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CLIFF MARTINEZ (2011) - Page 1

Since 1989, Cliff Martinez has scored almost 30 feature films, but he’s best known for scoring two of director Steven Soderbergh’s best works: the visceral crime epic Traffic (2000), and the composer’s masterwork, Solaris (2002), which ranks as one of the finest sci-fi scores in the last 10 years.

Martinez’s writing style embraces contemporary electronica, rock, classical, modernism, minimalism, and ambient sounds – each amalgamated into an often hypnotic soundtrack.

On album, his music draws the listener into a world of transitional sounds that are easily pegged as fully electronic, but often germinate from organic instruments made of glass or steel. As part of a film’s mixed soundtrack, a Martinez score is perfectly balanced with existing sound elements. He's adept at capturing the psychological conflicts of characters, and avoiding film scoring clichés which in turn have made his work from 10 or 20 years ago age extremely well in spite of popular scoring conventions, and technological advances in digital gear. (Traffic, for example, hasn't aged whatsoever.)

In our conversation, Martinez discusses two of his three scores released in 2011: Nicolas Winding Refn’s critically acclaimed crime drama Drive, and his latest collaboration with Soderbergh, the virus thriller Contagion.






Mark R. Hasan: For Drive, I understand director Nicolas Winding Refn wanted you to write music that would bridge both the songs, the sound design and the score with a particular emphasis on the eighties sounds.

Was the eighties sounds or the emulation of some of those vintage synth sounds in the score due to the source songs that were chosen, or was it a particular style the director wanted to have in the film?


Cliff Martinez: More the latter. I remember a conversation with Nicolas about synthesizers in particular. I think it came about mostly because of the sound selection, and the songs were in the film long before I came on board, and they just felt like an integral part of the film. It felt like a natural choice to try to acknowledge that style somewhere in the underscore.



MRH: When you’ve composed scores using electronic elements, have you ever made use of any vintage instruments?


CM: No. I’ve got (I think) one analogue synthesizer and it does seem to have a certain mojo that its software counterparts do not, but for the most part I’m completely fine with the software emulations. I was never a big synthesizer guy to begin with. I have rarely ever used them in my film scores. I don’t have any attachment to any vintage instruments. I don’t have any romantic notions about older gear being better than the new stuff. I was perfectly happy to use the current crop.



MRH: When you begin a score, I’m curious how in your mind you decide what musical palette to create. There are certain rhythmic textures and chord progressions that you like to employ, but when it comes to picking the specific instruments, is there a certain group that you enjoy using, or do you find that certain aspects of a script or maybe a performance in the finished film will decide the instruments that you will definitely use?


CM: I have some favourites. I’ve got a bunch of stuff in my house that I like to use. I have bass and baritone steel drums, I have Baschet Crystal [glass harmonica], I have some pitch percussion valve instruments that I like to use. Whatever’s laying around the house I like - and guitar - but I think mostly what feels right for the film.

Certainly the budget has something to do with it. I love to do orchestral things, but I don’t usually have the means to do that. I think probably the dramatic needs of the film are actually what inspire those choices of what I pick.

Traffic (2000) soundtrack CD

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