The Tribeca Film Festival is here and one of the more exciting feature films on view is Jackrabbit, a throwback dystopian sci-fi film that follows the lives of people who cordoned themselves off from the rest of the world after “The Reset,” an event that sounds to us a little bit like the Y2K that never was. But not everything about this post-apocalyptic society is unfamiliar– one major issue is the constant surveillance of citizens of the annexed nation. The only technology available is outmoded stuff, web 1.0 and before. To help set the mood for the spooky, tense atmosphere of the film, Will Berman (of MGMT) was recruited to compose the soundtrack which is ruled by minimal electronic vibes and ambient noise.
We spoke with Berman over the phone to see what it was like to write a soundtrack that’s essentially a bit of time travel to the past. Check out the trailer for the film over here.
Yeah, I guess the original idea wasn’t to create a throwback kind of sound. I guess what I was going for was sort of mirroring the technology the characters in the film had at their disposal. And with my own set up for creating the score, I was limiting myself to using pretty much two really primitive synthesizers. I was trying to enhance this tone of people desperately cobbling together communication devices using outmoded technology, which I guess a lot of people reacted to by seeing it as a retro, throwback kind of thing, which is fine.
I was using a monophonic synth called Arturia Microbrute and another one I was using heavily was Teenage Engineering OP-1, which is actually a very new synth that only came out in the past couple of years. I was using a lot of primitive sounding, atonal and what you would call non-musical sounds. I was going for a kind of claustrophobic, tense thing with moments of release.
I was going for a simple, long-form very gradually building, mutating events I guess you could call it. Most of the time I was recording in real time, it wasn’t just programmed. I was sitting there almost as if I was recording to tape even though I was recording everything digitally. And after I was done recording I would slow down everything to make it sound even more tense and foreboding.
Yeah, I’d never done any work with film. I started getting ideas when I read the script. A lot of the stuff they ended up using for the final cut I recorded without having seen any footage at all and it just kind of either happened to fit with what they were going for or Carlton, the director, told me that sometimes when they were shooting they’d actually get some demos from me and play them before shooting the scenes. He said it kind of helped set the tone. So it was a little bit of a back-and-forth influence wise.
There were very few themes that I actually cut to picture, it was pretty much just the opening scene and the closing scene. A lot of the stuff just ended up working. And they would just take a theme from me, one called “oscuridad” which means “darkness” in Spanish– I dunno, I just kind of randomly named the tracks– but they ended up using that one as a theme throughout the film.
Yeah, totally. At the time I was listening to a lot of early electronic composers like Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno. That helped guide the process. And Carlton and I agreed a lot on what the reference points would be. Like we’re both big fans of John Carpenter’s scores from his early stuff. Yeah, John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream were pretty major reference points for both of us.
The Thing, It Lives– all the ones where he composed his own scores using a very limited palette. He would compose the scores for his films in like 48 hours, like bang them out using one synth. And I think that was mainly the process for me, just limiting myself to what’s now considered pretty primitive technology methods and trying to squeeze as much emotion out of it as I could.
Yeah it was vastly different from how I normally record. I’ve always been a fan of early electronic music, but basically the process involved a lot of experimenting and a lot of discovering how these tools worked that I was using. I ended up sending them like 50 to 75 pieces of which maybe they chose like, you know, 10. So there was a lot of material that got cut.
The approach I was going for, though, was to produce as much volume as possible. I was spending the course of six months in my free time experimenting a bit here and there every day. I just kept feeding them material and we kind of just honed in on a tone.
Usually when I’m recording my own music it’s in a rock n’ roll context where, you know, it’s like lay down the rhythm tracks, the bass, the guitar, the drums, and make a three minute pop song. So this is a totally different experience for me.
I ended up with a lot of stuff that I’d wanna release on my own. I was thinking about taking some stuff that didn’t make it or even parts of the soundtrack and releasing it as an album of its own, which is something I hadn’t thought of at all while recording. But now that I have it all here, I kind of went through and picked out the best ones. It almost works as an ambient album. I dunno, we’ll see.
Jackrabbit is screening Saturday April 18th (8:30 pm), Sunday April 19th (9 pm), Monday April 20th (9 pm), and Wednesday April 22nd (3:15 pm).