'Looper': A World Of Musical Clicks And Pops

Oct 11, 2012
Originally published on January 8, 2013 9:19 am

When you think about the great music of science fiction, a few staples spring to mind — say, the theme from the classic Star Trek series, or John Williams' compositions for the Star Wars movies.

Nathan Johnson, the composer for the new time-travel thriller Looper, wanted to break with tradition. Instead of going for that slick, orchestral sound, he immersed himself in the world of the film to find his source material.

"I actually moved down to New Orleans, where they were shooting the movie," says Johnson, "and just spent a month wandering around the city, walking around the sets, gathering anything that struck my ear."

That could include the sound of fingers drumming on railings, or the beep and hum of a microwave oven. Johnson gathered his sounds in the field, then used software to turn them into playable instruments. He says one fun challenge of the process was thinking of all the sounds a given object could produce.

"One afternoon I brought Noah Segan, the actor who plays Kid Blue, into the studio," Johnson says. "We recorded all the sounds of his gat gun from the movie — so not just the firing of the gun, but the actual cocking mechanism, the way the barrel spun around, all these little clicks and pops."

Johnson says he wanted the film's score to feel like an organic and inextricable part of its world.

"I'm really drawn to imperfection in music," he says. "So I took the same approach when I was gathering these sounds, rather than using a library where everything has been sampled perfectly and recorded in the studio. Part of it was just to get our own stamp on it so that the world of Looper, auditorily, felt really unique."

This story originally ran Oct. 11, 2012.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Finally this hour, a fresh take on the science-fiction score. When you think about the music of great sci-fi, a few things likely come to mind. Perhaps this...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAR WARS (MAIN THEME)")

SIEGEL: ...and probably this...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEME FROM STAR TREK (TV SERIES)")

SIEGEL: That, of course, was the theme to the classic "Star Trek" TV series, and before that, some of John Williams' famous work for the "Star Wars" movies. Well, Nathan Johnson, the composer for the new time-travel thriller "Looper," wanted to break with tradition. Instead of that slick, orchestral sound, he used things like this...

(SOUNDBITE OF INDUSTRIAL FAN)

SIEGEL: ...an industrial fan to come up with this...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NATHAN JOHNSON: I actually moved down to New Orleans, where they were shooting the movie and just spent a month wandering around the city, walking around the sets, gathering anything that struck my ear. The sounds of fingers drumming on railings, music stands, treadmills in the hotel room, microwave oven, both...

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

JOHNSON: ...the beeping of entering the numbers and also the hum of the engine rolling around.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

JOHNSON: I used software to turn those sounds into actual playable instruments.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOHNSON: One afternoon, I brought Noah Segan, the actor who plays Kid Blue, into the studio, and we recorded all the sounds of his gat gun from the movie...

(SOUNDBITE OF GAT GUN)

JOHNSON: ...so not just the firing of the gun, but the actual cocking mechanism, the way the barrel spun around...

(SOUNDBITE OF GAT GUN)

JOHNSON: ...all these little clicks and pops.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: One of the other things you hear is the sound of car doors slamming.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOORS SLAMMING)

JOHNSON: We wanted to evoke a kettledrum, but rather than using a normal kettledrum, we were in this massive parking garage one day, and as we're shutting the car doors, the reverberation...

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOORS SLAMMING)

JOHNSON: ...was amazing. And the umph of the base when the door slammed just sounded fantastic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOHNSON: We wanted to link these industrial-found sounds with traditional instruments as well, and we kind of used the software instruments that we created as the core fabric and then supplemented that with sometimes a piano, sometimes a cellist, some orchestral ensemble supplements as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOHNSON: I think, aesthetically, I'm really drawn to imperfection in music. So I took the same approach when I was gathering these sounds, rather than using a library where everything has been sampled perfectly and recorded in the studio. Part of it was just to get our own stamp on it so that the world of "Looper," auditorily, felt really unique.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: That's composer Nathan Johnson talking about his found-sound score for the new film "Looper."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.