SOURCE CODE by Chris BaconI’ve been lucky to make some great friends online throughout this whole film promoting lark over the last couple of years, people who I’d consider proper mates in the “real world”. One chap who seems to share a similar sense of humor to myself is Dan Watts. As is the case most of the time, I can’t quite recall how we happened upon each other, but I’m very glad we did, as not only can we have a giggle online, but I was also able to ask Dan to write a piece for us about Chris Bacon’s score for SOURCE CODE, to feature here on the blog.

Dan is a well respected composer for Film and TV, with credits that include The Sarah Jane Adventures (CBBC), For Neda (HBO) & The World Cup Rock n’ Goal Years (ITV) So I thought he’d be the best person to go on about rubbing strings and blowing pipes and all that business. Over to Dan…


Composer Dan WattsA few weeks ago I went to see SOURCE CODE. I absolutely loved it! I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed it on twitter and was asked if I’d be interested in writing a little piece about the score for the ManMadeMovies blog. Sure I thought. I would love to. So here it is.

Before we go any further I’ll just say I’ll include track numbers so should you be bothered and if you have the score CD, you can see what I’m waffling on about. Although I won’t write about every track, I’ll try to cover most of them while keeping musical techno babble to a minimum and avoiding spoilers.

Ok? Right then. Here we go.

The music for the main titles (track one) is nothing short of stunning. Piano and cellos play a rolling ostinato (that’s a repeated musical phrase) while flutes and muted brass add swells of unease until the orchestration takes on a distinctly 60s vibe (think Lalo Schifrin’s Mission Impossible) with muted brass and percussion playing a new stabbing melody before rising brass and strings build to an ominous crescendo! I haven’t heard this style of scoring without it being a clever nod to the past (think the Incredibles) since the 70s. It’s used just enough for it not to be a cliché or distraction. It’s more an homage to old school thrillers from the 60s and 70s. It’s a wonderful opening and sets the tone for the film beautifully.

The two motifs (themes) in this opening cue (that’s what us composers call a music track in a film) plus the two-part love theme that comes later are the basis of the whole score. This is clever writing. Good themes can be used as a building block for a score and help with musical continuity and gel the whole story together musically. You’d be surprised how a slight variation of a theme can really change the mood.

Jake Gyllenhaal & Michelle Monaghan in Duncan Jones' SOURCE CODE

Track four (Racial Profiling) sees the first appearance of the love theme. Strings and woodwind play as Colter gets to know Christina. It’s simple and really quite beautiful without being cheesy. No easy task. Colter starts to work things out and here the score takes a turn towards the style of many modern action scores. Staccato strings, some electronic percussion and a reprise of the opening titles work a treat as Colter focuses and gets to work. Transitions between moods and how you move from one emotion to another are often the hardest parts of scoring a film. There is a lot of jumping between emotions in this score and Chris Bacon has done it very well.

Track six (Source Code Explained) is a good example of how themes are reused as an aid to help guide the viewer and link together story elements. A reprise of the main title melody this time played a lot slower and on strings and flute is a clever link to the opening titles. Due to the slower speed, a little pace and mood is added with a pulsing synthesiser then a lovely piano line leads us in to the whole orchestra. The score builds and grows as our knowledge of Colters situation does and helps us become more invested in Colter’s character.

JAKE GYLLENHAAL stars in SOURCE CODE.

Track seven (Piecing it Together) is a return to action music. Again Colter is working out what’s going on and who is who on the train so it has moments of track four but goes further as he discovers more. Percussion, piano and strings start us off until brass stabs begin to move things along. Again we hear parts of the opening titles and a moody string motif dances around the string sections. It’s lovely writing and something that reminds me stylistically of the score to Paycheck. Not a great film I know but in my humble opinion, a great score.

Track ten (Colter Follows Derek) is one of the big action scenes. It has that Mission Impossible vibe again as we make the journey with Colter. It jumps from scene to scene effortlessly. From pace and tension to suspense then action with the main title theme played on strings and some great leaps around the different parts of the orchestra before the love them appears. It’s a great representation of how Chris Bacon has crafted this score with real care. The first half of love theme appears as a slightly altered minor version played on flute before the second half (unaltered) appears on piano. This is a clever technique for helping us understand something is wrong while tying that emotion to the characters on screen. The score is full of these simple but effective techniques.

JAKE GYLLENHAAL stars in SOURCE CODE.

Track twelve (I’m Gonna Save Her) is another big set piece moment. Having had the Source Code explained to him Colter sees his chance to do something about his situation. More to the point he wants to save Christina. A held string line and a harp melody lead to brass and strings setting the mood. A heroic brass rendition of the love theme evolves into the full orchestra soaring before a more intimate and tender rendition of it with just harp and strings. Leading us back in to action territory are more staccato strings and a reprise of the main theme, again an effortless transition from one mood to another.

It’s not all action and suspense though. Track fourteen (Regret and Reconciliation) sees a tender moment the details of which, I won’t spoil for you here. The score here moves away from the action and suspense of earlier and becomes a beautiful, low-key piece for a very touching moment.  Strings and harp work brilliantly together with solo cello and piano adding more emotion and movement until we get a taster of the main theme this time played on celeste and harp. This is followed by a cut down version of the love theme until a slightly uneasy harp line and strings lead us to a major resolve in a minor key. What do I mean? The music is in C minor so should have ended on a minor chord (sad) but pushed it up to major (happy) to help give a feeling of closure. Masterful stuff.

Frozen Moment, track fifteen is underscore to one of my favourite scenes from the film. I’m not ashamed to say I had a tear in my eye in the cinema at this point. Here we get the pay off. The full love theme played on piano and strings then an almost magical rendition of the main theme hinting at what we’re all hoping has happened. (Spoilers!) This is just gorgeously orchestrated. The love theme here hits an all time high as it swells before breaking down to piano and strings then building up to an even greater height. It’s a fabulous use of the theme and the orchestra really go for it.

Michelle Monaghan & Jake Gyllenhaal Star in Duncan Jones' SOURCE CODE

The last track on the album (Everything’s Gonna be Okay) sees the score goes full circle. A full reprise of the opening titles slightly re-orchestrated with the addition of a Cimbalon, a hammered string instrument that really helps add to the 60s orchestration.  It’s a great ending to a great score.

All in all this is a fabulous score. Many scores work only with the picture but this one works away from it too. It’s a confident and assured piece of work. The themes really grow on you and if you’re a fan of James Newton Howard (who Chris Bacon has worked for) Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, Michael Giacchino, John Powell or Lalo Schifrin there is plenty for you to like here. Chris Bacon’s first Hollywood film was Gnomeo and Juliet. Source Code being his second. This is the first time I’d heard of him. From the strength of this score, I’m betting it won’t be the last!

Dan Watts is a composer for TV and Film. Recent credits include The Sarah Jane Adventures (CBBC), For Neda (HBO) and The World Cup Rock n’ Goal Years (ITV)

www.danwatts.co.uk
http://soundcloud.com/dan-watts

Chris Bacon’s SOURCE CODE score is available now on CD & Download.