Interview: Joe Kraemer (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation)

UK_MI5_1Sht_Payoff_Online_IMAXKraemerMission: Impossible – Rogue Nation marks the second collaboration in recent time between star Tom Cruise, director Christopher McQuarrie and composer Joe Kraemer, following their teaming on Jack Reacher. The American composer has been scoring movies since he was 15, and has received plaudits for his work on the fifth film in the spy series franchise. He recently took time to answer some questions from Paul Simpson…

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How much of a fan of the original TV series were you? And, apart from the classic theme, how much of the music score had stuck in your head prior to working on this project?

I watched the original show as a kid, and the 80s revival as well. I always loved Lalo’s theme so much. But I had not seen any of the TV episodes since the 80s, so I had none of the original themes outside of the Main Title in my head. It was after I was hired that I went back and watched a lot of the original episodes and reacquainted myself with the great scoring Lalo and his contemporaries had done.

MIRN 1Prior to working on this, had you listened to any of the earlier scores for the films simply as scores – Elfman, Zimmer and Giacchino all approach the series very differently (as did Alan Silvestri in his unused MI soundtrack)?

I had seen all four Mission Impossible films, but I decided not to revisit them once I got the job scoring Rogue Nation. Instead, I went back and looked at the television show. I wanted this score to feel like an extension of what Lalo Schifrin originally created, rather than a sequel to what Giacchino was doing in MI3 and MI4.

Schifrin’s theme is in 5/4 (as is Jerry Goldsmith’s original one for The Man From UNCLE); what do you think it is about that time signature that makes it so effective for this sort of action score? (I noticed a number of 7/8 bars in the sequences as well in the score)

I honestly don’t know. I can’t say that I think time signature is necessarily a vital component is some way – Bond’s theme is not in an odd meter, but it is still highly effective. I do like the accelerated feel 7/8 gives things. You get this driving pulse that drops half a beat at the last moment. I did use it quite a bit in my score. It was quite fun to take the famous bass/piano vamp from Mission and rearrange it in different meters (3/4, 7/8, etc).

MI BRandtWere there any other themes than The Plot that you considered using from the TV show? And what made you choose that for Benji, say, rather than Luther?

No, it was the Main Title and The Plot. I ended up tying The Plot to Benji so much because through discussion with Christopher McQuarrie, we embraced the notion that Benji lives the life of a spy on a TV show while Ethan lives the life of a spy in a movie. So Benji got the TV show theme.

Luther didn’t really get his own theme in this film. He, Brandt, and Hunley all sort of fall under the IMF theme I wrote, which you can hear when Brandt calls Hunley on the airplane from London (the opening of “The Blenheim Sequence” on the soundtrack album).

Ethan’s theme is a nice counterpoint to the MI theme, and works very well with Ilsa’s Theme/the Nessun Dorma motif; was it one of those flashes of inspiration, or a conscious decision to upend the Schifrin theme?

No, it was very deliberately composed, a conscious decision to create a theme that could work in counterpoint to Lalo’s original tune. I constructed it using a similar chord structure, different enough so that it wouldn’t give the game away until the end.

Solomon Lane’s theme – certainly as presented on the album – really puts across the “shades of grey” element that the film includes so successfully, with an almost bitter grandeur at times. How did that come about?

MI HarrisI was still early in the process of figuring out the specifics of the score when I thought about The Empire Strikes Back, and the looming presence Darth Vader’s Theme has over that score. So I decided I’d try coming up with a theme for Lane and Syndicate, rather than, say, the more atmospheric music I’d done for The Zec (the villain in Jack Reacher). As Lane is a very wealthy, very elegant character, with a knack for monologues and intricate, well-thought out plotting, I wanted the score to convey those characteristics. The melody in the woodwinds, and later the strings and trumpets, has an almost snake-charmer quality to it, which I felt reflected a similar trait in Lane. The tremolo and trilling strings and winds give it a mysterious energy, and the oboe melody in the middle was designed to evoke the classical romanticism of Tchaikovsky.

You’ve said that you deliberately chose not to use anything that couldn’t have been used in 1966; did you try to emulate the scoring of the TV show or other pieces from that period in any other way? There are times when it has the John Barry bombast of the early Bonds, for example without descending into the parodic elements of Austin Powers etc.

There’s a scene where Ethan and Benji walk to a boat on the river, which turns out to be an IMF safe house. That was a scene I tried to make as much like the TV show as I could, in composition and orchestration. There was no deliberate attempt to sound “Bond”-y, and there was definitely a wish to stay well clear of parody.

You’ve also mentioned the minimalist composition elements that went into the high-tech scenes: which composers do you particularly admire in this field? There seemed to be a Philip Glass air, or am I imagining that?

MI TorusCertainly one can’t talk of minimalist music without Glass entering the conversation. I am a big fan of Steve Reich as well, and Arvo Part, although he wasn’t really an influence on this score. My decision to go that direction really stemmed from the feeling that in many ways, a lot of that minimalist music reminds me of ambient, EDM-style music in its ability to mesmerize and hypnotise the listener. That correlation led me to do that in spots where another composer might have used electronics.

Which part of the score did you find the most challenging? And which are you most proud of for the way it enhances the movie?

Without a doubt, the toughest sequence was the brawl between Ethan, Ilsa, and the henchmen in the first act of the film. It was a scene that Christopher had a certain vision for, and the reality was, there were elements he would have changed if he could have. He was continually re-cutting the scene in pursuit of that vision. So the music’s objective in that sequence kept changing based on every new edit. On top of that, being as early in the film as it was, and coming soon after the opening with the A400, there was lots of back-and-forth over how intense the score should be. In the end, we found a solution that worked well by combining ideas from later in the film in a new way.

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 Joe Kraemer’s soundtrack to Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is out now from LaLa Land records

Thanks to Ashley Moore at Krakower Poling PR for help in arranging this interview.

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