ratio. The original thinking was more electronic music with classical orchestral lines in it. As the process evolved, when they got down to writing the final cues, it became much more orchestral than any of us initially anticipated. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.’

Even in the face of acclaim for the group’s new musical direction, though, the influential music review website Pitchfork panned the soundtrack, lamenting the ‘gloom of blown expectations’ and basically calling into question whether Daft Punk had sold its soul to Hollywood.

Bangalter and De Homem-Christo said they have no plans to record another soundtrack anytime soon and hinted at the release of new Daft Punk music: ‘Making music for a movie is very humbling,’ Bangalter said. ‘We’ve been working on some of our music concurrently.’ (They declined to specify touring or album release plans.)

With typically Gallic shrugs, the band mates also said they have learned to live with being tarred and feathered as ‘commercial.’

‘We like the idea of trying to experiment and do different things we haven’t done in the past,’ said Bangalter. ‘Our idea of selling out is a different one, though. I imagine it would be finding a successful formula and sticking with it and always doing the same thing. That is not what is exciting to us.’

-- Chris Lee


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Top photo: Daft Punk on the fringe in 2001. Credit: Seb Janiak. Middle photo: Daft Punk does a cameo in ‘Tron: Legacy.’ Credit: Disney. Bottom photo: Daft Punk takes a stroll down the red carpet in Hollywood at the El Capitan for ‘Tron: Legacy.’ Credit: Valerie Macon / AFP / Getty Images