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CREED Composer Ludwig Goransson on How Movie Music Has Changed Since ROCKY

Composer Ludwig Goransson is having an exceptionally good year. Following Black Panther, Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” and Venom, the highly-anticipated Creed II begins its theatrical run riding a wave of critical adulation and already exceeding box office expectations. Like Stephen Price and the late Johann Johannsson, Goransson is a talented musician–most known for his work with Donald Glover’s musical alter-ego–and producer who is leading a new wave of film composers skillfully merging pop, electronic and traditional orchestration into a sound that evokes art form’s past while offering a new vision for its future.

Celebrating an incredibly productive year that commemorates both his ongoing partnership with Black Panther director and Creed II producer Ryan Coogler, as well as his own breakthrough as a versatile artist, Goransson spoke with us about the creative challenges and opportunities that he’s enjoyed thus far in his career. Discussing the compositions for Creed, Black Panther and the anarchic Venom, Goransson reflected on the partnerships and work that have turned him into one of the entertainment industry’s most acclaimed and in-demand composers.

Where do you start when you begin to compose something for film?

My starting point is always to read a script and have a conversation with the director about what their vision is, and then after that, I love to do research. For Fruitvale Station, for example, I went up to the BART station and recorded train sounds and turned those sounds into musical pads. For Creed, I spent two days in a boxing gym recording a boxer jumping the ropes and hitting the bags and and made [those sounds] into beats and rhythms that I could use in my music. And then for Black Panther, I went to West Africa and studied and immersed myself in the culture and learned from some of the greatest musicians I ever met. I love doing research to come up with a new palette for every kind of movie that I do.

You’ve said that you like to combine new and old elements in your music to pay tribute to past generations while still doing something unique. How did you do that for Creed?

It was something that I thought a lot about because you’re dealing with the Rocky franchise, which has one of the most significant uses of film score there is. Everyone knows that theme that Bill Conti created, and it all stems from the ‘70s composition and his production. So I studied those scores and his music and put my own spin on that with modern production and the way that I write for orchestra. I love combining different genres and mixing them up to see where we come out.

That Rocky fanfare is so iconic. How did you decide when and where to layer in those familiar notes?

For both movies that was actually something we decided at the very last second, because it’s such an important part of the franchise. Wherever you put that fanfare in, it needs to be at the exact perfect moment because it’s such a crowd pleaser. Also you don’t want to overuse it, so it needs to be in a very clever spot in the most important fight of the movie.

Expectations for compositions are so different now than in the ’70s or ’80s. How did you manage that while also staying true to the film’s musical legacy?

If you take the Rocky franchise, for example: In every movie there’s a training montage. I think in Rocky IV there are three montages with three five-minute songs, which is insane. You can’t do that today. So the challenge today is: how do you score a six-minute montage and keep the attention of the audience the whole time?  We wrote a six-minute piece of music that goes through so many different emotions and so many dynamic levels and it has Jacob Banks as kind of like a gospel singer on there, and then it goes into an A$AP Rocky verse over the Creed theme. It’s definitely different than how you did it 30 years ago.

For Black Panther, how careful were you about drawing on familiar sounds associated with a specific culture, and how did you avoid doing it in a way perceived as being either clichéd or culturally appropriative?

For everyone involved in that movie, it was always very important to be culturally sensitive. And when I studied African music and spent time with these incredible musicians, I learned a lot. So much music in Africa was created for specific moments, written for rituals or for a funeral or for challenges, thousands of years ago, and these rhythms are still used. Like if an old young man challenges an older man and it’s time to leave the house and start his own family, you play this rhythm—and that was something that I wanted to bring into this movie. So when M’Baku is fighting T’Challa, for example, the drum rhythm you hear in the background is actually a challenge that was created thousands of years ago for a specific moment like that.

The score for Venom is very different than those for Creed or Black Panther. How tough was it to find a musical through line for such an idiosyncratic film?

It was a lot of fun because I’d never done anything like that before. We were creating music for a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde-type of character where two completely different sonic worlds need to work together. That was a big challenge and I had more organic guitar for Eddie and then the very heavy electronic world for Venom. As the journey continues and as they grow together as one, their musical worlds combine, and it was a lot of fun. But it’s through experimentation and trying to see what feels right and what doesn’t. For T’Challa, he had talking drums that came to him whenever he appeared in the movie, and then for Creed, his theme is very brass-heavy, and then, like I said, for Venom, it’s very guitar driven. And that was really fun because I like guitar. My background is as a metal guitar player, so I got to really experiment and kind of go back to my roots on that one. But then combining it with modern electrical electronic production made it feel new and fresh.

Can you share as fruitful a collaboration with an actor as you would with a director? For example, by now you’ve worked with Michael B. Jordan as much as you have Ryan Coogler.

I think the more you know people and the more you get to know artists, the better you can collaborate. I’ve known Ryan for 10 years, and I’ve known Childish Gambino for 10 years, and I’ve scored four of Michael B. Jordan’s movies, and I can see a lot in his performance that someone that’s not as familiar with his acting doesn’t see the first time. For example, on Black Panther, I recorded this instrument called a fula flute that was impulsive and aggressive and it really reminded me of Killmonger’s character. The flute player started screaming Killmonger’s name into the flute and it was a magical moment, and I sent a voicemail of that recording to Ryan Coogler, and Ryan sent that to Michael B. Jordan as Michael was preparing for the role. So I think knowing someone and knowing them as an artist is always a positive thing.

Images: Warner Bros, Disney/Marvel, Grandstand Media

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