How ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ Composer Scored a Soldier’s Musical Themes

Composing a war movie score can be a minefield, sorry for the metaphor. Too much emphasis on orchestral resonances, such as soaring strings and soaring bass notes, can quickly swing into schmaltz. Go too small and minimalist, and the on-screen explosions can overwhelm the music.



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So when director Edward Berger asked his regular composer Volker Bertelmann to write the score for his anti-war drama, All Quiet on the Western Fronthe told him to break all the rules.

“I said, ‘I want something different, something I haven’t heard before,'” Berger says. Do not glorify or be sentimental. [I wanted] sounds that come from within [lead character] Paul Baumer’s belly. I want the sounds that soldiers feel when they have to kill people to survive: fear, hate, anger. ”

“Something’s different” is precisely because Bertelmann’s German pianist, who records and performs under the moniker MO Hauschka, is an experimental musician who has emerged on the Berlin indie electronics scene and quietly changed the sound of Hollywood films. is a member of Others in that environment include the Oscar-winning composer Hildur Gudnadottir (joker, Warehouse) and the late Johann Johannsson (arrival, Sicario, the theory of everything), which was nominated twice for an Oscar.

Bartelmann is best known for his Oscar-nominated work with Garth Davis. lion and his score of Francis Lee ammonite, received an ASCAP nomination for Best Score of the Year (both co-written with Dustin O’Halloran).of lion, the composer stripped away the horns and strings to provide an unpredictable yet emotional piano-driven sound.for ammonitea small, sparingly used chamber orchestra forms the emotional core of the film.

“Coming from the independent scene, I approach songwriting differently,” says Bertelmann. “It’s very intuitive, just try something and see what happens. Instead of going through bass drum loops and trying to find the right one, I put a contact mic on the wall and hit it to see if it works.”

The characteristic three-tone motif created by Bertelmann all quiet — thunder Dom Dom Doom! Pick up your grandmother’s old harmonium and it sounds like the trumpet of fate.

“Pushing the paddle and playing with my knee against the side of the old panel made a strange wooden sound,” he recalls. “I could hear all the technical bits from the raw material of the machines that make the music. Normally with classical recordings I work to get rid of them. I amplified them. That sound. I put mics all over the inside of the harmonium, under it, on trees, and so on, to capture it.”

The result is old and modern, like a wooden synthesizer at the turn of the last century, played in a post-battle scene where boots and uniforms are stripped from corpses, thrown into mountains and trucked off. . Cleaned, repaired, and handed over to new crops of cannon fodder recruits—to perfectly evoke the terrifying machinery of war.

But when intimate feelings are called for, such as in the poignant scene in the latter half of Bäumer’s (Felix Kammerer) lying next to a brutally stabbed French soldier, listening to him slowly die, Bertelmann’s score It can be quiet.

“For that scene, we recorded it in a clear and pure way with this very fragile string motif,” he says. “When Edward heard it, he said it was too emotional and overwhelmed the scene. I cut it. It sounds like the music is coming from under the blanket. It’s muffled, but you can still feel the emotion.”

For the battle scenes, Bertelmann worked closely with the film’s sound designer, Frank Kruse, to harmonize his score with the massive sounds of machine gun rattles and exploding cannonballs.

“In battles and battle scenes, the music can very easily get overwhelmed by all the sounds of war,” he says. There was an explosion, he says. It could be the bass drum. So I either use no bass in that section or go for lower, deeper tones below the explosion. Alternatively, the ambush scene uses the specific metallic sound of a gunshot instead of the main rhythmic part. ”

Bertelmann’s Favorite Songs all quiet The score, he says, comes to a final scene in which a mortally wounded Baumer emerges from the basement to see the sky one last time. In a piece called “Making Sense of War”, the composer returns to the three-tone motif, but this time it is classically orchestrated.

“It sounds like an opera,” he says. “It gives us this moment of clarity and pause, questioning everything we’ve seen and what the whole point is. [of war is]”

This story first appeared in the February independent issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe to receive the magazine.

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