The Music of “The Martian”

Yesterday while I was driving home for lunch I caught a short seven-minute music interview on NPR. “The Music of ‘The Martian’ Deconstructed” completely captured my attention and imagination. Later in the day I found the interview on the NPR website and have since listened to it six or seven times. (Take a little time and listen to it for  yourself.)

Against all odds I loved the movie (The Martian). I went because a friend asked me to go, but the truth is I’m not big on thrillers, I really don’t care for sci-fi, and movie sound effects are usually so loud that I leave feeling battered. But this one, this one I enjoyed. I loved the music from the start, fascinated by how perfect it seemed.

Composer Harry Gregson-Williams first received a copy of the script with a “terse note” from the film’s director that said, “Read it. Like it. Do it.” He read it, he said it seemed like a no-brainer, and so he did it.  There is some kind of magic in this story for me because in listening to Gregson-Williams you can hear in his voice and also in his music how much he liked the story and the acting, and how much he enjoyed writing the score.

So often we hear and read about the tortured process of art, whether it be visual art, music, or writing. It is solitary, there can be such a dark component when a person spends too much time inside their own mind, and it’s usually very hard work. But listen to this interview and hear some of the composer’s words: color, tone, optimism, love of life, deciding to live, brightened, mounting excitement, development, sparkle.  And in the end he says that the process was, “Pleasurable and very much a joy to write.”

What would it be like if writers, this one in particular, could more often find such joy in the work of writing?  It is true that the movie score composer’s work is responsive and collaborative, which can be somewhat different than pulling work from the corners of your own imagination.  However, his contribution is meant to enhance, augment, and support the work and vision of the whole while still having the strength to stand on its own. And I believe that this is, in a sense, what all artists are hoping to do.  The component of joy can be felt, tasted, heard, seen, and experienced.  It does make a difference.

I have ordered the soundtrack and look forward to listening to it while I write.


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