Interview by Bears Fonte
One of the most intellectually areesting SciFi films of 2016 has proven to be EMBERS, directed by Claire Carré and written by Carré and Charles Spano. The film captures a world that has moved on in the wake of a global neurological epidemic. Those who remain search for meaning and connection in a world without memory. Five interwoven stories explore life without recollection in a future that has no past. A boy longs for a role model, a young man embraces his rage, a teacher hunts for a cure, a couple clings to each other desperate to preserve their feelings, and a young woman wants nothing more than to forget. Filled with intense performances and breathtaking cinematography, Embers is the rare science fiction film that excels in its lack of exposition. An atmospheric tone poem in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, EMBERS captures the human condition, stripped away of everything but personality and instinct.
With stories that at times feels miles apart from each other, the main thing holding the film together past theme is the remarkable score from Kimberly Henninger and Shawn Parke. It’s a rare thing indeed now days that an indie film gets a soundtrack release, so I was very excited to hear that EMBERS was getting not one, but two releases. In addition to the soundtrack, the team has also released a companion album, KINDLING, Musical Sketches from Embers. Composed and recorded in their studio in Portland over the course of a year and six months, the Original Score features Henninger and Shawn Parke experimenting with sound to explore Embers’ themes of memory and forgetting. Incorporating manipulated field recordings, sound design, strings, and synth tones and drones, the musical score easily conjures up the beautiful and desolate landscapes from Carré’ the distinctive post-apocalyptic vision. The Kindling album is a bit of a keepsake of the scoring process. Collecting the building blocks of the score, Henninger and Parke wandered the streets of Portland collecting sounds and ideas, representations of memories that would be broken, bent, distorted, destroyed and ultimately become the thick organic bed for the film’s mostly orchestral score.
I had a chance to ask Henninger and Parke about their work on the film.
Henninger and Parke: Dust, peeling paint, the colors and beautiful photography, broken buildings these were all texture we wanted our score to blend in with. The main theme of EMBERS is forgetting – it became somewhat of a main character across all the vignettes. So we wanted to translate the feeling and experience that each of character with a reoccurring theme of forgetting but each time it comes back around it is changed in tone, depth or distortion. We also felt it was important that the world they inhabited felt organic that they were still in a living world though all the normal sounds of civilizations have been silenced.
We used field recordings from around our neighborhood children playing, church choirs, dripping water from location, as well as animal growls etc… We built layers of all these recordings – compressed, stretched these sounds as an under bed. We wanted to keep the memories of what was forgot as a part of their world of forgetting, as if it is just out of reach for the characters.
We used these beds to create the organic unrecognizable texture under the mostly orchestral score. The cello became the main instrument. We felt it conveyed longing and we wanted in to tie together with the performance of Gyorgy Ligeti’s Sonata For Solo Cello, I. Dialogo by the character Miranda (Performed by Malgorzata Wojcicka).
BEARS: What did Claire and Charles communicate to you about the film and what they wanted?
Henninger and Parke: We discussed music and feelings, what the characters were experiencing. Claire sent us a list of words like: repeating, revolving, dissolving, disintegration, distorting etc. Originally we discussed not using any orchestral instruments but as it evolved that feel became part of what we were incorporating.
Henninger and Parke: We began writing as soon as we heard about the film. The first track on Kindling is the demo based on the mood reel while Claire and Charles were fundraising. Shawn did the score to Charles first student film years ago. We were very intrigued by the premise and Claire and Charles vision. We wrote up a few sketches and approached them. They loved the demo – and stated it sounded like a favorite video game of theirs – Mass Effect – but was not the sound they were looking for. So we got a few ideas from them and went into a friends studio and recorded “Remember” – the 2nd track on Kindling – which eventually, with some adjustments became Brutality on the Soundtrack for Embers. They then sent us the script – which just floored us – we walked around for days thinking about the world these characters live in, we were filled with nostalgia weirdly enough, as we walked around town recording. All of this before a single frame was shot.
Once footage started coming in it became more refined, some of the sketches fit right in and some did not.
BEARS: What advice do you have for composers wanting to get into scoring?
Henninger and Parke: Make tons of music. Try out genres you are uncomfortable with. Don’t worry about making things perfect as much as get used to making lots and lots of stuff. Don’t get hung up on one piece, keep moving, keep creating and work a lot. Something you fall in love with a piece and feel is perfect, it will be rejected, it will be less surprising and horrifying if you get used to making lots of work and letting it go. Composing for film is hard work and takes a lot of time and concentration especially when you are working with deadlines.
Keep learning about new instruments and ways to work. Learn basic business and etiquette. It is crucial to be able to be professional in your communication, timeliness and attitude. You are providing a service to your director’s vision first and an artist second. Be yourself while remembering that you are working for someone else. Composing is an amazing way to work with a team of people to create something that when all the parts come together is elevated to another level.
You can stream the soundtrack on soundcloud or pick it up on iTunes at: