A significant portion of Wonderstruck is the portrait of a deaf girl in 1927, and as such has no dialogue. In these areas the music plays a role similar to the one it played in the age of silent film, but of course the aesthetics are different now. For one thing, Wonderstruck cuts between this story taking place in 1927, and a parallel story taking place in 1977 (complete with dialogue and sound effects). For another, film music of the 1920s often informed the audience about the twists and turns of the story - Danger! Evil! Love! -6Wonderstruck withholds a lot of information from the audience. So, while hopefully illuminating the inner lives of the characters, the score avoids conveying too much story. It also eschews sentimentality and melodrama, hallmarks of the silent era.
To be specific but not over-informative, what can it say? It’s trying, always, to put us in the minds of the kids. Although both the main characters are deaf 12-year-olds who’ve lost parents, they don’t respond to loss with grief or acceptance. They respond by taking action, always searching. They each follow a trail of breadcrumbs that takes them into worlds of wonder. These two themes - loss and wonder - are touched on repeatedly in the score.
While I didn’t plan on using different instruments for the two characters, Rose living in 1927 and Ben living in 1977, it did turn out that way. Ben’s mother plays David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” for him; he wanders through Times Square in the 70s. All of this suggested electric guitar, bass and synthesizer.
Rose inhabits a world where music is acoustic. If she hasn’t “heard” orchestral music, she has probably been around it and felt it. Something in her methodical, focused, positive demeanor suggested percussion. And that suggested Carl Orff’s Schulwerk, his musical education system, which in practice often uses tuned percussion like glockenspiel and marimba, building off simple musical structures like ostinati, so that students can improvise and explore. To me, this was Rose.
When we spotted the film (the process of planning the score with the director), I mentioned that there was a brilliant percussionist in London (where we were planning to record) who was deaf. I didn’t know if Evelyn Glennie would be interested in the project, but happily she said she’d read the book and would like to do it. And when Brian Selznick heard that Evelyn was going to play, he came to London to watch the recordings. There was awe all around.
I had written marimba parts that were playable but a bit complicated, and she made them sing, even dancing while she played. No wonder she is Dame Evelyn Glennie. The players were wonderful all around - all of them people I’ve worked with for years in London.
Another nice moment in the spotting session was when I pitched Todd Haynes the Langley School version of “Space Oddity” for the end titles. These recordings were introduced to me by Spike Jonze when we were working on Where The Wild Things Are. They were originally recorded in a school gym around 1977 by a music teacher in Langley, British Columbia, and have a sense of naive wonder to them. I’m so glad this recording made it into the film.
Directed by Todd Haynes
Written by Brian Selznick
Produced by Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler, John Sloss
Composed, Orchestrated and Conducted by Carter Burwell
Recording Engineer: Michael Farrow
Contractor: Isobel Griffiths
Music Editor: Todd Kasow
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London
Mixed at The Body Studio. New York City
Starring Millicent Simmonds, Oakes Fegley, Jaden Michael, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams
U.S. Release October 20, 2017
The score will be released by Lakeshore Records. As the release of the film gets closer I'll post more excerpts of the score here, for demo purposes:
The musicians who performed the score are:
Orchestra Leader: Everton Nelson
Piano: Dave Hartley
Percussion: Evelyn Glennie, Frank Ricotti and Paul Clarvis
Electric Guitar: David Torn
Electric Bass: Percy Jones
Leader, 2nd Violins: Steve Morris
Leader, Violas: Bruce White
Leader, Celli: Tim Gill
Leader, Basses: Chris Laurence
Clarinet: Nick Carpenter
Flute: Eliza Marshall
Oboe: Chris Cowie
Bassoon: Stephen Maw
Harp: Hugh Webb
Timpani: Bill Lockhart
Other important contributors are:
Assisting Engineer - John Barrett
Dean Parker - Composer's Assistant
"But here’s what is great about the movie: Carter Burwell’s utterly captivating, wholly necessary score. It’s the true star of Wonderstruck, a strange and varied piece of work, swells of orchestral strings giving way to electric guitar, alternately soaring and lilting. Haynes heavily, and smartly, relies on the music to take us to grand emotional places, and the film is at its best when it lets itself be swept up in the majesty and mystery of Burwell’s compositions. These are the moments when one sincerely feels struck by an enveloping wonder—how marvelous, that light and sound can still transport us so—before the film grows sticky and dismayingly uninspiring once more. It’s perhaps a cruel irony that a movie about deafness is most ennobled by what we hear...." - Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair, May 18, 2017.
"Haynes has always been a ravishing visual storyteller, and his seventh feature is as seductively crafted as anything he’s made, with exquisite contributions from invaluable frequent collaborators including cinematographer Ed Lachman, production designer Mark Friedberg and costumer Sandy Powell. Perhaps even more notable here is the work of composer Carter Burwell, who has created distinct musical moods for the narrative’s parallel threads, following the adventures of two runaway deaf kids 50 years apart, with the sounds subtly folded together as their stories intersect....” - David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter, May 18, 2017.
"...Much of 'Wonderstruck' plays like a silent film, with Carter Burwell’s lilting, surging score filling in the occasional long pauses between audible dialogue." - Justin Chang, LA Times, June 1, 2017.
"Haynes lends the film an air of childish magic and Carter Burwell’s magnificent front-and-centre score adds energy and character." - Dave Calhoun, May 18, 2017.