Release date: July 4th 2011
Running time: 50:07 minutes
Composers: The Chemical Brothers
I have listened to and composed various genres and styles of music throughout my life so far. Taking careful consideration to choose the instrumentation, rhythm and harmony used to fit in with the desired genre, I often became too comfortable with my style of composition and therefore decided to challenge myself.
Why not delve into an area I had never really considered, something completely different. Thus began my liking for electronic composition. Believe me, this genre has provided some of the biggest challenges I have faced so far as a composer. Although it may sound a whiz to plug several synths into a computer, make a few sounds, sync them together and off you go (and actually, the process isn’t too difficult) you will find that the combination of sounds created and the wonder of the endless possibilities of what can be done with these sounds will keep you going on and on. For me it is an addiction – I am an addict.
Directed by Joe Wright and portraying strong fairytale references, Hanna follows the story of the 16 year old girl of the same name (Saoirse Ronan) trained by her ex-CIA operative father Erik (Eric Bana) to be a skilled assassin.
Erik knows a secret that cannot become public, and having left the CIA officer Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) is on the look out to kill him, although Hanna has been trained to kill her. Having spent time away from civilization, Hanna is unaware of human culture and technology, but has a great deal of general knowledge, also speaking several languages. She has numerous back stories for “when the time comes”.
One evening, Hanna tells her father she is ready. Having given Hanna a transmitter that will alert the world to their presence, Erik leaves her to flick the switch when she feels the time is right. Going their separate ways, Erik instructs her to eventually meet him in Berlin.
The story then follows the turbulent journey she must take to kill Marissa and to meet her father alive, as well as heavily touching on her personal development as she comes into contact with other human beings and technology.
Having worked with them in the past, Wright chose the Manchester originating duo The Chemical Brothers to produce the original soundtrack for the film, which was also to be their first. The result is a fantastic combination of sound which encapsulated the themes of the film in a different way that conventional harmonies and melodic themes could.
The opening track, Hanna’s Theme, is as it states. A main melodic theme is developed through the use of a human voice, over chromatic percussion that grows with layers of audio processed instrumentation being gradually introduced. It is simple, yet the technique of building these layers of sound, the sweet melodic vocal theme and introducing a heavy bass line gives it a feel of innocence with an underlying tone of apprehension and danger.
We lead then into Escape 700 one of my favourite tracks. The first fifty seconds of it consists of almost a single note with the heavy use of audio processing, before it progresses into a full-on, typical Chemical Brothers track with heavy pulsating bass lines and loud drums.
Certain parts of the track remind me of their 2005 track Galvanize. Ending again how it started, the track then progresses into Chalice 1, forty seven seconds of an oscillating note which only develops in volume. It need do no more, the anticipation of the repetitiveness and if there will be any further development someow keeps you intrigued.
The Devil Is In The Details portrays a fairy tale theme, through use of a melodically simple call and response motif, accompanied by a walking style underlie of percussion and chromatic percussion. It has a childlike theme, again demonstrating innocence. It reminds me of clowns, fun houses and fairgrounds. It is one of the most prominent and memorable tracks due to the repetitiveness of the thematic material and little other development, but it works extremely well.
Quayside Synthesis sees the return of the rhythmic style and melodies used previously in Escape 700. The Sandman again transports us into a child-like world, with a solo Celesta melody over a droning bass note, later accompanied by electric organ and electronic sounds. It is sinister, like a music box that begins to wind down. It once again however portrays innocence and isolation – reoccuring themes so far throughout. Halfway through the track, we see a short reprise of Hanna’s Theme using different instrumentation.
Bahnhof Rumble excellently creates anticipation and apprehension through the use of low audio processed notes and repetitive motifs accompanied later on by drum and bass style percussion. It gives the track flow and development, and it delivers a scene of urgency.
The Devil Is In The Beats works fantastically well. We see the return of the original material provided earlier in The Devil is in the Details delivered in true Chemical Brothers style. It is amazing how this difference in delivery changes the track to give it a completely new feel. To me it is more one of being triumphant and independent. It is bold, makes a statement and demonstrates the developement of Hanna from child to maturity – even the similarity in titles with only the change of ‘details’ to ‘beats’ is genius – the original details, the ‘bones’ of the track, have been built upon and developed to provide the beats!
Hanna Vs Marissa uses loud drum rolls and cymbal clashes over a pulsating bass line and irregular electronic harmonies to provide the feeling of urgency. Escape Wavefold and Container Park nicely bring the soundtrack towards an end with bold, loud and funky melodies and instrumentation. We see the return of some of the original thematic material towards the end of Container Park, before we are led into a reprise of Hanna’s Theme, albeit it the vocal version which I personally think is fantastic, featuring the vocal talents of American singer-songwriter Stephanie Dosen.
I was dubious to begin with as to whether this genre of music could work with a film such as this, however I think the Chemical Brothers have been able to do this better than most would have been able to. It is a soundscape which quite ignorantly of me I didn’t appreciate as much whilst watching the film as I did when I listened to it as a stand alone soundtrack – it may have blended in a little too well behind the action of the film.
Some may argue that there was a lack of experimentation, and the sounds and themes were not developed enough. Yes, I do agree that there is so much more that could have been done, but as I stated earlier, it can so easily become a never-ending project, and I believe they have done it right with this one.
I am fascinated by the construction of this score; it’s ability to bring back reoccurring themes, melodies and material in such a different form. It is very John Cage. It progresses through the change in and layering of sound and experimentation. I cannot fault it. For me it is a work of sheer genius, and I only hope this is a direction the Chemical Brothers continue to pursue.
Phil is a 27-year-old classically trained musician from Sheffield with qualifications in Popular Music, Classical Music and a BA (Hons) in Creative Music Technology and Sound Recording. He likes nothing better than locking himself in the studio and composing music of all genres.
Phil became interested in composing after learning how to play the Cello and Clarinet at a young age, and has never looked back since. His favourite composer is Danny Elfman, whose unconventional harmonies and rhythms in scores such as Edward Scissorhands still manage to bring a tear or two to his eye.
You can find him on Twitter @PhilBlanckley.