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From sidechaining to synths, ‘Tenet’ composer Ludwig Göransson describes the film’s time-warping music

(left) Ludwig Göransson (right) still from ‘Tenet’ with John David Washington and Robert Pattinson   | Photo Credit: Austin Hargrave ; Melinda Sue Gordon / 2020 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc

Ludwig Göransson knows music, for sure, but he also knows sound. In Tenet, the two concepts merge as one, but can still be heard as discernable layers. It is a brave move by the makers but it seems to have worked for audiences, like the score became a character of its own. In fact, for many audiences, the first experience they could have with the long-anticipated Christopher Nolan tentpole film is the music, via music streaming platforms. Score pieces most listened to include ‘Rainy Night in Tallinn’, ‘Trucks in Place’, and ‘Freeport’.

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Göransson — having worked on Black Panther (for which he won Best Original Score at the 2019 Academy Awards), The Mandalorian and the Creed films, is known for his love for experimentation — so it seemed like a great fit to see his name on the rolling credits of the sci-fi thriller.

Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action epic ‘Tenet’

Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action epic ‘Tenet’   | Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon / 2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

In an exclusive interview over the phone with MetroPlus, the Swedish composer-producer-conductor talks about creating inverted music and about working with the makers.

For Göransson, it started with a call in which the name ‘Christopher Nolan’ was mentioned. He drove out to Nolan’s studio and the two sat down and bonded over a six-hour period, during which each person played music that inspired them. Göransson was then invited back for a script reading, which kicked off the collaboration for the ages.

Subsequent conversations with the director revealed, “he was all about experimentation, and he’s so much about the journey and process.” When Göransson started scoring finally, a few months before shooting, he first readied a 12-minute track burned onto a CD because, well, Nolan is famously deterred by modern technology and uses CD players. When Nolan played the track, he turned the volume up to nearly maximum that the walls of his house started trembling. After that session, the two sat down and dissected what would work well.

John David Washington and Rich Ceraulko Ko in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action epic ‘Tenet’

John David Washington and Rich Ceraulko Ko in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action epic ‘Tenet’   | Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon / 2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Weekly meetings saw Göransson playing music he had been scoring for Tenet and each time, the ante was upped, keeping audiences in mind. At first, it worried the composer, but Nolan assured him that as long as there was a reason behind it all, it would hold interest. Göransson commends Nolan’s drive to be involved in every intricate detail of filmmaking, even when the composer was talking shop about sidechaining and metric modulations which held Nolan’s interest.

He sums up, “The most fun part of working on Tenet, is that it is visually unlike anything you have ever seen before. Introducing new sounds and experiences for an audience that will be in shock due to the different impressions, was an incredible process.”

Essence in experimentation

So how experimental did Tenet get for the Grammy and Academy Award winner? “There were production techniques I’d been thinking about for a long time because I produce a lot of albums and records (including Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America!’, which earned the duo Grammys), throughout my career. Some of these ideas, collected over time, could be abrasive but Chris was really into those ideas so that works.”

Göransson recalls how he had to come up with new ways to record sounds and music too, especially given the themes of inversion. So in creating ‘inverted music’, he had to tap into some unforeseen resources. Göransson used filters, arpeggios, warped guitar strums and synths to aggrandise the inverted sounds, but he did so measuredly, only when suiting the frame.

John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action epic ‘Tenet’

John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action epic ‘Tenet’   | Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon / 2020 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc

Göransson and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (someone with whom Göransson says he has “a lot in common”) and supervising sound editor Richard King also engaged in the many conversations about balances of the score, sound, and visuals. “Listening to Chris and Hoyte plan and see how they envision things, gave me a lot of inspiration. I was often invited by Chris to the set and meetings with other crew members, so I was able to implement these visions as I moved forward. I immediately felt like I was part of the team.”

Talking Travis
  • Ludwig Göransson wasn’t just responsible for the score for Tenet, but also worked on official soundtrack single ‘The Plan’ with rapper Travis Scott. Göransson felt the Houston rapper would be the best fit for the vocals for the end credits music. Nolan then invited Scott to a private screening of the film which led to the latter writing lyrics for the track.

Ambient artistry also plays a role in the scoring, admits Göransson, due to the inherent requirement for symmetry. Explaining how everything is derailed and then arranged, he elaborates, “A lot of the sounds and music you hear in Tenet are heavily manipulated; it’s a good thing because the music production is manipulating the organic and electronic elements (orchestra, synths) of the music, to the point the audience can’t just tell what is what... The way Chris and Richard mixed it into the film and blended it into the sound design is so beautiful. Most of the time, you think you know what you’re listening to, but you really have no idea,” he laughs.

The film, having been shot in different locations, still required a ‘centrally Tenet and Nolan’ essence. But the cultural essences of the different locations, such as Mumbai or Thailand had to be melded into appropriate parts of the score, which Göransson greatly enjoyed. “You need the sound to unify it all, and you need the sound to kind of make it grounded.”

The 36-year-old, who has probably seen Tenet about 60 times now, says he’s never experienced a release like this before, adding, “Usually, the film comes out, it’s talked about for one or two months and that’s it. Tenet’s been out for half the year and people still have questions about the plot and there’s so much interest.”

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 4:32:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/tenet-composer-ludwig-goransson-on-christopher-nolan-inversion-music-time-travel/article33269936.ece

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