Bonding With the Score
Over the 35-year run of James Bond movies, several composers have tackled the challenge of creating music to match the world-saving exploits of secret agent 007.
Until now, only one has ever really gotten it right: John Barry, who created the series’ sound with his twangy-guitar and jazzy-brass arrangement of the James Bond theme for “Dr. No” and went on to score 11 of the 18 films, including all of the Sean Connery originals.
But for “Tomorrow Never Dies,” the new Pierce Brosnan film that opens Friday, the Bond producers got lucky. British composer David Arnold had not only scored last year’s mega-hit “Independence Day,” he revered the famous Barry sound and made no secret of his desire to become Bond’s new composer should Barry be unavailable.
What’s more, Arnold spent two years producing “Shaken and Stirred,” a new collection of Bond tunes (mostly by Barry) performed by artists ranging from Aimee Mann and Chryssie Hynde to Iggy Pop and Leftfield. That album, just out from Sire Records, has already generated a dance hit in the U.K. with the Propellerheads’ “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
After the musical debacle of the previous film “GoldenEye"--with its mostly synthesized Eric Serra score, widely criticized by both critics and Bond fans--Barry was asked to score “Tomorrow Never Dies,” but when negotiations fell through, Arnold became the heir apparent to the 007 musical legacy. The necessary direction was clear, said Arnold: “Do it with one foot in the ‘60s and one foot in the ‘90s.”
In Los Angeles earlier this month in connection with the release of his “Shaken and Stirred” album, the soft-spoken composer said the new Bond film demanded “a classic sound but a modern approach,” one he discovered during his work on the record. “I experimented with a lot of styles, trying to find ways of making the orchestra work with more high-tech rhythm loops, drum loops, synthesizers and guitars.”
The new sounds will never replace the traditional orchestral ensembles that Barry used, especially in the early Bond movies, Arnold added. The sassy brass and sweeping strings of those scores “teases you. It’s delicious and dirty and sexy and tantalizing all at the same time.”
Arnold’s musical tip of the hat to Barry is immediately apparent in the opening sequence of the new film, which employs the staccato brass bursts familiar from the opening of “From Russia With Love,” the swirling strings from the action sequences of “Thunderball” and the militaristic strains of the climax of “Goldfinger.”
More important, Arnold, 35, created a driving new version of the Bond theme (long attributed to Monty Norman, composer of the “Dr. No” score, but well known inside the industry as Barry’s own composition). “When James Bond walks into a frame and does something James Bond-ish, I know what I want to hear,” he said. “At some point you just want to stand up and shout, ‘Yes, Bond is back!’ with the music. I didn’t want to run away from that.”
Fortunately for the Bond producers, Arnold was also willing to commit several months to the project--something most composers wouldn’t or, because of scheduling problems, couldn’t do. As Arnold explained: “Normally you’d finish shooting and have 16 to 20 weeks of post [production]. From the point of finishing shooting to the final mix was six weeks, so there was no time to write the score and record it [after shooting].”
As a result, Arnold wrote the music in sections, starting in April and ending in October. First came the theme, to which lyricist Don Black (who wrote the words for “Thunderball” and “Diamonds Are Forever”) contributed and which wound up playing over the end credits with a k.d. lang vocal. (Arnold had no involvement with the title song, which was written and performed by Sheryl Crow.)
Then, every five or six weeks, as edited footage came in from locations in Germany, France, Thailand and the U.S., Arnold recorded additional music and revised earlier pieces. “The downside was you never knew what was going to come next,” Arnold said. “You’re trying to design a score which runs beginning-middle-end without knowing what the middle and end are going to be, so it [required] a bit of guesswork.”
Director Roger Spottiswoode praised Arnold as “a flexible, funny, wry collaborator. He did what I thought was really hard to do: to make a fresh new score and yet still have those [musical] elements that we really love from the past.”
The unusual circumstances--Spottiswoode off shooting the stunt- and chase-filled movie and Arnold writing the score piecemeal as the footage came in--led the two to a similar attitude, the director said: “Given that it was totally impossible, we were clearly going to have a good time doing it. We actually turned a disadvantage into an advantage. His score became much more collaborative. It went from being an essential part of post-production to being an essential part of production.”
Despite winning a Grammy for “Independence Day” and the high international profile of a James Bond film, Arnold is still a film-scoring novice, having worked in the field only since 1993. A clarinet player as a youth, he graduated to guitar and keyboards and toured with rock bands before teaming up with a producer in his hometown of Luton, England, to create music for short films.
Arnold’s big break came when Bjork’s rendition of “Play Dead,” a song he wrote for Danny Cannon’s low-budget thriller “The Young Americans,” became a hit single. Then came an offer to score the sci-fi epic “Stargate,” directed by Roland Emmerich, who followed it with the even bigger “Independence Day.”
On the orchestral scores, Arnold, who is without formal training in a classical sense, works closely with orchestrator-conductor Nicholas Dodd.
Arnold’s contemporary updates of classic Bond themes on “Shaken and Stirred” have, incidentally, met with approval from composer Barry. “He kept the essence of all the original scores,” the five-time Oscar winner said. “He was very faithful to the melodic and harmonic content, but he’s added a whole other rhythmic freshness and some interesting casting in terms of the artists chosen to do the songs. I think it’s a terrific album. I’m very flattered.”
Arnold returned to London for the holidays but will be back in Los Angeles next month to start work on his next film: Emmerich’s remake of “Godzilla.”
Has success changed his life? “Why should it?” he asks. “It’s not as if anyone knows my face. You’re in a dark room for six months. No one sees you. You haven’t got a life. You record the music. Once you’ve done it, everyone forgets about it. That’s what happens.”